Alan Soh

I am my own columnist, sharing my own thoughts and recent experiences!


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Quick Thoughts on Underprivileged Children & Youths-At-Risk in Singapore

So much has been debated or discussed about social inequality in Singapore in the past year.

Earlier this week, someone has asked me for my thoughts on the above subject.

This is what I have shared with him:

For the underprivileged kids and youths-at-risk, I think they lack of access to enrichment resources as well as lack of proper guidance within their social circles, due to disadvantaged backgrounds and financial constraints.

Their parents could be busy working very hard, day in night out to make ends meet everyday, thus neglecting their needs.

I think many of them are trying very hard to swim against the tough currents.
If without proper supervision, they could fall prey to negative influences such as gangs and gambling syndicates. They may need role models whom they can look up to, as well as someone whom they can seek out for advice without judging them too fast.

Firstly I think it is extremely important that we as older adults should not pass quick judgements on anyone out there especially these young ones because everyone is fighting his/her own kind of battle that we may know absolutely nothing about.

For older youths and adults, it would be good if we make constant efforts to reach out to them, to befriend them. Keep communication channels open so that help or advice is always available to them whenever they are in doubt of something.

Youths have boundless of energies so it is important that we can help to divert the energy from these groups to get them do something constructive for themselves or for the communities around them. Give them empowerment so that they will feel encouraged that “hey, I can actually do something good for others so it is not true that I am worthless”. Give them something interesting and engaging to do outside schoolwork.

We can have dialogue sessions, or initiating some heart-to-heart conversations with these youths behind closed doors (if necessary). Where we older youths or adults can share our stories, or past struggles with them. So as to let them know that they are not alone at all. Some of us may have similar growing-up pains but we managed to overcome them, so why not we share our experiences frankly with these underprivileged youths?

Afterall, they are at a growing-up phase where they are trying to make sense of the world they are living in. We should give them hope and optimism. 

Communication is a two-way thing.
Not only it is an opportunity where we can help to instil some proper awareness or values in their outlook in life, it is also a good opportunity for us as well to get their feedback, to understand their pressing needs. This will allow us to know how we can help them better. This is possible only when we adults are non-judgemental, open-minded and consultative.

We can bring them out for more outings during school holidays. These are things which their parents may not be able to afford to provide them.

Have subsidised family outings for them? Or bring these kids to tour some cool happening workplaces so that they will have something or a career goal to pursue for in future when they grow up?

We should give them a chance to see more of the outside world.

In terms of education, we need like-minded selfless older volunteers who are willing to coach them in their school work. We can also listen to their woes in school. We can also make good use of our individual expertise, to teach them some additional skills. For example: An experienced barista can guide and teach a student how to make a good cup of coffee.

Just like anyone of us, they also need an outlet to air their frustrations.

That is where we can help them to sort out thoughts, to instill the right attitude towards studies, or offer good tips/advice to manage school challenges.

We can help them to set realistic but attainable goals so that they will keep progressing.

Lastly, on the sideline in terms of social assistance for their families, if they are willing to seek further help, our schools, public service agencies or welfare service organisations should step in to do more to help them to move upwards in social mobility.

This can be in the form of helping their parents to be more financially savvy in day-to-day living expenses or job skills re-training in order to earn a better take-home pay.

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Remember this discussion in which I’ve did a blog post last year (see post dated 15 July 2018), sharing my thoughts about it? Read on for its report done by a co-organiser.

Having concluded the “Bridge the Gap” youth discussion on inequality and the class divide in Singapore in mid-July last year – and hence, in very overdue fashion – here is the executive summary and some accompanying thoughts.

via “Bridge The Gap”: Executive Summary And Post-Discussion Report — guanyinmiao’s musings Continue reading


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Military Training Safety

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I am saddened and shocked when news broke out on Wednesday night (23 Jan) that actor and fellow Singaporean, Aloysius Pang had died due to his crush injuries at an military exercise in New Zealand. It has sent shockwaves across the island state.

