Letter to teenage nephew on an imaginary post-GE2020 Singapore

My dear nephew,

The pandemic has separated us and I’ve missed you.

I can’t wait to see you when you return to serve National Service, but you will be returning to a very different Singapore you have called your second home for the last 18 years.

You see, Singapore has spoken at our General Election (GE) 2020—we wanted ONLY the ruling party to govern us for another five years. As a result, the opposition has been completely destroyed. There will be zero alternative voices in Parliament in this new age of COVID-19, anxiety and loss.

But it would seem like it’s business as usual here, but it’s not. Your favourite haunts like the Pokemon store in Jewel Airport and the prata and teh-tarik stall continue to operate, but there is a sense of dread and heaviness in the air.

One day you will better understand, but when we said “no” to alternative voices, we also said “no” to an 80-year-old political veteran who has come out of retirement to make things better.

We have said “no” to the son of Lee Kuan Yew, and the brother of the PM, who has warned us that things are not right here.

We have said “no” to minorities who question discriminatory practices. We have said “no” to accountability and transparency. We have said “no” to hope.

You might ask, “If the GE results signal a resounding “yes” to the ruling party, then why are Singaporeans feeling less than jubilant and oddly unhappy?”

It is because GE 2020 is a pandemic election. We were all made to leave our homes to vote and risk our lives in the thick of a pandemic. GE2020 results are driven by fear and not confidence.

The fear that we are helpless without them. The fear that they will do us in if we vote otherwise. The fear that we are not good enough to consider alternatives, if not for ourselves, than for others. Fear produces a “flight to safety” response and Singapore has fled to the safety of the familiar.

Remember the old lady in Ang Mo Kio with a crooked back who served you teh-tarik? I’m thankful she is not your grandmother, but she certainly is someone else’s. She has to clean tables for $5-6/hour because she can’t use her own savings. You will see elderlies like her in every corner you turn. They will be cleaning our streets, clearing our tables and pushing cardboards under the scorching sun.

We have fled to the safety of such a familiar. I have not been able to find work since November 2019, which means I cannot take you to your favourite sushi bar. I served National Service, studied and worked hard for three degrees but jobs will be given to foreigners for a lot less. They did not serve a single day in the army.

This will be another familiar sight to you. You will find both old and young degree holders serving tables, driving taxis and assuming social distancing jobs for $10/hour or less, while those in places of power will make in one minute what you make in a month.

But be careful what you say on social media— even our PM’s nephew was charged by the government for a private Facebook post he made. We have fled to the safety of such a familiar.

Finally I want to tell you that this letter is not a lesson in politics, as it is about the courage to be true to yourself and listen to your inner voice.

You see, fear tells us something is not right and requires immediate and close attention. Its purpose is to move us into action to protect life, so we can fight or flee. If there is so much fear all round, it is because many things are not right here.

Singapore fled but you don’t have to. Fear will cripple you, block your conscience and rob you of authenticity and potential. It will make you feel oddly unhappy—but only if you let it.I miss you but I will miss Singapore more.

Yours truly,

Uncle Jamie Shum

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