[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Sunday, September 10, 2006

[Cuba and the 3 B's]
I've just arrived in Cuba and clearing my emails before going to sleep. A great relief that they have broadband here. It is 12 hours time difference.

My elder brother Jim once told me that, to succeed in life, one needs the 3 B's. What are the 3 B's? They are Brains, Balls and Breaks.

Brains - well, it always helps if one is smart, alert and able to spot trends. One also needs a sense of social situations. We need both IQ and EQ.

Then you need Balls. Guts, the courage to take calculated risks and persistence. Balls without brains is dangerous. Brains without balls doesn't get you very far. The person who is passionate is more likely to succeed.

But the most important things in life are often not within our control. Who our parents are, which genes we inherit from them, the country and times we are born in - all this is not for us to decide. Life is never smooth. Suddenly we can come down with an illness or meet an accident. When you have a family, it is not only yourself but also your spouse and children whom you worry about everyday. Breaks means all that. Some see it as luck; others as divine providence. Academic qualifications help. Napoleon said that the most important thing is to choose a lucky general. When Liu Bei persuaded Zhu Geliang to help him, his response was that the times were out of joint and there was little one could do about it.

No one likes exams. Well the Chinese invented it. Mao abolished exams during the Cultural Revolution. The result was a wasted generation. But exams are not everything. You still need the 3 B's.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, its "Zhuge Liang", Zhuge being the surname.

Monday, September 11, 2006 8:49:00 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>Well the Chinese invented it.

-->I guess you still do not know who was the man that invented it. Exams first appeared during Han Dynasty, known as Imperial Exams. It was invented by Liu Che, aka Han Wu Da Di, to find reliable and trusted talents to assist him against the Xiong Nu tribute and handle the internal problems.

Monday, September 11, 2006 11:14:00 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Minister
Aside from the 3 Bs, I think what's important is another B. The personal beliefs that one hold... or moral fibre of the person. Without the centredness of a good character, people with the 3Bs can potentially create a WAR

Monday, September 11, 2006 1:37:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tribal was spelled wrongly as "tribute"

Monday, September 11, 2006 3:47:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not exactly.

If you read Sun Tzu's Art of War, it does state that the 'lucky' general is one who is in line with the dictates of Heaven.

To do that, you need to have your standards of beliefs intact.

And if the general's beliefs and values are in line with the dictates of Heaven, then you will be conscientious in your planning and situational analysis.

And it is through all of that glued together, that the 'state of grace' that one gets from success in campaigns is perceived as 'luck'.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006 12:33:00 am

Blogger William Chua said...


Havent gone back to Sun Tzu for a while. But which part says what you've said.

The fundamental of Sun Tzu is the 5 things - Dao (Alignment of aim and objective between ruler and subjects), Tian (Weather), Di (Geography), Jiang (Human resource) and Fa (Law). Use these 5 elements to calculate your chances of winning a battle. Select your battle - fight those can fight, avoid those you shouldn't fight.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 2:04:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi dreambuilder,

Erm, do you mean to ask which part of Sun Tzu am I talking about?

Lacking time, I hope you do not mind that I presume so.

First, I'd like to state that I don't study these philosophical thoughts like most people do: I do not study them systematically by specialisation. I'm someone who's a very wide generalist so I pick things from various disciplines and then I synthesise them and then test them, socially. And for most part, I've been hardly wrong.

Having stated so, to go back to your initial question: Please refer to Book 5 and Book 6 of Sun Tzu. (I'm using the 1996 translation by Stephen F. Kaufmann)

In addition, may I refer you to Zhang Yimou's 'Hero' (2002); specifically the fighting scene between Jet Li and Donnie Yen with a chess courtyard as backdrop.

You may of course know that the fighting scene mentioned involves no fighting at all. And that is the crux of the 'lucky' general, at least in terms of Chinese philosophy of aesthetics and war (the two go together).

For while 'The Matrix' is based on the trajectories of Western Philosophy, 'Hero' exemplifies the spirit of Chinese philosophy.

Note as well, that the chess courtyard in that fighting scene in 'Hero' is a wei-qi courtyard. The game of wei-qi pertains directly to the fighting/no-fighting scene in 'Hero'.

If you know how to play the game of wei-qi, you will know what I mean.

And then, nothing else need be said.



Tuesday, September 12, 2006 10:11:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

(It's a bit like Confucian philosophy. If you try to analyse it systematically and end up with parts of the philosophy instead of the whole, then you end up with nothing much.)


