Much Ado About St Patrick’s Day

Disclaimer: I work for the appointed PR agency for the St Patrick’s Day Parade and Street Festival, but I wasn’t involved in the handling of this account. As such, much of this information was sourced through my own communications with the people involved and my own experience of the event.

Its history goes back centuries, yet its evolution not so clearly documented; when you want to talk about how St Patrick’s Day found its way into Singapore, Wikipedia simply will not cut it. The death anniversary of the British-born, Ireland-based bishop, which should actually have been observed today, has transitioned from being a religious affair, to a cultural celebration, to just a really good excuse to eat, drink and be merry, while literally going green all along the Singapore River.


But therein lies the confusion, the misinformation, and a problem that grows larger, more dire, and more ridiculous as well, threatening to cast a shadow over any and all celebratory events in Singapore.


The Singapore chapter of St Patrick’s Day is actually pretty young still; Peter Ryan, the then First Secretary of the Irish Embassy, had only just begun work in Singapore and was looking for a way to get to know the locals, particularly through the strong and tight-knit alumni at St Patrick’s School. Through the combined efforts of the Embassy, the band of Singaporean Patricians – and as the years progressed, SJI’s Josephian alumni as well – and the local Irish community, Singapore saw its first of many St Patrick’s Day Parade turn the Singapore River into a jolly stream of green (and usually sponsored by Guinness) every year for the last 10 years.


Now, despite its namesake, the St Patrick’s Day we see here isn’t really premised on religion at all, and if you delve deeper into the crowd that happily participates in its festivities, not that Irish, either. As St Patrick’s Day got installed over various global (and interstellar?) locations like New York, Japan and the International Space Station, the celebration adopts a cultural inclusiveness that doesn’t take anything away from its cultural identity. And in Singapore this year, the Parade went all out, at one point giving a band of urumi drummers led by M Ravi a place in the middle of the Parade (and they were actually pretty damn good).


I mean, for crying out loud, they even got Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) to close the Parade with a Thai traditional dance.


And in case you were wondering what the road closure was for…


So at the heart of Saint Patrick’s Day in Singapore are three main tenets: family, friends and feasting. Of course, it helps even more if you happen to be a fan of Green Lantern and the Incredible Hulk (both of whom aren’t Irish, either).

But let’s be completely honest here, life in Singapore hasn’t exactly been a bed of fresh green roses, has it? Particularly when one of our own local festivals, one the Blogfather had a special place in his heart for, was marred by an unfortunate incident that was just as unfortunately managed in the public eye on many fronts since.


Even more unfortunate is that the failings of one incident can have such a far reaching effect that it has managed to permeate into every festival, parade and procession that has followed. Such is the power of the red that we see; such is the recklessness of the anger that blinds us.

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We have to stop doing this; we do no one any favours by being this ugly towards our world, least of all ourselves as a nation. Seriously, how far would we get in trying to create a more open society, when we then turn around to shut out other parts of our society that would otherwise help us prove we are capable of being an open society in the first place? It makes absolutely no sense.


Ironically, the most valuable lesson that was dealt last weekend didn’t come from the online voices of disgruntled Singaporeans, trying to speak up for the mistreatment of our minority groups. We were, instead, schooled by another, otherwise unrelated minority group, mostly adorned in green, who really doesn’t care what colour anyone wore, only that everyone feels welcomed and loved, in the spirit of family and friendship.

“The St Patrick’s Day parade is and always has been organised by a joint Singaporean and Irish organizing committee. We welcome everybody to join; next year, please come down and bring your drums. Bring everything! We welcome you!” – Colin McDonald, St Patrick’s Day Parade chairman and vice chairman of the Singapore Ireland Fund

50 years on, Singapore still has a lot to learn about being one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.

Showing Some Respect

For as long as I can remember, my immediate family (me, my sisters and my parents) would begin Chinese New Year with a tradition of the children making my parents laugh their asses off before we commerce to a big steamboat reunion dinner. The skits we created were often renditions of classic Chinese folklore or loosely incorporating Chinese customs and performances like Journey to the West or lion and dragon dances, and they were always over-the-counter and have never failed to make both my parents laugh so hard they would tear. As the family grew bigger, the skits got bigger, and the annual tradition become one that was handed down from one generation (me and my sisters) to another (Xan and his cousins), not to mention a rather embarrassing initiation rite for new spouses.

