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
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It’s been four years since I graduated from JC, and even longer since I last had to attend one of those “sex-ed” things. How things have changed. Now students have social media. It was very encouraging to read this elaborate piece written by my remote junior. If students standing up for what they believe in with reasoned, thoughtful responses is not a sign of our education system working, I don’t know what is. But Ms Tan might have stepped into a minefield. In her response she deals with topics almost as sensitive as her sex-ed class portrays ‘gals’ to be – sexism, homosexuality, religion. It is not a battle that can be won by way of Facebook Post. So I write in general support of her courage, and I hope to divert the discussion from unnecessary dangers. In short, she’s right – failed jokes are bad, enforcing views on others is bad, perpetuating gender stereotypes and rape culture is bad. Rape is bad. There is really no argument here. But to be fair, her complaints against Focus on the Family were based on a four hour workshop conducted (I presume) by one or a few employees of the organization. It may not be the best idea, from this experience, to demonize the FotF as a “global Christian ministry known for their socially conservative views and agenda”. I don’t think she intended this, but she implies that being (a) a Christian ministry and/or (b) conservative is wrong in itself. This is the stuff critics look for, misinterpret, and have a field day attacking you on. Perhaps we could just talk about the sex-ed class without saying anything about gender roles, homosexuality and religion. Can we? Let’s find out. On Sexism. Ms Tan's piece was great because she avoided the conventional “boys-are-better-than-girls” versus “girls-are-better-than-boys” abyss that such arguments often devolve into. Sexism exists regardless of gender, and she recognizes this well when she says this: Much as girls have been generalized and simplified in this booklet, so too have guys, and this is fair for neither gender. Well this makes me proud that I was from A13, merely 3 numbers away from her class A10. This gender-neutral analysis could have been emphasized when she continues with this: FotF would have you believe that guys are slaves to their hormones and therefore girls should take their unwanted attention in their stride…Certainly, we live in a male-dominated world, and for this reason, guys do tend to get away with more. Yet that they do get away with more does not mean that they should. FotF, however, seems to believe that anything a guy does is excusable just because he is a guy. Let’s not argue on whether we live in a male-dominated world. More importantly, the above seems, again unintendedly, to slip back into the “guys-against-girls” way of thinking. Why should a girl care about what a guy thinks in deciding what to wear? When we frame things that way, the answer is obviously “no, a girl should be free to dress as she wishes”. But let’s try gender-neutral framing here – Should a person care about what another person thinks in deciding what to wear? This makes the answer a little less obvious. Regardless of gender, thinking about others when attiring ourselves is social courtesy. There are nudists who think otherwise, but let’s just not. The point is that considering others’ impressions of us is a big reason why we even wear clothes at all in Sunny Singapore. That and the fines for public indecency. There must be some room to say that A shouldn’t dress this way for B’s sake. Plato said be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a difficult battle. We’re in this as humans first, guys and girls second, third, or maybe even fourth. So there are some things we should do for each other – not because guys have an obligation to respect girls and girls have an obligation to support guys, but because humans have an obligation to respect humans. The problem only arises when it is only a particular group of people must do this while others are allowed to do whatever they want. Discrimination makes things unfair. So Ms Tan gets it right when she points out that what her sex-ed class does wrong is to “belittle” girls while stoking guys’ egos. If that was really what FotF was trying to say, then they are wrong. But let’s not be too quick to say they were evil. I don’t think the FotF is out there to belittle women. There are enough people doing that as it is. What then could they have intended to achieve by “perpetuating the message that anything and everything guys do is excusable simply because it is wired into them”? Perhaps they weren’t trying to do that. After all I’d like to assume they meant well. That is not me saying that good intentions absolve them completely. Still, could they have in fact wanted to prevent, not perpetuate, rape? I think so. Suppose you bought a brand new iPhone 6. You like it a lot. You bring it downstairs for lunch. You order food. You leave the brand new iPhone 6, all 6.9mm of it, unattended on the table. Some misfit walks by and grabs it. It is your fault you lost the phone? No, because theft is theft. Even if you’ve left your revolutionary Retina display unattended. Theft is a crime. When the police catch the misfit, he’s not going walk free just because “you left it there”. Even if he proves that he’s a kleptomaniac who cannot help but steal things, he’s not wholly excusable. In fact if the police know he’s a compulsive thief he’s in for a bad time. But could you have played at least a tiny role in preventing the crime? I think so. Rape’s very different from theft. But I think the analogy holds. If we lived in a perfect world, you could leave your stunning iPhone 6 on the table and all misfits will control themselves because stealing is wrong. If we lived in a perfect world, you could wear whatever you wanted and never worry because everyone knows rape is wrong. Ms Tan is unassailable when she argues that girls should not have to bear the burden of guys’ inability to control themselves. She’s right that hormones excuse nothing. Indeed, I don’t think any accused rapist has ever succeeded on a “my hormones made me do it” defence – at least not in Singapore. But we live in an imperfect world. Things should not be this way, but as long as things are this way – as long as covering up prevents rape, then it makes sense to tell someone to do that – regardless of whether that person is male or female. It’s not a guy-girl thing. It’s crime prevention. So arguments against