Archive for July, 2018|Monthly archive page

I’m a great person, you, on the other hand…

In News Reports on July 31, 2018 at 1:43 am

Sometimes I think we’re a nation of hypocrites. We believe ourselves to be imbued with great personal values like honesty – but everybody else is kiasi, kiasu, complaining and materialistic and so forth. The survey on values released yesterday didn’t reflect many changes in the way Singaporeans see themselves, society or what they want society to be like. ST tried to make much of fun and humour being added to the top 10 personal values but the news is really – not much news. We’re still what we were six years ago.

It’s interesting how the Institute of Policy Study researchers viewed the dissonance between personal values and society’s behavior. ST reported Dr Gillian Koh as saying: “When people step out of the door in the morning, when they get to their workplaces or their schools, or whatever it is, it sounds like they have to put on a different persona.”

She added that this stems from how some Singaporeans feel that the way their life is structured makes it difficult to exercise their personal values outside of their homes and in society.

Is this so? I doubt if any of the respondents seriously believe they change stripes when they step out of the home. They probably think that everybody else is just quite, quite bad. I have inserted ST’s chart below.

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 8.47.45 AM

The significance of the survey, methinks, is about how “potentially limiting’’ and destructive those negative traits we have about our society can be. They made up 41 per cent of all attributes, higher than the 37 per cent in 2015. (Complaining got added to the list this year).This is better than Sweden’s 44 per cent and Finland’s 49 per cent, but worse than Bhutan’s 4 per cent, United Arab Emirates’ 12 per cent, and Denmark’s 21 per cent.

Again, the researchers tried to put a good spin on it. That the higher score could be due to a higher level of self-criticism, rather than a sign of cultural dysfunction.

I like their “positive attitude’’ which, by the way, has dropped out of the list of personal values.

I wish more was said about the “potentially limiting’’ effects of our views. What does the phrase mean? Should we try to change some things about ourselves or be more charitable about the way we see others? And what does Assoc Prof Tan Ern Ser, one of the researchers, mean when he said we needed an “affirming culture’’?

I can only guess that viewing society in such a negative way merely entrenches, or even justifies, bad societal behavior.

  1. If everybody is complaining, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you say otherwise. So you shut up. (Because courage isn’t on your list of personal values)
  2. If the buffet table is crowded with kiasu people, you have “no choice’’ but to join in. (I wonder if the list included “pragmatism’’.)
  3. If everybody is making money out of something, you look stupid if you don’t do the same. (Even though you swear you’re not materialistic)

What’s worse is if we see no sense in doing good because society is “like that’’ – a mean-spirited, grasping whole.

Another point: I was surprised that the reports did not refer much to how peace and security have dropped out the list of societal values and do not even feature in our ideals for society. Is this now something we take for granted despite repeated calls for vigilance? Isn’t safety and security one of the greatest attributes we have?

What also surprised me was how “respect’’ has edged into the list of ideals, trumping quality of life, peace and employment prospects. What has accounted for this change? Are we referring to respect for each other, regardless of socio-economic status? Is this the result of our debate on meritocracy (which doesn’t feature anywhere at all in the survey?) Or maybe it’s about respect for society’s wishes and desires?

I wish the researchers had shed more light on the findings. Survey results are “fun’’ but they are useless if they do not tell a story.



The PAP should get a move on….

In News Reports on July 30, 2018 at 2:31 am

For a country that is said to be politically apathetic, we seem to have no dearth of political views.  Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s possible foray into opposition politics have got tongues wagging at a faster speed than usual. One camp welcomes his possible entry as a shot in the arm for opposition politics, while the other derides him for attempting to do a “Mahathir’’ resurrection. Then there are those who think he shouldn’t associate himself with “losers’’ and tarnish his political reputation. That he should stand as an independent candidate.

I think the opposition’s courting of Dr Tan is only to be expected. For years, the motley crew of smaller players hasn’t been able to come close to even winning a parliamentary seat. It doesn’t help that the Workers’ Party has never seemed keen to lead the pack, preferring to build its own image and following.

