Riot In Singapore

by Belle Waring on December 9, 2013

There was a truly unprecedented riot in Singapore’s Little India neighborhood last night. (Video report from the BBC, Channel News Asia, Al Jazeera’s good report.) Our family just moved house, out to the wilds of Bukit Batok (a lovely apartment, actually, next to the Bukit Gombak MRT). Up till October, though, we were living right up the road from the spot where it took place, like 700m away; we would have been able to hear the yelling no question, and the bus exploding with what I imagine would have been rather startling ease. The riot started when a private bus, driven by a Singaporean, struck and killed an Indian worker while backing up. The bus driver was injured in the riot, and the bus itself destroyed completely. There is video of the windshield being smashed, and later footage of the bus completely aflame, suddenly punctuated by the gas tank bursting. Ambulances and, later, police cars (??! there aren’t enough interrobangs to express my feelings about typing this sentence) were also turned over and torched. A number of policemen were injured in the riot, as were some rioters, but the police never fired on the crowd, and got things under control within two hours, and happily no one else died. The cops were able to get there in a hurry because the Tanglin Police Post (bigger than a station, and more important) is about 500m away. They’ve had a big photo on one of their recruiting ads for ages, on a banner on the side of the building, that shows a bunch of ethnically diverse police officers armed with riot gear and huge plastic shields. I used to think, whenever I rode past in the taxi, so exhausted from work and in terrible pain, at the end of a thirty minute drive, with my head fallen to one side and my cheekbone pressed flat on the glass like skinless chicken breast against the cold plastic in the butcher’s section, “well, they ain’t never going to get the chance to do that.”

Men from India and Bangladesh are the worker bees that erect the glistening towers that are constantly forming in Singapore, everywhere a maze of cranes, everywhere a new cluster of three towers made of steel and glass, everywhere the incessant sound of the bright red jungle dirt being dug up and pounded down with huge rams to make room for the foundations of new towers. Everywhere. Everywhere a “showflat,” a thrown-together pretend thing made of wood and meagre drywall, representing the biggest flat in the entire condo, implausibly well-furnished (sometimes with items from my store, happily), with lack-luster balloons outside, and nothing that costs less than a million dollars, not the smallest flat, not in Sengkang, not nowhere. But still there are shiny young Singaporean couples going inside—how not? Bangladeshi and Indian workers toil all day in the brutal sun, in a raw red pit of torn earth. The sun at the equator is not friendly. My father told me this when I was little, because he was a sailor for a while and one time worked on a boat with my godfather that went down to Brazil and up the Amazon river. He told me this and I always wanted to feel. When it is only 9 o’clock in the morning, the sun already has that weight to it, that power. This is a thing that I love. I love it when it is August, at the beach, in East Hampton, and there is a breeze, but I can lie down and feel this heaviness. I love it then. I feel as if someone had taken the lead aprons they make you wear during X-rays and pushed them down all over me, but made of gold, and equally, everywhere, even between my thighs, even in the hollows of my temples, even among my eyelashes, pushing down heavily—you couldn’t shake this cover over someone. It has only…come down. Forcefully. I like that it pushes me down into the sand and makes it difficult to sit up. Even in Singapore I like it, but next to the pool, and briefly, because there is the golden heavy weight, the true weight of gold that is like lead, but the covering has been heated also before being applied. You want to get out from under it before it burns you. It is like sitting too close to a well-made fire in the fireplace, you must turn your face away at a certain point, you cannot keep it there and look at those leaping things any longer.

But in Singapore these men work every day in this sun, all day. When it rains it is cooling—but they must work through that also, right through—you can see them guiding the slippery yellow maw of the construction machine into the slick red holes, even when it is white with rain. White! At the equator when it rains the air is white with water. You feel like there can’t be any space to have air to breathe, that you will drown with rain. Many, many foreign workers are housed in huge sets of barracks, away from anyone else, or anything else, like a subway station or a movie theater. Others are housed on-site, at the place where they are building the condo. They use old shipping containers for the housing, stacking one atop the other, cutting holes for fans and doors, and building a wooden stairway outside. How hot is it in there? How hot, when you finish work and go to bed? In a shipping container that has been in the sun all day? At our old house we saw three condos go from nothing to complete, a number of others finished, and so many started that I don’t even know. With a condo that had only one building, this small group of men built the entire thing, really. Other people came in at various stages I guess, but a small gang built a goddamn 20-story building out of nothing in 16 months! They painted the interiors! I think they must have felt a great sense of pride, honestly.

Foreign workers get one day off a week: Sunday. Most workers are in the barracks out in the jungle. There is a lot of undeveloped land in Singapore, surprisingly, because all development since independence has been carefully planned, from the start: instead of sprawling suburbs, as you get away from the downtown there are “new towns”, with high-rise apartment buildings and shops, that all cluster around MRT stations, with, I’d say, 2/3 also connected via the highways. All the workers want to go to the same place: Little India. They can buy food from home, they can use internet cafes to talk to their family (their salaries are so low it’s not worth wasting any of it on phone calls, sadly), they can watch Bollywood movies, they can visit houses of ill-repute, etc. The neighborhood itself is very small. Private buses owned or chartered by either the people running the barracks or the people currently hiring the given group of workers (I am ignorant about the specifics, but there are tons of private buses doing this) drive the men into Little India in the morning and come pick them up at night. It is the only place in Singapore that I have ever felt even vaguely unsafe. And this is not because Indian and Bangladeshi workers are scary! Rather, it’s that there are nothing but men in the streets, everywhere, entirely, in really quite huge crowds and thronged sidewalks, holding hands, and laughing, and spilling onto streets on which cars honk their horns in futile protest. Surging waves of men, everywhere. And then just me. So, also John. There is somewhat of a minor ‘was that a legitimate bump into me in this crowd or not?’ groping issue. It’s more that I feel very strongly that I am a delicious steak and everyone around me is starving to death, as in a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Daffy Duck and Porky Pig are adrift in a lifeboat and begin to see one another as pork chops and so on. It’s just a weird way to get looked at by so many people. Truly as if I were food and so many hungry eyes looking at me at once. Not..anything. Food. Not exactly hostile! Implacable? No, ha! could be placated. Entirely without pretense. That. How would you get so alone with each other, only men, all the time, that you would look like that?

The place where the riot broke out is one of the only places where you can just sit down on the grass with your friends and chill out. There are two wide grassy areas at each side of Hampshire Road as it T-bones into Race Course Road. There is a big soccer field behind, but I don’t see as many people on it and never see anyone playing, so I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to go in. Because if they could play soccer they would—these dudes are bored! They used to have a cricket pitch (? are they called pitches?) set up in this triangle of grass off Newton Circus and I would see them playing when I came home from work, as I was stopped in traffic at the top of the overpass, but there’s a showflat there now. It too will be erased, just like the row of shophouses that stood there in the 1950s, where someone I know was born at home, in his mother’s bed. There was a real kampong then, on the other side of the canal and Kampong Java Road, a Malay village with houses on bamboo stilts and chickens running around. Just like the place these Bangladeshi workers came from. And now it’s a forest of towers.

If they have the money, some foreign workers buy beer and sit and drink it there on the grass and eat muruku (snacky thingies). I’m certain that will be made illegal now. Strict enforcement of no drinking in public, all over the place, too. I feel sorry for these men, though, it seems like a very difficult way to live. To end this on a somewhat unfortunate Mustache of Understanding note, I can tell you that both of my ethnically Chinese cabbies today were gunning for the severest crackdown ever (to be fair, it was a huge fucking riot and this never happens in Singapore, not in 40 years—everyone is just walking around shocked). When I mentioned how I go to Little India on Sundays sometimes and said that it was odd to be surrounded by nothing but men, he said, “and anyway they all look the same.” Here he turned around in his seat and pulled his hand up and down before his face as if he were making a mask in the air, “black.”

{ 108 comments }

1

NomadUK 12.09.13 at 12:32 pm

Singapore is the dystopian hellhole that the Right want to drag us all toward. Every time I hear anything about the place, all I can think of is some 1970s film like THX1138 or Rollerball. Or H G Wells and his time traveller.

God, how many times does this story need to be told and relearned before we get it? Will we ever?

2

MPAVictoria 12.09.13 at 1:25 pm

“Singapore is the dystopian hellhole that the Right want to drag us all toward. Every time I hear anything about the place, all I can think of is some 1970s film like THX1138 or Rollerball. Or H G Wells and his time traveller.”

Well not entirely this but kinda this.

