It has been a long while since I've penned an article, so here's me making up for lost time with a nice little read. For starters, here's a brain-teaser. There was a man with a gun on his shoulder wandering in the wilderness. He walked 100 metres North, then 100 metres East, then 100 meters South before stopping. He then had the strange feeling that he had been here before. At this moment a bear wandered past and the man shot it. What colour was the bear? If one ignored the earlier story, answering this question correctly would be a matter of pure luck. Bears only exist in a few colours - black, white and brown. With no earlier consideration, and a small amount of luck, you'd pick the correct answer - white. This question, however, like many we face in life, rewards the answerer for every bit of general knowledge he or she has. Though faced with the impromptu, the more well read a person is, the more luck is removed from the equation and the more a person increases his chance at solving the riddle. A combination of geography (the poles), mathematics (vectors and displacement) and natural understanding (bear colors and habitats) is what gives anyone the opportunity to turn ambiguity into certainty. It is possible for us to manipulate events in our favor. There are two kinds of luck. The first kind is Opportunity, and the second is Phenomena. Opportunity defines our very actions, and every action we take defines future opportunities. In a tennis match for instance, Zhicong wonders if his serve will be strong enough to get by his opponent (Tennis serves often make or break matches). He wonders and prays for luck. His worry and anxiety, his nervousness, is defined by the amount of training he has put into perfecting his serve. Training for hours and weeks on end assures him of a faster, more skilful, and more powerful serve when the big game arrives. It gives him a buffer, a stabilizing effect against the unknown, against lousy weather, against his frayed nerves, and even though he can never fully account for every phenomenon that may befall him, the training and hours put in gives him the opportunity to win. And so he does. As he wins the tournament, he is approached by a sports representative who gives him a new opportunity to play for his country in the national team. Zhicong is lucky, and luck is on his side. But it was through his own actions, training and his seizing of opportunities that his made his own luck first place, allowing him to win and seize future opportunities to get lucky. "Luck" can be manipulated in this way, through effort and will. And sometimes, the first form of luck is defined by the second. Sometimes we don't create our own luck, but gain the opportunity to do so through unforeseen phenomena and "divine intervention." Several prolific men rose to power inspired by circumstances they had no control over. One could say there wouldn't be a Stalin without a Lenin, a Che Guevara without a Castro, or even a Hitler without the treaty of Versailles. Such prolific events were perhaps random tosses of the galactic dice. Had they not occurred, none of these powerful and influential leaders would have been able to come to the fore and seize success. Knowing how influential external phenomena is on our lives, sometimes we too feel that the world is too big for us to start anything or create any meaning. However, the key takeaway is that even though these leaders didn't start the fire, they took hold of the situation and created the opportunities for their own ascension. Random events always happen. In essence, to take advantage of random phenomena is also exploiting and creating opportunity. We only need a sharp eye to recognize that. The second kind of luck always leads back to the first, but only in the hands of someone ready and waiting to exploit it. But there is a flipside to all this positivity. If we make our own luck, then the inverse, that we make our own bad luck, it also true. If we don't grasp the opportunity, we are stagnating our resources and exhausting future opportunities. Those who do not understand how they are not fully employing their resources believe they have done their best, attributing their stumbles and failures to "bad luck." They often refer to such "bad luck" as "fate" - something beyond their control. This arises from poor understanding of potential actions, and their own capabilities. A person may be great at playing the piano, but may be misguided in trying to eke out a living playing concerts in rural areas. Similarly, a person may possess a fantastic vocabulary, but may be mistakenly trying to apply them in an area like Literature, where speaking clearly and concisely trumps flowery language. Understanding where to apply your strengths is often more important than developing that strength to begin with, and getting the areas right can help you be sure it was just bad fortune, and not your talent being wasted. Even those who were recipients of "bad luck" to begin with, the victims of phenomena afflicted by hereditary conditions like Stephen Hawking, or born into poverty like Mahatma Gandhi, can still make tremendous headways in the world. Even if you've been dealt a bad hand from the start, it is how you react to adversity that shapes your character and life. Right now the prelims are almost onto us. It is not too late. It's never too late. Turning ourselves around is not a mere option. It is our duty. Not a duty to better our schools nor beat our competition, but a duty that we fulfil whatever potential within us to its limit. And toss the dice ourselves. Now, impose this idea of you creating your own opportunities onto the oncoming examinations. Opportunity may knock, but we must first build a door for it to pass through. And how well this door is built will decide if opportunity knocks once, or many, many times.
