a community of singaporeans

A City Of Lions

Posted by theonlinecitizen on August 3, 2007

In the lead-up to National Day, TOC’s writers share their personal views on what it means to be a Singaporean and what Singapore means to them. We begin with Benjamin’s piece.

By Benjamin Cheah

I readily adopt the mantle of the quiet patriot.

However, I find no reason, at first, to reinforce my convictions. A country is little more than a construct: a flag, a national anthem, a pledge, painted symbols given power over a people and a region.

Certainly our red and white banner, and the writ of the State, applies only to this tiny island, off the southern coast of Malaysia. Everything else, from national infrastructure to national defence, flows from there.

Almost every citizen would be familiar with what is materially ‘good’ about Singapore. Doubtlessly we have a stable and clean government, a growing globalised economy, and so on and so forth. But I cannot bear to write about any of them. No matter how hard I try, my well of words come up dry.

An ever-evolving fusion of cultures

I try to think of other things: our local cuisine and Singlish. As I examine both, I see an emergent, ever-evolving fusion of cultures. Singlish is bastardised English, Chinese, Hokkien, Malay, and a half-dozen tongues slapped together, and new terms erupt by the day.

Singapore’s food culture is a mishmash of Indian, Chinese, Malay, European, and other tastes from around the world, and new dishes regularly appear. And so, they curiously represent a microcosm of Singapore.

Singapore is a nation in birth. Our culture is a fusion of East and West: you can see local teenagers following Japanese fashion, listening to cutting-edge rock on American iPods, conversing in fluent Chinese, overtly professing Buddhism and believing in liberal democracy.

We are an anomaly, an evolving consciousness moving in a dozen directions, developing in a novel way nobody can foresee. Our brief history is one of struggle: a struggle for independence, a struggle against communism, a struggle for survival.

A City Of Lions

Through steadfast toil and far-reaching vision, we have succeeded. Now, we are engaged in a struggle for definition in a post-modern world.

It is here, finally, that I find my reason: the Singapore soul resonates in my own. We are the City of Lions, the embodiment of lions: achievement, harmony, individuality, compassion, courage.

Through sweat and blood, Singapore has achieved so much in the past, and would hopefully continue to achieve in the future. Despite our diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups, we remain a harmonious society, in tune with the world and ourselves.

Singapore remains an individual country against a backdrop of nations, even after embracing the culture of the world. Wherever emerged tsunamis and terrorists, hurricanes and hunger, we gave selflessly to the world. And through it all, our courage remains, the courage to face the future through clear lenses, the courage to fight for what we are, and the courage to define what we, as individuals and as a nation, are to ourselves.

In the end, then, the one good thing I could write about Singapore is her zeitgeist, her spirit, all that she is, and all that she will be.

Singapore’s qualities remain anchored in my heart, and so will the flag of our fathers, forever.

Read more of Benjamin’s writings on his blog, Words Of The Lionheart.


34 Responses to “A City Of Lions”

  1. Singaporeans who are concerned with the country should voice their opinion. There are many channels, personal blog and website are among them.

    I voiced my concern in 1984. See .

    *Edited by TOC moderator for irrelevant comments.

  2. Indeed. Democracy thrives on the People’s Voice; it dies when the people cease to speak.

  3. Democray is not the perfect solution.

    *Edited by moderator

  4. And perfection in the human world does not exist. We live in a world of second-best choices and compromise; democracy remains the least-worst form of government I have encountered. When properly implemented, of course.

  5. You kept on editing my post, how to put forward my points ? I study most scriptures and get common knowledge of history.

    Democracy is not long and there are many weak points of it. Many democratic countries show this.

    Tell me which country in the world has properly implemented the policy of democracy ?

    I hope you can understand. The best brains are not those with university degrees ! Even with an IQ of over 200, that person is a nut when come to political matter.

  6. I don’t edit your posts, Mr. Kew. I think it should be more properly directed to the people in charge…unless you were, in fact, addressing them to begin with.

