Saturday, January 20, 2007

Perhaps I have begun the year with more idealism than brains. I might have made more promises than I can realistically keep, and my most optimistic way out is if the people who haven't been taking me seriously last year continue to not take me seriously this year. That way I can narrow my focus to just those who do.

With me it's always the big dreams and the foolhardy desire to champion lost causes, but I don't have the ability to manage the organizational mechanisms necessary to make the difference. It's my fatal flaw.

So while I tend to make a spectacle of myself with my, "Hey, everybody, look what I can do," everyone else is like, "Very nice, dear, just don't fall down and break your neck, ok?" And then reality and life revert to status quo as soon as I run out of steam.

My main problem, I think, is that I've been alone for too much of my life. While everyone's charging off together in one direction, I've been off on my own path following the beat of my own drummer. It's an extreme defensive reaction against the herd instinct and it might have been an asset at some earlier time for me, but it certainly isn't helping now that cooperative endeavour is the name of my new game.

It's what happens when the lone wolf unexpectedly finds himself absorbed into a hunting pack. Alone, he's nimble enough to change direction at will, spin on a whim and halt on a dime. In a group, however, things move a lot more slowly and more carefully, with more consideration for others. But old survival tactics and coping strategies are hard to get rid of, while new concepts like social structure, hierarchy, protocol and team dynamics are not so easily learned, or even understood. So it's always going to be a struggle.

June's probably right. I should accept my limitations, just stay focussed on my core business and stop trying to be too clever. Why do I keep forgetting that 1) it doesn't always have to be about "me", and 2) more often than not, less is actually more?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Of late we've seen a movement calling for "S'poreans first" in our public institutions. Due to the perception that S'poreans are slowly being outnumbered by a 'foreign talent' pool that is growing so fast that it's doing our homegrown stock out of house and home, job and country; suddenly and unsurprisingly, S'poreans are pushing themselves to the front again with their "me first" mentality.

So far, the issue of healthcare subsidies has fallen to the will of the people, and in today's ST (online) there's a call for a similar policy for post-grad courses at our local unis.

This idea of "S'poreans first" is distasteful and somewhat meaningless. Though I stand to gain from it as a S'porean myself, I believe our desire to draw a boundary between "local" and "foreign" is going to bite us in the butt in the long-term.

It's hypocritical of us on the one hand to say that we S'poreans have the right to be first because we were here first, and on the other be so critical of Malaysia and it's Bumiputera privileges, which derives from the same basic reasoning. We slam Pauline Hanson's race politics, but we don't recognize that we're pushing for the same thing here on nationalistic grounds. And for the record, the Malays were here first. We non-Malays are practically 'foreign talent' ourselves, give or take a couple of generations.

Our desire to segregate will be our downfall because that will be the killer blow to the goose that lays our golden eggs. S'pore's success has little to do with our smarts, or our training, or our meticulous attention to detail, or in the long-sighted planning and forecasting by the pilots of RSS Singapura. All this activity can only diversify and even out our risk factors, nothing more.

Our success has everything to do with our diplomatic skills, our ability to make friends with pretty much everyone, or at least make friends with the right people on the global stage. We see where potential conflicts lie and we have so far been quite good at working out win-win scenarios for our working partners who have, as a result, been more than happy to pitch their lot in with us and help us grow (or else leave us alone, unmolested). Our open hand and firm handshake are ultimately our strongest assets, far above anything else we can offer.

Now that we're beginning to look at people with the view of distinguishing between "us" and "them", we're closing the valve of the main artery that keeps the heart of our country pumping. The free flow of people has been our lifeblood from our beginnings as a centre of entrepot trade. We grew because everyone from east to west met and mingled here. The currency of both money and ideas were easily exchanged without inhibition, and whether it flowed into or out of our country, we were enriched nonetheless by the exchanges themselves. No one else could top us then in creating a market for such free trade, and for the moment we still have few close rivals in this respect; but with this upsurge of "S'poreans first" our free market isn't looking so free anymore. We'll lose our only edge if we don't regain our senses quickly.

S'pore, being a migrant community (yes, it is, so stop pretending otherwise), is always going to be a competitive place to call home. So what do we have to do as individuals to survive? Like it or not, we play the game. And we always welcome our new teammates, even if they are just playing as subs. Fresh legs are good for our game, and they're on our side.

