The Power of Acknowledgements

Flowers. I love them. When I used to stay in Beijing, the one thing I did religiously every weekend was to make a trip down to the wholesale flower market to buy a big bouquet of flowers for my apartment. Actually, they are for me. I love the sight and smell of flowers. They cheer me up. They remind me of the beauty in this world. They remind to stop rushing around and (literally) smell the flowers. I love flowers.

In the past month, I know of four bouquets of flowers that brightened up six lives. I sent my secretary a bouquet of flowers for Secretary’s Day – as it turned out, it was the first time ever she received flowers. She then sent her mother and sister-in-law flowers for Mother’s Day. I sent my gf a bouquet of flowers on her birthday, in the name of another gf who is now living in India and me.

There was a stretch last year when I was feeling low. My husband sent me flowers to cheer me up. It lifted me out of my malaise and melancholy mood. I was reminded that I am loved no matter what and every time my memories recall that file, I am reminded I am loved. (I couldn’t resist patting myself on the back for cleverly showing my husband my favourite online floral shop some time back. Ha!)

In the lift on my way home, I met a pair of folks whom I believe to be co-workers. The lady’s eyes lit up when she saw the bouquet and said, beautiful flowers, with a whimsical smile. The guy asked if it was my birthday or anniversary or some special day. Before I could answer, the lady added, did he do something wrong?

I laughed then and I laugh now at the memory of that short exchange. I remember I responded: They are from my husband, I was feeling a little down the last few days and he sent them to cheer me up. The woman blushed a little, I guess somewhat embarrassed about her last remark. The guy simply said, Wow.

My passing shot delivered with a smile: you don’t need a reason to send someone flowers. Everyone likes to know he is being appreciated in some way.

Acknowledgement is for everyone, anytime, anywhere. Flowers are but a tool; in my opinion a simple and effective one. You don’t need a reason to acknowledge someone. You don’t need to be a man to send flowers. You don’t need to be a woman to receive them. You don’t need to wait for a “special” day to do so. You could acknowledge someone for no reason and THAT would make any normal day special for the person.

I can think of a million reasons to acknowledge the people in my life but there really is only one that matters: because I can. Like the ones who make my day bearable when it gets tough going; the ones who make me smile; the ones who lighten my work and life loads; the ones who quietly exist in my life; the ones who left a footprint in the years passed; the ones who touched my life in the many small ways that I sometimes do not realise until much later.

It is with hindsight that I saw that the very buying flowers for myself in Beijing was an acknowledgement of my life in this foreign land; a simple acknowledgement of my courage to stay sane despite all the chaos I was experiencing. A willingness to look past the struggles, the flowers were an expression of my gratitude that I was able to still enjoy the simple beauty in life.

My secretary expressed her love and acknowledgement for her mother and sister in law with flowers, a simple act that tilted everyone out of their comfort zones and reminded everybody that something bigger is present, something hopeful and optimistic that is available in life. The flowers I sent was my way of saying ‘thank you for being in my life’. It over-rode my sense of inadequacy in our relationships and was my way of expressing my gratitude that I am blessed by their existence in my life.

Sometimes we forget to count our blessings. Yet, don’t just stop at that. Take it one step further – acknowledge the people for being a blessing in your life in the first place.

Acknowledgement is a simple act of generosity and kindness. When was the last time you acknowledged someone in your life?

P/s: There is another aspect to acknowledgement that applies in the not-so-pleasant aspects of life. I am leaving that for a separate post as it deserves its own space.


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Unsettled but unmoved

(First posted on Facebook on Monday, 16 May 2011 at 11:16)

One of the things that Singapore GE 2011 got me to do was move out of my comfort zone, politically that is.

I was never interested in politics in Singapore. I believed that it is all engineered anyway and as long as the PAP-led government got it right most of the time, I can tolerate mistakes here and there as long as they get the big picture right. Afterall I consider myself part of the fortunate strata to have the means to live a comfortable albeit far from luxurious life. I don’t have any complains about my life as a whole, even if I do have grouses about the increasing cost of living. By and large I am contented.

Thanks to the GE, I realised I was like an ostrich that has buried my head in the sand for too long. The more I probed, the sadder I got. Quite early on in the GE, I already knew who I would vote for (if I could vote). I am pro-Singapore. I am one of those who celebrated whole heartedly the win of the Workers’ Party in Aljunied.

Now that the dust has settled and the nation watches the ruling government go through a soul searching process, I am stung by the continuous flood of negative rhetoric one can so easily find online. As much as I agree that the Internet has provided an important forum for a much-needed diversity in views (especially in the derth of unbiased, objective journalism in Singapore), I am disturbed by the overwhelmingly objectionable tone of much of the rhetoric.

