We will get our first woman minister come 1st April, no kidding.
Tomorrow, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, will become a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, as well as Second Minister in both the Finance and Transport ministries, where she has been Senior Minister of State since last year.
I am not sure how the women here are reacting to this milestone in the Singapore politics but personally, I have some thoughts.
We have waited for more than 43 years for this to happen. As a fellow womankind, I am naturally elated to witness this milestone. However, I am also somewhat downhearted at the same time.
As a relatively young nation, we did not have to go through the era when gender equality was almost non-existent. Mrs Lim Hwee Hua said she had benefited as a female Singaporean, with equal and easy access to opportunities in education and career. Many of us can agree to that. If that is so, why then did it take so long for this day to come?
When Singapore gained self-governing in 1959, the People's Action Party (PAP) had four female PAP candidates voted into the self-governing Assembly. Not all four stayed on with the PAP but they remained in politics. My point here is that, female politicians were here right from the start.
Curiously after that, for a full 14 years from 1970 to 1984, there was no female representative in the parliament. Since 1984, women candidates such as Dr. Dixie Tan, Dr.Aline Wong, Mrs. Yu-Foo Yu Shoon and Dr. Seet Ai Mee began to be fielded.
The number of women participating in politics has since been increasing but women remain significantly under-represented in government. There are currently 17 elected women parliamentarians out of a total of 84 elected members. We have some way to go towards equality.
When we were in school, we did not feel the presence of gender inequality. Boys and girls are ranked and rewarded purely on the basis of merit. However, when the girls come into work force, they do not fare so well especially at the top echelon.
What is the problem?
I do not think it is a case of unequal opportunity. Rather, the problem lies with the unequal expectation.
Women are expected to match the ability of their male counterparts before they can be considered for the same job. That is fair. However, women are also expected to continue to play their traditional role usually played by the housewives. That is where the problem starts.
In order to be worthy of consideration, a woman candidate for a job needs to fulfill two challenging tasks: match or exceed the ability of her male counterparts and remain committed and effective in discharging her traditional duties.
In short, a woman has to be more capable before she can be seen as an equal match of a male contender. To achieve that, she needs good brain power and a good support network from family and friends. At any one time, women who are so blessed couldn't have been so many, hence, the relatively smaller number of women candidates for big jobs.
Mrs. Lim Hwee Hua said that she hoped her appointment would motivate even more women to enter politics. With that, I take it that she agrees with the prevailing large gender gap in the government.
At an interview, she was asked how she would juggle her time between work and family life. Mrs Lim, who has three children, said that, "it will continue to be juggled."
I have not heard a similar comment when a man is promoted to a higher position, have you? For that matter, the man will not even be asked such a question.
No woman is spared of her dual-role, Minister or not.
Besides her brain power and her juggling skills, a woman politician is also scrutinized for her look, or the lack of it. This is where it gets really insulting.
The Spain's 20 Minitos newspapers has since December last year put up an online poll for netizens to vote for "the world's most beautiful women in politics and government".
Our nominated Member of Parliament, Miss Eunice Olsen was reported to be ranked top 10. There are a total of 65 shortlisted "'beautiful politicians" and the voting is still on-going. It is not clear when the voting deadline is and when and how the result will be made known. Well, not that it is all that important to me.
However, if you would like to have a say, cast your vote at the Spanish website (scroll down). Do let me know your basis: A. Beauty B. Brain Power C. Flag D. Color.
(I thought brain power should be the only reason why they get the job but I will leave you to decide for yourself.)
I checked the list of "contestants" and was startled not by their looks (not that they are not beautiful) but the wider representation of women politicians in other countries, many of these I would not consider more advanced than Singapore.
Some of these beautiful people are holding very senior political positions, such as the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is ranked top 10 and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is the President of Argentina.
Many are also from Asian countries/descent. They are Jiang Yu (姜瑜), the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson for the People's Republic of China, Angelina Sondakh from Indonesia, Yuri Fujikawa from Japan, Melissa Lee from New Zealand (born South Korean) and Penny Wong, Australian Minister for Climate Change and Water (born Malaysian Chinese).
