March 25, 2017

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by Joshua Ip

An old white guy called Bernie
Made some comments to the press
Without asking his attorney
Now he’s cleaning up the mess

“Look what we did for Singapore!
Before we came along
They were only an airport
That you flew to or flew from.”

Before that we were just
A fishing village in the sea –
So thank you for your business:
You can take back your Grand Prix.

F1’s been leaking viewers
Like a punctured fuel tank
200 million fewer
putting money in your bank

Attendance dropped 15 per cent
From ’15 to ’16
It seems the wheels are coming off
The Formula One machine

You called us the “crown jewel
When you wanted to move here
It doesn’t hurt that we accrued you
60 million a year

And now Malaysia’s had enough
Brazil has got cold feet
If you’re trying to bluff
You’re barking up a one-way street

If you liked your one night race, see,
you’re gonna have to pay
Or say bye to the 23
turns of Marina Bay

Too late now to backpedal, brake,
bail out the words you say
Or make the claim your “words were taken
In a funny way”

You could have maybe figured
That the nation feels the Bern
Well, the hiatus is triggered
Let‘s let Brunei have its turn!

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

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by Tan Chu Chze

IF THERE is one thing the recent United States’ (US) presidential election has proved, it is that Donald Trump lives up to his name.

Against all odds – and the popular vote – he beat Hillary Clinton to become president-elect of the US. Trump trumped.

But in more ways than one, Trump embodies trump.

Like many things American, the word ‘trump’ actually has more than one origin. It is a marriage of two words.

The first sense of ‘trump’ comes from the word ‘triumph’, which Trump prides himself for. We all know by now how much Trump is all about winning, and it does make one wonder if that is because he is just full of himself.

But ‘trump’ and Trump also share one more thing in common: Two generations ago, the Trump family were Drumpfs, hailing from Germany. Nobody knows exactly why the family name was changed, but records show it just did.

Similarly, the alteration from ‘triumph’ to ‘trump’ is a bit of a mystery. All we do know is that ‘trump’ – meaning winning – is most commonly used in card games like Bridge. That is also where we get the term ‘trump card’ or the idiom ‘to come up trumps’, like how the Trumps have come up as part of the president-elect’s transition team. As it seems, the entire family is decked in their winning suits to take over the house of cards.

Besides that, ‘trump’ and Trump also have something to do with trumpets. While the word ‘trump’ is ‘trumpet’ in a shortened form, one could say president-elect Trump embodies the same word in human form.

There is, however, one more meaning of ‘trump’ that is obscure and perhaps the least associated with big T Trump. This variation of ‘trump’ means to trick or deceive.

Oddly enough, it is also connected to the other two meanings of ‘trump’: To ‘trump’, in this sense, comes from the idea of blowing the trumpet loudly to attract the attention of the public, then trick them into buying something. Or voting, for that matter. Many people say that is exactly how Trump won the election.

Maybe that too is a trumped-up charge? Who knows. But, it sure is pretty Hillaryous.

 

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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.

 

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By Felix Cheong

I.

“WE NEED more MRT station announcements in Chinese,” Jun Liang said loudly. His voice had never recovered its quietude after being the National Day Parade commander many years ago.

The Community Integration Committee, seated like empty coffee cups, were in various degrees of absorption in their smart phones. It had convened, at the behest of the Prime Minister, after several elderly Chinese people were reported missing inside MRT trains.

“My mother was lost, lost, lost for six hours last Tuesday until we made, made, made a police report,” Jiayi said. Her colleagues had noticed her speech pattern had not been the same since she took up Candy Crush. She had a habit now of repeating words in multiples of three’s. But they were, of course, too Singaporean to point out the obvious.

“Where did they find her?” Krishnan asked.

“In Johor. Shopping.”

“But what about the non-Chinese?” Aisah asked.

