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These are the 14 Letters We Wrote to the Straits Times Forum

These are the 14 Letters We Wrote to the Straits Times Forum

  • Culture
  • Life
Top image credit: Rawpixel / Unsplash

From 1 May to 14 May this year, I conducted an experiment, where I sent a letter to the Straits Times Forum everyday. I figured that I had cracked the elusive code to getting published on the forum. Naturally, I wanted to see if I was right.

With the help of my colleagues for a few letters, I sent the following 14 letters.

Click here for the full story.

1 May 2018

Christian Community Should Learn to Separate Religion from State

I am deeply saddened by the Christian community’s seeming inability to separate religion from state (Some 50 churches set up new alliance to serve as ‘additional Christian voice’; April 29).

The article states that the alliance’s churches want their voices to be “represented on current and international affairs and matters”. They also hope to “engage the authorities on subjects such as social work and community policies”.

I am concerned with the message we send when we readily allow Christian communities to imply that (their) religion should influence current affairs.

I was brought up to believe that everyone is free to practise their religion, as long as it does not harm anyone. Accordingly, their religion also must not affect policy-making on a national level. What does it say about our secular state’s values and beliefs when we give this alliance a national platform?

Another interesting thing to note is that one of the churches involved is Cornerstone Community Church, which was recently in the news for inviting controversial American preacher Lou Engle to their Kingdom Invasion conference.

Even as a staunch Christian myself, this well-timed PR move feels more passive aggressive than passionate. Shouldn’t the foundation of every faith be strong enough to remain unwavering in the face of detractors?

Some might say Christians are becoming too defensive when their religion is criticised, and they would be right.

Yang Wen Yi (Ms)

Published: No

Possible reasons for failure: Too personal. Someone else wrote almost the same letter which got published. It sounds more measured. (Read: politically correct.)

2 May 2018

Banning Peanuts is Not Enough, SIA Should Stop Serving Other Allergens Too

I applaud Singapore Airlines’ thoughtful decision to ban peanuts as snacks on flights (Singapore Airlines stops serving peanuts as snacks in all cabin classes; April 30).

As a world class airline, the decision to address a common allergen among passengers reinforces SIA’s service-oriented business model. This also sets a precedent for more airlines to follow suit with other typical allergens, such as alcohol, seafood, and chocolate.

As such, here are five more suggestions for what else airlines can stop serving.

Stop serving passengers who cut their toenails in their seats. They should be booted right off the plane without warning, whether it’s 10 feet or 10 kilometres off the ground.

Stop serving passengers who sit in the aisle seats and refuse to budge when those in the middle and window seats want to visit the restroom.

Stop serving passengers who take 15 minutes to make up their minds about which meal to select, and then throw a tantrum when the meal they pick isn’t available anymore, as though having chicken over fish will drastically change their flying experience.

Stop serving passengers who leave the toilet seat wet. They should be detained at the arrival airport and sent right back to their home country.

Stop serving passengers who talk as though the person they’re speaking to is deaf or a thousand miles away.

Weeding out these allergens may be difficult initially, but those allergic to idiocy will be truly loyal and grateful as a result.

Yang Wen Yi (Ms)

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: Someone at ST felt personally attacked.

3 May 2018

Disgruntled Neighbours Can Learn From North Korea and South Korea’s Pledge for Peace

I was heartened to see that the leaders of North Korea and South Korea, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in respectively, aim to make peace (North and South Korea pledge to uphold peace, work towards denuclearisation after historic summit; April 27).

In particular, the photos of Mr Kim and Mr Moon embracing, and crossing the demilitarised zone line into each other’s countries, were monumental. They are also proof that, no matter how long a fight, there is still hope for reconciliation.

In a world that is increasingly fractured, this historic moment must surely pave the way for more open-minded exchange.  

Perhaps I will finally be able to get my neighbour to return my broom.

He has had it for two years; whenever I make an attempt to retrieve it from his home, he slams the door on me. Once, when I caught him at the lift landing, he sprinted down the corridor as though I’d asked him for his newborn.

Yet, if the two Koreas are able to seek reunification after 65 years, I remain optimistic about my household appliance inventory.

Yang Wen Yi (Ms)

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: ST does not have a sense of humour.

4 May 2018

Removing Discretionary Right Turn at Traffic Lights May Cause Traffic Jams

I agree with Dr Terence Tan that we must remove discretionary right turns at traffic junctions (Do away with discretionary right turns; April 24), but I would caution against buying into the idea without considering the tangible implications.

