Monday, May 30, 2011

The Smack on the Head

There's nothing like a nasty head smacking to get your brain ticking. I guess when you realise that you may be lacking in brain cells, the decision to make the most of what little you have becomes an easy one to make.

For some reason I decided that I needed to jump on a bus into Johor rather urgently and so, instead of walking around the barriers, I thought I'd jump them. Unfortuntely, I had a little bit too much to drink before hand and I forgot I am now an overweight blob of 102 kg on the wrong side of 30 instead of a fit, trim 20 something. Didn't clear the low railings, ended slipping backwards and the 102 kg frame ended up bringing down a head straight onto a metal railing and then a stone floor. Ended up biting my own tongue in the process and the blood sort gave me the look of being on the wrong end of a 1960s Kung Fu movie. Sent a few shudders down the travel companion and so to ease his worries and my pain - we ended up having a few more beers on the Malaysian end of the Causeway - this was...purely medicinal ....alcohol in the beer is supposed to heal cuts in the mouth.

Anyway, I'm up and alive. Didn't develop a serious internal injury and won't be obliging the ex-wife by dropping dead anytime soon. Am, however, nursing the ache at the back of the neck but I guess that's OK, since I actually like the burning sensation that medicated oils provide.

So, in light of being smacked on the head, what is there to think about? This being Singapore, I thought I'd give a few of my brain cells to a certain young politician - Ms Tin Pei Ling, MP for Marine Parade GRC and the youngest MP in the history of our young nation.

Ms Tin, has been a walking Public Relations disaster. Everything she does ends up on the nasty side of cyberspace. She tried to be fillial and described how she regreted not brining her folks to Universal Studios and she was panned for being out of touch. She tried to be hip by using Kate Spade handbags and she was panned for being a silly elietist. She tried to be friendly and cool by stomping her foot and the video of her ended up all over the net, leaving us to wonder is she was really 27 and not 7.

It didn't help that Ms Tin's rival was younger but far more mature, Nicole Seah. If Pei-Pei could do no right, Nicole demonstrated that she could do no wrong. The comparison was so unflattering that Ms Tin has officially being dubbed Singapore's Sarah Palin - John McCain's running mate who's idea of foreign policy was to look at the Russian border from the her bedroom window.

Is this a fair comparison, I wonder? Well, I guess you could say Pei Lin and Palin rhyme and both ladies have demonstrated a remarkable lack of awarness about the world as it is. However, that's about where the similarities end.

Mrs Palin, unlike Ms Tin has one crucial ingredient - she appeals to someone. Say what you like about Mrs Pailin's knowledge of geography beyond her small town but she is exceedingly popular amongst a certain target voters. While the more educated may bemoan her lack of basic knowledge of geography and science, she's managed to sell these qualities in her as being "simple, honest -Small Town America." Like it or not, this insires a certin group of people to vote for Mrs Palin. Think of the cries of "Drill, Baby, Drill," when she made her stance clear on drilling for oil in Alaska. While you might shudder at Mrs Palin's lack of foresight, she actually stands for something and people can identify with that. She looks good and she's fiesty. Like it or not, any Republican candidate for the 2012 Presidential Election will treat her seriously.

The same cannot be said for Ms Tin, who's faults lie not much in her taste in handbags but in the fact that she doesn't exactly stand for anything. Much was made of the fact that she couldn't think of a PAP policy which she seriously disagreed with. More should have been made of the fact that there wasn't a policy which she believed in. I mean you don't have to agree with everything but you as a politician should believe in something. In short, we, the Singapore voters had to ask ourselves - "What exactly does Ms Tin believe in?" Look at Ms Tin and you'll see a sweet, demure little girl (when she's posing on instruction) who doesn't stand for much. Yes, some old folks might want her as their daughter in law - my mother for one might prefer her to what I've been bringing home. However, does she inspire anyone?

Ms Palin was hoisted onto John McCain and for a while his campaign actually recieved a boost from her presence. Ms Palin stood for something and attracted a certain group of people to her. Agree with her or not, Ms Palin actually stands for something.

By contrast, Pei Pei is a sad and lonely little girl with no personality to speak of what so ever. Even her major running mate, former Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had to admit that the dislike on the ground for her pulled his share of the votes down. Ms Tin is a "good" girl who party elders can count on to do as she is told but she's so "good" that she's actually bland to the point of being ineffectual. How can anyone take her sersiously?

