16 January 2009

The pretty boy barber

In Singapore, the government says race, language and religion are sensitive subjects, and OB markers are set. Questioning nationhood is also frowned upon. Result: people seldom write about these topics, except in banal, politically correct ways. Let me talk about them my way. Full essay.

35 comments:

Saint Splattergut said...

educational + a slap in the face of those hyprocrites + a slice of life. always a welcome combination. :)

Anonymous said...

Where is this pretty boy barbershop? I want to go too.

Anonymous said...

Even salons up their prices during the CNY period. It's not limited to Malay barbers.

Anonymous said...

I may add further that in the years to come as Singapore keeps raising its population with China nationals who appears to walk in freely, there will be China national MPs and gradually, China national ministers. Taking the citizen pledge is just obeisance to words. These so called new citizens still think and live as China Nationals. Thus, the total gravitation towards China in the next few decades will be the new reality. Also by then, most of the local born "kiasu" Singaporeans who could afford it and who are highly mobile would have left for western countries. The "New" Singaporeans would be from the various provinces of China. By then too, Malays would also have left for Malaysia, Indonesia or Brunei.Indians are more resilient. Look at the prospering Indians in Hong Kong.

From a sleepy village to a cosmopolitan global city and then becoming just a city within China like Macau or Hong Kong and its evolution would have come full circle. Is it good or bad? Ask those egg heads in our Think Tanks. It is likely this scenario and its ramifications has already been thought about, chewed and prepared for.

Anonymous said...

That is the reason why I avoid EC House as its too full of China men & women who do not make the effort to learn English. My Mandarin is pathetic & there is no way I can describe the terminology in Mandarin for certain hairstyles. So I have resolved to boycott EC House & go to QB House which is Japanese owned & is more democratic by employing Sporeans & Malaysians who can & will speak English.

Until the mainland Chinese learn hygiene standards & basic English, I will avoid any patronage of Chinese service employees. Think SARS & milk scandal, if they can do it in China, they definitely can do it in Spore one day with or without AVA's so called "stringent" standards which is not so stringent after all since they were too behind in the learning curve to know about melamine though it happened before a few years back in China!

But the more profound impact of too many mainland Chinese in our population is that assuming they become new citizens & get the chance to vote, the PAP may be overthrown one day if these mainland Chinese gets bolder in initiating their trademark Protests at anything they disagree with! Think about it, it will have a very deep impact.

BTW, I am ethnic Chinese with bad memories of Chinese lessons in schools & barely just made a pathetic pass at Mandarin!

Anonymous said...

I still do not see mandarin becoming a major trading language despite the sheer mass of chinese population.
English is well anchored, English is not as difficult, english words can be read (if badly) withouth knowing the word, english is very flexible.
Chinese is....
Chinese is impossible: it can't be read, accents make mistakes sound terrible, it is inflexible. Suede some people will learn and be. Better businessmen but it will be limited.
What could save it would be major advances in computer science

SIMPLE said...

Next to HK and Taiwan, Singapore appears to be a potential and logical candidate to be part of the Greater Chinese China. One benefit is the great annual savings on defence, like HK, once under the big security umbrella of China. Another is of course the economic benefit of a ready-made huge, growing and prospering hinterland for jobs and exports, one which LKY in his wisdom and foresight had been aggravating over but failed to get via a Malaysian Malaysia. Finally, through this route of alliance and allegance, the PAP will get to keep power and wealth for the elites as a political opposition party system will be marginalised. Alex, I agree this is too good for PAP to give this long-term strategy a miss.

Mr Smith said...

Your article provides an interesting counterpoint to the incessant letters to the ST Forum bitching about how PRC workers in the service industry can't speak English. These letter-writers refuse to adapt to fit into a changing society, but instead demand that society caters for their personal needs. Unsurprisingly, this is a losing strategy as their numbers are too small to change society's direction of evolution.

I completely agree that one should not impose artificial boundaries on what languages one should learn based on one's ethnicity. The sensible approach to learning languages is to learn those that are widely used in the society you are living in. Knowledge of only one language is never enough in a cosmopolitan society.

I also second what Anonymous #1 said. Where is the shop you visited? Do tell; I've been looking for a place that provides good haircuts at reasonable prices. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm with Mr Smith on this.

1. It's much easier to learn a language when you start young, in preschool or perhaps primary school. (My mother being one example - when she entered primary school, she spoke only Teochew, no English or Mandarin, but she picked both up along the way.)

2. But: Our education system insists on making students learn 'their' mother tongues, instead of permitting them to choose. (If you want to be picky, even Mandarin is an imposition. my mother tongues are Teochew and Hokkien.)

So perhaps
3. Given free rein in picking a second language, many non-Chinese students might have chosen Chinese and become functional in it a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Well, I support your move to talk about issues of race in your way; anything but the government's way is likely to take us out of the clutches of the dysfunctional ways of dealing with them.

