THE EASY WAY
TAP OR SCAN, ALL ALSO CAN
Meal times should be convenient and hassle-free. With a wide range of e-payments, there are easier ways to pay for your food. Try it now in selected coffee shops, hawker centres and industrial canteens.
Screenshot sourced from Channel News Asia: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nets-apologises-e-pay-ad-campaign-race-11771224
In today’s diverse age, countries all across the world love to brand themselves as “cultural melting-pots”. Some countries will take every opportunity they can to point out the wide varieties of local culture and custom present, like peacocks baring their multi-coloured feathers. One country in particular that arguably has a stronger claim to diversity than most is Singapore. On Singapore’s streets, in Singapore’s hawker centres, road names, schools, religious buildings – the evidence of cultural diversity can be clearly seen. Singapore’s racial diversity is so often discussed, it is summarised by the handy (if problematic) Colonial-era initialism of CMIO – referring to the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other populations present on the island. However, with racial diversity and a celebration of difference also comes the looming issue of racial tensions. As Singapore grows more diverse, tensions also increase, and the Singaporean government has attempted to stymie this issue with political speeches, racial harmony days and all sorts of racial events – meagre bandaids slapped on wounds to placate growing dissent. Singapore’s cultural sensitivity issues run deeper than can be solved by these meaningless platitudes – what’s needed is an honest discussion and breakdown of the long held assumptions and stereotypes present across the various peoples of Singapore. Whilst this mere thinkpiece could not hope to even begin approaching a solution to the deep seated racial issues in Singapore, perhaps it can bring about at least a small conversation around these larger issues through an exploration of a text that is in some ways a microcosm of the racial environment in Singapore.
To begin with: an investigation of the text. On the surface, studying only the text part of the text (its words) it is an innocent, maybe even gently humorous take on encouraging more Singaporeans to use an E-Pay system as an alternative payment option. The main tagline of the ad, with it’s fun little rhymes, is intended to reflect the colloquial accent and grammatical habits of Singaporeans speaking English. “ALL ALSO CAN” appears like bad English to the Western reader, but to those speaking English within Singapore with other Singaporeans, it is simply the local vernacular, or “Singlish”. The rest of the ad addresses the use of E-Pay within the context of paying for a meal. Food is of paramount importance to Singaporean culture as a whole, and “coffee shops, hawker centres and industrial canteens” are all rather local places to get food – the preferred eateries of the Singaporean everyman. This ad immediately reads like an appeal to the regular citizen of Singapore. With this in mind, let us now turn to the problem child of this ad – the image. If you don’t look to closely, it appears to be a portrayal of three of the four CMIO race groups in Singapore – an Indian man, a Malay woman, a Chinese man and a Chinese woman. The controversy is of course that if one inspects the piece further, it becomes apparent that these four people are portrayed by one man – a local Chinese actor by the name of Dennis Chew.
When one has recovered from the shock of seeing an ad so potentially fraught with issues (that was somehow approved by the large PR firms presumably under the employ of NETS and its associated banks), one may begin to attempt to placate those angry. Yes, perhaps this was less than ideal, and a little insulting, but this was simply a dumb mistake by a company. It’s not as big a deal as it’s being made out to be. This view is unfortunately ignorant of the deeper issues in play with this portrayal. It is not merely an insensitive decision, but an uncovering of the deeper racial issues in Singapore. Portraying the other races with a Chinese man communicates the inherent bias towards the Chinese race present in Singapore in two ways. One, it treats the Chinese race as the “blank canvas” of races in Singapore – on which the fun, extraneous cultures of the other races are painted on. The default race is Chinese, and the other races are simply add ons. Nice to have, but ultimately unnecessary as parts of Singapore. Two, in this ad so clearly addressed to the regular people of Singapore, the Chinese man alone is present – thus implying that the regular citizen of Singapore is, on average, a Chinese man, and all others are deviations from the norm, even second class citizens. More problematic inferences can be made from this image if one chooses to look for them – for example, that the Chinese man is dressed for a white collar job, whereas the Indian man appears to be dressed for blue collar work; that the hijab can apparently be worn by just about anyone, downgrading its status from important religious symbol to a fun costume; that an expatriate is missing because they are rich, elitist and therefore not in any way sympathetic towards the regular Singaporean citizen.
