Archive for the ‘my2centsidea says’ Category

Olympic glory and then some….

Feng Tian Wei just won an individual medal for Singapore, a feat last accomplished by a born and bred Singaporean some 52 years ago. Some would argue that nowadays, foreign talents can be found anywhere rendering their services to countries who are more than willing to adopt them as their own. For the less welcoming, their arguement would be that the glory was “bought”. Already, online buzz has it that the win is not truly by a Singaporean. To be fair, if Feng and the rest had stayed in China, they may not even make it to the national team and see themselves fighting for a medal in the Olympics. So, do foreign talents who delivered the goods deserve the rewards? I’m all for may the best man/woman wins and whatever rewards that comes along the way. I guess it isn’t so for some and this whole idea of foreign talent, especially those brought in through sports runs a lot deeper than this.

First and foremost, we need to examine why our highest gold medal achievement from a local athelete is in the Asian games, before China’s rise as a global sports power. Tao Li, Feng and company all hailed from China in their early years. Even in the SEA Games, our dominance by local atheletes only extends to the water sports. As for the other disciplines, we only get a splattering of winners every now and then. Are we a sports nation, when strictly local born atheletes are rallied upon to deliver the goods?  I must admit, Singapore do have alot of facilities for sports enthusiasts, enough for some countries turn green with envy. But….this is where the difference lies. Some of those countries which have less actually produces a lot more world class atheletes than we. Why is that so, one might ask?

I guess part of it lies on the mental strength and discipline and at the same time, also the circumstances surrounding Singapore’s own survival in this complex world we live in. People of my generation and before have been ingrained with the fact that sports are mostly done to keep fit and for the occasional competition at a low level. Even nationally, our benchmark isn’t high. Just look at football. Singapore pays almost, if not the, highest cable fees in the world just to watch club level football in England. Despite such fanatical support for the sport, where is our own national team rank, worldwide? I rest my case.

As parents, we inculcate almost the same principals to our kids. Getting a good education is the key to a good carreer and ultimately a comfortable retirement. For most of us, chasing the dream usually means getting the standard of living we desire. Though there’s nothing wrong in that, reaching the highest level internationally is a whole new ball game. Life as a professional athelete is short and many here  cannot see what becomes of life after retirement.  Also, admittedly, only a handful have the talent and the potential to reach such heights. But that shouldn’t stop the majority from practising the Olympic spirit in whatever they do. I do not know what exactly the Olympic spirit stand for but my own observation is that giving 100% isn’t quite enough; it has got to be the performance of the lifetime. Somehow, local born Singaporeans just can’t measure up when it matters most. It’s especially sad given the fact that  in many other fields we win awards quite regularly. Could it be that our Singaporeans’ genes are inferior because we have been brought up in such comfort that those with the talent simply cannot muscle enough effort to realise their potential? All the financial incentives the various government bodies provide will not be enough; encouragement must be self motivated and the ambition to succeed must burn like a wild fire. The likes of our foreign born table tennis players deserves to be emulated, their desire to excel at the highest level must be ingrained in our younger generation of atheletes so that in time we can finally come out of our shells and become true champions in our own right.

It’s a tall order. I sincerely hope the day can come soon enough.

New media- Are we getting smarter AND wiser?

I have to thank this “new media revolution” for letting me have the chance to air my personal views on events and things that’s happening around us. With a small population of slightly more than 5 million, it seems that we certainly have a wide range of opionions on a wide range of issues, none more so than online media. Issues like the high ministerial slalaries, high public housing prices, COE prices etc are getting a lot of activity online.

However, I would just like to draw on a comment by Mr Lee Kwan Yew in 1 of his speeches or in 1 of his books (I’m not sure which one); Singaporeans nowadays are getting more educated, therefore they’re getting smarter, but not necessarily wiser. I’m not quoting him word for word but the gist of the comment, which is we are getting smarter but not necessarily wiser.

There is a definite co-relation between smarter and wiser but if we were to look at it from a different angle, there is also a marked difference between being smart and being wise. I have long been an admirer of Mr. Lee Kwan Yew since the days when he was our PM. It takes a very smart person to reach such heights but what makes him stand out is that he’s also a very wise individual. Add charisma to that and we have a very select group of individuals who commands respect worldwide. Of course as with every other outstanding individual, he has his fair share of detractors, no matter what the rest of the world thinks of him. In any case, I’m just drawing an example, not using this article to heap praises on him.