Tuesday, September 12, 2006 10:16:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Dear dreambuilder, to me, if you take from Sun Tzu the 5 things you listed, you'd have missed out one crucial element, on which chinese philosophy would be largely based on. ???? ????????????)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 10:22:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

kh, dreambuilder,

History is written by victors. Victors can say anything they like.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 2:18:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kinda explains the "carry lampar" bit. One thing's for sure, the "break" refers to being invited to tea at the Istana. How else to explain the bunch of synchophants in parliament?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 2:23:00 pm

Blogger Indi said...

can you tell me more about what it is like in Cuba? How do people live there as compared to Singapore?

I just got my Cuba visa and will arrive in Havana after Christmas 2006.

I look forward to your story.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 2:55:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would add another B to the 3 B's and that is Bullshit. I think like it or not, some people are successful because they are good at bullshitting.. the way they speak , the knack of saying the right things,claiming credits, , exaggerating it..bragging about stuff..and it do wonders..unfortunately..

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 4:43:00 pm

Blogger Whispers from the heart said...

Mr Yeo forgot to add the most important B, the Big Brother.

If you have big brother's blessings, all the other Bs are just hygiene factors!

For example, you can gat a guranteed risk-free career if Big Brother supports you ...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 6:07:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...


After you've met Fidel Castro, do let the blogosphere know what you think of him.

Now this is a man who is truly larger than life, has outlived so many world leaders and deflected whatever the US has thrown at him. He's the one with the 3 B's.

In a ironic sort of way, because Cuba is now one of the last bastions of communism, Fidel has become a cultural pop icon, perhaps on par with Che Guevara. Cuba is now considered by Lonely Planet to be one of the hippest places on earth to visit. But this is communism with an intoxicating guaracha rhythm. Is that why you're there, to understand how Cuba can be communist and hip at the same time?

Anyway, puff a Cuban for us when you have dinner with Fidel.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 11:50:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, George:

I think that before we think what it takes to succeed in life, it's useful to consider what "success" means.

Different definitions of success lead to different ideas about the ingredients necessary to get there.

Problem with Singapore is that people are always getting pushed and engineered into standard notions of success. In the event, however, each of us is a minority of one.

That's why we don't do so well on the Happiness Index and are always complaining about you and your party, George.

Thursday, September 14, 2006 6:51:00 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Georgie is there to find out if we can ship our old and unemployed to Cuba?

Thursday, September 14, 2006 8:00:00 am

Blogger Unknown said...

"Lucky" general is not reliable since he can run out of luck one day. Further more there is no such thing as luck, the person is lucky because he has put in more effort than others on what he does.

Sun Zi has criteria for generals: wisdom, trust, compassion, courage, discipline. Wisdom must come first before trust, only with wisdom then you know what to trust.

Sadly these are what we lack of in Singapore nowadays.

Thursday, September 14, 2006 10:09:00 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi anon of 2.19PM,

'History is written by victors' is a dictum.

I don't follow dictums, sorry.

Nor can I, via my 'reputation' as a Singaporean, claim to be victorious or successful in Singapore society.

I've always done my own thing, thought about things from my perspective and stated thus and so.

Dictums to me, are just lazy things that people quote and hang out for all to see.

In so doing, they only assuage guilt in their belief that they can't do anything about what they don't think it's right or appropriate.

To me, they're just nihilists.

That's not to say I always agree like ephraim does.

I do think that most of the supposedly critical and intellectual bloggers are just people who are like the government, just on the other side of the fence.

But, that's just me.


Thursday, September 14, 2006 3:37:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear kh

You use the term wrongly. Neither apathy nor showing cowardice is nihilism.

That aside, I would largely agree with to the statement that victors write history. It is a dictum, to be sure, but it is in my opinion a grave mistake to dismiss it without giving it even an ounce of consideration as to its veracity only because it's so oft-heard that it sounds meaningless.


Thursday, September 14, 2006 9:59:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a side note, my screen name is not an explicit statement or indication of my beliefs.


Thursday, September 14, 2006 10:01:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well spoken, Mr Yeo

I must agree the part about Brains and Balls. On a slightly different note, I want to talk about Singaporeans and their problem in the 'head', somewhat related to Brains and Balls.

In truth, we DO have FREEDOM of SPEECH in Singapore. Except that it's NOT WESTERN FREEDOM of SPEECH. Likewise, there is DEMOCRACY in Singapore but NOT WESTERN DEMOCRACY. The saying goes that when Singaporeans go aboard, they become "Ugly Singaporean" attitude. I hate to say this but when YOUNG Singaporeans go overseas for studies, they too became "UGLY Young Singaporeans" by suddenly and irrationally subscribing to what they were exposed to, including bad value.

