Get us in the mood for love

Posted November 2, 2009 by eisen
Categories: Soapbox

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GIVEN the peaks and valleys of romance, it can be difficult for a young person to navigate matters of love.
The Social Development Network (SDN), the latest incarnation of the Government’s matchmaking service, hopes to be a global positioning system for lonely hearts.
Too bad it is desperately outdated – despite its efforts being made in the right spirit.
What worked was it did away with the “SDU-SDS” moniker, a relic harking back to a time when men who preferred less-educated women were urged to man up, not marry down.
The SDN now offers “packages” by professional dating agencies, which promise to spruce you up, coach you and deliver your best self to the dating pool – and pay for it.
But while the new SDN is an improvement, it still lags behind the country’s youth, failing to account for how sophisticated Net Geners are socialising online.
Young singles now trade Facebook and Microsoft Messenger (MSN) accounts before phone numbers. Potential dates must first clear the “tag-and-type” test; that is, look good in their “tagged” photos on Facebook, and be able to converse on SMS, or text messaging.
(Ahem, yes, I confess to “untagging” all unflattering photos of myself.)
To us, a Facebook profile is a personal ad – not a static page. Meanwhile, immediate alerts from Twitter, or “tweets”, encourage us to interact round the clock, and on the go.
That trumps any website like SDN’s, which still requires users to log in – with NRIC numbers, no less.
“My user-ID is my IC number?” said my single friend Tami when she visited the website http://www.lovebyte.org.sg
“What am I doing here, paying tax?”
So, while the SDN offers us singles tips on how to be more physically attractive, allow us to return the favour by suggesting ways to dress up its service.
We’d find it more sexy for SDN to follow our lifestyles, rather than turning romance into a bureaucratic exercise.
For one thing, forcing singles to declare their employers, job titles and incomes just to create a profile does nothing to turn us on.
Instead, how about incorporating into the website existing networking tools where we already have accounts?
Let us link our Facebook and Twitter profiles to SDN’s personal ads; publicise social events for free; and create groups to gather like-minded people.
While we’re at it, maybe SDN could be more sensitive with the language in the site’s terms and conditions.
Statements like “SDN reserves the right not to accept your application”, and “I declare that I am not married” only add to our fear of rejection and self-consciousness.
If we are to find our happily-ever-afters with government aid, it might help to first get us in the mood for love.

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What youths think of wet markets

Posted November 2, 2009 by eisen
Categories: My Life

Tags: , , , ,

How can wet markets stay relevant? YouthInk writers give their take.

Keep up with changing needs
IT IS hard to imagine a neighbourhood without wet markets. Their wet floors, friendly vendor banter and little idiosyncrasies make them almost a unique cultural attraction on their own.
To remain relevant, though, they should be open to change.
How about diversifying its fresh products, perhaps with food like frog or octopus meat? Or follow Hong Kong’s lead, introducing thematic workshops on cooking Chinese soups and meats, maybe consider running public health talks on maintaining a balanced diet?
These special events will appeal especially to homemakers. Festive promotions are also a possibility.
Having lower prices and giving out freebies once every few weeks, as supermarkets do, could drum up some much-needed buzz – all will go a long way to helping wet markets thrive alongside air-conditioned giants.
Alex Liam, 20, has a place to read business administration at the National University of Singapore.

Better service, greater convenience
MENTION “wet market” and I am reminded of how I usually walk with trepidation on the slippery and grimy floors of the Lorong 6 Toa Payoh wet market.
Definitely not something I relish, but still memorable for its diverse range of cheap food produce for sale and, most of all, the personal touch.
Admittedly, it has been a year since I have stepped into a wet market, and I find myself turning to cleaner, air-conditioned outlets for convenience, freshness and affordability.
But I’d still return, if wet markets offer more personalised service. If, for instance, customers have the option to phone or e-mail their orders and have food produce delivered to households or businesses within a 2km radius.
This will cater to individuals with hectic work schedules who simply cannot spare the time and energy to make the trip, and retain more customers.
Rachel Chan, 25, is a recent graduate and manager at the Workforce Development Agency.

