Let’s talk about Race

IMG_8179

Absence is silent and for as long as we do not actively search for it, we will remain dangerously unaware. The last in a series of three on issues I strongly believe deserve a heightened awareness, this one is uniquely Singaporean, on race. Earlier pieces explored the ongoing regional Refugee Reality little of us are aware of and the Rape of Nanking, a forgotten but crucial chapter in history. Today, I take a few steps backwards and come closer to home, where we (arguably) live and breathe oblivion – I first hope to clarify that the intention of this piece is not to accuse but to encourage a more mature consensus.

*For the benefit of the rest of this piece: Racism refers to the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

Our late Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam composed the National Pledge that we recite day after day in school as students. The National Pledge encompasses not only the aspirations of our pioneers for Singapore as a nation, but also a promise within society about how we would treat one another as fellow Singaporeans. We pledge, I quote, “regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.” At a panel discussion as part of the Singapore Theatre Festival, the original draft of the pledge was quoted as the opening to the discussion. Once more, I quote, the earlier National Pledge started with, “We, as citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves to forget differences of race, language or religion to become one united people.” Understandably, it was edited by our late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to omit the “unrealistic goal” of forgetting differences.

The underlying tension with regard to race lies in the differences (in tradition, culture, language, amongst others) of races. For quite a while now, our concept of ‘multiracialism’ has revolved around what Mohammed Imran (a Singaporean interfaith activist) calls the “4 ‘F’s” – Food, Fashion, Festivals and Face. From my days in primary school, I recall the costume-swapping festivities in Racial Harmony Day Celebrations and the Match-The-Dots activity sheets associating the “4 ‘F’s” to the 4 “main races” (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others). Kudos to our National Education, as every Singaporean child who has undergone primary school education would be able to quote the horror of the 1964 Maria Hertogh Riots amongst others to illustrate the gravity of preserving “racial harmony” in Singapore. This model of “racial harmony” has effectively allowed for the co-existence of races in Singapore but also unintentionally allowed for brewing racism.

In the recent panel discussion on race, playwright Alfian Sa’at recounted his experience of having his play, “Geng Reibut Cabinet (GRC)”, receive an ‘M-16’ rating. The play takes place in a fictional country very much like Singapore in terms of its political system and meritocratic principles. The crux lies in that the majority and minority races of this country are swapped – the Chinese, a minority and the Malays, a majority. Then, in the course of the play, touchy issues with regard to subtle structural racial discrimination are raised. He remarked that the receipt of the rating surprised him because a “rating system originally devised to deal with immaturity towards sexual content and coarse language” was now used as a defense against racial discussions. The rating system, a tool for government intervention to regulate conversations and protect public good, now reflected Singapore’s “fear towards discussions of race”. It is as if constructive conversations about what “racial harmony” truly means are muted, ironically, in the name of “preserving racial harmony”.

The result, then, is that racism occurs along with our superficial understanding of different races (recall the “4 ‘F’s”). We create judgments and stereotypes, then silently reaffirm them with observations from our everyday. Simultaneously, blanket sanctions (like rating systems) initially formulated to guard against ‘hate speech’ are now confused to suppress ‘speech about sensitive issues like race’ altogether. It will be little surprise, then, to find the rifts between races slowly widening from the prejudices we form but do not talk about.

We can do better.

The danger in not talking about race and racism is the lack of understanding towards the grave consequences of the latter. The consequences here refer to more than the racial riots that we were taught, but the social problems resultant from our subconscious prejudice. For this, I thank the play “Geng Reibut Cabinet (GRC)” for my heightened awareness. The plot of the play follows a political party campaigning for leadership of a GRC. This political party consists of 3 Malays and 1 Chinese; the Chinese lead, Catherine, was regarded as a “token” in the party to show “proportional representation of the community’s needs”. In the play, Catherine expresses cumulated frustration towards the futile efforts of “self-help Chinese groups” – the incredibly slow progress of the Chinese community in the play was a result of limited resources passed down from generation to generation. She illustrates, at one point, that for a long time in history just as wealth had been passed down in the Malay families through generations, generations of poverty had been passed down for the Chinese families. Her fellow politicians try to explain to her that the social problems of the Chinese are a “community problem” rather than a national one, dismissing Catherine’s plea for the nation’s people to be regarded as “one human race” so that the Chinese community can be liberated from the psychological traps built by prejudices.

We learn from history that the cruelest of conflicts can arise from the sense of superiority based on racial (or other) backgrounds. Years ago in Singapore, the Chinese were the immigrants whose character was doubted as a result of British’s fear. Yet today, our sense of insecurity has similarly gripped us, allowing the future of those with differing religious or racial ba grounds to be restricted by our imagined future if they are allowed to prosper.

