So what’s new? Our Terrex vehicles are finally back home after being detained in Hong Kong for 2 months. Of course, a thorough “serviceability check” is in order. I’m not sure if any legal action due to the detention will follow, but we probably should close one eye if there’re just a couple of screws missing.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s ban on travellers from 7 predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the US has yielded both support and opposition from different factions of American society. I’m amazed how the bigots over there could have the audacity to voice their prejudices against all norms of “Western” political correctness. In contrast, the bigots here would never step out of their homes without their masks. Having said that, hypocrites come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Condemn Donald Trump? What if Singapore were 100 times bigger? Would you welcome refugees, especially those from the 7 countries? Or would you say the politically correct thing in public but secretly vote for Donald Trump in the booth?
Anyway, in the wake of all this tussle, US President Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she refused to uphold his executive order banning entry into the US by citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and questioned the measure’s legality. Aren’t we all glad that there is a two-party system in the US, the president’s powers are limited by an independent judiciary (and Federal Reserve) and there are companies like Google and Starbucks that confront the government’s bad policies instead of playing the poodle for grants.
Closer to home, Philippine president Duterte has finally noticed that his war on drugs has gone too far and possibly veered in the wrong direction. Of course, this follows the diplomatic disaster of rogue officers mistakenly killing a South Korean businessman. The number of Filipino futile fatalities is however, not known.
“We will cleanse our ranks.” declared police chief, Ronald dela Rosa. He estimated that it would take only one month to do that – which makes me wonder why he didn’t doing the cleaning before this “war” was started. Isn’t it counter-productive to have to stop it for a month now? Or would it take a long longer than that? Would it mean business as usual for the drug dealers soon?
Fortunately, there’s probably less chance of things veering in the wrong direction here in Singapore where the planting of every tree needs approval and every community project must be guided by the hand of authority. Estates need upgrading. Education needs enhancement in the form of tuition. Nothing is left to chance; the course of nature allowed to run only when it doesn’t cross our path.
Speaking at a Chinese New Year event (blessed by the hand of authority), our very imposing (described by the Economist as “feared”) Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that a sense of “rootedness” through “culture” will help Singapore anchor itself amid global headwinds, especially in the face of a growing pushback against political correctness, such as that in Europe.
He further added that “our strength comes from our individual cultures”.
Huh? Like that also can ah? What’s his point, really? While I’m quite comfortable with the way things are in Singapore since I’ve grown up in this racially diverse environment, eating anything from nasi lemak to roti prata, I’m not sure if “our strength comes from our individual cultures” can have any positive effect on “rootedness”. Common sense tells us that a national identity comes from a common identity and not “individual cultures”.
Take Thailand for instance. If you tell a Thai that you’re Thai, it means that you’re one of the group referred to as pi nong chao Thai. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be asked your ancestry unless perhaps if you look like a Farang. Thai people from the lowest to the highest stratum of society feel proud of their Thainess and may get violent if you insult their country or king. They may need to work overseas to earn a living. Their students may get really lousy Pisa scores. They still love their country and feel proud of it. How’s that for “rootedness”? Frankly, there is nothing remotely close to that in Singapore.
Strength in our individual cultures, Mr Shanmugam? Over here, minorities from the younger generation can still complain about shops being closed during Chinese New Year, triggering a “virtual racial riot” when the Chinese kids retaliate by disparaging the minorities. This begs the question. Are we cultivating genuine racial harmony or are we merely imposing rules of engagement that suppress dissension? Back in Bangkok, you can bet your last baht that Thais won’t complain about shops being closed or getting drenched on the streets during Songkran. If there’s any “rootedness” to talk about in Singapore at all, I’m glad that it exists in spite of our cultural diversity and certainly not because of it.
On the stage, local film-maker Kirsten Tan became the first Singaporean to win an award at the celebrated Sundance Film Festival on Sunday (Jan 29 2017), when her film, Pop Aye, took home the gong for the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting.
While congratulations are in order, we need to acknowledge that Ms Tan’s talent is not exactly “homegrown”. She is currently based in New York, where she studied film-making at the Tisch School of the Arts. She had also lived in Bangkok during her early 20s, running a T-shirt store in a street market. That reminds me of my younger years bringing tourists on soft adventure trips to remote, exotic parts of the kingdom. I guess we got a lot of our inspiration from a spicy, somewhat disorderly society that is not afraid to show human nature in its ugliest and most beautiful form. The chaotic streets of Bangkok, the heinous crimes reported in their media, the genuine compassion of their volunteers, the aroma of heavily spiced food being fried in the open air, the peaceful temple grounds that turn into a hive of activity during festivals, the cool, misty mountains, the smiling good and evil all contribute good material for artistic creation.
But what happens when you guide the arts (film in this case) with the hand of authority? What if Ms Tan is holding an important post in our civil service? What if the only time she goes out is to attend events organised by grassroots leaders? What if the themes for her films were restricted to happy Singaporeans, racial harmony and good government? What if she is short on cash? The “monetary muse” steps in. According to Today newsPAPer, there is the “National Integration Council’s Community Integration Fund”, which subsidises events to urge locals and foreigners to mingle. There is also the “People’s Association’s Integration and Naturalisation Champions”, where community leaders welcome new citizens and residents through house visits, parties and festive celebrations. And here’s the best part for filmmakers who want grants.
There has also been an attempt to inspire social integration through film. Last year, the Ministry of Communications and Information launched the Lapis Sagu Film Contest, a crowd-sourced competition for short film ideas about cultural diversity and local-foreigner relations in Singapore, in collaboration with four well-known Singapore film directors — Eric Khoo, K Rajagopal, Kelvin Tong and Sanif Olek….
… The winning entries include a zombie tale, and stories set in space, the workplace and the Basic Military Training phase of Singapore’s National Service.
One of the winners said he joined the contest to “capture the kampung spirit between neighbours — how we look out for one another and live together harmoniously”, and another because of her “passion for multiculturalism and multilingualism”.
Yes, the zombie tale is fictional, but so are all the others. The news article went on to suggest that a film project telling biographical stories of meaningful relationships of people from various races and nationalities in Singapore could be more effective. In case it’s not obvious enough, only those with happy endings need apply.
© Chan Joon Yee