Today, an old friend, Donald Low, who moved to Hong Kong in 2019, has published his first piece for Jom, “Why Singapore’s government and economy are outperforming Hong Kong’s”.
Yes, you read that right. Donald, a former Admin Service officer who’s known for his trenchant critiques of the “Singapore consensus”, has today offered us some cheer. Perhaps, despite the photos of siu ngoh (roasted goose) and hiking trails he loves to bore us with, he actually misses home.
But seriously, it’s an important piece that helps explain some fundamental reasons why many in Hong Kong have been moving to Singapore—a trend that has likely led to some stresses here, including in our rental market.
I’ll come back to Hong Kong, and the cabal of Singaporean intellectuals based there, but first: Singapore This Week! One of the slight surprises from our reader survey is that a good chunk of newsletter readers don’t even know that we have this weekly digest.
Singapore This Week is Jom’s opinionated update on our city–from arts to politics and tech–and it’s out every Friday. Those who do read it, including diaspora Singaporeans eager to stay in touch, now consider it an essential part of their literary diet.
This week’s bumper issue, our longest to date, has blurbs on Karl Liew (who lied about Parti Liyani); MUIS initially discouraging migrant workers from praying in mosques tomorrow; Hari Raya; a May Day rally by Workers Made Possible; “The Butterfly Lovers”, an operatic adaptation of the beloved Chinese folktale by Wild Rice and Victorian Opera; and, tragically, a late addition that had the team up last night, a story about the imminent first state execution this year, of Tangaraju s/o Suppiah, a Singaporean accused of abetting an attempt to smuggle cannabis.
Yes, you also read that right. We’re about to hang a person in a case about weed. Weed, the same substance that a majority of Singaporeans want legalised for medical use. Jom is against the death penalty generally, but for those wavering I hope the absurdity of this case alerts you to the grotesque injustices in our criminal justice system.
Next Wednesday, Tangaraju’s life will be taken in our names, and with our dollars. You and I paid for that rope.
I’m not entirely sure how to transition here, how to shift you out of that sombre mood, or if I even should, but let me try by telling you that Leong Mun Wai’s favourite foreign leaders are Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping. If the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) ever comes to power here, we may be in for some good old-fashioned, iron-fisted rule.
But again, seriously, Jom is glad that the PSP’s new secretary-general has responded to an e-mail Q&A, on everything from his new role to his favourite kind of prata. While many in the elite are dismissive of Leong—Vivian Balakrishnan, a minister, once called him “illiterate”—it appears that many Singaporeans can relate to him. A Jom reader wrote to me saying that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is making the same mistake with Leong that it once made with Chiam See Tong, founder of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
Before the 1984 general election, Lee Kuan Yew compared Chiam to his PAP opponent: “Mah Bow Tan, age 16, took his ‘O’ Levels—six distinctions, two credits. Mr Chiam, age 18—six credits, one pass.”
Chiam won over 60 percent of the vote, becoming only the second opposition member of parliament, holding his seat in Potong Pasir till 2011.
Parallels? Read more about Leong Mun Wai here.
This week we’ve also, following your requests, launched our new Letters page. In this first edition, we’ve published two readers’ critiques on Jom’s writing about Halimah Yacob, our president, and Lee Kuan Yew, as well as a laudatory letter on our essay on the repeal of S377A. Read the letters here. And feel free to write your own, anytime, for consideration in this section, by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me finish with Donald. It’s an odd fact that several of Singapore’s most loved public intellectuals, including Cherian George and Kenneth Paul Tan, are based in Hong Kong. It wasn’t long ago that many regarded Hong Kong’s intellectual, literary and journalistic scene as far more vibrant than Singapore’s.
Much has changed under Xi Jinping. Whatever criticisms I may have about state censorship and bullying here, I never worry about being plucked off the streets and “disappeared”. Scores of foreign journalists have been kicked out; many have moved to places like Seoul and Singapore.
And so, as I read Donald’s precise analysis about Hong Kong and Singapore, the romantic in me also wonders if it’s a harbinger of the return, one day, of the many talented Singaporeans who live there.
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