Integrated concept offering more
I WANT my wet market to be a one-stop outlet for all my daily needs – not just food.
My Filipino friend, Jennifer, suggested that wet markets here can adopt an integrated concept similar to Masinag Wet and Dry Market near Manila, which has it all: hairdressing and postal services, remittance, shoe repair, even tailoring.
If local wet markets merge with neighbourhood shops, large economies of scale might be achieved, and bring down the costs of products and services. That would benefit the lower income group the most.
Nicholas Lim, 20, has a place to read business at Nanyang Technological University.

Keep them as they are
I’VE always regarded wet markets as a place for family bonding, discovery and simple childhood fun.
Be it going around one, fascinated at the sight of various fresh produce, or learning from my dad how to select the right meats for my Home Economics practical lessons, wet markets hold a special place in my life.
I still go there with him once every two months when he has a lot of shopping to do for big family get-togethers.
We already have supermarkets in abundance, so I’d be disappointed to see the wet ones make way for more of them. Instead, wet markets should stay where they are, as they are – uniquely humid, noisy, with strange odours.
I plan to take my children there in future and show them how to seek out the right produce – just as my dad did. Call me a sucker for the old-fashioned, but my idea of the wet markets I’d be proud of are the ones already among us.
Bryan Toh, 17, is a second-year mass communications student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Hygiene risks, not national icons
I HAVE never stepped into a wet market, and no wonder – health standards are a pertinent concern and, unless wet markets clean up their act, they will become a thing of the past.
Damp and warm conditions provide fertile breeding ground for germs. The stereotyping – that wet markets are unhygienic – is not unfounded.
If not for the food poisoning scandal at Geylang Serai earlier this year, we might not have embarked on a witch hunt (or rather, rat hunt) that unravelled the rodent infestation in the wet market next door.
Our wet markets are far from being national icons – they’re nothing compared in scale and variety to other international markets such as Tokyo’s Tsujiki fish market. If traditionalists insist on keeping their “heritage”, they should have good reasons to justify it.
Chew Zhi Wen, 22, is a second-year law student at NUS.

Wet markets need extreme makeover

Posted October 26, 2009 by eisen
Categories: Soapbox

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UPON hearing the news of the impending sale of five private wet markets to Sheng Siong, they embraced, then wept.
The tofu seller, who had just told her customer of 15 years the news, said: “We have known each other for years, we see each other four times a week, and we know the names of each other’s children.”
The women, in their 50s, said in Mandarin: “It is not just about the loss of a wet market.”
To their generation, wet markets are where friends catch up while haggling over vegetables, while requesting that the curry paste be made stronger, or while waiting for the chicken to be chopped up.
Then, there’s how the youth see wet markets: as novelty items. At best, they are like outfits from the 1990s stashed away in closets – irrelevant but comforting to have around. While we nurse a soft spot for them, we rarely use them.
The truth is, the thought of venturing into those poorly ventilated, smelly outlets makes our stomachs churn a bit.
We’d rather breeze through air-conditioned supermarkets. They are dry and friendly to high heels.
Still, wet markets can thrive if they evolve to stay relevant to youth.
Take Hong Kong’s historical four-storey Central Market, the city’s first wet market in the central district’s prime business area. When it emerges from redevelopment in a few years, it will be an “urban oasis” for space-starved, downtown workers. In its new incarnation, it will have floor space reserved for leisure activities as well as rooftop greenery.
Or consider the produce markets of the West. At London’s fashionable Chelsea Farmers Market, the farmers offer pots of fresh herbs, organic produce, meat and dairy products, as well as tasting samples. They truck their produce to the site, showcase their specialities, and even throw in freebies with a purchase. It’s friendly, personalised service – a relationship-based shopping experience.
I’d wager that many young people still hold wet markets dear, but luring them in will call for some reconceptualising.
How about a breakfast bar that serves local coffee and kaya toast, or vegetables labelled in English? Or delivery services for heavy items such as rice or potatoes?
And, oh, how about dry floors?
If even impractical, 1970s-style thigh-high boots can make a comeback here in the tropics, surely there’s a way to put wet markets back in vogue too.

Stay relevant to connect with students

Posted October 26, 2009 by eisen
Categories: My Life

Tags: , , ,

Are campus newspapers serving their target audience – students – well enough? What should be improved? YouthInk writers give their two cents’ worth.

