March 23, 2017


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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 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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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.


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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson


Maybe not all the time but some of the time surely. We say we lie out of necessity, or because the truth hurts. Little white lies. But no one likes to be called LIAR. It makes the LIAR sound so very nasty. We’d object and say we’re just bending the truth, exaggerating or omitting what needs to be said. LIAR is as loud and nasty as HYPOCRITE.

Now, so many people are hoping that President-elect Donald Trump will continue lying. He’s been caught out lying so many times during the election campaign… Okay… Fudging the facts… That anti-Trumpists were in high dudgeon.

If we don’t think he would deliver on his campaign promises now that he’s in the job, why were we so upset then? 

If the rest of the world is hoping he was just pandering to his electorate and isn’t about to make his promises come true, it says much then about the American voter. The American voter is so dumb he actually believes in campaign promises. And he’s so spineless that he won’t hold the president to account. In fact, an election campaign is a waste of time and, in the American context, of money.

We want to think that Mr Trump is actually extremely clever. He just wants to get into the White House, so he says what he thinks will get him the vote. That’s how people become popular – say the things people want to hear so that people will think you’re “one of them”, never mind that you’ve never been in a private jet. Now that he’s got the Oval Office, he’ll show just how clever he is by not doing the things he told the Americans he would do. That’s what pro-Clintonites and worried people in the world are banking on.

It’s so odd to see members of the Establishment here hoping that Mr Trump knows that it’s okay to lie. So Professor Kishore Mahbubani says: “You can make very loud campaign promises, and then you ignore them. It’s an honourable American tradition.”

And Professor Tommy Koh writes a memo to Mr Trump to say: “In the course of the long campaign, you made remarks that resonated with the audience or your constituency but which would make bad policy. You should avoid the trap of being held accountable for those remarks. You need not have a bad conscience about it because every US president before you did the same thing. You are just following a well-known US tradition.”

I was waiting for someone in the G to weigh in: “That’s why we need an elected President, to stop an all-powerful Government from doing anything he or she wants.”

And I was wondering what Mr Lim Siong Guan of Honour Singapore would say about it too. Maybe he’ll say that this is for Honour America to handle.

I know people will say that this is the nature of politicians; that it’s normal for politicians to lie.

In Singapore, being called out as a liar or a cheat, or an adulterer, is like sounding the death knell for someone.

In fact, you can be sued if you got your facts wrong. Being branded a liar is dis-reputable; not a mark of honour.

If the politicians here renege on their election promises, we probably won’t mount peaceful or violent protests, but you can bet some people will be keeping a log. We’ll store up the transgressions and explode only at the ballot box. A government which wants longevity wouldn’t want to test people like that. In America? I haven’t heard a single pundit saying that Mr Trump will go for a second term. (Okay, it’s too early to say since he hasn’t even been sworn in). But four years is a long time, especially for a superpower.

What does Mr Trump want to achieve during those four years? Maybe he’s all bluster and no action – and the rest of the world would nod knowingly and think that the poor man has to at least make a show of America being “back” and “great again”.

That’s fine. That’s okay. We understand. In fact, it makes a change from the moralising and lecturing of presidents past. Maybe, he’s actually like Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte, who makes policy pronouncements which his advisors quickly try to roll back. American institutions, we say, are strong enough to hold up against drastic changes.

So we’re hoping for a weak United States President. A President who doesn’t keep promises or walk the talk. Better a liar in power than a principled President.

It’s so tragic.


Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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by Bertha Henson

THE other day, I lamented on my Facebook wall that drivel that takes me 10 minutes to dream up are better read than analyses that I break my brain over. (Okay, correction: the drivel usually has a barbed point somewhere.)

I was referring to the nine articles I have written on the proposed changes to the Singapore presidency, which were yesterday (Nov 9) approved by Parliament. Responses came fast and I will summarise them here:

a. Netizens have the attention span of a gnat; that’s just the way web audiences are. Can’t be helped.

b. Netizens are dumber than most and won’t be able to digest anything longer than a short listicle.

c. Netizens need to be enthused by or emotionally connect to the writer. Which means I’m not passionate or empathetic or funny enough I guess.

