Friday 28 January 2011


The Price of Success and Affluence

Recently I went to Singapore for 2 weeks and returned with a lot of mixed feelings...

I feel very proud of Singapore and what it has achieved, that it is getting more and more beautiful, more and more comfortable. The economy grew by 15% in 2010, a growth rate that exceeded perhaps even China's. The young are among the top five in the 2010 PISA chart in education achievement. More and more luxurious sophiscated sky-scrapers are popping up. The water-front downtown transformed the whole city landscape and it looks simply mesmerizing. So beautiful physically that it looks and feels like paradise on earth (although it is man-made). Things are getting more and more up-market. It is hard to save money in Singapore. There is always something new coming up, enticing one to try - the latest spa, the latest restaurant, the latest bar, the latest art gallery with expensive painting and artworks, latest innovative entertainment, etc.

I feel very proud of my fellow hardworking Singaporeans. I feel especially proud of our government, the private sector and all the way down to the average Singaporean. For definitely behind the success of Singapore lies the hard work of the whole nation.

I also feel very sad.... it has been in my heart since I returned, and I couldn't get this heartache away. It is also hard for me to try to put words on it... but I am going to attempt to put words to it.

I spoke with one of the Singaporeans. She and her husband would like to have children. I asked them, "So what is your plan if you eventually succeeded in getting pregnant? Who is going to take care of the baby?" The mother-to-be has a high paid job in the bank, which means that the opportunity cost of letting go of such a job is too high. She would not be able to take care of the baby. The daddy-to-be is an upcoming surgeon, and the working hours for surgeons are long. They have counted the cost that it would leave him no time to take care of the baby. They have already discussed it and agreed that he would not be able to get involved in the baby's daily affairs. The in-laws are very successful businessmen, very healthy and are still managing their company. Thus, they would not be able to care for the baby either. The couple has already thought of a solution: hire a maid to take care of the child.

I am sure the maid will do a very good job. But I am sad that the time lost with the child would be gone forever. There will be no memories of doing things for the child, and personally caring for the child as a parent. In a short period of time, the child will grow up, and the time is lost forever. There is no time to touch base as a family. What they do are very admirable. Singaporeans are working hard to bless the nation and people, but at the altar of sacrifice are our closest loved ones - our family.

The non-professional working class Singaporeans are also struggling... to survive and bring home the bread. There is hardly time left to spend time with the children. For behind the success of the nation, some are left behind and could not keep up. The price of food has increased and I am surprised that it has reached Danish price level, but the salary of the lowest paid Singaporeans are not increasing. I could feel their pains and struggles.

We all struggle to have time for our family and we all struggle to put bread or rice on the table for the family, and it is a big challenge here in Denmark for me too. But in Singapore this challenge is multiplied by many more times, ironically perhaps by the virtue of the hard work ethics and ambitions. The value of good work ethics and ambitions are non-questionnable, but it can be both a blessing and a curse.

I know Singapore has to struggle to survive in the world, being a small nation, and there is always this apprehension of being made irrelevant to the world, which means the end of our rice bowl. There is no room for mistakes made, as it is too costly for a small nation. The nation has to strive always to get ahead of the rest, because at the core of it is survival.

Behind all the glittery of the city, there is a big price paid by every single Singaporean, right from the top from our hardworking Prime Minister, to the bottom, our hardworking Singaporeans.

The most sad part I am feeling is... I do not have an answer or a solution to this. This makes me very sad...

But what I learn and be reminded of is that success, prosperity and affluence can be a double-edged sword, be careful what it cuts and hurts along the way to reach there.

Having too much wealth can be dangerous, but so can having too little. Being poor can, in fact, be hazardous to spiritual as well as physical health. On the other hand, being rich is not the answer. Our lives are more likely to be effective if we have neither poverty nor riches.

The Bible says in Proverbs 30:8-9:

"Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God."

Dear God, along life's quests, journey and achievements, help my family not to miss out the most important thing in life. Help my family to have the wisdom to show restraints. Dear God, give me the courage to pray this prayer of Proverbs 30:8-9 sincerely for my family.

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