Category Archives: Singapore

China’s BRI Could Save Destroyed Southeast Asia

Most of the people in the West or in North Asia usually never think about it, but Southeast Asia is one of the most depressed and depressing parts of the world.

It has been through genocides, wars and atrocious military regimes.

Then, those monstrous income disparities.

Jakarta beggars at night

According to The Bangkok Post, in 2018, “the 10% poorest Thais had 0% wealth.

50% of the poorest Thais (25 million people) had 1.7% of the country’s wealth while 70% (35mn) controlled 5%.” In the same year, 1% of the richest Thais controlled 66.9% of the country’s fortune.

Indonesia is not doing much better. In fact, if it were to provide correct, unmassaged statistics, it would easily overtake Thailand as the most unequal country on earth. But Indonesia does not even declare the precise number of people, as I was informed by my colleagues, UN statisticians. It still claims that it has around 270 million inhabitants, while in reality, even ten years ago, there were more than 300 million people living on the archipelago.

Except in the Communist Vietnam, super-rich Singapore, and (still) relatively wealthy Malaysia, poor people matter very little. Or more precisely, they do not matter at all. They do not exist. And poor people form the great majority in this part of the world, although you would hardly read it from the pages of official government bulletins.

Jakarta – smog and huge slums between skyscrapers

It is enough to see Jakarta, Manila or Bangkok from the air, to understand that the Southeast Asian megapolises are totally fragmented, so they can serve the elites. Skyscrapers, malls and enormous hotels are surrounded by miserable houses and slums. Terribly inadequate public transportation (corrupt governments have been regurgitating every year, for decades, great numbers of cars and polluting scooters wishfully called ‘motorbikes’, instead of providing decent massive public transit systems) has made Jakarta and periodically Bangkok, some of the most polluted and depressing cities in the world.

Crime is out of control. Thailand has, per capita, according to Interpol, a higher murder rate than the United States. In the Philippines, before President Duterte came to power, cities such as Davao and Manila were suffering from some of the most horrid crime statistics in Asia. Indonesia, again, has escaped scrutiny, simply because of the absolutely amazing ability to hide the truth.  Most of the crimes committed there, particularly sexual ones, are never reported, and if reported, not registered.

The modern history of this part of the world is perhaps the most brutal on the planet. Brutal, but hushed up. The education system in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand is geared not to educate the children and young people about the monstrous genocides committed on the territory of Southeast Asia.

To mention just a few ‘occurrences’, the West murdered several million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, during the so-called ‘Vietnam War’ and ‘Secret War’. It carpet-bombed poor Laos and Cambodia, while supporting the most atrocious feudal regimes all over ‘Indochina’. It also displaced millions of peasants. As a result, multitudes died from hunger.

Indonesia perpetrated three genocides, killing millions. First, during the 1965-66 one, triggered by the U.S.A. and its allies, murdered 1 – 3 million intellectuals, artists, teachers, Communists and members of the Chinese minority. The second was the U.S.A, U.K. and Australia-backed occupation of East Timor, which took lives of 30%-40% of the islanders. The third genocide is the on-going, horrendous occupation and plunder of West Papua.

Burma, broke and divided by British colonialism, is yet another story. And so are the monstrous Malaysian massacres, which took place in 1969. And various massacres of the opposition as well as of immigrants in Thailand. The Thai bombing of Vietnam and Laos, to impress handlers in Washington, and the U.S. massacres in the Philippines, as well as the brutal civil war there in Mindanao.

The list goes on and on. It is a brutal horror show, the never-ending awfulness of Western neo-colonialism, as well as the sleazy servility of local rulers.

The results are omnipresent: the beaches of entire countries are devastated. Whole enormous islands like Borneo, Papua and Sumatra are finished, scarred and poisoned by local and multi-national corporations. It is smoke and filth, clogged rivers, collapsed cultures, entire civilizations. No mercy, no compassion, no future.

Jakarta – smog and huge slums between skyscrapers

But it is all hushed up. Crimes are denied. Outraged, confused nations are called ‘lands of smiles’, or ‘’friendly and tolerant archipelagos’.

It is insane, but tens of millions of foreign tourists descend on this ruined part of the world, annually. They see nothing. Some like it. They only nurture their complexes of superiority here. They do not want to understand anything. They choose to be blind. Cheap sex, shitty alcohol and beach food, as well as monumental sunburns. They continue the demolition work which has been triggered by their governments.

*****

The mood is terrible. In Indonesia, foreigners and even locals get insulted in the middle of the day, just for being ‘different’. Whites are. Chinese are. Indians are. Black people are, with terrible regularity and brutality.

In Thailand, foreigners get killed and raped, for almost no, or very little, reason. The terrible occurrences are reported almost weekly by the local and foreign press.

Privatized Malaysian boardwalk – now for a fee

Poor people feel that their beaches, their cities, have been stolen from them. In Indonesia, on the Bali and Lombok islands, everything has actually really been looted from the locals.

Societies have crumpled. The plunder of the resources, of nature, of everything, was already taking place for years and decades, even centuries.

No one knows the way out of this nightmare. Most of Southeast Asia knows nothing else than this subjugation. And it is not even called a nightmare. In Southeast Asia, or in the West which controlled these societies for as long as one can remember, the horror is being glorified.

*****

And yet, yet… On the same continent, not far away, an enormous country, governed by the Communist Party, and professing ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has been building a totally new society, defining and implementing an ‘ecological civilization’, pulling hundreds of millions of citizens out of poverty, constructing a great scientific base, the fastest trains on earth, massive transit systems in each and every city, first rate schools and universities, and stunning concert halls, opera houses and museums.

And all this with only a fraction of the financial resources, calculated on a per capita basis, of those of the West.

China… A country with 6,000 years of history and culture, with about 1.4 billion inhabitants, and with an absolutely, diametrically opposite economic and social system from that which was force-fed, for decades, to the people of Southeast Asia by the West.

A country, which, by 2020, as promised by her President Xi Jinping, will have no one, be it in the cities or in the villages, living in extreme poverty.

China, a country which is growing in order to serve its people. A country which is using capitalist companies in order to fulfill Communist and socialist goals. A country with a centrally planned and greatly successful economy. Where all land belongs to the government, and the entire future – to the people.

Beijing Egg – the biggest opera house in the world

Imagine this country, near the decaying colossus of the mainly miserable, oppressed Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia, with mostly failed systems which has forced hundreds of millions of human beings to live in filthy, destitute cities and in the feudal countryside.

And now, China, with its culture based on communalism and internationalism, is extending its hand, and basically saying: “Let us grow together! Let us help our people, let’s struggle side-by-side for a much better world. Let us save, liberate, empower your hundreds of millions of men, women and children; let us protect them from hunger, illnesses, functional illiteracy and the lack of a decent future!”

All this, despite the fact that in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and elsewhere, Chinese people were often treated like animals, killed and raped in pogroms, and kept away from the governments.

This extension of the hand is called “BRI” – “The Belt and Road Initiative.”

And it is, most likely, the greatest global and internationalist initiative in the history of humankind.

It is the most optimistic, truly socialist, vision for our planet, based on sharing and the genuine commonwealth of nations.

An enormous belt of high-speed railroads, roads, super-fast communication corridors, ports and airports, but also schools and universities, high-quality hospitals for all, of film studios and publishing houses, theatres and museums.

As this essay goes to print, China just inaugurated amazing, 4.300 km long railroad, cutting across Africa, from Tanzania to Angola. This project alone will save dozens of millions of lives. I worked in Africa, for several years. I know.

I have worked in more than 160 countries on this planet. I have seen a lot. But I have never encountered any vision so confident, so positively revolutionary, and at the same time, so kind.

*****

The West will fight. It will do everything in its power to prevent the BRI from succeeding.

It will not let Southeast Asia go without a struggle. As it is not letting Central Asia go.

Recently, I analyzed the so-called “Uighur Issue”, in my detailed report compiled in Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan and Indonesia – “March of Uighurs” it is called. The West and its allies are radicalizing, arming and militarizing the Uighur ethnic minority, doing all they can to sabotage the BRI, by attempting to destroy its important center – Urumqi – in Northwest China. This may slow the projects aimed at inter-connecting China, entire Central Asia, Iran, and even Turkey and parts of Russia.

The same has been happening in Southeast Asia. The West has unleashed a tremendous propaganda force; it has employed countless NGO’s, as well as thousands of local ‘academics’ and ‘journalists’, trying to smear all China’s attempts to pull the region out from slumber and above all, from the toxic dependency on Western colonialist powers.

I have been monitoring this occurrence, in among other places, the Philippines, where the administration of President Duterte has moved the country much closer to Beijing, and away from Washington, improving greatly the lives of the great majority of the Filipino people. President Duterte enjoys the support of around 80% of his citizens, but is brutally attacked by Western media and NGO’s. He calls China “the kindest nation on earth”. This can never be forgiven in the West.

The same can be said about Laos, where China is basically revamping everything; pulling this poor and historically ruined country back to its feet, by building a high-speed rail system, modern energy sector, while constructing hospitals, schools, and even brand-new cities. And what did West do in Laos? It fought a ‘Secret War’ here, a side-kick of the Vietnam War, basically carpet-bombing with B-52s, a big part of the countryside, killing hundreds of thousands of people, just ‘preventively’, so they do not become Communists. Washington and Thailand never even apologized for these crimes against humanity.

Now when China is rescuing its neighbor, a fellow Communist nation, the West is blabbing nonsense about the ‘environment’ and ‘debt-trap’. Anyone who bothers to travel to the Plain of Jars or other ruined parts of Laos, will discover minefields left after the carpet-bombings. People are still dying there, and Western companies which produced these monstrous cluster bombs do not even share technical specifications with the de-mining agencies. Great concern about the environment! Here, U.S. bombs are used as village fences.

A similar situation in Cambodia.

And several other nations in the region, including Burma.

*****

Nobody is laughing out loud, at those Western NGOs and propaganda outlets, mainly because the West and its servile local regimes have managed to sweep their crimes, genocides and economical plunder, under the carpet.