As it is, the right-turn arrows don’t stay lit up for a sufficient duration to let many cars pass through the traffic junction. During peak hour, this can result in a long line of vehicles just waiting to turn right.

Unless LTA leaves the right-turn arrow lit for a longer period, completely removing the discretionary right-turn may just create massive traffic jams in the long run.

If we think about it, the problem isn’t exactly the concept of the discretionary right-turn, but our sense of entitlement. The better solution would be to make it harder to get a driving license, or make it compulsory to go for a refresher course every five years.

Imposing stiffer penalties, such as a heftier fine or immediate suspension of license on the first offense, for drivers who disregard for traffic rules might also deter them from turning right carelessly.

Alternatively, we could start by teaching our future generations how to behave as more decent human beings from young.

Even though it may be a cure, let’s resist cutting off an entire leg to scratch an itch.

Yang Wen Yi (Ms)

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: Overall tone reeks of a university professor’s self-importance. It’s only day four, but I admit I have never come across a style of writing harder to nail than ST Forum’s.

5 May 2018

Cactuses Placed Along HDB Corridors May Prick Passers-by

A few days ago, I noticed that my next-door neighbour bought a couple of new cactuses, which he adorned along the corridor to his flat. He lives right beside the lift landing, and I live in the next unit down.

Now, our walkway may not be able to fit a family of four breadthwise, but neither would anyone need to suck in their stomach when they walk by. Which is why I was surprised when I felt the sharp prick of a needle on my shin as I passed his cactuses this morning.

As millennials say, I was shooketh. After I’d recovered from the shock of having been assaulted by a stationary plant, I approached my neighbour. He simply told me to look where I’m walking in the future.

He may be right, but I am concerned for unaccompanied children running along the corridor. Imagine if they trip and fall straight into his cactuses.

Would HDB be able to advise on which plants are suitable for displaying outside HDB flats? What is the maximum length for spikes on a cactus?

More importantly, should we consider implementing laws to prevent people from displaying ugly plants?

Yang Wen Yi (Ms)

Published: LOL no.

Possible reasons for failure: ST does not understand the grave importance of being a responsible neighbour.

6 May 2018
(written by Rachel)

What Makes a Food Critic?

I am aghast at Wong Ah Yoke’s recent food review (There’s a bear in my soup; May 6), although I must commend its witty title.

I have always respected the man, but this respect is waning. It seems that any Lim, Tan and Wong with access to Internet and a B4 in English can be a food critic nowadays.

I can read a restaurant review from start to finish, without gleaning a single insight other than the restaurant exists and food is served here.

Critics love to rely on descriptors such as “fresh”, “crispy”, “above average” and “soft”, which unfortunately tell me little about how the food tastes and if I would be better off spending my money on Toto instead.

These critics also seem to do far less criticising than is expected of their job title. If every restaurant was as good as they said, Singapore would have 1579 Michelin starred restaurants and not 29.

What does the restaurant lack? How can it be improved? Are there credit card promotions? Is the price and portion size reasonable? Are the wet towelettes that come with the meal free of charge?

I suggest the title “critic” be reserved for those who actually have insightful, professional and critical perspective to offer.

Singaporeans want to devour real reviews that leave us satisfied. We shouldn’t need second and third servings of primary school compositions to be full.

Yang Wen Yi (Ms)

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: Wong Ah Yoke is an ST relic, and therefore untouchable. In all fairness, apparently if a restaurant gets featured in ST Life, they almost always sell out for the next few weeks. Wong Ah Yoke 1: RICE 0.

7 May 2018
(written by Pan Jie)

Keep Birds Away From Food

I have noticed that hawker centres and other open-air eateries are frequented by birds of all kinds.

The other day, my colleagues and I were having lunch at an Indian-Muslim eatery when a pigeon flew into the kitchen. The little fella landed on the cutting board and began pecking away at the half-cut cucumbers lying about. After availing himself of vegetables, he then went on to make a buffet of the other rojak ingredients.

We tried to inform the establishment, but the culprit flew away before we could get the staff’s attention.

Don’t get me wrong, I like birds. I have nothing against them. However, I think that they should be kept away from food for the sake of hygiene.

Although bird flu hasn’t been in the news for quite a while, it remains a clear and present danger that deserves caution. Furthermore, stray birds have parasites and their dirty feet may carry all sorts of disease-causing microbes.

I do not want to hurt the establishment by revealing their name, but more needs to be done in order to protect our food from flying pests. This is not the first time I’ve seen birds invading kitchens. Perhaps NEA can work with Jurong Bird Park to deploy more strident anti-bird measures in our kopitiams.

