That day, I knew my life would change. If you’ve gone through national service, you would know how people going into it would have felt. The shuffling of feet, whispers telling their partners how much they were going to be missed - these I did not imagine. I was there. I dreaded it, and dragged my feet into the interchange. It was melodramatic. Just like that local movie, we took the ferry onto the island. Swore our lives into potentially fatal allegiance, clearly not knowing what was going to happen. We left the dining area, formed up in neat rows, and turned around to look at our loved ones waving back. Till now, everyone’s journey was the same, equally pathetic. But mine was about to be different. My group took a long detour around the area and proceeded into our cluster. I barely had time to note the large letter “T” hanging on the wall before we were screamed at to face the floor, push the Earth. This is it, this is what the military is. We were instructed to do many things which were simple, if only because it was simple to just follow instructions. I missed home immediately, but I thought I could quickly adapt. I was ready. Days later, I was told to go to the medical centre to take my height and weight. I took off my shoes and lifted my feet onto the machine. It spit out a piece of paper: ‘BMI : 27.1’ Unclear what’s going to happen, I waited for my name to be called. ‘As you are overweight, we have to remove you from BMT and recourse you. Here’s your status, PES D (temporary pes) and you will be put Out Of Training (OOT).’ I wouldn’t say I am a smart man, so I didn’t argue or ask much. It was abrupt. I returned and my Officer-Commanding spoke to the few of us at night. What he said still rings in my head: ‘You guys will be put out of BMT, and recourse into an obese training company. You guys are heavy and the pressure put on the knee will be intense as our training will be tough, and there will be a lot of training that includes running. To avoid getting you guys injured and having knee problems, we will put you into a programme that allows you to train more progressively. ‘ Stunned, I asked, ‘Sir, so what does the obese BMT do?’ ‘You will run every day for a few weeks to cut down weight so you can embark on more intense training’ I was stumped. That seemed no different from what we were already doing here. Being new to the Army I didn’t (dare) ask further. I packed my belongings again after taking everything out on the first day. My sergeant shook my hand and said ‘ORD LO’. What a day. I spent the next two weeks in the HQ, basically not doing anything but watering plants, playing table tennis and sleeping. Reporting to camp at 8, waiting for lunch at 12, dying to go back at 5. Some people loved it, I didn’t. The next Monday we received our posting orders - we were finally getting out of there! On mine, the letters “DVR” were printed. I was excited for a while, thinking that they somehow sent me to the divers. Maybe a heavier person dives faster. I was quite wrong. I made great friends during my driving course and got posted to Nee Soon Camp. There, days were long and nights were short. I learnt a great deal. But eventually I asked my Motor Transport Officer, the officer in charge, to send me back to BMT. Stunned, he asked why. ‘Because I want to be an inspiration to others, sir. To those preparing to enlist. I aspire to inspire.’ I think he laughed, but he was extremely efficient. By next month I was in an obese company. Those were the best days of my army life. I fought and worked hard, making sure that my performance would guarantee me a place in command school. I achieved the Platoon Best award. I treasured my remaining time with my BMT mates because I knew that after our final 24km we would all march down different, diverging paths. We tossed our caps and split our ways. A week later, the manpower department called me. They told me, me, that I was selected for OCS. But I needed to extend my service. I extended my service. OCS was difficult. I wasn’t a very fit and strong person despite my size. All I had was the determination to work hard. But I wasn’t someone who was outgoing and outspoken, the sort usually thought of as ‘leaders’. My OCS journey was a tad tougher and longer to me as compared to the rest. Having been hit by a knee injury in the early phase of my cadet term, trying to be physically capable as my stronger peers and trying to crack my brains on how to complete the detailed planning of a battle were serious obstacles for me. Still, I needed to complete this course. Every night, misery and worry hid behind my smile. Sometimes I would ask myself if it was worth all this trouble – why should I go through all these difficulty? Why not just serve these 2 years and end it quick? But I looked around me and I knew that, whatever difficulties I was facing, I wasn’t the only one. I made it to the 18th of April, commissioning day. Tossing my peak cap was a lot like tossing my jockey cap. There was an inexplicable euphoria accompanied by a deep-seated sadness, rooted in the knowledge that the band of brothers I fought with in OCS will be embarking onto different command lives very soon. I realized how cruel reality can be and how constant change can be. But I knew that we have to adapt to changes to be stronger. Now here I am - just disrupted my service to study - and I still feel that all that trouble was worth it. Enlisted, September 11, 2013. Removed from BMT 3 days later. Driving Course, November 2013. Recoursed BMT, February 21, 2014. Commissioned, April 18, 2015.I hope my story can inspire future batches. Because if we, this generation, don’t know why we must defend, then those after us have a thousand more reasons to argue why we don’t. To those who are facing difficulties and hardship, never, never, never ever give up. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain. Happy 50th birthday Singapore. - 2LT Yiliang
We’ve talked about it with relatives and friends, heard stories, and even watched a film on it. Amidst the elation and euphoria of post-graduation freedom, the thought of enlistment is both dreaded nightmare and inevitable reality. Many of us are unwilling to forfeit our short-lived freedom and most are unfamiliar with the army. So here’s a list of 11 things I learnt in BMT, which I hope provides a glimpse into the first stage of military life. 1. Expect homesickness. For many of us, this will be the first time we are away from our family or friends for this long. Gone are the days where we can leave our beds in an untidy mess and return to sleep having it done for us. Communal living also means you have to be considerate to your friends in the same bunk. No one likes a person who throws his trash everywhere. Homesickness is common and it's part of the adjustment process. I recommend bringing along pictures of your friends or loved ones. It helps. 2. Expect long days and short nights. I always tell people that "you never really know how long a day is until you enlist", and that's a truth. As a recruit, you're constantly working round the clock. The first activity starts at six in the morning (or earlier) and only ends around ten at night. After that it's a mass orgy in the shower to meet the lights-out time. I’ll always remember having to share a shower cubicle which three section mates to expedite the showering process just so we can get to bed on time. This cycle goes on pretty much for the two months in BMT and the only respite you will probably have is your seven hours of ‘mandatory uninterrupted rest’. Military time and civilian time seem to run on different schedules. A day will feel like a year in Tekong. That thought may stress you up initially, but you'll soon come to terms with it. 3. Be prepared to learn a new language. Army lingo is unfamiliar to most and punctuated with many acronyms. Probably because it simplifies communication between troops in wartime. "No go", "half section", "drop five", "tio stun". You probably don’t understand their meanings now but rest assured you will be a well-versed native speaker soon. Then there's "IA IA IA IA IA" and "arty arty arty”. There are some which don’t really make sense like "bua long long" which actually means “to take your own sweet time”. And finally, the two most hated and dreaded words in BMT: "force prep" and "stand by" (which is pronounced in the weirdest way possible). When you hear them...be prepared to face the floor. 4. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. More often than not, you're going to disagree with some instructions your commanders give, their lack of understanding or their unreasonable punishments. That's normal. Things don't always go our way. Sometimes we are just unaware of the rationale behind those instructions. Sometimes, it simply does not make sense but we have to do it anyway. Instead of bearing grudges, take this as a learning point. How are you going to give instructions so that your subordinates understand your intent? How are you going to treat those ranked below you? Some of you will eventually go into specialist or officer school to be trained as commanders. Observe the different styles of your commanders, learn what you think is good and discard what you think is undesirable. 5. You'll look ridiculous. You're bald. Get over it. 6. Be prepared to be pushed beyond your limits, both physically and mentally. The last time most of you ran was probably a good half a year ago. Your physical fitness has definitely plummeted and it's time to start the engines running again. Physical fitness aside, there is another aspect of fitness that we train for in the military: combat fitness, which is a rough mix of grit, attitude, skill, endurance, and morale. Soon enough, you'll be donning your SBO and carrying field packs for route marches. It's no easy task. The sudden heavy load on your back would push you to your physical as well as mental limits, especially when you go on longer distances. Digging shell scrapes will also challenge the limits of your mental resilience. It's a herculean task that I have trouble with even today. My only advice: wear gloves, secure your rifle, keep digging. 