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 +

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Where all good deeds are punished.

Everyone has heard the phrase: "No good deed goes unpunished." - but have you ever seen such a force in operation? In Singapore, it is a daily occurrence.

Today, on the bus, I saw two instances of poor behaviour that would not even be recognized as poor behaviour by the perpetrators - yet poor behaviour it is.

The first occurred as a young woman got on the bus. She paid for her ticket - but then didn't collect it. She walked to the middle of the bus. The bus driver noted this and tried to attract her attention: "Lady! Hello!" he said, in English more polite than one was accustomed to, here, in Singapore. She ignored him, or didn't hear him. Seeing this, a man in his 30s walked down the bus to the "lady" and told her that the bus driver wanted to speak to her. She didn't reply to him. She met his helpful words with a sullen silence and not a word of thanks. She walked past him as if he did not exist and approached the driver. The bus driver handed her, her ticket saying: "You forgot this." She met his helpful words with a sullen silence and not a word of thanks. She walked back to the middle of the bus, as if the driver did not exist.

The second incident was more personal and happened later in the day. I was sitting on the outside of a dual seat. When I had sat down, the bus had been fairly empty, but quite a few people had just boarded. Seeing a young woman standing next to my seat, I rose from my chair and offered her the inside seat: "Would you like to sit down?" I asked.

She met my helpful words with a sullen silence and not a word of thanks. She sat down on the offered seat and looked away out of the window, as if, either I did not exist, or she did not wish to acknowledge that I did.

Now, in my country, both of these young women would be considered rude, ignorant, unpleasant and generally unworthy. When I lived in England, it was common to hear "please" and "thank you" rather a lot. Every courtesy was met with another courtesy in kind. To do a good turn for another was to receive immediate and genuine thanks. Not in Singapore, however. Here one can go all day opening doors for people, offering people seats, helping others in random distress - and NOT ONE OF THEM WILL THANK YOU IN RETURN. Politicians here talk about cultivating a graceful society - but Singapore is actually the most graceless place I have ever lived in. Here, the words "please" and "thank you" are not even in the local dictionary - or, if they are, no-one has read it.

It bothers me that I am not thanked when I show kindness or consideration to others here. They behave, in return, as if my kindness or consideration were their automatic right and I was beneath consideration for having shown it. It is quite unpleasant. I feel that Singapore is truly a place where every good deed is punished. For it is a kind of punishment not to be thanked and to be met with a surly silence every time one shows kindness to one's fellow humans, here. No wonder so many people want to leave Singapore. When one's fellow citizens are so uncivilized it is no surprise at all that they are all clamouring for somewhere else to live. What they don't realize is that they are each individually and collectively to blame for the poor social graces on show here - for each of them, typically, is guilty of them.

So, I have two messages today, for Singapore: they are the word: "Please" to be used before any request of another person, and the phrase "thank you" whenever anyone else does you a kindness or a service. Please use them, they make life so much better in a way you will only come to understand when their use is universal - for what they do is make people feel APPRECIATED.

Do you know what effect being snubbed by people every time I am kind to them has on me? It makes me think twice about considering others in future. The next time I have an empty seat to share with another, I may just decide to keep it to myself. After all, why should I think of others when to do so is only to receive rudeness in reply? The same applies to other situations in which I might assist others. Why should I pause to hold a door open, when to do so will receive no thanks and the other person will look on me as if I am some kind of slave, for doing so? So, I won't hold doors open, anymore. What if I can do something to help another, which means taking a minute of my time? I wouldn't do it, if I knew I would receive a sullen silence in return.

I am learning how to behave in Singapore. If I really want to fit in, I should just behave as if no-one else matters and no-one else exists. If I did so, I would be just as everyone else appears to be.

However, I don't really want to change in that way. I don't want to become the sort of person I have always despised. I would rather that everyone in Singapore change, instead, and become polite and socially graceful.

So the next time someone does you a kindness, just say: "Thank you." It would really help make Singapore a better place in which to live.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, 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, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:54 PM 


Blogger VirusCW said...

Dear Mr. Cawley,

I greatly appreciate your writings. I only hope that more blogs like this will come about in the near future.

However, Some of the articles in this blog causes me to frown (like this one). I feel that not all Singaporeans are as rude as the unappreciative women you met that day. I have so far been lucky not to meet any of these kind of people, thus making me think that such people are rare, and only you were unlucky enough to meet two in the same day.

I would appreciate it if you adopt a more passive stance when considering these sort of matters.

By the way, I read your article on NUS High. On behalf of NUS High, I would like to express my sincerest apoligies if we offended you, but I still feel NUS High is a great school, with a minor flaw here or there.

I wish your family best of luck in Singapore!

Best regards,

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you should change. It's not easy being different but that doesn't mean that you have to adapt, especially if that would mean giving up part of your values and beliefs for something that makes you unhappy. Being treated like that would also make me unhappy.

I wonder what would happen if you pointed out this person's rudeness by asking him/her to say please and thank you. Perhaps it doesn't even occur to these people to be polite in the way that we view politeness. If this way of dealing with people is accepted by Singaporeans, where would they get the idea that something might be wrong?

11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dunno what 2 comment bout that..but i think,a little smile n nodded will help 2 replace the word thanx. but it seems many unthankful n ungrateful people live nowadays,even cats know how to thanx us if we feed them..ermm., sorry to hear ur bad experience.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes: a nod of thanks would do instead of the word. However, with such people no thanks is given in any form. It is strange.

Best wishes

8:12 AM  
OpenID niwtode said...

i think maybe those two women are mute. hehe.. but mute people would at least give a nod of thanks.. wouldn't they?

12:33 PM  
Anonymous KS said...

