What Being (Me) Means to Singapore

Tis a Pity I’m a Whore

When Ms. Molly Meek invited me to pen an article with the title, “What being (Molly) means to Singapore,” I was hesitant about accepting the offer. I hardly know who I am and I can hardly imagine expressing myself. My face has always been painted by the ventriloquizing pimps who are in charge—their fingers are my limbs, their movements my expression, their will my being.

I have known Molly ever since she was born, but what is Molly Meek in a territory where citizen and dissident are mutually exclusive categories? And what is a citizen in a space where patriotism is only possible via dissidence?

To me—that is to say, to the people who form my soul—Molly is an anonymous anomaly. She would be faceless if not for her anonymity because she is but one of many who form the fabric of me into which those nimble fingers penetrate. Her audacity to be anonymous, to have a face via disappearance is something that is frowned upon. She owes it to me. It makes me an incoherent whole. Or glass fragments exquisitely glued together into a smiling figurine. Try embracing me and you will be cut. But back to Molly. She is technically a Singaporean, I suppose. And technically not. It depends on where your technicality lies.

As a citizen, Molly Meek does not quite exist. She is just like any other. She is a target to be managed. If she is male, she is made for killing. If she is female, she is made for making. Like all citizens, she is made in me and thus made for me. This will not change unless she renounces her citizenship at the right office. She is mine, but I am not hers. Possession is never mutual. Somehow, I hate to say this, but it is true.

But Molly Meek cannot be Singaporean. Sure, she serves as one. She is a unit of productivity. She sustains me. I hate her for it. But I feel her resistance . . . Or perhaps I feel only when she resists. I am because she is not. But, still, she is not. I smother her with my hands while the fingers spread my legs wider. She struggles and I almost enjoy it—perhaps sadistically, perhaps because the struggle stirs something deep in me. She is not Singaporean. Neither is she a valued foreigner. She is a stateless stitch, a blemish on an otherwise flawless mask. While others are nationalistically writing about what being Singaporean means to them, she comes up with this.

She wants my love. How could I love when at my core are fingers, and not a heart. I want her love. In another incarnation, I may have her love and the heart to reciprocate. But how do I . . . Oh Molly, my voice is fading . . . there’s see a disfigured doppelgänger in the mirror. It’s not me . . . it’s become me . . .

Forgetting Foreigners For a While

First, citizens express their unhappiness when they perceive that their country seems to be the only one in the world that treats non-citizens better than citizens. So, it is decided that citizens should be more clearly distinguished from non-citizens. Make PRs pay higher fees, for example. Logic behind the higher-fees paradigm: If I give you two slaps, I’m treating you well because I’m going to give your friend three and that random stranger on the street four.

Then Permanent Residents raise their unhappiness: “Hey, we (some of us anyway) have to serve NS too but you are making us pay higher school fees!” (But what’s wrong with making PRs pay higher fees? They are not foreigners, but they are not citizens either, so why should they get the full benefits of citizenship such as being slapped one time less by the fair government?)

Or perhaps, from another perspective, it becomes apparent that the closer one gets to citizenship, the worse the deal one gets. Foreigners: no NS and no way to make them serve NS. PRs: Second-generation PRs and beyond have to serve NS, but they at least they have some choice in the sense that the first generation people are likely to be citizens of some other country and the second generation can blame their parents for not going back home to save them from hell. Citizens: No escape from NS unless their parents are rich enough to send them overseas while they are young enough. (I have to confess that I’m not sure if NS is the main issue or if it is just an example.)

How many citizens truly care about how much more in school fees PRs have to pay though? No doubt, many have complained that it is not clear at all what benefits being a Singapore citizen brings. And many people seem upset by the presence of foreigners in Singapore. But this does not mean that simply by making PRs and foreigners pay more for education (as an example) should appease the complaining Singaporeans. If the main point of contention is that the government has allowed too many foreigners into Singapore and this is not benefitting Singaporeans, superficial measures like raising school fees for PRs may in fact aggravate the situation. After all, one possible effect of such measures is PRs would be more inclined to take up citizenship, and if they do, it does not change the fact that they are still competing with the Singaporeans (more legitimately than ever) who are already here for limited things like jobs. Perhaps one day the government would distinguish between old citizens and new immigrants as well, just to show millions of people that they should continue voting for the right politicians. What is conveniently avoided is the question of why it is so easy for a foreigner to get a PR here, and why the government is allowing them in in such great numbers—at the expense of those who do not come from other places. (“Yes, you are making them pay more fees. But so what? They have already taken my place in the university thanks to you.”)

People also sometimes seem more concerned about non-citizens being safe(r) from the disadvantages of citizenship than they are about non-citizens enjoying the benefits of citizenship. Recycling to the analogy used earlier (because I am not creative), it is not so much “Hey, why is he getting a sweet just like me?” than it is “Hey, why is he not getting the shit I’m getting?!” The government is obliged to address the fact that its policies have made citizenship a nightmare. It won’t. It will never address it unless the people decide once and for all to change who makes up the government. But we know Singaporeans will never do that. In this ridiculous city, even certain credible opposition parties (credible because they are mild) seem to want the same government to remain in power. (Incredulous credibility.) I will be more than glad to publish a public apology for maligning poor Singaporeans if they are able to prove me wrong, say within a year. Otherwise I will stand by the theory that Singapore contains the most number of people per capita who love oppressive governance and embrace it as exemplary leadership. (If you are going to gripe about how acerbic and digressive I am, I am afraid you might be one of those Singaporeans I’ve just described. Please pardon me. I don’t know that such people actually read my blog.)

Perhaps we should consider things in a more creative even if completely irrational and wrong way (but do remember what I said about being right in the previous post). We can remove foreigners and PRs from the discussion and we will still be restlessly searching for a means of catching the elusive frustrations rolling around mysteriously in our hearts. (Hearts are those things that many Singaporeans have forgotten that they possess and can learn to take ownership of, in case the reader is wondering.) Foreigners are just for the sake of comparison. To put it as succinctly as I can, though at the expense of tact, people are just upset about how they have been screwed by forces external to themselves. Forces that force, such as, you know, governments.

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