Policy Challenge

Previously, I was tasked to wrote about the most urgent policy challenge facing the world today, as well as analysis of an article which can offer a solution. 

In my opinion, the most urgent policy challenge facing the world today is addressing the sense of displacement and injustice experienced by its people due to globalization and technology disruption. 

It arises from the neglect of human and sociological factors which influence economic growth. Mass migration of people, such as refugees, expatriates, and migrant workers, is causing unease among people of the host countries. 

The indigenous people experience worries, fears, and indignation that their privilege of being the majority will be eroded, grapple with the loss of their national identity and woes from a stiffer job competition. 

On the other spectrum, the migrants and minorities feel discriminated and unjust when their talents and performance are overlooked due to their supposed differences.

The article ‘Man and Economic Development’ by Dr Goh Keng Swee may offer a solution to this policy challenge. In this article, Dr Goh succinctly stated that the purpose of economic development is to make man better off materially and to achieve a fuller live. 

He noted that inadequate attention was paid in the human motivation to carry out the economic expansion.

There is a sizeable majority around the world who are rejecting the economics benefits of international trade agreements and globalization, in attempt to mitigate the perceived social costs and upheavals. 

This is evident by results of the Brexit, political demonstrations and unexpected political outcomes in elections around the world where rejection of immigrants and nationalistic sentiments are so popular.

Dr Goh raised several factors which the government should adopt to achieve the changes in society that were necessary facilitate economic development. 

Firstly, the spread of general education sets the foundation of literacy and social discipline among the population. 

Secondly, through vocation schools and tertiary education institutions, the government must provide its citizens with the same opportunities to make the best of their talents. 

Third, ensuring that the public service is well administrated and corruption free and ably lead by political leadership. 

Fourth, the society is receptive of changes, social mobility and practices meritocracy where those with talent, ability and skills can rise to the position for which they are best fitted. 

Lastly, the production and expansion of entrepreneurs.

 These proposed solutions underline the importance of the Government as a social leveller. Egalitarianism policies are quintessential for the society to progress in tandem with economic development.

One of the caveats of the article is its relevance in today’s context. It was published in 1961, and the urgent challenges Singapore Government faced was to lift its citizens from abject poverty, following a post-war and independence from Malaysia. 

Today, the world faces the issue of societies which are fragmented by the income inequalities, privilege gap, the racial faults, and conflicting aspirations and value systems among groups.

While insightful, the purported solutions raised by the article are not backed by empirical evidences and further reading is necessary to chart the progress of Singapore. 

The usefulness of this article may be limited to sparking an intellectual discussion among the Governments to relook at the fundamentals of their policies, determine whether they still serve its intended purpose, and make necessary changes moving forward.

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Flea Markets

It was announced that the Sungei Road Thieve’s market will be closed with effect from 11 July 2017. The Thieves’ Market started out as a black market where stolen, smuggled and illegal good was traded in the 1930s. The organic nature of the Thieves’ Market is a boon and a bane – it is chaotic and an eyesore for some; but it is it’s charm as well which is impossible to replicate elsewhere in Singapore. While heritage enthusiasts lament the impending loss, many of the hawkers accepted that it is just a matter of time before the market will be closed. There is no place for such a disorganised market in a highly organised, modern, and ‘sterile’  society such as Singapore.

On the other hand, there is a burgeoning of flea markets events organised, such as Art Box, Market of Artists And Designers (MAAD), Public Garden and so on. In a time which shopping malls are so ubiquitous, and online shopping is so common, many people are still willing to throng these places or events for a more personalised and less jaded shopping experience. 

Over the weekend, my friend and I visited two different flea markets – the Thieves’ Market, and the Public Garden at Suntec City. While both serve a different target audiences, peddles different type of wares.

A flea market is more than a marketplace where the buyers and the sellers meet – it is place where interesting personalities get revealed through the interactions among the vendors, or between the vendors and the sellers. It allows the sellers to gather and connect as a community. It fosters entrepreneurship as the vendors gets feedback from their customers directly.

What draws people to such flea markets then and now is the sense of community, a sense of connection, identity and relationships.

