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 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.
We’ve talked about it with relatives and friends, heard stories, and even watched a film on it. Amidst the elation and euphoria of post-graduation freedom, the thought of enlistment is both dreaded nightmare and inevitable reality. Many of us are unwilling to forfeit our short-lived freedom and most are unfamiliar with the army. So here’s a list of 11 things I learnt in BMT, which I hope provides a glimpse into the first stage of military life. 1. Expect homesickness. For many of us, this will be the first time we are away from our family or friends for this long. Gone are the days where we can leave our beds in an untidy mess and return to sleep having it done for us. Communal living also means you have to be considerate to your friends in the same bunk. No one likes a person who throws his trash everywhere. Homesickness is common and it's part of the adjustment process. I recommend bringing along pictures of your friends or loved ones. It helps. 2. Expect long days and short nights. I always tell people that "you never really know how long a day is until you enlist", and that's a truth. As a recruit, you're constantly working round the clock. The first activity starts at six in the morning (or earlier) and only ends around ten at night. After that it's a mass orgy in the shower to meet the lights-out time. I’ll always remember having to share a shower cubicle which three section mates to expedite the showering process just so we can get to bed on time. This cycle goes on pretty much for the two months in BMT and the only respite you will probably have is your seven hours of ‘mandatory uninterrupted rest’. Military time and civilian time seem to run on different schedules. A day will feel like a year in Tekong. That thought may stress you up initially, but you'll soon come to terms with it. 3. Be prepared to learn a new language. Army lingo is unfamiliar to most and punctuated with many acronyms. Probably because it simplifies communication between troops in wartime. "No go", "half section", "drop five", "tio stun". You probably don’t understand their meanings now but rest assured you will be a well-versed native speaker soon. Then there's "IA IA IA IA IA" and "arty arty arty”. There are some which don’t really make sense like "bua long long" which actually means “to take your own sweet time”. And finally, the two most hated and dreaded words in BMT: "force prep" and "stand by" (which is pronounced in the weirdest way possible). When you hear them...be prepared to face the floor. 4. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. More often than not, you're going to disagree with some instructions your commanders give, their lack of understanding or their unreasonable punishments. That's normal. Things don't always go our way. Sometimes we are just unaware of the rationale behind those instructions. Sometimes, it simply does not make sense but we have to do it anyway. Instead of bearing grudges, take this as a learning point. How are you going to give instructions so that your subordinates understand your intent? How are you going to treat those ranked below you? Some of you will eventually go into specialist or officer school to be trained as commanders. Observe the different styles of your commanders, learn what you think is good and discard what you think is undesirable. 5. You'll look ridiculous. You're bald. Get over it. 6. Be prepared to be pushed beyond your limits, both physically and mentally. The last time most of you ran was probably a good half a year ago. Your physical fitness has definitely plummeted and it's time to start the engines running again. Physical fitness aside, there is another aspect of fitness that we train for in the military: combat fitness, which is a rough mix of grit, attitude, skill, endurance, and morale. Soon enough, you'll be donning your SBO and carrying field packs for route marches. It's no easy task. The sudden heavy load on your back would push you to your physical as well as mental limits, especially when you go on longer distances. Digging shell scrapes will also challenge the limits of your mental resilience. It's a herculean task that I have trouble with even today. My only advice: wear gloves, secure your rifle, keep digging. 7. Holding weapons is not as cool as it looks. Seriously, you will know what I mean soon enough. The excitement fades away as quickly as it comes. ND/AD, IA, rifle cleaning, handling with care, sleeping on it during SITEST. Suddenly a rifle becomes the most sacred thing in your life. Cool? 8. There will be a point in time you'll want to sign on. Kudos to the SAF recruiters for this and I guarantee that you will experience this phase. I concede that the SAF scholarships are attractive but it comes with a hefty price tag - six years of commitment. There are cases of scholars regretting joining the organization, but cannot leave. It becomes, at best, a painful obligation. I am not against the idea of having a career in the military but a military life is not everyone's cup of tea. There are also cases of scholars uttering loving their career. Look beyond the prospects of having an overseas education funded, or signing on just to get out of a seemingly difficult army life (it’s not much better elsewhere) - wait a little longer to see if the military suits you before making the commitment. 9. Don't live your life in army. An advice from a good friend. You'll be spending five, sometimes six, days a week in the army. Everything that revolves around you is about the army. When you meet your friends, you're going to speak about army. This often bores the girls out (we're sorry). Do not lose yourself in this vortex. Continue to pursue your interests or hobbies even with the limited time you have. You've got Monday to Friday for army. That’s more than enough. 10. Black tape is the panacea for everything. Fixing torn pants, securing items, silencing someone, concealment, bandage, and markings. Just about any problems you face under the sun, black tape never disappoints. 11. You're going to miss this place. You surely will. Especially when (or because) it’s over. I fondly recall my time in BMT and they were one of my most memorable moments. My section mates connected well and although we were quite the mavericks, we had the most fun out of the rest. You're going to meet people who will be your close friends even after you pass out of BMT - friends and commanders alike. So there you go, 11 things I learned in BMT. Everyone will have different experiences and tell you different tales when they leave Tekong. There is a lot more you can learn, but I will leave that for you to discover yourself. In no time, you will be embarking on your baptism of fire - the 24km graduation march - and then you will have your share of experiences to brag about. All the best! -written for my juniors and friends enlisting in Feb and May 2015.
