10 Things I Cannot for the Life of Me Understand

  1. How is it that the snooty café downstairs can sell a can of Coca-Cola at $3.40 when the vending machine in the same literal building sells it for $0.90? Whose decision is this? Which idiot is buying the $3.40 cans and sustaining their business?
  2. I’ve never had the urge to spit on the ground in my life. Why are so many men spitting on the ground? Just swallow it?
  3. Why are so many university websites so ugly? You’re a leading educational institution but you can’t hire a web designer?

    evs

  4. In Interstellar, why did they let a random dude who drove a truck through their facility go to outer space in their expensive rocket? Don’t you need a PhD and like astronaut gravity training for that?

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    Yeah say goodbye to your daughter for 70+ years you prick.

  5. Why must tissue boxes all have ugly designs on them? Just make plain ones? Your business isn’t at stake, everyone buys tissues anyway and there are only 3 companies.

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  6. I don’t even know who’s fighting for what anymore in Syria and I do follow the news. I suspect nobody does and it’s worrying me that there’s so much devastation for something no one fully understands. If the Western media has a stake in it and it benefits them to portray Assad’s government as the primary antagonist, then I can’t believe so much that I’ve read. I know virtually ZERO and I’m useless anyway, I’m just some girl in a country far away with internet access.
  7. If you gave me the numbers and my A-Zone notecards from junior college I’ll be able to do some sick work with statistics but I will have no idea what any of the results mean. What is a z-test? I know how to do it but what is it?
  8. Why did Channel 5 market their red threads drama as a blockbuster BEFORE it even started airing? What block did it bust?

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  9. When I was 14 or 15 I went to the Singapore river on a field trip and there was this guy in a black and white striped polo shirt who came up to me on the bridge and made growling dog noises. Why did you do that, you scared the crap out of me.
  10. If prostitution is bad, girls should retain their virginity until marriage, homosexuality is a sin and young men are encouraged to go out and have sex, then who are they having sex with?
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A Thought

What really scares me about the world is that, for some people, it’s not a matter of convincing them that something is true. They already know the facts and figures, they know that people are suffering and that the world is a terrible place. But they also like it that way. Some people want it to stay that way, and no amount of rational speech is going to sway them. They don’t give a shit about other people because it doesn’t mean anything to them, and that’s just the way things are supposed to roll. What do we do?

A Singaporean Feminist’s Opinion on NS

19337609Photo unapologetically take from TODAY.

Feminist writer Natalie Tan gives her 2 cents on national conscription and on its social implications, in the process reaping frustrations which were sown since the regiment’s implementation, and annoying everyone with the deliberate overuse of the word “feminist”.

So how’d you like the title? Was gunning for the most aggravating/abrasive title possible. Other candidates included:

  1. Chinese Singaporeans and NS
  2. Young Asian Female Looking for Trouble, click to find out more
  3. Should girls be enlisted in the Singaporean army?
  4. Amos Yee Opens Up About NS: The Interview

I also learnt to change my opening lines so that they show up in the link description on Facebook shares and provide a nice summary. Hopefully that does the trick to draw more eyeballs, because otherwise my opening lines have always been non-social media friendly.

Ok your time as an internet reader is valuable. Now that you’re here, are you ready for what I’m about to say? Are you really ready?

Ok here goes.

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I empathise.

No really I do. I decided to write this because I came across the non-news that some Singaporean girl posted a video berating men who complain about NS, and she even compared their physical exertion to that of illegal immigrants. I didn’t watch the video because I didn’t quite feel like spending my data charges on this crap, but it did remind me that I have a lot of thoughts on the topic, and I don’t think there’s a lot going around the internet on the topic from the point of view of anyone in a similar social position to me. In fact, my intuition tells me that people skirt the topic because it’s so difficult to write about it without stepping on anyone’s steel-toed combat boots.

Ok, so I’ve organised the rest of this article to address central, pressing questions. They’re not really classy academic questions, but these are the ones that consistently pop up on discussion forums and are usually met with some Jack_Boi87 comment like “idk lah sua :/”. Not very informative.

Ok first question. Why do you empathise?

I understand why Singapore needs a military defence force. It doesn’t just function on a practical level in the event of war, but it’s also symbolic and a semiotic requirement for any entity claiming to be a sovereign nation. It’s part of the impression. A country will only seem legitimate if it has a government, its own currency and an army. I, however, acknowledge the artificiality of nationhood. Nations are relatively new and their conception coincided with the invention of the novel. Yesteryear’s ideas of colonial empires seep into our present understanding of what it’s like to be a strong polity.

