Saturday, December 15, 2007

Free Choice

We have been the laughing stock of many people when they discover that we have six children as it is very unusual for a family with professional working couple to have so many children.

Some who know a bit about natural planning would snigger and laugh at the failure of this method. Others mistake this method as the unreliable rhythm method.

When we were planning to get married, we decided to examine all possible option of family planning. Of course being in the Catholic Church, we were encouraged to consider the option of natural family planning (NFP).

After reading up on the various methods of family planning, we discovered that artificial birth control(ABC) like the pills, IUD and abortion have several side effects that are not usually presented to women and so many were not given an informed choices.

For example, if you accept the premises that life is conceived when fertilization takes place or at the moment of conception, then you will not consider the use of IUD. An IUD or Intrauterine Device is a small piece of plastic which contains either copper or the hormone progesterone. The IUD prevents pregnancy by many mechanisms including preventing fertilization of an egg by sperm or preventing implantation. This means that if conception does take place, the foetus is not given a chance to survive.

We also decided not to use the pill or condom because of the side effects associated with these form of contraception.

We finally decided on the natural family planning method not because the Catholic Church said so but because it does not have any side effect. It does not harm the man nor the woman’s body and best of all this form of family planning ensure that we have a healthy sex life.

After practicing NFP for the past twenty years, I can safely says that this method has contributed to ensure that we are constantly and consistently attracted to each other sexually.

You see, sex is like eating durian. Many of us love the taste of durian and the first bite is the most exquisite. Yet after eating five or six durians, the law of diminishing returns set in and you begin to get tired of the durian. However, if you pace yourself and do not stuff durian down your throat then your desire for durian will last a long time.

It is the same with sex. If you can have sex anytime, anywhere and any how, the sense of excitement will diminish over the years. Often a woman using ABC would feel that she is nothing more then a sex object existing just to satisfy the man.

With NFP, we are trained to identify the period when a woman is fertile and so we can exercises the option not to have sex during this period so that we do not conceive. During this period of waiting, our sexual passion is simmering like a good pot of stew slowly stewing over a fire. When the fertile period is over, it is fun time. We can enjoy sex freely without the worry of any health concern or side effects that ABC brings.

With NFP, I am assured that my husband do not use me as a sexual object to satisfy his animal instinct as he is called to scarify during the period when I am fertile. By this action, he also assure me that the chance of his having affair is not high as he is given the opportunity to discipline his sexual appetites. Because we have to wait for the infertile periods to have sex, our sexual desire increases for each other.

Far from restraining our sex life, NFP if practiced with the appropriate attitude, free us from behaving like animal. Instead NFP has helped to keep the passion of fire burning for the past twenty years.

If you do not believe me, just ask anyone who is using ABC if they and see if their sex life is still so exciting after twenty years with the same person.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What’s wrong with the Golden Compass?

During this school holidays, my daughter and some of her friends from Church decided to check out the movie The Golden Compass. They have received an email explaining why Catholic should not view this movie.

When she came back from the movie, we asked her how the movie was and she said that it was just a fantasy movie and did not see why some Catholic has called for the boycott.

Being a teenager, we know that our daughter would not accept our explanation if we put our foot down against her reading the book which would be a natural follow-up to watching the movie.

So we decided to watch the movie ourselves and we were troubled by some of the ideas that were seeping through the mask of entertainment.

According to the Catholic League of America

"It is [Mr. Pullman's] objective to bash Christianity and promote atheism to kids.

"The Golden Compass" is a film version of the book by that name, and it is being toned down so that Catholics, as well as Protestants, are not enraged.
The second book of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, is more overt in its hatred of Christianity than the first book, and the third entry, The Amber Spyglass, is even more blatant.

Because "The Golden Compass" is based on the least offensive of the three books, and because it is being further watered down for the big screen, some might wonder why parents should be wary of the film.

The Catholic League wants Christians to stay away from this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books."

I am glad that we did not forbid her to watch the film based on what we have read from the Catholic League. If we had done that she would have judged us to be no better then the Magisterium.

But what is the Magisterium? To answer that question we have to examine the book in which this movie was based.

The book, published in 1995, is an allegory that assault the concept of organized religion -- more specifically, any religion that rules by fiat and claims an exclusive pipeline to the truth. The book describes a world ruled by a pious, punitive outfit called the Magisterium where its leaders try to repress knowledge in the name of protecting humanity. It main aim is to crush curiosity and freethinking and tighten the Magisterium's grip on power.

The Catholic League had issued a press release warning that the "watered down" theology of the film will lead unsuspecting parents to take their kids to "The Golden Compass," which will lead the kids to ask for the books for Christmas. "And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books," the statement read.

After watching the movie we could explain to our daughter the concerns that we had with this movie.

We felt that the Magisterium is a thinly disguised reference to the authority of the Catholic Church. The movie encouraged the heroine to exercises free will without considering the consequence of her choices.

Yes at times the Catholic Church may seem autocratic especially when it speaks out against abortion, non-material sex and contraceptives. We explained that we choice to follow the Catholic Church teaching because it has never stop us from exercising our free will but it has always reminded us that the use of our free willing will always has it consequences. For example, the use of birth control has series and sometime harmful side effect for the woman but it has never been actively considered by those who want to have sex anywhere, anytime and any how.

We felt that the movie encourages the value of exercising free will for the sake of being free to do what one wishes without the consideration of the consequences that it will bring.

In the movie, the heroin Lyra asked what Dust was. This is answered in book three entitled The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 2 and I quote:

"The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty - those were all names he gave himself.

He was an angel like ourselves - the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.

Matter loves matter. It seeks to know more about itself, and Dust is formed. The first angels condensed out of Dust, and the Authority was the first of all. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie."

In Book 2 entitled The Subtle Knife, it was explained how God can be killed

"'The knife,' he went on after a minute, 'they never knew what they were making, those old philosophers. They invented a device that could split open the very smallest particles of matter, and they used it to steal candy. They had no idea that they'd made the one weapon in all the universes that could defeat the tyrant. The Authority. 'God.”

I am glad that my husband and I embarked on this journey with our daughter together. We deiced to let her watched the movie when she asked our permission and did not talk down to her with our concern about the movie. Instead we watched it too and so could explained with conviction and confident why this movie is a concern for us with respect to the nurturing of her Catholic faith.

We believe our daughter should be given the freedom to question, to examine and to challenge those of us who are in authority. This does not mean that we are encouraging her to be disrespectful but through this process of inquiry she will be able to discover the truth instead of having the truth ramp down her throat.

As parents, one of our most important roles is to listen to our children first when they have doubts, concerns and questions. We should not be too eager to expound, explain or elucidate to them before they complete their inquiry as this will only serve to widen the generation gap. Only by offering a listening ear, we will be able to close this gap.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Man's best friend?

Recently five Rottweilers pounced on a Jack Russell Terrier, picking the small dog up in its jaws which resulted in the latter suffering eight puncture wounds on its head, neck, chest and sides.

A neighbour of the dog’s owner, Mr. Foo had first raised his concerns in August about the five Rottweilers, which he said were a 'threat to the people in the neighbourhood'.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) replied then that since there had been no previous reported incidents involving the dogs, Madam Satpal Kaur, 51, the owner , was given permission to keep the five dogs, a number above the AVA's limit of three.

Commenting on the incident, Mdm Kaur justified the Rottweilers’ action by claiming that it was the natural instinct of a larger dog, Rottweiler or not, to attack a smaller dog.

As a mother of six with the youngest only two years old, this incident has raised several questions in my mind.

A Jack Russell is about 28-38 cm high and weights between 4-8 kg while a Rottweiler is about 53-68 cm weighting between 40 to 50 kg. My 2 year old son, Anicius weighs is about 80 cm weighing about 6 kg.

Would a Rottweiler be able to distinguish between a Jack Russell and a young child? Does a child need to be seriously attacked with eight puncture wounds on his head, neck, chest and sides before any action is taken? Can a young child survive such injuries?

I live in a private housing estate and often when I go for my evening walks, dogs on leashed have tried to lung towards my young child. When we asked the dog’s owners to control their dogs, they would claim and insist, like Mdm Kuar, that their dogs, had never bitten anyone. Once, a large dog chased my 5 year old son for about five hundred meters before the dog gave up his chase

As a mother, I was not about to let any of my child to be given the first bite.

