Parents sending kids for GEP tuition

From ‘My child is GIFTED’, 3 June 2012, article by Jane Ng, Sunday Times

Parents desperate to get their children into the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) are turning to tuition centres that claim they can help bright nine-year-olds ace the screening test. A growing number of enrichment centres are offering these classes at monthly fees of between $200 and $1,000.

…Mr Kelvin Ong, 36, went from being a GEP student to a GEP teacher before he quit to start his tuition agency, AristoCare. He decides whether to accept a pupil only after a month of lessons which cost $1,000.…He has even started GEP ‘foundation classes’ for kindergarten pupils priced at $600 a month.

At Doctor Peh Associates, a 10-year-old outfit started by Mr Allen Peh – who does not have a doctorate – children who want to sign up for the ‘GEP clinic’ must have English and mathematics scores above 90, while kindergarten pupils must have an IQ score of 130 and above.

‘If they don’t meet those criteria, the GEP is not suitable for them as their foundation is not there,’ said Mr Peh, 51, who has a science degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Warwick….He charges $2,600 for 10 lessons.

Enrichment school Morris Allen offers an annual two-week GEP intensive preparation course in June, after selecting its pupils through an IQ test…. ‘With practice under pressure, and repeated exposure to the questions, they show significant improvement and become more confident in answering them,’ said Mr Scarrott (Principal). The fee for 10 days: $888.

Housewife Cindy Tan, 40, is among the hopeful parents whose children are attending GEP preparation classes ahead of the ministry’s screening test in August….’Every mother has hopes for her child. Since we can’t help him at home, we have to get some help for him,’ said Mrs Tan…Adrin, who scored above 95 in his English and mathematics mid-year exams, is getting help at AristoCare. He also has tuition. ‘He has the occasional tantrum but I’ll tell him to finish his homework and I’ll take him out for a McDonald’s treat,’ said Mrs Tan, who has O-level qualification.

What if Adrin does not make it to GEP in the end? ‘I’ll be very sad and disappointed – after all the money spent and we get nothing,’ she said.

I vaguely remember going through the GEP screening test myself and I had no idea what to expect, though I spent most of the time flipping my paper around to work on picture puzzles.  I might as well be deciphering hieroglyphics or Matrix alien squiggles. Not being naturally GIFTED, I flunked out of the first round. Now, if I had MONEY then, that could have been a different matter altogether. I would be out there, you know, making a DIFFERENCE, instead of writing a blog post complaining about GEP.

‘Gifted’ used to describe individuals ‘born’ with a special ‘talent’, and implies extraordinariness and exclusiveness, not something anyone can attain purely through ‘hard work’, or in this case, the help of an ex-GEP student turned tuition teacher with a ‘gift’ for business. One would expect an ex GEP student to do something more worthwhile with his intelligence, like solving the problems plaguing the world today (and getting a doctorate while at it), but that’s besides the point. It’s obvious that having a scorching IQ as determined by some screening test doesn’t guarantee that you’ll do anything particularly useful for humanity. There are so many exceptions to the rule, game-changers, high school dropouts turned self-made billionaires or Nobel-prize winning authors or scientists, people who excelled not just through IQ alone, but mostly through creative innovation, inspiration and sheer luck, things which all these tuition centres and GEP programmes can’t deliver in an entire lifetime no matter how many derivative puzzles they drill their gifted brethren with. Yet these ‘geniuses’ and ‘icons’, though having qualities of the ‘gifted’,  remain, in all appearances, perfectly NORMAL save a few eccentricities without anyone seeing the need to classify them as higher evolved beings in school.

Being a prodigy and working on your ‘gift’ go hand in hand, and one shouldn’t deny kids with a genuine obsession for complex maths puzzles from achieving one’s fullest potential in this scheme, at the risk of being oestracised from their ‘mainstream’ peers, which is an inevitable side effect of being cleverer than your age group. A screening test alone isn’t THE litmus test for genius, and selects for only a certain skill-set that may or may not qualify you as being ‘highly intelligent’.  If you can buy IQ scores through very specific practices like training an archer how to shoot arrows, one trivialises the GEP programme to that of a very expensive, elite mind-sports fraternity. You may well get a couple of sharpshooters in the end, though you’ll also have some singed by their own arrows, victims so worn out by the demands of the programme that their behaviour changes completely, some into angry little recluses who ignore their families. Moreover, the Ministry clearly feels that you’re wasting your time with ‘normal’ students, as what is stated in their GEP webpage.

