MP Lee Bee Wah uses Hokkien phrase ‘Si Gui Kia’ to label ‘ungrateful’ S’poreans, raises eyebrows
A tale of Ah Gong, Ah Seng, and angry Singaporeans.
Lee Bee Wah, MP for Nee Soon GRC, spoke on easing the diesel tax hike impact during the Budget debate in Parliament on Feb. 27.
As per her usual parliamentary delivery, Lee employed a fictional story to end her speech — a narrative that has attracted much debate from Singaporeans.
What was the story?
In essence, it was the story of Ah Seng, who is unhappy with his grandfather Ah Gong.
This was despite the elderly man saving money to give to his grandson, but the money was not given out every year.
The clip of Lee narrating the story, which originated from Channel NewsAsia, has since been viewed widely in Singapore.
Here’s the full transcript of her story:
I would like to use a story to conclude this Budget.
There’s a boy who lives next door. His name is Ah Seng. His Ah Gong loves him a lot. Ah Gong always scrimps on himself. His clothes have been patched over and over. He saves up his money, one cent at a time.
Every three to five years, Ah Gong would give his dearest Ah Seng some money. When Ah Seng went to university, Ah Gong gave him some money. When Ah Seng went on an overseas immersion programme, Ah Gong also gave him some money. When he got married, Ah Gong also gave him some money.
When he started a small business with his friends, Ah Gong helped him out too. One day, Ah Seng asked his Ah Gong, “Ah Gong, why do you give me some money only every few years? Why don’t you give some every year?”
Ah Gong was so disappointed and angry.
He burst out in Hokkien: “You ungrateful child! You’ll ruin our family! You have such a good Ah Gong, and you still don’t know it! I’ve been scrimping on myself, only to help you. Do other people’s Ah Gongs do that for them?”
Mr Speaker, my residents understand that we have a good government, carefully managing our finances, so we can have surpluses and benefits like the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation Packages. Not every government does this for its people.
Thus, I’ll like to take this opportunity represent my residents in Nee Soon South to thank our finance minister, and our government. Thank you.
This story was naturally met with scepticism and an outpouring of negative sentiments online.
The negativity stems from the story’s supposed analogy to real-life events.
Lee was essentially saying that citizens who are displeased with the Budget are as ungrateful as Ah Seng.
Ah Gong, which is understood to be the government, supposedly scrimps and saves to ensure the accumulation of surpluses and distributing the benefits to take care of citizens.
Some Singaporeans took offence with the fact that Lee may have been insulting critical Singaporeans with her characterisation and use of a Hokkien phrase, “Si Gui Kia”, which is known to be a akin to a slur on younger people.
Singaporeans who are aggrieved also felt that the story failed to encapsulate the realities that supposedly ungrateful citizens are experiencing:
Sonny Liew, artist and author of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, even came up with a caricature of Lee, with the words “You ungrateful child” written in Mandarin and transliterated Hokkien.
Previously in Parliament
It has to be noted though that this style of presenting her speech in Parliament has been characteristic of Lee.
She is prone to sharing anecdotal stories in Mandarin to reinforce certain points that she has made in her speech or to conclude her piece.
It is a double-edged sword.
Such speeches have served to make Lee memorable as the MP who speaks plainly in the officious setting of Parliament.
In this instance, however, she has drawn the ire of Singaporeans.
When she previously spoke on urging the government to look into the two-hour feeding window where cat-feeding may have caused a pest infestation, it caused an uproar from cat feeders and their allies, including the Cat Welfare Society, who expressed disappointment.
Fellow Nee Soon GRC MP, Minister K Shanmugam has since come out to clarify that Lee was targeting irresponsible cat feeders, and that Lee “was doing her duty as a responsible MP – to look after her residents and speak up for them”.
Whether you like them or not, it seems that Lee will definitely have more stories to tell in the future.
Top image adapted via Channel NewsAsia’s video, via Streamable