Building social space in Singapore: The Working Committee’s initiative in civil society activism/ (editors) Constance Singam, Tan Chong Kee, Tisa Ng, Leon Perera

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Building social space in Singapore: The Working Committee's initiative in civil society activism
NLB Call No.: 301.095957
ISBN: 9814022195

What attracted me to this book were the words “social space” (it was work-motivated, but turns out the book’s topic of “social space” isn’t quite what I had in mind).

What made me stay with the book was a chapter featuring excerpts of emails, about the organising of a forum (p119. “Party Politics: Dealing with Disagreement”).

The point of contention was about the way the forum was organised, the lack of consensus, also the invitation of a particular personality (who’d then run foul of the political incumbents). That particular chapter started to read like a mini-drama!

It left me the impression that if you’d ever tried to achieve anything by consensus, it’s reassuring that consensus-building is inherently difficult. Also interesting to be able to read, as a matter of public record, how decisions were made, or lack of.

This book is, in many ways, a telling of the story about The Working Committee (TWC), which was positioned as a year-long project (1998 – 1999).

The book gives was published in 2001. Truly, if not for a serentipitious browse among the shelves, I’d never have discovered such a gem.

At that time TWC was unique, as no such attempts have been made to form such groups since Independence. Contrast with today where we have events like barcampSG and and countless other social media groups (or “pre-Web 2.0.” groups in Yahoogroups and Googlegroups).

Reading the book now, I’d say the grassroots civic society is here. It has a shape.

I also think it’s part of the natural development and maturity of a society. You cannot one day say “time we have more civil societies”.

TWC is one of the pioneers at a time when things were uncertain about the role of self-help groups. Now, many things seem to be a given. I think a large part is how the Internet (and relatively recently) online social networking has made it so much easier for individuals to publish their views and also to connect with like-minded people. And I’d add the enlightened manner in which the Singapore government has (subsequently) adopted a Light-Touch policy for the Internet.]

Other notes:
p.8/ 9, Tay Kheng Soon writes: “The more educated think more, feel more. This is where civil society comes in”.

Other supporting chapters give different individual perspectives of the TWC conflicts. I thought that’s very commendable by the editors, to include differing views.

P107 on the critical role of the internet in civil society (essay by Tan Chong Kee). He makes two claims (and substantiates via his essay):

  • “The Internet is a powerful tool for galvanising ad hoc actions on hot issues”
  • “It is also a powerful tool for long-term civil society information”

[I agree. Face-to-face meetings are important. But the internet, social networking specifically, increases the probability of connections among individuals.] Tan’s essay also gives insights to Sintercom.

Book also includes origins of societies like Family Planning Association, AWARE, Nature Society (Singapore), The Necessary Stage.

p. 147 Cherian George suggests the NGOs are already practicing civil societies. Also uses the road and transportation system as analogy.

[One of my take-away from the book: The work of The Working Committee seems to gravitate towards political engagement, at least that’s how I read it. To me, Civil Society is more than just politics. It is also about lifestyle, mutual support. Being a helpful human, doing things of meaning. Could be things like setting up gardening clubs.]


The Laughing Buddha Cab Company/ Chris Mooney-Singh

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The title shouted from its cover: The Laughing Buddha Cab Company.

A Buddha’s face, an open palm, an old-style taxi cab at the bottom-right.

And the poet himself — a Caucasian face under a Sikh’s turban.

Laughing Buddha Cab Company

Scanning through the pages quickly, some words and phrases caught my attention: “Monkey men“, “Metallica dreams“…

Didn’t mean anything to me (as yet) but certainly very intriguing.

And so I read the poems on the way home.

This was one poetry book that connected with me, for some reason.

Maybe because it revealed more layers to the poet, as a person.

Chris Mooney-Singh gives his readers a peek into his life and experiences, through the poems drawn from jaunts in taxi cabs, in Singapore and India.

The piece titled “Taxi Pantun” (page 57) was quite poignant. About a cabbie relating his woes of his wife (the cabbie’s) battle with cancer to his passenger. Not knowing that his passenger emphatised more than one might think.

