Monthly Archives: March 2015

Photo by L

Photo by L


Tribute to LKY

(Sent by AL)

They saw a third-rate Asian backwater; he saw a first-class front to the world’s waterways.

They saw the remains of a former British colony; he saw the foundations of a British heritage.

They saw an island cut off from a hinterland; he saw an island connected to the world.

They saw us bereft of resources; he saw the most renewable of resources – people.

They saw attracting multinationals as losing national sovereignty; he saw attracting them as leveraging global advantage.

They saw ethnic diversity in terms of fault lines; he saw ethnic diversity also as lifelines.

They saw a nation under one communal group; he saw a community under one nation.

They saw nationalism as a means to nationhood; he saw nationalism as a product of nationhood.

They saw authoritarianism cowing people into submission; he saw authoritative leadership coalescing them into a people.

They saw freedom of speech as an individual right; he saw freedom of speech as a community responsibility.

They saw democracy as a tool of the people’s wants; he saw democracy as a servant of the people’s needs.

They saw exploiting people for personal gain; he saw equipping people for national gain.

They saw education as a means to an end; he saw education as a door to the world.

They saw language as a means of preserving cultural roots; he saw language as a means of growing global branches.

They saw a petty chewing-gum banning, paternalistic autocrat.

We saw a father of a nation, who gave all to a lifetime of excellent public service, who tolerated no nonsense, and who expected us to take up the same wholehearted devotion for the good of Singapore.

IMG-20141220-WA0005 IMG-20141220-WA0006

Cats lazying in the sun in a Sarawak longhouse. Photo taken by L.

A man was overheard apologising to the Minister TCJ at the funeral wake of LKY, that he was wearing a colourful shirt. Instead of either black or white, traditional Chinese funeral colors. The man had rushed to the procession from work and was worried that he couldn’t make it in time, and so did not go home to change his clothes. Incidentally the queue to pay last respects have stretched from an average of 5hrs to 10hrs.

Some of us may wonder at the man’s superficial concerns.  However, in the study of cultural differences, Asian cultures including the Japan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore belong to high context cultures.  What is unsaid, the gestures, the body language, the eye contact, and the symbols remain important part of communication, more important than what is spoken. Low context cultures (US, UK and Australia), on the other hand, pay more attention to the “content” of what’s spoken rather than what’s in the context.

The Minister replied him that what mattered most was his heart. He cared to come. His desire to pay his respects. Thank You. Not the color. We are one heart, one people.

The man, LKY, would have said the same.

“I am not great on philosophy and theories. I am interested in them, but my life is not guided by philosophy or theories. I get things done ….” – Lee Kuan Yew

Deng Xiaoping, the architect of modern China, in defence of pragmatism, once said “Black Cat, white cat, Who cares? As long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat”.

His remarks were in reference to comments on whether a democratic system or a communist system was better to bring forward reforms in China. Incidentally, Deng himself, was an admirer of what LKY had done for Singapore’s public housing and city planning when he visited in the late 1970s.

My gift to my younger self would be this advice:

Gift #1: Get things done

Have you misunderstood someone else’s intention before? Valued form over substance? Look at the person’s heart and intention. Value pragmatism. Look at the results.

A man with many words to speak, look at his own life. Has he followed his own advice? What is his life behind closed doors?

Eloquence is no proof of a man’s integrity. Not a man’s political affiliations. Who his parents are. His color, his creed.

Black Cat, white cat, Who cares? As long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat”. -Deng Xiaoping

Man looks at outward appearances. God looks at the heart – 1 Samuel 16:7


29 gifts to my younger self are reflective reminders on how I would like to live my life differently.


At a recent lunch with friends of over 15 yrs, in a somewhat reflective mood I asked, “What advice would you give your younger selves?” Surprisingly, these ladies in their 50s did not dismiss my question but spent time seriously musing over it. At last, one gave up and said, supposing you got past the problem of time travel, you won’t listen to your own advice. To which, another replied, “the idea is not to pontificate, but to then heed your own advice, and live your life differently”.

