“Faster, what colour, what colour!”
This is something that many of us are familiar with: The ‘pinching game’. For the uninitiated, this ‘game’ is initiated when one spots a man with a turban in the vicinity. One will then pinch our friend(s) and continue pinching them until they tell us the colour of the turban.
When we were younger, this ‘pinching game’ was just some harmless fun with friends. We were naively unaware of how racist the game is. We knew very little about the meaning of a turban or the people who wear one and to us, we were just poking fun at something that was unfamiliar.
However, we have grown up, both individually and as a society, to be a lot more careful around topics of race and religion. We have emphasised on the importance of respecting the Malays, Indians, even the Chinese group, and the different religions in Singapore.
There is one minority group, however, who has often gotten sidelined in our society: The Sikhs.
We see them around, but most of us have hardly mingled with a Sikh before, much less know anything about the Sikh culture. The average Singaporean would have only noticed the turban and the bearing of ‘Singh’ or ‘Kaur’ in their names, but what else?
I first stepped into a gurdwara (Sikh temple) last week, where I met the founder of Sikhs of Singapore, Perinder Kaur, to learn about the Sikh way of life.
Midway through the tour around the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple), we also got to speak with Harjit Kaur, the Vice Chair of the Sikh Centre at the temple, and Baljit Singh, the President of Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, who gave us insights into what it means to be a Sikh in Singapore.
As an agnostic, what stuck out the most to me is how authentic Sikhism, the faith of a Sikh person, is. The beliefs and teachings of Sikhism are largely centered around being a good person.
In fact, in the words of the trio, being a Sikh is to be “a student of life.”
Baljit explained, “we are all on a journey, between now and the end point, and one of the things I’ve learnt [in Sikhism] is that you want to attain Mukti, salvation in your living life,” and for him, attaining salvation is simply being able to be a good person and leading a truthful life.
Teachings like the three tenets of Sikhism, act as a guideline and a conscious reminder for Sikhs to be a good person.
Sikhs believe in one God and follow the scriptures laid out by their Gurus, and it is up to every Sikh individual to interpret and follow the teachings. As such, Sikhism is a very personal journey for every Sikh.
“Each of us is on a journey at a different pace, and the accountability is in each of us to answer to the one supreme Lord.”
Interesting, although Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, Sikhs do not pray to a definite form of God. Rather, their God is an abstract interpretation of a higher force.
Thus, if you were to visit any gurdwaras, you will not find any effigies like you would at churches (Jesus Christ) or Buddhist temples (Buddha), for example. Instead, Sikhs pray to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture, which contains the teachings of the Sikh religion.
The 1430-page holy scripture is so highly-revered that one does not simply buy it off the shelf at a bookstore. It is meticulously transported from India to Singapore with assistance from authorities at Changi Airport and even our local police.
“It’s almost like you’re welcoming God into your home,” Perinder mused, on bringing the holy scripture to a new home.
Like Christianity, Sikhism has its version of baptism as well. The Amrit Sanchaar, or Amrit for short, can be taken by a Sikh anytime, but once undertaken, it is a pledge to lead the Sikh way of life.
Besides the believe in one eternal God and the 10 Gurus and to follow the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, this commitment includes a firm promise to live by the 3 tenets of Sikhism, The Five Ks, and the rules of the Four Taboos and Five Vices.
The Five Ks
The Five Ks are five articles of faith worn by Sikhs and are symbolic of the Sikh culture
The Kara, is an iron bangle that a Sikh has to wear at all times, irrespective of gender. There are multiple interpretations to the meaning of the Kara. One of it propounds that the circular shape of the bangle signifies eternity, which also means that there is no beginning and end to the almighty.
The Kesh represents hair, which Sikhs believe is a gift of God and Sikhs keep their hair as a form of respect. This is why many Sikhs have a long beard or long hair.
One of the reasons why Sikhs wear turbans is also to honour this gift (of hair), and to keep it clean and neat. A turban is also part of the ‘uniform code’ and has become an identity for Sikhs. And because a turban has become a form of identity for the Sikhs, making fun of a Sikh’s turban is akin to making fun of an Indian for having ‘brown skin’, for example.
Then, there is the Kanga, a small comb that Sikhs keep in the hair (within the turban). Likewise, it signifies discipline and cleanliness.
Sikhs also carry a Kirpan around, which is a dagger and a symbol of the Sikh’s sovereignty, pride and dignity. It also signifies a Sikh’s duty to defend the weak and helpless from any injustice. In Singapore, there are regulations in place for safety, such as a limitation to the size of the dagger (up to six inches long).
Lastly, the Kashera, which is a pair of ‘baggy shorts’ that signifies ‘self-restraint’ and falls in line with one of the Four Taboos (adultery).
The Four Taboos & Five Vices
In Sikhism, Sikhs are supposed to steer clear of the four taboos and five vices.
The four taboos in Sikhism are: No adultery, no cutting hair, no intoxication (cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol), and no consumption of meat that is slaughtered or prepared in a religious manner.
Lust, anger, greed, attachment, and ego makes up the five vices.
Although these are taboos and vices laid out by the faith, almost all of these (besides the one about hair and meat) are temptations that all of us face in life. These ‘rules’ are pretty much guidelines to help one become a better human being.
With that said, what I respected the most is how honest and real Harjit was when she spoke about these commitments.
“Having said that, it's not like you have taken Amrit (baptism) and you've become perfect, It's a promise. I have taken Amrit but I can still get angry. It is something that I'm still working on.”
Besides those core teachings, there is another prominent trait of Sikhs, which is their concept of Sewa (selfless service).
It is mentioned in Gurbani, that Seva (service) can be done by “tan, man, dhan,” which breaks Seva into three types: “Physical service, mental service, and monetary service.”
This ethos is so strong among Sikhs that it is literally what keeps the gurdwara running.
Harjit shared: “[The gurdwara runs] totally on the basis of sharing, hundred percent. With everything, the building, the food, the provisions for Langar (food), the upkeep of the place. Anytime we want to change the carpets or the lights, people donate wholeheartedly. Everything.”
Considering how expensive it must be to run a temple and how small the community is in terms of numbers, I was surprised to learn that all seven gurdwaras in Singapore are fully supported by donations. This takes into account the supply of free meals at their Langar hall every day, which is open to anyone and everyone regardless of race or religion.
“The people that you see in the kitchen are all volunteers who come down to cut the vegetables and prepare the rations for the day so that the community kitchen is kept running. This is basically the essence of the religion, to serve without any inhibitions.”
There are also many regular volunteers who do different types of Sewa for the temple and the community. Even Baljit and Harjit, who both hold positions of authority in the gurdwara, are volunteers themselves.
In fact, the temple board faces a ‘happy problem’ of regular volunteers refusing to accept plaques for their years of service, because “they said they don’t do the service for any sort of appreciation or recognition.”
There are about 12,000 to 15,000 Sikhs in Singapore today, which makes up only 0.26% of our population of about 5.8 million. That possibly makes Sikhs a minority among the groups of minorities in Singapore.
Despite the size of the community, I have, through the two hours spent at the gurdwara, realise how much they have to offer to our society. For example, in the recent incident where local influencer Sheena Phua called two Sikh men “obstructions”, the Sikh community could have easily hit back with criticisms. But the youth from the Young Sikh Association invited Sheena to the Gurdwara, showed her around and shared the beliefs of Sikh faith with her.
