A follow-up on my post of "Cook and Share A Pot of Curry on 21 Aug 2011". Nice adaptation of "Vincent". Have a good laugh! :)
Will you be cooking curry today? :) Participate in this meaningful event and spread the importance of intercultural understanding between countries and also between the different races and nationalities within one country!
Tom Yam Curry by yours truly. This was a dish that I had prepared for my family dinner held on Singapore's National Day (9 Aug). Curry is a well-loved dish by most if not all Singaporeans and I sincerely hope that the new migrants to the little red dot will learn to adapt to our way of life.
This is a Facebook Page created by a group of Singaporeans after a report came about that a mainland Chinese family (from China) told a local Indian Family not to eat curry and not to cook curry. The appointed mediator - a certain Madam Giam facilitated the case in such a way that : the Indian family could cook curry only when the mainland Chinese family is not at home. (mediation agreement).
So far, more than 60,000 around the world (mostly Singaporeans!) are joining in. Cook a pot of curry or buy a take-out from a restaurant (if you can't cook or too busy to do so). A meaningful event to spread the importance of interculural understanding between countries and also between the different races and nationalities within one country.
Excerpt from Facebook Page:
http://www.todayonline.com/Singapore/EDC110808-0000102/Number-of-neighbour-disputes-hit-high (this is the link)
and this is the clarification to the case:
and 16th Aug 2011 (The Law Minister's clarification)
How we feel
How could a appointed mediator facilitate the case in such a way that restricts the lifestyle and cooking norms of the Indian family? Or any other local family who practices a cultural lifestyle that we have all made our own? In this case, Curry has always been part of our culture since the 1800s. It can be anything else that you or I hold dear.
There is a native Malay proverb "Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung" ("You should hold up the sky of the land where you live") - ie one should respect the country in which you choose to live in. ( ie blend/ assimilate/ understand/ tolerate / integrate into the community of your chosen choice)
What we wish for
When the new immigrants arrive here, we wish for them to respect / embrace the cultural / lifestyle and linguistic norms of this nation. We wish for all new immigrants and citizens to understand and appreciate the various and diverse cultural aspects of the various ethnic-minority groups we have here.
This is Singapore and we are part of Malayan culture. Our hinterland previously was Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago. Our ancestors came, met and mingled and through an adventurous and open mindset, created something unique and beautiful... (thus our local culture as such- curries/ spices/ a vast melting pot of people and mixed heritages)
* A message to all new citizens: We sincerely hope you integrate into our local culture and make attempts to assimilate and embrace/ appreciate the various multi-ethnic cultures we had built up so painstakingly over the decades. Because at the same time, we are definitely open to taking the best that you have to offer, and to create new and beautiful Singaporean things.
*We Singaporeans are basically nice and tolerant people. We will accept you as new citizens and hope you blend in and integrate with us well.
Upset with CMC
We are mainly upset with the "Community Mediation Centre's" mediation action of actually facilitating such a mediation agreement. It is the inalienable right of the Indian family to cook curry at any time they wish to within the four walls of their home. (having said that, let us all- natives, new citizens or otherwise, embrace the multi-cultural aspects of our nation)
Every Singaporean should just cook a pot of curry and eat it (regardless of race / language / religion). We are Singaporeans and we LOVE our curries - be it chicken curry / fish curry / lamb curry / beef curry / beef rendang / lontong / mee siam/ laksa / Petai sambal belachan / ayam buah keluak etc
Thank You Very Much for supporting "Cook A Pot of Curry" Event!
- from the Admin Group
August 19, 2011 10:10 pm
By Harry Eyres
Response: Riot police in front of a burning building in Croydon, south London, on August 8
If the riots in English cities, including my home city of London, both invited and defied commentary, that was surely because they seemed so inarticulate. The BBC began by calling these outbreaks “protests” but withdrew this description when, after the original non-violent demonstration about the shooting of Mark Duggan, what appeared to be taking place was more or less random acts of destruction, arson and looting. Those arrested were shame-faced and silent rather than defiant and vocal. People on the streets heckling politicians or being interviewed by journalists did have things to say but their remarks, however suggestive, did not really amount to reasons for action.
So these were not protests in any articulate sense – in the sense, that is, of having a defined target or grievance at their core. They were different from the only other riots in London that I can remember, the Brixton riots of 1981 and 1985 and the poll tax riot of 1990; the former arising out of long-standing tensions between the black community and the police, as the subsequent Scarman report confirmed, and the latter arising out of a demonstration against a levy very widely seen as unfair. They were also different from the essentially non-violent protests of the Spanish indignados, people with defined grievances, especially concerning unemployment, able at least to articulate their own mood. They were certainly different from the protests in Tahrir Square, marked by bravery and eloquence.
An inarticulate protest is both easier and more difficult to respond to. You can respond with punitive authoritarianism, on the grounds that if those responsible for violence cannot come up with reasons for their actions, then they have no reasons and should be sent to prison – an experience which, no doubt, will create a whole new set of reasons. That is the way of repression, at both a social and an individual, psychological level. In the second of his Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud develops a suggestive analogy to explain the nature of repression; a noisy heckler at his lecture, “whose ill-mannered laughter, chattering and shuffling with his feet are distracting my attention”, is manhandled out of the room by three or four strongmen, who barricade the door. But that may well not be the end of the story; perhaps the expelled individual, “who has become embittered and reckless, will cause us further trouble”.
Repressing inarticulate protest may well cause further trouble. I think the first thing to do is to look at the thing which defines these protests – inarticulateness itself. You can view these events as a peculiarly English tragedy of inarticulateness. Being inarticulate means being unable to express yourself clearly, fluently or intelligibly. My dictionary gives as a suggestive example the phrase “inarticulate suffering”. Inarticulate suffering is no less real than articulate suffering; in fact it may be even more painful, because giving expression to suffering tends to alleviate it.
You can view these events as a peculiarly English tragedy of inarticulateness
A week or two before the riots, I was listening to an astonishing feature on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the language deprivation of many young British children. According to the British government’s “poverty tsar” Frank Field, some children arriving for their first day at school do not know their own names. The government’s communication champion for children, Jean Gross, quoted a young mother talking about her small child: “He don’t [sic] speak to me, so I don’t speak to him.” The point made by a Manchester head teacher, Neil Wilson, was that many parents are no longer speaking to their children, beyond the most basic level, so it is no wonder that the children have difficulty learning to speak, or developing a satisfyingly rich vocabulary. Here is the tragedy of inarticulateness in its starkest form.
It is something you can see being passed on from generation to generation and, though there may be biological bases for some cases of language impairment, it is obviously at least partly associated with social deprivation. I doubt there are many instances of middle-class mothers not speaking to their toddlers.
Widespread civil disorder, as opposed to essentially peaceful protest, has occurred very rarely in Britain in the 20th century. In my lifetime it has happened only under very specific circumstances, when austerity programmes were being pushed through in the teeth of recession, or when there was a general sense of manifest inequity. To attribute it to “criminality, pure and simple”, as the British prime minister and others have done, is to commit the language crime of tautology. Of course criminality is criminality. But that gets you no closer to understanding anything.
Here the ruling classes seem as inarticulate as the so-called rioting underclass. Perhaps we should not be surprised, since in England (not in Scotland, Ireland or Wales) there is an inarticulateness of the upper classes, the mumbling, stumbling inability to perceive what is staring you in the face.
More columns at www.ft.com/eyres
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.
By Kevin Brown in Singapore
Published: May 15 2011 12:34 | Last updated: May 15 2011 12:34
|Lee Kuan Yew, former Singapore prime minister, has resigned his cabinet seat after 52 years
Singaporeans woke up on Sunday to the prospect of a government without the country’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew – a dominating political figure who unexpectedly resigned from the cabinet after more than half a century in service.
Mr Lee, 87, quit along with Goh Chok Tong, prime minister from 1990 to 2004, exactly a week after the ruling People’s Action party suffered its worst election result since independence in 1965.
In a joint statement, the two former prime ministers said they wanted to provide “a fresh clean slate” for Lee Hsien Loong, the current prime minister, who has promised to respond positively to voters’ concerns.
Mr Lee, who has been prime minister or a senior cabinet minister since the beginning of colonial self government in 1959, told state media his resignation was “the right thing to do, to give PM (sic) and his team the room to break from the past.”
He added: “We want to make it clear that the PAP has never been averse to change.”
As a founder member of the PAP in 1954, Mr Lee is regarded as the architect of modern Singapore, setting it on a free market course designed to attract foreign investment that has given the tiny island state the second highest living standards in Asia, after Japan.
He successfully fought far left opponents in the 1960s, locking up many without trial for years, and became associated with a tough approach to dissent that many dismissed as authoritarian. However, the PAP was repeatedly re-elected in general elections, usually winning between two-thirds and three quarters of the popular vote.