Nowadays, our pace of life is so fast and our relationships are mostly transactional. People are like silt that flow through the river of life. A community is thus like a delta which is formed when the silt is deposited and built up overtime. It is harder to form an enduring community when the velocity of life and the process of modernisation is threatening to wash away the silt before it could accumulate and create something meaningful.

Just a muse.

Observation of the Education System, from a Layman

The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results was released on Thursday, 24 November 2016. It is a national level examination in Singapore which determines where the student will move on to for their Secondary School. For many parents and students, the PSLE is a high stakes event where the weight of one’s future hinges upon the performance in that particular moment.

望子成龙,望女成风 – This Chinese proverb is about the hopes of parents and their longing for their children to succeed in life. I have never been a parent, and thus could not yet understand the obsession with grades among parents who compare the achievements of their children.

While it is true that the Pygmalion effect, which states “that what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy”, can spur the child to succeed, on the flip side there are also children who are overwhelmed by the weight of their parents’ expectations.

I scored 236 for my PSLE and went on to the Express stream in a Neighbourhood School. With a Levels score of 16 for my L1R4, I went on to Polytechnic to pursue a Diploma in Media Design, and then to PSB Academy for my Bachelor Degree at a private university.

My academic achievement in those days was considered mediocre, and it is an indelible part of my past. But my grades lost relevance as I gained more working experience. When I first started work, there was a steep learning curve to pick up the technicality of the job and execute the administrative processes required. After five years in my career, work has become monotonous, tedious and repetitive and I start yearning to challenge this plateau stage.

When we are young, we feel that schools were a shackle to our freedom and we probably do not know purpose of learning the various subjects. It was tedious to memorise so much, with the purpose of getting a number to quantify our worth and effort. As I grow older, I started to miss the freedom of learning and the chance to explore new concepts and ideas, and discuss my thoughts with my peers.

I started realising that the essence of Education is to gain as much knowledge as possible to help mankind, and in hopes to alleviate suffering of others. We learn Geography, to understand the terrains and the environment so that we can adapt to the forces of nature. We learn history, to understand the mistakes and successes of our predecessors in order to make progress to our society, as well as to understand our roots and identities. We learn maths and science to advance our technologies and solve problems we face today. We learn languages to communicate with one another – to understand and to be understood.

Education is touted to be a means to upward mobility. It comprises of general education (the foundation of literacy); and  utilitarian education (which ensure that people are well equipped for the functions they have to perform in society)

Our academic performance open up choices and the means to a coveted profession. Aside from fulfilling our aspirations, certain careers comes with prestige and better monetary compensations which are considered hallmarks of success in the society.

However, the nightmare of youth unemployment is challenging the education system and the value of the information which institutions of higher learning impart to the students.

Even Education is suffering from the law of diminishing marginal returns. While there is a high unemployment rate, there is also a dearth of talents and specialists in some industries – there is a mismatch of labour demand and supply and an awful gap between aspirations and expectations.

This post is merely my observation of happenings around me.

As long as one is alive, there is hope and that you can blossom later in life.

Review: DISGRACED, by Ayad Akhtar

I was invited to attend the play, titled ‘Disgraced’ by Ayad Akhtar on 17 November 2016 at the Singapore Repertory Theatre. It was a novel experience for me, to catch such ‘cultural’ performance.

The synopsis of the play as follows:

The play was set in New York City, circa 2011/2012. The protagonist, Amir Kapoor, has worked hard to achieve the American Dream. With South Asian Muslim roots, he has gone on to become a successful lawyer, has a beautiful American wife, Emily.

But when Amir hosts a dinner party for his African American colleague, Jory, and her Jewish husband, Isaac the initially pleasant evening erupts into a volatile argument over race, religion and class in the modern world.

Through the interesting dialogues between the characters, it reveals the various perspectives and interpretation of race, religion and discrimination.

There were already numerous reviews and critique of the play, where various writers expressed the social-political issues they picked up from the play eloquently – such as the feasibility of the American Dream for the non-white people; the nature and purpose of faith, the stereotypes of Muslims; the threat of radicalisation; the need to renounce one’s cultural identity in the name of assimilation and gain acceptance; upward mobility and so on.

Personally, I thought that the play is disconcerting. I have never been to America, but through this play, I think I have the sheer ugliness of the….