The intellectually gifted need a high degree of mental stimulation. This need may not be met in the mainstream classroom and the gifted child may become mediocre, indifferent or disruptive in class.

Meaning, if you don’t put your above average kid in GEP, he’ll ROT in class among the minions! Such divisive , sweeping presumptions on what smart kids need for mental nourishment have led many to call the GEP programme ‘elitist’. In fact, the MOE’s statement is copied and pasted wholesale in Kelvin Ong’s Aristocare Gifted programme website. Hell, even the name of his agency has a kingly ring to it.  Here’s a chicken-and-egg argument in reference to those GEP kids who think high and mighty of themselves: Are these kids ‘gifted’ hence arrogant, or did they ‘become’ arrogant once they were labelled and exalted as ‘gifted’ 1%-ters? What have we produced in 30 years that justifies the relevance of a GEP breeding ground in creating mavericks, trailblazers and great thinkers? In an age where brains alone don’t cut it and ‘EQ’ matters more than ever, have we instead LOST ‘functional’ geniuses rather than spawned them through a scheme that cuts them off from the more socially fertile morass that is ‘the rest of us’?

The gifted have been stereotyped as being ‘socially inept’, stick to their own ‘kind’, and summon the image of an awkward, quantum physics textbook totting, bespectacled kid with imaginary friends because all his real ones have left him/her. Meaner ‘mainstream’ kids would refer to them as ‘freaks’.  ‘Gifted’ already has a euphemistic cousin known as ‘high-ability’, which attempts to tone down the lofty suggestions of innate genius but ironically emphasises the disturbing trend that one can be ‘trained’ to qualify for GEP, as long as you’re willing the spend the money and forget about June holidays altogether. One thing these tuition centres dare to boast about is a high success rate of passing tests, but as to what becomes of their students after that, nobody has the slightest clue. High-ability doesn’t equate to hire-ability. From the way they are being groomed and hothoused, they’ve either become stark raving mad scientists  or Phantoms of the Opera.

Adrin above is a high-scoring kid with the occasional lack of interest in homework (like everyone else) but yet nudged by parents to prepare for a programme which he may not be suited, using McDonalds as bait like a  Pavlov dog salivating to the sound of a bell. He may very well ace the screening thanks to some insanely methodical and ultimately meaningless grilling, but end up at the bottom of the GEP pack because his ‘giftedness’ is a product not of his genes or upbringing, but that of a tuition machine. Not to mention having his arteries clogged with all the fat from the ‘reward’ fries he’s been eating to finish his work. His mum may be utterly disappointed from all the wasted money and effort, but failure to get into GEP only means one thing for a face-saving kiasu parent: More enrichment classes.

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Brastrap flash in Triumph ad a disservice to women

From ‘Not so triumphant for women’, 11 May 2012, Voices, Today online

(Tham Kun Moon): It was not too long ago that International Women’s Day was celebrated here and in many other countries. In the same month, an advertisement by an undergarment brand, in which the protagonist wowed her male audience by showing off that bit of her undergarment and appeared triumphant in the deal, aired regularly on the free-to-air channels.

It is pointless to celebrate the wonders and beauty of being a woman when old stereotypes persist. It is a disgrace and a disservice to women. To suggest that the modern woman succeeds on the merits of her undergarment is an insult to many women who rise up to the highest ranks in the corporate world, including several well-known ones locally.

( Ad could be this one below by Triumph. Who would have guessed?)

Nothing sweetens a deal like a little peek-a-boo, and as much as this depicts sultry women as wily go-getters, it also insults men as shallow creatures, that our executive functions are clouded by an exposed brastrap even if it’s flashed for less than a second. It’s like a cinema flick running subliminal split-second images to tell you that you want a hot dog. This ad may be a ‘disservice and disgrace’ to femininity but it merely dramatises a sullen truth that sex has been used, and will always be used, to secure deals, among other things worth getting. Countless movies have depicted women weaponising their cleavage to disarm violent criminals, escape from captivity or steal tiny keys from pockets, yet here we are, only on International Women’s Day, suddenly realising that there’s discrimination going on all this while. It’s like remembering we have someone to love on Valentine’s Day.