In a joint statement, the two former prime ministers said they wanted to provide “a fresh clean slate” for Lee Hsien Loong, the current prime minister, who has promised to respond positively to voters¨concerns.
The PAP won 81 of 87 elected parliamentary seats with 60.1 per cent of the popular vote in the last election on May 7, but was clearly shaken by an increase in the total opposition vote to 39.9 per cent from a third in 2006.
The retirement of the two former prime ministers has few implications for policy, since the government has already undertaken to address election issues such as high immigration, income disparity and the price of government-subsidised housing.
However, political analysts said it was not purely symbolic, and speculated that the prime minister, who is the son of Lee Kuan Yew, might take the opportunity to replace a number of other senior ministers with younger faces.
Eugene Tan, a politics specialist at Singapore Management University, said the changing of the guard suggested the PAP was serious about promises to reconnect with younger voters, many of whom dislike the governing party’s authoritarian style.
“Government policy is seen as bearing the imprint of [Lee Kuan Yew], and the fact is that the announcement comes a week after the general election and that voters did not take kindly to what some might say was negative campaigning by [the elder Mr Lee],” he said.
“We are transitioning towards a post-Lee Kuan Yew era, and many did not expect it to come so soon. But it is not a revolution. That is not the way government is conducted in Singapore.”
The elder Mr Lee will remain a powerful figure in Singapore, as a leading member of the governing party with the ear of the prime minister, untrammelled access to the state supervised media and significant moral authority, especially over older Singaporeans.
However, his standing has been tarnished in recent years by controversial statements such as a claim that the country’s Malay muslim minority had failed to integrate, and an appearance of being out of step with Singaporeans born after independence, who now make up a majority of voters.
Mr Lee caused controversy during the election by appearing to threaten that the government would discriminate against constituencies that elected opposition MPs. His comments were in sharp contrast to the emollient tone adopted by the prime minister, who offered an unprecedented apology for any mistake the PAP might have made.
He became the first prime minister of independent Singapore in 1965, after the union broke up amid acrimony over Malay political rights. He stepped down in 1990, and has since served as a cabinet minister without portfolio, latterly with the title Minister Mentor.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.
SINGAPORE — This tightly controlled city-state has taken a step into the unknown in advance of its parliamentary elections on Saturday, loosening its grip on political discourse in the unruly world of the Internet, where Facebook, Twitter and other social media have amplified a clamor of voices and points of view.
In a nation where government opponents are often sued over defamation and where carefully vetted public speech has been permitted only in a little park called Speakers’ Corner (which has been shut down during the campaign), experts say the new opening, if only in the virtual world, appears to be a redefinition of what are known here as “out-of-bounds markers.”
Following recent changes to the Constitution and election laws, Internet election advertising is now permitted throughout cyberspace — on podcasts, videocasts, blogs, instant messaging, photo-sharing platforms like Flickr, social networking sites and electronic media applications like those found on mobile phones.
For the first time, election campaign recordings can be posted as long as they are not “dramatized” or published “out of context.” Video taken at an election rally can be uploaded onto the Web without being submitted to the Board of Film Censors.
“Social media have lowered the barriers of entry into political discourse everywhere,” said Mark Cenite, an assistant professor of communication and information at Nanyang Technological University. “But that’s particularly significant in Singapore because here the barriers to entry into political discourse and the accompanying risks have been so high.”
Despite the changes to Internet regulations, demonstrations and public speech still require permits in Singapore. Political speech is restricted to candidates. Opposition politicians and news media face the possibility of defamation suits. The mainstream news media are tightly controlled and have not acted as a check on the government, experts say.
During the last parliamentary campaign, in 2006, a small number of current events blogs were the main forum for online citizen participation. Political speech was technically illegal and demanded a greater level of risk and commitment.
“Now that the barriers to entry to political dialogue have fallen, the effect has been electric,” Mr. Cenite said. “Government critics are able to easily identify and support one another without making a headlong commitment to politics and take the accompanying risks.”
All of this has contributed to an intense campaign in which opposition parties — which now hold just 2 of 84 elected seats — are drawing bigger crowds to rallies, fielding more candidates and, in contrast to the past, contesting all but one constituency. In the last election, opposition parties contested just half the constituencies.
Analysts say it is impossible to know whether this enthusiasm will translate into votes against the People’s Action Party, or P.A.P., which has governed Singapore since 1959.
But the campaign itself has been transformed as social media give smaller, poorer parties a wider audience, bringing greater inclusiveness and competitiveness to political debate.
Rather than trying to suppress online political organizing, as China and Vietnam have done, Singapore is taking a gamble on making it part of the legal campaign system.
“I don’t think they had a choice,” said Kin Mun Lee, known on his blog as Mr. Brown, who said he skirted the law in the last campaign by avoiding explicitly political comments. “Before, it was a very limited kind of provision for online speech. Definitely they had to change the rules because of the proliferation and availability of options.”
Opposition Web sites and Twitter accounts are being used to urge people to attend election rallies. They also send out streams of comments from rallies, hugely increasing their audience. The site Gothere Maps plots out the locations of rallies on a map.
The site Party Time aggregates conversations about the elections and graphically represents who is getting the most buzz online.
Facebook is estimated to have up to three million members in Singapore, whose population is more than five million. All seven competing parties have their own sites, as do many of the candidates.
By one estimate, there are 900,000 local users of Twitter.
Online coverage has pushed the main pro-government newspaper, The Straits Times, to publish fuller and not always critical news and photographs of opposition campaigns, said Alex Au, a prominent blogger.
“In the present era, with the ubiquitous cellphone camera and rapid distribution channels that are well beyond blogs, the old editorial policy is no longer viable,” he said on his blog. “If the newspaper does not publish such pictures, others will, and its credibility can only suffer.”
The Straits Times has dedicated a portal on its Web site to extensive electronic election coverage, and it is now aggregating online comments from the social media on a page it calls Buzz, which gives a flavor of some of the newly energized online commentary:
“The opposition can make ferocious speeches, but can they deliver?”
“Is it true that civil servants will be ostracized if they vote for the opposition?”
“If the opposition is sincere in serving the people, it would have been on the ground in the last 4 years, not starting their engines only when the whistle is blown.”
“Why must we be so dogmatic about democracy and stability being mutually exclusive?”
Apr 28th 2011 | from the print edition
FRIEDRICH ENGELS said in “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, in 1844, that the onward march of Manchester’s slums meant that the city’s Angel Meadow district might better be described as “Hell upon Earth”. Today, similar earthly infernos can be found all over the emerging world: from Brazil’s favelas to Africa’s shanties. In 2010 the United Nations calculated that there were about 827m people living in slums—almost as many people as were living on the planet in Engels’s time—and predicted that the number might double by 2030.
Last year Vijay Govindarajan, of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, along with Christian Sarkar, a marketing expert, issued a challenge in a Harvard Business Review blog: why not apply the world’s best business thinking to housing the poor? Why not replace the shacks that blight the lives of so many poor people, thrown together out of cardboard and mud, and prone to collapsing or catching fire, with more durable structures? They laid down a few simple guidelines. The houses should be built of mass-produced materials tough enough to protect their inhabitants from a hostile world. They should be equipped with the basics of civilised life, including water filters and solar panels. They should be “improvable”, so that families can adapt them to their needs. And they should cost no more than $300.
Mr Govindarajan admits that the $300 figure was partly an attention-grabbing device. But he also argues that it has a certain logic. Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, has calculated that the average value of the houses of people who have just escaped from poverty is $370. Tata Motors has also demonstrated the value of having a fixed figure to aim at: the company would have found it more difficult to produce the Tata Nano if it had simply been trying to produce a “cheap” car rather than a “one lakh” car (about $2,200).
The attention-grabbing certainly worked. The blog was so inundated with positive responses that a dedicated website, 300house.com, was set up, which has attracted more than 900 enthusiasts and advisers from all over the world. On April 20th Mr Govindarajan launched a competition inviting people to submit designs for a prototype of the house.
Why has a simple blog post led to such an explosion of creativity? The obvious reason is that “frugal innovation”—the art of radically reducing the cost of products while also delivering first-class value—is all the rage at the moment. General Electric has reduced the cost of an electrocardiogram machine from $2,000 to $400. Tata Chemicals has produced a $24 purifier that can provide a family with pure water for a year. Girish Bharadwaj, an engineer, has perfected a technique for producing cheap footbridges that are transforming life in rural India.
Another reason is that houses can be such effective anti-poverty tools. Poorly constructed ones contribute to a nexus of problems: the spread of disease (because they have no proper sanitation or ventilation), the perpetuation of poverty (because children have no proper lights to study by) and the general sense of insecurity (because they are so flimsy and flammable). Mr Govindarajan’s idea is so powerful because he treats houses as ecosystems that provide light, ventilation and sanitation.