It is understandable that in this stressed society where it is difficult to form and maintain relationships, many have turn to owning a pet to have companionship. Some DINK (double income no kids) couples even prefer to have dogs to children as these pets can be easily gotten rid off when they become an inconvenient. Dogs have become our surrogate babies, spouse or parents. So the lost of a pet through natural death or otherwise can be a very traumatic experiences, akin to the lost of a loved one.

When I was a teenager, I had two black mongrels that my family and I loved very much. They brought us much joy and contentment. They were always on a leash but one day, one of them bit a neighbour even though it was tied up. We realized that we could not control him anymore and with a sad and heavy heart put them to sleep. It was the first time that I saw my father cried but we made that rational decision as there was no assurance that it would not bite anyone else again.

I am a dog lover but if I have to choose between an animal or human being well being, the choice is clear.

Some accident like the death of the five dragon boats rowers cannot be prevented. Others accident can if enough precautions are put in place. Limiting the number of dogs that a household can have, enforcing the rules that all dogs must be put on leash when walking or fining dog owner when the dogs misbehaved do not seem to be enough.

Perhaps all dogs should be sent to obedient school so that they will learn to listen to command from human, will only walk when given permission or learn to control their animal instinct.

Otherwise, another freak accident might just happen and this time round the one bitten might not be a dog.

Both man and dog should be able to co-exist peacefully but when an animal begin to demonstrate behaviour that will harm other people we have to take action. Just as people who commit serious crime like murder and drug trafficking are hung, dogs should also be put to sleep when they become a danger to society.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A gentle reminder

I came across an interesting quote while reading a memoir “Father of Charity and My Father Ee Peng Liang” written by his daughter Theresa Ee-Chooi. Dr. Ee died on 24 August 1994.

Devoting most of his adult life to championing people in need and harnessing public support for voluntarism and the social welfare services, he held over fifty-four appointments in charities, covering every aspect of social welfare services in Singapore.

He was given the nick name of a professional beggar because he would work tirelessly to help anyone who asked him for assistant.

Yet what struck me was not the number of committees he was in, nor the amount of money he had raised for the numerous charities, schools and welfare homes.

On the occasion of the Tribute to Volunteers dinner in July 1990, Dr. Ee Peng Liang shared a modern paraphrase of a time-honored teaching on love:

“If I am on many committees but do not love others, I am simply making a useless noise. If I have enthusiasm for useful projects but forget to love those for whom they are intended, what good will they do? If I do many good works to glorify myself, but do not love others, I am worth nothing. If I am altogether too busy organizing love that I forget what love is like, it will be of no value at all. Committees will come to an end, useful projects will become unnecessary. Good works done from wrong motives will pass away, but love is the one thing that will last forever.”

Ever since the NKF saga exploded onto our social consciousness, many of us have been more careful of contribute our time, energy and money to charity. In addition with the recent Ran Chi Hospital saga still unfolding, Dr Ee’s quotation served as a gentle reminder for all on the spirit of volunteerism

Have we been making useless noise? Do we only do good works to glorify ourselves? Have we forgotten what love is like?

Sometime we are so focus with the fund raising activities that we forget the reason for raising the funds in the first place.

It is much easier interacting with public and soliciting of money then to spend an afternoon listening to an old lady reminiscing about the good old day in an old age home. Selling flag or ringing a bell repeatedly along a shopping mall place less demand on us then to visit a leper or an Aid patient regularly.

Granted that charity and welfare services can not functionally effectively without the generous donation of donors. Yet I have observed the rise recently of professional fund raising companies who uses students and teenagers to solicit funds from hawkers canters and food canters. Usually the students do not nor the donors realize that a percentage of the money collect will go to the fund raising company.

Perhaps it is timely once again to ask how much of your donations will be given directly to the charity? How much will go toward administrative costs, other programmes and fund-raising costs?

Consider the Community Chest which raises funds on an annual basis to meet the needs of the social services programmes that it support. Fund raising costs are kept to a minimum as these costs have been sponsored by Singapore Totalisator Board and the Singapore Pools(Private) Limited. Thus every dollar raised will be made available to social services programmes under it cares and not offer it as interest free loans or use it to open up shops.

If Dr. Ee is alive today would his heart be broken? Would he moan the state of volunteerism in Singapore now? Or would he in his own gentle way lead us back to the true spirit of volunteerism?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ties that Bind and Blinds

My father, a Chinese, grew up in Kampong Glam and Malay was his main language of communication. Every Hari Raya, he would make a special effort to send cakes and other tit bits to his Malay neighbours. He even made a special effort to deliver these gifts to those who have moved out to Telok Kurau and Bedok.

In my eyes, I have never considered him a raciest yet when I brought my Eurasian husband home he was upset. My grandfather and father were unhappy that I was going out with someone of a different race and threaten to disown me if I continue with this relationship. My maternal grandmother and mother were concern that they will have grandchildren that are of a different colour and so will be a laugh stock of the Chinese community.

Needless to say we faced many obstacles. My mother tried ways and means to introduce me to different Chinese boyfriends from a marine engineer to someone who owed a jewels shop. After seven years, when my parents saw that we were committed to each other, they agreed to our marriage. We tried our best to accommodate to the Chinese customs that they treasured from buying live chicken as part of the dowry to serving roast pork at the Chinese dinner to signify that I was a virgin.

However, once we were married, my parents welcome my husband with open arms. Their initial fear of having to adjust to different customs and religions was eradicated when my husband made an effort to join in the celebrations as far as he is comfortable and as his religion allows. So now we celebrate both Christmas and Chinese New Year, All Saints Day and the Seven Months Ghost festivals.

As I was reading the report about how Singaporean still have different attitudes when it come to race-related issues, I was not surprise that most Singaporean baulking at the thought of marrying someone of another race.

As my husband and I are of a different race, I should have been more open to inter-racial marriages. I was thus surprised when I discovered that I was not very accommodating when my eighteen year old son start to date girls from different race and religion. So far he has friends of whom one is an Arab-Malay girl and another Sikh. I noticed that I did not made so many comments when he told me about his Chinese girlfriends as compared to those of the other races until my good friend asked my why I was making so much noise.

The other day, my younger son asked me what race is he, as he has a Eurasian father and a Chinese mother. I suggested that he says he is a Eurasian Chinese until his father put his foot down and said he is a Eurasian.

After being married to a Eurasian for almost twenty years, I discovered that deep down I still cannot forget my Chinese roots. I always felt good when I can speak in dialect with my friends or eat Chinese food. Yet by embracing the Eurasian culture with an open attitude, I had discovered so much more from how to make a good fruit cake to cooking the definitive Devil Curry. (one day I hope)

In that report entitled The Ties that Bind and Blind, those that were polled said that they have no problem dealing with a person of authority who is form a different race but when it come to marriage, many said that they would not be willing to marry some one of a different race.

Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown or the inconvenience of having to adjust to different customs and practices. Maybe it because we Singaporean are practical people and believe that marriage is already tough without having these additional factors to consider.

However I believe that once we are in love we will be able to look beyond these issues and see the person and not the race per se. After all like what my son once explained to me, the skin may be yellow, pink, fair or dark but the blood will always be red.

I have grown to accept the possibility that my future daughter might be someone of a difference race from me and I believe that I can be as open and accepting of them as my parents have been to my husband.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

PAOful Blog

Bloggging is now part and parcel of our life. Once it belongs to the internet savvy and the young and trendy but now it seems like anyone can and does blog. For example, an ex-college of mine, Dick Yip, who retired last year started a popular blog ( ) which highlights the local school sport scene and was able to have 26 000 monthly readers and 77 000 monthly pages views within a year.

There are as many reasons for people to blog as there are reasons for people to communicate. However, the desire to share with the virtual world may have unintended consequences for the blogger and the viewers that read the blog.

My friend’s son, Mark, discovered on the eve of his exam that one of his classmate, whom he has considered to be a close friend of his, has blogged about him. Although his classmate has used an acronym to represent Mark, any one who read the blog would know that the person referred to was him. Her remarks about Mark hurt him very much but luckily Mark was matured enough not to let it last long enough to affect his performance in the examination.

