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Why National Conversation will just be another ‘managing expectation’ exercise

Posted by temasektimes on September 11, 2012

I have to say that the article “PM Lee: ‘National Conversation’ is about managing expectations” did little to give an accurate analysis of the Prime Minister’s comments.

While I encourage my fellow citizens to examine the messages that the media puts out to us, it is important that we remain discerning and objective when reading and interpreting what the state media or the new online platforms publish.

Let us first take a close look at the article carried by Today newspaper. Comments about which the article is based on are:

“”But some stones, after we look at them, the original place was quite nice, we put it back. There has to be a balance,” said Mr Lee, as he pointed out that managing expectations would be a key challenge of having the conversation.”

If you look carefully at what the Prime Minister is saying, he has made it clear that we should be willing to leave certain issues be, if there is no need for a change.

On the other hand, the commentary by the newspaper or reporter noted that there will be difficulties in managing expectations in the conversation.

To put it in layman-speak, the conversation will not shy away from slaughtering sacred cows, but it will not go on a Sacred Cow culling exercise. At the same time, we must manage the expectation that the National Conversation will be about making any and all changes demanded by the vocal majority (as opposed to the silent majority), some of whom may already expect that their views and ideas will result in radical changes or immediate action, and are ready to dismiss the National Conversation.

Now that we’ve dealt with this confusion, I would hope that the Government will take note of the phrases they should avoid, because the citizens have begun to associate these words with negative connotations or negative experiences.

(1) Manage expectations – enough said. Citizens do not want to be heard only to have their expectations managed, they want to be understood, and have solutions offered, even if such a solution is actually an exception to a policy that must be applied consistently across the board.

(2) Xenophobia – the citizens do not fear foreigners. They fear the loss of their jobs, career progression, salary increments, seats on buses and MRT trains and the way of life they have built up and served to protect (militarily and socially). I think we can just call this “anti-foreigner sentiment”.

(3) Foreign Talent – citizens do not see talented foreigners as key contributors to the economy any further. Foreign talents are now merely new immigrants who compete for space, jobs, housing, education and more. Citizens seem to think of “FT” as wage suppressors, alternative to Singaporean voters, and more. Let’s call a spade a spade – FTs are merely “locally-employed foreigners”.

(4) Engagement – citizens seem to think of this as “I talk, government listens, in one ear and out the other, and they decide on whatever they feel is right”. No need to re-word this term though, we should just work on engaging Singaporeans.

(5) Opposition – while the legal or traditional term of the non-ruling party might be the “opposition”, this term seems to imply that the Government is calling the other parties “opposition parties” as the ruling party is unwilling to work with alternative voices. Since we are able to coin “Uniquely Singaporean” terms on our own (think ‘Integrated Resort’, ‘foreign talent’, ‘group representative constituencies’ etc.) I think we can acknowledge that the opposition parties are merely “Non-ruling Parties”.

(6) Integration – Singaporeans want harmony, but they do not want to be integrated with locally-employed foreigners, new citizens or other non-NS contributing groups unless their interests are taken care of. While integration is key, we need to give Singaporeans sufficient resources and advantages to survive and thrive on the very land they grew up on, defended, built on, and lived on. Only when Singaporeans are less disadvantaged will we be able to fully integrate and harmonize Singaporean society.



Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 6 Comments »

Sim Ann should stop politicking and review policies prejudiced against native Singaporeans

Posted by temasektimes on September 10, 2012

I refer to an article “Of wrongful pride and prejudice” by Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Sim Ann, on Sep 7, It was disappointing, for I had expected better from Ms Sim.

It was disappointing that because she mentioned in her letter that there are so many potential pitfalls whenever the subject of local-foreigner relations is raised, that few are motivated to talk about it and that she is exactly what she did, sidestep the issue to grossly misinterpret her political opponent.

Nowhere in his article has Mr Giam justified the online vitriol against anybody, he offer a reasoned attempt to explain and address the source of the online vitriol.

Interpreting such explanations, as Ms Sim does, as vile intention to justify hatred is deeply questionable, when Mr Giam stated specifically that making prejudiced remarks against foreigners is objectionable, un-Singaporean, and should stop. Ms Sim appears to have conveniently confused offering an explanation and making an excuse.

“Conveniently” because surely a President’s scholar and Senior Parliamentary Secretary know better than to confuse a positive statement with a normative statement.

It also strikes me as disingenuous, for Ms Sim to state that people have every right to express their view on the Government’s immigration policy, yet at the same time portray those who offer critical opinions in negative light through obfuscation and labels.

Mr Giam spoke frankly about the issue, dong something which Ms Sim pointed few are willing to do because of the potential pitfalls. At the same she opportunistically chooses to take advantage of these pitfalls to misrepresent his view for political mileage.

Her article serves only to reinforce self censorship among the netizens with the underlying message that the Government’s immigration policy is sacrosanct and its possible ill effects cannot be discuss in a manner that may remotely suggest aspersions at the government.

