Archive for August, 2005


on why our national newspaper sucks, part I (or XXVI, I lose count)

August 29, 2005

So on Sunday I flip to the LIFE section, which is the only section that is actually bearable (I mean, how wrong can you go with entertainment news, but sometimes I give the ST even too much credit for this: look at the ‘Hits and Misses’ column, and you pretty much have a general idea of how lousy the editors and columnists really are), and I see this travesty against the English language:


And I have to read it at least three or four times (Aniston and Jolie do men prefer? As in, were they lesbian before and did women prefer? Or what are men prefer, and why are they doing them, ew!) before I finally realise that it’s a grammatical error, a bloody fucking obvious damn grammatical error adorning the front page of the entertainment section of our trashy tabloid masquerading as the newspaper of the nation.

So much for good English. Yes, I do realise that the who/whom distinction is slowly fading out of common use, thanks to the bloody Americans, but this is blatantly nonsensical. It does not even vaguely sound correct. And that is why the editors, journalists and proofwriters of the Straits Times really ought to be shot. A hundred monkeys at typewriters could write better columns than that bloody bunch of idiots (Andy Ho who thinks he’s a bloody expert at everything, give me a bloody break).


das capital

August 28, 2005

Took Leng How was recently sentenced to death for the murder of Huang Na. I find this hardly surprising, since Singapore courts have pronounced capital punishment upon offenders for much less. While I shall not extrapolate if Took was really guilty, I do have a certain contempt for the death penalty, with which I disagree in all circumstances (but that will require more time and another post). I especially object to the way local courts treat the death penalty.

Two thoughts immediately come to my mind. First, the mandatory death penalty for drug-traffickers. I strongly object to this: it serves no purpose whatsoever, and clear, lucid thinking will immediately demonstrate this. Most obviously, I cannot think of a rational reason why drug use is wrong – it harms no one but the abuser; alcohol and cigarettes are legal; addiction manifests itself in various forms, for example, gambling. Yet cigarettes, which generate externalities and cause harm to third-parties in the form of second-hand smoke, are allowed; alcohol and tobacco importers are not equivalently hanged; the government is building two integrated resorts with casinos to feed off the urge to gamble. Therefore, in the first place, no logical explanation exists as to why taking drugs is wrong. Hence, no such severe punishment should exist for the drug traffickers.

Even if we relax the logical premise that drug consumption is not wrong, no rational mind could conclude that the death penalty for drug-trafficking is sensible. The ‘deterrent effect’ argument is both silly and hypocritical – silly because it does not work, and has been shown not to work, since most drug traffickers are driven to their vocation by desperation (as in the recent case of Shanmugan Murugesu), not by a self-serving interest to make it big and strike it rich; hypocritical because sentencing drug traffickers to death in no way deters drug lords from operating their businesses, since they may always pay traffickers more and pass the labour costs on to the consumer. The ‘deterrent’ argument is also morally repugnant – to my mind the ‘kill one warn hundreds’ proverb from the Chinese is not only a trite, untrue banality, it also betrays a cavalier attitude towards human life, which is reduced to a tool meant for ‘deterrence’, a life we sacrifice so others may no better. This argument is dangerous, of course: what stops us, then, from conducting public caning on Orchard road for rapists, or chopping off the hands of thieves, or public executions (aside from the fact that it would be too Iran for the tastes of the US?). In other words, the death sentence for drug trafficking is a bunch of bollocks.

The second thought is that death sentences may be, in Singapore, pronounced on purely circumstantial evidence. The case I have in mind is the one recently featured in the newspapers, where a bus driver was first (and rightly) acquitted because no evidence was found that could prove his culpability beyond the shadow of a doubt, i.e. no motive was established, the murder weapon not found, no eye-witnesses came forth with statements, and, if I am not mistaken, the body was not even recovered and therefore no autopsy could be conducted. The case was appealed and the accused was found guilty; this time the damning piece of evidence was that someone had seen the victim board the bus of the accused. So much for ‘without a shred of doubt’. This seems to me intensely illegal (or at least without much legal ground). Thus when I encounter a capital case, I do not immediately think ‘justice has been served’, rather, I tend to distrust the final decision of the courts. The bias of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ (as opposed to the contrary) must do more harm than good.

