Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Brunch with former bureaucrats

I thought about not writing on this until a recent arrest in Singapore reminded me once again how different the socio-political climate between Singapore and Canada is.
[Note: The conversations below are as much as I could remember, they are not word-for-word exactly.]


I had brunch with some (ex-)Singaporeans recently. The elderly gentlemen congradulated me for getting my Canadian nursing registration. Thus, I told them about how we petitioned for it. [Click here and here.] 

Then someone asked, "So will you do it* in Singapore?" [*That is, write petitions and advocate for change.]

I replied simply, "No way! We have the ISA in Singapore, you know. And not forgetting some politicians who like to send legal suits."

The gentlemen smiled and nodded, they knew what I was talking about.


At some point later during the brunch, since one of the gentlemen revealed that he used to be heavily involved in the Singapore Sports Council, I asked him for his opinion of the "Foreign Sports Talents Scheme". As a gentleman would, he openly declared his vested interest -- i.e. he was responsible for creating that policy (which has since raised some controversy in Singapore). He took the time to explain the intent and some regulations behind original scheme, and mentioned that the scheme has changed beyond recognition since.

Someone at the table put in supportive words, "Otherwise Singapore wouldn't have won an Olympic medal." 
[I guess she forgot about Tan Howe Liang's 1960 Olympic Silver. Or perhaps "Singapore" was not an independent country back then, so it did not count?]
To which I replied my honest 2 cents, "Why must we win Olympic medals? Why can't we just invest in our own people and be happy with whatever results they achieve? It's like a man with a small penis trying to overcompensate."

The men at the table were surprised, but nevertheless laughed heartily at my penile comment.


At a yet later point over that brunch, I realized that I was sitting next to none-other-than the bureaucrat behind the "Stop At Two" policy. I could not resist asking (to confirm rumours that I had sniffed from the internet), "So didn't the government know at some point that the policy will cause the fertility rate to drop below replacement rate?"

Dr "Stop At Two" replied, "Yes, I did some (projection) calculation and told them that the policy has to be changed at some point."
[So apparently the warning signs were there already and known to the decision makers. It was a matter of political will and/or foresight to steer the Titanic away before it hit the iceberg.]
Someone else then chimed in that that's why the Singapore government is importing so much "foreign talent" -- to cover the shortfall in birth rate. 

To which I replied, "No, I think (IMHO) there is something more to it. They are importing more than what it takes to cover the replacement rate. I think (IMHO) there is something else happening here."


At the end of brunch, the gentlemen teasingly encouraged me, "Write more petitions!"

I laughed. Actually I am really very Singaporean by nature. It took a lot to push me to write a petition
[Which is why at times I admire how PY (from China), AP (from The Philippines) and IJ (who grew up Canadian) will not take any injustice lying down.]

Which brings to mind another event. 

I had another Facebook exchange early this month over a photo where I commented about the abuse that healthcare workers in Singapore face and are expected to tolerate -- which reveals the reality of how little healthcare workers are truly valued in Singapore. A Singapore-citizen friend (residing in Singapore) tried to push the onus back to fellow Singaporeans for the lack of "social leadership". In responding to her suggestion that the government is not responsible for Singapore's social-political norms which contribute to such unhealthy work environments, the discussion on my Facebook photo veered off-topic.

I reminded her about the ISA, some politicians who like to send legal suits and the challenges of invisible "OB" markers.

She replied in defence of ISA (and, I supposed, her politician/minister friend),
"Btw, govt includes non-PAP and PAP includes non-govt.
Please do not confuse societal security with social leadership, and dafamation (sic) with criticism. There are non-govt groups who stand up for migrant workers. 
Attitudes towards nursing have not improved as much as other aspects of nursing. Some things still need to be fixed. Everyone need not wait for a few people to deal with all causes."
Of course, I challenged her concept of "societal security" and "defamation". [See also Nizam Ismail's 25-Apr-2013 blog post on "Politics of Funding Cuts: Is it Really About Partisanship?" (or Jentrified Citizen's extract here); and one will know that "Everyone need not wait for a few people..." is a red-herring.] And it went downhill from there. At one point, she wrote,
"All I shall say is that there are people who would gain when Singapore goes down. And they would find ways to extrapolate matters to influence opinions in the name of intellectual discussion."
Frankly, I pointed out to her that those who can gain as she suggested would be millionaires (a.k.a. private banking clients).
[Note: I declare that I am not within that category of people, unlike some folks who love to dress in white.] 
As it went further, I also pointed out to her that it was the second time within 8+ months that she used "ad hominem" attacks as a defence mechanism instead of dealing with the issue being discussed. 
[IMHO, it is pathetic, considering that she was supposedly from the crème de la crème (triple pure-sciences) class of the Rxx brand (a top-ranking secondary/middle school in Singapore) and received overseas (UK) tertiary education. Yet, she could not handle a simple Socratic discussion honourably.
That said, IMHO, she has improved considerably. The previous time she threw "ad hominem" attacks at me, she wielded them so poorly that it was laughably self-destructive, if not for the fact that she is a friend. E.g. When she could not debate further on the issue, she asked point-blank, 
"Please disclose
-- whether you are currently contributing to Singapore economically (e.g. paying taxes) or non-economically (e.g. promoting heritage)
-- whether any party in the world (e.g., in your current country of residence) will benefit from what you bring up"
Yet she did not disclose her own vested-interest (if any); and she followed with a whole load of unrelated, unsubstantiated and shaky accusations/arguments (including Mr Straw-man and Ms Red-herring); just because I dared to critic the poor PR skills of a minister who is her friend.]

Here is a reality to ponder on. 

