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I am Singapore XXV – Double Vision April 30, 2007

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. I.

So i read in the States Times that Minister for Education, (also familiarly known to us as Uncle Tharman), mentioned that Singaporeans have to embrace lifelong learning, for example, have more people pursuing postgraduate studies. Namely, we should follow the examples of Finland and Switzerland who have postgraduate statistics of between 170 to 240 per million. Here’s a taste for you…

Mr Tharman touched on another key ingredient for success – more Singaporeans should be doing postgraduate studies. Last year, there were 520 Singaporeans doing PhD studies, or 115 people per million, he said. This was much lower than the 170 to 240 per million in countries like Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, he said.

Wait a second. Finland and Switzerland?? I thought not too long ago, Old Grand Master Lee said that they were really mediocre countries and if our political system was like theirs, we’d all be swimming in the South China Sea now, with our wives, girlfriends, and sisters as maids! I quote our nation-building press:

If this economy ever falters, that’s the end of Singapore and its First World Status […] has compared Singapore as if it were Denmark, Finland or Switzerland. […] their systems and government have a broader base and can afford a mediocre government. (ST, April 10, 2007)

See, that’s what the Old Grand Master said! So basically, we should be following the example set by a mediocre nation. Won’t that make our people more mediocre? More mediocre than they already are because they are always complaining? Oh, no. Uncle Tharman, i think there must be a mistake here.

Seriously, however, this deserves to be put into perspective. I think there’s a link with more education and reduced autocracy, no matter how benevolent. I shall deal with that another day. Now, i’m so confused. So lost. Who do we follow? Who’s mediocre? I know Singapore is like, HOW GODLIKE and we should really rule the world…but i’m really confused.

I mean, if these countries are really so mediocre, how come they have so many people doing postgraduate studies that we should follow them? I think it implies that maybe they are so mediocre that their degrees are worthless…must do postgraduate studies to actually let them have value. How insulting! Considering that these countries have a much richer history and a much richer background in terms of education compared to our little red dot.

Also, it makes me concerned because these mediocre politicians are educated by those very same education systems which Uncle Tharman just lauded. Won’t that mean that we’ll become mediocre people too and have mediocre political leaders and all our sisters and wives will end up as maids?? In that case, i better hurry up and go buy my life jacket. South China Sea can be quite deep one you know.

This is bad. I’m getting double vision from seeing ‘mediocre’ signs all over the place. Switzerland and Finland are mediocre countries. Singaporeans are mediocre because we should have more educated people. Who’s mediocre?? You? Me? I really wished that either our Gahmen tell us 1 story, or they don’t tell us anymore stories. Give us the truth. But would our Grand Master say, ‘you can’t handle the truth!’??

I’m so confused and lost. I think i’ll stop for now.

Dear Mr.President… April 29, 2007

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.
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They should have these songs sometimes. Do we even dare to ask our President such things? Oh, woe is me. Take me away to jail. Bah.

I am Singaporean XXIV – Education. April 22, 2007

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. I.

What is education? To answer this question, perhaps one would look in a dictionary. But, education and the perception of the word have many very different aspects. In this article, i intend to problematise the word ‘education’ in the Singaporean context.

So, what is education? Wiktionary defines it as ‘The process or art of imparting knowledge, skill and judgment.’ That’s the Western view of education. Indeed, many Westerners come across as being very knowledgeable, having a vast bank of general knowledge to draw on, and no, i don’t mean the academics yet. Teachers who come from Europe or other countries tend to be more open with their students and are willing to take a step back and consider things from another perspective – something which some local teachers do, but others don’t. That’s before they realise that their bonuses are pegged to how well their students do, as well as being part of a certain CCA with the same amount, or maybe even more extra-curricular activites than the students.

Yah, any student reading this – teaching very xiong one you know!

Then, they start to look for ‘success formulae’ – you know, model answers, 10 year series, question spotting, attempting to persuade students to focus on this subject and forego CCA/third language classes/enrichment stuff/whatever, because the grades are important for their entrance to JC (as well as their own bonuses.) Isn’t it horribly ironic that being teachers, they themselves are also so egocentric when they are supposed to teach their students how to live with their neighbours? I’m sorry, money talks. I forgot.

