Sunday, 24 February 2019

Exemplary Young Mother Award, Ju-ann Thong.

The story of Ms Ju-ann Thong (Ju-ann), 35 with 3 kids of her own, taught me about how it takes a village to raise an adult. 

No doubt Ju-ann won the Exemplary Young Mother Award given by Jamiyah Singapore, but the award is just the tip or snapshot of her hardscrabble journey where she never walked alone at every critical point of her life. 

The first critical point was when Ju-ann discovered that she was adopted. When her adoptive mother went to the toilet in a casual doctor’s visit, the doctor told her this: “Do you know your mummy is not your mummy?” She was only 9 then. 

She was told that she was the third child from a poor family and her biological family had a gambling habit. So she was given up for adoption.

Ju-ann said: “At a young age, your parents are your world. I felt empty, insecure and I feared that I would be abandoned one day.”

She felt that way even when her adoptive parents took good care of her and “never short-changed her”. 

Then, the second critical point was her first marriage. She married young at 23 but “divorced her hairstylist husband after three years as they had very different personalities. They have a son, Mathias, who is now 12.”

This second crossroad led her into an emotional downward spiral. 

Theresa Tan, who wrote the article, reports: “She got into a relationship with a man whom she later found to be an abusive gambler. The relationship lasted about three years and he left her with almost $100,000 in debt, largely from a car loan. After he fled the country, his creditors came after (Ju-ann), who fell into depression, quit her property agent job and spent her time sleeping. In seven or eight months, she lost almost 20 kg and had to seek medical treatment for depression.”

Her third critical point started off blissfully. Ju-ann remarried. Her husband, Brian Lim, was also a divorcee. 

Mind you, it was not love at first sight because Brian “had tattoos all over his body.” And she had her reservations. 

It took a while to win her over with what Ju-ann described as this: “He was very assuring, very attentive, very down to earth and his simplicity and sincerity won me over.”

They got married in 2016 and Meagan was born shortly after. At that time, Brian and Ju-ann had stable jobs and doing fairly well until another bombshell was dropped into their lives. 

Brian was diagnosed with Stage 2 transitional cells cancer, “a type of cancer that affects the urinary system.” By this time, their youngest son, Mikel, was just 3 years old. 

She said: “I felt my world crashing. I was very afraid he will die. Brian gave me a lot of light when I was at my lowest and now that my tattoo man is down, I must give him double or triple the light.”

Alas, one critical point after another, from adoption, to divorce to cancer, and depression, Ju-ann fought back, supporting her three children, working doubly hard, making ends meet and so on. She said: “Getting five hours of sleep a night is a luxury.” 

This was where the village of help poured in. She posted her love story with Brian on Facebook and “received many offers of help when she shared that her family’s finances were strained after (Brian) lost his job (due to the closing down of his company).”

Not just that, “a group of mothers she befriended online has also rallied to support her. For example, they sold their bags and baby carriers and raised $15,000 for her family.”

Now, Ju-ann has gotten back to her own two feet but life is still challenging for her. She like many has gone through much and her fight goes on. 

Nevertheless, I believe she was given the Exemplary Young Mother Award because she never stop moving forward with her life, never losing hope. And she couldn’t have made it without the help of others, especially her children. 

Lesson? One and I take my cue from Ju-ann’s own words: “When life brings you down, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Because when you ask for help, you never know what may come along.” 

This is true, for the world out there - you may have heard - may be cruel, but humanity has a soft spot, and its button is a touch of empathy and compassion. 

Sometimes, it takes courage for you to step out and press it, and in return, little miracles, or small stepping stones, can happen. 

Everyday, you take the train, travel for lunch in a busy district, and walk home to your home, you are surrounded by hundreds of strangers, even your neighbours may be unfamiliar to you. And when you open up your online world, you are again immersed in an ocean of ”strangers” whom you may interact sparingly and infrequently, and never have a chance to meet.

Yet, as Ju-ann’s experiences have shown, these strangers can form a bridge or a chain of hope for you. They can help in ways that nudge you forward and the differences they make - although small - may be what it takes to lift your life and spirit up - slowing, incrementally and surely.

Apart from this village of strangers (and friends) that came to Ju-ann’s aid, there is also her immediate family that inspired her deeply. This is the part that I can resonate with. 

When Ju-ann was going through depression after her divorce, the one that got her “out of her funk” was her son, no more than 6 years old at that time. 

She recalled: “Mathias would knock on my door and say, “Mummy don’t cry, I will wipe your tears. Mummy don’t cry. I will hug you.””

