Saturday, December 31, 2011

Full of Crap – But Encouraging Non the Less

This has been something of a funny little year. If I were to look back and analyse my decade in Singapore, I could say that it was largely dissapointing and filled with crap. Yet, despite of all of that, it was also a year filled with optimism and as this year comes to an end, I find myself writing my yearly summery with a sense that I might have at least one more decent year in me to do something interesting.

Much to those worry of those who love me most, I have come to except that I am meant to life in a world of uncertainty and turmoil. In a funny way, the world is moving to suite people like me. In the Middle East there was the Arab Spring, which saw huge people-power demonstrations brining down long standing autocrates like Ben-Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya. These were men who had an 'iron-grip' on power for decades thanks through a combination of ruthlessness with domestic opponents and convincing outside powers (Westen ones) that it was in their interest to keep them in power. However, when their people.....simple ordinary people, had enough – these rullers had no choice but to flee.

In a curious way, what happened in the Middle East was a catalyst for things to happen elsewhere. In the Western world, people had enough of being screwed by powerful elites and occupied Wall Street. Even Singapore wasn't spared. We had two-elections and suddenly our normally politically apathetic public discovered our love to our country at the ballot box.

Something amazing happened on this little island that usually accepts being browbeaten as a necessary fact of life. The people forced the government to listen. The Ruling Party lost an unprecdented six-seats in the General Election and its prefered candidate barely squeaked home in the Presidential election despite every concievable advantage. The much maligned Singapore electorate showed an incredible amount of wisdom by returning a government with a good track record but at the same time giving legitimacy to the one opposition party that had the hunger and know-how to form an alternative government – the Workers Party. Opposition politics in Singapore has moved from being about disgruntled ego-maniacs to being about an intelligent alternative.

All these changes might not necessarily be better from the point of material gain. However, its a wonder from the point of view of the human spirit. For me, I discovered that my only hobby has become my only asset. This blog has doubled in size and I've had people tell me that I've managed to strike a chord with them.

I still haven't figured out how to make blogging pay and I'm not the only one. My fellow intelligent bloggers tell me that they haven't either. However, we will continue to do what we do – which is to put across different views from the mainstream and to get people thinking.

Gone are the days when Singapore could survive as a robotics factory for the Western World. We on this little island need to think and debate. We need to find our own solutions instead of relying on the government to be the almighty and all knowing guide. I do what I do in the full knowledge that I may risk offending someone but I pray that even when I offend, I am able to provoke a thought. I take the view that as a patriotic Singaporean it is my obligation to put forth my views about what it is good and what is not good about this nation from this nation.

On the professional/personal front things moved in interesting directions. For once I had to live without a monthly retainer. Having to worry about my next meal was rough....Thankfully, I have Huong back in my life and I am starting to appreciate what my Dad once said about having a woman with ambition in your life. Thanks to Huong I am now helping Vietnamese in Singapore learn English. It's not making me rich but it pays bills.

In a way, you could say that whatever “teaching” I've been doing has been starting to pay off. My first and final professional strikes of the year came courtesy of Mr Glenn Lim, Director of 20Twenty Pr. I met Glenn for a brief period in 2005 when I worked at BANG PR. He was my intern and when he returned to BANG after I left, we continued our friendship. I will not hessitate to keep stressing that he has become a far better PR consultant than me. He has proven that small one-man-agencies can win in both online and off line PR. He blessed me with work on New Zealand Natural and with the Family Business Network. I look forward to more collaborations with him.

I also need to thank Ms Kavita Balakrishnan and her brother Venkat for their friendship. I met Kavita two years ago when she worked for one of my business partners. It was she who ensured that I had the warmth of friendship on my birthday and at Christmas.

In a funny way, I also bless this year for blessing someone else. Joyce, the love of my life has just got herself a job paying a decent salary. I thank God for giving her a chance to do what she needs to do – to look after Yooga.

Life had a few promises. I was approached by a headhunter online trying to recruite me for Accenture. I also had the good fortune to work on a project with former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tun Mussa Hitam. Unfortunately, the relationship with Edleman Malaysia proved to be based on something other than mutual respect – a fact that I was to discover five months after the job was done.

