Welcome to Xperimental Pathways – where we showcase Xclusive interviews with distinct individuals on controversial, or alternative topics which may not always be aligned to the ideals and structures of mainstream society.Sean and Ben are hosts from the The Calling It Out Show, TOC TV ‘s premier programme which aims to combat the growing issue of extreme apathy towards current affairs in Singapore’s youths. They have just finished their season 1 run last year. We have split their interview into 2 parts. Today’s interview will focus on Sean.
The Calling It Out Show social media sties:
Name: Sean Francis Han
Occupation: Marketing Officer at Project X-cum-talkshow co-host at TOC TV*Project X is a sex workers’ rights group in Singapore advocating for a fair & safe sex industry and human rights for all.
VENTURING INTO THE WORLD OF POLITICAL KNOWLEDGE
I studied this book Fahrenheit 451 in my secondary school literature class. It talked about political systems and how in an advanced dystopia, enacting horrible laws would cease to be necessary as one would simply have a population of people who refuse to read. Atlas Shrugged, another book – was a defence for right wing politics, and made me consider the opinions of both sides (left and right wing views). I later moved on to US politics. Local politics came in only more recently last year when I got involved with Project X and TOC.
It is a good starting point if you already have a mind that question things that don’t make sense. And ultimately, it is about taking the road less travelled – being exposed to really interesting people, books, and ideas. I also have to credit my secondary school literature teachers for handholding me into the beginnings of Political Science. I later graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where I had crazy lecturers who slit through the cracks, and exposed me to non-mainstream matters.
There are 3 things Singaporeans should read. First off, The Art Of Charlie Chan (Comic Book). It is littered with news clipping, and tries to tell a factual account of what happened back in the 50s in Singapore.
Second, Comet In Our Sky. It tells the history of Lim Chin Siong. LKY had actually told David Marshall that Lim Chin Siong could possibly be Singapore’s next leader. However, Lim Chin Siong was later detained under ISA for being a “supposed” communist, and had also became suicidal during his prison stay. However, the latter has denied he was ever a communist, nor has it been ever been fully proven by the government.
Third, is PJ Thum who has written extensively about Singapore’s history. Even though there’s more exposure now; some political films, books, or literature were once, or are still presently controlled / banned by the state for being “revisionist”.
Relevant article to read: [Investigative Journalism] 6 Political Videos & Singapore’s Censorship
APPRECIATION FOR LOCAL ART
I don’t understand how this film could be considered untrue when the entire documentary is based on interviews with detainees. How could you make that up? [Ben quips in “Even if they made that up, those are what they are saying. You can take what you want from it!] Nobody stops to think about these kind of things, it’s ridiculous!
Relevant article to read: 23 years after Operation Spectrum : Ex-detainees recall mental and physical abuses
I’m a big local film fan – 15 (2003), Mee Pok Man (1995), Pleasure Factory (2007). All these underground films we don’t hear about, should be brought into the spotlight. Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys was the first Singaporean film to be officially invited to participate in the 50th Cannes Film Festival (1997), and Boo Jun Feng’s debut feature film Sandcastle (2010) was the first Singaporean film to be invited to the International Critics’ Week at Cannes Film Festival.
My Magic (2008) was the first film to be nominated for the Palme d’Or, the top award for film at the Cannes Film Festival. However, the only film we hear about now is always Ilo Ilo. I had attended a lecture on Singapore films once, and they were ranting on and on about how great the film was. I finally stood up and said “Look at the category the film won – it won the Camera d’Or in 2013, which is for first films people make.” So why did we celebrate this film? Just because it portrays the brighter side of Singapore? Over films like My Magic? Which were contenders for the highest film awards in the world! It’s so upsetting, you know?!
Metal music is one of the local music industry that is doing well. They might not be as known, or talked about much in Singapore, but, quite a few metal bands do relatively well overseas.
Art and poetry is a mirror that reminds us of our morals on why people live. We have learnt to survive, but we have forgotten to live. It is so sad. We have lots of achievements, but it would not make a difference if we do not have a culture that appreciates art.
