What lies beneath

Being a communications professional comes with a very specific occupation hazard. I instinctively assess any written material for structure, the flow of the logic and very important, the thinking behind the writing.

I love the fact that more people’s voices are being shared over our local newspapers’ forum sections. In fact, The Straits Times received 25,000 letters in its Forum segment last year, up from 17,000 in 2007. I have enjoyed reading some of these and commend the improving quality of these submissions.

Not all of the letters get a response. Of the replies that are printed some have been rather disappointing for me. To be clear my disappointment is triggered by the suggested line of thinking behind the replies, not the words written per se.

(Let me also say that I am aware that whatever disappointment I experience is clearly a function of my interpretation of what is being written. I do not claim that I have a superior “template” versus the one I perceive to be used currently.)

Specifically, I have observed a certain pattern in responses from several government-related bodies or those with links to it (government-linked corporations, GLCs). There’s a perfect example in today’s TODAY paper. The original letter as well as the subsequent response is appended towards the end of this post.

Typically it starts with someone who experienced an unfulfilled expectation and/or thwarted intention and/or in some cases, questions posed about something based on a specific personal experience. (The validity of the questions is not the focus of this post.)

In this case Ms Siti Radiah wrote in to TODAY sharing her experience with SATS (Singapore Airport Terminal Services) when trying to arrange for a buggy ride for her aged in-laws at the airport for a trip they are making from the airport. She ended the letter with the simple question if the fee to be charged for the service is justified (I paraphrase).

The response from the Senior Vice President of SATS’ Passenger Services was – unfortunately – the typical reply I have come to see from several large entities in Singapore. From my perspective, the reply:

1. Focused on explaining existing policies in place i.e. for S$70 you get this, this and that.
2. Explained what SATS staff did when faced with the request.

In other words, the reply did not answer Ms Siti’s question or initial concern.

Based on the reply, I get the impression that Ms Siti’s simple request of buggy service did not fit into the standard service package that SATS provided. Hence she was advised to approach the airline separately to arrange for complimentary wheel chair service which SATS will be “at hand to usher the passengers from the check-in counters to the departure gate upon receipt of such requests from customers.”

I have an issue with this reply. It clearly showed that the SVP of Passenger Services and the ground agents did not think that something as simple as offering to contact the airline to make the arrangements on behalf of the passenger is doable. Sure this will be outside of the perimeter of “standard services” SATS provide but wouldn’t taking the extra step (not exactly a mile in my opinion) fall under the definition of providing “Passenger Services”?

I lament the occurrence of such episodes where the human being facing the issue deemed that rules and policies are more important than addressing the issue at hand. It’s a classic a triangular peg did not fit the square hole and hence it cannot be done. Period.

It also all seems to stem from “it’s not my fault”, “going by the book” line of thinking.

Where is the empathy and compassion? Where is the thinking on the feet? Where is the willingness to serve?

Let’s consider for a moment that perhaps the SATS staff did make the offer, except that in Ms Marie’s reply, it was not communicated. In which case, perhaps it did not occur to her to highlight this as it would not have fitted into the standard protocol governing the very sophisticated world of customer service feedback.

We will never think of taking an action that does not fit into our view of the matter. In this case, I assert that the SATS staff was coming from “this is what I know we can do for you within the confines of our rule book”.

If his view is to “ensure all users of the Singapore Changi Airport have the best possible experience”, I dare say it would have made all the difference to Ms Siti and her family and in the process, won over a customer – and perhaps a friend – for life. Wouldn’t that be worth the effort rather than a lame “We thank Ms Radiah for her feedback”?

Buggy transport: Customer advised to contact airline
Letter from Denis Marie, SVP Passenger Services, Singapore Airport Terminal Services
04:46 AM Apr 08, 2011

WE REFER to the letter by Ms Siti Radiah on “Airport’s S$70 buggy-ride” (April 6).