And I say this even though, I'm on the opposite side of many of the issues you raise.

So here it goes.

"... in two generations' time, Singapore will most likely be part of China."

I don't see how that is possible if there is an earlier date already slated for ASEAN integration (along the lines of the EU one) which would, like the EU, move from economic integration to a political union.

It would be strategically unwise, even without the goal of ASEAN, for Singapore to be politically part of China.

"...why is it that after so many decades, our Malays and Indians have not made any effort of their own to learn some Chinese?"

There are actually many answers to this but the short one is that the political contract at Independence was that English, and not Mandarin, would be language that serves as the glue among all the races.

I also find it a preposterous suggestion that the those native to a country are asked to accomodate foreigners have come to Singapore to live and work, by learning THEIR language; at any rate, it is English that is in most widespread use in Singapore in terms of the number of speakers (of varying competency), not Mandarin.

However, the above represent the type of arguments that frequently lead to the charge that 'language wars' are driven purely by idealistic and not practical considerations.

What makes you think that Indians and Malays have more time in the day, more energy left after a hard day's work and obligations at home, and more money to spend on language classes - we are, after all, most often excluded from Chinese social circles, which could be the other way to pick up a language?

"From his technique, one can tell that he has had some real training, unlike the Malay barbers who always seem to me to have no skill whatsoever."

The reputation of the Malay barber, as opposed to the Indian or Chinese ones, was built during a less sophisticated, pre-metrosexual era and largely by heterosexual men who merely wanted the haircut of a "gentleman" - no poufs, spikes, highlight, frizzes or bangs.

Among the three, the Malay barber was reputed to be able to do this and yet make you look good; they had a special eye for hair artistry, or so the argument went.

Then came change in hair design technology which you glossed over in your article - the diploma courses in London and Tokyo, with increased knowledge of styles and techniques. You may remember that that all of them used to be priced out of the range of many people's budgets.

Until the changes you are reporting on now started taking place.

I will take this opportunity to voice a constant gripe among many Indian women I've encountered who compalin about the high prices (a couple of hundreds, even) they pay to Chinese hairdressers who don't understand Indian hair one bit; natural curls don't behave the same way that permed ones do.

But most of all, good on you that you open up a conversation that has set the tone for frankness, and yet without malice.

nhyone said...

I don't think I ever emailed you, but I also wished there's less mention from the gay angle, at least for some wider social commentary.

That's because you write very good commentaries and the gay views make it that much harder for me to forward to a more general audience.

Not everyone is broad-minded.

Back to the barber shops. QB and EC are different?! I never noticed. I just walk into whichever has the shortest queue -- they are a few shoplots apart in my case.

Anonymous said...

Singapore is sandwiched by 2 large Islamic nations with Indonesia having the largest Muslim population in the entire world. Both Malaysia & Indonesia are pursuing active Islamazation in their day to day lives which in turn has gradually & surely seeped into government policies & legislation. This has in turn also creeped into Singapore's society. Notice the proliferation of halal food courts & the segregation of the Muslim population thru their strict adherence to religious codes. A strong Malaysian & Indonesian religious force as strong as theirs will raise loud heckles & spurn perhaps military action from them should we head the China as big daddy way. In fact, I see Singapore subsumed as a state of Malaysia or Indonesia depending on whom has more clout as the PAP weakens thru its stupidly guided polices of its top scholar ministers.

I seriously doubt that Singapore will ever become a full Chinese state.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Sorry guys, but I feel I need to be careful about revealing which shop. I am not 100 percent sure that he is working here legally.

Are foreigners allowed to work in this line?

Anonymous said...

My thoughts on learning mandarin..
It is a good thing to learn, esp if you're in the business/finance area, if you want an edge. As a non chinese, here's my take on why non-chinese might not be as receptive to learning mandarin (although I know a quite a few who took mandarin classes to gain an edge in the workplace). So what if you learn chinese. You'll still get discriminated agst, esp if you're the wrong shade of brown. Chinese is a difficult language to learn. Unless learning languages come easy to you or job opportunities will suddenly increase just because you can speak mandarin.. its not worth the effort. Having said this, I know that it is still impt to look at things realistically and not be discouraged to learn. This is just something to think about..
I remember many years ago, you could take whatever 2nd language you liked in school. I had some indian friends who were not tamil. They didnt want to take tamil in school so they took chinese instead. And did well. But MOE implemented some stupid rule where a student could no longer take whatever language they wanted. Or you had to get special approval(AKA - having to go through a lot of trouble to do a simple thing) to take a language that's not part of your ethnic background. I cant imagine what would have happend to me if I was in school at that time. Im not part of the 3 major races and there's no place I can go to study my "language" (although we speak nothing but english at home). What would I learn then?
So people, its not that non chinese are not receptive to learn. We are but where are the resources?
A simple thing like letting student pick whatever language they want is sufficient. Non chinese parents are already paying extra for their kids to learn mandarin.

