I was invited to be the Guest of Honour at the 2012 Canossian Awards. This ceremony is an annual event organised by my alma mater – St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School –  to recognise students that have achieved academic excellence for the year. Teachers are also commended for their efforts in support the students. It was also a wonderful opportunity for me to not only be updated with the various improvements made for the school, but also meet some old teachers and sisters that played a part of my growth as a teen.  Below is a text of my speech.

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Good morning everyone,

First and foremost, I would like to thank SAC for giving me this great honour of attending this year’s Canossian Awards ceremony and addressing you today. It was really a pleasant surprise when Mrs Yip called me one afternoon while I was at work to tell me about this.

I think she was a bit amused by my reaction — “Oh wow, that’s so cool”. It was a nice piece of news amidst the stress and uncertainty in my preparations for PhD; and its very humbling to know that my little steps of progress are being recognised by an institution that has played a significant role as in my teenage years. Thank you, once again.

The theme of today’s event is about aiming high and reaching for the Stars. How everyone has the potential to be a shining star and achieve their goals in life. The concept of individuals as stars is also relevant for the fact that only the bigger shinier stars are visible to the naked eye. Its only when we use a telescope that we are able to see a range of smaller stars in the sky.

Similarly, in life, we often only hear about the success stories of a few, when there are actually many others out there who have had many achievements and more importantly touched the lives of others.

That said, why are some stars more visible than others? Why are the achievements of some individuals recognised more than others?  In my short address to you today, I’ll highlight four  points that I think are important for becoming illuminating stars. I must say that I am far from being a bright guiding North Star at this point of time, but there have nevertheless been lessons through my schooling years and short working period that I think would be relevant to young individuals like yourself.

Point #1: Know Yourself and Your Opportunities

Know what topics interest you, and seek to develop those interests further. Start a hobby – apart from surfing on Facebook. Know what your strengths are and know what you like to do. When I was in secondary school, I only knew I liked talking about politics and current affairs. So I opted for history rather than biology in Sec 3.

Also know your weaknesses and how to overcome them. Like many of you, I hated exams. I also knew that I preferred to be given essay assignments rather than sit for a 2 hour exam. However, given the exam-based systems that we have for O-level and A-level, I just had to suck it up and do my best. Fortunately O-levels went well, although my A-levels was pretty bad- a point which I will get to later.

Also know that in the working world, personality matters more than paper qualifications. This does not mean that academic grades are irrelevant. Rather its a basic requirement. Everyone has a diploma or degree and sometimes even a masters.

Employers want to know what other skills you can bring to their organisation — such as leadership skills, social skills and willingness to work as a team. Developing such skills definitely cannot be done via memorising text books, but rather through the various CCAs that you participate in.

I know you’ve probably heard this before, but its really true. Because when you’re actually trying to create an impressive CV for your first job, you’ll be really happy that you participated in CCAs, or regretting that you didn’t do enough of it in school.

In Sec 1, I was chairman of my class, then moved on to be a prefect and a member of the Student Council. I was also a Girl Guide and subsequently became a patrol leader. At some point in upper secondary, I was also a Peer Support Leader and a School Year Book Committee Member. For me, these experiences allowed me to develop important life skills that I would further enhance through other CCAs during my undergraduate days and other activities that I engage in outside of work.

Point #2: Listen to the little stars around you.

While we can often look up to the bigger stars and achievers highlighted in the mainstream media, oftentimes it doesn’t take much to find inspiration from those around us – especially those older and with more experience than us. This includes your family and your teachers — They would be in the best position to guide and advice you, if you are willing to listen. Such advice may sometimes come across as nagging, but always take a deep breath and bear in mind that what you don’t understand now, will be understood later on.

Aside from family and teachers, little stars can also be random people that you meet in life. For instance, one person I find inspiration from is an elderly janitor that works in NTU.  This lady is a widow in her mid 60s and comes to work earlier than anyone else. She earns maybe about 400 to 600 dollars a month, and has the simplest of lunches – usually some rice topped with a bit of ikan bilis and soy sauce that she brings from home. Yet, despite these challenging circumstances that she faces, she still makes the effort and time to do community service at an old folks home and a neighbourhood mosque. It made me think, if she can do all this, why can’t I? Why is it that we – who have a life much easier than her – still complain of being too busy and not enough time to do anything?