Perhaps there's a lesson in there for our young - they should learn to stand for something instead of trying to be paper cut out dolls. For all her faults, Mrs Palin does have a following that finds her electable. Ms Tin, for all her apparent virtues is unworthy of anyone's after thoughts.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

You’re not even a Nigger – You’re Lower than That – You’re an African!

The TV has decided to play “Hotel Rwanda” as its late night/ early morning show. The movie tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan hotelier who managed to hide 1,268 Tutsi and moderate Hutus during the 1994 genocide.

I remember the genocide. I saw it on TV. It happened at the same time as the Bosnian War and while Europe and the USA made lots of noise about placing an arms embargo on the Milosevic regime in Serbia, the Rwandans decided to do things the old-fashioned way – they butchered each other with machetes and the world watched as it happened.
To put it in its crudest terms, Bosnia was an unequal war while Rwanda was a “Snuff Movie-Made Real.” Everyday you would turn on the TV and you’d get to graphic images of people who had been hacked to death. One day, one group of people decided that they would take a sharp chopper to their neighbours and that was that.

The Western Powers lead by the USA, who had so efficiently kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait two-years earlier, sat by and watched. Saddam had to be kicked out of Kuwait because he was a murderous thug was an amateur compared to the chaps in Rwanda. What went wrong?

Well, the simple answer is this – Kuwait was and is a reliable oil supplier for the West while there is utterly no strategic interest in Rwanda. The contrasting attitudes were best summed up by one of the most poetic lines in the movie – “You’re not even in a Nigger – You’re Lower than That – You’re an African.” It is important to save Kuwait from a murderous thug called Saddam because Kuwait has oil – nobody scores points for saving African lives.

I never appreciated it at the time but the difference in the way the world reacted towards Rwanda and Kuwait were lessons that history had already demonstrated. Great powers inevitably act towards the world – they inevitably act in their self-interest. This was true of the British in the 19th century and it is the same of the Americans in the current one. China has shown that if it grows into the next power, it will do the same.

Both the British in the 19th century and the Chinese in the next century have been clear on how they’d run things. The Americans are a different case. They’ve worked on the policy of “Doing Good.” Whenever they’ve invaded a country in the last century, they’ve always done it on the official premise they were “liberators.” To be fair, both Saddam in Iraq and Noriega in Panama were dictators. However, if you look at the way they’ve tried to manage Iraq, you have to question their real motives.
Which leads to the point on what can the rest of the world do? Well, for the most part, it is best to work with the superpower in terms of trade. Chances are the superpower is a superpower for a reason. In the 19th century it was the British and today it is the Americans who have the skills and the technology that the rest of us simply don’t have. As such, it’s always a good idea to send your best and brightest to learn from the superpower. This is a good exchange. For the British, educated natives helped to run the colonies. The Americans use them to help run multinationals.

Superpowers, especially America can be benevolent. Americans forces have helped keep the peace in various parts of the world. Both PAX BRITANICA and PAX AMERICANA have kept the world from exploding into a larger conflict.
However, smaller nations and people from smaller nations have to remember that superpowers don’t act out of the love of their smaller brethren but out of their own strategic interest.

Simply put, anyone who believes that the super power will rush to their defence out of the goodness of their heart will be in for a massive disappointment. So what can smaller countries stuffed with black, brown and yellow people do.

Well, the answer is to learn to be independent and self-reliant. One should learn the skills of the superpower and what makes the system tick but not be dependent on the superpower for ones security and prosperity. While I don’t always agree with the official stance of the Singapore government, I do give credence to the idea of National Service – simply put, - it is good to have someone defend you but also important to doubly ensure that you know how to defend yourself.

It’s good to have alternatives. As long as you remember that as far as the superpower is concerned, you are “Lower than a nigger,” you’ll always have the instincts to look out for yourself and not rely on the superpower to do it for you.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The People That You Mentor?

In a move that surprised everyone, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew decided that he would retire for the cabinet. Mr Lee has been positioned as modern Singapore’s “Founding Father,” and even Mr Lee’s harshest critics have found it hard to think of Singapore without Mr Lee’s presence in the cabinet.

As well as being Singapore’s “Founding Father,” Mr Lee has also been something of a “Rock Star.” He is the one political leader that Singapore has produced that seems to be recognised by everyone else. Both West and East laud him for taking the sleepy crime-infested tropical swamp and turning it into a modern metropolis within a generation. Let’s face it, Singapore is a young nation that actually compares quite well with many developed countries in terms of its physical and dare I say, legal infrastructure.

