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Filed under: Singapore
In 2010, a Singaporean taxi driver, Cai Mingjie, published his bestselling work memoir Diary of a taxi driver : true stories from Singapore’s most educated cabdriver and now a security guard is trying to publish his collection of true stories from the private security industry.
Loh Teck Yong, the security guard who aspires to be a published writer completed his manuscript back in 2015 and it was submitted to 4 publishers based in Singapore. Unfortunately, all 4 publishers turned him down. But he got back on his feet after multiple rejections and is now trying to raise the necessary fund to publish his book, Guards Gone Wild!, through a crowdfunding campaign. The following is an interview with him.
So Mr. Loh, what made you decide to write the book?
Because I have stories to tell. Scams perpetrated by security agencies and guards. Intense confrontations with delinquents and work colleagues. Funny moments to make you laugh and frustrating moments that made me cry. And so on and so forth.
There’s also a more important reason than just wanting to write.
In recent years, high profile cases of security guards being abused or abusive have been reported via online media. Just off the top of my head, I can recall the incident where some mall delinquent picked a fight with a guard at The Cathay and the incident where a security manager was caught on CCTV beating a guard. Well, several cases were brought into the cold light of day to be commented on by the general public but, as an industry insider, I can assure you that such unhappy incidents happen on an almost daily basis.
What I seek to do with my book (Guards Gone Wild!) is to let the general public take a peek into the life of a security guard and, hopefully, once they understand the whys and hows of our job, they will choose to be a little kinder towards security guards. I also hope that other security guards can read my book, because I want them to know that they are not alone in their sufferings.
You said on your blog that it took you a few years to complete the manuscript. Can you tell us anything about your writing process?
It was painful. The writing process was painful.
Whenever they show a writer at work on TV, it’s usually tap-tap-tap-tap, some quick bursts of furious typing and, voila, a story is ready for publication. No angst. No tears. No problem.
In reality, however, it’s more like hours of drawn-out agony because you have been up since 4 a.m. in the morning and you missed your breakfast and suddenly it’s past noon and you are still staring at a blank Word page.
And you completed your manuscript while working a full-time job?
No, I did not.
A full-time guard in Singapore has to put in 12 hours per day for 6 days a week. When I was pulling 72 hours per week, I couldn’t do much writing even on my off days. An off day was precious commodity because it allowed me to recover barely enough energy to face another 72-hour work week.
No, wait, I tell a lie. I could write. Facebook posts. Angry rants. Shopping lists. But nothing good enough to show a publisher. It wasn’t just my flesh. My mind was too tired to play around with words as well. Nothing worked for me. Not Red Bull. Not coffee. Nothing could jolt my creativity. I tried going without sleep but that only made things worse. I ended up with some really weird (and incomprehensible) chapters. Kinda like the Voynich manuscript. But without the illustrations.
And it soon became clear that if I wanted to write, I had to stop working long hours. So I started working during the weekends only. And during the last leg of manuscript writing, when I had to give a hundred and twenty percent to my creative efforts, I had to stop working completely.
I guess that’s why we hear about starving artists all the time. Because they can’t work full-time jobs if they want to produce quality work.
Do you have any writing tips to share with our readers?
Read. A lot. And don’t just read books belonging to genres that you are interested in.
I love the Jack Reacher and Dresden Files novels written by Lee Child and Jim Butcher respectively. Thriller and urban fantasy. But when I was studying writing techniques, I did not just stick with Lee Child and Jim Butcher. I read Enid Blyton’s books for children, young adult novels written by Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling, 19th-century novels such as Emma and Jane Eyre, and satires written by Oscar Wilde and Terry Pratchett and so on and so forth.
And after that, it’s like one of those martial art movies where the student, after learning from various masters, goes on to develop his own style.
And out of all the authors you just mentioned, which one inspired you the most?
J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series.
Because she showed those muggles what’s what, that’s why!
Once upon a time, there were 12 publishers who did not believe in the magic of the boy wizard and they rejected Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript. Luckily, for her as well as us, it was eventually picked up by Bloomsbury.
And we know the rest of the story, don’t we? Harry Potter became a global success and Rowling became one of the richest writers of our age.
