TRAVEL THOUGHTS

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Every year after the annual GIC staff conference, I visit 8 cities in 8 days to connect with the staff at GIC’s five offices in Asia (Mumbai, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Shanghai) and GIC’s three offices in the US and UK (San Francisco, New York, and London).  

This blog lists snippets of interesting observations I had on my trip.

MUMBAI

Mumbai has a new airport that is very impressive and vast, offering a good opportunity for me to reach my target of 10,000 steps a day (which, sadly, I seldom achieve). It was striking that the general public and well-wishers are kept out of the airport. I could understand this for the old airport building, which was small and crammed, nevertheless, the Indian authorities must have their reason for still keeping the public out.

What I would like to share, however, is my experience at departure.  As is the case all over the world, there is the usual security clearance – taking out the mobile phone and the laptop, passing the bags through the scanner, and so on. What was special after the scanning was that the staff produced a book, somewhat like a visitors’ book, and asked me to sign it: name, passport number, country, and a special last column asking for comments. After some thought, I wrote: “Very efficient and friendly”, which really made the day of the security personnel! It was a comment that was fully deserved as the staff had taken most unusual care to be efficient and friendly.

TOKYO

Speaking of airports, someone pointed out to me that in Japan, somehow the aero bridge operator always aligns the aero bridge to the level of the plane door. I looked out for this when I arrived at Haneda airport and I can say, yes it is indeed so. The aero bridge when I arrived in Beijing, for example, was 15 cm lower than the door!  There must be something about the Japanese attitude of always aiming for zero defects. I am reminded of what my daughter told me about trains in Tokyo: it is almost a matter of honour for the train driver to align the train doors exactly with the platform markings. Contrast this with Singapore’s MRT where sometimes the train stops with half the train door out of alignment with the platform door!

MOVIE LEARNINGS

Being on long flights provides me with the rare opportunity to watch movies. I would like to share two learnings.

“47 Ronin” is a wonderfully inspirational samurai film. Lots of fighting and killing – I did say it was a samurai film!  To be a Ronin – a samurai with no master – is considered the ultimate downgrade for a samurai. The memory of the 47 Ronin who put duty and justice before their fear of death has lived down through the centuries as one of the greatest examples of honour and loyalty in Japanese culture. Each year, on December 14th, thousands of people from around the world visit the graves of the 47 Ronin to pay their respects.  The film is inspired by their story.

The most memorable quote I got from the film was: “None of us knows how long he shall live or when his time will come, but soon all that will be left of our brief lives is the pride our children feel when they speak our names.” Honour, my friends, is a heritage for our children, as illustrated by this quotation from the book of Proverbs in the Bible:  “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.”

“Jobs” is a movie about Steve Jobs, the founding spirit of Apple. The film closed with the wonderful quotation from the 1997 Apple commercial: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Do we have the courage to be crazy enough? 

And just one more Jobs quotation which explains somewhat the craziness: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me…Going to bed at night and saying we’ve done something wonderful . . . That’s what matters to me“.

What matters to each of us? To do good?  To do right? To do our best? To be our best? These are questions worthy of thought and answer.

“LOVE” vs “LIKE”

Finally, on the last leg of my journey, there was this Singapore Airlines crew member who asked how many grandchildren I had. I told her four, three girls and a boy, and asked her in return how many children she had. She said: “Not yet, but the greater challenge in marriage is how to keep it going well.” 

I said: “There is a big difference between ‘like’ and ‘love’.  ‘Like’ is when our partner pleases us, ‘Love’ is us looking out all the time to please our partner. Two people come together because they like each other, but to keep a marriage going well, the like must turn to love.” 

She was so grateful for the exposition about the difference between “like” and “love” – it was enlightenment to her, as I hope that it is to you!

INTERVIEW WITH ECHO

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This week’s blog post features an early Siong Guan’s interview with ACS Echo, a quarterly magazine published by the ACS Board of Governors. Siong Guan was educated at the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), Singapore, where he was the top student as well as head prefect. After graduating from ACS, Siong Guan he was awarded the President’s Scholarship to study at the University of Adelaide, Australia, where he graduated with First Class Honours in Mechanical Engineering in 1969.

