inequality, Poetry

on the dot

It is a salmon blemish
in a sea of white, standing out
not because it wants to,
just because it is

some want to put a full stop to it,
build barricades to defend divisions
but in drawing a fence around a point,
the point is made clearer

maybe they see a pimple to squeeze,
cyst to excise, itch to ease
or at least hide from prying eyes,
who knows

but if you look closely enough
at anything, everything,
all you’ll ever see. are. dots.

pink dot


Imagine having a law in your country that criminalises who you are as a person.

Imagine the leaders in your country telling you they won’t actively enforce the law.

Imagine having to hide who you are because of this law. And living in the fear that one day someone may use their knowledge of this against you.

Or imagine living openly as who you are, but employers, friends and associates keeping you at arms length because of the potential fallout as you are, in the eyes of the law, a criminal if you are who you are.

Imagine having problems getting a job, or keeping your job or advancing in your career because of who you are.

Imagine being a young person and wondering why the law views who you are as wrong.

Imagine being an old person and wondering why society still views you as wrong.

Imagine being a religious person and having someone tell you to your face that you are an abomination.

Imagine having problems with inheritance and wills, property purchases, taxation, and even being able to see and take care of the one you love in a time of grave illness because of who you are.

For some in Singapore, they do not have to imagine.

inequality, Politics

Three packet, fifty cent

At the side of the wide
Walkway leading out of the station,
Amidst an ebbing tide
Of commuters to destinations,

He softly intones,
“Three packet fifty cent.”
Most leave him alone,
On screens rather intent,
No world beyond the phone.

He stares stiff straight ahead,
Unseeing eyes all-seeing
The sum of discontent
In hurried steps all-fleeing.

I double back and press
Into his hands five dollars.
The price of guilty redress,
A pause in his soft chorus.

Education, Poetry


Every school is a good school
but some are (Independent).
Every school is a good school
but some are for descendants.

Every school is a good school
but some have balls and formals.
Every school is a good school
but some are not (Normal).

Every school is a good school
but some are (Higher Chinese).
Every school is a good school
unless you atas Chinese.

Every school is a good school
but few breed White on White.
“Every school is a good school.”
This helps them sleep at night.



In the last few months, a lot of attention has been on inequality in Singapore, prompted, I believe, by this book, “This Is What Inequality Looks Like”  written by Teo You Yenn and a social-studies guidebook that was criticised for describing a reality that we would rather not see so nakedly.

Coming off the back of the political upheaval across the Causeway in Malaysia, where the ruling BN got the boot after being in in-charge for eternity and a day, there has been a lot of nervous reflection and ironic protestation by the establishment of how inequality is poison and must not be allowed to sully the Singapore Dream.

What is this Singapore Dream? It’s one of the core stories we tell ourselves: “meritocracy”.

It’s a bit like the American Dream, but with a fatalistic twist.

It’s the concept that success comes as a result of hard work AND talent. And this talent is something innate – you are born with it and can’t really change it.

And when seen in reverse, it also justifies the people at the top of the social and political pecking order – they got there through hard work and innate abilities – the natural aristocracy that demands respect and deference. And, on the flip side, if you are at the bottom of the pecking order, it is due to your bad life-choices AND lack of talent, a toxic mixture of blame and acceptance.

Education is lauded as the mechanism by which meritocracy makes its magic.

This deterministic mindset is seen in an educational system that carefully sifts and filters students from as early as Primary 3 (age 9+) into different streams and different schools. And once you are shunted down an inferior track (euphemistically named Foundation and Normal), it’s tough to claw your way back up.

Add to this is the fact that students from lower socio-economic-status (SES) families are grossly under-represented in the better streams and schools.

Of course, you’ll never find such data in public domain. But just stand outside the gates of any top (Gifted-Education Programme, Express Stream-only, Independent, Special Assistant Plan, Integrated Programme, International Baccalaureate) school and count the BMWs, Mercedez-Benzes, Maseratis and Porsches. Count the trickle of students who walk to school instead of being driven by parents in a country where just a permit to buy a car (and not even the car itself) can cost in excess of SGD$50,000.

Students from high-SES families have many advantages such as access to private tutors and enrichment programmes that students from low-SES families do not.

And I would bet my bottom dollar that the educational experience of students in the top schools is far different from the experience of students in a what we (again) euphemistically call “neighbourhood schools”.

Yes, sure, the playing field is level. Just that there are many, many levels.