Monday, August 27, 2012

One or two?

The PM announced last evening that men will also be entitled to paternity leave, similar to women's maternity leave, to look after their just borned child. Everyone in the University Cultural Centre auditorium that I could see through the TV broadcast clapped in approval, particularly the women amongst them. The rationale? PM related an example of a women who voiced her fears that she would be forgotten by her employer if she took as long as 6 months maternity leave. So fathers should step in to shoulder this burden by being allowed to take similar leave to share the burden of nursing the baby. All of which is dandy, until you think about it further.

Would men not also be forgotten at the workplace when they take paternity leave? The couple can now share equally the 4 months of maternity leave that women are entitled to, that is 2 months each. And even supposing it is 1 month out of the 4 for the men, it is probably 1 month too long for the men to be absent from the office. In this dog-eat-dog world, if you are not around, you need not be around, period. So sharing this load might lead to both of the couple, the mother and the father, to become expendable employees. Which is better - to have one expendable person or two?

So those cheering and clapping last evening should stop and think again what paternity leave really entails. The "absence" problem is already raised above. The second question that needs asking is: are all fathers capable of looking after and handling an infant? We know what maternal instincts are. Is there such a thing as a men's version of it, i.e. a paternal instinct? Sadly, experience tells us that the answer is not clear. What is the proportion of clumsy and incompetent men when it comes to nursing an infant? I don't know, and I suspect, the people who clamoured for and the government which said yes to paternity leave last evening don't know either. Yes, I know of men who love children (and I mean that in a "straight" way). My mother often mentions that my uncle loves children. I love children too. In fact I played a big part in taking care of my infant son, without the benefit of paternity leave. My wife will attest to this. But this is anecdotal. There probably are more men who are clueless and view infant care as a woman-only job. Worst, men tend to be more impatient, with the frightening consequence that the child may suffer rather than be cared for.

PM said in jest that men, if they are given paternity leave, should use it for that very purpose. Everyone may have laughed at that remark, but it is a disturbing reaction, to say the least. There is really really a high chance that paternity leave may be abused. After all, no one can police this. The wife can't and won't say a thing. The husband who abuses it will certainly keep quiet about using his paternity leave to do other things. You expect the maid to complain to the authorities?

There are probably other reasons that make paternity leave a bad idea. The issue, really, is not about the leave - maternity or paternity, much as many mothers wish to believe that it is. This will not go anywhere near helping to resolve the problem of low fertility among Singaporeans.

I believe that I will be proven correct one year from the implementation of this policy.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Death and Taxes

Should we treat paying taxes not so much an obligation, indeed no a duty, but an act of charity. This is what a letter writer to Today suggested come days ago. Yet ironically, in that same paper, on the facing page, a letter writer wrote about how certain public servants are wasting tax-payers' money by engaging private law firms in their law suits.

At one level, I agree with the letter writer. As many would by now have found out, the personal tax bill for many this year is far far more than last year's. Last year was election year, so it would not take a Phd to figure out why. Yep, my tax bill has nearly doubled, not that my pay has increased by that quantum, mind you. And the last time I filed my tax returns online, I could not claim for some donations I made in the year of assessment simply because the organisation was not listed as one of the approved institution of public character (IPC). There wasn't anywhere on the screen form you could write it in. You could only select from a preset list. This in spite the fact that I have been donating to the same institution for 2 years prior to the last YA and the deduction had been allowed. I would like to think that I am honest, but I am penalised? Well, the Singapore IRAS is very efficient and, in a sense, ruthless, in extracting that pound of flesh, and then some, from its taxpayers. So when I thought about what the writer suggested, I wondered if I should write to IRAS to re-assess my income tax.

In a sense, the writer is correct. Taxes are a means to redistribute income and enable a government to govern for the common good. Even billionaire investor Warren Buffet famously said that the rich in America are not paying enough taxes, and that they should. Paying taxes to care for society is an ideal, an assumption that, as events in the last few months in Singapore have demonstrated, is far from the ideal. What with S$2,200 bicycles to patrol public parks, S$650 designer chairs for government officers' butts. Is it any wonder the ambivalence towards contributing to the public purse for the common good.

In any case, those who have the means - profitable businesses and wealthy individuals, routinely engage tax accountants to minimise their tax obligations. So why should the man in the street do any less in minimizing his own tax bill?

Death and taxes will remain dreaded facts of life. They are to be avoided at all cost, or for as long as possible.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Ever had somebody bark "Excuse me" to you? Yes, bark. It is annoying to say the least. This phrase is no longer that polite, and indeed apologetic, request to heed a need. The way it is used by some people nowadays sounds like "Hey low life, you are getting in my way. Move aside or else...". It grates on the ear. "Excuse me" is no longer said in a gentle, apologetic manner, but it is a bark, a command, a directive with a barely concealed impatience and disdain for the rest of mankind. And the main perpetrators of this bark?

