Monday, May 25, 2015

Moving beyond degrees, but where to next?

All my life I have been raised to believe that getting a university degree is everything. It was a message drilled into me since young.

“No matter what you want to do in the future, just make sure you have a degree,” my parents, relatives and anyone 10 years older than me used to tell me. It is a safety net, a ladder to attain a comfortable life. My “ticket to success”.

To them, a degree increases your career options and determines your pay. And should you choose to pursue a path that is different from your course of study, you can always fall back on the degree should the going get tough. That “piece of paper” meant everything.

This was the mentality that was firmly embedded in our parents generation and shaped the culture of our society for a long time. It is a mentality that is prevalent throughout Asian societies. China, Japan, Korea and even Singapore. The emphasis to get a degree in Asian society is real and sometimes border on obsession.

In South Korea, two-thirds of its population aged between 25-34 have a college degree. In China, so much emphasis is placed on students doing well in the ‘gaokao’ or the annual college entrance exams that it is driving waves of student suicides. The pursuit of academic excellence in Asian societies has even created the term tiger mums, who can be loosely defined as mothers who are overly strict with their children in order to foster a competitive academic spirit.

Singapore itself is not spared from the obsession with academic excellence. According to the World bank, Singapore is highest in the world in terms of its graduate numbers, with 6 out of 10 Singaporeans aged 25 to 29 having completed tertiary education. The country tops the OECD global education ranking that tests students' mathematics and science abilities, in front of South Korea and Hong Kong. To keep up, some Singaporean parents even attend tuition classes to help their children in their homework.

If you need any more convincing that Singapore has an unhealthy obsession on the pursuit of academic excellence, last year's Household Expenditure Survey reported that the money spent on tuition was at a staggering 1.1 billion dollars.

Singaporeans fixation on education may have stemmed from the ancient Chinese imperial examinations, where producing a scholar meant an upward shift in social class. This could be further bolstered by the society's emphasis on meritocracy — where education and academic excellence is seen as a ticket to comfortable life — hence the push by parents to do whatever they can to get their children on the university track. To many, a degree is seen as the final goal in achieving academic excellence, and by extension a successful, if not decent, life.

The importance of getting a degree is so high for some that the end justify the mean, as seen in the brief controversy surrounding fake degrees and degree mills recently a few weeks ago — which prompted MOM to release an infographic explaining the different types of degrees. No matter how you feel about the ‘fake degree’ saga, it only reaffirms our deep-seated degree fetish.

However, in recent days, there seemed to be an increased shift away from the focus on academic excellence, particularly coming from the government. In his National Day Rally speech last year, PM Lee urged Singaporeans not to go on a “paper chase for qualifications or degrees”, advocating instead on alternative pathways to achieve success instead. This year, in the unveiling of the Skillsfuture initiative, there are increased talks on the importance of “skills” instead of qualifications, and the government in a whole is seen to be moving towards an approach that seek to de-emphasise the importance of a university degree or academic excellence.

In March this year, DPM Teo announced that non-degree holders joining the civil service will be hired under the same scheme as most university graduates, to close the gap in career prospects between the two groups. The message is further supported during the Committee of Supply debate this year, where MPs urged the Ministry of Education to tackle the ‘pervasive’ tuition culture. In an extensively written article titled ‘As graduate numbers grow, a hard truth: Not all degrees are equal’, the same message is repeated: Getting a degree is not the endgame. It does not guarantee your dream job. You must be skilled in multiple disciplines to stay relevant.

The message may come as a relief to some and the effort to de-emphasise the importance of degrees is commendable, but moving forward, there are still several important questions and issues that need to be addressed for this initiative to truly work out.

One of the most prevalent issues would be the difference in wages. No matter what effort you try to put in to change the ‘degree obsession’ would not change anything, if at the end of the day, the difference in the average starting salary and career prospects remain the same. In a US report released this year, a college graduate will earn a whopping $1 million more than high school graduate over the lifetime and in Singapore itself, degree holders can get up to 46% more in their starting pay as compared to diploma holders. That roughly translates to about 1000 SGD in salary difference per month.

The gap in starting pay is a significant issue and unless it is properly managed, people will still flock to universities in hopes of getting a degree because at the end of the day, it is the money that talks. More so in a place deemed the most expensive city to live in — where every dollar counts. Unless the difference in pay is addressed, it would be extremely tough to change the mentality of the populace. After all, who has the time to think about self-enrichment or finding a meaningful work (but not well paying) when you cannot even put food on the table?

The difference in salary will definitely be one tough nut to crack. If the government moves too much in support for alternative pathways, for example equalising the pay of a degree holder with that of a non-degree holder, they run the risk of alienating the whole degree industry. People would then flock to the alternative pathways instead of attaining degrees because, after all, the cost of attaining a degree is significantly higher than a getting a diploma.

In fact, universities could end up empty if the shift in mentality is significant. We could see a drop in people who are trained in high skilled jobs too, for example, researchers or academicians. One way around it could be to make university education free and letting students pursue university education purely based on interest's sake, which in my opinion would be an extremely bold but welcomed move. Education, after all, should be free and should not be done merely for economic reasons (ie we want a higher pay).

