Why Your Obsession with (Insulting) Travellers Means You’re Writing Mediocre Shit

Today, I read what was easily the worst piece of writing I’ve come across this year…and considering I read a lot and it’s part of my job to keep track of news and articles, that means it’s nothing short of abysmal.

It’s so awful on every single level, I’ve decided to have some fun with it. So here’s my response to this two-bit, second-rate hack who has the audacity to publish this travesty.

Mr. Jeffrey Grey, this aforementioned article of yours is the journalistic equivalent of what exits my rear end after I’ve had coffee with my breakfast, South Indian food for lunch, more coffee at teatime, Mexican food for dinner, and copious amounts of hard liquor for supper.

I say this not because I disagree with your opinions, but because this horribly negative view you have of people who love travelling is based on the very things any half-decent writer should avoid: oversimplification, sweeping generalizations and unwarranted condescension.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

Rubbish 01

You are right about the existence of young people for whom travel is a form of escape from the realities of life, like a career, a home, an actual future. And yes, they are usually privileged kids using their parents’ money to avoid growing up. You are right about this particular thing, I’ll give you that. But what’s it to you?

Rubbish 02

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And then you go on to destroy any credibility you might have had by asserting that the only people with a constant desire to travel have or even “want” mediocre lives. It could only go downhill from there and boy, did it hurtle downhill.

Rubbish 03

Firstly, what’s wrong with “just” seeing and enjoying? Secondly, who died and made you the authority on what constitutes a life worth living or a job worth doingI know for a fact that when I travel — and by golly, do I fucking love travelling — I make a positive impact on the economy. The money I pay for my flight and accommodations, the food I enjoy and the things I buy contribute to the livelihoods of the airline and hotel staff, the restaurateurs and business owners.

Rubbish 04

Oh, now you’re the authority on everyone’s creative process? Kind of contradicts the nature and defeats the purpose of creativity, doesn’t it?

No Suicide

Also, as someone who travels at least twice a year and wishes she could do so more often, I can assure you that the only thing people “obsessed” with travel are “conceding” is that there is so much worth doing, seeing and maybe even creating in so many parts of the world, we want to get out there and experience it. Didn’t think that one through, did you, genius?

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I didn’t think this abortion of an article could get any worse, but it just did. Firstly, you’re assuming everyone has / should have the genius-level IQ and therefore, the same priorities as Albert Einstein. Secondly, now you’re the authority on what Einstein thought and didn’t think? Damn!

I’m sorry (not really) to break it to you, but people in real life don’t spend every waking moment wondering whether they can invent this generation’s super computer, or publish a judgmental article on Thought Catalog castigating people who dare enjoy themselves by travelling.

And no, it’s not because they live mediocre lives. It’s because, rich or poor, famous or not, male or female, they have bills to pay, jobs to do, households to keep in order…the list goes on. You know, the very responsibilities you accuse travellers of shirking.

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Aaaaaand…it gets worse! I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems most people who love travelling are the opposite of “afraid to try anything”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but fear isn’t really a handy trait to have when travelling to foreign lands, especially for the first time.

And are you writing a fucking indie screenplay here? Running far away and taking menial jobs we would be ashamed to take back home just so we can continue running? What the fuck is this? The Travel Diaries of a #Hipster?

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Aww, that’s sweet. You spared a thought for us inferior beings and cared enough to validate our need to travel…but only if we take “periodic” vacations (in which case, “from time to time” is redundant, by the way).

Never mind that some of us can actually afford the time and money to travel for months at a time; it’s a pyramid scheme that’s duping an entire generation! Oh, it’s such a shame you care so much about people who care so little about what you think. They’d rather throw their future away than listen to your inane ramblings. Tsk tsk.

Now I don’t know if you’re unable (physically or financially) to travel, or just too afraid to leave the comfort of your own home to explore the rest of the world. But I do know that despite your efforts to mask it with false concern and a façade of wisdom beyond your years, all this cynical, scathing criticism of those who love to travel is just a projection of your envy and bitterness that you cannot and / or will not do the same.

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Travel, even if it’s just “for the sake of #travel”, is great. It gives us a break from work, affords us new experiences, and broadens our knowledge of different countries and cultures in ways merely watching it on TV or reading about it cannot.

