Lee Kuan Yew passed away today. The label 'founding father of Singapore' actually understates what he is in Singapore and the permanent mark that he has left on the history books. He was the most famous Singaporean bar none. He was the reason the major powers took Singapore seriously. He owned his skin colour and played international politics with those that used to rule him, and those that would have deigned him inferior in a less enlightened age. While he might have made various missteps along the way (to me, the most unfortunate was the 'Asian values' challenge to universal human rights), and while his methods were far from perfect, to deny his contribution to Singapore would be absolutely stupid. There won't be another leader like him...but that's precisely the true meaning of his legacy: we don't need another Lee Kuan Yew anymore. He'd built us up to a point where we can move away from his style of authoritarian governance and still prosper. I fully believe in this. It's now up to the incumbent to believe it too.
Okay, I've had enough of quasi-patriotic rahrah-ing for the day (for the rest of the year). Let me talk about something more interesting. I signed up as a volunteer with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) a couple of months ago, and today I went down to their soup kitchen to interview a worker and write a story for the website. Alex Au is in charge of this, and while he is quite restrained and sometimes introspective in his writing, he is the opposite in person. He is dynamic and enthusiastic and slightly eccentric, and he made the task quite easy for me and the two newbie volunteers that were also there.
Long story cut short, I had a really good time. I was worried about it at first because – and I am ashamed to say this – I’ve never really had a proper conversation with a foreign worker before (except my first boyfriend, but he was a waiter and so he doesn’t count) and I wasn’t sure how it would go. My concerns turned out to be justified when Alex brought me the guy he wanted me to interview and I found myself struggling – really, really struggling – to use simple, broken English to get my questions across to him. At one point, the poor chap told me that he didn’t really understand English and I was getting nowhere. Luckily, another guy came over, another Bangladeshi who spoke some English. He ended up translating for me the rest of the time.
This guy was really funny and talkative. From what I gathered, he was injured at work and is now unable to work for various reasons. Needless to say, he’s sitting around not getting paid – and he has a five-year-old son and a wife back home. From his demeanour, though, you just can’t tell that he was having problems because he was jovial, he joked, he was willing to help me with the language issue with my interviewee, and he was just like any other person on the streets. Why should we look down on people like him when he is just like us, trying to make a living, trying to provide for his family? I am thoroughly ashamed of the way we treat our foreign workers, especially since they are the reason we have roads and crucial infrastructure such as the MRT and buildings and condominiums and schools. They come all the way here, pay some ridiculous amount of money to an agent (something like $3000-$8000) to come here, earn a shitty salary while being exposed every day to serious accidents, and what do they get in return? A shitty dormitory that looks like prison camps ran by the Serbs/Croats to house the Muslims (or by the Muslims and Croats to house the Serbs, as was the case in the Čelebići prison camp) that I came across at the ICTY; shitty employers that don’t pay hospital bills, among other injustices; shitty laws that give them little to no rights; and a shitty local population that looks down on them.
These people are not stupid; they merely come from a poor country and don’t speak the same language as us. The translator guy managed enough English for me to understand him. He even said that he read in a Learn English book that you say ‘what is your name?’ when asking someone for his/her name; but Singaporeans shorten it into something like ‘your name what?’ or ‘what your name?’ How clever.
I wish I can do more than just write some articles to raise awareness blah blah blah. I wish I could change the stupid laws. Alas.
Okay, seriously need to go to bed.