That is why, in a not-so-nutshell, Singapore is really quite a rubbish place to live in. When people tell me that I’m so lucky to be a beneficiary of the Singapore system and its stable government, decent education, good healthcare et cetera et cetera et cetera, the proper response is not ‘I agree!’, the proper response is: ‘But here you may be sentenced to death if you traffic drugs, or for a murder you did not commit.’


pity is in the guts

August 23, 2005

Grief is coming into flesh. Solitude and desolation are beginning to overtake me. Today staring out over the rain-flecked trees I felt a loneliness so palpable and so utter that I had to sit down and cry. This is life as I shall know it for the next thirteen or fourteen months, without many friends to call in these moments of solitude and desolation, without the comforting knowledge that they are merely an hour away. I must rely on myself from now on, I will retreat into the hollow excavation of myself.


partir, c’est mourir un peu

August 19, 2005

A good friend left today for further studies at the University of California at Berkeley. I fear the gaping wound that her departure will leave in my life (or what remains of it); and am severely apprehensive of what the future weeks have in store for myself: friends will carry on disappearing at a steady and disturbing rate, and after that I alone will be left here in Singapore, alone.


She barged through the airport gates in her typically tardy manner, bags askew and documents in disarray. The send-off had come to an end not with a bang but with a whimper, since we had spent far too long ignoring the last-call warnings flashed across the television screens, and really had no time for a proper goodbye. Air-travel timetables are ruthless things; they never realise how tyrannical they really are, turning each farewell to its inexorable end.

And here she was, then, embracing each of us in turn, uttering the trite benedictions that must needs be intoned at a permanent parting: ‘Sorry I couldn’t spend more time with you…’ or ‘Keep in touch!’ (of course, accompanied by a wryly ironic smile, self-mocking) or ‘I’ll see you soon’. Yet the cliches are true and subservient to the true emotions which run underneath the scene of fake-smiles. Everyone knows that partings are deaths, since we are dead to the person we thought we knew once she leaves and starts anew, a new life, and changes. Flux, a constant, will flummox us all. We could not escape the suspicions, the unsaid thoughts, the twist in the tail.

And yet there she was with her open arms, reaching out to me, and I told myself, as I had the night before, to fight the urge to cry. I leant in for the fierce hug. As if by holding on tightly we could somehow call forth the petty, disingenuous, beautiful claims of friendship to assert themselves across two continents and conquer unassailable distance. Two weeks earlier, I left her at a train station doing the exact same thing: yet the physical embrace was followed not by closeness but by distance. Unassailable distance.

In my arms she seemed small. Too small, too frail, to bear the slings and arms of outrageous fortune and her father. I shudder to think: who could bear to hit such fragility? The keen edge of grief touches her still, I can feel it on the pulse of her beating heart and in the wavering of her voice when she accidentally refers to her parents in the plural. I think to myself, and know that it is the truth, that it is because of her grief that I love her so much. Nothing is beautiful without pain. The poetry is in the pity. The depth of her sorrow is an apotheosis: I am willing to look past the minor faults, the unfortunate events that irk, to see that inky halo of smallness, frailty, fragility, grief, pain – beauty – that envelops her.

I think: Will she be able to take care of herself? Already she struggles with carrying all the luggage (six bags, no less, the attendant inconveniences of being female), has probably misplaced her boarding pass, and has no idea that she must board at gate twenty-six. Will she be able to take care of herself? Our entire friendship built up on my endless worries, as if by crucifying myself on her cross of stress I could take away her stripes. We argued once, because I felt I was giving too much for nothing in return. Now I see that my giving was selfish, born out of an atavistic inclination to help the weak, heal the sick, walk on water. Poor little rich girl, all the money that money can buy and yet still so poor. As if, by so doing, everyone else would reciprocate and come to help me, heal me. Weak and sick me.