Then my father died.

In the back of our minds we were all wondering if we would be able to continue that tradition. My father was the one that gave all of us our sense of humour, and for all the quarrels that my parents had throughout their time together, my father was the light of my mother’s life – we hardly see her laughing hard without my father by her side.

This year, the siblings decided to make my mother’s happiness a priority and decided to do things a little differently. A branch of my extended family, a large but very close-knit unit from my mother’s foster side of about 25 or so members spanning four generations, invited us to have our reunion dinner with them at a chalet (their tradition, because the after-dinner cleanup is easier when it’s not someone’s home). We thought it was a good idea to do things a little differently so my mother (and us, for that matter) could cope with our father’s absence, so we immediately agreed.

This year, we met up at my mother’s place early to carry out our annual skit (we made a newly-inducted brother-in-law wear my sister’s custom wedding dress – sound familiar?), and made our way to the chalet. When we arrived, we knew we would be in for a good time when we saw this:

Everything on the table was done from scratch by one of my cousins, a seasoned kitchen goddess who has been cooking for the army known as my mother’s foster family for decades. We were each given a pair of really large chopsticks befitting of the largest homemade yu sheng I’ve ever had the privilege of tossing. We were then loosely told the only rule to observe during the event.

“Chopsticks only, k?”

Huat ah!!!! The most awesome lo hei ever!

A video posted by Mother Of Xander (@motherofxander) on Feb 18, 2015 at 12:04am PST


We replayed this over and over again to see the various reactions to the monumental toss, but one particular member made the whole endeavour worth the mess for me. If you look to the right of the video, that’s my mom. She’s in black because, as she said, it wasn’t appropriate for a widow in moruning to wear bright colours. But up until yesterday afternoon, she hasn’t laughed like that since my father died 3 months ago – the completely carefree, wholehearted mirth she would only display when my father was with her.

Seeing her like this, we can safely say we’re doing okay.


I may not have written this account since the festivities are far from over and I would have preferred to have experienced the celebrations in full first. But I wrote this in reaction to a comment the Mother of Xander received when she shared this video on her Facebook wall:


“Totally no respect for food. Idatakimasu.”

I will be nice. It is CNY after all.

I wrote this to provide Ms Tan Moi here some context she may have missed, that there’s multiple aspects of respect that she may not have been aware of when she posted her comment during a festive season where food may play a key role in the festivities, but it isn’t the only key player.

She may have missed, for example, respect for families and their traditions. Respect for parents, here and gone. Respect for those who are making every effort to find joy again after losing a loved one. Respect for people who reach beyond their own lives to ensure we can find that joy. And respect for people who decide there’s more than enough joy to share with the world, like the Mother of Xander did unabashedly, without expecting unthinking insensitivity like this during a happy holiday.

Happy New Year, Ms Tan Moi. May your online spur of the moment be a lesson for us all to show some respect.IMG_20150219_095626

SG50 – Finding the Way Forward, Like an Awkward Teen

This post comes in 3 pages, so the loh-sohness is more bearable.

50 years in human terms might seem like a milestone of life, but in the context of a nation, it seems more like we’re only just breaking out in our teenage zits.

To be fair, we’ve been Singapura for a lot longer, though in the force of our national education shaping our society’s current mindset, we look at 1819-1964 as more akin to “our lost years” than anything else – a story that begins with the legend of an ang moh turning into a white statue at Empress Place, and ends with a grown man crying because his island-state was kicked out of a larger nation like an unwanted child.

The end of that story, so it seems, has become the beginning of ours.


Why the sudden bittersweet nostalgia?


The Blogfather & Family, together with a number of other bloggers from various niches, were invited to an SG50 pop-up exhibition last weekend. It’s not there anymore (the next one’s happening at Northpoint in Yishun next week, I think). This is not the kind of thing I would usually cover, but for the one single attraction that was mentioned in the invitation email:

A (not entirely real) mama shop.

However, my curiosity did get piqued by the clout around the exhibition. For one, the invitation was sent by an unexpectedly established agency, and the events schedule read like a half-day diplomatic visit where the bloggers were UN reps. Something was up, and in the course of the exhibition, and more importantly, a rather nice, honest lunch conversation after, I’d confirm what I suspected – that the exhibition was not the point.

