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Monday, January 09, 2012

On needing to be Chinese to understand Singapore

"The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards." - Arthur Koestler


A: I really don't understand Singapore society. But I suspect, not being Chinese, I probably never will.

B: So you're saying even though you're Singaporean, Singapore is a strange place to you because the only way to have a truly Singaporean experience is to be Chinese?

Well I am Indian, and I understand Singapore... So either I am lying, misguided or just plain weird! :)

C: I think it's more that the structure of society is constructed by its elites. Without a shared understanding of how they live and think, you can see and follow the structures, but not understand them with that feeling of gut comprehension.

A: I think an understanding of the way Singapore is run would require some understanding of Chinese worldviews and cultural practices, much of which is opaque to me lah.

B: Actually it is not that hard to get a feel of "Chinese" (I presume you mean south Chinese) world views. Just read any of LKY's overpriced ream of toilet paper. That provides, in a nutshell a rather distilled view of what framed the political landscape here.

Frankly I am not that surprised by what is happening here. I came from a city which went through what Singapore is going through now, way back in 1990. I also came from a country that saw a gradual change of political landscape from one dominant party to a true multiparty democracy within the span of 15 years. I am of course referring to my country of birth, India. I see many parallels between Singapore and the city where I was born, Mumbai.

D: A - both * and I are chinese and you can be assured that we find Singapore society to be equally confounding. Yes it draws upon certain limited patriarchal stereotypes of chinese (mostly the confucian tradition) and a large portion of the population have racial prejudices but I don't think the primary problem of Singapore society is chineseness but how the wrong traits have been promoted by the system. There is a more free flowing, tolerant and chaotic characteristic of the chinese that is conveniently suppressed by the dominant ruling power. We are uniquely Singaporean.

B: It is strange to see how much of our political discourse has been dictated by the whims of [LKY].. As a new citizen (despite having done NS), I find that fascinating. We Indians admire Gandhi but almost never ever bring him up when discussing political issues.

E: Mainland chinese would be as similarly befuddled by Singapore society!

B: I find so many people who are angry that Malay is not a compulsory subject. I find that strange. Compelling people to learn a language that is not the common language of the land is a damn dumb thing to do.

I know of many PRC's who think that overseas Chinese have diluted 'Chineseness'.

A: Why cling on to vestiges like the National Anthem, Malay as National Language, and calling the Presidential Residence an 'Istana'? I also agree that Mandarin should be made the National Language. Drop the pretence to multiracialism and admit to the thoroughgoing Chineseness of what is understood as 'Singapore society'.

Any module that purports to teach 'Singapore studies' should also have 'Chinese studies' as a core component.

In my experience the only ones who have really ever understood my writings have been the non-Chinese minorities. So I do believe that indeed, we have been growing up in separate Singapores.

Chinese Singaporeans tend to look at me as if I'm a monkey in their eyes.

F: Not casting any stone, don't you guts realize that traditional Chinese and Malay-Muslims are the most ethnocentric of all Asians? We both dislike other cultures. Admit it. We can put the whole democracy and equality aside, deep down we are raised to always think that we are better than others.

Me: For someone who doesn't understand Singapore society, you sure have a lot to say about it

A: Well much of what I've said about Singapore is opinion that's easily dismissed because I lack genuine insight as a Singaporean Chinese.

Me: I've never seen anyone dismiss the opinion of someone of a minority race because he is not a Singaporean Chinese.

What I *have* seen, though, is people dismissing the opinion of Singaporean Chinese because they are not of a minority race.

G: Just because you don't see something (or refuse to see something) doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Me: Contrariwise, just because you see something (or want to see something) doesn't mean it happens.

I don't think it doesn't happen, but I think the dismissing of 'majority' opinions is a lot more common.

I think nobody should dismiss the opinion of somebody else just because of his race
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