I've had similar experiences in my two years here in Singapore. Having lived around the world, I do find this sort of behaviour very draining for me.

As you mention, we begin to question ourselves and how we should or shouldn't behave. But, is the behaviour here really abnormal, or is it that it is so far from our own ideas of normality?

The choices are to 1. become unfeeling people or 2. speak to others with kindness and feeling (as if a dam has bursted) when we finally meet another caring individual in the society.

Though this isn't about romanticising the UK- at the very least, passengers leaving a bus there say "ta" to the driver.

3:02 PM  
Blogger WK said...

Hi! I am a retired teacher and used to tell this story to my students.

Teacher: We should say "Excuse me",
"Please", "Thank you"
and "I am sorry" more

Student: What for? All these
expressions are empty
words, nothing more than
just empty air.

Tecaher: You are absolutely right.
All these expressions are
just empty air.
BUT what is in the tyres
of cars and bicycles
other than empty air?
Without this empty air,
every journey would be a
bumpy one for you and me.
tan wee kiat

3:48 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

KS, you raise an interesting question. I think what is considered normal in Singapore is considered rude in other developed nations. It is normal to be rude in Singapore, it is normal to snub others and slight them, it is normal to ignore other people's feelings and viewpoints. To someone from elsewhere used to more polite behaviour between strangers it can be quite unpleasant after a while - especially if you, yourself, are a usually polite, kind or considerate individual - because many of the people you meet here will not be so.

I suppose it would take a trip to another country for most locals to see how differently other people behave elsewhere on such issues.

Best wishes

6:09 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Tan Wee Kiat,

Thank you for those wise and wonderful words: they fully express and so poetically too, what words of politeness mean.

I am glad you shared that.

Kind regards

6:17 PM  
Blogger Miao said...

If I'm not wrong, I think PM Lee Hsien Loong did lament about the lack of courtesy in one of his speeches. He mentioned that many Singaporeans usually don't bother to say "please" when making a request and "thank you" when they receive help.

Rude people are usually those who take others for granted. They think that the entire world is obliged to accommodate their interests and whims. A little smile, a simple "thank you" can often go a long way - it makes people happy when they know that they are appreciated.

Some time back, there was this European guy who expressed his wish to migrate to Singapore and work as a bus driver here. (He is a bus driver back in his home country.) He made enquiries at the SBS headquarters, but learnt that SBS does not hire Europeans. (Don't ask me why - I have no idea myself.) He was very disappointed and wrote about the incident on an online forum. Several Singaporean netizens responded - they warned him that Singaporean commuters are generally very impolite and cold, unlike Europeans who are mostly very friendly and courteous. For example, many Londoners would actually greet the bus drivers warmly when they board the bus. I am not sure what was the European guy's reply, and I don't know if he has migrated to Singapore after all - there are no updates.

A little friendliness can probably brighten up another person's day. It doesn't take much to just smile and say thank you - when you are nice to others, you probably feel good yourself too.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Miao,

It is funny you should mention Europeans being friendly to bus drivers - because I often thank the driver, here in Singapore, when I get off. I haven't seen anyone else do this, though. Many of the drivers smile back and seem to appreciate the gesture. Perhaps it should be more common.

Best wishes.

11:16 PM  
Blogger 姜饼人 said...

Mr. Cawley,

I cringed quite a bit while reading this post. I'm just wondering, is it Singapore, or the Ladies of Singapore. My other and I occasionally talk about how -some- ladies here behave as if it is their birthright for men to hold doors open for them, carry their bags for them etc etc.

Me, I hold doors open for everyone and get out of the lift last. I enjoy being an a gentleman even if it is only in status :)

P.S. The next time you feel like giving up your seat, do so for the old folks! They are usually much more thankful and appreciate :)


1:06 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


If it is the Ladies of Singapore then perhaps that explains the awfully low birth rates. Behaviour like that is likely to put most men off the woman concerned. Therefore, she will not get the chance to procreate!

I will take your advice. Thanks.

2:31 PM  
Blogger i said...

There are always different views, sides to a story that one doesn't know. I like to highlight one reason why this happened in SG.

There are too many lewd men in SG. They like to stare at young girls. It just so happened this morning, as I was in the lift with a secondary school girl in uniform. This man came into the lift and placed himself looking directly at the girl and kept looking her up and down. She didn't know what to do and ignored him. And when we left the lift, the guy followed her and she changed her path just to avoid him. I was behind them and I was fuming. Unfortunately, I was too slow to react. I wish I had spoken up. And I will if I come across anything like this next time! Why do I know about this? Because I experience it myself frequently!

Girls in SG had to grew up with such horrible experiences. And these occur on a daily basis. Unfortunately a side effect of that due to the lack of support and education, (I can only speak for myself here, as I dislike being stared at, I start to mistrust/dislike most guys' attention. I got used to avoiding men's gazes. I look at anywhere but their eyes because _most_ of the time, when I see a man looking at me, it is a case of staring. That is an experience growing up and my behaviour changed because of that. I learned to avoid looking at men. And a side effect is that I became mute even in instances when a man renders assistance, mute because I don't know if the assistance was rendered out of the kindness of his heart or is this guy a pervert and I don't even want to look at the man. Believe me, there are lewd men who do offer seats/open doors and then take the opportunity to look you up and down. I took to wearing ugly spectacles so that they stop looking. It worked. But why are the men in Singapore so lewd? Hebephilia or ephebophilia? I have no answer to that. But this affected girls who had to suffer the unwanted attention. It changed my behaviour. But I have realised that I have to stand up to this. And I hope that guys who are not lewd will pay attention to their surroundings and when they see this happening, they will speak up and stop it.


8:15 AM  

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