It’s “Stroller”, Jeremy

It’s not often that an opinion piece in the Reflect section of ST’s Sunday Life! will get any noticeable attention (although once in a while you can still count on Sumiko Tan to let some air out of her head). But this week, one did. Titled “Some parents’ overuse of prams is a truly distressing social ill“, Jeremy Lee has inadvertently set forth “a ruckus… on how insensitive a childless person like me is to parents who are doing their Singaporean duty of going forth and multiplying“.

As the quote implies, dude knew what was coming for sure. But The Blogfather would like to say some things in his defence.

First, it’s strollers, not prams.

Second, he’s a horrible writer.

Third, I agree with him.

You might say at this point that these points of defence seem absolutely ridiculous, but based on experience, you should know the Blogfather better than that already, don’t you?

1. Too many assumptions

Jeremy Lee’s first mistake was refer to our child movers prams and subsequently going on a pedantic spew on the entomology of the term “perambulate” without realising there is a difference.

This is a pram.
This is a pram.

Prams are those big, bulky bassinets on wheels for newborn babies, not very popular in Singapore because they are really expensive and are really only usable in the first 3-5 months of a baby’s life.

Strollers are the foldable canvas chairs on wheels with seats belts and adjustable seating/lying

This is a stroller.
This is a stroller.

positions that can be folded flat or even umbrella-style, and have a much longer usage period (up to 4 years by most manufacturers’ recommendations). With this understanding of the terms, you’d naturally see strollers a lot more than you’d see a pram.

Semantics, you say? It’s actually a tell-tale sign that this writer doesn’t have all his wits about him, because there’s more.

He also makes reference to remembering himself “running everywhere at the age of three or four“, and then goes on to share his kindergarten principal friend’s anecdote, applicable to a demographic that’s a year or two above the kids he’s trying to refer to. That one or two years makes a huge difference in a child’s physical development, and while kids most definitely are able to run everywhere, kids of ages 3 to 4 neither have the energy levels to keep doing it for the duration of, say, a shopping mall outing, nor the self-control or awareness of his or her surroundings to not stray too far or get lost (Chermaine of Becoming Mam sums up these reasons and more in her response to Jeremy), while kids aged 5 and up have significantly longer-lasting batteries and better listening skills (arguable, I know). This is something that only a person that has spent copious amounts of time with a child or 20 will know (notice I didn’t say parents), but at the same time does take more than a stroller or 20 to resolve (see point 3 below).

2. Jeremy Lee sucks as a writer

Someone said to me that Jeremy’s article was “a flaunting of his English prowess to put down people, and insensitive.

If your intention is to drive a point or three across to a discerning audience, drive the point without clouding your opinion with your arrogance. You’re a salaried SPH journalist, not a blogger.

Worse, Jeremy writes under the assumption (again) that readers will ingest his every word, when journalism students are taught that people don’t read more than 60% of anything that they write in any given article; a fact that is especially prevalent on web publications. So “slip(ping) in the small observation that most of these prams that (he has) seen… do not actually have babies in them“, and interjecting phrases such as “I feel”, I always think” and “in my humble opinion” (ugh) doesn’t water down what looks to be a misguided opinion piece published on an established national media platform (to which I must say, Jeremy’s editors have as much to blame for allowing this travesty to see the light of day).

There’s a reason why columnists have to serve years on ground beats as junior writers before they are given the right to publish opinions on a newspaper.

3. Why the Blogfather still agrees

However, I do empathise with Jeremy. There’s a particular subset of parents who do mollycoddle their offspring to a point where self-respecting parents really wonder how the generation we’re bringing up is going to turn out (and whether it is going to involve strawberries, too).

They wilfully use their strollers to clear paths for themselves without care nor courtesy for other pedestrians, regardless if its occupant is a baby, a kindergartener or 8 Fairprice plastic bags of groceries.

They value their child’s well-being and right to exist over any other individual in their immediate midst – even themselves, and have honed their skill of shooting dirty looks at anyone who disapproves to the calibre of an MI5 sniper.

They’re also not that common, because us family people are by and large nice, considerate folks that will feel embarrassment and say sorry up to 3 times for accidentally touching our stroller wheel on a stranger’s shoe. But because of the nature of their parenting beliefs, they make themselves very visible to anyone and everyone that encounters them. In some circles I hang out in, they might even be referred to as “the vocal minority”.

