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Small Things That Change Lives

“The teacher affects eternity. He can never tell when his influence will stop.”   Over the years, I was fortunate to be under the guidance of a handful of people who taught me lessons that changed my life. From schoolteachers to private tutors, military instructors, and even friends, these people left such a great impact on me that they invariably changed the way I think and learn. Back in secondary school, English Langauge was a subject I struggled with. I found no joy in reading and had little to no interest in English classes, which spanned the longest period then. English lessons were a painful ordeal at worst and an extended recess at best. My mother enrolled me into English tuition and things took a turn from there. When I first entered his class, I was taken aback. Unlike typical school lessons, there were no flashy presentation slides, no shambolic mind maps nor endless grammar drills. Yet his classes sparked my interest in reading, writing, and falling in love with the language. It was not because he had an excellent teaching pedagogy – things were kept simple and minimalistic. Neither was it because he had ‘key methods’ to tackle exam questions. If at all, his classes at first glance were far from interesting. It was just chalk, board, and himself. What was in play and how did it have such profound implications for me? His passion. His passion for the subject was overwhelming and overwhelming. He spoke with zest and enthusiasm about a myriad of topics. The way he encouraged us to steer away from rote learning and foster curiosity, to ask ‘why things happen’, beyond knowing ‘how things happen’. He challenged us to think rather than to memorise. Over time, I began to love the subject and, more specifically, I began to love his classes. The best teachers don’t have the best teaching methods; they inspire you and make you love the subject. When we enter junior college, Economics is a subject almost entirely alien to us. The enthusiasm of studying a new subject vanished as quickly as it materialised. In fact, I vividly recall how I first struggled to understand the concept of price elasticity of demand and the punctuation of ceteris paribus in our essays. Achieving single digit scores for economics tests was commonplace and tutors never failed to hound their students for the need to evaluate their arguments. But what the heck is evaluate? Dark days shrouded upon us as we transitioned from microeconomics to macroeconomics without actually knowing what we’ve learnt for the former. Until my class had a new economics tutor who gave us a beacon of hope for a subject that no one really understood. Our new tutor, passionate about the subject, was eager to share the joy in learning economics. As a young college tutor, he was very much aware of the difficulties students faced in grasping economic concepts. He took time to devise a structure and technique to aid students in analysing and understanding them. His passion was not only for the activity of teaching, but also for the ends it serves. Such teachers have humility in knowing that they serve a purpose larger than themselves. "Those who love teaching teach others to love learning." Even outside formal academic education, the great teacher continues to inspire – this time in the domain of military training. “Lead by example”, “do the right things, even when no one is looking”, “integrity” and “care for soldiers”. These are some of the mantras that were drilled into us from the beginning of the officer cadet course. You might just roll your eyes and dismiss these as foolish ideals. Yet I’ve actually met someone who embodies all these values and never fail to show us that it can be done. His dedication, discipline and concern towards the platoon inspired many to strive towards achieving such ideals. Most will remember him as the instructor who gave the most terrifying ‘tekan’ sessions. But guess what? The same instructor, who everyone hated for giving us relentless and brutal punishments, became the same instructor who touched the hearts of most of his students. The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The great teacher inspires. You don’t have to be an excellent teacher to change the hearts and minds of others. The people whom I have shared above weren’t the best teachers. Yet they made the most impact on their students’ lives. They exhibited the same passion for the subjects they taught, unwavering dedication to help others understand what they teach, and genuine concern for the well-being of their students. Because of what they have done, they have provided an inspiration for their students and set an impetus for them to change for the better. The things they did were not superhuman feats but very much achievable by you and me. It is the genuine desire to impact others, and to help others achieve greater heights, which inspires. Many of us will definitely have someone who deeply inspired us because of certain things they have done. It will be my greatest wish to see more people taking the initiative to help one another grow both intellectually and emotionally, to fervently speak about their passions and to share lessons they have learned with others. The next time you meet your friends, try speaking about your passions, try sharing something new you’ve learned, or lend a helping hand to those in need. It is passion, dedication and compassion that inspires. It may not seem like much now, but these are the small things that change lives.