As always, I am greatful to Mr PN Balji, former Editor-in-Chief of the Today Newspaper. It was thanks to Balji that I managed to work on one of the most interesting projects I've worked on.

However, I am more greatful for his introduction to a man who has given me hope for Singapore – Mr Philip Wong. Mr Wong has dedicated his life to inventions and at the time of writing he may have something that could change the way the human race does things.

Through my work with Mr Wong, I have had the privillege of meeting Ms Elaina Olivia Chong, the CEO of Real Kaiten. Ms Chong, a leading member of the ruling party's youth wing has has founded a company that sees opportunity in a part of the world that nobody looks at. She sees profit in making sure that people have a chance to live properly.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bring Back the CHRIST in Christmas

Christmas has now departed into Boxing Day and so I thought I would try and write a few words about what it was like to spend Christmas in Singapore instead of heading back to Germany. Although I had a pretty good Christmas with friends and family, I find myself agreeing with Pope Benedict. It’s time to bring CHRIST back to Christmas.

Everyday of walking down Orchard Road (Singapore’s main shopping district) was a nightmare. Not only was the place crowded with shoppers, one couldn’t help but be bombarded with endless, meaningless promotions to get you to buy things that you don’t really want or need. Yes, I am well aware that Christmas is supposed to have gone beyond its Christian roots and become a “universal” festival. However, a trip down Orchard Road has confirmed my belief that we’ve merely moved away from the Gospel of Christ to the Gospel of Mindless Consumerism.

OK, let’s clarrify, I am not against business. Of all people, I should be very pro-business and I should be greatful when people like retailers do well. I am also not against gift giving or having a good meal (though I should probably have a lot less of those). What I can’t take is how all of this has over shadowed the most significant part of Christmas – Christ.

I’ve not been confirmed in Church so you can’t call me a Christian in the truest sense of the word. However, I believe in the divinity of Christ and his message. If you read the Gospels and try to understand what the man was saying, you’ll find that he was preaching a simply put powerful message. This message is revered by everyone or at it least in should be.

Let’s face it, everyone agrees that Jesus is Holy. Christians see him as “God, the Son.” The Muslims revere him as one of God’s greatest prophets (Fact – the Koran mentions Jesus more often than it mentions Mohammed and it talks about Jesus’s return to fight the Anti-Christ). There is a sect of Hinduism that recognises Jesus as a Saint and the Dalai Lama has described Jesus as a Bodhisatva. Everyone agrees the man was Holy – we merely disagree with the extent of how holy he was.

So let’s start with our common ground – Jesus was Holy and what he said and did was sacred. From here we need to look at why he was so.

I think the answer is fairly simple – he taught us that life was about something greater than ourselves. Life, if you are merely focused on “Me, Myself and I” is pretty pointless. As I get older, I also realise that when people become so focused on themselves at the cost of everything else – they also don’t get very far.

I don’t believe that Christ was advocating being a doormat for every mercenary shit on the planet. My former half’s former pastor said it best – “Meek does not mean stupid.” There are times when one has to be firm about certain things. However, I believe that Christ did teach people that it was important to be driven by something other than the need to feed yourself.

If you study the Gospel, Christ talks about the willingness to “carry ones cross” to follow him. He urges rich men to sell their posessions and distribute it to the poor so that they could become followers of his. One of his best sound bites was “Man cannot serve two masters.” You serve money or God not both.

Once again, I don’t believe he was being “anti-business.” I don’t think Christ ever argued that one cannot make a profit. What I believe he said was that ones motive had to be about more than just making money.

Business should make money. However, that money has to benefit humanity rather than encourage greed. Businesses need not necessarily be philanthropic but at the very least they should create benefits – ie they should provide people with a means of making a living as well as making life better through the products or services that they provided. Businesses that encourage greed and thrived because of it would eventually fail.

There may be a point to this argument. Look at the banking system, which moved from being about lending money to people to being about creating financial products based on some fantasy to create vast sums of money for a few people. When you are focused on lending money, you remember things like risk and return. When you are focused on creating money out of thin air, you forget basic laws of physics.

