Archive for April, 2006

Why did you choose to study overseas?

I feel honored to be featured in an entry by Scholarsheep, a production of the Scholarships Committee of Victoria Junior College (VJC) in Singapore. [Ed: Wah, now schools are taking note of my humble abode in cyberspace huh?]

The blog author (I assume it is Mrs Wee WH, VJC’s HOD Careers & Scholarships) had asked a good question: Just what is it about going overseas that is so, if I may use the term, “romantic”?

My reasons for attending Graduate School (in the US) were already detailed previously. As you can tell by now they are hardly “romantic”, more for practical (selfish?) purposes. Ironically, I lost my first SO by choosing to leave. (History might repeat itself, but I digress)

Now for the undergraduate education part – well, I do not exactly have a good compelling explanation for it. Parents? Sure, they strongly believed in the economic value that the coveted foreign degree cert can bring to status conscious Singapore. But why did I not choose NUS (or the other two local universities)? In my JC class, after the A levels/NS approximately 40% went overseas, another 40% to NUS and the remainder to NTU/SMU. Incidentally, those with the worst A level grades in the class (2 A level distinctions and fewer) ended up in NTU.

If you are to ask me six years ago this question – I would probably tell you something like: Oh, I want to learn from the best teachers in my field; after all, they wrote the pioneering/landmark textbooks for this discipline. Or I want to be independent and be away from the watchful eyes of my parents. On hindsight while these are reasonable, I think counterpoints can be easily made. Being able to write good textbooks doesn’t necessarily mean they can teach effectively. Want to have an independent lifestyle? You can always stay in the school hostel or rent an apartment near campus.

I used to believe that the educational experience at a top-notch foreign university is better than an equivalent one at a local university simply because the professors overseas are more well-known and are winners of such prestigious international awards as the Nobel Prize, or are elected fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences/Engineering etc. What I didn’t know then, but I do now is that – the more well-known/established the professor is, the less time he/she has for teaching. And as undergraduates, you are at the bottom of the academic food chain.

Taken off Xue, a quote from Erik Ringmar, a Senior Lecturer at the LSE Government Department:

After all, the greatness of a scholar is measured in terms of output — that is, research. It is more than anything the number of books and articles written that matters to academic promotions. If you want a high-flying academic career you have to publish.

This means that the first-class teachers usually will have their minds elsewhere than on undergraduate teaching. They might be away on conferences, and even if they are not absent in body, they may be absent in mind. This is too bad of course. In fact it could indeed be that students have more opportunities for interaction with faculty members at lesser institutions — like the London Metropolitan University, say — where research is less heavily emphasised. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the in-class student experience often differs very little between the LSE and a place such as the London Metropolitan University. This may surprise you but it something students tell me. Instinctively I rebel against this conclusion, but I have come to believe that the students who make this point are correct.

Think about it! The kinds of courses taught at undergraduate level are pretty much the same everywhere you go. The courses use the same kinds of reading lists, with the same kinds of books, set the same kinds of exam questions … The lecturers too are not that different from each other. This is easily explained. Often after all we went to the same universities.

I compared course/lecture notes with peers studying the same course at NUS, and the materials covered pretty much overlapped. They kaopehed about lousy lecturers from the PRC and India with hard-to-understand accented English; I bemoaned the fact that in some of my classes the teaching assistants (TAs) taught for more than half the semester because the professor was always away for some conference.

What stood out instead for the educational experience is not so much the professors, but the quality of the student population. Borrowing from Erik again:

the student body

This may in some ways sound like a con, and some LSE students do indeed end up thinking so. They are disenchanted with the ‘elite institution’-label and wonder what all the fuss is about. They prefer something less elite and more approachable and perhaps they even end up transferring to places like the London Metropolitan University. I remember this reaction very clearly from my own time as a student at another elite institution — Yale University in the United States.

