Gone in 60 minutes: Free tickets to debate on kiasuism

Shoppers at the book store at the Singapore Writers Festival at The Arts House yesterday. Debaters (from left) Petrina Kow, Rishi Budhrani, Shamini Flint, Ovidia Yu and Oniatta Effendi had the audience in stitches at the closing debate of the Singapo
Debaters (from left) Petrina Kow, Rishi Budhrani, Shamini Flint, Ovidia Yu and Oniatta Effendi had the audience in stitches at the closing debate of the Singapore Writers Festival.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Shoppers at the book store at the Singapore Writers Festival at The Arts House yesterday. Debaters (from left) Petrina Kow, Rishi Budhrani, Shamini Flint, Ovidia Yu and Oniatta Effendi had the audience in stitches at the closing debate of the Singapo
Shoppers at the book store at the Singapore Writers Festival at The Arts House yesterday. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Over 600 viewers packed into the Victoria Theatre yesterday voted against kiasuism - or the fear of losing out - but, ironically, they had lined up nearly six hours before the start of the event to claim free entry tickets.

All tickets to the debate were snapped up within an hour.

Entry to the debate - usually one of the most popular events at the Singapore Writers Festival - was limited to festival pass holders. The pass cost between $10 and $25 and granted access to most events at the 10-day festival, organised by the National Arts Council, that ended yesterday.

Each pass holder was entitled to only two free tickets to the debate, and they were given out from 1.30pm yesterday. By 2.30pm, all 614 seats were claimed.

At the start of the debate, writer Ovidia Yu, 56, said to the audience: "I think we've got most of you on our side because we saw the queue for tickets." She spoke in favour of kiasuism, as did fellow writers Shamini Flint and Gwee Li Sui as well as educator and arts practitioner Oniatta Effendi.

Calling for a more relaxed way of life were stand-up comic Rishi Budhrani, spoken word performer Arianna Pozzuoli, voice coach Petrina Kow and lawyer cum novelist Adrian Tan.

Attendance figures for this year's festival were not available by press time, but 15 separately ticketed masterclasses, lectures and workshops were sold out. These included Saturday's lecture at the Victoria Theatre by American-Dominican author and activist Junot Diaz, plus a writing masterclass on the same day by British writer Tony Parsons. Yesterday's How to Build a Fictional Universe by Australian author Jay Kristoff was sold out as well.

The highlight for many attendees was the closing debate, which traditionally takes the form of topical, stand-up comedy. Given the topic, This House Believes That Kiasuism Is A Good Singaporean Trait, both sides roasted MRT system failures and the reserved presidential election, among other recent events.

Tan said kiasu traits may have brought Singapore from Third World to First World, but now Singaporeans have to ask what they wanted of their society.

"The proposition says, 'Think about your forefathers', now think about your kids. Are we going to vote for fear or are we going to vote for love? Let's vote for love." His motion was carried resoundingly.

In the audience were two 15-year-olds who were happy they queued early for the free tickets. "At 1.30pm the queue was already quite long," said aspiring writer Shreya Ramasamy, a Secondary 3 student at Crescent Girls' School. This was her first time at the festival and it has encouraged her to show her jottings to others for feedback.

She and her schoolmate, Sanjana Rajasekaran, attended several author panels, including a session with American writer Jay Asher, known for his bestselling young adult novel about suicide, Thirteen Reasons Why.

Sanjana said of Asher: "He was quite good. He gave us insights on his book and thought processes while writing the book. It's quite good because we can use it for writing essays."

She is interested in the arts but, for kiasu reasons, may not attend the festival next year. "I'd like to but I have my O levels," she said, laughing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2017, with the headline 'Gone in 60 minutes: Free tickets to debate on kiasuism'. Print Edition | Subscribe