When Fear and Hope collide

Some days ago, I made the decision to publish an entry that some might consider controversial.  I received a wide range of responses from my friends, some supportive, and others less so.  Apart from the comments attached to the original entry, I thought I’d reproduce some of them (sans names and any identifiers) to illustrate the differing views out there.

Hi James – congratulations on this piece. It is not my place to tell you how to write and I am not a Singaporean so please take what follows simply as encouragement from a friend.

  1. It’s very brave of you to be so honest and I think your doing so may turn out to be more important than you might imagine.
  2. In doing this there is no going back. You have pissed them off mightily and they are going to backstab you, in private and in public.
  3. Telling your story, the way you see it, is your right.

Either make this a piece of reportage that is about your undeniable front-line feelings and experience, or make it a totally dispassionate analysis of the scholarship system. If you are doing the latter then something much larger than the yellow disclaimer and the grey box below it need to be central to the piece. But if you are doing the former, then they have no place in the piece and weaken it immensely because they make it look like you haven’t got the courage of your convictions, which even in our short aquaintance I know you have. If you do decide to make this 100% a report on what you feel and experienced then nobody can challenge you. It is your experience and you are a world authority on that! It is 100% OK for you to express opinions about the wider world and label them as opinion. You only open yourself up to criticism if you present opinion as if it were fact, as seems to me is common in the Straits Times. So here’s me simply expressing an opinion – take those disclaimer boxes that shoot yourself in the foot out of this piece, go through it and make sure you are humbly reporting your own experience. Then no-one can touch you and you will have done something important for thousands of young people who are unsure in their hearts if they are doing/have done the right thing by signing up as scholars.

With very best wishes, XXX

After reading his note, I made the decision to remove the rather pointless cover-my-ass disclaimer.  I had included the disclaimer at first because a small part of me still feared possible reprisals.  Thanks, pal, for your words of enlightenment.

Another dear friend of mine took the effort to print out my article, and give it the stroke of death with her red-inked pen.  Her comments were a lot less sanguine, even though her kind intentions were greatly appreciated by me.

I didn’t agree with most of my friend’s marked-up comments. It is clear that we not only shared diametrically opposed risk profiles, but also had differing opinions on what the establishment would deem hostile. I wrote with much concern, hope and good intentions, while my friend wielded her red pen with much fear and a general lack of belief in the progressiveness of our bureaucracy. I think her views represent that of the majority, and that’s kind of sad to know.

Earlier this morning, I received a call from the representative of the agency that had managed the Singapore Inc. scholarship, who was concerned that my mention of their agency in my post could be misleading and negatively impact its reputation.  I wasn’t too surprised to receive the call, and had actually considered removing any mention of them as I had not intended to single any particular scholarship out for criticism.  Its exclusion was not material.  I promised the lady I would remove any references to their agency, and promptly modified the entry.  It didn’t make sense to make things hard for anyone.  I concluded that she was really trying to do her job, and mitigate any collateral damage from my post that her department or agency might receive from the powers-to-be, if anyone ever decided to call for an inquiry to look into the establishment’s state of affairs.


There is a Chinese saying that goes like this, “一朝被蛇咬,十年怕井蛇”.  Loosely translated, it describes a person’s irrational fear of snake-like shadows cast by a rope, 10 years after they were first bitten by a snake.  Contrast that with the Western phrase “once bitten, twice shy“.  I’m no anthropologist, but I think I won’t be too far off the mark to infer that East is traditionally more risk averse than the West.  After all, it’s much easier to be safe than sorry.

As cosmopolitan as Singapore may be, it is still very much a Chinese, Confucian society.  Fear has the upper hand for now.  Hope can only quietly bide its time in Fear’s shadow, and peek its head out every now and then.

I don’t wanna fight no more, I don’t know what we’re fighting for
When we treat each other baby, like an act of war
I could tell a million lies and it would come as no surprise
When the truth is like a stranger, hits you right between the eyes

There’s a time and a place and a reason
And I know I got a love to believe in
All I know got to win this time

– “When Love and Hate collides” by Def Leppard

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.