I may not agree fully with Mr Giam’s interpretation, but if we are not allowed freely to discuss all possible causes, how else can we hope to address the root of it?

Above all, it raises the question of choice and responsibility. The Prime Minister and then Director of the National Population Secretariat, Ms Sim chose to open the floodgate to the foreigners at a rate unprecedented in history of independent nations, therefore they are entitled to both credit and responsibility for the policy consequence of their social engineering project.

To try and cast it as a moral test of Singaporeans’ characters signify a shrinking of responsibility, an unwillingness of the Government to accept the negative consequence cause by their decision. Instead, the onus is now on Singaporeans to live up to the moral standards set fore by Ms Sim so that we can enable her population polices to work.

For the minority who are not morally strong enough to suppress their grouses, it goes therefore to imply that they do not have the moral fortitude enough to fathom the wisdom of Ms Sim’s population policies.

Social harmony and strong community relations in the country no longer depend upon a national consciousness and shared experience such as going through NS, instead it depend on the moral fibre of its citizenry to endure entire supplantation of natives.

It s therefore rather fortuitous that the immigrant issue have unite native Singaporeans who now share common concerns about national identity, job security and housing affordability, no doubt thanks to the polices implemented by Ms Sim, during her short stint at the National Population Secretariat

I sincerely urge Ms Sim to stop the politicking and please review unequal policies for locals and foreigners, polices such giving scholarship to foreign students when they are in secondary school or polytechnics, these foreign students do not serve NS even though they have enjoy the safety, free education in Singapore since young. There is no indication that talents can be identified at such young age or any guarantees that they will stay in Singapore to contribute.

Other policies inflammatory to Singaporeans includes dependant pass holder circumventing S Pass and Work permit quotas, cheap foreign labour depressing lower income wages, liberal giving away of citizenship to less qualified immigrants and PRs allowed to buy flats while singles citizen below 35 can’t.


Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 17 Comments »

COEs and babies

Posted by temasektimes on September 9, 2012

The Certificate of Entitlement (COE) was introduced for the purpose of controlling the Singapore car population more than two decades ago. Its initial purpose is, however, displaced by the churning of huge revenue for the state as it enters into the realm of astronomical proportions.

Should Singapore continue to allow the COE to function as before? This question depends on another, “Is the family car a necessity or a luxury to the Singapore family unit?”

The usual lifestyle of the younger Singapore family entails ferrying kids from one point to another, to school, tuition or enrichment classes, swimming or piano lessons, etc, not just for the weekends. Convenience in transport and the minimization of traveling time make car ownership a necessity to the young family unit, particularly when it comes to the decision of having more babies.

The need for a family car do not diminish where the kids grow older and when a couple is confronted with ailing older parents. With just a call from the grandparents, mum or dad may have to rush either to their home or for the hospital. The situation is more demanding if the illness is terminal or chronic.

Car ownership is definitely not a luxury for modern day Singapore, let alone speaking of a Swiss standard Singapore.

Current rocketed COE prices imply that only families with reasonably high income should own a car, not that of the average Singaporeans. The average working Singapore folk is now either a professional or semi-pro as compared to that of earlier days. Shouldn’t they be entitled to an “affordable” car? If we start telling the Singapore people that cars are reserved for the very rich, how do they convince themselves that they are living in a family oriented society?

Even though procreation is also a problem faced by other developed nations, isolated solutions with baby bonuses and maternity/ paternity leave work better elsewhere than in Singapore, the reason being, other developed nations do not have the additional issue of land scarcity and do not face a traffic control system like the COE that indirectly stifles their family mobility.

The case of having babies is definitely a materialistic one, directly linked to one’s costs of living. Hoping for Singaporeans to change their value on producing babies but by not relaxing the taxes on the facilities that support the family lifestyle would never have the issue addressed.


Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 20 Comments »

Open letter to PM Lee from former PAP MP Maidin Packer

Posted by temasektimes on September 7, 2012



EITHER SINGAPOREANS PRODUCE MORE KIDS OR WE MUST BRING IN MORE OUTSIDERS TO BECOME CITIZENS need not be the only options available to us. As the Government invite the people to think deeper into this and other issues raised at the PM’s National Day Rally, we should also look into other possibilities.

Many countries, including the middle east, have been employing foreigners for decades now, and yet all or most of them remain foreigners on work passes. In some countries, the foreigners far outnumber the locals. They are there strictly for professional and economic reasons.

As they grow older, these workers (from cleaners to construction workers to executives, engineers, bankers & more), will go back to their respective countries. They are then replaced by newer workers. And life goes on. Almost no foreigners became localised or given citizenships because it carries certain responsibilities, rights & benefits AND THESE ARE RESERVED FOR LOCALS ONLY.