To begin with, let’s look at our education system. MNCs don’t set up their Asia Pacific HQ or R&D facilities here because our government gives them lots of tax incentives. We have the brain power to operate such important functions in a company simply because our education system is constantly producing many smart individuals to take on the demands of such jobs.

But to be fair, a lot of times we don’t have or is unable to understand the information available to us to make a sound and wise decision. We also have a tendency to make rash decision based on what we feel at that point in time.

Take for instant the recent spade breakdown of trains, each affecting tens of thousands of commuters. As compared to the London Tube or the Paris Metro, our network is “young” in age. But however, it is still a system that has been running for quite a number of years. At some point in time it will breakdown but unfortunately, it has to happen now and with such frequency. There were and still are loud calls for somebody to take responsibility. The CEO has stepped down and some even wants the Transport Minister to step down. Assuming the Transport Minister steps down, what’s next? Can anyone guarantee the system will be problem free from now onwards?

The truth is, it’s not a wise move to ask this person or that person to step down and take responsibility. At least during the course of fixing the problem, we have a familiar face to get to if the system continues to fail as frequently as now. With the onset on the new media, we have thousands of comments (some to the state of being vulgar) and no credible solutions. This invariably added extra stress on the people working hard to fix the problem. So, has the new media made anyone smarter AND wiser in this instance? Apparently not.

We now have access to millions upon millions of information previously not available to us. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, etc all added up to an obscene amount of information at our fingertips. Useful in many ways but does it really add up to us being wiser in making decisions? I’m not too sure about that.

Individuals in high public office have the worst of the lot. Many a times, they get more scorn then praises whenever their names prop up  in conversations, whether it’s online or just coffeeshop talk.

Online chats and comments are sometimes more extreme as the person’s identity is not revealed. They can basically say what they want and yet not bear any real responsibility. The so-called new media is thus doing more harm than good. Making people smarter and wiser? I don’t think so.

Like I said at the begining of this article, I have to thank the “new media revolution” for making it possible for me to air my personal views on matters that I feel should be brought up. With the amount of information available to us 24/7, we have to learn from the positives that will help us become smarter AND wiser at the same time.

 

Uniquely Singaporean – Kiasuism

I have been looking for an interesting subject to dwell on and thought, this might be an interesting subject for discussion. Since I was born and raised here, I think I have a fairly good idea on this topic and in all fairness, I must admit I’m also quiet a “kiasu” guy myself in some ways.

In plain dialect conversion, “kiasu” literally means “afraid to lose”. I’m not sure if the word is listed in the dictionary but it sure is one of the words most commonly used in associating with the typical Singaporean attitude. It’s kind of a derogatory term to use but I suppose if we look at things from both sides, there are positives to being “kiasu”. The term is so often used that most if not all Singaporeans are used to it and we generally take it within our stride if such terms are used on us sometimes.

So, lets start with the negatives on being label as “kiasu”. We all read and hear complaints about how expensive things are nowadays for just about anything. While it may be true in some instances, I noticed that in some instances, the “kiasu” mentality is at its best to wreck havoc here.

Take for example housing. Singapore is a small island, so no matter which “ulu” corner you’re staying now, eventually the amenities would be fully develop. By that time the value would have shot up and selling it would reap in a tidy profit because back then the area was still relatively under-developed so the price of the house would be relatively low as compared to mature estates. But….the “kiasu” mentality would say why can’t I stay in a more developed area and yet still enjoy the lower prices of under-developed areas? He/she wants instant accessibility but is not willing or unable to afford it.

The situation is even worse when it comes to education. In order not to be left behind, the typical parent would put his/her child in some form of learning school as young as 3 or maybe 4 years old. I don’t have a kid so I don’t know the exact age when a child gets exposed to his/her first taste of group learning. While this may be for the good of the child, did anyone consider some children may actually feel stressed under such conditions and yet not able to convey the message across to his/her parents clearly? A young mind absorbs things pretty quickly, so it’s a matter of exposing the child to the correct environment, not necessarily a school environment. It’s not very common here but there many kids overseas who are home schooled and yet makes wonderful contributions to the society at large.

