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     FrontPage Edition: Thu 29 July 2004

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Your generation and mine: which is luckier?

Minister Khaw Boon Wan speaks to students at The Mayor's Lecture Series 2004


"My children are about your age. So we belong to two different generations. The organisers have asked me to answer this question: which is the luckier generation.

" Let me try. But first allow me to paint you a picture of a “lucky” person. This is my take: a lucky person is one with a decent job, a happy family, in relatively good health, weekends spent with family and friends, have enough to go by, and even some spare money to go on holidays etc. I do not know if you can accept this definition as adequate, but we can debate this point after my speech.

"Even if we can agree on the definition, this is not an easy question to answer, for the simple reason that nobody can be certain about the future. My generation is not finished yet, being at the half or 3/4 mark. Yours has just begun.

"Perhaps I should begin by comparing my generation with my parents' generation. Here, I can answer with absolute certainty: that my generation is luckier than my parents'.

" siblings and I have not known war and deprivation. We experienced a bloody May 13, the racial riots in Malaysia. But that was minor compared to what my parents went through during the War.

" We were born poor, but we saw our standard of living rising with each passing year. My generation graduated from third world to near first world. Relative to my parents' generation, what can we complain about?

"While my parents were born without any spoon in their mouths, mine had at least a wooden spoon. But, yours was even better, a silver spoon, or at least silver-plated. You have never experienced poverty and third world deprivation. Instead, your world is one of mobile phones, PDAs, digital cameras, holidays overseas.

"...As the Hokkiens would put it: we belong to the "chai-si" generation (“we know death”). For we know that if we do not work hard, we will remain trapped in poverty, in living death.

"But your generation in Singapore is drastically different. You have already moved up the standard of living. $100 is more like your monthly pocket money, rather than the pay of a full time job.

"...I know that many of you complain about stressful school life. It is true that during our time, we were more relaxed. Fewer examinations, less homework, more time to play.

"But as a result, more students failed to get into higher education. From my P1 Class of 50, probably less than 20 ended up in High School, and less than 5 made it to University.

"So while your school life is more stressful; your opportunities are far greater. If I may use a soccer analogy, we were then merely competing in the Malaysian Cup; you are now in the World Cup. Yours is more competitive but the trophy you win is much more prestigious than we could ever hope to get.

" I suppose these are facts of life. Where there are upsides, there will correspondingly be downsides. There is no free lunch.

"Talking about lunch. My generation went through deprivation and sometimes starvation. Yours is an era of plenty and often, waste. So obesity is now a big problem among the young, especially in the West.

"...So let me get back to the question posed to me. My generation and yours: which is luckier? At the end of the day, I don't think it is one of luck. People like to say so-and-so is lucky or unlucky, after the event. But luck or lack of luck is not preordained. Much of our luck is for us to create.

" Even for my generation, while most are luckier than their parents, there are some who make themselves unlucky: not taking care of family and friends, drifting through life without putting in efforts, ruined their health by over eating, over drinking, not doing exercises and are now lonely and in poor health.

"For you, the opportunities are plenty out there.  But so are the challenges, for you are not alone in the race to make a grab at those opportunities. There are millions out there, like the young housekeeper I met in Lijiang and many others in China, Vietnam, India – they are hungry with the desire to better their lives, and willing to slog it out to get there.

"Do you have the drive, the courage to dream dreams, and the passion to realize them?  Do you have the wisdom to make use of the advantages given to you by your parents, to sink even deeper roots, and add to humanity and make this world an even better place?

"You will face tougher competition, but with what you have, in terms of better education and greater resources, many of you can be luckier than your parents, provided you put in the efforts, take control of your own lives and make yourselves lucky. How you make use of your advantages and opportunities will determine whether you can in 30 years time conclude, like I am now able to conclude, that we are luckier than our parents.

"Good luck."

Excerpted from speech

Full text of speech

Source: Ministry of Health Press Release 28 Jul 2004

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