Thursday, December 28, 2017

At the Crossroad

It’s been an emotionally draining day in the office and so I thought I would take the time out to write my usual end of the year summary, something which has become a tradition for me ever since I start this blog about a decade ago.

World in events in 2017 have proved to be “interesting,” and the man we have to thank for it is the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. Donald Trump. From the moment he plonked his behind onto the desk of the Oval Office, the “Donald” has proceeded to run the American Government like his famous reality show- The Apprentice. Donald and the world media have worked together to ensure that “old media” remains more relevant than ever by publicizing the man himself.
For the most part, I’ve found the man vile. Foolish Cowards on their own are usually a pain in the arse but Foolish Cowards in positions of power are worse. What can be worse than having your life crapped on because some fool in power woke up on the wrong side of the bed?

However, as I grow older, I’ve become more accepting that there are certain things in life that I can’t change and that I can only accept things as they are. I’ve also learnt to make peace with certain things in my life. While one might conclude that life is generally sucky, I believe that if you calculate your blessings and look at what you already have, you may find that you’re better off than you think.
I take the fact that my health has remained relatively robust. Although I am not as fit as I once was, I’ve suffered no major health issues (baring three sick days this year) and I am glad to say that I am slowly but surely moving my weight southwards, which should help me have a better quality of life in the years to come.

Then there is the fact that I continue to remain gainfully employed in two jobs when most people worry about staying in one. While I don’t have anything to brag about on the professional front the way I had when I freelanced, I can say that my CPF (Central Provident Fund – Singapore’s National Pension system) has gone the right way and I’ve been able to make a more significant contribution to the family that I chose to bring into my life.

However, I am at the crossroads. I’ve had stability in two industries that were not ones that I looked for. I see myself being stable for a long while if I carry on down the path that I’ve been on but I don’t see myself going beyond where I am. So, the question remains, do I take the chance and what chance do I take.

I’m a believer in doing what works for you. I’ve reached the age where I need to admit to myself that I am not meant to be sitting behind a desk and the thing that works for me, isn’t the thing that necessarily works for everyone else. I’ve proven that I can be in a full time corporate environment but I don’t feel any sense of achievement. So, I need to work on where do I go from here in the next quarter.

As I sit by the crossroads, I must take the time out to mourn the passing of my old friend, Mr. Luke Fogarty, often known as the Old Rogue. Luke was what they call a “larger than life” character, who we all believed would outlives us all until he got struck by cancer this year. When I think of Luke, I think of his ability to have energy at all times and his incredible sense of optimism. I’ll always remember a 16-year old asking him what he wanted to do for retirement and the answer was, “He’s thinking of retirement at his age – I still haven’t figured out what I want to do when I grow up.” (He was in his 80s at the time). Luke was the man who encouraged me when I least expected it and I will always bless his heart for writing the testimonial he wrote for me when I was ready to adopt the character we call Jenny Tang.

Speaking of Jenny Tang, she finally buckled down and did something towards her school work. It was a little late in the day but she did enough to get through the next level at school. Now, the hope is that she really understands that she’s taking a public exam this year and does what she needs to do. As a parent, I need to be able to see her through this year and my biggest challenge is to ensure that she understands that she needs to use her potential this year.

I have hopes for the year to come and I have to thank the fact that I made a new friend in Mr. Greg Page, who is the husband of Lucy, one of my wife’s friends. I met Greg at the start of this year and although we’ve not had the chances to meet often, Greg has been a source of inspiration, who has reminded me of the important things in life – staying true to family and having passion for life. He has helped me by reminding me that you only get successful at something if you have a passion for it. In a way, Greg is the American who lives the reasons why America has been the main power of the world for the last two hundred years – openness to ideas and people, who differ from you (his background is Southern Baptist and tells me I’m one of the few liberals he likes 😉)

Next year could be challenging but like always, there’s always a case for being optimistic about the future. I think 2018 could be a very beautiful year. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

It will be Christmas Day in 4 days and everything at work will slowly wind. While life in my White Collar existence slows down, my Blue-Collar character can expect to get busier while people get ready for wine, have dinner and have a lot of fun after spending a lot of money on things they do not really have need.