Many years ago, during the Hello Kitty mania sweeping across Singapore at McDonald’s, people queue up hours before the outlet opens just to get that doll. So much so that there were arguments and even a glass door was smashed. All for a doll that does nothing but occupy space in the house. But the kiasu mentality in us somehow convinced us that if so many people want it, then it must be good. Such actions are typical here but unfortunately nothing to be proud of.

Now for something positive about being “kiasu”. One of the most obvious example is the various laws enacted when the casinos finally made its debut in Singapore. These laws are there to prevent gambling addiction among Singaporeans. Still, they won’t stop those determined to put their monies on the gambling tables but at least some would think twice when they want to wager their hard earned money on the table.

I also mentioned in my previous posting that kids are being pushed in to school at a very early age, to the extend that their childhood may have been lost. On a positive note though, being kiasu but not to the extend of overdoing it would reap very positive results for the child.

Singapore’s economy is developed to what it is today is by no means a co-incidence. We use the term”hardworking, pramagtic,smart'” etc to describe our progress but let’s face it, it’s our kiasu mentality that made us want to stay a few steps ahead of the competition all the time. It’s same for other countries but the small size of our country makes such attitude more pronounce.

Government policies are being enacted for a specific purpose but most of the time, it can’t, nor are they trying, to please everyone. A lot of people is screaming that why can’t they take out their CPF monies when they reached 55? I would like to see my money too when I turn 55 but upon closer scrutiny, I realised that if I’m still fit at 55, why don’t I just park it in the account and continue earning interest while I continue to work?

I certainly don’t want anyone who takes out their monies at 55 and by the time they turn 60 or maybe earlier, the funds are exhausted and they have to rely on government assistance or from friends and family. Or forced back in to the workforce, getting a lesser pay and start grumbling at the government for not taking care of them.

The kiasu stance that the government has taken is not popular by any yardstick but it does help to mitigate such unfortunate incidences. The interests earned is definitely not enough to adjust for inflation but at least it’s gauranteed money in your account.

Overall, our unique trait of being kiasu does go a long way, in both directions. It’s all up to us to adjust our egos and expectations. This little island is all we have so we need to ensure our next generation gets to see the fruits of their labour in the future by taking care of ourselves so as not to burden them too much. If this means being “kiasu”, by all means do it in a positive way.

Life on this little red dot

I was born here and have lived here all my life, except for the occasional overseas trip as a tourist in recent years. I must say I have been blessed to be born in a place like Singapore, though in the words of ex-President BJ Habibi of Indonesia, my land of birth is only but a little red dot on the map. With a minimum of 10 years of schooling, I was still able to have a decent career till this very day and have a home called my own, even though it’s only a small 3-room flat. Compare to a lot of places elsewhere, I can be considered very lucky. Everything works here and with such efficiency, but of course it’s not paradise. Paradise is a very abstract term defined by individuals who sees things as perfect only within their scope of view. There are inconveniences in which we have to bear literally on a daily basis but in comparision with the big picture in Singapore’s overall development, I feel they are by and large nothing much to raise so much noise about. Perhaps in politics, issues have to be brought out in to the public domain sometimes disproportionately in order to gain attention. I shall attempt to discuss some of these in the following paragraphs in the hope that those who read this post don’t feel that I’m being biased at any one in particular.

Firstly, let’s look at Singapore’s housing policy.  I’m no authority or expert in town planning but I am of the view the HDB and the private developers have done a great job at providing a nice home for a majority of the people here. From it’s humble beginnings as provider of basic housing for Singaporeans back in the 60’s, HDB have kept up with the aspirations of the people as generations passed. Nowadays when we looked the newer towns, the designs are as good as private condominiums. Of course it’s on a 99-year tenure and build by a statutary board, so the value is not as premium as the neighbour ‘s condo. But…they are are quite good looking aren’t they? And with the multi-storey carparks being situated some distance away, sleeping at night is a lot more quiet than before. As to the constant complaints of high prices even for public housing and unaffordability issues, it’s correct to a certain extent. Instead of grumbling about it, why not temper our expectations and be patient? If everyone really needs a house to start a family, what about families in other countries living in rented premises? Even the foreigners working here who brought over their families, a lot of them are also staying in rented premises. In any case, most young married couples nowadays are dual income earners, so I don’t see why they can’t afford to pay for a HDB flat when it comes along. Perhaps their own lifestyle have them used up their salaries every month such that they don’t have much, if any, savings. I’m guessing the ones who makes the noises are the ones who wants the cake and eat it as well.

