The Government’s Stand On SERS And How It Matters To You

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has cautioned home buyers not to assume that all old Housing Board flats will be automatically eligible for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers). – The Straits Times, 24 March 2017

On 24th March 2017, the collective voices of Singaporeans could be heard all the way up in the heavens as they tore their garments and cussed. Okay, a little over-dramatic there.

As we all know, every statement released from the Government is loaded and carries a lot of subtle messages. The Straits Times published an article on 24 March 2017 capturing the key essence from the ‘controversial’ blog entry by our National Development Minister Lawrence Wong. So how does this affect aging flat homeowners and buyers? Reuelwrites gets to the bottom of the matter.

But first, what is SERS?

Image result for singapore hdb flats

PHOTO: sbr.com.sg

 

What is Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS)?

According to HDB website, SERS was introduced in 1995 to redevelop the existing land for better use and to ‘inject vibrancy into the area’. Residents of flats selected for SERS will be compensated with the market value of their flat paid by the Government, and can enjoy the following rehousing options:

  1. Purchase a new 99-year lease flat at replacement site
    Basically you bao jiak (sure get) a new flat at subsidised price, no need to compete with the rest of Singapore for a new flat. You will also be eligible for a SERS grant of up to $30,000* credited to your CPF.
  2. Apply for a new flat elsewhere
    Don’t like the replacement location? Apply for a Build-To-Order (BTO) or Sale of Balance Flat with HDB. 10% of the flats offered in BTO or SBF exercises for priority allocation under the Resettlement, Relocation, SERS, and Tenants’ Priority Scheme. There is still competition but less. You will also be eligible for a SERS grant of up to $30,000* credited to your CPF.
  3. Buy a private property
    Want to upgrade instead? Rather than take the SERS rehousing benefit, you can opt to receive a ex-gratia payment of $30,000 (half transferred to your CPF ordinary account). However, you will only receive this money after you have returned the SERS flat to HDB.

Points to note:

  1. The SERS grant (amount depending on your household status) can only be used to buy a replacement flat and nothing else.
  2. Flat owners who have enjoyed the SERS grant benefit have to return (with interest) to their own CPF ordinary accounts if the replacement flat is subsequently sold or transferred.
  3. You cannot enjoy the SERS grant benefits more than one. So if you’re thinking of buying another flat with SERS potential with the desire to earn again, the government is telling you to dream on.
  4. One should also note that only 4 per cent of HDB flats have been identified for Sers since it was launched in 1995. How many more flats will be chosen is anyone’s guess.

There are a lot of other terms and conditions tied up to SERS and its accompanying benefits which is really too many to write down here, so do read through the contents on the website carefully before you make any decision relating to a SERS flat.

Related image

PHOTO: straitstimes.com

Why did Minister Lawrence Wong make such a strongly worded blog entry?

I try to put myself in the Government’s shoes to understand the reasoning behind why they do things, so here goes. To grasp the full weight of Minister Lawrence Wong’s entry, we have to first understand the intentions that supported the decision and announcement. Right from when the first HDB flat was completed in 1960 to solve a housing crisis, we know that public flats are heavily subsidised (and can be further subsidised with additional grants) with taxpayers’ monies so that the lay Singaporean can afford a roof over their heads. It was never really meant to be a money-making device.

Stated clearly on the title of HDB flat lease agreement which we all agreed and signed on reads that our flat will be returned to HDB after 99 (or 999 years for some flats) who will in turn surrender it back to the State, which will then be re-purposed. The reasons for implementing a lease policy will be debated and challenged (until the cows come home) so it will not be discussed.

Granted that not all Singaporeans are literate and adept in money management (like you), there are limitations to buying flats using CPF monies, and approval of HDB/bank loan for properties with lease of less than 60 years or will expire before the home buyer reaches 80 years of age. Whether you believe in this or not, this is the Government’s blanket policy to ensure Singaporeans still have enough money for themselves when they are old and wrinkly.

While the Government allow our flats to appreciate on the (resale) free market with *light-touch regulations, it is also the Government’s intention for flat prices to go down as the lease shortens. The Government is not obligated to bail home owners out when they choose to hold onto their property for donkey years, or pay a high price for a flat with not much years left on its lease for the sake of profit-making. Then why don’t the Government just enbloc every flat when it gets old? You might as well tell the Government to make all flats freehold right? That’s another topic altogether.

