And Tango Makes A Fascist Chief Librarian

And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express were taken off the shelves by The Chief Librarian Tay Ai Cheng because they were not “pro-family”, which is now the same thing as anti-gay and anti anything other than “1 father + 1 mother + 3 or more children (if you can afford it)”, as stated in the complaint by Teo Kai Loon.

Please, all who are on the side of compassion and even sanity, nobody is forcing you or your families to be pro-gay or gay. Nobody is asking you to promote teenage pregnancies. Nobody is asking you to promote single parenting.

But I beg you to wake up and look around you. These things happen. Please SUPPORT, not PROMOTE, teenaged, single, widowed parents and whatever is left of their families! These books are part of a community lifeline for children who through no fault of their own, have been labelled “illegitimate”.

You don’t have to borrow these books if you or your children don’t need these stories. But don’t deprive others who do, and for crying out loud, Tango Makes Three is a true story.

Pink Dot 2014

Pink Dot is a family event
Pink Dot is a family event

I am honoured to have been invited to speak at this year’s Pink Dot as part of a new segment called “Community Voices”. This is what I said:

When I was in secondary school I was among the fortunate few to have friends who were gay. Some of whom I knew were gay before they knew or cared to admit.

My father was the most concerned, of course, and told me he was worried that I would get affected or influenced – in his own words, “you spend so much time with him, you become a gay then you know”.

I said, “Pa, look at me, I can’t dress to save my life. I wish I could be influenced”.

Then came National Service, the 2 and a half years that was meant to make men out of boys. Interestingly, it was also where I learned how brave my gay army mates were, and how they stood the tallest among the fighting men in my combat unit.

Not only did they endure the physical duress of training, they took the insults – being called Chow Ah Kua, Bapok, Faggot – any derogatory term for a gay man, daily. It was only after my unit became operational that the tables turned somewhat.

The best GPMG gunner was gay. 2 of my company’s best platoon sergeants were gay, and the guy that broke another soldier’s leg during unarmed combat was one of those Chow Ah Kuas.

These NS boys were tortured and I cannot begin to imagine the torment they must have endured, having to hide and deny who they were.

Things are ever so slightly better these days. There’s this civic event right here that celebrates and affirms the right to love, regardless of orientation, even if some people don’t, and even if there is an unjust and unconstitutional piece of legislation that doesn’t.

My hope is that it doesn’t stop here. And I will support this celebration and affirmation until it becomes a right under the laws of this otherwise dynamic country.

I say this because my family and I count ourselves the luckiest people. It’s not because we probably have more gay friends than straight ones. But it’s because many of our gay friends have shown us the ability to sustain love above all manner of obstacles, objection, ridicule.

And more importantly, they love my wife, my son and myself for who we are.

We are without doubt blessed by their friendship, and our family cannot do without their love.

I am glad that we are raising our son amongst friends who share the same family values. That two people can love each other regardless of gender, gender identity or labelling.

If this is the “gay lifestyle”, then my family and I will wholeheartedly promote it.

The CPF And How To Pronounce Roy Ngerng’s Surname

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No I’m not going to teach you how to pronounce Roy’s surname. The title is just written in the style of Roy Ngerng’s attention-seeking blog post titles.

Now that Roy has ‘been Davindered‘ and taken down the alleged offending blog post, applied to be an NMP, and raised questions from dozens of my friends who are none the wiser about what happens to our CPF money, I thought it might be timely to address some of the questions.

In 2011, some of my friends and I had a website called ‘You Say I Say Who Confirm’, and we wrote about stuff that were slightly contentious, but we never got Davindered. Take for example, this post I wrote about the CPF. It basically says the same thing Roy said, and you can get all this information from various Government websites.

But, you cannot and should not implicate the PM or the Government and accuse them of stealing from the population.  You’re not doing the rest of us a favor by doing so, although the “hard truths” should be made better known to us – and like I said, most of these ‘truths’ are – you just have to scour the Government, GIC and Temasek sites.

The only real area of contention is where Temasek Holdings says outright that it “does not manage CPF money”. That’s not a lie, but only because by the time the monies in our Fund is in Temasek’s hands, it is no longer in the form of CPF Funds.

The bottom line is this. Although it is in the interest of national security that certain aspects of our monetary reserves are not divulged, there should still be more transparency regarding how our savings are invested.

Meantime, if you’re not sure what Roy said, here’s what I wrote in 2011:

What Do They Do To Make Our CPF Grow?

