June 28, 2017

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Authors Posts by Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong
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Felix Cheong is an award-winning author of 10 books, including the satirical Singapore Siu Dai series. He teaches journalism at the University of Newcastle and Murdoch University.

by Felix Cheong

IT’S not certain, yet,

you’re today whom you thought

you would be, yesterday.

 

You’re cursed not to see

your own clockface, if it slows

to a growl, quickens as mercury;

 

a month, a year, or maybe never,

between understanding means

and ends, what the end must mean

 

when what you held as beautiful

that once, like a mimosa to sun,

collapses, your touch.

 

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You’re what you’re as

capable of loving as losing,

beginning as destroying.

 

Oh, the years, yearning, learning.

How it takes time

to know time.

 

This poem was first published in Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems (2009).

 

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by Felix Cheong

 

6. Let’s talk about sex, baby

IT WAS the stuff of dirty memes and dirtier jokes, a line that could have been scripted by the wise guys behind The Noose.

But nay. It came from the horse’s mouth – specifically, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo’s: “You need a very small space to have sex.”

This was uttered, straight-faced but not so straitlaced, as a rejoinder to young couples’ complaints that they need a flat first to have a child. (Mrs Teo oversees the National Population and Talent Division.)

However pro-procreation her message is, you can’t help but wonder what kind of kinky subculture has just been endorsed by the G.

Closet sex, crawlspace sex, car sex – if it can barely fit two bare bodies, it’s fair game and game on!

 

7. Paging Kenneth Yeo Wee

What do you do when your boss tasks you to find a replacement for Kenneth Yeo Wee? Why, you advertise for a replacement for Kenneth Yeo Wee, of course!

This was the duh! moment the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA, renamed IMDA after its merger with MDA in August) had to deal with in June. The job posting for a permanent, middle-level position was inadvertently advertised on several job portals as “Replacement for Kenneth Yeo Wee”.

The statutory board had to make a sheepish apology and the human resource employee responsible for the boo-boo was duly “counselled” (civil-service speak for a dressing down). It was not reported if he was made to post a job ad calling for a replacement for himself.

Come 2020, perhaps he might be called upon to write an ad for “Replacement for Lee Hsien Loong”.

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8. Color Me Badd

Three incidents this year have coloured my perception whether Racial Harmony Day (celebrated annually on July 21) should simply be renamed Racial Cosplay Party.

Despite multiculturalism being central to the Singapore Core, there is still a lot of cultural ignorance. Three such boo-boos took place in October, one after the other.

The first was The Smart Local’s not-so-smart and definitely-not-very-local video titled “Singaporeans Try: Indian Snacks”. (The title itself is a dead giveaway of the ignoramus – or ignoramuses – behind it.)

It featured the website’s staff (presumably Singaporean) eating Indian snacks as if they were on Fear Factor trying alien food.

That naturally alienated many Singaporean Indians. To add chilli padi to the injury, the video ended with a cheery “Happy Deepavali”.

As my grandmother used to scold me: “Happy your head ah!”  

In the same week, Mediacorp’s online streaming service Toggle found itself toggling between sheepishness and rueful apology when it pulled an episode of its drama series I Want to be a Star from circulation.

The reason? Actor Shane Pow was seen wearing an Afro wig and, more embarrassingly, black face make-up.

The Pow! that greeted such blatant racism on social media was heartening. But within a few days, it was upstaged by another incident.

A Cold Storage outlet had put up a sign advertising a 38 per cent Deepavali discount on beef – perhaps a last-ditch attempt to beef up sales?

That this is akin to a Hari Raya promo on pork must’ve been lost on the junior staff who had put this up. To its credit, the supermarket chain quickly stopped the promo and apologised for its staff’s insensitivity.

That such incidents crop up almost every year – remember actress Sharon Au imitating an Indian girl’s accent during a National Day event last year? – show multiculturalism here is still very much a work in progress.

 

9. You can’t tell it’s a fake?

When a camera manufacturer can’t tell if a winning photo has been doctored, it’s time for a face-palm moment.

This was exactly what happened in January when Nikon awarded the first prize of its photography contest to Mr Chay Yu Wei.

His winning shot, titled “Look Up”, showed a plane flying overhead, framed by a ladder.

If Nikon had bothered to look up such an image and/or look closely at it, it would’ve known the shot wasn’t an original idea and, more importantly, spotted the telltale signs of Photoshop.