Nets and shiny objects come to mind.

Yang Wen Yi (Ms)

Published: Yes. Finally.

Possible reasons for success: Topic discusses hygiene, one of Singapore’s obsessions, in a novel way. Humour in the last line is so subtle that it may be taken as a serious suggestion, depending on who reads it.

8 May 2018

Discussing Cultural Appropriation Can Teach Us Empathy

I commend the recent analysis on the issue of cultural appropriation surrounding the US teen who wore a qipao to her prom (Why some are offended over qipao prom dress; May 5).

Interestingly, netizens from China support the girl’s decision to wear their cultural costume to prom, while Chinese Americans took issue with it.

Following the hoo-ha, I remember reading a Facebook comment from a Singaporean Chinese friend: “The way China reacted is the way it should be. We must prevent ourselves from being victims of the political correctness that has plagued the US.”

As a fellow Singaporean Chinese person, I am unsurprised at this reaction. We regard the teenager’s use of the qipao as culture appreciation instead of appropriation, because it’s easy for us to take this perspective when we make up the majority race in our country. We are not discriminated against, and so we find it difficult to empathise with those who have been and still are.

On the other hand, Asian Americans were offended by the girl’s dress because their culture was always mocked while they were growing up in America as a minority. As someone who has no idea how it feels to be a minority, it’s not my place to tell them that their feelings don’t matter or that they’re being too sensitive.

Instead, this entire issue has taught me to empathise with minorities in Singapore. They go through experiences unique to their position in society. If we aspire to be a better society, it is imperative that we listen when they speak.

I hope that teachers and parents will also use this instance to educate the younger generation on racial harmony and its nuances.

Michelle Lee Wei Yit

Published: Yes.

Possible reasons for success: Sincerity: check. Progressive but predictable perspective on current affairs: check. Lack of personality that it’s as though this were extracted from a model composition book: check, check, check.

9 May 2018

Next PM Doesn’t Need a Degree? Government Should Walk the Talk

I find it absurd that Education Minister Ong Ye Kung suggests that we may have a Prime Minister in the future who doesn’t hold a degree (A PM without a degree? Possible, says Ong Ye Kung; May 6).

This notion is akin to suggesting that we will experience snowfall in our country one day, that the MRT will be on time everyday for a year, or that meritocracy exists in Singapore.

In other words, we are unlikely to have a PM without a degree.

It’s not that we are against having a PM without a degree, but Singaporeans are pragmatic people, who don’t appreciate idealistic rhetoric and an all-talk-no-action mentality. We can also tell when we’re being patronised.

In order for the government to convince us that experience matters more than paper qualifications, they must walk the talk.

Start by placing diploma holders on the same scheme as degree holders. Following which, the government should hire MPs or Ministers who have decades of working experience, can connect with the “grassroots”, but only have an O Level certificate.

If we are as forward thinking as we hope to be, the private sector will soon follow suit.

Implying that we can have a PM without a degree when the rest of the civil service doesn’t even practice what it preaches insults our intelligence, whether we possess a degree or not.

Jacob Lau Wei Jun

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: As the government’s unofficial PR agency, ST knows it’s unwise to piss off their boss.

10 May 2018
(written by Pan Jie)

Toilet Rolls Should be Placed Inside Cubicles

I often visit hawker centres with my family for meals.

Sometimes, nature calls while I’m having dinner and there is no choice but to use the toilets there.

It is not a good experience. Hawker centre toilets are often quite dirty and it is rather distressing to poop outside the comfortable environs of one’s home.

Thus, one can imagine the distress caused by toilet paper dispensers that are positioned outside of the toilet rather than beside the toilet bowl. It is truly anxiety-inducing.

Not only does it force you to declare your intentions to the whole world, it also causes further anxiety as you wonder if you’ve taken inadequate toilet paper, or perhaps a little too much.

In any case, it does not make for a nice experience.

As a first world nation, we should trust our citizens not to abuse free toilet paper. If this basic level of civic-minded behaviour cannot be expected in our fellow man, then we do not deserve to be called a first world nation, and should probably go back to pooping on trees.

Jacob Lau Wei Jun

Published: Yes.

Possible reasons for success: ST developed a sense of humour. Writing a public letter about one’s toilet business when one specifically does not want anyone else to know is irony at its finest, and ST knows it. I think.

11 May 2018
(written by Pan Jie)

Children Should Not Be Served Coffee

Last week, I was in line at Starbucks when I spotted something unusual: a young boy buying cold brew coffee.

