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Winner Takes All

With my parents taking care of Anne the last two days, I finally had a chance to "see the world". Even when out with Anne, it's amazing how much attention she soaks up, to the point us parents are pretty oblivious to whatever happens around us.
<h4>Excellence in Action</h4>
I went to the Singapore General Hospital for specialist medical advice regarding my hyper-thyroidism. It was a fairly pleasant experience as I had time to sit down with two books, one work related and the other had something to do with some wizard and a half-blood prince. I was impressed by the level of service at the hospital. I have to say that the healthcare system here in Singapore is excellent.
A woman on her mobile-phone was complaning loudly about how she was made to wait for an hour before getting her consultation. She was only three patients behind and it took an hour yadda yadda. <em>Come on</em> already, lady. If you want personal service, pay for it. The waiting isn't bad if you plan ahead. The hospital even sends a text message to your phone when the queue number comes close to yours. Pretty brilliant, I must say. Doctors and nurses would have a heck of an easier life if patients were less anal about not having their every whim and fancy pandered to.
I didn't need much persuasion to fill in a feedback form and rated most things favourably.
<h4>Excellence in Character</h4>
The purpose of a feedback form is usually to quantify the unquatifiable: in this case customer satisfaction.
In Singapore we tend to take quantifiable results very seriously. Children are groomed from a young age not to disappoint their parents by losing out to the "neighbour's kid" in examination grades, musical talent or even physical apperance.
It sucks that everything has to be a competition. Yes, it drives us to perform well, but it consumes our soul.
Just a few hours ago I was at Suntec City with Faith and Anne. They were giving out free newspapers that cost 50 cents on any other given day. An middle-aged man and his friend grabbed two copies. His friend went "but we can share the paper". "But it's free!".
<h4>Kiasuism – The Fear of Losing Out</h4>
Singaporeans are driven by a relentless need to win. The rhetoric you'll hear is that we are driven to succeed, but "win" is a better term here.
Success is a variable term. To some, success is a nice quiet life in the countryside while to others it is a BMW convertible. To win, on the other hand, is quantifiably definite. From the level of government, down to the classrooms, we are told to be number one.
We are the number one airport in the world; the number one seaport; we have the number one zoo; so on and so forth. When I was 12 years old I visited Australia. I went to the Sydney zoo, raised an eyebrow when asked how it was and replied "Singapore has the number one zoo". I would have been crucified if not for the fact I was a minor.
The flip side to this game of numbers is the fear of losing. A typical Singaporean response to hearing that your child came in second in class would be to scold them and make them work harder to beat the top guy.
We realise that in order for us to win, someone has to lose. We grab the extra newspaper, even when we don't need it, because it makes the other guy lose. Singaporeans will join a queue just because it's long. I know someone who bought a condominium this way. She didn't know it was a line for a condo until she reached the front, and bought it because she queued for so long already.
So when you hear the term "ugly Singaporean", it refers to those of us who feel a need to deprive someone else just to feel better. In Singapore cars speed up when you signal your intention to filter into their lane, instead of slowing down and letting you in. There was once I had Anne's pram and bags of groceries in hand, and barely managed to open the door leading out of the carpark. A guy just walked through the open door, made me drop the pram and groceries and left me with the door now sprung shut in my face.
Ugly. Singaporean. Same thing. Sometimes?
I am finding new things to love about Singapore, and finding old things not to like about her still with us.
So Dear Singapore, happy belated 40th birthday. My gift to you is Sir Henry Wotton's poem, "The Character of a Happy Life".
<blockquote><h4>The Character of a Happy Life</h4>
<p>How happy is he born or taught,<br />
That serveth not another's will;<br />
Whose armour is his honest thought,<br />
And simple truth his highest skill;</p>
<p>Whose passions not his masters are;<br />
Whose soul is still prepar'd for death<br />
Untied unto the world with care<br />
Of princes' grace or vulgar breath;</p>
<p>Who envies none whom chance doth raise,<br />
Or vice; who never understood<br />
The deepest wounds are given by praise,<br />
By rule of state, but not of good;</p>
<p>Who hath his life from rumours freed;<br />
Whose conscience is his strong retreat;<br />
Whose state can neither flatterers feed,<br />
Nor ruins make accusers great;</p>
<p>Who God doth late and early pray,<br />
More of his grace than goods to send,<br />
And entertains the harmless day<br />
With a well-chosen book or friend.</p>
<p>This man is free from servile bands<br />
Of hope to rise or fear to fall;<br />
Lord of himself, though not of lands;<br />
And having nothing, yet hath all.</p>
<p>Sir Henry Wotton</p></blockquote>

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