Archive for May, 2006

Of helicopter parents and trophy children

Call me slow, since it is only a fortnight ago that I finally came across the terms “helicopter parents” and “trophy children“. And their descriptions resonated so strongly with me. I wonder what the Singlish (or ‘local’) equivalents are. (I do not think it is kiasuism.)

I don’t know about your families, but in mine, the parental units (with their siblings aka aunts and uncles) had a very strong influence total control over what/how we are to learn/lead our lives. From swimming to martial arts to music classes to speech and drama to private tuition to driving lessons, my cousins and I all had our timetables planned out; these “ECAs” were to complement our normal school schedules. Our academic grades/performance were always carefully vetted when the report books/exam scripts were brought home – areas which needed “improvements” were immediately zoomed in and corrective/preventive measures put in place. This can range anywhere from more private tuition to calling up the teacher(s) to demand why lousy grades were given to doing the actual artwork/drawings in order to beat the rest of your classmates. For the cases where the exam papers were not returned, you could almost always expect the matriarch to make a personal call to school to speak to the teacher.

Of course things didn’t stop after JC (or high school) – decisions like the choice of degree course, which university to go to, scholarships to apply for, choice of your other half and even companies to send your resume to (after graduation) all had a heavy parental hand behind it (for approval). It is like, well, our lives had become theirs to lead.

So you know why I actually felt happy when I left Singapore’s shores, and weird when I returned for the annual vacations. No one wants to grow up, but everyone needs space to grow. Now? I still get the ring from home if I had not called during the regular time slots. Always the usual: How come you didn’t call? Forgot? So what have you been up to for the past x days? Thankfully they don’t fly over to give me a earful. Same case for a cousin. His mum demands that he call home everyday, even if there is nothing to update them about.

While modern technology like the internet and cheap international calls has made the world smaller, it also ties us down. I hope it does not kill us. Let me soar and reach for my own skies!

Related: Overzealous parenting, Mama’s boy, Old wounds


May 27, 2006 at 7:15 pm 5 comments

Just for the record…and comparison

It’s like getting accepted into MIT or Caltech for undergrad is no guarantee that one will win a Nobel Prize. Should the science/math prodigies be granted deferment then? Reading Mr Wang’s post – I like the comment given by Flosduellatorum:

Let’s say I am a karate champion, or a pro boxer, can I also say that I should have deferment, so that I can further my path through these important years that I can never get back?

Oh no, you might say, because karate or boxing is different from music. So here comes the leftist prejudice that values one activity over another.

Or maybe I have no talent at all, but I need to work during this period, to help out my family. Also a very good reason. But deferment? Also no.

So why should Ike get deferred? Because he is a musician?

Bottomline: It sucks big time to be a male Singaporean (in Singapore; if he is overseas, he can always choose never to go back). tbhjwh‘s question to me. It is not wrong to love your children – but forcibly binding them to you will only end up killing them (and their dreams).

Pressures Greater for Juilliard Graduates

By VERENA DOBNIK, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 23, 2006 1:11 PM ET

Violinist William Harvey is leaving the Juilliard School with a diploma from one of the world’s finest training grounds for musicians, dancers and actors — following in the footsteps of alumni like Wynton Marsalis and Robin Williams.

But his immediate future isn’t so glamorous.

“I’m moving into an apartment with two other guys — I get the living room. And then, I hope my cell phone rings — with jobs,” says the 23-year-old from Indianapolis.

This is Juilliard’s 100th year, and Harvey is one of 263 students set to graduate Friday at Lincoln Center.

For the graduates, “the pressures are greater now than, say, 15 or 20 years ago,” said James DePreist, 69, conductor of The Juilliard Orchestra.

“People are waiting in line for the few jobs that do exist. The situation is precarious.” A graduate auditioning for a seat in a major American orchestra these days typically faces 100 or more competitors for the same job.

Still, Juilliard produces graduates as much in demand as any in the arts industries. About 75 percent end up working in the field they studied — whether as elementary teachers or Carnegie Hall soloists. But the road to a creative life is sprinkled with blood, sweat and tears.

“Someone has to die before you find a practice room,” Harvey jokes about the rooms that ring Juilliard’s fourth floor.

In this assembly line of windowless cubicles amid Manhattan’s urban sprawl, students spend endless hours practicing while others circle the hallways — sometimes as long as an hour — just waiting to nab a room the minute someone exits. A young woman finally finds one, only to have to squeeze her mammoth harp past a Steinway grand into a tight corner. She looks thrilled, even if her harp plucks mix with the faint sound of a cello wafting through a wall.

“It’s like prison — with cellos,” Robin Williams quipped about the school he attended, speaking on video at Juilliard’s centennial gala performance this spring, televised live nationally.