But wait, if you view the ad a couple more times, you’ll appreciate the context of what at first glance looks like a prelude to a striptease. The men were having trouble picking a colour scheme, and perhaps, by sheer coincidence, the bra’s shade of orange was EXACTLY what they had in mind. Or they just wanted to see a brastrap. Either way, both sexes are stereotyped, and an underwear ad without stereotyping is like a Burger King ad without fries.

Whether it’s a glimmer of a smile, affectionate touching, laughter or a winning bosom, sensual gestures will always influence the outcome of a sale or a payrise. A maximiser bra and a silly flash are just a few of the many flirtatious tools at a woman’s disposal, whether she’s conscious of her actions or not. Kudos to bosses who manage to see through the visual foreplay and make purely objective decisions without the reptilian brain being stimulated by primal mating signals (Or they could just be gay). It’s so hard to market underwear without pissing some women off. If you take the sexist messages away, you’ll have prudes complaining about topless models, or models unzipping their tops suggestively. At least the ad makers kept the scene restricted to a typical suit-and-tie corporate board room. If recent events are anything to go by, the ad would have been more accurate if it had been men in uniform discussing tenders of IT projects instead.

Transsexuals in Miss Universe Singapore

From ‘Beauty contests’, 28 April 2012, ST Forum

(MR ACE KINDRED CHEONG): ‘Transgender participants should not be allowed to participate in beauty pageants meant for women (‘Miss Universe Singapore: Could the next one be originally male?'; Wednesday). They will have an advantage over biological women as some, if not all, will have undergone cosmetic surgery. Instead, why not have beauty pageants meant solely for transgender participants?

Transsexualism has been discussed rather openly in Singapore since the early 80’s, where attempts have been made to distinguish the terms ‘transvestite’ from ‘transsexual’, as well as define the colloquial ‘ah kuas’, the latter often used interchangeably between a transsexual, an ‘effeminate’ man or  ‘sissy’ or a ‘male prostitute’, yet SBC deemed it ‘appropriate‘ for use in drama serials.’Transgender’ was coined as recently as the 1990’s, as in LGBT, a term that may be preferred when addressing the community as a whole as it seems to take the ‘surgical knife’ undertones off ‘transsexual’, though both are still commonly used in the media today. ‘Ladyboy’ and ‘bapok’, however, have become derogatory, though ‘bapok’ in Malay literally means ‘effeminate’ (like the equally offensive catch-all that is ‘ah kua’), while ‘Tranny’ and ‘shemale’ are reserved for porn genres. When it comes to transsexualism, even quotation marks can be highly offensive, as in ‘woman’, ‘sister’ or ‘queen’ to describe transwomen (men who became women).  The Malaysian press has even hidden the full word behind an acronym, TS.

Even the same act of ‘going under the knife’ has been euphemised over the years. Today it’s called SRS or ‘sex reassignment surgery ‘, when we used to call it a ‘sex change operation’. The Miss Canada Universe who started it all, Jenna Talackova, herself underwent ‘GENDER reassignment surgery’, the term ‘assignment’ making the procedure as innocuous as amending one’s birth certificate. Like most behavioral deviations, transsexualism has also become medicalised;  if you’re born a man and feel like a woman you have a ‘gender identity disorder (GID)’, which implies that ‘feeling like a woman’ when you’re a man is a form of ‘sickness’. The term ‘intersex’ has been proposed as the ‘third gender’ for official purposes, though being ‘intersexed’ could also refer to a sex development disorder in which one was born with ‘ambiguous’ genitalia i.e hermaphrodites, a term used to describe flowers and worms other than human beings.  Hermaphrodites, other than getting embroiled in sporting arena controversies, also have their own problems dealing with transsexual beauty contestants who were born 100% male.

