“Demolition is irreversible.”

Presumably, the senior minister of state would have said exactly the same about the old National Library at Stamford Road. Us oldies know the one – built in 1960, the red-bricked national icon, beloved by generations, (where I borrowed my first NLB book), keeper of too many memories and, despite much public outcry and outrage, demolished in 2005 for.. a road tunnel.

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News clipping from TODAY, 27 June 2017, “Demolition, conservation among four options for 38 Oxley Road”

Overtaken

It’s expiration by a thousand steps. And gradual. But I’m used to it already. I mean, young people overtake me and vanish over the horizon. Fine, they are young. Children overtake me and vanish over the horizon. But they’re younger still – forgiven. People my age overtake me and vanish over the horizon. Eh. Visibly older people overtake me and.. you know how it goes. Eh!

Just now, a dude on a motorised wheelchair overtook me and, in less than a minute, was 50m ahead. Then, just like that, a hundred, as if I was running backward. Eh!! Though, before any vanishing over the horizon could occur, he turned into his block 150m ahead.

I don’t know those chairs can go so fast.

Or that I can go so slow.

Forever 29

As I hit 29 and approach the big 3-0, many thoughts trampled around the labyrinths of my mind. Such as, the insidious emergence of the just-past-quarter-life crisis. The nagging uncertainty over what lies ahead. The anguish over whether I am doing anything meaningful with my life. The sulking over my big day being utterly overshadowed by the trio of Lee, Lee and Lee. The ensuing inattention and lack of well wishes from my fickle-minded friends..

.. speaking of which. Oi! Where are the faithful? Less than ten people remembered! Or messaged! Or gave me gifts!

Oh wait. Only one person gave me anything.

But anything is an infinitely bigger number than nothing.

And one is enough.

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Wanted: Story about disability in school (Reward for sharing!)

Hi! I’m working with the Singapore Management University’s Diversity, Integration and Inclusion department on a project (on a short-term contract basis). To be specific, I am compiling case studies to be used in its disability awareness and training workshops. These workshops aim to spur discussions, insights and reflections about real-life incidents which the workshop participants can relate to. The goal is to improve disability services in higher education institutions, i.e. the ITEs, polytechnics and universities. 

You are wanted, if you are:

  • Currently studying (or have previously studied) at an Institute of Higher Learning (IHL) in Singapore: ITE, Polytechnic, or University
  • A student with one of the following disability or condition: hearing loss (UPDATE: I have enough deaf / hard-of-hearing participants, and also participants with autism – thank you!), visual disability, autism, dyslexia, psychological/mental illness, chronic health issue, temporary disability/health condition
  • A teacher, instructor, lecturer, tutor at an IHL who has taught a student with disability
  • An administrative staff at an IHL who has interacted or handled a case involving a student with disability
  • Student assistant or peer helper of a fellow coursemate with disability at an IHL
  • Caregiver of a student with disability at an IHL

“So what exactly are you looking for?”
We are looking for stories which are about situations and scenarios involving students with disability in your school, and which you have come across in one of the above roles. It doesn’t matter if these cases were resolved successfully or not; we understand such cases usually have no easy answers or solutions.

“What kind of stories are you looking for?”
Stories with a focus on a particular problem, difficulty or dispute which is clearly related to disability. It can be on any aspect of the experience or encounter involving the student with disability, or teacher/lecturer, or administrative staff, or peer/fellow student, and caregiver. (If you have a couple stories to share, not just one, all the better!) 

Examples of issues can be:

  • physical access or gaining access to facilities or services
  • funding for services, devices or facilities (insufficient, challenges in obtaining)
  • academic challenges caused by disability
  • challenges involving social behaviour or conduct: stigma, social interactions, exclusion, self-esteem, etc
  • unclear policies or support systems
  • lack of support or knowledge on handling such cases
  • issues of professional ethics and boundaries
  • institutional policies or strategies
  • and any other school-related issues, difficulties and problems

A sample story can be found below. (Please note that I will be writing the story, and I only need you to tell it, so you don’t have to worry about grammar, spelling, etc if you are writing it down.)

“What about confidentiality issues?”

All names of individuals, schools and other possible identifying details will be changed. We have zero interest in naming, judging or assigning blame to anyone in the case studies – this is not a fault-finding exercise. 

Instead, we want to know more about the situation – what happened, why it happened, who were involved, what the causes were, what the issues were, and how the problem was finally resolved (or not resolved). These will provide a real-life case study for a disability awareness/training workshop, in which participants can think about and discuss what should have been done, possible solutions, best practices, and so on.

You can also vet the story before the final version is submitted.

Last and not least..
.. as a token of appreciation, on a personal basis, I will offer a $10 Starbucks or KOI or LiHo or any drinks voucher/top-up to those are willing to share a story or two!

You can share your story in person, or via email, or even online messaging – whichever mode you are comfortable with. I will give you a template and list of short, simple questions to guide you through the storytelling process, and it should take about half an hour to one hour to tell and/or write up.