And I have to say, this chinese barber must be something special.. in the past you would rant abt being served by people who could only speak mandarin. Now you are wondering why non chinese are not receptive to learning mandarin.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anonymous, 18 Jan, 12:36 -

I still think that migrants have an obligation to learn the common language of a place they come to. In our case, it is English. I think the state has a responsibility to help integrate them by prodding them in that direction through policies.

But that doesn't mean that Singapore-born Singaporeans should fold their arms and refuse to recognise reality. What I had described as the "head-in-the-sand" attitude. Just as, at the personal level, we accommodate Muslim friends with halal food (even though I disagree with the state or any authority imposing halal food in school canteens or wherever by fiat), is it so hard to try a bit to accommodate people who have come to live among us?

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

To anonymous, 18 Jan, 02:48 -
To anonymous, 18 Jan, 10:00 -

Among China, India and Asean, China will get its act together first, India next and Asean will be last, so I do not see anything like a third strategic contender.

I think it is important not to imagine the future as merely a variant of the present.

Instead, imagine a future where China is as rich, technologically inventive and militarily strong, like the US of today. Where the majority of MNCs operating in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, etc, have Chinese origins. Where culturally, a huge chunk of movies, pop songs, fashion trends, etc, come out from China. Where our best students go Chinese universities for their PhDs.

What is East Asia/Pacific going to look like?

Politically, a Pax Sinica will be the most likely thing. Beijing will dominate whatever regional architecture exists, or create one if it does not. Singapore will not be the only country drawn into Beijing's orbit. So will Australia, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, maybe Vietnam. But whereas the bigger countries will still have a measure of sovereign independence within a Pax Sinica, Singapore, like Taiwan, like Laos, maybe Cambodia, will have much, much less of it.

There will be countries, which for historical and cultural reasons, will resist being part of China's regional architecture, whatever the economic cost of staying out. Japan might be one. Vietnam, maybe.

Burma and Indonesia may enjoy the benefit of being wooed by India, but Malaysia is not important enough to deserve a contest from India. In any case, I see India's future strategic focus as East Africa, and India is unlikely to want to wrestle with China, at great cost, over Southeast Asia/Pacific.

Where is the US in all this? Hard to say, but my guess is that California will be then be so Asianised, with huge Chinese investments, that it becomes the brdige between the US and the Pax Sinica region.

The US will continue to have influence, economically and culturally, in this region, the same way that Europe does today, but the military supremacy that the US has over this region will not be sustainable as China rises.

One more thing: important not to conflate Indonesia with Malaysia. They are very different countries and politico-culturally, different too. Don't let the minority parties that push Islam distort our view of an otherwise peaceful, tolerant and integrative society. In the medium to long term, I don't see the Indonesians having any difficulty at all accommodating themselves to a rising China. I see Malaysia having much more difficulty because of their unresolved domestic demons.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

And don't forget, when imagining the future, that China itself will have changed. There will be huge numbers of Indonesians, Filipinos, Americans, Turks, Koreans, living and working in its capital cities, most of them speaking fluent Chinese.

The Malay and Indian Singaporean who cannot speak (who refuse to speak) Chinese will be an oddity. A dodo bird, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

To me,

Singapore is already unfortunately part of China since our leaders were forced to kowtow to the Communist waxworks in Beijing over Taiwan after PM Lee made his disastrous private visit to Taipei in 2004. Since then, like Tony Blair with Bush, the Lees have become English language spokesmen and apologists for the way China bullies its own people. They have even been so`keen to bootlick Beijing by criticising Taiwan's political system openly.

btw: I tried accessing your blog from China last week and surprise suprise, i was disallowed! Hey YB: The People's Liberation Army cyberwarriors are reading your blog as well.

KK

Anonymous said...

Hey Alex,

Pardon me if my comment may appear like a personal attack.

But seriously, what has gotten into you. Why have you suddenly gone into a rage of attacking Malays & Indians who do not speak Chinese.

And where in the world did you ever hear about, refusal to learn Mandarin due to religion?

Whatever the Malaysian so called scholars of Islam had said before, its definitely utter bull shit. Simply because, just look at the sheer number of Muslims in China!MORE THAN MALAYSIA & SINGAPORE COMBINED They dont speak Arabic,or Malay but MAndarin and they practice the faith accordingly.

In Singapore, the Malays & Indians (am stuck in between by the way) who are often discrimated by ALL, even with government bodies, have woken up to realise that we have to know Mandarin at least a bit.

Why dont you try this, use Simple Mandarin and ask the Makcik that sells curry puffs or Mee Rebus at a nearby hawker centre, how much it cost? She would try her very best to reply to you in either English or if you are lucky, Mandarin!!!AND NOT MALAY

Yes, this is a reality in Singapore. NO minority is refusing to learn Mandarin.

But the question is, why is this imposition placed on us? Just because Mainlanders are flooding in due to economic reasons cited by the govt?