Perinder explained, “But you look at the bigger picture: What do you want to do? Do you want to stay angry or, moving forward, do you look at it as an opportunity for you to actually engage? As a community, we took a very important stand that we would not react with anger. Rather, educate, not hate.”
This is where a platform like Sikhs of Singapore comes in to raise awareness and bridge the gap, through sharing stories of the everyday Sikh and to address common misconceptions among Singaporeans.
In a country like ours where we are so multiracial and multicultural, this is so important: The empathy and patience in being able to take a step back to re-evaluate how we deal with or even react to any racially or religiously sensitive situation.
It’s hard in practice of course, but as with the teachings of Sikhism, it is something that will do all of us good to strive for.
Baljit shared that 550 years ago, their first Guru made a very apt comment about how there is no separation between different races or religions, because at the end of the day, we are all the same. It’s all about humanity.
“We don’t identify people by their faiths, we identify that every person is a human being."
Also read: He Became A Monk At 23: What It’s Like Living By 227 Rules.
Kiasu, competitive, impatient, and grouchy. These are traits that are often associated with being a Singaporean.
Despite this negative perception of our society, I truly believe that Singaporeans are highly compassionate people. We have had multiple awards celebrating the good that Singaporeans have done, and we have heard so many stories of the people who have dedicated their time and energy into building cities of good, where we give our best for others.
Just last year alone, people in Singapore had donated about S$30 million to one-stop giving online platform, Giving.sg, with $12.2 million raised during the Giving Week season. This is just one of the many examples of how Singaporeans are actually altruistic at heart. We just tend to be too self-critical to realise it, and it’s not in us to accept credit for being model citizens.
For some of us, it may even come as a surprise to know that Singapore is one of the top 10 most generous countries in the world. This is because on the surface, it seems like a lot of us barely do anything to give back to our society.
We’ve all had the mandatory CIP modules in school. Many of us have also gone on field trips or did personal projects where we headed out and interacted with the beneficiaries. We’ve experienced the sense of fulfillment and contentment from being able to make a difference in someone else’s life, especially someone less well-off than we are.
The same sense of gratification from giving is something that so many in our millennial generation seek for in life—meaning. The majority of us have an innate desire to give or contribute to making our society better.
According to the Individual Giving Study (IGS) 2018 by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) on individual giving habits and motivations of people in Singapore, they found that most people in Singapore have the intention to volunteer or donate in the future.
In fact, 9/10 people in Singapore have the intention to donate in the future and 7/10 have the intention to volunteer in the future.
Through the course of creating content for our (MOSG) platform, I am often surprised by the amount of public-spirited reactions on our posts.
When we ran a feature of Rahman, a migrant worker who suffered severe burns, we were so heartened by the number of people who left comments on their wish to help him. Private messages also came in enquiring on ways in which they could extend various forms of help to the individuals we’ve featured.
Despite our altruistic views towards giving however, many of us still feel that we are not doing enough to help the society, and we often feel bad about it.
In an article Vulcan Post wrote about five millennials’ track record in volunteering, almost all of them revealed that they are not proud of how little they volunteer in recent years. The reasons for that largely revolve around one issue, which is the lack of time.
Singaporeans are inherently pragmatic. As an independent adult, there are so many commitments in our life to worry about. When you only have 24 hours to make a living, spend time with family and friends, and to pursue any other personal projects or hobbies, you are forced to prioritise. And chances are, the priority will be for self before strangers.
Furthermore, we associate giving with having to plan and to put in hours into volunteering at an event or with an organisation. This will seem like a big commitment amidst our perpetually filled schedules and more often than not, we put it off simply because it seems like too much work. It doesn’t help that most of us find it intimidating or are too paiseh to volunteer alone.
The other kind of giving we usually think of is monetary donations.
In the same IGS study, Director of Knowledge, Marketing & Advocacy with NVPC, Mr Jeffrey Tan shared that financial security is among the top three life priorities for Singaporeans, so “in times of perceived economic uncertainty, more Singaporeans may hold back on cash giving.”
However, while there is that, and there is still a stigma against donating money for fear of it being exploited by fundraisers, we have also seen so much generosity from Singaporeans on the many fundraising campaigns on platforms like Giving.sg.
A friend of mine told me about how she used to actively volunteer at an elderly home. She eventually stopped volunteering due to the emotional toll of having to witness the sufferings of the beneficiaries, and the painful realisation that there were a lot more that needed to be done for them, but there just weren’t enough resources.
There’s also the question of whether one’s action does any good for the beneficiaries. In fact, besides the aforementioned reasons, the 2018 study found that 25% of former volunteers stopped volunteering because they found that the activity they engaged in created little impact or meaning.
The desire to make a difference is something that is growing on many Singaporeans. As mentioned above, we are constantly seeking meaning in what we do, and it can be very difficult for us to engage in something if it doesn’t seem to be making a notable difference.
With all that said, the spirit of giving certainly isn’t lost on Singaporeans. We just need to be more conscious of how we can give.
Giving really shouldn’t be something that is difficult as it is merely something that comes from one’s heart. It can be as simple as giving up our seat on the MRT or returning our food trays at hawker centres. These spontaneous acts may seem insignificant as we are already so used to doing this in our daily lives, but I take heart in knowing that these are micro-giving behaviours that make a difference and sets the foundation for a giving heart. This is in fact, the ethos of Giving Week’s belief: where little acts, multiplied by millions, can make a world of difference.
There are also plenty of other avenues in which we can contribute to charitable causes, especially during Giving Week 2019. For example, there are many events that are held in conjunction with non-profit organisations, and companies that have corporate social responsibility programmes, and supporting these events or companies are also ways to help.
From 1 - 7 Dec, be part of the Giving Week movement and join us at The Good Hubs and The Good Life as we celebrate the spirit of giving. Show your support by checking out the carnivals and flea markets held by various organisations at The Good Hubs here!
Businesses across Singapore will also be running special promotions and campaigns under The Good Life! Shop, dine, and live for good when you support the businesses here.
Every bit counts when it comes to doing good, so head on over to givingweek.sg for more information on the events and how you can share your time, talent, and voice to the people who need it. Together, let’s build a City of Good!
(This article was written in collaboration with the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, organiser of Giving Week.)
(Header Image Credit: GivingWeekSG)
Love is a game and in Singapore, you automatically play on ‘hard’ mode once you become an adult.
There’s barely enough time left for anything else when you have to juggle work and spending time with loved ones. And when it comes to finding love, it can be difficult to meet new prospects. Your selection is scaled down to the people you work with and even then, there is also the worry of things getting complicated when you mix personal life with work.
Any thoughts of networking or to actively seek out someone to date will be thrown out the door when your life is already exhausting as it is.
A lot of us also tend to spend most of our youth believing that love will come when it comes, and none of us want to be caught looking ‘desperate’. All these reasons can make it seem like life, on the love front, is bleak.
Singaporeans are increasingly turning to meeting people ‘online’. I mean, even when we were teenagers, there were already the ‘OG stories’ of people who met and fell in love through online multiplayer games like Maplestory. In a way, I guess we can say that tools like dating apps are a natural progression for our attempt at love.
Just within my social circle alone, I know many people who have found their partner through apps like Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel. Some of them are even happily married with kids now.
Most of these friends were initially highly-sceptical of getting anything ‘real’ out of a dating app. One had even consulted me about his fear of falling for a girl he met on Tinder because he just couldn’t “trust anyone who would go on Tinder for love.” I reminded him that he was there for the same reason. Today, they are in a happy relationship.
