Perspective Unlimited

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Reactionary Force

A friend recently introduced me to this blog http://singaporemind.blogspot.com. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry when I see views like this. Is Lucky Tan but Chee Soon Juan in disguise?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Big Link Up

DPM Wong asked, "hello hello can you hear me?" Awkward seconds later, the lady from New York replied yes. And that kicked off the video conferencing that linked up Singaporeans gathered in New York, London, Berlin, Bangkok, Beijing and Shanghai using the www.overseassingaporean.sg portal (you might have heard this announced in NDR speech). It was noon in London, evening in the Far East, and seven in the morning in New York (those poor buggers, wondered what time they had to be up).

DPM was in Shanghai, where my sister Annette was. The link was poor, often with seconds of delay in the transmission. It was soon obvious that a proper conversation was not possible. A Singaporean working for Google was exasperated that the organisers could not get a "simple technology" right. But never mind, the occasion was convivial enough. DPM promised to get the portal fixed as soon as possible.

I thought fixing the portal would be the easy bit. Getting the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) to accomplish its stated mission would be more difficult. Looking at the Singaporeans gathered at the London launch, they were the usual so and so - senior managers of Singapore banks and companies, GLC expatriates, posted staff of Government and Statutory Boards - people already very much plugged into the Singapore system, the "pa see buay chow" band. The hard part would be to get true Singaporean overseas path-breakers, the guys who struck out away from the usual careers back in Singapore, the guys who went overseas to try something different, and doing things that no one back home even recognised yet.

Understandably, OSU is made part of PMO to reflect its importance in national building. However, being part of the PMO might have given the unit too much of an official sheen that might compromise its objective. I mean, would people really want to blog and exchange information on a Government run portal? Would you be freely expressive on a Government website run by civil servants? Building overseas Singaporean networks is one of those endeavors that are probably best done by the civil society and non or quasi-official organisations (like the British Council). In the end, OSU might attract only Singaporeans of a certain stripe.

The one thing the organisers got right though was the food. Gorgeous laksa, char quay teow, oh lua (fried oysters) were served. Annette texted me to asked if I was still there, but Grace and I were by then too busy with the food already. I texted back, "yes but eating". Nothing can move overseas Singaporeans as quickly as the prospect of real authentic Singaporean food. Thankfully for Grace and myself, this the organisers clearly understood.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Au revoir

Today is my second last day with the Singapore Tourism Board. Colleagues and friends ask how I feel about the prospect of leaving the only company that I have ever worked for...without a job. The answer is Simply Great!

Tourism is a strange industry. It attracts happy people with bright outlooks, chatty and passionate people, confident and beautiful people, and some say, a disproportionate number of lovely gay people. They have all come into my life and shaped it is ways I never imagined possible. Needless to say, they greatly transformed my otherwise gloomy and cynical nature. So while I am still no happy-go-lucky type, if you wait around a little, there are usually spots of sunny spells, just like the London weather.

Of course, the downside of having been in the services industry is that one inadvertantly becomes its greatest critic. I now find myself constantly holding up the wine glass against the light to check for unwashed lipstick stains, I comb through my hotel pillows for any stray strands of foreign hair and check that all the table settlings are aligned to the diner's view at every restaurant. One loses a natural appreciation for service cos the standards are now too high.

Working for a Singapore entity has also bizarrely increased my negligible sense of patriotism. There is a natural disdain for the competitive destinations, an inexplicable pride of being Singaporean. Right now, I cannot contemplate ever working for a Malaysian or Thai tourism company, for example. I would feel like I have betrayed my country or something. How very odd.



Finally, the overwhelming feeling is thankfully, immense satisfaction. I have not only learned a lot about an industry, acquired skills, but I have made so many lovely friends, from Mark and his kiddy brood and "never-offend-me-or-you-would-rather-die" Richard, to my first ever bosses, Elaine and Joycelyn, bouncy HM, sweetie Jas, glam Rhoda and many many others. Cliche as it might be, these friends represent my most important achievement in my career thus far...though of course, I didn't write that down in my MBA applications.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


The End of the Affair


The picture you see on the left is Grace (right) with some of her staff at London's famous Four Seasons Restaurant, some would say with the best roast duck in the universe. The occasion was Grace's farewell party for this week marked her last at STB.

