Archive for June, 2005

Would you go?

A cousin of mine was offered an overseas posting to New York (the benefits and pay/compensation are quite lucrative actually) from his company as a financial analyst. He grabbed it almost immediately when he received the offer letter. He was kinda upset actually to not be able to study abroad during his undergrad years, so I guess this is his chance to experience living and working outside of Singapore. I got to know from him that several of his colleagues actually turned down the offers.

The reasons were varied, but most centered around their other-halves/family. One could not go because his wife did not want to quit her job here. Another was an only child, and he did not want to leave his parents alone in Singapore. Yet another had a homemaker wife with two young kids in tow (plus his mum was staying with him), and he felt the salary he would be getting would not pay for the entire family’s living expenses in the Big Apple. The last one faced resistance from her fiance, who feared they would spilt up if she remained in the US (and they apart) for too long.

My cousin is luckier – still single and with no girlfriend yet he has nothing to hold him back to Singapore. The only grouses were from my aunt, who feared he might bring back an ang-moh bor, and no chance to get to know the local (ie Singaporean) girls.

Then I remembered when I went back to Singapore last summer, I had my JC class gathering. I posed this question to several of my high-flying scholar (and non-scholar) ex-classmates if they would give up their careers to join their SOs (Significant Others) overseas. Most said “no”…

Would you?


June 29, 2005 at 10:45 pm 11 comments

Military – Civilian doctors

An entry by Oikono caught my attention. This particular incident was first reported in the national press (I think) sometime in Oct 2003 and generated a number of eye-opening responses in one particular online forum. I do encourage you to read it in its entirety there. This blog post is to basically present views from the other side (which does NOT represent mine*) , in particular those doctors on the ground. It’s a pity if these are to ever get deleted as what frequently happen for the forums. Case in point: The old Sintercom forums – gone forever.

Some parts archived here (hopefully) for posterity.

That ST article (and background):

Family sues NUH, 6 doctors
By K.C. Vijayan

THE family of a dead full-time national serviceman is suing six doctors and the National University Hospital (NUH), alleging that their negligence led to his dying two days after he was admitted for a pain in the right leg.

Two NUH doctors accused Corporal Chua of malingering “to avoid his army training”.
The six include a consultant surgeon and an orthopaedic specialist who attended to 23-year-old Chua Ya Ta in June, 2001.

The dead man’s parents, carpenter Chua Seow Cheong and housewife Tan Hong Eng, both in their early 50s, and his sole surviving brother, Ya Lin, 21, are behind the suit, which was filed in the Subordinate Courts late last month.

A spokesman for the family’s lawyers, Oei and Charles, said that the firm is in the process of serving the suit.

Corporal Chua, who was a tank driver in the army, saw the doctor at his camp on June 15, 2001, when his leg started hurting, and was advised to go to hospital.


• June 15: Army doctor refers Cpl Chua Ya Ta to hospital as his leg hurts. He is admitted to NUH after a second visit.

• June 17: He has breathing difficulties; his condition worsens. He dies of an acute bacterial infection.

At NUH, he received treatment and was sent home.

But less than three hours later, he returned to the hospital complaining of pain and a fever that came and went, and was admitted.

In the next two days, despite suffering from the pain, he was accused by two of the doctors of malingering ‘to avoid his army training’.

In fact, the morning after he was admitted, his girlfriend, IT administrator Gladys Seow, also 23 then, was told by a nurse that the hospital wanted to discharge Cpl Chua and was handed a bill for the medical charges.

He was not discharged as by then, he had difficulties standing without assistance.

At about noon, he fainted in the hospital toilet while showering.

There was also blood in his stool.

His condition worsened and at about 3pm the day after, he was given oxygen because he had difficulty breathing.

By this time, his fingers, toes and face had also turned slightly blue.

Distressed, his uncle, businessman Chua Kok Poon, who was visiting his nephew then, asked that he be transferred to another hospital.

