Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Too Know What I Am Fighting For

Note from me: Some years ago, I remember SM Goh who was then the PM, raised the much talked about topic asking Singaporeans, "Are you a quitter or stayer?". Many former Singaporeans called it quit for a myriad of reasons, I fully respect their decision. Is Singapore really that bad for them to uproot and seek greener pasture elsewhere? Our lack of 'so-called' freedom of speech or fearful to speak one's mind, painted by some very 'liberal-minded' western media gave wrong impression that Singaporeans living in this little red dot are largely restricted, sigh. Fortunately, it is not true at all. While many Singaporeans are still battling hard within themselves; to stay or quit?. Perhaps, this article below, which was written by a non-Singaporean may have changed the mindset of some quitters-to-be after reading what she has to say.

Her name is Zhong Heng, a first-year 19-year-old student at Nanyang Technological University and her article first appeared in Lianhe Zaobao and later, Straits Times which was picked up by me. As a Singaporean, I am proud of her for defending our Singapore in her capacity as a non-Singaporean but soon, she will be one of us, I am sure.

I recently read an article in Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao entitled I now What I Am Fighting For, written in response to comments made by a Nanyang Technological University student who said he did not know what he was defending. What the writer said resonates deeply with me, and I want to echo his views: "If I too know what I am fighting for."

I am a 19-year-old Taiwanese. My ancestral home town is in Shandong, China. I was born in America, spent my childhood in South Africa and now I am studying in Singapore.

For the sake of the future of three children, my parents moved the family from one country to another. My father said we had to seek the best place to settle in, while my mother said she was like Chinese philosopher Mencius' mother, who moved house thrice with Mencius before being satisfied that the environment was good for her son.

My parents are educators. They are not rich or powerful, but have a wider world view and more guts than others. Wherever we migrated to, they started with nothing and had to put in a lot of hard work.

We had relatives in all the places we lived in, except for Singapore. But we never lived more than three years in any country, until we moved here, where we have been residing for the past 13 years. We have sunk our roots here.

I was only seven when I first came to Singapore. When I began Primary 1, my parents taught me to fight to survive. This place was more competitive than other countries, we had no friends or relatives and we were new, so I had to reply on myself.

But fight? That sounds militant, but it is not. My first principle of war was to make friends and integrate, while the second was to strive to be better than others and earn their respect.

To win friendship, I was humble. I willingly took the initiative to give of myself, and to show sincere care for others. To earn respect, I was more hard-working than others. I studied hard and got good grades.

My six years in primary school were enriching and happy, as I did many things that others considered insignificant and did not want to do. I lived near the school, so I volunteered to be a traffic warden: Every day before sunrise, I was the first in school, collecting my equipment for the job. After school, I stayed behind to help the teachers tidy the classroom and do other stuff.

I never had tuition, only supplementary lessons in school. And I often got home late because I was helping my classmates out: keeping them company as they waited for family members who were late in picking them up, helping them locate lost items, taking part in group projects, taking care of my juniors in school.

Besides these trivial services, I also actively participated in all sorts of inter-school competitions: speech, art, athletics. All these efforts were to win glory, in the hope that my family, classmates and school would be proud of me.

Later, I made it to Raffles Girls' Secondary School (RGS) after topping my school in the Primary School Leaving Examination. My mother attributed my good results not to tuition or my intelligence, but to the love I gave my school and my efforts to integrate, as well as my joy in learning.

One example proves her point. I remember the day I went back to my primary school to receive my commendation. I met a teacher at the staff room door. I asked her sincerely: "May I get you just one more coffee or tea?" She smiled as she embraced me.

Over the years, every time I had passed her window, she would ask me to get her a coffee or tea from the canteen. After a few times, I did consider avoiding that window. But I quickly realised that I was more privileged than others to have the opportunity to render my teacher a service, which was great. So I did it willingly.

Over time, this teacher and I got into the habit of holding conversations through the window, and I unexpectedly gained from her teaching, which felt good.

Over 13 years, I have made many friends and never once been ostracised. I never think in terms of old or new immigrants. I feel I have become part of this place, and that this is my home.

