Painting a Thai Painting

in

Painting this Thai mural has taken so much. Time, definitely. Determination and energy, too. I've always actively avoided wet media - watercolours, oils and acrylics - for dragging liquids across surfaces can be fairly exhausting. These wet media have their own minds - they like to flow where ever there is less resistance and it is tiring, to push them into shapes and shadows that they are reluctant to be in.

Perhaps, my own reluctance from dealing with wet media - like any other insecurities - stems from failures. I remember those days, when my then-art teacher compared my first-ever oil painting to that by Marc Chagall, an American artist who painted really kiddish images. Let's just say that the comparison wasn't flattering.

It was with much trepidation that I started on this canvas painting.
Firstly, the outline of the Thai mythical swan-human was traced with the aid of blue carbon paper. A coat of soil-brown was applied for the background, and the blue outline smudged. 

F***, f***, f***. Damn the canvas board, the acrylic paint and myself, for this mistake. Should I buy a new canvas? Maybe write an essay instead of painting this infernal thing. 

The first time dealing with acrylic paints and this has to happen. Sigh.
Thankfully, after about seven coats of clay-brown paint, the blue streaks disappeared. And so, I painted. Don't give up, please. You're like the paint you're pushing about now. Always choosing the paths of least resistance. Don't give up, not now.  
After hours and hours of screaming silently at myself, in a mental space that I couldn't escape, the painting was finally completed.
There were mini-crises ("learning opportunities", if we were to be positive) littering this journey. The brushes, in exuberant shows of defiance, would spin out of my hand, splattering paint onto the canvas. Ouch:
Gilding parts of the humanoid figure with gold leaves was fulfilling and exhausting, in equal measures.

A transparent glue was dabbed onto the area-to-be-gilded with an extremely fine brush. Due to the glue's invisibility, I didn't manage to apply an even coat the first time round. This caused some areas to be patchily covered with gold. Hence, the need to use more gold leaves when touching up.
Working with gold is a strangely exciting experience. Perhaps it's because I've spent days dreading this process - what if I were to fail? What if the gold destroys my entire painting? What if, what if, what if? The irrational dread has fermented into a kind of nervous excitement.

Or maybe because this precious metal seems to promise a glittery something.

Either way, it was thrilling to smack a large piece of foil into something that I've been working on, almost akin to smashing cake into a birthday person's face.
At some point, I decided that I've been using a very limited palette of store-bought colours. Time to read up on the Colour Theory and the nature of paints and paint-mixing. Apparently, most paints contain trace amounts of heavy metals. Which means that they are POISONOUS. Which means that everyone in the class has been dealing with POISONS... 

Lead, for example, can be found in the white and beige paints - 'Titanium White' and 'Buff Titanium' to be exact - and causes neuro-disorders. Cadmium, in those bright red paints, causes neural abnormalities. 

Okay, sometimes it's better not to know too much.
To add a bit of diversity, I painted a pair of pikachus into a little corner of the canvas. 

But why these Japanese electric mice? 

1) Thai art involves elements that are considered contemporary when the murals were first painted. For example, there is a temple near Bangkok, where Doraemons and Angry Birds were painted into scenes from Buddha's life. Any Thai artist worth his/her salt must incorporate contemporary elements to draw worshipers to the temple he/she has been working on.

2) Pikachus are mice. And mice can be found everywhere.

3) One pikachu may be lonely. Hence, the need to paint a pair. 

A common question friends have asked: are the pikachus interacting sexually?

No. Firstly, one of them is a pikachu and the other is a ditto.

Secondly, they are snuggling. WHICH DOESN'T CONNOTE ANYTHING SEXUAL.

The second most common question: but is the snuggling pre- or post- sexual interaction? 

URGHHH. THINK WHAT YOU WILL.

(It's not easy to paint these animals. Spent almost 5 hours painting these deceptively simple creatures. Firstly, the yellow paint cannot be layered well. They peeled off easily or created very uneven tones.

After repeated errors, finally understood that the yellow paint I have is a glaze. It is translucent. Not a 'full-bodied' opaque paint. This means that the pikachus are going to look like mangy creatures, with uneven fur tones. But after a bit of tinkering, the pikachus were finally done.)
Here are the details of the canvas painting:
Painting on gold has introduced a unique challenge.

The watery paints just didn't want to dry on the slick metallic surface. Smudging is a real concern. It'd be difficult to correct poorly drawn lines, mainly because wiping them away would also cause gold flakes to be removed at the same time. This, I've learned, at a rather unpleasant cost. 
In some ways, this painting journey has been dreadful. It comes in tandem with all other academic deadlines; it's almost suffocating. 

But after the paint has dried and the brushes cleaned, there is time to ponder about the what-ifs and what-may-bes. There is time to reflect on the lessons that these painting processes may have quietly offered. 

Thanks to everyone who has shared this journey and offered their support, feedback and criticisms. It has been great fun.

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Do you agree that there is a higher purpose to life?

in

Reading the question, I recalled a story from my childhood times. The story was about a group of frogs living comfortably and happily in a well. However, one particular frog was unsatisfied with his existence and continually tried to jump out of the well to no avail. Finally, on one stormy day, when the waters were high, the frog mastered all his strength and made his triumphant leap out of the well. Like the frogs, we humans have never been able to see past the confines of our lives. Still, there remains throughout history a minority of mankind who have so fervently held on to their belief in a higher purpose to life. These people held their ground against the tide of common belief, proving their resilience a hundred times over, and even contributed much to mankind. For the purpose of this discussion, I would define ‘higher purpose’ simply as a purpose which a man possesses that is way beyond himself, and may include service to a higher being of for the greater good of mankind.

In today’s globalised, urbanized and materialistic world, it is natural to conclude that man should live for himself. After all, life is short and we should make the best of it for ourselves. We just need to look at the multitude of celebrities such as Tom Cruise or Britney Spears to see that when people serve themselves whole-heartedly their lives would be such a ‘soaring’ success. In other words, we are taught by everything we see around us that we should plot the path of our lives ourselves, and for ourselves. In sharp contrast, religious people who abide by so called ‘higher purposes’ often end up in mundane, or even, worse ruined lives. One such example which continues to perplex the world is why Islam extremists would end their lives in suicide attacks just to fulfill their higher purpose. Hence people often believe that living for themselves is the best way to live.

With the inexorable rise of science and technology, we humans have been led to the perception that we are all powerful, and ‘nothing is impossible’ for us. It is undeniable that science and technology has allowed us to keep Earth under our control and use it to our benefit. Furthermore we are now offered a glimmer of hope in creating life, long considered an act of God, through various techniques such as genetic engineering. This may inevitably lead people to think that we are gods in our own right, and really do not have a higher purpose in life. Frankly speaking, humans do not know everything. For example, Marco Polo travelled from Europe to China and back. Many Europeans believed that China had a very backward civilization, which could not be further from the truth. Hence we cannot discount the existence of God and place ourselves in this position simply because we have made certain advancements. And if God does indeed exist, there would surely be a higher purpose to life. Hence till the day that science and technology disproves the existence of God, we could do well remember that ancient humans once thought the world was flat, and not get ahead of ourselves in thinking.

