So what’s new? The newsPAPers finally say that not all degrees are equal. They call it a hard truth, but that’s not the theme of that report. The whole article sounds more like an annoying reminder and I’m not even linking to it lest they decide to do to me like what they did to The Real Singapore. What struck me as rather amusing is, do we even need anyone to tell us that Chemistry graduates are working in banks and PhDs have ditched their lab coats to enter the world of finance? To make it more sensational, they could have included an IT engineer who is now managing funeral services. Seriously, this message ought to have been sent out a long, long time ago. It ought to have been attached as a disclaimer to some advertisements and features on top students.
Such observations demonstrate that Singaporeans are willing to get on their knees to earn a living – provided they can earn a living. Paradoxically (or so it seemed) employers on a televised dialogue session with a minister observed with much frustration that Singaporean workers are “expensive” and “demanding”. Of course, this is in comparison with foreign workers. The message is clear: “relax the policies and let us employ more foreigners.”
Let me tell the story of Mr Lau Chew Chew who married a Taiwanese bride by the name of Sweet Yang Ting. Why did Mr Lau marry a foreign bride? Because Singaporean women are “expensive”, “choosy”, “bossy” and “demanding”. Sweet Yang Ting was, pretty, elegant, easygoing and demure. Mr Lau loved her. The first few years of their marriage were indeed blissful. They had no arguments and Sweet Yang Ting followed him wherever he went. But a few years later, Sweet Yang Ting knew her way around. She started making friends with people from Taiwan. She learned to speak English and started arguing with him. Things took a drastic turn when she even started showing disrespect for his parents. Fights became a daily affair and she finally packed her bags and left after emptying his bank account.
Sounds familiar? When these employers sing praises for foreign workers and compare them with local ones, they are merely stating the obvious fact that new brooms sweep clean. When we employ maids, agents often advise us to pick the greenhorns. They are far less likely to cause problems, just like Sweet Yang Ting when she first arrived in Singapore. The question is, can we ever have an endless supply of greenhorns?
I’ve once (actually more than once) said that Singapore is paradise for the obedient salaryman. In many ways, it still is – again, provided that he is obedient. But what about entrepreneurs? An article in the Economist said that true entrepreneurs are people who push the envelope. Innovations can only happen when people break the rules. In the aftermath of the dotcom bust in 2000, few had dared conceive an idea like the primordial YouTube.
It’s not a concept that requires a genius to set up, but the risks of offending copyright holders were high. Yes, the legal implications were daunting (and would have frightened off any Singaporean) but the 3 former Paypal employees took the risk and went ahead. True enough, they received threats of lawsuits and even prison time, but by then, YouTube had become so popular that venture capitalists saw immense potential. In November 2006, YouTube was bought over by Google for $1.65B. The format was revamped, rules were set and the platform gradually evolved to what it is today. Sad to say, this cannot be a Singapore story. We’ve talked so much about cultivating creativity, but in reality, the moralists and the authorities have never given the mavericks enough space to express that creativity.
Consider the case of a man who was jailed for 18 weeks for running Singapore prostitution sites. Like YouTube, it’s not rocket science. The perpetrator merely sold advertising space for freelance sex workers looking for business opportunities. No, it’s not his IT skills which are “quite remarkable”. I’m more impressed by his “guts and gumption” – to quote you know who. I’m not saying that this young man should restrict himself to the sex trade, but if he is encouraged to exercise his creativity and explore new domains, it won’t be long before he runs afoul of the law again. I have a different piece of advice for him. Migrate.
Suffice to say that such an operation would have been perfectly legal in most developed countries. In fact, I read from the South China Morning Post that in China, someone has even come up with a site that matches sugar daddies with “teddy bears”. To make it fair to all, women can also register themselves as sugar mommies. Gay and lesbian relationships are allowed too. There are quite a number Singaporean women in there (many of whom claim to be university graduates and I’m not surprised that they are telling the truth). Many of them are asking for more than US$5,000 a month in maintenance (talk about expensive and demanding). Now, would the site owners be guilty of living off the earnings of prostitution if these women pay for “premium accounts”? They must be lucky that they are not operating in sinless Singapore.