April 28, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

Cupcakes and taco chips were being given out – gratis. Men and boys from a ukulele group were strumming away. Children were swimming in pools of balls. All in, it was a very Disney morning at Hong Lim Park today, complete with a magic castle. It was a “young people” event, mostly the English-speaking and the educated. A fair number were in red or white tee-shirts bearing the words Stand Up for Singapore, the group behind the event, which concluded at about 1pm.

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Ukelele player at the picnic. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

It was billed as a picnic to show the positive side of being part of a community, an appreciation ceremony so to speak.

The organizers said so unabashedly in the flyers that came with a game card and a red picnic mat: “Today we would like to focus on the possibilities that we can achieve together and hopefully inspire each other by demonstrating that there are many Singaporeans who care deeply for our nation and will go out of their way to bring happiness and abundance to everyone that we can connect with. And hopefully just to encourage you to love each other just that little bit more.”

The group of 14 had sunk money into this project, its third. It wasn’t a sit down and enjoy the nice weather event. The key idea was for total strangers to interact. Hence, games were built around starting conversations with each other and ending with each participant writing down three qualities that they feel would make Singapore a country to be proud of.

Now, does that sound too cuddly to you? Or is that the cynic in me talking?

Standing round the edges of Hong Lim Park, I wondered at the energy and enthusiasm of the young people who were busy making balloon animals and pushing cupcakes on people. So sweet, I thought. Just wait till they are out of school and in the working world, that idealism would surely wear off…

Yet, the organizers themselves are a bunch of 30-somethings in various professions. I recalled what one of them had said to me: “We are not cynical people.” The turn-out, at most 400, was not as large as expected, given that it achieved a higher profile after a minor fracas had erupted over the group’s decision to stage the event at Hong Lim Park, on the same a May Day protest event was being held. Mr Tong Yee pronounced that he was happy enough.

As the morning wore on, white tents were being set up at the other side of the park. Sound systems were being tested.

The picnickers stuck to their corner.

More on that flyer: “And with this day, we hope to start a legacy for future Singaporeans. That we be known as a community of loving and gracious people, who continue to look out for each other and rest with the knowledge that we can trust our community to see us through… It is possible for us to play, to love, to genuinely connect with each other, and still be the great little nation that we are.”

Eeew.

A young man came to my side as I was watching a group break out in song. He introduced himself as Edward. Aged 20, he saw the group’s work on its Facebook page and decided to volunteer to help at the event. Nice-looking with a buff bod, he said: “Isn’t this nice?” He hadn’t come across an event like this, he said, a citizen-initiated event with no other agenda than to do good. I looked at this young man and his honest, open face. May he remain like that, I thought. Always looking out for something positive. And keep that buff bod!

A somewhat older woman passed by and handed me a tissue. “You look like you need one,’’ she said before walking away. A young woman called Eunice pressed a box of cupcakes to me. I declined. I am not a “sweets’’ person. Then she wanted to take a picture with me, this total stranger.

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Balloons with messages of hope. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

A photojournalist who was with me said he felt uncomfortable. All that smiling, happy faces and red balloons. Everyone was like a child, even the old uncle on the ukulele. Some balloons had words scribbled on them: the qualities that those who took part in the games want for Singapore. The usual virtues were listed: kindness, patience, understanding et cetera. One balloon had this: “Less cynical”.

I caught myself smiling.

 

Following this event, Breakfast Network also stayed for the May Day protest. Find out what happened then.

by Daniel Yap

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak warned via TODAY that if Johor fell into opposition hands, the government’s “big dreams for Johor would simply disappear”, including, apparently, the fast-growing Iskandar project.

With RM100 billion already projected to be invested by 2015, and outcomes for locals looking generally positive so far, Iskandar Malaysia has been a big bargaining chip for both sides of the political divide.

First reactions (especially looking at TODAY’s headline – “Big plans will disappear if BN loses Johor: Najib”) may be that PM Najib is threatening to hamstring Iskandar if the government loses the state. While threats of withholding development from opposition seats are not new on either side of the causeway, this isn’t exactly such a case.