The downfall, or call it the near collapse of Southeast Asia, is not being defined as a downfall. Far from it.

Nowhere has brainwashing been so intense and so successful as in this part of the world. The great majority of local people are nowhere near to even beginning to comprehend what had been done to them. People do not know that they are the true victims, or that a different world is actually possible.

The Brits, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spaniards, have all managed to get away with the plunder and murder, mainly because ‘education’ has been shaped by the local ‘elites’, read: shameless treasonous servants of the Western imperialism. Talk to ‘educated’ (pro-British) Malaysians; read the books of their contemporary writers (almost all funded ‘from abroad’). Then you will understand.

The United States is still admired in Indonesia, a country thoroughly impoverished and ruined by Washington’s greed and geopolitical ambitions.

But Indonesia with a quality of life equal to that of poor Sub-Saharan African countries, is not officially considered to be poor, or deprived, or fascist or even feudal. Nobody seems to be questioning its ridiculously perverted statistics. The Philippines, too, was not defined as poor and destitute, before the arrival of President Duterte, even as millions were fleeing to all corners of the world, attempting to make a living often under horrid conditions, in places such as the Gulf.

No one is laughing, because people were stripped off their ability to compare.

The glorification of capitalism and imperialism has been too powerful.

As has the smearing of Communism.

And as has been the professional and consistent attempts to discredit everything Chinese, first by the racist European colonialists, and later by Cold War warriors and propaganda gurus from Washington and London.

*****

China led by the Communist Party; socialist China with its own characteristics, is clearly misunderstood. The BRI is also, and absolutely, misunderstood. Not because it is not transparent – transparent it is. But because Western propaganda is, so to speak, constantly and professionally muddying the waters.

Everything about China’s success is turned upside-down. The biggest fear, total horror, of the West and its lackeys in the new type of colonies here, is that China is both Communist, and a tremendously successful nation.

I am not going to argue here whether China is Communist or not, and if it is, to what extent. To me, it clearly is. Both Communist and successful. As well as internationalist. That is why I am decisively on its side, and on the side of BRI.

What is indisputable is that the intentions of the West to discredit both the PRC and BRI have absolutely nothing to do with trying to find solutions to the horrid problems our world in general, and Southeast Asia in particular, are facing.

The West does not want to find solutions. It wants Southeast Asia to remain ignorant, divided and servile.

The intentions of the West are clearly self-serving. Their only goal is to keep control over this resources-rich part of the world. And to prevent China from gaining its rightful position in Asia.

For centuries, the West kept plundering, killing and enslaving Southeast Asian people. That simple. Full stop. The nightmare is continuing, to date. This time, local elites are fully involved, although, frankly, they were always involved, acting shamelessly as go-betweens for the colonialists and the enslaved people.

It is time to try a different approach, an approach which has already saved hundreds of millions of people from misery; by giving them new lives, education, health, culture and dignity. An approach which now puts ecology and the quality of life well above business and economic growth.

The people of Southeast Asia have to be informed about the choices they have.

It will not be easy, as there is no free, no alternative press there. The mass media and ‘education’ are controlled by the elites who, naturally, want to maintain the status quo.

But there are choices. For the first time in many years.

Once the people of Southeast Asia know the truth, colonialism will end. Rapidly, almost immediately.

China and its system are showing great example by their deeds, not just by words. Wherever China comes, new winds are blowing. New societies are beginning to grow. Rationality blossoms. Nihilism disappears.

Soon a new chapter of Asian history will begin. The continent will be united, by belt and by road, by solidarity, determination and a great revolutionary spirit which will lead to the unstoppable renewal of this part of the world.

• (First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Lethal Fluctuations: The Death Penalty in Asia

The Malaysian government last year expressed a surprise change of heart on a policy long held dear; it would reconsider the death penalty. The case of Muhammad Lukman, sentenced to death in August for the purchase and sharing of medicinal marijuana, did much to stimulate outrage.  On October 10th, law minister Liew Vui Keong announced that it would be abolished.  Doing so would leave such last bastions as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In other parts, capital punishment is either continuing its grim dance (in Singapore, usage is on the rise; in Vietnam, it remains consistently high) or getting back in business, singing its deadly siren song.  Killing people in the name of state vengeance is becoming vogue even as it retreats in other contexts.  The Kingdom of Brunei, despite having it on the books since the days of being a British protectorate, is only now contemplating, in all seriousness, putting people to death who have a liking for, or find themselves committing, sodomy.  (Lesbian reverie will see a penalty of 40 lashes and a potential prison sentence of 10 years.)

In the Philippines, an aggressive, insistent President Rodrigo Duterte has proven something of a trail blazer, scorching his way through human rights quibbles and filling the morgues.   In July 2017, he explained the rationale for using capital punishment without mercy in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).  “It is time for us to fulfil our mandate to protect our people.  Tapos na’yan.  For so long we have to act decisively on this contentious issue.  Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it’s also about retribution.”

Duterte’s view of the penal code is stripped of ornate reasoning.  It is one of vengeance and pessimism, marshalled against any hope of restorative justice or therapeutic reform.  The law, a legacy of the Spaniards and then translated into English, with revisions, “is the essence of retribution.”  The attitude there involved “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  You took life, you must pay with it.  That is the only way to even.  You can’t place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight.”

The result has been one of carnage: over 5,000 deaths between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018, if you believe the official figures, or the greater number of 12,000, if you believe in activist assessments.  This pool drew on a total of 164,265 arrests (“drug personalities”, no less) as part of 115,435 anti-drugs operations.

In Sri Lanka, the interest has also been rekindled, inspired, in no small part, by the blood lust of the Philippines leader.  The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena felt moved by Duterte’s efforts to combat drug trafficking, a true “example to the world”.  “I hope to carry out the first hanging within a month or two.  I appeal to human rights organisations not to try to pressure us on this decision.”  From a prison population of 1299 facing capital punishment, 48 are convicted drug offenders.

The Sri Lankan case had a twist.  While Sirisena had announced an end to the 43-year moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related crimes, complemented by Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale’s clearing of the decks for five drug convicts to be dispatched, a reality started to sink in: the state lacked the necessary trained instruments of death.  The moratorium had been so lengthy so as to make the system rust.  Expertise in breaking necks, in other words, was lacking. The last executioner to reach retirement age left the post in 2014.  Three others have spent short stints gazing at unused gallows without rewarded effort.

Advertisements to fill the vacancy were duly put out for two hangmen.  In the Daily News, a call out for applications with “an excellent moral character” was made.  They would also have to pass a test of “mind and mental strength”.

Such debates about the formalised death penalty in the Philippines and Sri Lanka avoid the obvious point.  Where to with the death squads who have donned extra-judicial uniforms?  Duterte’s encouragement of police brutality and extra-judicial killings (“my only sin,” he claims) is the stuff of legend.  Sri Lanka can also count itself as an enthusiast in the extra-judicial killing game.  In some states, the death penalty, dormant or otherwise, is a reminder about how state operatives go about their business of sowing terror when they prefer to avoid courts.

While the death penalty has, at its core, a flawed philosophy, its attractiveness often lies in its sheer conclusiveness.  Such decisions are final, doing away with the problem.  They are economic – a corpse is less of a strain on the public purse than a living inmate.  To that end, imposing the death penalty can result from trivial impulses.

Such monstrous triviality was recently in play in Thailand. In Phuket, the airport authorities have been entertaining the possibility of grave punishments for those taking “selfies” on Mai Khao Beach, a site known for sightings of low, incoming aircraft.

“People and tourists will not be allowed to enter this area to take photos,” an emphatic Phuket airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam has claimed.  He issued further warnings: no drones, no shining lights, quite frankly nothing at all to distract incoming planes, would be tolerated.  Violating the provisions of the Air Navigation Act was a matter, quite literally, of death.  “The maximum penalty is the death sentence.”  Distractive idiocy, the authorities in Phuket suggest, is no excuse.

From Kabul to Okinawa, the Outrageous Abolition of War

Inaam (left), Habib (right) and I (photographer) sharing a good laugh at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre in Kabul

I decided to write this ninth love letter specially to Inaam, the 21st century generations of the world and the people of Okinawa because of three personal reasons.

I miss having the wonderful energies of 15-year-old Inaam at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre. Inaam has to polish boots in the streets of Kabul to supplement his family’s income and to survive today’s terrible economic system.

I also wish that the vision and work of abolishing war had been “attractive” enough to keep Inaam in the Abolish War Team beyond three weeks. Inaam, born at the turn of the 21st century, deserves to live in world without war.

I write to the courageous and kind Okinawans because though Japanese soldiers killed my grandfather in World War II, the people of Okinawa and Japan are healing my father through their nonviolent resistance.

*****

Dear Inaam, the 21st century generations of the world and the people of Okinawa,

You’re only fifteen, and I’m almost fifty.

I wish I didn’t hear you say to me, “Hakim, I think that war will never be abolished.” Have we greedy adults made it so very difficult for you to picture a humanity without war?

I know that deep down inside, you want war to disappear forever. I can see this wish on your face in the photo I took in 2015, for the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s #Enough! War campaign.

Inaam in 2015 (second from left) saying no to war

In 1945, the UN Charter had committed to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind”.

I’m sorry that the UN and our human family have continued to inflict on you “untold sorrow”.

But I believe in you and your generation! 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thurnberg is your peer, and she demonstrated the same wisdom you have when she said:

Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground, so we can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change and it has to start today.

I wish Greta had said this about the obsolete and ineffective method of war too, but she didn’t.

There is no politician currently in office who has proposed laws to ban war. I had hoped that Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK would, but they haven’t.

With your reason and compassion, you see through all the current peace negotiators of the Afghan conflict: beneath their emperor’s clothes, you see that they are naked war executioners.

When the world imagines that these peace negotiators/war executioners will negotiate for genuine peace, the world is fantasizing that the US military-christened Hellfire missiles, costing about US$58,000 each, or the extremists’ opposing suicide bombing vests, costing much less, can usher heaven into Afghanistan.

