Source: The Sunday Times, Oct 21, 2012
By Lee Wei Ling
It was an advertisement in this paper: a boy, probably five years old, grinning widely and holding a computer game controller. "I want a room full of video games and my very own TV," he says.
One friend told me that what the child was demanding was somewhat outdated. "The 'in' things now are iPhones and iPads," she said. "No more video games and TV."
But then, she knew what was "in". And she does give her children some of these "in" things - in moderation, she says, or as a reward for good academic performance. She says she never gives way when her children demand things from her without having earned them in some way.
I can understand that parents today who grew up poor are more than willing to give their children the luxuries that they themselves did not have. If they do so carefully, I don't think they will cause their children much harm.
What I worry about is when a boy who demands a room full of video games and his own TV set gets what he wants without having to earn them. His parents may be loving in acceding to his demands, but they obviously don't know how to guide him. If he gets all that he wants, he will think there is no limit to what he deserves - a most dangerous idea that will not help him when he grows up.
How do young children become so materialistic? Granted, they usually hanker after things. Their parents may think it is too early to teach them frugality, but it is never too early to teach children that kindness to others and helping those who need help is more important than getting a new toy.
By the time children get to secondary school, peer pressure can lead them astray. That is why it is important to instil values, a sense of right and wrong, from an early age.
If a child does not learn that all his wishes cannot be instantly granted, he will suffer in later life - beginning with national service in the case of males. He will treat every obstacle to his pleasure as a personal insult, and react to it angrily, perhaps even aggressively. Such behaviour will obviously not be welcomed in the military.
Those of us "older folk" who interact with adults below the age of 30 today have often found them less hard-working, less driven and more demanding of what they think is rightly theirs than we were at their age. I see this among some of the junior doctors, and the senior nurses see it among the junior nurses.
Perhaps every generation tends to think less of the one that comes next. Certainly, I recall my parents' generation saying similar things about mine. Still, the perception that many young adults of today are self-centred or narcissistic is shared by many older adults. I think it is an accurate assessment.
I have no children, but I will still be around when the spoilt children of today grow up to be spoilt adults of tomorrow. Will they willingly help support their parents and grandparents, the people who worked long and hard to bring Singapore from Third World to First? For that reason alone if nothing else, I hope parents and schools today will nurture less self-centred and more altruistic instincts among the young.
The advertisement I saw sold the idea that achieving a certain socio-economic status gives families the ability to give their children whatever they want - "a room full of video games and my very own TV". I disagree with that point of view.
We can be happy as long as we are moderate and contented with the simple things in life and do not hanker after luxuries. If our goal in life is to accumulate material pleasures, then we will forever try to earn more money, and there would be no limit to how much we want.
A recent OCBC survey suggested that Singaporeans are becoming less materialistic. Seventy per cent of those polled said happy families were more important to them than pursuing financial gain. Less than 12 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively, picked owning a luxury car and a country club membership as worthy life goals.
If the survey's findings are accurate, perhaps advertisers should stop selling greed. I doubt, though, that day will come any time soon.
Source: The Sunday Times, Oct 21, 2012
Source: Straits Times | August 14, 2012
The Olympic Games are the most prestigious international sports competition, with thousands of athletes from over 200 nations taking part.
The ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The modern Olympics, founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, started in 1896 in Greece. The motto of the Olympic Games is "Citius, Altius, Fortius," which is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger."
There is no specific mention of who or what is being used for comparison. Is it one's personal best, that is, faster, higher and stronger than one's previous performance? If so, then as long as each athlete does his or her best in the competition, it is no shame not to win.
But the reality is that all athletes who participate in the Olympics, who are of world-class standard, want to win and are very disappointed when they don't. Other athletes who are not up to world standard participate for the experience and take pride in having made it to the Games even if they get no prizes.
Records of the performance of modern Olympic athletes show that "faster, higher, stronger" is indeed taking place over time.
Whether this is due to better nutrition and health, better training techniques or better equipment, or due to use of performance enhancing drugs that cannot be detected by current methods, is difficult to ascertain.
Another effect the Games try to achieve is international friendship and peace. The Ancient Olympics were a series of competitions between representatives of several city-states of ancient Greece.