Colourful writing is not enough
STUDENT publications are great outlets for aspiring writers. However, there is a difference between writing for pleasure and writing for an undergraduate community. A good campus publication must speak to and for the student population.
It should be attuned to undergraduate concerns, discern issues relevant to its readers, and stimulate discussions about student affairs. The Ridge is the most widely circulated publication at NUS but is not something I would follow regularly.
My gripe is with its lack of coherence. Important student issues are sandwiched between a smorgasbord of lifestyle and general interest pieces. Almost anything goes and this dilutes its relevance to me.
Can The Ridge claim to be an authoritative voice for the student population? Frankly, I think not. And I am still waiting for a publication bold enough to claim that mantle. When that happens, I will definitely sit up, pay attention and read.
Jeanne Tai, 22, is an honours student in history at the National University of Singapore.

Don’t ignore controversial issues
WHEN I was in National Junior College (NJC), my quarterly college publication, Grayvine, served as a good source of information for college events.
Yet, when news surfaced on online portal Stomp last month about some NJC students using loose language to describe peers from another top school, Grayvine chose to give it a miss. I suppose this was because Grayvine traditionally considers only “official” school events within its purview, whereas that incident was viewed as gossip material.
I am sure my fellow college mates have a lot to say on this episode, be it clarifying the facts or drawing lessons from it for our juniors. But since they were denied that avenue by our publication, many students moved online to platforms like Stomp to air their views, thereby blowing the matter out of proportion.
I feel this issue could have been resolved more amicably had Grayvine channelled their opinions. I hope Grayvine will be more reflective of students’ sentiments in future, and cover even relevant controversial events.
Nicholas Lim, 20, has a place to read business at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Helping me to keep in touch
EVERY three weeks on Mondays, I stand by newsstands in school to await the arrival of my campus newspaper, The Nanyang Chronicle, fresh off the presses.
Some criticise the publication for dated story ideas and unexciting news angles. But for a student-initiated publication with no budget to speak of, I give it some credit for the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. I know this because I was part of the production team from November 2007 to April last year.
Every issue gives me a sense of what my peers have been up to, whether they were rubbing shoulders with the prime minister or trying out a tom yum cocktail at Odeon Towers. I get a good idea of what the average student is thinking without actually having to know them.
Thumbing through it also validates my personal grouses about school. Writers’ columns reassure me that I’m not overreacting to particular issues that non-NTU students cannot empathise with.
Who else is in a better position to complain about shuttle bus services and canteen food than fellow school mates?
Estelle Low, 22, is a final-year journalism student at NTU.

Think hard about business model
I WAS editor of my campus magazine, Blurt!, from March 2007 to March last year, and am an avid reader of student publications.
What vexes me is the lack of investigative journalism by passionate writers who feel for the issues that concern students and are willing to push the boundaries.
What renders our situation more difficult is the smaller pool of journalistic talent in a predominantly business school like SMU, and constant competition with other student clubs for talent. We do not give out CCA points for their efforts too.
What I suggest is a business model to pay them for contributions and reward their risk-taking. This means earning revenue from advertisers and sponsors, and moving away from school funding.
To deliver on the stories that matter, student publications have to think hard about their business models.
Kenny Tan, 23, is a final-year economics student at the Singapore Management University (SMU).

Giving international students a voice

Posted October 19, 2009 by eisen
Categories: Letters Home

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ALWAYS thought that being an international student meant becoming a mere transient figure in a foreign land?
Never imagined that your views would matter to the government of your host country?
Think again!
On July 27, Federal Minister for Education and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard invited all international students in Australia to apply for the International Student Roundtable.
The Roundtable aimed to provide international students with the opportunity to communicate their experiences and suggestions to the Australian government directly, to enhance the quality of Australian international education.
As many as 1,300 applications were submitted to the “Study in Australia” website; from that number, 31 from 16 countries including Sweden, Indonesia, Ireland and Nepal were selected. I was honoured to be the only voice for Singapore and the Australian state in which I was based – the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
On Sept 14 and 15, we met at the Parliament House in the capital Canberra. I was armed with a well-researched list of current policies and issues affecting international students, based on discussions with fellow international students.
They raised issues such as the lack of social inclusion in universities and inconsistencies in transport concessions across various states. Also, insufficient measures to ensure safety, citing a spate of attacks against Indian students in Australia.
Personally, I urged the government to implement measures to keep in check employers who exploit international students, and establish a permanent one-stop body facilitating communication between international students and the authorities, including providing the former with information on visas and school fees and a feedback channel.
But I had my reservations.
Could our views make any impact at all? Was the government actually prepared to take on board what we said?
As if to placate our doubts, the government later announced that key suggestions brought up at the Roundtable would be consolidated in a communiqué to be presented to the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment.
That was two weeks ago and, hopefully, concrete policy changes will emerge.
This experience meant much to me – it was a chance to have our voices heard. For me, it was a strong impetus to continue contributing to the wider student community in Australia.
I hope to collaborate with other international student leaders in the ACT and the local ACT government to establish an ACT international student body and, where possible, work with other Roundtable participants in future.
So much for the long-standing myth of the international student being merely a transient figure.
The writer, 20, is a second-year law and music student at the Australian National University.