It is the 4th military-related training death occurred in 18 months since 2017.

The Chief of Defence Force Melvyn Ong Su Kiat , and Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Goh Si Hou held a press conference shedding light to media on its preliminary investigation findings on Thursday 24 Jan.

At the time of incident, what were the other 2 personnel doing?

If all three could see each other in the cabin, then the two men should reasonably be able to answer the 2 burning questions which everyone is now asking – who was the one who pressed the button, and why was it not clearly communicated in the cabin and getting the “all clear” before the button push was made, causing this unfortunate trauma to Aloysius?

I am not pushing blame on the other two but I feel strongly that they are the ones who probably are the best people to provide these answers.

A young life has been taken away mercilessly.

I firmly believe Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) had already gotten the answers from the two men. Perhaps SAF probably feel that it is not the right timing to reveal the real truth, or simply wants to craft their so-call PR speeches or worse, hoping that time will pass, Singaporeans will forget and it will be another day for everyone? I hope not, and I believe SAF would not do this.

SAF can provide PR-crafted answers but honestly speaking, Singaporeans expect transparent answers. This is what we all want to hear. Not beating around the bush and go back to square one.

As such, I sincerely hope that SAF can be truthful, transparent and honest in the upcoming Committee of Inquiry (COI) findings in Pang’s case. If personnel are proven negligent which directly or indirectly cause the death of Aloysius Pang, please mete out appropriate punishment penalty.

To be fair and objective, the fault does not lie with National Service (NS) policy. NS is here to say. Given our small country size, I support the notion that we must have a strong, effective military force to create deterrence for any group, or any country which harbour thoughts to attack us. NS is important because we Singaporeans are the only ones who can protect ourselves, our possessions and loved ones.

Rather, I believe the fault lies more of negligence, disregard of safety rules, peer pressure, lack of vigilance, not exercising check, care and concern for one another, miscommunication, poor attitude towards safety, and false assumptions.

Heavier punishments should be imposed. It seems to me that current levels of safety awareness among national servicemen may not be high enough. What is the point in calling for more doctrinal change if safety rules are not followed seriously by national servicemen at bottom levels? How would senior NS officers know? How many NSFs (Full-time National Servicemen) do not something properly but then tell their NS superiors that they claimed having followed all safety guidelines?

It can be just another day for you and me but not for his parents, family, girlfriend (actress Jayley Woo Jiaqi), relatives, friends and even unrelated strangers of Pang.

This case hits home harder, partly due to Aloysius’ celebrity status. It hits the heart of every Singaporean Son and even more so for parents who have growing-up boys.

Safety is paramount in SAF. There must be stronger safety culture. Encourage a whistleblower/feedback policy on anyone who is suspected flouting safety rules, regardless of NS ranks. Otherwise, Singapore could face a worrying scenario of having worried parents who hesitate to send their boys for National Service and subsequently, reservist duties (till the age of 40 years old for NS ranks below officers).

It is the people at the bottom who end up suffering the most for the lack of safety awareness, who among us cut corners on it in the first place.

Regrettably, the 28-year old boy was flown home to Singapore but in a lifeless state. He will be accorded a full honours military funeral at Mandai Cremation Centre today (Sunday 27 Jan).

I went to pay my respects last night (Sat 26 Jan).

Given his age, he can be my younger brother.

His young life is cut short abruptly. This shouldn’t have happened, at all.

No words now can relieve the pain of his parents and loved ones.

I hereby express my deepest condolences to his Noon Talk Media manager, Dasmond Koh, his parents, family members, relatives, colleagues and fans.

To our fallen brother, rest in peace Aloysius.

We will miss you deeply.