3

MPAVictoria 12.09.13 at 1:51 pm

Also, glad that you and the family are safe and sound Belle.

4

Belle Waring 12.09.13 at 2:00 pm

The strange thing about that though is that many of Singapore’s most successful programs are explicitly based on Fabian socialism, and the American right would never tolerate anything like them in a billion years. In the subsidized public housing that works so well that 80% of Singaporeans own their own homes, there has to be, in a given area, a mix of ethnicities that reflects the city-state as a whole. (To be fair some feel this dilutes the power of minority voting blocs.) So, 80% Chinese, 12% Malay, 8% Indian, all down the line. And zoning requires that new religious buildings be built next to one another in the name of inter-faith harmony. “You’ve raised the money for that church? How nice for you. You can build it next to this mosque.” The American Right would rather be roasted over indirect heat on a Weber grill for 5 hours, with dampened hickory chips put on the coals after hour two, than do that. And there’s more or less free medical care! Right-wing politicians like to praise about 55% of the things Lee Kuan Yew did in building modern Singapore, and then resolutely and fervently pretend the rest doesn’t exist.

5

Belle Waring 12.09.13 at 2:04 pm

Oh, thanks MPA Victoria. The area where the riot took place is actually really small. We are only in danger of having our favorite North Indian restaurant, Muthu’s Curry, damaged. It must have been surreal for the tourist diners as all along the other side of Race Course Road is excellent restaurants (Banana Leaf Apolo is good too), but I imagine there was plenty of time to get away. It didn’t happen all at once.

6

Anders Widebrant 12.09.13 at 2:37 pm

That was really really good. Evocative. Makes the coming four months of ice sludge and darkness over here feel even longer.

7

Lynne 12.09.13 at 2:53 pm

Belle, what a wonderful piece, which was just a pleasure to read. So evocative that I feel like I just visited Singapore. To pick just one terrific description, this: “White! At the equator when it rains the air is white with water. You feel like there can’t be any space to have air to breathe, that you will drown with rain.” Just for a moment I felt short of air.

Thank you!

8

LFC 12.09.13 at 2:58 pm

This is a good post. I like B.Waring in this sort of I-am-an-(eloquent)-camera mode, more than B.Waring in her the-whole-U.S. South-is-*******-racist-and-virtually-everyone-is-sexist mode. Though the latter is ok too; it’s just that this is rather more interesting, at least to me.

["I am a camera" is C. Isherwood's phrase (in the 'Berlin Stories' I think [?]); credit where it’s due.]

9

bob mcmanus 12.09.13 at 3:07 pm

Yeah, this is a very rare post from H or W about Singapore, especially about politics or social conditions. It was very well done, but I am still just a little worried.

10

LeeAnn 12.09.13 at 3:12 pm

Hey Belle, I was very interested to read your take on this, having read the press coverage with much gasping in disbelief, and esp. since we left Singapore two and a half years ago (miss you guys so much!) to move to India. All of your points about the role of foreign workers in Singapore are totally valid, though of course nothing compared to the plight of foreign workers in Dubai and the rest of the Middle East (cf. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html ). (And never, not once, during our nearly 5 years there did I feel like I was living in a dystopian hellhole.)

One thing to note–I’m not quite sure how this fits in or if it’s come up in the conversation in Singapore at all–is that mob violence is often the response to fatal traffic accidents in India, especially if one of the vehicles is perceived to have been reckless. (http://www.hindu.com/2009/05/17/stories/2009051760080300.htm and http://www.hindu.com/2008/04/03/stories/2008040360110400.htm)

While we were living in Bangalore this happened several times just in our city–a bus would crash and the bystanders would attempt to administer justice on the spot. This also happens in a slightly less violent way with regular car accidents. Especially if someone if hurt or killed, a crowd forms and, based on the drivers’ respective explanations for what happened, adjudicates and sometimes punishes the agreed-upon guilty party. More than once, Indian friends advised us, if we were ever involved in a serious car accident, to never get out of the car, especially if a crowd is forming, but instead to drive immediately to the nearest police station.

In India, I always thought of this as a somewhat understandable response by powerless people who have no reason to expect formal justice from a hideously corrupt system. Interestingly, many forms of social unrest in India manifest themselves in bus burning.
We were also living in Bangalore in 2006, when Kannada-language film idol and symbol of the common man Dr Rajkumar died (peacefully, at home and of natural causes) which sparked two days of rioting in which 3 buses were burned and hundreds were damaged; we were unable to ever get a good answer for why his death sparked riots, but apparently it might have been because he was not given a state-funeral. (You have to understand that Rajkumar was like John Wayne, Charles Bronson and Elvis all wrapped up together as a symbol of underdog pride, worshipped by the some of the most disenfranchised people in Karnataka, utterly left out of the out-sourcing boom.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that bus-burning has a history as a manifestation of outrage among poor and powerless South Indians that precedes recent events in Singapore. Anyway, it’s what came to mind when I read the headlines.

11

bob mcmanus 12.09.13 at 3:19 pm

Why do all the women commenters think they have the privilege of using Waring’s first name? Are they all close personal friends or family? Are the rest of us more distant or excluded?

Maybe my head’s been in Japan too long.

12

MPAVictoria 12.09.13 at 3:22 pm

“Why do all the women commenters think they have the privilege of using Waring’s first name? Are they all close personal friends or family? Are the rest of us more distant or excluded?”

Seriously? Are you from the past? Do they have blogs there?

13

anon 12.09.13 at 3:37 pm

Just as I feared (or is it still too early to tell?), what could’ve been an opportunity to revisit the poor living/working conditions of migrant workers is already being spinned as the greatest propaganda banner for the anti-immigration tendencies the country is heading towards.

14

hix 12.09.13 at 3:44 pm

Interesting story with the Riot response in India. I know the story the opposit way. That people are uterly indifferent if someone is injured in an accident and even unwilling to call an ambulance.

15

NomadUK 12.09.13 at 3:48 pm

Belle@4: Yes, you’re right, of course. I probably should have said something like corporate statists or the plutocracy or something … I don’t know. The whole thing gives me the shivers.

The post was, as I sadly neglected to mention, wonderfully written.

16

Barry Freed 12.09.13 at 3:50 pm

I’ll take Belle Waring in any mode (but I’d really love to see her in novel writing mode).

Bob, I love you man, but this:

Maybe my head’s been in Japan too long.

is some seriously low hanging fruit some blog traditions would put it.

17

Zamfir 12.09.13 at 4:12 pm

A question for those more in the know: what’s the relation between ethnic Indian citizen in Singapore, and Indian guest workers? Are they similar groups, just some with passports, or are they separate groups? Is there much contact between them?

18

P O'Neill 12.09.13 at 5:17 pm

Just to add to what LeeAnn said, Singapore has nothing on the Gulf in this department. The expected number of deportations from Saudi Arabia related to their current crackdown on low-skilled expats is now around 2 million, and mostly to countries that can’t absorb hundreds of thousands of their suddently repatriated citizens. And a couple of weeks ago in Riyadh, it was police plus citizen vigilantes rounding up Ethiopians and putting them in camps, an activity that always ends well.

19

SusanC 12.09.13 at 5:37 pm

@11: McManus-san, I think you may have become too used to Japanese conventions.

I would say that a blog comments thread is a sufficient informal and familiar context that one can get away with referring to other posters by their first names, at least in English.

20

Ponder Stibbons 12.09.13 at 5:55 pm

Low-income Indian guest workers in Singapore have just as much reason to resent and be suspicious of the authorities as Indians in India do. It is common for workers to be cheated of their wages and not be compensated/receive treatment for work injuries, while the Ministry of Manpower continues to support employers in these practices: http://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/work-permit-holders-should-be-free-to-change-jobs/

21

mud man 12.09.13 at 5:56 pm

Truly as if I were food and so many hungry eyes looking at me at once. Not..anything. Food. Not exactly hostile! Implacable? No, ha! could be placated. Entirely without pretense. That. How would you get so alone with each other, only men, all the time, that you would look like that?

Women really don’t get men, do they? It’s entirely possible to be alone in that special way anywhere, anytime. Biology.

22

Mao Cheng Ji 12.09.13 at 6:59 pm

“In the subsidized public housing that works so well that 80% of Singaporeans own their own homes, there has to be, in a given area, a mix of ethnicities that reflects the city-state as a whole.”

Does it make Singapore a model, an actually existing liberal post-politics society managed by experts? Like a dream come true of the liberal intelligentsia? Sincere question.

