24 July 2003

Colonial Postcolonial II

I talked about colonial history and the story of the white man last week. However, it's not wise to overrate the role of White man in the greater scheme of things, and let them run away with "the most important (good or evil) civilisation" prize!

Asians too, have been very sucessful colonisers. More than 1200 years ago, China imposed its imperial system of government, bureaucracy, writing system and language, and festival holidays on Korea and Japan. For quite some time, Korea was regarded as a Chinese protectarate, and sometimes ruled as such. Even today, enforced migrations of Han Chinese populations to Tibet constitute a silent 'ethnic cleansing' policy that would be familiar to the Spanish colonialists in the New World.

Japan has a 150 year history as a colonial power, controlling Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria, parts of China, before conquering most of Southeast Asia in WW2. The Thai kingdom's historic domination over Cambodia and Burma that still continues in the present-day, and was a contributing factor to the mass riots in Cambodia late last year.

Singaporeans have come into their own in recent decades as the neo-colonialists of Southeast Asia, exploiting cheap labour from Indonesia and the Philippines as "domestic helps", from the Indian subcontinent as construction workers and manual labour to build our homes, our monuments, to pave our roads and plant trees in this beautified city, to clean up the garbage that we leave behind... Hundreds of thousands of people are transported in this disgusting and poorly-disguised slave trade to work in appalling, cheap, and sometimes fatal work conditions. And I'm talking about the death of maids at the hands of their Singaporean employers!

I haven't even begun to talk about Singapore's role in the decade-old 'trilateral trade pact' or "Growth Triangle" with Malaysia and Indonesia. We provide the management, supervision, and capital to set up factories and equipment. Malaysia provides the physical equipment. Indonesia hosts the factories, and hires its natives, to provide the cheap labour.

That's a really neat way of ensuring that the poor will poor, working in factories and producing goods that they can't afford (i.e. "exports"). It ensures that a country cannot produce the goods and services that it needs, but produces goods and services to people living in First World countries (which Singapore has pretensions to). If this isn't colonialism, what is? And all in the name of capitalism too...

20 July 2003

Colonial Post-colonial

"In the beginning the White God (of course he's White! Ever seen a Arabic or Jewish looking portrait of Christ?) created White man, who went forward to multiply upon the earth, with his first companion and then servant, the White woman.

White man was given dominion over the animals and the plants on the land, the fish in the sea, and as he also believed, dominion over other Peoples who came in different, lesser skin tones.

So, White man quelled the lesser peoples, under the commission of the White Man's Burden, to improve them to the level of White humanity.

Then, White man made some mistakes, and discovered perhaps that the whole colonial project was wrong. So now, White man goes around apologising to everyone for all the evils on the planet, bearing his message of White Man's Guilt.

Of course, this story is all about White Man's Ego. If they can't be the savior of the world, they will settle for nothing less than to be the only cause of all the Evil in the world. If they can't be the all-powerful Hero, they'll settle for the all-powerfull Villian. It always has to be about the White Man!"

16 July 2003

On Monday, I became a wedding videographer

Well, a friend wanted to do a hip and stylish photo shoot that involves lots of costume changes and posing at Robinson Rd, the beach, and a field where airplanes fly really low overhead. And, he wanted me to videotape the photographer shooting them. That's like, totally weird, right?

Nonetheless, I had fun playing with his Canon 450 DV camera. An old model, but still very useable.

Lessons Learnt:
1. Wedding photographers have a certain style. Looking at all the albums in the studio, we agreed that most of the poses, the shots, the locations used... were about the same. I'm just going to call it the photographer's style and speciality =D. Although, the couple who did their shoot in Little India gets my applause.

2. Beautiful locations are actually very mundane. The more beautiful they are, the more ugly in real life. Ah, the power of fashion photography. And cropping. LOTS of cropping needed.

Otherwise you'll capture all the rubbish at the beach. Or the oggling crowds at Robinson Rd who kept looking at us. Or the dozen wedding pairs who turned up at the TINY patch of grass near Tanah Merah for the "Wide expanse of grass and plane flying overhead" shot. Which, of course, since the couple wanted me to shoot the process, it's all there in the videocam, heh.

3. Never accept an assignment, however trivial, from people who worship Wong Kar-wai and go on annual pilgrimages to the Singapore Film Festival. Even if they're your friends, and say "just have fun with the cam!", it's going to be stressful *grin*.

4. Have fun. Lots of it.

14 July 2003

PLU meeting

I gatecrashed a minor event last Thursday and kept it from you people =D. Those who've been reading the papers or TIME magazine would vaguely remember something about PM Goh saying that gay people won't be forced to leave their civil service jobs from now on. In fact, he sounded very liberal and accomodating towards "people who are different", and urged for tolerance of diversity. This is a very major about-face in policy and attitude - however semi-official. Short of forcing all private companies here to follow the non-discriminatory policy, or repealing the anti-gay laws, this is the strongest and most symbolic move the Prime Minister can make.

Now, back to the minor event I gatecrashed. Since my spectacle frames literally fell apart late Thursday afternoon, I rushed down to Plaza Sing to get it fixed, and there was just enough time to crash into a meeting of the Signel list. The agenda? Those people want to re-register PLU, the gay society that was refused registration 5 years ago.

Evidently, the media hype got into their heads. Instead of appreciating the PM's actions, they derided him, and cast aspersions on his motivations. Instead of being content, they want to push for much more "outness and proudness" and "in-your-faceness", to force the issue NOW, and alienate a population that might otherwise tolerate their existence. Their current attempt to re-register PLU will fail. And they're HAPPY to see it fail, because it just re-confirms that "the government is not sincere with its comments".

