Apr 30, 2013

A hypocritical love

My atheist friend You Zhuan put up a Facebook post about how Christians tend to respond to a friend's situation, as compared to a non-religious person. Many Christians tend to say things like 'I'll keep you in prayer', while the non-religious might say 'Let me know if you need anything.'

My initial response to that was 'No, that's not true, we're supposed to help them practically!', but the truth is that we tend to simply stick to prayer, and think we've done enough. Keeping someone in prayer is an easy way of helping. A friend whose mum is sick? A cousin who needs a job? A sister in Christ facing tough family issues? Will our friends in need feel more comforted and helped when we say we'll pray for them, or when we actually make the time and effort to meet their needs practically?

I never see the point into going into any sort of religious debate or addressing theological issues / believers-related issues with a non-believer. There's just no point. At all. Debates never made anyone see God's love. But I took this post against Christians seriously, because we Christians tend to fall into laziness even with love, and it's not what it was supposed to be.

What did Jesus do when he met a blind man begging to be healed? He healed him. What did Jesus do when he saw Simon Peter and Andrew trying to catch fish? He asked them to cast their nets out again, and this time they caught so much that their nets were on the verge of breaking! What did Jesus do when they ran out of wine at the wedding? He turned water into wine. What did Jesus do when the 5,000 needed food? He broke bread and they ate their fill.

What did Elisha do when the widow had nothing left in 2 Kings 4? What did Peter do when he came across the lame beggar in Acts 3:6? What did the people of the church do to help their poorer brothers in Acts 4:34?

Matt 25:35-40
'for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me...inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

Romans 15:27 
For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.

A lot of us forget that what Jesus commands as a response to practical needs is, primarily, practical help. What's the use of knowing about people stricken by poverty, illness, disability and tragic family situations, and simply saying you'll pray for them? Will that comfort them? Does that make them feel loved? Is it a genuine heart of compassion and sympathy you have, or are you just trying to feel better about yourself?

Thank God for His love that moves people to open organisations, shelters, food programmes, orphanages and more. People who let God's love flood their heart enough to lead them out of their comfort zones are the ones who display true love. Hey, I'm nowhere near there. I'm also guilty of falling into the Christian laziness. When my cell group members went to visit a sister's or brother's sick relative, I was never there. When my cell group members need homework help, I say I'll help but rarely do. Time is a big factor and also a huge excuse. Letting God's unconditional, selfless love for people flood our hearts is a process that takes more than a lifetime.

Having the love of God means really loving each person like we love our best friends, ourselves, our children. When you really, really have a compassionate and understanding heart, it shows in the effort you put in to help that person, or just be there. Effort is something a lot of us can't afford, though, especially because in this day and age we know a gazillion people; there are too many people to look out for, too many needs to be met within your social circles, too many things going on, and we can't attend to them all. So prayer becomes a 'cheap alternative'. It should be in everything we do, but not in place of everything we do!

In JC, my best friends happened not to be Christians. The ones who let me pour out everything from my heart to them - Wei Liang, who patiently sat and listened while I ranted to him every single time we met; Pau, who skipped lunch just to be with me even though I was done crying; Justin, who took a day off to sit in silence with me even though the Prelims were just around the corner - weren't Christians. Alex was a great friend in times of need, really showing me God's love, skipping breaks to sit with me while I cried, messaging me every day to make sure I was okay, memorising the quotes of an author I loved so that he could use them to cheer me up wherever appropriate. But most of the friends who gave a lot for me happened not to be Christians.

See, it's easy to let Jesus be our Saviour - our help in times of need, our blesser, our provider. It's not easy to make the decision to let Jesus take control over our lives - let Him discipline us, mould us, take us through tough lessons. What's even harder, though, is the very simple Great Commandment: loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, and loving people as much as we love ourselves.

We try to adopt the love of Jesus, but it's not just about obligatory actions. It's about a heart that is really moved by others' situations; moved enough to want to do all you can for it.

I'm nowhere near that kind of love, and I hope more of us realise that we're nowhere near God's love, and we're never finished with that job.