Next, our transport network. Travelling in Singapore is arguably one of the most convenient in the world and perhaps also one of the most expensive. By that I mean private transport, cars here easily being one of, if not the, most expensive in the world. As a developed economy, we can expect items deemed a luxury elsewhere becomes a neccessity here and owning that dream car is one of them. With COE prices at such dizziing high nowadays, I wonder sometimes why are there still people out there willing to pay such sums just to own something that will depreciate the moment ownership has been transferred from the car dealer to the individual. As much as the LTA and the transport ministry tries to please, there is a limit to the amount of road that can be build. I take public transport on a daily basis and again I count myself lucky in that in my line of work, sometimes I have the luxury of avoiding the morning and evening rush hours. This may sound crazy but if businesses as well as government bodies staggered their working hours somewhat, perhaps we can ease the pressure on the public transport and make commuting a little less stressful. With the recent  annoucement of more buses being added with the  government’s $800 million bus procurement excercise, I think we should see a slight improvement in service (shorter arrivals times between buses) and perhaps even less crowded buses at peak periods in the not too distant future. This is provided SMRT and SBS finds enough drivers to operate those buses. However, there’s definitely room for improvement in our rail network. What started out as just the North-South and East-West line some 20 years ago has mushroomed to a network that spands to almost all corners in our little island. Where breakdown is concerned, it creates a much bigger inconvenience to commuters than when a bus breaks down. However, the value of properties nearby any mrt station is still much higher than those further away. This just goes to show that despite the hiccups, the mrt is still being viewed with a higher premium than buses. I prefer taking the buses though as there’s a higher chance of me getting a seat then in the train,which has a limited amount of seats per carriage and very often we have to give up our seats (which is a very gracious gesture) to the more needy.

Lastly, foreigners who work and make Singapore their home. The very notion why there are so many here is not because Singapore has that many things to offer but in their own homeland, opportunites are either very limited or none at all. I’m certainly glad to be in a place where there are more jobs available than available manpower. It shows the economy is thriving and there’s plenty of opportunites for all, if one is willing to look for it and be prepared to work for it. Much has been said about these foreigners and a lot of times, they are being frowned upon and labelled as Foreign Tr…. instead of Foreign Talent. They are being blamed from crowding the buses and mrt to “robbing” our jobs. Let’s face it, a lot of those jobs are not wanted by the locals. Be it long and irregular hours, dirty, dangerous or low pay, somebody’s got to do it right? So why shout at the people doing those jobs if locals are not willing to do? Without them, would our mrt be built and nice looking flats for us to stay? Furthermore, they also contribute directly to the economy with their own private consumption. Cultural diversity is also much more vibrant with people of different races celebrating their unique traditions here. It makes great educational materials for our young.

I could go on a lot longer but I think I’ll save them for another day. Life on this little red dot is indeed very interesting and there’s much to appreciate with what has been done so far. Singapore in no paradise but I wouldn’t give up my red passport for anywhere else in the world.

 

 

Wish I had study harder

I only had an ‘O’ level to show for in my resume whenever I fill up job application forms. Luckily during those days, back in the 80’s, having an ‘O’ level certificate is still worth a little. Fast forward to today, when I pick up a primary school assessment book (Pri 3 or 4 math or science) I couldn’t answer half the time.

Kids nowadays have it tough; all the endless streaming the moment they step in to primary school. And of course our dear Singaporean parents. In the pursue of excellence, I got a funny feeling that in some cases, the kids have been pushed a bit harder than they can take. So, who should take responsibility for the kids’ welfare? The parents, the society at large or the MOE?  Parents want the best for their kids and in this highly competitive environment, knowledge is gold. The ministry on its part is also trying it’s best in preparing the young ones to take on the world with all the knowledge at his/her disposal. So if both parties’ starting point are for the good of the child, why do the kids end up getting the short end of the stick?

