In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Monday, May 28, 2012

next phase in life.

The reason for my existence the past few months has ceased to exist! The Festival of Biodiversity is Over!

Many people have come up to me and said it was a success. I don't know what they mean by success, but I suppose it meant in terms of numbers, that we did manage to draw a crowd, despite the many schools having their open house, the army open house, Hougang by-election and everything else.

To me though, I think it was good because everyone seemed happy, there were no major complaints and people got another chance to talk to each other, network, discuss and keep in touch. I hope all who went really enjoyed themselves, and I obviously hope my idea to get them to go around and get stamps from various stations (in order to "earn" the souvenirs) was not a terribly lame one.


But anyway, after work ends, it will be a very exciting phase in my life before I go overseas for Uni.

Schedule for the next few months:
4-5 June: Batam (Indonesia) with friends
10-16 June: Phuket (Thailand) with family
18 June-13 July: Gerik, Perak (Malaysia) to volunteer
17-30 July: Sydney (Australia) with friends (or around the Sydney area anw)
7 Aug-6 Sept: Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte (the Philippines) to volunteer
20+ Sept: Off to UK!

So yes, I won't be around in Singapore most of the time. I will still try to be contactable online though.



And I drank 1.5 glasses of mojito last night. Trying to improve my drinking capacity.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

a day to remember.

so today (26 May 2012), I spoke to MOS for MND/MOM Tan Chuan-Jin, and drank a whole bottle of Tiger beer. Unrelated, but just saying.

Got ambushed (where CEO of NParks Poon Hong Yuen tells MOS about me rejecting NParks scholarship), and I told him I hope there will still be stuff left to conserve when I'm back (from my studies).


And I just needed something to put in my stomach. Also an attempt to increase my drinking capacity before I head over. Obviously a lot of work still needs to be done.



I feel accomplished. :P One more day to go!


This happened at the Festival of Biodiversity btw.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just cos it's "Raffles"

Million and one things to do (and top of that list is probably to sleep), but still gotta put this up. Because if I don't, I never will.

 

After one guy posted something about his Raffles education, it irked quite a number of other people, some of whom subsequently posted their own notes about their Raffles education too.

1. Lum Jian Yang http://www.facebook.com/notes/lum-jian-yang/thoughts-of-an-ex-rafflesian-or-how-not-to-waste-your-18th-year-of-existence/10150820911863596

2. Kong Xie Shern https://www.facebook.com/notes/kong-xie-shern/thoughts-of-a-rafflesian-i-am-from-raffles-and-proud-as-hell-/3959053857375

3. Ivy Wong https://www.facebook.com/notes/ivy-wong/i-am-from-raffles-and-humbled-to-be/441888765841154

4. Andrea Lim https://www.facebook.com/notes/andrea-lim/thoughts-of-a-reformed-rafflesian/10150793905151330

5. Eugene Lee http://arafflesinstitutionlife.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/so-is-raffles-a-robot-factory-or-the-best-thing-since-sliced-bread/

among many others. The text from the notes listed above are copied below.

 

But like what I said on my Facebook post (http://www.facebook.com/Jocelyne.Sze/posts/10150837293077849?ref=notif&notif_t=like), 

"But when working, I realise it matters little what school you're from. What matters is what you do after all that studying. Do you do good and try to change the world and make it a better place? Or do you just live for yourself?"

 

Sometimes, we just tend to generalise too much. Sometimes, we tend to stereotype too much. Sometimes, we judge too quickly.

I'm a Rafflesian and proud of it; but may not always be so willing to say what school I'm from, simply because of the stereotypes associated. People tend to be more guarded when they know what school I'm from, it seems, especially so when I'm meeting them for the first time/not very familiar or close with them.

I can't put my thoughts down succinctly enough, I'm no where as eloquent as those who have written notes, and my sleep debt is probably impairing my mental faculties.

All I can say is, I'm geeky and I like intellectual discussions. I like a hectic life and probably do one too many things (and have always done so). I probably fit the bill for "all-rounder" (minus the art aspect) simply because I like doing things, and lots of them. I chose not to take the path trodden by so many of my peers, simply because I like being different. I want to make a difference in this world. And these are traits that are not exclusive to any school or any anything. 

Though probably, there is a higher proportion of geeky people in Raffles than in other schools.

And I won't deny that being in Raffles probably opens up more doors than others.

 

I also think that Rafflesians are more sleep-deprived than others. Though of course I have not done any formal survey or even have any anecdotal references. It's just something I think.

 

Don't judge me (or anyone) based on the school I am from. Take me for who I am, based on my collective experience. 

 

 

 

 

1. EDIT 200512 2240hrs: I'd wish for you, the reader, to click on the addendum: http://www.facebook.com/notes/lum-jian-yang/addendum/10150826163003596 if you would be so kind. I'm open to PMs and all that! Just that I cannot guarantee a quick response, sorry!

(this post, rare that it is in this format, was inspired by events leading up to and including today. and obviously this goes out to everyone who hasn't decided what to do with his/her life)

I often hesitate when others ask me which school I come from. Not the direct answer, brash and confident, the "get-out-of-my-elite-uncaring-face" response. Not the indirect answer ("Bishan JC") either, that which reeks of false humility, infringing on the humility of the curious, exacting in itself a crooked sense of pride. For years I sought the perfect answer, that which would reflect my true sentiments, being as honest as possible. Now I have it:

"I was from RJC, but I wish I wasn't from there."

It's true - I enjoyed my years in Raffles, and it was largely due to the people I met and the things I did. But if you ask me to share my opinion of what makes Raffles Raffles (or rather, my concept of the "Rafflesian Spirit", this is what I'd say.

Raffles conditioned us to believe we are the kings and the queens of the world; that because "we are special" we are exempt from the lower rungs of society - exempt from saying Hello to the Bangladeshi cleaner who mops the toilet in my unit, exempt from making small talk with anyone who doesn't take at least 11 H2 units (much less people not from JC or poly), exempt from asking, or even caring about, others who simply aren't in YOUR league. Not that it matters to "the future leaders of Singapore anyway."

