So what’s PM Lee Hsien Loong like in person?

 lee-hsien-loong-visakan

2014 UPDATE: This post is getting lots of shares again, for some reason or another. It’s a little embarrassing– I was so excited at the time, and my writing was so clunky! But I’m leaving it as it is.

Before anything else, I want to start by clearly stating that I am not a PAP supporter. I am not an “Opposition supporter” either. I don’t believe in picking sides. I’m against PAP super-dominance, but I would be against Opposition super-dominance too. (Of course, then they wouldn’t be called Opposition anymore.) If you have to pin me down on something, consider me pro-Singapore, regardless of political affiliation.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about how I wanted to interview Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The article was posted on Daily SG with the caption “Mission Impossible?” It seemed like a crazy idea that was unlikely to bear fruit. Yet, on the 30th of August 2012, I did meet the Prime Minister, at the Istana, and we chatted for quite a bit. Sure, I didn’t quite get a full interview opportunity, but you know what they say about shooting for the moon.

For me, simply being presented with such an opportunity was empowering, and liberating. Receiving the email from the Prime Minister’s Office- with “@pmo.gov.sg” in the address- set my heart in a flutter. It felt like validation from the world, telling me that I’m on the right track, and that it makes sense to do what I’m doing with this blog and everything else. The last time I remember feeling that way was when I received a message from Patrick Chng on Facebook, asking me if Armchair Critic was willing to play at the Esplanade Powerhouse Stage.  (Boy, were we!)

I think there’s something to the idea that if you want something, and you take steps towards achieving it, then it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. You start becoming the sort of person who would be a fit for the sort of role you’re creating for yourself. You do influence your destiny.

19 people were selected out of thousands- there are 75,000 people on PM Lee’s Facebook- and I was one of them. Was I just lucky? I was eagerly posting on his wall repeatedly whenever he was online, and I tried to ask questions that I felt were interesting, poignant and thought-provoking. There’s always an element of luck involved, and I am thankful that I was lucky, but I’m sure the conscientious effort helps, too.

Back on topic:

Again, for those ‘special’ kind of people: I don’t have any sort of “family connections” whatsoever, and I’m not even any sort of poster-child for anything- I was a GEP dropout, I repeated a year in Junior College, I was a storeman for most of my National Service, I smoke, and I have criticized the PAP and the Government on multiple occasions. Just to be clear.

I chatted with others who were present- there was a guy who worked in shipping, another guy who runs distance events, a mother who homeschools one of her children, a primary school teacher… I’m thoroughly, completely convinced that we were not “carefully handpicked” for “wayang” purposes. I honestly don’t think they have the time to do that sort of thing. Exploring such perspectives seriously, to me, feels like a phenomenal waste of time. and practically an insult to everyone participating.

I find that this bears repeating, because it’s absolutely sickening and disgusting how how vile online comments can be. I mean, I’m probably guilty of it too, which makes it even worse- we are so quick to label and demonize others that we don’t even know.  This isn’t the Singapore (or world, or internet) that I want to be a part of, and I’m sure that if you take the time to think about it, you’ll feel the same way.

What’s it like to actually go to the Istana?

It’s interesting, fun, exciting and overwhelming all at once. Others have written about this: I suggest reading the blog posts by Andrew Loh or mrbrown and maybe watching the video by Dr. Jia Jia.

The attendees were mingling among ourselves- MPs Zaqy Mohamad and Low Yen Ling were there too, and Acting Minister in the Ministry of Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin (though I didn’t notice him until later)- and we were having some light conversation, introducing ourselves to one another.

I felt a little bit intimidated by the setting- it was really posh and atas. I used to work at Shangri-La Hotel, so I was familiar with some degree of finery, but somehow the Istana just has that sort of oomph and gravitas, you know? You can’t help but feel a little awed by the magnitude of the place, both physical and metaphorical. That said, the MPs were wonderfully gracious and did everything they could to make us feel at home.

[2017: On retrospect this is quite obviously intended by design.]

What’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong like in person?

lee-hsien-loong-istana

He entered the room without much fanfare, but his presence was notable – all eyes turned on him immediately as he shook everybody’s hands, welcomed us and thanked us for coming. He was eager, enthusiastic and kind, with a firm handshake (and rougher hands than I expected, if I remember correctly.) No airs. He’s bigger than he looks on TV, and he has a commanding presence. (Probably not as much as his father would have had in his heyday, but still noticeable.) He has a deep, powerfully resonant voice- we would later split into two groups, and I’d constantly catch myself listening to what he was saying, all the way at the other end of the room.

I remember mrbrown telling the PM about his autistic daughter Faith, and his worries and concerns for her- and PM was sympathetic, listening carefully to every word. None of it seemed fake or put-on- he struck me as a remarkably genuine guy. As mrbrown says, he laughs heartily.

I remember PM warming up immediately to the children in the room- he happily bent over to listen to them, and interacted with them spiritedly, with the vigor of someone who genuinely loves children.

None of it seemed in any way farcical. He seemed genuinely happy to be spending time with us throughout, and I got the very real sense that we could have spent the whole night talking away if he didn’t have other things on his schedule. He seemed genuinely apologetic at having to leave, after over an hour of animated conversation, and I was thoroughly convinced.

A few random fun facts- he walks for 40 minutes every morning and swims now and then when he gets the chance. He uses a white iPhone. He hasn’t started using Whatsapp yet. (I asked if him and the other  world leaders were all on the same Whatsapp group.) He sleeps 6 or 7 hours a night, and naps for 30 minutes after lunch.

I know these things don’t really affect the governance of the country, but it’s nice to remind yourself that the PM and MPs are all human beings. I think that’s important. I think that influences the way we talk to one another, and that the state of discourse will ultimately affect policy, and subsequently, our lives.

When we were moving from one area to the next, and we were getting seated- PM actually stood in front of me and passed me a fork and a plate to get food! That’s quite an epic, surreal moment that I’ll probably remember for life- the Prime Minister standing in front of me, while I was absent-mindedly sitting down, eagerly presenting me with a fork and plate, that I might get some food to eat. He didn’t make a big show of it or anything- just a friendly gesture from one person to another, never mind that I’m an unemployed bum and he’s the Prime Minister. (I know, a cynic might say that he’s ultimately a civil servant, and we pay him to serve us- but not literally, right?!) I was thoroughly humbled. It doesn’t matter how much we’re paying this man- you know human decency when you see it, and this guy had it in spades.

lee-hsien-loong-tea

Time and time again I noticed his social graces. There was no moderator, no emcee or anybody to mediate- it was just him and us, sitting around a table, as you see above here. And he gently took charge in the best possible way, the way a speaker owns the stage.

