End of the paper chase
A FUNNY thing happened on my way to my next book. I became funny.
Well, not exactly LOL-funny, like a Jack Neo film pumped up with helium.
But satirically funny. Like uninviting a guest to an important function and then wondering why he couldn't be gracious enough not to blurt it out on social media.
In fact, look around you. From our kiasu behaviour to our obsession over a cat missing a mouth; from geographical contortions like Group Representation Constituencies to quaint policies like the three-quarter-tank rule, Singapore is a country ripe for satire.
For satire exists in the space between what is and what could be. The wider the gap, the more gleeful a satirist in rubbing the spot where it hurts most.
Audiences feel this in their funny bone. Their laughter is as much from recognising the situation as themselves in it.
This is why satire is big business now. On TV, you have the seriously funny The Noose. On the Web, you have the sometimes-hit-and-miss site, New Nation. Adding to this bombardment is my latest book, Singapore Siu Dai: The SG Conversation In A Cup. It is a collection of 50 short, short stories interspersed with cartoons from illustrator PMan.
Written over three months - the shortest I've taken to complete a book - and published last month, it pokes gentle fun at life in Singapore.
One such story, reproduced here, speculates what happens to our paper chase - if there's no longer any paper to chase.
The best minds in the country were stumped; investigators were stalled; the public was scandalised.
It had happened so fast, not even the quick-witted could have cut it to the quick.
All examinations in Singapore had suddenly disappeared. One moment, the papers were there, kept safer than the Elected President's second key - from the PSLE to the alphabet soup of "O", "N" and "A" levels.
The next moment, they became blank sheets, as though a truckload of correction fluid had been dumped on them.
Even when the ministry asked Cambridge (both in Britain and the United States, just to be safe) to helicopter a fresh set, they were similarly de-contentised. Further attempts were rendered futile. Tertiary institutions were not spared either.
Professors reported stacks of mid-term papers disappearing. Each time they tried to resurrect the exam from memory, it vanished before their eyes.
The nation was now facing its toughest test.
There was widespread outcry in the streets, so much so that four sites (designated Hong Lim Park East, Hong Lim Park West, Hong Lim Park North and Hong Lim Park South) had to be opened.
"Without exams, how can my son apply for scholarships?" one mother lamented. She received sympathetic nods all round.
"My daughter has to beat that cocky boy next door who came in first last year. How? How?" wailed another, on her knees and beating her breast. Five minutes later, she fainted.
A task force was convened. It approved the setting up of another one to examine the mystery of missing exams.
Everyone, from former President's Scholars to scholarly former presidents, knuckled down with the CID, CAD, CPIB and CNB. But the evidence defied logic. It was as though a curse had wrapped itself around the island.
Meritocracy was on the ropes. And no one knew it better than its apologists.
The writer is an award-winning author who has published nine books. Singapore Siu Dai retails at $13.91 (after GST) and is available at Books Kinokuniya, MPH Bookstores, Times Bookstores and Books Actually. He will read excerpts from his book tomorrow at 3pm at Toast Box Westgate.