Sunday, May 31, 2009

Standing up for the "sexually challenged"

It's easy to retch at the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold the legal-discrimination edict of Proposition 8. A shame, yes, but really not all that surprising. And, sadly, it was the "right" decision, in that the court's job is to interpret the constitution, not legislate. Like it or not, in a state famously "governed by proposition", the constitution actually allows the nuptial equivalent of separate drinking fountains for gay people.

That is reason enough for California to junk its current constitution and start from scratch. Suffocating 2/3-majority requirements that leave the state financially hamstrung every year is probably the most politically viable reason to start fresh, but the fact that California's constitution now officially promotes ignorance makes the whole thing seem worthless. The fact that a majority of ignoramuses can pass a measure so rooted in archaic understandings of human relationships proves the current system is seriously flawed in what is otherwise a fine state.

Then again, it's not all that bad when compared to the situation in Singapore. We learned earlier that views of homosexuality here are not exactly enlightened. And though I think people in the US who would deny a homosexual the right to marry the person he or she loves would be the same people a generation earlier tsk tsking at "uppity negroes" holding up traffic, I also realize that they don't hold a flame to attitudes here.

To review the basics: sex between two men in Singapore is against the law; it is a "gross indecency" under section 377A. Apparently, sex between women is OK, or at least not criminal -- they seem to differentiate between "lesbianism" and "homosexuality" here. To be fair, anal and oral sex of any kind was illegal here until 2007, when that ban was repealed. Progress?

Like elsewhere, I would hope attitudes towards homosexuals here are evolving and that discrimination will die out in the next generation. But reading some of the things printed in the paper last week makes me think attitudes here have a long way to go.

Take this letter to the Straits Times, posted on the website. The author sagely informs us that "sexually challenged" is not an offensive term referring to gays. He continues:

"It is a fact that homosexuality is an abnormality for the simple reason that it is against the laws of nature. Nature intended each species to reproduce itself and homosexuality does not do the job.

"It is possible that some people are born with homosexual inclinations but that does not make them normal. They are in the same category as people born mentally retarded or blind or deaf or mute. While we may sympathise with them, we do not think of them as normal."

How enlightening. (In case that link disappears, as the ST website is not terribly reliable in its archives, here's the cache.)

On Thursday, another article ran quoting a professor named Koo Tsai Kee, who delivered an impassioned plea to Parliament warning that "intolerance" poses the biggest threat to Singapore. Ok, you'd think, some truly wise words. (Here's the cache.)

"Intolerance", Mr Koo says, is a "growing cancer in society". But to him, intolerance only relates to "religious and racial bigotry". The AWARE saga (linked above) was a showdown between a group of conservative Christians and another group of (for the sake of derogatory hyperbole) homosexual sympathizers. That the debate was "framed" this way by the media, Mr Koo claims, shows there is a clear "intolerance of diversity". In other words, being supportive of gays is an affront to Christianity and, thus, a potentially destructive show of intolerance.

The way the saga was covered, Mr Koo suggests, was tainted by reporters "hobnobbing with the homosexual fraternity", something that calls into question "whether there should ever be an unregulated press". ST editor Han Fook Kwang rightly refuted such claims in his defense of ST's coverage, which was as complete as it could be under the circumstances.

But no one in the mix seems to understand the heart of the issue: Tolerance means tolerating everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual preference. The very fact that there are laws on the books ANYWHERE that legalize discrimination and criminalize human nature is an affront to humanity. Until we see the end of officially sanctioned intolerance, the "growing cancer" will continue to spread.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The mysterious disc golf basket in downtown Singapore

I couldn't believe it when I saw it. I was on my way home from the CBD in Singapore, on the 70 bus. I was looking out the window as we passed SunTec City, the giant mall and convention center near the City Hall subway stop. Singapore was still a new place to me at the time, so there were many unusual sights for me to see. But this forced a double-take:

What in the world is a disc golf basket doing there?!

Disc golf in Asia is very rare indeed. The biannual Japan Open is well known and well attended (even if people grumble about the 150-weight-class requirement), and earlier this year Taiwan staged the first-ever Asia Open. There is also a course on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. (Tragically, I took a trip to Koh Samui a few months ago, and despite knowing that there was a course somewhere in Thailand, I didn't realize it was actually the very spot I was on holiday until after I got back. Foolish. Anyway, I heard rumors that it has closed, which I hope is not true, though it would make me feel better since I blew it so badly earlier.) And of course, there's my failed attempt to get something going in Beijing.

The game does exist here in Singapore, despite the absence of permanent courses. This is pretty much all thanks to die-hard Lance DuBos, an ultimate player who acquired some portable golf baskets along the way and trucks them out to various spots on the island most weekends. There is a very small core of us that get together for a few hours, most often at the state-land park next to Kallang MRT, and throw discs -- that is, when we don't get pummeled by violent downpours and bone-rattling thunder-and-lightning strikes.

But no one can explain the basket pictured above; no one else even knew it existed. From what I can tell, it's on the grounds of the Raffles Education Corp College. I'm not entirely sure what this college is all about, but they seem to have some sort of design program. My best guess is that some student sometime put together a disc golf basket for a project and they just kept it around because it was quirky. It sits there, apparently embedded in the ground (it's not portable), sitting unused in a small plot of lawn next to a basketball court. I wonder if it's ever tasted the sweet ching of a disc sliding through its hanging chains...

I can think of several better places to put that basket (and between 8 and 17 others). Kallang would be one, though I think it works better as a temporary course. Another would be the plot of state land at the end of Guillemard road where it meets Sims, right next to the Judo Club. That spot is a little too swampy, though.

The most perfect spot on the island, from what I've seen, is the vast plot of rolling hills on Upper Serangoon Rd, between Aljunied and Braddell Rds., the site of the old Bidadari cemetery. It is a crime not to have a disc golf course there. If we could only figure out the origin of that mysterious basket across from SunTec, maybe we could get this place on course to be a truly industrialized nation.

**UPDATE** (March 30, 2010): There is now an object disc-golf course at the old Bidadari Cemetery in Singapore: Bidadari Disc Golf Course. Contact me if you want to play, or check out the map.