“What did you do now?”, quizzed his wife when mrbrown received an invitation to have tea with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana. Little wonder for his wife’s question, given how this self-declared l'enfant terrible of Singapore treads on minefields regularly as he pokes fun at gahmen and documents the dysfunctional side of Singapore.
But of course, fans of mrbrown would have known from his blog that he emerged from this entire episode,unscathed, as it was a session for PM Lee to meet those who commented or interacted with him on his Facebook page. mrbrown even brought tau huey (soy bean curd) for PM Lee.
“It was strange to be part of that group, but it was quite fun at the same time because I've never been to the Istana before…The cheeky part was transporting that tau huey lah.”
He thought PM Lee would not eat the dessert but that evening, he received a tweet saying: “Thanks for the tau huey. It was good – smooth texture and just the right sweetness. Hope you enjoyed the tea. - LHL".
Not bad for someone who delivers prickly political satires -- one who has given bak chor mee, mee siam mai hum and (Lui) Tuck Yew whole new meanings – to have spent a pleasant evening with the authorities.
Commendable for one who had a run-in with the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (MICA) in 2006 over his column in TODAY, S’poreans are fed, up with progress! where he was taken to task for, according to MICA, having “poured sarcasm” and “distorted the truth” on many issues, including the price increases in electricity tariffs, taxi fares and means testing for special school fees. He was suspended from the column as a result of that.
Looking back at the saga, he says: “I would rather it didn't happen because that column was really fun to write for. It was a very popular column. It was, I think, one of the most popular things they had in that paper at the time…It ended after three years, after that incident. There is no bitterness on my part but it was a very scary episode because you didn't know what was going to follow up next”.
Unfortunate an incident that it was, mrbrown chooses to take it positively and remains undeterred by what happened. He says: “If I let something like that get in the way of continuing to do what I want to do, then maybe I shouldn't be in that kitchen after all if I can't take the heat”. He sees the episode as one where he was a “guinea pig” in an era where “the establishment didn’t know what to make of it (the vocal public)”.
The watershed general election last year sees a government humbled by the voices of her people. With the call for a government who would empathise more with the needs of her citizens, there is a mushrooming of activities by government agencies to engage citizens on the ground. More recently, the government initiated “Our Singapore Conversation” for Singaporeans to discuss their hopes and dreams for what Singapore would be in the year 2030. So what does this man, widely regarded as the Blogfather of Singapore, think about this political development?
“I think it is inevitable right? You have to or else...Whether you like it or not, people are already there…My view is that the national conversation has been happening for a very long time already. It's whether they want to come and join us or not. Whether they like it or not, the conversations are happening so either you come on board and be part of the conversation or be left out and not know what's going on in another five years’ time when the election comes around. So it's well and good that you have all these things, but it cannot be a top-down thing frankly. You can set up the (Facebook) page and say: ‘Oh, come and have a national conversation with us,’ but let's put it another way: It's great that the PM invites us to his house or his office to talk, but I think there has to be a way for him to come to the coffee shop to have a chat with us.”
Although he holds strong, and sometimes critical views about what the ruling party does, he points out that he is “not anti-government”, “not pro-opposition” and is “non-partisan” in the way he makes fun of people. The People’s Action Party bore the brunt of his jokes only because they form the bulk of the government. The Worker’s Party, similarly, was not spared his whip when former Member of Parliament, Yaw Shin Leong was sacked from the Worker’s Party, necessitating a by-election in Hougang.
“There's a whole scandal. I didn't pull any punches. I thought it was a terrible thing to happen so that got made fun of. So I didn't have any friends in the Worker’s Party after that. So everybody gets it. It has to be that way. It has to be fair.”
Irreverence is in the house with mrbrown as he shares his experiences with Singaporeans overseas of treading the thin line, hammering in his points while trying to avoid being struck by lightning. mrbrown turns SG Buzz speaker this October, making pitstops in Ann Arbor (24 Oct), Chicago (26 Oct) and Seattle (27 Oct). Don’t miss it! Register for the sessions now!