February 28, 2017
Friends are always good. But never use them to ward off loneliness. As when you do that then all you’re really doing is using them like a crutch to fill up the emptiness deep within you. And when they’ve gone or moved on…you will always be lonely again.
‘The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely – that is the first paradox of loneliness. The second is, no matter how many people this man may surround himself with – he will still feel lonely.
But the man who dedicates himself to the deep study of learning how to be whole mentally and complete spiritually alone can only be at peace with his own loneliness.
I have discovered this to be third paradox of being alone. As at some point. This man will prefer this reality to the illusion of merely superficial companionship. He will feel so at ease with being alone – that is all he wishes for in this world.
For many years I could barely fathom what makes some men retreat away from the world into the quiet solace of the wilderness – where they might live all alone in a deserted windswept nowhereville far removed from all other forms of human interaction.
At first I was inclined to believe it may have something to do with despair or an epic fall from grace. Gradually as the years passed. I started to realise how meaningless some things in life actually were. Money only seems to be everything when one has none or very little of it – the irony is when one comes to money, it’s like having a orgasm. After that brief ripple of ecstasy – there’s really nothing else after that.
At some point it becomes very meaningless.
I do however envy those who believe in the idea of a creator. I even know they aren’t faking it – it’s the way their eyes glisten and their voice quivers ever so slightly whenever they speak about everlasting love that leaves one in doubt…it could really only be god that they’re talking about. There have been many times when I have looked up into the myraid of stars and asked – are you there? But nothing. Always nothing.
It’s not as if I didn’t will all of my being to believe. I did. And much more. At times, I even reckoned the act of believing was like running a marathon, where one may begin with laboured breathes only for it to get easier with time only to eventually plane off happily when one crosses that mythical line when pain gives way to runner’s high. But it never came for me.
From time to time I still ask – are you there? Is anybody there?
But there was always nothing.
That realisation was always followed by the sensation of feeling cold like a frigid carton of milk in the fridge. For some strange reason – I remember always wanting to drink cold milk whenever I was assaulted by the finality of how I stood apart from the rest of the world.
It was as if, I was always on the outside peering in – when I was surrounded by people in the city. That familiar sensation of estrangement was most acute – I remember one time some years back ago when I revisited the city after a prolonged expedition deep in the jungle – everything felt like pins and needles in that dreaded moonscape – the pavements were all so flat I found myself losing my balance; even the air felt as if I was breathing in needles. The texture of the linen sheets had the texture of sheet metal and everything about the city merely served to confirm the terminal state of my alienation from the rest of the world – it’s as if there’s my world and theirs and no matter how hard I tried to fuse these two worlds into one – they simply couldn’t quite mix without separating like oil and water. Soon the chatter of the world would die out and all that remained was the silence of my own world – my reality, which I eventually came to accept as my life.
I guess what I am trying to say in a round about way – was I went into farming because I needed to live without the need of putting on a mask for everyone, including myself. I needed to find myself, might turn out to be someone I didn’t like. But that didn’t matter to me – to journey into the nucleaus of my being was at the very core of this impulse to return back to the land in the way a fish flailing on land would yearn to jump back into water. The core of who I might really be as a man not to other, but myself.
My plan to find that mystical core consisted of three changes of khaki clothing, a pair of sturdy work boots, three changes of underwear (two of which disintegrated leaving me with one which eventually became a cleaning cloth) and the daily litany of rituals.
Labor that tested not only every strand of muscle and sinew – the sort where a man would have to get dirty, walk in rain till he could no longer remember how it felt to be dry any longer. I didn’t particularly have much fondness for the work. But physical work has a charm about it that strangely appeals to me. The sort of repeatitive work resembling litany where one seems to be able to continue doing what one does with roughly the same processing power it took to tie shoe laces especially appealed to my body – day by day without me realising it. I was reclaiming the person who I was really meant to be. A sort of man who didn’t need numbers in the face of watch or even require hard lines to make him feel oriented.
You could even say somewhere in this endless wheel of grind. I even became aware of a kind of spiritual need to go far enough to leave everything I had ever known in my life, the need to touch the hard edges of who I really am, and begin from there.
By returning to the quiet moments of wonderment when I was a boy holding a crystalline ball of ice lashed with colourful syrup, of pure attention, to become aware of myself and things around thru my own perceptions rather than thru the borrowed perceptions of others.
I was learning to trust a more generous reality, one that even made plenty of allowances for my impatience – one where I was even prepared to accept myself though all I could really see was a jumbled heap of a man in the mirror.’
Excerpt of a log entry from the Suriman Expedition into the jungle.
February 27, 2017
The strangest thing about quietness is that when you seek it, it’s almost impossible to find it. That I imagine is only natural. As when one strives frantically to find a thing, anything even such a thing as quietness – one can only be filled with anxiety and restlessness.
Being restless or impatient. Being anxious and always frantic produces jerkiness that is in itself a form of noise.
One can of course try to block every layer of noise from within. But as soon as one layer of noise is silenced, another rises up again. Till eventually you become either so exhausted or exasperated – you find yourself overwhelmed by an orchestra of noise.
Only understand this. All this noise is coming from within you – as noise need not just be sound alone – noise is merely a form. When we are stirred up from within. It’s very noisy. So noisy that at times even when we are sorrounded by the tranquility of nature, it seems as though we are standing in Bedok bus interchange during rush hour.
It is only when we make a conscious effort to attune our mind to the sky or to the ocean or to the myriad trees swaying in the wind, or the vastness of the stars, the mind gradually stills and the heart is slowly filled with quietness.
Remember noise need not be sound alone. It is simply a state of mind.
‘Just because you don’t seem to say much doesn’t mean people don’t notice you. It’s actually the quiet ones who often draw the most attention. Imagine this. You in a whirlwind of sound and all around you everything is in the blur of motion, and there in the middle of this riot is the quiet one, the eye of the storm. The contradiction. The question mark. Yes, of course they all notice you. Look at the way they stiffen ever so slightly when you walk in. Watch how they eyes flutter. Yes, of course they notice you.
You don’t seem to talk very much. And even if you do – it’s simply a curt yes or no. Nothing ever seems to come out – yet there’s an invisible under current of heaviness that seems to prevade the atmosphere – it’s as if you’re there. Yet not there at the same time.
They know you’re planning to make your move. But since you hardly make a sound – no one knows. They may send someone to test the waters – but the leaden weight keeps going down and further down till there’s no more rope and yet it hasn’t reached the bottom yet. As since you’re the quiet sort – nothing ever comes out.’
February 26, 2017
This recipe for sardine curry is seriously good! Just made it in the field served with bread. If I have any recommendations (this is not the first time I’ve followed this recipe) it is simply this – increase the tumeric powder content by half a teaspoon. Use dried red chilies instead of fresh chilies. As frying fresh green chilies makes it bitter. Mix the salt with the water and add only much later on during the simmering stage. As sprinkling it in the beginning when frying with onions imparts a metallic taste.
Aside from that, it’s a delightfully tasty dish that is nutritious yet easy to whip up.
February 25, 2017
A man once asked me. Why is it that you do not fear loneliness?
I told this man – when one is fearful and anxious, then the sense of loneliness can only sharpen.
The man remained quiet for a while only to ask later – I don’t understand. Please explain.
I went on to explain this to the man. To be comfortable being alone. One must strive to be calm. Am I right? That is at least what most people say. But why? Let me open the back of the watch so that you can see the movement.
You see it is like this. If you don’t want to be afraid of loneliness. Then it will not do to just chant mindlessly ten or twenty times, I am not afraid to be alone….I am not afraid to be alone. If you do that. You will end up so petrified of loneliness that it will probably drive you mad.
But when one starts by first cultivating a calm mind.
When one is calm. The ego can only remain very small and quiet since it is not constantly feeding and getting larger on one’s fears and anxietixies.
Only when the ego is deprived of all sustenance can one seek to understand and seek oneness with loneliness.
‘Observe very carefully those around you. Do not judge. Do not even say a thing. Just observe like a silent witness….and you will see it occuring all the time.
People criticise and find fault with others because they don’t want to feel small.
To put it in another way – it’s really just a way to feed their ego by holding one version reality in their heads like a death grip. If that reality doesn’t exist. Then they will manufacture their own version and believe it even if they know it’s not true!
So long as it makes their ego feel better. They’re happy.
But that also means they’re making their ego bigger and meaner as well. And since the ego is always hungry even after eating ten roti prata’s in one sitting – it will always demand more and more. And even if you say ‘No more. You have had enough! Soon the ego will stir fear and anxiety and the whole vicious cycle starts again.
This is what I refer too as the ego trap. When one is in this state of mind – one can only be critical and find fault with others all the time.
But the very moment you decide to ask – what does he really mean? Or when you peer deeper to ask, might he mean by this or that? Then you will find yourself seeking to understand the person who you were once always critical of – then you may even come to see his point. You may not always agree with his point of view. But since you have already started a process to understand why he thinks the way he does – you are no longer just feeding your ego mindlessly with fear burgers and anxiety milkshakes.
This is why if you are passionate about some of your objects of interest. Never just defend your point of view blindly. If for instance you are an environmentalist. Then read more about people who like polythene bags so much that they even take more than they really need for their groceries in NTUC. If you are passionate about a political position – then read more about the people who are on the otherside of the political camp. Get to know them. Don’t just mix with your own kind.
You will find when you do this regularly. You can only be more open minded and most importantly it is you that is really talking and not your ego.’
February 24, 2017
Not very long ago when I was in the billiards room of the Planter’s club banging balls into holes (real balls and real holes) all by myself. A fellow planter who considers me a despicible poor excuse of a pariah dog masquerading as a human stormed into the room. Naturally, I ignored him. As since I felt compelled to reciprocate his charming assessment by doing the same whenever I saw him – what else was I supposed to do.
The man raised his voice – this cannot go on! I replied without looking up. I agree.
That I could tell disarmed the pariah dog as he took a seat and even had the courtesy to wait before I cracked the last shot. Black Ball side corner pocket.
Thereafter I joined him and asked – what do you propose? The man leaned forward and exclaimed, why do I have to be the one to propose?
That was when I got up strolled to one the French windows and looked out. Then like a whispering rush the words came out – you know it’s going to be a very hard year to turn a decent profit. Even if one of us is going to bankrupt the other, it makes absolutely no sense if both our boats go down.
The man shifted in his chair. I took it as a sign of agreement. Thereafter I suggested that we come up with a schedule as to when each of us would visit the club. In the beginning of every month. I would take the even days. He the odd. On the following month. We would switch.
In the event where there’s a function where each is expected to appear – I will take the furtherest point to the North and stay only there – while he would keep to the South and do the same.
We would take turns to rotate, if the function falls on a even day – I would take North. If it fell on a odd day, he would occupy that position and this way we would hopefully never have to see each other.
Thereafter we both straightened our bush jackets and shook hands like gentlemen pariah dogs.
‘Imagine two men seated across a table looking at a glass of milk – the first man only sees a half empty glass of milk. The other sees a half filled glass of milk. They’re both right and wrong. But even if these two men disagree on what stands on the table before their very eyes. Being able to realize that the other person has a valid point, even if you happen to disagree with it, is a sure sign of a mature mind.’
February 24, 2017
She was just a simple girl from a rice growing village far removed from the bright lights of the city. Like all village girls. She may have entertained distant dreams of becoming a famous singer one day – or maybe all she wanted in life was to appear on TV. It’s very hard to say with village girls. They are all very impressionable and so suggestable.
Eventually she finally made it to the bright lights of the city – she probably got to experience many of the delightful sights and sounds she could only dream about when she was stuck in the mud in that epically going nowhereville of a rice village in Vietnam.
One day the simple village girl met a nice Korean man who was probably not so simple. He persuaded her to pull a prank on someone. She is after all a simple village girl who probably doesn’t even know there is such a country called North Korea. Korea yes, but North and South? That has to be just weathervane talk as she’s just after all a simple girl from a rice growing village.
Neither does she know about VX nerve agent. She was probably motivated to carry out the ‘harmless prank’ for a new handbag.
After all what harm can possibly come from wiping some oily stuff on a persons face? Surely he’s not going to keel over and die like her water bufallo once did one day when that dumb beast stuck his whole tongue into a drum of herbicide – only to die with four legs sticking straight up like an up turned table LOL!
After that capper. The simple village girl returned back to her hotel room and logged into her Facebook account to talk to her imaginary friends. She was arrested shortly.
As the complexity of the case unravelled – the life of the once simple village girl became so complicated that even people following this story seem to be popping Panadol like candy. She is now finds herself embroiled in a diplomatic assassination involving a North Korean dynastic scion using James Bond chemical weapons – along the endless intrigues of geo politics and power struggles in distant lands involving people who she hardly knows. The simple village girl is clueless what the fuss is all about – as for the not so simple nice Korean man. He and his buddies have skipped town.
The trail is cold like a snow man’s tracks…she’s landed with the bag.
The simple village girl is now behind bars and her life is so very complicated that she may even end up facing a murder wrap.
The irony is she finally got to make it to the world stage. Everyone now has logged in YouTube to hear her sing. Everyone has seen her prank, it may be grainy and the lighting is so-so but she’s finally made it to TV! She is now an international star for all the wrong reasons.
It’s very sad. Life is very cruel.
February 24, 2017
When people say – you have to do your best to you learn to accept yourself for who you really are. Or should they say, you must learn to be comfortable in your own skin.
What do they really mean?
The only reason why I feel the need to bring this subject up and discuss further on the deeper meaning of these phrases is simply because so many people have written to me to ask – what does it all really mean.
I guess what it means is really just this – if you are really honest about learning from your mistakes to make yourself or those who you work, play and live with wiser. At some point after trying to deflect blame, negotiating away what you could have said or done better. After the last shot has rented out and the battle is well and truly over. In your private moments. You have to take responsibility, look honestly at what was said and done and above all learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice honesty – this is not easy. Not even for me. As for one to see oneself honestly and truthfully – simply means we all have to come to terms with reality. Reality at times may not be pretty. But if we are honest – then we will strive to come to terms with it and even keep practicing this Dao.
Without honesty there can be no real improvements. Only the god of illusions.
‘Never take yourself too seriously. As once you fall into that ego trap – it’s not so different from painting yourself into a miserable corner. You’re trapped!