Numerous innovators are also worrying away at this nexus of problems. Habitat for Humanity, an NGO, is building durable houses of bamboo in Nepal. Idealab, a consultancy, is on the verge of unveiling a $2,500 house that will be mass-produced in factories, sold in kits and feature breakthroughs in ventilation, lighting and sanitation. Philips has produced a cheap cooking stove, the Chulha, that cuts out the soot that kills 1.6m people a year worldwide. The Solar Electric Light Fund is demonstrating that you can provide poor families with solar power for roughly the same cost as old standbys such as kerosene and candles.
These thinkers, like the advocates of the $300 house, must solve three huge problems to succeed. They must persuade big companies that they can make money out of cheap homes, because only they can achieve the economies of scale needed to hit the target price. They need to ensure sufficient access to microloans: $300 is a huge investment for a family of squatters living on a couple of dollars a day. And they need to overcome the obstacle that most slum-dwellers have weak or non-existent property rights. There is no point in offering people the chance to buy a cleverly designed house if they have no title to the land they occupy. Solving these problems will in turn demand a high degree of co-operation between people who do not always get on: companies and NGOs, designers and emerging-world governments.
However, the exciting thing about the emerging world at the moment is a prevailing belief that even the toughest problems can be solved. And a similar can-do moment, in the late 1940s, offers a striking historical precedent for the application of mass-production techniques to housing: as American servicemen flooded home after the second world war to start families, Levitt & Sons built Levittowns at the rate of 30 houses a day by mass-producing the components in factories, delivering them on lorries and using teams of specialists to assemble them.
Some emerging-world governments are beginning to realise that providing security of tenure is the only way to deal with the problem of ever-proliferating slums. And big companies that face stagnant markets in the West are increasingly fascinated by the “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid”. Bill Gross of Idealab reckons the market for cheap houses could be worth at least $424 billion. But in reality it is worth far more than that: preventing the Earth from becoming what Mike Davis, a particularly gloomy follower of Marx and Engels, has termed a “planet of slums”.
SENDAI, Japan—Yoshi Kameya wouldn't be out of place in any of the Western world's cozy city suburbs. Standing near the rubble that used to be his frozen-food company, he pulled an iPhone out of his bright blue North Face jacket to flip through photos he had taken of the tsunami damage.
The confident, cosmopolitan 43-year-old said he had enough food. But when a seaweed-wrapped rice ball was offered, his hand snatched it before his mouth could say thank you.
Mr. Kameya's hungry hand reflected one of the many unsettling aspects of Japan's tragedy. The disaster has thrown one of the world's wealthiest countries off its axis, leaving once-affluent victims in desperation, while underscoring how even the best-prepared places aren't immune from disaster. The developed-world technologies residents fill their homes and pockets with weren't much help, either.
The 2004 tsunami, which this reporter covered for The Wall Street Journal, was different. In terms of lives lost, it was far, far worse: 200,000 people dead across Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other countries, compared with 11,000 confirmed dead and more than 16,500 missing.
But in other ways, that disaster was easier to comprehend. The scale of visible damage was actually smaller in many areas, and the relative lack of dependence on technologies such as mobile phones, cars and complex supply chains sometimes proved to be an advantage for those who survived.
In Sri Lanka, a line of beachfront resorts and fishing villages was flattened. However, since the communities were smaller and poorer, damage was often limited to simple settlements hugging the seashore, and were easier to rebuild. In Japan, piles of rubble including cars and homes stretch for miles inland. While this is partly because the deadly waves had traveled hundreds of miles before they hit Sri Lanka, it was also because most victims there didn't have cars, televisions, two-story homes, kitchen tables or the closets full of clothes.
The cost of damage from Japan's tsunami may be as high as $300 billion, economists estimate. The Indian Ocean wave caused about $10 billion in damage.
In Koggala, Sri Lanka, then-24-year-old Rosmand Wickramanayake had to bury his father, mother, sister and brother in the sand after the deadly waves came and went. A year later, life for his remaining family, which includes another brother, an uncle and others, had basically returned to normal.
The few thousand dollars they got from the government was enough to rebuild a one-car-garage-size hut, and restart a small shop. It's impossible to gauge how the family was doing emotionally, but economically their simple lives had been relatively simple to fix.
Survivors like Mr. Wickramanayake also didn't have to worry too much about food after an initial emergency period passed. He was usually only one or two middlemen away from suppliers of his basic necessities. If one fish vendor was killed or a market was washed away, he switched to another. Farmers with chickens or coconuts outside the tsunami-soaked zone were never far away.
In Japan, like other wealthy countries, residents are now cut off from the farmers and factories that feed and clothe them. Consumers in the developed world often ignore how store-bought products like apples, milk, shoes, rice, brooms, fish and soap get to the shelves. Now, with the power out, highways closed and trains frozen, the constant flow of products has been severed.
Each 7-11 store in Japan, for example, usually gets more than three daily deliveries. This "just-in-time" distribution helps it sell more soda, cigarettes and sandwiches from its limited shelf space.
Only two days after the quake, 7-11s in Fukushima had little left on their shelves other than ice cream and hard liquor. By the third day, most convenience stores (even some 20 miles from the coast) were closed, and there were long lines of people at the few grocery stores still open. Today, most stores in the affected areas remain closed.
Another problem for Japan, with its reliance on mobile communication devices, has been the pain of being out of touch. In Sri Lanka, most of the survivors were able to quickly reconvene. Other than a few migrant workers, relatives and friends often lived nearby, and rarely traveled far from home.
More than two weeks after the disasters in Japan, many people are still unsure which friends and family survived. When the waves hit, family members were often miles from home, working or shopping in places easily reached by car or public transport.
With cars, buses and trains damaged or gone, many Japanese were unable to get home through the rubble. Cellphone towers were out, so they were unable to call anyone. In the early days, countless people were in the streets staring at their cellphones, praying for even one bar of network connectivity so they could check on their loved ones.
After a week, the phones disappeared. Everyone's batteries had died.
There are still daily reunion stories in Japan as people find their way home or to phones. The agonizing separations weren't because the tsunami had spread people far and wide, but because their lives had dispersed them much farther and wider than is common in poor countries.
The sophistication of Japan's developed economy didn't always work against its people. Almost all the buildings untouched by the tsunami remained intact, even though the earthquake itself was one of the worst ever in Japan. The durability of Japan's buildings was a testament to its construction industry and strict building codes.
Further, unlike the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster, most Japanese had been taught from a young age exactly what to do when a quake hits. They had practiced it repeatedly over the years, running to higher places mapped out by the government at any threat of a tsunami. Without such plans, thousands more would have died.
Still, it will likely take more than good building codes and education systems to get Japan's economy back on its feet. Unlike Sri Lanka, where it was mostly a function of getting bridges, boats and houses rebuilt, Japan needs roads, electrical power networks, and ports to be fixed or replaced as well as tens of thousands of homes and cars. Then people will need their cellphones, cable connections and Internet. Factories that make everything from Kirin Beer to Sony videotape will have to be repaired and then the intricate web of supplies that delivers everything from radial tires to rice balls has to be slowly knit back together.
Evidence of the unexpected needs of the Japanese consumer was on display in Sendai on Sunday. With nearby Starbucks and McDonald's still closed, long lines formed in front of one of the only international food chains to reopen: Mr. Donuts. But it wasn't the doughnuts that people in line missed so much, but rather the familiar experience of stopping by a shop for a little break.
Another contrast between Sri Lanka and Japan's reactions to the wicked waves has been the role of religion.
In Sri Lanka, people fled the tsunami to temples, mosques and churches. Religious leaders were in the newspapers every day commenting on what it all meant. In Japan, few have flocked to Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines.
"For their practical needs, people are not praying to some god for help," said Masato Miura, a monk at a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in Sendai. "They are just going to the store."
Write to Eric Bellman at [email protected]
Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
A rather light hearted piece amidst the chaos of the nuclear incident...
Pray and hope that it will soon be over.
Lee was hardly the easiest person to interview. He was blunt at times, and often cantankerous and combative. Although he had agreed to a no-holds-barred interview format, he did not conceal his annoyance when he felt that the questions reflected perspectives that he had no patience for.
The journalists before him then seemed to become, in his eyes, surrogates for his ideological opponents and were dressed down accordingly. On other occasions, though, he seemed to relish the exercise, sometimes prefacing an extended discourse with 'Have I told you this story?' or coming prepared with a clutch of anecdotes and a choice phrase for the week.
Visible too were the signs of a man coping with the frailties of age. One day, he shuffled in wearing sandals. His toes had an infection. After a trip to Malaysia, where he had fallen off an exercise bicycle in his hotel in Kuantan, he appeared with an improvised therapeutic device: a heating pad strapped to his leg with neon-coloured skipping ropes.
After converting to a floor bike, his stiffness moved to his back and the pad followed. Several times, he would use a spritzer to moisten his parched throat.