PM Najib described what he called the “Johor way” – the ruling Barisan Nasional’s “moderate and accommodating” style – as the reason for Johor’s success (ST, Najib touts ‘Johor way’ for Malaysia, Apr 30). He jumped on recent divides in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat camp to push the point that PR would be unable to maintain good race relations in Johor, which in turn would lead to failure in the state.

But it may be just a political ruse. Reports in the media maintain that PR draws a diverse crowd in Johor, and a recent seminar organised by UMNO-run Johor stoked anti-Christian sentiments.

Moreover, TODAY reported previously that Iskandar would stay on track even with the opposition in Johor.

He also discounts the “Singapore way”. Isn’t Johor’s success at least partly driven by Singapore’s? Because the overflow of industry and demand from her neighbour, Johor simply needs to keep the doors open to let the money flow in. Success in the state may really be beyond the control of both BN and PR.

Where’s our thanks, then? Not that we expect it, really, since having Johor and Iskandar as a release valve for our red hot economy has great benefits for Singapore as well, but hey, a little credit where it’s due, please.

But here’s Najib’s only nod to Singapore on the night – he compared the island’s lack of “Chinese schools” with Johor as  proof of his party’s commitment to the Chinese. Thanks.

by Bertha Henson

What a nice headline in ST! A Diva to manage mum’s blood pressure. Except the rest of the story is confusion.

Here’s what the report said:

An automatic system to manage blood pressure in mothers going through caesarean births has been developed by doctors at a Singapore hospital, in what they say is a world first.

The Double Intravenous Vasopressor Automated System – or Diva – is still in development stage, but doctors at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) hope it will lead to safer caesarean sections.

Eh? So has this world’s first already been developed or not?

Then follows a long spiel about how this already developed/ still developing Diva works. Then later comes this 2011 study of 55 women which showed that Diva was more efficient than conventional methods of maintaining blood pressure during the operation.

So it has been developed then?

Then comes this: The hospital can’t give a time-frame as to when the Diva will be in action.

Looks like it’s a premature birth.

by Bertha Henson

If your heart didn’t break at news of the rain tree which felled (literally) a driving instructor over the weekend, you are made of stone. And if you are the mother of the man, your youngest son who was about to get married, your heart will now be in little pieces.

TNP today focused on the grief of the mother – and the rage she felt towards the driver of the car her son was in – his student. Somehow, she blames the hapless woman for her son’s death, ignoring the fact that the student-driver’s escape was a miracle. (The mother thinks the student-driver should have been more alert to her surroundings.) Her anger might well be directed at the heavens, which opened up and cut down the tree. Or even at NParks, which said it checked the tree and found that it was perfectly healthy and well-maintained.

The student-driver was good enough to turn up at the wake, only to be met by hostility. Perhaps, in time the grieving mother will come to terms with her son’s death instead of taking it out on someone who managed to stay alive. Breakfast Network offers its condolences to the mother and the family. As for the woman-driver: stay strong.

by Bertha Henson

Media reports said today that the polytechnics are on target to enrol 45 per cent of the Primary One cohort by 2015, up from 43 per cent. Well and good. Now, here’s a question: Are they getting the best students, given that the Integrated Programme have locked in the best students for six years and their next step is university? Recall the fuss made when top O level students picked a poly over JC. It was a feather in the cap for polytechnic education in Singapore.

Now those IP students have graduated, and at least two batches are now in university. Is Singapore’s cream of the crop evenly distributed among the tertiary institutions? It would be a pity if the polytechnics, which have tried so hard over the years to burnish their credentials, are deprived of good students who want a “hands on’’ route but find themselves locked in from age 12 or 14 in another school system that might not be catering to their strengths.

ST reported that  initiatives such as the Polytechnic Foundation Programme and the Direct Entry Scheme to Polytechnic Programme were introduced this year to help more students get into polytechnics. The response has been described as “good’’. How good? In terms of numbers or quality of students?

