This T-shirt Can't Be Worn At Buangkok MRT Station Today! by Pan Xing Hua Do you have this T-shirt? If you're planning to wear this to Buangkok MRT Station, or to participate in this morning's festivities, please be careful because you might just find yourself in trouble! The organising committee of this morning's Buangkok MRT Station opening ceremony celebrations (Punggol South grassroots leadership) has been warned by police that if people turn up for the festivities wearing T-shirts printed with 'white elephants', they might cause misunderstanding to others, and even contravene the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act. A police spokesperson said, 'When the police receives any calls or complaints from the public, we will investigate as we've always done.' So, if you happen to have this T-shirt, should you wear it today, or not? Please think thrice. Applying for a fund-raising permit This 'white elephant' T-shirt was designed by 27 Secondary Four Raffles Girls School students last October. They told reporters then that they hoped that young people might be encouraged to legally express their views, and also to promote active citizenship. All profits that they received from the sale of the T-shirts would be donated to Youth Guidance ["a charity organization which works with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Police in mentoring and reaching out to youths at risk"]. The organisers of the MRT Station's opening ceremony festivities have invited the girls to set up a stall and sell their T-shirts. Charles Chong, Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Pungol GRC [the constituency in which the Buangkok MRT Station is located at] confirmed that yesterday, the organisers received a directive from the police requesting the girls to apply for a fund-raising permit. Also, the police mentioned that if more than five people wear this T-shirt, the police would carry out investigations if they received any complaints. MP Chong said that it normally took three days to apply for the permit, but due to the cooperation of the police, the girls were able to get it in less than a day. An ex-RGS girl who's now in Raffles Junior College, Ms Chang said yesterday, 'We applied for the permit last night, and were given the permit this morning. So we can legally sell the T-shirts tomorrow.' Due to the fact that the police have advised the organising committee not to collectively wear the T-shirts so as not to break the law, Chang said, 'Tomorrow we'll have 20 students selling the T-shirts. We have all decided not to wear the T-shirts, so as to avoid unnecessary trouble.' RGS Girls 'home-made' T-shirt project This creative 'white elephant' T-shirt designed by RGS students costs $12. At that time, they printed 300, and they are still left with 60, which will be sold today at Buangkok MRT Station. Speaking of those who've bought the T-shirts, will they collectively wear the shirts to the celebrations today, and inadvertently break the law? Chang said, 'We don't have their contact numbers, and so we're unable to contact them.' MP Chong said, 'Today, 3000 people will wear a T-shirt that's designed by the organising committee. This purple T-shirt will not have any images of animals. We hope no one will make a complaint to the police.' A ticket for the opening ceremony festivities costs $3; 5000 people have already bought tickets. The event starts at 8.30am. A 240m long red sash surrounds the MRT Station; it's decorated to resemble a gift for the Buangkok residents. MP Teo Chee Hean will cut the ribbon with 400 residents at 10.45am. The station opens at 1pm.Seriously, I don't know what to think. Would someone make a complaint about the purple 'endorsed' T-shirts that 3000 people are going to wear? So what if someone does indeed make a complaint? A little background (as far as I've understood it) about this weird issue. Buangkok MRT Station is along the new MRT north-east route. The stations before and after it have all been opened, but I think the national train operator doesn't want to open Buangkok at the same time as the other stations because they felt there weren't enough passengers living around Buangkok station. So the station was built, and it just stood there, doing nothing. So one day, someone printed these very cute 'white elephant' pictures on boards and displayed it around the station. Now, this might be so trivial in any other place, but in Singapore, it created an uproar! Normally, people would not think of 'dissenting' but here is someone putting up 'protest signs' in the middle of night, and the message was unmistakable: the train station was a 'white elephant'. Some members of the public allegedlly complained to the police (because it was probably horrifying for that person that folks were protesting to the authorities), and the police promised a full investigation. I think (though I've forgotten the details) it was later found that the sign was designed by the constituency's own grassroots personnel, so the police just gave them a warning. Until now, I don't understand how those elephant signs had even a remote chance to break the law. So, what is there left to do? I'll congratulate the RGS girls for their bravery and ingenuity, to MP Chong for being behind the girls and his constituents , and the Singapore Zoo, for building the new Elephants of Asia exhibit a few years ago. It's really quite wonderful! More background reading: SingaporeAngle, SingaporeInk, Yawning Bread, Wikipedia entry on Buangkok MRT Station.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Yes, Singapore Is An Open Society, But You Can't All Wear The Same T-Shirts
A few days ago, George Soros was in town for an open dialogue about 'democracy, open society and Singapore'. Gabriel and HuiChieh have the details. In responding to someone's question about whether Singapore can be considered an 'open society', Soros replied, 'Obviously, Singapore does not qualify as an open society...The use of libel and financial penalties can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of speech and freedom of expression... Singapore is a prosperous society, and prosperity and openness go together...I hope Singapore will become an open society.' Now, I don't profess to be an expert on what an 'open society' really is or should be. Is it about openness in the sense that you can stand of elections without being sued or feeling afraid? Is it about the freedom to speak your mind without someone coming along in the middle of the night and dragging you away? Is it about a fairly independent media that isn't afraid to not toe the party line? I'm really not too sure. But one thing I definitely know is that in an open society, everyone should be able to wear any T-shirt that they desire, especially if the T-shirt promotes an Asian, endangered mammal, say, maybe, the great elephant. So in that regard, yes, I'd agree that Singapore is an open society, simply because people can wear whatever T-shirt they wanted, unlike some other less open societies. But today, I realise to my horror, that Soros might be right, that Singapore really might not be an open society after all! It turns out that folks aren't allowed to wear T-shirts with elephants printed on them. The following is my amateurish translation of the article from today's Chinese Zaobao newspaper;
for some reason, the English newspaper Straits Times is totally silent on this. [Ed.: This was reported in the Today newspaper yesterday. Tip hat: Wayne Soon]
Posted by jeffyen at 9:24 AM