Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sharing Nugget #65

#65: Someone has to fight the injustice. Why not me?

Today is the day I stood up to the government-bashers in my class. I felt that their bashing was an injustice. And I took them on.

I have been bashed (because I am apparently a symbol of oppression because of my employment status) by socialists since year 1. Then, all I could do was to swallow the bashing. Now, after 4 years of education where I have build strong convictions of our politics, I was ready to take them on.

Thus, when the prof asked, “is Singapore democratic?” all hell broke lose. It was a passionate discussion with proponents on both sides. I was the main person trying to get the government critics to see that it is not just about whether a government is democratic, rather, it is primarily about good governance. If we use the yardstick of what a government is responsible to the people for – like giving them a better life, better prospects, equal opportunity, no poverty, meritocracy, peace, stability, security, by a clean an efficient administration where our leaders advance the interests of the people and not of themselves.. – I think our government did well.

Again, there are things I am not happy about. But give credit where credit is due. Come on.

I have a friend who was saying, “But we don’t have freedom of speech!” Ok. While I agree that we do not have the freest press in the world, I do believe that there are space for intellectual discussion, and even dissent. Irresponsible discriminatory remarks are a no-no. Upon reflection, I should have asked her, “Where would freedom of speech lead us to?” US style of opinionated journalism? Danish cartoons? Well, maybe we will become a Taiwan. Can we afford that? We should channel our focus on how to find a balance. The class talked about how freedom should be handed over gradually. I applaud that.

There is this one guy who criticizes every government policy. Yes, he might have raised some problems faced by a section of society, but we political science student should know better that policy issues are extremely complex and require a pluralistic solution – which can be very difficult to achieve. As such, instead of just criticizing, the focus should be on how to improve it and remove the blindspots. His shortcoming is that he can only keep saying this or that is bad, but he never provide alternatives. Many times I wanted to ask him, “So how would you do it better?” but didn’t as he will carry on the argument from his entrenched position and waste everybody’s time.

This time, he said that it is a bad idea to build Singapore’s national identity on common economic goals as our economic situation may worsen in the future and we will be in trouble. Come on. Upon reflection, I should have asked him, “So what would you do? How will you do it better?” I want to hear what he says.

What really irks me is a person who discards a larger picture, choose a smaller issue, blows it up, thereby discrediting all the other good work that was ever done. To me, if you cannot hold a proper debate where credit due is not credit given, and the arguments go into narrow, narrow channels, you are wasting everybody’s time. You are dragging everyone to one side of the spectrum, arguing from a narrow perspective, from where the only way out is to argue from the other spectrum.

As the saying goes, if you are not a socialist when you are 25, you have no heart. But if you are still a socialist if you are 35, you have no brain. If you cannot see how much the government has done for us, you are really blind. We Singaporeans, as a people, have seen one of the most dramatic rises in our standard of living probably in the history of mankind. What are you so angry about? Yes, they are not perfect, but they do not deserve the bashing. This is injustice.

I sincerely hope that these privileged, well-educated, eloquent, and smart young men and women government –bashers can channel their energy to actually do something to improve the lives of their countrymen or even their fellow men in the future. Words should come after action. Then you earn my respect and my ears. If you really think things are bad and need improvement, come out, stand up, and dive in to do something about it! Fight for your ideas. It is so easy to complain. I hope that they can see that we are not so bad after all, but we need to work together to make the place even better. I hope they do not just talk talk talk. That is the easy way out. Do, do, do.

Today is the day I walked into the line of fire from government -bashers. It was tough. I was whacked like nobody’s business. But I hold proud.

In 4 weeks, I am going to do my part in the government service. I am going to serve. I know I may miss my graduation ceremony because I have to do my part at the NDP rehearsals. I am sad. But so be it.

Today is the day I stood up to the government-bashers in my class. I felt that their bashing was an injustice. Somebody has to carry the tough fight to them to restore some justice. So I took them on. I thank the Grace who has given me the courage to do so.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sharing Nugget #64

#64: Wee Kim Wee Lunchtime Talk Reflection 2

This is a critique submission for a Arts Module that requires us to reflect on the presentations of various speakers who will share insights throughout the weeks.