SATS’ buggies are largely deployed to ensure a smooth flow of our operations at Changi Airport. Only a small number of buggies are mobilised for ferrying passengers and we offer it through our premium Affinity Concierge Services.

The concierge service caters to the needs of passengers requiring a range of personal assistance. Our customer service agents will escort the passengers, help facilitate their check-in and clearance through immigration, and ferry them on buggies to their departure gates. SATS charges a fee of S$70 for this concierge service.

When Ms Radiah enquired about the buggy service on April 3, our staff advised her to contact the airline directly if she only required buggy transport. Our staff also highlighted that she could approach the airline for complimentary wheelchair service. For the latter, SATS’ customer service agents will be at hand to usher the passengers from the check-in counters to the departure gate upon receipt of such requests from customers.

We thank Ms Radiah for her feedback.

Airport’s S$70 buggy-ride
Letter from Siti Radiah
04:46 AM Apr 06, 2011

My family is accompanying my parents-in-law to visit their eldest daughter in Adelaide in June. Both my in-laws are in their 60s and are not able to walk long distances.

I enquired with Changi Airport if they had a buggy service and was informed that “the buggies used by other agencies are for operational purposes”.

I was also advised to contact Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS). To my horror, I was told that the charges would be S$70 for an “escort service from the kerb side to the check-in counter and then through Immigration” and thereafter a buggy service for the short distance from Immigration to the departure gate. That is just an obscene sum to pay! Even the taxi fare from my home in Sembawang to Changi Airport and back would not cost S$70.

Besides, that fee applies to one person only. Additional passengers would be charged an extra S$5.

Is the service rendered commensurate with the amount charged? After all, it takes just one electric buggy and a driver to carry out the task.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Awakening

The past few days has been quite unusual for me – I was actually paying attention to politics in Singapore. Not just interested. My thoughts and remarks came at such a fast and furious pace even I am a little breathless. I surprised myself on how strongly I feel about many of the issues that are being bantered around and discussed in public media, and even more by my own urge to be a part of the conversation.

A friend commented recently that one of the best things about the upcoming GE is seeing his intelligent Singaporean friends getting passionate about politics. I remembered the sense of thrill that went down my spine hearing that. I am excited and I can’t quite contain it. Hmm. I don’t want to. What exactly is my excitement over??

This reminds me of one beautiful winter afternoon almost 10 years ago, where I watched my first ever Aussie rules (Australian footy) game in the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I didn’t have anything planned for the trip and decided to drop by the local Ticketmaster to get some ideas. I told the lady manning the counter that I was a tourist and it was my first trip and I was looking for something that will show me a side of Melbourne life. She immediately said “Has to be Aussie rules then, and you are in luck cos two of the most competitive clubs are playing each other at the MCG this afternoon. You will enjoy it.” I didn’t know what Aussie rules was and was too shy to ask but I decided to be brave.

That afternoon I found myself cheering like a hard core footy fan alongside tens of thousands of locals and visiting supporters of the two teams. It was a fascinating experience. The stadium was split into two halves by team colours, filled to the brim. I was told the two teams are local and not the top teams but man do the Australians take their footy seriously. I had no clue about the rules; I was intoxicated by the atmosphere – it was electrifying, passionate and the supporters didn’t hold back their praises for their team and criticisms for the opponent. I mean, it was the rawest form of passion about something inanimate called Aussie rules, unbridled passion.

After overcoming my initial shyness and apprehension (I didn’t want to be too conspicuous then quickly realised that being the only Asian woman who didn’t partake in the fanatical fan behaviour was a dead give-away), I started to get a sense of the game rules. It is not a complicated game and I begin to join in the chorus of chants and irrational screams surrounding me. It was such a thrill to just lose myself in the amazing atmosphere. It was surreal.

I realised that the sense of excitement I am experiencing now about Singapore politics is like the thrill I felt that afternoon in the MCG.

