Change

When I was younger and getting to know people on apps in Singapore, and when I met with them, I would start talking about social issues with them.

But they will tell me, I don’t talk about politics.

Initially, it surprised me because I wondered: I was just talking about social issues, about how there were many elderly working as cleaners, for example. To me, I didn’t connect it with politics.

It surprised me that even on issues on society, people I met did not want to talk about them. But these things matter to our lives, don’t they?

So we talked about movies instead.

But as I thought a bit more, I began to understood their fears – talking about society means recognising the issues that are wrong with our society, and recognising that there is something wrong means having to deal with them, and it would mean talking about politics, because politics was what caused the social issues to happen in the first place. Politics is what caused the elderly not to have adequate retirement funds to retire with, for example, and have to keep working even in their very old age. Politics is what caused HDB flats to have zero value after their leases end.

I suppose the people I met must be so ahead of me then, to connect social issues with politics. Or, the fear must have been so ingrained in the subconscious, that we know we should not talk about social issues, because of their connection with politics.

Perhaps I had worked in a government agency before, and having tried to make change from within meant that I felt I could influence policies in the work I did. Perhaps it was why I felt I could talk about social issues more freely. But yet, as I remember my times working in a government agency, I remember having a CEO who was shipped in from another government agency, who did not bother to understand the work we did. All he was interested in was organising major campaigns and events, and inviting ministers to these launches, so that he could show off the work that he was “doing” (actually, we did all the work). He wanted to use my agency as a stepping stone to further his career. Our agency was part of his “rotation” around the different agencies. When the elections came, he took time off to support the ruling party.

Many of us were unhappy with what he did, because we have used research and literature to support the evidence-based work we did. But he came in, pushed all that aside, and was mainly interested in doing the fluffy things he had in his mind. The worse of it was that some of the directors and deputy directors would agree unquestioningly to what he was doing. They wanted to be promoted too. Some of my colleagues did the same – you could tell who was charting a path for promotion, to be director, and who wanted to stick to the values they believe in, in how agreeable and complaint they were.

So, I became known as the “creative one”. Because I didn’t like sticking by the rules, to agree with everything the boss says. So, to deal with me, they labelled me as the “creative one”. But I was happy with that label.

In secondary school, I remember that my teacher told me once: “I think too much”. During a meet the parents session, my teacher also told my mom: “I think too much”. She told my mom to tell me to stop thinking so much. But I couldn’t help it. I like to daydream, I like to imagine. And maybe that’s why I am the “creative one”.

Many years after leaving school, it dawned on me that even in schools, teachers are also a product of our society, and some of them have been trained not to question, just like we were taught not to question them. And therefore, to think too much was difficult to handle.

And to be creative was therefore difficult to handle.

I suppose that was why the “creative one” had to be persecuted. Lol.

Why am I saying these?

Our system teaches us not to question, and so we choose to keep quiet even when we know things are wrong, or when the powers may be are doing things in a way that causes the lives of others to suffer. But we don’t question. We don’t think about these issues. Because we have been taught not to question. We choose to think this is what Asians do.

But that’s not true too, isn’t it? I know many Singaporeans like to go overseas to represent their companies to speak at conferences, to speak up, to show off their knowledge and skills, to think, to question.

I also know that many Singaporeans like to exercise how much they know at work, by asking questions, by challenging (in an acceptable fashion), because this is how you get to be seen, to be promoted.

But yet, we don’t question about society or the government because we’ve created a barrier inside our heads, that says that we shouldn’t think too much about issues, because they are “politics”.

I’ve met the boss of a local SME once. Happy to meet the boss of a local company, I was eager to ask him what solutions he had for Singapore. So I asked him what were some of the things he thought can be done to improve Singapore. His immediate reaction was, no, no, you cannot ask me. I am not the government, so I wouldn’t know what needs to be done for Singapore.

It was very perplexing to hear this at that time. He was the boss of a local company in Singapore. If he did not have opinions of what needs to be done, then who else would? He was managing a company, and it would be in his interest to think about the policies that would affect Singapore, and affect his business, no?

Over time, I gradually began to understand how pervasive this “fear” and self-censorship was.