Whenever I write or blog, I will always use this acronym PAO to judge my effort. P stands for purpose or the intension of my writing. Do I want to inspire or motivate my readers? Or to I want to vent my anger or push the blame to someone else? Or maybe I just want to entertain or share an experience with my readers. A stands for the audience who read my blog or writing. These would include those whom I am aware of and those that I am unaware of. Recently I put a starcounter on my blog and was surprise to see the number of unique visitors that visit my blog. Finally O stands for the outcome that I want the audience to have when they read my writing.

I find that many bloggers often forget this aspect when they blog especially when they are angry and want to get an issue off their chest. They just type furiously and let their ideas and emotions run away with them.

When I come across such blogs, Plato’s chariot will come to my mind. Plato an ancient Greek philosopher, use the Chariot Allegory to explain the role of emotion in our life. He describes the Charioteer as driving a chariot pulled by two horses. One horse is white with a long neck and is well bred and well behaved and thus need not require the whip. The other is black with a short neck, badly bred, taxing and require the whip to behave.

According to Plato, the charioteer represents the rational and intellectual aspect of the person. The white horse symbolizes moral impulse or the positive aspect of the passionate nature while the black horse represents the irrational passions or concupiscent nature. The charioteer would have to use the whip constantly to whip the black horse so that the two horses can go where the charioteer wants to go. If the charioteer fails to control this black horse, then most probably the horse will go wherever he wants.

I find that when a blogger blogs when he is angry, the chances of him using words that can hurt his audience will be higher. When he is confronted with what he has blogged, he would claimed that it was not his intension to hurt the person he was blogging or to offend his reader. He might not be aware that the words he uses may have a negative impact or outcome for his audience.

Because the internet is still evolving and the rules for engagement are still being formulated, we may easily forget to use the whip to tame the black horse that sometime runs while in the blogs.

Blogging has been around for over a decade and as more people jump on the bandwagon to blog, I hope that they are aware that a blog is very different from a conversation or even a diary.

With powerful search engine like Goggle, just a few simple click of the mouse will enable anyone to reach any blog he wants. Unlike a diary which is private, a blog is never private even with five different passwords encrypted in a blog. This is because you can never guarantee that your readers will not post what you have written onto their own blog which might then become public domain. Unlike a conversation which is seldom recorded, readers can trace back and infer various meaning to what you have written a few months or even a few years back. Many bloggers are not aware that they leave a paper trail behind when they blog.

I remember that I was afraid of blogging until last year when I decided to goggle my name and was shocked at the number of people whom I do not know expressed their views about what I have written with regard to being an obedient wife in 2005 in the I Say column. Some bloggers were very vocal with regard to what I have shared about being a submissive wife in this modern, post-feminist era. The funny thing was that I sailed through the year 2005 without knowing that this was happening in the blogging world.

Once, I was in my family doctor clinic and I suggested that he goggled his name to see what others were writing about him. Instead, he goggled his daughter’s name and was shocked that she had proclaimed that she was a 23 year old woman when she was only 13 years old.

However, I am glad that most bloggers are responsible and if someone oversteps major social norms and cultural sensitivities, they will be flamed by other bloggers.

Perhaps before we get flamed we should remember to PAO our blog.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Children's Day, Children's Right

October 1 is Children's Day. After organizing numerous children’s party for them and the final balloon has burst, perhaps it is a good time to take stock and examine if we have provided our children with their basic rights.

According to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, Article 18(1), "Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern."

It was an exciting time when my eldest son was born for his grandparents as he was the first grandson and great-grand son. He was spoilt rotten with gifts galore. When he was naughty, he was seldom disciplined and was excused as being mischievous or just being a child. Once, we felt that a good caning was required but one of his grandparents was upset with our mode of punishment. We had to put our foot down and explained firmly yet gently that our child is our primary responsibility and it was our duty to discipline him.

With women working, many of us have to depend on our parents to look after our children. However, grandparents sometimes forget their role and took over role of the parents.

For example, one of my acquaintances has left strict instructions to her parents not to let her baby listen to a particular genre of music. The grandfather, however, insists that the baby listen to it and give explicit instruction to his wife to play the music when the child’s mother is not around. The grandfather has overstepped his boundary and did not respect his daughter rights.

Often grandparents would defend themselves and justify their action by saying that they have the best interest of the grandchild at heart. But what happens when there is a conflict or difference of opinion? Who should give way? The parents deferring to the grandparents? Or the grandparents graciously letting go of their children and trusting that they will do a good job with their grandchild?

The grandparents still have an important role to play in a grandchild’s life. They can create a safe environment where the child can explore and play, they can tell stories or comfort the child when he falls.

However when it comes to the area of discipline, the upbringing and development of the child, parents must maintain the primary responsibility and have the final say.

As parents, we can not give the excuse of project deadlines, overseas work assignments and unreasonable employer demand as an excuse to avoid the role and responsibility of bring up a child. We have heard of a pair of missionary workers who were consistently seeking overseas missionary work to do while leaving their two young children behind to be looked after by their relatives.

Our children have the right to a healthy relationship with us. They have the right to grow up in a safe, caring environment where they are free to develop and grow to their fullest potential. Our role as parents is to nurture the talents and gifts that are hidden in our children and not living our unfulfilled life through them. Often in the name of wanting the best for our children, we failed to recognize their needs and their interest.

Recently, a lawyer quit her high pay job to be a teacher and took a hefty paycut. She is lead a more fulfill and happier life now as a teacher instead of working in a stressed-filled environment for almost 18 hours a day. Her father had insisted that she read law. Luckily she had the courage to take charge of her life and change her job before it was too late.

A middle age mother of two was not so brave. Growing up with a strong-will and domineering mother, she has recently committed herself to a seven year part time course. Although she has no interest at all in this course, her mother had insisted on it. Consequently she is not given a space to grow into a responsible, mature adult with her two children suffering as she finds it difficult to function as a parent.

Being a parent in Singapore is a delicate balancing job. We have to balance our career with our children, and the demands of our children with that of our parents. However when we are cleared that our basic concern is in the best interest of our children, we should not go wrong. Are we ready to celebrate Children’s Day?

Note: This is a response from a reader.
I am the 'not so brave' mother mentioned in the article and feel that I have been grossly and unfairly misrepresented here. I wish to correct my friend's skewed perspective that 'my children are suffering'. Check out my story in

Dear Readers
I would like to encourage all readers to go to her blog to check out her story.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

To be or not to be

I grew up in a shop house in North Bridge Road. Below the living quarters is a hairdresser shop. Every morning, a gentleman who worked in the bank would come with a wig for the hairdresser to set. In the evening, a woman would come for the wig to be attached to her head. It was only later that I realized that the gentleman and woman were the same person. One of the hairdressers was a beautiful and demure lady who “married” another woman who had gone for a sex change-operation. Sometime my mother and I used to go to the near-by, infamous Johore Road to buy supper. Often, we would see transvestite being arrested.

I grew up accepting them as a normal part of my social environment. I do not see them as different or deviant. I was not aware that gays, lesbian and transvestites had to handle societal discrimination, prejudice and intolerance.

As homosexual began to push for more social acceptance in Singapore, the mainstream society had to face the issue of how to co-exist with them.

I, too have to grapple with this issue as my religion do not accept or make allowance for the existence of homosexual in the community. At best, they are asked to live a celibate live before they are accepted into the fold. Some choose this difficult and discipline path because their faith are important to them while others kick the dust off their feet and join other churches that embrace them with open arms.

As one human being to another, I want to accept them as persons accorded with the same courtesy, respect and regard as I would provide to any other heterosexual.

However as a person belonging to a particular religious affiliation, there are certain rules, doctrine and decree that we have to adhere to. For example, most religions do not accept the taking of life and if someone kills, we have to have the courage to say that it is wrong.

But is being homosexual as serious as being a murder or is it just a matter of life style choice?

Homosexual will argue that they are no different from other heterosexual people apart from their sexual preferences. They laugh, cry, are able to remain faithful to one person, and have feelings. Each time they face, discrimination and prejudices in school, in the work place and in society they are hurt.