Locals are represented in their government service, the private sector as well as employed by many enterprises that set-up shops in Dubai, Qatar, Saudi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, etc. And locals seldom feel threatened by the presence of foreigners. Their interest are looked after by their governments.

There is something in the way they did it that can be studied and considered for Singapore. Here are some examples:

(i) Qatar. Out of the total population of approximately 1.7 million (2011 est.), the make up of ethnic groups is as follows: Qatari (Arab) 20%; other Arab 20%; Indian 20%; Filipino 10%; Nepali 13%; Pakistani 7%; Sri Lankan 5%; other 5%. (Qatar – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

(ii) In 2010, the UAE’s population was 8.2m, of whom only 13% were UAE nationals or Emiratis. Majority of the population were expatriates. Many expatriates have been demanding citizenship but there is no naturalisation process in the UAE. (United Arab Emirates – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

(iii) BAHRAIN with land size almost like Singapore, has a population of 1.2 million in 2010, of which 568,399 were Bahraini and 666,172 were non-nationals (Bahrain – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

(iv) KUWAIT – population 3 million, with about 2 million non-nationals. Kuwaiti citizens are a minority. The government rarely grants citizenship to foreigners to maintain status quo. In 2008, 68.4% of the population consisted of expatriates, making the country the 4th highest ratio of expatriates of the world. (

In our case, some of the best can become citizens, maybe as PRs first. If they stay long enough, got married and have children, then they can be considered for citizenship as the children are born here.

There is no serious need to give citizenship to so many as we have done the past few years. Lets not forget, those who became citizens early in their working life, will face similar issues to deal with, just like other Singaporeans, and they may end up not marrying or having a very small family. And we will be back to square one. By then they already have citizenship rights.

If we can keep most foreigners as PRs or work passes, the financial burden on the government will also not increase so much more as we add services for families and the elderly. Therefore the need to increase taxes or GST will be limited.

Like in the middle east, Singapore citizens also get regular handouts from the government, sharing some of the economic surplus dished out during the annual budget. It has been very useful for the lower income group. If we are strict in granting new citizenship, the size of the handouts and other welfare budget will not increase so much.

Singaporeans whose families have been here since before & after the 2nd world war, and since before and after the independence of Malaya (1957), as part of Malaysia (1963) and then independent Singapore (1965) have at least some common short history together as one people.

In the 1960s to the 1980s, as we embarked on economic development programme, people were asked to make early sacrifices for the sake of the country. One of which is when the Government acquired their land at around $1 psf for economic purposes.

Most villages were torn down and the established communities were dissolved. People were uprooted from their villages and moved to housing estates. Everyone had to adjust to new surroundings.

My village head used to own a 50-acre coconut plantation. We were all moved to Toa Payoh, Hougang, Kallang and Whampoa. We still stayed in touch. I met the children of the village head recently. They are mostly taxi drivers, property agents & hawkers.

They had to struggle hard to make a living and could only imagine what it would be like if their land (estimated to be worth a few billion dollars today) had remained with the family.

There are many other stories of locals working with the Government to ensure Singapore’s survival as the future looked very uncertain in 1960s. We all felt that we were all in ONE TEAM, as if everyone were looking after each other and have a greater common interest in mind. The government was seen as very caring and the people responded accordingly.

Back then we rode on Democratic-Socialist values – a mix of democracy with some essence of socialism that allowed us to come up with pro-people national policies – cheap education, housing, medical care and welfare assistance for the needy. We even erected stand pipes in villages.

I think we were all poorer but somehow I could feel that THE SENSE OF UNITY WERE A LOT STRONGER. This include the SENSE OF BELONGING and TEAM SPIRIT between the people and the government. It felt like we were all ONE BIG MULTI-RACIAL FAMILY. We moved as one, act as one – all for the good of the people and the nation.

Today we are so much richer – one of the richest country by per capita income. But I am not sure if the SENSE OF UNITY, SENSE OF PURPOSE & NATIONAL TEAM SPIRIT between the people and the Government have all become stronger. I suspect it has not grown stronger. Not everyone is doing as well. Not everyone earns as much as the per capita income number. But property prices had skyrocketed.

Naturally with one of the highest income in the world, our cost of living here is also one of the highest. Everyone understand this. But I cant say that THE SPECIAL FEELING OF BEING ONE BIG SINGAPORE FAMILY STRUGGLING TOGETHER FOR THE COMMON GOOD is still there. Maybe not as strong as it used to be. Although it should have become stronger.

And I suspect the newer development motto of Singapore Inc – CAPITALISM – had a lot to do with this situation. Capitalism, in extreme and especially as it is advocated in America, means to each his own. You do well, you enjoy your good life (even to the extreme). If you don’t do well, that’s too bad. Its your own fate or fault.

While some argued that capitalism will also bring out some good in people and the nation, I worry it will bring about some serious social problem. It can weaken, even tear, the fabric of our society. We may end up with a class society – the super rich, the rich, the upper-middle income, lower middle and the lower class – the ordinary folks.