Let me suggest to you why transferring down would be a mistake. What makes the LSE unique not only in Britain but in the world as a whole — and into a vastly different kind of institution than all of its local competitors — is the quality of its student body. We are able to recruit some of the smartest, most interesting, intelligent, rich, successful and all-round attractive people on the planet. That is, we are able to attract people just like you!

Great American universities like Harvard and Yale may pride themselves in their multiculturalism, but they know little about it. At Yale we were some token foreign students in a corner of the classroom, but the majority of the students were regular, all-American, kids. This is not the case at the LSE. There may be more English students here than others, but we don’t do ‘minorities,’ we are all minorities of some kind or another. Everyone is included, no one cannot take part.

This is why the official language of the School is broken English. Personally I speak this language perfectly fluently.

However it is only in Graduate School, that I finally fully understand the above.


Mr Wang has three posts related to the admissions decisions made by the local universities. Perhaps these can be counted as reasons to why you should head overseas. Read Dominic’s take too.

Edit (28 Apr): Sg_Ljers has two similar posts.


UofC front

UofC back

Heh heh. Paiseh, cannot help it. U of C’s school crest looks very much like RJ’s.


April 27, 2006 at 5:22 pm 5 comments

Blood paintings; First class physics tuition

Came across Mark Ryden’s paintings. I like his miniature blood ones – they are morbidly fascinating. No wonder they are sold out.

Weeping tears of blood


I know the private tuition industry in Singapore is competitive, but I think this guy has overdone his advertising. It makes me erm, uneasy. Maybe we are I am just not used to such self-promotion.

Tip: mollymeek.

April 26, 2006 at 9:00 pm 2 comments

Singapore Lecture Series at Brown (II)

About three weeks ago, I posted an email I received about the SLS at Brown. Today the New Paper had several articles on the forum. It’s a pity I can’t find any first hand accounts on Google blogsearch and technorati for this. Doesn’t any of the participants blog? Heh.

These two I found from google.

Now just who is a S’porean?
Singaporean students at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, met at a forum to ponder this question:

By Ng Tze Yong
25 April 2006

EARLIER this month, 10 young Singaporeans met Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in a TV forum.

They had tough questions. And they wanted answers.

But unknown to them, halfway across the world, other Singaporeans had the same thing on their minds.

In the city of Providence, close to New York, Singaporean students at Brown University organised their own forum.

Held on 14 and 15 Apr, the forum focused on one question: Who is a Singaporean?

Titled ‘From Dot To Globe’, it aimed at finding out what being Singaporean meant in a globalised world.

Among the four who spoke were Dr Cherian George, author of Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation and Mr Alfian Sa’at, a poet-playwright and gay activist. They were flown in from Singapore.


They were joined by Dr Linda Yuen-Ching Lim, an expert in South-east Asia economics, and acclaimed writer Dr Shirley Lim Geok-lin. Both are professors based in the US.

About 60 students, mostly Singaporeans, attended. Many travelled from universities all over north-east US.

Hot topics discussed (see report, on facing page) included Singapore’s policy towards Malays, press freedom and the Internal Security Act.

‘It was really intense,’ said Dr Shirley Lim. ‘The students asked about issues that cut really close to the bone.’

For the 20-odd student organisers, the forum was the fruit of six months of hard work. But it also turned out to be a journey of self-reflection.

Ms Poon Huiling, 20, is the co-president of the Singaporean group Brown University Merlions (BUM).

The second-year undergraduate talked about the embarrassment she faced when an American classmate asked her about Singapore.

‘I was stumped,’ she said. ‘Here I was, just having entered university and all ready to change the world, and I couldn’t even explain where I came from.’

Ms Poon is a Singapore PR. She was born in Malaysia but has been living in Singapore since she was two months old.

‘I don’t identify with Singapore, period,’ she said.

For her, Singapore is ‘a nice and safe place to live’. It is where her family and friends are. But it isn’t home.

‘If they uproot, I will go with them,’ she said casually.

For Mr Teo Eng Siang, a 19-year-old first-year undergraduate, leaving Singapore last August forced him to think about what being Singaporean means.

