Tis time to leave the books in dust, and oil the unused armour’s rust.

Thoughts on the National Day Rally Speech

Here are just some assorted thoughts of mine on points raised in the National Day Rally Speech.  They are not always, and often not, political, they are mostly thoughts of my own on the sort of life I want to live now, especially at the stage of my last year in NUS, a formative stage for anyone who is going on in life.

 As such, two sections of the speech in particular caught my eye.


I have to admit that I have received an excellent education in Singapore so far, and I am pleased at the changes that have come over the Singapore Educational System, but what makes me think is: HOW FAR are those skills going to go in terms of where we are going? It’s all fine and dandy to be exposed to St Exupery’s THE LITTLE PRINCE at a young age, but whether that is going to enable you to write anything like THE LITTLE PRINCE later in life is going to be dependent on myriad factors. Let’s look at one right now. So far the MDA’s Book Publishing Schemes may be there, but have they capacity to keep publicizing, let alone know, a classic when they see one? Harry Potter didn’t become Harry Potter because JK Rowling knew how to write, so many people go into the making of her book. One of the publishers that discovered Rowling’s humble novel has set up a publishing company of his own for children, and one newly discovered children’s novel, TUNNELS, is now facing the same kind of attention that Rowling’s novel once did. PUBLISHERS are now as much names as writers. Can Singapore nurture, let alone allow, a star publisher to grow? The world is evolving at a dizzying rate, and for our efforts, how are we doing in catching up with it?


What strikes me about the yarn that PM Lee told about Lim Swee Say:

Lim Swee Say (coming back from the US) told me:

“During a walkabout, I talked to a resident at the market. He was healthy looking.

(1)          LSS: How old are you?

(2)          Resident: 72.

(3)          LSS: Wow. You are looking healthy for your age. Are you still working?

(4)          Resident: No. I retired a long time ago, when I was 55.

(5)          LSS: 55! Why did you retire so young?

(6)          Resident: Because I didn’t know I was going to live so long!”

What struck me about this speech was that it got me to rethink and redefine for myself the meaning of WORK.

To this Resident, I could have suggested that his early retirement at 55 could have been used to live an Hindu-like life of renunciation, to acclimate himself in the spiritual. But of course, growing up and living in an environment as spiritually deprived as Singapore, he might not have understood that.

Singapore, like most of what our honorable Minister Mentor might call societies of “East Asian Man” (cited by Paul Krugman in “The Return of Depression Economics”), is a society intensely focused on WORK. Work is supposed to define the useful man, and a man’s worth in the world is defined by his ability to work. In Singapore that is of course carried out to a logical extreme, such that, the ability to WORK into old age becomes a useful paradigm to measure the worth of an individual in society.

Granted, I am not a believer in spending twilight years idle, but I think that work should not become that defining an ideal of the useful man/woman. PLAY is simply the most neglected element in our society, and one that is nurtured only lately. And in a sense the Hindu idea of renunciation in old age is PLAY elevated to its highest, doing nothing too useful in particular except for examining within one’s relationship between body, soul and spirit, and amongst others too. For all play is such a relationship. All work in the modern sense is about removing these relationships. When one thinks about: “Why work LONGER?” one might as well think of “Why WORK?”

Is it not only right that we should work to live, not live to work? Singapore has but discovered the value of play for its younger citizens, but for its older citizens, will they yet discover the value of renunciation? It’s an age old question that has been answered in lots of older but not necessarily simpler cultures. In some way, we have depreciated as a culture from one whose remnants we are indeed struggling to preserve.

 Together, the treatments of the very young and the very old strike me as perhaps a portrait of the future Singaporean: eager in youth, fed and bright, and to be a person condemned to an entirely contextless, meaningless paradigm of work for the rest of his or her life without ever knowing why. And we’re competing with countries that have such exploding populations like China and India, each one with thousands willing to send themselves over as foreign talent, thousands that are bright and eager as our own. We will produce excellent workers by any means, and workers whose variegated knowledge might instead become a way to serve the paradigm that they are in, and providing an additional asset.

If the paradigm that we are living in dictates that we keep working to support a level of endless growth for our small nation, what does it say?

But what about excellent human beings? I have no doubt that most people out there are decent, but excellent human beings are way more than that. Can someone that lives to work ever be a really excellent human being?


One Response to “Thoughts on the National Day Rally Speech”

  1. You hit the nails on their heads. I think I am one of the few fortunate ones who have retired at the age of 49. I am 62 now and have been enjoying my life in play and meditation throughout the last 12 and half years.

    Renunciation is the word. If you can do it at will and in peace, with financial freedom and time freedom, it is simply a wonderful word, a precious experience not even our wise MM Lee can phantom. I really pity him. One who has all the power, all the freedom to do something for his next life simply squanders it away without knowing how much he is losing.

    Some people simply do not know how to let go. Grabbing and keeping all his life at this and at that, holding so tightly, unable to simply release the power, the wealth, the status, the name, the ego, the self. Sad, very sad.

    But I am happy, always happy. Hope you will be like me one day. Just my humble encouragement: We bring nothing to this earth when we were born. We cannot bring anything with us when we die. The only thing that can remain and go freely to wherever it roams is our spirit, soul, consciousness or whatever name one may call it. That is the ultimate go we must aim for, that we must never forget in the midst of the crazy chase for money, wealth, position or whatever, which are actually meaningless except to provide for basis sustenance.

    Think simply, stay simply and live simply. No burdens to carry. No responsibilities to shoulder. No worries about the world. It can collapse tomorrow. It does not matter. How wonderful!

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