Tips to stop Singaporean navel gazing

I’ve said previously that I would try to help Singaporeans. Therefore over some of my next few blogs, I’ll point the way to thinking big and different, which I hope would encourage Singaporeans to break out of the Singaporean mentality. Before I’m accused of being elitist or something worse, I urge Singaporeans to take a long, hard objective look at SG blog comments.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see most of it – I hate to say this – make Singaporeans sound like a bunch of losers. While more Singaporeans are wising up to PAP’s tactics and rallying for opposition support, I think a fair number are trapped in the very pit hole that PAP’s rule and brainwashing have created. It’s the mentality that only the PAP has the power to do anything in and for Singapore. How else to explain all that complaining?

So enough. Nothing will change for you if you continue down this path, even when the chains are eventually off. I’ve already stated the two main areas in which the Singaporean psyche needs a make-over. Here are my top tips on how to do that.

1. Eliminate “foreign talent”, “FT”, “FW”, “foreign worker”, “elite”, citizenship status and racial identifiers from your language.

Language shapes our view of the world and how we respond to it. There’s a very interesting article about it in the New York Times here. You need to read it. But if you can’t, here’s its main point:

When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world

By constantly identifying people negatively by class, status, race and/or citizenship you’re not only creating an unnecessary divide but a hostile one that breeds xenophobia, racism and classism. When you carry around a ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mindset, you’re actually putting blinders on yourself and denying yourself a world of potential opportunities and rich experiences.

This was evident when I read an article in the Straits Times a few weeks ago about PRs who resigned from the PMET jobs they came here for, to set up retail shops and restaurants because they saw the opportunity available from serving their growing community.

Now why didn’t Singaporeans, who are whining about jobs being taken by foreigners, see this and act on it? Because they are so consumed with prejudice and so busy making derogatory comments they failed to embrace non-Singaporeans. Imagine how different things would be if they had taken them into the SG community. What could they have learnt and benefited from the foreigners’ presence?

2. Walk away from low value conversations.

These would be negative conversations about foreign talent and the like, conversations about property, COE, ERP, food, overcrowding, HDB, PAP per se. If this means you’ll be alienating your friends from time to time, so be it. Find or create a social gathering of people who’ll be able to engage you differently. It won’t be easy but staying with grumblers and complainers will only drive your energy and mindset southwards.

3. Stop reading or consuming local news, even if it’s free.

Your time and money are precious, and your mind is the most powerful tool you’ll ever own. So why waste time and money on low-grade fuel?

If you’re worried about missing out on important local news, check with your colleagues or friends every few days to see what you’re missing out on. And only if it’s something that’ll affect you and you absolutely need to know the details, borrow a copy.

Make it a principle never to waste time or money on crap.

4. Read foreign publications such as Financial Times Weekend, Monocle, Guardian, The New York Times; watch TED talks online.

These cover a wide range of topics and will offer you a fresh perspective on the world around you. Your horizon will expand as you discover new things and ideas, and different points of view; you’ll be amazed at what it sparks in you.

And it’s more affordable than you think. Monocle’s $15.30 per month when you subscribe. That’s cheaper than a month of Straits Times. You can read a significant amount of the other publications online for free. If you like newspapers per se, FT Weekend costs $22.80 for four weekends. That’s still cheaper than ST. Pair it with Monocle for greater variety and that’s $38.10; not much more than ST.

If you have to cut corners to pay for these publications, do it. Buy cheaper quality household products, forgo outings with friends, wear old clothes for CNY, eat homemade sandwiches for lunch for two weeks…

You deserve the highest grade of fuel to feed your mind.

5. Learn to pay more for services and value the person providing it.

This may be the hardest. I’ve seen loads of comments from Singaporeans crying foul over “Cheaper, Faster, Better”.  They say this is the very reason they’ve lost their jobs to foreigners. Yet on the flip side, this is what they expect.