I look at the people who have topped the Forbes Rich List consistently over the last two decades. Two names stick out – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Both are highly decent men who were driven by something more than just personal enrichment. I know the technies will hate me for saying it but Bill Gates did do something good when he made computers useable to the average person. Sure Microsoft PC is dull when compared to Apple Mac but serves a purpose and it gives people a chance to do more that what they ever dreamed of before. Bill Gates has created vast wealth for ordinary people – Seattle is filled with ordinary people who did the ordinary thing of taking a job with Microsoft for normal wages but ended up becoming millionaires through their stock options.

Warren Buffet only invest in “real” businesses (those with a genuine product or service) . He avoids things that are complicated and don’t make sense even to the chaps who created them. Buffet avoided investing in “Dot.Com” because it was too complicated and he realised the valuations were created by funny money rather than something real. What’s the result of this – Mr Buffet has created wealth for people and his AGM (Annual General Meetings) are constantly packed. Mr Buffet does not need to hide behind “National Security” and “Libel” laws to show that he’s making money.

Messers Gates and Buffet have made legendary fortunes by not being obsessed with personal enrichment. Their focus has been on doing something else and by doing their something else well, they’ve made their fortunes. Warren Buffet says it best, “I am more interested in processes than proceeds – though I’ve learnt to live with those too.”

The Gospel of Christ is in people like Gates and Buffet. The Gospel of Mindless Consumerism is in the people who gave us the Sub-Prime Crisis. Both have created wealth but only one has been sustainable.

People should give gifts at Christmas and they should spend time with friends and family. What we should not do is to see Christmas as an exercise in buying things we don’t need and stuffing ourselves into something unrecognisable.

Christ taught us to look at life as something greater than ourselves. Its tough doing it but when people find the strength to do good, they become better people. When they don’t the worst in them takes over.

In the last few years, the world has gone through something of an economic downturn. This has been brought about largely by a culture that encourages people to behave at their worst. This is the type of culture where Christmas is celebrated by excessive spending driven by the need to own more for the sake of owning. This is the state where we talkbout “Xmas” and other variations of the festival because the Christ has been forgotten.

Given the economic downturn that we’ve been living in, isn’t time we brought back the CHRIST to Christmas and worked on having a culture that encourages us to bring out the best in each other?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Who Gives a Shit At Christmas about Plebs?

You have to hand it to Singapore's Mass Rapid Transport (SMRT) for their ability to demonstrate a tin-ear to the demands of the public and the worst possible time. The disruption of the North-South Line on Thursday 15 December 2011 was a slap in the face of a nation that takes so much pride in the fact that it has a “World Class” transport system. While the disruption on its own was bad, the company proceeded to make matters worse by its inept handling of the situation – the infamous “income opportunity” message it flashed to all its taxis is currently competing with Whitley Detention Centre's lack of a window grill as a symbol of incompetence.

The only saving grace of this whole afair was the fact that the Singapore Government acted like it cared. The Prime Minister cut short a holiday and called for a public enquirey while the transport minister proceeded to become very vocal. Thanks to the pressure ontop, the management of SMRT proceeded to run a series of checks on the rail system and what did we find? It turned out that there were a mere 61 faults in the rails and 13 trains were found to be deffective.

I don't think this is acceptable by anyone's standards, let alone for a nation that takes so much pride in how it has climbed to the top of the world in just about everything. It brings me to the last days of my national service, when the powers-that-be could happily tell us that five out of every hundred fuzes were deffective and they only bothered to discover this after two people died and this wasn't the fault of the all caring defense procurement companies.

Its been a decade over since the incident in New Zealand took place and although I like my contemporaries have managed to move on from the emotional trauma of the incident, I still get irked whenever I read about incidents in Singapore that were caused by disregard by upper echelons for the people below them. I don't blame my commanders for the incident. Looking back at the incident, I can accept that my bosses did the best that they could in the circumstances that we were thrown in.

What I cannot and I should not accept is the way the Committee of Inquirey found a host of safety lapses between the people who were supposed to buy the ammunition and the people who were supposed to receive it on our (The people who fire the gun) behalf and then out of the blue the story that came out of this was how they were dupped by greedy Americans who outsourced it to shoddy Chinese Manufacturing. Nobody was persecuted for what can only be described as criminal negligence. This was an eye-opener to the way the world worked – too many of the “right” people were making money from defense procurement to allow this incident to blow a hole into the system even if it cost two lives and countless of injuries. I suppose you could say my batch got lucky – Ronnie and Yin Tit paid for one faulty fuze. I hate to think what the battalion would have been like with if we got all five out a hundred faulty fuzes (We fire around 400 plus rounds per exercise – at that rates, we'd all have come home in body bags).