Unless that happens, where the difference in wage gap is removed and university education is made free, I foresee little change in the population's mindset no matter how much the government shouts for it. Of course, this sounds terribly easy on paper and may be hard to implement, I don't see why Singapore — being one of the most developed country in Asia — cannot do it if other countries in Europe could do it. I guess we can only wait to see what the government has in mind with this increase in changes.

As a degree holder myself, I just hope that the degree that I worked so hard to get and the debt that I had accumulated in the process would not go to waste and be jolly well worth it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

How to get your voice out to the public in Singapore

In the past — before the age of the internet when print media reigned supreme — the only way to get your views across on sociopolitical issues to a wider audience is to pen a letter to a newspaper. It's not always easy though. There was always the question on censorship and whether your writing style or grammar could make the cut. This all changed when the computers and world wide web arrived.

While you technically still can send in your opinion to the old timers like the Straits Times and Today, there are more avenues today in which you can project your thoughts to a wider audience without relying on the conventional print media.

One way is to put them down on your own blog or online journal, but with those you have the issue of not having a reader mass to begin with and you would need to put in quite a bit of effort to gain the traction. Unless you choose to do a Amos Yee and put some controversial stuff online of course — even in his case it took him a while before he got really popular — but generally it's harder to reach a big group of people when you are starting out on a personal platform.

Another way — which may be easier — is to rely on alternative media online. They may already have an established reader base and most of them would be more than happy to welcome your views to bolster the amount of content that they have. Here are several sites in Singapore where you can submit your articles on sociopolitical issues.

(Disclaimer: This is based on personal observations, not in-depth research and may be subjected to personal biases, since I work in one of the sites. Do help to chip in if you have anything to add!) 

The Online Citizen (TOC) - TOC has been around for quite some time now and their focus is mainly on news and political happenings in Singapore. They have their own in-house editorial and journalist teams, but generally accept letter and commentaries on various issues in Singapore. Personally, I feel that they lean slightly to the anti-government site, but generally they try to stick close to the neutral point.

You can submit your writings using an online form, but it is subject to approval and must stick to their policy on posting articles that are not "unlawful, libellous, defamatory, grossly offensive, dangerous or false, or any content that is protected by copyright or other intellectual property right, without first obtaining permission of the copyright owner or rightholder." There is some form of discretion involved in selecting articles for publication and I feel that in general TOC does not publish any articles that are too close to any of the extremes.

The Real Singapore (TRS) - TRS may be sort of dead now, but I am including it here because you used to be able to submit almost anything to them. Heck, they even copy any articles that they could find. Their submissions are mostly sensationalised and to them, the more controversial the better. Their supposed sister site, States Times Review is up for a while now and seems to be going down the same part as TRS, with articles that point towards an anti-foreigner and anti-government stance. There was also the concern of how accurate the article submissions may be, where basically what you submit will be published, as long as you fit into their agenda of going for sensationalised news. Another outlet that you may want to consider falling into the similar vein too is All Singapore Stuff, which posts "anonymous" contributions from various sources. Most of their articles are submitted by a same guy called Farhan, but due to the nature of their articles, they have quite an impressive reach as well. There is also Kaki News Network, who operates solely (?) on Facebook and receives mostly photo submissions to share. KNN (heh) is not as controversial but would still not be afraid to share any "juicy" stuff that plays into current perceptions to gain hits.

Temasek Review / TR Emeritus - TR is something like the few previous entries before this, with the exception of having a stronger community support. They are well known for their anti-government stance with the perhaps the biggest readership base among all the anti-government sites. They have the most articles and even a forum for users to participate in. This is what sets them apart from the rest: A membership plan where you have to pay to support their operations. If you want to bash the government, this is the site that you would want to go. However, like all anti-govt sites, TR mostly reaches out to a specific community in Singapore, which I think tends towards one side of the extreme. Still, quite an active community out of most of the sites.

The Mothership - Mothership to me is like the Buzzfeed of Singapore. They have one of the most amazing reach, with estimated views of around one million+ monthly (according to They have an incredible list of contributors and are looking for freelance writers as well. Mothership is fast and efficient in picking up various news in Singapore, as well as writing them in an entertaining manner. It is this ability of theirs that enable them to reach out to a lot of people. Like A LOT. They're certainly one of the most successful, though it is hard to say how likely they will publish your article submission on their site, given the stuff that mostly go on theirs as I feel there may be a high standard involved. Another website that is quite similar to Mothership is, which focuses on the different happenings in Singapore as well, and in writing in a style similar to Buzzfeed. Witty, sarcastic and down to earth.

Last but not least, is Inconvenient Questions Singapore, the place where I am working at right now. IQ can be considered the new kid on the block, with high hopes of being the middle ground. It is similar to The Independent, with one extra niche: panel discussion videos, where prominent figures are invited to debate on pertinent issues. We're still quite new and still trying to find our footing (it's not easy trying to stand out in an already crowded market), but generally IQ wants to be at the center between the mainstream print media and the anti-government online media. We accept articles that tend towards the middle without any hidden agenda and baseless provocative remarks. Users can also raise questions on our site pertaining to larger happenings around Singapore too for the community to answer. The general guiding principle at IQ is to have thought provoking submissions without the need to go either extreme. Hopefully, we'll be a substantial third force in the market.

