We just don’t meet their criteria of being good

I had an early morning breakfast with a friend of mine, who had left the security of a career in the SAF to become an entrepreneur. During this meeting, he mentioned that he felt that the problem in Singapore wasn’t so much the lack of talent but the fact that many people were simply ignored because they didn’t meet the official criteria of talent or were talented but unrecognized as such because they didn’t fit into the system.

This conversation got me thinking about our rather complex relationship with the word talent. Singapore claims that it built its great economic miracle by making the most of its “human resources.” At the same time, the government consistently tells us that we need to be open to “foreign talent,” if we are to continue to be prosperous and that Singapore has to “import” talent because we simply don’t have the domestic talent to drive the economy of the future.

I personally don’t have anything against the “importation of talent.” An important part of my life story is based on the fact that my mother married an American expat, who brought me around the world. If I look at back at my “career highlights,” I’m blessed because of the Indian expat community. I would have starved a long time ago if it wasn’t got the “expat” community.

Having said that, I question if Singapore really lacks talent and if we do, why do we lack talent? Our education system is often blamed for this in as much as while our system produces “educated” workers, we don’t produce “leaders” in anything. To be fair, our universities are trying to change and have been running programs aimed at fostering a more “entrepreneurial” culture.

However, whilst our universities are trying to get things moving, I’m inclined to agree with my friend. There are talented Singaporeans who were somehow squished out and were only able to achieve things outside of Singapore. Then, once they achieved outside of Singapore, they were either made to feel so unwelcome because had to break a rule to leave to pursue their talents or they are held up as examples of glorious government guidance (which is more often than not – untrue) to an extent that they end up loosing the edge that made them great in the first place. Think of Kevin Kwan of Crazy Rich Asians fame in the first group and Sim Wong Hoo and Joseph Schooling in the second group.

Let’s look at the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics as an example. Let’s be honest, the Olympics were a disappointment and our “golden” boy didn’t even come close to being able to defend his title. By contrast, our Paralympics team did very well. We managed to get a gold medal thanks to Ms. Yip Pin Xiu. This wasn’t the first gold medal for Ms. Yip. She had claimed the gold in the 2012 Rio Games and in the 2008 Beijing Games. If you look at success at the international level over a period of time as a yard stick, Ms. Yip is probably the most successful athlete that Singapore has ever produced.

Let’s Applaud the fact that a girl in a wheelchair is probably our most successful athlete.

Yet, despite her success at three of the largest tournaments for disabled athletes, Ms. Yip remains a relative unknown in Singapore. It’s only in this Paralympic Games where politicians have mentioned Ms. Yip, which is contrasted with the way everyone rushed to have their photos taken with Mr. Schooling after the Rio Games. Why is that so? Could it be because Ms. Yip is “disabled” and therefore not looked upon in the same way as her more “abled” counterparts?

Let’s look things this way. Singapore has far more successful at the Paralympics than in the Olympics. Every medal winner in the Paralympics has been a “home-grown” talent. There’s been a need to “import” talent for the Paralympics in the same way there has been for the Olympics.

Who Won Our Paralympic Medals – Taken from Wikipedia.

Whilst our Paralympic athletes have been more successful than our Olympic ones, nobody talks about the Paralympic ones. You could argue that this isn’t limited to Singapore in as much as the world focuses on the Olympics rather than the Paralympics.

However, we have to question why we aren’t doing more to support disabled athletes. Why, for example do we think we need to award an Olympic Gold Medalist S$1,000,000 but value to the Gold of a Paralympian at only S$400,000. Sure, TV ratings may be greater for the Olympics but hey, let’s look at what we’ve gained there and what we do gain in the Paralympics. Why does Singapore focus so much on “able-bodied” athletes when it’s our disabled one who give us the real glory. Shouldn’t Singapore be focusing on its strengths and hey, becoming a “hub” for disabled sports would really put us on a map. Let’s be the guys who support those who go through greater challenges (Yes, Mr. Schooling’s story is amazing, when you think of the sacrifice his parents made so he could follow his dreams and develop his talents. However, Ms. Yip’s story is equally if not more amazing in that it’s miracle that a girl in a wheelchair can be a world class swimmer.)