It does work for a proof of concept, but it’s kinda small: what, a city of 5 million people? Can you reproduce it for 300 million on half a continent?

23

christian_h 12.09.13 at 7:23 pm

Just posting to say thanks for a great post bringing Singapore alive to me.

24

Anderson 12.09.13 at 7:24 pm

19: Mr. McManus, when they’re the proprietors of John and Belle Have a Blog, I don’t think it’s condescension to use first names.

I hoped Belle would post on this when I saw the news. Wonderful and sad to read. Many thanks!

25

JanieM 12.09.13 at 7:35 pm

Without spending a lot of time checking, I’m pretty sure people refer to dsquared and Chris Bertram as “Daniel” and “Chris” on a regular basis around here, and “John” isn’t unusual either, for either JQ or JH. Then there’s Corey, Kieran, Maria, Eszter…….

So I can’t for the life of me understand why it’s remotely remarkable that some commenters refer to Belle by her first name.

As for the notion that only female commenters do it, I also don’t remember MPAVictoria — for example — ever indicating whether s/he is a she or a he, I only remember commenters assuming that the handle belongs to a “she.” Whereas I’ve always assumed that “Victoria” is a city in Canada.

Also, funny enough, contra Anderson I didn’t assume bob macmanus was implying condescension, I thought he was implying something more like in-crowd, although I suppose the reference to Japan makes my interpretation problematic.

Oh well, back to work. It must be a slow day.

26

Anderson 12.09.13 at 7:43 pm

25: not for the first time, I wasn’t entirely sure what his point is. A females-only in-crowd? Maybe! Like that uncomfortable feeling of walking through part if the city that’s all-female ….

27

JanieM 12.09.13 at 7:48 pm

Like that uncomfortable feeling of walking through part if the city that’s all-female

lol

[well, not really]

28

Emma in Sydney 12.09.13 at 7:59 pm

Wonderful post. You took me back in my mind to my first visit to SE Asia in the early 1980s, when Singapore still had lots of shophouses, alhough old hands were already lamenting the loss of the old Singapore. The rain, the heat, so familiar. Stay safe.now I’m craving one of those murtabak, crispy and spicy.

29

herman mieville 12.09.13 at 8:39 pm

Futility of immediate comment publishing accepted

30

roy belmont 12.09.13 at 8:40 pm

Sorry to play with the thread. But I got confused by the moderation spin-cycle.

31

bob mcmanus 12.09.13 at 10:05 pm

25: I guess third wave feminists have forgotten the whole 1st name-infantilization feminist arguments. Doctors are still called “Doctor X” and nurses are called “Patty”

I thought he was implying something more like in-crowd, although I suppose the reference to Japan makes my interpretation problematic.

a) It bothers the hell out of me when Brad DeLong says “I was talking to Larry and Paul today…” Yes, the use of 1st names is part of a process of inclusion, exclusion, and hierarchy. And that is very far from being irrelevant to Japanese politeness practice, which has its purpose largely in preventing private hierarchies and status games. As opposed to the socialized ones.

32

Barry Freed 12.09.13 at 10:15 pm

Sure, it kind of bothers me too for the very same reason but I would be fine with it if “Larry and Paul” were regular blog posters/commenters since they would be part of the same community.

33

JanieM 12.09.13 at 10:56 pm

I guess third wave feminists have forgotten the whole 1st name-infantilization feminist arguments.

Who are you to say who’s a feminist, and which “wave” they belong to? There’s a whole world out here outside your skull. Try paying attention to it before you make ridiculous generalizations about it.

Doctors are still called “Doctor X” and nurses are called “Patty”

Really? And where you live, I suppose all the doctors still male, and all the nurses female? None of that is true where I live.

*****

For the record, I reacted originally to the notion that only female commenters (“all the women commenters,” mind you) were calling Belle by her first name, which seemed just as questionable as whether only Belle among CT posters is generally referred to or addressed in that way.

I thought the comment I was reacting to could only have been made by someone who was simultaneously not paying very close attention to CT, and making assumptions about the gender of commenters.

I haven’t changed my mind.

34

Chaz 12.09.13 at 11:04 pm

I call everyone by their first name. It implies equality. Sometimes I will call people by their last names in correspondence if they are a stranger and in a position of power over me. If someone asked me to call them by their last name in person I would be offended.

35

Emma in Sydney 12.09.13 at 11:08 pm

I am sitting by my father’s bedside in a major hospital right now and his doctors are called Andrew, Maria and Sheila and his nurses are Ifrah, Mike and Michael. Even a little bit of data is better than none, Bob.

36

bob mcmanus 12.09.13 at 11:08 pm

Apparently, “JanieM,” the culture of cuteness and infantilization is spreading from Japan.
Well, the saying goes: ” We are becoming Japan”

You call your heart surgeon “Debbie?” Is it Senator Liz Warren? Justice Ruthie?

Naw, I am old and set in my ways and don’t have 50,000 close personal friends on a 1st-name basis following me on twitter. But no matter how I look at, it’s your fault I’m not popular.

Call me McManus. CT is not my home. This psuedo-intimacy is definitely the American style, a socialized radical egalitarianism covering real status differences and disarming and disguising difference. I prefer Japan, where they not only grant a small personal space, people even want just a little distance from the madding crowd.

Ask me if you want to use the name my mother used. The answer is no, but it won’t matter.

37

JanieM 12.09.13 at 11:32 pm

Okay, I think I get it.

The world is going to hell because cuteness is spreading from Japan.

Or no, wait, it’s really because pseudo-intimacy is spreading from America.

Actually, that’s not it; the real problem is that all the doctors and nurses aren’t called Emily or Mark. Or are called Emily or Mark. Or Supreme Court justices are or aren’t called Tony.

Or maybe it’s all because it’s not just doctors and nurses any more in the first place, there are medical assistants and nurse practitioners and physician assistants and certified nurse midwives confusing the picture by filling a bunch of niches that didn’t exist back in the dark ages when I was a kid. (Probably at least as long ago as the commenter who signs in as bob mcmanus was.)

Or maybe it’s time to stop wasting time on nonsense.

38

MPAVictoria 12.09.13 at 11:35 pm

Well there is an easy way to settle this Comrade McManus. We can ask Belle if she minds me using her first name. Belle do you mind me using your first name?

39

Niall McAuley 12.09.13 at 11:38 pm

I went to my dentist the other day (after a shockingly long absence) and I had forgotten: how do you address a dentist? So I asked him straight out, do dentists go by Dr. or Mr.?

So he said Mr. (with slightly widened eyes (hello, mad patient)) since he wields a knife not a pillbox. But you can’t say “Hello Mister, how’s your accountant?”. Nor does “Hello, Mr. Smith” work well (especially when his name is not Smith).

So am I back to “Hello John”? But I don’t like it, I would like something with the same connotations as “Hello Doctor”.

I understand all European languages are undergoing the same loss of formality somewhat later than English, which make me feel a bit better, since if we gang up, we might overcome casuality and say “Good afternoon, Sir Professor Doctor Doctor Smith” once again.

40

roy belmont 12.09.13 at 11:41 pm

I took out the possible offending parts of this to see if got through moderation:

There was a photo of Obama I think on the big Asian country’s big news outlet, at the island where captive Africans were held and then embarked in chains toward their new lives as slaves in the New World.
It’s a cool stylish image. He’s leaning in a four hundred yr old doorway, it looks almost but not quite like an eighties men’s fashion two-page magazine thing. Rough eroded architecture, broad color fields of natural stuff and sky, but he’s too far from the camera to be specifically shilling the casualwear.
So I was looking at that, going “Hmm, well…you know, he’s got to be thinking, feeling…or no, I’m supposed to be thinking, feeling…” when drowning virtual Somalis and Haitians came pouring over and around and through it, kind of.
People who are actively intentionally on purpose getting into often very sketchy boats, sometimes paying lots of or even all their last moneys, to go and become practically almost slaves, because that’s promising better than the less than nothing and everything collapsing down back home.
So, there’s a simple formula, I think. Permeating so much of what’s below most of us, lives that are so completely extra they’re hard to see until the not-working parts flare up. Even with Salgado and others showing it for years, and Berger and others telling it, for years.
We’re taught and feel inherently some kind of human value for all humans, but the practices of the world we live in have been, and still are, reducing people at the bottom to the status of laboratory animals and worse.
Surplus we can use. Or some intermediary we use can. And it’s okay. Because look, they’re working and feeding themselves and they have at least a place to sleep. And because their lives don’t really matter and there’s millions and millions of them.
Under people.