I am sorry to say this. They are mostly young female, some are even teenagers. I am not trying to discriminate. Older people perhaps understand and use the phrase more appropriately. The guys are not ready to bark. They don't need to. Oh, how unmaidenly many of the young 'fairer' sex among us have turned, prematurely, into witches. Maybe it has got to do with the movies, or that misplaced thing called 'girl power'. I don't know. I don't have a daughter, so I can't related the phenomenon. Brash, young, the 'me' generation that demands immediate attention and yet not give any attention.

Sometimes, I just feel like turning around and given the barker a slap on the face.Only, I'll be hauled to court for molest. Don't mess with young girls, particularly if they are under-aged. Society seems to protect them more, even though they probably deserve less.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuition nation

"The fool and his money are soon parted". I learnt this a long time ago. First as an idiom in primary school. Then in a venture that I was just too careless over. Just careless, not foolish, mind you.

But there are some people who are foolish, like those that paid thousands of dollars to an unaccredited tutor that purportedly could teach their children to be gifted. Obviously these overly ambitious parents are prepared to swallow the bait, hook, line and sinker. I suppose "gifted" to them meant that it was ok to pay through their noses to give their child a chance to join the gifted education programme invented by the Ministry of Education. After all, 'gifts' are bought and given away, right?

I don't want to comment about the tutor who swindled so many people. Suffice to say that he is dastardly and probably a scum of society. There have been others in the past who acted in similar fashion, perhaps even worse. And there will be others who will come along to swindle others in like manner, so long as you have people who are ready and willing to be tricked.

What is remarkable is that people think that a person can be trained to be gifted. Someone said to me that either you have it or you don't. Hello, its in the genes, and you can't train genes to perform somersaults, can you?. I tend to agree. That's what you start off with. Good genes. But to fully harness the capabilities that those genes bring, you have to work hard, really hard. Like putting in the hours to read, to train your mind, to practise, to become familiar and good at what you want to do, like playing the piano, or creating the next  new thing. Wasn't it Thomas A. Edison who said that you need 1% inspiration and 99% hard work to achieve your goals? Well, he should know. He was probably the greatest inventor in modern times.

In a way, the Singapore education system has encouraged people to 'buy' knowledge and capability. Singapore is not known to be the tuition nation for nothing. And the sad situation is that the school system appears to be working hand-in-glove with the tuition industry. I have heard from parents and students that teachers in the formal school system assume that every child has a tutor. So they off-load, or outsource, some of their teaching to the tutors, never mind that some children come from families that are too poor to even afford a meal from the school canteen. Tell me I am wrong, but somehow I am not hopeful of being proven wrong. Perhaps these teachers are taking too literally the mantra, "teach less, learn more" - an invention of the Ministry of Education. Do we even know what this means before we take it literally? For one, excellence and promotions are still very much dependent on a rigorous examination system where the muggers tend to do well. I am not saying that that is the best and only way to do well in school. There have been exceptions, but the rule is more relevant to the rest of us.

So long as we have such a system of rote learning, there will always be pretenders who will help fools part with their money.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Numbers game

The numbers do not lie. On a per capita basis, Yahoo Sports reported that Jamaica, with a population of 2.7 million, won nine gold medals in the recently concluded London Olympic games. This casts doubt on people who say that Singapore's population is too small to produce world beaters in sports. For the record, Singapore won three bronze medals, and all by people who were not born in Singapore. They are what Singaporeans' euphemistically call "Foreign Talent". Singapore's population as of 2011 is 5,183,700 of which  Singapore residents number 3,789,300. That's roughly 1 million more than Jamaica's population, or 2.5 million more if you include the non residents.

Granted, we are not comparing apple with apple. There are differing social, cultural and economic environments that mask these numbers, and sociologists and politicians will have their stories to tell to rationalise and explain the discrepancies in these numbers.

However, going by these numbers alone, Singapore hasn't done all that well. Tao Li didn't even get into the finals. She was 6th in the Beijing Games.Joseph Schooling, the great hope of the Republic, blamed his disastrous performance on the cap and goggle, nuf said. The Singapore women table tennis team was demoted from Silver at the Beijing Olympics to Bronze at this London Games. Feng redeemed the team with her commendable individual Bronze effort. And the rest of team Singapore? What, there are others?

Perhaps we should study countries like Jamaica or even Grenada to discover how else, other than immigration, which is a contentious issue in Singapore right now. Singapore can do better on the world sporting stage. I think, after the post-mortem (I assume there will be one conducted), it won't be for the lack of ideas and initiatives that the Singapore government and the sporting community have approached the issue. But many would say that monetary reward is not the only, nor the best way, nor is it the right way in the long term to produce local sporting talent. Don't get me wrong. Money can and does play a part, but obviously there is something missing that the Jamaicans appear to have. Usain Bolt is not their one-shot wonder. Their 1-2-3 victory in the 200m race proves it.