Ju-ann said that “without him, I wouldn’t even step out. I thought: Do I want to be a leech in his life or do I want to lead him in life?” 

Those words (options) were incredibly powerful as a wake up call for any parent. Sometimes, it takes our kids to remind us why we are here on this earth, our purpose, our hope. 

Let me end with Ju-Ann’s words: “My kids are a very clear reminder that I should never crash. Their smiles keep me going every day. I know I need to be strong as they need me.”

Indeed, this mutual dependency leads to our independence, this mutual encouragement leads to our personal courage, and this mutual restoration and hope lead to our strength and resilience.

Alas, for me, the point of our greatest overcoming is not in the awards we get before the crowd of witnesses. That’s usually where a chapter of your life has come to a conclusion - for recognition comes after the overcoming. 

However, the greatest overcoming in our life is at a point where unfailing love responds. This may just be the lowest point of your life. But when love responds, you know you cannot remain as you are, that is, defeated and dejected. 

When Mathias offered to wipe Ju-ann’s tears and hug her, Ju-ann woke up and was given a new lease of life. She saw the light even in the darkest tunnel. And she took that step of faith to her eventual recovery, overcoming. 

That critical point is where love is not only unfailing, but it is also unwavering, unceasing. Cheerz.

Christmas Disney Light-up...the meaning of Christmas?

It’s a lamentation. NCCS has made that clear. 

Dr Ngoei Foong Nghian (of NCCS) said that although Christmas is “celebrated by non-Christians and is seen as a time of feasting and gift-giving,” but (he) lamented that its treatment in Singapore has increasingly become secular and commercialised.”

What’s the commotion (or lamentation) about? 

Well, it’s the Christmas light-up at Orchard Road. 

If you take a drive down, you will notice that this year’s central theme revolves around Disney characters. More than 20 Disney characters are featured including “Snow White and Cinderella, as well as the Toy Story characters Woody and Rex.”

Dr Ngoei said: “Christmas, at its heart, is a festival in the Christian calendar which commemorates the incarnation and birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” 

But he lamented that in “the first of a three-year collaboration between Disney and the STB,” the original meaning of Christmas has been “buried under the thick layer of this extensive and sophisticated brand promotion exercise.”

In a letter written to STB chief executive, Dr Ngoei called the move “particularly disappointing” and “its exclusive focus on Disney characters has no meaningful connection to the season of Christmas.”

This is the message from the organisers. “This year’s family-friendly, Disney-themed light-up follows the same approach, and is intended to complement the spirit of friendship and conviviality that we hope visitors will experience as they travel down Orchard Road. Together, these offerings provide a range of experiences for different groups of visitors, both Christians and non-Christians.”

The good news is that STB and Orchard Road Business Association want to “initiate a conversation for (all parties) to better understand each other’s views and perspectives.”

Lesson? Just one. Actually, the conversation to understand each other’s views and perspectives is rather obvious.

Everybody knows that Christmas is for the Christians. It centres around a Savior, a Cross and the promise of an overcoming life. 

But nevertheless, this has to be said: if Jesus would have his way, I do not think he would want it to be commemorated on a day sometime at the end of the year, or for that matter, any other day in any month of the year. 

For that, we have the communion to remember him by. We have the Bible that details and chronicles his life. And we also have church services to renew our faith and hope in Him. 

In fact, truth be told, Christmas was a borrowed holiday originated from a paganistic celebration and adopted for expediency reasons. As such, the object that Dr Ngoei had in mind (that is “at its heart, (Christmas) is a festival which commemorates the incarnation and birth of our Lord an Saviour Jesus Christ”) was not its original intention. Of course, I am merely calling a spade a spade. 

But over the centuries, we Christians (or the Catholics) had appropriated that day, the 25th day of December, to be our very own and it has been so ever since. 

Nevertheless, the evolution of Christmas is about the significance we bring onto that day and we have given it meaning through our celebration, personal devotion and family gathering in remembrance. 

The truth is, the heart of Christmas is not in a day, in a place or in a particular manner we decorate a stretch of road swarmed by unsuspecting tourists and opportunistic commercial interests. 

Now, I have nothing against Orchard Road, and I enjoy going there for my book purchases. But whether we like it or not, Orchard Road will always be Orchard Road. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is not a place of worship (or commemoration), but a place where you shop to get the best discounts for branded goods. 

And let me say that even if we had kept the focus on the true meaning of Christmas at Orchard Road (where we have done for the last decades), its underlying consumerist culture would still overpower the message of the Cross. 