I imagine the top question at the top 10 frequently asked questions page of the CPF Board would be “What the heck does the CPF Board do to my money to be able to earn 2.5% – 5% interest in an age where banks seem to want you to pay them to keep your money”?

But it is not. It isn’t even an FAQ according to the Board. Does everyone know something I don’t?

So where does the money go? How does the Government guarantee us what they call “risk free interest” of 2.5%? What is risk-free interest?

We’re told that it doesn’t go into GIC for them to invest in UBS and then get annoyed about a rogue trader losing $2bn. (And you never hear about rogue traders making billions, as you can imagine they would, had their coins landed the right side up).

We’ve also been told (Temasek Holdings FAQ No. 8) that it doesn’t go into Temasek Holdings for them to post a 10-year net profit and then spend the last three years fighting off allegations of bad investment decisions because they lost 31% of its holdings in the 2008 financial crisis.

So where does the Board put the money? Under a collective proverbial pillow waiting for the CPF Fairy to pay out 2.5%? Or do they put our money in local banks, saving us the trouble of doing that ourselves and earning a pittance in interest on our own?

Or does our CPF Board, by strength in sheer numbers, get a fabulous deal from our friendly local financial banks that allows them to guarantee us this “risk free” return of 2.5%?

According to the Accountant-General’s Department, there are these things called Special Singapore Government Securities, which are bonds issued only to the CPF Board to, in the Accountant-General’s Department’s own words, “meet the investment needs of the Central Provident Fund”. The AG-D also states that “The investment of CPF funds by the Government relieves the CPF Board from taking on the investment risk of a fund manager to concentrate on its primary role as a national social security institution”.

In other words, our Government borrows our CPF money, guaranteeing the Board at least 2.5%, and in exchange, takes on the risks of a fund manager, and logically, the benefits as well.

In addition, the money that the CPF Board lends to the Government is put into this thing called the Government Securities Fund, where they are blended on high setting for one minute together with proceeds from investment returns, other securities issuances and seasoned to taste. Once that’s done, voila! You can no longer call it CPF money per se, and can therefore confidently tell everyone who asks, that 1) CPF money is not invested in Temasek Holdings, 2) CPF money is not invested in the GIC.

The other stuff I gleaned from the AG-D’s document was that the Singapore Government doesn’t have any external debt. The only people they owe money to are the people they govern. The Government also owes every other nation on this planet zilch, nothing, or as the aunty who runs the kopitiam across the street would say, jilo. And that probably has something to do with the fact that we have AAA ratings across the board from Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poors, although logically, even if we dropped an A or two, it wouldn’t matter to the Government because they can technically still borrow money from the CPF at 2.5%.

So, how do we answer the burning question that is also not on the CPF Board’s Top 10 FAQ list, “How safe is our CPF money?”

As good as gold? As safe as houses? Solid as a rock?

We’d need a whole lot more information to be able to get something definitive. But still, on a hunch and some good old fashioned agak-ration, I think it is.

Your Grandfather’s Mother Tongue Is it?

I had great fun at the last minute pop-up Talkingcock In Parliament 3 organised by Colin, Yen Yen and others on Saturday evening. There was a great variety of speakers anyhowly hum-tumming what Mother Tongue means to us because it’s been anyhowly hum-tummed into our lives.

This is what I said:

My Hokkien mother spoke no Mandarin, was educated in ACS in Malaya, and my father taught himself English, but spoke Hainanese mostly. Although most days you couldn’t tell which he was speaking. Older Hainanese men have accents as thick as the slab of butter in your kaya toasts.

But my father spoke just enough rubbish for people in Australia to lump him together with other East Asians and he scored a job as a translator with the Japanese Olympic team in the 1956 Melbourne Games.

That did not end well. He was fired before the closing ceremony because a Japanese boxer was taken to hospital for an emergency appendectomy he didn’t need to have. He had simply tried to tell my father that he needed to lose some weight to get down to the weight class he was supposed to compete in. That’s my father. Accidental pioneer of weight loss surgery.

My mother, a slightly better English speaker, joined my father in Australia and together they lived there between 1957 and 1965. That’s a lot of time for them to pick up enough Aussie slang to scold my siblings and I with.

So my early childhood years were marked by my parents’ Aussie nicknames for me, which were all prefixed by the word “bloody”. They called me bloody fool, bloody idiot, bloody nong, once in a while, bloody bastard, before they realised the implication of what they were calling me, and retracted it and instead called me a bloody chink.