sexism shouldn’t be sexist. And maybe, just maybe, FotF was just trying to help. Still that doesn’t excuse them from… All the bad jokes. Ms Tan’s right when she points out that the “yes means no” and “no means yes” thing is potentially insulting. And calling girls ‘gals’ was a bad idea. But in the spirit of fairness, all of that sounds more like a case of an honest attempt at audience engagement gone horribly, horribly wrong. Let’s face it – young adults nowadays don’t like (or need) to be told what to do about sexuality. Many have defensible views on complex issues like homosexuality, relationships and the like formed from extensive self-reading and exploration across the internet. The last thing they want is being forced through four painful hours of some old-timer trying to tell them what they already know. That's why Ms Tan says that "using the four hour long workshop to once again preach the value of abstinence seems excessive and unnecessary". So if we were in FotF’s shoes, what would we have done? First order of business: reach out to these precocious ones. But what happens when you try too hard to make sex-ed interesting? Well, now we know: this. Don’t get me wrong. Genuinely trying to engage a disinterested audience doesn’t save you from perpetuating bad views. But it does make things a little more understandable. Perhaps as the organization appointed (and probably paid) to do this FotF had a responsibility play it a little smarter. Perhaps they should have ran it through a few actual young adults before they ran the workshop. Maybe they did exactly that in a few schools before this one, but the young adults they ran it through, being young adults, preferred doing their homework to complaining about something they’d really rather not be reminded of. We’ll never know. But what FotF has said so far is that the book was based on "well-researched material by various trusted family life and relationship experts". Vagueness aside, they may have a point. Suffice to say, let’s not judge them with the benefit of hindsight if all they were trying to do is make things a little more interesting. By all means they should have pitched their stereotypes a little lower on the scale of insultingitude. But what’s done is done, and I don’t think there’s enough in this to say that they were all-out promoting bigotry and rape culture. On religion and homosexuality…or not. Let’s deal with these ideas together because (a) they’re not meant to be dealt with together, and (b) this forces us not to dwell on these black holes of reason and emotion. Make no mistake, I am neither advocating Christianity nor non-Christianity. I am not Christian and am in no position to comment on whether Christians are necessarily conservative and anti-LGBTQ rights. I also say nothing on whether LGBTQ rights should be recognized or not recognized. To me both sides are equally wrong and right at the same time because I don’t have the slightest clue what causes homosexuality and what its impacts are or can be. And until science can indisputably prove some of this, matters of pure speculation can hold no substantial debate. What I do say is this: It is easy to get carried away when we unnecessarily focus on religion and homosexuality. Discussions lead nowhere and don’t cause much positive change. Instead they end in counter-name-calling all the way up the family tree. Ms Tan might have been right to say that “FotF has used sexuality education as an opportunity to further spread their own conservative, ‘God-ordained’ beliefs rather than to educate students on arguably more important things such as safe sex, sexual identity and shared and equal responsibility.” The point, however, is that religion is not the point. Regardless of race, language, or religion, everyone has sexuality. Perhaps we could go beyond saying “Christians are plainly conservative” or “Liberalism is blasphemy” and really just focus on the real issue here – are young adults being taught the right things? Don’t take it from me. MOE’s website states this: The MOE Sexuality Education helps students understand the physiological, social and emotional changes they experience as they mature, develop healthy and rewarding relationships, and make wise, informed and responsible decisions on sexuality matters. So this is the whole purpose FotF had to achieve. There is no need to say “FotF failed because they are spreading religious beliefs”. Religious or not religious, what matters is they help students do what they need to do. That’s it. In her zealous response, Ms Tan might have bitten off what she didn’t have to chew. This begs the question – what does helping students really mean? Here’s where Ms Tan’s arguments fit right in. If students are expected to make informed decisions, it would make sense to inform them. And not, as the FotF facilitator seems to have done, “shut down” someone who asked a genuine question or “dismissed anyone outside of his limited moral framework”. But in the spirit of fairness again, let’s consider why that was done. Plot twist – maybe they were trying to challenge students to think for themselves. Maybe that’s why they suppressed thought – precisely so someone would write an open letter and get the whole JC-sphere talking. Maybe, just maybe…not. I don’t think they would have put their reputation on the line for this. Remote possibilities aside, a more plausible scenario is that they honestly thought making responsible decisions was the key here. And what is “responsible”? This forces me to make a dangerous point – which is that the law as it is makes it an offence for “any male person” to commit “any act of gross indecency with another male person”. This is what it says. Check it out yourself if you want. Perhaps the law should not be like this. Perhaps it should. But, as things stand, this is the law - even if it has been said that it won’t be enforced. So whatever described above is illegal. Even if it should or shouldn’t be. Now, if you were a non-profit organization approved by the government to teach sexuality education in JCs islandwide, would you dare say something illegal right now is actually okay? It’s of course one thing to be advocating views in your personal right. We’ve fought for thousands of years to enshrine the right to be entitled to our views and to express them, and the battle isn’t over. It’s another thing to be advocating certain views when you’re representing the school, the education system, and possibly the entire government. Remember what the Health Promotion Board went through? Heads will roll, salaries will vanish. I