Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

Category: Hong Kong (and Singapore)

Stinking of Double Standard?

On 16 February this year, about 100 Hong Kongers marched on the streets of a popular shopping district to call for curbs on the number of mainland China tourists. Their demand is very reasonable for a city as land scarce and overcrowded as Hong Kong: last year, there were close to 41 million mainland visitors to Hong Kong, averaging 112,000 visitors per day and more than five times the city’s population of 7.2 million. Taiwan, which is 32 times the size of Hong Kong, has a daily quota of 3,000 mainland tourists.

Unfortunately, the protestors’ rightful cause was marred by the language used: they called mainlanders “locusts,” a label that first appeared in the infamous locust advertisement in 2012.

Top government officials quickly attacked the “anti-locust” protest for “tarnishing” the city’s image; one went as far as condemning the rally as “barbaric and uncivilised activities” that ran counter to Hong Kong’s values.

The same official who has such strong words for the protestors, however, has not uttered a word in the unfolding and escalating saga over a mainland boy defecating on a busy street in Hong Kong (see video at 1:34).

It seems that the official has varying levels of tolerance for sh*t, depending on which part of the human anatomy it was discharged from. Continue reading…

Poverty as Taboo in Singapore

Earlier I wrote a blogpost on poverty and income inequality in Singapore, which rankled some pro-establishment netizens (read their comments). What struck me most was not their eagerness to stick up for the government – which was nothing extraordinary – but their defensiveness towards poverty.

By their reaction, these netizens seemed to have taken my straight talk on poverty as a personal affront. First they tried to deny that poverty exists in Singapore; then in the face of evidence they began to point fingers at the poor, blaming them for their plight.

Why and how did poverty become a taboo in our society, which, just a few decades ago in the 1970s, had a 55% “lower-working class” population teetering on the brink of indigence (Lim Yun Xin, “Voicing Poverty,” p. 19)? How did the poor become stigmatized over a mere few decades? Continue reading…

Hong Kong vs Singapore: Public Housing

What comes to mind when you think of Hong Kong’s housing? Dark, cramped, dingy and tiny spaces tucked away in decrepit buildings, or less dreary but equally tiny and exorbitantly-priced shoebox apartments in chopstick-like skyscrapers (pictures)? Either way, the gut feeling or general impression of most people, including yours truly, is that housing conditions in Hong Kong leave much to be desired. By comparison, housing conditions in Singapore are superior by a long shot. If we talk specifically about public housing, it is even more untenable to suggest that Hong Kong’s public housing is better than Singapore’s in any way.

So unsurprisingly, Hong Kong’s Mingpao draws similar conclusions after comparing housing in the two cities: public housing (HDB flats/政府組屋) in Singapore is not just more spacious but also more affordable.  The annual supply of HDB flats matches the number of newly registered married couples; those with children can upgrade to bigger flats while the aged may monetize existing flats by selling them back to the government and downgrading to smaller ones.

I can already imagine Hongkongers green with envy. Continue reading…

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side. Or is it?

Many a times I’ve heard Singaporean professors say, with a tinge of envy, that Singapore is not as blessed as Hong Kong because we do not have mainland China as our “hinterland.” Because the remark was made to a Chinese audience – oft times Chinese officials on “learning trips” to Singapore – it’s hard to tell if the professors were brown-nosing (90% probability) or if they were sincere. Whatever it is, this sort of comment falls squarely into the “cringe-inducing” category by my taxonomy, and I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from shooting off this rejoinder, “Thank heavens China is not Singapore’s hinterland!”

I may be speaking for myself, but this is why I think Singaporeans are not terribly envious of Hong Kong’s proximity to China. The pervasively bad press on China puts us off, and encounters with mainland Chinese in our day to day life have accentuated the sense of us versus them, even for Singaporean Chinese and particularly those of us who are more proficient in English than Mandarin. As it is, the Singapore we live in today is already inundated with Chinese newcomers. Just imagine what happens if China is just next door.

For that matter, neither are many Hongkongers jubilant to have China as their hinterland. Continue reading…

Finally, a Minimum Wage?

Last week, these headlines were splashed across our mainstream media: “10,000 cleaners set to get pay increases” (Today); “Across the board pay increase for cleaners” (清洁工起薪全面提高, Lianhe Zaobao); “Proposed cleaners’ pay starts from $1,000” (Straits Times). Some even likened it to “a minimum wage in deed and not in name” which would then signify an about-turn for our government who, as recent as last year, was adamant that “a minimum-wage policy runs counter to the Singapore work ethic and culture of self-reliance” (source).

The plight of our poorly-paid cleaners (“My wife’s life as a cleaner”) has struck a chord in many Singaporeans and last week’s news must have brought some cheer to those of us who believe a pay raise for workers in the cleaning industry is long overdue.