Of course, one can claim that in reading so far into this ad, we’ve already put infinitely more thought into this ad than the firm that produced it clearly did, and that unnecessarily probing so far into it is equivalent to simply searching for reasons to be offended. And if one was to consider this ad in a vacuum, away from Singapore, this might be a valid viewpoint. But these inferences arise not from the ad on its own, but from the ad being placed in the context of Singapore’s cultural background and racial tensions. On its own, the ad is perhaps a little degrading. But in the context of majority Chinese Singapore, this ad is less creating an issue than it is voicing the underlying attitudes and assumptions made in Singapore – Chinese is default and normal, all else is deviation from the norm. Earlier in this piece, I noted that this ad would appear as a microcosm of the larger race issues of Singapore, and here we can see that clearly. The issue is not the ad, or the brownface, or the man wearing a hijab. The issue is that the fact that the firm considered those actions as tantamount to the norm in Singapore is revelatory of the racial attitudes in Singapore that need to be changed.
THE EASY WAY
TAP OR SCAN, ALL ALSO CAN
Meal times should be convenient and hassle-free. With a wide range of e-payments, there are easier ways to pay for your food. Try it now in selected coffee shops, hawker centres and industrial canteens.
Style: an advertisement, supposed to be relatively benign, perhaps intended as humorous? colloquial language
Audience: largely Chinese Singaporean population, perhaps to older people who are less inclined to use E-Pay to begin with
Purpose: to advertise an E-Pay service
Context: within Singapore’s unbalanced environment of racial harmony (CIMO issues), Chinese are seen as the “oppressors”, context of relatively large, conservative, establishmentarian company
Stylistic Features: colloquial language, casual composition, local food – to attempt to appear relatable
Ads: Finnish McDonalds Ad and Chinese McDonalds Ad (images would not upload on this well designed platform)
These two ads convey the contrasting values of Finnish and Chinese societies. Northern European societies such as Finland tend to be less conservative and have more open values than in other countries. In Finland, the image of the two cow udders spraying milk would not cause as much shock as it may in another country, and the potentially phallic nature of the image would not cause a problem. Instead, it would be viewed humorously and thus positively increase McDonalds’ brand image. With regards to the Chinese ad, Beef is portrayed in a way that appears “cool” and “hip”, as Beef is not commonly consumed in China. The values conveyed here are that of a sort of safe progressiveness, in that the way the Beef is made to look cool is still very conservative. Another potential value could be that of physical fitness, as evidenced by the cow’s activity and the caption of the ad.
The Chinese ad in particular does play on a few stereotypes to achieve its goals. The way the Beef is dressed is reminiscent of an eastern view of stereotypically “cool” western teenaged figure, derived from various media. This stereotype acts as a way of immediately communicating the ideas of western society straight to the younger target audience in Chinese society, many of whom consume the media from which this stereotype is derived.
Representation as an issue is deeply problematic because of the ease in which one’s sensitivities can be easily insulted or offended in many ways. Whether through a lack of representation or through misrepresentation, authors attempting to make commentary or even incorporate any amount of culture into their piece walk through a minefield of potential issues. In this piece, I hope to address my thoughts on some of them.
The first issue is whether a text can ever truly be representative of groups of people. Can a writing, no matter how nuanced, really encompass the multi-faceted, nuanced and layered aspects of a culture? Whilst I think most issues of representation fall in a grey area, I think this question in particular has a very clear answer – no. No text, no medium of communication, can ever really replicate experience fully, simply as a fault of language. Language being unable to fully represent ideas is a common theme in philosophy – for example, that of Wittgenstein – and it is an idea that makes sense if one considers that language is not a strict set of rules that one can apply in communication, rather, language more closely resembles a set of conventions built upon through human use and experience. Therefore, in any communication, and cultural communication in particular, the words we use are coloured by our experience of them, and here we reach an impasse. To communicate the experiences of groups of people, one must rely on language, but to fully comprehend the language used, one must understand the experience of that group. If language itself is built out of experience, then it cannot fully communicate certain experiences, and thus, all texts, no matter how close to the mark they may hit, will never be able to represent a group of people in a completely accurate manner.
Next is the issue of who gets to represent what. Can any author, belonging to any culture and having any set of experiences choose to represent a group they do not identify within? Well, after tackling the previous issue, it may seem there is an obvious answer once again – if a text cannot fully represent a culture without the relevant experiences backing it up, then clearly an author without that experience can not produce a text to represent that culture. However, this is a hard line view. Why must all representation be 100% true to life and accurate? Why must we be able to tackle every single aspect in a single text? The argument that an author can only represent their own group is pointlessly limiting on texts, and is a rule in search of an ideal textual representation that does not exist and never can. If we accept that textual representation cannot be fully accurate, then we can accept as well that any author can attempt to represent any group, since there is no way they will be able to represent every facet of the group anyway.