All conflicts among the participating city states were postponed until the Games ended. The modern Olympics' symbol is made up of five interlocking rings, colored blue, yellow, black, green and red on a white background. The colors of the rings plus the white background stand for those colors that appear on all national flags of countries that compete in the Games. Hence I presume Baron Pierre de Coubertin hoped the Olympics would encourage world peace and international goodwill.
But when it comes to fostering international friendship — except for personal friendship forged at the Games — the Olympics have certainly not helped world peace. Instead, it gives terrorists an opportunity to wreak havoc, and kill or injure participants and audience. During the 1972 Olympics in Munich, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September.
Little wonder then that strict security cover was provided for this year's Olympics, with 1,200 extra personnel — from the British army, navy and Royal Air Force — drafted in because of fears that the private security contractor's handling of the £284 million ($445 million) contract would not be up to standard.
In 1985, The Olympic Program (TOP) was established to create an Olympic brand. Membership of the TOP is both exclusive and expensive. Fees cost $50 million for a four-year membership. TOP members receive exclusive global advertising rights for their product category, and use of the Olympic symbol, the interlocking rings, in their publications and advertisements.
The growing importance of the mass media created the issue of corporate sponsorship and commercialization of the event, which has grown to the point where nearly every nation is represented. Such growth has created many challenges including boycotts, doping, bribery and terrorism.
I am personally against the Olympics because of the huge sums of money spent, with little or no concrete improvement to human welfare.
Perhaps modern societies demand circuses, and are willing to pay a high price for what is considered the most prestigious circus.
But even people who do not get to witness the circus are paying without being aware of it. They pay through public funding for the athletes, and for the cost of hosting an Olympic Games.
Public funding, of course, comes from taxes. Over the last 50 years, among the most expensive Games have been London 2012 ($14.8 billion) and Barcelona 1992 ($11.4 billion).
The Chinese authorities have not released data for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but I suspect the opportunity cost of the funds spent would be much higher than the other countries, given China's per capita gross domestic product. In fact, cost overrun, averaging 180 percent, is a persistent problem for all Olympic Games.
Dr James Conner, a sports researcher at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, calculated the cost of a gold medal for Australia. The taxpayers paid about A$49 million ($52 million) for each gold medal. This sum does not even take into account the money spent at the state level, sponsorship dollars and expenditure of national sporting organizations.
What cannot be calculated is the human cost of hours put into training by the athletes who are usually of school or university age. Quite a few would have the option of their adult career limited as they did not get a chance to obtain a good education.
What does Singapore get out of sending athletes to the Olympic Games? Some may consider national pride as one gain, if our athletes win medals.
There are two rebuttals to this answer. First, just because we feel proud that a Singaporean has won any Olympic medal does not make us more patriotic and more willing to fight to defend Singapore if we are attacked.
Second, our medals so far have been from table tennis. The Times of India did an interesting analysis on ethnicity of table tennis players at the London Olympics. Of the 173 table tennis players, 55 are of Chinese descent, and 45 were born in China. From Lin Gui of Brazil to Ariel Hsing of the United States, Xia Lian Ni of Luxembourg to Bora Vang of Turkey, the Chinese are draped in the colors of 23 different countries. The entire Australian women's team consists of players born in China. [Askmelah's note: what is left unsaid is that we fared worse than Australia, the entire Womens and Men's teams from Singapore are all imported from China!!!]
In my humble opinion, the significant sums of public money Singapore spends on training athletes for the Olympics and other international games would be put to better use to encourage and teach our population how to exercise for health. Ironically, when exercise is carried to the extreme — as sometimes happens with national athletes — the result is frequent injury, which is contra-productive to health.
The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.
Source: The Sunay Times 4th October 2009
On Sept 16, we had dinner at The Compleat Angler, a famous restaurant outside London, to celebrate my father's 86th birthday. He was last in the restaurant 47 years ago, when he was in London to discuss the terms of Singapore's merger with Malaya.
With him then were Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Hon Sui Sen, Mr Sim Kee Boon and Mr Howe Yoon Chong. In the midst of the acrimonious negotiations, the Singapore team had decided to de-stress at The Compleat Angler.