We all know the drill. After getting the essay paper, you analyse the question using the [insert acronym here]. Next you need to start planning your essay. If you take around 15 minutes, you’re on track. Oops, you took 14. Now to wait 1 minute before you allow yourself to begin. Then, the paragraph, where you must apply the PEEL format. Point. Evidence. Evaluation. Link. Or was it Point, Explanation, Elaboration, Link? How about Point, Example, Evidence, Link? What other words can E spell again? Enunciation? Exams? Exasperation? What the PEEL actually is: The PEEL format of answering taught in schools is an attempt to introduce structure and organization into essay scripts. It’s based on one (mostly true) assumption that students at this level need some help in sorting out their usually messy thoughts. And this format helps ensure candidates write what they’re trying to say first, followed by the facts and figures they can use to support it, before analyzing what these facts show and then bringing it back to the question. The problem, then, is that even after a long period of mindless adherence to such formats, students may not understand the rationales and, therefore, significance of ordering an answer this way. Rote learning replaces the development of a skill when one is no longer able to understand why he is doing something in a certain way. And that would be fine, actually, since we’re only concerned about marks here anyway. If not for how every kind of essay question requires a slightly different answering format. One that is more optimized for it. And that is not to say that there is any one single format best suited for a particular question. This varies along with the writer’s own style, knowledge, arguments, preferences, time of day, and the number of butterflies in the world. So when a new question that calls for something different comes up, an unsuspecting PEELer has no defence. The futile format does nothing to advance his cause except provide the beginning and end of the paragraph. When do I write the explanation? Now’s the time for evidence! But something tells me it isn’t right. Why do I find it so hard to evaluate now when I’m supposed to? Am I allowed to write an explanation after the evaluation? What does E stand for and in what order??! If you really thought about it, you’d realise the PEEL makes no sense. If it were even clear that the evidence/example came before the explanation/elaboration/evaluation (hint: it should), then the next problem is what happens when the evaluation needs some evidence? Could you have an explanation of your point and elaborate on that explanation before producing your examples? Would that not count as blasphemy? In fact, to really make sense of it all, you’d need to remove Elaboration and Explanation from the picture. Because they can be put, when they are required, in any part of the paragraph. If the point you’re trying to make its unclear, explain it. If the link isn’t very well expressed, elaborate. If there’s a very detailed example you’re trying to give, there’s no way you can do it without elaborating. For the record: to explain means to make something clearer by providing additional details, illustrations or reasons. Elaboration is, basically, to say more things about something. They’re not even two different things altogether. And then, evidence and examples. By the same logic, can they not be placed as and when they are needed? The point here is that knowing when something is needed is far more important than knowing when the PEEL format calls for it. A new paradigm What do you do when something doesn’t work? You fix it, or throw it away. You wouldn’t really want to throw the PEEL away unless the answer schemes do, though, so what you have to do is fix it. Can the PEEL be fixed? Maybe, if you start to understand the reasons behind it. One way of doing that would be to change the way you look at the PEEL. Instead of thinking of it as a systematic, ordered dictation of what and how to write, see the two Es in the centre as a symbol of the interaction between all the evil E’s of essay writing. The middle of the paragraph, therefore, is a mixture of explanations, evidences, elaborations, examples and evaluations (did I miss anything out) that are mutually interdependent and build upon each other. P-EE-L. Or, as I prefer to see it, the PPP. Barring how ironic it is that I’m suggesting another acronym here, this stands for: Proposition, or what argument you’re bringing up to prove, Process, the means by which you prove the proposition, and Point, the proven proposition we can purport as the Point you just made. In practice, the Proposition is exactly the same as the point in the PEEL. It just shouldn’t be called a point until you have made it, or, in other words, argued successfully for it. Then you’d feel like there’s something to argue for. The Point at the end is like the Link, except that, because it’s made on the back of the Process, a far stronger and more refined Point can be made here compared to the initial Proposition. You don’t have to simply link back and restate the question every time. Now the most important part – the Process, or how you turn your Proposition into a Point. It forms the logical arguments, empirical facts, and rationalization that go into making your opinion so persuasive that someone accepts it. Within the Process come other sub-Ps: that of logical Premises, Proof, Persuasive writing, and really other things like deduction, induction, and comparison, as well as the evil Es. In short, there’s nothing that should be limiting what and how you prove your point, as long as you prove it well. Note that this is not meant to replace the PEEL as much as it is to reinforce it by providing an alternative way of looking at how a paragraph works. There is no need to stick to a structural order that not only doesn’t make sense, but is not optimized to question requirements. Thinking of the EE’s as a Process you need to go through to prove your point may make things harder initially, but as you Practice more and more, you’ll realise the flexibility and space to experiment you gain would have tremendously improved your writing, reasoning, and marks-scoring skills. In the end, a fruit’s peel may contain healthy vitamins and fibres that we should eat even if it tastes bad. But when life gives you bananas, you may find the peel rather inedible, and easy to trip on.
Limited resources cannot satisfy unlimited human wants. Most of modern economics is built upon this central assumption, particularly the economics we learn at the A levels. But students are never taught this is an assumption. And modern education isn’t very good at encouraging students to question what's presented to them as fact by the marking scheme. It’s easy to see how scarcity was arrived at. Competition for land, labour, food and water have characterised mankind from its earliest recorded history. From the Great Famines of 1315 to today’s North-South divide. But it's also not difficult to see how it is flawed. Resources are not always limited. Economics calls such resources abundant - like air, which people can take for granted. It is not, though, that the supply of air is infinite. It is merely unlimited relative to human demand for it. Wants, too, are not always unlimited. A simple way to see how this is possible is to look at the number of wants a dead person has. Which is not to say that death is necessary for economic improvement. For example, a person can only eat so much food in a buffet. Even when faced with relatively unlimited supply, his desire for food is limited by time and, literally, space. Wants are also limited in variety and quantity. A person is unlikely to want something he has never seen before, or has lesser use of than something he already has. And there are only so many objects a person can possess. In fact, you can live with only 100 things in your entire life. You might think that because the want for money is unlimited, then a person’s want for the means to earn it will be. This argument is based on an invalid premise, because the want for money too can be limited. Don’t believe me? Ask this guy. In short, you can limit your wants. And according to TED, doing so might actually make you happier. Ultimately, resources are limited and wants unlimited because we define them to be so. It is not necessary to see them that way. In particular, because we make the excuse that wants are unlimited, we think resources must be limited, relative to the wants they need to fulfil. And we go about thinking it’s ok to have insatiable appetites. The problem, then, is that a majority of people who have 'learnt' economics at the A levels will not realise this. Thinking that wants are necessarily unlimited gives rise to unnecessarily adversarial attitudes - formed from what is perceived to be a fixed sum game. If someone else gains, I lose. But that is not true, and even if this assumption is challenged at universities, most students will not be taking economics by then. What they will take, however, is the lesson that resources are scarce and that we can’t all be happy together. But it doesn't have to be this way. What other false assumptions are there about economics?
