ambiguity

February 5, 2011

Ignorance

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 2:02 pm

“I don’t believe in evolution.”

I manage, at the last second, to keep my jaw from falling to the floor. I haven’t heard that line in quite a while.

“Evolution is not a belief. It’s science. You know how you’re able to make calls on your cellphone? That’s science too. The scientific community has worked very hard to arrive at that conclusion.”

Caught off guard, I struggle to think of a suitable an analogy.

“Yeah, but I just don’t believe that we came from apes. That’s all. Besides, that’s just the scientists’ opinion.”

At that moment, I am suddenly very aware of where I am, and the people around me. My brain does the math and tells me that it’s best I leave it alone. And I do, with my jaw clenched and my palms sweating. But not before this works its way out my vocal cords:

“Yeah, what do scientists know. They’re just extremely intelligent people who know more than any of us ever will.”

The complete lack of understanding aside (humans didn’t come from apes. We ARE apes.), the certainty with which she announced her thoughts irritates me. Sure, a lot of us can’t tell the difference between apes and monkeys. Even more of us don’t know that they share a common ancestor. But it isn’t the not knowing that’s bad. It’s the not wanting to find out. Religion, of course, plays the major part in this foolishness. For too long, too many people have been contented to sit back and rely on their religious readings, the texts they believe to be the moral and scientific authority, the currency with which we measure kindness and intellect.

If only they take the time to read it cover to cover.

January 4, 2011

The Return of Mr X

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 6:37 pm

Almost a year ago, I wrote an article for The Online Citizen describing my experiences in a “National Education” lecture conducted during my very first reservist training. In it, I described in full detail the tactics of one Mr X, an ‘eloquent, intelligent and charming’ salesman on a government payroll. His product? Belief. Belief in the ruling party. Belief in protecting our nation. Belief that the life this country… no, this corporation has crafted out for us is exactly what anyone would want. A year on, Mr X has returned to more or less the same crowd, in a different room, and his topic for the day is religion and race.

Mr X makes his first move. He casually mentions how he used to visit Mersing, and drones on about how it was a tragedy that could’ve been avoided. He moves quickly this time, and hops onto the topic of COE prices. He speaks ill of the ruling party with all the sincerity of a professional poker player playing for the river, then jumps to their defence. Then he slides his way into the issue of voting. He tells the bunch that the elections are coming, and they must vote. He insist they vote with their head and not with their heart.

“If the PAP has done well, then vote the PAP. If they haven’t, then vote the opposition.”

He goes on to slip in subtle messages on how well the ruling party has done so far, and continues to urge the crowd to vote with their heads. Then, it’s on to the special of the day.

Mr X declares his faith; he is a man of god. A not-so-devout follower of the myth of Christ, who tries his utmost best to uphold the word of his deity. It is around this time that I start to tune out. Talks on religious and racial harmony don’t interest me, not because I’m not interested in harmony, but because it doesn’t work. Harmony is not harmony when it is enforced by the law. It is simply a rule to follow, a “do it or you’ll be spanked”. Harmony promoted as a law will never be attained, and it is a lesson that Mr X and the government has to learn.

He reveals that there are cracks in our harmony. Stating the obvious is beginning to look more and more like his strong suit. He cites the “little bride” couple as examples of good people who’ve fallen prey to the evangelistic nature of their religion. He maintains that every one of the 10 official religions in Singapore is good, and that we should all adopt a religion as it teaches us morality. The argument is so teemed with stupidity, yet heads are nodding around the room. This gives Mr X more confidence. He launches into a story about him and his best friend, who is supposedly a Muslim, and how they sit at lunch and be respectful to each other. It is almost as if Mr X’s homo-erotic tendencies are threatening the rip apart the seams that hold them back. He then delivers the final blow:

“If someone insults your religion, don’t throw a punch. Don’t cause trouble. Just walk away and make a police report.”

At that moment, I cannot help but feel like I’ve overestimated Mr X’s intellectual capacity. Either that, or he has grossly underestimated mine. Yet, the heads keep bobbing. The sedition act is good, he says. It keeps us safe. It brings us harmony.

The next bit, I cannot fault. Mr X’s voice thunders as he says these words:

“Religion and politics must NEVER mix.”

I join the gang of bobbleheads for a few seconds. He cites the “allah” issue as proof, though the evidence is thin and I wonder if he even bothered to do his research at all.

