Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Lack of Logic

My sleep patterns are as usual, quite screwed up and hear I am on a Sunday morning, bashing out a blog entry after reading a other people's blog entries. One of the more interesting blogs in cyberspace is the Young PAP Blog (http://youngpapblog.blogspot.com), a forum where two up and coming members of society have decided to express their views. As well as being members of "good" society (Namely professional people), they're also members of the ruling People's Action Party or PAP. The voices in these blogs, if you believe conventional wisdom, are supposed to represent the future.

To be be fair to Mr Nicholas Lazarus and Ms Elaina Olivia Chong, they have taken on a task which is not exactly enviable. When you post things on cyberspace, you leave yourself open to attack from all sorts of people. For some reason, the internet inspires more than its fair share of wack jobs, who think that hiding behind a pseudonym gives them the right to be rude. To be fair to Mr Lazarus and Ms Chong, they also do take a position or two that is different from the official one - namely they prove the point that this is the Young PAP blog rather than the Young Government Blog.

However, if you read through their posting, you'll notice a rather worrying trend - namely the inability of educated, professional people to think through the issues that affect the rest of us in an informed and educated manner. This is rather worrying because these guys are supposed to be members of the elite. Both Mr Lazarus and Ms Chong are educted professional people and you'd expect them to be able to convince you of the most interesting positions in the most convincing of ways. Singapore has thus far succeeded because its elite have managed to produce thinkers like Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Unfortunately, neither Mr Lazarus nor Ms Chong are demonstrating against the ability to think and if they are represenative of a generation of Singaporeans who benefited from the hard work of previous generations - I can only shudder. The only saving grace is their inability to think may produce a generation that is able to think.

Mr Lazarus has made his name through his views on the issue of repeling 377A, that is the code that criminalises consensual sex amongst adult men. Mr Lazarus, a practicing lawyer applies his analytical skills thus:

"With all this talk about legalizing homosexual acts, I was just pondering what would happen if such acts were indeed legalized.

Imagine men walking hand in hand with other men down Orchard Road, kissing, fondling and making out.

For that matter, imagine all that taking place on the MRT.

Instead of teachers dealing with boy-girl relationships, teachers would have to deal with boy-boy relationships.

Then, you might have the homosexuals all over Asia descending upon Singapore to flaunt what they cannot in their own countries"

Sure, this is a personal opinion and Mr Lazarus has every right to his views. But surely, one should expect a bit analysis and logic from a man that was educated and stands tall as an elite member of a society that prides itself in being rational, practical and logical? I mean, if this arguement was offered by your hawker stall auntie, I could understand. I would even applaud her for being on the net.

But Mr Lazarus is not your uneducated hawker stall opperator. He's a lawyer, an educated person. The fact that he's blogging on the Young PAP Blog rather than a private blog indicates he's trying to show his capacity for future political leadership. You would think that Mr Lazarus would be quick to want to show of his ability for critical analysis, after all the party that he claims to represent has always taken pride in selecting people with the courage to think through issues in a cool and well thought-out fashion no matter what the emotional pressures. But there you have it. I can only hope for Mr Lazarus's clients that he does not apply the same ability to think when he handles the cases they present him. Or perhaps this is why he's entered politics.

Ms Chong, who I think is in PR, does not do her status as an educated professional much more credit, either. She actually makes a comparision between the repel of 377A to buying MP3 players. Or perhaps I am just being sour because she's more successful than I am. Instead of being bitchy about the woman, I should applaud her for coming up with the ability to make the link between an MP3 and a piece of leglislation.

She does spend a good deal of time whinging about the media. Not the wisest move to make for someone in PR. Yes, I do have my issues with the media too but I work with it and when it covers what I consider to be "crap" I don't consume it. For Ms Chong, she lectures the media for covering a topic that had a national bearing:

"The consequence of this hullabaloo has not only been divisive, it has actually succeeded in creating more public empathy via a proxy of perceived marginalization - individuals with alternative lifestyle preferences. All this baloney in parliament has done no more good than brightened the lumens on a minority faction hoping to advance their attention-seeking agenda. And all the frenzied spin by media has done nothing but more harm."

Once again, I can only hope that Ms Chong's understanding of the role of the media in society does not affect the work that she does for them.

Perhaps I'm just a complacent drunk with a fat tummy, balding head and not much money, but I think its quite scary when professional people of my generation demonstrate such powers of analytical thought. I mean, its been drilled into all of us that Singapore has no resources other than her people. We've read so much about how we made the leap from third world into first within a generation because of our commitment to developing people. But if the likes of Mr Lazarus and Ms Chong are anything to go by, I would be inclined to support a friend of mine who thinks that every minister of education we've had should be shot.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Relative Welative

It's been a relatively successful day. Started off with a very successful interview for GE Commercial Finance South East Asia. Interview was on alternative financing for SMEs and it felt good to do my part to let the small business people know that there are other ways to getting cash - that most valued of commodities - other than waiting for government grants or conventional loans. If there's anything I've learnt in the last few years of running my own show, cash is a very precious commodity and its always important to find ways of getting hold of it. Big organisations have a terrible habit of needing to delay payments or have ultra long credit terms, but you still need to live.

Anyway, its been an interesting week. Lunch with Balji and the guys at Ammado went well. They seemed quite happy to tell him about what Ammado does and he offered to link them up with Lucas Chow, the CEO of the MediaCorp Group. It seems that Lucas is quite big into the philanthropy scene and I think there are many ways in which Ammado can help make philanthropy a very interesting value proposition to industries - though I think its going to take sometime to get the philanthropic habit working in Asia, especially in Singapore, where, thanks to our culture, we tend to be a bit more selfish.

I'm not sure what it is but I think we live in a culture which is a "Me First" culture. You could blame it on the fact that we are secular state - unlike Catholic Philippines, which means the population has a tradition of 'tithing' or Muslim Malaysia or Indonesia, where Islam has instilled the values of Zakat, another form of tithing.

