Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

Category: Others

Ilo Ilo: A Portrait of an Ordinary Singaporean Family in Adversity

Although the name of the first Singapore film I watched in a cinema eludes me, the experience has endured: I still remember how enthralling and magical it was, to see on the silver screen familiar sights and scenes of Singapore, and to hear characters speaking like locals do.

This excitement induced by novelty, however, quickly fizzled out.

Since then, sadly, the Singapore feature film has more or less degenerated into formulaic facsimiles, like the surfeit of indistinguishable shopping malls that have sprung up in our heartlands. Take a local setting, cast familiar faces who can deliver lines in Singlish or a mix of languages and dialects, throw in the occasional anodyne snipe at the government (or a ghost or two) and, lo and behold, you have the ingredients for a top-grossing local film. Never mind the weak plot, banal jokes, and lackluster or over-the-top acting.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that you can’t find local elements in Anthony Chen’s award-winning debut feature film Ilo Ilo. On the contrary, Ilo Ilo has a realistic late 1990s’ Singapore setting painstakingly re-created under the keen supervision of Chen: his team visited some 500 HDB flats before finally locating one with the specific door grilles and flooring that he wanted.

But unlike other Singapore productions in which a pastiche of local elements is foregrounded and often supplants the story, those that permeate Ilo Ilo are subtly embedded to serve and strengthen the narrative, to the extent that a reviewer comments: “Except for the Tamagotchi toys Jia Le plays with, the late-’90s period background is de-emphasized.”

The late 1990s milieu may appear nondescript to an outsider but is fondly recognizable to a local who has lived through the period. Says a crew member, “Every tiny thing in Anthony’s films is thought through, nothing is accidental.” Continue reading…

Healthcare Financing: Tweaks or Tricks?

In his 2013 Budget announcement earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the government would look into lowering Singaporeans’ out-of-pocket health spending.

On Sunday evening, we learned more about how this may be achieved through Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2013 National Day Rally (NDR) speech. In summary, these are the tweaks to healthcare financing Singaporeans can expect in future Continue reading…

The Great Leap Backward

Between 1958 and 1962, 45 million people perished in the Great Famine of China (watch documentary). The death toll exceeds the total casualties of World War One, and is close to that of World War Two.

It took decades for the real magnitude of this man-made catastrophe to come to light. Prior to the arrival of an archive law that allowed access to a legion of previously classified materials, historians, extrapolating the death toll from China’s population statistics, made more conservative estimates ranging from 15 to 36 million.

As the famine ravaged the countryside, the rest of the world and many in China who continued to consume produce forcibly procured from deprived peasants had little inkling of the scale and gravity of the unfolding tragedy: humans, reduced to bones, were dying by the droves; farmland was barren and trees were stripped bare of their barks for food; cannibalism was rife with many devouring corpses while others killed family members for their flesh. Continue reading…

Finding a Way Out of the Haze

Responding to criticisms that the government could do more to tackle the haze, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said: “If it was within our control we will never allow this to happen. My point to Singaporeans is we will continue to do our best, please understand the limitations of international relationships and foreign policy and the fact that every country is sovereign and we have limited control over what happens in Indonesia.”

Shanmugam was referring to how ASEAN has failed to pressure Indonesia into ratifying the 2002 Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution after 11 years.

But perhaps “pressure” is not the right word to use. ASEAN is staunchly non-interventionist and works by consensus. This famed “ASEAN way” has long earned the regional grouping the reputation of a “talk shop” that is big on words and small on action.

The haze problem is a good case-in-point. Continue reading…

Fight Internet Censorship, Free Your Mind

It seems that Internet censorship in Singapore (described by the government as a “light-touch” regulatory framework) mostly depends on a combination of access controls (such as requiring political websites to register for a license) and legal pressures (such as defamation lawsuits and the threat of imprisonment). The intention is to prevent people from posting objectionable content (source, p. 81).

Singapore’s prominent bloggers and alternative news websites have concertedly launched a petition to urge the Media Development Authority (MDA) to rescind the licensing requirement for “online news sites”; a protest is also slated to take place this Saturday, 8 June at Hong Lim Park.

Bloggers and activists have explained why we should all care about this new ruling which has taken effect from 1 June 2013, barely a few days after it was announced to the public.

However, if we go by past experience, I daresay the likelihood of our government revoking this new licensing framework is close to nil.

Just look at its response to the opposition to the controversial Population White Paper.

Despite the strong backlash from the society and reservations expressed by people in the PAP camp, our leaders did not succumb to public pressure. There was only a symbolic concession in re-pitching the 6.9 million population “target” as but a “worst case scenario,” after which paper was bulldozed ahead in the PAP-dominant parliament, resoundingly endorsed by all except 13.