Raffles conditioned us to think that success is measured in terms of what you've done - so Gold in SYF is nothing. Silver in Nationals means nothing, and if you've learnt the guzheng you NEED a certificate to prove your mettle. And in that regard there's no value to even go for a competition you know you'll never win, no value to learn something without a certificate, no value to be a Specialist because you won't ever get commissioned by the President.

Raffles conditioned us to strive for excellence at all costs. All costs does not mean "slogging it out day and night, giving your all, in a gentleman/lady-like fashion." All costs really mean "clearing the field of everything, everyone - so that the road is yours to claim". And for that, we fight - lying about "not studying", stealing answers, giving up friendship, giving up love, giving up all you stand for as a human, for results that apparently matter.

Raffles conditioned us to think that the well-trodden path must be the best (and for many, the ONLY path available.) Scholarships are a must for success, because apparently all of us are THAT poor we need government funding. (I am, but not everyone is, I'm sure.) And music is unthinkable because we're going to end up poor, the streetside musician (or rather, you just didn't do your research well.) So your buffet spread consists of Medicine/Law/Finance. That's it.

So they weren't wrong after all.

So what did the gryphon breed? Eagles, or robots?

Robots - masters at "Differentiate f(x)" without understanding what the process of differentiation entails (limits, l'Hôpital's rule etc.), experts at "Econs" essay question analysis without thinking of how H2 Econs is nothing but a bad joke; programmed to only have 3 career options (doctor, lawyer, scholar); people who forget to love, forget to care for people and things and their passions.

Now I ask, was this how you spent your 18th year of your life? Fighting for things meaningless to you? For awards that will be forgotten - a medal that matters not to the student no longer interested in Chemistry? Did you lie to yourself for a year, or worse, 2?

Rafflesians pretend to love something - the gap year reveals everything. Whether you were sincere, whether you stood truly for what you believed in, or you did it because "my sergeant asked me to do it". Because the moment it holds no paper value, it becomes the litmus test; you can slave your life in an organization for so long in JC, give your all, and leave the moment you graduate because "you're too busy - you have a job".

Take time off. Do something you know you love, something that you need not proclaim to the rest of the world in any way or another. Live your childhood dream. Go into showbiz if you always wanted to. Pick up another instrument. Bake.

And who says you can't do this while still in school?

At the end of the day, we're all going to be sucked into the rat race. While you're still young, sane, and able to differentiate right from wrong, delay your inevitable entry into the infinite-lap race.

That's after all, being human.

 

2. This note is written in response to a note entitled “thoughts of an ex-rafflesian, or how not to waste your 18th year of existence” by a dude called Mr lum Jian Yang, a very wise 18 years old dude who has gained some sort of enlightenment and decided to dish out career advice to those undecided.

I am taking the time and effort to write this note because firstly, I cannot reply in the comments section as I am not his friend (facebook and otherwise). Secondly, I personally feel very insulted as an ex-student from a “ JC somewhere in Bishan”. So before reading on, to put things into context , please read his note to get some contextual knowledge.

http://www.facebook.com/notes/lum-jian-yang/thoughts-of-an-ex-rafflesian-or-how-not-to-waste-your-18th-year-of-existence/10150820911863596

If not, every satire/ pun intended or unintended will be lost. Furthermore, if you feel that some of what I have written is a form of personal attack against this dude, then it is. I feel so affronted by his notes that I have no qualms about it.  Another personal disclaimer, my note is in no way representative of the entire raffflesian community but I believe majority find problems with his “essay” judging from the comments, but his friends are too polite to outright tell him that he is full of shit.

This note was written with 70% anger, 20% from a need to educate a junior and 10% for the fun of it and hoping I get a ridiculous amount of shares.

I never hesitate whenever someone asks me which JC I come from. I proudly say “raffles Junior College” . I say it with pride and not arrogance. I don’t understand why this simple question warrants an answer like “ please get out of my face”. The only time I hesitate to answer is because with the merger and what not, I sometimes have to think which the correct answer is so I don’t seem old and outdated. It surprises me greatly that it took Mr Lum so many years to come up with the answer “  I was from RJC ,but I wish I wasn’t from there”. REALLY? For someone who is supposedly rather intellectual , he took years to answer such a simple question ? Gosh, I wonder how he actually managed to finish answering those damn difficult questions in  A levels.

Ok then he goes on a tirade about the school and I will not bore you by picking out every disturbing generalisation he goes on to make. But must aks you a question Mr Lum, who on earth is your GP  / KI teacher. My awesome GP teacher Mrs Toh (Hi Mrs Toh , if you are reading this ) used to emphasize heavily  not to make sweeping statement. But yet in your note, you unofficially elected yourself representative of every single Rafflesian and brand us “robots”. You implied that those of us who have gone on to careers in law/ medicine /finance did so because the school “conditioned” us to do so . You do not even make an exception for those who have true genuine reasons for doing so. And by the way, I do agree that there are those who chose these paths because of “conditioning” but they are the exception.

If your note had been just your personal opinion , I think , instead of, Rafflesians this and that , I would have just ignored your note as another lame ungrateful student. If you had included some positive points to make your note a balanced one, I would have applauded your efforts at trying to seem intellectual and critical. BUT NO , you had to go on to insult every single one of us Rafflesians. I hope that your idiotic note does not go viral on forums where people will use your opinions to make attacks against our school.

To make you seem even more like the bad guy, I am going to share abit of my student life. You may ask, who the hell am I to comment since I am probably another by product of this factory called “Raffles”. Well, for your information, I was not fortunate enough to spend 6 years in Raffles , I only joined during the JC years and I truly enjoyed and benefitted.  I had the opportunity to come from a not so elite school and see the difference.  Firstly, I don’t think we all think we are Kings and Queens. I think it’s just you. The only time I wished I was king is when I watch “game of thrones” where the Kings are so cool and the Queens so Hot. The only time I think I see my peers playing at being Kings and Queens are at chess.