Today, it is not uncommon to find women head of state/government. Besides Ukraine and Argentina, countries which are currently led by women include Philippines, Germany, Mozambique, Liberia, Chile, Moldova, Haiti, Bangladesh, Iceland, Ireland, Finland, Switzerland and India.
Other countries in the East have had women head of state/government in their recent political arena too: Megawati from Indonesia, Han Myung Sook from South Korea, Indira Gandhi from India, Sirimavo Bandaranaike from Sri Lanka and Benazir Bhutto from Pakistan.
Even the nearby Malaysia have had their first woman Minister right after independence (1957) and there were a few more who followed, including Rafidah Aziz who was appointed Minister of International Trade and Industry from 1987 to 2008.
After I look at the matter in perspective, I am left more perplex. If I were to use the level of women participation in politics as one of the ways to measure gender equality, we are disturbingly 'backward'.
Or perhaps, should I see this as the start of something bigger? Let's say we have taken the first step towards the first woman Prime Minister of Singapore. Who knows? That might really happen within my lifetime.
Meanwhile, let's unleash more women power.
"The journey of a thousand mile begins with the first step." - Ancient Chinese philosopher, Laozi (千里之行，始于足下)
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Jargon, cliches and buzzwords are everywhere. What happened to the good old simple English?
We all use jargon every now and then. Yet, we are all too familiar with the frustration when jargon begins to sound like Greek to us.
Jargon can be good or bad. It is bad when it confuses me. However, the problem is that, no jargon is always good or bad. It depends on when and how it is used.
Jargon is the use of specialized terms, acronyms and abbreviations that are understandable to only a selected group of people. It is well-loved at workplace because we can use it to convey a set of otherwise complex concepts.
When we communicate, we seek to be understood. Jargon should therefore be used as a tool to help us get our message across clearly and not as weapons to confuse, belittle or impress.
The use of jargon can be habitual. That is when we find ourselves in a situation where we use the same jargonistic words regardless of audience. We just cannot find any simpler substitutes. To make matter worse, we can be totally oblivious to the frustration of our audience for having to put up with our gibberish. In this sense, the use of jargon really diminishes the effectiveness of our communication.
Try to make sense out of these lines which are meant to impress customers . . .
"We are a company with a loud ambition, heading for a bold destination. We benchmark with market leaders and leverage on technology to achieve quantum leaps. With our constant horizon scanning, we are the pathfinders in the field and the creators of new paradigms. Our company is multidisciplinary and we offer a menu of options. . . . You are our partners in our journey to pursue our dreams. You can value-add our business and our collaboration can generate immense synergies. You are the fulcrum to bring us to a greater height and yet our vision is coterminous...."
You may know every word said but do you really understand? There are many big but hollow words in there. I just have another equally big word to describe them all - gobbledegook! On the surface, the passage may appear substantial or even impressive but they are actually nothing but strings of words with loose and little meanings.
Even though it is just something I made up, it is not uncommon to find similar hollow statements in many places if you bother to take note. Some are framed in expensive casing making them look really important. Just take a moment to scrutinize, those words behind the elegant frames sometimes are so jargon-filled that they are utterly confusing if not, annoying.
I may have exaggerated but it is common to find people replacing perfectly acceptable and easily understood words with fancy mumbo jumbo. In doing so, they hope to create a more intelligent and more knowledgeable image. More often than not, the impression is a negative one as the audience struggles to understand.
