| September 2005 |

Show a Little Kindness

Mr Oscar Lee has proposed an interesting solution to the problem of insufficient parking space in Singapore. However, I fail to see the merit in the sharing of handicapped parking lots between handicapped and able-bodied drivers.

I can understand why these parking lots are so tempting to many drivers, even if there are other standard parking lots available. Handicapped parking lots are usually much more spacious and also located near the lift lobbies. But we must always keep in mind of the reasons behind their design. Wheelchair-bound drivers need the extra space to manoeuvre into and out of their cars; it’ll be impossible for them to do the same in a standard parking lot.

Mr Lee also suggested that if a handicapped driver comes along and require the use of an occupied handicapped parking lot, he can call the able-bodied driver to move his car away. And if the driver fails to comply within 10 minutes, his car will be wheel clamped. So instead of making able-bodied drivers — capable of walking the distance from a nearby car park — wait for an empty parking lot or park somewhere else, handicapped drivers are asked to wait for parking lots designated for them, occupied by inconsiderate able-bodied drivers.

A better solution is to make our public transport more wheelchair-friendly. Our less fortunate friends can then avoid the inconvenience of driving and save on the exorbitant costs of owning a car, while maintaining their independence and mobility in their everyday lives. With the number of handicapped drivers reduced after they switched to a wheelchair-friendly public transport system, handicapped parking lots can then be converted for the use of able-bodied drivers like Mr Lee.

We need not spend massive amount of public funds to make Singapore more wheelchair-friendly. For example, ramps need not be built at MRT stations, if kind members of the public were to help carry wheelchair-bound passengers up the stairs.

All we have to do is show a little kindness towards the less fortunate.

25 September 2005 · Politics · Comments (3)

Playing with Fire

When I saw the news about two bloggers being charged with sedition, my immediate response was that they shouldn’t have played with fire. It was not so much about them showing clear defiance towards authority, but rather, making those racist statements.

We naturally gravitate towards people who share similar traits with us, and we tend to keep our distance from people we perceive to be different. I suspect it’s the way we’re biologically wired. Let’s face it, we humans are weak creatures. We may have huge brains, allowing us to invent tools and weapons which help to reduce our physical shortcomings, but only in groups do we truly feel safe. Don’t believe it? Try getting lost in a foreign country with no way of communicating with the locals. The sense of relief you feel when you meet someone who speak or understand your language is indescribable. However, this should not be used to justify or rationalise racism.

We don’t fear people who are different from us; rather, we fear the unknown. If we see a man talking to himself on the street, we avoid him because we have no idea whether he’s a dangerous man or not. And when we stories about him having a history of violence, perhaps sentencing to 20 years in prison for butchering his wife, we begin to make assumptions based on our own observations and baseless rumours, and let our imaginations run wild. Soon every action of him seems suspicious, and we’re always ready to make a run or hit him on his head with our handbags whenever he approaches.

However, if we see him everyday and know that he’s just a harmless guy who behaves in an unusual way, we’ll walk pass him without taking a second glance, brushing aside any ridiculous rumours about him. Such are the powers of ignorance and knowledge.

The focus of promoting racial harmony shouldn’t be about tolerance; it must be about understanding cultures and traditions different from ours, and accept them as a way of life. Having the good fortune of being able to travel to many different parts of the world, I realise no matter how seemingly different we appear physically, culturally, or even racially, we have more in common than we imagined. After all, 99.9% of the human DNA sequences are exactly the same in all people.

Lessons from history are painfully clear. Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust; and the survival rate for the European Jewry are just one in three. Nazi propaganda aimed at spreading anti-Semitism played no small part in this human tragedy. We should also not forget the causes and consequences of the racial riots in Singapore back in 1964.

Beware of anyone making racist remarks to further personal or political agendas. I’ll leave you with a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he is any colour of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it — whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.

17 September 2005 · Politics · Comments (4)

A Trip Down the Memory Lane

A lot of attention has been given to the court case where two bloggers have been charged with sedition for posting racist comments online. Through the passing of time, the 1964 racial riots are starting to fade into history. Most Singaporean bloggers — I myself included — weren’t even born back then. Perhaps it’s time to take a trip down the memory lane and relive some of the horrible events that happened during the riots.

My grandfather used to have a neighbour in Chinatown. Once this neighbour got news that the racial riots have broken out, he immediately set off in his car to pick up his workers from the worksite so as to prevent them from being harmed. He was forced to stop along the way due to a barricade set up by rioters on the road. Thinking that the rioters would leave him alone since he had not offended them, he came out of his car and tried to remove the barricade. Next thing he knew, a rioter slashed his neck with a parang. He was pronounced dead before he could be rushed to the hospital.

His daughter was working as a nurse at the hospital he was sent to. She saw a huge commotion along the corridor and found out that a Chinese man was killed by the Malay rioters. Only later when she saw the body that she realised it was her father, whose head was hanging limply off his neck by just shreds of flesh and skin.

Another unfortunate victim was a Malay policeman. Since he patrolled the area routinely, he was a familiar figure along the street where my grandfather and family lived and was well-liked by the local residents. One night while walking home after duty, he was hacked to death by a group of Chinese rioters. It didn’t matter if anyone in the group knew him or not — he was Malay, and that itself was enough reason to kill him.

The streets were ruled by rioters, and everyone was cowering in fear at home with shutters drawn and doors locked. Any children who sneaked out during curfew to have fun were given heavy beatings by their parents when they came home. And it would have been wise for any dark-skinned Chinese or fair-skinned Malay not to wander around. Friendship and kinship didn’t matter during those dark moments, only skin colour mattered.

The political consequence was as severe as the conditions on the streets. The sight of MM Lee Kuan Yew crying as he announced the separation of Singapore from the rest of Malaysia was one of the most powerful images in our political history, a stark representation of the difficult decision our founding fathers had to make and the uncertain future ahead for our young nation.

It’s easy for youngsters to look back in perfect hindsight and comment that we made the right decision and are now better off as a sovereign nation. Singapore is a small island with no natural resources; it was only due to the perseverance of our forefathers — with no small amount of luck — that we have one of the highest living standards in the world.

When our grandparents and parents say that our generation doesn’t know what hardship is, they really do mean it.

16 September 2005 · History · Comments (0)

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