Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Racist? Me?

What a week!

Baffled by the admonition for Chinese in Singapore to make the minorities feel welcome I wrote to Straits Times with a "question-comment". It was published here.

251 words in the original reduced to 174.

The next thing I knew this letter was all over FB because someone had used this letter to define "humblebragging" ( TRY NOT TO OPEN THIS as it will only increase its hit count: https://mothership.sg/2017/10/chinese-sporean-woman-recognised-her-chinese-ness-after-strange-men-hit-on-her-in-europe/) and an award-winning novelist had written a considered FB response as a person in the minority.

How recounting unpleasant experiences pertinent to the discussion on racism in Singapore could be twisted into a piece about humblebragging was quite beyond me.

But never mind. Free speech. He's allowed to state his opinion.

I was curious as to why the people who then came on to FB to comment assumed that I was trying to get the attention of these "white men". So, it was my fault for trying to emulate Suzie Wong, I've been told.

Calm down, people, I will never look like Suzie Wong in a million years. I went to Amsterdam as a missionary in my thirties! By the way, it is never nice to be accosted by strangers. Period.

Yesterday the onlinecitizen published this article, all 1900 words, where I set out what I believe had gone wrong. It's my view. I may be right. I may be wrong.

Ultimately I want us to get back to that kind of Singapore I knew where one's skin colour is not the defining issue.

By sheer coincidence, Mr Lim Siong Guan wrote this commentary piece on building a gracious society on Today on the same day.

 Grace, not race. Let's be gracious, not racist.

Meanwhile, enjoy Bette Midler here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLPj2h0N3bU

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

SingPass 2FA does 'eff all'

I arrived in Singapore on 4th July. This was published on 7th of July 2017:

Have a new system for public? Test it rigorously first

All my attempts to apply for a SingPass two-factor authentication (2FA) have disappeared into a black hole.

Late last year, I was instructed to obtain a 2FA to make government transactions more secure.

But none of the options on the relevant website applied to me, as I live overseas.

After several e-mails and submitting scans of various documents, my application ground to a halt. I could not proceed with the registration online.

I called the helpline, whereupon a robotic voice took me from one option to another and landed me back at square one.

When I finally spoke to a human officer, I discovered that Assurity, the private company charged with dishing out 2FAs, has no records of my London address to which a token is supposed to be sent, and it insisted that it could not send one to my Singapore address.

I had to go down in person, I was told, and at least this helped resolve the matter.

If I did not happen to be back in Singapore, I would forever be locked out of the Singapore system. I could not even renew my passport.

This is not a complaint about personal inefficiency or individual unpleasantness.

It is a reminder that if the authorities wish to attempt such an onerous exercise, then the system should first be piloted with a group of disparate potential users.

Why allow only users of Singapore-registered mobile phones?

Call in some user-experience experts, test every scenario, and note that Singaporeans living overseas are as varied as they can get.

If the authorities cannot exhaust the ways of dealing with anomalies, then at least have an option within the protocol to deal with such matters satisfactorily.

===

The original:




BLACK HOLES DO EXIST
All my attempts to apply for my SingPass 2FA have disappeared into a black hole.

Late last year I was instructed to obtain a ‘2FA’ to make government transactions more secure.

I get that. My banks require two- or even three-part verification.

But boy! Do they make it difficult for Singaporeans who reside overseas!

None of the options on the relevant website applies to me.

After several emails, and having submitted scans of various documents, my application ground to a halt.

As I am in Singapore, I queued up at a CPF office to resolve this matter.

I could not proceed with the registration online as the (not so) civil servant said I could.

I called the helpline whereupon a robotic voice took me round and around the different options and landed me back at square one.

When I finally spoke to a human being (Daniel) I discovered that Assurity, the private company charged with dishing out 2FAs, have no records of my London address to which a token is supposed to be sent.

First they refused to register my overseas address. Now they insist that they cannot send it to my Singapore address.

Or I must attend one of two addresses in Singapore, which defeats the purpose of going online, surely.

If I did not happen to be back in Singapore, I will forever be locked out of the Singapore system. I can’t even renew my passport.

Am I now a lesser-spotted Singaporean?

This is not a complaint about personal inefficiency or individual unpleasantness. It is a reminder that if you wish to attempt such an onerous exercise, then pilot-test the system with a group of disparate potential users.

