11 October 2006

Headlines matter

The Far Eastern Economic Review is banned. One more headline to add to the bad press we keep generating for ourselves. How does Singapore gain from this? Also includes a comment about Temasek Holdings' acquisition of Shin Corp. Full essay.


Teck Soon said...

Singaporean tourists and Singaporean students living abroad also help foreigners form an opinion about Singapore. I doubt, for example, that the Singaporean A*Star scholarship student threatened with a defamation suit a couple years ago had many nice things to say to all the other students at his US school about his home country.

Anonymous said...

What really is there to see in Singapore? If I were a tourist, I wouldn`t even bother. Mebbe if my plane stopped over on my way to a more beautiful and captivating place in Asia, I`d spend a day or so on that little island. After of which, I`d wonder why I spent so much and got so little in return (in terms of a memorable holiday experience). Even if I were a shopaholic, I`d much rather go to Bangkok, Hong Kong or even KL.

Anonymous said...

The FEER is one of the most popular journals that libraries across the world stocks. But, i guess the govt has very different notions of what a media and educational hub should constitute

Anyway, I do honestly tell foreigners that Bangkok is a better choice for tourists than sg.

KAi Khiun

Lau Min-tsek said...

"What really is there to see in Singapore? "

er...... hip hop?

KiWeTO said...

As a student who has studied abroad on exchange, I have repeatedly told my foreign friends that Singapore's surface success comes at a high cost. The cost of individuality and freedom to think. I believe, the best way to describe it was a 'faustian pact'.

SO yes, guilty as 'charged'. Singapore need to evolve. Or continue becoming more and more irrelevant to the region as KL, BKK, Hanoi/HCMC, all become more interesting places for talent to live in, because their societies express their soul. In SG, our soul has been sold for the faustian pact.

I tell them, you don't really need to stay in SG more than 2 days, there's not that much to see that you can't really find elsewhere (tall buildings, efficient transit systems, clean streets... some artificial tourist attractions).

We just can't let our society evolve naturally, with each individual making decisions that add up to a diverse, interesting mix. We must manage everything. And so, we sow what we reap, the world's best attempt at an artificial city/culture. (Dubai's catching up!)


Anonymous said...

Having read your article, I have to admit to being stumped by what you were trying to say. My initial reading was that, in essence, you argued that bad headlines had impact on, which you did not explicitly state and I speculate, the economic well being of Singapore. Well all I had to go by was, I quote: "Those are the headlines that matter".

You went on to highlight anecdotal evidence to illustrate the thing as you put "that matter". On this point, as a matter of debate, I concur with your hypothesis that it COULD have impact on our appeal to tourist -- presuming that is indeed your hypothesis.

However, I suggest that the lack of tourist appeal could also be explain by other factors. In any case, Singapore is not the only country to suffer from less than flattering headlines. Switzerland is known infamously for being boring and rule-bound place -- e.g. it is illegal to flush your toilet if you live in an apartment.

In the later part of your article, I kind of got lost by your attempt to connect the notion of "corporate biases" and "headlines". Are you suggesting that corporate investment decisions are effected may be not wholly but in some way by headlines views of Singapore?

On the other hand, when you bought out the Temasek case as a point of illustration, I got the impression that you were warning about the danger of believing one's own headline. If as you suggested that Temasek corporation are typical of other corporation, would foreign corporation form the biases of Singapore based on experiences gained in their home based? In which case, whatever headline emanating out of Singapore will not impact investment decision?

On the point of the danger of believing one own headlines, I fully concur with you. The danger for Singapore is even more so when some much of the nation's economic well being is controlled by a limited group. In particular a group that is so increasingly out of touch with the real world.

Like you, I would, on face value, accept that the argument that the eventual outcome of the Temasek-Shin corp could not have been predicted by anyone. I suspect in time to come, Temasek and the government would make such argument. After all, I believe the organisation would add, it would only be $2 billion loss out of $100+ billion that Temasek managed.

But there is indeed a trend in the way people in Temasek and its sister organisation approach political risk analysis. Consider the earlier case where our esteemed LKY pet project the Singapore Shuzhou Industrial park?

That was predicated on essentially political promises that LKY misjudged because he clearly lack appreciation of differences between China's central and regional government -- i.e. out of touch with real world.

What about, albeit not economic case, when LKY's wife needed hospital in the UK?

Again, the hallmark of strong arm tactic commonly practice in Singapore was deployed. The Singapore High Commissioner thought he could use the office of the UK PM to short circuit the NHS queue.

I could list more but the two examples should suffice.

To me, the issue about bad headlines that concern me isn't what foreigners thinks of us but more importantly whether we becomes fools because we believe our own propaganda. By we, I don't just mean the upper echelons. I include Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I have been to Bangkok once after I graduated. I am not sure if it was just the traffic on the roads, or the sheer number of people but I felt extremely 'suffocated'. This of course is a matter of preference. Some people would definitely enjoy that environment. Is the traffic on the roads there better than Singapore? I think Singapore is slightly better.