Our nation should celebrate the achievement of racial understanding in a broad sense – that we have standardized the recognition of our differences from a young age and drilled in the minds of our children the gravity of friction surfacing between races. Until we mature as a society to shift this consensus, though, we will always be socially privileged or disadvantaged based on the fact that our race is a majority or minority respectively. That, in itself, is the manifestation of our existing racism. I imagine that the landscape of Singapore’s “racial harmony” will, one day, allow Singaporeans to live their everyday not being “reminded that they are a minority race” as Mohammed Imran said and perhaps, we could begin with Alfian Sa’at’s suggestion of anti-racism campaigns. The difficulty lies in that such moves would require us to acknowledge the presence of racism in our society. We have to admit that we make irrational conclusions about behaviors and habits based on race and that these irrational conclusions influence the future of fellow Singaporeans unfairly. What happens, then, to our pledged “justice and equality”?

Let’s raise ‘race’ in conversations, I challenge you.

IMG_8330

Advertisements

Pretty Ugly

12523900_10205726319537120_6871098245872919956_n

Still counting up: 14 days back in Singapore, and counting. This morning (going on afternoon), I am on a routine bus ride of 19 stops from Bukit Batok Driving Centre after a theory lesson to begin a day of exercise, family time and self-care. Today the sky is clear, an incredible shade of blue and Bukit Batok has beauty in its sporadic clutters of trees along the roads and a familiar quiet in the industrial parks. This weekend is the first book out weekend for many friends dear to me, who recently became fresh NS recruits – characteristic of them are their tan and bald heads (reminding me so much of my bald episode). Along with sharing their milestone and conscious comparisons to my earlier month away, I am learning to appreciate Singapore’s pretty ugly.

Last night, I enjoyed the production put together by the talented crew of NUS USP’s Drama team titled “404 Not Found”. Interestingly, the exploration of the distinction between ‘unreal’ virtual relationships and ‘real’ familial relationships left the audience in tears by half time: you could hear distinct weeping from different directions, some softer than others. I thought the beauty lie in the intensity of emotions that could be evoked from an ‘Internet friend’ – the first play saw a man and woman devastated by emptiness in the ‘loss’ of each other as ‘Internet friends’ and the second play tested the friendship of a group of ‘Internet friends’ who searched high and low for one who went missing. So often, we underestimate how attached we can be to ideas. From the play in its entirety, there was careful thought put into the depiction of what idea every ‘Internet relationship’ represented – an escape, a safe haven or somewhere to be someone we wish we were. Similarly, our comfort in Singapore itself is an idea.

It is the idea of home – the comfortable space we can lead our lives the way we hope, admittedly with exceptions. Listening to the stories of 5-storey bunks and assigned toilets, or the mandatory marches that replace walking, I can only imagine how much we take for granted in Singapore – the “having someone else clean up after us”, the “Sun that doesn’t kill you with its blazing heat”, the “easily accessible toilets”. In short, we are unknowingly attached to this freedom that we almost always fail to be content with.

Back in the month-long retreat, I found myself singing praises quickly about the countries/ states I had visited – for the beautiful scenery, friendly culture, all the pretty hiding the ugly I couldn’t see. Back at home, I am many more times critical. If there were a point system where we rate our own home country, there is a tendency to deduct 10 points for every demerit that are present inevitably and to add only a fraction of a point for every blessing that comes (too) easily – we label ‘ugly’ and fail to appreciate the ‘pretty ugly’.

Call to Action: For the Children

This afternoon, the sun is absent in the cloudless sky and I’m listening to the this (an original dedicated to his mother, by a remarkable 19-year-old who performed at last night’s ChildAid concert). For today, allow me to indulge in my recount of yesterday’s ChildAid Concert:

Photo 6-12-15, 12 39 34 PM

Privileged to have this junior who thought of me when she has a complimentary ticket at hand, I had the opportunity of watching some of the most inspirational performing arts performances I’ve seen in a long time. ChildAid is a charity concert featuring talents under the age of 19. It is in aid of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and The Business Times Budding Artists Fund, organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times. The concert was meant as a platform for young talents who have excelled in their field to showcase their talent- be it in singing, playing a musical instrument or dancing.

In our comfortable, cushioned seats with a clear view of the performers, we were no less than impressed by every performance- the finger style guitar showcase, an amazing rendition of Chopin and the adapted choreography from Chicago (the Musical). To watch the talent brought together in a single night, I thought about how the potential of performers might have been stifled by the ‘lack of funds and resource’. For years, I have been inspired by the work of different organisations that invest heavily on the potential of the younger generation- Room to Read believes that “World Change Starts with Educated Children”, Watoto’s Sponsor-A-Child program is exactly about investing in the needs of the young, and when our team boldly created the pre-school reading program with Lakeside Family Services, it was ultimately built on our belief in the potential of children. Last night, this strong conviction was revisited.