Because We Once Wore Green

“It’s good that you’re going in. Just give them your two years and then you don’t have to worry about it anymore.” The bus was somewhere along some road in Pasir Ris. The exact location didn’t matter, although it was going to be a road I would love and hate depending on which side of the road I was on. It was the first time in years I was sitting on a commercial bus with my grandmother who, now in her seventies, was not very fond of walking. But she’d come along on this special occasion, and was speaking to me in Hokkien. I struggled to recall the last time I was on the road with her. Blurred scenes of a tour in Thailand, when I was 10. That was 8 years ago. And even then, was it really her? I recalled a cheerful, energetic woman who was picking up English from Channel 5 serials, who cooked up a storm every Chinese New Year to satisfy hundreds of guests. I remembered perfectly black hair. I wasn’t done counting all the silver strands on her head when the bus pulled into the terminal. I was to have one less thing to remember her by. I soon found myself aboard a ferry with her. What an adventure it must be for her. Except this time we weren’t going for any holiday. Do you know how black holes work? I don’t. But I’ve always imagined that at the heart of each one, there was something evil. Now I felt like I was on a high speed collision course with one of them. Every inch, every cell within me wanted so much to just…not go. How hard could it be? But I was already caught its gravitational field. I had been since I was born, male. “It’s not about what you leave behind, but what you will gain in the days ahead.” I was fond of such inspirational, meaningless generalities. Maybe it would calm a troubled spirit or two. But not mine. And how can it not be about what I’m leaving behind, when that is precisely the reason I was doing this? How can I forget the people I would swear to protect? It has always been, and will always be, about what we leave behind. Enter an auditorium and a sea of confused faces. A gas chamber of lambs awaiting an unknowable slaughter. I took my seat alongside two strangers. On my right was another boy. He was not like me. He was talking to a friend next to him. On my left, darting, unsure eyes were scanning the room. Painfully alone, our situation was the same. Was he looking for an escape? There is none, I told him telepathically. I wasn’t sure, but I imagined my parents were seated behind me, somewhere higher up in the auditorium. Watching me, watching my every move to assure themselves I was fine. Watching over me. With the loudest voice I could muster in that situation, I repeated: “I will preserve and protect (pause) the honour (pause) and independence of our country (pause) WITH MY LIFE! (emphasis added)” I was made to stand in a line next to hundreds of those like me, waiting for our families to pick us out. With each unfamiliar parent that passed I knew I was to have one minute less with them today and for the next two weeks. They found me, as they always do, and we proceeded to where we were to have lunch. I knew things would never be the same again. In school, I was always the last to finish my food, and my friends would always have to wait for me. My days in a uniformed group taught me how costly a weakness this was. And it was this knowledge, coupled with a frantic sense of loss and disorientation that drove me to wolf down all the food in front of me. Reluctance, on one hand, told me to eat slowly, to take my time and enjoy every minute of this final meal. But fear, on the other, reminded me of my weakness. Speed up or be left behind. My grandmother, as usual, coaxed me to slow down. I replied that I was fine, taking care not to look directly at her because I knew it would bring tears to my eyes immediately. I needed to prove that the food was good - perhaps even a reasonable substitute for years of home-cooked, hand-made affection.  I needed to show that I was going to be able to cope. This was the last scene of the play, and I had to finish strong. I needed to be someone I was not ready to be. Then, loud and clear, 3 times, “All enlistees are to gather in the area to the left of the cookhouse immediately.” Yes, this was it. There was no doubt about it. I still hadn’t finished the food. I stood up and told them the only four words I could muster, “I have to go.” “It’s ok, take your time, finish the food first.” “No, I should just go.” As I took my place in the seventh column of the twenty or so neat rows that were beginning to form, I looked back at the cookhouse to see the grandstand of parents, siblings, girlfriends and grandmothers who had gathered on the side of the building, as near to us as they could. Everyone was smiling, waving enthusiastically as their sons, brothers, boyfriends and grandsons took their place in the kilt of our nation’s defence. Either I was the only one feeling as wretched as this, or everyone else was doing a much better job hiding their emotions. No wonder they say life is but a stage. It dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one going through this. Nor were the thousands of Singaporean sons who would change their addresses that day doing this alone. In reality, the entire family weathers this together. Mom does the laundry despite your increasing protests, Dad fetches you home whenever he’s free, your girlfriend keeps you sane on the weekends…when they called it national service, maybe they really meant to say that the entire nation serves together. I waved back, conjuring up a smile. I remember that scene. My parents, next to each other, mom on the left, dad on the right, with one arm around my mother. And my grandmother, standing on his right, looking at me with her usual serene expression. She wore a black shirt with a red floral pattern, along with straight, black long pants. It was her nicest and favourite shirt. Her hands were behind her back, giving her a look of authority and benevolence. And as I waved once again she smiled, and raised her right hand to complete the goodbye. Years later, this image still brings tears to my eyes. But the sadness in these tears has evaporated.  