Even if you could cast an under-age vote in this July’s scheduled Afghan Presidential elections, none of the 18 candidates will abolish war. Yes, to gain votes, they will all parrot the rhetoric that they wish to end the Afghan war, but none of them will abolish the method of war.

It was only years after his political career, in 2017, that former President of USSR Mikhail Gorbachev wrote:

In modern world, wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war — not poverty, nor the environment, migration, population growth, or shortages of resources.

Gorbachev understands the real political risk of humankind annihilating herself through nuclear warfare.

Inaam, as a war child, you understand by experience that there are also no politics today to abolish war. Together with the Gretas and youth of the world, build the necessary new politics.

You’ve seen how the Afghan Peace Volunteers are organized without a Director, so if the new politics needs to be one without a President, a CEO or a Prime Minister, go for it! And, don’t worry about all the various mis-used and bombastic political terms. Go for nonviolent liberty, equality and fraternity. As the late French diplomat Stephane Hessel wrote about nonviolent resistance when he was 93:  “Indignez vous. Time for Outrage!

Also, to practice magnanimity through life, you and I must exercise timeless patience while working our butts off.

I mean, it was way back in the 1930s that British engineer Guy Stewart Callendar calculated that a doubling of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere could warm the Earth by 2 degrees Celsius. It has taken 90 years to reach today’s level of climate activism, and despite this, we still have people like Trump who denies climate change.

Or like with the abolition of slavery. The Qin Dynasty of China abolished slavery in 221 BC and Pope Paul III forbade slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas in 1537. Niger made slavery a crime only in 2003! So, the human family’s struggle against slavery took more than 2000 years, and even today, modern slavery still exists, like with the child brick-layers of Afghanistan.

History’s gradual but seismic changes happened when different individuals and societies took decisive actions at different times and ages. We can each be those channels of change: get the scientific results of war out there, use your shrill and growing voice, demand for laws to ban war, divest from the military industrial complex, don’t join the military corporations, persuade your soldier-brother to be a conscientious objector, prohibit all weapons, make military generals very unpopular just as the CUNY undergraduates did, refuse to cooperate for war like some Google and Microsoft staff did, replace every war method with a thousand nonviolent methods, turn soldiers into pacifist mediators…

All these are revolutionary acts of love; you’re already familiar with the Dari phrase, “ در کار خیر پیش دستی کردن- dar kaar khair pesh dasti kardan”, which means “For charitable work, set your hands to work quickly!”

Am I asking too much of the 15-year-old you?

You see, I want so much for you to have a meaningful and gorgeous life, and to have enough friends, friends even with those considered “enemies”.

My father had considered my Japanese friend Eitaro Oka an “enemy”, because Japanese soldiers who had occupied Singapore in 1942 killed his father. It was World War II.

But, when Eitaro visited me in Singapore years ago, my father and mother hosted him. The first thing Eitaro said to my father was, “I want to ask you for forgiveness, for the killing of your father.” My father inspired me with his reply, “You were not the one who killed my father. Please enjoy the meal, a special Singaporean dish called Hainanese Chicken Rice prepared by my wife.”

Eitaro (centre) with my parents in Singapore

When I joined a group of Japanese peace activists in Okinawa three years ago, an elderly Japanese monk stood before officials in the local office of Japan’s Ministry of Defense, and asked me for forgiveness! He pleaded against the presence of US military bases in Okinawa. This kind monk had covered his bald head with the Borderfree Blue Scarf of the Afghan Peace Volunteers!

The kind monk (left, standing) and Yuichi (centre, standing) with other Japanese activists in an office of Okinawa’s Ministry of Defense.

Many young Japanese like Yuchi, Sara and Kamoshita are resisting the re-militarization of Japan. Their current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is regrettably addicted to military prowess, and wants to amend the Japanese constitution to enable the re-establishment of a Japanese army. Shinzo is a human being who is sold-out to money and power, and not very sound, as he has even nominated US President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize!

Sara, Yuichi and Kamoshita ( first, second and third from right) with other activists

Kamoshita and Sara had wanted to visit us in Kabul this winter, but Kamoshita emailed me, I am sorry to late reply. I can’t travel to Afghanistan this time. I couldn’t persuade my family…They worry me to go.”

Not only are Japanese activists working to abolish war. Many ordinary Japanese are resisting the heavy killer machinery too.

In fact, in a February 2019 referendum, 72% of Okinawan voters opposed the construction of a new US military base to replace an existing one.  Most Okinawans don’t want US military bases on their peaceful and beautiful island.

You’ll also be encouraged to know that Masoma, Habib and new members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers had sent Msent Kamoshita, Sara and Okinawans a video message of solidarity.

Ordinary Japanese link hands in protest, at the gate of a US military base in Okinawa (insert) New Afghan Peace Volunteers link hands in solidarity with Okinawans, saying, “No to US military bases in Okinawa and Afghanistan!”

So, dear Inaam, remember how you told me that the current education system is not teaching you anything useful? You’re right. I’m sure that you can educate yourself better than the schools, especially in the knowledge, values and skills needed to build a better world.

We have on many occasions talked about true education: thinking and feeling deeply, freeing ourselves from the control of money, questioning all power, changing the culture of war within us. In relational learning, we connect all the dots and love like everyone and everything in the world is related.

Our lives are brief, but as long as I have opportunity, I’ll walk with you.

Baa mihr  با مهر( With love ) !

Hakim

A Few Admiring Words for “Crypto-Socialist” Singapore

Imagine a country with 5.6 million inhabitants (of which around 4 million are citizens), surrounded by a collapsing giant – Indonesia – in the south and south-west, by the historically hostile Malaysia in the north, and that proverbial deep blue sea (Strait of Malacca, full of nasty pirates) over the horizon.

Officially Indonesia has 250 million mainly desperately poor inhabitants, but my friends, top UN statisticians working in Montreal, Canada (at the UNESCO Institute for the Statistics), believe that it has, already since one decade ago, well over 300 million ‘souls’ (remember the “Dead Souls” of Gogol, a pre-revolutionary Russian writer and his iconic novel about corruption?), some of them actually ‘so dead’ to the Indonesian government that it doesn’t even want to acknowledge their miserable existence, let alone to feed them.

Malaysia has 32 million people, and an incredibly complex and turbulent past. It is not a friendly country towards Singapore, which actually used to be a part of Malaya Federation for 2 years but got unceremoniously kicked out in 1965. While it is hardly ever pronounced now, the main reasons for the expulsion were that Singapore was ‘too Chinese’, and it had too many Communists at that time, including those inside the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

From the very beginning of its modern-day existence as an independent state, Malaysia readily and shamelessly collaborated with the West, particularly with the United Kingdom, brutally suppressing all Communist movements. Singapore was seen as a ‘Communist haven’ by the West and by many Malaysian leaders. The ruling party of Malaya, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was, and always has been, a staunchly anti-communist force. It was interfering in Singapore’s politics, and was strongly supporting non-Communist wing of the PAP.

Needless to say, a sizeable pro-communist wing of the PAP was never too enthusiastic about the merger of their country with Malaysia. Predictably, the Brits were promoting the union, and for extremely pragmatic reasons – they believed that an ‘incorporated’ Singapore would be eventually forced into submission and its leanings towards Communism could then be easily side-tracked.

Malaysia gained independence from the UK in 1957, then Singapore was maneuvered into joining the Federation of Malaya in 1963. However, it was expelled two years later.

Singapore shall forever be a sovereign democratic and independent nation, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of her people in a more just and equal society.

These were the words of the “Proclamation of Singapore” by Lee Kuan Yew on 9 August 1965.

Now, more than five decades later, Singapore is acknowledged as the country with the highest quality of life in Asia, and one of the highest in the world. It has strong and effective government, extremely low corruption rates, and some of the best social policies on Earth.

It is also, wrongly, perceived by many in the West as an ‘extremely capitalist’, business-oriented nation.

About time to ‘re-visit’ Singapore!

What has been achieved here since independence? What was the dream, the vision of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), the country’s first Prime Minister, who governed with an iron fist but also with great foresight, determination and compassion?

Is Singapore really a ‘Mecca’ of capitalism, or is it, perhaps, a crypto-Communist or at least a socialist country; a ‘ban Communism but do it their way’ kind of nation?

Yes, the country is ‘transparent’, ‘open for business’, a great ‘magnet for foreign companies’. But investment does not disappear in deep pockets of local elites; instead everyone benefits here. And the government decides who is welcomed and who is not, and in which direction the country should be developing. Singapore is a curious hybrid of a controlled and planned economy, and of what is known as ‘free market’.

Concert stage at Singapore’s Botanical Gardens

I have some 25 years of history with Singapore. I do research in its libraries and archives; I admire its world class art institutions, brilliantly diverse food. And I simply enjoy healthy brisk walks through its vast public spaces.

Sometimes I am not hundred percent sure what precisely Singapore is, but I always know what it isn’t – it never succumbed to that brutal, heartless, primitive and uneducated turbo capitalism of other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

One room at an enormous National Library

It educates, heals, and houses its citizens, and it gives them time, space, health, culture and perhaps the best public transportation on Earth, so in summary, they can enjoy some of the highest quality of life on Earth.

It does not rob its own people.

Is it ‘enough’? I am not sure. But it is a lot, more than almost anywhere else on our planet Earth.

*****

New public park

What makes one country truly “revolutionary”, “socialist” or even “Communist”?

Is it its ideology, its banners and fiery anti-imperialist speeches; is it that country’s political and internationalist stand?

Or is it the quality of life enjoyed by its people; the way their country treats them: their health, education, housing, quality of air, public spaces, public transportation and cultural life?

I am convinced that it is both. Social and economic success without ideology and fighting spirit, leads to emptiness and in the end, to destructive consumerism.

Ideology without high quality of life helps Western propagandists to trigger subversion.

But where does Singapore stand, if measured by these scales?