But there were also plenty of comments about the nature of politics in Singapore.

The proposed changes are a “done” deal, so why should Singaporeans even talk about it?

Learned helplessness, says one poster. Call it whatever you want: cynicism, reality, lethargy. What I cannot wrap my head around is this: Don’t people think this is an important issue given that it affects the top office in the land and we’ll be electing the President?

Don’t we want to know what an elected president can or cannot do with his powers? Or do we think it’s enough to know that he holds a second key to the reserves – and that’s all that matters?

What if he gets a rusty key, a key which can’t open the lock, and the G has a master key that can?

What if he has to jump over barricades and go through hoops just to get to the door of the safe? What if Parliament sticks out a leg and trips him up while he is on his way to bar the safe?

One line that has threaded the discussion through the whole of this last year is that the changes were designed to keep one man out: Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

Yes, he almost upset the apple-cart in 2011. He almost managed a Trump triumph against the wishes and desires of the establishment and the G. I wish he spoke up on the changes. He didn’t, even though he had thrown his hat in the ring. It would have added some perspective to this argument and given material for people to chew over rather than merely repeating a mantra like a village idiot.

I’ve always thought multiracialism was a moot point and unnecessary, because no one is talking about it but the G.

Another line was thrown up by the G itself: multiracial representation in the office. I’ve always thought it was a moot point and unnecessary, because no one is talking about it but the G.

But you know what happens when you bring race into the mix, everybody becomes an expert. Everybody feels entitled to say something. All arguments for or against reserved elections move towards one point – safeguarding multiracialism. How can it not?

But the changes aren’t only about the two points although the second is a big point.

There are changes to how the president is selected, his powers vis-a-vis those of his advisors and whether the G can willy-nilly change the rules of the game because of its hold on Parliament.

The president is about the people having someone to check the G if need be, not just “work” with the G as ministers are so keen to put it.

Do the new rules make it too difficult for the President to oppose the G? I don’t know. Neither do you, I think.

Do the new rules make it too difficult for the President to oppose the G? I don’t know. Neither do you, I think.

The G wants to move the discussion forward and nail things down for the next presidential election. But I’m not even sure that people are in agreement over fundamental aspects such as whether elections are a good way to pick a custodial president.

The constitution committee had made an observation, very politely, that the G may want to undertake a full-scale review if it so wished at some point or other. Very clearly, that’s in the G’s court. And I doubt very much that it wants to do so.

But who cares right?

I have been reading the news reports on the parliamentary proceedings and I think the MPs merely scratched the surface by dwelling on philosophical points such as the symbolism of the president.

And the Workers’ Party found itself besieged by the People’s Action Party because it hadn’t worked out its “senate” mechanics. What a disappointment!

I had hoped to see MPs go in-depth and compare the differences between the commission’s report and the G’s White Paper, such as the extent of powers given to the Council of Presidential Advisors, and the recourse the President has in terms of going to the public in case of disagreements with the executive and legislature.

That is why I have been persistent in suggesting that a Parliamentary Select Committee be set up to scrutinise the Bill in detail. It’s beyond the ability of laymen to decipher the legalese over Tier 1 and Tier 2 provisions that the G says would be “entrenched” in the Constitution. I bet many people don’t even know what I’m talking about…

If I sound pissed, it’s because I am.

I have been watching the reactions of Singaporeans to the United States presidential election and wondering why passions are so inflamed.

It amazes me that some people are so well-informed about the ins and outs of the American campaign and can cite chapter and verse in favour of their “champion”. Of course, the outcome of the US election is important, not just to the Americans but to the rest of the world as well. All the big questions arise that affect this little red dot, whether over trade, diplomacy or military issues, come up.

Perhaps, we’ve been deluged by media reports and exposed to electoral theatrics, all calculated to get a rise out of voters and by extension, onlookers.

The Singapore way is much more subdued. The Prime Minister sets up a commission, gives parameters. The commission calls for submissions, hears some representation, puts up a report. The G responds with a White Paper and holds some dialogues. Legislation is crafted, read in Parliament, debated and approved.

