January 21, 2017


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by Suhaile Md

MY CHINESE friend once told me that a practising Muslim will support ISIS. He hates ISIS with a passion. I consider myself a practising Muslim. I quietly wondered if he hated me.

If I really know my own religion, he continued, I would either support ISIS, or convert. It’s the western education that prevented me from becoming like them. There’s a reason why Muslims don’t get into sensitive roles in the army, or civil service, he said.

I did not know how to respond to that. It hit a sore point.

Muslim loyalty to Singapore has been in question for a long time. For years after National Service (NS) was instituted in 1967, Muslims were not called up for conscription. The policy was eventually reversed. But the feeling of being untrustworthy has remained among some people here.

When I attended my brother’s passing out parade at the Civil Defence Academy in 2015, all I saw was a sea of brown faces. I remember the Chinese uncle sitting with his family in front of me, looking around and noting: “Wah, we are a minority here.” Singapore is 74.3 per cent Chinese.

I guess I was lucky to have served in the Army instead. But while serving, the feeling that I was not trusted because of my religion intensified at times. Sometimes my NS job required me to drive to other military camps that had no halal food catered in the cookhouse because there weren’t any Muslims posted to that unit. In the cookhouse at my camp, the Muslim queue was about as long as the non-Muslim queue, even though less than 15 per cent of Singaporeans are Muslim.

Why? Security reasons, I heard. 

I met national servicemen in the army who were Chinese nationals just a year or two before enlistment. They could not speak a word of English – I always needed a translator. I always wondered if they understood the pledge, the national anthem, or what they were defending? Yet they serve in the army when many of my Muslims friends who grew up here can’t.

Someone once told me Muslims shouldn’t complain. Go online and you’ll see similar sentiments: Look at other countries, they don’t treat their minorities as well as Singapore does, so be grateful.

So I should just shut up about how I feel here, in my own home? Swallow my words? Do they hate my voice? Such comments confound me, frustrate me. I am not from those countries, how is it even relevant here? 

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I am not ISIS

In junior college, my class saw a documentary on violence against women in Pakistan. In a particular scene, a man used Islam to justify burning his wife. I was the only Muslim in the room. A few classmates glanced at me. I don’t think they could help it. Still, it was enough to get me tense.

But I understood their curiosity, and concern even. After all, supposedly non-violent-me based my life on the same Quran (holy book) as the violent man. So I marched into class the next day, notes filled with quotes and arguments, ready to defend myself. I told my classmates context matters. A violent man will find any justification. Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Hate the man, not my faith. Not me.

Not much has changed in the years since. Every time there’s a terror attack somewhere, it’s expected that as a Muslim, I take a moral stand against ISIS or its like. 

A tall order, given that there have been at least 140 terrorist attacks by ISIS, or inspired by it, in 29 countries in the 30 months since the group declared its caliphate in June 2014. Most recently, one of its followers shot up a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve.

On average, that’s just over an attack a week. And it does not include other brutal groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al-Shabaab in Somalia. It’s hard to apologise so frequently, publicly, for something I have no hand in and do not believe in.

There were times I got fed up and remained silent, especially on social media. ISIS is evil. It burns people alive and blows out their brains. It should be obvious that like everyone else, I am just as disgusted by these. Why do I have to continually prove my humanity by repeatedly condemning the same acts over and over again? Every time I disassociate myself from them, I am clumped together again the next time they attack, guilty by association. It gets tiring.

Still that does not mean I do not own the problem of extremism (read more here). Many Muslims do so too (here’s a list) because our faith demands that we speak out against oppression, inhumanity and injustice.

Taking a moral stance against extremism also means we speak up against the oppression of Palestinians by the Israelis and the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

Which is why we find it hard to quietly accept that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be warmly welcomed in Singapore next month. Or when Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has yet to condemn the atrocities being committed in her country, enjoyed a friendly tour here recently. 

When I speak out on such issues, I’ve had non-Muslim acquaintances dismiss it saying it’s just politics, just business. Funnily enough, these are the same people who ask me why Muslims don’t speak out against violence. As if my conscience can be turned on or off at their convenience.

Sometimes it feels as if Muslim voices only matter when it suits an agenda. Sometimes, it even feels like Muslim suffering overseas does not matter at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it, there are economic and security considerations Singapore needs to make. I understand why the G does not officially speak up on these issues, why it has an official policy of non-interference, while quietly allowing non-governmental donations to help Palestinian and Rohingya victims. At times the G donates a small sum too. There are pragmatic, political considerations.

But where does that leave its citizens, who feel slighted? The pragmatic and the political can leave a bitter aftertaste. Extremists capitalise on this, blurring complexities, obliterating nuance, drawing thick lines in the sand between Muslims and the rest of the world.

This divide is made stronger every time someone asks me if I’m a Muslim first or a Singaporean first. The question stops short of asking outright: Where does my loyalty lie?

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first or a brother. I can’t imagine life outside either role. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

It’s a ridiculous question, like asking if I’m a son first, or a brother. I don’t know where one relationship ends and where the other begins.

Likewise, I don’t know where the Singaporean part of me ends and where the Muslim part begins. Besides, I thought we are Singaporeans regardless of race, language or religion.

So why the need to squeeze me into two categories – Singaporean and Muslim? It’s suffocating. I am Muslim Singaporean, Singaporean Muslim. I am both, at once. Don’t break me into two, please.

Thankfully, I have non-Muslim friends who get it.

Like Young-hwi, who in my absence, of his own accord, made sure the restaurant that the group booked was halal. Or the former classmate, Jianwei, who apologised to me for particular nasty racist comments on Facebook. The comments weren’t even directed at me personally and the commenters were online trolls in no way related to him. My friend had no obligation. Yet he apologised, to let me know that my concerns mattered to him, that he cared.

I wish more people around the world stand up for Muslims like my friends did. But the popular support and rise of anti-Islamic right wing figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands scare me. Most troubling was the recent successful presidential election of Donald Trump in the United States, in spite of his anti-Muslim prejudice.

At the end of the day though, do I think the world hates me? No, but sometimes it feels that way.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Iffah Nadhirah Osman, Lim Qiu Ping, Vanessa Wu, Glenn Ong

SELF-CHECKOUT machines at supermarkets are supposed to cut down queuing time for the customers. But there are people who would choose to pay at the cashier. We ask them why and here’s what they said:

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Mr Dhiya Yamin, 23, unemployed

“I find the machine a little bit complicated. If I press wrongly, it gets complicated especially for a first timer. And we don’t really know how to use it. Sometimes there isn’t anyone on standby to help. That’s why I prefer to go to the human cashier.”

Madam Hartini Jamaludin, 40, executive with NEA

“I prefer the human cashier because it’s much easier. The self-checkout machine is for people who are more IT savvy. It’s best to use cash for payment method and having a human cashier at least creates employment.”

Mr Shaful Akram, 18, higher Nitec student

“I choose to use the human cashier instead of the self-checkout machine because it’s become a habit. And on certain days, I just forget to bring my card.”

Ms Nur Syafiqah Musa, 18, Junior College student

“I feel that it’s faster to go to the human cashier. I don’t know how to use the self-checkout machine and it would take some time for me to get used to it.”

Ms Maggalena Kalita, 35, full-time mother

“When we buy too many groceries and have our kids along with us, it’s easier to go to the human cashier. On other days when I’m alone and just buying a few items, I would use the self-checkout machine.”

Mr Royston Liang, 20, polytechnic student

“I go to the human cashier out of habit. Other than that, sometimes I don’t see the self-checkout machine.”

Ms Naimah Masuri, 27, marcomm executive

“It’s faster to go to the human cashier. I don’t really use the self-checkout machine even if I’m just buying one item.”

Madam Nora Ibrahim, 43, business owner

“I prefer personal touch. Even if I’m just buying one stuff, I prefer cash than my card getting swiped in a machine.”

Ms Ghazzali Ramos, 32, Filipino tourist

“Because there is no one queuing.”

Ms Nur Aqilla, 15, Secondary school student

“Because it’s more convenient and faster.”

Ms Nurul Ain, 25, housewife

“Based on my experience, when you pay at the self-checkout machine, certain things cannot be scanned, like [those] on offer, or things that I want to void. Meaning that, after the total [cost counted], I cannot afford another item or I took [too many], I still have to call one of the staff to assist, because they need to insert the key to void or cancel the item.

If I go to the cashier straight, everything can be done there with the cashier, although there is sometimes a long queue and is a bit troublesome. But I prefer the cashier; at least I can settle everything there without any need to call any staff.”


Mrs Gracy Patti, 32, nurse

“There’s nobody at the cashier. Otherwise I would like to pay at the self-checkout machines because that is very easy [to use].”

Mr Freddy Yip, 70, technician

Speaking in Mandarin: “It is easier to pay at the cashier. It is more convenient; don’t have to scan the items one by one by myself.”

