Sunday, July 01, 2012

Reply to LIFT: Facing up to cheaper foreign competition

The following is my super long-winded reply to LIFT on Facing up to cheaper foreign competition. Ya, I exceeded the 4,096 characters limit to blog entry replies again!



If your blog post is directed at the top 60% individuals in abilities, I would agree with you. Presumably, those who have access to the internet and can read and understand your blog would fall into this group.

However, IMHO, your arguments above will fall flat if you consider the remaining 40%, or those with specific disabilities (e.g. your Asperger's Syndrome nephew with limited IQ), or when viewed from a national policy perspective. But let's come back to these later.

> From your 3rd point, Create a gap that no one else can fill: "So don't give me the excuse that 60% of the population are vulnerable because they are not highly qualified/skilled - you can still add value to your job with soft skills and rise above the rest of the field like 小辣椒."

First, I want to address your statement above. IMHO, you've underestimated 小辣椒. That she can remember names and favourite foods of all the customers (from your example, it seems like she did it off the top-of-her-head, didn't have to refer to any system) goes to show that her brain power isn't ordinary. That she is able to assess people on-the-spot and sweet-talk/up-sell to them goes to show that her EQ is extraordinary too. Combine extraordinary brain power + extraordinary EQ, please lah, if the bottom 60% of the population can match that, can they still be considered the bottom 60%? IMHO, that 小辣椒 is a waitress is probably because of her life circumstances, but she is definitely skillful (even if it is not in the traditional terms of paper and/or other qualifications). Don't compare the skillful with the bottom 60% of unskilled workers.
That said, those mid-range folks can overcome their lacking in abilities by improving their EQ (can be trained) and investing in technology to overcome their shortfall in brain power -- provided that their pay is above survival level such that they can afford it (e.g. record all customer's face, name, preferences in a handheld database and use it as a quick reference before taking down their orders).
Now let's return to the remaining bottom 40%, or those with specific disabilities (e.g. your Asperger's Syndrome nephew with limited IQ). At age 12, when I switched primary school, I had the opportunity to sit next to a girl (2 years older than me) who from her facial features probably has mild Down's syndrome. The top student of the school sitting next to the bottom student of the school (who had previously failed the PSLE twice). What an eye-opener it was for me. Until then I never knew that for some people, no matter how many hours they spend studying (and she was really studying hard, not falling asleep at the desk like me), the "brain output" would still be pretty close to zero. How many of the above 8 points (mentioned in your blog entry) can people like my ex-classmate and your nephew successfully learn and implement in their own lives independently (i.e. without a heavy helping hand or guidance from others)? Come on, you yourself stated before that you don't see a bright future ahead for that young chap (e.g. here and here). At least your family is presumably wealthy enough to "buy" your nephew a somewhat "normal" life, just like what my ex-classmate's wealthy parents did. But what if your family or my ex-classmate's family is not wealthy? "You die your business"? Or introduce Soylent Green laws to get rid of those who are poor and not economically viable?

IMHO, which is why when viewed from a national policy perspective, if PAP sincerely meant its 2006 GE campaign slogan of "Staying together, moving ahead", the values (and virtues of pure capitalism) espoused by your blog entry cannot be upheld. Not until genetic engineering is perfected such that 100% of people are born without any disability, with enough IQ+EQ or some sort of special ability (which is economically valued by the society), and mankind has mastered control over fate such that no accidents/illnesses will befall upon anyone's life to rob him/her of his/her health/abilities, IQ, EQ, or special ability. Otherwise, the bottom 40% will not be able to make it in a purely capitalistic society without any social/family support -- which (from a cold-hearted perspective) in itself is not a problem, except that research has shown that amongst developed countries, the greater the inequality, the unhappier, unhealthier, and less successful the population is. And the rich in such an unequal society are not immune to the adverse effects of such inequality.

Ok, that's my 2 cents. In short, I agree with basic premise in your blog entry, but only for the top 60% who presumably can self-help successfully. Yup, I even wrote similar advice to internationally educated nurses who come to my blog.

Cheers, WD.


  1. Thanks WD, I've read your post and acknowledge your points. There is a fine line to thread when it comes to offering hope & encouragement and asking too much.

    1. Limpeh literally means, "your father" for those who are not conversant in Hokkien, meaning you are the father of whoever you are addressing. It is as derogatory as you can get when you use it to speak to someone. In the 60's to even 80's, you would probably be slapped if you have used it when talking to someone elder.

    2. Yup, I think most of LIFT's readers know that. We also know that he probably used it in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The meaning and usage of words change over time. Like how "fuck" or "bastard" while still not used in formal speech, is now used in street lingo. Some people even teasingly call their loved ones "bastard", it is all in the context.

    3. I think our addressing him as LIFT is more cool, implying him as more than the potentially offensive 'your father', but the guy who lifted himself from humble local origins here, to the high life he's enjoying now in another land.

      The use of the term Limpeh is strange.
      If I say, "Limpeh tell you…", the local Ah Bengs (Singaporean rednecks?) would rightly be offended, because it could mean to them, "I'm talking to you like I'm your father, which is insulting because you would respect your father a lot."

      BUT when I refer to LIFT as Limpeh, it actually can be offensive to him, as in "Hey Limpeh, and I'm talking to you, LIFT" meaning "Hey LIFT, I'm talking to you as if I'm YOUR father".