You talk about not talking to the “lower rungs of society” which I prefer to say “people from different social circle”, (what makes you the top of the rung?). You see the problem but I don’t see you saying that you make the effort to do otherwise? Even if you say that you only realise in retrospect, then are you making the effort now to do otherwise? I still remember my time in school when I actually knew the IT staff from Estate department and talked to them.  I still say hi when we meet on the streets ( and I have really met them on the streets). The canteen auntie from the drinks stall still remember me and offer me a free drink every now and then when I go back for a visit. ( You can go check with the auntie.)  You can say that I had the benefit of having a “non- rafflesian “education in secondary school, but it has nothing to do with that. It’s about yourself.

The school don’t teach you to mix with people not from your social circle ( I refuse to use “lower rungs” because that really is insulting) , its about you making the effort. Are you saying that people from VJC, NYJC etc , the school condition them to talk to people from other social circle? Again by blaming the school, you show your ignorance.  The answer is no. Dude, you can go to other schools and still act like a “king” . Whether you can bother to talk to people not in your social circle depends entirely on whether you make the effort. If you find that you have wasted your 18 years because you missed out on 18 years of heartfelt conversations with banglas, please, stop whining and make an effort to do so now. It’s not too late.

You know Mr lum, what Irks me the most is how ungrateful you sound. You complained about the environment because you think that the grass on the other side SEEMS greener. Is it ? You are probably one of those who complain that the house system is lame; match support is a waste of time and the school wastes money giving councillors money to splurge. But do you know what? I LOVE all those. Why ? My school never had house system and school life was pretty much boring. Competition within houses ultimately breeds school spirits. Match support allow us to show our pride and feel proud of our school! The school pump so much money into school events for students to ensure a vibrant student life. It also gives student leaders the opportunity to plan huge events to benefit YOU. You think councillors sit around meetings thinking how best to use the money to enjoy themselves? HELL NO. They / WE ( yes I am a councillor ) ask themselves all the time, will the students like it? I had some pretty wild ideas in my time and thanks to funding, I was able to do it. In secondary school , I was also from council I can tell you having no money for school events will really make school events not as enjoyable.

But I think that other than insulting students , past and present, there is one group of people that you have shown the most disrespect to in your note. TEACHERS. These are the people who help us become “Masters” of differentiation and  “Experts” at econs. They are also the one that help shape the school learning environment. So basically you are saying that the teachers have ultimately failed at making us better people? The countless hours they spend after school hours to consult with students and to accompany students so they can carry out their “brilliant” plans for their CCA are wasted? They do all these and still breed robots? All the curriculum planning done in school to maximise your learning gone down the drain ?  Do you know how insulted I feel on their behalf? You know something Mr Lum, I am going to teach you a lesson that you probably never learned in school, taking responsibility for your actions. At the bottom of my note, I am going to tag my teachers, let them show their colleagues who have taught you and know what you think of that 6 years of education you received. I think it’s only fair that they get feedback from ex –students to “ improve” this “factory that breed robots ”?

“Programmed to only have 3 career options (doctor, lawyer, scholar); people who forget to love, forget to care for people and things and their passions”.

 Really? First you say we are all robots, then you say us robots have only 3 carrer options. You know, coming from a non-rafflesian secondary school, I would like to tell you, not everyone in Singapore has the opportunity to have these 3 career options. Many can only dream. In raffles, these options have opened up for us because we receive a very good education. Whether we take it or not is another issue. I have a friend who went on to do music in US (so there goes your musician theories). I respect her because she has the balls (not literally) to follow her passion. I have another friend (girl) who went on to join the army. What happened to the 3 career options thingy? The list is long and I do not need to list down all the careers my friends have chosen, if not those who did become robots and pursued Law would sue me for a breach of privacy. But the point is, our school does not only breed 3 kinds of people. The only 3 kind of people we breed are “thinkers, pioneers, leaders”.

You know Mr Lum, I could go on and on and on, poking holes at your opinions but what is the point. I am just going to end with a short (maybe not so short) and sweet paragraph about what Raffles meant to me.

Are people from the Raffles IP programme conditioned differently from their peers from the others.  The simple answer is YES. But rafflesians are not conditioned to be robots and other unsavoury terms you used. Rafflesians are conditioned to believe in themselves and that there is no limit to their dreams. Rafflesians are empowered with the skills to achieve their dreams. This is the basic difference I find. I am not saying that in other schools, students do not dare to dream of lofty ideals but in Raffles, it is the majority. It is our privilege to be able to get scholarships.  And who knows if you had not gone to Raffles, you might not even think of getting scholarships or you might not even know of scholarships?

 Dear Mr lum, who says that those who have went on to becoming doctors , lawyers or scholars did not pursue their dreams? You mean only by becoming musicians or actors we are pursuing our dreams ?

And you know something? Even if the school was really crap and everything is like you said, at least I gained great friends and had the time of my life. I wasn’t the perfect student , I did not win medals ( I wished I had) nor gone on the dean’s list ( which once again I wished I had). But having said all that, I am very grateful for my time in Raffles and the wonderful teachers who were damn patient with a student like me.

My dear boy Mr Lum, I wish you all the best in your career as a musician.( I assume you will be pursuing a career in that as I infer from your comments section that you are interested in music.)I mean this is pure inference, but then going on to pursue a career as a lawyer , doctor or scholar would be hypocritical no ? After all, its all about pursuing your dreams and passions and not becoming a robot isn’t it ? Or at the end of it all ,you are still following the “well trodden path”. If you are,  then gosh your note is a bunch of bullshit isn’t it ?