Mr Pang Tee Meng, 70, retired engineer

“The space is available. If the queue is too long, I will use the self-checkout machines.”


Madam Law Yoke Ching, 49, housewife

Speaking in Mandarin: “It’s a habit. I’ve always pay this way.

Using the machine is convenient if I buy one or two item. If I buy too many items, like 20 to 30 items, it takes too long so I would use the cashier.

There is pressure if there is a long queue behind [at the machines]. Everyone is looking at you.”

Madam Zulaiha Zainal, 43, part-time cleaner

“Because I got cash only in my hand. I don’t have Nets.”

Mrs Padma Raja, 42, housewife

“Because I have a trolley full of things, so I prefer to pay at the cashier. I’m not allowed to pay at the self-checkout. Only a basket full of things can be paid there.”


Mr Jason Goh, 52, graphic designer

“It is more convenient. You just put your items there; the cashier calculates for you. You don’t have to do the scanning; then you just pay the money.

Maybe you have to queue a bit longer, lah.

But sometimes you, let’s say, self-checkout. Maybe sometimes you get stuck; probably the [scanning] procedure is wrong.”

Mrs Yaw Hui Ching, 28, credit officer

“Because I want to use the vouchers.”

Madam Siti Patimah, 45, healthcare assistant

“If there is a long queue [at the cashier], I’ll use the machine. If there’s one, two people at the cashier, I’ll use the cashier.”


Madam Lim Bao Jiao, 70, housewife

Speaking in Mandarin: “Because I don’t know how to use [the self-checkout machine].”

Miss Choo Wan Luoh, 18, Junior College student

“Because it’s much faster. And it’s easier. We don’t have to check the price ourselves.”

Mr John Chan, 76, retiree

“Because when I see whichever side is available, then I go. For convenience’s sake. When the counter is empty, then I pay there.”

Madam Wong Yek Liang, 55 factory worker

Speaking in Mandarin: “I use the vouchers. Like $2 deduction if I spend $5. Like the $10 or $20 vouchers. I don’t really know how to use the machines. If I buy a little, I’ll use the self-checkout. If I buy a lot, I use the cashier.”

Miss Goh Si Kei, 48, warehouse assistant

Speaking in Mandarin: “Using machine is more troublesome. There are two types of machine. I don’t know to scan the member card or Nets card on which type. I don’t know which icon to press.”

Ms Anuja Wararas, 34, teacher

“It’s a habit. I guess I prefer human touch than the machine. Also, it’s faster with the human cashier and you can just check out how many people there are in the queue.”

Mr Sufyan Razali, 20, ITE student

“I don’t own a card. But if I do own one, I would use the machine because it’s more convenient.”

Ms Noele Ng, 23, research assistant

“I go to the human cashier because there aren’t [many] people in the queue and it’s faster for people to scan my items for me.”

Madam Iris Tahn, 62, administrator

“I seldom use the self-checkout machine. I also don’t always buy groceries. The self-checkout machine has a lot of people. If I use the machine I need to train how to use it. There aren’t a lot of people at the human cashier.”

Mr Jeff Pastwick, 34, US Navy

“I don’t like the machine. It always gives me issues such as not scanning the items properly or can’t read my card.”

Ms Christine Teo, 23, university student

“The human cashier doesn’t have a queue at the moment. But I usually go to the self-checkout machine. I only go to the human cashier depending on how short the queue is.”

Madam Jessica Yeo, 46, homemaker

“For cashier, I can pay cash, they will pack for me and it is easier. For the self-checkout machine, I have to use Nets, pack things myself.”

Ms Hazel Loh, 33, optometrist

“Usually I will use the self-checkout machine but today I’m trying to use up my LinkPoints. I find the self-checkout faster. I will use the cashier when I have vouchers to use up as well.”

Madam Esther Lee, 61, housewife

“It is easier for me. I may key wrongly and there are many cards to insert. When I use the self-checkout machine, I insert the cards in the wrong direction.”

Madam Irene Lee, 60, counsellor

“It is fast and quick as the queue is short today. I have tried the self-checkout before but I am unsure of the process. Simply lazy, out of habit and refuse to change.”

Madam Evelyn Chua, 65, retiree

“It is more simple. Just pay and walk out. Don’t have to press it myself. Today, the queue is short. If the queue is long, I will go there.”

Ms Singdha Ayarwal, 29, homemaker

“I have too many stuff that need to be properly packed and arranged today. So I prefer this line. If the queues are long I will use the self-checkout machine.”

Ms Milly Sin, 42, homemaker

“The self-checkouts are not set up in a user friendly way. Not enough space for goods and in the packing area. The discounted items barcodes often do not match up. I have been to Europe and Australia as well and the set up is better there. They can consider fitting the self-checkout machines with weighing scales. The technology is already there, they just have to incorporate it in.”

Mr Wandi Hashim, 33, restaurant manager

“We only carry cash. I think the self-checkout machine is convenient and fast but I am with my mum today and we want to pay cash.”

Ms Jaya Nthi, 37, private tutor

“I forgot that there is a self-checkout. I use it at Woodlands Cold Storage. I am comfortable with the cashier. When I scan my items at the self-checkout, it doesn’t quite catch. Some discounted items require assistance and I have to wait. There are 10 self-checkout counters and there are 10 people in front of me. I have to think of it that way.

There are also too many instructions on the screen at one go as there are many cards being used here.”

Miss Michelle Kang, 22, student

“I use both but the queue [for the cashier] seems short today. If one is not accustomed to the machine, it can get overwhelming. When it was first introduced, my mum struggled with it.”

Madam Cao Wan Lin, 38, homemaker

Speaking in Mandarin: “I feel that the self-checkout machine is not easy to use. It can be time wasting when the assistance of the supermarket staff is needed. Customers needs to put all of their purchases in the bagging area before packing them. I think that packing your purchases as they are scanned, like they do at the human cashiers, is more efficient.

Additionally, I am unsure of how to use my LinkPoints at the self-checkout machine as I am not strong in English. I can ask the cashier to check my points balance and decide whether to use my rebates on the spot. Hence if the queues at the cashiers are not too long, I am willing to queue to make payment. However, my nine-year old son loves to use the self-checkout machines. When he is at the supermarket with me, I always use it. He likes to play with the machine as he finds it very interesting.”

Ms Crystal Hong Wei, 25, youth worker

“The queue for the self-checkout is long. I am only buying two bottles of water, weird to use Nets. I didn’t know I can use cash at the machine. I would have gone there if I knew there was cash.”

Mr Anthony Man, 40, business development manager

“While I’m queuing, I can send messages and use my phone. It is more convenient and humans are creatures of habit. They can consider having discounts or more points at the self-checkout. Maybe that will attract more people to queue there.”

Ms Charmaine Loh, 29, IT professional

“Right now the queue appears shorter [at the cashier]. I weighed my options and decided to queue here. Sometimes technology screws up and it may end up taking longer than expected.”

Mr Archie Rodil, 36, software engineer

“Right now, I am too lazy to do it myself. I am feeling a bit tired from work. On weekends, I will gladly use the self-checkout. I can read my phone while waiting in the [cashier] queue since it moves slower.”


Ms Mary Joy Yladia, 32. interior designer

“I am just used to paying with the cashier. I tried the self-checkout a few times but I just come back to the cashier. It is more convenient and I don’t have to worry about checking the price. I just put everything there.”

Miss Jasmine Wong, 25, media professional

“I didn’t thought of that. Usually I will go to the self-checkout at Chinatown NTUC but today I just stood at the cashier. I didn’t see the self-checkout and went straight to the cashier.”

Miss Ashley How, 14, student

“It is more convenient at the cashier. At the self-checkout, you have to scan each item. They have improved the system but when you do something wrong, it will still stop completely.”

Mr Miko Gino, 23, student

“The self-checkout is more tedious. If you don’t have your credit card, it is easier to use the cashier. If you are carrying many things, it is hard to do the scanning at the self-checkout. I was talking to my friend and were not in a rush, so we chose to use the cashier although we have one item each.”

Featured image a collation by Sean Chong.

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by Brenda Tan

SCHOOL lunch times have been in the news – why are our kids having their mid-day meal so late?

I’ve taken to preparing a packed lunch for my daughter. It takes me 10-15 minutes in the morning.

I invest in good thermal food containers that keep food hot or cold for a long period. I also plan a weekly menu so that I’m not usually stumped for what to cook for her. Moreover, this menu is a guide that gives me flexibility. If we have lots of leftover from dinner, I can simply reheat and pack it for her as lunch. I also take note of her favourite foods and what works well for her meal and what don’t, so that the meal can be refined.

Here are some tips and tricks, and recipes, for packing a lunchbox meal:

Tips for packing school lunch

Tip #1 – Prepare the food container

To ensure that the thermal food containers are at their optimal temperatures, put in boiling water and seal the container while cooking. Then, when the food is ready, pour away the water before putting the hot food into the container. Do likewise using ice cold water for cold foods.