You only live once, so make the most out of your life. Do things without thinking or caring. Gather ye marijuana while ye may. That’s cool, right? Unfortunately, the ancient Romans had a similar saying way before it was cool, so we don’t get to go around boasting we thought of it first. As the story goes, a triumphant Roman general was parading through the streets after securing a glorious victory. Upon noticing his absolute arrogance, his slave delivered to him a poignant reminder of how, though he was invincible today, tomorrow he could be nothing at all, saying: "Memento mori.” or, “Remember you will die.” Every one of us will die. And realizing the inevitability of death is a far, far more humbling thought than sensationalizing our one, cruelly brief shot at life. It guides us to do the things that will actually mean something even when we’re dead. Things that will make a positive impact on others’ lives, on the world that will continue to exist even if, and eventually when, we don’t. “Live everyday as if it will be your last, and one day you will most certainly be right.” That was one of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ favourite quotes. Living by this mantra, he dedicated his life towards building great products, companies and people. Ideas that changed the world forever, or, in his words, “made a dent in the universe”. As we move into an age of connectedness and individual empowerment, we move also into an era where we have great, unprecedented power. The power to touch a thousand people with a simple youtube video, to change the lives of millions with a single idea. All that power is already in our hands, and it would be terribly squandered if we don’t see it as a responsibility to do things above, not for, ourselves. “Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” –Steve Jobs, 2005 And following your heart doesn’t mean doing things simply because we feel like doing it, or for that instantaneous kick of an adrenaline or amphetamine high. It means knowing how such material pleasures are fleeting, transient, and meaningless. How all of that dies along with us. It’s true Steve Jobs also experimented with marijuana and other drugs. That is what could happen if we took an idea meant for good, and subvert it as justification for what we innately know is wrong. But he also made sure that, after those forays, he created things for the world that were insanely great. People we care about will also die. If things go according to plan, your parents will go before you. Did you think that would never happen, or did you simply choose not to face the brutal reality? Accepting how others will not live forever is also a powerful reminder that we have no time at all to lose if there are things we want to do for them. You often have much less time to do those things than you realise. I’ll do it tomorrow, or the next day. And maybe you will live to see the next day, year, or decade. But will the people you need to be around still be around? Start now If you knew you would die tomorrow, would your heart only tell you to remember #YOLO and speed down the highway at 180 kilometres per hour? Or would you wish you did something amazing today that will live on the day after tomorrow? “A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” –Karen Lamb While we seize the day and try to suck the marrow out of life, it is worth noting that life is only half of the equation. Or less. It promises many things, but will always and inevitably lead only to one thing. Death, however, can do a lot more. You will never be able to be proven wrong, nor will you be able to make mistakes that will undo your achievements. Newton’s laws were found to have errors and exceptions, but he is credited nonetheless as the father of modern physics. Because death is eternal, it can make your ideas and your spirit live forever – in others. Legacy is immortality. In the end… On 5th October, 2011, Jobs indeed lived his last day. But although he is no longer alive, his products, ideas and wisdom thrive on. It is quite certain they will continue to do so for years, maybe even centuries and millennia to come. And at the end of the day, it was never about where, how, why, or even when we leave. It’s who and what we leave behind. Memento Mori.
It’s (still) great to be Singaporean. 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.