And as many of your readers have pointed out, the education system really does not allow that. Unless of course, you pick up Chinese as your 3rd language.

Another issue I have is, you compared the need for mainlander picking up English to Malays & Indians picking up Mandarin. But hey, no minority have forced you or the mainlanders to pick up Malay or Tamil right? So your comparison is really absurd!

Seriously Alex, what were you thinking? Did you end up thinking with your other head due to the hot looks of the barber?

AS for barbers, Please ALex, all my Chinese friends who studied in Australia and UK, never use the services of Ang MO hairdressers, claiming that only Asians who do not speak English in London can style their hair well.

Er but of course, if you want to have the looks of a typical chinese, go to your chinese barber, similarly for all other ethnic race. Just dont slam the Malay barbers.

I have used them for some time now, after returning from the Ang Mo barbers whilst studying overseas. Never had any complains. A barber's skill would never be equated to his ethnicity or the language he can speak. Period!

Also, the minorities have already bend over backwards picking up English, a non native language to ensure that all of us have a common language. Now we have to wake up and change again? Really not giving us any option are you? Human Rights? where for art thou?

Personally, the discrimations I faced was so blatant, that I forced myself to pick up Mandarin whilst in UNi. Am glad to say, that I have a minor in Chinese Language from Shanghai Foreign Language University, no less.

But did that remove or change anything. NOPE. I was still rejected for many job applications due to my skin colour!

So why the hell must the minorities pick up Mandarin, when it really does not help.

Also, you of all people should know that Universities in China are now offering more and more of their courses in ENGLISH.

Yes, they are pushing their intelligent and elite citizens to pick up ENGLISH, while we who have
to put up with not so happening class of society have to learn Mandarin? What gives?

Did you know that in a number of secondary schools these days, the normal technical stream students, majority formed by Malays, are "forced" to pick up conversational Mandarin? And they do so without complaining.

So please Alex, dont get distracted by the pretty boy looks and churn out pieces like this. It really demeans you and I am gravely saddened to see my favorite blogger reduced to such a state.

Apologies once again..I was really riled.

Anonymous said...

The present Asean political configuration is carved out by colonialists and is unstable. It is more likely that we will gravitate back to a geopolitically stable state. Of back to the majapahit days.
rgds dt

Anonymous said...

Hi YB, its To anonymous, 18 Jan, 02:48 again:

I don't really understand your point about ASEAN in particular, but my point is that once Singapore is in a formal political union with the rest of ASEAN there is no room for another political union with China.

China's economic complexion may change - nay, it WILL change - and possibly even approximate closely to the picture you paint.

However, this does not automatically translate to the world waking up one morning and realizing that they need to start speaking in Mandarin.

I believe that you may need to dislodge your overfocus on China, or the Asian continent, and wake up to the realities in the rest of the world to grasp my point.

Most of the African continent, have been using English for the longest time; even the Francophone countries are somewhat adept at it.

And if you thought that it is only in Asia that there is, or has been, a mad rush to learn English, you could not be further from the truth - English is sweeping Latin America and eastern Europe (western Europe is more or less caught up) in waves larger than in Asia, and they are doing a damn good job of it too.

Heck, even China is in the same mad rush to learn English, probably sensing correctly that the language status quo is not going to change.

English is become too widespread and already an entrenched fact; it's the de facto lingua franca globally. Business will have to confront that reality, if it hasn't already. Spanish speaking Mexico conducts business with Japan in English.

And none of this has to do with US preeminence globally - this is where I suspect the root of your flawed thinking may lie; this was a reality that began with Britain having had the sun never set on its empire, and it continues with a vengeance to this day, and strangely with Britain having no role in it except for its army of language teachers meeting the demand for English lessons.

You may remember the same arguments being made about Japan that you are making now for China. Look where that's now. True, China is larger but my point is that both Chinese and Japanese suffer from being largely geographically confined in their use.

Not so with English.

Mandarin, for non-Mandarin speakers, will remain a need only for those whose have the greatest need for it, such as those who may need to set up and run a business in China; this is likely to be confined to a relatively small number only.

And, no, Indian and Malay Singaporeans who don't speak Mandarin will not go the way of the dodo bird - and here is where I will try and be gentle with all who are similarly sinocentric - because China will not be the only game in town. They may be the biggest single player for a while yet, but the rest of the world - the world where English is entrenching itself - is larger.

Finally, I'm happy that you have acknowledged "that migrants have an obligation to learn the common language of a place they come to. In our case, it is English."

But you also go on to contradict yourself by saying "is it so hard to try a bit to accommodate people who have come to live among us?"

Anyone, and I really mean anyone, who migrates to a foreign country has an expectation that he/she would need to adapt, if not culturally, at least with some language skills - I'm sure all the China nationals had the same expectation before arrival here. I don't in the least have the same harsh attitudes that many Singaporeans have regarding how well foreigners adapt.