Once, during a trip to Armenia, he developed pneumonia as he was having problems swallowing and food had gone down his windpipe.
Not once, however, did he lament about being tired or weary. The interviews drew not only from his surfeit of memories, but also from the latest developments in Asia and the world. He was obviously keeping abreast of things, whether it was China's green energy ambitions or the elections in Japan. While he was less in command of the specific details of domestic policies, he was more than familiar with their general thrust. He kept himself scrupulously up to date on world events. He read the papers every day and in the office, his radio would always be tuned to the BBC World News Service.
At the final interview, we asked him about the leaders he admired the most. In past speeches and his memoirs, he had mentioned Deng Xiaoping. This time, he also named Charles de Gaulle, the president of the French Fifth Republic, and Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister.
He quoted Churchill's famous 'We shall fight on the beaches' speech. He recounted how de Gaulle had fought the odds to rouse and rally his people at times of near-defeat.
As he talked, his eyes gleamed, he gritted his teeth. He clenched both his hands into fists and his voice curdled in his throat before spilling forth. In that moment, the same fierce determination he showed as a young leader in the 1950s and 1960s when rallying his own people flashed across his face.
One remembered all over again that Lee was born a fighter. In that moment too, one could see the scale of the terrain that he pictured himself battling in. Not for him the quotidian concerns of a country content with its creature comforts. This was a leader who had overseen events unfold in grand terms, life and death, danger and escape, success and failure - of a people, of a country.
Singapore is not in that moment of epic change. Will it have in its sinews the same fighting spirit as its founding father when that time comes? It is a question only the young can answer.
Q Some commentators say that you have created Singapore in your image, including 'always living in fear of a catastrophe'. Why are you so worried that it could all fail?
I'm concerned that Singaporeans assume that Singapore is a normal country, that we can be compared to Denmark or New Zealand or even Liechtenstein or Luxembourg. We are in a very turbulent region. If we do not have a government and a people that differentiate themselves from the rest of the neighbourhood in a positive way and can defend ourselves, Singapore will cease to exist.
It's not the view of just my generation but also those who have come into Defence, Foreign Affairs ministries and those who have studied the position. Whether it's Ng Eng Hen, who was a surgeon, or Raymond Lim, formerly an academic and a lawyer by training, or Vivian Balakrishnan, an eye surgeon, they all understand now the circumstances that conscribe us. If we ignore those circumstances, we'll go down the drain.
We have not got neighbours who want to help us prosper. When we prospered, they for many years believed we were living off their resources. It was only when they became aware that our economic policy of welcoming foreign investments made the difference that they were sufficiently convinced to also do likewise.
We are an upstart in this region because we survived for so long and I believe we can survive easily another 50 to 100 years given the international environment, provided we have a strong system that enables us to maximise our chances.
Q What do you mean by a 'strong system'? Is it another phrase for the People's Action Party (PAP) continuing to be in power?
Whether it's the PAP or any other government does not interest me. I'm beyond that phase. I'm not out here to justify the PAP or the present government. I want to get across just how profound is this question of leadership and people and the ethical and philosophical beliefs of the leadership and the people.
Q Are we really as vulnerable as you suggest? Critics would say you make things seem so dire that so many things practised elsewhere, including in small countries, such as political competition, will not be available here.
No, we are not preventing competition. What we are preventing is duds getting into Parliament and government. Any person of quality, we welcome him but we don't want duds. We don't want Chee Soon Juan, or J.B. Jeyaretnam. They're not going to build the country. But if any serious man turns up and forms an alternative equal to us, I say, 'Good'. Then we are getting a proper alternative. But look at the candidates they put up.
Now, are we not vulnerable? If we are not vulnerable, why do we spend 5 to 6 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) year after year on defence? Are we mad? This is a frugal government, you know that well.
We dug a deep tunnel for the sewers at the cost of $3.65 billion in order to use the sewage water for Newater, to be independent.
We are not vulnerable? They can besiege you. You'll be dead. Your sea lanes are cut off and your business comes to a halt. What is our reply? Security Council, plus defence capabilities of our own, plus the Security Framework Agreement with the Americans.
They stopped sand. Why? To conscribe us. As Mahathir (former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad) says, 'Even at their present size they are trouble, you let them grow some more they will be more trouble'. We've got friendly neighbours? Grow up.
Why would we put a strong minister in Defence if it's not important? He's the strongest minister in the Cabinet next to the PM, toughest, most capable. We have always put a strong man there. Do we parade our vulnerabilities? We are living in an adult world. Why do we have peace? Because it is not cost-free if you hit us. If you hit us we will hit you and the damage may be more on your side.
Q But this point about not being a normal country...
Forgive me for saying this: Assuming that I'm just nearly as intelligent as you are, but I've lived more than 85 years and I've been through all these ups and downs and I've spent all my life since the age of 32 figuring out how to make this place work, right?
First, I believed and said the only way it could work was to join Malaya because otherwise we cannot live. Our water, our raw materials, imports, much of the exports come from Malaya. That was at that time. We couldn't get to Malaya because the Tunku didn't want the Chinese population.
We worked around that and we joined Malaysia. Then we found ourselves trapped, from a communist Singapore to a Malay-ultra Malaysia. Has Malaysia changed? How has it changed?
Why did I break down when we got out on the 9th of August? Because I left behind tens of thousands of people who had joined our rallies, and I knew that they were going to be handicapped, again a minority and leaderless. We provided the leadership. So when you tell me we're not vulnerable, I say, 'Oh, God!'
You speak to the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) commanders. Why do they do this - two years of every young man's life, 4, 5 to 6 per cent of GDP and a frugal government that builds up reserves? We do this because of hallucinations? Or because that's the only way we can be left alone to survive and prosper?
Why do you think we spent all this effort to solve our water problem until we became specialists in water? Mahathir knew we needed Johor water. So when the water agreement was going to end in 2011 for Tebrau and Skudai, we knew we would be short. Then we discovered Newater. He thought we were bluffing. You say we're not vulnerable?
We should not gloss over our worries. They are real problems. And we are what we are because we can stand up for ourselves. If we can't, we've had it. The Security Council passes resolutions. So what? Who goes to Kuwait's rescue? The US. Why? Because of oil. Why? Because next stop would be Saudi Arabia.
Who's coming to our rescue because of water? The US? No. We rescue ourselves. Either the media grows up, especially the young reporters, or we're going to bring up a generation that lives in a dream world of security when none exists...
I had to make this society produce results, then we will become prosperous, then we can have a strong defence, and the world has a place for us. If you believe we're like Norway or Sweden or Denmark, then we won't survive.
Singapore is an 80-storey building on marshy land. We've learnt how to put in stakes and floats so we can go up for another 20, maybe over a hundred storeys. Provided you understand and ensure that the foundation is strong. Crucial is interracial, interreligious harmony. Without that, quarrelling with one another, we are doomed.
Q Do you worry about this place after you are no longer around?
After I'm dead?
Q I mean, all these calculations...
No, all these calculations have been discussed and re-discussed.
Q But they originate from you.
Yes, but every member of the Cabinet and definitely every defence minister and all the critical ministers understand exactly what our position is.
Q But the external situation will change. There will be new challenges and new calculations will have to be done. Original thinking will be required.
But they have the capabilities. They may not be found all in one man. But it wasn't in me alone. I had a group of men who together had multi-sided perspectives, like a Rubik's Cube.
Q It's not tested, their capacity for original thinking.
How can you say it's not tested? They are getting out of this recession with great skill. They are handling it with great skill. I'm just standing by seeing that this is all right. They worked out the solution.
I did not, I cannot read the facts and figures of the Ministry of Finance and MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) and EDB (Economic Development Board) in detail. I had to read them when I was Prime Minister, but I'm not any longer. I look ahead for over-the-horizon problems and opportunities.
Look out for more exclusive excerpts in The Straits Times and The Sunday Times next weekend.
Interracial harmony crucial
'Singapore is an 80-storey building on marshy land. We've learnt how to put in stakes and floats so we can go up for another 20, maybe over a hundred storeys. Provided you understand and ensure that the foundation is strong. Crucial is interracial, interreligious harmony. Without that, quarrelling with one another, we are doomed.'
MM LEE KUAN YEW
TINY Singapore's gross domestic product was US$210 billion (S$271 billion) last year, higher than Malaysia's US$205 billion.
Singapore's GDP per capita was US$36,573, compared with Malaysia's US$6,975. In 1965, Singapore and Malaysia had GDP per capita of US$512 and US$335 respectively.
Why has there been such a wide disparity in economic performance between Singapore and Malaysia over the last 40 years? As far as political systems are concerned, both have been classified as either authoritarian or semi-democratic countries. But where the economy is concerned, Singapore is way ahead of Malaysia. About 400,000 Malaysians are now working in Singapore. Singapore has a population of only five million.