 

by Wesley Gunter

Singaporeans’ relationships with their automobiles may take on an entirely new emotional level in the near future.

The Future Mobility Research Lab, a $5.5 million three-year program launched yesterday between German carmaker BMW and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will focus on three areas: next generation batteries for electric vehicles and other applications; mobility research on commuting patterns in a mega-city; and the final one which is the stuff electric dreams are made of – a man-machine interface, which will involve systems that can detect as well predict driver behavior.

Some of the radical concepts the man-machine interface will work on include a car that can “identify the mood of the driver, and the perception of the driver”. Given that Singaporeans are not exactly a cheerful bunch, this mood-meter may be limited to ‘Pi**ed –Off’, ‘Get-out-of-my-face’ or ‘I KILL YOU NOW’. Furthermore, it was not specified how this new car intelligent feature is going to detect a driver’s moods. Will it measure the amount of expletives uttered by the driver to gauge his/her displeasure? In this case it would probably be wise to install a hokkien program as one of the language options.

Other ‘unique features’ from the man-machine interface would be an artificial intelligent feature that gives drivers advice during road situations, such as telling you to calm down if anyone cuts into your lane. Now, but doesn’t everyone know that the worst possible thing to say to anyone who is in a fit of ‘hulk’ like rage is to ‘calm down’?

What other valuable pearls of wisdom can drivers look forward to from this new piece of technology? Telling you to ‘wear your raincoat if it’s raining outside’? ,‘Drink more water if it’s too hot’? Or ‘Stop eating in the car!’? Sheesh! Makes people wonder if they’re buying a car or a wife. Will these things come with COEs or marriage certificates?

While the above mentioned new car features may hopefully take some time before it comes to light, BMW’s upcoming i-series fleet of electric models will be equipped with the technology to calculate the duration and cost of driving a certain route as well as offer information on public transport such as bus and train arrivals.

That’s right, you’ve just spent more than half a million on a state of the art vehicle that will give you public transport information and… Get this… Tell drivers when not to drive.

Hmm… There’s probably something that comes much cheaper which can do the same job and it’s called a mobile app.

by Kwan Jin Yao

Whether you are a dog person or a cat person, you are no doubt cheering news that animal welfare will be included in the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) framework.

Illustration by Melissa Lim

The horrific cases of animal abuse, cruelty, and abandonment in Singapore, albeit anecdotal, signals the need for us to have greater respect for animals – and it’s best to start them young.

It is not uncommon to see children shy away from animals, big and small. Sometimes this is not helped by the attitude of parents. What about bringing children to an animal farm? The concern will be whether the chickens can transmit bird flu to the young ones. So a child’s exposure to chicken is via frozen poultry on supermarket shelves.

Get them a dog? Wait. Fur can trigger asthmas. Get them a small dog and they run away from big dogs because their bark is louder – even though some big dogs are among the gentlest creatures on earth. What about a cat? Wait, they scratch. Fish? Guess who will end up cleaning the tank. Best to get them an iPad. Or take them to a zoo where the animals are safely behind bars or in cages. 

In fact, some parents might lament that this new syllabus would not be beneficial for students who might not have interacted with animals before, especially if their families do not own pets. What about concerns over allergies? Physical discomfort, like smells? Maybe, animal welfare will have to be taught in a classroom context, via a text book.

Yet learning to be kind to animals can build a sense of responsibility, as the young impressionable child becomes more empathetic as he or she expresses concern for others. Compassion can be nurtured, as they learn how to behave and co-exist with it.

Pet corners, which may require manpower or resource investments, can nonetheless be a good complement if the schoolchildren are sufficiently engaged and committed. Even an-adopt-pet scheme, where a class of children take it upon themselves to look after animals who are not “dangerous’’ to their health or well-being. Rabbits? Terrapins? Hamsters?