I quote Francis Bacon’s “On Discourse”: “The honorablest part of talk, is to give the occasion; and again to moderate, and pass to somewhat else; for then a man leads the dance.” 

Let me say right now that PM’s damn good at this, and manages to be the life of the party without imposing himself on anybody else,  putting in the right amounts of effort in the right places without trying too hard. He’d gently guide the conversation towards the quieter folk, asking people what they thought about this, or that. He was far more interested in listening to our opinions and perspectives than anything else– and it was refreshing.

After a while, PM went over to the other group, and Acting Minister Tan Chuan-Jin swapped places with him. You may already know that I’ve said many nice things about BG Tan on Facebook and Twitter- I love his perspectives, his thought processes, his insight. Meeting him in person reinforced all these positive intuitions I’ve held so far. He was a real man’s man- down to earth, practical, real- he felt even more real than PM, and PM’s pretty real. (I could totally imagine meeting him at the kopitiam afterwards for a kopi or a beer, for instance.)

I especially remember him telling us about his children (in response to one mother’s query about homeschooling)- his son’s in Primary 4, and his daughter’s in Secondary 2 in St. Nicks, and how him and his wife decided not to have her go for tuition, because they felt it was important that she have a life and childhood. I was impressed by that. Clearly, the obsessive achievement-oriented culture that used to define Singapore is past its peak. (Thankfully.)

Above all I can’t express how much PM Lee and BG Tan both struck me as incredibly intelligent, perceptive and fundamentally honourable men. I was able to talk to them and engage with them with the greatest of ease, but I attribute this to their manners and grace, rather than any talent or skill on my part. (And anybody who knows me personally or reads this blog will surely realize that I have an unhealthily large ego and think way too highly of myself.)

It’s easy to throw stones at them from a distance, but up close, you see them for who they are: very, very remarkable people. Articulate, clear, respectful… I am willing to go on record to say that I’m incredibly proud to be represented by men of this caliber.

This post would get a lot more hits if I had something nasty to say about PM, or any of the MPs. But honestly, I don’t. Trust me, I believe in constructive criticism, and entertainingly scathing criticism, too. If you read my blog, you’ll know this. But I honestly have nothing bad to say.

In fact, if I must criticise, and I must tread carefully here- I would criticize those of us who were present. We didn’t prepare enough, we didn’t have as much insight to share as we should’ve. We didn’t really get to ask any tough questions, but this wasn’t because anybody was stopping us. I had meant to ask PM about what he thought about SKL0 (Sticker Lady), but the conversation simply led us elsewhere, and I felt it would have been rude to impose my agenda upon him.

But I think I got something more valuable from it all- I think (I’m presuming, really) I can even intuit what he might say. He might say something along the lines of- her work is entertaining and really good, but we can’t condone it- and as a graffiti artist, she knew what she was doing. She knew that she was pushing the boundaries, and that she’d eventually get into trouble for it. Maybe in time we may , as a society, change our perspectives on these things. What sort of sentence does she deserve? I can’t say, that’s up to the judge to decide.

I mean, okay fine, I’m putting my own words into his mouth here. But I really got the sense that he- and BG Tan, and the others (and I got this with Indranee Rajah too, when I met her) knows what’s going on. I think we tend to imagine that PM must be some blur guy in an ivory tower who doesn’t know how we feel. But I’m starting to suspect we’ve got it the wrong way around. PM does know what’s happening on the ground. He’s very observant and perceptive for one, and he listens carefully to people, and he has a fantastic team that surely updates him. He has a natural curiosity about him that I think is in the best interests of the country- and I’d say the same for BG Tan.

So I think the disconnect is that we don’t know what’s going on up there. We don’t know what are the trade-offs that need to be made, we don’t know what are the problems and considerations that those in government have to deal with. That’s something I think we ought to correct a little better. I think people need to understand the trade-offs that are being made.

No politician is going to say this, because that’s political suicide. You’d be openly insulting the people by saying “You people don’t understand what it’s like to have all this power!” But it’s true, we don’t. We don’t understand! Let’s be realistic here. It’s far more likely that our politicians know what it’s like to be normal folk than normal folk know what it’s like to be in charge. And let’s not point fingers- if we want a better Singapore, we need better communication, better understanding, both ways. So I’m going to say it- Singapore will be a better place if the average citizen had a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the government, and the decisions being made.

No, I’m not saying that the government is always right and that they know what they’re doing. Please! Far from it. I do believe we can do better, and I do believe we have a lot of work ahead of us.I haven’t turned into a mouthpiece or lapdog of the government, or the PAP. Governance is complex business- nobody is going to get it right all of the time. I think we’ve got a good team at the helm, with people with good heads on their shoulders. I left the Istana ultimately breathing a little easier, knowing that Singapore is in good hands.

One thing I remember discussing with BG Tan was the vitriolic nature of online comments and people’s perspectives- and we juxtaposed that against one of the ladies who met him at a Meet-The-People session. I can’t remember the details, but I found myself sympathizing with him- wherever you stand on your political views, you have to admit that some Singaporeans are really unreasonable, and just a pain to be around, and that the people in our Government do have to deal with them. (No politician would admit that, but come on.) I found myself wondering what I could possibly do to help, to make our country a better place for all of us.

I think we need to create (by ourselves) a sense of purpose for ourselves. We’re mean and annoying to each other online because we don’t feel like it matters. We act out, seeking personal validation and fulfillment, and we don’t think about the bigger picture- perhaps because we don’t see it. We don’t see how everything adds up and ultimately defines our nation. I like to think of World of Warcraft- millions of crazy internet users doing stupid things on their own here and there, but also coming together to complete incredibly difficult and complex tasks that none of them could possibly achieve on their own. How does it happen? I think it begins with a sense of purpose and mission.

