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 +

Monday, February 23, 2009

Uniquely Singapore.

"Uniquely Singapore" is an advertising slogan in current usage in Singapore to encapsulate all that distinguishes Singapore from all other small bits of land, worldwide (distinguished in ways apart from being small, I suppose).

In some ways, Singapore is unique. It is unique in the extent of its conformity, in some respects, for instance. So, in that manner, Singapore is unique to the extent that it is not unique. However, Singapore has its merits: it is easy and convenient to live here. Most consumer goods and services are readily available, though perhaps, now, not at ideal prices. Public infrastructure is well done: the libraries are particularly good, for instance. Then there is the crime rate which, in our experience is not as low as proclaimed (we have been stolen from three times in six years), but is safer than most other places, in terms of violent crime, at least, which is something worth having.

Yet there are other matters which are "uniquely Singapore" (yes, I know it should read "uniquely Singaporean" - but I was not the ungrammatical advertising writer who wrote it), which are not so happy.

Today, I encountered one "Uniquely Singapore" incident. I was approaching the lift below my place of work as a Singaporean woman approached the same lift from the opposite direction. She was a thickset woman of indeterminate race, perhaps a mix of Chinese and something else, maybe Malay. It was difficult to say, but she didn't clearly fit any racial category, without doubt. She was mature in years and body, but, as we shall see, not in attitude.

We both vectored in on the opening lift door, she closer than me. She couldn't fail to have seen me, since we faced each other. She got in the door first, turned around - and pushed the button to close the door in my face. The door duly obeyed and I was left staring at a steel door. The oddest thing about the moment is that she appeared to be smiling, as the door closed on me and she looked out on me standing there.

"Uniquely Singapore", I thought, as I waited for the next lift. Only in Singapore do people regularly snub their fellow human beings in such ways. It would have cost her perhaps one or two seconds of her life, to let me into the lift, too...but that was too high a price to pay for courtesy.

Now, I must say that not all Singaporeans are like this. Others are of the opposite kind: they OPEN doors that have closed, on seeing that they have closed the door on someone. I met one such in the same lift only a few days before. I thanked her for opening the door for me - and she smiled a different kind of smile to the one that had smiled today.

Yet, the sad truth is, that door closers are more common, in Singapore, than door openers. Those who are not considerate of others, outnumber those who are. It makes, sometimes, for unpleasant moments, when one's fellow human beings are rude, simply because they either enjoy being rude or think that it is their God given right to be so.

This lack of courtesy is, of course, something that foreigners note. It grates upon the sensibilities of those who have come from more courteous cultures (of which there are many...for instance the entire developed world, for a start). I don't think that the powers-that-be realize the price that Singapore pays, in terms of its reputation and the impression it makes on others, for this common lack of courtesy that infects its citizens. I say "infect" deliberately, for poor, inconsiderate behaviour of this kind is rather like a disease of the spirit. It is also infectious because if people treat each other ill, they tend to begin to treat others as they have been treated - and, before long, lack of courtesy and consideration are the common habit of all.

If I have closed the door upon someone I did not see, I press the button to open it. Sometimes, this irritates my fellow lift passengers, but I do it, because while I might lose a couple of seconds, I am probably saving the other person a minute. It is, therefore, on average a time saver. If all did this, WE WOULD ALL SAVE TIME.

Let's make courtesy and consideration for others a "Uniquely Singapore" characteristic. We can all contribute to it. For a start, we can hold the lift door open for others. If all did that, we would all be better off. Consider my thought, the next time you get in a lift.

(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.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:44 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very true. Singaporeans still have a long way to go in terms of manners and courtesy. I am hopeful that we will change for the better as time goes by.

In reality however, it is not possible to have a perfect society. There will always be some black sheep, tarnishing the image of the rest. Even in Australia, racial prejudice - another form of not-so-courteous behavior - at times manifest itself in violent acts.
I have friends in a certain developed European country who were spit at.

Fortunately, the times i spent in Europe were filled with good experiences and very friendly locals.