The problem is, under such a system, everything will be priced according ‘to the market value’ – be it housing, medical care, food etc. And such prices are easily affordable by the richer people in our society. The not so rich will face problems.

For example, in 1971 when my family moved to Toa payoh, my father could only afford a 3-room flat. The price was $6,800. While his salary was so small, he had no problem to service the loan. While most people today are earning many times more than my late father’s generation then, they will not feel as easy to own and service the loan of a 3-room flat. The price has gone up like 30 times.

Somehow this and many more experiences of our people, has eroded the sense of ‘being cared’ by the Government. More people felt they had to struggle on their own all their lives, beginning at kindergarten age, in order to have a life here.

And today, with so many ‘new citizens’ included, whatever surpluses and economic benefits through Government ‘giveaways’ had to be shared with all the ‘new Singaporeans’. More people sharing the same cake.

But they, their fathers and grandparents, were not here then in our poorer days. Back then our parents and grandparents had to make sacrifices (land, home, kampungs etc) and sweat it out for our families, the people and the country.

This will forever mark the difference between the original citizens of Singapore and the newbies.

Will the capitalist system that the Government adopted and the big jump in demographic changes that has occurred the past few years create a wider gap between the people and government? Will we end up with LESSER UNITY AS ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE? I feel it has happened. I just hope it wont get worst.

If we are to move ahead stronger and more united, I think the Government need to study these carefully and make the necessary move to RE-UNITE THE NATION, so that we can all MOVE AS ONE again. I doubt we are.

It has become more fashionable these days for people to disagree with the government. That is to be expected as the people becomes more educated and discerning.

The more worrying trend is, many more people than before simply disagree with everything that the Government does. They even criticise good government efforts. But why? For them, its like there is no more trust left. They have entered a mode of less trusting the government.

It’s sad if we end-up a more fractious society with the people looking at the Government far differently than the earlier generation used to. Whatever has happened since about a decade ago, must have caused some hurt in the hearts and minds of the people. It caused a rift to occur. We need to do something to address and heal this.

The key to this healing is to BUILD TRUST between the people and the government. Otherwise, a DISUNITED Singapore, is not at all good for this little red dot’s future.


Maidin Packer, Singapore

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 105 Comments »

Compulsory Social service for sponsored international students

Posted by temasektimes on September 6, 2012

I am a Singaporean, born in India, brought up in Singapore and married to a Chinese Singaporean. I served 2.5 years of my life as a NS man. During my call of duty, I was awarded letter of commendation for my contribution and dedication to the service. I begin this note with a stand of being a Singaporean in every way except for the part of not born in Singapore. I breathe, live and eat like a Singaporean.

For the past five years, I have been contributing to the society as an educator. I am concerned about our education system in more than one ways. In this article, I would like to touch on the part of international student vs. Local student. As many of you would know, overseas student come to Singapore as the price of education (subsidized by the govt) here is cheap and the only thing that they need to do is “work” in Singapore for three years after their studies. I would like to provide and alternate solution for this.

Firstly, why I would like to explain on why I believe it is unfair for Singaporeans. For the purpose of explanation, lets consider the scenario of students graduating from the polytechnic and heading out to the work force. When they graduate, both the foreign student and the local student will be aged between 19 to 20 years old. Our boys head to NS for two years. During these two years the foreign student will have already started work and have a head start in the career. The earning power of these foreign students will be two years head of local Singaporean boys. Not just the earning power but also the experience gained by the foreign student will give them a huge advantage when comes to promotion and pay rise. This certainly puts our Singapore boys in disadvantage.

I would like to suggest a new approach to this situation. If the foreign student is subsidized or enter into education system through a scholarship, they will have to serve a year or two in a social service department run by the govt. This social service department can deploy them to places such as old folks home, Low-income tuition centers (Sinda, Mendaki), MCYS and many other local charity organizations. During these two years they will be paid the same salary as what a Singapore boys would earn in the army (NS). This system is to be applied regardless whether you are a male or a female foreign student. This would normalize the difference between a Singaporean and a foreign student. Furthermore, if the foreign student truly wants to be part of Singapore they will be more than happy to contribute to the society this way. In line with this suggestion, I would like the govt to rethink their approach on giving PR to the graduating foreign students. Currently, foreign students are offered PR once they have finished their diploma. I would like the govt to give the PR only after serving the two years social service.

My suggestion would be argued by many stating that the foreign students will have to sustain another two years of no income and this would definitely be a burden to their parents. I would like you to see it from this angle. If the burden is on their parents, and if we are so concerned about our foreign students parents having to take the burden, have you ever considered the burden our Singapore parents have to go through the two years of supporting their son?

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for taking time for reading this article. Let’s continue to welcome foreign students who are willing to root themselves by contributing back to this fabulous society of ours.