But then again, you can't blame secularlism for everything. The US of A, is founded on the principle of being a secular state, that keeps Church and State separate. But the USA is the home base of the people turning philanthropy into an industry. You have some of the richest men in history like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros making it a point to give in a way that is effective.

For some reason, Singapore is rather lacking in the 'giving' department. I don't what it is. I suspect a culture of over dependence on the government is to blame. Life is such that the only way to get ahead is to work for the state and to climb the bureaucrates ladder - It's a Confucian Wet Dream - but I think when you get a society where the only way to get ahead is in the civil service - you cut people off from the idea that they are actually dependent on the widder community to stay alive and thus the need to contribute. Instead, you get a population that thinks - "Screw you, I'm not going to endanger my job." Nobody sees opportunity in solving problems and so, we ignore it until it's way too late.

Hong Kong, on the other hand has proven to be much better in developing the 'giving' mentality. I think this has something to do with the fact that the city is owned by business tycoons rather than bureaucrates. Sure, tycoons like Li Ka Shing have an exceedingly powerful grip on certain industries - but business people like Mr Li don't get cut off from reality. Why? That's because they realise that their survival depends on their customers. As such, you realise that you need to give back to the widder community to keep going. If you bleed your customers too much, they will go out of business. If you help them grow, they can spend more on you. If you're a bureaucrate, you don't actually need to care what goes on in the real world. If you need money, you can always get your political masters, the politicians to raise taxes and throw them into your pet projects.

Interestingly enough, Li Ka Shing is leading the drive for Asian tycoons to go into charity work. In Singapore, the charities are doing quite nicely thanks to the likes of the Shaw and Lee Foundation (established by China born tycoons), and we have the community chest, which is funded by.........?

Of course, the Singapore government is working desparately hard to make Singapore into a 'Philanthropy' Hub, amongst the other things we're a hub off (Oi, Hub Off). I'm sure, it will use the usual tools of schoolarships and incentives....something which they're even trying to do to get people to have more babies.

Not sure if this will actually work. Sure, people might go on a spending spree (which yields sales tax) if you give them $100 but I don't think people are just going to go out of the way to take on a lifelong commitment for a few thousand....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Before Lunch

Am currently trying to kill off a few moments before a lunch appointment with Balji, Mark and Peter and Joeri from Ammado.com. In a way life has become fairly relaxed after three weeks of intensive fun of working on two of my own accounts and more importantly getting paid by two of my bigger accounts too. In this quiet moment, I'm relaxing, but getting a tad bored with life.....need to drum up some more of my bigger clients into paying mode and I've pumped a bit more money into the hi-fi business - returns have thus far been good and I hope this does become a "gold slave" that will get things on the go.

In the mean time, life continues at a rainy pace. I don't recall having this much rain before. Perhaps I'm starting to show signs of giong senile, but it's been raining tigers and wolves (if the English have cats and dogs, we in the tropics have to have something a wee bit bigger.) The nice thing about all of this is, the weather is darn good for sleeping. Somehow, when you are on the 22nd floor, the combination of a simple electric fan, the rain and sea breeze make sleeping very condusive - good for sweet dreams.

Got and accepted a friend request from a girl called Cassandra today. Pleasent surprise, I remember her as being by far and away the most attractive girl when I was still at school - I think it had something to do with the fact tha she had ultra long legs and a very pretty face. I think she must have been the cause of the school insisting that skirt lengths went only up to the knee.

Well, she's no longer the sexy vixin that I remember, she's a married mother of a cute and very adoreable baby. But she's still exceedingly attractive. Allot of it, I think has to do with getting lucky with the genetic lottery. But allot of it, I think has to do with being happy in life. She looks happy and so she looks good.

I, on the other hand, have become something of a balding, fat womanising drunk. Which is not bad when you think about it. Nobody comments on my good looks, unless they have a particular fettish for me being what I am, but I'm allowed to be exceedingly cynical in life. There are joys in being a bitter and twisted cynic, you know. I get to see the dark side in everything that humanity produces and I get to have a good laugh.

OK, I'm hungry, so allow me to contribute to an early grave, care of a heart attack and several rounds of blubber.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Protest

After ranting on about how the world did not get irony, I was proven wrong by the Singapore government. Although the insitution has never been known for it's sense of anything outside moral fortitutde, the morning's turn of events proved me delightfully wrong. Just when you expect peolpe to be depressing, they surprise you.

Yes, I am reffering to the "Easing" of the ban on outdoor protest, which was screaming as the front page lead. Oh my, now we have a situation where, guess what, you can have a gathering of more than four people without having to apply for a police permit. So, it looks like we may have a reached a stage of political maturity, where the government has decided it's ok to give us an extended curfew.

It's going to be interesting to see how the drama plays out. A part of me shudders at the thought of giving Singaporeans a bit more freedome at times. In my short little life, I've noticed that 'freedome' tends to be expressed in the most ugly of ways - look at the liter that Singaporeans leave in Johor. Then again, look at what happened when they first let go of the laws on censoring movies - people went crazy. Are we now going to get a bunch of crazies hogging the headlines now that they can protest - you'd be surprised by the things people protest over.

Then there is the government. How serious is the government about allowing protest? This is, after all a government steeped in a culture of hanging onto control. Furthermore, this is a government lead by a Prime Minister, who has, in his DNA, instincts to get as much power as he can. So, when you consider all these things, letting go, is a revolutionary step by this government. It's like ...suddenly, they've gone against everything they've ever believed in. One should not be to surprised if they find a reason to clamp down again in the near future but for now, I think the government deserves kudoes for taking such a move that runs contrary to what it's always done.

Having said all of that, I don't think much will change. There's remarkably little that one needs to protest about in Singapore. City runs like clockwork, for the most part and it's got a pleasent living environment. So, although it's now legal for me to gather a group of people and get them to march in the streets - why should I? Of course, you may find some smart arse in one of the government departments thinking that the city is a little dull without outdoor protestors and in true Singaporean tradition, you may find that the government will see the need to teach people how to protest against the government.