Men. Especially those who come to power via the easy street tend to commit this mistake – they take themselves too seriously for their own good. They even go thru great efforts to broadcast to everyone they’re the best in the world and they can do no wrong. When something goes wrong. They sweep it underneath the carpet and just go right on as if it’s business as usual – soon they become so detached from what is real and false that they end up living in ivory towers and when that happens it can all only go down hill.
You know recently I told everyone that La Niña is going to be a no show. Even put my money squarely on my mouth and spent a lot of money preparing for another round of prolonged drought – and there I was one afternoon. Over lunch. In the company of very serious no nonsense planters. Then it came, first in cautious drips – someone mentioned, ‘it’s raining buckets…I thought. You said it would be another bone dry year! I clucked my tongue and quipped. Even dug plenty of holes around my land along with building dykes to retain water….some had begun sniggering by then and even throwing side long glances my way. That’s was when. I went on to press home the punch line – it’s probably a good idea to climb into one of those holes and take a nap. That was when everyone on the table laughed out loud.
Thereafter we all went about discussing the serious business of what to do this year to maximise yield along with how best to deal with falling prices of commodities.
I guess what I am trying to say is it doesn’t pay to take yourself too seriously. Doing so only makes one look ridiculous and stupid. Above all it impairs progress at some many levels and ultimately only serves to undermine one’s competence and authority.
Being able to laugh at oneself however – is a way of saying, hey I am not perfect. I can make mistakes just like anyone else. Above all it gives others around the permission to do the same without incurring the wrath of making the wrong call….it encourages people to stick their necks out and take calculated risk or well argued grounds.
It’s easy once you cultivate the habit of laughing at yourself – anyone can do it. All you have to do is relax. Let the muscles around your jawline just relax, sink right back into the chair, feel yourself giving in to a wave of humour and the next thing you know everyone is laughing at you…..some may even believe there and then…you’re so full of shit. Others will be thinking…he was so dead serious in the position he took….he even used the words, there is not but’s or maybe…this is it! Followed by more rounds of laughter.
Yes. You certainly look like a fool!
But once the laughter has died down and the serious men of this world begin the task of planning for the next year – at least everyone is convinced. They dealing with someone whose honest and above all genuine to make progress.
You should try it one day – laugh at yourself!’
February 23, 2017
Today a man who travelled a great distance to search me out. Asked – is there life after death?
I looked at him and smiled for very long time.
He asked again. This time in a quivering voice – is there life after death? Please answer. I really must know.
That was when I shared with this man my philosophy – whether there is life after death is not an important question. As that is a bridge that is somewhere in the future. The really important question is – are you truly alive now?
‘Man does not fear death. How can he. As death is such an abstraction. If he fears anything at all it is the seemingly simple idea to live. Yes. To be alive is the biggest fear humans have ; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express who we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of all humans. We have learned to live our lives from cradle to grave by trying to satisfy other people’s demands. We have learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough to be welcomed by others. Man does not fear death. He fears life. He fears to be himself and that is the root of all human suffering.’
February 22, 2017
Today a man remarked that more Singaporeans working in Silicon Valley should return home and remake Singapore into the next Silicon Valley of Asia.
After saying this – the man looked expectantly at me.
I asked of this man. Tell me if you construct a replica of the Eiffel Tower complete right down to the last nut and bolt in let’s say Sengkang. Do you think for one moment that you will be able to recreate Parisian life in Singapore?
The man turned to me with a scolding look and demanded there and then to know what has my reply got to do with his opinion.
I told him – Nothing……. absolutely nothing.
And that is the whole point of my argument….nothing….absolutely nothing.
‘To me it is not how many will return back from the knowledge centers thru out the world for them to sensibly remake the economy of Singapore from what it is today. That question can only be intelligently posed if there is already a critical mass to leverage on intellectual capital to produce something meaningful.
For the moment. In the absence of such a strategic precondition.
The cogent question is: why are so few Singaporeans willing to go abroad to learn and broaden their scope of experience in these knowledge Centers located outside Singapore?
Hence for the time being. For me at least – it can really only be the case of more Singaporeans will have to go to these knowledge centers.
Only when more are prepared to go till the tipping of point where one can say…enough. Can we then sensibly pose the question – how can they return back to remake Singapore?
In life one cannot possibly put the cart before the horse and hope to make meaningful progress.’
*If you impersonate a fly on the wall in one of those forums where young people bitch about their bosses and lousy pay in Zhongguancun, China. It wouldn’t take you very long to figure after you’ve winnowed out all the noise – how everyone seems to share the same dream. I wouldn’t exactly call an aspiration. No that word lacks verve – solidarity would be a much more accurate description.
It begins like this. Take night classes to learn English. Watch as many American movies as one can on YouTube to practice how speak with a pleasant Bostonian twang. Save up enough to further a master ‘s degree in the US. Get an internship in a software company where everyone dresses as if they all live in rooms where clothes or overnight pizza goes to die. Get hold of a green card. Or find a firm to act as a sponsor and eventually it ends with this common white picket dream….work in Silicon Valley.
You know it’s scary. As you can tell alot about people from just being a humble fly on the wall.
And even if they don’t manage to get into first base – they try very hard to work in a Chinese software firm where everyone has a pot cactus on their table just like America. They go around in sneakers and hoodies just like they do in America. They even have kistch Americana pantries where everyone seems to make the effort to drink as much coffee as they can without getting the shakes.
They do all these things…..and as a fly on wall one can even feel the weight of this atmosphere. They do all this. Even when everyone knows – they much prefer pur er to cappuccino. Noodles to Subway sandwiches. That’s how powerful dreams and aspirations can be when they are clarified where all the colors pop right out and the lines are razor sharp – it’s mesmerizing – as if they’re all driven by the same indestructible idea – a collective consciousness that is like some vapour in the very air they all breathe. Even if it’s just car smog from the Beijing highway.
Yes, watching them like a fly on a wall can really be so scary. As it is so hard not to believe one is in Silicon Valley even when it’s all taking place in China.’
February 22, 2017
If increasing tap water by 30% over a two year period spurs home grown technologies in desalination of sea water, water treatment and management. Then I think it’s a very small price to pay. As one day these local firms will build core competence in this field and eventually hire more natives. As this know how can also be exported to other countries that face this problem perennially. Such a business model will also create a solid base of SME’s that can supply parts to local big water treatment firms.
In the long run these SME’s who specialise in this new field of water treatment will also be able to develop home grown products which they can commoditize in the form of intellectual capital and sell it to other water treatment firms abroad as well. Thus creating more jobs and opportunities for natives.
This is because at the sheer speed man is destroying the planet – clean water can only be increasingly challenging for many countries to reliably supply to users.
But if it is just a blanket 30% increase that just goes straight into the piggy bank of the government – then let us be very clear and call a spade a spade like a farmer – it’s just another form of consumption tax. Then it’s no good. As since it’s not plough back into developing water based industries. Then further increases will likely take place in the future. As government being government will always be addicted to the narcotic of tax revenue in one form or another.
Alternatively if the goal is to conserve precious water because water levels in the Linggui dam are at a precariously low level – and that is understandable given the freakish weather we have been experiencing for the last two years – coupled to the fact, in a land scarce city state like Singapore that has very limited water catchment areas.
If it is an issue of only cost.
Then a better alternative would be to treat water like a commodity such as gas or oil where the rate varies according to amount of precipitation and water capacity holding rates along with usage. Go up even fifty percent if it runs that dry – it would hardly matter to the bottom line of most families or even businesses – as since the cumulative cost of water can be sensibly averaged thru the course of one calendar year – that formula would be significantly less disruptive than an arbitrary rise of 30%. With modern computing software that comes with billings – this is hardly problematic to implement in Singapore.
After all it’s reasonable and intelligent to assume not every year can possibly be a bone dry scorching El Niño dry year. Not every year can the Linggui dam be in the danger zone. Neither does the water Singapore gets from Malaysia require extensive treatment like in Denmark where most of the water are from underground catchment areas that requires advanced treatment before it can be consumed straight from the tap.
‘What do I know? I am just a farmer. But I do know this. Price hikes especially in these stressful times. When so many people are rightly anxious about their future and tightening their belts to the very last notch must make sense.
If for any reason the dots don’t connect to make sense – then even simpletons like even straw hat wearing farmers like myself will begin to scratch their head and wonder what’s happening here?
It has to make sense. Otherwise it’s no good.’
February 21, 2017
Q: Should government create an entrepreneurial class in Singapore?
A: What makes you think that they have not be trying to do exactly that? I read somewhere $40b has been spent in the last 20 years – despite this Singapore has still not managed to produce the innovation and creativity spins off’s of enterprises.
So they have tried, but since many of the horses they backed in the past didn’t manage to make it anywhere near the pole positions. I think it’s fair to say they have failed.
Q: Some people say the government is bad at earmarking business opportunities and should no longer back any more horses. What do you think?
A: It is very easy with the benefit of hindsight to say what Govt should or should not have done today – but that is not a very constructive approach. What you have to understand is many of the sectors the government once put their chips on really looked like high growth sectors at that time. Semi conductors, disk drives, life sciences – they all looked very promising back in the mid nineties.
Life sciences especially held out the exceptional hope as the new frontier in the business the environment back then – if you want proof all you have to do is trace out all the stocks dabbling with grow livers and noses in Petri dishes in both the NYSE and Nasdaq to verify how much confidence investors believed in that business model.
So I don’t blame the government per se for these failures – as many of these sectors where they once placed most of their chips really took unexpected bad turns which eventually led to their lack lustre performance.
The key word here is unexpected or unforseesble.
Like I said earlier it’s easy today to pin the blame on figures like Philip Yeo. But where were these critics then?
If I have any criticism it is this – it is conceivable government may now be shit scared of taking a higher equity of the whole idea of creating an enterpreneurial class in Singapore. They’re like those scady cats in the control room of NASA during the space race with the soviets during the 60’s when every rocket launch in the Cape exploded in the launch pad. While the soviets seem to be successfully launching bigger and bigger payloads into space – so I can well understand their reservations to play an proactive role these days in business. But I think they should just brush the dust off, get up and try again. Only this time conduct a honest review of what actually went wrong and glean valuable lessons from that tragic episode so that they can break out from that bad habit of reinforcing failure.
Q: What reasons can you give to argue the case government should continue to grow an entrepreneurial class in Singapore despite their past history of failures?
A: You speak as if doing nothing is a credible alternative – it is not. Not to me Kompf. As to do nothing is to condone stasis and fossilization of so many SME’s who cannot seem to discover the imagination to prosper by climbing the value chain. That’s OK if Singapore happens to be a hermetically sealed state like North Korea.
You think the Chinese are not taking a big equity in the development of their SME’s as a strategic economic asset? Do you really believe the Chinese planners trust the MNC’s that much that they will even consider relying on them alone as the primary engine to drive sustainable economic growth?
Q: Some can well argue. Quite sensibly I might add. It makes far more sense to leave it all to the free market to winnow the losers from the winners and all that government should do is regulate by keeping the field level? What’s your take on an non interventionist policy towards domestic businesses?
A: You know Kompf. The Japanese can manufacture everything under the sun – you name it, there’s probably a factory in or outside Japan that’s putting it together. Everything. Honda even rolled out an executive jet recently. Kawasaki heavy industries can manufacture everything from high speed bullet trains to military tanks.
Everything under the sun Kompf. Except farming equipment – all their farming hardware look as if they’re from Toy r us! They’re so small and cute and useless that they even look like those fifty cent rides for kids you see from time to time in malls – you want to know why Kompf.
Because only one sector in Japan is left untouched by every successive government since the Meiji era. Farming. By sheer force of numerical superiority. Farmers is Japan wield tremendous political influence, through the national network of local farm co-operatives called Japan Agriculture (JA). Farmers are so strong that they even own the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the agriculture ministry – the farming lobbyist is the reason why the tariff on rice on the date this blog entry is published stands at 779.2%, on butter it 360%, while sugar attracts a 328% levy. Let’s not even talk about peaches, grapes, oranges and all other fruits in Japan. Because you literally have to be a millionaire to be fruit lover. I am not kidding you – if you go to any Japanese household in Singapore. You will find they’re eating fruits from NTUC 24/7. As it’s so expensive to do the same in Japan.
But that is not the worst aspect of government absence in the agriculture in Japan. As the knock on effect is since the average farm is only three hectares! That also means all farms in Japan are really only for hobbyist – there is no such thing as economy of scale in farming. Not in Japan at least. All you have is old men and women who are all weekend farmers.
That’s what happens when government doesn’t come into a sector with a strong guiding hand, the assets that make up the sector will begin not only resemble a stunted bonsai plant, it will fossilize into hard points – the sector will begin to grow pear shaped. That is why Kawasaki, Yamaha, Honda et al are all taken to the proverbial Cleaners by the likes of John Deere and catepillar. Those mothers manufacture serious farming hardware – they’re all over above three thousand horse power and some of them are so big and wonderful they even come with satellite GPS navigation – that again is a function of how Government has always featured prominently in the farming sector in the US.
But only in Japan do you have three hectare farms. You know how small that is Kompf – that’s the size of my dog house. Can you imagine three hectares!
Q: In what way do you think the LDP should intervene to nurture the farming industry in Japan?
A: That’s my point Kompf. Abe has taken on the formidable farming Lobbyist by entering the TPP.
Letting in cheap foreign rice is what the TPP will do – but you have to understand in Japan rice is not just rice – as feasting on rice is really a spiritual and transcendental experience to the average Japanese.
If you know Japanese expatriates working in Singapore like I do as I am a Kendo instructor – you will find they love to dine in Little India. As that is the only place where there seems to be free flow of rice.
Q: But then again many can argue the case what has happened to the quirky Japanese sector has more to do with government interventionist policies that are responsible for creating all these price artificialities for rice, beef, butter, fruits etc etc. Had their government left it all to the free market – then all these artificialities would logically find equilibrium?
A: Yes, that was what I thought as well – but in the case of Japan. It is quite the reverse and even contradictory. All these price artificialities have nothing whatsoever to do with goverment interference – it is the result of government unwillingness to do anything whatsoever for the last 200 years to reform the farming sector. Some of these protectionist levies and tariffs are so old they go all the way back to the Meiji era.
However where MITI has been very proactive and even successful is in growing heavy industries and automobile sector in Japan – the auto industry in Japan is a very good example.
One reason why Japanese car manufacturers are world class and ahead of the learning curve in auto manufacturing is primarily because their government makes it so costly for the average car owners to hold on his car after three years.
