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5 secret Starbucks drinks to order the next time you're feeling fancy

5 secret Starbucks drinks to order the next time you're feeling fancy

Even though hipster coffee shops are overtaking the Singapore coffee scene one siphon coffee maker at a time, there's still something unapologetic about craving for the overpriced sugary frappuccinos at our neighbourhood Starbucks.

However, to truly make that Starbucks experience great, one must have a signature order. Not your boring Soy-Skinny-Flat-White, but the not-so-secret, off-the-menu type drinks that will raise the eyebrows of the poor barista working that shift.

Ordering an off-the-menu drink at Starbucks is apparently so common in the US that an entire website was created to document and share them with others. There are currently over 200 secret drinks!

However, as it's not the norm in Singapore, the Starbucks staff may not know the recipes by heart and it will help to show them the recipes. It will also help to not order one of these drinks during a peak period when there's 15 other people waiting in line behind you slowly growing annoyed at your weird order. 

Pro Tip: Do wait till low-peak times on a weekday, be clear about the recipe and definitely be courteous when trying out one (or all!) of these 5 secret drinks: 

1. The Merlion Frappuccino

The Unicorn Frappuccino is a limited edition colour-changing, sweet and tangy drink from Starbucks US that was only available last month from 19 to 23 April 2017. It went viral ever since Starbucks broke the news.

ooooooh pretty!

ooooooh pretty!

Sadly, we weren't graced with this magical drink here in Singapore outlets, but you can order a Singaporean edition of it instead: The Merlion Frappuccino.



Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Vanilla Frappuccino ($6.00)
1 pump mango syrup ($0.70)
1 pump raspberry syrup ($0.70)
Top with whipped cream and raspberry drizzle

Price: $7.40

2. The Dragon Frappuccino

This drink will not only brighten up your day with its jade-green shade with a fire-licking drizzle of caramel, it will also perk you right up with its additional shot of espresso and Java Chips blended right in for good measure. 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Green Tea Creme Frappuccino ($6.40)
1 pump caramel syrup ($0.70)
Java Chips ($0.70)
Espresso Shot ($0.80)
Top with whipped cream

Price: $8.60

3. The Pink Drink 

We'd never have known that if you mix hibiscus tea and mango tea, you'd end up with a dink that tastes like grapes! No kidding. Add a zing of passionfruit to that, as well as soy milk to create a sweet, froth, silky finish, and you've got a perfectly pink drink for the next sunny day.

Recipe for Grande-sized drink: 
Iced Hibiscus Mango Passion Fruit Tea ($4.40)
Add Soy Milk ($0.60)

Price: $5.00

4. The Nutella Frappuccino

As much as we'd love to devour an entire jar of Nutella when the craving strikes, that's seriously nutty, nut-job behaviour. So we'll let this drink be the next best thing. A Java Chip Frappe, a spurt of hazelnut syrup and mocha sauce, and presto! You've got liquid Nutella! 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Java Chip Frappuccino ($6.80)
1 Pump Hazelnut Syrup ($0.70)
Java Chips ($0.70)
Top with mocha drizzle

Price: $8.20

5. The Cheesecake Frappuccino

Did you know that you have the option of having any pastry, cake, even sandwich, liquified into slurpable form?! It doesn't guarantee that the barista will do it for you, of course. Think about the poor fella who has to wash a ham and cheese croissant out of the blender. 

Stick with a cheesecake to play it safe instead. It goes shockingly great (and creamy) with your choice of a vanilla or mocha frappe. 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
1 Raspberry White Chocolate Cheese Brulee Cheesecake ($6.50)
Mocha or Vanilla Frappuccino ($6.00)
1 Pump Raspberry Syrup ($0.70)

Price: $13.20

Fun (and totally not last minute) things to do this Mother’s Day

Fun (and totally not last minute) things to do this Mother’s Day

In case you've been living under a rock with your iPhone and free wifi, this Sunday we celebrate Mother's Day in Singapore. 

And while she might be happy with flowers and a mushy hand-drawn card, there are plenty of ways to say thank you for a mother's love. And one of the best ways is to spend some quality time with her. Here are some fun, non-cheesy, not-too-expensive thing you can do with her on Mother's Day. 

1. Take her out for a fancy, yet homely, meal

Be it brunch, afternoon tea, or dinner, Mum deserves to feel like a queen for that day. God forbid, she ends up cooking for the family on Mother's Day! 

For the spice loving home-style mama, Violet Oon's is having a authentically Peranakan Mother’s Day buffet brunch! Expect a lip-smacking spread of home-cooked Nyonya fusion delicacies like the classic Nyonya spicy chicken stew and buah keluak nuts, sambal fish, and Violet Oon’s very own signature shepherd’s pie.

Considering that Violet herself is a mother of two and proud grandmother of three, this meal at the cozy Bukit Timah cafe is sure to leave you all with family feels.

Time: 11 May, 1130am-1pm, 130-3pm
Place: Violet Oon, 881 Bukit Timah Rd, S279893
Price: Around $65 per adult, $35 per child (6 to 12 years old, children under 6 dines free)

2. Go on a road trip up to our neighbour's

Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 11.18.40 PM.png

One of the best things about living in Singapore is that it can be faster to drive out of the country than to travel to Changi Airport. If you're not looking to bare costly airfare for the entire family over the weekend, consider going on a road trip to Malaysia instead.

You can travel all the way up to Penang if you're up for a long-distance journey, or just hop over to Desaru, Malacca, or KL if you're not looking to drive too much. The whole point is to spend some quality time with your Mum, and nothing like being put together in a vehicle to achieve that.

Those who don't own a car can easily rent one in Malaysia at 1/3 the rental rate. Just be sure you know what to do should you get into a road accident while you're there.

Accommodation can also be relatively cheap when you're holidaying in Malaysia, not to mention the sheer joy your Mum might have dining and shopping too knowing that not too much money is being spent, with the currency exchange rate at an all-time high now.

3. Treat her (and your dad!) to a hotel staycation...

This one will likely work if you have lots of siblings to share the cost with. For the tireless mum who deserves the five-star treatment, treat her to a staycation right here in Singapore.

Staycays don't necessarily mean booking an expensive luxury hotel, a quick browse through Agoda on their mobile app might land you some last minute deals at a boutique hotel that's half the price but also with stellar service, top-notch amenities, and free toiletries she can bring home.

There are also some pretty fancy penthouses and apartments available for booking on Airbnb that's worth checking out. If you're lucky, you can end up booking a house at Sentosa Cove!

4.  ...or Glamping works too

Glamping, a play on the words, “Glamour” and “Camping”, is an activity that combines the adventure of traditional outdoor camping, with the glamour of fancy hotel-style accommodation. Perfect for those who want to experience the outdoors but not sacrifice modern comforts - like a comfy bed with fluffy pillows.

Treat your mum to something uniquely different so she have bragging rights when all her friends got flowers for Mother's Day, but she got this:


This beauty is put together by a local Airbnb host called Lydia, who will handle all the setting up and beautifying of the place so you don't have to. 

You can also request for a picnic basket and/or a bottle of champagne to complete the experience for your adventurous mama this special day. 

How do you stay happy when you feel like giving up?

How do you stay happy when you feel like giving up?

What’s making you unhappy?

You were happy before. But now going through life seems like a dreadful chore. You feel disengaged and bored at school. You don’t want to leave this damaging relationship because you still want to make it work. You know things can get better but you don’t know where and how to begin.