Tip #2 – Calculate nutritional value over a whole day rather than in one meal

While I try to ensure that the lunch follows recommended food groups and servings, sometimes it’s difficult to do so with a packed meal. It’s easier to remember that if the kids do not get their serving of fruits and vegetables at lunch, they can do so in a snack when they get home.

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1. Japanese cold noodles with dipping sauce

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

My children’s number one favourite and very easy to make.


Soba noodles (or udon noodles)
Katsuo Atsukezuritsuyu (soba sauce)

  1. Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
  2. Cool the noodles in ice water.
  3. Strain the cold noodles and put it into a cold food jar. Garnish with sesame seeds and cut seaweed.
  4. In a watertight container, dilute soba sauce with water.
  5. Kids can either dip the noodles in the sauce or pour the sauce over the noodles to eat.

I purchase the noodles and sauce from Daiso or from any Japanese supermarket.


2. Fried rice

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

It’s easy to prepare the ingredients ahead and store it in the fridge. Cooking the fried rice takes only a few minutes and the rice keeps its heat very well for lunch as a balanced meal.


Leftover rice
Leftover meat from dinner, diced (or marinated raw meat, diced)
Leftover vegetables from dinner, diced (or frozen vegetables)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 egg

  1. Heat up oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped onions. If using raw meat, cook the meat when the frying onions turn fragrant.
  2. Add the rice and stir-fry to break the rice up. Add the leftover ingredients or the frozen vegetable. Fry and mix the ingredients well.
  3. Move the rice mix aside and crack the egg into the frying pan. Stir-fry the mix again and incorporate the egg.
  4. Add pepper and salt to taste.
  5. Put into a warm food jar.

A variation to fried rice would be to make rice pancakes. Leftover rice and frozen vegetables are mixed with eggs into a batter, with a little salt and pepper. The batter is spooned into small round pancakes on a hot frying pan to cook. When the rice-and-egg batter firms up, the pancake is flipped and is done.


3. Noodle soup

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Noodle soup is easy to prepare ahead and delicious for lunch. The trick is to keep the soup hot in the thermal food jar and to add it to the noodles and vegetables when it is time to eat. My daughter found it easier to pour the hot soup into the noodles so I usually pack the noodles in a lunchbox that can accommodate the soup. This meal is good for older kids as it might be difficult for younger children to deal with hot soup.


Cooked noodles
Leftover soup broth from dinner or use chicken stock for the base
Slices of fish cake
Leafy vegetable like chye sim, cut into one-inch pieces

  1. Boil noodles and vegetables until cooked. Drain and put these in a lunchbox.
  2. If using chicken stock, fry some chopped onions and garlic before adding the stock to give the soup more flavour. Add the fishballs and fish cake slices. When the soup boils, pour it into a thermal food jar.


4. Spaghetti aglio olio

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Another favourite of my kids, this only requires three basic ingredients:

Olive oil (enough to coat cooked spaghetti, about 2 tablespoons)
Minced garlic (usually half a teaspoon for one portion)

  1. Cook the spaghetti in water, with some salt and olive oil added.
  2. While the spaghetti is almost done, in a separate large frying pan, fry the minced garlic in the olive oil on medium heat until fragrant.
  3. Drain the spaghetti, leaving about 1 or 2 tablespoons of its water with the noodles.
  4. Add the spaghetti and water to the frying pan. Stir to combine well with the garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Depending on the kid’s request or whether I have the ingredients on hand, I sometimes add chopped tomato or mushrooms, or even bacon to the spaghetti.


5. Easy macaroni and cheese

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Another family favourite, but for packed mac & cheese in the morning, I make a “cheater” version.


Elbow macaroni (or fusilli pasta or any kinds of pasta)
Evaporated milk
Cheddar cheese, 1 slice


  1. Measure how much pasta could fit into the container. Then pour enough evaporated milk to cover all the pasta. If you don’t have evaporated milk, just use plain milk. The evaporated milk gives a creamier texture to the mac & cheese. Pour out the pasta and milk into a microwave safe dish and heat it up for about 2 to 3 minutes. (You don’t have to fully cook the pasta as it will continue to cook in the thermal jar for the next 4 hours.)
  2. If you don’t have a microwave, just estimate the amount of pasta and evaporated milk you’ll need. Boil the pasta (using water) until it is semi-cooked. Drain it and then continue cooking the pasta in the evaporated milk.
  3. Add a slice of cheddar cheese to the dish and stir to mix well. If the milk dried out too fast, just add milk or water to the dish. Add salt and pepper, dried herbs like oregano or basil, to taste.
  4. If using the microwave, put the dish back into the microwave for another minute to melt the cheese. If using the stove, just make sure to stir the cheese into the pasta until it’s melted.
  5. Put the mac & cheese into a thermal jar for it to continue cooking.


Easy and healthy snacks

These are easily packed into small lunch boxes for the kid’s breaks:

  • Nuts (eg. almond, peanuts, cashews). Buy in larger quantity. Pack the amount desired into the kid’s airtight lunch boxes to reduce waste.
  • Fruits (eg. grapes, apple slices, blueberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, kiwi fruit, melon, bananas). Fruits tastes better if cooled and kept in a cold thermal jar. For small fruit items like grapes or blueberries, it may be faster for the kid to eat them if they are skewered on a food pick.
  • Cooked chickpeas. I buy this in a can, drain the water and heat it up in a microwave with water and a stick of cinnamon. The chickpeas are then cooled before packing them into a lunch box.
  • Vegetables (eg. celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, corn cup).
  • Cheese sticks or cheese cubes. To ensure cheese keeps well, I usually put them in cold thermal jars.
  • Hard-boiled eggs. To make it fun, I usually use an egg mould to shape the eggs.
  • Sandwiches and buns. These are great stand-by for a quick snack box.


Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

Why do our primary school kids have such LATE lunches?

MOE responds to lunch break story


Featured image by Pixabay user yujun. (CC0 1.0)

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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

MY MOTHER rang me on Wednesday evening in a heightened state of excitement. She had caught “me” on TV.

Except that it wasn’t me, but a parody (poor one) of me, on The Noose. I thought my mother would never know, because she watched the news, not The Noose. So while I was watching The Borgias on the Internet, she was urging me to switch to Channel 5.

I’ve known for some time about the character known as Bertha Haryani, which I supposed is a take-off from the name of my blog, Bertha Harian. Except that I never use the blog now that I have The Middle Ground website. An undergraduate student of mine informed me of it in August and more recently, people have been sending me screen shots and videos. I decided, after my mother rang me, that it was time to check out my caricature.

Screenshot of The Noose on Toggle at 6:19min.
Screenshot of The Noose S9 Ep4 on Toggle at 6:19min.


Screenshot of The Noose S9 Ep5 on Toggle at 16:46min.
Screenshot of The Noose S9 Ep5 on Toggle at 16:46min.

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First off, whoever hit on the dim idea to portray me probably knew me when I was in my 20s. That was the era of suits, chunky earrings and chokers. Today’s Bertha never dons a coat or suit if she can help it and uses ear studs and one of those thin chains that is supposed to make you healthier.

Second, Bertha isn’t fluent in Malay. She can manage a few sentences but it doesn’t flow as smoothly as the TV character played by Siti Khalijah. So some expert advice for the Noose-room: More Singlish works better.

Some idiosyncrasies are portrayed correctly, like how I can’t stand the heat. More expert advice:

I always have a foldable fan with me, even while reporting.

Go ask your news colleagues.

It is true that I am not an elegant person off-camera, but I think I would be the same on-camera. I know this, which is why I stick to words, not pictures and video.

My mother was both aghast and amused. My brother thinks I should trademark the name Bertha Harian although I don’t know what good that would do. Others who’ve seen the clips think it’s hilarious and were rather more interested in my own reaction to the antics of The Noose.

I have been flamed, called names, caricatured and cartoonised for such a long time that nothing fazes me anymore. But this is the first time I have actually been parodied (or lampooned?) on free-to-air TV. Not once, but as a more or less regular feature.

I am terribly flattered. Somebody actually thinks I am well-known enough for local audiences to recognise what I would have thought was an “inside joke”. It’s nice to be among the ranks of the Bee Bee See and Xin Hua Hua.

What bugs me is this:

Why use a caricature when you can ask the real thing to come on The Noose.

Come on, people at The Noose, I dare you. You only have to foot cab fare.

You see, I too can get quite tired of doing The News.


Featured image from TMG file.

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by Brenda Tan

THIS year, seven more primary schools in Singapore have switched to be single-session schools, leaving only eight primary schools as double-session schools. This is in line with the recommendation of the Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) committee made in 2009.

Single-session schools have a greater flexibility in maximising the use of facilities and arranging staff schedules, enabling school leaders to focus on executing programmes without needing to think about how they would affect the afternoon session’s school hours, or where to hold the student body without affecting either school session.