It may not lead us to become famous entrepreneurs, inventors or philanthropists, but so what? You’re not entitled to the fruits of our potential greatness. And people may not remember me for my desire to travel, but the friends I’ve made on those travels are very unlikely to forget me, or me them. In fact, I met the most wonderful man I’ve ever known on one of my trips to Europe, and my life has most certainly grown much richer for it.

I’m not from a wealthy family, and I had to get a job that provided a stable income (yes, one of the things you assume constant travellers lack) before I could afford even an economy flight ticket. But I’m not escaping my responsibilities when I travel. I enjoy what I do for a living, but I also want to see as much of the world as I can. And I’m far from the only person I know with a similar story.

So really, instead of spreading your vitriol all over the Internet and attempting to disguise it as well-intentioned advice just because your life is mediocre, here’s some advice from me to you: Get your judgmental behind out there and experience life in countries besides your own. And if you can’t or won’t do that, don’t hate those who can and do. Bitterness is not a good look, especially on a grown man.

Let’s get that head out of your arse.

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Screaming for Silence

There’s a lot going on in the world today. Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland, the anti-vaccination crowd endangering innocent children, the Vatican shielding paedophile priests, Huffington Post UK’s boastful exploitation of its writers, raw food fanatics making themselves ill…and Madonna’s impending Singapore stop on her upcoming Rebel Heart world tour.

Now why, you may ask, would I mention that last item after listing a series of grave issues affecting our world in this day and age? After all, Madonna has long been irrelevant (I realize my opinion is completely subjective), and I believe the people who intend to attend her concerts are mostly long-time fans of hers, i.e., adults who have been listening to her music since they were teenagers.

Well, I mentioned it because it seems to be the most relevant and prevalent issue right now in my country, Singapore. Weird, right? Granted, it will be her first time performing here, and I know concerts can be a huge deal for fans; heck, I get uncharacteristically excited and excitable whenever I find out a band or artiste I like will be coming to Singapore. But an upcoming concert is rarely the most newsworthy event in any country…until now, that is.

First, there were fears the concert would not even happen. When those fears proved unfounded, there was the censorship to which the local authorities subjected the show. And now, the religious fundamentalists of this great nation have come out in full force to protest the concert, exhorting their fellow faithful not to partake of this debauchery.

There has been a flurry of opinion flooding the newspapers and Internet. Archbishop William Goh has discouraged Catholics from attending the concert, members of the public have made their disapproval known, and  — surprise, surprise — Singapore’s resident leather-clad, homophobic Baptist pastor has voiced his support for the Archbishop regarding this matter. On the upside, there has also been humorous commentary, like this one from satirical “news” website New Nation.

I see two main problems with this fervent moral policing: first of all, if you want as many people as possible not to attend the concert, drawing more attention to it by constantly talking about it is hardly the way to go about things. Also, Madonna has dedicated much of her career to trolling the Catholic church and in general, to being as provocative as possible. None of the religious criticism she has gotten over the years has led to her changing her act, so why would it make a difference now? And if one’s faith can be eroded by a pop singer aiming to be controversial, it must not have been very strong in the first place.

Secondly — and more importantly — who died and made these people the Approved Moral Police of Singapore (AMPS)?

Allow me to digress a little here. Contrary to what some of the more conservative people who (think they) know me might believe, I am not some immoral hedonist. Though I am not as religious as I once was, I am still a Catholic who tends towards tradition and even conservatism in several aspects of my life. For instance, I personally do not see the appeal of polygamy. I still attend Mass (though not every week). For the most part, I refrain from consuming meat on Lenten Fridays. I am against the use of hard drugs. I dislike certain uses of religious imagery and symbolism in entertainment. And I am definitely not a Madonna fan.

And while I am no moral relativist, I do not seek to prevent others from doing what they want, or to look down my nose at those whose lifestyles differ from mine. I also understand that any attempt to impose the nuances of one’s moral code on another person, let alone an entire community or country, is little more than an exercise in self-righteousness, moral superiority and delusions of grandeur.

You see, the problem is not conservative people. People should be free to lead their lives however they please, so long as they are not harming anyone. Conservative or liberal, it should be entirely up to the individual. In fact, I believe people should also be able to enjoy absolute freedom of expression without fear of police action, regardless of how controversial or even abhorrent their views may be. The problem is people who think they are qualified to tell others what to do, sometimes even to the extent of trying to censor or ban everything they deem “offensive”. Yes, this also happens in the “liberal” world.

