Monday, June 29, 2009

Malays and SAF: Revisiting the issue

Hi Friends,

I have written to the Forum page on the following issue.

I suspect it may not be published so I am publishing it here after I have not heard from the editor after 2 days.

Here goes,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

The letter :

June 26, 2009

Dear Editor,

I congratulate Col Ishak Ismail on being the first Malay to be made general in the SAF.

Ishak’s promotion and the forthcoming 44th National Day celebrations brings to my mind a poignant article written by a Straits Times journalist last August.

Nur Dianah Suhaimi (Feeling like the least favourite child ST- August 10, 2008) wrote about how she felt like a least favourite child on account of her race.

She reminisced about how her father felt when he was not enlisted for NS like his other pre-university classmates although he had been active in sports. When teased that he was lucky to be able to enter the university straight after school, his father would tell them, ‘What lucky? Would you feel lucky if your country doesn’t trust you?’

Nur was also puzzled then when non-Malay friends referred to NS as “army” when her cousins were enlisted only into the police force.

To be fair to the government, the situation has improved since PM Lee Hsien Loong candidly discussed why due to security considerations, not all posts in the SAF are open to all races.
I know for a fact that there are enlistees from all races in the army now.

However, anecdotal evidence (from casual conversations with current National Servicemen) still suggest that there are some units of the SAF, where there are fewer or no Malays.

I believe in a multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore. The reciting of our National Pledge’s “ regardless of race, language or religion” would just be meaningless words if not all Singaporeans feel that they are trusted as members of the same family.

Nur Dianah Suhaimi’s article should be required reading for all civil servants and community leaders.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Nur Dianah Suhaimi's original article below:

Nur Dianah Suhaimi: Feeling like the least favourite child

August 17, 2008

As a Malay, I’ve always been told that I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth
When I was younger, I always thought of myself as the quintessential Singaporean.

Of my four late grandparents, two were Malay, one was Chinese and one was Indian. This, I concluded, makes me a mix of all the main races in the country. But I later realised that it was not what goes into my blood that matters, but what my identity card says under ‘Race’.

Because my paternal grandfather was of Bugis origin, my IC says I’m Malay. I speak the language at home, learnt it in school, eat the food and practise the culture. And because of my being Malay, I’ve always felt like a lesser Singaporean than those from other racial groups.

I grew up clueless about the concept of national service because my father was never enlisted.
He is Singaporean all right, born and bred here like the rest of the boys born in 1955. He is not handicapped in any way. He did well in school and participated in sports.

Unlike the rest, however, he entered university immediately after his A levels. He often told me that his schoolmates said he was ‘lucky’ because he was not called up for national service.

‘What lucky?’ he would tell them. ‘Would you feel lucky if your country doesn’t trust you?’
So I learnt about the rigours of national service from my male cousins. They would describe in vivid detail their training regimes, the terrible food they were served and the torture inflicted upon them - most of which, I would later realise, were exaggerations.

But one thing these stories had in common was that they all revolved around the Police Academy in Thomson. As I got older, it puzzled me why my Chinese friends constantly referred to NS as ‘army’. In my family and among my Malay friends, being enlisted in the army was like hitting the jackpot. The majority served in the police force because, as is known, the Government was not comfortable with Malay Muslims serving in the army. But there are more of them now.

Throughout my life, my father has always told me that as a Malay, I need to work twice as hard to prove my worth. He said people have the misconception that all Malays are inherently lazy.
I was later to get the exact same advice from a Malay minister in office who is a family friend.
When I started work, I realised that the advice rang true, especially because I wear my religion on my head. My professionalism suddenly became an issue. One question I was asked at a job interview was whether I would be willing to enter a nightclub to chase a story. I answered: ‘If it’s part of the job, why not? And you can rest assured I won’t be tempted to have fun.’

When I attend media events, before I can introduce myself, people assume I write for the Malay daily Berita Harian. A male Malay colleague in The Straits Times has the same problem, too.
This makes me wonder if people also assume that all Chinese reporters are from Lianhe Zaobao and Indian reporters from Tamil Murasu.

People also question if I can do stories which require stake-outs in the sleazy lanes of Geylang. They say because of my tudung I will stick out like a sore thumb. So I changed into a baseball cap and a men’s sports jacket - all borrowed from my husband - when I covered Geylang.

I do not want to be seen as different from the rest just because I dress differently. I want the same opportunities and the same job challenges.

Beneath the tudung, I, too, have hair and a functioning brain. And if anything, I feel that my tudung has actually helped me secure some difficult interviews.

