A plane made an emergency landing on water. The stewardess asked the passengers to slide down to the lifeboats, but the passengers refused.

The stewardess then asked the captain to help. The captain, being very knowledgeable and experienced, guided her –

“You tell the Americans this is an ADVENTURE. Tell the British this is an HONOUR. Tell the French this is a ROMANTIC activity, and tell the Germans this is the LAW. Tell the Japanese this is an ORDER, and everyone will be sorted out.”

The stewardess remembered the flight had some passengers from Singapore too. “What about them”, she asked.

The captain, taking a deep breath, patiently explained –
“You need not tell the Singaporeans anything, my dear. Once they see a QUEUE, they will join in without questions.”


Humour is a survival skill. However, what can be funny to one group can be faux pas in the wrong context.

I am a Singaporean, so I can tell this joke to laugh at myself. But when it is about another group of people, they may take it as racism.

Beneath the surface though, this joke pokes fun at every good who do not question beneath the surface because they are conditioned with positive connotations of a word like “adventure”, “honor”, “law”, “order”. Likewise we can get good people to do bad things because its a badge of honor to keep their word.

Dark humour and reflections beneath this simple joke!



Someone sent me this set of “揮春” (Auspicious Messages) written in English which looks like Chinese characters. I thought it was brilliant. Instead of aligning alphabets in a straight line, Chinese strokes are stacked on each other. Talk about complication for the dyslexic.

The way to teach Mandarin words is to break up the character or enlarge it. I think it looks like Hebrew. Look at the character for “each”, does it remind you of Robert Indiana’s “LOVE”?

#Looking at the familiar through different lenses#.

Q: Can you guess what it reads?

On the right hand side
Eat well sleep well each every day

On the left hand side
Good health good wealth all year round


Why you need to learn mandarin and not trust google translate. One wonders about the Tamil translation.

Small change unavailable here(此处无小额零钱可兑换)”则译成了“小的更改无法在这里”。Change in this context refers to coins for the ticket vending machine. Whereas if you had used google translate, it will use “change” as in “improve”, ie “make changes to”.

Good intentions to appeal to a multiracial group need #mindfulness# in execution.



zǐ yuē:“wú shí yǒu wǔ ér zhì yú xué,sān shí ér lì,sì shí ér bú huò,wǔ shí ér zhī tiān mìng,liù shí ér ěr shùn,qī shí ér cóng xīn suǒ yù,bù yú jǔ。”《lùn yǔ》


Humans go through physiological life stages from baby to child to teenager then to old age. What about psychological life stages?

Here, I would like to share the life stages presented by Confucius, and it puts into perspective the advice given by Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.

The best interpretation, or one that helped me make sense of Confucius’ saying is this post on the following site:
(I do not vouch for the site)

Confucius says,

“When I was fifteen, I started on my pursuit of life’s path/ career (being open to questioning and devote in finding my path);

(After many years of hard work)
when I was thirty, my understanding of life, my path was set firmly;

when I was forty, I no longer doubt my life decisions (my career path is set);

when I was fifty, my inner and outer world finds alignment. I have found (act out) my mission in life. I practice what I preach (No mid life crisis here) 五十而知天命.

when I was sixty, I realised that life is complex and I begin to accept – the positive and the negative views – and not be upset;

when I was seventy, I had the freedom to do whatever my heart desires, within the rules of this world [that I have observed throughout all of my life].”

Examining Confucius, I realised that Jack Ma’s sayings are built on philosophical foundations, just like in the Western world if you quote Socrates.

What Jack Ma says (probably building on the sayings of Confuscius) :

“When you are 20 to 30 years old, you should follow a good boss [and] join a good company to learn how to do things properly,” Ma said. (Learn as much as you can.)

“When you are 30 to 40 years old, if you want to do something yourself, just do it. You still can afford to lose, to fail,”

“When you’re 40 to 50 years old, my suggestion is you should do things you are good at.” Instead of diving into a new field or subject toward the later years in your career.

“When you are 50 to 60 years old, spend time training and developing young people, the next generation,” Ma added.

“When you are over 60 years old, you better stay with your grandchildren.”