That being said, I think it’s unfortunate and symptomatic of larger social problems that we prioritise the preservation of a nation over the lives of individuals. People with their own lives and concerns and ambitions are reduced to a mere statistic in news reports and budget proposals. The bodies of young men have been objectified and are assessed based on their utility. The army functions like a well-oiled fighting machine and each soldier constitutes a tiny cog. Here I’m going to echo a bit of Foucault (bear with me): the state apparatus depends on the docility-utility of bodies.

A lot of movies and novels make the idea of fighting seem more palatable and even honourable because sacrifice is something that is compatible with the male ego. If you spend a lifetime hearing warmongering messages about how men should prove their worth by showing that they can fight, and then you live in a social environment where it’s difficult to show vulnerability to your male peers, then of course you’re going to need some sort of outlet to earn some dignity. A boy becomes a man when he blows up trying to evacuate his team. After that he is very much a Real Man when his body is encased in mahogany with a flag draped over it. The reality of war is very different though. I reckon most soldiers die very anti-climactic deaths (they forgot something, the weather conditions weren’t favourable, they starved in the cold, they fell sick from bacteria in rivers, they spend 1 month travelling and then die after 10 seconds of gunfire etc). And when you’re on the field, your humanity still exists in you. Of course it’s beneficial for the army as a whole for soldiers to march fearless into battle, but are they really fearless? Will you be if you were activated in war?

These things were more apparent when the British colonisers imposed conscription on Singaporean youths in 1954. Protests broke out because Chinese high school students did not want to serve a state that they did not identify with, and their petition was met with violent action from the colonial government. After the dissolution of colonial rule, military conscription could be rationalised along nationalistic lines, and that’s where all the Singapore is a small country, if not me then who, if not now then when rhetoric comes in.

I know another grievance is that men feel like they have lost 2 years of their lives and they’re not competing well career-wise. I have the suspicion that this is exacerbated by the fact that women are 2 years ahead. It doesn’t sit well with a lot of men to have women as their seniors, especially if they’re younger. That perception is itself a problem, and to be quite frank I don’t think this is a real issue that will stretch well into your adult life, because 1) statistically, women tend to be in different industries anyway, and 2) the camaraderie built from the shared experience of NS will help you in male-dominated industries. Real deals are struck on the golf course, not in the office. Admittedly, it’s different when you’re looking to work overseas. I think it becomes an issue then, because people won’t have the knowledge that you’re 2 years behind because of compulsory military service. I can’t really comment on this aspect because I’ve never spoken to anyone old enough to form an informed opinion on the long term effects of NS on an overseas career.

What do you think of guys who chao geng?

Full on empathy because if I were a guy and I did NS I would definitely chao geng too lol (but then again maybe if I were a guy I would be more encouraged to play sports, then I would be fitter and it won’t be so daunting, idk). Some men will flourish in the army, and some men won’t. I don’t want to discredit those who do well in the army because it does take backbreaking work to get far. It’s not something people are just born with. What I’m saying is that so many men are uninterested, and some are even scared away from “manly” activities because “manly” men have been mean to them in school. I personally know many boys like that because they tend to gravitate towards female friends (we’re less intimidating and know not to make fun of them). They are more interested in things like drawing, gardening, knitting, childcare, writing etc, and some of them are really excellent in those areas. I can see why they would be lazy in the army. If I didn’t care about something then I wouldn’t do it. Simple.

I guess the controversy arises because Singaporeans see NS as a responsibility, a duty. If you are lazy then you’re just shirking your due responsibility and jeopardising national security. And on top of all this, it’s a test to prove that you’re a good man, and no accolades in fashion design or nature photography will ever bring you the same adulation. I think it’s hideous that we think that way, and in an ironic roundabout way, it might even promote belligerent behaviour and make living less safe for everyone. When people see the term “gender role”, they think about women and house chores, but serving in NS is also a gender role, one imposed on men.

I want to clarify that I think it’s a great thing that some men are so dedicated to serving and that they’ve defied so many odds to rise up through the ranks, but I also think it’s fine if men don’t do that, and that they contribute to society by excelling in other areas.

Do you think girls should serve NS?

I don’t know how to answer this question because my real answer is that, ideally, I don’t want anybody in the world to be in the military. No soldiers at all. But obviously that’s not going to happen, so I will try to answer again with that grim fact in mind. Let’s work this out together.