“They can take a taxi to Johor!” Ai Leng exclaimed helpfully, her eyes bright like K-pop stars. Her colleagues secretly believed that if the exclamation mark had never been invented, she would be rendered speechless.

“I mean, the non-Chinese will not understand the Chinese announcements,” Aisah said.

“Good point. We have to be fair to everyone,” Jun Liang said thoughtfully and paused dramatically.

“So we will run Chinese classes for non-Chinese,” he said finally.

“And why should they want to learn Chinese?” Krishnan said, annoyed.

“Because they could then communicate with the other 74 percent of the country.”

II.

“We should invite non-Chinese performers for the countdown show,” Jun Liang wrote on the white board. Years of turning his voice to blast level had finally done him in. His vocal cords were permanently damaged.

At the behest of the national broadcaster, the Community Integration Committee had convened. After the last meeting, Aisah and Krishnan had resigned, citing irreconcilable differences, and were replaced by Aisha and Krishna.

“Why do we need, need, need non-Chinese performers?” Jiayi said, without looking up from her smart phone. Suddenly, she sensed Ai Leng’s exclamation marks sucking the air out of the awkward silence.

“!!!”

All eyes took turns digging into Jiayi to excavate some common sense out of her.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” she finally said, putting down her phone. “No more Candy Crush during meetings.”

Aisha and Krishna rolled their eyes.

Jun Liang quickly took charge, listing, in two columns on the white board, well-known Chinese and non-Chinese performers. After some mental sums, he managed to balance the CIMO quota, using the HDB racial quota as a guide.

Everyone nodded. It seemed equitable, considering the talent pool on a small island was small, even at high tide.

“We will end the show with the countdown in Chinese,” Jun Liang wrote.

“But this is the New Year countdown, not the Lunar New Year countdown, right?” Aisha said, annoyed.

Ai Leng shrugged. “Is there a difference!”

 

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by Felix Cheong

Mr OB’s Marker I

NO ONE ever found out what the OB in his name stood for. Some said obiang; others claimed it was short for ‘obey’. Whatever the urban legend, all the students needed to know was if Mr OB stood in front of you, you were done for.

Mr OB was the discipline master of Joo Chiat Primary School, currently occupying the premises of Bedok South Seaview Primary School which, in turn, had moved to Serangoon No-Seaview Primary School which, in turn, took over Joo Chiat Primary School. This musical-chair routine was generally viewed as a great showcase of social mobility.

The moment Rex Tan saw Mr OB on the first day of school, he was petrified. Though short and stout, Mr OB was packed solid with muscles. Even dust particles would bounce off him. For a man nearing 55, he still held himself ramrod straight, stomach in, chest out, always at attention. No wonder Mrs Hong, the school’s principal, had once described him as “one of the pillars of our school”. He was that strong.

Looking like an airborne ranger (which he was, in his younger days) wasn’t itself intimidating. Neither was it his voice that could startle babies all the way in Jurong East. It was the arbitrary way he wielded school rules.

One day, the girls could wear their hair long, tied neatly in a ponytail. The next, he would holler at them to trim it before he did it himself. One day, he would let the boys kick a plastic ball around in the field during recess. The next, he confiscated the ball, refusing to return it until a parent lodged a police report.

By far the most lethal weapon in Mr OB’s already formidable arsenal was a marker pen. It was so feared that even primary six boys, almost passing puberty with flying colours, retreated into childhood.

“Boo Lee!” he called out one morning along the corridor. Boo Lee was the primary five prefect who saw himself as a Mini-Me version of Mr OB. Rex, on his way to the toilet, watched the scene in awe from behind a wall.

“Yes?” Boo Lee said, swaggering towards him. He fancied himself due for a compliment, especially after he had just caught two latecomers climbing the school gate. Mr OB came within spitting distance. He smelled like the jungle, all wild and creepy.

“Where’s your prefect tie!” Mr OB said. Being in the army most of his life had marched all punctuation from his language.

