Raffles Stole Singapore

The Spectator
How Raffles stole the jewel of Singapore
Alex Colville
27 January 2018

The true founder of Singapore, the humane and diplomatic William Farquhar, has for centuries been unjustly eclipsed by his bullying, reckless superior

William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow
Nadia H. Wright
Entrepot Publishing (Malaysia), pp.258, £27.91

Accounts of the founding of the British Empire once echoed the pages of Boy’s Own, featuring visionaries, armed with a flag, a faith and a funny hat, arriving in exotic lands untouched by civilisation. Overcoming great odds, they would kick-start the regions’ histories, show the locals the proper way to live and extend the imperial pink on the map a few inches before sailing off into the history books. Cook in Australia, Rhodes in Africa, Clive in India: in the popular imagination, the Empire was built by remarkable men, all by themselves.

Singapore was no exception — and the myth endures to this day. Stamford Raffles continues to dominate its pedestals, revered as the inspired founder who built an international trading enclave from the island swamp at the foot of the Malay peninsula where he disembarked in 1819.

Into this dusty tale Nadia Wright throws a much-needed stick of revisionist dynamite. Raffles is here portrayed as a reckless, inept opportunist, a bully and a hypocrite, who stole the crown from the man actually responsible for building the entrepot. Spare a thought for Raffles’s second-in-command, a tall, gentle Scotsman named William Farquhar.

Most versions place Farquhar at the margins of the story, presenting him as the bumbling, incompetent caretaker of Raffles’s brainchild for the first three years of the territory’s history, wandering around in military uniform with his stick and his dogs. But without him, Wright argues, Singapore would never have survived.

Although some new research has allowed Farquhar a greater role, Wright goes into unprecedented detail in this respect, having sifted through piles of East India Company documents to unearth the truth. Farquhar, it is immediately obvious, was far from incompetent. In his previous post as commandant of Malacca, he had only been expected to oversee this Dutch possession while the Netherlands were occupied by Napoleon. Yet he managed to turn around the Malay state and its capital entirely, creating substantial profits after years of losses.

The great range of merchants who traded there — Arab, Indian, Chinese, Malay and European — affectionately knew him as the ‘Rajah of Malacca’; and news that Farquhar was to run the show in Singapore in the early 1820s gave more than 5,000 of these merchants the confidence to leave their homes in Malacca and risk settling in the fledgling trading post. So concerned were the Dutch, they even blockaded the harbour to prevent a mass exodus.

Farquhar’s secret in both settlements was to cooperate closely with the local population, using his expert knowledge of Malay culture and politics developed over 25 years in the East. He promoted trading relations by networking with the different communities of south-east Asia and often acted as a cultural go-between, explaining to the British why certain actions in Malacca would upset the Malays and suggesting diplomatic alternatives. He did everything possible to make Singapore appeal to local traders, even permitting gambling and opium dens, provided a licence was paid — which ended up funding the Singapore police.

That Farquhar’s role has been neglected for so long is extraordinary. But the more remarkable part of the story is that Singapore exists at all. From the start, Raffles did not inspire confidence. Singapore was considered just one in a long line of failed settlements that he had attempted to found in the South China Sea. His superiors in the East India Company despaired of anything he touched, and refused to back the project. He had caused diplomatic headaches in the past by trying to settle in Dutch territory, and his spell as lieutenant- governor of Java between 1811 and 1816 had haemorrhaged money. To one frustrated colleague he was ‘a man who sets a house on fire, and then runs away’.

When Raffles departed Singapore a few months after his arrival in 1819, he left Farquhar understaffed, underfunded and under-stocked, having issued hopelessly impractical orders to be carried out in his absence. Farquhar was directed to obtain supplies from Raffles’s command post six weeks’ journey away, rather than from another British port only eight days’ distance, whose governor Raffles disliked. That Farquhar managed to build up Singapore from scratch in these conditions is all the more impressive.