This brings me to my 3rd point –

Point #3: Take Advantage of Adversity.

It is important to note that achievements don’t occur overnight and are part of a long-term process of development. Often those who are successful, have failed at some points in their life. Doing badly in my A-levels, was one of them. I also experienced a rough patch in my third year of University, due to a few personal issues.

The most useful lesson for me during these rough periods was the importance of picking myself up and channelling the energy to other activities. During my University days, I took on responsibilities in at least 4 Committees in Hostel (which are called Colleges in Australia) – specifically the College Year Book committee, Environment Committee, Diversity and Volunteer Committee and Arabic Society. I was also Director/Producer of the College Play, President of a Senior Common Room, was part of an external dance troupe and participated in other random inter-college events. Ironically, this crazy schedule forced me to be more organised with my time. In addition to graduating with a 2nd upper class honours, my CCA efforts had unexpectedly paid off as I was also awarded the Collegian of the Year Award. In retrospect, its interesting how my performance was most mediocre when I was most inactive in Junior College.

The fourth and last point: Communicate Globally and Locally Effectively.

The history of astronomy has demonstrated the importance of stars by all civilisations, thus showing its universal relevance to mankind. Similarly the potential to make your ideas relevant to a wider audience beyond Singapore is immense. Globalisation is such an intrinsic part of our daily life, it would be a shame not to make the best of it. Sharing ideas through social media is an effective tool – if used with a sense of professionalism. For instance, if you would plan to maintain a blog, rather than it being a series of rants and posts beginning with “dear diary this is what I did today”, take the effort to compose thoughtful, clear and constructive commentaries on an issue.

Truth be told, some key opportunities that I received in the past few years was a result of people contacting me because they were interested in my environment-related blog posts. Firstly, it allowed me to get connected with people who understood and shared my ideas (at a time when others around me didn’t understand my ideas). Secondly, it provide a chance for me to present my ideas at international conferences, and from there opening doors to other networks and opportunities.

That said, communicating locally is just as important, so that we are clear on what’s happening in our own backyard. At the end of the day, Singapore is our home and we have a responsibility to this island.

There was a quote I found on Twiiter, that I think sums this up very well – it said:

“The grass isn’t greener on the other side, its greener where you water it. Don’t lust over something that isn’t yours and invest in what is.”

This is, however, the most difficult task to accomplish, but overcoming it will be most rewarding.

So there you have it, 4 points to being a shining star. Having said all that, some of you might be thinking, “Well that’s all very nice, but I’m still not convinced that being a bright shiny star is for me. I don’t even know where to start”.

 My response to this would be to reflect on the vision of SAC.

“To be a passionate learning community, renowned for its spirit of innovation and excellence  , within a culture of compassion.”

  1. Passionate learning community — meaning you’re always hungry to know more about everything and anything
  2. Spirit of innovation & excellence – referring to new ideas, and being the best that you can
  3. Within a culture of compassion  — for me – that the key word: compassion.

Here in Singapore, we’re always told to be #1 in everything. We have various institutions and resources dedicated to education, training and research — all in a bid to support innovation. But most of the time in the working world, what drives innovation is not compassion, but individual gain.

People tend to innovate not for principles but for profit. Or sometimes, they may have started with principles, but strayed away from their original mission.

This is the challenge I pose to you – future stars of St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary School.

How will you strike a balance between getting a good job  that you love and enjoy while still giving back to society?

How will you innovate primarily for compassion rather than cost-cutting?

So the next time when you switch on your computer or smartphone —  Instead of immediately logging on to Facebook, take a few minutes to do a google search on a topic or idea that you would like to develop or know more about — and constantly reflect on how it can be relevant to your life and society as a whole. It’s a small start for bigger things to come.