41

Substance McGravitas 12.09.13 at 11:44 pm

I prefer Japan

Strangely enough, one of my Japanese friends tried to marry here because she hated being a woman in Japan.

42

bob mcmanus 12.10.13 at 12:09 am

40: I take it back. I hate Japan. No, I love Japan. Maybe I just prefer the Japanese forms of address.

Well there is an easy way to settle this Comrade McManus. We can ask Belle if she minds me using her first name.

“Comrade” is not so far from the pragmatics of “-san”, which is almost universal and ungendered. Much closer than “Mr.” I like Comrade.

But asking if I (what is this “we”) can use Waring’s first name can be in itself an unprovoked and calculated intimacy. I am always reminded of the salespersons or cold callers: “What is your name? McManus. No, what is your name?”

We all understand this hustle, like PUA’s touching the arm.

I don’t want to use Waring’s first name. Not because of respect or hierarchy or formality or hostility but because we are not intimates. We are acquaintances, maybe sometimes allies, maybe sometimes not, but not bosom buddies.

43

Niall McAuley 12.10.13 at 12:22 am

bob @ #41 writes:

I am always reminded of the salespersons or cold callers: “What is your name?

Man, those are some cold callers! “Is it safe?”

44

garymar 12.10.13 at 12:27 am

In Japan, the real formality is in the verbs.

45

Lynne 12.10.13 at 12:29 am

“I don’t want to use Waring’s first name. Not because of respect or hierarchy or formality or hostility but because we are not intimates.”

I’ve got some sympathy with this. Where I am doctors still get called Dr. and patients are still called by their first names. There are many women doctors, and the only doctor in my long life who said “I am First Name Last Name” instead of “Dr. Last Name” was female. But she was the only one. I would much rather be formal with my doctor—I call her Dr. and she calls me Ms.—but as long as she is calling me by my first name I reciprocate to try to minimize the power imbalance.

But about Belle Waring. I don’t think Belle minds me calling her by her first name. She has called me Lynne in the past. But to my ear, your calling her “Waring” sounds rude. “Ms. Waring” would be polite and still formal.

46

bianca steele 12.10.13 at 12:31 am

It’s striking how many men on the Internet turn out to be Americans in Japan. McManus to me is a character in The Usual Suspects.

I have to say I can’t remember a woman (of whatever age or background) complaining about being addressed too familiarly by (other) posters (male or female).

47

Nine 12.10.13 at 12:39 am

bob mcmanus @41 – “I don’t want to use Waring’s first name. Not because of respect or hierarchy or formality or hostility but because we are not intimates. We are acquaintances, maybe sometimes allies, maybe sometimes not, but not bosom buddies.”

Mr. Burns: Now get out!
Lisa: I can’t! My mom’s not picking me up for an hour.
Mr. Burns: So, what do you think of todays popular music scene.
Lisa: I think it distracts people from more important social issues.
Mr. Burns: My god, are you always on!?

48

Hector_St_Clare 12.10.13 at 12:39 am

Belle Waring,

Since this thread has moved into your name, I’m curious: are you any relation to the fellow that invented the Waring Blender?

49

mattski 12.10.13 at 12:41 am

This psuedo-intimacy is definitely the American style, a socialized radical egalitarianism covering real status differences and disarming and disguising difference.

If it ain’t the 1% it’s the pseudo radical egalitarianism.

50

Niall McAuley 12.10.13 at 12:47 am

Oooh, is this a game, Hector?

Are you really Enid Blyton?

51

godoggo 12.10.13 at 12:51 am

It never occurred to me that Belle might be her actual name. Anyways, if anybody wants to address me as god, I won’t be offended.

52

bob mcmanus 12.10.13 at 12:54 am

42: Yup. Stopped learning the language when I started hearing the verbs.

45: I am not living there nor would move there or even visit for a day. I am so to speak immersed in Japanese studies and cultural products. I am not a Japanophile, I find the place fascinating and beautiful like a rattlesnake.

I have to say I can’t remember a woman (of whatever age or background) complaining about being addressed too familiarly by (other) posters (male or female).

Yeah, just as honorifics and titles are masculinist, hierarchical, and patriarchal, I view the relentless forced pseudo-intimacy and commanded empathy to be a feminization, essentialist, and still patriarchal. It is a tenet of neo-liberalism that there is no longer any private space, by our own choice.

Will you be my bestest best friend and call me by my first name?
Ano, we only met this morning.
And you hate me already? I understand.

53

Substance McGravitas 12.10.13 at 1:04 am

It is a tenet of neo-liberalism that there is no longer any private space, by our own choice.

I must say that “Bob” is a name that sets you apart from everybody who isn’t named “Bob” and you are right to cherish it by concealing it from the world in comment after comment, over and over.

About 3:15.

54

garymar 12.10.13 at 1:05 am

Well, that was a good thread derailing.

55

Jake 12.10.13 at 1:20 am

Why are you all feeding the concern troll?

That said, there was another bus-driven riot of sorts in San Francisco this morning, although the dramatic video turns out to have been a false-flag operation: http://www.sfbg.com/googleshoutdown

56

bob mcmanus 12.10.13 at 1:28 am

53: Nah, we have miraculously ended back on topic of male workers rioting.

After the end of war and revolution, in a constant crisis of overproduction and overcapacity and underemployment, how do the neo-liberals create a docile, compliant workforce? I mean the Japanese worked the younger sons to death in the textile mills and sold the boys to geisha houses, right?

Of course we know the essentialist logic of a feminization of society won’t work, because women are just as violent, selfish, disruptive, unempathetic, anti-social, anti-authoritarian, and recklessly competitive as men. Any minute now, they will be grabbing the pitchforks and axhandles and burning shit down. To hell with their responsibilities and anybody’s feelings. I know I’m scared.

Social reproduction is our most important product.

57

bob mcmanus 12.10.13 at 1:59 am

For the record, I blame the Patriarchy.

But the residuals of the performative social roles remain, zealously performed, defined by and for the Patriarchy.

Janie. Susan. Lynne. Belle. Let’s have a group hug.

I’m outa here.

58

Peter T 12.10.13 at 2:11 am

In several extended visits to India and Nepal over a couple of decades, I went though/was caught up in riots quite a few times. Also impromptu popular justice proceedings (crowd convenes, hears all sides, argues, makes its collective opinion known, sometimes with sanctions). I came to see these as indicative of a general good sense and humanity. The violence in small riots over local grievances was mostly very focused and usually did not involve harm to persons (although there were exceptions). This is not to say that things can not get very ugly indeed sometimes.

59

LeeAnn 12.10.13 at 2:35 am

I called Belle by her first name because I actually real-life friends with her. But even though I almost never comment, I read this blog a lot and am vaguely under the impression that plenty of posters (and commenters, when real names are known) are addressed by their first names.

But to respond to Zamfir’s question:

“A question for those more in the know: what’s the relation between ethnic Indian citizen in Singapore, and Indian guest workers? Are they similar groups, just some with passports, or are they separate groups? Is there much contact between them?”

My impression, based entirely on anecdotal evidence, is that most ethnic Indian Singaporeans go to great lengths to distinguish themselves from Indian guest workers, and the educational and social gulf between them is pretty enormous anyway. Also, there’s a third group as well: Indian expats living in Singapore, who consider themselves for the most part to be not just completely separate from Indian guest workers, but also from the Singaporean-Indian community. The Indian expats I know identify more with American or European expats, both in terms of income and educational level, than with either of the other groups.

Identity in Singapore is a very complicated alchemy of nationality, ethnicity, religion and race. Many Singaporeans will identify themselves based on their ethnicity as well as their nationality. Malaysians too–we had an expat neighbor in India who, when we first met each other, introduced herself to me as “Malaysian Chinese” not simply “Malaysian.”

We hosted Thanksgiving dinner one year in our apartment for some American friends, and one of the other families who came were Chinese-American. Our Filipina maid, who was helping us cook that day, expressed surprise to me when they arrived. She said, “I thought all your guests would be American.” I said, “Oh, but they are!” And I launched into a long explanation of American identity, blah, blah , blah. She was completely unconvinced because that is simply not how identity works in SEA.

60

cheem 12.10.13 at 2:55 am

I can understand why Malaysian Chinese will go to great lengths to distinguish themselves as Malaysian Chinese as opposed to just being Malaysian…

As for the gap between the (Tamil speaking) local Indians, the (Tamil speaking) guest workers and the (Hindi/Punjabi speaking) Indian expatriates, those three groups really do try very hard to show how little in common they have. Listen to the accents they all cultivate. There are strong divisions within the local Indian community too… consider the gap between the taxi drivers/foremen/security guards and the Indians who aspire to government or education or high posts in the military.

