The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Signs of growing poverty in Singapore.

It is the odd little things that speak most loudly about a situation. Today, I saw one of those and was saddened by what it implied.

I was walking through an HDB area in the west of Singapore when I saw a middle-aged Malay woman, of perhaps 50 years old, clambering through an uncultivated green area that banked onto the road. It lay between an HDB estate and a shopping mall and MRT.

It was strange enough to see her clambering up this bank. It was stranger still to realize what she was doing. She was picking leaves, one by one, or in bunches, further down a branch, of plants. She had a plastic bag in one hand, which was already bulging with picked leaves. She seemed to be careful of which ones she chose. It was very clear what she was doing. This woman was picking her family's dinner from the side of a road. There were too many leaves for one person, in her bag. This was her way of "shopping" for vegetables.

I didn't wish to stare, but I looked long enough to understand the situation. She didn't look up the whole time I observed her. Her eyes were on the leaves, which she picked slowly, choosing only the best.

More saddening was that there were shops within 2 minutes walk of where she worked away. Clearly, she couldn't afford to buy vegetables, anymore, for her family - so she made do with these publicly available "vegetables". I only hope that she knows which leaves are edible. I am heartened that she was taking her time, so perhaps she did know which ones she was looking for.

Singapore shouldn't be like this. Prices shouldn't be rising faster than people can keep up with them. This is the reality of recent all round price rises. Singapore is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many people who are not earning million dollar salaries (which basically is the majority of Singaporeans). Yet, this truism is unseen and unheard. We are even told by the newspapers (see the Today paper of today) that the rich are taking the greatest hit from inflation. That may be so, in percentage terms, but the question is: who can afford to take a hit at all? The rich or the poor? Clearly, lower income Singaporeans cannot afford to take too much of a price increase. Those that can't may end up like this unfortunate Singaporean I saw today - foraging for her dinner in any uncultivated piece of land she could find.

The Singaporean economy needs to be more carefully managed, lest thousands of Singaporeans end up foraging alongside the Malay woman I saw today.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:25 PM 


Blogger K2 said...

You may be wrong. She may not be foraging for her dinner, she may just be picking plants that are known to have herbal or medicinal properties, to boil for drinking or perhaps washing a wound or lesion. I know many old folks in my HDB estate do that. Or perhaps she was just picking out leaves of a certain length, shape or colour for her grandchild's project to construct an attap house?

I've seen folks who are on government's public assistance scheme, the stipend may not be much, but it's enough to buy food.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

An interesting idea K2 - but I fear that I am more likely to be right on this one. The plastic bag she was carrying was bulging - there were simply too many leaves there for herbal or medicinal use. This looks very much like someone getting "greens" for a whole family.

There is another detail I noted. She seemed somewhat dehydrated. I don't think she is looking after herself well - no doubt through no fault of her own.

I know for sure that there ARE edible leaves here in Singapore. However, that needs a little knowledge to be able to pick them out.

Best wishes

12:23 AM  
Anonymous tim said...

There are poverty in Singapore. It is just that our state-controlled mainstream media will not highlight them much. There are, of course, some reports of poverty and these reports will showcase government help was rendered to these people.

The mainstream media has never proved itself that they are the champions for the poor and down.

There was a mention in a certain forum that the grassroots organisations and public assistance (PA) organisations are not supposed to wave a big flag to attract attention.

Of course, I have heard of able-bodied people abusing the PA system. No world is perfect, anyway.

But there are many poor people that stay away from the limelight and they are in the corners of some HDB areas that the regular middle-class people will have no chance to visit. For those live in those areas, I do not think that they have no time or resource to blog about their plights. If one's life revolves around the newer HDB estates, condos, shopping malls, downtown offices, then the poor people will be out of their eyesights.

When there is the rich, there is always the poor. We are always reminded that we are first world and there is no poor in a first world. Our esteemed Mr Lee (Sr) already wrote a book saying that we have already went from the third world to first.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Correction for the above:

"For those live in those areas, I do not think that they have no time or resource to blog about their plights."

"For those live in those areas, I do not think that they have time or resource to blog about their plights."

4:06 PM  
Anonymous edoc said...

I met a man once who was doing the same thing on the hillside near where I live.
I asked him what he was doing.. he said that he was looking for a specific plant whose leaves had medicinal properties.. and that they are usually found in the wild.
He said that the fresh leaves are 'better' than the processed ones found in TCM shops..
They also can be kept in storage to be used later.
This may explain what you saw.
I am not saying there is NO poverty in Singapore but withoug asking her, one should not jump to conclusions.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean of Lee Kuan Yew Institude of Policy Studies had declared to the World that there are no destitutes and poverty in Singapore.

Minister Vivien Balakrishnan expects those under public assistance to have three meals at hawker centres to restaurants.

Why are the Two Gentlemen mentioned above not seeing the poor in our midst? Could it be that they have no eyes for them(the poor)?


7:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Edoc, what you say is one possible scenario, however, as I noted before, standing against this is one clear observation: she had taken far too many leaves for any medicinal application. This was the kind of quantity a family might use in vegetables for a couple of days, if they particularly liked vegetables. It would have been enough for a dozen sick people were it "medicinal".

It was a normal size plastic bag, straining in fullness.

Furthermore, I noted this behaviour in another person long ago - and that time I did actually speak to them. They were getting cassava leaf to boil for the family dinner. So, this kind of thing does happen in Singapore.

One might say, in counter to your view that one shouldn't jump to conclusions without asking her, that one shouldn't assume that she was hunting for medicinal herbs, either, without asking her. Besides, she was taking what looked like ordinary leaves to me...not something herbal or renowned in any way.

If I see her doing it again, I will ask her what she is up to.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, anonymous for your comment re. local dignitaries.

It is probably impossible for multi-millionaires to understand how difficult life can be for ordinary low and moderate income people in Singapore. If such things were understood, efforts would be made to moderate prices of key goods...instead of letting the situation get ugly, for many.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may want to make a trip to China town during meal time. It will make you really sad . . ..

12:00 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I will try to take your advice sometime. It doesn't sound good though.

12:29 AM  

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