Failure to understand the field, of what the game is, and what the stakes are for different players... will always produce matyrs who are willing to sacrifice chances for some qualified success, just to make a symbolic point.

The organisers in Thursday's meeting made Chee Soon Juan look like a dignified and accomodating statesman. Chilling, isn't it?

09 July 2003

The Twins

It breaks my heart to announce that the 29 year-old Iranian twins, Ladan and Laleh Bijani, have passed away in the middle of their operations this evening. The twins shared the same skull cavity, and the operation was to cut open their skulls, and separate their brains.

The twins had faith in my country's healthcare system. Now, their operation began yesterday morning, and the first stage of the operation took 5 hours longer than scheduled, because "doctors had not anticipated the thickness of the conjoined skull" of the twins. I kid you not. Today, the process of separating their brains took 15 hours longer than scheduled, because "their brains appeared to have fused together" after 29 years of very closed living conditions. Thus, the doctors had to literally cut open their fused brains, millimeter by millimeter, blood vessel by blood vessel. Again, I kid you not. Of course, the twins died of post-separation complications, chiefly the loss of too much blood during the brain separation.

Singaporeans are a complacent lot. While ill-prepared for contingencies, they are nonetheless easily adaptable to even the worst of situations.

I will be interested to find out why a simple X-ray did not reveal the abnormal thickness of the twins' skulls. I will be interested to find out why an MRI would not have revealed that their brains were fused together. I will be interested to find out why it was only 2 days before the surgery, during the pre-op tests, that the doctors found out about the abnormally high blood pressure in the twins' skull. And I will want to know why the German doctors rejected the twins' requests for a separation in 1996.

Of course, our doctors and the media are now doing a damage control operation. "The risk of this surgery was known to the twins, and they accepted it." I'm sure they would've changed their minds had they or their doctors known about the complications before hand. The risks of the surgery was so obviously not calculated fully, and the twins were not aware of the full complexibility and dangers of their operation. As were their doctors.

It doesn't help that just yesterday, the hottest news on the stock market was a 15% rise in the price of shares for the Raffles Medical Group, which runs Raffles Hospital, where the operation took place.

And it makes things even worse, if you consider that half a year ago, the same hospital offered to operate on a pair of Nepalese infants (joined at the head also), for free. The price of the Iranian twin surgery? US$300,000 for the operation alone. The Iranian president offered to pay the bill, in the end.

Whatever possessed our doctors to go ahead with this surgery, short of yet another Singaporean First, another chance to gloat in the record books, "First Adult Craniopagus Twin Separation"?

There was a great tragedy today. That a pair of twins died on the operating table is just a tiny part of the tragedy. I'll be in mourning for their lost lives, and our lost humanity.

03 July 2003

Higher Education as Con Game

It surprises me even now, but only because someone close to family had succumbed to a con game, and a very sophisticated one at that, too. In fact it's even more surprising, and then it sinks in as just being tragic, that many more Singaporeans still fall into this con game, very willingly. And currently, there is no recourse, no compensation. There will be no investigations or explanations. Anything can happen in Singapore; it just gets buried, then forgotten, and then vehemently denied in the national psyche.

Even for a small Asian country, Singapore abounds... no, it overflows with universities and other institutions of higher learning. Like every other 'industry' or area of life, Education is very tightly regulated by Singapore's authorities. This includes all of Singapore's universities.

Over the years since independence, we've had many universities set up and formed by the State. Decades ago, there was the forced merger of Nanyang University (Nantah) and the Malayan College, to produce the english-language NUS, plus a technical university called NTU (Nanyang Technological), thus finishing off the only Chinese language university in the world, outside of China. In recent times we have the Open University, the Singapore Institute of Management, and the new SMU (after awhile the acronyms just lose significance and differentiation). Each of these universities were set up under the suggestion, justification, then guidance, and resources of the State. That's pretty fine with me, it shows how important Education and Higher Learning is for a State to want to take charge of the process, because our leaders believe in "constant relearning" and "upgrading of skills" of our citizens.

Some time ago, in the previous millennium and the previous decade, there was the Open University, touted as a path of higher education especially for older students (Education in East Asia tends to a thing for the young. You'll never see a diverse range of ages at a university in China, Taiwan, Japan, or Singapore... unlike Europe where it is more normal to see a slightly more mature crowd duke it out intellectually on the same ground, for the same degrees). As it happened, the University was given official support, justification and resources from the State. And as it happened, graduates from the Open University discovered after graduating that their hard earned degrees counted for nothing. In the private sector, companies paid these OU graduates salaries that were clearly not for degree-holders. In the public sector, the State itself did not pay them degree-level salaries.

Fast forward a few years to the SIM. The first few batches of graduates - ranging from management, computer science, engineering - this is not a 'fake university', hard subjects are taught and learnt - are finding that it's the same story. That's right. The state never puts the money where its mouth is. So, Singaporeans continue to believe in our universities, enroll in them, spend years of study in courses, and graduate to find that their degrees count for nothing. Now, this about-face, this silence, from the State is astonishing. For the staff of the SIM were culled by the State from NUS and NTU, the courses were designed by those lecturers and professors, and then approved by the State.

And yes. Take note, gentle readers: the Singapore government now has a new initiative and a new target for the education of Singaporeans. Our leaders have decided to slowly increase enrollment and number of universities, so that our nation can reach their "golden figure" of 25%. 25%, or a full quarter of the population, should have University or tertiary education.

And those of you in Singapore should know very well the rate of unemployment for university graduates, right?