It’s hardly prison, but rather a life chosen by about 800 students from around the world who competed fiercely to get into Juilliard. And as this year’s graduates leave, they face a world where classical music represents only 3 percent of the recording market.

“You’re spending every waking hour of your life throwing yourself at a profession with absolutely no guarantee of any monetary reward. But you do it because you love it,” Harvey said.

It’s also a grueling life. Dancers’ overtaxed feet bleed, sweat trickles down a violinist’s brow in a practice room, pianists find themselves weeping alone at the dorm after missing too many notes at a concert. Technical perfection is the norm here — and flaws are easily overheard by keen ears waiting outside practice rooms.

Harvey survived some withering Juilliard competition. “One day, this guy walked into my practice room and said, ‘Your octaves are out of tune. I can play the best octaves in the world.’ And he lifted up his violin and showed me.”

“Everyone here is driven — by ego or commitment or obsession,” said Kate Hirstein, a 23-year-old from Dubuque, Iowa, who has been dancing since she was 9 and is now busy auditioning for dance jobs. “It’s easy to let other people’s energies affect you. You must separate your own skills from what others are doing.”

Among next year’s graduates is Aaron Diehl, a jazz pianist whom Marsalis — this year’s commencement speaker — has dubbed “the Real Diehl.”

At 20, the jazz whiz from Columbus, Ohio, is already getting prestigious gigs. He played for several nights with a combo at the new Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in Manhattan’s Time Warner building, after dashing around Juilliard all day in his formal evening suit.

“That was nice, I enjoyed that!” he said, beaming at a saxophone player as they rehearsed in a tight practice room, topping the time with a lush improvisation on a tune by the pianist and composer Hank Jones.

The kind of career promise Diehl enjoys is shared by perhaps only a few dozen others in the graduating class — some getting bachelor’s degrees, others post-graduate diplomas.

Violinist Tai Murray, a 23-year-old from Chicago who spent two years getting her artist’s diploma, is also among the lucky ones. She had a budding career before she got to Juilliard, starting with solo concerts when she was 9. She now has a New York manager and a CD on the way, and she lives in her own Manhattan apartment on money earned playing concerts.

“For me, Juilliard was a haven. It gave me a base to hold on to in the bigness of New York,” said Murray, who recently returned from an appearance with an orchestra in Denmark.

In the end, said Harvey, each Juilliard graduate must leave with a very personal definition of why they take on the challenge of an artistic profession.

His answer came after Sept. 11, 2001, when he played the violin for an Army regiment that had just returned from rescue work at ground zero.

“At Juilliard, kids are hypercritical of each other and very competitive,” he said. “But this wasn’t about that. The soldiers didn’t care that I had so many memory slips I lost count. They didn’t care. I’ve never seen a more appreciative audience, and I’ve never understood so fully what it means to communicate music to other people.”

Background: My previous entry.

Edit (27 May): I like the entry by Kelvin, with a link to the background of the ending of the US draft.

Future male Singaporeans, I weep for you. Remember, if your future parents choose not to give birth to you in Singapore, it is for your own good. You will thank them later. As for present Singaporeans like Ike, there will never be a time when you can be thankful just as Americans are now.

May 24, 2006 at 1:50 pm 4 comments

That BS Ad, and I don’t think it’s bullshit; Pointer Journal; English Language

Edit (June 4): See Mr Wang’s post.

Got to see it for myself today, thanks to the link from CynicsCentral. I think NUS Business School has got some American PR company to do their ads.

Now the question becomes – does it have the money (US$ 1 billion anyone?) to propel itself into the top-tier of academic powerhouses? Will NUS students be willing to pay for an ‘elite’ education? Anyway, I don’t think they will have a say. Be prepared to shell out more $$$!

It will probably attempt to follow what I had read about WashU and NYU:

The New York Times
Monday, Dec. 22, 2003

Secret of one college’s success is aid for academic achievers

By Greg Winter

Less than 30 years ago, Washington University was so obscure that the trustees decided to stick “in St. Louis” at the end of its name, exasperated by the perennial question “So, where are you guys anyway? Seattle or D.C.?”

Today, Washington University in St. Louis has 15 times as many applicants as it enrolls. Beyond that, the former “streetcar college,” as it once called itself, pierced the Top 10 circle of U.S. News & World Report rankings this year, humbling several Ivy League institutions along the way, including Brown, Cornell and Columbia.

Read more

The New York Times
March 20, 1995.

“A Decade and a Billion Dollars Put New York U. in First Rank”.

By William H. Honan

Ten years ago, New York University was what collegebound students from New York regarded as a safety school, fourth or fifth on their application lists. If you didn’t get into Cornell or Brandeis or Brown University, you could always commute to N.Y.U.