In the course of this attempt to make their students ace their exams, for whatever reason it may be, (no, angry teachers, money is NOT the only motivation. It really could be that sense of achievement.) education loses the original meaning above and becomes probably ‘The process or art of imparting how to score well (skill).’ How many times did you hear the teacher say ‘just memorise this and this and that’ or ‘this topic will confirm guarantee plus chop come out in the exams?’ How many times were you faced with an irate teacher demanding to know why you are reading this irrelevant part of the textbook because you were interested? (happened to yours truly!)

On the students’ side, it’s been impressed into them since they were young that good grades = good future. Meritocracy, mah. I remember getting caned in primary school for every stroke i got below Band 1. Not that i have something against it (because it worked to some extent) but the discipline and the desire to learn more comes from interest and not from fear. That much i know. At some point of time, i began to develop an interest for particular subjects – in secondary school, chemistry and math, in JC, german and chemistry, in the Army, philosophy. That involved doing a lot of reading, above and beyond whatever was required. But i did it out of interest. Honestly, if i studied out of fear, maybe i would be doing some stuffy science/engineering subject instead of Germanistik and philosophy. The interest has to be cultivated somehow, and the sad fact is that although many Kindergärten are already adapting the ‘learning through making it fun’ methodology to cultivate interest, this methodology is cut off, gone, not there anymore, once primary education begins.

Education in the Singaporean sense kills interest, because after awhile it degenerates into a grades chase and the real purpose of education, the imparting of knowledge, disappears. You’d expect a literature student to be very well read, knowing the texts of the world (or at least the classics) because of their wide reading, no? But many just study the texts they are given time and time and time again. Some schools even consider not offering Literature anymore because of how difficult it is to score in the subject (the average reflects badly on the school…) So, what happened to interest? No, pragmatism comes first. How about reading up on a particular school of thought for literary analysis, e.g., deconstruction? No, it’s a waste of time. Shut up and focus on your exams. UNLESS you’re a S-paper student. Then we can talk…

Students are taught what is right and what is not, and everything is shown in a black-and-white fashion. This is right and that is wrong. There’s not a lot of room for grey areas. A grey area would be, for example, the usage of Singlish. Or sex education. Given today’s circumstances, the educational stand is still that sex is bad and it will send you to Hell. Thus, abstain. But abstinence education is going nowhere! However many teachers still scoff at a more preventive than prophylactic method, which is the teaching of safe sex. Similarly, this problem can be carried over to the curricular aspects.

I have personally been blessed with having a General Paper teacher who was open, kind, and willing to look at essays from another perspective. She accepted writing styles which deviated from the norm of introduction, argument, counter-argument, argument, counter-argument, solution (which is good for planning but not necessarily the best for an essay) and encouraged the development of our personal style. She also happened to be Canadian. I got a B3 for GP though. Yeah, go on and scoff. Bet i’ll pwn you at essay-writing any day. I stuck to writing in my own style, and i didn’t follow the script every time. But i got a C6 for prelims, and my essay in terms of language was seriously marked down – apparently i didn’t follow the marker’s impression of ‘an award-winning OMGWTFyoujustgotanA1OMGOMGOMG essay.’ It was very disheartening and i almost gave up my writing style, convinced that there was something wrong. But, perhaps i did not consider that it could be the teacher’s perspective too.

My German teacher marked similarly too – as long as our essays were logically coherent and contained no blasphemies against the general morality of humans, it would be fine. So, perhaps i was lucky. But this shows what i have come to perceive of the Singaporean education system. It’s like once a success formula has been found (probably after consulting the Cambridge examination reports as if they were dissertations or the books of the Bible) teachers just stick to it for all posterity. There’s no room for the personal flair to develop, no room for creativity – just do what i teach you to. And students, who aren’t much interested in school (only interested in that it’s the key to their future, like a Gahmen scholarship) just lap it all up.

You, dear reader, can accuse me of being polemical and having been corrupted by ‘liberal Western values.’ But when you discover that you can’t hold an intellectual discussion over, for example, philosophical topics with most people, or you discover that almost no one has read, say, Shakespeare or Homer, then you know that education, to a certain extent, has failed. What knowledge are we trying to give?

I know i am going to teach German in the future. But perhaps all of the above was dedicated to education in general. I know that for what i am going to teach, i really have to start with the basics – grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening comprehension, and writing. But if i have the opportunity to i don’t see what’s wrong with giving my students extras – in terms of an extra theme, a different kind of assignment, attempt to open their eyes and give them more knowledge on a general background, or maybe just an experiment using different methodology. Why not elsewhere?

