Category Archives: My Singapore/My Home

Speechless

Thought I’d just share just how that makeshift LKY shrine came to be – the result of my very own Clients From Hell experience.

So it all started when I acted on a suggestion to set up a small window display at the school library showcasing his books. I decided to work on a simple sign to accompany it using some graphics from a news site. I got really into it and went on to print and laminate it myself.

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So I decided to share it with the committee in charge of the library before putting it up – just as well that I did, although it was a rather painful experience, since there was rather widespread opposition to the sign.

So, on the advice of some friends, I proceeded to remedy the problem of the missing mouth.

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No, I jest.

I ended up finding a photograph and replacing the graphic in question entirely. What really annoyed me, though, was the rationale provided for the requested change. Perhaps it simply wasn’t communicated clearly – if the decision to replace the picture came about because the graphic didn’t look dignified enough or something, I could understand. But really? Was it solely because a stylistically omitted facial feature was unacceptable?

So, what could I do with the existing poster? Since I was the only one who seemed to appreciate it, I decided to put it up at my desk. And there it remained for the next two months, uncaring of criticism and others’ opinions – much like the old man himself.

(Except that he has no mouth.)

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In Memory

Makeshift (accidental) LKY shrine

I was initially rather unmoved by the passing of the man; it’s a personal tragedy for the family, but I figured… his time had come. His health had been declining for some time, and he had been separated from his late wife for several years now. To clarify, I don’t view death as a particularly bad thing – he had lived a long, full life, and had achieved much more than most of us ever would. I just figured that, well, it was about time for a good death.

With the immense emotional response on a national level though, I’ve found it difficult to remain totally detached from it all. The constant stream of shared articles on Facebook, the memorial packages being delivered in school, the immensely long lines for people to pay their respects as he lies in state – I’ve found myself thinking back about some of what he did.

This is what I ended up sharing with some of my students – I figured I should just record it somewhere.

I was born in 1984. Mr Lee was prime minister until I was 6 – by the time I really knew what a prime minister was, it was Mr Goh Chok Tong at the helm. For me, Mr Lee was sort of a legendary figure – someone who had done great things previously, who continued looming in the background (and sometimes at the fore), who often came up to say things, sometimes wise, sometimes not so wise. Someone to be appreciated, but not really someone who had affected me very much on a personal level. This hasn’t really changed, but two things in particular really resonated within me as I read about his life and contributions.

The first is his direct contribution to our low corruption rate. I had never really thought about it before, but so many leaders in developing countries tend to prioritise their own welfare over that of their people, accumulating personal wealth while their nations languish. On the other hand, we have Mr Lee, whom apparently the CIA had attempted to bribe back in the late 1950s. This was one man who did not indulge in material comforts – there was no shower in his house until 2003 (he continued with the traditional scooping of water from a jar at bath-time before that), and he refused to change furniture in the cabinet room such that “it got to a point where his colleagues were embarrassed that visitors might think the Singapore Government had no money”. Today, we have a civil service that is generally corruption-free (and where the black sheep are severely punished) – for this, I thank Mr Lee.

The second is his amazing work ethic. Mr Lee was born in 1923 and, at the age of 31, formed the PAP along with some peers in 1954. I find the age ’31’ to be especially striking since that is my age this year. The concept of working on something that major, to form a group with the intent of governing a city and steering it towards self-governance, is simply foreign to me. Shouldering the responsibility over the lives of more than a million residents is a burden I expect someone far older and wiser to take on. Yet that is what he did. He worked as prime minister until 1990, when he stepped down at the age of 67. He remained a part of the cabinet until 2011, when he finally retired (though remaining an MP) at the age of 88. Cynics might point to other motives like the high salary (though based on my previous paragraph, I highly doubt that to be his primary motivation) or the inability to let go of power, but be that as it may, I remain impressed by his ability and willingness to stay committed to his work through the decades. If had the option of an early retirement, I would likely have exercised it much earlier. For this amazing dedication to his work and cause, I admire Mr Lee.

This is still the mourning period; it is perhaps not kosher to dwell on negative criticism of a man who has recently passed. Mr Lee has garnered his fair share of criticism throughout his life, and at least some of it is likely to be valid, but I suppose that in no way invalidates the fact that this is one person who was at least somewhat worthy of admiration and has made significant contributions to the country.

May he rest in peace.

Orchard Road Pedestrianised

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So, I was in the area and decided to check out Orchard Road on its inaugural Pedestrian Night last Saturday.

 

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All in all, thought it was a rather disappointing experience – I know it was supposed to be tennis-themed, but the dedication of so much of the floor space (almost 50%?) to the tennis courts left too little walking space for the actual pedestrians. The road barriers – so useful in reducing jaywalking during normal days – also worked to exacerbate the situation, leaving few options for escaping the crowd for those trapped in the narrow corridors of walking space around the tennis ‘courts’. And though there were some stalls present, they were all tennis-themed as well, leaving very little for the tennis non-enthusiast to appreciate.

