Monday, March 30, 2009

Top Heavy Management

Singapore's Prime Minister had a pretty busy week last week playing musical chairs. The cabinate saw a reshuffle in which the Defense Minister was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and three up and a deputy prime minister was moved up to becoming Senior Minsiter in the Prime Minister's Office. Further to that, an additional minister was added to the Prime Minister's office (The local media had a field day making the most of the fact that is the first woman in history to make it to full minister). In addition to that, another former navy man was made the Minister in charge of - Information, Communications and the Arts. Singapore, a land of 4.6 million not only has the highest paid government ministers in the world but also the most top-heavy government. As of writing, we have 1 Prime Minsiter, 1 Minister Mentor, 2 Senior Ministers and 3 Ministers in the Prime Minister's Office - all this in addition to the Ministers who have a Ministry to run. 

One has to wonder why the Singapore government has decided to add on a few extra C-level executives when every other organisation in the world is shedding management? Is there a method in this apprent maddness? Well, you can't discount the Singapore government from making a bet that proves to be right. The very idea of an indepdepdent Singapore is thanks to a contrarian bet. Nobody said we could make it and we did (did we have a choice?) So, does the Singapore government know something that the rest of the world does not when it comes to increasing top-level management? 

This does not make economic sense. Our Ministers do not come cheap but this argument is easily countered by the fact that we need to pay top-dollar to the get the top brains. I can see how this works when we talk about the various ministers running ministries. The Singapore government is by most standards highly clean, efficient and effective in what it does and it benefits the majority of the citizens. Having said that, it does not explain why we need another three ministers to be sitting in the Prime Ministers office. One arguement is that these Ministers do run "Special Projects," such aging. Then, if that's the case, why don't we just give them a title that matches or perhaps assign the portfolio to a Minsiter in charge of a ministry. Yes, it would be hard work but anyone ambitious enough to be a minister will surely be glad for the chance to take on more responsability. 

This leads to the Minister Mentor and two Senior Ministers. What exactly are these jobs and how do they benefit the running of the government? These jobs are effectively consultant positions. The Minister Mentor as the name implies exist to "Mentor" the rest of the cabinate, while the Senior Minister as the name implies is the most "Senior" of all the Ministers. However, neither the senior or minister mentor have executive control - that remains the job of the Prime Minister. 

The theory is that senior and minister mentors provide "Guidence" and lend their "Experience" to the Prime Minsiter of the day. So far, the system has worked. Senior Minsiter Goh Chok Tong in particular has been in asset to the Prime Minister in areas like opening Saudi Arabia and running relations with the Islamic world. But what of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and why do we need Professor Jayakumar as another Senior Minister? Both men have served Singapore with distinction but are they in danger of overstaying their welcome? 

Look at Minister Mentor Lee. As far as Singapore is concerned, Lee Kuan Yew has created a miracle. The nation owes its very existence and prosperity to him. Having said of all of that, what exactly is his value to the nation by continuing to stay in the cabinate. In Singapore Mr Lee will remain exceedingly powerful and that power comes merely from being who he is. In theory, Mr Lee is hanging on in the cabinate because he's supposed to provide wisdom and experience to the rest of the Minsiters. Surely Mr Lee is capable of doing that without being in the cabinate. All he has to do is to give lectures and write books and Singapore will notice. As things stand, there's an arguement that Mr Lee's continued presence in the cabinate harms the Prime Minister - it provides the impression that the Prime Minister takes orders from him - hence Mr Lee has to tell the world that "I am NO LONGER in CHARGE." Nearly two decades in since he stepped down from the Prime Minsitership, the question remains in Singapore - can Singapore go on without Mr Lee?

Both the Prime Minsiter and Minister Mentor should take a lesson from the late Deng Xiaopeng and his relationship with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Mr Deng was regarded as the most powerful man in China right til the day he died. Yet, the only title he held was "President of the Bridge Club," and allowed President Jiang to run the show. So, when Mr Deng died, it was ...a non-event. China did not fall appart as many pessemist were suggesting. This is a lesson both Mr Lee's could do well to follow - The Elder will secure his legacy while the younger will be allowed to form his. In the mean time, the elder can continue to wield quite influence by his mere presence and as the younger Mr Lee's father. 

So much is said about Mr Lee and the need for him to follow the examples of other great CEOs who have gone to pasture and left their companies to carry on. So what about Professor Jeyakumar? Why do we need another senior minister, particularly one who has never been prime minsister? Could it be anything to do with the fact that the good professor comes from an ethnic minority? If it were, it would be shame. The last thing the ethnic miniroties need is another token with little real influence and little real necessity. Ethnic minorities control significant ministries - Finance, Law and the Environment and Water Resources. Do we need a senior minister to oversee these Ministers? The last time anyone checked, the respective ministers were doing quite well without anyone to look over their shoulder.  Surely Professor Jeyakumar could serve the nation more effectively (a nation he has served exceedingly well) by sharing his experiences from the sidelines? 

We live in age where we try not to create work for the sake of it. It's an inefficient thing to do and yet, it seems to me that we are creating high-level jobs for the sake of it. People like Minister Mentor Lee and Senior Minister Jayakumar can continue to add value to the nation without being in cabinate. If they don't volunteer to do it, the Prime Minister should persuade them that this is the best course of action. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Problems for a Member of Parliament

I have to thank Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and probably Singapore's most renowned intellectual, and Zen, probably Singapore's most comical prositute for providing me into an insight into one of the most worrying aspects of Singapore's culture - namely the deep sense of entitlement that the Middle Class feels and its disregard for the poor.

Professor Mahbubani, who is a university contemporary of my mother, wrote an excellent commentary in the Straits Times (25 March, 2009) called, "If Singapore Fails." This, well argued commentary recalled the first electoral defeat that the People's Action Party (PAP) suffered in the Anson constituency in 1981. He recalls how Dr Goh Kheng Swee, one of Singapore's Founding Fathers (also described as Singapore's REAL ARCHITECT), had placed the shock defeat down to the fact that the dominant party never "envisioned the possibility of defeat." The party had taken its 100 percent mandate for granted and the people of Anson had given them a bloody nose. Ever since then, the supremely dominant PAP has been paranoid about losing seats, even if continues to hold a commanding 96 percent of available seats in Parliament. 

By simply not excepting the possibility of failure, people don't prepare themselves both in the practical and psychological sense. One of his key points was that Singaporeans have grown so used to "Good" (competant and compasionate) government that they are simply unable to see government in any other light. More importantly, this has prevented Singaporeans from developing greater "Self-Reliance." As such, Professor Mahbubani points out, the nation is woefully unprepared for the day when it will have a government that does not have solutions to every individual's problems. 

True enough, I got to witness this first hand when I accomanied Zen to see her Member of Parliament, Dr Lee Boon Yang, who is also Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA). As with the Westminister system, our Minsiter are also Members of Parliament (MP) and as such they are required to serve the people who elect them on a weekly basis. 

Meet the People sessions are fun, particularly if you have issues with any government department. As efficient as the government mashinary is, it can be highly inflexible and going through it dehumanises. If you're reasonably educated and thick skinned, you can find a way of getting the officials in the system to show you a bit of humanity. Unfortunately, not everyone in Singapore is reasonably educated and able to deal with robots.  Examples include incidences where a government department refuses someone in obvious need of a food stamp because they made 10 cents more than the required amount to qualify and so on. 

