Monday, August 15, 2016

The Value in Leaving.....

Perhaps it was purely a coincidence but on the very evening that Singapore was celebrating it's first ever gold medal in the Olympics, I had a conversation with a young lady who mentioned that while Donald Trump may not have put things very eloquently, he had a point when he discussed immigration. Her point was simple, if a person is really valuable, a country would not let him go - the Mexicans who are leaving to America were the drug dealers and rapist.

I bit my lip because she was young and trying to the plaything of a friend of mine. However, its something we should look at especially in light of Singapore's first ever gold medal winner. Mr. Joseph Schooling at the age of 21 is the living example of what every person in the world should be - mobile.

Let me state for the record that I am often guilty of parochial xenophobia. While I spent a good portion of my life as an expat kid (thanks to my stepfather's job), I've returned to Singapore, the land of my birth, wondering and refusing to understand local sentiments about race and geographical treatments. Contrary to what my fellow Asians might believe, being someone's colony is something to be proud of.

Having said all of that, I actually believe that migration and mobility are actually good for the human condition. Staying in one place and mixing only with your own kind is unnatural and bad for you. Whatever, I may have said about the expatriate community, you have to give them points for getting out of their homelands to raise themselves up the corporate ladder. Moving shows that you have enough ambition to want to change your life. As a friend of mine often reminded me, "You can't blame the Ang Moh's (local Hokkien slang for red heads - reference to Caucasians in general) for wanting to move here. Would you rather stay and be an ordinary person or move to somewhere, where the people worship you?"

If I respect people at the higher end of the social scale for "moving" from their homeland in the expatriate class, I have nothing but admiration for the poor and unwashed masses who come in from poor, underdeveloped countries to wealthier nations to do shit work so that they can do right by their loved ones. It takes guts to move to place where you have nothing and are most likely to be spat on as part of a sport by the natives. It's tough enough going to work everyday to make a living. Now, imagine doing it when you are far away from every emotional support that you've ever had.

Migrants develop a certain sturdiness to them because they don't really have a choice. It's called "Make or break." They do the lousiest jobs that the natives would rather not do and contrary to what Donald Trump would tell you, they end up using less social services because they simply don't want to get into the radar of the authorities.

I don't deny that there are migrants who commit crimes (rape, murder, robbery etc) and I don't deny that because they are vulnerable, migrants can be easy prey for criminals, the migrant community throughout the world will usually be harder working and more law abiding than the locals.  

When I lived in the UK, the "Pakis," "Niggers" and "Rastas" were too busy doing things like running corner shops and driving mini-cabs, while the White Anglo-Saxon got drunk and begged you for small change. Walk down my old haunt in Soho and you'd find that the guy asking you for spare change was inevitably a native of the absent colour.

Now that I've moved to Singapore, I notice something similar. In the restaurant, I work alongside Pinoys, Koreans and Taiwanese, who simply want to earn their coin by working. By contrast, I have met too many local born Singaporeans who have simply decided that there's far more pride in asking for treats than in being seen to make a living in a lowly job.

The guys who move are the guys who make things happen in the country they move to. They are the guys who form better people-to-people ties between nations and cultures. Put it simply, every Indian expat and Indian worker who comes to Singapore, becomes a link between Singapore and India, a market that Singapore will need to be in.

I think of my friends in the Indian Expat community. There's Girija Pande, the Chairman of Apex-Avalon who is building "made in Asia" management talent. There's also Suresh Shankar of Crayon Data, who set up a data analytics firm in Singapore that got bought out by IBM and now, he's building another firm that will revolutionize how we choose things.

People like these gentlemen, have shown that the world is a big place. You don't need to be limited by geography for some antiquated vision of nationalism. Suresh for example, is taking advantage of Singapore's legal infrastructure and global reputation for stability and combining it with the large talent pool that is available in India. Modern technology allows you to do make the most of what various countries have to offer.

Which brings us back to Mr. Schooling, who was born here and raised here. This is home for him. Yet to further his ambitions, he had to be sent for further education in the USA, where he had access to the coaches and the facilities to bring him to where he is today.

Had Mr. Schooling not left Singapore and stayed here for the sake of being Singaporean etc etc, its unlikely he'd be able to do what he did for Singapore. He left Singapore and ended up bringing the type of value to Singapore that we had not been able to achieve despite the millions spent on trying to import talent from elsewhere.