At about 5pm, he received a note from a doctor assuring him that Cpl Chua was in stable condition and not in ‘clinical danger’.

He was later transferred to the intensive care unit, where he died at 11.10pm of an acute bacterial infection.

The suit alleges that NUH doctors failed to take sufficient steps to diagnose the infection and prescribe early treatment.

Contacted on Thursday, an NUH spokesman said that the hospital had referred the case to the coroner in 2001 and had cooperated fully in the investigation.

She added that the hospital has always kept the lines of communication with the family open.

‘We also offered them grief counselling, as well as our fullest assistance whenever appropriate,’ she said.

A related thread in the same forum had an actual SAF (NSF) doctor commenting on the dual military – civilian roles that the medical professionals are subjected to. It is worth a read, and I reproduce it here:

cyke posted: Mon Oct 27, 2003 5:28 pm

I write with first hand experience as a SAF medical officer.

The way it works is that in SAF training as a MO we are told about pride, how to support the SAF , make it a fighting force etc.

When we get posted to the units , initially we are all gung ho. Try to push the men on etc. Then we get a couple of complain letters from parents through their MPs about how this son and that son cannot tahan and that we are torturing their sons.

The COs can either respond 2 ways. Most unit COs will support the MO and they will basically ask the soldier to sign a form saying that he wants a full inquiry, but if the inquiry yields results that are against him he will be charged. Most soldiers will back down.

The COs of schools eg BMTC have ISO certification standards to meet. I was told once when I was working on Tekong in a meeting with the instructors ” Please MO no more complain letters can? We can only afford to have 2 complain letters per cohort otherwise we will fail ISO!” So the COs hate complain letters. They would rather not have them. But you realise that people complain about everything in Singapore. How not to get complain letter if soldiers suffer? So how? In the end give everyone MC lah!

So really it became a cycle. After a complaint letter, you would see recruits going home in the ferry loads. MO trying to be very safe and cautious. Good for recruit , good for parent. Bad for training, looks bad on CO , bad for his promotion. SO MOs get reprimanded again. Told about pride, how we must support SAF to be fighting force etc. So then we see less MC again. More stringent.

Then another complain letter, or a death occurs or something. Then again CO will blame MO. CO will say “I not doctor leh. I never interfere with doctor’s decision.”

It took me 1 year to realise in the end I better cover my *** and be a safe doctor. The SAF is full of nonsense and lies. In the end I realise after I ORD if I screwed up as a doctor, I can still get sued because after ORD I still doctor. If I screw up as an officer, so what?

I haven’t even begun to talk about how they made us doctors see 100 patients in 4 hours!

And then, in the first thread, he talked about the difference between NSF and full-time regular military doctors:

Cyke posted Mon Oct 27, 2003 5:50 pm: To put the record straight, doctors in Singapore do not serve housemanship in Army.

Housemanship can only be done in the government hospitals. All SAF NSF MOs that you see have finished 1 year of Housemanship in the government hospitals as well as another year as a Medical Officer in the government hospitals before they go into NS again for the Medical officer cadet course.

So SAF NSF MOs are not totally inexperienced nor are they very experienced.

They are trying their best. But remember that as doctors they never became a doctor to tekan people. They became doctors to help people. However more likely than not it is because of pressure from COs or senior SAF regular doctors that they withold their full compassion.

It is also difficult to practise medicine properly when the soldier answers yes to every question. Sometimes you wonder how come young people can be so sick with so many problems only after they entered the army.

Interestingly, the regular SAF medical Officers who in the end become Major, LTC, COL, BG almost never get much experience seeing soldiers as patients in the SAF. After they pass the SAF MOCC, they get sent to mainly HQ type psoitions to do admin work. See maybe a few patients. So in the end they don’t know the ground. They don’t know first hand the difficulties of seeing patients in the SAF. It is easy for them to say “seeing soldier in SAF very easy one what, they all * geng not really sick one” what!” So regular SAF medical officers formulate policies and guidelines without knowing the ground!