But as I grow older, I often ask myself who I really am: Chinese, Taiwanese, American or Singaporean? After graduating from RGS, I suddenly craved a sense of belonging. I gave up the chance to study at Raffles Junior College and went to high school in the United States, to experience being an "American". I thought I would have to study for two years, but I graduated earlier than expected, as what I had learnt in four years at RGS went far beyond US high school standards.

When I joined the high school, the school realised that I was up to standard in all the subjects and I had to study only two - American history and physical education. (Singapore's physical education system is good too, but they did not accept my PE grade from Singapore as the system there is different}.

So I had an easy time, with plenty of free time to get my driver's licence - in the US, one can get a licence and drive at 16. I also worked part-time at a relative's company, typing documents and reports and doing filing work for US$5 (S$6.50) an hour, the minimum wage. I worked three hours every day after school, and eight hours on weekends and during vacation. The pay was a little low, but it was a month's pocket money. Compared to the rest of American society then, mired in the sub-prime crisis, with so many people bankrupt and out of a job, I was doing quite well.

I never thought that my US stint would allow me to witness the country's biggest economic crisis and the many social problems that resulted. A young teacher whom I admired lost his job due to the financial crisis faced by the California government (Teachers lose their jobs too!); an elementary school near where I lived had to cancel its music classes; and the state government had to cut the number of scholarships, and bursaries, so many people were unable togo on to university.

But the crisis did not affect my relative much, as he had business dealings with China. That is why he was happy to have me working for him, as my English was better than his other employees', and I could speak, read and write Chinese too. His own children spoke only simple Mandarin and could hardly read the language. This was his biggest worry.

After my stint in the US, I no longer had any illusions about the country. Once I got my high school certificate, I returned to Singapore, happy that I could still choose.

Perhaps I was affected by the US economic storm, but I was still a bit hesitant as to whether to return to Taiwan or go to China - so I applied to universities in both Singapore and Taiwan. In the meantime, I took the opportunity to vist Taiwan and South Africa, where I had spend my childhood.

I had been too young to know much of these places before, but on this trip, while the natural landscape in both places was stunning and I was moved by their unique ethnic features, South Africa's serious problem with law and order and Taiwan's chaotic politics left me shocked and disappointed. I had a sudden thought: When I have the means, I will go back and help African children who do not go to school, and change Taiwan's chaotic politics.

The strength to dream big probably stemmed from my 10 years of education in Singapore. Even I was surprised that living in such a small country would give me such a broad perspective of the world.

When I received admission letters from both Nanyang Technological University and National Taiwan University, I decided to stay in Singapore and continue to arm myself and face challenges. Here, I can see my future clearly, hone my skills with peace of mind and realise my dreams.

Before, I could not decide on my birth, place of origin or migrant journey. But now I have grown up and can decide on my own future. Of course, I will not forget where I came from. One day, I may seek my roots. But I cherish even more my present life and this country that groomed me. For this, I am very grateful to my parents for making the right choice.

Unlike 13 years ago, I no longer fight alone. All around me are more and more comrades around my age from different countries, of different nationalities and ethnic groups. Our aim is the same: to shine on the international stage. We never ask what we are fighting for, as it is clearly for ourselves, our families and the country we live in. As for the issue of old and new immigrants, who cares?

If I want to make Singapore proud of me one day, would you be so calculating as to ask me where I come from?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Water Agreements

Note from me: The water agreements have always been used by politicians from our neighbouring country during Dr Mahathir tenure ship as the 4th PM to threaten SIN to rev up sentiments when there were disagreement of sorts. Singapore has already moved on, and now, we are the leader in the treatment of re-cycled water. For as long as Dr M lives, we will not see the end of this water saga despite the first agreement expiring in 2011, sad.

Taken from the blog of Dr Mahathir (

1. Next year, 2011, one of the agreements to supply up to 86 million gallons of water per day (mgd) from Johore to Singapore at 3 sen per 1,000 gallons will end.

2. I understand Johore is still buying treated water from Singapore for 50 sen per 1,000 gallons. The amount purchased should not exceed 12 per cent of the raw water bought by Singapore.

