Where Do I Want to Go?

This had been on my mind for years. I never got around writing because the complexity of my thoughts, perhaps already at a neurotic level, which handicapped my ability to put them down in words that make sense. This attempt may end up in shambles but that's alright. At least I am allowing myself to detox the mind. Such a coincidence this will be my final post for the year.

When somebody ask you where do you want to go, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Probably a physical destination. Like Tampines Mall for shopping, Bangkok for shopping or even migrating to another country. Other times, the destination might be a vision instead of a physical location. Such as 6.9 million population in Singapore, which would probably be revised to 10 million in the near future. Do you want to go there? I didn't but I found myself being moved towards that reality despite me being rooted to the same physical location. As such, have I moved or not moved? Did I experience a migration without physically moving an inch? If I did, wouldn't you have, too? So why the fear at the thought of migration when you have already done so? I believe the two differences between the instances were whether it was done with or without your approval and whether you need or not lift a finger. From that, I observed that lifting fingers may be a more frightening prospect then moving into a dreadful future.

The child within asked, "Daddy, can I not go?"

"No, you have to."

"But why?"

The answers were straightforward, even logical, had been aggressively iterated and weaved to be the truth. The hard truth perhaps, not completed without a heavy dash of fear. The men in charge had warned that if we give up on this strategy, Singapore is heading for doom. There is no turning back now, not unless we can accept a bleak prospect of falling behind other countries. Such unjustified claims were powerful, powerful enough to push the masses to muck on, playing on the basis of "what if the claims are true?"

So, what if the claims are true? So what, if the claims are true?

What does it really mean if Singapore falls behind? Behind what? Is there a race going on that I do not know about and is there a prize or price of winning the race?

The talk about the only way for a country with no resources to win the game is to populate. The talk about a government transforming a fishing village to a cosmopolitan stalwart that the rest of the world salute to without realising that fishing itself was a resource, just ask Japan what they would be without the fishing industry. Granted that fishing and the conveniently forgotten granite reserves in Singapore were insignificant to be worth mentioning, so were our deep waters. Just ask Mongolia, Laos, Slovakia and other landlocked countries if they would trade some of their resources for deep waters. And a god-given geographical position without natural disasters, a perfect location as a trading hub. No resources? 

Over the years, Lee Kuan Yew made several notable digs towards Japan, whose economic miracle from the 1950s to 1990s dwarfed Singapore's own self proclaimed miracle around the same period. A mountainous, volcano island country with inadequate natural resources to support its growing economy, the country built up a very diversified range of advanced world class industries. When Japan slumped to a decline during the mid 2000s, Lee Kuan Yew took the opportunity to attribute that to Japan's refusal to embrace foreigners and strengthen the government's justification of their strategy. After more than a decade of decline, Japan remains the world's 3rd largest economy at 787 billion, much to the envy of Lee Kuan Yew and his party members. Singapore meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen playing catch up, despite claims that a massive injection of foreign population would bring us there.

After working with South Korean tradesmen in Perth, I realised how far Singapore had fallen behind in terms of improving the quality of their human resources. In the 1960s, the World Bank described South Korea as an "African standard nation." (on par with Ghana). Today it is a leading industrial powerhouse. You may be reading this from a mobile phone designed and manufactured in Korea. On top of that, South Korea boast major exports of semiconductors (Singapore being a major export during the yester-years), automotive, computers, high grade steel, ships, petrochemicals and high tech electronics While the Singapore government claims to be the people behind Singapore's "miracle" every year during the NDP, they mention little of South Korea's er.. 'bigger miracle', considering the fact that a war-torn South Korea worked with very little natural resources for the same 4 decades. In contrast the rich resources are situated in North Korea, which has substantial natural resources and is the world's 18th largest producer of iron and zinc, having the 22nd largest coal reserves in the world. It is also the 15th largest fluorite producer and 12th largest producer of copper and salt in Asia. Are the South Koreans importing foreign workers by the doves because "no one wants to do the job"? Why are we going the cheap route instead of going for the excellence route like the Koreans?

So is this the race we are talking about?

What are the consequences of losing such a race, falling back far behind our competitors. Will we become a fishing village where we first began? Will Singapore cease to exist as a country and Singaporeans wiped out as a race? As much as we would like to overestimate our importance, the physical land we call Singapore will still be around long before we are gone. As a transient nation, people come and go all the time, much more so during the recent years. There isn't much meaning for the term, "Singaporean" these days and neither does "The Singapore Way" makes sense. We are merely living to make the GDP numbers look the way somebody else prefers. In exchange, we get to make overseas trips, "rehabilitation shopping", buy overpriced cars to fill our empty souls and make ourselves feel better for grinding the wheel of life. That is where many choose to go.


  1. Humans are creatures of comfort. We are naturally inclined to stick with the familiar and comfortable. We click with people from our home countries and look for food we are used to wherever we are. Irish meet fellow Irish in Irish pubs in Perth for example.
    Singaporeans are often told to imagine where we would have been if not for LKY and the MIWs. Where would we have come from a fishing village with manually-cleared toilets if not for them?
    How many of us have contemplated or dare to contemplate that we might have become even better than what we are today if we had not had LKY and company?
    Unfortunately the MIWs have so entrenched themselves and become so comfortable with where they are and they are also reluctant to change the status quo. Creatures of comfort?
    If everyone else is staying put and not moving forward, we might still be ok but by staying still when everyone is moving forward, we are actually moving backwards.
    So if we continue to replay the images of manual toilet clearing and be happy with the auto flushing toilets of today, it is unlikely we will improve a lot relative to the other countries.
    Have you seen the high tech toilets that the Japanese have?
    I do not see Singapore becoming a better place in the near future so I moved to a place I think is already a nice place and which is always trying to improve the lot for the people.

  2. I think SE Asians are better off under the Colonial masters rule. Just look at those countries that are still colonized, they have proper education and healthcare system without the sky high costs.

    1. Sorry Vi H

      Which countries still colonised are you talking about?