Then again, it’s not like the Singaporeans of Chinese descent have much to say to the Singaporeans of Indian descent, no matter how the PAP may try to paint all the divisions over (let’s not even get into the position of the Malays in Singaporean society).

61

John Holbo 12.10.13 at 3:46 am

My Moustache of Understanding two cents. I have only ridden in one cab since the riot and my cab driver – an Indian Singaporean – was going completely ballistic about it. He thinks the government needs to crack down hard. And restrict the number of foreign workers.

62

Daryl 12.10.13 at 4:36 am

In reality,this situation is partially due to the US and EU attitude and approach during the Arab Spring. People of Low Educated regions of the World were ENCOURAGED to protest and riot to make their point. This Encouragement creates a preference for violence and anger vs democractic process. In Thailand the Government survived a Parliament Vote yet had to be dissolved, in Egypt where Morsey was in power the US and other Egyptians didnt agree and they rioted, in Brazil it was similar, in the Ukraine it is no different and similar to this the French riots. Countries who want to encourage conflict to voice frustration in 3rd world countries would be do wise to ensure that they also control the workers that they employ and people they allow emigrate. Democracy serves no one but those parties external to the country who wish to exploit the situation. Countries go through development stages and this starts with autocratic rule. Kings and Queens and Tribal Leaders had an incentive to develop their countries internal strengths, cultures and institutions. Self serving Presidents who have been installed to meet “democractic” standards do not have this

63

Belle Waring 12.10.13 at 5:44 am

mcmanus-sensei: LeeAnn calls me Belle because she is, in fact, my actual close personal friend. Everybody else calls me Belle because that’s how I prefer to be addressed on the internet, generally, as evinced by my having had a blog called “John and Belle Have a Blog,” unless someone has really pissed me off (which would basically never happen, so) and I tell them to back the fuck up because Spinderella’s Not a Fella She’s a Lady DJ. Except Stephenson-quoter-kun gets to call me Belle-chan because I explained that in a previous thread. And no, Hector, as it chances I am not related to the Waring blender Waring. And godoggo, why the fuck would I make up a real-sounding fake name and blog under it, even as my husband posted, at the same blog, under his real name, when my name was actually a different real name a person could really have?

64

godoggo 12.10.13 at 5:50 am

I just figured you were a Belle, get it? Never even encountered anybody with that name before. It’s not something I’ve give a lot of deep thought to.

65

godoggo 12.10.13 at 6:15 am

But I wouldn’t call it “real-sounding.”

66

Belle Waring 12.10.13 at 7:23 am

For the record, godoggo, I always assumed you were a dog.

Ethnic/national/class distinctions are difficult for people of non-Caucasian, non-Chinese ancestry to navigate in Singapore. If you are an American of Indian [the one in Asia] descent who works for Microsoft, you have to dress well all the time, and hope that you are relatively-light-skinned (which I find American expats whose parents were Indian immigrants tend to be, so then I wonder if this was a sieve through which their family passed previously before successfully emigrating?) The accent distinction is incredibly clear, though. Americans sound like educated people who moved to Singapore from Seattle. “OMG a friend of mine was in your class at MIT!” (Actual thing.) Expat Indians sound like extras in a Merchant/Ivory adaptation of a E.M. Forster novel, because highly-educated Indians have a peculiar, not exactly English-accent that is unmistakeable. Local Singaporeans who are ethnically Indian and are well-educated take painstaking care to speak in the Singapore version of this Indian accent, which is much less attractive, unfortunately, and sounds as if a 2nd-string BBC reporter has been run through a copying program too many times and hence degraded. (There is some variation where, if the person went to college in the UK, they will have a British-style educated Singaporean accent, and if to America, likewise.) All the Chinese news reporters and radio personalities and stuff talk the same way, though. You can just go listen to Channel News Asia. But everyone can code-switch so, sure, everyone can speak Singlish, lah. Local Singaporean Indians who have only a high school education or less also have a distinct accent, but one which sounds more like Tamil. (Retrograde /d/, maybe? Very aggressive dental /d/ also sounds weird to English-speakers, who let their tongue wander along at their upper teeth any old where.) All of them take great pains to distinguish themselves from foreign workers, though. If you think about it, this is not as hard as it might be for the last group (who need to try the hardest, in a way), because the foreign workers sorts of aren’t around anywhere much in the day. You do see dudes passed out under a tree during their lunch break. Seriously, maybe 6 guys just lying on the combination of grass, red dirt, and giant stinging ants that passes for “grass” in Singapore, actually asleep. They seem…defenseless. There are only a few occasions in my life where I have worked myself that hard, to where I threw my bent arm back over my forehead and just laid down on the ground. They walk out and get lunch from the hawker centre I guess, when they live on-site. They used to walk past our house constantly at night, from the growing towers down to Little India, via the riot spot. But most are stuck out somewhere where no one sees them. And certain jobs (such as taxi-driving, but also cleaning up in hawker-centres, are reserved for Singaporeans only.)

If you are a man who is an expat it’s generally less trouble to make this known. If you are a woman, though, you have to really dress up all the time to get people in shops to pay any attention to you at all. This goes double for Filipinas, or anyone whom shopkeepers and taxi drivers might assume to be Filipina. I have a friend whose dad is a Caucasian Australian guy, and her mom an ethnically Chinese person originally from Malaysia but who grew up in Singapore. (My friend herself grew up in Dubai though she spent two years in…Kazakhstan, I think.) She likes to lie by the pool and tan, with the result that she is relatively dark-skinned. She does tend to go a little for the sexy, clothes-wise, but not insane. Her chances of getting service at the SKII counter in Tang’s department store on Orchard Rd: NONE. Really, even if she indicates she wishes to buy. Even if she waves her credit card at them! And they work on commission! They think she is a Filipina prostitute and don’t want their brand of skin whitening products associated with such people. She has to do what people in this situation have done since time immemorial: bring a white friend!

67

hix 12.10.13 at 8:22 am

Whiter skin colour is strongly asociated with higher social status in India (i think this dates back pre British invasion, to the Mughal Empire). So sure, the American Indian who works for Microsoft is light skinned because that kind of Indians are the ones who make it to the US and work for Microsoft.

68

Richard J 12.10.13 at 8:44 am

One of the most apt descriptions I’ve ever heard of Singapore is that is effectively a country run by a HR department; a lot of its features make sense only through the prism of someone obsessively managing staff retention and satisfaction metrics.

69

Peter T 12.10.13 at 8:47 am

The Indian ability to sleep just about anywhere (like on a pile of gravel on the median strip) amazed me. Then I remembered my father’s war stories. If you have been pushed hard enough, you take your sleep where you can get it.

In my experience impromptu street debates tended to talk themselves away from extreme solutions, not towards them. I wonder if people are more radical when their opinions don’t get the chance to rub against others?

70

Peter Erwin 12.10.13 at 9:37 am

Whiter skin colour is strongly asociated with higher social status in India (i think this dates back pre British invasion, to the Mughal Empire).

It’s probably older than the Mughal Empire; there are arguments that it goes back to the Aryan invasions ca. 1500 BC. (The Sanskrit term for the original four-part caste system, varna, does in fact mean “color” among other things, though I gather it’s a matter of debate as to how much, if at all, that referred to skin color.) It may also have been reinforced by the tendency of successful invasions of India to come from the north, with the Mughals just being the latest example.

Of course, it’s not like British rule exactly discouraged the “lighter skin = higher social status” equation…

71

anon 12.10.13 at 10:20 am

@Peter T: you may be right. But the problem is, how many dare voice a different opinion?

Transient workers can’t risk being a troublemaker (unfortunately in this case they did, in a violent way) for fear of getting repatriated. From my personal circle (I’m a Chinese national studying here), there were two known cases where Chinese national students were officially reprimanded for making admittedly stupid remarks on social media (one for joking about Singapore’s football team, the other for comparing Singaporeans to dogs). Both deserved some form of rebuke of course but the significance of officially issued punishment (issued with a delay during which time there was extensive cyber-bullying from local netizens) is at least to me a deterrence against future expressions of discontent.

I’ve heard of a local MP who spoke out for one of the students mentioned above, and I’m aware of nonprofits who try to champion transient workers’ rights, but I just can’t tell how much of their views are represented in the community.