“I left my tie at home,” Boo Lee said.

“I left my tie at home, Sir!” Mr OB barked.

“I left my tie at home, Sir!” Boo Lee repeated.

“Where’s your school badge!” Mr OB barked.

“I left my school badge at home, Sir!”

“What did you not leave at home!” Mr OB barked again.

“My mobile phone, Sir!”

“Give me your phone!”

Boo Lee dutifully handed it over. What was Mr OB up to?

“Your phone is black!” Mr OB barked.

“I…”

“All mobile phones must be white. White socks, white shoes, white uniform!”

Boo Lee looked startled – he had not heard of such a rule.

“You know the importance of white!” Mr OB continued barking.

“I don’t know, Sir!”

“White shows up dirt. Anything not white is not clean!”

For the rest of the day, Boo Lee wore a mark on his forehead. His classmates, who had never liked the cocky bully, had a field day sniggering at him. He could not touch the mark or wash it off till the end of the day.

Made with a marker, it simply said, “OB.”

 

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by Tan Chu Chze

THERE might have been a (brief) time in my life when I was disruptive in class.

The conditions were simple. I was a teenager full of hormones and hubris, and I didn’t like my form teacher. As a class, we set out to make life difficult for him. By and large, we succeeded.

The satisfaction of disrupting our teacher came at a cost, though. There were many days when class became too caustic for learning, and we lost time on our syllabus. Our teacher, I’m certain, suffered a great deal from our bullying. We drove him up the wall, then out the school. We never saw him again.

That, in my mind’s eye, is what ‘disruption’ looks like. To ‘disrupt’ is to break apart, to cause a rupture. It could be a math lesson in school, or an MRT train’s journey. Either way, disruption prevents progress from happening, and usually, to everyone’s loss. It’s not something desirable at all.

Strangely enough, this negative connotation to ‘disruption’ does not scale when the disruption happens in the business world. In fact it is highly fashionable, even, to disrupt.

This change had its origins in 1995, when an academic named Clayton M. Christensen noticed a relationship between new technologies and companies. He found that emerging technologies could change the way consumers’ needs were addressed. Businesses that failed to predict and adopt these technologies eventually suffered when consumer demands shifted. Because these technologies affected entire markets to the detriment of many companies, Christensen called these technologies “disruptive”.

Later on, Christensen realised that it wasn’t the technologies per se that were ‘disrupting’ markets – it was the business models that the new technologies supported. Hence, he coined “disruptive innovation” to describe just that.

While these terminologies seem commonplace now in the vocabulary of business news, it started creeping into everyday use only in the early 2010s. That was around the time when Apple was gaining traction for changing the computing, music and mobile phone industries, and not just for its bravery. It is interesting to note that Apple doesn’t get cited as a disruptor anymore. I guess once it secured significant market shares, it became susceptible to being disrupted.

These days, Uber and Airbnb are taken to be the role model disruptors instead. ‘Disruptiveness’ really does belong to relatively new entrants in a market only — like teenagers in a classroom. And like disruptive teens, there’s a certain glory in being able to successfully disrupt a market.

The only difference is that such open defiance against dominant market players is more openly recognised as a good thing. It’s the quintessential entrepreneurial dream: be Steve Jobs and Jack Ma. Quit school, have brilliant ideas, work hard, face rejection, work hard anyway, make an awesome app that will confound the world and change life as we know it… (and also earn lots of money.)

Of course, the situation for the disrupted won’t look so bright and cheery. I’m not sure if any business would be as disgruntled as my ex-form teacher to leave its market. But, we do know how unhappy many taxi drivers were with the introduction of Uber and Grab. Until some of them started using the apps themselves…

But it seems that all in all, Singapore is embracing a world of disruptions as a reality we need to face. PM Lee went as far as to call it a “defining challenge” in his latest National Day Rally speech.

