Singapore Writers Festival 2017 Closing Debate: This House believes that Kiasuism is a Good Singaporean Trait

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In its traditional stand-up comedy routine form, the closing debate of the Singapore Writers Festival had audiences falling off their chairs laughing through the 90 minute show. Ironically, this only proved that the ‘kiasu-ism’ displayed by over 600 people queuing over six hours for free entry tickets to the debate was worth it after all.

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The debate closed the 20th Singapore Writers festival last Sunday evening with resounding applause and a standing ovation for the Opposition, who put up a ferocious fight against the evening’s motion This House believes that Kiasuism is a Good Singaporean Trait. Despite urging audiences not to let kiasuism ‘get the better of Singaporeans’, the Opposition came well-prepared for the debate with pages of notes in their hands and flawless arguments against the motion. 

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Stand-up comedian Rishi Budhrani brought the comedy to a pensive silence in the middle of the debate when he reminded the audience of the countless students who have been depressed or attempted suicide in the spirit of ‘kiasu-ism’ to score well for the PSLE. Educator and storyteller Arianna Pozzuoli dedicated a ‘love letter’ to kiasuism, whom she first “met at a buffet in Choa Chu Kang” – a beautifully written piece of prose which surely won the hearts of the many literary lovers among the audience. But it was undoubtedly lawyer-writer Adrian Tan who won the debate in his closing speech for the Opposition. Poking fun at the recent MRT system failures, the reserved presidential elections and even Lee Kuan Yew’s choice in trousers – Adrian was relentless in taking down the “myth that the government has created” – that we must be kiasu in order to survive. 

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While it was the opposition who won the debate for the night, it was the proposition team who won the most cheers and laughter. The debate went into a roasting session of Singapore-Malaysian relations when writer and part-time lecturer Shamini Flint took to the stand, making a comparison of how far Kiasu-ism has brought Singapore to compared to her home country of Malaysia. Relying on the usual ‘textbook answers’ of the effectiveness of ‘Kiasu-ism’ in Singapore’s achievement-oriented focus, writer Ovidia Yu also joked about the state not only having the highest GDP/capita, but also being the most expensive city to live in.

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Educator and applied drama practitioner Oniatta Effendi raised the recent presidential elections as “the epitome of Kiasuism” – or in proper English  “ being afraid to lose”. When it came to Closing Debate regular writer Gwee Li Sui, he practised what he preached indeed – making numerous attempts at plugging his new books by slipping in titles throughout his 7-minute closing speech. At one point, Gwee said: “I’m starting to sound like a Jack Neo movie”, bringing the house down as the final speaker of the evening with his Singlish jokes and references.

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All in good fun, the Singapore Writers Festival closing debate closed with a positive call forward, for Singaporeans to be less kiasu, more compassionate and more gracious – perfectly in line with this year’s festival theme Aram – a complex term in Tamil that inspires reflection on our goodness and conscience as a society. A job well done to the SWF team, and we’re absolutely looking forward to the next edition when it rolls around again next year!

Photo Credit: Singapore Writers Festival Facebook

By Sarah Tang for Bakchormeeboy

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