Bureaucrats by nature stick to the rules and generally its a good thing. However, from time-to-time, exceptions need to be made and unless you get to someone who can make the decision, you will be frustrated. For those who can't, the "Meet the People" sessions are a way for them to get the government working for them. In Zen's case, the prison's department refused to let her see Eric because she's not a blood relative. Unfortunately, she's the only thing resembling family that he has. The Bureaucracy doesn't bend for people like Zen and Eric so she went to see Dr Lee to explain her situation and now she see's Eric on a monthly basis. 

These sessions actually give me more respect for the world's best paid Ministers. I actually see them working for the people. Allot of cases at these sessions are heart wrenching - people who have lost their jobs, livlihoods and so on.

Unfortunately, I had sit close enough to hear a reasonablly well to do couple beg to see Dr Lee. I could hear snippets of their conversation. Perhaps I'm unfair and if someone could prove me wrong, it sounded pretty much like these guys lost money buying an investment product and now they wanted their Member of Parliament to get them legal assistance in suing the buggers.

Sorry, I don't think this is what Dr Lee should be doing. Perhaps the person who sold them the financial product was a cad and the institution was shit (as most of them often are), but why the hell were they begging Dr Lee to get them legal assistance to solve a matter they had a key role in playing. 

The finance industry is a rough place and one should bless economic crisis for reminding people that Newton's law "what goes up must come down," is as applicable to finance as it is to physics. Risk, a four letter word, which is as vulgar as it gets; always tags along with profit and returns. Surely anyone with an ounce of sense understands that and if the person selling you the financial product tells you that your investment in "Guarenteed" and more worryingly, your returns. How the hell do reasonably educated people not suspect something is wrong when an investment advisor tells them that their investment in "Guarenteed," and more importantly so are their returns. Even the US government is having difficulty explaining "reassurance" to owners of its Treasury Bonds these days. 

OK, this does not excuse ciminal actions on the part of the financial salespeople and institutions. If one feels done in, it's up to one to find a lawyer willing to take the case and either take a civil or criminal action against the other party. Unfortunately, lawyers cost money. Still if you have enough money to buy any of these products in the first place, you obviously can afford a half-way decent lawyer.

Sure, there are times when the State needs to foot legal bills. There are impovrished people who need access to justice and you can't expect the lawyers to provide it for free. Legal Aid should be for things like, the police have arrested you and charged you and you need a lawyer to stick by you in court. 

Why on earth should the State provide legal assistance for civil cases involving bad business deals? One argument that my favourite Young Politician and others of his generation might put up is that the "Middle Class and Rich" pay more taxes and so are entitled to such benefits from the State. This argument is hogwash - in fact the "Uncaring Elite" need to be washed in pig shit for even entertaining the thought. 

The State exists to provide certain services and to ensure the playing field is relatively even. Things like security, sanitation and defense are the responsibility of government and so it's right for us to harp on at the government when limping criminals walk out of a detention facility. The State and government in this case have failed to provide a basic service which is their key function.

The State has a delicate balancing act. It needs to provide the talented with the chance to get ahead but it also needs to ensure the less talented don't get squished too far. So, taxes and state aid help to ensure this balance. There is something seriously wrong when the well to do decide that they're entitled to the stuff set aside for the less fortunate. 

OK, I'm not against everyone having subsidised education. If education is more avilable you get more people discovering opportunities that were previously closed to them. This is good for society. I'm also fine with subsidised health care if it keeps the general population healthy. I'm not so proud that I refuse to take things like my progress package. This is something the government choses to pay me and since they're funding this with my tax dollars, I might as well use the money they give me to fund my tax bill. 

What I find seriously wrong is when the well to do expect the state to pick up after them and I despise young toadies who get upset when you give to the poor. I remember one of the few moments I applauded Philip Yeo, Chairman of SPRING Singapore and former Chairman of A*STAR. He made some comment of saying that he favoured providing government schoolarships to people from poorer backgrounds (they're hungrier). Boy, the next day you got allot of people who were upset with him for daring to suggest that help should be for those who need it the most. 

Sure, if you're clever you should be rewarded but if all things are equal, shouldn't we help the guy who would otherwise be unable to aford the education? I remember one of my friends who was very clever at school. He never got a scholarship and the reason for that was because his father was the head of chemistry and refused to take one. His argument was simple - he taught at the school and paid in one year what the rest of us paid in a term for each of his children. He beileved that it was better to accept his blessings and let those who were less fortunate but no less able to go for the scholarships. Now, why don't we celebrate this type of thinking? 

As for today, my new gripe is when the well to do look for legal assistance from the state. Such systems are designed to ensure those who are genuinely poor don't get screwed in the legal system - which, despite all efforts, can and does happen. Don't use these things especially if your legal problems are because of your greed. 

Seriously, let's stop talking about entitlements. Let's focus on people. Why can't we celebrate those who have the ability to share? It's good for society as a whole and actually good for the economy if you look at things intelligently. Just as mankind needs to stop blamming God for its adequacies, Singaporeans should try and take charge of their own lives for a change. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Size of My Xx - Miniscule, you'd need a microscope to find it

Had another restless bout of insomnia and decided to check the email and low and behold what did I see but more spam telling me how my little ding dong could be increased with the help of more pills, which under normal circumstances would require a medical prescription but thanks to the generosity of the internet do not. 

Well, spam is spam and I suppose one merely needs to hit the delete button. Spam, as I've been known to remark is the most obvious form of direct market. Like the Nigerian letter scams, we're blessed with spam because it's highly lucrative. It cost nearly nothing to send out a mass mail and obviously someone does buy the products that the spammers are sending out.

The most usual form of spam is of course the "Dick Enhancer." Everyone wants to sell you a form of prick enhancement. The male ego, as they say hangs nicely between the legs and as the PGFNB reminded me today, the head between the legs is particularly powerful when it comes to making male decisions. 

She's right. I know plenty of my male friends who take pride in their trouser snake. Hang out with Bijay for ten minuites and before you know it, he will have told you that he's hung like a donkey and his ability to "PUSH and PUSH," has granted more orgasms to the female population of Amazonia than the Great Shoe Sale. 

Those in the business of making spam know this and cannot help but send out the gazillion emails that they do. My good friend is not the only man on the planet who's self-esteem is based between his legs. The Return on Investment (ROI) for direct marketing is around 2 percent and when you're sending out a gazillion emails at no cost that two percent is going to be a large and very lucrative market. A one in a million is all you need in this game - one Bijay like fellow who's girl decided that the cucumber was a better cuddle toy that evening. 

Well, here's a message to the guys sending out spam - I've decided to come out in the open and announce that I am as well hung as an ant. Yes, I am a pee wee and proud of it. I don't require pills and if I did I might be more inclined to entertain a Chinaman with a bag walking down the streets of Geylang. They're pillls, which are usually illegal (for good reasons) will probably help me to die happy.

Being as well hung as an ant has its advantages just like being a pleb. It ensures that you avoid the attention of slightly insane groopies who have developed an overnight attraction to you because they're desparate to try and get your imagined glory to rub off onto them. Women are forever curious to see how strong the head between your legs are. A good friend of mine describes how one tried to appeal for a discount by appealing to him in that department. 

Imagine this. If you are known to a be pee wee, nobody will try and appeal to your baser instincts when it comes to doing the things in life that you should do sensibly. Hence, just as I am proud to be a PLEB, I am now proudly announcing to the world that I'm a pee wee - girls, you've been warned, I make a terrible lover 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

PGFNB - Pretend Girlfriend No Benefits

Men and Women are complex. Nobody can actually explain the differences between the sexs and I like one relationship expert who says, "They're called opposite sexes because they are opposite." 