Relevant article on the local metal music scene: local bands, foreign gigs
There is this dichotomy between people who come from ITE, polytechnic or arts courses, versus those who go through JC and university. One side would say that the other side sucks, when there are actually advantages to both systems. When it comes to the arts side, a study revealed that literature and fans of the arts are generally more compassionate, and have a higher level of empathy, as compared to people from other fields.
Being from polytechnic or ITE allows you to see the other side of Singapore not really known. I came from a middle class background and did fairly well in O’levels. But once I went to a poly, that sheltered world of mine was shattered. I was having friends who were teenage mothers, or arrested for drug charges. All these influenced me to explore more about society and social issues.
Conversely, if you’re from a JC or university – you have a more empirical mind, as you value data and facts which are very important when making a compelling argument. I cannot go out and say that the poor need to be treated better without showing any data.
A merging of the two paths would be more ideal. I don’t care what social or educational background we’re all from, but I hope we as Singaporean youths can start a discussion (on national issues) regardless of whether we disagree, or agree with one other on each other viewpoints’.
ARE OUR YOUTHS APATHETIC TO SOCIAL ISSUES?
I think youths nowadays may not care that much? I can understand from the perspective of a youth, like – “why should we even give a f*** when the cost of living is already so ridiculously high?” It would make more sense to think exclusively about prosperity and individual survival.
We also do not have a culture where we are taught to question. I’ve met people from different parts of the world where subjects taught in their country have an impact on your life e.g. philosophy, political science, whereas in Singapore – the focus on such topics are not emphasized on as much.
The younger generation here might not feel the impact of social issues (be it from the mainstream or alternative category) in their lives unless they themselves are from such minority groups. It has to come from a paradigm shift (for them to rethink) – “This is something really important”. Changing the education is a feasible start, but it might not be substantial. There has to be more, and civil society is working on it.
MORE ABOUT THE CALLING IT OUT SHOW
We spent 30 minutes, came up with a list of 20 f***ing stupid names, and decided on calling it – The Calling It Out Show.
I do know the risks, and what I hope is to push the line as close as possible, without going over it, which is why I self-censor during the video editing process. Nonetheless, there’s a part of me that worries: if I do get into a long drawn court case, how would that affect my family? But if the government should pick a fight with me, I think I’m quite well-armed. The videos goes up to TOC first for checking too.
The show picked up at a certain point, but was washed-over by the GE2015 election fever. Nevertheless, I don’t look at the modest number of viewers and say that it is not accomplishing our goals. If 100 people watch our videos and take in the information, I’m very happy with the work we’ve done.
TOC was the first to break down the walls to provide a platform for alternative news media through text. We are now breaking down the walls to provide alternative news media through video form.
Being the first show on TOC TV, I know I’m part of something new, and that I’m part of change. 30 years down the road, I can tell my grandchild that I was part of this movement, and that I did try to make some form of mark in our local history.
I knew Ben since I was 18. He was making weird shows on YouTube – #YILDDAT Show etc.
(* Ben’s response to Dee Kosh’s “insightful” question on whether the high ministerial salary is relevant to citizens. Duh it is.)
Though Ben could have taken a more academic approach, it was brilliant that he brought current affairs to the masses. One day, Terry from TOC told Ben that he wanted to start a show for TOC TV , and asked for a writer to come up with jokes. Ben called me down and halfway through our discussion, his girlfriend suggested for us to do the show together since one is an academic (me), and the other is a public nuisance (Ben). When we pitched the idea to Terry, he thought it was cool. And that’s our story.
SELF-CENSORSHIP AND ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINTS
Inconvenient Questions (IQ) is quite self-censored. If you are going to ask “inconvenient questions”, take it to the extreme, don’t play it safe.
I find Singaporeans very sheltered. E.g. If you put up a statement “Religion is a lie for mediocre people”, it comes off as rude or they clamp up, and a lot of people would get angry. It’s not like these ideas are insane or radical. We have academics and intellectuals with valid arguments. An appropriate response should be to think about it, do some research, instead of freaking out.