How did, not just one or two, but 12 publishers miss the potential of Harry Potter? It’s incomprehensible. And it tells me two things. First, publishers don’t always know best. And secondly, there is still hope for my manuscript. Rowling pushed through 12 rejections while I am only stuck on my 4th. So yeah, I think I sitll have a shot at being a published author.
That’s why you are turning to crowdfunding to raise the fund to publish your book? How’s the reception to your campaign so far?
Poor. At the time of replying to your question, I have only managed to raise S$21 through my crowdfunding page at Pozible. My target sum is S$6485.
Besides using crowdfunding to raise money to publish your book, what other strategies are you implementing?
Well, I did publish a post on the Hardwarezone EDMW forum and I have been taking out advertisements on Facebook to raise awareness about my crowdfunding campaign. Besides taking those steps, there doesn’t seem to be anything else I can do at the moment. The commentators over at the Hardwarezone EDMW forum have been giving me some ideas though.
Such as publishing an e-book rather than a hard-copy one. Because, you know, e-books can be produced at practically zero cost. So they were telling me to give up on trying ot publish a hard-copy book because that’s difficult and expensive, so I should just take the easy way out.
And will you do that?
No. I am not a technophobe but, as a writer, I want my debut work to be a REAL book. Something tangible. Something that can be held and cherished for years to come. Also, according to some surveys, many e-books that are bought remain unread. Probably because it’s too easy to forget about an e-book. Out of sight and out of mind. On the other hand, with a hard-copy book, every time you sit down at your desk or glance over at your bookshelf you are reminded of its existence. Harder to put out of mind.
What are your plans from here on out?
Right now, I am not feeling too optimistic about my crowdfunding campaign. I hope I can raise the target sum before my campaign expires. But if I can’t, I have to be realistic and consider other options. Such as looking for other publishers besides the 4 who rejected me before. So if any literary agent or editor is interested in my book after reading this interview, feel free to contact me at: email@example.com. You can also read sample chapters from my book at: https://guardsgonewild.wordpress.com/sample-chapters/.
If you wish to make a donation, you can do so at my crowdfunding page: https://pozible.com/project/help-a-security-guard
The following is written in solidarity with my friends from within the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) who intend to speak out against the proposal to grant voting rights and directive positions to men and individuals who identify as men. As a non-member of AWARE, I fully understand that the organisation does not have to take my views into consideration but I hope that as part of civil society and as a woman who identifies as a feminist, my views can contribute to the larger part of the conversation that should continue to take place beyond the EGM that will take place on 26 November 2016.
Gender justice, and the empowerment of women and non-binary persons
Indeed, we have gone a long way in achieving gender justice and the empowerment of women and non-binary persons compared to many decades ago. However based on my interactions with women and non-binary persons, especially those who live on and beneath the margins, more needs to be done.
Women and non-binary persons who belong to the working class due to their personal backgrounds and circumstances, and those who continue to face discrimination and violence for who they are and who they choose to be, need a voice and a champion to fight for a safer and more egalitarian space to exist. Although I certainly do not think that AWARE is and should be the only entity responsible for this, the organisation is recognised by the mainstream as the entity that campaigns for gender equality through its work to raise awareness to issues faced by women and non-binary persons and to call for changes to policies that have led to gender inequity and marginalisation. It is the organisation that many would approach in times of need.
As it stands, we have a society that is still not progressively educated about the notion of gender justice due to the fact that attempts to facilitate public understanding of the concept may have been coming from a certain place that have failed to forge identification with the discourse over the years. The culture and system in place is still far from being egalitarian, and patriarchal values continue to have a strong hold over the larger part of the society, especially among the marginalised. The scale is certainly tipped in a way that does not benefit many women and non-binary persons.
Therefore all of us who consider ourselves advocates, including AWARE, needs to focus on reflecting about the way we advocate and then find ways to reach out to those who have been beyond our reach and who do not find our messages accessible. We need to realise that we may be speaking in languages that alienate and disempower them, resulting in the lack of motivation to be part of the larger discourse to achieve greater gender justice and empowerment for themselves and others. We need to be more inclusive, diverse, and sensitive toward the situations and needs of those we mean to advocate for and with.
Including men in the discourse
Personally, I cannot emphasize more about the need to include men in the discourse towards achieving a more egalitarian society. In recent years, more men have publicly identified as allies and have made initiatives to participate in the discourse in various ways.