Mapping processes on a flowchart is inadequate. Reality does not always fit in with your limited categories. Why only allow Singapore-registered mobile phones?

Call in some user experience experts. Test every scenario. Note that Singaporeans living overseas are as varied as you can get.

If you cannot exhaust the ways of dealing with anomalies, then at least have an option within your protocol to deal with such, satisfactorily.

Incidentally, why ‘2FA’? Have you not heard the term ‘eff (sounds like ‘fook’) all’?

For me, ‘2FA’ = ‘total eff all’. So far.

Homeless in Singapore

This was published in Straits Times Forum (Web) Letters on 15th July 2017:

Difficult for returning S'porean to get HDB flat

When I decided to come home to Singapore after 26 years abroad, I began my search for long-term accommodation for my husband and me.

Years ago, when I tried to apply for a HDB flat, I was made to understand by a HDB officer that I did not qualify because there was no record of my marriage to my husband (who is a non-citizen) in Singapore. Hence, we put off trying to buy an HDB flat.

Friends suggested that if HDB deems me a single, I should buy a resale flat as a single.

But, the HDB now says I am definitely "married".

While it does allow joint applications with a non-citizen spouse, it is only for a two-room flat.

However, I am told that my husband has to sell his overseas property.

But if we do that, where is our teenage son, who could not come back to Singapore because he was not granted citizenship, going to live?

The only possible solution seems to be to divorce my husband - that is, to regain my single status - just so that I can buy a resale flat, after which I can settle to find work here.

With so many foreigners in Singapore, I am sure I am not the only one in this predicament.

===

The original:

Divorce (verb) to return to Singapore

After more than two infuriating hours at the HDB Hub I came to the conclusion that the only way for this reluctant migrant to return to Singapore permanently (after 26 years abroad) is to divorce her husband.

I cannot afford to work in Singapore until I get a home. Thus I began my search for long-term accommodation for my husband and me.

Years ago an HDB officer told my sister that I could not apply for an HDB flat with my husband because there is no record of my marriage in Singapore.

As such we put off trying to buy an HDB flat.

Friends suggested that if HDB deems me a single, I should buy a resale flat as a single.

HDB now says I am definitely “married”.

HDB does allow joint applications with a non-citizen spouse, which seems a very enlightened step, but only for a two-roomed flat.

However it reverts to the Dark Ages by requiring my husband to sell his overseas property.

Where is our teenage son going to live if we are forced to sell this, his only home?

Our son is not coming with us because he has not been given citizenship. (I am an inferior woman Singaporean married to a foreign man.)

The only possible solution seems to be to divorce my husband (ie regain my single status) just so that I can buy a resale flat, after which I can settle to find work.

With hindsight I did not have to declare my married status, nor that my husband owns an overseas property. But we are honest Christians who don’t know how to lie.

Perhaps it is far easier for me to get a divorce from Singapore.



Sunday, 2 July 2017

Ethnic enclaves in Britain

Another  letter was published in Straits Times on 8th of June:

The original under-400-word letter reads:

===
My thesis supervisor asked, “Do you think multiculturalism is a good thing?” His tone of voice suggested that he did not approve, which is most unusual for a British academic.

My answer: Multiculturalism is great. Public services can be run on religious holidays as we take turns to go on leave.

What is there not to like?

However British children do not start the school day by pledging unity with fellow citizens ‘regardless of race, language or religion’.

Previously school assemblies were required to be ‘Christian’ in perspective, providing some semblance of cultural glue. These days, liberals, humanists, agnostics, atheists, etc have ensured that religion, and especially the Christian religion, is kept out of the classroom.

An elderly friend was furious on learning that her grandchildren were being taught – at school – that divorce is ‘normal’. (What, I wonder, would she think of same-sex relationships being taught.)

Previously most immigrants chose to integrate. We hear accounts of people changing their surnames (hiding their German/Jewish/Polish/etc roots), adopting Anglicized names (my son says I should call myself ‘Susan’) and adopting western dress, even to the point of cutting their hair and removing their turban, just so to find work.

Even Muslim immigrants adapted, becoming vegetarians as there was no halal food. They worked hard and learned the English language. They needed to feed their families.

Multiculturalism became more prevalent in the late 1990s. Two things happened.

