Wisdom of a famous daughter

Malaysiakini reported that MIER has slashed its forecast of growth rate for 2009 from 3.5% to 1.3%.

I have in several posts earlier mentioned that our economy outlook is not good and that a recession is inevitable.

In this difficult time, the government should acknowledge that the economy is going to face big problem, and with that acknowledge, takes measures to cut down unnecessary expenses and wastages, and implement strict anti-corruption rules, as well as takes steps to encourage private investments as the growth engines. To encourage private investments, I have called for the NEP to be abolished.

Our southern neighbour, SIngapore, is facing a grim time. But their leaders have acknowledged that and have asked their people to tighten their belts in preparaqtion for the worsening scenerio. This is despite their immense reserve.

I am going to post an artilce written by DR Lee Wai Ling, Director of NeuroScience Institute of SIngapore, and famous daughter of MM Lee Kuan Yew.

Dr Lee was one year my junior in University of Singapore Medical School. Unfortunately, though I have seen her so many times  during the undergraudate days, we have never actually conversed before… But from what I learned from her classmates, she is a very smart person.

This is her view on the recession:


by Lee Wei Ling

In 2008, in an end-of-year message to the staff of the National Neuroscience Institute, I wrote: ‘Whilst boom time in the public sector is never as booming as in the private sector, let us not forget that boom time is eventually followed by slump time. Slump time in the public sector is always less painful compared to the private sector.’



Slump time has arrived with a bang.

While I worry about the poorer Singaporeans who will be hit hard, perhaps this recession has come at an opportune time for many of us. It will give us an incentive to reconsider our priorities in life.


Decades of the good life have made us soft. The wealthy especially, but also the middle class in Singapore, have had it so good for so long, what they once considered luxuries, they now think of as necessities.

A mobile phone, for instance, is now a statement about who you are, not just a piece of equipment for communication. Hence many people buy the latest model though their existing mobile phones are still in perfect working order.

A Mercedes-Benz is no longer adequate as a status symbol. For millionaires who wish to show the world they have taste, a Ferrari or a Porsche is deemed more appropriate.

The same attitude influences the choice of attire and accessories. I still find it hard to believe that there are people carrying handbags that cost more than thrice the monthly income of a bus driver, and many more times that of the foreign worker labouring in the hot sun, risking his life to construct luxury condominiums he will never have a chance to live in.

The media encourages and amplifies this ostentatious consumption. Perhaps it is good to encourage people to spend more because this will prevent the recession from getting worse. I am not an economist, but wasn’t that the root cause of the current crisis – Americans spending more than they could afford to?


I am not a particularly spiritual person. I don’t believe in the supernatural and I don’t think I have a soul that will survive my death. But as I view the crass materialism around me, I am reminded of what my mother once told me: ‘Suffering and deprivation is good for the soul.’

My family is not poor, but we have been brought up to be frugal. My parents and I live in the same house that my paternal grandparents and their children moved into after World War II in 1945. It is a big house by today’s standards, but it is simple – in fact, almost to the point of being shabby.

Those who see it for the first time are astonished that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s home is so humble. But it is a comfortable house, a home we have got used to. Though it does look shabby compared to the new mansions on our street, we are not bothered by the comparison.

Most of the world and much of Singapore will lament the economic downturn. We have been told to tighten our belts. There will undoubtedly be suffering, which we must try our best to ameliorate.
But I personally think the hard times will hold a timely lesson for many Singaporeans, especially those born after 1970 who have never lived through difficult times.

No matter how poor you are in Singapore, the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food. Nobody starves in Singapore.

Many of those who are currently living in mansions and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle will probably still be able to do so, even if they might have to downgrade from wines costing $20,000 a bottle to $10,000 a bottle. They would hardly notice the difference.

Being wealthy is not a sin. It cannot be in a capitalist market economy. Enjoying the fruits of one’s own labour is one’s prerogative and I have no right to chastise those who choose to live luxuriously.

But if one is blinded by materialism, there would be no end to wanting and hankering. After the Ferrari, what next? An Aston Martin? After the Hermes Birkin handbag, what can one upgrade to?

Neither an Aston Martin nor an Hermes Birkin can make us truly happy or contented. They are like dust, a fog obscuring the true meaning of life, and can be blown away in the twinkling of an eye.

