Singaporean shirtsleeves

March 24 2015

I visited Singapore first in 1984. Much more of the old town was standing then. It was still colonial. New towers loomed over old shophouses. I remember meeting Tony Tan, the Minister of Finance, who is now president. My colleague and I visited one office and found ourselves face to face with LKY’s stockbroker brother Freddy, in Singaporean shirtsleeves in an old building with real windows over a real street.

Singaporeans are informal and, unlike people in Hong Kong, not great dressers.

I have described meeting Lee Kuan Yew in Davos circa 1998 (not worth linking to). I haven’t checked how often he was there. I am not sure whether one would call him a stalwart.

I saw him in a small auditorium at a WEF meeting in Singapore in the early 2000s, where he talked and answered questions in his usual way: about the rise of China, the fragility of Singapore, the strengths and weaknesses of the West. I remember that he walked down the steps to the stage arm held up in greeting, palm forward. The gesture made an impression on me. This is how to enter a room where you are expected, but not known personally. It establishes authority, but is informal.

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