With that said, there are also many people who still doubt the value of dating apps. It is difficult to trust a dating app to find someone (with the intention to date) authentically, furthermore, when some of these apps are also exploited by people for casual flings and sex. To begin with, the conservative Asian in us already screams ‘danger’ the moment we start swiping.
Maybe we are too conservative or prideful to buy into such an unconventional approach in love. Or maybe we are just too picky. Whatever it is, Singaporeans clearly have a problem with finding love and studies have shown that we are settling down later.
The government never fails to remind us that we need to buck up because of our low birth rates and aging population. In their bid to play matchmaker, the government even has an initiative that gives singles $100 in credit to spend on subsidised dating events and services. Though, whether Singaporeans are actually using this is another question.
Objectively speaking, dating events and matchmaking services are great ways to find love with. If you were to look at it as a game, these are ideal tools that will increase your chances in finding love.
While dating events are still fairly acceptable, most Singaporeans still find it a tad embarrassing, or awkward, to ‘resort to’ matchmaking services. After all, the fees for matchmaking services is still a gamble that one must be willing to take, because you may end up not finding your ideal partner after paying so much.
With that said, there has been an increase in the number of matchmaking agencies in Singapore.
To understand more about the stigma against matchmaking services that I believe exists in Singapore, I spoke to one 34-year-old Clement, who had used different matchmaking services in Singapore. He is also currently paying about $6000 for matchmaking services with local company, Destini IS, which specialises in matchmaking services between Singaporeans and Japanese.
Despite having spent so much money in his attempt in finding a life partner, Clement admitted that he hesitated signing up for matchmaking services at first.
“While matchmaking is common in China, Europe, and the US, many Singaporeans are still shy about it.”
He was initially doubtful of it because of how unfamiliar matchmaking was in Singapore. Besides, he had always believed that meeting people through his own social circles would be easier and more comfortable, since there would already be a sense of acquaintance through common friends.
But the harsh reality is that with every year that passes, Clement’s social circle gets smaller, and so does the number of available singles in his community. It didn’t help that he is working in a male-dominated industry.
“There’s also been pressure coming from peers and family, especially when I get their wedding invites and during social gatherings.”
“It’s what actually made me resolve to start focusing on settling down as well.”
After his experiences in four relationships, dating apps and with matchmaking, Clement no longer sees it ‘shameful’ or embarrassing to use matchmaking services to find a partner.
“When you want to be fit, you would sign up for a gym membership or a yoga plan, and you would make the best of it. You would even invest in relevant gears like sportswear. Likewise, the same logic applies on a matchmaking service. Since I have decided to step out to try it, I’ll make the best of it to succeed in what I signed up for.”
Moreover, there are several matchmaking agencies in Singapore, some of which are officially recognised under the Social Development Network (a government page). It is also increasingly normal to see Singaporean men finding love through other means. There are ‘non-official’ services that operate through all kinds of platforms from webpage services to even apps like WeChat, and I’m sure most of us have heard of the ‘Siamdiu for Life, Siambu for Wife’ motto as well.
There was a time where matchmaking is the last thing anyone in our generation wants. One would rather die alone with their 99 cats (or dogs) than be forced into tying the knot with someone we have no interest in.
However, getting a little help to broaden our horizons in an attempt to find a partner is no longer unusual. It’s funny that in an age where we are more connected than ever with the help of technology and social media tools, building relationships have become even more difficult than before.
Love no longer comes that easily and while I’m glad that there are all these dating apps and services to help us advance in the game of love (and life), I certainly hope that there won’t come a day where we have to rely on these tools to help us maintain all our relationships.
Also read: I Question My Marriage Now That Our Blood Types Are Not Compatible.
(Header Image: Odyssey)
It’s a snide remark that Alan has gotten a lot of since young. It is not that he had anything against non-heterosexuals. It was simply a societal expectation to fit into the mould of a typical guy who'd do sports, enjoy computer games, and talk about the hottest girls in class, but he wasn’t that kind of person. And when you don’t fit into what society deems as ‘normal’ for your gender, it can be quite agonising as a young person trying to find a place in the world.
Growing up in a female-dominated family rubbed off of him because his mannerisms have always been quite effeminate. This, in addition to how soft-spoken and shy he is in new environments, yet expressive and overly-enthusiastic around friends, has often caused Alan to be mistaken as gay.
For the longest time, ‘gay’ has been a common label that people use to categorise guys who are too soft or feminine. For most men however, being called gay is an insult, not because it’s degrading, but because it’s a stab at their masculinity.
Despite the progressive and liberal beliefs that we are increasingly adopting, we still subconsciously subscribe to traditional traits that identify men and women. Men have always been expected to be masculine.
Masculinity and femininity has long been associated with men and women respectively. Femininity checks out for women, because the associated traits grant us the ability to be empowered and to be celebrated for our strength (as we are supposedly gentle and weaker creatures).
Masculinity, however, is a concept that has caused many men to feel the stress of living up to expectations.
Women are expected to uphold traditionally feminine values like being gentle, caring, sensitive, and nurturing. Men, on the other hand, are seen as the alphas. They are expected to be strong, dominant, and tough. These are all traits that we often expect of men, and they are also traits that we see as attractive and desirable in men.
And therein lies the problem, because the need to be masculine will easily become toxic for men.
For Alan, he has gotten so used to being mistaken as gay that it has become second nature to joke about it. Nonetheless, growing up with bullies picking on him for his ‘girly behaviour’ left a mark.
“Being mistaken for something that I’m not affected the way I think of myself as I grow older.”
The way his mother reacted to him contributed to his insecurity. Once, when Alan was watching Winx Club in the living room with his sister, their mother said:
“Can you guys change the channel? This is why your brother’s turning gay.”
Alan’s mother would also often make comments like “Can you be tougher,” and “Can you don’t move like that?” These made him feel embarrassed and ashamed of himself. All these experiences in his childhood have often made him mask it with boyish behaviours like spiking his hair or even cursing.
Over time, it caused him to question his identity. It took a long time before he finally got comfortable being himself. He is just a guy who is softer and more expressive than most guys.
However, Alan’s story is one of the many of our men have but hide, because toxic masculinity is just not something that men talk about.
As defined by Wikipedia, toxic masculinity is when we restrict boys and men to only expressing certain kinds of emotions, “including social expectations that men seek to be dominant, and when we expect them to conform to “certain traditional masculine ideal behaviors such as dominance, self-reliance, and competition.”
Whether it’s the need to suppress emotions or to maintain a mask of toughness, these are all beliefs that I believe many of our men have dealt with, as with what Alan had gone through.
We just aren’t aware of their struggles, because men don’t talk about it—how could they?
Besides Alan, I’ve had openly gay friends who have told me about how they have been told by family members to stop being so “娘” (loosely translates to mean girly). “They always tell me things like ‘men must learn to drive manual, not auto, and must learn to do DIY homefix nonsense cos next time you will be the man of your house, etc.”
Beyond mannerisms, there’s also a very real pressure for men to be a leader and provider, or the ‘man of the house’.
We may not always explicitly say it to our men, but it doesn’t take away the fact that men have always been expected to provide, whether it is for their ageing parents, partner, or children. And the stress of having to live up to these obligations can often be suffocating.
For 32-year-old George, the stress built up when he lost his father. As an only son, he saw it as his duty to takeover his dad’s role in the family in looking after his mother and looking out for his sister. At the same time, he also had a duty to his newly wedded wife and her parents. The pressure of having to be that manly figure to all his loved ones, while juggling his own obligations at work, led him to feeling exhausted.