Simply put, if we choose not to sell our flat after it appreciated in value and choose to hold onto it indefinitely – with hopes of enbloc – until the lease expires, we can effectively treat our HDB purchase as paying the monthly rental (which is still fair). There might be a possibility of a lease buyback scheme kicking in in future but just like waiting for the enbloc, the risk is on us to pray that HDB lets us top up our lease or choose our flat for enbloc. The odds are not really in our favour.

Now to address the next question,

  1. What does this mean to me as a HDB flat owner?
  2. What does this mean to me as a HDB flat buyer?
Image result for hdb model straits times

PHOTO: straitstimes.com

What does this mean to me as a HDB flat owner?

You probably received calls and messages from real estate agents (I could be one of them, Laughs) informing you of the SERS article, telling you to consider selling your (ageing) flat. Before you put up your flat for sale or write it off as a marketing gimmick, what and how does the recent news relate to you as an existing flat owner, especially if you are holding onto a property with a lease of around 60 years or less?

Most HDB flat owners fall within these categories stated below:

  1. Don’t want to sell because waiting for enbloc
  2. Don’t want to sell because house got sentimental value leh
  3. Don’t want to sell because rental yield is *high

There is really too much to address so I will just address the first topic to stay on point. As mentioned above, by holding onto an ageing property you are really 守株待兔ing, (guarding a tree-stump waiting for rabbits). Don’t cry foul when the Government don’t choose your flat for SERS.

The second group of people are the ones who believe their flats are super valuable because it will be enbloc-ed. However, unless your property has been slated for enbloc, there is a chance that it won’t be as stated by our Minister. In my real estate career, I have met sellers before who have given me an unrealistic asking price to sell their flat (eg. recent transactions are around $400k-$415k but the price seller wants is $460k) because they believe their flat has “enbloc potential”.

Notice, the enbloc is only a ‘potential’, not ‘confirm plus chop’. If you want to sell your flat at a high price because you believe that your flat has enbloc potential, what you are essentially doing is you are passing the risk to your buyer. Selling at high price also means the Cash-over-value portion will be high. The question to ask is, would the average flat buyer have so much cash on hand? Never mind that a investor has to sell all his properties to buy your flat, they would have bought a private property with more potential capital upside (see MoneySmart.sg article and statistics).

Image result for first timer hdb

PHOTO: channelnewsasia.com

What does this mean to me as a HDB flat buyer?

After all that is said and done, I’m not saying one should never buy an ageing HDB flat. It also depends on your needs and how old you are. Ageing flats have their own charms. Ageing flats are usually (much) bigger, are located in a mature estate with many amenities, are in prime locations, or are very accessible (near or next to MRT, shopping malls, et cetera). At the end of the day, how you view your flat purchase matters – is it for convenience or for profit? The prospective buyer should not expect to buy an ageing flat with the intention of making a profit in the future.

If you are getting on with age and am just looking a retirement place to settle down, an ageing flat with its many amenities within a stone’s throw away might just be your solution. If you are still young (in your 20s), an ageing flat with a lease less than 50 years should not be in your consideration since financing your flat using CPF monies and loan will be challenging – unless you’re cash-rich? But why would you buy an ageing flat then? RW

 

Like what you see?

Share this article with your friends! The above review represents the writer’s honest opinion and does not reflect the sentiments of any Government organisation and bodies, any real estate agency or stakeholders. If you are a home owner or looking for a flat and you want to know how to proceed from here, you can reach me at 9-833-6450 or eugenetayhy@gmail.com. Disclaimer: The author is a licensed real estate salesperson with Propnex.

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Condo Review – Kingsford Waterbay (D19)

Located along the Sungei Serangoon River and Park Connector, Kingsford Waterbay is Hong Kong-based Kingsford Development’s second project in Singapore. The massive development has sold more than 600 units so far.