Cars lose their value so fast in Japan that there are no old cars on their roads. It’s like snakes in Norway. The bloody thing doesn’t exist!
Of course their government will continue to insist on the need to maintain these rigorous and costly inspection standards when a car turns 3 years old, then every 2 years until the car turns 11, then every year on the pretense that it’s because Japanese roads are so lousy that they can’t afford to have old cars breaking down and holding back traffic on their decrepit roads.
But everyone with an IQ of five above idiot knows only too well – the primary reason for this stringent and costly inspection service after three years is primarily to light a bon fire under the ass of the Japanese auto industry to force them to innovate – by doing so. You can very well say the average car consumer is indirectly subsidising research and development for the Japanese auto industry.
Since the average car owner in Japan rarely ever keeps his car beyond three years – this is a very clever way by MITI to revivify the Japanese auto industry and their vendors to come up with new models in three year cycles as well.
Q: How does this benefit their SME’s?
A: That’s a question that requires may be ten pages to elaborate.
Q: Please summarize and share. The Guilds would be interested to know.
A: An auto manufacturer in Japan or for that matter any where else in this world makes absolutely nothing – that is the ultimate paradox of the auto industry. The only people who used to design and make everything in one monstrous building that goes under under the hood of a car were the Soviets during the 60’s. That’s old hat technology.
All car manufacturers really do these days is design, quality inspect, assemble and get pretty girls with mini skirts to stand next to their new roll outs every three years – the real engine that powers the auto industry is 100% dependent on their retinue of SME’s who supply the countless parts and componentry that goes to make up a car – and that makes a lot of sense. As not only are many of these SME’s who supply parts and components specialist in their respective fields – but in some cases they even own the proprietory technology.
I give you an example. Step into any car today. And if you look closely at the dashboard – you find the words SRS airbag – “SRS” is the acronym for supplemental restraint system. So if you’re sitting in a Toyota, Honda, Audi, BMW and at least twenty other cars – it’s probably designed and made by this company called Takata.
I wouldn’t call Takata a SME any longer. They may have started off as one when airbag technology was still new – because not only do they supply to just the Japanese auto carmakers. But they also sell airbags to most car manufacturers around the world.
But what allows them to do this is their skill of arms in airbag technology is so advanced that not only do they own all the patents for this technology but they also happen to own the patents for the machines to make airbags. They also own the IP for the crash test simulation software that auto manufacturers use to design how big or long their car windows can be along with probably a thousand other things I don’t know about that goes into manufacturing a functional airbag.
The reason why I have brought up Takata specifically is because this is how SME’s actually move up the value chain – they don’t just build to blueprint. I don’t doubt they may all have started off at that point. But as they proceed along this business model – at some point they will have to develop their own proprietary technologies to test, manufacture and in some cases even act as consultants to advise car manufacturers how to best design their cabins and dashboard so that if the airbag activates you don’t get a stainless steel Buddha or crucifix mounted on the dashboard impaling into your head – what many people don’t seem to fully understand is this is how all SME’s move up from just being Low cost Centers to higher value added – this is also something the Japanese copied from the Germans many years ago.
If you drive around Germany. You will not find big industrial heartlands like Detroit. Or Jurong. Germany is very perculiar. As when we talk about innovation and creativity it is not concerntrated in only cities like Stuggart that manufactures Mercedes Benz or even BMW based in Munich. Instead you will find very specialised SME’s in unheard of towns that even lonely planet doesn’t write about. You’re just cycling around Germany. You’re passing thru a village. You past by plenty of farms and cows. Suddenly you see a factory that in all probability, neither you or I have every heard of before. Now Kompf. What I’ve just described is very normal to you. But trust me. It’s very surreal to me. As most of these firms are so small that they are usually family owned and managed – they probably also drive the whole local economy of the village as well. But most importantly they don’t only make whole complete things – instead they make things that go into recognizable things like aeroplanes, power turbines, engines, switch boards etc etc. But their real strength lies in their skill of arms to develop new solutions to fit into complete systems – often they own the IP not only for the things they manufacture. But they have been able to consistently do one more thing that no SME in Singapore can yet do – they have developed their own proprietary based manufacturing systems that they sell to the rest of the world. To put it another way. They don’t just supply. They design and make the machines to make those things they once supplied – that is why Germany is the only country with SME’s in the world that doesn’t fear the China man copying and selling the stuff he used to supply at one tenth of the price in Pasar malam (flea markets) – infact the German is very happy to continue to supply machinery to the biggest copy cat in the world. China. When the German is reading news articles about how Kawasaki heavy industries is planning to sue the shit out of China Railway for copying their drive trains – he is shouts out wunderbar. As that means the Chinese will be buying more machines from him.
February 20, 2017
Q: It’s very interesting that you brought up Dr Carl Jung’s work on synchronicity and how it can be juxtaposed to create serendipitious moments that can even motivate someone to go into business.
Tell me do you consider serendipty and synchronicity as one of the same thing?
A: You know when Jung first published with works on synchronicity – it was at first dismissed by the high brow intellectuals of the Vienna circle as mysticism or mumbo jumbo.
And ever since then synchronicity has always had to live under the cloud of pseudoscience.
To me what serendipity or synchronicity may mean is not as important as the question of how does one go about connecting the many dots that one comes across in the journey of life to make sense of how it relates to ourselves and others.
As I mentioned previously people are complicated – they don’t just walk over the knoll without historicism or emotional baggage.
I guess if you’re already familiar with Maslow’s theory of what motivates man – then the whole idea of serenpidity and how it actually connects with businesses and enterprises may well be something closer to reiki power derived from colourful crystals or Feng Shui.
But I think what Jung was trying to communicate is the anti thesis that all outcomes bad or great may not actually be connected by the strict laws of linearity – rather there is always a certain element of randomness that all adds up to produce the final outcome that can even be very meaningful.
I guess what Jung would have found immensely stimulating would be questions like would the Second World War even have occured – if only the Academy of fine arts had taken in Adolf Hitler as a student?
Q: I don’t quite see the connection. Or for that matter seem to be able to figure out how your answer relates to my question.
A: That’s exactly my point – because we are discussing mysticism to some degree whenever we choose to ask the question how much does serenpiditous moments or snychronicity have to do with enterpreneurialship.
At one level of understanding it’s not so different from the philosophy of Feng Shui – Feng Shui if you notice doesn’t tell you why. But just because a philosophy doesn’t supply the why’s doesn’t exactly make it automatically pseudoscience or necessarily mumbo jumbo. As what Feng Shui attempts to do is to inform you how certain things should be orientated with the specific goal of creating harmony with the laws of nature and the broader universe – that’s why when modern day civil engineers look at ancient constructions like the Great Wall. Even they are astounded by the wealth of building technology of the ancient Chinese builders.
Synchronicity is exactly like that. It too like Feng Shui can supply you with knowledge like how certain set pieces when they are clustered together can produce a vibrant and conducive environment where meaningful things usually happen, like for instance the number of café’s is a good indicator of the level of business verve and élan in a neighborhood.
But while Feng Shui omits the why’s – that synchronicity is prepared to stick it’s neck out slightly to even say – the number of café’s in Silicon Valley is proportionally inverse to the number of patents registered as coffee stimulates the brain to think at a higher level.
Q: So let me understand this clearly – I have too. As this is a very deep conversation that even touches on metaphysics. You’re saying it’s not always important to know why people become entrepreneurs. It’s only important to know what conditions should come together or cluster and combine to create that sort of environment?
A: Yes. And No. No, because I am not trying to say for one moment the URA should suddenly go crazy and turn Singapore into a city where in between every sixth or eight lamp post there is a café – simply because there seems to be a strong correlation between coffee drinkers and profound and compelling thinking.
Yes on the otherhand – simply because café’s whether they are in Silicon Valley, the fifth arrondissement in Paris or just along Bugis do seem to resemble crèche’s where like minded people can congregate and do their thing and even find enough common ground to collaborate – I can tell you scary stories about café’s. I once plotted out the nexus between café’s and revolutions and it seemed to me even though I didn’t quite manage to reduce it all into the elegance of a mathematical equation to submit as a refereed article in a journal – my conclusion was there was definitely a strong correlation between coffee and thinking. Whether it’s good thinking or not. I am not so sure. But there was definitely thinking as opposed to just killing time moments of candy crunch or just playing angry birds. Then again, there were aberrations in my studies as well – like why did beer houses in the Austrian Hungarian belt manage to do the same thing? Were Bavarians secretly drinking coffee in beer houses in their leatherhosen’s?
What I am trying to say here is this Kompf – there is a lot of room for improvisation as to how the dots connect to create the picture.
But this connection is really a function of how the individual sees himself in relation to society and broader world and even something infinitely large like the greater universe – let me give you an example. You’re walking happily one morning in botanical gardens. Suddenly your left eye twitches. In a little while you decide to take a seat on the nearest park bench to dig out eye drops from your bag. Then ahead of you a big tree slams right down. A tree that would have certainly killed you dead – you say to yourself, Heng man! Followed by maybe I should put a number down at the lottery koisk.
Now let’s say you go back to your life – let’s even say, you’ve started to marinate yourself in work, play and more work to such a point where you’ve forgotten about that incident so completely that it’s just a distant memory. Then suddenly one day while lunching with your colleagues your left eye begins to twitch and again you reach for your eye drops only to be told by someone else that your boss wants to see you in his office asap. You walk in. His face is grave. But he tells you, you’ve been promoted.
At the risk of coming across as really a cheesy version of Murakami – how will these two separate incidences exert an influence over the rest of your life?
We don’t really know. Or to be specific that’s something that can really only be answered by the person who experiences all these coincidences. As that was the part that Jung himself didn’t really answer – what he did however mention was only – this much. It all comes right down to how you yourself see these two seemingly coincidental events. If you see your eyes twitching as just an anatomical reality of dust getting your eyes and irritating it – then it’s just probably a big nothing. You may just say it’s just good luck like it’s other kin bad luck.
But if you see it all as an interplay in the larger scheme of things and even believe nothing ever happens without rhyme or reason. Everything that occurs is purposeful, it directs you somewhere specific either physically, mentally or spiritually – and there’s always a reason behind it irrespective of whether they’re good, bad or just an uneventful – then according to Jung, that event becomes symbolic. Then it has power to influence and even modulate your decision thru out your life.
Q: But all this comes across like pseudoscience. This whole idea of synchronicity and how it relates to business – may well just be luck. After all what’s the point of even bothering to understand synchronicity if one can’t seem to be able to put it into anything concrete to produce more concrete.
A: As a subject synchronicity is very misrepresented these days. I do admit to some degree even when I speak about it – even I can’t help but see myself as some Deepak Choprak wannabe. But even you have to admit – your frustration with the whole idea of serendipity and synchronicity stems in part from the quest to find definitive answers so that you can leverage on it like some business tool. But my point is exactly the direct opposite.
As I believe luck or coincidence whether it is good or bad does certainly plays a preponderant role in shaping not only the direction where firms and workers may go and end up doing eight hours a day five days a week. But it may also happen to be the biggest determinant for success or failure.
Of course the Harvard Business review will disagree with me – but that’s only because they don’t nearly have the intellectual latitude to ever agree simply because they have a vested interest to continue believing everything can be meticulously planned to succeed and failure is simply a bi product of poor planning or execution.
Having said that. I don’t believe for one moment just because one is unlucky necessarily means you’re toast – Singapore may not be blessed with a great expanse of hinterland like Malaysia. But that unfortunate coincidence doesn’t necessarily translate into weakness or a disadvantage as circa Adam Smith.
Both Tokyo and Osaka are new built on the bedrock of old cities. The streets are so narrow in some places. You can even put your hands on two buildings and where you stand is actually the common street. I am not kidding – but these coincidental disadvantages also supply the motivation why Japanese air conditioners are all so whisper quiet. They have to be. As people live so close to each other. The Americans don’t have this problem or coincidence – that’s probably explains why when you switch on a carrier aircon it sounds as if you’re in a bus interchange.
Same goes for China. China doesn’t have bauxite. It has plutonium. It even has kesserite and perhaps potash, magnesium, phosphates et al. But no bauxite – that’s why things that should be constructed in aluminium in China are always invariably made out of cast iron – when it comes to cast iron technology. China is the best in the world. Even Steinway & Sons and Yamaha are made in China today. Because the Chinese are the only ones who seem to be able to make cast iron plentifully without too much fuss – and if you know anything about heavy industries. You will find that sand moulding is more of an art than science – there is a heavy qualitative element involved. So the Chinese are very smart. They use this core competence to transition into casting alloy engine blocks using sand moulds – not easy. Not even Germany can do this. Because we are talking about old school craftsmanship here.
What a coincidence you say – but I say it goes right back to having no bauxite reserves in China.
Again this is an illustration of how disadvantages or bad luck as you call it can be translated into competitive advantage.
Q: So what you’re saying is good or bad luck is really quite chimeric. What’s important is how one responds and most importantly connect the dots to produce something meaningful. Yes?
A: Yes. Kompf during our conversation. There was an electrical storm – now you don’t realize this. But we are now on auxiliary power. That’s to say batteries. But not to worry, we have thirty days of water reserves. I can switch from electricity to gas to continue cooking. Life support systems are all OK.
Most people in my position will panic. But not me. You see I’ve been thru this – lived even without running water or electricity for months on end. So this to me is just a nothing. An non event – my point is so much of how we choose to see adversity is really a function of how we choose to see a situation.
Yes. There will be some discomfort Kompf. We would have to take cold showers from now I am afraid. Be diligent in saving electricity. But at least we can dine in candlelight.
You see. It’s not all bad is it? Not even when it seems to appear just all bad.
That’s really my point.
February 20, 2017
The short answer is run like hell. As a human without proper training is ill equipped to effectively neutralise an angry dog. If it’s a large breed working dog like a Doberman or Alsatian. The outcome is very clear 99 out of 100 – the dog will win. You may survive. If you’re lucky. But you will definitely be damaged goods.
That is why my standing advise to ALL dog owners – large or small is no matter who well you claim to know your pet. Always keep them muzzled when they go out in public. Keep them leashed.
Common mistakes. Never allow your dog to socialise with other dogs or humans – never just allow anyone to come up and touch your dog. If they do so tell them in a loud commanding voice – Stop! Do not touch. Thereafter politely explain that your dog has anger management issues. Even if your dog has an excelllent temperament – I find most people will understand and appreciate why you are so firm.
Prevention is always better than cure.
