There Is Hope

I received some emails from readers conveying their sympathies for the repression of gays in Singapore, after reading my articles. While we do not have the thriving gay cultures like other more liberal cities like Bangkok, things did really improve tremendously recently.

The biggest contributing factor was actually the good work done by the Government. Huh !!?? you could not believe your eyes that I actually wrote that :-) I believe in giving credits where credits are due. The good work is the rapid improvement in the educational levels of the general population. The mass school building programmes and the almost free education ensure that most Singaporeans are educated enough to find the news sources independent of any media controls imposed by anybody.

This is a big contrast to those times when I was growing up. During those days, few adults in my neighbourhood were educated. Those illiterate adults may be bossy when dealing with us kids but when they received any official letters from the government, they panicked like little lost kids. The Chinese has a saying that " you avoid going inside a government office's door when you are living like avoid going to hell when you die ". The government is high and mighty while a common man is dumb and at the mercy of laws and regulations that he has no understanding of. The common man lives by observing customs and rituals as passed down by the elders; no questions asked. In other words, the "perfect citizens" that any government can ever hope to rule over.

However, during those days when there was the shadow of the communist threat from the ideology of Communist China, the emphasis was on "English" education where the medium of instruction was English and the materials were based mostly on westernised contents mixed with a little local flavours. But some Chinese still prefer to send their children to "Chinese" schools to preserve their heritage. Though the mass education was criticised for mass rote learning of model answers and producing little creativity, it did achieve the aim of mass education at a very short time. Though the government was rightfully proud of its achievement but suddenly it realised that there is an unpleasant side-effect. The "perfect citizens" are slowly being replaced by a younger generation with rising expectations. In my humble opinion, I think few people in Singapore was aware of this back then; until the percentage of votes received by the ruling party suddenly slipped from glorious all time highs to lower and yet lower percentages. If the percentages were plotted and extrapolated on a straight line graph, the ruling party could be voted out of office soon !! Suddenly, the intellectuals could not believe what they were seeing. What did the government do wrong ??

Actually, it was what the Government did right that went wrong. Though the Government was aware of the "corrupting" influence of western education on the younger generation, it did not think that it's education programmes would be so successful that there will be lots of intellectuals produced who will challenge the ruling party. But education is like a living, growing thing that just grows and grows on a person, from the unseen nutrients that come from a cosmopolitan society.

The schools did not teach any Bob Dylan songs but when school kids go camping and gather round for a sing-a-long to sing some of his songs, the lyrics were bound to stir up some questions. The schools did not officially teach the mechanisms of Democracy; in fact most student leader were appointed and not elected. The teachers appointed their "pets" to be student leaders. But when the less important posts had to be elected, then things became lively. Those who want to be elected are no more than just your peers and "no cleverer" than you are. That's when the students learnt the power of the vote. So when they are old enough to vote, how do you think they feel when they are "talked down to" by politicians who are only their peers ? They think, " these guys are also not much older and cleverer than I am."

The Government tried to suppress the popularity of Western pop songs by claiming that it encourages drugs and a decadent life style. Sure, some pop stars are just drug junkies. But have you counted how many pop stars grow old gracefully and are respected as good examples for all to emulate ? The schools did not teach pop songs but with our literacy, we could easily copy the lyrics from song books and imitate the Beatles. The beautiful lyrics of John Lennon's songs are good model answers for poetry lessons. But the rebellious nature of his philosophies is absorbed into your sub-conscious every time you sing "Imagine there's no heaven ...."

In other words, education is not what is taught in school alone. It is everywhere, once the schools provided the basics for you to keep your mind open to learning and exercising your judgments wisely.

The ruling party soon realised that the schools were the cause of their problems. There were even talks that if given the chance to do it again, they will emphasis "Chinese" education instead. That's where kids learn the ways of Confucius and Eastern values which is of course to obey the wise leaders. The wise leaders know the better ways, so why waste your time thinking of a better way; if you are wiser then you would have been a wise leader. BUT YOU ARE NOT, so just follow the good model answers that the wise leaders took so much pains to work out for you. In your school days, didn't you copy those model answers from the classic texts and weren't you thankful that they helped you passed the exams ? Who do you think came out with those model answers, huh ?

Of course, it's all wishful thinking to go back to the past. What is done cannot be undone. If the educated Singaporean cannot be unchanged, then the ruling party had to change ! And change it did, though not all the way but enough for the better.

Take this quotation from an article from the Sunday Times on May 31, 1998, Sunday Plus, page 7 :-

"...... They can sell Singapore abroad, and together with Singapore Girl, reinforce the Singapore brand.....

In the case of MTV, instead of blocking the channel, as Singaporean mindset of 30 years ago would not have hesitated to do, the authorities actually wooed the 24-hour rock 'n' roll station to set up base here in 1995.....

The spin-offs for Singapore go beyond just money. There is transfer of technical expertise and creative skills..."

The new competition nowadays is about intellectual properties and "soft" commodities. We want to sell the Singapore brand and it has to be about fun and hip creativities. Model answers are just stale and so un-original, it just will not sell. Turning one's nose at fringe subjects like rebellion, homosexuality etc. will remind people of "talking down" to the audience as though the audience is too dumb to make their own judgment.

Those who were excited to find that the recent Film Festival had some gay oriented films being shown, were actually seeing a Government trying to change but still unsure where all this will lead to. Like education, creativity is like a living thing, it requires tolerances for people different from yourself. Once the basics are planted by the authorities, it will grow from groups that are so liberated that they are almost willing to "live on air for their arts". Once the fun and the parties started, others too want to join in the Good Life and rub shoulders with the "stars".

The older uneducated generation are usually quite "mousy" as they always seem to be worrying about things that they do not understand and their fragile livelihoods. An educated population produce citizens who have an air of confidence about their lives. Most are usually more liberal as they do not have to blindly follow the prejudices of others. They want to live life as much as possible to what their hearts and minds lead them; controls by any domineering busybody will be told off in no uncertain terms. Hence, they practice what they preach and leave others to pursue their own happiness even though that may mean a lifestyle that's different from theirs. There is hope that this will get through to the ruling party as they try to change.