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.