Monday, August 15, 2011

Lost in one’s own country

One Man's Meat

Despite the nation’s ‘mid-life crisis’ and often feeling like a stranger in his own land, Mr Brown and many of his fellow countrymen are still proud to call Singapore their home.

ON Tuesday afternoon, popular Singapore satirist Mr Brown reminded his wife not to lose sight of their kids in the MRT train.

“Our two kids were wearing red and white and I was worried we could not find them as everyone else’s children were wearing red and white, too” related Lee Kin Mun, whose childhood nickname is Mr Brown.

Like most Singaporeans on the MRT, the Lee family – minus nine-year-old Faith, their eldest child – was on their way to watch the National Day parade at Marina Bay waterfront in Singapore.

That evening, while his wife and kids watched from the stands, Mr Brown was working – taking photographs of the island republic’s 46th birthday celebration.

“Is Singapore facing a mid-life crisis?” I asked the 42-year-old blogger who describes himself as “the accidental author of popular Singapore website that has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997”.

Fresh from his 10km bicycle ride from his Tampines HDB flat to his office in Kampong Glam, Mr Brown wryly said: “We are starting to want to look for other women. We just had five new members of parliament from the opposition. We are not so loyal anymore. We want some variety in our life.

“As a nation, we are looking for something more than just that one person, that one party. We want to party more.”

The “woman” Mr Brown is talking about is the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) which has won every general election since 1959.

How is Singapore 2011 compared with Singapore 2001?

“I don’t think people feel very well off. We are still well provided for, but the Singaporean dream of owning a car, a house and maybe private property is kind of out of reach for most people in the middle class. Wages have not kept up with the rising cost of living,” the satirist lamented.

“Ten years ago we did not have that many foreign workers here. And while most Singaporeans don’t have anything against foreigners, the rate at which they come in and their lack of integration are causing lots of friction in society.

“You walk into an MRT carriage and sometimes you are the only Singaporean surrounded by foreigners – you can tell by their accent.”

Foreigners, according to the blogger, need to change their behaviour and become more integrated into Singapore society.

For example, he said, workers from China must realise that the island republic is not “Little China”, and they should not assume the other races in multi-racial Singapore spoke Chinese.

“But the football team that whacked Malaysia are made of...” I started.

“Foreign talents. You must use the right term,” Mr Brown interjected with a mischievous grin.

Are you proud that Singapore kicked Malaysia out of the World Cup?

“It is with mixed feelings. On one hand, yeah, we won. But on the other hand, it is the same feeling as when we won an Olympic silver medal in table tennis. Most Singaporeans went ‘it would be nicer if somebody born and bred here had won it,’” he explained.

But aren’t they Singaporean?

“Yeah, right. They are...on paper. But maybe 10 years from now people will accept them as true Singaporeans,” he said.

“But still, that victory against the Malaysian football team was sweet.”

“When we beat Malaysia it was like we won the World Cup. That is the way we are, as we will never win the World Cup in my lifetime,” he explained.

“Are you the voice of dissent in Singapore?” I asked Mr Brown, who used to write a column in Today newspaper from 2003 to 2006 but was “suspended indefinitely” when the government did not find his comment – “the price of goods went up after the 2006 polls” – funny.

“Dissent is a strong word. I think I am the voice of satire,” said the blogger, who produces multimedia content for corporate and government clients.

“I am like most Singaporeans. We sit at home and we complain. We agree that there are good things about Singapore, but at the same time we are quite quick to point out where the gaps are. In my case, I just say it louder than most people.”

Where is Singapore heading?

“Hell knows. Everybody is giving me doom and gloom stories. I think it is going to be more competitive for us,” he said.

“But adversity is healthy. I think we will do okay, as we are not strangers to reinventing ourselves.”