Singaporeans love a good bargain and they’ll go out of their way to push a supplier to the wall or source for the cheapest item / provider. How can anyone survive in such an environment?

Take for example a skilled Singaporean who enjoys home renovations. He gives you a quote and guarantees that he and his buddy will personally work on refitting your entire bathroom and it’ll take four days. Naturally, you’d have gotten another quotation. Contractor Lim has a team of foreign workers and can complete the job in two days for 30% less. I’m pretty sure most will pick cheaper, faster, better.

Multiply that choice across all the different service industries and you’ll see how Singaporeans have actually limited their own futures by restricting where and how fellow Singaporeans can earn a living.

SG is a developed country and that means labour costs should be higher. Don’t drive a hard bargain. Learn to accept and respect someone else’s expertise and understand they’re trying to survive too.

Will the real Singapore please stand up

I’m an apathetic Singaporean. I don’t know when it happened exactly but I can point to a few factors that have contributed to my indifferent attitude:

  1. Growing up, TF was constantly condemning the PAP, telling me absolute power corrupts, and at one point planning to migrate.
  2. I spent some of my more impressionable years overseas which made me realise a) there’s more to life than the SG way of life. b) I love space and I dislike crowds.
  3. I don’t identify with the obvious Singaporean traits.
  4. I’m not enamoured with SG’s selling points. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to be in a country that is clean, safe, efficient, etc but that doesn’t evoke love.
  5. It’s easy to not bother when things hum along nicely in your life.

I’m fortunate that the last point describes my life in general. However I’ve always had the sense that another SG lurks beneath the gleaming, spotless, modern city. So a few weeks ago, I decided to look for real hard truths; not the ones perpetuated by PAP.

I swallowed the red pill and found myself surfing over waves upon waves on the Internet. At times, the effort almost crushed my will – the same old topics, the same old responses on blogs that reinforced my third point. But finally, I crashed onto a golden stretch of cyberland.

Son of a Dud by Kenneth Jeyaretnam, Temasek Review and The Online Citizen offer a more critical look and intelligent discourse on what’s happening around SG. I particularly enjoy Mr Jeyaretnam’s blog. I love his not-subtle-at-all blog name, and his fact based write-ups that are sprinkled with economic theories. I confess I don’t understand some of it but it’s great to be learning new things.

Anyhow, these sites have been an eye-opener. While I didn’t experience a Matrix awakening, it has come as a shock that the SG I see, the one covered in the local media and the one portrayed on TV in such glorious programmes as Discovery’s “Living Cities” is on polar opposites with the ground level.

Turns out that the real SG is struggling. Incomes haven’t risen for low wage earners; at the same time there’s a considerable increase in cost of living. Not everyone has enough in their CPF to retire, yet there’s no social safety net for those in need. Skilled and experienced Singaporeans have lost their jobs to foreigners and haven’t been able to find employment. Singaporeans are feeling lost in their own country and are deeply unhappy with foreigners.

It’s all very fascinating and interesting. SG almost has a dual identity – the astronomically rich, educated, beautiful, sophisticated side that PAP so desperately wants to showcase, and the less fortunate, troubled side that they hope will disappear quietly and quickly. Contented vs Discontented, Ardent supporters vs Growing anti-PAP sentiment, Million dollar salaried ministers vs state bankrupt opposition leaders, Posh condos vs urine stained HDB lifts, Kids who are so rich they are buying friends in school vs Kids who are so poor they can’t even take a bus to school.

I don’t know which SG will prevail and I’m struggling now with its split personality. I don’t know yet that I’ll care more for SG but I’ll try to figure ways to help Singaporeans ‘cos might as well contribute positively while I can.

I feel bad then mad!

I’m struggling with my other blog piece about being an apathetic Singaporean. This should be a follow-on piece but the thoughts and words are on a constant tumble in my mind and I need to get it out quickly before my head explodes.

