Singapore not a cruise ship, but a sampan 2.0

From ‘Singapore remains a sampan, but an upgraded one’, 31 Oct 2013, article by Sumiko Tan, ST

SINGAPORE will be in trouble if it thinks it has arrived and can afford to relax, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated yesterday. The country is small, and while it is no longer as poor and defenceless as it used to be, it must continue to be on its toes and work hard to improve.

Speaking to the Singapore media at the end of his official visit to France, he said “my eyes popped out” when he read a commentary in The Straits Times likening Singapore today to a cruise ship.

Commentator Koh Buck Song had argued in Monday’s Opinion pages that Singapore politicians’ oft-used metaphor of the country as a sampan, easily tossed about by the waves of global competition, was no longer valid. He said it risked promoting small-mindedness and cramping national self-confidence and ambition.

Instead, Mr Koh said, Singapore was more like a well-oiled cruise ship that caters to every need. As it offers the smoothest of journeys, passengers can relax because they feel secure, he added.

Mr Lee, however, warned: “Once you think you are in a cruise ship and you are on a holiday and everything must go swimmingly well and will be attended to for you, I think you are in trouble.

“We are small, we are not as poor as we used to be, we are not defenceless, we are able to fend for ourselves and to make a living for ourselves, and we are better off than before, and I think that we need to keep on working hard, to continue improving.” As to what might be a more appropriate metaphor, he said with a laugh: “I think we have upgraded our sampan. It’s sampan 2.0.”

This is my sampan, this is my land, this is my future, this is my life

It’s not just politicians using the sampan analogy to refer to our vulnerability when things get rough and we are forced to ‘weather the storm‘. A ‘prominent economist’ described Singapore as one which would sink if a ‘few monkeys’ jumped on board. A writer for a city guide to Singapore titled Cultureshock! refers to us as a ‘canoe’, not a steamship afloat on the ocean. Perhaps we may consider an alternative form of naval transport between the two extremes, that Singapore is more like a catamaran instead, a vessel owned by only rich people that doesn’t keel over in choppy waves, but will be ripped to shreds in a tsunami, or by Jaws.

In 1972, PM Lee’s father gave a stern warning to bank union workers not to ROCK THE BOAT if they wanted to share in Singapore’s prosperity, echoing S Rajaratnam who a year earlier used the same expression on minorities promoting ‘chauvinism’.  In his later years, LKY believed Singapore had grown enough room and speed to qualify as a PLANE that cannot afford to go on ‘auto-pilot’, and here his son is undermining that image by referring to our country as sampan 2.0, without specifying what exactly has been upgraded or what bugs have been eliminated. Judging from the spate of flash floods of late, we know the leaks in the boat are still there, and the captains haven’t changed one bit since the sampan came into existence. What has changed, though not necessarily for the better, is that our sampan has gotten prettier, pricier but WAY HEAVIER over the years. If it doesn’t capsize due to turbulence, it could very well just sink under its own weight. If the sampan had a name it would be called The Greedy Sardine.

In Koh Buck Song’s piece (Sink the Old Sampan, 30 Oct 2013), he explains the ‘small cruise ship’ comparison in terms of on board recreational facilities (Zouk, casinos), efficient services, cosmopolitan population, an endless variety of activities to cater to every need and bizarrely, for ‘lifelong learning’, which makes sense if you’re the type who spends half a day in the ship library rather than go out there and play bingo with aunties. I for one would rather be stuck in a tub with a ladle for a paddle than go on a cruise. Luxury liners also happen to be heavy polluters, hosts to cheesy cabaret shows where entertainers drag you into a ridiculous conga line, and you can’t stroll the boardwalk in peace without bumping into sweaty fat passengers wearing skimpy trunks that leave little to the imagination carrying a sloppy club sandwich in one hand and a dripping Cornetto in the other.

Maybe PM’s eyes wouldn’t ‘pop out’ so much if Koh Buck Song had compared us to one particular cruise ship known for something other than 24 hour dining or casinos; The Love Boat.

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2 Responses

  1. Since when was pappies looking after the people sharing the same boat? Looking at all the policies of the pappies. They only benefited themselves to stay in power, taking free lunches at the expense of ordinary citizens who are left to fend for themselves. The “same boat” metaphor is a lie.

  2. There’s the bus analogy too, with WP touting themselves as co-drivers. They view it as their “duty to tell the driver that he is reading the road map upside down”, while the driver says the co-driver wants to “jam brake and put our economy in a tailspin”.

    I say enough with the transportation analogies already, although I do often get the feeling I’m being taken for a ride.

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