People don’t expect men to be weak, but when you are at your lowest, it can be very easy to feel inadequate, which was what crept up on George. Men aren’t expected to openly reveal their fears and insecurities, which was why despite feeling lost in his struggle to be that manly figure to his loved ones, George felt the need to suppress the fragile side of him. Moreover, it is his duty to protect them instead, not weigh them down with his problems.
Likewise for 27-year-old Lester, the pressure to be masculine was always present. When he was growing up, he “had a hard time trying to look cool or be cool in school, which in my head, was synonymous with being manly.”
Although Lester no longer sees the need to intentionally portray masculinity, these ‘expectations’ will always return. For instance, he will be more cautious in front of his girlfriend's parents, because “there's a chance that they would think I’m not ‘man’ enough for their daughter, whether it's my job position or mannerisms.”
There’s also the pressure to excel professionally. 29-year-old John added, “in society, there's a lot of expectations for men to be more successful than their female counterparts and I think it's what's holding up a lot of norms that are seemingly out of place in the 21st century.”
He explained, “for example, if a couple needs to decide who to stay home for the child, chances are it is usually the girl. People get that it's unfair for women, but it is also unfair for men because we also have to deal with the expectations of others besides that of your spouse.”
This year, the Samaritans of Singapore reported a 10% increase in total suicides in Singapore. More importantly, suicide is more prevalent among young men.
There’s been articles written about how toxic masculinity triggers suicidal tendencies in men, and while I cannot speak for the men, I can imagine how difficult it must be to have to mask emotions and put on the front of a tough guy just because it is what society expects of you.
I can only imagine the kind of pressure that my male friends and family have faced or are facing. I only know their woes through the stories they are willing to reveal to me. However, judging by the stories I’ve heard and read, I’m pretty sure many Singaporean men have had similar predicaments at some point. They just aren’t as vocal about it because society doesn't expect them to ‘whine’.
We’ve always encouraged our empowered our ladies to speak up and celebrated women, but we often neglect our men. In light of International Men’s Day today, let us turn our attention to our men, and be a little more empathetic about the struggles that they face, and to also celebrate them for being the pillar of unwavering strength.
From a Singaporean female to our guys, kudos to those who have managed to fight the pressure of toxic masculinity, and to have emerged more self-confident. However, if you are still struggling with inadequacy or insecurity, do not be afraid to seek help. And like what’s been preached in the many movements and causes for women: Don’t be afraid to speak up just because you are male.
Also read: I Became A Dad At 22 – Our Parents Opposed But We Kept The Baby.
(Header Image Credit: TheHealthSite)
Remember when we used to have Ofo and Obikes?
They were such a blessing and provided so much convenience, until we killed them off. Sadly, Singaporeans were just not gracious and civil enough to look after these nice things.
When shared bikes exited Singapore, PMDs took over. It was a great mobility device for its ease of access and price point. You didn’t have to go through the lengthy and expensive procedure of getting a vehicle (and license), and these devices were a great step up from bicycles.
When PMDs became more popular in our society, problems began to arise.
On the ground level, you have the groups of Young Punks that zip around on their modded e-scooters or e-bikes, like they are the kings of the road. Modern day romance for the younger generation now includes standing in tandem on a speeding e-scooter with chroma lights and raucous music to boot. And if you have ever stood in the way of one of these YPs, you will understand what it's like to be assaulted by the blaring music that almost seems to scream at you to “SIAM LAH”.
PMD riders may also be overzealous to trust in their ability to have full control of their devices and in preventing collisions, because the thing about accidents is that you never really know when an accident will happen. What's more, when many pedestrians are like digital zombies with their phones.
PMDs had become increasingly problematic as they fall between the cracks—they don’t belong on the roads as it is too dangerous for motorists and PMD riders, but they don’t really belong on the footpaths either because of the potential severity it can cause due to its speed and weight.
Furthermore, with the increasing number of accidents in the past year or so, the ban was something that has been brewing for a long time coming.
On the surface, it’s a relief that the ban wasn’t a complete one of all PMDs across Singapore. However, restricting e-scooters and e-bikes to cycling paths and park connector network is like removing toilet paper from toilets. Sure, one can still use their devices but it’s going to be very inconvenient.
The biggest problem of all isn’t exactly the ban itself, but how it was introduced so suddenly.
The advisory period allows offenders a chance to be issued warnings before the penalties (fines and jail time) kick in next year, but the end message is still the same: E-scooter and e-bike users are not allowed on footpaths.
It has affected thousands of Singaporeans. Some of whom depended heavily on their PMDs for their livelihood. If my livelihood had been taken away overnight, I would be riled up too.
One day is hardly enough time for anyone to make alternative arrangements, especially for those who had been relying heavily on their devices for a livelihood. And it is for this reason that so food delivery riders have gone on to meet with some of our political leaders to seek help.
People were also upset because it seemed like there are alternatives that wasn’t explored before the ban kicked in. For example, could it not have been a more gradual transition? Why had the possibility of providing at least the food delivery riders the chance to be licensed to ride not been considered? And what about dedicated paths for PMDs?
Subsequently, LTA and the Ministry of Transport have launched an e-scooter Trade-in Grant (eTG) to provide comprehensive assistance to affected food delivery riders. Riders who wish to continue working for food delivery companies will receive $1,000 to switch to Power Assisted Bicycles (PABs) or $600 for bicycles.
Moving forward however, I highly doubt that the future for e-scooters will improve anytime soon. The issue is as with any new disruption. It requires the authorities to come up with new solutions to address the disruption. Any changes to reverse the ban or for e-scooters to be conditionally allowed ‘on the roads’ again is going to involve large-scale work.
The ban wasn’t exactly a surprise either. The fact is that we just didn't know how to coexist on the same footpaths. Most of our footpaths is at a comfortable size to be shared with pedestrians and mobility devices. We’ve had bicycles on our footpaths for so long, and PMDs are essentially its power-assisted counterparts. So in terms of size, I believe it is possible to coexist on the same path.
The issue is that both pedestrians and riders had been taking safety for granted. Should we have been more aware of our surroundings and be more careful on these shared paths, having PMDs around really shouldn’t be that big of a problem.
The reality is that many PMD users did not even regard the speed limit with importance. The Sunday Times once staked out at 2 locations and they found that every single PMD rider from both locations were “travelling at more than twice the speed limit.” Although, as someone who uses food delivery services, I also understand the pressure food delivery riders must have in delivering on time, which is an unconscious motivator for these riders to speed.
It doesn’t help that pedestrians are often glued to their phones since we unconsciously assume that our footpaths are a safe space for us. I’ve even seen people who were so absorbed in whatever’s on their screens that they wouldn’t even notice it if someone was riding straight at them.
Then, there are the black sheep of PMDs riders who are truly a nuisance on the road when they behave like the kings of the road. These are the people who have accelerated the demise of e-scooters.
The ban may have been introduced overnight, but it is one that has been in the making for a long time.
PMDs have posed so many safety risks, from the countless PMD fires that have burned down flats to the increasing number of accidents and the recent death of the elderly woman. If all these risks are not enough to endorse a stricter regulation or structure for the use of the devices, then I question how much more we are willing to risk before we address these risks.
Nonetheless, it is a very touchy situation because like what Mr Teo Chee Hean said at a meet-the-people-session on Friday, the whole issue is one “of trying to safeguard lives as well as trying to safeguard livelihoods”.