I didn’t get a chance to talk much with Low Yen Ling or Zaqy Mohamad, but I was won over by their sincerity and their personalities. They all genuinely seem eager to make a difference. I think that’s the most important thing that I learnt- that these people do care. They do. No, they really do. (No, they didn’t pay or threaten me to say this.) I think we need to remember that above all else before we move forward together, grappling and debating issues where we have different perspectives. It’s easy to forget that we all want what’s best for all of us.

TL;DR:

It was an honour to meet PM Lee. He’s a really intelligent, perceptive guy, and very fun to be around. If he didn’t have a schedule to follow, I get the sense that he would have gladly spent hours in conversation with us.

I will still be making fun of the PAP, don’t worry. And I will still speak up if I see, read or hear anything that doesn’t stand with me.

And yes, the chocolate éclairs were bloody delicious.

(I realize this is a really long blogpost- I’m not sure what people want to know or hear, so do ask me anything in the comments.)

Published by

visakanv

@visakanv

103 thoughts on “So what’s PM Lee Hsien Loong like in person?”

  1. Why you never take a one-on-one photo with him?? Lifetime opportunity, must take, put in your bedroom and look back 50 years later “Ah I remember that day!”

  2. Super-like!

    Well said Visa! Completely agree! No… I don’t want a part of this “sickening and disgusting” or “how how vile” culture.

    Let’s all move forward together, grappling and debating issues where we have different perspectives. Let’s agree to disagree but let’s all be really Pro-Singapore! 😉

  3. I met ESM Goh recently at a dialogue session and went away with similar feelings as you. They indeed know what is happening on the ground and genuinely care for the people. Its just some very outspoken people that are spreading rumours and gossip and tarnishing the good work they have put in. They indeed have their flaws for example, the foreign talent policy by still have our interests at heart.

    1. Yeah. I mean, even if the outcome is bad, it’s really unfortunate when people attribute it to malice and ill-intent rather than, say, the complexity of the system. It’s hard to get things right- things ARE always going to go wrong. I would be saying the same thing whichever political party is in power… there’s no reason to be spiteful and hateful, that just sucks. 🙁

  4. Good read and recommendable, in reality many of us would wish all amongst us are logical, sensible and at the same time able to reconcile our differences in pleasant atmosphere.
    Sadly thats too idealistic whether its for the now and/or in the future. But we must try to persevere and work towards such direction, mindful of the deflectives along the way and not be consumed by their negativities.

    1. It’s something to work towards! I think if a few of us lead by example, most of the rest will follow. At least I know you’re out there, and you know I’m here! It’s a start.

        1. Oh… I suppose it’s always hard for anybody to persuade others of their own integrity, because we instinctively know that they have a personal stake in the outcome. So it’s always more convincing when someone else tells you “Hey, that guy is really something” instead of me saying “Hey, I’m really something!”

          Haha

      1. It is nice. Hope they learned that from you too that they are ordinary human beings and that they need to be paid the same wages and have the same obligations that other Singaporean human beings have. This is unlike the superhuman salaries that they demand from us because they think that they are superior beings! (I hope you do not think this is vitriolic. Just a humble wish from an ordinary Singaporean)!

  5. Yes I get the same sense from talking to some ministers face to face (CCS, TCJ) or hearing them speak. They are very nice and down to earth and seem to sincerely want to make Singapore into a good place. However, I think it’s fair to like them very much as people and totally disagree with certain policies or idealogy or tradeoffs they make. Just do it civilly. that’s why called civil society mah. 😀

  6. Hi,

    I really liked this post of yours, and what you said made more sense. Personally I acknowledge that online comments can be pretty vile, but some of them make some sense too, just that they might not know how to phrase it properly. I thought perhaps the government can do more to let the citizens know of how they came to a certain policy; what are the tough parts they had to rationalise; what are their thought processes etc, and that could really shed light on why the policies are the way they are. But ultimately I realise that these are subject to some secrecy. There can never be total transparency, but I’m glad at least our PM is slowly starting to take the step to engage normal citizens like you and me.

    Thank you for the post, it made me regain faith in my fellow Singaporeans.

    1. ~Personally I acknowledge that online comments can be pretty vile, but some of them make some sense too, just that they might not know how to phrase it properly. ~
      Partly due to information assymetry, even some of them make some sense suffered.

  7. Hi,
    Just a small thing on your terminology used in e post. Public servants are employees of the state, the cabinet and MPs are elected representatives. The government has two parts- the elected representatives (cabinet and parliament, more officially known as legislature and executive) and the civil service/ public service which does the staff work to assist of the elected government.

    Enjoyed your account of the meeting. Thanks for writing.

    Josh

    1. That’s interesting! So do you mean to say that elected representatives don’t count as public servants? What would you call them, then? Public officials, I suppose? But hey, to officiate is still to serve, no?

      Decided to do a little research on this… “Office” comes from the latin “officum”, mid-13c., “a post, an employment to which certain duties are attached,” from Anglo-Fr. and O.Fr. office (12c. in Old French), from L. officium “service, duty, function, business”

      … so I’d personally still call elected representatives “servants”.

      To dig into “representative”…

      representative (adj.)
      “serving to represent,” late 14c., from O.Fr. representatif (early 14c.), from M.L. repræsentativus, from L. repræsentare (see represent), Meaning “standing for others” is from 1620s; in the political sense of “holding the place of the people in the government, having citizens represented by chosen persons” is first recorded 1620s.

      Sorry, I’m very geeky about these things! 😎

      1. I think what Josh was getting at is the terminology rather than function. Because there is unfortunately a lot of terminology. For example, people who work for stat boards are considered public servants and not civil servants. Only people who work for the ministries are civil servants. And the their SAF isn’t considered part of the civil service. Then there is also the admin service which is an agglomeration of top folks from the military, legal service, civil service and public service that get rotated around. And I think most importantly, nobody in this category gets elected.

        Only correction I would make is that the civil service does not only carry out the functions of the government but actively consults with the elected officials. In this sense, government policy isn’t the sole work of the elected official that is often held to blame (rightly or wrongly) if anything goes wrong.

