Breaking Radio Silence

It’s the week of mourning for the foremost of our founding fathers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Although I had previously expected to be quite unemotional when the time came, I surprised myself by being rather teary-eyed for most of this week.

I’m not going to attempt a tribute post here, because I think what needs to be said has already been said by many others, and in a far better way then I ever could. I admire his genius immensely, and my political views run along very similar lines. While I don’t agree with everything he has ever done, I do respect his “make-no-apology” attitude.

When it comes to the building of my beloved country, however, I am always cognizant of the fact that it was a team effort, and there were some really talented and upstanding men in the founding group. I don’t think Singapore would have been what she is today without any of them (In fact, my sympathies have always lain with Dr Goh Keng Swee, all-rounder superman). I think most of my emotions this week were more to do with the fact that Mr Lee was the last of them, rather than any feeling of gratitude to Mr Lee personally.

Anyway, rest in peace, sir. And I wouldn’t mind if you would keep your promise to rise again if you see anything going wrong with Singapore.

Really.

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My First Step to Participating In Society

I went and did something I never thought I would ever do in this lifetime: become a political activist.

I signed up about a week ago with the youth network of one of the local political parties. Not going to say which one though. The things I do to protect my anonymity.

Despite joining the group, I do not think I am going to turn into a raging reactionary overnight. After all, I had spent most of my 30-odd years nurturing my apathy, and it is going to take more than a few days of active political thoughts to undo that. J

My reasons for joining:

1)      I am going into this with an open mind to find out about the situations and challenges facing Singapore, and what the ruling party is thinking and planning. I am sick of unsubstantiated arguments and attacks on the government. Criticise, sure, but do it with some thinking and substantiation. I figured I should practice what I preach, and find out more for myself. It may turn out that I will be totally disillusioned by what I discover, but I would have at least made the effort.

 2)      I want to find a cause to champion. Other groups I was considering joining were the union and Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO). Ultimately, I will probably end up in one of these, but I think having an understanding of the political and governmental background will help me in my work in these other organizations in future. Just treat it like a homework assignment before the exam.

 3)      Networking. As an introvert, I have a lot of problems with this, but I do understand the worth being well-connected. It benefits not only me, but also whomever I choose to help in future. Frankly, I would never have been able to do this if networking had been the sole aim, but as a side benefit to participation, it is not as bad.

I am looking forward to what unfolds. The people whose opinions I care about have indicated nothing but support. This is my first step in participating more in society and hopefully ends in me giving back as much as I have received from it.

Saw Phaik Hwa’s Resignation

I have not been really in touch with current affairs recently, so it was only today that I happened to know that the Saw Phaik Hwa resigned as the CEO of SMRT recently, ostensibly to “pursue personal interests”, but I think it is apparent to one and all that the escalating issues with the MRT system performance were the root.

I haven’t read all of the commentaries online, but I gathered from the few I did read that people were happy about her resignation. They see it as an admission of fault and taking responsibility for the dismal performance on her part. Me? I just think she got off scot free.

It is not the culture in Singapore to take responsibility by tendering one’s resignation. I for one, have always been glad about that, and frankly have always wondered why that gesture is favoured by so many others as a sign of responsibility. If the resignation comes after all the problems have been resolved, then there is something to be said for it, but what is so responsible of throwing the mess to someone else to handle? And creating a whole new logistical issue for the already pressed company to contend with during the handover?

I admit that I don’t like Saw Phaik Hwa. I feel that she is incredibly out of touch with the situation on the ground. Considering her background in luxury sales, her sense of customer service is totally lacking. However, when she commented immediately after the December MRT breakdowns that she would not be answering calls to resign, but would stick it out until the issues were all resolved, I admired her at that very moment for not taking the easy way out. Her subsequent resignation comes as a great disappointment.

In any case, I am not expecting any miracles for the public transport system with Saw’s resignation. The problems for the public transport infrastructure have been long in the making, and it is only going to get worse before it gets better. I am generally pretty sympathetic with the government’s stand and policies but in this case, I think the government has a lot to answer for in terms of poor planning, short sightedness and poor intra-governmental communication. The current administration has turned one of Singapore’s greatest strength into its greatest weakness.

Property Investment – A Confidence Investment In A Country

There is an awesome quote from Mr. C which has never left my mind.

 “Buying property is never just about the property. You are essentially investing in a piece of confidence in the country’s future.”

I confessed to my mother recently that I get a bit stressed out when I think about the condo, mainly because I am not so sure of the direction my fellow Singaporeans will take the country in the next few years.

For me, this is the dark side of democracy; it is no fun when I have no faith in my fellow countrymen.

I studiously avoid Singaporean websites and forums, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts etc because I am not sure I can take the negativity and the lack of critical thinking that is present. I only read the hard copy version of the papers because it upsets me to read the mostly ignorant comments on the internet versions.