But keen to safeguard his legacy, Raffles returned almost four years later and removed Farquhar from his post on exaggerated, misleading and hypocritical charges, about which he kept him in the dark to prevent him organising a defence. These charges, and a later glowing memoir by Raffles’s widow, resulted in the two men swapping roles in the history books. Still dotted across the island are streets, squares, statues, schools, museums, libraries, the famous hotel and even a lighthouse all stamped with the name of Raffles. But there is not a single memorial to William Farquhar.

It is a pity that Wright focuses so narrowly on Farquhar’s desk job, as the glimpses we have of his personal life are intriguing. He soon dispensed with his uniform in favour of looser garments, and his household included a pet leopard, a tame tapir (which would arrive at the dinner table hoping for cake) and even a Malay mistress. Being a keen naturalist, he also commissioned Chinese artists to paint a magnificent series of watercolours, illustrating the fauna and flora of Malacca and Singapore, now preserved as the Willliam Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.

Clearly, he was a man devoted to the East and fascinated by its ancient, flourishing civilisations. Instead of remaining aloof, he chose to interact with the local population almost to the point of assimilation. This book, not to mention the existence of Singapore itself, is a reminder of how profitable this attitude could be. Going native didn’t always lead to the Heart of Darkness.

Raffles Stole Singapore

Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

The Guardian
Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’
Decca Aitkenhead
8 December 2017

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have free will – a book by a US academic has analysed the unconscious, evolutionary instincts driving modern society and the results are a chilling indictment on how far we are yet to come.

As the year’s end draws near, many of us look back and reflect on what we got right and got wrong during the past 12 months. For some, this will be a less agreeable experience than for others, but however you feel about your behaviour in 2017, you will almost certainly assume that the choices you made were your own.

You could not, according to John Bargh, be more wrong. The Yale psychologist has just written a book, Before You Know It, about the eye-opening extent to which our actions are dictated by forces within us to which we are almost entirely oblivious. Who knew, for example, that we feel less hostile to people different to ourselves after washing our hands? Or that the reason why you’re feeling so friendly is the cup of piping hot coffee you are holding? Or that parents who want to encourage their children to be generous will have more success by turning the room temperature up than by telling them to share? Bargh’s book, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “moves our understanding of the mysteries of human behaviour one giant step forward” – not least in helping make sense of some of the big stories of 2017.

The 62-year-old American is a big, smiley man, but his demeanour is at odds with the rather depressing message of his work. Human beings’ brains, it explains, are primed by prudent and rational evolutionary instincts to trust people who look like us, and to fear those who look “other” as a threat. This goes some way to explain why, despite all of modern society’s efforts to promote progressive values of openness and equality, and for all our stated intolerance of prejudice, social progress is so agonisingly slow. That’s pretty dispiriting, isn’t it?

“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”

If unconscious racism is an ancestral legacy, it is also reinforced by contemporary culture. Bargh offers a study of popular prime-time US TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Bones – in which participants who had never seen the programme before were shown scenes in which the main character interacted with either a black or white character. The scenes were edited, however, to show only the main character. The audio was also removed, so that participants could see only the main character’s non-verbal communication – facial expressions, gestures, body language – towards the off-screen character. They were then asked to judge how the visible character felt towards the unseen character.

“These are shows, remember,” Bargh says, “that intentionally tried to have equal-power black and white characters. It’s not like the black people on the show are all the criminals, and the white people are all the detectives. They have the black detective and white detective; they actually have equal power.”

The findings were chilling. The main character was consistently judged to be conspicuously more positive towards the show’s white characters, and more negative towards its black characters.

“They don’t script it that way. And it’s not intended by the producers or actors of the show. There are programmes that do intend it – but we’re even talking about the ones that don’t, and it still has this massive effect. It’s conveyed so powerfully to people watching that, after they see it, they have more negative automatic attitudes towards black people. The research found that the more they see of shows like that, the more they have more of a racist attitude.”

Anyone who has ever wondered why minorities often object about what colour a doll comes in, say, might reconsider their scepticism about the importance of culture after reading Bargh’s book. He presents a study of two sets of Asian-American five-year-old girls, who were asked to perform maths tests after being “primed” with activities designed to trigger their unconscious sense of identity. One group was asked to colour in pictures of Asians eating with chopsticks; the other to colour in pictures of a girl holding a doll. The first group dramatically outperformed the second in the maths test. By the age of just five, they had absorbed the cultural stereotypes that Asians are good at maths and girls are bad.

