Intimidation at protests does not always mean tear gas and armored tanks. Sometimes, a nosy little camcorder can strike that same onset of paranoia in a person.
I decided to attend the “Democracy Now! Singapore in Solidarity with Hong Kong” vigil at Hong Lim Park last week. I had no idea how it would be like, because, oh you know, these civil society parties, they can be a hit and miss affair.
The turnout was quite good actually, I estimate with my little eye that there must have been at least 300 people, which is what Straits Times meant in their headline I suppose:
Stolen from Andrew Loh’s facebook, like a boss.
The schoolyard fights on the number of jellybeans in a jar aside, what food for thought did this writer glean from the experience?
I suppose it’s a feeling which I can describe as an interesting but suffocating sense of irony.
I took to the crowd with my camcorder, and tried to get some soundbites for a video blog on the event. We often perceive protests and vigils to be sombre and funereal, but in fact, there is a sense of exuberance when people gather for a common cause. I hoped to capture that through the people I spoke to.
Easier said than done.
Save for one brave and eloquent soul by the name of Brandon, most skittled off or gave evasive reasons to why they were there.
If I were not so aware of how suspicious people were of me and my camcorder, I might have been led to believe that most of the attendees at the vigil were there out of sheer curiosity, or happened to drop by after dinner, since they were in the area anyway. Like it’s a Hari Raya openhouse or something.
Ok lah, maybe they are just camera shy, I thought. Or also scared of being caught saying something incriminating against the government. Or scared of being misquoted by online media and cyber stalked. Or scared of me.
Some say I can be a bit of a prick.
I toyed with the idea of waiting for the Zumba class that was using the main stage to end, and interview them instead.
Perhaps they’d be more forthcoming. Hmmm…
I couldn’t help compare the spirit of the vigil to the mutedness my camcorder illicited. I find that you can tell alot about the level of democracy in a country by engaging in conversation with random strangers. I’d met a wantan mee seller in Cameron Highlands who also wrote a scathing expose on corrupt officials illegally leasing out land to their cronies. I’ve walked, drunk, with an Australian man who served in Timor and made no apologies for his militant views. Heck, even the wierdos who hit on me in subways had a point of view when we talk politics.
Personal liberty – the ability to be open with what we think, without fear of persecution or judgement, is rare in Singapore and in Singaporeans. Even foreigners here, repress their views when they are here.
Welcome to Singapore, the fine city where you can’t chew gum or discuss anything beyond the fruitfulness of Hungrygowhere recommendations.
There is such a deeply entrenched stigma on political activism, that it triggers off a self destructive mechanism, almost as if we need to perform a Heimlich Maneuver on ourselves to dispel this offensive notion of “power to the people” from our bodies. Most who talk about politics speak of it from a safe distance, but in the thick of it all, when it would actually count, most of us, given the way we’ve been conditioned would suddenly find ourselves with the proverbial frog in the throat.
The social climate here, be it through the means of a hard-handed government or the willing docility of the people, has effectively redefined activism and citizen protest – from being one of the most essential and dynamic catalysts in the progress of humanity, one which helped shaped our very nation, to that of an annoying itch in the throat we can’t wait to cough out.
After some rather pleasant singing of Beyond songs, there was an illuminating moment when the more vocal and presumably Hongkie in the crowd began chanting ” Lok Fatt Gao! Lok Fatt Gao!” I asked the elderly gentleman next to me what that meant. ” It refers to that guy everyone here hates! He got in with 689 votes!” His companion, whom I assume to be his son answered in a discernible Cantonese accent.
” CY Leung?”
” Yes! Lok Fatt Gao! ( Cantonese for 689.)” He replied, eyes gleaming with excitement. That was the look I had been looking for all night!
I wondered if I should whip my camera out and ask him a few questions. But the possibility of cooling his excitement dissuaded me. At that point, I’d concluded that my idea for a frivolous video blog, in my own capacity, was a naive one.
And what if I were a mole? Would agreeing with Hongkong protesters that a democratic process in elections be that incriminating? It seems like just common sense. Isn’t that how Singapore is run?
Eh you don’t laugh ah!
For what it’s worth, here’s the shoddy little video:
Also, lets hear it for Brandon man! My video could have passed off as a camping trip if not for his thoughts.