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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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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

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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.

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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.)

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