The beauty of print

A good friend told me that the Macau Public Library had reviewed Tales of Two Cities

This was completely unexpected as I didn't even know the book was available in Macau. 

This happy incident shows the beauty of print - as long as it's physically available, eventually somebody will read it and, if they like it enough, comment on it. 

Here's hoping more of these happy incidents will keep on happening with all my projects. 

Macau Public Library Periodical August 2016

Macau Public Library Periodical August 2016

Singapore is Top 10 in Creativity

The results of the Global Creative Index from Martin Prosperity is pretty interesting this year. 

I'm not sure how Iceland and Singapore made it to the top 10, not because I don't think these two countries are amazing in their own rights, but simply the fact that I don't know anyone who can tell me elements of Icelandic or Singaporean design. Swedish, Danish, and Finnish designs are pretty famous. US, Australia, and Canada have global brands. 

According to the report, Singapore reports the 3rd largest share of the creative class (47%) — which spans science and technology; arts and culture; and business, management, and the professions. Singapore's technology is rated a "7" and its talent pool a "5''. Those measurements seem accurate, but creativity, generally defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something new and somehow valuable, is somewhat lacking I think. The Singapore education system and Singaporeans are not exactly known for "use of imagination" and so it is strange that the country is ranked so high on the Global Creative Index. 

In terms of ranking though, Singapore is hitting it out of the park this year. Top 10 in the Global Creativity Index. Two local universities are ranked higher than Yale based on the QS world university ranking. If anything, it demonstrates the country, like the by-product of it's education system, performs exceptionally well on standardized tests. 



Singapore Politics: Check-and-Balance & Accountability

One of the strongest arguments that the opposition parties have rallied behind is the idea of check-and-balance, preventing one branch or party from being supreme and limiting their powers so as to keep them in check. 

This check-and-balance principle for the government was devised by the great French philosopher Montesquieu. A well-known example is the US government and the way it separates powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branch. 

Singapore is a tiny nation that has benefitted remarkably due to one party for the past 50 years.

In this setting, is the check-and-balance principle necessary? 

The answer, as it is with most difficult questions, is that it depends. 

If you agree with Lord John Dalberg-Acton's quote that "absolute power corrupts absolutely", then check and balance is necessary. 

If you think it's possible to not be corrupt by power, then check-and-balance is unnecessary. 

At a luncheon with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in May 2014

At a luncheon with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in May 2014

Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, supports the latter notion. Last month, he said that, "We [the People's Action Party] are our own checks, the integrity of our leaders and our MPs … not this seductive lie of check and balance." (1)

Part of the problem that the check-and-balance principle tries to address is the idea of accountability. In other words, who is accountable when things go wrong? 

The opposition parties want to have check-and-balance to make the ruling party more accountable for their actions. 

The ruling party believes that they are already accountable enough and they are their "own checks" so they don't need anyone else to look over their shoulders. 

It would have been interesting if someone actually called out ESM Goh Chok Tong for specific examples on how the ruling parties are their "own checks". 

Stranded commuters. Picture is from

Stranded commuters. Picture is from

Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng's oversight allowed terrorist suspect Mas Selamat bin Kastari to escape from a Singapore detention center back in 2008. It was a national embarrassment, but Mr. Wong Kan Seng remained Deputy Prime Minister until 2011. In July of this year, Singapore experienced its worst disruption in public transportation in history, stranding 250,000 commuters or about 10% of the voting population. Minister of Transport Lui Tuck Yew decided to step down from his post this month, a good six weeks later and on his accord. 

For some comparison, four-star general David Petraeus had to leave his position as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) back in 2012 due to his affair with Paula Broadwell. Eric K. Shinseki, one of the longest serving and most trusted officials in Obama's Cabinet, resigned in 2014 over the Veterans Health Administration scandal

US politics is very different from Singapore, but with such graceful exits in Singapore, it's hard to determine if it's due to accountability or an Asian management style. 

Singapore politicians are among the highest paid politicians in the world. (2) The rationale for their high salary is that it should be comparable to the private sector so as to entice the best to a life of public service. It makes sense, but then shouldn't accountability also be similar to the private sector? If you mess up badly, regardless of how nice you are as a person, you'll be fired in the private sector. This doesn't always seem to be the case with the ruling party. 

I'm bringing this up because yesterday I said that as long as the ruling party doesn't screw up, its position should be more secured than ever. I'm clarifying that hubris, arrogance, and a refusal to be more accountable is a form of screwing up. Hopefully, the ruling party will keep it in check so as to give its citizens a peace of mind. If not, then the next election will bear more semblance to the results of the 2011 election rather than this recent one

Singapore Politics: Election 2015

A major election happened in Singapore last week. The result was surprising to some, although I'm not sure why.  

Singapore's ruling party, The People's Action Party (PAP), won about 70% of the popular vote and made major headway in almost all constituencies, even the ones previously dominated by the opposition. 