wouldn’t be surprised if FotF was specifically instructed to make no comments on homosexuality and to hush-hush any related questions till the break. Lest they face the wrath of concerned parents, to say the least. What we can say though, is that if what Ms Tan describes is correct, then FotF did a very bad job of hush-hushing. I wasn’t there, but from what’s described it seemed like the facilitator carried himself with a holier-than-thou attitude and displayed as much intolerance to genuine questions from students as facilitatorly possible. Something which obviously didn’t help amidst bad jokes and insensitive stereotyping. As a final point – I’d just like to disagree that it’s the school’s fault for “indirectly participating” in this. No doubt many things are their fault. But I’d say they were entitled to think an MOE-approved group would do the job properly. At the end of the day, let’s look at things in as helpful a way as possible. I am pleasantly surprised that Ms Tan wrote such a cogent response to her sex-ed class. I for one could and would not have done that five years ago. With a few more years on my belt I felt obliged to add on what I could - that she troubles herself unnecessarily with ideas which detract from her main point. As I write this I know that someone somewhere, guy or girl, Christian or non-Christian, LGBTQ or non-LGBTQ, has taken offence at ideas she perhaps unintentionally raised in her criticism of FotF’s conduct. There will be people who misinterpret her words as a threat to their beliefs. Others will make personal attacks using words far stronger than “Liberal Woman”. But hey, the real problem is that our young adults aren’t being taught sex-ed properly. As fellow humans, maybe we should do something about it. Meanwhile, constructive discussion is always good - if not for its own sake, then at least because it helps students better understand these issues and make wise, informed and responsible decisions. The above is a thinly veiled attempt at making AQ writing seem practically useful. It is also a thinly veiled attempt to express some of the writer's personal (non)views. They do not represent owlcove. If you are minded to reply or criticise, even without reading the article in full, please be assured that you are entitled to do so.
“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.
I was recently engaged in a conversation that reinforced the ugly glaring fact of Singapore's stifling culture, and all the people who have fallen prey, become dead, and are spreading the zombie virus. I forget it often because of the amazing environment I'm immersed in in school - people have started their own board game companies, national-scale NGOs and more; our debate and MUN teams clinch awards at international events even though we have no external coaches; we organise and start any club or event we want. Many of my friends outside school are doing what they love, whether it's financial consulting, game-coding or app-designing. They love what they learn and are forming opinions for themselves, rejecting some of what has been fed to them since young. I believe the stifling culture in Singapore will change with the young, because we haven't seen the struggles of the country like the previous generations have. We grew up with the gifts of education, full stomachs and a bed. See, Singapore was a third-world island with no resources or support, and we struggled, but soon found the formula for success, and triumphed. Since then, we've been on a roll, but the country is still clinging to this formula in desperation. It is never enough. A family-sized government flat in the suburbs can cost half a million dollars. A car is a couple hundred grand. And the older generations run on the fear that if we were to ever loosen our grip, we would plummet back to poverty, high unemployment, and struggles. They are too afraid to take a risk. After all, we already have the formula - why look for another one at the risk of plummeting? Maybe Singaporeans are blessed enough to have a foundation of relative material stability, security and educational access, but we're cursed when we are mentally bound by the culture and mindsets so prevalent now. I believe my generation will see that some things just aren't working like they used to anymore, and let in some fresh air. But we have to be brave enough to fight safe monotony. Do something we love and be great at it, instead of being content with secure mediocrity all our lives. This passion doesn't have to be the single focus from the start - you've got to have the money to pursue your passion sometimes - but we should never throw it away. Dive into whatever you feel passionate to build. I have extremely smart and talented friends who are utterly passionate about education and politics. They see the cogs in the machine that are now irrelevant, and are willing to invest their lives to change it. It's only when you do what you love that you will easily find the drive to be excellent. When I considered applying to Law schools instead of Literature courses, my mum said I was being ridiculous, I would be a terrible lawyer, and that I should stop trying to be someone I'm not. My mum took pure biology and pure chemistry in university when people felt higher education for girls was a waste of money. They said her course choice was silly, and that other than being a researcher, her career options were dead. Well, look at how far biochemistry and other related fields have come. Look at the companies that chase after her qualifications, and the places she travels to to give talks. "Do what you're passionate enough to become excellent at," she says, "and the jobs will come after you." Of course, another great hurdle is culture - mindsets about pursuing something that might not be the most lucrative or stable. This place is barren ground. But with time, water and stimuli, the fruits of passion and excellence can grow again. I believe Singaporean youths can grow up to become bolder people, people who take initiative and pursue their careers not only for material security, but also to live life. Unfortunately, we are still timid, aren't we? Playing it safe, letting the fear of authority form a path for us by eliminating doors, because that's the easy way. Letting others speak up in class because we fear getting something wrong or saying something dumb. Preferring to follow instructions, because thinking is hard. I hope enough of us will be willing to take the front seat. This article first appeared on my blog and has also been posted on The Online Citizen.
