Friday, May 16, 2008

Business of giving

Singaporeans have been called kiasu and kiasi, which roughly translated, means averse to losing out to any and everybody. Yet, when it comes to giving, Singaporeans really have a heart of gold. Just the other day, the hat was passed around in my workplace and everyone contributed cash in greater or lesser amounts towards the needs of the people affected by the Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (Burma). This in spite of reports that the generals and other government crooks are hoarding some of the donated stuff and passing the rotten leftovers to the people in need. Then came increasingly grim news of the Sichuan earthquake, now known as the 512 incident, with upwards of 20,000 lives and counting reportedly lost. Singaporeans opened their pockets again in spite of living on an island where the prices of some things have gone up by as much as 40%.

What can we make of this creature called the Singaporean? Before, we all thought that Singaporean's giving was not all out of altruistic motives. For example, there were lucky strings attached to the giving in the Singapore National Kidney Foundation's charity shows and the Ren Ci charity drives. People gave in copious amounts - millions of dollars when totaled up. The cynics among us sniggered and found the kiasu/kiasu pattern in all this. But what of the giving to Myanmar and China? Don't want to lose out there too, even when there is no obvious return on the donation, whether in cash or kind? Perhaps the feel good factor that one has helped an unfortunate human being is there. We just don't want others to feel better than ourselves - kiasuism in action again! How characteristic of the Singaporean! But of course I am being cynical again. It is probably nearer the truth to say that most, if not all, of the giving arises from a feeling of shared humanity in times of suffering. Truly our troubles become insignificant when we see others face tragedies far worse - like the lost of lives, houses and livelihoods.

I was told of how the parents of a student in Singapore, who hails from Sichuan, escaped just in time before their house collapse. This student spent sleepless nights worrying over her parents. We know of many Burmese in Singapore who may have lost friends and relatives in the Irrawaddy delta region, which is the worst affected by Cyclone Nargis. While we often talk about global businesses, it has become the business of nations to care for each other. Almost without fail, the US, Europe and Japan put themselves first in line to offer aid, wherever that need is, even in countries not on the most friendly terms with them. While the rest of the world may berate the US for throwing its weight around the world and engaging in unwelcome wars, it must acknowledge that the American people are generous to a fault. Some cynics would disagree and say that this is a proxy approach to 'buy people's hearts', as the Taiwanese seem to be doing by boasting that they can raise more money for the Sichuan disaster victims than even the mainland Chinese can, but I think that is being biased. At the end of the day, action speaks louder than words. Let those who often criticise others look at themselves first to see if they have done enough.

Yet the cynic in me cannot help but ask the question: why does China need any money from the rest of the world when it has trillions in foreign reserves? Television footage showing Premier Wen Jiabao comforting a grieving child and promising government help should settle the matter. Premier Wen knows he can back up his promises with money and action. Having said that, Premier Wen is turning out to be a serial comforter, from the mining incident back in 2003 to the snowstorms this past Chinese New Year and now, the Sichuan disaster. In many countries, the top leadership remains largely aloof in times of tragedy and the comforting is left up to functionaries to perform. Here, however, is a display of leadership from the very top by example. More than mere money, Premier Wen is giving of his spirit and sharing the people's grief in a very visible and real way. No wonder China has fallen in love with "Wen Yeye". Let us applaud Premier Wen and let the Myanmar generals learn a thing or two from "Grandpa Wen".

Image source: Author: xpSquid

1 comment :

Stefan said...

Doesn't it confuse people why, after all this time of decades of dictatorship for the Burmese people, and companies like Chevron and Pepsi coming in and having deals with the Burmese military government to use slave labor to build facilities for them, that we are being told all about the country right now? After Iraq and Afghanistan, I hope people can see that the conventional media is controlled by people with an unfriendly agenda for the world. Read this article and you will understand a bit better what I mean. It may be a bit unusual for those reading the points made in it for the first time, but, make of it what you will.