In UK, the local and central government are often criticised for their use of language. The Local Government Association (LGA) is urging the public sector to avoid jargon. Its chairman, Ms Margaret Eaton said that they "must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases." LGA also came up with a banned list of the 200 worst uses of jargon and suggested simpler alternatives. Check it out. You can also take a short quiz (which I failed) to see if you can understand some of these chided words. (LGA is a voluntary lobbying organisation, acting as the voice of the local government sector)
There are reasons (or excuses) why some people use jargon and these are some common ones. Can you find yours?
a) I am communicating with others in my expertise
I supposed this is OK so long as you are sure that everyone really understands. In fact, the use of jargon can help convey specialist information.
b) I am not thinking
You use jargon because it is a bad habit of yours. You speak to people outside your field no differently and you are unintelligible to them. These people include your customers or your family members.
c) I try to impress
If you think the use of jargon creates good impression, good luck to you. In fact, jargon rarely impresses intelligent people. You are more likely to create the impression of "trying to impress" rather than "being impressive". Others may see it as insincere or irritating.
d) I try to distract from facts or knowledge
Some people fall into jargon traps when they want to hide the truth. It is best that you avoid this as it is easily spotted by people more intelligent or experienced than you.
e) I try to distract from lack of knowledge
This may be unintentional. When you are unsure or under pressure, you might instinctively fill your response with jargon rather than give a straight and concise one. Your answers become incoherent and your audience can sense that you are 'smoking'. (Singlish for an attempt to cause a diversion or a confusion by giving intelligent sounding but meaningless answers.)
f) I try to fit
Sometimes you use jargon because it makes you sound like those you want to build rapport with (at least that is what you think). The problem is, you may not fully understand the jargon and thus not using it appropriately. As a consequence, your audience may feel that you are out of place. Instead of building rapport, you end up being distanced.
Like everyone else, I want to be understood and I consciously avoid using jargon when it is not appropriate or helpful. Yet, some of the above do describe me. I will have a long way to go.
The use of jargon is a double-edged sword. It may help you get your point across effectively or it may create unintended confusion to your audience. So, use your jargon wisely.
My advice: Use simple words. For centuries, people say "I love you" instead of "I am immensely infatuated by you" for a good reason. You know what I mean.
Stay simple. Be understood.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
It was about a party involving 103 cultural icons. Nope! It is not any kind of party you might have in mind. Rather, it is about a painting by three little-known Chinese artists.
The 2006 art piece depicts a dinner party with 103 'party guests' such as Beethovan, Elvis and Bruce Lee. Most of these 'guests' are already dead and some are very old such as the 2500 years old Confucius (below).
The 'party' also invites people during our lifetime such as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, who are still around and those who have just recently left us such as Saddam Hussein, who was hanged in Dec 2006.
The 6m by 2.6m painting also includes world landmarks like the Great Wall of China, the Egyptian pyramids, and Stonehenge (below).
It definitely does not look like the usual cocktail party with the 'who's who' coming together to close business deals and boasting personal achievement. With the title "Discussing The Divine Comedy With Dante", I would imagine the party to be mostly serious and solemn.
"Divine Comedy" is an epic religious poem written by Dante Alighieri in the early 14th Century. It is often considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. It is composed over 14,000 lines, telling Christian afterlife during the medieval times.
The artwork was release on the Internet anonymously without fanfare in 2006. As many of the figures in the painting were Chinese (some are shown above), some people guessed the painter may be Chinese.
The painting became an Internet hit early this year as people rushing to identify the 103 'guests' in the party. I tried to do the same too and I must say that I did not do very well.
Initially, I thought the idea was kitschy when I saw a potpourri of politicians, celebrities, businessmen, sportsmen and even Dolly the cloned sheep in the painting. I was not sure what the painter was trying to tell and I gave up trying to comprehend. I just turned it into some kind of "Where's Wally" juvenile activity and had some fun out of it.
The painting and the answers can be found in a news article by the UK Daily Mail. However, if you have a tiny 12.1" screen like mine, don't kill yourself squinting your eyes at the tiny image. Try a bigger picture and spot the figures known to you. You can try clicking on a figure and it will get you the a wiki link. Very nice.
Why don't you give it a try and let me know how you fare?
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
It was "World Sleep Day" on 20 Mar 2009.
Just to get it right, "World Sleep Day" (WSD) is not a day the world spends the day in bed snoozing. Rather, it is an international event intended to raise awareness on important issues relating to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving.
