Monday, January 17, 2011

More Fiction Than Truth

After turning the last and 479th page of Sean Wilsey's bare-all memoir ("Oh The Glory Of It All"), you have one of those moments in life when you tell yourself "this can't be happening". Did his mother really entertain Joan Baez, Black Panthers, Gloria Steinem and movie stars in their marble and glass penthouse, "800 feet in the air above San Francisco"? Did the author actually get to meet Indira Gandhi, Helmut Kohl, Menachem Begin, and the Pope - at 9 years old? Is his father, a dairy-business millionaire, helicopter pilot and lothario, really the same Alfred Wilsey philanthropist who gave millions of dollars to San Francisco's arts institutions and schools?

The truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. Sean sold the proposal for the book before informing his father, who had reservations because, in the old man's words, "I've done some bad things that I'm not proud of". Like dressing up as an old codger at a party and then run around the room feeling up all his friends' wives.

There's nothing that comes close to such eye-openers in the Straits Times Editor Han Fook Kwan inspired Q&A book "'Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going'". It's no longer surprising to read of Lee's rhetorical question posed to Han, "if he had daughters, and how he would feel if his daughter came back to say she wanted to marry a black man". A multi-racial country dominated for decades by a unapologetic racist is ho-hum news. Not exactly the spin that would engage the targetted younger readers. And no one expected Han to triumph with a Frost versus Nixon moment when his dream team includes an ex-staffer from the ISD. Bottomline, Tom Plate's slim volume of "Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew" has more bang for the buck.

In the Tom Plate story telling, Lee mentions 3 ministers who wanted to resign because of Goh Chok Tong's stewardship ("they didn’t like his style"), and critics were quick to speculate on Plate's dismal failure to press on with his journalistic instincts and home in on their identities. Could it be a variant on the Richard Hu, Tony Tan and Dhanabalan on-site reaction to the infamous sting on the left cheek? Is Goh destined to be fall guy in a revisionist history like Goh Keng Swee's purported initiative in the separation from Malaysia? In Han's narrative, Lee's hero is not longer just Deng Xiaoping of Tiananmeng infamy (post Zhao Ziyang's leaked secret memoir, "Prisoner of the State"), as quoted in Plate's book, but now updated to include Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill. The two full-time attendants dedicated to serve provide heating pads promptly and at the correct temperatures, faithfully documented in "Conversations", are now replaced by a DIY neon coloured skipping rope.

Perhaps it's time for Lee to pen his own memoirs, instead of depending on SPH staffers to do the writing. Surely the truth can't be more mind-boggling than Sean Wilsey's recollections.


  1. Some called it tale, a few said talk cock.

    You called it fiction, there could be people calling it false understanding.

    History is only real and accurate when not writtened by politicians.

    Anything claimed by politicians has to be taken with a PINT of salt.

  2. Hi,
    Surely you mean a pound or even a kilogram?
    A pint is liquid measure, bro. :)

    To add, one has to question why Lee is saying all these things now? If he meant to educate or elucidate, it should have been done earlier, much earlier to be of any use or credibility. At this point it just don't pass muster as given in genuine concern for this country and its people, it more like a desperate attempt at bailing out a sinking sampan full of leaks from the deep rot that has been allowed to go on for too long.

    Tunisia is going to be ablaze, and its neighbours are cringing at the possibility of the fire spreading ti them. For our sake we hope our transition would be far more peaceful, democratic and civilize. The choice is that of the govt's.

  3. "The choice is that of the govt's". Unquote.

    Absolutely! It is in Its' hand and Its' calling, wish It will do the right thing.

    Btw, a pint is also 551cc of solid(dry) or 473cc of liquid, anyway must agree with You the use of pint here may not be very appropriate; pound would have been better. Thank You Fren!

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