Yes, it did happen. And it really hurt. I really did spend two years of my youth following orders and fearing punishment. The people I loved really did grow older. But the good things, they happened too. I saw for myself how and why easily things could go wrong for us. I saw the inner workings of the military machine that’s meant to ensure our sovereignty amidst a challenging global climate. I understood why there must always be rough men who keep vigil at night to protect the bedrock of our young nation. And most importantly, I saw their faces too, for I was momentarily one of them, and each one was as human, as brotherly or as fatherly as the next. A famous writer once said that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but nothing left to take away. And boy do they take away from us many things. Some lose career opportunities, others can’t get to the schools they want, some break up with their girlfriends, almost everyone loses freedom. But that teaches us what’s really important. Because when you know you only have control of your mind and body for one and half days every week, everything unnecessary just falls away. Video game rankings, expensive clothes, even exam results – what we wouldn’t give to just spend time with the people we love. And at least for the first time in eighteen years I was doing something that actually mattered for someone who did exist. It stopped being just about me - my homework, my grades, my wants, my interests, my dreams, my aspirations. There were larger forces at work. In the middle of a training exercise I realised that if I messed things up someone could actually die. My BMT sergeant once told me that BMT is really meant to break you down – they reduce you to basic building blocks which can be repurposed into something useful. That stuck. It doesn't matter if you're a recruit known primarily by your 4D number, a trainee in command school or a soldier in a unit - when you're a 'lowly NSF' you feel inconsequential, like a tiny ball-bearing in the huge SAF machine. But there is comfort in the knowledge that this machine serves an important purpose, and every day we have peace, every night our families can go to sleep without wondering if an RPG will hit them as they snore, that is one day our efforts succeed. If two years from a generation of males can win a lifetime of peace for a nation, then it is a worthwhile, albeit very, very costly, sacrifice. That is why only pride remains in the tears that fall. It is the pride of telling Dad that the grenade you threw is the same one he threw thirty years ago. The pride of knowing that if something comes along which threatens to undermine what you stand for, you, alongside many others, can and will fight. It is the pride of looking at your pink IC and knowing you’ve earnt it, a pride only sweet because it used to be painfully bitter. It is the pride of having once wore green. To all the past, present and future soldiers of Singapore, Happy SAF day.

So I’ve Got My A Level Results. Now What?

I have a theory. The theory is that no one ever gets “the results they expect”. That is, except the top students who expect straight As and get them. The theory is that you either do better or worse than you thought you would. That when you get your results something actually changes. You say “oh…now I can actually apply for Medicine! Should I?” Or you say “looks like I can’t be a doctor anymore. Hope my parents don’t force me into Business.” The theory is that because we only take A levels once (phew), we can never really “expect” anything. Plunge litmus paper into acid. It turns red. Plunge litmus paper into acid again. It turns red again. We expect the next time we do this the same result follows.  But we can’t precisely expect something we’ve never experienced before and will never experience again. So on results day everything changes. Your result slip elevates you into the fabled realm of the elites. Or it vindicates two years of lost youth. Or it opens doors you never would have considered. Or it condemns you into the abyss of normalcy where your dreams vanish into vacuum. I have another theory. The theory is that the first one’s wrong. The theory is that because you can’t even “expect” any results in the first place, it’s impossible to do better or worse than you "expected". The theory is that you simply do as well as you did. In fact you already did that months ago, sitting in a cavernous hall filled with the hopes and dreams of people like you. Scribbling furiously in blue or black ink made up of the blood, sweat and tears of 18 years till now. It’s a historical fact as much as what you ate for breakfast. You tell someone important “these are my grades”. Never that “these should have been my grades”. So on results day nothing changes. Plunge litmus paper into acid. Acid is acid. Plunge litmus paper into acid again. Acid is still acid. On results day someone hands you a red or blue slip of paper. Acid remains acid. People look at the red or blue slip of paper and determine you. Let them. Acids and alkali react differently. If they all reacted the same way we wouldn’t need both as much as we do now. The theory says what matters is not how you did, but how you did it. Not what you did, but what you do. Will you say “This slip of paper declares that I’m not red enough. I will never be red enough.” Or will you say “The slip of paper claims I’m not red enough. I think it’s wrong. I’m going to prove it wrong. Even if it’s right, that only means the same thing – I need to be redder.” We carry this red or blue slip of paper with us for a while. It helps people who don't understand understand. It seems to change where we go. Then, we realise we’ve reacted. We’re not the same. That slip of paper no longer determines us. If it ever did. “So I’ve got my A level results. Now what?” The theory is that you knew the answer even before you could ask that question. Plunge litmus paper into new solution. Let's see what colours emerge and effervesce.