Photo for illustration purposes only; skateboards are not intended to be put in strollers, even if they are newly purchased. Other terms and conditions apply.
Photo for illustration purposes only; skateboards are not intended to be put in strollers, even if they are newly purchased. Other terms and conditions apply.

Stroller usage is especially prevalent here in Singapore (as opposed to say, Bangkok) given the government’s very successful barrier-free program that now not only gives the disabled easier access to anywhere and everywhere, but also parents with strollers to wheel freely around with the assistance of ramps and lifts.

From a macro viewpoint, given the government’s strong support for families in both national policy and infrastructure, Singaporean parents do feel an elevated sense of entitlement – in some parents (and a rather obnoxious selection at that), an exaggerated sense of entitlement.

In the context of Jeremy’s article, that’s where the “pram rage” phenomenon comes from (because “stroller rage” doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely), and that, in my humble opinion, is the true source of Jeremy’s ire. So for most of us parents who aren’t obnoxious pram-rage drivers, don’t worry. Jeremy isn’t talking about you.

But for the quality of his article, evidently Jeremy doesn’t entirely know what he’s talking about; he’s made too many blind, honest mistakes in his article to be taken seriously.

Primary 1 Registration – Going Into Ballot


That was Xander’s alloted ballot number. I assumed it would be a smaller number, seeing as we were one of the first registrants for the Primary 1 registration under Phase 2B for this school. But it was just as well, because we got to the school about 10 minutes late. I overslept; it’s one of the ways I handle anxiety.


And when we finally shuffled into the packed multi-purpose room full of anxious parents (all not enough sleep, I bet), the school’s vice-principal was already reciting the list of registrants into the 30s. Midway through, another school staffer would interject, saying that the balloting equipment (the spinning dome, balloting balls, and procedures are supplied by MOE, and the entire process is strictly governed “to ensure fairness for all”.

One set of parents in the room were particularly anxious; they were parents to a pair of twins, both of whom were sharing one ballot number. The vice-principal made sure to explain the technicalities behind this arrangement (siblings go together as per MOE policy, so if their ballot wasn’t drawn, they’d draw another ballot ball at the end for the extra seat. They were allotted Ballot Ball 1.

When the vice-principal got to the last name, a call for questions is thrown to the floor. Everyone keeps quiet. After a 5-second pause, the spin begins.

They announce every single step,from the shuffling of the balls in the spinning dome, to the drawing of the balls announcing of the numbers and reciting the name of the child attached to the number.

Nerve-wracking is an understatement. Each spin of the ballot dome, every crackling of balls hitting each other sends reverberations of tense hope, and every time the dome stops, so does the heart of every single one of the 100-odd parents sitting nervously in the room.

At the announcement of the 3rd or 4th ballot ball, one mother couldn’t contain her yelp of joy and relief. The slight commotion was met with awkward stares all around the packed room, and the excitable mother couldn’t compose herself quickly enough. No one else dared yelp after that.

15 balls in, the school bell rings. Children are cheering for the end of one period and the beginning of another, oblivious to what’s happening in the room packed full of parents. I couldn’t take much more of this. I turn to look at the Wife with a slight pained expression, and say to her in a hushed, serious tone, “I need to go toilet.”

That’s another way I handle anxiety.

I return, relieved somewhat, and Xander’s ball still hasn’t been called. Towards the end of the balloting, Ballot Ball 1 is called. The announcement is followed by a loud murmur throughout the room; the twins have their places. The vice-principal then addresses the murmur by saying there are now 11 vacancies left. The tense reminder silences the room again. The dome spins again, then stops. A ball is drawn, and the vice-principal raises his microphone.



What of the unsuccessful registrants? The vice-principal was mindful enough to let them know after the balloting was done that their registration documents will be sent back to them, and the parents will be required to re-register again for the Phase 2C.

Postscript Update: It must be said, this post was meant to be a first-person documentation of at least this part of the P1 registration process (as detailed as MOE’s explanation is on their website, one can barely find any commentary on what goes on at any given part of it – now we all know the primary school balloting process is really like an official drawing of winning Toto numbers).

The Blogfather feels just as iffy about the entire phasing mechanism as anyone who has an opinion about it does (and it looks like there’s a lot of people who have an opinion about it). But whatever can, should and will be said about the Primary One registration process in all its wonderful segregatory glory, it’s the only process we have at present, and it’s a national process. So we’re all going to have to get with the programme.