And it is still sticking to its position. Asked about the WP’s absence at the talks with Dr Tan, its media spokesman Daniel Goh would only say that the party “is going through a leadership transition and is focused on organisation-building to better serve Singaporeans”.

Note that even Mr Chiam See Tong’s Singapore People’s Party did not throw its hat into the ring, although he had initiated such an alliance in the past. His wife SPP chairman Lina Chiam said its priority is “intensive ground engagement to understand the feelings and sentiment of Singaporeans”. But, she added, “we are open to having a conversation with Dr Tan Cheng Bock to hear his views and thoughts about the future of Singapore”.

(Take a look at the quotes. They’ve certainly learnt to speak like bureaucrats.)

So an opposition alliance without the WP and SPP?

Besides the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), People’s Power Party (PPP), Democratic Progressive Party, Reform Party, Singaporeans First, the “alliance’’ includes an unregistered party called Peoples Voice, which former NSP chief Lim Tean has applied to form.

In my view, while including the WP would be good for electoral purposes, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t share a common vision or philosophy with the rest other than being anti-People’s Action Party.

For better or for worse, WP’s former chief Low Thia Kiang has always eschewed the driver’s seat, preferring the role of a checker in Parliament. It has yet to be seen if new leader Pritam Singh will set a different direction.

But the opposition “alliance’’ aren’t coy about their intentions at all. This is what Mr Lim Tean said in a speech at the Saturday meeting with Dr Tan: “Our Alliance must strive to form the next Government in the upcoming General Elections. We must offer real change to better the lives of Singaporeans. We must be a real alternative.’’

Evidently, he’s caught the Malaysian bug, and believes that the PAP can be trounced by a Singapore version of Pakatan Harapan. Mr Lim also suggested that people who think otherwise are “in denial’’ and cites the “winds of change’’.

I don’t think the Singapore situation is anywhere like the circumstances that led to the downfall of Barisan Nasional. We are beset by problems of prosperity, which is what I call income inequality. We grumble about car park fees for teachers and whether our meritocratic system can carry us forward. Our G leaders might seem callous to us (cue rise in gas, water and electricity prices), but they are not corrupt. Our economy is still humming along. And while there are things that bug us (and will always bug us) in the economic, social and political landscape, I don’t think we’re doing badly at all.

But I do think the PAP should sit up and take notice of what’s happening at the other end of the political spectrum. The WP has a new leader. The motley crew seems eager to get its act together. On the other hand, the PAP appears to have flubbed the political succession process – despite what it might say about giving potential successors time to cut their teeth.

Yes, it seems to be doing its damnedest to put the contenders in the public eye, and to have them interact with people. I guess this is so that the public would have a measure of the person who would finally become first among equals. But I wish the PAP would just hold a vote among its members to decide the issue, because the public certainly doesn’t have a say in who becomes Prime Minister – not at least till the general election.

It might be true that people vote for the political party and not the individual. But by party, they look at the man – or woman – in charge. That person is the personification of the political party and what it stands for. And we must have time to measure the person against Dr Tan, if and when he decides to take up offer of opposition leadership.

I know what people will now say. That it’s not just the party or the person, but the policies. Sure, and that’s a great advantage the PAP has. But it’s nice to know there is a face behind them.

Someone’s watching you…

In News Reports on July 28, 2018 at 12:17 am

It’s a great time to engage in people watching, because nobody is watching you. This is not a reference to data privacy and intrusion, I mean exactly what I say: watching people.

So I can scan the faces of the people on the train and they would be staring too hard at their phones to notice me. I don’t need to worry about a gangsterish “What are you looking at?’’ challenge. So I take in the way they dress, look at how many people wear shoes or sandals or slippers and what’s the latest fad in tee-shirts. I can look them up-and-down unabashedly.

They see nothing else and most also hear nothing else except what’s going through their ear plugs. It will take a big bang or physical movement to get them to look up. Because they are so busy staring at their phones, they also say nothing – unless they have to pick up a call. That’s normal I suppose because you board the train alone – and know no one else. But this exercise in cellphone absorption applies elsewhere too, whether at dinners or get-togethers. Whatever is in the phone is lot more interesting than a real, live person. We’d rather smile at a screen.