Out of all the sites, I won't say any site is significantly better than the others. All sites have their niche and viewpoints to offer, but would generally try to stick to their guiding principles. If you want to make your voice heard, you may want to capitalise on the already established fan base of the different sites. One thing to note is that each of them caters to different community and may not agree to your article if it doesn't fit the direction of the site.

But if you're looking to get your thoughts out there — particularly on an important issue — these are some of the sites that you may want to consider. And to those who claim that the online space in Singapore is not lively, they should definitely take a look at the number of different sites operating online.

Did I miss out any sites or are they any mistakes that I made? Do let me know in the comments section below.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Le rant on internships

Internship. I can still remember my reaction the first time I heard of this concept, back when I was in university. Being a little frog hiding in my cave back in Malaysia, I have never heard of the word “internship” before until I stepped foot into NUS.

"You mean people actually are willing to take up a menial paying job doing almost nothing just so they have better job prospects when they graduate? During the time when they're supposed to take a break and enjoy themselves?"

“Yes,” I remember some seniors saying. “You need to have at least one internship during your time in tertiary education or else you will have a tough time finding a job when you graduate.”

I remember scoffing at the idea of getting an internship, idealistically thinking that I could learn more if I choose to participate in other activities instead. Like leading a summer student committee for example, which I did, for three summer vacation in my life. I thought that gaining those experiences would be more enriching than just taking up any internship — which in my mind was no different than being a underpaid employee — and that I would enjoy myself more too.

After all, it is called summer vacation for a reason, not summer work period. I assumed that any enlightened employers would agree with my beliefs as well — that internships do not make someone a better employee and that students should be allowed to do what they want. Ah, the idealism of youth. It turns out that I was wrong in every way possible, because most (if not all) employers prefer a job applicant who has an internship experience. No one bothered to look or ask about my summer experiences in the resume and the first question interviewers ask is, "Do you have any internships experiences?"

Granted, I understand the logic behind internships. From a practical viewpoint, it is good to have some experience in the field before actually starting work. You can view it as some sort of advance training or the gauge how the working life is like. Experienced in the right manner, internships can provide valuable insights into deciding your life's journey and helping to make important decisions when you graduate.

What I don't like, however, is the emphasis given to it and how some people are exploiting it.

In today's world, a graduate's employability — aside from the his/her grades in school — is directly affected by his/her internship experiences. The more experience you have, the better. There is this mentality that assumes that graduates with internship experiences are automatically better. Those without internship experiences are left at a disadvantaged position as compared to those who have.

It's like society is penalising them for choosing a path that is less conventional. Like if the individual chooses to go for a three months backpacking trip instead. Who's to say that the student who went backpacking across different culture is automatically assumed to be worse off as an employee than the one who spends nine hours a day in the office doing a job that the full-time employees don't do?

It's hypocrisy though. On one hand we are asking our young to choose the path that they want but yet we have already set the path that we prefer for them. It's unfair to limit someone's opportunity just because they chose to have a different focus during that summer vacation.

Besides, it would be interesting to actually conduct a research how many internship opportunities are actually fulfilling. From what I have heard, most internships are just jobs where you end up doing a lot of menial tasks with overtime hours. Worse of all, you are paid peanuts, barely enough to cover the costs. Heck, some internships are unpaid as well, disguised as opportunities to “learn”. Of course, I would be more than glad to be proven wrong.

For me, it seems that the purpose of internship is to help you land a job immediately after you graduate. But why is there such a big focus on finding the “right” job after graduation anyway? Why can't we allow our graduates some liberty in their choices, without telling them that one is ideal and preferred? How can we encourage creativity if we are pushing everyone down the same path, making carbon copies of each other?

My personal feelings is to de-emphasise the focus we have for internship. Or at least make it mandatory for everyone if all employers are going to value it when it comes to employment. Not letting students choose what they want and in the end penalising those who went a different path. Like me. I mean if I had known that all employers want are internship experiences, I would have spammed internships back when I was in school, instead of just thinking that I should enjoy my student life first.

But this should not be the way though, I feel. If there is so much focus of work even before we start working, why are we so surprised that more people are suffering from burnout?

Anyways, as part of my ongoing effort to improve my talking skills, I even made a rant on video for this topic:

What do you feel? Are internships absolutely necessary for a better future? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The question of the 42 boys and the bear

I read the new post that the boy posted up today — despite telling myself that I should not because I don't want to indulge his need for attention any longer — but I just could not help it. I wanted to hear his side of the story, to make my own judgment. And I wanted to see how he described the counsellor turned bailor.

I wish I hadn't. Because after finishing the post, I just felt sad. Sad for the counsellor. Sad for society in general. I was not quite sure what I should feel towards the boy.