In an earlier article, I wrote that I don’t know what Singaporeans want. Reading back, some words may seem harsh given that clearly, there are some people struggling without a job, trying desperately to make ends meet on unacceptable wage levels while coping with high inflation and so forth. When I see the elderly, bent over, pushing trolleys of cardboard boxes or clearing messy tables, I wince.

I feel bad that lives have been wrecked by flawed policies and a greedy political party. But then, I feel mad after that. Hopping mad. ‘cos I don’t know why Singaporeans can’t take matters into their own hands and do something.

The education system may have made many into ‘worker ants’ but why stay that way? As an adult, one would be in charge of one’s own destiny and even attitude, personality and interest, isn’t it? Why wait till the elections in the hope of casting an opposition vote (assuming the PAP plays fair and gives you the opportunity to vote), then waiting for the various changes to happen? How much time would’ve been lost by then? And can you be sure those changes will indeed be favourable?

And instead of relying on the government to make those sweeping changes to suit you, why not rise to the occasion of life in a fast-paced globally competitive city? No matter who runs the country next, the one thing I’m certain of is that the kampong life has long pulled out of the station. Perhaps it left too quickly, catching Singaporeans off guard. But it’s time to wake up and realise that SG won’t be going backwards.

I’m not unsympathetic to those who really need help, but my frustrations come from reading blog comments / listening to mainstream conversations, and I think it’s time the national psyche of Singaporeans gets a make-over.

Below are two key areas that affected Singaporeans should be working on:

1. Blaming foreigners

Yes there may be too many. But are you ensuring you can beat them out in every single way? OK, perhaps you’re unable to compete on low wages, but I assume you don’t want those jobs anyway. I know of companies desperately trying to hire Singaporeans but hiring managers say they can’t find good people. One is even closing down now due to staff shortage! It’s shocking!

So ask yourself if you’re doing your best at interviews, if you’re doing your best everyday at work, if you have a winning attitude every single freaking day at work. Or perhaps you’re in the wrong job / industry – one in which you feel unmotivated, dispassionate about. Can you switch? It’s difficult but not impossible. Do you have dogged determination and a great capacity to learn?

Understand too that the job/career landscape has changed. Here’s what Brian Tracy, author of Focal Point, says:

“According to experts, a person starting work today will have, on average, 14 full-time jobs lasting two years or more and five careers in completely different fields or industries…

Millions of people move up, down, or sideways in their jobs, companies or careers. The rate of growth and expanding opportunity has never been greater, and if anything, is getting better every year.

Here are three predictions for you: First, there will be more changes in your field, whatever it is, in the year ahead than ever before. Second, there will be more competition in your field than ever before. And third, there will be more opportunities in your field than ever before, but they will be different from those of today and in different areas than you expect or anticipate.

As many as 72% of people working today will be in a different job within the next two years as a result of incredible speed of change, increase in competition and explosion of opportunity…

Andrew Grove, chairman of Intel Corporation, wrote recently that one of the most profound changes of the last decade is that each person today is now the architect of his or her own career. You can no longer rely on a corporation to take care of you…You must think and act for yourself.”

Knowing this now, how will you prepare yourself?

2. Endlessly talking about HDBs, COEs, ERPs and other mundane stuff

Stop being led by the local media into the path of property, shopping sales, overcrowded places, best food places and the like. Recognise that when you’re constantly being bombarded with the same few messages, it becomes larger than life and is all consuming. Problems exist – everyone knows that – so there is little need to harp on it all the time. It doesn’t add value to anyone’s life to hear another story about another record price whathaveyou.

Besides, life is way more interesting than that. If you free up brain space from the mundane, you’ll find there are tons of other things to learn and talk about – history, philosophy, art, science, design and other so-called ‘cannot-make-money’ subjects. The funny thing is that these subjects broaden your horizon. Your perspective widens, you’ll think about problems and therefore solutions differently, you may find an undiscovered passion, and before you know it, achieving a whole lot more including that dream job / partner / life.