I am Singaporean XXIII – Désenchantée April 17, 2007

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. I.

That’s French for disillusioned.

So in the not-so-distant past, kitana and ben have closed shop. I don’t know why, but kitana mentioned disillusionment in the aftermath of the ministers’ pay raise. And it’s a pity, because i really enjoyed reading their blogs. There’s also something about most people’s reactions to, say, political content on your blog:

Be careful…you never know what can happen to you…i just want you to be safe…just accept it – there’s nothing we can do to change things…nothing we can do anyway because they’re not going to change…i’m really worried for you…just give it up and be satisfied with what you have, et cetera.

Personally, i think i blog about political issues because while i am, ad usum delphini, dissatisfied with the developments in Singapore, i still do care for my country. Others have tried and given up when the disillusionment finally reached them. It’s not to say that i’m not disillusioned, but as Martin Luther King put it: i have a dream. But as Nelly Furtado puts it, all good things come to an end. (Get the version with Rea Garvey. The Chris Martin one sucks.)

And at the same time, praises of the new Budget/pay raise/policy are being sung in Parliament, letters which appear to be overly critical of the pay raise have been surruptitiously omitted from the States Times Forum, whereas today someone said that our Ministers deserve a pat on the back and the pay raise. Or letters saying which should leave the pay raise hubbub behind and move on to other more pragmatic issues. Maybe the PAP has fully succeeded at this – breeding the pragmatic mindset in the population so that there will be some unhappiness over downright dastardly unpopular policies because there are always more pragmatic issues to mull over instead of the ideological ones.

The philosophy faculty at NUS is known to be almost hopeless. The Arts, or subjects which encourage reflection, are carefully modified and adjusted for ‘relevance’ – i heard all they teach in Politikwissenschaft is how Singapore is such a wonderful success story (correct me if i’m wrong because tat says that there’s a lot of bitching) and how history is mainly south-east Asian (what happened to ancient history, the Middle Ages and other periods of development? Thus, i’m sorry, but i don’t consider it a history degree. I’d say it’s Social Studies, not to offend anyone.) So maybe reflection and comparisons to other cases are restricted.

Maybe there’s a reason why we’re so disillusioned and apathetic. Singapore is, in a sense, a victim of its own success. With education comes the knowledge and perception of the self and the role the self plays in society as a whole – unfortunately, the average self in Singapore isn’t very much an individual but perhaps more like a subject to the powers that be – a statistic, a gear in a working machine, a peon, a peasant. The glossing over of everything, the brainwashing potential of education only compounds things further. To prevent us from feeling too hurt by this uncomfortable discovery, emotionally we become at first disillusioned and then apathetic. After all, we’re all just pawns – our fates are not ours, and if we’re not useful to society anymore we can juat be dead (does anyone remember who said that? Because i do.)

The fact that many of the ministers waltz into Parliament unchallenged, not having to prove their mettle, and sometimes a random publicity fuck-up which shows just how out-of-touch they are with the people they were supposed to serve, (like Elitism, Increasing Taxation And Then Their Own Paychecks, Making An Unpopular Budget Sound Like the Cure to AIDS, yadda) which reflects the complacency in their minds, further compounds the problem. An overwhelming majority of the population, yours truly included, are not elites. And no, vertical movement within the society is something which is still impossible to most. Is it any wonder that we’re apathetic?

People go, ‘they’re going ahead with it anyway,’ ‘nothing we can do about it,’ ‘they have the power. Gahmen doesn’t care about us.’ Is this true? Personally i think although transparency has improved, the high-handedness of it hasn’t. The elite will continue to be elite because of their financial resources and kids in top schools (even if they may not be worthy of being there – pull string la.) while the average person has to go for self-improvement and may (surprise, surprise!) get retrenched anyway. So how are the elite ever going to get in contact with us, the people? They don’t see things with our eyes and believe, no, are convinced that what they are doing is for the best. And whose ‘best’ is this here? Mistakes are given almost zilch publicity. How’s Shin Corp for a reminder? Anyone heard anything about it? Oh well. Once in a while, a pay raise and a pat on the back is in order too. Too bad that most of us can’t be bothered to pat them on the back.