On 23 January 2008, Mr Koh Buck Song, a Campaign Strategist of Hill & Knowlton, shared “broad observations” on “Bridging the Big Divide: The Nature of Singapore’s ‘Parallel Universe’ of Media Production and Consumption”.

Mr Koh stimulated reflection through his wealth of anecdotal evidence. His use of straw polls of the audience, where results were consistent with his hypothesis of a “Big Divide”, was a highlight. His style of presentation thus reflects his background as a keen intellect and a leader of public discourse in Singapore.

However, I sensed something about Mr Koh was quite different from other speakers. He seemed a person burdened by knowing too much about things he cannot say on record. Although this is hardly surprising for a man who had been the supervisor of the Political Desk at The Straits Times, Mr Koh seemed almost a fatalist. This taught me a great deal about the realm of leadership in political discourse. For example, Mr Koh was consistent in replacing “People’s Action Party” with “the ruling political party”. There was no room for treading carelessly.

Despite his cautiousness, Mr Koh’s sharing was rich in insights. He started by putting forth his hypothesis: There is an increasing divide between people who uses or produces content for traditional and non-traditional media. He eased us into his contention of this ill-studied phenomenon with a story of an acquaintance who gets all his news from friends’ blogs. This led us to ask: Is it possible to live in world detached from mainstream media?

Yes, he said. Mr Koh cited books like “The World is Flat” and “The Tipping Point” to introduce concepts like the “Fragmentation Effect” and the “Friendship Factor”. The world is shrinking through globalization. Information flow through the internet is at a historic high. This affects how we consume media and in turn, affects how media corporations, businesses, Goverments, civil society, public intellectuals and political dissidents use the media to forward their agenda.

In this new world, Mr Koh said, the way for the above mentioned to gain influence on public opinion is to zero in on the levers of popular media, and commit all resources to it. The star blogger and the “man-at-the-top” were cited as examples of such levers. Next, how do we respond to the media divide? Mr Koh believes that one should either take leadership of public opinion to affect change, or become a fatalist! While I do not expect this talk to be the hotbed for the next generation of opinion leaders, I do believe that his diplomatic skills did rub off us. When I posed a tough question of “whether the Singapore Government is suppressing freedom of speech in the media”, he answer was, “after seeing how a free press can topple a Government in Indonesia (after the financial crisis), the Singapore Government has become more careful”.

My New Address

My New Address in 4-5 years:

Blk 80A Telok Blangah St 31 #18-105 S(101080)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sharing Nugget #63

#63: Wee Kim Wee Lunchtime Talk Reflection 1

This is a critique submission for a Arts Module that requires us to reflect on the presentations of various speakers who will share insights throughout the weeks.

On 16 January 2008, Mr Chandran Dharmarajan, a marketing consultant with Kraft Asia, spoke on “Innovation: What it is, how do we do it right?” during the 2nd Wee Kim Wee Lunchtime Talk of the new term.

Mr Chandran structured his presentation in a clear and concise flow. His style was engaging. Content-wise, he led the audience through an intellectual exercise: Why do companies innovate? What then is innovation? How do companies innovate? Through insights, anecdotes and empirical examples, he kept us engaged throughout. Furthermore, his questions to the audience drew good participation from professors and students. What are the key insights he shared?

On “Why do companies innovate”, he introduced a mantra: Innovate or Evaporate! The insight encapsulates this part of the presentation perfectly. He began by telling us how companies have evolved their approaches to gain brand differentiation. He emphasized that innovation is what drives brand relevance in our dynamic contemporary world. His introduction of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution showed the theory-grounded qualitative aspect of his discussion. As a social science student, I am impressed. His story of how Gillette constantly innovates to stay relevant, helped us internalize the key idea of the need to innovate or evaporate.

