Go with a smile!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Malaysia Cup and the Quasi-Singaporean

Malaysia Cup days. Ah, the good old days. Everybody’s talking about the good old days.

It’s funny, because during the intervening 17 years that Singapore was not part of the Malaysia cup, the causeway seems to have grown wider. First, there was the Asian Financial crisis. JB had gotten much more dangerous. People still go to JB but ever since 1998, the place seems to be full of scary Indonesian gangs rampaging through JB and slicing and dicing Singaporeans. It seems standard practice to chop down a business rival by ordering a hit job on him when he’s going there on his weekend golf trip.

I still remember when it was possible to receive RTM channels on TV. Now we don’t get that anymore.

And most significantly, no Malaysia Cup. Of course, when Singapore travelled to the other club sides in the region, it was a charming experience. Water logged pitches. Lights that didn’t always work. Witch doctors casting spells on the goalpost. (There was 1 match against Perlis where the Perlis goal mouth seemed to lead a charmed life.) But Malaysia was not a foreign country. Even if they weren’t our brothers, surely they were our cousins. And behind all that animosity, I’m sure, given all the entertainment value of meeting a Singapore side,
It was genuinely wonderful being everybody’s favourite enemy.

To be sure, the 80s were a wilderness for the Malaysia Cup. Singapore didn’t win a single Malaysia Cup in the 80s, or get into any finals. There was the ignominy of knowing that your best, most talented striker Fandi Ahmad was winning Malaysia Cups for Pahang and Kuala Lumpur, or that Sundram was winning one with Kedah.

That aside, everything changed with Abbas Saad. He, together with Alistair Edwards, brought us into the final in 1990. Then he moved to Johor and helped them win in 1991. By 1992, Singapore got relegated into the 2nd division. But in 1993, all our stars returned. Malek Awab, Fandi Ahmad, V Sundramoorthy, Abbas Saad, Alistair Edwards. That year, we got into the final, but we lost to Kedah. I remember a semi-final of that year, where we came back from 0-2 down to beat Pahang.

And in 1994, there was the double. No more to be said about that. However, after that, Singapore was banished.

I suppose, people who lived through the 60s and 70s must have had many years of Malaysia Cup memories. For the younger folk like me, the romance barely lasted 5 years. At least my sister had been to one fantastic match where Singapore stuffed Perak 6-1.

So this Malaysia Cup thingy, is it going to work? Here’s something I spammed on a friend’s facebook page.

“It's funny that Abbas Saad and Jang Jung were considered more Singaporean than Daniel Bennett who actually grew up here. I don't know why. Maybe they are more "us" because they are our comrades against the Malaysians. Maybe because we were a club side in the Malaysia Cup. Probably because we saw them on TV all the time. Maybe if we saw Precious Emuejeraye enough on TV and learnt to pronounce his name the way we learnt how to pronounce sas-wa-di-ma-ta-da-su-ki we would accept him as Singaporean.

What is clear is that the Malaysia Cup had a powerful branding, possibly now displaced by the English Premier League, that even international success in three - THREE Tiger Cups was not able to overcome apathy to our local football scene. When you are that successful and people don't recognise you it's time to pack up and go home.”

OK, so I was wondering, why did Jang Jung and Abbas Saad have so much appeal, as compared to the foreign imports in the 2004-2007 national team? Why was Abbas Saad a star, as compared to Daniel Bennett? Then over the weekend, I saw a picture of the 1990 Abbas Saad, the young, sexy, and bare chested teenage heartthrob Abbas Saad on the cover of the New Paper. It was as close as you can get to gay porn on the cover of a major Singapore media publication. And then it hit me.

Abbas Saad and Jang Jung were very well accepted in Singapore because they are quasi-Singaporeans. Abbas Saad may have been an Australian, but he was of Lebanese descent. He could very well pass off as a Singapore Eurasian. He had a Muslim name, which meant that he was a quasi-Malay.

Jang Jung was a Korean. But Koreans are similar enough to Chinese people. And he wasn’t a “country bumpkin” Chinese person who finds that life outside the village is strange. He was an urban quasi-Chinese. It wasn’t very difficult to make the adjustment.

Compare him to Alastair Edwards, who gave us a middle finger after scoring a goal against us. He was never really accepted in Singapore. Because he’s an angmoh. And if you are an angmoh, you’re never really part of mainstream Singapore society. Expats in Singapore who are angmoh instinctively know that, which is why there is such a big divide between them and the locals. That’s why they never really get accustomed to local culture. Because they know that Singaporeans may be deferential and polite to their faces (or not – Chinese people are less polite than Koreans, Japanese, or Vietnamese. We are the least polite race among the East Asians.) but there will never be a willingness to accept them as our own. OK, we’ll make an exception for Daniel Bennett, after all he’s gone through NS like the rest of us (I should hope!)

But Precious Emuejeraye, Agu Casmir, Aleksandar Duric, Itimi Dickson and even Mustafic Fahruddin don’t really make the cut. Technically, Mustafic Fahruddin is from the same stock as Abbas Saad, but probably he doesn’t have Abbas’ charisma.