This brings me to perhaps the most common overused excuse for that special brand of hyper-conservative finger-wagging:

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Ah, yes. “The children”. Whenever a group of grownups with the maturity of pre-schoolers can’t handle the existence of something they dislike, their go-to defence is “the children”. Children, who, up to a certain stage, rely heavily on their parents to speak for them.

As mentioned in my opening paragraph, there’s a lot going on in the world today. Just how much can one protect kids from the realities of life? That is not to say we should willingly and purposely expose children to ideas and content more suitable for adults, but at the same time, we should not assume the role of moral police, or attempt to censor from everyone what we would rather children not consume.

If you don’t want to go for a particular concert, don’t go. If you don’t want your children to go, tell them and explain why. Don’t write letters to the media to urge the authorities to “act with principled resolution to uphold those values cherished by many Singaporeans”, when what you really mean is “everyone should be made to comply with my superior, conservative beliefs”. Don’t rail against liberalism and progressiveness and accuse those who disagree with you of being “regressive”, when your need to coerce everyone into living in the Dark Ages with you is what is truly regressive.

This may seem crazy to you, but your gay colleague’s relationship with his boyfriend won’t ruin your heterosexual marriage. Your neighbour attending Madonna’s concert won’t cause you any personal catastrophe. Your niece’s Harry Potter books won’t make you turn away from your Abrahamic faith to a life of devil worship.

I shall end with a quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold The Moon: “The principle (of censorship) is wrong. It’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t have steak.”

Liberating the Individual

The following is an article I wrote for IFLRY’s (International Federation of Liberal Youth) online platform, Libel. I had been asked to write a piece on why international political organizations and societies should accept individual members, and in it, I shared my own less-than-pleasant political experience with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

The article was published on 2 July 2015, but was removed shortly after due to the “confidential” nature of the information in it. I recently contacted a reliable source within the party (whose identity must, for obvious reasons, remain secret) who confirmed my long-held suspicions: someone within the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) was tasked with lodging a complaint to IFLRY about the article, which resulted in its removal. I have reproduced it here, because fuck you, SDP.

My official involvement with politics lasted about a year and eight months, during which I was a member of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). I made the decision to leave the party in December 2013, four months after my first political trip to the Netherlands that summer. I had met several IFLRY (International Federation of Liberal Youth) members during an earlier political trip to Bangkok, among which were members of the JD and JOVD, who subsequently invited me and an SDP colleague to the International Summer School in The Hague.

Me (second from left) on a speaking panel during the CALD (Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats) Youth Festival 2013 in Bangkok. Also on the panel are youth members of political parties from Hong Kong, Mongolia and Norway.

My colleague and I learnt a fair bit, and came back to Singapore eager to apply our newfound knowledge in ways beneficial to the party. It was then that the process of my resignation began.

The cronyism in the SDP was one of the most glaring instances of hypocrisy I witnessed in my time there. Its Secretary-General, Chee Soon Juan, along with his loyal subordinates, has spent his entire political career criticizing Singapore’s ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), for giving government positions to those with the right connections, as opposed to those with the right qualifications. Yet when it came to initiatives my fellow Young Democrats (the SDP’s now-defunct youth wing) and I tried to propose, essentially requesting greater autonomy and attempting to lighten the mother party’s workload by being more independent and self-governing, we were given a list of hastily compiled excuses to dismiss our efforts. The youth party was dissolved in a matter of months upon our return from Europe.

Prior to the Summer School, I had also been appointed the SDP’s Deputy Head of Communications by one of its more prominent candidates, then-Head of Communications Vincent Wijeysingha, who resigned to focus on his social work shortly after coming out publicly. Due process dictated that I should have taken over as head of the department after his resignation, but that did not happen, thanks to the aforementioned cronyism, as well as some of the senior members’ inability to be objective and see past their own pride. I had discussed with Chee and another member how I planned to contribute in this area — a PR campaign, more articles on the website, and my professional writing and editing services, all pro bono. Though initially enthusiastic, Chee suddenly went quiet on the matter, presumably after consulting with a senior member who had had it out for me ever since our ill-fated collaboration on a 2012 party fundraiser had (long story short: I had written a script for her and me as hosts of the event, she ignored it and the partnership fizzled, and of course, I was blamed).

