Why cook this man’s goose?

I had actually missed NEA Permanent Secretary Mr Tan Yong Soon’s magnum opus on his cordon bleu course in Paris which was published in The Straits Times’ Life! section on Jan 6. When I read it a few days later, I thought it overly long and could have done with some juidicious editing, which clearly the ST failed to provide.

I might have missed that article altogether if not for the fact I noticed a spike in visitor numbers to this blog, culminating on Jan 8 in the largest single day visits since the blog was started almost a year ago.

I investigated and found an article in The Online Citizen lambasting Mr Tan for writing in the ST about spending almost $50K for his family of three’s  holiday cum cooking course over 5 weeks. The article attracted at that time some 40 or 50 comments, with two of them drawing attention to my post on What I ate eating out.

Investigating further, I found one comment had mischievously, maliciously and selectively extracted from my post to demonstrate that I was bragging about my eating experiences. Another comment, masquarading as me by using my nick and blog link, had gone on to give my blog address.

I wrote instantly to Andrew Loh, the author of the TOC article, to point out the masquerade and request that the link be deleted.

“35) singaporegirl on January 8th, 2009 10.06 am
The blog mentioned in (30) by gemami is here https://singaporegirl.wordpress.com/
Is she a TOC contributor
 while i don’t mind people sending visitors to my blog i mind it when it’s an imposter pretending to be me…
 I suggest u delete the post.
 
Also, yr gemani or whatever has been maligning me. I’m not a civil servant and I don’t only write abt high priced foods in the blog. I’m a frequent patron of food courts and I’m a one-woman crusader against mis-pricing at Cold Storage. U can find all these posts in my blog. I never brag abt what i eat. I write it as it is, including the fact that I’m an after-thought guest.
 
Sadly Andrew u have allowed biased, blinkered, unfair and envious people to take over the tone n spirit of your blog and so make it more like Sammyboy. I used to support your blog because I thought it would criticise fairly (like Sylvia Lim or Low Thia Kiang) but it seems like the likes of CSJ or worse have taken control.. and all we hear is a somewhat crazed version of the sort of criticisms one hears at hawker centres after the participants have enriched APB..
 
Such a pity.. it’s critics like these who make it difficult to direct genuine criticisms at the Govt..
 
I contributed some sane comments on the poor to your blog in 2006 and even added an MP’s speech on it. And also brought the blog’s existence to many friends who believe there needs to be a better S’pore — but we don’t need to do that by creating a surreal version of the current S’pore.. “
Andrew Loh replied:
“Thanks. I’ve removed that comment.

It is hard for us to verify all url links which commenters associate with their nicknames. As you would know, we get hundreds of comments everyday for all the articles. It is quite impossible for us to thus verify every link. It is only when they’re brought to our attention that we can know. I thank you for doing so.


As for the other point you raised, we would like for TOC to be inclusive and allow as many people to post comments as possible. It is balance which we are trying to achieve – to allow everyone to comment but keeping an eye on sensitive or unsubstantiated ones. We have been criticised by some for censoring or disallowing their comments, and also criticised for allowing some comments. 

So you can see that it is a balance we have to achieve – and it is not easy to do so.

I would like to thank you for helping to publicise TOC to your friends. 

We may have more stringent rules coming up – such as limited words for comments and requirement for commenters to be registered before they can post. We’re discussing this and will announce it if or when we decide to implement them.”

This gives the background on why I’m taking a greater interest in Mr Tan Yong Soon’s current plight. If what I’ve been writing about food can be selectively and maliciously distorted, why not his article in the ST?

Yet not only are the Internet hounds baying at him but so too are his political masters! Etu Brute?

Frankly, I’m disappointed with the expression of disappointment by Teo Chee Hean, the minister in charge of the Civil Service.

goose cooked?
goose cooked?
Has everyone who hit out at him read his article thoroughly? Did he emphasise what he paid or did he emphasise the high discipline, commitment and pain demanded by the cooking course, including strict 100% attendance, ungodly starting times and long hours?  My instant reaction was I won’t pay good money to be tortured while on holiday but then, there’s no accounting for taste.

What exactly has Mr Tan done wrong? Since when has it become a crime to spend hard earned money and share publicly the experience with others who don’t qualify to earn that level of income or have that sort of experience?

Is the income of a senior civil servant less honorably earned than that of stockbrokers, bankers, entrepreneurs, speculators, people who simply inherited wealth etc that he should be cagey about his spending just because there are poor people? Will he have to duck when he is shopping at Jason’s or Fairprice Finest, in case he’s recognised and be given a black mark for shopping at high end supermarkets? Will his home, car and spending habits be scrutinised?

