PAP should HAVE learnt how to manage change from the CCP

October 27, 2013

Last year I ventured into bird nest harvesting in a big way. I built the largest bird house in the district, surpassing even my competitors.

Retrospectively, it was a very big risk that could have very well bankrupted me. As only two out of ten bird houses make it.

Fortunately my bird house is filling up quite nicely and this opens up a new set of problems for me. As I don’t intend to sell my bird nest to the local syndicate. The price they give me is too low and I feel the terms are can be improved.

This has forced me to explore the possibility of developing my own trade route to China. To accomplish this. I’ve had to touch base with many of my old friends who I once studied in University.

This is the politics of doing business in China – it is all about relationships. Recently when I met up with a very dear friend, we talked and talked and talked through the night.

The Brandy was excellent, the night breeze cool to the skin….somewhere in the conversation, my friend’s tone turned serious and he shared with me the following,

“You are like a forgotten mandarin from the furthest edge of the empire. You have come to the forbidden city to petition the emperor, but you need to piss….as it has been a very long wait…and you don’t even know where the lavatory is.”

I think my friend has summed it up very beautifully…the sentiment that is.






“Gentlemen. Knowledge is of course important. But there is one thing that stands higher than even knowledge and that is understanding.

Allow me to speak freely. Never before in the history of Singapore has so many natives lost faith in the PAP. The situation on the ground is so bad that whenever Mini Lee says something, no one even believes him any longer.

What accounts for this prevailing mood of mistrust, askance and lack of faith in the custodians of power?

If I had to point to only one reason – it has to be because they have failed to manage change in a competent manner by balancing economic growth with the aspirations and hopes of many natives.

As a result it’s a right mess today – that’s why the spin doctors have to burn the midnight oil and come up with ever more inventive ways to engineer consent. That is why these days, the Strait Times has been reduced to a pity summary of our times.

If we go deeper into the causal factors and ask ourselves whether this lamentable situation could have been averted?

Then I think perhaps Mini Lee and his motley crew could have taken a leaf from the leadership of the CCP. After all if you talk about scale nothing can possibly compare with what China has managed to successfully pull off in the last three decades – moving from a command economy to a free market and to have pulled it off given it’s size, diversity and complexities must surely have required copious amounts of brain power.

That is why whenever I frequently hear or read what LKY has to say about China once learning from Singapore. I always feel that sentence is incomplete. As if he is wise, he would have gone on to mention that both he and he his son could have learnt much more from China.

What do I mean by this? Not too long ago General Yeo mentioned, Beijing is studying our political system, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and how it is responding to the general election in May last year.  But let’s not get high yet. Read further what General Yeo had to say – he said, there is also scope for the PAP to look to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for lessons, such as how the latter prepares promising leaders to take on more responsibilities. When the reporter asked him why Singapore, a young nation of just over five million, is of interest to China, an ancient civilisation with 1.3 billion people, General Yeo replied: “For China, Singapore is  sometimes seen as a bonsai, but one with genetic similarities.”

Now there is a treasure trove of wisdom to be mined in this one compact retort, more than all the alphabets put together in what Michael Spence has to say – a bonsai is a small potted plant. Size is scale and that simply means, you need to put it all in scale – that simply means, for every lamp post we put up in Singapore, there are probably 100,000 lamppost that needs to be erected in China. For every geo-political situational threat that we have, there are probably 10,000 such threats that Chinese leaders have to regularly parlay with. So how can it be an apple to apple comparison? If anything it is like a ciku and durian comparative. How does one even reach a consensus on the assumptions – so as all of you can very well see for yourself, there is no basis to even begin a comparative study. Let alone propose that a country like China NEEDS to learn from Singapore. I bet if you speak to all the flies on the walls in Beijing, they are probably laughing their wings off – they r probably saying to themselves, another derellict academic looking for someone to pen the foreword to his new book about Asia. And this is how I see it, as if you reduce everything right down to only measuring personal and organization to GDP terms, then Michael Spence is 100% right – but we all know only too well how blindly chasing the rainbow of GDP has been the source of so much misery for so many Singaporeans – so this whole idea of comparing Singapore with China is really quite ludicrous – as when you compare and contrast the sheer difference in the scale, diversity and emerging challenges between China and Singapore  – I think what General Yeo had to say was very directional and instructive as to me he is trying to remind us of the facts of keeping it all in the right perspective, whenever we come across flattering comments, even if they happen to be of the Nobel pedigree, “don’t be so ya-ya papaya lah! If people look at you and take the trouble to zoom into your good points – it doesn’t mean they are out to emulate you 100%. It just means, they are very considerate and polite people who prefer not to mention the undesirable aspects of how you run your house. So don’t be an bloody fool and try to get political mileage out of it. Be humble lah!” This makes perfect sense to me.