I do not want to deny the celebrations because they serve their purpose but I have not stopped being able to find ironic that we celebrate the birth of man was the great champion of the history of the poor and the oppressed with our biggest show of consumption.

Although I can hardly call myself a Christian, I believe in Jesus and in his message of love and compassion. For once, I really agree with my old school chaplain who told me, "You can not get all the answers from RE". I think he was a little disappointed that I could discuss theory and biblical concepts but I did not want to take that final step and get confirmation in the Church of England.

Talking about Christ (rather like talking about a great religious teacher, but since this is Christmas, Christ will be at the center), it's easy. I think of the number of devout followers of the Church who think nothing to donate part of their salary to the bottom of the shepherd's car, but somehow find it difficult to understand why the national aide who have not paid for the last 8 months does not find gratitude in doing free work. Once again, if you think that I am identifying Christians unjustly, I can give the example of Muslims who are proud of the number of times they pray, but when a dark-skinned beggar comes to them for alms, they show nothing but disdain for the beggar (Islam actually gives alms giving part of the duties of a good Muslim).

It is easy to go through the movements to feel charitable. It's a different story to do it, which is quite understandable. I think of my good friend Datuk Vinod Sekhar who, in a play that he wrote, said: "If suddenly the shit had a value, the poor would have found a way to be born without the assholes". I think of my poorer friends who can not afford the bus ticket to go to work, but end up using their last pennies for a beer or a smoke. Going out with poor people can make you break down in a great way. If nothing else, the poor are depressing louts.

Having said this, it is essential for the human soul to have compassion for others. In simple terms, you are the person you are partly because of God's will. I am who I am because somehow it was deemed appropriate in some cosmic court that I would be born in Singapore to have some decent people as parents . Even if I did not make it, I'm not hungry and I'm not starving. I was born with my members in functional order and an operational mind. Whatever being divine out there gave me a pretty decent leg giving me more than I realize I have.

So, I ask the question what can I do with all these gifts? I think most of us end up using what we have to do to make it ourselves, but there must be something more. Somehow, somewhere, people who are successful are those people who took Christ's message to heart and chose to look beyond themselves and did things to bring others with them. In some ways, we find ourselves exalted when we humiliate and do things that benefit the less fortunate.

Before the teachings of Christ, the Gods were always beings who were obviously more powerful than mortals. Zeus, for example, was not just a God, he was the King of Gods and mortal people built great statues for him or otherwise ...

Jesus, he did something different. He was born in a situation where he was barely above the donkey. He never made a lot of money and never did anything so obvious that people would immediately know. Instead, he never held income-generating work, remained at the lowest levels (tax collectors, prostitutes, etc.) and died as the lowest criminal form.

However, it is recognized by the living incarnation of God of over one billion people. Another billion people recognize him as the chief messenger of God and many others attribute it to God. His teaching forms the basis of what we call Western Civilization.

Jesus taught us that God was with the disadvantaged, people to whom everyone spit on him. I think Jesus would hate the high mouths and charlatans who profess his name

As Christmas approaches, I thank God for giving me the chances he's had. I hope in the insignificant life that I have lived that I might have done a thing or two for the less fortunate.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Do you expect me to make him rich?

A friend of mine had a boss who found it very difficult to pay his subcontractors – specifically the subcontractors involved in blue collar activity. He’d look at the bills and try and knock off $50 here and there and then remark, “I don’t want to make him rich, the bugger is trying to get rich off me.” At the very same time, he had the same ability to be very generous with people in “white collar” professions. When a lawyer he worked with sent a bill of a few thousand, he actually remarked, “Wah, his bill so cheap ah,” and then told the lawyer to charge more.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated example of a strange disease that people in air conditioned offices seem to have. Nor am I proud to say that I’ve always been immune from it. Far from it in fact. I once had to hire a plumber to fix a leak in Daddy’s Soho flat and I couldn’t understand how the flat blob of a character could justify charging me 400 quid when all he did was to rip up my bathroom, play with a blow torch and tell me to avoid showering for a week.