But the administration, doing some long-range planning, decided that being the safety school was not good enough. So in 1984, it began a brash campaign aimed at moving the school into the nation’s top tier of universities. And according to academics around the country who have looked on with envy, the strategy worked.

Read more

Oh yeah, the market rate now is > US$1 billion:

The New York Times
May 21, 2006

With $4 Billion, Columbia Raises Fund-Drive Ante


The University of Virginia will announce a $3 billion fund-raising drive in the fall. New York University is in the middle of a $2.5 billion campaign. And officials at Columbia University say they are moving ahead with plans for the largest university campaign so far, a push to raise $4 billion over seven years.

These efforts are a sign of the fierce competition among major universities as they look to improve their rankings and images, attract students and grab star faculty members. Officials at elite institutions nationwide say that simply to keep up they must build athletic facilities and science centers, pursue research grants and donors, court big-name faculty members and stave off raids, and lay the foundation for eye-popping fund-raising campaigns.

“The whole higher education world is in a constant race,” said Stephen J. Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University and a Columbia alumnus. “Money is the mother’s milk of academic quality, because it pays for the people, which is to say professors and students, through salaries and scholarships, and it pays for the stuff, which is to say computers and libraries and laboratories and classrooms. Everybody needs more all the time.”

Read more


The Pointer journal (and the CDF Essay Competition).

… is limited to SAF officers, Warrant Officers and DSTA personnel…”Enlistees and Specialists are (probably) too stupid to qualify”. – gssq

The SAF and its rank hierarchy.

Subscription is compulsory for all active uniformed SAF Officers, Warrant Officers and Officer Cadets.

I am leaving for overseas duty/study soon. Will I continue to receive POINTER?
You will continue to receive POINTER as long as you remain on MINDEF’s payroll as deductions will continue to be made from your salary. However, in view of high overseas postage cost, you will receive the journal at your local residential address.

Then one subscribes for fuck???


The English Language
Posted on May 23rd, 2006

What has amazed me about the whole saga about Gayle Goh – the Singapore student who commented on a minister and gained overnight fame for it – is her ability with the language. I may not agree with all her views but I have to say she wields the English Language very well. Her sentences are concise – conveying her meaning well without being too complicated – and the vocabulary precise.

It is certainly a change from the students around me who struggle with expressing their thoughts in English, who cannot tell the difference between they’re and their, who cannot use the language to put across their thoughts. Which is sad because these students have thoughts and opinions too but these opinions and thoughts are all locked up in their head because they cannot find the words or sentences to express them.

Ever since I was posted to my school, I have always been intrigued by the low levels of functional literacy I see there. I wonder why they understand the individual meanings of words but are unable to comprehend when these words are put together. I wonder why they cannot understand movies. And I realised their weakness with the language has made them weak in many other subjects simple because they do not understand what they read.

I am always drawn to people who can and do write well (grammar). ANd I Dun MeAn LiKe ThIs. Oh, spelling (and thus vocabulary) matters too. That is why I find Scrabble fun. (Incidentally, it is an NT activity.)

Colombia =/= Columbia. 😛

May 23, 2006 at 3:56 pm 9 comments

Some random facts about takchek’s past

Tagged by PS. (Giving her face – I don’t do meme) 😛

…write a post with 24 weird facts/things/habits about yourself (not in chronological order)

1. I have never lived in a HDB flat/housing estate, or any high rise buildings. I spent my childhood days in Bukit Timah before heading to Siglap when I started primary school.

2. Because of 1, I have never really understood what the fuss was about with HDB upgrading (especially during elections time).

3. I had (and I think my mum still keeps them for me) over 200 toy cars, ~ 20 airplanes of various sorts – from the Red Baron’s Fokker WWI tri-plane to the F-16 jet, and 50 other various miniature models (tanks and warships). On my 6th birthday, my dad assembled for me a 1/200 scale model (by Hasegawa) of an Air France Boeing 747-200. Complete with decals stuck on it. I later (at age 8) assembled by myself a Delta Boeing 767 – but it was too fugly with glue marks all over.

4. I used to badger my parents to bring me to the (Changi) airport to see the planes take off and land. Probably that was why my dad built for me the Air France jet model. The plane is STILL intact.

5. I was also into Transformers. My favorite was Starscream – because it was a F-15 who could become a laser gun toting robot. It was a birthday gift from my folks.

