Those who have been reading my blog over the years, and even more recently, I think you guys know how transparent I can be in penning down m...

Meeting Singaporean exiles

Those who have been reading my blog over the years, and even more recently, I think you guys know how transparent I can be in penning down my thoughts. I can be politically correct for the need to due to censorship or maybe, self-censorship. But I always try my best to be as truthful and honest about what I think. Because I am learning about my country and I don't see a need to shut my curiosity just because it touches on sensitive issues.

I won't get into trouble for this I believe, but it doesn't matter because therein lies a need for conversations such as these~

As mentioned, I was at the University of Oxford to present my FYP and you can read my experience in the post before this. But what I didn't mention were the works that were showcased alongside mine.

My FYP is about a 12-year-old boy whose father was incarcerated and we wanted to explore his thoughts and emotions about having a loved one in prison. Initially, I wondered why the University was interested in showcasing our project, because it really is quite a simple story. Even after they categorised our film with two other Singaporean films under the name, "Forgiveness in Singapore", I still didn't quite get it.

But after attending the conference, I soon understood why our project so very much linked to the other two and the subject at hand.

The film that was showcased before ours was titled, "1987: Untracing the Conspiracy". It was about political detainees in Singapore at the time of 1987 when the Internal Security Act was in place. My team mates and I had already watched this film back when we were in Selangor attending the Freedom Film Festival. It was quite crazy then to meet those people who were captured and apparently, tortured by Singaporean police back then. To force them to make confessions. That they were Marxists.

And that was the narrative back then when Lee Kuan Yew was in power or trying to gain hegemony in politics. He purged political opponents using the ISA by apparently accusing them of being communists.

Then, the next film that was showcased after mine was the one that I had so highly anticipated.

To Singapore, with Love.

The banned film in Singapore that caused such an uproar one or two years back. I had even signed that petition to allow it to be shown here because why shouldn't we be able to watch something that explored the other side of Singapore? MDA called the film one-sided, maybe, but I'm sure we will be able to make our own judgments as informed citizens of our country.

I watched it. And I thought it was heartwarming, touching, albeit a bit too long, but the essence of what it was trying to portray was there. That these exiles long to be back at home. Simple as that. It wasn't so much of what "the government did to us was really wrong." It was a portrayal of wanting to go back to a country that they were born in and fought for certain rights through student lobbying.

Yes, some of them felt that they were wrongfully exiled. That there served no reason for them being taken away from their country, when all they did was lobby against some of the political views of the Singapore government. They were then accused of being communists, and exiled for well, the rest of their lives.

Imagine being asked not to ever come home by your parents who said you were being unruly and rebellious for some of the things you did. You can never come home.

Now, what excited me next was... I got to meet two of the exiles featured in the film. Ok maybe 'exile' isn't a very nice word, but I can't use any other word to describe their predicament.

The lady in the middle is Dr. Ang Swee Chai, detained in 1977 for being wedded to a student activist, Francis Khoo.
Francis has since passed away in 2011 and her wish is to bring back his ashes to Singapore someday.
The other exile present at Oxford was Tan Wah Piow.

They are both now living in London, exiled from Singapore ever since.

Both of them took turns answering questions the audience had for them.

I had a question for them and I think it applies to many in Singapore who think the same way,

"As a young Singaporean, help me understand here: I've been raised many years to think this way and that is, we needed enforcements like the Internal Security Act because years during that time of Lee Kuan Yew were tumultuous. It was necessary for leaders to use this against political opposition for Singapore to get to where it is today."

It was a tough one. Before I asked that question, I did ponder if it was appropriate to ask this because they were the victims of the ISA. They were hurt and I was adding fuel to the fire. And duh, of course they would think the government did unjust to them. Whatever they replied would surely be against what the government stood for.

But it is a question I need answers for. Because, practically, every ruler in history did this to purge their enemies. In the case for Singapore, it so happened that, and LUCKILY so, we became a successful nation-state. Unlike the chairmanship of other dictator countries like Mao's China and Stalin's USSR or even the dreadful Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. It is almost necessary that leaders had to do this no? For leaders to rise above the rest.

I would like to hear their rebuttal.

Tan Wah Piow's reply was that it was a blatant violation of human rights. That everyone deserves a right to stand for trial, to be found guilty or not beyond reasonable doubt. This was a right that they were not given. A right that they deserved. Instead, after being ruthlessly questioned, they were threatened to be arrested. So they fled. They fled Singapore, never to return. Furthermore, they were accused of being communists, which they claimed they were not.