7. Holding weapons is not as cool as it looks. Seriously, you will know what I mean soon enough. The excitement fades away as quickly as it comes. ND/AD, IA, rifle cleaning, handling with care, sleeping on it during SITEST. Suddenly a rifle becomes the most sacred thing in your life. Cool? 8. There will be a point in time you'll want to sign on. Kudos to the SAF recruiters for this and I guarantee that you will experience this phase. I concede that the SAF scholarships are attractive but it comes with a hefty price tag - six years of commitment. There are cases of scholars regretting joining the organization, but cannot leave. It becomes, at best, a painful obligation. I am not against the idea of having a career in the military but a military life is not everyone's cup of tea. There are also cases of scholars uttering loving their career. Look beyond the prospects of having an overseas education funded, or signing on just to get out of a seemingly difficult army life (it’s not much better elsewhere) - wait a little longer to see if the military suits you before making the commitment. 9. Don't live your life in army. An advice from a good friend. You'll be spending five, sometimes six, days a week in the army. Everything that revolves around you is about the army. When you meet your friends, you're going to speak about army. This often bores the girls out (we're sorry). Do not lose yourself in this vortex. Continue to pursue your interests or hobbies even with the limited time you have. You've got Monday to Friday for army. That’s more than enough. 10. Black tape is the panacea for everything. Fixing torn pants, securing items, silencing someone, concealment, bandage, and markings. Just about any problems you face under the sun, black tape never disappoints. 11. You're going to miss this place. You surely will. Especially when (or because) it’s over. I fondly recall my time in BMT and they were one of my most memorable moments. My section mates connected well and although we were quite the mavericks, we had the most fun out of the rest. You're going to meet people who will be your close friends even after you pass out of BMT - friends and commanders alike. So there you go, 11 things I learned in BMT. Everyone will have different experiences and tell you different tales when they leave Tekong. There is a lot more you can learn, but I will leave that for you to discover yourself. In no time, you will be embarking on your baptism of fire - the 24km graduation march - and then you will have your share of experiences to brag about. All the best! -written for my juniors and friends enlisting in Feb and May 2015.
“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.
It’s over and you are invincible. Just conquered the hardest test of your life. It all gets better from here, they said. And it does. You’re 18. What’s there to fear. You can drive now. Even get into Zouk after being checked. Now you reclaim those weekends spent with ten year series’. You’ve already planned everything in the painful weeks leading to the exams. This time, it’s having fun with a vengeance. Before you have to go to that other place. Finally, the food you wanted to eat, the movies you wanted to watch, the games you wanted to play, the friends you wanted to meet. Throw in a class chalet, or two, if your secondary school class still exists. But before that, maybe just one, two weeks of rest and letting it sink in. You’ve earned it, definitely, and no one can take it away from you. The sky’s bluer now. A month. Christmas and New Year and parties in between. It’s all been great. Maybe you should learn a new language, or how to play the guitar. It’s fun, but after awhile it’s not. Whatever, now’s the time for fun. Because if not now then it’s never. If you’re fast, you start learning to drive. At 20kph, it’s already thrilling. The power of adulthood taps you on the shoulder and you welcome it like a long-awaited friend. 25kph. Another month. You remember you have to go to that other place. You’ll find out more about it soon. Meanwhile, an internship or a job. Working for the first time! Long sleeved shirts, neatly pressed by Dad. The daily commute mixed with the fresh smell of Raffles Place coffee 30 minutes early to work. You look dashing in that new pair of leather shoes. After 18 years, you’re ready to contribute to this society. And it’s good. You don’t actually need to do much besides what you already do in school. How easy can it get? And you’ve learnt how to operate the photocopy machine. Useful stuff. 30kph and third gear. It’s February. Chinese New Year. Relatives you meet once every year. How do you feel about that other place? They ask but you have no idea. It’s impossible to know. Until you’re there. It looks…fine. You’re on a ferry now. How hard can it get? A pledge. With your life. You’ll be out in two weeks, you think. The food’s ok too. The only hard part that day was waving back at them. You remember something you learnt in school. About commas and exclamation marks and Mrs Tilscher and the sky splitting open and eating you up and you wish it really did now as you race up the stairs in a stiff pair of expensive boots you didn’t pay for but actually did. They cut into your feet but you have to run and run or else you have to run even more. The first time you run yourself along the coast you look across the channel between there and here and wonder why it has to be like this although you know the answer and how you just don’t want to accept that it really has to be like this. The view from your bed is the best you ever had because the quiet lights of the jetty and island opposite this island are right there and you tell yourself you will never understand the difference between what you supposedly are now and what you were then and will be in two years’ time. It gets better. The first time you run back home (in your mind, because you force yourself to walk) it seems things are all okay now. Maybe tomorrow when you wake up you will discover it was all just a dream or maybe it’s actually all over and this itself is the bad dream. Or someone comes and tells you it was all a very cruel yet well-executed practical joke and you don’t have to go back there. He doesn’t come. The second time you’re on the ferry was supposed to be easier but it’s the same. The same new feeling for the next two months as you learn how much you have to learn and for the first time learn how to kill someone, with good reason, when necessary, after having taken proportionate steps. One weekend Dad waits for you in the car and you cannot wait to tell him you’ve done exactly the same as he did twenty years ago except it’s probably very different now even though the bomb you used is the same. You don’t say anything but moments of eye contact transmit everything you wanted to say and reassure you you’re really doing this for something even if that something is just earning a right to look Dad in the eye having been through this as well. Sitting behind him on the TPE you can’t recall whether he had this many white hairs before A levels or if you just didn’t notice. Letters on a rainy day in a forest on an island. The first time in a long time you cried (in your mind, a lot more). Then it was finally time and you’ve never seen the park look this beautiful before as each step takes you nearer and deeper into the heart of a country you’ve pledged to defend. You wonder if you will be able to see the city in the same light again as day breaks and you march in with five thousand more yous and the smell of freedom and new uniforms soaked in old sweat fill a stadium already bursting with pride. A week. Then, again. When you go to that new place there’s no ferry ride but everything is new and unfamiliar and you wished you could have just gotten that other posting along with your friend. Should have indicated interest for that long ago. Anyhow it’s a new regime under new management and again you struggle to understand why it can’t just be for two months because two months alone were enough to twist the universe into this. You survive, somehow, although everyone does, somehow. December and life settles. 40kph. You’ve vocated. Then it’s a blur of exercise and exercises and duties and making it for the last bus and dinners with buddies, not friends, and knowing in years to come you’d be happy to see them again. 50 kph. The phone rings and you remember someone is waiting for an email about something you have to properly arrange else someone really could die. As things start to fall into place piece by piece the parts of you that had to be locked away somewhere you did not know by someone you still don’t know arrange themselves inside you again. They’re the same you you knew you were but put into this different you the parts don’t seem to fit. Fitting or not you’re just relieved they’re back again and you even speak with the same voice you had long ago. Once a sergeant had told you the first two months break you into bits so you can be reconstituted into what your country needed you to be. Maybe now you really are more of what you’re needed to be and that Friday as you leave your bunk you realise soon it will be all over and soon you will close this door for the last time and open another. A shiny crested plaque later all the memorabilia you’ve acquired from the past two years (did it really happen?) are going into a big black bag in the storeroom. Just so you’d remember it did happen the plaque goes into your room instead. Thankfully things are okay now and you can still count how many white hairs he has. In a few months who you were taps who you are on the shoulder and together you look for who you will be. You wake up and everything feels the same. Everything is the same. Except "What Then?" has become "What Now?" Note: This is not at all a factual recount of my own experiences, but an attempt at portraying the possibilities after A's. It was no doubt influenced by and skewed towards my own perspectives. Do take it with a pinch of salt (especially for girls, unless you're signing on).