So, Mr Lee is rightfully lauded for his achievements. If you look at his record, he’s proven right on more than one occasion and on more than one issue. You could say that he’s the right person to have as a mentor.

This was the argument that Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, had used when he retained his father in the cabinet some seven years ago. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was given the title of “Minister Mentor,” and as the title implied, he was supposed to “Mentor” the cabinet with his years of experience as a leader and international statesman.

However, how much of a “Mentor” was Mr Lee? Well, in the end, it turned out that Mr Lee wasn’t much of a mentor but a senile uncle who left the Ministers he was supposed to mentor, scrambling to cover for him. It started with his comments about Muslims needing to “integrate” better by being less serious about their religion. This was compounded by his prediction that the Group Representation Constituency the PAP was about to lose would have five years to “Repent,” for voting in the opposition. His comments left the Prime Minister in the unique position of having to call a press conference to distance himself from his father.

So how did this wise man that did so much to make the PAP and Singapore, end up looking like a fool of the highest order?

I think part of the problem lay in the fact that Mr Lee forgot that his title was to “Mentor,” rather than to take charge. As mentor, ones role is to provide advice but to accept that ultimately the responsibility for any action lies with the person who receives your advice. At best, mentors work in different organisations and their advice comes from a private capacity. This was never the case with Mr Lee. Apart from announcement that he was “No longer in charge,” Mr Lee took a very active role in running things. When he felt Members of Parliament needed a dressing down, he would do it personally. When foreign dignitaries wanted to visit someone, he would make sure he was an important port of call. Mr Lee travelled extensively, brining Ministers on his trips so that he could “open” up markets. Mr Lee even went as far as to make his importance visible on a symbolic level. At the last National Day, Mr Lee got himself driven into the arena, a privilege previously held by the Head of Government and Head of State.

Then there’s the question of experience. What exactly are the experiences that Mr Lee brings to the cabinet? Well, I suppose it’s always good to have someone else to give you “experience” or the “benefit of their wisdom.” Both experience and wisdom usually come with age – a case of learning through hard knocks, which comes with time. In this aspect, Mr Lee was a font of wisdom for those who consulted him.

However, most mentors are known for certain strengths and most of us have forgotten where Mr Lee’s strengths lay. Generations of Singaporeans have grown up believing Mr Lee’s strengths lay in governance. In fairness to this assumption, Mr Lee led a team of brilliant ministers. Mr Lee had the foresight and security of character to allow the likes to Dr Goh Keng Swee and S.Rajartnam to do certain jobs. Once they convinced him of a certain course of action, he supported them all the way and ensured that they had what they needed to get the job done.

However, Mr Lee, himself was not an administrator himself. His real strengths lay in political street fights. He was the campaign orator, the man who knew how to mobilise union leaders and he knew when to lock them up. He was the one who shrewdly read political sentiments in the UK and Malaysia and how to use them to the advantage of Singapore. Mr Lee has always been a pragmatist who knew how to sell ideals to idealist. He was the English Educated lawyer who learnt Mandarin and Hokkien in the span of six-months so that he could make the masses move.

If you read his biography, his genius was not in being an all wise and all knowing statesman, even though he’s been known as one. His real genius came when he was the underdog – the leader of the minority English educated taking over a party dominated by Chinese educated populist, the leader of an untried and untested party against colonial administration and so on.

Ironically, the person who seems to have best understood this aspect of Mr Lee appears to be Mr Low Thia Khiang, Secretary-General of the opposition Worker’s Party. Like Mr Lee in his younger days, Mr Low is fully aware that he’s fighting against massive odds and he relishes it.

Mr Low, like Mr Lee understands the value of getting the people’s support. While the ruling has often chided Mr Low for not doing much in proposing alternative policy, Mr Low has realised that his success lies in ensuring his constituents are looked after. Like Mr Lee in his younger days, Mr Low works hard to ensure that the people remember him – he attends every birth, wake and funeral in his constituency. The PAP has spent 19-years trying to unseat him and each time they’ve tried, he’s been returned to office with a stronger majority.