As for us heterosexual, isn’t it the time for us to consider this issue rationally? Regardless of our religious preference, I am very sure that most of the religion in Singapore demand and extol us to treat every human with the dignity and respect they deserve. Even a convicted murderer deserve our respect no matter how atrocious the crime he has committed. Every reformed criminal should be given a chance to be integrated into society.

Perhaps in our continued journey of open discussion with the gay community, we must remember that we have to respect each other personal and social space. The gay community should not demand that we change our religious viewpoints in order to accommodate them while the heterosexual community should not treat the gay as social outcast.

August is the month of gay pride season again. Are we as a society ready to engage each other in dialogue so that mutual understanding can be developed? Can the gay accept the fact that the certain heterosexual religious group will not be able to or are willing to give up their religious preferences just as the gay are not willing or able to give up their sexual preference?

Or would they gay be continued to be treated like the mutants like those in the X-Men trilogy? Is there a Professor Charles Xavier in Singapore who is able to bridge this widening gap between these two communities?

The write does not accept the homosexual life style but is willing to accept the homosexual community as one that is made up of human being.

Friday, August 24, 2007

So what makes a marriage work

I MARRIED my husband when he was only 22 years old and three months after he had
completed his National Service. I was 25 then and several relatives even discreetly asked if it was a shotgun wedding.

According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, which recently released the figures for marriages and divorces in 2006, marriages with at least one person aged 20 to 24 are most likely to fail. For every 1,000 married men in this age group last year, slightly more than 50 bailed out of their marriages. The number of divorces hit a high with 7,061 divorces and annulments.

Based on the above figures, the odds should have been against us staying married. Yet, we are looking forward to celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary next year.

On the eve of my friend’s wedding recently, he spent the afternoon in our house. He was aware of the trends andhoped that his marriage would last as long as ours. Yet, he was not very hopeful as he was aware of the distractions he could encounter once he plunged into mid-life. He was worried about the sweet secretary sashaying seductively in his office or the charming foreign lady ever ready to ensnare an honest and hardworking Singaporean. He wondered if we had ever considered living together.

While my husband and I did seriously consider it, we realised that this kind of experiential, pseudo marriage was not the real McCoy.

Many have argued that the high rate of divorce and other problems that are encountered in marriages suggest that a trial marriage or living together before tying the knot would make sense.

However, many do not realise that this would not be feasible as a real marriage is secure, while an experimental one is only temporary. The security in a proper marriage makes it easier for honest and authentic dialogue to help one another grow.

Before we got married, my husband and I agreed that divorce was not an option. We were committed to the lasting quality of committed love. Of course, we have had our own seven-year itches and both of us have been tempted more than once to walk away from each other. Temptation is not a problem until we give in to it. Instead of suppressing temptation, we faced it together as a couple.

A marriage should not be entered into in a light-hearted or frivolous manner. Often in Singapore, a couple might be pressured into marriage so as to buy a flat. This could well be one reason why marriages with a person aged 20 to 24 in the relationship sometimes fail.

One friend walked away from his “HDB marriage” when he realised that he was not compatible with the girl he had been going out with for the past seven years. In the end, he married someone else although everyone was telling him that it was a waste to throw away a seven-year relationship.

Ultimately, a marriage is a sign that one has made a commitment to each other. This commitment should not be easily shaken by problems with the in-laws, finances, work or children. It is a long-term decision that should not be based on feelings alone.

Another friend divorced her husband of four months because she believed she had lost all feelings for him. It might be difficult for her to establish a long-term relationship with anyone if it is based on emotions alone.

More than just depending on chronological age, it is the maturity of the individual that determines if a marriage will last.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Our eldest son Angus 18 with our youngest son Anicius 2.

MY ELDEST son will turn 18 this week. He will be old enough to drink legally
and his college mates have been waiting to take him to a pub. He can buy beer,
cigarettes and even condoms legally. As his birthday approaches, I wonder
if my husband and I have brought him up well.

Will he give in to peer pressure and live a life that we consider decadent? Will
he consider alternative lifestyles which we are not yet ready to accept? What happens
if he chooses to marry someone who is of a different race or religion from us?

Given that he is our eldest son, we had to learn by trial and error as parents
and realise our mistakes along the way.

In reflection, we realise that it is now easier to bring up the rest of our children
because of him. In a way, children are like dogs, we discovered. They can be trained when they are young but once they hit their teens, it is as good as trying to teach an old dog new tricks. To teach our son responsibility, we used to put a reasonable
amount of money in the moneybox for him to take for recess. If he spent it before
the next allowance was due, he had to remain hungry.

He learned to obey the rules that we established. For example, when he played in the park, we expected him to set the time limit and to return home on time.

So, when he became a teenager, he was already used to a curfew and tried to return
by 10pm. And if he needed to return later, he was expected to call.

Now, we will have to continue this process with our youngest child who will
be turning two in August. Already the little tyke is testing our will, just like his
older brother 16 years ago.

He is learning to establish his identity and is exploring how far he can push
his boundaries.

We realised that if we teach our youngest son now, we should be able to avoid some of the problems that parents encounter with their teenagers.

One of the problems with many families in Singapore is the dual-income situation,
ie both parents work to bring home the bacon. Ours is a typical family with the maid
being the main provider of household services.

Many parents take the easy way out and expect the maid to be a surrogate parent.
Kids sometimes end up being used to giving orders to the maid and expect
adults to obey their every whim and fancy.

It is no wonder that such children tend to find it difficult to listen to their parents.

Our children have learnt to obey us as they know that the authority lies with
us, the parents.

We are the final arbiters of privileges, punishments and penalties. When
our children break the house rules, we have to ensure they bear the consequences
of their actions.

Now that my son is close to being an adult, we have to learn to cut the apron
strings too.

All too often, we are tempted to provide him with a solution when he encounters

But now we have to learn to listen to him more for him to work out his difficulties
himself. As parents, we always proclaim that we want the best for our child. But is the best really for him or for ourselves? When we help him to make a career choice, is it based on sound judgment or based on our unfulfilled dreams? When we give
him opinions about his girlfriends, did we base our views on the kind of daughter-
in-law we want or on the one he can love?

Ultimately the best birthday gift we can give our son is not another guitar or
hand phone but a pair of wings to fly and explore his brave new world.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

When the stock comes a calling

Having been pregnant six times, while holding a full time job , I would like to state once and for all that being pregnant is neither a medical condition nor a disease. With a few simple considerations and courtesies that we normally offered to senior citizen workers or the disabled, pregnant woman can remain equally productive and efficient.

Yes we do suffer from discomfort like swollen legs and back pain but most of us are made of stronger material then soft tofu. While carrying that extra bundle around, several of my friends have travelled to as far as USA for business trips.. Often we continue to work overtime, taking simple precautions like lifting our leg up regularly or putting a cushion behind our back.

Of course, we cannot be expected to carry heavy objects around but as Singapore is a developed society, most of our jobs are found in the tertiary or quaternary industry where we used our brain more then our brawn. Beside in the agricultural society, women are expected to continue to plant and harvest rice when while they are pregnant.

My husband and I did not employ a confinement maid after the birth of our first three children, nor did we accept any help from our mothers. Neither did we have a live in maid. We were young and we wanted to bring up our children our ways without the interference of maids, mothers or mystifying myths surrounding child birth.

I had three children within fours years and managed to remain in good health despite horror stories being circulated about not having a confinement maid. During that one month of rest, I continue to wash clothes, cook, clean and to shop for grocery. I breast feed my children for at least six months. And yes I did bath and wash my hair.

When I had given birth to my sixth child, we could not get a maid in time before I return to work one month later. I entrusted my new born baby to the care of my other children and the baby survived.

Of course my experience is an exception to the rule and some might considered it an extreme that I do not conform to the expectation and demands of the society.

The decision to have a child is a difficult choice to make. We have to consider our financial capability, our time available for each child, our career prospect and our parenting skills.

Too often, we hear our friends complain that it is so expensive to have a child in Singapore that they refused to have any at all. If we examine this argument carefully, we realized that most of the time it is what they want for the child that is expensive and not what is needed.