For now.

Every School a Good School – But Which One is Best?

The atmosphere is infectious. And not in a good way.

Young parents stand nervously around the school porch waiting for their number to be called. Those who’ve volunteered their time to help handle the crowd at last year’s registration will know, the timing of your number being called is crucial. If your number is called too early, it usually means a document is missing, or a qualifying criteria wasn’t met. If your number is called late, there’s likely been a hitch in administration, and your agonising wait is made even more agonising by the delay.

It doesn’t help that the parents come to register in pairs as a safeguard in case one parent is holding information or documentation that the other one wouldn’t have on hand. The waiting crowd visually inflates the actual number of registrants vying for the vacancies (and, based on the registration phases progress chart helpfully posted on a makeshift whiteboard nearby, not much more than the 20 reserved seats for just this phase).

Aside from the school administration staff handling the paper shuffling, who have to put up a brave front during these events, no one else is smiling, even though some of us know each other from our parent volunteering stints over the past year.


Our number gets called up. We submit the one and only form we were asked to fill out in triplicate indicating our family’s information and that we fulfilled our parent volunteer obligations as a pre-requisite for Phase 2B. About 15 minutes later, our number was called again, and we were handed one of the copies of the form indicating that the results of our application would be announced on Friday.

The next day, a fellow parent volunteer messaged me to tell me we’re going into balloting.


Phase 2B this year has turned out to be more tense an affair than last year, with a record 31 primary schools oversubscribed compared to 24 from last year. It also puts to rest once and for all any speculation that parent volunteering ensures you a place in the primary school of your choosing. There’s been rising dissent to the phasings of the Primary 1 registration process, so much so that stop-gap measures had to be put in to ensure certain groups get priority over others (right down to who gets to go in the balloting box: first priority to Singapore citizens, followed by closest distance between applicant’s residential address to the school). Unsuccessful applicants from a previous phase can try again in the next phase, but again, this is by no means a guarantee of a spot; if anything, the competition will only get stiffer with every unsuccessful play because you’ll be contending with a new, larger batch of applicants together with the spillover from the previous phases.

When Education Minister Heng Swee Keat first came up with the tagline “Every School a Good School”, parents of young children across the nation let out a collective, sarcastic snigger so loud he had to re-explain the phrase he tried to coin. Top school principals were reshuffled into heartland schools, school banding was eliminated, and the MOE Facebook page started regularly publishing features on neighbourhood schools that, in the Minister’s own “let-me-clarify” words, “good in its own way, seeking to bring out the best in every child.”

But the reputation of the really good schools precede them, and that precedent has so far only managed to overtake the efforts to play down their worth. And having brought us all up to judge our peers, our environment, and ourselves based on the logic of meritocracy, one simply cannot expect to stop a nation of self-respecting parents not to want the best for their child. No one has ever faulted the Singapore education system for being sub-standard (in fact, we’re actually complaining that our kids aren’t failing enough),  but with a list of 187 primary schools, all segregated in clusters, inevitably parents will seek to do some banding of their own. Therein lies psychologist Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, creating his similarly-implied anxiety to both the parent shopping for a primary school, and, as it were, the national education provider.

I know of parents that have refused to partake in this anxiety, choosing to be allocated a school in their immediate vicinity; they have the Blogfather’s full respect for being able to resist what we could not, but even they will tell you the only reason they took the stance was because they, too, were afflicted with the same anxiety when it was time to take on the Primary 1 Registration monster. As I said in the beginning, the atmosphere is infectious, and not in a good way.

Ultimately, the only thing you can be assured of is that your child will go into a primary school, thanks to the government’s long-standing no-child-left-behind policy.

The primary school of your choosing“.

Interestingly, my son, who is the centre of our whole ordeal with the registration process, has absolutely no idea what is going on. Until things are firmed up as to which school he will ultimately enrol in, we’re just going to let him lead his almost-carefree kindergarten life for the next few weeks…

… while we continue to infect the atmosphere with our anxiety as parents of a child going into Primary 1.

Three Books, The Book and Barbra Streisand

I was told yesterday morning about a press conference that the NLB was holding to address the book removal issue that became a thing the day before.