Throughout history, there have been numerous examples of men who believed in a higher purpose accomplishing great things and making life so much better for the rest of mankind. I believe this sense of a higher purpose does serve us very well and differentiates us from animals. If we were to serve ourselves, as the animals do, the world would become a haven for chaos and mayhem. Rather, people with higher purposes have truly made this world a better place. For example, Mohandas Gandhi, not known to be a religious man, stood for his higher purpose of gaining independence from British control without the use of violence. This was definitely no easy task when the entire nation was on the brink of an uprising against the colonial masters. Yet his deeply rooted higher purpose, and his continual advocacy of non-violence eventually saved millions of lives. Even in ancient Greek times-----great philosophers pondered on the meaning of life, hence implicitly believes that there is indeed a higher purpose to life. Socrates once famously exclaimed that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ And truly, such an examination of life’s higher purpose during their lives has left us with invaluable knowledge and insights. Some philosophers, such as Archimedes, have even laid down scientific laws, such as the principle of floatation, to benefit all of mankind. Notably, Einstein himself believed that intelligence was a gift to be used for the good of mankind. Hence it can be noted that only people who believed in a higher purpose provided the most significant benefits for the good of mankind.

Last but not least, I attest that there is a higher purpose to life simply because we are built in a certain way. Recent scientific research has shown that men have to search for something greater than themselves, be it a vision or a dream, of God in order to attain fulfillment of their lives and be truly satisfied with their lives. Furthermore, a recent Times article noted that people who believe in religion or the existence of a higher purpose showed increased resilience to mental and physical stresses in their everyday life. This inner calm is especially prevalent in people such as the Dalai Lama who despite facing great political pressure is able to mediate for hours in complete serenity.

In conclusion, I would like to point out that the question of whether a higher purpose to life exists would always remain debatable since it is unforeseeable that science may prove the existence of God or some innate higher characteristic in humans anytime in the near future. However, I do strongly affirm that there is a higher purpose to life as noted in the altruistic accomplishments of people in history who have believed in a higher purpose. Furthermore, science itself has lent weight to the fact that if our minds and bodies function at its optimum when there is a higher purpose truly exists. Finally for all of us who have ample reason to question this higher calling, it would do us great good to remember that even when the waters were high in the well, the frog had to make an effort for his triumphant leap. The frog had to first believe.

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My Youngest Brother, His Girlfriend & New Zealand

in

My youngest brother was worried. "Er ge, my girlfriend and her mum may be going to New Zealand for two years. To find jobs and all that. How?"

"Is it confirmed?" I asked.

"No. There is a low probability. But I'm worried."

"Yes, you should be worried. What if your girlfriend meets a hot New Zealand angmoh?"

My youngest brother turned away. "I'm not going to talk to you anymore."

"Don't like that. Anyway, it's possible to have long distance relationships. When my friend was apart from his girlfriend, they have movie dates and play lame Facebook games, all the while chatting over Skype. So don't worry."

My brother, wrapped up in his anxiety, continued to ignore me.

Taking a leaf from pop dramas, I said, "let her go, let her pursue her happiness."

My youngest brother: "But I am her happiness."

(Silence.)

Moooooo~
Image credit: Our Wild Ride

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The Virtual Tussle Over Health Promotion Board’s FAQ

in

Just completed my final undergraduate essay for USP3506: Religious Discourse in the Contemporary World. Phew, what a sense of relief!

Lost track of the date of submission for the essay... only realised on Saturday that the essay was to be submitted on Sunday. It has been quite a rush, trying to write an expository in slightly more than one day. But, yeahh! Done!  



The Virtual Tussle Over Health Promotion Board’s FAQ

Contesting Religious and Secular Beliefs Over Homosexuality

Abstract

Singapore’s Health Promotion Board, in coming up with a set of Frequently Asked Questions on homo- and bi-sexuality, has ignited a public controversy. Faith communities, uneasy that this advisory may signal a swing towards moral degeneration, reacted by issuing open letters to their laity, political leaders, as well as the general public. There is a cascade of online statements arguing for and against the statutory board’s advisory. In the highly interconnected virtual space that Singapore has, online developments influence and are influenced by events from the real world. With the advent of an Internet age, opinions can be shared more directly without passing through the filters that print media are subjected to. These virtual tools, while capable of being used for attacks on opposing camps, can also be used to build a bridge based on mutual understanding and respect. In a multi-religious but secular society like Singapore, such bridges are of paramount importance.

Keywords

Health Promotion Board, homosexuality, religions, secularism, online media

Introduction

Singapore is a country with virtual highways bringing its citizens into close proximity. The online media is easily and extensively available to individuals, as well as groups of people. It affords opportunities for like-minded citizens to congregate; it hands virtual loudspeakers for some to project their thoughts; at times, it even functions as platforms for petitions to take place. It is in this online world where the latest friction on the positions of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders (LGBT) in Singapore erupted.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB), a statutory board under the Ministry of Health, was established in 2001 with a vision to “build a nation of healthy people”. In November 2013, the board posted a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on sexuality and sexually-transmitted diseases. It is the former type of FAQs – those on homo- and bi-sexuality – that sparked a public outcry.

At first, the FAQs were relatively ignored, buried among the bytes of information churning within the online world. In 3rd February this year, however, someone who goes by the name ‘Aaron’ started an online petition to remove this FAQ:
We urge Minister Gan Kim Yong to conduct a thorough, non-biased, comprehensive review of the website’s information as it dangerously promotes homosexuality.

The elected government of Singapore owes its citizens the responsibility to do thorough comprehensive research before they take such a committed stand as taken by the Health Promotion Board.
The statutory board, somewhat thrown off-guard by the sudden attention leveled on their FAQ, decided to take down links to Oogachaga, SAFE and AFA, all LGBT-friendly organizations providing counseling support in Singapore. Their knee-jerk reactions resulted in a counter petition by undergraduate Melissa Tsang:
We recommend that Minister Gan Kim Yong ignore the ridiculously misinformed and regretfully bigoted petition "Review HPB's "FAQ on Sexuality"".
We urge the HPB to restore the original version of the "FAQ on Sexuality", complete with links to Oogachaga, SAFE, and AFA.
The debate became even more vociferous, with various religious groups and their leaders weighing in. Online circulars were released and these groups’ reservations with the FAQ were expressed. On social media platform Facebook, church members were calling for their friends to sign the petition against the FAQ. There is a fear, rooted on religious grounds, that this FAQ may lead to moral degeneration and consequently, societal breakdowns.

Responding to these agitations, proponents of the FAQ insist that Singapore is a secular society and religious factions should not prescribe formulae to run the country. At the heart of this pulsing debate is the divide between the expectations of religious groups and non-religious civil activists. The opposing camps are located within the same multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Within this common physical and virtual space, it seems inevitable that their opinions would contest.

Please Take Down the FAQ

Some questions and answers offered by the Health Promotion Board hold implicit value judgments. They can be considered as offensive and alarming by religious groups:

• “A same-sex relationship is not too different from a heterosexual relationship.”

According to the holy teachings of certain religions – Christianity and Islam, for example – a same-sex relationship is greatly different from a heterosexual one. Among these disparities, one is noteworthy: the homosexual relationship is not sanctioned by divine will, unlike the heterosexual one.

 • “Homophobia is the irrational fear, disgust, or hatred of homosexuals, or of homosexual feelings in oneself.”

The word ‘homophobia’ is intense, with its suffix suggesting an exaggerated and illogical reaction. The sentence, taken at face value, seems to portray any opposition to the civil rights of LGBTs as an ‘irrational’ and hateful force.

• “Some people are even biased towards gays and lesbians. Because of their lack of understanding and fears, these people may ostracise or discriminate against homosexuals and bisexuals.”

Similarly, the above statement from the FAQ positions the opponents of the FAQ in a negative light, with suggestions that they are ignorant and fearful.

