Does Neil Humphreys know Singapore better than Singaporeans?

Who is Neil Humphreys?

He’s a self-declared ‘white trash’ bloke from England who decided to come to Singapore for 3 months in 1996, but ended up staying here till now (except for a period Down Under which made him miss Singapore even more).

Neil Humphreys at his ‘Rich Kill Poor Kill book launch at Kinokuniya

While most of us were busy sniffing out the best hangouts to boast about on Facebook, he was busy sniffing out the nasty stuff few people here want to think about, much less acknowledge.

My own signed copy of Neil’s latest crime thriller

Some of these underground dealings cumulated in his first Inspector Low crime thriller ‘Marina Bay Sins’ (which I sadly haven’t read as it’s out of stock but I hope the library will have some copies).

Neil continues his rage against the sanitised machine in the sequel ‘Rich Kill Poor Kill’.

Audience laughing at Neil’s jokes

I attended the book launch yesterday at Kinokuniya, which was full of people standing by the sidelines enjoying an afternoon with Neil sharing stories of:

  • how ‘Marina Bay Sins’ opened the door to meeting an influential man telling him he isn’t safe anymore and to keep a low profile
  • what he experienced as an angmoh attending an anti-foreigner rally at Hong Lim park
  • how some websites are taking real issues like the rich-poor divide to being in racism and other agenda through the back door

Is that Neil at the anti-foreigner rally? (Source: Dailystormer)

Thanks to Singapore Daily, we managed to interview Neil after the launch to get his perspectives about Singapore.

What does Neil like about Singapore?

He likes how filial piety is so ingrained in us that a young child instinctively knows how he should treat his elders.

We also have a strong sense of being independent and relying on earning our own keep even if it means being a taxi driver in our 60s, instead of living on welfare, a dirty word in Singapore.

What does Neil think Singapore can improve on?

1. Social compassion

Our social compassion beyond our family can definitely improve.

For example, giving our helpers a day off every week, not treating our low wage workers and migrant workers as slaves but as human beings etc.

2. Cheap-sourcing

We can also be a bit too concerned about chasing the 5Cs and our ‘face’, which can rob us of our humanity somewhat.

In our quest to maximise globalisation, we have created a ‘race to the bottom’ to exploit as much as possible, such as cheap-sourcing the cheapest labour and product.

The consequences of Singaporeans’ love for cheap deals or cheap-sourcing (Source: CNA)

Our obsession with getting the cheapest deals leads to wages that have stagnated even for some white collar jobs, and pricing Singaporeans out of jobs which a cheaper foreigner could do.

3. Confusing real social issues with racism

The rich-poor divide makes it easy for “legitimised racist voices pretending to fight for Singaporean rights”, which Neil characterised as Harold Zhang of the anti-foreigner website The Singapore Truth inside his ‘Rich Kill Poor Kill’ book.

Neil hates it when genuine social issues get lost in racist rhetoric and doesn’t want Singapore to end up like Britain, where legitimate issues such as wages were mixed up with anti-immigrant calls that led to Brexit (which will be a painful exercise and does not necessarily address the wage issue).

Nigel Farage used anti-immigration sentiments to push his Brexit agenda (Source: Zimbio)

Neil also brought up the need to have more open discussions about racial issues in Singapore.

While the Singapore government doesn’t get enough credit on how it structured the racial quotas in HDBs and GRCs, we should avoid a racial hegemony where the racial majority isn’t considerate of the views of the racial minority, and racist comments are the first thoughts that come to people’s minds when they see a particular race.

IPS Survey on racial issues in Singapore (Source: CNA)

4. Having an open mind

Neil acknowledges that it’s human nature to be tribal, to stick to our own kind, but we should step out of our comfort zone.

He has walked the talk of stepping out of his comfort zone of the typical angmoh, by living in a HDB flat since he came to Singapore, eating $3 noodles and living like a local, instead of sticking to high class expat pubs.

5. Doing what you like

In choosing a career, Neil suggests doing what you like, because even if you don’t make lots of money, at least you are happy.

Conversely, if you do a job you don’t like, you may not make as much money you hoped for, and you’re unhappy, so what’s the point?

It’s a sobering thought for many of us who thought our rice bowls were set for life with a degree, but realise that degree-holders are even more susceptible to being retrenched and unemployed as shown in MOM’s recently released Labour Market Report.

As someone who was also unemployed previously through no choice of my own, it can be a really bitter humble pill/pie to swallow.

I think it’s really important to figure out what we really like to do, and start doing it as a second skill.

Never mind if we don’t have the certificates or courses, just get started experimenting with whatever you have on hand.

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Back to ‘Rich Kill Poor Kill’, I recommend buying it because Neil has some amazing nuggets-of-gold perspectives that reveals more about Singapore and Singaporeans than we know ourselves, and choose to know.

I love anti-hero books, and although Inspector Low is an obnoxious pain-in-the-ass, I always look forward to his acerbic comebacks and how he brings up perspectives that others never considered.

Unless you have zero sense of humour (like some Literature teachers), this is one local crime book to add to your library.

Special thanks to Neil Humphreys and The Singapore Daily for making this interview possible.


Also published on Medium.

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