Maradona

Maradona spoiled me. 

Mexico ’86 was the first full football tournament I watched. The excitement began well before, when every recess time a bunch of us nine-year-olds would huddle in the Saint Andrew’s School canteen, sometimes near the char kway teow uncle’s corner, sunlight creeping in to light his halo. 

We would pull little Panini packets out of our navy blue shorts and conduct the daily sticker exchange. By then school had become a distraction, our emotional cycles guided by football sticker fate. 

Even if the packet that you nervously tore open the evening before did not deliver, there was a chance that during recess you could trade. Some show offs would show up with rare commodities such as Gary Lineker or the glittering golden team stickers, insisting that they were strictly not for trade; only to later accept some ridiculous five-stickers-for-one offer. We were starting to learn about which friends would one day make great salesmen; and which friends should forever be kept far from the money.

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Why are there so many Champagne (Panettone) Socialists in Singapore?

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Bernie Sanders, US politicians and self-described Democrat Socialists, have in recent years been lampooned as Champagne Socialists. 

Among AOC’s sins include her fourteen-thousand dollar ensemble for a recent Vanity Fair cover, one merely borrowed for the shoot. (Did she dance in those Louboutins?) 

Bernie, meanwhile, triggered moralisers in 2016 when he bought his third home, this for some six-hundred-thousand dollars on Vermont’s Lake Champlain. Presumably the cantankerous grandpa should be living in a forest cabin, Unabomber style.

The label is as old and tired as it is persistent, over the years spawning countless others such as Gauche caviar and latte liberal. Despite its obvious inherent fallacy—supposedly only the poor have the moral right to fight for equality—it always elicits a sort of frenzied smugness among conservatives who are against greater redistribution. There are few more galvanising ripostes, more rewarding forms of “Got you!”, than the exposing of a political opponent’s apparent hypocrisy.

One wonders what those who brand their opponents “Champagne Socialist” really want. Would they rather the socialist forgo all trappings, and lead society through an agrarian Pol Pot-style revolution? Black pyjamas, sickles, onward to the countryside.

Perhaps the Champagne Socialist label is best viewed simply as a symptom of capitalism. As long as there is inequality, there will always be some further up the income ladder who are uncomfortable with the privilege of their class, with perceived injustices. Their attempts to promote greater social justice will, in turn, inevitably invite scorn. 

“…it forms an ugly paradox that applies only to the left,” writes Elizabeth Bruenig of The Washington Post. “If you care about material equality and you aren’t destitute, you’re a hypocrite; if you care about material equality and you are destitute, you’re never going to have a real shot at political engagement to begin with.”

Last week in Singapore Jamus Lim, a Workers’ Party (WP) member of parliament and chief advocate of a minimum wage, sparked outrage through a social media post about eating panettone this Christmas. 

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Forty-three

From Atalanta to Atlanta

In some strange way my birthday seems to have lasted five days, bookended by the Blues and the Reds going at each other.

I woke early on the fourth of November to watch Liverpool FC whip Atalanta FC five zero in a Champions League game, a sublime performance that made a good Italian team look like a schoolboy side.

Watching football these past few months has filled me with conflicting emotions. It’s great that sportspeople are giving us something to cheer about; yet the fact that they are going about their business while others around are entering lockdown seems somewhat strange, incongruous, unfair to all parties.

Liverpool played at Atalanta, in the Lombardy region of Italy, which is known by some as the “Wuhan of the West” and which is experiencing another uptick in cases. If something happened to the players or staff of either team, surely I, sitting safely at home with my muruku and IPA, would bear some tiny responsibility.

No matter. I jumped and screamed and tried to respond to happy birthday messages streaming in on WhatsApp. Great that in Europe the Reds have smashed the Blues, I told some buddies, and now a perfect day will be complete if in the US the Blues beat the Reds.

My objection, of course, is not to the Reds per se, but to the orange-haired buffoon whom they chose to represent and lead them.

And while I am not above acknowledging his ostensible successes—recalibrating relations with China?—I am also always, in every waking moment, with every turn of the newspaper, hyperconscious about the absolute toxicity and divisiveness and disregard for science and truth that has spread from The White House to the far reaches of this planet over these past four years. (I know some anti-vaxxers in Singapore who hang on his every word.)

I have read that nationalists in China have cheered the Trump Presidency for helping boost national consensus around foreign policy and their belief in their own political system. He has done more to discredit democracy, democratic processes, and democratic institutions than anybody else in recent memory. 

The level of idiocy that has infected autocrats in Asia is remarkable. I remember those moments after the 2016 elections. Many elites and PAP sycophants in Singapore peddled the “This is why democracy is bad” narrative. For them, democracy is only good when “the demos” agree with their choice, the choice that will protect their elite status and obscene salaries.

Sure enough, the following year Singapore was treated to a presidential election in which only one person in the entire country was deemed eligible to compete.

