Monday, August 31, 2009

The Debilitating Side-effect of the Speak Mandarin Campaign

It may be showing irreverence to portray the honourable Minister Mentor in the category of a chameleon. His metamorphosis from a Sinophobe to a Sinophile is remarkable by any standards. Perhaps the saying that there is no permanent friend or enemy in politics is apposite in his case.

China, post- Mao Tse-tung, was an emerging as an economic juggernaut under the dynamic leadership of Deng Xiaoping and the whole world was gravitating to jump on the bandwagen. MM Lee, who was then Singapore's Prime Minister, was astute enough not to miss the boat and overnight became a Sinophile. He had unabashedly extolled the virtues of the People's Republic of China and its dynamic charismatic leaders, especially Deng Xiaoping.

MM Lee (or PM Lee) was so besotted by the charisma and charms of the celebrated Communist Chinese leaders that it could have possibly germinated the idea of a Speak Mandarin Campaign in his mind. And so was born the Speak Mandarin Campaign, probably much to the delight of Communist China. It was supposed to appeal to Chinese Singaporeans, especially those who were not bi-lingual. With MM Lee's exhortations, it took Singapore by storm and Chinese Singaporeans, even some enthusiastic non-Chinese, were blithely, and maybe proudly, rattling off in Mandarin. This is a feather in MM Lee's cap and is so far-reaching that Mandarin is spoken in all Government offices dealing with the public and in hospitals. But how this campaign with its chauvinistic overtone is viewed by non-Chinese Singaporeans is a moot point.

Perhaps this saying is appropriate here: Can you have the cake and eat it? While the Speak Mandarin Campaign is a success, the standard of English has suffered as a result. It has reached a stage where MM Lee exhorts Singaporeans, especially the youths, to speak grammatically correct or proper English. The Singapore youths speak atrocious English but are otherwise Singlish-savvy. This trend is worrying and, if allowed to continue, will have an adverse effect on the international reputation of Singapore as a country with a very high standard of English. So MM Lee has now come up with a Speak English Campaign. But the Minister Mentor will face an uphill task as the youths are too deeply entrenched in their Singlish habits to pay any heed to MM Lee's appeal. Could this aspect of the language problem have been neglected all these years because of too much emphasis on the Speak Mandarin Campaign. There is a appropriate Chinese saying:"It is not too late to repair the pen after the sheep have escaped", which is meant to indicate that it is not too late to remedy the situation whatever it takes.

Proficiency in Mandarin may stand a person in good stead in his business dealings in China and maybe Taiwan. But English is the language that is pivotal in business and social intercourse with the world, especially the West and USA. Can one imagine any of our future leaders speaking Singlish here and overseas but MM Lee would probably not be around to see it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No racial inequality in Utopian Singapore?

One of the easiest ways to make his hackles rise is to heckle the benign Minister Mentor about racial inequality in Singapore. He is either myopic or a dreamer who believes in a utopian Singapore where racial inequality exists only in one's imagination. Sooner or later he is going to be roused forcefully from his idealistic dreams by the stark realities of the problem.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong narrated in his National Day Rally on 16 August a classic example of a near Sino-Malay incident which was timely prevented from happening through the alertness and quick action of community centre officers. A Malay family had successfully obtained an HDB void deck for a wedding and was appalled to find it occupied by a Chinese family for a funeral rite. As it turned out, the Malay family showed exemplary communal spirit and understanding by agreeing to move the wedding to another site, thus preventing an ugly racial incident. Knowing the Chinese idiosyncracy where funeral rites are concerned, the Chinese family could not have given way. On the other hand the Malay family could have insisted on racial equality and held their ground.