Newer directives like Form Teacher Guidance Period and daily classroom cleaning are accommodated simply by extending school dismissal time. Thus, the dismissal time in many single-session primary schools has been steadily shifted from 12:55pm to 1:45pm over the years.

To help children cope with the extended dismissal time, schools are now directed to allow students a five to 10-minute break for snacks between 11:30am and 12:30pm in class.

As a parent of two primary school children, I wonder if this is enough for our children to deal with the very real issue of hunger.

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Unlike my P3 son, my P5 daughter takes the school bus to school. My son gets home at about 2pm for lunch, but with the extended dismissal time, my daughter gets home at about 2:50pm. She’s by no means the last student to get off her bus; she tells me her friends often complain of hunger on the bus, and their lunch times are past 3pm!

My daughter gets on her bus at 6:20am, but as a P5 student, her recess is at a relatively late time of 10:45am — about 4 hours later. Her snack break comes at 12pm, which is usually too short for more than a quick snack of fruits or biscuits, and then the next time she eats is 2:50pm.

She’s not alone going through such long hours between food breaks.

A P1 child I know gets on her bus at 6:05am, with her recess at 10:15am. She doesn’t get home until 3:30pm. Unfortunately, on the first day of school, with all the logistical issues her teacher had to focus on, her class wasn’t given that 10-minute snack break. The poor girl was famished by the time she got home!

Unlike recess, the snack break is usually held in class and the children are not allowed to go to the canteen buy food. Thus, kids who don’t have a snack in the form of lunch boxes of fruits or sandwiches, would bring in packets of biscuits, seaweeds, or crisps to consume in class. My son tells me that sometimes, his classmates would forget to pack snacks and they would have to go without, or hope that someone would share their snacks with them.

However, I wonder if that short break to wolf down a quick snack is enough to sustain the children until their very late lunches, especially for those who commute by school bus, where eating is restricted on the bus.

Studies are clear that nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand. In one study, the American Psychological Association found that hunger can cause depression, anxiety, and withdrawal, hindering a child from focusing on education. A single child’s behavior in class can affect the rest of the students, the teacher’s attention, and the overall learning atmosphere.

Another study conducted an experiment where a class was told to skip breakfast one morning, and then half the class were given a good breakfast at school, while the other received nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who had breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by observers who didn’t know which children had eaten). Later, after all the children were given a healthy snack, “the differences disappeared as if by magic”.

While I don’t think our Singaporean children are malnourished, being hungry in class does affect their ability to focus.

Being hungry in class does affect our children’s ability to focus.

If we take workers’ welfare seriously and institute work breaks and lunch breaks to ensure their productivity and well-being, why aren’t we doing the same for our kids?

Even when I run full-day adult workshops, my participants expect to have 15-minute morning and afternoon tea breaks and an hour-long lunch – why then do we expect our children to be learning optimally when they aren’t given timely food breaks for nutrition and socialisation?

I also wonder at how much time there is for children to learn healthy eating habits. The onus is on parents to prepare healthy snacks not only for recess, but for the break as well. The canteen is usually too crowded to buy freshly cooked food in time, even with staggered recess timing. And children simply don’t have the time to both sit down for a meal and be actively playing with their friends – I know which of the two activities my son would opt for during recess!

Most nutrition sites just list the kinds of food that are recommended for rapidly growing kids, but very few sites focus on when older children ought to eat. Even our Health Promotion Board’s ‘Raising Heathy Kids’ eBook recommends breakfast at 8am, lunch at noon, dinner at 6pm, and snacks for when active children are hungry between meals. This recommendation could only be carried out if the children are on school vacations or if they are in pre-school.


What can we do?

So what can we realistically do about our primary school kids’ late lunches?

Apart from highlighting to their schools if your child gets home after 3pm for lunch, perhaps it may be helpful to see if schools can switch their recess and break times.

If schools have their snack break between 9am and 10am, then they could have their staggered recess from 11am onwards. The longer recess timing might allow children to have more time to eat a heavier meal, which could sustain them better for their journey home, whether their lunch is at 2pm or 3pm.

Another thing parents could do is to pack foods that measure lower on the glycaemic index (GI). Foods with a low GI such as nuts, vegetables, and beans are digested more slowly and release energy more slowly than high GI food such as white bread and sugar. Also, pack high-fibre foods which help reduce hunger between meals.

I also invest in good thermal food containers to pack food for my children’s recess. These thermal food containers may be bulkier to bring to school, but they keep cold foods like sushi and fruits, and warm foods like fried rice very well. I also explore interesting and “fast to eat” food for their snacks, to avoid relying on energy bars that may contain high levels of processed sugar. For example, I skewer grapes with food picks so that during the snack break, these can be easily eaten in a few quick mouthfuls.

That said, I hope that schools and teachers are more mindful about their children’s nutrition, which often gets forgotten in the daily grind. Unlike heading to the staff room between lessons for a quick short bite, our kids don’t have that luxury when keeping to school rules regarding eating in class or on the school bus.

We do want our children to obey school rules and be disciplined, but we also need to create an environment that helps them to grow up strong and healthy.


Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

MOE responds to lunch break story

5 quick and easy meals for a lunchbox


Featured image Nan Hua High School Canteen by Wikicommons user JinKai97 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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by Iffah Nadhirah Osman, Jonathan Leong, Li Shan Teo and Vanessa Wu

FINDING a job is hard. It’s even worse when there are more job-seekers than the number of jobs. With the growing gig economy, could working in this line be the next big thing?

From Uber drivers to photographers as well as various freelance jobs, these jobs are readily available for all, although these workers may not receive the same benefits that full-time employees do.

One of the concerns that these workers share is not being able to contribute to their CPF. Mr Alan Wu, 52, Uber driver, said he has to save consciously since he doesn’t have CPF savings as a safety net.

TMG asked 50 individuals on the best and worst part about working in the gig economy. Here’s what they said:

Ms Marion Ngo, 21, ad-hoc worker

“The best part of working customer service jobs is finding meaning in helping others with their queries, and making sure their problems are adequately and accurately resolved. It might be tiring, but it’s nice knowing that you’ve made someone’s experience a pleasant one at the end of the day.

There really isn’t anything that I find bad about my job. It can be tiring but that comes with all jobs. To be honest, I wouldn’t do that job if I don’t find it enjoyable.”

Ms Priscilla Poh, 24, makeup artist

“I think one of the best parts of the job is being able to meet very passionate and talented individuals that I won’t get to meet otherwise.

I guess the difficult part is the logistics of my job, sometimes figuring out how to get from place A to place B with a heavy makeup kit is troublesome! Also, I have to ship in quite a few of supplies myself.”

Mr Renney Rashid, 27, stylist and makeup artist

“Being a freelancer allows me to develop myself at a pace that I’m comfortable with, with minimal pressure to outdo others, vying for a spot for promotion in the corporate ladder. I’m also able to have more rapport building time with my clients such as going down to their level to understand their expectations and do more to achieve their desired looks and outcome. This creates a better working environment for me which in turn allows me to fully showcase my artistry in the fashion and makeup industry.

The hardest thing is to be disciplined – to plan, manage, and execute in the creative artistry. Another negative aspect has to be our product value. To some, it’s just assembling a look, grabbing a couple of dresses and accessories, and putting on make up for people – and that should not cost much because after all it’s just assembling a look. But the real deal is the preparation and detailing. It takes a little explanation and convincing before the client can understand the true value of what they’re paying for.”

Mr Ali Nuri, 19, UberEATS rider

“This job pays me weekly. The hourly rates are high during peak hours and can go up to $25/hour. In just a few hours, I can earn up to $70 – $100 plus incentives if I hit the requirement. For example, I hit 20 trips in a day or do trips while it’s raining to receive more incentives. There’s no need for me to schedule my work. If I feel the need to work then I only need to login in areas where there are a lot of food stalls or restaurants that need UberEats’ help with delivery.

The worst thing would be the unstable income. Every week or month the head of finance will change the payout scheme. It can go as low as $5/hour and per trip on non-peak hours. However, that depends on the number of orders received in the last month which the operations manager will look into. So it means our payout will defer depending on the previous month’s numbers.”

Ms Kayte Willis, 29, dance teacher and choreographer

“The best thing about working as a freelancer is the freedom to choose your own jobs. You’re as busy as a full-time worker too, which is a good thing but can also be bad because the mentality of a freelancer at times is game as many jobs as possible. It’s a first-come-first-serve basis. You have a variety of opportunities and freedom of choice for your projects. You are your own boss!

The worst thing is wanting to have the best of everything. Too many choices can also lead to greed and if you take everything, you are bound to have a breakdown. Conflict of interest is another thing. Especially with people you choose to work with and are in the same industry. But as a freelancer, we have that freedom of choice. At times, people in the industry can take that as an offence so we also have to make sure our work ethics and integrity are good. We don’t want to step in anyone’s boundaries.”