It has some of the highest Human Development Indexes on Earth (HDI of UNDP), the highest in Asia, 5th in the world in 2017, and perhaps it would get the prime and become the number one on Earth, if non-Western criteria were to be applied.

The students of Singapore are scoring the best in the world in several fields and appear to be more creative than the Westerners. Most of the education facilities are free, and so is health, covered by efficient national insurance schemes. Public transportation is some of the best (if not the best) in the world, and heavily subsidized by the state. The arts in Singapore are flourishing – the country is impressively cosmopolitan, ecological, promoting ‘Asian values’, and attracting some of the greatest thinkers, artists and performers from China, India, Malaysia and the West.

Its libraries and archives are also some of the best in the world, and totally free, even for foreigners.

Children studying art at the Singapore National Art Gallery

Since independence, the Singaporean government forced people to leave their backward kampungs (villages) – many of them consisted of malaria-infested dwellings in the middle of swamps. In exchange, families were given flats in concrete buildings: with clean running water, electricity, top notch sanitation system, but also with playgrounds, parks, sports facilities, and public transportation.

All this was not unlike the urban design created in the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Korea (both North and South) or Cuba.

From the very beginning, Singapore relied on the so-called ‘mixed economy’ – on a strong, powerful, incorruptible socially driven state/government, and paralleled by a thriving private sector, which, however, was forced to put the interests of the country well above its profits.

Singapore also counts on one of the fairest legal systems on Earth, but also one of the toughest, with the death penalty often used for drug trafficking, and for extreme and violent crimes.

It is clearly based on the ‘Asian model’: the minority is expected to yield to the interests of the majority.

Contrary to that in the West, the rights of the ‘minorities’ are pedantically protected, but often against the interests of the majority. The Western system clearly evolved from the ideas of protecting small and extreme rich groups of people (‘minorities’) against the masses of the poor (majority). On these foundations was also constructed the global imperialist system, through which the West has been brutalizing, plundering and ‘ruling’ the world for several centuries.

*****

Based on various surveys, the Singaporeans are the “happiest people on the Asian continent”. No wonder: the country has some of the lowest crime rates in the world, perhaps the best and the most generous ‘social net’ of any officially capitalist country on the planet, tremendous opportunities for its citizens, and an exciting, cosmopolitan lifestyle.

There are no homeless people on its 68 islands and islets; one can walk safely basically anywhere, even in the middle of the night. Enormous public parks are everywhere, hugging the coast, and the river. The Botanic Gardens of Singapore are so stunning, that UNESCO inscribed them as a world heritage site.

For Singaporeans and the residents of the country, almost all cultural events, as well as educational facilities and spots, come free of charge.

Housing is heavily subsidized, especially for families that are buying their first (and mostly only) home. The great majority of Singaporeans live in huge but very well constructed apartment blocks, not unlike those that were erected in such Communist countries like the Soviet Union or former Czechoslovakia.

Rich foreigners (so-called ‘expats’) enjoy no such privileges: they pay through their ears and noses, sometimes twice, sometimes four or even five times more than the locals. Singapore is often voted as the most expensive city in Asia, up there with Tokyo and Hong Kong. But that is for the corporate types – for foreigners who would do just about anything in their power to be based in Singapore, instead of being based in totally collapsed, polluted and unlivable regional capitals like Jakarta or Manila. That ‘anything’ includes almost daily ‘commutes’ on one of the best airlines in the world (of course, the legendary Singapore Airlines) between Singapore and Jakarta.

For the Singaporeans, their country is perhaps one of the cheapest in the so-called ‘first world’.

If this is not a kind of socialism, one has to wonder, what really is.

*****

Unlike the West, Singapore does not plunder. It is tremendously rich, because its people are very hard working (most of them are Chinese and share with China both work ethic and honesty). Singaporeans are also extremely well educated, by some standards the best educated in the world.

Several years ago, Singapore evolved from a manufacturing center, into a research and science hub, as well as the regional transportation hub with Changi – repeatedly voted as the best airport in the world (never leaving the top 5). Its hi-tech port is used by the entire region.

Changi Airport, the best in the world (looks like old Chinese street)

Singapore is also renowned for its schools, which are mainly free for the locals, but not cheap at all for the foreigners, although they give generous scholarships for talented students from the region. The same can be said about its hospitals and the medical centers, which attract patients from the regional countries with collapsed, capitalist and monstrously overpriced medical systems (U.S.-style, but with some ten times lower incomes), like Indonesia and the Philippines.

Then the government decided to turn Singapore into a world-class city for the arts.

It was a great success. Its museums are second to none in the Southeast Asia, and some of the best on the continent. Art schools, cosmopolitan and subsidized concert halls, the creative fusion of arts and education – all this is on par with Beijing, while putting even such cities like Hong Kong to shame.

Just take a walk at night, and admire traditional Chinese statues exhibited freely along the river, as well as masterpieces by Salvador Dali or Botero, a Columbian sculptor and painter, originally known for his corpulent women, but also the one who, several years ago, created the powerful exhibition depicting the U.S. torture chambers at the notorious Abu Ghraib. It is all here in Singapore for everyone to admire. It is free for the Singaporeans. While Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines cannot come up even with one decent National Museum, or a world-class public concert hall (Kuala Lumpur has one, but it belongs to the Malaysian oil company “Petronas”).

Rooftop of the National Museum

The arts in Singapore are not just influenced by the West, although such great performers like the Argentinean concert pianist Martha Argerich, are now household names here. Singapore is obsessed with Chinese Opera, Russian Ballet, as well as the classical music coming from all corners of India.

Red Dot Performs at Esplanade Theatres

*****

Many Westerners strongly dislike Singapore. Some of them never set their foot here (although they have no problems living in such centers of Western imperialism, like New York, Paris or London).

Mainly, it is a complex of inferiority that is haunting them. They feel poor here, and they are simply not permitted to behave like the masters of the universe. Coming here from almost anywhere in Europe or North America, the gap is really big. Singapore is too rich, too clean and elegant, but also too ‘socialist’ – designed to serve the people who call it home.

It is evidently a Chinese city, with an international flair, and the West ‘does not like China’.

Most of the Westerners ‘like poor Asian countries’, where uneducated women in their teens are ready to fall, out of desperation, around the neck of even the most brutal and uneducated Western males. They like to feel superior, in control, and rich. As long as their 100 dollar bills go far, very far, they are willing to overlook the terrible desperation of the Western neo-colonies, to breath polluted air, to eat terrible food and live in the mega-cities with almost no greenery, no beauty and no culture (culture all over Southeast Asia, but particularly in Indonesia, was ruined, massacred, by Western pop-culture and implanted radical forms of religion).

In Singapore, religions play very little role. Singaporean women are in control – educated and confident. They don’t need balding sugar daddies and their potbellies. Westerners are no gods here – they are treated very politely (as everyone here is) – but not extraordinarily.

Singapore is proud. It believes in ‘Asian values’. It does not need to be lectured by the Europeans with their collapsing infrastructure, social systems, and unwavering desire to plunder and control the world.

*****

But Singapore can also be tough. It has to be.

In the past, it had already been attacked by Indonesia, antagonized by Malaysia and, of course, colonized by the West.

Not everything here is so orderly as it appears, and the law often closes eyes, at least half-way. Not when it comes to crime committed by the locals, or when the common disputes are concerned, but when the foreigners bring in their ‘dirty money’. Singapore, as well as Hong Kong and the West, allows hundreds and some say even thousands of Indonesian and other Southeast Asian unsavory ‘businessmen’ and corrupt government officials, to wash their money here, to buy top end real estate or to send their offspring to the local schools and universities. The deal is clear: you can come and buy your condominiums, but you lay low, behave properly, and leave your wild feudalist gangster habits back in Jakarta or Manila.

The other issue, for which Singapore is often criticized by the Left, is its defense contracts with, and some even say military reliance on, Israel.

This question is, however, much more complex than how it appears on the surface. Singapore does not share any ideology or political positions with Israel, and it absolutely does not endorse apartheid. Of course, it is not a ‘perfect country’, but with time it has become, by all measures, one of the best functioning multi-cultural societies on Earth, definitely much more egalitarian than the Western countries. Minorities here are not just being ‘tolerated’ – they are directly influencing and shaping the nation.

Singapore sees Israel as a geographically small and extremely rich country, surrounded by the ‘enemies’. It does not analyze ‘why’ – it just wants to pragmatically learn and improve its own survival skills. Singaporean tough military conscription system is shaped on the Israeli model; both young men and women are called to armed force service, and then again, on several occasions in their life, for military exercises and training.

The ‘thread’ is usually never defined, at least openly. But it is clear that it is both Indonesia and Malaysia; two countries with much greater and much poorer populations, with Wahhabi Sunni Muslim majorities which are increasingly militant and fanatically pro-capitalist and anti-socialist.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia have already managed to thoroughly ruin their environments, as well as their economies, (especially in Indonesia); they are ‘growing’ only thanks to a thorough plunder of the natural resources. Confusion, undefined anger and frustration are never channeled into the revolutionary strives by the left-wing politics, as they are, for instance, in Latin America, but also in the Philippines and often in India. Both these neighboring countries of Singapore have been thoroughly brainwashed by the Western anti-left-wing propaganda.

Ancient trees in Singapore Gardens

Singapore, with no doubt the cleanest and ecologically-oriented society, is regularly covered by a deadly haze coming from the burning tropical forests of the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo).

While Malaysia and Singapore are already locked in a dangerous dispute over fresh water supply.

Desperate, exasperated the Indonesian poor are crossing into Singapore in search of manual jobs. Singapore, unlike the EU and North America or Japan, has an ‘open door policy’. Almost everyone can come and visit, mostly visa-free. Many people are even allowed to settle and work here, enjoying almost the same rights and privileges as the Singaporean citizens (roughly 30% of people living in Singapore are foreigners, a much greater percentage than in the U.S. or the U.K.). But everything has to be done ‘legally’ here, and things are monitored closely.