I am tagging those who have been part of my rafflesian experience. Thank you my fellow robots . If you choose to share this note, please do it vehemently to all Rafflesian young and old. Even if you choose not to share the wise words of Mr Lum Jian Yang, someone please share this note with him :D

 At this point, if Mr Lum you are reading this you have 4 possible options.

1)    Ignore me

2)    Write another note to rebut me

3)    Apologize and admit you are wrong

4)    Correct my grammatical / English errors with your writing powress

Please do any of the following but 4, it would be rather embarrassing for me, but whatever it is , I look forward to your response.

auspicium melioris aevi. 

(I felt this is compulsory to add since it does concern our school) 

 

3. There's a lot of Rafflesian pride going around tonight, and this has awaken me to pride issues long dormant in me. I hope this is as good a time as any other to explore "Rafflesian pride" and what it means, to me. 

This is a disclaimer that the following are my personal opinions and are NOT meant to reflect what my fellow schoolmates feel. I'm hoping that this reaches out to people who have struggled with pride like myself, but if you have never been plagued with confusion, good for you too! 

For a long time I have never really known how to feel about being from Raffles. Don't get me wrong, I've never felt ashamed of being a Rafflesian, not for one second. But, I've never felt as entitled to it as my schoolmates seem to be. When I look at the illustrious alumni and the inspiring teachers, I feel- humbled.

But this was a very recent enlightenment. For the greater part of my years in Raffles, and for a couple after I've graduated, I've felt something less flattering- I've felt like an underachiever. 

It's bad enough looking up at the huge posters of "Student Leaders" hung up on the walls of the school to encourage the next intake of students. And when schoolmates around me started becoming these very student leaders, I felt happy for them- but accompanied with a pinch of "what am I doing wrong?"

Maybe it is fueled by envy, or even worse, jealousy, there was a brief period of time I resented the school. The school's focus on the high-performers always made me feel so inadequate. To make matters worse? Our school is already the top school. 

So I was comparing myself to the creme dela creme. 

When you see a Rafflesian hating on the school, I personally think a large part is targeted on the top-performers. Like how a middle child comes to resent his parents for doting on a high-achieving brother. And when you're immature, you start to become ungrateful. It was a phase, and I'm happy to say, I've grown out of it. 

I'm now wholly grateful of everything Raffles has provided me- excellent education, critical thinking skills, inspiring teachers (especially, as all my art friends can attest: the best mentor one can possibly ask for, Mr Chia), a range of CCAs, brand recognition, and many other opportunities. 

And as for the analogical high-achiever big brother, I realized that the opportunities were all there for me, I just didn’t grab them. As a secondary school girl I blamed the school, but now I realized it was my own choice. And there’s nothing wrong with being excellent- I in fact have a lot to learn from them.

And I'm sure many alumni, even if they've once hated the school, will thank the school for bringing them where they are today. I feel sad for those who hate the system even years after they graduate, but I hope they would recognise that no matter where they go, there'll always be the "elite". Raffles makes it seem worse only because the rest of Singapore thinks we're "elite", so we brooded in a school where the focus on excellence is distorted to narrow-minded education*. 

But having been in contact with these exemplary students, they become a lot more- they are not just their councilor badges and straight As, but also motivated and hardworking people. Most of them get where they are not by, and not solely because of, resume building. That is a misconception. Every one knows the drive to put an extra line on your resume can only bring you so far if you don’t possess a genuine desire to better the school, improve yourself and out of passion. And most of these students do burn with the “Promethean fire”! Which is why I say, to this day:

I’m humbled to be a Rafflesian.

Side-note: I do encourage everyone to relook their school spirit and see whether it was misplaced pride. Are we doing our school proud, in our own terms? I’m not talking about the position we hold in the offices or ranks we hold in the army, but whether we are good leaders, critical thinkers and good PEOPLE. I am saddened that so many Singaporean come upon a Rafflesian and stereotype us as arrogant.

*If you still feel up for discourse, you might be interested in:http://www.facebook.com/notes/ivy-wong/raffles-institutions-ivory-tower/441971389166225 

 

4. I am writing this as a direct response to "thoughts of an ex-rafflesian, or how not to waste your 18th year of existence". (http://www.facebook.com/notes/lum-jian-yang/thoughts-of-an-ex-rafflesian-or-how-not-to-waste-your-18th-year-of-existence/10150820911863596) Like Kong (http://www.facebook.com/notes/kong-xie-shern/thoughts-of-a-rafflesian-i-am-from-raffles-and-proud-as-hell-/3959053857375), I cannot reply in the comments section and this will probably turn out too long to be posted as a comment. I hesitate to say that my 9 years (3 years in RGP) spent representing "Green Black White" were the best years of my life, because to believe that your best years of your life are over is simply depressing, but like the many who have spoken up, I feel that Raffles definiely gave us a lot more than we might deserve.
 
First, some personal background. I go to a little liberal arts school in Portland, Reed College. Apart from the merits of the institution, a major factor of my decision was definitely that there is currently, not a single other Rafflesian there (and only 2 other Singaporeans). Through RJ, I had similar thoughts as Lum about 'Raffles', which i now realize were pretty immature, and I could not wait to get as far away from Raffles as I could, and that included the heavily populated NUS Law, or even the UK. So I can definitely understand where Lum is coming from, but I feel that he is missing many essential points of consideration, which he may perhaps have the fortune of realizing as he chooses to pursue his dreams in the coming year.
 
I would like to remind the author to consider the larger picture, to think beyond Raffles and consider the circumstances that caused our school environment to be the way he describes it as. Think about streaming, think about how everyone in Singapore is split by ability from the tender age of Pri 4, and then again in Pri 6 and Sec 4. Raffles in itself attracts the very best - or at least, the best in terms of academic scores or sporting/musical talent. In that same vein, while I don't believe that Raffles as an institution conditions 'us' to be doctors, lawyers or bankers as much as parents of individuals (I for one was turned off by the idea simply because of that trend), I do feel that our schools serve a bigger function. The local universities need academically capable people, and there is no denying that Raffles does a damn good job of providing such training - call it a feeder school if you will, but most societies could benefit from such a guaranteed supply of educated students for their medical and law faculties. 
 
