Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

“Dissident Voices”

In Uncategorized on 14/02/2014 at 4:43 am

When I opened a copy of my friend’s latest book “Dissident Voices”, and saw the dissidents featured (Lim Chin Siong, Catherine Lim, Ong Eng Guan, David Marshall, Chia Thye Poh, Lim Hock Siew, Said Zahari, Tan Wah Piow, Francis Seow and Vincent Cheng Lim), I tot how come no JBJ* and Lee Siew Choh? After all, they too stood firm on their convictions despite the odds. And they too paid a heavy toll for their beliefs … But they never broke. In fact, Catherine Lim is a nobody when compared to those giants, JBJ and Lee.

When we met, he explained to me that he and Marshall Cavendish (the publisher) had agreed a tentative list of names. More than one book was needed to do justice to the names on the list.. The author thought the subjects he chose for the book “S’pore Dissidents” would resonate more with readers who wanted to know more about personalities who dared to be different – and paid a price. There are plans for another volume to cover JBJ and Lee Siew Choh for sure. Other names that could appear are: Alfian Saat, Martyn See, Ng Ho, Low Thia Khiang, Ong Teng Cheong, Devan Nair, Chee Soon Juan, Ho Kwong Ping and Teo Soh Lung.

If he included co-driver Low and Mad Dog (or is it  Coyote?) Chee, what about Chiam? As said, the list is being worked out, so don’t get worked up if your hero is left out. Just tell me and I’ll tell the author. BTW, Ng Ho is the father of another friend. Both father and son were detained under ISA. Despite being detained, my friend is a true-blue S’porean patriot and a poster boy for the meritocracy preached and practiced by the PAP Old Guard: example all his grandchildren are now in elite schools despite him being poor when young.

Whatever it is, the proposed list doesn’t do justice to the contemporary scene of voices. Voices like TOC, TRE and Alex Au. Maybe a third volume is needed? Watch and wait. Let volume II come out first.

Coming back to “Dissident Voices”, it’s written in straight-forward prose. ST’s style of writing at its best.

People of around my generation should read it to refresh or correct their memories, impressions of the late 50s and early 60s because the book covers Lim Chin Siong, Ong Eng Guan, David Marshall, Chia Thye Poh, Lim Hock Siew and Said Zahari. The other four are “dissidents” from other more recent periods.

Younger S’poreans should read it because it tells them a bit of the history of S’pore: about S’poreans who stood firm on their convictions despite the odds. And all but Marshall and Catherine Lim paid a heavy toll for their beliefs – deprivations, long prison terms, lonely lives in self-imposed exile. But they never broke.

They may learn of a time (late 50s, early 60s) when being called a “socialist” was not a sneer or an insult: even one LKY was proud to identify himself as a “socialist”. They may also learn that leaders can come from any level of society, and that it wasn’t necessary to have good academic results to be a leader: the ability to sway the masses was what counted. They may start to understand the background of today’s SAP schools, and why there are older S’poreans who decry the schools’ as an insult to local Chinese culture and traditions.

Readers of this blog like Jack, AuntieLucia etc should encourage their younger relations to read the book. Maybe even buy copies as birthday presents or rewards. Its prose is simple enough for secondary school kids who can learn that once upon a time life was hard, really hard and when S’poreans could not be called apathetic. Related posts:

More about the author’s background:

– Publisher’s media release



One of the first of its kind–this book

Introduces ten unique individuals who stood

by their beliefs and the ultimate price they

paid for that legacy.

The personalities featured are:

Lim Chin Siong, Catherine Lim,

Ong Eng Guan, David Marshall,

Chia Thye Poh, Lim Hock Siew,

Said Zahari, Tan Wah Piow, Francis Seow and

Vincent Cheng


They stood firm on their convictions despite the odds. Some paid a heavy toll for

their beliefs – deprivations, long prison terms, lonely lives in self-imposed exile. But

they never broke. Some will say the unflinching attitude of these dissidents against

what they perceived as coercive authority has been an exercise in futility. Yet other

say the course of Singapore’s history might have been altered if their will had


Their stories need to be told. The first of it’s kind, this book will inform and educate

rather than to glorify their tough stance. These short memoirs are a record of

human endurance, exemplifying the extremes sacrifices some people will make in

pursuit of their ideals.