However, I'll believe the sincerety of your argument if you make a similar case for all Chinese owned businesses in Little India that are staffed by ethnic Chinese Singaporeans, to be able to use Tamil and/or Bengali and/or Hindi (the last for the Indian tourist market).

"...is it so hard to try a bit to accommodate people who have come to live among us?"

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

It seems to me, some readers are missing out on the distinction between "obligation" and "good idea".

I think it's an obligation for foreigners migrating here to learn some English. It is a "good idea" if Singaporeans too could speak some Mandarin Chinese. It is head-in-the-sand to denounce a good idea for ideological reasons.

If you look carefully at I wrote, you'd see that I keep saying the state has a role to play. When it comes to obligation, the state should be making it mandatory for adult classes for foreigners.

When it is merely a good idea, it should not be mandatory, but the state should offer it as a PRACTICAL option - thus I said, Mandarin as a default second language for all with opt-out for those who disagree (opt-outs available even for the ethnic Chinese). Not as a third language (and extra, impractical burden) for ethnic minorities.

A reader emailed me just now with quite a few examples of Malays now speaking Mandarin. That's good to know. It may be difficult in the present environment, but some people are doing it. Kudos to them.

Another thing that readers seem to be missing out on - I was speaking of TWO GENERATIONS hence. I'm talking about preparing our future generations for a different reality - thus school second language. I'm not asking meesiam seller makciks to attend night classes right now.

Re the point about the continuing appeal of English. I agree. I think the future will see English as a chief global language, but Chinese will gain strength as an important regional language. Just as in Latin America, Spanish will remain dominant even as lots of people take up English. We are in Asia, almost next door to China, and at the rate political/strategic/economic changes are happening, we will come within a Pax Sinica. In Asia, both Chinese and English will grow at the expense of smaller languages.

It is precisely my interest in full equality for our ethnic minorities that I think it is unfair not to give them the same headstart as Chinese Singaporeans for a future where English AND Chinese will dominate this region.

The point about Malays who, despite knowing Chinese still get discriminated against due to the colour of their skin - I don't dismiss it; I think such employer behaviour is deplorable. But to say as a result "So what's the point of learning Chinese?" I still think is misguided. It's an argument for cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Xtrocious said...

I don't see why people should get so fixated about "their way"...

Why should Alex ignore the gay angle? He has a right to express his views...

For those who are "opposed" to it, they are free to come up with their own "straight" views on the issue...

Anonymous said...

I think it is not good for Singapore that so many immigrants are coming from a single source country. Why must all the immigrants be from China? Why don't we have more from Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, or even Australia?

In the US, quotas are set to limit the amount of Mexicans granted visas - in place, perhaps, because Americans are worried that their culture will have to bend to that of the new arrivals. A diverse source of immigrants ensures that it is the immigrants who have to adapt.

I agree with everything you have written, but only if it is assumed that our current policies of favouring the Chinese immigrants over others remain. I think we should limit the influx to prevent the changes you have laid out. I want to speak English, and I don't want to be forced to accomodate poorly educated immigrants. I want them to accomodate my culture and my language, and I don't think what I am asking is unreasonable.

The question I am interested in though, is why so many new immigrants are from China. Why not from other places? There are lots of other poor countries in the world to get workers.

In the US, they have a lot of immigrants from other first world countries. Like Canada. We don't. Where are the Americans, Canadians, Japanese, Australians, or Koreans who want to take up Singaporean citizenship? The only conclusion is that it must really suck here.

Anonymous said...

Call me a conservative close minded indian dog if you will.. but i will have you know that i respect everyone's right to his sexuality and their right to flaunt it before i go any further..

I cannot agree with is why i being a 3rd generation singaporean indian should learn chinese to live in comtemporary singapore. Is it too much to ask for everyone to speak English. Doesnt everyone here learn it in school anyway. As for the twats from China. This government better do something about their english before this bullshit hits the fan. I will not be reduced to ordering my coffee in chinese just cause they've now hired a chinaman to be the coffee boy.. If it's a chinese coffee boy they want the chinese coffee boy jolly well better speak english.


It isnt arrogance my friend. Nor is it a distaste for all things chinese. One of my fav dishes is Bak Kut Teh by the way. And i've had my share of some fine chinese women. All i ask is respect for our identity. I'm singaporean indian and there's no way i'll subscribe to an idea of a greater china that includes us


Yes i will be up in arms should my children be forced to learn chines as their 2nd language. I will not stand for it.

Stop trying to mask this whole thing as an attempt at being simply realistic.

Anonymous said...

I have an issue with what Nhyone said about the gay angle and that somehow prevented him from promoting some of the views to a more general audience. First of all, is that such a thing as a gay angle? Perhaps what he meant by a gay angle is gay concerns. But are gay concerns not rightly human concerns. Are gays not humans as well and should a perspective by a gay person who may occasionally linked the wider issues to gay concerns be viewed as less objective? For example, why shouldn't discrimination against foreign workers be linked to discrimination against gays, an improper treatment of fellow human beings. People who cannot see the significance of this are just bigots and whose judgements are not worth listening to.