To borrow and paraphrase the words of Paul Gilfeather, a principal correspondent at Today newspaper in an article today: I do not object to the existence of these views as such. However, it is the default setting which sees some Singaporeans attack the ruling party at every opportunity that unsettles me.

Some of these are voices that many have come to rely on for alternative views, highly regarded in the internet stratosphere. Indeed, the very fact that they are decidedly alternative is what attracts people.

I am drawn to these voices too and value the efforts of these individuals and groups that serve to create a more open and communicative political and social landscape. My concerns are:

1. How can you take someone seriously when they automatically take the opposite view, no matter what the circumstances? (again to quote and paraphrase Paul Gilfeather in the same article)
2. Do people seek a balance of views by reaching out to all the views available?
3. For people who rely on a single source of opinions that is doggedly one-sided, their choices are guilty of being misinformed and biased, no matter which side they take.

I have a low regard for the professionalism of local newspapers. However, I appreciate that they have a job to do, a social function (even if some think this to be distorted) to fulfill. As much as I disagree with the way things are done, I choose to still read the local dailies to get a picture of the other side of the hedges. Then given all the information my little brain can process, I choose where I stand.

A stand for something is different from taking a position. A position is fixed – either you are in position A or B or C, you get the drift. A position is a function of agreement – either you agree with one position or you do not. This is necessarily adversarial.

A stand however is a space to come from. I can stand for love and compassion and inside of this space, still accept the very existence of hatred and selfishness, all in the same space. It is not about proving someone wrong so I can be right. It is not about making someone look bad so I can look good, or me looking good at the expense of others.

I am pro-Singapore. My stand is for Singapore is best captured by our national pledge. As much as I am unsettled by the seemingly polarised views on the internet, my stand is unmoved.

For the cynics who think the pledge is mere words and is an impossible dream, consider that you are the ones who undermine the value of the pledge and what it stands for.

It starts with the individual. This GE showed us the power of individuals united by one vision (a grander word for stand.) But it all starts with the individual.

For individuals who have the listening of many, I ask you, who have the gift to sway thousands with words, use this gift responsibly, with humility and compassion. You too serve a critical role in this nation’s future creation.


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The Singapore future I am living into

(First posted on Friday, 06 May 2011 at 11:19)

I was one of the 30,000 strong present at the Serangoon Stadium last night reciting the Singapore pledge. It is one of the most moving experiences I have experienced in all of my 37 years of existence, 35 of which were spent in Singapore.

We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society based on justice and equality,
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

I am creating the future Singapore Leadership as a POSSIBILITY. Not a wish list, not a criticism of what is not working now, not a maybe, someday phenomena. This is a future that exists as a realm of possibilities. It is this future that reaches into our present that gives us courage, hope and power.

The Singapore future I am living into:

You are a team of individuals who are capable and visionary. You are also compassion, empathy and courage. It does not matter which party colours you don for you are, first and foremost, serving the people of Singapore and the nation. You are a stand for the collective good of this nation. Inside of this, there is room for different voices. You respect diversity in ideas and opinions. You listen FOR what matters most to Singaporeans and Singapore. You are united behind Singapore and its people.

You are the People, and the People is you.

As a result, Singaporeans are united in spirit and action. We take responsibility for our lives with courage and resilience, come what may. We are behind You. We are your partners in creating a home we can be proud of. We are distinct in the roles we have to perform, the duty we each have, but we are not separate. We are ONE for this country.

Let the world bear witness to the birth of a nation that everyone wants to emulate for all the right reasons. We are bigger than we think we are or can be, this little red dot we call our home and country.

Anything is possible, Singapore. ANYTHING.

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No dilemma

(First posted on Facebook on Wednesday, 04 May 2011 at 23:07)

Every morning, on my bus journey to work, I will be greeted by a beautiful stretch of Singapore encapsulated by the now transformed (and still transforming) Marina Bay. Without fail, it tugs at the corners of my mouth and heartstrings.

This morning, with a preoccupied mind, I stared out of the window on the bus and there it is again. I was overwhelmed by a gush of pride, joy and excitement. There was one other time I felt the same rush of emotions – the day I landed in Singapore, returning home for good after spending two years in China.

I can’t explain the emotions rationally. They just took over and tears stung my eyes. This is my home.

I have been totally absorbed in the GE fever in the past week. It was all very exciting in the beginning. The awakening of a nation that seemed to have been in a slumber for so long. Things that historically have not moved are now moving. I attended rallies and got swept away by the social media tsunami. I got drenched in the outpouring of discontent, frustration, anger and fears of Singaporeans. I felt every bit a Singaporean.

I feel enormous anguish over the ruling party’s seeming lack of compassion, complacency and arrogance. I do not expect perfection but crave for accountability and a moral code that is inclusive and humane. I am 100% against demands that will turn Singapore into a welfare state, one which removes the need for one to be responsible for one’s own life and encourage unhealthy dependence on state to provide, but am all for a more humane and compassionate society. I am stung by the unfairness of the GRC that has deviated from its original purpose. I am disturbed by the blatant lies and shallow politicking all round. I hate politics – it has the ability to turn perfectly decent people into scheming monsters, to blind people from what makes us human.