Details

KWB

Pros

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Without a doubt, the price is easily the most attractive element about this project. With the 2 and 3 bedders going below $1 million, and their 4 bedders well below the $1.2 million range (average $1.1k to $1.2k psf), the barrier of entry to acquire a private property for homestay is very low. It’s competitive pricing also means exiting (selling) won’t be difficult. Avid joggers will rejoice since the massive project is located along the Punggol Park Connector. The project also contains a childcare centre and six retail space. Not really a ‘shopping mall’ but hey, it’s better than nothing.

Another of the projects main selling point is in the project surrounded by water. On the benefits of staying near water, read this article Science Explains How Staying Near Water Can Change Our Brains. I would prefer the units facing the Sungei Serangoon River since there is potential for the government to improve it further with its Active, Beautiful, Clean (ABC) Waters Programme. Kingsford Waterbay is also a peculiar development where the pool facing units (which are usually the premium priced units) is also the west-facing units. Value buyers who love pool-facing and don’t mind a little sun will be delighted.

Cons

Kingsford Waterbay isn’t exactly near Hougang MRT (3 bus stops), so buyers who are looking for a home within walking distance to MRT will be disappointed. But hey, there is 2 years free shuttle service and the units are priced from $1.1k-$1.2k psf, it’s safe to say that the gains outweigh the losses – unless you die-die want a condo near MRT to which you also have to pay a premium price.

Kingsford-Waterbay-Plan

Kingsford Waterbay is Hong Kong-based Kingsford Development’s second project in Singapore. So they have a lot to prove if they want to compete with the big boys for buyers. The first project is Kingsford Hillview Peak in Hillview Rise, which almost sold out except for the last handful of penthouse units. The development has some minor defects (as with most new developments) but the developer has – and I quote – “been helpful and willing” to resolve the issues.

Another concern for potential buyers are probably the number of units in the development. Kingsford Waterbay has 1,165 units altogether. More units may result in higher competition for tenants or for sale when MOP day comes, so buyers buying a unit here purely for investment might be disappointed. At the same time, if we take a look at Kingsford Waterbay’s most identical competitor The Minton, 1,145-unit development which completed in 2014 transacted 34 sales and 202 rentals in just year 2016 alone (source: The Edge Property). So maybe, the concern of oversupply and competition is unwarranted.

The Verdict

Overall, I think Kingsford Waterbay is a safe and good buy simply because of its very attractive pricing. This project will be good for buyers looking to upgrade. I’m not exactly sold on the idea of it being a investment development but only time will tell, and maybe with the government’s intervention, first movers will be rewarded after all. RW

Like what you see?

Share this article with your friends! The above review represents the writer’s honest opinion on the project and does not reflect the sentiments of any real estate agency or developer. Want to buy and need more info? You can reach me at 9-833-6450 or eugenetayhy@gmail.com. The author is a licensed real estate salesperson with Propnex.

Condo Review – Artra at Redhill (D03)

Touted as the place that’s right next to the city without the hustle and bustle, Redhill has been the subject of interest with the addition of the new condo by FEC Skyline Pte Ltd (a subsidiary of Tang Group of Companies) amongst other completed and soon-to-complete developments.

Here’s what Reuelwrites have to say about Artra.

Details

Artra

Pros

Without a doubt, Artra’s best asset is in its location. Located right beside Redhill MRT, residents and tenants need not fear about the elements. Since moving in to a condo in Kovan that is situated right beside a MRT, I cannot even imagine having to walk more than 3 minutes to get to an MRT anymore. Besides that, Redhill MRT isn’t some ulu MRT station in the outskirts of Singapore. So location alone, Artra is a winner.
pool evening view -e

Besides that, Artra is the only mixed development in the area with 16 retail shops, a childcare centre and Fairprice Finest. Plus, if you stay high enough (tentatively*** above 29th floor and facing south), you can actually enjoy sea view! There is also a sky garden on the 44th floor for all to enjoy the breathtaking views of the city and the sea.

But most importantly, the major concern for all homeowners and investors is to enter at the right entry price. Based on insider info, we are hearing that the lower floor units will (highly likely) start from $1.53k psf (and might be even lower) while the higher floors will start from $1.63k psf. Comparing this with prices of the nearby new launches and even the new developments in Queenstown MRT, we have a clear winner.