Singapore's business environment and competitiveness rank among the world's best. It is not only the world's second-largest container port and fourth-biggest foreign exchange trading centre, it also has the world's largest concentration of millionaires. Its per capita income surpassed that of Japan in 2007.
Indeed, in his recent book entitled The Era Of Low IQ, Mr Kenichi Ohmae - nicknamed Japan's Mr Strategist - listed Singapore and China as winners in the new era of globalisation. He opined that Japan should learn from Singapore to arrest the trend of low IQ among Japanese.
Owing to its geographical advantage and willingness to open up to foreigners, Singapore is able to attract talent from all corners of the Earth.
On the other hand, Malaysia is prevented from giving full play to its advantages by its ethnocentric mindset. If Malaysia fails to adopt a people-centric mindset and use fully its human, land and material resources, its economic achievements will be limited.
Singapore, like Malaysia, took the route of establishing labour-intensive industries to create jobs in the early 1960s and 1970s. However, by the early 1980s, Singapore had begun to transform itself into a skills- and knowledge-intensive economy and adopted a high-wage policy to accelerate this transformation. Till today, Malaysia does not dare to employ a similar strategy.
In the late 1980s, when globalisation sparked international competition, it became more difficult to upgrade industries using the high-wage policy. In other words, failure to seize opportunities early led to a doubling of costs.
In the 1990s, Singapore's development strategy leaned towards achieving economic diversity and becoming a knowledge economy. As a result, it became more market-oriented and strove to meet investors' needs, through offering better intellectual property rights protection, lower corporate taxes, greater ease in obtaining permanent resident status and more flexible labour policies. All these have helped to enhance Singapore's brand power and boost its appeal as an international investment destination.
One can say that many of Singapore's key policies revolved around increasing competitiveness and improving its business environment. Such orientation provides a bigger catalyst than Malaysia's Vision 2020 goal of becoming a 'high-income nation'.
This is because high income is a goal pursued by all nations and is not significant on its own. If high income is a goal set in relation to enhancing competitiveness or policy implementation, then it would be a great driving force.
For instance, if we ask how we can increase competitiveness, we will try to come up with a winning formula. If the formula is right, the objective will be achieved. But if we merely mention 'high-income nation', it will sound like a slogan and no concrete action is likely to be taken to find a winning formula.
By the same principle, Taiwan's strategy is to upgrade its industries and become a high-tech island. That is more realistic than the goal of becoming a high-income nation. If an economy can increase its competitiveness and productivity, move up the value chain, be highly innovative and attract talent, it will naturally develop into a high-income nation.
Singapore can be said to be a pragmatic nation that has capitalised on, instead of rejecting, globalisation. This is unlike former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who responded negatively to globalisation by bringing up the 'New Malay Dilemma'.
Singapore's elite leadership has striven to benefit from globalisation. Malaysia should learn from Singapore's proactiveness.
From the perspective of governance, Singapore has taken pains to avoid becoming a nanny state with a dependency culture but it is not an uncaring capitalist nation. For instance, its Central Provident Fund (CPF) system and housing policy have given Singaporeans economic security. Though income is not equally distributed in Singapore, it can be said to be an economically prosperous and relatively safe country.
In 2005, 93 per cent of Singaporeans owned homes, of which 88 per cent were affordable public housing flats. This high rate of home ownership, coupled with accumulated CPF savings, has made Singaporeans substantial stakeholders, which enabled the People's Action Party to consolidate its power base. By adopting a 'carrot-and-stick approach', this ruling party truly has some tricks of its own.
This article appeared first in Oriental Daily News, a Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper.
Singapore can be said to be a pragmatic nation that has capitalised on, instead of rejecting, globalisation. This is unlike former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who responded negatively to globalisation by bringing up the 'New Malay Dilemma'.
IN THE popular mind, the relationship between ministers and civil servants is often simplified in one of two extreme ways. In one, civil servants implement what their political masters want. That is the impression that good civil servants try to project, and maybe ministers too, when there is credit to be gained. The opposite simplification is the one caricatured in the British satire Yes Minister, where the title belies the truth, which is that civil servants manipulate their ministers and are the real masters.
The real relationship between ministers and civil servants falls somewhere in between. It is not a static relationship. A new minister should take good counsel from his permanent secretary to avoid making unnecessary mistakes. A more experienced minister may know more about his portfolio than a new permanent secretary, and so should give closer guidance to his civil servants.
Depending on the ministry, the issues of the day, and the relative experience levels, personalities and capabilities of the minister and the permanent secretary, that relationship can be at different points on the continuum between the two extremes. I believe the constitutional position is that while it is the Prime Minister who appoints permanent secretaries, the minister to whom a permanent secretary is appointed to serve must agree to the appointment.
Our formal system is inherited from the British. It makes a clear distinction between political appointments and the permanent civil service.
In practice, however, principally because the People's Action Party (PAP) has been the governing party since internal self-government in 1959 and independence in 1965, many aspects of Singapore's governance resemble the Chinese bureaucratic state that (John King) Fairbank, (Joseph) Needham and other scholars of Chinese history have written about, in particular, the practice of meritocracy in both the political and administrative elites. The induction of administrative talent into the PAP has become a Singapore hallmark, and is likely to persist. In the Singapore reality, the formal British system is built upon what is essentially a Chinese political and cultural substrate.
One illustration of this is the word 'scholar', which is used to describe a civil servant, Singapore Armed Forces officer or police officer who was chosen on the basis of high academic achievement and given a scholarship at the point of recruitment. It is an English word that in a British, American or Indian context would be incomprehensible. For them, a scholar is a scholar doing academic research. In Singapore, the scholar is often an administrator not doing academic work at all.
In fact, this is a Chinese idea expressed in English that has become a part of our vocabulary in Singapore. Singapore, of course, is only three-quarter Chinese and has to be multi-ethnic in its deep structure. However, the dominant political culture remains recognisably Chinese.
Seen against this common cultural background, it is perhaps not surprising that a China intent on reforming its public administration should take so much interest in the grooming of Singapore's administrative and political elites. In a curious way, the counterpart of our Public Service Commission and Public Service Division in China is the COD, the Central Organisation Department of the Chinese Communist Party - but only up to a point.
The Chinese government is increasingly concerned with its own relationship with ordinary people, more and more of whom now live in cities. It is therefore experimenting with democracy at the lower levels, seeing it as an important feedback loop against corrupt, despotic or unresponsive local authority. Study visits to the PAP's Meet-the-People sessions have now become almost compulsory for visiting Chinese delegations. Chinese leaders are convinced that Western or Indian democracy can never work in China. However, the hybrid that they see in the Singapore bonsai fascinates them.
All this is by way of background to Mr Ngiam Tong Dow's book. He speaks and writes like a mandarin. When he was in the civil service, his views were expressed within government walls. In retirement outside those walls, he speaks and writes publicly, which sometimes raises eyebrows. But - and I can personally vouch for this - it is the same self-confident, high-minded individual whose starting and end points are what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans.
When I was at the Ministry of Information and the Arts, Mr Ngiam was the permanent secretary at the Finance Ministry. He almost killed the Esplanade project, about which he paid me a high compliment years later. On the revolutionary transformation of our National Library system, he gave his fullest support. The acquisition of knowledge has always been his passion.
Could he, like Hon Sui Sen and Howe Yoon Chong, have joined politics? I don't know. But what I do know is that he is well aware of the pressures and constraints which political leaders face and which civil servants have to factor into their recommendations and in their implementation of Cabinet decisions.
In retirement, Mr Ngiam speaks and writes publicly, which sometimes raises eyebrows. But - and I can personally vouch for this - it is the same self-confident, high-minded individual whose starting and end points are what is good for Singapore and Singaporeans.
SURVEYS of students here have found that more than 95 per cent of them are proud to be Singaporean.
The polls, conducted in 2008 and this year, also showed that young people from primary school to junior college believe Singapore would be able to overcome any difficulties to survive as a country.
Previous surveys have found that a similar number of operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) and full-time national servicemen (NSFs) and members of the public feel that Singapore is worth defending.
Disclosing the findings at a National Education seminar at Yishun Junior College yesterday, Education Minister and Second Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen called them heartening.
'Our students openly declare their love for Singapore and are proud of Singapore's achievements. They believe in a society that is self-reliant, intolerant of corruption and meritocratic,' he said.
Speaking at the event, attended by about 500 people, most of whom were teachers, the minister said the Government conducted objective surveys from time to time to gauge the sentiment on the ground.
Results had consistently shown that more than 90 per cent of NSFs, NSmen and the public felt Singapore was a place they belonged to and would defend if it came under threat.
Perhaps alluding to a student's recent comments at a public forum, Dr Ng observed that questioning was a healthy part of the process to discover and imbibe the values that defined Singapore.
Last week, a Nanyang Technological University student, Mr Lim Zi Rui, 23, had asked Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at a forum if he knew that many young people were losing their sense of ownership of Singapore.