Like Mr Lee, Mr Low is not afraid of having highly intelligent people by his side. In his early days, Mr Lee had the likes of Goh Keng Swee and Rajaratnam. Today, Mr Low has Sylvia Lim (Polytechnic Lecturer), Chen Mao Mao (Lawyer with international regard) and Pritam Singh (Academic). Mr Low may not speak the Queen’s English but he’s smart enough to surround himself with the people who can work it.

So, the irony of Mr Lee’s spell as a “Minister MENTOR,” is that he actually may have mentored someone, even if it was the last person he would have wanted to tell the world he had mentored.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bring Back Common Sense!

There is an old adage that runs along the lines of “Sex Sells.” This has proved to be exceedingly accurate during the past week when the topic of budget hotels and prostitution was a hot topic in the media. Mention sex or any topic related to sex and you are bound to get an animated discussion.

While topics around sex are very interesting, one topic seems to have escaped the media spotlight and there have been no discussions on the topic for the last three years. This is a pity because attitudes towards the laws on sex provide us with an insight into our society.

Our social and legal views on prostitution are interesting. It is legally acceptable for a woman to work as a prostitute and for a man to visit one. It is illegal to be a pimp and for prostitutes to solicit customers. Social attitudes are also similar. Few if any will openly defend prostitution and most if not all are horrified at the idea of prostitution in their neighbourhoods. However, there is a mild social tolerance for prostitution, best summed up by the phrase, “wink-wink-nudge-nudge, boys will be boys.”

Unfortunately, this attitude live-and-let-live doesn’t carry into other areas of sexual behaviour. Take the issue of homosexual acts. In Singapore it is illegal for two consenting adult men to engage in a private act in the privacy of their own bedroom and when the government tried to review this in 2007, there was a huge outcry from a large enough segment of the population for the government to continue outlawing a private act between two consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom, though the government promised not to enforce the law.

By contrast, there has been a deafening silence on the issue of marital rape. There has been little if any media attention to the issue and the religious groups that were so adamant about the moral corruption of legalising a private act amongst consenting adults are noticeably silent when it comes to an act of coercion. Just as it is illegal for two consenting homosexual adults to engage in a private act, it is legal for a man to force his wife into having sex, regardless of whether she gives her consent.

So, when is rape, something which most understand to be an act of violence against women, not rape? As far as places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Singapore are concerned; the answer is when the attacker is the woman’s husband. This is convenient for those compiling rape statistics. Statistics have shown that rape is usually done by someone close to the victim like a family member or a friend. So, given that most perpetrators are likely to be known to the victim, granting immunity from marital rape makes sense – it reduces rape statistics because a certain portion of rapes are technically not rape. Once again, the “conservative” lobby that fought so hard to keep a private act between consenting adult illegal don’t seem to have a problem with rape, provided a man does it to his lawfully wedded wife. The government that has done so much to enhance the standing of women with the “Women’s Charter,” doesn’t seem terribly bothered that marriage grants men the right to rape them.

Isn’t it time we look at our laws and attitudes towards sex and start to apply the common sense that we are claim to have in abundance. Let’s have laws that actually protect people instead of providing cheap demagogues with a platform.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Get Them Working For Us

A friend of mine who has lived in Singapore for the last two decades has just left a posting on his Facebook wall expressing his frustration with the sudden burst in hostility towards foreigners in Singapore. This friend of mine is British. He has lived in Singapore for the past two decades and runs a niche PR practice that produces a decent amount revenue for the government.

It's always interesting to see how different people feel about different topics. In the last few months leading up to the General Election, the key buzz topic in cyberspace has been about how foreigners are overrunning Singapore and stealing jobs and sexual partners and driving up the prices of property.

As a local Singaporean who has lived overseas for quite a few years, I sometimes appear to get involved in "foreigner" bashing. I get frustrated living in a society where I am expected to comply with certain social norms and being Yellow Skinned in Singapore means you're supposed to accept "Pink Blotchy Faces" as the superior guide from elsewhere. I don't see why I should. At the end of the day, the Pink Blotchy Faces are as human as the rest of us. When I lived in the UK, I had to accept that being a minority in someone elses country meant following certain rules. Now that I'm back in Singapore, I have to be an obliging and indulgent host to people who were at best indifferent.

Having said what I've just said, I have friends who are Caucasian and as a friend of mine pointed out, you can't blame the White expatriates who come to Asia. Let's put it crudely, would you rather be in a place where you're an average Joe or would you be in a place where people worship the ground you walk on? As one Liverpudlian said,"I don't have a lot going for me, so if my pink blotchy face works in my favour, why shouldn't I use it." He's right!