    While many democratic nations have their flaws, they should be compared alongside those of other countries with different political models. The fascist states of the world collapsed within a dozen years, the peoples of the world no longer tolerant of their flaws. Monarchies have by and large given in to the people; the few that remain are anomalies, with flaws of their own. Communism died in Russia one Christmas morning; it devolved in China so long ago only idealists look on it with favour. The dictatorships are by and large failed states, ready to topple in the forseeable future. In ancient times, the only states that did survive were those blessed by a variety of wise rulers, who seemed to have at least two things in common: they listened to the people, or were the people; and they held the country’s best interests at heart. Democracy so far appears to be the least worst method of ensuring competant leadership that human minds have conceived.

    ‘Democracy’ is just a word. But it is a word endowed with human qualities, a word that comes from men, for men. It is riddled with the flaws of men, but it, too, has the stregths of men; within democratic states lie both the corruption of its lowest citizens, and the genius of its greatest. It is up to every generation and every citizen to determine how to better improve their country.

    Unless you can tell me a better alternative to democracy, one that actually makes sense, I will repeat: democracy remains the least worst form of government in existence.

    Of course, there is a question I really have to ask: what has this got to do with the article I wrote?

  7. You can’t even name a country that implements good democratic policy.

    Compare Western democracy and American democracy with elected president, the former countries are more stable because they have passive (no power) head of state. They mostly do away with death penalty. Their malady is in moral which is degrading like promoting pornography, lewdness etc. American or French system can be complicated because of opposition from parliament or Congress where opposition hold the majority like in Indonesia and Taiwan. Legislating laws and passing Agreements with foreign countries will take longer or maybe cancelled.

    You may say Switzerland is the best democracy, even the president is elected yearly. Most laws are subjected to referendum. I do not read up on Switzerland so I cannot comment further.

    I advocate a system whereby the president is to be appointed and his main duty is to meditate and eat vegetarian food. The MPs can be elected. To me this is not important. The president should be a man married with at least a son. No son means he is no good in Nature’s eyes.

    I told JB Jeyaratnam in 1984, if he appoints me as the WP’s chairman, I can win more places for WP MPs in parliament. I contested against Tan Chee Kian for chairman post in NSP but the former chairman played me out by casting his vote for Tan. Then I left NSP because my system was not told and understood then. I only openly stated my system in .

  8. I am replying to your post.
    My 1st post is about my action as a citizen.
    So I continue to talk on democracy and my solution which was edited or deleted, as you replied mostly on democracy.

  9. I didn’t name a country with ‘good democratic policy’, because democracy is not a policy. It is more than that: it is an ideology, a belief, a Zeitgeist manifest in the people of a nation. It is the willingness to participate in the political process; the recognition of the responsibilities of the citizen; the protection of the rights of minorities of all kinds; the common belief that debate and reason, not demagoguery or dictates, is the best course of action. This belief permeates the free nations of the world, from the United States to the United Kingdom, from France to Switzerland, from Japan to Indonesia. This is democracy.

    The system you advocate is about as substantial as a shadow. The President you advocate is no President: he is an ascetic, as he is supposed to meditate and eat vegetarian food. While that is admirable, if that is all he does, then he might as well be a common citizen. Presidents are Presidents because they are heads of state; it is their powers and duties that differentiate them from the people, and what you’ve just described are not duties. They are personal choices. Furthermore, if this President were to lack a son, then he merely lacks male offpsring. Quirks of biology do not signal Nature’s disapproval, even if allowing that Nature were sentient. That is because you have not proven it to be so by anything more than a sentence. Going by this train of thought, you have also failed to cover the roles of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, the three arms of government. Until as such time you substantiate this, you do not have a system.

    And I still don’t understand the logical link. This post is about what is good about Singapore, yes? So I wrote about Singapore’s spirit. You then decided to talk about the actions of citizens, and then things got confused. So, again, where is the link to the article I wrote?

  10. I don’t want to debate further on democracy and my solution, as my explanation is mainly in Election 1997 .

    The point is I am a lion in Singapore.

  11. lesile said

    Kew Kah Fatt Says:

    You kept on editing my post, how to put forward my points ? I study most scriptures and get common knowledge of history.

    Democracy is not long and there are many weak points of it. Many democratic countries show this.”

