Saturday, March 15,1998
The Straits Times : Life Section Page 2

Bond Breakers and my brother and sister

MY BROTHER worked for 20 years in a Japanese company which was based here, rising gradually over the years from being a storehand to a storekeeper to finally a warehouse supervisor.

The company folded recently and he lost his job. The next thing I knew, he had found himself a new job in a newly set-up local company, although he suffered a drop in income of $1,000.

He told me matter-of-factly that he went through two rounds of interview, the second with the managing director of the company. The latter had asked him, "Why have you asked for a salary that is $1,000 less than your old one?"

My brother said to him: "Because I am 46, and I have little education."

Implicit in that simple statement was the fact that the company could hire someone half his age and twice as educated for the same salary.

But then he has a 20-year track record, and he has also learnt to work on the computer. So for the same salary, would the MD choose him or that someone younger?

The MD chose him.

The ironic part is that for his new job, which pays him $1,000 less, my brother has to wear a tie, when for the last 20 years, he was never expected to. He laughed about it.

I gave him several of my ties, mainly gifts from friends, which I seldom get to wear anyway.

Unlike me, my brother has a family to support: his wife who works part-time to supplement his income; a son who has just got his O level results (3 As and 1 B) and who hopes to do a computer course in the Singapore Polytechnic; and another who is still in primary school.

They have just recently moved into a new five-room HDB flat in Redhill, after having lived in a three-room flat for almost the last two decades. They got the flat in this choice central location after a long wait, and only because they had applied as a three-generation family, together with my father's name.
When the flat was ready last year, my father sold his own three-room flat, where I had spent a miserable 10 years, for slightly more than $100,000. He had bought it in 1968 for $25,000.

Whenever I think about that profit, which my father did not have to actually work for, and whenever I visit my brother's new flat, which he has done up tastefully with only a small sum of money, I cannot but feel grateful.

In another society, my father, a shopkeeper all his life, and now in his late 70s, would never have received that kind of windfall, and my brother, with his limited qualifications, would never be the owner of such a spacious home.

My father, a widower, has retired for many years. Because he had slogged physically since he was young, he enjoys his free time and has never complained of boredom.

He spends the mornings in the neighbourhood kopi-tiam with his cronies. Once or twice a month I join them, and listen to them talk about their selling of the Telecom shares as soon as the Government had put them into their CPF accounts, and their noisy arguments over how many channels Cable TV actually provides and whether the service is too expensive.

For lunch and dinner, my father usually goes to a coffeeshop and eats on his own, after which he will take a stroll. At home, he reads both the Zaobao and Wanbao cover to cover, and watch TV or the VCDs which I have passed on to him.

He used to smoke, but his only indulgence left these days is to splurge a couple of dollars on the lottery every week. On the rare occasions that he strikes and wins a modest sum of money, all his children, including myself, would get a share of it.

In recent years, my father has been able to travel with his friends on guided tours to places like Japan and Hongkong.

My brother, who cannot afford to travel, had the opportunity to work in Brunei and Shanghai for short stints in his previous job.

I have three sisters, one of whom joined an American bank after her O levels, and who, over the years, has risen to become a vice-president. She has worked hard all these years, and has survived nasty local bosses, downsizing and a merger and the politics that came with it.

These days, she attends regular meetings with the regional bigwigs, both here and abroad. She calls me up to help her with her presentation drafts. Unlike some of her past local bosses, the Americans, some of them Harvard-educated, treat her as one of them, and obviously cherish her.

Last year, when one of her staff lost a few million dollars with the collapse of the baht, she had offered her resignation. But her bosses kept her on.

In less than a year, she made back almost all the losses. Although she got a huge pay rise at the end of the year, her immediate boss actually apologised for the relatively smaller bonus.

In other years, she made millions for the bank, for which she was rewarded handsomely. Married but without children, she has promised to see my nephew through poly. I AM THINKING about my brother, my father and my sister because I want to compare them with Hector Yee, the bright young man who broke his National Computer Board scholarship bond and whose Dear John email to the board, which was released to the press, I have read earlier tonight.

They do not have the young man's brightness. They do not also have his sense of entitlement, and certainly not his arrogance.

"Thus, I'm saddened that NCB has reacted this way, but I cannot deprive the world of the potential benefits that can be derived from my research," he pronounced in his letter.

My brother and sister also do not have the glib expediency of this clever man.

"I would still like to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with NCB, one in which both parties are served...I am puzzled as to why NCB would want to break ties with the very people who would be useful contacts in the future. I am sure that a win-win situation could arise with proper handling of this issue."

The "win-win situation" is the kind of trite management jargon my sister's past local bosses used to bandy about. But they were all little Gordon Gekkos. All they wanted was to win, and others be damned.

"It's a zero-sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses," as Gekko, the character in the movie Wall Street, tells his protege.

I must say I am mighty proud of my old man, my brother and my sister.

They are winners, they stay the course whatever the circumstances. The bright young man is a loser. He quits before he has even begun -- and he wants to save the world? "

Archive 1

21/11/99 Hit me with the Blues

31/10/99 No chaise longue, just chaise daybed

17/10/99 Tell your tale and watch it take off

03/10/99 Goodness, its been 25 years now

19/09/99 To have a productive day off

27/08/99 Conduct yourself well

08/08/99 Liberalisation and the small man

27/06/99 An ATM at home that knows me

30/05/99 Why fleshy hips and jiggly thighs

16/05/99 A dressing-down for the interns

02/05/99 I've the best seat in the house

04/04/99 I may take China, drop my 'mistress'

21/03/99 When the lens harden

07/03/99 Among dreamers and risk-takers

07/03/99 Lives will be transformed

17/01/99 Look for me at the movies

03/01/99 Hardy, hungry, but a cause for worry?

15/11/98 Goodnight Irin, while I think of New Orleans

01/11/98 'Sexy' and 'Cool' is what sells today

04/10/98 Letter from melancholic anonymous

20/09/98 Men behave like sperm

01/08/98 Global is good, but local matters too

26/07/98 4 books I can't renounce

28/06/98 49 and the genes are calling

14/06/98 Beep beep for every kid

31/05/98 Soft goods, soft power rule

10/05/98 Be still--and be open to constant change

05/04/98 Fight heat at home, then soar the skies

15/03/98 Bond Breakers and my brother and sister

15/02/98 If you love her, set her free

18/01/98 Romancing Cambodia