And next year, we will have a Malay president.

All this in one quick year. The G will say that there were opportunities for dialogue, so it’s not as though the proposals were being rammed through. It will say that it thought long and hard.

The funny thing is, we can’t do a thing about the way the Americans vote, but we get excited about it. We can say something and even do something about our own presidency, but we are not interested. We don’t even think we need be informed. We’re lousy citizens when it comes to our own backyard.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that this is one major piece of legislation that the G and the ruling party has a big self-interest in? And I don’t mean just keeping Dr Tan out. You can knock the G on transport or health or education matters, but it would be hard to say that it was out for itself rather than the good of the people.

But the presidency is a whole different kettle of fish.

I can bet my bottom dollar that when the next election comes around, people will ask: “How come no Chinese?” Or when a candidate gets rejected, people will go: “Criteria so strict ah?” Or when he does something unexpected, we’ll go: “Like this also can meh?”


Because we allowed it.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Felix Cheong

I HAVE to admit – my eyes couldn’t stop rolling in their sockets when news broke on Friday (Oct 28) that the silly “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen” song, by Japanese comedian Piko Taro, cracked the Billboard Hot 100 at number 77.

Along its phallic way – you don’t find the whole business of thrusting pens in fruits oddly sexual? – it also set the record for the shortest song to chart, at just 45 seconds.

Yes, in the time it takes you to clear flatulence left over from lunch, the song’s over.


That a viral outbreak like this occurs every now and then isn’t new in pop history, of course. Think back to the horse-riding antics of Psy four years ago and you’ll realise how often it happens.

For pop music has become so mass-produced, so hip and hyped that music fans occasionally need something offbeat to purge their system.


Here’s my pick of 10 novelty songs that made money over the years:

  1. “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” – The Beatles (1970)

Maybe the Fab Four needed this non-sequitur to mark the end of an era. Or maybe they were just high on something and messing around in the studio.

Whatever it was, “You Know My Name”, released as the B-side of the classic “Let It Be”, is unlike anything the Beatles had recorded. Half-sung, half-spoken, the song has a great hook and only one line – “You know my name/Look up the number”.

Listen especially to John Lennon ad-libbing gibberish towards the end. It’s as bizarre as it gets.


  1. “We All Stand Together” – Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus (1984)

Sir Paul McCartney, singing with frogs? Yes, and it’s croakingly hummable!

This ditty was lifted from an animated film, Rupert and the Frog Song. Believe it or not, it leapfrogged to number three in the UK pop chart and re-charted when it was re-released a year later.

If the NDP people were looking for another national song – why bother commissioning one that no one remembers anyway? – they could do no worse than pick “We All Stand Together”. Its lyrics are as apt as “Stand Up for Singapore”:

Win or lose, sink or swim
One thing is certain we’ll never give in
Side by side, hand in hand
We all stand together


  1. “Axel F” – Crazy Frog (2005)

I’m not done with frogs yet; the next entry is so annoying you feel like throwing it in the well.

Sampling the theme song from the Eddie Murphy movie Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Swedish actor and playwright Erik Wernquist created an earworm that was a number one hit in 13 countries, accompanied by a computer-generated music video.

The Crazy Frog, which doesn’t actually sing but makes irritating noises, will probably turn you off frog leg porridge for a while.


  1. “Disco Duck” – Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots (1976)

Many of these novelty numbers often involve spoofing pop culture trends. Remember Weird Al Yankovic and his send-up of monster hits like “Beat It”?

“Disco Duck” is no exception. In the late 1970s, you couldn’t duck – lame pun – disco music no matter where you turned. So American DJ Rick Dees recorded this funky track, complete with a Donald Duck voice.

It made number one on the Billboard pop singles chart and was one of the biggest sellers of the 1970’s.


  1. “Dominique” – The Singing Nun (1963)

I included this gem only because it’s Sunday and I’m Catholic.

At a time when American teens were into idols like Elvis Presley and the surf music of The Beach Boys, a quaint French acoustic tune strangely made waves and hit number one.