At first, I thought he was buying the drink for his parents. It seemed like the only logical conclusion. But when the barista handed over the black-coloured beverage, the boy took a huge gulp of the coffee before wandering off alone.

I was so disturbed by this incident that I could not focus on my reading afterwards.

Firstly, children should not be drinking coffee, least of all cold brew coffee. Coffee is for adults who have given up on life. The beverage contains caffeine, which has many adverse effects on the body. It hinders the absorption of important minerals like calcium, shortens attention spans and might even be linked to an increased risk of hypertension.

Worst of all, the drink can be very addictive.

I know this because I was a coffee addict for many years. If I do not drink at least two cups a day, I go into withdrawal and start twitching like a squirrel and laughing to myself.

Not a day goes by that I do not regret my teenage decision to try coffee. Hence, I strongly urge Starbucks to stop serving coffee to children. Parents and the authorities should take note too. Take care to keep your child away from coffee or they’ll end up like me, writing forum letters at 3 AM.

Jacob Lau Wei Jun

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: Second last paragraph references an uncommon and unrelatable sight: a twitching squirrel.

12 May 2018

School Curriculum Should Train Students to Swat Mosquitoes

I was concerned to read about the dengue-related deaths that recently happened in Jurong West (3 dengue-related deaths in largest active cluster at Jurong West: NEA, MOH; May 5).

My family and I stay near the area too. As a working father, I cannot be around my children all the time, so I hope that their school will teach them important ways to prevent dengue. These can be included in health education lessons.

This information can be typically seen as dry and boring. As such, one way to make this information interesting so that young children will remember what they’ve learnt is to incorporate interactive games into dengue prevention lessons.

This can start with teaching them mosquito swatting techniques. Children would run around the class trying to swat mosquitoes with a badminton racket, a tennis racket, or even a rolled up newspaper. Every mosquito that gets swatted earns the child an extra minute of recess.

However, teachers should exercise discretion when deciding whether to release actual mosquitoes for children to receive adequate target practice.

Jacob Lau Wei Jun

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: Unrealistic suggestion for curriculum. Tennis rackets are meant for high-SES activities, not for mass hysteria.

13 May 2018

Online Vigilantism a Sign of Close-Mindedness

I am concerned by the increasing incidents where people find themselves as targets of social media witch hunts after they have done something ‘wrong’ in real life (The lure of the shame game: Are online vigilantes going too far?; April 22).

Instead of illegal ‘wrongdoings’, these incidents usually cross an arbitrary moral threshold. For instance, the BMW owner who refused to pay $135 worth of petrol at a Caltex station after he only asked for $10 didn’t commit a serious crime. In fact, many would do what he did.

Yet several netizens thought his ‘ungracious’ and ‘entitled’ behaviour warranted naming and shaming.

I believe this single-minded drive to ruin someone’s life is fuelled by the belief that online vigilantism is the most effective way to mete out punishment when authorities can’t. We become incensed when wrongdoers do not live up to what we personally deem ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. In our outrage, we do not see the grey areas.

The truth is, no matter how helpful we believe we are, refusing to acknowledge the complexities reinforces narrow-minded and unproductive discourse. This makes us more intolerant and less empathetic too.

There is a fine line between self-righteousness and civic mindedness that we must be wary not to cross. The next time we want to punish these people who have ‘sinned’, we should stop to ask ourselves why exactly we assume we are any better.

Michelle Lee Wei Yit

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: The holier-than-thou writing style. Wait, why wasn’t it published then…?

14 May 2018

Do Not Allow Squeaky Shoes in Libraries

Last weekend, I was in the library when I heard a loud squeak, the kind that can only be produced by the squeaky shoes of a toddler.

I felt utterly perturbed, not least because I thought I’d be able to spend a peaceful afternoon in the library.

In hindsight, I found myself annoyed for another crucial reason too. I believed the toddler’s parents could have prevented such nuisance. I would love to have children of my own one day, but it is hard to remember this when you have a toddler liberally stomping his feet in a quiet space with no consideration for others.

Of all things, having your train of thought broken by squeaky shoes in a place where they should not exist ranks high on the list of effective contraceptive methods.

If we want to save our falling birth rate and sanity, libraries should ban squeaky shoes.

Michelle Lee Wei Yit

Published: No.

Possible reasons for failure: Our country’s advocate for sex in small spaces, MP Josephine Teo, does not work for ST Forum.

Have something to say about this story or the accompanying story about our experiment? Write to us at community@ricemedia.co or the Straits Times Forum at stforum@sph.com.sg.

Author

Grace Yeoh Senior staff writer