Being unhappy is no good for you and the people around you. No one wants to be around someone who’s unhappy with themselves and neglects their responsibilities. And your loved ones definitely hurt when they see you hurting too.

Change begins with you. We present 6 actionable steps that we hope can be taken right at this moment to start being happy.

1) Start your day off with something to look forward to

How your day starts determines how the rest of your day goes. Have something to look forward to whether in between or at the end of the day. Something that keeps your mood up and excites you. Some examples are attending a class you’re passionate about, reading a book, meeting up with a friend you haven’t seen for a while, or simple things such as eating your favourite food, visiting your grandparents, or giving a relative a call.

One thing you should constantly remind yourself is, you don’t need other people or material possessions to make you happy. But don’t get us wrong. Spending time with your family and friends is something you should look forward to and can help you stay happy at work when we possess relationships out of work we can count on.

However, placing your happiness in the hands of another and expecting them to make you happy does not work. You’re in charge of your own happiness. You know yourself best. So, start filling up your day with little things that make you happy.

2) Set goals, and focus on one thing at a time

We should set goals to accomplish things in life - our dreams, our achievements, our responsibilities. It could be to ace that group presentation today, complete writing that report, or being consistent at the gym.

We need to establish daily, weekly, or monthly goals. Our goals provide us direction, help us to look forward, keep us motivated, happy, and enable us to evaluate our performance gradually. When we’re focus on completing a goal, we feel challenge and put in our best effort to achieve it. We need to find meaning and purpose in our life to pique our interest and curiosity. 

All this is important so that we do not find ourselves stuck in a repetitious cycle of doing things that doesn’t help us to grow. This is what causes you to feel emotionally and mentally disinterested at what you're doing. 

3) Create a playlist to boost your mood

This depends on whether you can concentrate on the things you're doing when listening to music. Most of us listen to music when we’re on the MRT, when we're studying or at work, and even when we sleep.

Music enhances our mood and is capable of making us happy. Most of us don’t live alone, and there’re all kinds of conversations, phone calls, and distraction that can get overwhelming. That’s when you need music to help you lay off the distractions and outside noise.

People also listen to music to manage their moods and create a barrier from their external surroundings. It can be helpful, depending on what you choose to listen to. Our brain is constantly trying to process new data; therefore, you may want to avoid any new music when you’re dealing with a project with an upcoming deadline because your brain is unable to focus. Therefore, listening to familiar songs can do wonders for helping you concentrate.

4) Stay away from gossip and drama

As much as we can, we need to learn to step away from gossip and drama that surrounds us. Unless it involves you directly, it saps our energy and leaves us more dreadful than before. It does nothing but cause us temporary satisfaction when we hear of what befalls others, but ultimately, the outcome is pointless and does nothing to benefit our lives. This is unhealthy.

Politics exist and happen everywhere – whether in school, in the office, and even amongst friends. There’ll always be someone or a group of people involved in gossiping and stirring up drama. You may not prevent it, but you can choose to step away. While it may seem entertaining or refreshing to hear something juicy, it doesn’t do you any good. Plus, it can often make you seem untrustworthy in the eyes of others.

5) Start a side project

Do you want to spend the rest of your life building the dream of someone else? No.

You have dreams you want to fulfil. You may not have what you need to fulfil them now, but you can constantly work towards it. What you choose to do on an everyday basis will never fail you. Remember that.

Pick something you are interested in, and work towards developing it into a potential career. Even if it doesn't pan out, at least you have created a hobby out of it, and most importantly, you have enjoyed it. 

For instance, if you've always wanted start an online leather-crafting business, you can start by setting aside a portion of your allowance/salary and spend it on courses or training to understand more about the techniques of working with leather. With that, you can start small and slowly boost your business.

When you have a side project to work on, it motivates you to work harder and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This thought process not only helps you to perform better at work or in school, it also helps you to develop into a better person as you move towards your dreams.

F1 Program: Raffles Girls' School Students Design a Car

F1 Program: Raffles Girls' School Students Design a Car

F1 in Schools Programme

Basecamp sponsored Team Zenova from Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) for the F1 in Schools Programme. The team members share their experience in this short article.

Designing our car from scratch, extrusion after extrusion and design after design, was quite an arduous but meaningful experience. We were uncertain about how to design- when we first got our hands on the Autodesk software, everything was just a jumble of functions and really just trial and error. We soon managed to get the hang of the designing tools and started to think of the different ways we could incorporate the reasoning and science behind aerodynamics into our design. Through observing and understanding this, we changed and adapted the design accordingly. 

we feel that we have also grown as people. We learnt to be resilient when faced with challenges and to find new solutions to solve them

We then put together our ideas into a concrete design on Autodesk, which allowed us to model exactly what our car would look like, by drawing sketches on planes and extruding them to give the 3D body of our car. We then made sure that our car followed the competition regulations for the specific measurements of the car, as a part of the judging that our car would go through would largely be on whether we could meet them. It would greatly affect how well our car would show during the actual competition, for every regulation broken, penalties in the form of a point system would be dealt out, affecting the final score of our car.

First draft of car design (on paper)

First draft of car design (on paper)

Car body and digital design

Car body and digital design

The manufacturing process was no doubt a tough process. We had to learn from scratch the workings of the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, research on what was the best way to assemble the car and then put it into practice. As it was a hands-on role, the teachers could not provide much assistance and we had to learn by trial and error. The manufacturing process alone took over 2 days. Needless to say, it was a difficult process, full of obstacles. One wrong move and we had to start over again.

Our car being milled with our school’s CNC machine

Our car being milled with our school’s CNC machine

However, we cannot deny that it was definitely an enriching experience. It allowed us to acquire knowledge on the technical processes and further acquaint ourselves with the manufacturing of a car. This is area of study is outside of our usual school-based curriculum and widened our knowledge of engineering and design, really giving us insight into how designs are brought to life, from mere sketches and planning to something that really does function. 

Besides picking up new skills, we feel that we have also grown as people. We learnt to be resilient when faced with challenges and to find new solutions to solve them. For example, we sent out many emails to seek sponsorship from various companies but we were rejected more often that not, meaning that it was extremely hard for us to obtain the resources we needed to build our car and fund the entire project. For the design aspect, in order to make the ball bearings faster, we managed to obtain the views of a milling company. This allowed our ball bearings to move faster than the others. 

These were the first few steps in our journey to design and build our car, more details regarding the rest of our design and race will be covered in following articles. Stay tuned!

6 food items that double as cleaning hacks for your room

6 food items that double as cleaning hacks for your room

Cleanliness is next to godliness. My interpretation of that used to mean that keeping your room clean is just as boring and un-fun as being a "holy holy" goody-two-shoes.

Over the years, however, I discovered that some food items double as both snacks as well as cleaning hacks to help keep things neat in my room without breaking a sweat, the bank, and my social life on the weekends too. 

Here are 6 food items to help in sorting out your room's mess (that you can easily find in the kitchen now).

1. Get rid of funky smells from your shoes and shoe cabinet with an onion

No mums had ever walked into their child's room and announce, "This place smells like crap, but I love how clean it is!"

Before you set out to tackle the mess, you need to first get rid of any odors. Your nose, personal hygiene, and anyone that has to live under the same roof as you on a daily basis will thank you.

As bizarre and counter-intuitive as it may sound since onions themselves are considered smelly food, they can actually help clear up bad odors by absorbing them. Just cut an onion in half and leave it in your shoe cabinet overnight. When the onion smell fades the following morning, so will all the other bad smells. 

