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Mid-Life Crisis

Its National Day and I thought I’d try and bash out something about the country that I’ve called home for the last two decades. Singapore is going to be 56-years old (counting from the day we got booted out of the Malaysian Federation). Although it’s going to be nine-years more before I hit, 56, it is a significant enough milestone both for the nation and people of my generation – Gen X, the generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We were the first to only sing “Majullah Singapura,” and the last to know Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Ministers.

On the surface of things, Singapore has much to be happy about. We are, when compared to many parts of the world. On the surface, we are relatively prosperous and live within a clean and green city. We have certain luxuries like being able to breath our air, which is a luxury when compared to other parts of the world. Then, as one Englishman once pointed out to me – there is “safety,” which provides us with a freedom that no one else seems to have. As a dad of a young girl, I don’t worry when she goes out late at night.

Covid-19 seems to have made the comparison between Singapore and the rest of the world even greater. Sure, we could have vaccinated more people and the sudden return to “phase 2” was annoying. The explosion of cases in the dormitories last year and the karaoke lounges were undoubtedly failures of policy and enforcement.

However, when all is said and done, we’ve done better than many parts of the world. It’s actually newsworthy when an individual dies of Covid-19 and more importantly, our government and people have allowed the conspiracy nut jobs to take charge of health policy. As an English friend of mine who is now living in the USA says:

However, despite a seemingly “good” environment, many of us are feeling angsty. You could say that Singaporeans are going through a collective mid-life crisis. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has friends from elsewhere looking at me like I’m a strange person who complains about life in paradise. However, whilst things may appear to be exceedingly good on the surface (I’m not starving, I have a roof over my head and so on), I, like many Singaporeans, am terrified by the future. Unlike my grandparents, I cannot rely on the constant assurance that the government will ensure the environment I live in will always be conducive to my ability to make a living.

Let’s face it, whilst I have a home that is worth something at the moment, who is to say that it will be worth anything in the next decade or so (I live in an HDB flat). As I get older, my worries increase. It looks increasingly unlikely that I’ll be able to touch my only source of retirement savings (CPF), and costs like healthcare look set to increase. In the meantime, it looks like any employment I can get will be out of the kindness of a few folks.

Whilst the future looks somewhat scary, the system doesn’t seem to be aware of that. Sure, there’s plenty to talk about support for freelance workers and there’s plenty of chatter about fostering innovation and creative enterprises. There’s enough action in these areas to create a few impressive headlines.

However, the truth is, we’re still pretty much a “rentier” economy that’s stuck in a business plan that was designed in the 1960s. One only has to look at the way in which the government rushed to bail out the dormitories that were housing foreign workers from elsewhere. Why did a famously “no-welfare” government rush to bail out an industry that had profited from not doing anything particularly valuable. The reason was simple – a good portion of our economy remains reliant on “muscle” labour. How was it such that the world’s strictest and most efficient government not see that the “pivot” to food and beverage outlets would be abused? The truth is, too many people were making money from a business. Why does the government not clamp down harder on companies that invent reasons to keep people in the office? The answer is simple – landlords hold a lot of clout within the system.

Singapore’s old model need to be restructured. We need to learn to deal with people from emerging Asia and we also need to understand that the Western world won’t bail us out if it does not suite its interest.

As I get older, I long for the need to want to take certain risk with my future so that I’m not dependent on outdated paradigms. Likewise, the nation needs to do the same. Instead of trying to stick to old models, the government should encourage the people to leap into the future. That, I believe is what we need to do in order for Majullah Singapura to continue being sung loudly and proudly.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

11 Responses to “Mid-Life Crisis”

  • MarBowling:

    Great piece by Tang Li

    Singapore under the 1G was struggling for survival after the Sudden Withdrawal of the BritIsh. We were able to OVERCOME that with capable and able First Class(NOT WORLD CLASS)Ministers like Dr Goh KS, Dr Toh CC, Mr Ong TC, Mr Lim KS, Mr Rajaratnam, etc and also very able top gun officials who were PERFORMING their duties because of the CALLING by the Nation. Their salaries were same and similar to those of their counterparts of major industrialized countries on planet earth, NOT THE CURRENT HIGHEST OBSCENE $MILLIONS SALARY. With MOST of the population able to UNDERSTAND the situation we were in then, slowly and gradually, our country was labeled as One of the Asian Dragons(together with the other 3 Dragons:South Korea, Taiwan and HK)managed to FORGE AHEAD and PROSPER to WHAT IT IS TODAY! The SUCCESS of the 1G should be ATTRIBUTED and OWED to the COMBINED EFFORT of those FIRST CLASS Ministers as mentioned and NOT BY 1G PeeM Lee Kayu ALONE who always CLAIMED CREDIT for the COMBINED EFFORT! 2G under PeeM Woody CHOKing Tong with Lee Kayu controlling behind the CURTAIN oops Scene, managed to MAINTAIN the Status Quo. As a Seatwarmer and 2nd PeeM, he RELUCTANTLY had to give up and PASS the SEAL to the Imperial Throne to Lee Kayu’s DSon, Mai Hum to become the 3rd PeeM. Under his LEEDERSHIT, he has recruited a BUNCH of World Class Ministers whose salaries are World Highest Obscene $Millions, and the WHOLE LOTS JOINED NOT BECAUSE OF CALLING BY THE NATION BUT MAINLY FOR THE OBSCENE $Millions salary, period!