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
This article is written for Lit students, so I’m making two assumptions: That you know what a Shakespeare is, and Since you know Shakespeare, you’re familiar with No Fear Shakespeare. These competencies are important, because in the following paragraphs we'll will be ripping apart the very bastions of literary genius. We'll spray-paint a huge I WAS HERE right across the centre. Assuming that’s not possible, though, what we’ll do is re-write them in…*gasp* plain language. Because no one likes an incomprehensible, artsy fartsy poem, right? So let's not waste time... 1. Does it matter? -Siegfried Sassoon Here's the original: Does it matter?-losing your legs?... For people will always be kind, And you need not show that you mind When the others come in after hunting To gobble their muffins and eggs. Does it matter ?-losing your sight?... There's such splendid work for the blind; And people will always be kind, As you sit on the terrace remembering And turning your face to the light. Do they matter?-those dreams from the pit?... You can drink and forget and be glad, And people won't say that you're mad; For they'll know you've fought for your country And no one will worry a bit. Probably no one understands it all on first reading. What with the question-mark-dot-dot-dots and all. If he wanted to make a point, he could’ve said it directly, like this: It really matters if you lose your legs. Really. People are only kind that long. And it’s horribly difficult not to mind When everyone else comes back from hunting And they eat and drink in your face. It really, really matters if you lose your sight. I have no idea what work blind people can find in post-war Europe. People are never kind. It hurts to sit on the terrace imagining What it looks like from memory. Your dreams matter. But they’re all gone. You can drink forget and be happy For only so long. People start thinking you’re crazy Even if you’ve given, lost it all for your country. And everything’s horrible. Yup, much better now that only good’ol commas and full stops remain. And speaking of dreams… 2. Dreams -Langston Hughes Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow. This one’s already awesome. Short and sweet. The longest word only has two syllables. That is if you excuse the hifenated jargon. But hey, what’s the point of all those metaphors? Life is a barren field? It’s not like we’re all farmers. Are we? I’m sure we’re not though, last I checked we lived in the 21st century. Really, why waste words when he could’ve just said: Dreams are important. Yes they are. They’re really important. Hold on to them. Otherwise you’ll have a sad life. 5 lines did the trick. We’re on a roll. Now let’s tackle something harder… 3. Sonnet XVIII -William Shakespeare The Bard himself. Terrorising lit students since 1564. Can you imagine how his English teacher must’ve felt when he read this?... Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all too short a date. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimmed; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed; But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st, Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade, When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st. So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. First things first: No one knows what a sonnet is. It sounds a like a cross between a comet and a clarinet. It’ll probably do well as a line of tennis apparel too. There’re a fixed number of lines in every tennis racket right? And seriously, thou art? That’s like so five centuries ago. Till date no one has any idea why we’re still studying such obsolete, perplexing poems which have no relation to modern living. Let’s modernise it a little, shall we? Rose are red, violets are blue. A summer’s day is lovely and hot, And so are you. In May the winds blow petals off flowers (if you know what I mean). Summer (holidays) passes way too fast. Sometimes the sun can be really scorching. But even the sun gets dark. And beautiful things usually decline Either by chance, or by nature, even if we leave them alone. But you are eternally lovely and hot. You’re really fair too. If you die everyone will be sad. Especially when your eternal hotness grows with time. As long as men live and see (which basically means forever), Your beauty lives in here and in me. Many romantic. Such feels. Observe how every dating trick in the book has been incorporated within. And speaking of beauty… 4. Stopping by woods on a snowy evening -Robert Frost Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. Here’s another great one with no words of more than two syllables. Simply brilliant. But he’s just describing a forest, some trees and a lake. There’s a horse somewhere too. And the only sense of a linear plot (which, clearly, all poems require) is when the bells ring and he moves on. This all sounds like a wonderful casual journey in the woods but why should we care? Perhaps if he said it this way: I’m in a beautiful forest now but sadly it’s owned by someone else. He lives in the village though. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. Luckily he won’t see me here so he can’t chase me out. Plus he’s missing out On the beautiful views here of the snow falling in his forest. My horse probably thinks I’m crazy Stopping like this in the middle of nowhere. Probably other people will think I’m mad too Stopping between the woods and a frozen lake in The darkest evening of the year. But this only makes it so much more beautiful and surreal. My horse rings his harness bells and wakes me up from my daydream It seems like he’s reminding me I’m making a mistake stopping here in the middle of nowhere. It’s so quiet. I can only hear The snow gently falling in the light breeze. This forest owned-by-someone-else is beautiful. A silent, soothing darkness lurks. It draws me in. But there are so many things I need to do. So many things I must chase. And I’m already behind time. There are so many things I have to do before I can rest. There are so many things I have to do before I can rest. Isn’t it wonderful how a little elaboration and removal of all poetic devices and metre makes things so self-evident and easily understandable? Off that, here’s the final one for today. Be warned…it’s madness. 5. The Jabberwocky -Lewis Carroll 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. 'Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!' He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought -- So rested he by the Tumtum tree, And stood a while in thought. And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came! One two! One two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back. 'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy. 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. Whatisthisidonteven…Of course, what else could we expect from the insane dude who gave us Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I mean, he’s the founding father of the genre known as literary nonsense (yes, this really exists). Hardly flattering, if you ask me. And this jabberwocky thing, if a thing it indeed is, makes marginally less sense than rabbits with stopwatches rushing for circular ad infinitum tea. Cheshire cats and growth mushrooms – at least these have some real-life equivalents don’t they. I don’t know what kind of - substances - prompted this poem, but safe to say none of the following – brillig, gyre, wabe, frabjous, borogoves, mome, raths, outgrabe, jubjub, manxome, tumtum, uffish, tulgey…are actually words. Are they? I’m not even sure what words are now. Carroll here creates more words per line than Shakespeare. It’s probably impossible to rewrite this without entirely changing its meaning and significance. This only shows how absolutely incorrigible and worthless this is, doesn’t it? The best I could do was: Behold a Jabberwock – a fearsome monster with jaws and claws (I think). Someone grabbed a sword. And killed it. Hurray. And one more thing. Here’s one of Emily Dickinson’s great writes: After great pain, a formal feeling comes – The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs – The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’ And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’? The Feet, mechanical, go round – A Wooden way Of Ground, or Air, or Ought – Regardless grown, A Quartz contentment, like a stone – This is the Hour of Lead – Remembered, if outlived, As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow – First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go – Got that? That last part? As freezing persons…snow…chill…stupor…letting go…? Sound familiar?... Let it go, let it go Can't hold it back anymore Let it go, let it go Turn away and slam the door I don't care what they're going to say Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway. Kudos to Disney for helping us understand was Emily was trying to say :) Now that that’s over, I do hope you’ve figured out the actual point of what we’re doing. Although I honestly still have no clue what Carroll’s poem is about.
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.