While the facts given by the HPB online advisory is unquestionably useful to LGBT and their families, the opinions embedded within can be contentious. The Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS) released an online statement to record their disappointment with the board’s FAQ. This group notes that the FAQ contrasts with “the state’s pro-family policy” and “undermines the traditional family unit which is essential in building our society”. Likewise, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) registered their discomfort with “the wordings and tone of the FAQs” which “appeared to be at odds with the Government’s position” and “may even encourage some to experiment alternate sexual practices”. These groups of religious leaders are worried that HPB’s advisory would normalise homo- and bi-sexual relationships. Their arguments are made public – in both mainstream and virtual media – not only for the consideration of their laity, but also for them to unambiguously stake their positions in this controversy.

Such opinions on non-procreative sexuality are not new in Singapore. They have been raised whenever groups feel threatened by policy shifts appearing to favor the LGBT community. When asked about this recent controversy, a volunteer-counselor from a Methodist church and a full-time staff at a Catholic group expressed their stances with the same rhetoric. According to Kenneth Paul Tan (2008), these threats are often “yoked onto the existing discourse of low fertility in Singapore”, leading to “a reduction in the size of the future workforce and defence force”, which in turn has “devastating consequences for the future economy and security of Singapore”. These arguments, based on a chain of possible phenomena, are typical strategies playing up on nationalist fears. Also, they tend to be religiously inflected; in its online declaration, PERGAS cites Islamic teachings while NCCS ends its letter to its members with a prayer for God’s guidance.

Apart from collective notes of concern issued by associations, individual religious groups and leaders have openly staked their positions. Pastor Lawrence Khong (2014), from Faith Community Baptist Church, shared a seven-page response expressing his dissatisfaction with the partiality of the FAQ. His personal Facebook account, as well as the church’s website and Facebook page, are his chosen platforms to offer rebuttal. In its original FAQ, HPB is seen as taking side by naming Oogachaga as a resource avenue. This particular organization is a member of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, with a hotline run by specially trained LGBT or LGBT-affirming counsellors. The church is “baffled” as to why the statutory board did not feature other established supports. Focus on the Family, for example, is not mentioned, despite being an independent charity registered with the National Council of Social Services and with partial funding from the Ministry of Social and Family Development. “To exclude these other avenues of care is to discriminate in favour of LGBT-affirming organizations,” the writing goes and that is “both unjust and harmful”.

Although the links to Oogachaga and other LGBT-friendly support groups are removed, there is a residual uneasiness that the FAQ on sexuality is not as neutral as the Health Promotion Board claims it to be. The government body is seen as overstepping its mission by passing value judgments in favor of a particular group.

This brouhaha would have been avoided, PERGAS seem to suggest, if religious groups are consulted prior to the posting of an advisory on a contentious topic by a government board. The Muslim organization “wishes to state its readiness to be consulted on potentially sensitive issues such as this matter in the future”, thereby ensuring that their interests are represented. The mildly-worded rebuke disguises the disquiet that some religious groups may have and their fears of being sidelined in a modernised country with an overarching economic imperative.

Having instant access to the public’s attention via online media, including social platforms, allows religious groups to exert their moral authority. Such virtual voice-speakers are less restrictive, uninhibited by the layers of bureaucracy, censorship and self-censorship that print media face. They are convenient too, allowing religious groups and leaders to engage directly with their members and critics alike. Other than facilitating an exchange of opinions, technology can also provide tools for these faith-based communities to galvanise their members into action.

A Leaked Document: Support 377A, a simple guide to giving feedback

The Internet is a library of facts and opinions that can be accessed by everyone at the same time. It is a repository where words, pictures and videos, once uploaded, cannot be easily removed. Even articles that have become obsolete or are taken down may surface again to trouble their creators. In January 2013, a gay couple that has been together for fifteen years filed an appeal to challenge Section 377A, a legislative act criminalizing sex between mutually consenting men. This couple alleged that the law entrenches “stigma and discrimination” against LGBT in Singapore. In response, Pastor Khong and his church came up with a step-by-step guide to advise members on how to express their distress to authorities vested with political and legal influence. The virtual document was replete with Biblical quotes, along with samples of what to write and the contact emails of Singapore’s political leaders, including that of the Prime Minister, Minister of Law and Acting Minister for Social and Family Development.

The guide was to be forwarded to “the likeminded and the aligned” whom required advice on how to give feedback “in an acceptable manner through available channels”. It was “not meant for mass distribution to everyone in your church or everybody you know on Planet Earth”. Naturally, since the guide was supposed to be a secret, it was leaked out to the public and everyone involved in that debate knew about this ‘secret’ document.

Slightly more than a year later, this issue was revived in a related discussion on the Health Promotion Board’s FAQ on sexuality. The document, originally intended to be covert, went viral again with LGBT-sympathetic individuals sharing it through Facebook. This particular guide, written by a Christian community, was re-contextualised as a proof of religious leaders’ moral panic when the government appeared to be ceding grounds to the LGBT community. While the online media can be useful in reaching out to like-minded people and galvanizing activity, they can also bring about unexpected, perhaps even self-damaging, consequences.

Thank You For Putting Up The FAQ…

The letters of concern issued by religious authorities represent groups of people sharing similar paradigms. They are courteous but strongly-worded, and informed by religious sensibilities. In comparison, the responses from LGBT organizations are more muted. Only Pink Dot, a movement promoting LGBT rights in Singapore, publicly praised the FAQ; on its Facebook page, Pink Dot shared the HPB advisory while calling it “wonderfully factual and balanced information on sexuality”. There are also thankful murmurs to the Health Minister and Prime Minister for refusing to give in to pressure and take down the FAQ.

Perhaps sensing that the political leaders are treading a tightrope on this issue, LGBT organizations are less exuberant. After all, this policy development favors them and there is no need to create celebratory sounds lest this advisory be revoked. They understand that they do not have the same extent of influence with politicians – the way religious groups would have – and it may be better not to engage in public spats with these other groups of people.

There may also be memories of previous occasions in which the LGBT movement has been chastised to tone down for fear of having their rights taken away. In January 2003, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong concluded a public controversy about hiring homosexuals in the civil service. He said that “gays must know that the more they lobby for public space, the bigger the backlash they will provoke from the conservative mainstream”, causing their public space to be “reduced”. In January 2013, Ho Peng Kee, then-Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, advised that “while homosexuals have a place in society… repealing Section 377A will be contentious” and may send a “wrong signal” that the government is “endorsing the homosexual lifestyle”. There are obvious political directives for LGBT organizations to not agitate publicly for more civil rights.

Whatever the reasons, LGBT organizations appear to be lying low in this public controversy, despite having the option of releasing online statements and press releases. The most vocal supporters of the FAQ, hence, are not organizations but individuals.

The Pioneer Generation VS The Millennial Generation

Health Promotion Board’s advisory has inspired a storm of open letters, not just by groups of religious leaders but also by individuals, some of whom are prominent citizens.

Thio Su Mien, former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore, weighed in on the controversy with an open letter addressed to the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister. She claimed that the Health Promotion Board, in its FAQ on Homophobia and Biphobia, is “effectively promoting hatred against Singaporeans who subscribe to the Shared Values of our nation” of a heterosexual “family unit” raising children together. She indicated that the public “needs to see prompt action demonstrating that statutory boards are not above the law” and that “HPB is held accountable for its action”. Thio drew on her identity as a member of the Pioneer Generation fretful of her country slipping into a morass of decline and moral decay. She hoped that the government would restore its moral basis of authority by taking remedying actions.