72

Martin Bento 12.10.13 at 10:37 am

One thing I’ve long been hoping would come up from Belle and/or John, somewhat relevant to this discussion, is their evaluation of the land-ownership system in Singapore. I get the impression a lot of progressives assume Singapore is a dystopia because the likes of the Economist praise it so highly, but I suspect it is much more complicated. As I understand it, and I haven’t looked much into it, so please correct me if I’m wrong, the government owns the bulk of the residential land, but people own their units, somewhat like condos. There is therefore a real estate market, possibilities for profitable development, etc., but a lot of money that in a country like the US goes to private landlords ends up in government coffers, which has a lot to do with how Singapore can have such low taxes but still such good infrastructure, education, medical care. etc. Is this more or less correct? Is that Fabian? Sounds like a soft application of George to me. How would you evaluate the results of this?

William Gibson said Singapore was a country every square inch of which looked and felt like Disneyland. Cory Doctorow might mean that as a compliment, but Gibson didn’t. So that’s one opinion. I think Gibson’s a bit parochial, though.

73

Alex 12.10.13 at 11:44 am

William Gibson said Singapore was a country every square inch of which looked and felt like Disneyland.

Really hilariously not true of Little India, for example. Also, I presume he hadn’t yet been to Dubai.

74

Ponder Stibbons 12.10.13 at 11:49 am

There are many reasons why the Singapore government is flush, property being only one of them. Another big thing is that they confiscate 1/3 of local workers’ salary every month and put it in a savings account on which workers are paid below-inflation levels of interest (and not allowed to withdraw the sum till they’re 65 or emigrated) while the government puts the money in their sovereign wealth funds and get what they claim to be extraordinary rates of return.

Also it’s a misperception that since Singapore’s health care system is ‘good’, they must spend a lot of it. They don’t: they spend less than most developed countries, but with comparable or better outcomes. I won’t go into the details of Medisave etc. (various schemes are funded based on mandatory savings’ which the unemployed and low income will have little of) but coverage for catastrophic illnesses isn’t that great. There is a limit above which the government subsidizes 0%. If you’re poor and you get cancer, good luck to you: http://yawningbread.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/healthcare-safety-net-improvements-long-overdue/

75

Ponder Stibbons 12.10.13 at 11:49 am

‘they must spend a lot of it’ should be ‘they must spend a lot on it’

76

Alex 12.10.13 at 11:52 am

In fact, there’s probably something interesting in comparing Singapore and Dubai. A lot in common, but so very very different…

77

Nine 12.10.13 at 12:49 pm

anon@71 – “Both deserved some form of rebuke of course”

Deserved to be rebuked for joking about the football team ! Why ?

78

md 20/400 12.10.13 at 1:27 pm

Just chiming in to say thanks for this. The part about the sun and the lead aprons was perfect. I agree that it feels so great to have the sunshine press down. (The bad sunburn later, not so great.)

79

Shen-yi Liao 12.10.13 at 1:29 pm

@ Belle’s Comment #66

Why are ethnic/national/class distinctions not difficult for people of Chinese ancestry to navigate in Singapore?

80

Nine 12.10.13 at 1:32 pm

FWIW, this collection of interviews with Lee-Kuan-Yew is fascinating.
http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Kuan-Yew-Insights-International/dp/0262019124

Makes it abundantly clear that Lee Kuan Yew’s ideas & intentions don’t much correspond to any that his “small-government” fans in the west – and possibly elsewhere, though most of those seem envious of the development model only- fantasize onto Singapore.

81

Belle Waring 12.10.13 at 1:46 pm

anon@71 – “Both deserved some form of rebuke of course”
Deserved to be rebuked for joking about the football team ! Why ?

Indeed, and even a very unpleasant remark about Singaporeans generally doesn’t seem like a good reason at all to either cyber-bully or censure someone.

Ponder Stibbons: My experience has (happily) been only with emergency care, with treatment for my children for ongoing medical problems, and OB-GYN services which I purchased privately at market rate, pre-natal care and delivery. Visiting KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital ER with your sick child costs $80, even if you’re not from Singapore, even if you don’t have insurance. This includes all the medicine they give you, no matter how much, dispensed at the special ER pharmacy. This includes all the tests they do, no matter how many, even if one is a CT scan. If you are from the US, this is so amazingly awesome that it is hard to explain. I buy travel insurance to cover illnesses we get back in the States, and trips to the ER for a serious UTI infection for my then 3-year-old have cost as much as $2,000 before when all the tests and things are factored in. And they wouldn’t let me pay! I wanted to pay before we left, and they just looked shocked–no one had any idea how much my bill would be, and no one would be able to tell me for a couple of weeks. I was standing there ready to pay in full and they just sent me away. We would get reimbursed by the insurance company after providing the receipts, if they deemed it covered, so a big no to my emergency bleeding at 19 weeks of pregnancy, with ultrasound and a “night” in the hospital (only a few hours left after all was said and done) and visits to an OB-GYN in D.C. with further ultrasounds. Those two things, the ER trip and the doctor’s visits, cost more than all my pre-natal care (and I was on bed-rest with unexplained bleeding for the rest of the pregnancy) and my surgical delivery at a private hospital in Singapore. Only a little more, but more.

82

Belle Waring 12.10.13 at 1:58 pm

I toured Cory Doctorow around Singapore in the early oughts! LOL. Shen-yi Liao: that is a fair objection and I know there are of course many distinctions to be made there and, as more and more mainland Chinese workers come to Singapore, more issues about lowest-income Chinese Singaporeans distinguishing themselves from ‘guest workers.’ It is just my impression from living here for 13 years that a person of Chinese ethnic heritage who is well-dressed can walk in anywhere and seem as if he belongs–at first. Whether his accent or something else betrays him is a different question, but no one’s first thought on seeing an ethnically Chinese face is ‘guest worker’ while many people’s first thought on seeing a woman who could be Malay or Filipina (not wearing a headscarf) is, ‘possibly a maid.’ Women with darker skin (and these could indeed be Chinese women from longtime Malay heritage, I mean, that their family has been living in Malaysia a long time) who are married to Caucasian men and have children who are in-between, complexion-wise have to go to some trouble not to be taken for maids at the playground.

83

Anderson 12.10.13 at 2:51 pm

Belle: know anything about the economic status of Singaporean doctors?

I’m curious because it seems that overpaying M.D.’s is a big part of the U.S. problem. Doctors here live in mini-mansions within gated communities. It seems from anecdotes around the internet that in, say, France, being a doctor is more like being a tenured professor – it’s a good, respectable living, but you don’t necessarily get rich doing it.

84

bianca steele 12.10.13 at 4:55 pm

@66, 82
A.S. Byatt has a very short story, in “Elementals,” about a British woman who goes to some unnamed presumably Asian city with a tour group, and strays from the path. She doesn’t listen to the rules she’s supposed to follow as a tourist, she gets a run in her stocking, and that’s the end of her. Within a few hours she’s homeless. “Eight Months on Ghazzah Street” is explicitly set in Saudi and more about purdah than general expat issues–there are guest workers but only the narrator’s husband encounters them–but I can’t resist a chance to plug it once again.

The story is called “Baglady”. It’s sad that instead of walking fifteen feet to see if it’s in the book I have or the earlier one, I looked up the preview of the book online.

85

Substance McGravitas 12.10.13 at 6:20 pm

A.S. Byatt has a very short story, in “Elementals,” about a British woman who goes to some unnamed presumably Asian city with a tour group, and strays from the path. She doesn’t listen to the rules she’s supposed to follow as a tourist, she gets a run in her stocking, and that’s the end of her. Within a few hours she’s homeless.

Didn’t Paul Bowles write that about a professor in Morocco?

86

Anderson 12.10.13 at 9:45 pm

85: that Bowles story is still the most horrible thing I have ever read. If there is anything more horrible, I don’t want to know about it.

87

Collin Street 12.10.13 at 10:17 pm

How would you evaluate the results of this?

Weeell… there are some pretty interesting restrictions on transfers of leasehold housing [can't be transferred to an unmarried person under 35, say] that impact the ability of gay people to live.

Also, the “all areas must match the demographics of singapore-as-a-whole” means you don’t need to gerrymander the single-winner[1] electoral districts: the chinese majority has a majority everywhere. But it’s not like the ethnic minorities are unrepresented: a lot of seats the parties have to run an ethnically-balanced slate of candidates, so your indians or malays get represented by whatever malay or indian the chinese want to have representing them.