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.
or: Why the author advances the supposition advocating opposition of incessant repetitive inclusions of the verbose in the common colloquial vernacular. Did you enjoy reading something like that? Even I had to read it through twice to make sure it meant what I thought it meant. And even so I can’t really care. Sure, some would probably dissect that long tapeworm of a sentence to point out that: “My dear fellow, in truth supposition refers to the uncertain belief of an idea, which means the sentence above is not consistent with approved grammar and vocabulary.” Yes, these are the individuals I’m talking about. People who care too much about how good their voice sounds, how nice their words echo in other’s ears, how superbly intelligent they seek to come across to other people, this article/write-up/pseudo-rant is a wake up call to you. That sentence up was like a death sentence. It was butchered by wasteful adjectives and verbs that no one wants to listen to. This is increasingly evident among the intellectual student body. So excited are we by our ideas and eagerness to talk, it escapes us that when we finally deliver the package to our peers no one can even comprehend what we say. Its one of the great tragedies nowadays, that the more intelligent we try to sound the less intelligent we come across. And this is not without good reason. 1. Say what you need to say! (And not more.) Ever heard this Grammy-winning song by John Mayer? It’s about having the courage to do what you need to do and ‘say what you need to say’ before the end arrives, so that you can pass on with no regrets. It’s about doing enough before it’s too late. So many of us are guilty of this. We do not say enough. We talk weakly. Our sentences are frail. Not because we say too little, no. We say so much and mean so little that the strength of our words diminishes. It gets diluted. Diffused, like particles in so much empty air. Everyone knows that one guy that just loves to brandish his intelligence. He keeps to himself until it’s absolutely necessary. Then when the time comes it’s also absolutely necessary that others know how smart he is. He probably views becoming a lawyer or a professional debater as his sole career prospect and sees each conversation as practice for the future. He argues for the sake of intellectual stimulation, but he is the only one stimulated. The pen is mightier than the sword, but both are only effective when applied in the same way- directly. Words are only as strong as they are understood. Being too random and free with word choice destroys their strength. The great speeches of our time were anchored in simple slogans, because simple slogans were all they needed. This presents another simple rule: 2. Speak simply when you can. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said: “I possessed a fancy of outstanding conviction.” Okay. How would this be better than “I had a dream?” Did the former involved higher language caliber? More thought? How does using more advanced words equate to higher intelligence, especially when one disregards the listeners? His target audience, the tired and racially persecuted black Americans, was ignited by that short and simple phrase. King showed a lot more smarts using such a simple and relatable slogan, as opposed to a more verbose but detached one that no one would probably have understood. This brings us to simple rule number 3... 3. The occasion dictates the language used. Sometimes intellectual speech is needed to properly describe things. But by using complicated terms, we are actually trying to make things easier to understand. We need jargon to simplify ideas that are too long to be conveyed shortly. At heart, scientific and vocabulary jargon is a noble effort to summarize. The usage of acronyms too, signals our unconscious attempts to simplify things and concepts in speech. No one likes speech with lots of jargon. Sometimes no words are even needed. In a battle, people throw the gauntlet or raise their blades to signal challenge. Words then were viewed as a sign of weakness. In verbal battles too, excess speaking is frowned upon, viewed as redundant, and a waste of time. Even body language and being animated during debates are more intimidating than just empty words. Many people still have exaggerated responses for the occasion, especially those with low self-esteem. Yes, I know I’ll have a hard time proving this generalization but it is fair to deduce that people who constantly have something to prove really lack some self-confidence. There is a difference between talking intelligently and talking smartly. This is Rule number 4: 4. Be smart and stop being too intellectual. This does sound conflicting, but it just means being sensitive to the dynamics of the conversation. Many people are extremely intelligent but they just can’t stop seeing the all the world world as a giant Who Wants to Be a Millionaire stage. Getting carried away with an obscure topic of your sole interest is the surest way to lose engagement. Being smart = knowing when to say what at the right time = maturity and a better conversation. Being too intellectual = letting the random urge to express your knowledge take precedence over the occasion = serious awkwardness. Sometimes guys try to sound real intellectual and knowledgeable, and end up screwing up their first date because they dont know when to take the pedal off. They don’t realize the occasion doesn’t demand the hit points of Pikachu or the number of grand slams Rafael Nadal has. However, you can’t help but want the other to know you take them seriously, and that you value their presence with your thoughtful engagement! So how do you act smartly here? The key word is subtlety. To be subtle is to be humble. It is to recognize that too much intellectual conversation always leads to confrontation. Sometimes it’s smarter in a friendly conversation to put on the brakes instead of raising the stakes. Time to be sensitive and recognize the tradeoff. Is losing a friend’s goodwill worth winning an argument? Being subtle is also being patient. There will always be another time, another occasion to exhibit your knowledge. Bottom line, coming across as someone intelligent at the right time, is a smart thing. Coming across as an intellectual all the time is not a smart thing. Summing up these few pointers: We should always: Say only what you need to say Speak simply when you can Let the occasion dictate the language you use Be smart rather than intellectual. Being bombastic will probably get you scorn. Being prudent will probably get you respect. Nobody is impressed by sophisticated words. Most of the time, it comes across as pretentious and attention seeking. There is always, always strength in simplicity. “If you can’t explain [the idea] simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” ~Albert Einstein
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.
