Saturday, July 12, 2008

Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragons

YOU ARE at Watsons. You see yourself in the mirror and smile.
That’s when she pounces on you.
“Hi!” Her high-pitched voice startles you. “Slimming tea for your tummy and butterfly arms?”
Meet ‘Sale-by-Insult’, one of Singapore’s illustrious crouching tigers and hidden dragons.

INSULT' has a second cousin: ‘Smooth Operator’.
Now, this tiger does not tear you to bits. He flatters, and comes bearing a gift.
And when your senses are numb with delight, he operates - on your brain - and smooth talks you into buying something to deserve that gift.

is a shoppers’ paradise.
But with our tigers and dragons breeding profusely like rabbits, we’re fast becoming paradise lost.
Seriously, how did we get here?
What happened to 22 years of courtesy campaigns? Why do the rude, bad, and ugly continue to reign in our service industry?

YOU KNOW the culprits.
The ‘Unsmiling dragons’ at check-out counters.
The ‘Circling Tigers’ who stop their taxis only for angmoh tourists.
The ‘Illusionists’ who trail you around in departmental stores like blood-hounds, then vanish like ninjas when you finally need something.
And what about the ‘What-You-See-Is-All-You-Gets’? Ask them for anything - stockings, sandals, salted fish - and they give you the same classic answer: “See lor. Got, got. Don’t have, don’t have.”
Finally, ‘The Terminators’, who disguise themselves as manicurists but are really agents with lethal weapons of precision timing.
These dragon ladies are ruthless. They only unsheathe their claws to terminate - your ego no less - only after your fingers are wet and immobilized, and your toes freshly painted and all clamped down.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” they hiss at you while you sit trembling, like some little trapped creature.
“Dry skin, enlarged pores, crow’s feet. How about a S$599.00 miracle-cure treatment?”

I FINALLY figured out why despite the good work by the Tourist Promotion people our tigers and dragons are still alive and well.
Here's the secret: Singaporeans are just too polite!

Oh we do stick out our don’t-mess-with-me ugly kiasu heads, but only when junior comes running home wailing over unfair PSLE Math questions, or when someone cuts into our Changi Village nasi-lemak queue.
Most of the time, we simply shrug and ‘take it’; or if we are very brave, ‘leave it’.

WE ARE so pathetically polite that we reciprocate freebies we don’t need by paying for stuff we don’t want.
After all, our mothers taught us to be grateful and say, “Thank you”, didn’t they?
We are so embarrassingly polite that we clean up our plates in restaurants like silenced lambs — even when they come late, cold, and, nothing like what we were promised.
Our mothers taught us that too, remember?

WITH DUE RESPECT to all our long-suffering Singaporean mothers, I say it’s time we stop being too polite.
It's time we stand as one united people, regardless of race, language or size or shape; and insist on decent manners, resist traps, and persist in saying, “No!” “Leave me alone!”
Let us resolve to report the villains, reject the insults, and refuse to pay the service charge when no service is due.
Only then can we extinguish the crouching tigers and hidden dragons from our concrete jungle.
Restore our self esteem.
And save our paradise.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


FLIGHT delayed. Bummer.
After 18 hours of flying from Singapore, and five hours of waiting at Chicago’s Ohare International, I was more than ready to get going.
Then the announcement came: “Flight to Orlando delayed for four hours.”
“Lord!” I cried. “This is so purposeless! I’ve a meeting to attend, people to meet, the Great Commission to fulfill!”
As I sat there leafing through my Bible, fuming, the Lord spoke to me,
“Waiting is part of the going,” He said, “the transit—is also the journey.”

THAT was a ‘moment’. One to which I’d return again and again to revise the lesson I learned that day. Like when my husband stepped down as national director two years ago.
On 1 July 2006, we left the local office of Singapore Campus Crusade and began our new assignment at EAST, the East Asia School of Theology.
We were in transition.
It wasn’t sudden. As early as two years before then, we started to prepare for the change.
It wasn’t like we were stranded. We were sought after by north (Japan), south (Australia) and EAST.
It wasn’t as though we’d missed a step. We took time to inform, announce, prepare others. Everything was thought through, and unhurried.
Yet, on moving-out day, I didn’t feel ready.

HERE’S what I learned about transitions.
I learned that even with the best preparations, transitions are hard things to do.
It’s saying “goodbye” to the familiar that’s hard.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night and thinking the strangest thought: “I won’t see so-and-so at the zerox machine anymore.” I cried.
I wasn’t even close to so-and-so.
One day, while clearing my drawers, I suddenly realized I’d be giving up my parking lot, and the tears flowed.
The emotions weren’t always logical but they were real.
I learned that though I’d said my goodbyes verbally, emotionally I was hanging in in-between for a while longer. I was where Linus was, as writer Marilyn Ferguson put it, “when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to.”
It’s the indefinite waiting for things to pick up that’s hard.
The first week at EAST, my husband and I wanted to jump right in and become instant insiders. But we couldn’t.
There were boxes to unpack, emotions to sort through, and new routines to remember.
Our engine was stuck in second gear.
It’s not being able to skip any step that’s hard. Because transitions—getting out of, getting used to, getting there—take time. There’s no short cut. Whether it’s overcoming a heartbreak, or adjusting to a new culture, new job, new cell phone—it takes time.
And time won’t be rushed. Time moves at its own pace and rhythm; time keeps us humble.
So I learned that it’s wise to leave transition alone.
And while it’s working out the process, fret not but soak in all that God wants to teach us.
For me, one key lesson was a refresher course on self-worth.

WHERE do I find my self-worth? Is it from the number of people who report to me or the title that follows my name?
Or does it—as I always preach—come from Jesus and Jesus alone?
I wrestled with these questions. I asked myself if I honestly believed in my own answers. And God directed me to the life of John the Baptist.
John the Forerunner was the kid “most likely to succeed.” He had a job description and title before he was born, and he fulfilled it. So perfectly that many of his disciples left him to follow Jesus.
At the prime of his life, his term ended and he decreased, as he himself had predicted—right into Herod’s prison.
From the world’s standpoint, John’s life might be considered an anti-climax. But in God’s eyes, his was a life lived well.
During John’s dark night of the soul, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One. And this was what our Lord said, “ . . . among those born of women there is no one greater than John" (Luke 7:28, NASV). What a compliment!
Here’s the point: John’s glory wasn’t found in what he did or where he set up his office. His glory came solely from Jesus’ nod of approval.
So where does my self-worth come from?
It does not stem from position, power, or people; but from my Lord and Master.

COMPARED to what I’ve learned, and am still learning, through the transition, what’s convenience, familiarity and a shaded car park?
While his blanket was in the dryer, Linus must have finally discovered he could survive without his false security, and grew up.
In due time, the coast will clear and my flight shall take off. Meanwhile, I’ll stay put in the transit lounge, enjoy the coffee, and smell the flowers.

love the ocean - God made it for Himself

About Me

In the Old Testament in the Bible, there was a man named Jacob who "wrestled with God and man." He wouldn't let God go until God answered his prayers. God admired that and renamed him Israel, "the one who fought or wrestled and prevailed". He fought with man--his inner man--and conquered his own weaknesses. He's my hero. He is what I hope God and man see me to be.