    Any form of government system is only as good as the leader himself ! Be it communist or democratic. Many system is replaced throughout history to bring about changes for the better. However, when system outlive its usefulness and become a liability due to change in environment, certain leaders in fear of losing power, control and assets, will continue to retain their old system, destroying anyone who threaten his regime, will then give more lies, statistic and damn lie.

    Everything implemented within his own system seem to bring more benefit to himself and his system then to the real people that he need to serve his first place. The leader in order to reduce threat, place himself above all, and using propaganda that without him and his system, the country will just fall apart.
    All we know very well is that insecurity rule the leader. The leader use law, threat and carrot to make the people obey him to ensure that his regime outlive him.

  12. Leslie said: Any form of government system is only as good as the leader himself ! Be it communist or democratic.

    I say: appoint a man as president without political power. His main duty is to meditate and eat vegetarian food.

    This head of state will influence the whole country whether communist or democratic.

    What your said further is just like what i say
    The world is a stage
    We are only actors.

    LKY is just acting his part. I am acting my part.
    You cannot change the story line because Nature has pre-programmed like this.

  13. raymondchua said

    Kew Kah Fatt,
    indeed we already have a president without political power (or rather no power, no gut), our expensive NATHAN !

    His main duty is to ……. and await hundred of thousands dollars paycheck at every month’s end.

    President NATHAN is just acting his part.
    You cannot change the his job scope because Nature (more specifically, LKY) has pre-programmed NATHAN like this !

    He is an expensive lion. A role model for us !

    *Edited by moderator for potentially racist comments. 🙂 Apologies.. 🙂

  14. Leslie,

    politics is the process of the State interacting with society. It is a two-way street, governed by the use or misuse of force, the apparatus of the State and their directives, and the prevailing Zetigeist. It is myopic to think that political models, outside personality-centric ones, are focused solely on the leader.

    Consider this: the President of the United States of America is accountable to Congress and the Senate, and therefore the American people. He can only take action if either or both, depending on the policy, is approved. Bush, for instance, cannot even authorise a mission to capture Osama bin Laden, if he would ever be found, unless the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence approves it. And before that can be done, Bush would need to draw up a Presidential Finding, outlining his intentions, the given scenario, and his proposal. And even if everything were approved, the military, or at least the organisation responsible for such a task, would have to decide whether or not it were possible to do it. In this manner, power is taken from the President, and placed in the hands of the legislature. If they think his policies are poor, then they will stop him from taking action. If, for any reason, the President proves to be an ineffectual one, it is the duty of the public to vote him out and bring in a better leader, in order to safeguard their country’s future. The same applies for any member of the legislature.

    Leaders are undoubtedly important. But when examining the political process, you cannot, and must not, forget the role of the population, the judiciary, the executive, and the legislature. Circumscribing everything to one man is useless, unless the system in question were a dictatorship, or sufficiently close to one.

    At the same time, if the leader were to implement policies that work, even though he is doing it because he wishes to remain in power, then he has done nothing wrong politically. (I shall leave any moral judgments to you.) If the interests of the people coincide with his personal interests, then it is a coincidence. While I advocate the view that the leader should work for his people, if he were to ensure the people’s welfare in the process of looking out for himself, he has not done anything wrong, for the end goal of politics is to secure the country’s future. Should his system outlive himself, then there is no problem whatsoever, unless of course said regime is no longer applicable to the times, as lived by the people.

    Where politics is concerned, in the end, leaders are merely the more prominent actors. The people will decide if the system stays or goes. State propaganda and force can only go so far: look what happened to the Soviet Union, the Jim Crow laws, the American colonies, and apartheid. We, the people, can not overlook our positions in politics.

  15. Kew Kah Fatt,

    that is no President. That is more akin to a ‘Chief Ascetic’ or something. A President is called a President because he has political power. The person you have in mind does not. Therefore, he cannot qualify to be called ‘President’. But that’s just a technicality. Frankly, I see no need for him. Do you?

    And forgive me if I do not believe in your deterministic worldview. I see no evidence that points towards a scripted timeline and history. Neither do existing arguments convince me. Neither does your lack of elaboration. Humans, being bestowed with free agency, are free to determine their actions. This extends to the fate of nations and societies. They are free to expand their political spaces, participate in politics, or not, with no biases but their own.