        And unlike the US which has elected representatives we have Parliamentarians as we adopted the Westminster system from the British.

        par·lia·men·tar·i·an
        noun
        1.a person who is expert in the formal rules and procedures of deliberative assemblies and other formal organizations.
        2.(sometimes initial capital letter) British . a member of Parliament.
        3.(initial capital letter) a partisan of the British Parliament in opposition to Charles I.

        TL;DR

        Loved the piece. Great stuff…you should support the yahoo campaign on stopping the hate.

        1. Eh, once one of my enciks from Commandos was interviewed in TNP for queuing for something and he gave his job as “Civil Servant”, lol!

          Very chim sia. Will have to sit down and digest it carefully. I’m guessing for most “civilians” outside the sector, it’s going to be all the same.

          Thanks!

  8. great great read.

    ‘So I think the disconnect is that we don’t know what’s going on up there. We don’t know what are the trade-offs that need to be made, we don’t know what are the problems and considerations that those in government have to deal with.’

    You are absolutely right. I think we have been the ones in the ivory tower the whole time instead!

    1. There is a Chinese proverb that says 不在其位,不谋其政。 The literal translation is “when you’re not in a certain position, don’t try to interfere with the workings of that position.” What the proverb is trying to convey is that we should not go about second-guessing other people’s decisions when we ourselves are not in their position. As Visakan and others here have said, one key reason is because there is no way we can know the full background and all the factors. Furthermore, it really isn’t our job and we should first focus on doing our own functions well! (first part of the proverb – 在其位,谋其政). There is a basic wisdom to that.

      Every functioning system needs feedback, but it needs constructive ones and not persistent second-guessing and attacks that are founded on false assumptions of malicious intent.

      I encourage everyone to first practise 在其位,谋其政. Let’s do our part well as Singaporeans and global citizens. Perhaps then we will find more capacity to understand and empathise with the challenges that our leaders are trying to solve for us.

      Cheers.

      1. “There is a Chinese proverb that says 不在其位,不谋其政。 The literal translation is “when you’re not in a certain position, don’t try to interfere with the workings of that position.” What the proverb is trying to convey is that we should not go about second-guessing other people’s decisions when we ourselves are not in their position. As Visakan and others here have said, one key reason is because there is no way we can know the full background and all the factors. Furthermore, it really isn’t our job and we should first focus on doing our own functions well! (first part of the proverb – 在其位,谋其政). There is a basic wisdom to that.”

        That is fucking bullshit. It is precisely because we were guided by such discourses of governmentality (read Foucault) for so long that got us in this position in the first place; that passive, “let those who know better do better” anachronistic mode of thinking from which we will happily abide to enforced rules without critical thought because — others know better. Bull-fucking-shit. The government is meant to look out for the interests of its people; the people are the country, without whom the government would cease to have anything to rule over. When the people feel that their interests are not being served – for WHATEVER reason – it is the role of the government to listen, not to regurgitate the same Confucian crap from the 1950s to the 1990s and expect us to subsume it all in the mind-numbing (and arbitrarily-defined) quest of economic progress.

        A country is made livable not simply by quantifying its output (i.e. the economy, the GDP) but from QUALIFYING its livability. And you can only gather what it means to have qualify living if you listen – and respect – to the needs of the people, first and foremost. Yes, it is the role of the government to shape policies, but such policies must be reflective of the concerns of the people.

        1. I am all for humanizing our politicians. They are, after all, “human … all too human” (Nietzsche). But, alas, they are not paid millions of dollars to be my fucking friend. If I wanted to make a human friend, I’d go to the kopitiam and make a friend or talk to a neighbor or pick up a girl at a night club for another type of ‘friend’. But when I elect a minister into government, when I vote for him to listen, respect, and attend to my concerns as a citizen of this country, I am not out to make a friend. Yes, I can humanize him, I can have empathy for his challenges, but in no way should I just sit there thinking like a passive, sycophantic, clueless dope with the thoughts “不在其位,不谋其政” – let those who know better do better! That is ridiculous! And, might I add, the byproduct of such thoughts inevitably leads to a blase attitude – a disenfranchisement from our own country because we never felt ACTIVELY INVOLVED in the decision-making routes of our country. Without emotional investment in building up our nation, without feeling like we have a contributing hand into the well-being of our country (and by contributing, I do not mean ‘we’ as cogs in the machine of economic progress, but as active, thinking people), without fostering the feeling of being part of something, how the fuck can I feel like a valued Singaporean?

          Using an analogy, it’s like being a father or a mother — would you feel as bothered about a family if I forcibly shoved you into a ‘father’ role and asked you to “work for the good of your family! Let the mother do the thinking; you just work!”? No. You will, however, have a greater attachment to a family if you felt part of its making – you fell in love with your girlfriend, you got married, you fucked, you reproduced, have kids, and most of all, you make decisions BOTH good and bad in the raising of them. Only then, for better or worse, will you feel like what you are doing for the family MATTERS, and that YOU matter to the family. Without that process, your family would feel like a stitched together reality-show. And this is precisely what Singapore feels like these days – a stitched together patchwork of a country, because the PAP never gave us the reigns to speak up, to make us feel like we matter and contribute to our country. It was always “Let us do the job, you just work”.

          And this is probably why they generated dopes like you.

  9. I met BG Tan once over a private breakfast and I was deeply impressed by this man who is ever ready to listen. I have huge expectations of him. He has the calibre of something greater.

  10. I get the sense that you went into the meeting underestimating politicians. It is the job of a politician to appear warm, sincere, engaging and friendly – you don’t get elected otherwise! Furthermore, the PM probably gets plenty of expert personal coaching in areas such as body language, public speaking, small talk skills, etc.

    This is not to say that the PM or BG Tan are fake. I’ve not met them so I can’t say. But I will judge a leader by what he actually DOES, not how much personal charisma he has.

    1. Hmm. Personally, I feel like I’ve lived enough and interacted with enough people over the years to discern between a person appearing a certain way and actually being a certain way. I have very high standards and I’m very quickly turned off by what I perceive to be the slightest crack in a false veneer- almost everybody who “tries” to be friendly makes me thoroughly uncomfortable.

      I’m not going so far as to say that PM is a good PM because he’s a friendly guy- all I’m saying is that much (if not all) of the villainy directed towards him is unfounded and unjustified.