No, I'm not being silly here, this is well within the range of the government-people dialogue in Singapore. I mean, can you think of another society in the world where you actually need the government to teach a horny young man and horny young woman what to do when they're in the same room? So, I guess the next thing we should look out for is government organised classes on how to be rebellious against the government.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Irony and Sarcasm

The Beijing Olympics have closed and as an ethnic Chinese, I'm glad to see China coming top of the gold medal tally. For the first time since the 1936 Berlin games, has a country other than the USA and USSR headed the list. What's even more satisfying is the fact that the Chinese came ahead by quite a decent margin - 51 to 36, of the USA.

In true sportsman like fashion, the American media decided to pay as little attention to the games as they could and more importantly, the US of A has been pointing out that it won more medals overall - 110 to 100. Funny, nobody seemed to notice the total medals won when the USA was on top of the gold medal table.

Americans, as was often said at school, have no ability to get irony or sarcasm. At the same time as the Olympics were taking place, America was leading the Western World in condemning the Russians for bullying Georgia. According to President Bush and his Gang of neoCONS, it is BAD to invade other countries. Nobody seemed to get the irony of the situation as they all made bold pronouncements about how bad the Russians were for invading an enclave that had Russian citizens being badly treated by the Georgian government. Those with the most to say didn't seem to think there was anything wrong when they were the ones fabricating evidence to invade another country.

Let's face it, the recent Olympic Games and the demonstration of irony over Georgia should be a sign to Asians, Arabs and Africans that not all things Caucasian are better. I'm not anti-Caucasian per se. There are things that Caucasians actually are better at than the rest of us. Take getting off a subway for example. Caucasians understand the value of letting people off before they hop onto the subway. This shows common sense - something which does not require a government schoolarship but makes life so much easier. After 8-years back home, I remain unused to the fact that even in one of the most evolved cities in Asia, we've yet to learn the basic art of getting of a train.

Where I object to Caucasians is the assumption that most Asians, Arabs and Africans have that they're automatically supperior. Singapore is an example of how the love affair with White Skin has made a mockery out of recent developments in Asia, Arabia and even Africa. I know a Malay girl, who proudly tells me that, "White Men, they're SO MUCH better." Unless you're working in Geylang or Orchard Towers, where the girls charge double the rates for locals, I can't see how anyone who is educated can consider most of the Caucasians living in Singapore as better - most of them haven't even been to school.

But there you have it. You have to give credit, where credit is due. You can't fault the Caucasian for being who he or she is, as long as the Asian, Arab or African continues to bow and scrape before him or her. Perhaps I'm being cynical here but I've noticed that there's a growing trend for Caucasian entrepreneurs to come knocking on doors for money. As someone who has been perpetually broke, I'm totally sympathetic.....that is, until I realise these buggers are getting away with selling fantasies. Non of these guys has shown the ability to produce figures based on anything more than their belief of where the industry would be heading. One of them even used the phrase, "I'm not in trouble....I just have cash flow issues."

Still, despite such obvious warning signs, Asians with money cannot resist throwing cash at these guys fast enough. I guess, there's nothing quite as satisfying as telling the world you've backed a Caucasian entrepreneur. Let's see, should my next venture be..."Adopt a Caucasian," and my slogan will be - "Feed him twice a day and he'll piss over you."

Hey, I'm not being sarcastic here. It's happening on the national stage, where Soverign Wealth Funds like GIC and Temasek are stumbling over each other to piss their stakeholders money into Merril, UBS and Citigroup. What do they get in return? They get capped over and they can't stop getting enough of the stuff. When Merril's shares went down from $48 to $24 a share, the local press couldn't stop singing, "We're so clever, we've got the White Man to shit on us even more."

There are of course, clever Asians, or at least Asians who understand that their success is due to their own ingenuity and hard work and not handed down by letting the White Man shit on them. Li Ka Shing didn't buy into any of the banks swimming in sub-prime woes. Instead he sold Hutchison Essar to Vodaphone of the UK for some US$11 billion about a year or so ago. Incidentally, Vodaphone had already made him some US$15 billion in the late 1990s, when he sold Orange (UK network) to Mannesman, which was subsequently aquired by Vodaphone.

There remains allot that Asia can learn from the West. America in particular has produced and continues to produce some of the most brilliant minds. In business, the USA has shown us the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the late Sam Walton and Jack Welsh. Across the Atlantic, you can look to the likes of JK Rawling. Look to the men who founded and created the EU, a superstate of peaceful, prosperous nations. This is sheer genious at work here and Asians, Arabs and Africans need to look at why the West succeeds and continues to do so in so many ways.

Yes, America did win more medals than China and three out of the top five medal winners are Western societies. Likewise in the world today - the West remains better maintaining prosperity and spreading it around its citizens. This is something that we need how to learn to do.

The killer instinct, the hunger to succeed is probably greatest in Asia, particularly in places like China. The Chinese, as one Indian businessman notes, realised that it was most important to go for gold medals rather than overall medals and devoted their energies there. How did the Chinese get successful in sport - they invested in developing their vast talent pool, even learning from the West. How will China rise? It will do so by learning from the West and other societies. Everyone I know who has been to China marvels at their hunger to learn.

But let's look for the right teachers. Instead, we in Asia, Arabia and Africa seemed obsessed with learning from the dregs of Western society. Look into any book shop in Singapore and you'll find books by and about Donald Trump, Richard Branson and Robert Kiyosaki out numbering Jack Welsh and even Warren Buffet. You'll have people paying the likes of Roger Hamilton and the XL Group thousands of dollars (Allot of them claimed they were impressed with the promise to give 10 percent to charity - namely - the society of prevention of cruelty to impotent slime,) when Mr Hamilton is basically offering what you can get from Facebook for free.

