Roy Ngerng: I Emphatise With Amos Yee

I saw Amos walked away into remand again, without being able to properly say goodbye to him, and to ask him to take care.

This was the second time I am seeing him go into remand. The first time I saw them take him away, he was in handcuffs. I didn’t even get to talk to him because when I got to court, he was already inside the chambers. We spent the next few hours trying to get him out but we couldn’t.

Yesterday, I got to court just after he arrived.

I asked him how he was and he told me that he just got beaten outside of court. His left eye was red. And it got redder later. I asked him if it hurt. He said it was stinging but it would go away.

I gave him a squeeze on his arm, to assure him.

While waiting in court, his lawyers came in and out of the chambers several times. They also got out to speak to Amos and his parents.

Each time Amos came back, I would ask him how he is, whether his eye was better. Each time, he would say he was fine. At times, we would banter and laugh a bit.

Over the last few days, I have gotten to know Amos better.

I got to know a friend.

Amos would tell me, you have to be honest with yourself. Indeed, once after I caught a show with him and his parents and I asked him how he thought of the show. He just said, “It was awful.”

I stared at him and laughingly gave him a pat on his hand. But he looked back matter-of-factly and said, “It was awful.”

But this is Amos. I barely know him for just a few days but it is this honestly that has endeared himself to me. No pretense. No lies. He was who he was, and he did not want to hide who he was.

At times, I look at him and I admire him. Was I at my age be like him?

But I know the answer. I was never like Amos. Maybe some parts of me was. I was top in class in Geography (or was it in Literature, I forgot!) in Secondary 4 for my preliminary examinations. I was also one of the few students in my class to score an A in English for ‘O’ Levels.

Amos got As in E maths, A maths, Chemistry and English. He was also top in his class in secondary 3 and 4. He studied at Zhonghua Secondary School. So maybe he is smarter than I was, much smarter in fact.

Meanwhile, I was having crushes in school, doing what every teenager was doing. But I wasn’t popular. People knew me. I was a student councillor and was called names. Eventually, my schoolmates got to know who I really was and they became more friendly, but then we were already going to graduate.

But then, I was just like any other teenager, I was just getting on with my life. Like any other teenager, I was looking for love. Then again, so was Amos. He did make his video, My Lost Love.

But then, Amos was more.

He once wrote in his blog, “I’m not gay, I am perfectly straight.

“Regardless though, the injustice that is faced by this group of people, even though they’re part of a minority, is very evident to me.”

This is the kind of maturity Amos has beyond his age.

Yet, he was also called names, like I was. People used to call me “Ah Qua”.

But there were people who mocked his name. One called him, “Anus Yee”. But Amos had this to say to him: “I wish you all the best of luck and prosperity, with your future endeavors, as the passionate, motivated hater.”

But yes, Amos is forgiving. He spoke about the “Grassroots leader who wanted to chop off my dick and put it my mouth” on his Facebook two nights ago.

But he said: “But you see if it were me, I wouldn’t want him to be punished because of his words. Not only do I want to be acquitted from those charges against me, I want those laws to be completely abolished because quite evidently, they are absolutely horrible.”

“So it would be pretty hypocritical if I use laws that I hate, to try to pick on him, and neither me nor any of my fans should do that..

“So fellow Grassroots leader, although you have this uncanny desire to cut off my wee-wee. I don’t think you should be fined, nor would I ever want you to go to jail because of it. Nobody should ever be charged or go to jail because of the words he says, no matter how fucking stupid they are,” Amos said.

This is the kind of self-depreciating humour that Amos has, and the kind of satire that sadly, not many understand.

In fact, before Amos left, he told me, “Well that’s the point Roy, I feel that if you can find humor in the absolutely horrible things that government is doing, then you have true insight and knowledge in talking about it.”

I am sure many of you will agree with him, at least about what he said about me. 🙂

In fact, now that I am thinking about it, when he got hit in his eye yesterday, he did not curse and swear at the guy who beat him, like many of us would have. Instead, he did not want me to worry about his eye. He did not speak about the man. He also did not question why the people who were taking photos and videos of him did not run to stop the assailer.

He also did not want his mother to worry.

At times, his mother would look at him lovingly in court. One time, Amos put his arm around his mom and gave her a pat on the back.

They would sit and speak softly to one another, mother and child confiding in one another. This was another sight that many could not see – the love between the mother and son.

The few times I have met them, mom would always smile humbly at us and at Amos. She would seek advice on what to do but like any other loving mother, she would sometimes give him a chiding look, while you see the softness and gentleness in her eyes.

It is perhaps mom that Amos also got his humour from. She always seemed lighthearted, when by herself.

But I digress.

His bail conditions were supposed to be reviewed yesterday. I asked him if they would be made lighter. I tried to give him hope that it would.

But when Amos came back later, he said that the bail conditions would still be stuck. They still wanted to stop him from talking.

I told him I was sorry. After all the hoo-ha about wanting to bail him, I realised that I could not. I am still facing two criminal charges in relation to a protest I took part in, which would bar me from being able to bail him. He looked at me, disappointed.

I would also be barred from visiting Amos in prison.

The bail conditions were onerous. Amos would not be able to speak at all. He no doubt would still break them. Anyone would.

He had said on his Facebook, “It would make sense if I am found guilty, then I privatize the content, but we’re not even completely sure if I’ll be sentenced, so why the fuck do the posts and videos have to be privatized? Especially since the posts that have been privatized would have been re-posted by a 3rd party anyways.

