CAS Reflection: Activities

Today, I just wanted to write an update on how much I have been exercising throughout the holiday. I’ve been cycling every day, in the evening, to the beach and back. I have also been exercising on my terrace every day with a routine I found from an online trainer. Over the holiday, I felt as though it was really important that I keep my physical health in shape, especially considering that over the last couple of months because of quarantine we have been forced to stay at home. My goal over this holiday was to maintain my health and to build-up stamina. At some points, it was a little difficult for me to do so because I had summer school and there was a lot of work from school. However, I made it a point to find time every day and I hope that I can do this when school opens as well.



A Rainy Day (Journal Writing)

Today felt like the longest day of my life. I figured it would be because I’ve had my Global Politics orals marked in my calendar for months which just so happens to be on my birthday, and with everything that happened with Ryan last week, I didn’t really have the guts to look at him in the face. You would think that most people hurt you unintentionally, but clearly Ryan had no regard for my emotions. Sometimes when you expect something bad to happen, you can kind of list it off so it doesn’t seem so awful and I guess that how I thought it would be today. 


I usually eat lunch in the canteen with my friends but today I’d really rather not see anyone considering all of Ryan’s friends have been watching my every move, finding more reasons to make snide comments, so I thought I’d just buy a bunch of food and hideout in the library and revise for my upcoming Spanish quiz. I had just sat down and taken my notes out when Amanda walked in. I suppose you could say she’s the reason why Ryan and I aren’t talking in the first place. (That’s not the first time I’ve blamed her for something and I’m trying awfully hard to not write an entire essay as to why she’s a menace.) Of course, I was looking up mid-chicken-noodle-slurp when she walked in and she looked right at me. I felt this surge of rage in my body, but she didn’t seem to notice my glaring eyes at all. She walked up to me grinning, and if there was a way to make me feel even angrier about the whole thing, that was it. She clutched her sandwich in hand and stared apologizing for ruining my relationship, while I stared at my notes for another 15 minutes not reading anything at all. 


I suppose it’s immature of me to blame absolutely everything that happened in the past month on her (Perhaps I could thank her from saving me from a sinking ship), but from the second I saw her I knew it would be a bad day. I was trying ridiculously hard to memorise the tenses for the exam and I was hung up on the simplest of vocabulary, one of those moments where you know the word in English but my brain completely shut off. My mother always said to write everything down so the ideas aren’t jumbled in my head but I really only had 10 minutes left of lunch and I had just finished the first side of my notes. 


I didn’t have time to freak out, I was supposed to finish my lunch, memorising and restraining myself from hurling my chair at Amanda’s face, but I was panicking anyways. I ran straight to class without batting an eye-lid at Amanda. Staring at the first question for at least 15 minutes before realising what I was looking at, and then realising that I had no idea what I was supposed to do. We were supposed to translate the sentences and write a short descriptive about our opinion but I couldn’t even tell what topic the question was based on. Miss Huntley eventually said that we had 20 minutes left and I had only managed to finish translating the lines into Spanish. 


I came out of the test after 3 pm and I slumped down to the closest bus stop. It had just rained and the wind was strong enough that some of smaller trees had fallen, with leaves swimming in puddles even though the sun was shining bright and hard. I didn’t know whether I should be holding a grudge against both Amanda and Ryan, but it, in the end, it never matters what I decide. There’s always going to be rainy days, but I suppose what really matters is how often the sun shines. 


EA Learning Journal #3 – Ranjit Saha

An interview with lawyer Ranjit Saha was very helpful in seeing the legal aspects of the migrant workers  Crisis. Although not much was discussed in the interview, it could be safe to conclude that in his opinion, NGOs such as TWC2 and HOME have not played a large role in supporting the migrant workers and the government has done more than possible to provide the workers  with safe and healthy lives. Although the NGOs help in diminishing the social barriers and encourage locals to interact with migrant workers through funds, NGO’s are unable to make a proper change in the migrant workers’ lives through legal means. From what I was able to understand from this interview, the government seems to be playing a larger role than we think they do. Although it seems like it is just now after COVID that they are creating new dormitories with more facilities, it turns out that the government has been trying to support the migrant workers through several means. According to Mr Saha, the main problems that the migrant workers face are, not receiving their salary on time, health insurance, employment disputes and workplace injuries. The lawyer, Mr Saha confirmed that there are several cases of migrant workers who do not receive their salary on time, or are not given the correct amount, refused to be given health insurance or are not taken care of by the employer. However, these cases are handled by the MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and in most of these cases, the employers, labour brokers and facilities are fined and the migrant workers receive compensation. Therefore, the only mistreatment or problems that the workers are facing at the moment under the pandemic is unemployment and health safety. However, for these issues as well, the government has created an alternative position where migrant workers are still paid a basic amount of money (Basic Salary) for basic necessities and are provided shelter and health checkups in Singapore hospitals.

