Addiction To Good Life

In his recent speech in Parliament, NMP Dr Ben Tan highlighted 10 worrying trends in Singapore’s sports culture. He pointed out our declining fitness levels. He highlighted our obsession with medals, results and KPIs, but apart from shopping (my own addition), nobody seems to be enjoying or taking any sport seriously. You can check out his speech over here.

Yes, obesity is on the rise, but to see real obesity, one only needs to go down to Harbourfront and check out the cruise passengers from the USA. Singaporeans are not even halfway there. The most striking and indisputable observation in Dr Ben Tan’s speech is probably the one about Singaporean parents going all out to get their children excused from sports and other strenuous activities while parents from international schools are more concerned about their kids being taken out of these activities. Worrying? Maybe not. The Singaporean attitude is exactly what one would expect from a kiasu, kiasi and gian png populace. These are characteristics central to Singapore’s passionless economic growth and political stability. At worst, they may bring shame to our people, but what the heck, we’ve been proudly living and prospering this way for 50 years. Some folks say, it’s only sports. What the heck. Is Dr Tan being paranoid? Let me come back to this later.

Meanwhile in Thailand, former PM Yingluck Shinawatra has been impeached and banned from politics for 5 years. She will also be facing charges that may see her being sentenced to jail. This is happening to her because the power behind the Yellow Shirts want it … oops … I mean her government’s rice-buying scheme turned out to be a costly national disaster. The disaster experts (people who come out as experts after the disaster and not before) have used a variety of adjectives to describe the rice-buying scheme, the most common being “hare-brained”. Let’s go back in time and see what the original plan was and what went wrong.

Thailand was the largest rice-exporting country in the world. Back then, the kingdom accounted for 30% of the world’s supply of this commodity. It was reasoned that if the Thai government could hoard supplies, they could virtually pull the strings that would cause the price of rice to hit the roof. By selling rice at these inflated prices, they would not only be able to recover the cost of paying farmers above market rate for their rice, they might even make a handsome profit. Simple enough.

So what went wrong? Well, soon after the scheme was announced, farmers started to pump fertilisers into their fields. he folks at the planning table had underestimated the yields that greedy farmers could squeeze out of their crops and got themselves inundated by incredibly bountiful harvests. Then, there were those unscrupulous farmers who imported cheap rice from Cambodia, mixed it with their own stocks and sold the adulterated rice to the government. The former government had overestimated the farmers’ honesty.

Soon, the government warehouses were overwhelmed. Where the hell did all this rice come from? They were not able to keep all the rice that the farmer brought in – let alone pay for them. But that was not the final nail on the coffin. The Thai government had assured the worried advisers that Thai rice is of an unbeatable quality on the world market and no matter how much the rice costs, they would still be able to sell it. Is that so?

I remember that many years ago when I was still a newbie just starting out on adventure trips, I had my first taste of low quality Sabah rice in the mountains. At first, it just tasted a bit different. After a few meals, it became decidedly unpalatable. When I came down from Mt Kinabalu, I was famished, but before long, a miracle happened. I adapted. Less than one week into my trip, I was devouring heaps of Sabah rice with tasty seafood. However, not everyone can adapt. Very few Thai people I know would even want to touch basmati rice. They would rather starve than eat that stuff.

The folks who crafted the rice-buying scheme must have thought that fans of Thai rice would be just as unadaptable as most of their own people. They were dead wrong. As the world’s supply of Thai rice fell, Vietnam quickly increased production to fill the void. The price of rice was stabilised. Not only that, Thailand lost its position as the world’s largest rice exporter. The previous Thai government had assumed that the world was addicted to and totally dependent on Thai rice.

Coming back to pampered Singaporeans living under a dome, are we not addicted to the “good life”, so much so that we are willing to sacrifice our freedom? Are we not fixated on a handful of paths to success? No, I’m not so worried about Singaporeans getting fatter, but the lack of passion has deeper implications. I’m more worried about intelligent, discerning but apathetic Singaporeans betraying their own conscience and sense of justice for the sake of the “good life”.

What if the “warehouses” become overstocked one day? What if even our own people seek alternative sources of “rice” from outside the country? Can we bravely walk a different path, or eat a different kind of “rice”? Can we embrace change and forego our sissy ways? If not, then I’m afraid that Dr Ben Tan’s worries are quite valid.


© Chan Joon Yee

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