Are you awake or asleep?

My son likes to ask me very pragmatic questions during meal times like “Why does this fried rice at Han’s cost twice that of the hawker center version?” or “Why doesn’t the cook earn more than the cashier, according to this job advertisement?”

I explain to him as much as I can, covering the logic of high rentals and business survival, because I always believe that if I don’t tell him what he wants to know today, I might never get a chance tomorrow.

He and his sister still don’t believe that I could just die tomorrow from an unpredictable event, but they haven’t gone to many funeral wakes yet. I already exceeded my lifetime quota when I did crime news stories and put my old friend’s coffin into the ground when he was 29.

But sometimes, this whole train of thought also gets me thinking in a meta-sorta way – do we persistently think about the situations we face, or the situations that we are currently operating within? Why do many people accept their scenarios the way they are? Do they ask questions about the obvious things they see? Are we truly awake as we go to work or school every day?

I started this train of thought after watching the Katie Couric-produced documentary on the health epidemic of childhood obesity called “Fed Up”. The documentary shows how kids (and their parents) really have no idea of the dangers of the unhealthy food the food industry is bombarding them with, and how so many people don’t understand the consequences of an ultra-rich daily diet.

They blame their own genes, their own bodies but don’t even realize the truth that the food industry is just interested in profit at all costs and drowning our diets in sugar, in turn creating a real health crisis of diabetes and heart disease. Yet, people continue to stuff their faces with sugary pastries, pizzas and so on.

So, some observations and musings on things in general…

Hipster Cafes

There are so many small hipster cafes popping up in town, especially at the artsy Waterloo Street area. But they’re targeting young students who often don’t have that much money to keep drinking overpriced lattes or frapps.

Newspapers run stories on why the majority of these cafes go bust after a short period, but it’s not just inexperience on the part of their young owners, it’s also a lack of understanding basic supply and demand.

Yet people keep opening cafes! Why?

Newspaper Audiences

I recently commented on a Facebook post where it was lamented that young students in a journalism module did not read newspapers or watch TV news.

I used to feel sad about it but now I’m more realistic – Young people just don’t read newspapers today, and newspaper publishers continue to wring their hands over why their circulation is dropping every year. Yet all the publishers really do is to change their print layout or launch some new app, much which is gone unnoticed by the general public.

Publishers don’t even ask the students why they aren’t reading traditional media. Some… no, many adults complain that the younger generations waste their time on mindless beauty blogs and crappy gossip sites.

Still, if someone doesn’t want to read your content, it’s not their fault. It’s yours.

Certificate of Entitlement

A lot of people are wishing and hoping that the COE prices will come down with increased quotas this year. But they probably did not read the annual Budget plan by the Govt – COE revenue has already been forecasted by the Govt at $5 billion long before the dealers put in their bids.

“FY2015 Vehicle Quota Premiums are projected at $5.08 billion, an increase of $1.42 billion or 38.7% over the Revised FY2014 estimate.”

So let’s say there are 40% more COEs released year-on-year, a quick estimate is that you’ll still end up paying the same COE of about $70K.

Of course, the LTA will say COE is not a revenue-oriented system. But it’s already assumed in the 2015 Budget the LTA is estimated to earn $5B so it can help pay for this year’s Govt programs. $5B is about 8% of this year’s forecasted Govt revenue of $64B, it’s no small sum. And while the Ministry of Finance is the top Govt revenue contributor at $55B, the Ministry of Transport comes in at #2 with over $7B.

Bottomline is that people will keep cursing the COE system, but they probably don’t try to guess why this 25-year-old system is not being overhauled. So do you really think the COE system will be revamped anytime soon?

Less Is More, but can or not?

I’ve written so much on the broken-ness of the local education system, I’m utterly sick of the topic today.  But over the past few years, I’ve come to believe that the system will only get worse, not better – not because of the lack of trying from the Ministry Of Education, but because the majority of parents are not enlightened or brave enough to change themselves for their children’s sake.

