Tightening online speech?

November 20, 2013

One of the great things about Internet chatter is it’s apparent frankness. I don’t want to use the word candour. As in the course of wordsmithing this entry – it came in a rare moment of epiphany somewhere between two alphabets – that frankness has an unpolished patina to it, it’s not like starched collar toffee nose, ‘prosaic’ that’s just a polite way of saying so and so was and still is a flanuer – frankness is neither like art nouve meets French impressionist circa Marcel Proust before he penned, ‘a la recherche du temps perdu’ – sardonic – which is really just another way of saying, he’s got license to slag off anyone providing there’s a witty barbed repartee somewhere.

Now you know why I much prefer, the gun metal sheen of FRANKNESS – as there’s a roughness to it, in the way a man’s roughness runs across silk stockings. A trades mans sort of patina to the word.

FRANKNESS isn’t just a word. It’s an attitude. A way of describing things, people and events in a unvarnished way – it’s the alter ego speaking – the man who would normally just keep his head down or hold his tongue and tow the line. As he knows only too well how the nail that sticks up will always be hammered the shit down – that if didn’t know is my under bridged version of how the Singapore internet way of chatting online evolved.

That unfortunately is what the custodians of power will never understand.


“I rue this day. As when you think long and hard about it. The Internet is the only domain where you can really call who you believe to be a fucker – a fucker. It is also the only place where you can call a motherfucker – a motherfucker.

People who think of trying to play zoo keeper in the Singapore Internet chatter scene can’t even supply a simple reason – how it became possible for a nation of fearful people to speak up and even question, probe and peer into darkened interiors.

This is the reason. I strongly believe the Singapore internet parlance developed in the way it did – as when you understand a thing for what it is. Then it acquires a sense of history along with probably supplying a very good explanation for why people choose to write like they would normally talk at the back of school toilet puffing on illicit thrilling cigarettes during recess time.

People may see that sort of behavior as deviancy, but to me – it’s frankness resembling parfum and not wishy washy eau de cologne – a way of calling a spade a spade.


Now if you take all that away from internet chatter then I think what you will be essentially recreating is a 100% facsimile of how people would normally speak and interact with each other in real world Singapore – and why would you even want to do that? After all you already have real world Singapore where everyone is pretending to be nice and congenial to everyone when they would rather just be alone or somewhere else – so why even create that idea online?

I guess one reason why I am resistant to that idea is because there is no FRANKNESS in real world interactions. That may sound paradoxical, but that’s really how I see it. As when we promote the idea of how we should speak to each other or buy into the idea of normalcy online, then what we are essentially fashioning is another place where the truth just becomes that much harder to surface – sure, real life conversations are real – where to fashion a smile, you would have to use all 74 muscles around your cranium and face instead of just a couple of twitchy muscles on your finger like so :). But my point is it’s hardly real, honest or for that matter frank.

As words are just not words – they mirror what people would really want to say, but dare or will not – so what you are doing is superimposing the real world Singapore chatter to blogoland.

Now from a diversity quotient, I say you’re killing diversity and maybe even trying to get us all to wear surgical mask and shower in Dettol just to have a conversation.

As there are many thin skinned politicians who just can’t seem to find the imagination, élan and panache to prosper in the digital sphere and find it increasingly year by year to manage difficult people who just write the things they do about them.

To me, there’s no nuanced approach to just insisting via black letter law – that we should all write like how we would normally speak to others in the real world. So what does that mean? Well for starters you can’t start a facebook discussion any longer on whether sticking pins on a doll to hurt your evil boss would work or not.

But to me there is more at stake to the whole idea of freedom – it is the idea of white washing things that remind me of chalk whitewash lime to cover scrawls and gruntings – I know its primitive. I realize it even sounds slightly Bohemian – the very idea there could be the idea of art even in the way Singaporeans regularly express themselves online. As when you break down words and ask beyond their dictionary meaning as to why people would write down ‘Jiak Liao bee’ instead of freeloader – then you will understand why I say this not just a way to getting us all on the polite and congenial bandwagon – it’s like an attempt to sovietize the way we would normally think and write about people and stuff – if we could express ourselves in bubbles like the one you normally come across in cartoon scripts.

It’d very Kraussian – very, “A liberated woman,” said Karl Kraus, “is a fish that has fought its way ashore.” As we frequently take the whole idea of satire especially in Singapore totally for granted – but I think, it should prompt all of us to ask when was satire really born in Singapore?

So when you see it from that detailed historicism of why so many Singaporeans use the Internet to vent out steam about the system – that keeps on blaring out propaganda messages that all is well in paradise – for a man who believes in this age just keeping the truth in between our ears is a daily act of resistance, this has to be a strange flirtation to indulge – the idea that we should talk like the way we would normally do if we were in real world Singapore.

It’s chelating….scouring….antiseptic. A way of putting a police man into a man’s head – that is why I resent the idea of people trying to tell me how I should write to describe a person…objects….places…..experiences and what we would normally think along with verbalizing.

The way you speak can splay out historicism. Along with what sort of man you are – can you bear out the beauty of words? Or do you just speed read and slow down when you come to the bits that you feel sums it all up?