Written by veteran journalist and author Clement Mesenas, this book chronicles the

lives of ten leading dissidents.


Clement Mesenas started his career in The Straits Times in 1968, cutting his teeth in

journalism as a young crime reporter before moving on to the sub-editors desk and

then to the field of magazine publishing. He left Singapore in 1979 to become

managing editor of the Kuwait Times for a decade before moving to the Gulf News in

Dubai, where he was deputy editor for another decade. He returned to Singapore in

2000 to join MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper as one of its pioneering editors, before

he retired in 2011. He now publishes a number of community publications and is

working towards establishing a global network through digital media platforms.


*Didn’t expect Chiam or Dr Chee to appear as they are still active politicians. As to Low, bet you he’d sue if he was called a dissident. He is the PAP’s self-appointed co-driver, a courtier who accepts the PAP’s hegemony. BTW, seems the co-driver and courtier needs a good accountant. Wonder what my friend Eric Tan is doing now? Smiling?

What Raffles could have taught the PAP

In Political governance on 25/02/2013 at 5:28 am

Executive summary: Gd intentions are not enough; move on fast, and mud sticks: in short, life can be most unfair.

Uncle Leong’s latest piece on AIM(, reminded me that I had planned to write about what Raffles could have taught the PAP in its handling of AIM’s contract with PAP town councils. But the Punggol East by-elections and the Population White Paper crowded out the piece. So it got KIVed and then forgotten until Uncle Leong’s piece reminded me of it.)

Over the December hols, I read a very interesting book, “Raffles and the British Invasion of Java”( for more details). As I was finishing the book, the AIM story was developing fast and furious. What struck me was that Raffles got himself into a bit of bother over a similar incident.

But before I go into the details, let me give some background.

When Raffles died, his crowning achievement in the view of his contemporaries was not the founding of S’pore (it was still a work in progress: it was loss making) but his lieutenant-governorship of Java from 1811- 1816. Westminster Abbey has a memorial statue to him erected a few years after his death. The inscription reads: “To the memory of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles … Lieut. Governor of Java … he raised Java to happiness and prosperity unknown under former rulers”. (While “first President of the Zoological Society of London” was the other achievement inscribed on the memorial, S’pore was not mentioned.)

His career went downhill after Java. It was so bad that after his resignation in 1823 on grounds of ill-health, he was investigated for various financial irregularities. He was cleared but to show his employer’s displeasure at his conduct, he was sent a bill in 1826 for £20,000 (now around £1m). He died shortly afterwards.

As to his rule of Java, Dutch sources and historians disagree with the view of British historians and biographers that he brought prosperity to Java. So does the author of the book I read. To them, he failed to improve the lives of the Javanese.

Now to what the PAP and in particular Dr Teo Ho Pin  could have learned from Raffles.

He had told his employer, the East India Company, that Java would be profitable for the shareholders.

But he was wrong. To try to cover part of the cost of invading and governing Java, he sold some land by way of auction. But he was a member of the consortium that won the auction. Knowledge of his participation became public (to be fair to him, he never hid his participation), people complained publicly, and he had to sell his share in the consortium, at cost, to try to avoid the issue from escalating.

He justified his action by saying he did it to instill confidence: that the fact that he was willing to invest should have encouraged other bidders. His boss, who liked him (and who had wanted to conquer Java from the Dutch irrespective of the cost) told him that he did not doubt Raffles’ good intentions, but it was bad judgment to be a member of the consortium.

Raffles was impeached although the judge dropped the charge after investigating the matter. But the incident dogged him in later life, when the East India Company investigated his financial affairs after his retirement: the issue was raked over again. Actually, the directors didn’t like him because he was into empire-building (literally), when all they wanted were profits. Raffles never ever made money for the East India Company. He was a true-blue predecessor of our SAF scholars, he spent money other people’s money, never made it. For the record, the SAF chief, scholar, Temask MD, now CEO of NOL, has reported yet another loss. And Desmond Quek, another scholar and SAF chief, has admitted that SMRT’s costs can only go up.

To be fair, even Raffles’ many enemies and critics conceded that unlike many other East India Company officials, he wasn’t making money on the side, and that unlike many other officials, he retired poor. Still the Java land sale is a blot on his reputation and judgment.

