Fun and freedom. If you believe the media hype, $ingaporeans are having more of both. But as X'Ho points out, everything has been carefully circumscribed. It's another normal double-bind day in $ingapore.

"Foreigners took 3 out of 4 new jobs in past five years" – the big front-page headline of The Straits Times flashed on July 31, ’03. Very quickly, the next day’s front-page headline denounced the finding: "NTU wrong, 9 in 10 new jobs went to Singaporeans. Nanyang Technological University’s economists claim that foreigners filled four out of five new jobs is way off the mark, says minister."

The said minister then went on to reprimand NTU, saying: "If your figures are wrong, it is irresponsible, it is unprofessional to put out those figures." (One would imagine doctorate-degree holders at NTU to already know such simple logic, no? But my siow friend says this is Singapore, you can’t assume simple logic to be simple.)

You can just imagine Singaporeans, on seeing the first headline, to go: "Look what the govt has done, depriving us of jobs." Not me, though. That wasn’t my response. Mine was – Aww, maybe the Gov was over-zealous in employing foreigners in its pro-foreign worker policy, so it’s time to send a ‘stress’ signal (via the NTU) to cue people to voice their demand for a cutback. My siow friend, however, said that getting people to voice their demand is a generosity not generally applied to national economic policies. So my response was not valid. Sheeet.

The headline on National Day was "To stay arrived." Goes to show that in this paradise of permanent puffing, everyday is a new day of infinite possibilities. Pride may go before a fall for others, but in Singapore, it comes especially writ large after an alarming, brief ‘fall’.

One thing’s for sure, the minister’s statement was supremely weighty. Why do I say that? Look carefully at the quote of him saying – "If your figures are wrong, it is irresponsible, it is unprofessional to put out those figures…" If any ordinary soul had told this to the press, the papers’ editors would have used their ‘syntactic’ discretion to edit it to say: "If your figures are wrong, it is irresponsible and unprofessional." The fact that the minister’s syntax was not to be tampered with highlights the weight of his announcement. Syntactic discretion – not with standing at all.

In case you’re wondering why the NTU economists were so bold to issue the ‘sensationalistic’ figure, donch forget, this is the era of Remaking Singapore, mah. Oh, but the perils of sticking blindly to a big-time campaign, albeit with noble ‘remaking’ intentions. Let this be a lesson to all. Whatever the campaign, whatever the message from TV soaps on 8 and 5, whatever the speak-better season, always remember to take the cue from our Straits Times’ Commentary/Analysis writers. Sigh, that may be too elaborate to explain in full. So just remember, you don’t shorten anything to just an ‘and’ even when it seems right to do so. Double check to cover your butt. See, if only the NTU economists read my X’Ho-Files last month ("Use your brain to cover your butt…").

The X’Ho-Files strategy to cover your butt is always your best bet. The following remark from that certain minister (also quoted in the same report that Aug 1) will prove my point: "If your findings show something different or if it stands out, you want to be careful not to be sensationalist even if your figures are right" (my italics). The true voice of a Singapore leader speaking. No if’s or and’s, please. Just butts. As in – we all good no bad. Understooded, y’all?

What if, say, Chee Soon Juan gets in on the act next Labour Day outside of the Sommerset MRT at Oxley and gets his posse’s mobile phones to ring out a medley of Majullah Singapura and the Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun? Would that also be passed as a ‘spontaneous orchestra’? Is that the "flash of inspiration" we want to encourage in the name of fun and new freedom, and flying in the face of
conservative Asian values?

I’m sure The Straits Times’ news desk must have covered its butt real well because it’s not even remotely incriminated for publishing the NTU report as a front-page headliner. Thank god, the hefty task of issuing headlines isn’t left to any private news enterprise (not that there’s any). Imagine a private-owned newspaper having to answer for such a dire headline or error. Not unthinkable, just unthinkably bankrupt.