Let's ditch ideas about what constitutes a good citizen based on birth. Let's look at what people do by their sweat and let's give people credit for taking chances in moving out of their comfort zone. Let's salute people like Mr. Schooling's parents who understood that opportunities are global and sent their son overseas so that he could win us glory on the international stage. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

A thought for National Day

It's Singapore's birthday today. As a nation, we will be getting together to celebrate 51-years since we were booted out of the Federation of Malaysia.

It's going to be quite a celebration and I believe it's something worth celebrating. Although I have my complaints, the nation I've chosen to call home for the last decade and a half has gotten much right despite the odds. It's worth remembering that we are celebrating an accident of history. The man who is credited for creating Singapore as a successful independent nation, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, started his political career by campaigning very hard for us to be a state within the Federation of Malaysia. Mr. Lee started out by arguing passionately that Singapore was too small to survive on its own and yet his greatest of success was proving that very idea wrong.

Perhaps it took fatherhood to make me realize it but Singapore has gotten the key things right. We may not be the hippest place around but we've got the basics right. We are what a nation should be. We are rich, clean and green. As a father of a teenage girl, I can't stop thanking my lucky stars that I live in a city where safety exists - I don't worry that something will happen to my little girl if goes out at night (not that she does - these days smart phones keep the kids at home).

Singapore is a great place to be in so many ways. As someone who was born in Singapore but raised in a small town in Southern England, I also found myself in a unique position in terms of East-West relations. I may have looked exotic in a sea of blonde and red heads but I was amazingly un-exotic in almost every other respect. I sometimes wonder if my classmates were disappointed that I wasn't a bit more exotic. I spoke English at home and my Dad didn't run a take away or a laundry mat. My Dad also shelled out for school fees that most ordinary English people won't have paid and he did so with money made in Singapore rather than through the generosity of some NGO that the school was running charity drives for so that we could help people in the third world.

If I look back at my life in the West, I think the most amazing thing that being born a Singaporean gave me, was a feeling that living in the West wasn't better than living where I came from. My parents sent me to England because they felt this was where I'd get the best education rather than we needed to move there because life was so much better there.

I do acknowledge the good in Singapore through the eyes of my wife, who comes from rural Vietnam and has experienced hunger (defined as not having enough food on the table). This place is paradise to her.

While there's much to be grateful for, I do think there are areas of Singapore that need to be changed. One of my pet peeves remains how we treat people who have come from developing Asia. Yes, Singapore isn't the worst place for people to be but there is something wrong when everyone in a well to do society doesn't seem to think its dreadful for people work at the princely rate of S$18 a day (12-hours) and not get paid for several months because ....hey its apparently better than what they're getting back home.

I recently felt this through a new friendship I've made with a Bangladeshi worker, who's trying to collect money owed to his brother his previous employer, who had been wound up by an order of court. I remembered agreeing to meet this worker in person. A few my colleagues were actually worried that something might happen to me.

Well, I did meet the man, who insisted on buying me tea. We spoke about his life in Singapore and he asked if I could help his brother find another job in Singapore. He was so touched that I actually came down to meet with him.

I find this unusual for a normal society. What do we have against treating other people like people, especially when they do all the hard work that we won't do.

I know people who feel differently, but as we celebrate years of incredible success, I do think that we need to find a way of remembering the people who did the hard lifting. 

 

Friday, August 05, 2016

Falling in love with your profession

I've been thinking of a way of making one of my biggest weaknesses on my CV into something of a strength, namely the fact that I've never really worked for a multinational (the closest being an internship in Citibank and two weeks at RappCollins) or the government (the exception being two and a half years in National Service and three months as a school teacher.)

I've thought of it and its tough because I live in a society where anyone with a brain cell would have made it a point of serving in either of these entities by the time they reach my age - the grand old age of 42 (well not quite until November) and they would be established in their careers. Normal people my age would be able to call themselves an "Industry" person.

Since I've not reached that stage in life, I think the approach should be to avoid it altogether and be grateful for what's not taken place. This is not to say that I don't have a skill that makes me marketable. I believe that more than a decade in PR and meeting the most socially diverse range of people I could ever imagine (street walker and jail birds to ambassadors and central bankers), I have enough people management skill to get me through most jobs.

What I mean by the blessing of not having "multinational" or "government" work experience, lies in the fact that I've never had the luxury of falling in love with a particular profession to the extent that I see everything in life through the prism of my chosen profession, which I believe is one of biggest failings of many working professionals. We become so involved in the "industry" where we build our "careers" than define our "lives."