My issue with race in Singapore is with the way Singaporeans, particularly Middle Class Graduate Chinese behave towards race. One of worst traits I've seen within this group is the automatic tendency to treat people of darker complexion on a level closer to dirt. I get agitated listening to the way Singaporeans talk about their maids and the way they complain about people from India, China, Vietnam and so on. These people will happily kick their maid in public and the moment a Pink Blotchy Face arrives on the scene, they're all smiles and sweetness.

This attitude is part of official policy. I actually met a White South African who was working a dental technician, who had his work permit turned down. When he showed up at immigration and they saw he was White - he was granted the permit instantly. Let's face it, being dark in Singapore is tough. Although official policy says it isn't - the people who make official policy function do have issues with dark skinned people and the way policy is carried out is quite different from the way it is thought out.

However, as my friend's Facebook posting has shown, it's not easy to be White, either. Despite living here for twenty-years, once in a while he gets told to "piss off back to...." This is not fair to a man who has stayed and contributed as an entrepreneur rather than as a digit in a multinational. So, I have to ask myself, what is it about foreigners of all colours that gets us "The Locals" so worked up.

On the most basic level, anyone who isn't born and bred here is competition for jobs, houses and general living space. Singapore's infrastructure was built to accommodate so many people and having so many more people puts a strain on things. As someone pointed out to me,"Your not buying a house so you don't feel the strain of competition." If you look at things from one perspective - that's true. Foreigners with cash drive property prices up. These days its not just expatriates from the West that we have to contend with but also from places like India.

The foreigners do have an advantage when it comes to jobs. At the lower end of the market, they're usually cheaper and willing to work longer hours. At the higher end of the market.....they actually have a skill or two that we the locals do not have. Furthermore, unlike the local men, they don't come with things like "reservist" liability. It's no surprise which group the employers go for. It's also no surprise that the locals get rather cheesed off - "Damn It, why do I have to serve the military to protect the foreigners right to take the job meant for me" is the basic feeling.

As much I can sympathise, I don't think the solution is to "kick out" or "limit" foreigners. Like it or not, it is a fact that Singapore has a limited supply of talent. Like it or not, we are in many ways constantly short of cash. The foreigners do provide the necessary short fall for both these items.

We have to accept that Singapore does not have the resources to tell the world to get stuffed. We are a trading port and we prospered by being open to the world. If Singapore adopts isolationist policies, the rest of the world can do the same to us and it is a challenge we simply cannot win.

I do agree that citizenship should have some perks but these perks should be like what goes on elsewhere - that is in the area of certain government subsidies. You can't expect the Singaporean tax payer to subsidise every old and sick person who comes to our shores. You cannot expect the Singaporean tax payer to provide free education to the rest of world. We don't get it when we study elsewhere (As much as my father might have wanted it) and we shouldn't expect it either.

However, let's not begrudge the foreigners who come here and work. They pay taxes (GST is also paid by maids and construction workers) and they don't use public funds. The people at both ends of the market do in someway or another end up contributing to the economic well being of the nation.

So, the answer here is not to kick out or place quotas on foreigners. The actual answer lies in making sure that Singaporeans are able to compete with the foreigners in a fair competition.

Let's start with the obvious place - skills. It has long been argued that we need "foreign talent" to make up for the lack of skills in the market. While I can see the validity of this argument, I have to ask myself why Singaporeans entering the job market don't have the skills that are needed to keep the economy ticking. Something has to be done with the education system to ensure that the local graduates in todays economy have the necessary skills to get involved in its basic functioning. This takes time to do and while you can use foreigners with the right talents, the long term sustainability of any economy is to make sure that your locals have what it takes.

Secondly, we need to examine our attitude towards competition. Yes, competition does make life harder but it also makes life better. Nobody can disagree that having Filipinos manning the call centres ensures that we get better service.

Which leads to the point of perspective. Are foreigners are threat or are they an opportunity? Generally speaking, Singaporeans are trained to be employees for big multinational firms. We're still stuck in the mindset that the economy only ticks when you have big factories employing people in the thousands. Jobs are considered a com oddity - there are x number of factories and each factory has y number of jobs. When you think like this, every extra person is a threat to you - they are competition for scarce jobs.