Nearly a decade and a half later, I'm no longer reading about fuzes for an artillery round but trains. Sure, nobody died when the train service got disrupted but whoes to say that it wouldn't happen the next time. In a way, the faults from this incidents are more unforgivable than the fault that caused the explosion in New Zealand all those years ago in the sense that these are faults that could easily have been detected.

The train system shuts down every single night by midnight and it only reopens five and a half hours later. A basic inspection of the system is supposed to detect faults like this. Sure, I can except that you can repair all the faults immediately but surely in that time, you can repair some of the more serious ones?

So one has to ask – how is it possible that we're now finding 61 faults to the rail system? More seriously – how the hell are we finding out that we have 13 defective trains running across the system. Surely one could have repaired at least one of those trains in a basic nightly inspection. Why are we running 13 defective trains on the system?

What's worse for SMRT is the fact that it has asked for and received the right to increase the rates it charges consumers. Thanks to the Young Muslim Politician who Supports the 2008 bombing of the Gaza Strip from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek, I knew what the transport opperators were claiming (he was trying to hawk it) - “They were not making money from providing transport at the current fares they were charging.” They were of course making enough money to pay the CEO of SMRT her S$1.6 million annual salary as well as dividends for the shareholders (largest one being Temasek Holdings).

Well, I'm not going to go into the financial statements of the transport opperators but what's clear is that the money which seemed to flow to the senior management and majority shareholders didn't flow into simple routine checks that could have saved people a lot of agravation and trauma.

I lived in London for three-years as a student. I used the tube regularly enough. The tunnel system was built in the Victorian era and in many ways, the fact that the system works is a miracle. When you compare the facilities we have to what London has, we're way ahead in terms of modernity and the latest technology.

Yet, despite this, I never heard of a massive train disruption on the tube system in the three-years I lived there nor in the subsequent years since then. By contrast, Singapore's much younger and much more modern system has produced 61 faults and 13 deffective trains within a space of two decades.

For all its faults, the London Underground understands that it needs to do basic things. The tube user is at the centre of the system. Sure, its not glitzy or comfy to travel by tube but the system doesn't get broken down by basic faults. Money is spent on doing basic things to ensure the system runs.

By contrast Singapore has a system that lavishes money on the glitz and the glam and somehow neglects basics. Swanky stations make Ministers feel good when they brag to the world about how great we are. Opperator CEOs look good when they buy swanky gadgets. Nobody except the end user suffers when basic things are not taken care of.

I couldn't except being on the receiving end of this disregard for the small man when I was in National Service. I don't see why I should stand for it now that I'm older and way past military liability. These are not things I receive as part of someone elses generosity but things I pay for as a consumer and a tax payer.

Acountability is not a wishy-washy Western liberal dream that is unsuitable for Singapore's “Asian” society. Demanding it is the most practical and patriotic obligation of every citizen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jobs for Sale

If you are worried about looking for a job or keeping your existing job, do not fear for there is an industry that will gladly take you up – it’s called “Jobs for Sale.” This isn’t exactly a new industry but its been gaining a bit of publicity thanks to pesky people on the Internet who don’t understand business and the importance of economic growth.

The concept behind “Jobs for Sale” is wonderfully simple. All you have to do is to find someone who wants a job and get them to pay you for giving them a job. Like many industries, “Jobs for Sale” is particularly hot in Asia. This region has lots of poor saps who are desparate for work that they’ll happily get their home villages to mortgage themselves and they’ll pay you to get a less than minimal wage in your country.

If you’re from the USA, the figure can get as high as US$10,000 per person and the price lowers if its near by. Singapore, for example isn’t a bad place to opperate your own “Jobs for Sale” business. Its smack-bang in the centre of a region filled with desparate and poor people who will some find the money to get a job into Singapore. The rates are not bad – you can make about S$6,000 per person per year. So, imagine if you could get 10 clowns into the country. You’d earn something like S$60,000 a year without having to do to much.

