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A Note of Thanks to our Public Servants

Dear Public Servants of Singapore,

I have had the privilege of working with many of you during my time in the government, and I consider many of you friends. I know that helping the country navigate through Covid-19 has been some of the most back-breaking work anyone could have ever undertaken in their careers. Some of you had to consider a multitude of factors, opinions and possible impact on affected people as you try to draft new legislation to protect our most vulnerable; while others worked on ramping up Covid-testing facilities, making sure the process is dependable and accurate at scale. These are just two of the millions of different duties undertaken by our public service, and you have been working so hard, above and beyond a reasonable call to duty.

I found it really hard to read the announcement that civil servants would receive no bonus this year. I understand the policy and its intent: that civil servants have their pay tied to the economic performance of the nation, and in this time where many Singaporeans suffer economic losses, it is not a time to financially reward civil servants.

But I just wanted to say thanks. It’s not worth much, I know. It won’t put your child through school, or pay for your groceries. Thank you for working so diligently to keep us safe. That we have vegetables and eggs in the supermarket; or good internet access for our work calls; or adequate financial support to keep many small businesses alive. I’m not taking any of these for granted. None of us should. It is the result of the hard work our public servants have put in.

The list goes on and on: whether in healthcare where our sick are taken care of, or how our educators have had to pivot almost immediately to teach online, this generation of public servants have proven, and continue to prove that excellence is the hallmark of Singapore’s public service.

As a Singaporean son, husband and father, thank you so much for all that you do.

Why it took me so long to say BLM

Black lives matter. There. That’s my first time typing it out. I didn’t want it to be a trite expression to me where I was just echoing social media sentiment. I wanted to give it deliberate thought.

I’m sitting here in Singapore, far from the movement’s epicenter, watching in horror as the fear of coronavirus gave way to a total breakdown in society over in the States. Mind you, we have our own baggage and should never take the unity of the people for granted. A careless word could be the flint that lights a fire fueled by undercurrents that have been building up over time, and fanned by the winds of emotion.

It took me so long to type out “Black lives matter” because it an obvious thing that didn’t need stating. I was also a little fixated on the negative space around the phrase. Do other lives not matter?

After some reflection I realised my error in attributing meaning to the words that aren’t said, instead of focusing on what is being said. Saying “black lives matter” does mean that other lives do not matter, or that black lives were somehow more valuable than other lives. In the same way, saying an apple is red doesns’t make an orange any less orange.

Saying “black lives matter” is important, because in today’s current climate, this truth isn’t self-evident. It isn’t self-evident in the unequal treatment of black people in America and many parts of the world. This inequality has been so exacerbated that we are fighting for an equal right to live. It breaks my heart that we have come to this.

It is easy, being so far away, to just be an observer and pass judgement, but prejudice and bigotry towards people unlike us is a sin that grips every human heart. The need for a come-to-Jesus moment to confess and confront our own biases is so necessary. The moment should be now, whether you are in Atlanta or in Asia. No one should take the life of another, and definitely not this callously.

Unprecedented

“We live in unprecedented times.” Almost every politician, celebrity and talk show host has used those lines in the last month as the global pandemic sweeps through parts of Asia, then Europe and then the U.S. We are still in the thick of it as numbers continue to climb, and we quietly hope that early action by the Indian government can help mitigate the spread of the disease across the densely populated sub-continent.

Not to downplay the amount of human suffering caused by COVID-19, but we should not let the lessons of our current circumstance go unheeded. Where we pushed our healthcare systems to optimise for efficiency, times like these do make us wonder if there was wisdom in having a bit of slack to give us the headroom to deal with the unexpected.

In our necessary reaction to stem the spread of COVID-19, we have undertaken many measures which would have been deemed unfeasible social experiments.

  1. How would our planet heal if we took a very drastic cut in global air traffic? Once theoretical, the results can now be observed in reality. Whether we can untangle global emissions from the global economy remains a puzzle we need to solve.
  2. What will we learn about the nature of work? Do firms actually need to rent large swaths of office space, or will a remote workforce prove effective enough for business operations to continue?
  3. Is it possible for education to move entirely online? I had my doubts, but just last week my son’s Chinese tuition centre moved to an entirely online delivery, and I was very impressed by the level of engagement the teacher was able to garner via live video conferencing.
  4. Now that less traditional forms of socialising, such as online video chats and instant messaging, have become the only acceptable forms of socialising, does it open the window for introverts to take the lead a bit more? Can we help our extrovert friends navigate and find a home here? Or will our cozy corners be run over as millions move from pubs and malls to subreddit threads?