Anonymous said...

I would like to comment on the comments that have been made.
I agree with what Anonymous 3 said. Most of the hair-dressing facilities up their prices during CNY. But what Anonymous 4 said sounded a bit bigotry. What is wrong with having China national MPs and ministers so long as they have pledged allegiance to Singapore and have shown capability and willingness to serve people of Singapore. What he observed about his so-called new citizens is also inaccurate. There are many Chinese nationals who have come and adopted the Singaporean way of living. It is of course conceivable and pardonable if they wish to retain part of their identity. I am sure many true-bled Singaporeans who went to the West to work and study still retained part of their Singaporean heritage. Life is a constant flux of change. The world changes and Singapore also changes. Those who refuse to adapt to changes will find themselves left behind. I also have issues with what Anonymous 5 said about deficient "hygiene standards" of mainland Chinese. I have many Chinese national friends and I certainly do not find them having adhoring hygiene standards. Perhaps I can understand why the contributor felt an animosity towards people who can have only "basic English". He had a bad experience with Mandarin and could hardly pass his Mandarin. But who is the one with is at fault? I am sure he does not wish people to judge him because his Mandarin is atrocious despite him being an "ethnic Chinese". Similarly, do not judge people who cannot speak English well. I think Anonymous 6 has an inaccurate grasp of what the world is going to be like. Contrary to his beliefs, Chinese is going to become a major trading language as China becomes economically prosperous and politically assertive. Chinese is also not impossible to read. I find it enjoyable to read, write and speak Chinese. The intonations are a beautiful feature of the Chinese language because speaking the language is like singing a song. Furthermore, it has been shown scientifically that the learning of the characters aids in visual imagination. The writer compares it to English. Sure, English has its many advantages such as its rules in language help in logical thinking but Chinese has an advantage over English. It does not have so many redundant rules. Up till now, I still do not understand what is the purpose of adding an ed behind a verb to show that the event occurred yesterday. Didn't the word yesterday already indicated that the event did indeed happened yesterday. I am puzzled by what Anonymous 6's last statement. Perhaps he could explain. I agreed with what Simple said that Singapore will be part of a Greater Chinese China but only culturally. It is inconceivable that Singapore will be anything a part of a political Greater China, taking into consideration our often suspicious Muslim neighbours. His take on the reason for such a strategy by the PAP is interesting though. I totally agree with Mr Smith. Instead of complaining of the language inadequacies of some of our fellow countrymates, why don't we start to learn their language. The knowledge of another language has only no harms but many benefits. Anonymous 7 said that we were not given a choice for our second language but have to choose our mother tongue. He is right when he says that Mandarin is not the mother tongue of most Chinese. But I could understand the reason why the government made the Chinese learn Mandarin. Up to even the time for early post-independence days, the Chinese did not see themselves as one people. They saw themselves in their respective dialect groups. There were a lot of inter-dialect disputes. Mandarin was the unifying force. But now, I think the government can afford to relax a bit. For example, it could offer Hokkien courses as a third language in some schools. I suppose that Anonymous 8 is a member of a minority race group. I can understand why it is difficult for an Indian or Malay to learn Chinese. After a full day of work and study, most people would not have the time nor energy to attend classes and learn another language. But I can tell him that the reason why Indians and Malays are often excluded from Chinese circles is also partly because they cannot speak Mandarin. Most Chinese, being Singaporeans will quickly switch from English to Mandarin and vice-versa in their normal discourse and they will find it unfree and a strain if they have to remember to speak in only English in the company of Indians and Malays. Have you found that Malays and Indians who can speak Mandarin are more easily accepted in the Chinese social circles? I also made an interesting but I do not know whether it is an accurate observation of barbers from the three ethnic groups. I find that the early Chinese and Indian barbers are more conservative but the Malay barbers are more willing to try out new hairstyles from the West such as the hairstyle that Tom Cruise adopted when he was in Top Gun. I agree with Anonymous 9's observation that both Malaysia, Indonesia and in fact the whole Muslim world has increasingly become more religious. In his book, Clash of Civilisations, Samuel Huttington said this was due to the breakup of the ideological Communism and the response by the Muslim world to the increasing aggressiveness of the Western powers, both in its hard and soft form. His analysis that Singapore could become part of Malaysia or Indonesia was also a possibility mused by MM Lee. One point made by Alex was that the increased islamisation has not led to a more intolerant society. I think the Muslim world itself is aware that there are two forces fighting for dominance, the moderates and the extremists. Who will win may be another guesswork to do. Alex's vision of a future world order with China as its major player sounds exciting for me because personally, I am in tune with the Chinese psyche. But I have deep reservations for the benefits it has for the gay movement because China is a communist state and the communists believed that homosexuality is a bourgeous evil. I agree with Anonymous 11's statement that the Singapore's government has been an unprincipled ally of China. The
reason why PM Lee had to visit Taiwan,China's anger and the subsequent apologies seemed curious to me. There might be many agendas hidden from public knowledge. Anonymous 13's prediction for Singapore is interesting but do not feel offended, it seems to border more on fantasy. To Anonymous 14's assertion that Chinese will not be as important as English, I want to ask you the question, why confine your workplace to Singapore and your business partners to Singaporeans? China has the largest population in the world and has the potential to be the largest market.
To Anonymous 12's question as to why there are so many immigrants from China,I like to correct it by saying that there are also many immigrants from India. Perhaps he is asking why there are so many immigrants from less deveoloped countries and not from first-world countries, I don't think it is a matter of policies. I think it is just human nature. The U.S and Australia, being more advanced will not have a situation where many of their citizens will want to immigrate to Singapore. In fact, the reverse trend is true. To the last Anonymous' points, it is of course his right to choose what language to learn. Even if he does not want to learn English, it is also his right. But I think he is confusing that learning an extra language will diminish his identity in a racial and cultural group. If I learn French, it does not mean that I am less a Chinese but it means that it opens up my eyes to another world. And final word. I think Alex is being very creative in trying to express a politically sensitive topic in Singapore in such a comedic and satirical way.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 20 January, 2009 00:08: "I will not be reduced to ordering my coffee in chinese just cause they've now hired a chinaman to be the coffee boy."