‘You meet people from so many different cultures and you start to wonder what’s your culture,’ he said.

‘Singaporean identity cannot be just about how much you love char kuay teow or kaya toast, right?’

Driven by this search, BUM started planning last September.

They sent out e-mail invitations to prospective speakers that included people like Prof Chan Heng Chee (Singapore’s Ambassador to the US) and former NMP Claire Chiang.

Some said no, some said maybe. Fitting the speakers’ schedules was a problem.


The organisers also sent out e-mails to Singaporean students in the region, offering their rooms for accommodation.

After ‘writing proposals after endless proposals’, BUM finally convinced various university departments, such as the International Relations department, to donate almost US$7,000 ($11,200).

The parents of the students chipped in with another US$2,000.

With this, the four speakers were flown in and hosted. This is the second forum organised by BUM.

The inaugural one last year saw speakers such as political dissident Francis Seow and film-maker Colin Goh. Titled Crossroads, the forum discussed democracy and freedom of expression in Singapore.

BUM hopes to make it an annual feature.

‘We are very passionate about it,’ said Ms Janemee Wong, 24, a third-year undergraduate.

Even with parental objections.

‘My mum told me before I came here: ‘No politics.’,’ said Ms Serene Goh, 21, a third-year undergraduate.

But she helped organise it. She was in charge of fund-raising.

‘I don’t see this as politics,’ she added.

What some speakers said:

It’s all because of the Singlish, lah!

25 April 2006

WHY can’t Singapore be like New York? Someone asked Dr Shirley Lim Geok-lin at the forum.

After all, New York is also a global city. But there, people come and go all the time.

If Singapore wants to be a global city, the student asked, why does the Government label us as ‘stayers’ and ‘quitters’.

In her lecture, Dr Lim, 62, an award-winning writer, had pointed out the paradox of Singapore the Home versus Singapore the Global City.

The Government wants Singaporeans to travel and work abroad. It wants us to be global citizens. But it also wants us to leave our hearts with Singapore.

‘To do that, you need a strong sense of Singaporean identity to begin with,’ Dr Lim said. ‘But what is Singaporean identity?’

Is it our history? Our culture? Or our food? No. Dr Lim believes it’s the Singlish, lah.

‘Singlish is the most intimate way Singaporeans connect with who they really are.’

So why is there a campaign to curtail the use of Singlish?

Maybe it stems from a belief that anything global is better and anything local inferior, she said.

We teach Shakespeare in school, not South-east Asian literature. We watch Hollywood blockbusters, not homegrown movies. We watch the EPL, not the S-League.

‘It seems we still have a colonised mentality,’ she said.


Not liberal but democratic

25 April 2006

SINGAPORE may not be liberal, but we can STYL not found claim to be a democracy in our own way.

That was Dr Cherian George’s message to the audience of Singaporean students.

Liberal democracies play a tough balancing act. Even as they heed the will of the majority, they have to respect the rights of the minority.

If 99 per cent of the population are against, say, allowing a magazine to be published, the government in a liberal society must still respect the rights of the one per cent who wants to read it.

The magazine will be brought in.

Here, the system is clear: Majority wins.

Singapore can’t claim to be liberal. But democratic? Definitely.

‘Democracy is simply the rule of the majority,’ said Dr George, 40, author of Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation.

April 25, 2006 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

Ego Boosting/ Sian Char Boh sites; JC Principal’s Opening Address

Something light hearted for a change.


Feeling down and want an ego booster? Then you should go to

All hail the mighty one! 😛


Want to make this girl (or any girl) feel special?

Then you should say:


A certain JC principal’s opening speech to the JC1s is a classic.

April 24, 2006 at 10:55 pm 3 comments

JC/poly divide revisited; Asians dominate UC campuses’ admissions

It’s no secret who’s better
By Adeline Koh

I HATE to be blunt, but JC students are better than polytechnic students, period.

Politically incorrect I may sound, but here are the facts.