In the SAF all regulars do things that will get them promoted. In the SAF medical corps the way to get promoted is to do projects etc. Not see recruits reporting sick. Hence no regular does these tasks. Go ask around. How often has any soldier below the rank of COL seen a SAF regular medical officer? Probably never!

So, how exactly are the SAF MOs?

cyke posted: Tue Oct 28, 2003 2:46 pm
If SAF was serious about the health care of their soldiers, they will hire more doctors who have better experience.

Right now what they have is a very cheap medical labour force made up of quite inexperienced young doctors with medics who are not nurses.

If the doctors were hired from private sectors, they would feedback how many doctors are actually needed. SAF should hire the recommended number that is needed to maintain a good standard of medical care. MINDEF should see the bill.

When MINDEF sees the bill and sees that they are spending more money on health care for SAF NSF than say several polyclinics, (trust me the amount will surpass the polyclinics) they will realise something is wrong with the system.

Money talks.

Rigth now everything is hush hush. We hide the truth from the top. Why? Because the COs want to look good, so that they will still get promoted and get their pensions.

When Tony Tan came to visit Tekong medical centre, the schools were told for that day alone please restrict report sick. And then all the soldiers were sent to 2nd level to hide. SO it looked like the medical centre was empty ie nobody report sick.

This is what happens. SO in the end all the problems on the ground are never highlighted or brought up to the top. Because if they did it refelcted poorly on the CO, and he wouldn’t get promoted.

In SAF everyone does things to get promoted only.

There’s also an interesting section on the abilities and training of the SAF medics. You can read it here.

June 23, 2005 at 12:40 am 3 comments

Thoughts on “Scholarships, Travelling & Elitism”

Edit (Jul 3, 2005): Singapore Angle has two new posts relating to the Singapore scholarship system.

References/Background reading:

1.Mr Wang
2.Singapore Angle
3.ST article dated 20 June 2005:

June 20, 2005
Embrace elites in order to enrich our society
By Robin Chan

MY APPLICATION to join the ‘elite’ club was rejected when I failed to score 4 As and a S-paper distinction. My eagerly awaited interview for the prestigious PSC scholarship never materialised. For the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable. The clouds I had been floating on since my days at Raffles Institution suddenly evaporated. I was hurled back into reality and felt like another casualty of ‘the system’.

My dreams of overseas study seemingly dashed, it was a while before I summoned up enough confidence to tell myself that I still had the ability to succeed.

I stumbled through NS like an elephant on stilts. It was an awkward and uncomfortable time, but I saw the real struggles of those who had fallen by the wayside. I realised that far from being a casualty, I was still very much a functioning product of ‘the system’ – I had an education.

I did eventually secure a scholarship that allowed me to go overseas. I was part of the elite again.

There is nothing wrong with an educated or a governing elite. Elitism has become another of those cursed ‘isms’ – the convenient concoction of complainers.

Elitism is a state of mind, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we dislike it, the more it becomes a bane to our society. There will always be casualties, given the meritocratic nature of our system. Which system has no flaws?

Let’s turn elitism on its head. We should not let the educated elite be the be-all and end-all of our society. Since we each have a myriad of talents, there is space to create many kinds of elites, and society will be richer for it.

The writer is a second-year student majoring in International Political Economy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Addendum: A quick search on google reveals that he was awarded a SPH scholarship in 2004. Future Sg journalist! 🙂


There are so many things I find wrong with that piece that I don’t even know where to start. I like the way Mr Wang dissects the letter. It also brings back memories of an earlier period, a time when I would have identified strongly with him. It’s a pity I find, that having spent a year in college hasn’t really opened his eyes from that ‘elitist’ view ingrained in him since his days at RI/RJC. Maybe he is just “living life as a bystander” overseas.

Then again, his views aren’t unique amongst students from the top-tier sec schools/JCs.

Want a glimpse of life as a typical Singaporean scholar overseas? Read this.