      I agree with you that a leader must be judged by what he does- and I go back to my earlier point that we frankly don’t know what PM does. To quote Joe Biden on Obama- “The decisions the president makes day in and day out are decisions that nobody sees. Trust me, if you had to make only one of those decisions, you’d be telling your grandchildren about it.”

      I’m not saying that PM is some great powerful man of incredible amazing awesomeness- but really, I think the best (and worst) we can say is “we don’t really know”. And I think we’d like to know better, and we should work towards that.

      Cheers! Thanks for your comment, you made me think.

  11. I have similar impressions of Tan CJ. Totally with u on the wish that he would be our next PM. He would be able to give Singaporeans that sense of mission. I met him in person and also as part of my reservist. I remember what he said in his opening speech during my ICT totally changed the way I perceive my time there. If u can motivate a ‘chau’ reservist, u can motivate anyone. 🙂

  12. Good post, thanks for sharing. Of course, it was not entirely spontaneous and entirely informal – how could it be? But I think most people would feel what you say is genuine. The PM has always struck me as a quietly impressive man (and all the more impressive for being quiet).

    1. Nothing is completely spontaneous and informal, of course, but I think it was more spontaneous and informal than most people would expect! Agreed on him being quietly impressive- he really does know a remarkable amount about pretty much everything, and has very clear thought processes- which isn’t as easy as it seems.

    1. Someone DID make that joke- it wasn’t the PM, but I can’t remember who. After hearing it about 10,000 times you start to zone out when you hear it~

    1. My guess is that the person who wrote it was just cherry-picking whatever he said. A forum is a very specific event with a very specific context- was that ALL he said? I’m not saying he said anything different, but I don’t think we know enough to be sure.

  13. After reading the post, I wanted to ask a similar question. These men are undoubtedly impressive people, they have climbed up to be the leaders of our nation. However, to sing praises about people for their character, I believe we need more time to judge them than a gut feel of their first impressions. How they actually spend their time, their money, their personal goals and moral ambitions for society, their personal demons and struggles… These men are the leaders of our nation, as such, i think it is fine to put them under tight scrutiny of their character.. much tighter than the average citizen. I believe that’s why the question of salary, or rather how do you use your money.. comes in.. if you are up there as our country’s leader of a citizen…we want to know we can trust the goodness of your character… (we already know they are very smart and charismatic people and have found a good position in society to live in). i think it’s the lack of information of their “true” selves that lead to a public outlash of rumors and unjustifyable character smearing.. we don’t want to know about our leaders’ seemingly “perfect” lives, we want to know their struggles and how they respond..then the public can choose to condemn your chracter or to forgive or to be inspired… on that note, if BG Tan’s children were doing below average, could he still have made that statement about not having tuition? The children are doing well and can afford to not have tuition because they have a balanced family life environment, because thier father’s lot in life gives him the time and flexibility to not worry about financial issues at all. What the people want to know is do our leaders understand the complex inter-related issues that affect our lives? What do we need to do to help society become better? to be competitive and dog eat dog? to help one another and be gracious to one another? right now, we are told to do both… which kinda means there’s not much leadership / direction.. a leader leads best by example… but we don’t even know what they are doing.. we only know them by their public addresses… Just a short chatting session gives you so much more insight.. imagine if everyone in singapore was privy to more of such information or experiences.. wouldn’t singapore be a better place to live in? (assuming our leaders can truly stand the test of character.) what do you think? =]

    1. This, I think, raises the question of whether a public servant is entitled to have a private life with his own inclinations and preferences. Or is he now, bluntly put, owned by the people.

      TCJ actually went out on a limb to make that tuition comment. The reason why most politicians here appear to be so dull and sterile is they don’t dare express their private opinion lest it spun negatively. And it usually is. I think we have to be a bit charitable. We have to recognise their right to still be a citizen of Singapore, typically out of the spotlight.

      Perhaps what’s more important is the essence of his point – giving our children a childhood. Perhaps that entails an examination of what success means to parents. Perhaps all parents can make their own assessment of the situation, and allow their kids some wiggle room to fail if it means having a fuller childhood. Perhaps parents should plan for their own retirement (so they won’t burden their kids) and accept the possibility that if Junior isn’t academically inclined, that’s OK, he or she can be successful in other ways. They may not be as rich as you might want them to be (to achieve a higher standard of living), but they shouldn’t be seen as failures or having performed below expectations.

      We’ve got to stop imposing our expectations of what we want on our children, some of whom have not even been born yet. Let them find their own way.

    2. agreed. the ppl who can afford to sit down and debate on issues are issues that dont affect themselves… for those who are affected and cant afford to debate, well they just try to get round the problems either by beating the system or running faster..

  14. I was just curious because you said you believe that you guys were not handpicked for wayang purposes. However, how is it that most of the people who went were public/opinion leaders in the sense that they have a large pool of audiences like mrbrown, dr jiajia, andrew loh. Seems a little too easy to reach those he wants to reach, isn’t it?

    1. Ah, I see what you mean- it seems pretty clear that we WERE specifically chosen- perhaps I haven’t chosen my own words well, but what I meant to say was that all of us there were clearly autonomous individuals who were there of our own accord- meaning that there was no farce or foul play. We received no instructions or directions on how to behave, or what to write, or whether we should even write at all.

      You could argue that it was a subtle, persuasive sort of coercion- but by that logic I think all salesmen and seducers are guilty, and there’s no opting out of the game, then. (All the world’s a wayang, and men merely wayang kia.)

  15. Excellent piece! I’ve had the pleasure of bumping into PM at MAS building..Tall but with a slight hunch, but ever ready with a smile..You are right about how a majority of Singaporeans are, but as an Indian who’s proud of his heritage(my grandfather was the pioneering singaporean who drove trains), I only ask to be treated like a Singaporean..As a Realtor, I can appreciate FT who give me the bulk of the business. But a Singapore to accept FTs, can we not the least expect them to speak a common language, that is English? I sometimes am lost in translation in my own country..The least Singapore government can do is to, and I don’t mind spending my taxpayer dollars, to educate these FTs in simple english..Singlish is also welcomed!

    And these FTs need to be reminded that they get accustomed to us, and we in return accept their uniqueness, but sorry, we don’t need to be be ingrained into them..When in Rome or Singapore, do as the Romans or Singapore do. Minus the Singapore bad habits.