Why not riot?

[1] Why districts, instead of say list-PR, if the whole country is demographically uniform and there are no particular district identities or district problems to deal with? Weell.

88

roy belmont 12.10.13 at 10:39 pm

BW- I, me, was introduced to the board game “go” one mid-80′s rural morning in northern California, by William Gibson who, Martin Bento, as an author, is about as far from parochial as somebody can get. Unless in your diocese the future’s merely another parish.
“Eight Months on Ghazzah Street” is a novel by the inestimable Hilary Mantel, whose every published word I hunger for, not Byatt, as I’m sure Bianca Steele knows but forgot to mention.
Anderson- It’s likely the truth in “A Distant Episode” the Bowles story I think you mean, that so horrifies. It’s what got me the first time. What lasts, on rereading, is the inevitability of it, the rightness of it, and the cold-eyed take down of illusion.

89

LeeAnn 12.11.13 at 1:28 am

I love “Eight Months on Ghazzah Street” (as I adore everything Hilary Mantel writes) and it does capture something particular about a certain kind of expat experience, especially when you’re new to the country and you still feel unbalanced, and when something goes wrong or not how you expected, you can’t tell if it’s a big deal or not or whether the new country is crazy in some way or maybe you’re crazy. (Then usually after the first year or two you look back and laugh at how silly you were being, back before you got settled in and knew how everything works.) I’m kind of going through that now, having moved in August from India to Sri Lanka. I was expecting it to be basically the same, but it’s weirdly not in certain small, key ways.

90

floopmeister 12.11.13 at 1:49 am

…as more and more mainland Chinese workers come to Singapore, more issues about lowest-income Chinese Singaporeans distinguishing themselves from ‘guest workers.’

Chinese Hong Kongers go through the same thing, trying not to be mistaken as a mainlander.

In terms of medical services I can’t recommend SE Asian dentists enough – had dental work done in KL, Singapore, Penang, Chiang Mai and Udon Thani. All of it was excellent and my partner and I have saved over $7000 AUS in about three years on dental work. There’s the airfare paid for…

As a sessional academic (not paid from November to February) we spend 8-12 weeks in SE Asia every year – frankly we save money doing that rather than staying here in Australia without work.

91

bianca steele 12.11.13 at 2:12 am

I love Hilary Mantel too, but I think she wasn’t well known in the US before Wolf Hall. Around 1999 you couldn’t get all of her earlier books here; the French Revolution one was in libraries but had gone out of print. Byatt’s “Possession” was very popular IIRC with academics in 1991. I’ll read anything she writes, too, though in her last book I noticed she had (or had developed) a twee English sense of humor, kind of Dr. Who-ish, of a kind I never really liked. I sense she may have annoyed some readers across the pond with her pronouncements on tax rates.

Substance McG, I think if Byatt had wanted to write an existential story like Bowles’, she would have written that, not loaded her own story down with so many sociological details and placed it in an un-existential locale like a shopping mall.

92

Hector_St_Clare 12.11.13 at 2:29 am

Re: Local Singaporean Indians who have only a high school education or less also have a distinct accent, but one which sounds more like Tamil. (Retrograde /d/, maybe? Very aggressive dental /d/ also sounds weird to English-speakers, who let their tongue wander along at their upper teeth any old where.)

Yea, Tamil (and most Indian languages) distinguish between retroflex and dental ‘d’, along with other consonants like ‘t’ and ‘n’. (Tamil also has some extra retroflex sounds that northern language don’t have, which is why North Indians tend to find Tamil difficult to pronounce and vice versa). English ‘d’ is I think called ‘alveolar’, according to Wikipedia, i.e. the tongue is in between the positions for the retroflex and the dental sounds, so it doesn’t correspond well to either one.

As far as color goes: South Asians today are mostly a mixture of two genetic/racial groups, the ‘Ancient South Indians’ related to the modern-day Andaman Islanders, and the ‘Ancient North Indians’ who probably looked something like modern-day Pashtuns. Plus some later genetic influxes from southeast Asia and from Iran/Central Asia. Ancient South Indian genetics (which are probably associated with darker skin) tend to be more common the further south you go, and the lower down the caste ladder you go. So the elites who emigrate to the United States are going to be mostly from the higher castes, and thus relatively light-skinned and ‘European’ featured compared to the average Indian.

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Ponder Stibbons 12.11.13 at 2:36 am

Belle:

Well, I live in the US and pay $3500/year for health insurance which is really expensive to me. So, I’m not claiming that the US system is superior—probably it isn’t, on balance. But this doesn’t change my point that the Singapore government does not spend very much on healthcare, and their public insurance schemes are in many ways more regressive and offer less coverage than Medicare. This is meant as a criticism of the public insurance schemes, not of the fees you pay upfront when you purchase services, which are really low compared to the US. It’s all well and good except for poor people who get chronic illnesses, don’t have enough in Medisave (cos it’s from their past wages), and have to go through procedures that cost more than the ‘suicide switch’ limit described in the article I linked to.

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js. 12.11.13 at 11:38 pm

Lovely piece; thanks.

(This, by the way, is the first time I’ve been able to get on CT in, umm, 10 days? Anyone else having similar problems?)

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Martin Bento 12.12.13 at 1:35 am

Roy, what I meant by parochial is that Gibson has certain cultural affinities and fights his corner rather than questioning them. His remark on Singapore was superficial, he had to realize it himself, but he has said similar things elsewhere, so it is not a one-off. And he’s full of such judgments: punks are brilliant; hippies are dumb. At a certain point, it is good to see past allegiance to the subculture of one’s own youth and its dismissal of the preceding one. He actively condemned Scorsese’s version of Wharton’s Age of Innocence because it was concerned with the lives of rich people – he doesn’t care and doesn’t think anyone else should either. He has a romance with urban disorder – squatters and punks, fringe characters – which is fine, but the fringe is not the only valid subject for art. Scorsese’s rich people are legitimate subjects because anyone is.

That seems to be what he hates about Singapore – not enough disorder. But disorder is a mixed bag. Yes, it provides a lot of interesting drama to write about and a complex and ambiguous environment, but it also implies a lot of misery. If a city has no desperation, no one living in the shadows, no menace, Gibson will, I think, be bored with it and hate it. And I understand this view, but I find it hard to say I advocate menace and desperation. Ultimately, advocating a decent life for all means something like widespread complacency and comfort, which is rather boring. As someone said in another thread, Sweden is great, but Sweden is boring.

All of which is fine, and I’m not saying it makes him a bad writer, I like his work actually, but it is a limitation, just as male writers who cannot create good female characters are limited. And it does limit how seriously I will take his evaluation of entire societies. There are only certain slices of a society he is interested in.

Perhaps all this is unfair, but this is the impression I have of him having read some of his fiction and a couple of interviews. And, as I say, it’s not a bad impression, overall, but I do see it as a limited viewpoint.

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roy belmont 12.12.13 at 6:25 am

Martin Bento:
…he’s full of such judgments: punks are brilliant; hippies are dumb…
+
Perhaps all this is unfair, but this is the impression I have of him having read some of his fiction and a couple of interviews
Yes, well, hmm.

He actively condemned Scorsese’s version of Wharton’s Age of Innocence because it was concerned with the lives of rich people
Such a provocative assertion could really use a citation to give it, you know, some weight or something.
I can’t find anything referring to anything like that. Though I’m sure the interview exists I’d lay 10 to 1 it doesn’t have anything in it to support your paraphrase except that resulting from a profound misreading. Maybe you could throw a link at it?
He has a romance with urban disorder…
Yeah and that’s a pretty marginal romance there, the world being so entropically fit right now and all.
And he’s so damn elegiac about the Walled City of Kowloon it could make you weep, if you were hearing, and feeling, what he said, but hey.
12 points reduced for the “male writers who cannot create good female characters” smear by proximity.
Gibsons’ women are as tenderly realized, lovingly rendered, and as humanly heroic as any female characters in fiction, period.

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Martin Bento 12.12.13 at 7:11 am

Roy, evidently I’ve offended you by this. It was not my intention to offend anyone, nor am I condemning Gibson in any serious way. He wrote a whole article, I think it was in wired, describing Singapore in very ominous terms. So I quoted his opinion, but also signaled that I was taking it was a grain of salt because he has his biases, one of which, I believe, is a romance with the edge. I’ve been guilty of that romance too, and we all have our biases. It just means I want more input on Singapore than his judgment. I’m not going to research sources here, because I’m not interested in this debate, which is entirely off-topic here, and which was an offhand remark into which you are reading entirely too much.