Stranger still was that it was about St Dominic, founder of the Dominican order, and the singer was a Belgian nun, Jeannine Deckers. She would later receive two Grammy nominations.

Not long after she gained fame as a singer, Deckers left the convent. Her life didn’t end well as she ran into financial difficulties and eventually committed suicide in 1985 with her lover, Annie Pécher.


  1. “Pac-Man Fever” – Buckner and Garcia (1982)

If you’re old enough to remember Pac-Man, you’re old enough to remember this song. It chomped its way to number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold in excess of one million copies.

No such luck with Buckner and Garcia’s follow-up, “Do the Donkey Kong”. I guess you can only fool the public once. So it was game over for the duo.


  1. “Shaddap Your Face” – Joe Dolce (1981)

This is what you should blast at full volume when you’re five times over the legal alcohol limit.

American-born Australian singer Joe Dolce had a surprising number one in the UK with this pub-pleasing ditty. It also made number one in 11 other countries and sold over six million copies worldwide.

The inspiration for the rude chorus was Dolce’s Italian grandparents, who would shout “shaddap your face” to silence noisy kids.


  1. What Does the Fox Say – Ylvis (2013)

No list of oddball songs would be complete without “What Does the Fox Say”. Ironically conceived as an “anti-hit” by Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis, it actually became a worldwide hit, with over 630 million views on YouTube.

It peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 – the best performance by a Norwegian artist since A-ha back in 1985 with “Take On Me”.

What does Ylis say now?


  1. “Twelve Gifts of Christmas” – Allan Sherman (1963)

Since the Orchard Road light-up warns us that Christmas is just round the corner, it’ll be remiss of me not to include Yuletide parodies.

The first, by American comedy writer Allan Sherman, takes the old favourite, “Twelve Days of Christmas”, and piles on ridiculous gifts, such as Japanese transistor radio, green polka-dot pyjamas and “a calendar book with the name of my insurance man”.  It reached number five on the Billboard chart.

You’d have a ball belting this out loud on Christmas Day.


  1. “Jingle Bells” – The Singing Dogs (1955)

You could bark up the wrong tree and still find gold, as evident in two singles released in the 1950s.

The Singing Dogs was the pet project of a dogged Danish recording engineer, Carl Weismann. While trying to record bird sounds, he found that barking dogs often spoiled the recordings.

He did what anyone with too much time on his hands would do – splice the dog barks into songs.

Before you could cry “Fetch!”, he created recordings of songs like “Oh, Susana!” and even the ole Christmas classic, “Jingle Bells”.

The novelty record reached number 22 in the US and sold over a million copies, proving, once again, that you can still teach an old dog new tricks.


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Bertha in coffee shop

by Bertha Henson

I LIKE vadai. Never mind that it’s greasy and probably fried in oil that’s fried another 1,000 vadais earlier. I cannot go past an Indian stall without buying a couple.

Plus green chillies, of course. If the stallholder ran out of chillies, I’d make a beeline for the nearest provision store, wet market or supermarket to buy some.

Which is why I think watching that much-derided TheSmartLocal video on Singaporeans trying Indian snacks made me so angry. Vadai must be eaten with green chilli, you idiot! Instead, the two young people were mouthing off about its floury feel and deciding whether vadai was bitter to the taste.

Unlike others who felt that the five-minute video was racist or tasteless or offensive to Indians, I was more appalled at the cultural ignorance displayed by the millennials on the show who seemed to have forgotten that they live in a multi-racial country.

I blame YouTube.

The young ones – I gather none of them are above 25 years of age – are growing up in a YouTube world of short clips, sound bites and fun.

YouTube has plenty of videos about people trying out this and that. So you have Americans trying exotic Asian food and Indians trying Korean snacks and so forth. People watch such videos to laugh at the reactions of these virgin tasters. The Americans who had to try eating chicken feet made all sorts of faces and said all sorts of things about the delicacy, including describing it as s*** . They also had to try durian, which one of them gagged on.