    I find that, if you want someone to believe you, you need to be able to explain yourself. So do it.

  16. lesile said

    Benjamin Cheah ,
    can we vote Nathan out ? By voting Nathan out, we are voting LKY out because it is LKY who want Nathan to stay for another term of president, isn’t it on ST ? Who will go against the so-called father of Singapore ?

    “Leaders are undoubtedly important. But when examining the political process, you cannot, and must not, forget the role of the population, the judiciary, the executive, and the legislature. Circumscribing everything to one man is useless, unless the system in question were a dictatorship, or sufficiently close to one.”

    It is not the public that forgetful but LKY instead. What is judiciary, executive and legislature if they are all appointed and approved by own people of certain biased and conformance ? Isn’t Sylvia Lim’s recent accusation by Prof of gov of conspiracy a clear cut that there is no justice as long as it deal with politics in Singapore ?

    “While I advocate the view that the leader should work for his people, if he were to ensure the people’s welfare in the process of looking out for himself, he has not done anything wrong, for the end goal of politics is to secure the country’s future.”

    What is exactly is a country without the loyalty of its own native people ? Is country merely make up of economic asset, monetary value, image with no substance ? Whose future are we talking about ? Lee’s empire future or the people’s future ? Country is just merely a term similar to organization where both are actually make up and nurture by people. Many a times, people talk about country and organization as though it is a living organism and has a mind of his own. In fact, it is the people that we should concern not country. Take care of people, and people will take care of the country. It should not be take care of the country (Country=PAP), and the country will take care of the people. Indeed, what nice to know how PAP really take care of people by telling us that Singaporean cannot think and has crude mentality unlike the elite and the rich.

  17. Raymondchua,

    In my Election 1997 I mentioned to let LKY be president for 5 years and let me president for 5 years, and compare how Singapore will be among us as president. This is a trap I set for him if he dares to be president, because punishment will come to him, his family as well as Singapore and Singaporeans.

    If I become president, the atmosphere will change.

    Just see how WP fares under the chairmanship of a woman.

    To save Iraq and Afghanistan, just appoint the moral president, and the rest will work out by itself.

    But people like to talk about technicality and practicality of a moral president. You not interested to save all the suffering people ? Technicality and practicality more important than people’s suffering ?

    My solution is based on Confucianism in my style. To compare, when the Jews did not ask for a king, they were safe. After asking for a king, they were condemned. Why ? King has no moral duty. Appointed moral president has moral duty.

  18. Benjamin Cheah,

    The Qing invaded China under the child emperor-ship. Also Qing collapsed during the child emperor, the latter was controlled by Empress Dowaser Cixi.

    With no power as a child emperor, Qing was strong under the control of his many uncles. The Qing was a mess under the Empress Dowaser Cixi.

    Jew were in control of their land without a king. With kings, their land were totally wiped out.

    Countries with parliamentary system and inert king or president are more stable. Countries with executive presidents are harder to rule. See this for yourself in all the countries in the world.

    Country like Thailand is not good is because the king is too long on the throne. If he abdicate and let others to take over, Thailand can have immediate peaceful period, like what Cambodia ex king did. Same with Japan. The reason is the sins of the king will be handed down to his sons when he dies on the throne.

  19. Leslie,

    it seems that your logic runs at tangential lines to every point you have quoted. So, I shall deal with your points on their own, instead of referring to my own.

    More and more people will go against the writ of Lee Kwan Yew. There’s the Opposition, for starters. Then there’s the people who voted Low and Chiam again and again. Not to mention the people whom I speak to, who agree that there is something terribly wrong with this country. Oh, and that’s not even counting the ones whom I haven’t spoken to, and who for reasons of their own oppose the Lee administration. The modern generation isn’t so awed or cowed by Lee’s achievements that it would fall in line on command.

    Undoubtedly, the selection process for the judiciary is in doubt. But since we are the ones who decide the legislature through the ballot box, and the executive by extension, we, too, have a duty to speak up and act for this city-state. We must never let the word ‘government’ mean ‘overlord’.