It wasn’t the politics per se that excited me. I was drawn into the ‘atmosphere’ where Singaporeans seem to be waking up from a slumber. People are making comments, responding to what the political players are saying. What used to be a top-down, predictable monologue now sports some new voices.

I lapped up every article in our national broadsheet about the election and party candidates before quickly realising TODAY provided a much more balanced coverage. Kudos to the ST though. It seems to, at least attempting to, come across less of a PAP newsletter by expanding coverage of all parties even though its election website sends shivers down my spine for all the wrong reasons.

I am like a new sponge (I never used to be interested in what the opposition had to say, dismissing them as irrelevant, irrational and incompetent) and my eyes and mind expand in wonder with the information I am now immersing myself in.

The public started a little slow, perhaps preferring to err on the side of caution and conservatism. Then suddenly it felt like everybody had something to say about everything and anything. Like a barrier was broken past, with a flourish. And it is such a pleasure to watch and now participate in.

Singapore is waking up and the campaigning has not even started yet. The game is on. Sure most of it is rhetoric right now but it is such a thrill to see Singaporeans – especially the youth – standing up for something, questioning, speaking up and being bold self expression.

Singaporeans are proving many skeptics wrong – they have become smarter than they have let on, they have been watching in silence, quietly shedding the apathy cloak. They are beginning to realise their voices do count. The quality of the comments is not the focus of this post but I must admit I am pleasantly surprised at the level of critical thinking that has come through some of the comments.

I am drawn out of my own slumber and skepticism into a dialogue where people actually give a damn about one another, rather than suffer in silence or complain about everything (even the things that work) or switch off and withdraw into their own shells. Some of the simple logic provided by the opposition members have been hard to fault and raising some eyebrows. I have met more people saying “it’s about time.”

Perhaps my husband is right. 2011 is the year of the people. This, to me, is the awakening of the human spirit, a step in the right direction. THIS is what excites me.

I wonder if I will live to see Singapore usher in a new political era. Perhaps Singaporeans will save the biggest surprise for the last and stun everyone sooner rather than later. Stay tuned.

Leave a comment

Filed under Family & Friends, Live. Life.

An Open Letter to Opposition parties in Singapore

In his email from Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) James Gomez to the media, he made an excellent point that the choice of political system belongs to Singaporeans and not the ruling government. In the same letter, he demanded PAP to release its manifesto saying “We and the people want to scrutinize what programs the PAP is going to introduce to alleviate the suffering of Singaporeans.”

As much as I agree with SDP’s call, I ask the same of SDP and all Opposition parties in Singapore. Show us CONCRETE alternatives to what you claim to be bad policies, viable alternatives which will “alleviate the suffering of Singaporeans.”

We know the PAP is not perfect. We know they have made mistakes. At some point, the Opposition’s unrelentless repetition of this only serves to ANNOY and ALIENATE frustrated Singaporeans who are not contented with the status quo but have no viable, credible option. It is like rubbing salt into the wound. This does exactly what SDP claims the PM did when he said the PAP considered “splitting into two” – “belittling and patronising” Singaporeans’ sense of judgement and capacity to think critically.

Dear Opposition, you are asking Singaporeans to vote for you to do what? So that you can criticise the PAP on our behalf, be the VOICE of Singaporeans in your words?

What makes you think that you can TALK us into believing we have a better future waiting for us if we play along with you? Just because you keep throwing verbal punches at the PAP?

In case you have not noticed, Singaporeans’ cynicism is not even the point. We Singaporeans are a pragmatic lot. Like it or not, the tentacles of PAP are entrenched in the everyday fabric of every Singaporean’s life that we Singaporeans cannot imagine life without PAP in charge.

You can criticise all you want – that’s the easy part. Making others look bad is the easy part. The difficult part is to PROVE you are able to substantiate your words with actions. To win our hearts you have to offer concrete programs and ways to better Singaporeans’ lives. You cannot ask us to vote you in FIRST before you tell us what you can do. That seems to me – a complete political novice – extraordinarily naive.