Sure, there are many poor people in Singapore and under current worldwide economic circumstances, there will be even more. But then, like they say in the Bible, the poor will always be with us.

So does what happened to Mr Tan, who incidentally was also rebuked by Mr Peter Ho the head of civil service, mean that a civil servant in Singapore must hide his income under a bushel and keep his spending habits under wraps, as if  his pay is ill gotten?

Oh, have we come to this? Whatever happened to meritocracy and the argument for paying the best for the best talents, if the state is to compete successfully with the private sector for the small pool (given the population size) of talented Singaporeans?

Who would want to be a civil servant and be always paid a bit less than one’s equivalent in the private sector and then be subjected to a hanging by public opinion should one be naive or kind enough to oblige The Straits Times, the world’s 147th ranked newspaper?

Just as well I don’t have children. And hence no grand children. Otherwise I’ll say to them: never be a civil servant in Singapore. U have less rights than other Singaporeans: you’ll have to wave goodbye to freedom of expression.

However, to end up on an upbeat note…Mr Tan still has friends and supporters.

One wrote to me to say: ” I found the article interesting. It’s Tan Yong Soon’s way of sharing his experience with fellow Singaporeans and I don’t think he gloats. He is by nature, a humble person. Both Tan Yong Soon and his wife Lee Cher Ling were my classmates from NJC 1972-73. They were brilliant students from the engineering class. Tan Yong Soon was an SAF scholar, while his wife was the top taxation student in the Accounting faculty. Tan Yong Soon wrote a book on prominent members from the same class including Lee Tsao Yuan, ex nominated MP and OCBC director; and Engeline Teh, senior counsel (both CHIJ girls).”

Another friend said: I know Yong Soon personally. Why he even agree to be featured is beyond me. Civil servants should stay as low profile as possible, as a rule. Not so potically attuned unfortunately. He was in military intelligence before becoming PS.  I guess military intellience not quite the same as SID.  can confirm that Yong Soon is not the boastful type. Actually quite humble.  But in today’s financial climate, would be better off not talking about his holidays and cooking class…

Someone who had worked with him similarly endorsed his openess and humility: “I want to say that I have worked with Tan Yong Soon whom I think-& I’m not alone- is an exceptional civil servant in that he is open, ready to engage with people (including NSS & other NGOs,)  & does not fall into the afraid –to- take-personal- responsibility or risks mould of civil servants. He is also an inspiring boss & I noticed that when he headed URA & later MEWR it was much easier to have an open dialogue with him & his staff rather than be met by this defensive wall of silence. I hope this recent storm in a teacup won’t change this. His book The Singapore Dream is worth reading & says a lot for him as a person although it is mainly about his friends & classmates whose experiences he found inspiring.”

From a stranger came this eml: I don’t know why some people like to find faults with others.  I think, basically, they are jealous of those who can afford luxury.  What Tan Yong Soon did was his own business and he can do what he likes during his vacation and with his own money.  I would do the same thing if I have that kind of money and I would let me children learn some Cordon Bleu cooking.  And I don’t think Tan Yong Soon and his family were showing off.  It is just unfortunate that he and his family did what they did right but what he wrote came out at the wrong time.  In fact, if Straits Times has hindsight, the people in charge there should have refrain from printing the article.

I do not know Tan Yong Soon.  But I am disgusted at the way some members of the public attack him, including MPs and Cabinet members.  I presume these people must be thinking that if he has that kind of money to “waste” why didn’t he donate it to the needy.  I am sure he does his fair share of helping the needy and disadvantaged by donating to Com Chest and other charitable organisations.  But even if he doesn’t do it, it is none of those people’s business!  He and his family have been embarrased enough and these people should leave them alone now.

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15 thoughts on “Why cook this man’s goose?

  1. I didn’t read TYS’ article in detail, just glossed over it. Be that as it may, I fail to see the fuss generated. Again it’s no body’s business how one spends one’s money. If I can afford I would love to attend such a course too. If spending one’s hard-earned money is every body’s business why are we having all those branded goods being sold in S’pore, fancy sport cars when we don’t even have enough roads to drive around, eating places whose charges are astonishingly exorbitant, etc. for people to blow their money on stuff that to me is utter waste.
    Every person (civil servant or whatever) is entitled to indulge in anything he likes so long as he uses his own money and is not breaking the law.
    As for charity this is personal and again it is nobody’s business whether one gives to charity. When you give, you should do it quietly not use this as an opportunity to advertise your generosity or kindess because it loses the good motive.

  2. I totally agree with your article on how this was blown out of proportion. I fail to see how it is insensitive and am disappointed that his boss decided to lambast him in public when he has done no wrong but to contribute to an article which he was probably invited to write. Whilst I’m one of those who are heavily affected by the bad economy at a really bad time, I don’t blame him for spending that kind money if he can afford it with his hard earned money. Plus it’s not like he arrogantly flaunted his wealth on the national papers but more like he’s sharing his experience and how much it was being spent to prepare people who might want to enjoy the same experience. I pity the dude seriously. Does this mean that our papers particularly the Life section talking about travel and life should cease to write such extravagant articles at times like this? Should it cease to recommend people to spend money on enjoying life which is really the gist of the Life section? I find it absolutely silly and disappointing that this was even brought up in the first place.

  3. Ai Lien (I know); Xuehua (I don’t): yet like me you both can basically see things about the Tan Yong Soon saga which alas our dear Minister for defence and Minister in charge of the civil service can’t or won’t.

    Which is that how Mr Tan spends his money ain’t anybody’s business, unless that money can’t see the light of day. (O pse don’t overplay the “sensitivity” and political correctness card).

    In which case is the Minister telling us something? Does the Govt feel guilty abt paying its ministers n top civil servants so well, over so many years and that its constant argument that we mustn’t pay peanuts is flawed?

    Well, then tell it as it is rather than make us all confused on a)whether the Govt is conceding ground to Internet opinion or b)whether this is a prelude to a U-turn on public pay..

  4. I feel that the message from the public senior management is simply – do it, just don’t tell anyone about it.

  5. Hi Pei, thank you for visiting. That’s an interesting point fm an HR specialist trained in the psychology of the human mind. Yet how can we have “transparency n openness” — flavour of the month buzz words — if we don’t let pple, civil service big wigs included, tell it like it is, even when for me it was a dull dull piece. If anything, Mr Tan should be taken to task for writing such a dull article and the ST for not editing it for more pizzazz… zzzz

  6. Hi auntielucia, I saw your comment over at Wayang Party.

    I guess it’s a case of different opinions for this issue.
    Pls allow me to share my personal opinions too.

    I do not think there is anything wrong with spending personal money for trips, etc. But I do think there’s something wrong with being able to take 5 weeks paid leave. Like some comments have said, if his team is so efficient then why is there a need for him? Isn’t it a extra overhead cost which in this bad economy time, shouldn’t there be cost cutting measures? I do understand the Gov need to display a strong stable image, thus why not for those redundant positions, take a 90% cut or 80% cut?

    I also do think that it’s weird for so much justification for 80% pay raise which effectively puts them extremely far from the unfortunate group. Which allows such holidays which although is his own money but is after the pay raise which i do feel is too much.

    I guess most of the negative opinions around are from people who feel that our leaders are somewhat detached from the ground. I do feel it’s a side effect from being too rich.

    I’m not a high earner but i do have the chance to communicate with high earners and some of them to my surprise is unable to fathom the fact that there is quite a large amount of people in the low income group and suffering even during a Good Economy Situation like during 2007 and early 2008.

    I’m sure there’s much more reasons but due to my own capability, i’m unable to remember all of them.

    Regards
    Daniel Ling

    PS: I do not know what income group you belong to, but maybe can consider thinking from a less fortunate point and maybe you will feel hurt and left out.

  7. I think most people (whether they approve or disapprove of this article) are missing the important revelations that have risen out of Mr Tan’s article. And it’s not even really about the huge sum of money at all.

    1) The explanation in his article that taking 5 weeks’ leave is easy. That you won’t get fired if you are good.
    2) The comment that the Le Cordon Bleu course is not
    popular because of the long hours (8.30am – 6pm) and the stress

    3) The comparison of the stress he felt with the stress felt by another student in the course who had sunk his entire savings into studying to be a chef.

    All 3 points reveal an inability to understand the kind of life most other people (upper middle and below) have to go through everyday.

    1) Taking 5 weeks leave is not easy in Singapore, even if you are good.

    2) The course is not popular because it is expensive and most people who do take it VERY seriously. Mostly those who want be earn a living as a chef (not just a normal chef but a very good one) will attend this course. Or those who want to set up a serious business.

    3) A man who has sunk his entire savings into a course will feel more than just stress if he doesn’t make it through.

    Why is all this disturbing? Because it comes from a leader in the government who is supposed to realise what life is like for the majority of Singaporeans, the so called “lesser mortals”. Otherwise how can they effectively make decisions and pass legislations that can help improve society?

    There have been comments that the public transport system is the way it is, especially in the mornings because the people making the laws don’t actually take public transport during peak hours.

    There is a great disconnect with reality. Nobody would care if it was some privileged kid who gained an inheritance or big-shot CEO in an MNC. They don’t run the country.