The first WSD was launched on March 14th 2008 sponsored by the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM), whose fundamental mission is to advance sleep health worldwide. Together with the other healthcare professionals active in the field of sleep medicine, they thought that it is reasonable to set aside one day of the year to celebrate sleep and raise awareness of its disorders.
We all sleep. In fact, all mammals sleep and almost all vertebrates sleep.
Sleep is a privilege and we all should have the right to sleep well. It is a pleasurable physiological activity that is energizing. When we fail to sleep enough or do so in excess, our bodies will start to protest.
There are about 80 known sleep-related disorders. One third of adults suffer from insomnia and many have sleep apnea. Some end up with excessive or overuse of sleeping pills. The good news is that disorders of sleepiness and sleeplessness are preventable and treatable medical conditions. Much can be done to prevent and treat the disorders but it is important to take the first step by creating public awareness.
Many of the sufferers of sleep disorders are not aware that they have a medical condition that is treatable. They assume that it is the way things have always been and instead, they blame their tiredness to long working hours and stress.
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder generally characterised by snoring leading to stoppage of breathing. Patients often gasp for air while asleep and the level of blood oxygen can descent to a dangerously low level. Many people who suffer from this disorder went undiagnosed and not knowing that it can lead to hypertension, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
I chanced upon an article on didgeridoo recently. Didgeridoo is a wind instrument from the northern Australia, originally used by the Aboriginal people. A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that learning and practising the didgeridoo helped reduce sleep apnea. Apparently, it worked by strengthening muscles in the upper airways, thus reducing their tendency to collapse during sleep. Those who tried claimed that they reaped benefits from using it after 4 months.
Although relatively less known, "Restless Legs Syndrome" (RLS) is another common sleep disorder. RLS is characterised by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually accompanied or caused by uncomfortable and often painful sensations in the legs. These symptoms are worse at rest and during the evening or night. This results in people with RLS finding it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep or to sit still or relax About one in ten adults is affected by it and one-third of them experience the symptoms at least twice every week.
This year's slogan for WSD is "Drive alert, arrive safe".
A person who is severely sleep-deprived does not think properly and is at risk of many kinds of accidents. This has been the cause for many motor vehicle accidents.
Sleep deprivation does not just cause problems behind the wheels.
Sleep experts believe that teenagers need more sleep than adults however many are not getting enough. Some think that teenagers are physiologically wired to stay up till wee hours and wake up late. This general sleep pattern gets in the way of their education as many are not sufficiently recharged during lessons.
Experts say delaying classes for teens until later in the day helps them learn better. In UK, some schools are beginning to accept that theory. Hugh Christie school in Kent county is one such schools where classes run from 11am until 5pm.
I would love to see the same being considered in Singapore. I do not think that our teenagers are any different from those in the west. Most of them stay up late during school days and rest days. It is arguable whether they end up chatting on the Internet because they cannot get down to sleep or whether they hang on to the computer games at the expense of their rest hours. All I can say is that, they just do not go to sleep early and wake up fresh for school.
It is about time the Ministry of Education embrace the World Sleep Day for the sake of our school kids.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Foreign movies do not usually appeal to me. I often find myself caught up with subtitle-reading and tend to miss out what I have paid for on the screen. "Departures" is a Japanese movie and it is one of the few exceptions.
Briefly, the movie talks about Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) who loses his job as a cellist in an orchestra in the city. He returns to his hometown and finds a job. When he realises that it is a job as an encoffiner, he struggles between the well-paid job and the acceptance from the others. He gradually finds meaning in his unusual occupation and so do his wife and friends.
I had the chance of watching a little trailer beforehand and I knew that the story centres around the Japanese ceremonial ritual of "Encoffination", a custom unique to the Japanese. Other than that, I knew nothing more.
I had some initial thoughts that the movie might reveal some gruesome footage of embalmment and what goes on behind the scene before the dead is respectfully placed in the coffin. I could only think of gross stuff (and I blame TV series like CSI).
As it turned out, the movie was a beautiful one.