The biggest mistake we Christians make, and the biggest trap we must prevent ourselves from falling into, is assuming that we're any less fallen or weak, or any more righteous from our own strength, or any better a man, or any better morally. Being a Christian means recognising that we're nothing. So weak. So sinful. So terrible in every minute of our thoughts. Our strength for good and the ability to lead a life towards purity comes solely from the grace of God through Jesus. Like, nothing else. And we would not be counted as righteous in God's eyes if not for Jesus - our works do nothing for salvation.

Ask me. I'm a terrible person. My heart is always weak and mean inside. Sometimes I look at my thoughts and wonder what's wrong with me. I'm not a good person at all. Proud. Unsympathetic. Hot-tempered. Impatient. Bitter. Fake. Angry. Envious. Even at worship, my heart strays from God. I'm not righteous by my own strength. It's God's grace, and only His grace, that will justify me in the end. In the meantime, I try my best to let Him take over, because when I'm my own man nothing turns out well.

Apr 24, 2013

Walking around aimlessly is quite therapeutic

I found my queer kids' lane right here in Singapore today. They still can't compare to the beautiful Penang walls, but this will do for now.

(I realised I never explained the imagery behind queerkidslane. I'll do it sometime soon.)

So sometimes, when all you are is tired, when you're just tired and you feel like you've been giving too much of yourself without getting what you need in return, when you're giving your heart away and when you feel you're valuing people far more than they value you and you feel like a sad little desperate puppy, all you need is some time away. Far away from wherever you've been spending your days. Somewhere not in the city, not filled with people or fluorescent lighting. You've had too much of that already. Let Google take you to a foreign place. Take your heart on a walk, away from the pains of clinging on more than it should, and let it go. Let go. Breathe a little.

And end up in a nice little cafe like the one I'm at now: L'Etoile Cafe at Owen Road!

Their iced chooclate is really good and the drinks aren't too expensive and they've got cute furniture and comfy seats and they've got a cylinder of soft toys and a stack of magazines beside my sofa. This place is good. Definitely coming back whenever I've got some heart-settling to do.

Apr 23, 2013

Say it.

Rub it in, rub it into my skin, let it seep like a burning balm into my bones. Tell me more about what I cannot stand to hear. I know I hate to hear it and I'll need some time alone to let the pain numb me later, but I need you to break my heart because I can't do it myself. Only when the cracks on the walls of the heart stretch further and you put more pressure on the fault lines and the heart expands, balloons, will it finally break apart. It can't be rebuilt without first being broken. So break it. Continue to tell me the things that kill me bit my bit. I love being around you, so I force myself down, take in the lovely poison that's welling up in my heart, a black pool. More. More poison. Enough to break this dam.

Apr 18, 2013

the heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful

Look at us. Look at the ones whose faces are full of light. Look at the ones who laugh and are the life of the room. Look at the ones who walk in joy and love and whose lives are full. Full of everything good and hopeful and bright.

They're no different from the rejects down the alley, the queer kids' lane. We are all nothing, slaves to ourselves, our hearts are all deceitful above all things. We try, we cry out to heal, we receive the balm of life to cover up those wounds, but we are all broken, every single one. We're all broken. For a second that balm dries up and we're all over the place and nowhere again, spiralling down that alley, banging head-first into the walls, we don't know anymore. We just don't know.

Look at us and have compassion. We're no different. We're human, we trip over our feet all too often. The rest, they look at they start gossiping and you want to scream. Look you're no different either and you think you're all that righteous. Take me into your arms, clothe me with the warmth and goodness we both know, and say you love me all the same. We receive the strength but we're still all weak, each of us, we're weak and insecure and we don't know what it means to be confident in how beautiful we are.

And the weak ones who choose to cling on to strength are sometimes so alone. We're so alone, and our eyes look around to those who chose to let go of that strength and they get the prize and we wonder why we're doing this. Why we cling on. We could easily let go too and just never look back.