6. In primary 2, I used my pocket money to buy a 1/700 scale Imperial Japanese Navy Destroyer – the IJN Fubuki. A year later, my dad gave me hardcover books on topics about the IJN and Luftwaffe. By sec 2 in my model kit collection I had have a destroyer , a light cruiser (Agano), a heavy cruiser (Furutaka), two submarines (I-16 and I-58), two aircraft carriers (Shinano and USS Enterprise CV-6) and the Kriegsmarine’s battlecruiser Scharnhost. When I felt boliao, I had them deployed in fleet formation and pretended I was a fleet Admiral.

7. I gave an organ performance at the YMCA at 6 playing “Romance“. I was then with the Yamaha Music School. But I had no interest in music and my mum allowed me to stop.

8. I knew more about WWII than my classmates and (history) teachers in DHS. In a sec 2 history lesson I rattled off the names of the 6 Jap carriers and the types of aircraft and attack techniques they used against the US pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. The teacher said it was too much information and won’t be needed in the exams.

9. I topped history in DHS, and was awarded the book prize. (Chao mugger)

10. I never really appreciated literature, and did not take E.lit or C.lit as my humanities subject for the ‘O’ Levels. I read a lot of non-fiction books.

11. I was offered the GEP in Primary 3 (then it was P3 not P4) but my mum wanted me to have a more ‘normal’ education. So I stayed put in my primary school.

12. I got my driver’s license in Singapore at age 18. I drove to school (RJC) several times in my dad’s car.

13. I had a traumatic experience with the learning of the Chinese language in secondary school. Until the day I left DHS, I couldn’t forgive the teachers even though I knew they wanted us to get the best grades possible.

14. In my free time in JC, if I was not practising TKD, I would be solving my Chem ‘S’ questions for relaxation. I enjoyed Organic Chemistry. (Nerd!)

15. I was very upset when I failed to make the cut by two points to compete for the Singapore Chemistry Olympiad. I actually went home to cry.

16. I was in a scholar platoon in BMT. In my first interview with the PC (platoon commander), I asked him about the possible routes a Singaporean male can take to get into West Point. One of my platoon mates was later awarded the SAF Overseas Scholarship. Thankfully he did not go to West Point. (Else he would have lots to say to me.)

17. My SAT (I and II), TOEFL and two US universities’ application fees were paid for by PSC.

18. I OOCed (out of course) in OCS and was happy about it. I later became a project clerk in a higher (Formation) HQ and received Cat 2A clearance to handle classified MINDEF documents.

19. The majority of my Singaporean (or those who studied in Singapore) friends hailed from only 3 JCs – RJC, HCJC and VJC. I have fewer than 5 friends who took the poly route, and only 1 from ITE. I got to know all my non-JC friends while serving in the army.

20. I had two girlfriends and both were scholars – the first was from RGS/RJC and the second was a Sembcorp scholar.

21. I applied to 10 universities (in 4 countries: US, UK, Singapore and Canada) for my undergrad and 5 US ones for grad school. 3 rejected me.

22. I spent 2.5 years to complete my bachelor’s degree in my US institution and the courseload was hell. I graduated in the top 10% in my college and was awarded honors.

23. I have never held any jobs in Singapore save for a brief stint with A*star as a Young Aspiring Scientist. (NS doesn’t count.) I have worked in Japan under the JETRO scheme while as an undergrad during the summer.

24. I watched full-blown hard-core porn videos for the first time when I was in Japan, and visited Ropponggi. My Japanese co-workers exposed me to the seedy night life, and I touched women (other than my SO) inappropriately. But my greatest achievement (the previous two were ‘learning’ experiences) was climbing to the top of Mt. Fuji.


I would like to tag: loiseaurebelle, angeline, -ben, eileen chew, biao, unknown. Others are welcome to join in.

May 18, 2006 at 10:00 pm 7 comments

To the Nice Guys and Girls

Taken from here and here. Better to be heartless and direct sometimes.

Ode to the Nice Guys
This rant was written for the Wharton Undergraduate Journal

This is a tribute to the nice guys. The nice guys that finish last, that never become more than friends, that endure hours of whining and bitching about what assholes guys are, while disproving the very point. This is dedicated to those guys who always provide a shoulder to lean on but restrain themselves to tentative hugs, those guys who hold open doors and give reassuring pats on the back and sit patiently outside the changing room at department stores. This is in honor of the guys that obligingly reiterate how cute/beautiful/smart/funny/sexy their female friends are at the appropriate moment, because they know most girls need that litany of support. This is in honor of the guys with open minds, with laid-back attitudes, with honest concern. This is in honor of the guys who respect a girl’s every facet, from her privacy to her theology to her clothing style.

This is for the guys who escort their drunk, bewildered female friends back from parties and never take advantage once they’re at her door, for the guys who accompany girls to bars as buffers against the rest of the creepy male population, for the guys who know a girl is fishing for compliments but give them out anyway, for the guys who always play by the rules in a game where the rules favor cheaters, for the guys who are accredited as boyfriend material but somehow don’t end up being boyfriends, for all the nice guys who are overlooked, underestimated, and unappreciated, for all the nice guys who are manipulated, misled, and unjustly abandoned, this is for you.

