Superficiality vs. Substance: From The Eyes Of Singaporeans

Let me tell you a conversation I once had with my Singaporean friends. After all, we all like to believe that the Philippines can one day become as prosperous as Singapore. Both Ilda and Benign0 have already said their pieces about Singapore, so this is mine, or rather, what my Singaporean friends have to say.


I shared with them a video of Senator Nancy Binay dancing in the street and told them that it was what won her the position of being senator. While laughing, they told me that Senator Binay’s performance was indeed amusing but, at the heart of it all, it was just that: amusing. According to them, it did not in any way, provide them with any indication that she could be a good leader. As a matter of fact, they went on to note that the Senator’s dancing skills were not even exceptional in any way and that she danced more like an amateur rather than what a really skilled dancer should be like. Their final word was what while Senator Nancy Binay would make a decent clown, she had very little to show when it comes to actual leadership.

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Later on, my Singaporean friends told me that in real life, efficient people are often low-key or at least not very flashy. They note that Lee Kwan Yew, the man who made their once third-world country into a prosperous first-world nation, wasn’t a very noteworthy person at least in terms of appearance or anything other than leadership. He was never an actor, a singer or dancer and never claimed to be anything other than what he was. After all, as my friends would say, leadership is about leading people and not amusing them.

“Why, anyone can sing and dance after all,” my female Singaporean friend said. “But guiding people into doing what is right is another matter entirely. I am a fan of Whitney Houston, but I doubt she would ever make a good president. The fact that Mrs. Binay is so desperate to gain a position for herself that she’ll make a total fool of herself in the streets does not speak well of her skills as a leader.”

As a side note, my Singaporean friends can best compare Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership to Tim Duncan’s skills as a basketball player. The latter may seem a little to old school compared to the high flyers of the NBA like Kobe Bryant or the now impoverished Alan Iverson, but it was his simple but effective moves and ability to coordinate with his teammates that has allowed the San Antonio Spurs to win time and again.

Here in the Philippines, it’s often the flashiest colors (like yellow), short catchy phrases and popularity that win elections and not vision, wisdom  and a sense of justice. Until we can overcome the immaturity of going for what is entertaining over what is really important, then I can guarantee that we will always be a third-world feudalistic state rather than an efficient and prosperous nation. Remember, wrapping garbage in a flashy gift wrapper will not make it any less trashy.

16 Replies to “Superficiality vs. Substance: From The Eyes Of Singaporeans”

  1. The article below might not be relevant to the topic but it stated something in common with your Singaporean friend’s view.

    …We collectively idolize basketball as a colonial legacy, even as we elevate its players to become demi-gods. Football was not popular in our consciousness, until the Azkals populated it and transformed it into a spectacle sports, and from where they drew the symbolic capital for their product endorsements.

    And of course, there is Manny Pacquiao. He may not be the first boxing hero we had, but he surely was the one responsible for using the sports to acquire a celebrity status for him. Manny used boxing to satisfy his natural desire for stardom not only amidst the lights of the boxing arena, but amidst the klieg lights of showbiz. Alas, it also became his passport to gain access to the world of politics.

    He is not the first sports celebrity who entered politics. We had Senators Webb and Jaworski.

    In Thailand, Paradorn Srichapan, a world-ranked Thai tennis player tried to enter politics. He lost.

    This is perhaps the reason why Thai sports is way much ahead of us. The Thais take their sports seriously that they do not allow their athletes to become politicians…

    – See more at:

  2. The sad reality is that the Philippines today is led by well intended incompetents, by scheming crooks, or by both who understandably,can’t seem to get anything done together. This condition has been festering for the last four decades and it has exacted a heavy toll. The only saving grace seems to be the citizens who have had the patience, persistence and the resilience, (there goes those three words again), to absorb the hard times; to work around the road blocks; and, to keep their chins up. For some time now, understandably, these ‘three virtues’ have been showing signs of wearing thin; and, unless they are given something to hang on to and work with.. a raft or lifesaver.. or something.. the people’s downward spiral could only accelerate. Many would say that this is a harsh assessment of the country today, and that I am wrong. Goodness knows that I hope I am.
    While I am skeptical about a reversal of just about everything that plagues the country now, I am not entirely a cynic. I actually think that nothing is so bad.. that nothing good can come out of it. A turnaround, however can not come overnight, and certainly, not by itself. It will require a little common sense and some, (maybe a lot) of hard work on the part of the more fortunate among the citizens.. the sector that can see both sides of the street and who stand to benefit, as well, from the effort.. and time.
    Education of the public is key to this effort. Almost all of the wage earners and tradesmen, after some level of schooling, cease to learn anything outside of his work. TESDA is a great idea, but it seems to be limited to those who have somewhat more of formal school learning.. who want to either switch careers or to just get ahead in his/her present discipline. Neither is TESDA present outside of urban centers, where most other people are located.
    For these others, ‘Neighborhood Reading Centers’, (rudimentary libraries) might work. Civic clubs, (you could read about them in the social pages of newspapers) might find this worthwhile pursuing. The Rotary, Kiwanis and the Lions clubs might find it gratifying to see the less fortunate uplifted while safely and wholesomely occupied. A sustained program for ‘Teens’ Apprenticeship’ in workshops, where they might learn a trade could also work; and so could ‘Regular Kids’ Summer Camps’ where civility and healthful activity are emphasized. The more imaginative and enterprising Mayors or Congressmen might even help, if they were prominently identified with these programs. All these may or may not be applicable as such; but youth programs along these lines are key. Education promotes hope.. and hope is about all that the masses could hang on to in today’s Philippines.
    Hope and change was not really an ‘Obama Original’. It was first said, (perhaps not in as many words), by the National Hero, JP Rizal.. more than a century ago, as he addressed the country’s youth then.

  3. The human ego is the ugliest part of man. We lift up men who only show us darkness, and put down those brave enough to show us the light. Likewise, people engage in darkness when it is light outside, and acknowledge the light only when it is dark. We abandon those fighting for us to cheer behind those fighting against us. And, we only remember good people and Divine Providence when it is convenient for us, and take them for granted because their doors are always open – only to chase after closed doors and personalities void of substance and truth.

  4. @d_forsaken. There is no right or wrong when it comes to “egos.” Our respective “egos” define what is right or wrong, legal or illegal, and moral or immoral when it comes to our motives and actions. And it’s alway the majority, the wealthy, and the powerful that triumph over the opposite. It’s been that way since the beginning of time.

  5. singapore is not what’s all hyped up to be. they have what we may call “institutionalized” corruption and nepotism. LKY son is the PM. the daughter-in-law, wife of the PM is the head of Temasek Holdings (it’s like an SSS/GSIS/Pag-ibig uber fund) that lost billions of the people savings during the asian financial crisis and the PM’s wifey never got a reprimand. no freedom of speech, Media Corp. controls print, tv, radio, internet. The PM’s inner circle aka PAP lapdogs are overpaid, under-achieving coat tail riders with no accountability and have huge-ass salaries. they don’t care about the people, they care about profits, GDP, moneeey..

    Changi Airport – best airport in the world, huh? I’ve worked there for almost a decade now and a lot of their senior managers/engineers have their heads up their asses. political appointees who know shit. the safety issues i’ve seen and encountered are bone chilling, i tell you. Changi is flashy wallpaper personified.

    Grimwald is right in one thing. “Remember, wrapping garbage in a flashy gift wrapper will not make it any less trashy.”

    1. Interesting, Mikey dela Riva. But, you scare me. I’ve been thru Changi, oh I don’t know, 500x thru the years, and I can say it is the best airport. I also see to it that I fly Singapore Airlines on long flights.