Her strongly worded letter was matched in intensity by the emotional words of Adrianna Tan, a homosexual civil activist. Tan sent her open letter to the Minister of Health and Prime Minister as well. “I am not a member of the Pioneer Generation,” she said, “but I am a member of the Millennial Generation who desires to see small steps in social progressiveness so that the Singapore I call home will grow into becoming the inclusive society we want to be.” Tan asserted that religious-inflected reasons should not impinge on the workings of a secular society, that religious groups should not dictate the lives of people who do not share their beliefs.

It is interesting to note the role that the Internet has played in enabling this candid display of opinions by two people from very different generations and religious persuasions. If not for the Internet, Thio, self-described as being from the Pioneer Generation, and Tan, a self-proclaimed member of the Millennial Generation, may otherwise have never come across each other. The online media have enabled strangers to respond to one another with ease, though the communication may result in a verbal clash of opinions.

A Virtual Battle Over Homosexuality

In Singapore, disagreements rarely take place in the form of physical violence. They usually occur, not as an exchange of fists, but as an exchange of words. The great depth of Internet penetration enables religious authorities to share their doctrines, reach out to believers and galvanise them into action. It also allows strangers to respond to one another. Articles can become viral, accruing comments, page views and influence, particularly if they are shared over social media. The primary advantage of online media over print media is that the former can more easily liberate a chorus of opinions. The convenience of such virtual tools may make it tempting for religious and secular groups to pit their opinions as and when disagreements arise.

However, it is easy to post an article but difficult to clear up any mess that it may cause. It takes wisdom to know what to say and when to say it. It takes wisdom as well, to keep quiet even when one feels the urge to speak up. After all, information, once released into the virtual space, cannot be easily re-captured. With increasing religiosity in Singapore as well as a greater plurality in views, there is more tinder for a spark of misunderstanding to ignite conflicts.

These virtual tools, while capable of being used for attacks on opposing camps, can also be used to build a bridge structured on mutual understanding and respect. In Singapore, a multi-religious but secular society, such bridges are important in fostering thoughtful consideration between groups oriented in different directions.

(Word Count: 2863 words) 

Bibliography

Health Promotion Board. (n.d.). Vision, Mission and Values. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/article?id=3770.

Health Promotion Board. (n.d.). FAQs on Sexuality. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/HPB056342.

Go Petition. (3rd February 2014). Review HPB’s “FAQ on Sexuality”. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/review-hpbs-faq-on-sexuality.html.

Go Petition. (4th February 2014). Restore the HPB’s original “FAQ on Sexuality”. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/restore-the-hpbs-original-faq-on-sexuality.html.

Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association. (11th February 2014). PERGAS’ Response to HPB’s FAQ on Sexuality. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://v1.pergas.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Media-Statement-Pergas-response-to-HPB-FAQ-on-Sexuality.pdf.

National Council of Churches of Singapore. (19th February 2014). Press Statement. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://info.nccs.org.sg/joom837/images/Home_files/ nccs%20press%20statement%2019%20feb.pdf.

National Council of Churches of Singapore. (19th February 2014). Press Statement. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://info.nccs.org.sg/joom837/images/Home_files/ nccs%20press%20statement%2019%20feb.pdf.

Tan, Kenneth Paul. Religious Reasons In A Secular Public Sphere: Debates in the Media about Homosexuality. In Lai Ah Eng (ed.), Religious Diversity in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, 2008.

Kee, Terry, National Council of Churches of Singapore. (19th February 2014). Letter to Members of Churchs. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://info.nccs.org.sg/joom837/images/Home_files/letter%20to%20member%20churches.pdf.

Khong, Lawrence. (6th February 2014). Full Seven-page Response to HPB’s FAQs on Sexuality. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from https://www.facebook.com/notes/lawrence-khong-fcbc/full-seven-page-response-to-hpbs-faqs-on-sexuality/698746103502840?fref=nf.

National Council of Churches of Singapore. (19th February 2014). Press Statement. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://info.nccs.org.sg/joom837/images/Home_files/ nccs%20press%20statement%2019%20feb.pdf.

Yahoo! Newsroom. (21st January 2014). AGC urges public against commenting on Section 377A. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from https://sg.news.yahoo.com/growing-debate-online-over-repeal-of-section-377a--095505691.html.

Khong, Lawrence. (January 2013). Support 377A, a simple quide to giving feedback. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/3i1y6s6c4g1ruak/ GUIDE%2Bto%2BGiving%2BFeedback.377A.pdf?token_hash=AAFZg4lKO219ZYneHCLqKqZhXiLmbH-xjF_h7Bc7cTHIsQ.

Pink Dot SG. (5th February 2014). In Facebook [Fan Page]. Retrieved March 16, 2014, from https://www.facebook.com/pinkdotsg.

Thio, Su Mien. (10th February 2014). Health Promotion Board and Corporate Governance. Retrieved Apr 16, 2014, from http://mothership.sg/v2/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/thio-su-mien-open-letter.jpg.

Tan, Adrianna. (20th February 2014). In Facebook [Personal Page]. Retrieved March 16, 2014, from https://www.facebook.com/adrianna.tan/posts/10153845483390265.

2 comments:

A Menagerie of Thai Creatures

in

Have been working on an acrylic painting inspired by Thai art for the NUS module, SE3224 Thai Drawing and Painting.

Here are some of the references that I've been using:

Thai squirrels
Thai birds
Thai... creatures
Apparently, all animals can be bred with fishes to produce these myths.
This bird looks a bit like the Road Runner right??
By the way, this is how the Road Runner looks like.
Thai mythological creatures are mishmashes of many creatures.
Is he scratching his sensitive area?
Apparently, the upturned palm means that the creature is crying.

Pushing perfectly good paint on a perfectly good canvas to produce a imperfectly painted piece is actually a good way to escape from the stresses of life and living.

0 comments:

Does the good done in the name of religion outweigh the evil?

in

The world sports a wide variety of religions. Religion is essentially a set of beliefs to which individuals might subscribe to, mostly concerning the origins and purpose of late, and the existence of one or multiple divine beings whom they worship. Religion is a powerful driving force, motivating people to become better persons. Unfortunately, intentionally or not intentionally, they may also be goaded or misled by it to do harm to those around them. And usually, the evil receives much more publicity than the good.

The stronger religions are unarguably Christianity and Islam. These two have originated since many years ago, have outlived most religions and have the greatest followings among the people. Professing Christians make up 35% and Muslims, 30%, with regards to world population. They appear many times throughout history and are very strong driving forces.

In the first millennia, there was up to ten crusades carried out European powers. The church was unhappy with the Holy Lord being in Muslim hands. And the church being the powerful voice of god to the people, they are commanded crusade after crusade. Historians estimate as many as 70 millions people lost their lives in one way or another, including civilians who were frequently slaughtered by soldiers of the opposite faith and skin color. This was accompanied with a degradation of morals. Soldiers looted, raped and massacred innocent civilians and enemy soldiers. This shows how religions can clash head-on and result in much evil and suffering.

In fact, such phenomenon has repeated itself in history many times. Even in the present age, it is not absent. Examples include violence between Catholics and Protestants within Europe and which still exists in Ireland, between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia and the Middle East and more recently, terrorism in the name of religion. The fear of terrorism has become very real ever since the collapse of the twin towers, the London train bombings and the foiled aircraft bombings. Many faithful people are misguided into the acceptance of violence and terrorism because their beliefs are twisted into believing that violence is legitimate. Therefore religion has brought much evil into the world.

