by N Chan
The current rapid jump of Singapore’s of COVID-19 numbers has been attributed — by and large — to the refusal by the People’s Action Party (PAP) administration to heed advice by Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWOs) such as TWC2 on the conditions at the dormitories serving as a ticking time bomb for a massive spread of the virus.
To date, I and many others have been petitioning the government either through tagging Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Ministry of Health (MOH) and Lawrence Wong as well as Josephine Teo or emailing their respective ministries, to ask them to quarantine all the foreign worker dorms while allowing those who need to work in essential services to leave, strictly for that purpose, provided that they are asymptomatic while subjecting them to a stringent regime of tests throughout the day, to minimise their contact with the public due to the growing clusters in the dorms.
Technically, according to the law, they were still able to leave the dorms, in the name of “exercising” or “dabao-ing” food, so long as they are not issued with Stay-At-Home-Notices (SHN) or Quarantine Orders (QO) and their dorms are not in the “isolated category”.
Many have given feedback that they are still mingling in large groups outside the dorms, even in malls in Jurong and mingling with foreign domestic workers even in the “circuit breaker” period as well.
The basis of our petition is this – that outside the foreign worker dorms category, the number of local unlinked cases is actually in the 20s to 30s range daily and so by quarantining all the dorms, the number of local unlinked cases will fall below the 20s range and the “circuit breaker” measures will be lifted sooner, relieving the service sector of the economy and averting a potential mental health epidemic.
Most of us, including myself, have petitioned the government out of good faith as most (or some) of us who have done so because we have seen our emotional states slide each day, especially if we are Christians as the Christian faith is a social one and centres strongly around community and “sharing lives”.
While the government has announced on 18 April that work permit holders under the construction will have to serve a two-week SHN from 20 April to 4 May but it is still a partial measure as foreign workers working in other sectors e.g. cleanliness are not subjected to similar measures. Despite being aware of the growing trend of unlinked cases, the government still took 3 weeks to finally implement this partial measure.
All of our petitions and cries have persistently fallen on deaf ears. It just simply harkened back to the time when SMRT and SBS Transit implemented a fare hike in disguise through distance fares. PAP backbenchers, including then-MP Halimah Yacob, tried to press the government to reconsider the policy in parliament but it fell on deaf ears, with then Transport Minister Raymond Lim simply turning aside all these issues raised.
I think all these reflects a wider issue, question and problem – that of the East Asian mentality that is still very much prevalent in Singapore’s culture and politics.
How the PAP government handled the advice and petitions on the dormitories is like how a typical East Asian authority figure does in micro-settings, like for instance, home, school or a workplace with a traditional Chinese boss, handles petitions to reconsider a direction, consider a new course of action or dissent – to treat these as “noise” and “petulance” and treat them with deafening silence.
I think many of us would have experienced how we tried to petition authority figures at home or in school about a policy direction that is hurting us only to be told off and shouted down or ignored and gaslighted.
It is only when something drastic happens, such as when a big fight happens at home or one under their authority runs away from home for a few days, choose to commit a crime (like theft or abusing drugs/glue) to raise the issue or ends up in a mental hospital or seeing a psychiatrist for the authority figure to sit up and listen, and still it is a huge “if” if the authority figure in question would do so.
A similar situation is played out in the schools where students deemed “bad apples” in grades or conduct or both would be shamed, yelled at and humiliated publicly, or at the very least, picked on, by the teachers, compounding the misery of being in an already harsh system in school where the slightest infringement, such as whispering to a classmate to borrow a pencil, would lead to arbitrary and humiliating punishment, such as being yelled at and made to stand in front of the school hall, and it is only after months or even years of this incessant treatment that this “bad apple” student is referred to an educational psychologist for treatment – when help could have come much earlier. This treatment is not reserved just for “pai kias”. In my primary school or even in secondary school days, super quiet students (because of some form of psychological condition or learning disability) also got this treatment in one way or another. Only those whose conditions were super obvious were spared.
That was what happened in the General Elections (GE) 2011 – a super big issue happened for PAP. It lost a GRC, almost lost 2 GRCs and an SMC. A newbie politician, Nicole Seah, almost unseated former PM Goh Chok Tong (GCT), if not for the presence of the strongly pro-PAP MacPherson ward, then part of Marine Parade GRC, that kept GCT and his team afloat.