Singapore has the next 4 years to prepare for gold in the Rio Olympics. Hopefully, we will have answers way before then so that we can works towards greater success in those Olympics.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Daoxiao lunch

Singapore has become a cosmopolitan place, and a bit confusingly amusing. I was having lunch on National Day at a Chinese restaurant serving dao-xiao mian (literally shaved noodles). I was attended to by a waiter who took our order in English. Nothing odd about that. Then came a couple - two women, who took seats next to ours. It wasn't as if I wanted to eavesdrop. It wasn't a large restaurant, so we literally sat side by side with them. When they started to converse, I could tell immediately that they were China Chinese.

When the waiter came by, they were discussing their choices in Chinese. Then having decided, one of them placed their order with the waiting waiter - in English! It wasn't a case that they wanted to show off their linguistic skills. The waiter was a Filipino. I suppose he could only speak English, and perhaps his native Tagalog. So here I was, in a Chinese restaurant, seated beside a couple of China Chinese who were placing their order in English.

If this weren't Singapore, it would be odd.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Regardless of language

As Singaporeans recite the National Pledge today in celebration of its 47th National Day, I am reminded of the phrase in the pledge "regardless of language...". Much has been made of our Table Tennis trio of Feng Tianwei, Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu being foreign imports and therefore not representative of the country's sporting abilities. One the the factors often cited about this ambivalence toward the trio is their inability to speak English, or even try to to learn to speak English. Is the ability to speak English a distinguishing attribute of a Singaporean? If you asked my father, he might spit at you. But no, he was just too gentle and even tempered a person to ever do that. But there would probably be many other Chinese who would - spit at you, or at least on the ground in front of you, i.e.

English was the language of the colonialists. It had no place in a local's linguistic heritage as opposed to the foreign devils. My father brought up all his children in Singapore, put them through the Singapore education system. He sent them to English language schools because he was a pragmatic person. You couldn't possibly advance in your lives if you didn't know how to speak English, he reasoned. Yet all his life, he never spoke nor learnt to speak English. He was born in China, spent his youth in Hong Kong, then came to Singapore shortly thereafter. He spoke Cantonese, could understand Mandarin but not speak it. He also spoke and understood a smattering of Malay. His penmanship (in Chinese AND English - he signed his English name beautifully) was of the first order. If we define being a Singaporean as one who can speak English or makes an attempt to do so, then my father was not a Singaporean. Perhaps he tried to learn it, I am not sure. He conversed with his children, and everyone else, in Cantonese and no other language.

Yet it would be absurd to say that he was not a Singaporean. He appreciated the government under Lee Kuan Yew and never waivered in giving them his support at every GE. I am not embarrassed to say this. Lee Kuan Yew was good for Singapore. It gave him a peaceful and safe environment in which he could practise his religion, make friends across races, earn a living and bring up his children. He started off living in an attap house, and gradually owned a HDB flat. And so it was for that generation of 'imports' - people who migrated to these shores for one reason or another, sunk roots and never thought of anywhere else as home.

We are their descendants and woe to us if we call our fathers, or their fathers, foreigners because they never learnt to speak English.

Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

That maiden medal

Ms Feng Tian Wei has won a bronze medal in Table Tennis at this year's London Olympics, and many Singaporeans are proud and happy about it. After all, the last time a Singaporean won a medal at these games was in 1960, by Mr Tan Howe Liang, in weight-lifting. I say "many" because there appears to be many others who have poured cold water over it because Feng is not a 'true-blue' Singaporean. And the quarter million dollar reward for achieving this feat appears to be one of the reasons. True, Feng, and compatriots, Yuegu and Jiawei, were imported from China, ostensibly for the very purpose of ending the Olympic, and in fact, any International sporting medal  drought. There were no other stated purpose. At least the importees were open and honest about this. A Singaporean is a Singaporean sol long as he/she has sworn allegiance to the country, right? If this weren't so, you'd have to ask who made the decision to grant this much prized citizenship status away. Someone said that TW and her compatriots have not made any effort to assimilate within the local environment - they speak Chinese all the time, whereas the world over has encountered that brand of English known as Singlish as a distinguishing identity of a native of the island of Singapore. The trio face an uphill battle for recognition, not so much on the ball court, but in the court of public opinion.

My advice, if it is worth anything at all, is to have each of them marry a Singapore guy and bear a couple of "authentic" Singapore children (must be born in KK Hospital). It doesn't matter if their offspring do not become TT champions. They probably will not when they are plugged into the Singapore system of educating its young ones. Yes, Jiawei is already married to a China Chinese, and borned a son in Beijing. So no chance that the child will become a Singaporean though maybe a great TT player after her mother. Lest history repeats itself, Singapore would not have been very wise in its investment of time and money. A good sporting history counts for little if it does not pay the baby bonus for Singapore. I know, I know, let's not demean female foreign talents as sows, but you just can't help it when you think of the millions of taxpayers' money expended on this venture.

Nevertheless, credit where credit is due. We must congragulate these women for their effort and victory on the world largest sporting stage.Let's not collectively "chase" them away. We will be shooting ourselves in the foot.