The exception to this rule is Douglas Moore. Maybe there are reasons. Douglas Moore is a New Zealander, so maybe he’s almost Asian. Maybe you accept an angmoh if he’s a boss. Especially if he’s a capable one. Which is probably why Raddy Abramovich is probably the most popular guy in the National football team.

The other reason was that there was constant television coverage. In the Malaysian cup, all our opponents are Malaysians, who are by definition quasi-Singaporean.

The biggest threat to the Malaysia Cup, however, is the English Premier League. Recall that the first 2 seasons of the EPL coincide with the last 2 seasons of Singapore being in the Malaysia Cup. It could well be that even if Singapore played on in the Malaysia Cup, we would see first hand the ignominy of EPL superseding the Malaysia Cup fever. That would not be pleasant. Better now, if we fail, that we have the excuse that it’s the 17 years that smothered the Malaysia Cup fever.

When I see the list of Malaysia Cup champions in the interim, I see a lot of unfamiliar names. Like:
Selangor (expected),
Perak (expected),
Brunei (huh?),
Terangganu (wtf?),
Petaling Jaya (who’s that?),
Perlis (puny little Perlis?),
Kedah (expected),
Negri Sembilan (puny little NS?),
Kelantan (they’ve never won before).

So instead of the usual suspects (Pahang, Selangor, Sabah, Sarawak) we might find that many teams which have been minnows all along have risen to the fore. Maybe there’s an explanation for this? Maybe there are rules that stipulate that all teams must field players that are native to the state? Maybe some rich sultan is behind the smaller teams? We won’t know unless we get to see the Malaysia Cup matches.

And most importantly, it’s a big shame that we don’t see the Singapore National team playing. This would be just the U-23 team, for starters. But if it’s possible to have a Singapore - Malaysia Super League, with SAF, Home, Tampines, Woodlands, Geylang, Hougang and Balestier in the Malaysia Cup, that would be really interesting. Just one suggestion – call the super league whatever you want, but don’t ever rename the Malaysia Cup. There is no substitute for that brand.

In the end, will we have the glorious days of old, where there was the Malaysia Cup fever, or will we have another failed venture like the S League? I have a feeling that it will be somewhere in between. That it will prove to have an atmosphere better than S League in the long run. But that media coverage of the EPL will be so much better, and quality of the football will be so much better that – let’s put it this way. It is not only that Singapore has a lot of foreign talent. But we built our economy by inviting MNCs into the place. Basically our economy has been a foreign economy for years. The mentality is that if the foreigners can do it better, let them do it. That’s why subconsciously, we will never be world champions at football.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

The end of work

I remember when I was a kid in the mid 80s, and I was reading books about the world in 2000. Well we all know what the world in 2000 was like, so the prediction was way off. But a lot of the futurists were thinking about a world where robots did all the work of human beings. Then there would be much fewer working hours in a day for each person.

Well, there is something fishy about that picture, isn’t it? That picture is not something that corresponds to the labour economics as you and I know it. In the world that we know, at least the one that we’ve lived in for a long time, people compete for jobs, so that they can earn a salary, so that they can buy things for people to eat. You know the picture in economics where the entire labour force provides their labour to the system, and the system pays everybody back in salary so that they can consume goods.

But what if this system is fundamentally imbalanced? Suppose, in the whole world, all the labour in the world will produce far too many goods and services for people to consume. Therefore, some people will always have to remain jobless. Some people will always need to be left out of the economy. Because all the businesses in the world will have to shut down production of excessive goods and services.

In a way, this is something that Marx predicted a long time ago. He talked about technology development leading to inequality in society. A few people will own the rights to a disproportionate amount of the “means of production”. Then we have surpluses being accumulated by a wealthy few at the expense of the masses. In the end, what the labour class has to offer to the bosses becomes deprecated. The rich people get richer simply because they have the property rights of all these means of production. Corporations get more efficient all the time, they can afford to hire less workers, and therefore the poor people, they only have labour to offer, and since the value of the only thing they have to offer is deprecated, they become poorer.

From the macro perspective, everything looks great. All the things that ever need to get done will get done with lesser human effort than before. But all the benefits of this go to those sneaky enough to get their tabs on this “means of production”. Today, in America, the top 1% of the people own 40-50% of the wealth. This is a ridiculous amount of wealth inequality that needs to be addressed. Was this the proportion in the feudal ages?

Now, Marx is abhorrent to many because he is credited with creating a system – communism – that was so horrific in practice. Never mind that he had been dead for 30 years by the time 1917 came around. Everybody thinks that communism is the logical outcome of his ideas. It needn’t be the case. After all, what was the biggest criticism of communist countries? Inequality of wealth. Ironically, a system that started off trying to make everybody equally wealthy ended up benefitting a select few at the expense of everybody else.

What we need now is a different kind of society. Something that can redistribute the wealth of society. Surely there must be enough to go around. It’s true that winner takes all capitalism is great at spurring technological advancement in our society. But it is far from certain that technological advancement works for the benefit of most of the people in society. What we need is to think up of some social system which is good at spurring technological advancement, like western style capitalism. And at the same time it’s good at redistributing the fruits of labour to all people.