    Loyalty, howsoever relevant it might be to the topic at hand, is of course paramount. A country lives only because its citizens care about the country, and are loyal enough to fight for her. This does not mean just defending her against all external enemies; it, too, must encompass taking up the pen against the unjust ruler. If needs must, the citizenry must be prepared to reach for the sword. The Government’s attempts at instilling loyalty has failed; certainly it has, for me. I have immunised myself against State propaganda. I am trying to find my own reason for patriotism. This article is it.

  20. Kew Kah Fatt,

    appointment does not equal moral duty. It merely means that that person was selected to take on a post. Whether or not he has sufficient ‘morality’, assuming such a thing even exists, can only be determined through his actions, not by appointment alone. Then comes the practicality of appointing a President, not to mention people’s reaction, as well as how it is to be done, but I’m sure you have heard it all. Or not.

    With this in mind, I am still waiting for an explanation as to why the ‘atmosphere will change’ should you become President. Likewise, I still do not see what would happen to the WP if it were chaired by a woman.

    Further, I shall take your long-winded second post as an advocacy of an anarchic system. Ohe of the branches of anarchy, after all, involves the election of local, recallable delegates who will meet with other such delegates in a national assembly to solve national issues. Heads of state in such a system do not exist. With this in mind, I must only say that this is impossible.

    In such a system, leaders would emerge. I have seen it happen before, in the quasi-parliaments I have attended. Sooner or later, someone will emerge, commanding the confidence of most of Parliament, so much so that his word would be accepted almost immediately. In such a scenario, he might as well be head of state, rendering your idea moot.

    The United States of America has elected her Presidents and Congresses and Senates democratically since 1788. The United Kingdom has elected its Prime Ministers and Parliaments since the advent of democracy in the 19th century. Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, France, Germany, Spain, the developed nations of the world, have all elected their leaders in one way or another. Not one of them have faced dissolution; and when crisis struck, their political model was resilient enough to restore itself.

    Where monarchs are concerned, there is no reason to believe that the sins of the fathers would be handed to their sons. There is simply no evidence; you cannot ascribe imcompetance to karma or poor genes alone. Thailand’s king has had no formal power, but has resolved many crises during his reign: his support is key for any coup and countercoup to succeed in Thailand; and lack of support from the king means the end of the current government. He is head of state only in name; real power lies with the traditional three-armed government. The Japanese monarch is king only in name; he has no real power beyond approving laws, Prime Ministers and chief judges. They are therefore irrelevant, having no real power of their own.

    I remain utterly convinced that your beliefs hold absolutely no water in your arguments, if you had any to begin with. Unless you can fully explain your arguments and logics, assuming you had any, all you really are doing is wasting time and breath and life.

  21. Just look at Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They had the same system as we, but they manipulated the constitution for executive president. That is their undoing.

    My system is not know to many people unless they see my websites. This is my own Confucianism and I expect total opposition. This is expected.

    I am not a good debator, so you don’t expect good explanation from me. My explanation is written in my article in my website.

    I don’t waste my time and life. Each is to its own. I just act my part as what I have to do. My mentality is –
    The world is a stage
    We are only actors.

  22. Life example of change is now in Cambodia. Compare the last 5 years of the previous and the 1st 5 years of the new king.

    Cambodia will be much better now then under the ex king. The new king is still not a moral king, but he still can transform the country in the initial stage. Once the collection of sins done by the country, self and people, is great, the bad signs will appear. Death penalty, abortion, killing of people or animals etc , the sins will collect on his shoulder.

  23. Kew Kah Fatt,

    Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan follow different government models. The first has an upper house of Parliament, the Senate; and routinely engages in elections universally recognised as rigged. Sri Lanka’s President is the head of state, commander in chief of the armed forces, and the head of government; his powers therefore exceed our largely impotent President’s. Pakistan is an Islamic state with a bicameral government. Singapore utilises a unicameral Parliament with no state religion. As you can see, their systems are not the same as ours. Therefore, your first point is already invalid.

    Where Cambodia is concerned, political reformation is the duty and responsibility of the executive and the legislature, not the royalty’s. Where sins and signs are concerned, you may defer to a theologian; this is not about anything remotely religious, only political.