Speaking of empathy, lines like these made me ponder:
“I watch the bats
outside the MRT
where taxis stop
as we return
with troubled looks
from anxious jobs.
Their circling wings
match out heartbeats,
a comforting flutter
above our heads.”

From p. 65 – “Urban Dwellers”

I thought these were beautiful words:
“Light scaled your hair last night.
A moon rising between apartments
sent down its white ladder through
the window while you were sleeping.”

From p. 68 – “Views from My Apartment”

In this collection, Chris’ poems gives me the sense that there’s an air of acceptance; a coming-to-terms with whatever life has thrown at him.

Children, Darling, are no longer an option.
Children cannot pour like jellybeans

from old jars. Sweets may not be good
for us, after our half century. Better they

stay away. We can go to other homes
as uncle and aunt and give out Toblerone…

From p. 72 – “Views from My Apartment“.

I know I shouldn’t draw the conclusion that this collection is about Chris and his life.

But I can’t help but think that he’s giving the reader hints of his life, a peek into his mind.

Overall, I’d say this collection is “Quietly Colourful”.

The poems are contemplative and reflective.

Come to think of it, this collection could be said to be like Chris the poetry-man himself.

The words burst with a performer’s flair at times.

Colourful, like Chris the performer of poetry.

And quiet.

When the stage lights dim and the performer steps off.

Perhaps into a taxi cab.

Chris Mooney-Singh. Laughing Buddha Cab Company

See also:

Loving a schizophrenic: A true story of love, loyalty and courage/ Raymond Anthony Fernando

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Book cover - Loving a Schizophrenic: A true story of love, loyalty and courage
NLB Call No.: FER (Singapore Collection)
ISBN: 9810516762

From the back cover blurb:

“… a true story of Soo Mei and Daniel and how their love and devotion triumphs over her lifelong battle with schizophrenia… this book chronicles the trials and tribulations of their courtship and 30-year marriage and provides an insightful peek into caring for a loved one stricken with mental illness.”

A Singaporean’s account of how he coped with his wife’s depression and schizophrenia, as well as his own subsequent bouts with depression. It also describes their courtship, the initial objections to their inter-racial romance, and other difficulties that they experienced along the way.

The author has since revealed that the names Soo Mei and Daniel were pseudonyms for his wife and himself. References:

Quote from the author’s introduction in the book:

“… just like AIDS victims, mental patients too should not be isolated, shunned and discriminated against. I hope Loving a Schizophrenic, seen through the eyes of Daniel, will demystify mental illness and raise greater awareness of the needs of those who struggle with their minds’ demons.

Just as important, I would like to show that their caregivers also need support and understanding as they struggle against tremendous odds and challenges to create a safe world for their afflicted beloved ones.”

Taxi Talk: Zheng Shuying

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Taxi Talk
NLB Call No.: SING ZHE (Singapore Collection)
ISBN: 9812480366

Fictional account (or semi-fictional perhaps) of the conversations and thoughts of a group of Singaporean cabbies. The book is unique in that it’s one of the very few books that focuses on this particular trade in Singapore. Easy to read. Not terribly exciting in terms of plot or Characterisations, but maybe that’s consistent with the lives of most people.

High Browse Online review here.

Interestingly, there’s a UK web trade magazine called Taxi Talk.

What Matters in Learning?/ Tan Ai Girl

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The book lists Dr. Tan as the Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education (NIE) — the institution that trains teachers for the Ministry of Education in Singapore.
NLB Call. No: SING 370.1523 TAN (Singapore collection)
ISBN: 9812104550

The introduction chapter has a good overview of educational development in Singapore. Terms them the Foundation phase (1965 – 1979), Efficiency-driven phase (1980 – 1997), and Ability-driven phase (1998 – current). Talks about the ‘Teach Less Learn More’ approach. Discusses the challenges in education & learning (need for research methods, a common platform and space for dialogue, and evidence-based education policy)

1 – Self-initiated learning
2 – Grouping & psycho-educational group
3 – Learning support prgrammes & sch counselors
4 – Problem-based learning & Project Work
5 – Learning with the Information Communications & Technologies (ICT)
6 – Does class size really matters
7 – Benefits of pre-referral interventions review here.

