Where I was – a memoir from the margins by Constance Singam


I must warn readers that my review of her book may be a tad bias, since I read this book while the country’s founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew lay dying in hospital. Amid debates in the cyber sphere on Mr LKY’s contribution to the country, perhaps my emotion got in the way of my reading of the book.

Constance Singam was AWARE president many times, fighting for the equality of  women in Singapore through her tenure in AWARE as well as serving in the Singapore Women’s Council. So I must credit her contribution to serving of society.

Yet, reading her memoir left me with an indignation for all her criticisms about government and policies. Perhaps that’s how a person is motivated to become an activist.

The earlier part of the book describes her growing up years until her marriage to Straits Times’ journalist Singam. She described the years passed in tandem with global historical effect and not very much about herself then.

A large part of her book which left an impression with me was the Internal Security Act (ISA), where the police can imprison a man without trial, and the element of fear. Perhaps I, not being politically savvy and outspoken had shielded me from the fear, for I grew up in the same Singapore, carefree and safe.

Many times, her book chose to quote from sources like her brother-on-law, an ex PAP supporter who migrated, or taxi-driver and others non-PAP supporters, to bring across the perceived unhappiness of fellow Singaporeans to support what she was feeling. She tried to balance with examples of PAP credits but somehow these sounded weak.

She made many sweeping statements, (and I hope I don’t quote out of context):

My generation of people, especially the English educated, the very people the PAP did not have much respect for, had not realised that they were comprimising their democratic values, that these incremental compromises would eventually affect both the rules and the rulers. 

On the Women’s Charter : The more political savvy ad better-informed friends saw these moves as part of a cynical strategy to win women’s votes and to establish hegemony…. (It’s a classic example of do also wrong, don’t do also wrong.)

Another of her friend, Bastine, who also migrated to Australia was quoted : Politicians are supposed to be servants of the people.  Huh? really?

Regarding the language policy of Mother tongue, the author was quoted saying LKY now says that the language policy was a big mistake for reason different from mine,  (for it’s division of society). As far as I know, I haven’t read that LKY said it was a mistake for the policy is still implemented and the bilingual education was lauded to be an advantage for Singapore workers.

The author contradicts herself sometimes. She takes issue with ‘race’. Yet when she alerted the leaders to the poor achievements of Indian students and called for government intervention, isn’t she using the ‘race’ element?

Perhaps the biggest irony is the AWARE Saga, where a group of Christian women tried to take control in 2009. Politics are a play of different ideologies, perhaps similar to that of different activist groups. The author shared a different ideology from the government, just as how the Christian group disagreed with AWARE. Each had their own agenda. But which serves best to the larger good is debatable. For the PAP government, I think the results stand.

I think the funniest part in the book was when she described being in the wrong platform and missing the train in India, together with three other Singaporeans they did not know. Who did they blame? It is our Singaporean training to believe in authority figures, we Singaporeans trust authority figures. We do not question.

She lamented the snail pace of the law to change and yet was quick to excuse when the same slow decision making within AWARE was cited during the saga.

Having said all that, I must admit I enjoyed reading certain parts of her life, especially the non political part, where she takes a walk in Melbourne and acquainted with a dog.

The courage to step out of her comfort zone is admirable, and the fact that she did not migrate to Australia, but stayed on in Singapore is what i most respect about her after reading her memoir.

About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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