Actually it is already happening here. The ones suffering aren't just the non-Chinese ethnic groups. Just recently, I observed an elderly Chinese lady ordering rice in a commonly used local dialect ("purn"). However, the 2 China-natives manning the mixed rice stall could not understand what she wanted. More frustration when the old lady tried to understand the cost of the meal. Needed a younger Chinese-speaking local to translate between the parties.

Thus even the local ethnic Chinese, especially the elderly who had ignored the "Speak Mandarin" campaign are now suffering. They need help to complete what would have been a basic survival transaction (e.g. of buying a meal) in Singapore. An outsider in one's own homeland. Who would have thought that this day would come?

Anonymous said...

To the person who wrote the v e r y l o n g post:

Many before you have advanced all sorts of justification for Indians and Malays learning Mandarin, or coerced into learning it by way of policy. This is not unlike the Chinese government's language policy towards China's minority language groups: they are based on Chinese chauvinism and has resulted in the complete disappearance of many of those languages.


What has not been noted in this discussion is the resistance and refusal of Indians and Malays to learn Mandarin BECAUSE it is driven by racism: an admirable response on our part, if you ask me.

Until this exercise of building castles in the air becomes an irrefutable reality, and we find that there is absolutely no way for Indian and Malay Singaporeans to learn Mandarin, I remain unconvinced; instead, I suspect that your support for Chinese chauvinism may lie at the root of your contention.

Ganga said...


Apologies if this has been stated by any other commenter (did not read all) but the expectation of any foreigner to be competent in basic English comes from the fact that it is the official language in which we communicate (Lingua Franca) and the country's First Language.

The expectation for minorities to learn Mandarin may be practical but should not be essential (ie. I should NOT have to be inconvenienced when shopping at NTUC). This is quite different from a situation where, if I enjoy eating Chinese food and frequent eateries in Chinatown, the service staff don't understand me in English (ie. I cannot complain).

Just because there are more members of one ethnic group in Singapore, it doesn't mean that the minorities are obliged to know/understand it.

If the day comes that Singapore becomes a part of China, then the minorities will decide if they want to become pseudo-Chinese or leave instead. But until then, Singapore remains officially a English-speaking country and our expectations are very much justified.

The fact that you have made such allusions reveal the fact that you have not been marginalised or hampered (over a protracted period of time) with regard to basic day-to-day living on account of your ethnicity-based language.

To put it in perspective for you, as a gay man, what you suggest the minorities should do is akin to me suggesting to you, as a matter of fact, that it would be better for you to keep your sexual preference in the closet and instead embrace the pretence of heterosexuality - get married to a woman, do 'normal' things etc - in order to have access to the full range of possibilities Singapore has to offer to you.

You know how it feels like to be marginalised based on your sexual preference - do try to extrapolate that to ethnic-based limitations on communication in an English-speaking country.

Just because it seems like a good idea doesn't mean it is the right thing to do. I feel the same anger you do, and we face the same problems - just that the themes are different. I am truly sad that you have failed to empathise in spite of having the necessary experiences to do so...

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Ganga - In one of my earlier comments, I made it patently clear that it should not be considered obligatory for ethnic minorities to speak Mandarin.

In the article, I also asked readers to imagine a future China that is far different from the China today. Even if Singapore slips into that new greater China, it does not automatically follow that Chinese becomes the sole official language. English can well remain the main language, the same way that no less than Donald Tsang, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, delivers his formal speeches in Cantonese, HK's official language.

