Author Archives: tanxuelingamanda


where to goYou have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

—Dr. Seuss

            Yes, I have brains in my head. The education that I’ve been blessed with has certainly given me that. Yup, I have my feet in shoes. Thanks to the parents who have provided so well for my sister and I. And now, I can steer myself in any direction I choose. Graduation after all, is symbolic of having completed one stage of life, the life very much dictated by a system of regular schedules, deadlines and accountability to so many other people other than you. But past graduation… Finally, finally, we get to choose to follow our passions, without regard to this requirement or that rule. FREEDOM!!

Do we really though?

            It feels like we might trading one set of “requirements” for another. Instead of assignment deadlines, we get project or event deadlines. Instead of an academic grade, we get performance evaluations. We’re still stuck in a system. On top of that, spouse and family will soon add more responsibility than we’ve ever had in our lives! I’m not really on my own.


            It’s not all that dreary. We know what we know. And based on that, we can make the choices that best suit us. There is a degree of freedom after graduation. We’re now free to make our own choices and balance priorities.  For example, unlike school when studying never seemed to end, we can choose to not bring work home. We can choose to separate work and family, stress and relaxation. We can choose not to be caught up in the system. We can steer ourselves in any direction we choose. Suddenly there’s no school administration to tell us exactly how to live our lives. With our financial independence (hopefully), parents also have less of a say in our lives.

            All this might sound really general and vague. But that’s because transition is confusing. Nothing is written in stone and I’m still trying to figure out what I want and what to prioritize. It’s alright though; I just need to go back to what I believe in. Sometimes, it’s handy to have been brought up in a Christian family. It means I have a sort of compass to guide me. Anyway, for the moment, I’m savouring all the possibilities and the knowledge that I am the one who decides where to go…

Do YOU know where you’re going?


What if this were your last Christmas together?

iStock_christmas_beachI’ve just gotten back to Singapore from a lovely family holiday in Bali. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your point of view), I had had a Skype interview scheduled right in the middle of our trip. Before the interview, I hadn’t been able to relax on the holiday just yet as I was so preoccupied with and anxious about the impending appointment. But once the interview was over, and it felt like it had gone well, it suddenly struck me that if my application to graduate school were successful, this Bali trip would very likely be the last family holiday the four of us (my parents, my sister and I) would be able to have together for a long while.

These December trips were always our little yearly routine. Whether nearby in Malaysia or further away to the United States or New Zealand, these trips are always meticulously planned by my parents. And they didn’t just include the fun and games, the stuff of family bonding. Each trip was also always peppered with moments of intentional teaching. Just this Bali trip, my parents had brought along a DVD series of inspirational talks by various industry leaders. We watched a couple and after each talk, we would share our thoughts. My mum would share her take-away message and my dad would relate the talk to a real life experience. And even though my sister and I might’ve yawned more than a few times (oops), we did absorb the useful bits (Papa and mummy, if you’re reading this, we really did!).

If I do go away to graduate school (and I’m praying that I do), I’m truly going to miss these extended periods of family time.  After my interview, I really got into the holiday mood and consciously savored the rest of the time there together as a family. You never know when something might be the last time.

Nine years ago, was my maternal grandfather’s last Christmas with us. He passed away suddenly right after Christmas; also, right after my mother’s entire side of the family had been able to get together for a trip to China together with him. From then on, every Christmas is a poignant reminder of how important it is to treasure the times we do have together as a family.

No, family traditions are not just rituals of sentimental value… Rightly explained in Ideas for Creating Traditions, these traditions are landmarks in the memory banks of your family. And in my family, these landmarks are the values and life perspectives that my parents have so intentionally shown my sister and I.

Hope you’ve had some precious time with your family and loved ones this Christmas.

Reframe the Singapore Dream: Restoring Thrift

I was wondering recently on a point raised by Focus on the Family Singapore, “Are today’s young adults, like myself more likely to be encumbered by unprecedented debt – an obvious discouragement to starting a family?” From my point of view, at this moment in time, it would seem that the source of that debt would be the house.

Many of us know the Singapore dream as owning one’s own home. Being in my final year of university, I’m just beginning to feel the weight of this “dream”. I’m surrounded by friends who are in the midst of applying for their first HDB flat. All around, I hear concerns regarding which kind of flat to opt for, ballot results, queue numbers, waiting times and not to mention, how one is going to pay for it. With so much in the way of even getting a place to live, it seems difficult to think beyond that to filling one’s home with family.

The push for couples to have more children then, just seem to be at odds with the current situation to me. On one hand, we’re pushed to marry earlier (Jones, 2012) AND have more children. On the other, there may not be a place for young couples to move into because of the housing shortage and resulting costs associated with having one’s own place.

Expenses & Work With the burden of expenses, many would definitely be concerned with career in order to be able to increase one’s own income. For those of my friends just starting out in the first year of work, they’re wondering how long they would have to work before being able to afford just the down payment for a flat (if they even managed to get one in the ballot).