Some opposition party politicians like Tan Jee Say and Kenneth Jeyaretnam have expressed surprise at the result since it's different from the feedback they heard on the ground and what they perceived to be a general dissatisfaction with the government. 

But, the opposition parties discounted 3 major things:

  1. SG50 year-long celebration - a constant reminder of Singapore's remarkable transformation attributed directly to the PAP
  2. Reverence for the late Lee Kuan Yew - The father of the nation and founder of the ruling party passed away this year and the ruling party is able to capitalize on the sympathetic votes
  3. Most importantly, the lack of unity from the 8 different opposition parties

The last point is very important as the opposition parties, divided by their own personal ideologies, actually made it easier for the ruling party to fight against them. 

Everyone was touting how this is the first time in 50 years all 89 seats were being contested without actually looking at the quality of the candidates. This is similar to the ridiculous amount of Republican candidates vying to win the US Republican nomination. Not all candidates should be considered a candidate.  

In Singapore, the 8 opposition parties were splitting their resources and trying to recruit opposition candidates for their own parties instead of pooling their resources to find the best opposition candidates to go against the ruling party. Tan Jee Say and Kenneth Jeyaretnam have impressive credentials and if they had worked together, that would have doubled the credibility of the opposition. I'm simplifying it, of course, but you get the idea.

The opposition party that fared the best was The Workers' Party (WP). If you look at the quality of their candidates, like He Ting Ru, Leon Perera, and Dr. Daniel Goh, it's quite impressive. These are the kind of candidates that are comparable to PAP candidates, in terms of credentials at least. And yet, WP actually lost Punggol East and the PAP improved their margins in WP-held ward of Aljunied and Hougang.

What did this demonstrate? That the opposition made it too easy for the PAP. From the people I interacted with, I think the general dissatisfaction with the government is very real. But, the opposition did not present enough credible candidates to convince the public to consider giving them a chance. If anything, the 2015 General Election was the PAP's to lose. 

In the meantime, the PAP will have 4-5 more years to improve living standards for its citizens (traffic, housing, wages, etc) before they have to square off against the opposition once more. As long as they don't screw up, their position should be more secured than ever. 



Vesak Day

Today is Vesak Day or more popularly known as "Buddha's Birthday". Interestingly, due to the different lunar calendars across Asia, different countries in the region celebrate this on different days. Generally, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Malaysia observe Vesak Day on the same day while Thailand, Myanmar, and Singapore observe it on a different day. Hong Kong and South Korea also observe this on entirely different days (again, due to the different lunar calendars of the respective countries). Taiwan decided to stop basing it on the lunar calendar and simply set it as the as the second Sunday of May, the same date as Mother's Day). Interesting, huh?

Regardless of which Asian country you're in, it is a fairly big religious event in Asia and most Buddhist temples in Asia are bustling with Buddhist devotees. 

In light of Vesak Day, here's an infographic with 10 interesting facts about karma you probably didn't know from Kadampa Meditation Center South Carolina.


What is the "Singapore standard"?

Yesterday, a friend wrote that something wasn't up to "Singapore standard" and I took a second look at that term. I emailed her and told her that I wasn't sure if people know what exactly is "Singapore standard".

Thinking further about it, it is interesting that Singapore - a well-regarded, affluent city-state with a high standard of living - is unable to position itself as a country with high standards. German engineering, Swiss Made, and Japanese precision illustrate how countries are able to market themselves to the world due to their perceived exacting standards. In many regards, Singapore should also be on that list. 

Singapore is one of the most affluent countries in the world, ranked second in terms of safety, third in global education, and placed top ten in terms of innovation. Granted, it's not easy for countries to change the mindset of consumers, but the mass admiration for Korean products now versus 10-20 years ago shows that it is entirely possible. Hyundai cars, LG TVs, and Samsung phones were previously perceived as inferior to Japanese made product, but Korean chaebols poured millions into R&D and marketed themselves extensively. Now, Korean products are held in the same regard as Japanese products, if not better. If we look at the chart below, South Korea now leads the world in innovation. Of the top 10 countries on the list, I think Singapore is the one that would seem foreign to most people. 

Global Innovation Index

Global Innovation Index

Some might argue that Singapore Airlines, which consistently ranked as the best airline in the world, means that people do know that the Singapore standard equates to quality. I would argue that it just means great service, not necessarily high standard. All Nippon Airways or Asiana Airlines may not rank as high as Singapore Airlines, but the perception is that Japanese and Korean products/engineering are superior to Singaporean products/engineering. Just because you're good in service doesn't mean that you're good at producing quality products. 

Given the adage - "It is easier to criticize than to do better" - my suggestion is that the government works with companies to encourage them to use the country in their marketing, much like how most Swiss watches use the phrase "Swiss Made" and how German luxury car brands Mercedes and BMW tout "German engineering". Given Singapore's successes and it's kiasu spirit, it should try to achieve a market position where "Singapore standard" actually means something to the world.