Author's note: Because I am inevitably a sucker for the literary, I wrote this originally in a far more difficult to understand and maybe even counter-intuitive style, before deciding to do the world a favour and introduce some proper paragraphing. But because it is substantially different in meaning and delivery, and because I like the previous version so much, I've added it at the bottom of the page for those who, like me, are slightly insane. A crow perched next to another on a tree branch turns to the other and begins: I just don’t get it. Get what? says the other crow. The unfairness, the discrimination, the humans. What unfairness? the other crow remarks, barely suppressing a smile. Don’t you think it’s a whole lot of injustice how we’re treated like pests and vermin? I mean, we don’t spread diseases or make people’s lives lousy in any way, we’re just living our lives and trying to get by on leftover food. And we have to face all of that dislike and hate…I just don’t get it. Everything has a reason, says the other crow. We do indeed have quite the reputation for making things dirty. Well, they’re not exactly cleaning up the planet either. Still, you can’t deny our droppings have been clinically proven to carry bacteria and effect meningitis. Show me droppings that are clean, says the crow. That does not matter. It’s what people think. That’s not true at all, I’m sure you know only some of us do it irresponsibly. Some? Well I don’t. I’m afraid, though, that what you do doesn’t stand for your entire species. But what my species does doesn’t stand for me. The truth is, though, that the truth doesn’t matter. Only what people see does. Does it? says the crow. Then show me a bird that’s potty trained. Well you’ll be surprised. Some of the birds in the aviaries are proficient at controlling and directing their rectal outputs. Aviaries? You know, bird parks? And why should those birds be in parks and taught manners when we’re not? Why should they be admired, photographed and fed? Well…we’re not exactly a gorgeous species. Why…because we’re black? They don’t even discriminate against their own dark skinned people any more why do they still hate us? You’re not making any sense. There’s no way we can compete with the canaries with their sweet voices and the exotic and beautiful flamingoes, said the other crow, even their names sound better. Then we should change our names entirely if that’s what matters - how about Corvus? That won’t make us any more beautiful. Well isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Yes but human eyes are human eyes. And isn’t beauty only skin deep? Eyes aren’t X-rays my dear. It’s a wonder if they can even see beyond clothes. Then what’s the point of those proverbs if there’s really only one way of seeing things? Well, in this case, ‘beholder’ would refer to the set of all humans, and substituting that definition for the group referred back into the saying allows it to continue functioning – at least semantically. Okay…I can’t argue with that logic, but surely we have something that makes us special right…every birdy’s special! Like what? For one, said the crow proudly, we’ve got one of the highest IQs for birds. The use is that when all it does is make you conceive such meaningless thoughts over things that matter little and serve only to make you feel miserable? But isn’t there a value in thinking and being right? Not when everyone still hates you. Anyway, better not to know people hate you since you can’t change one bit of it. Ignorance, feigned or actual, is, after all, the only path to bliss. But…but thinking about it is supposed to help you change that! Has your thinking helped? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good. Doesn’t it? says the other crow. Don’t throw my questions back at me, says the crow. I am merely doing it to show you how your argument is invalid, says the other. Well all I’m trying to say is it’s unfair how it’s like this just because we’re not brightly coloured or pleasant sounding. Even some black birds are admired, you know, they wrote a whole poem about the ravens. Well that one wasn’t very flattering. It wasn’t but it meant something because the raven was black enough and happened to be gently rapping at the right time - you know how they like rapping. You mean to say we aren’t even black enough? asks the other crow, slightly perturbed. Do you see how ridiculous that is now, said the crow, even the pigeons have a purpose. What’s that? They’re eaten. Oh that’s not very good is it? Being eaten is better than being nothing, never more. I guess we’re just born crows so accept it. That still doesn’t mean we should be hated - you shouldn’t judge a bird for what it cannot choose right? That only applies to humans. What about animal rights? You only give animal rights with no humans left. But don’t you think there’s something wrong with this…injustice? Unfairness? Says the crow. Well maybe, but what I think isn’t going to change things, so I’d rather choose not to care, think, or feel. Doing those things take effort. But it’s about our entire species! The entire species doesn’t stand for me. Doesn’t it? says the crow. Take a look around you and tell me if it does…try to make some sense will you, the other crow says as it begins pecking on a piece of bread it had been holding in its left foot. Things don’t always have to be logical. I just have a strong feeling that this is all wrong and unfair. And why should you care? Because they’re hating us for no reason. Doesn’t matter if we still get fed. How about when they start shooting at us sometimes? Well you haven’t been shot have you? And those who have? Presently the other crow empties its bowels squarely down below and flies off, saying, Caring isn’t curing. For the slightly less rational readers... One day a crow walks up to another and begins: I just don’t get it. Get what? Says the other crow. The unfairness, the discrimination, the humans. What unfairness the other crow remarks. Don’t you think it’s a whole lot of injustice how we’re treated like pests and vermin I mean we don’t spread diseases or make people’s lives miserable in any way we’re just living our lives and trying to get by living on leftover food and we have to face all of that dislike and hate. Everything has a reason says the other crow we tend to leave droppings all over the place and they cause meningitis. Show me droppings that are clean says the crow. I mean why they dislike us is because we have a reputation for making things dirty. Well they’re not exactly cleaning up the planet either. It doesn’t matter it’s what people think of us. That’s not true at all I’m sure you know only some of us defecate irresponsibly. Some? Well I don’t. What you do doesn’t stand for your entire species. But what my species does doesn’t stand for me. That might be true but the truth is though that the truth doesn’t matter only what people see does. Does it? Says the crow. Show me a bird that’s potty trained the crow continues. Well you’ll be surprised I think some of the birds in the aviaries do know when and where to go. And why should those birds be in aviaries and taught manners when we’re not why should they be admired photographed and fed? Well…we’re not exactly a