But I am not that much different, you know. Ask the real activists who have been fighting for years and you would know. I remember when I was in Taiwan and I was being filmed as part of a documentary, and someone came up to us at a place and told us that we couldn’t film at their premises. My immediate reaction was to clam up, become speechless, and then blabber some things I don’t remember, to try to get away. Eventually, I pointed the person to one of the film crew to answer his questions. That was the automatic reaction I was trained to have, from the fear-based no-questions-asked training that I received in Singapore.

There were other episodes too. As a so-called activist in Singapore, you would think that when the police came to me to ask me for my particulars in a public space, that I would immediately question them, and say no, you cannot have my particulars unless you tell me what it’s for, right? But instead, I gave my particulars and showed them my IC almost immediately. Unquestioning.

I am sharing this because many people in Singapore underestimate themselves. We think we should be scared when it comes to politics, so we keep quiet about things. But this is not true. Because I know that for many Singaporeans, if they were in the same situation as I was in the situations I’ve described myself in above, I know many would be boisterous, to push for what they want, instead of be compliant like me.

So, you see, I am not special. And Singaporeans are actually stronger than I am, braver than I am. But they do not know it. The teacher, or authority, tell us not to think, and to doubt ourselves, and then we do it. When actually, Singaporeans can be strong, if they are aware of the strength they have.

What we do not realise is that when we start speaking to other people, we realise that many people actually feel the same, that many people think about the social issues too, the unfairness of the situation in Singapore, and how things should change. And if we speak to more and more people, there will be greater awareness of these issues, and we will begin to realise that many people do feel the same, and want the same thing: change.

Here is one thing you might not know about other countries which have been ruled by authoritarian regimes, or if it sounds more comfortable, by the same government for long periods. People think that Taiwan is so democratic and the people are so outspoken, and that it must have always been the case. But actually before 1987, before Taiwan began democratising, the people in Taiwan were very much like people in Singapore. Speak to the elderly here and you would know that many would not speak up, for fear of what the government might do to them. People in Taiwan under the authoritarian regime are like people in Singapore today, under an authoritarian regime.

But right after Taiwan started democratising, people began to speak up, and loudly too. And they began to challenge the system for their rights – all the repressed fears the Taiwanese had when Taiwan was authoritarian was unleashed, and they spoke like they never could, because they could not in the past. But this phenomenon is not unique to Taiwan. The same happened in other countries, like in Eastern Europe, when they began to democratise in the 1990s, after detaching themselves from USSR. You see a pattern where under the same government which has ruled by strong-handed means for many years, that people in all these countries learn to be docile and submissive out of fear, but there is all that pent up anger and frustrations, all the repressed feelings of unfairness and inequality. And when the regimes changed and the countries began to democratise, people became more vocal, and they took the opportunity quickly to speak up, to voice out their opinions, and to use their power to vote differently, and to protect this power, so that their rights will be protected.

It is very interesting to witness all these. There was once there was a townhall in one of the places I worked at in Taiwan, where staff wanted to voice out their displeasure about the reduction in time off that they could take. My younger colleagues were very vocal and spoke up fiercely during the townhall. I had a colleague who was over 40 years of age, and who grew up during the time of control under an authoritarian regime. She asked why the younger colleagues had to speak up, when they should try not to upset the boat, to accept things for the way it is.

At that point, I thought that she reminded me very much of Singaporeans – I heard this often in Singapore. At that point, I also understood how such control and living under a regime that controls how you think also changes the way people react to situations – they become submissive and compliant, even when the people in power do wrong things. But I also understood how under such regimes of control, people actually have a lot of pent out frustrations and eagerness to speak up, but that there is a lot of repression of their own feelings. And once democratisation starts to happen, people will become liberated, and will start speaking up, seeking for change, so as to protect the democratisation process, and to enable the country to go on a path of change, hopefully towards the better.

Why am I saying this? Singapore’s situation is not static. We live under a regime of control, and who have created a new fake news law to control us and how they want us to think, what we should read. But it is not static. Just as in these other countries I’ve told you about above, up until the time before the authoritarian regimes lost their power, there was also a lot of anger over the unequalness in the country, people also felt unfairly repressed, and they were also unhappy with the government which was obstructing their ability to speak up on the issues that matter to them, and there was a lot of pent up frustrations. Just like it is happening in Singapore today.