And with that, thank you and I’d be happy to leave my contact details with the teachers if anyone you want to have a chat about your ideas on being a star.

I wish you all good luck and God Bless 🙂

 

I came across this link via Mr Brown’s twitter feed. In this article, the writer reflects on a particular incident involving a young cashier and the use of plastic bags.

For me, this reflective piece really strikes at the heart of three things:

  1. A somewhat antagonistic approach by some when trying to promote environmental awareness and action. Environmental advocates must reflect on their approaches as to how they seek to  (or have failed to) engage sections of society that are assumed to be not as inclined/aware about environmental issues.
  2. A generational gap where the youth are not fully aware of history (much of which is Oral history, that can’t be found in textbooks).
  3. Reducing consumption of plastic bags is only one small speck in a host of actions that can be done for saving the environment. Environmental sustainability must be seen in a wide and holistic sense.

Do have a read of the article here.

 

 

For me, it was 20 minutes ago on Youtube. And that could possibly be the first time I have watched one. Most of the qurbans that I can recall done for my family during Eid Al Adha were through friends in Indonesia, so that they would give the meat to the less fortunate there.  We’d get photographs of our designated sacrificial goats a couple of weeks later.

While it is scientifically clear that the Islamic way of slaughtering animals is the most humane way, I’m still quite a wimp and feel a little queazy watching it happening in motion.

Nevertheless, it is a symbolic reminder of Prophet Ibrahim’s (a.s) act of sacrifice for his devotion to Allah.

In some ways, I think it’s also God’s way of reminding us where our meat comes from. Not from the supermarket, but from a 4 legged herbivore.

Eid Mubarak to all!

CAUTION: Not recommended for those allergic to blood or wimps like me!

Can I just say that I’m not really a fan of e-books? And while I appreciate the invention of e-journals and PDFs for making my professional and academic life a lot easier, staring at a computer screen seems to be taking up way too much of my life. EVIL COMPUTER!!

Of late I’ve been trying to spend less time wasting my life away in front of the computer screen and complete all the half-read books sitting on my shelf.
So today, I decided to treat myself to a nice leather book jacket.

Ok so yeah, I could have simply wrapped it in a nice sheet of used wrapping paper or magazine page like how I did back in the day. But everyone needs to indulge sometimes, right?

Getting off the comp now. See ya!

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FOOD WASTE!

Seriously people, if you’re not a big eater, then don’t order something heavy – like Nasi Lemak. Get a curry puff, roti kaya or salad instead.

Or if you really need a Nasi Lemak, then ask for a smaller portion (eg. Less rice).

FACT #1: Singapore’s food supply is largely dependent on imports. That includes your rice from Thailand ( that’s currently 1/3 inundated by floods).

FACT #2: Most Singaporeans probably don’t know and take it for granted.

Scary.

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Mess Tins Sightings beyond Campsites!

I learnt a new word over the weekend. FLEXITARIANISM! (Say what?)

Good ol’ Wikipedia says that it is often used interchangeably with semi-vegetarianism. I guess that makes me one of them, since I’ve been taking more pro-active steps in reducing my meat intake. And it would also include the increasing number of folks that have been subscribing to “No Meat Thursdays” as a start to reducing their meat intake.

There have been several factors which have supported the “less meat” campaign. From reducing one’s level of consumption and carbon footprint – given the amount of resources needed to produce meat, and the carbon emissions (as methane) – to resistance to inhumane practices towards animals in farms and slaughterhouses. The documentary Food Inc captures the essence of this perfectly. And of course, vegetarian societies would be more than happy to give you more reasons on why you ought to be (literally) stuffing yourself green.

Fortunately, there are a few places, in my opinion, that make going vegetarian easier. One option would be Indian vegetarian cuisine, which is for the most part in abundance… Ananda Bhavan, Bombay Woodlands, Bombay Cafe… those are my favourite spots. ( in fact, I only ask for Indian vegetarian food when flying on Singapore Airlines).