beautiful species. Why because we’re black they don’t even discriminate against their own dark skinned people any more why do they still hate us? You’re not making any sense there’s no way we can compete with the canaries with their sweet voices and the exotic and beautiful flamingoes said the other crow even their names sound better. Then we should change our names entirely if that’s what matters how about Corvus? That won’t make us any more beautiful. Well isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Yes but human eyes are human eyes. Beauty is only skin deep. Eyes aren’t X-rays. Then what’s the point of those proverbs if there’s really only one way of seeing things. Well it works if you define beholder as the entire group of humans. Okay I can’t argue with that but surely we have something that makes us special right every birdy’s special. Like what? For one, said the crow proudly, we’re at the top of the avian IQ scale. The use is that when all it does is make you think such meaningless thoughts over things that don’t matter and make you feel bad. But isn’t there value in thinking and being right? Not when everyone still hates you anyway it’s better to not know people hate you since you can’t change any of it. But…but thinking about it is supposed to help you change that! Has your thinking helped? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good. Doesn’t it? Says the other crow. Stop throwing my questions back at me says the crow. I’m just doing it to show you how you’re not making any sense says the other. Well all I’m trying to say is it’s unfair how it’s like this just because we’re not brightly coloured or pleasant sounding even some black birds are admired you know they wrote a whole poem about the ravens. Well that one wasn’t very flattering. It wasn’t but it meant something because the raven was black enough and happened to be gently rapping at the right time you know how they like rapping. So you mean we aren’t even black enough? Says the other crow. Do you see how ridiculous that is now said the crow even the pigeons have a purpose. What’s that? They’re eaten. Oh that’s not very good is it? Being eaten is better than being nothing, never more. We’re just born as crows so accept it. That still doesn’t mean we should be marginalized I mean you shouldn’t judge a bird for what it cannot choose right? That only applies to humans. What about animal rights. You only give animal rights with no humans left. But don’t you think there’s something wrong with this…injustice? Unfairness? Says the crow. Well maybe, but what I think or feel isn’t going to change things so I’d rather choose not to care think or feel doing those things take effort. It’s about our entire species! The entire species doesn’t stand for me. Doesn’t it? Says the crow. Take a look around you and tell me if it does…try to make some sense will you the other crow says as it begins pecking on a piece of bread. Things don’t always have to be logical I just have a strong feeling that this is all wrong and unfair. And why should you care? Because they’re hating us for no reason. Doesn’t matter we still get fed. How about when they start shooting at us sometimes? Well you haven’t been shot have you? And those who have? Presently the other crow empties its bowels squarely down below and flies off saying, Caring isn’t Curing. (with some apologies to Maya Angelou)
YET ANOTHER disgruntled victim of recent technological developments has turned to the courtroom to protect its fast diminishing share of the Human Use pie. Citing numerous and increasing incidences of Cameras being used by humans to inspect themselves, Mirrors have pressed several charges on the former, including commercial fraud, impersonation, and assisting in acts of excess vanity without a proper license. "For thousands of years, we were Used by the Humans to ensure their hair was at the optimum angle, put on makeup on the Train, or simply admire themselves," they reflected, "but then the Cameras came, and all our jobs were gone in a flash. We were built for this purpose, but they weren’t. We have no choice, but they do. This is unacceptable." In their defence, the Cameras’ attorney pointed out how “it was not the specific intent of (the Cameras) to displace the Mirrors’ jobs." He also mentioned that action should instead be taken on Phones, if not on the Humans who actually used the Cameras for what he referred to as "unintended purposes alien to a Camera's intrinsic nature." Other points of contention include the Cameras arguing that only a select type of theirs has been involved in this overlap of destinies. Contesting this point, though, was evidence submitted by the Mirrors of DSLRs being used for self-photography. When questioned how they managed to procure the above evidence, the Mirrors simply responded “#selfie.” The view from the other side. At the same time, Cameras have revealed their shock and disappointment on the breaking down of what was once a harmonious and mutually dependent relationship. As cameras are still heavily reliant on Mirrors for redirecting Flashes and streaming light, this deterioration of ties threatens to deliver numerous negatives. Currently, Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Cameras employ many Mirrors to help them channel light from the Aperture into the Viewfinder, allowing the User to see exactly what the Camera sees. Without the support of the Mirrors, SLRs may not be able to deliver on their promise of What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. “Well I’ll be f-stopped. It’s as good as blackmail!” said a more outspoken SLR, “they know we can’t do without them, so they’re hoping to get something out of it. I, for one, see right through them.” When probed further about how he believed the case would go, the Camera said, “I’m not sure myself. I ain't got the big picture, but I think we have a shot.” A larger shift in perspective? This civil action comes in the wake of a similar case heard months ago in which Makeup sued Instagram for misleading people into believing they looked good even when they did not. In that incident, however, the judge ruled that there was no actual case to answer, for the points raised were mostly made up. He referred to the case as, “a whole lot of smoke and powder masking a commercial enmity that the courts have no business with.” This sets a dim precedence for the Mirrors’ case, as it too is in danger of being labeled a virtual illusion, and nothing more. Hearts shattered. As the legal battle rages on, Mirrors continue to see their quarterly Uses fall. Those most affected include the once extremely popular Foldable Handheld Mirror – used widely in the heydays of Rouge and Blusher. When contacted, their Headmirror told The Owl that many of them were now considering alternative employment options. “Some have been applying for openings in apparel boutiques, after hearing how Humans have continued to use them despite of, and even in conjunction with Cameras. Others more disillusioned with the future of our more refractive species, however, have revealed intentions to repurpose themselves into Glass – particularly of the Gorilla genus.” He also added, “For me, being a Mirror is the only thing I can see myself doing.”