Perhaps one problem that we Christians always have is that more often than not, we are so concerned about telling the whole world that we are the chosen salt and light of the world rather than actually being the salt and light of the world. In trying to push his agenda across, the counsellor shot himself in the foot unknowingly. In trying to help, he somehow made the situation worse.

I know the counsellor meant well. I read the way his child defended him. I don't think he's actually a bad person. But perhaps in this case, he might have thought that age or his actions meant authority, which turned out to be gravely wrong in the end. Should he have not tried to “convert” the boy, things would not have turned out so badly. If he have held his peace, only bailling the boy out without having to make his faith known, just to prove the boy wrong, things may not have turned out so badly for him.

I guess my only gripe about this whole incident has to do with Christians themselves. Or anyone who feel strongly for a religion. We have this insecure fear over our religion that we tend to get defensive whenever someone attacks our religion (like how the boy did to the counsellor) but at the same time we are so eager to prove our faith is the superior one that in our best of intentions, more often than not we end up doing more harm than good to our own cause.

I think another problem with Christians nowadays are more concerned with making their faith known in a self-fulfilling way that we forgot that Jesus once condemned the priests who prayed in the public and urged us to instead seek a quite corner to be with God. But no, everything now has to be in the public now. It's almost as if we're fighting a propaganda warfare with the aim for validating ourselves instead of really helping others. Like scoring brownie points. (I know some will try to bring out the point about evangelising, but that's another point for another post)

But back to the point. As a Christian, I tried to think about the point that he brought up. The one about the bear and the 42 deaths. Was God really unjust and vengeful? Was this a irreconcilable difference that points to the fallacy of Christianity? How can I answer this without shaking my faith? Or more importantly, how can I answer this without sounding too defensive?

Think as I might, I cannot come up with a satisfactory answer. God is indeed vengeful in the Old Testament (OT). One need not look so deep into 2 Kings to get example of it. If you really wanted to believe in a just, merciful and benevolent Lord, you will not find it in the Old Testament. The flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plague of the first-born during Moses time and the way Israel slaughtered their enemies after Egypt — this was not an indication of a just God. If anything, he would kill to get things done.

Perhaps the insult of the bald priest made the story more absurd, but one does not need to flip a lot of pages in the Old Testament to get a sense that the God in the OT is more of a tough love kind of God. So how does one justify this then?

To be honest, I can't. If you ask me, Christianity can be filled with quite a lot of contradicting statements if you look deeply into it, especially when it comes to the bible. On one hand you have this passage saying you cannot do this but then on the other hand you can given the right circumstances.

Jesus didn't correct a lot of laws in the OT after all, other than the divorce and the meat eating portion, so a lot of things remain open to interpretation and that I think it's the biggest vulnerability that the Christian faith has if someone wants to attack it. Heck, even a 16 year old was able to shred a loyal believer to pieces.

So how can one answer his question on the 42 boys and the bear then?

Perhaps we can start by acknowledging that our faith is not as perfect as we would like to believe. Yes, God may have seemed fairly inconsistent if you compare the OT and the New Testament (NT), but personally I would believe that God, like us, changes too. He may not as rigid as we would like to think he would be and I believe there were instances when he changed his mind as well. The Jonah story can be an example and perhaps how God decided to send Jesus himself to save us by grace is perhaps the indication of the biggest change of all.

So why can't we explain that perhaps during that time during the OT God may be this way, but the God we believe now is somewhat different, at least in the way He does things?

Of course, that is only one answer. There's also the argument that the bible may have been interpreted differently for that story — after all, like it or not the bible is written and translated by humans and after so many translation, the story may have been misinterpreted from the way it was intended to be. This may open up a whole new can of worms, but I am only bringing up another possibility of an answer.

Or perhaps the best way to explain this whole thing is simply to admit that we, as humans, can never hope to understand the way God works, given our limited knowledge. After all, how can we expect an ant to grasp the way we think about mathematics or science? I guess the same reasoning can be applied to us trying to understand God's logic. We simply can't. And we should never hope to fit God into our worldview because if He is truly omnipotent as we believe, we can never hope to understand him. And perhaps this is what is meant by simply having faith.

I will admit that these are feeble attempts to counter the boy's questions — more like a touch on the surface — but I think what it important at the end of the day is that our purpose is not to “win” this argument or to “convert” anyone. This is not a competition.

Instead, dialogue should be about understanding each other's position, accepting them and coming up with a win-win compromise. No parties should be forced to accept the opposing party's worldview and it should be alright to agree to disagree. And I think if Christians are willing to do this, maybe then we can start dealing with people like the boy who seeks to challenge the faith without coming off as insecure idiots. This is my personal ideal.

I guess one man can hope.

Are penguins birds too? Visiting Jurong Bird Park

Jurong Bird Park. I am not sure about you but I have always had this vague impression of it being not as impressive as the different parks/zoos attractions in Singapore. Dawn shared the same sentiments too, which was why we never really given it much of a priority in our list of Singapore adventures. But one thing led to another, with that thing being this rumour we heard that admission to the park is free as part of the SG50 celebrations (it's false btw), so we decided to drop by the park to see how much it has changed and to just strike it off our bucket list.

