Friday, May 04, 2007

Nationhood-- what will bind us & what went wrong?

Yes I know I have promised to write the article on whether we should let local transport companies to continue to depend on Public Transport Fare Hike or not but recently there are good discussions going on about Nationhood, patriotism, emigration and stuffs like that.

A good article could be found at this blog named "Chasing Idle Dreams".

There is also an open letter by an ex-journalist posted on The Online Citizen

There is also an article on Today:

Not a recipe to win hearts over
More intrinsic appeal needed to woo overseas locals back

Siew Kum Hong

I WENT to Singapore Day in New York a couple of weeks back. I was there for work, was with a Singaporean friend living in the city who wanted to go, and eventually found myself in Central Park on a bright, sunny Saturday.

The event was undoubtedly a success. The hawkers were a big hit, with some queues taking up to two hours. Still, some Singaporeans I spoke to had reservations, even as they enjoyed the food.

Some queried the registration requirement and amount of information requested, and wondered if the Government is using the event as an excuse to gather data on overseas Singaporeans. Others found the tone of the event — which included National Day songs belted out by homegrown entertainers — off-putting, as it reminded them why they had left Singapore in the first place.

While I applaud the idea of Singapore Day, I think these views are nevertheless valuable and interesting. There was a certain fuzziness around what the event sought to do, but I doubt it was a sinister effort to track overseas Singaporeans, a theory I find borders on paranoia.

Was it a disguised attempt at getting Singaporeans to come home? If so, it needs to be more sophisticated in its approach. The performance of the National Day songs came across as being over-the-top and contrived.

A Singaporean who liked the idea of re-connecting with her country was turned off by the hardsell and rolled her eyes at the brochures on integrating returning Singaporeans' kids into our education system. I also met more than one gay Singaporean, who, regardless of however much he or she enjoyed the event, were all convinced that they would never return home.

I prefer to take the Government at face value and think that the event served to refresh connections with overseas Singaporeans, to remind and update them about Singapore.

However, I also noticed certain unflattering aspects. There were no activities for kids. The American husband of another Singaporean noted the irony of flying in Singaporean bands that sounded exactly like many other bands in New York. (The highlight for me was the getai skit from Royston Tan's upcoming film 881.) There was a lack of recycling bins despite the number of Yeo's-sponsored canned drinks being guzzled down.

And, as pointed out by another Singaporean, it was a "typically Singaporean" event, with a singular emphasis on food.

I was bothered by this display of food as the overarching — and apparently sole — factor that unifies Singaporeans. (And I am at least as greedy as the next food-loving Singaporean.) The identification of eatables as being at the core of "Singaporeanness" betrays a certain pragmatic consumerism and materialism. If being Singaporean is so intimately tied to something extrinsic, what will happen when it is gone?

Singapore Day hinted at the troubling answer. The crowds thinned considerably as the stalls ran out of food. Few stayed for the entertainment flown in from home. Fewer paid any attention to the displays and booths touting the developments at home and that of overseas Singaporeans. In fact, there was a lack of interest in anything other than the food — and when the food was gone, there was little interest in anything at the event at all.

Food can be replicated, even if it is difficult to do so authentically. New York-based movie director and foodie Colin Goh said all the local fare at Singapore Day was available in New York except for the chwee kueh. That was the first item to run out.

The sad truth is that while food is the easiest and surest way to tie Singaporeans' minds to Singapore, it is a tie that does not bind tightly, if at all. We would do well to develop and emphasise other ties that are far more intangible and emotional — and hence tighter and less easily displaced and replaced.

This will require greater subtlety, creativity and resources. Perhaps Singapore could be "recreated" through miniature replicas of familiar landmarks. Instead of including rubber bands in goodie bags with instructions on how to play "zero point", a zero-point competition could be held for children and adults. Another suggestion I heard was to have people register for a Friendster-type social networking service, to tease out connections between people.

The aim of events such as Singapore Day should be to engage people's hearts and minds, not just their stomachs. Otherwise, overseas Singaporeans may flock to future Singapore Days, but the events will not deepen or strengthen their links with Singapore.

The writer is a Nominated Member of Parliament and corporate counsel, commenting in his personal capacity.

I have touched on this topic before under my first few articles A Singapore without Singaporeans back in 2005.

But after reading all these articles, I feel that I need to put down my thoughts after meeting some young undergraduates as well as watching the "banned" interview by Martyn See.

This is what I wrote:

What will bind a people or even a Nation?

