Saturday, November 17, 2007

Music Lessons

It was a fairly relaxed day to day. No, I lie, I was simply down right lazy. Woke up at about 11, had lunch and by 1230, I was back in the land of snooze for at least another five hours more. Sleep is such a wonderful thing to be in that one might conclude that I'm ready to drop dead and start again.

Anyway, the lazy part was OK. I mean, what else could I say, I was fast asleep and not doing anything. But then the evening did get more productive. Went out to the Ceylon Sports Club for a few moments. A friend's brother-in-law had bought two tables for a function where the Minister of Education was the Guest of Honour. After an hour we managed to sneak out and headed for the Harry's Bar in the Esplenade where there was a wonderful band playing.

Musicians always make good company. They're always relaxed, chilled out and they get their feelings expressed on the stage. Tonight's band was especially good. The lead singer is a long haired Indian fellow who melds with his guitar. Base player and drummer were also very good. I like small bands ..the sessions are always casual and the mood seems to create music and visa-versa. Anyway, I think we need to get more people going to support our local bands. There is plenty of talent in Singapore but I think its often under-appreciated.

Latest news is our beloved Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong has spoken about his worries about how Singapore is becomming more diverse. It's particularly true with the Chinese and Indian communities where our local Chinese and Indians end up rubbing shoulders against authentic Chinese and Indians.

With the local Chinese, we usually end up thumbing our noses at the Mainlanders, who usually come here as labourers and hookers. One of my good friends has a reached a stage where he's turned-off by the mainland Chinese accent.

The Indian community has the reverse problem, when the Indian IT workers come across from India and end up looking upon their Singaporean cousins and poorer relations.

Well, I guess there are certain truths to this. There are plenty of Mainland Chinese working as labourers and prostitutes. The Indian expats who come to Singapore tend to be better educated and better traveled than their Singapore counterparts. Why should it surprise anyone that certain tensions come about?

There is, however a good side to all of this. Local Singaporean Chinese and Indians are suddenly made to realise that they are Singaporeans rather than Chinese or Indians. Supriyo Sircar, Polaris's Regional VP puts the differences down to this - "India is simply not a reference point to Singaporean Indians." So there you have it...we the Chinese and Indians who were born in Singapore simply have no attachment to the "Motherlands," Singapore like it or not is our "Motherland," and the faster our community accepts it...the better it will be for all of us.

Singapore will have issues of "Us" and "Them." But I don't think race and religion will be the main ones. If anything, the most worrying problem for us will be a question of the haves and have nots. Take our growing economy. If you read the statistics, Singapore is back in boom town, something like the good old days of the 1980s where our economic growth rates made everyone else look like they were crawling.

But talk to people on the ground and you get a less pretty picture. Cost are rising and if you talk to enough people, it really hasn't changed all that much from 2001 when the word on everyone elses lips was about "recession." Food hawkers remain in the doulromes. So do cab drivers. Yes, business has definately picked up. I find that I can take cabs more often than I used. But the cost for the cab driver has increased to the point that he (and its usually a he) feels no better off than the days when we had a recession. OK, certain taxes like our GST have gone up. But so have other cost and for most businesses its in the area of rent. Christmas, Hari-Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali have been rolled into one and extended throughout the whole year for owners of commercial property (no prizes for guessing who is the largest landowner in Singapore).

Singapore is undoubtedly a competative place. Back in the old days Singaporeans could waltz into a job in the government or in a multi-national and leave the dirty work to migrants for poorer parts of Asia and the plum job to an expat that couldn't count from New York, Sydney or London. But these days, things are different. Yes, certain government departments that don't have an obligation to be accountable for their finances, can reserve jobs for Singaporeans. But for those in the private sector its a different story. The dirty jobs remain for the poorer cousins from poorer Asia. The plum jobs remain the property of a few barrow boys. But Midddle Management...well now, Singaporeans find themselves competing with people from India and China....people who are often overqualified for the jobs and who are hungrier for the job than your average Singaporean.

In a cruel -that's the free market- world, increased competition is good for Singaporeans. We can no longer rely on our paper qualifications when the competition has supperior qualifications and the willingness to fight harder than you do. Simply put - we the average Singaporean workers have to become smarter and hungrier for our own survival. If the Chinese and Indians can come here and make the system work for them, surely we can do the same and we can do it elsewhere too.

But while I am not against competition from foreigners, I get the feeling that it does not affect everyone in Singapore and that's morally and economically wrong. With the notable exception of SIA, Singapore's largest business enteties have simply gotten away with bullying their way in a small domestic market and the government doesn't seem to think that this is unnatural or damaging to the economy.

OK, to be fair, Singapore's economy is humming along. But isn't it a sign of complacency when market players can proudly proclaim that the market is too small for comeptition and that its necessary for them to have an iron grip on things, inculding the right to screw the consumer? The sooner someone decides that this is an unhealthy situation for the economy and does something about it - the better we shall all be.

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