Time & Age Factor in the time one has to wait before being able to move in, while saving up and the HDB buildings are being constructed, and a couple could be close to 30 years old! Hence, the problem of age and decreased fertility too (Heffner, 2004).

Work Hours & Time for Family Furthermore, after a number of internships, and experiencing the MOM recommended 42 hour-a-week office hours, I honestly do not understand how people are able to work and have the time to bring up their own families. Yet, with all the expenses a family would have, I do not see how one might be able to give up work either. I can understand why fertility and full-time employment don’t really go hand in hand (Ahn & Mira, 2000).

I sincerely applaud those parents who are able to juggle the two, as well as those who have given up career aspirations to spend more time with family and have managed to handle their finances.  At this point in my life, I really am not sure how they do it. As a 22-year-old student, I admit that I may still be ignorant and the above may sound like griping about money and working hours. But, these really are sincere concerns. My peers and I will be the next generation of families and this is the situation that we need to work with.

Yes, the government is working on easing these burdens through the building of more HDB flats, improving subsidies and encouraging employers to work with parents who are employees. However, changes take time. In the meantime, perhaps young people like my peers and I will just have to adapt. We may have to “Reframe the Singapore dream” and be prepared to be flexible with our living arrangements. Moving away from the notion of immediately owning one’s own home, couples might have to be open to adopting a culture of rent. Alternatively, if healthy relationships are in place, a couple might have to move in with in-laws for a period of time. And throughout all this, I guess the fact remains that one needs to learn to be thrifty. Many other couples before us have managed to have their own home while managing finances, work and family. With a good attitude in place, it seems possible to make a good life in Singapore.


Ahn, N. & Pedro, M. (2000). A note on the changing relationship between fertility and female employment rates in developed countries. Journal of Population Economics, 15, 667-682.

Heffner, L. J. (2004). Advanced maternal age— how old is too old? New England Journal of Medicine, 359(19), 1927-1929.

Jones, G. (2012). Late marriage and low fertility in Singapore: the limits of policy. The Japanese Journal of Population, 10(1), 89-101

Thank You, Teachers!

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
– William Arthur Ward

Just recently, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several teachers. They teach in Singapore’s Special Education (SPED) Schools and their jobs seem pretty different from the usual image of teachers standing in front of a board in a classroom of quietly seated students. Many teachers from the SPED schools can’t do that. They are literally with their students the whole time the students are in school, from being beside them instead of in front of them during lessons, to going for toilet breaks with their students. This sort of teaching isn’t so much about imparting content about a subject; this sort of teaching is about living. Great teachers demonstrate and inspire students, not just with regards to the tasks at hand (much of which is academic in Singapore), but also to be the best person they can be.

This summer when I observed teaching that wasn’t about imparting content, the valuable qualities of a teacher stood out to me: compassion, passion, patience and creativity.

  • Compassion. This quality is vitally important if we are to truly have an inclusive society and a stronger Singapore. We need to remember the marginalized, not only the obviously needy, but also those students who fall behind. While doing research for a project my friends and I had to complete for a class, we came across cases where teachers had thought it better for some teenagers to leave school. Yet, being allowed out of the structure of school, many teenagers go wayward. Compassionate teachers are in the perfect position to contribute to the prevention of these unfortunate events through grace and compassion.
  • Passion. Unfortunately, there are bound to be some bumps along the way, and so passion would keep a teacher going. I once had a coach who kept encountering problems with the sporting association. Even though it wasn’t easy to work with the association, he believed in his job and kept on coaching. And passion on his part has led to many victories for his athletes.
  • Patience. Another valuable quality that would help a teacher keep going is that of patience. Learning is a never-ending process, with some learning quickly and others requiring more time.
  • Creativity & Flexibility. Along with different amounts of time needed, different people learn in different ways. We should never assume a one size fits all approach. I remember when my mum (a tutor) used all sorts of methods with her students, from allowing them to explore my grandfather’s garden for science to playing with tiny plastic blocks for math. Even though pen and paper practices were important for the sake of exam preparation, all these other approaches appealed to her students’ own curiosity, inspiring and motivating them to learn. And perhaps such methods of actively engaging students are what teach best.

Fortunately, I’ve been on the receiving end of these qualities and I owe much of who I am today to many wonderful teachers I have had over the years, teachers in the form of my own parents, friends, coaches and schoolteachers. So… a huge THANK YOU to you all and a HAPPY TEACHERS’ DAY!!

Pressing on towards Graduation

Studying is getting more and more tedious. By this second semester of my third year, I am sooooooooooo ready for this all to be over.  Yet, I have 7 more essays, 3 final exams, and 2 presentations in these last 5 weeks before the academic year is done.  School is one place where you’d definitely learn some form of resilience. Just having to get up at 6am every morning for 6 years of primary school is probably enough to give you some idea of what discipline is like.

By now, with the content of some classes being so repetitive, I have come to realize that I’m not in school for the content but for the important life skills I am acquiring. If someone says something, ask really? On the other hand, if the statement is a fact, just accept it e.g. it takes 100 degrees celsius to reach boiling point. It would be rather futile to challenge that.

