So what’s new? Last summer, she was hailed as a leader of the EU by managing the Euro crisis and stood head-on against Russia in Ukraine. Then, in September, she opened Germany’s doors to Syrian (and other) refugees streaming into Europe. Make no mistake, Angela Merkel had her supporters. David Folkerts-Landau, Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, last month described the arrival of more than a million refugees from the Middle East in 2015 as “the best thing that could happen to Germany.”
Then, when I was riding in a taxi to Shuangliu Airport in Chengdu, I heard a shattering piece of news. Angela Merkel’s conservatives lost out in two out of three regional state elections as Germans gave a thumbs-down to her accommodating refugee policy with a big vote for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany. While Mrs Merkel will remain as Chancellor for now, the General Elections are due next year.
On the home front, a ripple has occurred on the political scene. Bukit Batok SMC’s GE2015-elected MP David Ong resigned due to “personal indiscretions”. One would not expect too much coverage in our newsPAPers, but fortunately, The New Paper gave a nominally revealing report. As with all such personal indiscretions in moralising Singapore, resignation was the only way for Mr Ong to placate the knights on moral high horses.
And since Bukit Batok is an SMC, a by-election is in order. In no time, SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan (some call him a rebranded Dr Chee) sprang into action. Why “rebranded”? Well, those of us who have been around have seen the “old” Dr Chee in action, completely intellectual and ideological. In other words, the old Dr Chee was completely out of touch with the average kiasu, kiasi, gian png Singaporean’s needs and wants. The need to be mentally spoonfed life plans and the want of everything in excess so that there is no chance of shortage.
The rebranded Dr Chee has become a lot more down-to-earth. He is no longer just talking about ideologies. He is now getting on the ground and talking to the under-privileged and neglected. He has demonstrated amply that he chooses principles over wealth. He waxes lyrical about the importance of thrift, gratitude and camaraderie that many parents are trying to inculcate in their pampered, materialistic and uncaring children. He identifies with those of us living from hand to mouth. All these avowals will strike a chord with many Singaporeans, but not enough.
In case you can’t see my comment on Dr Chee’s Facebook post, here it is:
“Dr Chee, you care, she cares and her loved ones care, but the people who pay her, directly or indirectly, don’t care. As long as the latter remain the majority, you can’t win.”
I believe that Dr Chee is still too close to his ideals. This is what the majority looks like. How do you make them vote for you? Simple. You frighten them with stories and consequences of not being on their side, impress them with amenities, your achievements and you feed their kiasu mentality until they virtually burst with excesses. Sure, with the by-election advantage to the opposition, the results can go either way. That notwithstanding, the SDP will never muster enough resources to satisfy such needs and wants. What’s more, Dr Chee is directly and indirectly attacking the greedy, uncaring, competitive mentality that stoke life as we know it in Singapore.
To be fair, this ugly mentality is not unique to Singapore. Below is a video of Chinese tourists at a buffet in Chiangmai. You may find it amusing. You may find it disgusting, but if you look at it in a non-judgemental way, what do you see?
You see a bunch of idiots who see excess as a means to achieve security. They are not easily satisfied. They need to be full to the point of bursting before they feel secure – the diametric opposite of complacency. And this is precisely the kind of people we need to punch above their own weight and achieve economic competitiveness. Without these folks, China’s economy would not have been roaring for the last 25 years.
On my latest trip to China, I met groups of Chinese professionals (teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers) who have more or less given up on the rat race and sought to find meaning in life among the clouds, meadows and Himalayan peaks in Sichuan. A couple of young ladies have even quit their jobs in Chengdu to live in Tibetan villages. At the youth hostel where I stayed, guests could leave their cameras and valuables in the living room (which look very much like the better teahouses in Nepal) without any fear of theft. People are friendly, caring, helpful, generous and relaxed. This made my job of bringing two kids with me a lot easier. It’s not exactly the Shangrila described by James Hilton, but it’s about as far from the madding crowd from Chengdu and Chongqing as you can get.
Make no mistake, these are very different folks from those who mine the buffet table with unbelievable zeal. But before you decide to replace the hungry ghosts with these charming Himalayan-loving folks, bear in mind that if you want the economy to soar (your investment property value to go up, your bank account and stock portfolio to swell), you can’t have too many nice, contented and compassionate folks turning the wheels of commerce. Big business is ugly business that need ugly people to run. We can’t have our cake and eat it but as mentioned in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, nobody in Shangrila was perfect. They just didn’t try too hard to be too good or too bad, too rich or too poor. The trick is to find a balance, a concept taught by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.
While we vilify the buffet buffoons in the videos above, have we thought of paying Ah Ma a bit more for her work? Would we mind paying 20 cents more for our char kway teow? What if we were hit by the question: “do you want to pay more taxes?” again? Will our answer be any different from that during GE2015?
© Chan Joon Yee