      I wonder how LIFT would take this, my interpretation.
      But there's no escaping language logic, EXCEPT when extensive usage turns wrong into right.

      For examples, 'decimate' originally meant 'eliminate one-tenth' and not today's 'eliminate in great proportion.
      Also, 'nice' originally meant 'stupid'* … imagine that!

      * under Origin from Middle English, from

      Ironically too, 'Lim' 您 (not the Chinese surname) in Limpeh is the more respectful form of 'your', as in 'Your Majesty', perhaps), and not the more colloquial Chinese Hokkien 'your' / 'Li' 你 (as in 'your non-elite calibre').
      Strange that a more respectful 'Your' is actually ironically, even sarcastically more offensive.

      English does not seem to make a clear distinction between polite and casual forms of 'you', like in Chinese, but French does, for example between 'tu' and 'vous' for singular 2nd person.

    4. I was discussing with mys students about the above response, then realised I'd made a mistake about LIFT referring to himself as Limpeh.

      It should be:

      "BUT when I refer to LIFT as Limpeh, it actually can be offensive to _HIS FATHER_, as in 'Hey Limpeh, and I'm talking to you, LIFT' meaning "Hey LIFT, I'm talking to you as if _YOU ARE_ YOUR father".

      The rest of my previous response above, I've been unable to find errors yet.

      Natural human language is not purely logical computer language.
      Wrong usage by many makes right.

  2. Hi Winking Doll, I followed your comment link from LIFT's blog (Limpeh Is Foreign Talent) to over here.

    I've hinted in response to LIFT's posts that our older boy faces the same challenges.
    When sincere parents have children, they take silent vows to change their past ways of life, in order to raise the future of humanity.

    Then when parents who really love their children discover that they are wired to behave atypically, they deepen their renewed vows, to accommodate new paths that their young will take, which cannot really be the same as the majority of society.

    I think this is why LIFT worries just above, about urging neurodiverse children on too much.
    But those who are already successfully climbing the ladder of life don't need so much support.
    We try to smoothen the bumpy playing field as much as we can, by encouraging and training such different children.

    Just like Americans would not go all out to help China beat the USA — that would be traitorous — likewise we work with who and what we have, and make the best possible outcomes from that, instead of just envying those who have more.

    A happy, blessed family that arises from such teething difficulties is earned, through diligence and wisdom, and not merely sponsored or subsidised.

  3. Hi LIFT and Alan,

    Thanks for visiting and your comments. I agree with both of you.

    Cheers, WD.

  4. WD,

    I think you are very brave to change careers in your thirties and trying it out away from a place you are not familiar with and most of all away from your family and friends.

    What I don't understand is that you had a reasoably successful IT career and would it not have been easier to expand on that rather than to start something brand new ?

    No offence meant, just trying to understand your decision making process. Would be perfectly understandable too if you decide not to answer as well for personal reasons.

    I have read through all your posts.


    1. Hi FFT,

      Thanks for visiting and your comment. Thanks also for your support in reading through all my posts. I hope you've found them interesting.

      I think you've asked very good questions. To be absolutely honest, I am not 100% sure of the answer either. So let's start from the beginning.

      After A levels in late 1980's, I asked my tutor for career advice. He suggested Computer Science or Law based on my A-level results. Back then, I (mistakenly) thought that all lawyers were quarrelsome people, so I didn't choose law. I wasn't keen on Computer Science either, but it was a general degree with better than average starting pay and whose graduates were in great demand. Since having the means to repay my university loans and be financially independent weighed on my mind, the $ aspect was a big plus. In addition, I figured that everything would eventually be computerized (don't know how/why I was so visionary, haha) and so I could use my IT skills as a basis to switch careers later. So you see, right from the start, while I had the ability, I was not all that interested in IT, with the exception of Artificial Intelligence (for which there was limited scope in Singapore).

      In fact it surprised me that I had stayed in the IT line for around a decade. I had tried to change careers without success at various points in my life. I guess each time, the lure of a stable and reasonably decent income from IT was too great an opportunity cost for someone who came from humble (a.k.a. poor) background. Eventually, the final push came in 2006. The mid-2000's IT scene was vastly different from the one back in the early 1990's.

      Thereafter, I continued with IT (on a part-time basis) for a while more only to make enough buffer $ for me to launch into a concerted attempt at career change and/or emigration.

      After landing in Canada, I had thought long and hard about my career options again. For now, I have decided that I will fulfil a promise to myself (since my late-teens) to try something beyond IT, especially now that I am not weighed down with financial burdens.

      Hope the above answers your question.

      Cheers, WD.

  5. WD,

    Thank you for being so frank about your career choice. I have a SIL who was a nurse but who retired recently. Many of her friends who are nurses also know my wife so I got to know them too. They have lots of interesting stories to tell.

    You have a second shot at doing something which you have an interest in, at least that is what I have gathered from your posts. Do the best you can and excel because you have an interest. Don't accept second best if you can help it. Once you reach that stage, nobody can take it away from you and doors will open on their own. The most able ones are normally the most mobile.

    I was a former FT but is a sinkie now and I have been incredibly fortunate through hard work to have come out much better than when I first set foot on the red dot. Feelings are running high now on the FTs. But during our time, it was tough being an FT.

    Anyway, I will continue reading your blog and ask questions or elaborate on my experiences if there are request.