On S377A and gay rights in Singapore

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I will once again not be in Singapore for this year’s Pink Dot celebration, scheduled for 5pm, June 28th at Hong Lim Park (see here).

Aside from being our biggest civil demonstration, and looking like a rather fun party, of all the illiberal policies in Singapore, nothing offends my sensibilities more than the continued criminalisation of male homosexuals.

As I mentioned at the launch of Hard Choices (see here), I strongly believe that the presence of this law is a stain on our collective moral conscience. In the same way that future generations of humans may wonder how the world took so long to get ecological sustainability right, I am certain future generations of Singaporeans will ask how a developed, democratic, aspiring global city took so long to guarantee fundamental rights to a minority group.

Of course gay rights, just like ethnic rights, women’s rights, and every other human right, is a function of the social norms of the day. But this is the 21st century: while the rest of the developed world wonders whether or not to legalise gay marriage, some Singaporeans cling onto atavistic fears, dressed in cultural relativism, about legalising homosexuals themselves.

Though I have spoken publicly about this bigotry many times and touched on it in Floating on a Malayan Breeze, this is my first article or blogpost on the matter.

I actually didn’t think it necessary to write this—since many more enlightened souls have already spoken—but two people recently convinced me to do so. But since so much has already been written in Singapore and overseas, I will limit myself to what I believe are under-explored areas on the issue. This is not meant to be a comprehensive essay.

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The Burning Man: A geographical analysis of a new-age pilgrimage

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At the top of “6 o’clock”, a main street in Black Rock City, Nevada

The folks at UC Berkeley’s library have just kindly dug out my Geography Undergraduate Honours Thesis from 2002 and scanned it. I had somehow lost every single copy, a depressing combination of hard-drive crashes and absent-minded post-graduation packing.

It was interesting for me to reread it now, both for reminiscence sake and to ponder how my writing has changed over the years.

The Burning Man is a yearly festival in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Dessert that I have now attended thrice: in 2002 when I was walking around with a notebook interviewing people; in 2003, sans notebook, to partake in all the art, joy and partying that I had missed the year before; and in 2009 when my sister, brother-in-law, cousins and very good friend wanted to go for the very first time.

The Burning Man is very close to my heart, partly because of the great art on offer and partly because by living for a week in “the gift economy”, where money can’t buy you anything, one learns to appreciate labour and human interaction outside the mental confines of commerce. (One also learns to appreciate just how long the human body can go without a shower.)

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#FreeMyInternet: My statement at Hong Lim Park

Dear friends, unfortunately, I was not FreeMyInternetable to be at Hong Lim Park on Saturday, June 8th, to join the protest against the silly new Internet regulations in Singapore. I have just embarked on a seven-month trip across India and China, to do research for my second book. (Click here to read about my new project.)

Andrew Loh, the organiser, asked me to send him a short 200-word statement for him to read out. Thanks Andrew, appreciate it.

Here is the statement:

Dear friends, whatever our political beliefs, we should collectively oppose this regulation. Nobody should tell you what news is good and what is bad. That is for you to decide.

Some people will say, “Nevermind, it’s only 10 websites.” But that’s only the beginning. You give one inch, eventually they take one mile. Never let the authorities believe that they are more enlightened than you.

This new ruling will feed self censorship in Singapore—definitely in all those 10 websites, but also amongst other online writers.

Self censorship is a terrible thing. It infects a writer slowly, subconsciously. All of us in Singapore are affected by self censorship. It prevents us from having a richer, fuller dialogue.

Although we disagree with something someone is saying online, we should fight for that person’s right to say it.

Even if you trust the current government and the current MDA to do the right thing, do you trust tomorrow’s government? Do you trust tomorrow’s MDA?

You may hold the majority opinion now, but one day you might be in the minority. When that day comes, you will be thankful that we have a Free Internet for you to speak your mind.

Why has Singapore failed to prepare its citizens adequately for the knowledge economy? Part 2

Credit: www.hongkiat.com

This is Part 2 of 2. To read Part 1, click here.

 The Singapore model—why it struggles to produce knowledge workers

If we accept the argument that the average Singaporean worker will, compared to his/her paper credentials, underperform in a knowledge-based role, it is worth discussing some of the environmental and institutional reasons why.

This essay points to several factors: the nature of meritocracy in Singapore, the country’s pedagogical approach, the socio-political climate, and materialism.

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Why has Singapore failed to prepare its citizens adequately for the knowledge economy?

Credit: www.hongkiat.com

One of China’s main challenges is “cultural habits that limit imagination and creativity, rewarding conformity….China will inevitably catch up to the US in GDP. But its creativity may never match America’s because its culture does not permit a free exchange and contest of ideas.”

– Lee Kuan Yew, Time, Feb 4th 2013

This essay argues that Singapore’s developmental model, while efficient at producing workers for most jobs in a manufacturing- and service-based economy, has failed to adequately prepare citizens for knowledge work. The average Singaporean worker will thus underperform in a knowledge role relative to his/her own paper credentials.

In particular, when compared to similarly-qualified workers from other developed countries, the average Singaporean is: less willing to challenge convention or question authority; more afraid to take risks/move out of comfort zone; and more likely to display a silo mentality with poor cross-collaboration skills.

This essay points to several factors that might explain these characteristics: the nature of meritocracy in Singapore, the country’s pedagogical approach, the socio-political climate, and the materialist culture.

Consequently, it is important for Singapore to enact specific reforms in order to better prepare Singaporeans for work in their own knowledge economy.

Among other things, this will boost Singapore’s overall productivity, lessen the dependence on highly-skilled foreigners and moderate resentment amongst Singaporeans against similarly-qualified foreigners who are currently being chosen over them for knowledge-based positions.

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CNA – Views on the News May 14th 2013

Dear friends, I appeared on CNAChannel_NewsAsia_logo_(shape_only).svg earlier this morning to talk about a transsexual being allowed to marry in Hong Kong (yay!), Nawaz Sharif’s election as PM of Pakistan, and Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

Click here to watch.

Cheeky Harry cartoon from Malaysia, 1983

Dear friends, given the recent hullabaloo over the arrest of a Singaporean cartoonist, and the fact that it’s Labour Day, I thought I might share a somewhat naughty cartoon that pokes fun of Lee Kuan Yew’s handling of workers (Pekerja), the opposition (Pembangkang), minority cultures (Kaum minoriti) and Chinese education (Pendidikan Cina).

This is the front cover of the Feb 1983 issue of a now defunct Malaysian bilingual monthly publication, Nadi Insan. This hangs on the “Press Freedom Wall” in Malaysiakini‘s KL office.

No disrespect to the old man; but I always find it interesting to see depictions of Malaysia and Singapore (and our leaders) by the other side.

Nadi Insan

I have so many questions about this cartoon: Did LKY do something particularly nasty in late 1982 to provoke this cover? What exactly does the caricature represent? It seems like he’s wearing a sumo outfit, but with the face and fangs of one of those scary Indonesian monsters. Comments, thoughts much appreciated. Continue reading

Goodbye full time, Hello freelance

Though I am not given to soppy, soul-searching posts, I suppose there are times when life cries out for them. Up till a year ago, I was fairly certain I was going to spend the majority of my working life at The Economist Group, and now I find myself on the verge of leaving my job for the unpredictable world of freelancing. Easter Sunday is my last day.

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Everybody has quibbles about their job; and life is no different here. Yet I think we have it better than most. Laissez faire culture; good work-life balance; stimulating environment for a writer; flat corporate structure; and lots of interesting work. (See my other post, “Our work at The Economist Group”.) Continue reading