Despite being the only person in the SDP (at the time) with the relevant qualifications and professional experience to be in charge of communications, my suggestions fell on deaf ears, and word got around that I was “power-hungry” but unwilling to do any work. The weak excuse that I had “no synergy” with some of the party members was also given, making it very apparent that instead of tapping into the resources they had on hand — free of charge, I might add — and using them to maximize the SDP’s efficiency and progress, they were fixated on recruiting “yes” men. It also did not help that SDP had deprioritized international relations, opting not to pay its IFLRY membership fee for a few years in a row (to date, I do not know if the party has finally paid up).

Realizing it was pointless to stay in a party whose senior members were generally not open to new ideas, and whose only use for youth was to do their bidding, I resigned with another member. In case anyone thinks this is an isolated case of a former SDP member lashing out, I know at least five other former youth members who have left the SDP within the last two years. One of them is Jeremy Chen, a former member who was actively involved in crafting the SDP’s policy papers, and who has been rather forthcoming about his own unpleasant experience with the party.

Still, I have kept in touch with a good number of the people I met on my overseas trips, and attended the Summer School in 2014 as an independent candidate. Meeting and learning from other liberal youth from Europe and other parts of Asia has certainly made me more knowledgeable about the goings-on in other parts of the world, a plus for someone who finds it important to keep up with current affairs and international politics.

It is unfortunate that I have witnessed the potential of youths in the political scene being hampered by close-mindedness and petty politicking. In leaving the party, I did feel a little disheartened about no longer being a part of regional organizations like the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), and international organizations like IFLRY, all because I was no longer with a member party.

I am aware that there are many like me, who have either left or never joined a political party, but who are nonetheless highly interested in political issues and are therefore keen on participating in events that allow them to both acquire and impart knowledge. Such people need a suitable platform so they can not only express their ideas and opinions, but also participate in or even organize events where they can meet and work with likeminded individuals, whether or not they are from a political party.

For this reason, I feel individual membership in organizations such as IFLRY would be beneficial to both the organization and its members, as it will no doubt expand the pool and variety of members, and add value to the organization.

Getting Schooled

Preface: This is an actual conversation that took place between one of my secondary school students and me. I write full-time and offer private tutoring on the side to primary and secondary school kids (mostly secondary school), and one of the reasons I prefer teaching teenagers is that, for all their flaws and annoying idiosyncrasies, it’s not difficult to engage most of them in intelligent debate.

Half the time, teenagers appear “stupid” simply because they have not been taught to look at things from a different perspective or to question what they know, and despite my generally limited patience and low level of tolerance, I rather enjoy teaching them things outside of their English and Humanities textbooks.

Student: “Eww, gross!”

Me: “What?”

Student: “Two of my friends are sexting each other.”

Me: “Well, tell them you don’t want to know about it. Then switch off your phone and pay attention to this last bit.”

Student: “It’s damn gross…I know them damn long already. Wah lausome more one Indian, one Chinese…gross.”

Me: “Excuse me, what was that?”

Student: “I said it’s gross lah.”

Me: “Because one of them is Indian and the other is Chinese?”

Student: “Yah…it’s just weird.”

Me: “Explain to me how that’s gross. Why is it gross or weird for two people of different races to have a romantic or sexual relationship?”

Student (realizing he should have shut his mouth): “Uh…no lah, it’s gross because they are my good friends, so it’s weird.”

Me: “No, I know that. I believe you. I’m referring to the part where you said it was weird and gross for an Indian and a Chinese person to be together.”

Student: “Uh…I don’t know.”

Me: “There are so many races in Singapore. Please tell me you’ve seen an interracial couple before.”

Student: “No…I’m not used to it.”

Me: “Well, that’s just too bad. And you not being used to interracial relationships is no reason to be ignorant or prejudiced.”

Student: “But I’m not!”

Me: “Okay, then please justify why you think sexual or romantic involvement between two people of different races is gross.”

Student: “I don’t know…it’s just weird. It’s just my opinion lah!”