Up until Today Online started covering the conference, I was trying to figure out why they wanted to hold a press conference when a) they already released a vague statement reiterating their stance on the issue, and b) the lady who first gaffed on NLB’s part (and whose name most of the first responders just couldn’t get right initially), Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Librarian Ms Tay Ai Cheng was still on leave (and won’t be back until next week).

As it turned out, nothing much was said in the new statement that wasn’t already said in the last statement (reproduced below), except for a few clarifications on how many requests they receive on average (about 20 book titles are challenged every year) and how many actually get cut (about a third; this year, it was only And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express and Who’s in My Family, all 3 challenged by the same complainant(s) who started this whole mess).


What I see just about every single report immediately latch on, though, was that (quoting Today Online) “(t)he three titles will be pulped in accordance to library policy…


Oh for the love of penguins.

You do not tell a group of people who write for a living that you, the largest book repository in the country, destroy books. I am so lost for words, probably because NLB pulped them.

Other media outlets decided to use other synonyms (I saw the words trashed and destroyed on separate occasions), but none tried to play down the fact; the sentiment was felt all round – you might as well have said you burn books.

But It Has Never Been About the Books

I cannot understand how a statutory board (or 3 seeing as NLB says it follows MSF and MDA family policy) allowed this moved so quickly from pissing off the LGBT crowd, to pissing off the non-conventional family unit crowd, to pissing off the literary and journalistic crowd. I honestly thought the press conference was engineered to spite those who disagreed with the action, until I found out from a reporter who was there that it was a question thrown from the floor – a question the poor lady who had to take over her colleague who was on leave simply wasn’t prepared to answer.

I really would advise the NLB to please stop doing or saying anything else at this point because at the rate you’re going, you’ll only have the We Are Against Pink Dot in Singapore group left on your side, and honestly, that’s actually not a lot of people, and from what I hear from a choice number of my other pro-family theistic friends, also not quite representative of who they say they represent.

The speed at which this incident has gained traction has also left some confused; all this over 2 (now 3) books? I would have gone into a good few paragraphs about how this had never been about the books, and how even the so-called “pro-family” activists should be very very worried about what they started, but Remy Choo beat me to it (and he even pulls a Luke 6:31 with a legal case involving the Bible), so allow me to just quote:

“Is the National Library Board’s (NLB) removal of two titles for being insufficiently “pro-family” the first step down a slippery slope to controlling publicly available information for narrow and sectarian ends?

I hope not.

The prospect is frightening, and it really should concern all right thinking Singaporeans, gay or straight, religious or atheistic, pro or anti-government.”

The Streisand Effect


The Streisand Effect (or the unintentional drawing of the exact kind of attention one doesn’t want) has been mentioned in discussions about the PM vs Roy Ngerng, and now here. All this talk about the books has gotten me, a cheapskate blogger who can get meals, toys and entry to events for the price of about 800 words each, to plonk down a grand total of $50.53 on Amazon to purchase 3 kids’ books that were probably all just gonna read once and leave to collect dust in a shelf for until the authorities decide to check our homes for pulpable material. More importantly, it’s getting us to talk to our children about sexuality and complex family units more readily than had we never gotten wind of what happened.

But there’s a dark side to the Streisand Effect as well, which the Mother of Xander raised in our after-dinner conversation last night: instead of getting us to not teach our children about homosexuality, we’ve now grown extremely unwilling to discuss certain religions with our children. We cannot explain the hate emanating from some of the people that represent it, and no children’s book of the subject currently exists that can help us.

The only solace we can take from all this is knowing the actual penguins involved don’t even know what the hell’s going on. And I believe they honestly don’t care. Maybe that’s something we all should really learn.

Update 18/7/2014: Looks like the voicing out worked.

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The Blogfather’s first post on the issue here.

Dear NLB – Singling Out Penguins & Swans

Ms Tay Ai Cheng
Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian
Public Library Services Group
National Library Board

Dear Ms Tay,

My son, my wife and I are long-time patrons of your excellent establishment. My son, especially, particularly loves your vast collection of books, and he would like to also extend his heartiest commendations to the Board’s recent My Tree House children’s section revamp of your Central Library.