Nowhere else on Earth does exist such a tremendous contrast between the affluence and social egalitarianism, and the misery accompanied by unequal distribution of wealth, as between Singapore and Indonesia. It is enough to take a high-speed ferry between Singapore and the Indonesian island of Batam, to understand. The two places are separated by only 20 kilometers of water, but they might have been on two different planets, or in heaven and hell.

Therefore, Singapore is scared.

In Indonesia, social frustration and anger always leads to racist outbreaks. Three genocides (1965, East Timor and the ongoing one in Papua) have always had a racist, as well as fascist and extreme religious undertone. When Suharto (an anti-communist and pro-Western fascist and bigoted dictator) was stepping down from power, it was Indonesian Chinese women who were dragged from their cars and gang-raped, right in front of grinning police officers. In Indonesian history, there have been countless anti-Chinese pogroms, some organized by the Dutch, some by the Indonesians themselves.

And Singapore is predominantly a Chinese country.

And it is not just ‘genetic’. The culture of Singapore is Chinese, the work ethic, the way of life, are too. Its secularism is Chinese (while in both Indonesia and Malaysia religiousness is compulsory, and atheism de facto illegal), and so is its obsession with knowledge and education. Building the nation, constructive patriotism – all that is Chinese.

China (PRC) is the closest trade partner of Singapore, but also, the two countries are now extremely close allies.

But again, all this is hardly ever discussed. These issues are clearly taboo, but why?

Singapore knows where it stands, and where it is located. Southeast Asia has been a killing field for the West. Whenever any country decided to go Communist or socialist, it was smashed, bombed back to the stone ages. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia lost millions of inhabitants, just because they decided to kick out Western colonialists and embark on the Communist path. Indonesia lost between 1 and 3 million people because the West wanted its natural resources, but also because in 1966 (one year after the 1965 coup), the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was poised to win elections, democratically and clearly. East Timor lost 30% of its citizens because its leading political force – FRETILIN – was built on Marxist ideology. And Thailand’s massacres of its own left, as well as collaboration with the West against anything even remotely progressive in the region, has got the country permanently stuck between the third and the first world, with hardly any progress.

Singapore is a very small country. It is not a heroic nation, like Russia, Cuba or Syria. It only wants to work and play hard, and for its people to live well and in peace.

It knows perfectly well, that if it makes one ‘wrong’ statement or one ‘wrong’ move, it could be smashed to pieces, no matter how well trained and equipped its NAVY and air force are, no matter how healthy and prepared its people are.

It is willing to compromise, to pay, and even to bend its beliefs, if necessary. It is resigned to be silent about the collapse of Indonesia, and about the insanity of the Malaysian politics. All that, but only to a certain extent.

*****

It is an extremely interesting, even fascinating place; a country where the government destroyed Communists, only to build a crypto-Communist state, using the ‘market economy’. It is pure madness, but it works, and it works extremely well.

It is loved by some, while despised by others (although many who hate it do so out of ignorance, envy or misunderstanding).

Most Singaporeans love their country – it is, after all, their home, for which they fought, which they built shedding sweat, tightening belts, sacrificing lives.

Whatever Westerners say, almost all Southeast Asians either love or at least envy Singapore. Vietnamese government people as well as their city planners go there to study, trying to understand how to build great cities “for the people”, not “against them” like in Indonesia or the Philippines.

And the main criticism or ‘outrage’ of the Western backed NGO’s? Well, just ask people in Manila, Jakarta or in Hanoi, if they’d mind if the individuals who are ruining what is left of nature in their cities would get few cane hits over their buttocks, or if the corrupt business people and government officials would have to, once in a while, face a firing squad for robbing poor people.

I am not passing my judgment here, I am only saying: “Ask the people.” That’s how democracy should function, no? By consulting the local citizens, not the Western ‘advisers’ and Western-paid ‘civil society’.

Naturally, some Singaporeans do not like their country. But if they don’t, they are free to go. The Singaporean passport is one of the most powerful on Earth. When they leave, they are extremely well educated, healthy, self-sufficient, and speak at least two languages. They are respected. Both men and women are.

I call Singapore a “crypto-Communist country”. But I don’t say it loudly; neither do I do it too often, in order not to provoke the beast in the West, and its lackeys in Southeast Asia.

Yes, ideologically and rhetorically, Singapore “betrayed the left”. Practically, however, it built a socialist, or call it a ‘utopian Communist paradise’ for its people. During the process, it got greatly influenced by China, while influencing China in return.

To look obedient, it participated in a couple of Western military adventures. It never openly snapped at a rotting, corrupt and collapsing giant next door – Indonesia. It knows better. Whenever disasters strike and Indonesia is in agony, Singapore sends, discreetly, its doctors, rescue teams, even military, to help. But it never openly criticizes. And it never hears any ‘thanks’.

It is clear that the Singaporean leaders have been reading and studying the great Chinese classic – “Art of War”.

And it is obvious that the Singaporean people, ‘citizens of the happiest country in Asia’, will never allow their model to be abandoned. The dreadful scenarios which the West injected into Southeast Asia, and which it has been shamelessly glorifying as ‘tolerant’ and ‘democratic’, are just too close and too visible to be overlooked. They keep haunting, only few miles away, playing like a brutal horror film, over and over again.

Singapore is a plush oasis in a dry and hostile desert of the region’s social collapse. It is surrounded from all sides. It looks soft, sometimes too soft, but in reality, it is tough. Therefore, it will not surrender; it will be defending its people and its “Asian values”, and it will, most likely, in the end, “bring Southeast Asia back to Asia”, instead of succumbing to bizarre Western colonialist models that are robbing and raping the local people and entire nations.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

The Damaging Asian Male Sexuality in Crazy Rich Asians and Why It is Not Asian Black Panther

Crazy Rich Asians has already been compared by reviewers criticizing it for its exaltation of late-stage capitalism to The Great Gatsby. It is a good comparison because it is true. We know enough by now that if you throw a Gatsby-themed Jazz Age wedding, the joke’s on you—you clearly have not read the book, or, having read it, did not understand it. The same applies to the misguided celebration of Crazy Rich Asians as some triumph of representation or diversity if it is to be praised for its satirical quality. If there is any satire of wealth made in the book, all of it is lost in the film version.

Every subplot in the film is wrapped up neatly with an offering made, finally, at the altar of wealth. When the cool, graceful, unflappable Astrid, whom we are meant to sympathize with, finally leaves her unfaithful husband, Michael, we are meant to relish the moment. Finally, Astrid, released (from what?), can take out her hidden Dior shoes, reach for those 1.2 million-dollar earrings, and strut off, off-screen mechanical fan blowing in her hair to reveal the glinting jewels (which required their own security on set).

We are asked finally, not merely to kneel at the shrine of Money, but to suck its cock. For money is plainly the phallus in the world of Crazy Rich Asians.

Michael Teo, played by Pierre Png, we are meant to understand, of course, gets to marry Astrid despite not being rich, because he is hot. (That this is exaggerated and deliberate is evident to the Singaporean viewer because, being a staple on the small screen in Singapore, while a good-looking guy, Pierre Png has never really played “hunk.”) This point is driven home because more than on any other character—more than even Nick Young–, the camera drools over his body. When we are first introduced to the character, we see his body before we see his face and the camera lingers hungrily on the drops of water that roll down his smooth back, the towel he brings over his washboard abs, wrapping it just above … his… The-Thing-We-Do-Not-See—which is, in other words, the thing he does not have. For in Crazy Rich Asians, wealth is the substitute for the phallus. And, hot as Michael is, he still, unfortunately, comes up short. Astrid lays this out for the audience when she says, at the end, that it is not her family’s money that destroyed their marriage—it is his cowardice; she “cannot make him a man because he never was one.” Well let’s be clear—he never was one because he never had the money-phallus.

In the novel, Michael laments being “treated like just a piece of meat,” that “[they] were wrong for each other, but [they] both got so swept up in the moment—in, let’s face it, the sex—that” that before he realized it, they were standing before a pastor. In the novel, Michael did not actually cheat, merely staging the affair in order to get out of a marriage he could no longer bear to live out. (Surprise surprise!—it emasculates him.) The film lets this not unimportant point slide, which, importantly, allows for wealth to triumph in the end. Pointedly, what is so goading about this is that it allows the triumph of wealth to be presented as a moral triumph.

But how ridiculous that we are made by the movie to feel on the side of Astrid, who, in addition to buying a pair of earrings for 1.2 millions dollars without batting an eyelid when we are first introduced to her, also boasts of having 14 other apartment blocks so she can deign to let Michael keep the one apartment he bought. How quickly we forget that in Singapore, where this is set, we have one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world and that property prices are some of the highest in the world. How happily we forgive that Singapore’s Gini coefficient is greater than America’s and that it is a country famous for its low taxes for the rich. (Can we stop talking already about how Eduardo Saverin gave up US citizenship to move to Singapore for this reason? Is this something we are proud of? Is it something we benefit from?) How readily we pretend the noose of mortgages and home loans and rents around our neck is not tight, that most are not shackled, ball and chain, to their real estate …. when given all this display of wealth to ogle at. How… self-defeating.

In an age of ever increasing inequality, of massive tax cuts for the 0.1%, of Jeff Bezos becoming 125 million dollars richer per day while Amazon employees sleep in cars and have timed toilet breaks, do we not know that the wealth accumulated by the super rich comes at the expense of others? The distribution of wealth in so many parts of the world today is a zero sum game.

But, of course, there is no space to critique the Young family in the film especially because in Crazy Rich Asians, they are presented as near national heroes, practically deity-like —not only as having gainfully earned their riches through industry, but even by having done something patriotic because they built their wealth by literally building Singapore, furthering a nationalistic and even moral defense for their wealth. Peik Lin Goh summarizes who the Youngs are for Rachel Chu: the Young family built Singapore up from a sleepy swamp of “pig farmers” to the glittering city that we see today. This is rhetoric that to the Singaporean ear, too closely repeats the refrain the Singapore government has drilled into every Singaporean—that of Lee Kwan Yew and the PAP bringing Singapore from “Mudflats to Metropolis” in 50 years, our veritable Creators. Her storytelling, then, aligns the Young family, in rhetoric in any case, with Lee Kwan Yew. In other words, they are raised to the level of a God. Let’s not forget that Astrid, the “best” of them all, is nicknamed “The Goddess.”