I like to think that I've never fallen into that world view and I like to think that I've managed to stay human and therefore grounded. I think it was my Uncle Jeffrey, who was also one many bosses, who would drum it into me that I was my own best judge of what was newsworthy.

Too many PR and Comms people get obsessed with the fact that they are PR and Comms people. They spend so much time with a client or product that it becomes the centre of their lives and they expect everything to evolve around it. This becomes very worrying when they pitch to the press and discover that the press won't write the story as they think it should be written. Erm, sad fact of life - the press isn't paid to write the story you want them to write. If they did, the client wouldn't need you, the persuasive PR person - they'd get the ad sales people to take care of things.

We forget that we're also consumers of the media as well as the people who plant the stories in the media. We are part of the process of news creation and to be effective at that, we need to know the people what people watch and read and want to watch and read.

Being obsessed with your profession isn't limited to the PR field. In the restaurant game, you get to chefs who forget that they exist for the customer's taste buds. Yes, the customer likes your cooking and eating at your restaurant but they need to taste something that they like to taste. A good chef instinctively knows what appeals to the pallets of the customers because ...well, he or she inevitably someone who eats the food as well as cooks it.

At the end of the day, we're all human beings with the same needs. We live in the same ecosystem doing our part within that said eco-system. Unfortunately too many of us become so obsessed with our part of the system that we forget that we are part of the larger system.

If you fall in love with your part of the system, you tend to lose sight of the larger picture and ironically, you lose sight of the value that your part of the system contributes to the wider system. Advertising people used to be accused to being obsessed with winning awards (among themselves) that they forgot that their industry was merely a part of the larger business cycle. Today, agencies are struggling to find relevance and revenue.

Remembering your insignificance can be a blessing because it makes you more aware of everything else. You become aware of what the other sides of you think and do, which makes you more effective. I write for the press because it makes me more effective at pitching stories to them. I eat at the restaurant I work at because it makes me see things from the customers view. I am a consumer as much as a producer, which actually enhances things. -

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Goodbye to the Land of Banana Regulations and Dreams of Significance

June 23 2016 was a day that sent the global markets into turmoil thanks to the British Public taking the decision to leave the European Union in a referendum. The once almighty British Pound took a massive tumble and other financial markets followed suite.

My Facebook page became filled with comments from friends in the UK. The younger ones, who were mainly my sister's friends who had grown up seeing me as an older brother, were horrified that the country had descended into a racist mess, though a few of them celebrated their "Independence." Of my British friends who are in business, like Terry O'Connor, the CEO of Courts were mainly disappointed, though there were exceptions, most notably Neil French, the former Global Creative Head of the WPP Group.

There is no doubt that the after effects of "Brexit" are going to be felt around the world for sometime to come and there's going to be plenty of discussions on the internet. So, what's going to happen.

Firstly, its clear that the European Union ("EU") has an issue. While I believe the common goals of the EU are on the whole good, it should be clear to everyone that whatever benefits of being in the EU are, they have either not been felt by the man on the ground or at least not communicated. When the "Brexit" vote became clear, there was talk sufficient chatter going around that the French, the Dutch and others would follow and demand an exit to the union.

The key issue was of course, the issue of immigration. The key supporters of the exit vote in the UK were white working class people who had been cut out from traditional jobs. As one of my favourite English boys used to say, "When I was unemployed, I blamed it on the Poles." Its all very well to talk about your export market and being part of the largest trading block in the world when you are trader in the City of London moving billions around with a click of mouse button. It's something different altogether when you are from a working class suburb and you've been out of work for the last year because all the jobs you used to be able to do are now taken by people who are different from you and willing to work harder and for less.

The second point that the EU needs to look at is the issue of excessive regulation. As one Dutch guy said, "They even have laws governing what type of bananas can be sold." Such regulations lead to the issue of sovereignty and more importantly what does the EU want to be. Is it a super trading block or a super national state?

When the EU was started as the European Economic Community (EEC), there was one overriding aim - to prevent another war from breaking out in Europe through closer integration. World War 1 and 2 were partly built on a "Franco-German Rivalry" (Bismark vs Napoleon III), so the founders of the EEC reasoned that if the French and Germans stopped fighting and trading, they'd get used to the idea of being prosperous by working together, they would never go to war.

