Sunday, July 19, 2015

Something about me. Chasing a dream.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wasn't the ordinary boy in Singapore. I was fascinated from a young age, as I still am, of adventurers who climbed unclimbable mountains, crossed the treacherous oceans and died trying. My heroes, as any boy would I imagine, were these extraordinary men who lived extraordinary lives.

But the lives of the generation of my parents and others at the time in Singapore was nothing like extraordinary. Most of them like my parents were immigrants, mine from India and others from China and a few from other places. For my parents generation, survival alone was enough. Climbing mountains and conquering the waves were for Englishmen and others more fortunate who lived in Europe and the West.

Of course for me, being lucky just to have 3 meals a day and go to school was all that was possible. To even think of such pursuits such as sailing the world was simply impossible. I would not even be able to enter a yacht club let alone being able to sail.

But one adventure was possible even though it meant absolute lunacy or total recklessness at the time considering my circumstances. And that was leaving Singapore, a third world country at the time, with no prospects whatsoever and travel to the paradise that was England and the West like what it appeared in the Hollywood movies and TV which was available for me in Singapore. Lo and behold, how wonderful it was to be like a cowboy in California riding horses and all the glitter and gold there was out there.

I always wanted to  go the West and to paradise, which I imagined was out there. I was 23 years old, and just competed national service. Although I did very well in my O levels, I had failed miserably at my A levels. I had nothing to hope for in Singapore in my circumstances.

In the meantime, my elder sister had married an Indian who worked for the British forces in Singapore. With the pullout of British forces east of Suez and Singapore after the 1968 British elections, my brother in law opted to go to England with my sister. My mother followed leaving me in Singapore. I had applied and had been accepted at Bradford College in Bradford West Yorks to study A levels. But my plans to go to England were dashed by the denial of a student visa for England because of the presence of my mother and sister there. They thought I had immigrant intent and would not return after my studies.

If there were a single event that forced me to take, to some, almost that reckless decision to move to Europe alone without anyone or any money, it was my watching 2 movies that I love to this day. One was Lawrence of Arabia with Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif and the other was the James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. Lawrence does the impossible, crossing the Namib desert to reach Aqaba which he was told was impossible. And in the James Bond movie, the song which says you only live twice and let your dream come true affected me greatly. Why not live your dream and make it come true.

And then realizing that I cannot go to England minus the visa, I am doomed to live a mediocre life like any other boy in Singapore till I die. That was impossible to accept. Then again what is the worst that can happen to me if I go the Europe without anything, I might die, but at least I would have died trying. This was my thinking at the time which made me do what I did.

So in April 1973, I finally decide I am going and that was that. I didn't tell my mother or my sister in England or my brother in Singapore. They didn't want me to go. I was just going and that was that. Since England was no longer possible I had written to a Mount Allison University in New Brunswick Canada and got acceptance to study business. It was a university which accepted O levels for entry. The plan was to go to Germany first, work for some time, earn enough money and then travel to Canada in September that year. At that time Germany did not require visas for Singapore passports and they did not need a return ticket.

It was all fantasy but then what's wrong with some fantasy?

With a one way ticket to Brussels Belgium , on Sabena Belgian Airlines stopping at Bangkok Bombay, Athens, Vienna and Brussels, with a one day lay over in Brussels and the next day, Lufthansa from Brussels to Frankfurt.

I remember sitting in Singapore's Paya Lebar airport in a suit and tie, 23 years old, my bags already on board and waiting for the announcement to board. I must admit I had a panic attack and cold sweat. It was the moment, and the moment had finally come. Should I board the aircraft or should I call it off. But then it was too late to change my mind anyway. My bags were already on board. The die was cast. What in Heavens was I doing just going to Europe like that without knowing what is going to happen next. I had just $500.00 in my pocket.

