Archive for July, 2005

The Silence of the Lions

Monday, July 25th, 2005

In US, Singapore students, unlike others, have no issues, make no stand, live silently on the fringes of American consciousness. E Leung, Sintercom.
Jun 11, 2005

Whenever I ask my American friends what they know about Singapore, I draw mostly blank stares.

Here in the United States where I’ve lived for over two decades, most are terribly uninformed about The Lion City.

They may remember an American boy caned a while back or cite its ban on chewing gum or praise their experiences with Singapore Airlines.

But almost nobody is aware of Singapore’s role as America’s ninth largest trading partner, or that the two countries conduct joint military exercises or that President Bush lavished praise on Singapore for being a staunch ally on the war against terrorism.

I’d be surprised if half can even find Singapore on a map. The few Americans who volunteer additional impressions of Singapore usually express one of two extreme positions.

Some say Singapore is a medieval dictatorship where an evil sultan enforces his will with chains and torture chambers.

Others, particularly those who have visited, claim Singapore is an idyllic bastion of democracy, freedom and rule of law. “Disneyland with the death penalty”, a Los Angeles Times writer once put it.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.

Singapore is undoubtedly governed by a one-party dictatorship led by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

But unlike authoritarian regimes elsewhere, there are no surly government thugs kidnapping dissidents in the dead of night breaking bones and extracting confessions.

In the Lion City, Americans would find a more sophisticated form of dictatorship, a sort of dictatorship with a double latte. Dissent is crushed not with violence on the streets but with verdicts in the courtroom.

Opposition candidates rarely garner enough votes because Singaporean law, written by PAP legislators, renders it easy for government officers to sue their own citizens for slander – a concept laughable in genuine democracies.

Understandably, most Singaporeans prefer to remain silent (or at least temper their criticisms) than risk having their lives ruined by PAP-initiated lawsuits adjudicated by PAP-appointed judges.

But intolerance for dissent silences more than just the lions in Singapore. It also renders Singaporeans invisible abroad.

Singaporeans I’ve met here in Los Angeles are mostly good-natured people, speaking unaccented English and enjoying successful lives.

But while exemplifying the American dream, they’re also a people who seem painfully ordinary and unwanting of attention – like those desperately trying to avoid eye contact.

I remember my walks to class as a university student at UCLA a few years ago and passing recruiting booths for various student associations.

Almost every nationality had some sort of organisation: Hong Kong Student Union, Korean Student Association, Filipino Union, etc. That is, every nationality except Singapore, despite the several hundred Singaporeans enrolled there.

There was even one for Macau, a country with barely one-eighth of Singapore’s population.

Elsewhere in American society, Singaporeans seem equally invisible.

In the legendary Asian communities of Los Angeles, many Asians flaunt their ethnicity and wave their homeland flags with pride.

Most adopt a hyphenated label (“Taiwanese-Americans”, for example) to stress one’s heritage along side their American identity.

They may march against injustice inflicted on their people in street demonstrations.

Some even run for political office, touting their nationality and immigrant status as an asset. Asian-American pride can be boisterous, omnipresent and even controversial.

But not from Singaporeans. In the United States, they remain silent, going about their business on the fringes of American consciousness.

In all my time in America, I cannot remember ever seeing a Singaporean flag or political activity involving Singaporean issues. No wonder Americans don’t know anything about Singapore.

Perhaps Singaporeans appear absent because there are fewer of them in America than, say, immigrants from Hong Kong.

But it isn’t just a matter of less Singaporean pride in America. It’s a matter of NO Singaporean pride.

But this is hardly surprising. Most in Singapore also seem to choose apolitical and unnoticed lives.

This tendency remains a legacy of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s dictatorial Founding Father who engineered a nation of people domesticated through intimidation and force.

“If you don’t fear me, then I’m meaningless”, he once boasted (let’s see an American president try to get away with saying that).

Even today, Singaporean sheepishness remains so stubbornly in place, the government must coax citizens into activism, like the Youth Consultation Exercise earlier this week.

Granted, it’s arguable Singapore’s apolitical nature contributed to the volcanic rise of Singapore’s economy.

But that was a different era, before the advent of globalized economies and when communism and despotism infested half the planet.

Today, almost all nations agree that true democracy, freedom and capitalism form the tripod for a happy, prosperous and enduring society. It’s an agreement that seems to fall upon deaf ears amongst PAP elites.

So while Lee succeeded in erecting a first-class city, he also succeeded in engineering a submissive population afraid to assert individuality, whether at home or abroad. And that’s unfortunate.

Their culture has much to offer here in the United States, with its exotic blend of East and West with a pinch of Islam.

A Singaporean stitch would be a treasured addition to the American cultural fabric – if only Singaporeans would cease hiding behind it.

(This will be my only essay for Sintercom. My blog is located at

(via LittleSpeck)

If We Hold on Together

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

I spoke with a fellow Singaporean out here a few hours ago, and was exposed to how much pent up feelings she had, a result of being a quirk in the rigid system established by our Goverment, which left her feeling constrained. Once again, it made me wonder why I so desperately wanted to go back home. True enough, I have given some reasons before, but it runs deeper than that.

I know problems exist, but I’ve yet to give up all hope for change. I’m not coming back because I think prospects are a lot rosier in Singapore. Nothing could be further from the truth. Censorship and a limited market alone are reasons enough to keep any filmmaker from coming back. The real reason I want to be back is because I know that my country is ripe for change, and I want to see change happen. I really want this to work. Let’s make this work.

All I can think of, is this song to reflect what I’m feeling.

Some may see us as foolish dreamers, but somehow deep down, I still envision a better future, truly a Singaporean Singapore.

    ‘All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.’
    – Walt Disney

It always starts … with a dream.

    The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
    – Eleanor Roosevelt

I guess that’s why I’m in the movie industry. Kids need the inspiration to be something greater than what they are.

If We Hold On Together

Don’t lose your way
With each passing day
You’ve come so far
Don’t throw it away
Live believing
Dreams are for weaving
Wonders are waiting to start
Live your story
Faith, hope & glory
Hold to the truth in your heart

If we hold on together
I know our dreams will never die
Dreams see us through to forever
Where clouds roll by
For you and I

Souls in the wind
Must learn how to bend
Seek out a star
Hold on to the end
Valley, mountain
There is a fountain
Washes our tears all away
Words are swaying
Someone is praying
Please let us come home to stay

If we hold on together
I know our dreams will never die
Dreams see us through to forever
Where clouds roll by
For you and I

When we are out there in the dark
We’ll dream about the sun
In the dark we’ll feel the light
Warm our hearts, everyone

If we hold on together
I know our dreams will never die
Dreams see us through to forever
As high as souls can fly
The clouds roll by
For you and I