*The above was first posted as a note on Facebook.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 32 Comments »

Take long-term view to solve Singapore’s public transport woes

Posted by temasektimes on September 5, 2012

It’s no surprise that Singaporeans are less satisfied with the public transport system in Singapore. Train breakdowns, overcrowding, higher fares and the failure to recognise taxis as a mode of public transport have contributed to the angst of a nation that has been effectively forced to use public transport, given the high costs of owning (and driving) a private vehicle, as well as the congestion on the roads today.

In my humble (and not-so-well-informed) opinion, what is really need is an in-depth, careful examination of the issue, and a solution strategically and operationally designed to meet the needs of Singaporeans.

Firstly, the public transport system was designed to accommodate a maximum capacity (though I don’t quite know what this capacity is). With the growth of the population, it is indeed obvious that the trains and buses will be stretched to capacity. It’s not rocket science, and we have to acknowledge this.

Secondly, we have not maximised our current resources and transport options. We have relied so heavily on buses and trains run by transport companies that we have failed to see other solutions to the problem that we know as the typical daily commute.

Thirdly, the public transport model, where we have several commercial entities bidding to run bus routes and train lines for profit needs to be adjusted. Not completely overhauled, but adjusted. We need to do this not only to alleviate the discomfort of the commuting population, but also to include the less fortunate and differently enabled people who can’t commute like we do.

Before I go further, let me say two things – I am Singaporean and believe in the Singaporeans First concept, and I take the train everyday to avoid a $30 taxi ride. That being said, I can go on with this little rant of mine.

I’d like to propose a few concepts, some new, some not so new, some bright, some plain silly, and some reflective of my idealistic nature.

1. Reduce the need to commute on public transport. Offer work-from-home or flexi-work arrangements where appropriate. Locate offices in the heartlands and away from the city centre. Offer company transport at a subsidised rate. By taking the load off of the country’s over-burdened transport infrastructure, we can minimise the squeeze for the sardines out there who absolutely must take public transport to work, for whatever reason.

2. Optimise transport resources with the aim of increasing comfort and convenience, as well as resilience for national events (and disasters). Years ago, there was a call to remove the bus services that were duplicating the MRT lines. I believe that was done. Now that the trains are packed full, we should look towards reinstating these services, not just to offer more options to Singaporeans, but also to diversify resources so that one national emergency (e.g. breakdown of SMRT’s East-West Line) will not paralyse thousands of commuters.

3. Take up a not-for-profit business model when offering public transport services. The current model, where shareholders pressure companies (and their executive boards) to turn high profits needs to be re-examined. Companies offering an essential service should not be measured by the profits they make, but the services they provide. One measure we could look at is having the Government implement key performance indicators into a board of directors’ scorecard that will be used to measure the benefits the companies receive – rebates or levies for foreign manpower, taxes, bidding for and award of new routes, etc.

4. Adopt a no-nonsense, zero-error approach to the public transport business. Companies should incur penalties for every lapse – breakdowns, accidents that cause injury to commuters and the public, security breaches that result in actual or potential losses and injuries and more. Transport companies will then be forced to put the public’s interest above all others.

We need to seriously re-look public transport, and find long-term, sustainable and commuter-centric solutions to the problems we face.


*The above was first posted as a comment on The Temasek Times.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 27 Comments »

How to differentiate foreign from local graduates in the workforce

Posted by temasektimes on September 4, 2012

As a graduate from an overseas university within a similar multicultural city where foreign talents are abundant, I can safely attest that the gripes that Singaporeans are voicing are not limited to our island. With my current position here overseas, I’m probably one adding to that statistic within this country, but from a FT’s point of view its a dog eat dog world, and if the locals cannot hack it, I’m trying to feed my own rice bowl.

I’m not entirely defending FTs and that the SG government is headed in the right direction, given that I’ve seen one too many problems faced within this country because of the introduction of FTs, such as immigration and crime issues associated to lax immigration laws. However, because I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to live and work in a foreign country, I’ve realised how pampered most Singaporeans are and how hungry you can really be when you are forced to step out of the bubble which is Singapore and its comfy spoon feeding government.

A comment one of my managers made the other day made me realise this; this came from a man who has worked in several countries previously, one obviously being Singapore and for a considerable amount of time. He said to me that when he worked in Singapore, he could immediately tell who had overseas experience and who were local grads. The reason simply being that overseas grads were more proactive and hungry to do jobs because they knew that this was their one up, they did not have sparkling certs which had honours or first classes like the locals, but because they knew what their competition was like overseas, they worked hard to make sure they stood out. Local grads were book smart but lacked common sense, they were reactive, and waited to be told what to do, in theory they stood out, but practically they could not hack it.

Yes local Singaporean companies should help by offering jobs to graduates, but whether the graduates are hungry and are willing to be proactive rather than reactive and wait to be told what to do makes a difference. If local graduates are really looking to take the job market seriously, then do what all job hungry graduates are doing else where. Intern for free. Work for free. Experience is all you need to stand out in this current job market.