When the end approaches and we look back on our lives, will we regret the latest mobile phone or luxury car that we did not acquire? Or would we prefer to die at peace with ourselves, knowing that we have lived lives filled with love, friendship and goodwill, that we have helped some of our fellow voyagers along the way and that we have tried our best to leave this world a slightly better place than how we found it?

We know which is the correct choice – and it is within our power to make that choice.

In this new year, burdened as it is with the problems of the year that has just ended, let us again try to choose wisely.

To a considerable degree, our happiness is within our own control, and we should not follow the herd blindly.


Editor:  I do not know what is a Hermes Birkin Handbag, jst like what a commentator below , NIck, mentioned. I went to Wiki pedia, and found this picture: (for the description, read the comments below”



hermes-handbagAn Hermes Black Crocodile Birkin Bag with Diamonds







24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nick
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 11:30:32

    Our country is led by a bunch of half-baked MPs. MIER forecast of 1.3% GDP growth is actually more towards the truth than all the lies pertuated by useless BN cabinet ministers. Yesterday, my factory terminated the services of 30 engineers, techinicians and indirect staffs. The pain is starting. I don’t see any welfare or related EPF assistance for those thrown out of work. As for the piece by LKY’s daughter, all I can say is I do agree with her. But it is easy for her to be sanctimonious, after all the family had it so good. Good pedigree and it is in their genes. Hermes Birkin bag? What is that? I have no idea but it is true, after owning that, what next? One can only eat 3 times a day. I am truly happy where I am. Thank God.


  2. Justin Choo
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 11:35:24


    Spot on!


  3. Dr Hsu
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 12:23:29

    Nick, I agree with you.

    Anyway, the message from her is that we should not place materialism above other things….

    She has seen deaths first hand and dying people reminisce more of things that they could have done otherwise, and not so much on materialism, that I can attest as a physician who has also seen many dying patients.

    BTW, I have no idea what is a Hermes Birkin handbag.
    This is what i gather from WIKIPedia:

    “The “Birkin” bag is a handbag manufactured by leather goods and ready-to-wear manufacturer Hermès. It is named after British-born actress and singer Jane Birkin, a longtime resident of France.”
    “Generally, the price of a Birkin starts at approximately $7500 USD, not including sales taxes, but can reach 5- and sometimes 6-digit prices, particularly when the bag is constructed from exotic animal skins”…

    What luxury those who carry these bags… I suspect many of our VVIP’s wives must be carrying these…. BUt to us layman, a handbag is just a handbag, I dont really care whether it is “what is the name” or from Petaling Streeet…The only thing must be durable or easy to use..


  4. Justin Choo
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 12:38:02


    I read somewhere that the second man “what’s his name” has a very big baggage.

    You can see it in “Bodohland”.


  5. Dr Hsu
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 12:51:18

    CAn they carry those material things to their graves..I wonder..


  6. klm
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 13:14:01

    The lady made a good point. But again Singapore lost a lot more than Malaysia in this crisis. By a simple count, Temasek probably lost billions if not tens of billions USD. Their investment in Citibank alone is already unimaginable.

    Hence,Singapore need to tighten their belts a little bit more.

    On the other hand, we in bodohland will be a little bit better. We can give thanks to that. As the Chinese saying go ” a stupid person will have a stupid person’s luck”.

    I know this is a contrary view. But I think there is a little element of truth in it.


  7. Richard Loh
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 13:26:56

    Can any authorities, ministers, leaders or NGOs repeat this phrase in our country:

    No matter how poor you are in Singapore, the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food. Nobody starves in Singapore.

    Well, life is not that simple as many would like to believe. Until and unless one is hit by something drastic or attain old age, only than they know what is really life.


  8. Dr Hsu
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 14:06:56

    Social net is very important.This is especailly true during economic recession. Otherwise, crime and chaos will result.

    We need a social net for the genuine poor. This should be irrespective of race or religion of course…

    I also agree with klm that Malaysia is better cushioned than a lot of other countries, but it will definitely be affected.

    For those who are retrenched, they would have to retrain themselves and prepare themselves for other areas of work. When the horse dies, you have to come down to walk.

