Jun 10, 2007

Stop Right There, Mr Alfian Saat

Alfian Saat is a very talented person.

I've met him before - only once. That was years ago. A small group of Singapore writers were having an informal, impromptu supper at a kopitiam after a literary event at the former National Library. Alfian and I were both in that group.

Alfian was still a medicine student at NUS then. At that time, he had published only one book - One Fierce Hour. But even then it was already pretty evident to me that he was extraordinarily talented.

In subsequent years, he went on to write more and more - poetry, short stories and plays - winning just about every award there was to win in Singapore. After graduating from NUS, he never did pursue a medical career. I hear that he's currently a full-time playwright.

The very unusual thing about Alfian was that his writing was heavily political and anti-establishment - and he was apparently able to get away with it. The establishment (meaning the National Arts Council and other government bodies) not only permitted his works to be published and performed, but gave him grants, awards and so on.

Occasionally, I wondered where the government would draw the line. But Alfian is Alfian, and I know that he will constantly be pushing boundaries and exploring his political interests. For example, check out this very recent photograph of Alfian with, gasp, none other than political exile
Francis Seow:

Recently, it seems that someone somewhere in the Singapore government has decided that maybe enough is enough. Alfian was working as a relief teacher in a secondary school, and the principal was very happy with his performance. However, the Ministry of Education insisted that Alfian's contract be abruptly terminated.

The principal was mystified. Alfian was puzzled. When pressed for an explanation, the Ministry itself simply gave meaningless answers obviously designed to hide the truth (whatever the truth was).
See for yourself.

Since the Ministry gave such meaningless answers, we can only guess what the real reason behind Alfian's termination was. My guess is as good as yours. And your guess is ....?


Anonymous said...

Well.... I guess found his literary dissent tolerable, but they didn't want him spreading his rage-against-the-machine philosophy to young impressionable teen heartlanders. :P

Anonymous said...

The termination is just typical opaqueness and immunity of this government and its ministries from being called to account for their actions. Nothing S'poreans can do about it. Even when next GE comes and all of you wake up to vote out the PAP, they will just call in the army and return to power.

Anonymous said...

Why am i not surprised with the reply from MOE. It is so typical of Singapore's government department. I've received my fair share of such responses from them (and including the Straits Times) and at some point, i just couldnt be bothered to write to them anymore.

It may be selfish of me...but my thoughts are: "What the heck...Singapore can rot from the inside. I've found myself an alternative option for my life already and am living away from this i-cant-breathe-country now."

I shouldnt be cutting my life short by being so bothered with how the Singapore government treats everyone not only like children but also stupid, unthinking people to go with that.


Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, you need to fix the wiki link to Alfian Saat.

Anonymous said...

The actual link:


Anonymous said...

This might be a basis for judicial review...

Anonymous said...

Actually I doubt judicial review is possible since it's a contractual thing, but can he claim wrongful termination of employment or something like that?

Anonymous said...

Of course, he can always issue a complaint with MOM's Labour Relations Department. But seriously...

Anonymous said...

I think that he just want people to know how MOE's black & white writing style looks like. It is definitely not peotry.

Anonymous said...

can he sue under the new fair employment act?

Anonymous said...

If you believe that Christopher Lee's luck turned for the worse when he changed his name, apparently on ill-advice by a feng shui geomancer, as reported in The New Paper, then it must really be pouring when it rains, because of what just happened in Los Angeles.

Paris Hilton was originally sentenced to 45 days in the slammer (cut to 23 days for good behaviour) by Superior Court Judge Michael Sauer for driving with a license suspended after a drink-driving arrest. The judge specifically spelt out during sentencing that she was not allowed to serve house detention. She checked into LA County Lynwood lock-up to serve out her incarceration in what was reportedly to be a private cell, but was sent home after 5 days to finish her original 45 day sentence under an 'electronic monitoring ankle bracelet' house arrest on the executive countermanding orders of LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, because "she was on the brink of a nervous breakdown".

For a country that specifically kept executive, legislature and judicial powers separate and independent, this was surprising development. But what caused Paris Hilton to be dragged screaming back to jail wasn't due to good governance. It wasn't due to a crusading, politicized press either. Paris Hilton wasn't political material. She was a rich party girl who was apt at making a spectacle of herself, and therefore much fancied by the paparazzi for tabloid material. The scene outside Paris Hilton's house reached madcap proportions in the hours after her release into house detention. Even the cup-cake delivery man was much photographed and interviewed.

So don't you believe that a free press will hold Sheriff Baca in contempt of court? It is freedom of expression, and public outrage of favoritism brought about by the news made available by the press that caused Paris Hilton to do the time for her crime, a concept a Straits Times 'journalist' will never understand.

Unknown said...

Did Alfian graduate or did he drop out of NUS? I had this impression that he dropped out. Can someone kindly confirm this. Thanks.

As for his termination, it is a shame. I remembered saying to Haresh Sharma in the staging of his play 'Seven Year Itch' or something like that, that I would help to educate the ministers about gay, because I had much contact with some ministers then. This was the fourth quarter of last year. How naive I was then!

Anonymous said...

Interesting, but depressing blog that I came across *sigh*


Anonymous said...

As long as the old man Lee lives, and as long as his dynasty perpetuates, these kind of things will happen.

P.S: For those too young to know, Francis Seow was the guy who openly HUMILIATED LKY in a televised public debate. Too bad there was no Internet, no Youtube back then.

Anonymous said...

