Singapore, Incomplete was conceived as a compilation of essays about Singapore politics and society. Like my first such anthology, Singapore: the Airconditioned Nation, it builds on commentaries I’ve written over the years. Airconditioned Nation, published in 2000, was based on my columns written as a Straits Times journalist in the 1990s. Singapore, Incomplete includes views published over the last decade on my blogs, Airconditioned Nation and Freedom From The Press, and my academic books. However, several of the essays were written specifically for the book.
I self-published this book to give me more financial and creative control over the project. It’s published under the imprint “Woodsville News”. I last used this name more than 40 years ago. Woodsville Road is the name of the street in Singapore where I grew up, and Woodsville News was the family newspaper I wrote during the school holidays when I was nine.
I knew I’d found the cover art for my book even before I started writing it. When I visited the Singapore Art Museum in January 2016, it was holding a special exhibition, 5 Stars; Art reflects on Peace, Justice, Equality, Democracy and Progress, to mark the 50th year of Singapore’s independence. SAM commissioned Matthew Ngui to work on the theme of Democracy. His installation, “Every Point of View” was a captivating, immersive experience comprising a forest of plastic pipes with seeming gibberish painted on them. When viewed from the right spot, though, the fragments come together to form quotations about democracy. “You have to be at a particular point to understand each perspective,” Ngui told one interviewer. “Democracy is a way to work with these conflicts. In any society we have competing viewpoints and desires which democracy can help to balance.” I stayed a long time and took several photos. I’m very grateful to SAM and Matthew for letting me use these images for my book cover.
Facebook users were split down the middle when I asked which cover image I should use – the installation art with or without the human form. I picked the latter.
I was torn between “Essays” and “Reflections”. Thanks to the Facebook users who helped me decide on Reflections on a First World nation’s arrested political development.
Questions from readers
Thanks to those who responded to my call for questions that you would like the book to answer.
“We often jump to the simplistic notion of Mr Lee Kuan Yew as an inspiring figure—but recent publications (Poh Soo Kai’s for example) suggest the truth to be less than so noble. In light of such revelations, how could Singaporean society come to grips with a more nuanced version of the Singapore Story? Are we as a nation even ready? — Chow Kit Ying
“Is the current Elected President scheme an extension of PAP’s ‘ownself checks ownself’ system since it becomes so politically entangled with so many checks that would potentially make any opposition government a lame duck?” — David Tan
“How has the years of independent Singapore’s sociopolitical landscape (strongman rule, one party & media control, lack of political education, worship of elites etc) affected the voting populace today? Have the motivations behind selecting a candidate changed at all?” — Zach Chia
“Can Singapore truly evolve itself to meet the challenges of today (and not with piecemeal solutions) without a change of government? Younger generations of Singaporeans are coming of age in a pluralising social media/information landscape. How does this complicate authoritarian consolidation in Singapore?” — Ezra Ho
“How do we begin to articulate the unobvious—perhaps even gentle—repression that leads to citizens disciplining themselves and their behaviors instinctively such that disagreements with the government are rarely—if ever—actually verbalized?” — Pavan
“In the U.S., marginalized groups ‘knowing their history’ have resulted in radical movements like Black Lives Matter. Now, more Singaporeans are learning about alternative histories (eg. Charlie Chan Hock Chye) that challenge the Singapore Story. But in a much more top-down, authoritarian system, what scope is there to go from knowledge to action (be it for acknowledging these parts of our past, or calling for a different kind of society) in a constructive fashion?” – Name withheld