I am humbled by the raw desire to serve the people demonstrated by some candidates in both camps. I cried my eyes out while watching videos of old folks who fell through the cracks of Singapore highly efficient system, and read pleas from a 20-year-old Singaporean and comments from Foreign Minister George Yeo and star representatives of the Opposition broad.

The intensity was never going to be sustainable and this morning, I felt it. A quiet that settled over me as the bus cruised along the Benjamin Shears Bridge, when my eyes met once again the expanse of Marina Bay.

In the quiet of the night, I sat down to type this note. Cutting out the noise, I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am living the life I live in Singapore. If I had the privilege to vote, I know exactly who I will vote for. There is no dilemma. My choice is clear. I love Singapore.

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A lesson about compassion

I received more comments on one of my last few posts on this blog than all the comments added up in the entire time this blog existed. Many of the comments are emotional, strongly-worded and honestly, a few of them quite scary. (Go read them – the articles posted in April)

I read them all, no matter how difficult it was to take in the words. For the first time in my life, I am present to what it is like to be a Singaporean in a sea of “foreign talent”.

It doesn’t matter if the comments are valid or not. I am not interested in being right and proving others wrong. I am thankful for them; those who bothered to speak up have taught me something very powerful: compassion.

I am beginning to get a sense of the world of a Singaporean who views foreigners (talent or not) as a unwelcome infringement of the Singapore life. The frustrations, the anger, the pain, the helplessness, the resignation. I sense them all in the words some of you chose to leave behind.

I really get that what I say is not as important as what the listener heard i.e. his interpretation of what I said. Someone who is angry and in pain will only hear things that feed his anger and pain.

To all the folks who left your print on my blog, I want you to know I hear you. I really do.

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Live Life.

Conversations with a Singaporean friend who recently emigrated have given me new perspectives about life in Singapore.

Me: Tell me why you migrate again…

Friend: Because my family and I can start appreciating life.

Me: Can’t you do that in Singapore?

Friend: Do you know anyone in Singapore who works because they want to and love to? For that matter, anyone who spends more time enjoying their kids then administering them? I don’t. I don’t want to miss out on living as life was meant to be lived. I am also obsessed with being debt-free.

He shared with me how much his monthly household expenditure is. To get a sense of perspective I went to check the latest median and average household income in the Singapore 2010 population census report. (see table)

At the prevailing exchange rate, what my friend spends monthly is half of the median household income in 2010, and about one-third of the average household income. The monthly expenses cover his two sons’ education, insurance, medical expenses, food, petrol, utilities, phone, cable internet, mobiles and newspapers. Oh, did I mention his home – a freehold landed property with gardens and backyard – and a nice car (second hand) are fully paid for?

I felt giddy-headed upon seeing the numbers. The possibility of a debt-free life. WOW.

The concept of being debt-free is something I have entertained but consigned to the box called “wishful thinking”. Don’t get me wrong. My life in Singapore is pretty comfortable. My husband and I work hard. We have stable jobs and incomes. We managed to sell our first apartment at a good price and buy a replacement apartment that costs less than S$1 million. We invested the surplus before we squander the money away. We pay our mortgage on time. We drive an off-peak car. We take public transport. We are thankful we have the life we have in Singapore. Not a moment passes without us being grateful for what we have in our lives.

Yet, deep down I suspect that no matter how hard we work here, we will always be working to pay off this bill, that loan, mortgage, etc. Even when we pay off the 30-year loan in 29 years, we still do not own the property as it is a 99-year leasehold property. Technically, we are renting it from the government.

Sure, if we are lucky and the government continues to focus on “asset enhancement” and/or we catch the en bloc fever, we could one day find ourselves profiting from selling our property. Then we have to worry about buying the next home – can we afford that? Being debt-free just seems impossible in Singapore.

My friend shared an observation his Dutch friend once made of Singapore – Singaporeans only borrow land (99 years) and cars (10 years) from the government. Is it so obvious to outsiders? I didn’t see it until very recently.

Oh. Then there is the issue of kids. We are trying to start a family. My friend said to me, unless you are a millionaire in Singapore, parenthood is a pain.

For a while now, my Singaporean husband and I have been exploring the question: What is the future we live into in Singapore? What life can we look forward to in Singapore?

We have just started to look for clarity and answers. We know that our future is shaped by the choices we make now. We are also clear that the choices we make now are shaped by the future we see is possible.

My husband and I have had long talks about the life we want for our family and as individuals. We do not want to spend our entire lives in a rat race and being a slave to our home and material possessions.