Not only that, his message to the country mirrored an important realisation my unhappy class had to arrive at: We have to learn and grow from our disruptions. For my secondary school class, that change was palpable. A new form teacher we respected took over. Our disruptions stopped, and the class calmed down and settled into a happier, functioning new normal.

But, good riddance to our previous teacher.

 

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by Joshua Ip

In order that we will not have to roam
two miles down rifle range in search of dark,
or circle round the lots of Kent Ridge park
to find a spot; that rooftops may be home
to birds alone, that smokers may have stair-
wells to themselves, that public toilets might
be less mysteriously occupied,
that cinephiles need never turn and glare,

we humbly bid the government erect
more libraries. Since all books lead to sex,
the inevitable best place to shag
is back against the shelves or on the stacks –
and there, we’ll find our private cul-de-sacs
to make the beast with many paperbacks.

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

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by Felix Cheong

“WHAT do you mean, out of stock?” Jessica Poon almost screamed at the salesgirl.

It was not normally her scene to make a scene. But she only had two more months and she had already tired her soles out by trudging the length and breadth of town. This bookstore, of all bookstores, should carry it. It was the only reason why it was popular.

“Ma’am, we sold our last copy of Math 10-year series yesterday,” said the salesgirl matter-of-factly, so deadpan she could have survived a zombie apocalypse as one of them.

Jessica was understandably ballistic. She had already bought the 10-year series for – in alphabetical order – Biology, Chemistry, Chinese, Economics, General Paper, Literature and Physics. For good measure, she had even collected the Malay language papers – just in case.

“To be prepared is to be well-prepared,” her late father had once drummed into her. “Always remember to have enough reserves – just in case.”

As a scenario planner in the Government, Mr Poon had long inculcated in his children the virtues of stockpiling for a rainy day. He himself was a living example of this mantra. When, at 45, he died of a heart attack – sudden but not altogether unexpected – he had already amassed more than 20 insurance policies, and policies that covered other policies. By then, he had already had two coffins custom-made: one if his height remained the same and the other, if he suffered from osteoporosis. Just in case. He even had five suitors lined up for his widow. Just in case.

Of his four children, Jessica was the only one who took after him. As a toddler, she would squirrel away toys and cartons of milk all over the house. Just in case. As a teenager, she would have double of everything, even her pink IC. Just in case.

As Jessica sat herself down at the nearest coffee shop, catching her breath, she felt a kick in her belly. Fondling her baby bump, she leaned in and whispered.

“Don’t worry, Joshua. Mummy will get you your Math 10-year series. Everything will be ready when you come out.”

Joshua must have been placated, for he gave her a second kick – just in case she had not felt the first.

 

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by Gwee Li Sui

 

 

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by Joshua Ip

IN 2020 all the schools agreed to fight a crisis:
A monstrous insurgency more virulent than ISIS
A pedagogical distraction from the goals they’re reaching
The number one obstruction to good schooling is GOOD TEACHING.

It’s too labor-intensive. Doesn’t meet clear KPIs.
Technology is not exploited in this enterprise.
One staff for forty students, can you multiply the cost?
Spend so much time with children, then who spends time with the boss?

If you’re standing in the classrooms, who will sit on all the comms?
If you try to teach them lessons, who will fill in all the forms?
You look at all these teachers – where are their priorities?
How can schoolwork be more crucial than school anniversaries?

Experiments have proven if you take a Sec 4 class
And fire all their teachers – teaching will not help them pass –
Play tuition centre advertisements five hours a day
Their grades will drastically improve, hip hip hip hip hooray!

No need for any marking. Work life balance will improve!
Co-curriculars excel when the curriculum is removed!
Don’t worry about scaffolding, leave each student to each –
every school’s a good school when it doesn’t have to teach!

The School just has to make them Think, no need to make them Learn
The Nation will help out (depending what the parents earn)
We’ll mould our students’ minds like pots, well-rounded as they spin,
And empty in the middle. Someone else can fill them in.

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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