I suspect allot of it has to do with an infactuation with glamour and a disdain for reality. Jack Welsh, Warren Buffet et al became rich by adding value to real businesses. Messers Trump, Branson and Hamilton made it by clever salesmanship. But lets look at it this way. Mr Buffet lives in a simple house in Omaha, Nebraska while Mr Trump has a choice of mansions in a choice of glamorous cities, but who has more money and who has never had to bounce back...?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Efforts

Unlike the Soccer or Rugby Union World Cups, the Olympic Games have had a way of reflecting the geopolitical situation of the world. While countries like Brazil and New Zealand may rule in the World Cups, the countries that top the medal tables are the superpowers of the world. For many years, the Olympic Games was a duel between the USA and the USSR and then when the USSR vanished, the USA ruled the roost. Now, in Beijing, it's quite clear that China will take home the most gold medals, though the USA will probably come ahead in total medals won (which I am sure, the Americans in their insecurity will harp on about being the 'REAL' deal - though one notes they never made noise when they were ahead in gold medals).

Here in tinny little Singapore, we're just happy that our women's table tennis team managed to take home the silver medal. Despite all its achievements, Singapore has been rather lacking on the sporting field and I guess its wonderful that after 48-years of being without a medal, we finally have a medal on the world's most important sporting stage. Sure, history tends to remember only the winners, but for our tinny nation, being able to say we came second in the world at something is pretty pleasing.

You'd imagine that Singaporeans would be overjoyed at winning something on a stage where we've been rather lacklusture. You would imagine that the medal winning team would be greeted with the same fashion that the 1998 World Cup Winning French Soccer Team or the 2007 Iraqi Asian Cup winning team was.

But that's not been the case. Just read through the internet forums - instead of finding postings cheering on the efforts of the medal winning team, you'll find the grumbles about how we bought the China B team instead of the China A team. It makes one wonder if Singaporeans are just a grumpy lot who just need to find something to grumble about - even when we're doing something good?

I'm inclined to see things that way. Seriously, who cares if the team members were born in Mainland China rather than Singapore? So what if they prefer to speak Mandarin instead of English - they're no different from a good 70 plus percent of the Singapore population. Can't we just concentrate on the fact that we finally won something on the world stage? They may have been born in Mainland China but it was our flag that got raised in front of the world's media and for once this had nothing to do with a visiting politician.

But to dismiss the grumblings about the team as merely the rantings of ungreatful brats would be wrong too. I'm inclined to think that the lack of joy at winning a medal after 48-years is a sign that there a gulf of communication between the governed and the governing classes. You can almost sense the frustration of the Prime Minister of this gulf in communication between the classes in his National Day Rally speech. The government, through the media, reels of a range of statistics to show how much its done for the citizens and how good life is for the citizens. In return the citizens go to the internet and grumble about the unfairness of life in Singapore.

I think the reality is somewhere in between. Life is exceedingly good and comfortable in Singapore but the system is highly unfair against individual Singaporeans. You can do pretty much what you want here but if you even disagree with the apparatus of power, you get crushed. When some people earn higher salaries its called attracting talent but when others (namely the poor) get higher wages, it's a potential to stroke inflation which harms the poor. On the other hand, the government is not mean in all its actions. When the economy is doing well, we get money as part of the budget surplus - a case of sharing in the good times. When the economy is doing badly, we get money that is meant to help us out. Government subsidies do exist but not to the extent of disincentivising work.

No where is this dichotomy clearer than in the issue of foreign talent. Singapore needs forigners but it also loaths them. Just look at the table tennis team. Local Singaporeans don't have certain skills to take the jobs being produced by its economy just as we don't have atheletic talent to compete on the world stage. So what do we do .... we import the talent from the rest of the world. It's not a bad idea - every Singaporean was a forigner at one time or another. Not only do 'forign talents' bring in skills and capital but even poor and uneducated forigners provide an energy, a hunger that the local population lacks. Look at Hong Kong, the city ticks over because you get a free flow of educated professionals with capital but you also get plenty of hungry people from the Mainland to keep the local population on its toes.

Unfortunately, you don't get a free flow of people in Singapore. I suppose you get the benefits of 'stability,' no clashes between bitter locals and disgruntled forigners. However, Singapore's obsession with 'stability' has killed the ability of its local borns to think beyond its own square borders and people who don't fit into the square borders are resented. Look at the way Singaporeans resent the 'illegal' curry puff sellers from Batam - These guys are obviously not a threat to the social system but you wouldn't realise that reading some of the letters to the media - "How dare these uneducated people find a way to make a living....they didn't go to school like us...they're supposed to starve and die..."

Can local Singaporeans be world class atheletes, musicians, artist etc? Why haven't we developed the talent.....Well to be fair, these vocations were never seen as valuable until recently. They were more for airy fairy liberals from private property land. It's only recently where the government has decided that such people had value in society. Before the 1990s, you could only succeed in these vocations if you went overseas. Fandhi Ahmad, often hailed as a 'millionaire soccer player,' was only such because he played in Holland. Other than that, no self-respecting parent would allow their kids to pursue such 'passions' - "Ai Yeo, you want to play football like Malay Boy ah," (I can imagine your typical middle class Chinese mother making these remarks).

So, we got to import the talent from elsewhere, while we try to develop it domestically. Unfortunately, developing talent takes patience and persistence - not exactly virtues in a civil service mashinary. So, its easier to buy it. You need table tennis players - go to China. You need people who can write code for the finance industry - go to India. You want beggars with no money but can tell stories - go to the USA or Australia (I think they're a bit cheaper).

To a certain extent, this works brilliantly. Look at our table tennis stars - thanks to them, we got our medal. But are we going all out to get forign talent without sharing things with the local population. You talk to enough Singaporeans, and you'll find that plenty of them suspect that, if they don't work for the government, will naturally be subordinate to some White Man (easy to swallow) or these days, an Indian or Chinese (nearly impossible to swallow).

Sure, some of our 'forign talents' may actually have talent. But if you look at the way the Singapore government goes out to woo forign talent - you'll understand why a locally born Singaporean who has served national service is getting the message - "Me Clever, You Stupid, You better sacrifice for me clever people." May not be true but this is the impression given. Given the disregard that Singaporeans have for people with spines....they're quite delighted to shrink into a corner and beg for more punishment.