That’s a gateway to self-reflection and further learning. By banning the Amos Yee video and making a police report, your learning stops there. If you take a step back and see it as an alternative point of view – learning goes on and on, and you’ll get a more educated society.
ONLINE MEDIA OVERRIDING PRINT
I don’t think everything needs to be digitised. Math Paper Press – one of the biggest supporter’s of local literature, might face financial issues few more years down the road. It pains me to say literature is going to die in this country because we have a brilliant arts culture here! We need to bring back a culture of the arts, reading, literature, and remove the dependency on technology.
Because we are currently getting to a point of fast culture – where we want to be entertained quickly, everything is bite-sized, and online. People think by just getting a grasp of social media articles they see, they are able to make informed decisions. Some people read zero books, but blindly go out and say a matter should be of a certain way.
Social media is very brief with a very addictive quality, which makes it so dangerous. You can really get pumped up on something, without really knowing the full picture. Books on the other hand – allow you to go in-depth on a certain argument, and provides that scientific process of reading up, and cross-referencing.
For both left wing economics and right wing policies – I really understand what is going on, as I have read up on both sides, and I feel their respective arguments are really comprehensive.
When you only know the small picture, you get angry on things you do not fully understand. If you are going to advocate for something, you must be able to back it up with data. Vanessa (Project Coordinator at Project X) constantly throws me studies and journals to read, which increases my knowledge and learning.
FREE SPEECH AND HUMAN RIGHTS
*A recording of the only public protest held in Singapore during the IMF-World Bank meeting in 2006. PM Lee Hsien Loong announced the relaxation of the rules in Hong Lim Park two years later. Prior to that, users of the Speakers’ Corner were required to register with the police, with audio amplification, protests and demonstrations prohibited.
It conjures up thousands of years of literature. If you read John Milton’s Areopagitica, he goes into detail on the counter arguments you have with freedom of speech, debunks it, and talks about why it is such an important thing. The government likes to tell us -“Horrible things will happen with freedom of speech”. But history also tells us – horrible things do also happen when freedom of speech is taken away e.g. era of Hitler, Stalin.
I’m sicken to hear people say we had to fully give up our human rights in 1956 as it was a tumultuous time and there were communists running around, or when we just split from Malaysia. [Ben adds on “When you sacrifice freedom with security, you end up with neither.”] Both are as important.
We’ve been suppressed for so long. We need to remove this culture of fear, and have a free press before we can even consider things like Human rights. It is less about changing policies and laws, and more about changing minds first and foremost.
The population perspective has to shift from merely surviving and excelling in this rat race to – how are we going to create a country where everyone is love, treated with respect, and dignity?
There is increased attention to Gay and Trans rights due to globalisation, alongside better education. And like a beautiful quote from Chee Soon Juan “The Human spirit can only be trampled, but not crushed.” There are also groups like Project X , Maruah, and TOC who are working to be a catalyst in the process.
Singaporeans in general do not understand the value of human rights. You can go around and ask anyone on the streets – Do you know what the UDHR (Universal Deceleration of Human Rights) is? 30 written points – they are your God-given birth rights! But Singaporeans in general lack awareness of it’s importance.
They are what makes you a human being, and what makes life worth living! If we do not understand the fundamental rights we have, how are we going to understand how to protect others who lack these rights?? It is a beautiful concept, and the human spirit never changes. It will always seek it’s rights, whether it was 4000 years ago, or today!
There was the Charlie Hebdo incident, and this particular case where a journalist’s article had unintentionally led to religious riots back in 2002. But still, Freedom of Speech opens up your mind to alternative viewpoints, and as humans, we can use our logic and moral ethics to determine whether the speech or behaviour – is desirable, or morally right or wrong.
A key example would be the KKK – a group which believes in White Supremacy. They were allowed to openly speak about their racist beliefs, but went from group of six million in the 1920s, to thirty thousand in the 1930s, and a few thousands left today. How did that happen? Academics, politicians, and the general public would weigh in, and they eventually found them ridiculous.
