Tuesday, 26 January 2010

“Singapore a listening society,” says Ronald McDonald

Weeks after the uproar began, McDonald's Singapore decided to reinstate the pig Doraemon in its Chinese New Year collection. In a society where the pig potentially invokes fervent emotion, McDonald's symbolic reversal is big news.

The exclusion of the pig stirred mostly predictable responses and some unpredictable ones too. Most noticeably, many ethnic Chinese were visibly disturbed by a perception they were slighted by the local McDonald's franchise. Some went so far as to demand a public apology from the corporation.
All individuals take pride in their heritage. A little bit of chauvinism is natural. We saw that in the local media and internet forums.
As China's star rises so does the pride of the international Chinese diaspora. The Beijing Olympics marked a high point in prestige for the People's Republic. A point not lost on most Chinese Singaporeans.
What can Singapore learn from a seemingly innocuous incident about stuffed toys?
For starters, Singaporeans are too sensitive about racial issues. Way too sensitive. Sensitive is good. Common sense and common space are better.
McDonald's had the right idea but implemented it clumsily.

It's a fact that we live in a multi-religious society. It's also a fact that Singapore is a reasonably compact little island. Corporate decisions have an impact in all our neighbourhoods.
Hence, McDonald's was rightfully conscious of Muslim sentiment when planning the promotion. Life is rarely a zero-sum game, unless we chose to make it so.
Yet, McDonald's pursued a 'black or white' policy; an exclusive 'either-or' approach. Nothing in life is that simple. All life's excitement happens in the undefined grey zone– not in the predictable black or white.
Spare some sympathy for McDonald's. Had they included the pig in the initial set, in all likelihood some Muslims would have objected. Because the pig was excluded Singaporeans indulged in a rare public debate on religion, identity and collective social values.
In this instance, race and religion were transformed into a uniting factor.
Sensitivities to race and religion should not be allowed to move into the realm of the absurd. Viewing individuals purely from the perspective of race demeans individuality.
Common sense and common space, it's the way of the future.


  1. All of the above makes great sense provided institutional racism is untrue, and the policies of the past and present have not had dire knock-on effects on the inter-ethnic status quo. If so, then the above must be analysed within a context that extends beyond the scope of your otherwise insightful observations.

    ref. http://www.according2ed.com/2010/01/loss-of-porker-in-chinese-zodiac.html

    Best regards,


  2. Hi Ed,

    It's great to hear from you again.

    I think your phrase 'egalitarian multiculturalism' is a great way to capture the ideal we should be moving towards. Your own blogpost (ref. below) asks relevant questions and is a great read.

    You are right, it is easy to simplify the matter, especially in a short blog post. But at least Singapore is no longer treating the subject as sacrosanct? The matter is being openly discussed and the establishment has accepted that a debate is necessary.

    I look forward to hearing from you again.

    Kind regards,


  3. Hi Imran,

    Unfortunately, if you chart the way things have been from the 70s through to the present, the reason why the issue is not 'sacrosanct' is because the battle for monoculturalism by the government has been won. The persona required to truly appreciate egalitarian multiculturalism is now generally not to be found amongst the singaporeans of today.

    The best indicator of this is not that it is being discussed, but the vantage from which it is being discussed. It indicates that there is a general consensus that singapore is a chinese country, and that all others can seek 'equality' after taking into account the need to assimilate to the dominant chinese ethos.

    As I said in my articles, the opposition has to be judged by what they fail to say in addition to what they do say, and how much. I'm well versed in the perspectives of the British egalitarian movements and know for a fact that what causes a public furore there is largely passed unnoticed here by the masses and the opposition. Hence, my stating that the opposition, and just about all the people in singapore have become fascists and racists with their greatest achievement being their managing to live in harmony within such a state of affairs. That indicates that there is both acceptance of their various status, along with many of the young being brought up as confucians and not having the personality to appreciate anything more than can be expected of confucians.