And so, like a typical East Asian authority figure, at micro-level, when the “something big” happened, they try to maintain control by throwing out sweets and goodies (think CHAS, Medishield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package), putting on (at least) an appearance of listening (the Our Singapore Conversation) and loosening some aspects of the iron fist (like how PAP MPs and ministers tried to put on a kinder, gentler image and tolerating some dissent on their Facebook pages until GE 2015), and when the “sweets” and loosening calmed things down, the iron fist reverted again with new measures to prevent a repeat scenario – like the Administration of Justice Act, POFMA, making the minister’s decision on detentions under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act final and going out of the way to change the rules to ensure that only Halimah Yacob could be president.
Like how after a huge eruption happened at home, especially a Chinese one, the authority figures will usually revert to the harsh way of running the house and/or implement harsher rules once the carrot calmed things down for a while.
Gaslighting – it is not just the PAP that does it. Most of us who grew up in Chinese homes will know that the slightest hint of dissent would usually not be brooked, not even a slight frown, or expression of hurt or frustration by policies implemented, in the name of “honouring/respecting the authority figure”.
Questioning their decisions or policy directions, no matter how sensible the questions are, would get the response of “You think you are very smart? Don’t you know how grateful you should be living in this home? You get all three meals and a shelter unlike children in Africa. If you are not happy, shift out!”, is exactly the same kind of response the PAP and their influencers use, though at micro-level it is often cruder in nature.
It is either that or we would be threatened with being thrown out of the house arbitrarily or made to sleep in a dark, hot, mosquito infested room, for failing to toe lines, even if the trip-up was innocent and innocuous, just like how Hougang and Potong Pasir SMCs had their upgradings denied when they voted in Opposition candidates.
Unfortunately, in the East Asian mentality, those under authority are viewed by those in authority as something of their property, They (the ruled) belong to them (the rulers) and they (the ruled) exist for their (the ruler’s) benefit. That was why the PAP had no problem with raising the GST and water prices after their huge landslide win in GE 2015. Similar scenarios like these also play out at micro levels, in homes, workplaces and schools, albeit in different forms.
Case in point was how Amy Chua described the manner she treated her daughters in an extract from her book published in the Wall Street Journal.
Nas Daily and PAP influencers – they are just like the (outsider) uncles and aunties that authority figures at home would bring in to tell us either by yelling, hollering or putting on a nice face (Nas Daily), how good the authority figure in question is, to “be grateful” to the authority figure in question and cooperate with them. Some of these influencers choose to join the system either because they have been conditioned into it through its systemic nature and/or the cult of authority or because of the mentality that, if you can’t beat them, you join them. Influences deemed subversive to the East Asian mentality, values and line, like friends (even if they are good ones) and or films/shows are often heavily frowned on and thrown out, like how the PAP throws out foreign press that criticises it.
Contrast that with the West where it is perfectly fine to call other civilisations superior to theirs and engage in self-criticism of their own civilisation, though on the West, there is the other extreme to it, that of cultural nihilism.
But the question is, what about issues such as 38 Oxley Road and how does it fit in? What happened in 38 Oxley Road is like how when an East Asian parent respond when they get caught looking into their child’s diary or private lives and/or stealing their money (which does happen in some homes) and a subsequent storm emerges – they quietly and stoically try to tide through it and deflect away the “tantrum throwing”, while getting those outside uncles and aunties (the IBs) to “fix” the issue, maintaining course and finding ways to hit back in the future (like Li Shengwu’s prosecution).
It is only if the parent figure were get caught in an affair will they have their authority and ability to control eroded, like how 1MDB led to the BN’s downfall, but that is still an “if”.
Why am I bringing this up?
At the end of the day, this culture is not healthy for us. The reason why Chinese civilisation, in spite of its super long history, has produced far fewer inventions than the Western one in the span of its much shorter history, is because the East Asian mentality has always been about control and compliance and that’s why in the modern period, we — by and large — find ourselves mimicking and building on what came from the West (while simultaneously badmouthing them) instead of being the pacesetters.
Also, many have been hurt badly and are suffering from mental or emotional disorders or its negative effects, including myself, because of this cultural system and mentality, with many afraid to talk about it as it is difficult to find anyone to do so, in part because most fellow East Asians won’t really understand the issue because of its systemic-cultural causes, and also because in our culture it’s not easy to do so as well. And I think if we want change, it’s not just a change in leaders. It must also be a change in this cultural system too.