"And you sat through the whole session, while he had a razor at your neck?" incredulous colleagues couldn't believe I had allowed the Malay barber to snip away while opining about the 9/11 incident.
Having missed the live horror on the television screens the night before in 2001, thanks to an exhausting workday, it took a few seconds to register why the normally reticent enche asked me how I felt about the disaster in New York. Oh, you mean the airplanes crashing into the twin towers? Terrible, isn't it, so many people died. "Too bad about that. But you know what, in my heart, I feel good about it," was the unexpected response. Why? "Because the American people are too proud." Thinking he must be one grossly misinformed dude, I offered to contribute my old weekly magazines to his pile of reading material for waiting customers. He accepted.
Ten years hence, many books have alluded to that pride and arrogance. Gideon Rachman, in his sweeping commentary ("Zero Sum World", Atlantic Books 2010) of 30 years of history, wrote that when the Soviet Union self destructed on Christmas Eve 1991, the United States became the world's sole superpower. She had also "kicked the Vietnam syndrome" when Saddam Hussein was booted out of Kuwait. Japan, the once feared challenger to American dominance, had slumped into stagnation after the crash of 1990. Rachman coined The Age of Optimism (1911 - 2008) as a period of unparalleled American power, with the US as the core of a global economy. 9/11 delivered a cruel blow to the source of arrogance - globalisation and the US as leader of the "new world order".
But arrogance still rears its ugly head. In defending the two obnoxious PA letters ("I cleared those letters,so I think that is the position"), PM Lee makes no qualms about outing his choice of ghost writer. Expanding on why opposition MPs cannot be appointed grassroots advisers, the two-faced PM Lee maintained the work of PA was non-political, while admitting that at times, they had to "do some things that are not nice". Things like putting the spin on why Government had to carry out public works such as a MRT project which exposes residents to the risk of permanent noise-induced hearing loss. The poor guys at Bishan MRT Station won't be enlightened anytime by the PA about laws that are desirable for the preservation of the living environment and conductive to the protection of human health.
"...it falls to the grassroots to be the interface, to work with the people to try and help to minimise the impact but at the same time, ultimately, what has to be done has to be done," he declared in all finality. In short, his way or the highway.