“These Asian-American girls are not hearing at home that girls can’t do maths,” Bargh points out. “These are Harvard preschool kids; the parents are, like, tiger mums and dads. A lot of them brought the children into the study thinking that being in this Harvard study at age five would help their girl get into Harvard at age 18: that’s how motivated they are. They’re not the ones who are telling the girls they can’t do maths. It’s in the culture we soak up, without even knowing it.”

Bargh decided to test his own unconscious racial bias, using a complex system of word association and physical reflexes devised to eliminate any possibility of him consciously dictating his responses. He was dismayed to discover that his unconscious associated “white” with “good” and “black” with “bad”. However, he found he could override his bias by deploying the power of imagination. He sat the tests again, and got opposite results, “simply by really trying to feel as if I was a black person. Now obviously with no experience, it’s laughable that I could try – but I really did try to convince myself temporarily that OK, I’m a black person. And I reversed the results.”

In a fascinating study conducted by Bargh, participants were invited to imagine they had a superpower that rendered them safe from all physical harm, and were then quizzed on their social attitudes. Half the participants were liberals, and half conservatives. The imaginary superpower had no impact on liberals’ social attitudes. “Feeling physically safe,” however, “significantly changed the conservative participants’ social attitudes to being similar to those of liberals.”

This worked, he explains, because research has found that “conservatives have larger fear centres of the brain. They’re more concerned with physical safety than liberals.” Once we feel afraid, our own fear can further distort our perception of actual danger. For example, research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling. “That happened to me,” Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

Even more pertinent to current world events is Bargh’s research into sexual harassment. In the 1990s, an esteemed law professor had studied supreme court cases of sexual harassment and concluded that 75% of the accused genuinely did not realise they were doing anything wrong. Intrigued, Bargh devised a study to see if this could really be true.

Participants were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire devised to reveal their willingness to use power over a woman to extract sexual favours if guaranteed to get away with it. Some were asked to rate a female participant’s attractiveness. Others were first primed by a word-association technique, using words such as “boss”, “authority”, “status” and “power”, and then asked to rate her. Bargh found the power-priming made no difference whatsoever to men who had scored low on sexual harassment and aggression tendencies. Among men who had scored highly, however, it was a very different case. Without the notion of power being activated in their brains, they found her unattractive. She only became attractive to them once the idea of power was active in their minds.

This, Bargh suggests, might explain how sexual harassers can genuinely tell themselves: “‘I’m behaving like anybody does when they’re attracted to somebody else. I’m flirting. I’m asking her out. I want to date her. I’m doing everything that you do if you’re attracted to somebody.’ What they don’t realise is the reason they’re attracted to her is because of their power over her. That’s what they don’t get.”

Perhaps the single most confronting revelation of Bargh’s work is its implications for consumer capitalism. It’s not that our economic model makes us sad – although it does – so much that making us sad is good for consumer capitalism.

He describes a study by a Harvard social psychologist. “It found that sad people not only buy more, but they pay more. They’re willing to pay more because, basically, when we’re sad, we want to change state.” Someone feeling sad would rather spend £100 than £10, “because it changes the state more. And stores know this.”

Ever wondered why shops like to pipe out mournful music, or why Walmart plays Céline Dion on a loop? Well, Bargh grins – there’s your answer.

“They don’t want us to be happy; they want us to be sad. Politicians want us to be fearful. All these things are not in our own interests at all. They’re manipulating us for their own interest, and against our own, and I think that’s horrible.”

Before You Know It; The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do, by John Bargh, is published by Penguin Random. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders minimum p&p of £1.99.

Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?

I on Singapore
Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?
13 October 2017

In a letter to the Straits Times, “Don’t undermine families when championing issues” (7 October 2017), Mr Christopher Goh “as a husband and a father”, expressed his concerns at the joint report on gender discrimination submitted by various non-governmental organisations to the United Nations.

Among other things, he wrote:

Similarly, the call to remove all “legal and policy” distinctions between single/unmarried parents and the traditional family nucleus unwisely legitimises broken marriages and relationships, and will impose tremendous costs on the state and society.