February 19, 2017
Q: I find it very interesting that you brought up the importance of serendipity and how much luck plays in the success factor. I want to ask. Is it possible for the government or any other agency to engineer serependitious moments to encourage Singaporeans to be more innovative and creative in how they conduct business?
A: I don’t know much about the Singapore Govt or for that matter what they have been doing or not doing to encourage natives to be more entrepreneurial.
Q: I wasn’t speaking about entrepreneurialship as much as creating serependitious moments which can allow more people to be enterprise owners.
A: OK. Like you mean how an architect may turn on the TV one day and watch a nature documentary about bees only to latter on incorporate hexagonal designs to create light and yet strong walls or floors.
Is that what you mean when you say serependitious moments?
Q: Yes, I would like to know whether that sort of moment can be engineered?
A: Well the mini skirt answer is – if that sort of moments can be engineered, then it can’t possibly be serendipitous. Can it?
Q: So what you’re saying is it’s a matter of pot luck rather than planning?
A: Not exactly. You may not be able to engineer it in the way you go about designing a building like where it should face, how big the windows should be etc. But I think it’s possible to create the right conditions where all these elements for possibilities may come together to produce something meaningful.
Q: I don’t understand.
A: Just visualise this scene. Don’t spend your time or energy trying to figure out where it’s all going – just visualise it. You have two men in a café. One is an engineer. Let’s say this chap works in a factory making household appliances. The other is a tailor. They seem to have nothing in common. That’s probably why each is sitting on different tables. Each presumably consumed in doing his own thing. The engineer suddenly realises he needs more sugar. So he gets up. Shortly thereafter the other man. The tailor. Also reckons his coffee could do with dash of milk. He proceeds to the counter as well. Somewhere in all this. The engineer notices the tailor is wearing an especially well fitted shirt – no, he’s not gay. Let’s say he just appreciates a well iron shirt because he happens to work on the assembly line that produces irons – he quips to the other man, ‘nice shirt.’ No the tailor is not gay either. He says, thanks…it’s linen.
A conversation develops.
Q: Yes. And then? Do go on.
A: That’s it. My point is what you have here is the basic raw materials that can be fashioned to provide opportunities to create possibilities.
Q: I don’t understand.
A: Well that’s because in this scene. I haven’t really fleshed out the characters yet. Let’s say the guy whose the tailor is struggling to produce more linen shirts. You know Kompf. Linen isn’t easy to handle. I bet you didn’t know that – it’s very Prima Donna – most tailors even the good ones dread handling linen – it’s very finicky, shifty and doesn’t hold its shape very well. That’s the nature of linen – it’s woven out of flax and so it’s very tempremental to temperature and humditiy.
Let’s say the engineer guy has another set of problems. He has a high maintenance wife – she spends his money as if it grows on trees. So he’s been harbouring the thought of starting his own enterprise. He even regards himself as a tinkerer who might one day come out with a product that people may vote with their wallets.
Q: Alright. You’re supplying the motivation of these characters now and I can roughly see where this is all going. The tailor needs to figure out a better way to construct a suit or shirt out of linen. He can do it – but it requires too much time and effort and so he ends up making perhaps five instead of the ten suits that he much prefers to be able to construct if only he can figure out a better way to handle this pesky material.
The engineer however has wifey problems. He needs to figure out a way to get more money. His job isn’t nearly doing what it’s supposed to do, not with a high maintenance wife. So he racks his brain on coming up with the next big thing that will shake up the world. But he doesn’t know what it is.
A: Precisely. Now may I continue my story. Engineer decides to ask the tailor. How much does it cost to make such a great shirt? Tailor answers back with some ridiculous figure. Engineer takes two steps backwards. But manages to steady himself and exclaims – wtf!
Tailor retorts. Can only make five a month. He goes on to add it’s hard to construct. Tailor presses the point home – damm fucking hard!
Let’s stop here Kompf.
Q: Why? You know it’s like that new movie Allied, starring Brad Pitt. The suspense is killing me.
A: I said let’s stop here. As what we have here now is much more than just the motivation of these two characters. Who just a while ago were perfect strangers.
There is now an earnest exchange of thoughts concerning the subject of interest that is compelling to both men. Engineer is shocked that it cost and arm and a leg and perhaps a bit more just to construct a linen shirt. Tailor on the otherhand seems to be lamenting – if only I can find a more effective way to construct more linen shirts every month. Both men are co joined at that moment in the brotherhood of profit motive – of course, like all things that involves serependitious moments both men don’t know this yet.
But what they’re actually doing in this conversation is nothing short of discussing the economics of the tailoring business along with economy of scale that is related to manufacturing throughput along with ten other disciplines ranging from economics to perhaps the brief history of linen wear.
But what’s interesting about this scene is this Kompf. What happens next?
Now if both men decide to part company and return back to their respective tables across the room – then it’s just a casual conversation between two strangers. Nothing more.
But let’s say one of them decides to bring his cup of coffee over to the others table and ask – do you mind if I join you?
They start talking. The tailor does most of it describing the why’s – linen is so difficult to handle when it comes to tailoring – as it seems to have a mind of its own and doesn’t seem to accord to laws of Newtonian physics – it’s shifts too much on the cutting table. Difficult. At times impossible even to pin down precisely it’s planned dimensions. Soon the engineer begins to sketch out a roughy a cutting table with tiny perforated holes on a cutting table powered by a suction fan – he turns to the tailor and ask expectantly, will this do?
The tailor exclaims – Yes! But goes on to add sardonically – but the problem is such a cutting table doesn’t exist.
And there you have it Kompf – X marks the spot. Only understand this. Where it begins isn’t really clear. Just think about the infinite number of variables at work even in this simple scene between these two characters. What if there wasn’t a café. What if one prefers tea or orange juice to coffee would they both be able to connect in some juice bar? What if the engineer didn’t go up to the counter to sweeten his coffee? What if the tailor was wearing his fav T shirt that day instead of that well tailored linen shirt? What if the milk was placed at a different counter where the sugar would be? And most importantly what if neither men made seized the initiative to make the connection and reciprocate meaningfully.
So many what if’s.
I think my point is a large extent of what we like to call the Bingo moment – that you refer too as serendipity has a lot to do with how we as individuals respond to people and events happening around us. To some degree that cliche – we all make our own luck is very true.
Most people really just prefer to see what’s before them and very little else – Oh, he or she is just that. An open book. But if you think about it – life is rarely ever that simple.
Jung wrote about synchronicity – but perhaps what he really meant to say was a man or woman doesn’t just walk over the hill. We all come with our respective histories. Failed marriages. Broken dreams. Compromises that we all prefer to negotiate quietly away with subterfuge and white lies. So people are rarely ever simple. A man may be a man united fan. Stir his coffee clockwise instead of the other way round. Work as a factory technician. Prefer ham sandwiches to joining other co workers for lunch. But he’s hardly just that – and that could be said of all people.
That at least is what I gathered from Jung’s work on the subject of synchronicity – what you see is hardly an open book. Not at all Kompf. You see a man attired in the field wear of Khaki. You say he’s a farmer. But who is he really?
How did he come to farming? Who was he before? What is he really now?
I hope I am not coming across as sinister Kompf.
February 18, 2017
Q: Mellinails have been described as the strawberry generation in Singapore – they’re fickle minded, have an entitlement mentality and tend to whine. In fact Singapore has the gloomiest mellinials in the world. Do you agree or disagree these segment of society needs to get their act together?
A: Hey come on. Kompf. Go easy. Go easy. You want my frank take. If I am a mellinail in Singapore. I too would be gloomiest and probably morose as well. Go easy. Because they have it uphill on virtually aspect of work, life and play.
It’s not easy to be optimistic and forward looking these days. This is not a specific indictment on Singapore society per se – it’s just the prevailing social and cultural landscape of our times.
Mellinials whether they are in Germany or Malaysia or for that matter any where else on this planet can’t be a happy or optimistic lot – as they face tremendous social and cultural and economic pressures from all directions which previous generations did not have to deal with.
To exacerbate matters there is of course the ever green of the generational divide, but with mellinials this divide is significantly amplified by digitalization and tech convergence – which makes it challenging for the older generation to connect meaningfully with mellianials today.
But it’s important to get over the noise and pigeon holing habit of just describing a generation that came after mine or yours.
As when we ask ourselves the basic and fundamental question. What do mellinials really want? Hey Kompf. They just want the same things as you and me when we were their age. Only understand this. This time round it’s harder for mellinials to actualize those wants – the valence between yearning and fulfilment in this age is not so clear this time round. Hence I see this belief where people like to label mellianials as having an entitlement mentality or job hopping like rabbits as simply a function of the collective anxiety shared by all mellinialist concerning a futurescape where the only certain thing is there will be more uncertainty ahead.
Kompf. That has to be five chili depressing no matter what generation you belong to.
Q: You brought up a very interesting point – what do they really want? The same things like when we were in their age. You speak as if we are in the same age category. But how do you know what I really want as a mellinial?
A: You know what Kompf. When I engage people I don’t really consciously make an effort to say to myself. Maybe I should. Oh he or she is in this age category. This is what they want. Or this is what I assume they aspire towards. I don’t ever Pigeon hole people. Because to be honest with you – I know your wants and desires may differ from mine. Yes, that’s certainly true. But I am also acute conscious of the reality there are certain things that will never ever change.
Brotherhood. Trust. Respect. Keeping one’s promises. Having your well being in mind with every act. These things don’t ever change.
But as soon as we start a dialogue where you label me as an analog, old economy or farmer who is still living in the colonial era of sail boats and ivory dentures. And I just think you have 1,000 imaginary friends who are all in Facebook – then I think it’s very hard to make a meaningful connection.
Let’s have an agreement. You’re an individual. Refer to yourself in that way. And so am I.
Q: Do you believe it’s much easier to be an individual in your age? Compared to let’s say mine?
A: What does that have to do with any of the ESC recommendations?
Q: I just thought that maybe that is why you ended up leading such an interesting life as a farmer. I reckon to do that takes quite alot of individualism. So I was thinking perhaps this is what’s lacking in my generation. As since we are so connected, the idea of the individual can only give way to group think or some homogenous mindset where everyone aspires towards the same things in life.
A: OK. I get it. To be perfectly honest with you. I was even strange and perculiar to even my peers in my own generation. Most saw me then as a odd ball. As I worked my way thru university. I was always changing in and out of uniforms. So all they saw was this kid who was always coming to lectures and seminars in dirty work overalls, chunky steel cap boots, carrying a big bag with a bright yellow hard hat attached to it – but even in the pre-internet age there was definitely such a thing as a social network. Students who worked only mixed with students who worked. Just as students who didn’t have too because they were on scholarships or funded by their rich parents did very much the same. Birds of the same feather flock together.
It’s not so different from how society is organized today. But I will grant you this. In my era. There wasn’t so much peer pressure to conform. I mean you could be a very odd person and most people would just let you be simply because you could hide the awful truth the only thing that made you come across as normal to everyone else is the idea you’re conscious of your own abnormality and no one would ever know that because there was no blog or for that matter means to communicate that belief to a mass audience. I guess you could probably write it all out with pen and paper stuff it in bottle and throw it out into the river. But even if it’s read. There is no way for you to know where it all goes from there.
So to some extent it’s true to say it was much easier to be an individual in my age. But again it all goes back to what was your experience of life at the moment of your youth – for me since I’ve always worked a variety of jobs to get by. Everything from a technician in a nuclear plant to hanging by a rope installing stuff on poles that stick out from tall buildings. I don’t have any hang up’s about rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty. For me there is nothing shameful about physical work.
I am just as comfortable digging a hole in my plantation as I am in a suit attending a formal business function – when I reflect back most of my peers who worked and studied don’t seem to suffer from an inferiority complex concerning that sort of attitude towards work that society considers beneath them either.
My point is ultimately it boils down to who you’re mixing with during your formative years that will influence your outlook and approach in life.
Remember what I said birds of the same feathers stick together.
The problem with the internet age is – you don’t nearly have that sort of privacy or autonomy these days to feel comfortable in your own skin.
I mean these days when I see people who I hardly know enjoying themselves in instagram – even I am conscious of missing out in life. And I hardly know this people at all. But I am also at the same time skeptical as well. That’s to say I am always interrogating the scene and wondering to myself is this for real? If you ask me why is it so difficult to be an individual these days – it’s simply because peer pressure is so incredibly high. The threshold is so high that one is always acutely conscious of the gap between yearning and the fulfilment of that desire. Real or imagined doesn’t matter. But if I am a kid from let’s say a poor family looking thru the periscope of the internet at how this guy or that gal in instagram can afford to go on that super expensive holiday, buy that car, do that cool thing, experience that once in a lifetime moment – then I guess even I may feel a sense that I am missing out in life. But that’s only because I don’t realise those are the type of people who I’ve elected to mix with and call my community. So at the end of the day it comes right back to what I said – the people who you choose to mix with in your formative years will ultimately be the greatest influencers in where and how you decide to live, work and play. They may even be able to modulate your mood as to whether you’re happy, ambivalent or sad as well.
Only like I said, how real is it all?
Q: You mentioned there is need for reality. Why is it so important in this age? Does it have anything to do with the post truth age?
A: There is no post truth age. If you ask me there was actually more lies masquerading as the one and only truth in my age. Only because the apparatus of mass assimilation were all controlled by only a few oligarchies that all had a vested interest to recount a story or event with a certain bent to serve their respective specious end. Only in my age. No one questioned it as they do now. As there was only one way communication. So this whole idea of a post truth age is all hyperbolic bullshit – the way I see it – it makes far more sense to develop the individual skills sets to be able to winnow truth from lies. Rather than leaving it all to some organization that you don’t even know who actually sits on the board or is funding openly or secretly.
That’s how I saw it then and now.
The onus to beacon out the murk is always on the individual.
Q: To you it’s always the individual that matters most and not the group. Maybe that is what differentiates us?
A: Maybe. But even if you happen to belong to a group. You first need to internalize what your beliefs are. Otherwise what’s the point of belonging to a group. You will just end like Ribena getting diluted by people who you hardly know and end up being like everyone else chasing the same things that everyone wants.
At the end of the day there is no running away from the fact – you need to see yourself first and foremost as an individual.
Most people your age don’t like to see themselves as individuals. You really know why Kompf. Because it’s connotes the antithetical idea they’re not a part of the rah rah you jump I jump as well brigade i.e you’re a lousy team player or someone who doesn’t see the wisdom of getting along with others to get things done – but to me an individual is simply someone who sees himself or herself as the CEO of his or her corporation.