Ever wonder why civil servants are perceived to be so afraid of voting for the opposition. Well, you have your answer.

Anonymous said...

In response to Surya, Alfian did not graduate from Medical School. He did not satisfy the requirements of the course even after the max 7-yr period given to complete it.

Anonymous said...

I'm left wondering how this old fella was able to hang around for more than a year fetching more than $5K of salary (the amount may not be accurate, but it was in that neighbourhood) a month doing next to nothing in a school simply because he "couldn't be terminated" by MOE. A fellow teacher was so upset that he/she wrote in to complain & the can of worm came to light.

& now, we have the SUPER efficient MOE terminating a relief teacher on a dime. At a bad time (near exams). Without a logical reason.

I had always feared for my own education since my IQ is effectively negated by mindless memorization.
now I fear for my children's education...for even their very morals & souls are at risk of negation.

Anonymous said...

I recount a snippet regarding the Nail House (Ding Zhi Wu) in China - where a household refused to be strong armed into leaving for a new development. When interviewed on why they supported the cause, a resident said, 'His today will be our tomorrow'.

This piece of wisdom is lost to the masses here.

'So long as it doesn't happen to me, it's fine' aptly sums up the social DNA here.

Anonymous said...

any1 has any links to the public debate between francis seow and LKY?

Anonymous said...

The facts speak for itself.

So have we become a more open and inclusive society that the Gahmen always try to project itself to be.

The way I sees it, it was obviously a mean and spiteful act on the part of some boot-licking officer or minister, trying to pre-empt a presumably anti-establishment voice from spreading any form of propaganda against the elitist PAP Gahmen.

The way it goes, good luck to PAP.

Anonymous said...

For this very un-noble act on the part of MOE, I'll vow not to give my vote to PAP, no matter how weak is the opposition.

Anonymous said...

The URL points to a missing page.
try this one


Unknown said...

Thanks to Anonymous, 7:49 PM for clarifying my doubts.

In CNA coverage of this issue, this is also mentioned:

Mr Sa'at, who quit medical school in his final year at the National University of Singapore to write full-time, says that his biggest grouse is that the ministry has not explained clearly what it looks for in a relief teacher and what might disqualify someone from the post.

He told TODAY: "I don't know whether that kind of academic record is a liability, for someone who didn't complete his degree."

Link: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/281669/1/.html

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Just to be clear.

The minimum educational qualification for a relief teacher is five O-level passes.

Alfian has 10 O-level passes;

more precisely, he has 10 O-level distinctions;

he has 4 A-level passes;

more precisely, he has 4 A-level distinctions and an A1 for GP;

he is also a three-time winner of the Prime Minister's Book Prize

(PSLE, O-level and A-level)

meaning that for his PSLE, O-level and A-level, he was Singapore's top language student (based on scores for English as 1st Language and Malay as 2nd Language).

Haha, maybe he was terminated in a hurry because he is overqualified for a relief teacher position. What if, horror of horrors, he actually teaches our students to think?

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang: "What if, horror of horrors, he actually teaches our students to think?"

Think Mr Wang may have hit the nail on the head there!

Anonymous said...

I thought as far as the hiring/firing of relief teachers is concerned, the schools are the ones who have the autonomy. Unless there are disciplinary issues, only then does MOE step in.

There seems to be something further which has not been revealed in Alfian Saat's case.


Anonymous said...

The reply from the MOE is full mumbo jumbo non answers.Obviously its from some bootlicking asshole that is more interesting in protecting the establishment that the interest of the public>
And to think that we have just given these senior civil servants a
hefty pay increase from our tax money?

Anonymous said...

Read this http://alfian.diaryland.com/older.html
perhaps the reason for the government being so harsh on him is there. Guess you are right. He thinks alot and he teaches others to think. Personally I think he is very talented and could have done so much for his family, community and country. Unfortunately, the country is not ready yet for him.

Anonymous said...

This is a classic example of the paranoir and multiple standards of the pap government. They run Singapore like their personal fief.

Anonymous said...

No lah. It's the PAP syndrome.

First described by French neurologist Dominique Laplane in 1982 as "PAP syndrome"), the syndrome is believed to be due to damage to areas of the basal ganglia or frontal cortex responsible for motivation and executive functions.

It is a rare neurological syndrome characterized by extreme passivity, apathy, and a profound generalized loss of self-motivation. It is characterized by an absence of voluntary motion without any apparent motor deficit, and patients often describe a complete mental void or blank. This is accompanied by reduced affect or emotional concern (athymhormy) and often by compulsions, repetitive actions, or tics. After stimulation from the outside, such as a direct command, the patient is able to move normally and carry out complex physical and mental tasks for as long as they are prompted to continue.

And the whole island's population is afflicted. No longer rare.

Anonymous said...

Mr Alfian is a rare talent. Not many Malays has come this close to Mr Alfian. I believe the whole of Malay population including Malaysia will not have such talented Singaporean Malay.

Problem with PAP is they want ABSOLUTE CONTROL! In the past, PAP is tolerant of the other minorities eg. Malays and Indias because PAP felt the miniority group will never be able to pose a threat to them.

Little have they thought, Democracy has stretched beyond race and religion. As a Singaporean, I wish that there are more Mr. Alfian Saat coming out and makeing statements. Ms. Nicole Seah is also a very impressive lady. I am twice her age but I dare say, she has a very bright future in the political arena.
I sincerely hope this younger generation can improve lives of normal Singaporeans.