    Even if we have egalitarian multiculturalism today in singapore, it wouldn't be a true one since there are precious few Indians whom are not already confucianised. Thus, egalitarian multiculturalism within such a status quo will basically refer to the joining hands amongst those who look different but think along confucian lines.

    Most unfortunate really. When i write about these things, it is not purposed for brining about change, but having it as a record of what really happened in singapore. Sort of an obituary.

    By the way, i really like your perspectives on a whole host of matters, from stamp collecting, nostalgia, politics.... Very prolific and insightful.

    Best regards,



  4. Hi Ed,

    It's always a pleasure to read your intellectually stimulating comments.

    As a minority, I guess it is important for me to recognize that for both economic and social reasons some assimilation is necessary. The balance between acceptance of the majority view and losing individual (heritage) considerations is a difficult one to manage. There is no easy answer.

    I agree that there are issues which Sg society ignores because they are not of concern to the majority. In fact, the manner in which the Malay community is 'left to its own device' is symptomatic of that attitude.

    Of course, the Malays pose a unique question for Singapore as their linkage with regional neighbours means there is a limit to how far down the assimilation road Malays may go. The political sensitivities are also challenging given Malaysia's proximity.

    I appreciate the encouraging comments and am glad that you enjoy some of my writings. Thanks!

    I look forward to hearing from you again.

    Kind regards,


  5. Some assimilation is necessary for economic and social reasons. But assimilation to what is the question. We should assimilate to whatever beneficial to socio-economic progress, and egalitarian multiculturalism is the key. In this respect, it is the chinese who need to assimilate. Not to the indians or malays or eurasians or any particular cultural breed, but to the ethos of cultural miscegenation and openness to novelty, difference, and contradiction.

    We can either assimilate to the chinese and 'get along' or push for integration so that we all can be the best that we can be as opposed to attempting to be the best after taking the ceiling imposed by any dominant culture as natural.

    As for the Malays, they are quite the self-subsisting cultural group and hence have quite a bit of their cultural perspectives intact. However, given changing circumstances, and the chinese determining cultural evolution in said circumstances, the Malay culture has not evolved in consideration of said circumstances. So their cultural potential is unknown. Rather, it has sought refuge in what it was accustomed to prior to the current socio-economic milieu. That is a waste as the Malays are indeed a vibrant and pretty avant garde lot.

    All cultures hold particular potentials when developed within new circumstances - chinese culture in its aversion to difference and contradiction has manifested itself within the new singaporean context. This is to be expected as China is just about the oldest nation-state in known human history and a singular state cannot be maintained without cultural singularity, or fascism or some sort. However, when the Malay culture is excluded, or other cultures given undue dominance and preeminence, it tends to just revolve around previous concerns. The same goes for Indian culture in singapore - and by Indian i mean both Pakistani and Indian.

    Putting it simply, i can either use my existing perspectives to take on current situations, and through them, make more of both the situation and my perspectives, or keep my perspectives aside and assimilate to the dominant one. In this, both the further development of my own culturally-induced perspectives, and the dominant one, lose out. That is the reality of cultural evolution in singapore. And it is no wonder that 'foreign talent' is now required to get around the stupor that is necessarily nurtured via monoculturalism and the arrogance that it incites.

    I will post this comment as part of an article on my site. Hope you'll venture outward to put forth your views as i have always disciplined myself to. One is never made wiser on a soapbox unless one spends a more interactive time at the foot of others. I've yet to encounter anyone in the current sad state of singapore who appreciates the significance of such an approach toward divergent ideas. Such an approach is typically confucian of course.

  6. Hi Ed,

    It is always wonderful to read your well thought out comments. Your philosophical statements take me back to my college days!

    "All cultures hold particular potentials when developed within new circumstances."

    The above statement holds the key to assimilation. I do believe that we must give to the society - throw everything into the big melting pot and see what percolates to the top.

    In the interim, as individuals we hang on to those values which are specifically important to us. Over time, those same values may not outlive us but that's the cycle of life.

    "One is never made wiser on a soapbox unless one spends a more interactive time at the foot of others."

    Very well said and apt guidance for all bloggers!

    Best regards,