But if I may pretend to be an expert on the topic, the status of relationships between the sexes can be summed up as follows:

  • Married Couple
  • Lovers
  • Friends 

Married couples are precisely that. They have chosen to enter an institution, a legal contract binding them to each other. Roles and responsabilities are defined. Then there are lovers. A man and woman feel this thing called love and they get involved with each other's lives in an intense manner. The main difference between the lovers and married couple is that the lovers don't sign a binding contract. Then there are friends. Men and women happen to enjoy the happy state of friendship without sexual tensions. 

Over the years various sub-catagories have developed to the main catagories. The most prominent one is of course - "Friends with Benefits." This is a state where a man and woman who are sexually attracted to each other but have nothing in common - exist as friends but once in a while have sex. I think of Bijay and Zen (in her pre-Eric days) as a good example. They didn't actually like each other enough to be a couple but somehow when it came to touching they were very close and enjoyed it (Bijay being one of the very few people I knew who's eyes would light up at the prospect of a naked Zen). 

In recent weeks, I seem to have discovered an altogether new catagory - "Girlfriend Without Benefits" or if I wanted to be really official - "Pretend Girlfriend with no benefits." The girl in question is of course a 43-year old single mother I met recently called Agnes. Ironically the clossest person I had a similar relationship with also had a name that started with A but it's only with this lady that I'm discovering the various attributes of this altogether new catagory.

What makes her a girlfriend rather than a friend? The answer is simple and superficial. When we're out in public, we give off the signs of being a couple. We start this charade by walking showing up at public functions together and we leave together. When it comes to meal time, we dish food for each other and sometimes share the same dishes. We walk close together, we walk as if there were no one else. Once in a while I'll put my arm around her waist and she'll dutifully move closer. On the bus a hand finds a way onto a thigh or occasionally a hand brushes ever so softly against an arm. To the neutral observer, we look like a happy and contented couple. 

More disturbingly we share some superficial links. As well as being astrologically compatible (She's a fire horse and I'm a wood tiger), her history with men reads something like my history with women - we would both have been better off reading the safety manual of HMS Titanic. Her ex-husband shares the same surname as my mother and she once lived in the same block of flats that I'm in. Are these signs that we are supposed to be linked? I would like to think that they are purely coincidental - though she did make a point that she thinks she's adding value to me because everyone thinks she's my girlfriend 

However, while we do give the impression that we're a couple or at least headed for coupledome, there are utterly no benefits, at least for me that is. The lady has declared herself celebite (or at least for me) for the past year and more importantly has no money, unlike a Vietnamese lady I spent a bit of time with. Hence, there are no benefits, for me at least - she may be describing me as "PBFNC" or "Pretend Boyfriend with No Cost." This is indeed an interesting state of affairs, which cultural anthropologist in me finds deeply interesting. 

I always assumed that coupledome required a heavy bout of bonking, otherwise it was called "Mateship," a state where the girl was equivalent to one of your mates at the pub. In Singapore I have a few girls I'd describe as "good mates," including one of my favourite journalist and a former Citibank colleague. Zen is I suppose what you could call a good mate, though she's probably another catagory altogether - namely Pet Foster Sister.  

Not sure how workable this status is but I suppose the beauty of having a PGFNB is that I'm not restricted from looking for relationships with other fringe benefits 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Dance for All

The dialect debate is getting interesting in Singapore. On one hand you have the official stance, which promotes the idea that our primary identity is that of being Singaporean Chinese and the only language that we need to speak other than English is Mandarin. The other side of the debate says that we still need to keep our dialects because they are part of our heritge. 

I tend to agree with the later. Although I am all for learning Mandarin and promoting the use of the language and it's implications in interactions with Mainland China and Taiwan, I find the idea of the State trying to impose an cultural identity on people to be highly offensive and disturbing. I don't need a legal system to tell me that I am ethnically Chinese. Despite an upbrining in the West, I cannot escape the colour of my skin. Even if I only procreate with a woman of a differnt race, the Chinese genes will take sometime to wear out within my genetic stock.  

I take pride in being ethnic Chinese and I enjoy many aspects of Chinese culture and part of that culture is accepting that it's a not a monolithic block as some would suggests but many cultures moving about in a dynamic fashion. The same can be said of any culture. I am Chinese but I am also Cantonese and part of being Cantonese is being comfortable with the dialect. Without this dialect, I would not be able to relate to people like my grandmother. Although I do speak English with my Uncles, understanding the Cantonese dialect allows me to understand them better. 

But my attachment to dialects goes even further. It allows me to relate to people I'm most naturally inclined to deal with in a better way. Learning Mandarin opens doors to the entire Chinese market but opening up a market involves more than just being able to say a few words in the "National Language," (Guo Yi as Mandarin is often known as outside Singapore). Opening a market involves building relationships at the ground level and that involves getting to know people at their cultural heart. Hence knowing local dialects in places like China help. 

Lee Kuan Yew is correct when he says profficiency in Mandarin makes China more accessible. But his comparison between being fluent in  Mandarin and being open to a billion people in China but being fluent in say Cantonese limits one to 100 million people in Guangdong and Hong Kong reflects simple minded thinking which insults the intelligence that Mr Lee is known for. His statement reflects the thinking of a Citizen of Caucasia rather than that of an intellectual (collect name cards and social network site friends to become well connected). 

It's not how many people you know, its what you do with the people you know that counts. The Cantonese are a chauvanistic lot, pretty much like the French when it comes to language and being predominantly Cantonese, Hong Kong Businesses people tend to deal with the people from Guangdong Province rather than China as a whole entity. A good deal of Hong Kong business people speak Mandarin but prefer to deal with their fellow Cantonese speakers in Guangdong. Real relationships are built between people in Hong Kong and Guangdong and you get real economic results. On the superficial level, people in Hong Kong are limited to Guangdong province rather than the rest of China. However, if you look lower, they have real relationships with people and leverage on that those to develop them further a field in the rest of China. - China, like other big nations is not one country but many. The real economic record of Hong Kong Businesses in China is darn good. 

Compare that to Singapore. Yes, the Beijing Government has  fabulous relationship with the Singapore government. The Communist love the PAP for being able to develiver economic goodies while keeping political power. If only a gazillion Singapore's could flourish accross China. However, Singaporeans are not encouraged to develop real relations with people on the ground. Just follow the government and what do we get - Shouzhou Industrial Park that beacon of Sino-Singapore joint ventures (shhhh, the Chinese own majority share after Singapore pumped in endless billions). The record of Singapore business in China is not exactly something to shout about .... the only benefit for Singaporeans is that we got Kuan Yew flying up to Bejing to "Tell the Chinese" how its done. The Chinese as always listened politely and nodded extra hard to what he said, particularly when extra cash was thrown at them. Bravo, Mr Lee for leading another commercial success for the nation - too bad you ended up throwing so many resources at it that you actually wasted our money in the effort to prove yourself right.  

The man simply cannot accept that building lasting commercial ties with countries is hard work and it involves more than just him "telling" the world what to do. The rest of the world nodds politiely - why shouldn't they - Mr Lee comes bringing cash and a philosophy that he has to throw money at things he declares just to ensure that he's right. Too bad the Singaporean tax payer is politely screwed in the process but then again, who honestly gives a shit about the average Singaporean? 

Contrary to what he may think, the ability of the nation-state to direct culture rather than to provide for its infrastructure has proved pretty grim. If there's one thing that makes government planning and directing of the economy look like a success, its when the government directs culture. 

Can one think of an example where government direction has made a significant impact on culture creation? 

On the other hand I can name a few positive examples of culture succeeding when people are simply allowed to interact. In Singapore, I think Singlish stands as a good example. 