I have a five year old son and sometimes when he whines or whinges about something, my wife would tell him, “Use your words, Kai”. And he would compose himself, and make his request known in a full sentence.

My mother was slightly different with me when I was a kid. If I whined or whinged, she said, “Bloody Chinese boy cannot speak english properly issit?”

I understand now that they were scarred by their experiences Down Under, and passed on that anxiety to their kids.

So that’s my heritage. Outcastes of empire, speaking in the tongues of the former convicts of our former colonial masters. It’s a rich heritage, full of stolen riches.

So you can imagine I wasn’t surprised when I discovered just last week, that our National Heritage Board is the governing body of the Speak Good English Movement. I’m actually working on this year’s Speak Good English launch. Director of Speak Good English? Is Eck Kheng here? Movement nochet launch this year, so this event not counted hor?

Let me say that I strongly support the speak good english movement. I have one every morning. Usually after breakfast. And my family doesn’t let me bring the newspapers in with me.

Eh… It could have been worse. I could’ve demonstrated what a Speak Good English Movement sounds like.

Last week, I read about our Air Force and how they outfoxed American counterparts in war games, although I don’t believe they used the word outfoxed.

We all know that our Armed Forces have had this advantage over the years. I mean, come on lah, which other military can boast having marching commands in Malay, instructions in English, and at one time really had a platoon that spoke only Hokkien?

And they say the US got drones, we also have! How many did you see in the Young PAP video? That video? It was supposed to be a secret weapon, to be used when our enemies are making their way to invade us. We will jam their networks and the video would be transmitted to all their smartphones and tablets, so when they watch it, they’ll U-turn and go back because, wah lao, really? This is the prize? Dowan lor.

There were three bids for this defence weapon. This was one of them. The other two were of course the STB ad and the Singtel nipple ad.

“Honey, look! You know the expensive seafood dinner we had last night? We really got screwed, I’m even pregnant!”

Ten years ago, I was in a reservist In camp training – see that’s another word that’s been ingrained. 20 years after changing the term to NSman, we’re still calling it reservist. You call up some business to look for someone, and they’ll say, “oh, got reservist, won’t be back until next week”.

I think we love the word reservist because we really don’t want to be on the front line. We’re reserved. Of course, my ten year cycle has long since been completed, so I’m an even more reserved reservist.

So anyway, this was in 2004 and we were still transitioning from the old conventional ways of warfare to a post 9-11 Al Qaeda-JI doctrine. We had training to tell us that it was no longer ok to clear a room with grenades and put our weapons to full auto to finish the job. We had to look out for civilians and enemy combatants.

So part of the training package consisted of being shot at from a simulated HDB block, and being shot at from a simulated market. The second round got worse. We got grenades thrown at us by a simulated pregnant woman played by one of our own reservists on Attend B excuse heavy lifting.

We didn’t know how to react. We were tired, hungry and getting frustrated.

As we ran up one last HDB stairwell we encountered a simulated couple in close embrace, just as you would in real life, only this time it turned out to be a terrorist-hostage situation. Our training kicked in. We trained our weapons on the party and opened negotiations:

Our section commander shouted: “Terrorist har? What the fuck you want, you ninabeh cheebye motherfucker?”

The simulated terrorist replied, “er…. I want an airline ticket”

Because we are a considerate 3G army, our section commander asked him, “airline ticket? Cheebye what airline?”

The terrorist considered this quickly and shouted his preference, “Emirates!”

Something snapped in my section commander. He flicked the safety catch on his SAR-21 to full auto and opened fire, emptying his magazine of 30 rounds of blanks as he screamed. “Emirates hah? SQ not good enough for you is it? Nabeh! Limpehshootjiliaphorlisee!”

May Day Rally 2014

Having missed last year’s event because I made like many other Singaporeans and downed tools for the long weekend, I was invited to my first May Day Rally on Thursday, and came away impressed with the candour of the labour leaders, and slightly disappointed with the lack of awareness of the same.

With Cheaper, Better, Faster having earned its place in ridiculed slogan folklore, what could the union leaders have come up with that would better that? What new initiatives would be launched and trumpeted?

I spoke with several other people at the rally and they intimated that the labour movement was going to move away from the hard sell of the Progressive Wage Model of the past two years, and towards a recognition of the employer, the worker, and the buyer (customer) for this year’s rally.