Such a move is the start of a slippery slope that will invariably lead to more broken families.

This drew a response from Ms Tomoe Suzuki in her letter, “Non-traditional families are different, not ‘broken'” (13 October 2017):

While Mr Christopher Goh Chun Kiat’s dedication to family is admirable, as the daughter of a single mother, I found his description of other families as “broken” deeply problematic (Don’t undermine families when championing issues; Oct 7).

That label assumes that something has failed with that family simply because of how it is structured, based on parental marital status and number of parents.

However, a family is a family when there is love. Families that fall outside the “normal” structure are not broken; they are merely different.

Contrary to Mr Goh’s assertion, I would argue that it is the presence of the legal and policy distinctions between single/unmarried parents and the traditional family nucleus that imposes tremendous costs on the state and society.

The married family unit with children is granted various forms of assistance by the state, especially access to housing. Single parents, however, have many obstacles to surmount in order to have housing.

For instance, the income cap for rental housing is $1,500. This is a catch-22 situation for single parents, as they cannot increase their earnings to better support their families, for fear of losing their housing.

Discriminatory legislation and policies serve to compound existing inequalities in Singapore, and low-income single/unmarried parents and their children are hit the hardest.

My mother and I were fortunate enough to be able to move in with my grandparents after my mother divorced.

But not everyone has this kind of privilege in terms of familial resources and support.

If we wish not to undermine families, then let us support them instead of invalidating them.

While the legal and policy issues are certainly important and have wide-reaching implications (which I have addressed in other posts), this post will focus only on a narrow question, namely: Are “non-traditional families” “broken”?

Two Views of “Family”

As explained in “The Family on Trial: Two views of “family””, at the heart of the debate lies two very different views of “family”.

The classical view affirms the intrinsic link between marriage and family. Marriage is regarded as a comprehensive, exclusive and permanent union, based on the sexual complementary of man and woman, which is intrinsically ordered to produce new life. This comprehensive union of husband and wife, together with their offspring, form a family. This is sometimes referred to as the natural family unit, such as under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is an inherent biological connection in the natural family unit under the classical view.

The revisionist view, on the other hand, regards the family as rooted in commitment between people. Sometimes, the word “love” is used. Therefore, this does not only include the “traditional” family structure of father, mother and child(ren), but includes those led by grandparents, single parents, and same-sex couples. Flesh-and-blood ties may or may not exist under the revisionist view. If they do, they are not necessarily relevant either.

There are good reasons to support and affirm the classical view of the family. Most fundamentally, this is the model which best protects the rights of children. Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her father and mother, as far as possible.

As the Singapore Court of Appeal opined in CX v CY (minor:custody and access) [2005] 3 SLR(R) 690 at [26], “There can be no doubt that the welfare of a child is best secured by letting him enjoy the love, care and support of both parents.”

Are “Non-traditional Families” “Broken”?

What about “non-traditional families”, such as single mother households?

There can certainly be no doubt about the beauty of the natural bond between a mother and her child. In the case of Soon Peck Wah v Woon Che Chye [1997] 3 SLR(R) 430, the Singapore Court of Appeal had this to say about motherhood:

45 … The bond between the natural mother and her child is one of the most unexplainable wonders of human nature. It should never be taken for granted or slighted. We have all heard of the story of the mother who fought a tiger with her bare hands to save her child from the ferocious beast. Such is the love and sacrifice of the maternal instinct. Since the beginning of civilisation to this age of consumer materialism, the mother’s love for her child remains just as strong and unchanging. This court would be doing a disservice to justice and humanity if it turned a blind eye to the most fundamental bond of mankind – between a mother and her child, by taking the child away from the mother…

By equal measure, the natural bond between a father and child is a great marvel of nature and should also be affirmed and respected.

It is important to bear in mind that single or unwed mothers do not land in their position overnight.

A woman may find herself in such a position in one of three ways:

1. Out-of-wedlock childbearing;
2. Divorce; or
3. Death of a husband (i.e. being widowed).

In each of these cases, there can be no doubt that there has been a loss to the child, since a fundamental bond has been broken in the child’s life: the natural bond with the child’s father. In many ways, the mother of the child has also suffered loss in each of these circumstances.