And then, their regimes changed. And the people have a chance at democracy. The people have a chance to right the wrongs, and change things for the better. The people have a chance.

This can happen in Singapore too. And indeed, it has in Malaysia. By using their vote to give them the power to speak, a powerful transition can happen, which can allow people to imagine things differently, it would open up a space to give people an ability to speak, and to finally breathe, to think, and to believe that things can change.

It won’t be all smooth, of course, the process of democratisation. After moving out from a regime of control, for people who have been oppressed psychologically for a long period of time, it would require time for them to adjust, for them to understand their rights once again, and for the system to began to reform itself. All these take time. The democratisation period in Europe took decades. And I can still see the process happening in Taiwan now, where people are still trying to learn their rights, how do you bridge people who were born in an era of freedom, with people born in an era of control? How do you learn to speak up, and what to speak up on? People are still learning. And I am still learning from them. A new and more democratic government would also have to reform some of the policies, to allow the education system to encourage critical thinking so that people can have the skills to partake in their democracy, and to ensure the social system protects the people for their health and retirement.

These changes would take years, maybe decades. But at least under non-authoritarian governments, such change could finally start to happen. Before, wanting to change the system for the better was not even possible. But after an authoritarian government is removed, people can start organising themselves to ask for change, to uplift society. They finally have a chance to make things better.

And this can happen in Singapore too. Singapore takes pride in learning from other countries, and so should we Singaporeans, to understand what they’ve been through, the similarities we have with them, and see how we can also change things for the better.

It starts with a willingness to think, to believe in ourselves and our abilities to make change, and to decide that we will do it.

All it takes is for us to stop repressing out frustrations and to let the steam out, by voting differently, to give ourselves a chance to breathe, and for Singapore to have a chance at doing something different, better.

It takes us to understand the feelings we have, how we can let go of fear, imagine the future that will happen if we are willing to use our power to make it happen. And to know that once that change comes, that we will have a chance at making things better for ourselves. A chance for a fairer and more equal society. All we need to do is believe, in our power and our strength.

 

Roy Ngerng

 

 

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17 Responses to “Change”

  • patriot of TUMASIK:

    The Evil man who Con You had strike FEAR into the Founding Generation better known as the PGs today…

    Even though he is dead and thank God for that…

    the Fear Factor remained till today…The Millenium Generation should wake up and realise the Utopia they are living in is an illusion created but BUILT by their fathers & grandfathers and NOT the bast**d who claims credit by just using his Big Mouth and Threats…

    The Founding Generation Leaders and Builders are mostly GONE NOW…leaving a handful still struggling with a similar Hardship they face earlier BUT with a better environment…

    working till they DROP DEAD or drop because of exercise as a form of keeping fit according to an IDIOTIC minister, cleaning tables -picking cardboard to keep their tummy filled and the FEAR of Hospitalisation where even the PG benefits is insufficient to put them back to health but most likely KILL them along the way as they are a CURRENT liability and the only asset are their children or grandchildren CPF contribution and Medisave that would be WIPED out before Dying

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  • PAP Root of All Evils:

    The social issues In Singapore are a direct result of PAP doing.
    To talk about social issues, one has to talk about PAP, both are not separable.
    To avoid politics in the discussion of problems in Singapore is to be like an ostrich, oblivious to the root cause and in denial.

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  • never voted pap:

    PAP Root of All Evils:
    The social issues In Singapore are a direct result of PAP doing.
    To talk about social issues, one has to talk about PAP, both are not separable.
    To avoid politics in the discussion of problems in Singapore is to be like an ostrich, oblivious to the root cause and in denial.

    Yes, pap is the root of evil in Spore.

    But, 70% sheep is the root of the evil in Spore.

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  • Tom Lee:

    Roy I think at that time they didn’t want to talk because you were from a govt agency.

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  • damn:

    Roy Ngern, please continue to WRITE and EXPOSE PAP.
    We need alternative voices to be HEARD in SG.!
    Cannot let Malaysians LIKE Puthucheary, Amy, KBW, Lee Bee Wah, Sam Tan, FM Har etc to ruin SG.
    PAP must be OUT. We need a NEW chapter like MY is having. BOOT THE MALAYSIANS out of PARLIAMENT.
    Boot the Indians OUT OF PARLIAMENT>!

