Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ghana vs England

So I knew this day was coming for quite a while now. And I don't mean that philosophically, the date was announced in January so I've had ample time to get prepared. What did I need? face paint, football shirt, friends and a bar.

In the end what did I have? A football shirt and the friends.

So we ended up watching the match off a website using my laptop, which isn't big... something went wrong between the laptop, HDMI cord, and TV which kinda spoiled everything, but ah well, a bunch students huddled 'round a laptop? Pretty standard I would say.

It was great cos we had South Asians present, some Americans, a Kenyan, and Nigerian among us. I won't lie... some negative energy against Ghana was building but it was all just banter! It would've been nice to have seen the match in a bar cos I really love the Singaporean bar atmosphere on match days but no biggie.

In the end, the score was 1-1, my reputation is intact and I got some really nice exchange student bonding at 3am on a Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

... and the truth shall set you free.

I have just come back from possibly the best lecture ever!

The man himself, Hussein Mutalib.
It was for my Government and Politics of Singapore module which is taught by Professor Hussein Mutalib, legendary figure in the academic understanding of Singaporean politics. Normally, though I do dread these lectures. Firstly, because it is my one and only reason for waking up on a Wednesday morning. Second, it's at 12-2pm - smack bang in the middle of the day, not early so I can still make plans, not late for a longer lie-in or to run other errands. And the third reason is that my dear professor often begins, ends and entwines into the lecture how great a figure he is in the wider Singaporean political conscience. I hear rumours that he is the most published non-journalist in Singapore - he definitely provides enough evidence to that effect.

So what made today much different I hear you ask? Prof. Mutalib has built a name for himself over the past 20 years and it's this reputation that makes most political parties respect him (whether or not they like him). He called on them to attend a forum and to address the students of NUS and they showed. Each of the four major parties sent their top leaders, with exception of the ruling PAP who did not send the Prime Minister, but he will be addressing another Forum in April at the uni.

This guy raised concerns over the MM's comments about Islam being unaccommodating and preventing the full integration into society of the Malay/Muslim communities. A very important point, I think.

The room was completely packed, not a spare seat to go and many of us were left either sitting in the stairways or standing at the back. It was great listening to the politicians really strive to educate the students and persuade us to side with them. It wasn't a hustings, nor a rally. With the exception of Kenneth Jayeratnam  all the discussants seemed to be just holding a conversation with the people. Giving their opinions as they thought it. KJ's opening speech just seemed to be almost a manifesto or official response to government policies which dragged on and on, until I could pay attention no more. It's not his fault, he's 'cambridge trained'. I've listened to many global politicians, many of whom are 'oxbridge trained' and one thing you notice is that they lack personality and a personableness that will get them elected. They don't engage with the people, they rarely read the atmosphere of a room, rather, they often think that if you can spill the facts and the facts are correct and the responses are (subjectively) correct - then that must equal full support. I hope KJ and politicians like him realise, that's not the case. Being on paper the MVP won't guarantee you a place on the team.

Left - Right: the Presenter, Sylvia Lim NCMP for WP; Michael Palmer MP for PAP; Kenneth Jayeratnam for the Reform Party and Chee Soon Juan on behalf of SDP (unable to contest elections because he is bankrupt).
And then there was Sylvia Lim NCMP for the Worker's Party. I get the sense that she likes to play within the rules and if they don't ever change she wouldn't be too fussed. I don't know if this is the position of the WP but Sylvia Lim, did seem quite reserved and calculated with what she did say - much to the approval of the PAP representative Michael Palmer. He, put across a great show on behalf of the PAP. He's got the personality and of course, has mastered the art of answering every question with exactly the same answer so as to not land himself or the government in trouble. I expect to see him in the much talked about 'next generation' post-election.
Chee Soon Juan receiving the token of appreciation. Every panelist received one.

Chee Soon Juan did not disappoint. We expected him to come out and say things like he saw them. We expected that to be entirely anti-PAP. We expected him to paint the PAP as distanced from the actual situation and he did. He's a former lecturer himself, so he knows how to engage the audience and he definitely engaged me. I agreed with a lot that he said but mainly because he was appealing to our beliefs in norms and values rather than practicalities.