If you share this similar conviction, today I invite you to do what you can to support similar movements that provide platforms and resources to the children who could do so, so much with them-

SHM-VOTEFORUS.jpg

A little less than 6 months ago, I had volunteered with the Superhero Me Festival-A Celebration of Childhood. Put together by a small team brimming with passion, the costume crafting festival hoped to push Singapore’s children beyond the tuition culture and dream bigger than themselves. The belief remains- that with sufficient accessibility to resources and emotional support, the potential of the young is infinite. From a pilot project of 15 kids from Lengkok Bahru, the efforts became a large scale festival across half a month in June 2015, impacting over 4,000 kids and adults, including groups like Pathlight School, AWWA & MINDS. Recently they have been shortlisted by Our Better World as one of 15 good stories of the year. You can do your part by voting for them from now till the end of the year, and help them win S$10,000, $7,500 or $5,000 in seed funding to jump start our work in 2016. They’re currently in 2nd place and need your votes!

How to Vote:
1. Go to this link:
2. Register (one-time; no personal details will be required)
3. Vote ! You can vote once a day, everyday till 31/12/2015.
4. Follow us on Facebook & Instagram
This is a 100% ground-up, youth-led movement. Be part of creating an opportunity to take Superhero Me forward to more kids – to arm themselves with not just grades, but creative confidence and values that will guide them through these changing times. Singapore can be more than a tuition nation!

 

Thanks for reading to the end and happy (belated) International Volunteer Day.

SMU Voix #DYAC2014

performing performer2

 

Here’s to the last time I performed (at Interact Installation with the IU team) and the last time I supported a performer (multi talented XueFang at SMU Voix Showcase). Tonight, one of the things I’d like to be talking about is performing. 

In what I’ve experienced as a performer, the key make-it-or-break-it factors usually lie on the performer’s soul. In every performer there is a mind that thinks and reacts and remembers lines, lyrics, beats, mistakes that were once made and strengths that should be maximised, there is a the face with which comes the facial expressions so powerful, the mouth and vocals that project from the diaphragm, the eyes that show feelings louder than any words and the nose that with every breath punctuates the performance, there is the body that moves in a manner that balances rehearsals of choreography with spontaneous going-with-the-flow. Tying all this together, the most powerful asset of a performer is his soul because it’s the emotions, thoughts and interpretations of his performance that translates into visuals that the audience enjoys. Every performance I put up, I challenge myself to bring my purpose or belief on stage across with energy and with every performance I watch, I have the utmost respect for the way these powerful ideas and forms of art are allowed to shine through every performer. 

And at this point I bring up the last performance I’ve watched- SMU Voix’s “Do You A Cappella” which was more than astounding. Seated on the circle seats on the second floor, I had a bird’s eye view of the entire performance and the optimal resonance of the performers before me. The experience was captivating, and nothing short of mind-blowing and powerful. On stage there wasn’t a single performance whose voice didn’t encapsulate the emotions of every lyric and no performer’s movements lack synchrony with the beats of the music. I enjoyed every moment. Captivated mostly by the harmony and interesting tweaks made to the songs I thought I knew at the back of my hands, the best part would have to be the look on the faces of every performer- one of sheer happiness from being on stage doing exactly what they love. 

With that I look forward to more performances in the form of gigs, dance, orchestra or theatre that would blow me away once more and leave me giving a standing ovation screaming ‘Encore!’ in my mind for the next couple of days like the last one did. 

Handmades For You

handmade

If you’re one for handmade things as well, then this post is for you!

At unique flea markets or sales, I like to keep the namecards of the special ones, the ones that really got to me through their products that displayed experimentation, creativity and most important of all, workmanship. I can’t quite put into words all the priceless ideas and trial and errors that could possibly go into a single product but the one thing I never bargain for is handmade products because I don’t even think these intangible things put into the product can be bought with money and I pay that extra bucks they ask for in acknowledgement, it’s like saying ‘hey, I can only imagine how difficult this was to make, the seams, the hemming and goodness the cloth, is beautiful, great choice of colour and patterns and this is the least I could give you in acknowledgement of all that. Thank you, I love it.’ 