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.
It was appalling and indeed dreadful to peruse a previous submission entitled “Why You Shouldn't Ever Use Big Words.” Extrapolating epiphanies from this article, I opined it essential and in fact compulsive to provide a defence of the multifold and indeed enlightening usages of vocabulary frequently misconstrued as excessively bombastic and Herculean to comprehend. In truth, it is nearly always a wiser alternative to utilize a longer and thus stronger word over a shorter and thus weaker one. I append my quintuple rationales for this option in the following paragraphs: #1 – Polysyllabic vocabulary is additionally effectual. In our relentless pursuit for academic and linguistic excellence we are often confronted with the task of demonstrating our propositions in as convincing and persuasive a method as possible. And in the domain of persuasion and influencing thought, few words suffice as fittingly as those which exceed an arbitrary minimum of four syllabic units. Significantly, the continuous and conscious commitment to the contrived and complicated conforms completely to one of the wisest adages of argument which, unfortunately, is expressed in an overly simplistic way: If you cannot convince, then confuse. To put it sophisticatedly, if one ever, and when one inevitably, finds himself in a position in which a case one is charged with arguing for is lacking in evidence, logic, and other optional tenets of quality writing, it is possible and indeed recommended for one to gravitate towards these trustworthy lieutenants of multialphabetic origin to construct the concealment required to camouflage such aforementioned want of quality. As an additional meritorious enhancement, the ability to utilize words associated commonly with the bombastic is ubiquitously acknowledged as a mark of true intellect and loquacity. Despite arguments towards the contrary that the mere usage of sophisticated words in writing is inadequately indicative of similar complexity in thought, it must be noted that in any successful piece of persuasion there is no requirement to actually be intelligent – it is sufficient to appear to be so. Therefore and henceforth, it is not uncommon to observe that any writing conducted successfully in a consciously complicated manner convinces the reader of the notion that the writer of said literature must be clearly be remarkably thoughtful, and wins the allegiance of the reader’s thoughts even without making any substantial propositions. It is even not infrequently speculated that the integer value of the summation of the syllabic units one utilizes in any piece of writing possesses a positive if not proportionate correlation to the academic marks that one receives. Evidently and apparently it is unquestionably a wiser option to always resort to the verbose. What one lacks in quality is easily compensated by quantity. #2 – Continued employment of the verbose serves as invaluable experience and practice in sharpening one’s vocabulary and élan. It is simplistic and indeed naïve to perceive writing as an activity conducted merely for immediate purposes, and indubitably important to acknowledge that writing should also be carried out with due attention paid to the sustained development of the personal writing style in the extended scheme of time. It is evident, thus, that one must perennially attempt to summon powerful words in his writing – such that one gains critical insights and crucial familiarity into the methods and means to improve upon his own writing departments. Suppose one is content with simply utilizing the simple, and does not deem it necessary to conduct writing with the objective of employing the bombastic. Because there will seem never to be a requirement to use a longer word when a short one apparently fulfills the purpose, one may and indeed will never find it possible to progress upwards into the higher echelons of writing, which involve being comfortable and entirely conversant in the language of the upper classes, that is, words which, as previously highlighted, possess a minimum of four syllabic tenets. In summarization, it is imperative, when writing, to compel ourselves towards utilizing elongated words. This is the sole way of honing our writing faculties. #3 It is entirely easier to write in as indulgent and complicated a style as possible. Within a letter composed by the marvelous mathematician Blaise Pascal, a solitary line stands out as an indisputable case for the complicated. Concluding his composition, Pascal remarked how he “had wanted to write a shorter letter, but did not have the time”. There exists infinite wisdom within this exclamation, notably the appreciation of the indelible fact that in order to produce writing which is shorter and perhaps simpler, far greater effort and thought is required. Considered in tandem with the existing case we have observed thus far that simple writing has none of the benefits which consciously complicated writing possesses, it is clear how writing sophisticatedly promises major benefits at minor costs. In truth, there is, by now, an abyss of reasons to speak simply, owing to the fact that the aforementioned is an activity which requires more input and produces less output. It is an activity which requires such insignificant things as attempting to condense words into more palatable clauses and applying control on otherwise indulgently impactful vocabulary in the naïve belief that it is crucial to engineer your writing in a manner in which the target receiver is most probably able to understand. Catering to the ignorant is nothing except a waste of time, especially since if that receiver in question does not comprehend one’s words, it does not matter. He will either be bought over by one’s verbosity, or even if he is not, it is equally probabilistic that since he has not achieved a level from which he can comprehend your words, he would not be able to appreciate its true beauty even if he did’st. #4 – It is purely and pristinely logical to incessantly invoke intellectual vocabulary. A modest and yet unexpectedly apt argument towards the justification of the requirements for the ubiquitous occurrence of sophisticated language is merely thus: If there remain no purposes for the existence of such words, why do they occur in the first place? Surely it is not insurmountable to perceive that the very fact that verbosity lives, or indeed, thrives, in our environment, is due to its outstanding applicability and usefulness to our species. As such it is only logical that we employ and exploit them generously. Reinforcing the logicality of this assertion are various other instances in which the argument of pure existence has been successfully submitted in the defence of an otherwise disadvantaged situation. For instance and example, if guns are not meant to be owned by everyone, why do they exist? If money is not meant to be spent, why does it exist? If drugs are not meant to be consumed, rules not meant to be broken and other people meant to be taken advantage of, why do they exist? In all of these cases, it has consistently been proven that such existential reasoning, or specifically, that the existence of the latter justifies the former action, operates flawlessly. And applying such impervious logic to the regime of conversationalisation is nothing but the next logical and intuitive step. #5 – The procedure of writing in an overly saturated manner successfully fulfills most occupational and academic requirements with utmost rapidity. Herein lies the most vital and integral need for the verbose: In any situation whereby the act of writing is required, it is almost always the case that the purpose of such writing is for an employer or an educational facilitator. In this area it is clearly advantageous to write in the bombastic, because one key characteristic of such a writing technique is that it accredits one the ability to utilize a far greater number of words to express any individual concept, whereas one who writes in a simple style would be coerced to merely append a few words at maximum. Coupled then with the fortunate situation whereby multisyllabic words tend also to comprise more characters and are thus lengthier, we observe the undeniable fact that our preferred, consciously complicated conception of writing can aid us to absolutely fulfill the requisite restrictions in any given situation – regardless of whether it is in the production of a report that necessitates a minimum of 50 pages to demonstrate that substantial effort has been poured within, or in the submission of a domestic assignment that is bundled with a mandatory 600 word limit. In long, there are minimally a quintuplet of compelling rationales underlying why one is recommended to frequently and faithfully undertake writing as a task that demands only the very most in terms of verbosity, prolixity, extravagance, indulgence, and syllabic components. As a general regulation circumvent words with any fewer than 4 syllabic units unless presented with no other option alternatives. Simultaneously, there is, at best, a feeble case for the utilization of the simple and thus simplistic, a view championed by this article’s predecessor on “why speak simply”, because not only is it illogical, but the marginal benefits of speaking simply far from justify the additional costs required. And as we have seen and as any intellectual academic will remark, if it is illogical, or if the benefits do not justify the costs, or both, then there is never a case to do something, because it is almost always certainly wrong.