Cons

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One of the main complaints of Artra is the potential oversupply of condominium developments in the vicinity. Numerous condos have been built in the recent decade to the likes of The Metropolitan (TOP 2009), Ascentia Sky (2014), Echelon (2016), The Crest (TOP 2018), Alex Residences (TOP 2018), Principal Garden (TOP 2019). Oversupply? Only time will tell. But the fact that Artra’s location is the best (closest to MRT) and price is very competitive makes this a non-issue for investors and potential home owners.

The other main complaint is ironically related to Artra’s greatest strength. The development is located right beside an above-ground Redhill MRT which also means there will be MRT track noise. Fortunately, it is located next to the station and not the tracks in-between, noise level should be kept to a minimum since the MRT trains would have slowed down on approaching the MRT station. Of course there is the “Please mind the gap” announcement everytime (Laughs).

The Verdict

In short, just for the location and price alone, I don’t see why this project doesn’t sell well on the launch day (expected to be in end April 2017). There will most likely be balloting for the units (only 400 in total) on the first day as observed at other new launches this year especially since the psf is so low. Only the fastest buyers will get their choice units so do contact a real estate consultant and register your interest as soon as possible. RW

This space will be updated once developer disseminates more information. 

Like what you see?

Share this article with your friends! The above review represents the writer’s honest opinion on the project and does not reflect the sentiments of any real estate agency or developer. Want to buy and need more info? You can reach me at 9-833-6450 or eugenetayhy@gmail.com. Disclaimer: The author is a licensed real estate salesperson with Propnex.

City News Feature: Making Divine Connections

Christian dating can be a minefield. Divine Connect’s Cindy Leong is the go-to person for those looking to make a connection with the opposite sex.

By: REUEL EUGENE TAY

We all know 2 Corinthians 13 is the chapter about love, but few have internalised it and turned it into a lifelong career helping people find love. Meet dating and relationship coach Cindy Leong, 30, co-founder of matchmaking agency Divine Connect. Leong is a multi-hyphenate who is also the founder of personal development consultancy Relationship Studio, the author of two books on love, a regular contributor to local radio stations and magazines, and she helps with City Harvest Church’s City Connexion programme, aimed at getting singles in church to forge meaningful interactions. Leong is also the resident expert in City Radio’s 17-part series SINGULAH which discusses Christian dating.

 

CITY NEWS WEEKLY: How did you get started in this business of matchmaking?

CINDY LEONG: I think it is really a calling. Have majored in business at polytechnic, the natural progression for me was to go to business school in university. But I felt led to enrol in CHC’s Bible school instead. After Bible school, there was no place for me in business school—because of the baby boom during the year of the Dragon! Strangely, I was offered a place in Singapore Management University’s Social Sciences faculty even though I did not apply for it. I picked psychology as my major and there was this module on the science behind attractiveness that really intrigued me. During that time, I was already helping many people who were having problems with relationships. It got to a point where people were telling me, “Hey Cindy, you are quite good at this. Why don’t you turn it into a business to help people?” And that was how it all got started.

 

Tell us about Divine Connect.
I met Deon the owner of Love Express, a dating agency centered on events, back when I was just the chief coach for Relationship Studio. Deon is also a Christian and she has been running her agency for ten years. We both agreed that the pursuit of love isn’t just about robotically attending events after events, it’s about becoming a better version of yourself and about making meaningful relationships. So we set up Divine Connect, a Christian matchmaking agency providing personalized matching for our clients. Our team comprises of five coaches and two image consultants, all of whom are Christians.

We put every client that walks through our door through Enneagram profiling. (Enneagram is a personality test). Knowing their Enneagram type helps our clients to understand their pattern of thinking. Thereafter, we do customized one-to-one matching for all our clients, arranging between three to 10 potential matches depending on their specific Enneagram profiles and personality. Our clients are also given one-to-one coaching and they may attend our workshops to further better themselves. So far, our success rate has been pretty high. Many of our clients found their ideal type within the first or second match.

 

How many successful couples have you brought together till date?
I’ve lost count! I would say close to 100 couples.