Forty-seven years later, the staff of Singapore's High Commission in Britain sprung a surprise on my father, who was visiting London last month. At the end of the dinner, while he was in the washroom, a birthday cake was brought out, and we all sang Happy Birthday when he returned to the table. Then we all sang his favourite song, 'Que sera sera, what will be will be...'
I thought to myself: 'Wrong. What will be, need not be!'
Consider what happened after that dinner at The Compleat Angler 47 years ago: The negotiations then led Singapore to join Malaya in 1963. Two years later, in 1965, Singapore was unceremoniously ejected from Malaysia. The outlook for this new island-nation was bleak.
But a small group of men was determined to ensure our survival. They built a multiracial Singapore, with the best interracial harmony in the world, and a meritocratic system in which all are given an equal chance. They achieved peace, happiness and progress for Singapore.
My father had other specific dreams for Singapore. In the 1970s, my mother's blind telephone operator could tell when he was approaching the Singapore River, such was its stench. Dr Albert Winsemius, who was Singapore's economic adviser and my father's friend, challenged my father to clean up the river so fish could live in it.
In 1987, upon the successful completion of the 10-year project to clean up the river, Dr Winsemius did indeed catch a fish.
My father then expanded upon his dreams for the area: 'In 20 years, it is possible that there could be breakthroughs in technology, both anti-pollution and in filtration,' he said. 'Then, we can dam up or put a barrage at the mouth of the marina...and we will have a huge freshwater lake.'
The Marina Barrage is the fulfilment of that vision. Its construction creates the world's first reservoir in the heart of a city. The reservoir's catchment is the most densely populated area of Singapore.
The reservoir's water will be treated using advanced membrane technology. This will ensure that the water is safe for drinking and will also allow land and water-based activities to be carried out within the catchment. The Barrage is also part of a flood control scheme to alleviate the problem of flooding in low-lying areas of the city.
The Marina Barrage was designed as part of the Public Utilities Board's ABC Waters Programme. This aims to encourage Singaporeans to appreciate the value of clean water and to do their part to keep our water clean.
In the year since its opening by the Prime Minister last October, the Marina Barrage has attracted more than 550,000 visitors. It has become a vantage point for people to view the picturesque city while enjoying the sea breeze. My father visited the area often during its development.
While I saw raw earth and construction, he described to me his dreams of a beautiful Marina Bay.
There will be two indoor gardens with careful climate control so that exotic plants can be cultivated. When the whole project is completed, there will be a beautiful water 'square' like the Piazza in Venice, but with a boardwalk around its perimeter that will pass the Gardens by the Bay. (Go to www.marina-bay.sg/marinabayvideo.html for a view of how the Bay will look like when fully developed.)
We also toured One Fullerton on a Sunday this past August. There were interesting restaurants and cafes, crowded with customers dining alfresco and enjoying the evening breeze and view.
The Old Guard turned many dreams into reality. Mr Lim Kim San, for instance, achieved in HDB what once seemed unachievable - housing 80 per cent of Singaporeans in public housing. And Dr Goh began the streaming of students to enable them to learn at their own pace - a step which helped propel Singapore's education system to the top ranks in the world.
Dr Goh was also instrumental in building from scratch a tough and smart military fighting machine - with the help of some 100 so-called Mexicans, as the disguised Israeli military officers were known.
Successive defence ministers have made refinements to what Dr Goh achieved, so Singapore now has a Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces.
In short, a group of determined men - together with Singaporeans who had lived through tough times and were willing to endure more hardship - succeeded in building a Singapore that no one ever thought possible, least of all the Old Guard themselves.
Margaret Mead was correct when she said: 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it is the only thing that ever has.'
But we must not rest on our laurels. We must keep on striving to improve the quality of life of all Singaporeans. What the future will bring will not always be what we dreamt of. We must remain alert and resilient. Fortune favours only those who grab the opportunities life offers. If the future has rough patches, we should simply accept that as a fact of life, and continue to make the best of things.
My biggest worry is that our success to date has allowed a generation to grow up without knowing hardship. Whether they are willing to put in the hard work to turn their dreams into reality, and how they respond when misfortune and disasters strike, will determine Singapore's future.
The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.