Compare that to Hong Kong. There are plenty of expatriate workers but I don't get the sense that they're resented the way they are in Singapore. I suspect, its because the locals have a better understanding of why the 'foreign talents' are necessary. I also suspect that its easier for local business people to hire talent and integrate them into the culture than it is for a government. Li Ka Shing hires people from different races out of his own pocket - it's assumed he really takes care that they're good and have something the locals don't have. By contrast, when Lee Kuan Yew hires, it's assumed he's doing it at the tax payers expense - does he really care if he gets it right or does he want people he can control more easily? Clearly, this is something that Singapore's Mr Lee needs to explain to the public.






Thursday, August 14, 2008

Celestial Places

I'm a bad sport with no sense of festive joy. I really dread huge gatherings of relatives and for me, the most important part of a celebration is the sending out of greetings to the people who have touched my life and then I can't wait to get back to work. You could call it one of the major consequences of being self-employed, when every second spent away from being productive could cost you, your next meal. Although my sister leaked it to me that my mother is distressed by my lack of enthusiasm for festive occasions. I go through the rituals, I enjoy the food but the rest of it is distracting me from the life I need to live.

So, I guess it should be no surprise that I was a party pooper on National Day. In stead of embracing a day of National Unity with pride and joy, I chose to play the role of a critic. Perhaps my shots at the inability of Singaporeans to understand right from wrong without the heavy hand of government leglislation was a cheap shot at my fellow countrymen. If it is, I stand by everything I've said. Just as Christmas has become season for retailers of tacky cosmetics, National Day has become a season of thoughtless chest beating and endless inflation of the National Ego.

Don't get me wrong, I think there's allot of celebrate about being a Singaporean, just as I believe that the birth of Christ is worth celebrating. Singapore, for all that I've said, has much to be proud of. My belief that Singapore stands out as what a city should be continues to hold - we are rich, clean and green and this is particularly true when you think that Singapore is in a region that is by and large chaotic, lawless and poor.

But let's not get overboard with the chest thumping. Yes, there's much to be proud of but let's not bring it to the state where we become like ostraiches with our necks stuck into the ground. A few 'responsible' journalist have made it a point in telling us that states like Russia and China are studying the Singapore model with great interest because - We're economically RICH but politically AUTHORITARIAN. If you read through the thoughtfullness of these arguments, you'd get the impression that Singapore is successful because its political system is authoritarian. To enforce this view, the 'responsible' media have gone onto point out that corruption has been on the rise in Thailand, Phillipines and Taiwan ever since they cast of their authoritarian yokes and had 'free' political systems with a press that actually challenges authority or at least does not report things 'responsibly.'

Unfortunately, this 'thoughtfullness' shows how little understanding the so called 'fans of the PAP,' have of the PAP. The fact that the man who deserves credit for setting up the success of the Singapore system seems to espouse this line, is even more tragic. It shows that despite all his achievements, he's reached the stage where he's living in a cloud of his own making.

The PAP and Singapore did not suceed because it was 'authoritarian' in its approach. It succeeded because it delivered a better life for the people and in many of the important arguments, PAP governments have proved to be on the correct side. It was right to welcome multi-nationals into Singapore when the spirit of the times in post-colonial times was to boot them out. It's right to allow your red light district to survive under light regulation. Singapore has plenty of economic and social statistics to show off.

Yes, Lee Kuan Yew did 'ram' through policies without too much of a fight. However, his ability to swot away critics has nothing to do with his success. It had everything to do with his ability to think and to accept the intelligence and thoughtfullness of a core of highly competent people like Goh Keng Swee, a man who's role in making Singapore what it is today seriously needs to be promoted. Contrary to what modern mythology would have you know, Lee did not say 'Folks, I'm going to tell you what to do." The magic of his leadership came from his ability to set certain goals and let men like Goh Keng Swee, S.Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye and Gang get on with it. I realised this at S.Rajaratnam's funeral, when Lee Kuan Yew mentioned that there would be furious arguments in the cabinate - "Wow! You mean people did argue with Lee Kuan Yew. He actually allowed people to tell him that God did not report to him?" Well apparently he did.

So, where the hell did we get the idea that God reported to Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore thrived because of it? I suspect the culprit is Confusious and his idea that the central authority knew it all. Lots of people hold the old fart up as an example of good Chinese values. I think of him as the man who took away China's place as the world's largest economy. Had the Chinese military commanders listened to Sun Tzu instead, they would have had the sense to see that the Chinese military was no match for the Western powers and done something about it, regardless of what the central authority said. Instead, Confuciuos rulled the day and Central Authority said tell the guys with guns to bugger off.

I think something similar to what happened in Ancient China is happening in Singapore. Everybody seems convinced that the ONLY wisdom and knowledge comes from a firm central government. Nobody wants to look bad in front of the boss because that's the only way up. You get a culture where we're so busy blamming someone else or trying to cover up the flaws and look good infront of the VIP, nobody spends time solving the problem at hand - 'It wasn't me."

How did a 'highly secure' detention centre not have a window grill? Didn't anyone notice in 14-years and say, "this has got to be fixed." Apparently not, people were too busy fighting for their high-tech oooppps high spending budgets.

Look at the charity scene. Within two years of the nation's largest charity being exposed as a money making scam, a Buddhist monk is found to have been exceedingly successful at fund raising. Did anybody bother to check on these characters? Didn't anybody question why charitable organisations needed palaces for their CEOs. What has been the answer to all of this - Get more leglislation, its not like there isn't allot of it to begin with.

Then there's the ability of the GIC and Temasek Holdings to play roulette with tax payer funds - ooppps I mean government surpluses - with banks that have had to write down enough bad debt to drown the nation. What has been the response to all of this? The public remains silent and the government insist that it's investing long term.....but the government can't do anything to two private compaines wholly owned by the government and staffed by former civil servants and besides you'd ruin the strategic advantage of GIC and Temasek if you knew what they were doing with your money. Funny how nobody seems to have told Warren Buffet that he'd be far more successful if he scapped his public AGMs.