Another great example I like the Hakka. I love watching the Hakka, a traditional Maori War dance, usually played whenever a New Zealand sports team is about to play someone. You have Caucasians mixing freely with Polynisians, each performing the Hakka with a frightening intensity - believing in what everyone believes is their heritage. Now that's what I call real integration. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why Limit Learning?

Well, the great dialect wars are uppon us again. Minister Mentor Lee, the world's first banna (Yellow on the outside but White on the inside) got himself on the front page, urging Chinese Singaporean parents to speak to their kids in Mandarin. He's found that Singaporeans are using less Mandarin and he's most upset that people have talked about promoting their dialects. The message is clear - "Chinese, as defined by me, speak Mandarin and nothing else."

As always, Mr Lee has made some powerful points. Speaking Mandarin opens one up to the world's next super power - China. Let's make no mistake here - China is on the up and up. With it's billion plus population, China has market clout and even though it's yet to overtake the current superpower - the USA - the Chinese matter. Let's not forget that one of Hillary Clinton's first task as Secratery of State was to get the Chinese to "Continue Buying Our Bonds" - diplomatic parlance for "We need your money." 

China is obviously important and understanding the culture of China is important. As any anthropologist will tell you - "Language is Culture," and since Mandarin is the language of China, everyone is learning Mandarin. If Singaporean Chinese are not keen to learn it, the "other" races in Singapore are and even Westerners want to learn Mandarin. One of my old friends in Germany took Chinese as a third language. In London the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) prides itself in the number of Westerners learning Chinese.

While Mr Lee is correct about the importance of learning Chinese, his obsession with getting Singaporeans to forget their dialects is silly. He asserts that the human brain does not have "1000" gigs to understand both Mandarin and a dialect as well as English and perhaps another forgin language like say Malay or an Indian or European lanague. As far as he is concerned, a good Chinese trying to live in the modern world should speak only Mandarin and English. In simple parlance - Mandarin Good - Dialect Bad. 

Let's be honest here, Mr Lee's obsession with dialects and the Mandarin versus dialect issue has nothing to do with losing out in the modern world and the great China market. It has everything to do with Mr Lee's paranoia of "Real" Chinese culture. Mr Lee comes from Singapore's "English" educated community and grew up determined to speak "English" like and Englishman as opposed to "Singlish" - the bastardised version of the Queen's own tounge. Mr Lee reveled in being known as "Harry" and it was only when he entered politics and realised that his own kind did not start revolutions, that he decided that it was in his interest to learn Chinese - both Mandarin and Hokkien. Mr Lee was and remains a shrewed politician. The man was quick to see that the "Chinese Educated" he so despised (es) actually caused revolutions rather than talked about it. These were the people who would bring him to power. 

So, he learned Mandarin and Hokkien, got them onto his side and made life so miserable for the rulling colonial power that they left and gave the place up to him. He then realised that the Chinese educated that brought him to power could also depose of him and so he made it a point to get rid of the culture that made these people. Race would be redefined - hence Indians in Singapore means Tamil just as Chinese means Mandarin. 

Many Singaporeans will argue that this has brought unity to Singapore. I don't believe it was a necessary step. Human interactions have a way of redefining culture without the State's efforts. As long as the State can keep the peace, humans will find a way of mixing and matching of culture. Britishness and what it means to be British is a good example. If you look at London, you will not find a land of bowler hats. Curry, a traditional Indian dish is now a traditional one. How did it happen? People from the Indian subcontinent moved to the UK and although there have been tensions between communities, Britishness has been redefined and the UK has benefited from this cultural vibrancy. 

I agree that some measures implemented by the Singapore government were necessary. Racial quotas in HDB estates has prevented the development of ethnic ghettos that you find in many Western cities. Forcing communities to work together created a common culture. 

Then again, how much of a racial problem did Singapore have to begin with. "Kampong" or "Village" life saw races mixing together and developing a culture of cooperation that cut across racial lines in quite a few cases. Contrary to what Mr Lee argues, I find my generation of Singaporeans less unified and more chauvanistic than I do from people in my parents generation. Yes, the kids my age and bellow are less likely to make racial slurs than the people from my parent's generation. But the older generation seems to work together better. Why? They're able to speak more languages and dialects. It's not uncommon for Tamil Indians of a certain age to be able to speak Mandarin and several Chinese dialects fluently. Why is that? Is the Tamil community more gifted than the Chinese one? Sure, the language that people spoke was not as "pure" as the one in the mother land - but then again, language purity is not what its cracked up to be.

For example, my speech patterns change when I speak English to Singaporeans and to my friends from the UK. Why? It's the same language but cultural meanings change and in the modern world you need to be able to cross cultural barriers without thinking about it. It is true of English and it is true of Chinese and any other language.

People who aquire more languages are better able to understand more cultures and develop more relationships. If you are culturally confident in your culture, you become more self-reliant. I take Yong Koon, my former father-in-law as a good example. His English is broken, but he gets by. He speaks some Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien, Teo Chew and Cantonese. As such, he's developed business relations with people from all these communities. He is "self-reliant," and not waiting for the government to pluck him up.

However, the moment you lose your identity and have a new one thrust upon you, you start to think differently. This is precisely what Mr Lee wanted for Singapore. People lose their sense of identity - he gives them one and then they become beholden to him. I suppose if you have to be beholden to anyone, Mr Lee is one of the best people to be beholden to. He's brought Singapore miraculous things. However, he's in his 80s and while he's in good health, he's not immortal.  

Languages are so simple. You learn them most effectively by practice. I grew up in a mono-lingual household. My mother takes pride in the way we grew up proficient in English and from time to time, my mother does make a few caustic remarks about my 'non-English' speaking friends. Although my father's first language is Cantonese (he speaks the refined version - so much so that he's considered a local in Hong Kong), its never been a priority to pass on the language. As such, I speak Cantonese exceedingly badly and I'm the only one from my generation who speaks it. 

But then my mother moved to Germany and married a German. While she tries to fly the flag for the English language, she's learnt to speak German - as she says, "Gramatically Wrong" but "fluently wrong." 

As for me, I still speak both Mandarin and Cantonese very badly. Then I started dating girls who were more comfortable in Mandarin than English. So, I spoke it more often and as a result, I've become more confident in speaking Mandarin. Yes, I am at my best in English but I actually enjoy being in situations where I have to speak Cantonese and on occasion Mandarin. When I'm with Caucasians, I enjoy being with Europeans and being able to converse in German or once in a while Spanish. I don't have a love to learn languages, or at least I don't love them enough to go out of my way to take a course, but just being able to say a few words to someone in their language is a pleasure. It makes me feel that I am not limited as a person. 

Why set limits on learning? Yes it is important to  be able to speak Mandarin but why does it have to be a Mandarin or Dialect - why not both Mandarin and Dialect? To assume that you need to know "Only" Mandarin to understand China is a total misunderstanding of China and Chinese culture. China is a huge nation and while Chinese has a common writen script, it has a linguistic diversity greater than Europe with its many nations - hence it is many cultures not one culture. If you look at the companies that succeed in China, it is those who take their time, build relations and understanding of culture. In big countries (which is non-city-states), culture is often diverse and understanding of culture means going down to the ground and understanding culture at its most basic. 

All languages have dialects. Where possible one should learn these dialects in addition to the main language. I like to think I speak English - both the British (Hampshire) and Singapore versions. I speak basic Mandarin and Cantonese because a part of my environment requires it of me. I speak basic German because that is also a portion of my environment. How can you go to a country and not learn the basics of the language? If you live in a country for a good few years and don't pick up a basic understanding of the local language, you are not living in that country - you are living in a ballon. 

