Thursday, May 19, 2011

Overcoming the deafening silence: a portrait of Low Thia Khiang

Justin Zhuang

The Enquirer  January 19th, 2009  (source)

An insightful portrait.


As if being hard of hearing is not bad enough, Mr Low has problems with his English too. At the last general election, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had questioned if an apology letter written in English for Mr Low’s party candidate, Mr James Gomez, was really written by him.

While MM Lee was accurate in his observation – Mr Gomez had written the letter while Mr Low only edited it — the latter found it nothing to be ashamed of. He even told the press, “Of course, my English is not as good as MM Lee’s. But, his Chinese is definitely not better than mine.”

And Mr Low readily confesses that he got an F9 for English in both his A-Levels and O-Levels. As the last batch of students from the former Nanyang University (Nantah), he belongs to a dying community of Singaporeans educated in the Chinese medium at a time when the country was switching to English as its medium of instruction in schools.

Then Prime Minister Lee had made a speech at Nantah where he labelled it a third-class university as compared to Cambridge, Oxford and then University of Singapore (SU), Mr Low recalls. This was why in 1980, during Mr Low’s final examinations, it was announced that the National University of Singapore would form by merging Nantah with SU.

“They call it a merger, but to me it’s a closing down of Nantah,” he is quick to correct.

The young Mr Low was outraged with the decision, and so were many of the other students. Together with some friends, they put up protest posters around the Nantah campus, wrote letters to the press and even snagged an interview with a journalist from a Chinese paper.

“Amazingly, nothing came out… the whole public opinion was so one-sided,” he boomed. For the first time, Mr Low saw how public opinion in Singapore could be engineered to favour those in power, “I asked myself as a citizen of Singapore, if there is something which I feel that is unjust, something that is not right, probably people will not know because if press don’t report, who knows?”

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