Allowing transsexuals in pageants puts judges in a spot, even if it may well boost up ratings. You don’t want to appear to cast a sympathy vote nor do you want the LGBT community to complain about discrimination if their representative fails to even make the top 15. Cosmetic surgery also may not give that desired edge over female participants (unless the writer was thinking of shocking beauties like Thailand’s Nong Poy below). But perhaps this is more a victory for ‘medical science’ than anything else. Or rather medical science AND make-up. But wait a minute, since when was Miss Universe JUST about LOOKS (or femininity for that matter) anyway? Didn’t ‘masculine’ Tania Lim take the crown in 2010?

For every Nong Poy...

...There's this.

There are already transgender Miss Universe-ish pageants as we speak, such as the Miss International Queen pageant (which allows transvestites as well), not to be confused with Miss Tourism Queen, Miss Global Beauty Queen and Miss QUEEN OF THE WORLD. Still, this is a vast improvement from our stigmatisation of transsexuals in the 80’s, when they were barred from such contests because it was seen as an ‘embarrassment’ and  a ‘big joke to organisers’. It would be a while before we see transsexuals or transvestites in high-flying positions such as doctors, lawyers or politicians (though some may be closest cross-dressers…there’s a difference!), but pitting them in competition against natural-born females could be symbolic of this social ‘inclusiveness’ that the PAP has been bragging about, even if the platform is as superficial as a beauty contest, or in the promotion of ‘cabaret’ shows (Does that mean our pageants need to be R18 as well?)

Audiences are suckers for underdogs, and since the Miss Universe franchise here needs saving, a transgender Miss Universe Singapore hopeful could very well be a Beautiful Boxer in the making. But first, we’ll have to lift the bar on transsexuals into certain clubs, and that includes Ladies’ Night, to show that we really mean it. Still, it’s hard not to be hypocritical when advocating equality for transsexuals as a heterosexual man. Some would rather be seen in public with an openly gay man than a transsexual, and I for one have reservations about getting a hot oil massage from either.

PRCs ‘abducting’ boy at AMK Hub

From ‘ PRC couple attempts to abduct local boy?’ 22 March 2012, article in insing.com

A woman has complained on the internet that a Chinese national couple tried to abduct her child at Ang Mo Kio Hub. Ms ‘Allison Goon’ shared her experience on her Facebook page, explaining that she was at the AMK Hub Fiesta on Sunday (18 Mar).

She had just fed her son and walked away to throw some rubbish when she turned back and found another woman taking her son away by his hand. She shouted after her son and asked the woman why she was holding her son’s hand.

The woman, who spoke with a China accent, replied that she had “the wrong child”, then walked away with another man while pretending that nothing had happened. When Ms Allison Goon asked her son why he had followed the stranger, the boy said that the woman had told him, “follow me, I will bring you home”.

According to the ST, ‘Ms Goon said the woman had spoken in Mandarin and sounded like she could have been from China’. Whether or not this incident really happened, it speaks volumes about the recent paranoia surrounding Chinese nationals, whether they’re flaming us online for being ‘dogs’, hijacking taxis and running people over with them or murdering taxi drivers themselves,  stealing men from their wives, and in this case, attempting to steal other people’s children. Which is pretty much consistent with what foreigners have been accused of doing anyway, taking away what’s rightfully ours.

In 2008, a China national set up a phantom kidnap scam in exchange for $100,000 and was eventually thwarted by a quick-thinking parent. There was even a recorded anonymous Chinese child’s cry for help circulating last year according to a Stomp contributor. A similar ‘attempted abduction’ case occurred in Disneyland Hongkong in the same year, sparking speculations of PRC ‘kidnapping syndicates’. There doesn’t appear, however, to be any cases of successful kidnapping/torturing of local kids by PRCs to date. In fact, it was a China national’s kid who was kidnapped and brutally murdered at the hands of a Malaysian Took Leng How in the Huang Na case in 2004. In 2009, a 28 year old PRC KTV hostess named Han Yan Fei went missing, with speculations that a murdered Singaporean man and a human trafficking ring were involved.  Statistically speaking, PRCs should be more concerned for their own kids’ safety (or themselves) than us ours.