Now she has everything in order. She walks on into the impersonal airport, turns around to wave at us. Take care of yourself, and call once you touch down! I shout. She cannot hear, the glass that keeps out criminals and terrorists also shuts out the hollering which carries all my love and affection and the accompanying anxiety. Over on her side it must all be quiet, the reverent silence which one only hears at the airport. She can only see some of us gesticulating wildly, she thinks: what mad friends I have.

She cannot wait any longer, she turns away and walks to gate twenty six. She knows she must be there. I stay a while longer, expecting her to come back, screaming that she has forgotten something or other. No-one comes, she is lost in the apparition of faces in the crowd. She has left.


the future is ours to make (spoil)

August 11, 2005

I have to admit that each time I see the happy faces singing the most facile songs on national day doing the most puerile dance moves, I think to myself: wait, boy, till you become eighteen or whatever, and enlist in the service of the nation. Now that will wipe the smile off your face.


reach for the stars

August 9, 2005

I don’t know if I can love Singapore any longer. History and an instinctive distrust of politics has taught me to never place my faith in the nation; this view has been repeatedly reinforced by undergoing two years of national service. It breaks my heart, really – that this is, for good or ill, home, at least by circumstance. Yet I do not feel at home here, not any longer. Any other place I choose to call home will never truly be home either – it is a lose-lose situation. Now I begin to feel the raw edge of the sense of unbelonging that Tsetsayeva felt when she had to embrace an exile deeper than any other. From family, friends, the familiar comfort of food – there are days when I want so much to run away, run far away and never come back, yet I know that wherever I run my steps must lead me back here, here to Singapore, where the ashes of my forefathers lie and the ashen tongues of my parents reside, and will continually reside. Two lives, two loves, two ways out – a duality so hopeless it only reminds me of the pretence that is my family.


August 2, 2005

August begins in deep sorrow. Amidst friends having to leave for university I deal with the uncomfortable conjunction of sexuality and family. This I have always dreaded, and yet when the moment arrived I felt strangely dissociated from it, as if heart and head could not connect. I have never been one to face problems head-on, I try my best to run away from them – consequently I have not given much thought to the matter.

But feelings I cannot control. I cannot divorce myself from the mad morass of anger, sadness and ennui that I feel. How does one deal with these things? How does one deal with a father who cannot trust his son, and must resort to foraging through his wallet and internet history in order to find what is expected, and what is expected is the worst?

Yet who can blame him: surely he must have his suspicions. I have not been the subtlest queen in the court. It soon becomes apparent that our relationship is a house of cards built upon a pack of lies. This is heartbreaking. He thinks that I am a Christian heterosexual who will eventually grow up, get married, have a family and retire in contented senility. I think not. What is there left to say and love?

For in a court of law evidence gleaned through illegal means must needs be ignored; that is the law. But how can a restraining order be made against mothers and fathers? Memories and pain do not just disappear with the strike of a gavel, especially not treachery as low as this. I have betrayed my parents, my family, by pretending to believe in God and the attraction of women. My father has betrayed me by not placing in me his fullest trust. We are a house of cards, a pack of lies. Who betrayed whom first? Guilt that cannot be fairly apportioned.

Things are now explicitly clear. It is hard to deny a son after so many years of hard work and tenderness, just as it is difficult to refuse a father after so many years of anger and affection. Book-burning is to me one of the greatest sins (along with betrayal and unfilial piety), but on the stroke of midnight on the last day of July I tore seven precious books on a homosexual theme away, pretending to repent. More betrayal, more unfilial piety, but what remains to be done but to pretend?

And so I live.