Mr Benjamin Tan, 24, writer

“The fabled flexibility is certainly true, at least to a certain extent, as I’m free to plan my own schedule according to what suits me best, within the boundaries of the deadline. This leaves me with more time to pursue other ventures in life that taking a full-time job would otherwise not have allowed.

That said, one particular area of concern will have to be the terrible pay, with a depressing average of about $25/article, it does almost always ensure low quality work — I’m fairly certain the undervaluation of freelance work has contributed to the drastic drop in online literary standards. Alas, the only way to not weep when I look at my monthly income is to grab as many freelance opportunities as I can for different publications. I don’t know about other freelance industries, but as far as writing goes, it suffers a double whammy of both being undervalued and underappreciated; Singapore isn’t exactly a writer-friendly country now, is it?”

Mr Sam Chow, 43, photographer

“I’m a full-time freelance photographer. Mainly for actual day coverage for wedding couples. Good thing is that you got to be a part of an important celebration of a couple. The ambience and the positive energy flowing around on that day are so infectious that I can’t refuse or escape.

There is a need to sacrifice family/friend time and give priority to the deadline for the submission of the wedding photos. Which I can’t avoid. And not always wedding couples are happy couples. That can be a very challenging and awkward situation.”

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Mr Syarul Ezuan Mohammed Tajuddin, 23, dancer and choreographer

“As a freelance dancer/choreographer, I have more freedom in my time and schedule. I’m able to express, excel and focus more on the tasks/jobs given to me.

As a freelancer, the worst thing that may happen to us is over- scheduling ourselves without realising it. That will give us problems in managing the jobs handed to us due to the constraint of time. It may also affect our health due to the lack of sleep/rest.”


Mr Mohamad Rafiq Azhar, 21, Uber driver

“The best thing about working as an Uber driver is that I can make my own schedule. It’s very flexible and I can adjust my timings in case anything pops out or because of emergency. Being a driver also brings me good money.

The worst thing is that I work alone. There is no one to accompany me like my friends and no such thing as colleagues for me. It’s even worse for me that I don’t have any CPF contribution, and it would be very difficult for me in future. I foresee myself not working in this line in the years to come.”

Ms Amalina Zakaria, 27, web designer and developer

“One of the benefits of freelancing would be the feeling of working for yourself, and see your efforts translate directly into results. I feel a greater responsibility for my work and this has inspired me to put in extra effort into works that I can take pride in.

However, working freelance means periods of uncertainty at times, as we do not have a fixed monthly salary!”

Ms Lavanya Kannathass, 28, copywriter

“I’m able to choose the kind of work that I want to do and with whom.

The challenging part of being a freelancer would be the lack of understanding by people close to us. This is especially so because within my family, most are civil servants and they have been ingrained with the 9-5 mentality, which is understandable. However, every person’s path and work are different and we need to be able to understand and honour that.”


Ms Mindy Tan, 35, photographer

There is a lot of freedom when you’re working on your own and for yourself. You reap what you sow, no surprises at year-end appraisals and more or less a direct relationship to how much hard work you have put in.

Of course, you will have to bear any medical fees that may come your way and be in charge of your own financial planning more than being an employee where your health insurance is largely covered. But freedom of time to me is life. It’s a state of mind I wouldn’t trade for anything else.

Mr Wayne Chew, 30, emcee

“One good thing about freelance work is the flexibility of time. In the past when I was working full time, the timing of the work is pretty fixed and it affects my work life balance. For now, I can enjoy my life better and plan in advance if I want to travel overseas, without having to apply for leave.

The bad thing about being a freelancer is that there is no CPF and of course, the stability of the work. To counter this, simply be disciplined enough to put a certain percentage of my earnings into a fixed saving deposit and ta-da! I can withdraw the savings with the interest after many years and unlike CPF, there is no minimum sum, though the saving interest may not be as good as CPF’s.”

Mr Kwong Wai Keat, 26, photographer

“What I like: The flexibility to juggle other commitments like full-time studies at the same time while earning an income.

What I don’t like: Having to face the impression by members of the general public who have the impression that freelance work is of lower status than regular employment.”


Mr Muhammad Haiqal Abdulmutalib, 27, dance instructor and performer

“One of the best things about freelancing is the different kind of environments that I always work in on a project basis. I work with people from other countries and get to know how their own freelance industry work. As dance is a universal language, working hand in hand with the people from other countries makes me more aware of the similarities all of us have as freelancers. This makes it more fruitful that struggle is actually a good thing.

One of the worst thing about freelancing is definitely scheduling. There aren’t any off days unless you don’t have any projects at all which means you will not be earning money so it’s a bit ironic. You have to miss out on important days such as weddings or birthdays. I’ve been working on my birthday for the past 6 years and at times, I do feel I want a day off on my birthday. Being sick is never an excuse in my line of work unless I’m severely injured. So the struggle is real but as mentioned before the struggle will be a fruitful thing at the end of the day.”

Ms Athirah Zalikha Mohd Ramli, 26, camp instructor

“The best thing is being able to meet different people every time. Different colleagues and different students. What strikes me the most is that sometimes even though we take the students for three days only, five years later, they still remember us. They will call out to us when they bump into us.

The worst thing is the hours definitely. The long hours really take a toll on your body. Mostly adventure camps have their lights out at 11pm. We will have our trainers debrief till 12am. And then wash up and head to bed by 1am. And then we have to be up by 6am. It’s really taxing but the passion keeps us going.”

Mr Randy Wu, 52, graphic designer

“I’m not a social animal. When I was working as a manager for an organisation, I hated going to meetings with stakeholders and managing my team players. Freelancing gave me the opportunity to work as an individual with almost no interactions with other people. It was a very pleasant change for me. As a freelance graphic designer, my work is solely what I love to do! Unlike in an office environment where you are dumped with all sorts of tasks that you don’t like and some that you are not even trained to do.

There are months when 2-3 clients approach you with projects with conflicting deadlines. In such instances, I rarely ever turn my clients down. The reason is simple, if you let your clients slip away to other service providers, they may never come back to you again. In such times, the stress level really builds up. Freelancing also gives me no buffer against irate clients and unreasonable demands.”

Mrs Patricia Lorenz, 49, adjunct lecturer of 10 years

“To me, the most thrilling part of lecturing is every minute in the classroom. An added bonus in working as an adjunct, or freelance lecturer, is, that you have the opportunity to teach in different fields, which suits broad-spectrum people like myself.

The most boring part of the job is marking, and the biggest downside of freelancing is the risk of getting too few classes whenever enrolments are low. This is why most freelancers actually work for two or three schools, in order to have a higher level of financial security.”

Ms Jia Liang, 20, honestbee shopper

“Flexibility, because we actually choose our own shifts, so we plan our own schedules by ourselves. On every Wednesday, next week’s schedule will be up. All the shifts are uploaded [to an app], so you grab the job.

The pay, there are ups and downs. They generally like to change stuff without telling us. So we just have to accept what we are given. Sometimes it’s good news and sometimes it’s bad. You just need to get used to it. If they tell you that they are doubling your pay, then you’ll be like, yay. If they tell you that they are dropping your pay, then you’ll just be, ok. It’s not like they are forcing you to accept it. If you don’t want, you can not work, but to stop work because of a 10 per cent pay cut is a bit too much. So we’ll just continue in the end.”

Ms Melanie Lee, 37, writer

“There are several good things actually: A varied work scope which gives you a broader view of the world. Avoiding peak-hour traffic/public transport for the most part. The space to pursue creative projects. The flexibility to hang out with my kid during kid-appropriate hours.

The general public perception that as a freelancer you’re probably free and lazy. But for many freelancers, we’re constantly hustling because of the uncertain income flow.”


Mr Nurikhwan Sahri, 34, graphic designer and tutor

“Basically you are your own boss over your work but payment wise depends on your luck (or skills).

The cons really outweigh the pros unless you already build up or have your client base and network.”


Mr Nurasyraf Sahri, 27, multimedia freelancer

“Freelancing is fun as you get to choose your own projects.

But payment is the risky part. Once I had a client that went missing with my work and no payment.”

Mr Nigel Ng, 25, music performer and instructor

“Well, to me freelancing would provide more flexibility in your schedule, but your job won’t be secure.”


Ms Anesa Dharosam, 25, artist

“One important advantage is the fact that you can choose what you want to do or not. If this project doesn’t appeal to me, at least I can turn it down and look for other projects instead.

The worst thing about the gig economy is the lack of security and stability.”


Ms Nasita Nasrul, 23, artiste

“The advantage of freelancing for me being a young mother of two daughters is that I get to spend more time with my family. I get to plan my own schedule and choose my own assignments.

The disadvantage, of course, is I don’t get a fixed daily, weekly or monthly pay.”


Mr Pavan J Singh, 37, actor

“The advantages of freelancing are working on your own time, personal time management, no boss, and the freedom to be as creative as you want.

But the disadvantages are having no financial security, it’s risky, you must have a lot of willpower, and there are no benefits.”