Entry requirements at JCs are far more stringent than those at polys.

As a result, large numbers of students who do not make the cut for JCs are ‘forced’ to opt for a poly education.
Those who enter polys of their own choice remain the exception, rather than the rule.

Also, when the Public Service Commission awards scholarships to Singapore’s best and brightest, they look to JCs, not polytechnics.

Yes, polys have improved in recent years, but there is still a long way to go before the average poly student matches up to the average JC student.

Sad to say, but this is an open secret.

The writer is doing English honours at the National University of Singapore

Taken from Xue. Sad to see this debate continuing – Sense of self-worth being dependent on where one attended school. There’s also the ‘top’ vs ‘bottom’ JC divide.


Now it’s not just at the graduate (engr and sciences) level. I guess the stereotyping will continue, on an even bigger scale. Asian (Americans) are now the only minority group not given/considered for any kind of affirmative action on US campuses, compared to the Hispanics or blacks.

Posted on Thu, Apr. 20, 2006
Asians surpass mark at UC
By Lisa M. Krieger and Lisa Fernandez
Mercury News

Californians of Asian descent won more spots in this fall’s freshman class at the University of California than any other ethnic group, edging out white students for the first time.

The milestone follows a steady climb among Asians in the state’s leading public university system. Asians account for 36 percent of California residents admitted to study at UC schools, though they make up only 14 percent of seniors projected to graduate from the state’s public high schools.

By comparison, white students comprised 35.6 percent of those accepted; Latinos, 17.6 percent; African-Americans, 3.4 percent; and American Indians, 0.6 percent.

The increase in students of Asian descent shows up on campus in what some students proudly call “an Asian feeling” — but some say it also can translate into tension among students competing for desired spots in UC’s highly regarded schools, not to mention grades in classes. And it reflects a mix of factors, including strong performance in high school and the university system’s outreach to poorer students, including many new immigrants from Asia.

College counselors say Asian parents tend to focus on UC because it’s affordable, prestigious and offers high value for the cost. Asian students also applied to UC schools at higher rates than other students and are more likely to enroll if admitted, officials said.

“Culturally, there is a huge emphasis on education in the Asian community. The kids work very hard, academically,” said Purvi Mody, co-owner of Insight Education college counseling in Cupertino. “And the UCs offer brand-name recognition.

“Generally speaking, kids from other ethnic cultures tend to be more willing to move away from home and be open-minded about schools that may be very far away,” she added.

Asian students are also more likely than those from other ethnic groups, including whites, to have a parent with a college education, said economist Deborah Reed of the Public Policy Institute of California.

“It correlates with books and computers in the home — and a certain expectation about going to college, as well as how to prepare and apply to college,” Reed said.

Students say they feel the growing Asian presence. “If you look around the room and count the people, a lot are Asian,” said Insiyah Nomanbhoy, 19, of Cupertino, who is a freshman at UCLA.

Nomanbhoy, whose father is from Pakistan and mother is from Sri Lanka, graduated from Castilleja High School, a private all-girls school in Palo Alto. She applied to five UC schools as well as some private ones, including Stanford University, which she didn’t get into.

The clincher for choosing a UC school for Nomanbhoy was the price.

“UC is a great deal,” she said. Her tuition and housing come to about $20,000 a year — about half the price of Stanford, she said.

Nomanbhoy said she feels more comfortable with so many Asians on campus, but she sometimes perceives some discomfort from non-Asians.

“I’ve heard some Caucasian people say, `I’m in that class with Asians, so how can I expect to do really well?’ I think that’s just an excuse.”

UC staff, faculty and administration remain largely white, despite the changing student body, said L. Ling-chi Wang, chairman of UC-Berkeley’s ethnic studies department.

He also said campus services, such as counseling and cultural activities, have not shifted to reflect the growth in numbers of Asian students.

While proud of Asian students — “they should be rewarded for working hard,” he said — Wang worries about the loss of diversity on campus. “I personally enjoy teaching classes that have a good mix of races. It is more enriching and challenging to have a diversity of backgrounds,” he said.

