May 26, 2012

To America.

I've had enough.

Disclaimer: These arguments are my own. They represent my opinions as an individual, and not of Yale-NUS; neither do the views expressed reflect those of YNC.

#1. Singapore does not criminalise homosexuality. That's a weird - and insulting - rumour. The word 'homosexuality' creates an image of gays being imprisoned - it's a law against physical male homosexual acts. And I mean....well, who really checks / cares what you do in the bedroom, anyway?

#2. So a country doesn't do things your way. It doesn't make that country wrong. Each country has its own reasons for setting certain laws. For example, you can be fined / arrested for posting racist comments here. Does that mean we are oppressed and deprived of our right to freedom of speech? No, it's just that freedom comes with responsibility, and every action has its consequences. It just so happens that we are a very multiracial society and we can't afford discord or riots because we are also very small and extremely vulnerable. We have learnt enough about racial discord and its devastating consequences to our vulnerable country to know that racial harmony is something we need to constantly strive to attain, for our own security's sake. We're definitely not living in total harmony, but we're still trying, and we have to try to avoid things that will cause disharmony. And I'm happy with the security of my country. I'm glad we don't really have to worry about riots breaking out or anything. Each country has its own unique characteristics, and therefore its own way of doing things. It might not be the American way of doing it, but it's not wrong. It's a necessary measure the country has to take. Maybe some things should be looked at again. I'm definitely for removing 377A. Give things time. What matters more than the policies is the mindsets of the people. Those must change first. We are definitely not perfect, but generations and attitudes change, and we're on our way to good change.

#3. America is not the top of the world. It may be the gateway to the world in the sense that the U.S. is a good place to go to break into the international arena, and it's the country with the highest GDP, but that doesn't mean it's the top of the world. We all know your President's name and watch your shows (I love The Big Bang Theory) and know your music, but it doesn't make you superior. See, that's the mindset many Americans tend to bring with them when they go to the rest of the world. That they're smarter, they do things better, like they're higher beings, that they're educating the rest of us. Yes, America definitely has power. It doesn't make you superior. No one is superior. We all have a lot to learn form one another. Singapore is a small and often misunderstood dot that sometimes seems to be known for little more than its Michael Fay incident and no-chewing-bubblegum laws and 377A, but I'm proud to have been raised here. I'm proud of the values I have been brought up with and the values that I hold dear. I'm proud of the high standards of education (although our education system is a whole different issue altogether) and our high levels of security. I'm proud of the fact that we lack natural resources, land and labour, yet find ways around our problems. Although I think kids here study way too much, I'm proud of how hard we work. I'm assuming Wikipedia is right when it says we are the world's second-biggest casino gambling market. And we have two casinos. Two. Of course, I'm not proud of the fact that this has to do with gambling, but I'm proud of the fact that we take risks, venture into things - and succeed.

And just fyi, despite the International Baccalaureate program being pretty new here, one school alone (Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)) produced half the world's top scorers - 28 out of the world's 57 45-pointers. And if you want to look at SAT scores, the number of people I know who got below 2050 can be counted on one hand. I'm not kidding. It might be just me, but... I haven't heard of anyone who got below 1900. And my friends consider getting 1900+ "embarrassingly low".

 #4. Speaking of risks, I've been interacting a lot with the bunch of kids who got accepted into Yale-NUS, and I'm pretty amazed at us. We've got our hoard of distinctions, our pre-university scholarships and awards, our slew of co-curricular activity (CCAs, e.g. Choir, Basketball, Arts Council) involvements and achievements, our leadership posts in school. But more than that, we are a bunch that thinks. We wonder. We feel the burden of the country. We pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake - something that the education system here really doesn't end up encouraging. We are bold. We are very creative. And better still, we are a risk-taking bunch. I mean, if we were to play safe, we wouldn't have chosen Yale-NUS. We've all gotten accepted by / have the potential to get into other great universities. The fact that we've chosen this college shows that despite all the heated controversy and despite the other great colleges that we've been accepted into, we're going to give this a shot. We're going to give this a shot because we have the chance to create history.

I guess the whole point of this post is... hello America, welcome to the rest of the world. You have a lot to learn, too.

P.S. And I like using the British spelling.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect Karen, recognizing that human rights are severely restricted in Singapore is absolutely necessary for progress to occur, which is why I find this post shortsighted.

Firstly, homosexuality is criminalized in Singapore. Perhaps the law isn't enforced, perhaps the 'status' of being homosexual isn't illegal, but the fact of the matter is is that the Singaporean government puts the weight of law behind it. Perhaps this is an example of a country doing something "it's own way," but the fact that you suggest that it's an "insulting" rumor suggests that you too recognize why this law is troubling.

Secondly, recognizing that there are severe problems with Singapore's government is necessary for progress to occur. Recognizing that by no means suggests that Singaporeans (again, drawing a distinction between the people, the state, and the Government) are inferior to the United States. However, in order for progress to be made, you can't try to slide human rights abuses under the rug - Singapore is ranked 135th in the World on the Press Freedom Index (behind the United Arab Emirates at 112, Malaysia at 122, and Tunisia at 134) and is regularly criticized by essentially every major Human rights organization. No major organization characterizes Singapore as a free democracy (indeed, the Democracy Index categorizes Singapore as a "hybrid regime" - not even a "flawed democracy"). When reading this post, I struggle to understand how you can not recognize that.

Finally, criticizing Singapore in this regard isn't to suggest that Singaporeans themselves aren't incredibly talented and smart, which is what you seem to suggest in your final point. I don't think anyone doubts that Singaporeans are extremely well-qualified.

Timothy Koh said...

Congrats on your admission to Yale-NUS! As a fellow hopeful Yale-NUS pioneer batch applicant your blog is an interesting read!

I agree very much with what you have said, nicely put. Just to follow up on your point- while it is actually true that Singapore criminalises the homosexual sexual act itself and not the people who are homosexuals. The argument is that this still implies a restriction against certain group of individuals, a discrimination against male homosexuals to not live as equals. That the presence of the law, even if not enforced is a constant reminder of their perceived place in society. I'm for the repeal of 377A as well.

There is definitely much to change, unfortunately our society at large still has a negative connotation towards homosexuality. Public opinion still guides this policy, and hopefully you and your fellow Yale-NUS class can work towards educating the public. I hope to join all of you if I get the amazing opportunity. :)

All the best!

Hannah Karen Ho said...

@ Anon: - Homosexual acts: Definitely. It's also a law that has been here since the colonial times. I'm pretty sure a lot of us want that law abolished. We're a pretty young country, we're still learning; hopefully, soon, things will change for the better. And about the government, sure thing. But we have a lot of people at Yale-NUS who are really interested in politics, and I'm pretty sure that if they want to do something politics-related, they'll find a way. Things will be nothing short of exciting, I can't wait to see what we do at Yale-NUS :) All in all, there are a lot of flaws here, but the times are changing, my generation will soon replace this one, things will improve. :) Check out my new post entitled "RE: Letter to Singapore"!

@ Timothy Koh: Very true. But more important than the authorities' opinion is the attitudes of the people. I think we're becoming more tolerant and accepting. Not as accepting as I'd like, but things are improving, and we generally keep sensitive comments to ourselves anyway.
I hope to see you in Yale-NUS too! It's such a diverse, inquisitive and bold bunch of people who love engaging in discussions, hearing different points of view, etc. It's a great environment and I sure hope we become agents of change here. :)