Making Light of Things

April 2009 Archives


The headlines on Straits Times read “Jackie slams Singaporeans, where the Hong Kong movie star is quoted,

A lot of people are not like those in USA and Japan who voluntarily have self-respect. When you don’t have self-respect, the government will have to control you….[Singaporeans] have no self-respect at all.

His comments are likely to stir up emotions. Many Singaporean conversations would probably start to label him a second-rate movie star, and question his right to judge us. But in his bluntness Jackie might have hit the uncomfortable truth.

Singapore, in her search for a national identity, has put on so many masks, driven by an unexplainable shame towards being herself. We aim to be like Switzerland, or some amalgamation of rich and developed countries. Even the language we converse in is driven not by who we are, but what is economically pragmatic at that juncture in time.

There is a divide between our overly-involved (IMO, anyway) government and the people. Singlish - the language organically evolved by the people, is labelled as detrimental to our progress, something to be avoided, unclean, almost. The government-run stuff - almost everything else - wins international awards, but is derided by the Singapore people as symbols of our government’s obsession with obtaining the approval of her colonial masters.

The pervasive hand of the government somehow prevents true ownership of victories which ought to belong to the Singapore people. We have become the lesser brother and the Singapore government - the elite - have become the greater. This divide grows everytime a government official believes, consciously or subconsciously, that they know better than the Singapore people. They forget: they are the Singapore people.

So it is, as with every teenager beaten down by their over-achieving sibling, Singaporeans have an underdeveloped sense of esteem. Like an alcoholic, prodigal brother, we rant and tear away at our own, refusing to believe that anything that comes out of Singapore is world-class. Even home-grown Tiger beer advertises herself as more London and New York than Singaporean. We were so very quick to tear down Sim Wong Hoo the moment the Apple iPod took over Creative’s mp3 player market share. I know I was.

There is a need to merge the two Singapores. We could sit in our armchairs and go on at length about how the government ought to be more in touch with the people, or we could realise that we too are at fault. There is an image of Singapore in the international consciousness: an image of clockwork efficiency and world-class execution which is the envy of many nations. There is also the image of cold hard Cylon steel, a Singapore more machine than human.

We need to own who we are. We need to stop letting others define who we are and pour our humanity, stretching, nay, breaking the government-orchestrated exercise of nation-building. We need to speak up and stand up for that which is Singapore. We need to own our victories:

Unlike the respect of others, self-respect isn’t earned. It is found. Find it, Singapore.


Anne turned 4 yesterday. Caleb turned 1 today.

Life has a way of passing you by. There’s the daily grind where minutes turn into hours, and yet in retrospect, it would seem that everything flew by. Our children have passed huge milestones in their lives.

We pushed Caleb’s celebrations to this Saturday, which turned out to be a good thing ‘cause the boy has been fighting the flu the past few days. It’s amazing how quickly babies turn from needy little bundles of endless wanting to individuals with their own little idiosyncrasies and flair.

Caleb walked his first steps about a week ago.

He’s shown an affinity for putting objects together, unscrewing the tops of bottles and initiating endless rounds of peekaboo on his own (usually behind a chair or under a table).

It’s a humbling experience, this parenting gig. You find yourself awestruck so much of the time as a whole person is formed before you. The big secret of it all is that the children emerge beautifully in spite of our parenting. Every parent who’s honest will confess that despite our best efforts, we suck at this. Every child is different, every child pushes us to the limits and we often do not have all, or any of the answers. Yet somehow, by the grace of God, our children love us.

More than we ever deserve. And our only response is to love them back.

Blessed birthday, my little boy. Thanks for the little hugs. I need them more than I realise.

Day Out with Number One

20090404-029Faith had to work last Saturday, so I decided to take Anne to the Singapore Flyer.

Though technically 3 years of age (she turns 4 tomorrow), Anne was an amazing companion who never once complained at how far we had to walk to get to the Flyer. We took a bus to Suntec City, missed the free shuttle bus, was given wrong directions by the information counter staff, but Anne called it “a wonderful adventure”.

She would break out in occasional dance, pirouetting through the cavernous halls of Marina Square. We grabbed an iced Milo along the way and it was only when her two small hands held the side of the large cup that I realised how small she was. We often take her maturity for granted, expecting her to act rationally like an adult.

Tickets to the Flyer were exorbitant, setting us back $50 for a half-hour’s worth of sight-seeing. It was a pleasant experience, and we rounded off the wonderful adventure with lunch at Sizzler’s with Faith, a Saturday tradition we picked up.

It would be Anne’s last time eating there for free. 4 year olds pay.

Our little girl is all grown up. Yet somehow, she never really comes across as very little. She’s just who she is - Anne. Our Anne.

Believe the Best

Dearest Anne and Caleb,

The year was 2003 and Aunty Min and I were students in Tucson, Arizona. In the evening, I drove to the mountains to photograph the sunset, as I often did, while Aunty Min caught back-to-back episodes of “Friends”.

The skies were a flat grey - terrible conditions for a sunset - and it was threatening to rain. Were it not for the narrow mountain roads that made it hard for me to turn back, I wouldn’t have driven all the way to Gates Pass.

Every evening, the carpark at Gates Pass would be 3/4 filled, with families hiking up the trails and couples snuggling up the side of the mountain waiting for sunset. I was the only one there this evening, and it didn’t look as it I was going to see any sunset at all due to the very thick cloud cover. I took a short hike up to the vantage point, looked around a bit and headed back to the car.

“Wasted trip”, I thought to myself.

As I started the engine, the skies glowed a most unreal blue. I grabbed my camera, ran out and took photos from the parking lot.

Gates Pass at Dusk

Like Shawn Colvin’s song goes, “I never saw blue like that before”.

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