Many changes here, including the influx of foreign talent, made him question what he was defending, he said, sparking an online debate.
Contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Lim, a final-year aerospace engineering student, said he did not doubt that Singaporeans felt a sense of belonging towards their country, but he felt it had weakened over the years.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Dr Ng said the process of communicating National Education messages did not end after they had been articulated.
'In fact,' he added, 'I would be very worried if people said I believe you straight away. Because this process requires you to reflect on what has been said. Examine it, question it and even test it, and then internalise it. This takes time, this takes different experiences.'
Other students interviewed said they were proud of Singapore and would defend it, but added that Mr Lim had raised valid points.
Hwa Chong Institution student Colin Ng, 18, said: 'The sense of belonging that young Singaporeans have towards the country is an issue worth examining. Many of my friends are planning to go overseas to study, and also stay on to work there. We should ask: Why are they leaving? Is it to have a better life overseas? How can we make them stay or come back?'
Said Berwin Chan, 16, a Secondary 4 student at Victoria School: 'It is natural that people feel pressured as the job market becomes more competitive, with more foreigners. But I feel the advantages of bringing in foreigners outweigh the disadvantages. What the Government should do is to ensure that Singaporeans are not left behind, especially the not-so-educated ones.'
In his speech, Dr Ng said innovative approaches were needed to reach out to young Singaporeans.
He said the National Education resource portal, Connexion.sg, would be expanded to become the one-stop website for all Singaporeans to find out, and share ideas, about the topic.
When asked what facet of Singapore he personally thought was worth defending, Dr Ng, a cancer surgeon before he entered politics, singled out the opportunities Singapore provides to everyone.
'For a boy who grew up in Queenstown in a three-room flat to be able to train alongside top surgeons in leading cancer centres in the US...
'For me, it was a very deep conviction of how our Singapore system has worked. And I believe very strongly that it must always continue to give opportunities, whether you are rich or poor.
'We must make sure that every Singaporean who is willing to work hard can succeed. So that is what I will defend.'
THIS year, the Education Ministry polled 74,000 students in Primary 4 and 6, Secondary 2 and 4, and Year 2 junior college. Some key findings of the 2010 National Education Survey:
Sense of belonging
Racial and religious harmony
ECONOMIC policy is at an inflexion point. The financial crisis of 2008 to 2009 has altered the way we perceive the free market. The idea that competitive markets are sufficient to ensure efficient outcomes and stable economies is under heavy intellectual fire. Barry Eichengreen says the crisis has 'cast into doubt much of what we thought we knew about economics'. Paul Krugman says that much of the past 30 years of macroeconomics was 'spectacularly useless at best, and positively harmful at worst'.
But rumours of the demise of market-based economics are premature.
The balance between markets and government is the central issue in policy debates over economic development.
The crisis has revealed significant imperfections in market mechanisms: information asymmetry, moral hazard, systemic risks, and behavioural or non-rational motivators of choice. It has also revealed the inherent limitations of government: In a globalised and complex economy, governments have fewer levers to pull, and these levers are less potent than before. Neither market fundamentalism nor central planning has worked.
As we look for a new paradigm, each country will have to find its own balance between markets and government.
The two 'isms' that perhaps best describe Singapore's approach are: pragmatism - an emphasis on what works in practice rather than abstract theory; and eclecticism - a willingness to adapt to the local context best practices from around the world.
Singapore's approach can be summed up as: Governments need markets and markets need government.
First, governments need markets. That the market plays a central role in Singapore is well-known. According to the World Bank, Singapore is the easiest place in the world to do business. According to the Heritage Foundation, Singapore is the freest economy in the world, after Hong Kong. There are virtually no import tariffs, no export subsidies, no exchange restrictions, no price ceilings, no minimum wage, no rent control. Income tax rates are among the lowest in the world, and government expenditure as a percentage of GDP well below most countries.
Equally, if not more importantly, government policies have been strongly guided by the application of market principles. Be it in industrial policy, medical insurance, congestion pricing, social security, regulation of utilities, or allocation of land, Singapore has assiduously applied market mechanisms and price signals. 'Getting the economics right' has been a hallmark of governance.
Second, markets need governments. Economic development does not occur naturally. It needs pre-conditions, and if these do not exist, government needs to create them. Markets function best under some exacting conditions - rule of law, perfect information, absence of coordination failures, and no monopoly power.
But the irony is that governments sometimes have to be in markets to en-able these conditions.
This is where free marketers are disenchanted with Singapore - the Government has never hesitated from guiding the development process or intervening in markets where it believes such intervention will lead to superior outcomes.
The objective of government intervention in Singapore is neither to suppress nor to supplant markets, but to support and sustain them. Government intervention has sought to harness the power of the market to manage and grow the economy.
Reasonable people have argued - and quite rightly so - that not all of the Singapore Government's interventions have worked. But that is a reason to scale back, modify or even withdraw the intervention, not to reject the role of government altogether.
Adapting from a framework first proposed by Dani Rodrik to describe the role of institutions, let me illustrate how government in Singapore has intervened to try to make markets work better, in four key respects.
But its efforts to address asset price inflation and credit crises are interesting examples of targeted interventions that harness market forces.
TRAIN and bus commuters in Dublin who use integrated transit cards next year and future metro passengers in Rio de Janeiro will have something in common.
The know-how behind their transport systems tracks back here - from the ticketing software for the Irish contactless card to the passenger-information displays on the Brazilian trains.
Singapore's expertise is also what officials in China's Tianjin relied on in their World Bank-funded study of improvements to its public transport system.
In the past decade, several companies that have built up experience developing public transport infrastructure here have, with the support of IE Singapore, hawked their expertise overseas - and clients from China to the Middle East are biting.
The companies' success reflects what is valued about Singapore-style systems - not just the technology, but also the integration of different systems that view transport planning in totality, transport engineers told The Straits Times.
Examples include Singapore Technologies (ST) Electronics, CPG Consultants which was born out of corporatising the Public Works Department in 1999, and MSI Global, the external arm of the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
The contracts they clinch are no small potatoes: For example, a dozen of ST Electronics' rail, road traffic and taxi projects in the past four years have exceeded $270 million in total value.
MSI, which started out as a $2 shell company in 1995, is today a $22 million firm with a mostly foreign client list.
The Dublin Rail Procurement Agency is one of its clients, to which it delivered software enabling commuters to use one card for trains, buses, coaches and trams. MSI pipped its Hong Kong, Korean and American rivals to the contract, said MSI business unit head Silvester Prakasam.
Reasons include Singapore's success with contactless cards usable not only on trains and buses, but also in shops. Knowing how to achieve this kind of integration, which Dublin valued, came from the way MSI's parent, the LTA, worked with other government agencies here.
Similarly, CPG's clients from Fiji, Brazil and China also recognise its holistic transport planning skills.
For the project in Tianjin, completed last year, CPG roped in veteran consultants Joseph Yee and Gopinath Menon. Their work on Singapore's land transport system, spanning more than 30 years, has taken them from planning to developing congestion-pricing measures like the Area Licensing Scheme and its successor, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP).
The study they did for Tianjin examined issues such as the city's masterplan, road-building programme, bus-priority lanes and plans for a city-rail system.
But transport engineers here say they are careful not to insist the Singapore way is the best way. Often, they have to adapt their expertise to local conditions and hire local consultants to get access to the right people and cut through red tape.
Mr Yee noted that, unlike in Singapore, other countries have more than one level of government; competing jurisdictions can create roadblocks to a project.
Political will is also not a given abroad. In Singapore, 'we dare to do what's unpopular when we know the long-term benefits for the country', he said.
Getting a grip on the local situation in a third world country is thus crucial, said Associate Professor Menon.
ST Electronics president Lee Fook Sun cited one such experience in Guangzhou in 2005. A single contactless card system looked like the neatest solution for the city, but the company had to accommodate its client's wish for a system that also accepted tokens. This was because its commuters included people from other provinces who were passing through and would not pay for a stored-value card.
ST Electronics has since sunk roots in foreign soil. It hired 150 research engineers in Shenzhen and transferred technology and production to a Shanghai subsidiary, where costs are lower than here.
This subsidiary has even come full circle: It has worked with trainmakers from China to clinch deals elsewhere - including here for the Downtown Line trains.
NOT so long ago, the BBC invited four top British chefs to cook a banquet for 60 - out of rubbish. All the meat, fish, vegetables and fruit they wanted to use had to be foraged from bins.
These weren't actual rubbish bins, of course, but near enough. Some of the chefs dug around the large, green wheelie containers that London councils put in street markets for vendors to throw away produce they can't sell because of blemishes or slight age. Other chefs went to supermarkets, cafes and takeaways for food that was about to be chucked out.
No need to feel sick - all the produce had to be approved by a hygienist who made sure they were not infected by bacteria, and were safe to eat.
