Flags and acronyms

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In the space of 50 years Singapore became the richest country in the world; how it happened can be explained by using flags and acronyms. This is how club member Rey Buono summed it up for the Pattaya City Expats Club at their Sunday, October 27 meeting. Rey has spent 25 years in Asia, including 10 in Singapore. He is a theatre director, acting coach, and performing arts educator. Rey now lives in Thailand. Currently, he is Coordinator of Performing Arts at Siam University, Bangkok.

Rey said, Singapore went from having a standard of living equivalent to that of Viet Nam to one that all of Europe now envies. At the same time, Singapore has the largest gap between rich and poor. He began by giving a brief history of Singapore using the flags that have flown over the island. The first being that of the British East India Company which ruled Singapore on behalf of Britain starting in 1819; bringing in hundreds of thousands of Chinese people to live with the native Malays along with many Indians, mainly to do police work.

MC Richard Silverberg presents Rey with a Certificate of Appreciation as thanks for his insightful presentation.MC Richard Silverberg presents Rey with a Certificate of Appreciation as thanks for his insightful presentation.

The next was that of the Japanese. After the war, things were not the same for European colonial powers as many of their colonies sought independence. Britain adopted a policy of peaceful disengagement from its colonies once stable, non-Communist governments were available to transfer power to.

The third was that of Malaya, which gained its independence from Britain in 1957. Singapore joined with Malaya as a way to end British colonial rule. Malaya initially resisted because it feared the power of the large Chinese population in Singapore. When Singapore was admitted, Malaya was renamed Malaysia.  However, two years later Singapore was out. Rey explained that the Singapore Chinese resented the preferential treatment Malaysia accorded Malays in schooling, taxes, etc. As a result, the Republic of Singapore was created with its own flag.

Rey mentioned the acronyms “LKY” and “PAP.” The first stands for Lee Kwan Yew, an ethnic Chinese, and the second for his Peoples Acton Party.Rey mentioned the acronyms “LKY” and “PAP.” The first stands for Lee Kwan Yew, an ethnic Chinese, and the second for his Peoples Acton Party.

At that time, most of its residents were living in abject poverty, Rey said. There was also tension among the ethnic groups who lived separately in different cantons; plus the existence of a communist faction added to the political instability. Rey then mentioned the first acronyms “LKY” and “PAP.” The first stands for Lee Kwan Yew, an ethnic Chinese, and the second for his Peoples Acton Party. LKY, through the PAP ruled Singapore for three decades (and Rey says still runs Singapore, at the age of 90, even though he is no longer the Prime Minister).  Rey gave a brief summary of his English education, involvement in politics, and how he set out to create a strong one-party state.

The next acronym mentioned by Rey was “ISA,” which stands for the Internal Security Act. It allowed the detention of persons without the benefit of trial. The PAP used it to squash any opposition. Over the years, operations were launched against various groups (e.g. artists in 1976, catholic activists and theatre people in 1986). The PAP also used libel lawsuits to crush and bankrupt their enemies. The ISA was used to cement the political and social dominance of the PAP and Singapore became a surveillance state; Rey said that the people who live there feel they are constantly being watched even today.

In the space of 50 years Singapore became the richest country in the world; it went from having a standard of living equivalent to that of Viet Nam, to one that all of Europe now envies. Rey Buono summed it up for the Pattaya City Expats Club at their Sunday, October 27 meeting.In the space of 50 years Singapore became the richest country in the world; it went from having a standard of living equivalent to that of Viet Nam, to one that all of Europe now envies. Rey Buono summed it up for the Pattaya City Expats Club at their Sunday, October 27 meeting.

He then mentioned the acronyms “EDB,” “HDB,” and “CPF.”  Explaining that the Economic Development Board, brought in Western companies and greatly strengthened Singapore’s economy. The Housing and Development Board, which Rey said was the single most important tool in the social transformation of Singapore, demolished the ethnic cantons and built high rise apartments which were ethnically integrated and had to be purchased. The Central Provident Fund was a forced savings plan; employer and employee each contributed 20% of the employee’s earnings which Rey explained could be used for only two things – housing and retirement; thus providing the means to purchase the high rise apartments.

He then went on to mention the “MOE,” which stands for the Ministry of Education and said that Singapore is famous today for the quality of its education. He explained how the MOE was also an instrument of social control, set forth that all schools were to use English (although in recent years, they have allowed Chinese language schools to return).  He also described how the MOE paid students to take courses in the humanities and to send the best students, at government expense, to schools overseas. These students were “bonded” to work for the government for eight years after their return; thus creating a strong cadre of high-level civil servants.

The “SAF” stands for the Singapore Armed Forces, a well trained military. Rey explained that every male has to go into the army for two years and has to go back for two weeks a year for 15 years after the initial stint. The SAF, therefore, is another social control device. Also, the last acronym he mentioned was the “SDU.” The Social Development Unit was created to provide opportunities for single men and women to interact socially.

In conclusion, Rey said Singapore has been called a tiny island in an Islamic sea. However, over the years, the only threats to Singapore have come from communists, not Islamists.

After Rey answered several questions, Master of Ceremonies Richard Silverberg updated everyone on upcoming events and called on Tony Heron to conduct the always interesting and informative Open Forum where questions are asked and answered about expat living in Thailand.