3. The agreement also stipulates that the price of raw water and treated water can be renegotiated and changed if both parties agree. Should the raw water price be revised upwards Singapore would be entitled to revise the price of treated water.

4. If, for example, under the current agreement the water price is increased to 6 sen per 1,000 gallons, i.e. 100 per cent, Singapore can insist on the same percentage price increase by 100 per cent i.e. from 50 sen per 1,000 gallons to one Ringgit per thousand gallons.

5. If both sides agree on this quantum of price increase, Singapore would actually earn more from selling treated water to Johor than Malaysia would earn from selling raw water to Singapore.

6. Almost 10 years ago Johor was allocated sufficient money to build its own treatment plant so as not to buy treated water from Singapore. I am told that for reasons unknown, despite building its own treatment plant Johore is still buying treated water from Singapore.

7. Johore sells raw water to Melaka at 30 sen per 1,000 gallons. It seems that Johore is less generous towards Melaka than it is towards a foreign country. The wisdom of this escapes me.

8. Whatever, in 2011, a new agreement to supply Singapore with raw water from Johore may have to be made, I think that despite Singapore's desalination plant, despite Newater, and new reservoirs, Singapore would still need raw water from Johore. We should be willing to supply the people of Singapore with raw water.

9. The question is whether we should sell at 3 sen per 1,000 gallons and buy at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons of treated water as before or we should extract better terms.

10. Malaysian negotiators are unduly generous and we often provide ourselves with no exit clause. I will not cite the cases.

11. The public, the Johore people in particular, should be assured that we don't make agreements which are indefensible this time.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Scaling The Summit of Mount Kinabalu

My last visit to Sabah was some 15 years ago, then it was a working trip and climbing Mt Kinabalu was certainly never my agenda. This trip with SANL led by T.S. comprised 10 of us with an equal gender distribution of 5 guys and 5 gals.

The highlights of this adventurous trip included scaling the summit of SEA's highest peak, Mt Kinabalu at 4,095.2m, attempting the Via Ferrata at more than 3,000m and roughing out the grade 4 Padas River on a water dinghy.

With trepidation, we left on 28 Oct by Jetstar and on arrival at KK airport, our guide, Andrew from Amazing Borneo was already waiting for us at the airport. It was around 1300 hrs and we were first taken to Wisma Merdeka for our lunch. During my last stay in KK 'umpteen' years ago, Wisma Merdeka used to be my regular haunt being located just next to the hotel where I used to put up, the Hyatt. I cannot recognise the shops in the mall now. We had our lunch in this foodcourt styled in typical fashion back home. After lunch, we were ferried to Zen Garden, our hotel accommodation which is located some 1,500m in the national park region. The journey took some 2 hours to reach. We were given 5 rooms for the 10 of us, both Chua and I shared a room. Dinner was served at the hotel. A quick briefing by Andrew was made during our dinner to better prepare us for the climb the following morning.

We got up by 0630hrs, had our breakfast at 0700hrs and by 0730hrs, we were raring to leave for the national park office to do the registration process first and then to commence the climb. When we arrived at the national park office, we were introduced to our two assgined mountain guides and the sole porter. We were all in awe when we learnt that our assigned porter turned up to be a lady hailing from the tough Dusun tribe. She can carry a maximum load of 30 kgs up and 50 kgs down which made us guys 'malu'. I didn't let her carry my load, both Chua and Alan too while the rest simply off-loaded bulk of their load to her including lunch-boxes - faint man. They charge RM4 per kilo per way for the porterage service. By my reckoning, my own load should be lesser than 10 kgs, Chua's load should be more because he brought more clothing along.

After registration at the national park, we were transferred to Timpohon Gate which is already standing some 1,866m above sea level. I didn't see my watch but it should be around 8.30pm when we commenced our climb. It was an easy ascend, there are man-made steps along the initial part of the climb. We can hear the gushing noise of a waterfall nearby, the Carson Waterfall to be exact. We were taking it very easy, everyone was in a relaxed mood and moving in a group. Rain came shortly after, sigh and we had to take out our poncho or raincoats. The weather had been unpredictable, given it is a start of monsoon period. One moment it was sunny and the very next, it can pour without warning. Fortunately, the downpour was not heavy throughout the climb. I was moving up quite fast, breaking away from the slower ones. Only Alan, T.S., Chua and later, Zhangting and Siti managed to re-group with me at Layang Layang rest point at 2,702m. We had our packet lunch comprising two sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg and a chicken drumstick. I didn't take the drumstick, the oily stuff simply put me off but Chua had mine instead.

