History, a most important subject

I heard a BBC broadcast titled, “Missing History – China and Japan“. In this broadcast, two journalists traveled to each others’ countries, one from China and the other Japan. In the first episode of this series, the Chinese journalists traveled to Japan and visited several places which were of significance to Japan’s invasion of China, including the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which enshrines the spirits of Japan’s war dead, including several Class A war criminal from World War II. The broadcast was rather emotional for the Chinese journalist as she could not enter the Shrine, knowing what it means to her countrymen. She also had a talk with the ones responsible for changing one of Japan’s history books, which downplayed Japan’s role in the Nanjing Massacre, renaming it as the Nanjing Incident.

While I do not fully disagree in the virtues of moving on from history, history still serves as one of the most important subjects we can ever learn. From the histories of our forefathers, we learn about their purpose in life and what they have done for us. We learn that what we have now was not freely gotten but earned by the toils and blood of our father. Take the recent naming of the Indonesia Warship for an example. After naming two warships after marines who bombed the MacDonald House in Singapore, Indonesia incurred the anger of Singapore who executed the two marines as criminals in 1965. It was only in 1973 when Mr Lee Kwan Yew visited the graves of the two marines that the chapter was considered over. By naming the two warships after these two who killed three Singaporeans, Indonesia re-opened the issue and, allowed Singaporeans to relearn their history lessons and remember that Singapore is still an island between two bigger Muslim states.

Let us not remember history and dishonor our fathers, even as PM Lee honors our pioneer generations now.


International Politics is a reflection of the Domestic Politics Needs

In recent article in The Diplomat, Assistant Professor Kai He wrote about the East China Sea Dispute : What do China and Japan really want? In it, he suggests that it is about managing their domestic expectations that leaders on both China and Japan’s side embark on their current hard stances. It also argues that if US wants to maintain the stability in East China Sea, it needs to understand what the two leaders need in face of their domestic audience.

In recent events closer to home, the Indonesian Navy named two of their frigates after two marines who bombed Singapore’s McDonald’s House in 1965. Both marines were captured and executed by the Singapore government back then. In order to sooth relations, Singapore’s then PM Lee KY visited their graves in 1973. In naming the two frigates after their heroes, the Indonesian government opened up new wounds again in the bilateral relationships with Singapore. What can the reason be? It could be, similar to China and Japan’s leaders’ case, a need to appeal to their domestic population. Naming after the ships after their heroes is a way to remind the Indonesian people that they are still the big boys in the neighborhood and do not need to worry about the smaller fishes. It also instill pride in their nation, causing the population to remember that their independence was won by blood and struggle, something that the newer generation of Indonesian may not remember. After all, their motto of Pancasila was to unite their diverse people under the same Indonesian flag. In the absence of a real enemy, it is always an old trick to dig up some old “safe” conflict to unite under again.

Singaporeans should also likewise remember that our independence and current economic prosperity were not given freely to our fathers. While PM Lee honors the pioneer generation now, it is for a good reason. It is on their blood and toil that we have the current status as the hub of Southeast Asia. Too many of our current generation are taking it for granted.

That being said, we should not take the naming of the two vessels too seriously. It is, as mentioned, probably a gimmick to stir up some excitement as the current Indonesian government heads into their next election in April 2014. Just as we had suffered indignities during Malaysian’s election previously, we may have to be the bogeyman for Indonesia, albeit in a much more distance way. Just wait till they start accusing Singapore of being a tax heaven for their rich citizen or stealing their soil again….

Land and the fate of its people

It has been a long while since my last post. We have just returned from a month’s trip to Australia, the land of the kangaroos and koalas (not bears!). While the trip has been an adventure in more than one ways, I will slowly recount the various lessons learnt during the trip. For this year, (happy New Year!!!) I intend to write up one post per week, doing this every weekend as a means of more than just an account of what I have read and learnt, but also to ensure that I continue to learn and think over matters in my new job. Yes, new job!!!

During the trip in Australia, I marveled at the land they have over there. Land is the ultimate resource. For a land deprived nation like Singapore, the impact of this statement rings true everyday in our lives. As we drive to work, we encounter jams along the few arteries of our city state. No matter how much the efficient government tries to correct the situation, jams are here to stay. As we work in our cubicles and stare out into the opposite office block, the concrete jungle surrounds us left, right, up and down. As we run out of space to grow, we have no choice but to grow upwards at exponential cost. Even as we head home to our stacked up apartments, even the closeness of our neighbors and the numerous humanity that crowds us in malls sometimes suffocates us. There is no wonder why fictions occur and our people generally are grumpy.

As mentioned above, I was amazed at the vastness of space available in Australia. As I overlooked the fields of sugarcanes, ginger and banana trees, the amount of production generated from the land and its potential looked back at me. The resources imbued in the land enable the people to prosper and grow without the constrains faced by Singaporeans. The space between homes in the countryside, even the suburban areas gives breath for families to grow and children to develop as creative individuals as they are able to explore and roam. Resources in the country are plentiful, even in the age of natural conservation. As my father said, food drop on their laps easily even if they take a break for a day. While this may be a over simplification and surely life is not as easy for all Australians, there is a truth there. That Singaporeans have to fight and strive every single day of their lives in order to maintain their lifestyle or even to achieve a lifestyle which comes easier to others. And this is because of land.

I learned a lot of lessons while playing the computer game, Civilization V. If anyone says one cannot learn anything from games, it’s rubbish. Anyway, it is a complicated game as you are placed in charge of a civilization and lead it to victory. There are plenty of things to consider in the course of the game, Politics, Sciences, Military, Happiness of the People, Production, Foreign Relations, Resources, Roads, etc. However, in order to gain advantage in the later stages of the game, it is crucial for the civilization to establish control over a sizable amount of land for it to grow and develop. Civilizations that stay in their original spot grow slowly and may eventually be swallowed up by foreign powers.

Thus, it has been said and I will repeat again. Singapore is an anomaly. A city state driven into independence with no natural resources, surrounded by potentially hostile neighbors in the 1960s. That it has advanced beyond its neighbors and continues to punch above its weight is nothing short of a miracle. Tributes must be paid to our leaders, our forefathers and fortunes. Let the future generations never forget this, take pride in this and never take it for granted.

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.

What is fairness in this world that does not disadvantage others?

Quite a bit has been debated recently on MOM’s nudge to put Singaporeans as the employers’ first choice rather than the foreigners. Many online, especially the opposition, argue that no enough is being done by the government for its citizens. Breakfast Network has a good article on it here. SgPolitics also has an article here.

The heart of the issue is an age-old conflict between the landlords and the workers. While the landlords want to increase profitability by employing cheaper workers, the workers obviously want better paying jobs. While the government seeks to placate the local workers by giving them “fair advantage”, the government also has to enable the landlords, or employers to earn profit. For, at the end of the day, without profitable businesses, the economy will not grow and jobs will be gone, no matter if they are offered to locals or not.

I seek to propose that both the landlords and the workers must see their businesses as a system. For the workers, they need to see that for the businesses to hire them over the foreign workers, they must offer other capabilities or add-ons otherwise unavailable to the foreign workers. You want an advantage over foreign workers, let your capabilities be that advantage, not legislation. As for the employers, please see that locals do offer that extra benefit once they are properly motivated.

Here’s a problem caused by our prosperity. We take job opportunities for granted and lose the drive to excel. Please recognize that “Fairness” comes at a cost that our next generation may have to pay later. One does not have to look far to see the effects in certain countries in Europe.