Sunday, August 6, 2006

Alfian Sa’at’s Homesick

As part of the Singapore Theatre Festival from 2 to 20 August, W!ld Rice has organised a series of well crafted plays written by professional and widely acclaimed playwrights. This inaugural festival commences with Alfian Sa’at’s Homesick.

As part of our Language Arts enrichment programme, I had the opportunity to catch this film yesterday, together with virtually the whole class. And I never regretted watching this stupendously intellectual play.

Initially I thought it would be yet another SARS docu-drama depicting the efficiency of the government in tackling the whole saga, but I was wrong, to my utmost surprise. The story revolves around the Koh family, which is disintegrated and littered all around the world. Their father in Singapore was suspected of contracting SARS and was hospitalised, so their mother gathers the family back home. A ten day quarantine was unfortunately issued to them all, so they used this chance to discuss about issues regarding Singapore, our national identity and our views on foreign talents and racism. SARS was nothing more than a backdrop.

The play itself was more towards the controversial side, so I was surprised that it actually passed the censors. Well, perhaps this is yet another example illustrating that the government has indeed broadened to accept the notion that opposing viewpoints are necessary in cultivating a nation which participates in active discussion. Just as Singapore wants to promote national identity, unitedness and togetherness, this play, to a certain extent, actually does the opposite, by crumbling the forged identity as one which we think we have. So it did set me thinking: why then did the government allow this play?

There was a part of the play which mentioned that Singapore does not exist, and Singaporean, our culture, our tradition, are all a fallacy. We are just being deceived by PAP. After all, nobody is truly Singaporean because all our ancestors came from the surrounding countries eons ago. It is quite real, come to think of it.

Singaporean is just a term used to distinguish us from people who live in China, or Malaysia, or India; it is just a term which represents a small island contaminated by an infiltration of yellows, whites and blacks; it is just a term printed on our passports and birth certificates which has no deeper emotional meaning other than its superficial administrative use; it is simply a term to refer to ignorant, brainless people under the control of an autocratic leadership that wipes their buttocks after shitting and feeds cereal into their mouths.

Singapore is nothing more than an island which perceives it is a city; it is just a piece of small useless land where people inhabit; it is just a territory which produces results from foreign talents, and then blatantly claims that Singapore is an achieving country, when in reality, it is the country of the foreigners that deserves credit.

For example, the preposterously talented table tennis player Li Jia Wei, which was “imported” over from China, can never ever win a gold medal when competing against China, for the simple reason that China is her home country, and no one will ever be willing to beat one’s own country of birth especially when representing a foreign country. Without people like Li, what will Singapore deteriorate into? Singapore will be reduced to ashes if these outsiders do not enter. By itself, as an entity, Singapore is hopeless, utterly pathetic. And it doesn’t help when the cream of the crop, the intelligent doctors, lawyers and businessman are all fleeing to other countries because of our stifling government.

There was a very strong point brought up in the play, about foreigners. We detest them, to be truthful, we scorn at the sight of a black patch in a high class place, we do not want to sit near them on the bus or the MRT unless there are no more seats except the one beside them. We think that they are only meant to reside in construction sites. I am guilty of this too. We are not treating them with equality. The government can do whatever they please to them, be it let them work in the hot sun or live in cramped container houses, and they are not afraid to do so, because they are not Singapore citizens, thus they are not eligible to vote, so they ultimately do not affect the mandate of the PAP during general elections. Based on this, the government can abuse their control over them, and this is not too healthy.

But then again, to give a balanced view, it is this selfish government who dislikes opposition voices, it is this government who aims to “fix” the opposition, it is this government who spoon feeds us everything, that has resulted in Singapore today: peaceful, safe and supposedly prosperous. However much we hate the fact that we cannot express perspectives contrary to that of the PAP, we must still acknowledge that this silencing of our mouths is the exact reason why tranquility persists in our multiracial society. This very dominant authority that we question is the authority that gels and keeps the fabric of society intact. Hence, because of this, we should still give PAP its due credit.

The initial perception that the average Singaporean has about Singapore is that it is an almost flawless country, ruled by a fair and just government, where people are free and happy. Or at least that is the one sided view that education imparts to the younger generation. By giving a biased standpoint, it is obstructing the very quality it hopes to instill in students: creativity and inquisitiveness. Had it not been for Homesick, I would not have been discerning enough to realise things from another view.

So, are we demanding too much from our government? Do we expect a perfect government? Sometimes I think we are, just because our basic needs have been met, we start to get bitchy and complain and criticize about anything we can find fault in. But then again, Singapore is a progressive country, which implies that we always seek to improve. So is it too much to ask for a government which can trust us more and realise that maturity has developed? I think it is time we be more liberal. In time to come people will understand that they are not receiving the full picture. As Tan Tarn How has mentioned, we should never wait till we are fully mature before becoming liberal.

Lastly, there was this very daring and brave idea about us living in one man’s dream. One man who began it all. We are just tools for that one man to manipulate to fulfill his aspirations. And when we try to scream in that dream, we get silenced. (If you still do not get it, the one man is Lee Kuan Yew, and the silencing is censorship.) Good for you if you abide by his dream, but if you disagree with his dream, then that’s where you migrate.

By the way, Singapore is not the very least democratic. It just tells its citizens it is. Real democracy is the ability to shout out your thoughts without going to bed every night with the fear that the next day you will be reprimanded.

So if you are interested to understand the complete picture, go catch Alfian Sa’at’s Homesick. A remarkably outstanding production bound to make you reconsider all that you’ve ever believed.

Extremely thought-provoking.

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