The protagonist, Amir, was an apostate, who had renounced his Islamic faith and changed his name. Throughout the show, Amir projected a bitter man with intense self-hatred, identity crisis and uttered blasphemy about Islam. The source of his anger is fear – he was acutely aware and sensitive to the discrimination against Muslims in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks; and was afraid that his racial profile will overshadow his talents and performance and ruin his career progression.

In contrast, Amir’s wife, Emily, embraced and idealised the Islamic traditions. Owing to the privilege of being a White person, she is blithely unaware about the discrimination her husband faces, nor able fathom the intensity of her husband’s turmoil.

Towards the ending of the play, Amir snapped as he felt that the world was against him. His worst fear of being passed over for the promotion because his employers felt he was a professional liability due to his roots, being unjustly branded as an ‘Jihadist sympathiser’ when he attended a hearing of a local Imam, and the shame of learning that his wife had an extra-marital affair. While ‘understandable’, I felt that the portrayal of domestic violence committed by a “Muslim man” in the play may not augur well in the current climate of distrust, and might reinforce the negative stereotype among those who already have such misgivings.

While majority of us acknowledge the importance and fragility of racial harmony, our community is becoming more stratified due to inequalities – the privilege gap, the racial & religious faults, and the different aspirations and value systems among people.

The status quo – racial tolerance – is fragile. This was evident in the play where a simple dinner among four ‘liberal minded’ professional adults escalated into a dramatic and intense conflict.

Few feel comfortable about having an honest conversation about our difference, out of fear of offending the other party, and inciting unnecessary problems such as being branded as a racist. Stereotypes arise as human has the primal instinct to make snap judgment for ‘survival’ – deciding arbitrarily based on hearsay or assumptions of other groups of people. But we have to be aware of our own inherent prejudices and biases, to avoid discriminating and hurting others.

  1. http://arabstages.org/2016/04/on-ayad-akhtars-disgraced/
  2. https://www.google.com.sg/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/stage/2016/apr/22/disgraced-review-pulitzer-winning-play-challenges-audience-to-question-their-tolerance?client=safari
  3. https://www.google.com.sg/amp/www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-disgraced-review-20160620-snap-story,amp.html?client=safari
  4. http://theconversation.com/review-disgraced-turns-west-meets-islam-divisions-into-striking-melodrama-58224
  5. http://m.buro247.sg/culture/film-tv-and-stage/theatre-review-disgraced-singapore-repertory.html
  6. http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2016/03/02/south-asians-are-disgraced-by-the-most-popular-play-in-america/48209

 

Life contemplation 

I have been in my current career for almost five years and can’t help thinking about being in another job. I wanted to be an artist, an illustrator, a graphic designer, a librarian, a researcher, a teacher and so on.

I realised that no matter where I am, I will always be the same person because what I want most is the freedom to pursue new knowledge, express myself creatively, to teach and to learn.

I’m starting to feel stagnant and noted and work. It’s true there is still a mass amount of things I can learn in my job – the procurement processes, the rules and work processes are always changing and becoming more onerous with time.

But I’m not inspired. I only need to comply with the prescribed practices. 

I’m thinking of resigning and putting myself in the job market. But I’m nervous in facing interviews – I’m afraid of the unknown and whether I’m good enough.

Food Wastage in Singapore

According to the Straits Times News Article, a staggering 788,600 tonnes of food were thrown away in 2014 with only 13 per cent of last year’s food waste was recycled (Boh, 2015). This is a tremendous waste of resources for this country.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) would be launching a new campaign to tackle food wastage and educate people on the poor habits of overstocking of food at home and having to discard expired the food that were unconsumed.

However, I feel that NEA’s attempt in trying changing the consumption patterns is not as effective as taking a multipronged approach in addressing food waste in our food cycle from the production, distribution, retail to consumption.

Food waste is created due to

  1. Discarding of spoilt food from improper storage or handling; or
  2. Discarding of ‘unsellable’ or ‘ugly’ food although they are still edible,
  3. Discarding of excessive leftovers

Supermarkets, wholesale and wet markets and farms would do cosmetic filtering where food that look less than perfect are discarded although it is edible (SaveFoodCutWaste.com, 2015). Moreover, fresh produce are perishable and could not be kept for sale for long.