Mr X’s conclusion is a list of rules to follow, none of which I bother to listen to. The room applauds him, and I cannot tell if they genuinely believed his talk, or were just glad it was over. Mr X retains the same arrogance he previously exuded, only this time he was less prepared. His eloquence was retained, but his material lacked the same bite it did the first time round. Still, Mr X delivered a sharp blow to the chin of the lingering doubts lurking in the minds of the men in the room. Men like Mr X are crucial to the government’s battle to stay afloat. Their words appeal to the working folks. People who, with all due respect, may not be able to see the big picture. People who fall short when it comes to completing the train of thought. It is in these fields where the war is won or lost. The ruling party has infiltrated, and it’s not looking good.

December 24, 2010

2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 5:28 am

I’m usually not too bad with openings. Sometimes i start off with an anecdote, sometimes a quote, sometimes a silly joke. I’m also pretty decent with year-end posts. After all, it’s about penning down the memorable incidents of that particular year. Every year is more or less the same thing. I say that it’s been an amazing year. I emphasise that I really mean it this time. I tell you that I’ve managed to meet a few of my goals. Learnt some stuff. Had a brilliant year and can’t wait for the next one. The same old bullshit. This year though, I’m not so sure.

I began the year with enthusiasm, the sort 17 year old boys exude when they know it’ll get them laid. 2009 had been good to me. I was fresh off the springboard, submerged in the waters of Singapore’s corporate lap pool. My writing was finally taking off, and the bank account couldn’t be healthier if it were taking vitamins. A year of change, I told myself. Not the sort your youth minister drones on and on about. No. Genuine change. A trip to Melbourne in April seemed to confirm those sentiments. Yet ironically, it also proved to be the start of an incredible fall from grace.

A struggle against authority ultimately ended in a shattered rice bowl. Impulsive as it was, any regret I felt dissipated the minute I stepped out those glass doors. I haven’t looked back since. The next few months I spent as an educator and a pupil. I taught what I knew about algebra and the sciences, and in return, my students provided me with affirmation. Affirmation that i would never have children, and even if I did, I would not raise them here. I learnt that this country could never produce anything other than robots, renegades and retards. Nobody wants robots, but they’re the only ones who don’t bleed.

After a grueling six months of witnessing the future of Singapore misspell “chlorophyll”, I ventured into what could only be the wave pool of Singapore’s workforce; the creative industry. The waters are choppy and tons of people try to get in, but the lifeguard makes sure they wait their turn. Those who do get in have a blast, but collapse from exhaustion the minute they step out for a piss. My writing took the backseat while work strapped itself in and hit the gas. When the lights finally turned red, I hopped off, only to discover that December had arrived. The mirror reveals that I’ve come a long way, but it also tells me that objects are closer than they appear.

It’s the wee hours of Christmas eve and it is dawning on me that I’ve driven myself round the block and back to where I started off. I’m still parked in that same space I was a year ago, except this time I’m wiser, more bruised, more battered and less mobile. This year, I’ve seen desperation; the struggle of homeless citizens against the very system they elected to protect them. I’ve seen sorrow; the cry of despair from families who’ve lost loved ones either through capital punishment or suicide. I’ve seen cruelty; the devious assault on innocent civilians by those who wield weapons. At the same time, I’ve seen passion; how belief and determination bought a young Malaysian boy an extra year of his life. I’ve seen bravery; how one man’s push for change might just see him losing his presidential status in two years. I’ve seen progress; how two parties with such differing views toss aside their differences in order to serve their country.

2010’s almost over and I’m weary, more so than I’ve ever been.

December 1, 2010

The Bigger Picture

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 1:23 pm

It’s 6.30 pm and the sky’s pissing down on us. I’m waddling through tiny puddles, looking out for pockets of space around the crowded bus stop. My shoes and socks are soaking, the legs of my jeans are a darker colour than the rest of its body, and lecture begins in half an hour. I look out at the road and am instantly mesmerised by the amount of water being sloshed about by oncoming vehicles. My fascination with water extends way back to when i was a child, and a very avid swimmer. Finally, the bus pulls up. After more than a decade of taking public transport in this country, I know very well the habits of Singaporeans when it comes to boarding and alighting. I step back and allow the pushers to shove their way in. At the other end, people pour out of the bus. It’s emptying fast, but not fast enough. Because it takes at least a second or two to tap your card, the delay causes a slight bottle neck, and the first wave of pushers get drenched. I turn to my friend and hold her back. No point rushing in, I tell her. There’s plenty of room. Wait til they’re done shoving, then when the steps clear up we can slip in quickly without getting wet.