I won't say I have a favourite because it's not that easy. Singapore is not a Western nation and as much as the "Asian Values" argument has been thrown out of the window of late, we must accept that people over here do place different value on different things. I also believe whilst I'm here on the student visa I'm not supposed to be in any way politically active - which means steering clear of rallies etc. which is fine by me.

The press were there... in my
lecture... to cover the event. How often does
that happen?!
The cameraman was there for Channel NewsAsia..
I sure do hope I'm on TV!! :D
One thing that did come to mind, is how much is the Singaporean public lying to themselves about what they want? So many polls and surveys have been cited which claim that Singaporeans want more transparency, more open government, more opposition. But as Paul Kigame (President of Rwanda) said yesterday on BBC Africa Have Your Say: "the numbers do not lie". Singaporeans vote for the PAP in overwhelming amounts. Democracy - whilst it cannot be measured by elections alone - cannot be measured by the internal thoughts of the population unless said population manifest those thoughts on paper, power cannot be transferred (nor policies revised) based on what we think the population may possibly want and value. They must take a leap of faith with the opposition if they want opposition. And they don't seem ready for that yet. They may never be.

I don't know... this is just my observation from listening and partaking in two and a half months of lectures and tutorials. I can't see the negatives of Singaporean society because I am only an outsider looking in. I can't vote and neither do I care. It just seems that the general population blame the strength of the government or the inadequacies of the opposition without looking at the role they personally have to play in the further democratisation of their country. NUS is really great for understanding this kind of stuff.  I'm just really lucky to be here in election year. It brings my course alive just as it did last year when it was British election year.

Every student likes getting free stuff. Free food and drink and book, just for turning up to a lecture.. NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALL HIGHER EDUCATION!

Sunday, 20 March 2011


So a lot of people, more so back home in the UK than here, were concerned about us exchange students who are in Singapore. Why? Obviously because of the earthquake and the tsunami and the nuclear plant meltdowns. It's understandable. And to all who cared enough to think about my safety even for a mini-second. Thank you, but Singapore is safe. Too safe maybe. Much like their control on criminal activities and political participation, they seem to have Mother Nature kept in check. It rains only when it needs too here. She don't play that's for sure. I'm happy about that!

Singapore is quite sheltered by Indonesia and Malaysia which makes a tsunami rare, if possible. And earthquakes? Equally unlikely. And as for the texts and emails claiming a BBC news flash has confirmed radiation will affect the rest of South East Asia, well that stuff doesn't help and it is in fact illegal to spread that type of message here because it causes panic and is considered an act of terrorism (or so I'm told). 

Onto Japan.

Obviously now that the shock has gone, Japan - like most disasters and crises across the world - will become old news for those in the West. (I'm sure, Ashley Cole will do something stupid again or Rooney will go on strike again, or maybe David Cameron will criticise yet another feature of society that makes Britain so great, again.) In South East Asia, however, the impact is too great so Channel News Asia and all the other news channels that I've watched (in Singapore and Indonesia) have kept following it with great attention.

It raises questions about environmentally vulnerable nations having nuclear capacity and all other kinds of dangerous stuff. (I haven't educated myself on that debate, so I won't attempt to address it here). One thing is sure though - Japan is that most prepared for a situation like this, and so no matter how much they struggle, I trust them not to endanger more lives than nature has taken so far.

Many people around the world are raising money for Japan, (I've seen some pictures of people raising money outside University Place, Manchester University - good on  them!) and NUS are doing the same. I didn't get to take part because I was late for the GP but I managed to catch a few snaps.

I don't get access to British TV so I don't know if anyone is still paying attention to the aftermath of the earthquake, but if you could (and you haven't yet) please follow suit of these students, and the Japanese Society at Manc Uni and donate. These things go on well beyond media coverage. And when you do... think of the lads who overcame their own grief to help their community:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

VietnamJUMP 2011 2nd Entry

So I'm posting today because I've completed my first proper task for the Vietnam JUMP 2011 project. Well I say completed... I mean, y'kno, we're on a 3-day selling quest and today was DAY ONE.