Yes, we know your job is extremely tough; PAP made sure of it by setting a pretty high benchmark, in spite of all its shortcomings. You cannot erase the good the ruling government has done all these years by insisting they are flawed. We all are.

You need to show you can do better by raising the benchmark, not by dragging it down along with everything else. To borrow the SDP tagline, show us it is really “about the people” and not politicians drumming the right noises to win this game called General Elections of the Republic of Singapore.

Yours Truly
A PR who considers herself a Singaporean at heart

21 Comments

Filed under Family & Friends, Live. Life., Wellbeing

How do I see the upcoming GE?

I once followed Parliament sessions in Singapore quite closely. I am genuinely interested to know what the Singapore government is doing for the people, the ones it says it is representing.

After a while, I lost interest. I thought perhaps I’m not patient enough to listen to everything. The sessions were honestly, boring. The format isn’t exactly a debate like the one in the UK. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the sessions are more like an information session for the ruling government to inform the rest of the nation what it has decided to do. [Rephrased] what it thinks is in the best interest of the nation and us, the people. That, I can read from the papers the next day. Plus the papers provide further analysis and opinions. So I stopped watching the post 10pm news telecast of Parliament session highlights.

Over time, I didn’t see or hear anything that seemed to change my impression. The “lively debate” surrounding the two casinos. What a public reaction – for once, SIngaporeans spoke up. But wait, as the furor died down, I realised none of what was said seemed to have made any difference to the final outcome. It seemed it was a done deal afterall. Life goes on and now we can be proud we have two casinos thriving in approx. 700 km2 of land area.

Then there is the perennial ‘debate’ about our ministers’ salaries. I am not sure how this policy came to pass. I am under the impression that this matter while hotly debated and even soundly criticised by Sylvia Lim (Chairman of Workers’ Party in Singapore in this video), the policy was never an option. It was a done deal.

This is an interesting article that compares Singaporean ministers’ salaries to leaders around the world – I have not verified the information and probably wouldn’t. If what is reported is accurate, I am shocked. How can our ministers, who supposedly represent the common people, empathise with what is going on on the ground, when they live in such lofty skies? Our PM earns more than Obama in a year (base salary only).

Then there is the 6 million population target. Where did that come from??? Who decided Singapore needs 6 million people? Assuming that indeed is the magic number for our little country, what was the planning done to absorb that? We are NOW over congested – our roads, our trains, our buses. Sky high cost of living. Young couples having to wait an average 3 years for a home to call their own, that is, provided they can afford it.

LTA is compensating for wrongful estimates in number of cars and COEs needed. Now we are paying the price of it. Take the public transport they say. Transport Minister, with all due respect, have you ever tried taking the MRT during peak hour yourself? Have you ever done it, without informing the civil servants of an impending visit?

HDB is still boasting that it is doing all the right things to ensure Singaporeans have a roof over their heads, just be patient. The BTO scheme is at its most aggressive ever, it says. Yet there are reports ever so often that a project is only a go if it meets the minimum subscription rate. If it doesn’t, sorry for those who did put in a bid, you have to wait for the economic numbers to make sense before you get a sniff of your future home. As the name suggest, built to order (BTO). You forgot the fine print – only build when there is minimum order. Perhaps they should change the name to BTMO??

Public service goods should be exactly that, PUBLIC SERVICE goods. Sure there is a cost to these goods. The role of the government is to ensure taxpayers’ monies are used to benefit the people, the country, not wasted on nonsensical things and spent carelessly. The HDB is using taxpayers’ funds to build these homes. Yes they are subsidized (by who again?). They are not free; we still pay for them. (BTW, the fact the HDB flats are on a 99 year lease means we are really renting them from the government, not real ownership per se.) LTA, HDB and Singapore Power are all making money. These goods – public transport, public housing and power – are all money-making enterprises. Why aren’t social goods being treated as they are supposed to be?