We, The Young, Will Change Singapore

I was recently engaged in a conversation that reinforced the ugly glaring fact of Singapore's stifling culture, and all the people who have fallen prey, become dead, and are spreading the zombie virus. I forget it often because of the amazing environment I'm immersed in in school - people have started their own board game companies, national-scale NGOs and more; our debate and MUN teams clinch awards at international events even though we have no external coaches; we organise and start any club or event we want. Many of my friends outside school are doing what they love, whether it's financial consulting, game-coding or app-designing. They love what they learn and are forming opinions for themselves, rejecting some of what has been fed to them since young. I believe the stifling culture in Singapore will change with the young, because we haven't seen the struggles of the country like the previous generations have. We grew up with the gifts of education, full stomachs and a bed. See, Singapore was a third-world island with no resources or support, and we struggled, but soon found the formula for success, and triumphed. Since then, we've been on a roll, but the country is still clinging to this formula in desperation. It is never enough. A family-sized government flat in the suburbs can cost half a million dollars. A car is a couple hundred grand. And the older generations run on the fear that if we were to ever loosen our grip, we would plummet back to poverty, high unemployment, and struggles. They are too afraid to take a risk. After all, we already have the formula - why look for another one at the risk of plummeting? Maybe Singaporeans are blessed enough to have a foundation of relative material stability, security and educational access, but we're cursed when we are mentally bound by the culture and mindsets so prevalent now. I believe my generation will see that some things just aren't working like they used to anymore, and let in some fresh air. But we have to be brave enough to fight safe monotony. Do something we love and be great at it, instead of being content with secure mediocrity all our lives. This passion doesn't have to be the single focus from the start - you've got to have the money to pursue your passion sometimes - but we should never throw it away. Dive into whatever you feel passionate to build. I have extremely smart and talented friends who are utterly passionate about education and politics. They see the cogs in the machine that are now irrelevant, and are willing to invest their lives to change it. It's only when you do what you love that you will easily find the drive to be excellent. When I considered applying to Law schools instead of Literature courses, my mum said I was being ridiculous, I would be a terrible lawyer, and that I should stop trying to be someone I'm not. My mum took pure biology and pure chemistry in university when people felt higher education for girls was a waste of money. They said her course choice was silly, and that other than being a researcher, her career options were dead. Well, look at how far biochemistry and other related fields have come. Look at the companies that chase after her qualifications, and the places she travels to to give talks. "Do what you're passionate enough to become excellent at," she says, "and the jobs will come after you." Of course, another great hurdle is culture - mindsets about pursuing something that might not be the most lucrative or stable. This place is barren ground. But with time, water and stimuli, the fruits of passion and excellence can grow again. I believe Singaporean youths can grow up to become bolder people, people who take initiative and pursue their careers not only for material security, but also to live life. Unfortunately, we are still timid, aren't we? Playing it safe, letting the fear of authority form a path for us by eliminating doors, because that's the easy way. Letting others speak up in class because we fear getting something wrong or saying something dumb. Preferring to follow instructions, because thinking is hard. I hope enough of us will be willing to take the front seat. This article first appeared on my blog and has also been posted on The Online Citizen.