However, if you shift your mindset and look at a healthy economy as being a collection of small enterprises consisting of one or two people trying to sell this and that - things become rather different. When you "own the job" you tend to look at every person as a customer rather than as a competitor.

The bars at Clerk Quay have done well out of the high end of the market. However, small businesses have also done well out of the lower end of the market. I think of people who rent rooms to foreign students. I think of the companies that make phone cards to provide foreign workers with cheap phone calls back home. Look at the market in second hand phones and accessories that has popped up in places like Geylang and Serangoon. These enterprises may not grab headlines but they keep people busy and provide them with a living.

The government should look at things like lifting restrictions of sub-letting of flats and encourage people to get involved in home based businesses. The influx of foreigners means that there is market of sorts for people with certain needs that need to be filled.

Seriously, protectionist policies have been proven to be a miserable failure. Let's not go down that road and focus on how we can create opportunities for ourselves out of the foreigners who come into the country. Rather than complain they are exploiting us - find a way to get them to work for us.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Who Would You Pick?

Now that the elections are over, it is going to be interesting to see if the newly elected Singapore government pretends to listen to the public and does something about "foreigners." We, the great Singapore public have spent the better part of the year complaining that foreigners (particularly "other" Asians) have coming over to steal our jobs, school places, husbands, wives and so on. For Singaporean Chinese and Indians in particular, it is perfectly acceptable to be robbed blind by Caucasians from Australia, the USA and Europe but totally unacceptable for other Asians to do the same.

This has been particularly true for the Chinese community in Singapore. For years we were told that we needed to remember to "Speak Mandarin" to take advantages of the opening China market and more importantly to remember we are Asian rather than pseudo-Westerners. We were told that China and being Chinese was great! Suddenly, the flood gates of migration opened and before long we had a load of people who spoke a different type of Mandarin from the one we spoke and they spoke it loudly. The men were rough and willing to do what men should do - work hard - much harder than what we could do under instruction from the government.

The women have been even more upsetting for the Singaporean Chinese woman. Not only do the girl from China have the capacity for hard work, they were also quick to realise that there was fortune to be made from dressing nicely, showing a bit of tit and smiling sweetly and before you knew it, Singaporean Chinese men were killing themselves to take the China girls to bed - even if it would only be for twenty minutes or so. To add insult to injury, the Caucasian men whom the Singaporean Chinese women found so willing to listen to their "educated opinions" (unlike the "spoilt Singapore Chinese men) were also rushing to learn Mandarin to get to know the China dolls better. Simply put - to the Westerner - a real Oriental for 20 minutes a pop was much better than an Oriental looking Westerner for a lifetime.

To sum it up - the China girl developed a reputation for being a "Whore," and the newspapers have been filled with horror stories of old men blowing their pensions on China girls. Hence, as the election got closer you found the boys at ICA looking more closely at social visit passes from girls from China, Vietnam, Thailand and so on and so on.

As one Singaporean Chinese girl who apparently is well connected to other stylish Singaporean women said, "That's because they go round 'whoring' themselves." When I heard that, I wanted to laugh.

The reason for this was simple. The lady in question has been in an sms negotiation with someone who wants to pay here a mere S$6,000 for a night of mad and passionate love making. When she first told me about this, the offer was a mere S$1,500 and her only remark was "Money not enough - leh"

So, like all good "Non-Prostitute" Singapore Chinese girls - she's asked for more and the guy in question has made good on the offer. As of writing, the negotiations are taking place between a banker with the obvious good taste of a Chelsea fan and a 44-year with pretensions of being a teenager.

This "young" lady in question has spent the better part of two-years claiming to be celibate. She has already confessed that she really likes me - her exact words over a cheap meal that only set me back a S$140 without alcohol were,"I really like you, you make me happy and I treasure your company - but you have NO MONEY." Hence despite all the good things I did for, I wasn't getting it. The only people who have gotten it from her in the last two years have been a short, fat and bald man who bought her bags and shoes costing over S$1,000 and a fat and pockmarked fellow who bought her a ticket to Shanghai and gave her $600 in cash over the course of three days.

The lady in question is not a prostitute, unlike those awful girls from China and Vietnam. Simply put, she does not sleep with anyone in particular, she only does it with people who offer her generous gifts. As she said to me in a moment of anguish - "The problem with you is that you don't want to use money to get girls to bed - you try and use charm" (My ex-wife would beg to differ on my charms).