‘White flight’ is the phenomenon of locals (of whatever colour) ‘fleeing’ to other areas to avoid being swamped by people of a ‘wrong’ ethnicity.

The vacuum was filled by new migrants, leading to monocultural ethnic and linguistic enclaves.

Women in particular did not learn to speak/read English and instead became dependent on husbands and so-called community leaders in matters of marriage and politics, including their right to vote (by post).

If children did not have a chance to interact with families outside of their own ethnic group in monocultural schools, how are they to learn ‘British ways’?

If university students are unable to use a knife and fork, how are they going to land (well-paid) jobs requiring fine-dining with clients?

Some insist on wearing Islamic robes to interviews, and then claim racism for their continuing unemployment.

Frustration, boredom, drug addiction, criminal behaviour, and then it’s only one small step to being radicalized by someone who promises an alternative to such purposelessness
.

===
Spot the difference. This is the published version:

===
It is not hard to see how someone could be radicalised.

In the past, immigrants to Britain chose to integrate.

We heard accounts of people changing their surnames to hide their German, Jewish or Polish roots, and adopting Anglicised names and western dress.

Some removed their turbans and cut their hair so as to find work. Muslim immigrants became vegetarian, as there was no halal food.

They learnt English and worked hard to feed their families.

When multiculturalism became more prevalent in the late 1990s, two things happened.

Residents in some areas moved en masse to other neighbourhoods to avoid being swamped by people of a "wrong" ethnicity.

This led to a vacuum, which was filled by new immigrants, resulting in monocultural ethnic and linguistic enclaves.

Women, in particular, did not learn to speak or read English, and instead became dependent on their husbands and community leaders in matters of marriage and politics, including their right to vote (by post).

Children did not have a chance to interact with families outside of their ethnic group because the schools were monocultural.

How, then, are they to learn "British ways"?

The isolation brought about by living in ethnic enclaves could provide fertile ground for radicalisation.

===


Saturday, 27 May 2017

Benefits of non-integration

Meanwhile in Australia, some psychiatrist noted that Muslims do not integrate well.

Questions have been asked why is it that previous migrants to the UK had integrated so well, whereas the more recent ones seem to have an issue.

I think welfare benefits have a lot to do with this.

I have heard many immigrants who arrived before the 1990s who, because they were not entitled to any benefits, had to work and indeed worked very hard.

They learned the language, took on any work, bought homes and integrated, because they were here to stay. Some changed their names. Most changed the way they dressed, just so to fit in.

Such changes were insignificant sacrifices in return for free education, free healthcare, and if they continued to contribute to National Insurance (NI), these migrants will have a comfortable retirement drawing a perpetual pension which today is just under £160 a week (£159.55  to be precise, or about SGD282).

All this changed some time ago -- I cannot be sure when -- which allows new migrants to draw the same benefits despite not having paid any NI. Yes. You get something for nothing.

Without the need to strive for a living, it was so easy to just sit back, get lazy and get very bored.

There is no incentive to integrate. The more a claimant is unable to function in the UK, the more resources are being thrown at them, such as interpretation services when they go to the hospital.

When the news first emerged, I guessed that the taxpayer must have been funding the lifestyle of this young man. How else was he able to fly here and fly there at will when he was unemployed?

I will not be surprised if his parents continue to draw benefits despite not living in this country. All you need is someone at your address to return documents to the necessary government departments and LIE that you are still resident in the country.

We cannot be sure if this is the case.

However it has emerged that this jihadist could have been funded by a student loan despite not being a student any more.

Why did his university not alert the student loan company?

Two hypotheses:

#1 British universities are renowned for hating to have to 'police' the immigration status of students. They are actually required by law to submit details about whether students registered for courses actually do attend classes in order to eliminate bogus students. They don't, because they are not the 'border police'.

#2 The university funding is dependent on numbers. If they report a dropout, the university loses the money. The administration might have delayed reporting this until the money is given to the university and they can take their time to return it. Meanwhile the student loan company (a separate entity) will assume that the loan is legitimate and hands out the money. Nobody cares whether the money will be returned as the rules are if they fail to pay within a certain period, the loan is written off. It might be that dropouts would have to repay much earlier. I cannot be sure. Again, it is not the university's problem.

All in, my tax is being used to fund these jihadists in Britain and there is nothing I can do about it.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Manchester Terror

Another day, another city.