So hopefully on this note, the next time we walk away from a handmade product because of its two-digit price thinking about how we can get an item with the same function at a single-digit price, we could think about what we’re really paying for and what we’re encouraging, would be the pursuit of an interest that colours the life of the other. Here goes the amazing craftsmen I’ve met today:

1 Needle Loves Thread

See more: needlelovesthread.blogspot.com

Specialises in: Toys Accessories Bags Purses

2 Every Little Things

See more: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ELTshop

Specialises in: Pouches Notebooks

3 The Weave Co

See more: http://theweaveco.com/

Specialises in: Cards Notebooks

Enjoy surfing and I hope you see the beauty in their work as I do!

Why you should go for Runway’s Show

Image

The amount $14, $16 and worse still $18 sounds like a terrible waste of money– why should so much of your money be invested in Raffles Runway and exchanged for a flimsy ticket that gains you entry to the Multi-Purpose Hall we have our weekly assemblies in? 

I will tonight attempt to explain to you that this is different, and it is worth it.

Raffles Runway is a club filled with passionate and dedicated members– those with friends from the club would know. The designers have worked long and hard, through pain, sweat, tears and some blood to put together these pieces we proudly call ours. We are brought together because we love designing and we love creating, however terrifyingly arduous this process can be. But we work on our outfits, day and night and afternoon. Mind you, the time we spend is comparable to the time one takes to practise an instrument, to master a piece lyrically, or to rehearse and memorise lines. The same way performing arts CCAs put together their concerts, we’ve carefully crafted and put together every detail. So the way I see it, the show is a celebration of our hardwork and it’s the sharing of our joy with the school community whom we hope would feel the same excitement we do when we finally see our work on the runway, and would align their heartbeats to the footsteps of the models who help us make this sharing possible. 

Besides the designers, the models have put in hours of commitment and practised emotions and expressions, their walk, the face, where they put their arms and how they look at the camera. Modelling has more skill and emotions evolved than we do justice to it as we paraphrase modelling so casually with ‘looking good’ or ‘just walking’. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had photoshoots after school, over weekends, pulling all-days’ hard work in both rain and shine. To these models, I had the utmost respect and gratitude because without them, our outfits may never find their way to the runway, to be shown. And so this show, is also a celebration of the models. 

Proceeds from the show go to Mother and Child Project (http://www.motherandchildproject.com/about-motherandchild) supporting single moms who sew for a living. And we support them, clearly, because we love sewing and it’s such an essential part of the CCA. We want to support others in doing what we love to do. And this show’s financial proceeds, is a celebration of the art of sewing. 

The location being in the MPH is in no way a downgrade nor a compromise in the quality of our show. We invest more of our expenditure on the decoration of the set up and the hall so that we have more room for imagination and creation– the decoration efforts have all been motivated by the hopes to immerse our audience in a feel like never before to watch a fashion show of the best quality that we can deliver. So I hope that less people would be deterred by this misconception. 

I think the celebration of such beautiful things and efforts and the encouragement of passion and so much love for something, is worth more than $14-$18 but that’s all we’re asking in support of Raffles Runway’s annual charity fashion show. It’s 17/05 This Saturday 2PM/7PM, it’s not too late to get your tickets at the canteen walkway or through any friendly runway member! Thanks for all those who have supported!

We Were Special

We tend to think we are so different from everyone else. And sometimes I feel like we were- years ago, the people in my batch, across the cohort, across the world, despite being born in the same year, we had very different personalities, we spoke so differently and thought so differently, we wore different clothes and liked different colours.

But fast forward to today, we’re not so special anymore. I study in a school same as a thousand over other batchmates, we go through the same curriculum and we learn about the same things. If I get a certain grade in a test, I could bet at least a hundred others did too. Nothing’s left to help us decide if we’re special (it seems).

In the future, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to find something that makes us special either. You see, we will just graduate to be one of the many million students who graduate with certificates, we will be one of the many million who pass with straight As or a single B or a couple of Cs and cry or regret. Today, if you know 3 languages, you’re alright; if you know 4, you’re kind of special but remember, you’re not the only one. We’re all aiming for that one ‘best’, but we don’t realise that the chances of ‘best’ is way too small it’s almost impossible and there’s no real way of deciding you’re the ‘best’ without a tad of delusion.

It is certainly a case of nature vs. nurture, society happened and it makes us find ‘our place’ in society in that certain way that allows our economy to prosper, and nation to grow. Unfortunately we leave behind a couple of talents left undeveloped because ‘if it can’t definitely make you money, it definitely can’t be your career’ and any form of adventure or risk guided by passion in your career would appear ‘foolish’.

All thanks to nurture- today while you can think you’re special; there are so many others just like you. The only attempt at a consolation I can give is that you know, we were all special once; when we were young and creative and emotional.