Let me end with the words of Senate’s Chaplain Richard Halverson: - 

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moves to Europe, where it became a culture. And finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

...and then, it moved to Orchard Road, where it became a brand. Alas, a brand that turns Calvary into no more than a tourist attraction. Cheerz.

Kim's Dictatorship, Women's liberation and Google Walk out.

Be warned, this is a lamentation. Or a ventilation. I don’t do that a lot but in the article today, ”North Korean women “subject to sexual abuse”, I (as a husband and father) can’t help but tear in my heart for the victims in a world that is infested with this ringing propaganda: -


With that triumphant (mostly deluded) endorsement comes a rights group expose on how “North Korean police and other officials (have been preying) on women with near-total impunity.”

After interviewing more than 50 North Korean escapees, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) “chronicled gruesome details of abuses perpetrated by civilian officials as well as security officers such as border guards.”

To catch a glimpse of this horrid report, here is what was written. 

“Every night some women would be forced to leave with a guard and be raped.” - said one victim in her 30s who was held at the border detention centre.

“Traders who smuggle goods across the border with China to sell at state-sanctioned private markets are forced to pay “bribes” including sexual favours.”

“Perpetrators include managers at state-owned enterprises, and gatekeeper officials at the markets and on the roads and checkpoints, such as police, prosecutors, soldiers, and railroad inspectors on trains.”

Alas, the corruption goes all the way down to the justice system of the dictator’s state. And justice has a new meaning in the isolated state. “The concept of rape is different in the North...where it is seen as applying only if violence is used.”

So, if you, as a helpless 16-year-old, go silently into the night with a guard or official and submit to his wicked ways out of fear, confusion and resignation, it is NOT rape. 

This was what happened to an anonymous trader in her 40s. She said she was being treated like a sex toy “at the mercy of men.”

“On the days they felt like it, market guards or police officials could ask me to follow them to an empty room outside the market, or some other place they’d pick, where they forced sexual encounters.”

“It happens so often nobody thinks it is a big deal. We don’t even realise when we are upset. But we are human, and we feel it. So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don’t know why.”

Lesson? ...some lamentation are beyond words. I am a father with two young daughters and I cannot imagine my daughters, out of nowhere, crying at night in a god-forsaken cell and not knowing why. The pain is so deep, the confusion so numbing, and the spirit so broken that they have lost the “whys” of living.

You wonder, for those who are dying, are they already dead? For those who are weeping, are they already forgotten? For those who are struggling, are they already abandoned? And for those who are praying, are they already silenced?

Recently, Google staff conducted a public walk out over harassment and inequality. It reports that “the demonstration follow a New York Times report last week that said Google In 2014 gave a US$90 million exit package to Mr Andy Rubin after the then senior vice-president was accused of sexual harassment.”

Of course, Mr Rubin denied the allegations, which he said contained “wild exaggerations”. But Google curiously did not dispute the report. 

It is noted that “the report energised a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, improve treatment of women and minorities, and ensure company upholds its motto of “don’t be evil” as it expands.””

I inserted this news here because if Google is a microcosm of a world where employees take their initiative to demonstrate and stand up for the weak, oppressed and abused, where is such a world then for the women of North Korean where the only motto the young and vulnerable have ever known is “let’s be evil” and be evil under the badge of honour, in the name of protection and under the refuge of shelter and care. 

The director of HRW, Kenneth Roth, said: “Sexual violence in North Korea is an open, unaddressed, and widely tolerated secret. North Korean women would probably say “Me Too” if they thought there was any way to obtain justice, but their voices are silenced in Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship.”

And what is their beloved leader doing now? 

Well, he is “planning an unprecedented flurry of summits with world leaders, as he steps up his push to ease sanctions four months after the landmark meeting with US President Donald Trump.”


Something just boggles your mind. Who is a leader if not someone who leads. Who is someone who leads if not someone who leads to bring his people out of poverty. Who is someone who leads to bring his people out of poverty if not someone who sacrifices his own interest and comfort for his people, regardless of age, sex, colour and creed. And who is someone who sacrifices his own interest and comfort for his people, regardless of age, sex, colour and creed, if not someone who is a trusted leader, and a trusted leader whom the people can safely put their whole heart, hope and life on. 

So, let me end with this ringing endorsement again: -


Yup, nothing to envy. 

Truly, there are no lies for which we are truly punished except the lies we tell ourselves. But the tragedy is that some lies are told so often, so ingrained and so widespread that it has elevated itself to self-evident truths. 