All the government-bashing on-going without balanced views and approaching the issue from all angles disturb me. And I am very much concerned that the negativity comes mainly from my generation and younger, people who have not had to experience the real suffering. Is it entitlement? Do we want entitlement to lead the day?

Our country is tiny and devoid of natural resources. We rely mainly on foreign investments, which are extremely fluid and devoid of feelings. They go where they get the greatest returns. How will our decisions at the poll affect them? What will they do? What can they do? What will we do if they beat a hasty retreat? Singaporeans have to continuously keep all these in mind when making decisions.

No system is perfect; there will always be improvements needed. The question is whether there needs to be a complete tearing down of the system in order to implement these improvements. Some people obviously think so.

It takes but one moment of heedlessness to destroy years of progress, and the climb back is just years wasted and suffering that is unnecessary. Some countries never manage to make the climb out of the shambles.

I am not saying everyone has to agree with me, but is it too much to ask for more thought before action?

Back to the condo. I was kind of relieved when we decided not to move to the condo for the next two years. I think I am going to ask the parents to consider extending that to the next four years, until the next election. I may very well want to ditch the condo and keep my investments as liquid as possible.

It would be nice if I could keep my piece of confidence inSingapore, but alas, I am too pragmatic for true democracy. My patriotism would have to be demonstrated in other ways.

No Need To Be Conflicted About Your Apple Toys

Punch Debt in the Face wrote a post about his conflicting feelings towards Apple products after his awareness of the conditions under which these products were manufactured, courtesy of Mike Daisey.

I started writing a comment, but it developed into a full post, so I decided to post it on this blog instead.

I respect Daisey’s actions in trying to get Apple and its Western cohorts to take responsibility and act to improve the situation. However, the fact is that it takes two to tango, and China and the Chinese people are the ones who have the real power to make a difference. It’s their lives after all.

The company in question, Foxconn, can be considered one of the better employers in China, with some of the best employee infrastructure in place. Despite the slew of suicides, there were others waiting around just to take the places of those who are gone. Why? Because what they get at Foxconn is better than everything else that is available to them back in their hometowns.

As long as the workers need the company more than the company needs them, and as long as there are workers willing to work under those conditions, companies have no incentive to provide better. That is, unless the workers exercise their collective powers. There are several hundreds of thousands of them, aren’t there?

Why should the Daisey and Co. be so surprised, or scandalized? Didn’t the same happen during the industrialization era in the West, giving impetus to the formation of unions and the formalization of labour laws to drastically improve working conditions?

What is happening in China seems to be history repeating itself, albeit in a different geographical location. And ultimately, the Chinese people must be the ones to act for themselves, like their Western counterparts have done in historical times.

Recent reports have indicated that the demand for workers have outstripped supply in China due to the rapid growth of manufacturing. Many companies have had to increase wages and improve working conditions to attract and retain the dwindling supply of workers. Power is moving into the hands of the workers. Things may be off to a slow start, but it appears that the situation is beginning to change.

Therefore, in my opinion, Apple fans need not be in a hurry to discard their toys to show their solidarity with the Chinese workers. It is not an Apple issue, nor a Foxconn issue. It is a China issue.

You Want Democracy, You Got It!

I have to confess I am not a fan of democracy. In my opinion, democracy means putting your trust in the judgement of large group of strangers, and betting on faith that they will make a decision for your betterment. That’s like handing out a thousand dollar randomly to strangers you meet on the streets and asking them to give you a five percent return on that. And the latter is something no one in their right minds will ever do. So I wonder why people think democracy is the bee’s knees.

Personally, I feel that a democracy gives me as little true freedom as any autocracy. For the latter, I may be at the mercy of the top linchpins, but then I am at the mercy of my fellow commoners for the former. Both systems require one to put their faith in someone anyway.

I never felt this more keenly than at the general election in May. I had just made a commitment on an expensive condo days before the voting. I was away in US on company business on voting day. I spent pretty much the whole time in meetings half distracted by the potential impact of my fellow countrymen’s decision on my fledging investment. I had to trust other people to make a correct decision for the country, and just as importantly, for me. How powerless I felt right at that point in time.

I don’t think that any system is better than one or the other, or that there is anything perfect out there. But then, I think autocracy and related systems of government has the benefit of being honest.

So anyway, as of this morning, we have a new president. Sis saw on her Facebook feed that an acquaintance had declared today Black Sunday because his fellow Singaporeans were too blind and uninformed and had vote in someone he didn’t agree with. See, boys and girls, you asked for democracy, you got it. But the democracy handbook never said that everything had to go your way. So shut up and take the consequences.

Presidential Election Is Not Bidding For Job Tender

I have no idea what this whole fixation on presidential salary all about for the upcoming presidential election.

We are not talking here about a tender for some government contract, where price levels make a difference to whether a company gets awarded the contract or not. Also, this is not about haggling in the market whether the vegetables should cost $1 or $2.

Get the best man for the job, then talk about how much he is worth. An unworthy office bearer is too expensive even if he does the work for free.