No, we do not pretend to aspire to live like monks and nuns, devoid of material indulgence. The bottom line is this: we want a life that allows us to appreciate the materials things in life, rather than a life that is driven and defined by the acquisition of these.

The journey towards clarity continues.

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Why I am a PR and still care about Singapore General Elections

I received several comments on my recent post “An open letter to the opposition parties in Singapore”. Every one said it in his own way but almost all raised the following points:

1. do your homework before you say something so presumptuous
2. why are you commenting when you can’t vote?
3. Why are you still a PR? (in the words of one, I owe Singaporeans an explanation)

I read the comments with mixed emotions: amusement, despair, surprise, pride. Amused at the accusations. Despair that some of the comments were clearly borned out of anti-foreigners sentiments boiling over. Surprised at the intense animosity in some of the comments made. Pride that Singaporeans are speaking up.

I absolutely agree that I ought to do my homework before demanding the opposition delivers. The letter was not meant to tell the opposition what to do. It was a personal plea for them to focus on the people, not politics. I get that talking about people’s lives is an extremely sensitive and potentially dangerous matter. Even as I wrote the words, I was fighting back a torrent of emotions while trying to put my point across. Judging by the comments I have received so far, I have failed to express myself the way I intended. That said, I take on all the suggestions to read the manifestos of the opposition parties, even though, as someone said, as a PR I have no right to comment.

Perhaps he is right but does that mean I don’t have the right to care?

For the first time in my life I am experiencing the anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore directly. I realised that it seem not to matter that for all my life, I see myself and carried myself every bit as Singaporean as someone who holds Singapore citizenship. I am born, raised and educated in Singapore. I lived all except two years of my life in Singapore. Half of my family is in Singapore: my husband and his family, my sister and her children. The majority of my friends are in Singapore (even though they are not all Singaporeans). I have always related to myself as a Singaporean and I think many of my friends, Singapore or outside, relates to me as a Singaporean. I consider LKY the father of MY country.

In terms of citizenship, I hold a Malaysian passport, out of respect for my parents’ wishes. My Malaysian passport is a necessary evil in my life and in fact, is a pain in the butt when I travel. My parents are Malaysians though my family lived in Singapore for several decades. My Dad was in construction all his life and his sweat and blood toiled the Singapore soils. When they chose to retire in Malaysia as it was getting too expensive to stay in Singapore, I never thought of going with them. Singapore is my home.

As I always related to myself as a Singaporean and spent all my life here, I never felt the need to explain my existence in this country I call home. Nobody questioned the legitimacy of my life in Singapore. (Maybe some do but never said it in my face but that’s not important right now.)

Why am I still a PR despite all that personal connections I claim to have to Singapore? I think that Citizenship is an intensely personal choice. I have thought of applying for citizenship but didn’t get further than downloading the application forms from the ICA website. My Dad passed away last year. My Mum is still alive and God willing, live many more years in good health and spirits. She always harboured the dream that I will one day choose to live with her in Malaysia, buy a property, settle down. For that to happen, retaining my current citizenship is a matter of convenience.

My mother doesn’t nurture this dream because she is patriotic about Malaysia; she simply would like to have the opportunity to have her children close. Her children have been away from her most of our lives, me since I was 18 years old, my younger brother since he was a young adult, my elder sister settled in Singapore since 30 years ago. My remaining family is my link to Malaysia – my mother, my brother and his family, my cousins. I am not a Singaporean YET because I know the very act of not switching means something to my mum, no matter how ridiculous or irrational it might sound. And I made a decision that citizen of Malaysia or not, I will fulfill her dream by spending more quality time with her. This is not a function of citizenship. In fact I consider it irrelevant.

At the same time, I also hold the belief that my level of contribution to my home country is NOT a function of citizenship. I can’t show anyone any physical proof that I love Singapore – I can only offer you my life. When I am overseas, when asked, I proudly declare I am a Singaporean. It simply doesn’t occur for me to claim otherwise. It is only when someone sees my Malaysian passport that they quiz me on my citizenship. And I will patiently explain to them that I am born, bred and raised in Singapore.

The funny thing is, that answer – I am born, bred and raised in Singapore – is always good enough for people in foreign lands as proof of my Singaporean-ness. I am often asked to speak in Singlish, comment on PAP, LKY, the law that disallows chewing of bubble gum, etc, etc, etc. And I defend Singapore with my soul. By that I mean I always try to present Singapore in the best of light while still being truthful. I call a spade a spade. I share my own experience of living in Singapore. I share everything I love about Singapore despite its quirks and shortcomings.

I am not pretending to care about Singapore. I DO care. I will not be drawn into defending why I care or how I do it. I simply do. This is my home and that, is good enough for me to care. I am beginning to realise that what is very clear to me is not necessarily clear for others.

There is nothing to justify. I choose to care about Singapore and I am proud to say so.


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