Beating the 'Terrible 10'

Straits Times readers at The Big Read Meet, live-streamed for the first time, discussed 'The Terrible 10' problems in Jonathan Tepperman's book, The Fix

For the first time in its 3½-year existence, The Big Read Meet was live-streamed on Wednesday to thousands of followers of the National Reading Movement. As at 6pm yesterday, the video has been viewed 630 times.

The Meet is a monthly non- fiction book club run by The Straits Times (ST) and the National Library Board since July 2013.

A total of 40 ST readers turned up to discuss, over 90 minutes, Jonathan Tepperman's book, The Fix. In it, the American managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine listed 10 exemplary countries, including Singapore, which were overcoming what he called "The Terrible 10" problems confounding the world today. These are: income inequality, corruption, poverty, the resource curse, immigration, Islamic extremism, governments in deadlock, chaotic cities, civil war and dwindling energy sources.

Meet regular Vincent Loo, 58, who is a commodities sales and relationship manager at financial software, data and media company Bloomberg, said the countries Tepperman highlighted showed that "honest, clean and clear leaders… truly wanting to serve the people" were vital in overcoming Tepperman's "Terrible 10".


The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman. PHOTO: TIM DUGGAN BOOKS

An American citizen and new Meet member, who referred to himself as "Krishna", said the reason he settled down in Singapore recently was because of its leaders' long- term thinking. For example, he noted, when Singaporeans numbered only a few million in the late 1970s, the Government could already see that, someday in the future, 50 million travellers would pass through Singapore.

"So they built Changi Airport. That took a lot of guts."

Now, he added, the airport will soon have five terminals. "So many countries now want to copy that," he pointed out.

He then sparked a robust exchange among participants about the presence of migrants here, when he touched on how positive migrants' contributions to their host country often were.

But English-language tutor Anne Dcruz, 55, was concerned about the extent to which such migrants blended into Singapore society.

"They don't assimilate so well and change the culture of the place," she said.

Retired paediatric urologist Jeeta Dhillon, 66, disagreed.

Dr Dhillon, a Singaporean who worked in London for 30 years before returning here, said: "It is absolutely correct that if you have a large number of people coming here over a short period of time, change will happen. And, of course, there are the stresses of work and how they affect the individual.

"But, on the other hand, as to the change in culture, I don't think that it is such a bad thing."

Dr Dhillon then compared London in the late 20th century, whose food "would not make the world's top 50" and which had "neighbours who never knew you", to the London of today, which is "vibrant, cosmopolitan and whose food is brilliant".

"Its culture has changed completely, so much for the better," she stressed. "And remember, London did not vote to leave Europe."

She was referring to Brexit, in which the majority of British voters decided on June 23 last year to leave the European Union.

When Meet regular and economist Hans Schiewind, 57, asked her if her views applied to, say, northern England, Dr Dhillon said that in smaller, poorer parts of Britain, where Britons had to jostle with Poles, Bulgarians and other migrants for jobs and medical care, Britons felt the changes in culture keenly.

Ms Dcruz said afterwards: "The situation in Singapore is not as idealistic as it may seem on paper."

But as first-generation Singaporean Lum Pak Meng, 58, put it: "It takes two to tango."

Noting how lowly his father felt when he first arrived here from China, which was then "the sick man of Asia", Mr Lum, a self- employed writer, recalled: "But he assimilated. He learnt Malay and other skills to get along with everyone."

He added: "Now, the Chinese walk with their heads held high… But if they say, 'Eh, you must accept me', everyone else would say, 'You must also accept me.'"

Among the new faces at the Meet were Dr Yap Choon Yet, 79, and his wife, Mrs Cynthia Yap, 74, a retired teacher.

Dr Yap, who is retired, said: "The discussion opened one's mind to other facts that, most of the time, one would not know about."

Mrs Yap has been a fan of the fortnightly Big Read column since 2013; the Meet is moderated by this writer, as an extension of the column. She said: "The evening was stimulating intellectually and I was into all the points brought up in the book."

• Watch Wednesday’s Meet at tinyurl.com/h3kenjn

• The next Big Read Meet is on March 29 at the Multi-Purpose Room, Central Public Library, Basement 1, National Library Board headquarters at 100 Victoria Street. Sign up at any NLB e-kiosk.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Beating the 'Terrible 10''. Print Edition | Subscribe