Why I'm Proud To Be Singaporean

It’s not every day that life throws you actual scenarios which let you practice the rarely useful (or so you thought) things you learn in school. But today was such a day. As this video (I've outlined the gist of it below, so you don't have to watch it) continues to win the hearts and minds of the uninitiated, I thought it would be meaningful to use this opportunity to illustrate how one might do a proper AQ, and why GP is highly underrated. Note that this article, in the spirit of the AQ, is meant only to critique the points and arguments made in the source. Critique means to support and to criticize, where warranted. It is not meant as a personal attack, nor can it ever hope to address and solve any social problems raised by the video. I am also aware that, as the “truthful”, “interesting” and “right” person that many commenters laud her to be, the speaker could not have intended her points to be subject to any form of academic, logical, or common sense scrutiny and yet left so many of her arguments painfully incomplete. More likely the video was meant as an expression of her own opinions and thoughts, made only more personal by her choice of presenting her ideas from the intensely private space of her own bedroom. Hence, it might be slightly unfair for me to apply her arguments through the razor of logic, since it was neither intended nor prepared for it. Nonetheless, I will do so. As the speaker says, “Deal with it”. In the 13 minutes long video which you would likely have watched, the speaker makes these points in support of why she is not proud to be Singaporean: 1. Singapore is no place for an Artist. The speaker begins by arguing that Singapore overly prioritises fields like medicine, engineering and law, since “everyone is going towards” these areas “because those are the highest paying jobs”. Because of this, there’s “barely any room” for alternate career paths. The premise that “everyone” only does medicine and law is difficult to defend, because, unfortunately, only a small number of people actually get to do these high paying jobs. A more realistic argument would perhaps include finance, business, and other alternate careers. Yet if we were to restate the argument more accurately as “everyone is going towards medicine, engineering, law, finance, accountancy, biotechnology, dentistry, and business”, it quickly loses much of its force. And for the record, not everyone is in these fields for the money. Admittedly there is an emphasis on sciences to the detriment of the arts, and this is an age-old argument that is difficult to deny. Having been through an Arts education (though of the Humanities kind) myself, I agree that many (often unjustified) obstacles do stand in the way of aspiring musicians and artists in Singapore. Yet the speaker seems to draw a false dichotomy between the two, as if emphasizing the sciences necessarily compromises the arts. It is, surprisingly to some, possible to encourage people to study medicine while simultaneously promoting the Arts through, for example, building a two theatres in the heart of Singapore’s financial district (specifically the Esplanade and the theatre in Sands). In other words, even if we admit her premise that everyone only does medicine and engineering, it doesn’t by itself prove her point that Singapore has no room for artists. And why should the country make room for you? A better argument would be that Singapore’s overemphasis on the conventional shines through even in the Arts, where traditional forms of drama and theatre take unwarranted precedence over untested forms like K-POP. But this is not the argument she makes. 2. Singaporeans are narrow-minded. There is a certain sense of irony in the speaker making this argument that I have to refrain from elaborating on in the spirit of this article. She argues that Singaporeans are narrow-minded because “a majority of Singaporeans would have just bought the headline news that our payment system is better than the minimum wage”. For starters, let’s just accept her definition of “narrow-mindedness” to mean “unquestioningly accepting”. There are, of course, many strong reasons why a minimum wage may be “better” than a payment system. She offers none of these reasons. Rather than make any sort of economic argument for or against the two economic policies, she offers a mathematical argument: mainly that an Australian waitress makes $1920 a month and a Singaporean waitress makes $768. Also, “to be fair”, based on the earning to spending ratio (which somehow addresses the difference in living standards), the Australian system is still “better”. If economic policymaking involves only increasing waitresses’ nominal salaries, then we would truly be overpaying whoever we pay to make these policies. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. Any H2 economics student would be able to recite the problems with minimum wage polices. Amongst these are the resulting fall in employment opportunities and increased business cost. More simply, implementing a minimum wage means restaurants will hire fewer waitresses. So even in terms of making it better for waitresses and waitresses alone (how she seems to define “better”), a minimum wage may not do its job. A minimum wage would only be “better” if its benefits outweigh its costs. Admittedly again, we should not expect everyone to be educated in economics. But that does and will work against you if you choose to make an economic point. If someone stands up and points out that Panadol is useless, should he be expected to have a medical degree? By “don’t believe things you see in headline news”, perhaps she means to say “don’t believe things you see in headline news without thinking through it yourself”, because then she makes an excellent point. If I have to consciously disbelief everything in the newspaper, reading it would be a really interesting task. And for the record, don’t believe things you see on Youtube either, at least not without thinking about it yourself. 