Hardware, Heartware and Headwear

The Facebook group “Love My Country Love My Hijab” is a discussion we’ve avoided for too long. It’s time we brought it out into the open and be bold but careful in declaring what our principles are as a nation.

It seems to me that we parade terms like “multiculturalism” and “racial harmony” while actually meaning “tolerating in spite of our differences”. It is time we recognised our differences and embrace them. Our ethnicity, beliefs and values want to be recognised because of what they are. It doesn’t matter if, as some people have put it, the hijab/tudung issue is a “recent phenomenon of Islamisation”.

It’s helpful to know that Sikhism was once considered a new religion, having been established in 1699. It is in the Sikh Reht Maryada that a Sikh is forbidden to cut his/her hair, and must wear hair unshorn. The conspicuous religious wearing of a turban has long been allowed in workplaces including that of military and civil services, as well as in exception to rules which govern the wearing of safety headgear in motoring.

At the very least, we should begin discussion about the tudung or hijab and the freedom to practice our beliefs.

About Hossan Leong Show’s “censorship”

I was horrified at first when I heard that the MDA had issues with the script that was written for the Hossan Leong Show (Sep 23 – Oct 9), then indignant when I found out further that someone had taken offense and complained about the words, “Halal Vegetarian Babi Pongteh”, which was a dish to be concocted by “Bibik Lim”, a recurring character in the show.

The offending words were also in the publicity material distributed around the island.

This is how things unfolded: Last year, at the end of “Bibik Lim”‘s skit, she (Bibik Lim) decided to tell the audience about the next dish she was about to prepare: something that was all-inclusive, all-embracing – and came up with the name which was subsequently used as part of publicity material for this year’s show, which was printed some time in April this year.

The name of the dish was completely ad-libbed (by Hossan Leong), and off the cuff. It was, as you can imagine, never meant to offend.

On the contrary, the creative team behind the show have always struck for a story arc of sorts that told of our country’s multi-culturalism and its attendant difficulties. It is obviously very ironic that in trying to do so, we’ve stuffed up and offended someone’s religious and racial sensitivities.

I know what they say about the road to hell, but there is no excuse for me not spotting the fact that the simple juxtaposition of the two words “halal” and “babi” would have been likely to cause offense.

I therefore apologize unreservedly to the gentleman who spotted the offending copy on the flier, who was upset enough to write to the local Malay-language paper. The production company has, on the direction of the MDA, recalled every poster and flier from every distribution point in Singapore.

This is, however, a chance for a sensible talking point, and I have always been an advocate for more discussion about our country’s racial/religious diversity, with the view that the more we talk, the more we’ll understand. This is sadly and dangerously lacking – as is attested by an exchange between students at SMU earlier this year.

In the meantime, the MDA has also asked that we revise the offending portion of the show itself. While we are loathe to do so — because it is comedy variety show, and in comedy variety shows, there will be some people who will be offended — we have agreed to their request because, amongst other things, the team behind “Bibik Lim” had spent weeks cracking their brains trying unsuccessfully to work out how to make ‘halal vegetarian babi pongteh’ anyway.

You could say that as a result of this debacle, “Bibik Lim” is currently experimenting with a few new racially inclusive, new migrant embracing dishes with a Peranakan twist. No, Assam Ox-Tongue Wrapped in Beef Cheek is not one of them. But I encourage everyone to give Bibik Lim’s dishes a shot – come and watch her on the Hossan Leong Show (23 September – 9 October, Drama Centre Theatre).

Put Tamil back on public signboards

T3 Signages DSC_3718sa

Where there are other languages apart from English on them, to be precise.

Does anyone know if they’ve put back Tamil on the directional signage at Changi Airport? Or are they still in three of our national languages plus Japanese, as they have been so since 2007?

And how true is it that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, which runs the airport, replaced Tamil with Japanese on advice from the Tourism Board, whose rationale for doing so was “English is the 2nd language of India”?

Apparently, the Tamil directional signage at the Botanic Gardens have also suffered a Japanisation, according to a message left by a member of the Facebook Group “I Want Tamil Back in Changi Airports Signboards”.

If that is true, then the people working at some of our statutory boards have very, very little respect for our national customs and languages. If you’re Singaporean, you should feel affronted. So, I urge you all to join that Facebook group, and sign a petition when they do set one up.

I want to see all four of my nation’s official languages back on signboards.

Extending race

The Sideways Joker
I wanted to be 'The Joker', but I was lying on my side when they painted my face

More on the country’s obsession with “race”, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow writes:

as far as this racial labelling in Singapore officialdom is concerned, we should all just tick the ‘Others’ box — and carry on

From her post, I went on to read Alex Au’s (Yawning Bread) study on the matter, and as I suspected:

What was interesting when I sifted through the bureaucratese was how this change, which was spun to suggest an increase in flexibility, was actually a decrease. Where parents previously could leave the race of the baby blank, they now cannot.

Aiyah, “Others” lah.

Saving race

Racial Harmony Day
"My mother was a spider and my father was a clown"

Because it has always been our government’s policy to pay attention to matters of race and ethnicity, our identity cards and government records require that we be classified under different “races”.

Both my parents are Chinese, so there doesn’t seem to be anything complicated about that, even if you’re not comfortable with the notion of “race”. But when you have children of mixed parentage, that’s when it starts to become funny.

On Wednesday, an intern from The Straits Times called and stuttered his way for five minutes trying to explain to me that the ICA had changed the “by default the child’s race shall be that of the father’s” rule, and that from next year, parents were “free to choose their child’s race”.

I thanked the intern for this piece of information, upon which he stammered his way for another five minutes explaining that he needed me to answer a few questions for a story his supervisor/journalist was writing for Thursday’s Straits Times.

So I explained a little about how I had no interest in “changing Kai’s race”, because there’s not enough space in that field to put “Chinese-Japanese-Taiwanese-Dutch”.

But maybe Beatrice and Mark Richmond have a different perspective. Their son Sol is classified “English”, because the ICA of the day considered Grandpa Brian’s “race”, “English”.

And of course, we should have every confidence that the new scheme has been really well thought out and precludes the possibility of parents rorting the system for their child to obtain State benefits from Sinda and Mendaki, and that there won’t be a surge in the number of Malay-Indian children.