Making Light of Things

September 2009 Archives

The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

In the past few weeks we’ve seen the unfolding of the story that is Ris Low. For the uninitiated, it involves a 19-year old winning the title of Miss Singapore-World, her inpromptu interview and the revelation that she does not possess the eloquence expected of someone about to represent the nation on a global stage.

The public reaction was expected. You had those who made fun of her, those who created a Facebook group and those who were just dying to cast the first large boulder.

It didn’t help her cause that she was later found out to have previously committed credit card fraud, and then admitted to having suffered from a bipolar disorder.

But she’s stated that she’s still not throwing in the towel and returning the crown; how it’s been a dream of hers and she’s pursuing it, despite the overwhelming cacophony of voices maliciously denigrating her.

We Singaporeans love to play judge. Somewhere in our “you must grow up to be a lawyer” childhood we have been imprinted with the idea that power lies in the hands of those who do the judging. So we’ve acquired this over-developed ability to judge others. We are quick to deliver scathing remarks, complain if the train is a few minutes late and rant as if the universe owed us a living.

But real power doesn’t lie in judgement. It is easy to play armchair judge on Singapore idol and belittle someone elses’ lack of talent or skill. The contestants will probably tell you that going under the bright lights is a very sobering experience, and you come out of it more humbled and less likely to criticise.

So yes, Ris Low is flawed, and she probably isn’t the first choice we’d pick if we wanted to win the international competition. But I know of so many who have similar problems with diction, and my own past is as chequered as hers. The only difference is that I haven’t had the guts to subject myself to the possibility of failure in pursuit of a dream, however ludicrous others may claim.

I admire Ris for her bravery and I believe that everyone should be given chances to undo the mistakes of their youth and access to support in overcoming their personal adversity. I want my children to be brought up in an environment that believes and embodies these beliefs.

The question before us is not so much whether we will win the Miss World title, but whether we can take this chance to mature as a society and recognise that the fragmentation in society caused by being overly critical and competitive is destroying us from within. And whether we have the guts to bravely look in the mirror and accept the fact that we are all fraught with imperfections, but we are all united in the unfolding story that is Singapore.

A Toast


It’s odd that two separate parts of my past would converge in Monterey last week.


There was a young boy once who would show up every now and then at the basketball court. He was chubby, and being a few years younger than the rest of the guys, considerably shorter. Not one of the regulars of this particular court, he didn’t get to play very much and would just shoot the ball around on his own.

He kept doing that until one day he wasn’t so short anymore (still a little chubby though), and we asked him to join us. The time and effort he had put in shooting the ball all that time paid off - he certainly had more game than many of us.

I never knew his name, until many years later when Cheryl brought him to church.

His name is Leon, and I remembered the relentless work ethic he brought to the courts so many years before.

I also noticed that he was now taller than me.


20 years ago I was entrusted with taking care of a young girl over the course of a 4 day church camp. I was supposed to write letters of encouragement to her, pin it up on a huge notice board without revealing who I was. I don’t remember what we wrote each other, but I do remember it being deep and heartfelt.

Over the years I have seen her transform from a little girl who wore frilly victorian-styled dresses to the amazing woman before us. Though the years and geographic proximity would render us more distant, I have always felt entrusted with her well-being, albeit through thought or prayer.

It was until she brought Leon to church when I realised that this imaginary role now belonged to him. I remember my initial reaction being one of relief. This boy would definitely try his darndest.

Cover to Cover

Faith commented yesterday that I had photographed so many sunrises and sunsets. It hadn’t occurred that explicitly to me, but it does seem that I’m obsessed with them. Just yesterday evening I had decided to take a break, tired out from travel. While driving out to get some food, I got into the car and immediately set out to photograph the sunset. It was an instantaneous decision and I found myself on the beaches of Spanish Bay.

Sunset at Spanish Bay, Monterey Bay

There’s a certain calm about these 2 times of the day: the freshness and hope of morning and the contentedness that comes with the evening. I do not view the morning as the beginning and the evening as the end, but the other way round: the evening is when we start taking time on things that really matter, and the morning is the time we part with those we love; a transition from the things we want to do to the things we need to do.

The sunset is also a time that is both private and communal. I’d be sitting in some desolate place, and there would be a handful of like-minded souls. Some with their loved ones, others with their dogs. I bitterly loathe the fact we work such long hours in Singapore. Time with family should be an everyday affair and not confined to weekends.

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