 

What are the three main reasons why Christian men and women have such difficulty finding their life partner? How can they resolve this issue?
Christian relationships are a little more complicated than secular relationships. Firstly, you have to agree on several fronts such as the level of your faith, allocation of time for ministry and church, or sometimes even on the same doctrine. Secondly, many Christian men are just not taking initiative or are simply too slow to act. They over-think or over-analyze—“I need to pray first”—and before you know it, they have made a girl wait an entire year. And there is also this thing about “reputation”. Let’s say, on hindsight, you meet the right one after dating the third person you meet. “What if the people in church think that I am a playboy or a playgirl? How will people look at me?” So people become afraid to try. On the contrary, guys outside of church will just go for the girl immediately. This is something our guys can learn! (laughs)

Some Christian ladies also have some unrealistic expectations such as desiring someone as spiritual as Pastor Kong and as handsome as Mark Kwan. There aren’t many such people around! I would tell the ladies, “You may want a guy like this, but do you know if you are the girl he wants? If you don’t, then you may not be positioning yourself correctly.” Our ladies need to manage their expectations and be brutally honest with themselves.

 

Many people believe that going to professional matchmaking services should be the “last resort”. What is your take on this? When is the right age to try out matchmaking services?
This was usually the case in the past but things have changed. In fact, I do get young people in their 20s who come to me as their first choice and say, “Cindy, you just choose for me lah. You know my personality.” To be honest, it’s not so simple. Your social circle shrinks the moment you graduate from school. It will take you another three years to realise “Oh dear, I’m not making any new friends!” And soon you will realise that all the people you are meeting are either your colleagues or your clients—all work-related people.

 

Can you give readers three exclusive tips on building meaningful relationships?
First things first, you’ve got to have clarity with yourself. You have to know what you want in life. Secondly, you have to be authentic; the last thing you want to do in a relationship is to put on a mask. Lastly, you got to work on communication. If there are any misunderstandings, sometimes it could be due to your own insecurities or certain things you have not dealt with in your past. If you need healing, say so. Don’t be so caught up with “saving face” or be afraid to show your own insecurities. It helps if you can look at conflicts as an opportunity for healing rather than assuming that the other party is trying to pick a fight because he or she has a ill intention. You can strengthen your relationship if you are willing to show your vulnerability.

 

This article was first featured in City News’ Candlelight Service special issue. 

Monkey Goes West: Embark On The Happiest & Funniest Journey To (Jurong) West

Back to entertain audiences this festive season is arguably W!LD RICE’s most popular pantomime based on the famous Chinese literary classic.

“Monkey goes West, he must go to serve his sentence…” I left the theatre humming the infectious theme song of Monkey Goes West. Damn earworm! The award-winning play by W!LD RICE returns for a limited run at the Drama Centre Theatre from 18 November to 17 December 2016. Monkey Goes West is directed by Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan, written by Alfian Sa’at, with music composed by Elaine Chan.

First performed to a sold-out audience back in 2014, the pantomime dominated the Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards and took home Production of the Year award amongst a few other awards. The pantomime follows the journey of present-time orphan Ah Tang (reprised by Joshua Lim) who runs away from home and finds himself transported to the mysterious land where dangers abounds.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

As is the tradition for all WILD R!CE’s pantomime, the show opens with over-the-top song and dance, and spectacular set of heaven featuring its four golden dragon pillars. Fast forward to the present, we learn that Ah Tang is frustrated with his Uncle Mu (Darius Tan) and English-butchering Auntie (reprised by Chua Enlai) for their obsession over their talented medal-winning daughter (Kimberly Tan) and for seemingly forgetting his mother’s dead anniversary.

Deciding to reminisce the good times with his mother, Ah Tang visits Haw Par Villa and falls asleep there. Who would have a ‘good time’ in ‘hell’? Anyway, Ah Tang finds himself trapped after overstaying past the park’s visiting hours, further soliciting for help from the audience.

Forced to embrace his mistaken identity as Tang Seng the monk, Ah Tang travels with his companions, Wukong (reprised by Sugie Chua), Pigsy (reprised by Siti Khalijah Zainal) and Sandy (reprised by Frances Lee), the quartet goes on a hilarious adventure to Jurong West where they learn the importance of teamwork and family.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

What makes Monkey Goes West so fun to watch (and rewatch) is in its ability to entertain and delight audiences no matter how young or old you are. W!LD RICE resident playwright Alfian Sa’at is a master in his field; weaving in cheeky banters and ‘yo mama jokes’ for the kids, and throwing in – and updating – humourous and politically incorrect jokes which only the adults would be tickled by in the mix. I will not spoil the fun by revealing any of the jokes!