Our gynecologist, Dr Tham, who delievered 4 of our six children.

For example, we did not engage a specialist from a private hospital for our first child but a register from NUH to look after my gynecological needs having full faith in our health system. Secondly instead of spending up to fifty dollars a week on baby formula (incidentally cows milk is best for the calf) we decided to breastfeed our babies. Thirdly, we did not send our babies and toddlers to enrichment classes where we pay a bomb for them to do activities that can be easily completed in a play ground.

We did not have a car which we did not consider as a necessity nor did we bother to provide our children with expensive birthday parties. We welcome hand-me-down clothes from our relatives and friends and do not see the need to outfit our children with expensive brand clothing. Visiting the out patient clinic is as good as a visit to a pediatrician. Nor were we seduced into buying expensive prams, crib and other unnecessary accessories.

What our children need most is for us to offer a warm home with laughter and a good measure of discipline. The love between a husband and a wife is the best give that any child can received and this is something that cannot be bought with money.

Of course society in general and employers in particular must change the perception pregnant woman are a burden to their company. Unless this is corrected in time, the amount of baby bonus and other procreation incentives will only falls on deaf ears and the stork will not be able to deliver any more bundles of joys to Singapore.

The write is a mother of six and is taking every precaution to prevent the stork from delivering another bundle but if the stork chooses to do so, the bundle will be received with joy.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Don't get snared in this Net

In Internet-reliant age, parents should teach kids not to believe all they read.

WHEN I read about how Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader was seduced by websites advocating radical ideologies, I wondered if my children were also exposed to similar danger.

My husband and I believe the Internet is a powerful tool for education. Yet, it is a double-edged sword. Our children are trained to use the Net as a source of information.

If they are playing Scrabble, for example, they can refer to the Scrabble online dictionary to settle any disputes. They are also familiar with the website, where they can do everything from booking cinema tickets to ordering satay for a barbeque.

Recently, they discovered the joy of watching movies and listening to songs on YouTube. When my two-year-old son had scabies, his sisters did research online to find out how to handle the disease. When they went on a tour with their grandmother to Penang, my seven- and eight-year-olds uploaded photographs from the trip onto their blogs. Our family even posted a recipe online on how to make our favourite fruitcake.

As you can see, the Internet plays a prominent role in our family life. Thus, we have two broadband connections and six laptops in our household. But our children are not allowed to download any computer games or play any local network games.

They are not allowed to surf the Net in the privacy of their own bedroom. All computer activities are done in the public domain of the living-cum-studying area. But is this enough protection for our children, whose ages range from two to 18?

Because of their experience in getting real-time information from useful websites, they might develop the belief that everything that is published on websites is true.
.Perhaps this is what happened to Abdul Basheer, a bright young lawyer who studied at one of Singapore's top junior colleges and graduated from a local university. He could have used the Net to blog, exchange views and information, do research or collect information in his course of work as a lawyer. In the process, he could have made the critical assumption that everything that is published online is true — and allowed his worldview to be shaped by the radical discourse he looked up on the Internet.

Maybe he was brought up not to challenge, question or be sceptical about any reading material that was presented to him. He could have been trained to accept knowledge as something cast in stone and hence, did not find it necessary to check the reports' reliability, credibility or authority. In such an environment, it is not difficult to see why he was seduced.

I remember that when I was growing up in the '70s, I was presented with a set of comic books that disparaged a particular religion. I was upset — the arguments presented were logical and the pictures were well-drawn enough to create fear in my mind.

A nun then explained to me that not everything that is printed is true. She encouraged me to refer to other books to see if the views presented in the comics could stand up to scrutiny. I was glad she did not adopt a dogmatic attitude and demand that I accept her view based on faith alone.

The danger of self-radicalisation has become a source of worry for our society and no longer remains a concern for intelligence services alone. Radical ideas and extreme propaganda in cyberspace are here to stay. The only way to protect our society from this phenomenon is to develop a healthy sense of sceptism.

But who has the responsibility of ensuring our children are protected from self-radicalisation? It is easy to point the finger at schools and the education system, and demand they take on this role. However, a holistic approach has to be adopted. The family has a critical role to play in developing good values in children, while society must not be afraid to proclaim certain basic human values that transcend the different religions in Singapore.

Letter from Frances Ess First published in Today on 11.6.2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Have a reunion dinner every day.

EVER since my two older children started attending polytechnic last month, it has been difficult for us to have a family dinner together.

On some days, my son comes home at 10pm, after his guitar club activities. On other days, my daughter stays over at her grandmother's, which is near the poly, as her sports training ends at 8.30pm.

We still try to have family meals with four of our six children. But it does not feel quite the same.

As a busy career woman, I too have been guilty of delegating my duty of cooking the family meal to my maid, even though my children and husband seem to think that my maid's cooking can never replace mine.

I remember when I stood at the stove for over two hours stirring a pot of chicken porridge while my two daughters sat nearby shredding the chicken. We had so much fun chatting and laughing. Sadly, these cooking sessions are few and far between.

Often, I gave the excuse of being too busy with work or being too tired to cook dinner after a hard day's work. Recently, however, I have been reminded of this curious event by one of my friends.

Ever since its inception in 2003, a yearly "Eat With Your Family Day" has been designated to encourage families to eat together. Schools, companies and organisations in Singapore will be encouraged to stop work and end activities by 5pm so that the family can gather to have a meal.

This year, is slated for Friday, May 25, which is also the last day of school and so there should not be any remedial lessons, CCA or supplementary lessons for students.

I am determined to make this day a success. This does not mean going out to a fancy restaurant for a meal or cooking up a storm at home.

Instead, I plan to cook a simple beef stew. I'm looking forward to the smell of spices, onions and beef permeating through the kitchen. A plain salad of lettuce, tomatoes and pineapple would make a lovely side dish. As for dessert, I will simply open two cans of longans and add some fresh apples and oranges to it.

Since we do not have a television set, there will be no need to switch one off. A survey of more than 1,300 low-income families with pre-school children in America found that the benefits of sitting down to a family dinner are lost if the television is on during the meal. Registered dietician Lynn S Edmunds of the New York State Department of Health, Albany, has urged parents to turn the television off during family mealtimes.

So, what happens at the table if the television is switched off? As parents, we must not take this opportunity to turn it into a nagging, reprimanding or lecture session. Nor should we make it a comparison session, where we compare the achievements of one child with those of another.

Instead, we should try to make light conversation and generally have fun at the dinner table so our children look forward to this family ritual.

With our hectic schedules, my husband and I have discovered that the family meal is a great way to keep in touch with everyone after a busy day.

It is also a comforting ritual for our young children as it provides them with a sense of security. They learn table manners, how to behave at mealtimes, and to see to others' needs. For example, if the last piece of chicken is left on the plate, a child has to ask if anyone else wants it before he is allowed to eat it.

Our children also learn to co-operate as they set the table before meals and clear the table after meals. The older children do the washing.

A family meal is like a safe harbour to which our children can come home to take shelter. Why should we wait for Christmas or the Chinese New Year reunion dinner for a family meal? Every day should be an "Eat with your family day" as far as possible.

The writer, a mother of six, will try to gather her brood of children to eat on May 25.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

My two year old was throwing a tantrum recently. He has learnt that if he cries, his caregiver, the maid, would give in to his demand. But it cuts no ice with his five older siblings and his parents who were not about to give him any face.

As he was throwing his temper, he was made to stand and face the wall. Soon enough, he learnt that no one was paying any attention to him and so he decided to take his bottle of milk and lie down quietly to drink and fall asleep.

Too often, I have observed that parents nowadays are afraid to let their children suffer a little inconvenience or even pain. It has been a standard practice in our household that if any child so choose not to eat his meal at meal time he will remain hungry until the following meal time. There will no snacking or cajoling the child to eat junk food so that he does not remain hungry.

Recently, it was reported that a 17 year old JC student hit a bus-driver despite pleas from the bus driver to stop. The boy called his father crying when he realized that the police had been called. Instead of letting the boy face the music, the boy’s father was seen kneeling down in front of the bus driver to seek forgiveness for his son. Later, the boy claimed, in a written response through his school, that it was a misunderstanding and the violence ensured was accidental.