My American friends sometimes ask about my 'high school' and are shocked by the extent of material we cover and the rigor of the A levels. As a really lazy student in RGS who used to fail math, not a week goes by now when I don't feel thankful for the training in discipline that RJ provided - I strove hard for my As, I was pushed harder by my teachers, but I don't feel like I strove for exellence 'at all costs'. I cannot be certain, but I felt that you (Lum) was simply describing your stream, or maybe even just your class. Consider the larger picture: people often forget that not everyone in Raffles is conventionally successful, or strives to be, you may have forgotten that beyond the 'Ivory Tower' of HP or the classes that produce students with more distinctions than A level subjects I took, there are many others who balanced the academic stress with the true JOY of extra-curriculars, or *dare I say it?* the HAPPINESS that friendships bring. In fact, my memories of the A level period are fond - I remember my classmates sharing their notes, because making your own detailed History notes would just be too painful, I remember getting emails of essay outlines, I remember spirited discussions on material that went way beyond what would be reproducable in a Literature essay, motivated by the love of our texts, above all, I remember a sense of camaraderie - fully knowing that there is a bell curve, but praying that every one of your friends fell on the right side of it. There was definitely no giving up of moral values for a piece of a paper with the right letters.
 
Consider the larger picture: we have an extremely well-developed Western system of education, but are still in an extremely Asian society. Doctor, Lawyer, Banker and Engineer are not a Rafflesian phenomea, not a Singaporean one, or even a geographically Asian one! My friends from Korea, China, India, even Africa, experience the same pressures from their parents, not to mention Asian-Americans. There is no need for Raffles to even do any of that conditioning - even if we suddenly actively and successfully 'conditioned' all Rafflesians to become top artists, the other Junior Colleges will immediately and willingly step in to produce the next generation of doctors, lawyers and bankers. What you describe appears to be a systemic problem that goes beyond the motives or values of the Raffles I know.
 
Consider the larger picture: your freshest memories of Raffles may be the hardcore mugging for A levels, (which, I would like to remind you, is a shared memory by every single JC student in Singapore that cared about their university prospects), but that is merely smudging at the icing on the cake. The IP is a six year programme - can you really fault the school for gearing its energies into academic results in the last two years when we had four glorious ones to basically explore life and learning without any true repercussion while the rest of Singapore studied for Os? I know that you were thinking of the emphasis placed on Sports trophies or SYF Golds too, but sportsmen or performers invariably want to get something out of their hard work. It is something observable in ANY team - it is NOT a Raffles thing. We may achieve them at a higher rate than other schools, but then again, it boils down to the people Raffles attracts in the first place - people who want to be part of a top school and the benefits (or disadvantages) that entails. You give Rafflesians too little credit. I played Touch Rugby and Bridge in JC, and was in Interact Club. If someone didn't know me (and you don't), I wouldn't fault them for dismissing it as 'CV-padding' - but I did them because I enjoyed the games and the people I got to work with, and have continued playing Rugby and Bridge in the US. I cannot think of anyone who measures themselves based on the medals they've won or potential certifications they could get out of an activity.
 
Going back to the first four years of the IP, consider the opportunities available to us simply because we were free from the looming pressures of O levels. So, one of the best things about Reed is its aim to encourage students to learn for the sake of learning instead of for letter grades, because that often pushes students to go way beyond what would have been 'expected' to get a good grade, and opens up space for exploring and pursuing what you're truly interested in. It has struck me multiple times, that out first four years is essentially designed to emulate such a system - might not be fully successful, but you HAVE to give Raffles props for trying - remember that we are a MIDDLE and HIGH school, and consider the state of other schools of that level around the world (if you don't know anything about them, they are nowhere close to that ideal). Again, it boils down to choice. One can choose to backstab or study one's way into topping the level, or to fill your time with a lot more wholesome activities, which I believe most of our fellow Rafflesians did. A major transformative experience I was lucky to go through was Overseas Service Learning, and as two of my best friends in JC, who came from a non-Raffles sec school told me, it would have been IMPOSSIBLE to get that anywhere else, simply because by the time you're sec 3, anything that does not directly contribute to your potential score for O levels (CCA achievements do contribute) is a waste of time. I have friends now who are in their last year of college and are amazed at what we did in secondary school - it is easy to pick out the flaws in the system, or the people who did not get the most out of what we were given, but also to forget how much more we also get.
 
Bottom line: we all chose our paths. I feel indignant on behalf of my Rafflesian friends who chose conventional paths based on un'conditioned' reasons, I feel indignant for those of us who chose unconventional paths to chase our dreams, or simply to see more of the world. That is not to say that there are no robots in Raffles - but I believe that such people would have ended up robots anywhere, and who knows, they might have turned out as better robots simpy because of their Rafflesian education.
 
'Raffles' is a dynamic concept - it is made up of the administration and teachers that run it, the students that are the soul of it. I speak from the experience of the Raffles I know - but I for one hope that the Rafflesian spirit stays the same and I will always be proud to call myself a Rafflesian.
 
Please correct me if i misunderstood or construed any of your points, I hope some healthy discourse will be had. I am also tagging people I feel might be interested, who might chip in to tell me that I have on some heavily tinted rose-colored glasses.
 
 
5. Context, if you haven’t read them:
 
thoughts of an ex-rafflesian, or how not to waste your 18th year of existence
Thoughts of a Rafflesian, ” I am from Raffles and proud as hell “
Back with me? Great. My thoughts as a current Rafflesian (as my blog makes pretty clear)? Both have their valid points, but presented or went about it in the wrong way. Except one has a bigger gang and knows it.
 