2. Make your room smell super nice by dabbing baking extract on a light bulb

Scented candles are all the rage now in Singapore. The problem is that they create smoke, are a fire hazard if left unattended, and can be expensive as hell. 

One brilliant hack I discovered thanks to the World Wide Web is to dab a few drops of sweet-smelling baking extract like vanilla or cinnamon on the light bulb in my room. Do this when the light bulb is cold so you won't burn your finger, and when you switch the light on, the heat from the bulb will cause the extract to emit a scent to fill your entire room. 

If you don't want to use baking extract, this trick also works with your favourite perfume, cologne or your choice of essential oils too. 

3. Use alcohol to shine windows and wooden surfaces

Guess alcohol isn't just for getting yourself smashed, it's great for cleaning too. Add some cheap vodka into a spray bottle, spritz your windows and mirrors and wipe with a polishing cloth to make it shine. The alcohol properties acts against the glass surface to disinfect and prevent it from getting easily smudged or stained in future.

Similarly, add some beer into a spray bottle and squirt some against any wooden surface, before rubbing with a polishing cloth. The beer removes any dullness from over the years and adds a nice, shiny coat to your scruffy desk or ancient Ikea wardrobe. 

4. Use mayonnaise to polish your piano

This sounds absolutely crazy, but it's true. The first time I read this over the internet, my face was all like: 

I laughed for a good 20 seconds before I decided it's too good not to try it out. Plus, it doubles as a great story to share as Facebook content. (also, putting a look of horror on my mum's face added to the laughter)

Turns out the mayonnaise polishes the ivories of the piano keys way better than my previous expensive piano cleaner! The creaminess of the lather also prevented me from scuffing the keys while I was polishing them. I used to hate accidentally leaving tiny scratches all over my piano while cleaning it previously. 

And no, I know what you're thinking, but there was surprisingly no weird smell post-cleaning. So, for those of you who are struggling through piano lessons, this is a great way to enact some revenge on the piano for all the hours of practising you had to endure - by smearing it with some mayonnaise while still getting some shine out of it. 

5. Use baking soda to clean and shine jewellery

Especially in heat-drenched Singapore, the build-up of perspiration and humidity can dull your jewellery. Here's a simple hack to clean your necklaces, rings, and other 'bling-blings' without the need for any harsh chemicals.

Mix 2 tablespoonful of baking soda with one cup of hot water and let your jewellery sit in the solution for 10-15 minutes. Remove them and rinse, and slowly polish with a clean soft fibre cloth (a spectacle cloth is perfect) until they look brand new. 

6. Prevent your brightly coloured clothes from fading with black pepper

After constant wearing and never-ending trips to the washing machine, your favorite Cookie Monster t-shirt has gone from electric blue to a dulled out version of itself. We know you'll probably keep wearing it anyway (It’s a classic!), but did you know there's a super simple hack to keep those bright colours from succumbing to their faded fate?

You could pump the washing machine full of chemicals found in commercial detergents which also cost a ridiculous $9 and above, or you could Instead try shaking 1-2 teaspoonfuls of black pepper into your coloured laundry load.

Don’t worry about flakes of pepper dotting your clothes like black dandruff, the pepper will all wash out during the rinse cycle, preserving your colours for yet another trip to the rave. 

Why fractions is not as useless as you think

Why fractions is not as useless as you think

Many of my teaching friends agree that teaching fractions can be confusing and complex, and I'm sure that many of their students feel the same learning them as well.

The worst part is that if you are unable to grasp maths concepts such as fractions in the early stages of your education, they can go on to confuse you later on throughout your education and cause a great deal of math anxiety (not to mention a great deal of maths tuition too). Students need to intuitively understand these maths concepts instead of pure memorizing such as memorizing the timetable, as memorization doesn't lead to long-term understanding.

So, teachers and parents, how can you make fractions more fun?

Instead of relying on ancient techniques such as pie charts to teach fractions, nowadays there are online games to help students really grasp the concept of fractions through number lines or models.  

For instance, Brain Pop is a website that offers animated lessons, games, and even homework help, to make learning a whole lot more fun. Their Battleship Numberline game allows students to bomb a battleship using fractions between 0 and 1.

Other techniques for younger students include cutting up paper into thirds or sevenths to understand what denominators mean, and to see which fraction is bigger. 

By using number lines, it can help students to compare different fractions, which may be harder to do with pie charts. A pie is divided into pieces and it may become confusing as a pie divided into sixths can look very similar to a pie divided into sevenths. Number lines will also help in emphasizing how to compare fractions, before students go on to learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide them.  

So, students, why should you learn fractions?

Singapore is routinely ranked at the top in global comparisons of mathematical ability, with the UK government announcing last year that half of England's primary schools will adopt the "Singapore model" of teaching maths. It may seem that as a nation, we keep raising the bar for students' math performances, but this is not without reason. 

Research have proven that by understanding fractions at an early age, it actually unlocks other educational achievements such as IQ development, reading skills, and of course, it acts as the foundation for more advanced maths and science skills like algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry.

While some of these higher level subjects seems only to be crucial if you are keen to pursue a career path in the science and technical industries, basic maths concepts like understanding fractions are crucial for everyone to master as it can improve your daily living skills too - such as sports, cooking, and best of all, being awesome in playing pool. 

He must have scored A1s in Maths his entire life. 

He must have scored A1s in Maths his entire life. 

Leadership lessons from a shirtless dancing guy

Leadership lessons from a shirtless dancing guy

You have heard a lot about leadership from different sources and different people. But have you taken any leadership advice from a shirtless, dancing guy? Let us watch a movement unfold in 3 minutes and dissect the important lessons that a shirtless, dancing guy can teach us.

So what are some important lessons we can take away?

1. If you have a vision, dare to make a difference

The shirtless guy wanted to see people around him dancing, instead of lazing around on a bright Sunday afternoon. So what did he do? He started with himself, dancing away passionately, regardless of the weird stares that people gave him.

2. If you want to make a difference, make it easy for people to follow

You have a vision in your head. How do you get it across to others? Perhaps, you can use a thousand words to inspire and to challenge. Or you can just get to doing things, which was what Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the shirtless guy in the video did, because action speaks louder than words. Either way, help your followers know what they are expected to do.

3. If you have people following you, know that your followers are as important as you

Yes, you may be the one representing your team on stage to receive a medal. Yes, you may be the one everyone consults to see whether a plan is workable. Yes, you may be the one the juniors look up to. But don’t you get a big head. You are where you are today because people voted for your promise; people decided to entrust their future to your vision. Never forget that.

4. If you are a follower, know that without you, the movement will be one person less

And when there are only a few people in the movement to begin with, you role is indispensable.

Many a times, we look to a movement and only see the leader. We only see the brain of the vision. We forget that without followers, an idea cannot become a movement; without followers, the leader is only a lone nut. And out of all the followers, the first follower is the most important. If the leader gave birth to the vision, then the first follower is the mid-wife that brought it to this world. He was the one who first stood by the leader. The one who joined hands with the leader and gave him all the encouragement and reassurance to labour for his vision.

5. But with you, the movement will only be one person more too

Of course your presence is important when there are only a few people to begin with. However, it is annoying when someone acts like he/she is part of the “in crowd” and makes a big fuss out of it.

Once an idea has gained momentum, it is no longer risky to be part of the movement. There are too many people for you to be ridiculed if the movement fails. And if it succeeds, well, you will be ridiculed for not joining. What is there to gloat about when you are just sitting on the fence until you see which side is clearly more advantageous?