I wonder if people ever make “new’’ friends anymore. I can’t strike up a conversation with a stranger when I can’t even catch his/her eye. And it seems almost rude to speak up when everybody else is in a phone reverie. It’s so odd when you think that not so long ago, we’d be castigating people for being impolite to ignore the presence of others. Maybe we’re content with “virtual’’ friends because it is a relationship that requires no commitment and we wouldn’t want to see virtual friends too because, as we’ve been warned oft times, they could all be serial killers in real life.

I tell myself that there will be no “Girl on a train’’ moment, who catches sight of a murder while peering out the train window. I don’t even think there’s much of a “The Commuter’’ incident, where people who regularly board the same train at the same time form a sort of bond with each other. In other words, they become “friendly’’ if not friends. I find it ironic to hear announcements about reporting strange people and so forth to the train authorities when commuters are so inert about their surroundings.

Maybe we’re really shy people and take refuge in interacting with machines. I have to add that “older’’ people are quite different. They’re not on their phones and are amenable to some chit chat. Other “available’’ channels of communication: Tourists. Of course, we do not speak at the top of our voice and engage in a low monotone of banter, so as not to distract those busy people on their phones.

We make very little use of our five senses methinks. Even if we’re not in a speeding train or bus, we don’t notice if a big tree on our route has been suddenly chopped down or how a shop we pass by everyday has since changed hands. That’s because even while walking, we’re eyes-glued and ears-stucked onto some device. This is dangerous (serious) given the number of mobility devices which now fill our pavements.

Okay, now people will say that this is normal behavior in big cities… But this doesn’t mean we have to emulate them. I think about the current discussion on moving beyond grades and embracing creativity and innovation and I wonder how we are ever going get anywhere when we’re so bereft of curiosity and uninterested in our flesh-and-blood fellow men. We’d rather pore over big data than engage in small talk.

But I am just musing aloud. Don’t mind me. Get back to your phone

So I failed my PSLE…how?

In News Reports on July 27, 2018 at 2:22 am

I was surprised to read that O level results matter in a polytechnic student’s application to study at university. So it counts for 20 per cent of the university admission score with the rest based on how well they did in the poly.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung thinks it should be removed: “A practice like this will raise the stakes of O-level examinations. This sends the signal that the results of this exam have long-lasting impact on your life. Perhaps, it is time to review it.”

I suppose the O level component was put in place when there wasn’t enough confidence in the value of a polytechnic education. Now, the polytechnics are seen as on a par with junior colleges, and even a more attractive option because of their skills bent.

I quipped on my Facebook timeline that looking at old exam results is like an employer asking for a potential employee’s PSLE scores. I was amazed to find out that employers, including those in the public sector, still do.

I said in my earlier column that if we want to change mindsets of society, especially parents, about the value of academic grades and skills mastery, then we should be concerned about the end point. Parents want their children to have good grades to aim for places with money and power. And employers who ask for grades obtained in examination halls eons ago add to this mindset that grades matter, even those you attained when you were 12.

I ask myself whether this is a reflection of employers wanting to keep detailed records (can you take back your resume if you’re not employed in the end?) or whether such scores really matter when deciding who’s good for the job.

Some thoughts:

  1. Maybe academic records will show consistency in performance, which might be a factor if, say, you are gunning for a scholarship.
  2. Maybe, poor results can be read as evidence of a late bloomer! Somebody who overcame the odds and got better and better!
  3. Maybe blips in an academic record is evidence of erratic genius. (Do employers ask what co-curricular activities you took part in in primary school?)

I guess that in an employer’s market, you simply have to give up what records employers want because you’re too desperate to land the job. Nobody wants to call such data “private’’ lest they be deemed potential troublemakers even before making it through the door.

But this column isn’t about data privacy, it’s about bringing people round to the idea that grades aren’t everything. It’s fashionable to blame the education system, not matter how much it changes its curriculum to include thinking rather than memory skills or to include more “applied’’ components.