I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the high anxiety parents face whenever a child disappears into thin air, but terrified parents like Goon here sending out almost-horror stories of predatory PRCs would inevitably lead to panicky knee-jerk reactions like parents huddling kids and getting ready to call the police whenever someone who remotely looks or sounds like a PRC flashes a seemingly over-friendly wink or a smile at their child.  It’s like how people instinctively breathe through their mouth whenever a foreign construction worker boards the train, forgetting that some schoolgirl passengers in PE attire with towels wrapped around their neck smell as bad, if not worse. It also explains why toddler leashes are such a hit.

Still, one can’t get too cosy with any stranger, be it foreigner or local; a sensational history of PRC vice and violence has simply heightened our suspicions and hence the stereotypical cautionary anecdotes like Goon’s here. We would have taxi drivers having their hand on the emergency button whenever a PRC passenger’s on board, bus passengers bracing themselves for hazardous brakes when the driver’s a PRC, wives clamping down on husbands if they find out about his PRC colleague, etc.  Instead of drilling maths algorithms and phonetics into our kids or lamenting that Singapore is a PRC thief haven, perhaps we should consider inculcating some basic defensive skills in children like our parents used to do, like how to say no to strangers, screaming at the top of your lungs to draw attention, or headbutting a kidnapper in the groin when push comes to shove.

FHM magazine depicting Jesus with a shotgun

From ‘FHM pulled off shelves over articles’, 3 Feb 2012, article by Jennai Durai, ST

ALL unsold copies of this month’s issue of FHM Singapore magazine will be pulled off stands islandwide, after two articles in it sparked the ire of Christians here for being insensitive.

…The magazine, published by Media-Corp Publishing, carried an article headlined ‘Which Of These Celebs Might Secretly Be Jesus?’ and another headlined ‘Jesus 2.0: What Can We Expect?’. In the former, a number of well-known personalities, including American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and teenage pop singer Justin Bieber, are assessed for ‘evidence’ that they may or may not be Jesus Christ.

The second article had a photograph of a man dressed as Jesus, holding a gun and strapped with ammunition. Stating the Christian belief that Jesus will return one day, the article listed ‘updates’ that people might expect to see in him, such as the ability to shape shift. It includes a review of a controversial book called The Second Coming by John Niven, which imagines Jesus coming back to earth as a musician in New York.

…The articles rankled IT professional S.W. Ong, 48, who wrote to The Straits Times about it. ‘In this country, race and religion are sensitive things. I understand that FHM is a light-hearted magazine, but they should exercise some editorial responsibility and not make fun of any religion,’ he said. He said that one of the things that offended him was a careless phrase in the second article that said that Jesus ‘only made it to 33 years of age before things went downhill’. In the Bible, Jesus is said to have died on the cross at the age of 33 before rising from the dead.

‘To say his life ‘went downhill’ is wrong and very insensitive to Christians. It’s written without understanding the religion or how Christians understand the purpose of Jesus’ life on earth,’ said Mr Ong. ‘Most of the time, Christians don’t want to appear very dogmatic, but no magazine should be making fun of a religion. It can be seen as blasphemous.’

…When told about the articles, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) condemned them as ‘highly objectionable and deplorable, as they make fun of the Lord Jesus Christ who is worshipped by Christians’. The council noted that the articles appeared during the season of Lent, during which Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

‘We request the authorities to look into the matter and ensure that the objectionable material is removed, and that the gross disrespect against any religion and its religious figures who are held sacred by a religious community, such as in this instance, is not repeated,’ said the council in a statement.

(Found the scanned article from a certain ‘Princess Yuki Empire in heaven’ blog. Judge for yourself, fellow sinners)

Jesus: First Blood

According to the Guardian’s review of ‘The Second Coming’, Jesus is depicted not just as an aspiring musician, but ‘smokes dope’ as well. Not sure if John Niven’s book is banned here, but this isn’t the first time any attempt to demystify the Lord Jesus Christ into a fallible militant or singing humanoid has been clamped down by churches for blasphemy. Naturally, this hasty recall would draw curiosity to what Jesus 2.0 is about (as evident from searches landing as blog hits), or how Justin Bieber is in any way related to the Son of God (Both are famous, worshipped and have the ability to make people cry hysterically). ‘Shape-shifting’, traditionally practiced by the ultimate master of disguise and deception, the Devil himself, could be seen as a demonic power that may offend Christians, though that would technically make Jesus a rather cool X-men character. The man can already walk on water, for God’s sake. Not even Magneto could do that.