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“Bridge The Gap”: A Youth Discussion On Inequality And The Class Divide In Singapore

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Yesterday morning, I attended this discussion session on inequality at *Scape Centre to expand my thinking, and to hear more in terms of perspectives of other young Singaporeans on this current hot topic. This is good because this closed-door event is not organized by any other governmental organizations, with a “government statement”. There was no media coverage. The discussion was organised under the rules of Chatham House, where all participants and speakers involved agreed that everything that has been said during this event will not be used for reporting. Hence, everyone who turned up was able to share his/her most honest insights based on observations and growing-up experiences.

I haven’t read the book titled “This Is What Inequality Looks Like”, written by Ms Teo You Yenn. I will find an opportunity to search for it to read one day.

I believe there is a certain extent of inequality in all countries, including Singapore. The crucial point, is how do we acknowledge it, tackle it as a community of Singaporeans, and take concrete actions to uplift others who are struggling to scale up in life, due to their disadvantaged backgrounds.

During break-out group discussions, I gave my own inputs, from the angle of someone who is from a low-middle family background, neighbourhood school, Normal (Academic) stream, EM2, ITE, hard-of-hearing, late mature honours degree student-to-be-next-year.

Speaking from the point-of-view of someone who went through the education system in the 1980s, I always thought MOE had a bit hand contributing to inequality among Singaporeans as they grow up. There is some degree of educational stratification, resulting from the effects of Primary 3 streaming examinations.

I guess I must be the only one who could be from a low SES (socio-economical status) background, in a room full of university students, civil servants, academics, editors, lawyers etc. Thankfully there was one media professional who understood fully what I meant because we are the same age-group! Haha..

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There was one speaker who spoke on 3 elements which are needed to beat inequality – choice, circumstance, and community.

On personal basis, I think we must always remember this – we always have a choice to decide becoming good or bad. Once in a while, it is okay to whine but to make a complaint every time is totally pointless. Developing the resilience muscle is what we need to do. A positive outlook is essential.

Being aware of own circumstances, I say, it is a life skill. Look at where you are now, with a macro view. With a calm rational mind, I believe we can strategize with a plan, and with a never-give-up attitude, we can aim to go to where we want to go. Adversity would only make us stronger.

The odds might stack up against us. In my growing-up years, I learnt that when our parents are unable to provide us with the resources we need, we should all the more think about how we can go out to get them, using our own ability.

If you can visualize it, you can achieve it definitely. The warrior mentality.

Community wise, I think it will be good to be aware of the available avenues one can turn to, for help. A community of supporting hands. To navigate smoothly through the seas of life, it matters too when it comes to whom you know.

Your inner circle of friends.

Your inner circle of influences.

Are they able to support and challenge you intellectually, to elevate you to a higher level?

I am a firm believer of positive peer influence. I often emphasize this heavily to the younger ones – You have to be selective with friends whom you mix around with. Like that saying goes, “If you want to fly like an eagle, don’t swim with the ducks!”

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The questions posed are difficult. This should spur us all to think hard about inequality in Singapore.

What kind of Singapore do we want to see in 15 or 50 years’ time?

Kudos to Clarence and Jin Yao for doing this grounds-up initiative!

My own viewpoint is that to beat inequality, it is not a matter of how fast you progress ahead of others but more of how well you improve and soar higher in life. Do bear in mind that there are some Singaporeans among us, who are late bloomers.

To tackle this issue, for a start, I think we ourselves can really start sharing our personal stories on online media platforms about how we overcome odds/challenges to beat perceived inequality on our own, to go where we want to go, to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to fellow Singaporeans who are currently struggling at their disadvantaged backgrounds, and could fall through the cracks.

And for those of us who succeed eventually, please do give back and assist those who are now in similar situations as you were before.

 


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Quick thoughts – Exams

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For someone like me, a young working adult who is back at textbooks after a good 10-year+ hiatus, it is definitely not easy. I believe this happens to many of us who are in similar circumstances. Familiar?

I had my first paper yesterday.

Yes, I do pay attention in class and do my assignments diligently but somehow the anxiety sets in during moments before entering the examination room. The mind may go half blank. A sentiment shared by a few of my course-mates in our Whatsapp group chat.

