Friday, 29 September 2023

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The day we went offline (video)

Andrew Loh / Deputy Editor

When I first broached the idea of holding an event at Hong Lim Park to my fellow editors and senior writers, they were very keen on it. I myself, on hindsight, really had no idea what that would entail. My thought then was: What’s the big deal? Just get some speakers, register and go down and speak. As it turned out, however, there was nothing simple or easy about it.

The idea for the event first came up about two months ago, in July. This was way before the Prime Minister announced the changes to the rules for using Speakers’ Corner in his National Day Rally speech on August 17. We would have gone ahead, regardless. The only difference would be that we would speak without amplification which was disallowed under the old rules. Earlier, when it was decided that we would go ahead, we had scheduled the event for August 30. As it turned out, because of the preparations required, we had to postpone it by two weeks, to September 13.

We were hoping to hold the event before the Public Transport Council released their report on whether they would approve any fare hikes. Perhaps it was a stroke of good luck that they made their announcement on Friday, September 12, the day before we went to Hong Lim Park. This brought the issue to the public’s attention and helped create interest for our Speakers’ Corner outing, I guess.

I went to the park early, at about 3pm (our event was scheduled for 5pm) to test the audio equipment which we had just bought and also to make sure the video cameras were working properly. One can’t be too sure of things like that. And I certainly didn’t want to take chances with our first public event.

At 4.30pm, we noticed that two policemen from the nearby Kreta Ayer police post were standing outside the police station and observing us. At that time, there was a small gathering of perhaps 20 or so people who were there for our event. Maybe that got the police’s attention. However, after a while the men in blue disappeared back into their building.

The speeches themselves went without a hitch and it was a great relief. The audience was great and applauded when they agreed with the speakers’ points. The weather was kind – it wasn’t hot and the earlier rain did not make a comeback in the late afternoon. And the best of all, the sound system was working beautifully. (It, however, only had a range of between 30 and 50 meters. So, I apologise to those at the back who had a hard time hearing us.)

There are many people to thank for the success of the event. I’d like to start by expressing TOC’s gratitude to fellow bloggers who helped us publicise the event on their blogs. Many thanks to the good people over at The Void Deck, who gave us words of encouragement before the event. Folks at Singapore Daily, which is an awesome blog aggregator. Dr Huang over at Yingquan, who was the first to mention our outing on his blog. Singapore Life and Times, Mr Wang, Yawning Bread, Bagel Snob, and the Singapore Democratic Party, among others. Please forgive me if I’ve left out your blog.

TOC – and I personally – would like to thank everyone who helped us pass the word around. Thank you.

Special thanks to everyone who took the time to join us at Hong Lim Park. It was so encouraging for members of TOC to see so many people there on Saturday. Thank you.

Also, many many thanks to TOC members who were involved as well: Leong Sze Hian for his generosity and encouragement, Tan Jian Wei for his one day of hard work running all around S’pore to capture scenes of our transport system, Rachel Zeng for her artistic work on the banner for our Public Transport Week, Lee Song Kwang for the help with the printing of the proposal, My Sketchbook for the original and wonderful cartoon which we used at Speakers’ Corner, Watchtowertv for the videos and advice, Selene Cheng for the report, Daniel DeCosta for the mineral water, Shimin for the photography and special thanks to Mervin Lee for the work on the main video report. I hope I haven’t left anyone out.

Of course, our appreciation goes out to the six speakers: Zheng Xi, Sze Hian, Bernard Chen, Goh Meng Seng, James Gomez and Gerald. You guys did well!

Last but not least, thanks to all who worked on the proposal itself. It took about two months and several meetings and emails and phone calls. I am glad – and proud – that we did it.

After the event on Saturday, several people approached us and asked if we would consider holding such events on a regular basis. We will discuss this at our next editors’ meeting and see if it’s feasible. Myself, I would like to take some time and focus on my personal stuff for a while. But for sure, it was quite an experience. The turn-out was more than I expected and the event allowed us to engage the issue further.

While some of us may be skeptical or cynical about such events or Speakers’ Corner itself, one important thing to remember is this: Whatever we think of Hong Lim Park, it really is what we make of it. The 150 people at Speakers’ Corner on Saturday have taken the first step.

Our hope is that more Singaporeans will speak up – whether it is at Hong Lim or on the Internet or anywhere else. The place is just a necessity. It is the message that is important.

Thank you, everyone.

Here is Part One of the main video of the event.


Part Two:

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