Undoubtedly one of Singapore’s most talented music composers, Elaine Chan incorporates Chinese musical instruments into the pantomime’s popular hit songs such as Monkey Goes West the main theme song, and Master of Disguise. I guarantee that you will leave humming the tunes like I did. The show was obviously created to impress, with its magnificent set and gorgeous costumes once again designed by Wong Chee Wai and Thailand’s Tube Gallery respectively.

It’s also hard to believe that the entire production only stars seven adult actors. Joshua entertains as Ah Tang and solicits crowd response from the children, while Siti puts comedic magic in every role she lands and as both butt-shaking Sandy and Guan Yin Ma in the case of Monkey Goes West. FIRST STAGE! Alumni Kimberly whose character performs a entertaining Flamenco (or Flamingo as termed by Enlai’s character) number on stage is the shining example of the success of W!LD RICE’s grooming programme. The programme has trained more than 250 children, providing them with firsthand experiences of acting on a professional stage alongside established actors.

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PHOTO: W!LD RICE

Enlai is the king of comedy, entertaining the crowd as Iron Fan Princess and Aunty Fanny who butchers the English language exchanging words like ‘sensation’ for ‘menstruation’, ‘ovation’ for ‘ovulation’. Autny Fanny will also ‘zao geng’ a handful of times in the show – disturbing but hilarious! The FIRST STAGE! kids also entertained with their surprising Wushu techniques, trained by Gordon Choy. Everyone were on-point in their roles but in the end, the one who stole the show had to be Sugie as the mischevious legendary Monkey King with his acrobatics and engaging performance.

Laughing almost from start to end of the musical, I found it hard to part ways with the beloved characters at the end. W!LD RICE’s 13th pantomime, Monkey Goes West is the perfect example of pantomimes done right, even if it was centred around a Eastern classic. I love, love, love it. Many thanks to W!LD RICE and partners for the invitation to Monkey Goes West Gala Night. It was so fun and I wouldn’t have spent my Saturday any other way. Bring your kids, your parents and your friends to catch Monkey Goes West quick before tickets sell out!

Afternoon matinees are available on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Monkey Goes West

Drama Centre Theatre

Opens 18 November to 17 December 2016

W!LD RICE brings the Year of the Monkey to a happy climax with its 13th holiday musical extravaganza for the whole family! Winner of ‘Production of the Year’ at the 2015 Straits Times Life Theatre Awards, Monkey Goes West is an affectionate and cheeky retelling of the beloved Chinese fantasy classic. Join us for an epic thrill ride that will take you from Haw Par Villa to Jurong West – by way of a colourful world filled with mythical monsters and naughty fairies.

Ticket Pricing: $45 – $80

Web Link: Monkey Goes West

Disgraced Review: Contemplating Islamophobia in a Post-9/11 World

Powerful, unpretentious and no-holes-barred is SRT’s run of Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced.

Talking about race, language or religion is never comfortable nor an ideal tabletop conversation topic (especially) in politically-correct Singapore. So when Singapore Repertory Theatre was granted approval by Singapore’s Media Development Authority to run the play without the slightest bit of amendment to the script, we know we are in for a ride.

The play written by Pakistani-American novelist and screenwriter Ayad Akhtar first premiered in Chicago in 2012, bagging the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and many subsequent soldout shows across theatres in the US and Europe since then.

Set in a swanky apartment in Upper East Side New York, successful Pakistani-American lawyer Amir Kapoor (Gaurav Kripalani) and his American artist wife Emily (Jennifer Coombs) invites their friends and couple, Jewish curator Isaac (Daniel Jenkins) and Kapoor’s African-Amerian colleague Jory (LaNisa Frederick) over to dinner. We get this sense that Amir identifies and has assimilated into the American community, hiding his Pakistani-Muslim roots from friends and employers, even going so far as to change his surname from Abdullah to Kapoor.