He also worries about an anti-Asian backlash from youth who feel excluded from the UCs. The solution is to open more campuses, Wang believes, and reach out to under-served groups.

“Since the mid-1980s, all the campuses have been inching in that direction” of increased Asians, he said.

“It is a very important challenge to the future of race relations in California,” he said. “In some ways, the UCs are 15 to 20 years ahead of the rest of the state. In this way, we are seeing further down the road.”

For more information about UC’s admitted students, see:
Contact Lisa M Krieger at (650) 688-7565 or

April 24, 2006 at 1:43 pm 3 comments

On Social Protocols, Duties and Opportunities

A close female platonic friend of mine (J.) was pleasantly surprised to see me online on MSN earlier. She was wondering why I had stopped calling her after she got attached. (BTW, She will be getting married soon.)

I obey social protocols. I do not like my girl to be close to another guy who is not her brother(s) or father (or some other close male relatives). I expect other guys to feel similarly. Call me a cynic, but I do not believe two (straight) friends of opposite sex can ever be true close, platonic friends. Unfortunately some f*ckers never play by the rules.

Tongues will start wagging if they have significant others and something will definitely happen. I know of two cases where the girl ended up with the “good” friend after breaking up with her boyfriend. The ex was always running to her “good” friend to seek his opinions (or solace?) whenever we had arguments or disagreements. I was upset but I trusted her word that they had nothing going on between them. They got together soon after we broke up. (Last I heard from a mutual friend they are getting married next year.) True, there were other reasons at play, but now I will automatically presume guilt if the SO is close to another male.

Edit (22 Apr): Angeline’s comments (from a girl’s POV).


It sucks to be the eldest and only grandson (I am discounting the 表 cousins), and you get reminded of it in ever increasing frequency in your calls home. I guess you know the reasons (in the East Asian context).


J. was also wondering why the girls I am dating/dated are/were all very “intelligen” [sic]. Scholars, from top schools/universities etc.

I can’t help it, can I? Look at the people I am hanging out with.

Food for thought: Educational (and earning power) differences. What’s it like to date someone who is not a graduate? Will your outlook in life and interests differ greatly?

April 20, 2006 at 8:30 pm 6 comments

Combining Speed, Power and Agility

that is Taekwondo (and most of the other Martial Arts schools).

Watching this promotional video is making me feel nostalgic and wanting to take up the sport again. It was a pity I stopped after JC. (I started in primary 4.)

*Sigh*, now I don’t think I have that kind of flexibility.

Greatest achievement? Getting that 1st Poom (with the conversion to 1st Dan in JC days), and mentoring the junior members.

My first instructor was a Tay fellow, and we used to think he was cool as he would drive up to the community center in his bike wearing his TKD uniform with this ‘beng’ pair of sunglasses. He reminded me of ‘Ryu’ of the Street Fighter series. But more importantly we respected (and were in awe) of his speed, power and agility when it came to sparring. It was only later that we got to know he was a 3rd Dan. His jumping side and front kicks were legendary and woe to the other party on the receiving end.

Now the STF has changed its logo. I used to have this sewn on my left shoulder sleeve.

Image Hosted by

Sparrings were always nice (and *exciting*), especially during the ‘gradings’ that used to be held in Toa Payoh Sports Hall where we would be assigned partners strangers from other training centers/schools. Wearing that groin guard was something that I hated but necessary, since some idiots were always kicking below the belt. 😛

Wong Liang Ming was the most well-known TKD exponent in my days, and she would drop by our center on some days for supervision of our trainings. She was one of my first crushes. Heh heh.

Some basic TKD commands (that I used frequently):

Attention: Charyot (I pronounced as cho-di-yo)

Bow: Kyung-rae (Ki-on-ae)

Ready/Sparring Stance: Joonbi

Rest: Sho

April 18, 2006 at 10:25 pm Leave a comment

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