The venue for this year’s event was also significant. Honouring NTUC’s first Secretary-General (and lest we forget, the country’s third Head of State), the new Employment & Employability Institute (e2i) is named the Devan Nair Institute, and was officially opened at the start of the rally by the Prime Minister.

When the seminar hall was filled to capacity and the rest of the attendees packed into spillover rooms with live video feeds, the event started proper with a song and dance item (“Happy” and the very popular “Ayam Titanium”), and rousing speeches by leaders of several unions.

Then came this Singaporean Of The Day inspired video featuring rank and file workers:

  • Mohamed Ishak Bin Mohamed Noor, SMRT Assistant Engineer
  • Lim Chee Kiang, PSA Container Equipment Specialist (Quay Crane)
  • T. Manimaran, SembWaste Senior Driver
  • Raymond Ong, ComfortDelGro Taxi Driver
  • Ang Boon Ho, Seiko Instruments Singapore Assistant Supervisor

The workers featured in the video were seated front row (not centre – that’s for the Ministers) and were introduced to loud cheers from their colleagues and fellow union members. For me, that was what I thought the event was about. Honouring union members, honouring workers.

The Prime Minister’s address followed this path, but at the same time sounded a warning for complacency and for those who still think that the sole problem lies in letting in cheap foreign labour – your jobs will get “stolen” by people who don’t even have to move here to do it.

And there’s the second focus of the rally – the employer. I think that many Singapore companies are caught in what a friend of mine calls the “Stuck Tarzan Mode” – having caught the next vine to move forward but not wanting to let go of the one he’s just swung from.

Our economy will face competition from people who can not only do things cheaper, they’ll do it faster, and they might do it better. Sound familiar? The Prime Minister mentioned our private transport industry being challenged by technology companies who smartly skirt the obstacles of the transport business by making apps – like Uber (use my code “ubermiyagi” and get $10 off your first ride, hehe) – and with the leaps and bounds being made by 3D printing – soon, who’s going to need you to build and ship things to the customer abroad any more?

It is with these challenges that makes it more alarming that many SME’s do not innovate or don’t know how to. For example: Why are auditors still insisting on paper receipts that would anyway fade and be illegible? Why are banks (or the MAS) not working on solutions for third party accounting software to connect to customer data when it is much easier to forge a cheque than it is to obfuscate an electronic trail?

We cannot afford to fall behind, and I will smack the next government agency officer that asks me to fax some letter when they can jolly well read an email attachment. Yes, I can e-slap you. I have an app.

Before I froth at the mouth at these annoyances, let me get back to the PM’s address. I am encouraged that there are serious measures to ensure the re-employability of older workers. I’m quite sure that at this very mention, there’ll be conspiracy theorists banging their drums about how this gahmen simply doesn’t want us to collect our CPF.

But the reality is this – ask any aged 30-something couple raising a young family and having to look after their parents and you’ll discover that the CPF wasn’t initially calculated to look after an aging population with an increasing life expectancy. The older folk need to work and the important thing is that we enable them to.

The other thing that struck me was the current NTUC Secretary-General’s candour. I don’t care what people say, I really like this man and his life-long passion for making workers’ lives better.

In his opening address (which involved a few miscues with the event’s run-down), he said something about Singapore ‘not being zero-defect’, but that we’d be judged on how we reacted to the mistakes and fixed them.

Mr Lim Swee Say has been tireless ever since he was appointed Secretary-General (SG) of NTUC. The number of financial grants and rebates available to the backbone of the economy – the SMEs – are a result of his harassing and haranguing the various ministries and agencies over the decades.

But he has not been above admitting when things aren’t going as smoothly. I recall a talk last year where he talked about how heading the labour movement was a constant task of moving bottlenecks around the workforce when he realised cheap labour was becoming an undesirable opiate of construction companies.

There are others like the SG in the movement – the head of the e2i himself, of as a friend calls him, The Other Gilbert, constantly tweaking and improving schemes to help the rank and file workers.

Therein lies the rub. There are still things that can be done better.

I believe the labour movement can be more inclusive, get everyone involved, not just the converted, because you can still continue get them excited about the rally by giving out polo shirts in four different but bright colours, you can still make them sing the NTUC theme song to the tune of The Battle Hymn of The Republic, and give out energy bands with the word “Better” printed on them because this year it’s about Better Employers, Better Workers and Better Customers.