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Anti-British Sentiment Sweeps Singapore

Last month a British expat living in Singapore made headlines all across the world with his derogatory comments about poor Singaporeans and how unpleasant it was taking public transport. For those of you who don’t know, his name was Anton Casey and he was a wealthy fund manager who drives a convertible Porsche and is married to a former Miss Singapore.

He had the dream lifestyle until his sports car needed servicing so was forced to take the local underground system, known as the MRT. He then decided to post Facebook messages about the experience, taking a photo of his son on a train with the caption ‘’Daddy, who are all these poor people?’’.After his train ride, Casey said he needed to wash the stench of public transport off himself, one of a series of offensive comments he made about Singapore which ignited a war of words across social media. Pressure grew on Casey to be deported and lose his job. He taunted Singaporeans via a Youtube video and then hired a PR agency to apologise on his behalf. He eventually fled the country on a budget flight to Australia and indeed lost his job. While opinion is divided over how harsh Casey was treated and the death threats he received online, the Singaporean media had a field day over the debacle.

I, like many other British expats, briefly shook my head in disbelief at how stupid Casey was for saying such remarks and moved on to more pressing concerns, like finishing a writing assignment and making a cup of tea (or rather asking my helper to make me a cup of tea). But unfortunately it didn’t end there. A day later I was having lunch with an editor I regularly write for when she asked me if I agreed with what Casey had said. Of course not I replied quickly, offended she could have thought such a thing. ‘’But Brits are quite arrogant aren’t they?,’’ she continued. Taken aback, I did my best to defend my fellow countrymen explaining Casey was just a rude, over-paid banker who could have easily been an American, Australian or French expat. It didn’t really wash. ‘’But my sister is married to a Brit and he’s really arrogant, calling me a savage from eating from a Styrofoam container,’’ came her next anti-English statement. I clearly couldn’t win this one and conceded that yes some Brits could be a tad arrogant at times. Thankfully, she didn’t put me in the same bracket and continues to offer me freelance work. The very next day I left my car (a battered Hyundai Matrix) at home and took public transport just to prove to myself, and no-one else, how wrong Casey was.

But the anti-English seed has definitely been sown in this former British colony, which up to now has always had a soft spot for us Brits I like to think. (Of course, it was a Brit, Sir Stamford Raffles, who discovered modern Singapore in 1819. However, we did let ourselves down during World War Two when we capitulated to the Japanese). Singaporeans love wearing the Union Jack on t-shirts and on handbags, although this is more of a fashion statement than any British patriotism. And England football shirts are fairly popular among locals, but again that’s generally because the English Premier League is well-watched here. However, perhaps these will slowly start to disappear in light of the Anton Casey affair.

Damage has definitely been done to the British image in Singapore and I have been racking my brains as to how it can be repaired. When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 he launched a campaign called Cool Britannia, to make Britain cool again using artists like Damien Hirst and pop stars such as Noel Gallagher to help his cause. We could do with some of that showbiz magic here. If the British Chamber of Commerce could just persuade Coldplay to host a concert here or politely ask Helen Mirren to put on a show at the Singapore Esplanade theatre we could start rebuilding some bridges.

The Rolling Stones will be performing here in March but are they still good ambassadors for Blighty now they are in their twilight years? Singapore prides itself on its strong work ethic, and the Stones embody that 100 per cent having been in show business for more than 50 years. They are all multi-millionaires which would also tick a few boxes in a city with the world’s highest percentage of millionaires. If they could just be persuaded to make their way to the stadium on public transport rather than a chauffeur-driven limo then British pride could be restored in this great nation.

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by Justin Harper.

Justin is a freelance journalist based in Singapore. He can be contacted at justinharpermedia@gmail.com or via his website at www.justinharpermedia.com.

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