Bukit Brown @ a Crossroad

An article appeared on The Diplomat by Kirsten Han as a report on Singaporean’s campaign against the government on the development of a cemetery site, Bukit Brown. Situated in the heart of Singapore, Bukit Brown lies just next to two major housing areas, north of the city shopping district as well as south of one of the city’s green lungs, MacRitchie Reservoir. When the government proposed to clear about 5,000 graves in Bukit Brown in order to build a dual four-lane road to ease the traffic in the area, conservation groups sprung up to protest at the lack of discussion over the decision. Here’s the website for one of the group, All things Bukit Brown.
Bukit Brown road-alignment
Han’s article pointed out that Singapore’s land scarcity is a serious issue which the government has to tackle. A quote in the article by Eisen Teo, a freelance researcher asks if the government can use other areas for the project. He pointed out that the golf courses and military camps in Singapore takes up much of the country’s land, up to 1,800 hectares for the 18 golf courses alone. However, he forgets that size is not the only consideration here. Bukit Brown sites at the crossroad. Lornie Road, a busy motor way which jams every peak hour curves and meanders between MacRitchie Reservoir and Bukit Brown. While it may be less painful to cut more land from golf courses, there is no golf course to cut through in the area that makes sense. In the planning of golf course in Singapore, they are usually in areas where the high-rise buildings are not possible, like near airfields and reservoirs. I would think that land planning is a serious and deliberate process in Singapore, not as careless as the article suggest.
I would also like to point out the photo used in The Diplomat’s article which shows a man walking through a forested area. I am not sure what does it seek to signify, but if I were to look at it without prior knowledge, it looks like the government is cutting down prime forest in the middle of nowhere to build highways which no one may use. That is not the case for Bukit Brown.

In any case, the government is in the consultative process and alternative routes have been suggested by the Bukit Brown advocates. Let’s go into the discussion with a calm mind rather than heated passion.


Singapore Household Income Trend 2012

Managed to read a statistic report on the Key Household Income Trend of Singapore 2012 done up by Department of Statistics Singapore in Feb 2013. The report may be downloaded here.

A few things struck me as I read the report quickly. However, firstly, here are the highlights on the report.

Firstly, there has been a real increase of the median household monthly income from work by 2.7 per cent.

Secondly, the 1st to 60th percentiles has stronger real growth from 2007 to 2012 as compared to five years earlier, 2002 to 2007.

Thirdly, while an average household receives $1,340 per household member of government transfers annually (I read this as government handouts), those in HDB 1-2 rooms flats received an average of $6,140 per household member annually.

Lastly, the Geni coefficient has risen from 0.473 to 0.478 but with government transfers, that has lowered to 0.459.

While these seems good and dandy, I wonder what are the government transfers considered in the statistics. Are these real money handouts, CPF funds or reliefs and rebates? The report goes on to say that in retiree households in 1-2 room HDB, they get an average of $8,848 annually, that’s about $737 per month. Strangely, even retiree household in landed property get $1,090 annually.

While the Geni coefficient has dropped after the government transfer, I really need to find out what constitute these transfers.

Of course at the end of the day, we understand that the statistic department get their data from either CPF board and IRAS. Much of the income from the higher percentile do not come from reported income, so the Geni coefficient may not be so accurate after all.

Finally, I personally think that while the rich do get richer in Singapore, the poor in Singapore are much better off compared to the poor in regional countries. Of course, poorer folks in other countries always have the option of moving to the rural area where cost of living is lower, but then so is the standard of living. Thus, with Singapore’s standard of livings, we ain’t doing too bad… (I hope)

To Fear or to be Passionated

We had a presentation by a government communication specialist. He had plenty of interesting facts and statistics, such as the percentage of people in Singapore who visited government website, certain age groups accessibility to Internet, effects of the online media on mainstream media, etc. However, despite his many varied stories, cases as well as an interesting Hitler video, he failed to capture the attention of the audience.

I, personally, am very interested in the stories and the theories behind the stories. Particularly interesting was how the government, or “gah-men” as he pronounced it, strives to work in the age of instant information and 6 seconds gratification. Perhaps it was the fact that we were approaching the end of the day after weeks of courses and lectures. He had the unfortunate fate of presenting late in the afternoon after a heavy lunch.

Still, as a communication expert, one would think that he would be more proficient at getting his point across. For one, I don’t even know what his point was? As I remarked to my friend, “If this is a sample of government communication, no wonder the private bloggers and new media websites have more success than them at getting messages across to the public.”

It is not a matter of getting hype on gore and blood or gossip and scandals. It goes beyond the false bravery of striking at the bad government or bashing of a common foe. Just on the mode of narrative only, the government agencies have a long way to go. Oh, there have been excellent instances where the agencies have resounding success, such as the “Ah Boys to Men”, SPF and the Navy’s selected advertisement which resonates with the public. However, why has the successes been far and few in between?

As I hear the presentation yesterday, I can’t help but question, if he were to do this as a individual, or private citizen, would the presentation be different? I have, over the course of this year, heard representatives from organizations who are inspiring, passionate and, simply, awesome. In fact, just the same morning as the communication specialist’s presentation, we had an excellent discussion with a military commander who, with simple words and a few slides, challenged a whole auditorium of officers and moved us to inspiration of command with practical down to earth advices.

Here is also a difference between working for passion and working for a job. The difference, as you probably can guess by my tone, is in the passion for the job. “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Since it is impossible to get everyone inspired on their job nor is every job inspiring, what is the other option to motivate and inspire? The other option, other than inspiring passion, is to inspire fear. When a people is vulnerable to losing his job, livelihood or family, he is inspired, motivated or stressed.