The second wave, right behind them, begin opening up their umbrellas in an attempt to shelter themselves. What this means for the poor people around them is they have less space, and more water falling on their heads (since the umbrella directs whatever raindrops fall on it to the sides). As I watch the desperados trying in vain to keep themselves dry, it hits me. All this time I’ve spoken so much about my disdain for this country and my fellow citizens, but I’ve never really been able to articulate what it is that I dislike about them. I call it stupidity, but I don’t elaborate. I call it selfishness, but I don’t explain.

If all of us at the bus stop could’ve just gone in two by two, with a one to two second delay between pairs, all of us would’ve been able to board that bus dry. It would’ve saved time, and certainly made the evening a lot more pleasant. Which brings me to my point. Singaporeans don’t see the bigger picture. All we see is our destination, and how to get ourselves there. We don’t take into consideration that many others are making their way there too, and if we just work together, we could get there quicker. We don’t realise that while an open umbrella means we stay dry, it also means someone else gets wetter, and the process gets stalled. The unfortunate thing is most of us don’t see it, and we don’t know where we get it from.

I think that society mirrors it’s leaders. Our leaders have not been the most generous people. They’ve very often sought to look after themselves before anything. It is as if we don’t matter. And that is exactly the idea we’ve adopted. That nothing and no one else matters. There is no talk of teamwork. There is no mention of a group dynamic. We just don’t care that much about anything or anyone except ourselves.

I manage to get on the bus dry, save for a few specks on water on my backpack and hat. The first and second wave of pushers are seated, and drenched to the bone. It’s a sad world, when common sense is usurped by self-centredness and apathy. Is there any hope for us at all?

November 4, 2010

Loss

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 1:04 pm

No one really takes gang violence in Singapore seriously. After all, we are denied the right to bear arms, and the ominous presence of the mandatory death penalty awaits anyone who even dares to consider fatally injuring another person. Stir into the mix the long running american reality series COPS, as well as several documentaries and TV shows depicting gang violence on foreign shores and you have for yourselves a dangerous end product. Complacency, the assumption that no one could harm you here. At least while you’re allowed the freedom to lose yourself in a sea of people. Yet this boy, Darren Ng, for some reason, fell victim to a crime you hardly ever see reported on the mainstream media anymore. Hacked to death as many watched helplessly, his life was cut short with the sort of brutality we’ve grown accustomed to not seeing. As deeply saddening as it is, the situation begs for an answer. Not why. Not how. But who? Who were his attackers? Not their names. Not their addresses or phone numbers. Their existential identities. Who was Darren? And finally, who are we?

Who are they? A mindless, vicious pack of murderers whose only intent was to eliminate another from the gene pool? Young men caught in the heat of the moment, losing their heads and succumbing to the anger in their hearts? Or simply youths without an identity, desperately seeking approval from whomever they consider inspirations and respected authority figures?

Who was he, Darren Ng? A sweet, innocent boy who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time? A child of similar mold, bent on inciting rage through trivial acts of provocation. Or simply a product of our system, indifferent and apathetic, suffering similar delusions of invincibility as his assailants?

And who are we really? For this one there are no additional questions. We are a nation of forgotten passions and dreams tossed aside. A state in perpetual disarray and never-ending disputes cowering behind the camouflage of white that promotes the idea of racial and religious harmony as a law, not a virtue. A land that has been educated by an arrogant and incredibly flawed system that has failed over and over again in more areas than should be allowed.

And now, the four boys face the mandatory death sentence. One death compensated by four more. Darren’s family and friends struggle with their grief, and initiate tussles with the Razor TV staff, whom i refuse to acknowledge as the media because the truth is I’d rather be bound to a chair and forced to watched Glenn Beck blowing Bill O’Reilly (which, now that I think about it, happens every friday) than to watch a bunch of self-indulgent journalist wannabes stroll around playing reporter. And yet the world continues spinning. Anti death penalty campaigners have fallen strangely silent over the subject, which is really of no surprise to me. After mostly campaigning for drug traffickers, it would come across as sudden to have to decide whether murderers get one more shot. If I’ve pre-maturely insinuated anything, you have my apologies.

But, with all due respect to those left behind by Darren Ng, the closure you believe you will receive from the deaths of his assailants will not arrive. The damage has been done, and all you can really do is ensure that no further harm is caused, that no more blood has to be shed. I don’t pretend to understand a loss this tragic and savage, but I do understand losses. An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.

October 23, 2010

Right To Vengeance?

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 1:29 am

The death penalty as a subject has been debated, torn up and put back together so many times, discourse has become extremely predictable. The keywords you would expect to see include “human rights”, “cruel”, “inhumane” and my personal favourite, “deterrent”. It is, of course, unrealistic to expect pro-death penalty campaigners to stop using the imaginary deterrence factor as an argument. But i was pleasantly surprised to note no such point in this piece.