Writing as we know it is dying. In a world where words are communicated in large and incessant quantities over increasingly convenient social platforms, it seems as if no one takes the effort to make sure they’re expressing themselves well. It’s unlikely anyone from now on would be able to write in prose and pentameter as powerful as Shakespeare’s, and we’re looking at a possible future filled with nothing but novels about vampire romances and shades of monotones. Simply because the quantity of communication has increased does not mean that the quality of it has fallen. But it’s not hard to see that, especially in Singapore, the standard of writing and expression is on a decline – fuelled on many fronts by a lack of interest in effective expression, a paucity of passionate and experienced people teaching language and writing, as well as a continuous shift towards occupations and subjects that are more scientific and thus perceived to be safer. In our continuing effort to spread the joy of words and save us from a future of illiteraricy, here are five steps for you to instantly improve your writing. If you’re already doing this, keep it up and share the wisdom! Step #1: Know What You’re Doing. Writing is the same as just about any other activity. If you’re not sure what you’re doing it for, then you might be going in a completely wrong direction. You could use up all your ammunition and still not land a hit. Worse, you might hit the wrong target, and that is sometimes a bigger problem than aiming at the right one and missing. So before you even begin writing, you need to understand what exactly your purpose is. Here are a few possibilities: Is it to prove a point? Typically, essay writing requires a very close understanding of what exactly is it you’re trying to prove. If the question is about “whether green apples are better than red apples”, you’d need to do a comparison between the two. It’s not the same question as “whether green apples are good”. Is it to tell a story? If so, what story do you want to tell? How do you want people to feel after reading your story? Sad, happy, disgusted, inspired? These all will and should affect how you begin and end your writing. Is it for fun? Even when you’re writing for leisure, say, for a blog post or on a simple whatsapp chat, paying some attention to the words you use could infinitely increase the fun and enjoyment you get. Consider who your target audience is, what they’d like to hear, and most importantly, what kind of images and words they would understand the best. Don’t go around talking about Scylla and Charybdis if you're addressing a class of primary school kids. Is it for marks? This is, sadly, probably the most common type of writing we do nowadays. When doing this you need to be aware of the requirements of the answering format – are there certain restrictions to the words you write? Should you be more careful of making grammatical errors because it’ll get you penalised? If you’re writing for marks, it really helps to clarify what kind of writing will get you what kind of marks. But, generally, I’d say that the better you write, the more marks you’d get, although ‘better’ is often relative to the answer scheme. Step #2: Plan. Planning is the best thing you can do for your writing. That’s because planning is actually thinking, and writing without thinking is the number one cause of bad expression, if that isn’t already obvious. It doesn’t matter how you plan, as long as it involves you ironing out and coordinating your thoughts before, not as, you write. Plan when you’re writing an essay, because otherwise you’ll be confusing yourself as you go along. Plan when you’re doing a short answer question worth only 4 marks, because then you’ll know exactly how many points you’ll cover and you can add/remove things before it becomes indelible ink. Plan when you’re hard-pressed for time, because planning takes out the content-related thinking that you’d otherwise do during the actual writing, and being able to focus solely on expression saves you lots of time. Plan before you answer any question, be it for an interview or a test, because prior thought organises your answers and shows how much of a mature thinker you really are. Plan and plan always. Step #3: Stop Using Words You Don’t Know. I’d daresay every one of us is guilty of this. We think of a brilliant quote or phrase that’s somehow related to the topic at hand, and we reverse engineer our content so we can fit those words of wisdom into our writing. To be fair, this is not always bad, but it mostly is, especially if the quote or word in mind is not totally relevant to begin with. Actually, we do this because we’ve been trained to. Since young we’ve been handed writing assignments with ‘helping words’ that are supposed to enhance our writing. In the short run it does work, as the young us typically don’t know enough vocabulary to fully express ourselves yet. We organise our plots and storylines around these words as if the list was a checklist and the more ‘helping words’ we get to use the better our work will be. Build your expressions around your points, not your points around your expressions. But then a dependency develops, and we begin to force-fit words and phrases into our writing, organising our thoughts around phrases when we should be doing the exact opposite. A force-fit point is horribly obvious and does nothing except to highlight the awkward fundamentals of your writing. While being able to show off good vocabulary and use powerful words at the right times are a definite plus, using words wrongly or without fully appreciating their meaning and connotation can backfire. I don’t really want to describe essay writing as a titanic task, for example, because although it really is difficult, it is not as much of a physically large and powerful activity as the association to the mythological Greek titans suggests. Instead of using inextricably epicurean vocabulary that obfuscate, perplex and hinder meaning, rely on simple words that have less chance for error, unless you really know what you’re doing. Step #4: Don’t Write For The Sake Of Writing. Another unfortunate habit created by the bane that is homework is that most of us see writing as an involuntary activity, typically involving forcing our minds to throw up words and phrases that don’t naturally occur to us. But if you don’t like writing, knowing this lesson will help you avoid doing more of it. I’d say we’ve all done this before too, because there’s always that one teacher that gives us a minimum word limit for an assignment, even though there’s really nothing much to say about it. It’s not wrong, to be fair, but an undesirable side effect is we start to think writing more for the sake of writing more gives us more marks. What makes it worse is that there is some truth behind this perception. The act of waffling, as writing smoke and fluff is known, is really very obvious and could ruin an entire essay if the rest of it is actually sharp and condensed writing. To borrow a common Chinese proverb, it is like drawing a really nice and elaborate snake and then adding legs to it when you realise there’s too much white space. It doesn’t make sense, and distracts the viewer from the beauty of the rest of the picture. Sometimes, less is more. And other times, less itself is better. Just look at all those ‘minimalist’ designs that are trending now. Write when you have something to write, not when you have to write something. And subtlety is also important, especially for more narrative writing. Imagine if Darth Vader had said ‘I am your father but I don’t think you knew that because I was actually Anakin Skywalker previously and I had a tryst with your mom and became a Sith behind this mask before you were old enough to know”. Just say what is necessary to achieve your purpose - there are some things better left to imagination and self-evidence. In short, writing is only partly about what is said. Step #5: Learn From Great Writers. One of the reasons why we are commonly asked to do book reviews and other painful reading assignments is that books are really great places to learn how to write. I mean, they’re the longest written things around, yea? That’s also why people copy model essays and rewrite them thousands of times. It’s ok to copy (unless it's during a test), because almost all great artists start by doing so. When you look at something wonderful and attempt to recreate it yourself you’re also developing some of the skills and muscle memory needed. The problem is if you merely copy but never learn. It is as important to be able to express yourself in your own voice as it is to be aware of how other strong voices express themselves. You could start by copying, but what is more valuable are the lessons which good writers offer – why and how to write rather than what to write. To get these, though, you have to consciously seek them out. Try asking yourself: Why is this so much better than mine and how can I improve? To start you off, here are six rules of writing from amazing academic badass George Orwell: Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. Of these, Orwell’s rule #6 leads me to one extra, and perhaps most important step... Step #6: Know That There Are No Rules For Writing. Only guidelines. And even these are meant to be broken intelligently. It might sound contradictory and weird, but as much as the education system might want you to believe, there are no model answers for essay questions, and no hard and fast rules to writing. There are only pieces of writing which are stronger or weaker. And the best measurement of the strength of a piece is how much it can say to how many people in how many words. That is exactly what the marking schemes try to get at when they talk about ‘economy and accuracy of expression’. In the end though, the PEEL and SEE formats of answering are useful, but only because they are a beginning to your writing, not the end. You’re supposed to make use of them to guide you towards developing your own writing style that suits the requirements of the purpose, and is sharp, condensed and strong. So here’s a recap of the 5 + 1 steps to instantly improving your writing: Know what you’re doing. Plan and plan always. Stop using words you don’t know. Don’t write for the sake of writing. Learn from great writers. And know that there are actually no rules to writing. None of these are actually difficult to apply, and I’m speaking from experience when I tell you it’ll instantly improve your writing ability. Go forth now, and change the world with your words. And one more thing, remember you don’t have to follow guidelines if you already know what you’re doing.
