Monday, June 02, 2008

Night Time and Early Morning Insomniac Moments

It's now some really horrible hour in the morning and I can't get to sleep, I'm stuck with not much on TV and most damagingly there's not a single book that I have not read in the house. Hence, my eternal quest to get a major dose of fry eyes by staying up this early and getting my kicks by starting at the computer.

Yesterday was fairly simple. Went down to facilitate a meeting between Zen and Anil. The two clowns are strange, almost childlike but somehow they are managing to get their lives moving. Then the evening was spent with two perspective partners discussing how we are going to try and grab a small retainer account to help our bank balances move in the right direction. Should be interesting, one of the potential partners is a designer and the other is a brand strategist. First time I'll be working accross disciplines, since I've gone out on my own. But hey, if there's a penny to be made here and there, why not.

Managed to put some money aside from the GE job and also paid off that most massive of liabilities - my phone bill. Will need to pay off a major bond holder and then work on trying to add to the savings pile, now that I have a wee bit of working capital in the bank. Managed to survive the weekend without the temptation to run into the business account. Somehow, I just got to be able to keep up this and make things move in some sort of direction. This year is agonizingly slow. Things seem to hover on the edge but don't seem to be able to materialise and the only things that do happen to be the very small and wierd stuff.

Han Li comes back to Singapore tomorrow, so she says. She's been out of the country after a long stint in Dubai and Vietnam. Says she went home to set up a high-class restaurant in Hanoi. That girl is so driven it's quite incredible. I don't know how we've managed to last thus far....I think its admiration for her desire to make things work and the fact that she takes quite a few risk in her life.

Singapore has this incredible love-hate relationship with foreigners, of which I mean other Asians. We think the White People are necessary to the economy, which I doubt, unless you count picking up the rejects that no normal man will touch. OK, let's give credit where credit is due, the Honks do provide the place with some sort of vibrancy, though it's most definately not intellectual.

The outsiders we often have a problem with tend to be our fellow Asians mainly because they come in as labourers, domestic workers, prostitutes and other desireables. We're actually fairly mean spirited when it comes to our fellow Asians. While we may fawn over some barrow-boy with two GCSE's to his name, we'll spit at everyone else if we're given half the chance. Indian IT professionals are our latest target. These guys are from...India....they're quite often dark skinned....but they're not domestic workers or they just CHEAP labour hired by the evil Singapore government and employers to keep jobs away from good old hard working Singaporeans. Nobody seems to realise that the Indian professionals are highly educated, have specialised skills and actually provide a valuable service to the economy. These IT professionals spend decent money on fairly up market things like private houses....

If you cut to the chase, Singaporeans as a group are deeply racist, despite what the government may tell you about racial harmony. Yes, you won't get any one rioting and clever people do get ahead regardless of race and religion (except if you're Malay Muslim in the armed forces). But if you bother to talk to the average Singaporean, you'll find that most of them are unable to see race beyond certain professions. Indians and Malays are so strongly associated with lower social strata in the eyes of many Chinese Singaporeans, they find it hard to accept the Indian IT professionals as being genuinely better than them.

I think the sign of Lee Kuan Yew starting to go senile was the year he started going on about "Asian Values." Up til then, the man was genious who created a city that is actually everything a city should be by using pragmatic polices with no pretense of being a "Moral Figure." The man simply did what worked and we, the people may have grumbled. But the moment he started on the Asian values track, he screwed up the nation by turning people into a bunch of self-righteous and judgemental cracks.

OK, prostitution is not very nice business and having lots of girls sell their wears on the streets is not pleasent for the Middle Class hidding in their comfey little zones. The fact that most of the influx of girls come from China and now Vietnam does not do the reputation of ladies from this nation much good.

However, what alot of judgemental people fail to see is the hunger that these girls have. They have precisely the thing that made Singapore what it is. Most of these girls want to make it big and they see Singapore as a land of opportunity. They rightly see a means of making fast money through prostitution, which quite a few times goes to educating their kids and getting them ready for a better life.