Veganburg @ Jalan Eunos

But then there’s also Veganburg, which I’ve only JUST got a chance to savour their gluten-and-GMO-free burgers in the good ol’ Eunos. Its been a year since they opened, and business has been booming. I hear they’re planning to open a branch at the Marina Bay Financial Centre soon (up-market seh!).

The October special is pretty awesome… Creamy mushrooms with their signature soy patties. I totally love the juices they serve and more so the fact that they serve their burgers and seaweed fries in mess tins. Most importantly, its filling. Honestly, being vegetarian has never been so easy!

I must say however that it costs a little bit more than your usual fast food prices. A burger alone will cost you 6 to 7 bucks, and a meal would be 11 to 12 bucks. For those on a shoestring budget, having a 3 to 4 dollar Char Kway Teow or Chicken Rice at a hawker centre would perhaps be a better option. Looking at it from this perspective, it may seem that Going Green is something that the only the rich can afford.

But that’s not really true if you think about it deeper. Poor folks do not always have the luxury of eating meat as it costs more than vegetables. Rather its the growing middle classes that have had more income to afford meat. As such, it would perhaps be possible to have more vegetarian and organic options in the heartlands overtime. In fact, an organic shop-cum-cafe called Thorvewest recently opened near my place in Bedok Reservoir. They have nice organic cherry tomatoes from Australia!

At the end of the day, whether you chose to be a flexitarian, pescetarian or hard-core vegan, it is ultimately about taking those baby steps in testing yourself to get out of your comfort zone, and forego simple luxuries that we often take for granted. For me, its a good way to also continue to control/reduce consumption even after Ramadan.

Because really, going green is not a fad, its a way of life.

So my aunt and I decided to make a random detour before some grocery shopping at Holland Village, and checked out the Circle Line Open House. Some would say that’s “So Singaporean” behaviour. “Free Ride and freebies, so must go!” If you were there during the Open House, you would have observed that this was not really the case. Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans from every walk of life (wheelchairs and baby prams included) were there – exploring the various stops, each with their own significance whether historical, recreational or just an area on this 712 sq km island that they had never been to before!

The eagerness to check out the Circle Line also reflects, I think, some sort of pride that we have for public space (well, most of us). Commuting on public transport is entrenched in the blood of your everyday Singaporean. And I have to say, as much as we complain about how crowded it gets at times or the increase in fares,  its still one of the best systems worldwide. In fact, the UAE had sought Singapore’s advice when embarking on their own train system in Dubai.

Aside from the easy connection to getting to Adam Road Hawker Centre and nature parks such as the Botanic Gardens and Labrador Park, it was nice to see a recognition of historic figures such as Lieutenant Adnan who demonstrated honour for our country till death.

Various Stations on the Circle Line

There was quite a bit of activity happening around the new MRT stations. Several dance performances from various community groups – ranging from Malay dance, Hip hop, Country line dancing and bellydance. There were also balloon sculptors and caricaturists to keep the kids amused, and a few pop quizes in creating more awareness of Singapore’s geography and history; Like how did Holland Village get its name, or what does ” Telok Blangah” mean?

Keeping Order

Alas, I didn’t stick around Holland Village long to watch our Returning Officer for the 2011 General and Presidential Elections  busting some bhangra moves! For a overview of the Circle Line Open House, check out this clip by RazorTV. Or if its just Mr Yam Ah Mee that you’re after, then see below 🙂

Three things need to be shared worldwide: clean and green living, good soulful music and lots of love.

While much of the work on this blog has highlighted the former, Junoon – the U2 of Pakistan – has been one of my main inspirations for the latter two. This article has been written in commemoration of Junoon’s 20th Anniversary.

Thank you Salman Ahmad for asking me to contribute a piece to this wonderful milestone. Allah Hafiz!

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Selamat Hari Jadi ke-20, Junoon![1]

I can’t actually remember how I got to know about Junoon. It must have been the result of a random search on Youtube in the late 90s. But I’m thankful for that random Youtube search, as Junoon music videos demonstrate a combination of some of my favourite things – Sufism, Rock Music and awesome beats to be grooving to… (and ok yes, I’ll admit.. a pretty darn cute guitarist!!)