My sister shared with me a story recently about a friend who went to a government hospital due to severe stomach pains. Before she was allowed to see a doctor, she was told to pay up first. No payment, no doctor. Oh what about the latest episode where a hospital told a patient the queue is 3 mths for subsidised healthcare as opposed to 3 minutes if you opt for private?

As someone so aptly summed it up: Singapore is a great place to live in if you have the financial means.

I found recent remarks by the new Workers’ Party candidate Chen Shao Mao a breath of fresh air and poignant (see end of article). Finally someone is asking the right questions and zooming in on the matters that will make a difference to all of us.

If only the government will listen for a change, instead of busy defending its policies and deflecting mistakes. Look, I am a huge fan of the Singapore government. I am a Malaysian who is born and bred here and lived in Singapore all my life. I love Singapore. It is my home and believe it or not, I consider it home and my country.

Without a doubt, Singapore wouldn’t be where it is today, and everyone who lives in this city state will not have the lifestyle options we have, if not for the ruling government. (The quality of life is a different story and left to another post.)

I am not a supporter of the opposition parties. As a PR I don’t even get to vote. I wrote this not as an act of defiance towards the PAP. I am not interested in the opposition’s proposition that the opposition will provide an alternative government to keep the ruling government in check. That remains to be seen.

I support anyone who can contribute to my country and I think this job is big enough, important enough to include everyone with the ability and passion to serve this country, regardless of the party. If it is rubbish, it is rubbish. If it makes sense, can we give it a chance?

Is it too much to ask the government to LISTEN to the people and for once, accept with humility that it has made mistakes and accept that it is not the only one capable of leading Singapore to the next level?

Several senior members of the ruling party have clearly said that this election is critical to the long term success of Singapore. Watershed. Indeed.

My humble opinion is that the government has to demonstrate that it is truly – not just paying lip service to – paying attention to what the people are saying. Instead of crushing and stifling the opposition and get all wrapped up in looking good politically, LISTEN to the people.

Singaporeans are not stupid (the government made sure of that – we have one of the highest literacy rates in the world.) We have been quietly watching and learning. We are more passionate about this country than some people give us credit for sometimes. We can think, if the government stops for a second to assume we can’t. If the opposition is without substance and you are truly serving the people, you will see the polls reflecting that understanding.

Excerpt from Interview with Chen Shao Mao, first appeared in Lianhe Zaobao and subsequently translted into English.

A dominant party is efficient in executing policies, but what effects has this brought about? What are our most important policies In recent years? Yes, it is the foreign labour policy. To let in foreign labour is to spur the economy, without concern about productivity that we’ve previously talked about. This policy has created a crude economic growth, and what is the price? It is the jobs, education, housing, living space, transportation of Singaporeans. These are all part of the price that we’ve paid.

Before the implementation of this policy, what form of discussion have we had? You have heard that Singapore plans to house a population of 6.5 million in the future, but not everybody is sure that this is indeed our policy. Such an important policy, are people consulted for a discussion? Didn’t they know that this will have a great impact on the lives on Singaporeans? To me, this discussion is insufficient. Even if having multiple parties in the Parliament affects efficiency, but to have a debate in the Parliament for huge policy decisions, is this inefficiency a fair price to pay? I think it’s worth it.

4 Comments

Filed under Live. Life., Wellbeing

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frighten us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t save the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make a difference, to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

– attributed to Marianne Williamson

(Thank you Tai-san for sharing this poem.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Family & Friends, Live. Life., Wellbeing

My Valentine

A friend posted on her FB yesterday asking if married couples (those who are married for a while) still celebrate Valentine’s Day.

