Entering the Global Arena
A turn of the eye and one quarter of 2014 is almost over.
I met with my gynaecologist last week to confirm the pregnancy and experienced a sudden realisation about this ever growing bump before me. The baby is already close to 18 weeks old, and I had pretended he/she did not exist until I saw him/her on the scan.
Theo and I finally accepted the gift that God had decided in His time to give us. I can only imagine that it’s His way of telling me to slow down, but His timing has been impeccable even for Joel. When we needed a home, he got us a good sized resale flat below valuation. Come to think of it, He probably knew that my family would be a really big one for us to get a 5-room HDB from the start.
When we needed a car, He won us the auction off Sgcarmart, a car we bid for without ever seeing it first. Thankfully, it was a hardy car that to this day is still ferrying my kids around, with little need for servicing. When Theo wanted to upgrade his car, God also brought along the red sporty but affordable Skoda to suit Theo’s taste and our need for a bigger space.
When we needed new jobs, God brought along opportunities for us to move on or move up with little worries. We were never seriously in fear of unemployment. I even got a job at my current place before I ended my last maternity leave, worried that I would be retrenched when my firm moved its operation to KL.
When I had the crazy idea to buy an investment property in JB for my retirement which would only materialise in another 30 years, God led us in our search towards Sierra Perdana. It may not exactly be a cash cow but the environment is pretty cosy and convenient with many of my neighbours residents of the district.
When I thought that I couldn’t swallow the ineffectiveness in my department anymore, God offered Theo and I the rare opportunity for leadership positions which we both took on with trepidation. Today, a year later, I can look back with pride that it was well worth it. It was a difficult uphill battle to gain trust but I am thankful that God has indeed blessed the work of my hands every step of the way.
And when I thought that the timing of the fourth child just can’t be any worse, my boss gave me the opportunity to staff my director for an overseas speaking engagement in Seoul. You cannot imagine my happiness at receiving the assignment. Although it was a hectic one month from the approval to the final send off, this was what I had always wanted, to experience what it feels like to go for a business trip.
And so there we were at an conference of international delegates discussing the merits and challenges to financial literacy around the world and learning about what other countries are doing in this front and the kind of research that supports the best practices. But what was most rewarding was actually conversing with these delegates about the situation in their country and hearing what outsiders think about Singapore.
I left the conference with mixed feelings. One, I felt pride about how much more advanced Singapore is in terms of its systems and policies put in place that had given it a progressive status and a very good international reputation even among wealthy developed nations. I wonder why our own people cannot appreciate what the government had done for the nation.
However it was not all swelling with pride. While they acknowledged that Singapore has done well, many also perceive the nation to be an obedient citizenry who rarely opposes the government hence the efficiency in which we can roll out policies for the betterment of the country, but in the process has lost its energy. One wonders about the trade offs that has to be made.
After the conference, I extended my stay in Korea for another week with Theo. Korea is a relatively tourist friendly country and pretty well connected by trains or buses. While language remains an issue, almost all of the transportation hubs and tourist attractions are served by an English speaking tourist information counter. And in many of the local shops and restaurants, Mandarin is quite widely spoken too, testament of the Chinese population here.
But what amazes me most about the country is its vibrancy and the national pride shared by its people, and indeed they have many things it can be proud of. Korea has developed leaps and bounds over the last decade, a classic example is how the Samsung smart phones have almost overtaken (or overtaken?) Apple’s share of the market. Its Korean culture has also made an impact in the global arena especially Asia with the dominance of Korean drama, pop music, fashion and food.
In Seoul, you can shop until the wee hours of the morning and it isn’t just for the tourists but many locals. And while I can’t vouch for safety, I daresay that walking the streets after midnight doesn’t feel threatening. And more admirably, their elderly continue to labour through their old age and are fit enough to go for long hikes up mountains.
At the conference, I learnt that Korea, like Singapore, has a very low replacement rate of 1.2 births per family and the pension system does little for taking care of their elderly. I guess there must also be a stark income divide in the country.
Regardless, these things didn’t stop the country from progressing and remaining vibrant and proud of its national heritage. So it begs the question. Why can’t Singapore be like this too? Korea isn’t exactly rich in natural resources though it has land. Geographically it sits on a peninsula but it is bordered by testy neighbours as well – China, North Korea, Japan, and it is also plagued by natural disasters. So what gives?
The other lesson that I brought home with me is greater understanding of what international agencies do. It is with a little disappointment that I found out that they simply act as intermediaries and conduits of information exchange and development of best practices about specific sectors.
Ultimately the power of change rests within the local government and there is little these bodies can do to enforce it. All it can hope is that through knowledge sharing and peer influence, public sectors will be inspired to change. I cannot vouch that these international agencies do not have its own political agenda either.
Regardless what this means is that, change for the better in any country is still dependent on the will of its citizens. And change in my organisation is still dependent on those few who have the passion, the foresight and the influence to push the envelope to do what’s best and right for its customers.