It’s even fashionable to blame parents. There was this term “effort inflation’’ Mr Ong used for students who still slog as intensively even when such effort wasn’t demanded of them or even necessary. Somehow we simply cannot believe that school is not stressful.

Talk to employers and they will say that grades don’t count for everything. That’s the politically correct thing to say in public. You hear of their aptitude tests and interview skills and how they are more important than exam scores. They don’t tell you that the exam scores are the first cut. They don’t explain why they want your PSLE, O level and A level scores. More often, they cite “policy’’ as if it is the answer to all pesky questions.

Those with long memories will recall how during the 1984 general election, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had compared the O level results of Potong Pasir candidates Mah Bow Tan from the People’s Action Party and the opposition’s Chiam See Tong.

He said: “Mah Bow Tan, age 16, took his ‘O’ Levels – six distinctions, two credits. Mr Chiam, age 18 – six credits, one pass.”

The voters didn’t care and MrChiam won 60.28 per cent of the votes. I suppose people will now say that electing a politician and employing someone require different considerations. Maybe. But my thesis still applies. Why would you care how a person did in school so long ago when the concern should be whether they can do the job that is placed in front of them.

Now, if the university admission criteria can be changed for polytechnic students, the same question can be posed to employers who want all sorts of academic data – why is it so important for you to know?

Maybe Mr Ong can assert his authority in the public sector and, at the very least, drop this notion of PSLE scores as an application requirement.

PS. I didn’t fail my PSLE.





Don’t ask me personal questions

In News Reports on July 23, 2018 at 8:42 am

I was thinking that if I wanted to turn the SingHealth hack into a national crisis, I could. After all, 1.5 million sets of personal particulars have been stolen, including the outpatient medication data of 160,000 people. It also seems to be state-sponsored attack, said our own state, and the people who are in the know might even know who’s behind this. So is it the Americans? The Chinese? The Russians? The, ahem, Malaysians? Shades of cyber-terrorism! Conspiracies! We should be on national alert!

What a good time this would be to roll out a cyber protection campaign, sign up the best and the brightest for cyber-security classes and have a top 10 list of the best anti-virus products (and we’re not talking about the health kind)! What about a Change-Your-Password Day? Time to close ranks, ring fence and hold hands.

But it seems everyone is taking it all in their stride, a testimony to how well the “when and not if’’ anti-terrorism mantra has sunk into the national psyche. Of course, there is the other type of reaction: why aren’t our cyber-security protocols strong enough? Why didn’t the health sector de-link their computers from the Internet like everybody else in the public sector? Why did it take more than a week for the G to tell us what happened?

I almost forgot a third type of reaction: “It could have been worse’’, which is the sorriest excuse for any bad circumstance.

I’d wager, though, that the relative calm is more a result of ambivalence and depends on how deeply an individual feels about privacy. So after an initial “Wah, even the Prime Minister kena hack’’, we leave it alone and trust that the G would deal with it. That would be good news for the G – we leave things to the experts and the Committee of Inquiry set up to investigate what happened.

But it won’t be good news if the calm is due to people not caring about what had happened.

Perhaps, there is a presumption of safety in numbers – “so many people, can’t be about me’’. Also, it “can’t be about me’’ since the G keeps maintaining that the target was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. So it’s about him.

I am not one of the people affected. And those affected whom I know seem more pleased to have been personally informed via SMS than worried about what people will do with their name, address, race, gender, IC number and date of birth. It doesn’t help that Cyber Security Agency chief executive David Koh said the stolen information are “basic demographic data” which has “no strong commercial value’’. Commentators have wondered if he was right to dismiss health data so easily.

I wonder too.

I mean, I could sell the data to a drug company which would know how to price its medicines properly or where to open a pharmacy, set up a clinic – and which drug I should tamper with if I want to get rid of a whole lot of people.

My bigger wonder is over the G’s messaging – should we be worried or not? If there’s no strong commercial value, then the hack is more for strategic and political reasons. Shouldn’t this be more worrying? Or we should leave it to the G to worry about it?

In any case, I doubt that many people are worried, so used are we to giving our personal data willy-nilly that we have to be told that you don’t have to leave your IC at the security counter of a building and agencies should stop publicizing such numbers even if they belonged to lottery winners!