3. Singaporeans are not creative. Her third point is difficult to deny and I would agree that Singaporeans are nowhere near the most creative in the world. A key lesson here is that you can have the best point in the world and your argument can still be invalid. In support of a point which, frankly, didn’t need to be supported, the speaker argues that the education system stifles creativity. Effectively she argues extensively on the cause of the lack of creativity, without really explaining her main point, the effect of this cause. If she wanted to point out that Singaporeans are not creative, a more direct route would be to raise arguments showing how little we create. Granted, exploring the causes does lend some indirect support to her arguments. But even if education stifles creativity Singaporeans can still be creative. A more complete argument would have to draw the link between cause and effect. That is not difficult. Consider this argument: 1) The education system stifles creativity without exception. 2) Everyone goes through the education system and is completely affected by it. Therefore, everyone’s creativity is stifled. In place of the drawing the link as in (2), she offers anecdotal experiences from her sisters and herself. There is little need to comment on the appropriateness of such examples (note that this is only because I am assuming this to be some sort of academic piece rather than a Youtube rant. For the latter, it’s entirely appropriate and entertaining.) The speaker then argues that Singaporeans are just “homework robots” (which I concede) and “being book smart is kinda sad” because you’ll just “be like a majority of Singaporeans”. This argument actually holds some merit because she tried to substantiate why being homework robots is bad in itself rather than merely asserting it is. Unfortunately, the argument was not effective, primarily because being part of a majority does not necessarily mean something is bad. Nonetheless this sheds some light on why she wants to immigrate, because otherwise being in Singapore makes her just like a majority of Singaporeans (who are, y’know, in Singapore), and that’s apparently kinda sad. 4. Singaporeans are submissive. Her fourth point that Singaporeans are submissive was succinctly put and left little to be critiqued (which is sometimes the smart thing to do if you have nothing better to say). Still, her argument that “no one thinks out of the box” could have been further evidenced, and why being submissive is itself a bad thing that should make someone ashamed to be Singaporean remains unclear. 5. Singaporeans are not happy. I am extremely, extremely tempted to bring out that weird study Starhub shows us in cinemas before the movie starts to highlight that Singaporeans actually are happy. But I myself don’t believe that, and again she raises a somewhat valid point. The problems with her arguments, however, remain. In a rare but laudable attempt to justify why her examples from Australia and Taiwan are relevant, she could have gone further than to say it’s because she knows them best (so deal with it) and she’s only going to base her arguments on these countries. Because that’s akin to saying: “let’s ignore the possibility I could be wrong, alright…just ignore that…and HEY LOOK! I’M RIGHT!” Of course you are. Also, since she painstakingly reminds us of her ‘success’ in the K-POP arena, it was puzzling why she didn’t know Korea well enough to know the extreme focus on academics and the beaten path in that country.  She seems rather proud of her associations with Korean culture, which makes it hard to understand why Singapore’s focus on grades makes her not proud to be Singaporean. Even if we just ignore that¸ her creative use of suicide and murder statistics to show that Singaporeans are not happy is…rather creative. Suicide and depression statistics are indeed commonly used illustrate social issues in Singapore, and they actually do that job pretty well. While she could have left it at that, she makes a further argument that suicide rates being higher than murder rates shows Singaporeans are not happy. That implies, strangely, that if murder rates are higher than suicide rates, Singaporeans are a happy bunch. By referring to the low murder rates in Singapore the speaker, accidentally I presume, argues against herself by highlighting how we’re happy enough, for the most part, to not kill each other. 6. Singaporeans are not nice. According to the speaker, Singaporeans are not nice because they wouldn’t help others and Australians, by comparison, would. Here it seems the speaker has already stopped considering herself Singaporean, otherwise her relating how she helped the elderly person into the cab seems to defeat her own argument. Within the confines of this point she moves on to request that people do not drag her parents in (strange, because she did mention “Singaporean parents” in general earlier on the video) and that she’s an honest person who speaks her mind. Sadly, you can still lie if you speak your mind, especially if you’re mistaken about facts, or think illogically. She makes another curious declaration that she “will not be moulded by society’s demands because that is just ridiculous”. In the spirit of this article, I would have to stop at pointing out the inconsistency in the logic that “moulded by society” = “ridiculous” because she is, among the other things she does, speaking English. 7. Everyone just follows the rules. There is no freedom of speech in Singapore. In an argument, saving the best for last isn't always a good idea because you may have lost your audience by then to the weakness of your earlier points. In the concluding minutes of her video the speaker opens a can of tornadoes by asserting that freedom of speech does not exist in Singapore. The debate on freedom of speech has lasted, sadly, for centuries. It would not be possible to deal properly with it here. Suffice to say that, if there is no freedom of speech in Singapore, how did she ever manage to upload her video? Perhaps there will be people knocking on her door very soon. Ultimately, she asserts, and I have to respect, that she has her reasons for not being proud of Singapore. Yes, you are entitled to them, even if they aren’t very good reasons. She openly asks for reasons why we should be proud of Singapore, to which I reply: I’m proud of Singapore because, even ESPECIALLY after hearing what you say, I still have no reason not to be proud of Singapore.