Hmm. Yes, but a transition towards that will have to carefully address and manage social differences so that it benefits our country and doesn’t damage other sectors of living. For example, I know a lot of girls want to get a university degree and be married first before having their first child, and considering that the risks of pregnancy increase after 30, we would like to have all this done before then. Two years of NS will zap so much time from that little window. Maybe NS can be introduced later, once the woman has already given birth? But then she’ll be more sluggish then right? Then again not all women want to have children, but it’s very difficult to make a definite decision about all this when you’re only 18 and you haven’t even met your first boyfriend. It’s also not very conducive to assume that women would give birth because if they don’t then they’ll be treated like selfish spinsters. I really don’t know. Maybe there can be a half-serve half-study scheme for everyone? But that won’t be vigorous enough right, how can anyone be operationally ready like that?

I guess social expectations of what a woman should be like will also have to change before girls are enlisted. I’m sure boys would be happier knowing that girls are enlisted and that seems more fair, but after they ORD, are they going to accept the tanned and muscular women in their social circles? Are men going to respect that a woman will have as much knowledge and experience in the army (assuming that in this hypothetical universe, we do indeed do exactly the same things)?

Maybe women can serve as nurses. That is compatible with current sexist standards of what women should do and how they should behave – caring, nurturing, attending to the needs of other people before themselves, domestic, docile. It’s useful anyway to have a large proportion of the Singaporean population trained in first aid. But if we go along these lines then it sort of defeats the purpose of enlisting girls for fairness’ sake, because serving as a nurse is not as physically demanding and they don’t have to put their lives on the line in the event of a war. I really have no idea how all this can work out.

Before we move on to the next question, it’s really important to point out that I think many women are more capable/suited than men to serve in NS. I had this friend who was the head of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade and she was 1) very fit, more so than a lot of boys, 2) was always in leadership positions in sports, 3) very smart, one of the top students, 4) in admiration of military positions. I always thought she would have made an excellent soldier. I had another friend who was super interested in military planes and she knew all about them. She also had a really hardy personality. She also would have made a good soldier. I think we’re missing out on a lot when we gloss over people like them by virtue of their gender.

Are Singaporean girls pampered?

No, not anymore than your average developed country citizen. Singapore is a very wealthy nation, and the middle class here are expected to be able to afford treats like matcha tiramisus and S.E.A. Aquarium tickets. I think Singapore is a pretty pampered country in general, and the government is exceptionally paternalistic.

The answer changes if you switch the yardstick for measuring someone’s level of “pamperedness”. If you’re assessing a girl based on sexist ideas of what a girl should be like, then the millennial Singaporean girl would fall short on a lot. Here are a list of things that we are supposed to do:

  1. Cook and/or bake.
  2. Do all the house chores.
  3. Like and take care of children.
  4. Be loyal and faithful at the side of a boyfriend/husband who is a “man in the making” i.e. he has no money.
  5. Stay slim.
  6. Somehow look very pretty but don’t ask anyone for money to buy makeup and look pretty.
  7. Don’t talk so much, even if you obviously know more about something.
  8. Give birth.
  9. Be attracted to men who are not physically attractive/don’t have good grades/don’t have a job/have the courage to ask us out, because otherwise we’ll be shallow.
  10. Be attracted to Singaporean men otherwise we’re race traitors.
  11. Not go out so much, especially at night.
  12. Study hard and do well in school but then don’t do anything with your degree beyond a regular office job.
  13. Not hold any leadership positions, especially above men.
  14. Be virginal, the best case scenario being that you’ve never dated before.

Tell me, would you be able to obey ALL these rules? It’s difficult, and for a lot of us, it’s not even in our interest, so why would we? I guess if you hold these standards, Singaporean girls will be mighty pampered to you, but the news I have for you is that so are all other women in developed countries, and it’s not going to change your dating prospects, which we all know is the main point of the question. If you choose to stick by these standards, I suggest you work on your own personality, not because it will guarantee you a date, but because in general I think your personality needs work. You’re not entitled to a cooking and cleaning machine because you served NS.

Ok that’s about all I have for today, hope this was useful and interesting in one way or another.

Further Censoring of Art for Obscene Nudity

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has decreed on Friday, Nov 25 that two shows under the upcoming M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Naked Ladies and Undressing Room, exceed the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code (AECC). According to a spokesperson from IMDA and subsequent Straits Times reporting, the IMDA has the responsibility to protect young viewers from unsuitable content. I applaud the IMDA for stepping up to the plate and ensuring that the impressionable in society do not get exposed to obscene “celebrations” of naked bodies. And in fact, I say, why stop there? We have lost sight of our moral values and our sanity as civil members of society in our pursuit of pointless art. What is artistic integrity after all, if we are unable to prevent our children’s eyeballs from being scorched by the photons bouncing off naked skin? Surely we owe the children in society that much.