    1. You make an excellent point, most of the time the sore point is communication. One way to encourage the mainly chinese non-english speaking foreigners is for all of us to actively speak/reply to them in singlish/english instead of mandarin, regardless of convenience sake.

      I am quite sure that almost all these foreigners would very much like to start conversing in english, but are unknowingly kept in their comfort shell most of the time by most of us mandarin speakers. I am sure that they would never oppose such conduct, and in fact would be more interested, as long as we sound friendly enough. (as usual, lets leave the few rotten apples aside)

      I hope this point of mine gains more prominence across the internet, would appreciate anyone’s effort in refining or sharing it.

  16. Hello,

    a friend posted this on FB. You’ve summed up nicely the major problem which a lot of Singaporeans fail to recognise: public policy is all about compromise, because there will always be unlimited wants, and only limited resources to meet them. It’s the basic economic problem.

    Unfortunately, the Gov’t has been poor in opening up the policy making process to Singaporeans. It’s traditionally been big black box. This worked for a long time, but not any more. Many Singaporeans have no idea how challenging public policy really is, yet because social media etc, everyone can now express their 2 cents worth, which adds up to a huge chunk of unwieldy and impractical change. Lots of coins, little value.

    Educating Singaporeans on the public policy process is the most important step to get ourselves out of all this unhappiness. In my opinion, it’s really the final solution.

    I spend a lot of time going through old Parliamentary Debates these days. I recently came across this quote by S. Rajaratnam in 1970. It concisely sums up the challenge you and I have both described. He was describing the dilemma he faced by being both an MP and Minister. Read in the present day, it is ironic his response was to MPs asking why the Gov’t was unwilling to grant more people citizenship!

    ” … it is our duty to protect the interests first of our citizens. I am a Member of Parliament, too, and I have the same difficulty. As a MP, I disapprove of what the Minister for Labour is doing. But as the Minister for Labour, I must follow a policy which I think is in the long-term interest of the country. Popularity is not always the surest way to success.”

    A colleague summarised this in two sentences: “What is good politics isn’t necessary good polocy. What is good policy isn’t necessarily good politics.”

  17. I read your artciels with pleasures until …..

    ~We’re mean and annoying to each other online because we don’t feel like it matters. We act out, seeking personal validation and fulfillment, and we don’t think about the bigger picture- perhaps because we don’t see it. We don’t see how everything adds up and ultimately defines our nation.~
    Count me out. Most (not 100%) of the blog entries I posted were about “Bigger Picture’.
    And to have a more balancing approach, I suggest you to meet some non-PAP political leaders.

    ~I think it begins with a sense of purpose and mission.~
    Me too, though I don’t mention it openly in my blog – I’m going to write a blog entry (may not be posted) to “myself” and SG 10 years from now.

    market2garden vsk 2012.09.03

    1. Or the other way ….
      Non-PAP political leaders to invite visa,
      and visa should be glad to accept the invitations.
      For a true Pro-PAP,
      you have to be somewhat “balance”.
      Of course the leaders must make the first move,
      but if visa reject the invitation …………

  18. I agree it’s important to be polite and respectful but this doesn’t mean you can’t ask some tough questions on healthcare, housing, transport, education etc. Nobody in their right mind is saying the ministers are evil human beings bent on destroying the lives of Singaporeans. What is imporant is what they think about the issues at hand and what they are going to do. Based on your post, you seem overwhelmed by the occasion and the fact that you were invited by PM to the Istana. Wasted opportunity.

  19. Dear Visa, please meet Dr Chee SJ from SDP. Might be another eye-opening experience for you.
    For our benefit, please then blog about it – you write well and emotively.

  20. “By their deeds shall you know them.”

    “Not the violent conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil. There is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides.” John Stuart Mill.

  21. /// You could argue that it was a subtle, persuasive sort of coercion- but by that logic I think all salesmen and seducers are guilty, and there’s no opting out of the game, then. (All the world’s a wayang, and men merely wayang kia.) ///

    Not subtle at all. The analogy with salesmen is totally wrong. I would not even permit salesmen and saleswomen 5 seconds of my time. But if the Prime Minister will to invite someone to whatever event, it is an offer very few people can refuse.

    Just admit – it is good for your ego. Stroke the egos of some of the bloggers and they will purr and sing the PAP tune.

  22. Sorry typo error,
    my apology.
    Pro-SG and no political affiliation (me too),
    not Pro-PAP.
    And not to forget comment after meeting those non-PAP leaders.
    OR we ask some bloggers who are “neutral” too to interview you before meeting with those leaders.

  23. Many Singaporeans have went through same such wayang with authorities before but what do we end up with ? Incompetency cannot be covered by tea, biscuits and wayang. PAP will never change. My friends had tea with PM Goh before too but are now WP supporters. Ironic that tea,biscuits and wayang cannot cover irreversible damaging PAP policies. The children in the invitation will need to borrow money from their parents when they grow up to buy house and car, it is simply too expensive,it will be a ponzi effect.

    It is fine to be neutral but do not be obsessed with neutrality. There is nothing wrong with taking sides especially the side of WP.

    In a multi-party electoral system like Singapore, voters need to take sides or sit on the fence and spoil your votes.

    You may take the moral high ground of neutrality but the pro-PAP organisations is not going to change even if you take this moral high ground. You need to fight guns with guns and not fight guns with spears.

    You look at all the pro-PAP organisations especially organisations that are suppose to be neutral and serve the public like Civil Service, Grassroots and MSM but we all know they serve only PAP, not Singapore.

    Look how Civil Service take away markets, buses, amenities, shops as punishment, refuse to upgrade, refuse to develop at Hougang and Potong Pasir for 20 odd years. It was nasty.

    Look how MSM protected PAP’s backside for 47 years and help minimise and cover up PAP scandals and screw ups for 47 years.

    Look how Grassroots and HDB conspire to take away 27 open spaces after WP won Aljunied GRC leaving WP MPs no place at all to hold events and interact with Aljunied residents.

    Look at how GLCs refuse to employ pro-Opposition people and NTUC even sack pro-Opposition staff. Alot of nastiness is happening in Singapore and PAP is the culprit.