Tackling 4 out of 7 essay questions are quite a challenge.

You should be able to write fluently if you understand the lesson concepts well.

Keep cool and calm. Use pencil to scribble quick notes on question paper to remember facts.

Have sufficient rest the day before.

Oh yes, I think it is advisable to have a half-full meal before the exam paper. You would not want to have that heavy urge to go toilet halfway during the exam time-slot right?

Good luck to all those of us who are having exams during this year-end period! Fight on! Don’t give up! 🙂


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Breaking The Sound Barrier (Part 2)

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Breaking the SOUND barrier. Because there is NO you or them.

Through my NTU mentees, a journalist from TODAY came to knew about this project, and approached me to seek my inputs on questions he had about employment for deaf Singaporeans today.

1. What were some of the difficulties you faced during job hunt as someone who is hard of hearing? What was some of the feedback, or comments you heard from prospective employers? Has that changed, why or why not?
My response:
First and foremost, I am not born totally deaf. Hence I am not deaf mute.
I am born with a dead right ear, which means I still go to normal schools communicating with people with my left ear until the days when I was a student of ITE Bishan when I had bacterial infection in my left ear. As such I have to wear a hearing aid.
I am effectively bilingual. I can talk to anyone normally.
I did a cochlear implant surgery on my right ear in 2011.
At that point of time, I somehow knew that it will be MORE challenging, should I apply for jobs in future.
I am thankful that SG Enable and SPD employment support division provides me help.
Often in my younger days, I struggled with the dilemma of making my condition known in my CV to be submitted to employers. Because I am worried – Will it blow my chances of being granted a job interview? Being older now, I am more accepting of my disability and thus making it known in my job applications.
Frankly speaking, till today I hesitate to include phone numbers in job applications because what if I could not hear the recruiters well over the phone? Unless the mode of contact is via mobile text messaging.
Having said so, I still have to be honest about my hearing problem.
Interview sessions are for both parties to find out more about each other pertaining the job opening.
My method is – I try to be more comfortable, and perceive the potential employer “as a friend”, which it takes away the stress of “trying too hard to impress the other party”, and just be myself. The other party would also feel more comfortable. Words will come out freely and naturally. If the other party wishes to converse in Mandarin, I am able to switch effortlessly.
I try to do some small talk first to find something in common between us.
Once there is a common interest, there is rapport built and mood becomes more relaxing.
For sure, I must of course do some research on the employer before attending the interview so that I am able to answer his questions.
This is what I learnt from my journalism module when I studied Mass Communications at MDIS. The interview technique.
I guess, the little advantage which I think I have over other Singaporeans with similar condition is that, I can talk things upfront with employers during job interviews, telling them what I can or cannot do, things which interest me, my working style, experiences which I hope to gain etc.
The first question I always asked, is about communication aspect.
Questions like – Are you open to giving work instructions via emails or whatsapp? How often should we communicate face-to-face?
The feedback I got from employers, often is that “you look normal okay”, “you worry too much”, “nothing to worry about communication part since we can have a normal conversation like this”.
If I do not get the job, I would rather choose to think that I don’t fit the requirements than about my hearing disability. 
I don’t cry over spill milk. I just move on.
I sit down, reflect and do something about my employability skills.
This year I intend to upgrade myself academically so that I can deepen my existing knowledge and skills.
The most important thing is, the deaf individual should display a keen interest to learn something new and be humble.
Having that can-do spirit.
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2. What do you think employers today should change, in terms of hiring deaf persons, or persons who are hard of hearing? 
My response:
Like able-bodied Singaporeans, the deaf community have various talents and abilities.
Very often we Singaporeans tend to look at people, passing judgement first on what they cannot do. These days, we become very critical of others.
I urge everyone including employers to look at surrounding people on what they can do first.
This is the biggest take-away I gain, from my previous job at a social enterprise, interacting with special needs workers.
If we give them opportunities, they might surprise you sometimes. Many of them could be raw diamonds, having innate potential to go far in life.
There is always a solution to every problem, if we are willing to pause, and think harder.
Be open-minded.
Be willing to learn the various communication modes with the deaf and hard-of-hearing such as simple sign-language or using Whatsapp (thanks to mobile technology).
They cannot hear well. They are very visual. Employers can give simple instructions in the form of pictures.
Work processes can be redesigned in a way that these deaf employees can do what they are required to do, bypassing their limitations. 
A little job stress is however essential, to make them grow. No pain, no gain.
If they do something well, praise them publicly for job well done. This will further boost their self-confidence.
Best still after sometime, employer can send them for skills-grading courses to enhance their competencies and self-dignity; and with skills certification, they can command a higher take-home pay.
We also need more deaf role models to be highlighted in mass media.
Sharing their stories of how they overcome odds to become what they are today.
This is to change the perceptions of the deaf community in the eyes of employers and Singaporeans alike.

