Are you familiar with Geylang? No? Then you MUST be elitist

By November 22, 2017Current

TL;DR – Surely, that cannot be the case?

Psst… have you been to Geylang? Are you familiar with that place? You haven’t? You aren’t? Orh-hor! You must have lived a comfortable and privileged life. You MUST be completely out of touch with the ground! You MUST be completely oblivious to the pain and suffering of the common man! You aren’t qualified to serve the people. You aren’t worthy of any leadership positions.

Because you are elite and elitist.

That’s the opinion of some people. At least based on the response to this article about a union leader, David Tay. Here are some of the comments:

“35 years old and has never eaten at Geylang. Is he for real a Singaporean? What an isolated nerd.”

“These are the kind of people who are leading the labour union. Ignorance; no contact with real people; give theoretical answers; and quoting “motherhood” statement from ministers. Now we know why there is a big divide between govt/union and the citizens.”

Did these commenters even read the article?

David Tay’s first job after graduation was a teacher, and he was in the Singapore Teachers’ Union. Let’s read that again. Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU). Do we expect our teachers to be that familiar with Geylang to be able to tell which building are “dens of vice”?

What if the article wrote that David Tay was familiar with Geylang? Do you think the people will laud him for being in touch with the ground? Nope. Some people will still bay for blood. They’ll scream:

“How can a teacher be familiar with Geylang?! MOE has failed us! How can let that person be a teacher?!”

In other words, no matter how the article describes David and no matter what sort of person David is like, there will be people who would criticise that he’s not fit to serve.

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Because he’s a union leader. And the Labour Movement in Singapore has long been linked to the ruling party, PAP. In fact, they have a close symbiotic relationship, as reiterated and reinforced in the recent LM Conversations where several ministers met with NTUC’s union leaders after their Ordinary Delegates Conference.

At the PAP Convention last Sunday, PM Lee also touched on the party’s close ties to the Labour Movement. He even spoke of getting PAP leaders to be more involved in NTUC.

Unionists at the PAP convention 2017(via)

And to some Singaporeans, surely anyone who is close to PAP must be an elite and elitist, not fit to lead, and MUST be criticised to death.

What other reasons can there be for those comments? Why else would having eaten in Geylang be the yardstick of how “close to the ground” a person is? Who decided on that? So if someone is too poor or live too far to have eaten in Geylang, that person isn’t close to the ground? In fact, we’d hazard a guess that more rich people than poor people eat at Geylang. Why? Because the less affluent people more likely eat to live, whilst the more affluent ones will live to eat.

Anyway, our point is there could be many reasons why a person has not stepped foot into Geylang before, and it is not at all conclusive that whoever has not been to Geylang is not close to the ground, or heck, cannot serve or help people.

What these people don’t bother asking and have completely ignored is whether David has helped anyone while serving in the unions. Our curiosity got the better of us, so we googled a little and found out that David has been serving in the Labour Movement for quite a long time.

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Maybe David Tay is just a busy man

David had joined the youth wing of the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU), Young STU, once he graduated from university and entered the workforce.

According to the Young NTUC website,

To provide a better understanding, Young STU organises a bi-annual Beginning Teachers’ Forum and invite the new graduate of teachers from the National Institute of Education (NIE) to attend.

David explained: “At the forum, they learn about their basic rights as teachers and how having a union membership is beneficial for them. We inform them how their performance is being appraised in schools, what determines how well they do and the potential pitfalls they might face. They find such sessions useful and informative.”

This Beginning Teachers’ Forum is something that STU has continued to do today, as the platform is a really practical and useful one for new teachers to find out more the about the other aspects of being a teacher that are not covered in NIE. It is also an opportunity for the beginning teachers to raise whatever questions they might have.

David Tay (L-1) at the Beginning Teachers’ Forum in 2013 (via)

As part of Young STU back then, David was also involved in various community activities. Amongst these was one event that reached out to show appreciation for the “everyday heroes” – the cleaners at the schools.

David Tay (centre) at the Cleaners’ Appreciation Lunch at Crescent Girls’ School in 2014 (via)

We also found out that David was the Chief Curator of Young ChangeMakers Grant with the National Youth Council from August 2013 to October 2017. For over four years, he had led and guided a panel of 28 youth leaders in assessing and disbursing seed funds to applicants aiming to benefit the community with their proposed projects.

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Elitist who lives in an ivory tower? Isolated nerd who has never been to Geylang? Maybe he was just busy.


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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