Ms Nur Shakinah Mohamed Ansari, 22, designer

“Freelance work allows me to have a flexible schedule and a less mundane life. The lack of routine is pretty exciting to me!

But the pay isn’t fixed so it’s all a matter of luck, according to when a client needs my service. Also, working with different clients means having different bosses and different expectations of the service I provide. What looks great to one may disgust another.”


Mr Muhammad Syahrul ‘Afif Mashkur, 30, trainer and director

“It’s good because the timing is flexible, and you can choose whether or not to take a project. You are also able to go on holidays during off-peak periods, and for me, I’m able to earn more than salaried pay.

The disadvantages are that there is no fixed salary or CPF, and no employee benefits.”

Mr Hafeez Hassan, 33, personal trainer and performing artiste

“I’m a freelance personal trainer and the very best thing is you can be flexible with your schedule. You set your own terms and conditions with what you want to achieve plus you get to plan your holidays anytime you want! It’s difficult to start but if you commit yourself with consistency, things will fall into place.

Actually, I used to be fearful of its instability, but only to realise that it’s all about having a good mindset. I don’t mind the inconsistent income just as long as I get to experience different environments, meet new people and enjoy the luxury of my own freedom!”

Mr Jayden Chen, 25, kids party planner

“The good thing about being a freelancer is that we can manage our own free time. Freelancer is considered as self-employed, and we can plan our time freely!

The bad thing about being a freelancer is that we are solo or so called one man show. Be it rain or shine, as long as there’s booking we have to go. Even when we are sick, we have to be there because customer booked us.”

Mr Ken Lee, 32, Uber driver

“Being a freelancer, the advantage is the time flexibility, and the disadvantage is the income instability.”

Ms Sng Yu Han, 26, music teacher

“I get to decide on my off days and I work with people who are passionate about music. Colleagues in the same industry are all like-minded people who are willing to share their expertise (P.S. No office politics).

Being a freelance music teacher means having odd working hours – working when family and friends are off work. Income and schedules are less stable; pay cuts whenever students leave and I’m left wandering the streets whenever students cancel their classes last minute.”

Mr Sakxay Seng Aloun, 22, motivational speaker

“Diversity, yet it always surprises me how much people keep to themselves. I’m not a therapist, but I’m always glad when people start opening up to me.

A middle-aged man once told me I was too young to be giving advice. I agreed with him and patiently listened to what he had to say. I held my tongue and did my best to understand his perspective. After a long conversation, he eventually asked me… “So, what do you think I should do next?” I smiled. Sometimes we forget that the true purpose of listening is to understand, not to respond.

I don’t like when older adults keep telling me I’m too young, I love it when they realise it ain’t about the age since age doesn’t always equal wisdom.”

Mr Gico Flordeliza Babagay, 22, performer

“I grow up as a performer. Many opportunities came to me. The best part of my job is meeting new dancers, sharing stories and getting advice from the experienced. From their experiences, I could apply that in my dance too.

The worst part is that the income is not really stable. There are times when I don’t have any performance for the whole month(s). Those months I don’t earn any money.”

Mr Max Yin, 39, Uber driver

[Speaking in Chinese] “The benefits of being a freelancer is that I’m free to plan my time, free to set my income target to earn enough to support my family.

However, in Singapore, without proper employment or a registered company or CPF, it’s hard to get things processed.”


Ms Sharifah Shafiah, 36, educator

“Freelancing is good because I can choose to do what I want and when I want. But I have to do everything on my own from scratch, and if I slack, my salary is affected.”

Mr Tan Kuan Soon, 38, Uber driver

“The good thing about being a freelancer is, time is flexible. You can manage at your own pace and how much you want to earn also depends on your own decision.

The bad thing is the income is not as stable as those with a proper job. Also for the contribution to CPF, you have to contribute on your own, you have no employer to help you to contribute the extra 20 per cent.”


Madam Maidin Ammal Kadap Maidin Sultan, 67, caterer

“The advantage is that you get to be your own boss and you get to control your working hours. The bad thing is that there is no fixed income.”

Mr John Ang, 54, Uber driver

[Speaking in Chinese] “There are pros and cons to being a freelancer. The working hours are flexible and you can possibly have a high income.

However, it’s possible to have low income as well. Freelancers also miss out on employee benefits like CPF contributions, medical leave, annual leave and bonus which we would get if we were employees or doing a different line of work.”


Mr Said Omar Abdullah, 40, investor

“The best part of my job is having the freedom to decide on my availability. I only answer to myself and don’t have to feel guilty for mistakes made.

But the worst thing about my job is the income instability, and being cheated by partners and clients.”


Ms Justina Lim, 22, designer

“The best part of freelancing is being able to take on a variety of projects from editorial designing to branding, sometimes even copywriting.

But one of the biggest challenges of the freelance industry is being underpaid by clients who maybe undervalue the design profession.”


Ms Yeo Kai Jun, 22, artist

“One of the advantages of being an aspiring freelancer is that you have the freedom to be involved in side projects or collaborations. The opportunities are endless. That is where you gain knowledge and learn about what other artists are involved in. Sometimes, it’s not always about the certificate. To me, as long as you are passionate about the arts and keen to learn, all you need is the discipline to do research and educate yourself on the arts.

It’s sometimes hard to make ends meet as a freelancer. You probably have to get a part-time job to support yourself financially and to purchase art supplies. Trust me, art supplies are not cheap.”

Mr Alan Wu, 52, Uber driver

“The good thing about freelancing is that it allows me to manage my own time and targets. I don’t need someone to approve my leave if I have something urgent to attend to. There is also quite a bit of control in the level of income you want to achieve. If you work long and hard enough, you are able to hit the wage ceiling in this line.

However, one must consciously save up as there isn’t CPF to fall back on.”

Mr Kong Chong Yew, 30, photographer

“A good thing is that I have the freedom to manage my schedule. A bad thing, however, is that you don’t get paid on time, most of the time. There was once I had a payment that was overdue for close to a year.”

Mr Quek Kwan Zheng, 29, health consultant

“One of the best aspects of being a freelancer is being able to provide a personalised level of service quality and value to each customer as my main focus is the customer versus other constraints you normally encounter as an employee.

One of the issues that I don’t like about being a freelancer is that I represent myself versus an established brand or company, which often makes it harder to market or source for clients.”

Ms Lio Shu Yi Cheryl, 29, music trainer

“Flexibility of timing and scheduling, freedom of choice for just about anything – who to work for, what work to take up, where to work, why you want to take the work up, when you wish to work (should you need a long break or should you need no break at all).

Lack of any kind of remuneration, incentive, perks and, bonuses. MC and sick days called on MC are unpaid for. Not working literally means no money. Next worst thing would be not fitting into the social norm or stereotyped ‘normal regular job’. People tend to think the job mean nothing.”


Ms Lea Edwards, 24, soft toy designer

“I’m doing a creative type of job, which is great for boosting my design techniques and improving my crafting skills.

But it gets really difficult to negotiate with clients when they don’t seem to understand the limits of what can and cannot be done physically, and there’s no other colleague or boss I can call on for help.”

Mr Linus Lim, 25, graphic designer

“Being able to work on ad-hoc and freelance projects has allowed me to earn some money on the side while gaining relevant industry experience in the field I wish to work in once I graduate. The work and hours are typically flexible and negotiable, and as a designer, I can work from almost anywhere. This really gives me the freedom to manage my time between multiple commitments.

On the other hand, there is always a lot of uncertainty revolving such work. Although I’m fortunate in not having experienced defaulting clients or contractors, at times there have been projects that have dragged on far longer than I expected and making it difficult to manage my commitments. Another issue is that you never really know when work will start or stop. It’s not a constant flow, so it’s difficult to make financial commitments and decisions because one month you can have a lot of income and the next month nothing at all.”

Ms Cara Nicole Neo, 24, Singapore’s First Mermaid, and the Founder of the Singapore Mermaid School

“Best thing about freelancing: My tiring days are always fulfilling. As a mermaid, I occupy a blessed and privileged position from which I can share messages of self-love, positive self-esteem, and ocean conservation. I get to swim alongside new and wonderful people each time and sprinkle oodles of mermaid magic into their lives. It’s always amazing to see how people’s eyes light up when I make an appearance at their party or event, or to see my mermaid students blossom into beautiful, confident, graceful mermaids during class time.

Worst thing about freelancing: My fulfilling days are always tiring! Mermaiding looks glamorous from the outside, but there’s a lot of logistics, planning, and hard work that goes into it. From managing my emails and social media platforms to liaising with clients and media, to maintaining my equipment, to swimming in a 15kg tail, to opening my eyes in chlorinated water – there are a lot of tiny little difficult aspects that are all lesser-known facets of my mermaid life.”


Ms Nur Shahidah Mohamed Ansari, 19, actress

“The best thing about freelancing is the freedom. I’m able to choose which projects I’d like to work on, which also allows me a flexible schedule and therefore more time to spend with my family. But as much as freelancing is great, the uncertainty with regards to income can be daunting.”