We, in the “professional” class have a peculiar inability to recognize that people who work blue collar jobs actually do something called work and that they should get paid for it. This disease is such that white-collar professionals tend to begrudge every penny that the “working class” make.

While this disease isn’t exactly limited to Singapore, its particularly ridiculous when it comes to this little island that I call home. The reason is simple – our tropical weather. The guys doing “brain” jobs spend their days in front of a computer in an air conditioned office. When they go for lunch, it’s usually in a swish café where there’s plenty of air conditioned and it’s filled with beautiful people (one of the perks of working in the business district here is – eye candy). By contrast, the guys who do manual jobs are usually out in the sun and the time when the sun is the least kind and even when they’re relaxed or supposed to be relaxing, it’s usually in a pretty crappy place

Image result for Cushy CEO at work

Do we seriously believe he struggles

When you’re faced with such a juxtaposition, its hard to understand how the guys sitting in the air conditioned offices get the idea that they’re the ones who have it tough while the guys toiling away in the midday sun are having a picnic.

Image result for Labour in hot sun

While she has it easy......

The usual line of reasoning is – “Mental Work is more taxing.” I don’t disagree that using your brain can be tough. The brain, like the rest of the body does get tired and if overused without rest can screw you up badly. I also don’t disagree with the fact that you should get paid for the value that you create. 

In the construction industry nobody begrudges the architect his pay even if he sits and creates drawings instead of slogging it out with the guys on the work site for the simple reason that the architect’s drawings are the reason for everyone’s existence. You can replace muscle with robots. Theoretically you cannot replace the human brain with a robot (even if we live in the age of AI). I think of the chap who consistently justifies the stress of the guy in a brain job over that of the guy in the muscle job by consistently saying, “The mind is stronger than the body.”

Well, that isn’t exactly quite accurate. Anybody who moves more than five metres-a-day will be able to tell you that the mind isn’t as strong as it claims to be, especially when the body is struggling. The sterotype of the weedy but clever nerd winning one over against the buffy jock isn’t accurate. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example is both well built and highly intelligent. The reason is simple, people who exercise and develop their bodies have to develop strong minds – the mind has to tell the body to keep going when the body cries for a rest.

Then there’s the issue of work. Yes, while I agree that brain work creates more value and should be rewarded accordingly, we need to remember that nothing moves without the muscles actually moving. The brain can send all the signals that it wants to send but if the muscles don’t work, nothing moves – any stroke patient will tell you that it’s a shitty experience to have all sorts of wonderful thoughts spinning through your brain but the body refuses to move then all your beautiful thoughts remain just that.

There needs to be a basic respect between those in brain jobs and muscle jobs. Both parties need to respect the fact that the other chap is actually doing something called work and no party should begrudge things like fair payment to the other party.

I go back to the feelings I had about paying my plumber – bastard earned 400 quid for less than 2 hours work. Every time I look at paying that bill (admittedly I was using Daddy’s money rather than my earned money), I think I studied the wrong course. Then again, I have my step-nephew to thank for setting me straight. He reminded me that plumbers spend their day crawling through shit and the question I ask is how much money would I accept for doing that.

I bring the matter back to the topic of workers who slog it out in the sun. I remember my colleagues in the insolvency firm I work for getting worked up that I was giving away money to help Indian and Bangladeshi workers that the firm had to fire from a construction firm we took over. The legal process denies them money due to them and I put my hand in my pocket to help out a few strangers. 

I’ve pointed out to my colleagues that for me to make the money, I just stay in an office that is for the most part quite comfy. Those guys are out in hot building sites and go back to cramped dormitories.
Life generally sucks and every profession has its stresses. Some of us are better at somethings than others and so when we need to get things done, we look for people who can do what we can’t. When they render a service, they should be rewarded accordingly. Society is like the human body – the brains and muscle need to work together. While the brain should generally be calling the shots, it should never begrudge the muscle what is due to the muscle.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea if stroke patients had to have a say in policy making and HR policies. It would help people in brain jobs remember that nothing gets done unless the muscles move.