The phrase Freedom of Speech itself comes with a lot of restriction, and it definitely does not mean that if allowed, we would have this crazy world where everyone can say whatever they want to say.
There are restrictions alongside things like – slander, defamation. To put it simply, e.g. As long as any right of yours (in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UHDR) contravenes anybody else’s right, they are removed. For example – if you use your right to freedom of speech to agitate anyone to commit murder e.g. Terrorism, in that sense – hate speech, that right is taken from you.
WATERGATE SCANDAL and HATE SPEECH
4 journalists did an investigative study on Nixon (Watergate scandal) tampering with the votes. Even though there was not a huge evidence behind it, they were allowed to publish whatever they found, and protected under the law by this defense known as “qualified privilege” – where you’re allowed to make slanderous statement to a public figure, because it would be in the public interest.
They uncovered the whole thing and Nixon resigned. In Singapore, this would be considered political defamation. You don’t have that in Singapore, where people are allowed to go on the wild guess questioning matters like – “are my votes being tampered with?”
I believe some western countries with higher human rights might do better economically. Europe is quite far ahead in human rights compared to the rest of the world. They have gone beyond the UN recommendation of 30 articles, adding one more – everyone is entitled to internet access.
Europe recently passed the law saying the Neo Nazi movement and its speech should be criminalized. This appears to go against the literature of freedom of speech, and there is some discussion on what should be allowed.
I’m more libertarian. At the moment, I don’t think hate speech should be criminalised. I feel hate speech should be allowed so long as it does not galvanise people to do something violent. But having said that, I do not say with conviction that hate speech should be allowed, as I have yet to read enough literature to give a statement with conviction that I support it.
Relevant video: Calling It Out Talkshow – Freedom of speech in Singapore
SINGAPORE’S ECONOMY COMPARED WITH FOREIGN COUNTRIES
It’s a very good counterargument that the government, or fans of the ruling party give – “Oh look at our neighbours, they are very poor.” But if you took time to look into their situations, they have their respective reasons, and we really shouldn’t compare ourselves with third-world countries.
In human rights – we are not faring well. So if you want to compare Singapore with the rest of the first-world countries, we might not stack up that well in that area. That should be a considered point of comparison too.
Our Crony Capitalism index is 5th in the whole world. [*Hong Kong ranks 1st in crony capitalism] What is Crony capitalism? It is a term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials.
According to the Financial Secrecy Index 2015 – [* ranks jurisdictions according to their secrecy and the scale of their offshore financial activities. A politically neutral ranking, it is a tool for understanding global financial secrecy, tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions, and illicit financial flows or capital flight] – Singapore was placed 4th, one placing above Cayman Islands.
Am I alarmed? Yes, because Singapore’s current corporate Tax Rates are 17%, and Income Tax Rates can go up to 20%, whereas Cayman Islands has very little and low taxes. So why are we even ranked above them?
I do not want Singapore to be run like a business. What I personally advocate for – is to increase income tax for the highest 1-5% in society. People in general don’t see how bad the situation for those facing poverty, which is why I’m grateful for Project X as we see It on a daily basis. You have sex workers with HIV in a flat with no furniture. While you’re sleeping on a comfortable bed on a nice floor, somebody sleeps on mat, has no amenities, and no money for HIV treatment.
SINGAPORE’S GOVERNANCE AND OPPOSITION PARTIES
We have a parliament with many from the elite group who might lack background knowledge, or understanding of the on-the-ground issues faced by the lower classes, or minority communities.
In Singapore, politicians are decorated with paper qualifications. If we could look beyond that, and value the creativity or experiences the person has (like Ben) – that is when you can have a diverse parliament with various backgrounds, and representing different stratum of society.
]Would you ever consider running for parliament?]
I would consider running for SDP. The way I see it, there are 3 stages in Singapore’s development. First – remove PAP and their laws e.g. restrictions on freedom of speech, culture of fear, and business-like model. Second – to remove Worker’s Party (WP) as I feel they are just a watered-down version of the PAP. Third – where we get to a place like SDP which champions human rights, social spending, gay rights, and an inclusive society.