People who create the policies 
that Singaporeans do not like 
may or may not have to live with 
the effects of those policies.
  • Does your MP have to compete with "foreign talent" MPs to be "cheaper, faster and better"?
  • Does your MP ride in the crowded buses, MRT, etc, daily together with you? 
  • Does your minister have to be "Means Tested" for healthcare subsidy just like you? Or are they under a different "civil servant" scheme?
  • Does your minister have worries about retirement funding as you do? Or do they have a special "pension scheme for high-ranking civil servants"?
  • And yes, I met the above-mentioned former bureaucrats in Canada. They and their family members are residents/citizens of Canada. [So please, to question my allegiance is really a red-herring.]
[This paragraph is added on 26-Apr-2013.] If the above is still not convincing enough, please read The Heart Truths' latest blog post "Double Standards in Singapore: Only the Government Can Win". Or read the late Feed-Me-To-The-Fish's blog post "Amy Cheong is not Lee Kuan Yew".

Along the same vein, thanks to my friend's comments, I gave my allegiance some serious re-thinking, from ground zero. After much thought, I came to the conclusion which I wrote on LIFT's blog.
"On a personal level, the longer I leave Singapore, the less I care about LKY and his white party. I may still occasionally rant about the crap of a legacy (of systemic failures) created by the white party, but I am very conscious of the fact that whatever happens to Singapore post-LKY, I may not personally have to suffer its effect. That is, I suspect I am transitioning mentally out-of-Singapore, and into-Canada."


  1. I still read about Singapore news and situation, even though I do not care about the MIW. What I do care about, are my families and friends I grew up with.

    Even though what happens to Singapore will not affect me physically, it will still affect me mentally... So WD, if your family and friends fall into hardship back in Singapore, will it affect you?

    1. Hi Seraphim,

      Without going into details, I have reasons to believe that unless Singapore crashes, my immediate family members would be ok. [There may be some struggles, but they will survive lah!] Which is why I find my friend's suggestion that I want (or even have the ability!) to cause Singapore to crash rather paranoid, nonsensical and that she has ascribed a certain grandiose ability to me which I certainly do not posses.

      As for friends, acquaintances, strangers, my motley crew of association is such that some are/were struggling, and on the opposite end -- some are/were prospering with the "booming" Singapore economy. The fact that I chose to be an economic emigrant says that mine is a case of “泥菩萨过江,自身难保。” ["A mud Buddha crosses the river, it cannot ensure its own survival."] How to help? As they say in the airplane emergency instructions, "Help yourself first (to the oxygen masks), before you help others."

      So yes, I believe I will still follow some of the Singapore news and situations like you do. After all that is a country upon which I've spent more than half-my-lifetime (true at least until I've lived to a very ripe old age). What I am consciously telling myself though, is to let go and put some emotional distance between me and Singapore -- focus on my life in Canada instead. It would be more helpful to my family and friends if I do not need their support for my survival in Canada, right?

      Cheers, WD.

  2. Hi WD,

    Your encounters with these "gentlemen" makes sad reading and only serve to reaffirm my view that Singapore is lost. It's disturbing that while these "gentlemen" were the ones who set and implemented all these failed policies, even knowing the possible problems, they did not dare to voice up for whatever reasons/fears etc. Are they really not concerned about their fellow Singaporeans then? Or has the high salary the govt paid them made them forsake any leftover moral values they have?

    It's disturbing to know of so many double standards in Singapore, from pays to benefits matter between the civil service and the rest of us. I strongly believe this is the one of the main reason why the ivory tower exist, built up over the years.

    Good for these "gentlemen" that they are now ex-Singaporeans, getting away from the mess we are mired in right now whose beginnings came from the policies they implemented. They have the inside knowledge and the money to make the move away. If only they have the moral values to make a stand or to voice out, things may have happened differently but alas it's not to be.

    Logic tells me that I shouldn't blame them because the govt has too many ways to bring them down (ISA, defamation etc), yet passion makes me curse them for selling Singapore out over their own interest despite of being there to serve Singapore and make life better.

    Makes me feels sad yet at the same time, I'm not surprised at this sort of development.


    1. Hi Chrono,

      Thank you for visiting and leaving your comments. I don't know these gentlemen well enough to comment.

      My point of sharing this encounter is to illustrate:
      1. that there are ways to disagree without being disagreeable; and
      2. the reality that "People who create the policies -- that Singaporeans do not like -- may or may not have to live with the effects of those policies".

      Cheers, WD.

    2. Hi WD,

      Yeah, it really illustrate the points strong enough.

      1. Sad to see that even though these gentlemen foresee the cons of the policies, for their own sake, they chose this path of disagreeing without being disagreeable.
      2. Definitely true. It does makes me wonder how many Singaporeans realise that this is happening, that our policy makers had a way out, able to escape from the effects of the policies. Hard to believe that they make the policies for the good of the nation when they themselves don't live with the effect. Even worse is that because they have the inside information, they can plan for their exit path while many are still living the "frog stuck in the well" life. If only a few of them had been willing to step out and informed the people.


  3. Hi WD,

    By any chance, did those ex-Singapore civil servants mention about their reasons for coming to Canada when working in the Singapore civil service is likened to "paradise with an iron rice bowl"

    Nick Lim

    1. Hi Nick,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      We didn't talk about that over brunch that day. At previous brunches where I sat with the wives of the various (ex)-Singaporeans (I cannot recall if I was sitting specifically next to the wives of the ex-civil servants), I get the impression that they generally gave me the P.C. (i.e. politically correct) answers of better weather/climate, good pace of life for retirement, etc as their reasons for migrating to Canada. It is understandable, after all, I am new to the group.

      Hope that answers your question.

      Cheers, WD.