Brain Drain, Beauty Drain

This is a good time to revisit a post I made some time ago. An “unofficial” photo of the Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant 2017 which has been circulating online drew a chorus of jeers from netizens. The Straits Times (our local newsPAPer) remarked that this “brought out the ugly side of some netizens”.

While I agree that those who pass all sorts of mean and stupid comments are being “ugly”, an objective look at the picture will still bring plenty of sighs and facepalms. While some folks may ignore such things or even claim that it’s a good sign that we have gone beyond the superficial, I see it as a sign of a worrying trend, a trend of Singapore becoming a dumping ground for foreign talent that can’t make it. A recent trip to Australia has revealed to me that some of the hotel housekeepers (from China) over there speak much better English than our PhD students (also from China).

The organiser of the pageant, ERM Singapore Marketing, revealed that six of the finalists are permanent residents, with three originating from China and three from Malaysia. They further explained that the contestants will have makeovers over subsequent weeks and the pageant organiser said the picture circulating online was taken before the makeovers.

The winner in Miss Kuek Ziyi’s competition (Miss Singapore World 2015) is someone still very deeply rooted in Myanmar. Check out her Facebook profile. Suffice to say that those of us who are not as “expert” as the judges would have picked a different winner. For this year’s pageant, I suggest that we hold our laughter until the winner is announced. We can then show the judges’ faces and have a good laugh at them.

But let’s face it. This is a competition and just like exams, people enter competitions to obtain a passport into showbiz and not only showbiz. Many former Miss Singapore winners have launched successful businesses and social enterprises, riding on the fame and glamour of beauty pageants. To me, that’s perfectly respectable. Eunice Olsen (Miss Singapore Universe 2000) was a Nominated MP. Madam Audrey Quek (Miss Singapore World 1999), with whom I’m acquainted, runs her own image consultancy and she’s even a fellow author. Sadly, a combination of “economic” factors has greatly diminished the fame and glamour associated with local beauty pageants. They are not even deemed worth broadcasting by our TV stations. The good sponsors, good judges and even good audiences have neglected this once glamorous and exciting event and what is left is a drab and pathetic excuse for a beauty pageant that we see now.

© Dewdrop Publications Singaporean woman (a graduate) who does not wish to be named

See, even a nobody and non-expert like me can pick out a very presentable representative for the Singapore woman without resorting to fancy “makeovers”. The real problem does not lie in Singapore’s lack of talent or beauty and the solution does not lie in lowering the bar to allow more foreigners in. Yes, there is an acute shortage of available talent (the operative word being “available”) but the saddest part is, talent and beauty are everywhere in Singapore. It’s just not “available” because of various economic and ridiculously, even “moral” reasons. Remember I wrote about the doctor in a beauty pageant who found it inconvenient to reveal her profession? That’s what I mean. There is nothing wrong with these women (and the men who appreciate their beauty) but something is very wrong with our narrow-minded society full of moralists who need to maintain their superegos by judging others.

Long ago in a travelogue, I’ve also written that every country needs a little “unemployment” to keep it nice, healthily multi-dimensional and beautiful. Not many people see the logic. They think that it’s perfectly OK for a country not to have sportsmen, writers, musicians and performance artists. John McCain famously said that Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country. Is Singapore just an austere, bean-counting corporation masquerading as a country?

So what do talented people do when their society does not offer them opportunities? Just like domestic workers, they seek opportunities elsewhere. Check out Miss Kuek Ziyi’s activities away from home.

If anything positive can come out of that dreadful image, I hope it reminds us of the ugly reality behind our brain and beauty drain. But then, what good will it do even if we realise something but don’t do anything about it? People will only go on laughing at others without knowing that they are actually laughing at themselves.

© Chan Joon Yee

Dewdrop Books