EA Learning Journal #2 – Interview with a doctor!

An interview with Dr Ramatullah (Hamid Razak Rahmatullah), an Associate Consultant and ex-Chief Resident in the specialty of Orthopaedic Surgery with the Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) was very important as it helped in enlarging my understanding the depths behind the treatment of the migrant workers s. While all of his answers were in great detail, especially regarding the health benefits and drawbacks of the migrant workers s, a point that stood out was his opinion on the government working for the migrant workers s: 


“[Dr Rahmatullah]: Policy-wise, there’s definitely differences how a foreign workers  is treated versus a citizen, for example, and I think at a policy level, at a national level, you must understand that this is not just peculiar to Singapore but it is the same in many other countries as well. So as dogma we cannot be hypocritical, and call out our government for treating our foreign workers differently.”


Dr Rahmatullah has a very contrasting opinion to Braema. Where Braema feels the government is not doing enough for the migrant workers, Dr Rahmatullah feels they are doing as much as they can. He makes it clear that the Singaporean government has been taking measures to provide the migrant workers with sufficient protection and that it is to the best of their ability, considering their status in society. His point of view in my opinion, makes as much sense as Braema’s perspective, as a community we should not have such a high-myopic view or harbour such high standards and expectations. His statement on the role of the government led to the next questions, “Are we paying them too low a wage for the work that they do? If we are paying a low wage how are we then helping them with other aspects of their living conditions?” The feedback from Braema and Dr Rahmatullah did not really go against my opinion but it gave me a new pathway to think about – is the government doing enough for the migrant workers and is providing basic necessities enough to make them feel accepted?


From this interview, I feel like I understood that being treated differently is a given,  and it is really a global phenomenon where a government is expected to treat their citizens well first and then think about the rest of the population. It is unjust to expect a country to treat everyone equally as there is no country that is so generous. 

EA Learning Journal #1 – Contacting Braema Mathi

For my EA, I conducted my first interview with Braema Mathi  who is the former President of the human rights group MARUAH to obtain background knowledge on the migrant workers here in Singapore. Braema is currently greatly involved with the present migrant workers  crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic so I felt this would be a fantastic opportunity to understand the perspective of an activist who has been working with migrant workers for a long time. The workers  crisis in Singapore is about the migrant workers who during the COVID-19 pandemic have faced multiple hardships. With the factories and workplaces shut down due to the lockdown imposed in the country, the migrant workers have had to deal with loss of income, food shortages and uncertainty about their future. Thus, Braema has been working with MARUAH to specifically point out the poor living conditions at foreign workers dormitories. Post-COVID she felt that the recent media coverage of the new COVID-19 clusters in foreign workers dormitories have exposed the bad conditions of these living spaces which are unclean, cramped, and have poor hygiene standards. Through MARUAH, Braema and her team have been trying to promote and raise awareness, knowledge and understanding of human rights and  related issues in Singapore. 


I had the opportunity to interview Braema (through zoom) which I believe allowed me to obtain a broader understanding of the perspective of the migrant workers who have been residing in such unfair living conditions. In the interview, Braema initially explained the history of how Singapore first brought in its migrant workers and how important these workers are today. One of the comments that Braema made was that social class was prevalent in Singapore ever since the country accepted migrant workers. My questions were mostly based on social class in Singapore and cultural bias against migrant workers, and how they were and still are being segregated from our larger community.  In Braema’s opinion, the segregation could only be diminished when the workers received their basic necessities from the government. 


The pandemic has essentially revealed how more than the Singaporean government, it is the Singaporean society which is culturally biased and refuses to accept these migrant workers into their communities. What was most interesting for me during this interview is how far back the cultural bias dates in segregating our Singaporean societies from migrant workers. Additionally it was unsettling to realize the amount of migrant workers in Singapore who are treated as though they are expendable and are expected to only work on site and not live their lives as residents. This interview was definitely eye-opening as it was exposing both the Singaporean society and government for not playing its role as viable employers. 