With the increasing interest in Asia and globalisation of the world economy, cracking the cultural code has become important.

Beyond handing namecards with both hands and bowing, what are some of the differences in East and West. Both Hofstede and Trompenaars are very insightful in outlining some challenges to watch out for.

I came across a very practical book on cracking the cultural code. However it involves observation. India is different from China from South Korea from Indonesia from Malaysia.

Where are some of your challenges?

1. Making small talk with colleagues
2. Asking a favour from a colleague
3. Promoting myself at networking events
4. Receiving compliment from colleagues
5. Telling a joke at lunch
6. Giving feedback to my boss
7. Giving a formal presentation at a meeting
8. Pitching my idea to investors
9. Interviewing for a job

In the section on “You can be a Cultural Detective”, Prof Molinsky suggests to use a series of diagnostic questions, using the 6 dimensions of the cultural code he coined.

1. Brevity and en pointe:
Do people tend to be succinct in what they say and get right to the point – often with as few words as possible?

Or do they use words more general, or ambiguous poetic language, hinting at what they mean without being too direct? Senior Chinese government officials tend to favour reference to Tang poems for instance.

There are regional differences in that regard.

2. Energy
When something positive has happened, do people express emotions openly through facial expressions, body language and tone of voice eg Mediterranean cultures. Or do they tend to hide or suppress the outward expression of positive emotions despite their feelings, example British stiff up lip.

3. Formality
Do people dress conservatively, make official appointments to speak with each other and use titles such as “Doctor” or “CEO” . Or do they dress casually, drop by casually for a chat or first name basis. Do not be deceived by outward appearances though. Sometimes people may want to be addressed by first name but they are very formal.

4. Assertiveness
Do people express views strongly and forcefully. Is conflict encouraged? Do people express different view points in meetings? Or do they express opinions in a cautious manner and public display of conflict or disagreement is frowned?

Here, there is a difference in hierarchy. Those at the top tend to be more forceful.

5. Self promotion
Do people tend to highlight or draw attention to their personal accomplishments or tend to minimise, underplay their achievements?

6. Personal disclosure
Do people keep conversations strictly about business or do they discuss details of their personal lives with colleagues at work? In Asian cultures, people do discuss details of family life.

How much to ask depends on the seniority. Do not be surprised if an older colleague were to ask how much you earn, and your age. Such invasion of privacy may be uncomfortable for an American, who although comfortable with small talk will consider such topics taboo. A German boss on the other extreme will unlikely ask questions about your family as this would be considered too personal.

Global Dexterity , how to adapt your behaviour across cultures without losing yourself in the process” by Andy Molinsky
395.52 MOL (NLB)

SMU Associate Professor Tan Hwee Hoon is investigating on how trust is influenced by culture. In a cross-culture longitudinal study, the research team is examining dimensions of trust depending on 1. Ability 2. Benevolence 3. Integrity.

In American culture, trust is highest when the imdividual is deemed to have high ability. Whereas in Asian culture, benevolence or whether a person has consistently shown that he/she watches your back is more important.

Stay tuned as she prepares to publish her report.

Hilarious look at cultural differences between East and West

My favourite sayings from Prof Koh’s interview:

1. “I was always optimistic. Even when I faced great challenges, I retained my optimism and positive mindset, kept my sense of humour, and always thought – there must be a way of solving problems.”

2. When he negotiates, he starts on the basis that “at the end of the day, we are human beings, so let’s be friends first, try to develop a relationship, some trust in each other. Don’t see each other as an adversary, but if we have a difficult problem, let’s look at the problem”.

3. CQ, or cultural intelligence, is crucial.
“We live in different cultural boxes, so when we work with either one of our neighbours, we must understand their cultural box and where they’re coming from and how they think and, if possible, conduct ourselves in a manner that would be acceptable or indeed even admired by them.

4. On negotiations in the UN. “I show him friendship and warmth. I try not to embarrass him and put him down”.

5. Even if I win every point, it means that my counterpart lost every point. So how can he go back home and sell the package if he lost every point?

6. “we must protect our core interests. But on non-core issues, we must concede so that you have a balanced outcome, one that is durable.”