I have several suggestions for extending the ban on nudity to other platforms. The visual arts are so accessible nowadays, it’s important for us to be thorough in protecting the innocence of the doe-eyed young.

Let’s start with the Italian Renaissance.

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I am so ashamed of this piece that I feel like I’ve compromised on my values by putting this up on my blog. It’s a small price to pay for the good of Singapore, though. This is the Vitruvian Man, a diagram of sin drawn by “genius” Leonardo Da Vinci, who we all know is a renowned homosexualist. Just imagine if your child saw this, legs splayed out in all its glory. How are you going to explain to you child that a naked man in a starfish position can roughly touch the circumference of an imagined circle? You know what else has five points and occupies a circle? A PENTAGRAM. This is unacceptable, and any visual citation of this piece should at least produce a warning message so parents can avert their young ones’ eyes.

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The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. First of all, Venus is not real, so how can they give us the impression that she exists? Second of all, I can see that Venus is still interested in maintaining her modesty because a floaty forest nymph is hurrying to cover her with a flowing scarf, but in the first place, what self-respecting woman would emerge NAKED out of a giant clam shell like that? And did you know that giant clams are endangered!? DISGUSTING. What kind of environment-hating nipple-freeing society are we trying to encourage here? I say we exercise our best judgment and censor pictures of this piece. Or, we can create a new version where she is already wearing the red silk scarf. It doesn’t have to be boring, we’re not trying to stifle creativity here. I’m guessing maybe we can drape it like in this Hermes demo here:

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This bustier asymétrique looks quite chic, no? Very fashion forward.

Anyway, this atrocity of nudity continues even in baroque works and in pieces following the French Revolution. You’d think we would know better, but it only goes to show that the arts is a hotbed for debauchery to fester. Boorish oil paintings have been flourishing under the guise of fine art for so long, like the underground rat population at Bukit Batok. Abhorrent.

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This is Lady Liberty Leading the People. Leading them where you ask?

INTO SIN.

Is there a need for her chest to be exposed? Who is that small boy next to her? Does his mother know he’s been frolicking around with firearms and Ms Bare-It-All? What kind of agenda is this promoting? Why does the man on the left look like Abraham Lincoln? The artist got one thing right. Notice all the dead bodies piling up in the foreground of the work? This work is prophetic. It’s announcing the arrival of society’s decay, which we will no doubt come to with the leadership of naked people.

It’s tempting to cast blanket statements about the aggressive and radical liberisation of Western powers, and to say that the hegemony and hypervisibility of their images have infiltrated even the most Confucian of our Asian hearts. We, however, owe this topic a little more nuance in thought. Our own art pieces have been obscene and masquerading as cultural treasures, even in trusted institutions like the National Gallery Singapore.

 

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Tell me, if you were sitting around forlornly looking at your rattan baskets of radishes, will you be topless? What sort of degenerate society was Cheong Soo Pieng seeking to depict? Our Southeast Asian civilisation is one that is dignified and we know where our morals stand. This is unacceptable, and it’s a shame that even now, with the benefit of postmodern rationality, we are unable to shed images of nakedness. Nakedness is a carnal sin. It’s a violation of nature. Don’t ask me how but I just know it’s unnatural and I bet even Adam and Eve at least had leaves or something.

These harmful images aren’t just confined within the walls of museums. They’ve invaded public spaces. They have the audacity to display genitals, loud and proud, in full view of passers-by who did nothing to consent to such violations.

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Absurd. There’s not one but FIVE naked boys, and all of them seem to be delighting in their obscenity. There’s no bronze pile of clothes lying near the river, so I doubt that the boys were even going to put on clothes after their debaucherous swim. They might have even walked naked to the river. Who lives near the river? They’re either rich (and should know better, they should guard their reputations) or they live in a neighbourhood estate and came all the way out just to display their dingdongs near the river, an icon of national identity. This has gone too far.

There are so many other pieces that should be pointed out, but alas, I am only one diligent citizen. Fellow Singaporeans, I urge you all to be on the look out for any flashes of skin, and to report them. We cannot be complacent in our fight against lawless genitalia regalia. Let’s all do our part to protect our young ones.

The Yearbook Entry on Being Special

“Nothing is so common-place as the wish to be remarkable.”
Oliver Wendell-Holmes Sr.