We can criticise but Singaporeans (even those with PhDs) don't know how to do it properly, appropriately and gracefully. We don't have to say "SHUT UP" to tell someone to be silent. At the same time, to urge the government to hear our problems need NOT be in the form of poking fun at the leaders and policy.

Many would disagree with me. But it doesn't matter because people who don't use their brain are stupid people! There you go, doesn't it hurt for me to say STUPID? I am sure one would find it easier to swallow if I say "inexperience", "naive" or "that was a mistake on your part".

Think about... the truth hurts but it sets you free.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 8:55:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In truth, we DO have FREEDOM of SPEECH in Singapore. Except that it's NOT WESTERN FREEDOM of SPEECH."


Of course not. It isn't close to India's freedom of speech either, or Taiwan's, or Philippine's, or Thailand's, or various other "Eastern" countries.

That's why Singapore is ranked 140th in the world for you know what.

Don't anybody start preaching to me about Asian values now, ior I'll just puke. I have as little in common with an Indonesian Muslim as he has with a South Indian Hindu or a China Chinese. Yet we're all "Asians".

God .... the PAP must think we're sooooooo stupid.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 12:46:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of course not. It isn't close to India's freedom of speech either, or Taiwan's, or Philippine's, or Thailand's, or various other "Eastern" countries"

[By "anonymous"]


How can anyone be taken seriously if he/she writes in anonymity? Freedom of speech? Without justification, responsibility?

If you can't prove what you are arguing, then you have no basis to argue. Without disrespect, I have to not respect this person.

In India what freedom of speech in specific?? I am amazed!! Care to share? Taiwan, well which part of the freedom of speech applies here? The part about impeaching their leaders for corruption? Philippines - the "People Power" concept? Why is their economy is such a state? Thailand? We like to have bombs exploding in our neighbourhood and shopping malls??

Other "EASTERN COUNTRIES"? You must be plain silly! Like in Malaysia where Tun Dr Mahathir and its PM in constant disagreement?

Come on lar, please use the first "B". Don't use your Brain without Balls. Sorry, it hurts but that's the truth.

Have you seen a Boomerang? So if Singaporeans demand for freedom of speech, then the government will also have the right to respond. Most of the time, people who criticised in the name of freedom of speech always get egg on their face.

Monday, September 18, 2006 1:09:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, of course.

Whatever an anonymous person says is therefore untrue.

For goodness sakes, use your brain and just once in a while, think lah about the content of what is being said, rather than who is saying it.

George Yeo is good. The PAP is great. Steve is great too. Singapore is wonderful. Our ministers deserve their high salaries. Singapore has low corruption.

All the above are untrue? Because I am anonymous?


Tuesday, September 19, 2006 11:32:00 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What something is depends on how you define it.

Whatever made anyone think that the natural world unto itself—that that existed before language, had a definition for nihilism?

gawd... you people are funny!


Saturday, September 23, 2006 11:25:00 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are certain things that cannot be controlled by you or me. We gave a lot of labels to these things, we call them luck, chance, destiny, fate, accident, miracle, break, etc etc.

There are certain things that appeared that we have control, and for these things, we put in all our effort, energy, time and passion to pursue after them. We may succeed, we may fail. We hope we can succeed, or we must succeed, but ultimately, are we guaranteed 100% success ? No.

We can only put in the effort etc to increase our chances of success, but who decides our success eventually ?

God knows .......


Thursday, August 09, 2007 8:45:00 am

Blogger Auntie Tan said...

Auntie Tan would like to counter-propose my definitions of the 3Bs to George Yeo's definition of his 3Bs from a woman's point of view.

This is not to engage ourselves in meaningless verbal attacks in a defence over who's right and who's wrong, this will really be a waste of all our time; rather, this is to throw up new thinking and new perspective so that everyone can pause and think for themselves again if their belief systems are still reasonable.

(B)enevolence - the true goodness of the mind and the spirit, the unbiased kindness to do good unconditionally
(B)alance - the need to be rational, to be both at the centre and at the fringe, half full for good actions and half empty to embrace new thoughts
(B)reak - the dawn of enlightenment and the light of truth

Woman certainly do not have the same "Balls" as Man, but we certainly are borned with the same "Brains" and the equal entitlement of our rights to "Breaks".

Visit http://singaporefreebies.blogspot.com
It sets you thinking ......

Friday, August 17, 2007 2:47:00 pm


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