That individual may well work in a firm or organization – but since he or she is an individual. There’s a set of mission statements. A vision and even a methodology to reach the goal point.
Q: What advise would you give to mellinials today in Singapore?
A: I’ve already made myself super clear on this point Kompf – I consider you first and foremost an individual and I hope you extend me the same courtesy to treat me likewise – so what’s all this talk about me giving advise to a group of people who I hardly know anything about. You want me to stick a post it on your forehead that says – I am motivated to save people and planet? Is that what you want? Or maybe you much prefer me to put you in a fridge like a box of strawberries?
Q: There is no need to be sarcastic and rude….(interruption)
A: Correction. You are the one being not only rude. But worst still you’re not extending me the courtesy an individual rightly deserves – you automatically draw the conclusion that I am perculiar because I choose to be a planter. Or farmer. Or maybe a hermit – but why don’t you ask me what my mission statement is as an individual – maybe it’s reads like this. I want to live my life under my own terms.
Why don’t you ask of me – what’s your vision? It may be I want to be able to walk my lands and not see a single soul for hours and should I come across a stranger even have the elemental right to shout out – get off my land!
You seen the way I work. Do you think it’s easy street. No! Commercial farming is the only profession in the world where you have to buy everything at retail and sell at wholesale – its tough as tungsten nails. But it’s also very rewarding as well – I get to live the way I want close to nature. We get to talk three hours straight because it’s too bloody hot to go out today – there’s no boss micro managing me. As for the government where I located smack in the middle of the wild – they might as well be on the surface of the moon. They help me. I say thank you. They don’t. I just carry on till one day I get so hot under my collar. I pack up my bags. Sell everything and relocate to the Ukraine and grow wine. It’s all in my hands. Happiness, sadness, wealth, poverty, good health, terminal illness – as an individual I don’t ever put those things in anyone’s hands. It’s all there in my hands. As I am first and foremost an individual.
Now one more time please fraulien – do you want me to treat you like an individual or a mellinial?
Q: Let me put it this way. If you’re in your late twenties. Have worked in Singapore for five years. And you feel you’re still going nowhere – what would you do?
A: Politicians like to say when they’re pushed to a corner – no one owes you a living! My response is along similar lines – no one owes Singapore a living either!
Go. Think. If workers can come all the way to Singapore from wherever they hail from – why can’t it flow the other way?
To work in another country is the only reliable way I know how to develop self-confidence as an individual.
There is no other way. You know in Singapore there are many people who look down on foreigners. But do you notice those who have worked abroad never ever do that. You want to know why Kompf. Because only these category of individuals know how hard it is to work, live and play in another country. They also know how it’s like to be in the receiving end when natives shout out ‘go home!’
Suddenly the world is a big place with no familiar landmarks, and you quickly find that there is no definitive right or wrong path. You discover a lot about yourself – you meet some really nice kindred spirits along the way. But you also come across really nasty fucks that just want to take a bite out of you. But what’s important is you’re already broadening your range of experiential knowledge beyond just what you experience in tiny Singapore.
Go! Even if the pay is crappy. Go! Even if you have to struggle speaking a foreign language and people there make fun about the way you pronounce words. Go! Even if you have to downgrade.
Look at it as a form of education. A long term investment in character building. The pay, living conditions or whether it’s too hot in summer or cold in winter is not important.
Going is important!
As when you have diversity, experience and a broad sweep of the world on your side – when opportunity comes right up – you will spot it. The croaking frog in the well will not and most importantly you will have the confidence to act on it.
To broaden one’s horizons, to me, is to become aware of greater possibilities and options. It is to add new strengths to one’s current repertoire of strengths – to become cognizant of possibilities outside the previous limits of what might have been considered possible.
Therefore my advice is go if you are that grumpy. That’s what I would do.
Q: I get a feeling here that you don’t necessarily see uncertainty as a bad thing. I even sense from our conversation. You might actually see it as a form of opportunity?
A: You know Kompf. Even the best conceived plans are fraught with risk. You plan to get this by this age. That by the time you hit your thirties. And suddenly bang something happens and it all changes. But to me that’s how actually life is – it’s not like launching a space mission to planet Mars. Where everything proceeds from A to Z according to preplanned timeline.
For some people I don’t disagree that may well be the case.
But for the vast majority of ordinary humans living in this timeline – where they ultimately end up in life is one part serendipity and the rest maybe a mix of good and bad experiences.
Only understand without the bad squeezing in somewhere between serendipity and the good they probably wouldn’t be able to seize those opportunities that came their way – either by enhancing their knowledge or progress by having once experienced failure.
Every businessman can benefit from serendipitious moments. Man goes to start a coffee plantation in Costa Rica. His harvest gets wiped out by bugs. Tries again. Wiped out again. One day he decides to drown his sorrow in the local canteena – overhears a conversation between two gringo’s lamenting how difficult it is these days to source great coffee beans for Starbucks and the likes – if only they can get a man whose willing to transverse the brigand infested villa Madre and knows coffee well enough to appraise, rate and put a fair price on the tonnage. If only. Man decides to join their conversation. Soon he’s appraising coffee beans from South America to Africa as he knows those locales like the lines on the palm of his hands – he gets a certain percentage from every ton – it’s a good business model that allows him to also sail his plastic sail boat and enjoy the solitude of the sea when he visits those places where he offers his services. The quality of his work is first class. Eventually he carves a niche for himself in the international coffee scene – as the equivalent of the man from Del Monte for premium beans. Soon he saves up enough to put a decent sized bet on the roulette wheel of the make or break coffee commodities futures market. This man reckons Robusta beans will be hit hard that year by locust storms sweeping in from the North all the way from Morocco – in July, he heard sailors from the Coite de Noire talking once about how strange insects were caught in their lateen sails far out at sea northwards – he held one of those critters up to the dying light of the blue mountains. He noticed they were friskier and their wings were broader than usual. He realised that year in northwestern Africa the bone white dry Sahel was in full bloomed. The rains must come earlier that year and plentiful water nourished more than just pretty wild flowers. Buried deep in the desert sands were the eggs of desert locusts that needed water to hatch. There would be so many that year, the skies would turn dark by mid July – this the man reckoned was a once in a lifetime X marks the spot moment – that day he tripled his bet on Arabica. On his fifth trip to West Africa two days latter between the lighthouses in Guinea and Senegal. He noticed the waters were choppier than usual – the winds waxed and waned capriciously like a promiscuous woman tightening her legs as if in a futile attempt to preserve whatever dignity she still had. This he knew to be the mistral winds from the Sahara. That’s not right the man says to himself. She’s not herself this year – a minute latter he realises the ochre winds known as the sea of death – Junjaji fisherman called the Tisulur would blow late as well that year. The great wall of swirling sand that usually stopped the locust from sweeping down all from North to Western Africa would fail that year. By evening. The man puts everything he has on that one number…the roulette wheel of life spins the ivory ball bounces around and falls squarely on the numbered slot he marked – he makes a killing.
That year all the robusta and cereal crops were wiped out from the largest locust infestation in African history – all the way from Algeria to Mali.
This time the man buys land. This time round he plumbs for oil palm. He hits it so right for three consecutive years. He buys more land and finally he’s made for life.
That’s how I see it Kompf. Life is never just a straight line. It’s riven with uncertainties.
But don’t let that make you gloomy. It doesn’t become you.
February 17, 2017
Q: What is your opinion concerning the proposal to reform the current education system to sow the seeds for an innovative culture geared towards the digital revolution. It has been said – Singapore’s current education system is deemed to be overly exam focused and to involve little more than memorisation and regurgitation. Rather than promoting critical thinking.
A: This is a well trodden path – every time, the subject of leveraging strategically on innovation and creativity comes up – education is always pushed forward as the silver bullet to deliver the goods. I am not so sure why this seems to be the preferred approach especially in Singapore. As mind you many other countries who have a home grown economy that leverages on innovation and creativity don’t nearly have an education system that differs dramatically from ours – they’re also exam based. And no matter what you say, formalized education will always require some level of cramming and regurgitating to some extent – so when politicians and leaders argue the point – bad education stymies creativity blah blah blah – it really says a big fat nothing.
Besides when it comes to schooling. Singapore is right up there with the best in the world.
So the question I think you should be asking me is why is it – our students can perform so well as to even get into some of the best universities into the world. But they can’t seem to replicate the same success as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates?
Might this be an Asian disease? Like how my nose is flat and not sharp and angular? I don’t think so because the Taiwanese and Koreans and even the Chinese don’t ever seem to be constraint at all by either historicism, ideology or for matter philosophies like Confucianism to grow firms like Samsung, Haier et al.
Some say success a la Apple or Boeing business models require critical mass in terms of a hinterland that can absorb these products domestically first to grow before spreading their wings globally. But then again if one examines a small country like Sweden that doesn’t have a big population and even less of a hinterland – they don’t seem to have any problems making the tech jump from everything ranging to aerospace to power turbines that generate electricity. Neither does Israel have that problem either – you want to snuff out fat people in international airports they could probably supply you with the right kit to get the job done. The Israelites are so good at developing killing machines and methods that it’s their leading export and you can find their stuff in practically every militaries in this world in one shape or form.
So I don’t see formalized education as the issue. I much prefer to see the problem in terms of how the custodians of power in Singapore define the term education.
Q: How do you think the custodians of power in Singapore define education?
Q: What do you mean by that statement?
A: No comment. But I will say just this. Children are very impressionable. Often as adults we don’t even realise how influential we are in shaping their destinies by just the mere act of living and breathing and going about our business. Take the case of where I turn the wheel of life – what really holds back kampung folk? Bad policies? No.
Superstition. Mumbo jumbo. To be precise the hantu (ghost) – in the kampung the fear of the hantu is so strong and omnipresent that it even has the power to shape destinies – Tamil schoolgirls who take the short cut thru my land during the rainy season draw blood from their lips when they are menstruating. Why because they believe in the devil lives on the hill – and he has the power to visit them in their dreams to ravage them if they fail to follow ritual.
The hantu and their kin – the potianak, orang minyak, Jembalang, jerangkung, Bunian are all very real in the Kampung sphere – that is why religion is so dominant in the Malaysian provincial scene…as only it can offer protection against malevolent spirits real or imagined.
Once ritualism, mythology and folklore takes hold of the young mind – often it is impossible to eradicate. Not even with the power of reason and logic.
Singapore also has its own unique category of hantu’s. Or myths. Depending how you see the paranormal influencing the mind.
Kids in school see their peers having the latest smartphones. They visit their peers homes for birthdays and marvel at how well the other half lives – this of course is what the Harvard Business review doesn’t write about when we talk about why the income gap is such a solvent. And naturally that kid will wonder how can I live the same good life?
So they all work towards landing a scholarship. In university, they hear how good life is for the scholar. He seems set for life and all that needs to be done is to follow the yellow brick road diligently without once straying off like one of those software programs that is loaded to self driving cars.
Do well in school. Land a scholarship. And the rest of life will fall into place. You even get to marry that cute girl with the short skirt next door. Hence the brightest and the cream de la cream aspires only to be a high ranking civil servant or a stat board honcho.
That’s Singapore biggest Hantu that really holds her back.
After all why even step out of line and bother with the high road of aspiring to be an enterprise owner?
What if I fail?
Isn’t that a form of education? Or might we be talking about a social cultural theoretical science here? Maybe it’s closer to Hantuism. I don’t know. You decide on this one.
My point is what society puts on a pedestal and venerates. The rest will consider the gold standard and just work towards.
You go to Nebraska and Ohio and all you see is kids playing with John Deere type dinky toys. Why? Because farmers are rich. Some of them even own Honda jets like Homer Tan. So everyone aspires to be a farmer over there. See the nexus – what society puts on a pedestal and venerates….
Same with Hong Kong every MBA graduate aspires to be a property developer like Super duper Li. Why because that’s the gold standard. Again you see the same superstition or myth working its magic.
In China every university student aspires to be the next Jack Ma of Alibaba. As only he gets to have lunch with Obama.
And the most grotesque aspect of this cult of emulation is when the elites begin to start mythologizing their own version of the narrative and begin selling it to the masses.
Q: So you’re against the scholar model?
A: No. I am not against it. But I think it needs to be less of a hantu factor in the Singaporean psyche i.e kids need to weaned off the corrosive belief, if they don’t cut the grade. They have failed or have to settle for second best. They need to believe. There are other ways to make it and even perhaps buy their own Honda jet. They need to believe in not only one path but multiple pathways to actualizing personal success. Above all they need to believe in the notion of dignity of labor – with the benefit of good work ethic, they can be successful in life.
As for the scholarship system it needs to less parochial, insular and less inward looking – it needs to be infused with a deep sense of reality.
Q: What would your version of that reality be?
A: Go and work in the private sector for five years first as part of your bond agreement. Not a GLC. But a real private enterprise. Better still make it extendable in mid career years when they begin harbouring delusions of grandeur – go see how the world really works. Like General Yeo. I’ve never spoken to him. But I am sure if the guilds can arrange to interview him about his worldview along with attitudes concerning some of his objects of interest – it would be very different from what it used to be when he was just the foreign minister of Singapore. As he is one of the few that managed to successfully make that transition from being a civil servant to someone holding a senior rank in an enterprise – it’s a very different ball game. With different rules along with opportunities and constraints. This is what I mean by reality.
Always remember what I said earlier – as it’s anecdotal to even qualify as axiomatic and a veritable. What society puts on a pedestal and venerates. The rest will consider as the gold standard and work towards like ants seeking sugar.
Let me give you and example. During the Ming Dynasty. Every kid in the coastal regions of China dreamt of being a merchant seaman. Why? Because the exploits of Cheng Hu was the equivalent of reaching the forty two level of world of Warcraft.
That was what really scared the living daylights out of the Ming mandarin class who saw the exploits of the treasure fleet as an erosion of not only the status quo. But it even threatened the way by which they would perpetuate their ritualized class politics in the imperial court.
So these Mandarins burnt all these ancient comic books that would have otherwise made China the greatest Superpower on this planet. Surpassing even the Roman Empire. They even banned the construction of blue water class ships by limiting their size and tonnage.
To put it another way they made rugged individualism, the quest for exploration and risk taking all bad words.
People who showed such tendencies were put to the sword. They lost posisition. Got kicked out. Exiled or banished for half baked reasons.
