March 16, 2006
Thank goodness, S'pore isn't South Africa
SHE was the embodiment of passion, of music, of poetry, of charm, of grace and of life itself. She, Miriam Makeba, gave a splendid performance on Tuesday night. Her songs were lilting, full of vigour and enthusiasm. But it was what she said that prompted me to write.
She spoke to us of apartheid in South Africa, of freedom, of oppression. She thanked the children who protested with placards and the women who raised their voices for the freedom which her people today enjoy. She thanked her leaders for their work and for teaching her people forgiveness. She spoke of the difficulty of developing her nation after obtaining freedom.
We, the citizens of Singapore, can be grateful that we have not had to struggle with racial and religious issues and oppression. We live as one nation, one people, in peace and harmony. We feel no constraints and inhibitions at attending each other's religious and cultural events.
In any one week, I could find myself singing a hymn in church, attending a Hindu wedding in a temple, sitting on the floor and saying prayers at an Islamic home and participating in the tea ceremony of somebody's wedding. Last Saturday, I danced to my favourite Mandarin song in the early part of the evening and, in the later part, grooved to Bhangra music at a Bhangra party.
We sometimes take things for granted and we forget that the peace and harmony which we enjoy today are the result of careful planning, brilliant thinking and good management. The Pledge, the countless campaigns and what may seem like engineered processes have all contributed to this peace.
We have our founding fathers and mothers (for there were women in the initial team that helped to establish this nation) to thank for this. In particular, we must thank Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his vision, his energy and his determination to provide us with a great nation, one that has many comforts and one that we are all so proud to be citizens of.
The Singapore of 2006 is a beautiful, clean and green nation. At Jurong East two
weeks ago, I was impressed by the architectural designs of the apartment blocks
and of the many attractive gardens that seem to link the blocks together.
On Sunday, as I enjoyed the wonderful ambience, the beautiful decor and the lights in the Fullerton Hotel, I could not help but think what a splendid restoration this building had undergone, particularly if, like me, you can remember that it was dark and grey when it was a post office.
In education, our young today have so many choices in terms of courses and subjects. We have a sports school and soon we will have an arts school. Our schools, educational institutes, polytechnics and universities have splendid facilities, state-of-the-art equipment and great teachers. There are many more
interesting jobs for people today and research activities abound in all fields.
We are fortunate to have good theatres and there is much to enjoy in terms of culture and the arts. The future augurs well for Singapore and we can look forward to more of the best in lifestyle, in activities, in community and health services, in the economy, in banking and finance.
To the people at the Esplanade, thank you for bringing in great artistes like Miriam Makeba. Please continue to give us stimulating shows that will enhance the cultural life of our nation.
To the Government of Singapore, thank you for giving us a peaceful country, of cultural and racial tolerance and religious harmony. Thank you for making me what I am today: a true Singaporean.
And we shall all bow down and give thanks to Lee Kuan Yew and live happily ever after on Singapore, the world's greatest nation. Amen.
Okay, okay. I will rein in my cynicism since this woman Zaibun Siraj seems to sincerely believe in what she was saying. I'll just confine myself to offering a few, yes, just a few, of my thoughts on the contents of her letter.
Firstly, I'm somewhat amazed that Zaibun gets satisfaction from a thought like "thank goodness, Singapore isn't South Africa." If she can get satisfaction in this fashion, I suppose she would jump for joy if she had thoughts such as "thank goodness, Singapore isn't Rwanda" or "thank goodness, Singapore isn't North Korea".
Still I hope that the average Singaporean is more ambitious than that. It's really very pathetic if you're happy just because your country compares favourably to some of the world's most backward or troubled or repressed countries. Can we set our standards a bit higher, please. I mean, we DO pay our leaders the world's highest ministerial salaries, after all.
I agree fully with Zaibun that the kind of repression we speak of in Singapore is very trivial compared to what went on in South Africa during the apartheid years. Still when Zaibun wrote about the oppression in South Africa and in contrast, the lack of oppression in Singapore, a very specific thought instantly popped into my mind. Did it pop into yours too?
Yes, I was thinking of South African Mr Nelson Mandela and our very own Chia Thye Poh. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years essentially for his political beliefs and activities, and holds the world record for having been the longest-serving political prisoner. Singaporean Chia Thye Poh, detained under Singapore's Internal Security Act, was detained for 23 years and is the 2nd longest-serving political prisoner.
Oh darn it. Singapore just missed out narrowly on another world no. 1.
One difference is that Mr Nelson Mandela actually had his day in court. He was convicted after a full, open (and very public) trial in the courts of South Africa. In contrast, Chia Thye Poh never got to step into a courtroom at all. The ISD stepped into the picture, arrested him and basically just whisked him away from the rest of the world.
So we do have a world record after all. Chia was the world's longest-serving political prisoner to have been detained without any trial at all.
Moving on ....
Zaibun Siraj painted a very happy picture of our education system. Well, I guess we're all entitled to our own views. Here's a different kind of view on our education system. And here's another. I also just learned today from Singabloodypore that youth suicide is a big problem in Singapore and "study stress" is one of the two main reasons for this. Well, if this keeps up, we might soon have another world record on our hands.
There's a lot more that I could say, but it's getting late and I'm getting sleepy. So I'll just make two more points. Firstly, about the Esplanade. Many local theatre and music groups are still angry about it. We spent $660 million building the two big durians and in the process sucked the local theatre and music groups dry of sponsorship money. Then when the durians were ready, we brought in foreigners like Miriam Makeba (wonderful though she undoubtedly is) and once again, the struggling Singaporean artistes don't get a chance.
Secondly, take a look at this:
This Zaibun woman actually asserts that here in Singapore, we enjoy the best in:The future augurs well for Singapore and we can look forward to more of the best in lifestyle, in activities, in community and health services, in the economy, in banking and finance.
3. community services
4. health services
5. the economy; AND
6. banking and finance.
Wow. We're world no. 1 again, in six broad areas. According to Zaibun, I guess we just defeated Geneva, and Zurich, and Sydney, and Melbourne, and Tokyo, and London, and Hong Kong, and Vancouver, and Helsinki, and Copenhagen and _____ .
Doesn't that just remind you of what I recently wrote about Singapore's unhealthy culture of unfounded self-praise?
Sigh. Click here to see where Singapore really stands in the world.