After lunch at Layang Layang, I broke-off with the rest as I wanted to arrive at Pendant Hut (3,270m) to take a longer rest & to acclimatise. I took a breather at some point, waited for a while hoping to re-group with Chua, T.S and Alan who should be moving faster than the rest. There were no sign of them after 15 mins of waiting, I decided to move on. The path was mostly rocky, quite easy to climb albeit slippery somewhat due to formation of algae from the intermittent rain. Fortunately, the vegetation did help to shield us from the rain.

I can feel my muscle straining but I ignored it and kept going. After climbing for more than 1 hour, I can see a hut from a distance and I knew I am quite near to our rest station at Pendant Hut. As I neared, I saw a sign pointing to Laba Rata and not long after, another sign pointing to Pendant Hut which was to be our accommodation for the night. I kept to the direction of Pendant Hut, it was not difficult to follow as it has been a single trail from start to end. Finally, I saw a long single row of wooden steps leading all the way to Pendant Hut. I took one step at a time, paused at some point to take a breather and finally, I was at the entrance of Pendant Hut. It was 1215hrs when I looked at my watch. Nothing to fuss, it was a small resting place good for a night and the view up the summit was simply awesome. As I arrived first, I took the chance to 'chop' the whole room of 8 for our group so that we don't mix with other groups. But for the couple, Katherine and Long they had to bunk-in with others in another room. It is dormitory-style living, everyone has to share one big room.

Via Ferrata briefing for all of us must be done by 4pm and those arriving past that time will have to miss it. Chua, T.S., Te and Alan arrived around 2pm. Not long later, Siti, Te and Zhangting arrived too. We were still waiting for Anne and the couple, Kat & Long. Anne arrived after 3pm but she immediately declared she won't be scaling the summit nor doing the Via Ferrata - "wasn't it a waste of money", I wondered to myself. We were still waiting for Long and Kat to arrive, hoping they will make it before 4pm deadline for the briefing. At 3.30pm, there was no sign of them though our mountain guide who was with them reported back they should be arriving by that time. At 3.45pm, still no sign. We kept our fingers crossed. Finally, at exactly 4pm, we saw the two of them slowly inching up the wooden steps. We went out to welcome them, rooting them on. They were totally exhausted but were certainly happy & relieved to have arrived just on the dot. The right side of Long's pants was sliced wide-open, exposing a large part of his 'sexy' leg. It torn off as he did a full stretch we were told but sheepishly, he admitted he is fat. Spurred on by Siti, I took a quick shot of his torn pants with 'evil' intention to post it on FB for everyone viewing when back.

