Happy Birthday to a Smart Nation

So what’s new? On 26 July 2019, uncles and aunties from all walks of life flocked to Huawei stores island-wide, believing that they could get their hands on a Y6 Pro 2019 phone for only $54.

Huawei Y6 Pro (2017) Tanıtıldı

This National Day promotion is from July 26 to 28 and is open only to Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 50 and above. Each person is limited to two phones.

The smartphone, which originally retails for $198, had its price creatively slashed to $54 to match Singapore’s 54th year of independence. The offer itself is not too surprising. The unbelievable thing, is that each outlet was only giving out 30 sets of the mobile phone at that price. Were they seriously expecting at most 30 people (each buying only one) to turn up to grab the offer?

Yao mo gao chor ah? Are the Huawei folks new to kiasu, kiasi, gian png Singapore? If giving out a free apple and a tiny bottle of water at community centres during a VIP visit can magnetise a snaking line reaching 100m, what do you think offering a phone at over 70% discount can do? Chiong ah! I’ve lived through a time of water-rationing and not seen anything as bad and bitter as this.

The situation reached the brink of chaos when the angry old folks discovered that they were not getting their $54 phones. Many of them had stood in line for half a day and it all came to nought. A woman had even fainted while waiting. The counter staff at Huawei must have been peeing in their pants. When questioned, the Huawei spokesperson declined to reveal the total number of handsets made available for the promotion.

“We are truly sorry to have disappointed those who have showed your support from early morning.” says their public statement made on social media.

My guess is that even if they had enough stocks to satisfy everyone in the queue, the company could have been bankrupted if they had really sold thousands of sets at that promotional price. The only thing they could do to save their lives was to terminate the 3-day promotion within hours on the first day and declare the phones “sold out”.

The crowd got so angry and tenacious (as if their lottery winnings were denied) that some places had to call in the special task force in case disgruntled uncles and aunties turned into protestors. Several outlets had to shut down for the day for security reasons.

All this is rather baffling and amusing to many of my foreigner friends. Testy uncles and aunties refuse to leave, demanding that the company kept its “promise”. The is perhaps the closest we get to a protest or demonstration. In Malaysia, they had the Bersih marches. In Hong Kong, they marched against the extradition bill. Taiwanese turned up in huge numbers during the Sunflower Movement, protesting the government’s acceptance of a trade agreement that would ultimately hurt Taiwan. In Singapore … more than anything, it shows our level of sophistication and engagement with public policies.

Imagine earlier on, we had pundits and “reluctant editors” like Leslie Fong talking down to protestors in HK, telling them they should calm down and not tear the city apart. From the dodgy and familiar Facebook pages, you could even see how our very own 五毛党 (not sure how much our internet brigade is paid in SGD) tried to berate HK protestors as foolish and having nothing better to do.

Some academics and intellectuals here believed that the protestors were manipulated by shady characters or the protest has more to do with visceral and pragmatic concerns like high cost of living than the lofty ideals of “one country two systems”. A few kiasi fellow Singaporeans even celebrated the lack of freedom and Democracy in tightly-controlled Singapore. Their rationale? At least they don’t stand a chance of getting their heads cracked open by some thug in a white shirt.

Singapore’s war hero, Lieutenant Adnan Saidi

So what would these guys, armed with an unloaded SAR21, do when they face a guy in a white shirt holding a metal pipe? Fix bayonet and fight? Fat chance. They would probably flee or surrender. You can’t eat freedom, can you? Yes, we can’t depend on foreigners to defend the nation, but can we depend on our own people if they wouldn’t even dream of sacrificing material comfort to uphold lofty ideals? And that’s really what makes Singapore so peaceful and governable. It has more to do with the type of people than the type of government we have.

I’m sure that the high cost of living plays a part in Hong Kong’s latest protests, but the root cause of this exploding resentment lies in the noose that Beijing is tightening around Hong Kong. Many of our local “experts” believe that complete control by Beijing is not necessarily a bad thing as far as developing the economy is concerned. Sophisticated Hongkongers (not that foul-mouthed cabby) obviously think otherwise. Make no mistake, the latest bill is a slippery slope. A deluge of restrictive laws and policies will certainly follow. This is the 背水一战 that Jimmy Lai has been talking about. Like Chip Tsao and many others, he believes that Hong Kong is finished. To them, it’s a choice of two consequences. Either HK goes down in a catastrophe, or it gets slowly suffocated by an authoritarian regime, becoming just another ordinary Chinese city that lacks wit and soul. Either way, vibrant and diverse Hongkong will be no more.

Now what say you if some polished and highly articulate Hongkonger schools our seniors on how to behave when a private company terminates its promotion prematurely? Isn’t this embarrassing Huawei debacle a far better illustration of being foolish and having nothing better to do? But no. Things have been turned the other way around in this intellectually unhealthy society. Over here, people boast about their clever cowardice and petty gains (ala $54 phone). It’s considered foolish to get angry when your rights and principles are being violated as long as those who violate them give you estate upgrading, run community services and give out a free apple and a bottle of water during VIP visits.

We are not just celebrating our 54th year of independence this year. Singapore is 200 years old if you start counting from the time the British signed a treaty with some of the nominal Malay rulers of that time. Who owned Singapore back then? Raffles and Fahquar settled matters with Hussein Shah (whose brother seized the throne in Johor) and Temenggong Abdul Rahman (of Johor). Did Singapore really belong to them? Well, yes if the British navy said so.

The theme for NDP 2019 is Our Singapore. That’s vague enough not to provoke any emotional reactions, but will it cultivate a sense of belonging with transient citizens? You can start the video below at 12.40.

As I’ve pointed out before, we gave Anton Casey hell when he commented on the stench on our public transport, but when Jim Rogers wrote in his book that Singaporean Chinese should not complain about recent immigrants from China as they are superior to our lowly forefathers, nobody said anything. There is one thing I like about Jim Rogers. He pointed out that our English sucks and his grand-daughter (who studies Chinese) told him that our Chinese sucks too. Who cares when we have nice GDP numbers and $54 phones, right?

I agree with Chip Tsao that there is no turning back now. But even without the influence of these immigrants, Singapore will become more and more like China, less and less like HK as the leadership makes control and close supervision a priority. We can all look forward to more smart devices that will keep the authorities informed of every move we make in Our Singapore. I’ll be off to climb a mountain. Happy National Day in advance.

© Chan Joon Yee

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