I would like to say that this lady is an exception to the rule of decent Singapore Chinese girls with good values (unlike the girls from China and Vietnam). Just go to any party in Singapore and you'll find that the lady in question is only unusual in that she voices her opinions. The island is filled with young ladies who make it a point to go ONLY for Caucasian men ..... because they're willing to pick up the tab (Caucasian men as a rule don't negotiate price - who cares as long as you're on company expense). There is of course the ex-girl friend of mine who went insane when I weaned her picking up the tab for a drunken Caucasian Frat Boys. The media and promotions industry is particularly rife with intelligent Asian women who get most offended by the term Sarong Party Girl because it apparently demeans intelligent women who understand the value of an expense account or an expat package.

In the words of the average Singapore Chinese girl - Singaporean men go for China girls because "We can't live up to their standards." Which leads me to ask - What are the standards that Singapore Chinese women have? I guess its not about money. I mean you can't go round offering Singapore Graduate Chinese girls who think they can speak a $100 for a quick one?

However, if you ply her with drinks bought on an expense account, then outline your career moves and then tell her about your exotic travels to Europe (West of the Danube) and then promise to take her there and then drive her in your company car - she's yours and before you know it, your alarm clock will be replaced with wedding bells. That's not called paying for it - its just that she becomes a little less keen to be with you when you insist on moving back to wherever you came from and tell her that the company is no longer footing the bill and she has to do ....shock:shock - housework.

So, on one hand you have a girl who looks stunning and tells you clearly that she'll be yours for enough time to get your rocks off in return for a bit of money and on the other hand you have a well made up doll with questionable genetics who wants you to foot the bill as you listen to her yabber on about how well brought up she is and then expects you to make her yours for as long as you are on expense account. The question is - who would you pick?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Nothing Changed - Everything Changed.

The General Election is over. The votes have been cast and counted and after the final round of political rallies, Singaporeans have found themselves getting on with life. This election was in just about every way like every other election before it - the ruling party was returned to government with an overwhelming majority of seats - the number being more akin to the score in a rugby match between one of the Southern Hemisphere Giants (Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) and their Pacific Island neighbours (Tonga, Samoa) - 81 - 6. Despite all the chatter about how this was the most seats ever won by the opposition - the fact remains that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) will continue to have the ability to ram just about anything it wants to down parliament's throat - regardless of what the newly elected members of the opposition think...Let's also not forget that although the PAP did see its share of popular votes drop to 60 plus percent - that's still more than what ruling parties in other parts of the world dream of getting - NOTHING CHANGED.

However, there is also the optimistic point that EVERYTHING CHANGED. For once in most people's living memory, every ward bar one (co-incidentally that of the Minister Mentor and Founding Prime Minister) was contested. This was by Singapore standards - highly unusual. It was as if the suddenly the opposition parties found the desire to put up a fight in every constituency.

Then there was the role of the online media. I had the Young Pariah from Pasir Ris GRC phoning me on a regular basis hopping to get my feedback on how the PAP could counter people slamming them without fear in cyberspace. Suddenly, people were letting out their wildest thoughts on whatever topics suited them without fear...........For a party used to getting its way with the media - this was something of a change - it was downright frightening. For the PAP it must have been like being the hot chick who one day wakes up one day to find herself in the body of the fat cow everyone laughs at.

More importantly the opposition actually had people worth listening to. There were actually people you could trust to run the government. They would say something without calling the foreign press and without trying to provoke the rest of us into worshiping their egos. There was no call for a hunger strike or for a mass protest march (illegal). They merely raised all the questions that the rest of us were waiting to ask and somehow, when we did the ruling party proceeded with its usual form of intimidation tactics - which rightfully backfired.

In the end, the electorate decided that it was time to give birth to a new party - the Workers Party. They were the only opposition party to win seats. They retained their seat in Hougang with a new candidate and an increased margin. They then took the psychological step of claiming a Group Representation Constituency (GRC - a case of vote one MP and get 3). The members of this party are for a good part professional, working people who are educated. More importantly, they had a track record of having run something reasonably successfully. The PAP stressed its track record of why it should continue as the party of government. Its now talking about how the Workers Party will fuck up Aljunied and the voters will regret and repent - well, they might want to consider the Workers Party's track record in Hougang... and start treating the voters a bit more seriously.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Salaries - I'm Simply Not Making Enough!