We had our dinner at Laba Rata and the food dished out by them simply blew me away. At such high altitude of 3,270m, I cannot imagine they can still cook such sumptuous buffet spread for us. After a hearty dinner, we headed back to Pendant Hut for an early night. By 7pm, I was already on my bed in hope to rest well for the final assault to the summit. I was fighting hard to sleep but I was kept wide awake by Te's snoring just below me and Alan too, on my left. It was like a symphony choir that kept me awake the whole night. I tossed left, tossed right, counted sheeps but just couldn't sleep at all. At 1pm, I got up, brushed my teeth, dressed up and ready to move out. Everyone was awake by then. After breakfast, everyone except Anne was ready at 2pm for the final ascent. It was still pitch dark, each of us had our head-torch on. I had two layers of shirt, a tight fitting attire and a loose shirt and a sweater outside to fight the cold at the summit. To protect my hands, I first put on the surgical gloves and then the normal gloves. Our two mountain guides made a final count, 9 out of 10 of us with one opting out were ready and then led us all out. It was dark, the head torches were visible as more and more climbers made their way up. I was feeling quite charged-up though I didn't manage to catch a wink the whole night. I made my way past many. Before reaching Sayat Sayat at 3,668m, which was the final check-point, I began to feel uneasy. The breakfast meal that I took early was stuck somewhere near my chest, the 'buttering' feeling made me feel like I am going to throw out anytime soon. As if it was not bad enough, I needed to go toilet to 'bomb' big time. I knew the dreadful mountain sickness was beginning to take a toll on me, slowly but surely. Trying my best to ignore it, I pressed on. When I reached Sayat Sayat check-point, fortunately there is a toilet nearby. I made a dash for it, it was like a big stone had just been lifted off me. For that moment, I felt reprisal of sorts but only just. The uneasiness feeling continued to bother me as I inched higher and higher. The air was getting thinner, breathing was getting heavier and heavier. I had to walk few steps, stopped a while to catch a breather. I felt like vomiting as the mountain sickness had already kicked-in. It was still dark, by my reckoning it should be near 0500hrs. I took the chance to wait for the rest to catch up. Chua appeared not long after followed by Alan, T.S. and Te. I was already feeling sick but decided to push for the summit with them. A mountain guide told us it will take another 1 hour and a half before we could reach the summit. Each step seemed like eternity, slow and punishing on my body.

We could see the summit, the torches were clearly visible on the summit. The entire path leading to the summit was rocky, there was no vegetation to shield from element and some parts were steep too. Sometimes, we had to go on four. Only Alan was with me, we had broken off from the rest. I was feeling weaker and weaker due to the mountain sickness fatigue. I took longer rest each time and Alan stayed around, keeping pace with me. Finally we reached the summit. By then, Chua, T.S. and Te were already waiting and they will happily posing and taking pictures. I was feeling nausea, simply threw myself on the ground. Admittedly, it was a spectacular sight from the top despite my battered shape. A group of Taiwanese simply gathered at the summit, refusing to leave and we had to wait for our turn. It was very cold, I was shivering inside me. The two layers of clothes plus the sweater outside were not enough to protect me from the cold. After the Taiwanese group had left, we managed to move just underneath the summit, rolled out our nicely prepared banner for a group picture. All 5 of us, Chua, T.S., Alan, Te and I made it to the summit - much to our delight. Alas, Siti who was hit by mountain sickness waited somewhere below and Zhang Ting was further down at Sayat Sayat. As we had to re-group by 8am at Sayat Sayat for Via Ferrata, Siti and Zhang Ting had to give the summit a miss. Kat and Long, both suffered badly from mountain sickness had already made a detour back to Pendant Hut.

I felt much better as we descend to Sayat Sayat for our next event, Via Ferrata. After a good short rest at Sayat Sayat, we started our Via Ferrata event led by our instructor, a seasoned no-nonsense chap who insisted that we followed every of his instruction. Te began to feel jittery of the Via Ferrata decided to opt out instead. Thus, only the 6 of us instead of 7 to attempt the Via Ferrata. We were to move as a group in a single file, tied together. I was the leader, the first person to move off followed by Zhang Ting, Alan, Chua, Siti and T.S. in that order. Our instructor was the last person who watched us closely from behind. This was another exhilarating experience, imagine doing Via Ferrata at more than 3,000m. Though we were hanging high up, it was perfectly safe while we inched our way around the cliff. In all, it took us 2 hours to complete the whole circuit. We were told the slowest on record took some 8 hours. The completion of the climb and Via Ferrata in one go will soon earn us two certificates - I felt most satisfied.

The following day was the water rafting event at Padas river. Due to the constant downpour, the river was rated 4 which posed another big challenge for novices like us. We had another eventful day at Padas river and more pictures were taken. My only grouse was the short distance covered, sigh.

Both Chua and I stayed for 2 more nights after the rest had departed on 1 Nov. I took the chance to catch up with some old friends, Ronny, Tan and Maggie. During the additional days, we went island hopping and also did an exploration cruise on Klias river. I truly enjoyed this expedition with the group and have already confirmed my second Mount Kinabalu trip with another group of enthusiastic friends in April next year.