Linking this back to the Singapore story, (sorry, this is a long link) the original story was that Singapore was a vulnerable small country, in danger of being swallowed up by our bigger neighbors. This galvanized the society as differences of race, religion and education were set aside for all to work together for “the greater good”. Once the euphoria of vulnerability is over and the people begins to feel fatigued and weary, once standard of living goes up and what was once previous are taken for granted, the inspiration of fear loses it effectiveness. Now, the nation must seek a new narrative, a new motivation. the inspiration of passion must take over.

If only the government communication specialist had put in passion to his presentation, he has so much information to impart to the audience in front of him. Perhaps he is motivated and passionate and it just did not come across that way. Perhaps it was, as I mentioned, simply fatigue on the audience’s part. However, I know that for me, I rather work for passion than fear.

Structural Distrust


Moving the territorial dispute to the quiet end of the political discussion is probably the best choice Deng Xiaoping and Takeo Fukuda did in 1978. Both countries leaders have plenty of issues on their plates already and there are already lots of areas which demands their attention for development. The unconfirmed amount of resources around the region aside, do the islands really change the game in the global sense?

The Diplomat, in this article here, argues that the current state of the dispute is pretty much caused by a sense of distrust of the Western power and China. The argument goes that, as China develops, Japan is seeking to reaffirm its influence through quiet military development, hinting at it is still capable at taking on China at this current stage. The longer it can hold a perceived military edge against China, the longer China cannot ignore its neighbour’s voice. Furthermore, US’s stand will continue to keep China in check. Though “neutral” in its declaration, China feels that US will support its ally, Japan, in any confrontation. While this makes any immediate confrontation unlikely now, it spurs the Chinese to develop its military more aggressively.

At the heart of it, China’s rise is watched closely by the US-led community of nations. And because it is not a democracy, which they may relate to, and because of their own history, China’s rise is more watched with anticipation of violence than the peaceful development which it declares. It is the job of the politicians and the military to be more pessismitic but sometimes when the discussion is led by the hawks, it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Diplomat titled the article Structural Distrust. I may suggest renaming the situation as a Cultural Distrust, except for the fact that I’m not fully convinced myself what is the meaning of culture.

Peaceful rise/development

What is the difference between “peaceful rise” and “peaceful development”? Some officials in China shared that they don’t like the term “peaceful rise” as it connotes an expectation on China to play a larger role in international business. US has, in its dealings and diplomatic language, already acknowledged China as a future co-equal player in the international arena, as seen by the “rebalancing to the East” However, China sees itself as naturally fulfilling its potential and guarding its national interest. While it is strengthening itself to be a major power, is it ready to handle the international responsibility that the world expects of them?

In this crowded region, China’s neighbours will inevitably feel the squeeze. Japan, India and SEA countries undoubtedly feels the pressure as China grows in influence and flexs its muscles economically and militarily. China continues to maintain that these are merely to further their own national interests and safeguarding its sovereignty. However, opaqueness in its political decisionmaking process makes China’s intent suspicious. When you are in a room with a growing gorilla, you make plans for the worst scenarios.

As it grows internationally, China is also plagued with multiple internal changes and challenges. Calls for transparency and political freedom within China continue to come from external and internal parties. The income divide between the urban and the rural and systemic corruption makes the system inefficient. While the country seeks to shift from labour intensive to knowledge based industry, it has to move up the education chain with its 1.3 billion population.

China will continue to proclaim its non-hegemonic raise. It’s military will continue to develop as a natural need to safeguard its territories. However, it will need to effectively shift from hard power to soft power. Development rather than rise, not just in words but seen in action too.

Limitations of the Chinese

There are simply too many articles online about China-US relations and comparison. Including this article from the Diplomat, most articles tries to promote the idea that though China is growing and moving upwards in the global scene, it still has a long way to go before it can catch up with the US. As per the article on space race from The Diplomat above, they would state that though China has grand intent there are several factors that hinders China from reaching its full potential. What are these factors listed?

(1) Economical System. Though the Chinese are economically driven as a race, the mostly government controlled environment in China hinders the country from reaching its full potential. When a man does not own the business he runs, he will never put in extra efforts beyond the office hours. He will not think about the business during the weekends for he knows that his pay will not change even if the industry improves

(2) Corruption. Though the political party has several high profile cases, corruption is still a way of life in China. They just call it “Guan Xi”, or relations. More than just a formal relationship,the Chinese believes in the personal touch of interacting with one another and oiling the system to make things go faster. This way of life drains resources away from real needs and makes things opaque for those who are not familiar with the system, frustrating external investors.

(3) Personality over System. One unique difference between Singaporean Chinese and China Chinese is the emphasis between the institutional system and the person in the post. A Singaporean (law-by-law) will follow the books and the institutional rules, believing that the institution will out last the person. While this is true, the China Chinese believes that it is the person on the job that makes the changes now. As such, while the Singaporean Chinese tries to understand the system and rules, he forgets to engage the person on the seat. A China Chinese will engage the person directly and seek a way to find an agreement with the person rather than the system. The Chinese system runs contradictorily to the transparency much called for by the “Western world” and again makes entry into any industry tough

(4) New wealths. When Deng XiaoPing opened up China economically and pragmatically, he created a culture of get rich quick. Images of rich Chinese flooded the Internet as the new wealthy flaunt their wealth in the face of the poor rural farmers. The poor soon surged into the city and sought any way to get rich quick. A breakdown of Confucian culture during the Culture Revolution further removes any inhibition that they may feel in the rush to get out of their poverty. As a result, it’s each man for himself in the streets. Stories of inhumane treatment of fellow Chinese start to reach the papers and the Internet. More than these, the Chinese will not look beyond their relatives or known associates whom they trust to work with. There is no common goals to bind the nation together.

I’m sure there’s more to these factors, but sorry, I’m distracted right now and lost my train of thought. Will continue again…