About being a shopping paradise. I don't really shop much in Singapore but I do accompany my gf. From what I see at first glance, there seems to be a much wider range of choices in bangkok. But when I look closer, I also see lots of repetition. Just like in Singapore. The main attraction to me is the cost. But the reason why things seem low to us in cost is because Singapore has progressed to a stage where our currency is stronger and Singaporeans can use our money to buy things cheap there. If we haven't made our 'faustian pact', we might not be able to enjoy that privilege.

They also benefit from a few other factors too. One is the land issue which allows them to build a really big and beautiful mall like Siam Paragon. I believe in Singapore, because of cost and land issues, that is not feasible.

Also, I think in terms of manufacturing they can make stuff cheaper and there are more resources for the young entrepreneurs there to exploit. While Singaporeans go there to source for stuff to sell here, the people there can actually realise their ideas easier, make them at a lower cost and sell them.

Maybe people who say there is nothing to see in Singapore have not themselves invested time to explore our own backyard.

If you want sports on a weekend, East Coast and Sentosa are too easily accessible places to go too. There probably isn't much to 'see' at such places, but there are definitely things to do.

Have you tried going pulau ubin? A day of cycling there is indeed fun in my opinion. The place is of course quite small and can be covered easily. But there are small corners of the island there only a few people know about. Do you guys who all say Singapore has nothing to see know about the hidden path to the top of the quarry?

Our night safari is also awesome. As a person who has been to South Africa and gone for a safari, I can say I prefer Night Safari in terms of being able to see the animals. Of course people will argue that it is not an authentic experience, but it does allow those who cannot travel overseas to see what they might not otherwise be able to.

I also love walking around the city hall area. I believe we really do have a lot of wonderful buildings there. Espcially during the IMF period when things were made to look so much better, but on its own, the buildings are really beautiful.

Have you tried spending a day at our Esplanade waterfront? While I have my reservations about the Esplanade's design, the waterfront is a great place to see and talk with a loved one. I have also sat there just reading a book.

Have you taken the time to appreciate the skyline that you can see from there? While some might dismiss it as just tall buildings, doesn't it fill you with pride of how far Singapore has come?

Don't dismiss it so easily. My grandfather came from China with nothing. And many of us are descendants of such people. Somehow, we have managed to build a better life for ourselves so much so that we can 'bitch' about how Singapore is nothing. The reason? Cos now we don't need to worry about surviving so we can have more time.

Singapore of course has its issues but it would be a foolish person who would say only Singapore has problems. Other places do too. To me, there is no perfect place, and each of us have a part to play to make Singapore the place we want it to be. I do not believe there is any good to engage in behaviour of Singapore bashing. It isn't cool. And too many of us tend to jump onto that bandwagon unfortunately.

recruit ong said...

For those of you who did NS, the following would be familiar to you. The day you ORD, when you have gotten your pink IC back and you left the army camp for the last time (let's not go into reservist yet), the sense of freedom, excitement and exhilaration, of the possibilities of the wide world waiting outside beyond the confines of that small stifling camp. The feeling of getting out of S'pore is just like that.

Of cos i don't dispute there are those who enjoy and prefer the predictable and rigid world within that tiny army camp, who felt lost and fear the new found freedom they experience outside. Hopefully they get over it like everybody else. But some can't. These are the kind of s'poreans and "stayers" you see so often overseas complaining and comparing everything to the superficial appeal they get back home. They are shallow people and slaves who have shackled themselves mentally.

Anonymous said...

Not to nitpick here, but your assessment of the "quality" of tourists from different countries might be off the mark. Indians in Singapore spend a lot - just walk into any upscale SC and you'll see Indian families shopping. I don't know about Chinese tourists in Singapore, but not a long time ago I saw statistics on tourist spending in Thailand which showed that on average Chinese tourists spent more there than any other group. Anecdotal evidence also suggests the same: vide those busloads of mainland Chinese on Pratunam.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

I've had to, reluctantly, exclude a few comments lately.

One which I was most reluctant to do contained a lot of useful information, but it was very, very long. It consisted of several newspaper articles from various sources pertaining to issues touched upon by my essay. Unfortunately, such a compilation was a few multiples longer than the original essay itself. I would have preferred hyperlinks rather than cutting and-pasting all those articles.

Other comments excluded included one that was arguably a personal attack on someone who had posted a comment earlier. We can disagree, but it isn't necessary to made ad hominem remarks.

There have also been comments which I excluded because buried within the text were Chinese phrases, without translation. I'm sure some people will think I am some kind of language chauvinist, but I do think it is rude to break out into a different language without thought for non-English-speakers on this site. To them, it is rather alienating, and Yawning Bread does not wish to be a party to such offence. Not that English is a superior language or anything like that, but YB is an English language site. We shouldn't go around expecting everybody else to understand or be Chinese.