As well as Metaphors, Symbolism, and other Joys Of Life. This guide is composed for the average student, who: 1) doesn’t take literature, or isn’t very good at (scoring for) it, 2) hates the metaphor question in GP compres, and 3) thinks the smoke produced from lit essays may have been responsible for the recent haze problem. If this isn’t you, and you’ve been consistently scoring 42s/50s for your literature essays, then well done! This is no place for you. Run along now and do your maths TYS. For the rest of you who are still here, welcome to the plainest literature lesson you will have in your entire life, partly because this makes it way easier to understand things, and partly because this writer here did not go on to learn more about symbolism and onomatopoeia at the tertiary level. Ok, I promise that’s the last 4-vowel-in-a-row word I’ll use for today. Let’s get started. Literature is easy. The only thing you need to understand is how literature is not about what is being said, as much as it is about how and why it’s said. If you get this, my job here is done. Because that is what took me about one and a half years to understand. And when I did, rainbows began to form in the post-monsoonal skies of my dark and stormy grades. Throughout your education from secondary school to JC, you, the average student, would’ve come to believe that pointing out what the text says is the ultimate aim of literature. Because after all, that does give you marks. When you were able to say Macbeth was about Hubris, Catharsis and Anagnorisis, or when you managed to weave the words parallelism and manifest destiny into your response to The Crucible, you got nothing but pr-A’s. Right? Unfortunately, just like that other thing known as ‘everything else you learn in school’, things are slightly different in the real world. Literature is not Shakespeare. It’s not Great Expectations about your Sense and Sensibilities to what the texts say. These are all pieces of literature, or, in other words, examples of it. Really, really good ones. So what then, is literature? It’s the study of how words work to say what they say, based on what words are used, in what order, patterns, structures, and even shapes. And also the application of this knowledge to produce more of such pieces of writing that involve the informed use of words. H2 literature, in particular, is focused on the How. For example, how does the phrase “as vulnerable as a donut in a police station” tell us in a comical way things about donuts, policemen stereotypes, and whatever is being called vulnerable? Or, in the preferred language of the exams, what are the ways in which the extract does what it does? When you go further, you’d realise that who wrote a piece, when it was written, and other details do matter. But that’s slightly beyond your syllabus. So you don’t care, do you? Now that you're really concerned about How words work... How Words Work – The Intuitive Don’t think about an orange fish. Oops, I guess you just did. Sometimes, words work in the most insidious ways. They occur to us intuitively and directly. Getting the meaning of a word is like getting the answer to 2 x 2. You don’t have to go through any ‘workings’ to arrive at the answer. And that’s great, because if we had to consciously re-construct the meaning of a word every time we heard it, we wouldn’t get very far with life. Now the problem, when our brains get ahead of us like this, is we don’t even realise we’re doing it. We think it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But it’s not, and writing it down can actually work wonders. Consider the opening line from Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." It’s pretty obvious what’s happening here. I’m guessing in your head now you’re standing at the fork in the road and seeing two different paths unfold. ‘Yellow’ somehow factors in. It may suggest a serene, serious feel, or even a cheerful, jubilant atmosphere. Repeat the line in your head. Let it bounce around the walls of your consciousness, and let the image in your head sharpen. So, how does the colour yellow affect your mental image? If there’s anything we can learn about the iPhone 5c, it is that colour changes the world. Colour, along with size, space, position and shape, is one of those things that ghost past our logical minds and conveys messages directly to our subconscious. If you think about it, it does not quite make sense that just because something’s yellow, it makes us feel a certain way. But that’s how it works. We classify things by colour. We link yellow with lemons and bananas, the sun, rubber ducks and other happy things. But yellow can also be sad – like the faded yellow of an old photograph. A yellow wood, in particular, seems more in line with a forest in autumn, fallen leaves everywhere. Yellow can be sad, happy, sombre, energetic, and so many other things. Now explain to yourself how the use of colour in Frost’s opening line advances its intended meaning. You may also want to examine the use of the past tense in the word “diverged”, and