However we must not confuse the need to include and encourage the participation of men with the need to grant them the institutional right to influence the advocacy direction in a women’s organisation that campaign on issues faced by women and non-binary persons. The way I see it, this is a well-meaning but simplistic “solution” that brings about unintended consequences. Symbolically, it might lengthen the longevity of the patriarchal idea and practice that men hold a right to decide on matters concerning women, which is definitely not something that a women’s organisation should be encouraging. I strongly believe that there continues to be a variety of ways to involve men in the discourse towards achieving a more egalitarian society. As allies with a genuine understanding of how allyship functions, I do not think that they would be in a rush to say “Let me be a part of the decision making process of how we can make things work for you.” They would be more aware of the fact that one of the first steps in becoming an ally is to recognise the need for a space where women and non-binary persons get to hold on to their agency on how to deal with issues that exists in their lived experience, which is an important part of the process to foster empowerment.
Of course, this is not to say that men are not affected by the gender stereotypes and expectations that patriarchy imposes on them. We just need to recognise that patriarchy sets the condition for men to exist as the dominant gender and we need to recognise that in order to be equal stakeholders in the discourse, the power scale between genders need to be on a relatively equal level. As mentioned earlier, this condition has yet been achieved, hence there is a need to bring about agency and empowerment within and among women and non-binary persons, especially the ones who live on and beneath the margins first to talk about issues concerning them. Let the priority be on this for now.
Growing up in Singapore, I have always been informed that we should always request for a proof of identity should any police officers approach us. As an early childhood educator, I have sat through educational talks by the police on their profession, and they have said the same thing to students in schools I have worked with and that is – police officers carry a card that identifies them as police officers, and to avoid being victims to impersonators, we should always ask to see the police identification cards. Thus, I was deeply troubled when I heard that two of the investigating officers who had searched Soh Lung’s residence, did not have their police identity cards with them. One of them, Inspector Diyana, had even claimed that she had left her badge “in the car” when she was questioned. The video can be viewed here.
Puzzled, I spent 2 evenings searching for information on whether plainclothes police officers are exempted from carrying their identification/ warrant cards or badges. I found an article dated September 27, 2010 in which the police spokesperson had said:
I have also found a recent article informing the public about the new features on the police warrant cards aiming to prevent identity fraud and impersonation, published on Channel News Asia’s website. The article ended with the following:
Most importantly, good ol’ Google led me to the Singapore Police Force’s Facebook page. On it, I found this old post dating back to June 15, 2011:
Well I am not sure whether police protocols regarding this issue has changed but from what I have found so far, anyone who claims to be part of the Singapore Police Force do have to present their warrant cards when requested by any members of the public. So why were the two officers allowed to conduct a search of Soh Lung’s residence without their warrant cards?
Perhaps SPF could enlighten us here on this matter rather than releasing a joint statement with the Elections Department (the informant of the case) over the alleged breaches of Cooling-Off Day regulations, which in my humble opinion, should not have been done in respect of the neutrality of SPF as an institution when investigating claims made by the informant, i.e., the ELD.
News broke on Friday that the Elections Department (ELD) had lodged a police report against Teo Soh Lung, Roy Ngerng, and The Independent Singapore (TISG) for their posts made on 6 May, which happened to be the Cooling-off Day for the Bukit Batok by-elections. My personal understanding of the regulations for this ridiculous day is that it does not apply to anyone else except for political parties and their advertising platforms so it was rather puzzling as to why the ELD had found fault with Soh Lung, Roy, and TISG.
Here’s what I gathered from the ELD’s website:
“The eve of Polling Day is designated as Cooling-Off Day, a day when election campaigning is prohibited. This 24-hour campaign silence period is to give voters some time to reflect rationally on issues raised during the election before going to the polls.
There are some exceptions to the prohibition of campaign activities on Cooling-Off Day:
a. Party political broadcasts on television;
b. Reports in the newspapers, on radio and television relating to election matters;
c. Approved posters and banners that were already up, and lawful Internet advertising that was already published before the eve of Polling Day;
d. Books previously scheduled for publication;
e. The transmission of personal political views by individuals to other individuals, on a non-commercial basis, using the Internet, telephone or electronic means; and
f. Such activities or circumstances as may be prescribed by the Minister.