Newsmakers - of all races - tend to trust me more because I look guai (Hokkien for well-behaved) and thus, they feel, less likely to write critical stuff about them.

Recently, I had a conversation with several colleagues about this essay. I told them I never thought of myself as being particularly patriotic. One Chinese colleague thought this was unfair. ‘But you got to enjoy free education,’ she said.

Sure, for the entire 365 days I spent in Primary 1 in 1989. But my parents paid for my school and university fees for the next 15 years I was studying.

It seems that many Singaporeans do not know that Malays have stopped getting free education since 1990. If I remember clearly, the news made front-page news at that time.
We went on to talk about the Singapore Government’s belief that Malays here would never point a missile at their fellow Muslim neighbours in a war.

I said if not for family ties, I would have no qualms about leaving the country. Someone then remarked that this is why Malays like myself are not trusted. But I answered that this lack of patriotism on my part comes from not being trusted, and for being treated like a potential traitor.

It is not just the NS issue. It is the frustration of explaining to non-Malays that I don’t get special privileges from the Government. It is having to deal with those who question my professionalism because of my religion. It is having people assume, day after day, that you are lowly educated, lazy and poor. It is like being the least favourite child in a family. This child will try to win his parents’ love only for so long. After a while, he will just be engulfed by disappointment and bitterness.

I also believe that it is this ‘least favourite child’ mentality which makes most Malays defensive and protective of their own kind.

Why do you think Malay families spent hundreds of dollars voting for two Malay boys in the Singapore Idol singing contest? And do you know that Malays who voted for other competitors were frowned upon by the community?

The same happens to me at work. When I write stories which put Malays in a bad light, I am labelled a traitor. A Malay reader once wrote to me to say: ‘I thought a Malay journalist would have more empathy for these unfortunate people than a non-Malay journalist.’

But such is the case when you are a Malay Singaporean. Your life is not just about you, as much as you want it to be. You are made to feel responsible for the rest of the pack and your actions affect them as well. If you trip, the entire community falls with you. But if you triumph, it is considered everyone’s success.

When 12-year-old Natasha Nabila hit the headlines last year for her record PSLE aggregate of 294, I was among the thousands of Malays here who celebrated the news. I sent instant messages to my friends on Gmail and chatted excitedly with my Malay colleagues at work.

Suddenly a 12-year-old has become the symbol of hope for the community and a message to the rest that Malays can do it too - and not just in singing competitions.

And just like that, the ‘least favourite child’ in me feels a lot happier.

Each year, come Aug 9, my father, who never had the opportunity to do national service, dutifully hangs two flags at home - one on the front gate and the other by the side gate.
I wonder if putting up two flags is his way of making himself feel like a better-loved child of Singapore.

Friday, June 26, 2009

RIP: MJ- A Child star without a childhood

The King of Pop of my generation has died.

For Singaporeans of my generation who are wedged between the “Baby Boomers and Gen X”, MJ best personifies our childhood and teenage years.
Perhaps only the Bee Gees had as much impact on my life.
I grew up following MJ firstly as one of the Jackson Five and later when he went solo.
I collected MJ’s albums initially as “LP records” then as audio-cassettes and finally as CD’s. Although many of my earlier collectibles were bootleg versions, my admiration for Michael’s contribution to the music scene was genuine.
I was at the National Stadium when he last performed live in Singapore.
Fortuitously, the news about his tragic personal affairs broke into the public domain soon after that. I then understood why Michael cried at the stage in Kallang.
Even now, my generation still considers him as a “misunderstood manchild” and does not pay much credence to alleged accusations of paedophila.
He was just a child who never grew up.
We laughed to ourselves when we heard how he spent millions at luxury toystores, when he built Neverneverland in pursuit of his lost childhood and even when he denied ever having several badly performed plastic surgeries.
Michael, a bit of me dies with you.
Finally Michael, you are the man.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stars & Dignatories blog for Aung San Suu Kyi- do your part

Hi Friends,

I chanced upon this website where thousands including international politicians and Hollywood stars wrote moving tributes in an effort to get Daw Aung San Suu Kyi freed from incarceration in Burma. The website is (click here)

This post is just a small effort from me to do my bit.

Please read, pen something if you want and pass it on!


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Information about the project: About 64 For Suu

Welcome to the global hub for supporting, Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's detained democracy leader, on her 64th birthday.

64 for Suu is a site where anyone from around the world can leave a message of support for Burma's imprisoned democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and all of Burma's political prisoners.

We want to gather thousands of messages by Aung San Suu Kyi's 64th Birthday, June 19th 2009.

You can view video, text, twitter and image messages from around the world left by politicians, celebrities and the public in support of Aung San Suu Kyi.