Ang Swee Chai mentioned that she was detained, for no practical reason. She was merely the wife of a student activist. And there she was, detained and questioned by the police in Singapore. She was then encouraged to bring Francis back for questioning. I believe, used as bait to lure her husband back to Singapore to be arrested.

What did I think of their replies?

I agreed with them. That they deserved a trial. That every human being deserves a fair and just trial before being sentenced. It was a clear violation of human rights. What Lee Kuan Yew did was ruthless. And just imagine your loved one, never able to return home. And the only way you can ever see them again is to fly over to where they are. Sadly the thing is, most of their parents are already of ripe age so the best they could do is meet at the border of Johor Bahru. It is miserable. And terrible. And every day, you wish to go home, but you can't. Because the country you love denies you entry.
Just imagine that.

So when the Q&A session was over, the only thing I could think of was to give Dr. Ang a big big hug. I told her, "This is Love, from Singapore." 

The lady standing next to her in the picture, after I had raised the question, mentioned to me and implored me to read articles and everything I possibly can about issues regarding things that are hidden in Singapore because it is important for young Singaporeans like me to be well-read.

But this is where lies a disconnect. And a huge, huge, gigantic dilemma for me.

The importance of this post wasn't just supposed to be about the exiles and what they'd been through and "oh how the government has done this done that". I don't really care much for that actually.

Because I know that, as with many other Singaporeans, the issue is not about not knowing that these things happened. It is about whether we can LIVE knowing about them and still come to LOVE this country that we live in.

We are not stupid. My generation is not stupid. We KNOW these things. We know these things happened to people in the past. I think it is because we are living in comfort, the status of a successful, wealthy Singapore, which is why we choose to sit on the issue.

It could perhaps be... better off being ignorant.

And that's where the dilemma is. The dilemma of being educated, yet choosing to be ignorant. That's a bloody strange dichotomy. We know these things happened, but because we are living comfortably, we shall be silent.

I admit, I stayed silent. And am still silent. But at least for now, I am raising a huge dilemma.

As much as I agreed with the exiles, it is because of this comfort that I live in.... This apparent success that my leaders have built upon. The decisions that have been made. That I have come to respect because it has brought us to where we are now. Yes, perhaps, you could say that I have been white-washed by propaganda all my life in school. But who is not to admit that hey, we have indeed arrived to where we are today, because of what our leaders have done? The policies implemented and careful planning for the future. Everything in the lead up to SG50 worked for SG50 to allow for SG50 to exist.

Agreeing with Tan Wah Piow and Ang Swee Chai didn't mean that my question addressed to them was fully answered. They had difficulty answering my question as well...

So I come back to the main point again:

Can I live with the boy living in the basement? CAN I STILL LOVE SINGAPORE, for all its flaws and complexities. Can I stay happily ignorant?

Which leads me to this article that I had read a year ago. I remembered it so clearly, how I felt, and I decided to search it up again.

READ: What dark secret is in the Singapore basement?

The article is so so so pertinent to what I'm talking and thinking about. I can't believe I still recall and remember the gist of it and I can't believe it stated exactly what I thought about the film.

I implore you to read the article written by Han Fook Kwang. Because if you don't, then I'll just have to paste the quote here:

"What I think most people would agree with is that they mainly occurred during a time in Singapore's history when the politics was rough in a way that would be out of place today. The issues they were associated with might no longer be relevant - too many years have passed - but for some, the shadow of that period lingers. 
Occasionally, they spring to life as in the controversy over the banning of the film, To Singapore With Love, and the running debate over which version of Singapore's political history is accurate. 
The ghost of that child continues to haunt some."


"But not everyone is happy with this state of affairs. There are those who cannot stand the injustice and leave the city."

Because the lady who took the photo with me has left Singapore. I believe she's furthering her education and she already has a husband and a child with her in the UK.

Perhaps, being educated inevitably leads you to take certain actions. You know too much. So much that you cannot carry on living a lie. And you choose to leave.

I fully respect that decision.

As for me, I just don't know how to live with myself and my dilemmas sometimes. Knowing is a gift, yet a burden to the soul...

But that is not to say that I no longer love my country. I know no society is without its flaws. Rather... It's how can I make it a better place? To have conversations with ourselves? To have an open society that is willing to talk about its flaws?

Staying silent shouldn't be the status quo.

Because I believe Singaporeans like me can still love the country, love the system even and still be open to criticism. We can't not talk about certain issues just because speaking about them makes us feel uncomfortable. It is essential that we do.

Singapore, your citizens love you, so let them discover you by allowing us to talk about you - Willingly, openly and freely.

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