The plot was simple. No twist, no turn and no climax. Compared to the other Japanese movie "The 20th Century Boys" which has 200 characters, "Departures" has much fewer and therefore is easier to follow. Even though it has a linear story line with few characters, it is far from being boring.
The director, Yojiro Takita, has done a good job in moving the audience with subtle but touching messages. In a slow but captivating way, he tells the story of how Daigo finds what is the most important for him by facing people's death, including that of his father.
The movie made me laugh a lot. No, I am not being a sadist laughing at the dead. It is just that "Departures" is styled in the usual Japanese melodrama humor. I must say that it was a strange emotion wanting to cry amidst laughter.
"Departures" is the winner of the 81st Oscar for the "Foreign Language Film" category. Although it did not cause the same sensation as "Slumdog", it did not move me any less.
The subject of "Life and Death" is never lighthearted. In our life time, we see many people around us leave this world and the sorrow within us is almost universal. At my work place, we have just recently lost a co-worker who succumbed to illness. The sense of loss is aching.
Ironically, one of the characters in "Departures", Toru Minegishi, who played father of Daigo in this film, passed away in Oct 2008, 6 months after we was diagnosed with lung cancer. That has sent an even deeper message on the unavoidability of the subject of death.
On the whole, "Departures" brings me more laughter than tears. It may not be the case for everyone as it has brought more tears to a guy seated next to me. He was sobbing intermittently and perhaps his annoying sniffs distracted me, making the movie less melancholy.
Finally, I would recommend that you watch it.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Way to go, NEA!
Singapore loves tourists but are the feelings mutual?
It was just a week ago when Singapore was ranked top in Asia and 10th out of 133 countries globally for the attractiveness of their environments in developing the travel and tourism industry. Nice feat!
I find it difficult to reconcile the ranking with what I see around me but I have no basis to doubt the findings of the the World Economic Forum in their latest Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009.
Where would the tourists visit? Let me see ...
Sentosa is a must. Don't ask me why but that is the way it is. The visit to the island will easily soak up the whole day. On the next day, will a visit to the Zoo followed by the Night Safari cover the the second item on the itinerary? Okay, that sounds great to me as I love to see the wildlife. Some may visit the museums but I think we still have a long way to compete with the other famous ones like the Louvre in Paris or the Natural History Museum in London.
Shopping is probably another main tourist attraction. Singapore is not perceived as a great shopping paradise in the same way as Hong Kong or Bangkok. However, there is some allure about our Orchard Road that it kept sending foreign visitors flocking to the malls there.
Last but not least, the four letter F word!!
Singaporeans love food and there is so much variety here that visitors from any part of the world will find themselves spoilt for choice. Food is everywhere in Singapore. Singaporeans eat food and breath food.
According to the book "1000 places to see before you die – A traveller’s Life list" by Patricia Schultz, hawker centres are 'Uniquely Singapore'. Eating out here won't be complete without a visit to a hawker centre.
There are more than a hundred such food spots where a great number of stalls offer a labyrinth of gastronomic dishes . One of the most popular hawker centres has to be the Newton Food Centre.
Unfortunately, Newton Food Centre is notorious is someway.
There have been reports on stall holders taking advantage of foreign visitors by charging them excessively. Just a few days ago, six Americans sat down to a seafood dinner at stall 43, Tanglin Best BBQ Seafood. They found themselves $491 poorer after 8 tiger prawns, four crabs, baby squids, half a steamed chicken, four bottles of beer and fruit juices. The bill was $239 just for the tiger prawns alone. The disgusted tourists lodged a complaint.
That is what I call a day-light robbery in disguise.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) must have felt equally disgusted. They have ordered the stall to shut down for three months from 1 April and it is not an early April's Fool Joke. On top of that, the worker who served the Americans cannot work there for one year. This is the stiffest punishment given by the NEA in five years to a hawker who overcharged.