    Aftermath Covid19, we MAY WITNESS the slowly and gradually DECLINE of our VULNERABLE ECONOMY that BASED PRIMARILY AND MAINLY on IMPORTING CHEAP LABOUR AND FTs! We may able to WITNESS the BURSTING OF THE “EVERYTHING BUBBLE”(HOUSING, MONEY, BOND, ETC)ALL OVER THE WORLD. SinKapore will be in VERY VERY DEEP SHITS! Like Simon always say, what do you think?

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  • oxygen:

    HDB IS NOT your property, CPF is NOT your money, what watery foundations is this country walking on?

    I shudder.

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  • oxygen:

    AND THE POLITICAL DIVIDE is – if you are not with us, you are against us – SO FIGHT TO THE END in every street corner instead of fight together against adversities.

    And we do what we like, never mind what the peasants think advancing into the domain of we do what is convenient, never mind what the law says.

    Political cows/leopards have been warned, we cannot rely on permanent inflow of cheap foreign labor, it is UNSUSTAINABLE. They ignore it.

    NO WONDER THE COUNTRY IS NOW A CRUMBLED MESS akin to a rubbish tip – exposed of all its vulnerabilities by the pandemic outbreak.

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  • oxygen:

    WE WERE LUCKY for the first 10-15 years post independence of urbanisation/industrialisation drive (the rest of the world particularly China haven’t woke up from deep slumber and Vietnam trapped in wanton war) – after that was PROGRESSIVE FAILURE AFTER FAILURES.

    Professor Krugman was right warning Past Tense in 1990 or else extinction pathway carrying on the same outmoded formula of the 70s and 80s.

    Now 30 years on, LIFE FOR ITS INHABITANTS JUST GET HARDER AND HARDER and for some hardly bearable DESPITE WORLD CLASS EDUCATION.

    ONE EXCEPTION in Govt said correctly – we are a first world economy, paying third world wages.

    isn’t that enough proof we are a FAKE CONTRAPTION OF A FALSE ECONOMIC ARCHITECTURE?

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  • DeBarge:

    Pretty much agree with you.
    But safe as Singapore might be, I wouldn’t be that unworried
    If my teenage daughter staying out so late.

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  • left behind:

    Graduates are the future of any nation. Today, a university graduate is becoming like nothing, worried about income and jobs in Singapore. The government stress what so called skills and deny the position university graduate has. Foreign labour make university graduate become hawkers, grad drivers, underemployed and unemployed. They trash the intelligent and future of the nation, university gradate. Destroy the pride and life of so many Singaporeans. I have to ask: Is Singapore still for Singaporean. I ask everyone to vote out PAP, stop PAP from destroying Singapore.

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  • MarBowling:

    left behind:
    August 10, 2021 at 10:08 pm (Quote)
    Graduates are the future of any nation. Today, a university graduate is becoming like nothing, worried about income and jobs in Singapore. The government stress what so called skills and deny the position university graduate has. Foreign labour make university graduate become hawkers, grad drivers, underemployed and unemployed. They trash the intelligent and future of the nation, university gradate. Destroy the pride and life of so many Singaporeans. I have to ask: Is Singapore still for Singaporean. I ask everyone to vote out PAP, stop PAP from destroying Singapore.

    Response: don’t THINK anyone from the 61.24% AFTER reading your Great and Insightful comments WILL DO THE NEEDFUL in the next GE: show the Middle Finger to Mai Hum and the PAPigs Gang. On Polling Day, BEFORE they mark on the Ballot Paper, this Holee THOUGHT is always on the MIND: WITHOUT LEE KAYU AND THE PAPIGS, THERE WILL BE NO SINGAPORE! This is the HARD TRUTHS, PERIOD!

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  • Prof Wei Shin YU:

    Dear (Fellow) Singaporeans

    As a concerned (ex-) Singaporean, I have been watching/reading on the sideline, the sometimes very destructive fireworks both pro and (mostly) anti Gov and PAP, by patriotic Singaporeans. I see there are many excellent minds writing very well-informed, insightful, scholarly articles. Since we are all concerned about SG, why can’t we unite like the Japanese and harvest these collective energy to participate in nation building, and turn TRE into a serious platform!

    I particularly remember how the whole nation united to bid to host an international event during the 2009 financial crisis, and how many residents, regardless of race, religion and origin volunteered their effort selflessly to make it a success, in the Malay spirit of “mutual help”; while I was struggling day & night to complete my PhD (Medicine) in Sydney within the stipulated 4 years (or else) and return to do my part for the rapidly ageing society!

    I read that one minister was reported in tears, and invented a rallying call; the people were with the Government, 100%, united! But what happens now?