Instead, it had to wait for netizens to do the CSI and out the cheat, who apologised for his “mistake”, claiming his aim in adding the plane was “just for fun”.

The excuse certainly didn’t fly with anyone, especially since it was clearly a photography competition, not Photoshop.

 

10. Ho Ho Ho! Just monkeying around

By far the most tantalising malu moment this year must be Ms Ho Ching’s April post of a monkey raising its middle finger.

That such a rude photo was uploaded on Twitter by the Prime Minister’s wife – and the CEO of Temasek Holdings – was newsworthy enough. But it was the timing that had tongues wagging and wags telling tall tales.

This was in the middle of a public spat between Mr Lee Hsien Loong and his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, over the first-year commemoration of their father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Names like “dishonorable son” were called. The Straits Times got dragged into the mess because Dr Lee’s regular column was scrapped. There were accusations of censorship and talk of plagiarism.

Lee v Lee – it was as good a prelude as it got to the Hollywood summer blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In the end, it took a monkey – rightfully, in the Year of the Monkey – to break the stalemate.

Ms Ho, describing herself as a “Twitter newbie”, apologised for her mis-tweet.

By way of mending fences, she also said: “There are enough troubles in the world. Far from adding oil to fires, I would prefer we try to solve and resolve problems, among friends, within families and between neighbours.”

Nice move – using laughter to deflate tension, deflect attention and direct people to see sense.

 

This is my last And on Saturday column. Thanks for reading my pieces over the past year. It’s been a fun ride/write. Have a great Christmas!

 

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by Felix Cheong

IT’S a given that no year is complete without its share of boo-boos and gaffes. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck or bad timing; other times, poor foresight or even poor eyesight.

Whatever it is, 2016 was certainly rich in face-palm moments. Kicking off our roundup of the year, here’s my selection of the 10 most malu episodes in Singapore:

 

1. The Bermuda Triangle field

Beware, ye who liveth in Kim Keat Avenue. Beware the evil field that doth taketh a liking to anything with wheels.

An SMRT driver obviously didn’t heed this warning. While trying to take an off-service bendy bus on off-the-beaten-track shortcut in September, he found himself stuck in the field behind Block 195.

The obligatory tow truck came, but the field wasn’t obliging – it held the bus captive for some 10 hours.

You would’ve thought other drivers would do well to stay away. But no.

Two months later, an ambulance found itself mired in the same Bermuda Triangle – again, while trying to take a shortcut.

The rescue vehicle was itself “rescued” a few hours later.

Singapore Pools is currently taking bets that a third incident will take place anytime soon.

 

2. Self-driving into an accident

In the brave new world of artificial intelligence, machines are all about timing and precision. In October, that impeccable timing was put to the test.

Just a day before the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced a trial run of driverless buses plying the Nanyang Technological University campus in 2018, a self-driving car unceremoniously hit a lorry at Biopolis.

Talk about bad timing. And the accident happened despite two engineers being onboard the nuTonomy vehicle travelling at a low speed. Why they didn’t hit the brakes is a mystery only a computer can figure out.

No injuries were reported, since a bruised ego isn’t technically reportable.

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3. Can’t get own house in order

Not to be outdone, SMRT – the butt of most of my jokes in my column this year – experienced a similar synchronicity in September.

First, it reported to the Singapore Exchange it was bidding for a public rail project in Bandung, Indonesia.

Fate, however, didn’t take kindly to SMRT biting off more than it can chew. The very next day, the Bukit Panjang LRT broke down for six hours – not the first, and certainly wouldn’t be the last.

It got so bad that a high-level SMRT executive opined that scrapping the entire line was one of the options being considered.

This was later dismissed as “not feasible” by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

Which makes you wonder: If SMRT can’t even get its own house in order, why is it setting up house in someone else’s backyard, all the way in Indonesia? Payback time for the haze?

 

4. Putting your foot where your mouth is

Just when you thought we’ve evolved millennia away from the “Me Tarzan, You Jane” mentality, out pops lawyer Edmund Wong.

In August, while defending a student from China charged with molest, Mr Wong brought up two big reasons – or more politically incorrectly, the victim’s breasts.

He asked her to stand up so the court could see how attractive she is and said (this is so cringe-worthy it’s worth quoting verbatim): “I want to show that if she is wearing a very low cut (top) with a very voluptuous breast protruding out, (of a) half cut (top), then of course…the higher the tendency that people might commit such an offence.”