Asian American

Crazy Rich Asians does mark an important moment in film history because it is the first time a big budget Hollywood film is helmed by an all-Asian cast and produced and directed by Asian people. Many of the articles coming out in the major publications arguing alternatingly for the film’s either progressive or regressive politics center around what it does for the Asian American community. But the “win” Asian-Americans claim the film garners for them is goading, particularly so in the context of the argument they are making about representation. The Asian American community is well-equipped with the tools and the vocabulary to critique appropriation–but in this particular case, they have let themselves off the hook. They are eager to use Singapore as a proxy for themselves when it suits them, when they are just as happy to elevate or otherwise differentiate themselves from “FOBs” (fresh-off-the-boat), Asian people who are not from the right class, in the right job, etc. This has played out infuriatingly in the NYT’s viral #its2016 hashtag a couple of years ago. Then, in a video, were retold a never-ending stream of grating anecdotes: “This guy mistook me for the guy cooking his Chinese food at the takeout counter. I’m a LAWYER”; “My uber driver told me my English was so good, he couldn’t hear an accent at all. Of course, I was BORN IN CALIFORNIA!” Again and again the same pattern emerged, one of substituting the shame of race–whatever the markers may be: accent, class, profession, food– with assertions of citizenship, of productivity, of wealth. In other words, assertions of qualities of not just the well-integrated and adjusted, but of the financially, socially, culturally successful. What do these anecdotes suggest about what we should think of Chinese takeout cooks? Or Asians immigrants (or even visitors) with an accent? What do they suggest about what we think of new immigrants? Of refugees? Of minorities for whom structures, present and past, have made the accumulation of wealth/immigration difficult?

They reinscribe the importance of citizenship, country of nativity, language, productivity, that form the basis for prejudice that these aggrieved persons faced in the first place. When the indignation stems from being confused with them (a Chinese takeout cook, a person with accented-English), it continues to traffic in an us/them binary, one that maintains the same irksome hierarchical structures that discriminate against Asian American people.

The Asian American community was quick (and right) to rush to condemn Oscars host Chris Rock for trotting out Asian children (dressed as the accountants who presumably flubbed the votes that resulted in such a goading skew to “white films”) to land a joke in bad taste at the expense of Asian Americans, even as he was making his case for better and more representation of African Americans during the 2016 Academy Awards amidst the scandal of #Oscarssowhite. Yet, in lauding Crazy Rich Asians for being a watershed moment for representation, Asian Americans conveniently do not see the lack of brown bodies on display, or the brown bodies only appearing in positions of servitude, or, most horrifically, dark bodies used for a breathtaking, cheap moment of racist comedy– Rachel Chu and Goh Peik Lin are shocked and scared by the appearance of turbaned Sikh guards at their car windows when they think they are lost in “the middle of a jungle”—faces emerging out of the dark as if they were predatory jungle animals. Can we not hear EM Forster’s famous phrase of Howard’s End ring out?: Only connect! To easily ignore these slippages and failures of the film constitutes a critical laziness and smacks of moral cowardice.

Asian Americans have taken to social media to hail Crazy Rich Asians as the Asian Black Panther. I can understand the need to feel like one’s identity has been reclaimed, the need to feel like one has been represented in roles that seem desirable or cool or something other than buck-toothed caricatures. I have lived as an Asian person in America for the last ten years; in many ways, the Asian American experience has increasingly become mine too. But not only is this Asian American response an appropriative one as I have explained above, it is profoundly insensitive and damaging. The importance of Black Panther is that, in the imaginary Wakanda, it presents the reparative and redemptive fantasy and potentiality of an Africa that has never been colonized. But it is still an imagined world, built on the a fictitious material, Vibranium, that literally fell out of the sky. Singapore, in contrast, is a real place, with real people–it is, to me, home.  What reviewers laud in Crazy Rich Asians in not an imaginary material, but neoliberal, late-stage capitalism on brash display–not to mention, a wealth that is enabled by Singapore’s colonial past, a past that has been traded in for colonial nostalgia. (There is no sense of postcolonial indignation in Singapore–there is no such critique taught in schools.)

But if the film doesn’t do for Asian Americans what they claim it is doing for them, it is also not doing anything for Asians in Asia. In one of the many tiring scenes where “Asian-ness” is being explained, Peik Lin tells Rachel that she is a “banana,” then goes on to explain what that is—  that old, limp (forgive me) pseudo-joke about being yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. What the show expounds, in the end, is that it is a great time to be a banana. Rachel Chu is a banana and the triumph at the end of the film is the triumph of American exceptionalism and individualism over the “Crazy” Rich Asians. And let’s be clear—the title is meant to be derogatory. It’s not just “crazy rich” Asians, but also “crazy” rich Asians. Kwan’s second novel, “China Rich Girlfriend” confirms this, for in that title, “china” is the modifier.

The film is praised for its representation of complex characters, for finally showing that yellow people have complexity. But what complexity are we given to see? Most of the characters are mostly vain, petty, greedy, materialistic, bitchy, conniving. Here and there, badly behaving Asians are used as a convenient excuse for “complex characters” which parades as a subversion of the stereotype of smart, meek, well-behaved, hardworking Asian. Is this the best that can be done to throw off the yoke of the Model Minority Myth? Are we so starved for representation that bad behavior not only passes for complexity, but is also championed for diversity in representation?

Let’s go to one of the more upsetting scenes of bad behavior by way of returning to the money-phallus. The bachelor party scene ends with the uncaptioned chant “ku ku jiao,” started by Bernard, that mirrors that amazing scene in Sorry To Bother You where Cassius Green is made to perform his race for the pleasure and consumption of a white audience, and ends up yelling “N***** shit, n****** shit, n***** n***** n***** shit” to their delight. “Ku ku jiao” is a term few outside of Singapore would understand, meaning “little birdie” or a little boy’s dick (a different term, “lan jiao,” would translate more like the locker-room jargon, “cock,” but that term is not used)— a painfully pathetic, self-hating dig at Asian male sexuality masquerading as narcissism and machismo.

The delight the rich white yuppies in Sorry To Bother You derive lies in having Cassius yell a literalization of what, to them, he is. For Bernard and the rest of the merrymakers at the bachelor party, this is true too. The next thrust of my point lies in the fact that while he is yelling this, Bernard is carrying a giant canon held at his crotch, a comedic substitute, after all, for the tumescence he does not have. Out of this he pumps –-not fireworks (which the budget of the film must have allowed and the aesthetic of the film must have found appropriate)—but impotent crackling duds that shoot forth and plop lamely into the sea, fizzling out. Before the camera cuts to the next scene, at the height of the “ku ku jiao” chant, he shoots out one last firecracker aimed at a skimpily clad dancer on the edge of the pool and blasts her off stage. Is this comedy? Is the best performance of Asian male sexuality and virility one that must culminate in an act of violence against a woman? Is this how the Asian man wins?

Had he the “ku ku jiao” he wanted to show off, when caught by the paparazzi with the gold digging actress in a later scene, he would not be turning embarrassedly away, tail between his legs, as it were (yes, pun intended). The embarrassment here, therefore, is not that he has been caught having sex (Bernard would love that), but that he has been caught with a small and/or limp dick—the joke, of course, rooted in the stereotype of the emasculated Asian male. To this situation, he turns, and to the eye of the camera and the audience both, offers up his naked ass—a brief moment of nudity that is meant to serve as comic relief.

But it is not really a funny moment. For starters, it occurs at a sort of manic and deranged moment in the film—when Rachel has been told the “truth” about her mother and is running confusedly away, getting lost among and accosted by, (for the first time what really feels like) Crazy Asians. Bernard’s literal undressing then occurs alongside Rachel’s metaphorical denuding and both are quite horrific. Recall, too, for a moment, that when punched by Nick Young as a boy, Bernard “wins” not by returning the punch, but by sitting on him. *insert old locker room joke about checking before sitting down in a steam room lest you sit in another man’s lap.* What passes for comedy is then profoundly homophobic, for it lies in the potential for the (Asian male) body for penetration. As Leo Bersani enlightens us in “Is the Rectum a Grave?” the penetration of bodies (male and female alike) is used too often in cultural representation to suggest a posture of being demeaned or humiliated and its use here therefore is loaded.

Of course, none of these cerebral critiques of the film I have offered yet quite get at the heart of the much more visceral reaction I had. I found myself weeping throughout the film, leaking tears inexplicably. It wasn’t because I was so moved by Rachel Chu’s trials and tribulations and ultimate triumph (which was what? So much homage, after all, to the tired old marriage plot) for Constance Wu’s googly eyes irritated me—her moments of cutesy-ness and self-infantilizing and fawning feeling like some subconscious capitulation to the trope of what a lovable Asian girl is. No, I felt crazed. My impulse upon seeing my little country on screen was to rush forward and cover up the screen, like seeing a sister or a good friend stripped on stage, or, to tear it all down. Again and again, not Gatsby, but that harrowing scene from Darren Aronofsky’s horror extravaganza Mother! flashed in my mind— of Jennifer Lawrence rushing pleadingly after her baby while Javier Bardem (God) tells her that the adoring fans out there just want to see him, just want to love him, just want to worship him. My fellow Singaporeans and my country itself seem to say this too—this is a chance for Singapore to be showcased on the world stage, an “INCREDIBLE BRANDING OPPORTUNITY!” to echo a local politician on the Trump/Kim summit. It doesn’t in fact matter that, in a Bacchic frenzy, in their greed or their love (it doesn’t matter which) they tear and grab at the baby, ripping it apart and eating it up. Again and again as Singapore was put on display, I felt like Jennifer Lawrence, whimpering “he’s mine.. he’s mine..,” anxious for the awful house guests masquerading as worshipping fans not to take her baby.