That objective has long been fulfilled. Within a generation, the European continent has gone from nobody being able to conceive of lasting peace on the continent to nobody being able to conceive of a war between two European states. For Germany, the EEC and EU has been a salvation - it has allowed Germany to transform from being a militant aggressor to the benign sugar daddy of the continent.

However, while people are happy to trade with each other, it becomes a different story when you talk about imposing culture from elsewhere. As HSBC's brilliant "World's local bank" campaign proved, the more global we become, the more attached we become to things we are familiar with. EU regulations on cheese, bananas and chocolates only made people more attached to their "local" items.

Ironically, this point is best illustrated by the UK itself. The UK or Great Britain is not one country but four that have become one superstate united by a common language, a common currency, common laws, a common sovereign and an increasingly common culture. The superstate known as the United Kingdom has existed far longer than the EU, where people have had longer to live side by side in each other's different kingdoms. Yet, despite everything, the Scots still see themselves as Scottish, the Welsh as Welsh and so on. The Scots have even gone as far as to demand various referendums to get out of the UK. If you look at the "Brexit" campaign, you'll note that the same arguments were used in the Scottish independence referendum.

The EU needs to sell itself better to the man in the street and it needs to do some internal soul searching about what it wants to be. The problem remains, the EU was a project conceived by the people at the top with very little input by the people from the bottom. Somehow, the bottom needs to be persuaded to follow the top.

Britain will survive as it always has. The British found a way of surviving without their Empire. Instead of being number one in the world, they managed to become very successful being being the best friend of the new number one (the Americans). At the same time the British joined the EU and became a fairly active member.

While nobody doubts that the UK will continue to survive, the question remains, "Will Britain be a significant player on the global stage." The British might want to take a look at Japan.

Japan was an incredible success story. At one stage, when world looked to Japan as a new economic leader. Two decades later, the Japan is now a buzzword for stagnation. While still prosperous in many ways, it is clear to the rest of the world that Japan doesn't really lead anything at all. I remember one of my favourite journalist saying that it was lucky that former Prime Minister, Juichiro Koizumi use to visit the Yakasuni Shrine because it was the only way people really cared about what went on in Japan.

The British have certain advantages that Japan doesn't have. The English language remains the world language and the British have been far more open to the outside world than the Japanese.

However, there are several issues. Firstly, one of the key reasons for rejecting EU membership was immigration. A few people who were interviewed had argued that they objected to the EU's liberal policies on accepting Muslim migrants from places like Syria but were perfectly fine with the more educated ones from Europe. Unfortunately, rejecting EU membership means not only keeping out Syrian refugees but the well educated ones from Western Europe.

The British have been very successful of being the middle man between great powers. One of the reasons why the City of London has become the world's financial centre was because American banks looking to establish a base in EU could do it in London. Likewise, European banks that wanted to be in an English speaking country, they merely had to cross the channel.

Britain was the English speaking gateway into the world's largest trading block. It was the ideal place for the Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Chinese, Indians and so on to start a venture in the EU.

Without EU membership, Britain loses the very thing that made it relevant to foreign investors. For sure, Britain will still get foreign investment but it's not likely to be what it used to be. Furthermore, Britain will now enter trade negotiations on its own rather than as part of a big block. It won't make a difference it you are dealing with Singapore. However, size helps when you deal with China, India and the other large markets.

Britain will survive Brexit but it will have to get used to doing so as a lesser player on the global stage. As long as her people can get used to being part of a normal nation, that may be no bad thing.


Friday, June 17, 2016

If You are Gay - Jolly Well be Gay

I’ve been fortunate in life. One of the strangest blessings I’ve had, has been to enjoy a very lucky sense of timing. When the tragedy in New Zealand struck my army batch, I was in Singapore waiting to get deployed. When the Admiral Duncan in Soho was blown up, I had the good fortune of visiting the countryside and we only realized something was wrong was when I noticed that the entire Soho region (where I was living) had been cornered off by the police.

I described myself as lucky because I’ve managed to be close enough to events to know and feel what was going on but I’ve never been close enough to getting killed or traumatized. In the case of the Admiral Duncan bombing back in 1999, I only saw the gruesome pictures on the front page of the Times, even though I lived a five minute walk from the street where the Admiral Duncan was on.

I remember the Admiral Duncan because, like the recent shooting in Orlando, this was a crime targeted at the “LGBT” Community. A part from the location and the killing (nail bomb versus shooter), the main difference between the Admiral Duncan incident and the Orlando shooting was the fact that back in those days, ISIS didn’t exist and it wasn’t cool for nut jobs to murder in the name of Islam.