 

Echo: Mr Lim, can you please share with us your experiences when you were schooling in ACS?

Mr Lim: ACS gave me a lot of opportunity for experience and exposure, be it in running societies, learning to work with others or lessons in leading. My time in the Boys’ Brigade (BB) was particularly impactful: I rose to the rank of Colour Sergeant and was the drum major. The BB was where I learnt how the demands on the leader means both taking on responsibility as well as offers a deep sense of fulfillment in doing something important and worthwhile through people and with people.

 

Echo: What were the forces that drove you to excel in school and to become a President’s Scholar?

Mr Lim: I never pushed to be top boy or President’s Scholar or anything. It was just a matter of doing as well as I could in whatever I had to do. This applied to every situation, whether in studies, prefectorial duties, helping fellow students, or whatever. I think too many people mistake “excellence” to mean “outstanding”. To me, “excellence” simply means being the best you can be. So if you are capable of 100 marks but scored 90, you have done only a 90% job; but if you are capable of 70 marks and scored 70, you have done a 100% job.

 

Echo: In school, did you have plans for a public service career?

Mr Lim: I am possibly one of the most “ambition-less” people you can find.  I certainly had no plans like wanting a career or other, I think most parents at that time felt that a public service career would always be a great idea because it offered security. We need to recognise that having a job was a most valuable thing for our parents, and so making sure their children had a good education so they could find a good job was the greatest contribution they could make for their children’s future.

How I landed up in the public service was straight and simple: there was no way I could have got to university, whether local or abroad, without a scholarship. My father was a taxi driver, my mother a schoolteacher. When I was offered a Colombo Plan Scholarship to Australia, it was a great opening for getting to university. It could just as well have been a scholarship to Canada or the United Kingdom or wherever. As they say, “beggars cannot be choosers”.

With the scholarship came a bond, which was ‘good’ as it meant you would have a ‘guaranteed job’. It never occurred to me that a bond was a burden or something to be broken.  When you take something from the government, it is totally fair to give back, no questions asked.  Incidentally, just to show how much the issue for me was simply to get a scholarship to university, I did not know where I would be going to in Australia when I left Singapore; the group of us went to Sydney, where we had a kind of introductory programme for a couple of weeks, and then only did I learn I would be going to the University of Adelaide.

 

Echo: Would you say that the ACS brand of education has something to do with preparing incumbents for a public service career?

Mr Lim: No. If we look at the list of Permanent Secretaries and CEOs of statutory boards, there are certainly many more not from ACS than there are from ACS. But there is one thing absolutely critical for me personally in my work, and that is the “fear of God”. I came to God through ACS, though people can come to God in a multitude of ways, and we all must very much hope that ACS is not the only way because the reach will be far too small.

The public service summarises its core values as Integrity, Service and Excellence. It is one thing to join the public service and subscribe intellectually and even by action to these values. It is another when you know that the driving force to observe those values in the way you lead your people run your organisation and relate to those around you, is the inner motivation based on being true to Jesus Christ and His Word. The statement I strive always to make in my words and my actions is: I can be trusted because I am a Christian; I seek to serve to the best of my ability because the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”. As a public officer, I must treat all people equally, irrespective of race, language or religion, but the drive to serve with excellence and the way I treat people comes from Christ.

 

Echo: What advice can you offer to our young students to help them chart their lives and careers?

Mr Lim: Learn all you can. Stop complaining. Do something. Look at difficulties and obstacles as opportunities to learn new things. You can never forever be on top. And you will never forever stay down. Be humble in achievement. Be circumspect in failure. Forgive. Honour your parents. God has given you talents. Do not waste them. Jesus loves you. Follow Him.

 

Echo: Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced in your illustrious career and what you have learned from them?

Mr Lim: Perhaps the most important thing I have learnt in all my years of work in the public sector is the centrality of people for all things, though I am sure this applies to all organizations, not only the government. People can make or break organizations. They can make the workplace either energizing and challenging, or enervating and boring. The deepest challenges are therefore leadership and the management of change. How can we create an environment where everyone is doing the best he or she can do, and feels there is the chance to be the best he or she can be?  This is a never-ending challenge, for which we have to recognise that people are not just physical and mental beings, but are also social, emotional and spiritual beings.

