What the PAP can learn from the world class politicians in Penang

July 15, 2014

GEORGE TOWN – Penang is set to implement a ban on foreign workers working as the main cook in the hawker food business in order to protect the state’s food heritage.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng mentioned licences will only be given locals…

Sounds a tad xenophobic wot? – but to me it makes perfect sense. As globalization as a social cultural and economic theory is essentially, despite its sheen just a glorified race right down to the bottom.

For the idea of globalization to remain coherent and continue to reliably produce good – it needs to be moderated very much in the way no planter worth his salt would ever allow an alien weed to intrude into his patch and just proliferate and take over the good weeds and strangle the fruit tress in his orchard.

If he is foolish enough to leave it all the free market theory of th survival of the fittest – then he may well have to live with an ecological Chernobyl like the horror stories we so often hear about where an aggressive species of plant or animal turns the food chain on its head and ends up destroying everything that was once good about that habitat.

A wise farmer will always pick only the good and discard the bad. As for the foolish farmer he wouldn’t even have the slightest idea what I am talking about. That is why he is a fool…and the fool will always believe he is right even when he’s driving off the cliff.

Life is indeed cruel.

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‘When a thing is not regularly used. Then it will be lost. It doesn’t really matter what that thing may be – it could be whipping up fried rice. Or something like being able to square a sole on a shoe and to cut off the excess strip in one smooth action without any jagged edges – it will just be lost.

And once that thing is lost, it is almost impossible to reconstitute it again – and here comes the kicker as when we begin the task of accounting what is really lost. Then we may well discover an entire geography of not only skills, but also social networks, relationships, culture and much more – and should we go one stage further and use the electron microscope of the critical mind to drill even deeper – we may well conclude it is nothing less than a way of life that we once not only cherished but gave us a sense of identity and cemented us all together as one people.

So as you can see when a skill dies – whether it’s ping pong or something really trivial like being able to bunny hop over a log during your weekend warrior jaunts in Bukit Timah – many other things die along with it…the idea of community…camaraderie…esprit de corps….heritage….shared values and what I can only describe as all the attributes that makes a community whole and complete.

Now if people like me shared this philosophy with folk like Michael Porter, Gary Hamel or anyone in the ranks of the PAP. They would probably make faces and think the sum of what I have to say really all amounts to a great disquisition on nothingness at best. Or that I am anti competition and I am really a closet communist.

After all let us be fair to them – what I have to say sounds downright parachoil, insular and bigoted right?

But you’ve got to understand where I am coming from – coming back to the example of whipping up fried rice – may sound like a no brainer to you. But that’s because you didn’t have to work as a cook to put yourself thru university. But if you had that sort of life experience then you would probably realize, there’s a whole universe right there in the kitchen – community, shared beliefs, brotherhood, mentoring, apprenticeship and everything that makes up a tribe – to you it’s just throwing overnight stuff in the fridge in a wok and whacking away – but that’s also the same reason why if you go to a restaurant to dine, the chef never invites you to the kitchen.

My point is when you look deeply at a job – it’s not a simple thing. It’d only straightforward to stupid people. It’s multi layered like a kueh lapis and each layer has some structural complexity be it the social, cultural or goal setting component – as what I think we need to remind ourselves time and again is we dealing with qualitative aspects which will always be hard to pin down into an excel spreadsheet – so while it’s very easy to quantify in mathematical terms economic metrics such as GDP and per capita earnings et al. It’s not nearly as simple to capture with the same degree of fidelity the idea of trust, community, well being, hopefulness or even a million other things that has to go in to make a job a job – so what you really need to understand is this whole obsession to measure organizational and personal success by just focusing on the quantifiable is at best a very myopic way to gauge progress- consider this: what is the point of pursuing growth at every turn and opportunity when all it seems to do is to drive out the middle ground of goodness and destroy the very thing that makes the whole idea of nourishing and perpetuating a community possible. To me that idea is reminiscent of the last leg of Phileas Fog’s journey around the world in eighty days – where to get to the finishing line on time. The main protagonist, strips down all the timber on his steamer and bungs it into the furnace. He reached Dover. But it comes at the terrible cost of cannibalizing his boat…the question you need to ask at this point in the conversation – is what are you really cannibalizing before the altar of trying so hard to be No.1 GDP….could it be your health…mental well being….family…or who you were really meant to be and most importantly – is it even worth it?

That’s a question that I shall leave to you.’

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