Another former cannabis user.

Another previously purposeless life, now snuffed out, but not before taking more than 20 others with him. Members of the perpetrator's family have been arrested.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24) 
My prayers for you, Manchester, a city of great significance in my life.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Who would braid my hair?

My latest letter published in Straits Times (11th April 2017). My original submission here, with the three most important paragraphs (in red) edited out:

I was not surprised at all by the headline 12-year-olds in Singapore spend 6½ hours daily on electronic devices. We have all seen families at restaurants, each engrossed in their own device.

Meanwhile a British newspaper reports that “desperate British parents are spending £70,000 a time” on daughters who had “become hopelessly hooked” on “sexting” (sending naked photographs of themselves using their mobile phones and the internet, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4371936/Parents-pay-70k-send-teens-course-stop-sexting.html).

The trend that disturbs me most is that of a baby/toddler in a high chair with a tablet stuck in front of it.
The carers/parents get peace and quiet, but the children will not eat, or will only allow themselves to be fed if the feeder ensures that their line of vision (to the device) is not obstructed at any time.

How in the world can a real-life carer/parent compete with the all-singing, all-dancing graphics on that digital device?

It troubles me immensely that:
(1)  family time out at a restaurant does not encourage family – particularly husband and wife – to communicate face-to-face;
(2)  the joy of eating is not celebrated which could lead to an abnormal [requested change to "unhealthy"] relationship with food in the future (obesity/anorexia);
(3)  little children become addicted to flickering images on a tiny screen at a time when their brains should and could be encouraged to ‘wire-up’ in the areas of problem-solving, communication, self-control and relationship building.
I write as a parent who refused to let her child watch children’s TV for the first two years of his life.

In some parts of the world, hair is braided intricately by elders. This is a bonding activity. More importantly, as children relax and form a captive audience, sometimes for hours, elders impart the cultural values of that society.

I recall the hours my mum spent getting my hair ready at primary school, and the life’s values she shared during those times.

Now that this task is usually delegated to a home helper, eating out is an alternative to hair-braiding.

Is it wise to let such inanimate electronic devices rob our family of such precious times together?
===

The published version here:

I was not surprised at all to read that 12-year-olds in Singapore spend 6½ hours daily on electronic devices (Glued to screen for 6½ hours; April 2).

We have all seen families at restaurants, each member engrossed in his or her own device.

Meanwhile, a British newspaper reports that desperate British parents are spending £70,000 (S$121,600) a time on therapy for daughters who have "become hopelessly hooked on sending naked photographs of themselves using their mobile phones and the Internet".

What disturbs me most is how often I see a baby or toddler in a high chair gazing into a tablet.

How in the world can a real-life carer or parent compete with the all-singing, all-dancing graphics on that digital device?

It troubles me immensely that:

•Family time at a restaurant does not encourage the family - particularly husband and wife - to communicate face to face.

•The joy of eating is not celebrated, which could lead to an unhealthy relationship with food in the future, such as obesity or anorexia.

•Little children become addicted to flickering images on a tiny screen at a time when their brains should or could be encouraged to be "wired up" in the areas of communication, problem-solving, self-control and relationship building.

I write as a parent who refused to let her child watch children's TV for the first two years of his life.

Is it wise to let such inanimate electronic devices rob our families of such precious times together?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

London terror attack Day 5

There is no Day 4. It was good to have my son back -- safe -- from an overseas school trip.

Day 5: Mothering Sunday in Britain. This is usually the second week before Palm Sunday (third before Easter) where traditionally children return to their mothers' churches. It is now the official 'Mother's Day' in Britain.

One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind as I settled down in church was that there is one mother in Britain who will not be celebrating Mother's Day.

How could she after what her son had perpetrated on the innocents in London on Wednesday?

Is it her fault?

Of course it is, and of course it is not.

Mothers will always feel that it is their fault if their children do not turn out well. That is why we try our best.

It is not her fault because she probably did not have full control of her own life as a seventeen-year-old (ie herself a child) bringing a mixed-blood baby into being. We do not know exactly what her personal and family (if any) circumstances were at that time, and we must not cast stones.

What we can conclude is this: being a single mother is not easy. Being a single mother at seventeen is not something I would wish upon anyone's children.