Next, on “What is innovation”, he explains that it is “doing things better than they were being done before”. While the validity of the notion of “better” was being questioned by members of the audience, Mr chandran was able to convince us that while the term is subjective, it is really about bettering “a set of attributes for a certain set of answers”. Again, he used the examples of the I-Pod versus other mp3 players and of sound quality versus surface feel to reinforce the need to better cater to consumer preferences. Meanwhile, he shattered long-held myths of innovation with anecdotes. For example, actually, everyone can innovate! We do that all the time when trying to find a shorter way to get around.

Finally, on “How do companies innovate”, he used the story of how the companies of gaming consoles used insights and innovation to win the market. Insights, he tells us, are some truths that explain the way people behave, and are the bedrock behind innovations. The quality of insight determines success. As such, he concluded with a golden nugget: That only with process, people and insight - driven by a desire for perfection - can companies truly ride the wave of innovation and sail out to the rich waters of abundant profits. This is what innovation is, and this is how to do it right.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sharing Nugget #62

#62: Reflections for Internship

Here is a reflection entry I submitted for my internship report.

The main bulk of my experience comes from handling Normal Technical Students from Bukit Batok Sec Sch and Hilllgrove Sec Sch. I learnt that these youths are the outcast of the mainstream education system. They are considered deviants. Teachers assigned to these classes have a hard time, and most of them give up on reaching out to these students. After taking them for a few classes, I understand why. These students have very short attention span, and are generally more mischievous than their peers in other streams. Some are painfully more childish in mentality than others. They are not motivated, often get into trouble and bask in deviant behavior. Undesirably language is a norm and there is no respect for teachers to be found in them. They have limited interest in academics, and often play truant.

With such a bunch of students, how do teachers reach out to them? This is a critical issue because if they are not engaged and shown the acceptable norms of society and the consequences of their deviant behavior, these students will face tremendous hardships later in life, and some of them might pose a threat to the stability of society. Someone has to teach them the social skills, or show them a way where they can be constructive members of the community. Also, the aim must not be to make them conformists; rather, the aim is to show them the routes to a better life. I believe this is where we SEL trainers come in. MOE has allocated schools a budget to tap into the competitive market of SEL training providers. I must admit that although I have seen a few inspiring teachers around, many are simply ill-equipped to impact life skills to students. For example, my younger sister told me about her teacher who grabbed her diary and read it aloud the class, causing her great embarrassment. I believe that it is a fair decision, in the face of mounting difficulties of reaching out to these students, to give the SEL trainers a try at taking on this issue.

This is the attitude I adopted going into the program. I wanted to help, to motivate, to inspire, to make a difference. I came into the program feeling motivated – wanting to reach out to these students. However, despite coming from a neighborhood school and having had deviant youths as friends in the past, I find it difficult to reach out to them and make an impact. I feel drained after a few lessons. I find it hard to deliver the entire lesson plan because most of the time spent is on crowd control. However, despite all the heartache, frustration and exhaustion, I did learn that they do respond to some methods of reaching out to them.

Firstly, they love to play. Be it sports or simple games – whatever takes them out of them classroom – they love it. If the game is interesting enough, most of them are willing to settle down and listen to the rules and participate. While we avoid conventional sports and games like soccer or basketball, they do respond to games like dodgeball and Frisbee. In themselves, these activities can be used as mediums to teach new skills and get them out of their comfort zones, or a reward for participation in drier lessons.

Secondly, they are very hands-on people. Some of them have high energy levels – which may be a reason for the short attention span in class - while others will also prefer to participate in physical activities rather than attend a passive lesson. For example, even the boys loved the baking classes. I can see them being excited about making puffs and pastries! Likewise, a survival skills lesson generates more excitement for them if they are able to experience physically how to build a shelter etc. Thus, a way to engage them is to get them to participate hands-on.

Thirdly, they hate to be lectured. Thus, it is difficult to teach anything in the classroom setting. Our usual methods of a reflection or discussion during an activity work for a portion of students. But there are some others who simply tune out. However, I observed that these students do pick up lessons in other ways. And these ways are usually more subtle. For example, when playing a game of soccer with them, my behavior on the pitch, and off it, serves as a role model for them. For example, one of them commented to another that even the teacher (me) do not do this or that, so they should not too. This role modeling might not yield the desired results in the limited time afforded by the schools, but it is an effective means that deserves more attention.

