Holland Village Voice

"Don't get all mathy on me"


A Dilbert strip on pay raises.

SG Day in NY: Possible Developments


Full disclosure: I'm attending SG Day in NY, and as an intended beneficiary I'm grateful for the Casaurina Roti Prata I'll get to eat, and I'm looking forward to the Singapore Short Films/Musical feat. Kit Chan.

  1. Response has been overwhelming: the estimated number was 1000 Singaporeans but now the figure stands at about 3000 Singaporeans + 2000 "friends." Registration is now limited to Singaporeans only. Being the ever efficient Singapore, the event has been shifted to Wollman Rink at Central Park to accommodate the larger crowd. However, it still is a logistical nightmare:
    • The organizers are rejecting "foreign talent" registrations from now on. That's not aligned with our overall talent plan. What if a New York high roller with an Asian fetish wants to get in?
    • What happens when the goodie bags runs out (as they will)? Goodie bags are for Singaporeans only, but how will they check? Passport/ICs?
    • Worse yet, what happens when the food runs out prematurely? Although Prima Taste is a sponsor, the organizers claim that no pre-mixes will be used in preparation of the food.
    • The northeast has been having incredibly crappy weather.
    • The event starts at 10:30am, but people coming from D.C. and Boston (that's me) will be arriving at noon or later...and the event ends 4:30pm. 4-5 hours drive one-way for a 4-5 hours event: expectations will run high.
    • (Sounds like I'm just worried I won't get food when I get there, although that's not a big problem because I can head to one the Singaporean/M'sian restaurants like Penang, Sentosa or Nonya.)
  2. Planned protest: one of the top returns on Google for "Singapore Day" is Singabloodypore's post publicizing a protest against the banning of FEER. I don't think the organizers can prevent that from happening in New York? Will be interesting to see what happens.
  3. Recreating Zouk, MoS in New York with Mambo, Tiger Beer and Prata. A non-official event riding on the official event. Will self-organized, non-official events reach the financial ability/organization scale of official events sometime, with more Singaporeans abroad? Services catered to overseas Singaporeans have seem to stagnated at selling S'porean/M'sian food. Are Singaporeans too cosmopolitan/culturally indistinct to support a semi-permanent "Little Singapore?"
I'll add an actual report of the event after Saturday.

Pay as a social, and not purely economic issue


I feel that the ministerial pay hike debate raged so fiercely because the government acted as if the issue was purely rational and economic when really it was much more about social issues. While ensuring that the talent higher up in the system are happily paid their worth, the government neglected the morale issue at lower ranks. Here's a relevant article from Stanford Graduate School of Business: Wage Imbalance between CEO and Workers sends a Bad Message.

Wage gaps may also increase the tendency for individuals to perceive more inequity than actually exists, which can amplify the dysfunctional effects. More boards of directors should start looking at executive pay as a social, and not purely economic, corporate issue, says O'Reilly.

NUS 116th, NTU 310th in Worldwide University Rankings of Research Competitiveness


Wuhan University's reports were meant for a Chinese audience: they are in Chinese and carry nationalistic overtones. For the benefit of people who don't read Chinese, I've made a quick translation of the executive summary written by the team behind the rankings.

The report unintentionally casts Singapore's research aspirations in a negative light - not only is Singapore's top research university ranked 116th worldwide, Singapore does not make the top 30 list of countries in research competitiveness.

While universities in the United States have been trying to tame the frenzy of the college admission process and even break out of the rankings "game," China's rise in recent years has fueled an insatiable appetite for rankings that benchmark Chinese universities against the global research powerhouses like Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford, Tokyo U, München and Toronto.

From personal conversations, I am of the (possibly misguided) opinion that Chinese students are particularly ranking-obsessed and brand-conscious. NUS and NTU attract Chinese students because they have reputations that place them as superior to most Chinese universities, especially with NUS/NTU's extensive links to prestigious US/UK universities. Of course, they are also more affordable and less selective than Imperial or Johns Hopkins.