In 1974, churches were riled by the screening of ‘rock opera’ Jesus Christ Superstar to the point of petitioning to the PM to ban the film. To minimise the possibility of viewers taking the film at face value and believing that Jesus is actually David Bowie in disguise, pamphlets citing ‘religious guidance’ were distributed at cinemas. Before the screening of each film, the following announcement was flashed:

This is not an authentic portrayal of Jesus Christ, Son of God. For a true and accurate account, please read the Bible – The Protestant Churches of Singapore.

In the clip below, Jesus screeches in falsetto demanding God to provide an answer to why ‘he has to die’.

In a musical film of similar religious bent called ‘Godspell’, a Superman costume-wearing Jesus is ‘crucified’ on a fence to a gospel rock soundtrack, again a ‘gross misinterpretation’ of what really happened in the Bible.

Jesus being too ‘human’ for the churches’ liking was portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, while in the 1999 film Dogma, God was played by rock icon Alanis Morrissette. Needless to say, both films were banned here. There appears to be little tolerance, or sense of humour, for Jesus the Man to  manifest himself as anything but, in particular a singing, dancing, smoking, funky dude who fancies a little fun  and rock music on the side other than the gruelling, divine work of saving us from all our sins.To boost Christ’s ‘hip quotient’, he’s referred to in some circles as the catchy ‘JC’, urban shorthand like ‘JLo’ or ‘MJ’. In the film Jesus camp, there’s even a scene of kids dancing to ‘JC in Da House’, I kid you not. Yet if one were to put Jesus in a hoodie, ‘blinged ‘out  with gold crosses and hint at the slightest bit of ‘swag’ whatsoever, you would get the church elders up in arms. You can rap about Jesus, but you can’t suggest that he ‘busts a rhyme or two’ as well.

As for turning Jesus into Rambo, how often do you hear sermons preaching about Christians being ‘soldiers’ for Christ? In ‘The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy’,  Paul tells Timothy ‘Suffer hardship with me,  as a good soldier for Christ Jesus’. A 2002 sermon by the Gospel Light Church in Singapore was titled ‘Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War!‘. I would think Jesus donning a helmet instead of a crown of thorns and leading his faithful Christian soldiers into ‘battle’ would be a more accurate metaphor of biblical mission than him rocking out and pouting defiantly with an electric guitar while his adorers wait eagerly offstage to body -surf their musical Messiah to Heaven. Maybe the folks at FHM should have fitted Rambo Jesus with a wooden sword and a shield instead.

Banning a FHM magazine, which isn’t the sort of material good Christians should be browsing anyway judging from its sultry covers, wouldn’t staunch the wave of gross blasphemy that one encounters everywhere else. On Youtube you’ll see Jesus sashaying to ‘I Will Survive’, in a Street Fighter challenge vs God, fighting Santa Claus in South Park, or matching wits with the Terminator in Nazareth. In Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, it is even suggested that Jesus HAD SEX with Mary Magdalene. In the upcoming Lady Gaga concert, you may even hear some blasphemous lyrics about the Man’s race. In the bid to spread the Word and make an ancient religion appealing to modern minds, today’s Christ has been unwittingly morphed into a fashionable target in pop culture, parodied to death like Ronald McDonald or Kim Jong Il, yet despite the abundance of comic trivialisations, the Church remains a force to reckon with, not only having the authority to pull magazines from shelves but stop their own believers from wearing samfoos to service.

I’ve read the article above myself and don’t see any intended malice in it, with the ‘going downhill’ statement referring to Jesus’s fate on the cross, not the state of Christianity. If anything it was a rather tame satire on Jesus as icon and superhero, a harmless commentary on the godlike divinity of celebrities (including Simon Cowell and Tom Cruise) without undermining His existence, teachings or the veracity of the Bible in general. It’s not a Christian version of the ‘Satanic Verses’ that’s for sure, but I think Dan Brown beats this hands down in terms of  outright heresy. A case of the Church ‘jumping the gun’, perhaps. Maybe it’s not Jesus that needs an upgrade, but the Church that needs to , and  I quote DPM Tharman, ‘catch up’ with the times instead.