If one of my children is found to be in a similar situation, I would not bail them out. They have learnt from young that like Newton Law of Physic, for every action there is a reaction and they have been trained to face the consequence of their action. Moreover a violent act is seldom accepted as an accidental act.

Once, one of our children hit the maid. We did not side with our child and blamed the maid nor did we claimed that it was an accident and brushed the incident away. Instead we investigated and discovered that indeed he has committed a transgression for which he was punished appropriately. In addition he was made to apologies to the maid.

I can only guess at the possible reason why the father of this JC boy did what he did. Perhaps he did not want the boy’s bright future to be blemished by a police case. Maybe he was being over-protective. Or he could have pinned all his hopes and dreams on his boy who was studying in a premier junior college along Bukit Timah Road.

Whatever the reason, this incident has forced me to reflect on how far a parent should go to sacrifice in the name of parent’s love.

The father, who went on his knees to beg for forgiveness on his son’s behalf, has deprived his son of an opportunity to learn an important aspect of human relationship. He should have play his role as a parent and insist that the son kneel down and beg for forgiveness for his rash act.

Many parents, in their pursuit of academic excellence for their children, have failed or neglected to develop any moral values in their children. They made the critical wrong assumption that academic excellence would somehow automatically transform someone into a morally upright, ethical citizen of society.

Values like respect for others, care and concern for fellow human beings and honesty and integrity have to be developed from young. These values are best developed in the home with the gentle guiding hands of the parents to lead the child on the right path when he goes astray.

Enrolling a child in an elite school, however, is not a protection or a guarantee against creating a violent monster.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Let's not take our laptops to bed

My seven-year-old daughter fell seriously ill a few days after I came back from attending a three-day adventure camp as part of my work.

I felt guilty. My first reaction was that, if I had not gone for the camp, she would not have fallen sick.

Recently, a friend passed up an opportunity and promotion to work in Beijing as it involved uprooting her family and sacrificing her husband's career. Another friend declined an opportunity to set up a service call centre in India because she was worried that this would have an adverse effect on her children.

I know that all three of us will have work on our mind this weekend, mentally organising the tasks we have to complete before the start of the next week.

Work-life harmony has been the buzzword since the setting up of the Work-Life Works Fund in August 2004, when the Government pumped in $10 million to facilitate the development and implementation of the Work-Life Strategy at the workplace.

But, like the three examples cited above, some job assignments require the women to leave the family and home for a considerable period. More women are required to travel overseas, be posted overseas or expected to work long hours.

How then does the career woman balance her career and her call to be a nurturing mother? Can we have our cake and eat it at the same time? Is it possible to bring up emotionally well-adjusted children while still climbing the career ladder?

Some of us are in the "sandwiched" generation where we have to take care of both our children and elderly parents.

With globalisation and technological advances, many of us bring our work into the home and bedroom. It is not uncommon for us to work at odd hours to connect with workers in other parts of the world. Once, close to midnight, my husband and I settled in bed, both with laptops on our laps. We worked until about 2am.

We realised then that we were working too hard, and asked ourselves if we were sacrificing too much of our family life for our work life?

At that point, I seriously considered quitting my job as I was not willing to continue to sacrifice my family for my work. My colleagues, especially those who have younger children, have shared similar sentiments.

Former labour chief Lim Boon Heng has highlighted the importance of keeping women in the workforce. It is about time that employers put in the extra effort to put work-life strategies in place instead of paying mere lip service to the concept.

For example, parents of children under six should be given the right to request flexible working arrangements or at least to forgo overnight duty. Employers have a duty to consider the request if it has no detrimental impact on the business.

Another option is the compressed work-week, in which one works full-time for four days and then enjoys a longer weekend and more time with the family.

And how about job sharing, in which two people split the demands of a single job, so that enough support is given to each employee and the responsibilities are balanced?

Finally, employers can introduce the concept of protected time for the employee. When I was holidaying in New Zealand, our bus driver was given a day off after three days of driving. So, we stopped at Queenstown for a day of rest and recreation.

In Singapore, employers could give employees the assurance that they will not receive SMSes, email or phone calls after a certain hour in the evening. I once heard of a deputy head who wanted to continue a meeting using MSN chat during dinnertime.

There are several benefits of adopting work-life strategies that help us working mothers cope with the demands of being both mothers and career women so that we are not forced to quit our jobs. Not only will Singapore be able to retain its talent pool, which is already so limited, but companies can also save on recruitment and training costs with the lower staff turnover.

With good work-life strategies in place, there will be less absenteeism and fewer people taking sick leave. A happy and contented employee will also be more productive and offer better services.

Ultimately, an employee is more than an economic digit. He or she has a family, a need to establish lasting relationships and the right to a day of rest.

The writer is a mother of six.
This article frist appeared in Today on 3rd May 2007


Let's wake up to alternative work regime
Flexible arrangements are not hard to implement, if employers are willing

Letter from Foo Chin Peng

I refer to the I Say by Frances Ong ("Let's not take our laptops to bed", May 3).

I count myself lucky for the kind of work arrangement I have. I work in a foreign multinational company in the customer support/sales department. I work from home, go to the office one day a week, and attend meetings with customers or suppliers as and when required.

I have had this arrangement for three years and I am very content with it as it allows me more time with my children, a nine-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy.

When I started my career as an engineer years ago, it never occurred to me that I would consider quitting my job one day so that I could stay at home to be with my children. I was lucky to be offered this post when I resigned from my previous job.

My previous employer did not have such a work arrangement in place when I left, neither did my supervisor propose it.

Management and human resource practitioners have to think out of the box and be willing to take calculated risks in order to keep experienced staff. Employers in Singapore seem slow to adopt new practices. Managers opt for the easier route and hire new staff when current staff members resign.

Don't our managers trust the staff to contribute with a work-from-home arrangement? Why do managers have to ensure that employees are at their desks during office hours?

I think it is important that managers have a comprehensive common understanding with the staff on their job scope, and leave the staff to do their work.

Staff, on the other hand, have to ensure they meet their end of the bargain.

However, I would like to add that such an arrangement may not be for everyone or every job. One must learn to be independent, disciplined and self-motivated in order to be able to work from home.

Also, working from home does not necessarily mean that I have all the time I want with the kids. It just means that I can spend relatively more time with them. I still depend very much on my mother-in-law to help with my kids, cooking etc. I think it would be too ambitious to think that one can work from home and take care of every other chore as well.

When I took this job, I had to take a big pay cut. As I was the first employee in the company to be offered such a working arrangement, the discussion of pay was a rather ambiguous process.

Financially and professionally, I had to make a sacrifice. My job title may suggest a demotion, I have now less authority and no staff reporting to me, and my current post requires me to sign an annual contract since the company does not have a system for alternative work arrangement.

But as I am happier with my work arrangement, I often work outside of my work hours when there is a need to. I work according to need and not just during office hours. I find myself saving lots of time on travelling and on getting ready to go to work.

True to Ms Ong's article, as a happy worker, I have not taken sick leave in the past three years.

I believe mine is just one of the many varieties of alternative work arrangements which can be arrived at in the case of parents who need it. Many of my friends have said they would like to be able to work on such terms.

I certainly hope that there can be a framework for alternative work arrangement available to companies.

Like it or not, in Singapore, everyone seems to be waiting for the Government to do something about it. We really need to start on this drive, for our children's sake.
Flexible arrangements

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Keep the Door Wide Open

WHEN gunman Cho Seung-Hui massacred 32 people at the Virginia Tech campus, many things went through my mind.

The one thought that has nagged me this week is how we welcome new immigrants into our society.

With Singapore's ageing population and the birth rate well below replacement level, we have heard all too often the need for an open-door policy.

After all, immigrants help to increase our gene pool, bring additional investment into our economy and contribute to economic development.

Moreover, with Singapore promoting itself as an educational hub, we can expect more immigrants at all strata of society.

A few weeks ago, my brother was watching a football match in which his 11-year-old son was playing. My brother was angry as the other school had fielded a foreign student who was as big as an adult to play in a primary school football game. But we found out that as long as the student is not above 14 years old, he is allowed to represent the primary school.