What saddens me is how ready Singapore is to prostitute herself for attention. What infuriates me is how ready the world is to use Singapore to serve as confirmation for their own ends. Singapore is quite stunning—indeed she has a brilliant shining facade which works as the most perfect magic mirror. Ask Singapore anything and she will show you the best answer: What does a suppression of free speech look like? What does a country with no free and independent media look like? What does a country with high income inequality look like? A prism light show; a cantilevered ship on the top of 3 buildings; skyscrapers; a harbor so busy it looks like its own city at night— Singapore twirling and answering: “me, me, me.”

If the film is a celebration of capitalism call it so, but it is not a celebration of diversity. The galling part of the hype around the film and representation is that it allows one to be taken for the other. For example, Goh Peik Lin’s character need not, for the purposes of plot, have been rich. Her character would have provided a prime opportunity to showcase someone of a different socio-economic class, to highlight Singapore’s wonderful public housing, if, indeed, diverse representation was what we were going for. I know by now it is not.

To praise the show for being “a watershed moment for representation” or the “first of its kind” is to facetiously traffic in false opposites, to be like Foucault’s Victorians who everywhere whisper in hush tones that no one talks about sex. To say that this is the first time Asians have been allowed to be seen in a positive light is to trade on a presupposition that we have not—and that is a lie. To be sure, Hollywood hasn’t always been a great source for representation—but do we expect it to be? In the 80s, Japanese pop culture gained popularity in America and the rest of Asia following its economic boom. In the past decade, the growth of the Korean beauty industry and the Kpop music scene has led to vast changes in the perception of beauty around the world. There are more (east) Asian models on the catwalks and fronting campaigns for luxury goods than ever before. If that is the sort of representation we are seeking, it hasn’t not been there. I’m not trying to say more shouldn’t be done, I am asking for people to be clear-eyed.

And this is what that bewildering opening quote from Napoleon about sleeping dragons reveals. “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep for when she wakes she will shake the world.” Asian people are more interesting now quite simply because China is powerful and has money. What’s that pithy racist aphorism again? All Asian people look alike. The present moment is a time when being a minority can be worn like a trendy skin in certain contexts (this doesn’t mean that minorities are not then discriminated against because the two are not mutually exclusive) and that is happily adopted and used to obfuscate that what we are really celebrating in Crazy Rich Asians is money. If it is a good time to be a banana—yellow on the outside—it is a better time to be gold.

Crazy Rich Asians may have its use for various groups, may enable different things, but let the international community not forget that Singapore is a real place, and it is not there for the use-value other groups can foist upon it. To a country of 5 million people, most of them not Crazy Rich, it is home.

The film is not without its redeeming qualities. To my surprise, one of the movie’s bravest and sexiest scenes is one rife with homoeroticism. After the painful bachelor party scene, the camera cuts to Rawa Island, where Colin and Nick lounge lazily, drinking beer. The scene opens with Colin jesting, “Listen, if it weren’t for Araminta, I’d ask you to marry me!” So much romance after all passing for bromance. Rawa Island is known in the region as a getaway vacation spot for couples. (Listen, I went there a year ago with my husband after we had just gotten engaged and we did the only two things available to do there: we had beers like Colin and Nick, and the other I leave to my discerning reader to fill in the blanks.) The two men sit half naked, perfectly at ease with each other, speaking candidly about their relationships, expressing happiness and due concern for each other, opening up and displaying vulnerability—this might yet be the most healthy portrayal of men (Asian and otherwise) that I’ve seen in a rom-com in decades!—and are, for the first time in the film, actually sexy. Their easy banter and open honesty with each other feels somehow sexier than the prescriptive interaction between the main couple. Sex between the main heterosexual couple is connoted twice in the film but both scenes are clunky and awkward—the first suggests, perhaps, the raunchy fantasy of joining the “Mile High Club,” but honestly, when have collared, long-sleeved silk pyjamas suggested anything other than the uniform of philanthropic old rich men in movies, much less sex appeal?

The film has already done much in generating buzz about race and representation, and has already done wonders for the careers of the Asian actors that have been involved in the film (Henry Golding will star in two more Hollywood films before the year is over, Gemma Chan has now been signed on to the Marvel Universe) and may yet do more—I hope it does. But that conversation should be separate from what the film itself is.

Batam Island: Indonesia’s Pathetic Attempt to Create Second Singapore

This time it was really supposed to work! The turbo-capitalist, anti-Communist and obedient Indonesia got so used to hearing bizarrely inflated compliments from its Western handlers, that it began to believe that it finally could do it – to build at least one dignified, livable urban center complete with sidewalks, public parks, public transportation, sport facilities and decent cultural institutions. At least one showcase city that could shine and attract millions of visitors from abroad, while all its major urban centers like Jakarta, Surabaya or Medan have been, for years and decades, collapsing and increasingly resembling a hell on earth.

A bright star on that polluted and dark sky over Indonesia was supposed to be Batam, a series of isles called Riau Islands Province, near the Strait of Malacca, only some 20 km from Singapore’s South coast.

The dream was big, but unrealistic. Now almost everything is lost.

Bit of public space in Batam

Even the otherwise pro-establishment English language Indonesian daily The Jakarta Post reported on June 16, 2017, in the most panicky ‘voice’:

Batam Mayor Muhammad Rudi said he has reported to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Economic Coordination Minister Darmin Nasution about the island’s worsening economy, though it had been designed to serve as the center for Indonesia’s economic growth.

I underlined in my report that Batam was in an emergency state. The central government needs to take immediate action to save Batam,’ Rudi said in Batam, Riau Islands, on Thursday.

he Batam Manpower Agency recorded that about 300,000 of the island’s workers have lost their jobs this year.

During the recent visit of President Jokowi to Batam, I told him about massive layoffs from the closing of factories. He promised to take immediate action, but the promise has not been fulfilled yet,’ Rudi added.

Wherever one goes, or more precisely wherever one drives (as elsewhere in Indonesia, there are hardly any sidewalks or public spaces on the islands of Batam), the faces of the people of Batam radiate deep disappointment, sadness and confusion.

They usually do not start talking unless approached. But when they begin, their speech turns quickly melancholic.

Mr. Bely, a driver of the PT. Ananda Aditya company in Batam, expressed brutally what exactly lies behind the official numbers:

Recently, there were 180 companies that closed down their branches here, and all of them had to lay off their employees. So it was back to ‘sin industry’.

Batam’s most lucrative business used to be gambling and prostitution. But now, they also closed down many gambling dens. Prostitution survived and number of women selling themselves is increasing, but women in this sector are more and more desperate. Many tourists stopped travelling here, because there is no more gambling. Batam is not washed with money, anymore.

These islands are a popular destination for those who are urgently trying to find a job, so many people come here, from all over Indonesia. They don’t know that jobs are not as easy to find as before. The unemployment numbers are rising.

Batamindo is the area where various industries of Batam are located. Among them are electronics and cosmetics. Or they used to be… Lately, anything goes: they say that even the sand for the reclaimed land used for the iconic Marina Sands in Singapore, has been extracted and exported from Batam.

*****

On this chain of islands, nothing went as expected.

Batam was supposed to be the first urban area in the turbo-capitalist and corrupt Indonesia: a huge modern city with tree-lined avenue, sidewalks, public transportation and – some even dared to hope – public parks and playgrounds for children.

Across the water, just a 50 minutes sail from ‘downtown’ Batam, one of the richest cities on earth, Singapore, boasts one of the highest quality of life on Earth. There, a futuristic metro (MRT) that covers almost the entire island, and modern double-decker buses take well-groomed and educated passengers to elaborate bookstores and avant-garde art galleries. Top research institutions, public libraries, museums, concert halls and exhibition halls both educate and entertain the citizens. Almost everywhere in Singapore people live in high-quality, subsidized public housing.

Socialism and capitalism are rubbing shoulders in Singapore. Some love it, others hate it, but one thing is undeniable: healthy and educated Singaporeans can stay and enjoy life in their city-state. Or they could go anywhere in the world (visa free), and be certain that they will make it – as artists, academics, researchers, managers, whatever…

Most of the poor, uneducated people from fundamentalist-capitalist Southeast Asian countries can only end up as untrained laborers in the Gulf, or worse.

Indonesian ‘planners’, including one of its former presidents – Habibie (he took over the presidency after Suharto stepped down) – saw Singapore and they salivated. They wanted something similar or even precisely the same.

But Singapore cannot be replicated, as China cannot be, as Russia cannot be. To build these countries, took generations and generations of dedicated and educated, optimistic men and women.

Batam tried to copy the facades and skyline of Singapore. But its foundations were made of clay, lacking ideology, enthusiasm, talent and determination.

At the beginning, as bulldozers and cranes went to work, everything looked vaguely familiar, at least from a great distance. Then, nothing looked recognizable, anymore. Entire structures began collapsing, before they were completed.

*****

This time, I visited Batam during the Muslim fasting months of Ramadan. In the evening, during the breaking of the fast, three stunningly beautiful and elegant women were sitting at a nearby table. They were modestly dressed, and one of them was holding a baby in her lap. Their heads were covered.

Breaking of fast or the oldest profession

But my friend, Ms. Monica, working at a front desk of an international hotel, destroyed all my illusions:

Have you seen them? These are upper class escort women. I am ashamed with Batam’s reputation as prostitution island, but what can we do – it is true. Prostitution is everywhere here. Guests of this hotel often bring their women with them. Men using these services are not only Singaporeans, many are also Indonesians. Even girls who look like pious Muslims are selling themselves.

The sex workers are not only those who are working in the raunchy night clubs or bars, but there are also many students from the local universities. We called them ‘ayam kampus’ (‘campus chicken’). I think they call them the same in Java.

I asked Monica about Batam’s dream of becoming the second Singapore. She replied, gloomily:

It is a very big contrast between Singapore and Batam. Yes, the Indonesian government used to promise that Batam would be like another Singapore. I don’t know what went wrong. Now Batam Authority (Otorita Batam) is under the Central government again. Not much is improving.