The above exception list, other than party political broadcast, also applies to Polling Day.”
1. Roy expressed his support for Dr Chee on his personal FB and blog;
2. Soh Lung expressed her support for Dr Chee on her personal FB;
3. TISG, while being a political news site, is not affiliated to any political parties, and should be accorded equal immunity status as mainstream media.
Do correct me if I am wrong, but I do not see how Roy, Soh Lung, and The Independent Singapore contravened the regulations of Cooling-off Day.
I am also deeply troubled by the last line of point number 3 of the ELD’s press release which reads, “The two individuals – Teo Soh Lung and Roy Ngerng – also regularly engage in the propagation, promotion, and discussion of political issues.”
Doesn’t the government and their departments regularly engage in the propagation, promotion, and discussion of political issues through the media, education system (especially through the use of history textbooks), and other online and offline platforms too?
Really, what is so wrong about anyone engaging in political discussions, or expressing opinions that are critical of the official narratives on a regular basis? In my opinion, these actions symbolise active citizenry, and all of us do hold the right to form and express opinions even if they are not complementary to the actions and narratives of the government. If Soh Lung and Roy were singled out because they “regularly engage in the propagation, promotion, and discussion of political issues,” then we have an issue here – our freedom of political expression is at stake.
Therefore as a concerned citizen whose taxes go into funding the existence of the ELD (I mean, we don’t get a choice do we?), I am asking the ELD this question “Is there a political motivation to clamp down on the expression of critical views through this act of singling out some notable individuals for the slaughterhouse?”
I hope that ELD can clarify here because even after reading their press statement and the regulations for Cooling-off Day side by side for the 50th time, I still remain baffled by and filled with questions for their action.
I just received the news that Francis Seow, former Solicitor-General, Law Society president and ISA detainee, has passed away. He was 88, and lived as an exile since 1988.
In his memory, I would like to share the following video interview in which he describes his views on Singapore and the Lee Kuan Yew government.
Rest in peace Mr Francis Seow, and my deepest condolences to those who hold him dear.
One of the things that has disturbed me in the post-election discussions is the lack of acknowledgement of the role that fear still plays in Singaporean politics. Many, even opposition supporters, have come out and attacked those who say that fear was an issue in the 2015 election.
My feeling is that fear is something that permeates the entire political system in Singapore, both at a conscious and subconscious level.
At the most extreme there is the fear that one’s ballot is not secret. Anyone who is educated and knows people who scrutineer elections or who reads reliable independent sources, knows that despite many fears, one’s individual ballot is anonymous. It seems unlikely in the extreme, and completely technically unfeasible for the government to track down how even just one citizen voted. For evidence and arguments that your vote is secret see, for example:
While one’s ballot may be secret, unfortunately the fear that is not is a pervasive amongst the population of Singapore. My personal experience of this came the day before the election, when in my local Cheers I asked the attendant who I know very well, how she was planning to vote in the election. This woman was, to me, the epitome of the difficulties faced by the Singaporean working class: she worked two minimum wage jobs (an office assistant daytime weekdays, and Cheers in the evenings) yet she clearly could not afford basic dental treatment as many, possibly most, of her teeth seemed to be missing. When I asked her how she would vote, she said “Well my ballot isn’t secret, so I guess I will vote for the PAP.” We discussed it, and I ended up showing her Maruah’s video about ballot secrecy ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2&v=S9SfvJn2uGM ) . She was impressed with the celebrities on the video reassuring her, and she said “OK. My ballot is secret. I will vote for who I want.”
While this story has a happy ending, the message of the story for me was that fear of being ‘fixed’ for how one votes is still a pervasive part of the consciousness of Singaporeans.
I am also a JC teacher, and in class during the week of the elections we had a discussion about the elections. An international student raised the issue of gerrymandering, and asked why Singaporeans – meaning the other students in class – don’t challenge the government’s gerrymandering and campaign for an independent electoral authority. The locals in the class – the vast majority – fell silent, and then slowly fumbled together an answer: we focus on other issues because if you challenge the government you risk getting ‘fixed’. That was the local student’s consensus. The international student’s response was “Well that is a practical reason, but it isn’t an ethical reason. You should do what is right.” The class fell silent.