I’ve since used this as an ice breaker, among people I know well, and who would not mind being in a reflective mood. Use this with caution, as the mood, time, place, comfort level makes a difference.

What was the general conclusion: Take more risks and have more fun.

This reflective journey I am about to embark, tangentially aligned with the passing of LKY, whose shadow loomed heavily in the background of our growing up years, and especially the first 8 yrs of my career. I will in the course of 29 posts, write these reminders as gifts to myself, sign-posts if you may, for the next lap of my journey. I’m taking a pit-stop.


From Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Browning

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep


Why 29 gifts?

29 gifts is the title of a book by Cami Walker, who at 35 yrs old, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition that made it difficult to walk, work or enjoy her life as she once had. Walker became depressed as she faced continual health and money problems. But then a friend and spiritual mentor challenged her to stop feeling sorry for herself and instead start giving to others. The friend challenged Cami to give 29 gifts to others in 29 days. (Huffington post).

The day I decided to write the post, the random bible verse reading for the day was:

Jer 29: 11 –  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Proverbs 29

Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy

A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father,

By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.

25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.

26 Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.


Instagram media by swwong - A repost from friedricebucket. Praying for Mr Lee and his family through this time.

Photo by Ong Yi Teck. This talented young man, wrote 18,000 squiggly times Mr Lee’s name.

[Reblogged from my post at Potgardening]

Goodbye Mr Lee

Despite the hoax last week, we should have been prepared.
But when the news came, we still teared
Seeing you in your younger days
Fiery and defiant
Like a lion

Thank you Mr Lee
You make me want to be a better me

A middle aged lady who used to clean my home remembers you canvasing for support. Those early days, with a tin can. Asking for donations. She put in her little 2 coins. Believing in the dreams you painted. For water, electricity and a roof above our heads.

You gave us more than that.

The taxi driver uncle who worked in the airline repair in the 1960s. You were then the Prime Minister. When unions urged them not to turn up for work. Remembers you rushing down, cajoling, and reminding, that Singapore cannot fail, or the world will make us a laughing stock.

You gave us a dream
You gave us respect

Thank you Mr Lee
You make me want to be a better me
There will never be another you

The greenery, the city planning and the friends you made overseas, you worked so tirelessly.
I hope you go from glory to glory.
Thank you Mr Lee

You’re a great man. Even great men call you great. For you are known by your deeds.

前人种树 后人乘凉 (qian ren zong shu, hou ren chen liang)

We sit in the shade of tress planted by those before us. – Chinese proverb.

National Day by Liu Kang (1967) - National Art Gallery

National Day by Liu Kang (1967) – National Art Gallery

Do caterpillars smile? Does it know that its about to be transformed into a butterfly?
Or mainly concerned, just to live the mundane life?
And survive the moment by moment, escaping the city beasts that thong the sky.
I wonder.
Be encouraged, I tell my soul, today.


The Caterpillar by Christina Rosetti
Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry,
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk,
Or what not,
Which may be the chosen spot.

No toad spy you,
Hovering bird of prey pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again
A butterfly.


Photo by L


“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be” – William Hazlitt


The best is yet to be by Robert Browning
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!
– Robert Browning

Are you afraid of Feedback? Do you fear that twice a year sit down with your boss on work progress?

Why? I do too.

In fact, I have a deep-seated fear of personal feedback of all kinds, not just from my boss. From anyone.

My friend spilled his venom, of why his promotion had been delayed. His previous boss, a former judge had given him a “D” for his performance appraisal 2 years ago. Now he needs two consecutive “B” to override the “D”. What was more infuriating was that he had no idea what crime he had committed and no way to improve/ go for training. Duh…. His boss did not have the courtesy of having a face-to-face meeting with him. So the feedback came as a shock.