    I’ve been to your website. I am singularly unimpressed. I do not expect you to be a good debater, but if you cannot adequately defend your views when they are exposed to inquiry and critical thought, then something is obviously very wrong. If you cannot explain beyond one or two lines, saying that this or that would happen, or that this and that must be true, then I cannot believe you. Neither would everybody else.

  24. Guys, let’s just let Kah Fatt rant as he pleases.

    He’s talking a whole load of unsubstantiated BS, so there’s no need to wreck our head over whether his theories are deterministic or whether his ideas work better outside a purely theoretical and existential juncture.

  25. Indeed.

  26. I do not expect you or others to believe me. I am doing for Salvation. This is spiritual. I do not want to talk about it here as most likely my argument will be edited.

    For someone like me without any university degree, only 6 ‘O’, to come out with a solution for the world, don’t think you university graduates not creative enough ? At least I have solution for the world, and solution for Singapore.

  27. I expect no one to believe me !

  28. And so, nobody would.

  29. lesile said

    Kew Kah Fatt,
    Singapore already went through spiritually, now, its undergoing full force supernaturally towards economic progress. I have never seen such a rosy period and propaganda times in my 20++ of life until now.

    Who really care the world ? Money make everyone an actor and actress. It’s a superficial world we live that it’s no longer matter if it is a red pill or blue pill.

  30. lesile said

    Kew Kah Fatt,
    No one really care about your belief. But it is your belief that give you hope and will. So just live it as each day go by.

  31. Leslie,


    I hope Singaporeans can get ready for the next recession. What good economy now will only give way to recession. PAP cannot stop it.

    *Edited by moderator for distasteful remarks about someone’s kid.

    **KKF, stick to the subject of the article or you will be put under moderation.

  32. Kah Fatt,

    Then why the heck do you keep wasting your own time or others with posts that you know will be edited anyway.

    Embrace some common sense and don’t let your personal beliefs/opinions/values get in the way if you’re interested in a objective and genuine debate.

    Right now, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

  33. CelluloidRealitys,
    The best you can do is to ignore me.
    Here it is not the same as in Google group soc.culture.singapore. There comments are not censored, so a lot of vulgarity there.
    So it is a bit unfair to me when my comments are edited as my post in 31 was in reply to Leslie.

    *KKF, as I’ve indicated when I moderated your comments, refrain from making distasteful remarks about people’s children – no matter how you hate them. This is not the place for such things. – Andrew

  34. Nicholas said

    Hello everyone, may I just introduce myself as Mr. Cheah’s friend in real life.

    So, basically, Mr. Cheah’s entire argument on this chat board is that leadership is the does indeed play a key role in the direction and of course, the result of the various aspects of the country and what becomes of it.

    On the other hand, KKH’s arguements went around his ideologies and experiences about how a the LEADER should be, behave and have biologically posess that dictates weather he is or isnt a good leader.

    The main point(s) I want to point out about the arguement thou, is that 1) they type of leadership or leadership model, whichever more relavant, is really, like what I say it is, a model. So what if the country is under the rule of a monarchy? Or if the country adopts a communist-socialist ideal (one which I strongly feel Singapore is ruled under)?

    Quite honestly, the ideal is not nearly as important as how the ideal is interpreted. I mean, really, like Benjamin said, we live in the world of second best, nothing in this world is ever perfect. TO add on to the point really, I feel, every system has loopholes BUILT IN to it.

    So my point really? It doesnt really matter what the government does or how the government does it. Its more about effect it has on the people and the after effects of the action that matters. Also, the style and idelogy of government is jugded very much on HOW the governments rule and the legislature in place and not governemnts saying: “oh, my country is democratic so it is.”

    But, one important thing to note, intent dictates ULTIMATE outcome.

    So, if ruler intent = for personal gains, then people = not happy. (take Congo for example, hella lot of oil, widespread poverty)

    if ruler intent = for the people, then country turns out good (not the best example of all but yea, Singapore is one of them)

    Its really the intent that rules everything at the end of the day when all’s said and done, think about it.

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