Surprisingly, what started out as a trip with almost no expectations turned out to be one of the best trips that I have experienced in Singapore. Maybe the no expectations part helped, but I also think that it may be due to the immense improvement that the park has undergone since the early days when I was last there.

If you think that a park that only features birds may not have a lot to offer, you are jolly well wrong. The park offers a huge variety of birds that you had no idea that they were related or existed, from the colourful ones like the parrots to the big ones like the ostriches.

Much like its better known cousin, the Singapore Zoo (which I think is managed by the same agency), the park is split into various sections that group different species together, with different themed attractions as well. In a way, it makes the visit much more organised — I am OCD like that, I like things to be neatly categorised — and more educational as well. You get to see how different birds are classified according to the behaviours and learn more about them at the same time as well.

To be honest I had no idea so many species of birds existed before visiting the park.

While walking around the park was no joke under the hot weather — you can hop on the tram for a fee if you want to — both Dawn and I enjoyed the experience around the park. Not only does it offer you the ability to see different types of birds, it also has different types of enclosures and attractions for you the experience the park in a different feeling as well.

If you're someone who enjoys watching how the birds interact with humans and sitting down, the two signature shows of the park is quite entertaining and informative. The birds fly very close to you during the show as you watch them perform different tricks and moves that are quite amazing. For example, there's this parrot who can belt out an entire song over the microphone. Unfortunately, it has a better singing voice than me as well.

What Dawn and I liked the most, however, was the two signature attractions of the park that offered visitors a chance to see the birds up close and perhaps have a few land on your hand as well.

My personal favourite was the Lory Loft, where you stand over nine storeys tall on a platform over the ground, with birds flying all around you. And the best part? If you're willing to pay a small fee of 3 SGD, you can be your own birdmaster too, with birds flocking all over you without feeling at least a bit of anxiety. Heck, you may be the one who ends up feeling intimidated and scared all over.

These birds are friendly I tell you. Over-friendly.

Personally, if you don't mind the birds crowding over you like you're some superstar, I think the feeding experience is the best out of the entire park's attractions. How often do you have colourful birds landing on your hand and refusing to fly away?

How often do you get to pretend that you're a pirate with a parrot on your shoulder?

Sorry, I got carried away there.

Still, our initial plans of just checking out the park and not spending too long a time there turned out to be almost a full day trip from 1pm to 6pm, with us skipping a few exhibits in the end as well as there was not enough time. The park was as big as the zoo, I thought. It was quite an enjoyable experience and if it has been more than a decade since you visited the park, I would advise you to drop by the park and to see for yourself.

And biggest takeaway? Dawn now knows that penguins are birds too.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Amos Yee, the boy who cried wolf?

Credits: TOC

Amos Yee has done it again. This time by alleging that his previous bailor, Vincent Law, molested him in a Facebook post. Response has been swift and plentiful. Both the mainstream media and the online media, bloggers like me included, are rushing to jump on the bandwagon to report or write about this. If attention is what Amos wanted, he certainly got it in droves.

Given this recent development, one cannot help but wonder: What are his intentions?

From an observer's point of view — where there is currently not enough information to verify his claims — there are only two possibilities:

Possibility One: What Amos said is true. That Mr Law molested Amos Yee as what the Facebook post claimed.

Or Possibility Two: Amos lied. He concocted the story that Mr Law molested him when the truth is the exact opposite.

Personally, I find it hard to believe Possibility One for several reasons, as tempting as the story may be. One, Amos is smart. He is not the kind of person who stand idly by while some other people take advantage of him. Instead, if this really happened, I would expect him to capitalise on it as soon as possible, like what he did to his poor dad with the abuse post.

Two, I find his intent highly questionable. If there is one thing that is constant about Amos Yee, it is his constant thirst for fame. He said this himself — that he is willing to do controversial things just for fame. This was evident through his videos, blog post and even his banana eating stunt. So why should this case be any different?

And three, the mention of the story is too vague and broad to point to something exact. It is just a brush off type of comment contained in no more than a paragraph. His lawyers were completely caught off guard as well with his allegations. Which is why I find it hard to believe his allegations. However, I am willing to be corrected on this, if enough evidence emerge.

Which then brings us to Possibility Two, where Amos lied about this story. And that itself opens up a whole gigantic can of worms altogether. What are his intentions in fabricating this story? What does he hope to achieve? Has he really thought through the entire thing, along with all the possible consequences?

Some of the comments — which I think comes mostly from his supporters and government haters — claim that he is only trolling with the mainstream media with this story. To prove his point that mainstream media cannot be trusted and would just want to sensationalise any story that they get. This itself is problematic and scary, because it gives you a glimpse about how his mind works.

No matter how much you hate the government or trying to prove a point, surely any human with compassion would not go as far to frame the person who was trying to help you? Think about it. From the moment Amos made that claim, Vincent Law's fate has already been sealed and destroyed, no matter what evidence that will pop up later to clear his name or if Amos comes out later to say that this is all just a joke.