On the other hand, religion has also been the peace-loving and order-establishing force in a society. In ancient times, the strong Holy Roman Empire made Christianity its state religion. In European countries in the Middle Ages, it was common for the church to be of equal, if not greater power than the monarchy. They could dictate laws and employed faithful to be police of the people. Laws could be very strict at times and crime was kept low. Other societies which have also based on religion include Africa, America and South American tribal nations, and also Muslim-guided societies in the Middle East and East Asia like Malaysia and Indonesia.

Unfortunately, this also has its set of ills. Societies based on religion can be exceedingly harsh and inhumane. Witches and heretics were banned at the stake tortured in Europe. In some Muslim societies, thieves had their hands chopped off while rapists were castrated. Undeniably, these societies were inoculated with religious morals of high standard and which demanded absolute adherence, and people rebelled on pan of death or a life of suffering. Thailand is also another example.

In some sense of good, people were sometimes able to seek religious asylum. In china, prosecuted youth or collaborators with the west could convert and seek shelter with churches. They guaranteed safety by the western powers and the Chinese monarchy could not afford to go against them. This was in the last two centuries, when there was still a Chinese monarchy in place. During the crusades, civilians were made to convert at sword point and killed if they disagreed. More recently this is done with guns instead, especially in the Middle East. Militias have been known to stop cars and transport and harass travelers and foreigners. However, this can be viewed as a façade, people converting to save their skins and not really believing in the religion at all. Therefore, it is rather pointless to convert.

Sometimes, religion is used as a front for other worldly intentions. The Spanish invaded South America in the name of spreading the gospel, but were more intent on finding gold instead. In likewise savagery, the invaders sometimes known as the conquistadors converted those who would at gunpoint, killing the rest. And in subsequent ages, the inquisition descended on these lands. People were tortured for not believing by the most horrific instruments of pain, devised specially for the occasion. Hence religion can be used as a façade for other motives. Similarly, western powers used the same excuse when they colonized and took over Asian territories in the past.

Today, people make many contributions to society in the name of religion. Religious schools and orphanages are established around the world, giving shelter and support for young children. These children also receive moral education based on religious principles, usually teaching of kindness and forgiveness. Many people also do charity work and contribute to society. In Singapore, we have both Christian and Muslim charitable organizations which do not necessarily limit their support to Christians or Muslims alone.

People also seek the meaning of life in religion. This is one reason why such people begin to care for and contribute to the society. They realize their hunger for spiritual fulfillment, and try to make sense of the material and stress-filled world around them from the spiritual point of view.

Lastly, when some people convert, this might cause tension between people. For example, family ties can be strained when members of the family convert. This leads to unhappiness in the family. Sometimes, the family breaks up because of conversion. In certain cultures, people can be cut off from their society. Catholics can be excommunicated, Jews be cut off and Muslims converting are likely to face revenge by those who were friends and family before.

As a conclusion, I do think that the development and pursuit of religion and spiritual fulfillment is inevitable. It is human nature to seek these. However, I feel that the world could have been much different and likely to be better and more peaceful if there was no religion. Religion is not a basic need to survival and we could have avoided all the religious conflicts, suffering and controversy. There has obviously been much evil and suffering with the existence of religion, more so than good. For people would probably be charitable without religion.

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“The man who reads nothing at all is better than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” (Thomas Jefferson) To what extent is the statement a reflection of journalism in Singapore?

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Breaking down the quote by Thomas Jefferson, we see that the implications of his statement is that if you read newspapers alone, you are misinformed and this has dangerous consequences for yourself and society. While I agree with this part of the quote, I feel that his assertion that one should choose not to read newspapers at all rather than read solely newspapers is too extreme and simplistic. While journalism in Singapore undoubtedly has its faults, misinforming us through its pro-government stance, I feel that this does not warrant Jefferson’s derisive sweeping aside of the usefulness of newspapers in general. Therefore I feel that the statement is a reflection of journalism in Singapore only to a small extent.

Journalism in Singapore deserves the readership of Singaporeans because it does provide a wealth of information – both local and international, which helps to broaden our minds. The commentaries and opinion pages by the Straits Times “Insight” and “Review” sections also deepen our thoughts by introducing us to a vast array of perspectives that provide us with a more balanced point of view on issues. For instance, the past few days have been rife with the discussions about giving skilled foreign immigrants easier access into Singapore. Instead of merely stating the government’s intentions and measures, The Straits Times has aired perspectives from welcoming as well as hostile Singaporeans and even the thoughts and anecdotes of foreigners already residing here. Such a spectrum of perspectives would have been lost had one decided to read “nothing at all”, perhaps even leading (in extreme cases) to bigoted, unsympathetic and unbalanced views about the issue. As for international views, the manner of writing by journalists here does nothing to erode their credibility in providing us with a true picture of events in the world. Having regularly read international journals and newspapers like The Economist and the International Tribune, I have found it reassuring that the reports by our journalists are as (if not more) balanced than theirs. As such, we see that majority of the reports by journalists in Singapore are unbiased and accurate, and thus are worthy of our time.

Moreover, journalists pride themselves on the accuracy of their work and do not deliberately try to sensationalise the news or push their own agendas. This is especially apparent when we juxtapose our journalists besides those in more extreme countries like China or even liberal countries like America whose First Amendment of the Constitution prides itself on the freedom of the press. For instance, Chinese newspapers are explicitly the mouthpiece of the communist government and unabashedly produce propaganda. Even at the other end of the spectrum, America’s press is often biased towards corporations or political parties. For example, Fox News has a clearly conservative slant, making it difficult to fully trust the news it presents. In contrast, Singapore’s press tries to a large extent to maintain neutrality. Singapore’s Press Holdings (SPH) also avoids sensationalizing the news in its more serious newspapers, tabloids not included. This is clear from the objective tone of its reports, void of any opinions by the journalists.

However, I must concede that the small but admittedly present slant towards the government is a fault of Singapore’s press. Many have griped at the incomplete picture the press presents due to its wariness of offending the government. The chummy nature of the relationship between SPH and the People’s Action Party (PAP) is apparent from the regular dialogues they have together, dialogues which are meant to help the heads of SPH understand the crucial nature of PAP’s policies and the great care they must take to ensure that everything is said in a nice tone and presented in just the right manner. Along with this is the carrot of government funding. Careful not to bite the hand that feeds it, SPH may forgo journalism ethics in order to operate according to what business sense deems fit. This careful following of the will of the government may also stem from the early days of Singapore’s independence, when the press was bluntly against the PAP. It could now be trying to maintain its favour by providing so much more election coverage during the recent General Elections and painting the government in a good light. Then again, while that seems undeniable, we must accept that it is only a minor part of our newspapers which does not merit our complete forgoing of useful information from the large proportion of it.

Then again, besides the obligation to conduct self-censorship described above, newspapers in Singapore are threatened with the stick of government censorship too. The extent of this is evident from our ranking by Journalists without Borden, in which we were placed just one rank above Iraq. Most recently, a satirist by the moniker of Mr. Brown had his column in the Today newspaper suspended on charges that he was undermining respect for the government. A survey by the blogger bulletin tomorrow.sg found that 76% of the respondents felt that the government was “oversensitive”. Thus, it is apparent that censorship chips away the credibility of our newspapers, causing some to feel that they should not even be read. However, it is reassuring to note that such cutting away of unwelcome information is and will continue improving with the advent of participatory media where “citizen journalists” can hold the press accountable for its omissions, thus implying that the censorship knife would be severely blunted and that the government may have to give the press freer reign in the face of such new developments, or risk alienating its population and especially its youths.

