I was in a taxi on my way home from Tampines. The radio was tuned to a station playing Chinese oldies. This beautiful local song brings back many distant, dreamy memories.
It was sung by Tracy Huang for a local drama series. It was also sung by local xinyao singer Dawn Gan. Though Tracy’s vocals were more powerful, Dawn was better able to express the sweet innocence that characterises this song.
By the way, Dawn was my senior in JC.
Here’s another xinyao by Peter Ang and Dawn Gan. It’s another sweet, romantic piece using the imagery of walking on the beach and admiring one’s lover’s reflection on the wet sand to express a pure and demure kind of romance.
On xinyao videos all over YouTube, I see nostalgic comments about how these songs remind the listeners of their first love, their schools, their teachers, their friends and an innocent, beautiful past that can only be briefly relived by listening to these songs. There were many, many more; most of which have been lost forever due to the lack of public interest and demand. Many of our youngsters were not even aware that such songs exist? Is xinyao dead? Well, not quite.
I’m sure no one would expect our PM to bring out the subject of xinyao at a National Day Rally, but I certainly got his message and his intention. He wasn’t going to fund some xinyao campaign. He wasn’t even promoting xinyao and he certainly wasn’t lamenting the death of the movement which took the country by storm from the 1980s to the mid 1990s. Our PM was just making an attempt to connect with the man on the street. But there is a lot more that those of us who truly appreciate xinyao can see in the birth, growth and decline of the movement.
I was a big fan of xinyao and my passion went way beyond our Prime Minister’s “很有意思”. Back then, even the most cynical, xenophilic Singaporean holding the belief that 本地姜不辣 had to agree that the youngsters who composed and sang these songs were a passionate and talented bunch. Xinyao fever swept across our tiny little island like an unstoppable tsunami. We heard those songs on radio all day, every day. Xinyao albums on cassette tapes were selling like hot mantou at record shops and cassette stalls all over the island.
These amateur musicians must have been overwhelmed by their sweeping success. For the first time, performers were hitting the stage and wowing the audience, not in sequined costumes and big hats but in T-shirts and jeans. Merely with guitars and harmonicas, they played songs that saw their way into our local charts – the weekly 龙虎榜. Their professional counterparts must have been seething with envy. Surprises aside, the incredible thing that demolishes any argument about Singapore being too small, is that with a population of barely 3 million, we managed to spin original Singaporean songs that the Chinese-speaking public loved. This only lends credence to the adage that 麻雀虽小五脏俱全 (a sparrow may be small, but it has a complete set of organs). Singapore may be small, but there is no missing department here.
Another burning question arises from the success of our xinyao and I’ll come to it later. First, let’s take a look at our “little sampan”. In a letter to Today newsPAPer, one Lee Hong Leong said that we can’t afford to rock our sampan. Nothing new there. Our government has been reminding us of the fragile nature of the peace and racial harmony here. Hence, it is necessary that we set limits to free speech. I have a very different view of the cause of this fragility. Just as someone said that we are a cleaned city and not a clean one, keeping a tight lid on the discussion of sensitive issues is the direct cause of this fragility. I’ve already blogged quite a bit on that. In this posting, I shall focus on another area – our talent pool which has been receiving an overdose of nutrients which enrich GDP without giving a boost to other areas. Where is the balance that will hold our sampan steady?
Our “liberal” immigration policies are often defended with the argument that we need growth and talent. But we can all sense that something is not quite right as our population soars towards 6.9M, ostensibly with its racial composition intact. In the past few years since GE2011, people have been complaining about the quality of immigrants we have let in. The people have been criticising our immigrant policies for being “too liberal”. I think not. I think the problem lies in the fact that these policies are not liberal enough, resulting in unhealthy, lopsided development. We should grant fewer citizenships to the “cream of the crop” (by our government’s definition). We don’t need another Gong Li, Vivian Hsu, Cecilia Cheung, Jackie Chan, Jet Li etc – all Singapore citizens who add absolutely no value to our local entertainment scene! Maybe I was asking too much. How about an appearance at our National Day Parade? I think we should instead grant citizenship to nurses, bus drivers, toilet cleaners, hawker assistants, struggling artists and scientists. Don’t yao mo gao chor me. Our forefathers were labourers. The kiasu, kiasi and gian png may worry about these folks straining the economy (and making them pay more taxes) but to what extent did poor scientists like Michael Faraday strain the British economy?
Folks who Stomp and make videos of poorly-behaved foreigners go viral are barking up the wrong tree. Ultimately, the country is not going to suffer much from the oddball who takes a dump in front of a shopping mall. However, we will suffer if the “financially talented” opportunists come in to rob our own people of opportunities. No, I don’t have any issues with citizenship being awarded to toilet cleaners. But I do have an issue with too many opportunistic sportsmen, wealthy tax evaders and foreign scholars who have ambitions way beyond our shores. How many passionate artists and musicians have we imported? To what extent have our talented imports regarded Singapore as home and done the country proud? Can our Chinese scholars write xinyao? If we have imported so many talented people from China, shouldn’t xinyao be thriving today?
While GDP growth can indeed be achieved through population growth and importing foreign talent does benefit us to a certain extent, I find it such a tragedy that the little sparrow has grown more lungs, livers and kidneys than necessary while its spleen and heart have atrophied. We used to be a sampan with its own kitchen, its own library and even its own music room. What happened to turn it into a bank that is sinking from the weight of imported gold?
Perhaps our PM should also listen to this xinyao. 很有意思。
© Chan Joon Yee