Lastly, many respond to being treated as friends or matured youths, rather than being talked down to. Trainers who befriend the students receive much more respect and attention and thus find it easier to impact wisdom. However this requires commitment, patience and dedication. If someone cares, they will respond.

As such, I believe that if an SEL program contains the few points above, it will certainly receive a better respond from the students. This will allow trainers to better deliver the social-emotional skills to those students who need it. This internship experience has shown me a side of society and the educational system that remains a constant social issue that needs to be addressed. It has given me a good glimpse of the harsher side of a teaching career. Now, I can make a more informed decision should I decide, one day, to become a teacher.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sharing Nugget #61

#61: "Lions unlikely to roar in Asia"?

"Lions unlikely to roar in Asia."
by Jason Dasey


As always, i always feel proud when our football team is mentioned in a column reserved mainly for football of the highest level. So I want to capture this moment here.

Singapore: Away from the raucous, outdoor sports bars that broadcast wall-to-wall TV coverage of the English Premier League, national pride is burning bright ahead of the latest Asian qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup.

The tiny island state is preparing to enter new territory: the third qualifying round, for the first time in its history.

Singapore will face Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Lebanon in Group 4, with the top two teams advancing to the next stage, on the long road to South Africa.

The Lions are considered favourites to be eliminated but won't be taken lightly, having compiled an impressive record since 2005: just three defeats in 23 competitive fixtures. And over the past two years, they've beaten Asian champions Iraq, drawn with regional powerhouses China, and toppled Thailand to win back-to-back ASEAN Championships.

It's a massive improvement on their ill-fated qualifying campaign for the previous World Cup. They were knocked out in the first round after finishing bottom of their group with five defeats in six matches, including a 7-0 thrashing by Oman. Even India finished ahead of them.

Their Serbian coach Raddy Avramovic has transformed an under-achieving side that leaked goals and was overawed by big-name opponents into a combative unit that defends strongly and can eke out good away results, despite difficult conditions.

Singapore progressed to the third round after beating Tajikistan over two legs in November: a 2-0 victory at home followed by an impressive 1-1 draw on the road, despite many of the squad being afflicted by a stomach bug.

It means that Singapore fans no longer have to keep talking about the 'good old days', with the current crop exceeding the achievements of the beloved 1977 and 1994 teams.

In their inaugural World Cup campaign ahead of Argentina '78, Singapore finished a gutsy second in their group after wins against Thailand and Malaysia. But they were dumped out before the final qualifying round after losing a play-off with Hong Kong.

After missing out on the USA World Cup, the 1994 team sent Singapore into national ecstasy by winning the Malaysia Cup and league double, overcoming the best club sides from across the causeway.

But the Lions' latest success hasn't come without controversy, namely the Foreign Talent Scheme which targets overseas players. No fewer than seven of the current 22-man squad were born outside Singapore, in countries like Nigeria, England and Serbia.

The newest star recruit is 37-year-old Aleksandar Duric who scored both the goals in the first-leg win against Tajikistan, the oldest international debutant less than two months after becoming a Singaporean. Duric was born in Bosnia, represented Bosnia and Herzegovina in canoeing at the 1992 Olympics and played in Australia's old National Soccer League (NSL) as an Australian citizen.

He's become the biggest star of Singapore's S-League: last season's top scorer with 37 league goals, voted player of the year and a key member of champions, Singapore Armed Forces FC (SAFFC).

The inclusion of Duric - and so many other imports - has irritated Singapore's most capped player, Malek Awab, who made 123 appearances in the red and white. Awab says foreigners are holding back local talent.

'Look at Shahril Ishak. He's the finest midfielder now, but, because of the foreign-born players, he has to sit on the bench,' Awab told the Straits Times.