In our persistent pursuit of economic success, which is the basis of PAP's monopoly of power, we have forgotten all about the other pillars of the Nation, mainly culture. Food culture is merely one small of the whole spectrum. Have we developed our unique culture?

Well, to some extend, one could say that our "unique culture" is mostly about negative aspects: Kiasuism, Kiasism and the government will say, Singlish is not a desirable sub culture language.

Singapore used to be the cultural centre of Southeast Asia back in the pre-WWII, 50s and 60s. This development is in tune with a more liberal political settings where hundreds of flowers blossom. You could even read about great debates between newspapers, not merely politicians.

Choirs, writers, song writers, plays, painters... etc. you name it you have it. Singapore, though economically speaking not top of the world, but it is the Paris of SEA in terms of the richness of its cultural development.

After the misadventure of "Malaysian Malaysia", everything seems to change overnight. We have traded our cultural development and political rights for the economic miracle. The era of "White Terror" came right after that and lasted throughout the 1970s. "White Terror"? What "White Terror"? Some young undergraduates have asked me recently. If one is to write something critical or just a little bit similar to the leftist or communist literature, you will be call up for tea in ISD or even locked up. This is one singular political tool that has stiffen cultural development and even up to now, we still could hear of censorship on political interviews and films. A generation or two have been lost in this era of cultural whitewash.

White Terror era is also the dark ages of social-political activism. When young, socially conscious students or activists organize themselves to fight against the social injustice that they saw in the society, it will be quickly termed as "leftist" or even "communist" elements and thus, ISD will step in. How could you cultivate a generation of passionate citizenry by clamping down on all social-political activism? We could not possibly groom a generation of citizens that are passionate about society with such closed minded administration. Up till now, a simple protest be it in persons or using cardboard White Elephants are still being scorn off.

The fact that our young "elites" lacks such understanding or knowledge of Singapore's social-political-cultural dark ages is quite alarming. Why? A nation or a people has to know and learn their history well in order accumulate wisdom and cultural upbringing in not repeating mistakes of the past. But under one party domination, this is just too "inconvenient"! A simple interview with an ex-political detainee is deemed as "undermining confidence" in the present administration!

When a nation that loses its cultural development, loses its soul. And naturally, how could a tree without deep roots grows higher? Least binding its branches?

In the 1980s, PAP realized that something has to be done and thus we have the "new initiative" of big bang National Day celebrations with all those "Count on Me Singapore" songs. Thus, it is not surprising that they actually used these songs in the New York event. That is, pathetically and sadly, our only "cultural heritage" that could be "remembered" as a people.

Here today, due to the fact that this nation and its people has not really learned about ills of the past history of "White Terror", has repeated its persistent scorn at "sub culture" like Mr. Brown's hard hitting humorous podcast, censored plays and films of social-political nature. We can't post political videocast nor podcast... not ven the simple use of music and songs are not allowed in political rallies during general elections! This is how "open" we are!

Will there be hope in Singapore? To cultivate active citizenry and thus, passionate loyalty to the country, not to the dominant party? When will history not become "inconvenience" or "undermine confidence" of present government so that our future generations could have the courage to face our history, good or bad, together as a people and a nation? The answer is so obvious.

Goh Meng Seng


Anonymous said...

" Nationhood-- what will bind?"

We can view and understand this question better by drawing some personal experience - team building.

1. A role to play in the team that fit one's talent and aspiration.

That means small government and no red tape in daily activities.

2. Inspiring leaders who earned the respect from its members based on deeds and merits.

Thant means candidates who really work the ground and win the heart of the people instead of blackmailing residents with upgrading and slipping into office behind minister's skirt. That means speaking their mind instead of toeing the party's line.

3. Teammate as stakeholder.

Stakeholder does not mean holding a piece of HDB flat as some suggested. It means sharing the same dream and goal of the team.

That means the team communicate and build consent on the dream and goal it wants to achieve.

Forcing a decision down to the people and tell them to close rank and move on just because a top-down decision is made will not do.

Anonymous said...

Hi GMS, can you put a link of the SGgals forum and the Sammyboy Sex forum here?

Anonymous said...

"Some queried the registration requirement and amount of information requested, and wondered if the Government is using the event as an excuse to gather data on overseas Singaporeans... There was a certain fuzziness around what the event sought to do, but I doubt it was a sinister effort to track overseas Singaporeans, a theory I find borders on paranoia."

Anyone who is familiar with integrated marcom will know that events like these are opportunities to build and collect database. Tracking is a normal thing to do in maintaining customer relationships and reaching out to new ones.