L’oiseau rebelle, in her comment to my earlier piece asks: “How, then, do you think the (Singapore academic) system can be improved?”

My argument goes that the current system is not just an academic class difference, but an economic one too. Unfortunately I can only speak from personal encounters (which can be totally different from the larger picture). Many of my peers being awarded the overseas scholarships could very well afford to go on their families’ funds. They had both the grades and the money. And whenever I hear about the various increases in fees (like public transport, utilities, HDB housing etc), I think about them and wonder if the scholars (through which the ruling elite draws its source from) really understand what exactly is happening on the ground to the common man.

Jhuprincess puts it well (and it mirrors my own experience):

“In my 6 years here, I have mixed with both scholars and non-scholars, Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans. In general, Singaporean scholars care a lot about grades, simply because they have to. And they also complain. A lot. Not that they don’t have a right to. Anyone has a right to complain about their lot in life. But it does irk me a bit. In addition to getting full tuition paid, housing stipends, book stipends, clothing stipend, they receive a salary. And this is straight out of high school. They get paid like they’ve already graduated from college. And they keep getting pay increments. So yes, while they may say that they are bonded. They may not make as much as their counterparts. But if you sit down and do the calculations. How much their counterparts had to pay while they were in school on no scholarship, and how they had to start at the bottom rung. It all evens out in the end. But no, they grouse about how little they are getting. I, on the other hand, made full use of the 20 hours allowed by INS to work in school, and I worked 40 hours per week over the summer. Not much, but it paid my living expenses. Granted, I can’t do that now, which is why I always feel ultra guilty, but I did it when I was an undergraduate. My parents sacrificed a lot to make sure that bills were paid on time. The scholars had the option to go on trips, go shopping every weekend or watch a movie every weekend. I didn’t. I had to work on fri and sat nights. Yes, that’s my choice. I chose to come here knowing full well it was going to be expensive. But they made the choice to take the scholarship. The key word is “choice”. Once you’ve made your bed, lie in it. You made the choice to take the scholarship, accept the damm responsibility of fulfilling your bond. Why burn the bridges? A job is a job.”

I was fortunate to be awarded a partial (no bond) scholarship and a summer internship that paid for my living expenses for one semester and a chance to go work/travel in a third country (outside of US).

On a related issue, consider the strong links between being shortlisted for OCS and one’s chances for a Sg government scholarship. Extend it to the broader picture of being chosen for the ‘elite’ club. From a male Sg scholar’s blog entry:

“…I was admittedly rather disappointed having not made it into any of the leadership courses after BMT. Did think that all the scholarship chances would go up in smoke. I still remember an interview I had where the interviewer, who was obviously an officer during his ns days, declared that if I didn’t make it to OCS, he wouldn’t want to see me in the organisation. Thankfully, his views didn’t extend to the other scholarship organisations I’d applied for.”

And the typical scholar background I was talking about:

“…And interacting with a bunch of people, whom I would never have met within the very limited social circle I usually hang out with. Soccer betting, cigarettes, computer games, chionging zouk, 4D and toto, anime and manga, spending all their allowance within 2 weeks of pay day, cashing out all their ERS shares the moment they were issued them… a glimpse into the everyday lives of other singaporeans, singaporeans who are not doctors, lawyers, scholars, professionals, who I have been surrounded by most of my life. Very refreshing and eyeopening.

While there is much debate on the scholarship issue (for the ‘elite’ citizens), some FTs have their say on the ease on which they are being offered local scholarships for studies in NUS:

“If you would do away with automatic scholarships I would be very much appreciate it. Especially when you automatically give people scholarship with six years bond without asking. We’re not donkeys who will just take whatever you offer us. Some of us might be poor, but forcing us to take such scholarships (by telling us that if we didn’t take this, our chance of getting the bond-free scholarships, i.e. ASEAN/NUS scholarship, is very slim. Oh, you even told the 4As, 2Ds students, my, my!) is at the least of it, immoral.”