Maybe the district judge took offence at his bad English. Or the fact that anatomically speaking, breasts usually come in a pair, not one. Whatever the reason, he was not amused. Sentencing Mr Wong’s client to five months’ jail, he hauled Mr Wong over the coals for his unacceptable behavior.

That’s not the end of his comeuppance. The Attorney-General’s Office has already filed a complaint against him to the Law Society.

Little wonder Mr Wong was the unrivalled winner of this year’s Alamak! Award, a tongue-in-cheek prize given by women’s rights group AWARE for the most blatant and annoying instance of sexism.

 

5. Foot-in-mouth disease

Celebrities, of course, are not immune to the foot-in-mouth disease. In fact, by their very public presence, every Freudian slip or slip of the tongue becomes a big deal in a social media cup. Two outstanding examples this year: Mediacorp actresses Rebecca Lim and Rui En.

In February, Ms Lim had supposedly called time on her acting career in an Instagram post: “I’m retiring. I know you may have questions for me and I will answer them real soon. Meanwhile, be happy for me.”

Fans were shocked. The media was intrigued. But before you can say gostan, she clarified it was just a publicity stunt for NTUC Income.

Fans were more shocked. The media was more intrigued.

It didn’t help that NTUC Income’s head of strategic communications came up with a gobbledegook explanation: “We wanted to introduce the concept of retiring as a journey. Therefore that word was used. If you notice, we didn’t say ‘retiring’ to what. It was very generic.”

Needless to say, the whole campaign was “retired” – to thy kingdom (in)come.

Two months later, fellow actress Rui En also found herself in the centre of a social-media maelstrom.

She had knocked over a motorcycle while trying to park her car in a carpark in Clementi Avenue 2. The owner of the damaged bike confronted her but she said: “Do you know who I am?”

I’m sure that’s how they settle disputes in China. But not in Singapore. If there’s any quote this year pithy enough for a T-shirt, this would be it.

Rui En had since apologised for her choice of words and in July, was charged in court and fined $700 on one count of careless driving.

 

Part 2 of Top 10 malu moments of 2016 will be published next week.

 

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by Felix Cheong

 

ALL her life she knew

Anything brand new

Was all but her cue

One of the first few

 

Five-day sale was due

Took time off in lieu

Packed bag and pork stew

Book by Lee Kuan Yew

 

Three days in the hew

No bath, sleep or chew

Smelled like last week’s brew

Face became grey hue

 

One day before phew

Line abruptly skewed

Tempers flared and grew

Fists and chairs just flew

 

Down came men in blue

Hard on whistles blew

Fighters stopped in queue

Found a girl was slewed

 

Out of mouth she spewed

Blood and some char siew

Dead as slaughtered ewe

Cold as morning dew

 

Up there, on schedule

Heaven in neat pews

Queued up like her due

One of the first few

 

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by Felix Cheong

A fictitious football fanatic, Oh Pi Sai, can’t believe that Singapore has just won the World Cup – only to discover that it isn’t the Fifa World Cup.

I WOKE up on Wed (Dec 7) with a start. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Singapore has won the World Cup! In a non-World Cup year? Did I miss the live telecast? Or did SingTel screw up the signal again?

At long last, we not only achieved Goal 2010 – ex-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s dream of Singapore qualifying for the World Cup finals – but we also won it!

Never mind that it’s six years late. What counts is beating the likes of England, Germany and Argentina! Majulah!

It was only after my wife had performed CPR on me – my heart had stopped all of 30 seconds – that I re-read The Straits Times headlines: “Singapore students bag educationWorld Cup’”.

Cheh!

Why call it a “World Cup” when there was no cup given out? And it turned out to be some kind of ivory tower called Pisa, which leaned heavily on mathematics, science and reading.

There were no qualifying rounds (students were selected randomly), no group stage, no knockout stage and definitely no quarter-finals, semi-finals or final.

Everything was determined by just one test – very much like the PSLE – and Singaporean 15-year-olds are suddenly declared world beaters.

I don’t know about you but I have mixed feelings about this.

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For one thing, my daughter, who was one of the 5,825 students who took part in the test, can’t use the result to get into a top junior college. She can’t use it to apply for a PSC scholarship. Nor will she have a scholarship named after her, unlike gold-medal athletes like Joseph Schooling and Yip Pin Xiu.

Despite doing this test to the best of her patriotic duty, she ends up with just a “well done!” pat on the back.

Maybe the G should look into how students like her who have done the country proud internationally could be lauded, even applauded and given a standing ovation in Parliament?