It’s not every day that life throws you actual scenarios which let you practice the rarely useful (or so you thought) things you learn in school. But today was such a day. As this video (I've outlined the gist of it below, so you don't have to watch it) continues to win the hearts and minds of the uninitiated, I thought it would be meaningful to use this opportunity to illustrate how one might do a proper AQ, and why GP is highly underrated. Note that this article, in the spirit of the AQ, is meant only to critique the points and arguments made in the source. Critique means to support and to criticize, where warranted. It is not meant as a personal attack, nor can it ever hope to address and solve any social problems raised by the video. I am also aware that, as the “truthful”, “interesting” and “right” person that many commenters laud her to be, the speaker could not have intended her points to be subject to any form of academic, logical, or common sense scrutiny and yet left so many of her arguments painfully incomplete. More likely the video was meant as an expression of her own opinions and thoughts, made only more personal by her choice of presenting her ideas from the intensely private space of her own bedroom. Hence, it might be slightly unfair for me to apply her arguments through the razor of logic, since it was neither intended nor prepared for it. Nonetheless, I will do so. As the speaker says, “Deal with it”. In the 13 minutes long video which you would likely have watched, the speaker makes these points in support of why she is not proud to be Singaporean: 1. Singapore is no place for an Artist. The speaker begins by arguing that Singapore overly prioritises fields like medicine, engineering and law, since “everyone is going towards” these areas “because those are the highest paying jobs”. Because of this, there’s “barely any room” for alternate career paths. The premise that “everyone” only does medicine and law is difficult to defend, because, unfortunately, only a small number of people actually get to do these high paying jobs. A more realistic argument would perhaps include finance, business, and other alternate careers. Yet if we were to restate the argument more accurately as “everyone is going towards medicine, engineering, law, finance, accountancy, biotechnology, dentistry, and business”, it quickly loses much of its force. And for the record, not everyone is in these fields for the money. Admittedly there is an emphasis on sciences to the detriment of the arts, and this is an age-old argument that is difficult to deny. Having been through an Arts education (though of the Humanities kind) myself, I agree that many (often unjustified) obstacles do stand in the way of aspiring musicians and artists in Singapore. Yet the speaker seems to draw a false dichotomy between the two, as if emphasizing the sciences necessarily compromises the arts. It is, surprisingly to some, possible to encourage people to study medicine while simultaneously promoting the Arts through, for example, building a two theatres in the heart of Singapore’s financial district (specifically the Esplanade and the theatre in Sands). In other words, even if we admit her premise that everyone only does medicine and engineering, it doesn’t by itself prove her point that Singapore has no room for artists. And why should the country make room for you? A better argument would be that Singapore’s overemphasis on the conventional shines through even in the Arts, where traditional forms of drama and theatre take unwarranted precedence over untested forms like K-POP. But this is not the argument she makes. 2. Singaporeans are narrow-minded. There is a certain sense of irony in the speaker making this argument that I have to refrain from elaborating on in the spirit of this article. She argues that Singaporeans are narrow-minded because “a majority of Singaporeans would have just bought the headline news that our payment system is better than the minimum wage”. For starters, let’s just accept her definition of “narrow-mindedness” to mean “unquestioningly accepting”. There are, of course, many strong reasons why a minimum wage may be “better” than a payment system. She offers none of these reasons. Rather than make any sort of economic argument for or against the two economic policies, she offers a mathematical argument: mainly that an Australian waitress makes $1920 a month and a Singaporean waitress makes $768. Also, “to be fair”, based on the earning to spending ratio (which somehow addresses the difference in living standards), the Australian system is still “better”. If economic policymaking involves only increasing waitresses’ nominal salaries, then we would truly be overpaying whoever we pay to make these policies. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. Any H2 economics student would be able to recite the problems with minimum wage polices. Amongst these are the resulting fall in employment opportunities and increased business cost. More simply, implementing a minimum wage means restaurants will hire fewer waitresses. So even in terms of making it better for waitresses and waitresses alone (how she seems to define “better”), a minimum wage may not do its job. A minimum wage would only be “better” if its benefits outweigh its costs. Admittedly again, we should not expect everyone to be educated in economics. But that does and will work against you if you choose to make an economic point. If someone stands up and points out that Panadol is useless, should he be expected to have a medical degree? By “don’t believe things you see in headline news”, perhaps she means to say “don’t believe things you see in headline news without thinking through it yourself”, because then she makes an excellent point. If I have to consciously disbelief everything in the newspaper, reading it would be a really interesting task. And for the record, don’t believe things you see on Youtube either, at least not without thinking about it yourself. 