I guess, that last fact made things easier in the Admiral Duncan incident. Politicians had nothing to exploit except grief and shock at this most senseless and barbarous of acts. There was no bogeyman in the shape of militant ISIS supporters for the likes of Donald Trump to exploit. Lawrence Kong and his fellow “men of God” also didn’t have much to say about the killing of the LGBT.

Unfortunately things have changed. Donald Trump has decided that there’s more profit in playing up the worst in an intrinsically decent but frightened people. ISIS declare that they speak for Islam, contrary to the opinion of the billion people who actually follow Islam. So much noise is being made about this and nobody is looking at the real issues.

The first issue is the fact that a mentally unstable person had easy access to military grade hardware and the means to inflict massive casualties.  Yes, despite the horrors of this massacre, America will not change its gun laws. The ever powerful gun lobby continues to pressure politicians from all sides of the aisle. Ads about how guns don’t kill people are being posted all over the internet. Arguments about how this shooting may have been stopped if an ordinary person had the means of shooting the shooter are already being used.

These arguments have been used again and again and again by the National Riffle Association (NRA) and they’ve been proved wrong by every incident of gun violence. Think about it, checks at airports got tighter after September 11, 2011. When a man was caught with a bomb in his shoes, it became almost mandatory for people to take off their shoes before going through an airport scanner. By contrast, America remains unable to stop people who have no business holding military grade hardware getting hold of that hardware despite the numerous shootings.

Something has got to give and it would reflect badly on a nation that has been the engine of the world’s innovations in the last two centuries, if innocent people get gunned down because unstable people had access to fire arms.

Surely someone has to realise that you cannot argue that it is a violation of constitutional rights to insist that someone has to wait 45 days to purchase a handgun but its not a violation of rights to make a woman wait 45 days to have an abortion.

The second issue that needs to be looked at is the issue of acceptance or getting people to accept themselves. Reports that Mr. Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter was himself a homosexual, reminds me of what a homosexual acquaintance of mine told me after the Admiral Duncan was blown to bits – “Bet you that was done by a queen.”

While, I don’t believe Islam was responsible for the Orlando shooting, I do believe that Islam, like the other Abrahamic faiths, needs to find a way of adapting to the acceptance of the LGBT community. Like it or not, homosexuals and lesbians are a part of society and while I am hardly a champion of gay rights, I do believe in the words of Singapore’s most famous homophobe, Professor Thio Li-Ann, ”Homosexuals are only titled to the rights that everyone else has,” – which should mean that they’re entitled to live in peace like the rest of us.

I’m not about to join “Pink Dot” and take part in Gay pride events and I don’t think I’d be overjoyed if any of my kids announced to me that they were gay.

But while I may not be a champion of gay rights, I do believe that gay people should be gay and not be taught that they are dirty or evil. If a person is gay, they should be encouraged to accept that as who they are and not to think of it as evil. Science has shown that you cannot turn gay people straight (though Fleshball claimed she could) and like it or not, homosexuality and same sex unions are part of human history.
I remember discussing the issues of gay rights with a gay friend. I mentioned that from what I’ve seen, the biggest homophobes are usually the biggest homosexuals. He agreed. He told me that he used think it was a sport to beat up gay people until he realized that he himself is gay.

I believe Omar Mateen was brought up to be a good Muslim, who believed that being gay was a sin. Unfortunately, he himself was gay and that enraged him to point of being unstable. I don’t believe that Omar Mateen is the first homosexual who got enraged to the point of being a danger to himself and to others. Unfortunately, nobody has really done a study on it because everyone believes that you can avoid the topic of a person’s sexuality by ignoring it.

Yes, there should be certain boundaries in society for people to live in peace. However, we should generally encourage people to be who they are and not to think of who they are as something evil and to be destroyed.

I think of Girija Pande, the Chairman of Apex-Avalon, who once said that he believed that one of the greatest strengths of the Chinese people was the ability to live and let live. He argued that this helped Singapore achieve the racial and religious harmony. It’s something we should think about whenever we think of the LGBT community around the world.



Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Views on the Champ and the Troll

I've been lucky that the late boxing legend, Mohammad Ali died around the same time that Alice Fong, Singapore's most famous online celebrity (the woman who got caught dressing down a deaf mute at a food court - for more on Alice's moment of fame -click here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEHV_jQGiqU). Both characters happened to be perfect examples of one of my favourite topics - heart or the lack of it.