Will the AIM incident result in a similar permanent blemish on the PAP’s “whiter than white” uniform? In the case of Raffles, mud from the land sale stuck, even though he was cleared of financial impropriety.

And is the PAPpies call for a tender, their way of trying deescalate the issue: if someone else does the job, then AIM is history and we will be asked to “move on”.

Of course if AIM takes part in the tender and wins (remember it helped draw up the tender specifications, all hell will break lose. Knowing the competency of the PAPpies today (think Kate Spade Tin, Hri Kumar, Ms Fool, Dr Teo, Dr Lim, GCT, Mah Bow Tan, Raymond Lim and Wong Can’t Sing), no prizes for predicting that AIM will win the tender.

And to think that the PAP was known for its competency, while the WP was known to be the home of bicycle thieves, loonies and economic illiterates. Those were the days, my friends; when we were young.

Wanted: Expertise on organising a legal strike

In Political economy on 03/02/2013 at 7:02 pm

Late last week, four FT PRC SMRT drivers appeared in court again. They had been charged for inciting and participating in an illegal strike.

On Sunday, I read the following on Facebook: “What a tale this is. Clandestine meetings with ministers, secret agreements with shadowy power-brokers. The Last Great strike is an uplifting, thoroughly Singaporean story that belongs on the shelf of every Singaporean home and classroom.- Singapore’s top-selling author NEIL HUMPHREYS commenting on THE LAST GREAT STRIKE.”

As I’ve written before, this book is written by a friend, Clement Mesenas. His dad grandfather was a Pinoy FT who came here in the 1930s early 20th century. The book “looks back on eight eventful days in 1971 when a group of young reporters staged a historic strike that shut down The Straits Times” for the first time ever in its 120-year history.

I joined the two dots: the book should have been subtitled: “How to organise a legal strike”.

I mean, Clement and his other Indian Chief friends (no Indians among the core team, so no racism intended) were so good that Labour Minister Ong Pang Boon told the Indian Chiefs: “All right gentlemen, let’s plan a strike.”

Wow! That’s endorsement! That’s support!

So social activists and other kay poh do-gooders, go buy and read the book. And don’t be put-off that LKY’s “favourite editor”, Cheong Yip Seng,says good things about the book:

And so should the rumoured wannabe prime minister, MOM Tan, his MOM bureaucrats, SMRT’s managers, other managers, and NTUC officials, go buy and read the book, because the book explains why strikes happen:

— poorly paid workers (“Most of us in the newsroom were broke well before the end of the month … An egg could be cracked onto roti prata for an additional 20 cents, but that was a luxury as those 20 cents could be saved for the bus ride home.”); and

— “parsimonious, disdainful … management”, Tan Wang Joo, former editor of The Sunday Nation, and a deputy editor of The Straits Times.

Sounds familiar?

Thinking about it, so should the PM. Someone pls send him a copy. LOL

(Earlier version got it wrong about his ancestry)

“I’m invested in S’pore” & S’pore in 50s/ 60s

In Political governance on 18/01/2013 at 5:20 am

Shumeone (Bad grammar indicates that it is a member of YPAP Internet Brigade? Juz joking LOL) wrote,”why (sic) is this blog becoming like the local sites to air political grievances ?”

Because like PAPy Puthu, “I’m invested in S’pore”. So long as I remain a quitter in residence, and have investments here (property, shares, S$ cash), I must protect these investments. Increasingly the issues affecting my investment centre around the goofs of the PAP govt. These goofs have resulted in over 5% inflation, overcrowding, failing (by S’pore’s very high standards) infrastructure (telco and train cock-ups, congested roads, and the very high cost of public housing), productivity, stratification of society, among others.

For the record, I’m starting to like FT MP Puthu. I didn’t like him because of his sneer at NS (equating saving lives with doing NS. Dr PaulA, put him down by pointing out that there are docs who do NS (including reservist and save lives), and because he said his view on ISA was secret (PAP locked up dad, then deported him).

But I hear he is a gd constituency MP, and he did raise the issue of public transport nationalisation in parly. Something that the Wayang (or is it Worthless or Wankers?) Party hasn’t done despite it being an election promise. Promises made to be broken is it, WP? First-world political parties don’t do things like this.