Of course, there can be trips to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and animal shelters. Perhaps, day trips with the 30 or so animal welfare groups who have taken it upon themselves to round up strays or sterilise them. 

There are so many opportunities for teaching and education: young children can be called upon to think about pet ownership; those with household pets can share their experiences of grooming and caring for them. This could potentially be the springboard for greater student involvement through volunteerism or community service as well. They would be giving voice to the voiceless and paying attention to one of the most disregarded groups in Singapore – animals.

More intriguingly, how far will this springboard take participating schoolchildren? How should educators or schools react – for instance – if a passionate group of students decide to campaign against or communicate with corporations that trap animals in enclosures?

Besides brief sessions with domestic pets or animals, will schools and the MOE be open to having organisations like the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) conduct seminars on seemingly controversial issues? Will students get the opportunity to articulate these concerns on a public platform, or to protest against perceived animal injustices? The inclusion of animal welfare in formal syllabus, it is presumed, would open up opportunities for students to challenge the status quo. Will we be receptive to these activities?

Furthermore, on a broader scale, beyond the focus on pets per se, it would be meaningful if these initial classroom lessons and pet interactions can segue into ethical discussions about animal rights and treatment. Why preclude ethical engagement, if the students are ready for it? There is tremendous academic value in these exchanges, as conventional practices are challenged: the ethics of keeping animals in observatories for different purposes, whether punitive measures against abuses are adequate, and the many issues with raising livestock. The details will come, but it is worth pondering how teachers or schools can support the endeavours organised by the students.

For all we know, this might herald an era of animal activism, something that is already on the rise. The next question is: are we genuinely ready for it?

Today’s news in the media about the Coroner’s Inquiry into the death of Private (Pte) Dominique Sarron Lee, due to an asthmatic attack triggered by inhaling too much smoke from smoke grenades, exposes a lot of issues the SAF faces.

It’s easy to take a simplistic approach and blame the officer in charge of this tragedy, who apparently did not follow protocol by throwing six grenades instead of two during the training exercise.

But by looking at the bigger story here, one has to look at the system in place before pointing fingers at the first scapegoat. Another factor that could have caused Pte Lee’s death could be the lack of proper training by the medic in charge to deal with asthma attacks.

According to the Health Promotion Board, 1 in every 20 adults in Singapore has asthma. With such a large percentage of the population with this condition it would be a pretty obvious choice for SAF medics to be trained in dealing with this issue as compared to drowning which would be more unlikely during an exercise.

An interesting comment on TODAY’s Facebook page by a former SAF medic states that they are actually taught how to deal with this condition during paramedical level 2 training.

However, he mentions that paramedics do not have the right to administer life saving procedures due to strict legal implications and can only be certified by a medical officer. While it’s good that the SAF has certain guidelines in place to prevent wrongful medical procedures to be administered, too much red tape in place for situations of life and death will inevitably result in dire consequences.

by Chris Henson

The recent death of a beloved teacher has made me think harder about what my schooldays meant to me, especially in the light of the Education ministry’s move to nurture students who will be confident, self-directed learners, active contributors and concerned citizens. I had come across its flyer, which illustrates how instilling certain core values in young people will help achieve this end.

These core values are Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Management and Responsible Decision-Making.

How to develop this? By teaching students Information and Communication Skills, Critical and Inventive Thinking, Civil Literacy, Global Awareness Management, Responsible Decision-Making, and Cross-Cultural skills?

So many big words and so much analysis on how to build character, something which never had to be explained in the past.

Back then, at least in my schools, those values were instilled in us not as lessons that was part of the official curriculum but as an expected characteristic of any Mission school environment. Our teachers were as interested in imparting life lessons besides class lessons.

I can safely say that my peers haven’t forgotten any of our teachers from our primary and secondary schools, regardless of whether they taught us or not. This is despite having left the school system for a couple of decades. Quite a number of us still catch up with our teachers over coffee and even beer. Informal the get-togethers might be, we still never addressed them by their first names. We treasured our teachers.