Authoritarian states can only succeed if you have the celestial emporor at the top. Perhaps this is why Kim il Jong decided to make his dead dad "President for All Eternity." Unfortunately, even in North Korea, the celestial emporor has a way of getting incapacitated and dropping dead. When that happens, the people are lost and unable to fend for themselves.

You can't assume that honesty in people with extreme power will always be the case. You got to question once in a while - it's the responsible thing to do particularly when you're paying for it. Do you expect the shop keeper to call you irresponsible when you remind them they didn't give you enough change?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ranting

Just came back from a darn good evening at the Raffles with Joe, Luke and Hadi. It was an evening filled with decent company and nice food at Doc Cheng's in the Raffles Hotel. Didn't drink but each of us had a 5-course meal, which was very nice in its own peculiar way. The evening's festivities were a curtesy from Jean-Phillipe, the F&B Manager of the Raffles Hotel - got this in return for helping him get an interview on 938 Live.

I've been doing quite a bit of pro-bono or non-cash related work in the last few months. It's been interesting. On one hand it does not seem logical for a cash-strapped person to get involved in non-cash work. But I think its been exceedingly enjoyable to use what little that I have to offer to add value to people's lives. I read somewhere that the universe has a way of keeping score for people and you get what you give. Tonight was one of those moments. This was an ad-hoc project and although I didn't get cash, I managed to get something valuable from it, which is something money can't always buy.

More importantly, creating value for other people is healthy for the brain. I've been through the spells of unemployment and I can speak from experience when I say that the worst thing about being unemployed is the boredome. It gets pretty gaulling when you sit there day after day hopping for something to happen. I think I have Vincent to thank for encouraging me to go self-employed - I was unemployed and was searching for a job - which was something quite hard to do back in 2001, when Singapore's economy was somewhere in the toilet. He suggested that rather than spend scarce resources looking to work for someone else, I should just go direct to the client and get the money in my own pocket.

Now, 7-years later, I'm still mooching along in some silly sort of way. I think I'm probably no good at employment but it does not mean that I can't create ways to make myself useful. OK, I'm not much good at doing charity work but there are other ways of trying to be a useful digit in society.

Of course, in Singapore, we have National Service. I've been accused of being something of a critic of the Singapore system in recent months, but I think I draw the line when it comes to doing National Service. Say what you like about this institution, but I think its probably the most educational in the life of a Singaporean male. Yes, it does put as at a disadvantage when it comes to initial phases of entering the job market, but I also think it helps us to understand the world as we live in it.

Like most Singaporean men, I bitch and moan about the institution at every available opportunity. However, I'm greatful for the experience of National Service. It helped me to discover some of the best people I've meet. It helped me discover myself. I'm greatful that National Service helped me realise that the Singapore of my folks (Artsy, well-to-do media people) was in many ways a mirrage - the real Singapore remains a rather rough but decent place.

I've been accused of being arrogant about high-society, particularly in Singapore. But then again, it was National Service, that made me realise that many of the people living in high-society are pretty awful people. Anyone who has been through National Service realises that it's your fellow 'educated' people who will sell you at for their own glory. The guys with less education will help you out when things get rough - as they often do during National Service. I think it was this realisation that made me realise that the major difference between the activities in Geylang and a high-society event is price and packaging. Of course, packaging is very nice and I love feeling the glitz and glamour but at the end of the day, human emotion with all its faults remains the same.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Values

National Day has come and gone and for once, in seven years, I managed to get away without catching a glimpse of the parade. I've seen more than my fair share of parades and after a while, you get the idea of what's going to happen. Allot of work goes into the parade and I feel bad not appreciating the work that gets put into the parade, but I think it would be nice if there were a few fresh ideas about expressing the joy of being an independent nation.

My ex-boss once said that her husband does not give her a Valentines Day gift because he believes that everyday is Valentines Day with his wife. If you think about it, he's right. Why should we only express our feelings on just a single day? It should be everyday. I think this principle should applied to National Day. Why do we need this annual event to remind us to be proud to be Singaporean? Surely, we should have some reason to feel pride in our nation for 365 days a year.

Am just being sour? Am I just grouchy that I avoided going into town because I knew the roads would be jammed? Perhaps I am, but I think our emphasis on nation building and values needs to be internalised and not just expressed once a year because we happen to throw a huge party. It seems that we just go back to being grouchy about things like the rising cost of living, lower wages and so on, while the Ministers get grouchy because we're grumbling that they're not doing what they're telling us to do - note, giving a Minister a pay raise of several hundred thousand a year is necessary to attract talent and is beneficial to the economy but giving a street sweeper a a couple of hundred a year more could stroke inflation.

Seriously, we need to look beyond quick stop-gap measures. As far as I can see, the real values of the nation are - "Screw those who've been screwed and allow those who can screw you to screw you good and hard." If you don't believe me, just take a ride down the MRT and you'll be treated to the sight of old people having to stand in the corner, while the fit and healthy 20-year olds pretend to sleep. Or look at the amount of letters complaining that the government is not doing enough to protect national security whenever someone tries to make 20cents by selling a curry puff without a government license. Of course, when a drunken American sailors assult people, we stand idilly by while the American Ambassador speaks some gobledygook about who Americans respect Singapore.

Of course, anyone who points out the inconsistency to all of this gets labbled a Western Liberal with an agenda to do Singapore in. I'm not sure how getting upset that the American navy gets a free rein to hit our citizens makes us Western Liberals but there you have it, Singapore has its own unique brand of values, which some how became known as Asian Values. You can tell that these values are so well entrenched, when you actually need government leglislation to enforce these values. My Young Politician often reminds me that keeping 377A upholds the values of the majority. I'm not sure how it's actually done it but there you have it, we are a society that needs to leglislate to believe.