I certainly salute Ms Suzuki’s mother and grandparents for their sacrifices, and appreciate Ms Suzuki speaking in honour of them. While it is not my place to speculate as to the reasons for her parents’ divorce, there can be no doubt (and certainly is affirmed in her letter) that great hardship is vested on a mother and child when the husband and father leaves the family.


So, are “non-traditional families” “broken”?


When a child is separated from his or her father or mother, despite the natural bond that the child has with the two very people whose genetic material he or she inherits, there is a loss to the child in the breaking of those very fundamental bonds.

Likewise, whether a person becomes a single parent through out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce or death of a spouse, a deep and personal bond is broken.

Of course, this is not to demean those in single parent households. Instead, just as we treat wounds with special care, tenderness and compassion, by recognising brokenness, society can learn to restore those wounds and begin to make things right.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?

The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community

The Online Citizen
The Singapore Muslim Community and the Imam Issue
Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir
6 March 2017

It is well-known that Singapore is a multi-religious society. The 2014 report by Pew named our city-state as the most religiously diverse among the 232 countries studied. What is assumed in this discourse is that all religions are the same and subjected to similar state-society relations.

The fact is, Islam is the most regulated religion in our tiny island and this has been the case for decades. From the appointment of a Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, to the creation of a statutory board called the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) where the Mufti is located, and to the Administration of Muslim Law Act that has regulatory powers over local mosques and madrasahs (Islamic schools), there is no doubt that Islam is given a unique attention by the state.

A stark under-appreciation of this social reality, especially among the non-Muslims, is apparent to me in the decade or so that I have been teaching in our local universities. I have always asked my students, that if all the Churches were made to say the exact same thing for their Sunday service with a text provided by an office of a statutory board, how would the Christian community react? The students could not even begin to imagine this! Will this then breed mistrust among the Christian community? This is but just one issue besieging the Muslim populace in Singapore.

When I had coffee with a top local social scientist of NUS a couple of weeks back, we agreed that Islam is the most hierarchical and bureaucratized religion in Singapore. Failure to understand how Islam is managed leads to a failure in understanding the reaction of its local adherents.

This distrust of the Muslim religious elites amidst the disciplining of Islam, from prescribed texts for the weekly Friday prayer sermons, to appointed instructors to “upgrade Islam” through the Asatizah Recognition Scheme that makes it mandatory for every religious teacher to be registered (even those teaching Qur’anic reading in the local neighbourhoods), impact heavily on the religious elites. Many scholars have called this age as one characterised by a crisis of religious authority. The situation can be especially dire in our local Muslim community, given the unique structures bearing upon them.

Distrust breeds distrust. It is not that Singaporean Muslims are predisposed towards being rude or as the Minister of Law put it, “kurang ajar”, towards the state-endorsed religious authority. It is the structures that have been put in place that create such an environment.

The recent issue regarding the police report made against an Imam for making alleged “incendiary” supplications against Christians and Jews that are outside the MUIS-endorsed text cannot be disentangled from the issue of the autonomy of the Muslim clerics. I have engaged the local religious elites numerous times over the last few years and have rarely met a group that is more in fear. The culture of fear among the religious class is often talked about and in one of the engagements that I had with a group of religious elites, one of them candidly lamented, “We are directed and scripted.”

It has often been mentioned that attitude reflects leadership. The angry reaction of the Muslim community in light of the Imam issue should be seen against this backdrop. The absence of the voices of the religious elites in the initial stages of the debacle created a void in the community who then went online to make sense of the matter.

Last week, Assoc Prof Khairudin Aljunied was singled out in parliament for encouraging the “vilification” of the whistle-blower, Terence Nunis. The fact is that hundreds of Muslims had begun pitching in their views on various platforms after Nunis’ pronouncements on Facebook. This was substantiated in a belated statement by the Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Assoc Prof Yaacob Ibrahim, who mentioned that the video uploaded by Nunis had indeed “sparked a storm” and “generated many emotions both online and offline. Many in our community felt angry, because they believe that the postings could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and the asatizah in our Mosques”.