My husband and I have no specific plans to celebrate this day except to spend time with each other. We talked about it but the conversation was brief. It’s not that we don’t celebrate our love. We share the view that we don’t need to wait for a specific day to show our love for each other; and the display of our love doesn’t come in the form of bouquets of flowers, expensive meals, gifts or doing anything out of the ordinary.

Now, I am not saying I don’t like flowers, gifts or my husband doing something ‘special’ for me. Come on, I am a woman! I do like superficial things like that, really.

I am saying we don’t need a reason or a special date to show we love each other.  

This morning he woke me up with a kiss as usual. As my eyes struggled to open, he greeted me with a smile and pointed to the dresser table. A present! Happy Valentine’s Day darling, he said. I smiled and thought, GOSH, he got me a present. In that moment, I am so aware of my husband’s love for me. I reached for him and gave him a kiss, hug and a big smile. It doesn’t matter what he bought for me; it was the way he was being with me. And BEING cannot be bought or faked.

My husband is my alarm clock. He wakes me up with a kiss every morning. He wakes up early so I get to sleep in. He would get ready for work then come wake me so I have the bathroom and room to myself to get ready for my day. He would kiss me goodbye when he leaves the house before I do. He romances me every day.

He makes me laugh. He laughs with me. He supports my choices. He listens and demands the same of me. He shares his life and dreams with me. He gives me room to be me. He loves me for who I am. He loves me for who I am not. We bring out the best and worst of each other. He apologises when he makes a mistake. He gives me room to apologise when I make a mistake. He watches chick flicks just because he wants to. He would record a show he likes on TV so I get to watch it too. He sent me a bouquet of flowers just to cheer me up when I am having a bad day. He indulges me and thanks me when I indulge him. I am me, he is him and we are us.

I have never felt more loved by a man in my life. His generosity, humanity and passion for life provide me a safe space to just be. Valentine’s Day reminds me to not to take him for granted.  I am deeply grateful for him giving himself to me everyday, in his own way. That’s the best gift I can ask for in a husband.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Emril. Now, where are my flowers?

1 Comment

Filed under Family & Friends, Live. Life.

Falling in love with the East

This morning I took my new bicycle out for a spin along East Coast Park with my mother-in-law (with her new bike) and Emril. We covered approximately 23km over 2 hours. My butt hurts as I sit on the sofa typing this but I can’t help but smile at the mini excursion we did.

It is the first time I experience the “real” East Coast living. Emril and I moved in with my in-laws as we wait for our new home to be ready and we are now 5 minutes away from the sea. I have been driven up and down the East Coast Parkway expressway (ECP) as I travel to and fro the airport. I always loved this ride for the trees and plants that line the roads (including the middle section). However, the view on a bicycle is completely different.

We started late by most people’s standards (7.15am) but early enough to enjoy the park without having to navigate the crowds. It was fantastic to see senior citizens in groups practising taichi, qigong and dance. It was also fascinating to see so many tents being pitched on the beach – waterfront living made accessible. I mean, there were literally at least 100 tents – I started to count and stopped at 46 when I realised that there are many more. It was great to see families, friends, middle aged couples and children embracing an active lifestyle through cycling, walking, roller blading or jogging.

For the first time, I also noticed how beautiful the park is. I saw canon ball trees for the first time, with the gorgeous flowers and canon ball-like fruits. At one point I stopped, mesmerized by two stunning flame of the forest and their sheer natural beauty.

It is not the first time I’ve cycled in the East Coast yet it felt like it was the first time I SAW it for what it has to offer. I begin to see why people who stay in the East love the East. I think I am falling in love with it too in a quiet sort of way, an oasis in the midst of Singapore’s urban city persona. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy it.

Thank you Emril for sharing this part of your life with me. The cycling, East Coast and your family. It’s been an interesting passage of time the last 12 hours; I visited my childhood playground in Geylang less than 10 hours ago and then I was on a bike discovering my new habitat.

Who says Singapore is boring?

2 Comments

Filed under Family & Friends, Live. Life., Places