I suppose the Young Politician is right. If we removed 377A, all the 'Moral' people would turn gay. If you look at the attitude of Singaporeans towards litter, it's very telling. Singapore is thankfully spotless, but the moment you cross the causeway, you'll find yourself assaulted by a flying plastic bag - a souvenier of a Singaporean discovering the pleasures of littering other people's country.

But there you have it, we are a conservative society that requires leglislation to make us good. If you had no laws against littering, Singaporeans would empty their trash onto the streets. If you didn't have 377A, you'd have everyone buggering each other - and finally, if we did not get ourselves into National Day, Singaporeans would probably run away from the country the moment there's any sign of trouble. National Day serves the purpose of telling people to be patriotic and I should simply understand that people need to be told what to feel. - How sad!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fleeting Moments.

It's been a fairly good week on the job front. Managed to get two writing jobs, which should add another grand to the war chest and am now waiting to collect from last weeks job. Also looks like I've managed to revive some of my bigger jobs - namely GE Commercial Finance.

Must have been really restless. Decided to type names on the friend finder section of Facebook and who did I choose to type but Carra Teo's name. Actually got to see her name and more importantly her picture. She's just as beautiful as I remember her to be. Older, quite a bit older but like good wine, this is a woman who gets better with age. I think this is the only woman in my life whom I considered it a fantasy to be married and loyal too - and you're talking to a guy who thinks that men have an obligation to not remain the exclusive property of anybody.

But I guess that was a long time ago. I was an up and coming Citibank intern who had big dreams of being somebody in the career ladder space. Instead, I'm slowly but surely degenerating into huslter bohemian land and the only girls I ever seem to want to meet are ultimately bad for me. I think there's something glamorous about being one of those seedy artistic types that smokes and drinks too much and is struggling to make ends meet while there's a rough girl or two in the background to add spice to life.

I'm at an interesting stage in life where I really don't want permenancy, particularly in relationships with the oppostite sex. Seriously, what can a monogomous relationship offer you other than suffocation? I mean, in the job market, people who got used to working to one organisation for life have been on the 'kicked' end of the rough boot. So what makes you think that being with 'one' person for the rest of your life is any healthier in today's world. I could never understand the desire for exclusivity in anything.

I remember sending a married lady a slightly romantic sms. She was offended, and suspected I had intentions of taking her away from her husband. Heck, she was wrong - I was only interested in many nights of passionate sex. I was even willing to take the heart break of being in love but I was no means interested in marriage. I was actually quite insulted by the suggestion that I wanted her to leave her husband for me....I wanted the pain of a passionate love affair and hot steamy sex but why the hell would any man in his right mind want obligations that bore.

Carra was and til this day remains the one woman in my life who could make me feel the want to settle down into the mediocrity of marriage. Two-years of marriage to Gina proved that I was right - exclusivity is for people who are not good enough to take competition. I guess there have been a few. I enjoyed being somewhat able to do 'romantic' things for Angela, a girl from China who in her efforts to dress down still looked better than an army of tarted up Singapore girls. But when she said she wasn't interested - well, it was a little insulting to the ego but I'm fine. With Han Li, the best thing was and remains Thui.........

I don't know what it was about Carra. I guess being 24 rather than 34 for helped. Youth is wonderful for idealism but what else is there. I've been sending her birthday wishes for the last eight years. She never replies, but that's OK. It's important that I remember her on her birthday...I probably will til the day I drop dead. I think, other than looking at her picture on facebook, why dig up the useless desires she inspired in me? It was good when it was there but it's not any more.

Monday, August 04, 2008

For the want of something intelligent to say

It's a Monday and I'm running on some nervous energy. Didn't get much sleep last night and so I ended up spending the wee hours of the morning writing story pitches for a few people and touching base with a few people. Decided to make a gift of Arup Gupta's CNBC clip to a few people. Unfortunately Enterprise Ireland, which was a prospect I was hoping to hook won't be engaging external consultants but the Irish Embassador was very enthusiastic about ways in which Ireland's interest could have been promoted.

Life in general is at an interesting stage. Am a little short of cash until I collect the main cheque but am in somewhat optimistic spirits. Have been busy trying to put people together and seeing if I can create a few synergies. I think, sometimes when there's nothing better to do, you just got to find a way of creating value - you'll get your reward soon enough. Life's a little funny like that.

Gerard Lim, former General Manager of Leo Burnetts says that he believes in Karma. When you're a junior executive, you find hard to understand, since everything is about trying to take care of yourself. But I think as you get older, you realise that the world is not all about you and sometimes you simply need to let go in order to gain something.

I'm helping out a lawyer called Mark. Like me, he's a one-man show in a profession where the norm is to join a prestigious firm. Somehow he's managed to hold his own against much larger opponents. Although lawyers and PR people are not supposed to get along, we're getting along fairly well. I think it has something to do with the fact that I like his philosophy in life, which is to give back through your work. He does allot of pro-bono work. I've been doing things for people at give-away rates and barter. Sometimes I've taken to doing things for a free-lunch.

But the main point, is I'm actually using my brain allot more and that's good. The worst thing is when you start to stagnate, all in the name of trying to make a buck. One of the things I've noticed is that allot of the doctors I've been working with have made it a point to retain their links with the government hospitals. As my mother puts it - if they didn't, they'd die of bordome in private practice - for ophthalmologist that usually means neurotic people worried they're picked on because they wear specs (specs are not that uncommon in Singapore), for gynacologist, it probably means even more neurautic women worried that their breast are too small or too big (As Thomas often points out - gynacology can put you off sex).

For me, I'm not sure if I've become a better or worse writer since I left the agency game and started on my own. I find press releases to be a drag - I sometimes pitty the editors who have to read the drivel that the PR side often thinks is news. Everyone has "The First-Ever," or "Only in." What do these phrases actually mean? In case you're wondering if I'm casting stones at the PR profession, you're probably right. I've looked through the last string of press releases I've writen and I find myself writing according to a formula - gibberish!