Anyway to cut a long story short, I did manage somehow. It is known as schrwarz arbeit in German, which translates as "black work". In other words I was working illegally without a work permit. My plans for Canada didn't work out, and I was running short of money. I had the address of the Singapore embassy in Brussels, as Germany at the time did not have one. I could if desperate go the Singapore embassy in Belgium and request they repatriate me back to Singapore. But this wasn't necessary. I told my mother I was in Germany. She then filed an immigration appeal in the Leeds Immigration Tribunal against the decision of the British High Commission Singapore denying me the visa. I won. The British Consulate in Frankfurt issued me the student visa and I traveled by train to England. It was the Transalpino Express which came from Vienna Austria to Frankfurt calling at Wiesbaden Mainz Koblenz Bonn Cologne Liege Brussels Ghent St Peters and Ostend Belgium. And the Channel crossing by boat to Dover England

I was jubilant. I succeeded after all. the adventure was successful. I passed the A levels, was awarded a local authority grant to study law at Hull University and the Bar finals in London, became a lawyer and returned to Singapore, a country's politics about which I was totally ignorant.

I thought that Singapore politics was like any other country. Like England. One could work hard and climb the ladder. Little did I know that Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore was not what I thought it was. It wasn't a case of working hard and climbing the ladder. It slowly dawned on me that working hard was only one part of the equation. The other more important part was your willingness to support a totalitarian regime despite the fact that it runs contrary to your core beliefs and conscience. Just like joining the Communist Party under Stalin or the Nazi party under Hitler.

In realized that in order to succeed, you have to accept the fact that you have no individual human rights. No right to free speech expression assembly or any other beliefs that you may have as a result of your education. Great men are those who stood by their conscience and principles. But in Singapore anyone who stood by his conscience is punished and branded a criminal, while Lee Kuan Yew's bootlickers sycophants and spineless followers are made leaders and placed on a pedestal. Like Samuel Butler's Erewhon, an imaginary island, where being sick was a serious crime while stealing is not.

It simply did not make sense to me. And being the way I am, I simply refused to be another Lee Kuan Yew Singaporean specimen. So I decided to fight them openly. I joined the Workers Party (not to be confused with the present Workers Party who are merely the government's minions) and openly campaign against the regime. I contested 2 elections. I was repeatedly sued and charged with criminal offenses obviously in an attempt to bring me in line, which they failed.

And then I decided I had enough. I am not going to waste my time in a country where the people appear content to live as slaves. Since I refuse to be a slave, I simply did not fit in an island of slaves, which Singaporeans are content with.

And then my second adventure, the United States, and California in particular. Doing some research, I knew that United States is the quintessential democracy. The entire country is kept together by a document held sacred almost as it was the word God, the Constitution. It was not just another statute but a document which every single American swears by which they respect and cherish. This to me appeared how men should live, the courage to believe in certain principles and even the courage to die for it.

So I travelled to the United States with a few thousand dollars and a tourist visa. The plan was to find a job, settle myself and bring my family over. Unfortunately getting a job was not as easy as I thought. Many Americans have very little knowledge of Singapore or British qualifications. And furthermore, not knowing anyone here made getting a job impossible. But I had a second option. I was persecuted by Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore for my political beliefs and that gave me a possibility of asylum. I applied for and got asylum. And then of course was my getting licensed as a lawyer. I had to pass the Bar. And California Bar exams are the most difficult among the entire 50 American states.

But since I always thought I was superman, after all I had made it all the way to Europe, and to England, became a lawyer all on just $500 when I left, surely the California bar exams is not going to stop Gopalan Nair. So I studied. It took me a few tries before I succeeded but I nevertheless did. I was in the clouds. Here I was that small boy in Singapore who had watched Lawrence of Arabia and James Bond, and packed his bags and made it across the world and survived.

I have been practicing law in Fremont California for 20 years now. It is a miracle that I have managed to keep going at the Bar, someone who had come from nowhere and competing with Americans born a bought up here in their own turf. I practice mostly immigration law. It is a practice similar to that of an English barrister. I work alone and do the cases that I get with a secretary to make the client appointments and do the books.