I gather that millennials seem to prize this sort of “authentic’’ feel. There’s also the sense that the “unvarnished truth’’, “real sentiment’’ and “sincere feelings’’ are being displayed. How frank and forthright! Such videos work better at getting eyeballs of young people than scripted or filtered or polished material. So fake!

Plus, the expressions and reactions of people caught off-guard in strange or awkward situations are entertaining.

Growing up with such videos, it’s no wonder they see no need to mask their feelings. After all, other people do it online all the time. Why should a personal opinion truthfully held be considered offensive? You can say anything you like about food, including hating it.

The difference is that these aren’t Singaporeans trying exotic cuisine of foreign origin. These are Singaporeans trying food that is normal for other Singaporeans. You’d expect foreigners to be less familiar with local fare. You’d be surprised to see a Caucasian who can eat durian at first try or who thinks nothing of slurping spicy curry. But you don’t expect locals to be so flippant about food, especially food that marks out a community they live among.

I doubt that the young people – two Malays, a Eurasian and five Chinese – are racist at all. What came through was their ignorance.

Where have they been living? Don’t they even know that most Indian sweets are, well, sweet? They’ve never been to an Indian stall, or a north or south Indian restaurant? The only thing they know is prata? And I don’t even want to start about vadai.

People who’ve been thinking that the video is an attempt to make fun of Indians or deride Deepavali have got it wrong or have a very low threshold of tolerance for the foibles and follies of young people.

It’s about sensitivity – both on the part of the young people and the people who think the video is a disgusting portrayal of Indian food, and therefore, the community.

Where do you draw the line on making comments on another community? Is there a line dividing sensitive and over-sensitive when it comes to hurt feelings?

The website has been doing a series of “Singaporeans trying” including swallowing Chinese herbal medicine, of which there hasn’t been much complaint.  (Maybe because the tasters were mainly Chinese and this is more of an age-divide than a race-divide).

This time it seems, some strident comments about the Indian snacks video have caught the attention of people on social media – and the flames were fanned. There was some chatter online, for example, that Indian snacks were described as diarrhoea or diarrhoea-inducing. Actually, the poor kid was referring to the name of the snack, laddu, which sounds like la du zhi in Mandarin or, yes, diarrhoea.

Okay, it’s not funny, but let’s get the facts right before getting madder and madder.

So the site has been bashed left, right and centre, including by people who might not even have watched the full clip. It was up for two days before it was taken down with an apology.

Is it my imagination or is there a heightened (in)sensitivity towards race and religion these days? I see it on social media where there are complaints that commercial spaces are more inclined to revel in the Halloween atmosphere than drum up a Deepavali feel. And that Christmas decorations are up before Deepavali is over. There’s some grumbling about a G video on Deepavali, which seemed focused on getting a plump Indian granny to cut down on sweet snacks. Part of the war on diabetes or raining on the Deepavali parade?

I didn’t see the Toggle video of a Chinese actor painted black who was hoping to secure an Indian part and which was also taken down. Another un-thinking video? Except that the very idea of referring to skin colour sounds really racist to me. What’s worse is that this isn’t a production by millennials but by an arm of Mediacorp.

What if the boot was on the other foot and an Indian paints slit eyes on his face to get a Chinese part? What if there were young Indians among the millennials tasting Indian snacks? I reckon that would cancel out most of the bad reaction because they would probably be explaining why they like the snack. And even if they didn’t, they can’t possibly be construed as racist for not liking Indian desserts.

As I said, I blame YouTube. People on video shouldn’t forget that they are facing the public, in other words, other people. I doubt that the young people would have the same reactions if they were offered the snacks in an Indian home. The snack might be too sweet or even nasty, but they’d find a way to be polite about it in front of their host. This is likely true for most people; they would be polite to their hosts, even Americans eating chicken feet in a Chinese home.

But it still befuddles me that young people are so ignorant about food in other cultures in a country that is food-rich and food-mad.

Deepavali is over but if you want to know about Indian sweets, read our stories here:

Making much of Deepavali sweets

Traditional Deepavali treats to know now


And remember that vadai goes with green chilli.


Featured image from TMG file.

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