From the discussion above, we see too clearly the faults of our press, especially its fear of offending the government. This might give readers a false sense of security when actually they are taking in a skewed perspective. However, this is not severe to the extent that one should completely forgo reading newspapers, because the merits of being informed outweigh its limitations. To alleviate some of the problems of the pro-government stance, we as readers should take responsibility by becoming more discerning and by supplementing the news presented in the various local newspapers with that of international publications. Hopefully, the revolution of new media will further improve the scales by blunting the tools of censorship and the more insidious self-censorship.

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“All art requires courage.” Do you agree?

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All art, bar none, requires originality, creativity and the fortitude to tread in places where no one, or at least few others, have trodden before. In that light, I would agree wholeheartedly that art requires courage and more so for great art that will stand out for centuries to come.

All forms of art, be it the visual arts, or the literary arts, require the artist to engage his or her creative juices and to inject a high level of creativity together with the artist’s personal touch. It has often been said that “art speaks”, and “art is the reflection of the soul”, which is often true in the sense that through art, the artist always has something to say or something to portray and the style in which the art is presented usually tells a viewer much about the artist.

A key point to note about many a great work of art is the powerful message that the artists responsible for them are trying to convey. Often, the message delivered touches upon very raw points in society, to the point where it becomes controversial. This is not limited to present day works where political satires are common, but dates back to Elizabeth England as well. Shakespeare was fond of making jibes at English nobility in the name of art. In an era when one could be executed for making a fool out of royalty this was no small feat and took a tremendous amount of daring on the part of the artist. In the modern day context, producing political satire is financially risky as countries may impose a ban on it because their respective governments find it either politically insensitive, or simply a threat to their own “campaign ideals”. A recent example of this would be Malaysia’s ban on ‘Atomic Jaya’, a play where the Malaysian Prime Minister was depicted in a negative light. This, of course, would have a negative impact on the playwright and therefore as an artist, one has to be courageous enough to put one’s financial health at risk for the sake of truthful art.

Due to personal creative input, works of art also tend to differ greatly as humans are unique in nature, which consequently results in art also being relatively unique. Though it is quite common to be inspired by a particular style of work, different artists have different preferences for the look of their art and also different issues which they feel strongly about. The infinite number of permutations ensure that while two different artists may produce work that shares a similar style, the content will be entirely different. This, however, implies that even as artists continue to mature in their art and develop a distinctive style, they need to experiment during the growing process, which inevitably involves failure. For a full-time artist, this could potentially be disastrous as failure can lead to a serious financial deficit due to the greatly variable level of income. In some sense, it is a “Catch-22” situation as artists will never fully succeed until they can produce something original and appealing.

In the light of this, the risk factor of producing art is very great, because of the sheer subjective nature of art. It can be “in Vogue” one day and out the next. Great fortitude and the courage to experiment is therefore needed to produce something that people will find appealing and fresh. This courage is shown by the International Photographer Award, Robert Dragan, who pioneered the process of “Draganising” or Ted Johnson, who lends his wedding photographs an ethereal light by combining infrared photography with colour photography. Both these photographers struggled for close to ten years before reaching the peak of their finesse, for which they are paid a princely five figure sum per shoot. By comparison, a struggling wedding photographer gets by on five hundred dollars.

The sheer adversity of making it into the hall of greats ensures that every artist is put through this rigorous gauntlet in order to achieve greatness in their respective field. If thus requires a terrific amount of courage and endurance to pursue one’s art, perhaps even having to give up other goals in life such as marriage, children, wealth and so forth. This is, however, something that many committed artists willingly undertake as they enter the brave new world. Less committed artists often end up as lawyers, scientists or bankers because there simply is too much risk in pursuing art and hence, the courage to believe in one’s own talent is increasingly important in an industry where you either make it or go down in a spectacular display of flames.

Naturally, such courage and self-belief is dependent on the support given to the arts as well as the culture of a place. With increased government and parental support, more budding artists would be likely to enter the creative industry to pursue their art due to the decreased parental opposition and risk of entering the industry, for grants and constant pats on the back can aid greatly in nurturing budding art. What this means however, is that an increase in such support decreases the amount of courage and fortitude needed to succeed in the industry, because some artists may survive only due to government grants, welfare benefits or parental patronage, rather than relying on their artistic ability. This cushion would dampen the amount of courage needed to pursue one’s art, but as a plus side would also increase the diversity of art in the local arts scene, though it will likely be adding to the diversity of bad art rather than good art.

By comparison, in countries where there is much greater opposition to pursuing one’s art, such as Singapore, much greater courage and adversity quotient is required to overcome parental objections as well as the looming possibility of starvation. Art is not traditionally supported in countries such as Singapore, where a majority of parents often feel more comfortable with letting their children become lawyers or doctors and pursuing art as a hobby rather than a profession. To pursue one’s art in Singapore, one has to break social norms and be prepared for all manner of snide remarks about the inability to succeed “normally”. You also will find my Dragans and Johnsons here, as the local artists’ pay will never hit that level in Singapore due to the low social value of art. Art is simply not valued here and successful artists, such as Russell Wong, often find themselves moving to a society where their work is given due credit. Thus, artists here therefore also have to be prepared to leave their homeland, and consequently friends and family, in pursuit of greater heights in the artistic field. As such, with poor support for the arts, artists have to draw on even more boldness to venture into the field.

Art is everchanging, due to the nature of creativity and the diversity therein. In short, artists have to be ready to do anything for their art if they wish to pursue it and there can be no compromises. That, to me, is true courage.

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‘Far too much attention is given to beauty products and treatments.’ Do you agree?

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The oft-quoted adage goes ‘beauty is only skin-deep’. And, as things stand now, this skin-deep beauty seems to be acquiring an almost unrivalled cult status. The excessive focus on flawless facial features spawned a range of cosmetic industries, be it wrinkles-removal cream, spa pools or even Brazilian wax hair-removal treatments. Newspapers bombard readers with the ‘newest’, ‘sure-fire’ methods to counter the effects of aging. Thus, it is undeniable that excessive emphasis has been placed on beauty products and procedures.

According to the International Mass Retail Association, there would be at least five adverts on beauty products and treatments in any average newspapers. This relentless flux of promotions is indeed a clear indication of the undue attention given to cosmetic goods and services. As economics theories postulate: ‘only when there is demand, would there be supply.’ Thus, such marketing techniques suggest that the spotlight on beauty products and treatments are simply answers to what the masses want. Whilst one could attribute these advertisements as money-making ploys by cosmetic industries, one should, however, not miss the fact that most people are willingly paying their hard-earned money for these treatments.

Besides the economic aspect associated with cosmetic products, the ‘feel-good factor’ does come into play too. Models and artistes, with their pencil-thin figures and porcelain-like skin, evoke a sense of inadequacy in the person by the television. To think about it, the person in front of the cinema screen would hardly be spared from the bout of feeling body-conscious too. This inferiority complex is intrinsic; most people cannot help being jealous of and awed by the surreal looks of these thespians. One study of a sample of Stanford graduates and undergraduates found that sixty-eight percent of students felt worse about their own appearances after reading women's magazines. Another statistics by Media Scope 5 found that individuals who were shown pictures of thin models had lower self-evaluations than those who had seen average-sized and plus-sized models. And hence, as a result of media influence, people long to have the ‘tall, tanned and muscular’ looks or the ‘shapely hourglass figure’. In simpler terms, they are vain about their looks. The more looks-conscious old and aged would try to rediscover lost youth. These aims would quickly be achieved by cosmetic procedures and products.