Salaries have managed to sneak their way back on the political agenda again. The rising star of the opposition - Dr Vincent Wijeysingha decided to make a public proclamation that Ministers salaries should be pegged to that of ordinary workers rather than to the super scale earners. Dr Wijeysingha who works for an NGO has hit on a sore spot for many people - namely the fact that we the tax payers seem to have stagnant wages that fall behind inflation while the powers that be seem to have awarded themselves mega huge salaries that seem to get larger as the days go by. The justification of this system is this - when you need ten cents a year more, it's called stroking inflation but when the other chap needs a million an hour more, it's called talent retention. Somehow you never win and its frustrating the system seems to say that you have to accept that its your lot in life to slog to feed the other bugger.

While I do applaud Dr Wijeysingha for bringing the issue of Ministerial salaries out into the area of debate, I feel that the man is a little misguided in his solutions.

Let's start with the obvious - the issue that most of us have with Ministerial salaries is not so much the amount earned but the work done in return for that very high salary. Most of us accept that well paid government servants are better than badly paid ones who have the power to shake you down whenever they feel like it. We can also accept that government is like any other business - if you can accept your banker being well paid - why can't your President or Prime Minister be well paid. It's acceptable that certain professions pay more than others.

The real issue about Ministerial salaries is more complex but you can sum it up as this - Ministers get business like pay without business like risk - in other words - its unfair.

Let's start with the first problem - the issue of pay and competence. It's often argued that you need to pay high salaries to get the best people into profession. Politics is like any other job - bright people should have comparable financial incentives to careers like banking, law or industry.

However, we have to ask ourselves if Singapore has really got itself the best and brightest despite paying top-dollar. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no. We got ourselves Mr Wong Kan Seng - a Home Affairs Minister who allowed a limping man to waltz out of a secure facility, then spent an entire year telling the world that our intelligence had it that the said limping man was in the country - only to have it announced a few days later that he had been caught elsewhere. A year later, we got ourselves Dr Yacob Ibrahim, the Minister in charge of water resources who allowed a plugged drain to provide us with floods that one usually finds in places like Bangladesh.

You could say that this wouldn't be so bad if the ministers showed a little bit of contrition. People can accept that Ministers like other people do make mistakes. However, instead of being contrite - we got arrogance. When the limping man walked out of a highly secure facility - the Minister in charge was "sorry that THIS HAPPENED" and the entire cabinet decided to talk about "Our track record" and then we had a Minister Mentor started lambasting us for being complacent because we expected the government to do its job. The Prime Minister went missing for the better part of the incident and only appeared to defend the Minister who screwed up.

What other job in the world allows you to stay in a job when you perform blatantly incompetently and more importantly you get the chance to scold the people who pay you for doing a job?

It is the accountability that we don't like. If you are good at the job, nobody will make your salary an issue. If you foul up, make a come back and rectify your mistake and somehow people will forgive you and be happy to let you have your salary. However, our Ministers only discover their humility during election time and seem to think that their salaries are theirs by divine right.

It's the assumption of entitlement and lack of accountability rather than the actual salary that people have an issue with. The public has to face competition from foreigners. Like it or not, this is the age of globalisation and competition for a few thousand dollars a month comes from people willing to work of hundreds of dollars.

While this is a fact of life, its hard to accept the message from someone who's basic salary a month is more than what you make in a year and more importantly, has somehow protected himself from things like foreign competition. It becomes even harder to accept when that person is praised and protected at your expense for displaying a level of incompetence that you'd be not only fired for but sued into bankruptcy.

Then, I can't help being cynical. Dr Wijeysingha is in opposition. Attacking Ministerial salaries is good for the political fight. However, we have to ask ourselves if Dr Wijeysingha and other members of the opposition would be so opposed to high ministerial salaries if they were on the receiving end. Let's look at South Africa as an example. The ANC was a socialist party to begin with. It looked at nationalising the mines. However, once it entered office, it proceeded to raise official salaries. FW De Klerk made more as Deputy President to Mandela than he made as State President. Who is to say that the same thing can't happen in Singapore? Will the opposition reject receiving the the salaries that today's Ministers earn if they were ever to get into power?

Dr Wijeysingha would be better off focusing on increasing accountability. Since the Singapore tax payer is paying "top-dollar," who can he or she ensure that the money is being used to get the best available talent? This should be the focus of the debate rather than the actual salary itself.