For another thing, while I’m happy that Singapore has added another feather in its cap, I’m also worried how the accolade confirms that we’re a nation of muggers.

Muggers who can read but cannot speak well. Who can do science but cannot innovate. Who can count but are also very calculating.

This myth is reinforced by the latest Fifa world ranking. It shows Singapore dropping 16 places to an all-time low of 171.

It’s not helped by the Singapore team crashing out early in the AFF Suzuki Cup last month.

World Cup? We’re still a very, very, very long way there. But at least we have the consolation of a cup half-full.

After all, we did beat Brazil, Argentina, Germany, England, Belgium, Spain etc.

Oh Pi Sai

 

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By Felix Cheong

A fictitious writer, Peter Seet Lai Ee, relates how he met his primary school classmates recently for a reunion. And they all had a great time comparing PSLE scores.   

A FUNNY thing happened on my way to my primary school class reunion a few days ago.

I suddenly remembered my PSLE score, which I had long repressed, suppressed and compressed.

So did all my classmates, in various stages of baldness and various shapes of concealment. Strangely, we also remembered each other’s scores, although we had sworn, on our dead great-grandmother’s graves, to forget these numbers as soon as we turned 21.

Even Lim Bo Liao, who was never the same, cognitively and figuratively speaking, after receiving a knock on the head from our Math teacher, could recall his exact score, as clearly as though it happened some 20 years ago.

“One-six-zero,” he said proudly, though we realised later that it was also his IQ score.

We were all inspired by Syed Khairudin Aljunied, you see. The associate professor at the National University of Singapore had gamely posted his PSLE score of 221 on Facebook last week.

His aim: To “give hope and motivation to the young ones that PSLE scores don’t necessarily determine your future”.

Of course, self-shaming to boast how well you’re doing now makes as much sense as announcing your bra size to lend support to women suffering from breast cancer.

But that hasn’t stopped about 1,000 people (and counting) who have also un-self-consciously posted their PSLE scores and how far (sometimes, even far-fetched) their life has gone.

And so, in the spirit of our reunion, after the usual reminisces, the few beers we had had started talking (or rather, slurring).

“My PSLE score is 206. I only had one A* but I’m now working as a researcher at A*Star.”

“My PSLE score is 211. I only had a B, C and A but I’m working as a structural engineer with BCA.”

“My PSLE score is 199 and I’m now living in a terrace house in District 10.”

“My PSLE score is 99. I’m now married to a former Miss Tiong Bahru Plaza. And I drive a second-hand BMW.”

“My PSLE score is 280 and I’m now working as a janitor at Raffles City.”

Everyone turned to me, shocked. They had expected me to sail through the system, made for life. All I needed to do was pass all the right exams, tick all the right boxes without ticking anyone off.

I was even voted “The Boy Most Likely to Become Perm Sec”.

I shrugged. “But at least I’m making a difference,” I said, “by giving tuition, pro bono, to weak pupils at CDAC.

“Better than just posting your PSLE score on cyberspace, right?”

My old school friends, already beyond reach at the far-end of sobriety, could only nod.

Peter Seet Lai Ee

 

 

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You can read our stories on PSLE here:

Children should not be judged for PSLE results, says filmmaker

Viral Views: PSLE does not decide your future

Eager to compare PSLE results, kiasu parents crash KiasuParents.com

by Felix Cheong

IT WAS not that school principal Penny Lay did not like entertaining questions from expat parents. She did, however reluctantly. But, truth be told, she did not see why parents could not ask obvious questions that took no time to prepare and little effort to answer.

Take, for example, this young British couple, Mr and Mrs Roach, doing a tour of her childcare centre. For a start, they could at least get her name right.

“My name is not Ms ‘Cher,” she said crossly but with a big smile, although that was what the kids called her. “It is Penny Lay.”

“Oh, like that Beatles song!” Mr Roach said, laughing.

Penny winced. She was not xenophobic. After all, she grew up reading Enid Blyton. But foreign talents were so dense. She tolerated them only because they brought in the big money. Ten thousand dollars for a place in the waiting list and not an eyebrow raised. Three thousand dollars a month in fees and not a letter to the papers. It was easier than robbing the Standard Chartered bank at Holland Village.

“What are the children doing there?” Mrs Roach asked, pointing. Out in the garden where the afternoon sun shone its brightest, 10 children stood in a single file behind a toy kitchen.

“Life lesson number one,” Penny said, nodding.

“Life lesson?”