If you are interested to help in this project, please take one minute to fill in the following form: Your name, contact, type of school, disability diagnosis if applicable (for student), designation if applicable (for staff, peers, caregivers).

Thank you!

Alvan Yap


Sample story from the perspective of a student with disability
(Note this is a composite account based on my own and others’ experiences. Yes, I am deaf myself.)

“I am hard of hearing, and have severe hearing loss in both ears. I use hearing aids to help me hear (though still not very well). I also understand and use sign language. Other people can understand my speech as it is quite clear.

For my current post-graduate diploma course, I am fortunate to have a sign language interpreter for all my lectures. There is only one interpreter, and there is another deaf student in my course. So the two of us deaf students are supposed to ‘share’ the interpreter. Most of the time, this works well.

But in one of the modules, the lecturer felt that during tutorials, when there are group discussions, my fellow deaf coursemate and I should not be in the same group. Instead, we should be placed in separate groups so that our other (non-disabled) coursemates are exposed to our sharing and insights during discussions. The lecturer has good intentions and I understand her reasoning.

The problem is, this means one of us has to do without the interpreter, as we are now in different groups. Because of my good speech, it seems the lecturer thought I could cope better, and I was assigned to be the one to make do without the interpreter; instead, another (non-deaf) coursemate was assigned to help take notes for me. But I felt this was not fair to me as I could only catch perhaps 40-50% of what was said. Nor was it fair to the coursemate who was arrowed to be my notetaker.

I explained this to the lecturer, and requested to either be placed together with the other deaf coursemate in the same group again, or have another interpreter brought in for me. But somehow, she was not convinced of the need for me to have my own interpreter, and she was adamant that the two deaf students should not be grouped together. I understand it was also difficult to get another interpreter in due to budget constraints. I have brought this issue up to the lecturer twice, without success.

Now I am not sure if I should raise it further up to the admin office or my school disability support officer, as I worry doing so may strain my relationship with the lecturer. Actually I like the lecturer and enjoy her lessons a lot – she teaches well, is experienced and knows her subject in depth.”

Stand-up rant

The Irish are my new favourite people.

It was previously the French, and before that, the Canadians. And an unimaginably long time ago, in 2008 and 2012 – when America used to be the greatest – the Americans. (Of course, they also voted for Reagan and George W Bush, so maybe it’s more accurate for me to say America yo-yoes between periods of benevolent nobility and bouts of suicidal world-annihilating madness. This round, it’ll be interesting, in a life-and-death way, to see how they get themselves out of what must be, believe me, the biggest deepest hole in the world. Here’s hoping the string hasn’t snapped, and they don’t drag all the rest of us wannabe immigrants down as well.)

Ah ok. What did the Irish do exactly? Leo Varadkar is Ireland’s next prime minister. The fellow is 38 (take that, Macron, Trudeau and Obama!) has an Indian father (take that, Marcon and Trudeau!), and is openly gay (take that, 99% of all the political leaders of the world!).

And oh, no, no. It’s not because they elected young, intelligent, liberal-leaning, good-looking leaders. It’s not because the Irish and Americans had freely voted – as their most powerful political leader – a person from an ethnic minority. And in the case of the good people of Ireland, someone from both an ethnic and sexual minority. (And all without the help of “reserved elections”.) 

Rather, it’s not just because of these.

Their greatness lies in how they, or enough of them, defied their inborn, embedded-in-DNA, familial-bred, culture-infused inclinations towards racism, prejudice and tribalism. To put it another way, they – shock! horror! heresy! – chose their leaders based on the content of their character and (hopefully) soundness of their professed policies, rather than the hue of their skin or the colour of their eyes or any other biological traits of zero relevance and even lesser importance.

That’s a big deal. And not an easy deal. Take Singapore. We are all about one united nation, ‘tolerance’ and mutual respect regardless of race, language or religion – and sheer bloody-minded hypocrisy and self-righteous bigotry. Those last bits, unfortunately, ruin it all, like finding a smelly potty at the end of the rainbow. (Yes, I feel for the innocent almost-rainbow cake which was falsely accused of being too happy.)

Much has been written and said on the controversy over the audition, which I felt was plain insensitive and reeked of racist stereotyping. (Now you know where I stand.) I was reading through the comments and I just wish to respond to one part of it. In particular, to those who are, like: But he’s a comedian! He’s an actor! It’s his job! Russell Peters does it too! Why never condemn him? Comics make fun of people! He himself made fun of accents, cracked racist jokes, and acted all racist and offensive in shows too! What a rabble-rousing hypocrite!

After watching stand-up comedy shows for a month on Netflix, I’m an expert on comics; I know all about them, how the jokes work, and what the racist, sexist, raunchy, un-PC, offensive-towards-religion stuff actually mean. Those who resorted to that line of attack are.. How do I say it? I feel obligated to explain things to people who simply don’t get it, for whatever reason.

