We Need to Drum Some Common Sense Into Some People

So we get our kids to dress up in their traditional racial costumes in school like a beauty pageant during Racial Harmony Day and sing one another's folk songs in their respective languages only to show them doing the same thing in public when they get out to the real world may get them arrested? Not if you do that without a musical instrument, that will only land you into Buangkok Chalet. With a cultural music instrument in hand, it will be the Cantonment Coffeehouse instead.

Whatever happened to the Racial Harmony declaration we encourage not only our kids but every Singaporean to recite during the Racial Harmony week every year?

We, the people in Singapore, declare that religious harmony is vital for peace, progress and prosperity in our multi-racial and multi-religious Nation. 
We resolve to strengthen religious harmony through mutual tolerance, confidence, respect, and understanding. 
We shall always

Recognise the secular nature of our State,
Promote cohesion within our society,
Respect each other's freedom of religion,
Grow our common space while respecting our diversity,
Foster inter-religious communications,
and thereby ensure that religion will not be abused to create conflict and disharmony in Singapore.

Was that meant to be a rap or did that mean anything for real?

In what way does playing a couple of musical instrument during a traditional festival go against the principles of religious harmony? How does such a festival differ from littering the skies of the River Ang Bao venue with glittering paper and blasting the eardrums out of participants with firecrackers? If it isn't the decibels, how does the authorities measure offensiveness?

When the Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS) withdrew their application to hold their Independence Day at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza due to receiving excessive flak from the Singaporean public, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote a Facebook post condemning the " thuggish behavior" of these critics and urged Singaporeans to be more gracious towards diversity,

"We must show that we are generous of spirit and welcome visitors into our midst, even as we manage the foreign population here. Otherwise we will lower our standing in the eyes of the world, and have every reason to be ashamed of ourselves."
- PM Lee Hsien Loong, 19 April 2014 

What is the point of rallying the country to accept a foreign community when we have clearly yet to recognise the different religious and racial liberties of our existing communities? 

During every Chingay Procession, we showcase our multi-cultural society to the world by getting every creed and race to make a racket with all sorts of musical instrument imaginable. The Singapore Police Force seems to have no problem endorsing this event, without anyone feeling awkward that the world Chingay is equivalent to the Mandarin zhuang yi (妆艺) which means "the art of costume and masquerade" in the Hokkien dialect and the event stems from Chinese roots. Does that mean it will be okay to hit the drums during a Thaipusam procession if we repackage it as a multi-cultural event?

As a Chinese Singaporean I am ashamed to read about the arrest. Every year during the first day of Chinese New Year, my Chinese neighbour will hire a Lion Dance troop to perform the traditional custom of "cai qing" (採青) in his house without fail. The Lion Dance troop will be heard on the streets way before they turn into our carpark. Their drumming and cymbal crashing with peak in gusto as they move along the final stretch of the corridor of the HDB flat. Over more than 20 years, we have never heard of a single complain by a non-Chinese neighbour who does not celebrate the CNY. We also saw more than 10 Malay couples getting married within 2 blocks of our HDB flats over these 2 decades. On every wedding, we got to hear the great (and not so great) karaoke singing of the guests following by the playing of the kompang according to a distinctive rhythm that will reverb through the neighbourhood to announce the arrival of the bride and groom. Many of us would stand on the side of the street to watch the newly weds. The music did not bother us. Over decades, we have been celebrating racial tolerance. Unbelievably, this year, the Singapore Police Force chose to stop a Thaipusam progression from playing their drums outside a temple in the name of "deterring public disorder which may be caused by rivalries between groups."

Can't anyone see that such an act of religious persecution is a greater dividing force that can potentially create crack lines within societal peace and harmony than a forbidden drum solo? Are we living in a age where we cannot tell the rights and wrongs between guidelines and common sense?


  1. Could it be that the reason has little to do with "racial harmony" but just "harmony"?

    Could it be that "playing a couple of musical instrument during a traditional festival" is deemed not like playing "(Kong Xi)^3 Ni" or "We wish you a Merry X…" but for the sole purpose of helping the key participant (and perhaps along with some his/her supporters) to work-up to a state of trance or certain spiritual level, so as to help sustain his/her energy, endeavour and mission?

    Could it be that no one can imagine what could happen if the Chingay procession, instead of performing or ‘regurgitating’ a well rehearsed piece of art form (noisy or not) for the public's amusement, each and every troupe is really attempting to evoke something not from the material / physical world, just for their ‘star performers’? (Even discounting any unlikely rivalry among the individual groups)

    But definitely, someone who is ‘uncommonly’ remunerated must come out with a better “common sense” solution, instead of the uniquely over simplistic ‘long boatman’s bamboo’ approach, so that they can do what they have to do and in the manner they need to do it – is this not what is owed to them in the 1st place, by any society that advertised itself to be “multi-racial”?

    1. Good point. If so, will we see them poking their noses into hives of tongue speaking folks in their state of nirvana anytime soon, in the name of justice and equality, regardless or language or religion?

    2. Could it be that they would or could only "nirvana" inside their "hives"?

    3. I guess going around singing carols with tambourines are completely legit.

    4. More no common sense and scheming things will be implemented over time such as the medisave life scheme that requires overseas singaporeans to pay when they cannot afford to live in singapore.

  2. Well said! (h) Common sense is increasingly uncommon in the ruling echelons of a certain little red dot these days.