Our system of education is rigorous and regularly churns out batches of high flyers who go on to achieve much in life. However, there are also a lot of them getting on life with an average job with average pay.  Now that they are adults, did we ask anyone of them what growing up was like in the pressure cooker? I spent my childhood doing what kids do; playing marbles, running around in the open field, play football with a ball too big for me to kick etc….I count myself lucky in not getting any tuition ever and still managed to scrap through my ‘O’ levels. Mind you, by the time I sat for the examinations, I seemed to have lost interest in studying. And I also count myself lucky in having that little bit of talent in grasping a good command of English, through the countless hours I spent in front of my neighbours’ google box. My mum missed the dateline in enrolling me in kindergarten and so I ended up having 2 extra years out of school and because of my age, I was able to absorb the English language the way it was spoken by the English and Americans. Back then even the Americans spoke proper English, not the slang we hear so often nowadays. That’s why I particularly like having  conversations with Caucasians, not to feel superior but I’m able to practise proper spoken English with them. In this way, I do appreciate the presence of so many English-speaking foreigners here.

My little suggestion is this; why don’t the parents and MOE take half a step back and let the kids be more like kids. Go fly kites, learn to cycle, play marbles etc. More importantly, there’s no need to be afraid to let them take a fall once in a while. Let them have some bruises, sweat it out in the sun sometimes. It’s more natural how a child should be raised, rather than put them in protective gears all the time so that they don’t hurt themselves. And don’t buy them computer games and spoil their eyesight at such a tender age. Sometimes when I come back from work early, I notice the kids are having just as much fun playing with the sand and running around the playground then in front of the computer screens playing their xboxes and what not. Do I sound very extreme? You decide.

At the end of the day, they would have plenty of time and spare cash to buy those games when they’re older.  I’m not a father myself but I definitely would choose to raise my child the au naturel way. On hindsight, I should have study harder, so that I contribute in more constructive ways in helping Singapore to be more livable in ways which can’t be measured with statistics.

Are Singaporeans myopic?

A first glance at the title, one would not be too sure what I’m referring to. In medical terms, myopic means short-sightedness and that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. As  we develop as a society, we have become more vocal in our opinions, especially online and after the recent GE. It’s a good thing of course but if we dwell deeper in to some of the reasons why such opposition is raised at a certain issue, we can see that at times, the reasons are just plain short-sightedness on the part of the contributor.

Take for example the Bukit Brown cementery issue. So much has been raised about the destruction of nature, heritage, biodiversity etc and the list goes on and on. Mind you, I’m also all for conservation of nature, heritage etc, but I’m also a pragmatic person. Let’s take a step back and look at what is essentially being done for Singapore’s future development. Firstly, the entire BB cementery has already been earmarked as future housing development, although that won’t happen any time soon. But, the fact of the matter is basic infrastructure have to start somewhere at a certain point in time. Right now, it’s just a simple case of alleviating traffic at Adam and Leonie roads. However, as the road network becomes more developed at the later stages, other amenities like more buses plying along that stretch of road or maybe even mrt extension may be considered. When that happens, the time is ripe to start construction of public/private housing and other amenities ; in other words planning a whole new town (called Bukit Brown perhaps).  With a growing and ageing population, space is much more needed for the living than with all due respect, the dead.

Let’s face it, Singapore is not getting any larger; whatever land that we’re able to reclaim have been reclaimed and all means to free up more space for housing and other needs have been constantly looked at. Even with such a low fertitility rate our population is still growing because most of us are living longer due to proper diet and a host of other reasons. We can in theory curtail or drastically reduce the growth of non-Singaporeans by erecting draconian laws such as for an x number of new citizens or PRs, and equal amount of those already here must leave, either by forced cancellation of permits or revoking PR status. In reality though, would such a law work? While the Singapore born babies are growing up, the economy has to keep going in the positive direction in order for the parents of these children to be able to feed and clothe them right? Singapore’s only asset that keeps getting the foreign investors coming in is our brain power, local bred and/or imported. If we have that myopic thinking that the foreigners are robbing our livelihood as well as our children’s future livelihood, then it will indeed be a self fullfilling prophecy that one day, Singapore won’t belong to Singaporeans anymore.

It’s easy to criticise an idea but are the alternative solutions really more viable then the original idea? It’s hard to say  but if each of us takes a more practical and longer term view of things, I’m quite sure there’ll be a lot less friction and a lot more agreements. So, are Singaporeans myopic? I’ll leave that answer to yourselves.

 

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