    BUt the problem is the 4o plus and 50 plus whoa re retrenched… They have family committment and it is not so easy for this group to get re-emplyment… So maybe you wll see more and more hawker stalls and eateries coming up…

    If we have saved the billions that we wasted and that have gone into some people’s pockets,we could have devised a very good social netting program, as well as stimulate the econmy with all the stimulus program… AN investment bank estimates that 100 billions lost to corruption…. I think that is just a conservative estimate.

    How we miss those billions in this time of need…


  9. Justin Choo
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 14:25:39

    Richard Loh,

    “Well, life is not that simple as many would like to believe. Until and unless one is hit by something drastic or attain old age, only than they know what is really life.”

    I come to realize through “old age”.


  10. ahoo
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 14:40:29

    There will never be fairness nor equality on earth. We were born into families not of our own choice and many are born with ‘silver spoon’ like the author above (Dr Lee Wei Ling). What I’m trying to say here is that we can be born into very poor family BUT that does not give us the rights to blame all our unhappiness and misfortune on those rich families. We cannot blame others for being born poor for we have a choice of our own. What we do with our lives will ultimately determine our future destiny. We can blamed the whole world for our misfortune but that will not change the course of our destiny until we decide to do something about it.

    The days ahead will be very tough and trying. The choice is very clear and we need to do all we can to get out of this crunch. Don’t leave it to chance or luck as ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’ or ‘tough times don’t last BUT tough people will’.

    For at the end of one’s life, we cannot bring anything with us and we will not be measured by what wealth or luxury we have lived by but rather by what kind of legacy we have left behind. So whether in good times or bad times, if we are prudent and live life as simple as possible without compromising on our integrity and ethics. It is often said that the success of one’s life is not measured by how much you have BUT rather by how much you have given away !!! Having said the above, I’m not against being wealthy and it is certainly not a sin being rich. But in the quest of pursuing wealth, let us not be being blinded by materialism and greed to the point where the end justify the means. Let us all make this beloved country of ours a more livable place in the days ahead for the many who may face hardships and hunger.

    Dr Hsu, are you keen on welfare work to the poor ? We are in need of doctor to attend to the poor orang asli’s in Cameron and other places. It can be just on a short trip of 2 days (over night) and once a year thing or bi-annually trip. If you are keen, I would like to meet you personally and share with you on some of the work that we are
    doing. To borrow from your maxim : To do my little bit to make the world a better place. Thanks.


  11. Dr Hsu
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 14:55:11

    I am certainly willing to help….

    email me and probably we can meet up..


  12. klm
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 15:53:18

    No matter how poor you are in Singapore, the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food. Nobody starves in Singapore.

    Poverty is relative to the society. Having shelter and food is not enough in Singapore. What if you are in that condition and see the rich drinking $10,000 bottle wine.

    If Singapore define poverty in that manner, than it is an injustice. It is an elitist view of poverty.


  13. A true Malaysian
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 15:56:23


    Marvelous, you commented exactly what I thought.

    Count me in if I am of any help to you and your pursuit to build a caring society.

    Being simple is nice, this is what I believe.


  14. serendipity hopeful
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 18:20:08

    The life-style Ms. Lee describes is not only happening in Singapore, it is also prevalent in Malaysia, though the degree may differ. This flamboyant and ostentatious life-style has permeated all the spectrums of our society. Lest we forget and join in the finger-pointing, we are also in certain degree guilty of the same fault if we care to look at our own spending habits.

    I agree with Ms. Lee as this crisis may be a timely wake-up call for ourselves and the nation to apply self-correction in our pretentious and extravagant spending habits.

    Our government leaders are ‘ostriches who are sticking their heads in the sand’ when they say Malaysia will escape this world-ravaging recession. If they prefer to be self-deluding, that are their choices but we the people must face the hard facts and not be hook-winked by them.


  15. ahoo
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 18:44:15

    Thank you ” A true Malaysian ” and will call on you after meeting Dr Hsu. The world out there is just too taxing and harsh for many Malaysians.

    Thus to live life as simple as possible and to care for those unfortunate, sick, hungry Malaysians who needed help from us, who are a little more fortunate than them should be one of our goal in life. Wishing you a healthy & wealthy year – 2009.