Mr Lee whines about how our "English-Speaking" environment has grown at the expense of Mandarin. That's ironic - he's made it so. Brits, Australians and Americans have utterly no need to learn anything about the local culture because we're all English speaking. I hear its got something to do with attracting foreign investment. By contrast, Hong Kong has a culture where the expats need to learn a bit of Cantonese to survive. As such, there is a greater integration in Hong Kong - they're confident about they're culture. 

Isn't it ironic that Mr Lee who prides himself in having brought Singapore up by providing education is now busy trying to create a limitation of the mind in his quest to remove any ressurgance of the people who put him into power all those years ago. 


 

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Defense of Insanity

Those of you who have been reading my rants in the past few weeks might get the impression that I am going insane. I have perhaps been a bit rough on two groups in Singapore that seem to be sacrosanct - women and Caucasians. To say that I have issues with women and Caucasians would be vastly unfair. Some of my the best laughs I get in life come from women at their most rational (woman and rational?).  For example, I tried to explain to my favourite 43-year old that she was badly behaved a few days ago, she put on such an expression of indignation that I started laughing. Of course, I probably shouldn't because Gina, my former psychotic half used to to do the same thing. Women, where would we be without them? - Somewhere plesant I suppose? 

As for Caucasians, I have nothing against Caucasians. Some of my very best friends are Caucasians and a good porition of my family are such. I don't think my life would be the same if it were not for the two Caucasian stepfathers that blessed my life. If you've been to America or Europe, you'll realise that "White People" are in fact wonderful. For me, I admire Americans for their intrinsic kindness. I remember the way Americans in San Francisco went out of their way to help me, a stranger find my way when I was lost in Sea Cliff Avenue. 

The "White Man," has done many great things. Take a look at the English Public School System, which has breed an elite that is actually that. Contrary to popular belief, the people from Independent schools actually have the ability to get along with people from all walks of life and they really do form good friendships. Real elites behave like real people - Look at Prince Harry who tried to serve on the front line to be with his mates. Contrast that to the off spring of certain members of parliament who talk about "getting out of my uncaring elite face," to an unemployed man while they never worked a day in their lives. How do you respect such people - the only way to treat them is to "vomit" whenever you come into their presence. Prince Haz on the other hand deserves to be saluted. 

Despite the mess in the global financial system caused by Western banks, there's still plenty that we in Asia can learn from the West. I personally wish some of our precious little boys could learn a thing or two from the South Africans, Kiwis and Australians when it comes to being a man. It's perfectly fine to get a bruise or two without making it into an official complaint. On second thoughts, why stop at the boys - our girls could do with a bit of toughening up. I think I might still have been married if girls like Gina had a bit of stuffing knocked out of them on the rugby pitch.

Caucasians in Asia have been good too. I take Hans Hofer, founder and former publisher of Appa Guidebooks. Hans did not run to Caucasia to try and make a living. Instead, he actually fell in-love with Bali and took the photos himself - thus producing the first guidebook that could be called a work of art. OK, the rest of the books became part of a formula but Hans also put allot of work into creating the system. No wonder why he managed to sell the business for untold millions. When you speak to Hans, you know that you are speaking to your supperior. 

I mean compare Hans to the likes of...hummm, Roger Hamilton. Hans didn't go to Cambridge as Roger claims to have done but he actually created a real business. Then again to be fair to Roger, he actually managed to bring in allot of revenue to the coffers of Caucasia. I mean, how many of us can claim to have single handedly done so much for ones home land? I mean, if I did as much for Singapore as Roger did and does for Caucasia, I think I'd be typing this out from the Istana. 

Then again, I should stop picking on Roger. He's never done me any personal harm and so, I shall continue to observe how he plans to make more money for Caucasia. Perhaps one day I will be able to write a book about him and encourage Singaporeans to do more for the government when it comes to raising funds. Life as they say, would be very dull if you didn't have the Citizens of Caucasia comming to provide the rest of us with credibility ......I mean Singapore is filled with dubious Chinamen businesses that can afford to pay their suppliers immediately while taking credit terms from their clients and not enough credible businsess run by Citizens of Caucasia who grumble when their suppliers expect to be paid - "Shouldn't be in business with me if you can't see I haven't been paid." (They give their customers 30 days and expect their suppliers to accept another 30 days from them) 

These Chinamen busineses in Singapore are really bad for the economy. They do disgraceful things like pay their debts and honour their bills in cash. They think that the agreements they have with their suppliers and customers are different. How can this be an acceptable method of doing busineses in the modern world. It's no wonder why the Singapore government under SPRING has decided its necessary to send all these uneducated Chinamen who contribute to the economy to do their MBA....guess where?....In Schools run by Citizens of Caucasia.  

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I'm just a Pleb and I DON'T know Anyone

I remember asking Tunku Muin (Royal Family of Keddah and friend of Vinod)  where he stood on Malaysia's social scale if Vinod was a Datuk. He smiled and told me,"I'm just a PLEB." A few years of being in PR, I've come to remember this line. I am just a PLEB. Yes, let's make it clear, I am the perpetual underachiever, a man who could have been so much but in reality is just a nobody who is unknown, insignificant and so on.

I've come to realise, though I've done so rather late in life, that being unaccomplished and an unsung hero of nothing has plenty of benefits. For one, an non-achiever can only achieve. Everyone knows you're no good and so when you do something that touches them, they'll feel that you're good. However, if you're known as a superstar, you constantly need to deliver beyond expectations. Today's surprise becomes tomorrow's expecation and stars need to create and set new expectations for their over growing number of fans. Look at the Singapore Government. They've given us clean drinking water, decent housing and so on - but are we greatful - na, that was yesterday's surprise, today its the least they can do for us.

However, there is a more important reason for being a Pleb that nobody knows. When you are a pleb, you actually meet people rather than plastic cut outs of yesterday's Barbie Doll rejects who are desparate to try and improve their image in the world by tagging onto to you but feel obliged to use their skin colour or lack of it as a point of negotiation with you. Usual line is,"Yeah, American's feel reassured just to hear a Western voice," - erm, what's so Western about you - you're trying to eek your living here. 

Non Pleb's have incredible credentials and have an exceedingly fat rollodex. Plebs on the other hand don't have anything to shout about and so, they continue to get on in their little hovel and do things like work rather than talk. 

For me, my weekend was disgustingly bad. I had the best known reject from the Barbie Doll shop offer me her credibility with the Western World in Asia and then I had my favourite 43-year old single mother and wanna be damsel in distress get involve in a scuffle with an exquisite spa that involved getting the police. What was her beef? She was most offended that the spa manager wouldn't let me sit in the same room with her when she was getting the facial. Although I had no problem waiting in the waiting room (which was quite swish), she suddenly felt the spa was getting rude to her. 

Fuck Me, I mean I cringed when the opperations manager of the spa described me as her "Boyfriend." I know I attract loonies but this was really out of wack. The cops were really nice guys and tried to get things settled in a peaceful manner. It took a "final warning" from the cops for her to see some sense. 

Seriously, I know allot of Singaporeans find my comments very offensive and perhaps its me and my experiences, but I've never had the problems I have with anyone else than I do with supposedly educated Singaporean women. 

I lived in Soho, an area of London known for its prostitutes, drug dealers and pimps. In that time, I used to spend nights out drunk and in the company of such disireables. Yet, and yet, I was never assaulted. Then I came home to Singapore, the land of law, order and Asian values. I got married and spent the next two-years of my life on the recieving end of the first of a Gremlin on Speed.