Look. You, dear politicians, can continue to paint a rosy happy picture of life in Singapore, where everything seems to be perfect (especially if you’re an ang mor, male, filthy rich so you can get a SPG) when it actually isn’t. Disillusionment is everywhere. No one believes in ideology and ideals and moolah is the talk of the day, all day. Or the insignificant things in life. People vote for the Party during GE because they’re going to win anyway. And i don’t want to jeopardise my job. Social responsibility is not all that high (and that includes voting according to your conscience, not your job concerns) And all along, they want is to be less apathetic!

I’m sorry. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

I am Singaporean XXII – The Philanthropist April 12, 2007

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. I.

If you have noticed, i have refrained from commenting on the Pay Raise after the adjustments were announced because i knew the backlash on the net would be really really heavy already. (At the same time, i was on a cramped uncomfortable 747 on the way to Frankfurt am Main, so please spare me.)

But this has got to be featured. It seems that our PM, after receiving a 25.5% pay raise of about 1 peanut (they’ve decided to graduate the pay raise so people won’t get so angry, although it means that people will get angry more times) BUT! our PM has decided to freeze his pay raise and donate it for 5 years to charity!

Now, i’m not scoffing at it really. The thing about it is that wer can’t read minds so we don’t know if our beloved PM is doing it because he is truly an anthropist (which he may very well be although the system treats ‘welfare’ as the dirtiest of words, alongside ‘fuck’ maybe.) But, perhaps this is not just a PM showing his human side, but also a nice PR stunt pulled to take the heat off the government for, well, approving their own pay raises again. I mean, so the PM decides to donate his pay raise to charity. I don’t see the other ministers doing it, but maybe they’re just misanthropes. Xiao Lee is in the limelight all the time, and his donations would probably cause the majority of us to overlook the fact that the other ministers are not donating…they’re probably just concerned with their new Swiss bank accounts.

So it probably IS a smart PR move, as well as an opportunity for our ministers to earn a ticket to Heaven. Oh well. The jaded mind would think that this is well, fulfilling the statement that the tax raise was to help the poor…tax raise -> pay raise -> anthropist! THAT’S helping the poor while raising their status! But yeah, yeah. i am jaded. So what, are you going to shoot me?

One point of contention however is why the money is going to charities. First of all, which charities are they going to? If they are going to help orphanages and retirement homes, then what about the permanently jobless and all? 1 peanut a year can do a lot. Take the handouts for example. I mean, perhaps the Gahmen is going to blame us once again for bringing up the social welfare issue but it is a pertinent one. A smarter move would be to make a smaller increase and then invest in social welfare. But no, welfare’s not good for you remember?

And, what’s more, if the peanuts went to a social/governmental organisation, there would be better control than, say, a charity. Remember the NKF? You never know…indirectly our PM’s pay raise could be used to finance gold taps. Heh.

However, i am willing not to think so much and just believe Xiao Lee is a good guy at heart. As reuben pointed out, this isn’t leadership by example (since the ministers aren’t giving their peanuts away) but leadership by paradigm shift…whatever that means. Just change the mindsets of the people for the next 5 years and with a dash of luck they may get into Parliament in full force, raise the tax and raise their pay again! Thus, it would be prudent to be very, very careful. Keep your eyes open, Singapore. This ain’t Kansas anymore.

Time to Say Goodbye, Once Again April 8, 2007

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.

So, it’s time to say goodbye to Singapore again. I hope that spring will make the loneliness go away and cheer my spirits before the Vorlesungszeit begins.

It’s another 12-hour flight and another 3 hours im Zug to Trier…the old Hauptbahnhof, a strange, but yet familiar place. But this time i’ll be coming alone. Alleine gekommen, und alleine werde ich gehen…

What’s happened in Singapore? So many things. So, so many, i look back and wonder ‘how the hell did it all go wrong?’ If you think i am referring to xiaole, then probably you are right – we aren’t together anymore. Y’know, before i left, pascal, a buddy i had my DaF proseminar with (apart from sahra), told me that the most important and interesting thing to see would be how i changed. And so it was. I’d changed so much, that…it just went all bad.