And the key takeaway for today… Leadership is over-glorified. All our lives, our schools have been training us to be leaders. As if we can all be leaders. If you really, truly, care about something, go and find a leader to follow. Society needs 10 successful movements consisting of 1 leader and 9 followers way more than it needs 100 lone nuts parading the streets.

Do you like what you see in the mirror?

Do you like what you see in the mirror?

From the diet pills craze in the 1960's to the Atkin's Diet restricting carbs in the 1970's to the extreme endurance events of the 2000's. People have long inspired to change their body size throughout history. We are always looking for a way to slim down and tone up. 

When you look into the mirror, do you like what you see? 

Body image in the age of social media 

Now more than ever with Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, we have newer and more critical ways to compare ourselves with others. More specifically, to compare our bodies with other people's bodies. 

Thanks to an array of free photo editing apps, we also have the power to alter our looks. We can now cover up pimples, make our eyes bigger, our complexion glowly, all with a swipe of a finger. All these tools can be a lot of fun, but they can become deceptive as well. Everyone on social media has become hotter, thinner and completely unlike their real self. The danger happens when some people become obsessed for hours over the "perfect" selfie to post on Instagram, or when filtered Instagram feeds become reality to them. 

A toxic mirror

Psychologists have found evidence linking social media usage to unhealthy body image issues such as a drive for thinness, narcissism, and self-objectification in teenagers. This doesn't mean that being on social media will cause these problems, but there is proof of a strong co-relation between them.

Don't you think you want a certain amount of likes on the photos that you post? I've been guilty of deleting a photo which didn't get the number of likes that I wanted. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are giving young people the tools to earn approval for their looks, as well as to compare themselves to others nowadays, and it will be good to catch yourself and pull yourself back when you feel that you are treading on dangerous grounds. 

Ultimately, these are virtual approvals which should never mean anything to us. The only approval that matters are those of your own, as well as those of your loved ones. 

A clear line between a 'like' and your self-worth

Insecurity always stems from comparison. I try to avoid comparing myself, my work, and my image with others. It's hard sometimes when all I see when my Instagram feed is flooded with toned bodies in bikinis frolicking in exotic locations. But one thing that always boosts my confidence when I need it is to stay positive and true to myself.

One thing you can do with close friends is to write everyone's names down on individual pieces of paper. The paper is then passed around and everyone take turns writing down what they genuinely like or appreciate about that person. But all anonymously, so no one knows who wrote what. 

For example, if Jason's paper comes my way, I will write down how I like that he love animals and spends his holidays at the SPCA with the strays. I also think he is tall and plays basketball well. When Sue Lynn's paper comes my way, I can write down that I think she looks pretty without makeup on and I love her sense of style. She is not fat so I hope she stops thinking of herself that way. 

When you produce positivity, positivity tends to come back to you. Another step that we can take towards creating a more positive body image for ourselves is to unfollow the Instagram/Snapchat accounts that create an unrealistic expectation for our lives and our looks. We can't all be Kardashians, can we. And start following more body-positivity accounts. Some accounts to start with can be @nadiaaboulhosn, @aerie and @Proud2BMe

With more and more body-positivity accounts and movements gaining momentum, I think it's only a matter of time until our universal definition of beauty is replaced with a broader idea of beauty. Not one that is dictated by the media. 

Now more than ever, a good old-fashioned "I love you just the way you are" as you look into the mirror may just be what we all need.

Should we be concerned about the Selfie Culture?

Should we be concerned about the Selfie Culture?

I literally had to sit my boyfriend down and explain to him why it was important for me to Snapchat the new and interesting things we experienced when travelling overseas.

He was growing annoyed with the way he always had to wait until I had snapped a photo of the food we're about the partake, before getting to taste it. Or the way he would turn around to excitedly talk to me about something beautiful that was unfolding before our eyes, only to see that I was looking at it through my iPhone's camera lens instead of savouring the moment for what it was.

Me. All the damn time. 

Me. All the damn time. 

I understood where he was coming from. But could he also see my point of view? Snapchat-ing has become a way for me to compile travel diaries of the places we went to, as well as to share them with close friends. I showed him a compilation of snaps that made up an entire week of our trip to Osaka, and I could see him appreciating the memories re-unfolding before him again.

We had managed to reach a tentative compromise.

The selfie culture

The phenomenon of constant photo-taking or video-taking with a phone is something that occured only within the last decade. While it’s debatable when holding out your phone to take a photo of yourself became a ‘thing’, in 2013, ‘selfie’ was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.

It's defined as  “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website." With over 200 million users on Snapchat, and over 600 million on Instagram, more and more young people are using selfies to communicate with each other.

And it’s not just to communicate, but every moment, mundane or not, seems to need to be captured, just in case. Sometimes I find myself thinking in squares when I'm taking a photo because I want to use it as an Instagram post later. I know of certain friends who carefully edit and curate their selfies, posting them at certain times of day – and making sure it is not too frequently or infrequently - in order to get the right number of likes.

I also know of certain friends who will delete a photo they have posted just because it doesn’t get likes quickly enough. Is all of this really necessary? Should we be concerned about the long-term effects?

What are the dangers of the selfie culture?

Branding yourself is not a new concept. However, branding yourself with a certain image that you want the world (or your followers) to see is the new form of personal branding.

Someone might only post photos with white backgrounds, or of a certain filter, or perhaps within a certain pantone colour theme. Selfies often are captioned with poems or song lyrics. Sometimes, the more elusive and random, the better. I guess there's nothing wrong with all of these. I would argue that it only becomes dangerous when a lot more of our time is spent capturing moments rather than living life and enjoying moments.

The danger of this selfie culture is the constant comparison game. Even though the majority of millennials are doing it, most still fall victim to comparing themselves to the picture-perfect-fantasy-life that others are portraying. Or worse, that the media is flooding us with. The power of these social connections, can give you a high when you receive positive reinforcement, and a low when you seemingly don’t. Comparing the number of likes can then become a slippery slope leading to potential issues such as depression and self-harm, low self esteem and narcissism.

So what is the solution?

Change your mindset from Dependence to Independence. Instead of trying to get a rush of connection, power, and self-worth from how many people like your photos, find a different way that puts you in control.

Find your experience of connection by forming deep, real bonds with people who genuinely care about you, and that you care about too.

Find your experience of power by pushing through your fears and challenging yourself by not posting anything on social media for 24 hours. I started this as a kind of dare to myself, but slowly found that I was relishing the offline moments and now have managed to wean myself off constantly checking Facebook and Instagram every few hours. 

It's not about never taking another selfie ever again, or shutting down your social platforms. It’s about filling those desires in other ways (in real ways) so you no longer need anything from selfies. And their importance diminishes.

The Crow and The Peacock

The Crow and The Peacock

There once was a crow who lived in the forest. He had been absolutely satisfied in life, until one day, he saw a swan. “This swan is so white,” he thought, “and I am so black. This swan must be the happiest bird in the world.”

Day after day, the crow would fly to look at the swan. He was so bothered by his thoughts, that one day he expressed his thoughts to the swan. “Actually...” the swan replied, “I was feeling that I was the happiest bird around until I saw the parrot, which has two colours. I now think the parrot is the happiest bird in all of creation.”

The crow then approached the parrot. The parrot explained, “I was feeling that I was the happiest bird around until I saw the peacock. I have only two colours, but the peacock has multiple colours.”

The crow then visited a peacock in the zoo and saw that hundreds of people had gathered to see her. After the crowd had left, the crow approached the peacock. “Dear peacock,” the crow said, “you are so beautiful. Every day thousands of people come to see you. When people see me, they immediately shoo me away. I think you are the happiest bird on the planet.”