    Radios, ST, CNA, Berita, Ch 5, Ch U, Ch 8, Wanbao, Shin Min, TNP, NTUC, CDC, CDAC, CCC, RC, SINDA, Mendaki, GLCs, Unions, PA Grassroots, InSing, STOMP etc are pro-PAP and not shy about it.

    These organisations and people have already taken the side of PAP despite past PAP scandals and screw ups, so have Singaporeans chosen a side to support for good or bad ?

  24. I agree if Singaporeans wants First World Graciousness. But sadly whether Singaporeans agree or not does not matter, it is whether PAP agrees or not.

    PAP’s track record of linking community work/ service to politics is very long and well
    known.

    This is why Grassroots Advisor Scheme, PA Grassroots, CDAC, CDC, CCC, RC, SINDA, Mendaki, Sports Associations, Neighbourhood Committees etc were set up and lead by PAP MPs but use taxpayer’s money to maintain.

    Until this Grassroots issues and grey areas are fully resolved with clear demarcations, Singaporeans will find it hard to swallow tax increases, increases in cost of government and find it hard to vote PAP. Hard Truth.

    Why dont HDB return the 27 public open spaces in Aljunied GRC it took from WP back to WP after WP won Aljunied GRC so that WP MPs will have proper public place to interact with residents that voted for them. How HDB take from, how HDB will return.

    Remember how PAP Grassroots at Aljunied GRC threaten temple dinner organisers to retract the invitation to WP MP Chen Show Mao or face the consequences of having difficulty renting the open space for temple dinner in future. This is divisive , ungracious, evil and playing poltics ar Grassroots level.

    Why dont HDB handover 27 open public spaces to WP at East Coast GRC then ?

    Until all these are address, forget empty air talk about PAP Cares, Graciousness, don’t be playing politics, being united and divisiveness.

    I have never met any Singaporean so petty and calculative until must ask why Opposition areas should get Upgrading ahead of PAP areas type of question before in 20 years of Upgrading programme.

    WP never play politics with businesses etc in Aljunied even though some are PAP members and Grassroots members. All are treated equally the same. Unlike in the past, if you are PAP member or Grassroots, you get special favours from PAP Town Council.

    Why dont PAP make up their mind in playing politics. In Parliament, Shanmugam say dont play politics, here you got a PAP member encouraging playing politics. The wonder Singaporeans think PAP as hypocrites.

    Upgrading is national level programme. At government level, everything should be non-partisan. Politics should only be played at elections and maybe Parliament when there is need and should stop at there.

    At government level, you manage the entire country including Opposition areas and PM is PM of entire Singapore, including Opposition areas.

    There is no need to include partisanship in Upgrading. The obvious condition is age of estate, demographics of the estate and the need.

    Forget about PAP Cares, nobody going to believe it.

    Even all the PE2011 candidates weigh on on this matter then. President Tony Tan even suggested HDB should investigate this unprecedented transfer of 27 open public spaces to Aljunied PA Grassroots after WP won Aljunied GRC but all empty talk and nothing happens. You can see the Youtube clip somewhere.

    Even WP MPs want to hold simple dinner with residents also have no place. What if WP do the same to PAP MPs ?? What did PM Lee say about inclusiveness, divisiveness , playing politics, gracious society etc for past 10 years. All BS and empty talk ??

    At this rate who will support PAP anymore ?? I voted PAP for 30 years. You think I do not know the difference between PAP Old Guards and present PAP ??

    If LKY was still PM, you think he will allow a apple polisher and tyrant like Cynthia Phua be PAP MP ?? Cynthia Phua and her Grassroots polishers was so hated by Aljunied residents that they taunted her after she lost and within a year, heard she had moved out from Aljunied GRC.

    Non partisan means either no political parties have access to it or all political parties have access to it. All are equal with no exclusive rights and this include NDP marching contingents and government institutions like PA Grassroots.

    WP is behaving more like PAP Old Guards and WP definitely cares more even without the need in telling the world with a FB like PAP Cares.

    PAP Old Guards also had no experience in government and no scholars but had passion, hardworking and truly cares for Singaporeans. Same type of people as WP MPs.

    Action speaks louder than words. This is true in politics.

    You still need a dialogue? Then what are taxpayers paying to maintain RC,CCC, CDC, CDAC , Grassroots Advisors etc for ??
    These organisations are in Government’s quote “ears, mouths and eyes of residents”.

    If PAP event, PAP should foot the bill themselves like WP then people will have no qualms PAP keep their own grassroots.

    If use taxpayers money for any event like dialogues , please invite elected WP MPs of the area to chair the dialogue.Then people will attend.

    Like George Yeo said, if PAP still do not change after all the many years of feedback, then PAP deserve to be voted out of government.

    The day Singaporeans no longer believe in anonymity is the day Singaporeans no longer fear. Having a law to protect political beliefs will be helpful in easing fear. Political beliefs are as important and diverse as religious beliefs. Copy the law to protect religious beliefs and use it to protect political beliefs.

    Why PA Grassroots need to duplicate activities of WP Grassroots and WP MPS sessions at Hougang and Aljunied ? Can’t PAP find something else to do ?
    Government agencies already said they do not accept NCMPs or NMPs writing letters for residents, agencies only accept MP of the area writing letters for residents of the same area.
    Even letters from Grassroots Advisors are not accepted. Given this rule, what makes PAP have the right to think that PAP members can write letters for residents and will have impact on government agencies?
    This will be a scandal as it is playing politics and and disregarding government rules, government protocols and disrespecting Parliament, MPs, voters and electorate.
    Disappointing.
    The HDB void deck PAP centre is use taxpayers money to build or PAP’s money to build ??
    If use national taxpayers money from PA to build party infrastructure, it is a scandal and disappointing.
    If use party funds to build and rent from HDB, then it is all right.

  25. PAP and PM Lee are busy concocting schemes to bypass Opposition MPs with such schemes like Grassroots Advisors, RCs and CCCs.

    The wonder the FY2011 PA’s budget is $410 million of taxpayer’s money. These money was to help promote PAP and advertise PAP’s losing candidates like Desmond Choo via Grassroots Advisor Scheme in Opposition areas at expense of taxpayer’s money.