And the biting irony is that only the innocent, those who “sometimes, out of nowhere, cry at night and don’t know why”, are punished. 
Sadly, my lamentation sees no end...Cheerz?

Vincent Lim PhD - PSLE "124".

This has been written before, but there’s always something different, and worth even repeating, when it comes to personal encouragement. 

Vincent Lim was not an academically bright student. He started out as an EM3 pupil in primary student, “a stream for academically weaker pupils that was scrapped in 2008.”

But he worked hard, never gave up hope and today, at 33, he has a PhD. 

From polytechnic and later graduated with first class honours from NTU, he read biology and is now employed as a research fellow at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. 

A quiet, introvert individual, Dr Vincent Lim has come a long way from being an academically struggling student to a top class researcher. 

Lesson? Three. 

1) This first lesson is about self worth and empathy. Vincent said: “I remember lying sleepless for a few nights thinking as though I had lost my identity. It took me a while to accept that fact (limits of his abilities) and to use hard work to overcome my limitations.”

I believe a life goes through a lot of those crossroads, that is, a time when you feel utterly worthless, losing your identity, and thinking that there is nothing much you can do about it. 

This is where empathy comes in. Vincent understands this. He said that he believes “weaker students tend to have lower self-esteem, which means they care a lot about what others think about them. 

“Everyone is fighting a battle you cannot see. So always be kind.”

That’s the part that goes to the heart of the issue. We are all going through our own personal battles that are invisible to others. 

Some take a shorter time to realise that they can overcome it, and finally do (overcome) for that season of their life, while others take longer. Most times, they don’t even know they are in the battle, struggling to find a way out. Some even choose to escape from it, deny it and hope it will go away. 

But sooner or later, circumstances will force them to face it, to confront it. It will be lonely fight of one against many naysayers - a fight for your self-worth. This brings me to my second lesson. 

2) It is about never giving up, finding a way, and Vincent puts it aptly: “Despite the situation you are in, there are always ways to go on. Don’t give up on yourself, and you will find a way.”

In your battles to reassert and reaffirm yourself, your self-worth, you must know that your enemies have a weakness. They all share one common foe that they know will wear them down eventually. And yes, that weakness is for you to keep calm and keep going on. You don’t just put that in your mug, you inscribe it in your heart.

I believe Vincent understands that intimately, viscerally. He is where he is today because he has found ways to go on, even on days when there seem to be no way. 

I believe the greatest breakthrough in a person’s life is not so much in achieving success, but in defeating failure. 

But first, let me just say how failure can be daunting...

It may be said that when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. But when you are at rock bottom, most times, you don’t even know where is up. In the pitch darkness of your disappointments, pain and self-condemnation, all you can hold on to is that piece of rock (at the bottom) that keeps you safe, but down. 

And this brings me to my third lesson (because I am not done yet)...

3) Vincent said: “Aside from the practical intentions of grades and certificates being a way to enter or build a more primary function of the education system is to give our children a sense of hope. Education should leave them feeling hopeful, and not hopeless.”

They say hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have is not permanent. Well, it is not. Really, no. 

Whatever feelings you have at rock bottom, they are not permanent. The one thing about hope is that it is a forward moving force. If you hold on to it, it would not leave you in the same way (or spot) you were before. 

It may take days or months or even years to move you up, or out of the darkness, but hope is prepared to take every step with you just as long as you never let go.

Hope is there when you fall again to pick you up. Hope is there to offer you a firm hand when you break down and cry out like you never did before. And hope is there even when you think you have given up because hope is never so convinced that nothing can be done. 

Alas, ultimately, hope is whatever you see as a door or a light or a hand or a voice that never let you go, never let you (stay) down. Even in your darkest moment, when all seems lost, hope is never bankrupt, never crushed. 

As long as you are alive, hope is alive. For this reason, hope is you, that is, the air you breathe, the thought you conceive, and the step you take. Your choice to hold on to life, is a choice to hold on to hope.

Let me end with this thought for parents. Like me, we want them to do well. We want them to be the best they can be. But sometimes, we unconsciously crush their hope, not directly academically, but their hope for us to have hope, or continue to have hope, in them. 

Like a chain reaction, hope rides on hope, especially the hope our children long for from us. Our hope for them is like a womb that incubates their hope in themselves. 

Everyone of us need someone to believe in us. And for our kids, the greatest encouragement we can offer as parents is to assure them that we believe in them, no matter what. 

And believe it or not, our approval, our pride and our trust in them give their hope wings to soar. It is their launching pad to fulfill their own dreams. Cheerz.