June 20, 2005 at 3:55 pm 7 comments

The Old White and Green at Mt Sinai

Thanks for the memories. Stolen from immoral fear:

Central Area

Morning Assembly Area

While others probably see their school’s name changed. No more this:


June 19, 2005 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

NY Times – Class in America

The New York Times ran a series of articles on class in America about a month ago. I found this blog that provided a brief summary of it, with several paragraphs that caught my eye:

Where the paper’s argument gets interesting is in its examination of the American dream, or myth, of mobility:

“And new research on mobility, the movement of families up and down the economic ladder, shows there is far less of it than economists once thought and less than most people believe. In fact, mobility, which once buoyed the working lives of Americans as it rose in the decades after World War II, has lately flattened out or possibly even declined, many researchers say.

Mobility is the promise that lies at the heart of the American dream. It is supposed to take the sting out of the widening gulf between the have-mores and the have-nots. There are poor and rich in the United States, of course, the argument goes; but as long as one can become the other, as long as there is something close to equality of opportunity, the differences between them do not add up to class barriers.”

Pundits and politicians love telling Americans that through hard work, everyone has a chance to be mobile and move up to the next rung on the ladder. With the rising cost of living, the stagnation of the wage, and the bubble of the real estate market, moving up to that next rung is difficult, if not impossible for a working family.

Social mobility has always been a part of the American mythos. An old teacher of mine used to simplify things by saying: “You are economically mobile only by marriage. That’s it.” An over simplification, yes, but not too far from truth.

Sounds familiar no?

June 19, 2005 at 12:50 am 3 comments

Ramblings on the educational (JC) divide II

This is sort of a continuation from the earlier entry. Wasn’t too happy personally with that one because it was based on just two anecdotal accounts.

So what do I do then? I went surfing to the JCs’ websites to see if I could find any relevant information. I wanted to see if the JC has provided any links/support for their graduates to pursue their undergraduate education either locally or overseas. Most were quite disappointing – they had either none or they just simply put up hyperlinks to the local (no overseas) universities’ homepages or to some of the Singapore government scholarships granting agencies. Maybe they had locked up the “post-A-Levels options” page under IVLE such that you had to have a login id/password to access; I won’t know.

There were however two JCs that impressed me for their rather detailed explanations/to-do list for those students with a keen interest to pursue their university education overseas. RJC had devoted an entire section for students hoping to enroll in US universities, including tables that displayed the success rate of their alumni clinching admission offers from (mainly selective) US institutions. But I couldn’t find any link for those students who are interested in the other popular Singaporean student destination countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc. The link for UK apps appear to be dead.

VJC, on the other hand, had a very useful section for both local and overseas universities. I quite like their timeline tables for US and UK universities bound students.

Both have an interesting FAQ section on further education in the US. Which leads me to assume that the top A level students would mainly want to go to the US for their college education.

Talking about grades, the 4 A-level distinction distribution amongst the JCs is very skewed (as what most people know for a long time). RJ and HCJC (now HCI) are probably in a class of their own, followed by NJ, VJ, TJ and then the rest.

Finally, I liked this bit:

Why does RJC limit the number of schools I can apply to?

Recommended: 6 schools altogether. Absolute maximum: 8 altogether, 3 Ivy League.

1. It’s a waste of your teachers’ time.
2. At US$60+ per application, it’s a waste of your time and money.
You’ll have to make up your mind eventually.
3. We suspect you’re spoiling your schoolmates’ chances.
RJC is overwhelmingly overrepresented at most top US colleges.

Yeap, and that’s how it even got featured in the Wall Street Journal a year ago.

June 16, 2005 at 8:25 pm 3 comments

NUS’s PH1101GEM1004 Blog

Am a little surprised to see NUS faculty members set up a blog for one of their courses. Philosophy 1101, probably equivalent to PH101 in most US universities.

Reason and Persuasion

Interesting read (for a kaypoh non-philo outsider like me) 🙂

June 16, 2005 at 1:50 pm 4 comments

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