I find it hard to describe the idea of people who are always out to tighten the way we all express ourselves online. It’s not only corseting. But I happen to believe it will limit the way the truth can come out. As when a man has to write with the shadow of cause and effect along with the idea we live in a world of consequences – then I think, we promote pretensions instead of honesty.

I am much not talking about how we would normally express ourselves – but when you think deeply about a phrase in the vernacular of Singapore Hokkien or Teo Chew and why it’s managed to root itself into the digital stream of consciousness – then you will begin to see, there is great beauty in it’s shape and design. We don’t have Bauhaus in Singapore. We don’t like the French have Marcel Proust or for that matter the habit of the illicit thrill in a Bordelo – but we all have a way to express ourselves – is it crude? Well of course – as frankness isn’t so much a well dressed man in a top hat in a tuxedo as it is the ordinary Singaporean picking his big toe and chomping on pot noodle as he blog surfs.

So we suddenly find ourselves now in the whole metaphysical world of IDENTITY – see how it is…it’s not as simple as telling people how to talk to each other…it’s much more complicated than that.”


Somewhere in the old quarter of Beach street recently when a storm forced me to cancel my plan to go sailing.

“Plantation life can be oppressive as it’s like going back to the early 19th century where tradition plays a preponderant role in village life.

So from time to time, I go up to Penang for a few days to run errands and get things that I can never get in a sleepy village.

Things like tile spear headed screw drivers, a number 19 nut head. A marine grade boat fitting. Fuses that boats only use, battery insulated co-axial wires – so when I am there, I just switch to who I really am.

You see to me the bush jacket is not really me. I see it more like a superman suit that I need to take off from time to time and just slip into a pair of slippers and a loose shirt to walk around like everyone else – to loose myself in the crowd, so to speak – well somewhere between these thoughts when I was just strolling carefree in the really old quarter of Beach street where everything seems to be either peeling off or come close to crashing down in a rickety heap of 1890 opulent Straits living – I came across this woman.

She was Chinese. Around late thirties. Maybe American. Bostonian. But what really prompted me to ask her whether she wanted to buy me a cup of latte in a really rustic bistro that I usually go too every time I visit Penang is the idea – this woman has her own mind. She’s an individual.

I can tell a persons character from what they use daily and decide to carry along – she trying very hard to study the light and trying to imagine how the picture will turn out in her mind.

That’s really only a sort of attitude that someone who still shoots on chemical film really has to develop – the idea of building a picture from scratch like how you would probably take a clump of clay and slowly shape it into an earthen pot.

From the way this woman was darting around furtively in and out of the shadows – she was having difficulties reading the light that afternoon – she probably decided to wing it without a light meter to travel light – but from the way, this woman walked around the building trying to find that elusive vantage where it would all come together…she was just exasperated…and this is something that you rarely see these days in people who take pictures.

As the digital format allows us to see what we have just captured – and it’s this sense of immediacy that really takes away so much of the creativity that goes into photography – the play of light on the subject – the multitude of hues along with the whole idea of texture and framing.

I could tell by just looking at her, she had to absolutely have that picture….moment…to encase a moment forever in film – yeah, real chemical film. As that’s what a Leica mechanical rangefinder does. And there she was studying the angles of light, peering into the chiaroscuro of how light reveals more when there is darkness.

At some point she looked at me – there I was with my usual ridiculous pirate sailing skull cap, dark Arabic coffee shirt, loose cargoes and slippers carrying a big box of marine fixtures. (I much prefer to walk in Penang).

She ignored me totally when I told her there’s no way to get decent contrast and color separation on chemical film where she had begun setting for a shot – it was like one of those please go away bag man look – but when I suggested a place where I knew the picture would all come together very nicely – and when she realised I was right on the number – as I walked away she asked me whether I would like to join her for coffee (oh, I lied about that part, she was actually trying to pick me up!) – we spoke along the way, she was interested to know how I knew the language of light so well – you know where alphabets are depicted in shards of cutlass ark light to the murmurs of shadows – how those who still shoot only in old school chemical film are always mindful there are only 36 shots in a roll – and it’s really where photography is more of an art than a science. A purist view of seeing the world.

Do you see how language can bring two strangers together. In this case the language of light and the idea of still insisting to shoot in chemical film? The appreciation of a thing for what it is and the whole idea of knowing that it’s a complex and cerebral thing that deeply soulful and not just plastic and vapid.

And in many ways this scene of a man who watches by when a woman struggles to take a picture is an aphorism of how when two people share a thing – then that’s when it all comes together, they have so much to say to each other.

And in a furtive way, this is a metaphor of what life really is. We don’t nearly live ten, twenty or thirty lifetimes – you’re really only passing by just this once, like how you only get 36 shots on a nineties mechanical camera.

And that’s really how I see it. That’s why I am never ever shy nor afraid of reaching out to people who I find interesting and fascinating….as that is what life is all about….precious moments…where all you really hope for is a conversation that allows you to see the world slightly differently from the way you have always seen it…..but to pull this magical moment off, I really think – you should not take yourself too seriously or even allow your ego and fears to get the better of you….you should just strive to be comfortable in your own skin.

As to live any other way would be to live in a lie and why would you even want to do that, when you only live once?”

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