I’m sharing 3 clips in this episode of a Taiwanese current affairs programme discussing our Little India riot. This has probably gone viral already. See how lively and engaging their current affairs programmes are compared to ours.
As expected, many of those who viewed this programme were impressed by the well-observed, well-reasoned and very down-to-earth opinions expressed by these Taiwanese experts. Without “concrete evidence” and sophisticated reports requiring 6 months to prepare, the Taiwanese panel has already come up with a convincing argument and explanation for the causes and implications of the Little India riots on 8th December. Check it out.
Many shopkeepers at Little India have suffered from the alcohol ban. On my Facebook status, I asked a naughty question. 如果是赌徒闹事会不会禁赌? Everyone wants faster growth, but at what cost? Everyone knows the problems with minimum wages, but can we afford not to implement them?
On Sunday, I saw a huge crowd and long queues at the Sheng Siong Supermarket near my home at Punggol. Yes, most who were in the queues were foreign workers buying beer. After they’ve bought their beer, they sat at playgrounds and void decks to drink. A bit of an eyesore, but no trouble at all. My neighbour’s mother-in-law was probably louder and more dangerous than any one of them. If alcohol were the cause of the riots, then there would have been one at Punggol that night.
Talking about liquor and “spirits”, I have something to add. Let me first tell you a couple of stories.
I was in Sabah and my friend Richard was taking me around cool places like hotels, restaurants and bowling alleys around Kota Kinabalu. I had wanted to get a bit more adventurous than that. Sabah is rich in culture and I had wanted to see how the indigenous people lived, but Richard warned me that some adventurous guy had been driving off-road in the countryside when he accidentally hit a boy. He got out of his car to check on the boy and was immediately surrounded by all the occupants in a nearby longhouse.
Seeing that the victim, a much-loved member of the village, was unconscious and possibly dead, the crowd turned into a lynch mob and beat the poor driver to death. Richard may have heard the rumour from some local bar serving cheap liquor, but the story is still quite credible and might have really occurred.
Another incident. I was going back to my hotel in Bangkok one night when the taxi driver said “rot chon don mai” (car knocked a tree) and slowed his vehicle. A pickup truck had rammed into a tree by the side of the road and someone was lying inside – motionless. He stopped the meter and got out. Another car stopped next to the crash site and the two drivers opened the door of the damaged car and tried to rouse the driver who reeked of alcohol. He started moving, but his head was dripping blood. Without waiting for a report on the injured man’s HIV status, the two men helped him out of the car. The private car driver offered to stay with the victim until the ambulance arrived. The taxi driver drove me to my destination.
Believe it or not, the two incidents evoke the same part of our brains. The good Samaritans who saved the victim on the road could be members of some violent Red Shirt, Yellow Shirt or No Shirt movement. When we concrete jungle dwellers get all cozy and nostalgic about the “kampung spirit”, do we really understand the whole package? We tend to see just the positive aspects of it, but the “kampung spirit” really stems from unrestrained manifestations of our humanity.
When I’m talking about “village”, I’m not talking about Alexandra Village or Changi Village. I’ve stayed in real villages in Thailand, Nepal, India, Indonesia before. The moment you step out of the house, you’ll get people asking you where you’re going. Walk around with a towel and people will ask you whether you’re going to take a bath. You believe your neighbour knows your every move and you want to know his (or his teenage daughter’s) every move.
When a fellow villager is injured, the whole village feels his pain and will almost certainly get rough with the outsider who caused it. When they see someone in danger, simple people who are drunk on “kampung spirit” will disregard their own safety to rescue him. They show kindness and gratitude like no Singaporean can. They seek vengeance like no Singaporean dares to. That’s the whole package of “kampung spirit”. You can’t just have people helping you when you’re in trouble or inviting you into their homes for a feast if they can’t hide the smell of their durians. You must also be prepared to face their wrath if you have insulted their gods.
Will the Murut people stop offering tapai to people who drive into their villages after an accident involving an intoxicated driver? Probably not. Accidents can happen around sharp bends and other blind spots. The fault may not lie in the alcohol and tapai is sacred. To prevent lynch mobs (or riots), then accidents which make the villagers feel victimised by a privileged class must first be prevented. Ban tapai? Don’t even think about it.
We are wasting our time and money on reports, increased patrols, more CCTVs and punishing innocent local businesses with alcohol bans. The only “spirit” that needs to be banned here is probably the kampung “spirit”. If we can’t handle it, we’d better not import too much. Singapore Inc is beginning to look like a real country and life is not just about economic growth.
© Chan Joon Yee