Me: “See, ‘it’s just my opinion’ is not a valid excuse. This is not the same as, say, hating the taste of durian. You don’t have to justify that; it’s personal taste. But when you say it is ‘gross’ for two people of different races to be involved with each other, you must be prepared to explain yourself. Humans are living beings with the right to be with whomever they please, so when you use something they cannot help, such as their skin colour, as a reason for an interracial relationship being ‘gross’, you’d best be able to justify it.”

Student: “But I can’t!”

Me: “In that case, you have no good reason to think this way. Let me tell you what you, a Chinese person, are implying when you say it is ‘gross’ for an Indian and a Chinese person to have a sexual or romantic relationship. You are implying that your skin colour makes you superior to Indians, and that Chinese girls are too good for Indian boys. All because of a genetic feature none of us get to choose. And that, my dear, makes you a racist.”

Student: “But I’m not racist! I have many non-Chinese friends! This Indian guy is my good friend!”

Me: “Oh, the old ‘I have many friends of other races’ trope. Let me tell you something else — this is the same lousy excuse white people in the US, for instance, use to pardon their own reliance on stereotypes, as well as their general prejudice and ignorance, when it comes to minority races. Now, I’m not saying all white people are racist, or that every single bad thing that happens to someone of a minority race or ethnicity is the fault of white people. But this happens very often. Sure, you say you’re close to this Indian fellow. But when he gets involved with a Chinese girl, all of a sudden you’re disgusted?”

At this point, he looked regretful, lost, and frustrated all at once. He tried a last-ditch attempt at worming his way out of what had clearly become a terribly uncomfortable situation for him.

Student: “Aiyah…of course, I won’t say it in front of other people.”

Me: “You just said it in front of me. Or did you think I would sympathize and agree with you because I’m Chinese, too? Also, that’s hardly the point. It’s not just about what you say or don’t say in front of others; it’s about your mentality. And you know, you don’t have to listen to or agree with me. But I tell you all this so you might look at things from a different perspective.”

Student: “Aiyah, accident lah, ‘cher. I talking to myself only.”

Me: “Come on. The only ‘accident’ here is that you let it slip in front of me. No one forms racist thoughts by accident. Just remember: you are entitled to your opinion, but before you express it, before you even form it — educate yourself. Think before you speak.”

The conversation ended soon after, but he did reveal that his parents would not approve of him dating a non-Chinese girl. As is usually the case when kids or teenagers make racist remarks or display racist behaviour, they would have learnt it from their parents. And if, apart from helping students improve their grades and academic knowledge, teachers can get them to question what they have been taught (whether by parents, teachers or other sources), they would have done a pretty fine job.

In the same way, I personally prefer teaching students to find the answers themselves, as opposed to simply telling them the answers. In fact, as much as I encourage my students never to hesitate to ask questions, I probably ask them more questions than they do me, for the simple fact that it makes them think.

As for this particular student, well…two days later, we somehow started on the topic of pets, and he asked about my cats. I told him their fosterer wouldn’t allow them to be adopted separately, and I was the only one willing to take them both; thanks to Betty’s (the mother cat) mostly black fur and perceived “ugliness”, no one else wanted her.

And then, this happened.

Me: “Black and mostly black cats — and even dogs — are often the last to get adopted, either because of superstition or some other silly reason.”

Student: “Yah lor. People just don’t like black cats.”

Me: “Yeah, because they’re racist. Like you.”

Yes, I prefer teaching teenagers also because it’s quite easy to make them squirm. What a priceless moment.”

An Open Letter to Victoria Beckham

Dear Mrs. Beckham,

There was a time, not too long ago, when what constituted female physical attractiveness was quite limited, to say the least. This was especially true when it came to weight and size: you couldn’t be too fat or too thin, but being thin was always better than being fat.

But times have changed. These days, it is widely accepted that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Modern science and medicine have shown that there are different body types, and that some people are more predisposed to weight gain than others. Better yet, it has proven that physical appearance alone is often not an accurate indicator of health.

Personally, I’m glad. I like that the idea of beauty is no longer narrow, and that women of all physical appearances can be appreciated. What I like even more is that it is largely unacceptable to treat someone poorly just because of her weight or size.