And talking of the past, Dr PaulA and other younger S’poreans should read the u/m book. While they rightly discount much of the LKY, SPH stuff, as propaganda, they can’t and shouldn’t discount this written by a ex-Special Branch ang moh, after he was sacked by the British. He was married to one Han Suyin and was sacked from Special Branch because of her: In 1956, she published the novel And the Rain My Drink, wherein she described the interrogation techniques used by the Special Branch against Communist suspects.  Comber has written that he was sacked (asked to resign) as Assistant Commissioner of Police (Special Branch) because of said book.

The book describes how bad things once were. A PAPpy would say they make my above bitchings petty. He could also point out that after reading the book, I sent an email to friend in his 60s who moved on from S’pore after Sec 4,”Reading this book reminds me why you did the right thing: go to London. It was a tough time, and the rhetoric from LKY wasn’t reassuring.”. My friend went on to become v.v. rich as a financier.

Singapore Correspondent. Political Dispatches from Singapore (1958-1962)
by Leon Comber*

Publisher:  Marshall Cavendish International Asia

Singapore Correspondent Book CoverSingapore Correspondent” covers five years of Singapore’s colourful political past – a period of living turbulently and sometimes dangerously. It is a collection of eye-witness dispatches, sent from Singapore to London, spanning a time when Singapore was emerging from British colonial rule and moving forward to self-government and independence. Many of the early struggles of the People’s Action Party (PAP) are described as the focus is on the political struggle taking place in which the PAP played a major part. Many important events which have long been forgotten are brought to life. These dispatches prove that political history need not be dull, and indeed can sometimes be entertaining and lively.

* MAI Adjunct Research Fellow


When Devan Nair was Jedi

In Uncategorized on 26/11/2012 at 6:08 am

(And ST journalists were Jedi cadets)

Yes, t’was a long, long time ago: 1971 to be exact.

A forthcoming book (Yup this was the book I was talking about here) portrays the ex-president who resigned in disgrace as someone unhappy, underpaid and bullied workers (OK  ST journalists) could turn to for help against a management dominated by FTs (not Pinoys or Indians but ang mohs), and that he helped them get justice. The book, “The Last Great Strike” tells the story of the life and times of a ST reporter in the days leading up to a strike in 1971: a strike which had the backing of a government that had just passed new draconian laws curbing the right to strike; before recounting the strike and its aftermath.

The author is Clement Mesenas. One of the other strike leaders singled him out, praising him as the leader. I know both of them*: the tag “running dog” or “castrated” cannot be tagged on their shirt collar.

I hope younger activists buy the book. There is much they can learn from Clement’s experiences as an “angry young man”, organisationally and emotionally  Don’t worry, I’ll remind readers of the book by reviewing it one of these days, when I’m sure it is commercially available.

There are plans for a website to be set-up for the strikers and their friends to contribute their “war stories” and reminiscences; about the direction ST took after the strike; and their tots on new media especially its impact on ST. Auntie Lucia, your contributions will be welcomed. Contributions defending ST’s “constructive” role in nation building, as distinct from the ang mohs’ idea of supporting the government of the day while being editorially independent will be most welcomed. As are articles on whether there is a difference between the two approaches? To me, the result is the same, so any discussion is akin a discussion on how many angels can dance on a pinhead. But it obviously mattered to one LKY and his govt, and I think to Clement and some of the strike leaders when they reflect back.

Hopefully, I can provide details of this website when I publish my review of the said book.

As for Devan Nair, maybe he didn’t deserve what Nemesis (in the form of LKY) meted out to him. A sentence in his obituary in the NYT reads: “As a trade union leader, Nair was considered to have shaped Singaporean workers into a restrained, but economically effective force that helped the country develop one of the strongest financial positions in Asia.” What S’poreans, past and present, think about him will depend on whether they think the workers got their just rewards, or were enslaved in fetters made from their mortgage payments for their “subsidised” public housing. But even if the workers were enslaved, their fate is still better than what happened to Boxer and the other non-pig animals,  of Animal Farm.  At least the workers can read in ST how rich they are, and feel happy.


*Though I’ve not spoken to one of them for years.