She added another cliché, after a while; one that many have been told to repeat, all over Indonesia:

But Singapore only has 5 million people to take care of while Indonesia has more than 200 million. It is much easier for Singapore to thrive, isn’t it?

I mentioned China, with at least four times more people than those living in Indonesia; a country that has left most of the Southeast Asian nations far behind.

Monica remained silent. She has never visited China or any other part of the world. She only knew Indonesia and Singapore.

*****

Mr. Masrun Sinaga, a waiter at the Golden Fish Restaurant, sees with his own eyes how Batam is losing jobs at an increasing speed:

I can confirm that many companies closed down their factories here. Some moved to Thailand, others to Malaysia. One of the biggest of them – McDermott – dramatically reduced its operation here, recently. I know, because they had their farewell party at this restaurant. Those who were at the party were mostly their foreign employees and managers. Poor fired employees were not invited.

300 thousand jobs lost in just one year, on an island with roughly 1.2 million inhabitants!

Like the rest of Indonesia, Batam does not produce almost anything ‘indigenous’ – it is hosting maquiladoras, mainly from the West, Japan and South Korea. Practically, still relatively cheap and unskilled labor is assembling what was developed somewhere else. When minimum wages move higher (as happened in Batam), most of the companies migrate somewhere else. As there is hardly any Indonesian industry to speak of, such places as Batam go down, into free fall.

Mediocre technocrats like Habibie (‘educated’ in Germany), were heavily indoctrinated by the pro-market dogmas. Their theories failed, reducing Indonesia to a country which keeps plundering its own resources on behalf of mostly Western multi-national companies, while keeping its citizens in servitude to big business and modern-day feudal lords.

The results are predictable: environment is ruined, while the cities and villages are precisely like in the feudal days, now only with stereotypically assembled malls and a few international hotels; with dangerous and cheap scooters (wishfully called motorbikes) and, because of the notorious lack of public transportation, legendary traffic jams – something that should be absolutely ridiculous in a desperately poor country like Indonesia.

Two women in Batam: they do not think it looks like Singapore

At the Sekupang neighborhood, I saw two middle-aged women, sitting aimlessly near a polluted waterway. One came from Jember, East Java, while the other from Palembang in Sumatra. They stared at me, a foreigner, in surprise. I asked them about ‘the second Singapore’. They replied, still amused:

Yes, the previous government promised Batam to become a second Singapore. It has not been realized yet, as you can see.

Life is difficult. I don’t even think about going back home to Palembang for Idul Fitri holidays. I cannot afford it – it is so expensive to go there. Life is so expensive.

These women are not losing hope. Perhaps one day things could change, improve:

But it depends on the Mayor. We still hope that Batam will be more like Singapore in the future.

A few steps from where they sat, a child suffering from malnutrition, is absent-mindedly munching on blue paint he peels from a window frame.

There are slums all over Batam, there is misery, like everywhere in Indonesia. It does not appear richer or poorer than the other cities of the archipelago. Things look familiar: no concert halls and no research centers. Only five bus lines that are operating tiny and primitive buses – that is all that is disguising itself as ‘public transportation’, in an urban area of more than 1 million inhabitants.

There is hardly anything to look forward to, here. Only, perhaps, a trip to Singapore, or marriage to a foreigner, an escape.

*****

Ramadan. During the fasting month, the whorehouses of Batam are open only from 9 pm to 1 am, but they are open. Speedboats from Singapore are still packed, shuttling concerned-looking men, sugar daddies, husbands in need of second wives.

I spoke to Ms. Mira, who works at a small store (warung), which doubles as a bar in Batam’s neighborhood called Nagoya. She laughs, bitterly, whenever I ask some uncomfortable questions:

I don’t know why I came to Batam, but I did; from Lombok. It was not easy to get a job here. I finally worked at Chilli Bar here at Nagoya Town, at that corner, look… not far from here. I used to make grand total of Rp. 3 million (about US$ 240). And that already included my salary, tips and drink commissions. I heard that in better bars, women could earn up to Rp. 5 million, with the same structures of payment.

Finally, I went to Chilli Bar, and it was clearly a brothel, a den, with girls dancing in their skimpy clothes, with a transvestite mixing cocktails; a place where there are no secrets, where everything is raw and open.

Chilli Bar in Batam

A middle-aged sex-worker, Ms. Jemmy, is from Palembang. She is bitter and tough, and at the same time as melancholic as a character from Chekhov’s play:

I have 17-year-old kid now. I was pregnant when I was very young, her age, at 17.

First, I went to work in Singapore, then I moved to Batam to work in a casino. At that time, gambling was thriving here. But then it became restricted, only five places that could have gambling on their premises. So, I would work for 2 weeks and then not work for 2 months. I have a kid to raise, so I moved; I began working in this bar in order to make ends meet.

I would do anything to survive. If customers want to be with me for a night, that’s OK. At one point, I became a ‘second wife’ of a Singaporean businessman who had been travelling regularly to Batam. But then, things did not work out as planned. We broke up.

I don’t have plans to go back home to Palembang for Idul Fitri holidays. I have to earn more money first, to be able to do that. Anyway, I am not looking forward to the holidays. It is already bad during Ramadhan – the bars can only operate from 9pm to 1am. Such a short time. Yes, not enough time to get many customers. That means less earning for us. Usually we started to open at 3pm and could stay open until early hours, especially on the weekends.

Tens of thousands of Indonesian women are drawn to Batam, as hundreds of thousands are drawn to Bali. The legend goes: anything could happen here. Life could change. Prince Charming may appear from nowhere.

But miracles hardly happen. Charming Princes that travel here, are usually just some tough Singaporean businessmen, who know precisely what they want. Most of them, once they get it, rush back to their bubble, to a highly conservative lifestyle.

But Indonesian reality is too dreadful and the dream of easy escape too bright. Desperate women keep coming.

*****

Can the economy of an entire island with more than 1 million inhabitants be sustained by such ‘dreams? It appears that it has to be. Factories are closing down. Real, ‘decent’ tourism has nothing to offer to foreigners who are drawn as if by some powerful magnet to the neighboring lights of Singapore.

Indonesian Batam cannot compete. It has only those few second-rate malls, mainly stuffed with counterfeit merchandise. There is nothing unique here, nothing impressive, nothing truly beautiful.

What was the former vice-President B. J. Habibie really thinking? What did he want to achieve here in Batam, in those ‘heady’ (but in truth, totally wasted) post-Suharto years?

What is here, really; what is here now, in Batam? A few pits from terrible mining ventures, few badly paved roads and dirty polluted waterways. One huge sunken ship. Few slums. Few ‘white elephants’ – unfinished tall buildings, hotels and condominiums.

Open pits of Batam

Fundamentalist capitalism is badly failing in Indonesia, as it is failing all over Southeast Asia. (please refer to my latest book: Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism). It is good to know that it is. The sad thing, however, is that local people, indoctrinated and programmed, are being forced to pay a terrible price. They are not protesting, not rioting; they are mostly suffering silently.

Entire generations are wasted. Almost no one in Indonesia is still aware how bad things have really got. It is ‘top secret’, hidden by the corporate media, hidden by the indoctrinated academia.

Those few who are aware are blaming the circumstances, and the corrupt individuals. Almost no one is blaming the regime – the entire system – injected by the West.

*****

One bizarre relic on the islands of Batam is a former refugee camp for Vietnamese ‘boat’ people. It is located on the island of Galang. This gloomy compound has been turned into a badly maintained but still fascinating museum. Or you can call it an anti-Communist propaganda monument. Barracks are on display, as well as now rotting boats that used to bring opponents of the Vietnamese Communist Revolution to this part of the world.

Now, Vietnam which had been reduced to a rubble by the imperialist assault from the West, is a Communist (with mixed economy) middle-income country. It has bypassed Indonesia in many fields. Its population is educated and enthusiastic, and its cities are blooming.

I asked a construction worker from East Java, who was working on the premises of the museum, what he knew about the Vietnam War. He was curt:

This island was for the refugees from Vietnam. But I don’t know about the history. Nobody told me anything. I just started this work on repairing the boats, because they are already falling apart.

Mr. Adi, now a resident of Batam but originally from Pontianak, knew much more:

Refugees in Galang Island were the results of the civil wars in Vietnam, and the intervention from the West, just like what is happening now in Syria.

On the way back to the main, northern part of Batam, I noticed a fence. I stopped the car and went to look. Behind the wires, there was a lake. At the edge of it, an eerie site – a sunken village. Only roofs of houses and a mosque were now visible. All the rest was under the water. “What is this?” I asked. A dam. A badly planned artificial lake. Another disaster, another failed ’project’.

Inundated village

One hour later I photographed a slum, but it was biasa, a ‘usual stuff’, just like anywhere else in Indonesia.

Next day I landed in Singapore, and it was biasa again, but only from the point of view of one of the richest places on Earth: tickets for the concert of my favorite Argentinian concert pianist Martha Argerich, were hopelessly sold out. But I managed to attend a great (free) concert at a magnificent Esplanade concert hall. Changi Airport, the best in the world, just opened its Terminal 4, which was designed as a cozy ancient Chinese town in Southeast Asia. The Singapore metro extended enormously, since my last visit. Biasa, you know, usual stuff… for Singapore.

There is no place on Earth where the contrasts between the super-rich and poor worlds would be so close to each other.

Only 20 kilometers between a bizarre crypto socialist and monstrously rich Singapore and the colonized, robbed, poor and brainwashed super-capitalist Indonesia.

Two different planets. Two different realities.

This contrast never appears in the European or North American mainstream press. The West loves Indonesia as it is now: plundered, defeated, indoctrinated.

No matter what the Western demagogues say, Southeast Asia cannot be governed by capitalist doctrines. When it is, its people are forced to live in unimaginable misery.

But the truth is: there cannot be a “second Singapore” or “second Shenzhen”, not even “second Danang”, anywhere in an Asian country which puts greed and profit above well-being of its people and the social structures.

*****

• This essay was published first by NEO (New Eastern Outlook)

• All photos oy Andre Vltchek