It is safe to say that we all hope for COVID-19 to go away. Its ubiquity has been an odd equalizer in society. The virus discriminates against no one; and while the rich may have their palaces in which to retreat while the poor may not have access to good healthcare, the fear of contracting the virus is so universal that we are all caught up in this shared experience —carrying this shared anxiety.

May we not sit impotently waiting for this time to pass. We can act on the many things we have learned here. Now that habits and routines are all being reshaped, we can make connecting with our loved ones a part of our daily lives; we can be better neighbours, better customers, better parents and better children, better caregivers and recipients, better employers and workers. Let us use this opportunity to reinvent ourselves. We can be better.

Remembering Uncle Bobby Sng

Dr. Bobby Sng passed away on October 14th, 2019. Many Christians in Asia knew him as the President of the Bible Society in Singapore, or one of his many pivotal roles in helping the Christian community reach out to the larger society. I knew him as Uncle Bobby Sng who spoke monthly at church. Like many others, I looked forward to his sermons because they were not overly verbose or complicated, and communicated the simplicity of a living faith in Jesus Christ.

Over the years I began to serve in church, and had the privilege of speaking to Uncle Bobby more. A lot has been shared during his memorial service, as to the person he was and the effect his words and life had on others.

If I were asked to describe Uncle Bobby, the word that first comes to mind is “translucent”.

The conversations I remember most vividly are the ones where I asked Uncle Bobby for advice.

When you ask advice from most people, they go straight into problem-solving mode, breaking down the problem into smaller components, and working on solving those. Or they’d regale you with life experiences and wisdom they have gathered over the years, and how they think the issue you have just described is similar to something they went through a long time ago.

I never got any of that with Uncle Bobby. Instead of telling you what to do, he’d always smile, and encourage you to pray, ask God and discover His will for yourself. He was very careful not to allow his own passion and expertise — which were evident — to direct the decisions and actions of younger Christians who came to him. He had a reverence for God’s work, and knew intimately that only God could accomplish what He intends.

Uncle Bobby was translucent in the sense he had this ability to fade himself away and allowed God to do the speaking to, the conviction of, and the directing of the lives of His saints.

Even as we gathered around his death it didn’t feel like we were mourning the passing of a great leader or monumental figure, much as we tried to shape the service to a format we are more accustomed to. There was a lightness in Uncle Bobby’s passing, and I suspect it is because he understood what it meant to be a modern day John the Baptist. He always deferred to the Lamb of God, and worked hard at decreasing himself in order that Christ may increase.

I found myself marvelling at how little death took away that day. “Where O death, is your sting? Where is your victory?” When Uncle Bobby passed away, it felt like little had changed. His life had always been a journey towards more of Christ and less of himself.

The time of reflecting upon Uncle Bobby’s life was a reflection of what Christ has done in Asia. And though Uncle Bobby has left us, Christ continues to work here amongst us even now, calling us all to be translucent, that He may shine through.

My Time Traveling Companion

My dearest Faith,

How quickly the years go by. The day-by-day passing of time may quietly escape our notice, but we are reminded when we see our children take their steps into teenhood, and we are left futilely holding on to the last vestiges of babyness.

It has been a while since I wrote to you, but I’ve really really enjoyed our morning breakfasts together, or the late night chats after the lights go out in our children’s rooms. We are aware of how few of these we might have left, and I’m desperately imprinting them into my heart and my mind that its taste might always be familiar to me should dementia attempt to steal these before death takes either one of us. Having you by my side has been a deep study to the manifold blessings of God. It is impossible to pen down how much these years have meant to me.

You, my beloved, are more beautiful today than you have ever been. The laughter we’ve shared over the decades has etched lines on the corners of your eyes, and the white streaks in your hair shine like shooting stars in a twilight sky.

I am so blessed to be the one beside you as we observe the sunset of our lives, and the sunrise of an eternity in Christ Jesus.