FLAT EARTH

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The Independent Online
Life of Ri-Lee

Singapore has often been called a "kindergarten state"(see page 16 for the latest from nanny). Its rulers are always lecturing the populace against chewing gum and smoking - and taking away their pocket money, caning them or putting them in detention if they don't listen. But here's the latest admonition from the finger-wagger-in-chief, Lee Kuan Yew: "Let's grow up!"

Lee, Prime Minister for 31 years and now called senior minister, was explaining in parliament why he and his son, Lee Hsien Loong, had been given fat discounts on the purchase of luxury apartments. They had not known at the time that they were getting reductions, and have since donated the difference to charity, but as the patriarch pointed out, he got discounts all the time. Johnson & Johnson even rushed to provide the implant for his recent heart operation.

"I am me," said Lee. "It's not a level playing field." He was unapologetic about being allocated his apartment ahead of the general public. "It's a fact of life. There is no question of me or my wife having to join a queue to buy a house ... let's grow up!" There was a lot more in this vein: "It is an unfair and unequal world. If you want an equal world you end up with a Communist world with Mao's salaries."

Lee went on: "My tailor comes to my office. Any fitting which is not comfortable, he sees on television, he says, `Oh, send back that coat.' His reputation is at stake. To unpick and unstitch is a very laborious exercise on blue sandwashed silk. But, `No trouble,' he said. I am his walking model."

"Defensive" is rarely a word associated with Lee Kuan Yew, but he spoke twice on the matter in two days, and his words were repeatedly broadcast, which might smack of protesting too much. The more he said, the clearer the message seemed to be: in the kindergarten, nanny gets first pick of the tea and cakes.

Kenyan cover-up

Daniel arap Moi is even better at playing the heavy schoolmaster than Lee Kuan Yew, because that is what he was before he became President of Kenya. So you might imagine that he would approve of a spot of early-morning aerobics to get the country in shape. It seems, however, that the sight of skimpily clad figures prancing about at sun-up was too much for his delicate sensibilities.

Shake into Shape, a locally produced workout, has just been taken off the air after the Big Man told supporters of the ruling Kanu party: "These women shaking their bodies on the television, it's not Kenyan." No doubt he wanted a return to traditional forms of exercise, such as tribal dancing. Hang on a moment, though: didn't that involve women shaking their bare breasts?

Nobody in Kenya is stupid enough to question the will of the President, however. Within hours the cosmetics companies which sponsor the show had pulled out. The TV company's marketing manager desperately suggested that the performers wear evening dresses, but the production company said it was leotards or bust.

Viet pong

As I noted last week, the Vietnamese authorities seem to be more interested in Communist purity than environmental protection, and ensuring the former turns out to be damaging the latter. Large hauls of offensive videos and drugs have been seized and burned during a government crackdown on "cultural pollution", and the result has been air pollution, complained Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity) newspaper.

Burning videos "emit thick black smoke and an unpleasant smell, clearly contaminating the surrounding environment," it said, suggesting that they be soaked in water. Opium, it added, can be ploughed into the soil "as a good fertiliser for trees".

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