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Doing a little good: A book of the Riding for the Disabled Association of Singapore

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A book of the Riding for the Disabled Association of Singapore
ISBN: 981-04-7172-6
NLB Call No.: SING 798.23087 DOI
Published in: 2003

This book seemed to be as much about the horses, as the unique people who ride them. It isn’t about the therapeutic effects of riding, for people with disabilities (that is very much self-evident from the stories). It didn’t come across as a book on the Riding for the Disabled Association of Singapore (RDA). It’s about the people with disabilities, the horses, and the RDA instructors and volunteers.

But mostly it’s about the riders and the horses.

You’re quickly introduced to the riders first — the children and teens with various disabilities. You learn their names. You see their individual faces in the photos. Some of them look at the camera. Some appear caught up in their thoughts and quite moments. You learn of their conditions (so many types). You read comments from their caregivers and parents. Often there is little or no direct quotes from the riders themselves. The entries are concise and to the point. The various disabilities are stated factually.

You get to know the horses. Some of them come with a past, having retired or left the horse racing circuit due to injuries or disabilities. Like Kublai Khan, the gelding who suffers nose bleeds due to his blood pressure and dry coat; Kimba, who grew too large for polo; Annie the pony with a scarred hind leg; Tesoro the ex-race horse with damaged joints and ligaments.

If this book is about “what it means to do a little good”, then I think it has succeeded.

See also:

The Little Red Dot: Reflections by Singapore’s Diplomats/ Tommy Koh & Chang Li Lin (editors)

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cover NLB Call No.: 327.5957 LIT (Singapore Collection)
ISBN: 981-256-414-4
Check NLB Catalogue for item availabilty (copy and paste the ISBN “9812564144” under Keyword search).

If you’re interested in what diplomats actually do, especially Singapore’s diplomats, then this book will not disappoint. One of my first reactions to this book was “They actually shared this? In a book?” : )

Oh, there’s nothing risque, and no state secrets (Singapore’s or from other countries) have been compromised. What I found pleasantly surprising was how palatable this book was. I enjoyed each of the 53 articles — personal stories, really — authored by Singapore’s Presidents, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Women Ambassadors, First Generation Diplomats, Second Generation Diplomats, and Non-Resident Ambassadors.

I recognise quite a number of names — the late President Wee Kim Wee, and President S.R. Nathan; the late S. Rajaratnam; there’s S. Dhanabalan, Wong Kan Seng, S. Jayakumar, Kishore Mahbubani, Tan Chin Nam, Bilahari Kausikan, Chan Heng Chee, Winston Choo, Tommy Koh, Barry Desker, Jacky Foo, Walter Woon — and lots more that I don’t. BTW, each entry has a photograph of the authors.

The stories gives an insight into how Singapore’s diplomatic corps operates. But it’s more than that. It’s a telling of the diplomatic corps’ culture written from personal perspectives. It’s very “human”, and there are many things shared that few might be aware.

For instance, I learnt from the late Wee Kim Wee’s article that he introduced a regular breakfast session with Taxi drivers when he was appointed President in 1985 (the idea was inspired by what President Magsaysay did, which Mr. Wee read from a newspaper in 1955 when he was a reporter covering the 2nd Asian Games in Manila); I learnt about the Principles of Singapore’s Foreign Policy by S. Rajaratnam; how Singapore successfully lobbied for support in the U.N. General Assembly (this was by S. Jayakumar); Tommy Koh’s Eight Lessons on Negotiations; President S. R. Nathan’s account of the “Laju” Hijack Incident…

There’s many many more. To properly introduce and highlight each of the stories would require individual posts for all 53 of them. I heard Tommy Koh mention (at the READ! Singapore 2006 closing ceremony) that this book was considered very successful in terms of the number of copies sold — by Singapore’s standards. I can appreciate why.

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