“The only reason that I can think of on why the prosecutor is doing this, is because the sign that I removed attribution of the videos to my account, makes it seem like I’m guilty for my actions, and submitting to the law, like ‘haha the person who has been so rebellious is now in our mercy’.”

Amos was later led away.

There was nothing much we could do, some of us friends who were there to make sure he was well. We had made peace with what was was going to happen. We did ask how things were like when he was in remand the first time.

I can only pray that they will treat him well. And let him have the books he wanted.

He told Shelley to bring him his favourite classics. They then started talking about their favourite classics. I sat quietly. Not quite a fan of classics, I was!

Perhaps it was fate that brought us together, or perhaps it was because I felt for him.

Here was a 16-year-old boy who was feeling the full force of the government come down on him. Here was a boy who spoke up for what he believed in and was hunted down for it.

In many ways, I understood him. And I wanted to be there for him.

Not as an activist, not as a campaigner. But just as a friend.

I would understand. I used to have two best friends whom I have not contacted (much) since I got sued by the prime minister.

But I found a friend in Amos.

When I first campaigned for him, he was in remand. At that time, I felt that we could not let a person whom spoke up to be bullied, and especially not a child.

But when he came out and when I got in touch with him again, it was no longer that.

I just wanted my friend to be safe.

Some have said he seeks attention. Some said he deserves what he did.

I think he deserves to be who he wants to be, just like any of us. I think he deserves to be himself.

Some say, he should be jailed because he scolded Lee Kuan Yew. But who among of us have not used even worst words against others. Remember those who called Dr Chee Soon Juan names and those who dragged his name through the mud? They are from the same camp who now malign Amos. It is the pot calling kettle black but I am not going to make this (too) political. It is a personal post I am writing for Amos.

Some say he should face persecution but Amos himself said, “it would be pretty hypocritical if I use laws that I hate, to try to pick on him, and neither me nor any of my fans should do that..

“Nobody should ever be charged or go to jail because of the words he says, no matter how fucking stupid they are,”he said.

Amos is a boy but he is also a dignified one.

He said he was abused at home, but you have to admire how he continued to want to stay true to himself.

Amos might use vulgarities but he knew where to draw the line. He wouldn’t have hit someone. To this, Amos has integrity. But how many of us would have the same?

Some chide Amos for mocking Lee Kuan Yew but they also choose to ignore what he had to say.

He had said, “Most people in Singapore are struggling to make ends meet. And it is reported that Singaporeans work the longest hours in the world. We are one of the richest countries in the world, but we have one of the highest income inequalities, highest poverty rates, and our government spends one of the lowest on healthcare and social security.

“The money spent on the public is so low, it’s more representative of a third world country. And yet the amount of taxes is one of the highest in first world countries. And political leaders in Singapore earn more than quadruple the amount earned by political leaders in the United States. They are acquiring so much money — why aren’t they spending it on the people? What are they actually spending it on?

“And whenever somebody wonders online if the government is pocketing the money for themselves, they get sued. Quite suspicious, isn’t it?” he had said.

Amos also said, “I think the biggest flaw of LKY as a leader to our nation, is that he honestly thought that money and status equated to happiness. And his failure to understand how false that was really showed, leading us to be one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the most depressed.

“It is by how he creates a place where people are able to live happily and prosper, based on their own unique attributes. And he hasn’t. So no matter how rich the country he made is, it doesn’t mean a thing.”

He is a 16-year-old child but he is also wise beyond his years.

In the end, he might not have used the best of words, he might not have done the best of comparisons. But he meant well. And he has integrity.

I want the best for Amos, not just because he is a friend. But because if Amos was in any other truly developed First World country, our first instinct would not be to arrest him, charge him and throw him into jail. We would not have mocked him, let ourselves at him or even attack him.

In a truly developed First World country, we would have reached out to Amos, work with him and mould him to become someone who could have done so much more greater things for our country. But amidst the insecurities of some in our country, we want to get him down instead.

It is perhaps a sad reflection of the state of our country than of Amos himself.

It is thus sad that Amos’s failing today is not because he has failed but because our society has failed to grow. And in spite of saying that we should show love and compassion to one another, and in spite of saying that we should help to develop the skills and talents of each and every of our individuals, our actions against Amos only show how myopic, insecure and small we are.

It is true that a person like Amos does not come often. So does not Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg.

But more so, Amos’s appearance has helped us understand that Singapore has never moved into the First World after all.

I feel sad for Amos, not because I think sadly of Amos. On the contrary, I feel happy for him, that he can be himself and am not be held back by our society’s prejudices.

But I feel sad that I could not do more for him. I can write an article, as I have several times. But that is all I can do when our society is not ready to stand up and speak up for him.

For many of us feel the injustice that he is going through, but many of us too stuck in our ways and too trapped in our fears are not yet ready to get up from our backsides to fight for him.

Some might argue, he should not have used vulgarities. He should not have scolded Lee Kuan Yew. He should not have spoke about Christianity. If he did not, I would have spoken up for him.

But it is beyond all these. Amos said something, yes, but he should not be persecuted for just speaking up. In fact, he wants unjust laws removed so that no other person would be hurt by it.

And Amos is a child. What happened to the kindness that we should show to a child, to help them grow to their fullest potential?

But this is up to you to think for yourself.

For me, I have found a new friend, someone who has touched my heart. He is like the brother I never had, and the son I would never have.

More importantly, he is a friend, a friend who has trusted me and a friend whom I have learnt from.

I miss him and I hope he is well inside.



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