Thousands of people have depended on the ability to ride for their livelihood. But the number of PMD-related accidents have also been increasing. An ST article states that “almost 300 people were treated last year at hospitals for accidents related to personal mobility devices (PMDs).”
Most people are also unaware of how severe PMD accidents can be, but according to an impact mechanics expert Professor Victor P.W. Shim, getting hit by “a 65kg rider on a 10kg PMD travelling at the speed limit of 25kmh would be equivalent to being struck by a 10kg sack of rice dropped from the seventh floor of a Housing Board block.”
Most of all, the unfortunate reality is that on top of our inability to share our footpaths, we simply do not have adequate infrastructure to support the widespread use of mobility devices on our streets, especially when these devices are becoming increasingly popular.
Thus, until the authorities figure out a way to strike a balance between achieving safety and the benefits of having e-scooters around, the ban is probably in the best interests of the majority of Singaporens.
If anything, the only redeeming quality of this sudden disruption is how it has made Singaporeans hyper-aware of safety on footpaths.
If you think about it, it’s also a wise move to introduce the ban. For food delivery riders, licenses to allow users to ride on footpaths is now also seen as the most desired alternative. Had licensing been introduced instead of the ban, it would have been seen as a huge hassle.
With all that said, I empathise with the riders who depended on their e-scooters and e-bikes for a living, as well as the merchants and companies who had been working on introducing PMD-sharing services in Singapore.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), Singapore is a nation that prioritises law and order, and the only way forward is to take safety more seriously. If we don’t know how to behave ourselves and look out for each other, then we can’t complain if we are forced to do so. And if we don’t want to kill of PMDs in Singapore like we did with shared-bikes, then we ought to start being more careful with and around these devices.
Also read: Doing Away With Exams Sounds Great In Theory, But How Do We Evaluate Students Then?.
(Header Image Credit: Yahoo)
At 4.30am, Yong Yeik would have already left his home and began his daily commute to work, even though his work starts at 8am.
Every day, he spends more than six hours on the road, shuttling from his home in Johor to work at Tuas, and back home again after work. It would be 8.30pm by the time he reaches home, which leaves him with barely enough time for dinner and quality time with his family before he has to head to bed at 10pm.
If there’s any consolation, it’s in the company benefit he has of a direct bus service from Kranji station to his (previous) workplace at Gul Lane, which significantly reduces his travel time. Though, not everyone is as lucky as Yong Yeik, who told me about how many of his compatriots have had to endure even longer travel times.
For example, he knew of workers who would wake up as early as 2am to travel to work because they stay near the centre of Johor. Although, this is less common these days.
Nonetheless, there are many Malaysians like him who continue to sacrifice their time and energy in order to make a living in Singapore.
Singapore has always been a popular choice for our friends from across the causeway, and for as long as I know, there’s this long-running joke about Malaysians (or ‘FTs’ in general) coming here to ‘steal’ our jobs.
We are accustomed to teasing our Malaysian friends. We envy how rich they will be when they return home with their salary due to the exchange rate. And for the most part, it is true that Malaysians enjoy the advantage of earning three times more of what they would otherwise earn in their hometown.
However, what we don’t see is that this often comes with a price.
For Yong Yeik and several other Malaysians I spoke with, coming to Singapore to work is a matter of being practical, and those who choose the daily shuttle do so because it is simply more cost-efficient.
After sacrificing ten years worth of time on the road to save around S$500 (around RM$1500) every month, Yong Yeik has finally relocated to Singapore. This came after he got married to his long-time girlfriend, who is a Singaporean.
But for 27-year-old Louisa, who has been shuttling to and fro for four years, her daily commute is still a long and arduous one across the causeway.
Fatigue is a familiar feeling and while it may be something that she has gotten used to, there are other pain points, especially when traffic jams are becoming increasingly common these days.
“It does make me feel a bit dispirited, because we still have to endure hunger. It’s even worse when you need to pee.”
Besides the sacrifices in time and energy, it’s also a sacrifice on one’s social life because there is simply no time (or energy) for social activities at all. “If you’re lucky, maybe you can meet friends on Saturdays or Sundays,” but for Yong Yeik, those are precious days to sleep in and to pay off the sleep debt from work days.
Then, there’s also the unpredictability of the traffic and at the customs.
For example, in the 10 years that Yong Yeik had shuttled to and fro, he’s had several interesting encounters. In 2014, a strike by Malaysian bus drivers left Yong Yeik and many other Malaysian workers stranded at the Johor checkpoint, forcing them to continue the rest of the journey to Singapore customs on foot.
Yong Yeik was even once mugged by someone at the old Malaysian immigration complex, who threatened him with what looked like a used needle. He was lucky to have only lost S$10, because he has witnessed pedestrians having their bags stolen by snatch thieves on motorcycles.
Thankfully, security has improved since the new immigration complex opened.
While Yong Yeik’s reason for choosing the daily shuttle includes wanting to be around his family, both Yong Yeik and Louisa shared the same sentiments that ultimately, the main reason is still because it is a great deal of savings.
Louisa: “There is a big difference because the price of staying in Singapore includes having to pay for rent, meals, transport, and entertainment. You will unconsciously end up not saving money at all, although it also depends on your personal discipline as well.”
Of course, besides the higher income, there are many other factors that have enticed Malaysians over, in search of better opportunities. These perks include our nation’s safety, efficiency, and a better transportation system.
It is also for these reasons that another 24-year-old, Charles, relocated to Singapore. Fresh out of university, he recently started his first full-time job in Singapore as a video editor.
“Work, places of interest, and food are all accessible via bus or MRT, whereas in Malaysia, it is a necessity to have a car, which adds up significantly to daily spendings.”
Unlike Louisa, Charles rented a room in Singapore. It checks out for him as his girlfriend, who is also a Malaysian, would soon be relocating here and sharing the room.
However, for many of us who have spent all our lives in the comfort of our parents’ home, being in a foreign land alone can be overwhelming. For Charles, it’s especially tough knowing that he “would not be coming home to home-cooked food by my grandmother.”
Nonetheless, such feelings of separation is something everyone goes through if we were to study or work abroad.
Likewise for those who have chosen the daily shuttle between Johor and Singapore, it is all a matter of getting used to the exhaustion.
Yong Yeik explains, “Family plays a very big part in the decision. At my age, most of the Malaysians have a family in Malaysia so they will still go back. If I didn’t meet my wife here, I will probably still be travelling to and fro. It’ll just become a way of life.”
Much like any foreign worker, all of these struggles are familiar to our Malaysians friends, who have no choice but to persevere in order to make a living.
“The only thing that is really pushing me to persevere is still the 3 times salary,” Louisa admits.
“It’s definitely because of the exchange rate. Especially for the JB people, the prices for local food and products have increased so much because Singaporeans visit often. So, it’s becoming more and more unsustainable for our generation of Malaysians. If we don’t come to Singapore to work, it is going to be very difficult to survive.”
Also read: Work Till We Die? – Why The New Retirement Age Isn’t Just Important For Retirees.
(Header Image Credit: The Star Online)
My partner is a B+ and I’m an A, and according to the blood type personality theory, we are a match made in hell.
Apparently, blood type personalities have long been used by the Japanese and Koreans, and this fad has also found its way to Singapore, with some dating agencies here offering blood type dating services.
It made me reevaluate my relationship, because there must be a reason why so many people are buying into this theory of blood type romantic compatibility.