My old schoolmate Adelina recently sent me this article on Finland’s education system “11 Ways Finland’s Education System Shows Us that ‘Less is More’ “. You and I can totally agree with it, but it’s not going to happen here at least within the next two decades because the parents cannot emulate the very self-aware and disciplined, frugal lifestyle required to help our kids out of their current curriculum hell.

To live a “less is more” life requires one to abandon the constant pursuit of more possessions, more power, more status and more activities to occupy one’s waking hours. I don’t know how many people are able to think to themselves “Ok, I have enough” and draw the line right there.

Parents here are constantly looking to do more for their kids but you also know how it can go overboard with endless tuition or even tuition classes to get into the Gifted Education Program. Hello, once and for all, you CANNOT TEACH GIFTEDNESS LAH. Nobody even has hard data if the GEP program has actually contributed to a better or more innovative country after several decades.

Sidetrack a little : When I was a kid in the 80’s, I learned this word “nouveau rich” and it was used on local people who recently got rich and liked to dress like the wealthy Indonesian magnates of that time eg. (elaborate and thickly padded shirts with epaulettes, and matching pants). But you could tell they were nouveau rich because they couldn’t carry off the look properly. They were trying too hard.

In many ways, many Singaporeans are like the nouveau rich. They pursue many things with faddish intensity because they now have the money their parents didn’t have, but they don’t stop and think what is it they are actually doing.

Scholarships and bond tenure

I warn almost everyone I can about the inherent risks of taking an undergraduate scholarship if you don’t know what you are getting into. But people never listen because they only think about the glamor, or they think that I just didn’t like my SPH scholarship bond. Which isn’t true, the money really came in handy during my uni years and I really did enjoy the early years of tabloid news journalism.

There just aren’t enough public conversations about the risks of scholarship bonds and the dire consequences of bond breaking. Parents and their children alike also don’t see that scholarships are often a massive recruitment exercise to extract the best talent in the shortest time, but not necessarily to develop meaningful careers.

For example, most of the SPH scholars that signed up the same time that I did all left the company after their bonds. One can surmise whether we were picked wrongly or whether we were not managed well, but objectively, it’s not an efficient way of developing talent when the turnover of carefully recruited employees is so high.

One thing I also observed during my SAF years was that so many other guys I met had such brilliant grades but like me, few of us really knew what we wanted to do. Maybe it was because that we spent so many years with our noses buried in our books, we didn’t look up long enough to ask what is it that we were truly interested in. We were just told “Get the good grades first then talk”.

This brings me back to my original point – do we know what we are doing today, yesterday and tomorrow? Are we awake or asleep?

Some habits of journalism don’t die, eight years after leaving the line – I’m constantly asking questions of everything that happens today – be it the way people interact on social media, the things they constantly harp about, the social and political issues that are today’s talking points, why do certain drivers drive the way they do, what are people’s view on technologies or health, what is this sermon going on about, why do people still guzzle bubble tea.. and so on.

One of the things I’ve become more aware of over the years is that it’s so easy just to give up thinking, let go and live life just like every other cog in the machine. But this blog is a constant reminder to myself that the minute I stop asking questions, that’s when I’ve finally lost myself to the system.

5 Replies to “Are you awake or asleep?”

  1. Great points, Ian!

    I was led to your blog post by someone on my social media page. I like your thinking. For too long, Singaporeans have been used to blaming someone or hoping for a new policy to work in their favour, when what is actually needed is a real sense of pragmatism and a reality check. The system is rigid, but you can outsmart out-think the system.

  2. I concur, Ian. Both the young and the old alike in this nation need to start thinking for themselves, not for the sake of questioning, but for the sake of progress. I’m not talking about the run-off-the-mill definition of ‘progress’, but for the vision and dreams they have for themselves and for others around them.

  3. And then you ask the artits, whom are supposed to be asking us those questions. And yet, … they do it all the same.

    Are we confined to our (human)* nature? Are we only the product of the (system)*? Or are we just acting out from what we’ve learned?

    What you see is what you get, therefore, what you get is what you see.

    How do (we)* get out?
    Am I drunk?

    *To be continued.

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