In a separate incident, a writer wrote to the Straits Times two days ago about his experience at Lei Garden's Orchard Shopping Centre branch. The writer had wanted to order a 4-person set menu which was priced at $42++ per pax. As there were only three of them, he requested the restaurant to arrange for the same set menu for three instead. Each person had xiaolong bao and spring roll, double-boiled soup, roasted chicken, stir-fried vegetables with clams, fried fish, poached vegetables, and durian pudding. Everything seemed to have gone well except that the bill came up to a total of about $400.
You don't need a calculator to realize that it is mathematically incoherent. How cant 1+1+1 be almost 10!
These cases might be isolated but we don't need many of them to stain the reputation of Singapore. The NEA has been spending millions of dollars since the launch of Hawker Centres Upgrading Progam (HUP) in 2001. Many of these centres are looking more pleasant now. However, that alone is not going to spruce the negative image given by some stall holders.
Looks like someone got to clean out the touts in places such as the Newton Food Centre. Even though the NEA has responded quite swiftly, the tourists would probably have gone home and shared their stories. Nowadays, with the help of the Internet, spreading of words is far-reaching and almost instantaneous and in this case, it is bad! At times of a economic downturn, we really don't need any bad publicity to scare our tourists.
Here's a warning alert to all the foodies out there - don't be hawked by the hawkers!!
Way to go, NEA!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
It is another 11 days to Earth Hour 2009.
Earth Hour is an annual event created by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to be held on the last Saturday of March. It is an event for everyone unless you are not from this planet. The whole idea about Earth Hour is to raise awareness towards the need to take action on climate change.
Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007 when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for an hour. In 2008, the message grew bigger and globally, 50 million people switched off their lights.
This year, Earth Hour is transformed into a global election. You choose between Earth and global warming.
WWF is urging the world to VOTE EARTH. To do that, you simply click off your light switch on 28 March 2009, from 8.30 pm to 9.30 pm, wherever you are. They have a target of 1 billion votes.
As of now, 1,429 cities and towns in 80 countries have already committed to VOTE EARTH. This far exceeds the target of 1,000 and the number is still growing.
Singapore is one of the cities.
On 13 March, international TV and model, Nadya Hutagalung signed up as an official ambassador for Earth Hour in Singapore. Since then, 12 government agencies, 28 educational institutions, 48 hotels, 131 companies, 75 buildings/ monuments and 12 NGOs/associations have given their commitment to participate in the Earth Hour.
One of the buildings is the iconic Esplanade Theatres and interestingly, I do not find the National Environment Agency on the list.
On 28 Mar, Nadya will be making a special appearance at the WWF Earth Hour big switch off event at the Esplanade Park and there will be a candlelight picnic there. Besides the Esplanade, the Merlion will also slip into darkness for an hour on that day.
Else where in the world, many cities such as London, Los Angeles, Toronto and Brussels are doing the same. Nearer to us are Hong Kong, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila, Jakarta and many more.
The City of Light, Paris, will also be leading 28 French cities in their pledge to support the Earth Hour. At their local time on 28 March, the Eiffel Tower will fade into darkness between 8.3o pm to 9.30 pm.
It is really remarkable to see some of the most recognised landmarks on the planet supporting EARTH HOUR. For an hour, the usually brightly lit Sydney Opera House, Taipei 101, CN Tower in Toronto and KL Towers in Malaysia will be amongst the many beautiful world icons to turn off their main switches.
For now, the famous Petronas Twin Towers are conspicuously missing from the list of supporters. I hope the well known twin 'Jagung" (sweet corn in Malay) can lend their support for EARTH HOUR too.
In 2007, EARTH HOUR was held in one city, Sydney. This year, we have more than 1000. The surge in enthusiasm suggests the heightened global awareness. As global warming is an issue affecting all of us on the planet, it should rightly so be everyone's concern.
This is the first time Singapore is taking part in this initiative and the organisers have a target of one million participants. There are many ways we can show our support besides switching off the lights on that day. One of them is by telling the others and I am doing just that. Or if it suits you better, you can consider joining the "Earth Hour Singapore" group in Facebook. Also check out the Earth Hour Singapore website.
1 billion people are expected to be part of this movement. Sign up and be counted as one of them.
We only have one planet Earth.