But when you eviscerate an idea – you also kill so many good things along with it – you know Kompf. I am an old school sailor – give me a mineral oil compass, divider, maps, sextant and a Rolex that loses only ten seconds a month and no more and I can make port at every way point give or take a day or two – so I can appreciate what China threw into the furnace along with the travel logs of the Treasure fleet.
As at that period. China had reached a peak of naval technology unsurpassed in the world. Chinese shipbuilders also combined technologies they borrowed and adapted from seafarers of the South China seas and the Indian Ocean. For centuries, China was the preeminent maritime power in the region, with advances in navigation, naval architecture, propulsion and artillery. From the ninth century on, the Chinese had taken their magnetic compasses aboard ships two whole centuries before the Europeans. They were so sophisticated. They even knew the subtle difference between magnetic North and theoretical North and could make the necessary adjustments not to run aground on shallow waters. In addition to compasses, Chinese could navigate by the stars when skies were clear, using printed manuals with star charts complete with Astrolobe tabula. Star charts had been produced from at least the eleventh century. So astronomy disappeared as well. That was why China was riven with incidences of famine after the end of the great voyages. If you know Chinese history well – you will be able to trace out how the vital sciences of the ancient world, such as Astronomy degraded to such a level where the Mandarins couldn’t even publish their annual almanac to inform farmers when to sow and harvest reliably – it was catastrophic and like all nationally insipired ideas that put’s that sword great endeavours, many goodies went up in smoke.
And what did this book burning Mandarins do thereafter – they began to turn away from the sciences and instead take comfort in trivial pursuits like poetry as a means of promoting their own erudite and useless class politics.
By the early seventeen century the cost to China was fatal when European war ships made their appearance in Canton.
This is a good example of what can happen when a nation has lousy role models. Everyone suffers. Except those who happen to live in ivory towers.
Q: So how do we grow our own home grown version of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates?
A: As I said earlier in another interview. I can’t remember when – that is not the cogent question. The real question is how to does a nation go about climbing up the value added ladder – and to accomplish this. You need to get out that idea from your head that anything commercially viable in the innovative or creative sense necessary requires a USB port or wires – there are many things in this world that successfully sells commercially and the provide many with employment which do not necessarily require batteries. A well designed coat hanger uses the same amount of plastic resin than one that you buy in the Pasar malam (flea market). But it commands a premium price. Same goes for everything from space saving furniture design to traffic cones that light up at night to promote driver safety.
Kompf don’t get fixated on the likes of Gates and Jobs. I know when we regularly talk about innovation and creativity, it’s usually given the same semantical treatment as high tech. But to me that is only one of many ways to see innovation and creativity in action – for me the field of possibilities of those two words is very wide from designing better wheelbarrows that doesn’t cause slip disc to fashionable clothes and accessories.
To me those two words are so broad that they don’t even have to include the likes of only Gates and Jobs. Somewhere in between there is space for perhaps even a Vipp. You know that Danish guy who decided to design a pedal bin for his wife because she worked in a hair saloon.
You know Kompf. How you see a word or sentence usually determines very much your outlook and approach in life.
Maybe what I am trying to say is we may have to unlearn many things before learning new things to make real and meaningful progress.
Q: OK I get it. You’re saying innovation and creativity are small words that don’t necessarily require cutting edge technology. But can it be commercially viable?
A: Why not? If there is a demand and you as an entrepreneur can figure out the supply business end. You have a self sustaining loop. You know I happen to spend a lot of time in the wild. One of the biggest problems we have with cars in the frontier is rodents creeping into the hood and chewing on electrical wirring and disabling cars. It’s a huge problem with frontier men and maybe also with people with weekend plated cars in Singapore. Just imagine you’re in a Leopard tank and the turret can’t rotate for nuts because rats have chewed the electricals – that’s not funny. Because in a jungle craft. If there is a war I would probably be throwing peanut butter at the enemy instead of hand grenades. I am just kidding.
Back to point. In the scale of things, this is a major problem in field craft. It’s such a dreaded problem to me that one day while racking my head to get on top of this problem. I got so frustrated that I kicked a mosquito coil and it slid under my engine – the following day I discovered there were no rats.
Since then whenever I go to the field for over nighters – I light a mosquito coil and put it under my engine and it’s good to go for twelve hours straight. That’s how small the words innovation and creativity is to me.
I figure one day I might print myself a couple of thousand of carton boxes with a brand name like Rat-off! And sell as an anti critter solution to frontier men and militaries all round the world that face this perennial problem. All I have to do is go to NTUC buy up all the mosquito coils and get my maid to rebox them and sell it in online.
Q: Are you really thinking of doing that?
A: My point is innovation and creativity should be a very small word. You’re a hawker selling Mee Pok. One day you decide to add some strange condiments. It taste better. So good that your customer base grows. One day the Michelin foodies decide to give you a plaque. In my book that hawker is leveraging on innovation and creativity. It may be very small to you Kompf. Then again. Small is beautiful. Because every Singaporean can be an innovator and creator of value.
February 17, 2017
There is something very wrong with the picture. It’s not quite right. Target is hard to get at. As his movements have to remain random. Where were his bodyguards?
Two amateurs. Women. They obviously have no prior clandestine training. Reports are conflicting. At first it was reported target was splashed in the face with a mysterious liquid. Then a hanky held over his face for ten seconds! Latter on it’s reported, he was sprayed in the face. Again this is not right.
Hard target. Only one chance for a decisive kill and a fifty fifty method is deployed. It can’t be right. As not even puffer fish poison can work with just a splash.
Location was right. Target was preoccupied with automated checking in – that part was good.
But the rest of the picture is not right.
After the capper. Both pranksters didn’t even bother to follow evasive procedures. Clearly amateurs with no prior training.
Something is missing – an injection.
That’s the only reliable way. The 100% method to guarantee target is terminated if poison was used.
Four mysterious men were seen. Again that’s not right. You wouldn’t be able to make them out. Not as a team or unit. They would have been discreet.
Maybe they just wanted to kidnap the target? Maybe it was a botched job? Maybe they didn’t mean to kill him?
If it’s a kill job – there had to be an instrument to deliver the poison – it had to be injected. Intravenous delivery of poison is 100%. It’s the only way. The preferred method of a professional assassin.
Where is the injection device? Was there even one? Are North Korean assassins even involved?
February 15, 2017
Q: Do you think leveraging on innovation and creativity is disruptive? And if it is how should it be managed?
A: That’s a very broad question that can be answered from so many different ways – but whatever point you choose to start. I think we can all agree without too much fuss – no endeavor that is bed rocked on innovation and creativity is absolutely safe. Many boats will get rocked. Even those that have anti rocking features. Not only SME’s, the workforce, enterprise stakeholders, policy formulators, ministers, political and corporate class olograchies – they will all experience some measure discomfort as implicit within the words innovation and creativity involves change and change if you think about it can mean power and politics shifts. That will always be scary and even at times unnatural for some categories of interest groups who are too invested in the status quo.
Robots replacing humans is a big issue with unions all round the world. Just like how downloadable apps have changed the way people commute and buy stuff. And all that will have a domino effect – like how shopping Malls are slowing shuttering because it all diminishes the allure of physical consumerism.
In summary some change will proceed smoothly others will be convulsed and even violent – I see all this as a very natural dynamic that accompanies change.
The way I see it – there needs to be balance and a sense of scale and perspective – that I feel is missing from Singapore.
We speak about the need to change the way to work…attitudes, approaches, mindsets and at times even philosophies. But no one really wants to talk about simple things like having the correct frame of mind to facilitate real and meaningfully change respectfully and thoughtfully.
Sometimes and more so in the case of Singapore officialdom’s relationship with it’s society – political correctness tends to be taken much too far to produce meaninglessness that subtracts rather than adds any value to the process of change.
Silence, acquiescing and parroting the official line is often seen as being a good and sensible team player – to go the other way is to run the risk of being labelled a recalcitrant, autistic or simply one whose out to stir trouble.
I don’t saw this only in the context of the relationship between state and citizenry – but this paranormal mindset, if you allow me to call it that also applies in firms between employee and employer right down to parents and their relationship with their children.
For example. Not every planter or miller likes me. Some do. Others don’t. Why don’t they like me is a function of their belief system that gets regularly challenged when things are done my way – I on the other hand respect their ways, but they must also learn to respect my point of view as well as a landowner so there needs to be a sort of common ground where both parties can stand and look at each other in the eye and be able to laugh at how seriously and how far the other is willing to go just to hold on to a point of view – that to me is how mature minds typically manage themselves and others in the face of conflict – they are able to regard themselves along with their positions less seriously and even laugh at their own idiosyncrasies and thru that sort of live and let live culture exchange ideas honesty.
Asian’s don’t do this well – but Americans and Europeans can. And that is why although they is so many things that doesn’t work in their societies. They’re always at the cutting edge of change – change not only in technology. But even change in fashion to changing a script in a narrative to develop material we may vote with our wallets to regularly entertain ourselves.
So I see the change as really a lifestyle inspired thing – that needs to recruit not only the hard matter of the intellect, but heart and also spiritualism. This of course is not a narrative many people like to talk about – as they will invariably come across a wishy washy. But I don’t have any hang up’s – as I see it that way.
Instead of just allowing one idea from one man or one oligarchy to steamroll over the rest – when we speak about innovation and creativity in the context of business – then you cannot preclude the inclusion of the political sphere as well. It’s really one of the same reality. Many countries have tried to separate the two – take the case of Trump’s travel ban, it’s a political decision. But see how it impacts businesses and most importantly register the nexus between politics and business.
For me I am clear on some points. We should not confuse fear with respect. As criticism if it’s well thought out and argued with facts and not jingoism and propaganda can often be the raw material to leverage on innovation and creativity to carve competitive advantage to enhance the wealth of a nation, firm or people.
Silence or the culture of fear may I admit look as if all’s well and fine – but often it can smolder deep down like peat fire and it’s very very hard to put out.
February 12, 2017
Q: What do think is the single most important factor that desperately needs a solution for revivifying the Singapore economy? Do you see the Singapore first policy as a solution?
A: What you’re in fact asking me albeit in an oblique manner is where do all the good stuff that accounts for economic growth really come from?
Government likes to trump the idea they regularly invest in high quality education. But what’s the point when you have physicist driving taxi’s just because then can’t seem to land good jobs pay well? What’s the point when you have firms that considers workers an accounting liability once they hit their early forties? what’s the point these days when even the very idea of firms have transformed to such an extent where all you really see is the receptionist and there is no one in the office because everything is either outsourced or they are just getting things done by contract workers.
I think we have to be very clear here about a very simple question and that is simply this a where do all the good stuff that really drives the economy come from?
For me if you go back and read many of my materials even as far back as ten to fifteen years ago – I have always been a very aggressive backer of the middle class – the reasons are simple. As when we ask ourselves the question who actually starts enterprises that hires people – most people in Singapore will probably say, Temasek or maybe name some multinational where everyone has to wear uniforms and clock in – but for me the crèche that incubates entrepreneurship and risk taking for the last two thousand years of human history has always been the middle class.
So when you talk about how to craft an economic growth strategy for Singapore. You cannot preclude the middle class. Neither can you elide it – it’s like talking about making a cake without flour or eggs because to me – the middle class has always been the happy band of society that offers the highest intellect, motivation for upward mobility that is inextricably linked to innovation and creativity – these are the people who start enterprises that grow – big firms and oligarchs like GLC’s and the likes of Temasek Holdings some say do the same on a larger scale. But what you need to understand is they do it in such a way where they don’t necessarily compliment the upward mobility of the middle class in terms of opportunities – as since they are so big – paradoxically they work against the middle class by having their hand in everything to such an extent where the aperture for opportunities for the middle class can only diminish and at worst regress.
Q: Yes. It is certainly true. It is well known that you happen to be a very supporter of the middle class – but the question is what is the nexus between innovation and creativity and the middle class – how are they linked?
A: You know I am just a simple farmer. But let’s imagine it this way – let’s say Singapore is not a small country. Let’s say it’s got so much land that it’s like the mid west of America. But if all the land concessions are just given out to big agri Temasek type firms – then why should I even bother with the whole idea of trying to turn the wheel of life by farming?
It’s a bloody waste of time. I can’t compete for nuts with these juggernauts. They have millions of hectares. All I have is my humble veggie patch. So they have the benefit of economy of scale – they buy fertilizer per ton cheaper than I can ever hope to do – they’re probably so big they can even engineer price artificialities just to give them a price advantage that cuts my margins to nil – this is exactly what I face regularly.
That’s why if you read my blog regularly. You read about bizarre stories of how I am always playing cat and mouse with the big plantation owners and oil millers – you may think buying plastic flowers and using my charm to get information from fat secretaries or climbing up flimsy drainpipes like some third rate secret agent to break into filing cabinets in the middle of the night is just sandbox politics – but trust me – this is serious stuff – as all I really want is a level playing field where I can earn a decent living as a small timer farmer.
I see the plight of the middle income earner very much in the same metaphoric lens in Singapore – he wants to start an enterprise – but wherever he turns, it’s a road block. As there are simply too many big firms that have their hand in everything from setting high rentals to price manipulation.
Q: What countries can we learn from where big is bad and small is good?
A: Look at America. It’s middle class is nuked! Do you really want to know how Trump got elected? Many political pundits like to point to the dissatisfaction of the rust belt regions. But disagree – as the real reason has everything to do with the evisceration of the middle class in America.
Do you really want to know what’s the one saving grace of the middle class – they read. They’re prolific accumulators of knowledge. Kids from poor families just play candy crush and angry birds on their iPads – that’s their lot. It’s not an indictment on class per se but if I am just a guy scrapping by that’s provably what I would do myself – after all I can’t cut the margins to make those investments to start an enterprise not without minimum wage and only an extra day off every two working weeks – so their children struggle to achieve in school and pursue higher education. Children from rich families may seem to have every reason to succeed thanks to their privileged childhood opportunities. But comfort is a solvent – it robs them of rugged individualism, drive and the frontier spirit – hence they lack the desire to build wealth and climb the economic ladder further – but the middle ground is only place where you will find the perfect balance between yearning and fulfillment and that is why it will always be the crèche of entrepreneurial spirit.
The economy sags when middle class anthropises – it dies.
Q: I quote what you mentioned just now. ‘Comfort is a solvent – it robs them of rugged individualism, drive and the frontier spirit’ end of quote. Who is ‘them’? The reason why I ask you this is because I notice you seem to draw a very link between discomfort and success – can you elaborate further on your theory?