The peacock replied, “I always thought that I was the happiest bird on the planet. But because of my beauty, I am entrapped in this zoo. Everyday I look around me, and I have realized that the crow is the only bird that's not kept in a cage. My friend, looking at you, I have been thinking that with your freedom you are the happiest bird in the world."

Isn't that our problem too? We constantly make unnecessary comparisons with the people around us. He has nicer shoes... She is prettier than me... Their family gets to travel overseas so frequently... These comparisons lead to a vicious cycle of unhappiness, and we slowly lose sight of what has been given us. 

Learn to be happy with what you have been blessed with instead of looking at what you don’t have. There will always be someone who will have more or less than you. Not to say that we do not strive to achieve our wants and desires, but happiness is when we are satisfied with what we have in life without being bitter about what we do not have yet. 

5 of the worst faults a leader can have

5 of the worst faults a leader can have

Leaders should lead as far as they can and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit.
— H. G. Wells

Most of us, if not all, will have the opportunity to be in a position of leadership. Whether in the classroom, your CCA, in National Service for the guys, or in the workplace in future.

by definition, a leader is one because he/she has followers. If you find yourself in a leadership position yet are not listening to and working on behalf of your followers, then you can't possibly call yourself a leader.

There is no such thing as a perfect leader. Extraordinary leaders are not born, but made. Which is why good leaders are conscious about improving themselves - through self-refection, investing time in others, and figuring out how to get the most out of everyone around them. It's hard to pinpoint what makes a good leader, but here are 5 things we can be sure that good leaders do not have:

1. Being egocentric

Simply holding a leadership title doesn’t automatically make one a leader, and one of the worst faults a leader can have is too much ego, pride and arrogance. People in leadership positions must accept that it's not all about them and remember that, while they may set the overall tone and direction, they are not necessarily the most important person there.

If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self”, they will not inspire the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. A true leader is most concerned with the well-being of their people, investing time in truly understanding their needs and giving value to their opinions.  

2. Being bad at communicating

Great leaders can communicate effectively. They not only speak well, but they listen actively, think fluidly, and knows when to dial it up, down, or off. When leaders are able to describe what they want done in a clear and succinct way, it helps their followers prioritise what they need to do effectively. For example, if the general cannot express where he wants his troops to travel to next, the entire army is confused and thrown into chaos. 

This being said, having good communication skills is more than just directing others to follow you - it's also about maintaining healthy relationships and developing the ability to encourage your people to envision the same goals as you. Your role is to paint the bigger picture so that your followers understands your vision and what is expected of them. In an office environment, this is illustrated best when seeing the CEO of the company making it a point to talk to staff on a regular basis. By cultivating healthy lines of communication, it will result in creating a more positive and productive environment.

3. Being a micromanager

Have you ever had a designated project leader delegate the various roles of a group project but end up breathing down each of your necks to check up on your work? Didn't it make you feel annoyed, as well as not feeling empowered to get your part done?

One of the most common mistakes a leader makes is to keep focusing on what they're good at and what has been proven to work in the past. If you cannot let go of your desire to be an effective "doer", this prevents you from having your eye on the bigger picture, as you will be busy trying to make sure everyone else is doing a good job. This is also known as micromanaging others.

Micromanagers can produce good results, but they alienate their followers along the way. One way to avoid this is for leaders to make conscious efforts to share their goals and the intent of actions with their teams so they understand the direction to move in together. An effective team should act like a school of fish, individuals moving in the same direction while giving each other the space required to perform their tasks. 

4. Practicing favouritism

I remembered when I was a prefect in secondary school. Whenever there was a surprise spot-check, I would be the one helping my friends to hide their contraband items because the teachers wouldn't check the prefects.  

This made me look good in the eyes of my friends, but I'm sure my other classmates hated me for that. When someone in a leadership position singles out individuals to play favourites with, it can be one of the most damaging problems as there is no chance to build a culture of trust. If trust is low, people instinctively assume the worst intent rather than the best intent. This is extremely divisive, and worse, it might start to pit peers in the same team against each other. 

And good leaders will not allow that to happen. 

5. Lacking in commitment

During World War II, Captain Henry "Jim" Crowe of the United States Marine Corps said the following words to his troops: "You'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!" The Purple Heart is one of the highest order that a soldier can be awarded, and is usually awarded for extreme bravery and honour.

When Captain Crowe made that statement, it was more than just an order. it was his action of not showing fear, and leading by example by being in the front lines fighting alongside them, that motivated his men. If a leader expects his or her team to work hard and produce quality results, they're going to need to be down in the trenches working alongside everyone else.

There is no greater motivation than seeing the person in-charge prove that hard work is done on every level. Showing commitment to the cause will not only earn respect among your followers, but instil a passionate energy within them as well. If you've pledged something, keep your word. You want to create a reputation for not just working hard, but also be known as a fair leader. The best leaders build into their team, support their team, and genuinely care for their team. 

Are you a fish climbing a tree?

Are you a fish climbing a tree?

O level results have just been released, and different people are feeling different kinds of emotions right now. If you have done well, congratulations! Do not rest on your laurels but keep up the good work. If you did not do well, read on.

Sometimes, people around you may look at your results and automatically assume that you are lazy. Or even worse, assume that you are stupid. But you yourself know that you are neither. Einstein (the all-knowing man) knows too.

Einstein once said,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

A monkey may be able to climb a tree much faster than a fish. But so what? Maybe you are not cut out for studying. But so what? In 1983, development psychologist Howard Gardner suggested the theory of multiple intelligence, which rocked the worlds of education and psychology. The theory posits that rather than one single type of intelligence, humans actually possess several – most of which are neglected by exams such as O levels.

Here are the different types of intelligence mankind have. Look through and see which are the ones that you have a natural affinity for.

Visual-Spatial: think in terms of physical space. They like to draw, do jigsaw puzzles and read maps. E.g. architect, sailor.

Bodily-kinaesthetic: use the body effectively. They like movements and making things. E.g. athlete, surgeon.

Musical: show sensitivity to rhythm and sound. They love music and are sensitive to sounds in their environments. E.g. dancers, musicians.

Interpersonal: understand and interact well with others. They have many friends, show empathy for others and are street smart. E.g. salesman, counsellor.

Intrapersonal: reflect deeply and understand one's own interests and goals. They are in tune with their inner feelings. E.g. blogger, writer.

Linguistic: use words effectively and often think in words. They like reading, playing word games and making up poetry or stories. E.g. interpreter, writer.

Logical -Mathematical: able to reason, calculate, think conceptually, and explore patterns and relationships. They like to experiment, solve puzzles, ask cosmic questions. E.g. scientists.

What is your main intelligence type? Once you have figured that out, develop your potential to the fullest. If a fish tried its hardest to climb a tree, sure, it might evolve into a mudskipper and slowly hop up the tree; but if instead, it devoted all its efforts into swimming, it just might become a sailfish— the fastest fish in the world—capable of out-swimming a great white shark and a blue whale. At 110km/h, it is the cheetah of the ocean.

And similarly, society needs all types of talent in order to function. If everyone is a doctor, who will create beautiful music and art pieces to help us achieve work life balance? If everyone is a lawyer, who will go into the Olympic stadium and fight for our glory, fight for our pride? And if everyone is an accountant, who will earn the money for them to count in the first place?