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  • LIONS:

    Lets be painfully frank here,NO ALLIANCE,NO REAL CHANGE;we dont need another WP BUT WE NEED ALL-ROUND NATION-WIDE CHANGE.

    CAN OUR OPPO sgs UNITE FOR VICTORY?
    Put aside parochial party n self-intetests n GO FOR COMMON GOOD.

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  • Tiada Harapan:

    Nurse Roy in TW

    How to nurse Lost Courage?

    No matter how many failed policies or draconian laws , or how many Great Opposition leaders present themselves, as long as the people show they are TIMID,
    There will never be change. The leader has no follower willing to charge at the enemy.

    Suicide mission .

    Weak People = Weak People Power = No Democracy

    Undebunkable.

    The weakest link in democracy is not a rogue garment. It’s the people.

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  • From the Halls of Harvard:

    “I make fun of Mensa. I don’t know a great deal about Mensa – that’s the high IQ group – but I say, ‘To get into Mensa, you have to have a high IQ, and once you get in, you spend your time congratulating people who are in Mensa with you.’ To me that’s a pretty stupid way to spend your life … Students should learn about the long-standing values of truth, beauty, and goodness, think hard about them, and interrogate them
    skillfully.”
    [Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligence Theory]

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  • Danger From Malaysia ECRL:

    Mr Sham should not be wasting his precious time thinking about the Fake News Law. He should instead be putting his head together with the other leaders to think of a solution for us to handle the big problem coming from the Malaysia East Cost Rail Line which will ultimately kill PSA and Singapore shipping business.

    You are paid million dollars to save our country not to fiack around with the citizen lives. So wake up man.

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  • 高雄大牛:

    哩哩啦啦讲了一大堆,到底讲了什么实在的东西?最多只能是个不满现实的人的清谈!

    老师为他启蒙,传授知识给他,结果,现在他拿起一枝大竹干,把新加坡老师都说成是叫他们的学生不要去想的笨蛋。

    他对台湾有一种说不清的情意结,老是说台湾在威权統治时怎么不好,民主化了的台湾最好。

    但他不知道的是,在威权統治下生活过的台湾人现在非常怀念威权統治时期的台湾————-安定,和谐,人人目标一致,社会欣欣向荣,人人为我我为人人。民主化后的台湾变了样,人人都在哭父哭母,你计算我,我计算你,每一天都要步步为营!结果呢,现在台湾人的优秀子弟如果能漂洋过海来新加坡当辅警就好像是看到蓝天了!

    前苏联加盟共和国和华沙集团国家也一样。那些对苏联时期生活有记忆的人都很怀念那个时候的生活!为什么会这样?他们有民主了呀!一切都应该是好到不得了呀,不是吗?

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  • its now or never:

    this country is being totally mismanaged..
    an epic reason to VTO…or Die!

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  • 高雄大牛的糞抖屎:

    大牛啊大牛

    英文爛到這種程度就別在充了別在這說瞎話啊
    自己甘為牛馬淪為奴也就算了就別為虎做倀哦

    老師啟蒙授知識是要學生們青出以藍
    不是叫學生們什麼去想什麼不要去想
    你把新加坡和老鄉們的老師給混了吧?

    新加坡學生台灣學生是可以公共場所大聲嚷長大要當總統總理的哦!
    老鄉學生們即使關起門躲在床底下敢不敢噓聲竊竊自語要當元首呀?

    “台灣人現在非常懷念威權統治時期的台灣”?
    連牛都會彈琴了啊??
    哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈。。。。。

    高雄大牛:
    哩哩啦啦讲了一大堆,到底讲了什么实在的东西?最多只能是个不满现实的人的清谈!

    老师为他启蒙,传授知识给他,结果,现在他拿起一枝大竹干,把新加坡老师都说成是叫他们的学生不要去想的笨蛋。

    他对台湾有一种说不清的情意结,老是说台湾在威权統治时怎么不好,民主化了的台湾最好。

    但他不知道的是,在威权統治下生活过的台湾人现在非常怀念威权統治时期的台湾————-安定,和谐,人人目标一致,社会欣欣向荣,人人为我我为人人。民主化后的台湾变了样,人人都在哭父哭母,你计算我,我计算你,每一天都要步步为营!结果呢,现在台湾人的优秀子弟如果能漂洋过海来新加坡当辅警就好像是看到蓝天了!