A: Who is ‘them’? Depends on which camp you belong too. If you’re in the standard PAP line then I guess the onus is on the average man on the street who is always told that he shouldn’t rely too much on the government. But what is often elided from the narrative is how so GLC’s and even certain state owned enterprises such as Temasek continue to enjoy monopolies and can even be considered five star comfort zones. So there is a lot of dissonance here when we ask who exactly is ‘them’ in the Singapore context.
Wages as you know are kept low in Singapore to presumably to create an environment where SME’s can compete without hurting their bottom line – isn’t that a sort of comfort zone?
Wonder no more why productivity is so low in Singapore. Because if let’s say I am an enterprise owner and I can get easy access to cheap labor – then tell me where exactly is the level of discomfort that would provide heat for me to get off my fat ass to find alternative ways to best the bottom line? Why even bother looking at automation when all I have to do is get ten more Bangladeshi to get the job done.
But if you compare this with how the average Singaporean is regularly told he needs to work harder and foreigners are needed to fuel competitive economy – there seems to be two narratives. So it’s really double standards here.
Bear in mind what I am saying is very serious. I am mindful of this. But that is my personal point of view of how Singapore really is – too often enterprises are given the sweet end while the average Singaporean is told swim or sink. So what you have is a business environment where enterprises continue to enjoy the comfort zone of cheap labor that is why most of them don’t seem to be able to discover the imagination or will power to migrate upstream.
This is awfully complicated. I don’t want to simplify the formula for success or failure to such a point where I may even come across as rhetorical – but my point is simply this. Discomfort is a precondition. A strategic precondition before innovation and creativity can take root. If you look at every single nation that has succeeded – at every single significant turning point in it’s history it experienced stress – not Thai massage stress, but do or die stress that compelled it migrate up stream.
Japan is good example. Many people like to say the Japanese camera industry grew exponentially during the seventies right up to the eighties because they copied rigorously – but to make good cameras. You also need great optics, where did the Japanese acquire the core competence to develop great lenses – it goes back all the way to the Russo Japanese inter war years in the early 1900 – when the imperial Japanese navy realized all their binoculars and optics came exclusively from Germany from a firm called Zeiss – without decent optics you can’t wage war – artillery shells will all miss their targets. Good optics are required from everything to range finders to bomb sights to periscopes – so the Japanese were stressed to hell. That specific constraint was what compelled them to develop their home grown optics technology that eventually became the bedrock of that allowed them to manufacture good camera’s.
My point is you can be lazy and settle for a presentist Harvard business school view – you always have to go back into the depths of history – if you really want to gain a comprehensive grasp of how nations and firms leverage on innovation and creativity to carve competitive advantage – I admit, it’s not always a clear line of sight. There are many factors that come into play such as serendipity and even pot luck.
But even if we take short cuts are drawing analogies and comparisons – I think it’s axiomatic, to succeed there has to be a certain level of discomfort.
Argentina is a very good example of what can happen things get too comfortable – in the early days circa 1900, it was a so happening place that if I was born in that period. I would probably buy a one way ticket to work there. But look where it is today – it’s a basket case, albeit with limited success stories speckled with failures and even so much of it can only be thru it own distorted lens of what is success and failure – in it’s hey day the Argentinian economy was exclusively powered by rugged individuals, risk takers, there was a strong middle class.
Eventually under Peronism – the state had became bellicose and so all pervasive and strong. The government owned and ran not just natural monopolies such as water and electricity but anything that looked big with a couple of Temasek sized oligrachies – everything was subsumed into the purview of these juggernaut firms – everything from aircraft production, steel, chemicals, construction, road building, car factories to even paperclips. The great paradox of Argentina that has baffled even the best economist till today is while the economy did indeed industrialize – but without realizing it, it had also engineered the constructed it’s own mechanism for self destruction. In 1950 Argentine income per head was twice that of Spain. By 1975 the average Spaniard had more money in his pocket and enjoyed a higher standard of living than the average Argentine. Argentines were almost three times richer than Japanese in the 1950s; by the early 1980s the ratio had been reversed. So what happened?
If you ask me – I know the story as I am planter and if you asked me who actually brought down the economy of Argentina it’s was the aristocracy of this big firms that had their hand in everything from plantations to steel mills – they’re are cultured lot. Argentinians. They dress well. They’re Eton educated. Like to play Polo and have a taste for Italian fast cars. But from a modern planters point of view – they’re good for nothing! As the aristocracy of the planters and great industrialist community today are just reenacting the curtain call of the Fin de siècle era – it’s very sad.
This is what happens when the comfortable are not forced out by the collar of their shirts and dragged out into the wilderness of the discomfort zone – they all become like Argentinian aristocrats who are full of affectations, unlike their predecessors who were all very rugged men like the conquistadors of lore.
And this is what happens when businesses and SME’s are always molly coddled by the state with plentiful cheap labor – they all become lackeys!
Q: So you say firms and especially SME’s should be stressed?
A: Yes. You want cheap labor no! They experience stress. But since the allure of profit motive is so powerful – they find alternative means thru automation, robotics or improving work systems – that’s the only way to compel firms to take innovation and creativity. By creating stressful conditions where if they don’t migrate. They perish!
Q: A summary of what you have said so far is this: if Singapore wants to leverage on innovation and creativity – then it needs to grow instead of destroy the middle class. Am I right?
A: Yes and no. But you do have to excuse me now Kompf. As I need to hit the field. We will talk more when I return.
Q: Can I follow you?
A: Nien fräulein. It’s rough terrain. This time. I need to go with my dog. Stay here. We will talk further later. I will cook you something delightful when I return. I promise we will continue the conversation – meanwhile do enjoy middle class plantation life.
Q: What is your take on the role of the custodians of power, when they are repressive and intolerant. Will that have a detrimental effect on innovation and creativity?
A: I think in the case of Singapore and everywhere else – whenever officialdom features too prominently and dominantly in the sphere of the individual it definitely has a negative effect on creativity – but how much is hard to gauge emperically. In the case of Argentina, that pattern is certainly true – where democracy was created in 1912, undermined in 1930, ressurected in kind again in 1946, died again in 1955, brought back from the dead in 1973, killed once again in 1976, and finally reestablished in 1983 – it certainly had a chelating effect on the middle class and is perhaps one of the leading causes of brain drain as nothing can be worse than a regime that is willing to do anything just to hold on to the reins of power – when that happens the people who are best qualified to comment or just talk shut up or worse still they get used to living with a police man in their head and so what they have to say is always tinged with a sense of reservation and caution. As since they need their job. Then the right to speak the truth becomes a liability.
Q: Is that why there are so few vocal intellectuals in Singapore?
A: No comment.
Q: Let me approach it another way – if there is a way to criticize without incurring penalties will it create a society that is more adept to risk taking?
A: I think you already know the answer to that question – I have no further comment on that.
Q: What is your view on the widening income gap? It is well known you are critical. But how does this disparity in wealth correlate with the idea of creating a society that is comfortable with innovation and creativity?
A: There is a very perculiar logic that has taken hold in the last twenty or so years. Especially amongst the neo liberal economist and thinkers that began during the Reagan era – the idea goes something like this. When the rich get richer. Then some how part of their wealth percolates downward to the rest of society presumably like rain or piss – but where the logic fails is how this is exactly accomplished is never really quite satisfactorily explained, discussed or even written at lenght or breadth about – so if you ask me, this is just a form of mysticism.
As wealth doesn’t percolate downwards as much as it gets relocated elsewhere to the Cayman Islands or some place where no one even bothers to ask you where did all this gold bars come from?
Besides the notion the rich create jobs is not entirely true – they may create jobs where labor cost are low or where they can dump used machine oil into a river without anyone knocking on their door at night. Truth is the select few rich businesses don’t necessary create jobs. Not in sufficient numbers for the natives at least.
Especially not in the era of the ghost companies – where they exist, but at the same time they hardly hire anyone in those countries that they claim to be located. Labor is so diffused these days worldwide.
Rather, the rich become rich as they simply happen to be the beneficiries of an ecosystemic loop that regularly cannabilize on the largess of the middle-class. By either wage imposing conditions of wage regression or just dumbing it all down to cost competitiveness.
The real wealth creators in any nation have always been the middle class. When the middle class thrives, businesses grow and hire people and since they aren’t so big that they will ever consider opening a Swiss account or relocating their businesses to lower cost regions in the world – most importantly they stay local and the earned money circulates in the monetary ecology of the local community.
It’s like this really. I can hire foreign workers in my plantation. But you know oil palm is a skilled trade – even simple task like cutting fruit requires years of apprenticeship before workers can be effective. Otherwise they will end up destroying the trees – so that sort of apprentice and master relationship needs to be nourished and sustained at a cost even if it happens to eats into profit in my opinion. As it’s a long term investment to infuse the whole industry with the requisite quality and quantity for sustainability farming. You know many planters these days are in a right fix – as since the ringgit has deprecciated against the Indonesian rupiah and Bangladeshi Taka – many foreign workers have decided not renew their contracts. So there is currently an acute shortage of skilled workers in the oil palm sector. But I don’t have that problem at all.
Besides I am a strong subscriber of the notion of dignity of labor – and that simply means I like to money to circulate within the local economy. But if I have foreign workers who repatriate eighty cents of every dollar they earn back home – then where does that leave the local economy? So to me I am always in a precarious position. As a landowner in comparison to a harvester earns so dramatically much more – to me it’s strategic. I can never afford a Brexit or Trump event – if that ever happens that’s it. I am finished. Game over!
My point is you can’t take the idea of meritocracy to it’s illogical end – if an IT engineer hails from Mumbai his expectations are going to be much lower that a native who has to live, work, plan and take cars of his elders in Singapore. This is not theoretical. That is my point. It’s real. So if jobs in the local scene are just based on cost competitiveness – then all you’re doing is forcing droves of people highly educated people to work in Starbucks or Mcdonalds and there is a long term cost to that when you factor in the conditions to create an entrepreneurial based society.
There has to be. So if you package that as meritocracy. I say, go and die lah!
Q: What do you think about the role of education in the innovation and creativity ecosystemtic loop?
A: It gives me little or no pleasure to say this – but when we speak about the evisceration of the middle class and continue our discussion on why Argentina failed when it had every reason to succeed – it is precisely because of the self-serving aristocracy of the land owning and shipping families that stifled political and social development in the 1900. The Bembergs and Osmena’s corn beef barons disappated so much of their time and wealth on transforming Buenos Aires in little corners of Saville Row and the fifth Arrodisment in Paris – the chattering classes even preferred to speak a French. As frankly even the high class Argetinians couldn’t understand a single word spoken by the average Argetinian – Argentinian Spanish is very different from standard Spanish. The natives or poor speak some kind of canto – where the rhythm, pitch, modulation and intonation is all jumbled up – so the high class Argentians couldn’t even really undestand what the hell their poorer compatriots were saying – communication was a big issue that contributed to the Argetinian economic decline. How much is hard to gauge precisely. But it certainly amplified the class divide in more ways than I can possibly elaborate.
But if you ask me what really amplified the class divide was the disdain the planter and landowning aristocracy harbored towards their poorer compatriots – While American rail and oil barons funded libraries and promoted scholarships for the working masses the likes of Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller et al. The Argentinian aristocracy much preferred a Belle Époque life of dissipation pursuing Polo and recreating little Paris in Beuno Aries where they could show off their wealth like sapeurs. Instead of integrating with the masses they lived In the equivalent of Sentosa Cove far removed from the everday realities of Argentinian life – very much within their glider gated communities where the oligarchs oriented Argentina’s economy towards exploitation of the fertile soil and its working people, using their immense largess to steer political policies to their sole benefit.
So my point is when we speak of education – it is this aspect that to me presents the highest danger – when rich kids from privileged families have absolutely no idea how the rest of the poorer kids live and get by.
Worst still when poor kids see all this brazen display of wealth – it only heightens their desire for the unattainable and that can only gene resentment, enmity and everything that is against the idea of brotherhood.
That is why when we speak about education these days – it’s so important to stress the importance of egalitarims – many people label me as a communist. They say in Harrow. He was very much influenced by Franco’s austered lifestyle and iron willed proletarian work ethic that only seemed to prioritize the khaki of functionality and very little else. But to me – this is the new compact that the rich needs to cultivate to reclaim the lost ground with the masses – this to me is the real education that we need to impart to our youths – the idea of a classless society where the rich may not be so different after all from those who are just getting by.
Q: What is your opinion about the mellinials being the strawberry generation who don’t have the right stuff to start enterprises today?
A: I happen to have a lot of sympathy for this particular generation only because life is has never ever been tougher for any generation. Everything militates against them – job life cycles are getting shorter. And they will shorten further. Cost of living is high even by the most forgiving standards. If they commit to proper we are talking about long repayment periods that exceed what earning ratio of previous generations by not double but maybe quadruple. To cap it all off they now have compete with the whole wide world – so life must be hard. Even if they happen to own the latest smart phone it’s no consolation when I compare how things really were in my generation where dumb people like me could even get by and providing I don’t do anything stupid like fall in love with a China gold digger. I will retire quite comfortably. But for the mellinials it’s tough, tough and tough.
Q: What would your advise be to this generation?
A: I have a very unusual way of motivating people. You know when I was back home in Singapore. There was this guy. His name was Homer. Homer Tan. Now with a name like that you would probably think he could think for the both of us – but this guy was just a whining wet blanket. He would just go to work everyday and at the end of the day we would always be lounging in the pool and it was the same ritual every single time – where he would recount to me – his epic, I am going nowhere story. So one day I got really sick and tired. I wasn’t in a very congenial conversational mood that evening. So I asked me him for his IC. Of course Homer gave it to me and I took off my shades looked at him and said in a really serious tone – Homer you need to get on a plane and go make something out of your life in the big wide world. I can be five chili intimidating like the Yakuza, Mafia or Ang Tau kiah gang in Bedok when I get dead serious. Anyway to cut a long story I told Homer that if he didn’t get his act together – I have secret designs on his mummy as I think she is the perfect MILF sort that I would really like to have a candle light dinner with soft music along with other unmentionable things that I planned to do. To cut a long story short Homer disappeared pronto – today Homer owns a spanking new Hondajet. Don’t believe me call me and I will call him and we can fly private. I am not kidding. Today Homer runs a recycling plant in Belarus extracting gold and other exotic materials from computers and ex soviet era hardware that go to die in junkyards – I get a case of the finest grade whisky every year from Homer along with a ten page A4 thank you note.