I am only saying this from a personal point of view because I myself have experienced this and can safely say that this has worked to my advantage here. I have seen one too many local graduates here eager to get their degree and start work only to be told they do not have the relevant experience, while their peers who have taken at least a year in between to do a year of internship either free or partly paid get a job at least within a year of graduating. Employers are more than happy to take a graduate on if they can show they can apply themselves or do not need babysitting or extra training costs.

I’m not saying the onus is completely on the graduates, the government also needs to start to rethink their current education plan for undergraduates seeing that they are accepting FTs with more work experience than their own next gen work force. Work experience needs to be made an optional or compulsory course itself with credits within the degrees. I myself thank the fact that my degree included a full year’s work experience which culminated into a course at the final year, it really taught me how to eat humble pie, and that working in the real world meant stepping out of the comfort zone to go out of my way to stand out in a working environment, the only reason why I am now working overseas just shy of 2 years from my graduation.

So all in all, it takes 2 hands to clap, the government and the youth. Neither can be blamed entirely for how this has panned out for local grads and the job market, but both must take equal responsibility and start working to make the future work out rather than blaming either side.


*The above was first posted as a comment on The Temasek Times.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 26 Comments »

Observation on S’pore after returning from Australia

Posted by temasektimes on August 29, 2012

After coming back from Australia, I look at Singapore and the policies of the government and with PM’s speech about searching for the Singapore soul, I can’t help but wonder how the government is going to find this Singapore identity when the policies that it puts in force are all about making money.

They let in FT’s so that companies can hire on the cheap and at Singaporean’s expense and so government can collect more tax revenue. They say they help the poor/elderly/needy but how much of it does the government really give out? Is it loose change compared to the billions of dollars stored up in our country’s coffers? Then the government tells the world that we have the world’s highest GDP per capita. But what about its citizens? Are Singaporeans really that well off as what these statistical figures show them to be?

Compared to Australia, the education system is such that if a student don’t excel academically, he or she can always learn other trades and be equally respected in society. The garbage collector walks in public in his dirt-streaked uniform (but not smelly of course) with as much pride as the white collar worker sitting at the next table to him at Starbucks. Workers are not allowed to work overtime so as to encourage its citizens to lead a balanced lifestyle.

Employees who are pregnant or take parental leave to care for their children can sue their employees if they feel they have been unfairly appraised or dismissed from their jobs, with the government’s tangible support and not just lip service. The government provides significant tax breaks to encourage people to start their own businesses, so that even if they fail, they don’t have to declare bankruptcy and risk being branded a failure for the rest of their lives.

People who cannot find jobs don’t have to starve as they receive welfare payouts provided they show proof that they have been actively looking for jobs. Australia has a high proportion of middle income families and their citizens do not have to fight tooth and nail for survival with FT’s let in by the government who are willing to work twice the duration for half the pay.

The government doesn’t tell their citizens to accept lower wages and work harder and smarter so that they can compete with these FT’s. Its citizens willingly reproduce because their lifestyle is much more balanced and they find time for rest and recreation. They find the time to say “hi” and “how are you”.

In Singapore, people have no time, no energy to raise kids, as they are so busy making money, afraid of failing and being left behind should they even take a short break for a breather.

Coming back from Australia, these are the things that I have learnt and observed. I think there is something really warped about the way the PAP runs the country. Or is this the only way Singapore can survive in this rapidly changing world?

*The above was first posted on Channel News Asia Forum

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 54 Comments »

PRC student: Why it is a bad decision to study in Singapore instead of going straight to U.S.

Posted by temasektimes on August 28, 2012

I would like to state the disclaimer that we are all entitled to our own opinions, and that this is merely my personal stand and does not represent that of others.

When I was in the process of transferring to the US for further studies, I obtained much needed guidance from the people on this forum and would like to firstly, thank these kind people.

I studied in Singapore for 9 years, from Primary 1 to complete (a diploma in )poly. When I managed to transfer to the US, I realised the trap that was Singapore. I should have gone straight to the US to study instead of spending all that money in Singapore, as the returns (from the US) would have been much greater.

In 2001, like many others from my homeland who pursued the popular option of studying abroad, I came to the supposedly cleanest country in the world -Singapore.

Back then, gambling was prohibited in Singapore, chicken rice cost S$2.50, a comic book cost S$0.50, EZlink cards could not buy anything and S$900 could get you a month’s rent in a 3-room flat in Ang Mo Kio. S$1500 /mth could get you a 3-room condo in Bishan Park.

Most of the time, everyone saw Singapore as a transit point, as we were afraid of the great distances of Europe & the US, and disencouraged by the different cultures there that we may not have been accustomed to. Singapore was also seen as a predominantly Chinese country, which seemed more suitable.