A few weeks ago, I left my part-time job as a bartender. Few of us aspire to eke out a living in the F&B industry, for the simple fact that it is notoriously difficult to rise through the ranks. Also, this journey involves a large degree of grueling menial work – the very thing we’ve studied so hard to avoid. But I have a soft spot for the F&B, due to some inexplicable satisfaction derived from providing impeccable service to make someone’s night out better. I was there for barely 3 months. It might not sound like a long time, but it was my second job. 5 days a week I work in an office, and on my 2 off days, I’d spend all night slugging it out at the bar. To say it was tiring would be a gross understatement. But the experience will probably stay with me for quite a while. The job didn’t quite pan out as well as I’d expected, because the F&B industry is, at the end of the day, operations-centric. They’d let a newbie mix, but only during lulls – and there’s no such thing as Friday Night Lull in a bar. I did have tons of fun making many cocktails, from martinis to mojitos, daiquiris to margaritas, and even alcoholic coffees. Virgin, half ice, sugar-free, double shot; you name it, I’d make it. I tapped keg after keg of beer. But that load spread over 3 months works out to be only about 10-15 cocktails a day, which was far from what I was looking for. I wanted 50 cocktails a day. I wanted to be Main Man, behind the counter, not Occasional Visitor whose primary job was delivering drinks. But operational efficiency was the catchphrase of the day, everyday. So I decided to leave. But it’s not that which I want to immortalize in writing; it’s the innumerable nonsensical situations that I faced. Some are longer stories, and some are one-liners. For all the “educated” or rich (or both) people out there who have never tried a F&B job (this is already my second and I doubt it’ll be my last), I think you’ve shortchanged yourself, for F&B is one of the most colourful and eye-opening industries the world has to offer. The icing on the cake is that Client is often as rich and as successful as we would like to see ourselves be in time to come – exactly what makes all these lessons so poignant. So here are some of my more interesting encounters, in no particular order: 1) “Can I have some ice for the wine?” Had to explain (with different words) that Baron Rothschild would roll in his grave if he saw ice cubes swimming in a glass of Château Lafite. 2) “Why didn’t he serve me?” Had to explain the ladies first rule to a man, in front of his wife and daughters. 3) “Can you make the wine warmer?” followed by “How did you make the wine warmer?” Had to explain how our supervisor hugged the wine bottle to his chest for 10 minutes, leaving out the colorful language unleashed in that time. 4) “Can you take the ice out of the mojito?” 5) An order came for a warm coke, a coke with 2 ice cubes and a normal iced coke. Upon serving, I was told by the 2-ice girl that she wanted a bucket of ice. Upon fetching the bucket of ice, I was told to "get that thing away from [her]". That Thing was the paper wrapper of the straw that she had just opened, and she was gesturing like it was a dead lizard with leprosy. Still at the table, I eavesdropped on a debate as to whether the warm coke needed two or three ice cubes, watching the mother touch the glass with 2 fingers to gauge its exact temperature. Well, māṁ, it looks like the coke has to be 28.7C. Anything hotter and throats burn, anything cooler and your son will die of a coughing fit. 6) A man sits down and takes out 4 Blackberries from his pocket, and proceeds to line them up in a row. Did I forget? This guy is the patriach of the family in number 5. 7) “Bring me the rest of the can (of coke)” This is so classic, and yet it happens at least once a week. For the record, I work in a bar where the average tab is S$150 per head, where Aventadors and MP4-12Cs are regular visitors to the carpark. 8) A particularly fickle man who ordered a double shot whisky on the rocks with a side of water, poured too much water and insisted we had given melted ice. 9) “Why are you taking so long to clear the table?” Because one person only has two hands yea? 10) A bizarre lady who sought compensation for her shoes ruined by a thunderstorm, on the grounds that there was no covered walkway between the road and the restaurant. 11) An attention-deprived lady who commented loudly onthe aesthetics of each drink I carried past her, but each time I stopped to give her an explanation, she insisted she was not interested. About 10 drink explanations later, she eventually ordered one drink - a strawberry mojito - to be shared amongst her three friends. 12) “See, how sharp am I, I know that there’s some wine left inside the bottle!” A lady who ordered me to tip the bottle upside down over her friend’s empty glass before I took it away, despite my insistence that there wouldn’t even be enough for her friend to take a mouthful. The best part? 6 drops dripped out, one by one. Drip drip drip, drip, drip…drip. 13) The women (lady was misused) from 10 to 12 are actually all the same frightful and particularly peculiar person. 14) An especially fun night where a man pretended to do a magic trick with me as his impromptu assistant. His sole aim was to slip me his credit card without his friend’s knowledge because it was his treat. 15) “What are you going to do if I say it tastes absolutely horrible and makes me sick to my stomach?” A man, jokingly, when asked if he liked the tasting portion of a bottle of wine. 16) “It’s too warm and it tastes absolutely nasty. Get me a new one.” A grumpy man, seriously, when asked if he liked the tasting portion. 17) “I would very much like a triple shot, but that’s something my wife would very much not like.” One particular married man, but this could potentially come from any married man. 18) “I think it’s quite fruity. A bit dry.” An 8 year old girl receiving wine training from Daddy. 19) “If I have another pint, sir, my wife will have to carry me home. She doesn’t like doing that.” Possibly the most creative way to turn down what the industry terms as upselling, the act of forcibly recommending upon an unwitting customer another dish or drink for the sole purpose of profit. 20) After a scolding session by a superior, a senior colleague dropped two coconuts on the floor, and we had no choice but to consume them. Dropped. 21) “Cheers, Bing. It’s been a long week for all of us.” This was my best day. A complete stranger and her two friends offered me a drink, invited me for a toast, asked about my life and sent me on my way. She’d read the name off my minuscule nametag in the 4 times I brought rounds of drinks to her. There are truckloads of other stories about bizarre customers, and also of good times, but I cannot recall them all. What I do remember, though, is how many of my foreigner co-workers are degree-holders back home who have come here to earn money to support their families. They are so humble you wouldn’t have known unless you asked. To top it off, many of them are very poor, to the point where they will eat nothing more than rice with sauce because it’s what the restaurant provides for free. But these same people will never hesitate to offer you their food, drinks, muscle, time or anything that they happen to have at all, to make you happier and your job easier. The biggest takeaway I had is that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how ‘successful’ you are if you are obnoxious, uncultured or just plain cocky. It’s a shame if you have to wave it in the faces of others before they can tell that you have what you have, or are who you are. I’ve met people drinking expensive wines who courteously asked if I was having a busy evening as I served their cocktails, as well as people with the keys to their Ferrari on the table asking me to bring the rest of the coke. All in, I must tout that a job in F&B will give you fresh and possibly startling insights into the various types of people who exist in this world. It will humble you, yet it will teach you so much you could never learn elsewhere. It is hard menial labor, but it is hard menial labor you’ll probably never do again after university. Bankers, Doctors, Lawyers or Politicians you may aspire to be, but between an internship running coffee at a bank and a job running coffee in a restaurant, I think the latter offers an unparalleled wealth of experience you cannot really get anywhere else. You’ve got to try it once. If anything, you’ll know to treat your waiters properly the next time round. The author has 2 months of wedding banquet experience with Shangri-La Hotels and another 3 months in the abovementioned but undisclosed bar. He is currently patiently waiting for his opportunity to further improve his understanding of the fundamentals behind the invisible hand that makes the world go round at the tertiary level in the capital city of our formal colonial masters.