Being alone does strange things to a person. There are some things which represent you, the Singaporean version, which you just lock away. Coming back, i must’ve come across as strange, distanced, and closed off to her. Which i probably was. And personally, i’d lost faith in my ability to stay together until my 5 years are up. So, i talked to her about it, and the rest is history. I still don’t know if she’ll hate me (maybe she already does), if she’ll die inside, or what will happen. It hurts, very much. But i guess now we should just walk on. Look ahead and walk on.

I don’t have very much to say, because i don’t know what to think. I’m this jumbled mess now. Just hoping this semester will be fruitful and bring much happiness, joy, friendship and good weather to me.

I don’t want to be alone anymore.

Goodbye Singapore, hello Trier.

Pathetic Fallacy – Immensee. [German] April 5, 2007

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.
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Translations only by request.

Heute hat sie endlich mir Lebewohl gesagt. Ich weiß selber nicht, was dazwischen schief gegangen ist…Ich? Sie? Wir? Die Umstände, unter denen wir uns befinden? Ich kann nur eins sagen: Es tut weh. Es hilft nicht weiter, dass ich sie noch gewissermaßen liebe…das Schlechte daran ist nur, dass ich zur Zeit nicht einsehe, wie das überhaupt weitergehen kann.

Das erinnert mich aber an ein Buch, das wir zum Proseminar I in die NdL zu lesen hatten, nämlich Immensee von Theodor Storm. Das Buch geht um Reinhard, sprich der Romantiker – dieser Typ ist gut mit Wörtern und allem, was damit zusammenhängt, aber scheitert bei dem realen Leben. Auch gibt es Elisabeth – ein gutwillendes Mädchen, das sich in Reinhard verliebt – trotzdem wurde sie im Buch immer und immer wieder enttäuscht und gab endlich die Aufgabe auf, auf Reinhard zu warten, denn ihm ist es immer mißlungen, seine Liebe zur Elisabeth zu erklären.

Reinhard wusste sich immer mit schönen Wörtern auszudrücken und seinen gebildeten Hintergrund auszunutzen, um die Elisabeth bei ihm zu halten, trotzdem befremden sie sich wegen Reinhards Abwesenheit (er musste des Studiums wegen die Stadt und Elisabeth verlassen) – nicht nur physikalisch, sondern auch seelisch, denn Reinhard Elisabeth nicht mehr schrieb, obwohl er ihr das versprochen hat. Dasselbe dürfte wohl für mich auch zutreffend sein – wie viel habe ich ihr denn versprochen, ohne sie zu vervollkommen?

In dem Brief, den sie mir geschrieben hat, kam alles mir als Vorwürfe vor – was sie fühlte, meinte, usw. Und ich fühle mich genau deswegen schlecht. Ich weiß, dass ich daran gescheitert bin, das alles, was ich ihr gesagt habe, zur Erfüllung zu bringen – die Zeit für uns blieb verloren, es gab nichts mehr zu sprechen, meine Anwesenheit blieb ihr fremd. Ich konnte nicht mehr mein Wort halten und dafür schäme ich mich, dass ich sogar ihr Herz vor dem Zugrundegehen nicht schützen konnte. Ich wusste, dass ich genau wie Reinhard sie nicht mit bloßen Wörtern abspeisen konnte – ich hielte das für völliges Unrecht – und deshalb entschloss ich, zunächst Schluss zu machen.

O, wäre alles anders ausgefallen gewesen!

Und was mit der Zukunft? Werde ich immer alleine bleiben? Zähle ich die Tage bis ich sterbe? Ich weiß es nicht selber. Eines Tages möchte ich sehr gerne Vater sein. Aber schaffe ich es bis dahin?

Es war mir nicht einfach, das zu tun – in der Erzählung war das etwa anders – Elisabeth entschied sich für Erich und heiratete ihn, ohne Reinhard Bescheid zu sagen. Ich hätte diese verfluchten Wörter nicht ausgesprochen und alles wäre jetzt wie zuvor. Aber ich weiß nicht mehr, vielleicht weiß ich ja nichts mehr.

Ich finde den Katharsis, der am Ende der Erzählung Reinhard empfand, als er Schloss Immensee verließ, nicht. Es gibt keine Erlösung, nur eine unerzählbare Schuld und Schmerz.

Too Bad No One Dances to Trance. April 1, 2007

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.
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‘cos everytime we touch, i get this feeling, and
everytime we kiss i reach for the sky
can’t you feel my heart beat fast, i want this to last,
need you by my side…

Should play this in the clubs. yum yum.