Very quickly again, came a follow-up headline and statement published the following day (Aug 2, ’03): "NTU economists: we made honest error." I love the way we stress transparencies in Singapore. Errors can be clarified as honest or not honest. Honestly, when it comes to these public affairs! Guess what was the same minister’s reply to that? He said: "Academics’ mistake with jobs data should not diminish their standing." My! My late grandmother should have been alive to learn such swift and gracious turnaround to forgive unprofessional and irresponsible transgressions.

Which reminds me – do you notice how thick Saturday morning papers are? Can’t be because there’s always more news created on Fridays. So for sure, it’s because folks have more time to take in life’s many instructions once the weekend comes round. How to think, how to live, how to eat, how to speak, how to imagine… Now you understand why many foreigners are envious of us. Singaporeans, you don’t know how lucky you are!

Coming back to that part of the National Day Rally Speech which said we Singaporeans want to be nannied 'cos we shun the burden of responsibility being shifted back to us. Really. That’s only true when Mdm Nanny does the win-win thing to us even as she disclaims herself to be nannying. If the responsibility is fully restored to Singaporeans with a re-written code of civic rights and with all the true empowerment of decision-making that entails responsibility, I dare say, the people will want to work it out. Who in their right mind would welcome a half-past-six shift in responsibility that comes with ONLY burdens
and no true empowerment?

The next-next day on Sunday, Aug 3, the headline was "Sports school off to a flying start." (Duh?) Though it was the main headline, notice that next to it was a big full-colour (with photo) blurb (yeah, just a blurb!) for an inside feature-story: "Retrenched worker becomes multi-millionaire" (read: cheer up Singaporeans. See, even retrenched can be millionaire. What’s a little job-data false alarm?) The blurb measured nine inches (or 22.8 cm) in width, while the main headline was 3.51 in. (or 9.1 cm). Which is the real eye-catcher, you tell me?

And then, and then… the next-next day, the big headline was "Appeal for more foreign workers data: Information will help Singaporeans figure out what skills they need and better understand foreign talent policy." (Because the NTU economists had ‘alleged’ that the Ministry of Manpower withheld certain data-information which then distorted their finding.) See, I was right. The Gov was sending a ‘stress’ signal via NTU, unwittingly or otherwise. It is all about getting Singaporeans to be sympathetic about the Gov’s foreign-workers policy. Told you I’m always right. Only thing is – will this wonderful "wrong data" saga have to stop? What’s behind the even bigger ST picture? I shouldn’t say more when it’s all so nation-building-ly exciting!

Now, where in the world do others provide such instant and cheap inspirational instructions? (Cheap because it’s only 70 cents for the Sunday cost of the paper. On super-thick Saturdays with 184 pages, it’s only 60 cents!) Furthermore, inspirational at the risk of sounding exacting in effort! Singaporeans, you gotta love this country for it. If you feel you got no choice but to, it’s only natural. Besides, that’s a self-made choice! Admit it.

What’s more, inside that Sunday paper was a whole feature to tell you "How to keep your job? Add value." Wait up. Did you notice that below the ‘retrenched but now millionaire’ headline was another inspirational feature that said: "Why I became a Singaporean. Venture capitalist gave up his Belgian citizenship and has written a book to share his optimism about Singapore’s future." As for the story itself, it carried this devotional headline: "Meet an ang moh Singaporean who’s more Singaporean than many." (I thought they’re called top-notch ex-Hongkees? Oh, there are others too!)

In the story, the ex-Belgian was quoted saying: "The sense of welcome we have received starts from the taxi-driver in the airport. Sometimes I wonder if they have received special training. They are so proud of their country." More Singaporean than (many) Singaporeans? They said it.

Check for continuing instructions in the papers as to why you, the Singaporean, didn’t say it, or simply don’t know how to say it. On Aug 8, The Straits Times’ top blurb on its front page said: "Singaporeans upbeat, poll shows: Despite setbacks, most see bright future." And the headline on National Day was "To stay arrived." Goes to show that in this paradise of permanent puffing, everyday is a new day of infinite possibilities. Pride may go before a fall for others, but in Singapore, it comes especially writ large after an alarming, brief ‘fall’.