Judging from the current talk online, the damage has already been done to Vincent. On the internet, nothing is ever forgotten. The question mark will always remain above Vincent's head and for someone who counsels youths for a living, is this not destroying his livelihood in a single stroke? And what kind of rational or sensible human being would go so far to destroy another person's life — especially one that helped you out of compassion — just to prove a point. He was on your side to begin with! Is this not biting the hand that fed you?

If this is true, it really calls into question the logic that Amos employs and the way he operates and thinks about the world. Not forgetting his intentions. It feels as if he is operating on the pure goal to achieve world domination (from the way he said how he wanted to ‘fuck with the Government’) and fame, while disregarding the consequences of his action.

You may argue as you might that he is still a teenager to justify his complete disregard for consequences, but personally I feel that the amount of hate and contempt that he has (at least in his writing and videos) borders on being abnormal and worrying. And the more I read about him, the more I feel that there are red flags on psychopathology or anti-social personality disorder going off all around him.

That sense of self-entitlement and delusion of grandeur, it's not normal. And I can't help but to get this sense that he has a messiah complex as well. One that is characteristic of Pastor Jones from the Jonestown incident or other cult leaders as well. To be honest, I won't be surprised if he forms a religion around himself somewhere in the future.

Of course, I admit those all are speculation on my part, if Possibility Two turns out to be true. I am still ready to stand corrected. I am just putting these thoughts out there to counter the overwhelmingly positive opinions on him. As much as we call ourselves to be critical of the mainstream, I believe we should be critical of the anti-mainstream as well.

More importantly, we should not mix up our hate for the mainstream with adoration for anyone who dares to go against the current. Both are mutually exclusive. It is not all or nothing. Neither is it a question of either you are with me or you are against me. We should be equally critical of every thought that comes our way, even if those thoughts support our initial opinion. And this I think is the biggest problem in our society today. Where we would take support any figure or argument as long as they fit into our agenda.

Returning to Amos Yee, if it is true that Vincent did molest him, I believe that he should make a police report immediately to prove his point. However, if the opposite is true, then I believe that a defamation suit is in order. Settle this once and for all. Personally I am sick of Amos playing the victim and the amount of paranoia he has. As for the public, it is time to move away from knee jerk reactions, no matter which side you're on.

Like him or hate him, Amos Yee did accomplish one thing none of us were able or willing to do. Getting the nation to discuss on the issue of free speech — responsible free speech in particular — and our future direction. And this could be our tipping point. What we do now in response — whether we stick with this ‘either you're with me or against me’ mentality or be willing to consider the viewpoints of others and discuss it in a civil manner without resorting to the authorities — will define and determine our future path.

The question now is: Are we willing to take the road that is less familiar? Or to quote my boss, "Are we prepared?"

Update: Amos has admitted that this was a joke/hoax/prank (Source). So yeah. Character assassination is still not cool. For reasons that I have mentioned.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

He is a kid, but is that really the issue here?

Over the past view days, a lot has been written on Amos Yee and his court proceedings. Most of them, like the post Alfian Sa'at wrote in the wee hours of Sunday morning, argued that Amos is just a teenager who is yet to truly understand how the world works, and therefore does not deserve the actions that have been brought against him, the court charges, the prospect of jail time and all. This seems to be a discourse that has been gaining traction online and while it tells one side of the story, it is not the full picture. Which I think is troubling.

For starters, I agree that the response to Amos has been unnecessary and reeks of an overreaction. From the public especially, where there are so many police reports filed. And the penis cutting comment, for example. The way we were so easily offended was even more immature than the comments he had in the video.

Secondly, I agree that he is a teenager and that teenagers do stupid things all of the time. I did worse things when I was 16, had much worse thoughts too and had this idea that I alone had the keys to the universe. It is the hallmark of being a teenager.

But I guess the gravest mistake that he did was posting the thoughts online and making them public, and forcing the authorities to take notice of him.

Like I said, I think the way authorities descended down on him were of an overreaction, but he really did not leave any room for the authorities to maneuver. Especially on the part when it comes to religion.

Yes, freedom of speech is important, but I think may supporters of Amos Yee fail to think about this point: how much freedom of speech do we really need? Something like Charlie Hebdo or the recent draw the prophet campaign in Texas, where two gunman were killed when they tried to attack officers guarding the campaign?

Do we want our society to evolve into a society where everyone has the permission to offend everyone else? Where the onus of not getting offended is laid on the receiving end rather than the perpetrators? Is Singapore ready for a society like this? Do we really want to descend down this path, where we are asked to be mature enough to handle offensive comments thrown at us but not taught to respect one another to not fire our comments away haphazardly?

It's like telling your child that he can call his classmate's mom a big fat hippo and telling his classmate that he should be mature enough to not get angry. It's like letting the idiot who spouts nonsense do what he wants,  I think maturity goes both ways, in both the person delivering comments to know what to say and the person receiving the comments to know how to respond.

I think the charges brought upon Amos are just that: A warning. A deterrent. It is unfortunate that his comments insulted two different people at the same time, both the late Lee Kuan Yew and Christianity, so it's hard to tell which insult was considered to be more serious and warranted his arrests. I think the issue would be less muddled if he had chosen to insult one but not the other, but it is really hard to tell.