Students of political science and international relations, such as myself, are accustomed to the term ‘soft power’ as coined by Prof Joseph Nye of Harvard University. Soft power refers to factors such as values and cultures which are primary currencies in influencing world politics. This is opposed to notions of hard power, where the use of military force and coercion are paramount.

One of the best biographies I've ever read.

Junoon is by far one of the best examples of soft power. As the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Junoon’s songs have clearly crossed linguistic and territorial boundaries far beyond the Indian sub-continent. Junoon’s music has and continues to be a shining beacon of peace and love.

Junoon’s ability to transcend linguistic barriers is clearly reflected in my own circumstances – a Singaporean with pretty much a 90% non-Urdu speaking background. The use of Urdu in my family pretty much stopped with my paternal grandmother. She did not speak Urdu with her children as it was the “secret” language that she would use with her elders!

In 2002, my love for Junoon grew more than just as a fan on Youtube and downloaded music videos on Napster. JUNOON WAS COMING TO SINGAPORE! I still remember going to Kallang Theatre with my pal Vik and seated right smack in the middle. Although down with a flu, I was still determined to be there to see Junoon in the flesh. *Hi Salman!!*

It was a great night, with fans both young and old clapping and bobbing their heads to the hypnotic beats. There was no mosh pit, but half way through the concert, some youth made their own in front of the stage.

Junoon was also particularly significant in my undergraduate years in Perth, Australia, where I and a fellow Singaporean friend, Jeskiran, would be crooning away during meal times in our hostel’s dining hall and beating dining tables like tablas.  Top tracks were Yaar Bina Dil Mera and Sayonee. It was such good fun for us, though our other girlfriends would often cringe when we hit the high and long notes.

It’s been about 6 years since those dining hall duet days, but Jeskiran and I still take the opportunity to drum tables in restaurants when we girls have get-togethers. More importantly, 20 years on, the spirit of Junoon continues to drum up passion and love for one and all.

Happy 20th Anniversary, Junoon!


[1] translation of title: Happy 20th Anniversary, Junoon (in Malay).

A video was recently circulating amongst some Green Muslims on Facebook – Project ME and A World of Green Muslims – of how the ingenuity of one slum dweller in the Philippines literally brought light to the lives of his neighbours. With the lack of electricity available to slum dwellers living dangerously close to railroad tracks, “Solar Demi” made solar-powered light bulbs out of plastic bottles.

REAL Toys!

In this modern age of Kindles and Smartphones, it seems so easy for many of us living in developed or industrialising countries to overlook the simplest things in life, which often should be the most treasured. I must say, it freaks me out to see mothers simply putting an iPad in front of toddlers to watch/listen to  nursery rhymes rather than actually reading it to them from a REAL book.

It would be a very sad world if children grew up not knowing what lego was or what playing masak-masak meant. Hell, when was the last time you saw a kid playing hop-scotch?

In this blog post, I’ve gathered a few videos that have some nifty plastic bottle ideas. Not totally for child’s play since the use of scissors is vital… but would nevertheless be great activities in being crafty (and sane) with real objects, rather than the virtual world. And the best part… doesn’t cost your wallet and the Earth much! Enjoy! 🙂

Bracelets!

Flowers!

Foot reflexology?

Gift Box

Vase

So my family recently had our Eid open house. As I had done for Eid in previous years – as well as other parties- I set up a little recycling bin for used tin cans. We use up about 4 to 5 cartons (24 in each pack) of canned drinks for each Eid party.

Be Green, Please: Empty Tin Cans Only!

Its a small but consistent step that we’ve taken in recent years. In previous years, some little nephews threw other bits of thrash into the recycling bin. Fortunately, there has been a great improvement this year with 100% of the recycling bin’s content being just the tin cans. Guess the kids have made a mental note of not messing up Aunty Sof’s green activities!

Family settings are clearly the best place to start going green. So, go ahead and try it out for yourself. 🙂