An addiction or just a hobby?

Posted October 19, 2009 by eisen
Categories: My Life

Tags: , , , ,

Youths spend up to 27 hours a week playing online games like MapleStory and World of Warcraft. But is it such a bad thing? YouthInk writers give their take.

Aim to be the best, even in virtual world
I REMEMBER when I lived and breathed MapleStory in Secondary 4 – I spent close to 24 hours at a stretch on it, minus meals and toilet breaks.
My parents went nuts. They scolded me, took away my keyboard, even ripped out the power cables.
Why was I so hooked? Well, the desire to be the best in society manifested itself in the virtual world – I wanted to be the best in MapleStory, too.
The prestige of owning the character that had attained the highest level was just too tempting – not unlike the motivation to get the most As in school, own the latest piece of technology, or even that Mercedes-Benz E class.
Furthermore, stressing out over the O levels made me feel that I deserved as much time as I wanted on games after all the trauma.
A desire to win, be it at exams or games, coupled with high stress levels and a high computer literacy rate, are a potent concoction for high gaming rates.
But parents, don’t fret. Like any other activity, we get bored sooner or later. You know us – try to stop us, and we’ll play even more, just to prove how good we can be.
Ng Yi Xun, 20, is currently serving national service.

Up to the individual to explore limits
WHILE I see no appeal in playing computer games, my 14-year-old brother thinks otherwise.
On a weekday, he clocks at least three hours, which goes up to five hours on a weekend, on his favourite games Defence Of The Ancients and Counter-Strike.
I have learnt not to disturb him when he is gaming as he becomes irritable: I have been snapped at countless times. Expletives are also commonplace when his gaming character is killed.
Yet, his grades have remained consistently above average. He also engages in other activities, road biking being his main interest.
Although gaming is generally frowned upon as a waste of time, those who indulge in it consider it like any other hobby. It can sometimes be a delicate balance, but I believe it is up to the individual to explore these limits and set his own constraints.
We should trust him, and step in only when gaming begins to overtake basic needs such as eating and sleeping. Otherwise, he will only see it as parents trying to stop what is, for him, a perfectly harmless hobby.
Kerri Teo, 18, is a first-year business student at the Singapore Management University.

Real-life lessons from some games
ONLINE games can be a viable and sustainable platform for human interaction – as long as we can draw a line between the real world and the virtual world.
The Facebook game Mafia Wars is my firm favourite. I started playing it religiously from May this year, when it was hugely popular among Facebook users.
To me, the thrill of building a reputation in the online gaming world, where possibilities are endless, is unrivalled, compared to the boring humdrum of everyday life.
In the process, I became close friends with people from various walks of life, including a prominent entrepreneur and an Italian chef. I even rekindled my friendship with a long-lost kindergarten classmate.
What connected us? Our love of the game, and our knowledge of the ways and means to “level up”. It was like joining an exclusive club.
Mafia Wars has also taught me financial concepts like investing in property and making tough choices amid conflicting aims – a real-life example of opportunity cost, something we always learnt in Economics class.
We were actually grasping relevant concepts and social skills.
Nicholas Lim, 20, has a place to read business at Nanyang Technological University.

