Politics, everyday life, and habitus.


After having spent ten days closely following political rallies and campaigns while tracking social media discourse out of academic interest, I took to the polls on Friday morning to cast my vote for the Singapore General Elections 2015.

Despite a mixbag of polarizing emotions (quick stats here, detailed results here), the next day I picked up my three favourite nieces for a fun-filled weekend – lunch, swimming, pizza party, lanterns in the park, chilling at the playground, late-night movie, sleepover, breakfast, and games – as a final hurrah to mark the end of their weeklong school vacation.

As a 14-year-old and two 10-year-olds, they know very little about politics apart from the fact that Friday was a public holiday “so Aunty Crystal doesn’t have to work and can come for lunch”.

In the afternoon, I took 14yo for lunch before picking up the younger ones, and told her about the previous night with my friends.

14yo: “How come your friends are so sad?”

Me: “Because the parties they voted for didn’t win.”

14yo: “Not enough people vote?”

Me: “Yeah.”

14yo: “And the PAP always wins?”

Me: “Yeah.”

14yo: “I also stayed up to watch. But I was so sleepy I fell asleep around 1145pm. I didn’t wait for Aljunied. Every body was waiting.”

After we had all met up, I chatted with the girls and told 10yo #1 that I had been to the Underwater World (est. 1991). She couldn’t comprehend.

10yo #1: “Do you mean SEA Aquarium [est. 2012]?”

Me: “No, Underwater World!”

10yo #2: “There’s no such thing!”

Me: “There is! It’s just very old!”

10yo #1: “Do you mean Dolphin Island [est. 2013]?”

Me: “No, Underwater World! Ask [14yo] if you don’t believe me!”

14yo: “Yeah, it’s Underwater World. It’s very old. No body goes there any more… ever since SEA Aquarium opened.”

10yo #1: “Aunty Crystal, then why don’t you just go to SEA Aquarium?”

In the evening, while waiting for the rest to get ready for lanterns in the park, 10yo #1 stood in front of the teley while the evening news was on.

10yo #1: “Why they all wear white?”

Me: “It’s their uniform.”

10yo #1: “Eh! Got woman! Got woman!”

Me: “Yeah! It’s mostly men…”

10yo #1: “I didn’t know they got women!”

En route to the park, we took a long walk to a nearby market to get candles. Both 10yos shared stories about their classmates.

10yo #2: “Our class has three Tricias. Tricia [something], Tricia [something], and Tricia V.”

Me: “What is V?”

10yo #1: “Tricia V. V is like her surname.”

10yo #2: “It’s too long, we don’t know how to say.”

10yo #1: “We just call her Tricia V.”

10yo #2: “She’s Indian.”

10yo #1: “We don’t know how to pronounce her name. Actually we never learn. We’re so racist.”

The next morning, while we were taking turns to shower, 10yo #2 caught a glimpse of the Straits Times’ Election special edition on my floor.

10yo #2: “This 69.9? Is it 69.9 vote for the PAP?”

Me: “Yeah. 69.9 per cent.”

10yo #2: “Who is the other party?”

Me: “WP.”

10yo #2: “So PAP win?”

Me: “Yeah.”

10yo #2: “How come the rest don’t vote for WP? Is it because they scared? Is it because PAP is good?”

I love my nieces a lot, and have spent many years tutoring them in English, Math, and Piano lessons. But this weekend, they taught me several lessons about politics, everyday life, and habitus.

Political rallies and the tactility of collective effervescence.

photo 1

I’m in the stands at a sports stadium watching a political rally.

~60yo man on my left is clipping his toe nails.

~30yo lady on my diagonal left is Instagramming.

~20yo man in front of me is having McDonald’s.

~40yo man on my diagonal right is explaining the speech to his ~10yo son.

Two ~50yo men on my right are muttering back channel responses to themselves.

~50yo lady on my diagonal left is on Candy Crush.

Three ~40yo men behind me look like security attempting to camouflage with the crowd.

So many prams and babies and toddlers with squeaky shoes. One ~10yo boy on a skate scooter. One ~15yo girl intently reading a pamphlet.

Crowd control police working over time on a Saturday, clad in scruffy uniforms in this humidity.

Politician on stage criticizing rising costs of living. Volunteers off stage hawking party merch to us.

This is all so visually and aurally exciting. If only my phone batt wasn’t at 2%. Switching over to organic memory now. Over and out.

photo 2

Hello from a political rally in the middle of a huge field right between a public train station and several blocks of public housing.

Several picnic mats and baskets and stools amidst clusters of enthusiastic peoples, party flags and torches in tow.

Young couple on my left have a tiny toddler in a back harness.

Two elderly folk who were ~2 meters apart now shoulder to shoulder after exchanging several gazes in agreement throughout this speech.

At dramatic points of the speech, people look to long pauses as cues to whistle and blow horns and applaud and wave flags.

But this one dude right in the middle of the pack has been holding up his flag silently throughout, tiny red cloth fluttering in the breeze.

This ~60yo man just told his friend it’s good to listen to different parties, unlike his peers who usually only bother with The One.

Code-switching 101 is yelling your head off at a rally in heat, then politely guiding the crowd off site in the next minute.

End of rally. Elderly folk hobbling off site. Brb hopelessly romanticizing aging and patriotism.

photo 3

I am at a political rally in the middle of a muddy field situated between blocks under construction, HDB flats, and private condos.

I wonder if the officers on duty get to pick the sites at which they have to be stationed.

Muddy shoes and bare feet from the rain this afternoon.

Heavily saturated air clouding over head with the haze.

Sticky, sweaty bodies in close proximities radiating heat.

Scents and stench of grab-and-go dinners in plastic wrappers and paper boxes.

Cellphone notifications interrupting dramatic pauses and awkward lulls.

Red tents. Red posters. Red flags. Red batons. Red torches. Red shirts.

Aural mixbag of English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay, and Tamil (so far).

For a nation of peoples housed in cookie cutter concrete, diversity has never been more tactile and unifying.