Monday, April 17, 2006


The Italian Stallion has just returned from Jakarta. Or rather, not returned from Jakarta. Because he was never there. He was especially not there should anyone from the university inquire, since in addition to not possessing a cheap $81 return air ticket to Jakarta, he also did not possess approved leave.

"The fish market was just so terrible - I thought I was going to catch malaria from the fish and the people - my gosh, why do people keep having so many many many children when they can't afford them and they cram them all into one little cardboard box?"

The Stallion is a bright young man, and although more whippet than stallion, can still charm like an Italian. He is also given to the stereotypical Italian hyperbole and the tendency to never use one word when 20 run-on sentences will do. I wish he wouldn't, it's a complete waste of a good mouth. A very good one.

"Honestly, if I could vote, I would vote PAP - after all, the PAP brought this country from third world to first. It could be like Jakarta!"

Why not? He's absolutely right - the PAP did wring a miracle of sorts. Some miracles are born in shining lights and thunder clashes - Singapore's miracle was in a lightning bolt. Our nation was Struck By Lightning. But not all miracles are godly and divine; some are bred from uninspiring sweat and smelly toil, over years and generations. They are called miracles nonetheless. They've been dusted off, polished and presented in nationalist histories, clad all bright and shiney to become a reliquary on the PAP altar of Cathedral Singapore.

But like a reliquary, something frail and foible and human lies at the heart. And if you know where to look, you can find the dirt. Hidden in words not said, behind lips now rotted, held in minds that take one step closer to the grave every day.

It is nonetheless, a miracle. No one said it had to be nice. And it did happen - one of the little bitter jokes about Singaporean nationalist history is that it is true. Mostly. It is true, unlike the more common type of Southeast Asian nationalist history, which generally suggest that after the [insert colonial oppresser] were chased off by the [insert relevant local term meaning blood sons of the soil], peace reigned and beer was available to all. Such national histories are easily labelled myths or more cruelly, as jokes and dismissed. The only joke about the Singapore Story is a bitter one - that because it is true, it cannot be dismissed and has achieved credibility, making it that much harder to for the casual citizen to recognise it for what it is: nationalistic. It crawled out of the same genre of optative histories that were written to serve a purpose.

But it is hard to remember that when you sip your latte and surf for net porn amidst soaring skyscrapers, and marvel that a mere generation ago, your father walked 20 miles to school every morning. Uphill. Both ways. And, against all probability, in the snow.

So we shall assume that the story is true, that it is the leadership of the PAP that brought a little red dot to become the honking great pus-filled pimple on the back of Malaysia. That good governance, by gifted men (were there ever woman? not in that time, and not in that version), brought Singapore to first world status. In the name of the Lee, we honour our miracle workers: LKY, hallowed be thy name, Devan Nair, Rajaratnam, Goh Keng Swee, David Marshall, Lim Kim San, and others.

And I say this with respect. Yes, the PAP, led by some of these men, brought Singapore to First World status. If they were running, I might vote for them still.

But they're not. The PAP that runs Singapore today is not the PAP of those heady tremulent years of nation-building. The MPs that stand for office are the new elite - to me, they too are the post '65ers. They did not build Singapore any more than I did.

So don't tell me to vote PAP MPs because of what they did for Singapore. The PAP members that run for election today had nothing to do with the triumphs of the 70's-'80s, only the triumphs and failures of the 90's.

All this I tell the Italian. He looks at me meekly, cocking his pretty head to one side. "You know, I'm joking, you know that right? Of course, the PAP of today is nothing like the old PAP, you can't vote for it on that basis, parties change over time."

He turns back to his work, but glances over to add, "You know, you talk too much sometimes."

Oooh. Snap.


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