 

Echo: Do you have any advice to offer students aspiring for a career in the public service sector?

Mr Lim:  The public service offers wonderful opportunities for self-development and for contribution to your fellow citizens. Where else can you find the chance to do something that affects so many people in so many different ways for so many years into the future? If you keep chasing the material things of the world, or the things that simply are nice and convenient and comfortable to you, you will soon discover that life has little meaning and purpose because you are spending your time and energies on yourself. The sense of purpose and fulfilment lies in contributing to the lives of others. Be “inner-driven” but “other-centred”. Some will find the opportunities for this in the public sector, some in the private sector, some in the people sector. See where your aptitudes and interests lie.  But seek, most of all, to be sure that God will be pleased to find you wherever you are.

 

HOW TO APPROACH INHERITANCE

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It was remarkable how many talks I gave last week: 6 talks in 6 days! 

On Monday, it was with a Cru group at the National University of Singapore, on Tuesday it was at the Annual General Meeting of the EDB Society, on Wednesday it was at the Institute of Policy Studies Corporate Associates Breakfast, on Thursday it was at U@live at the National University of Singapore for NUS students and alumni, on Friday it was the Straits Times Big Read Meet at the National Library Board Building for the general public, and on Saturday it was at the Annual General Meeting of the Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore).

While the approach and contents of my talk were different for each audience, one important common underlying point was about how we approach inheritance.

There are three ways we can handle inheritance.

The first is to say, “Wow, I am really lucky!  My grandfather left me this inheritance. I will spend it and enjoy myself.”

The second is to say, “My grandfather left me this inheritance.  It is so precious.  I have to lock it up and make sure no one steals it.”

And the third is to say, “This inheritance is so valuable.  I need to work at keeping up its value.”

Of course, the best is to benefit in all three ways. And it can be done: Invest to keep up the value, Invest in a way which is safe and secure, and Invest to yield ongoing income that can be enjoyed

This approach to inheritance can be applied to material inheritance – money, valuables, property, and so on. But it can just as well be applied to intangible inheritance – the environment, law and order, education, sound organisation, good leadership, critical values and principles, as well as a culture of honour as the foundation for the peace, harmony, stability, and well-being of Singapore.

To honour does not mean to always agree or to support blindly; to honour is to love, respect, esteem, value, and care for others in the spirit of integrity, other-centredness, and responsibility.

May we all have the wisdom to choose well, and the courage to do right!

LESSONS ON LIFE AND LIVING

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I learnt various things at the conference in Beijing (that I had mentioned in my previous blog), even while I enjoyed facilitating the many discussions on life and living. 

Here are a few the more memorable learnings:

(1) Strengthening relationships:  The 5:1 Principle

  • There needs to be at least 5 times as many positive moments as negative moments if a marriage is to be stable
  • It is a question of balance: a marriage needs positivity to nourish love
  • Couples heading towards break up do far too little on the positive side to compensate for the growing negativity between them

(2) Aristotle on Excellence:

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intensity, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”

(3) SUMO = Shut Up and Move On

  • Stop talking and get something done!

(4)  Advice on making decisions in life:

  • What are your options?
  • Which option is best for you?
  • What are your reasons for thinking so?
  • Are your reasons good enough for you to choose that option?

(5) Was Tiger Woods Talented or Hardworking?

  • His father gave Tiger a putter when he was seven months old.
  • Before he was two, he and his father were on a course practising regularly.
  • Both father and son attribute Tiger’s success not to talent, but to “hard work”.

(6) Steve Jobs on Wealth:

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful . . . that’s what matters to me.”

(7) Success & Failure

John F Kennedy in his last speech to the Massachusetts Legislature on 9 January 1961: “When at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us . . . our success or failure in whatever office we hold will be measured by the answers to four questions:

  • Were we truly men (and women) of courage . . . ?
  • Were we truly men (and women) of integrity . . . ?
  • Were we truly men (and women) of judgment . . . ?
  • Were we truly men (and women) of dedication . . . ?”