It is interesting to note that both Assoc Prof Khairudin and the Mufti appropriated a satirical and poetic style respectively, as means of social critique. However, it has been well-documented that the Singaporean brand of criticism is often manifested through humour, satire and poetics as seen in Talkingcock, Mr Brown, Yawning Bread, Jack Neo’s films and the like. Indirect criticism is characteristic of societies living under soft-authoritarian rule.

There are no differences in opinion that if the allegations against the Imam are proven to be true, his incitement has no place in our multi-religious society. But if it is not – and many among the Muslim community have come to this conclusion upon the explanations provided by numerous local religious scholars who have later gone public in discussing the meaning and context of the supplication – then sadly, the Muslim community will see this as yet another example of disciplining and an attempt to emasculate the local religious fraternity despite the state’s paradoxical pleas for Singaporean Muslims to give the local religious scholars their ears.

It remains to be seen in the aftermath of the Imam episode if the state would choose to go down the path of imposing further restrictions to ensure that the MUIS-endorsed texts be read to the letter, curtailing any creative license of preachers and punishing any dissent towards state-appointed authority. The more enlightened way must be to empower the religious scholars in the field and to give them ownership over their areas of expertise to prevent religious discourse from being co-opted, hijacked and subjected to ad hominem attacks.

The coming forward of a good number of religious elites, including its umbrella body, Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS), with regard to this Imam issue is a good development that needs to be applauded. The social media provides a ready platform for this. These attempts to speak truth to power should also be captured in the mainstream media. PERGAS’ need to again clarify their position after feeling that they were misrepresented in the Malay mainstream media regarding their statement towards Assoc Prof Khairudin is not a good sign. The perception that the Malay mainstream media is not balanced and selective in their reporting has also led many to turn to the cyber-sphere to air their perspectives.

In fostering this development of active citizenship, we need to keep an eye on encouraging diversity and not just promoting those with a certain kind of thinking that the state can easily manage. This is in line with what the PM had recently mentioned in his interview on February 24th in Today newspaper under the title, “Leaders must be able to take criticism, acknowledge mistakes”. Only then can we move forward as a nation.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community

Singaporean English is Almost Impossible to Pick Up

Atlas Obscura
Singaporean English is Almost Impossible to Pick Up
Urvija Banerji
2 May 2016

Wah lao! Why can’t I speak Singlish?

The Merlion is a famous statue and symbol of Singapore. “To merlion” in Singlish means to puke everywhere. (Photo: WolfgangSladkowski/CC BY 3.0)

“Two dollar onny, dis one,” a street vendor might say to you in Singapore. A local might reply, “Wah! So espensive one, cannot leh.”

While this might sound like broken English, it is an example of Singlish, the highly complicated English creole spoken in Singapore. Its staccato, off-grammar patois is the subject of much bemusement for visitors to the country, and it’s almost impossible for outsiders to imitate.

“Singlish is easy to learn, but hard to execute,” says Sai Pogaru, who moved to Singapore in 2001 and is now a citizen. “There is a certain flair to the language/accent. It actually requires lots of practice to sound authentic.”

Singlish is not just one creole: it’s an amalgamation of many different Southeast Asian dialects and pidgins all rolled up into one.

Singlish comes from the mixing of Singapore’s four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. English, now the lingua franca, was brought over by the British during Singapore’s period of colonization, which lasted from 1819 to 1963. Following its introduction into Singaporean schools, English began to permeate the streets outside them, and was picked up by the Malay, Chinese and Indian populations. After independence, the newly formed Singaporean government made the decision to continue teaching in English after identifying that there was a need for a common language in the country.

Many British expatriates moved back to England after Singapore’s independence. In the unregulated environment following their departure, the English spoken in Singapore became substantially influenced by Malay—the native language—and the other languages brought over by immigrants: Tamil and the Chinese Mandarin and Hokkien dialects.

The grammar of Singaporean English began to mirror the grammar of these languages. For example, a modern-day Singaporean could say “I go bus-stop wait for you,” to mean that he will wait for you at the bus stop. This phrase could be translated into either Malay or Chinese without having to change the grammatical structure of the sentence. Those unfamiliar with the grammatical structure of these languages, as a result, have a hard time picking up Singlish.