      You know, I also felt the same way about Singaporeans in the beginning. Kind of antipatiko because they have this air of superiority complex. That is until I acquired a good friend there. In fact, he is one of my best friends now. After that, I just look at Singaporeans as people who just think differently. Dog-eat-dog is their way of life, more than US in fact, and in a way, you have to pity them; they have no time for things trivial. But, they are definitely a good people to work with for they are reliable, very results-oriented. Still, not as hard working as Koreans and Japanese. In Japan and Korea, you can’t breath at the pace.

      1. i’ll give some safety issues in changi na never “reported”. 2012, i saw one flatbed carrying heavy equipment scrape the underbelly of terminal 2. almost took out the entire place when it cut the gas pipelines. hush hush. company just got reprimanded. malakas sa PAP (LKY’s ruling party) eh.

        2011 – a worker died when a horizontal drilling machine malfunctioned near SC2 – south cross 2 (it’s a taxi way for planes near the runway), it kicked back and hit him in the chest. fracturing his rib cage, died instantly. hush hush. ala bagong lipunan ni marcos.

        everytime – i see workers nakikipagpatintero sa eroplano. and don’t’ get me started on the drag races on the runway when they close it for maintenance twice a month (that one was fun haha). not safe but fun.

        may nakakatakot na joke kami dito. “a billion more where he came from”. safety dito is all glossy, well-written manuals that people throw away the minute they work. finish the work at all costs, irregardless. pag walang namatay, tuloy ang ligaya. parang qatar or dubai lang. infrastructure built on the backs and blood of foreign labor.

    2. At the risk of sounding like a Pinoy blame-shifter (“oh, but all other countries are like that too”), it has to be said: all other countries are like that too. Everywhere I’ve ever lived chooses flashy wallpaper over substance. It’s easier. However, there is always SOME substance underneath the wallpaper, however mediocre.

      Human beings are inherently selfish, greedy animals. When they’re allowed free rein to do as they please, with no demands placed upon them – as in the Philippines – their greed and selfishness is what you see first.

      In “civilised” countries, people are expected to at least produce a certain level of results, even if it’s a bare minimum. You still get ignorant managers; lazy engineers; unqualified chair-fillers; and corrupt, self-serving politicians. Yet somehow there are enough decent, committed people to keep things ticking over. The idiots are not in the majority.

      I don’t like Singapore much either; the live-to-work ethic is ridiculous. I certainly wouldn’t choose to live there. The fact remains that Singapore functions reasonably well, and the Philippines doesn’t function at all.

  6. Very simple answere is that humans are fascinated with glitters like gold they are like hypnotized attracted to it. They forgot to use their head, just like a fish who caught by glittering bait, even their are not hungry they bite for its glitters.

  7. We elected Entertainers, or Show Biz people, as our leaders. So, we have “Political Zarzuelas” in our country. The people, we elected, instead of doing their jobs. They Steal Money from the National Treasury, and then, entertain Us.

    My Pet Monkey can do a better dance, than Nancy Binay. I am thinking of making my Pet Monkey a Filipino Politician…

  8. Bringing in one thing I’ve said before:

    Singaporean culture in terms of behavior towards certain problems is one important thing. For example, I’ll compare these. When a Singaporean couple finds prices are rising, they don’t have children. When a Filipino couple finds prices are rising, they beget so many children, hoping at least one of them will be their ATM to cope with rising prices, without thinking that they have to feed and make these children grow first (provided they don’t die from the complications of poverty yet). Different way of dealing with one reality, different results.

  9. Somaliland is not recognized by the U.N. but declared independence from the failed state of Somalia way back in 1991 and seems to have got away with it with hardly anyone noticing.

    How did they manage to do that and live in peace all these years? Maybe they were fortunate enough to have honest trustworthy leaders who put the interests of the nation ahead of their own and people worked together for the common good and managed to keep their greed and egos down.

    Maybe they have something to teach us, if we are willing and openminded enough to learn?

  10. I showed my Singaporean friends something too which gave them a good laugh –> page 3 (inset picture):

    For others, it might make you cry – what has become of our nation ?

    saying it’s more fun in Phil when it’s actually the opposite is deceptive advertising. Garbage wrapped in gift wrapping indeed

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