American practice is somewhat different from the English. In England to be a barrister, you have not only to pass the bar but also serve pupillage, a sort of apprentiship  for at least a year before you go on your own. In America there is no such requirement. The moment you pass your Bar, you can put out your shingle and practice. In other words you get thrown in the deep end immediately while in England you get some training before that.

A life such as mine can be lonely at times. You get the case, you read up the law if necessary and you do it. I file immigrant petitions for relatives, students and the whole litany of other categories. I file asylum applications and work for companies who want to move people from some other country to the US. I represent illegals from Mexico Guatemala Nicaragua El Salvador who are caught at the US borders of Texas and Arizona. I represent deportation cases where immigrants or aliens are caught committing serious crimes. And then I do some criminal work both in state and federal courts especially in cases involving undocumented aliens since my knowledge of immigration law comes in handy in their subsequent immigration proceedings. And then there are the usual family law cases that come my way.

The lure of the law for me is strong as it is for anyone. One reason being that the law is a bottomless well. There is so much to learn that one can go on forever and each case can be a challenge other than the routine ones. Of course the main reason why I enjoy the law in America is because I have hope. I don't need to tailor my opinions and principles to correspond those of President Obama. I can call Obama a liar if I want and still succeed at the American bar, something I cannot do in Singapore.

That alone is all the reason for me to love  America.

I haven't sailed the oceans single handed, and neither have I climbed the mountains. But in a way my life has been an adventure of sorts no different than if I had stood on the summit of Everest. Adventure can taker many forms and my journey is nothing short of that great adventure, thanks to Lawrence of Arabia and James Bond's You Only Live twice. Of course I was also born with a sense of adventure unlike the timid souls you have in Singapore today, thank God.

The average Singaporean today is nothing short of a spineless coward. They live their lives which is governed the powers up there, which is a small family of the Lees who control their lives, yet they are powerless to stand up and object. Unlike the Greeks who stand up against the mismanagement in their country, the Spaniards the Italians the Argentines and brave young men who dare to stand up and be counted, the Singaporean is consumed with cowardly fear and his courage extends only to writing anonymous complaints in Facebook or to write anonymous comments in this blog. They are nothing more than sheep in an island where decisions are made for them which they willingly accept. A shameful people in a shameful island. Although I was born there, I am proud to say I am not part of it.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
Former Singapore
Now proud American citizen
Tel: 510 491 8525


Anonymous said...

What a great story! Please publish a book that weaves a story about yourself, your former peers in Singapore, those who have left, and the tyranny of one-man Confucian rule.

Gopalan Nair said...

To Anonymous,
Thank you. But please do not send anonymous comments anymore. I can assume several reasons for this, all derogatory
1. You are ashamed to show yourself. Perhaps you find me or my blog unworthy in your presence. It is like shaking hands with someone, yet looking away while doing it.
2. You are such a big shot that any public association with this blog is demeaning.
3. You are afraid of reprisals from the Singaporean rulers for having appreciated what I write. Then why bother to write?
In total, I am offended by your praising me, yet preferring to remain incognito.
Stop it.

Gopalan Nair said...

I have to say, see this sort of behavior from Anonymous, is only seen from Singaporeans who appear to have lost the sense of manhood or honor. What sort of men are these who would want to say something to you, yet are unwilling to disclose who they are. You never see this from an Englishman, American or any other person from the free world. I am not sure how they behave in Communist China or North Korea, perhaps this is the way they behave too. And I suppose this is why the regime in Singapore can do simply anything they want with a totally fearful intimated population.

raga_nish said...

That was a real inspiring read, Mr Nair...however, many of those of the previous generation in Singapore now are remaining out of loyalty for the PAP as they didn't even have those few opportunities in their respective homelands, which they left out of I suppose these people are the ones brainwashing their kids to be blindly loyal to this fascist government...