One site explains that my husband and I are the worst match because as a blood type A, I, apparently, need to “be in control in order to have that sense of stability,” and the need for structure and control can “cause tension with Type B’s lively social nature.”
I guess in certain ways, I do like to be in control. It gives me the assurance that the world is in order. However, I am no dictator, and I struggle to think of what kind of a ‘structure and control’ I might have imposed on my partner that is causing ‘tension’ with his ‘lively social nature’—and what does this even mean?
Another site tells me that as a Type A, I envy my Type B partner’s “ability to enjoy things at their own pace.” However, my (Type B) partner “is uncomfortable with [my] doting.The kindness feels intrusive.”
I should be worried about this apparent lack of compatibility between my husband and I, especially since we have a long road ahead of us as newlyweds. Instead, I am trying to figure out what it means for ‘my doting and kindness’ to be intrusive.
I mean, I would have known, right? I would be truly alarmed and worried for the sanity of my partner if he has been quietly suffering from distress from kindness for more than four years.
Despite not being able to make head or tail of the compatibility readings, it’s fascinating that blood type personalities have long been used by the Koreans and Japanese as a way to know each other and to find love. In a way, it is like their equivalent of our horoscopes.
Also known as ketsueki-gata, the blood type personality theory specifies defining characteristics that is unique to each of the ABO blood types, and you can easily find a plethora of sites detailing the personalities of each blood type.
For example, Japanese site Tofugo describes Type As like me as being ‘well-organised’: “They like to keep things neat but can be stubborn and get stressed out easily. They also value harmony with others.”
On the other hand, my partner, a Type B, is supposedly known for his creativity, and Type Bs have “a strong sense of curiosity, but at the same time, loses interest easily.”
Because our blood type is inherited, defining our characteristics by our blood is akin to saying that these are traits that we are born with. If we were to follow that same train of thought, it probably also means that my husband and I are predetermined to be doomed from the start.
It would have been unnerving if there is some sort of scientific proof, but let’s be honest: Defining our personalities (or romantic compatibility) by blood is like buying a 4D iBet ticket—you whack all the combinations in the hope that at least one would be the winning number.
Looking through the profile descriptions, my husband does not sound like a desirable person at at, what with ‘selfish’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘wild’, and ‘uncooperative’ as attributes. I’m no angel either, as a stubborn and wary perfectionist.
Clearly, we would have never been attracted to each other, much less survive the dating phase and gotten married if those traits were true to us, and if we had trusted the blood type compatibility reading.
The accuracy of it, or rather the lack of it, is unsurprising, considering that it’s been 90 years since the blood type personality theory gained traction and there still hasn’t been any credible sources backing it. Even studies that support the theory were said to be flawed. It’s worth noting that even the origins of it is quite sketchy, since it loosely based on a study Takeji Furukawa did with less than 20 people.
Funnily, despite every site preempting me about its lack of scientific credibility, it goes on to share that blood type personalities is wildly popular in Japan and Korea.
In fact, it has become such a culture norm in Japan that you can find blood type horoscope readings on their newspapers and local TV. Companies are known to hire based on blood types, and dating agencies cater to blood types. They even have blood type merchandise like sodas, chewing gum, and condoms.
In Korea, there is even a romcom based off the romantic compatibility of different blood types. The 2005 comedy, My Boyfriend is Type B, “pursued the idea that a Type A woman and a Type B man are incompatible as a couple due to their blood-defined personalities.”
After hours of research into this, the only substantial thing I got out is expert medical knowledge on the antigens and antibodies in different blood types, as well as something called the Rhesus factor.
In all seriousness, I believe our biological build does hold key to information about our body and us.
For example, studies have shown that <a href=" A produces the most amount of cortisol, a kind of stress hormones, which increases the chance of depression and fatigue. By that extension, we can loosely hypothesise that our blood types give us certain characteristics.
Though I doubt that the blood type personality theory is are anything more than another profiling tool for us to quickly and easily categorise people into groups. It's fun, and it should probably remain as just that. Otherwise, I’d need to really consider my marriage, and can you imagine how ridiculous that talk would be?
If you think about it, it would be mind-blowing if profiling tools like blood type personalities were to accurately and consistently illustrate everyone’s personality.
Moreover, there are so many other profile assessments out there. If I were to just put together my readings from some of the more popular profiling types and look at it as an entirety, I, as a Type A Gemini Goat Adventurer, will be pretty much the epitome of an identity crisis. So will be my Type B Gemini Rabbit Commander and our marriage.
“You never wear bra how you know right! I don’t know, so I just try, try, try. Then after that I realise the bra got size one, then got number, then got alphabet one. Then I realise ohh, this one is my size.”
It was at Mustafa Centre that Daniel Lee found the bras he often sports in his streams, as well as most of the ensembles you would see him in when he goes live on The Ladyboy Marketplace.
As the founder and the face of the Facebook page, Daniel is known for his live auctions. More accurately, people follow him to catch him in bras, stockings and even lacy lingerie, complete with ladies’ accessories, wigs, and makeup.
He auctions items on the livestream, but for the layperson who isn’t there for the sale, his antics make for live entertainment. It’s a striking visual: A ‘ladyboy’ dancing unabashedly to Thai disco music, and it is exactly for this reason that Daniel started cross-dressing—“I wanted to portray a visual that will catch people’s attention the moment they see the stream.”
He had been running his own live bidding business on another Facebook page, but after more than two years in the trade, he saw the need to be more creative. He did a trial run with the Ladyboy persona and it was surprisingly well-received. The next day, he launched The Ladyboy Marketplace.
Anybody can play dress-up, but viewers will still switch off if someone is inherently boring. Thankfully, Daniel’s natural sense of humour helped. He would spice up his streams with comical dances and often switched personas. Some of his old videos shows him in looks inspired by iconic Singaporean characters like Liang Po Po and Phua Chu Kang.
His videos were entertaining, and the news of this Ladyboy Auctioneer spread fast. When his friends and family first saw his ludicrous on-screen personalities, they were shocked. But Daniel has always been known as a joker amongst people who knew him, and they quickly understood that this is just Daniel working.
Nonetheless, there were criticisms, and they came from strangers who would leave nasty comments on his streams. Some throw jabs at Daniel for prancing around in women’s underwear as a man, calling him xia suay (embarrassing and disgraceful).
I asked if he ever felt paiseh about the things he has had to do for his Ladyboy image. Up to that point, he had given me the impression of a tough, ballsy ah beng who is too focused and driven to be bothered about how people perceived him. Instead, he flat out admitted to feeling paiseh, especially when he had to buy bras at Mustafa alone while seeing the staff staring and laughing at him.
However, he explained that paiseh is just a barrier to be overcome.“A lot of things will paiseh. But paiseh is just a feeling. Don't because of a feeling, then you don't go and achieve what you want to achieve.
“If it’s just because you’re paiseh then you [don’t fulfill your potential], isn’t that such a waste?”
With that said, there are many other problems he has to deal with as someone who makes a living off selling products on Facebook Live.
He was once banned from streaming for two weeks after someone reported his page for nudity, presumably by someone who found his videos (or him) offensive. For someone whose livelihood depended on livestreaming, that meant he had no income for two weeks. For fear that something like this happens again, Daniel has since toned down his Ladyboy antics in his streams.
Even without the problems that came with cross-dressing, the job of a live auctioneer is tough. Unlike most of us, there are no weekdays or weekends for Daniel.
“My routine is no routine, I get the job done and the rest are my rest hours.”