What the Singapore government portrayed to the world about Singapore was also rather impressive. However, the standard of living in Singapore was that of a newly developed country, and it was very stratified, such that only a small proportion of the population was in control of the majority of the nation’s wealth. Ordinary citizens would have found it difficult to have broken out of their original social classes.

The hearts of Singaporeans are as small as their island, and it is difficult to foster deep friendships. They are calculative and even take note of the borrowing of S$0.20 for a meal. Of late, they have developed a better understanding of the increasing wealth of the mainland Chinese and like mercenaries, have reached out to take advantage of newly arrived mainland Chinese, hoping to profit from them. This is what I learnt in my 2nd year here. I was deceived more than 3 times in the process of procuring home rental, and was cheated of approximately S$10,000. Two of the offending charlatans were ethnic Chinese, the other was Malay. The most hilarious thing was that all 3 locals said the same thing when I threatened to call the police, [verbatim] “You call police lar, you think what, here not China, Singapore police help Singaporeans!’ And it was indeed the case when the police told me I could sue them but they (the police) could not do much. I was only 15, 16 then.

Many people assume that a Chinese majority in Singapore equates to having family abroad but when you treat the local Chinese like family, they treat you like sh*t. In fact, the local Chinese are most guilty of discriminating against mainland Chinese. They think themselves superior, especially those from the older generation, but most have not been highly-educated. It is tragic that they descended from farmers/labourers and had to flee to Nanyang (Singapore/Malaysia) due to the war, and now look down on others.

Regarding education, the system in Singapore in undoubtedly not bad compared to the rest of Asia. If you are systematic and obedient, Singapore suits you as there is no need for creative thinking here. The system grooms mechanistic workhorses with some knowledge, with most of the working popularion having little clue about what they are really doing. If you are rather opinionated then please don’t come here, for you will find it torturous. When I was in Sec 3 I had a Chinese form teacher (from mainland China) who brought me to join a Chinese oratorical contest. It was after the contest that I realised I had been changed by this oppressive society, and had lost my opinions. My Chinese teacher also said something in passing that sparked an ephiphany, “Someone like you should have never come to a place like Singapore.”

Now, why is it that mainland Chinese students in Singapore usually top their class?

This may sound rude, but it is the brutal truth. Singaporeans are really daft. Asking a simple question elicits a bunch of puzzled looks from them, that I felt like smashing them with a book. Also, they do not see the good in others. When a mainland Chinese student gets excellent grades, they get mostly sour grape sentiments, such as the unfairness of the mainland Chinese students being older than them by a few years, etc. I may be older than my peers by a year. If I trumped them in Chinese or Maths, I would not have much to comment on, but if even someone like me can repeatedly obtain As for English, what rights do these assh*les [verbatim] have in criticising others?

More infuriatingly, when news of mainland streetwalkers rounded up by the local police hit the headlines, my sister’s teacher had the audacity to warn my sister in class to study hard and not end up like the arrested mainland streetwalkers. How dare the teacher tell a 9-year old such a patronising thing! Especially when my sister trounced the majority of Singaporeans in her studies. Many Singaporean students speak like frogs in the well when they think of Singapore as the heaven that poor Chinese escape to. Little do they know that Singaporeans themselves are even poorer than they could imagine. Yes, although many people from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen acknowledge that Singapore is prosperous, I do not distinguish between the various cities in China, but am only stating a fact.

Singapore’s food. Despite it being a food paradise (everyone in the world self-claims to be a food paradise anyway) all the food there is bland, with lashings of soy sauce, chicken stock, bits of lard and fried into something ‘Singaporean-style’. The markets and food courts sell almost the same dishes – chicken rice, kuey teow, pork mince noodles, Hokkien noodles, Loh mee, mixed vegetables rice, etc. All this is nothing compared to the snacks of China.

I personally like chicken rice best, although I feel like vomitting after having eaten 8 years of it.

Next, an analysis with an economic perspective.

It was only after coming to the US that I realised what it really meant to be a developed country. A room cost S$700 per month in Singapore, a tiny room which does not have an ensuite toilet. For the same price in the US, you can rent a 50 sq m masterbed room. Carpeted with your own bathtub and walk-in wardrobe. Some rooms in Singapore are in fact about the same size as walk-in wardrobes in the US (Los Angele). US$1300 can get a 200+ sq m mansion with a pool in Las Vegas or Arizona.

Eating out in the US costs more (US$10/meal average). However the amount of food per serving in the US is twice that of the mixed vegetable meal you can get in Singapore. The food stall uncles in Singapore also tend to give very little meat and are very stingy about it. In contrast, in the US, they stuff the plate full with food.

I worked very hard in a 5* hotel in Singapore to earn some money part-time for a measly S$7/hour. In LA, the minimum wage is US$8/hour and tipping is compulsory (10-20% of the bill). This is entirely given to the service staff and nobody in the US declines tipping us. An 8-hour day gets you about US$64. In contrast, some restaurants in Singapore do not even allow their staff to keep the hard-earned tips they have earned.