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

  1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters
  2. Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story 
  3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago
  4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success
  5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market
  6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career
  7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?
  8. Got an F in school? There are still ‘100 ways’ to be successful
  9. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: More skills, more agile, more resilient

Featured image a collation by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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by Bertha Henson

IT’S tough being sandwiched between two giants. There’s Malaysia to the north and Indonesia to the south and the talk in both nations is all about race and religion.

So Malaysian premier Najib Razak has raised the bogey of a “Chinese” country should the opposition Democratic Action Party come into power. He told his UMNO party faithful that agencies that deal with bumiputera rights and so forth would be folded if so.

If that’s not calculated to inflame, what else is? Of course, he doesn’t say that it’s really quite difficult to make G agencies disappear in a flash. There are laws and Parliament to contend with, unless he thinks that his Barisan Nasional will lose so many seats in the next election that it will no longer have any teeth.

At the same time, he’s supportive of a Private Member’s Bill by Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to introduce Syariah law.

“Non-Muslims must understand that this is not about hudud but about empowering the Syariah courts,” he told Malaysian media recently.

The Bill will allow Syariah courts to impose maximum penalties of 30 years’ jail, RM100,000 (S$32,000) fine or 100 strokes of the cane for offences under Islamic law. The fear that this is a backdoor to introduce the law wholesale for the rest of the country.

To soothe non-Muslim fears, he said in a speech that the Bill will be studied to ensure “no elements of dual punishment”. You wonder how dual punishment can even occur given that the laws are separate for Muslims and non-Muslims.

Then you have the demonstrations in Indonesia.

Half a million people (depending on whether you believe the Jakarta Post) turned up on Friday at Medan Grand Mosque to rail against the Chinese-Christian governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Much is being made about how the protest was incident-free with President Joko Widodo even turning up to join in the Friday prayers.

Ahok is facing blasphemy charges because he purportedly said in a video clip that people should not be misled by his opponents who cited a verse in the Quran to urge Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim like himself. The protesters aren’t happy with just charges being levelled against him; they want him arrested. It’s not clear if this would rule him out of the gubernatorial elections in February.

Ahok, who spoke to media on Friday, said: “I ask you to pray for me so that the legal process is fair and transparent, and I hope I can get past this trouble as soon as possible.” In the Jakarta Post report was this line: Ahok’s statement struck a religious tone when he said he had surrendered to God and that he believed the fate of humans had been predetermined by the Almighty.

Oh dear!

Looking at the politics in the two countries, what are the chances that this would happen here? The G has always taken a strong position over chauvinism and religious overtones when it comes to appealing to the popular vote.

Some would say that it was far too hasty and heavy-handed in hounding the likes of Mr Tang Liang Hong, who was accused of appealing to Chinese chauvinist sentiments in 1997 GE or admonishing Jufrie Mahmood for references to Allah in the 1991 GE.

Singapore has a whole matrix of laws, such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, to hold the peace among the races and religions. Any fire will be doused as soon as it starts.

But there’s one aspect which the G would do well to guard against: the coming Presidential Election (PE) which is reserved for the Malay community.

After years of being more or less colour-blind about who will be president, race will necessarily be a factor next year when the PE rolls around. The G must be absolutely sure that the majority Chinese community is fully accepting of the need to have a Malay president.

All it takes is a canny politician to fan the flames in the name of equal representation; masking the real issue of race. Some groundwork must be laid so that people are more sensitised to this change. It is not enough to say that the issue has been debated in and out of Parliament. People don’t really care about political issues until it comes to the point when they have to do something. In this case, when they vote.

Let’s hope the changes to the elected presidency will be a bulwark to safeguard multiracialism, rather than a spark to fire up tensions.


Featured image Oi Oi Oi! by Flickr user Vito Adriono. (CC BY 2.0)

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AS BIG a deal as it is for students and their parents, the PSLE isn’t going to make or break your future. At least that’s the message of a viral facebook post by Mr Khairudin Aljunied. The post was shared over 350 times and garnered nearly 200 commenters in 12 hours.

Mr Aljunied, who scored 221 and is now an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore, called on his facebook friends to share their PSLE results as well as how well they’re doing now. All in a bid to show the young that it’s not the end. That the PSLE score does not decide the future.



Responses were overwhelmingly positive. Most commenters agreed with Mr Aljunied and took up his call to share their own stories. Like Mr Gerald Chen, who scored below 200 but eventually graduated with a degree in communication design. He said: “PSLE is not the definite yardstick to what is your future pathway. Don’t let a roadblock stop you.”



Many others had similar stories to share.


Some pointed out that it’s important to remember it’s not the score that matters – it’s character and attitude that’s key.


PSLE screenshot 1


A small minority however, disagreed…


PSLE screenshot 2



Featured image future.world by Flickr user d26b73 (CC BY 2.0)

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by Felix Cheong

This week, a fictitious businessman who makes rubber stamps for a living, Keymus Yea, says changes in the Elected Presidency can actually be implemented across the board in all aspects of society.

SINCE changes to the Elected Presidency (EP) were mooted earlier this year (in other words, cast in stone), I have seen how these ideas can be applied at work, school and home. As with everything in Singapore (except maybe the LRT), it works!

For a start, I was so inspired by such a foolproof system that I created a two-key system to my safe at home, with my domestic helper (she’s Indonesian, so technically a Malay) holding the second key.

This safeguards our reserves accumulated from “flipping” real estate during the boom years of the 1990s to the 2000s.

Whenever my wife or I need extra cash, we simply summon Kunci, sit her down at the dining table and explain, as clearly as our inadequate command of Bahasa Indonesian allows, why we need to open the safe.

Ninety-nine per cent of the time, she is more than willing to let us have the key, which she proudly wears like a chain around her neck.

I’m not sure if she understands what it is all about or if she thinks this is some kind of game. But she performs her duty, without fear or favour, all the same.

Whenever she refuses to yield, my strategy is straightforward and simple: Dangle her four-year contract, ever so delicately, over the bin. A “yes, sir” invariably follows.

This arrangement ensures neither my wife nor I overspend without third-party approval. And it has certainly created a lot of trust in the household: Kunci knows that we know our safe is safe with her, and we know that she knows that she will always give her approval.

It’s all about check and balance and how you balance the check.

By the same token, I have also seen how some of these EP changes are already being adapted and adopted by the principal in my son’s SAP school.

Taking the cue that the next EP is reserved for Malays, Principal See Baey Sian recently announced only Malay students can run for the post of class treasurer. Not only that, only Malay students whose pocket money exceeds $500 a month are eligible.

The reason? If a student can handle $500, he’s probably mature enough to handle $5,000 of class funds.

This ruling naturally created a conundrum. For in a school packed cheek by jowl with Chinese, where to find a Malay student? And one whose pocket money exceeds $500?

In the end, the choice came down to three students: a boy of Chinese-Malay parentage; a Malaysian boy who speaks Malay and a Chinese boy who happens to have Bin in his name.

My son doesn’t want to tell me who won.     

Keymus Yea


Featured image by Natassya Siregar.

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For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Iffah Nadhirah Osman, Jonathan Leong and Li Shan Teo 

WHAT is success to you? To become a doctor or a lawyer like your parents told you? Achieving academic success is sometimes equated with success in life, but is that always the case?

Parents shape how children see the world and can influence their kids’ decisions. Mr Khairill Rassidy, 40, a manager, feels that success is to see his children put their best foot forward daily. His son, Rakin Kaisa, 11, a primary five student, said “Success is working hard, in a positive manner, for a good school grade which in turn will enable me to obtain a cool reward from my father.”

TMG asked 50 people – 25 parent-child pairs – for their views on success. Here’s what they said:


Ms Sharon Peters, 48, administrator (left) with her son, Mr V. Nashvinn, 22, year two university student (right).

Ms Peters: “Success to me is ensuring that I do my duty as a single parent, and guide my son to be a decent successful human being with compassion and the drive to make a difference in the lives of people around him.”

Mr Nashvinn: “To me, success is knowing that you have made a difference in people’s lives, for the better.”



Madam Devi Vembadian, 55, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officer (right) with her son, Mr Teo Zhi Yang, 21, year three polytechnic student (left).

Madam Vembadian: “It’s being able to have a close family as they’re the only ones who will always be with you.”

Mr Teo: “Success to me means accomplishing or achieving a goal that I set for the future.”

Mrs Liu Li, 49, hairstylist (left) with her daughter, Ms Xia Ming, 19, year two polytechnic student (right).

Mrs Li [speaking in Mandarin]: “My success is from choosing my path and achieving my goals within the time I set myself.”

Ms Ming: “I don’t think I need to earn millions as long as I am able to live life comfortably, do what I like and eat delicious food. I think I’m pretty successful.”

Mrs Sharon Tan, 56, self-employed (left) with her daughter, Ms Rachel Lim, 17, secondary five student (right).