#YOLO, Before It Was Cool

You only live once, so make the most out of your life. Do things without thinking or caring. Gather ye marijuana while ye may. That’s cool, right? Unfortunately, the ancient Romans had a similar saying way before it was cool, so we don’t get to go around boasting we thought of it first. As the story goes, a triumphant Roman general was parading through the streets after securing a glorious victory. Upon noticing his absolute arrogance, his slave delivered to him a poignant reminder of how, though he was invincible today, tomorrow he could be nothing at all, saying: "Memento mori.” or, “Remember you will die.” Every one of us will die. And realizing the inevitability of death is a far, far more humbling thought than sensationalizing our one, cruelly brief shot at life. It guides us to do the things that will actually mean something even when we’re dead. Things that will make a positive impact on others’ lives, on the world that will continue to exist even if, and eventually when, we don’t.  “Live everyday as if it will be your last, and one day you will most certainly be right.” That was one of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ favourite quotes. Living by this mantra, he dedicated his life towards building great products, companies and people. Ideas that changed the world forever, or, in his words, “made a dent in the universe”. As we move into an age of connectedness and individual empowerment, we move also into an era where we have great, unprecedented power. The power to touch a thousand people with a simple youtube video, to change the lives of millions with a single idea. All that power is already in our hands, and it would be terribly squandered if we don’t see it as a responsibility to do things above, not for, ourselves. “Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” –Steve Jobs, 2005 And following your heart doesn’t mean doing things simply because we feel like doing it, or for that instantaneous kick of an adrenaline or amphetamine high. It means knowing how such material pleasures are fleeting, transient, and meaningless. How all of that dies along with us. It’s true Steve Jobs also experimented with marijuana and other drugs. That is what could happen if we took an idea meant for good, and subvert it as justification for what we innately know is wrong. But he also made sure that, after those forays, he created things for the world that were insanely great. People we care about will also die. If things go according to plan, your parents will go before you. Did you think that would never happen, or did you simply choose not to face the brutal reality? Accepting how others will not live forever is also a powerful reminder that we have no time at all to lose if there are things we want to do for them. You often have much less time to do those things than you realise. I’ll do it tomorrow, or the next day. And maybe you will live to see the next day, year, or decade. But will the people you need to be around still be around? Start now If you knew you would die tomorrow, would your heart only tell you to remember #YOLO and speed down the highway at 180 kilometres per hour? Or would you wish you did something amazing today that will live on the day after tomorrow? “A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” –Karen Lamb While we seize the day and try to suck the marrow out of life, it is worth noting that life is only half of the equation. Or less. It promises many things, but will always and inevitably lead only to one thing. Death, however, can do a lot more. You will never be able to be proven wrong, nor will you be able to make mistakes that will undo your achievements. Newton’s laws were found to have errors and exceptions, but he is credited nonetheless as the father of modern physics. Because death is eternal, it can make your ideas and your spirit live forever – in others. Legacy is immortality. In the end… On 5th October, 2011, Jobs indeed lived his last day. But although he is no longer alive, his products, ideas and wisdom thrive on. It is quite certain they will continue to do so for years, maybe even centuries and millennia to come. And at the end of the day, it was never about where, how, why, or even when we leave. It’s who and what we leave behind. Memento Mori.