I am one of those pesky people who always give receptionists, security guards and nosey parkers grief when asked for personal details. I admit that I sometimes give false info when I see no reason for the company, agency or nosey parker to know more about me than I want to divulge.

Q: “We just need your address, email, contact number in case we need to contact you.’’

A: “But why would you need to contact me at all? I don’t want to be contacted by you.’’

Q: “We need your date of birth for our records…’’

A: “Why? Are you sending me a birthday present?’’

Q: “Look, we just need your IC number…’’

A: “Why do you need to verify who I am? I’m just another customer!’’

Wags will say there is nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide. My reply will be “I have nothing to hide, but why do you want to know?’’

My private data is part of me. I am no mass produced robot with a manufacturer’s stamp and which can be opened up for some stranger to peer into my component parts.

You can bet that I would be rather furious if I was one of the 1.5 million and worse, if I was among the 160,000. I would argue that SingHealth is not part of the public sector but operates restructured hospitals and clinics under  what is legally a private company. I mean, that’s why it didn’t follow public sector rules on ‘’de-linking’’, right? So the PDPA should be thrown at it. After all, that’s what’s likely to happen if a private medical group faced the same problem.

It is right that the end-user should be careful about passwords and so forth, or about simply leaving a work-station un-attended. It is right that we should have protocols that might make life more difficult – but safe from cyber attacks. It is right that we train experts.

Methinks the key to firming up attitudes on cyber-security is not to look at whether the stolen private data is valuable.

It must start with us, by putting a value on our own private data.



The meritorious path and the money trail

In News Reports on July 21, 2018 at 2:27 am

There’s really nothing more to say about meritocracy, whether of the compassionate or rigid kind, because so much has been said about it. But I’m glad that there is not much of a quarrel with the “core’’ of the idea – being assessed based on what you have done, and rewarded or penalized, as a result.

We grumble about the hard edges of meritocracy, lamenting that there will be people who simply cannot keep up whether through inability or circumstances. Or how some have a head-start simply by being born into the ‘right’ family.  We all know, however, that we have to run the distance.

The meritocracy issue about whether some people are “advantaged or disadvantaged’’ through no merit of their own has actually morphed into something else in recent time. It’s not so much about how a person managed to accumulate the merits, but what exactly ‘’meritorious’’ refers to. Clearly, the G is trying to get people to look at merit in broader ways than merely academic grades. So the new mantra is that being an expert technician or craftsman is also good.

Nothing, however, is said about what merit ultimately translates into – money and power.

So try as anyone might to redefine merit, we’re always up against the almighty M. It’s the way we are, transactional beings who laud ourselves on being pragmatic when we might really be grasping mercenaries who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

I got to thinking about this when I had to move house and deal with people I would have no reason to otherwise. (I admit to being in a closed circle too) There was the father-and-son team of renovation contractors, with an uncle who is an electrician. There was a grandfather who supervised the moving of furniture and belongings, including doing most of the heavy lifting. There was a young PRC national with a wonderfully hardworking, resourceful and cheerful work ethic. Then there were three from the Indian subcontinent who clicked together beautifully to fix my fibre optic wiring.

I ask myself how much they earn from doing the things that I don’t know how to do, or will not do.

The young and old men who expertly and efficiently wrapped my furniture, including odd shapes that defy closure, for example. Each time they lifted a particularly heavy carton, I worry about their backs. It looks easy – moving stuff from point A to B. Only brawn needed, so it looked from the outside. I thought to myself that we’d never say something like “only brain needed’’.

We don’t think much of manual labour even if the labour involved adhering to a system and some skill. The movers told me they had to go through short courses on the different ways to handle different types of cargo. It was just a matter of load up and go. Truth to tell, I was particularly impressed by how they never needed to wield a pair of scissors – bubble wrap, shrink wrap and scotch tape simply yielded to a mere twist of some fingers. The knife was reserved for slashing cardboard only.