Remember, you are indispensable. You are unique. And you are not any less just because you did not do well in the O levels. And should any monkey tell you otherwise, challenge them to a race of a lifetime. Let the monkeys eat your dust when you have become a swordfish. Or should I say, bubbles.  

4 tips to help you reach your new year goals

4 tips to help you reach your new year goals

We are more than 10 days into 2017 and the new year is not so new anymore. For some of you, you are settling back into your old routine and the new year resolutions that you made at the turn of last year, once so hopeful, seem unattainable now. But do not give up yet! Here are a few interesting research findings that can help you psycho yourself into achieving your new year goals. #freshstartstillgotchance

1. To eat less, reduce your portion size

This actually works for like me, a lazy glutton. Eating from a small bowl means that I have to get up more often to refill my bowl. Sooner or later, the effort needed to get off my bum more than outweighs the satisfaction I get from eating vanilla ice cream sprinkled with peanuts. That is when I stop. And I eat a lot less than if I carried the entire tub of ice cream to my room to eat while watching Korean rom coms.

2. To spend less, reduce the amount you withdraw each time

Instead of withdrawing $50 each time, opt for the minimum amount of $20. The underlying principle is the same as the one behind tip 1. Having to go to the ATM makes you think twice about spending your money that fast. Additionally, watching your money in your wallet dwindle rapidly to zero turns on your siege mentality and prompts you to become aware of your spending habits.

The worst way to manage your money is to pay everything by debit/credit card. A Dun and Bradstreet study showed that people spend 12-18% more when using cards instead of cash. And it’s not hard to understand why. When paying for stuff only involves punching in a few numbers and hearing a beep – not having to hand over your hard earned money— we easily lose track of how much we spend. Unless you want to go through your monthly bills religiously to analyse how your money miraculously disappeared into thin air, choose cash over card.

3. To maximise your enjoyment, get interrupted

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it. But it makes sense because of the human race’s ability to adapt. By breaking up a pleasurable experience (such as a massage or listening to songs) into 2 or 3 parts, you avoid getting used to the sensation (hedonic adaptation) and as such intensify the subsequent experience. Doing everything in one go, such as having a movie marathon, makes you numb to the stimuli. Maybe that is why so many people start using their phones by the third movie.

The reverse is true too. 2.4km, no matter how painful it is, should always be done in one shot. Do not ever stop halfway because that will only amplify your pain when you start running again.

4. To be happier, imagine a world where the things or events that make you happy disappeared

This is another counterintuitive one. To make yourself happy, think of a situation where you aren’t as fortunate? Yes! Research has shown that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one’s life will increase your happiness even more than thinking about the positive event itself.

So imagine…

If you have never met your best/ boy-/ girl- friend…

If you are an orphan…

If you aren’t living in Singapore where you need not worry about your next meal

Perhaps that is why many students who go on overseas CIP trips report higher satisfaction with their lives when they are back; seeing people who are way less fortunate than themselves make them wonder what if all the things they took for granted are stripped away.

That is when they learn to treasure the things they take for granted more. 

A Basecamp Student Shares His Experience with Our Tuition Centre

A Basecamp Student Shares His Experience with Our Tuition Centre

basecamp is my favourite tuition centre in singapore.jpg
My time spent here was indeed a meaningful and unique one and I am definitely glad to have spent my time there at Basecamp

As a student who lamented in mock-misery about all science related subjects, I dreaded going for chemistry lessons in school. I was initially hesitant about coming to Basecamp as I had already resigned to the fact that I would remain stuck with my failing grades for chemistry. However, my perspective of chemistry totally changed once I entered Basecamp. I remember seeing the colourful mural paintings accompanied with white walls, adorned with aesthetic embellishments. I also met Caleb on the first day and although I was rather reserved, he warmly welcomed me while trying to assess my style of learning. (I am an auditory learner, apparently!)

With a “practice never betrays” mentality, he teaches us the concepts first and then gives us a lot of practice to help us prepare for the rigour of the examinations.

Over the course of the next few months, I discovered my passion for the subject and found the concepts to be riveting! Caleb would always show us a few video clips in an attempt to arouse our interest for the subject while simultaneously demonstrating to us how chemistry can be applied in the contemporary world. He would also give us snacks when we appear to be dozing off. His genial and patient personality makes it easy for reserved students like me to ask questions when in doubt. With a "practice never betrays" mentality, he teaches us the concepts first and then gives us a lot of practice to help us prepare for the rigour of the examinations. My classmates also practice assiduously and the environment allows for a healthy and friendly competition.

Gradually, I have come to the realization that this is not just a mere tuition centre; but a community where our interest for the subjects we take are ignited. My time spent here was indeed a meaningful and unique one and I am definitely glad to have spent my time there at Basecamp :)

Formal Learning vs Learning

Formal Learning vs Learning

Growing up in a typical middle-income Singaporean family, the importance of education was always stressed to me. Growing up with an older sibling made it challenging as my parents would (knowingly or unknowingly) start comparing our grades. "See? Your korkor got into the Express stream. You can also do the same or even better, okay?"

I don't doubt that a formal education is valuable to us. It will land us a job and help us succeed within our workplaces. It will open us up to understanding what's happening around the world and prevent us from being close-minded.

But there is a huge difference between formal learning in subjects like Chemistry and Higher Mother Tongue, and learning. Learning from life and from our life experiences. I first realised this difference when I chanced upon BBC's Planet Earth documentary as a 14-year-old. The filming techniques used for those episodes were considered ground-breaking, and watching them, I finally understood Science the way it has never been taught through a textbook. And it started me down the path towards Biology and a strong interest in the natural world. If you think Science is boring, take a look at this episode from the recent Planet Earth II, and think again. 

It's sad that especially in Singapore, we have been taught that a formal education is quite valuable to us while the lessons we learn from our life experiences aren’t held with the same value. It is the lessons you learn in your life (when learned properly) that can lead you to happiness, good health, and continual fulfilment.

I believe learning throughout the entirety of our lives is vital for our growth and evolution. Think about it, did we stop learning when we were 5 years old? Of course not, we’ve gained a considerable amount of knowledge from the time we were 5 until now. So you might say, “Of course I have learned, I went to school.” But what about after poly or JC or uni, did you continue to study in a classroom setting or have you been learning from your life outside of the classroom?

There is immense value in knowledge and in knowledge of one’s self. Someone told me the other day that they were “good at this moment” and felt that they “didn’t need to learn anything else right now.” I gave them a simple bit of advice and said “Now that you are good, you should want to learn even more because life keeps moving. Since you are feeling good right now your mind is relaxed, and therefore open to new knowledge. Learn more now because it might be knowledge that will help you at a later point in your life when you’re not so good.”

This year, I want to encourage all of us to never turn our backs on learning something new. Instead of watching that next episode of 'Game of Thrones' on Netflix, how about switching over to a documentary instead? Instead of a cat video, how about youtubing how to play the ukulele instead? What you learn today could help you or someone else in all of your tomorrows. Never stop learning. 

How to stick to your New Year's Resolutions (and achieve them!)

How to stick to your New Year's Resolutions (and achieve them!)

Whether it was pledging to score a particular grade, save a certain amount of cash, or to stop going to so many hipster cafes, we hope you stuck with your 2016 new year’s resolutions for more than three days.

What's the secret to actually following through on your plan to lose weight, to get organized or to spend less? Is it even possible to achieve your new year's resolutions!?

We've come up with 5 goal-setting and behavioural changes that if you keep in mind and put to practice, just might help you land that six-pack this year.