Look at the ones who tell you they are broken, and believe them. It's not something they say because they're oh so holy. It's something they say because they know they aren't. They are also struggling inside, cigarette burns on their hearts telling them what a gaping hole they need to fill.

God keeps my heart broken. Like Jacob's limp, like Paul's thorn, God keeps me broken enough to remind me of pain. Sometimes you just don't know what to do with that pain, and it's so easy to give in to yourself and crap it's everything you need and want and look at them have it so what if they're crying and hurting again now you want it too. Your heart's been struggling to say you don't want it, you don't want it, but look at what your heart wishes was your heartache, instead of the lousy pathetic one you've been given. Dammit. Why.

God I thought my heart was stronger than this now. You're showing me this is all I am. Nothing more than the lousy one I was before this. I thought I was better now but You show me the brokenness never heals. You keep me broken. The way my heart latches onto anything a shadow of acceptance and affection and hope, the way I know I'm so weak, chasing after every special smile and sparkle and oh I'm so young. Chasing. Chasing but I always fall too far behind.

If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking
So Heaven meets earth like an sloppy wet kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don't have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
That He loves us, oh how He loves us 

Apr 10, 2013

personal note

Apr 2013

What is the gospel?
- a handbook on love
- authoritative
- full of symbolic meanings that need interpretation
- the book through which God can bring revelations / rhema to individuals in specific circumstances (without the logos, God can't speak the rhema!)

What is the church?
- The rock: a strong body of disciples / believers, rooted in the Word and in faith
- An atmosphere of love for praise and glorification
- Fellowship is encouraging and loving

Maybe my definition will change over the years

Just take the freaking wheel

What do you do when the slightest bit of the pain you know so well starts creeping its way into you again? What do you do when you see all towers crumble and you wonder what's right? What happens when the walls you've so carefully built are starting to crack, and the water is threatening to barge in and take over one more time? Meaningless, stupid pain, like you haven't learnt. What do you do when you see the others start to drown as their walls begin to crack too, and you want to cry out what about me? If we work together we can fix this, but you know that it will not fix, that two will just fill the space and burst the walls.

And you cry oh Lord oh Lord just sever my heart, sever my heart from the pain of giving a friend the love they'll never give back, of having opened my heart too readily, here I've poured my heart out all over the kitchen table like a carton of milk and I can try to clean it up but it will never fully go away. The ache of the milk spilled all too soon still remains, and I thought they would hold the cup at the other end, but they weren't ready. They didn't receive what I poured out, and now I'm empty, cold, and they don't get it.

I'm as incoherent and all over the place as an echoey indie song. Heart like the psychedelic mess of colour and swirls all eating itself into black. Help me. Just take it all away, take away this too much of a heart.

Apr 7, 2013

How do you describe it?

'Cause my mind is like a building burning down
I need Your grace to keep me, keep me from the ground
And my heart is just a prisoner of war
A slave to what it wants and to what I'm fighting for

So won't you empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with You
Oh empty my hands
Fill up my heart
Capture my mind with You

You think you're so smart, be careful dear, be careful, put your needs down, you know what you really want. Stop being greedy. Selfish. Spoilt, stupid. You know what you're really going for.

So before the train goes off the tracks again, put on the seatbelt of what you know is right. You know being weak will only make you hate yourself all over again. Don't play with fire. Don't let it go now. You know you've already been burnt black, and you don't want to be the weak one again. Never settle. Never give in. It shouldn't be a settling. It should be an attaining. It should be the best.

Apr 6, 2013

Note to self


2 Cor 1:20 (NLT)
For all of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding "Yes!" And through Christ, our "Amen" (which means "Yes") ascends to God for his glory.

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God's Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident.

Hsieh Wen:

2 Kings 19:14-19 (NKJV)
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. Then Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said: "O Lord God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear...I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone."

Hezekiah took the letter from the envoy and read it. He went to The Temple of God and spread it out before God. And Hezekiah prayed––oh, how he prayed!