But ok, I'm not going to try and defend prostitution here. There's another sickening example of how we've become a nation of jealous wimps. I've seen quite letters in the press from people complaining that the National Environment Agency (NEA) is not doing anything to stomp out illegal curry puff sellers, because, hey you may get sick eating on their curry puffs and....these guys are illegals from Batam (a double whamy here - entreprenurial Malays - if ever there was something to upset your typical Singapore Chinaman.) The NEA official line is "We're swoopin down on the buggers."

I do understand the need for some regulation, but for crying out loud! The guy is not a criminal taking jobs away from Singaporeans. If anything, the guys who sell "Unlicensed" curry puffs are less of a threat to Singaporean jobs that the expats who come in with big multinationals. In fact they benefit the Singapore economy - where do you think they buy the ingredients for making the curry puffs. They never forced you to eat their food.

You listen closely enough to the dialogue between Singaporeans and the government, you'll find that you have a government that is motivated primarily by its own economic interest but as part of its interest, it does what's necessary to give the people a decent living standard. A good portion of Singaporeans work for the government and the rest work for multinationals brought in by the government.

This system has worked brilliantly and as long as the economy grows, why should anyone complain? I complain because, while it looks very good on paper, I want to know what happens to the guy who wants something outside this contract, something which can actually benefit Singapore and everyone but its just a different way of doing things.

The government is seemingly tollerant. But unfortunately, it's yet to learn the art of not protecting its own companies. Yes, I am aware of the fact that our big companies like DBS have grown overseas. But that's done through aquisitions from cash hoards working in an environment where they faced little if any competition. Only Singapore Airlines has become a world-class industry setting company due to the fact that it opperates in an industry where being protected by the Singapore government is utterly pointless. SIA, from day zero has adapted the same mentality that makes Singapore successful - a small minow trying to survive in an ocean of sharks.

Unfortunately, that mentality is not present in the rest of our companies who are used to near monopoly power in their domestic market. My favourite bugbear is the way the banks get away with paying you little if any interest, lending it out at at least 8 percent and then charging you for the privillege of lending them money. Singaporeans don't have a choice, the banks make pots of money, but I can't think of a single banking product that has shaken the local consumer banking scene through its innovation and ability to benefit consumer and producer? Does it surprise you that the local bankers with ideas, guys like Eddie Khoo of UOB started their careers and built their reputations in Citibank?

But that's the government's approach to the companies it has interest in. What I don't understand is the lack of empathy the Singaporean people have for people lower down the social ladder who are finding ways to make themselve better. The curry puff seller is motivated by the basic human need to survive. He's not taking away things from Singapore or Singaporeans and yet, you get Singaporeans who are offended by his very presence.

Have we reached a stage where we can only accept success as being obtainable by certain classes of people? In many financial firms, you find the corporate and salried people getting jealous of the money made by the comissioned sales people. A career CEO may not like having a couple of sales managers under him earning overriding and direct comissions that amount to what he earns in a year coming to them in a month. But leaving his or her personal preferences aside, the smart CEO pushes these guys because they make his bottom line and he provides them with the support they need to bring in the figures. The grunts supporting them, don't begrudge the sales people their money because, the sales people provided them with their salary.

Now, let's apply that to the economy. The government offers some entrepreneurs funding. To others it leaves them alone. So what does the public do, it complains that the uneducated Malay man from Batam is selling them curry puffs. Are we saying that the curry puff man is only good enough to be working for the college graduate and earning much less money? How dare these people do something that horror of horrors actually make them better off than the clever people?

My favourite young PAP grassroots leader is often quick to remind me that the government provides lots of opportunities for Singaporeans. Well, that's a fair statement. What I want to know is, who do we take the people who don't wait for the government to provide the opportunities and go and create their own? If they're half educated foreigners doing this, I'm even more excited for them. We should celebrate their spirit and think of ways of bringing them into the community that they can rejuvinate.

Let's shove the Asian Values, let's wait authority to think for us mentality down the toilet and adapt the, I'm ready to do anything mentality that the foreigners have and make this place work.

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