Clearly define your goals

Many people in the spirit of New Year, and at the stroke of midnight, loudly proclaim, “This is the year I’m going to finally get in shape.” But what does that mean? Do you have a certain number of kg in mind you want to drop? Want to reach a body-fat percentage goal? Finish a 2.4km run without passing out? Set specific, measurable goals for your new year's resolutions and it will help in spurring yourself towards a clearly defined goal.

Also set achievable resolutions. If you have been scoring straight Fs in Maths for the past years, it would not be realistic for you to suddenly get an A next month. Start by achieving a 'D' by Mid-Year exams, and then a 'B' by End-of-Year exams. 

Track your progress 

There's a saying popular among psychologists that goes, “If you can measure it, you can change it”. If one of your resolutions is to lose weight, start tracking what you eat by keeping a journal or downloading tracking apps like myfitnesspal.

By tracking your daily/weekly/monthly progress, these measurements will be a source of motivation for you as you reflect on where you started and see how far you've come. They will also help you to identify moments in your progress where you've started to slack off so you can adjust your efforts, or get friends to help keep you accountable in your journey.

Set aside time for your goals 

How often do you hear people say they can’t “find the time” to do something. Well, here's news for you! Nobody finds time. We all choose to make time with the 24 hours we are given. Whether that's lying in bed bingeing on MacDonalds while watching Netflix or joining your mates to run at the gym.

Make your new goals a priority and actually schedule them into your calendar. If you have a fitness goal, schedule 2-3 times a week for your workouts. If you want to save money, limit yourself to one Starbucks run a week, and then slowly drop it to one every 2 weeks. If you want to declutter, set one specific date on a weekend to clean out your wardrobe. Think of these time blocks as important appointments with your friends. Just like you don't suddenly ditch your friends (I sure hope you don't...), don’t automatically schedule something else over them. 

Publicize your goals

Speaking of being accountable, as embarrassing as it might be to announce your specific resolutions to the world, social support is critical. Yes, it will take some personal courage and vulnerability to share something that you might actually fail at. But to dramatically increase your odds of success, you will want as much support from those around you as possible.

It could be as simple as sharing a Facebook status about your resolutions this year, or even set a goal together with a group of close friends ('Score a B in Physics', 'Save for a graduation trip to Tokyo together', 'Club only once a week') so you can all spur one another on towards reaching that common goal.

Something is better than nothing

It's better do achieve something than nothing at all. So if you have a 'all or nothing' mentality towards your new year's resolutions, it's time to stop. If you don’t have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20 minutes you can. If you have a financial emergency and can’t save your full 10% this month, just save what you can.

The bottom line is, any effort towards your goal is better than no effort at all. You never know, the difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge, and towards the end of this year, you will suddenly realise that you're a lot closer to your goals than you have ever been before. 

4 New Year's Resolutions every student should make

4 New Year's Resolutions every student should make

Year after year, as a student, you have probably made the same old resolution to study harder, score better, party lesser, and sleep earlier. Year after year, you have probably also found it difficult to achieve all thanks to making ridiculous resolutions like waking up at 6am to study.

Now that 2017 is upon us, here are 4 New Year's resolutions that you might find a lot easier to succeed at, and even actually enjoy doing. 

1. Set aside a small portion of your allowance each month

Singapore students tend to be divided into two camps - those who work part-time as waiters, call-centre employees or roadshow flyer distributors; and those lucky few who get decent allowances from their parents. The former tend to go crazy shopping whenever payday arrives, the latter tend to live from allowance injection to allowance injection.

Whichever the category you fall into, this year, make it a promise to save a small portion of what you get every month. It could be $10, $20, or even more if you can afford it. Stash it in a piggy bank right at the back of your closet if you have to, but do not touch this money. By the end of 2017, you'll know what it feels like to have some savings and appreciate how much time and effort it took to achieve that. 

2. Explore something that can actually be a future career option

Instead of blindly assuming that you will try to go for the highest paying job you can get after you graduate, try identifying something that you might actually like to do for a living. And then dedicate this year to exploring it fully. Research more into it, talk to someone in the field you're interested in, and see if there's a part-time job available where you can learn more about the industry.

Whatever it is, it's ten times better than being clueless about what you want to do when they graduate. Or worst, make your career decisions by default (I took a design course, so obviously I should try to become a designer even though I have no interest in it). Pssst... here’s news for you: In the first few years of your working life, many of your peers are going to drop out of their initial careers and try something else. Some will even job hop for years until they find something they like.

Don't worry too much about whether this something that you are going to explore this year is considered a "money-making" kind of job. Your goal for 2017 is just to explore how you can use the skills developed from an interest/hobby. Maybe you’ve realised you like to write. You can spend the year exploring how to use your writing skills, researching more into tips on how to write faster or better. You might even end up starting your own blog, or penning freelance articles to some websites. 

If you have no idea what you'd actually like to do in future, take this brand new year as a time of soul searching. It's better to do all this now than to wait until you’re stuck in a job you hate.

3. Participate in more after-school activities

While some of your fellow classmates might be crazy about CCAs and spend all their time running around organising events, many others will just show up for the occasional class outing and then mysteriously disappear until they pop up again during exams.

This is a pity, as Singapore schools have so many programmes these days. From overseas exchange programmes that enable students to immerse themselves in another country for a few weeks/months, to a whole plethora of community engagement opportunities that contributes back to society from animal welfare to visiting the less fortunate. You’re spoilt for choice.

Even if you’ve always been the too-cool-for-school sort, in 2017 make it a point to put yourself out there and get involved in something. You might have no idea what you want to do with your life now, but participating in activities like the above can help to nudge you along the path to self-awareness more than lying in bed all day watching Netflix will.

4. Don't burn yourself out

At the start of a brand new year, many students may find themselves feeling that extra motivation to want to be better and strive harder. That's okay. It's the same kind of magic that cause grown adults to make crazy resolutions like "I am not going to buy any more shoes this year!"  

But if you're not careful to pace yourself, you might find yourself working your brain and body into a frenzy during the first few months, and then burn out when May comes. Remember this important phrase: slow and steady wins the race. Work consistently throughout the year and plan ahead. 

Complaining less

Complaining less

Complaining is the national pastime in Singapore. We complain about the weather. Too hot. The cost of living. Too high. The education system. Too stressful. The public transport. Too crowded. The only thing we do not complain about is the food (after all, who complains about Michelin starred chicken rice?)  

However, sometimes we complain so much that we go about life with a frown which no amount of gracious deeds, kind gestures and good food can lift. This is bad for both your own health and those of the people around you. Research has shown that when we complain, our brains produce stress hormones which break down neural connections in areas used for problem solving and other cognitive functions. Additionally, by dwelling on the negative side of things, our dissatisfaction with life also increases. This does not just stop here; misery spreads. By complaining, you also make people around you more negative and more prone to stress related problems.  

If you are convinced about the need to cut back on this national pastime of ours, then here are a few tips to aid you along. 

1. Observation versus complaint

There is nothing wrong with stating an observation. If you say “It is hot outside”. That is just the truth. But when you are frowning and fanning yourself impatiently, all the while seething “Why is Singapore so hot? I am sweating so much. I hate this place!”, you are most likely complaining. Remember, it is not what you say but how you say it that turns an observation into a complaint. 

2. Turn your dissatisfaction into action

Do not just sit around moping, whining and seething. God did not just give you 2 eyes, 2 ears and a mouth. God gave you a pair of hands too. And if something is bothering you, think about what you can do to improve the situation. After that, actively take charge of your life. 