Perhaps MM Lee would have been more enlightened about his utopian dream by the following snippet by a Chinese reporter of the Lianhe Zaobao published on 29 August. Apparently, this woman reporter specialised in collecting conversational titbits in her rounds of community centres. Here is an interesting account of her scoop: "As a majority race we Chinese do not always comprehend how our speeches and behaviours or national policy will influence our other racial compatriots. Because of this we should diligently listen. For example, my recent attendance at a dialogue has allowed me to hear for the first time that in actual fact our Malay compatriots when renting HDB void decks for wedding are rquired to state clearly in the signed form their agreement to withdraw if there are people (meaning Chinese) wanting the place for funeral rites". Can the enlightened Minister Mentor really believe that this is racial equality? If this is true, there is an urgent necessity for the government to rectify this racial inequality before it deteriorates into an untenable situation.

Another area of racial inequality perceived is the apparent unrestricted influx of foreign workers from China, especially in the service sector. Can one imagine Indian clients being served by Chinese waiters in Indian restaurants? This is because Indian restaurateurs find it impossible to overcome official red tapes when they apply for service workers from India. Apparently no such red tapes exist for the entry of service workers from China. So, as an expediency, some Indian rstaurateurs resort to the engagement of Chinese service workers to fill their waiter vacancies. Conversely, can one imagine Chinese clients being served by Indian waiters in a Chinese restaurant? Is this not ridiculous? So are the Indian restaurateurs receiving fair treatment and is this MM Lee's definition of racial equality? It is not surprising that rumblings of racism can sometimes be heard.

So the great Minister Mentor should exercise more circumspection before he ventures to declaim that there is no racial inequality in Singapore.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How Sophistic Can Temasek Be?

"You can bluff some of the people some of the time". This famous saying was made by the late renowned American President Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century and it is still axiomatic in the 21st century Singapore.

Temasek, or rather Ms Ho Ching, hid behind a sophistic phrase "unresolved strategic differences" to make the bombshell announcement of the sudden departure of the CEO-designate Mr. Charles Goodyear. Since the enigmatic announcement there have been massive clamours from the disillusioned public for Temasek or Ms Ho Ching to enlighten them on the real reason for Mr. Goodyear's departure. Ms Ho Ching cannot be so naive as to expect the discerning public to be so easily taken in by such sophistry.

Temasek spent two years since 2007 wooing Mr. Charles Goodyear who was interviewed by board members individually and as a group. Are we asked to believe that the board members, individually and as a group, showed such ineptitude that they could not detect any prospective "strategic differences" or any similar flaw in the prospective CEO? This is what the public would like to be enlightened on. Indeed, there is a plethora of requests for such enlightenment from netizens which Temasek could not have been so ignorant as to be unaware of. Maybe their most expedient attitude is to ignore such clamours in the hope that they will blow over in course of time.

Are these really "unresoved strategic differences" as such between Ms Ho Ching and Mr. Charles Goodyear? When did Ms Ho Ching discover these differences to be so fundamental that they cannot be resolved? Or could it not boil down to the fact that it gradually became dawn on Ms Ho Ching that Mr. Goodyear was not a malleable character much to her chagrin. In short, Mr. Goodyear was found to be a maverick. Worst still, he appeared to all intents and purposes to be going to throw a spanner in the works when he assumes complete control of Temasek. No doubt this discovery had appalled Ms Ho Ching and the Temasek Board and, amidst the frantic scrambling for a face-saving solution, a drastic action had to be taken which necessitated the giving of a golden hand-shake to a disconcerted Mr. Goodyear. This was where politics came into play. To preserve a semblance of goodwill on both sides, the parting was euphemistically described as mutual and the phrase "unresolved strategic differences" was coined to give the comic opera a veneer of respectability. The truth of the matter will eventually appear on the grapevine but may take some time.

In the meantime Ms Ho Ching will continue to reign as Temasek queen which public talks have predicted as her ambition. The disenchanted public will be watching with bated breath to see if there will be any further disastrous financial losses under her diffident stewardship, her recent so-called honour as the world's fifth most powerful woman notwithstanding.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Were they highfalutin ideas?