how it works together with the colour yellow. To encourage yourself give yourself 100marks for each question, cos that's what motivates us all anyway. How Words Work II - The Elaborate But sometimes, literature works in the exact opposite way. It presents you something like 101325 X 9001. Here is when you do need to go through some thought processes to arrive at its meaning. Consider then, anything from Shakespeare. Or, to make things slightly easier, the next line from Frost: "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveller…" Here, Frost uses an expression quite foreign to everyday language. He forces us to stop and think what he actually means. Only after we rearrange the ideas do we understand what he’s trying to say: I felt sorry that as one traveller I could not travel both paths at the same time. This is the plainest way of saying it. But there seems to be something missing when we say it like this. To better understand such expressions, there is a simple ‘working’ you can perform: The first step is to look at the literal, surface meaning (called the ‘form’) of the words. Here it is simply that the traveller couldn’t simultaneously travel both paths while staying in one piece. Second, consider the effect of this literal meaning. What does the form imply? Do you see in your mind an image of this traveller multiplying himself into two? Put yourself in his position. Do you feel like two opposing forces are pulling you in different directions – each towards a different path? Use your five senses to guide you. Third, think about what meaning this image and emotion conveys. The idea that, if the traveller could, he’d split himself into two so as to explore both paths. Does it bring out a stronger sense of indecision, uncertainty, and maybe even frustration at the physical constraints of his situation? The poet is emphasising the traveller’s dilemma here. Finally, ask Why. Why does the poet choose to write this way? How is this better than or different from if he had called the forest green instead? Does it make sense? Does it help to convey the overall message of the entire poem or text? If your interpretation of a certain verse is inconsistent with the rest of the text, chances are you may be misinterpreting it. But it could also be the poet trying to bring about contrast. It is important to think about Why the poet tries to emphasise, downplay, mention, hide, or does whatever he does to what he’s talking about. Understanding Why also helps you arrive at the meaning in step 3. Bonus step: Write ALL of these down on your script. NOT just the meaning. Marks are awarded for workings aren’t they? For the average student who also takes GP: This is exactly how you should attempt a metaphor question as well: Form – Effect – Meaning. Note: If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, all you need to know for this portion is that words work in both slow and fast thinking, and you really need to write down all of those slow thinking processes in a lit exam. But you’re an average student. Average students don’t read such books. A Quick Demonstration Just so you were wondering how to apply what you've learnt. Because the average student typically doesn't care about application. Question: How does the expression “as smokey as a literature essay” work? Bad example: Simile and symbolism is utilised here to evince the cloudiness of a literary piece of writing, in that the latter is being juxtaposed with the concept of smoke, what is produced where fire, something that symbolises anger and power, exists, such that the writer illustrates the unclear nature of literary writing. This. Makes. No. Sense. What on earth is “the concept of smoke”? Simile and symbolism, concepts raised in the answer, have not been explained to show how they strengthen the meaning of the expression. The sentence is way too long, and not to mention fire is brought in for a spectacular over-reading. A quick rule of thumb? Write simply. You're not trying to copy what the author did as much as explain it. Good example: Smoke is a cloudy, nebulous entity that obscures vision. (form) In a school context, “smoke” is also commonly referred to as the act of writing as much as possible in an attempt to, literally, cover up the lack of substance. (form, put in context) By describing literature essays as “smokey”, the author likens the two (effect) and highlights how many essays are similarly obfuscated and unclear. (meaning) There may also be an association to how smoke in itself is gaseous and intangible (form), reinforcing the idea that literature essays often have no solid substance(meaning). When something is good, the merits are self-evident. If you’re reading this, congrats on surviving a full article on literature. Din’t think that was possible did ya? Me neither. Now the only thing left to do is re-read it a few times, let it all sink in, and start dominating the world with your newfound literary genius. And now, for the mandatory statement that ends all great lessons: Any Questions? (post them in the comments)