We’ve always reveled at how we might find rather progressive reads among your children’s titles, and have borrowed many a book to read as bedtime stories to our son. But my family was surprised, disturbed and quite dismayed to learn about a recent apparent decision of yours to pull two titles, And Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express, based on what looks like a single visitor’s feedback and the grounds that they did not fall in line with the strong pro-family stand your establishment takes in selecting books for children.

Coincidentally, just one day before I read about your decision, I was discussing a story that surfaced in social media of two male penguins having successfully raised an adopted chick. During the discussion, I said that although the human concept of homosexuality may be completely lost on penguins, “(a)nthropomorphisms are what we do to try and understand the world in our terms. The same concept creates as much havoc in our own social construct as it helps build our understanding of the world we live in, and each other.”


That said, I dare say your recent action has taken a rather irrational direction, which is ironic seeing as your establishment has long been revered as a bastion of knowledge for not only this country’s citizens, but around the region. One wonders, if the Board would so readily pull two so-deemed questionable titles based on just one complaint, why the Board has not yet pulled Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (that beautiful story written in a Scottish accent that made heroin addiction cool), Adam Mansbach’s Go the F**k to Sleep (the Samuel L. Jackson audio version, no less), or the most recent of book titles being arbitrarily challenged, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (that one set of parents in the US challenged based on their citation of the “227 instances of coarse language and sexuality”, never mind that the book dealt with abuse, discrimination and bullying in a very strong and honest way).

Given the heated discourse being openly conducted in our country, in part to define family values, I feel obliged to speak up as a husband, a father of two and an ardent supporter of all things valued by family. Family values are unique to each and every family; what might work for one family might not fit into the beliefs of another. I know of enough people around me and around the world afflicted by disability, sickness, death, divorce, financial burden, miscarriage, infertility, or even racial, religious, political and sexual discrimination to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to family creation and management. And if I may say as way of compliment to the Board, I learned how to empathise with all of these people and all these situations through the various children’s books my family regularly bring home to read as bedtime stories to our children, just over the last 4 years alone.

I'd tell you what books moved me and my family, but you'd have to put them back in the shelves first.
I’d tell you what books moved me and my family, but you’d have to put them back in the shelves first.

I believe the Board seeks to cater to as broad a base of readers as you are able to reach, which means you do actively consider carrying a diverse range of material that may each address one psychographic of your audience over another, in a bid to capture as many subsets of the population-at-large as you can. That being said, I feel the need to remind you that our family values are ultimately for our own family to dictate and no one else, much less one who would impose his or her own ideals and beliefs on an entire nation by denying it of knowledge that might ultimately lead to a better understanding of the world we live in, knowledge contained in every book, periodical and media recording that you carry – including but not limited to the two book titles you’re now pulling off your shelves.

Besides, given the immense smorgasbord of topics and categories that you cover, the Board cannot be expected to endorse every view contained in every book, periodical and media recording that you carry, can you? So why would you dig your good selves a precarious hole of such a ridiculous cause by starting with two children’s books that deal indiscriminately with the one family value that should be most emphasised yet is also the most overlooked in our society today – love?

Our future lies in the hands of our children, and you play an essential part in their upbringing. My family and I (not to mention a number of my other friends and likeminded library users – here, here, here and here – from whom you’ve no doubt also heard from already since this unfortunate turn of events) do sincerely expect you will do right by the people you serve.

With hope,

Winston Tay

Update 18/7/2014: Looks like the voicing out worked.

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The Blogfather’s follow-up post on the issue here.

The Issue vs. The Problem

There’s been a lot going on in this little dramatic spot of an island the last few months. The Blogfather has been quietly watching from the sidelines without the usual commentary that I’d post up as I usually would the years before, primarily because as compared to previous years, these recent spate of events have been more… intense.

Consider this entry on Wikipedia on OB Markers, which notes then-Minister of Information and the Arts George Yeo as saying “that it is difficult to define exactly what the OB markers are in advance” (that very well-respected then-minister has since retired from the political scene, to administer information very artfully through his team of writers in alternative news website, then lists topics (allegedly) long held to be out of bounds by state media – race, religion, homosexuality, and political criticism.

Topics which are no longer out-of-bounds by today’s standards, not because the state media is having a change of heart on OB markers, but because the local social media scene has very openly and vehemently slapped these very topics hard on the big green table known as our country without regard for what the state thinks. Look at what we have:


Certainly, our world has changed. I hesitate to say for the better, but it is a step forward nonetheless, seeing as we are exploring uncharted territory – whether we like it or not. But after a few years of wading through the stories, you realise the issues remain more or less the same, but the problem changes.