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PHOTO: SRT

The couple was first visited by Amir’s nephew Hussein Kapoor or Abe (Ghafir Akhtar); for the junior Kapoor explains that the latter helps him to assimilate into the American community like his successful lawyer uncle. Abe sought his lawyer uncle’s help to represent an Imam who was being persecuted for allegedly raising funds for terrorist activities. Amir refuses to even attend the hearing in fear of endorsing a faith he no longer has any love for but relents upon the persuading of Emily.

The dinner session started out tame but quickly takes a turn for the worst. While Emily embraces the Islamic art and its spiritual traditions, Amir explains to the dinner party that Islam is a violent and backward religion that has no place in modern society, throwing many one-two punches – such as citing Islam for promoting violence (against women) and the creation of Taliban – to Jory’s agreement.

Isaac confronts Amir to clarify his politically incorrect views on Islam extremism to which the latter announces that he feels innately happy that they – referring to the Muslim community at large – are finally winning when 9-11 took place, and that anti-Semitism is the way to go. Mayhem followed.

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PHOTO: SRT

Amir’s decision to attend the Imam’s hearing comes back to haunt him as his law firm headed by Jewish partners bypassed the better-qualified Amir to give his coveted partner position to Jory instead. Another sign of Islamophobia. Abe witnesses the breaking down of Amir’s successful life and marriage, and decides to embrace Islamic extremism over assimilation.

Dialogue throughout the play between the five casts is witty albeit laden with stereotyping, bias and a truckload of anger. Like when Amir ridicules the faith of his ancestors by claiming that “Islam is a religion of tough people who suffered in the desert.. with a very angry hate mail to humanity” and “White women take out clothes to make people like them.”

There is nothing politically correct about Disgraced as the different characters representing different backgrounds lay out all their cards – or biasness – on the table. While the play was primarily focused on Islamophobia, Akhtar sought to address the greater picture which begs the question, what is our own implicit bias?

And how do we reconcile our differing values against one’s cultural beliefs? How does one sift out the good values from the bad when it comes to faith? Amir’s role as an agnostic who turned his back on Islam sheds light on this issue. Many things have been said on the addressing of Islamophobia but not much on Muslims themselves. Hardwired into Amir are Islamic values, some of which are portrayed to be extreme in the face of modernity – to which he drew a connection had no place in today’s world. He believes that even the remote connection that people make of him to his faith and community will cause him to be isolated and bypassed for promotion at work. On the contrary, Abe decides that he must embrace extremism because he will always be isolated and judged no matter how hard he tries to assimilate.

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PHOTO: SRT

The portrayal of Amir as an agnostic who turned his back on Islam, Isaac as a progressive Jew are not exactly the best role models for both faiths in question but it does not have to be because we hardly find perfect people with perfect representations in real life. Even Jory’s role as an African-American minority and a sceptic of Islam – perhaps representing the majority of Trump’s Islamophobic supporters in light of the recent election results – is not accidental.

To these problems, Akhtar has no answers. And that is the greatness of Akhtar’s play directed by Nate Silvers. Even if we pretend that everything is status quo or cordial, race, language and religion has and will continue to be a divisive topic. And oftentimes, we forget that the people (Muslims) who are at the centre of debate also have to deal with identity issues of their own. Perhaps knowledge will empower us to make better choices when it comes to socio-cultural issues.

Topics on faith and race are always contentious subjects but kudos to the entire SRT team for a job well done in bringing these often-swept-under-the-carpet issues to light in a matter that is not condescending to the audience. I would also like to acknowledge MDA for giving the go-ahead for this sensitive but important play to be performed in local theatre. Two thumbs up!

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar

KC Arts Centre

Opens 16 November to 4 December 2016

Located in a spacious Upper East Side apartment in New York, Amir has worked hard to achieve the American Dream. With South Asian Muslim roots, he has gone on to become a successful lawyer, has a beautiful American wife and even a wardrobe of $600 custom-tailored shirts.

But when Amir hosts a dinner party for his African American colleague and her Jewish husband, the initially pleasant evening erupts into a volatile argument over race, religion and class in the modern world.

Ticket Pricing: $35 – $60

Web Link: Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar