“May you live in interesting times.” – Chinese curse
As the cab my family and I had booked sped from the Changi airport where we had landed from Australia towards our resort at Sentosa Island for a couple of days of R and R, before heading to Manila, he commented on the politics of the Philippines by asking us, “So how is Noynoy, oh I am sorry, Pee-Noy? Is he really not that smart?”
Intrigued by his question, I began to engage him in conversation.
It is rather uncharacteristic of Singaporeans to talk about politics, especially to strangers. Seeking to show deference to our host, I responded by saying that P-Noy was smart, but compared to their Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the Cambridge educated mathematician son of Lee Kwan Yew, he may not be quite as sharp.
He reciprocated in kind by saying that as far as excitement goes, Singapore was not as interesting as the Philippines. I sensed a hidden envy on his part for the rambunctious nature of our politics with the rough and tumble colorful world of constitutional brinkmanship that began with Erap Estrada and Gloria Arroyo that has continued under the presidency of Noynoy Aquino.
I began to chide him a little at this point by saying, “no, no, boring is good.” It was preferable to have a state with a long period of unremarkable quiet governance than to have one that was constantly giving bloggers like me reasons to write. And this past year, there certainly has been no shortage of controversies to write about.
I began to recount my experience as a civil servant where I often hear my fellow policy officers complain that they have to constantly update the minister with briefings, rather than get on with their day job of running the government. Ministers have an insatiable desire (at least it seems to us) to be briefed on a wide range of issues concerning their portfolio in anticipation of any curve balls thrown them by the opposition during question time in parliament.
The volume of requests is seen as a proxy for the vulnerabilities and insecurities of any government averse to losing legitimacy in the eyes of the people. That is why the mandarins who run the government often say that boring is good because it not only creates less work for them, it also means they can concentrate on the business of governing. And it was this sentiment that I left with our curious cab driver as we alighted from his vehicle.
The following day, as I took my kids down for a stroll on the white sandy beach of Sentosa, a mere thirty minute drive from the airport, which is a minor miracle in itself considering Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world to have such a safe and relatively secluded island getaway nearby, I began to agree with myself. “Yes,” I thought, “boring is better.”
As the Chinese proverb goes, “It’s better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period.” To everyone who reads and follows this column, have a “quiet” and peaceful holiday season!