A Malaysian-born Permanent Resident of Chinese descent with whom I chatted last afternoon in church was puzzled that Mandarin was considered the ‘mother tongue’ of Chinese Singaporeans.
It is the ‘pu tong hua’, the common language, of the Chinese people; it is the second language that is learnt and spoken by the majority of Singaporeans, but it is not and never was, our mother tongue.
She said matter-of-factly that the notion smacks of propaganda. I could not help but say ‘amen’.
The cheek of Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS), to accuse the youth in this country of lacking idealism (source): it was the late Lee Kuan Yew who set the example for being ruthlessly pragmatic in his politics at the expense of idealism. He was a left-leaning idealist before he came to power and did a 180-degree-turn to the right when he became Prime Minister.
The late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam was a fiery idealist for human and civil rights. Lee thought it was all nonsense.
Dr Chee Soon Juan and his Singapore Democratic Party are also stiff-necked idealists for human and civil rights. Seventy per cent of Singaporeans think that their policies are idealistic but impractical. Western liberal nonsense, they say.
Yes, Singaporeans have learnt well from the late dictator. We have lost all hope for a more socially just Singapore. Hey, we are only being pragmatic.
‘We cannot allow it because schools are neutral places for learning and not platforms for partisan politics.’
– Ministry of Education (MOE), on the Singapore Democratic Party’s request to conduct talks in schools
As much as I envisage schools to be ‘neutral places of learning’, let me put it to MOE that our schools have never been politically neutral: the ideology of our ruling party presupposes our social studies and history curricula to the extent that only one narrative of our country’s struggle for independence is taught, which is that of the PAP.
It is a matter of course that our ruling party controls the narrative arc of our history — they were the victors — and like any other triumphant political party, they frame the story to their benefit.
If Barisan Sosialis were to make up the government instead of the PAP, it is highly probable that they would do the same thing and our history books would be telling a different story.
As such, it is a falsehood that educational institutions and the civil service are non-partisan spaces. They never were and would always take the cue from whomever runs the show in this country.
If there ever was a grossly misused word in this country, it is ‘debate’ in the context of our leaders in parliament.
Our leaders discuss and share notes; they never debate. They say ‘amen’ to one another and make speeches to the choir but they never ever debate.
The occasions when they do engage in animated verbal jousting were disagreements between the ruling party and the opposing groups.
This heartland uncle went to the supermarket and got patted on the back by fellow heartland aunties, for smiling to the cashier: apparently in a Singapore that no longer smiles.
When even something as pedestrian as a smile evokes praise from strangers, it is time to reflect on whether this ‘world-class’ Singaporean facade, with its hyper-capitalist, economy-centric obsession, is something to really laud about.