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Musings

Top Posts Of 2015

With the year coming to a close, here are the top 10 posts on this blog of the year (does not include my pieces for The Middle Ground):

It was the most exhausting National Service endeavour, until my reconnaissance course in Singapore and Taiwan.

1. That First Field Camp

“Most who have gone through the BMT field camp recall that letter with fondness. At the end of the gruelling five or six days, after recruits are put through a sequence of physical punishments, their commanders would then present each with a letter penned by their loved ones. I had tears in my eyes (and still have the letter, albeit with smudged letters and tattered sides), but I just remember how I was always pushed to my limits. At the end of the march to the first site I was drained, and – during a long briefing about fire movement – I remember thinking how easy it would be to lean back, collapse, and just fall out from the exercise.”

2. The Circus That Is The General Elections

“And it is hard to disagree with the scepticism, when one considers the confusing back-and-forth between the PAP and the Workers’ Party (WP) on the town council issue, or the unconstructive exchanges peppered with cheap potshots. This year, I tried reporting – at the NUSS dialogue featuring the 10 political parties and as a first-time voter at the rallies – for The Middle Ground, read up on the candidates (including the WP’s), and interviewed SDA chairman Desmond Lim. But whenever I put a piece (and to a lesser extent, a tweet) out, there are reservations about the usefulness of these little activities.”

3. To Be A Singaporean

“Dr. William Wan’s commentary (Jan. 2, ST) on the elusive Singapore identity – and the first of many in this year of celebration – left me nonplussed. He explained that we are “a veritable rojak of diverse immigrants, with imported ideas and borrowed culture”, yet made the obvious concession that we have not “morphed into a singular Singaporean identity”. With his constant allusions of our forefathers as immigrants, and how we have embraced Yugoslavia-born footballer Aleksandar Duric, perhaps Dr. Wan was unsettled by the ubiquity of xenophobic sentiments, and hence felt obliged to emphasise our struggle with identity.

I am not so sure if we can distil characteristics or markers – especially when many of them have been shaped superficially by the state – which define us as Singaporeans. And I am even less convinced by his conclusion to “focus less on what makes others different and more on what makes us all Singaporean”. The motherhood statement seems like the obvious cop-out, because we still have no clue about these common things which supposedly bind us, and reduces the discourse to a dichotomy of should-be’s and should-not-be’s.”

There has been a chorus of familiar refrains about the significance of the vote. Vote wisely, they say. Be a responsible citizen, because how the vote is cast at the ballot box will affect the future of the country.

4. Confessions Of A First-Time Voter: Who To Vote For Ah?

Before the General Election in 2011, friends in the army mused that even though we were old enough to wield rifles as national servicemen, we were not old enough to vote as citizens of Singapore. Just two or three years shy of 21, we lamented our ineligibility, since only one group representation constituency (GRC) – Tanjong Pagar, helmed by the late Lee Kuan Yew – went uncontested, and looked forward eagerly to the next edition.

Yet after checking the registers of electors this year, with the knowledge that my electoral division is Ang Mo Kio, the initial excitement gave way to confusion. Who to vote for ah?”

5. Benny Se Teo: First A Businessman, Then A Social Entrepreneur

““To have a million-dollar food and beverage (F&B) enterprise”, Mr. Benny Se Teo shared right from the get-go, “one needs to start with a billion dollars”. Speaking at “In Search of Purpose” – a session organised by the Central Singapore Community Development Council – his point was clear. The F&B industry is hard, and as a social entrepreneur the founder and CEO of restaurant chain Eighteen Chefs has topossess the business nous. Hearing his experiences in person for the first time, I was most struck by Mr. Teo’s pragmatism.

As a social enterprise Eighteen Chefs hires ex-offenders and youths-at-risk, who make up 25 per cent of his headcount.

His story is well-documented. Because of his addiction to heroin he spent 10 years in and out of the prison and the rehabilitation centre, and following his fifth release in 1993 – after rejections from six job interviews, with his criminal record – he “got a job that did not require an interview”. He bought a motorbike and pager to become a dispatch rider, and by 2000 he had his first business in the courier industry. A Chinese restaurant in 2005 was his first F&B venture, but he eventually joined the Apprentice Programme at celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, before opening his first Eighteen Chefs outlet at Eastpoint Mall in 2007.”

6. AHPETC: Preaching To The Converted

“The problem with the argument in the ST commentary – that “[h]ow the ballots add up in Aljunied GRC, and beyond, will signal which of the two narratives [presented by the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Workers’ Party (WP) about the purported financial mismanagement of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC)] voters were more convinced by” (ST, Sep. 4) – is that it is reductive. First, voting preferences are premised upon a plethora of factors, even beyond “local issues” and “national concerns”. Hence, how the ballots add up should be indicative of broader trends or sentiments.”

Based on these findings, three thematic policy recommendations were crafted: to engage more Singaporeans across all sectors in conversations, to see social enterprises in the context of the non-profit sector in Singapore, as well as to strengthen the business fundamentals of these organisations.

Based on these findings, three thematic policy recommendations were crafted: to engage more Singaporeans across all sectors in conversations, to see social enterprises in the context of the non-profit sector in Singapore, as well as to strengthen the business fundamentals of these organisations.

7. Social Enterprises In Singapore: The Perception Gap

“In response to the research questions articulated at the beginning of this paper, first, retail consumers in Singapore have a fairly good understanding of social enterprises, even though some variations in their comprehension persist. Expectations and standards of the organisations are varied. Second, these retail consumers will not pay a premium for goods and services from social enterprises. Even when differences in the willingness to pay – in other words, the premiums – are observed, they are statistically insignificant. Finally, while the respondents appreciated the work and value of social enterprises in Singapore, they were unlikely to be personally involved in these organisations. Based on these findings, three thematic policy recommendations were crafted: to engage more Singaporeans across all sectors in conversations, to see social enterprises in the context of the non-profit sector in Singapore, as well as to strengthen the business fundamentals of these organisations.”

8. SG50: Of Celebration And Contemplation

“That Singaporeans have criticised the SG50 endeavour should come as no surprise. Instead of seemingly frivolous projects, the five million dollars in the Celebration Fund could – with persistent inequities between households – finance welfare programmes or charitable organisations, some contend. What is so special about a golden jubilee which warrants so much fanfare? Besides expensive large-scale events even the community-led initiatives, from breaking records to school-based campaigns, appear superficial and short-sighted.”

9. Three Tissue Packets For A Dollar

“Since young I have never bought packets from these tissue peddlers. Whenever we were out for a meal at a hawker centre, my parents would always turn them away – making no eye contact and avoiding any conversation – and we did the same when we passed them on the streets. On the contrary there was no hesitation when a volunteer approached with a tin can, which would prompt my mother to dig her coin purse in exchange for a little sticker.”

1o. Valuing Degrees

“Of what use is the Graduate Employment Survey (GES), besides allowing universities to trumpet the employability of their fresh graduates (TODAY, Feb. 28)? Paired together with favourable international institutional rankings the three colleges appeal to the pragmatism of prospective students and – perhaps more significantly – their parents. Compare the starting salaries and job prospects across courses, their officers urge at open houses and admission fairs, because these indicators are approximates of the value of a degree. The Ministry of Education (MOE) makes it clear that the GES provides these applicants “with timely and comparable data to assist them in making informed course decisions”.”

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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