So in all likelihood that the government will not backpedal on the new ruling, what else can we do besides petitioning and protesting? Continue reading…

No Respite from Rising Medical Costs

Before Budget 2013 was announced, many of us would have learned about the spike in our health insurance premiums either through the media or the letter from CPF.

Come March, Medishield premiums and integrated shield plan premiums will see a hefty increase. Because the Medisave withdrawal limit for each premium is up to $800 per insured person per policy year, any sum above $800 would have to be paid out-of-pocket.


If you are a Singaporean, you would be familiar with the saying that one can die but cannot fall sick in Singapore. Some of us might have said it in jest and our foreign friends might think it was an exaggeration.

Yet increasingly, high medical costs in Singapore is making this more of a painful reality than a joke. According to the Mindshare survey 2012, 72% of Singaporeans believe that “we cannot afford to get sick these days due to high medical costs.”

Has the Budget 2013 addressed this very real concern of Singaporeans? Continue reading…

Rule of Law My Foot

When I spoke with some foreign friends about the current “anti-immigration” sentiment among Singaporeans, they invariably felt uneasy about the nationalistic undertones of this revulsion at immigration, and could not fathom why Singaporeans, themselves the progeny of migrants, have taken such a strong stance against the foreigner influx today.

It took some effort to explain to them that Singapore has always been a cosmopolitan city but the rate of the foreigner influx in the past five or six years has been phenomenal, nothing quite like what Singaporeans had experienced in the previous decades.

The rather indiscriminate admission of foreigners has also impacted on Singaporeans in a big way and laid bare the shortfalls in many of our government policies. The relentless rise in cost of living is unmitigated by our grossly inadequate social welfare system; the lack of a legislated minimum wage has depressed wages, particularly those of the blue-collar workers; the absence of autonomous trade unions has made Singaporean workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous, greedy capitalists and so on.

To top it off, it has also exposed the precariousness of Singapore’s rule of law.

Is this a fair statement? Readers you may judge for yourself after reading about this incident below. Continue reading…

Income Inequality and Poverty in Singapore

About a week ago a Facebook note by Terence Foong had the Internet Brigade up in arms. Titled “The hidden figures behind the wealthy face of Singapore”, the writer cited CPF figures showing that more than 458,000 Singaporeans earn less than SGD1,500 a month, and about 295,000 have a salary of less than SGD1,000 a month.

In their eagerness to defend their master, most of the pro-government commentators had missed the point. That the figures do not include the self-employed does not change the fact that 458,000 Singaporeans earn less than SGD1,500 a month. That there are part-timers among the 458,000 Singaporeans earning less than SGD1,500 a month also does not mean that these people are not deprived or poor. This is because there is no necessary relationship between working part-time and poverty.

For example, I know an old woman who cleans a few blocks of HDB flats for half a day and earns a monthly pay of about SGD500 for her work. She would like to earn a higher pay by working longer hours but as she told me, the cleaning job is a physical toil and at her age half a day of work is the most she can manage. So you see, working full-time is simply not an option for some people even if they are struggling to make ends meet. And let’s not forget the 80-year-old granny who worked herself to death.

With the spare information available to the public, what can we make of poverty and income inequality in Singapore? I scoured the Internet and here’s what I found. Continue reading…

Wanted. Professional Online Commentators.


Let me get this straight. This is a prestigious job. We are not trolls. We are pros. Online warrior is the title bestowed upon us by our dear Party.


You have to be driven by unfaltering loyalty to the Party. This is measured by how effusively and openly you praise our dear leaders, the number of times you like our leaders’ FB pages and their FB posts, the number of times our leaders’ photos are posted on your FB page with flattering captions, and the number of like-minded FB friends you have.

You have to have an unquestioning mind. If you answer YES to all these questions without blinking an eye, then you are the one we are looking for: Continue reading…

Where’s the Heart? Walk the Talk!

I read with indignation the report on how a dying man’s wish to spend his remaining days with his two dogs was turned down by the HDB.

Yes, the regulation is that each HDB household may only keep one dog, and only certain breeds are permitted. But why can’t the authorities make an exception in this case?

To tell a dying man that his dog will be sent to the SPCA where it may be put to sleep is not just being insensitive. It is downright cruel.

And I can’t help but wonder: The dogs have already been with Mr Tan for sometime; if they have really proved to be such a nuisance, why was this matter only raised now by a certain neighbor? Why couldn’t the neighbor settle whatever unhappiness he or she had with Mr Tan in private instead of heading straight to the authorities? Why couldn’t the neighbor show a little bit of compassion and tolerance?

Mr Tan has mentioned in the video below that the complainant is a foreigner (at 1:56).  Continue reading…

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