God, God of Israel, seated in majesty on the cherubim–throne. You are the one and only God, sovereign over all kingdoms on earth...Open your ears, God, and listen, open your eyes and look...But now O God, our God, save us from raw Assyrian power; Make all the kingdoms on earth know that you are God, the one and only God.

God, I know you started this, and You will finish what You've started. There's always a way. Give me the full experience of what You have in store for me, God. Don't let Your plans be cut short. Don't let me have to accept anything less than Your plan for me. Give me anointing and favour to do Your will. Don't let me depart from Your path.

Yale-NUS interview part 2

2) What kinds of interaction have you had with your fellow students and professors so far?

The students meet regularly for all sorts of events, whether big celebrations like Halloween and Chinese New Year or smaller gatherings like film discussions and movie dates. We've played paintball and Dance Dance Revolution, cycled, baked, watched the Super Bowl, Les Mis, District Nine, Pulp Fiction and more, had steamboat, karaoke-d, painted Easter eggs, and had a game of Captain's Ball in a swimming pool with a yoga ball together. We've planned out, designed and mentally created a new world together, and had discussions about the faults in Singapore's education system, having a Pokemon as our College mascot and 'Aal izz well' as one of our Residential College mottos, and why starships were really meant to fly. In short, our meet-ups are never anything less than fantastic.

We've also had some great interactions with the professors. As a student intern at the Admissions Office, I got to have lunch with the faculty members and take some of them out to dinner at a local hawker centre. They're as interested in us as we are in them, and if I had to describe them in two words, my phrase would be 'super cool'. We had a students-and-faculty-meet last year, where they came to Singapore and described to us their plans for the curriculum so far, and asked us what we would prefer – a single major exam or many little tests? Reading a whole book or just excerpts? I love how everything's at the stage where there might be room for error, but we'll still learn tremendously nonetheless. The faculty is very interested in getting responses from us about what works and what doesn't, and how to get us to learn from each other as much as possible. With a body of faculty members so passionate about this chance to redefine teaching, we're encouraged to provide feedback, and that's the best part of it – having a say in how we want to learn.

3) Do you worry that Singaporean law might dampen the freedoms of the liberal-arts education you seek? Do you see yourself as the kind of person who might pose an active challenge to the government while in school--either in your academic prose, or in some other form of speech?

With all the resources that the Singapore government is putting into Yale-NUS, they will make sure it doesn't fail, either. In order for Yale-NUS to succeed, we'll have to prove that we have the academic freedom to explore, discuss and take action. While the government has shown its rigidity in various areas, I see Yale-NUS as a catalyst for change – instead of having the current political situation restrict our freedom to learn, I foresee Yale-NUS challenging and changing the boundaries. Laws and restrictions don't stop one's curiosity and true passion, and I've seen a lot of political interest at Yale-NUS. In fact, when I look at the current political climate in Singapore and this whole debate about the freedom of the liberal arts education, I'm not worried – I'm excited to see how we'll effect change.

I don't see myself challenging the government for the sake of it, but I wouldn't hesitate to speak up to fight for my own stand. As a part of this pioneering college, I see it as my own responsibility to be courageous, yet gracious and open-minded, in fighting for areas in which I hope for change. While Singapore has its fair share of flaws, I hope to stick around long enough to help make it a better place for future generations. It's what I see in other Yale-NUS students, too – we see problems in our own societies, and hope to help turn them around.

6) What is the single thing (or, if necessary, things) you are most looking forward to in the first year of Yale-NUS? Could be a book, an experience, a class...

I'm looking forward to learning – inside the classroom, but more so outside it. I can't wait to meet people from all over the world, with all their diverse experiences, passions and opinions. I can't wait to marvel at how different we are, and how we've all been brought together to create something amazing out of all the different viewpoints we each have to offer. I can't wait for the different activities and clubs to form – I'm looking forward to seeing everyone bring their own unique dish to the dinner table, but more than that, I'm looking forward to failing, learning, and starting again. I'm definitely looking forward to the late-night discussions and the sharing of stories. I can't wait for the internships and study abroad programs – it'll be intimidating and stressful, but there's a gold mine of experiences and knowledge waiting for us. I can't decide which aspect of learning I'm looking forward to most, but at the end of our four years together, I'm expecting each of us to have painted a masterpiece of our experiences, with every color imaginable.

