Singapore Lecture Series at Brown (II)

April 25, 2006 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

About three weeks ago, I posted an email I received about the SLS at Brown. Today the New Paper had several articles on the forum. It’s a pity I can’t find any first hand accounts on Google blogsearch and technorati for this. Doesn’t any of the participants blog? Heh.

These two I found from google.

Now just who is a S’porean?
Singaporean students at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, met at a forum to ponder this question:

By Ng Tze Yong
25 April 2006

EARLIER this month, 10 young Singaporeans met Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in a TV forum.

They had tough questions. And they wanted answers.

But unknown to them, halfway across the world, other Singaporeans had the same thing on their minds.

In the city of Providence, close to New York, Singaporean students at Brown University organised their own forum.

Held on 14 and 15 Apr, the forum focused on one question: Who is a Singaporean?

Titled ‘From Dot To Globe’, it aimed at finding out what being Singaporean meant in a globalised world.

Among the four who spoke were Dr Cherian George, author of Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation and Mr Alfian Sa’at, a poet-playwright and gay activist. They were flown in from Singapore.


They were joined by Dr Linda Yuen-Ching Lim, an expert in South-east Asia economics, and acclaimed writer Dr Shirley Lim Geok-lin. Both are professors based in the US.

About 60 students, mostly Singaporeans, attended. Many travelled from universities all over north-east US.

Hot topics discussed (see report, on facing page) included Singapore’s policy towards Malays, press freedom and the Internal Security Act.

‘It was really intense,’ said Dr Shirley Lim. ‘The students asked about issues that cut really close to the bone.’

For the 20-odd student organisers, the forum was the fruit of six months of hard work. But it also turned out to be a journey of self-reflection.

Ms Poon Huiling, 20, is the co-president of the Singaporean group Brown University Merlions (BUM).

The second-year undergraduate talked about the embarrassment she faced when an American classmate asked her about Singapore.

‘I was stumped,’ she said. ‘Here I was, just having entered university and all ready to change the world, and I couldn’t even explain where I came from.’

Ms Poon is a Singapore PR. She was born in Malaysia but has been living in Singapore since she was two months old.

‘I don’t identify with Singapore, period,’ she said.

For her, Singapore is ‘a nice and safe place to live’. It is where her family and friends are. But it isn’t home.

‘If they uproot, I will go with them,’ she said casually.

For Mr Teo Eng Siang, a 19-year-old first-year undergraduate, leaving Singapore last August forced him to think about what being Singaporean means.

‘You meet people from so many different cultures and you start to wonder what’s your culture,’ he said.

‘Singaporean identity cannot be just about how much you love char kuay teow or kaya toast, right?’

Driven by this search, BUM started planning last September.

They sent out e-mail invitations to prospective speakers that included people like Prof Chan Heng Chee (Singapore’s Ambassador to the US) and former NMP Claire Chiang.

Some said no, some said maybe. Fitting the speakers’ schedules was a problem.


The organisers also sent out e-mails to Singaporean students in the region, offering their rooms for accommodation.

After ‘writing proposals after endless proposals’, BUM finally convinced various university departments, such as the International Relations department, to donate almost US$7,000 ($11,200).

The parents of the students chipped in with another US$2,000.

With this, the four speakers were flown in and hosted. This is the second forum organised by BUM.

The inaugural one last year saw speakers such as political dissident Francis Seow and film-maker Colin Goh. Titled Crossroads, the forum discussed democracy and freedom of expression in Singapore.

BUM hopes to make it an annual feature.

‘We are very passionate about it,’ said Ms Janemee Wong, 24, a third-year undergraduate.

Even with parental objections.

‘My mum told me before I came here: ‘No politics.’,’ said Ms Serene Goh, 21, a third-year undergraduate.

But she helped organise it. She was in charge of fund-raising.

‘I don’t see this as politics,’ she added.

What some speakers said:

It’s all because of the Singlish, lah!

25 April 2006

WHY can’t Singapore be like New York? Someone asked Dr Shirley Lim Geok-lin at the forum.

After all, New York is also a global city. But there, people come and go all the time.

If Singapore wants to be a global city, the student asked, why does the Government label us as ‘stayers’ and ‘quitters’.

In her lecture, Dr Lim, 62, an award-winning writer, had pointed out the paradox of Singapore the Home versus Singapore the Global City.

The Government wants Singaporeans to travel and work abroad. It wants us to be global citizens. But it also wants us to leave our hearts with Singapore.

‘To do that, you need a strong sense of Singaporean identity to begin with,’ Dr Lim said. ‘But what is Singaporean identity?’

Is it our history? Our culture? Or our food? No. Dr Lim believes it’s the Singlish, lah.

‘Singlish is the most intimate way Singaporeans connect with who they really are.’

So why is there a campaign to curtail the use of Singlish?

Maybe it stems from a belief that anything global is better and anything local inferior, she said.

We teach Shakespeare in school, not South-east Asian literature. We watch Hollywood blockbusters, not homegrown movies. We watch the EPL, not the S-League.

‘It seems we still have a colonised mentality,’ she said.


Not liberal but democratic

25 April 2006

SINGAPORE may not be liberal, but we can STYL not found claim to be a democracy in our own way.

That was Dr Cherian George’s message to the audience of Singaporean students.

Liberal democracies play a tough balancing act. Even as they heed the will of the majority, they have to respect the rights of the minority.

If 99 per cent of the population are against, say, allowing a magazine to be published, the government in a liberal society must still respect the rights of the one per cent who wants to read it.

The magazine will be brought in.

Here, the system is clear: Majority wins.

Singapore can’t claim to be liberal. But democratic? Definitely.

‘Democracy is simply the rule of the majority,’ said Dr George, 40, author of Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation.


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Ego Boosting/ Sian Char Boh sites; JC Principal’s Opening Address Blood paintings; First class physics tuition

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