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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Election Watch Part IX - Will we stay a “kintaro-ame” nation, SM Goh?

A response to "SM Goh to S’poreans: Learn from Japan disaster".
Mr Goh said, “How many of you followed the latest tragic events in Japan with the tsunami… and then put into context our floods in Singapore against that kind of disaster.”

 "I am not saying we shouldn’t do anything about the flood. But the amount of noise you made with just sporadic flood compared to the Japanese. I saw them on TV. Very stoic-looking. You don’t see them crying. This has happened, just get on, that’s the kind of spirit you want to have and you call it nation-building."

In my early days with the construction industry, I had opportunities to meet several Japanese friends; whom I had lost contact after I switched to a Korean employer. I fear and pray for their safety in Japan as the earthquake and tsunami disaster worsen. At their invitation, I had visited Tokyo and Yokohama in Nov 1989. As the Singapore construction industry was very much in its "infant" stage then, it was an opportunity for me to appreciate first-hand what construction safety, workmanship, quality and productivity was all about in Japan. It was also "technology transfer", in a way; under our previous MNC economic growth model.
Project brief at the Hirakawacho Kyodo Building (Nov 1989)


The Japanese Project Manager explaining the construction of the Nikki-Sony Building in Tokyo (Nov 1989). Looking on (in black suit) was our Japanese delegation leader.

During that short trip to Japan, what impressed me was not only the high standard of construction project management in Japan, it was also about the many aspects of the Japanese culture. I recall one specific small incident which touched my heart deeply. The whole Singapore delegation was visiting a showflat. I remember vividly that as we entered the showflat, all of us just took off our shoes; left them at the entrance randomly and walked straight in. That must be courtesy by our standard especially for "rough" construction guys like us.  The project host then gave us a brief. When we left after the visit, we noticed all our shoes were arranged in pairs in neat rows and all facing outwards at the main entrance. We were shocked and shy to discover that the Japanese leader of our delegation who accompanied us for the trip had arranged our shoes in that orderly manner while waiting for the talk to be over. Would you expect the same here?

I feel SM Goh was wrong to draw conclusions due to the 2 totally different cultures. He has been taking potshots recently at lecturing Singaporeans, including his "chilli crab" analogy; to gain some political capital for the coming General Election.

While comparing on a wrong basis the "magnitude" of the Acts of Gods in these 2 events, which seemed totally different in context, does SM Goh actually understand Japanese culture? He could not blame Singaporeans for this lack of "culture". Only top leaders can influence "culture-building" and the PAP Govt is too concerned about economic development, GDP growth and survival. I am sure in Japanese culture he should take the blame for this failure as he was PM.

Bloggers and critics had commented if Japanese ministers were to make similar mistakes like the Great Orchard Road Flood and the Mas Selamat Great Escape, they would probably have to "bow and resign". Traditionally, they would have to "kamikaze"Certainly, PAP ministers would not "bow and resign" but just ask Singaporeans to "move on". I tend to agree with them. I think the Nicoll Highway Collapse incident would testify to it. The Japanese project managers had to "bow and leave", notwithstanding they would take  direct responsibilities to answer to our legal proceedings. With due respect to our legal procedures, if any one higher up on our side were to be responsible, in terms of organisational hierarchy; I doubt the same standard of responsibility would have been demanded.

So it is very unfair for SM Goh to expect the same cultural standards to be demanded and applied for Singaporeans generally. Should we then allow "double standards"? - A higher standard applicable demanded for Singaporeans generally and a more conducive and forgiving one for our political leaders?

But more important, who to call for a cultural change? What Singapore really wanted was only a transfer of technology and the infrastructures which the PAP often promised as election carrots.

Next, I like to share another perspective on Japanese's thinking about Singapore politics. In Nov 2008, I wrote to TODAY (Democracy a question of maturity?) about PM Lee's speech on "Adversarial two-party system not for Singapore". It attracted the attention of a Japanese interpreter who was working and staying here in Singapore then. He commented on the 2 articles in TODAY in his Blog, "In Vino Veritas Depressed Dog Journal". The other article, "What if PAP should falter?"; was written by Gerald Giam who is contesting in the coming Election.

This Japanese interpreter wrote:

Today’s “Today” printed two letters on the one-party system in its “Voices” section. One of them, from a ..... , says, “If the PAP ever becomes corrupt, there will be absolutely no time for a viable alternative party to suddenly “spring up,” since political organisations take years to build up credibility… [A] corrupt government with a firm control on the levers of power will tend to use that power to entrench itself, stifling any potential opposition from arising…"
"Another, a ..... , writes that “[the] very preaching in favour of a one-party system contradicts the basic principles and the real beauty of democracy – that such a decision should be left to a politically mature electrate to decide…"
"Quite true. But, a government will stifle any potential opposition from emerging? It’s not “will.” It’s been this way here for so many years by manipulating the drawing of constituencies, including the introduction of package-deal ones, and forcing serious and ernest but disobedient guys to bankruptcy. Being corrupt or not is not a fundamental issue. At the same time, those elite people seem to deplore a lack of talent. Why? That’s exactly because they, clean or corrupt, are stifling spontenious creativity and different perspectives. This lack of talent, imaginary or real, is their own creation. Nurturing of talent requires a “politically mature” electorate. This is just a “kintaro-ame” nation."

I had tried to look up the meaning of “kintaro-ame” nation. I found one explanation here. It means :

A kind of candy with a cylinder shape:
Wherever you cut it, you will see "Kintaro" face in the cross section (See the photo).
From this feature, there is a famous "figure of speech".


"Just like a Kintaro-ame"



means "no personality, therefore not attractive".

This Japanese interpreter must have attended lots of meetings and assignments. I note his latest postings are "Kesenmuma Being Engulfed Now!!" and "Nuke Concern: Possible Meltdown and Any Water to Wash away Radioactive Materials". He must be OK! Do pay his blog, "In Vino Veritas Depressed Dog Journal"; a visit. There is also another interesting recent posting "Japan's Mr. Clean Prime Minister Sleeps through Summit".

To him and other old Japanese friends, I wish they are well, but will Singapore stay a “kintaro-ame” nation, SM Goh?

Reference #01

Yahoo News  Mon, Mar 14
By Ewen Boey

Speaking to local media at the annual REACH Contributors Forum on Saturday, he encouraged Singaporeans to consider the flash floods that plagued Singapore last year and put them into proper context.

Mr Goh said, “How many of you followed the latest tragic events in Japan with the tsunami… and then put into context our floods in Singapore against that kind of disaster.”


"I am not saying we shouldn’t do anything about the flood. But the amount of noise you made with just sporadic flood compared to the Japanese. I saw them on TV. Very stoic-looking. You don’t see them crying. This has happened, just get on, that’s the kind of spirit you want to have and you call it nation-building."

His comments have since triggered a flurry of comments from Singaporeans online. Most criticised the Minister for comparing the Japan tsunami, a natural disaster, to Singapore’s flash floods.....

Reference #02
Blogger "In Vino Veritas Depressed Dog Journal"
On the "Adversarial two-party system not for S’pore"

These two articles are available in this blog : Little People Press

Democracy a question of maturity?

What if PAP should falter?

2 comments:

  1. Sir, just one correction. I believe you should use 'harakiri' instead of kamikaze in this sentence:
    Traditionally, they would have to "kamikaze". 

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Yonatan

    You are correct. The "Fukushima 50" would be considered as "kamikaze".

    I was writing too fast and in the context of PAP Ministers, 'harakiri' would never be in their vocabulary. At most, that is, if they dare to "kamikaze".

    In the Japanese context, it should be 'harakiri'.

    ReplyDelete