Anyway, going back to the point on whether Raffles is a robot factory or not. Reading the first note, the first line “I often hesitate when others ask me which school I come from” struck a chord with me because I had written about the exact same hesitance before. I came to a different conclusion, but it again boils down to the idea that Raffles is an institution very much concerned with excellence. The argument then is about how it achieves it, and what sort of excellence it produces in the first place.
 
So how does it achieve it? Is there a hothouse-style environment, brought about by daily celebrations of victories (“Eventually triumphed over traditional arch-rivals…”), but a “fought hard, but eventually lost to…” whimper that heralds a loss?  If put in such a way, I would say yes, excellence is central to a large part of the RI experience. Like it or not, winning brings with it a certain cachet and is directly supported. Funding for example. A friend of mine was caught on the wrong side of this when he had to fund his own trip to a world finals despite qualifying, as he had not won the first place in the nationals. Because the likelihood of winning determined the soundness of the investment of money, rather than the experience of going to a world finals.
 
 
With that aside, what sort of excellence does Raffles encourage? Academic excellence, for sure, but what is its approach to other forms of excellence? Last year I went for an interview for the Raffles All-Round Excellence Award. At once, I was already sceptical of the idea of “All-Round Excellence”. Outstanding people we aspire to be are not necessarily those who would have gotten distinction for Cognitive, Character and Leadership, Community and Citizenship, Arts and Aesthetics, as well as Sports and Health. The Einsteins or Emma Yongs of today would not have been known for their “All-Round Excellence”, but rather their dedication and focus on one particular discipline and giving it their all. They might not even have gotten a distinction in their particular domain; another friend has achievements and multiple job experiences in Arts and Aesthetics, but was unable to count them in as they did not fit the pretty strict definitions.
 
But not for lack of trying. The RD itself already tries to recognize individual domains of excellence, and in fact I think a person who truly has talent in a particular niche field wouldn’t even need the school very much in the first place. Or as I like to say:
 
Those who deserve RD don’t need it; those who need RD don’t deserve it.
A person who has won all those international competitions, and achieved a very high level excellence that RD seeks to recognize ironically would see no use in a school-awarded piece of paper. It would be clear to anyone else what he or she is good in already. Furthermore, those who need to scramble to fulfil the criteria of RD in justifying their excellence in a particular field… probably aren’t the type RD is looking to recognize.
 
So a lot of this excellence you achieve depends a lot on the person – whether he/she is able to see beyond the limitations of school life or awards and chase that excellence. If so, being in RI would probably be a good choice as there are even better resources and people here who could help.
 
Another point both notes talked about was the much murkier field of school spirit. Or rather, what makes for a school in the first place. When you say, “I LOVE RAFFLES” or “I HATE RAFFLES“, what Raffles are you taking about? A collection of individuals in a certain campus in a certain country? The management? The people? Or the broader, imagined (even illusory) idea of a living, breathing, entity that comes out from all three? Even if you really believe it, do other people believe it, or is that what you’re meant to believe in the first place?
 
A school is defined as “An institution for educating children”. That’s it. Whether it is meant to be something more depends on its needs and history. Nevertheless, it is necessary to believe in something more in order to even entertain the idea of a school spirit existing. So we have Rafflesian Spirit.
 
 
People have struggled to define it for a long time, such that even Mr. Wijeysingha was forced to describe it’s effects, not it’s actual meaning. Heck, I even took a shot at it once (and failed). That’s precisely because it’s imagined. Each of us have to reconcile with this fact at one point or another. For me, the greatest conflict came in match supports.
 
I’ve always been rather uncomfortable with match supports. Yes, as the author of the second note would say, “Match support allow us to show our pride and feel proud of our school!” But who was I really supporting? Did I need to cheer to show (prove) my pride? For example, I was going for match supports almost weekly at one point in time. I wondered why, despite not being there when the sportsmen had been training, sweating and bleeding their hearts out, why at that moment in match support I was suddenly entitled to believe I was “one of them”, that the glory of their hard-earned victory was shared with me just because I cheered. Why I suddenly believed the only thing I cared about was their struggle for victory, when I did not even know the extent of their sacrifices, or even knew their names before the match. A sportsman friend even told me that for individual sports, cheers  for Raffles rang hollow because they were competing against each other, not just Raffles vs another school. The best match supports I’ve had were when I was cheering with friends for friends, not in a “have to do it to show school pride” context, and definitely not just for strangers.
 
 
 
However, another line from the “proud as hell” note resonated with me. He said, “My school never had house system and school life was pretty much boring.” For me, when I was acting for interhouse dramafeste, I detested the idea of competition, especially in the arts. One particular moment that stuck with me was when the judges were giving good and bad points about the different houses’ performances and someone shouted “GREEN WILL WIN!!!” It was well-intentioned, but it disrespected each and every actor’s/actress’ passion and reason for the arts in the first place. So I complained about the house competition system endlessly.
 
Then a fellow actor from another Secondary school told me, “Actually I like the house system. I never had it before, so school life was just dead and there was only CCA and studies.”
 
A simple statement, but it really struck me deeply that for all the imagined communities and ideas “spirit” might conjure, it affects real people in real terms.
 
Nevertheless, whether we believe in it or not – it’s really up to the person, and not for anyone to judge – we must never let pride turn into jingoism and indignation into a witch-hunt.
 
Yes, we can be proud in our school. But we must not be overly protective and defensive. My previous post “Luck and Success” was lightly aimed at those who believed Raffles was a faultless bastion of meritocracy. As a former teacher told me about the post, “Far too many Rafflesians have deceived themselves into thinking that they owe their success to their own efforts, when in reality many stars had to be aligned for them to be even in a position to succeed.” Do we really believe everyone in Raffles does not buy the message, that “robots” aren’t produced? I’ve seen my fair share of robots in RI already. Do we believe everyone will be happy and united, so long as we have “Rafflesian Spirit”? Then we ignore the insidious, prolonged cases of bullying that exist, the disenchanted students smoking by the factories. As much as “Rafflesian Spirit” might have real effects on real people, a hothouse environment has an even more real effect. Let’s not ignore this in the midst of our flag waving and “Auspicium Melioris Aevi”-ing.
 