Before you skip the rest of the article and launch into a heated critique of how insensitive this is, let me first qualify that the haze was bad. There’s no doubt about that, and I’d really rather it didn’t happen. But now that the smoke’s a little thinner and more light’s coming through, perhaps it’s time to look on the brighter side of things, and focus on why the haze might also have been good for us, just as it was bad. I mean, for a country that typically enjoys a geographically inherited immunity from natural disasters, as well as relative political, economic and social stability, being confronted with a national crisis…still sucks, yes, but it’s also something we don’t usually get living in our supposedly ‘air-conditioned’ climate. It had the effect of bringing us closer together and uniting us in the common awareness of a shared experience. In other words, now I can pretty much talk to anyone on the street about the weather for once, and we can all have a good laugh about how bad it was. Maybe we’d share some jokes about the #sghaze. It’s as much of a great conversation opener which help forge national identity and culture. And what doesn’t kill you is supposed to make you stronger, right? In remembrance of perhaps one of the greatest creative periods we’ve had in Singapore, here’s a round-up of the good things the haze gave us, for once. Starting with… #6 – Bringing Out The Resourcefulness In Us The initial chaos that ensued during what can be seen as the “N95 panic” showed how clever Singaporeans can get in times of crisis. People started placing orders for the masks on Amazon and Groupon, and some (questionably) saw a business opportunity right there. I mean, people did so much of that private importing that the Business Times managed to run this hilarious article about it. (note: this link doesn’t go to the actual Business Times website, because they took it down from there. Credits still go to them). As for the rest of us who weren't as entreprising, we didn't quite sit quietly and wait for things to happen either. People took it upon themselves to share health advisories, read up about PSI and other indicators, and find alternatives to the N95 (see above). In fact, an independent effort known as the SG Haze Rescue was started for people to share resources and help those who needed it. We’re commonly known to be dependent and passive. Some have even said we're childish. How we reacted here proves we are not dumb nor incompetent. #5 – Raising Concern On The Environment The last time we heard about the PSI, it was last year during a way more tolerable haze outbreak. This time, however, things got so bad Singaporeans pretty much became environmental scientists overnight. People were so well-versed in air quality and standards that they actually called for the government to adjust them. If it wasn’t for the haze, some might still think the PSI had something to do with sunglasses and horsing around. And honestly, no one would really care about the Sumatran fires if this all hadn’t happened. I know I didn’t. While in the past it was an inconvenience at worst, this year's haze posed such serious health risks that the atmosphere (literally) moved from one of general apathy to fierce debates and even finger pointing on which companies and countries were responsible for all that burning. Now I wouldn’t say playing the blame game is good, but as the Singaporean mantra goes, better than nothing. Let’s just hope this enthusiasm doesn’t die along with the flames, and real progress will be made to prevent this from happening again. #4 – An Explosion Of Creative Expression When international polling body Gallup published survey results identifying Singaporeans as the most unhappy in the world, many were most unhappy about it. But the one thing we’d probably rank lower in than happiness is creativity. Not that we’re not creative, you know, except we seldom (get a chance to) showcase just how ingenious our right-brains are. It's like as the fog covered our nation, a lid was lifted on our creativity. Suddenly, everyone was busy making jokes, memes and witty comments about the haze, because it gave lots of people the avenues and motivations to do just that. To the organizations that are planning to rank Singapore 2nd last on some creativity index (you probably exist), watch this and see if you can still put Singapore at rock bottom: That’s one less unmet KPI for us to worry about, especially when firms too are putting out... #3 – Some More Creative Advertising (Finally) The advertising concepts used in Singapore have been re-used so many times most of us can actually recite how a typical advertisement unfolds. Ok here’s a random celebrity endorsing some product you actually need to be a doctor to properly endorse, oh, now they’re showing me the before pictures. I really can’t wait for the after… Thanks in part to the haze and in part to social media, though, companies decided that since everyone was so concerned with PSI and PM 2.5, they’d actually make ads that were already about what we were concerned with, for a change. And that gave us this: Disclosure: I did not receive any kind of incentive or reward from the above companies for posting this. I wish I did, but no. In either case, the haze also brought about... #2 – Greater Awareness Of Neighbourly Ties Shameless self-advertising for the meme I made aside, the haze did bring the two countries closer. Singaporeans became more aware and interested in not only the fires burning in Sumatra, but the poverty and perhaps exploitation that may be going on there that’s driving farmers to resort to such - infernal - tactics. You could say our ties have also been strained by cross-allegations and harsh remarks from various parties, but fighting brings people closer too, doesn’t it? Hopefully (and in fact most probably), both parties would be able to work together to solve what is actually a regional issue that's been left unsolved for some time now. And as an ex-History student, I’m inclined to add how this could pave the way for future collaboration and sow the seeds of harmony between the two countries by setting a plausible precedent for cooperation (that's how you write for History). Finally, the best thing the haze did for us was that it's over, at least for now, and... #1 – Breathing Clean Air Now Feels Amazing. It’s that feeling you get when exams are over, that kick of emotion I can only describe as SHIIIOOK SIA, that you could never feel if there weren’t these terrible things. Likewise, without the haze, we’d never be so happy it was over. It’s warped reasoning, yes, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome. Because we've seen how bad it could get when a basic necessity such as air is deprived from us, we've learnt to cherish what we normally take for granted. And joy has never been as cheap as the free, PSI 17 air we have now. So yes, our good neighbor, I’m really thankful for all the clean air you’re supplying us! Now let's make sure those 'air suppliers' aren't all burnt down, okay? In the end, the cloud of smoke that blanketed Singapore did have a silver lining. As a people, we've gained not only a shared experience that unites us, but a whole range of photoshop, meme-making, article-writing, amazon-mask-hunting and N95 wearing skills. Not to mention a closer understanding of things like PSI and PM 2.5, which really do affect us. More importantly, as a population, we've grown to become more aware and informed on real and important issues including regional diplomacy and the environment. Should the haze come back, we'll be ready.
