Aug 8, 2009

Happy National Day!

In line with the festive season, here's a poem from my book Two Baby Hands (see sidebar for more details about the book):

I had a small part in a
Big show of a great little nation.
My uniformed mates and I were
To march out, swing left,
Turn twice, and get off the grounds
In twenty seconds flat.
Meanwhile the music boomed,
The lasers splashed,
And the darkened crowds hit
A new high of pre-planned,
Programmed excitement.
Later at home, my mother replayed
The video tape five times
But couldn't tell her tiny toy-
Soldier son from any of the rest.
"That one is me," I said,
Pointing at the screen.
I couldn't be sure.
Still we laughed and clapped
Our hands like children,
Knowing that it was not
Supposed to matter.
The above poem was also previously published in an anthology entitled From Boys to Men, which contains poems and prose from 30 Singaporean writers on the theme of National Service. From Boys to Men was edited by Koh Buck Song and Umej Bhatia, and in their introduction to the book, they briefly commented on my poem as follows:
"At times, the solder becomes acutely aware that NS must involve public performances, where there is pride in achievement to be shared with loved ones. And yet the performer himself has come to realise, only too well, that success is sometimes best accomplished through teamwork. And this means not so much the extinguishing, as the irrelevance, of individual identity. Personal aspirations must fall in line, in the parade ground of the larger scheme of things. Gilbert Koh's poem National Day Parade puts this across subtly ...."
What they didn't say is that my poem is also about the artificial engineering of national identity, heheh.


Anonymous said...

If there is one defining characteristic about Singaporean Men, it is their continuous obsession with N.S. Whether they liked it or not, it's always there - how quickly they ran their last 2.4 km (including post-ORD), arrowed by their enciks, wasted time doing nothing (exactly 2.5 or 2 years) and maybe that trip to Australia/Taiwan/Brunei or wherever else they went. For a Malaysian male who's never had to do it, and never will, it's all quite fascinating and amusing (although it does have its tragedies and moments of genuine anguish). And no, I'm not a freeloading foreign talent skiving N.S. either.

AmbiguousAmbitions said...

Yes that's what we need. More propaganda.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Wang,
Thats a great poem.
I agree with you that the NDP is one of the ways the government engineers a national identity although I see nothing wrong with it. Seems to me that its a great way for Singaporeans to get together and celebrate. You get a holiday, a show, sometimes a party and fireworks.
What then in your opinion would be a true national identity?

Blue Monkey

Anonymous said...

thanks, mister wang. I love the ironic twists and mildly subversive elements in this poem.

HB said...

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Anonymous said...

Quote: "success is sometimes best accomplished through teamwork. And this means not so much the extinguishing, as the irrelevance, of individual identity. Personal aspirations must fall in line, in the parade ground of the larger scheme of things."

My beef is not with working together with fellow men to accomplished success. Not with giving up my identity and falling in line. But with how meaningless these "successes" are to those who had worked hard for it, and how rapidly the sacrifices were brushed aside and taken for granted...

Mr Wang Says So said...

Yup ... The poem hints at the meaninglessness through little references like "big show", "pre-planned programmed excitement", "tiny toy soldier" etc.

Anonymous said...

They put your name up for all to see. Hehehe

Anyway Wang, why hor, do we need 6 million or even 10 million people on this island? Got no answer leh.

Nobody want to show us the maths also. Very strange one. If really so steady, then should show us what, because if gahmen so confident in their maths then confirm we cannot say no one. If they not dare show, maybe it mean they themself also not sure wtf they are doing?

Anonymous said...

I, a citizen of Singapore, pledge to emigrate to Australia at the first opportunity, leaving behind the losers, the sycophants and the Aussie rejects, who shall continue to build a society for the foreign talents, the elite uncaring faces and the autocrats, based on idolatry and unquestioning stupidity so as to achieve an end in old folks homes in Johor Bahru and the progress and pockets of the kingmakers in Singapore

Anti-chronic Singapore said...

Regarding NS and Singaporean Men. How not do talk about it? After spending a hard 2 to 2.5 years together, its hard to forget. Veterans in other countries also talk about their soldiering days regularly.

BTW, just out of curiousity, since its National Day 'season', I wonder what are we proud of and not so proud of Singapore when we were asked by foreigners about Singapore?

For me, to be honest, I am proud of Singapore's:-

1) past economic success first (future success is hard to say)
2) efficiency and our clean environment (hardly any rubbish are seen in most public places as compared to other countries)
3)Relatively cohesive multi-racial society
4)Relatively low blatant corruption (at least Traffic Police don't ask for $ when they stop you)
5)Meritocracy (I don't mean how many 'A's you earned or who knows you but it at least we do not have policies that favour 1 race, e.g. New Economic Policy in Malaysia)

However, I would hope to see a fairer election system with smaller GRCs. I disagree that we need 5 to 6 MPs in one GRC and regular redrawing of election boundaries.

Recently, I also realized that some flats in Opposition wards, like Hougang got enbloc. Are they dispersing citizens who are pro-opposition to other areas?

Anonymous said...

In a corrupt unnamed nation up north, the gahmen dun charge $10+K for the right to own a car, insurance ... I think paying the TP is cheaper...

Onlooker said...

Achronic tsk tsk yet again you forgot to mention one important fact.
The recent malay general propapganda aside have you ever seen a malay holding a high post across the public service sector without a personal bias that tend toward the party goers in charge?
IF one were to scrutinized our policy properly you would noticed that part of it is the opposite of the malaysia one and diametrically opposite to set a comparison contrast.

That was because someone want to prove that he is a better politician than the politicians who kicked him out of the Federation of Malaya.

What to do? it happened....

But that aside,Happy national day Singapore.

And Yes, achronic,you can claim that I'm making a sweeping statement again I don't mind so long as you pick up some relevancy in my comment I would be very happy liao.

PS Mr Wang the poem is very apt.I can grok it's meaning :)
Everything is planned down to the minute detail and nothing is allowed to fail at least for the entertainment of the PAPer who have to be dressed in White.
It have a hint of oppressiveness and futility yet the people will still enjoy it because they are aware that the show must go on for the sake of the larger society.

Anti-Chronic Singapore said...

Hi Onlooker,

That is a good point. You are quite right on your comment regarding, "a malay holding a high post across the public service sector,". I could only recall our first president and a few ministers are Malays.

How about the Indians and Eurasians in Singapore?

In Malaysia's NEP, it is purely to help Malays but only the top brass benefited.

Perhaps we have many Chinese Malaysians who emigrated.

Is owning a car more important than supporting corruption and a racist policy in a country's constitution?

xiangyeow said...

To anonymous, aug 11 2009,

please read the following post by xiaxue.

it particularly applies to you.

juancho_juanker said...

Five cents: I don't think there's anything wrong with "engineering identity." I see NDP as one of the only two things that Singaporeans have to what we, Filipinos, call "collective experience" necessary for nation-building (the other being "shopping"). Rich, poor and everything in between come together. Filipinos rally, while Singaporeans have NDP; same stuff really, only the latter being expensive (the NDP is like our entire GDP!). Happy birthday Singapore.

AT said...

Your poem made me smile. It captured the exact feeling I had when I was passing-out.

Beracahvalley said...

Clap Clap. Something that I could relate to.