Monday, August 15, 2016

The Value in Leaving.....

Perhaps it was purely a coincidence but on the very evening that Singapore was celebrating it's first ever gold medal in the Olympics, I had a conversation with a young lady who mentioned that while Donald Trump may not have put things very eloquently, he had a point when he discussed immigration. Her point was simple, if a person is really valuable, a country would not let him go - the Mexicans who are leaving to America were the drug dealers and rapist.

I bit my lip because she was young and trying to the plaything of a friend of mine. However, its something we should look at especially in light of Singapore's first ever gold medal winner. Mr. Joseph Schooling at the age of 21 is the living example of what every person in the world should be - mobile.

Let me state for the record that I am often guilty of parochial xenophobia. While I spent a good portion of my life as an expat kid (thanks to my stepfather's job), I've returned to Singapore, the land of my birth, wondering and refusing to understand local sentiments about race and geographical treatments. Contrary to what my fellow Asians might believe, being someone's colony is something to be proud of.

Having said all of that, I actually believe that migration and mobility are actually good for the human condition. Staying in one place and mixing only with your own kind is unnatural and bad for you. Whatever, I may have said about the expatriate community, you have to give them points for getting out of their homelands to raise themselves up the corporate ladder. Moving shows that you have enough ambition to want to change your life. As a friend of mine often reminded me, "You can't blame the Ang Moh's (local Hokkien slang for red heads - reference to Caucasians in general) for wanting to move here. Would you rather stay and be an ordinary person or move to somewhere, where the people worship you?"

If I respect people at the higher end of the social scale for "moving" from their homeland in the expatriate class, I have nothing but admiration for the poor and unwashed masses who come in from poor, underdeveloped countries to wealthier nations to do shit work so that they can do right by their loved ones. It takes guts to move to place where you have nothing and are most likely to be spat on as part of a sport by the natives. It's tough enough going to work everyday to make a living. Now, imagine doing it when you are far away from every emotional support that you've ever had.

Migrants develop a certain sturdiness to them because they don't really have a choice. It's called "Make or break." They do the lousiest jobs that the natives would rather not do and contrary to what Donald Trump would tell you, they end up using less social services because they simply don't want to get into the radar of the authorities.

I don't deny that there are migrants who commit crimes (rape, murder, robbery etc) and I don't deny that because they are vulnerable, migrants can be easy prey for criminals, the migrant community throughout the world will usually be harder working and more law abiding than the locals.  

When I lived in the UK, the "Pakis," "Niggers" and "Rastas" were too busy doing things like running corner shops and driving mini-cabs, while the White Anglo-Saxon got drunk and begged you for small change. Walk down my old haunt in Soho and you'd find that the guy asking you for spare change was inevitably a native of the absent colour.

Now that I've moved to Singapore, I notice something similar. In the restaurant, I work alongside Pinoys, Koreans and Taiwanese, who simply want to earn their coin by working. By contrast, I have met too many local born Singaporeans who have simply decided that there's far more pride in asking for treats than in being seen to make a living in a lowly job.

The guys who move are the guys who make things happen in the country they move to. They are the guys who form better people-to-people ties between nations and cultures. Put it simply, every Indian expat and Indian worker who comes to Singapore, becomes a link between Singapore and India, a market that Singapore will need to be in.

I think of my friends in the Indian Expat community. There's Girija Pande, the Chairman of Apex-Avalon who is building "made in Asia" management talent. There's also Suresh Shankar of Crayon Data, who set up a data analytics firm in Singapore that got bought out by IBM and now, he's building another firm that will revolutionize how we choose things.

People like these gentlemen, have shown that the world is a big place. You don't need to be limited by geography for some antiquated vision of nationalism. Suresh for example, is taking advantage of Singapore's legal infrastructure and global reputation for stability and combining it with the large talent pool that is available in India. Modern technology allows you to do make the most of what various countries have to offer.

Which brings us back to Mr. Schooling, who was born here and raised here. This is home for him. Yet to further his ambitions, he had to be sent for further education in the USA, where he had access to the coaches and the facilities to bring him to where he is today.

Had Mr. Schooling not left Singapore and stayed here for the sake of being Singaporean etc etc, its unlikely he'd be able to do what he did for Singapore. He left Singapore and ended up bringing the type of value to Singapore that we had not been able to achieve despite the millions spent on trying to import talent from elsewhere.

Let's ditch ideas about what constitutes a good citizen based on birth. Let's look at what people do by their sweat and let's give people credit for taking chances in moving out of their comfort zone. Let's salute people like Mr. Schooling's parents who understood that opportunities are global and sent their son overseas so that he could win us glory on the international stage. 

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