MCYS ad labelling amputees as hopeless

From ‘Some netizens slam new ad for social workers’, 28 Feb 2012, article in insing.com

Some netizens are outraged over an ad for social workers that appears to label the disabled as “Hopeless”. The ad features a social worker helping amputees to play ball, and is captioned with the word “Hopeless” in large font, followed by the words, “if not for Ruth Lim, a Professional Social Worker”.

The offending ad has since gone viral on the internet, with some slamming it for being “rude”, “thoughtless”, “distasteful”, “insensitive” and “downright insulting”, among other things. One outraged netizen, ‘Ingrid Wee’, said, “They could have put it in so many other angles but they chose the most juvenile and insensitive one. Shame on you MCYS!”

…Another netizen, ‘Lissa Johari’, found it to be condescending, and asked whether the ad meant that the disabled had no dignity.

…The ad is part of a campaign launched on 20 Feb by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), and was launched by its acting minister Mr Chan Chun Sing.

Ad crippled by complaints

The other catchwords in the social worker series include ‘Ruined’, ‘Abandoned’ and ‘Future Destroyed’, pretty harsh words in this age of self-help and empowerment. ‘Hopeless’ in this context was intended to mean ‘without hope’, but the term is more commonly used to describe utter and complete ‘failure’ or ‘incompetence’, as in ‘hopeless case’ or ‘a hopeless state of affairs’. Hopelessness is a natural emotional phase that anyone afflicted with a sudden disability would experience, just that our social climate of political correctness has imbued the infirmed with the potential to overcome insurmountable odds and achieve extraordinary, unimaginable feats. We have removed words like ‘handicapped’, ‘cripple’, ‘blind’ and ‘vegetable’ from our vocabulary, while celebrating men and women without limbs or deficient in certain faculties who write bestselling books, swim across channels, cycle cross-country, climb mountains or pull heavy loads with their teeth. Most disabled, like the one featured in the help above, can barely juggle a ball with their remaining foot.

Awe and respect for the disabled as equals or beyond has undermined the traditional milk of human kindness, or worse, SYMPATHY, that we usually express when we encounter someone with a lifelong handicap who isn’t a Special Olympics gold medal champion . The stark truth is that most do need assistance getting a foothold (no pun intended) on society let alone just getting by, whether in terms of mobility, rehabilitation or counselling, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need to promote social work  in the first place. This isn’t the first time that the MCYS has drawn flak of  their ‘insensitive’ campaigns. The YOG committee had to resort to pulling heartstrings in collaborative promo with MCYS to launch the Games in 2010. In the eighties, ads created by the Community Chest to appeal for funds using real life examples of the handicapped were deemed as ‘wretched’, ‘gross and tantamount to begging’.Today, we have celebrities, not people in wheelchairs looking miserable,  to do the ‘begging’ on their behalf.

Downplaying the dignity of the disabled and emotional manipulation aside, using the image of wheelchair confinement as a scare tactic to sell a vaccine has also been viewed as a cheap, below-the-belt shot, causing ‘unfair generalisation and stigmatisation of disabled people’, according to this forum writer in 2006 on a Wyeth campaign for a pneumococcal shot for children. The wheelchair is a marketing device to visually capture the consequences of preventable disease without boring consumers, in this case, parents, with a slew pneumococcal disease symptom jargon. Here, the writer, an executive director for the Society for the Physically Disabled, referred to this portrayal as a ‘very depressing and introverted’ view of disabled people, without realising that in his defence of the disabled he has inadvertently suggested that there’s something wrong with being ‘introverted’ as well, disabled or otherwise.

Disabled and introverted

 If I were to have my legs lopped off, aiming to slam dunk or race for charity would be one of the last things on my mind. I would naturally be depressed, needy, vulnerable and the only manual activity that I would consider doing with my still functioning arms is to dig a grave for myself if I didn’t have someone, be it a family member or social worker getting my act together and salvaging whatever dignity, or HOPE,  I have remaining.

Thailand is a place of ‘little true joy’

From ‘Christian group says sorry for remarks’, 17 Feb 2012, article by Jessica Lim and Stanley Chia, ST

A CHRISTIAN student group at the National University of Singapore (NUS) apologised yesterday for making insensitive remarks about Buddhists and Muslims. The NUS Campus Crusade for Christ, made up of 80 to 100 students, posted an apology on its Facebook page for remarks made on its website and on posters it put up on campus benches on Wednesday.

