At dinner he said, “I must congratulate you, you’ve done a good job in Singapore.”
I said, “Oh, how’s that?”
He says, “I came to Singapore on my way to Marseilles in 1920. It was a lousy place. You have made it a different place.”
I said, “Thank you. Whatever we can do, you can do better. We are the descendants of the landless peasants of south China. You have the mandarins, the writers, the thinkers and all the bright people. You can do better.”
– Lee Kuan Yew, on his conversation with Deng Xiaopeng in the 1970s. From Time magazine.
LKY had long known what I have been suspecting for the past few years. Our lack of risk-taking, entrepreneurship and rebelliousness is more genetic than we know.
A few years ago, my ex-colleague was telling me, “Ian, we lag behind because we have coolie blood. No blue blood in our veins.”
Blue blood, or aristocratic bents, is needed if you want to talk about having class. Coolies prefer to take orders, be gainfully employed and work in unionised groups rather than fight against any system.
Coolie blood = no class. Obvious example – look at HDB colour schemes, the way people accept crap designs from renovation firms, certain gadget designs from local minds, the herd instinct for silly stuff like Rotiboy/Bubble Tea and so on and so forth.
We are unable to appreciate art at its deepest levels, nor desire to recreate the great works. We prefer to quibble over the pronounciation of Esplanade, but fail to realise its design is truly unaesthetic in its context.
If the Gahmen ever told us that the next big thing is to become construction workers, I suspect more than a handful will spring for it. Despite all my snobbish ACS upbringing, current day pretensions and desire to be ATAS, the coolie in me is alive and well.
The scary thing is that my son has started digging his nose for gold too (when we’re not looking).