What we do know, if this newspaper report is to be believed, is that he took welfare benefits from the taxpayer and then returned this act of kindness by killing innocents. I was angry (see previous posts) precisely because I felt complicit in this crime.

Law-abiding taxpayers are facing higher and higher tax bills to fund the activities of some extremists through the very generous welfare system and there is NOTHING we can do about it.

Every time a politician says we must change this system, they are faced with strong opposition from special-interest groups. Usually people from the welfare/disability/charity industry some of which CEOs are drawing incredibly obscene salaries. "Vested interests", "conflict of interests" come to mind.

Some argue that he is not a good Muslim; he may not even be a good terrorist. He was just a madman.

We must be careful we do not let the 'madman' justification stop us from looking at the whole picture.

I believe that we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. We yearn to fill it. Some will find God and rejoice. Others turn to sex, or drugs, and then crime to feed the drugs. When left with too much time to reflect in prisons, they then find a God through other devout Muslim inmates.

At some point the British public will have to choose: all these people going to prison for one crime or another, do we wish them to be radicalized by Islamist extremists in prison, or do we prefer that they turn to a God who commands his followers to 'love your neighbour as yourself'?

When we love ourselves because we know that God loves us, then only will we consider the consequences of our action (or inaction) on our neighbours.

For now, Christianity and Christians are often persecuted in this once-Christian country. While we ostensibly have freedom of speech, Christian preachers are convicted when they inform the public of what is being taught in the Christian Bible.

Are we reaping what we have sown? .

Friday, 24 March 2017

London terror attack Day 3

Day 3 level of anger: perhaps ever so slightly lower, and only because I now know I am not the only one who feels similarly enraged.

In my rapid-fire reaction here , I speculated that the perpetrator was a person with some kind of purposeless past. We now know that he had been a criminal and was imprisoned. It has also be said that he was radicalized in prison.

Yesterday I asked if this man had multiple identities. We later learned that he had a name, but he was born with a different English name. Just a few minutes ago, Scotland Yard issued a statement that in fact he was registered by another name and has a few other aliases.

Was he on benefits? We have not been told. When his name was first announced, we were told that he was an 'English teacher'.

No one has come out to say, "Oh! That was my work colleague," or "Oh! He taught my son/daughter English." Did he work? Who knows.

It has been reported that he has children, and these children and the mother will inevitably be in receipt of some taxpayers' money. If the mother claims to be a single parent with a child under five, she gets income support currently at £73.10 a week (tax-free) (Source: https://www.gov.uk/income-support/overview), on top of Child Benefit, Housing Benefit, etc. For each child under 16, she could get Child Tax Credit of "up to £2,780" (Source: https://www.gov.uk/child-tax-credit/overview).

Why was I so angry yesterday? I felt that my taxes have been supporting this person and his families/children. If he had knuckled down to some hard work, finding a purpose in life, he would not have ended up the way he did. Innocent people would not have died.

I was angry because I felt that I was complicit in his crime because of the way the benefits system is set up.


Thursday, 23 March 2017

London terror attack 2017 Day 2

Update: Police Statement

As I wake up this morning to messages from friends enquiring about my safety, my overwhelming feeling is that of anger. No one -- no  one -- has the right to cause suffering to innocents.

I think of the family of the dead policeman. Is one or more of his children preparing for a major exam? How is this going to affect their results and therefore their future?

As yet, the identity of the perpetrator has not been released after Channel 4 News made a boo-boo yesterday. This suggests that the identity of the attacker is difficult to pin down. Had he been using multiple identities? Remember, this is the country without identity cards because ID cards are deemed to be contrary to the principles of 'civil liberties'.

What now of the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens who only wish to go about their work and education?

What are the chances that the perpetrator was on benefitsIF so, it means that taxpayers had been supporting financially a person who did not think that the generous benefits given to him and his family are something to be grateful for. He goes and murders innocents, bit the hand that fed him.

How many more of such people do we have in this country?

If this government persists in developing a benefits system that makes it possible for such acts to happen, then surely we must look at the morality behind such a system. But who would dare say such a thing in public? By not saying anything, it makes us ALL complicit in this attack.

Someone commented that the perpetrator must be desperate to do something like that; he had nothing to lose. Exactly. (Was he desperate for food? Hardly.)