What could/should NUS/NTU continue to do to attract and retain top research talent? Yet another personal story that may not be representative: I've a friend who's currently a PhD student at NUS is thinking of leaving for a more prestigious US PhD program she's been accepted into.

Currently, Singapore seems to have played the game rather well, balancing the needs of creating a prestigious perception (to attract foreign students) and building competitive systems (research ties with other universities and attracting research talent). As with many things in Singapore, the most unfortunate group may be local students who feel they've been taken for granted. Locals also tend to be cynical about the high rankings NUS/NTU received from certain reports and argue that the universities have placed brand building over student welfare and their education missions.

What do you think?

(The methodology of this series of rankings, as with many before, is suspect. For example, the rankings consider the nine universities that make up the University of Texas as one university, yet list UC Berkeley and UCLA as separate universities.)

People's Park


People's Park - Zaobao translated

Inspired by Roland Soong’s EastSouthWestNorth(东 南西北), I translate Singapore-generated Chinese news into English. The primary aim is to communicate in English the opinions carried on Singapore’s largest Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报).

I’m not a professional translator - just trying to do a better job than the already amazing Babelfish would. You are encouraged to comment to correct inaccuracies you spot. Thank you.

This blog is not affiliated with Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报) or Singapore Press Holdings.



[DiaS'pura was an afternoon where famous Singaporean including Singapore Ambassador to US Prof Chan, filmmakers Colin Goh & Woo Yen Yen, poet Alfian Saat discussed issues about Singapore and a night where Penn students staged an original musical production on Singaporeans studying overseas (written by Caleb and Joshua Yap).]

The night before: Francis Seow
The night before DiaS'pura, I ran into Francis Seow - Singaporeans living in Boston meeting for the first time in Philadelphia. Despite having grown up in a media scape "enthralled" (his word for enslaved) by the PAP, I understood him as an intelligent, patriotic Singaporean who chose idealism over money.

"Very socialist" was his response when I told him my name. After what he has been through, he has developed a certain mindset that PAP would happily categorize as anti-PAP. While I applaud his courage, I lament the waste of his talent - I'm not sure if acting like martyrs, him and Chee Soon Juan, really move us forward. To be fair, not that they really had the luxury of choices.

Opening speaker: Prof Janice Bellace - Founding President of Singapore Management University
Prof Bellace spoke of a realization that dawned on her while she was President at SMU - that Singaporeans of my generation think so differently from our parents.

First keynote: Prof Chan Heng Chee - Singapore Ambassador to the United States
Prof Chan immediately proved Prof Bellace's point when she failed to connect to a young, well-traveled audience charmed by America's school of democracy. She tried to drive some points across with much force: Singapore's "culture of competence," immediately followed by our vulnerability, why we shouldn't be unnecessarily apologetic to our SEA neighbors for our success, how well-regarded Singapore is in some countries, how marketable we are as Singaporeans. She spoke of Singaporeans' first right as "the right to education" while free speech ranks much lower.

I understand her position, her job to speak in those ways, and since it was the second time I heard her speak, I wasn't expecting her to say something controversial. But even when she clearly exceeded her allocated speech time, she insisted on answering questions. That really struck me as a certain type of desperation, as if she was trying to inoculate us against the later alternative speakers of the day.

When I photographed her holding one of the gifts presented to her in appreciation, a ClubSG t-shirt that monographed the merlion logo on an image of the Love sculpture, I heard her comment "Very nice colors!" She failed to uncode the meaning of the t-shirt, just as youths today must baffle her: what message are we young, well-traveled Singaporeans sending, and how can we blame her generation for not understanding us?

Panel discussion: Yian Huang, Woo Yen Yen, Alfian Saat, Jing - Pursuing your passions
Prof Chan left, much to the disappointment of Yian and Alfian, who both felt the need to refute many of her points, but felt less than gracious "sniping behind her back." In response to some 6.5million-is-great comments Prof Chan had, Alfian showed a clip of his recent play "Homesick" that dealt with issues like the inferior treatment of Singaporeans in Singapore.