However, this notion of smear by proximity is ridiculous. Language is remarkably plastic and one can legitimately leap from one matter to another with ease. When one makes a comparison between two things, and defines fairly well what aspects one is comparing, this does not imply comparison of other aspects. After all, Gibson did compare Singapore to Disneyland. Does that suggest that Singapore exploits children’s sentimental attachment to fictional characters? Or that Singapore has been instrumental in unreasonable extension of copyright laws? No, those are true of Disney, but that is not what he meant by the analogy, and it would be ridiculous and unfair to read those into it. Since all comparisons of unlike things are incomplete, they must be judged by the similarities claimed, not other aspects. But it’s been ages since I read Gibson. Perhaps my memories of him have become oversimplified. It hardly matters. Unless you think I should take his comparison of Singapore to Disneyland, as intended, as gospel. In which case, we just disagree.

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bianca steele 12.12.13 at 6:17 pm

Bento, Belmont: Don’t ever change, you guys. (And those are your real names, I’ll bet.)

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Substance McGravitas 12.12.13 at 7:53 pm

Anderson- It’s likely the truth in “A Distant Episode” the Bowles story I think you mean, that so horrifies. It’s what got me the first time. What lasts, on rereading, is the inevitability of it, the rightness of it, and the cold-eyed take down of illusion.

I agree. Quite a tidy little package, and in that way not horrifying because it is a Thing That Works.

Substance McG, I think if Byatt had wanted to write an existential story like Bowles’, she would have written that, not loaded her own story down with so many sociological details and placed it in an un-existential locale like a shopping mall.

I don’t know the story, but I like her, so I hope I have the good sense to follow up. Shopping malls got theirs in Dawn of the Dead.

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roy belmont 12.12.13 at 9:43 pm

Speaking of real names – SubMcG, no matter who I really am, I am not Anderson.
Martin Bento yes sorry for over-defensive over-attackment. No offense carried. Complete disagreement about almost everything still but, lah.
Bianca Steele it’s so hard to tell if your iron snark carries all the way through and into the parenthetical, but no, Roy Belmont is not the name I was given at birth, it is assumed. My real name is Samson Orang.
My real name is Hugh Glass.
Alessandro Moreschi.
Lucia Zarate. Hermann Unther. Yamaguchi Tsutomu.
Steve Cochrane.
Paul Kimball.
I understood it was bad form to poke at online identities, or is that over now?
Sure, on facebook “everyone knows you’re a dog”, but I thought the rest of us were still relatively safe in virtual obscurity and mask.

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Substance McGravitas 12.12.13 at 9:47 pm

Speaking of real names – SubMcG, no matter who I really am, I am not Anderson.

Yeah I know, I just thought the sentence didn’t make sense without your naming him. Happy to agree with you!

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bianca steele 12.12.13 at 11:28 pm

roy belmont: I didn’t mean to pick on you in particular, though I think it doesn’t require an excess of paranoia to wonder whether your two names are made up. In the context of people not wanting to interact with those who are anonymous–and someone, I think, recently asked why someone would use a made-up name that sounds like a real one–and since I have such a name myself–I thought it was worth pointing out. I apologize for making an example of you without your permission.

I don’t see that you two are really disagreeing. Gibson says:

If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country, that country might have had a lot in common with Singapore. There’s a certain white-shirted constraint, an absolute humorlessness in the way Singapore Ltd. operates; conformity here is the prime directive, and the fuzzier brands of creativity are in extremely short supply.

And I think this absolutely supports Martin Bento’s interpretation.

He also says

The sensation of trying to connect psychically with the old Singapore is rather painful, as though Disneyland’s New Orleans Square had been erected on the site of the actual French Quarter, obliterating it in the process but leaving in its place a glassy simulacrum.

Which as you say is quite elegiac. On the other hand, I wonder if the fact is only that William Gibson has trouble “connecting with the old Singapore,” not that the problem is with Singapore itself. And whether he, like many people, has trouble generally connecting in this means with things that aren’t poor, and run-down, and disorderly. Rather than, as he puts it, that “The physical past here has almost entirely vanished.

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floopmeister 12.13.13 at 3:29 am

(And those are your real names, I’ll bet.)

This is why I never use a pseudonym online.

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garymar 12.13.13 at 4:00 am

In one of Gibson’s books there are loving descriptions of the built-up layers of decrepitude that make up present-day London. Let the writer have his prejudices! He’s not writing policy papers.

That’s why I forgive Colin Wilson (rest his soul) all his absurdities. They were needed to produce The Mind Parasites.

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dr ngo 12.13.13 at 4:23 am

Others here have more recent and extensive experience with Singapore than I, so I’ll limit myself to a couple of observations:

1) I always thought the Gibson line was that Singapore was “Disneyland with the death penalty.” As I have quoted that myself (in print) so I hope I got it right.

2) Gibson: “as though Disneyland’s New Orleans Square had been erected on the site of the actual French Quarter, obliterating it in the process but leaving in its place a glassy simulacrum.” This is almost literally what happened to Bugis Street in Singapore, once a seedy quarter notable for its transvestites, then completely cleaned out, then – a couple of years later, IIRC – recreated as a government-approved-tourist attraction on the same site!

3) To solve the “social problem” of men urinating in lifts (elevators) in high-rise apartment blocks, they installed piss-detectors and cameras, some thirty+ years ago when such technology was still cutting-edge.

4) At the National University of Singapore – one of the best-paying in the entire world, by the way – academics were expected to keep “regular” hours in their offices, and in one department (which shall for the moment remain nameless) the department chairman would in fact go up and down the halls to check that the lights were on from opening to closing times. So those (rare, of course!) academics who actually took time away from the department would actually ask colleagues to go into their offices and turn the lights on, in order that their absence not be noticed.

You can’t make all this up, you know. Well, you could if you had a better imagination than mine.

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Belle Waring 12.13.13 at 4:48 am

dr. Ngo
When we first moved here in 2000, John, as a newly-minted PhD-having assistant professor, did indeed have to work from 9-5 on weekdays AND 9-1 on Saturday. And there wouldn’t have been much getting around it with his department being so small, a day-long absence would have been missed for sure.

One thing that Gibson and others are not likely to notice is the places where ordinary Singaporeans live now. It’s easy to go to Chinatown and feel sad and impressed in a purely technocratic Disney way that they have built a 1:1 scale model of a street of shophouses where the previous row of shophouses stood. But at the time Gibson visited there were definitely at a minimum 10-15 “kampongs” still undeveloped, since they only knocked the last two down quite recently, and for all I know there were 25. He could have walked past a bunch of pretty shabby-looking HDB flats built in the 1960s, where no tourists go, and gotten to the end of the road, and found an actual village with houses on stilts and attap-palm-thatch roofs (some, and some cinderblock) and raised bamboo pathways between them, and chickens, and little kids running around naked, and the whole nine yards. Or to Geylang Street 47 or whatever and seen the trans prostitutes walking the street who used to be in Bugis; they’re there now, I can’t imagine they all died in the meantime. He wasn’t looking anywhere except where the hotel map told him to. This is a little ironic.

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QS 12.13.13 at 5:27 am

NUS is still byzantine and bureaucratic, but thankfully they no longer treat academic staff as bureaucrats vis-à-vis their work schedule.

By the way, as a newcomer to SG I want to thank you belle for these posts, they are very insightful and answer some questions I’ve had in the back of my mind since arrival. And I could not imagine a better depiction of Little India on a Sunday

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roy belmont 12.13.13 at 8:08 am

bianca steele-
The name developed out of the idea of what it means, trying to say that in a name, it just worked out to a pretty common relatively anonymous acceptability. Could have been Regis Montana if I hadn’t stuck with it.
I always think of Diana Rigg when I read yours.
And whether he, like many people, has trouble generally connecting in this means with things that aren’t poor, and run-down, and disorderly.
The conflation of the Disneyland quote with Gibson’s purported squalor nostalgia means I have to separate them a little before replying to this. Which I did I think in that sentence.
“…aren’t poor, and run-down…” means he does connect with things that are. Which is really narrow and subjective in its assumption that those qualities, which stick out to some observers, are the main ones he’s connecting with. Not supported by the evidence.
It’s something else, something that’s in there, besides the grit and muck and ruin and random shards. What breeds in the fetid at times chaos, and the little miracles of order hidden within the unintended and what they produce as well, the living nature of that. Fertility covers it pretty well. Versus sterility and its fermentation vats.

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