In fact, the entire piece was surprisingly easy to read. I am, of course, resisting the urge to make a dig at Mr Padulo. It’s nothing personal; it’s just… YPAP members seem to have some sort of mockery lightning rod on them. The point of Mr Padulo’s article revolves around the human rights of the victims’ families. What of the families, he asks. What about their rights? They’ve just lost a loved one, what about their rights?

What about their rights, Michael? They have the right to prosecute, and they have the right to hurl profanities at the accused. They have the right to be upset. What they don’t have, is the right to seek revenge. And that seems to be exactly what Michael is suggesting. That families of victims be given the right to seek vengeance. Michael is suggesting that in order for these heartbroken people to “repair their broken lives”, the accused must die.

What a dreadful suggestion. What an absolutely terrible thought to have. Admittedly, human beings are pre-disposed to have violent tendencies. It’s part of our evolution. Most still believe that it is prolonged exposure to violence which turns us onto that path. The truth is, it is the guidance and the education we receive throughout our lives which prevents our core personality, which is most certainly violent, from seeping out. But does this mean that the only way for us to receive closure is to murder whoever’s done us harm? As cynical as i am, I’d like to believe that’s not the case. I believe that two wrongs don’t make a right. I believe that two deaths won’t make the world a better place.

I am, perhaps not shocked, perhaps not appalled, but immensely surprised that a senior lecturer, an educator, is advocating the concept of vengeance. An eye for an eye. And as a right. A human right. For a man who is “shocked into disbelief at the extent to which human beings can become so utterly depraved and bestial,” one more murder does not seem to cause any sort of distress to him. I don’t think you’re as dense as you made yourself out to be, so I’ll have to believe that you were on something.

The truth is, Mr Padulo, and I sincerely hope you don’t take this personally, the death penalty is simply a way for governments to exert their power, and for people to satisfy their bloodlust. It does absolutely nothing for society, except perhaps to shift humanity slightly backwards on the evolutionary scale. Nobody is saying that criminals should be spared from punishment. What I’m saying is that there is a better way, a more civilised way for us to behave. A mode of punishment that would both help these families find closure, and reform these criminals. Would that not be the most ideal, rational, logical and objective solution?

October 6, 2010

Hypocrisy

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 1:18 am

This sudden influx of overly-dramatic tributes to the late Mdm Kwa Geok Choo is both sad and amusing to me. It is also pathetic, and hypocritical, and just reading them makes me ill.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t really care. It’s not that I’m being intentionally spiteful; it’s not in my nature. Nor am I putting on display any sort of sarcastic response. I genuinely don’t care. I didn’t care that she was alive, I didn’t care that she was sick, and now that she’s passed, I’m certainly not going to insult her and her family by pretending that I ever did. But I do feel offended, and disgusted that so many would make the effort to perform such a cruel piece of deception.

While I must confess to being slightly horrified with Gopalan Nair’s very angsty farewell passage to Mdm Kwa, I cannot help but respect his honesty. Instead of crumbling and revering one of his arch-nemeses as she lay in her casket, he chose to ignore being politically correct, and let her have it. But you. You, you and you. The baby-boomers and the echo-boomers. What exactly is it you wish to accomplish?

Perhaps you wanted to feel better about not knowing her real name. Or her age. Perhaps you wanted to feel better about not even knowing where she was, or if she was even alive. For whatever reason, you choose to revere her for the woman she was, even though it is evident that none of you really even care to begin with. What’s even more perturbing to me, is that you’d assume this plain show of deception to be a show of respect to her and her family. If anything, it is a sign of MASSIVE disrespect. A mockery.

Go on, make your online eulogy. Parade your faux sense of respect and self-righteousness around and garner in return satisfaction that you’ve done the right thing. You can call it respect for the dead, or anything else that makes you feel better about yourself. I’ll call it what it really is.

September 8, 2010

Germ-Free

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 4:38 pm

It’s 7.30 and class is almost over. I’m desperately trying to explain the effects of alcohol on the skin, and its exceptionally useful qualities to my student.

“Alcohol also kills germs. That’s why people use alcohol swabs to sterlise equipment and wounds and such.”

“Then we should all shower with alcohol!”

I put my palm to my face. She goes on to suggest a life in a germ free environment. The next 5 minutes is spent explaining the impracticality of her suggestions. To live in a germ-free environment is not being able to run about, or play, or go to the mall. Normal life would be impossible.