Words from the other languages became appropriated into the creole as well, creating an entire Singlish lexicon that is used today. The word “ang moh,” for example, is a Hokkien word which literally translates to “red hair,” but is used in Singlish to describe people of Caucasian descent. The Malay word “makan” is commonly used to mean food, or the act of eating. The Tamil word “goondu,” which means “fat” in its original language, is used in Singlish to describe a person who is not very smart.

An advertisement written in Singlish on the Singaporean island of Pulau Ubin. (Photo: Michael Elleray/CC BY 2.0)

Perhaps the most famous Singlish word is the ubiquitous “lah,” an example of the language’s more playful sensibilities. It is essentially a filler word with no meaning. “Lah” can be placed anywhere in a sentence, but is often used as a form of audible punctuation at the end. Another popular exclamation is “wah lao,” or the even more flamboyant “wah lao eh,” used to express surprise or wonder.

One of the many barriers to picking up Singlish is its complicated intonation. English is a stress-timed language, which means that some syllables are longer, and others are shorter. Singlish, however, is syllable-timed, which means that each syllable is pronounced for an equal amount of time, making Singlish far more staccato in nature.

Where it gets even more complicated is in the tones. English is a non-tonal language, which means that words do not have particular tones associated with them. Chinese, on the other hand, is a tonal language, in which words change their meaning depending on the tone used to speak them. Singlish retains all the tones of the Chinese words that it borrows, but maintains no tones in its English, Malay and Tamil words, making it a semi-tonal language.

There’s more. Though Singlish is prevalent all over Singapore, it operates on a spectrum dependent upon the circumstances, making it even harder to trace down. In formal settings, for example, Singlish tends to be toned down to its acrolectal form: Singlish words and grammatical structures are eliminated, and only the accent remains. In the day-to-day, however, a more colloquial form of Singlish is used.

A warning sign in Singapore written in the country’s four official languages: English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay. (Photo: Gabbe/Public Domain)

Pogaru, who moved to Singapore with his family at the age of eight, explains that his ability to speak Singlish only came when he joined the Singapore Armed Forces at the age of 18. “Singlish to me was just an accent with a “lah” thrown in at the end of a sentence,” he says of his opinion of the creole before joining the army. “I didn’t think much of it.”

His experience with Singlish drastically changed in his first year of National Service, the two-year period of compulsory service required of all male citizens of Singapore. “I vividly remember an incident in Basic Military Training where my sergeant told my platoon, ‘You all have 15 minutes. Go up and lepak [relax],’” says Pogaru. He spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out what “lepak” meant and what exactly the sergeant wanted. “Singlish was the language of communication in NS, and I realized that I would have to learn some new vocabulary to truly understand what was happening.”

Though Pogaru has worked hard to increase his understanding of Singlish over the years since his time in the army, he’s not quite sure he has it down yet. “Despite knowing Singlish, I still have not been able to impress my Singaporean friends with my attempts to sound local,” he says. “Guess I just have to keep practicing.”

Singaporean English is Almost Impossible to Pick Up

Culture Shock: Singapore

Culture Shock: Singapore

PAP’s History of Backstabbing

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, returning candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC at GE2015, boldly said in the PAP rally at Commonwealth on 7 September 2015: “I have just one message to send to the SDP: in the PAP, we do not have the tradition of backstabbing our mentors.” This prompted The Online Citizen to produce the following video.

Vivian Balakrishnan kept talking about how Lee Kuan Yew is the PAP. Well, if so, backstabbing mentors and comrades is the PAP way. Here we see how the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew made his entire career out of backstabbing his mentors and comrades.

John Laycock

In 1950, LKY returned to Singapore from the UK and Laycock gave LKY a job at his law firm where he was a senior partner. Laycock not only take LKY as his personal pupil but paid him $500 a month, which at that time was five times the median salary. He then also gave LKY’s wife a job there. In 1951, Laycock asked LKY to be his election agent for the General Elections and LKY agreed. Laycock later allowed LKY to take on cases for the trade union ― the cases which would make LKY’s name. He let LKY use his admin staff for political activities. Laycock also made LKY a partner in his firm.