Yale-NUS interview

A Yale student, Aaron Gertler, contacted me to conduct a little email interview for a post about Yale-NUS on the Yale Herald. I spent 3 hours on it and wrote a 3-page-long response and he kinda like published two sentences and the Pokemon mention, so in order not to waste the rest of my interview, I shall put it up here!

1) Why attend Yale-NUS? Was it your first choice? What do you plan to study?

Yale-NUS wasn't my first choice initially, but after meeting getting to know the students, staff and faculty, I realized that I had been given the chance to be a part of something phenomenal. I was intrigued by the curriculum, a liberal arts model redesigned to fit the 21st century and a world where East and West come together in every possible way, in almost every issue and discipline, such that they shouldn't be discussed in isolation from one another anymore. However, what made me decide firmly on Yale-NUS was the students.

The students are bold and creative - you've got to be the kind who likes taking risks and trying out new things to want to be a part of Yale-NUS in the first place! Here, I met students who had started their own companies that dealt with anything ranging from IT consulting services to student leadership workshops; students who were traveling to places like Ghana, Brazil and the slums of India for months on their own; students who designed and made their own board games, swimwear, iPhone speakers without any electronic parts – you name it! Here, I met people who had amazing ideas and made them come alive. It's this innovative and active streak that will make a brand new college flourish. We've already got a ton of ideas for activities at Yale-NUS, and our own students are already planning our Orientation program and working with the Deans and office departments as student interns. While this pioneering project comes with hesitations and risks, the passionate and action-taking nature of the student body is the biggest factor that will lead to a successful college with a vibrant culture.

The people here are also inquisitive. More than being absorbed in their own field of interest, they love to hear from others who are passionate about other fields. We've got the state swimmer who loves art history, the president of a China Studies club who's a walking encyclopedia of American politics, and the IT diploma holder who is planning to major in Psychology and do a Master's in guitar performance. Put us all in a room for a couple of hours and the ideas we come up with are mind-blowing. The international students were also excited about getting as authentic a Singaporean experience as possible – even when they were dying of jet lag, they wanted to get 'the most Singaporean dish' and explore the nooks and crannies of Little India. With an incredibly diverse student body – whether in nationalities, beliefs and denominations, family backgrounds, values, academic interests or types of schools – each of us has something so different to offer, and getting a taste of a different perspective and culture is always fascinating. We have so much to learn from one another, but more importantly, we love to learn. While I was initially a little apprehensive about Yale-NUS, the types of people I met here and the qualities of the students told me that this couldn't fail. With the level of curiosity, passion and courage, a brand new college like this can't help but succeed.

I plan to major in Literature or Anthropology. I love how a single phrase is able to encompass a whole maze of ideas, and the beauty and intricacy of words always amaze me. On the other hand, my interest in anthropology is a rather newfound one, but I'm fascinated with learning about why we behave and think the way we do, and how social classes, gender roles and religion developed and have evolved. Like other Liberal Arts students, I also have a huge range of other academic interests that I hope to explore at the undergraduate level, like Biology, History, African studies and religious studies. I also have a huge interest in linguistics, I'm currently enrolled in theology school, and my one lifelong passion lies in writing. I firmly believe that the diversity of the educational experience at Yale-NUS will help us see the world through more informed lenses, and create a colorful, rich and wide base for our own fields of interest.

Apr 5, 2013

The most beautiful

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? 
Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. 
Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. 
I won't lay anything heavy or ill–fitting on you. 
Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Matthew 11:28-30

Like, wow. This totally trumps all other versions. Every Christian needs to read it in the Message version.

Quote of the day: "Heaven isn't a place; it's a person"

Apr 3, 2013

Being Drew

I see you and I see God. I look at you and see nothing short of beautiful. I take in all that you are - beyond the side that laughs and smiles, beyond what everyone sees - and find beauty in your vulnerability. Sure, your soul's a bit of a mess inside, but so perfectly woven it's an intriguing mystery.