Excessive emphasis on beauty products and treatments could also be easily attributed to the need for a more presentable self. In this competitive society, it is necessary to leave a good first impression. Naturally, if all other qualifications are comparable, an employer would hire a well-heeled man than a scruffy-looking one. Deals between companies would be easier to settle if both sides look somber and serious, dignified and decent. Discrimination against obese people in the workforce is rampant. Personnel Today, a UK newsletter, found out that sixty-three percent of the employers are biased against overweight workers. Thus, to improve one’s chance of gaining employment, one might resort to speedy and easy – though not inexpensive – methods of beautifying oneself.

From a purely rational perspective, undergoing the knife is silly and stupid. Nowadays, people frequently talk of having their own identities; everything must be personalized, from clothes and fashion wears to laptops and handphones. Yet, they are actually paying good money to give away the faces that are theirs and theirs alone. They eventually end up with faces belonging to others – perhaps a dash of Angelina Jolie, a whiff of Paris Hilton and a speck of Britney Spears? It is almost ludicrous to think of a cavalcade of starlets-look-alikes parading Orchard Road. And yet, judging from how parents are not only condoning, but in fact, pushing their children to beauty treatments and cosmetic surgeries, this image does not seem quite so impossible anymore. A recent poll by The Straits Times found out this: an alarming twenty percent of parents are actually paying for their daughters’ breast implants as birthday’s presents.

Shocking, isn’t it?

In my opinion, the disproportionate attention given to beauty products and procedures ought to be more fairly distributed. ‘Software’ – proper manners, moral values, common decency and decorum – ought to be accorded equal, if not more, focus than merely external looks. The concept of ‘aging gracefully’ must also be well publicized; there is really no need for a fifty-five year old lady to try every wrinkles-removing cream on the shelves or to go through a punishing series of face lifts. Instead, the aged ought to participate in healthier exercises that continually stimulate their minds, rather than futilely chasing after lost youth. But, as things stand, the spotlight on cosmetic creams and treatments would only become brighter, not dimmer.

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So many goodbyes

in


These few nights, sleep came uneasily. I had tossed on my bed, finding it a challenge to fall asleep. A presentation date was mixed up, resulting in the need to do up the slides only on the day of presentation itself. There was an aura of lethargy slowing down every movement. The auntie wandering along the street, the scattered beads of saga seeds, the damp patches of fallen pink blossoms, they all seemed a little tragic.

Other than the impending waves of academic deadlines, I have been obsessing with what one friend said and another acquaintance did. The former called me 'shallow' while the latter committed suicide.

It suffices to say that my friend and I have drifted so far apart that our ideological differences cannot be reconciled. It is the first time we had such a disagreement, and probably the last time too. I was mourning over the death of a relationship that I had so treasured.

Then, last night, there was a storm of comments on an acquaintance's Facebook page.

"I just wished you happy birthday and today..."
"What happened? Did we not promise to cafe-hop after Sunday service?"
"The dog misses you too."
"RIP, see you in heaven next time. Till then, take care."

This guy, we came from the same battalion. He was a sergeant whom I rarely spoke to. I barely remembered how he looked, barely remembered his name.

And just this month, just a few days ago, he committed suicide a day after his 27th birthday.

His mum responded to the virtual concerns that others have shown: "I miss him so much too."

This acquaintance's death reminded me of another friend, who had chosen to move on in the same manner, who had left behind a tangle of mysteries. What had been so terrible, so overwhelming that they must go? What about their mothers, their grieving mums who had brought them up? And their dads? What about those friends expressing concern only when they aren't needed anymore?

In a biology class, one lecturer said that our chances of dying increase with every day we survive. This is a fundamental rule of existence, that statistics favor a higher probability of passing away with each passing day. The older one is, the more probable one would die. The mathematical certainty is cold and terrible.

There is no way to think oneself out of these confusions, out of the existential angst, of the essential meaningless of living and having been lived.

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Negotiations of Religious Space in Yishun, Singapore

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Singapore is a small, metropolitan island that is faced with the challenge of maximizing its scarce land space. As such, various government bodies have to mediate between competing uses for the limited space. Two statutory boards, the URA and HDB, dictate land use in Singapore, including that for religious sites.

The government has the legal clout to appropriate land through compulsory purchase. According to the Land Acquisition Act (2012), a piece of land may be acquired if it is needed:

a) For any public purpose

b) By any person, corporation or statutory board, for any work or an undertaking which, in the opinion of the Minister, is of public benefit or of public utility or in public interest

c) For any residential, commercial or industrial purposes

This broadly phrased Act essentially grants the government the authority to forcibly acquire land that religious places of worship are located on. The uncertainty of having a physical space for communal worship, religious activities and consecration of deities is further aggravated by the 30 year land lease which religious groups have to compete and tender for in an open market.Compounding this insecurity is a lack of clarity as to what the criteria and quantum are for the extension of the land lease after its expiration (Lee and Long, 2010).

One case study in the negotiation of space is the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea’s experience in securing its land space. According to Kong (1993), the church was premised on Sembawang Road, on a yearly land lease from the HDB. In November 1987, the church was ordered to vacate its premises. Its two requests for a relocation site to be offered at market price, as well as for compensation, were turned down for the church had not been compulsorily acquired; its lease had simply not been extended. The church, therefore, had to tender for a site in Yishun reserved for any Christian group. It was, thankfully, the sole bidder. However, the church was not entirely happy with the site’s conditions. The plot was small, as only 35 percent of the land could be built up, and construction could not exceed 10.8 meters high. The church’s appeal against the building limitations went unanswered. An employee of the church mentioned that it typically costs S$30 million to build a church, which averages to be about S$1 million of depreciation per year of the lease. This does not include other operating and maintenance expenses. Having their land appropriated will prove financially and physically straining on religious groups.

Numerous religious sites in Singapore are relocated, and sometimes merged, when the land they reside on is claimed for redevelopment. Devotees of different religions have varying thoughts on such relocation and mergers. According to a Kerala devotee from the Sree Maha Mariamman Temple, religious sites in India are highly esteemed spaces and will be prioritized over competing land uses. He expresses his disbelief when told that there is a Land Acquisition Act in Singapore, commenting that, in India, “developments occur around temples; temples don’t move.” Another Thai Buddhist maintains that there are religious complexes in Thailand that are many centuries old, and they do not even need to be well-known. Take, for example, a village temple in Supanburi – a rural district slightly outside Bangkok – which has existed in its current position since it was first constructed in the 14th century. In these deeply religious countries, sociopolitical priorities may come and go, but religious spaces remain.

Unlike these nations, Singapore faces land limitations and has a different set of priorities. It needs to balance competition for land use, as well as the different interests that multiple religious groups bring to bear. As such, the future of religious sites in Singapore is uncertain, particularly for those deemed historically unimportant. Unfortunately, these places of worship face the twin specters of having their land compulsorily acquired or their leases not extended. Such appropriation of physical spaces can lead to numerous problems. Firstly, a religious group may incur significant financial costs to bid for lease in a competitive open market. Next, there is no opportunity for socio-spatial history tied to a particular place to be accrued. Thirdly, should the religious group be forced to relocate, there is likely to be a loss in laity. Finally, tensions could invariably arise between the religious group which has won the tender and the rest who have lost.