But wait…what was that song about bass versus treble? You know, the one whose singer was “bringing booty back” and wanted her listeners to “go ahead and tell them skinny bitches”? Nicki Minaj also made her message loud and clear while ripping off early ’90s one-hit wonder Sir Mix-a-Lot: “Fuck you if you skinny bitches, what?!”

Since common 21st century wisdom dictates that celebrities are role models with the power to make their young fans forget whatever their parents have taught them, we should probably start taking such a message seriously. I mean, being too skinny is unhealthy, right?

But what about being fit? That involves a clean, sensible diet and regular exercise. The best part is, just about any able-bodied person can do this, regardless of whether you’re single, attached or a mother. There are even people who can help you along the way! Great, no?

Actually, no. Like I said, times have changed. These days, being proud of what you’ve achieved is tantamount to “shaming” those who have not achieved the same. Showing that a regular person can indeed be fit and healthy is equivalent to telling fat people they are lazy, useless and inferior. Trying to motivate others who want to make positive change in their lives is another way of looking down your nose at them. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Take it from Miss Minaj herself, who knows the value of ample lady lumps. She knows the ideal female figure consists of a derrière with its own gravitational field, and a rack that can double as a weapon with which to suffocate your enemies. She even put her money where her mouth was, and went out to buy herself some of that:

So imagine my great disappointment when I read that you’d bowed to the pressures of the fashion industry, and put those awful skinny models on the runway for your show at New York Fashion Week.

Oh, dearie me. Mrs. Beckham, you really should have known better. But in case you still don’t, let me break it down for you. Woman to woman, here’s how it works:

1. Even if your models do not suffer from any illnesses, if they are anywhere below a size 8, do not put them on the runway.

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This is Victoria’s Secret angel, Selita Ebanks. According to real women, models her size are too skinny, and should not be allowed on the runway. (Source: Pinterest)

2. Size up. Think big. The bigger the models, the more applause you’ll get. You will be a media darling if you put overweight models on the runway. Overnight, you will be lauded a champion of “body positivity” and “fat acceptance”. Your name and the words “healthy body image” will be synonymous. Need an example? Here you go.

3. Be aware of what is and is not socially acceptable. It is socially acceptable to judge a skinny woman based on her appearance alone, and tell her to eat something (preferably something filling or fattening). It is not acceptable, however, to even begin to suggest that a morbidly obese woman eat clean and exercise for her health’s sake. Trust me, even if you are sincere in your concern, this is one beast you do not want to awaken.

This is American fitness model Jamie Eason. As real women will tell you, her body is unrealistic. In other words, don’t put women like her on the runway, lest you offend the real women of the world. (Source: RippedandFit.tumblr.com)

4. Remember: you, your fellow famous friends and the media are role models, not parents, teachers or guardians. You are largely (or even solely) responsible for how young women feel about their bodies, and using skinny models in your shows will only encourage them to develop body dysmorphia and eating disorders. You’re only begging to be harshly criticized if you hire skinny models.

5. Be aware of what is and is not real. Any woman below a size 8 is not real. She is a figment of your imagination. The only real women are those whose bodies are not lithe, toned or even slightly muscular, like those imaginary females you see in magazines and fashion shows. Get real. Use real women in your shows.

This is Tess Holliday, an American plus-size model and “the world’s first size 22 model”. Now this is a real woman. Put her on your runway, Posh! (Source: VergeCampus)

I do hope you take my advice to heart. I’ve liked you since your days as Posh Spice, and I mean well.

Also, maybe smile more often? Just a little? Don’t ever ask a real woman to smile, though. That’s offensive. Many real women suffer from a legitimate condition known as Resting Bitch Face (RBF). You, on the other hand, are filthy rich, world famous, and married to David Beckham. You have no reason to look like such a miserable cow 99% of the time.

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I mean, really — what right does this woman have not to smile, am I right? Geez, lady. (Source: InStyle)

And speaking of cows, eat a goddamned cheeseburger. Or 10.

Yours Sincerely,
A Real Woman

Final Thoughts on a Final Vote (?)

Today is Polling Day in Singapore; it is the first general election since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew earlier this year. As I write this, I am sitting in my room contemplating whether or not to vote at all.

