Representative Democracy In Singapore

Two or three weeks ago, I explored Potong Pasir for the hell of it, with some of the very few people I know here who would do things like go exploring Potong Pasir for the hell of it. It was a fabulous day, and I’ve been meaning to do a writeup with photos for ages. (Coming soonish.)

When the usual “So, what have you been up to lately?” question gets asked in conversations, I’ve been telling other people about Potong Pasir Day. This is how the conversation goes in the vast majority of cases:

Me: Well, a couple of friends and me went exploring Potong Pasir one Sunday afternoon and had a fantastic time.
X, looking absolutely perplexed: Oh…okay…why?
Me: We wanted to see what an opposition constituency was like.
X, still looking confused: Oh…you mean Potong Pasir is an opposition constituency?

[There are only 2 constituencies in the whole of Singapore which are not in the hands of the ruling party. Potong Pasir has been an opposition constituency with opposition politician Mr Chiam See Tong as its MP for at least the past 15 years, if not longer. Chiam See Tong is Singapore’s most prominent, respected and successful opposition politician. All these facts are given ample press coverage at election time.]

Now, let’s continue with the conversation. With about a quarter of the people I have talked to, the second half of the conversation goes like this: (Please note that the people I talk to all have university degrees)

Me: Er, yes. Chiam See Tong is its MP.
X: Oh…you mean Chiam See Tong is an opposition MP?
Me: (speechless)

A Wonderful Weekend In Singapore!

Experiences from the weekend:

  • Some Chinese people know nothing about any of the other cultures that live in Singapore. At a formal dinner on Friday, we (I and other law graduates) were served Malay food. When the gado-gado arrived, people were staring at it blankly and asking what it was. When some of us (I and the Indian guy next to me) read “potato cutlets” on the menu and concluded that it was probably bergadil (I have no idea how to spell it, because it never appears on the menus, but I’ve used the word my whole life), others looked blank and said they’d never heard of that either. Over the months I have been home, I have also met a first class honours NUS law grad who, when told the cuisine we were eating was from Kerala, said “What is Kerala?”, Chinese people who don’t know Muslims don’t drink alcohol, and Chinese people who know nothing whatsoever about Eurasians. So much for Singapore being a multi-cultural society. If you’re Chinese, apparently none of the others matter.
  • Multiple travel agents promised that I could take a direct ferry from Tanah Merah ferry terminal to Tioman, and offered to sell me tour packages on this basis, but the service stopped running in June.
  • Singaporeans are willing to queue up for hours to secure condominium bookings, Hello Kitty commemorative dolls, and Singapore Idol audition slots. They are also noted (derided?) for their compliance with rules and respect for authority. However, announcements in four languages and so many ground markings that the platform looks like the scene of a gruesome arrow massacre are not enough to persuade Singaporeans to let people off the train before shouldering them aside and charging in, before sitting comfortably in seats reserved for the elderly/pregnant, studiously ignoring the at least eight-month-pregnant woman teetering in front of them.

Say What?

Two snippets of Singapore from today.

#1: I Donno Where Is This Democracy

Me, getting into taxi: Hello, Parliament House please.
Taxi driver: Where?
Me: Parliament. Parliament House.
Taxi driver: Near where?
Me, perturbed: City Hall.
Taxi driver: Oh, so take ECP¹ then Rochor Road?
Me: Yes.
Taxi driver: After that you direct me hor. I donno where is this Parliament House.

* * *

#2: Racism 20% Off

Young friendly male sales assistant in a earring shop in Bugis Village: This one you like or not?
Me: Mmmm, not sure. Maybe something a bit longer.
Sales assistant: You dare to wear like ke ling kia or not?
Me: What?
Sales assistant, waving a long dangly earring: This one, like ke ling wear one.
Me, finally understanding what he was saying²: No, it’s okay. Thanks.

¹ An acronym for one of our expressways
² Ke ling is a derogatory word for Indian