Let's start with the late boxing legend. Mohammad Ali was without the "Greatest" boxer to walk the planet. He didn't have the best boxing record (The only heavy weight to ever retire undefeated in Rocky Marciano) nor was he the hardest hitter in the game (Both Mike Tyson and George Foreman come to mind in terms of having raw punching power). He did, however, have plenty of "heart" and this was the very thing that made him transcend the sport. For many of us around the world, boxing was synonymous with Mohammad Ali.

Ali wasn't afraid of challenges. He took on opponents who were bigger and stronger (think of George Foreman) and he was willing to give it his all. His two key fights that we all remember are "The Thrilla in Manila" (Against Joe Louise) and "The Rumble in the Jungle" (against a very young, very fit and very hard hitting George Foreman) because he had opponents who were willing to go the distance with him. In the case of the Thrilla in Manila, we had two men who were giving everything they had. In the Rumble in the Jungle, it was a case of Mohammad Ali taking punishment and pain from a far more powerful hitter and then winning against all odds.

The man had courage and passion and we loved him for it. Despite the odds, he refused to be cowed and for the most part he got away with it. In his final fight against Larry Holmes, it was clear that Ali was outclassed. The body had simply taken too much punishment over the years to carry on. However, Ali refused to go down and take an easy count. His pride and courage remained even when his body was no longer able to carry on. This refusal to give up affected his opponent too. Towards the end, you could see Larry Holmes crying with every punch he threw and he felt no elation in his victory. Somehow, Ali could still win when he wasn't winning.

We, the adoring public loved Ali because he had a heart to stand up and take the punches that life threw at him. He simply wasn't afraid to live.

At the opposite extreme, we have Alice Fong, who flies of the handle over small issues and can't see what the fuss is about.

I don't think she's wrong to be upset over the mistake that was made and in her defense, she would probably have been foul to the coffee shop staff even if he wasn't a deaf mute. Speaking as someone who does wait tables, I accept that service staff do make mistakes and customers have a right to address it.

However, while addressing an issue is acceptable and even commendable, it is unacceptable to fly off and hurl verbal abuse at people, particularly those who happen to be in a vulnerable position.

You find that people who do that, often have self-esteem issues and are secretly terrified of the world, hence in an effort to prove their superiority, end up going over the top with people whom they perceive as being lower than them.

While the actions of Ms. Fong are bad in themselves, what's worse is that she seems unable to see why everyone is getting upset. She's "appologised" but somehow, somewhere in there still needs to try and justify herself and her actions (Oh, the guy wasn't wearing a tag to show that he was deaf - erm are you saying that you wouldn't have gone of on him if you knew he was?). She's even gone as far as to threaten to sue people who write nasty things about her for that incident.

We revile Ms. Alice Fong for the very same reason why we adored Mohammad Ali - she lacks the heart that Mr. Ali had in abundance. While the champ fought and beat people stronger than him, Ms. Fong thinks its OK to fight with people smaller than herself.

Seriously, we need more Mohammad Ali's and less Alice Fongs. How do create a system where those with courage can succeed and those without get pushed into the garbage bags of history?






Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Excuse me, can you tell me if she's a horrible person or nice person who doesn't have the muscles in her face to smile."

Two of my least favourite customers decided to patronise the Bistrot tonight. As anyone can probably guess, these two ladies in question happen to be Singaporean Chinese graduate working professionals from well to do families - or should I say the unfortunate aspiration of what every in Singapore tries to be.

I don't know what it is, but when I see them, I end up blessing the fact that I've had an unconventional life, sheltered from the need to ever be part of this group. Both ladies think they're very beautiful and they strut around expecting normal people to agree. Unfortunately, the only people who might be inclined to agree are Caucasians (who are notoriously bad at looking at beauty in Asian women beyond the obvious private parts) and local Tamils who are so desperate to be part of the majority racial group. The ladies in question are the living embodiment of what an Irish school master called,"Beauty is skin deep but ugliness goes down to the bone."

What I dislike most about the two ladies in question is the fact that they literally spit on anyone who isn't deemed to be "in their class." One of them thought she was being generous when she invited the previous chef to drink with her and then proceed to empty out her friends empty wine glasses into a cup just for him. The ugliness of the character involved became so obvious at one stage that an Indian National customer asked loudly enough if they young lady was either a horrible person or a very person who lacked the facial muscles to smile. A former colleague from Italy got the shock of her life when one of the sisters of this young lady slammed a glass and demanded that it get filled with water.