I would have a system where, if a member of the extended family going both directions for two generations commits such a heinous crime, then their extended family (grandparents, own family, and children's generation) be stripped of all entitlements to public resources for their life-time.

Then, maybe, people will think twice, thrice, before committing such cowardly acts.

Perhaps if they had been working at proper jobs in the first place, they won't have time to think up such murderous schemes.


Yesterday I took a jacket to a tailor to have the sleeves shortened. In conversation I realized that this sweet old man whose English was quite excellent had pictures of himself in the Taleban in his shop. Why can't refugees in this country be more like him?


I am SO angry.

Let me leave you with Bette Midler singing From a Distance.



Wednesday, 22 March 2017

London terror 2017

We knew it was going to happen. We were on 'high alert'. It was a question of 'when'.

Was the Westminster attack part of a planned campaign? Was the perpetrator a 'lone wolf'?

I don't have the answers as it is my bed-time and I can barely keep awake. But there is almost a sense of relief that it has happened. But fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters are still wary whenever their loved ones need to head towards central London to work every day.

I wonder though: what are the chances that the perpetrator is another 'lost, purposeless soul' (ie smoking, drinking, drug-dependent, womanizing useless lout) who finally found a purpose in some global 'religion of peace' that promises him very specific rewards in heaven?

Or will the authorities and media be satisfied that he was in fact mentally unstable and therefore not answerable to the terror he had wrought?

Other than that I can only feel very sorry for the families of the victims: The policeman who was stabbed had died despite valiant efforts by emergency services and passers-by (including an MP whose brother died in the Bali bombing).

Two others had died. One woman was rescued after she landed in the river Thames. Imagine her fear, if she was conscious enough, to feel fear. What a horrible, horrible feeling that must be.

There were children visiting from France. Imagine the horror their parents are going through.

There is no place in my heart for despicable cowards who kill and maim innocents.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Of teachers, doers and thinkers

This was my (hmmm, edited) letter published in Straits Times  on 18th February 2017  as:

Sometimes, sheer brilliance can make up for pedagogy


My latest challenge is teaching computer skills to seniors (my oldest students are 90).

From not knowing how to switch on their computers, they can now create, save and edit documents, send e-mails, and upload and open attachments. It is such a joy.

I agree with Ms Maria Loh Mun Foong ("University lecturers need to be trained to teach"; Feb 11). Once one has been trained to teach, one can teach (almost) anything.

I have attended lectures by my thesis supervisor in London, and marvelled at how well he illuminated any topic ,compared to most other lecturers who only showed off their knowledge. I later learnt that he had trained originally as a high school teacher.

But the lecturer who left the deepest impression on my own academic journey must surely be National University of Singapore philosophy lecturer Robert Stecker, who came to class to - literally - think aloud.

He asked questions such as: "Is a watch still the same watch if all its parts have been changed?"

After classes, my friends and I used to scratch our heads, just as he scratched his while he spoke with his meandering but sound logic. We asked one another: "What was that all about?" The few scribbles on our notepads gave little evidence of what transpired in the past hour.

But what inspiration! I knew I was in the presence of brilliance. It caused me to hurry to the library to look up texts to reinforce the bits of new knowledge I had gathered.

Most university lecturers, like medical doctors, have merely been apprenticed for a long time in a certain branch of knowledge.

Academics choose to focus on what interests them. They then expound on it to captive audiences.

What listeners make of it is entirely up to them.

While I agree that lecturers should be given a grounding in pedagogy, I would not wish students to miss the experience of being "untaught" by unconventional teachers.

There is a time and place for everything.

We need lecturers who will ensure that we learn the nuts and bolts. But we also need the Dr Steckers of this world to challenge students to unlearn and think outside the box.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Garbage from a mansion


I think of FB as a necessary evil these days. It's good to connect with friends and family. Recently I checked in frequently for updates from a friend regarding her husband who was undergoing an operation. Requests for prayers are usually responded to immediately.

FB has also been reminding me of my 'memories' from years ago. Today, as a I write, with real snowflakes falling, I was reminded of this, from six years ago:

Crisis management last night. Son distraught that Art teacher told him his (most unusual) perspective for an assignment was not acceptable. Took a long time for him to come to a point to say, "Yes, I am garbage, but I am garbage from a mansion," which became "garbage from a palace" before he went to bed. He's been bottling up about this new Art teacher for some time, clearly.
What were you doing this day six years ago?

