Monday, May 16, 2016

Reminiscence 2016

Drama Night 2016 marks the close of performing season. A wild ride, taking on big risks and braving every possibility of a crash 'n burn. But I will continue to say, everyone pitched in and gave their all. I am humbled by and grateful for the amount of faith that carried us through to a successful finale. NYeDC, staff, coach, kids, and alumni, hat's off to you all! Thanks for such a fantastic run!

Friday, April 29, 2016

"The myth of the universality of human rights"

In today's IPS lecture, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan discussed the myth of the universality of human rights. That is to say, the concept of 'human rights' exists as an ideal we aspire to, but because it is also a mental construct, its application and implementation are very much dependent on context and wide open to interpretation.

I think we know what 'rights' means. The problem is that we can't define 'human' satisfactorily enough because we are too close to the subject matter. Human rights are easier to conceive of when we think of it in terms of the very broadest ways in which we humans differ from one another: the physical, the psychological, and the identity of self. For example, in our national pledge we are all equal 'regardless of race, language or religion'. Whomever we are, we can be identified as human despite of our race, language or religion, and no one is likely to dispute that -- unless our society totally breaks down and we become paranoid and insular.

But when human beings begin to define themselves by increasingly narrow criteria, they run the risk of defining themselves outside of what the majority can roughly agree is identifiably human. If you define your needs as so particular that I don't identify your needs as my needs, then we are going to have a problem agreeing that you have a right to meet those needs of yours.

Minority groups have this problem of getting their particular needs met and recognized by mainstream society. Paradoxically, perhaps the best way to help minorities is to not recognize minority differences at all. Recognizing minority groups legitimizes and therefore draws attention to characteristics of those groups that make them different from everyone else. The more marginal the difference, the less mainstream society is likely to sympathize as whatever need arises from that difference, it really isn't mainstream society's problem to deal with.

It's a two-way street, of course. Mainstream society is just as likely to identify minor differences in certain groups of people and exclude them from the mainstream and the privileges therein, like legal protection, education, opportunities and otherwise a decent way to make a living for oneself. In which case, if mainstream society sees itself as being overrun by minorities, it usually is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Where we see difference, there is difference.

What is a democratically-elected government to do when the people are fractious and tense because differences are everywhere? I guess you start with doing right by the majority of the voters, since your mandate comes from the majority, but make policy such that people are treated fairly across the board within the broad definitions of what we can agree are what makes us all 'human' -- such that we no longer see the differences between 'us' and 'them', and 'they' no longer see how different they are from 'us'.

Too idealistic? Too naive? If we leave dealing with difference at policy level, it means the ground isn't ready to make any meaningful progress where it matters the most. Complying with policy is not the same as making a personal choice at the individual level to extend understanding and support to the people among us.

In the end, perhaps rights can be defined as the privileges we are willing to give up in favour of doing right by the other person. What could make us more human than that?

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Finally, after 8 attempts since I've been with NYeDC, we have achieved a coveted Certificate of Distinction from the big bi-annual youth drama festival.

I shouldn't feel this elated because theatre shouldn't be a competition between productions, but I've learned that it's ok to celebrate an achievement, especially one this long in coming. Every other year I've been cool just to meet expectations, but there's no stopping the rush to have for once exceeded them.

This year's entry was a true collaboration from start to finish. Beginning with a self-written script by one of our members, it was workshopped, tweaked, rewritten and polished in bits and pieces. Everyone helped out, whether onstage, backstage, admin. With Sirius directing and delivering the final script (her first ever!) we were in good hands the whole time.

Feeling very grateful to everyone who pitched in. It's nice to be on top for once. XD

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Nice to know that I didn't get shredded this morning. It was a presentation to an audience of very experienced cross-department colleagues on a perspective that could have come across as heretical if taken the wrong way. Instead, the audience asked the right kind of questions during the Q&A and was very kind with its feedback. Perhaps the ground is ready for some new ways of thinking?

Personal insight gained: I can diagnose problems and prescribe workable treatments, and maybe I can make a convincing case to my fellow physicians. But what I haven't yet learned is how to make the patients take their medicine.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Remembering 'If I could tell my past self something'

Things that have to go on record about our entry in this year's big Drama Festival 'cos they won't be mentioned anywhere else: Touching up our movable flat screens with white primer, we got streaks of paint on the Concourse floor. That's for not lining the area with newspaper first. Not pictured is me, the wife and Sirius, sitting on said floor, using nothing but water and lots of elbow grease scrubbing the floor with brushes for over an hour until the sun went down. But we did a great job. Little trace of our unintentional vandalism left that could be connected back to our activities of the previous day.

With this slick move, our lead tosses his hat offstage as a time transition cue. Today at the show, his tossed hat landed smack in the face of an official sitting in the audience. Her lanyard indicated she was probably from head office and likely to be an organizer of the event. While we hope that this little blooper isn't going to cost us too dearly in points, it also confirms to us why this boy is in Drama Club and not in a sports CCA.

And finally, a shot of our team this year. Proud of you guys! You make us laugh and give us heart attacks at the same time! But it's not over yet. Drama Night is just around the corner...

More photos of our rehearsal process can be found here.

Edit 01: Forgot to mention the bus. The return bus stranded us at the venue having mistaken our order to depart at 1445 hrs to mean 4:45 pm. Sirius kicked up enough of a fuss with the bus company to get one delivered pronto, though the delay was still about an hour.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Core business

"The sole purpose of education is to get a good job." This statement is clearly absolute, but that doesn't mean that the proposition has to be automatically rejected. Not when the reasoning behind the statement is logically sound.

Education arose from a tradition from which craftsmen and merchants taught their apprentices the necessary skills of their trades. The higher the skill mastered, the more trusted the trainee grew to handle increasingly complex tasks. Apprentices were trained on the job for the job. What they chose to learn was to make them better at their jobs.

The situation has not changed. The motivation for people to get an education is still, ultimately, to be in a better position to claim a better job.  The motivation to set up an education system is primarily to raise the knowledge and skill levels of a population so that collectively it is better positioned for better paying jobs.

Without this motivation, who would go to school? Attending school delays an entire generation's employability in hope of increasing its future occupational prospects. Students delay their independence while in school, continuing to be treated like children by their teachers and parents though, biologically, they are already capable of starting and tending to their own families. What keeps them in school is the promise of a good job at the end of their studies.

Even if schools provide personal enrichment opportunities such as co-curricular and "Service-Learning" activities, these efforts are still directed at providing experiences that develop employable skills that are certified via official testimonials, attendance checklists and other documents.

Today, schools are still in the business of training, assessing, qualifying and assigning students to the jobs they are best suited for, but are also expected to play surrogate parent. This dichotomy results in schools being conflicted, forced to be both dispassionate and objective while being compassionate and empathetic at the same time. These clashing objectives make education more onerous and cumbersome than it has to be.

There is nothing wrong with seeing education's sole purpose as getting people the best employment opportunities as possible because this is what schools do. In fact, if schools dared to accept this truth, their programmes would be much more focused and much more purposeful. It would make the core business of education so much clearer for both schools and their attendees.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

'A' almighty

Getting an 'A' for learning to do something well is not the same as getting an 'A' for doing what we're told. The result may be the same. An 'A' is an 'A'. But only the former is worth anything.