AAAaaaarrrrrggghhh!! I can’t vote!!!

I found out yesterday that I won’t be able to vote in the upcoming elections as my name isn’t on the register; and it’s too late to register now as the cut-off date was some time in January. When I asked the Customer Service Officer (CSO) at the Elections Department if a letter of notification was sent out about the deadline, I was told there wasn’t such a thing. I was angry and I was upset. I am angry and I am upset.

Right now, I feel completely cheated. I’ve only voted once in my life, a long time ago. Subsequently, I lived in a walkover constituency, thanks to the creation of GRCs. I know I lost interest in the system along the way, as time after time, I couldn’t vote. My area was finally contested in 2006, but it was too late for me. I was away and had been living overseas for five years. I had no idea my name was struck off the register, as I didn’t vote.

For the last 4 years, 4 months and 27 days that I’ve been back, I’ve never received any notification of my voter status. Perhaps it’s my duty to figure this out – I’ll take some blame. But I’d have thought that the efficient SG government, ever so good at reminder bills and issuing fines, would be equally good at reminding citizens of their law abiding duties.

From the little that I know of elections in other world-class countries, citizens are reminded to register. I think we’re all quite familiar with the US elections where volunteers, candidates and anyone who’s involved constantly encourage citizens to register to vote. I believe in the UK, a letter is sent out yearly, as people may move and their electorate changes. They are also able to register up to 11 days before the elections. Yet, here we are in a country, with perhaps the most advanced e-government services, and not only are notification letters non-existent, I’m told registration closes four months before elections.

How would anyone know, when the election date is such a huge secret? How would someone who has been away for a while, and lost track, get back on? Like I said, I’ll take some blame, but why isn’t anyone reaching out to me? It’s in the interest of a country that citizens are engaged, and those who have nothing to fear will encourage that. Those who do, well…this is what it looks like, isn’t it?

The CSO who was talking to me tried her best to comfort me. “It’s OK you don’t vote this time. Anyway, you also don’t know whether your area contested or not.”

Everything about that statement is wrong. It’s not OK that I don’t vote. It’s not OK that the reason it’s OK is that 11 days before the election, who knows if my area will be contested.

I’m tired of this silly 3rd world political system, that’s possibly the laughing stock of the world. I’ve grown up, SG has grown up. The only people who don’t realise this is the PAP. They’re so caught up in their teeny, tiny little world and their riches, they’ve failed to see the issues truly affecting the growth of Singapore and Singaporeans. I don’t need to repeat them here. What I want to say is that I’ve lost my chance to vote. You haven’t. You can still make a decision on the Singapore you want to live in. Use your vote wisely this coming GE and know that you can make a difference.

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.

What do Singaporeans want?

Last night at TB’s place, politics became a pre-dinner topic. It started with the park connector that would be built and how PAP is throwing money at it, to winning (or more like losing) votes at the upcoming elections, then to the ills of the incumbent party.

TB’s main gripe was the $1.5million paycheck ministers receive and the broken promise of “justice and equality” for all. TH’s point of view was (is, really) that perhaps the amount is needed in a country with such a small tappable population. This sparked off the major debate and I won’t go into the details, but needless to say, it got me thinking about life in Singapore.

In clarifying his position to me this morning, TH said that the minister’s salary is really the wrong thing to focus on, yet he couldn’t understand what the real issues are with Singapore and Singaporeans. I know where he’s coming from and I often wonder what it is people have to complain about.

Truth be told, we’re probably living in a glass tower. I don’t know what life is like for the poor. How many Singaporeans are truly struggling? How many kids are falling out of the system and ‘disappearing’? How many Singaporeans need help but are not receiving any or enough?

Most of the time, I see spoilt Singaporeans. Why do they need a car when public transport is pretty good? OK, it’s not perfect but they’re trying. What’s wrong with public housing? If it’s too expensive for newly-weds, how about living with parents for a while? Why the need to upgrade? Take shorter holidays in countries that are closer, shop local, buy local. What’s wrong with that? Families have maids that are treated like slaves yet still complain about how difficult life is. Seriously??!! Was there a memo that we would all be living stress-free, able to take exotic holidays, buy a car, wear branded clothes, eat in fancy restaurants, live in private property and be served hand and foot that I missed?

In providing everything for Singaporeans and shielding them from the real world, Singaporeans are now a materialistic, wussy, shallow bunch. That’s something I hang on the PAP. There are many things they haven’t done right – they need to be more accountable to the less fortunate, embrace human rights, open up the media channels – but I can’t fault them for providing an environment that is conducive for learning and self development in a safe, easy and comfortable way. The rest is up to the individual. Is that so bad?

I’m of course simplifying many things here. However, it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t get a grip on what Singaporeans want. Cheap and good excess to everything with high pay and low taxes? We’re not on fantasy island. Let’s talk about real issues, people. Anyone?