In return, LKY did not support Laycock in the 1955 elections, but started his own political party (PAP) and in his campaign speeches he openly attacked the European establishment and criticized them heavily. A few months later, Laycock asked LKY to leave his company.

Devan Nair

Devan Nair was one of the founding members of the PAP but LKY saw him as a threat. In the 1955 elections, LKY sabotaged Nair’s campaign. Nair was supposed to get his help for ferrying his supporters to the polls but LKY’s wife denied the use of those cars to Nair, causing Nair to lose Farrer Park by a tiny margin. In his autobiography, LKY wrote: “Devan Nair lost and I was greatly relieved.” All this when Nair was a fellow party member and comrade to him.

Despite everything, Nair stood by LKY through thick and thin, turning back on his old comrades to stand by LKY. He was a true friend to LKY. In 1985, Nair was forced to resign from the Presidency under unclear circumstances. LKY could have left it at that. He could’ve let Nair go off quietly into the sunset. But LKY alleged that Nair was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a wife-beater, that he was mentally-impaired, using information that could only have come from Nair’s personal private medical records. LKY put all this on a white paper in Parliament in 1988.

Nair later wrote an open letter to LKY, angrily attacking this: “Disgusting concoction of misinterpreted truths, half truths, and untruths. Not to speak of gaping omissions.” He said: “I have been a victim of a total smear. A furious attempt at utter demolition.”

Lim Chin Siong

Lim Chin Siong was Assemblyman for Bukit Timah and one of the three PAP members of the Legislative Assembly. LKY also saw Lim Chin Siong as his rival in PAP. In 1956, the Lim Yew Hock government accused Lim Chin Siong of saying “beat the police” in a speech that preceded a riot. LKY was sitting on that stage behind Lim Chin Siong at that speech. He knew that Lim Chin Siong had specifically told the crowd NOT to beat the police. But in the Assembly, when Minister Chew Swee Kee announced that Lim Chin Siong had been detained without trial for saying “beat the police”, LKY neither corrected Chew nor condemned the arrest.

Other fellow PAP members

Before the 1959 Elections, LKY had promised to release all political detainees from prison if PAP won the elections. But a month before the elections, LKY met the British colonial governor William Good. To Good’s atonishment, LKY told him that his intention was to release only six of the detainees. He had no obligation to the rest of his party members who were in prison because they were his rivals within the party. He had no intention of releasing any others.

Tunku Abdul Rahman

From 1961 to 1963, LKY was working with Tunku Abdul Rahman to create Malaysia. But Tunku kept complaining to the British that LKY kept trying to stab him in the back. As it became clear that LKY was manipulating the merger to save his own political career by destroying his political opponents in Singapore, Tunku got angrier and angrier. At one point, Tunku was “highly offended by LKY’s deceit”. He derided LKY as spineless. He declared, “I can never trust that man again.” He also described LKY as a thoroughly untrustworthy man.

Goh Keng Swee

Goh Keng Swee was LKY’s Economics tutor in Raffles College and after 1959 was his Finance Minister. In November 1962, LKY was about to arrest all his important political opponents and detain them without trial. But LKY was worried that this would make him really unpopular. So LKY actually suggested to the British that before the arrests, he would resign as Prime Minister, leaving Goh Keng Swee who would succeed him as Prime Minister to take the blame for the arrest, thus allowing himself to escape blame and return later as PAP’s and Singapore’s saviour.


Shortly after Balakrishnan’s speech about PAP not having a history of backstabbing, an image of him with the quote was posted on his Facebook page. But a few hours later, it was gone. Also, the video of that particular Balakrishnan’s speech rally had been deleted from the PAP’s Youtube channel. Clearly he recognizes that he has made a mistake. He once said in Parliament: “Always be honest and upfront with your people. All of us will make mistakes. When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so. But don’t cover up.”

The video can be downloaded from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXcJL7f0Mw8

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #sgpolitics #GE2015 #LeeKuanYew #VivianBalakrishnan

PAP’s History of Backstabbing