Then I start dating a Vietnamese Thug. My friends keep going on about how she's unsuitable and I should get a normal girl. My mother reminds me, "I don't want a Gangster in the Family." Yet, in spite of all that, this Thug has never put me in a situation where the police are required to ask for my personal particulars. 

Then I have one afternoon with a supposedly mature Singaporean Chinese girl and somehow, over the smallest of issues, I find myself having to speak to the police because....she felt she was insulted. My God, it was worse than watching the football boys rolling on the floor whenever they've been tapped.

The best part about this whole situation is the fact that she has utterly no idea of how much of a mess she's created. She's insisiting the cops could have "Forced" the spa to do more for her. 

Allot of people think I'm being unfair to Singapore Chinese girls from the Middle and Upper Middle Class. Allot of people will comment on how other Asian girls may be sweet but lack substance. My mother for one gets on my case when I get involved with a Mandarin Speaking girl - "darling how can you communicate, you don't have a language in common." 

Yet and yet, the "low-down" girls from the rest of Asia I have been entaggled with never give me the type of problems that the Singapore Chinese girls from the Middle Class seem to enjoy inflicting on me. Allot of people I know cannot stop talking about Han Li being this and that but in the two-years we were involved intensly, I've never had to give the police my particulars. Within five dates with Agness, I find myself having to give the police my particulars. 

Seriously, I want to know why nobody actually writes in point out why Singaporean men are falling into the "Clutches" of women from China and Vietnam. So what if the majority come to work as prostitutes - at least they live in the real world. I mean, would you rather spend time with someone who lives on planet earth or someone who lives in Whinney I'm Perfect Land?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sometimes when we touch......You find a total eclipse of the heart ... And it's Over Now

Another week ends and I think its been a very special week. I hit a moment of happiness in my life,  moment of peace and tranquility with a person whom I should, by all rights avoid, but in reality gave more emotionally than quite a few people I've known. Yes, I am talking about a lady who happens to be 13-years older, from a country many respectable Singaporeans do not goto when it comes to finding a bride and working for a lady I've been involved with in a very curious relationship - alabiet one centred on the love of a small child. 

The last time I got myself entwined in a relationship this forbidden was with Pam, who happened to be 12-years older, black and bi-sexual (normal preference for girls but I was a handy boy on the side.) When I look back at my relationship with Pam, I put it down to youthful rebellion. It was fun being the 19-year old snog partner of someone with such natural shock value. Worried the old man too. However, as I got older and Pam reentered my life, what seemed fun back in my teens was actually tiresome in my 30s. It was like - Happy Valentines Day for OLD TIMES SAKE. I suppose the cache of a woman 12-years older when your 19 is no longer the same when you've turned 30 and she's turned 42 but still acting like a teenager (though to be fair to Pam, she does not look a day older than 25). 

This person is different. Yes, I'm turning 35 and she's turning 48 but I don't find her to be a chore. In fact, spending time with her was something I was actually excited to do. I remember the anxious feeling of waiting for the bus to get across the Causeway to see her in Malaysia. It was like I had something to go home to. Nothing sexual happened between us, we just spent time together and it was really good. We didn't talk allot (Her English ain't Queen's) but it was good, I felt at ease with the world. 

I'm only just accepting that I'm probably never going to feel this happy for quite sometime. News of the time we spent together will slip out into her community and the mere knowledge that she had more time in my company than expected will have reprecussions. As for me, I can see my mother and sister cringing that I could fall for someone "Lower" than myself on the social ladder. Gina was a degree holder and as far as my mother was concerned, I might as well have brought home a mut. 

What can I say? I just found myself feeling at ease with her. We're talking about a person who has lived with poverty that I and my contemporaries in Singapore and West will never be able to imagine. Yet, unlike the usual women I meet who are educated at university level, this was a woman quietly doing what she needed to do to feed her loved ones instead of whinning about how hard her life is and how badly fate has treated her. Instead of trying to con me into picking up her bills, she actually insisted on picking up mine and unlike her Singapore counterparts went out of her way to put me at ease about it.   

So there it is. I had a moment with a woman who wasn't trying to find McGOD (As most who become fundimentalist Christian) and she wasn't trying to give me credibility by coming to me for advice. It was restful, blessful and good. 

Unfortunately, it's over now and I have to accept that I live in a world of whinney whinney people with a curious idea of life.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Moving On

In a minuites time the 9th of March will go by and I will through the 12th anniversary of the accident that killed two good friends in New Zealand. What the Singapore Armed Forces called Excercise Swift Lion was probably a dinfining moment in the lives of myself and the men who were the 23rd Battalion Singapore Artillery's 7th Mono-Intake. I can't speak for the rest of the group and although I didn't see the accident, I try to write about it on a regular enough basis. As the groups most prolific writer, I guess that's what I have to do to ensure that the event does not fade into obscurity. 

On the most superficial level, the pain of that incident is fadding. Tweleve Years on, nearly every army colleague I run into is busy getting on with life. People are getting married, having children and making life go on as it should. As the group's perpetual misfit, I spent the better part of the day in the company of a woman I obviously cannot be with but so obviously feel a connection for and with. The time I spent in her company will probably have consequences, but the happiness I had will be worth it. 

So, as you can see, even the misfit is able to find a moment of happiness on  a day that was darkest in a carefree youth.

How can one define moments like Swift Lion? Yes, I can aknowledge that the dead have long been burried and the living move on. It's the way that life should be. Then again, moving on is not moving on until you realise the significance of the moment.

For me, I think Swift Lion was one of those moments that wakes you up. As physically demanding as National Service is, it is by and large a game and when you look back on many of the incidents in National Service, it's fun. I mean, I'm not a gun person but thanks to National Service, I learnt how to shoot and just as many can brag about how "My First Car was a Porche," I can boast that "My First Riffle was an M16," - and if you look at the history on the M16 that's something to be proud of.

So, you go through National Service and you sort of learn how to live the rest of your life - you bitch and moan but in actual fact you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else. Even the lessons in "leadership" seem quite fun. All the talk about "sacrifice," and "life" are just that - talk - cause it doesn't affect you.

Then, one day, out of the blue, one of your good friends comes home in a casket and Ronnie's case it was "Open Casket," which meant you saw how a caring and loving human being was turned into what can be politely called a wax work dummy. The damage done to him by that exploding shell was so great, I hate to think of what the embalmers had to do to make him vaguely recognisable. 

Suddenly, you realise that it's no longer a game and life ends just like that...with an explosion of a shell. I mean, its one thing to watch a horrific war movie ..it's quite another when you have to attend a funeral of a close friend and hear the sobbing and blind rage of a mother who has just lost her only son. I think, it made us, a group of young punks, realise that what were doing had a human cost to it. 

It's like this...much of what we do in life is pretty routine, you might say just plain dull. For those of us working for someone else, we might just be going through the motions. As one retiering school teacher said, "Every day I spend hear is another dollar in my pocket." He was right, much of the world is about going through motions and collecting your paycheck at the end of everyday.

I don't think most of us stop to think about the human cost to what we do. Back in the days of National Service, we certainly didn't. I mean, wasn't the objective of National Service to count down to your ORD (Opperationally Ready Date)? Then your friend comes home in a casket and then you realise that what you do has a human cost to it. 

In the few in camps I went to until my back got injured, I would be told..."You know that incident in New Zealand...this is what the comittee found." There you have it, the committee spoke and that is that. I can't help but feel that its a little too convenient. Perhaps I've become cynical with age but fact finding committes sound like a way of removing blame from vested interest. 

Why can't we do something more serious like teach people in the defense procurement industry that they're actions or lack of them have a human cost? I suppose that would involve serious investment in time and it would hinder the powers that be from the real business of making money. 