The final target is of course S$5000 and today we made S$400 which is 8% there. (I may look around for some sort of update-able graph I can embed here to save me having to calculate the percentage myself).

Two more days of this and we'd have S$1200 and be .. ermm... 24% to our target, which sounds like a small amount but it would be so epic.

I'll be honest, the journey to even this point has been hard.
The learning starts here.
I thought we'd really start learning about cultures once we got out there but just working together with different backgrounds coming together has been tiring and educative for me.
For example, the Vietnamese in the team are quite passive when it comes to selling. They prefer for you to ask the questions before giving the answers and they also tell me that when selling for charity in Singapore first of all you don't call out to people when they walk passed and 2) you don't haggle on a price.
A price is a price and that's that. Unfortunately, that's not how I've been taught to do things and maybe had I heeded to their words we would have made S$500, or maybe we would've been low on sales and not even made what we did, so I guess what I am saying is, as much as I appreciate the difference of opinion, I'mma do my thing!

It was all in all a really good day. Not easy getting up after going out the night before to La Baroque for some free flow, but, y'kno.. it's for the kids and like I said to all my customers today "somewhere in Vietnam, there is a little child thanking you". I don't do it for the praise though, just to be clear.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

VietnamJUMP 2011 1st Entry

So I decide to take part in this volunteering experience. Students from NUS have the opportunity to go to Vietnam and help to build a school, to teach English and to teach Hygiene etc.

It is, of course, a worthy cause and I really wanted direct experience with actually South East Asian people, outside the capacity of being a tourist. I didn't, however, foresee the amount of effort needed to go into it. I guess that's because there's so many companies willing to do the same for you no hassle.

Anyways, this is an experience within an experience for me and so I'm gonna give updates on how it all comes along and what we do to reach our S$5000 target. (I'm in the Fundraising Team so that's my job =[ )

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Khorb Koon Ka Thailand

Khorb Koon Ka = Thank you (for ladies) "Khorb Koon Kap" for the lads.
It took me forever to leave Singapore. Most people visited around 3 or 4 countries in the first 6 weeks, which I would consider the norm. Yet, I was firmly grounded in Singapore.

But then came RECESS WEEK a local student's time off from uni. I stress local student because the exchanges don't seem to care much about the attending university bit. They're all about the travel! Granted, for many of them this year does not count. Many of the French, Canadians and Americans are on a pass/fail experience (a couple of brain cells will get you a pass). Anyways, less of the foreigner hating. Manchester states that our grades out here will count towards our degree. It matters immensely that I don't take this for granted. And so I work harder than I ever have before - all work and no travel makes Charlene a really sad student.

But I digress. Recess Week came and to mark the occasion I joined a couple girls and flew off to Thailand! Phuket to be precise. Whilst in Thailand I went to the Full Moon Party which I blogged about before. 6 nights, 4 islands: 1 week of firsts!

1. It was the first time I've ever slept outside a 7-eleven. (It's a good thing 7-eleven is 24hrs)
2. It was the first time I've ever ferried. (scratch that, my mum says I did when I was a kid, but if you don't remember it, does it really count?)

3. It was the first time I saw the sunrise in South East Asia.. (there was another time when I was awake for sunrise in Singapore, but I couldn't see it clearly enough from my room).. now I'm just scavenging for firsts...

4. It was the first time I've hitched a ride. (With these awesome people!)

5. And it was my first FULL MOON PARTY!!
6. It was the first time I'd rode an elephant and sat on it's head and had a mini-photoshoot like I'm from ANTM.

7. It was also the first time I considered sleeping on the beach instead of a hotel but considering we returned to our bungalow room to find a roach just jamming on the bed, I guess the beach wasn't such a stupid idea after all.
8. It was the first time I went snorkelling.
9. It was the first time I saw a ladyboy.
10. And it was the first time I tallied up 39 bites on my body...ouch!

Those are my 10 firsts. Hopefully my second trip will bring another ten more. :D
 (p.s. If you go to Koh Phi Phi DO NOT stay at Pavillion Bungalows, DO NOT book your hotel room as soon as you come off the pier and DO NOT go for anything just because it's the cheapest and certainly not because the sales guy says it's "different")