My primary school principal was a ramrod figure of a man who brooked no nonsense. He was deeply revered and widely feared. He caned me twice (when I was just seven or eight years old) in front of the school. All the boys had a dreaded blue notebook that noted infractions and punishments – and which had to be handed to our parents for their signature. That was when you realize punishment came in double doses. “Wait till I tell your daddy about what you’ve done” was very effective then. These days the roles have reversed: “You wait ! I will complain to my daddy!”

He arranged a boxing match the very day that two of my classmates had a punch-up in class. He even changed into a black and white referee outfit before letting the two boys have a fair go at each other. They lasted less than a round because they grew tired and sore. Eventually, they shook hands and became solid friends. A lot of character was made that day. We were 10 years old.

This same principal who caned me, made me the Head Prefect when I was in Primary 6. That meant the world to me. I didn’t wonder why he picked me. What I knew was, despite the lashings I had received from him, he picked me and that was enough.

My foray into secondary school was memorable and painful.

By then, streaming had been implemented and I happened to be among the “slow’’ learners who were channelled into the third cohort of Normal Stream students in Singapore. Looking back, I consider myself fortunate. Fortunate, because I met some of the most rambunctious but highly interesting characters among my Normal Stream school mates. They were a scrappy, happy go-lucky bunch, filled with so many talents that fell far and away from the academic tree.

We were in the Normal Stream because we were weak in our second language (nowadays called Mother Tongue) and Mathematics. We remained weak in these subjects throughout our school years, and most did not make it to A Levels or the polytechnics. A small number made it to our local universities, while a few did their university degrees overseas, but most did not progress any further.

But these days, the courses available in the polytechnics are simply brilliant! I wish I was back in school and with courses like Visual Communication, Banking & Financial Services, Food & Beverage, Mass Media Management, Sports & Wellness, just to name a few.

Despite not having the luxury of choice in the day (incidentally, we were quite disadvantaged because we only had 6 subjects to study for both our N and O Levels), many of us went on to become successful in our respective chosen fields. Many are business owners, some are lawyers, highly-regarded photographers, film producers, inventors, radio personalities, professional world-standard musicians, regional directors of multi-national companies. Some are even Catholic priests and Muslim clerics.

We strove to be highly competent in our vocations and took it upon ourselves to study and improve our knowledge and skills. It was really more fun studying for an examination because we wanted to and not because we had to. Seems we have always been self-learners anyway.

Mottos in Mission schools are an important aspect of our values upbringing. My alma mater’s motto was “Potest Qui Vult” which means “He Who Wills, Can.” It is a mantra that has helped many of us forge ahead in life, manage crisis with steady minds and hearts and always ready to fight the good fight!

There was hardly any distinction made between the better-performing and poorer-performing students, not even among the boys. Elitism was not discernible. We attended Mass in the chapel together regardless of race or religion. No one was ever forced to attend but most did anyway. We understood and more importantly, respected the cultural differences amongst us.

There is no need for analysis paralysis in officialdom’s struggle to nurture core values within the education system. Young ministry officials and staffers should just talk to those who were considered (or condemned) to have been “weak” or “slow”. Talk to the old teachers who were likely to have taught your mommies and daddies.

Try exploring the ethos of Mission schools with their curriculum guided by faith and riddled with character-building values and which usually produce articulate, outgoing personalities who possess a strong sense of justice.

I salute all my teachers, those who are still healthy and alive. I honor with reverence, those who have left us for their eternal rest. Rest in Peace Mr. Eu Wing Kee. And to my alma mater, St Patricks’ School, happy 80th Anniversary!

by Vinod Ashvin Ravi

We often read and hear how travelling and spending time overseas can turn out to be one of life’s most transformative experiences. How such endeavours broaden our horizons to acknowledge and appreciate cultures and peoples distinct from ourselves. All this may be true, but the reverse certainly holds as well. After four months on student exchange in Washington D.C., I’d like to think I’ve become just as aware and appreciative of how similar people are, even halfway across the world.