None of the issues that Singaporeans love to whinge about are uniquely Singapore. These are problems faced by city dwellers around the world. The difference perhaps is that Singaporeans haven’t learnt how to beat the system nor adapt, and they’ve made these issues the key focus in their life. Surely this is the time now for change, with unprecedented access to knowledge and networks. I dare you to take up the challenge to grow beyond these narrow shores.

Why PAP is superior

For the past few days, two articles and their related discussions have occupied some brain space. One is the now infamous excerpt from Amy Chua’s latest book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” on the Wall Street Journal, and the other – a critical look at the welfare state in Singapore – was published by The Economist a year ago titled “The Stingy Nanny”.

As I sat back pondering both articles, it struck me how similar the subject matter was – they both portray successful ‘products’ as a result of stringent and harsh practices that are counter to the west. In fact, it became very clear that the PAP is a Chinese parent and Singapore its child. It explains perfectly their ruling of Singapore, and therefore Singaporeans.

According to Chua, there are mainly three reasons why and how Chinese parents are able to control, demand and push their children beyond what is considered acceptable and why this breeds success.

1. Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. A child with poor grades is simply a lazy child and fixing that is only a matter of punishment, shaming and disapproval.

All Singaporeans can identify with this. The early streaming in school to separate the weak from the strong, hence also ensuring competition, the labelling – ‘heartlanders’, ‘quitters’, ‘normal stream’, ‘express stream’, the sparse support to those who have fallen on hard times.

It’s little wonder that Singaporeans are constantly upgrading and the national psyche is one of kiasu-ism and kiasi-ism.

2. Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences

The Singapore government have always strongly impressed upon Singaporeans what they can or should do, what they can or can’t have access to. From the late 1960s to 1970s, they drove home the family planning message “Stop at two”; subsequently changing tact to “Three or more if you can afford it”. The sale and import of chewing gum was banned in 1992* as Singaporeans couldn’t be trusted to bin their used gums. Every decade they champion a different industry, thereby affecting the economic growth of Singapore and subtly steering the course of choice of young Singaporeans.

And because they have put all the right things in place, because they have set the path to glory and success:

3. Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything…Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

Let’s not forget who works for whom. Without the PAP, Singapore wouldn’t be where it is. They dictated the rules and regulations that catapulted Singapore to first world status. For that, Singaporeans have constantly paid and will continue to pay.

PAP’s approach has softened over the years. Not greatly so, but slightly; just as Chua has relaxed some rules due to her daughter’s rebellion. However, a major change in style isn’t going to happen any time soon. Not when there are always potential adoptive children nipping at the heels of Singaporeans, willing to take their place in the arms of a wealthy and stable parent.

* The ban on chewing gum has since been revised. Those with therapeutic value can now be purchased at pharmacies and clinics on condition of registration by the purchaser.

Are Singaporeans doomed when it comes to seeking a better life?

A lot has been said on the issue of foreign talents in Singapore. This is something that has gone on for decades, as far as I can tell. The voices of discontent are just louder when times are less rosy.

I’m not here to add to those heated discussions.  Why flog a dead horse? However, an interesting thought about economically mobile professionals crossed my mind the other day.

Foreigners want to come to Singapore because there are exciting opportunities here. Their pay would be the same or almost higher; yet the taxes lower. Their jobs tend to be easier, I think. After all, when you can manage a free market size that is say 25million, what’s a highly controlled homogenous size of 4million? And it’s hard to find foreign talents who work the hours Singaporeans do. Their life is more comfortable with a maid, more convenient, safer, and even more exclusive. And their status? Oh, definitely higher.

Singaporeans migrate or want to go to these foreign shores for the same, sometimes even lower pay, higher taxes for sure, less convenience and a more challenging marketplace. They tend to work harder than the locals either because they are used to or because they need to prove themselves. And their status? Unfortunately lower.

Says something doesn’t it?