The downside of this business is also liveable. The key is to stay on the right side of the immigration authorities. You need to pay off a “workers levy” which will cost about S$3000 a year. The second most important thing to do is to ensure that the people you sell a job to happen to be “Darkies” from other parts of Asia or Africa. “Darkies” unlike “Pink Blotchies” do not have annoying things like embassies that complain about wishy-washy things like “Human Rights.” You should also make it a point to house the “Darkies” in a place far away from rich residents who might complain about the “smell” coming from the “Darkies.”

You don’t have to spend money on housing “darkies” either. If your cards correctly, you can actually make money – enough to pay off the money you spent in levy payments. All you need is something like $10 a day for a bed space.

The nice thing about Singapore is that the infrastructure for this business is in place. For example, if you don’t pay the “Darkies” who you employ business, you can always let refer the case to the Ministry of Manpower. The Ministry will take about two months to investigate and that should give you enough time to look for “specialist” to help you remove the pesky workers who actually have to gall to do something as UnSingaporean as expected to get paid. We have people called “Repatriation” specialist who will happily help you to help you get your problem to disappear.

Do the maths and you’ll realise that this is a growth area and it’s a good time to get onto the bandwagon. Sell enough jobs and before you know – you may even get the opportunity to claim an award for contributing so much to the nation’s economic growth.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Rot and Hope

Just read a story by Alex Au who is one of Singapore's most prominent bloggers that confirms one of my biggest heart breaks – there's something rotten in the state of Singapore. The story was about a boss who brought over 600 foreign workers from Bangladesh and housed them in cage. Instead of paying them, the boss in question allowed them to rot there and as expected, one of them actually died. As a result of this, the boss was – wait till you hear this – 4 weeks in jail and served a $36,000 fine. You can get the details of the story at:

I don't know what it is but I'm shocked. I shouldn't be – I've lived here for over a decade. This isn't the only time I've read about how badly people can be treated especially if they have the misfortune of being born dark skinned and from another Asian country. As far as an alarming number of Singapore's educated professionals are concerned, the proverbial “Darkies” from the rest of Asia are blessed enough to clean our shit.

What's more worrying is that there have been too many times when the system, which prides itself in being above the petty prejudices of people, sometimes accepts and supports the prejudices. In this case the system showed itself to be as rotten as the people who committed the crime. Let's look at this case. The man conned the vulnerable into the country on the promise that they would have a job. The people that he conned flocked to Singapore in the hope that they'd have the chance of supporting their families. Instead they ended up living in a cage with no job and no money. He fed them two insignificant meals. One of the men ended up getting chicken pox and died as a result.

For cheating and dare I say causing the death of one of them, he was finned $36,000 a sentenced to four weeks in jail. Now, let's compare this to what you will get if you suggest that the powers that be in this little island are less than perfectly clean or if you damage property but not human life?

Let's start with Michael Faye, the American Teenager who caused one of our bigger diplomatic rows with the USA. Mr Faye decided that it was fun to damage other people's property and for that he got a few strokes of the cane. Since the US President of the day complained, we made the mistake of reducing his strokes by two instead of increasing them (Mr Faye is a Pink Blotchy and therefore considered above human in Singapore Speak).

While I may have agreed with Mr Faye's punishment – let's compare this to what this man got. Mr Faye was a brat and showed no consideration for someone else's property. As an expat child Mr Faye was enjoying the good life in Singapore but when the time came for him to face the music for his misdeeds he ran squealing to the US Embassy claiming he was somehow special. I remain unsympathetic towards Mr Faye and I am disgusted every time the Singapore Government lightens the sentence of someone from a Blotchy Country because the Blotchy Head of Government says something. I personally feel that if Pink Blotchies can get away every time their governments squeal, we the people have an obligation to delivering the extra-sentence that our government reduced.

Having said that, let's compare Mr Faye's crimes to Mr Paul Lee's. Mr Faye was a brat but he never took a life or even caused a physical injury. Yet he will now be scared for life. Mr Lee on the other hand brought people to Singapore on false promises and housed people in conditions that caused the death of someone. If Mr Faye's damage of property is worth several of the best, surely Mr Lee's damage to human life has to be worth something similar?