    Money spent on exclusive Grassroot Advisor National Day Dinners, CNY Dinners, Hari Raya events, CCC events, RC events, Goodie Bags, Souvenirs, Community Centres for PAP promotion etc.

    The Grassroots Advisor Scheme basically make elections useless and make Opposition MPs powerless as Grassroots Advisors duplicate the duties of Opposition MPs and Grassroots Advisors is even more powerful than Opposition MPs.

    Everything Opposition MPs want to do for his constituency needs Grassroots Advisor approval. Even parents want to enrol in PAP Kindergartens (PCF) in Opposition areas need Grassroots Advisor letter of approval so as to make residents be grateful and beholden to PAP Grassroots Advisor instead of Opposition MP.

    When Chiam See Tong was still Potong Pasir MP and Low Thia Khiang was still Hougang MP, both had difficulties doing anything for their constituency because PAP Grassroots Advisors like Sitoh Yipin and Eric Low block everything Opposition MPs want to do so that later, PAP can call Opposition areas “Slums”. Is this underhanded and black heart and using taxpayers money to commit atrocities by PAP ??

    PM Lee and PAP devise so many “Fixing Opposition” Schemes to bypass Opposition MPs, thus wasting huge amounts of taxpayers money. The wonder need to increase price of all government services and introduce ERP, GST, COE etc. All the money to feed PAP people and their underhanded schemes.

    PAP for 21 years was threatening and despotic towards Hougang residents.

    Now that PAP agree is not because Desmond Choo agree to do it but because it finally reach Hougang’s turn after 21 years but Desmond Choo was despicable enough to piggyback on the upgrading and claim as his own credit.

    PAP created all the problems and suddenly want to play good guy, Singaporeans are expected to be grateful and give votes ?? Why not I beat you up and say sorry later ??

    With voters like you, PAP will be encourage to create problems for residents on purpose and later play good guy to solve it to get brownie points and votes. Then residents are forever caught in endless cycle.

    Desmond Choo want to score brownie points by changing tactics from Eric Low’s previous despotic and threatening approach.

    People are not complaining about Hougang getting Upgrading after 21 years but angry with why and how Hougang is getting upgraded. The way and approach of Hougang is being Upgraded is shameful and disgraceful.

    If PAP really want to stop wastage, prevent abuse of taxpayers money, PAP should hand over all Grassroots Advisor duties to Opposition MPs or else scrapped the Grassroots Advisor Scheme.

    Grassroots Advisor is more powerful than Opposition MPs thus making elections and Opposition MPs redundant. This is the objective of Grassroots Advisor Scheme.

    PAP should stop all these divisive, politicise, abusive and discriminatory actions and schemes.

  26. Hello Fren, it is not their nature BUT an ART they master to be where they are.Have you ever met a million dollar Financial Planner or MLM Diamond Director?

  27. Pingback: URL
  28. I enjoyed reading your blog Visa. It’s good to know that PM Lee is a kind soul. I’m not sure if your blog is for us to only comment on your experience at the Istana, but since I really liked what I read, I thought I’d share something as well. Since 2009 I have been hearing things, reading stuff and am aware that more and more of us have become so damn daring to comment, pass remarks and speak up for themselves as compared to then – when speaking up would mean something bad was gonna happen. Since 2009…. why? because that was when I returned to Singapore after yrs of being overseas. I was angry, hurt and still am actually with the many changes that has happened so far and often I felt (and still feel) like a foreigner in your own home (no offence to foreigners). Believe me this has nothing to do with culture shock! The emotional roller coaster’s “credit” I am feeling, I suppose, must go to the fact that my “local” family and I did not have a house to return to, no immediate job was available to pay for rental and I had to enrol the kids in a school so I do not keeping moving them. With these and so much more on my mind- I guess complaining seemed way easier than blaming fate or leaving it to fate- if you know what I mean. I have to admit that prior to my overseas “agenda” I had no complaints and elections didn’t really bother me. I was happy with what was given and ever since I could vote- the district I was living in had won anyway (swing I think it was called). Anyway, from ’09, I had never given up asking for help even after the many rejections of appeals. I suppose much of it is owed to my personal bad trait of cognitive dissonance. As such, while I may be angry, irritated and frustrated at the whole system and the people working like for systems rather than for humans- I haven’t actually placed the blame on anyone but myself. I guess – all I was seeking (from then till now) is a ray of hope and a little bit of assistance to get back on the “system”.

  29. many have no doubt in their integrity, LHL and Tony Tan are bright ppl, good ppl and do not have ill intention for Singaporeans, but if LHL still want 85% cooperation from the ppl of Singapore whenever there is a big decision or changes to be made, the PAP must think of better ways to convince people, more dialogues more engagement.
    LKY “does not want to be politically right, just want to be right”, and are able to do it because during his days, he & his team literally travel around Singapore to convince ppl. We seldom see that nowadays.
    Being a small country with limited land & workforce, there will still be a lot more hard/ big changes to be made, which requires the understanding, cooperation, flexibility if not 100% obedience to maneuver along the meandering river of challenge.

    The challenge is how to create that kind of “LKY” era where dictatorship is unnecessary and practical decision still wins majority support of Singaporean.(That was possible as we were in the time of turbulence and uncertainty, where poverty prevails and the country was in danger of perish)

    The large number of Singaporean do not know or believe what real danger or problem Singapore is facing now.

    We urgently need National Education to start from as young as primary level.

  30. I just happen to see your post shared by my friend on Facebook. Thank you so much for giving us an insight in meeting Mr Lee in person.

    Maybe it is time that Singapore should offer Politics & Law as a subject option for students.

    Having had the opportunity to study overseas and take up Politics & Law as a subject has been really beneficial. It allowed me to understand how governments work, compare our government with the ones overseas and provided the opportunity to interact with Ministers from that country.

    Our ministers should work on connecting with the youths as they will be the future leaders of tomorrow.

  31. Haven’t thought about how disgruntlement stems from us not understanding them until this piece. It’s refreshing to read something positive in the sea of negative remarks about PM Lee. I like the way you write also! ^^

  32. I don’t care whether he nicest guy in whole world but his policies also need to be sound leh. Look at the trainwreck Singapore has become in the past 5 years

  33. I like your post, I have the same feeling when I met him personally. Singaporean are fortunate to have him as our PM, do appreciate it!

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