Despite varying views on the problems of relocating religious sites, a study of the Yishun United Temple reveals that appropriation of land may in fact bring about unexpected benefits. This combined temple was established in 1986 after three separate temples had their land claimed for redevelopment. All three groups shared the cost for the piece of land that they currently occupy in Yishun, on a 30-year lease similar to other religious sites. Combining three separate temples has fostered strong friendships between the elderly volunteers and devotees from each religious group. Over the past three decades, the three temples have co-existed peacefully with minimal tension. The different sects hold events and festivities such as the Lunar New Year celebrations in collaboration with one another. This allows Yishun United Temple to increase their volunteer bank and participation rate through reaching out to devotees from each constituent temple. The common Taoist practices, traditions, and beliefs that run through all three temples have solidified their harmonious co-existence.

This case study highlights that appropriation of land does not necessarily lead to negative effects. Despite relocation and mergers which are beyond their control, these religious groups manage to adapt to changing circumstances. Mergers may be facilitated if the involved sites share the same religion, which would allow common beliefs and practices to thread through any differences that may exist. The Yishun United Temple’s 30-year lease is set to expire by 2014. Interviews conducted with some elderly volunteers reveal that the temple intends to renew their lease, which has since tripled. The lease renewal would be paid with donations accumulated from devotees and donors over the years.

Another factor to consider is that the competitive forces in an open bidding market may price minority religious groups, with fewer devotees and less financial resources, out of having a physical space for worship. However, a representative from Gurdwara Sahib Yishun expressed his confidence in having the temple’s lease renewed. This Sikh temple was allocated its current site due to the intervention of some first generation political leaders after a Christian group, with far greater financial clout, outbid it for another site. Although the current government reserves the right to exercise the Land Acquisition Act, there is calibration on its part. State policies are tempered by the need to maintain the multi-religious fabric of the country through special provisions for minority religious groups unable to tender for space in an open market.

However, solely depending on the patronage of influential political figures may not guarantee protection of physical worship spaces for minority religions. Perhaps the way forward for these religious groups is to offer a counter-narrative to the dominant economic-centric story; to strategically situate themselves – their histories, beliefs and practices – amid local, national and international heritage so that their physical existence can be assured.

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“Conquest without conscience”. To what extent would you agree with this assessment of our relationship with the environment?

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Humans are the “masters” of the Earth today. Clearly, it is not due to our physical prowess that gave us such a title. It is our intellect, innovation and creativity that have allowed the human race to rise in power against all the other animal species that are more physically advanced compared to us. It is through innovation that has allowed us to win the conquest against the animal species, bending them over to our will and subjecting these animals to whatever we please. Since cavemen conquered the animal species, humans have become bolder. Even in today’s modern world, conquests are made, in the form of the uncountable inventions appearing daily, to improve the quality of life. However, the negative effects of the numerous ‘battles’ we have held to become more technologically advanced over the centuries is showing in the home we reside in, Mother Earth. These ‘battles’, regrettably, are still fought daily, and we show almost no effort to stop. In my opinion, I feel that ‘Conquest without conscience’ is an accurate description of the humans’ relationship to the environment. Numerous acts by humans clearly justify my view.

First, there is the act of pollution. Many of the daily tasks that we do in our everyday life involve polluting the environment. These tasks take up a majority of our lives and are often done without a second thought to spare for the environment. China, a country that has up to 1.3 billion people is one of the largest contributors to pollution. It is not only due to the large number of people living in the country that causes the pollution to be high. One of the main reasons that I have singled China out is due to their burning of coal to generate electrical power for the masses. The usage of coal is highly polluting and the main reason on why China uses it is due to the cost effectiveness of coal. The more expensive but cleaner alternative of fossil fuels, however, is adopted in many countries around the world. The usage of coal to generate electrical power for so many people is significant to the global emission levels of carbon monoxide gas. This selfish act of rating cost effectiveness over the harm caused to the environment shows how the humans are involved with the notion of a conquest for advancement without conscience. Mother Earth is then made to inhale so much more of these toxic gases at the expense of coal being cheaper than fossil fuels. Pollution is the result our never-ending need for cheaper energy to power our never-ending consumption of resources.

Second, deforestation too, leads to air pollution. Deforestation is deemed as necessary for many countries as it is the only way for more land to be developed for industrial purposes and for housing. As a result, large areas of woodland are cleared on a regular basis to ensure that there is more space for development to occur. In many countries, there is a more eco- friendly approach in uprooting the trees such that another tree is planted in another region. However, in the case of Indonesia, the deforestation technique is to burn the forest by large areas such that large areas of land can be cleared at once. The usage of this slash-and-burn technique to clear the land, more notably by poor farmers, causes mass pollution for the country of Indonesia. The haze generated by the fire is then blown by the wind over to South East Asian countries, causing an inconvenience to the locals living there and affecting the air quality in these countries. Such acts by the Indonesians further support the claim on how conquests by the humans are made without conscience. The Indonesians, in the conquest to clear more land, not only contributes to the pollution, but also seriously inconveniencing the locals in the Southeast Asian countries. Hence, their selfish methods of clearing land for development illustrates the little conscience they have in the conquest for land for development purposes.

Even in the world of medicine, the statement is relevant. In medicine, new drugs are formulated daily in order to battle against the many sicknesses and illnesses that cause harm to humans. However, due to the reluctance of humans in trying out the drug for fear of adverse side effects, the scientists turn to animals. In laboratories that deal with medicine, rats are bred, for the sole purpose of testing the drug on them. These rats are first injected with the virus, then with the drug and kept under observation. It is only when the rat is close to death that is it put to sleep. These animals form part of our environment, and yet are subjected to pain and misery due to our conquest against diseases. Little thought is spared for how the animal may be feeling during the process of being injected with the virus. Hence, in the conquest against illness and diseases, the humans are too, without conscience and do not mind doing the species that share the planet with us, harm.

However, as our daily activities contribute increasingly to harming the environment, we too, have been trying to make up for our wrong doings and lessening the impact of our rash conquests. First, countries are working together on a global scale to scale down the effects of their global emissions on a regular basis. In 2009, a summit was held at Copenhagen and it was attended by almost every country in the world to discuss issues regarding global emissions and what can be done by each and every country to scale down their carbon emissions. At the summit, many countries, notably China, had each made an effort to reduce the impact of our conquests on the environment. Such acts by the leaders of the countries of the world then demonstrates that although pollution is not going to stop any time soon, the negative effects of pollution to the environment have been recognised and something is being done about it. Even in the upcoming world expo that is going to be held in Shanghai this year, exhibits of the countries are to have a ‘green’ theme to them, raising awareness on the need to cut down pollution. Hence, there is a conscience present for the environmental damage caused and things are being done about it.

Also, other than global efforts, even automobile companies are starting to play their part in showing their regret in harming the Earth. More environmentally friendly cars are emerging as automobile companies try to cut down global emissions due to their cars. These new cars, many of them hybrid cars, can run on the conventional fuel for convenience sake and too, can run on the bio-diesel that is quoted to be environmentally-friendly. Such acts by the giants in the automobile industry will demonstrate how the harm caused to the environment is noted and that the owners of the automobile industry recognise that part of the fault is theirs and something is being done about it.

There is then a conscience present in these car-makers such that they are willing to do something for the harm they have caused in their conquest. All in all, great amount of harm is being dealt to the environment in our conquest for a more advanced and easier life. However, this harm is being compensated for by a few environmentally-mind individuals that actively care for the environment. These are the people, sadly to say, the minority that possess a conscience for the various conquests made.

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