Even though we tend to like drawing lines of distinction between ourselves, my observation has been that Americans and Singaporeans today face fairly similar circumstances and challenges – derived partly from having fairly similar wants – in the course of their daily lives. This is not to say that there are no differences, but our constant attempts at distinguishing ourselves from one another should not cloud our vision from the similarities that exist either.

First and foremost, both societies today are witnessing a common narrative of growing resentment against the powers-that-be. From keyboard warriors to Hong Lim Park protestors, we’ve seen a discernably rising tide of anti-establishment frustration in Singapore in recent years. Yet diatribes against the prevailing political system – and those who run it – are no less severe here in America.

Granted, such anger is grounded in distinctly different reasons. Many Singaporeans are angry at what they perceive to be the continued unilateral decision-making style of the Government. In America on the other hand, much of the anger stems from the fact that effective decision-making itself seems to have become nothing short of a miracle given the political gridlock and paralysis in key Washington institutions engendered by entrenched antagonism between Democratic and Republican parties.

What’s common however is that people in both countries seem to increasingly express a growing sense of disconnect with those they elected to power. An American classmate tells me that the conversations on the ground – more so than ever before – are no longer echoed by those on Capitol Hill anymore. That the governed are losing heart and faith in the governing with each subsequent misstep. A recent Gallup poll in March revealed that Congress had just a 13% approval rating by Americans, only 1% and 4% higher than North Korea and Iran respectively.

A second commonality seems to be that the question of identity has come under equal scrutiny in America today as it has in Singapore. Our country loves to celebrate its diversity, and America is certainly no different. My classmates here include Korean-Americans, Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Indian-Americans, and even Armenian-Americans. They look upon their adoptive country with much pride, but regard their home countries with much fondness. Many Americans I’ve spoken to recognize the critical role that immigrants have played in shaping the country’s past, but just as many remain anxious about a continued inflow of immigrants and the effects this will have on their future jobs and lives.

By extension therefore, immigration has become a hot-button topic in America just as it has in Singapore.  President Obama in both his Inauguration and ‘State of the Union’ speeches  continued to emphasize the need to constantly attract immigrant talent, yet such rhetoric continues to spark concern amongst Americans (why does that sound familiar?). Sure, some nuances of the immigration debate in both countries are slightly different. For one, Americans have to contend with the issue of illegal immigration on a scale dissimilar to the Singaporean context. Yet the general reactions that the debates have provoked – in all their good, bad and ugly hues – remain similar.

They have their magical immigration-related numbers just like us – remember 6.9 million, anyone? – yet here too, the issue of immigration itself seems to strike at something more profound than merely statistics. A classmate tells me that the question of what it means to be American – beyond just the free speech and other constitutional rights – seems increasingly to be in constant flux. Re-negotiating and re-establishing the nuances of citizenship, it seems, is increasingly a central feature of conversations here as well.

Thirdly, discussions pertaining to education – the ‘what’s, ‘why’s and ‘how’s – display distinct similarities in both countries. In Singapore, we recently witnessed a recent surge of public attention on the state – and merits – of studying Literature. Lest we think the  ‘Arts vs. Science’ debate is a quagmire peculiar to us, Americans too are increasingly subject to calls to engage in a ‘STEM’ – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – education. In some ways, the education issue here is interwoven with that of immigration, for the pro-STEM lobby has gained traction in recent years riding on the notion that declining rates of STEM education amongst Americans has created the need to bring in more immigrants trained in such specific disciplines.

Another pressing concern on the current American conscience vis-à-vis education – and one with shades of convergence with the Singaporean context – has been the perceived decline in equality of opportunity. There seems to be a growing sense that the most prestigious brands of education – typified commonly by the Ivy League colleges – have become the entrenched domain of a few, and that the implemented designs of the meritocratic system need to be reviewed and rethought. A neighbour I spoke to told me how he felt an urgent imperative to revive the mantra of ‘hard work will be duly rewarded’ as a core tenet of the much-touted ‘American dream’.