How should a parent and even local students respond to such an incident? Should they accept it as part of a representation of society? Or should there be a system in place where competition should be on a level playing field?

It is a well-known fact that many schools have been importing foreign talent to boost their sports teams and increase their chances of performing well in competitions. This has often discouraged locals like my nephew who have to play against those who are bigger, older or stronger than they are.

We can argue that this is a part of life and it is a good preparation for the workplace where we have to compete with foreign talent.

However, if the competition is not seen as fair and just, a sense of resentment will build up among the locals, and soon a culture may come about where immigrants are not made to feel welcome.

Though immigrants have become a part of the local community, perhaps there is still a need for new ways to promote a sense of belonging among the foreign talent that is flowing into Singapore.

We must not forget that our society was established by immigrants from all over the world. When Sir Stamford Raffles set up the trading post of Singapore, he made an effort to welcome people from all walks of life, recognising that this is the fastest way to establish a vibrant society. We must keep this in mind as we make an effort to welcome new immigrants.

When they speak with a different accent, when they show different tastes in food and clothing, when they express their culture in ways that are different from ours — we should accept them with an open heart, nor hurt them with words such as "go back to your homeland".

Neither should we talk behind their backs, complaining about unfair competition and unjust treatment.

Instead, we should welcome them with open arms for they offer insights and experiences that we might not be able to have if they were not here to interact with us.

Without the enriching presence of immigrants, we Singaporeans would be like frogs living in a well, unable to see beyond the narrow confines of our homes.

As for my nephew and my brother, all I can say to them is: Welcome to the world of globalisation where competition only rewards those with talent and ability. The presence of the foreign student will only encourage us to work harder and enhance our capacity to play better in the next game.

How uninteresting life in this country would be if there were no foreigners to spur us on to work harder, better and smarter.

This article first appeared in Today on 24.4.2007
The writer is a mother of six who looks forward to having her children forge friendships with people from all over the world.
Where's that much-touted friendliness?
Letter from Jenom James Nyam published in TOday on 2.5.2007

I agree with Ms Frances Ong's unbiased opinion in "Keep the Door Wide Open" (April 24), which solemnly urged Singaporeans to be more receptive and accommodating of foreigners.

In doing research about Singapore before applying to study here, I found the welcoming attitude of Singaporeans proudly publicised on all the websites that I sought information at.

I also recall the famous smiling face of the Singapore Girl aired periodically on Cable News Network (CNN) and the Four Million Smiles of last year's World Bank/IMF Meeting.

I had heard and read about Singapore's place in international circles as Asia's crossroad of colours, cultures and civilisation — much like the reputations the United States and Switzerland enjoy. What the trio are reputed to have in common is their ability to accommodate almost everybody, regardless of their background.

This was why I chose to come to Singapore.

However, after reading Ms Ong's piece, I helplessly found myself supporting her views based on the contrasting reality that I've met with since coming here in August last year.

For the past eight months, the much-touted friendliness and warmth has been hardly anywhere to be found. It is sad that I have had the privilege of seeing faces genuinely smiling at me only on a very few occasions.

Singaporeans should remember that the foreigners and tourists to Singapore are non-commissioned ambassadors of the land.

If Ms Ong's surname was Toh, I would have guessed that she was the mother of Geraldine — a Singaporean who once surprised me in a library by stirring up a meaningful conversation with me, despite my non-Asian looks.

For a dark-skinned foreigner from Nigeria who cannot in all honesty boast of being socially accepted by society in Singapore, it was a brief moment of respite.

Ms Ong's challenge to her compatriots is a candid charge for change.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

I am woman hear me roar

The recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan the Director General of WHO who said that Singapore is her second home made me reflect on the following issues.

What do Nancy Pelosi and Margaret Chan have in common?

Apart from the obvious fact that they are women, they share the following characteristics. They are all above 50 years old, and they are contributing actively to society.

Nancy Pelosi at age 66 and a mother of 5, is the 60th and present speaker of the United States House of Representatives which makes her the highest-ranking woman in the US government. She is also the first woman in U.S. history to hold this office

Dr. Margaret Chan at age 60 is the Director General of the World Health Organisation.(WHO). She was the first female in Hong Kong to head the Department of Health and left after 25 years of service to join the WHO.

This brings to mind another famous Dr. Margaret Chan, who breath life into the character Emily of Emeral Hill. At the age of 52 she obtained her PHD and 4 years later she embarked on a new career as a faculity member at the Singapore Management University.

No, this is not another femanist article about how women have managed to break the glass ceiling or that they have managed to break into the stratified world of men.

What strick me was that these are woman who are married, have managed to bring up children and yet at an age where many are contented to retire they have embarked on new careers that challenge their comfrt zone.

I have met several highly educated stay-at-home mum who have taken the courages step to stop climbing the career ladder for a while to bring up their children.

Sometime they will be hit with insecurity and worried that they will nt be able to enter the market once their children have grown up. At other the times, they worried that all their education have been wasted as they spend their time driving their children from schools to enrichment classes and back home.

Yes agesim do exist as expamlified by Dr Chan when she tried to apply for a universtiy post at another local university.

But these three women gave us who are aged forty and above hope. Many stay-at-home mum will start to look for jobs when they are around this age. Like Dr Chan, they must be willing to start work at the entry level or low level. Dr. Chan, armed with a Phd, started work at SMU teaching remedial English. After 10 months she was promoted based on her performance. Later she was promoted to a fully fledged faculity member.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Breast milk for Sale

Anicius had to be in the ICU right after he was born.

Mamafess breastfeeding no.six while he was in ICU.

The recent case of a poor mother from the Chinese countryside hired to breastfeed an affluent city-dweller’s baby has brought memories of the first time I breastfeed my eldest son seventeen years ago. My husband and I have read that breast milk was most suitable for a baby and as a mother, I was eager to give my son the best. Luckily, I was able to produce a lot of milk. By the third month, I have managed to freeze about twenty (9 oz) bottles to be kept for future use.

At that time, one of my friends had just adopted a child called Vincent. As he was allergic to soya and cow milk, he could only drink breast milk. There was an urgent called to ask for donation of breast milk and his father became the milkman of Singapore as he went all over Singapore collecting breast milk for his adopted son. We contributed as much as we could spare. I remembered that on his first birthday, his adopted parents invited all the mothers who have contributed to a big birthday party. If my memories served me well, over fifty mothers, regardless of race or religion, came forward to help baby Vincent. It was an unforgettable sight to see so many bottles of frozen breast milk. None of us were paid but the smile of Baby Vincent was priceless.

Now that professional wet nurses have appeared in many cities across China due to rising incomes and a demand for healthy milk, it has started a fierce debate over the ethics of the ancient art of wet nursing. Many object to the fact that some mothers are unwilling to nurse babies because they hope to maintain a slender figure. Of course there is the grey area when mothers are unable to nurse because they either do not have milk or suffer from infectious diseases. Although the wet nurses claimed that they are only providing an economic service and thus are justified to be paid, some worried that this would deprive the wet nurse own child from having the benefit of breast milk.

Is this a case of exploitation of the poor by the children of rich parents? How do we price a bottle of breast milk? What about the health of the wet nurse? How does one determine the quality of the breast milk? Is there a co-relationship between the nutrition in-take of the wet nurse and the quality and quantity of breast milk? Would some women be treated like cows whose sole existence are to produce breast milk for other children?

In Singapore, as more women become educated about the benefit of breast milk, they would be motivated to breastfeed their children. Would there come a day when a mother who could not or would not breastfeed take the easy road and pay for a wet nurse? How would CASE response to such a case? Would the AVA authority steps in and consider the wet nurse as part of primary production?

Just as we do not allow the sale of blood or organ, we should not allow the sale of breast milk for by doing so we would treat the body as a commodity. All donation of breast milk should consider as gift so as to preserve the dignity of the human spirit. If we do not make a firm stand against the sale of breast milk be it from a wet nurse or from a bottle, we would soon find it acceptable to trade in blood, organ, sperm and egg.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Ready for sex?(author's title)

By Aubrey Ess

Recently, the case of a nine-year-old mother was in the news. While only in Primary Three, this girl had already had sex with her boyfriend many times, behind her parents' back.