This is for that time she left 40 urgent messages on your cell phone, and when you called her back, she spent three hours painstakingly dissecting two sentences her boyfriend said to her over dinner. And even though you thought her boyfriend was a chump and a jerk, you assured her that it was all ok and she shouldn’t worry about it. This is for that time she interrupted the best killing spree you’d ever orchestrated in GTA3 to rant about a rumor that romantically linked her and the guy she thinks is the most repulsive person in the world. And even though you thought it was immature and you had nothing against the guy, you paused the game for two hours and helped her concoct a counter-rumor to spread around the floor. This is also for that time she didn’t have a date, so after numerous vows that there was nothing “serious” between the two of you, she dragged you to a party where you knew nobody, the beer was awful, and she flirted shamelessly with you, justifying each fit of reckless teasing by announcing to everyone: “oh, but we’re just friends!” And even though you were invited purely as a symbolic warm body for her ego, you went anyways. Because you’re nice like that.

The nice guys don’t often get credit where credit is due. And perhaps more disturbing, the nice guys don’t seem to get laid as often as they should. And I wish I could logically explain this trend, but I can’t. From what I have observed on campus and what I have learned from talking to friends at other schools and in the workplace, the only conclusion I can form is that many girls are just illogical, manipulative bitches. Many of them claim they just want to date a nice guy, but when presented with such a specimen, they say irrational, confusing things such as “oh, he’s too nice to date” or “he would be a good boyfriend but he’s not for me” or “he already puts up with so much from me, I couldn’t possibly ask him out!” or the most frustrating of all: “no, it would ruin our friendship.” Yet, they continue to lament the lack of datable men in the world, and they expect their too-nice-to-date male friends to sympathize and apologize for the men that are jerks. Sorry, guys, girls like that are beyond my ability to fathom. I can’t figure out why the connection breaks down between what they say (I want a nice guy!) and what they do (I’m going to sleep with this complete ass now!). But one thing I can do, is say that the nice-guy-finishes-last phenomenon doesn’t last forever. There are definitely many girls who grow out of that train of thought and realize they should be dating the nice guys, not taking them for granted. The tricky part is finding those girls, and even trickier, finding the ones that are single.

So, until those girls are found, I propose a toast to all the nice guys. You know who you are, and I know you’re sick of hearing yourself described as ubiquitously nice. But the truth of the matter is, the world needs your patience in the department store, your holding open of doors, your party escorting services, your propensity to be a sucker for a pretty smile. For all the crazy, inane, absurd things you tolerate, for all the situations where you are the faceless, nameless hero, my accolades, my acknowledgement, and my gratitude go out to you. You do have credibility in this society, and your well deserved vindication is coming.

Fu-zu Jen, SEAS/WH, 2003

Ode to the Nice Girls

This rant was written because a nice girl finally snapped.

I’ve read the tribute to the nice guys; this is my response.

This is my tribute to the nice girls. To the nice girls who are overlooked, who become friends and nothing more, who spend hours fixating upon their looks and their personalities and their actions because it must be they that are doing something wrong. This is for the girls who don’t give it up on the first date, who don’t want to play mind games, who provide a comforting hug and a supportive audience for a story they’ve heard a thousand times. This is for the girls who are too shy to admit their feelings, so they watch their best friends hook up with any guy they’re ever attracted to. This is for the girls who can’t have a relationship because they can’t flirt. This is for the girls who have gotten the reputation of being the “nice girl” or the girl who doesn’t really want a boyfriend anyway, so admitting their love is next to impossible. This is for the girls who understand that they aren’t perfect and that the guys they’re interested in aren’t either, for the girls who flirt and laugh and worry and obsess over the slightest glance, whisper, touch, because somehow they are able to keep alive that hope that maybe… maybe this time he’ll have understood. This is an homage to the girls who laugh loud and often, who are comfortable in skirts and sweats and combat boots, who care more than they should for guys who don’t deserve their attention. (*that can be debated*) This is for those girls who have been in the trenches, who have watched other girls time and time again fake up and make up and fuck up the guys in their lives without saying a word. This is for the girls who have been there from the beginning and have heard the trite words of advice, from “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” to “time heals all wounds.” This is to honor those girls who know that guys are just as scared as they are, who know that they deserve better, who are seeking to find it.