The panel was a dramatic switch to a anti-establishment, very raw and casual tone, like a conversation between old friends. Photographer Yian Huang joked that a Singaporean is defined as someone who thinks too much about what it means to be Singaporean. All in attendance were pretty much guilty as charged.

The panelists related very personal biographies of how they were consultant turned photographer, PhD turned filmmaker, doctor-to-be (re)turned poet. It is unfair to say that creative arts is the path of passion, but for my ibanking obsessed peers it was an appropriate counterweight.

During the Q&A, a pediatrician in her early 40s caused much of the crowd to turn and look her as she made her "statement, it's not really a question." She was almost in tears, and she pointed to her old father-in-law and young son, both also in attendance, and talked about responsibilities over pursuit of self-expression and selfish happiness. Yian and Jing both started asking her if she was happy and loved her job, and if she would consider that being happy herself as the basis
for happiness for her family. While the three spoke from their hearts, Yen Yen stepped in as the most understanding person by telling the pediatrician she was brave to choose what she did. Yen Yen herself was a part-time professor, in order to support her family, but turned out to be a great complement to her filmmaking.

When discussing the issue of being based in New York/Paris versus based in Singapore, I identified most with Yen Yen's answer - being in Singapore just makes me too angry and bitter, and that too many things have gone wrong. From a distance here in the US, it's actually easier to think of ways to make contributions back home.

Second keynote: Francis Seow
His mental capabilities seem to have deteriorated (although I have no basis for comparison), but it's probably on par with MM Lee's today. Controversial from sentence one to the end, he related anecdotes exposing the truth of Singapore, frequently making references to his book and the troubles he had publishing it (because of the Singapore government). I don't doubt Singapore did many things to block his books, but I feel very much the way...as Yen Yen said of Martyn See's Singapore Rebel, that she didn't think it was a well-made film but she thinks Martyn is usually a good director and she understood why he filmed it. If I can blend what Francis Seow says together with what the thought-police Singapore media churns out, then perhaps the product will strike me as closer to truth. I feel he's exaggerates as much as ST does, and it's hard for me to stomach.

Viewing him as an integral character in Singapore's history, as a Singaporean, I thank him for his contributions and I'm sorry it turned out this way.

Panel discussion 2: Colin Goh, Djinn, Li-Anne Huang - Singapore Film and Identity
Djinn showed a clip of his movie Perth that had the audience roaring in laughter. It was a kopitiam scene where Lim Kay Tong and another actor had a dialog loaded with Singlish expletives. Colin applauded that as progress in the Singapore film, recalling his absurdly censored scenes in "TalkingCock: The Movie."

I believe culture, film, media play roles that the government cannot and should not dream of controlling too much. No Singapore identity can take root if we attempt to make everyone speak Queen's/American/ChannelNewsAsia English. The speakers touched on topics like that, and also their difficulties in making commercially viable Singapore movies.

Musical Sing City!
A Joshua and Caleb Yap Production
I once attended a Sheares Hall musical production, where they staged Dick Lee's "Remix." That scarred me somewhat, because it really is difficult find people who can sing AND dance AND act. I entered this musical being a skeptic. Not that this musical was perfect, but the songs customized lyrics, the heartfelt-ness of the acting/singing helped very much. The microphones were very annoying, switching on-and-off at whim and sometimes I couldn't hear their singing, but in spite of all these, the musical succeeded on reaching the audience. Many people in the audience cried at one song or another (mostly girls). Sometimes over-the-top acting and overly cheesy lyrics get to people, and I must admit I felt goosebumps at some points.

The musical cramps all the possible overseas singaporean students issues into a compact package - long-distance relationships, GPAs versus risk-taking, scholarships versus parents sponsored, uncommunicative, demanding but actually very loving fathers, clustering of Singaporeans (or any group) abroad etc

Better for you to check out the website with free downloads of Sing City songs

More on DiaS'pura