During her pregnancy, she had to cope with all the hassles of having a baby: morning sickness, labour pains, not to mention any social stigma she would have had to face. Her studies and social life would also have suffered.

This is a sad case of how not only the experience, but also when one starts having sexual intercourse, can change one's life drastically.

When I was eight years old, my parents began to answer every question I had about sex. It was a decision that many parents would probably be shocked at. However, just as the timing of engaging in sexual relations is important, so is the timing of when one starts learning about the birds and the bees.

The subject will have to be taught at one point or another, because every person faces it sooner or later. Teenagers are faced with the question of having premarital sex, married couples are united through sex, and even priests who refrain from sex have to handle temptation.

I believe that such an integral part of our lives should be explained fully by our parents, so that we are prepared to handle it.

The only question is, when? During pre-school, when we are still playing with blocks and dolls? During Primary School, when we are more aware of our surroundings, and being instilled with the values of good and bad? Or during Secondary School, when we enter our teenage years, and a life far more hormonal, independent, and questioning than ever before?

Now, I have a little brother approaching his eighth birthday. When my parents told him about his "asking about sex" opportunity, his eyes lit up in exactly the same way as mine did. "Really? Okay then — mummy, daddy, can I know about sex?" the eight-year-old — intelligent but inexperienced, delighted at learning about a mysterious word, unaware yet of the profound effect it will have on his life — asked, before bursting into laughter. It was the same with me.

Perhaps at the age of eight we were not yet responsible enough to grapple with a topic like sex. After all, give one too much information too soon, and one could do regrettable things with it.

Yet my parents never simply spilled the beans. At eight, I asked questions like "what". As I grew older, and matured into my teenage years, my questions also matured into those like "when", "should" and "with whom". Also, as I asked my various questions, they revealed deeper, related things about sex that I had not even been able to comprehend.

Besides giving me factual information, my parents also made clear the dangers, precautions, religious views, and exclusiveness of sex — the basic dos and don'ts, so that I was also brought up with a moral idea of what sex should be.

Being ready to learn about sex is not about one's age. It is about whether your child is already dipping his toes into the ocean, already taking the step of finding out. When that happens, he is going to learn to swim no matter what, no matter how long it takes, simply because his curiosity pushes him on.

It is at this point that parents should teach their child about that "S" word, that subject that may make them blush or stutter, that very thing which their own child is facing.

It is wonderful that my parents are willing to be open with such a sensitive subject, so that I do not have to find out through a book, TV show, or even through actual intercourse with someone else.

The writer is a 16-year-old student. She one of the daughters of MOS.

Butterfly effect

According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry press release on 10th October 2006, advance estimates showed that Singapore’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose by 7.1 per cent in the third quarter compared to the same period in 2005. On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted annualized basis, real GDP grew by 6.0 per cent, compared with a 3.4 per cent expansion in the preceding quarter. This is a healthy sign that our economy is doing well and that our economic growth is on target.

However, before we start to get ready to pop the champagne or expect a bigger year end bonus, we have to consider this.

Using the GDP as an indicator of development has been considered as inadequate as this place excessive emphasis on purely economic aspect of development.

Ecologist, environmentalist and some economists have begun to advocate the concepts of sustainable development, which encompasses the trinity of social, environment and economic concerns.

Can the pursuit of economic growth be compatible with sustainable development? Is there a need to sacrifice some of today’s economic growth to meet the needs of other people and those of our children in future? Will economic growth bring about a strong and healthy society existing within environmental limits?

Before we consider these weightier issues, let consider how we take care of the environment we live in.

Firstly, an appeal to dogs’ owner. It would be great to pick up your dog’s poo when you walk your dogs. By leaving the dog’s poo alone, other people are given the opportunity to step on it which is an event that they do not appreciate very much. Moreover, it shows that the dog owner do not give due consideration to other users of the park.

Secondly, an appeal to cat lovers who took it upon themselves to feed the stray cats all over Singapore. Do ensure that the pellets of cat food are not left for the ants and rats to part-take too.

Thirdly, an appeal to Singaporean not to spit indiscriminately as the spit may contain air-born germs that might spread disease to others.

The above three examples show that we do not take the environment as our own private personal space and so we will do what we please when we please with the environment. For example, would we allow our dog to shit all over our living room? What about spitting in our bedroom?

We seldom do so as we want to keep the environment we live in clean. Thus we all have this mentality that it is o.k. to dirty environment that does not belong to us. Witness us behaving as environment terrorist in Johore Bahru.

We need to change the way we approach the environment. In the chaos theory, the buttery effect is used to describe how small difference or changes in a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behaviour of the system. The idea is that a butterfly’s wing might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that eventually cause a tornado to develop.

This concept might be difficult to comprehend or believed until we realized that a single match that was lighted has caused the haze that enveloped us for the past three weeks.

Dog’s poo, cat food, fool’s spit. Small changes, just like the flapping of a butterfly wings. We seldom pause to think how these might affect other people or events. Worst, we do not realize that these changes might in the end cause others events to occur that might harm us in the end.

Small action. Can we realize in time that ultimately we are responsible for all the environmental problems that have been plaguing us for the past few years?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Deadly Mistakes

It is expected that doctors will do their best to protect the well being of their patients. However, the health care system that they function in is a complex one where the possibility for them to make mistakes is abundant. Unlike other professions like in accounting, law, engineering and even education, where mistakes made need not necessary be fatal, often when doctors make mistakes, they are lethal. Two recently cases highlighted in the press support this hypothesis

Firstly, at the coroner’s inquest into the death of Madam Koh At Tow, 88, it was decided that a series of mistakes made at Clementi Polyclinic in March last year caused her death. The doctor had prescribed the wrong dose of heart medicine and was given four times the dose which was not picked up at the pharmacy.

Secondly, Mr. Tan Beng Kiat, 30, on June 21 had a severe headache. He was given painkiller by the general practitioner but the medication did not help. He was send to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he was also diagnosed as having a headache. The attending doctor decided that there was no need to do a scan or have him hospitalized. He was send home with more painkillers. That evening he fell into coma and was pronounced brain dead by doctors at Singapore General Hospital. He was taken off live support and was pronounced dead later.

We seldom expect nor accept medical errors but they do account for some hospital injuries and deaths. To many, it is acceptable as long as it does not happen to us or our love ones. This is because medical mistake is avoidable and the adverse injury caused as a result is due to medical mismanagement and not due to the underlying medical condition of the patient.

While it is all too easy for society to blame the doctor and the concerned doctor in turn may become defensive and blame the nurse, the hospital, the work load and even the system for the mistake, we need to re-examine how doctors and society handle medical errors.

Is it true that good doctors never make mistake? Are doctors always right? At what stage of our medical conditions should we seek a second opinion? What do we do if what we are experiencing do not aligned with what the doctor is diagnosing? What do doctors do when they make medical mistakes? Do they hide them or worst bury them?

Do doctors share with their colleague, peers and junior doctors their adverse mistakes or are they afraid that if they do they would be inundated with malpractice suit?

An old adage extolled that a wise man learns from fools’ mistake. Do our doctors learn from each other mistake for the sake of the patients?

Perhaps it is time to move from a culture of blame and shame to a culture of share and care.

We have to share our experiences and mistakes so that processes, checks and balances can be put in places so that similar medical mistake can be reduced or eliminated.

For instance, in the first case, the National Healthcare Group (NHG) has introduced additional processes in the system so as to reduce the risk of patients getting a wrong dose of medicine. Now a senior doctor is required to countersign any changes in the dosage of some toxic medicine and an electronic prescription system will alert doctors to a patient’s drug allergies. The family of Madam Koh At Tow has decided not to pursue the matter with the doctor concerned as they did not wish to destroy the doctor’s career.

But how would society view her mistake? Would we bring ourselves to entrust her with our medical conditions? What about herself? Would she be able to re-gain or re-built her confidence? It would be a waste of resources, time and effort if she is unable to overcome this current event.

We should encourage doctors who made mistakes to learn from them and move on to continue their good works. After all they are human too.

However, if the doctors are found to be negligent or fail to show due diligent in their performance of duty, the full extent of the law should be weight down upon them and taken to task.

The difficult task is for us to discern the difference between these two.