This is for the girls who have never been in love, but know that it’s an experience that they don’t want to miss out on. For the girls who have sought a night with friends and been greeted by a night of catcalling, rude comments and explicit invitations that they’d rather not have experienced. This is for the girls who have spent their weekends sitting on the sidelines of a beer pong tournament or a case race, or playing Florence Nightingale for a vomiting guy friend or a comatose crush, who have received a drunk phone call just before dawn from someone who doesn’t care enough to invite them over but is still willing to pass out in their bed. This is for the girls who have left sad song lyrics in their away messages, who have tried to make someone understand through a subliminally appealing profile, who have time and time again dropped their male friend hint after hint after hint only to watch him chase after the first blonde girl in a skirt. This is for the girls who have been told that they’re too good or too smart or too pretty, who have been given compliments as a way of breaking off a relationship, who have ever been told they are only wanted as a friend.

This one’s for the girls who you can take home to mom, but won’t because it’s easier to sleep with a whore than foster a relationship; this is for the girls who have been led on by words and kisses and touches, all of which were either only true for the moment, or never real to begin with. This is for the girls who have allowed a guy into their head and heart and bed, only to discover that he’s just not ready, he’s just not over her, he’s just not looking to be tied down; this is for the girls who believe the excuses because it’s easier to believe that it’s not that they don’t want you, it’s that they don’t want anyone. This is for the girls who have had their hearts broken and their hopes dashed by someone too cavalier to have cared in the first place; this is for the nights spent dissecting every word and syllable and inflection in his speech, for the nights when you’ve returned home alone, for the nights when you’ve seen from across the room him leaning a little too close, or standing a little too near, or talking a little too softly for the girl he’s with to be a random hookup. This is for the girls who have endured party after party in his presence, finally having realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t want a relationship: it was that he didn’t want you. I honor you for the night his dog died or his grandmother died or his little brother crashed his car and you held him, thinking that if you only comforted him just right, or said the right words, or rubbed his back in the right way then perhaps he’d realize what it was that he already had. This is for the night you realized that it would never happen, and the sunrise you saw the next morning after failing to sleep.

This is for the “I really like you, so let’s still be friends” comment after you read more into a situation than he ever intended; this is for never realizing that when you choose friends, you seldom choose those which make you cry yourself to sleep. This is for the hugs you’ve received from your female friends, for the nights they’ve reassured you that you are beautiful and intelligent and amazing and loyal and truly worthy of a great guy; this is for the despair you all felt as you sat in the aftermath of your tears, knowing that that night the only companionship you’d have was with a pillow and your teddy bear. This is for the girls who have been used and abused, who have endured what he was giving because at least he was giving something; this is for the stupidity of the nights we’ve believed that something was better than nothing, though his something was nothing we’d have ever wanted. This is for the girls who have been satisified with too little and who have learned never to expect anything more: for the girls who don’t think that they deserve more, because they’ve been conditioned for so long to accept the scraps thrown to them by guys.

This is what I don’t understand. Men sit and question and whine that girls are only attracted to the mean guys, the guys who berate them and belittle them and don’t appreciate them and don’t want them; who use them for sex and think of little else than where their next conquest will be made. Men complain that they never meet nice girls, girls who are genuinely interested and compelling, who are intelligent and sweet and smart and beautiful; men despair that no good women want to share in their lives, that girls play mindgames, that girls love to keep them hanging. Yet, men, I ask you: were you to meet one of these genuinely interested, thrillingly compelling, interesting and intelligent and sweet and beautiful and smart girls, were you to give her your number and wait for her to call… and if you were to receive a call from her the next day and she, in her truthful, loyal, intelligent and straightforward nice girl fashion, were to tell you that she finds you intriguing and attractive and interesting and worth her time and perhaps material from which she could fashion a boyfriend, would you or would you not immediately call your friends to tell them of the “stalker chick” you’d met the night prior, who called you and wore her heart on her sleeve and told the truth? And would you, or would you not, refuse to make plans with her, speak with her, see her again, and once again return to the bar or club or party scene and search once more for this “nice girl” who you just cannot seem to find? Because therein lies the truth, guys: we nice girls are everywhere. But you’re not looking for a nice girl. You’re not looking for someone genuinely interested in your intermural basketball game, or your anatomy midterm grade, or that argument you keep having with your father; you’re looking for a quick fix, a night when you can pretend to have a connection with another human being which is just as disposable as the condom you were using during it.