I knew I was right when I mentioned five months ago in these Files that gay saunas thriving on our isle has naught to do with gay tolerance (much less support) but all to do with the ‘pink dollar.’ On Aug 17, the big headline on Page 4 of The Sunday Times finally spells it out loud: "Chasing The Pink Dollar." As in – we ‘okay’ gay 'cos it’s all about the money. Hallo, what’s happened to good old Confucius ethics? I’m sorry, I know we’re not to use the name of our ‘lord’ in vain but as my late grandma would say in her dramatic Cantonese way – SM Lee is just turning 80 and you guys are already turning his stand on conservative values upside down. You’re passing him for dead, izit? I mean really, for all the times we put our hearts on our sleeves to maintain that shred of Asian decency against western decadence, what has it all come to? Have huffers, puffers and buffers become the new ‘scheming eunuchs’?

Look! That same day on the front page, "Mob mentality gets a flash of inspiration" – a report about the new phenomenon of urban ‘flash mobs’ who gather "to do something silly and then quickly disappear." A participant was quoted saying: "We’re just trying to have some harmless, spontaneous fun." And, of course, we’re assured that the phenomenon began not here but in New York and have spread to other major cities too.

The report also noted that on July 17, 50 people had gathered outside the Raffles Place MRT and set their mobile phones ringing non-stop for what they called The Spontaneous Orchestra. I mean sure, we want to send out a clear message that Singapore can be spontaneous, a little reckless in the name of fun and even somewhat free(r) as a society, but what kind of behaviour are we condoning?

What if, say, Chee Soon Juan gets in on the act next Labour Day outside of the Sommerset MRT at Oxley and gets his posse’s mobile phones to ring out a medley of Majullah Singapura and the Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun? Would that also be passed as a ‘spontaneous orchestra’? Is that the "flash of inspiration" we want to encourage in the name of fun and new freedom, and flying in the face of conservative Asian values? (Visualise grandma coughing blood but luckily she’s already blind to all this in her grave.)

"Western journalists decry Singapore as a nanny state. But many Singaporeans want it that way. They are worried we are shifting the burden of responsibility back to them" – was part of the National Day Rally Speech printed in The Straits Times that caught my eye on Aug 23, ’03. Before I comment on that, let me draw your attention to this other report printed that same day.

"A rarely enforced rule, raising eyebrows in the clubbing scene here (after bar-top dancing was allowed), is the one where police said performers, including paid bar-top dancers, must not mingle with customers. So, no chatting and/or drinking with patrons before, during and even after their act unless express permission has been sought from the Police Licensing Division. And the police will allow it only if the performer has been endorsed by the Singapore Tourism Board."

Tell me if bar-top dancers could ever feel guiltless (hello, chatting, y’know, that’s as natural as a smile and nod) no matter how innocent they may be of NOT being part of a ‘sleazy’ solicitation/undertaking which is what that little "rarely enforced" rule is out to curb. No worries, it’s all about "rarely enforced" and just in case (as in kiasu) but also about how the law here will always have you in its WIN-WIN grip, even psychologically speaking. (Yes, we still wonder why there’s not enough spontaneity in our social behaviour.)

Coming back to that part of the National Day Rally Speech which said we Singaporeans want to be nannied 'cos we shun the burden of responsibility being shifted back to us. Really. That’s only true when Mdm Nanny does the win-win thing to us even as she disclaims herself to be nannying. If the responsibility is fully restored to Singaporeans with a re-written code of civic rights and with all the true empowerment of decision-making that entails responsibility, I dare say, the people will want to work it out. Who in their right mind would welcome a half-past-six shift in responsibility that comes with ONLY burdens and no true empowerment?

But then, we will be told that we don’t know ‘responsible’ and are not quite ready for it yet. Responsible is when you’re "paid to dance on bar-top so there must be no chatting please." Very politely and righteously executed, no doubt. But it’s all about taking up a so-called choice when you’re ‘pre-paid’ to do no talking about the ‘choices’ offered.

Now, how can anyone think we do NOT have a successful system of governance? – X'Ho


NOTE:
Visit X'Ho's official site at www.xhosux.com.


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