One last issue relevant to the other two is the question of whether representation is problematic. Many argue that representation has caused many problems for texts – forced diversity has ruined casting and contradicted details of source material in films, for example. Representation can also cause problems when not done well – misrepresentation can create and reinforce harmful stereotypes. But I believe the problems arising from such representation aren’t inherently the fault of the act of representation, but simply arising as a consequence of bad writing. Representation is not inherently problematic; it is simply a tool authors can employ in their texts for a multitude of reasons. When used badly, as with any other tool, problems will be faced.
Your name and previous mathematics experience (IGCSE, MYP, FIB, any other course)
Justin Chan Zi Qian, IGCSE, Some Study of Previous IB Course
What might be some of the feelings that you associate with mathematics?
Mathematics is interesting to explore, sometimes it can be boring if things move too slowly
How do you feel about starting this course and why?
A little apprehensive – I’m unsure of the pace we’re going at, I’m also a little bit concerned about IAs
How do you like to learn mathematics?
Where would you put yourself on this continuum and why:
Very far to the left – to me, mathematics is most satisfying and really gets understood by me when I figure it out myself
What do you do when you are “stuck” in mathematics?
In your past experiences, how have you successfully overcome such misunderstandings?
I’m willing to usually stick with problems for a long time to try and figure them out, if I can’t figure things out on my own, then I’ll seek out another source such as a teacher/friend/online and work through it with the help of that source until I feel secure in my understanding
Which one of the following skills is your biggest strength in learning mathematics?
A Problem Solver – My experience with mathematics has largely been with exploring problems and finding ways to solve them, so I’ve had a lot of practice with this skill
Collaborative – I sometimes find it difficult to work together with others on problems as I typically prefer to work alone
Is there anything else you want your maths teachers to know about you?
This was mentioned earlier in the task, but I do want to emphasise that I really feel that I am best able to do maths when I work through things on my own at my own pace as opposed to a another pace which might move at a different speed to that which I’m comfortable at
I am Justin Chan, a student of Grade 9 at United World College of South East Asia, East Campus. I’m ethnically Chinese, was born in Shanghai, hold a Malaysian passport, live in Singapore and consider myself a global citizen.
This year, I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a learner and as a person. I’ve learnt about how I deal with stress and competition, especially through the Systems and Control course, in which I had to deal with a lot of coursework. This has taught me much about being more organised, but also being able to handle pressure better and being less emotional about dealing with stress. Another important skill I’ve learnt as part of dealing with stress is particularly dealing with exam stress. As this was the first school year in which I took a proper exam, I had to both reconsider my methods for studying for exams as well as for how seriously I would take these exams. This opportunity has given me a valuable experience for next year when I take my IGCSE Finals.
My greatest aspiration is to become a mathematician. Mathematics is a subject that I have a deep passion for, and I wish to be able to study it professionally and recreationally. Ever since I was young, I have tried to do much mathematics, and now, in Grade 9, I am starting to see my efforts come to fruition as I learn more and more. My plan is to take the advice of a mathematics professor I met during the course of my studies and remain curious to learn more, which will eventually lead to my success in this field.
And wallowing in it doesn’t help
Have you ever faced true hardship? How have your experiences, both good and bad, shaped you as a person? Here in UWCSEA, we lead incredibly privileged lives in a bubble shielded from the tragedies of the world – poverty, hunger, and war. And while we should be beyond grateful that we do not face suffering often, we must also admit that those who have survived hardship have developed incredible strength that we should both admire and learn from. In other words, difficult experiences can indeed make people much stronger and more able than they ever were before, bringing a more fulfilling and successful life to them. And no two examples stand stronger than that of artists Danny Raven Tan and Christina Lau – both having gone through tragedy and both having come out on the other side stronger than before.
NO – The Next Opportunity – Christina Lau
Christina Lau was a prison officer, living an outgoing, happy life, until 2005, when she was paralysed from the chest down following a terrible car accident in Malaysia. Having been a participant in sporting activities, and in a physically demanding job, she was devastated by the news that her paralysis would mean she could no longer walk. Spending more than 10 days in the ICU, she “sank into depression”, a depression born of her feelings of worthlessness and her fear of being a burden to her family who would now have to take care of her. But through her own personal strength and the support of her loved ones, she struggled to start over. She picked up mouth painting – despite having had no experience painting in her previous life – and this proved to be a hidden talent that she wasted no time in developing. Today, she is a gifted and certified mouth artist, participating in wheelchair table tennis, advocates for disabled rights and speaks to many about her experience and how she had grown as a result of it. With her motto of “you can if you want” and her high aspirations of playing olympic disabled table tennis, she is living proof of growing strength through hardship. Her decision to try something completely new as well as to use her experience as a talking point in her advocacy speaks much to this developed strength. Her example continues to inspire people everywhere to fight hardship, and to look at the word FAIL as the “First Attempt In Learning”, the word END as “Effort Never Dies”, and the word NO as “Next Opportunity”.