I ask myself if, over time, they could be replaced by robots. Would robots be as careful with a person’s belongings? The fact is, robots haven’t arrived yet and we’d still need people to do the work. Maybe, they would be teaching the robots what to do, and move into working in an air-conditioned robot factory.

I didn’t ask them about their salary, but I tipped them handsomely because I admired the amount of strength and skill they had exhibited. I asked the grandfather, a wiry fellow who could lift an ancient Singer sewing machine solo, about his family. Very proudly, he tells of a son who is an elite police unit, a much better job than his, he said. He made a distinction between his type of labour and his son’s job. I think his son should be as proud of his dad too.

I was totally heartened that the contractor’s son, an undergraduate, was learning his father’s trade. There seemed to be a division of labour, with the young man doing the administrative work while the father dealt with the nitty-gritty of measurements and material. The father lauded his son’s design skills (“he is in university!’’) – but it was the father’s long experience which showed through. He knew better what was functional and what was merely pretty. We went with the father’s recommendations. Doubtless, over time and under the tutelage of his father and uncle, he would know all facets of the job and be as much of a master craftsman as his seniors. With educational qualifications, he would have an edge over others if he attained the skills. That, I suppose, is what those in the trade should aim for – skilled professionalism.

And what about their PRC foreman with the ever-smiling face? They said he was worth his weight in gold. Curious, I asked the man about his family. They were back in China and his eldest daughter, he said with under-stated pride, is ‘’studying in  university’’. I thought to myself that he would make a great new citizen, a worthy addition despite his work permit status. My mother told the contractor that she hoped he was paid well.

The trio who fixed my wiring spent less than a half hour in the house. I got to talking to their local supervisor who said that while he was the “engineer’’, he would be hard pressed to do the job as efficiently as they could. But why three people, I asked. One driver, one technician and one group leader, he replied. I was beginning to think this was a waste of manpower until I saw that all three were working as one. The engineer said though that he knew of one Indian national who could manage the job solo, and in even shorter time. He was simply so skilled after doing the same job for years. But he was booted out of the company because of a customer complaint. I thought to myself the company could pay one man to do the job of three. But would he be paid the job of three people?

When we talk about meritocracy, do we think about the people who do things we don’t know how to do or don’t want to do? Or do we label them as “unmeritorious’’ or casualties of meritocracy? Do we sniff at their jobs and connect them with a lower socio-economic status instead of looking at how well they do their jobs?

Sure, we pay people to do things for us. The sad thing is we pay them low wages because we don’t think the work deserves more. I’d wager that the more skilled a person and the less time he takes on a job, the more we balk at paying them a good fee. We think the work is too easy. My mother and I, for example, balked at paying $50 for a locksmith to come unpick a lock – a task done in under a minute. But that is the price of a skill that we don’t have.

I wonder if our mindset will change if we had to do things by ourselves – paint our own walls, make our own furniture, fix our car when it gives trouble, do our own plumbing and electrical wiring and so forth. We know that in developed countries, the DIY mentality is deeper ingrained. That is why their plumbers and electricians charge a bomb – because they are fewer in number and because they are probably called upon to do complicated work.

We’d never look at skills differently if we think we can easily afford to pay for them. We’d need a drastic over-hauling of the system – fewer foreign workers and an appreciation for manual labour and technical expertise. We’d need to re-brand our jobs, re-calibrate salaries and acknowledge that sometimes, people who can do the jobs we can’t or won’t deserve acknowledgment. This is so we won’t go: “Wah only technician/plumber/carpenter but can drive big car!’’

In other words, there is merit everywhere, but it has to come with the money. Or parents will simply look at the money trail and equate it with the meritorious path.





A line in the sand for Ben Davis?

In News Reports on July 18, 2018 at 10:06 am

So some people are getting hot under the collar over a young man’s possible non-footballing future. And others are wondering what the fuss is about given that National Service is a duty that every single 18 year old male citizen must shoulder. Should (or why should) Ben Davis be the exception to the rule?

I am ambivalent towards the issue. But what amazes me is the range of issues that have been thrown up in the wake of the Defence Ministry’s refusal to grant the youth deferment from NS. In fact, we can’t even get the jargon right. Is NS deferment and disruption the same thing? Apparently not. Very few people get NS deferment, that is, a postponement but quite a number get NS disruption, which means they serve some time and reserve some time for later.