Singapore, with a population of 4.5million (roughly the same as Croatia), is as passionate about football as any European or Asian nation. The back pages of the newspapers are dominated by coverage of Serie A, the Primera Liga and the Bundesliga, in addition to its beloved EPL.

But holding back the development of the elite player base is the fact that its ethnic Chinese majority - around three-quarters of the population - tends to be football watchers instead of serious football players. These educated and business-minded people usually choose less risky career paths instead of the uncertain life of a professional footballer.

It's left to Singapore Malays and Singapore Indians to wear the national strip on the football field - along with naturalised Singaporeans like Shi Jiayi, Daniel Bennett and Agu Casmir.

Even so, much of this vibrant island nation identifies with, and closely follows, the achievements of the Lions. As soon as they start winning matches, everyone, it seems, is jumping on the bandwagon.

In football, like anything else for such a tiny speck on the map, Singapore uses planning and ingenuity to make up for a lack of natural resources and usually ends up doing better than most of its much bigger neighbours.

• Sydney-born Jason Dasey ( ) is a host of Soccernet SportsCenter and SportsCenter on ESPN

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sharing Nugget #60

#60: Being Singaporean.

“The Challenge for Singapore is always: How do you maintain stability? Because if you lose stability in Singapore, you lose everything… If you live in America, it’s like sailing across the ocean in an aircraft carrier. You can jump up and down, and the aircraft carrier is not going to shake. But if you live in Singapore, it’s like sailing inside a small canoe. If you have people jumping up and down, the canoe will sink.”

Western Critics were dismayed that Singaporeans seem so docile and willing to accept the rule of their leaders.
“They have experienced the most dramatic increase in the standard of living that any people have experienced – probably ever since the beginning of man. And then you ask these people, ‘Why aren’t you revolting? Why aren’t you going out on the streets?’ Well why should they?”

Kishore Mahbubani
Former Ambassador to UN

In History of Singapore

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sharing Nugget #59

#59: Line from "Batman Begins".

"Why do we fall?"

"So that we can learn how to pick ourselves up."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sharing Nugget #58

#58: "Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education."

"The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals…We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education."
- Martin Luther King, The Purpose of Education.

"Are we losing the SMU Culture?"
- SMU SA Publication.

Sharing Nugget #57

#57: Some things are about all promise and no delivery.

I am going for my final test for the module “Intelligent Organization” tomorrow morning. I am deeply disappointed with the course – lots of theory in far-fetched terms and telling WHAT things should be like; but never tell us HOW it can be done and very little application and empirical examples offered.

It is totally way out of the league of the other modules that have taught me things that really made me grow intellectually. Haiz… the irony of the course title yeah?

It took me a long time to make sense of it in a macro sense, and try to associate it with reality. In the micro sense, either it is too technical or too common sense. But at least, there is some parts with I can extract and convince myself that I have “learned” (or more like being reminded of) something. So here goes.

I am reminded that employees in out time, if they want to do well, they need to 1) possess strong knowledge of their chosen profession; 2) be independent in learning; 3) be aware that things are ever changing and evolving, and embrace it. A highly-intelligent employee must be 1) Learn, 2) adapt, and 3) evolve. (Never become a dinosaur).

To add on, I believe that also, a basic skill one must have is the ability to sieve through the tons of information out there, extract what is relevant, make sense of it by putting it into perspective; and then make informed decisions or recommendations based on it, and communicate it clearly through valid and structured arguments.

And importantly, one must be able to do all these FAST.

3 years in the Airforce – which is highly organized and faces an ever-changing environment - reinforces my belief that the above competencies are highly needed in a contemporary employee. Also, I have heard from my wife about the dinosaurs at work and how they hold back organizational progress.

Tomorrow I am going to vomit out in the final test all that the prof thinks we should know. But I will keep in mind those things I learned from reflecting on, and from trying to make sense of, the course content. I am disappointed that the course promised so much but failed to deliver. If only we are taught how to apply those intelligent org theories, or given more empirical examples, this would have been a very powerful module to take.

But alas…