The point of the programme, called 'The Great British Waste Menu', was to highlight how offhand and unthinking we have become about surplus. For instance, fish-and-chip shops regularly discard perfectly good fish, offcuts from the standard pieces they need for the fryer.
In one clip, a delicatessen manager was on the point of tossing out two huge joints of beef that were near their use-by age. They were meant for roast beef sandwiches which he was no longer going to put on the week's menu. Has nobody heard of the freezer?
In Britain, such waste amounts to more than £2 billion (S$4 billion) a year in the retail food industry alone. Nobody has started to count yet the figure for homes, but it's easy to guess it will be huge. The BBC's cameras were allowed into the house of a well-dressed but overweight woman, who opened her fridge to reveal shelves crammed with food.
She could hardly remember what she had, let alone what was still edible. The chefs rescued some packs of salmon just beyond their use-by date. These didn't actually get past the beady-eyed food hygienist back in the kitchens.
Obesity is a growing problem in Britain. At the National Health Service, there has been more than a tenfold increase since the year 2000 in the number of people accepting procedures to reduce the size of their stomachs. In 2008, 1,378 gastric bands were fitted on overweight patients while 504 had their stomachs stapled, according to statistics quoted in London's The Sunday Times.
Looking at the frankly fat lady with her over-full fridge, the uncharitable thought came to mind that eating and wasting less would do her figure (and her health) a power of good. With regard to those packs of salmon, the thought clearly never entered her mind to freeze and save them. In Britain, town councils are threatening to weigh people's rubbish so there is less waste and the cost of rubbish disposal can come down.
In Britain, the wide range of consumer goods, once only dreamt of, is now taken for granted. We expect to have salmon and lamb, avocado and rocket, artisanal chocolate puddings or lemon tarts at the snap of our fingers. The supermarkets jump to obey.
There was a time when we believed consumerism was what kept our economies going. Now we know not only that it has its limits - cue the credit crunch - but also that, carried to its logical conclusion, rabid consumerism will decimate forests and empty mines. It is a raging fire that will burn itself out only when we have cut down all the world's wood.
Driving in the north-west of England recently, we stopped at a service station that had not just a Waitrose for the delectation of hungry motorists, but also a Marks and Spencer. Both are well known for the breadth and luxury of their food range.
I will never forget the wall of chilled cabinets in Waitrose for the sandwiches alone, nor the silently staring customers lined up opposite them, paralysed by the 20 different ways you can package slices of white or brown bread with a little something in between - smoked salmon and cream cheese, chicken caesar, roast beef and horseradish, crayfish and rocket, prawn mayonnaise, seafood cocktail, gammon and cheddar, turkey club... You get the picture. Those customers were overwhelmed by the choice, not delighting in it.
Who does eat all these sandwiches? In London, cafes and restaurants do give unsold food to the homeless at the end of the day. But here in countryside west of the Pennines? My guess is it all gets binned.
Food scientists are forever going on about the need for genetically modified food because of shortages globally. However, to develop new strains of food, more money needs to be spent on research and development. It seems wanton not to think first about cutting down on waste and doing something with the resources that are saved. That £2 billion a year could do a lot for irrigation systems in Africa, helping people grow and conserve their own food.
The Great British Waste feast was, by the way, a huge success. The canapes, the starter, the main course, the pudding - from previously discarded courgette, fish, beef, strawberries - were miracles of elegance and taste. Nobody complained and nobody, as far as we know, died of food poisoning.
Start using up what's in your fridge and freezer now.
The writer is a Singaporean based in London.
SEOUL: Attractive, assertive and financially secure, Ms Park Min Kyoung seems like the ideal wife.
But the 41-year-old is single by choice and has no plans to get married any time soon - one of an increasing number of South Korean women who are shunning marriage in favour of their careers and the single life.
According to the government-run Statistics Korea website, South Korea last year recorded the lowest marriage rate at 6.2 marriages for every 1,000 people. Singapore's is slightly higher at 6.6 last year.
Marriage is a declining institution in South Korea, a trend that began at least since 1990, when the marriage rate for every 1,000 residents was 9.3. It went down to 7.0 in 2000.
'If I can find someone who really loves me, I can marry. If not, I don't need to get married. I don't want to do it for money or because I'm lonely,' said Ms Park.
It is more often the fairer sex that is recoiling from marriage. According to recent figures, just six out of 10 South Korean women believe marriage is a must, compared with eight out of 10 men.
Statistics Korea has blamed economic uncertainties for scaring people away from the altar. Ms Park does not dispute this, but thinks the real reason goes much deeper - to how South Korean men are still not treating women as their equal.
'South Korean men are so dominating. They don't know how to treat women. And in South Korea many things are really different from other countries,' said Ms Park, bemoaning the pervasive favouritism for men in her society.
Professor Lee Jae Kyung, director of the Korean Women's Institute at Ewha Womans University, shares her view: 'Because of gender division of labour and inequality in the patriarchal family, many South Korean young women feel marriage is unfavourable to women.'
Graduate Lee So Ra, 24, thinks traditional Korean cultural norms are turning women away from marriage. She says it is the woman who is usually expected to make all the sacrifices in a marriage.
'First of all, I cannot get my career. I would have to take care of his family and him and his child,' Ms Lee sketches her marriage scenario. 'If I come home, my future husband would just be lying down on the sofa, I guess, because that's what my father did.'
Unsurprisingly, South Korea's declining marriage rate has corresponded with a big drop in births in recent years. It now has one of the world's lowest fertility rates - on average only 1.15 children are born to each South Korean woman over her lifetime.
That spells trouble for the country's pensions and welfare system as it would be strained by an ageing population.
Inflexible work practices also make career-minded women like Ms Lee cagey about getting married. 'If I go to a small company and I get pregnant; if I take a rest from my work, maybe they will take away my desk,' she said.
All the perceived minuses of marriage add up to one conclusion for both Ms Lee and Ms Park: If they walk down the aisle, it will be with a foreigner. Ms Park has dated many Western men and argues that they are less domineering than most South Korean men.
Ironically, on the other side of the equation, South Korean men are looking for foreign spouses in the event that they cannot find one at home.
Marriages between South Korean men and Vietnamese, Filipino and Chinese women have become common in recent years, although these have steadily declined over the past five years.
KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
IF MY mother were alive today, she would be surprised to read this article. From a young age, I absorbed from her a profound respect for Western medicine. After all, it saved my life as an infant when diarrhoea led some doctors to declare that my prospects were 'hopeless'. Western medicine gave me a second life.
As I get older, I have also come to believe that Western medicine - which often treats our body as a collection of parts that can be repaired separately - can be complemented with Chinese medicine, which generally treats our body as a holistic system that must be treated as a whole, linking both the physical body and the soul or spirit. Good science also needs to be complemented with good intuition.
I begin with these analogies because I have come to believe that the principles of Chinese medicine can be applied to public policies in Singapore. There is no doubt that Singapore has done exceptionally well with its public policies; our body is not sick. But we have not achieved perfection. No state has. But as an eternal optimist, I believe that there is scope for improvement everywhere.
Take the case of transportation. There is little doubt we have done well. Each 'limb' (to use a medical analogy) of our transportation works well, from the MRT system to Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). But even 18 years ago, when I was dean of the Civil Service College, one principle of our transportation system puzzled me. It was then a holy article of faith that each 'limb' of the transportation system had to pay for itself. Hence, the surplus revenue from ERP, say, cannot be used to 'subsidise' the public bus system. Indeed, the word 'subsidy' was taboo.
In our own human body, however, there are 'subsidies' everywhere. Not all parts of our body are equally strong. The strong parts compensate for the weak. The critical thing is not whether the right arm is as strong as the left but whether the body as a whole is working well.
This is why I wonder what our conclusions would be if we viewed our transportation system holistically. Each 'limb' of our system may be working well. But does the system as a whole deliver the best results? Equally importantly, what criteria should we apply to assess the 'best results'? Should we give priority to 'efficiency' considerations? Or should we add in environmental considerations? And who should 'pay' for these additional considerations?
All these thoughts came rushing into my head when I visited the truly impressive Chinese pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. Of course, the most impressive visual display was the long video mural depicting street life in the Song dynasty. But the exhibits that really impressed me were the ones that tried to measure the carbon footprints of each mode of transportation. The Chinese also proudly displayed the electric cars they had manufactured. Indeed, they had an all-electric bus fleet on the Expo grounds.
I wondered why we could not afford to have an all-electric bus network in Singapore. In the short term, there is no doubt it would cost more than the current diesel-driven bus system. But there would be many other public policy benefits that would compensate for these higher financial costs - including cleaner air and being seen to be an environmentally responsible global citizen. It is little things like that that root people to their soil.
I should emphasise that I have chosen transportation only as an illustrative example. This principle of 'holistic' analysis can be applied to all other public policy sectors.