I am not kidding. Ten pages of the before, during and after story.
So as you can see I am not exactly your weekend get away motivational coach that you go to and at the end of the day you get a free T shirt or mug. You really don’t want to ask me that sort of question. You don’t. Not if you know my background.
But sometimes – perhaps it’s good when someone comes along and gives you a hard kick into the deep end of the discomfort zone.
I am not saying this method of persuasion should be incorporated into the curriculum of everyone who really wants to be an entrepreneur. But I do think for some people who only seem to spend all their time whining away like some petulant wet blanket – they should just go and improve their lot!
Q: You seem to have a very clear view of what governments shouldn’t and should do along with how much etc. So can we at least agree that what you are trying to say is this – they should grow the middle class and not destroy it? Is there any country that you would consider following?
A: Yes. Just take care of the middle class and if that’s done right then all the goodies will emerge – do I see any country doing all the right things. I think if you look at really successful countries and firms all have one thing in common – there is a clear valence between hard work and reward i.e there is great respect and veneration for the idea of dignity of labor – the idea that a man should be paid a fair wage for his labor. When that notion is disrupted thru central planning or policy formulation at a government level – that’s when everything goes wacky. That’s when people start to get disillusioned. That’s when they get scared. So scared that at times they don’t even have the faith to start a family because they can’t even handle the basics of life – and when that happens the cost can be exorbitantly high. As scady cats don’t ever stick their necks out. They don’t start businesses and they certainly don’t even dare to harbor dreams as all it seems to do is supply them the grief of shattered hopes and unfulfilled aspirations. Of course all this is very hard to measure in metric terms – but if you ask me one country where the government may have got it right. Paradoxically, it’s China. I am not saying everything is right and perfect there. Not at all. They do have problems. And some of them are big and intractable. But as far as growing the middle class is concerned – I think they have done a wonderful job. Today if you conduct a survey of the most optimistic generation – it will be the young educated middle class Chinese. Of course all this never gets mentioned in the Western press or even talked about in the Harvard Business Review because the Chinese leadership is really quite coy about self aggrandizing – but if I had to rate them, I think they have certainly done an incredible job of growing a healthy band of middle class Chinese while the rest of the Western Hemisphere and even rest of Asia has seen this segment of society of getting narrower till in some cases they have all been squeezed right out.
I say they, the Chinese leaders have done a great job because when we ask ourselves what is the litmus test of a good or crappy government – it’s never GDP to me, that metric has always been chimeric – it really boils down to the very simple and basic question – where do you see yourself in five years?
I think more western trained politicians, economist and especially sociologist should take a closer look at the success story of China and my hope is they learn from it….but always remember what do I really know. I am just a simple farmer.
February 11, 2017
Q: What is your first hand assessment of the recommendations of the ESC? Do you think the criticism of the opposition labeling it as same old, same old are valid?
A: Thus far. The strokes are very broad. Very little specifics – but that is not an indictment of the ESC recommendations per se – that’s just how it is in the first cut. On the first roll out of anything that proposed change. It’s like reviewing a painting for the very first time. One stands some distance to take a full sweep of it to get an initial feel. The theme.
After that one moves closer to examine the brush strokes – the specifics and it all combines to create a picture.
As it is I think the opposition should have held back on their assessment till further details emerge.
But then again even I am just a farmer. So farmers rarely ever get invited to such events. What do I know.
Q: Guild wants to know can we learn anything meaningful from the ESC recommendations?
A: Tell the Guilds of course. In the US. There is an agency known as the NTSB. Every time planes, trains or cars crash and burn. These guys put on white overalls and sieve thru the carnage to determine the causal factors that led to those accidents – they actually do quite a good job of piecing together the anatomy of the disaster from beginning to end. After that they make their recommendations to plane, car or tractor manufacturers and that is how things get better, safer and much more reliable.
So I think many of my regular readers will be reviewing the ESC recommendations very closely – as even if it is a lousy proposal, there are certainly valuable lessons to gleaned in respect to what not to do if your firm or country wants to succeed in the globalized age.
We don’t just learn from following the winners. We also do the same by not doing the things the losers do.
Q: I sense a very sarcastic tone in your reply….(cut off by interruption).
A: You have every right to gauge my reply based on what I said. But you don’t a right to impute bad faith on my part – as I do have a valid point. In this world it is not so simple as just learning the seven habits of highly effective people a la Stephen Covey. As much as learning for to deal with the seven highly ineffective people to succeed.
That is my point.
Q: Stick out your neck. Please. I sense you are being cautious in your critique. Could be that you didn’t sleep at all. Did you go hunting last night? Do share what are the points that concern you most about the ESC recommendations?
A: If you insist Kompf. Only these have to be lightning points to mull over. As I really need to hit the field in a while.
Firstly, many of the ESC recommendations are still predicated on the old hat idea of growing the economy thru FDI (foreign direct investments) via presumably multinationals that hire workers to make stuff that would be exported. That to me is OK. As every country. No matter how mature it is technologically or industrially conforms to that model of growth to some extent or degree. Samsung and Japan are both highly industrialized and they’re at the cutting edge of innovation – but they too are very much plugged into the FDI mode as many electronic products use their chips and contrary to even expert assessments not all of these are home grown – but since the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers) have acquired core competencies in these areas, it makes sense for firms like Apple or even General Dynamics to outsource the production of these parts to those countries. So it’s not entirely true to say the FDI business model is passé – it is a robust business model as it makes perfect manufacturing strategy.
But even these highly developed nations that regularly leverage on innovation and creativity appreciate the limits of the FDI growth model – that’s to say they are mindful there are limits, constraints and even factors that may in the long run militate against sustainable economic growth. Even second tier tech countries such as Taiwan, China and to highly developed countries like Germany, Sweden et al have a healthy mid band of innovators that develop their own products and specialized services.
My feel is not enough attention is given to the specific area to grow such firms – where it might be just a one man show cum inventor enterprise that is able to some how find a niche alongside the juggernaut FDI type OEM based firms.
FDI is good if ONLY you can move up the value chain – but not many countries can make that sort of tech leap.
Do you want to know why Apple products are made in China? It’s an awful truth – but the real reason is because the US no longer has the core competencies necessary to manufacture such products – they can conceptualize, design etc etc. But manufacturing is a skill set in it’s own right – it is a core competence a skill of arms in it’s own right.
So let’s be clear not all FDI’s are necessarily bad. Many are good as they’re akin to universities that allow the natives to gain core competencies to build stuff in both quantities and quality and cost that can be transformed into competitive advantage to one day produce their own branding – Japan does this so did Korea. Taiwan followed suit. So did Hong Kong. But in the case of Singapore she’s a dud.
This should prompt us to ask why?
Q: Maybe that why the Singapore government wants to ramp up the population to jump start that sort to tech leap?
A: No one denies to grow an economy coherently – intellectual critical mass or fire power is a strategic precondition. But Kompf – you will NEVER ever find it spoken or written anywhere that the definition of critical mass is either 1, 2, 5, 5.5 or even 6.5 or 10 million people.
You mean to grow tech wise all you need to do is stuff as many smart people into a telephone booth or squeeze as many of them into a small island like Singapore?
Then I say – you have been seduced by the PAP propaganda machine.
As when you take the trouble to look around, the world’s most progressive societies have succeeded with much smaller populations. Stuttgart with a population of about 0.6 million is home to Mercedes – they also have the same problem of having to manage an increasingly elderly workforce. But do you see them bringing in Russians? Munich has only a population of about 1.2 million and is home to BMW – again do you see the German PM mooting the idea of bringing in workers to fill that intellectual deficit, Smaland-Sweden with a population of about 0.7 million is home to Ikea and Zurich with a population of about 0.4 million is the financial capital of Continental Europe. Ditto. And the list goes right on…..
So let us put a bullet into the myth…better still empty to whole magazine into it lah – that is so often propogated by the propagandist press and officialdom that to grow the economy one needs to ramp up the population to X, Y or Z people – as anecdotal evidence clearly proves this is not only false, but to insist time and again that is true is both dishonest and disengenous.
Now I insist Kompf. One more time please. Why hasn’t the OEM’s in Singapore being able to make that tech leap like the rest of the tiger economies?
Q: I don’t know. Besides this is supposed to be an interview where I ask questions and you provide answers.
A: Kompf tell me how good is knowledge of poetry?
Q: What has that got to do with anything that we are discussing now?
A: Everything. Tell me what happens when the falcon cannot hear the falconer?
Now I have to hit the field. Today is another working day. It will be tough as it’s hot like hell.
Q: I quote you, ‘Do you want to know why Apple products are made in China? It’s an awful truth – but the real reason is because the US no longer has the core competencies necessary to manufacture such products – they can conceptualize, design etc etc. But manufacturing is a skill set in it’s own right – it is a core competence a skill of arms in it’s own right.’
Do you see most SME’s in this same category and why are you so critical of that approach?
A: The appellation SME in the Singapore manufacturing strategy context is the highest level of misrepresentation – as firstly many of them are not small or for the matter medium sized. Some definitely are. But those who regularly supply parts and components and specialized technical services to multinationals based in Singapore are not. Instead of capital goods. I will use lay language like machinery. The inventory of their machinery are comprehensive, level of core competence in their respective field of expertise in my considered opinion is world class.
And this leads me to the supplementary question you asked – why am I so critical of this approach? Because if you think about it the business relationship between these SME and multinationals is parasitic – it’s like a tick on a dog. If that multinational is booming – the SME that supplies to that MNC will also boom. But the cost to be part of the boom for the SME will always be significantly higher than the MNC. Because they have to expand – they have to get more machines, invest in more training and start new production lines to existing ones. So what you are in fact doing is building systematic weaknesses in the manufacturing strategy.
It’s OK if that MNC that let’s manufactures vibrating operated toys to bring one thousand happiness to spinsters on lonely nights – but what if they decide to pack up one day and disappear elsewhere to cheaper cost centers such as China?
What happens to that SME then? Where do they go from there? After all the management has already invested so much in people and hardware and now the main customer has decided to jump ship, so where do they go from there?
To exacerbate matters. Low cost centers such as China. Especially in the coastal free trade regions also have SME’s who can not only perform as competently as those based in Singapore. But in many cases their SME’s can leverage on economies of scale to even migrate upwards in the value chain by branding their own range of product lines – if you look at local Chinese brands such as Li-Ning that markets sports apparels who do think manufactures their sport shoes? It’s firms like Stella. And where did firms like Stella accumulate their core competencies to manufacture world class sports shoes that even regularly features in Olympic events – they learnt it all from firms like Nike, Adidas, Puma et al.
Same thing for the locally grown Chinese automative industry – FAW Group, SAIC Motor, Chang’an (Chana), Geely, Chery, Jianghuai (JAC), Great Wall, and Guangzhou Automobile Group. Now you have never heard of these brands before – but if you go to certain parts of Africa – yon see them everywhere. Are they well made? Well it depends. But my point again is where do these firms get their die cast engines, carburetors, engine management software from – again they got it by first being just SME’s that supplied stuff to firms like Audi, Volkswagen et al who once joint ventured with them to manufacture cars for the China market.
My point is the equivalent of the Chinese EDB or Japanese MITI are staffed by very serious people who all subscribe to my adage – business is war!
They don’t build systematic weak points or fissures into their manufacturing strategy – so if Nike decides to move to Cambodia they will just quip good riddance lah – that’s to say they all without a single exception have a fall back plan. A plan B.
That is what if you must know is what is sorely missing from the ESC – a plan B where the SME’s in Singapore can con’t to not only prosper but take over their market share should these MNC’s jump the Singapore boat.
Q: A philosophical farmer. Do you know that I actually like you very much. I am especially fond of much effort you actually put in to come across as proletarian. As you’re ashamed of your own aristocracy. I do wonder sometimes why the guilds are so fascinated by you. To be honest it is quite understandable.
A: Krummes Holz gibt auch gerades Feuer…ya?
Q: I do insist the we converse in standard english?
A: Why? Is it because language gives you the permission to distanced yourself from me? Strange isn’t it that the Guilds would send a highly educated woman to these parts. A philosophical farmer? Yes. That’s certainly an embarrassment Kompf. Frankly I can’t think of anything more ridicolous – you know there is a author. His name Paul Auster. In one of his books. I think it’s entitled Brooklyn follies. There’s such a thing as a philosophical taxi driver as there might exist philosophical farmers. Would you like me to read a passage to you?
Q: If you like.
A: ‘He tended to be out and about, looking up old friends from high school and college who had landed in New York, meeting new people through the old people, spending his money in bars, dating women when the opportunities arose, and generally trying to put together a life for himself—or something that resembled a life. More often than not, these attempts at sociability ended in painful silence. His old friends, who remembered him as a brilliant student and wickedly funny conversationalist, were appalled by what had happened to him. Tom had slipped from the ranks of the anointed, and his downfall seemed to shake their confidence in themselves, to open the door onto a new pessimism about their own prospects in life. It didn’t help matters that Tom had gained weight, that his former plumpness now verged on an embarrassing rotundity, but even more disturbing was the fact that he didn’t seem to have any plans, that he never spoke about how he was going to undo the damage he’d done to himself and get back on his feet. Whenever he mentioned his new job, he described it in odd, almost religious terms, speculating on such questions as spiritual strength and the importance of finding one’s path through patience and humility, and this confused them and made them fidget in their chairs. Tom’s intelligence had not been dulled by the job, but no one wanted to hear what he had to say anymore, least of all the women he talked to, who expected young men to be full of brave ideas and clever schemes about how they were going to conquer the world. Tom put them off with his doubts and soul-searchings, his obscure disquisitions on the nature of reality, his hesitant manner. It was bad enough that he drove a taxi for a living, but a philosophical taxi driver who dressed in army-navy clothes and carried a paunch around his middle was a bit too much to ask. He was a pleasant guy, of course, and no one actively disliked him, but he wasn’t a legitimate candidate—not for marriage, not even for a crazy fling.’
Q: I don’t think you’re like Tom not at all. And if you must know really know why I prefer to converse in English and not German – it’s simply because I’ve been warned how eloquent you can be. It’s not a question. Only you are not Tom. You are not my dear Darkness.
A: You know what Fraulein. I really appreciate that. But I really have to go for that mug shot in the sky right now.