This is to the ones who love too much, who love in a way that no one else understands. A love that needs and needs to give, where we build each other up, filling each other's spaces and covering every weakness with gold. They usually misunderstand when we want so much of them, because they don't see how beautiful they are. Their beauty covers more love than what they think.

I need you, and I need you to understand, but you took it as a warning signal instead and left my heart raw. I look at you and you are everything I wish I could be. I see your maturity, your devotion, every little insecurity. I want to hold you and tell you everything I see, everything you can't seem to grasp about yourself. You're so... you're so perfect, even in your weak spots. I want to shield your heart from either extreme and give you everything you deserve. Perhaps more than I can offer - perhaps you're worth too much for me. Perhaps God has a better plan for you, another one to bring you up, but I need you too. We are polar opposites and I need you to teach me. I need your brain that works like clockwork with steely strength, that flawless design of your mind.

The worst thing someone can do is to bring another person away from their destiny in Christ, and I'm just afraid. I'm very afraid. Maybe I did something wrong along the way, or the horrible misunderstanding is turning His plan away. Maybe I'm trying to rely on my own strength, but I just can't give this up. God gave me you, and I can't let go. What more can I do but pray for Him to salvage what's left, to turn what's left around.

Do you see the beauty and the holes? Do you see the big misunderstanding that destroyed everything that was meant to be a flawless, pure philia love, one that never sought to bring either of us down? One that didn't mean to make you frightened and make me hurt with all the wrenching pain of one who loves? Do you see my pain, still, and my concern, wanting more than anything to see you truly shine, from the deepest parts of your heart that you've shut away? 


I could say almost the same things to you, actually; I find us similar in just about every way, and that's why we totally understand each other. We sigh when the other stumbles and shake our heads and ask why, but we know we might've done the same. We might've hurt the same. We're both so heart-led and love too strong and fall too hard for what we know is our own good, and that's why you're an indispensable friend, brother and guide. I look at you and I see the heart of Jesus; you might laugh at that, but you have no idea. You're an amazing pal, and I'm glad you let me rejoice at God's blessings for you and share in your pain.

On a happier note...

When I was in London, I told the girl at Harrods that I was from Singapore, and she started gushing about how beautiful and modern it was, I was like, 'Are you kidding me? Singapore? Beautiful? Do you see how beautiful your own country is?', but then I did start to see a different sort of beauty in my own little island.

When I was staying with Geraldine in her dorm near King's Cross Station, I told the dude in the lift that I was from Singapore, and he immediately started gushing about Singapore Airlines, saying that it was the best, kissing his fingers in the way that an Italian chef does when something's absolutely delicious. I love Singapore Airlines, haha, and I was very touched. 

When I was in Edinburgh with Christabel and told her friend that I was also from Singapore, he was all like, "Awww, I love Singapore, it's so awesome!" and talked about how he had visited recently and drank "like, three bubble teas a day". Well, he'd probably love Taiwan way more if he liked our bubble tea, but I was very flattered all the same. 

When my Oxford host mother told me that the girls, Sasha and Zoe, absolutely loved coming to Singapore, I was pleasantly taken aback. Here they were, in bloody beautiful Oxfordshire, with their twelfth-century buildlings and horses and sheep and everything beautiful, living in a house with a vineyard, and they loved Singapore? Well, they aren't the kind to appreciate "old stuff" - pity, really - but having someone from a place so beautiful say they loved Singapore really made me look at my country with a different set of lenses.

When my cousin who moved from Penang to Australia talks about coming to Singapore for his grad trip and loving the Chinese food and USS, I'm like, are you kidding?! You're from Penang, practically the Jerusalem of local food (OHMYGOODNESS THE CHAR KUAY TEOW), and Australia has amazing AMAZING theme parks, and you're thinking about coming to Singapore? But whatever he sees in my little city, I'm very touched. 