I now know that I had to try to defuse what was a very exasperating situation for my then ten-year-old. He was probably in a flood of tears as he tried to come to terms with the demands that his Art teacher had of him.

I have recently seen a young girl, fours years of age, colour so beautifully 'within the line'. My son was not able to do that till he was much older. Maybe he still does not bother to do that.

For a ten-year-old to conclude that he was 'garbage' as a result of what a teacher said is not a great experience. Eventually I was able to salvage the situation by convincing him that at least he was good-quality garbage.

Not because we live in a mansion, or a palace, but that God loves him for what he is, garbage or no garbage.

Then he realized if he was a son of God the King, then he was a prince. And if he was a prince, then he is garbage from a palace.

As for the Art teacher, she knew how intellectually advanced my son was. I think she wished that son would put in more effort into her class.

What she did not realize was that son was not very good with two-dimensional art. Give him a piece of paper, however, and he could turn it into origami if he so wished. He is that type of person who could look at a 3-D object and then comes up with an origami version of it. IF he so wished.

Some years ago the youth pastor at church challenged him to come up with something for the mums on Mothering Sunday. He gave it some thought and then set about making origami flowers which he had designed. When he realized that he could not do large quantities of this all by himself, he taught us (mum and dad) to do the basic folds. We then let him do the complicated bits.



Over the long Christmas break he came up with the idea of turning origami into jewellery. (Something to do with the 'enterprise' group he is involved with at school.) And so he experimented, miniaturising his origami as much as possible. Sadly he was not the first person to think of that. But the fact that he did gave me great satisfaction.

Not all children would turn out to be the way parents and teachers wish them to be. I would love mine to be a rugby player, to play for England (or Singapore, or even China, as his grandfather was born in China), but I have long since given up this dream. No, he is not ever going to be my Jonny Wilkinson.

Something he said last year took me by surprise. It is a sign of his coming to terms with himself. He had finally become more 'self-aware'. And praise God for that!

He lives with other boarders who are all intellectually very advanced. He observed that all his fellow scholars have one quirk or another. They are all 'odd' in some way. All had major shortcomings or fixations of some sort.

"Yes, mum. To some extent, we are all autistic."

Autistic. Not Artistic.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Snowflakes and tattoos: a correlation?

It was a facepalm moment for me when I learned that several young people in my previous church were getting tattoos as soon as they turned 18.

As an anthropologist, I am familiar with scarification – and circumcision – as being a mark of adulthood in a ‘rite of passage’. Pain and the ability to endure pain is integral to the demonstration that one is grown-up.

In researching older Chinese people who had immigrated to Britain, I often asked them for stories on their ‘eating bitter’. Almost always, my respondents simply raised both their hands.

“Look,” they said, “what hard work has done to my hands,” as they showed me their calloused fingers and gnarled hands, riddled with painful rheumatoid arthritis. They looked just like the hands of my late parents (neither of whom had a tattoo).

My generation faced hardships of a different kind: leaving school because there was not enough money to educate the girls; if at school, walking long distances to school to save on bus fares; if we got on a crowded bus, being molested as old men and young men alike pressed themselves against us and we did not know how to respond.

Turning 16 meant finding part-time jobs and/or giving private tuition to children in the neighbourhood. I started writing for Fanfare at 16 (while working on my ‘A’ Levels) to earn pocket money. (Thank you, Sylvia Toh and Pauline Loh, wherever you are.)

We did not have ‘rites of passage’. ‘Prom Nights’ were a rarity. We were simply expected to work to contribute to keeping the family housed and fed.

Boys went through National Service where even getting to and from camp every weekend was a hardship. Precisely because these men understood, their sons were chauffeured to and from camps, or given taxi money.

So you see, we did not need tattoos to show we have endured pain and therefore ‘grown-up’.

Pain was written in our hearts, our failures, our indignity, our sleepless nights, our worries about money, our memories ... by the time we were in our late teens.

Pain was in our empty stomachs and in our envy of wealthier university friends who went off on Europe tours while we worked during the long university breaks to afford university fees and textbooks.

Of course, I may be wrong. Tattoos may not be about pain. What then are they about? Vanity? The mindless worship of celebrity cultures? Pray, tell.