Life is like that I suppose. People on the top come up with all sorts of grand visions. In our "Top-Down" society, we're always waiting for the wise men on the top to come up with some grand vision. I suppose it works. The people at the top just dream and get well paid for it and the people at the bottom enjoy it because they're spared the harsh task of thinking. It's too bad nobody actually thinks about the human cost. I mean if the bottom actually considered the things they'd have to pay in human actions, they may actually take a bit more interest in trying to shape their own destiny. Too bad, the human cost seems to convenient to ignore.  
 

Saturday, March 07, 2009

We're Bigger, Better but Yikes.....You're Barking Back.....Mummy Get Me Out of Here!

A few entries ago, I wrote about Caucasia, a land filled with well meaning people who genuinely want to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. The Citizens of this fair land have a good heart and while they may not understand the Chinaman's "Sucky Sucky" techniques, their desire to double your initial investment within six-months is genuine. 

For the most part the Citizens of this fair land are ammusing. However, there comes a point when ammusement gives way to irritation. More importantly, there comes a point when irritation becomes anger and there's only one way to deal with one of them - unload your anger onto them and before you know it, they'll run home blamming everyone for their ignomoius situation. 

Citizens of Caucasia are blessed with fine physical attributes. They're physically bigger than allot of Orientals, which means they cut an imposing figure whenever they're in a crowded street filled with sucky sucky Chinamen. I'm told that size matters and so by that definition one has to admit that the Citizens are automatically better (though having worked as a re-servicer for people who deal with the citizens, I'm not sure who's difinition of better we're talking about.) 

But let's not get carried away here. The Citizens are better than the rest of us. However, there is one weak link in the physical armour of these physically imposing people - balls or rather the lack of it. The moment a little ant starts bitting back, they start to run and hide. 

This was made most evident to me when I saw a couple of the Citizens take on a Thai Ant at Naughty Girl, a bar located on the second floor of mall affectionately known as "Four Floors of Whores." I'm not sure what happened but what I saw was a couple of citizens trying to intimidate the Thai Ant and then....all of a sudden...the little ant jumped into a boxing stance. As quickly as the little ant jumped into fighting position, the citizens quickly recoilled and called for the bouncer ....all the ring leader could do was to mutter,"Yea...I'm scared mate," as he slithered away from the fighting ant. 

Of course, these were the uneducated Citizens. For the most part, the Citizens are more refined. A friend of mine was approached to work as a partner for a pitch by one of the government ministries. The company had a week to go before the pitch to the ministry and they asked him to work for them with five days to go. My friend told them they he couldn't do what they asked for within the time frame ..not once but thrice. So what did these guys do --they threatened to sue. After checking with legal counsel, my friend told them that gangster tactics were not appreciated. The Citizen asked him to recamend them a new PR person.

There's no need to be deliberately nasty to the Citizens. As I've said, for the most part, the majority are ammusing. However, there comes a time when you have to remind the hired help that they're still hired help regadless of how well you're paying them. It makes it so much easier for everyone. 

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lonely .....Lonely......Lonely

I've spent a good portion of the last two weeks attending a funeral of a good friend's brother-in-law. The deceased, who had been an academic for the better part of his life, had been a devoted husband, caring father and a good friend to many and it was a touching funeral. The cultural anthropologist in me found participation in Hindu death rituals to be facinating and the human that I sometimes pretend to me was moved by the fact that nearly everyone at the funeral wished they had only shown the man that bit more appreciation when he was alive. 

As time wore on, the grief of the passing subsided and the living started to appreciate each other all the more. If ever there was a sign of a successful funeral, this was it - the living started to be more accepting of each other. 

But now the ceremony is over and the widow will now face life on her own. The family is rightfully concerned that the absense of people to look after, the widow will now experience what it is like to be on her own after a 35-year marriage. How do you deal with lonliness? 

I'm not a psychiatrist but I once had the unfortunate experience of having someone else share my life and when that person no longer shares your life, its quite a traumatic experience. My marriage to Gina was terrible. It was bad for me and it was bad for her. Now that four years have passed, I can understand that the marriage was thus - we brought out the worst in each other and never did anything. 

Yet, having said all of that, when she was gone, it took quite a bit of getting used to. Rightly or wrongly, she was my companion for the better part of two years and even if most of our time together was negative and painful (time spent in therapy, police station etc etc), it took me a while to get used to life without her. 

I guess it's like this. When you're in a relationship, it becomes your life. As a third party, the most obvious question about "Abusive relationships," is - "Why the hell does the abused stay with the abuser?" Patterns are always the same......get abused...appologies (Gina was particularly horny after violence) .....and then abuse. In my case, I had my father asking, "She can't be that good can she," while my mother would insist, "Nobody can be so good for you to put up with this shit." My friends could see that  we were plainly no good for each other. 

Yet, and yet, I held off because, well ... life without her was unimaginable and even after taking out a Personal Protection Order against her (Which I only did when I realised that I was close to executing the idea of doing her serious damage during her outburst and enjoying it), I still genuinely wanted her to have a role to play in my life, even if she was not to be a wife. 

My experiences with Gina made me realise that sharing your life is horribly addictive and its hard to concieve life without the other party and if I can feel that way about two-years in an abusive relationship, I can only multiply that closeness to a person for people who are in stable, loving relationships. 

How do we cope with lonliness and the other party? OK, I had a life without Gina and it came back to me when I ended my life with her. But what happens to the people who devote so much of their life to being with another person that they forgo the life they once had? I can only imagine that it must be crushing when the other party leaves you and you suddenly have to rebuild life again. 

Gina always accused me of being too independent and I've heard of girls who wished they were a tad less independent and thus more able to live in a married life. Perhaps my attachment to be idea of being independent has screwed up my life...I can't except the idea of being dependent on ONE source of income and ONE life partner as being a reward in life. I live with the financial hardship because, its easier than dealing with the emotional pain.

I remember the first girl who touched my life in such a way that I felt lonely - her name is Adelene, who was a Malaysian, studying in London at the same time that I was. On the surface, the girl was charming and I have to admit, after all these years I remember her fabulous French cooking (Way to man's heart.... ) So, I made what I could call stupid critical decision number one of my life - I invited her to share my life.

She moved in with me and we spent the next two months together pretending to paint the town blue - which in reality was a case of me being dragged into her emotional mess (ran away at 17 with a French man and was dumped - usual sob story ). In the end, I got tired and worn out by her and alcohol seemed more fun..

We had wild times, which I can now appreciate were useless times. But at the time, I had such an intense feeling about wanting this girl in my life - it hurt when she was not there. I remember calling my mother in Germany and crying the first time she stayed over night and went back to her place. She made me feel lonely in my house....I mean its quite annoying that you allow someone else to make it painful to be in your own house ...but that's the way she made me feel.

Thanks to time, I've come to accept the fact that Adelene and the awful experience I had with her was necessary. Without her, I would probably not loved Carra when I met her during my internship in Citibank. Carra was basically everything that Adelene was not - sensible, kind and capable of emotional relationship. 

Yet, and yet, I remember that feeling of being so lonely because you had someone else share your life to such an extent that you don't know what to do without the other person. It's a scary feeling to go through. 


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Confidence of Appearing Poor Especially if You Are

Image has been at the centre of my life. I currently work in PR, which is about crafting your image and a good deal of my family has spent time in the advertising industry, which is all about buying images for yourself. With my family embeded in the business of creating images in one way or another, you could call me something of an odd ball in the industry. I am fat, folically challeneged and openly disdainful of social pretenses and yet I chose to remain a small fish in a pond of beautiful and reverant people. 