When Francheska, who moved here to teach without ever having been to Asia previously, says she loves Singapore and loves the hawker centre food, I'm just amazed. She went to Bali, Cambodia and other places around the region recently, and from what I see of her pictures, she loved it. And I love that she loved it. I love that she's here. Adjusting to Asia all of a sudden isn't easy, but she loves it. 

And I love Singapore, too, with all its big red flaws and little white glimmers of hope. There are a lot of international students at SOT right now and most don't really like the food and hate the weather and the hostel's not exactly ideal, but they're here, and I hope they'll love Singapore in time to come and explore all we have to offer - good and bad.

The Singapore I hope to know

I love Singapore. It's got its bad points, my biggest issue with it being the education system, but everyone knows it needs to change, and I hope change happens by the time my generation rises up to take the reins. But I generally love what I see about it.

But what I see is probably the glamorous side, the top few percent, the one that speaks of hope. The side I see is the one where 7 points for the O's is average, where university is a given, where people speak proper English even if they speak Chinese at home. I know of people who were bullied in secondary school - like, a grand total of three people - and a handful who smoke or engage in pre-marital sex, but only a tiny handful. I don't know more than three people who have ever scored below 2000 for the SATs. Crescent and ACJC sheltered me a lot, definitely - of the people I was relatively closer to, more people stayed in condos / landed properties than in HDBs (I stay in a HDB, okay?). Even in my neighbourhood primary school, I was blessed to have fantastic teachers, and I was in the second-best class, so my view of the students there probably isn't accurate either.

Well, I go to a church where JC isn't a very common route, and many come from somewhat broken families or families that aren't doing too well financially, but it's a church - the people are beautiful and the most loving. I definitely see the ignorance in Singaporeans - here I am, pretty ignorant myself - and close-mindedness, but I also see an evolving Singapore, one I'm growing to love, a more courteous and well-informed younger generation, one that knows what it doesn't like about Singapore and strives to change it. A generation with great work ethic and that puts effort and enthusiasm into their work - if they don't like it, they won't do it, anyway.

I don't see the side of Singapore that some others tell me about - people who aren't in university due to financial issues, bitches and teenagers who bully and are out to make their classmates feel like crap on a daily basis (and this is something I just can't wrap my head around), unimaginably selfish students. People who don't understand the concept of being polite in an email that's supposed to be formal. Lazy workers. Singaporeans whose standards of English are just...appalling. Like, I can't fathom why it's so bad. I mean, we've all had at least six years of formal education in the language; there's no reason to type a strain of English that I don't understand. I don't mean Singlish. I mean just terribly bad English, so bad I can't understand what they're trying to say.

It makes me worried and sad. Here I am; I see myself as the average Singaporean. But then I remember that my family owns two cars, that I get grades that people consider pretty good, that SMU Law and NUS double degrees were the safety nets I hoped I didn't have to consider, and then I realise I'm actually pretty much above average. And it makes me sad, because if I'm above average, what's everyone else?

I know I'm very sheltered, and I'm trying to do something about it. But I also know a few people who aren't close to anyone who lives in a flat, who don't know anyone from a neighbourhood school or who isn't in university, who don't know that there are actually needy people in Singapore, who take luxury brands to be the norm (and THAT'S why they feel they're broke).

Last year, when I stepped into my first tuition kid's flat, I was shocked at the fact that they didn't have a coffee table - it was just a sofa, and a TV. It was a very bare flat, and we had tuition in the kitchen, at what was probably their (very small) dinner table. When her mum saw my Longchamp bag (a present to my mum from my aunt; my family would never buy anything like that), she asked me how much it was and shrieked that she had never seen an authentic Longchamp bag before. And I was like huh? They're all over the place; look at the people walking down Orchard Road, look at the people in my school. And then I realised how deluded I was.