Performance management is painful for all sides. Both for the appraiser and appraised.  The appraiser is afraid of the emotional backlash. The appraised, for the negative feedback. If my boss were to call me up to her/his room, I doubt its to praise me. Ya, I’m too pessimistic.

So what does the research say concerning the performance appraisal process?

The appraisal process is about having a conversation around your performance. Not your boss as a judge passing a sentence.  Properly done, the process starts with setting planned objectives, on-going feedback, how I have met the agreed organisational goals and development needs (if I’ve not).  Remove any of these factors, and it becomes a moving goal-post.

With the best of intentions, some companies do this feedback process twice a year. Beginning, mid point (6 months later), and end of the year (6 months later).  Maybe its just me. I can’t even recall what I ate for lunch 2 days ago, and yet I am expected to remember how I pissed off my colleague.

There is a Chinese saying:

“Duo zuo duo chuo, sao zuo, sao chuo, bu zuo, bu chuo”.

“If you do a lot, you make more mistakes. do fewer, make fewer mistakes. Do nothing, make no mistakes.”

[Read in Chinese, make “no mistakes”, is a play of words and double meaning of “not bad’ = “good”. If you do nothing, you’ll be perceived as good.] It mocks those who are good at critiquing others from an ivory tower, but no efforts of their own. Ouch.

“The 3rd Century Chinese Wei dynasty is renowned for the advancements it made in the creation of a civil service. One of its innovations was something called the nine rank system, by which candidates were selected and categorized, based on their abilities. A bad ranking would wash a candidate right out of the system.

Chinese philosopher Sin Yu, complaining about the bias of the system: “The Imperial Rater of Nine Grades seldom rates men according to their merits but always according to his likes and dislikes,” he complained. Source:

Not everything that counts, can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts. – Albert Einstein, apparently from a sign hanging in his office.

Performance review nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning; builds fear, demolishes teamwork and nourishes rivalry and politics. – WE Deming 1982


How would you prepare for feedback exercise? Is it really useful?

A friend recently sent me photos of the Thaipusam 2015  celebrated by the Hindu community in February in Singapore.

This annual procession involves drum beating, music and devotees carrying the kavadi. I used to stay near Tank Road, which is the end point of the procession, but never had the occasion to witness a body piercing.  You know that its that time of the year when the air is perfumed with the scent of jasmine. Amidst the festivity and beautiful colors of the occasion, devotees carry kavadis to fulfil a vow to an answered prayer.

In preparation for carrying a Kavadi, a devotee has to prepare himself spiritually. For a period of about a month, the devotee must live a life of abstinence whilst maintaining a strict vegetarian diet.

Long before Anthony Robbins popularised the idea of walking over burning coal/ash, the Hindus have this ceremony where devotees carry out these mind-over-matter acts. I had a former boss who carried a kavadi.  Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to ask him for some insights.  I wonder if there’re other methods of showing our gratitude to God. How do you show yours?

Because LY and his family stayed near Serangoon Road, the start point of the processions, they decided to witness the morning preparations of the 4km walk. LY witnessed a helper piercing the body of a devotee with a spear. Unfortunately, he missed. But the jerk reaction was strong enough to propel his body forward. The unsuspecting devotee, on the other hand, who was lying face down, merely turned his head, wondering whats up with the commotion and the gasps. There’s no shedding of blood. (LY filmed the process and showed us the video clip.)

Can Science explain what went through the minds of the devotees during the process? Surely none of them are hypnotised. They’re not actors. (My former boss was one of them. He’s a measured, well educated and respected person,). I believe that there’re many areas of the human mind that Science cannot explain.  When my finger is pricked by a sharp object, blood flows out. How does one explain the piercing of the hooks in the carrying of the kavadis with no shedding of blood?

I hope someone can explain this to me. The human mind is possibly more capable than we imagine.

Photos taken by LY, used with permission. 2015

Original fire walk

Original fire walk