Of course, I live in Singapore and so I can have a bit of fun blamming my clients (Guys, I hope you're reading - censure me if you will - but I'm trying to get us to a higher level). Sure, its nice to see yourself in print or on TV, but the world is larger than that. You should want to engage hostile interviewers. You should welcome a combatative interviewer - only then can you show the world the beauty of your message. You should not be afraid to engage your public when they call back during radio interviews, or respond to you in forums. It's called public relations for a good reason - in relationships, both parties talk and listen.

One of the guys I've really started to admire in recent months is my former intern from BANG PR. Glenn worked at BANG and then at CommsDNA for nearly 3-years. Sweated blood, I think. But when he left and started 20Twenty PR, he actually started doing PR as it should be. Yes, he provides clients with the traditional media relations work, but he's also been very daring and successful in getting them to use new media - instruments like You Tube and Facebook.

I remember saying to PN Balji that I think one of the most crucial things that PR people forget is the fact that they are consumers of the media too. Too often, we feel that we've done our job when the client is quoted in the press or comes out on TV. Sure, the client's ego is often satisfied and its nice to recieve recognition for our work. I know I often allow my ego to be satisfied - satisfied customer equals hefty cheque, praise and probably a good word for you to potential clients - what more could one ask for.

But imagine if PR practitioners got curious about the people reading the news or watching the broadcast? We would actually start creating some real value for our clients. Wouldn't it be good if you could actually tell the client - 'bro if you say it this way, you'll put people off the product or turn them onto the prodcut' At BANG PR, the motto was 'Stories that are READ not PUBLISHED.' Shouldn't we take it further - 'Stories that create a reaction.'

Of course, it's hard to measure a reaction in the way you measure sales. But PR is often about dealing with the intangible and surely these moments should be recorded too. As a profession, we need to get ourselves to a state where we go beyond ourselves as professionals and see ourselves as people who recieve messages. It would be a bold leap of faith but one worth making.

Friday, August 01, 2008

What's Wrong with Being Privilleged?

July has come and gone and I'm starting August in a pretty optimistic mood. Managed to complete a rather successful project with Polaris, with the prospect of more to come and GE Commercial Finance look like they're coming back online. The money from the Polaris job will not only replenish the savings account but also add to it and God-knows, I do need those surplus funds in the bank account. Unlike the US government, I can't sell bonds in myself can I? Of course, if anyone reading this blog wanted to buy bonds in me, I wouldn't object - I would borrow your money to buy things from you so that you could lend me more money.

OK, enough of that. It's fun to make fun of Americans but one shouldn't be too harsh about them. After all, much of the prosperity that the modern world faces was made by America and the generous spirit of the American people. As distasteful as I find the Fags in the Bush Administration, I think you have to hand it to American people and American culture for encouraging a 'Go-Getting' spirit in people. Racism may exist in America but by and large, Americans applaud people who come in as migrants and somehow find a way to climb up and make something better for themselves. As long as the Bush Administration does not kill this spirit, I think the future of the USA will remain great.

Look at the difference with Singapore. Over here, bitching about people who become successful is quite a hobby. It's especially noisy when the characters who become successful have less advantages than we do. My young politician would probably site this as an example of how we've become successful but I think Singapore has succeeded inspite of this mentality - or perhaps we've become more like this with age and ironically success.

Philip Yeo, current Chairman of SPRING Singapore, the government body responsible for promoting SMEs and entrepreneurship (Yes, we actually have a government body to teach entrepreneurship), recently made some remarks that if all things are equal, he'll prefer to give scholarships to those from poor backgrounds, because he feels they're more hungry. Suddenly you had lots of people from the well to do and middle class writing in to complain that Mr Yeo was biased in favor of the poor.

I'm no fan of Philip Yeo. The man has an ego the size of a cliff. But in this case, Philip is right. If you have to be biased in dishing out help, you should be biased in favour of the poor. Its like this. A poor boy with a schoolarship will have the chance to go on and succeed and pull himself and his family out of poverty. A boy from a middle class family will see the schoolarship as a means of enhancing his personal family prestiege. Now, tell me, which is more valuable to society? This being Singapore, the answer is will funnily enough, be the later. Instead of thinking, if the other guy has the chance to earn as much as me, I'll have more money by dealing with him, the Singapore mentality is - eeekkkks, there will be less for me.

If you don't believe me, try and remember the Commonwealth Games in Manchester some 5-years ago. Singapore had an incredible running, winning more gold medals than it had in its rather short history. But instead of rejoicing, the nation started to bitch and moan that the atheletes that won the medals for us were not local born and were stealing opportunities from locals.

Compare that with just about everywhere else, where when the national team wins, it's a national triumph and you have that wonderful sense that for a brief moment, all devides are healed. Look at the winning French football team of 1998. France was suffering from major divisions, mainly racist ones between the Whites, Algerians and Blacks. But for that brief moment of the winning of the World Cup, people forgot about colour. The French proudly proclaimed their winning team as 'Les Blancs, Les Blacks, Les Beurs' (The Whites, the Blacks and the Berbers) - Vive Les Bleus (The Blues as the team are known).

Since the government plays such a prominent role in shapping culture in Singapore, I think it needs to look at this quite urgently. I mean, how can you expect Singapore to grow in the world when its people are culturally programmed to begrudge success to the less fortunate and are so unwilling to celebrate the good things in life.

I think of my Dad who grew up in a different era from the one I'm growing up in. My grandfather could barely afford to feed his ten children and I think that gave my Dad a determination to never be poor. My aunt helped him into art school, but he never made it to university, and yet, in the end, my father ended up in the position of hiring those who went to university. I'm not exactly cuddley with my Dad but I hold him in high regard for having climbed so high without a degree. It's like when a few agency clowns mention that he's a little ecentric, I remind them that he made it the hard way.

I don't know, I find myself cheering for people who make it without the paper. They're usually better on the job too. I'm reminded of Uncle Jeffrey who described how he got a 'b' grade on a 10,000 word university assignment, which he did in three days, but it took him three days to write a 300 word article when he joined SPH. What does academia teach you? For the life of me, I cannot figure out why employers bother paying graduates more? Strange isn't it.