We only see what happens on the stream, but a lot of an online auctioneer’s or work goes behind the screen.
A promoter with a seafood wholesaler today, Daniel’s days start in the late afternoon, where he will be knee-deep in backend preparations with his logistics team and fine-tuning the order, processing, and payment systems before he goes live at night.
Then, after streaming for two to three hours, where he would be constantly talking, Daniel would spend another few hours sending out invoices and coordinating with the logistics team for the deliveries. It’s usually around 3am by the time he gets home.
On the days that he isn’t selling for the seafood wholesaler, Daniel would check in on his valet business which his business partner is managing, and the occasional consignment jobs.
Despite the long hours, Daniel tells me that the only challenge to him is the high chance of losing his voice after every stream, “Long hours and everything else is okay, because when you got the motivation, working is nothing.”
It became really clear that this ‘ah beng’ is a hustler. And his drive to make money, or to succeed, was a result of growing up underprivileged.
His family wasn’t well-to-do. His mum was a housewife and his dad didn’t earn a lot as a stall supervisor. Circumstances forced him to be independent from a young age and at 14, he was already selling vegetables at the neighbourhood market for pocket money. He didn’t earn a lot, but to him, it was still money.
“One day, maybe eight hours, I only earn $20 or $30. Very jialat. But nevermind, try lor, because anyway one day earn $20, five days earn $100. That time I only Sec. 2, $100 is a lot already.”
He was a defiant kid and picked up several bad habits like smoking, but it was also right around that period that he found the drive to work hard for money through (ironically) the legendary Sunshine Empire. He was amazed by how his friend could afford tuxedos and LV bags, and he soon found himself spiralling into the Ponzi scheme.
“I was so brainwashed because very young ma, [but] that’s how I wanted to do sales more and more. So [on hindsight], I need to thanks [sic] the Sunshine Empire, because that’s how I came to where I am now.”
At 16, he started working for Jose Eber, where he was promoting premium hair straighteners at a pushcart at Vivocity. He was even recognised for being a top salesperson there. It was then that he realised he had this natural ability to draw in crowds and to sell, he understood the ways to appeal to different customers.
He continued doing sales after he graduated from Temasek Polytechnic. Along the way, he also dabbled in all sorts of work, which helped him learn more about the world: “I’ve worked at McDonalds, I cut vegetables before, bike shops, mechanic, everything I also do before.”
He also started several businesses, which he continued after completing his National Service. At one point, he even had several employees to help with his live bidding business. However, he admitted that he had made many mistakes, and have had to deal with many tricky situations like faulty products, malicious customers, and people management.
For example, he was too lax and didn’t bother to have a proper management system when he hired employees, and ended up having to face the consequences himself when there were issues with orders.
“I'm not paiseh to admit that I did wrong for that part. I tried and I failed because I thought that it's very simple. This one is I really misjudge.”
There’s a lot to joke about when we see Daniel as Ladyboy. Most of us would make fun of him, wondering if there’s even any future for him to be doing this. However, behind that facade is someone who has so much drive, and dedication to his work.
Despite the many ‘stupid’ things he does on his live videos, or the ah beng image he seems to portray in person, this 27-year-old Singaporean is an innovative salesman who isn’t afraid to do what it takes to succeed ethically.
It is his fearless drive that has got him to where he is today: A highly sought-after salesperson in the industry, and who runs a stable valet business on the side.
At the end of the day, this ‘ladyboy ah beng’ is one person who is simply very real with what he wants and how he will get there. He is driven by money. But, it comes with a strong sense of ethics and the genuine wish to be a good salesperson and the bridge between suppliers and customers.
He’s not afraid to experiment, fail, and try again, not ashamed of being shamed or mocked, as long as he’s able to achieve his goals. And his resolve to succeed is something that a lot of us lack, and probably can learn from.
Also read: We Know Him As The ‘Hunky Hawker’, But Walter Tay Shares A Past He’s Not Proud Of.
(Images used in header taken from The Ladyboy Marketplace’s Facebook Page)
“Do you really think this will help or change anything? At the end of the day, the children are still going to go out to a world that doesn't accept them.”
This was a harsh wake-up call for Jean Loo when she ran an inclusive art show in 2016 involving more than 80 children and youths. It was meant to be a happy experience for participants and the public to learn about special needs. After all, it was a showcase of works created by children from Special Education Schools like Pathlight School and Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School.
Yet, after toiling for three months, having a special education teacher walk in and criticise the team’s intention was like being thrown into cold water.
“For us it was like, oh yah, ouch.”
“It makes you question the relevance of your work and the tough realities many families with children with special needs deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
Arts and creativity have always been a way of expression for Jean. But beyond that, she sees it as a responsibility to use her ability in creative arts to share stories and messages for a greater good.
After running her own content creation studio for a decade, the Singapore Youth Award winner from last year co-founded Superhero Me, a non-profit arts organisation that harnesses the creative arts to empower children from less privileged and special needs communities. It also serves as a platform to allow children with different abilities to socialise.
Her inspiration to grow Superhero Me can be traced to the first 15 children she worked with in 2014.
The first Superhero Me project centred on the theme of ‘Becoming’. Through costume crafting, the children explored the possibilities of who they wanted to become despite their social circumstances.
It was a simple project, but the bond that grew between Jean’s team and the 15 children was the catalyst that drove Superhero Me into an entire, inclusive arts movement for children, young creatives and caregivers.
Five years on, it is the little moments with the children she has worked with that motivated her to continue advocating for inclusivity in Singapore.
She shared a story about Jun Le, the first child with autism that the Superhero Me community ever worked with, and how many of the kids were a bit apprehensive of him initially. After their first interaction, everyone was able to see Jun Le as a sweet and funny boy who loves Milo.
“They made their own effort as kids to try and socialise and interact with him.”
That struck Jean: “A lot of times in Singapore, we want to be inclusive, but we’re fearful of those with special needs. Maybe we can trace it back to childhood, because we never had the opportunity to grow up with others who are neurologically different from us.”
Superhero Me also tries to bridge the gap between mainstream and special education schools, through workshops or programmes where ‘typical’ children and those with special needs can meet and interact with each other.
“At the end of the day, the mission of the work is about using art to shape how our next generation might think of each other, and more importantly, opening the minds of families.”
Considering our society’s current sentiments on people with disabilities, this is a big dream to have for an individual. Let alone through arts—a medium that is not widely appreciated by Singaporeans either.
And Jean admits that right from the start, “it was a very idealistic way of wanting to use my photos and stories to change the world.”
Jean’s passion for social advocacy work started back when she was in NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication. She dived into the works of war photojournalists who risked their lives by going to war zones and documenting an issue. Their dedication sparked Jean’s desire to pursue work that serves a social cause.
Her interest in photojournalism then grew into an appreciation of the arts. She discovered how community arts, specifically, did not just help her write about a certain community like socially isolated elderly or people in a particular neighbourhood. It also gave her the opportunity to build a shared experience and relationships with them.
“I wasn't a doctor, wasn't a lawyer, but that really struck something in me—that I can use what I have to make a difference.”
As Superhero Me is a non-profit organisation, funding is a big challenge. Thankfully on that front, the movement is supported by Lien Foundation. It was also awarded the National Arts Council’s (NAC) Seed Grant in 2017.
However, the philanthropic nature of this movement also makes human resources a constant challenge for Jean.