    前苏联加盟共和国和华沙集团国家也一样。那些对苏联时期生活有记忆的人都很怀念那个时候的生活!为什么会这样?他们有民主了呀!一切都应该是好到不得了呀,不是吗?

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  • oxygen:

    @ 高雄大牛:

    MATE, YOUR OBSESSION FOR DICTATORIAL STABILITY & INACTIVISM seeking to preserve the status quo will lead to ONE AND ONLY ONE DEFINITE OUTCOME – the extinction of irrelevance in a turbulent world. The ambit of change and the rate of change will escalate at an accelerating rate.

    NOT A SINGLE AUTHORITARIAN REGIME SURVIVE AND PROSPER – even North Korea wants to find a way out giving up nuclearisation in exchange for the regime’s political survival.

    AUTHORITARIANISM = EXTINCTION.

    高雄大牛: 哩哩啦啦讲了一大堆,到底讲了什么实在的东西?最多只能是个不满现实的人的清谈!

    老师为他启蒙,传授知识给他,结果,现在他拿起一枝大竹干,把新加坡老师都说成是叫他们的学生不要去想的笨蛋。

    他对台湾有一种说不清的情意结,老是说台湾在威权統治时怎么不好,民主化了的台湾最好。

    但他不知道的是,在威权統治下生活过的台湾人现在非常怀念威权統治时期的台湾————-安定,和谐,人人目标一致,社会欣欣向荣,人人为我我为人人。民主化后的台湾变了样,人人都在哭父哭母,你计算我,我计算你,每一天都要步步为营!结果呢,现在台湾人的优秀子弟如果能漂洋过海来新加坡当辅警就好像是看到蓝天了!

    前苏联加盟共和国和华沙集团国家也一样。那些对苏联时期生活有记忆的人都很怀念那个时候的生活!为什么会这样?他们有民主了呀!一切都应该是好到不得了呀,不是吗?

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  • 高雄大牛:

    oxygen:
    @ 高雄大牛:

    MATE, YOUR OBSESSION FOR DICTATORIAL STABILITY & INACTIVISM seeking to preserve the status quo will lead to ONE AND ONLY ONE DEFINITE OUTCOME – the extinction of irrelevance in a turbulent world. The ambit of change and the rate of change will escalate at an accelerating rate.

    NOT A SINGLE AUTHORITARIAN REGIME SURVIVE AND PROSPER – even North Korea wants to find a way out giving up nuclearisation in exchange for the regime’s political survival.

    AUTHORITARIANISM = EXTINCTION.

    养气先生

    威权体制创造过辉煌的成就

    康熙,雍正,乾隆,超过一百三十多年的辉煌时段,证明威权体制有他的效力和持续性。如果有制度能使最好的人来领导,威权体制是最好的。

    民主政治?就拿鄞义林最喜欢拿来做傍样的台湾来说,政党恶斗,民不聊生。政党的所作所为只为了选票,结果只拿软的来捏。最终的结果就是社会倒退。换领导人如换衣服,下了一个又来一个,一个比一个烂!偶然出现一个比较好的,他就会成为所有人的公敌!悲哀呀!

    民主体制是给张三李四的。让他们去打去斗,永远这样!

    威权体制要成功推行,那人民必须要有高智慧,高记律,高道德水平才行。

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  • Big Pile of BS:

    Taiwan got 倒退 meh? 民不聊生? sure or not? Look at Taiwan 人均GDP购买力平价 in USD, keep going up right? quite ok what?

    1980 U$3,463
    81 3,983
    82 4,356
    83 4,864
    84 5,463
    85 5,834
    86 6,570
    87 7,511
    88 8,300
    89 9,283
    90 10,048
    91 11,139
    92 12,221
    93 13,240
    94 14,410
    95 15,535
    96 16,664
    97 17,806
    98 U$18,598
    99 20,002
    00 21,590
    01 21,679
    02 23,110
    03 24,462
    04 26,670
    05 28,915
    06 31,333
    07 34,141
    08 34,936
    09 34,593
    10 38,593
    11 40,777
    12 42,220
    13 43,739
    14 46,195
    15 46,956
    16 48,128
    2017 U$50,294

    Btw 康熙,雍正,乾隆, not Han Chinese, right?