Wait...what? To be honest, the word ‘academic’ doesn’t really go with the word ‘badass’. At least not in today’s world, where ‘academic’ is almost another word for nerdy, bespectacled, and sometimes Asian. Badass, on the other hand, is reserved for the select few whose pure existence just shouts awesome in your face. People like Kevin Garnett, Jackie Chan, and basically the entire cast of the Expendables. However, there exist a group of legendary individuals so devilishly brilliant and insanely intelligent that the combined numerical value of their IQs was probably larger than the amount of bullets fired in both episodes of the Expendables. Men who were just so amazing at subjects like philosophy, mathematics and everything they did they’re still dictating popular and academic culture today. Who were so smart their genius was badass – meaning that they had as much brains as Stallone has muscles. Amongst them are people who built the first ever schools (ok that might have been a mistake, in retrospect), the man who proved that the Earth went around the Sun, and, of course, the great and legendary writer who basically called political leaders pigs and got away with it. In honour of the men who lived in an age where thought was free, and helped keep things that way, here’s our tribute to the 5 most amazing academic badasses of all time, starting with… #1: Eric Arthur Blair a.k.a. George Orwell You might know this guy, because he was so superbly smart he managed to disguise an entire political rant as a children’s book so well they actually allowed it to be taught in schools. Now that is the highest level of censorship avoidance. Yes, I’m talking about the author of Animal Farm, which, published in 1945, was a story that basically lambasted the communist regime so strongly Stalin was probably busy applying cold water to his burnt areas after reading it. And Orwell did it without explicitly saying so, so they couldn’t quite arrest him for it without admitting they were guilty of everything he was calling them out for. Read: pure, absolute genius. Note: If you haven’t read that book, please take some time off this article to finish it before coming back. Some things are just more important than others. And if you’re reading this now, congrats on being slightly more equal than others, or, welcome back. Let’s get on with things… Before Orwell decided to systemically take apart the political applications of the USSR, he was born in India and attended school at Eton College, where he was more concerned with writing the college magazine than his useless grades. His boring and totally non-badass schooling out of the way, Orwell elected to join the Imperial Police, likely finding the name of that organisation something more worthy of his attention than something like Eton, which coincidentally is Note spelt backwards. Boring… He eventually became an Assistant District Superintendent due to his awesomeness, but was too pissed off with poverty to not do anything about it. So he set out to do battle against all the unfairness and injustice in society, because there was never any doubt he’d win. Now the problem was, in order to write a book on something, you pretty much need to know it well enough. And Orwell, clearly too amazing for something like poverty to ever touch, didn’t. So he decided to make poverty his best friend. He spent most of his days ‘tramping’, or in other words, dressing like a hobo and going around doing whatever a hobo does. He didn’t care about no middle-class expectations, he just did whatever he wanted. And that also included trying to get into prison in 1931, just to see what it was like. But they turned him down, possibly because they couldn’t find a jail cell big enough to house his gigantic…wit. And when he wasn’t busy being poor and doing other things that no one else who had a choice would choose to do, Orwell decided to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. (Ok that too is something no one else would optionally do, at least not in today’s society where people are all trying to avoid national service.) So he arrived in the heart of the war saying, “I’ve come to fight against Fascism”, which, to me, is clearly more badass than totally running away and saying “I’ll be back”. If you think a writer and intellectual clearly was disadvantaged in a war involving things such as physical activity, then you’re wrong. There are accounts of Orwell chasing down another soldier with a bayonet and bombing out an enemy position. Stuff that Rambo does, basically. And how about the fact that he survived the war? Surely Orwell had no weakness. Unfortunately, at some point in time the Afterlife decided that Orwell was too awesome to not be part of it. So it began throwing tuberculosis at him in 1947 – lots of it. So much so that it actually started to, y’know, affect him. In that time, though, Orwell continued to do just whatever he wanted, finishing his masterpiece Nineteen Eighty Four, and got it published before the Afterlife finally won in 1949. For a typical person, writing while battling a life-threatening disease probably involves a lot more blood and snot than ink and paper. Orwell’s book, however, came to be one of the best literary works of ALL TIME. I’m not sure if you got that so I’ll say it again: ALL TIME, meaning in two thousand years when people are busy floating around on pure energy and playing Angry Birds on their iPhone 250s, his book is still going to be read, studied, and treated like the sacred piece of badassism it is. Note: If you haven’t read Nineteen Eighty Four, you know what to do. It was and still is a great pity to mankind that a flame of justice and a prolific mouthpiece of societal ills passed away at the age of 46. So Orwell spent his life fighting to preserve and promote justice. Now the next guy practically defined it, and his name was… #2: Plato – All Your Teachers’ Teacher. Plato lived in an era slightly distant from ours: 428-348 B.C., when the years were still counted backwards numerically. This means he didn’t have any of the technology we take for granted, including Google, Wikipedia, and public utilities. Keep that in mind as we move on to all the insane things he did. Like starting the one of the earliest known schools. Schools did exist before that, to be specific, but Plato’s Academy actually had things like walls, and, just so it could be that much more amazing, didn’t charge any fees whatsoever. How’s that for a business model eh, [insert unnamed commercialised school here]? In a sense, he’s responsible for the education we get to receive today (Yay?). That’s pretty amazing you know, since you generally don’t wake up one day and decide to change the lives of people two thousand years later. And when he wasn’t occupied with pre-emptively engineering untold misery for children aged 20 and under for millennia to come, Plato wrote a series of books and treatises on philosophy, in which he tried to tell others how to think so they could attain a little more of the genius he himself had. The Republic, as one of these works is known, sought to explore what justice was. It was likely the result of him sitting down one day and setting a question for himself to that read “Define justice [50m]”. So he produced 10 volumes to answer that question. Well, yea. He probably exceeded the word limit, but it’s safe to say he broke the marks ceiling too. I highly recommend you spend some time browsing through The Republic, but I won’t make it as compulsory, because of the potential medical and psychological implications of doing that. And yes, he used the word Republic way before it was cool. Now almost every single country in the world, including even the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (that’s North Korea btw), is ripping it off from him, probably as an attempt to suggest they are at least partly as just and badass as Plato was. Now you’re thinking that Plato was a skinny old man who sat on stone chairs and thought about the world, aren’t you? Wrong, because he was also a total jock at wrestling in his earlier years. He reputedly got his name from the word Platori, meaning broad, after his coach noticed how his muscles were almost as colossal as his brain. Rumours say he wrestled in the Isthmian games, which were like the Olympic games, only more badass because Plato was in them. I can’t stop myself from imagining that he’d be throwing the hurt on all his opponents while simultaneously deconstructing how weak the logos, ethos and pathos of their punches were. And what if I told you he was also the teacher of… #3: Aristotle – All Men by Nature Desire Knowledge. And Aristotle was the teacher of none other than Alexander the Great. I mean, if your student goes on to conquer pretty much the whole of Western Europe and goes down in history as abc THE GREAT, I guess you’re also pretty much worthy of the title abc the EVEN GREATER. I cannot even begin to describe how badass Aristotle was. So let me enlist the help of an academic paper, which suggested that Aristotle was probably the last person to know everything there was to be known in his own time. (Neill, Alex; Aaron Ridley, 1995) Even his name shouts awesome. I mean, why else would all those royals and nobles decide to call themselves the aristo-crats? Clearly they were all wannabes in Aristotle’s massive fanclub. Perhaps they believed associating themselves with the alpha and the omega that was Aristotle would lend some legitimacy to their rule. His contributions are listed to be in the fields of logic, biology, physics, metaphysics, geology, *stops to catch my breath, medicine, philosophy and history. That’s basically the equivalent of doing 8 degrees and getting First Class Honours in ALL OF THEM. Did I mention that one of them is medicine? Now think of the smartest, most intelligent person you know. You don’t have to personally know him, just anyone you know of. Got that? Was it Einstein, Hawking or Bill Gates? Wait…turns out IT DOESN’T MATTER, because Aristotle was totally smarter than all of them combined, so much so that Brian Magee, a British philosopher who studied at Oxford and Yale in the 1950s (that clearly makes him reliable doesn’t it?) sums it up by saying “it is doubtful whether any human being has ever known as much as he did.” His contributions are so limitless that for me to list them all here would be like trying to count the stars of badass in the infinite universe of Aristotle’s boundless mind – you take half of forever, and before you succeed you die of the sheer brilliance you subject yourself to. He was so badass he basically “left every future scientist and philosopher in his debt.” (Wiki) This means if Aristotle were still alive, he’d be richer than 5000% of the top 1% because every single scientist and philosopher since freaking 322 B.C. would be spending their lives paying dues to him. Scientists AND philosophers. That pretty much includes every smart guy in the world! To put things in perspective