And this especially true of the China leadership and probably a feature that is so well embedded in the Communist psyche.

You know when I was studying my master’s degree in Derby there was this time – I worked in Rolls Royce turbines – and there was a big Chinese contigent in my class, as it was a very quantitative discipline and so many of them excelled in this field – we got along really well. As they were all farming stock. So we had alot in common and spoke regularly about tractors, pumps, irrigation, life stock and pickling etc. I have always had a fetish for farming. Now during that period, China was really just beginning to transition – so many of these PRC students still had remnants of what I can only describe as socialist underpinings and thinking. And one aspect of this way of seeing the world means that they realize only too well, that they are using a decrepit ideology to transition into a free market economy – if you speak to Chinese bureaucrats at a senior level, they are always very mindful of this fact. They know that there are real limits to using communism as a reliable means of creating the good life for their citizens – they know this so well that you could even say they suffer from an acute inferiority complex whenever they speak to anyone who comes from a free economy. As the whole idea of communism and the free market are diametric opposites that can never be reconciled – it’s a fundamentally unnatural union. So when one suffers from that sort of mindset – one is constantly on the look out to shore up the system – my friend, who later on rose to a very high position in the Chinese Railway once described this very beautifully as a condition, “where it is like a man living in a very old Hu Tong and trying to install modern plumbing.” The metaphor is very powerful and although I am translating it into English, I think so much is lost – as when he said this in Putong Hwa, what he really meant to say was, Communism is really a way of life in China and it’s not really a changeable thing, not in our life time at least, so they are constantly searching to find ever more inventive ways to do the best they can with out upsetting the things that they have to live with – that same evening after our life changing conversation. I played a recital of butterfly lovers – and since the maestro was a man who didn’t really appreciate the sonic arrangement of the score and considered it, “structurally unsound.” I was slotted last after a very long intermission. Just as well, as I happen to have carrot fingers – most of the crowd had begun to leave when I began the solo concerto – but my Chinese friend and the rest of Chinese students stayed on – when I had finally finished, they were the only ones there as rest of the crowd had moved on – and I remembered turning to him after and saying to him rather dejectedly, “I feel like a man who has to live in a very old Hu Tong and trying to install modern plumbing.” That is to say, at that time, it was really quite impossible for the Western music toffeenose crowd to understand the musicality of this piece – as they don’t know the plot of the story between 梁山伯 and 祝英台. They don’t even know what is a erhu – so they cannot understand why anyone would play a violin with slids to an unusual instrumentation: 2-2-2-2 – 4-2-3-0 – timp, 3 perc. Or even why the score needs to run twenty pages and is divided into three sections –  or why the composer felt the need to incorporate higher notes to  conjure up images of misty mountains, waterfalls in a peaceful serene morning when the lovers first met and the low notes represent the valleys, then the next few bars where the flautist plays a trill, it represents butterflys flitting and bird singing. And since its an adaptation of folkmusic, there is also the part when the baddie turns up when the shrill appears followed by the brass. Neither do they realize when the tuba appears in the second section it represent the torment of the lovers and girl’s family rejection of the relationship. To me there is so much more musicality expression here than even Stravinsky and Debussy put together – all this is lost when there is no understanding of the plot. Or even any attempt to understand the subtlety of the nuances – that is really my point, knowledge without understanding is truly worthless. As here you have a bunch of accomplished musicians who don’t suffer from my affliction of carrot fingers and they cannot even use their prodigious wealth of knowledge to understand a thing for what it is – and this to me is really a metaphor of how superficially the West regularly sees China.

Only I know it to be very different that is all. But I digress gentlemen.

Many years later when we sat on the new Maglev train in Shanghai bulleting towards the city center – I asked my friend again whether things had changed in his old Hu Tong – it had become a sort of private joke between us and he looked around at the spanking new Alstom train from Germany and said, “No brother, it is still a very old Hu Tong, only the world seems to be going faster around us.” And I knew exactly what my old friend meant. I understood completely. I think you really have to be Chinese to understand the deeper meaning of this conversation Gentlemen.”

Excerpt of a conversation captured in the Sardonyx trenches along the 159th Parallel with the officers corps of the Sardokhan – relayed by the Magneto class scientific deep space cruiser – KDD Rumoro 3 – brought to you by the Interspacing Mercantile Guild.   

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