  16. Rhan
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 18:48:32

    Long long time ago in China, there is one emperor from the Han Dynasty, who had a very strong desire to accumulate wealth. He will kill the wealthy man to take over their possession, and impose heavy tax on his people. This emperor’s palace is piled up with money and gold, he is one of the worst during Western Han that cause the fall of Han dynasty, follow with the peasant revolt and starting of the well-known “Romance of the three Kingdom.”

    Many people raise the question on why a emperor who own the Tian Xia and everything, and being the most powerful man on this peace of land still never cease to amass wealth, probably he never know the role of emperor.

    LKY must have known the role well and tell this story to her daughter.


  17. Peter Yew
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 21:15:12

    “But I personally think the hard times will hold a timely lesson for many Singaporeans, especially those born after 1970 who have never lived through difficult times.”

    What Singapore is going through is nothing and should not be classified as hard times, certainly nothing for them to be whining about. What about those who etch a living on a daily basis? I’m sure to them every day is a recession day so what happens today really means nothing to them.

    I agree that recession hit those whose lifestyle border on luxury and excess and returning to an ordinary lifestyle may not be easy to swallow to some of them. I am sure most of us will se this event as a hiccup. Agree?


  18. A true Malaysian
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 21:45:02

    I like this article, not even a word of ‘God’ being mentioned.

    Dr. Lee’s thinking is very much like mine especially on her attitude on how she looks at life. But strange, how come majority Singaporean are not like her?

    I particularly like these parts of her writing:-

    “But if one is blinded by materialism, there would be no end to wanting and hankering.”


    “When the end approaches and we look back on our lives, will we regret the latest mobile phone or luxury car that we did not acquire? Or would we prefer to die at peace with ourselves, knowing that we have lived lives filled with love, friendship and goodwill, that we have helped some of our fellow voyagers along the way and that we have tried our best to leave this world a slightly better place than how we found it?”

    This is what I regard as ‘live a meaningful life’ and ‘live life to the fullest’.

    For those who can spent a bottle of wine at $20,000 a bottle, perhaps you can decide to consume one bottle less, and donate the money to charity. Will this makes your life more meaningful when the end approaches?

    I am not interested in which religion Dr. Lee has faith on, but admire her wisdom.

    Bravo, Lee Kuan Yew. You can be proud of Dr. Lee, your daughter.


  19. A true Malaysian
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 22:48:33


    You are most welcome.

    If ‘God’ is so powerful, everyone will be equal

    If ‘God’ is so merciful, everyone will be happy, no suffering

    If ‘God’ is so compassionate, everyone will be healthy, no doctor is needed.

    That are my reasons, why I don’t believe in God, how powerful HE maybe. He does not exist.

    I believe in natural law of Kamma, founded by Gautama Buddha. This law is applicable to all living beings, we have no choice, even one chooses not to believe in it.

    (Note: I am not belittling any faith, just think over what I believe)


  20. Monk
    Jan 16, 2009 @ 23:19:26

    Dr Hsu,

    I fully agree with her last sentence….”don’t follow the herd blindly.”

    Reminds me that all fools think alike. If the prophets all think alike they would not have ended up as “sages” or even geniuses, discoverers who stood above Mankind.

    That’s why you find more fools in politics. The herd mentality is powerful, loyalty and boot-lickers all over the place.



  21. klm
    Jan 17, 2009 @ 16:31:50

    In spite of all the glitters, singapore is not a nice place to live. Especially if you are the elderly and poor. The foundation of LKY’s Singapore is build on money. It is dictatorship by capitalism. Compassion is not in his dictionary.

    That is why we have an elderly and unemployed setting a PAP MP on fire, not so long ago.


  22. A true Malaysian
    Jan 17, 2009 @ 16:58:55


    Things look nice from outside, inside not necessarily nice. Appearance is deceiving.


  23. TrueBlue
    Jan 18, 2009 @ 23:43:37

    Fellow human beings,
    Nice dialogue there. Keep it that way and let us not go down that road on religion, God and higher powers that be. It gets us no where in the here and the now. In my old age, it is the awakening call that “WE CAN’T TAKE IT WITH US” that should bring out the core of our existence on this earth. Help when you can, be the best you can be, take care of today, and remember your past to live for tomorrow…From a foreign land.


  24. kicking balls
    Jan 19, 2009 @ 00:05:42

    Good advice….From a foreign land.


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