It’s (still) Great To Be Singaporean.

It’s (still) great to be Singaporean. Even though now there are problems. But having problems is not a problem. It’d be great if all cars were cheap and if the MRTs never break down. And if we had a better idea of who we really are as a people so we wouldn’t need to disagree or be confused at the smallest things from how our National Day Songs should sound to how many foreign immigrants we should accept. Those are definitely problems, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. For one, the influx of foreigners may have diluted our overall identity, but in some way the Singaporean core has also been reinforced. Now we have something to see ourselves with, a foil against which our own culture and uniqueness reflects and shines. One cannot help but feel that much happier when the person you’re ordering food from replies in that familiar Singaporean lack-of-accent. Or if you spy that tired yet hopeful gaze that characterises the Singaporean psyche looking back at you on the way home on the MRT. It is that tone of voice and that look in the eye that instantly reveals how we’re the same – that we were born here, raised here, and will probably die here, and know much better how each other feels, even if we’ve never spoken. It’s a spiritual, national connection that’s slightly more difficult to build with someone who hasn’t quite gone through the exact same environment you’ve grown up in. Because you can no longer take another person in Singapore being Singaporean for granted, you learn to treasure it so much more. And times are trying but that’s okay. Things are getting difficult now but when have they ever not been? Singapore 1965 – ousted, alone, tiny. Then, we all felt that moment of anguish. Of when our entire survival as a nation was at stake and our previous attempt at fitting into a larger regional entity had failed. But we came together and persevered and accepted the tough times ahead of us. We accepted how some of us will never own the homes or live the lives we wanted but that was okay as long as, together, the nation progresses. As long as the next generation could grow up to live theirs. We never let defeat defeat us. The older generation worked and worked and worked hard to build what we have now. And maybe the younger generation can finally chase their dreams because their parents gave up theirs. And we have already achieved success beyond our wildest imaginations, if you look at the amazing transformation we’ve had in the last 48 years. Did that even seem possible 48 years ago? If we seem to be failing now, it is not because we have failed, but because our definitions of success are changing. And that’s good. Singapore has always been next to an impossibility. Given our size and our resources we were never supposed to be where we are now, were it not for clever economic planning, the aiding forces of globalisation, and, really, all the sacrifices we made. Our people may look soft on the outside, constantly complaining, yielding to ‘government policies’ but inside we are tough. We are a people who have experienced war and confrontation. We are a people who have lived through conflict, battled with identity, and wrestled the consuming forces of global economics. We are generations of sons, brothers, fathers and uncles who’ve known first-hand what it’s like to be conscripted, to live in war when there’s peace, and of daughters, sisters, mothers and aunts who’ve seen their relatives through what Service really is, and who’ve supported them through each of the 24 months. The danger is not that we become weak, but that we forget how strong we really are. That we start to think we can’t continue on with such phenomenal growth. That we let ourselves get carried away with success and BMWs that we lose sight of what is really important. That we don’t realise the future for us will only exist if we create it for ourselves. That people start to see this country as a nation headed toward disaster, and fulfil their own prophecies by leaving. There’s a difference between actually failing, and simply succeeding less. In the army, they say each day Singapore has not gone to war is another day the army has fulfilled its mission. Likewise, given our history and geography, each day we live in racial harmony, each day we do not find ourselves struggling for food and clean water we do not naturally have, each day we find ourselves being able to live our own lives and not sacrifice them for the survival of the nation, that is one day in which we have succeeded. Granted not every day is like that, and it seems now that such days are getting less and less, but that doesn’t mean we have failed. It means that the time for hard work isn’t yet over, not even after 47 years. Being young and small means we’ve still got a long way to go. It means we need to constantly push forward all the while unsure of and lacking experience in what we’re doing. It means the odds are against us. But it also means potential. It means each one of us is just one out of five million, not five hundred million, and it means having a blank slate on which anything can be drawn or written. We, more than any citizen of bigger and more solidified nations, can be the masters of our own destinies. That’s why amidst all this, it’s great to be Singaporean.
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