A fourth and final commonality – and perhaps a function of convergent circumstances vis-à-vis immigration and education – is a similar sense of awareness of the mounting competition confronting both societies, especially the younger generations. Many Singaporeans tend to lament an endless ‘paper chase’ as one of the banes of an unceasingly competitive education system. Yet a ‘paper chase’ albeit of a different form is prevalent here as well. While the courses we primarily tend to pursue bear grades, those that Americans pursue bear predominantly job credentials.

Indeed, internships are like prime real-estate here in the American capital. Students of all levels scramble to secure a multitude of internships not only between but during semesters as well. The game of one-upmanship for career prospects here hinges less so on letters of the alphabet and more so instead on the breadth of work experience. But this does not discount the fact that the pressures of competition remain significant and equally daunting here in America as well.

As I’ve mentioned, this article does not aim to deny that differences exist between the two countries. Certainly the points highlighted above illuminate divergent finer nuances that characterize both nations. Yet the broader attitudes, mindsets and concerns that undergird these nuances can be argued to be similar. At the end of the day, people in both societies essentially want to lead better lives, and to do so consistently both for themselves and for future generations who succeed them. We put in hard work in the expectation that such effort will engender positive payoffs. We yearn for prosperity because it seems to have become a harbinger of stability in our lives.

My peers and I in Singapore worry constantly over the rising housing and transport prices and the implications these bring to bear on our future finances. Our American counterparts conversely concern themselves with having to pay back exorbitant and seemingly incredible student loans utilized to fund their college education. Once again, the manifestations might be different, but the fears and apprehensions associated with costs – and unaffordability – remain shared between both societies. We look to government to provide guidance and assistance – if not explicit answers – and are disheartened when they fail to respond adequately. Whether it’s the ‘American dream’ or the ‘Singaporean dream’ – whatever either may mean – it seems that more and more people in both societies perceive such visions to be devolving into little more than wistful fantasy.

This exercise in comparison is of course not meant to trivialize the challenges faced by either country, or to exonerate either government from its responsibilities and missteps. The Singapore leadership for one has certainly made its fair share of policy miscalculations in recent times – even by its own admission – and must now navigate a new and challenging phase of governance in an era of hyper-connectivity and re-politicization. But perhaps an awareness that Singaporeans are not alone in fighting the big, bad wolves that haunt us might help us to constructively shape the discourse that emerges from this period of political transition. One of the more sobering revelations I have experienced in my time here has been that many of the pressures we think Singapore faces by virtue of being a small country, may in fact apply to nations far bigger than us as well.

Embracing globalization has often been signaled as a strategy for a small state Singapore to remain relevant to the world. Yet even – and perhaps especially – a larger state like America cannot afford to isolate and alienate itself from the rest of the world, lest it risks its own prosperity. Forging and maintaining social harmony and cohesion are often regarded as paramount in Singapore on account of our small but ethnically diverse population. Yet such maintenance is equally critical to America given its numerous minority groups and the constant inflow of immigrants. We often feel the pressure to upgrade ourselves so as to maintain or enhance our position on the global economic ladder because small nations have it harder in making their mark. But it can be argued that the same pressure weighs just as heavily on those perceived to be atop the ladder so as to avoid being surpassed by those snapping at their heels. Our individual strokes may be different – as may be the size of the ripples we create – but we’re all ultimately swimming to survive lest we sink to darker, bleaker depths.

Back in our younger schooling years, we were constantly encouraged to take part in community service – to engage the wider community – so as to gain perspective and a heightened awareness of our own lot in life. As Singapore today seeks to rediscover and redefine itself – politically, economically and even socio-culturally – perhaps a similar attempt at observing the wider world beyond our ‘little red dot’ may in fact be beneficial to us in finding ourselves as a collective people and nation.

The writer, 22, is a National University of Singapore undergraduate majoring in political science now on an exchange programme at George Washington University in Washington D.C.