Sexual orientation is not a good analogy for language. Language is not innate, not fixed. It is acquired, and has absolutely no biological relationship with one's ethnicity. Nor is it singular-exclusive. Knowing one language does not preclude one from knowing another. One's identity is not compromised by being able to speak more languages.

Here in Singapore, however, we tend to load onto language all our concerns about identity and ethnic pride (encouraged by many government policies). I mentioned in the article my view that this attitude towards language is one of the things that blights Singapore. It creates unnecessary social and political rigidity. Which, if one looks historically, is an aberration.

Why are we speaking English today, for example? The immediate (and politically correct) explanation is that it is the "neutral" language among the races. Actually, it is not true anymore. For about 30 - 50 per cent of Singaporeans, English is in fact their mother tongue. English is not the neutral language we think it is; it is not equidistant to everybody.

I said "immediate (and politically correct)" above. The original reason why we are speaking English today, a reason we too often forget, was that our forebears, whether Indian, Chinese, Malay or Javanese, began learning to speak it *as a good practical idea*. They didn't worry about loss of identity. They didn't get all uppity and say "No, never, over my dead body". They recognised the reality that globally, the British Empire bestrode the world, locally, the British were the masters, and that they had to accommodate.

Anonymous said...

YB, you've completely missed Ganga's point when you say that "Sexual orientation is not a good analogy for language".

Ganga was very clearly talking about "compulsory heterosexuality" with the elaboration he made of his point.

And he compared it with the compulsory sinicization that you are advocating for in no uncertain terms.

That - compulsory heterosexuality vs compulsory sinicization - is the analogy. Not sexual orientation and language which is how you have twisted it.

And it is not as if you don't know anything about the impositions made on you with compulsory heterosexuality.

Very ironically, in this same article that we are replying to, you rile against (or are you just whining, like we Indians always do in matters of race and racism) the person who imposed compulsory heterosexuality on you by questioning your inclusion of the "gay angle" on any, and possibly every one of your articles.

Now, that would make you just like any heterosexual blogger for whom a gay man's perspective on issues that affect gays would be elusive, wouldn't it?

Aren't gay interests served enough by such heterosexuals?

And if you think that asking you to obliterate the gay angle is homophobic, shouldn't you also be considered racist for a parallel reason?

Please don't set up the false dichotomy between language and ethnic pride; it's the reason the you are advancing the arguments that you do in the first place.

Ganga couldn't have come with a more perfect analogy.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

How did you manage to read from anything that I have written an advocacy of "compulsory sinicisation"? I have not advocated it, and since I have not, all your arguments are straw man arguments.

Anonymous said...

If he's reading this, the person who emailed you suggesting that you remove the gay angle from what you write (he did not, btw, if not for your own ability to read beyond the literal) is asking the same question that you are: exactly what did you read into his query on why you have to keep annoyingly rub gayness into everything you write and get so worked up about it?

Learning a language, my dear YB, does not merely involve making sounds that are intelligible to those who understand that language.

It involves developing an orientation to the cultural environment/s in which that language is used, asborbing the cultural values and products manufactured in that enviroment with all the finacial benefits of those, deserved or not.

That's the compulsory sinicization that you are advocating for while prtending to a blindspot that has been long acknowledged.

Why in the future should any two Indians or Malays cease to use Tamil or Malay with each other when they have already developed the ability to communicate with each other in Mandarin?

Why should MOE then offer Malay and Tamil as mother tongue languages in our schools when all Singaporeans can communicate with each other in Mandarin? (And, oh, is China going to export all it's goods free of charge to Singaporeans because of it?)

You can spout as much theory about how learning one language doesn't have to preclude the use of another for all you want.

The practise is an entirely different story.

Ganga said...


After stating my opinions, I did not bother to return. However, Mr Anon (aka 'The Strawman' - as labelled by the author) who has been voicing his displeasure alerted me through my blog and thus I feel obliged to add the following.

As pointed out, the analogy was NOT in the sexual preference (for the author) or ethinicity (for me) but the consequent marginalisation that is irrefutable for both parties.

To miss the point (intentionally or otherwise) and focus on a moot aspect of the argument is a waste of time.

This is the author's blog and he has every right to make sweeping statements and refuse to engage in debate as he so wishes.

If he refuses to acknowledge that he has not walked in my shoes and therefore would not have any inkling of the difficulties, pain and insult I have to bear with throughout my life in Singapore, then he is no different from our dear government which takes a 'I am better educated so I know better' stance to everything.

I continue to be disappointed with this attitude and the irresponsible and inconsiderate suggestion made through this article. This may just be an abstract theory for the author but there are serious implications nonetheless.

The fact that the author chooses not to acknowledge these implications that he might have overlooked (or not realised due to his lack of firsthand experience) is the most damaging of all.

Hence, this will be my last comment on this blog and possibly I will not be able to read further articles here without scepticism due to the inherent bias of, and lack of humility in the author.

The author can choose to display this comment or reject it, but it shall be placed on my blog as well for reference, thank you.