    On the surface, the article seems to be completely harmless and non consequential but Mr Tan inadvertently revealed the great disparity in perception of reality between the top leaders in the country and us normal folk.

    To me, it’s disturbing because he probably isn’t the only one who is unaware.

  8. Thank you Daniel & Esther for stopping by. Welcome and hope u’ll visit often.

    1) Daniel: We can debate till the cows come home on whether our ministers and civil servants are overpaid. The fact is they are paid according to the scale approved by Parliament. Unhappy with it? Rather than just gripe (which is slow –or never– to bring the results u want), why not go for an option that will bring change, faster? This includes persuading others to your view point with what u intend to do effect the change and then join hands to try and effect that change 2gether. This means u may have to enter Parliament yrself or have yr proxies enter Parliament. In a democracy, that’s how things that bug one are gotten rid of, via the ballot box.

    2) The income group I belong to can’t be the same as pple like Eugene and his greater mortals who keep on saying its their taxes that are paying our ministers and the civil servants. I empathise a lot with the less fortunate. I share a little of my money with them, directly. I bring dry goods to two destitute individuals, one on PA and another who isn’t. I visit one room flats in Bendemeer twice a month, tho it’s my maid who does the distribution. Occasionally when I don’t have enough cash on me or don’t have anything under $10, I share or give away whatever food I have on me with anyone who looks hungry and dishevelled I run into. I have even rushed home to look for smaller notes and food when I come across such sad cases, if I’m near enough my home. I hope recounting this won’t be put into the “bragging” category. But since u ask, I thought I should elaborate..

    3) And now to Esther: you’ve written something very meaningful tho I don’t think we should extrapolate from Mr TYS’ experience and apply it blanket wise on everybody. Some people try to fulfill their dreams whether their finances allow them to or not, hence the stress. As for 5 weeks leave, it doesn’t mean Mr TYS does it every year. Or that when he is on leave, he doesn’t do teleconferencing and other work. IT makes it possible for people to be on hols and yet still snug in some work. Still, I don’t know Mr TYS. I’m just bguessing the best of him, while most pple are guessing the worst of him.

    4) What I do agree with you, Esther, is that our transport system leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t know why our road signs are so often positioned in such a way that one is misled into turning into the wrong road. Or why our bus-stops are positioned so that buses pulling out from the bay often have to cross three to four lanes to turn right or left, thus slowing traffic in those lanes or delay the buses, if traffic in those lanes play “buat bodoh”.

    5) Still, i don’t think u need a PS to work out such nitty-gritty. Any ground chap who drives n/or takes buses shld be able to provide the recommendations. After all, u don;t need a heart surgeon to give an intravenous anti-biotics injection, right? So it seems to me, the soldier ants may not be up to their job? Yet by saying this, I may be blasted for laying the blame on the “lesser mortals”.

    6) Xin nian kuai le to you both.

  9. Heh. Gahmen dogsbody declaring life of luxury in credit crunch – of course have to expect backlash lah. Open-ness and transparency have never been synonymous with politicians. You wanna keep the people in the country happy, you gotta pander to them, and hide anything that will cause controversy.

  10. Hi Areya, Still in this part of the world or have u returned to the country suffering its 1st recession in 20 years? U may be right. Too much honesty — telling it like it is — isn’t good for the listener. After all, don’t most of us practise self-deception? Why should we insist those who rule us not have the same problem?

  11. If that person is masquerading as you, I do not expect him, or her, to write “Is she a TOC contributor” or “The blog mentioned by gemani…”.

    I would expect him to write “Am I a TOC contributor” and “My blog is …”.

    After some careful analysis, it’s possible that your accused masquerader is just trying to share your blog url with others. No other bad intention.

  12. Hi Question:

    The body text is fine and seems to be written in the 3rd person; so like u say it appears not to be impersonating me. But, look above the body text and put your cursor over the nick (singaporegirl) and it links to my blog. Sneaky and cunning. I don’t see any good intention, even tho it did benefit my visitor count. It was one gift horse I could do without and told TOC so. Whoever’s done that can stuff their good intentions u know where 😉

  13. Hello Lucy, I finally have internet access in the new home in the UK. My job is thankfully relatively recession proof. Heh.

  14. Areya, now u r back on the Net, do keep up with your eliptic way of sharing your life n thoughts. Most interesting and instructive. I tried to emulate in one post. Can guess which? Hope u r enjoying GB (and I don’t mean the country), hehe!

  15. Hi Lucy,

    Thanks for the comment. Finished work now so may update more frequently. I actually don’t recognise my own writing style so can’t tell which post u referring to 🙂 I most certainly am not 100% enjoying GB (The country that is) but I do my best to get by.

    A.

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