On a separate note, I am sorry that you were robbed during these past 6 years. Could it be due to the location/time/valuables displayed? Out of all my friends, I only know of one who has been robbed. Or perhaps i don't know enough people in my 20++ years.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Once was a handbag with a wallet in it...another time was our child's stroller stolen from right outside our house...while we were at home: brazen.

I think a lot of theft goes unreported because when you try to report it to the police in Singapore they are REALLY NOT INTERESTED. They will always try to reclassify it as a lesser crime, so that it doesn't appear in the records to spoil their pristine image - at least that is what they did to us. Eventually, we gave up reporting crime to the police.

Thanks for your well wishes.

As for racism...there is no systemic racism in the western countries, though individuals may not be so enlightened. A white, black, Asian or anything else may do anything in these societies on an equal footing, in all areas of society. Can the same be said of Singapore as it presently is?

Thanks for your comment.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are people who like angonising others in little ways like not giving way, shoving, jumping queue, being rude etc. And I think they do it because they have been (or continue to be) "victims" of such actions daily. Hence when they've a chance to be nasty, it's payback time. I supposed it's a way of venting their irritation and they feel good about it.

I feel sorry for them.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. There are such people. However, it isn't rational, is it, to "payback" a stranger for the actions of a different stranger? It is, in fact, more than a little mad. I think of them as ill.

Thanks for your comment.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As for racism...there is no systemic racism in the western countries, though individuals may not be so enlightened. A white, black, Asian or anything else may do anything in these societies on an equal footing, in all areas of society. Can the same be said of Singapore as it presently is?"

You recently wrote on selective memory: in lieu of the quote above, would you care to tell us more about the British National Party?

12:44 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anonymous at 12.44 appear to be unfamiliar with the meaning of "Systemic" this I mean that there is no racism as part of the system of laws, regulations and behaviours of society. There isn't. Period. It is outlawed to be racist and so there is none systematically allowed. There are occasional individual racists though...some of whom would support the BNP. The BNP, by the way, is SO marginal, that you need a new word to describe its marginality. It is not "systemic" it is fringe. Please take the trouble to understand the terms used before commenting with what seems an element of sarcasm.

My memory is not selective. There is no systemic racism in the UK. It is not part of the system.

Thanks for your comment.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

By the way, if you want to talk about racism, Singapore is FULL of it. It is the only country in the world that I have ever seen that advertises jobs with "Mandarin speakers only" - in other words you must be Chinese. I know of Malay speakers of Chinese who have applied for such jobs and been regularly denied them, not because they cannot speak Mandarin, which they do, but presumably because they are Malay. Then again Malays are denied high office, on the basis of race in certain Singaporean organizations. Whites are not welcome in the media (I was told that it was policy by a Mediacorp employee to exclude whites from long term positions in front of camera). There are countless examples of SYSTEMIC racism in Singapore. There is none in any western country that I know of. Though, again, there are racist individuals who are a very small minority, the legal structures of all western countries specifically outlaw racism.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you that in Singapore there is racism.

Even within the SAF, it is an open secret that a certain race is excluded from some units.

Initially, this "policy" was put in place because of the race-based politics of Malaysia, esp during the time Singapore was part of the Federation. It was feared (and rightfully so) that after independence, some malay elements within the army and society may seek to sabotage. Therefore excluding them was seen as the best way for peace within the society.

However, in light that decades have passed already, it is definitely time to review and change this ruling. All races should be accepted into all units, without any consideration of their race.

With regards to the employment issue, there is nothing wrong for employers to seek out only chinese people for certain jobs. This is the free market, as promoted by the west. While unhelpful and so-called racist in nature, there is nothing wrong. Just like i would not complain if i saw an ad asking for malays or indians only. Different markets require different people for certain jobs. Would you get malays, even those who can speak mandarin to sell products to the chinese population? There is no racism in that.

While we often look to the US as a beacon of freedom and human rights. Was it not the US itself that had racism within it's society? And did it not take decades and decades to eradicate most of it? And only now, have they elected an African-American president. While there are no laws banning the appointment of non-whites to the highest post, the population at large though, feels different all these years.

Racism exists. It always has. It always will. Even though it may not manifest itself in physical ways, it will always be part of human culture. Them and Us.

