Separation

The wildest Covid-19 border story I’ve heard involves a Malaysian speeding in her car towards Singapore, only to find a huge jam at the border crossing. Arriving at six in the evening, this friend of a friend had given herself plenty of time to make the midnight cut-off, after which foreigners would no longer be easily allowed into Singapore and the complications of modern travel would kick in: quarantines, swabs and stay-at-home notices. With her family and job waiting in Singapore, she had to make it back.

To be sure, there is always some traffic on the two bridges that connect the Malay peninsula to the island of Singapore. Memang jam gao gao, surely there will be a heavy jam, a Malaysian might quip, combining three languages in the most delightful creole phrase. Memang is Malay for surely. Gao is Hokkien for thick or heavy. And jam is, well, not the strawberry kind. Memang jam gao gao, but nobody expected it to be like this.

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Media and democracy: A video podcast with Breaking the Spell

This is a conversation with old buddy Unsu Lee and newer one Douglas Evans about media, censorship, diversity, propaganda and democracy. Thanks for having me on your show guys! Was lots of fun.And of course, thanks a lot to Min-Wei Ting, the man behind the camera. Copy from Breaking the Spell: “Why Care About Media and Democracy in Singapore? A Conversation with Sudhir Vadaketh When … Continue reading Media and democracy: A video podcast with Breaking the Spell

Edmund Wee of Epigram Books

(Note: This is a longer version of a profile first published in May on Mekong Review. I have italicised the extra passages.)

Epigram Books owes its existence partly to Lee Kuan Yew’s secret police.

In 1981, as news broke that the Workers’ Party’s J.B. Jeyaretnam had won a by-election, thus breaking the ruling People’s Action Party’s stranglehold over Singapore’s parliament, plain-clothes officers from the Internal Security Department watched in horror as a young reporter from the Straits Times jumped up and down at the counting centre.

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Visiting my godfather’s grave

The visit to Uncle Sushil’s grave offered me a chance to think more broadly about our loved ones far away. Not being able to see them, for those of us lucky to avoid the worst, has been one of the central tragedies of the pandemic. In a world of restricted travel, how do we maintain those bonds?

When borders first closed, I immediately thought of my mum’s mum in Indore and my father’s brother in Toronto. Nani is over ninety and Uncle Sushil had experienced a number of recent health issues and scares. Pre-Covid I had always imagined that if they were nearing the end, I’d just hop on a plane to see them.

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Did we support, criticise or abuse Schooling? Let’s look at the data

For the first time since 2004, Team Singapore failed to win a single medal at the Olympics. Much attention understandably focussed on swimmer Joseph Schooling, who had won our first ever gold at Rio 2016, for the 100m butterfly, setting an Olympic record in the process. Following Schooling’s failure to qualify for the 100m semi-final at Tokyo 2020, finishing last in his heat, internet commentaries … Continue reading Did we support, criticise or abuse Schooling? Let’s look at the data

Tan Cheng Bock: A vision of Singapore’s future or past?

(Note: I researched and wrote this piece in mid 2019. It was originally published on New Naratif. Am republishing here for those who might have missed it. I have made edit notes on a couple of things that are out of date.)

The entry of Tan Cheng Bock and his newly registered Progress Singapore Party into the political fray has stirred up excitement. But is Tan, a former PAP backbencher, offering a vision of Singapore’s future, or a return to its past?

The winds that usher in Singapore’s election season are, in many ways, familiar to illiberal democracies everywhere. Flags and faces popping up; government handouts; public largesse on incumbent brand-building, camouflaged as patriotic projects; the instilling of fear through new demons within and old ones abroad; and the obsequious submission of media outfits that have grown dependent on juicy government contracts.

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How structural racism penalises minorities: is your HDB flat worth less?

Over the past week Singaporeans have been debating the definition of racism. Many within the establishment appear eager to define it narrowly: only crude, interpersonal racism qualifies. 

So, if somebody professes the inherent superiority of one race over another, or uses a racial slur—“Kiling Kia”, “Cina Babi”, etc.—that’s racist. Anything less obvious, so it goes, does not deserve the racist label.

The desire not to call something racist has sparked a cottage industry of euphemisms: “racial preferences”, “cultural insensitivity”, “racially problematic” and so on. Racism is Singapore’s Voldemort.

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Don’t date other races: the ghost of Lee Kuan Yew appears

Lee Kuan Yew once said that he would rise from his grave if he ever felt that “something is going wrong”. 

Few Singaporeans would have expected to see him reincarnated as Tan Boon Lee, a senior lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Engineering.

On June 6th, Tan is seen on a Facebook video publicly admonishing Dave Parkash, who is of mixed Indian-Filipino ancestry, for dating a Thai-Chinese girl (behind the camera).

“I have nothing against Indians, but I think it is racist for an Indian to marry a Chinese girl,” said Tan, in a statement so puzzling and prejudiced yet also so familiar to minorities in Singapore, in its inversion of racism. You are the racist, not me.

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Is the doctors’ letter fair opinion? Or a dangerous view that should be kept out of the public square?

(Disclosure: both my parents are medical specialists; my wife has a graduate diploma in family medicine though she no longer practices.)

Over the past week an interesting informational contest has emerged in Singapore over the publication of an open letter by twelve doctors to parents in which they cast doubt on the value of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine—and broadly any vaccine that relies on messenger RNA technology—to children.

Their letter has been meet with ridicule by the establishment, including calls by Calvin Cheng, a former nominated member of parliament and conservative commentator, for their medical licenses to be revoked (as part of his broader critique of the knowledge and expertise of family physicians).

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