EA Journal Post

The Global Politics External Assessment requires a hands-on experience to help us grasp a deeper understanding of our projects. For my External Assessment, I want to evaluate the cultural bias in Singapore against the Bangladesh migrant workers preceding and in the aftermath of the COVID virus. I also want to focus on the Singaporean government which has only recently decided to take action towards the protection of the migrant workers through proper shelter (new dormitories) and health security (basic funds which cover daily meals, basic necessities and health insurance). In Singapore, the migrant workers are one of the most marginalised groups, the sub-community expected to work behind the scenes, and disappear from our society after they are done. Although Singapore is extremely multicultural, the population is still segregated through cultural bias. The migrant workers s, unfortunately falling into one of these more excluded and socially judged or scrutinised groups. During this period of pandemic, NGOs have been uncovering the treatment of the migrant workers and now have been working together to provide the workers with more rights. These NGOs are working towards providing the migrant workers s health and economic stability. However, what I want to find out is what more we can do to provide our migrant workers more protection and security. While I was initially introduced to the mistreatment of the migrant workers through the multiple public interviews on sites such as EmancipAsia, I was not surprised to hear that employers and facilities sometimes do not provide money and benefits on time. I was also surprised to know that Singapore’s society in general to a large extent refuses to accept them as a part of the community. This is what led me to become really interested in this political issue due to its links to human rights and justice. I wanted to explore the Singaporean society as I have lived here for most of my life and I would like to further engage my passion towards my Engagement Activity.

CAS Reflection: Origami

At the end of year CAS reflection for Grade 11 I had written that I would want to make an origami presentation of an aquarium of sea animals as a part of the Art and Creativity. During the summer holidays, while I juggled my Extended Essay, Summer School Course at SciencesPo, EA preparation and Global Politics Hl script, it was actually therapeutic to be able to sit down in the afternoon and make these beautiful origami pieces. The greatest challenge for me was to find time. Nevertheless, I am proud of what I have accomplished and I think it looks beautiful. I give here four pictures of my aquarium clicked at various stages of development from beginning to end.

God of Small Things Book Review/Reflection

Over the summer as a part of my book club, I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. A book that is evidently critically acclaimed and full of passages of lyrically vivid descriptions. The visual and auditory imagines are so strong that you can actually experience Ayemenem, in Kerala, India with its myriad of characters that are so realistic that you feel you live with them. But, to be brutally honest I have a grouse against the book and couldn’t agree with its theme. As the title of the book indicates, the novel holds up an alternate reality –  a world that is in the protection of the “God of Small Things”. So, there is a mainstream society which lays down the rules and binds the people to their everyday routine lives and there is the alternate society which exists only perhaps in the imagination of some of the characters which allow human beings to be themselves, to do what they are meant to do. But, my grouse is that it is too negative of a portrayal of mainstream society, specifically of Estha and Rahel’s childhood which is meant to be a time of innocence and fulfilment and also its too much of a “halfway story” which does not really tell me if the alternate world really holds out a promise of happiness. 


Throughout the book, there is evidence of the two worlds that plague the imagination of Estha and Rahel. Initially, they are too innocent to understand that the society in which they place their trust will eventually let them down. So, in chapter 1 Estha thinks “that if they were killed on a zebra crossing the Government would pay for their funerals”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the society which lays down restrictive laws with the implication that if you follow the laws, you’ll be safe, just like walking on a zebra crossing. Only, unfortunately, the same society does not extend protection to you when something goes wrong. So eventually though society forces you to walk the long straight line, there is no comfort provided if things go wrong. Yet another world that Roy explores is the world of the Church, an important element of life in Kerala for the many Christians who live there. At the time of Sophie’s funeral, the priest says “We entrust into thy hands. Most merciful Father, the soul of this our child departed, and we commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Here again, there is the same reference where religion is seen to be a binding force on human beings, something they turn to at the time of trouble and yet it holds out little in terms of comfort or empathy. Thus, Chacko and Margaret not only lose their child but in doing so also lose what they have between them. The same reference to the promise of an illusory happiness is alluded to in the book later when Roy refers to, “Things go better with Coca-Cola”, its the same thing – everything in the past and present of human society, be it religion or powerful western brands, promise happiness, a promise that remains unfulfilled as is evident in the lives of the characters. 