In fairness to these two young ladies, Singapore is filled with uppity little things that think it's acceptable to treat those lower than themselves like shit. You'd imagine that after 50-years of miraculous economic growth and prosperity and exposure of everything that the world has to offer, that you'd get a population that had a better outlook on life.

It's probably my blessing in life that I ended up working in a restaurant. It opened my eyes to the realities on the ground. After a certain time, you'll realise that the problem in Singapore is not that we're letting too many foreigners, but we're not exposing the shit to the realities of life.

I have soft spot for Filipinos, and it has nothing to do with bar girls. Fact of the matter remains, our entire service sector would collapse without this community. They work hard, put up with lots of crap and still manage to smile and they do it for criminally low amounts of money. I think of Rafe, my back up guy at the Bistrot. He runs the show. He knows how to work the systems and he knows where is where and what it what. The same is true of Joey, his counterpart at the busier Pizzeria and Grill. Both these guys often double up as the dishwasher, kitchen help, cleaning boy and if they are truly unlucky, baby sitter of Mama Ka-Ni-Na.

I also have a high degree of enthusiasm for PRC Chinese. I think of the guy who used to come in an insist on ordering "Nieu Pai" (steak) and it always had to be the best (read - most expensive) and paid in cash.

I don't see why anyone should ever complain about PRC Chinese and the way they pay in cash. Give me the PRC Chinese who insist on buying the best and priciest in cash over the twat from the North of England with his silly Singaporean Chinese girlfriend who would always try and pull of the "I forgot my wallet" trick at the end of the evening.

While tipping isn't exactly great in Singapore, I appreciated Norwegians or at least my favourite couple, who would tip me exceedingly generously from time-to-time. My other group of regular tippers are Sikh (and I don't wear the Kara to work).

In the four years I've worked in a restaurant, I've come across enough of particular nationalities to be able to form fairly accurate stereotypes. Unfortunately, the least pleasent ends up being the well to do local people, who shouldn't be.

I guess you can say that paying customers, have a right to expect certain things from the people they pay. I think it's called a "Service Level Agreement," or SLA in professional jargon. In a restaurant, you expect your server to be fairly attentive and pleasent when the food is brought to you. In a professional service firm, you expect the guy on the other side to know what he's talking about and to be attentive to your needs.

However, I believe that there is a line between good service and abuse. In the case of the restaurant, the ladies cross that line. Come on, if you want to appreciate the man who put his heart and soul into preparing a tasty meal for you, do it from the heart and not in a way that shows the world that his you're pet dog.

If you want to be demanding, you should also reward well. One can argue that I'm being an ass for complaining about two ladies when I worked for the Saudi government, an organisation that's known for getting most value out of you. Difference here is that the Saudi's took care of basic needs (Shangri-La) and rewarded people for a job well done.

Did it occur to them that my Filipino guys would have enjoyed a tip, no matter how small, for putting their heart and soul into serving them? Nope, what they wanted  was simple, a cheap meal with a mandatory 10 percent discount and wine without corkage.

Needless to say, they get away with it because, some of the right people cannot see beyond a ladies private parts. My restaurant owner considers them "good customers" with spending power and encourage other so called "Good spenders." He's French Caucasian with a strange fetish for angry faces. Hence, he's willing to wave corkage charges for cheap people as opposed to other "regular" customers who actually spend money on good food and don't go out of their way to make people who happen to be a darker shade of pink to try and feel bad.

Here again, lies an important lesson. Why you indulge self-centred brats, you make bratism an accepted form of behaviour. Hence, we have an island filled with Pundeks and Ka-Ni-Na's who refuse to work but expect to be fed for free. I think of Singapore Chinese Graduates complaining about PRC Chinese women stealing men in the same way I think about Pundeks and Ka-Ni-Na's complaining about foreign workers - the foreign workers work while the Pundeks and Ka-Ni-Na's do not. Likewise, when you have to look at the persistent scowl on our well to do graduate working professional Singaporean Chinese ladies, you'll understand that paying the price for a PRC hooker is actually more pleasent, at least the PRC girl speaks one language well, dress appealingly and most importantly - smiles despite doing a crappy job.

Here in lies the lesson - developing facial muscles to smile is actually worth the effort. You can make people want to help you rather than avoid you.