    高雄大牛: 养气先生

    威权体制创造过辉煌的成就

    康熙,雍正,乾隆,超过一百三十多年的辉煌时段,证明威权体制有他的效力和持续性。如果有制度能使最好的人来领导,威权体制是最好的。

    民主政治?就拿鄞义林最喜欢拿来做傍样的台湾来说,政党恶斗,民不聊生。政党的所作所为只为了选票,结果只拿软的来捏。最终的结果就是社会倒退。换领导人如换衣服,下了一个又来一个,一个比一个烂!偶然出现一个比较好的,他就会成为所有人的公敌!悲哀呀!

    民主体制是给张三李四的。让他们去打去斗,永远这样!

    威权体制要成功推行,那人民必须要有高智慧,高记律,高道德水平才行。

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  • 高雄大牛:

    Big Pile of BS:
    Taiwan got 倒退 meh? 民不聊生? sure or not? Look at Taiwan 人均GDP购买力平价 in USD, keep going up right? quite ok what?

    1980 U$3,463
    81 3,983
    82 4,356
    83 4,864
    84 5,463
    85 5,834
    86 6,570
    87 7,511
    88 8,300
    89 9,283
    90 10,048
    91 11,139
    92 12,221
    93 13,240
    94 14,410
    95 15,535
    96 16,664
    97 17,806
    98 U$18,598
    99 20,002
    00 21,590
    01 21,679
    02 23,110
    03 24,462
    04 26,670
    05 28,915
    06 31,333
    07 34,141
    08 34,936
    09 34,593
    10 38,593
    11 40,777
    12 42,220
    13 43,739
    14 46,195
    15 46,956
    16 48,128
    2017 U$50,294

    Btw 康熙,雍正,乾隆, not Han Chinese, right?

    这个化名背后的人,肯定是和他的化名一样的!

    这里是在讨论威权体制和民主体制,但他却去说种族!不小心露出的狐狸尾巴强烈暗示他有可能是个无可药救的种族主义者!

    台湾整体上有没有倒退,你必须去问在台湾生活的台湾人。引用一大串连台湾人都不认同的数字,就说台湾还不错!如果你在台湾这么说,必定会被当成是呆子!

    最近台湾在2018年十一月的地方选举,被民进党管理了二十多年的高雄被韩国瑜捅倒,原因就是民不聊生!你去台北,两年前八十新台币就能买到的饭盒,现在要一百新台币了。而台北普通人民的薪水并没有相对应的增加。根据他们的統计,现在台湾人的实质收入,比二十年前还少!

    愿天佑台湾!

    也愿天佑新加坡,像“一大堆牛屎”这样的人永远不要參政,更不要让他们这样的人有机会治理新加坡!

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  • 问在台湾生活的台湾人:

    台灣民眾的購買力為實質所得的二.一四倍,優於新加坡的一.六六倍、南韓的一.三七倍,也大於德國、法國、英國、美國及日本等先進國家,「薪情」沒有那麼差.

    https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/focus/paper/1167157

    高雄大牛: 这个化名背后的人,肯定是和他的化名一样的!

    这里是在讨论威权体制和民主体制,但他却去说种族!不小心露出的狐狸尾巴强烈暗示他有可能是个无可药救的种族主义者!

    台湾整体上有没有倒退,你必须去问在台湾生活的台湾人。引用一大串连台湾人都不认同的数字,就说台湾还不错!如果你在台湾这么说,必定会被当成是呆子!

    最近台湾在2018年十一月的地方选举,被民进党管理了二十多年的高雄被韩国瑜捅倒,原因就是民不聊生!你去台北,两年前八十新台币就能买到的饭盒,现在要一百新台币了。而台北普通人民的薪水并没有相对应的增加。根据他们的統计,现在台湾人的实质收入,比二十年前还少!

    愿天佑台湾!

    也愿天佑新加坡,像“一大堆牛屎”这样的人永远不要參政,更不要让他们这样的人有机会治理新加坡!

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