That Little but Formidable Red Dot Down South

I am a Malaysian who sincerely admires our Southern neighbour, the tiny island state called Singapore – who is somehow always one step ahead, one pace faster. The bustling city state that used to be a part of my country till it was expulsed in 1965 due to ideological differences between its ruling party and Malaysia’s.

With a small disparate population, and even fewer resources – the tiny newly independent nation had to find its own way to survive.

And when you are small and vulnerable with so many disadvantages, how do you overcome the odds? Singapore ended up becoming an example of how a nation can thrive despite it all. Having traveled there regularly for work for the past one year, I observe a culture that I am convinced has enabled the meteoric rise of this country from 1965:

1. Wise picks of battles to fight
When your resources are limited you have to decide carefully where you want to focus them on – whether it’s your energy or money. I have yet to come across any colleagues in my Singapore office sweating the small stuff, for example worrying about form and not substance. Though Singapore is now way past its past struggles, the wise pragmatism seems to have remained. 

2. An absence of excessiveness
There is a fine line between making tremendous effort in the name of excellence and trying hard to impress. The city looks impressive, no doubt – but that is just the inevitable result of thoughtful and pragmatic planning done with the intention of inspiring the confidence of its own people and the foreign people whose skills, talent and investment would be needed to help Singapore prosper. Not to impress and boost fragile egos. No wonder I have yet to come across any kitschy or tacky looking buildings or monuments in Singapore. It is quite simply the epitome of elegance.

3. A strong focus on developing its uniqueness, and looking to others not to compare, but to learn and find strengths to leverage
This is closely related to picking battles wisely. Of course many would argue that Singapore is a competitive place – but we tend to forget that being competitive does not necessarily mean comparing with others. It is when we give our all to make the most of what we have that we become a force formidable enough for others to reckon with – and by then we find ourselves in our own league. I posit that Singapore does not focus so much on competing as much as it focuses on leading and leveraging its neighbours’ strengths. Any wonder why so many of my country’s best and brightest end up happily heading down south?

I love my country and I know Singapore has its own flaws. But there’s so much to learn from our excellent neighbour down south.

So this is how I have experienced Singapore. I would love to hear what you think, whether you are Singaporean or not.



A real holiday…at long last: Sampling of an introvert’s leisurely thoughts

All by myself, yes!! (Though I will be meeting up with some people at my destination).

This is an introvert’s pleasure. (Too many have argued I am an extrovert – another post for another day, perhaps, where I will maybe explain that my bouncy steps and rib tickling one liners are really the result of all the years spent being my own best friend. Ha! I just made myself laugh, do you see what I mean?)

When an introvert decides to get away, it is usually not because she is bored. In my case, at least. It’s because she wants to recharge, renew, reconnect with herself and all that she has, and explore.

I have not even left Malaysian soil and my getaway is already achieving its purpose. Having breakfast while waiting for my connecting flight, I am more aware than ever of the hotness and spiciness of the nasi lemak – a local fare I have grown up with – I am eating. I felt a sense of pride when I saw a foreigner eagerly ordering nasi lemak (or maybe I was just amused by his pronunciation – oops. It can be hard to differentiate good feelings.)

I hugged my mom and dad when they dropped me at the airport. We don’t do that all that often. I texted my brother and sister and said ‘bye, I love you’. I am flying Malaysia Airlines and looking at the now-notorious red and blue stripes, I realized that our country is like our family – it may be imperfect, but you won’t ever stop loving and identifying with it. You just can’t. 🙂



Of Stereotypes and Shallowness: “This treatment is reserved for …”

20140708-234957.jpgToday I went apartment hunting and encountered two disappointing facades of the human nature.

The first one were the two owners of the first apartment I viewed who smiled halfheartedly and then proceeded to ignore me while my negotiator and I went through the place…but when I asked about the rental and they realized I was a prospective tenant and not a co-negotiator the guy almost jumped up from his expensive leather sofa and apologized for not greeting me earlier. So, the message was if I was not a prospective tenant I wouldn’t have deserved that courtesy?

The second one was when I texted another negotiator to arrange for a viewing after seeing his online posting. Everything went ok until he asked:”May I know your race?”

I replied: “Argghh how are we ever gonna achieve a Malaysian Malaysia like this?” I humored him and added: “I am Chinese with Thai blood.”

He must have been satisfied with my answer because he went on to say he would confirm the viewing time and asked me for my name. I did not bother to respond.

Nothing personal, all about principles.