Workers Party would win majority of seats at one point of another, I have no doubt about it. Civil Society would then ask “OK, you’re the opposition – where do you stand on human or gay rights?” And they would not give an answer, which they have not. If you look at their policies – they might seem center-left, though I would argue they are center-right. It’s very easy for the population to get behind WP as they are the natural getaway from PAP. [Ben quips in” But they did say they support freedom of assembly”.] Yes but still, I still don’t think they are coming from the right place.
I don’t agree with the $300 monthly payout by Reform Party. But, Reform Party is only trying to make the country more liveable. KJ is not a rambling idiot. He has a Double First Class Honours in economics. He knows what he’s doing.
No party is advocating for digging into our reserves – they are talking about reallocating the budget to spend on the people! Even if it would hurt our economy to a certain sustainable extent, why is it wrong to help the lower income in society?
Photo credit: Wake Up Singapore
I’m pansexual, but I have moved on to almost every other end of the spectrum. I have interesting sexual relationships, or normal relationships with weird people. I think just being able to be with, and communicating with be it – a man, woman, or transgender person, and being able to access this spectrum of life, is a really brilliant way to open the mind.
I’m somebody who have been subjected to a lot of hatred at times because I’m an Atheist. [Ben joking adds “And you’re Indian.”] I came from a Catholic background, and I have these odd ideas, alongside bisexuality being a big thing. People get freaked out about it, and I get this level of disgust. Still, I feel there’s no need for it. Though there was a certain point where it affected me, I’m alright with it now.
There’s a part of me that would like to do what we think is morally right, and forget what other people think. An interesting case would be US legalizing Gay marriage, which was not done through public consensus, referendum, nor any sort of democratic process. They got the supreme courts to come in and conduct the judicial review, which means they got the court to say – not allowing gay marriage is unconstitutional. That’s it. I don’t give a f*** what the people think, we are going to push it. [Ben chips in “This should not even be a political issue in the first place.”]
Bypassing 377A and pushing gay marriage at this point may have repercussions we may not be able to deal with. But at the same time, I think Singapore is a little bit too far behind. I like the gradual process, but I hope it can speed up. Based on research, gay sex does increase the rate of STD and HIV. But the thing is…you cannot stop gay sex, neither can you stop prostitution. Criminalizing it drives the rate of HIV Infections up. The government decriminalizing it will bring down the rate of such infections.
THE UNHEARD SIDE OF SEX WORKERS
I never even heard about the concept of sex workers rights until I was 18. There might be this misconception that they do not need rights, are a portion of society operating outside of the public morality, or that almost every trans person in Singapore is a sex worker, which is not true. They might make up a significant portion of sex workers, but definitely not all are.
We had worked with male sex workers previously, but they are rare in this country, and have fallen out of our radar. Male sex workers do not face as much discrimination, or police brutality. They are fairly well protected because the main clients they work with are usually gay men – who for some reason, tend to have more humility in them, and do not abuse the male sex workers.
Relevant article to read: Project X – The Right to Sexual Health
In Singapore, we have the yellow card system where sex workers sign up for licensed brothels, and stay inside these houses for 8-10 hours, with men coming in and having their pick. Other sex workers who are not in the yellow card system are considered “illegal”.
Sex workers at times, may be subjected to violent raids, harassment, intimidation, imprisonment and other forms of degrading treatment and criminalization, or face entrapment where police officers pretend to be customers.
The average market rate for a girl is about $80-90. Blow jobs can go down to $5 at Woodlands. You have a lot of young kids (13-14 year old girls) going into it. Some join the industry willingly, while others have no choice but to be in the sex trade. Many girls come in to Project X saying – “I have qualifications, but I can’t get a job”, as they were either found out to be a sex worker, or a transgender individual. This is why they get stuck in sex work even till they are 50-60 years old.
[What is your take on the issue of sex work being criminalised?]
I want to address policies advocating for decriminalization of sex work. It was tested in India (decriminalization of sex work) and in that year, 30 rings were caught. Because these Indian national girls (sex workers) had the liberty to go to the police and say “Human Trafficking is going on, I’m an insider and I can snitch on these groups.”