NEA can consider adopting the “ugly food movement” which is quite successful in Europe and Australia – where edible food that are in odd shapes are also put up for sale instead of being discarded (Dan Mitchell, 2015). For a start, our NTUC Fairprice supermarket can do their part by adopting the ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ that was launched by Intermarché, a French Supermarket (Martha Cliff , 2015).

Alternatively, more of the edible but ‘unsellable’ food can be donated to soup kitchens, such as ‘Willing Hearts, which offers cooked food to the needy residents.

Food & Beverage (F&B) establishment ought to invest in managing their inventory of food stock, where they order or prepare more food than required (Savefoodcutwaste.com, 2015). Currently, the voluntary welfare organization, ‘Food From The Heart’, help to channels unwanted bread from hotels and bakeries to needy families and individuals, and more can be done to encourage other bakeries to participate in the programme.

During events and social functions, it is common to over-order the food for the guests. Most of the leftovers are gone to waste as the practice of ‘tau-paoing’ the food can be seen as embarrassing. In additional, the ‘tau-pau’ or doggy-bag practice is also not recommended especially after NEA implemented the mandatory time-stamping of catered food.

Lastly, food waste from homes is substantial as many people tend to overstock of food at home and the food could end up not being consumed and expire. The Food Bank Singapore is making an effort to collect excessive food from the affluence and redistribute them to the needy through the various volunteer welfare organizations.

If NEA is committed to reducing the food waste to as part of the ‘Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015’, there should be much stronger network and synergy between itself, the stakeholders in the food cycle, and the welfare organizations. The importance of food security should also be emphasized in its public awareness campaigns

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Boh, Samantha. (2015). NEA To Launch Campaign To Reduce Food Waste Next Week. Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nea-and-ava-to-launch-campaign-to-reduce-food-waste-next-week?login=true. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

Dan Mitchell. (2015). WHy People Are Falling in Love With “Ugly Food”. TIME. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3761942/why-people-are-falling-in-love-with-ugly-food/ . [Accessed 29 November 2015].

 

Anonymous. (2015). Food Wastage in Singapore. SaveFoodCutWaste.com. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.savefoodcutwaste.com/food-waste/food-wastage-in-singapore/. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

Martha Cliff (2015). French Supermarket Sells Ugly Fruit And Vegetables At Discount To Combat Food Waste. Daily Mail Online. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-2693000/Forget-ugli-fruit-meet-ugly-fruit-bowl-French-supermarket-introduces-lumpy-misshapen-fruit-vegetables-sold-30-discount-combat-food-waste.html. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

 

Food Bank Singapore. (2015). [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.foodbank.sg/. [Accessed 29 November 2015].

Heralding a Post LKY Singapore

I wrote ‘Singapore, without LKY, What will my future Be? on 6 June 2009.

The inevitable had became a reality. Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away on 23 March 2015 at the age of 91 years old.

Death is sobering. It reminded us of our mortality and that life is transient.

There was an outpouring of grief and tributes from people of all walks of life and nationalities during the week of state mourning. We began to grasp the extend of Mr Lee’s impact upon his death, as we piece anecdotes from people to learn more about this man – as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, a political leader, a mentor, and a boss – and remember him by.

For so long, many Singaporeans, like myself, have take the prosperity, peace, and beauty of Singapore for granted. It is a luxury to do.

The accomplishments of the pioneers of Singapore, and the hardships they faced, had faded with time. Mr Lee’s death sparked a new awakening of our national identity and appreciation of our history, as the media bombarded us with stories and historic recordings which encapsulated the Mr Lee’s achievements, and together with his comrades, in charting a sustainable history for Singapore.

Lives goes on. Mr Lee’s lifelong passion in guarding the future of Singapore imbued a sense of pride, patriotism and the mission in us to steward Singapore to greater heights.

PS: I am sharing the vide, ‘I wish I could Miss you, Mr Lee’, as I thought it is one of the poignant tributes to Mr Lee Kuan Yew which reflects the sentiments of the younger generation

I Wish I Could Miss You, Mr Lee from Zo Fan on Vimeo.