though, Aristotle did stay at the Academy for about twenty years, till he was 38, to do all that academic world changing he did. But he apparently got fed up with the administration (after Plato died and the whole Academy took a -10 to the Scale of Badass) and just left. Getting fed up with the administration? That’s a +1 to Badassery anyday! And by just leaving, I mean he went all the way to Asia Minor. Now recall that he lived in a time where the best mode of transportation was probably a chariot drawn by some distant descendant of Shadowfax. I can’t imagine that going to Asia involved anything less than a journey which Jules Verne would’ve been proud to document. Once there, Aristotle went back to his favourite pastime – doing just whatever he wanted and being awesome at it – so he went to an island called Lesbos (likely finding this island’s name worthy of further study) and researched zoology and botany. Because you don’t need prior experience in any subject if you’re Aristotle. He eventually started his own school, called the Lyceum, so he could share some of the intelligence that was clearly overflowing from his brain. In his later years though, Aristotle had accumulated so much amazing that his own student, Alexander the Great, began to dislike him for speaking out against his inhumane ways, and apparently started threatening Aristotle in letters. Totally uncool way to treat your teacher, if you ask me. So Aristotle did what any typical amazing academic genius would do when threatened by a tyrant King who was also 29 years younger – outlive his adversary. Alexander somehow died before Aristotle due to mysterious reasons. Conspiracy theories link Aristotle to Alexander’s death, but clearly even if this was true Aristotle was too amazing to leave behind any compelling evidence. He eventually went out the typical badass way – of natural causes whilst the entire of Athens was persecuting him for apparently not honouring the gods or something that obviously he was too incredible to do. He also said: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”, which could’ve been his way of telling us “you all are obviously not equal to me, so don’t even try”. #4: Rene Descartes – I think, therefore I am. The next dude on our badass list is here because he flatly refused to believe anyone but himself and, as it turned out, was right. Cogito ergo sum, you might have heard before, or I think, therefore I am (one thousand times better than all of you combined). Besides having an infinitely awesome name that few people could pronounce right, Descartes was a French philosopher and all round amazing dude who lived circa 1650. Yup, still no Google. His claim to fame was being an absolute whiz in philosophy AND maths, something which honestly seems next to impossible nowadays, when Arts students are known for their difficulties with maths and Science students are known for their difficulties with Arts. Not only was he tremendous at both, he actually believed that metaphysics and science was the root of philosophy. Like, you actually become better at Arts when you’re better at Science. Wow! Clearly he wouldn’t have liked the dichotomy we’ve imposed between the two in recent times. Still, it’s amazing to think that the guy who famously said “except our own thoughts, nothing is absolutely within our power” also invented the Cartesian plane (you didn’t realise it was named after him did you? Neither did I). And because most academic badasses, as we have seen, typically also have side hobbies that involve physically kicking others’ butts, Descartes was a member of the Army of Nassau in 1618. Because he didn’t see much action, however, he spent his spare time studying maths. Eventually he decided that all the awesome in his mind was going nowhere if he didn’t tell others about it, so he starting writing treatises on emotion. Before he began, though, he made sure to tell the world that the stuff he wrote would be completely more monumental than everything that’s ever been written by saying that he would write on these issues “as if no one had written on these matters before”. This put him in conflict with other established academic badasses of the time, including Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Hume – all of whom were contenders for a place in this article. That probably made Descartes pause for about 3 seconds before he deciding he totally didn’t care. Did I mention that his Meditations on First Philosophy continues to be a standard text in most philosophy courses? That was published in 1641. How many things have you done today that will be studied by everyone half a millennium later? In 1663 though, his badassery came into conflict with the church, and the Pope placed his works on the Index of Prohibited Books, which is generally where your books could end up if they cross an arbitrary line on the Scale of Badass. I’m not saying that the Pope was wrong, just that the act of placing his books on this index was perhaps misguided. Eventually, they realised how ingenious he was and started calling him “the Father of Modern Philosophy”. The thought that he’d fathered philosophy actually presents us the image that his wit was so amazing it did the job of a sperm… And since fathering stuff is clearly awesome in all senses of that metaphor, the next guy… #5: Galileo Galilei – The Man Who Could Look at Science and Say… Is just fascinating. Because he is known as the father of modern observational astronomy, modern physics, science, AND modern science. His extremely virile and therefore awesome brain fathered more sophisticated academic concepts than most males would father children, so don’t go comparing his brain to…any part of you at all. You might already know this, but Galileo was basically the dude who stepped up and said, “Hey guys, did anyone else notice the Earth revolves around the Sun?” But instead of standing in awe at the truth in that epiphany and celebrating him for the legend he was, the other people just started to laugh at him. Not that he gave a single beaver dam about it. He just went on to write a whole paper defending it. Sadly though, he didn’t actually manage to convince his time that he was right, because petty things like other people’s beliefs got in the way. But we know who’s right now, and he’s probably still laughing from the Afterlife about it. Now that is just a mind blasting fact. How on earth do you stand up and tell the entire world that it’s wrong? How do you tell scores and thousands of academics armed with their research and logic and degrees that you disagree with them and you’re right? Now typical people like you and I probably couldn’t, but not Galileo because he knew he was just too overflowingly brilliant to be wrong about anything. Eventually he, like fellow badass Descartes, got on the wrong side of the Pope’s books too for championing arguments which apparently made him “vehemently suspect of heresy”. Most of his works which revolved around the Earth revolving around the Sun got placed in the Index of Prohibited Books (which now seems like it should be renamed The List of Books You Should Totally Read). So they put him in house arrest and tried to force him to recant. In other words, they found him too imba and tried to nerf him. But did they succeed? Clearly not, because admitting your own mistake when everyone says you’re wrong was too mainstream for Galileo. In the peace and tranquillity of house arrest he produced one of his finest works, Mathematical Discourses Concerning Two New Sciences, where he basically invents Two New Sciences – known today as kinematics and materials science. While the other people in his life failed to get him, though, the forces of nature succeeded. By 1638 he was completely blind, presumably because he had seen so much more than a normal man could see in his lifetime, and died by 1642 due to heart issues and other petty things the Afterlife tried to nerf him with. Initially they wanted to give him the badass burial he deserved by putting him in a marble mausoleum, but because other people got in the way again, they decided that suspected heretic should be buried in a far less awesome room next to a novice’s chapel. Fortunately, they eventually realised how ridiculous this was and reinstated him to a proper place in 1737, after making a monument in his honour. Yay (slightly more modern) other people! I’d imagine two giant, ornate letters are inscribed on this monument: his totally badass initials GG, which is the only appropriate thing to say if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of this guy’s Gigantic Geni...Genius. There you have it, the Five Most Amazing Academic Badasses of All Time, in my humble opinion. I guarantee if you spent some time finding out more about what they all did and said and thought, you’d become a far greater person. And if you ever need to prove a point, pull out a quote from Aristotle, Plato, or our man GG, and you get what we call an insta-win. Trust me, I’ve done that in so many essays… if there’s one thing we can learn from these 5 amazing people, it’s that we can become infinitely more awesome than we think we are. These people were humans too, equal to us, no doubt far more equal than us as well. It’s not like they had two brains, you know, except they loved what they did, and persisted even when the world was against them. They loved it so much they studied it in their spare time, spent their entire lives on it, and made contributions are so legendary they’re still shaping society. On the other hand, modern society is preoccupied with looks, grades, bad dancing and other first world problems. We could spend our time exploring how amazing people like Orwell were, but we’d rather monitor the private lives of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Uncool. If only Descartes was still alive, because I’d totally follow him on twitter. Thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with this footnote: The Criteria of Badass, based on what these five amazing academic badasses had in common, in case you want to try to become as awesome as them (in vain): 1. Have a badass name or give one to yourself. 2. Do whatever you want and do it amazing. 3. Have a side hobby in activities which involve establishing your unquestionable physical superiority over others, just in case they start to think you’re a nerd. 4. Don’t care about other people (if you know you’re right). 5. Do things which contribute to society and help other people even though technically you don’t care about them. Disclosure: A large proportion of facts and events in this article are referenced from Wikipedia. As such, it is about as reliable historically as Wikipedia is. There has also been a slight amount of embellishment and exaggeration in this article, in case you did not notice. Therefore, do take things here with a pinch of salt and don’t rely on it for any academic papers. Rely on what those guys above said instead, and you will go far.
