Hello Chok Tong, Goodbye Kuan Yew
By George (Nonis); Angsana Books, 200 pp, 1991
Imagine a sophisticated republic such as Plato might have conceived, where the poet is called a fool and madman – and secret policemen supply the jokes. Wink and nudge, jury and judge. Dissent by numbers. Does it sound like Singapore?
Then read Hello Chok Tong, Goodbye Kuan Yew by George (Nonis). You can do it in less than an hour: it’s mostly cartoons. “The book everybody thought was impossible to publish,” says the backcover blurb. Chuckle chuckle.
“I’m not disrespectful of my leaders,” Nonis declares. “Lee Kuan Yew is my favorite politician, and Confucius my favorite philosopher.” He even thinks it’s a good idea (after witnessing CNN’s Gulf War on TV) to spend money on guns, tanks and missiles. “We should all take war seriously.”
That was a dead giveaway. The book’s an apology masquerading as brave new political satire. An apology for whom or what?, you may ask.
Why, for the wonderful way of life in Singapore and for Lee Kuan Yew’s mandarin vision of clockwork oranges. Confucius, he say: “Gong Xi Fa Cai!” The same to you, I say.
The artwork and text are inoffensively engaging – and I was initially charmed by Nonis’s easy wit and fluid cartoon style. He draws female torsos and legs very well (did he perhaps escape from an ad agency?). But his repetitive claims to red-hot controversy and daredevil taboo-bashing prove quite unfounded. No, I can’t believe that even a Singaporean could regard Hello CT, Goodbye KY as a radical breakthrough in socio-political commentary.
Still, the book should sell well in Singapore where the government’s campaign to make people read more has been remarkably effective. And this is a book that lends itself to being picked up, flipped through, bought on impulse, and then discarded like so much styrofoam (Singapore’s most lethal export).
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s quote on the very first page sets the tone of the book: “We believe in making Singapore an enjoyable place for all of us. At the right occasion, I think we should all have a good laugh, even to the extent of laughing at ourselves.” [Emphasis mine].
There you have it. Writer-cartoonist George Nonis has his official sanction to tease the hitherto uptight Titans of Total Rule. I bet Chok Tong has a whole stack on his desk. I can just hear him chortling: “Have you seen this? Ha ha ha. It’s damn funny, you have to read it!” Chortle chortle.
Oh dear, I don’t mean to be mean – but I’m inclined to believe that the Singapore government’s brave new Fun Policy provides for subsidized evening classes in Good Clean Chortling. Hello Chok Tong, Goodbye Kuan Yew will most likely be a prescribed text.
[First published in the New Straits Times, 7 September 1991]