That said, it is of course no excuse for singapore not to eradicate it. Singapore is only 40+ years old. Hardly like European countries with hundreds of years to alter their behavior. And even recently, a certain royalty was videoed using a certain term when referring to his platoon mate.
And in Ireland, religious intolerance led to Catholics and Protestants fighting and killing each other- Although it has now stopped after years of violent conflict.
In HK recently, a local reporter was treated rather harshly by the police because she looked like a certain nationality.
Even in our neighborhood, Malaysia stills has the NEP, which reserves certain jobs for malays, which forces investment to have at least a certain percentage from malays, to have at least a certain number of malays on directors boards for companies... and the list goes on. Even in education, malays have a certain number of places reserved for them, which has led to many ethnic chinese leaving malaysia for singapore or aboard.
In Indonesia, during a certain president's era, anti-chinese legislation were enshrined as law.

I feel that the current state, while not ideal, is something to be proud of. And it should push us to further erase any other racial boundaries and stupid rules.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There is something wrong with apportioning jobs by race - it should by ability/suitability alone. If a Malay can speak Mandarin and needs Mandarin to speak to and sell to Chinese people they should be allowed to do so. Why wouldn't they? The only answer if not allowed must be that the Chinese are too racist to accept a non-Chinese salesperson. That is unfortunate: are we to accept this? Should we not just appoint the Malay anyway?

Singapore has systemic racism. There is no excuse for that. The system is actually set up to be racist. No developed Western nation has such a kind of racism in their systems: not even one.

It is time Singapore truly became a developed nation, in that respect. There is a lot that could be changed.

Thanks for your comment.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was only recently that the whites in america decided to elect an african-american. Were they not racist too? Even after years of battling with racism? Or maybe there aren't enough minority races smart enough to be elected?

No there is no systemic racism in these countries- Only in their heart do they still exist- as shown by the polling booth.

I agree wholeheartedly that Singapore has to change. No doubt about that. It'll be good if a minority race can be PM. And already MOF is not chinese, which is a step in the right direction.

But what i am saying is that we should take a step back from perpetual criticism and be proud that we have achieved much in about 40years of history in removing racism. Much more than developed western nations during their early years.

*By the way, Singapore is not a developed country under the UN classification*

6:26 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think it is more to do with insufficient ability than a racist ceiling in America, until now. America has moved on from its racist past. Only a small minority cling onto racist thoughts. Legally speaking, you are BETTER off being black in America, or Asian, than you are being white. So, if anything, it is now racist against the majority. It is easier to get a good job if you are a minority in America, than if you are white.

If you look here:

Most sources consider Singapore developed. The CIA doesn't...they call it an "advanced economy"...but others do. More to the point, Singapore has seemingly long considered itself developed. However, I think it is very undeveloped in social ways. Few modern nations have systemic racism, still: Singapore does.

Yes, Singapore has done some things well in its 40 years...but you know, that argument about "its a young nation" "let's forgive them" is NONSENSE. It is not how old the nation is, that counts, it is the era that we live in. We live in the early 21st is time for 19th century attitudes to be gone.

Thanks for your comment.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess when you put it that way, it makes sense.
Although, I think a better gauge would be the social era that the society is in that dictates it's norms, rather than the time-based era. I.e. Would a war torn developing, newly independent country embrace so called 21st century values immediately? Or would China, with years of history suddenly embrace 21st century values like human rights even if it's economy matures?

I believe, more often than not, the development of the economy does not go in tandem with the development of the society values.

I think what the govt means is that Singapore is a developed country in terms of the economy, but still a developing nation in society values, much like China and many other asian countries.

Best Regards

7:25 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I would agree: Singapore is developed economically, but can be quite primitive socially. It is, in fact, a strange combination.

Thanks for your comments.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha. "Strange Combination" => Uniquely Singapore

7:44 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I just read this article on BBC.

Interesting for it plainly states how the govt down under has suspended the Racial Discrimination Act (among others issues), which basically means it is now alright to discriminate, as what the Aboriginals are complaining about.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:16 AM  

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