I would go with the official story that it's his comments on Christianity that earned him the arrest. Sure, you may say that Christians themselves are not offended, but it's about setting a precedent. Masagos Zulkifli, in a studio discussion organized by Inconvenient Questions, put it very aptly. If the authorities do not respond, it sends a really wrong message to people who may not have intentions as naive as Amos. It's about telling others that hey, no matter how young you are, if you say something that may be potentially sensitive, we will still come after you.

What if tomorrow another teenager tries to copy Amos Yee and post a video of him insulting the Muslims, accompanied with another obscene drawing of Muslim figures? Some of us may be able to take that, but not all. Only last month Malaysian authorities arrested 12 people with ISIS links, armed with explosives and all, with a plan to attack targets around the city. Do we really want to give the extremists a reason to come over here?

I know this is all playing up on the fear card and all, but I believe that this is a warranted fear, given how anti-Muslim sentiments are building up all around the world. Not everyone would be gracious enough to other faiths and there's always this one idiot who would want fame and attempts to sow discord.

Everything needs to be balanced, in both the expressing end and the receiving end. There should not be any extremes where we can say anything that we want or where we are afraid to say anything at all. And as of now, I don't think our society is mature enough yet to be able to engage in a truly emotions free intelligent discourse. Not all of us know how to mince our words or to paraphrase it to not offend, and not all of us are able to take in comments without being offended.

Moving forward, perhaps we need to start to think of incorporating this into our education system. Teaching our young how to say things wisely and to take in comments graciously as well. How to see things from another person's perspective to reason in their shoes. And that, I think, should be the biggest takeaway from this entire saga. Perhaps only then will our society progress.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Who am I defying here? (Defiance game review)

Defiance was a game that I never expected to play. I remember being excited about the game when it was just released but did not download it because it was a pay-to-play game. Not to mention the numerous reports of bugs and lags, so I thought it was probably not worth it anyway. In fact, I think that no pay-to-play games are worth it.

However, when I saw that the game is going free-to-play on Steam one fine day along with mostly positive reviews to the game, I thought why not? I was already bored with the games I have in my library and craved for a massively multiplayer game because of the human interaction. What I thought to be a casual venture into the game soon turn out to be a full blown MMO obsession. Yes, that is what MMO games do to you.

Defiance is part of the new breed of MMOs with dynamic events. Unlike traditional MMOs where raids take place on a specific map which you need to shout over and over again to form a party, Defiance have raids (called incursions, sieges and arkfalls) happening all the time on the main map. That I think is the biggest pull of the entire game. Every time you log in to the game, there's always something happening on the map. Be it a big raid that lasts to an hour or smaller ones that take about 15 minutes, you can just join in the action no matter your level.

That is another part of Defiance that I like. No matter what level you are, you can always join in raids happening on the main map without being ridiculously overpowered. Sure, the higher level players may have a slightly easier time, but you're still be able to land a few shots and get some points. I suspect the game scales the enemy somewhat to your level, but I am too lazy to check that out on Google.

The best thing of all is that each player that participated on a big raid on the main map will always receive a reward. As long as you have some points (you get points merely by shooting enemies), you would surely receive a brand new weapon as a reward. Classic psychological trick there. And did I mention about the sheer number of players that often show up on a raid?

The game also has a story-based main mission and several side missions that you can take on when you feel single player mode-ish, but the big draw I think is the PVE element of the game. Big, massive and just plain exciting. I mean, how often do you get to shoot a huge-ass robot with hundreds of different players? There's also PVP element, I think, which ended up quite badly whenever I try it. So not going to focus on that.

In short, my initial plan of just playing the game casually has evolved into a full blown immersion into the game and I've even formed my own clan (guild). I initially did that with le gf for fun, but one thing led to another and now I have at least five active members every time I log in. And the clan is growing as well. You know shit's getting serious when you form an active clan in an MMO.

All in all, Defiance is a great third person shooter MMO. The events are aplenty, the single player story mode is good and the guns are constantly different. They employ a ala-Borderlands style to their weapons and powers, by the way. And it's free. So if you're looking to try out a shooter MMO, Defiance is worth a shot. I'd rate it a 8/10.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why I think it's okay for Christian couples to travel alone

There are a lot of things that you cannot do as a dating Christian couple. You cannot be too intimate with each other in public, you cannot have sex with each other, you cannot share the same bed with each other and you cannot travel as a couple before marriage. A lot of these "rules" stem from the fear that you will have intercourse with each other, breaking the "holy rule" on sexual immorality, like if you're within five feet of each other you will be unable to resist the temptation and fall into each other arms, making passionate love.


The girlfriend was sharing today with me about how she was hesitant to tell some of her Christian friends that she is going to travel alone with me together to Japan in June because she's afraid of how they would judge her. Or at least she doesn't want to handle their prodding questions (she's already had a few so I am reusing them here) like “Christian couples are not supposed”, “What kind of testimony are you giving to others?” or “That is against our beliefs.”