School’s not just about memorizing everything then regurgitating it during exams (though that is sometimes necessary). More importantly, it is about learning how to think. Things are a lot more exciting when you get to try out your own ideas and have them honed with constructive critique from peers and instructors.

Knowing how to think is important in this rapidly changing world. Especially now, when post-modernist ideas may tell you to dump certain “traditional” ways of thinking e.g. religious beliefs or that morals and values are just social constructs. But if we just went along with that flow, are we not thinking and simply following again? Not all that sounds “right” and feels “free” is right or free. We’ve got to really think about these ideas and what their consequences may be. Would the result really be Utopia?

See, when you believe that school is not all about preparing for exams/assignments, but perhaps about answering bigger questions, it would be more interesting. Work becomes easier to bear, even where there’s a full load ahead. All we can do as students can do is to plod on and know that there will be an end sometime. I can see it now at least. One year to graduation! …and then probably a WHOLE LOT more work ahead, I mean “real” work. In the mean time, I get to practice expressing my opinions and thoughts in a “safer” environment where mistakes may be less costly and more tolerable.  Graduation is my light at the end of the tunnel. J For those in the same predicament, hang in there too!

My Father, My Hero!

Just a couple of days ago, we celebrated my father’s 50th birthday. This year, instead of just having our usual family dinner, we added something extra special!

We wanted to include as many people as possible without having to throw a huge party for a rather private person. So for a surprise, my mother and I collected messages from people from various parts of my father’s life – church, family, childhood and work. And to keep it all a secret, all communication and preparation had to be done on my laptop instead of the family computer (My mum got something out of all this preparation too. She learnt how to use a Mac!).

It was fun trying to keep everything a secret, with some of my father’s friends getting somewhat overly excited. It definitely wasn’t easy dealing with people coming up to my mom or me asking how the celebration went or is coming along when my father was standing right there! And some even wished him a “happy birthday” a little too early because they misunderstood my email! But overall, my father enjoyed getting so many wishes over the course of the past few weeks, even though most of the wishes came on the wrong day.

The messages were a way of appreciating him. It was also to honor my father – by showing him that he has indeed been a blessing not just to us, his family but many others as well.

As I looked back on the preparation leading up to D-Day, the influence that my father has had on the people around him is obvious.

In my father’s long…no, short lifetime so far (OK Papa, you’re still very young), he has been a positive influence although he did ruffle some people here and there. Here are some notes that people have written about him,

 “A source of inspiration, support and kindness to all who know him”

A joy to have around”, “Such a joker”

A COURAGEOUS Leader, Teacher and a Good Father”

A very lovable and genuine guy”

Observing his response (huge smiles and positive comments) as he read each message on the PowerPoint slides, I’m glad that we collated these messages for him. Even big and strong fathers can do with encouragement from time to time.

Have you appreciated your loved one lately? If not, all it takes is a word or two to put a smile on that person’s face

In Conversation

While up in Kuala Lumpur just a little while ago, I took a break from my break to do a little writing. And I must say, so much time spent together as a family, with no distractions is a pretty nice lead up to Christmas. Especially when there’s good food to go around…

Earlier this week, my family drove up to KL, a trip we like to call our “rotting time”. As I am writing this, my sister is soaking in a long hot bath while my parents are enjoying the peace and quiet away from home watching a movie on cable.

It’s been a relaxing week so far, with mornings starting no earlier than 11am and the days themselves comprising no more than massages, shopping, movies, eating… and some swimming to… you know… somewhat compensate for the amount of food we’ve been indulging in.

But along with the consumption of food comes wonderful conversation. The first night here, we had dinner at a restaurant that had a box full of cards with various themes for table topics on each table. Amongst them were amusing questions such as, “What food do you find the sexiest? What would you do differently if you were the opposite sex for 24 hours?” and some perhaps slightly more meaningful ones like, “What was the worst advice you’ve ever received?”

And just tonight, we had a dinner of scallop porridge, soya bean milk and ‘youtiao’ at a small stall in the shopping mall. A dinner that brought back fond memories for some of us. Over the meal, my parents shared with my sister and I, their happiest memories of food they used to have while they were…mm… younger.

Over these few dinners, my sister and I caught a glimpse of the lives our parents had. And those snatches of conversation about apparently silly topics can sometimes lead the conversation into more meaningful territory, areas that reveal much about a person’s thoughts and values.

Conversation over a meal can truly be a powerful bonding tool, if it is steered the right way. I’m thankful that my parents have taken advantage of these times when we’re all seated together to tell us stories they find meaningful or amusing, or to ask us probing questions, or just to catch up with us (my sister and I) and lend a listening ear. That’s a gift that I’ll always appreciate and one that doesn’t only come about at Christmas time. It’s a gift that I hope I can continue to give to my own children too in the future.

What do you think could be a gift that you could keep on giving to your loved ones all year round?