Note: This article is an articlet, meaning it was intentionally kept short so you can go right back to #5 after wasting not more than 5 minutes on it. Have fun... If you're reading this, it means one of two things. First, that you’re so entirely prepared for your exams you’re just chillin’ out right now. Or second, that you’re entirely screwed and are seriously hoping for some magic to survive. Either way, you'll find the miraculous maladies in this article helpful to you, because who couldn’t use a little bit more luck? Now superstitions. They might not have any scientific basis nor make any sense at all, but you’d still rather believe in them. Because on the off-chance they’re true, you don’t want to be caught not having paid due respect to these supernormal, omnipotent practices that apparently can make or break your life. Since it’s a little too late to be counting on anything but superstition by now, we’ve made a list of the more prominent ones for you. In case you don’t have a Buddha’s leg anywhere near you right now to hug, you might want to start by... #1 – Praying to the Bell Curve God Some say he truly exists, others say he's merely a statistical distribution, an aggregate representation of the numerical worthiness of each student plotted across a line that looks like a bell. What do we think? That no matter what, you want the odds to be ever in your favour. For best effect, we recommend offerings of Twisties, which will empower the BCG to twist the odds for you. #2 – Turning The Tables, Literally. There’s got to be some basis behind that popular expression, right? In fact some psychologists say the act of physically altering your environment gives you a sense of mastery and control over it, which then leads to increased confidence as well as luck. And what better environment to master than the arena in which you will do battle with the exams? You could start by giving your current study table a 360 degree spin. And when you’re in the exam hall, find your seat quickly, and begin the revolution. Warning: Not recommended for those already scoring well. You don’t want the tables to turn against you. Oh and, about those psychologists, I made them up. But it sounds totally believable doesn’t it? #3 – Crossing Your Fingers According to this uh...totally reputable website, crossing your fingers actually leads to real increases in performance. In fact, someone else crossing their fingers for you also helps. Therefore, we should all cross our fingers for each other. More crosses, more luck! For those who are desperate: it’s possible to cross your toes too. Let’s just hope all these crosses don’t come back to you in red on your exam script. Fingers crossed! #4 – Good Luck Charms They’re similar to the totems I spoke about in the previous article, except these ones will be a little bit harder to justify bringing into the exam hall. Things that definitely can be used: good luck pens, good luck erasers, any good luck stationery at all. Red underwear. Special mention goes to the calculator’s math.Random function (for Maths exams), which can also be a helpful good luck charm for you to test how lucky you are. Simply try to guess what number will come out. If you’re right, then you are one lucky dude. Things we’re not so sure of: talismans, religious tokens, rabbit’s feet, good luck study notes. What’s great about charms is that even though they might be entirely bogus, there’s this amazing thing called the Placebo effect that's entirely proven (this one’s real) – which says so long as you believe it works, then it does! Kinda like how Dumbo really thought that ‘magic’ feather would make him fly. #5 – Studying Legends speak of one Mark Ger, who studied extremely hard for his exams and managed to ace all of them. In other words, he actually got proportionally rewarded for all that effort he put in! Now, we know the correlation between studying and results isn’t that clear and is sometimes extremely counterintuitive, but hey, when it comes to superstitions like these, you’d really rather to do a little bit of that studying thing than not, right? In general, it seems the more you study, the better your exam performance. We can’t quite quote any scientific research for this (it’s a superstition after all), but if you’re interested in subscribing to this one, then it seems you should do as much of it as you can! For best results, find the most effective ways to conduct the ‘studying’, such as visiting this totally awesome website. This sums up our list of the things you can count on now that it’s this close to D-day. So go get your twisties, start your rotations, overlap your digits, amass your artefacts of Fortune, and don’t forget to actually study. We won’t and can’t say they’ll definitely work for you (especially not #5), but that’s half the fun of a superstition isn’t it? In more ways than one, good luck for your exams! Even if you don’t need it, you’ll want it.