Recently, there was a bird which will start cawing at 6am and brusquely wake me from my sleep. The first few days, I cursed that bird in my dreams after moving to another room to continue sleeping. But eventually, I wrote in to the town council (nicely) to reflect about the bird nuisance. As of now, they have already tracked that bird down to a particular tree and I believe that very soon, the annoying bird will be bundled to the zoo (muahaha). 

3. See the positive side of things

Every cloud has a silver lining. Every half empty cup is half full. When you are fixated on how badly things are going for you, force yourself to see the brighter side of things by using the “but-positive” method. 

“The train may be crowded, but at least it did not break down.” (phew)

“School may be boring, but at least I have friends who are all in this together.”

“My parents may be naggy, but at least they give me pocket money…” Oh come on, surely your parents deserve more credit than this? What about all the times they stood by you when you were sick, sad or smelly? What about the love, attention and time lavished on you? Surely you can find more than just one positive about them?

To quote Tom Wilson, you can complain because roses have thorns. Or you can rejoice because thorns have roses. 

4. Separate yourself from chronic complainers

If there is one thing more harmful than second hand smoke, it is second hand complaining. At least when it comes to your emotional health. Friends who are negative will cause you to become negative too, without you even realising it. Help your friends to become more positive by getting them to see the better side of things. If this is easier said than done, then it is time to keep some distance between friends who are overall nice people, but who just complain too much. 

Remember, like attracts like. Think positive, and positive things will happen to you. 

Learning from Christmas Eve

Learning from Christmas Eve

Every year on December 24, my parents let my siblings and I select a present from under the Christmas tree in our living room, and open it after dinner. It was a sneak preview, a teaser - a little taste of the things to come on Christmas Day itself. And we as kids relished it. 

Christmas Eve has always been the perfect picture of anticipation to me. The sleepless excitement... the chance to celebrate the potential gift of giving, and of being thankful. It was for something I look forward all year for.

But as I grew older, I slowly realised that many people don't seem to share this same hopefulness. I am obviously only one person with my own set of experiences and feelings, but as I talk to others, many of them share a general feeling of frustration and distrust towards this day that seem to promise to fill the emptiness they’ve felt all year long.

To them, Christmas is a reminder of the inevitable disappointment of life. To some, the answer to the question, “Did you get everything you wanted?” is, an unfortunate no. 

Why can’t we be happy? Why can’t we be satisfied? Why this constant desire for more? Will we ever be content with what we have, the secret Santa gifts, and the toys under the tree?

Maybe the answer lies in the night before the big day.

Having a different Christmas Eve attitude 

When I was taking my World Cultures module in university, I was interested in understanding how popular holidays are celebrated around the world. One fascinating thing I learnt was that Christmas is important in the Spanish culture, but not celebrated the same way as in Singapore. 

In Spain, families will get together on Christmas Eve (called La Nochebuena or The Good Night) and have a church service. The night isn't about gift-giving; it's about feasting and family, gratitude and commemoration. It's not about 'me', but about 'we'. It's about being together and not getting things from each other.

Contrast this to how we spend Christmas Eve in Singapore. It's usually a mad last-minute rush to buy the presents we forgot. To make sure that our gifts are deemed by our friends as cool and not lame. It's hoping that our friends got us what we wanted on our Christmas list of things.

This was an epiphany to me. That our culture can avoid the pressure placed on a day typically about spending money, and refocus on slowing down. Instead of frantically rushing around or freaking out over Christmas. We can simply enjoy the time we have together with loved ones.

So today, as Christmas Day is just 2 days away, I hope that we can see how the magic of Christmas is not about it being an event, but a process. Where we can be thankful for a chance to experience the good things: spending time with family and friends, taking a break before school starts again, reflecting on who you want to be in 2017. 

3 ways to cope with failure

3 ways to cope with failure

I failed. Parents hate hearing these two words.

You failed? Students hate the consequences that follow these two words.

In our society, there is a stigma attached to failure. When a child fails PSLE, his parents feel ashamed to even get out of their house, let alone bring their kid to their relatives’ house during Chinese New Year. When a student runs for an ex-co position and doesn’t get it, her fellow peers gossip and malign behind her back, especially if she isn’t that popular to begin with. Because of such a social climate, it is no wonder that people tie their self-worth to their ability. There is no room for error; there is no time to cut themselves some slack. Once they fail, it is the end of the world.

Or is it?

Although it may feel like it, failure is not the end of your world, and definitely not the end of the world. Here are 3 steps to help you cope with failure.

1. Be nourished by failure. It helps you to grow

You can’t fail if you are only doing stuff that you have already perfected, such as watching TV on the couch while getting spoon fed by your mum. The fact that you failed is a testament that you have stepped out of your comfort zone, and tried something that you weren’t good at. Good job!

Had you succeeded, it will be a sign that this thing is getting a bit too easy for you, and that it is time to move on to something more challenging. But most of the time we humans are lazy. We see that we have succeeded—going from being spoon fed to eating on our own—and we tell ourselves, good job, you have arrived. Then we spend the rest of our lives watching TV on the couch, proud that we can feed ourselves.

But when you fail, you hurt, like having a needle shoot out from the couch and pricking the most tender part of your butt. Ouch. This needle causes you to reflect. Where did this needle come from? Why did it suddenly appear? Has this needle been festering the whole time?

Have I been complacent in my studies? Was I not hardworking enough? Or was my goal too ambitious at the moment? Maybe I should improve myself more first before tackling this challenge again? Failure leads to reflection and reflection helps you to know where and how to improve. From this whole ordeal, you will emerge stronger, taller and wiser.

2. Wait! Make sure you learn from your mistakes.

The tendency for humans to go easy on themselves is so prevalent that it also applies to failure. Before you tell your parents that failure is unconditionally good and they should embrace every single failure of yours, let me qualify by saying, failure is good, so long as it does not become a habit. That’s right, every failure should be a new experience and from every failure, you must take away at least one lesson.

To illustrate this point, let me tell you a story.

One day, Billy the buffoon was walking past a travel agency when he saw a sign that said “Want to go on a cruise? Only $1,000! To be paid in cash”.

Billy the Buffoon thought to himself that a cruise would do his health good so he went to POSB, withdrew $1,000 and brought it to the travel agency. Right after he handed the travel agent the cash, he was knocked out cold.

He woke up floating on a barrel down Singapore river. Another guy floated past him and asked, “Do you know if meals are provided?” Billy the buffoon looked at him, smiled the smile of a seasoned veteran and told him, “Last year they didn’t provide any meals. This year should be no different.”

Are you going to be like Billy the buffoon who never learns? Because if you are, then scrape step 1. You are better off thinking that failure should be avoided at all cost.

3. Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo

If you, on the other end, exist on the other end of the spectrum and are too harsh with yourself, then know this: failure may be able to shape you and mould you, but it will never define you.

When a tree is fertilised, it is piled with dirt and filth. The compost may smell bad and look bad at that moment but eventually, the filth gets broken down into nutrients and helps the tree grow. The compost disappears and what remains is a taller and lusher tree. No one looks at the tree and goes, oh just 275 days ago, this tree was covered in shit and smelled like shit. Similarly, whatever is past is past. Do not live as if you are still living and breathing failure.

Life is a journey into the unknowns. Sometimes, you will see marvels and experience wonders. Other times, you may fall prey to misfortune or slip up so bad that you are just inches away from the edge of a cliff. However, all these moments are valuable. Years later, when you look back, you will identify these experiences as the moments when you grew teeth, gained muscles and sprouted wings – to journey the tough terrains of the earth.