When I first stepped into this school we wore “best and brightest” proudly brandished on our sleeves. I remember sitting in the MPH, looking around and genuinely believing that I’ve found safety and security. I’ve worked so hard in junior college and I’ve slept over in the art studio for so many nights and now I’ve finally found my Eden. Years of the Singaporean education system have led me to believe that once I set foot into the pearly white gates of NUS, my life will be an air-conditioned cruise. I looked around at the bobbing blue and orange balloons and the bobbing heads of equally starry-eyed students and beamed. We are the 0.something accepted students. We are smart. We are special.

Now fast forward four years and I’m hurriedly typing my yearbook write-up from a beige cubicle at my internship. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an article about the grand failure of the liberal arts college education system. It’s about its success and, more importantly, about my expectations. I do have a little bit of a save-the-world thing going on, and if anything it’s been amplified through my studies here at Yale-NUS College, but I also learnt something crucial for every fledgling adult – I am not special. I may be passionate, I may be smart, but for the most part, so are other people, and it is mostly my socioeconomic position that determines where my cards fall in the game of life.

Above everything, my college experience has taught me that life isn’t about me. The fabric of the world is made up of 7 billion subjectivities, all woven together in a network where I am but a data point. The world doesn’t owe me anything. It doesn’t have to realise how supposedly wonderful I am. Instead, I have to be useful to the world. Much like Liam Neeson in his endless pursuit of stereotypical Eastern European mob bosses, I have a very particular set of skills, but I have to work hard to make them relevant to the people around me. Not a lot of people have been given the opportunity to learn things at an intersection (most people learn things narrowly, or they didn’t get to learn at all). I need to use this knowledge to lift communities and perform my little bit of the world’s act, and if I’m not doing my job well, then I better roll my sleeves up and put some elbow grease in it. There are things far bigger than myself that are worth fighting for, and I’m going to devote my time and my skills to them.

I know it doesn’t look it, but I’m optimistic about the future. Call it the foolishness of youth if you will, but I think we’re at a pivotal point in human history. More information is freely available on the internet today than in the last hundreds of years combined. Young people continue to innovate to close both physical and institutional gaps in our social environment. There are more literate people today than in any point in history, and rapid globalisation has made it possible for us to identify the common humanity in vastly different peoples. Who knows, maybe after the Big Robot Replacement, we’ll overcome the ravages of capitalism and then all of us will be freer to work jobs that require human interaction. In any case, I’m excited to be a part of all this, and I have been fortunate enough to be educated and to understand how the world is evolving. Former colonies are negotiating their relationship to the West, the rise of secularism has been met with a resurgence of religious fervour, the supply chain is expanding (further separating workers from their products of labour), populations are slowly congregating and homogenising, and the internet has formed new visual vocabularies (literal memes). Interesting times to live in.

In situating myself in functional society and in writing my final thoughts down for the school yearbook, it would be odd, and even suspicious, to leave school culture unmentioned. I still stand by the opinion that the school doesn’t produce special geniuses. What the school has a knack for producing though, are people who would walk with me to Cheers at midnight, and people who make a really good cup of genmaicha for a sobbing friend. This school is more than a school to me. It has been my home for the last four years. And it doesn’t matter what building we’re in, because we’re not held together by institutional rules – we’re friends. I know every single face from the Class of 2017, and I know at least one factoid about each person, because we’ve all crossed paths at some point in our college career. I don’t talk to everyone on a regular basis (regrettably), but everyone plays a crucial part of our community, and every absence is felt. The school didn’t quite feel complete when so many of us were abroad in our third year. The dining halls were noticeably quieter when David wasn’t around to tell me about some independent play in Malaysia. Drawing sessions were duller when Chen Xi left for a bit. I remember returning from my first summer internship and everyone was excited to see other Yale-NUS students again.

It’s easy to lose sight of all this when we’re in such a competitive environment. We live from deadline to deadline. Work is never done. In the first two years, we had problems with event attendance because we were all too busy planning our own events to be audiences for someone else’s. We are preoccupied with ideas which are either spatially or temporally distant, such that we don’t live in the proverbial here and now – upcoming interviews, case studies, model conferences, exhibitions, fellowships. These things are important, but so is the reality in front of us. We are, immediately, human.

I’m struggling to find the words to close this write-up. I’m typing this at the end-of-year break, a good semester away from our actual graduation, so I only have a vague understanding of how anyone would be feeling. It’s a quiet kind of sadness that wells up in my chest when I walk to the dining hall with my friends. I know drifting apart is inevitable for most of the people I’ve met here. But I hope that after our graduation, every Class of 2017 student reading this knows that they have a friend in me, even if we didn’t quite speak to each other. I hope Facebook does what it’s supposed to do and gives me updates about your new experiences, and you can always count on me to provide a scathing feminist comment on your political statuses.

 

Love,

Natalie