Pay attention here. Peters and his peers – the pros who do stand-up and go on tours around the world – are, for the most part, fiercely anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-stupidity, pro-science, proudly liberal. To me, they are also, actually, really, sensitive sorts who are ‘people’ people, who observes people in all their follies and goodness, and who knows what makes people tick and tock. And they have strong, clear-minded opinions on all kinds of issues.

These comedians tell the dirty jokes and made the rude noises and do all the offensive accents and recount all the racist stories for one reason. Ok, two. One, to make a living. The other? The comics consciously do it to make people laugh, yes, and also to make people – subconsciously – uncomfortable and cringing inside, and to switch on light bulbs up there.  To provoke people enough to really think about all these delicate, taboo subjects, to reflect, and to begin to engage with these. That is so obvious to me. But I guess if one doesn’t get it from the off, there’s no way to explain it later. It’s like a.. joke; if you need to explain the joke, there’s no hope for the joke. Oh well.

Next, we’ll move on to the sexual habits of.. Oh wait, time’s up. We have to wrap, sorry. You guys have been awesome. Thanks for coming out. Thank you!

Thank you very much.

Running towards the gods

I did it, after seven years.

While living in Timor-Leste, a country which is 95% Catholic, I visited the sole mosque in the capital and wrote that the sight of tudung-clad Muslim women made me feel at home, as if I’m back in Singapore again. (If you’re one of those who think it’s a Muslim-majority country, eh, now you know better.) I also mused that, growing up in Singapore, I have become somewhat desensitised to the more nuanced riches of our multireligious society; and I recalled vaguely that in a five-kilometer radius around my HDB block, there are Chinese and Hindu temples, churches and a mosque.

And these days, I do take a keener interest in shrines, houses and places of worship. If I pass them by, I take time to really look at their exteriors. Often, these buildings are architecturally interesting as well as pleasing to the eye – with their minarets, cross-inspired shapes, sweeping roofs and the like.

Anyway, it’s been nagging at me, what I wrote back then – is it really true all those religious buildings are within 5km of where I live? A couple of days back, on a whim and to scratch that long-standing itch, I finally checked it out for myself.

I started running from the Tibetan temple nestled right in the middle of the neighbourhood hub (and I bet few people know there’s one!), and all the way to the last one, an Hindu temple, 6km away, near Changi Village.

Let’s have a look.

As listed:
A: Sakya Tenphel Ling
B: Masjid Al-Istighfar
C: Bethesda Pasir Ris Mission Church
D: Loyang Tua Pek Kong (Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu deities all worshipped here!)
E: Maranatha Bible Presbyterian Church & Seletar Tamil Methodist Church
F: Sree Ramar Temple

Map
The route from A to F
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Sakya Tenphel Ling

 

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Masjid Al-Istighfar
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Bethesda Pasir Ris Mission Church
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Loyang Tua Pek Kong
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Maranatha Bible Presbyterian Church & Seletar Tamil Methodist Church
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Sree Ramar Temple

 

“Sorry, but I’m not sorry”

I was watching this delightful video by a Youtube vlogger, a deaf lady, having a chat with Tim Cook on the occasion of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

Then I stumbled upon another video of hers, in which she addresses criticism to the tune of “That deaf ‘advocate’ doesn’t sign. She doesn’t represent the Deaf signing community.”

Background: This deaf lady, Rikki, was mainstreamed and uses her voice (as shown during her interview with Tim Cook), and also knows American Sign Language (ASL).

And I was even more delighted by her response which, in part, goes: “If people are mad that I’m not signing all the time, sorry, but I’m not sorry. If I’m doing something really important like an interview with a big person, I’m going to use the language that I’m most comfortable with. I used ASL at the event with my other Deaf friends. But I don’t understand technology language, words in ASL. If I don’t understand it, why would I use it? That would be a bad idea.” 

This reminded me of an incident sometime ago when I went through similar nonsense. Ok, imagine the scene: There were other deaf people present, there was a sign language interpreter, I was talking to government people about policies, I used my voice, and I didn’t sign. And I used my voice precisely because I am best able to articulate myself through speech when it comes to discussing cheem concepts involving cheem words and constructing cheem sentences to use with senior gahment folks. I reject being scolded for using my voice in that situation, and I refuse to apologise for it either. (Let me repeat – there was a sign language interpreter at the scene.)

Now, I am grateful to my Deaf/deaf friends who doesn’t judge me solely because I choose to use one mode of communication or the other. I love you guys. (Of course, I always use the mode of communication they use or prefer when I am talking to them. After all, I do have the ‘privilege’ of choosing whether to speak or sign.)

To those who bash me for not signing all the time (even when I don’t have to) and – better still – snark that I am ‘hard of hearing’ even when I sign all the time to them, I can only say: Come, venture further, beyond the shallows you are wading, and into bluer, truer waters, and gaze yonder. The world is big, but our minds can be bigger still – if only we would let them.