Wait, what?

One of the more poignant pieces of advice a parent can get in the modern age of child psychology is, “Scold the behaviour, not the child.” (Incidentally, I learnt this from another lesser-known dad blogger who can make a killer Teochew-style steamed fish.) As I experimented with the idea back when Xan was about to embark on his terrible twos, and I realised the idea behind it can be applied to pretty every aspect of life that involves problem-solving – personal, familial, social, work life, politics, religion, etc., because people like to take things personally, thereby messing up what could otherwise be a civil discussion.

Too often, the issue that needs solving has very little if anything to do with the people you’re trying to solve the issue with, but these last few socio-political incidents, especially, have gotten so personal it’s not only become more difficult to tell who’s right or wrong, but almost impossible to separate the unnecessary naming, blaming and shaming from the actual issue that needs solving in the first place.

You want to talk about homosexuality/homophobia? Wearing a certain colour, romping around in a big green field with your family and friends and shouting to the skies about how much you identify with your own beliefs with maybe a few thousand others is not going to gain you a better understanding of what’s outside the well you so proudly live in. Times like this really call for dialogue, not drama. So stop acting like children, all of you (no offence to my own children), and bloody talk to each other instead of around each other for a change, like these nice people are asking you to.

You want to figure out the CPF system? Bloody talk about CPF. It’s been more than a month already since this became a hot potato topic after Roy Ngerng’s series of unfortunate events, and now for some reason, we now know Roy is gay and jobless, the PM’s lawyer has his name immortalised into an adjective (“Haha, dude’s been Davindered, LOLx”) and we also have that elderly lady’s home address, but we’re all no closer to understanding what implications the new changes to CPF (or all of CPF) have on us simple folk on the ground.

You want to talk politics? Acknowledge the system isn’t perfect, and may never be, but don’t keep saying it’s good or bad when it isn’t entirely good or bad. All this rhetoric about who came up with the system, who should get credit and who should just join politics or shut up, doesn’t address the fact that audience that’s being forced to watch you fling crap at each other really just wants to get on with their lives, but can’t until you solve the issue you’re so expertly not talking about.


The Blogfather truly believes there exists a capacity in every individual to empathise with all sides in any given issue – religious, atheist, straight, gay, local, foreign, young, old, public servant, private citizen. But that doesn’t mean I would stand blindly with any of these groups, especially when I see that none of them are actively trying to solve the issue they have at hand. These people are the problem that stands in the way of the issues they’re trying to solve. They form the very trait that’s made us mockery amongst the brethren around us for far too long already – that all we know is complain.

Solve the issue without becoming the problem, can?

And now that I’m done complaining and trampling all over OB markers in the process, I’m going back to work now.

A Different Thaipusam

Courtesy of Theeban Gunasagar, via Nathan Raj
Courtesy of Theeban Gunasagar, via Nathan Raj

Saw this image on my News Feed yesterday. I used to live in an apartment along the Thaipusam procession route, and as much as I spent many Thaipusam nights in sleepless wonder at the amount of celebratory cheers, when you see how the participants move tethered with their kavadis, earthen pots and other beautiful elaborate body piercings, you know the music is a compulsory part of the procession, in order to keep them going with such energy and love from one end of their voyage to the other.

This morning as we were driving through the Selegie/Middle Road junction and watching some kavadi carriers walk by, I told the Wife (who is also very familiar with the celebratory sounds of the procession) that instruments were no longer allowed. She didn’t believe me.

To prove my point, I rolled down the car window. Save for the low buzz of traffic, silence.

It feels like every day, I see and hear things happening in our home that takes a little bit more of our soul away from us. No wonder we’re not happy. No wonder we struggle with identity. No wonder we’re no longer one united people.

More references:

Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) Thaipusam 2014 Guidelines (note Section B, point 3)

A 1989 Straits Times newspaper clipping about enforcement of the Thaipusam “no music” rule

A 2011 TOC article on the explanation of HEB’s Thaipusam guidelines offered by the government

A 2011 blog post on Singapore 2025 with more details on how this rule came about and ground reactions to its enforcement

Alfian Sa’at weighs in on FB, with a lively discussion in comments to boot

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