See, the two parties contesting in my GRC (Tampines) are the PAP and the NSP. Why don’t I feel like voting? I’ll summarize:

  • I support neither party.
  • Even if I did want to vote for a particular candidate from either party, the GRC system, which exacerbates the first-past-the-post system, would put me off it.
  • There is a $50 fine for non-voters who wish to re-register as voters in the next election, but since I may very likely no longer be living in Singapore and see no point voting in that case, there would be no implications for me (and yes, I know $50 isn’t a lot of money for someone earning a steady income, but it’s still a waste of money).

Most of you may know I was once a member of a political party. I spent one year and eight months in the SDP trying to assist in fundraising, youth-oriented activities, and most of all, communications and media. I spoke with its secretary-general, the silver-tongued opposition media darling of this election, Chee Soon Juan, regarding my plans for a PR campaign whose main goal was an image overhaul for him and the party.

One year and eight months of professionally qualified work, pro bono. All for naught because despite the party’s name, it is anything but democratic. I do not want to bore you with all the gory details, but if you are genuinely interested, feel free to contact me.

I will admit, I was somewhat idealistic when I joined the party. No, it wasn’t because of Chee. I was actually rather impressed by its policy proposals, and became a member at its 2012 May Day rally in Hong Lim Park.

Then I saw myself removed from the fundraising department with no prior consultation, all because its senior members saw fit to meddle in my personal life. I saw myself appointed deputy head of the party’s communications department by its then-head, Vincent Wijeysingha. I saw him come out and leave the party. I saw the sharks move in to prevent me from taking charge of the department and working further on the plans I’d discussed with Chee. I saw the youth wing I’d had certain hopes for dissolved before my very eyes, without having the decision put to a vote.

And just like that, from backstage at the NUS’ Cultural Centre Theatre on 20 December 2013, I sent a resignation email to the party, bringing with me a plus-one who had been similarly disregarded despite his best efforts.

In short, I can tell you that many people are easily manipulated: voters, party members, volunteers…no one is safe – at least not without a considerable amount of resistance on his own part. I suppose Chee found someone more “obedient” than me to help him in his PR campaign, while also cunningly riding on the more personable Paul Tambyah‘s coattails into Holland-Bukit Timah to up his chances of winning votes, effectively taking advantage of the GRC system he has so often derided.

Now, I do appreciate a level of cunning in people, especially politicians. You must know how to play the game, how to negotiate, how to get the electorate on your side…and all that requires a certain degree of shrewdness only the most successful businessmen and politicians possess.

But there is a line between shrewdness and cunning, and utter dishonesty and duplicity. In politics, the former can open doors that allow you to prove your worth, to deliver on your promises. The latter? Let’s just say you can only mask your incompetence and self-aggrandizement for so long. What Chee did to Chiam, he has been doing to any party member who has the audacity to disagree with him.

I don’t expect a whole lot from politicians, and I couldn’t care less about their personal lives (unless it harms others, or infringes upon their rights). I don’t even care if they’re running for office because they need to satisfy their egos; I’m quite sure ego-massaging is always one of the reasons for most politicians, anyway. I’m more concerned with their policies and how they will affect me, as well as the country in which I reside. And after doing my due diligence, I can honestly say the only party I would vote for is the WP.

So you understand my dilemma.

It is my vote, and I want to vote honestly. Believe it or not, I did, for the briefest of moments, consider voting for the incumbent party, because despite all the fact-based, valid criticisms I have heard of them, some of which I myself agree with, they have improved the country in many aspects, which is far more than I can say for all the opposition parties, save for the WP.

But then I remembered what Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”*

Well, here goes nothing.

*Please do not attempt to lecture me on context; I know full well the history of this quote, and am not using it in the way neo-liberals often do (to “fight the power”, because freedom).

A Brief Guide To Handling Idiocy (Freelancers’ Edition)

Having been a full-time freelancer for nearly a year now, I can safely say that although it has taken a while to achieve financial stability, I have no regrets leaving the nine-to-six scene for this life. I get to pick and choose my assignments, and therefore, get to focus on work that I truly enjoy and / or pays more. And since I love writing, teaching and performing, anyway, picking assignments according to pay and location is a breeze.