It annoyed me to no ends. It's like the only thing that they can picture on their mind when we're traveling together is the amount of sex that we would be engaging in, instead of the places we're visiting or the food we're eating. Seriously? Who's the one with the dirty mind here?

I am a firm believer that you should get to know as much as you can about your partner before getting married because if there are any nasty surprises about your partner, the best time to find out about them is before marriage. Marriage, after all, is forever and if there's any problems or deal-breakers lying around, the sooner you find out about them, the better. And what better way to do it than while travelling?

You get to plan the trip together. You get to discover each others' likes and dislikes. You get to see each other flaws. You may get stuck in troubled situations together, like a plane delay, and may have to solve problems together. You get to see each other at your best and at your worst, and pick up all the smaller details that you otherwise won't see if you're not travelling together. The way each other eats, the way each other sleeps, how he/she solves problems or deal with unwanted situations, the real temperament of each other and most importantly, you get to ask the most important question of whether you want to spend the rest of your life together.

It's a big decision after all, because your partner will be your children's future father/wife, not to mention the one whom you will share your household with for the rest of your life. You will be seeing each other 24/7 after you get married and have to deal with each others personalities from toilet habits to sleeping habits all of the time. Travelling together is like a trial period to test out the dynamics with your partner and it often offers you a good glimpse into your partners character in that short period of time. And if you cannot be happy when travelling, how do you expect to be happy for the rest of your life?

Sure, some of you might argue that there's temptation, especially when you're both alone together. My response if you both want sex so badly, you don't have to wait until you're travelling together to have it. You will think of ways to have sex even when you're back in your hometown. There's no need to travel for that.

Besides, shouldn't this be a good opportunity to test out your partner's motivation as well? If all he could think about is having sex with your while travelling, then there's one big red flag there already. Also, if you're a good enough Christian as you are, shouldn't you be able to exercise some form of self-restraint? I mean that's the whole point right? The only problem is right now people are so insecure about a relationship that they are not even in that they think even the slightest provocation could lead to sex.

My advice is to just travel together because the pros far outweighs the cons. If you're really afraid of committing any sins, I assure you that even if you don't travel together, there's ample opportunities for you to commit loads of sins in the future. Say what happens if your partner is one hell of an abusive person, short tempered and impatient, but you don't get to see it before marriage? And later after marriage you find out this and would want a divorce? Isn't divorce itself already a sin? Which Jesus mentioned explicitly as compared to pre-marital sex (which btw is only inferred from the sexual immorality line)? Or ending up with a lazy spouse who does not honour God at all?

I am not saying that you are able to gleam all this just from one travel trip, I am just saying that it makes it easier. Way easier than just those small little dinner dates. And what's with our obesession over pre-marital sex anyway when there are so many other problems out there to solve? Like poverty for example? It's sad though, to see that some of us are so concerned about the possibility of others having sex until we don't see the bigger picture. That they are actually working to build a long term relationship together.

I mean if we're so concerned about pre-marital sex, why not abolish the notion of dating altogether in the Christian community? Why not just go back to arranged marriages? That way the possibility of having pre-marital sex will be reduced to zero. Sometimes I just think people are just having this "reaction formation" towards pre-marital sex. Because they want it but they can't do it, they don't want others to do it as well.

Ultimately, I think that if you're looking into a serious relationship and would want to make the best decision for marriage, travelling while you're dating is a must. It's the easiest, fastest and most effective way to understand your partner, all the good and bad. And if you're really afraid of the sex part, travel in two pairs of couple, but make sure to have a lot of alone time during the day. And perhaps sleep in the same sex room. Or go to guesthouses where there are four people in a room. Or bring a condom if you really cannot control.

P/s: Personally I think Christianity's focus on pre-marital sex is unwarranted but that's another rant for another day

Monday, May 4, 2015

Wanna get paid to shop?

Yes, you read the title right.

Everyone loves shopping. The feeling of owning something new and no longer having to put up with the old shirt/computer/camera/pillow/wardrobe/etc of yours is just nice, don't you think? The fun of trying that new thing that you just got. It never gets old. And with online shopping picking up steam, it's even easier now to shop from the comfort of your home.

However, despite how much we like to shop, there's always this downside to shopping and that is having to fork out our hard earned money for the items we're buying (duh). It's quite painful, no doubt, but like they say, every hobby has a negative side to it. Recently I was shopping at Lazada and before I knew it, my bill was already at 200 dollars. 200! Imagine the amount of ice-cream I can eat or the things I can do with the money. Kinda conflicted, my feelings.

Which is why we always keep a lookout for sales or ways to minimize the amount that we spend when shopping. To reduce the amount of pain. Now, what if I tell you that there's a new way you can save money when you're shopping online, in the form of earning cashbacks? And best of all, you can do it for most of the popular shopping sites online?

Located at, ShopBack has a different variety of deals that you can utilize to make your shopping online experience more enjoyable. You can earn cashbacks from your purchases using voucher codes and deals, and they can go up to 50% as well! Talk about value for money.

You can buy almost everything from fashion to electronic gadgets using Shopback's codes so do make sure to check them out. It's easy to register and the instructions to use their codes are easy to understand as well. Because if you can save, why not?


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