For the record, I'm not against image. In fact I am all for image and having an image. Life is such that what is percieved has a way of becoming real and so no business or organisation can afford to ignore the management of image making. Unfortunately there are way too many people in the PR industry who have sold the art of creating image as an ego boosting excercise of collecting news clips. Advertising people are even worse - they've sold creativity as an expression of frustrated art work. As such, advertising and PR budgets get slashed in a downturn. I mean, who wants to admit that they paid a gazillion dollars for art work that gets forgotten in the 30 second slot? 

Perhaps its just me, but I don't see enough people in these industries trying to sell the important things they do for businesses. In PR, people get obsessed about glamour shots and somehow things like managing relations gets shoved aside. In advertising, you will never hear the end of how many awards people have won and not enough about how people rushed out to buy the product. We, in the image creating business have shot ourselves in the foot by selling the wrong image of what we should actually offer and its noticeable in a recession. People buy based on relationships - but the PR people only sold themselves as ink gatherers not relationship managers. In a recession people buy products they value but the advertising people only sold themselves as pretty boys not people who make your value shine. You can't be surprised that people want to cut fluff when they can't afford it and the most fluffy people in the room are usually in PR or advertising.

Make no mistake, image is important. The way people react to us depends on how they percieve us and believe it or not, we have quite a lot more control over how people percieve us than we realise. For example, we all dress neatly when we goto work because...well nobody wants to deal with a slob. Then again, if we were in the creative line, we dress down because it gives the sense of being at ease with the world. If you are simply awful ...keep it at home. I believe very firmly in things like having somewhat decent manners - a man with manners gives the impression of being someone worth dealing with.

Where I draw the line with the national obsession with image is when people start adapting personas that are unreal. This is usually associated when it comes to appearing to be rich or at least appearing to be what you think is rich. This obsession is usually costly and unsustainable and when you cannot sustain an image with action, the 'mirage' is cruelly exposed. 

Let's get it straight, I have nothing against a bit of show. If you can afford it, why not have it? Enforced ascetism is no good either. I'm with Vinod who tells the world,"I enjoy my money." Then there's also some credence to the idea that if you believe in something and adapt to certain things, you will achieve your goals. The late Mark McCormick of IMG noticed that Vice-Presidents always associated themselves with other Vice-Presidents and the Janitors also only associated with each other. His practice of giving junior executives titles bigger than themselves helped them grow into bigger people. 

I'm all for it. However, it's got to be real and sustainable. At IMG, those who held titles bigger than their work experience could either grow into their roles quickly or get sacked ruthlessly. 

Simply put, you have to follow the maxxium that "To Thine Ownself be True." Flash and glitz works for Vinod - it's part of his personality. Simple, down to earth modesty works for Arun Jain of Polaris because its who he is. To get these two to try and imitate the other would be a disaster. 

So, the question remains, how do you build your image and the path that best suites you? I'm with Bill Bernbach, the legendary creative director of DDB (he was the B) when he argued that the job of advertising was to kill one's own brilliance and let the brilliance of the product shine through. However, he argued that the brilliance had to be real. A toothpaste that claims to clean "whiter than white" has to  be able to do it. 

However, do we really know ourselves and the brilliant things we can do? Sadly the answer is no. Happily for the economic system, the ad and PR people worth anything can tell their clients the joys and faults of their products and services. As a client, its easy to get so caught up in ones own little world ...and the Ad and PR people who give you the views of the consumer are your biggest allies. 

But what happens when it comes to individuals? For the most part - honest feedback is often ego shattering - just watch American Idol and the faces of kids who were told they were rock stars in action suddenly being told that they sing like shit. 

Nobody wants their ego destroyed - but I think there's something to the idea of being able to help people find the brilliance they never realised they had. 

 


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Benefits of Being Ugly

I'm not sure if its nature or if it's society but women have been conditioned to thrive on their looks. To put it crudely, beautiful women get ahead in life because they're beautiful. Men fall in lust/love with beautiful women while other women are intimidated by beautiful women and so tend to give the beautiful ones the room to get ahead. Physical beauty for a woman is everything. Just look at Hollywood, that bastion of modern culture. How many really "Ugly" or even just "Plane" women have been allowed to succeed on the silver screen? By contrast, you have actors like Jack Black who have made a fortune by playing ordinary, unsexy looking guys. 

So, I guess we have to say that ugly women are destined to fail in life unless they're gifted with extra genious talents in other areas. Margaret Thatcher was no beauty but her sheer force of personality got things moving. Then again, Mrs Thatcher is pretty much a unique case.

Then again, for those of you who have been following this blog will know, a woman can get away with being downright ugly and at times stupid. Yes, its the presence of Flesh Ball aka Zen - Singapore's least attractive prostitute. Zen is what you'd call one of life's perpetual misfits. When it comes to describing looks - the nicest thing you can say about her is that she looks "Unusual." Her body is "fleshy" and she most definately does not wear an S size. Yet if you look closely, you'll find the world's tinnest hands, feet, eyes and nose attached to an overgrown body. When I showed her picture to my mother, the only reply I got was,"Darling, I hope you're not seeing her socially, it's too ugly to bear - she's SO FAT you can't see her eyes." 

Having said all of that, Zen is exceedingly confident to the point of being cocky. How did that happen? The answer is two fold. One she's obviously found customers who find her looks sexually appealing. The other is she's turned her lack of looks into a sales technique on suckers like me. I'm not about to seek her professional services but when she looks pathetic enough, it actually makes me feel lousy not to do things like buy her a drink or a meal and I'm obviously not the only sucker for a fat baby like creature in distress. A close friend of mine decided that, "She's my favourite charity." 

What do lack of looks imply in this case? I suppose its a sense of ...you can't let her die. You look at Zen with her lack of looks trying to eek out a miserable existence in a disgusting profession and you find yourself cheering her on. As a Negative Chinaman once said,"Considering the disadvantages she has, it's a miracle she hasn't killed herself." I mean Baby Cute is not what you want to be when you're 26 but if people feel sorry and are moved to do things for you, it's an asset. The girl is incidentally also benefiting from being less than a nobody (education level - N or NO Level) in as much as she's happily worked as a nude model and media guest - discussing life as a prostitute.

I think of Zen and her lack of basically everything because of a 43-year old single mother who has entered by my life in recent months. We're at the "Just Met" stage and she's already managed to stir up a few interesting reactions from some of my friends who have met her. 

This girl has had it rough. Her ex-husband is a cad of the highest order. He's devoted a great deal energy and time into ensuring that she's jumping through hoops to collect what little child support he gives her for their two children. Going through the court system is no fun, unless you're him. This man once earned on average of S$20,000 a month but has since claimed bankruptcy and is making the most of his "Legal Aid" lawyers to make his ex-wife sweat. 

Having said that, the girl has a history with men that makes you afraid that she may be attracted to you because if you look what she's ended up with, her possible attraction to you may be an inditment of your moral fibre. This is, in not so many words....bagage. Having her around is having her bagage and the word's "High Maintainance" come to mind. 

Two views about her situation have surfaced. One gentleman says it so simply - "How can a good looking an articulate woman not be able to build a life for herself?" A lady says,"Perhaps people will judge her less harshly if she looked ugly like a hawker, dressed like an ah so - cos it would mean her suffering is real." 

This is an interesting point. Zen who is everything a woman should not want to be elicits sympathy. My friend, who is physically attractive and socially skilled, does not. Are her sufferings and hardships less real that Zen's? Has being good looking hurt her chances of survival?