Finally, whatever we might believe Raffles or being Rafflesian is, one thing a Rafflesian should not be is a bully. The excuse of noble intentions never hides that fact, as history has shown. Furthermore, I am very uncomfortable with the notion of “seniority” – an idea that seems to take hold mostly in a boys’ school. Just because our parents decided to have children in different years doesn’t make a person’s opinion any less important. Whether a viewpoint is expressed by a “junior” or “senior” does not make any difference.In fact, it reminds me of a character in a recent Raffles Players play I watched written by Haresh Sharma, a caricature of some military man who waved a toy gun and gripped on to his notion of “RANK” as a measure of superiority – as some of us might hold on to “SENIORITY” while we wave our flags.A long post, but it says what I want to say. Until then, let’s keep living our Raffles Institution life – whatever that might mean.

EDIT 200512 2240hrs: I'd wish for you, the reader, to click on the addendum:http://www.facebook.com/notes/lum-jian-yang/addendum/10150826163003596 if you would be so kind. I'm open to PMs and all that! Just that I cannot guarantee a quick response, sorry!

 

(this post, rare that it is in this format, was inspired by events leading up to and including today. and obviously this goes out to everyone who hasn't decided what to do with his/her life)

 

I often hesitate when others ask me which school I come from. Not the direct answer, brash and confident, the "get-out-of-my-elite-uncaring-face" response. Not the indirect answer ("Bishan JC") either, that which reeks of false humility, infringing on the humility of the curious, exacting in itself a crooked sense of pride. For years I sought the perfect answer, that which would reflect my true sentiments, being as honest as possible. Now I have it:

 

"I was from RJC, but I wish I wasn't from there."

 

It's true - I enjoyed my years in Raffles, and it was largely due to the people I met and the things I did. But if you ask me to share my opinion of what makes Raffles Raffles (or rather, my concept of the "Rafflesian Spirit", this is what I'd say.

 

Raffles conditioned us to believe we are the kings and the queens of the world; that because "we are special" we are exempt from the lower rungs of society - exempt from saying Hello to the Bangladeshi cleaner who mops the toilet in my unit, exempt from making small talk with anyone who doesn't take at least 11 H2 units (much less people not from JC or poly), exempt from asking, or even caring about, others who simply aren't in YOUR league. Not that it matters to "the future leaders of Singapore anyway."

 

Raffles conditioned us to think that success is measured in terms of what you've done - so Gold in SYF is nothing. Silver in Nationals means nothing, and if you've learnt the guzheng you NEED a certificate to prove your mettle. And in that regard there's no value to even go for a competition you know you'll never win, no value to learn something without a certificate, no value to be a Specialist because you won't ever get commissioned by the President.

 

Raffles conditioned us to strive for excellence at all costs. All costs does not mean "slogging it out day and night, giving your all, in a gentleman/lady-like fashion." All costs really mean "clearing the field of everything, everyone - so that the road is yours to claim". And for that, we fight - lying about "not studying", stealing answers, giving up friendship, giving up love, giving up all you stand for as a human, for results that apparently matter.

 

Raffles conditioned us to think that the well-trodden path must be the best (and for many, the ONLY path available.) Scholarships are a must for success, because apparently all of us are THAT poor we need government funding. (I am, but not everyone is, I'm sure.) And music is unthinkable because we're going to end up poor, the streetside musician (or rather, you just didn't do your research well.) So your buffet spread consists of Medicine/Law/Finance. That's it.

 

So they weren't wrong after all.

 

So what did the gryphon breed? Eagles, or robots?

 

Robots - masters at "Differentiate f(x)" without understanding what the process of differentiation entails (limits, l'Hôpital's rule etc.), experts at "Econs" essay question analysis without thinking of how H2 Econs is nothing but a bad joke; programmed to only have 3 career options (doctor, lawyer, scholar); people who forget to love, forget to care for people and things and their passions.

 

Now I ask, was this how you spent your 18th year of your life? Fighting for things meaningless to you? For awards that will be forgotten - a medal that matters not to the student no longer interested in Chemistry? Did you lie to yourself for a year, or worse, 2?

 

Rafflesians pretend to love something - the gap year reveals everything. Whether you were sincere, whether you stood truly for what you believed in, or you did it because "my sergeant asked me to do it". Because the moment it holds no paper value, it becomes the litmus test; you can slave your life in an organization for so long in JC, give your all, and leave the moment you graduate because "you're too busy - you have a job".

 

Take time off. Do something you know you love, something that you need not proclaim to the rest of the world in any way or another. Live your childhood dream. Go into showbiz if you always wanted to. Pick up another instrument. Bake.

 

And who says you can't do this while still in school?

 

At the end of the day, we're all going to be sucked into the rat race. While you're still young, sane, and able to differentiate right from wrong, delay your inevitable entry into the infinite-lap race.

 

That's after all, being human.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No One Can Ever Answer Why.

In the government service, the question I keep asking is WHY. Why do we have to do things this way, why does it have to be that way, why must we do this when it's so damn retarded and there are better ways to do it!? 

And the answer is never adequate. It's always "that's just the way it is", and "you can't do anything about it". And when I question further Why?, the problem appears to lie in the risk they are taking. It seems that across all public service, there are already systems in place, systems that cannot be changed, systems that we just have to live with.

People are afraid to speak up and change things. Afraid to propose better methods. Why? Because they're afraid they'll lose their jobs, that they'll be fired. And in this society, you cannot have no job. You need to live, you need to eat, you need to pay your bills. If you're married, or going to get married, even worse, you need a flat, you need to pay your children's school fees, you need all sorts of other rubbish. So it's not possible. Our society dictates that to be successful in life, you have to own a house, have to be married, have to have kids.