Education costs more in the US, with most university housing costs US$50,000 a year (without a scholarship). US universities are very generous in their scholarships; you can google it to find out more. I have not applied for one so I am not sure. However, as long as I maintain a GPA of 3.6 (easily achieved in the US) application should not be an issue.

To save money, consider state colleges such as SANTA MONICA COLLEGE, PASADENA COMMUNITY COLLEGE etc, living costs start from US$25,000/year. The first 2 years of foundation courses are the same as any other colleges. You can then seek a transfer to a better college from your 3rd year onwards. This is a worthwhile investment, as the US certificate is much more valued. If you compare a certificate from University California Berkeley & National University of Singapore, which do you think will get you a better-paying job? Especially in a society such as Singapore’s, which values foreign certificates more.

You will be spending the same amount of money, working the same types of part-time jobs, so why choose Singapore? Please think carefully my dear comrades!

Some mainland Chinese overestimate the difficulties of studying in Europe and the US and see Singapore as the easy option. This is wrong. Visa application may seem complicated but you will not be rejected. The situation has improved from years ago. Europe and the US are looking to Chinese students to boost their flailing economy. If there are any (Chinese) students from Singapore wishing to transfer to the US, please look for me. I have been to the US for 2 years and can try my best to answer some of your questions.

* The above was first posted in Mandarin in a Chinese forum and translated by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 151 Comments »

Accidental encounters with ISD agents

Posted by temasektimes on August 27, 2012

A long time ago, I wrote about my accidental encounter with several ISD officers outside the blue gate when my friend and I tried to take a photograph of it. Taking a photo of the notorious gate was not an offence. The Straits Times and others had featured the gate when Mas Selamat disappeared and gurkhas, police and everyone involved in the security business combed our little red dot. I know from my expatriate friends that the garden of the little cosy private estate opposite the blue gate was thoroughly searched. All the residents on the ground level were told to shut their doors and windows.

There is little doubt that our security forces are very hard working. They work in teams. When my friend and I were confronted by them outside the blue gate, at least ten officers were involved. I asked them if it was normal that so many officers were involved in such a small matter. One of them confirmed that that was the case. Ten officers surrounding two women. They took away our identity documents, made us wait for more than one hour, downloaded all the photos from my friend’s camera, deleted photos which we took of the gate etc. I felt so stupid after the incident. Why didn’t I shout at them, take photos of them and tell them that they had no business and no right to waste our time in that way!

Let me tell you another story, this time involving the famous Alan Shadrake.

Shadrake as we all know, was charged and convicted for contempt of court. My story involved his search for housing while he was waiting for his case to be heard. He was initially offered accommodation by an expatriate. After some days, he was told that they could no longer help him and he had to look for accommodation elsewhere. I was accidentally informed that he was desperately looking for a place. I didn’t know Shadrake until I went to his book launch. I felt sorry for him because he was arrested at dawn at his hotel the day after the launch. It reminded me of my own arrest. To be suddenly awakened at the unearthly hour and taken to the police station must have been a traumatic experience for anyone.

A friend offered temporary lodging. I picked up Shadrake at Bukit Timah and drove him to my friend’s flat. I parked my car at the multi storey carpark opposite the flat and we made our way to the flat. We entered the lift and pressed the button to the desired floor. When the door opened, a young man busy on his mobile walked into the lift. He spoke in Mandarin and we heard him mention the name “Alan”. I looked at Shadrake and instead of getting out of the lift, we followed the man down to the first floor.

At the ground level, the man walked away and Shadrake and I walked out of the lift too. I told Shadrake that the guy was from the ISD. We both sat down on the bench. I wanted to see who else was involved in following us. Shortly after, a lady in office clothes and high heeled shoes walked past us. I told Shadrake that she too was from the ISD. To confirm that I was right, I waited till the lady went out of the block of flats and I got up and hid behind a pillar to see where she was going. She crossed the road and at the pavement opposite, she turned around and faced the block of flats that she had just left.

We waited a while and then went up to my friend’s flat. While my friend and Shadrake chatted, I thought I would check if the lady was anywhere on the road below. I walked to the balcony and looked out. Immediately, I saw several people scrambling and hiding behind the pillars at the multi-storey carpark opposite. There must have been at least four people doing that. Unluckily for them, my friend’s flat was higher than the carpark building and they could not escape my surveillance! I looked down on the road below and saw the same lady walking towards the carpark.

A team of more than six plain clothes men and women following Shadrake and me from Bukit Timah to my friend’s flat! What a waste of manpower. How inefficient can our police force be. If intimidation and harassment of peaceful citizens and people are all that they are good for, I am really worried and concerned at how they manage the security of our little island. Little wonder that they never found Mas Selamat.


*The above was first posted as an article on Facebook.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 13 Comments »