Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011 (Singapore)

CHALLENGING THE NOTION OF "KIASU": The waiter who served us Friday night at the IndoChine restaurant on Club Street called on Saturday, very apologetically, to tell me that he had forgotten to include our second (gasp!) bottle of wine on the bill. He asked if I could stop by sometime and pay for that bottle. No problem. As anyone who has waited on tables knows, the cost of such a rogue bottle having would likely come out of the waiter's pay.
So I headed over there today about noon. He gave me a cup of coffee and we chatted. Ken (right) is Malaysian. We talked about risk and fear of failure. He said he thought too many people in Singapore--throughout Asia, actually--are too cautious, too unwilling to take a risk. He didn't use the word, but he was talking about kiasu, a fear of losing or fear of failure. He said he admired Caucasians because he thought they were more adventurous and more willing to take risks than Asians. Acknowledging that he is using a broad brush, he added that he thought Asians are not as open-minded. Searching for a word to describe it, he said, "Can I use the word skeptical?"
I thought "cautious" might be a better word.
Anyway, he said he has found an ambitious friend and they want to open a restaurant in Iloilo City, in the Philippines--a city of about a half million. Clearly, Ken is someone who is willing to take a risk--move from the "security" of Singapore and head to the hurly-burly of Iloilo. He likes the fact that the city has dozens of schools and universities. He wants to sell great, authentic Chinese food in his new venture, in a place where it is liked, and needed.
The prospect of opening a restaurant in Singapore, needless to say, is daunting. It will take a lot less capital in Iloilo. He said he liked what his grandfather told him: "Sometimes life is just like gambling. You will not win if you don't gamble at all."
Of course, one puzzling thing about all the discussion of Asians and aversion to risk is the tremendous interest in gambling among some, especially Chinese. So the "kiasu" discussions are not all that simple. It's complicated. And subtle.

WHEN THEY WORK, THEY REALLY WORK; WHEN THEY TAKE A BREAK, THEY REALLY TAKE A BREAK: On my way back to the apartment from Club Street, I passed about three dozen road workers taking a break in a shaded walkway. I think they are all working on the subway project along Cross Street. They were all lying down on the walkway, some on a blanket. All had their shoes off. This was a true, well-deserved break. No water-cooler chatter. No gossipy cliques. No dash to Starbucks. No "how 'bout those Sox?' discussions. Sandy and I have often noticed how active many of the construction and road workers are. We rarely see a shovel-leaner. So, they need a break and deserve a break and really know how to take a break.

CRANES SHOW SOME WILD SWINGS: Finally, I have straightened out the data base. Today's Singapore Crane Index Limited Economic Indicator shows that a near-record number are DOWN (in the working position) at the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal. The chart (right) shows some frenetic activity over the past couple of days. We'll keep an eye open for all of you:
Date: April 19
Time: 8 a.m. (Singapore time)
Cranes Up (bad): 5
Cranes Down (good): 21
CRANES MISSING (neutral): 1

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