“Would you rather have Trump? Boris Johnson?” is the trademark retort of the unthinking PAP supporter, as if any critique of their political masters can be batted away with such asinine logic. 

No, sad to say, these worldly elites have not heard of Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Leo Varadkar, or any of the other impressive politicians Western democracies have produced in recent times.

Trump has been a bloody godsend for Asian autocrats; thank God he’s been fired. 

I felt a great sense of relief this afternoon, a long-awaited exhale into the cool November rain.

Only to realise that I’ve got to get ready for the next battle: the Reds of Liverpool against the Blues of Manchester City.

We go again.

Ageing, part I

This has probably been the first year in which I’ve really noticed my body slowing and taking longer to repair and heal. Three weeks ago when I visited Wild Wild Wet in Pasir Ris, I grabbed a blue float at the bottom of the slide, turned and started scampering towards the ladder. I made it about five metres before I slipped and fell, scraping my knee and foot. I jumped back up, putting on a brave face.

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The last time Liverpool won the league

The last time Liverpool won the league I had just entered secondary school in Singapore. And my dreams of playing football were about to be crushed. 

The father thought that football would distract me from my studies. And the principal thought that football would distract us from rugby. St. Andrew’s School, founded in 1862 by the British, had a rich rugby heritage that seemed to be in decline, caught pincer-like between traditional rivals Raffles and the new upstarts at Dunearn. 

Harry Tan, an ageing patriarch with viewpoints as stiff as his weak back, one day decreed that he was banning school football so that young athletes could focus on rugby. Upon hearing the news Indra Sahdan Daud, the football phenomenon in our team who would go on to captain Singapore, packed his bags and left for St. Gabriel’s.

So while we played rugby inside the school, we played football outside the school, using a plastic ball that drifted in the wind, on a cement handball court that was primed for bruises and sprains, smack in the middle of Potong Pasir, then proudly the only opposition ward in the whole country. 

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A free ride: Singapore’s prime minister in a muddle

Often when Singaporean politicians stray from the script, they produce gems, phrases for the ages, words destined for internet meme stardom.

Yesterday I was on my way home from town when four buddies messaged me on separate chats: “Did you hear what he just said?”; “Did you see the exchange?”; “Free riders? Hmm.” 

Like the fan who is late to the game and has missed the opening goal, I scoured YouTube as soon as I got home. 

I watched Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, describing a segment of opposition voters as “free riders”, in a parliamentary exchange with Pritam Singh, the leader of the opposition.

Mr Lee was specifically referring to Singaporean voters who voted for the opposition even though they expected the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to win the election.

“But if you say, vote for for me, somebody else will vote for the PAP, and therefore the PAP will be the government, that, the economists will call a free rider. It means that you’re taking advantage of somebody else who’s doing their duty of electing a government for the nation.” (Video at the bottom.)

This is an awful thing for a country’s leader to say about its voters. Here are five reasons why.

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Why always Indians?

Anti-Indian sentiment is rising in Singapore; opaque data fuels it; Singaporeans deserve transparency and inclusive public discourse.

“Oh no, we don’t mean you! We like Singapore Indians. It is the India Indians who are the problem.”
I have long heard some form of this and it always makes me a bit uneasy.

“India Indians”, for those unversed in the intricacies of ethnicity here, is our colloquialism for newer Indian migrants, to differentiate them from “Singapore Indians” like myself, born and brought up here.

Of course it’s a spectrum. I always joke with my mum, who moved here from Calcutta in 1974, that she is stuck somewhere between the two. (My dad is a third-gen Malayan, whose family moved here from Selangor in the 1950s.)

Yet that statement makes me uneasy largely because I can empathise with my fellow Singaporeans. There are many seemingly legitimate grievances here that have not been given a fair hearing.

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Join me on a live video chat this coming Sunday

Happy National Day! Celebrate Singapore’s 55th birthday with Jack and Rai, Singapore’s most famous ageing boy band, and me, as I appear on their weekly Sunday night chat show, “Live and Late with Jack & Rai”. The show begins at 930pm and I will probably come on at 10ish. You can watch it on the Jack and Rai Facebook page. We will generally be talking … Continue reading Join me on a live video chat this coming Sunday

What’s next for “SudhirTV”?

Dear friends, supporters, viewers,

Following the modest success of my GE2020 videos, many of you have asked me to keep producing written and video content on Singapore. And the assorted social media gurus in my life have told me I need to keep up “engagement” and what not. Thanks so much for the support.

Well, unfortunately, I am soon going to retreat into my writing shell. I must finish my China-India book, which is almost done. But I’ll probably need another four to five months at least, perhaps more. Aside from the odd post about food or my unwashed hoodie, you won’t hear from me regularly during this time.

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Autographed books on sale now

Dear friends and readers, In recent weeks, some of you have asked about my two published books, Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore and Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus. As always, for those who want to read but not buy, you can find both books at most libraries in Singapore; and I’m always happy to lend you mine. For those … Continue reading Autographed books on sale now