But is it really as good as a statutory minimum wage? And are there any loopholes that may be exploited by unethical employers? Since these are only recommendations, what are the incentives for employers to implement the guidelines? Are there any penalties for errant accredited cleaning companies that have won tenders for government jobs? What measures are in place to prevent the exploitation of disadvantaged workers? Continue reading…

Teaching Love Through Hate

(To all who have been harping on how “xenophobic” Singaporeans are – yes I am talking about you – open your eyes and see the Chinese textbook example of xenophobia before you so readily brand us as such).

Destroy Hondas and Toyotas, boycott everything Japanese (except the porn star Aoi Sora who, apparently, “belongs to the world”), assault Japanese on the streets, attack the Japanese envoy’s car, besiege the Japan embassy, loot shops selling Japanese and other goods to your heart’s content . . .

These are just some instances of how anti-Japan furor, or mass hysteria, has been running high in China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute in the past weeks. Tensions between the two countries have escalated now that Japan purchased some of the islands from their private owners, and China retaliated by sending six ships into Japanese waters near the islands (BBC report here and AlJazeera on the island dispute).

The fury of the Chinese knows no bounds. Some unfortunate celebrities had also been sucked into the whirlpool of senseless hatred. For doing something as innocuous as eating sushi, or taking up filming jobs in Japan, poor Fiona Sit, Tony Leung and Bruneian Wu Chun had been hounded by Chinese netizens gone ballistic.

Where do such intense anger and hate emanate from? Continue reading…

5 Observations on Hong Kong’s Anti-National Education Protest

This week I am bogged down with work but would like to share some thoughts on the Hong Kong anti-National Education (NE) protest as a follow-up to my earlier blog post on the issue.

First, a brief recapitulaton of events:

On 8 September 2012, a day before Hong Kong’s four-yearly election of its legislators (LegCo election), the city’s political chief Leung Chun-ying (aka CY Leung) appeared to have succumbed to pressure as he announced that it would be up to individual schools to decide if and when they should implement NE curriculum. This, as astute Hong Kongers pointed out, may be just a temporizing tactic to palliate mounting public anger over the issue ahead of the LegCo election, lest the government’s reluctance to back down harms the pro-Beijing candidates’ winning chances in the election.

Protestors, including concerned parents, teachers and students, had marched in a rally on 29 July. This took place barely a month after the annual march on July 1st, the day commemorating Hong Kong’s return to China.

When the government failed to respond to protestors’ demands, three elementary school students of a student activist group “Scholarism” (学民思潮) embarked on a 72-hour hunger strike on 30 August. The act touched the hearts of many and prompted more hunger strikers, including pioneer activists now in their sixties, to join in.

At the same time, supporters donning black surrounded the government building for consecutive nights, ending their sit-in only on 8 September when the government made some concessions. Protestors, however, vowed to turn their opposition to the NE the into a sustained movement till they achieve their aim of making the government remove the NE plan entirely. Continue reading…

China’s “National Education”: Lessons for Singapore

Warning: If your eyes automatically well up with tears each time you sing or hear your national anthem, then this post is not for you.

This week I was supposed to blog about the prospects of democratization in Malaysia and Singapore but I felt compelled to write this post after seeing the photograph below. It is an excerpt of a teaching guide and the highlighted parts translate as:

“Questions to prompt students to share their experience in singing and hearing the national anthem: When you hear the national anthem, does it bring to mind the Motherland? Does it remind you that you are a Chinese national? . . . Does it not evoke your sense of national pride and move you to tears? . .  .

Note: Should the teacher find that the student does not display strong emotions of patriotism/nationalism, do not criticize him. Accept his behavior but ask the student to reflect upon himself.” (emphasis mine) Continue reading…

Hong Kong vs Singapore (II): Combating Corruption

Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) are two of the most acclaimed anti-corruption commissions in Asia, often seen and studied as “role models” in combating corruption. Both were established by Crown administrators to check rampant corruption within the then colony’s police force, and have since enjoyed immense success in fighting graft.

That said, the two commissions are very different in many ways. The ICAC is staffed by 1,200 employees on contract; staff cannot enter Hong Kong government after they leave ICAC; turnover is low, with more than half having been with the Commission for over ten years. The CPIB is a leaner organization with a staff strength of only 102. While the ICAC adopts a three-pronged approach – investigation, prevention, communication – in tackling corruption, the CPIB focuses on investigation.

Balancing Forces (and the Lack of)

The most prominent distinction between the two, however, lies in their reporting hierarchy. Continue reading…

Hong Kong vs Singapore: Who’s Getting Ahead?

The relationship between Singapore and Hong Kong is one of rivalry. In the economic sense, I mean. We vie to be Asia’s financial hub, compete to be a haven for investors and rich migrants among others. But one realm in which Singapore never aspired to beat its rival is that of civil liberties – freedom of speech, protest rights and others. Singapore ranked 135th in the 2011 press freedom index, way behind Hong Kong which is in 54th place. Till this day, there is only one designated spot for public speeches and gathering in Singapore. The vibrant media, freedom of speech and protest cultures Hongkongers enjoy have always filled me with envy.

But recent developments in Hong Kong have been rather disturbing, and all-too-familiar to what we experience here in Singapore. Continue reading…