New words

inequality, Politics

Can Singapore afford to pay ministers and top civil servants millions?

Yes! Yes! And absolutely Yes! $$$$$$$$$$$$

From a financial point of view, we can easily afford it. Their multi-million dollar salaries are a drop in the bucket compared to the huge economy of Singapore.

We could even afford to pay them millions more. It’s not going to break the bank.

But herein lies the problem. As a country, we have swallowed, hook, line and stinker, the story that:

  • million-dollar salaries = one in a million ministers.

It’s the same fallacy that many fancy designer labels peddle. The bags, clothes and shoes in luxury boutiques may look more like they belong in a clown house than on the runway but rich fools queue up to buy precisely because they are ridiculously expensive.

The same goes for our ministers. Their multi-million salaries are both their cross to bear and the shield that spares.

Since we pay them so much, the perverse logic follows that ministers must be superhuman deities deserving of deference (and free parking) in some way, mistakes notwithstanding.

And this, I think, is what Goh Chok Tong was getting. In Singapore, we measure a person’s worth by their the size of their peanut packet. It’s our undeniably objective stamp of quality.

And we the people, stingy jealous bastards though we may be, believe entirely in this creed.

It’s just that we are in a fancy designer boutique, lusting after some clown clothes (simply because of the eye-watering price tag) while simultaneously trying to haggle a discount as if we were at the pasar malam.

  • We want Dolce & Gabbana but want to pay for Dolce & Kiam Kana.

Until that narrative changes, we are going to continue looking like clowns.

Poetry, Politics

write (to remain silent)

to refuse is
to remain silent, side-stepping, spectating, is
to applaud, approve, acquit (aloof), is
to stain hands with more than ink.

to refuse is
to scratch out pain, circle chain,
not think, but blink wink smile,
please not right now, but in a while,
when bruises fade and they’ve made you – file,

please, write now.

Spider web

 

inequality, Poetry, Politics

Pride and Joy

It’s not the towers built of steel and glass,
Or the everything also simisai world class.
It’s not the F-15s, racing through the sky,
Or the soldiers ready, smartly marching by.

It’s not a mega-trillion reserves somewhere,
Or the elections that are truly (mostly) fair.
It’s not the food, though good; to die for,
Or the precision to detail, an eye for.

It’s not the planning, down to milimeter
Of space/ time/ product/ money: minister
It’s not the climate control always present
Ever calming, controlling, effervescent.

BUT it’s our identity in multiplicity,
Not one nor two, or even three,
But both none and infinity:
I’m you, and you are, can be, will be – me.

Seeing you and we first,
then the different cultures, tongues, truths.
There our future lies – pursed,
in the eyes, hearts, hands, of our youth.

If there’s one thing I cherish about Singapore, it’s this, that we’ve made it more than just an aspiration. Happy 53rd.

memory, Poetry

Once upon a time

Once upon a time
we fought for freedom,
Now we just sit
and bitch about foreigners.

Once upon a time
we would have raised up questions,
Now we just sit
and lap up empty tears.

Once upon a time
this flag was red and white,
Once upon a time
for this country we’d fight.

Once upon a time – once upon a time.

Once upon a time
the future was in our kids,
Once upon a time
each school was not that bad.

Once upon a time
we could love all our children,
Now we take away
childhoods they never had.

Once upon a time
we could look to retire,
Now we will all work
until the day we die.

Once upon a time – once upon a time.

Once upon a time
our leaders stood for something,
Now they always say
their salary’s not enough.

Once upon a time
they’d jump into the ring,
Now they always say
politics is much too tough.

Once upon a time
we had real men of substance,
Now we just have millionaires
ranged neat in rows.

Once upon a time, once upon a time.

Once upon a time
things were going so well,
Once upon a time
they were going right.

But then along
came a spider sneaking,
he could weave deep darkness
straight out of light.

Way back in
nineteen eighty-eight,
If we had stood up before
it was too late.

Nobody knows, just how far we’d go.

Singapore Flag

Maybe it still isn’t too late,
to turn the back the clock on our fate,

Everybody knows – that nobody knows.

Majulah Singapura, Majulah Singapura.

I wrote the poem “Once upon a time”, based on the tune and rhythm of “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen. You can watch the video above to hear its most recent reincarnation in the Justice League.

Poetry, Politics

your vote is not secret

All of us know
your vote is not secret.
It’s seen everywhere you go
without apology or regret,

in the towers of steel and glass
that dome our nation transactional,
in the daily grind and farce
we pretend is just exceptional,

in the old man, foot of block
lying lifeless, quiet and still
we close our eyes to the rot
no matter how many we kill

with the crosses we make in boxes
both paper and wooden too.
Life’s just great, why tempt fate?
Until it happens to me, and you

will go on ticking boxes.