BTW, please go get your post-grad education in a different city from your undergrad. Tertiary education in a foreign country opens your eyes and broadens your mind to see a world much bigger than your fishbowl, won't you agree, Mr Leong?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

CCAs are back to full swing again! Amongst the new crop of debaters who showed up for orientation today, there was an aspiring journo, a true-blue Honors English type, 2 versions of the Elmo TMX, a former (maybe still current, I'm so out of touch these days) television artiste, and the kid who lives down the corridor from my apartment O_o.

These guys are a laugh riot when put together. There's so much animated energy that they radiate, and some of them exhibit scant respect for their seniors. While this brash confidence is accepted as a prerequisite 'tude of a debater, I can see they're going to be a real handful when they start working together. The focus will be just everywhere. I forsee we'll make history this year by fielding a bunch of stand-up comedians instead of a debate team.

Sadly, no one showed up for NY conneX. That's a little worrying since I've got a lot riding on our little newspaper this year, and I need all the staff I can get. We'd better gain mucho cred this term so that by next CCA bazaar people will be clamoring to be wear our nifty press pass. *crosses fingers.

Anyway, we've just uploaded a fresh crop of articles, so do drop in and give us an eyeball, 'k? Thanx so much!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Often, the perception of good and evil depends on how much knowledge one has about an event or the person or persons involved in it. The more information one has, the fairer the judgement of who's right and who's wrong becomes.

In Frank L Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, all the information we get is from the perspective of a gormless farmgirl searching for a way home. Whoever can help her achieve her objective we think of as "good" while those who strew obstacles in her way have to be "bad". It's odd then that Dorothy's benefactor, the Wizard himself, would set the assasination of a rival as a precondition for his assistance, and we accept this morally reprehensible task without question. Means justifying the ends.

But the Oz in Gregory Maguire's revisionist novel, Wicked, is a far more politically complex world than the one Baum presents. The Wizard has usurped authority in the Emerald City from the ruling regent and has embarked on a campaign of eco-political expansion to take the whole of Oz under his control. There is little resistance at first as he seems to bring in wealth and prosperity to the people, but those he represses and exploits he keeps out of sight from the general population. He protects himself with a secret police called the Gale Force which enforces his interests with extreme prejudice on the periphery of polite society.

While there seems to be a growing resistance movement against the Wizard, the focus of Wicked falls on a lonely figure, an anomalous green-skinned girl whose cause is to end the oppression one way or another. But as one effort after another ends in failure, she retreats further and further away from society, and eventually becomes known as the Wicked Witch of the West more by reputation than by actual intent on her part.

When Dorothy arrives on the scene however, her bumbling around Oz destroys everything that Elphaba (aka WWW) holds dear, starting with Elphaba's sister who is crushed by Dorothy's far-flung farmhouse. Even so, Elphaba holds Dorothy no malice (well, perhaps only growing contempt, annoyance and frustration) but instead sees her as an opportunity to atone for past mistakes. But tragically, it is Dorothy's ignorant good intentions to help Elphaba that causes Elphaba's unglamorous death.

Wicked is a discussion on the nature of good and evil, examining the subject from the perspectives of religion, science, and magic. It looks at people's motivation for behaving the way they do, and questions the influence of choice, manipulation and ordination in people's actions.

Wicked puts an adult perspective on a simple children's tale. It fleshes out the relationships of the main players and pre-Dorothy histories in Baum's narrative. Given this additional knowledge, we realize that it can be all too easy to judge a book by its cover.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Been avoiding meeting my fund manager 'cos he gets long-winded and reminds me about things I don't really want to think about, i.e., my financial state now and in the years to come. Considering he's already taken most of what's left of my cash, I don't really have much of a "now". I can only hope that there will be a "to come" as promised.

His news today was mainly to update June and me about the performance of our investments to date, just a little more than 6 months since we let him handle our money. So far, a modest little profit; well, better than bank rate, anyway, so maybe we won't fire him just yet.

The one thing I got out of our discussions today is the realization that under normal circumstances, I realistically only have 13 more years of working life before I reach retirement age. 13 years to build up sufficient resources to see me comfortably into my dotage, assuming accident, disease, stupidity or the economy don't get me first.

Fund managers. They sure are well trained in scaring cash right out of a guy's pockets.

But as I said to TSL on Friday, I don't really have ideals about retirement. The idea of lolling around all day watching people go by doesn't appeal to me. No retirement for me, I told her, I doubt I'll be happy if I don't work till the end. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's being or becoming irrelevant. That's even scarier to me than having no money.