We do not want legalization. With legalization, you tax and regulate it, which creates a black market. We just want to let it (the sex industry) runs on its own. The main thing is people have to understand is that – the bulk of prostitutes are mainly local, though many also come in from other countries.
There is human trafficking which we don’t address as much in this country where gangs and syndicates bring in these girls [Ben adds in “from ASEAN and 3rd world countries”]. Human trafficking does exist, but it might not make up a huge bulk of girls (sex workers) in Singapore. So after decriminalizing sex work, we can progress on to fighting human trafficking in sex workers.
In Singapore, there is no law criminalising men paying for sex, but there is a law criminalizing women soliciting for sex [*soliciting in a public place for the purpose of prostitution (Misc Offences Act, Art.19)], while the men get away scot free which makes no sense.
[Is there a link between porn, human trafficking, and the sex work industry?]
The one link is male libido (male sexual desire ) – but I’m not too sure if there is a strong relation, and this issue is something we do not want to discuss about like mature adults in Singapore! An interesting observation I can say is that high rate for porn is found the Middle East which is weird since it is a Muslim-dominated region. Sean’s views on Ben (Sean’s talkshow co-host, who is also a vlogger-parkourer-activist)
I like Ben the way he is with his idiocy and crazy opinions. I’m always compelled to say “Ben shut the f*** up, you’re a complete idiot”, but, he makes me rethink why I believe in the things I do. Viewers should look at Ben’s crazy ideas and my slightly more rational ones, and use the two of them to complement one another. He has a very interesting brain.
Ben Matchap garners his knowledge of the world through his diverse life experiences and internet knowledge. The in-your-face dude with a rebellious streak, his imaginative personality and quick-witted nature is the one to beat B) Find out more about him in our 2nd part of the interview in the future!
An alternative voice to major issues in Singapore.
(* Singapore’s bite-sized news site for concise reading/viewing and understanding towards our local / world current affairs and socio-political issues)
Twitter10 Questions to reflect:
- How do we strike a balance between a more forward-thinking state in terms of political freedom and a balanced press, while maintaining progressive ties between our pluralistic communities?
- Were all the people arrested, or deemed as communist by ISA during Operation Coldstore really one? Indeed, some could have had communist beliefs or were sympathetic to its cause, but some could also have been wrongly detained for many years or decades.
*The lack of balanced coverage of diverse accounts in our mainstream media and secondary school history textbook will only lead to a one-sided perspective for our younger generation.
- Social policies for mainstream communities have been improved progressively in our little red dot. Nonetheless, can there be increased governmental collaboration in regards to social resources, rights, or protection to be granted, or connected to civil society and the niche communities they work with e.g. foreign workers, sex workers, stateless, LGBT individuals?
- Is there a relevant, or strong link between Human rights and economic growth?
- Is there a link between porn, prostitution, and pornography? How safe is the porn industry in US?
- Why should the sex work industry be decriminalised?
- What is the human trafficking scene in Singapore? And what steps are the government doing to tackle the issue?
- What are the existing anti-discrimination employment laws or issues in Singapore for diverse communities?
- Was it wrong for the government to ban the Amos Yee video? What could the public have learnt from this saga?
- Would the the government decriminalising 377A bring down the risk of HIV infection?
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*The bottom of this article link – Investigative Journalism: Minister Tan Chuan Jin, ISA, Marxist Conspiracy, Civil Society, Governmental Fundings has video/article links to Internal Security Act / Operation Coldstore / Operation Spectrum if you’re interested 🙂
[Offbeat Perspective’s Interviews]
Category: “Unique Passions”
Unique Passions: The sentiments of a born-and-bred construction worker in SingaporeCategory: “Unheard Voices”
Unheard Voices: The memoir of a Singaporean Transgender Sex WorkerCategory: “Public Interviews”
Golden Years Edition Part II: Interviewing the elderly on their views towards the government Category: “Amos Yee Saga – Citizen Journalism”
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