3. Singaporeans are not creative. Her third point is difficult to deny and I would agree that Singaporeans are nowhere near the most creative in the world. A key lesson here is that you can have the best point in the world and your argument can still be invalid. In support of a point which, frankly, didn’t need to be supported, the speaker argues that the education system stifles creativity. Effectively she argues extensively on the cause of the lack of creativity, without really explaining her main point, the effect of this cause. If she wanted to point out that Singaporeans are not creative, a more direct route would be to raise arguments showing how little we create. Granted, exploring the causes does lend some indirect support to her arguments. But even if education stifles creativity Singaporeans can still be creative. A more complete argument would have to draw the link between cause and effect. That is not difficult. Consider this argument: 1) The education system stifles creativity without exception. 2) Everyone goes through the education system and is completely affected by it. Therefore, everyone’s creativity is stifled. In place of the drawing the link as in (2), she offers anecdotal experiences from her sisters and herself. There is little need to comment on the appropriateness of such examples (note that this is only because I am assuming this to be some sort of academic piece rather than a Youtube rant. For the latter, it’s entirely appropriate and entertaining.) The speaker then argues that Singaporeans are just “homework robots” (which I concede) and “being book smart is kinda sad” because you’ll just “be like a majority of Singaporeans”. This argument actually holds some merit because she tried to substantiate why being homework robots is bad in itself rather than merely asserting it is. Unfortunately, the argument was not effective, primarily because being part of a majority does not necessarily mean something is bad. Nonetheless this sheds some light on why she wants to immigrate, because otherwise being in Singapore makes her just like a majority of Singaporeans (who are, y’know, in Singapore), and that’s apparently kinda sad. 4. Singaporeans are submissive. Her fourth point that Singaporeans are submissive was succinctly put and left little to be critiqued (which is sometimes the smart thing to do if you have nothing better to say). Still, her argument that “no one thinks out of the box” could have been further evidenced, and why being submissive is itself a bad thing that should make someone ashamed to be Singaporean remains unclear. 5. Singaporeans are not happy. I am extremely, extremely tempted to bring out that weird study Starhub shows us in cinemas before the movie starts to highlight that Singaporeans actually are happy. But I myself don’t believe that, and again she raises a somewhat valid point. The problems with her arguments, however, remain. In a rare but laudable attempt to justify why her examples from Australia and Taiwan are relevant, she could have gone further than to say it’s because she knows them best (so deal with it) and she’s only going to base her arguments on these countries. Because that’s akin to saying: “let’s ignore the possibility I could be wrong, alright…just ignore that…and HEY LOOK! I’M RIGHT!” Of course you are. Also, since she painstakingly reminds us of her ‘success’ in the K-POP arena, it was puzzling why she didn’t know Korea well enough to know the extreme focus on academics and the beaten path in that country. She seems rather proud of her associations with Korean culture, which makes it hard to understand why Singapore’s focus on grades makes her not proud to be Singaporean. Even if we just ignore that¸ her creative use of suicide and murder statistics to show that Singaporeans are not happy is…rather creative. Suicide and depression statistics are indeed commonly used illustrate social issues in Singapore, and they actually do that job pretty well. While she could have left it at that, she makes a further argument that suicide rates being higher than murder rates shows Singaporeans are not happy. That implies, strangely, that if murder rates are higher than suicide rates, Singaporeans are a happy bunch. By referring to the low murder rates in Singapore the speaker, accidentally I presume, argues against herself by highlighting how we’re happy enough, for the most part, to not kill each other. 6. Singaporeans are not nice. According to the speaker, Singaporeans are not nice because they wouldn’t help others and Australians, by comparison, would. Here it seems the speaker has already stopped considering herself Singaporean, otherwise her relating how she helped the elderly person into the cab seems to defeat her own argument. Within the confines of this point she moves on to request that people do not drag her parents in (strange, because she did mention “Singaporean parents” in general earlier on the video) and that she’s an honest person who speaks her mind. Sadly, you can still lie if you speak your mind, especially if you’re mistaken about facts, or think illogically. She makes another curious declaration that she “will not be moulded by society’s demands because that is just ridiculous”. In the spirit of this article, I would have to stop at pointing out the inconsistency in the logic that “moulded by society” = “ridiculous” because she is, among the other things she does, speaking English. 7. Everyone just follows the rules. There is no freedom of speech in Singapore. In an argument, saving the best for last isn't always a good idea because you may have lost your audience by then to the weakness of your earlier points. In the concluding minutes of her video the speaker opens a can of tornadoes by asserting that freedom of speech does not exist in Singapore. The debate on freedom of speech has lasted, sadly, for centuries. It would not be possible to deal properly with it here. Suffice to say that, if there is no freedom of speech in Singapore, how did she ever manage to upload her video? Perhaps there will be people knocking on her door very soon. Ultimately, she asserts, and I have to respect, that she has her reasons for not being proud of Singapore. Yes, you are entitled to them, even if they aren’t very good reasons. She openly asks for reasons why we should be proud of Singapore, to which I reply: I’m proud of Singapore because, even ESPECIALLY after hearing what you say, I still have no reason not to be proud of Singapore.