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The area I most enjoyed was, in fact, a zone populated by plastic chairs sponsored by IKEA. Think they got the idea right – a pedestrianised Orchard Road would be a great place to just chill in the evening, preferably with food stalls nearby selling offerings from vendors such as Krispy Kreme and llaollao.

A venue for night picnics, so to speak?

Sunday in the Park with Mac

A little something I’d generated as a sample for my students. Figured I might as well post it here.

It all started with a burger craving. It was nearly time for dinner, and with the weather so fine outside, I headed out to Bishan Park to procure a McDonald’s meal for myself.

McDonald's rendang burger

The Golden Arches are a quintessentially American symbol, but the burger that has most recently captured my attention is a distinctly local one – the rendang burger. The fact is that the McDonald’s menu available in Singapore has adapted to suit local tastes, offering other items such as the Durian Crunch McFlurry and the McSpicy. This can even be seen in the range of sauces available, with choices ranging from the humble chilli sauce to another local favourite – McDonald’s curry sauce.

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As I looked out of the fast food restaurant and considered the predominantly local makeup of its patrons, it struck me that many of these people had probably grown up eating food from McDonald’s – despite its foreign origin, it has become very much a part of the local community. Aside from its food, the ridiculous popularity of its collectibles (Hello Kitty and Minion toys come to mind) serves to confirm that it is very much in sync with the Singaporean psyche.

Does the local-foreign integration end there? As I left the restaurant, I noticed that it wasn’t just local Singaporeans that were enjoying a day out in the park. The assimilation of McDonald’s is perhaps a testament to the idea that foreigners can become very much Singaporean indeed!

The high cost of living

Was looking through housing expenses recently – aside from the actual cost of the flat (which thankfully has been almost entirely funded by CPF, so our actual cashflow isn’t really affected), we’ve spent almost $20k on doing up the interior of the place, with some additions to follow soon – and after looking up average expenses online, this is apparently considered to be on the cheap side already. It’s no wonder people often have to save up for awhile before marriage.

At the end of the day, though, these costs translate clearly into the state of the flat , and I must say that having a nice place to call your own is definitely a wonderful feeling to have. I think I finally understand why home ownership is such an integral portion of the American/Singaporean Dream!

Publicised ignorance

A recent tweet by Singapore’s (arguably) most popular blogger mr brown has got me really annoyed – so much so that I actually brought it up briefly in class (as an unrelated topic) at the start of a lesson. Essentially, the link in question showed one of the recent recipients of the President’s Scholarship, a Singaporean dual citizen.

The thing is – you can only really attain dual citizenship in Singapore via a small number of ways, meaning that the implied accusation (that a ‘PRC student’ is being subjected to a different set of laws from other Singaporeans) is not a wholly accurate one, but it also means that the said student is actually likely to be giving up her non-Singaporean citizenship soon, and should perhaps instead be commended for her patriotism (assuming that being Singaporean is indeed the issue here).

As the nation experiences an influx of immigrants and growing xenophobia, I am somewhat disappointed that someone as intelligent as mr brown has participated in this spread of sensationalist misinformation. Is this, perhaps, simply a sign of times to come?

Complacency in Modernity

I’ve just read Five Things the U.S. Can Learn from China (TIME article) and although it talks about America in particular, I suspect that much of it applies to many other developed countries, including Singapore.

(Whether or not Singapore qualifies as a developed country is another topic altogether, but suffice to say that it possesses many of the characteristics of one.)

The article seemed to attribute much of the differences in attitudes to the different Eastern/Western mentalities and cultures, and I do find Singapore to be an interesting case study to determine the veracity of this hypothesis. With a predominantly Chinese population, would the average Singaporean mentality not reflect that of China’s, with its can-do attitude? Unfortunately, I think that would have been accurate a generation or two ago, but no longer.

Some would accuse our youth of being poisoned by Western media and culture, of watching too much Friends and assimilating the idea that young adults need their independence from their parents, that we should enjoy our childhoods rather than study all day, that we should enjoy our lives rather than work all day. Some of these attitudes probably hold some merit to them, but the fact remains that our society has changed and that it has probably made us less competitive as compared to rising nations today.

Personally, I think it’s all to do with complacency, rather than any cultural differences. Our youth (my generation included) are growing up in an increasingly comfortable and protected environment, and much of the motivation to improve their own lives seems to have vanished across the years. People are quite content to merely maintain their current standards of living, and at the same time seem less willing to put in the effort required to do so.

Assuming this is the case, will China eventually fall victim to the same phenomenon? Time will tell, but I’m guessing it’s a cycle all rising nations will go through. Only in this case, with a population of 1 billion to satisfy, it might take some time for the effect to start surfacing.