So don’t say you’re on the lookout for nice girls, guys, when you pass us up on every step you take. Sometimes we go undercover; sometimes we go in disguise: sometimes when that girl in the low cut shirt or the too tight miniskirt won’t answer your catcalls, sometimes you’re looking at a nice girl in whore’s clothing – – we might say we like the attention, we might blush and giggle and turn back to our friends, but we’re all thinking the same thing: “This isn’t me. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be wearing a teeshirt and flannel shorts, I’ll have slept alone and I’ll be making my hungover best friend breakfast. See through the disguise. See me.” You never do. Why? Because you only see the exterior, you only see the slutty girl who welcomes those advances. You don’t want the nice girl.. so don’t say you’re looking for a relationship: relationships take time and energy and intent, three things we’re willing to extend – – but in return, we’re looking for compassion and loyalty and trust, three things you never seem willing to express. Maybe nice guys finish last, but in the race they’re running they’re chasing after the whores and the sluts and the easy-targets… the nice girls are waiting at the finish line with water and towels and a congradulatory hug (and yes, if she’s a nice girl and she likes you, the sweatiness probably won’t matter), hoping against hope that maybe you’ll realize that they’re the ones that you want at the end of that silly race.

So maybe it won’t last forever. Maybe some of those guys in that race will turn in their running shoes and make their way to the concession stand where we’re waiting; however, until that happens, we still have each other, that silly race to watch, and all the chocolate we can eat (because what’s a concession stand at a race without some chocolate?)

By Jessica Leigh Griffith
Copyright 2004-2005 by Jessica Leigh Griffith

May 18, 2006 at 3:07 pm 2 comments

Between a rock and a hard place

The national daily today published five readers’ letters, all urging MINDEF to reconsider its conscription policy to allow a talented teen to defer his NS to attend one of the finest and most prestigious music schools in the US.

Much as I sympathise with him, but well, to use a SAF term – LPPL. This is the price to pay for being a male Singapore citizen/2nd generation PR. All of us who went through the system also had our dreams be put on hold for 2 (or 2.5) years. Are our dreams and talents any less worthy than his then?

Incidentally, the new MINDEF conscription policy came in the wake of the Melvyn Tan saga.

One of the forum letters:

May 17, 2006
Give Ike a chance to pursue his dreams

I READ with dismay that 17-year-old violinist Ike See may have to turn down a scholarship to study at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in the United States because he has been denied deferment from national service.

I have had the honour to witness Ike play (and conduct) on many occasions – charity events, chamber recitals, symphonic concerts, competitions (from which he emerged champion three times) and masterclasses. The standard and maturity of his musicality is unlike that of any other young musician I have seen.

The combination of sheer musical talent and skill, diligence and unassuming personality is probably the reason why he is one of the few Singaporeans to be accepted into the Juilliard School, Peabody Conservatory, New England Conservatory and Curtis Institute of Music. To have been offered a US$114,000 (S$182,400) scholarship to study at the latter just goes to show how bright a future Ike has and how much faith professional musicians from the West have in wanting to nurture this bright talent from Singapore.

Abigail Sin, Clare Yeo, Gabriel Ng and Loh Junhong have all been given a chance to pursue their dreams. They have even had their experiences glorified and sensationalised by the media. How is Ike any different? Because he is a more mature, less affluent, male Singaporean?

Will letting one young man have his national service deferred for a few years be a detriment to the country? Why must Ike’s loyalty to his country be placed in doubt, and why should he be treated like a potential Melvyn Tan? To quote the boy himself, ‘I understand that serving my nation is important and I will do so eventually.’

I would be very perturbed if Ike has to give up the opportunity of a lifetime in his prime because of some red tape in a conscription policy.

It is not enough to build a conservatory, put on concerts and say we support youths and the arts. Show it.

Wong You Min

Edit (17 May): KTM had put up all 5 letters on his blog.

May 16, 2006 at 8:10 pm 8 comments

Is higher education a right or privilege?

France’s example serves as a good case study. Just wondering if opening up university places to more people is a good idea. Hmm…

The New York Times

May 12, 2006
Higher Learning in France Clings to Its Old Ways

NANTERRE, France — There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.

The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only 30 of the library’s 100 computers have Internet access.

The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many have no office. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day the campus is largely empty.

Sandwiched between a prison and an unemployment office just outside Paris, the university here is neither the best nor the worst place to study in this fairly wealthy country. Rather, it reflects the crisis of France’s archaic state-owned university system: overcrowded, underfinanced, disorganized and resistant to the changes demanded by the outside world.

“In the United States, your university system is one of the drivers of American prosperity,” said Claude Allègre, a former education minister who tried without success to reform French universities. “But here, we simply don’t invest enough. Universities are poor. They’re not a priority either for the state or the private sector. If we don’t reverse this trend, we will kill the new generation.”

It was student discontent on campuses across France that fired up the recent protests against a law that would have made it easier for employers to dismiss young workers. College students were driven by fear that their education was worth little and that after graduation they would not find jobs.

The protests closed or disrupted a majority of France’s universities for weeks, labor unions declared solidarity and eventually the government was forced to withdraw the law.