This “wrong” focus is not just limited to athletics. I recently got involved in a discussion with a former BBC reporter who posted something about how she was not hired when she moved back to Singapore because MediaCorp felt that viewers did not like “dark skinned” presenters. It goes without saying that MediaCorp have denied it, saying that they hire purely based on merit. Her comments can be found below:

Leaving aside the merits of her claim, what is obvious is that it became very clear that MediaCorp had missed out on hiring some talented home-grown presenters. I noticed this back in 2013, when I had to arrange interviews for Raghuram Rajan, who was then Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian Government. Both BBC and Bloomberg chased me for the interview and it was a local born Sikh girl who interviewed him from the BBC and a local Malay girl who interviewed him for Bloomberg. Our local press felt it was beneath them to interview this highly acclaimed and internationally recognised economist on a Sunday because …. Their bureaus were shut. Luckily for the local news, I managed to speak to an Australian who then sent a lovely American girl down to interview him.

It’s sad. We throw money at certain groups of people we consider to be good. We thrown money to get people from elsewhere. Yet we ignore some of our own people who don’t fit into our “idea” and “preconceived” notion of what is good. Sometimes it’s a boon for these people in that they end up at better places and go onto better things. However, it us a tragedy that we’re searching all over the world for people to suit our criteria of good when the talents were right under our noses.


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.




12 Responses to “We just don’t meet their criteria of being good”

  • Shenkoji Buchikonya:

    This article seems to have retreated into a land of jargon, abstractions, and arcane irrelevancies — up into Cloud Cuckoo Land. Absolutely on the money, save for the means of getting your point across.

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  • Mediacorpse artistes:

    They used to have Daryl David hosting Mediacrap shows and Kumar the tranvestite in their shows.

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  • xoxo:

    So,LHL will go to airport to welcome these humbler sgs with a WARM WELCOME like he asks us to welcome his Fake CECA-FTs and the accompanying DELTA mutants?

    I scratch head,still wondering how on earth we have PINKie for PEE-m?

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  • good for the goose:

    //It’s sad. We throw money at certain groups of people we consider to be good. We thrown money to get people from elsewhere. Yet we ignore some of our own people who don’t fit into our “idea” and “preconceived” notion of what is good.//

    hahaha. so we must learn a valuable and important lesson from the white monkey idiots ??? start VT the white monkey idiots O and ignore them ??? let them have a nice good taste of their own medicine ???

    since the white monkey idiots are not ashamed and quite brave with their FT and open-leg policy, we must also be unashamed and be indifferent by VT the white monkey idiots O ???? good for the goose good for the gander right ???

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  • Billy ma:

    When you listen to lky about ‘preferring one rich businessman to 100 workers’ speech, this cemented the thinking & the ways PAP rule in the past, now & the future of this country.

    PAP is even willing to sacrifice the citizens for anyone else who brings in $$$.
    Yes, even it means making native Singaporeans the minority in our own land.
    Yes, even if Singaporeans do nit have much of a future to hope for.
    Yes, even if native citizens are subjected to discrimination in our own backyard.

    Yes, PAP will continue to do such as long as they’re in total power.
    Yes, lhl & gangs will take ordinary Singaporeans as sacrifices to fulfill PAP’s ideology.

    So it is, native Singaporeans are screwed or will be.

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  • Temusik Patriot:

    What talk you Tangfastic?…chinese are not priviledge but non chinese not ready to be PM,Malays not ready to fly F15 planes and not ready to hold machine gun but machet ok during CONflict with the North…

    SO T, what talking you???

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  • Elite:

    Oh, now we have our Gold Standard Talents …… Gold from the ParaOlympic. Unknown Hero of true Singapore Talents. Who say Singaporean have no talents ? just look behind our own backyard…”nobody lift an eye lid ” . A lot of hidden talents . Are we going to import handicap sportsmen, sportswomen and coaches from overseas to get the “thrill of getting a Gold.?.
    Congratulations to our ParaOlympic talents and champions. We are there for you!

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  • #06-191 Huang Ba Dan:

    And you’re wondering why lousy people get picked.

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  • Talent:

    We have define talent very narrowly.
    Tend to be link to educational level…
    Actually talent comes in many forms….
    Should embrace diversity in people.
    Some talented people may not have much education but a lot of common sense.

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  • Smart Nation:

    Athletes compete for glory and to test their ultimate limits. The glory of winning a Gold Medal at the Olympics and to represent your country are rewards in themselves. Then, there is the hero’s welcome-home victory parade, the press publicity, advertisement contracts that come with it. There is no further need for monetary reward. The value system promoted in tiny red dot measures a person’s worth by $$$$, even if the actual performance might just be mediocre. If one is rewarded a million and the other a half-million for winning the same Gold Medal, does it mean that the latter’s is worth less?

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  • Smart Nation:

    Yip! Yip! Hooray! Finally, a Gold Medal for Singapore!

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  • Harder Truths:

    Now then you know is it? Where have you been last 50 years?

    GD Star Rating

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