Virtual reality takes over human touch
YOUTHS certainly have more pressing activities to attend to than whittling it all away gaming.
After all, this is Singapore – where pursuing a proper education takes a physical and mental toll on us.
As I run about frantically trying to strike the perfect balance between grades, co-curricular activities, family and what little social life I can squeeze in, I can never understand how my peers find time to game.
Some rush home after school with one thing on their minds: Counter-Strike. Others speak of World Of Warcraft like it was the only thing that mattered in their lives.
Unsurprisingly, something’s got to give. Those peers of mine gradually lost interest in their social life, grades, even family – and the ability to communicate efficiently with others as virtual reality took over the human touch like face-to-face meetings and a human voice.
So, for those addicted to gaming, please, get a life.
Christel Gomes, 21, is a third-year English literature student at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Parents should teach moderation
BACK in secondary school, I was enthralled by the sheer excitement of gunning down enemy soldiers in war games like Battlefield 1942 and Red Orchestra: Ostfront.
Unfortunately, my exam results suffered from it.
My parents could have slapped a ban on the computer. Thankfully, I managed to assure them that I would game only for an hour a day and completely abstain during exam periods.
I chose to lay down my own rules because I wanted them to trust me.
I suggested forfeiting a luxury if I broke the one-hour curfew. That meant not being allowed to use the air-conditioner when I sleep.
Thanks to this agreement, I have not gone overboard with gaming.
Parents should encourage their children to take responsibility, and let them decide on the duration of gameplay and penalties for playing overtime.
Simply pulling the plug on gaming only makes youths more rebellious and stubborn.
Jonathan Liautrakul, 19, has a place to read arts and social sciences at NUS.

Integration 101: Here’s how to build ties

Posted October 12, 2009 by eisen
Categories: Soapbox

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IT MAY sound like an old cliche, but youths today hold the key to Singapore’s future integration – or dissolution.
Much has been said about what Singaporeans and foreigners should do to accommodate and assimilate. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also sought to calm simmering resentment last month, signalling that Singapore would slow its immigrant intake.
But a stronger, non-government thrust might lie with the nation’s youths. A straw poll of 100 youths aged 13 to 24 recently conducted for The Straits Times’ youth magazine, IN, revealed some intriguing issues.
Younger youths – between 13 and 18 – tend not to consider themselves different from non-Singaporeans. They also see foreign schoolmates as beneficial to their studies, and want immigration rules eased or kept at their current status.
Their older counterparts, on the other hand, tend to draw a distinction between local and non-local, view foreigners as unwanted competition for grades, and want the immigration tap tightened.
Dr Leong Chan Hoong, research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, and Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, a Nominated Member of Parliament who teaches sociology at the National University of Singapore, both point out that competition for educational opportunities and jobs rises as youths grow older.
Because there is a lack of a permanent classroom arrangement at tertiary level, the effectiveness of institutional initiatives to promote integration is limited.
Finally, there’s the numbers game.
According to the Ministry of Education, foreigners make up 20 per cent of undergraduates, against just 4 per cent at secondary school and junior college levels, and 8 per cent at the polytechnics.
But should we wait until our youths enrol in university to tame the flames of resentment? In a word: No.
Instead, education experts at all levels should double their integration efforts.
Prof Straughan suggested finding more local families to host foreign students, especially during school holidays when the hostels empty out, leaving lonely stragglers behind.
Why not extend this to junior college and secondary school levels too – or even assign every foreign student to a local family, and not just during the holidays?
There is nothing quite like eating and sleeping under one roof to foster understanding and strengthen ties.
On a student exchange to the United States two years ago, I learnt most about the American way of life and thinking from my American roommate. We learnt to accommodate each other’s quirks and resolve disputes through compromise.
Such interaction, I believe, will warm foreigners to the Singaporean way of life, and get Singaporeans to see them as more than just a threat or faceless hordes.
Better than viewing The Other from afar – which is sadly the norm for my generation of 20-somethings.
On campus, the inevitable tends to happen. All it takes is an unpleasant episode – someone cutting queue, pushing and shoving on the bus, or loud chatter in the library – for us to point fingers and go: “Those foreigners…”
Who bothers to actually talk to them, let alone try to understand them? Who cares if Singaporeans are equally capable of such ugly behaviour? It seems that not enough can be said of getting an early start when it comes to learning positive attitudes.
It cannot hurt to build up as much goodwill among Singaporeans and their foreign classmates – at as young an age as possible – when it could spell the difference between creating a new mosaic or having the pieces fall apart altogether.