Everyone thinks literature is pointless. At least, that’s the impression you get if you look at the number of schools and students taking that up as a subject. That’s also the impression you’ll get if you take a look at what people who study it do: That perception, though, can’t be further from the truth. Literature isn’t Shakespeare. It isn’t comparing things to midsummer’s days and seas incarnadine, nor is it a mess of symbolism, metaphors, allegory, onomatopoeia and personification. These things are part of the package, yes, but literature in its simplest and most beautiful form is essentially the study of the choice and order of words, and how they work to create meaning. And contrary to popular belief, knowing how words work might be one of the most increasingly important skills in the present day, because amidst the sharp decline in literature’s take-up rate, the lessons and skills it offers are becoming more and more valuable. If you’re not convinced, here are a few factors to aid your judgment: #1 – Literature is extremely valuable. Yes, even commercially. You don’t really need to know economics to realise that something with an increasingly high demand and falling supply is gonna be valuable. Literature teaches you to communicate with sharp effectiveness. It trains you to see the full meaning of every word, phrase and sentence, and helps you express yourself in a way not everyone can. Not too long ago, that skill might not have been that useful, because apparently you didn’t need to talk to anyone to get rich by working in a bank or investing in blue chip stocks. But then, facebook happened, and iPhone, and the app store, and twitter, and suddenly everyone, everywhere is trying to reach out to you via their company’s facebook page. Everyone’s telling the story of how they came to be, who they are, what they believe in. And, for the first time, people are actually listening. Social media marketing has brought an entirely new dimension to the game. And if there ever was a time when it is crucial to know how to write a proper story, or choose the best words for a message or a company slogan, it is now. Not because they didn’t exist before, but because people now actually pay attention to these things. The demand for literarily-trained people is going to increase. Companies are going to look out for people who can design an entire marketing campaign with a persuasive central message. But the supply? The numbers speak for themselves. In Singapore, there are only about 3000 students left taking it, from over 16000 in 1992. Yes, it is no longer over 9000, and if you account for the fact that the population has increased a whole lot since 1992, the numbers are even more significant. Rising demand and falling supply. No prizes for guessing the outcome. What’s more, literature itself distinguishes you. By distinguishing, I don’t mean that it makes you part of an intellectual elite too high up for the uneducated masses (that is a disgusting thought which some people might have), but simply that it makes you different from the other 90%. It automatically gives you attention. The fact that most people think it is extremely difficult to score well for the subject also doesn’t hurt, because it makes an A in literature seem much, much more equal than an A in another subject. And being different is amazing in so many ways that people resort to a whole variety of methods to prove they are unique. But why would you need to perform thousands of hours of CIP, be a member of fifty two clubs and chairperson of five when all you really need to do to put yourself within that 1% is to take a subject? Because scoring for literature is even harder than that. Right? Wrong. Because… #2 – Literature is really easy to study for You heard it here first and I’ll say it again. Literature is easy. That’s because it’s a skill - like riding a bike. You learn it once, and even if you don’t cycle for a few years, you’ll still be able to do it when you have to. That’s brilliant as a subject, you know, because it precisely means you only need to revisit it the day before your exams, as long as you already understand what it’s all about (emphasis added in case advice is misinterpreted and destroys lives). The reason why many people think it’s difficult is because they see it as just another subject you have to memorise facts for. That perception is horribly misguided. You can study literature, but you can’t quite mug for it. It is a subject in which you actually need to think and to understand, and sadly for some people that makes it the hardest subject of all time. To make things worse, effort put into studying literature can often go unrewarded. Many hardworking people become extremely disillusioned when they continuously fail their literature tests. But if you think this shows how much of a pain literature is, then you need to be acquainted with the mantra of all lazy and somehow successful people (I am not saying I am one of them): “If it ain’t easy, you’re doing it wrong.” No, really. Literature seems difficult because everyone has the wrong perception about it. They think it involves hours of memorizing quotes and deciphering unintelligible language and finding meaning in absolutely nothing. But that’s not what it’s about. To do well you simply need to instigate a paradigm shift within yourself and recognize all you need to do is comment on something you already naturally know. Say for instance, I threw you the word “Moon”. Now that word creates some kind of image and emotion in your head right? I’d guess you’re seeing a picture of a moon in your mind right now. You might see the night sky behind it, and some clouds partially obstructing a full moon, and this image tells you it’s nighttime. And nighttime makes you feel calm, or sleepy, or energized, or evil and mysterious. You might see an entirely different image from what I described, and you can still be entirely right, because as long as you can describe how you get those images and thoughts from the word, and it’s not horribly contrived (like if the word moon made you think of definite integrals, in which case you might need help), you’re gonna be a whiz at lit. So literature is a skill. Some say it’s hard because there’s no right answer, but isn’t it awesomely easy because there’s also no wrong answer? You’re free to write anything you want, and the stuff you write are basically things you intuitively feel. There’s no mugging or memorization required. C'mon....the exams are OPEN BOOK. And since it’s really not difficult, it makes sense that… #3 – Literature makes life awesome. I’m gonna make a new word here, cause Shakespeare did that, and so can I. This word is literaricy. It’s like literacy, only instead of meaning whether you can understand words or not, literaricy is about whether you can understand literary devices, references, and all the other amazing things words and images can do. Literacy comes from plain schooling, and literaricy comes from studying literature and being awakened to the world of how literature works to convey meaning. It’s really amazing and it heightens your enjoyment of almost everything. Typically, products that claim to heighten enjoyment can be a little pricey, but literature is great because it is free, and lasts a really long time (pun not intended). It’s one thing to be able to read a poem, but to be able to understand its meaning and appreciate the pure genius that went into the poet’s clever choice, inclusion and exclusion of words is another. Of course you might not care about poems, but this holds true for movies, shows, advertisements, whatsapp messages, and basically anything that involves the use of words. With literaricy, movies become especially enjoyable because you’re able to see, clearer than anyone else, the parallels that the director puts in the beginning, middle and end of the show. You know what’s going on in Inception when Leonardo Dicaprio takes Ellen Page for her first tour of the dreamworld. And the appropriate response is “Christopher Nolan is doing it right.” A purely literate person and a literarate person can watch the same show and come out with entirely different insights. Once you’re literarate, you’re able to appreciate so much more in life that it’s almost as if… #4 – Literature gives you abilities that would normally be called superpowers. Like mindreading, because from what a person says you can infer his thoughts, motivations, and purposes, in addition to the literal meaning of his words. And the ability to say things on a specific frequency so that only certain people get the message. And actually write poems. Because how else did William Shakespeare make Anne Hathaway his wife? And, really, the ability to write at all, in perfect, grammatical English. Guys, you'll realise how much of a superhero this makes you when you enter the army. Girls, you too when you start doing university level projects with less-than-ideal groupmates. So, yea, superpowers, and what’s truly great about them is that… #5 – You actually keep them for the rest of your