Penny opened up the file under her arm. It was full of newspaper clippings of Singaporeans queuing up for this, for that. From being first in line at the opening of Muji, to H & M sales, from the latest gadget release to the Hello Kitty café, it provided the composite picture of a nation that loved toeing the line.

“We equip our kids with survival skills,” Penny said. “You need to know the etiquette of queuing in Singapore.”

The Roaches could only nod in amazement.

At the far end of the garden, they saw another 10 children shouldering what looked like sandbags, up and down the garden. A few of them, no more than three years old, staggered under the weight.

“Another life lesson?” Mrs Roach asked, alarmed. In her mind, she had already packed up her bags for home. Despite its First World status, this country seemed altogether Third World.

“To prepare them for school,” Penny said. “Have you seen the load of books primary school kids have to carry to school?”

As they continued their tour of the childcare centre, they came to a room where 10 children laughed gaily playing musical chairs. There was some amount of pushing and shoving when the music stopped. A few kids who couldn’t get a seat had to step aside, dejected.

The Roaches’ hearts leaped. Here, at least, they looked like they were enjoying their childhood. They could be themselves.

“Ah, they’re having some fun at last!” Mr Roach said.

“No, this is a life lesson too,” Penny said.

“Life lesson, again?”

Penny smiled, almost painfully. “You should take our public transport some time.”

 

 

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by Felix Cheong

Mark Ke Ting, a fictitious businessman who likes to quote his own aphorisms, says the formula for Singapore to grow its economy is simple: Exploit existing resources. And shrewdly market it.     

MARKETING is the mother of Innovation. And Innovation is the father of Growth. Together, they give birth to a healthy baby boy we call Wealth.

That’s according to one of my own favourite quotes. (For a complete list, buy a copy of my self-published My Own Favourite Quotes, available on www.myownfavouritequotes.com.)

Mr S. Iswaran, the Minister for Trade and Industry, seems to agree too. At the Entrepreneur of the Year Award ceremony on Wednesday (Nov 23), he said the “spirit of enterprise should be celebrated, and must continue to thrive in Singapore”.

The good minister was actually paraphrasing, without giving me due credit, what I had long said: Enterprising people are the spirit of Singapore, and they must continue to thrive despite being celebrated.

For whatever reason – complacency, complacency and maybe even complacency – we’ve lost this spirit.

We need to exhume it, give it a good CPR or a jab of adrenaline. Whatever metaphor you use, it’s time to wake up and smell the rats.

Yes, rats. For starters, look at this café in Moscow called Krasnodar Bistro. It recently began dishing out rat burger, using meat from a giant, orange-toothed rodent called Nutria. Priced at 550 roubles (S$12), it’s already a food fad there.

You may not be able to stomach this, but Muscovites apparently can, especially since the meat is touted as being high on omega-3 acids.

See what I mean by marketing? Give it a snazzy name, some Abracadabra benefit and dress it up in hipster vibe.

Before you know it, people who don’t know any better – because they can’t tell the difference between substance and style – will queue up for it, like rats to the Pied Piper.

And what do we have lots of in Singapore? Rats, of course. Just on Monday (Nov 21), a hawker centre in Jurong West was found to be infested with the rodent.

In fact, according to the National Environment Agency, 20,000 rat burrows were found in public areas islandwide in the first half of this year alone.

Imagine how much money an entrepreneur can make out of this. Free raw material, readily catchable. It’s enough to start a rat race, pardon the pun.

Again, think about what Singapore has most in abundance 365 days a year. And no, not MRT breakdowns.

The correct answer: Sunshine. And you can bottle and market it.

A recent article (Nov 7) in Fortune magazine noted how entrepreneurs in Canada, Australia and even Germany have started bottling fresh air and selling them by the truckloads to smog-filled countries like China and India.

These don’t come cheap. For instance, 3 and 8-litre bottles of “100 per cent Pure Rocky Mountain Air” cost around US$20 and US$40 respectively. So far, 12,000 bottles have already floated off the shelves in China.

Similarly, an Australian company says it ships 40,000 containers of bottled air a month to China. It plans to expand its reach in India, Chile, Malaysia, and the Middle East.

Now why are our entrepreneurs not in this game?

It’s all very simple, really. The raw material is free. All you need to do is design a curvaceous bottle in the shape of an airhead, say Kim Kardashian. Pay her to endorse the product, with a nudge-nudge-wink-wink tagline (“Here comes the Sun. Ho Ho Ho.”).

