Thursday, December 16, 2004

Smart People Say.

One good thing about being unemployed is time to catch up with old friends.

I had tea with AF yesterday. AF and I have known each other for over a decade now and we are as unlike as chalk and cheese. I am the scruffy pragmatic engineer type and AF is the refined artsy idealistic type.

And we disgree on many issues. Vehemently. Aggressively. Loudly. We interrupt each other constantly to articulate our tenacious - and oft opposing - positions on an issue. In a very un-Singaporean manner.

Just recently we had a heated discussion over dinner which had our significant others (at the same table) looking on in alarm wondering if the quarrel would break out in animosity. Sometimes I am amazed at how we manage to stay as friends despite our stark differences.

One thing I have noted over the years: AF sees trends, notably social and cultural trends happening way before they become mainstream in Singapore. AF has got that gift to know what is cool, what is hip and what is likely to be the next big thing. And AF is one sharp cookie when it comes to abstract, non-analytical synthesis type thinking. So when our conversation swung around to the political milieu in Singapore, I naturally paid close attention.

AF sees an opening up of the political scene in Singapore. That more and more young people are starting to be more willing to speak up and demand more of our rulers, instead of being resigned to the undercurrent of grumblings we are now used to. AF believes that the political process will move to being more participative, more inclusive of diverse views. However some areas of discussion (e.g. integrity of the ruling party) will be forever be demarcated as sacrilege by the OB markers. And AF does not see civil society in Singapore - beyond very narrowly defined interest groups - ever evolving in our lifetimes.

I am not sure I agree totally with AF. But I am learning to shut up and try to listen/think when people smarter than me are sharing their views.


Which reminds of the advice I had from two of my elders who are a generation older than I am. It is a very Asian thing to associate age with wisdom, to respect gray hair, to listen to your elders.

One of them, an ex-boss, put it very bluntly in Hokkien that Australia for the purpose of building a good life is "dead road one way" (literal Hokkien translation).

The other, a very successful businessman regionally, was insistent that Australia was a terrible place to do business and to make something of yourself ("it is a retirement place"). And that China was the future of Singapore businesses for young people.

Other members of the generation senior to myself, when solicited obliquely for their opinions, can be consistently relied on to query why anyone in their right minds would consider going to an angmo country to become second-class citizens. Does that imply that I, as a peasant Chinese serf, am a first-class citizen in Singapore?

I am keeping an open mind and listening to what others have to say on the matter but all I keep hearing is rhetoric and emotional blackmail.

Well, at least my ultimate decision to stay or to go is with me and is not subject to popular vote!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Singapore Serf,

Thanks for recording our conversation. It's interesting to see it through your eyes. But what you recalled of our conversation was different from what I meant at the time ;-). Ah, the pitfalls of communication!

Hence, I shall put down in point form here the points I was trying to make during that conversation. It doesn't allow me to wax all poetic about future visions, but at least this method is practical. Which should please you. :-)

1) The arts and cultural scene in Singapore has been opening up, and that trend will continue. More edgy forms of art and entertainment will be performed and exhibited.

2) People are becoming and will become a lot more comfortable with voicing their opinions, and speaking up in general about various issues, especially if it concerns themselves. They will be eloquent in their use of the English language.

3) Singaporeans will become more active in civil groups than they are now.

4) The OB markers - OB boundaries - will be most tenacious in the political arena. The present generation of leaders will most likely continue to defend their public image mulishly. The younger generation will likely tolerate negative comments in the international press, but not within the country.

5) Hence, political opinions will be expressed through civil society - the boundaries will be tested and pushed by having opinions expressed by civil groups - not individuals. There is power in numbers and the government has demonstrated more tolerance and public courtesy to these interest groups (e.g. PLU, the gay community) than they do to "troublemaking" individuals. After all, these groups represent a sector of society, and it would be unwise to alienate a chunk of the electorate.

Any issue that affects the community in turn affects the politics of the country. For example, when AWARE champions the rights of women, changes will eventually be made at a political level. When the Cat Welfare Society's partnership with the AVA of Singapore (over the stray cat rehabilitation sceme) was abruptly and immaturely terminated, a groundswelling of disapproval was evident in public forums.

6) What will remain the same will be the essentially pragmatic make up of the Singaporean, and the tendency to be indifferent to that which does not directly concern themselves or their families.

These are some of the trends and tides I see in Singapore today, and I hope they are better expressed this time round :-).


December 17, 2004 1:22 AM  
Blogger Singapore Calamari said...

Hey, I like this part :

When the Cat Welfare Society's partnership with the AVA of Singapore (over the stray cat rehabilitation sceme) was abruptly and immaturely terminated, a groundswelling of disapproval was evident in public forums.


I find voicing disapproval over many things in the public forum. The PLU society for registration. Casino. Bad customer Service. Bad Public Service. Stupid traffic laws. Legalizing Oral Sex (without discrimination against any group other than minors).

Not one of them has had any policy change. When it comes to "Law", "Policy", "Asian Values", "Conservative Majority", it has never changed yet.

I wait till the day they will. Maybe by then, I am an outcast generation already.. :( .. boo hoo..

I find that we are at the phase where "listening" and "accepting diversity" is just lip service. Yes, _eventually_, the govt will have to know that they have to really listen and might have to change to suit majority. But that will take place over many years.. I think even 1 generation.

Why ?

(1) Public must first start to voice out comfortably. That will not happen in generations who are more comfortable just keeping quiet. The people who voice out now are actually "minority". Just those few people. Yes, their views may be "majority" in most issues, but still it only comes from some people.

Look at the recent PLU and gay issues. I know MOST of the people around me are acceptable to having gays and bisexuals around. And I am not in the 'artsy' group. The people in my office are typical pro-family. Still, I have yet to detect homo-phobia. Unlike what I read in the forums.

so looking at public forums today, only a few gay activists effectively "ask for equal rights" (note, minority of gays), while the minority "opposes based on moral values" (minority of public) and everyday I see many gay people just not giving a damn about what happens, and many public not giving a damn about the debate either, though they are definitely not as opposed to the idea.

(2) The govt must be able to identify "majority views" and not just by the forum. That is not easy to do, and unless (1) happens, where MORE people voice their opinions honestly, govt will assume what the majority thinks.

(3) Govt is able to accept and implement changes, even if this changes is what the public wants AND is against their views.

That is, for now, what I see is that the govt will accept public view if it coincides with their views. The govt has to demonstrate, at least a few times, that it is able to implement policy that is "against their views" but is what the public wants.

Only with the above 3 feeding on each other, that our Singapore society will move on. Otherwise, it will take a long time.. To let the older generation "die off" so that the "majority" is changed.

December 17, 2004 10:00 AM  

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