So Davis is asking for a deferment because he has an offer from  English Premier League football club Fulham, which some people consider a feather in the cap for a Singaporean.

What has popped out of Pandora’s Box?

  1. Discrimination – how come some people can get long deferment and some can’t? That hoary old chestnut about the former President’s son, Patrick Tan, gets dredged up. (Very old story)
  2. Discrimination – but medical students and government scholars get deferment/disruption all the time! Why not aspiring sportsmen and artists? Why this emphasis on brains and academic ability?
  3. Discrimination – If Mindef agrees on deferment, then the slippery slope/open floodgates argument kicks in. What would prevent another parent from lamenting a lost opportunity for for his son?
  4. Defence – Is it really so hard to let one youth go especially in a 4G army? (Cue slippery slope and open floodgates) Why not look at how other countries with conscription deal with this?
  5. Nationhood – does the family even know what are the duties of citizenship? There’s plenty of self-righteous mutterings questioning the family’s commitment to the country (By the way, the eldest boy has already served NS)
  6. Nationhood – is he really a Singapore citizen? His father is English and his mother, a Thai. He can play for England or Thailand as well according to international footballing rules. (NOTE: He’s been a citizen since age 9. And given his parentage, he’s a Eurasian.)
  7. Personal dream versus national duty – which is Mindef’s point. This is not Joseph Schooling attempting an Olympic Gold for the nation but a commercial transaction benefiting the individual. The counter-argument is that if Davis doesn’t take this window of opportunity, it might close forever because athletes, unlike brainy people, have a short shelf-life. And who knows? He might play for Singapore and bring glory…later.
  8. Hypocrisy – all that talk about chasing rainbows, pursuing dreams and fulfilling potential is mere hogwash. Anyone still remember Singapore’s World Cup dream?
  9. Bureaucracy – Should Mindef stand behind what it says are principles that should apply to everyone? That is, deferment is not just for the exceptional, but those who can claim that it would allow them to represent the country. Or is this too rigid for a country that has passed a certain stage of development?

I can only say that Fandi Ahmad got his timings right for his two sons, enlisting them for NS early enough to enable them to join the Dutch clubs later. Then again, he’s a born-and-bred citizen who probably knows about the complications of a two-year stint better than a transplanted foreign resident.

Mindef has drawn a line in the sand. Senior Minister Of State for Defence Heng Chee How said that unless new “facts’’ entered the picture, the decision is final. Even in a court of law, new arguments can be surfaced, but he doesn’t seem to give any room for this.

There is an interesting column about how this incident is symptomatic of a deeper Singapore problem – everything is transactional here. I will add a few phrases: rule-based, means-tested, actuarially sound and clean wage. Singapore is all about hard edges, even towards its own citizens.

I think that this is somehow related to the insecurities of the new 4G leaders – the desire to look tough on principle, to be able to toot about taking a hard line rather than “succumb’’. Or maybe it is easier to defend the status quo than deal with consequences of change.

I don’t doubt that almost everyone agrees that defence is an important facet of the country and survey after survey has shown how valued NS is. It explains the angst against NS defaulters, who pay heavily for skipping NS.

Keeping to the core of NS doesn’t mean we can’t blunt its edges. In an era that lauds out-of-the-box thinking, can we not come to some sort of compromise? I am a mere female but I say make him do his basic military training and then defer the rest of his stint to be completed by a certain age. Bond him if we have to. Write to Fulham if we have to.

Yes, there will be more cases like Davis (a trickle, not a flood) and it will be more problematic for bureaucrats who would have to justify their decisions to allow deferment or disruption. They might even lead to minor political explosions. This is to be expected in a polity that wants a say in governing, and especially if the governing concerns its youth. More so in an age of disruption, the innovation campaign and for passion to be made possible. For politicians, such contentions should be par for the course.

No one is asking for the slaughter of a sacred cow. Let’s keep the cow – and the Singapore son. Can we shift that line in the sand sometimes?