The poor Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Viswa Sadavisan did not really expect the massive fury of none other than the benign Minister Mentor (MM) to land on him. For him it was no doubt a signal honour to be appointed an NMP and, brimming with the ebullience of a people's crusader, he made what he thought a maiden speech in Parliament befitting his altruistic aspiration. Let's examine what he said that brought the wrath of MM upon him.

There was nothing wrong, indeed it was patriotic of Mr. Sadavisan, to quote the National Pledge to remind the government to adhere to its principles in its management of the affairs of the State based on racial equality enshrined in the National Pledge. It was a fair proposition and there was nothing highfalutin about it except in the person's imagination.

MM Lee may have been moving on a higher political plane in recent times jetting to the West and China to exude his charismatic charms on his guillible audiences so much so that he is detached from the political reality of a section of the people, especially the non-chinese. If he is not like the ostrich burying its head in the sand he should not miss the rumblings, faintly perceptible because of a climate of fear, of racial inequality among a section of the non-Chinese. In fact it took an intrepid patriot like Mr. Sadavisan to draw attention to such a phenomenon, knowing that it would not be viewed with any kindness. One can live in a fool's paradise and, one fine day, finds the ugly reality explode in his face.

As an elder statesman MM Lee thinks that it is in incumbent upon him to entertain the rakyat from time to time, whenever he feels the occasion for it, with his so-called inspirational speeches. He delights in giving such evangelical speeches as it gives him the satisfaction of assuming himself to be a messiah. So it is in his innate character that he would use such bombastic words as "bring the house back to earth" in his highfalutin speech in Parliament. It would not come as a surprise if House Members, who have been so used to his snide remarks, have taken this in good spirit.

Of course his memoires could only be a glorification of his exploits and do not reflect a verdict of his so-called statesmanship. He has used the Chinese proverb:"When the coffin is closed, you will have the verdict" to explain that he would leave it to future historians to judge him. To judge him now may be a bit premature and unflattering.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Could it not be more appropriately called the Singapore Mass Rapid Travesty? SMRT is supposed to move big numbers of commuters who travel in the train efficiently, but seems to lack courtesy in some of its front-line staff dealing with commuters. Quite glaring was the overwhelming manhandling manner of its operating staff in its recent campaign against eating and drinking offenders in trains and stations. To use an analogy, it was not unlike using a sledge-hammer to whack a fly. It was obvious that the offending commuters were quite intimidated by such peremptory approach. The whole operation could have been done with more finesse which would have left a better taste in the mouth of the public.

The discourteous behaviour of the SMRT front-line staff has remained unchanged since a heart-rending incident involving an elderly female Malay commuter three years ago. Her name was Madam Dalmah, 63, who had severe diabetes with frequent giddiness and prone to fainting spells. Her doctor had advised her to always have some sweets with her to be taken when she experienced such fainting spell. This was because her blood sugar level was low.

She had one such fainting spell as she was commuting in the train on this occasion. Fortunately, she was accompanied by her son Mr. Azli Talip, 35, who promptly popped a lozenge into his mother's mouth. She recovered from her fainting but the whole incident was watched by two SMRT officers. Instead of showing compassion for the old woman's plight, they really showed their fangs. One of them rudely questioned the son whether he knew it was an offence to eat on the train. He refused to accept the son's explanation of his mother's medical condition.This smart alec asserted that an offence was an offence and warned Madam Dalmah not to be caught eating on the train again. Of course the son was livid but he quite wisely avoided creating a scene.

The callous attitude of the SMRT officer, which should take the cake for callousness, has given such a harrowing experience to Madam Dalmah that she now shuns travelling on the SMRT. The train service must not only be concerned with only the mass movement of commuters efficiently for which it was established but it owes a duty to the commuting public to see that its staff, especially its front-line staff, do not forget courtesy to the public along the way, especially compassion to those who are indisposed like Madam Dalmah. The recent campaign against eating and drinking offenders does not give the impression that SMRT has changed for the better in its fron-line staff's attitude since the discreditable incident three years ago.