Christina Lau, Painting An example of Christina’s work
From pancreatic cancer to dementia – Danny Raven Tan
In a small nook of Ang Mo Kio, one can find the Tiffin Gallery, hosted by Danny Raven Tan – a local Singaporean artist with an interesting story to tell. Danny graduated NUS with a degree in building estate management, which he used in his property development job. But his artistic mind which was as he says “created to create” was never satisfied with this type of work. He left it and worked intermittently in various other interesting jobs – working in the fashion industry, which he left, describing it as “too plastic”, applying for and shortlisted for a job at Versace shortly before Versace’s untimely death, and joining Singapore’s prestigious Lasalle College of the Arts. In 2010, Danny faced his first tribulation – he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. With his friends, and with his three key tenets of strength, faith and wisdom, Danny managed to push through this incredibly difficult time. Even now, after beating cancer, he looks physically diminished by his disease, but Danny refuses to capitulate, seeing his scars as his evidence of his survival, and absolutely refusing to “wallow in his own s***”. It was this attitude that has kept him going, his strong will allowing him to confront first his cancer, and now, his mother’s dementia. Aside from running the Tiffin Gallery – an intimate home gallery through which he displays his art – he also takes care of his mother in her deteriorating mental state, and advocates for greater awareness in the public sphere for dementia. The hardships he has faced and still faces now have both strengthened him and informed his art – art that speaks to various issues he feels passionately for. Truly, Danny’s scars represent the effects of hardship – permanent marks of both defect and survival.
A selection from Danny Raven Danny Raven Tan, in the Tiffin Gallery Tan’s collection “The Gods are Crying”
Hardship in the Bubble
Difficulties will always find us in life, and there is not much we can do to avoid them. But to be dismayed by them when they do come is to admit defeat. Instead, what we must do is to learn from the examples of both Danny and Christina in their survival of hardship, and their use of their hardship to strengthen them as people. The common denominators of both their stories include can-do attitudes, a willingness to explore and try new things, refusal to allow oneself to wallow in self-pity, and the support of loved ones. These are all key factors in facing hardship with the grace and grit that both Danny and Christina have shown. Further, it is important that we not only view our trials as issues to be resolved, but as teachable moments from which much can be drawn. Danny and Christina both had developed new outlooks on their lives from their hardship, and it is in doing so that they have become the people they are today. So when hardships truly come, we should strive to emulate Danny and Christina’s examples – and through these hardships, grow stronger.
Today, we had the pleasure of experiencing Christina Lau’s talk. Here are some brief reflections and takeaways:
When asked whether she would choose to go back in time and prevent her accident from happening, she did not give a direct yes or no answer. This was quite interesting to me – after all, it seems obvious that one would wish to prevent their accident. However, it seems that she was unwilling to do so, simply because of how much of her life has been shaped by the accident – her mouth painting, her participation in the paralympics etc. It seems that for people in unusual circumstances, an optimistic embracing of their challenges is the best way to move forward. I would be interested to see whether this trend occurs in other people in similar situations and whether we could apply this to our own lives – to embrace challenge and difficulty as part of us as a means of dealing with it.
One of my interests throughout these talks have been about the support structures around people in hardship. In Christina’s case, she talked about the encouragement of her love ones during her time of hardship. She discussed both the physical and mental support they provided. Looking back now, I would have been interested to know more details of how they dealt with it – from what she said, they too were quite shocked with the entire issue and the ability to support someone through it after such a surprise should not be dismissed. I wonder how people can deal with shock when trying to support others through tough times – whether we can channel that empathy towards helping them as opposed to simply falling into a depression on the issue.
Another interesting aspect of her life story is of her moving into mouth painting. She had never been an artsy person before the accident, yet circumstances forced her towards joining the mouth painting association. These types of drastic changes to people’s lives can often lead to the discovery of new talents. I think it is important for us to put ourselves to changes and be willing to explore, as often we can uncover hidden aspects of ourselves, and her life story is an important example of this. At the same time, one need not wholly discard their old identity – after all, she still participates in sports, just adapting to it in a new way by trying wheelchair table tennis.
Overall, Christina Lau had an encouraging story to share to wrap up a fortnight of brilliant speakers.
North: This session helped advance my understanding of the writing process. While I had thought of writing as a purely artistic process, his talk had demonstrated the very key and logical science of writing.
South: I made connections with the way that the writing process should take a long time and requires much thinking.
East: This session inspired me to write more. I’ve wanted to start a private blog for a long time and this is the push that has been required to get me to write it.
West: I am unsure as to how this type of formulaic writing can remain interesting for readers.