No longer footloose and fancy-free

In News Reports on July 17, 2018 at 3:41 am

This morning in my neighbourhood centre, I chanced upon an itinerant hawker selling fans. It was made-in-Taiwan, 12-volts, plastic and can be clamped onto a shelf. It costs $15. Ordinarily, I would have bought it without a second thought. But this time, I asked my mother. You see, I’ve moved into my mother’s flat and am pretty conscious about buying things for the house which she doesn’t approve. Plus, I would have to bear with the constant nagging about buying electronic stuff from the road-side. They might explode.

I ask myself if this is one of those little sacrifices of independence that I would have to experience now that I am not living alone. My mother, bless her heart, is extremely pained by what she calls the sacrifice I am making by forsaking my interior-decorated apartment on a high floor on a hill with a view of trains, planes, automobiles and even ships, for a bedroom in a 40-year old HDB flat on a low floor facing a Sers construction site. This is despite her “Praise the Lord!’’ when I told her of my plan to move back in.

I am writing this column because I identified somewhat with what my ex-colleague Tee Hun Ching said in her Sunday Times column, about getting her parents to move in with her family. I am doing just the opposite.

Ms Tee wrote about how her parents had to whittle down their belongings in order to fit them into her home: “Moving with me means giving up part of their freedoms and lifestyle habits, far more daunting prospect. For starters, the place is no longer theirs to do as they please.’’

Like her father who gave up 80 per cent of his book collection, I gave away more than 300 of mine so that I could fit the rest of them – about 40 cartons – into my mother’s flat. I would have been able to fit even fewer if I had not ordered a full-scale renovation of the five-room flat with floor- to- ceiling shelving in the living room and bedroom. But I still had to ditch half of my DVD collection of some 100 Chinese and English drama series, and console myself that they are available online. What is intact: My Lego collection.

So used was I to so much space that I knocked down the wall between two bedrooms to have my own gigantic bed-cum-study area. I am writing this now in this space, which was fitted with an Internet connection only over the weekend, a major undertaking in my mother’s book.

Ms Tee’s column about planning for this eventuality made me a little envious. I too had planned to buy a bigger place and sell both my apartment and my mother’s HDB flat. But I was stymied by A Bad and Stupid Deal because I am single and will not be able to claim the additional buyers stamp duty even if I sold my apartment within six months. I couldn’t see why I should sell my place, move into mom’s place, then buy a new place and move both of us out. You can read it here.

We probably have the same reason for wanting our parent(s) with us. They are getting old and frail. And try as I might to get the “right’’ domestic helper for my mother, she is simply too set in her ways to have another individual in the house moving her things around. Nor would she countenance living with me (I am just a stone’s throw away) because my kitchen, according to her, is too small and badly configured for cooking.

I figured that the next best thing was for me to move in and have a domestic helper in the house, and to rent out my own place. When I tell people this, there are two reactions. First, some praise about being such a filial daughter. Second, some wonderment at the freedom and independence that will be forgone.

I suppose I cannot “do as I please’’ in my mother’s house, like stare at the view from my balcony without someone asking if anything is wrong or read for hours in silence or binge-watch Chinese period drama serials. Can I come and go as I please without telling my mother where, when and with whom? Can I, ahem, bring a guy home?

Friends who like lolling about my apartment with wine, beer and cigarettes fret about losing a place to chill. It got so that my mother got on the line with one of them to assure her that she would be more than welcomed at her flat and everything with Bertha will be the same.

I suppose little sacrifices are inevitable but I would like to look at it as going “home’’ because it is now my turn to look after the woman who has been looking after me all her life. There is also something to be said for the discipline that comes with living with people in the house – whether self-imposed or imposed from outside.

I used to have three bathrooms. Now I have to share one with my mother. But I also know that I will have three regular meals – because she will ensure that I am fed. I don’t have to worry about strange noises in the night because I no longer sleep alone (in a house). And I like the fact that I am living in a familiar and vibrant neighbourhood with some of the best hawker stalls in Singapore, with NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong supermarkets close at hand.

I also don’t have to buy soap and toothpaste anymore.