…The Christian group’s posters promoting a mission trip to Thailand said that the country, known as The Land of Smiles, was actually ‘a place of little true joy’. This, it said, was because Buddhism was so much a part of the Thai national identity and few believed in Jesus Christ. It urged students to help take Christianity to the Thais.

Its website promoted a mission trip to Turkey and said the country needed ‘much prayer and work’ because ‘much of the population is M‘, referring to Muslims. The online posts and posters have since been removed, but not before copies spread quickly online, prompting a wave of angry comments from netizens.

With so much online fury over anti-Muslim sentiments of late, whether it’s commenting on harmless schoolkids on a bus or a photoshopped Pig on a Kaaba, it’s no wonder the NCCC, despite it’s zeal in spreading universal joy to faraway lands untouched by the blessed hand of the Almighty, treats Islam with the same nervous hushed-up tones as someone whispering a naughty word. Thailand is called the Land of Smiles for a reason with or without Christian influence, and as godless as the Sex Capital of Asia may be in the eyes of the CCC, implying that a wave of monotheism would bring a wider smile to Thai faces is like saying fog makes green grass greener.

Have these people even heard of Bhutan, or how just a few years ago a Christian couple were charged under the Sedition Act for distributing a comic book titled ‘The Little Bride’, a rather disturbing tract written by some guy who goes by the  deceptively benign name of ‘Jack Chick’ that explains Islam in terms of the young wives the Prophet was believed to have kept (as the uneasy title suggests)? ‘The Little Bride’ makes the CCC’s candy- coated proselytisations seem like a travelogue for teens in comparison. ‘Prophecy movements’, from which modern missions were descended from, have a dark history associated with white superiority and colonialism, when missionaries boasted magical powers to cure the ill , alluding their gifts to a higher power and convincing ‘natives’ to surrender to their God-endorsed rule. Whether it’s shamanism disguised as divine healing prowess or a shot of Jesus joy juice, what these missions have in common is a systematic delivery of a promise beyond the wildest dreams of your average non-believer. In today’s context, that would be happiness.

Here’s a short history of what Christ crusaders like the CCC have been doing to spread the happy gospel,  when Singaporeans had a lot less Jesus in our lives compared to now and evangelists were, and still are, as subtle in their approach to propagating their version of a miracle as a mother ramming cough syrup down a sick child’s throat.

The director of the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ Dr Joon Gon Kim came to town in the mid-seventies to promote a sweeping movement known as ‘Explo 74′, which was basically an international Evangelism training camp to equip you with a sweet holy tongue and get you into the good books of the Lord.   In 1978, the Billy Graham Evangelistic crusade invited the famous preacher to conduct a ‘major city-wide CRUSADE ‘. At that time, there was no timid skirting around its true objective; to ‘persuade individuals to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord’. The word ‘Crusade’ itself has come with its own religious baggage in recent times, ever since ex US President George W Bush unleashed one against Iraq.  Today, you can only use the word if you’re going to a fancy dress party dressed as a Knights Templar. You just have to pray you don’t bump into someone dressed like Osama Bin Laden.

In 1981, the CCC promoted a film simply titled ‘Jesus’, dubbed in Mandarin, Chinese and INDIAN dialects, and screened this to quarter of a million viewers at local theatres. Advancing technology along with their faith, the CCC organised the ‘world’s biggest teleconference’ at the World Trade Centre in 1985, with 3000 tuning in to the likes of Graham and Luis Palau.There is a theory that the Internet and all the technology associated with it was driven by porn. It’s possible that religion with its track record of ‘going viral’ comes a close second in contributing to the luxury of bandwidth that we all experience today.

There’s no harm in promoting mission trips to unChristian lands, in fact most of these have philanthropic intentions and if religion could drive ordinary people to make extraordinary sacrifices, then all the better for mankind. But if you’re the overzealous preacher type with no other agenda than to rescue everyone from their own religions, then the only way to spread ‘true joy’ around the world is for people like you to leave everyone  else the Hell alone.

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