The last story I want to share is of actual candidates in the Singaporean elections. I know people involved with several opposition parties, and the stories I hear from them is that in the hours and days just before nominations close one of their biggest problems is candidates pulling out at the last minute. The reason given is almost always the same: it is not just a personal fear of being fixed, but a pressure from family members and close friends who fear that the candidate will compromise the future of themselves or their extended family. This was express eloquently in the maiden speech of He Ting Ru, Workers Party candidate in the 2015 election. She said that one of the biggest challenges she faced in her decision to run was the fact that her friends and family had worried about her getting ‘fixed’ – again her words:
“When I decided to run for Member of Parliament, many of my friends and family were extremely worried. They asked me about the impact it will have on my family, my career, whether I will get ‘fixed’.” http://www.wp.sg/he-ting-rus-rally-speech-jalan-besar-rally-3-sep/
For me, these three stories – of voters, of students, of candidates – and their fear of being fixed, tells you a lot about the deeply constrained choice that Singaporean’s made in 2015. Fear shaped who they voted for, fear shaped the fact that they did not speak up against many of the systematic injustices of the system, and fear has meant that many good people are too scared to run as candidates, constraining the choices that people have at the ballot box. The fear of being fixed is a very real part of Singaporean political life.
About the writer: None. The guest writer would like to remain anonymous due to the climate of fear (seriously!).
Singapore Democratic Party’s rallies became more interesting in this general election, and that was largely due to the fact that Dr Chee Soon Juan has made a return to the arena of electoral politics after being barred from contesting in, or speaking at any election rallies for the past 15 years. People were curious, and they came from different parts of Singapore just to hear him speak. He delivered well enough. His charisma, confidence, intelligence, and sense of humour draw the crowd into his speeches. What is most surprising to most I have spoken to however, is how ideological and rational he can be at the same time.
“Is this really the man they call a psychopath?” asked a friend of mine who has never been into anything political, after he attended SDP’s lunchtime rally on Monday, and who in the last elections voted for the People’s Action Party (PAP) because he couldn’t care less. “We need someone like that in Parliament to wake the PAP MPs up from their comfortable slumber. I actually don’t care if he can run the country or a town council but if he is in Parliament, I think he will be a voice for Singaporeans,” he added.
Working on the ground as a volunteer for The Online Citizen, I interviewed some who attended the rallies, and their impression of the man who was once labelled “a cheat, a liar, and a psychopath” has greatly changed. One of the attendees, a man who I spoke to at SDP’s third rally, went all the way to Commonwealth from Toa Payoh just to see Dr Chee in person. He said “Now you have social media, they cannot anyhow call him anything they want anymore.” He also remarked that Dr Chee sounded ideological and rational at the same time, and it will be great having him in Parliament to question flawed policies.
“They have matured as a party, and their alternative policies sound very matured and rational. They really put a lot of thought in their speeches and proposals. They do think about people who are not well to do. Things are getting more expensive now and we struggle to live. It is good to have someone understand this,” said another.
Interestingly, such views are also being shared on Facebook, especially in response to character assassination by PAP candidates Lawrence Wong, and Sim Ann.
“They have no substance in their offer to people, so they have to attack SDP and Chee Soon Juan. Comeon lah, there is the Internet now, and people do not believe in what is published on the Straits Times anymore,” said *Sheila, a friend’s friend, on her Facebook status.
“Thank you Vivian Balakrishnan for making me curious about SDP’s alternative policies. If he did not mention it right, I will never know that there is actually an opposition party out there that has been developing policies even though they are not in government. Wow I am impressed even if the policies are not perfect!” declared *Fahmi, a former classmate of mine. Fahmi was previously from Young PAP, but had resigned due to some personal reasons.
In a discussion with some friends, there was a general consensus that Dr Chee is a changed man. I beg to differ. He is not a changed man, but society has changed. The Internet has widened our perspectives, and we now have access to information that has made the content of the mainstream media seem whitewashed and censored to the benefit of the ruling party. Social media has played a big role in this general election, and the ground has somewhat shifted thanks to the victory of the Workers’ Party (WP) in the last general election. Although many are still apprehensive about voting against the PAP, there is a growing group in the electorate who are open to the idea of giving their vote to parties who are contesting against the PAP. Will we see more colours besides white and specks of blue in Parliament after 11 September?
Well, let the people decide.
*Names have been changed, as requested.