life. You’re never really going to forget how to ride a bike. Because literature is a skill more than a subject, art more than academics, you’ll almost never lose it. All the effort you’re putting into memorizing formulas and keywords is going to evaporate the moment you finish your exams forget them. You might not ever need any of that knowledge ever again anyway, so who cares? But you’re going to be talking, typing, reading and writing almost everyday. And the lessons you learn studying literature will be applied on a daily basis. Even if you tried, you couldn’t shake off the habit of choosing exactly which words you’re using to say exactly what you’re trying to say. You’re not going to be able stop yourself from analyzing the words you encounter in your day to day life. Trust me, I’ve tried. The hard part about literature is that you really need to understand and internalize what it’s all about. But that is what makes it truly great, as I’m pretty sure somewhere in the thesaurus, ‘understand’ has a synonym called ‘long-term memory’. When you really grasp something that well, it’s really, really hard to lose. In the end, you’ll continue to benefit from all the awesomeness, distinction, awareness and superpowers that literature bestows upon you, long after you forget what Lady Macbeth says in 1.5. about spirits that tend on mortal thoughts. I’m not saying it’s better than any other subject, just that it’s better than what people give it credit for. It's true that you can learn all these lessons elsewhere too, except literature lets you do that in school. Awesome, right? So if you’re interested in something that’s valuable, applicable, and lasting, literature might be for you. Of course, if you’re not confident of scoring fine in the subject, even when it’s really not that hard…well then let’s just say that, unfortunately, there’re some things in this material world that are more equal than others…
Celebrating the ideal of making minds run and studying fun for all our viewers here at Owlcove, here’s an article from the admins introducing our take on the most effective songs to study to, since…forever! Before we start though, note that we deliberately chose a mix of songs that are lesser known and can be applied for uses other than the standard instrumental relaxers. This doesn’t mean we are indie. We just don’t want to tell you stuff you already know. Alright, here we go… 1. Day Before We Went To War – Dido – Girl Who Got Away. Ever felt the warmness of sweet bliss overtake you as you munched through that puffy lava cake? How about the feeling of standing on the edge of the beach after a run, the sunset glazing your eyes and playing across your face? Give or take, that’s what most people feel when they first hear Dido. Not a newcomer to the music scene, this once mainstream artist’s new entries now sound anything but that. Trading commercial volume and mass appeal for a more placid, atmospheric take, Dido has produced a masterpiece in this soft ballad. Even if you’ve never known her before this, give it a listen. With an angelic voice and a beautiful melody, this is one tune that soothes strained ears and mends the mind. The slight echo and reverberation throughout the piece simulates expanse and landscape, which to us, is great for inspirational writing. Recommended for: Arts Students, Literature Students We listened to this while studying for: IELTS, LNAT 2. Covered in Rain – John Mayer – Any Given Thursday (Live in Birmingham) Any girlfriend who says she doesn’t know who John Mayer is is a keeper. Hang on to her tight guys, and don’t let her go. She evidently cared about you enough to not want to emasculate you by comparing yourself to him. Known for his high-profile relationships and exquisitely tempered guitar playing, John presents a beauty of a ballad in this eleven-minute live stage performance, which scores major points for relaxation. Composed post 9-11 and performed in 2006, the song is literally off the charts and includes one of the most satisfying basses we have ever heard. For those who draw particular inspiration from people who are effortlessly beyond you, this is a good place to start. The mind instinctively looks towards light. Focus on this achievement and let it spur you on to better yourself. Through the only muggery crammingly way you know. P.S. Just listen to the song alright? Don’t watch a video of him because some things are just nicer to look at than study notes. Recommended for: Arts and Science Students, Female Students, Nicki Minaj We listened to this while studying for: A-Levels, LNAT, SATS & SAT 2’s 3. Steel Run – Atlas Plug – 2 Days or Die Here we explore the other spectrum of stimulating music, music that gets your blood flowing to your brain. For those who would rather skydive while mugging than sit down to the Carpenters or Enya, Tom Salta a.k.a Atlas Plug brings to you a whole album of piston palace. In the relative shadows of the album hit single ‘Truth Be Known,’ this song nonetheless packs a wallop. With a grinding beat like its namesake, it emphasizes relentless mechanical progress, which may be helpful in bringing out equally relentless mugchanical progress. For something to knock the box on its side, Steel Run takes the listener out of that Zen mode, and injects some adrenaline into that stagnant system. Mixed delicately, the muted piano solos accompany the sigh of African echoes in tandem, adding a sense of fragility and touch. The song offers a brief but forgettable respite for the deafening silence in the library, and doubles up as a great song for the guys to pump iron too. Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys watching the Fast and the Furious Series, Mostly guys We listened to this while studying for: A-levels 4. Deviljho Theme– Monster Hunter 3 Soundtrack Book This song, though part of a soundtrack, could very well be listened to without any introduction or explanation. You don’t even need to play the game. In fact, we’d rather you not listen to the whole song, but just the opening. The initial feeling you get when hearing its first ten seconds or so is one of the most intense conjurations of musical expression ever. Don’t believe us? Just picture yourself in the middle of the exam hall. It’s the A-level H2 Economics Paper 2, and you’re at your desk. There are the unfamiliar invigilators from a mysterious other JC handing out the question sheets face down. You didn’t have time to cover every topic, like everyone else, so you spotted a few likely topics to emerge. You’re good to go. Okay, I can do this, you think. Supply and demand? Back of my hand. Market failure? Checked. Conflicts in macroeconomic goals…easy. You just know the questions on the other side. You feel you’ve known them your whole life. Nothing can go wrong. You smile as the invigilator gives the signal to turn over the paper. You turn over the paper. Now play this song. Recommended for: Anyone who understands the phrase ‘cautionary tale,’ people with great imagination, basically everyone that loves spotting topics. We listened to this while studying for: A-Level History Papers 1 & 2, Literature Papers 1 & 5 5. Boyfriend – Justin Bieber - Boyfriend Didn't expect that, did ya? Sorry for the shock and awe, but we here at Owlcove feel that anything and everything, given the circumstances and properly managed, could be adapted and put to good use. No exceptions here, as even something as interesting and queer such as the song above could be put through its paces for studying. Remember when you were young, and, missing self-motivation to finish that little piece of homework, began to play games with yourself? Like “I’ll hold my breath until I finish this question!” Okay, maybe you weren’t nearly as self-torturous as that, but between you and me, that kinda worked… Well, same concept, different causes of suffocation. For best effect, put this song on replay on your iPod, and just...listen to it over and over again, until you finish your revision. Don’t allow yourself to turn it off until you’re through. Voila. Your revision is done faster than you can say Lil Jon. Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend (pun intended) stands out among his various tracks as it achieves that rare equilibrium of bad taste and non-addictiveness. Just as it is a headache to listen to, at least it’s one that doesn’t stay in your head after you study (as opposed to that - other - song). Go for a shot of Steel Run after to reward yourself. No one deserves too much torture. Recommended for: Non Bieber Fans (Everybody). People who study alone. You don’t want to do this within the earshot of anyone else. People who seriously want to get straight As and are willing to take the greatest risks known to Man. We (actually just one of us, to make things clear) listened to this while studying for: Traffic Police Basic Theory Test, Higher Mother Tongue Stay tuned for the next installment of editor’s choice, where we explore the therapeutic effects of David Guetta and delve into the potential applications of Mrweebl’s mesmerizing melodies.