Ideas are suppressed, rebellion is forbidden (in a very self-regulating manner. Not stated explicitly.). Even if you disagree with something, you can't do anything about it. And eventually, everyone stops asking why. (usually people don't even ask, they just know.) And they just follow. Like mindless sheep (no I'm not saying that my colleagues are all mindless sheep. They all try to rebel, in their small ways that they can without losing their jobs.) And then, that's it! That's why our public service is progressing at a rate that is abysmal, that's why few brilliant people would want to join (no I'm not saying I'm brilliant, neither am I trying to be elitist, I'm just saying what I think is the case now), that's why you need to give bonded scholarships out to people to KEEP THEM.

And hopefully you manage to break them, despite their overseas education that's supposed to open up their minds, and make them conform to your standards, and just continue doing whatever they're doing. Maybe that's why innovation is rarely associated with the public service. That's why there is bureaucracy. Because change is so hard to enact. All this bullshit about "Change Begins with Me" (or anything along those lines), it's all school propaganda. They teach (or rather, tell) you that you can change the world, just by studying whatever you are studying. But they probably also know it's bullshit, because the system they are in, the education system, isn't changing to progress and fit the current society either!

You cannot challenge the Government. Yes, the jobs will be "challenging" (when you see those scholarship brochures, that's what they advertise anyway), not because you get to challenge the way things are done and improve it for the better, but because you are trying to do the thousand and one ridiculous things that could have been easily done if you were able to do things the way any sensible person would do, perhaps in school. It will be challenging trying to live within the system. Very challenging indeed.

 

And even when you ask those top guns why? during public forums, the answers they give are just what they are supposed to say, the politically correct answer, which answers nothing at all. 

 

 

This entire society we're in, this entire system, it does not teach us to question, or to challenge, or to take risks. It trains us to follow the same paths, to do the same things, to maintain status quo. After all, why rock the boat that has held steady for so long right?

 

 

 

Yes I'm in a rather angsty mood here. I certainly hope what I just wrote is not entirely true. Please give me some faith in humanity and in our society still.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

too many things on my mind!!

Too many, too many. Especially with TWO WEEKS to the event (Festival of Biodiversity, 26 & 27 May 2012.) 

Many things I want to blog about (our education system, after reading all those forum letters about PSLE Math and all that stuff, ridiculous bureaucracy, sensibility and reasonability, my gap year) and other things on my mind (my post-employment travels, tying up of loose ends etc) but I never find enough time. Maybe just bad time management, or I'm just getting more distracted.

Distraction

Of course, it's hard. I can't give up Facebook (seems like I'd rather give up sleep. Besides, I found this on Facebook!), emails = work so it's a no-go as well. Gave up TV long ago. Ah I don't know, unless someone managed to write a program to block thoughts relating to work entering my head, I don't think I can focus on anything else much.

But wells, I won't give up.

 

I Won't Give Up - Jason Mraz

When I look into your eyes
It's like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
Well there's so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you've come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up

And when you're needing your space
To do some navigating
I'll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find

'Cause even the stars they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We've got a lot to learn
God knows we're worth it
No, I won't give up

I don't wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I'm here to stay and make the difference that I can make

Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use the tools and gifts
We got yeah we got a lot at stake
And in the end,
You're still my friend at least we didn't tend
For us to work we didn't break, we didn't burn
We had to learn, how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I got, and what I'm not
And who I am

I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up
I'm still looking up

I won't give up on us
God knows I'm tough, he knows
We got a lot to learn
God knows we're worth it

I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up...

Friday, May 04, 2012

Of airplanes and wishes.

So I've been a bit of a workaholic, after breaking an overnight camp, I did some work on my computer (which is way more stressful than doing camp or commentary on a tram) before rushing over to work at night.

And then you realise why it's important to have some leisure time. Because exhaustion just kills you, and you lose all purpose in life. 

 


Airplanes - B.o.b. ft. Hayley Williams
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)

Dreamin... I Fallin...
Yeah
Lets pretend like its 98, like I'm eating lunch off of a Styrofoam trey
Trying to be the next rapper coming out the A
Hoping for a record deal, to re-know my pain
Now lets pretend like I'm on the stage
And when my beat drops everybody goes insane (Ok)
And everybody know my name (B.o.B)
And everywhere I go people wanna hear me sang
Oh yea and I just dropped my new album
On the first week I did 500thousand
Gold in the spring and diamond in the fall
And then a world tour just to top it all off
And lets pretend like they call me the greatest
Selling out arenas with big ass stages
And everybody loved me and no one ever hated
Lets try to use imagination

Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)

Ok, let's pretend like this never happened
Like I never had dreams of being a rapper
Like I didn't write raps in all of my classes
Like I never use to runaway into the blackness
Now lets pretend like it was all-good
Like I didn't live starring in a notebook
Like I did the things I probably knew I should
But I didn't have maybes that's why they call it hood
Now lets pretend like I aint got a name
Before they ever called me B.o.B or a.k.a Bobby Ray
I'm talking back before the mixtapes
Before the videos and the deals and the fame
Before they once compared me to Andre
Before I ever got my space
Before they ever noticed my face
So let's just pretend and make wishes out of airplanes

Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)

Lets pretend Marshall Mathers never picked up a pen,
Lets pretend things would have been no diff-er-ent,
Pretend he procrastinated had no motivation,
Pretend he just made excuses that were so paper thin.
Make it blow away with the wind, Marshall you're NEVER gonna make it
His alarm went off to wake him but he didn't make it
To the Rap Olympics
Slept through his plane and he missed it

Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)
Can we pretend that airplanes
In the night sky
Are like shooting stars
I could really use a wish right now (wish right now, wish right now)