In an extension of the theme of appearance vs reality, Roy brings in a slight variation as she indicates that mainstream culture often gives indications of an alternate world and yet never acknowledges it fully. Thus, she refers to childhood nursery rhymes and lullabies like “Rubadub dub, three women in a tub, tarry a while said Slow” and “I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum, I live in a cara-van dum dum, I op-en the door, and fall-on the floor. I’m Popeye the sailor man dum dum”. In both the song lyrics the existence of a more passionate, sexual world is hinted at and yet children are taught only the superficial, sugar-coated meaning of it. In a similar reference, she talks about Karna and Kunti from the holiest Indian mythology, Mahabharata. The fact remains that Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas is revered as a virtuous woman and yet what mainstream culture tends to gloss over is that she has an illegitimate son born out of wedlock. What Roy is referring to is this whole idea of glamorising and sanctifying human life and human existence beyond recognition. These are the moral values that society and religion hold out as principles that need to be followed for the good of man and yet all they do is bring unhappiness and unfulfillment. The ideal world doesn’t exist and so, when Estha and Rahel’s family go to watch The Sound of Music it is the time when Estha loses his innocence in the hands of the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. Thus, what we think are the most perfect experiences of childhood often hold the most scarring of experiences for us.


The story continues, the family is split up with Rahel being sent away. She is expelled from more than one school and goes through a broken relationship before she comes home again. There is a sense of completion of a circle as she can be together with her twin, Estha. Being together makes them feel whole, a fulfilment that they express through physical intercourse. Obviously they are lost souls who are meant to be together. It is a replication of the Adam and Eve story where God creates a perfect world (like society0 yet also adds a rule which is impossible for Adam and Eve to maintain if they want to be really happy. Thus, Roy creates an alternate universe for Estha and Rahel, (which belongs to the God of Small Things) but, this world that she promotes at the cost of the “real world” as a place of harmony and happiness, is it long-lasting? Is it even real? We will never know because the story stops short of explaining. 


SciencesPo Pre-college Programme 2020 Reflection 6 Social Class

Over the course of two weeks, I enrolled in an elective called Social Class: How inequality shapes our lives which was taught by Benjamin Brundu-Gonzalez. Through this course, I understood how class shapes our lives in a variety of domains and I was able to recognize misconceptions about class and stratification whenever and wherever I encounter them in political discourse, in the news or on social media. The course began with traditional theories of social class and stratification. We examined how economic inequality has risen to record levels over the past decades and why it matters. The course then moved on to look at the behavioural and relational dimensions of class divisions. We discussed topics such as “Why do people from different class background develop different ways of thinking, feeling and behaving and how does class impact who we choose as friends and lovers?” We also paid close attention to the ways in which social class interlocks with other social divisions, with the focus on race and gender. Finally, the course ended with class stigmatisation in pop culture and asked how class relations play into the big picture of class politics.


In total there were 7 sessions, (1) What is social class? (2) How big is economic inequality? (3) Is class written into our being? (4) What is the impact of class on personal relationships? (5) What about race and gender? (6) What do we believe about social class? (7) Is class politics still relevant? In my opinion, I found these sessions to be very interesting because they were relevant to today’s world and they are also very applicable to the work I am doing in school such as my EA in which I am focusing on social class and migrant workers in Singapore. 


After going through all of these sessions, we had a Petit Oral which was assessed. My group and I focused on the question “Should we be sceptical of meritocracy”. This question was interesting for me as we focused on Singapore, a country in which meritocracy is very prevalent. However, through the research for the oral, though apparently it appears to be an equitable distribution of opportunities, its not really a fair playing field for all. 

SciencesPo Pre-college Programme 2020 Reflection 5 Master Class 4

The last masterclass I attended was Populism and Democracy by Nonna Mayer. In this last session, we approached the issue of populism through a variety of readings and presentations. Then we later adopted a more global approach and tried to build a definition of populism, based on the examples given in class.


The terms we were focusing on are, losers to globalization, populist radical right and representative democracy. Through the readings, the topics that we looked at were The Populist Zeitgeist, defining the undefinable, contemporary populism and reactions to the populist challenge. In this session, we concluded that populism is an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’ which in turn argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people.