Singapore should be truly an inclusive society where we really LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND.

Let’s lift every Singaporean up together. 

3. Why do you think employers might not be overly keen on hiring deaf people? 
My response:
Very often I believe some employers might think that “they cannot hear, cannot listen to work instructions, need to always look after them, as such they cannot make it.”
Or they might perceive that all members of deaf community are lowly educated, have bad attitudes, cannot handle a single job well.
This is a very flawed perception of them. They can be further trained.
Many of them are nice people.
As such, “Breaking the Sound Barrier” project initiated by Wong Jia Rong and his team aims to correct any misconceptions about the deaf, hoping employers across all sectors in Singapore understand that these special Singaporeans have employable qualities too.
The only little issue is – they cannot hear you well.


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Do you tell MFA where you are going when going overseas?

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First and foremost, this is not a blog entry to do any form of publicity for Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Rather, I see it as a form of generating more public awareness among Singaporeans.

How often, OR do you inform MFA where you are heading to prior to your overseas trips?

How many Singaporeans do that?

This could be the question posed by Ms Joan Pereira, Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC during a Committee of Supply  (COS) debate for MFA in Singapore Budget 2017 during Parliament on Thursday 2 March 2017

Mr Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State for MFA replied, saying that many Singaporeans who travel overseas don’t bother to e-register with MFA. He added that there is a “big disparity” between 400,000 e-registrants and the 7.5 million outbound trips made by Singaporeans in 2016 – and this does not include the more than 16 million overland trips made to neighbouring Malaysia every year.

I may be hard of hearing. Yes I am not required to apply for any exit permit with Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) but I make it a point to e-register with MFA whenever going overseas. Why?

This is so that in the event of any life-threatening situation, MFA in Singapore has a way to locate me, and advises me what to do, be it phone-call/email or text messaging. This is very important especially if I am travelling alone.

Putting Singapore embassies or missions aside, do you know this is a FREE service offered by MFA to assist all Singapore citizens before they step out of the country?

It merely takes few minutes to do it online.

You may be heading overseas for work or studies. The information you provide to MFA will allow its relevant officials to contact you in order to make sure that you are safe and alright should anything happens during your period of overseas travel or stay, and offers you help. Wherever you are in the world.

Mr Maliki said, 8 out of 10 calls that MFA currently receives during emergency situations are from the next-of-kin of Singaporeans who did not e-register, Mr Maliki said.

He gave an example of a Singaporean in China who had not e-registered but later complained that MFA did not reach out to him after a disaster occurred.

Unfortunately, many Singaporeans don’t bother. They take many things for granted. Sigh.
Either they really don’t know about this or just see no need to do it. Or ermm..just lazy?

Personally speaking, although it is a voluntary act, I think this is a matter of personal responsibility. For myself and family members.

Well if anything happens, please don’t complain the Government doesn’t care.

This is the web portal URL for E-register service with MFA – click here.