“Can! Ask the government! They will make it happen!”

Before I can help myself, a loud sneer makes its way out my vocal cords. I can barely look at her as I mutter my reply.

“Nah, they can’t. They won’t.”

“Yes! Can!”

She’s smiling, widely. The naivety and innocence of a child is not, as many suggest, beautiful. It is foolish. It is ugly, because in the face of overwhelming odds, it fights to stay afloat the sea of cynicism that expands with every second. Like a gazelle staring down a pride of hungry lions, it gets mauled, and eventually dies in a pool of its own blood. Where’s the beauty in that?

But it makes me wonder. Was I ever this hopeful? Had I ever placed that much trust in the government? And if I did, where did that trust come from? And where, oh where, has it gone? Losing faith in a government is unlike losing faith in a pizza delivery service. The delivery man may be caught in a jam, but he’ll deliver one way or another. And if he sends you the wrong order, you can always complain to management or provide feedback. Improvements may not be immediately visible, but at least you’ll get a free pizza for your troubles.

I clear my throat, and move on. Some questions are just not worth the effort.

August 13, 2010

Pre-judging

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 1:48 am

It’s a wednesday and I’m flipping through assessment books, waiting for my next student to arrive, wondering why math didn’t seem this fun a decade ago. Suddenly, an alarm in my head goes off. Someone’s standing in my blind spot. A reflex i picked up as a kid. I turn my head just enough to catch a glimpse of who it is from the corner of my eye.

“Yes, Anthea?”

“Watcha doin’?”

9 years old and one of the brightest kids I’ve ever met, Anthea peers over my shoulder.

“Preparing for my next lesson.”

“Oh…”

I continue flipping the pages, still wary of her presence. Algebra… 10 years later and it’s like connecting dots.

“Are you a gangster?”

The wheels in my head screech to a halt. I am genuinely stumped. Anthea senses it, and tries to explain herself.

“My parents say that people with tattoos are gangsters.”

I put down the book and turn to look at her. She shows no fear, only curiosity. It is an encouraging look, one i long to see on the faces of all my students, one that shows me that I’ve done a good job with them.

“What do you think, Anthea? Do you think I’m a gangster?”

“No. You’re smart. You help everyone with their work.”

She flashes me a smile. I can’t help but reciprocate the sentiment.

“Then there’s your answer. Ink on someone’s body doesn’t make them any worse than the next person. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.”

“Okay!”

As I watch her skip away, the question slowly begins sinking into the quicksand of my subconscious. It amazes me, society’s prejudice against people who refuse to conform to normality. Even more flabbergasting is how parents can believe that such prejudice protects their kids. How can one genuinely believe that a man with a tattoo is more likely to kidnap a child than one who doesn’t? Logically, statistically, it doesn’t make sense.

But there’s the problem. Parents have stopped making sense. Because whenever their kids are involved, rationality becomes a non-issue. Discrimination is discouraged, but not when it feels right. Treat everyone fairly, unless the colour of their skin makes you doubt. Be wary of strangers, especially those who fit a particular model.  And as if that isn’t messed up enough, spread that hate to your kids. Teach them the same bigotry you subscribe to.

As an educator, the only thing worse than witnessing such indoctrination is not being able to stop it. Our influences only spread so far. An hour and a half, sometimes two, of education is easily wiped clean by a week in their own home. The qualities I try to impart unto my students; rationality, curiosity, courage, willingness to stand up for their beliefs, I hold close. And i can’t imagine teaching my kids, if i ever have any, any differently. I’d want them to find their own spoon and feed themselves, to believe that who they are and who they will become ultimately depends on decisions they will and should make on their own. I’d want them to love, but not just the ones who look like them.

August 6, 2010

National Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — theinkhorn @ 7:12 pm

Our country turns 45 in three days. Flags are hanging off window sills, banners everywhere, stages are literally set for a festival of the wildest order. Yet, before you start lighting sparklers, before you paint your face red and put on that grin, ask yourself one simple question: What exactly are you celebrating?

The banners, or the beautiful, clean and green landscape?

The fireworks, or the safety stemming from a strict no-guns policy?

The parade, or the sophisticated transport system, designed for our convenience?

The earth-rattling rumble of song and dance, or the lack of natural disasters?

The public holiday, or the nation’s birthday?

The national colours, or the colourful assortment of food made available?

The culture, or the lack of one?

The day, or the idea behind it?

Do you celebrate because they tell you to? Or do you celebrate because, despite knowing what you could obtain, you recognize what you already hold.

Do you celebrate their day? Or do you celebrate yours?

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