A local singer/songwriter Mr Wong, wrote a piece for Zaobao in which he lamented Sengkang’s loss of a 谦卑有礼 (humble and courteous) minister. I found it strange that Mr Wong should describe the former minister that way, being a non-conformist who eschews Singapore’s passionless materialism.
To be fair, the former minister could be 谦卑有礼. Some 3 years ago when he came door-to-door at my block, my neighbours were thrilled to the gills. They took selfies with him and acted like children seeing Santa Claus – quite an appropriate analogy because they kept talking about more covered walkways, more buses, more facilities at playgrounds etc. And the thing about my neighbours is that when they have one covered walkway, they ask for two. When they have two, they ask for three. Some want more buses, more bus stops, more lifts etc. Our ex-minister was indeed 谦卑有礼 as he promised my neighbours that he would look into their requests.
Then he came to my home and he asked me whether there were too many rats and cockroaches in the neighbourhood. I swear that’s what he asked me. You see, there was indeed a rodent problem at Punggol back then. I took the photo below on the track along Sungei Serangoon.
I replied that the rat problem was being worked on. I was more concerned that there were too many people. The nice kampung feel of Punggol with all the kite-flying on open fields when I first moved in almost 20 years ago, was fast disappearing. He was surprised that I didn’t behave like a child pandering to Santa Claus. Instead of asking him for more covered walkways and feeder buses, I discussed population targets, job opportunities for local PMETs, the world class education system not producing world class talent and what the new economy should look like. Obviously unprepared for a debate at my front door, the ex-minister and ex-general ceased to be 谦卑有礼. He started lecturing, insisting that if the government didn’t do what it’s doing, you die, I die, everybody die.
People behave differently under different circumstances. In this case, the ex-minister cum ex-general followed a charted and predictable course into the heartlands, expecting hungry heartlanders to welcome him with open arms and present him with a wish list. He’s a minister. He has the power, the authority and the influence. Who else do you go to? Who can give you more? Indeed, the ex-minister cum ex-general could be forgiven for behaving like Santa Claus because everyone was behaving like ravenous children. Except that they are ever hungry for more and more estate upgrading. But he was a minister (forget about the general part). He was dealing with national issues. Shouldn’t we discuss these issues with him and shouldn’t he be more prepared with answers to both frequently asked and not so frequently asked questions?
I guess Chan Joon Yee is an anomaly in this rather technologically sophisticated but ideologically simplistic society. There are people talking behind my back. They say “He eats and lives so well. Why does he still write all those anti-establishment things.” Some even say “Ironically, he is a product of the system he criticises. What an ingrate.”
Yao mo gao chor ah? Successful you may be a product of your parents’ years of nurturing, but if your elderly mother refuses to take her medicines, you have no right to chide her? The fact that I’ve emerged as a relatively successful product of the system does not mean that the system is perfect and ought to be immune to challenges from me.
This is a book I bought on my last visit to Chengdu about 4 years back. It’s written by a Chinese woman who migrated to Europe after marrying her Swedish husband. A departure from the stereotype of poor Chinese women marrying wealthy foreigners, the author married a photographer and migrated into a slow, inefficient and unexciting world without KTVs and soaring stock markets. It gives soulless and arrogant Chinese people a perspective on life’s more meaningful pursuits, arriving at the same if not higher level of happiness at a snail’s pace.
I’m not an ascetic. Poverty sucks. And I would hesitate to judge single mothers and people who have a sick parent and hefty medical bills. When you’re desperate, you do what you need to do, even if you must bend over backwards. But the majority of people I know are living way above water. When they already have a house, they strive for a bigger house. When they already have a car, they strive for a bigger car. When they already have a $2,000 bag, they strive for a $20,000 bag, keeping all passions, ideals and principles at bay.
In China, there’s a common saying among the folks who embrace the life purpose of accumulating wealth. As obedient citizens, they mind their own business of accumulating wealth and let the government do its job without any “interference”. But what if the government makes mistakes? What if their policies are not working out? What if the leaders act in the interests of their inner circle of elites and the benefits don’t trickle down? Do the people have a voice to share their ideas, opinions and complaints?
As mentioned earlier, I see the victory at Sengkang as only a consolation prize. If enough people could endure a little inconvenience in exchange for a louder voice in Parliament vis-a-vis living costs, citizenship rights, mature workers’ job security and our children’s future, then that would be a genuine victory for not just Sengkang but the rest of Singapore as well. However, if enough people behave like my neighbours did back then and lament the loss of Santa Claus, then they would only have themselves to blame if life gets harder and harder in spite of all the “gifts” in the form of covered walkways and feeder buses. Yes, freedom and democracy can’t be eaten. Either can you chew on a covered walkway.