Now, let's look at what you get if you suggest that the people ruling Singapore are a shade less than squeaky? Well, in November 1995, the International Herald Tribune had to pay a mere $214,285 to settle a libel case against the powers-that-be. In 2008, a blogger called Gopalan Nair was arrested for accusing a judge of being a “Prostitute,” in a libel case that involved one of the powers-that-be and sentenced to three-months in jail.

I do agree that there should be laws against slandering people. Calling people names that damage their reputations should have a price. However, did International Herald Tribune and Gopalan Nair kill people? Did they cheat anyone, especially the vulnerable? No, they didn't. In fact they took on the most powerful people in the land and rightly or wrongly they paid the price.

Let's look at the price of calling someone in power a name and the price is either a few months in jail or a hefty fine or even both. However, if you cheat a couple of hundred darkies and place them in conditions that causes the death of one of them, your financial penalty is six times less than slandering the powerful and the jail time is three times less.

I'm sorry, but isn't there something wrong here. We are supposed to be a country that prides itself in its justice system. We make it a point of telling foreign investors that they can deal with a somewhat fair legal system when they invest in Singapore. We are a country that announces to the world that we practice this thing called “Equality of all before the law.” We claim that we are “Ruled by Law.”

So since we're making all these claims, where exactly is the equality of the law here. It seems clear that there is one law for Pink Blotchies and Posh Singaporeans and another law for Darkies and poor Singaporeans. Are we ruled by law or are we ruled by the whims of the man on top?

The lesson from these cases here is that as long as you live in Singapore you better bow-down and kiss the feet of every impotent Pink Blotchy but you are perfectly entitled to kick the shit out of any Darkie. If you tell the Blotchies that you don't wish to donate your hard earned money to their scam, they are entitled to complain to their embassy and our government will rush to defend their right to rob you blind. On the other hand you are entitled to kick the shit out of Darkies – even if you end up killing one of the buggers the law will slap you on the wrist with a fine that you can always pay in installments (Mr Lee incidentally had more than enough cash to pay people off) and you may get housed in jail at the tax payers expense.

The saddest thing about this whole affair is that it could have been prevented. As Alex Au's report points to – the police were called several times and somehow they couldn't find anything wrong. They merely had a glance at the premises and saw that everything was OK.

Seriously, what's the point of having police officers if the only idea of investigation is to make a phone call or just have a quick look at things?

Just observe the way the police take an active role in questioning Darkies who happen to be sitting at the corridor minding their own business. A darkie who has the misfortune of wanting to stroll at night will undoubtedly be questioned by police.

However, if Pink Blotchies want to get drunk and display their culture by singing their folk songs (Ere' we Go, Ere' we go is a Blotchy Folk Song that's played during football matches), nobody seems inclined to say anything. When youth gangs start loitering, the police are equally blind to the problems they may cause.

Seriously, there's something so rotten in Singapore and with Singaporeans that it's gone beyond the state of funny. How can we as a society tolerate and accept this as being part of our natural landscape?

Well, there is hope. I think the first ray of hope comes from people like Alex Au who report the things that the mainstream media don't. We need more people like Alex Au and Andrew Loh the former Editor of the Online Citizen and now Public House, who are willing to look for the voices.

The internet provides people like these men to organise voices together. They help remind Singaporeans that they have an active role in creating the community that they want. My only regret is that being a good person is financially crap. Neither Alex or Andrew is racking it in from the advertisers nor do they have the privilege of having people willing to pay for the content that they provide. Both Alex and Andrew are better patriots than say – The Young Muslim Politician who Supports Israel's Blockade of Gaza from Pasir Ris GRC aka Thambi Pundek. Both have accepted that they're going to be struggling to pay bills to do what they do but yet they continue. This is genuine love for the country. So at the ground you have the Alex Au's and Andrew Loh's who will get people thinking and hopefully standing up for themselves.

There is hope from the top too. Mr Lee had the audacity to try and appeal his already light sentence and ran into Justice VK Rajah. Thank God Singapore still has judges like this man who understands what justice is. He rightfully rejected Mr Lee's appeal and proceeded to chide the lower courts for giving him such a ridiculously light sentence.

There is something rotten in the state of Singapore but there's also hope. As an ordinary citizen struggling to make a living, its tough to deal with the rot but when you know there's hope life becomes a little lighter.