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.
I am Singaporean. I am unhappy about the haze. I believe the government can do more to combat this issue, especially with regard to diplomacy with Indonesia. I feel a Stop Work Order (SWO) could have been issued to select industries most affected by this problem. I am not dumb. I was lucky to have been overseas in the last few days, so I managed to stay clear of the haze, in more ways than one. Following the issue from outside Singapore, I observed something interesting – that the haze not only clouded our skies, but perhaps our thinking too. There were indeed many misguided statements and complaints being made, but a response that particularly disturbed me was this one, which quite inaccurately accused Singaporeans of being dumb, selfish, and immature. I did agree with a number of good points made by the article, particularly that we must not politicize the issue, and that some people in Singapore have really gone too far in their antics and failed to consider enough facts and perspectives in making their complaints. It was also good that the article identified the importance of considering precedents from other countries and analyzing the true costs of an SWO. However, I find it hard to agree with the article's main point that Singaporeans at large are dumb and whiny. There are numerous examples you can quote to support this, but these are exceptions, not the norm, and it makes little sense to generalise from these minorities to say this “does not bode well for the country’s future.” What was worse was that these ideas were spreading under a guise of logic. Bad logic is not as bad as bad logic which seems like good logic, because the latter is far more able to misinform. Despite the article's many good points, we would do well to recognize its loopholes, including the how it forgets that… 1 - Being Wrong Is Not Being Dumb. It is a rather big charge to call our fellow countrymen dumb, if their only fault is that they are illogical and failed to consider important information. Just because some of us blame the wrong people does not mean they are stupid, and much less that the majority of us are stupid. I would admit many complaints and opinions are misinformed, misguided, or mistaken. But to use the word dumb is not justified unless the haze has provided us superpowers which enables us to calculate the average IQ of the person who posed a complaint. Even then, IQ is far from a sufficient factor to consider in determining someone’s mental abilities. It is possible to interpret the article's title of “Dumb and Dumber Singaporean Responses to The Haze” to be targeted only at the responses themselves, not the respondents, and that would be a better interpretation. However, in the rest of the article the writer uses phrases such as “Is there a brain in there”, which cannot be construed as anything but a personal attack. It is likely that in trying to gain views, likes and shares for an article, strong and inaccurate language was chosen to attract attention. This is understandable, but it is also irresponsible. I may seem to be picking on semantics here, but it is important to realise that word choice is crucial in writing on an issue of national concern. If you’re posting your thoughts on a national issue and it has the potential to go viral and be read by a lot of people, you have the responsibility to carefully consider your words. And in support of this ill-worded thesis were a few points offered for consideration which were unable to bear the full weight of the claims being made, especially because they contained… 2 – Incomplete Logical Analysis Let me first begin by qualifying I found it encouraging and refreshing that the writer of this article sought to offer good points, grounded in logic, to discredit numerous insensitive complaints. The problem, however, is that some of these points lacked the elaboration necessary to fully demonstrate what they needed to say. On the use of Precedents It is good that the article offered some consideration of other countries and their actions. We indeed need to take reference from others, especially given that other countries are more experienced than us in almost every way, particularly in dealing with natural phenomena. However, it is not safe to assume what other countries do is immediately applicable to Singapore. We should follow precedents only if they make sense to us, and there are actually a lot of problems with applying precedents from other countries to Singapore because Singapore is not any other country. The circumstances, culture, governance and environment are all different. Just because someone else did something in the same situation does not mean we should do the same thing when we face this situation, especially if we’re smaller, younger, and so on. Suppose the US also faced an identical haze problem in which a PSI of 400 enveloped the entire country. The authorities may have wanted to implement an SWO, but stopped short when they realized it was far from easy to roll out such an order across the entire country, consisting of 51 separate states. This does not necessarily mean that, in Singapore, where it is clearly far easier to implement the SWO, none should be given. Furthermore, the link between the AQI which the US follows and the API which Malaysia uses to Singapore’s PSI is very contrived. I am not an expert on air quality indicators, but a short wiki search showed me how different countries defined and measured them very differently, and it is very difficult to position an API of 746 against a PSI of 400, much less draw meaningful conclusions from such a comparison. Therefore, there needs to be some justification on why we should follow what they did. Without this, the first argument that since other countries don’t have an SWO and therefore we shouldn’t have it is incomplete at best and misleading at worst. There is also no consideration made for having a milder version of the SWO limited to industries, such as construction, most affected by the haze. Precedents are meant to be considered, not copied. On Costs It was also good that the article recognized the severe costs of an SWO, because that’s exactly what we need to consider when we are deciding whether or not to enforce one. What was missing, though, was the realization that these costs are only important as a counterweight against the benefits of an SWO. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis really: if we believe that the health risks we face are far greater than the economic costs we will incur, then we need to have one. If not, then no SWO. The costs are very very serious, yes, but that doesn’t mean anything if the benefits are greater. However, the article merely glossed over them, saying the costs were “possibly more [serious] than bad air?” Note the choice of the word possibly over the better alternative probably, and clearly it is not just bad air we are concerned about here. At the same time, the article tends to... 3 – Make Sweeping Generalisations The article makes a big point out of the differences between how the Japanese responded to the Fukushima disaster and how Singaporeans are reacting to the haze. Even if it was easy to equate a major nuclear meltdown to hazardous smog engulfing a country, it is problematic to conclude from there that the Japanese responded better than us. To quote the article, “When Fukushima happened, the Japanese were queuing up in an orderly manner for essential supplies like water”, while during the haze, “we see some Singaporeans hoarding masks, or even worse, reselling those masks at a marked-up profit.” There is no question that the hoarding of masks is deplorable. But apparently, as the article suggests, the entire population of Japan started queuing up for rations, and this makes them better than Singaporeans because some Singaporeans were totally inconsiderate and starting hoarding masks. I’m not saying the Japanese affected by Fukushima did not respond in a very commendable manner. But when we put things in perspective, even though the affected Japanese probably outnumbered the entire Singaporean population, they still constituted a minority. To draw any safe conclusion, we would need to compare the proportion of people who reacted well in Japan against the proportion of people who reacted badly in Singapore. And, even then, the only thing we can arrive at is that some Singaporeans are worse than some Japanese, not that Singaporeans as a whole displayed “shameless public behaviour”. Furthermore, the article also demonstrates ignorance to local culture, because… 4 – Complaining Is Just What We Do. It is ironic that the article is complaining about people complaining, and perhaps even more amusing that now I am complaining about the article complaining about people complaining, but it is inevitable for someone, especially a Singaporean, to complain about something he is unhappy with. I would like to offer that most of us are just complaining because, honestly, it’s innate in our culture. It may not always be good, but it is not always bad either. Expressing our unhappiness usually does not cause harm, unless we’re killing people and going on strikes (which people in USA and Japan do, and since in the article some people in some country doing some things can be representative of the entire country, I’ll use the same logic here). More often than not, we don’t really mean our complaints. They are of more a subconscious habit to us. That does not make it excusable, yes, but it would make it a little more understandable. It would indeed be extremely selfish for someone to seriously hope an SWO is enforced so he can enjoy one day off, and indeed some people will genuinely think so, but there’s nothing wrong with joking about it, and those who are not are the minority. In fact, I was very encouraged to see a lot of creative expression in the past few days and how people are managing to take this all in good humour. That said, my point on it being alright to complain does not cover those whose complaints and insensitive behaviour has created costs on others – including the good example raised in the article about an author in The Heart Truths trying to “poke holes in VB’s claims”. The article is right here in pointing out that such actions are unacceptable. However, that still does little to show how Singaporeans are dumb. Lastly, another problem rampant in the article was the occurrence of… 5 – Inaccurately Phrased Statements That Mislead Including: “To blindly insist on a stop work order shows a failure of imagination and research.” It was difficult to understand why it was the job of the complainant to imagine and research before complaining, and hence why it was a significant failure on their part to not have conducted the apparently necessary imagination and research before making their points. Unless most of them were either imagineers or researchers. And: "'Singapore should do something to the Indonesians! The PAP is inept!' Hello? Are you asking for an act of war?" I’m not sure when the definition of the phrase ‘do something’ became limited to ‘act of war’. To me, doing something