Earlier in the month, Grace completed her 6-year bond with the organisation. Her relationship with STB of course started earlier, back in 1996 when she was awarded the scholarships. I am not sure how other Singapore organisations treat their bondees. The end of Grace's bond came without fanfare, not a letter of appreciation, not a word of thanks, no one remembered. The 7th anniversary (remember, 6 full years of service) just sailed by like any other day. The scholarship kicked off with a high but ended in a whimper. The only person to whom that last day of bond has any meaning is the bond-server and no one else. Or have you been serving a bond for so long that you are no longer sure when it ends?

Many of our friends on a 6-year bonds should have completed around this time of the year. But there are still a few unlucky ones with 8-year bonds. Anyway, if any one of you bondees reading this post was given a special treat by your organisation on the day you completed your bond, I will like to know. These organisations deserve be congratulated for good HR practice. But for Grace, it does not matter now. Her bond affair is over. Next week, she heads off to a brand new life as an MBA student.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Your tickets are now sent for procession. . ."

"The system cannot one . . ."

If I were not a Singaporean, I could scarcely imagine how these sentences could have made any sense. But I am a Singaporean, and frighteningly, I understood exactly what the customer service operator meant. You see, I was booking the air tickets through Zuji for Grace and myself to return to Singapore for the Christmas holidays. As Zuji was only the travel agent, they could not confirm and issue the tickets, and had to send them to the airline to 'process'. Which explained the fact that my tickets were sent for 'procession'. I then asked to be waitlisted on other flights, but of course, "the system cannot one . . . "

As a graduate economics teacher, I would sometimes be given exam marking assignments. Recently, I marked a batch of exam scripts from the Far East. I could always tell if a script was from Singapore (or perhaps Malaysia). Some of the sentences went,

" . . This equilibrium got price competition, that equilibrium don't have but got quantity competition . . . "

" . . By right cannot, but by left 'can' . . . . "

Yes, the student who wrote the second one even put 'can' in inverted commas to emphasise the fact 'can' did not really mean that it was acceptable. As I read through some of the scripts, they felt like some Ah Bengs talking economics in a neighbourhood coffeeshop. It was in truth too grating even for a Singaporean marker.

How did Singaporeans end up with English like this? I am not a linguistic or anthropology expert and hence do not know the answer. But as far as I can remember, we have always spoken in this manner. As the Speak Good English debate and campaign rage on, I like many Singaporeans, am also torn between the need to speak good English and the romantic desire to preserve the local (my) identity.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Singaporeans Non Grata

9 August - Singapore National Day, the day I posted my thoughts on my very first blog.

Last weekend, STB (with Tiger Beer) held the very first Chilli Crab Festival in London. Judging by the turnout, it was a tremendous success. The only hiccup was that the caterer ran out of crabs before the end of the event. Demand had greatly outstripped supply.

Though it was a promotional event aimed at the British public, Singaporeans would often take opportunities like these to meet up. While I was helping my wife (organiser) set up the STB counter, a couple of early birds chinese ladies came over and ambushed me into a conversation. The only thing we had in common was that we were from Singapore. As I was busy with the setting up, a conversation with some seniorly ladies was not something I had ordered.

They quickly caught my attention though as they claimed themselves to be ex-Singaporeans kicked out of the country by the Government, words spoken with part anguish and part anger. My first thought was - Political Dissidents! - you know, we hear there are quite a few hanging around in UK, US or Australia.

So I started taking some interest in what they had to say. Political dissidents they were not. Their stories were more down to earth, more mundane, and in some ways more heart-wrenching. There was nothing political or subversive about the lives they chose. The ladies were really ordinary Singaporean girls who married British husbands decades ago and came to Britain with their husbands. Practical consideration then dictated that they take up British citizenships (no need to keep applying for UK visa) and they lost Singapore citizenships as a result.

One of the ladies I met lived in the UK for the past 40 years. She never lost her attachment to Singapore. She came to the event to help Singapore's specially flown over celebrity chef prepare the cooking demonstration. Despite her years, she put in a hard day's work to help promote Singapore. She said that she had appealed many times to the authorities - even "spoke to Hsien Loong" - to let her regain her Singapore citizenship but all without avail. She was, in her words, forced to choose between her family and country.

For years, we have heard so much about globalisation and it has become such a cliche to say that we live in a global village. But globalisation truly began to sink in when 8 months ago my baby sister brought home an ang moh (a Dutch) and they recently announced their engagement. Globalisation means that the entire stayer vs quitter debate is moot. Perhaps it is time we look into ways to expand the Singapore franchise abroad instead of being too kiasu about who gets to be citizen and who not.