Before you can say “sun of a gun”, you’ll have a home-grown product guaranteed to be a hit in countries that don’t see much of the sun during winter months.

As I’d like to say, and pardon my false modesty as I quote myself again: Build it and they will come. Market it and they will buy.

Mark Ke Ting

 

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by Felix Cheong

This week, a fictitious businessman who makes rubber stamps for a living, Keymus Yea, says changes in the Elected Presidency can actually be implemented across the board in all aspects of society.

SINCE changes to the Elected Presidency (EP) were mooted earlier this year (in other words, cast in stone), I have seen how these ideas can be applied at work, school and home. As with everything in Singapore (except maybe the LRT), it works!

For a start, I was so inspired by such a foolproof system that I created a two-key system to my safe at home, with my domestic helper (she’s Indonesian, so technically a Malay) holding the second key.

This safeguards our reserves accumulated from “flipping” real estate during the boom years of the 1990s to the 2000s.

Whenever my wife or I need extra cash, we simply summon Kunci, sit her down at the dining table and explain, as clearly as our inadequate command of Bahasa Indonesian allows, why we need to open the safe.

Ninety-nine per cent of the time, she is more than willing to let us have the key, which she proudly wears like a chain around her neck.

I’m not sure if she understands what it is all about or if she thinks this is some kind of game. But she performs her duty, without fear or favour, all the same.

Whenever she refuses to yield, my strategy is straightforward and simple: Dangle her four-year contract, ever so delicately, over the bin. A “yes, sir” invariably follows.

This arrangement ensures neither my wife nor I overspend without third-party approval. And it has certainly created a lot of trust in the household: Kunci knows that we know our safe is safe with her, and we know that she knows that she will always give her approval.

It’s all about check and balance and how you balance the check.

By the same token, I have also seen how some of these EP changes are already being adapted and adopted by the principal in my son’s SAP school.

Taking the cue that the next EP is reserved for Malays, Principal See Baey Sian recently announced only Malay students can run for the post of class treasurer. Not only that, only Malay students whose pocket money exceeds $500 a month are eligible.

The reason? If a student can handle $500, he’s probably mature enough to handle $5,000 of class funds.

This ruling naturally created a conundrum. For in a school packed cheek by jowl with Chinese, where to find a Malay student? And one whose pocket money exceeds $500?

In the end, the choice came down to three students: a boy of Chinese-Malay parentage; a Malaysian boy who speaks Malay and a Chinese boy who happens to have Bin in his name.

My son doesn’t want to tell me who won.     

Keymus Yea

 

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By Felix Cheong

AS SOON as Rex Tan understood the idea of colours, he was told not to apply it.

“White car!” he called out in childish naivety as an Audi dragged its expensive COE by noisily outside his window.

Mrs KS Tan quickly shushed him. “No, Rex. Just say ‘car’. It’s not yellow, brown, black or white. Just a car.”

The poor boy was utterly confused. And no wonder. When he was younger, he remembered her making him learn that apple was red and the sky was blue. The flag was red and white and money, like envy, was green.

But now, he was made to unlearn all that. And he was not told why. Worse, he could not even ask questions.

As his vocabulary expanded, Rex’s mind made a habit of stripping nouns of their colours. All objects were either of the same colour or colourless. All people were either of the same colour or colourless.

There were no yellow people, black people or brown people. Just people.

“Look at that girl!” he said.

“Which one?” Mrs KS Tan said.

“The one wearing a blouse, with two eyes and a nose.”

Indeed, that girl in the crowd, among hundreds, did wear a blouse, had two eyes and a nose.

By the time Rex left kindergarten, he was well and truly colour-blind.

Throughout primary one, Rex watched as older students who talked about colours were publicly caned.

“There is no such thing as colour! You cannot discriminate one colour against another!” Mrs Hong, the school principal, in her righteousness, yelled. The commando-trained hand of the discipline master, Mr OB, took another lash at a student who had drawn black graffiti on the toilet wall.

Repeat offenders were suspended or expelled; others had to spend the whole term wearing a gag. Before long, the gagged became a gang; the gang soon turned into an underground movement. And the movement took on a voice.

On the last day of school that year, a week after the PSLE, Rex arrived in school to find all the walls spray-painted yellow, black, brown and white. The colours swirled in patterns he had never seen before, coming together in waves that brought dance to the walls.

“That is pretty!” he thought.

But like all good citizens raised by parents who inherited and passed down their silence, he kept quiet and carried on.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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