“Universities are factories,” said Christine le Forestier, 24, a 2005 graduate of Nanterre with a master’s degree who has not found a stable job. “They are machines to turn out thousands and thousands of students who have learned all about theory but nothing practical. A diploma is worth nothing in the real world.”

The problems stem in part from the student revolts of May 1968, which grew out of an unexceptional event at Nanterre the year before. One March evening, male students protesting the sexual segregation of the dormitories occupied the women’s dormitory and were evicted by the police.

A year later, Nanterre students protesting the war in Vietnam occupied the administration building, the first such action by students at a French university. The student revolt spread, turning into a mass movement aimed at transforming the authoritarian, elitist French system of governance. Ultimately 10 million workers left their jobs in a strike that came close to forcing de Gaulle from power.

One result was that the country’s university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor’s degree plummeted.

But the state failed to invest much in buildings, facilities and professors’ salaries to make the system work. Today the French government allocates about $8,500 a year to each university student, about 40 percent less than what it invests in each high school student.

Most students are required to attend the universities closest to their high schools. Although certain universities excel in specific fields of study, the course offerings in, say, history or literature are generally the same throughout the country.

Compounding the problem, France is caught between its official promotion of the republican notion of equality and its commitment to the nurturing of an elite cadre of future leaders and entrepreneurs.

Only 4 percent of French students make it into the most competitive French universities — the public “grandes écoles.” But the grandes écoles, along with a swath of semiprivate preparatory schools, absorb 30 percent of the public budget.

They are well-organized, well-equipped, overwhelmingly white and upper middle class, and infused with the certainty that their graduates will take the best jobs in government and the private sector. Students are even paid to attend.

The practice in the United States of private endowments providing a large chunk of college budgets is seen as strange in France. Tuition is about $250 a year, hardly a sufficient source of income for colleges.

But asking the French to pay more of their way in college seems out of the question. When the government proposed a reform in 2003 to streamline curriculums and budgets by allowing each university more flexibility and independence, students and professors rebelled.

They saw the initiative as a step toward privatization of higher education that they feared would lead to higher fees and threaten the universal right of high school graduates to a college education. The government backed down.

At Nanterre, Alexandre Frydlender, 19, a second-year student in law and history, complained about the lack of courses in English for students of international law. But asked whether he would be willing to pay a higher fee for better services, he replied: “The university is a public service. The state must pay.”

A poster that hangs throughout the campus halls echoed that sentiment: “To study is a right, not a privilege.”

Professors lack the standing and the salaries of the private sector. A starting instructor can earn less than $20,000 a year; the most senior professor in France earns about $75,000 a year. Research among the faculty is not a priority.

Because students generally are required to attend the university closest to home, most do not live on campus.

At Nanterre, for example, there are only 1,050 dormitory rooms and a long waiting list. The amenities are few. Twenty-two students share three toilets, three showers and a small kitchen furnished with only a sink and a few electric burners.

“There’s no place where students can hang out, no place to play cards or to watch a movie,” said Jean Giraud, 20, a second-year law student who lives in one of the dorms. “People come for class and then go home.”

While students are ready to protest against something they dislike, there is little sense of belonging or pride in one’s surroundings. During the recent protests over the contested labor law, that attitude of alienation contributed to the destruction of property, even computers and books, at some universities.

The protests also were the latest warning to the French government and private corporations that the university system needs fixing. Officials, entrepreneurs, professors and students alike agree that too many students are stuck in majors like sociology or psychology that make it difficult to move into a different career in a stratified society like France, given the country’s troubled economy.

The fear of joblessness has led many young people in different directions. Students who have the money are increasingly turning to foreign universities or private specialized schools in France, especially for graduate school. And more young people are seeking a security-for-life job with a government agency.

In a speech at the Sorbonne in late April after the labor law was rescinded, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin pledged “a new pact between the university and the French people.”

Mr. de Villepin, a graduate of the École Nationale d’Administration, the grandest of the grandes écoles, promised more money and more flexibility, saying that as in the United States, a student with a master’s degree in philosophy should be able to become a financial analyst.

When a student asked him to explain how he proposed to do that, Mr. de Villepin had no concrete answer. Instead he talked about the “happiness of the dog that leaves its kennel.”

But flexibility is not at all the tradition in France, where students are put on fixed career tracks at an early age.

“We are caught in a world of limits where there’s no such thing as the self-made man,” said Claire de la Vigne, a graduate of Nanterre who is now doing graduate work at the much more prestigious Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris. “We are never taught the idea of the American dream, where everything is possible. Our guide is fear.”

My earlier post on the Ecoles.

May 13, 2006 at 12:35 am 1 comment

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