    A “rentier economy” mentioned by Tang Li, depends heavily on increasing no. of foreigners coming to SG, to boost the local economy activities (e.g. residential construction). But this cannot go on forever, and what happens when the tide is reversed one day? What kind of mess will it leave behind? When we stop the last experiment with the Chinese “entrepreneurs” not so long ago, what happened?

    As Tang Li allured to, the road ahead is unknown but certain to be treacherous: endless pandemic/endemic (running out of Greek letters soon?), climate change, rising sea levels, loss of geographic importance, Malaka Port, OBOR, ….

    The Government cannot be expected to have all the answers. How about a Citizens’ Think Tank, like many in the West, with brilliant minds, proactive debates/discussions, that cut across party lines, to provide insight and solutions to the policy makers – Thinking People, Learning Nation! The days of “one man knows all” is long gone!

    Accordingly, on this National Day, I too have a dream:

    I dream that Dr Tan CB will form a non-partisan SG Citizens’ Think Tank, And invite Kenneth, Dr Chee, Tang Li and other concerned Singaporeans to join the panel.

    To study and debate the short & long term threats to SG’s survival:
    1. What are the likely disruptions to the current state-of-affairs in ASEAN and SG, and
    2. How long can SG continue to survive as the safe haven of this increasing turbulent (SE Asian) sea?
    3. What is the socio-economic impact for every 10k, 100k, 100k increase in population?
    4. What is the optimum population growth rate and the ultimate maximum?

    We are not Switzerland and can never be like them.
    But they have many excellent policies (such as pension); that we can localize
    What exactly is the “Swiss std of living”, and how high can we aim?
    Do we have a road map (or 10 year plan) to get there? (China has a 200 year plan!)

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  • Prof Wei Shin YU:

    (continue)
    We are not Switzerland and can never be like them.
    But they have many excellent policies (such as pension); that we can localize
    What exactly is the “Swiss std of living”, and how high can we aim?
    Do we have a road map (or 10 year plan) to get there? (China has a 200 year plan!)

    How does Switzerland deal with racial integration?
    What is Switzerland’s policy regarding overseas Swiss, esp those that have taken out other citizenships?

    Does Switzerland harness the expertise and experience of their overseas citizens and ex-citizens for Nation Building?
    During meet the ex-Singaporean sessions overseas, our leaders tell them that they are our valued international networks,
    But when they want to return to contribute, they are treated like any foreigner, or worse
    Even though they have given their prime years to SG,
    Serving in community and learned societies, educating the next generations of Singaporeans, etc
    And even though they have deep feelings for SG, friends and relatives, much more than many immigrants/new citizens!
    With their experience overseas and local, they have much to contribute,
    and the no. concerned is pittance (about 1500/year denounced.)
    What is the Govt’s fear, as they are not allowed to “take away” jobs?

    God bless Singapore – the land my father defended in the British Navy, suffered head injuries, returned to China to die and left his family in Malaysia to fend for themselves! (That’s why my NRIC started with “2″)

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  • Perverted Arrogant Predation:

    Not every PAP is the one and only “PEOPLE’S ACTION PARTY”.
    They just piggyback upon the grand old masters….. but going hither thither entertaining their whim$ and fancie$ …. while us cotton-clad sheeples bleat in singkie desperation inundated by throngs from everywhere in this the world’s Pinky Playground.

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  • Harder Truths:

    $ingapore was NOT the desperate downtrodden island that the Regime would like people to believe and only saved by the Old Dead Despot and 1G. I have respect for the 1G, but even they allowed authoritarian rule and imprisonment of political figures that destroyed all they tried to build during their tenure.

    The first thing $G needed was a transparent government and judiciary – this was removed by the 1G. Then the ISA was implemented in force to remove anyone against the regime, also with the blessing of the 1G. The racial policies and segregation were also enacted during the period of the 1G. They went along with it and should be held accountable for their sins.

    $G was already a thriving port and had plenty of resources. This was taken from private hands and consolidated by the regime as their personal wealth, Whatever was earned by the people belonged to them. We have never had a free market or the ability for $G citizens to develop our own local businesses and expertise. The Regime made it impossible for this. Many will not remember this but it was impossible to be a business person if you were a local without having to swear loyalty to a multinational.

    The whole economy of $G since 1965 was a fabricated lie meant to create the elitist class and the remainder of $G-born as the lower serving class. So was our education stunted and defined to churn out degree holders and technical misfits who could only follow what they were told. $G could never become successful with local $G-born, because we have been neutered into following and never allowed to lead.

    To overcome this handicap, foreigners were introduced even during the 1G period. The Malaysians and Ang Mohs were already here in the 1970′s. followed by the Japanese, Koreans, Thais and Hongkies in the 1980′s and then the remainder of the world in the 1990′s.

    This works well because FT will always support the Regime, work for nothing and will support Regime investment in their own countries. They have underhanded tactics to survive and grow their businesses, which the Regime supports 100%.

    The Dead Despot has only one rule – only the fittest and most ruthless survive. If $G citizens are expecting things to get better just because they hold a pink IC, good luck to them. They are now being crushed under the permanent weight of migrating third world gangsters. Only fools think the $G citizen will be around for long.

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