I no longer have to set my alarm for 5:30 AM every weekday, which is heaven for a non-morning person such as myself. I no longer have to contend with the rush hour crowds of gym rats, or the notoriously hellish rush hour  traffic, or the insufferable rush hour commuters on public transport. I no longer have to deal with an understaffed department, and therefore, no longer have to worry about being overworked. As a result, I rarely ever fall ill (my amazing immune system seems to have decided that it will fail only in the face of extreme mental or emotional stress), and have the simple luxury of plenty of alone time, something many take for granted.

At the same time, I cannot accurately express just how refreshing it is to be able to make and accept social engagements with friends and keep them, barring actual emergencies, which are no longer work-related. In some cases, the “emergency” is that I would really rather spend time with myself, a drink of choice – alcoholic or otherwise – and my music and books. I should mention, though, that I mean no offence to any of my friends; I love you guys, but I think I love myself just that little bit more.

However, as with any path in life, there are downsides. Thankfully, the main downside associated with my particular career choice is usually the work of other parties, and can be dealt with simply by ignoring or sassing them, depending on my mood. The following is a list of comments I have actually received, and suggested responses to them (mostly based on my actual responses, and aided by drag queen GIFs). For my fellow freelancers who are too nice to either ignore or get sassy, well…it’s about time you learnt how to shut some people down:

1. “Like that can earn enough money meh? No CPF contribution leh!”

Suggested response: “Maybe I don’t need that much money. Maybe I do earn enough, or more than enough, even. Maybe I’m not planning to retire in Singapore. And maybe, just maybe, it’s none of your business. Oh, wait. It’s definitely none of your business.”

2. (condescendingly) “I don’t know how you do it. No job security, no routine…I need routine, or else I’d have no discipline.”

Suggested response: “Actually, I have more job security than you do. All I have to do is show up, do my job, leave, and collect money after that. You, on the other hand, have to spend nine hours everyday with the same people, deal with office politics, and possibly a boss from hell. It’s also good to know you need a corporation to force discipline on you.”

3. “Freelance ah? How much you make ah? Got give your mother money or not? Must give, you know! And must save hor; don’t anyhow spend! Wait next time you want to get married, buy house, have children…all this very expensive leh!”

Suggested response: “You know, I’ve never considered hiring a personal financial planner, but if I ever do, you’ll be the first person I call!”

4. “When you go for a job interview, aren’t you afraid your potential employer will ask you why you don’t want a stable job?”

Suggested response: “If I’m going for an interview, I think it’s safe to say I’m not afraid of being asked questions.”

5. “So how do you feel about being a freelancer when all your cousins and friends are in banking / finance, law, marketing / advertising, engineering, medicine etc.?”

Suggested response: “I feel like you need to stop talking. But if you really must know, I’m very happy all of us are productive members of society.”

6. “(You didn’t take the job because it’s) too far away / paying too low? I didn’t know freelancers can afford to be so choosy.”

Suggested response #1: “Time is money, and I’m not about to spend that much time travelling just to earn so little money.” 

Suggested response #2: “I’m a freelancer, not a beggar. And I’ve met beggars who have more dignity than some of the cubicle rats with whom I’ve worked.”

7. “I guess a lot of comms grads are like that. You all prefer to own time, own target. No responsibilities, and you don’t care about anything.”

Suggested response: “Oh, I’m sorry. I had no idea being a responsible adult means being a miserable office drone. Pardon me as I selfishly enjoy my ‘me’ time while earning a decent living.”

Apologies for the sudden GIF spam, but I think this one deserves three:

8. “What does your family think? Don’t they disapprove?”

Suggested response: “The only people whose opinions concern me are the people who pay me. If they ain’t happy, I ain’t getting no money.”

In conclusion, I’d just like to say that your chosen path in life – what you do for a living or for leisure, where you go, who you love or don’t love, and when, how or why you do those things, go to those places or love / don’t love those people – is entirely up to you. There’s no pleasing everyone, and the world has no shortage of naysayers. Let’s face it: everyone’s a fucking critic (yes, even me. Isn’t it just too fun to resist?). The self-righteous pass judgment on others, and follow up with unwarranted and unwanted “advice”. What do we do with such people? Why, put them in their place, of course. And by that, I mean graciously reserve a VIP seat for them on our respective shit lists. And after that, we simply continue living our lives like the awesome people we are.

As a full-time freelancer, however, I fully recognize the importance of being as versatile as possible, so to all reading this, I have one parting message:

Have a lovely weekend, folks!