It's scary, isn't it? There was that newspaper article about the call for education reform, and a concern was raised about "more privileged" students not knowing anything about "less privileged" students. It's so, so real. My brother, in the Gifted Programme in Henry Park, thought $400 Lego toys were normal, and went for paintball/clubhouse birthday parties and houses with swimming pools and whatever you get when you encounter the really rich, all before he was fourteen. In fact, my mother was quite hesitant initially about putting him in the GEP, because she didn't want him to grow up thinking these things were normal - it seemed an absurd concern to me at first, but now when I look at his friends and my JC friends, I understand why. Sometimes I do a double-take when I'm on a study / dinner date with a friend and he/she suggests studying at Macs or eating at a foodcourt, or I suggest going somewhere not-too-cheap and they complain that it's too expensive (because I'm usually the one feeling the strain on my wallet), and then I hate how I've grown used to eating at pricier places when I'm with friends.

Anyway, I realise that Singapore is not at all like I think. It's very painful to realise that not everyone is nice and hardworking and considerate. Not everyone has a decent heart or a decent family income. Not everyone's good conversationally in English. Our society hasn't advanced as much as I thought. It's definitely advancing in politeness and social awareness, thank goodness, but maybe not as quickly as I thought.

After a while, it becomes very easy to see the ugly side of Singapore. It's very easy to turn from shock to despair. And then we look at other countries - beautiful places with good temperatures (Singapore's weather oh my goodness) and cheaper standards of living and less competitiveness and better education systems and nicer people. But I don't know. I can't bear to think about ever relocating permanently. I'd definitely like to live somewhere else for a while - right now, the outskirts of Oxford is a huge #1 on my small list - but when you see the problems of your home country, do you decide to call somewhere else 'more deserving' your home, or do you stay to try to rectify the issues? I'd like to see a better Singapore, the one I thought had already come - educated people who are interested in issues and who feel empowered to make a change; people who are generous and kind-hearted. I want, one day, to know that it's truly a reality, and not just a disillusioned perception of the country through a sheltered girl's eyes.

Sorry. This is probably a very incoherent post. I wasn't planning to blog today and I've got other things to do.

Apr 1, 2013


Someone presents you with a big hunk of wood and tools and tells you to cut it into a thousand little building blocks: the chance to make something spectacular that will last. Something big. You think up an entire civilisation even as you lay out the wood; you draw up the language and the culture; you breathe in life.

You take your pencil and saw. A compass. A ruler. You don't have glue to stick the blocks together, but it's okay; you're sure it will last. You draw out an intricate web of shapes, every shape you can think of. You have the blocks to make a bridge somewhere in there, and a chapel and a war memorial. You spend an entire afternoon sawing the wood, but that's just the beginning.

Each block is a person. Each block is chiselled, your face millimetres away from the wood; you're determined to make it perfect. Every surface is sanded. Now you take your graver and carve out little deigns on each block. Each block has a character now. It looks just like a professional set - that's how much effort you spend trying to create this city of wood. All in the hope that it will eventually be just like how you've envisioned it in your head.

You lay all your blocks out in the field, because you're building a city. You only have a few regular-shaped blocks, because you spent so much time making each one unique, so you don't have normal-looking apartments; you have fantastical skyscrapers and mountains and castles. Extravagant. You need to plan where every block goes, because you've only got one of each. You love each like your own child.

Five hours into your masterpiece you take a step back and look. It's only partially done, but the most beautiful stage is now, where you're still left to imagine the finished product. It will take years, and you're thinking of adding on some paint, but it's okay. It takes a lot of effort and time, but it'll be worth it. It'll be worth it.

But you remember you don't have glue.

Before you know it a gust of wind hits the field and there it all goes in an instant. An incoherent mess.

You know that pang in your heart. You know that pang you feel when you've spent time and effort on something, mixed with truckloads and truckloads of hope and love, and your half-finished masterpiece decides to flop. But you won't admit your pain to anyone, because what were you doing playing with wood and blocks anyway? No one will know that sense of attachment you grew to it, and they will think you're silly. You forgot the glue, anyway. You couldn't expect it to last; circumstance is king.

Yeah, they say you can still keep the remnants and look back at once was with some fondness, maybe try to create something again on a smaller scale. But you know what? You'd rather just leave it and pretend it never happened. Just walk away. It hurts less that way.