could include things like offering even more aid than the amount which was rejected. In fact, I don’t think anyone meant anything related to war when they called for some action, and there are such things as diplomatic actions too. For those interested in the exact logical fallacy being made here, check this out. Or: "It is crazy to insist on unilateral action that goes against the sovereignty of another country." This line does a great job in defining what war means, but does not support the point that this complaint is unfounded. Here, it sounds like big words are being used to make up for the lack of something substantial to say. Taken together, such inaccuracies in the diction of the article unfairly disadvantages, perhaps intentionally, the position of the ‘dumb people’ the article attacks, and creates an illusion that they are far more numerous and senseless than they actually are. But not everyone who calls for action is a warmonger, and not everyone who calls for an SWO is self-centred. In summary, this article was a refreshing and promising alternative voice to the flood of misguided complaints and insensitive behavior demonstrated by a vocal minority of Singaporeans. It made the important point that we should not politicise this issue, and was very constructive in highlighting certain articles and sites that sought to profiteer from the haze. There were, however, unfortunate problems with the choice of words and logic within the article, which prevented it from giving a full and accurate take on the issues raised. My objective here is not to discredit or discount the writer's views as much as to highlight ways in which the article can be improved, so we can achieve a more tempered perspective. I saw also a need to moderate the flood of negativity regarding the overall intelligence of our population that may or may not have been promoted by this article. In the end, there are indeed many mistaken perspectives out there - including the articles', and maybe even including mine - but you are not dumb, and I am not dumb. Singaporeans are not dumb. Cover image by straitstimes.com.
A senior grandfather has gotten into a spat after blanketing his common corridor with foul-smelling underwear. The elder, whose name is unknown but is simply called “Ah Gong” by others, has been observed to change his underwear daily, as is common practice – but then simply strings his used undergarments up across the walkway instead of washing them. “I hardly sweat, so why waste water washing them?” Ah Gong explained. “Instead, I leave them outside to dry in the sun. That way, I also get to show off my expansive underwear collection. And nobody dares to steal them.” Ah Gong works at an Ayam Penyet stall, where he is in charge of rice quality. He admitted that he is a compulsive underwear hoarder. “It’s not what I want, it’s just my nature,” he added. Asked if he knew his actions were affecting his neighbours, he replied, “Some people grow plants along the corridor. I prefer to grow my underwear collection. What’s wrong with that? “Even Superman leaves his underwear outside all the time.” According to his neighbours in Hougang Block 67, this occurrence is not the first. Every year, Ah Gong has left his underwear hanging without fail, until sudden floods during the monsoon season washed them away each time. Now that the dry season is back, he is back to his usual ways. However, his neighbours say this year has been worse than usual thanks to Amazon’s newly-introduced free shipping to Singapore. Last week, a carton containing 125 pieces of Calvin Klein briefs was delivered to Ah Gong’s doorstep, much to the dismay of his neighbours. The stench has gotten so bad that even those living in the adjacent two blocks have been able to smell it. Ms. Joyce, who lives on the same floor as Ah Gong, said, “I felt breathless almost as soon as I stepped out of the door today." “The corridor is obscured with so much underwear, you can’t even see the lift from here anymore! Giordano, Hang Ten, Hush Puppies – you name it, he has it.” During a hurriedly-organised mediation session on Thursday at Ah Gong’s void deck, his neighbours offered to pool together $500 to pay for his laundry. However, he rejected the offer, rebutting, “If it is only five hundred dollars, I don’t need that. I might as well use that money to buy more fresh underwear from Amazon.” He further added that his colourful underwear has helped to brighten up his neighbourhood. “Our estate hasn’t been upgraded since 1997. My multi-coloured garments are the next best thing to a fresh coat of paint. Yet, my neighbours have never thanked me for the vitality that I contribute to the local atmosphere. They are all like that. We also haven’t settled their noisy mahjong, nor the terrible curry smell from their cooking, tak boleh tahan lah! They shouldn’t be like children, in such a tizzy.” One neighbour, Mr. Bala, seemed resigned to this annual occurrence. “If there's one good thing about this, it brings the estate together against a common cause each time.” Mr. Bala is not the only one still feeling optimistic about this incident. A check on a nearby Guardian found that its year’s stock of face masks had been snapped up. At last count, the number of underwear has reached a high of 371, although the actual value may be far higher. Residents are now discussing the possibility of reporting the matter to higher authorities. Until then, it seems nothing will compel Ah Gong to cease hanging his dirty laundry in public. Footnote: owlcove.sg is not actually a news site. This is not a real news item.