Mrs Tan: “That we are there for each other in good and bad times, to be a good listener and advisor but not [a] dictator.”

Rachel: “Success is a an attitude and state of mind where I feel the exhilaration of knowing that I made a difference for many, did this doing what I love, and making a lot of money in the process so I get to experience many things in this extraordinary world. The most important part of success is a deep knowing that I made a difference for others.”

Mr Francis Leong, 54, multimedia specialist (left) with his daughter, Ms Josephine Leong, 17,  year one polytechnic student (right).

Mr Leong: “Being able to provide reasonably and sufficiently to the family through living a knowledgeable and productive life, keeping all things simple.”

Josephine: “Success to me is to be satisfied and appreciative of life, of what you already have and to be the best person you can be to others around you.”

Mrs Ranjeet Kaur, 57, senior financial consultant (left) with her daughter, Ms Shirin Kaur, 24, year two university student (right).

Mrs Kaur: “To me success means having a job that you enjoying and a happy, healthy and financially secure family life.”

Ms Kaur: “At this point in life when I’m concerned about my future after university, success to me means graduating with a good degree so that I can be employed swiftly after with a good starting pay.”


Ms N. Nathira Begum, 44, administrative staff (right) with her daughter, Maghfirah Senewi, 15, secondary three student (left). 

Ms Nathirah Begum: “Success is to see my children succeed in life.”

Maghfirah: “Success is being able to achieve my dreams with my loved ones right beside me and not behind.”



Madam Michelle Vembadian, 48, administrative executive (left) with her son, Jethro Lim, 11, primary five student (right).

Madam Vembadian: “As a parent, success to me is when my kid can confide his problems to me. In my career, being in a high position and being able to mingle and be an approachable person to people of all levels would be another achievement.”

Jethro: “Success is when you never give up and pick yourself up when you fall down. Success is also when you achieve the goals which you have set.”


Madam Isbahiyah Abdul Wahab, 45, special needs teacher (right) with her son, Mr Mirza Mas’od, 20, year two ITE student (left)

Madam Isbahiyah: “Being able to help others while being an independent woman.”

Mr Mirza: “To be truly happy with oneself by accepting yourself as who you are , whilst constantly setting goals to progress yourself further and making it an enjoyable thing to do.”



Madam Nur Aishah Abdullah, 44, managing director (left) and her son, Mohamed Shafiq Mohamed Ansari, 15, secondary three student (right).

Madam Aishah: “Success is to stand alone upright and be able to help others too.”

Shafiq: “Success is basically hard work, dedication, sincerity and confidence in yourself. If you have confidence in yourself, you can overcome anything. That’s my policy.”


Mr Khairill Rassidy, 40, manager (left) with his son, Rakin Kaisan, 11, primary five student (right)

Mr Khairill: “Success means that my children put their best foot forward, either physically or mentally, in their daily challenges.”

Rakin Kaisan: “Success is working hard, in a positive manner, for a good school grade which in turn will enable me to obtain a cool reward from my father!”


Madam Rohaidzan Md Pilus, 56, clerk (left) and her daughter, Ms Umairah Huda Sahri, 21, year two university student.

Madam Rohaidzan: “Success to me is if you manage to settle or overcome a problem or difficulty and it gives you satisfaction and makes you happy.”

Ms Umairah: “Success starts with small steps, such as getting my assignments done. And then, graduating and hopefully in the future, getting a job I like. In general, it’s just taking steps to your goals.”


Madam Salbiah Asan, 53, assembler (left) with her daughter, Ms Amelia Norman, 21, year two polytechnic student (right).

Madam Salbiah: “Success is when you don’t pay attention to what people say about you, and know that you are as capable as any of them.”

Ms Amelia: “Success to me is finally being able to accept my flaws and work around it. Success to me is achieving the little things I go through in a day.”

Madam Hani Sallim, 42, entrepreneur (left) with her son, Imaan Khalid, 10, primary four student (right).

Madam Hani: “Success to me is when I am able to turn my passion into a business successfully and in turn, using my experience, educate the underprivileged by equipping them with skills so that they can survive on their own.”

Imaan: “Success to me is [when] I am able to achieve the goals I set for myself. The impossible is possible.”


Mrs Jeraline David, 45, IT manager (left) with her son, Andrew Jonathan Casala, 17, year one polytechnic student (right).

Mrs David: “Success is not measured by the wealth a person have accumulated in a lifetime; it’s not about how much money you have in the bank or vast properties and luxuries you enjoy. It’s about being contented in life and having joy and peace in whatever circumstances you are in because you know that all things will work out good for those that trust in God.”

Andrew: “Success is when all things are right in your world.”

Madam Suzana Ismail, 42, self-employed (right) with her daughter, Nurul Syuhadah Ani Suffat, 10, primary four student (left).

Madam Suzana: “Success [to me] is to think positively in whatever we do. The most important thing is to be humble. Obstacles are always there so just go with the flow. Don’t stress.”

Syuhadah: “Success is made at home. My parents don’t give me stress and give me what I like such as cooking my favourite food.”

Madam Mala Garunagaran, 46, entrepreneur (left) with her daughter, Sashreena Nambiar, 16, secondary four student (right).

Madam Mala: “Success is having complete education, proper education, stable income, being independent while helping poor people. Happiness and a happy family [is also part of success].”

Sashreena: “Passing all major exams and making your parents proud. My aim is to go to secondary five with a t-score of about 18 points. Being happy [is success].”

Mrs Jocelin Cai, 50, homemaker (right) with her daughter, Jadyn Lavenia Caijing, 12, primary six student (left).

Mrs Cai: “Success is hard work, courage, resilience, and determination. You can’t expect a child to get straight As. Most importantly, [the] child has to understand that without all these values, they cannot succeed.”

Jadyn: “[Have] courage to say what I want. Be honest, ask what you want. Success is actually through resilience. If you work hard, you can get what you want. Have hope and faith.”


Madam Rowina Sim, 50, administrative manager (left) with her son, Eng Qi Hong, 16, secondary four student (right).

Madam Sim: “A success to me means having a prospective career, doing my best to cultivate kids the right value and doing the right things, and contribute back to society if possible.”

Qi Hong: “Success to me basically means to be able to achieve, to complete what I set out to do at the very beginning. An example being test results in school. I study in order to improve the current grades and maybe even obtain a considerably good mark, but the thing is, if I’ve improved or I’ve gotten what I feel is a high enough mark, that will be a success to me. There’s no need to be the very top.”

Mr Zhou Jianying, 43, senior manager (left) with his daughter, Zhou Yutong, 21, year three university student (right).

Mr Zhou: “when I will one day see my children use branches and sticks to move a dead rat from the middle of the walkway to the grass patch at the side of the road. To me, passing on values to my children is more important than anything.”

Ms Zhou: “For me, success in life is to be carefree. To be able to spend time with your family and friends, and not having to worry about where your next meal is going to come from or if you have the money to pay for your child’s school fees next month.”

Suzy Yeo, 60, self employed (left) with his daughter, Christy Liam, 18, year one polytechnic student (left).

Mrs Yeo: “For me, I can provide my family with quality life in terms of education and living necessities, I can have good quality time with my family without having to worry about tomorrow’s.”

Ms Liam: “Success to me is actually just to be happy with what I’m doing in my life. For example, achieving a high paying job which I have no passion in would be of no use. I’d rather choose a job which I enjoy doing even if it isn’t high paying.”

Mrs Christina Chionh , 59, associate sales director (right) with her son,  Arthur Chionh, 21, year one university student (left).

Mrs Chionh: “Happiness. Work hard and enjoy life. Happiness is when life fulfils our needs. Happiness comes when you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Live life to the fullest with no regrets.”

Mr Chionh: “Meeting the interests of as many people as possible.”


Madam Tai Pin Pin, 45, entrepreneur (left) and her daughter, Ms Rachael Tan, 19, year three polytechnic student (right).

Madam Tai: “Success means personal and family happiness and health.”

Ms Tan: “Success is feeling completely awesome about yourself and having accomplished something that defines you as a person.”

Mr Yeo Hock Cha, 56, architect (left) with his son, Mr Genewaye Yeo , 21, full-time national service man (right).

Mr Yeo: “Success is when you are at peace with yourself and able to deal with the people and events around you with tranquillity.”

Mr Genewaye Yeo: “Success to me is not the achievement of my goals but rather the experience I obtained on my journey to reach them.”


Madam Noraisah Khamis, 45, office administrator (right) with her son, Abdul Mateen Khayry Osman, 12, primary six student (left).

Madam Noraisah: “Success is an accomplishment to do something you fear most. To me, it also means that you are able to better yourself than yesterday.”

Mateen: “Success means excelling in my exams and always reaching my goals. I would also like to succeed as a person in my job when I grow up.”


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

  1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters
  2. Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story 
  3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago
  4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success
  5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market
  6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career


Featured image a collation by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.