Take education: In a brilliant op-ed piece in The Business Times last month, a PhD student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Ms Leong Ching, argued that a comprehensive review of Singapore's education should look not only at the $8.037 billion that the Government spends on public education, but also at the additional $820 million that Singaporean parents spend on private tuition. She did not use any medical analogies but the image of the parasitical limb of private education undermining the main body of public education occurred to me. Shouldn't we look at both when we evaluate the state of education in Singapore?
I firmly believe that a 'holistic' analysis of our public policies will eventually create a better Singapore. Why? When we do a holistic analysis, we have to factor in non-material considerations of ethics and values, as well as social considerations. Simply relying on economic principles or on the forces of the market would be incomplete, if not downright wrong. Hence, in our public policies, we must give increasing weight to the intangible.
A greater infusion of ethical considerations will also strengthen the soul of Singapore. And if we want Singapore to survive and thrive over the long run, the fundamental question we should ask is whether 'holistically' our policies are strengthening or undermining the 'soul' of Singapore.
Transportation, education, environmental and so on, are different systems within a larger Singaporean body. These systems - like the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and reproductive systems of the human body - are interrelated and must be treated as a whole.
Singapore has made enormous progress in the first 50 years by successfully finding the right answers to the urgent questions we faced in our early days. Over the next 50 years, we should try to find the right questions to ask before we begin trying to find the right answers.
The writer is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.
THE term 'herstory' originated in the late 1960s, gathering momentum through the 1970s and 1980s as a feminist critique of male-dominated historical narratives. While the term is not derived from the Greco-Latin root word historia (meaning knowledge by inquiry), it is nonetheless a deliberate play on words - 'her' rather than 'his' story - to emphasise historical analysis of the roles of women or accounts told from women's perspectives, thus reflecting a growing interest in more inclusive gender studies.
In that respect, the title of Noel Barber's The Singapore Story: From Raffles To Lee Kuan Yew (1978) is open to two main charges that render it 'exclusive' rather than 'inclusive'. Firstly, it could be accused of adopting an elitist approach to history, underscoring the role of leading public figures while downplaying or ignoring the study of historically voiceless groups. Secondly, it could also assume a patriarchal - possibly chauvinistic - bias towards the masculine gender, when women then constituted 48 per cent (and today constitute 51 per cent) of Singapore's resident population, comprising citizens and permanent residents. It should be argued that women have played vital, complementary roles alongside their male counterparts, making the tapestry of Singapore's story all the richer for their contribution.
The wives of the 'founding fathers' furnish a more prominent example. Sir Stamford Raffles had died in debt and disfavour as far as Britain's East India Company was concerned, but Lady Sophia did much to cement his historical reputation by writing an authoritative, influential biography of her late husband. She commissioned a commemorative statue in Westminster Abbey; its inscription credited him with founding 'an emporium at Singapore' and regenerating indigenous society through the application of liberal-utilitarian principles.
In more recent times, Madam Kwa Geok Choo has earned the epitaph 'mother of the nation' for the part she played in enabling her husband to govern independent Singapore. A brilliant scholar and successful lawyer in her own right, she was described by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as his equal and 'a wife who could be a sole breadwinner and bring the children up'. The spouses of other founding fathers also played important roles and we should remember as well some public servants. Mrs Elizabeth Choy was a wartime heroine during the Japanese Occupation, but later served as an educator and nominated legislative councillor (1951-55). Madam Chan Choy Siong, one of the first female elected representatives (City Council, 1957-59; Legislative Assembly, 1959-65; then Parliament, 1965-70), and Ms Chua Seng Kim (Mrs Seow Peck Leng), the first female opposition member (1959-63), were pioneer women's rights activists who campaigned successfully for the 1961 Women's Charter.
Among the second-generation women MPs were Dr Aline Wong, Dr Dixie Tan and Mrs Yu-Foo Yee Shoon. Dr Seet Ai Mee, as Acting Minister for Community Development (1991), was the highest-ranked female politician in Singapore's history until the appointment of Mrs Lim Hwee Hua as a full Cabinet minister last year. Dr Kanwaljit Soin, the first female nominated MP (1992-96), has played a key role in promoting social concern for issues such as violence against women. Representing the national interest abroad, Singapore's top diplomats have included women ambassadors like Professor Chan Heng Chee, Mrs Jaya Mohideen and Mrs Mary Seet-Cheng.
Avoiding the charge of elitist history, recognition is due also to the many women whose hard work has helped to build Singapore, both as a colony and an independent nation-state. The samsui women are a case in point. Arriving as Chinese immigrants between the 1920s and 1940s, some worked as domestic servants but most supplied cheap labour for the construction industry and other jobs requiring heavy lifting. They acquired a high moral reputation for refusing jobs involving drug (especially opium) trafficking, prostitution or other vices - even if it meant living in poverty and cramped conditions. Most never married, though they kept in contact with family back in China.
Singaporean women today increasingly face the dual pressures of professional careers and homemaking. Notable in helping to address these challenges of modernity are the endeavours of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO), whose members past and present represent a wide spectrum of professional interests, encompassing the worlds of business, faith, social welfare, law, education, science, medicine, sports, culture and the media. Thus it is particularly poignant that in its message of sympathy to MM Lee, the SCWO described Madam Kwa as someone who will always be remembered as an inspirational and extraordinary woman - a woman of grace, intelligence and strength - whose contribution to the nation is unmatched and immeasurable.
In this message, we hear a chorus of Singaporean women whose voices convey a sense of shared appreciation and collective identification - a grief observed, a life remembered - in their Singapore story.
The writer is Assistant Professor of History at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, and a member of the History Curriculum Development Committee, Ministry of Education.
THE satellite-based Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system being studied here will not only charge motorists for using the roads, but also have new capabilities such as the ability to track the movements of vehicles.
It will be able to capture the location from which vehicles leave, the route they take, and their final destination, supplying valuable traffic data to transport planners.
In turn, drivers will receive more accurate real-time traffic information, such as which congested roads to avoid, through a device installed on board their vehicles.
Their current in-vehicle units for the gantry-based ERP cannot receive such alerts. They now learn about traffic conditions from electronic displays along the roads or radio broadcasts.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) revealed these details when it sourced for contractors earlier this month for an evaluation test of a next-generation ERP system, which it described as a 'multimillion-dollar project'.
Only contractors with a net worth of no less than $30 million will be considered. They must have a track record of applying state-of-the-art technologies to transport-related solutions. The LTA said it may engage up to four contractors to provide solutions, paying each $1 million.
Contractors have until January next year to submit their bids.
The new system will be tried out at various sites and routes. The entire test project is scheduled to take 19 months from the award of the contract.
But Transport Minister Raymond Lim had indicated in June that the new system will take some years to develop and test before it is ready to be launched.
The next-generation system will replace the current 12-year-old one that uses physical gantries to detect vehicles entering the Central Business District and using expressways and major arterial roads.
The LTA does not think putting up more gantries - there are 68 islandwide now - is the answer in the long run.
The Straits Times understands it is looking at a new system that can handle at least one million vehicles on not only expressways and major arterial roads, but also all other types of roads including smaller access links to buildings.
Three forms of road pricing are under study.
Motorists could be levied a fee for crossing a particular point on the road or when they enter a zone, as is the practice now.
Or they could be, for the first time, charged for the distance travelled on a congested road.
Motorists may use a prepaid system like a stored-value card, or receive a monthly bill, or there could be a combination of both.
One technical challenge is to differentiate between vehicles on priced and non-priced roads, which may run parallel and close to one another.
The system also must not lose track of the vehicle when it zips into a tunnel, is under dense foliage or amid tall buildings in the Central Business District.
Transceivers installed along the road using short-range wireless communication serve as a backup if the satellite-positioning system goes awry or is inaccurate.
Deterring and spotting cheats is a key consideration. The system will detect any jamming of signals and tampering of the device in the vehicle.
Safeguarding the privacy of motorists is another concern. In tracking vehicles for traffic data, for instance, the LTA indicated that provision is to be made to preserve the anonymity of the vehicles.
Associate Professor Lee Der Horng from the National University of Singapore's civil engineering department said a system that can provide real-time traffic information by tracking all vehicles on the road will be 'very powerful'. It can gather more accurate data compared to the current reliance on a few thousand taxis installed with tracking devices, induction loops buried in roads and roadside cameras to gauge traffic flow.
Mr Ong Kian Min, an MP for Tampines GRC and a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the Government should allay any public concern over privacy, by monitoring only heavily used roads and not small roads.
He said the system could also be helpful for security agencies, like the use of closed-circuit TV cameras in public areas. 'The merits outweigh the concerns about privacy,' he noted.
One technical challenge is to differentiate between vehicles on priced and non-priced roads, which may run parallel and close to one another.
It also must not lose track of the vehicle when it zips into a tunnel, is under dense foliage or amid tall buildings in the Central Business District.