With her team, Jean has reached out to more than 20,000 people, and over 1,500 children have participated in the organisation’s inclusive workshops. All the facilitators juggle responsibilities of their day jobs and their work with Superhero Me, but are driven by a shared vision for Singapore to be a truly inclusive society one day.
Even with the passion that every individual from the Superhero Me community has, the reality is that we may still be a long way from achieving that.
When I probed about the not-so-glamourous side of running programmes that advocates for inclusivity, Jean shared, while stressing the importance of education, how there are instances where they meet people who are skeptical and averse to the cause.
“We’ve had parents who say that ‘oh, I don’t want my kids to mingle with those with autism’. So they walk in [to our event] and they walk out.
However, Jean takes these in her stride. “Everyone’s entitled to their own perception,” she explained. It is not in her power to ‘convert’ people who do not believe in being inclusive. Neither has it ever been her intention to do so. Instead, her hope is to open doorways for people to learn about those with disabilities, when they are ready to, and to start with the willing.
For her dedication in creating inclusive communities in Singapore, Jean was conferred the Singapore Youth Award last year. An award that Jean was psyched to have received, as it helps to shine a spotlight on the work that the team does.
“You never do such work looking for awards, but the nature of the Singapore Youth Award helps to validate what the community has been doing. Not just me, but me representing our whole community of captains, of parents, of kids. It's really everybody's victory.”
One year after the award, Jean’s dream for Superhero Me remains the same: “I look forward to the day where Superhero Me will no longer be relevant.”
Ultimately, while there is no end point in this journey of inclusion, Jean hopes for a day where there will be enough support for disadvantaged and special needs children in mainstream schools. Where kids—no matter how severe their disabilities—can learn alongside their typical peers in early childhood.
However, she stressed that the problem now, is how we look at inclusion.
As most of us are exposed to people with special needs through charity, and the narrative of many charities are of the need for us to help their beneficiaries, the challenge is trying to balance the need to help and respecting their personhood, independence and ability. “It is difficult to see someone as equal if you are always expected to help them.”
“I don't have the answer, but these are the questions that we talk about all the time. And this is something that I hope to be able to explore deeper with our kids at Superhero Me.”
The Singapore Youth Award (SYA) honours exceptional young people every year. Young people who have put their talents, energy, and experiences to work in the service of society.
This year, the 15 SYA finalists are outstanding men and women who are Trailblazers, Changemakers, and Champions. These youths have ventured on the path less-travelled and excelled, sought to spark positive transformation in our community, and triumphed over adversity to become role models.
Read more about the stories of the SYA 2019 finalists here. Vote for the story that inspires you the most and stand a chance to win Grab vouchers!
(This article was written in collaboration with the National Youth Council.)
Greta Thunberg has got balls.
At 16 years old, this Swedish girl had, in her 4.5 minute speech in front of hundreds of world leaders, not only managed to admonish them, she highlighted their incompetency.
She’d gained the respect of people all over the world (and possibly said leaders as well) in doing so. But even as she’s gained a following for speaking up about the current climate change situation, she’s gotten her share of criticisms.
Ever since her speech at the U.N. Climate Summit on Monday went viral, I’ve seen people on social media mocking her for being melodramatic and overly idealistic.
Which got me thinking: Why?
Why are we so critical of the way she delivered her speech when it is far from what she was speaking about? Why are people so distracted with her emotions when the gravity of the issue that she spoke about is far more important than her imperious choice of tone and words.
If you trawled through Twitter comments, some even go as far to allege that Greta is being brainwashed by adults to make political arguments.
To put it simply, Greta Thunberg is like our mother scolding us when we refuse to go to bed early. We know it’s good for our body, but we get pissed off by her because we would rather stay up to watch TV or play video games.
Greta’s speech rubs some of us the wrong way because it feels like we’re being assaulted by her anger and emotions. “How dare you,” she had chided, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.”
This feeling of being ‘scolded’ is why some people react with so much resistance instead of trying to listen and understand what she’s trying to preach. It easier to find fault than to confront uncomfortable truths.
In some ways, the disbelief that a child can be so passionate about an environmental cause is also exactly what she’s talking about—We don't know the consequences of our everyday life.
We think we know, but a lot of what we say is lip service because if we really knew how dire the consequences of climate change is as she had brought up—mass extinction—we wouldn’t be sitting here in our air-conditioned rooms criticising her for ‘over-exaggerating’ the matter.
On an individual level, we know that certain actions, like our using plastics or wasting water, are bad for our environment. But it is just easier not to confront the consequences of these actions because we do not see the larger consequences it has on Earth and life in 10, 20, or 30 years time.
It is also easier not to confront the issue of climate change because we know that it boils down to having to make sacrifices in our lifestyles.
“We’ve got to give something up to do something for a country in need, or the world, but humankind finds it just too hard,”
We know that if we really wanted to change, it's a sacrifice on our lifestyles.
In a long Facebook post, Principal Strategist at Sustainability Non-profit Forum for the Future, Jie Hui, wrote about the concept of materiality and how it can be applied to each of us as individuals.
She explained that a teacher’s most material contribution will be the knowledge and values s/he conveys to students and in shaping the next generation’s understanding of our environment. Similarly, a CEO’s most material contribution will be how s/he leads the company and people in achieving long-term success in business by contributing positively to society and the environment.
Likewise, she affirmed that anyone can tap on their most material contribution to make a difference, be it sharing environmental knowledge with friends and family, or mobilising the world to save the Earth—which is what Greta is doing.
Because the effects of climate change seem so intangible, we are unable to realise how crucial it is for us to act now. Furthermore, I’ve heard about how the older generations are indifferent because they do not think it’s going to be that bad.
Some of them think that their actions will not make a difference on the grand scale of ‘damage’. And as selfish as it sounds, there are also people who feel like climate change is not their problem because they will not need to face the consequences anyway.
The fact is that we are past the tipping point. But there is still time to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change. Where we are now, radical change is needed to undo what has been done. However, the inconvenient truth is that most of us aren’t willing to make that radical change. Not you, not me, and certainly not our businesses, and our leaders—at least, that is the case so far.
Greta reminds me of Katniss Everdeen: A young lady who seem like a powerless individual, but who, in her dedication in fighting to put an end to a great evil, have mobilised an entire movement in support of her cause.
We can talk about how cringey she was, or how pompous, one-dimensional, or overly-idealistic she was. We can see it as a young kid throwing a tantrum and over-dramatising an issue. But if we were to stop and take a moment to objectively think about why she’s behaving like this, we would understand why.
She’s emotional because she sees the real consequences of climate change, and she’s genuinely fearful of the future if we were to not take any action now.
I highly doubt that she would go to the extreme of travelling by a yacht across the Atlantic, without a shower or toilet, instead of a plane, if she was at it for fame, glory, or attention. Neither would she have donated the “€25,000 prize money to four different organisations dedicated to climate justice” she won from the Prix Liberte award.
So yes, Greta Thunberg was being melodramatic in her speech but in the course of doing so, she has gotten people all over the world to turn their attention towards climate change, even those who usually wouldn’t give a damn about environment news.
She had managed to rally the entire world to discuss more about climate change than anyone has ever done so and through a short speech—that’s more than anything the majority of us have ever accomplished. And if being melodramatic is what it took for her to fight for our future, I’d say it’s a win nonetheless. Not just for her, but for all of us who will witness the changes our action (or inaction) will cause in years to come.
Also read: Monica Baey’s Case Is An Ugly Reminder Of S’pore Society’s Nonchalance Towards Sexual Misconduct.
(Header Image Credit: The Atlantic)
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