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 +

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A literary mystery.

A recent break in Thailand set me a bit of a mystery. Why is the Bangkok Post such a good newspaper?

I picked up a copy of the Bangkok Post while sitting in a hotel lobby in Chiangmai. I didn't expect much of it. After all, Thailand is a country of patchy literacy at best. In North-Eastern Thailand, for instance, only 58% of people are able to read. (This according to an article in the Bangkok Post). Therefore, it was something of a surprise to find myself reading literate, well-written, thoughtful articles with a...and this was the biggest perspective. The Bangkok Post, despite having a local style title, was not a local newspaper, in the restricted sense of the word, but an international newspaper.

The Bangkok Post contained feature articles on international figures, in-depth articles on Thai issues - but also articles on world issues. The articles had been written with insight and thoughtfulness and actually seemed "meaty", in the reading.

As I read, I found myself comparing it to the newspapers of Singapore. By contrast, the Singaporean newspapers seem parochial, narrow in focus and local in flavour. They do not really look deeply into international matters, the articles are superficial and contain little real thinking (except those articles which they appropriate from international sources). The Singaporean newspapers seem to be poorly written by comparison to what I read in the Bangkok Post, in general and seem to contain less of actual substance.

Now, this is a mystery to me. The level of literacy in Singapore is 95.7%. Yet, the newspapers are a shallower read than what the Bangkok Post offers. Something is wrong here. Surely, the newspapers of Singapore should be more literate, better written, thoughtful and insightful than those of a much less developed nation, Thailand? Yet, it is not so. The Bangkok Post is a better read than any Singaporean paper (at least on the samples I read, which are probably average ones). This suggests something interesting. Though literacy is not universal in Thailand, there is a minority whose literacy exceeds that of the typical Singaporean newspaper writer. There is also a minority whose thinking is more insightful than that of a typical Singaporean newspaper writer. The result is that, although less developed and less literate on average, the Thais manage to produce a newspaper of greater excellence than is managed in Singapore.

There is a lesson in this. Singapore's media can do better. If Thailand can do such a good job, with less resources and a lower literacy base, surely Singapore can up its game. We have to wonder, however, why Singapore's newspapers are so indifferent in quality. Perhaps it is policy. Perhaps it is a choice that has been made to produce papers of modest literacy, limited insight and a local perspective. However, having seen what a third world neighbour can do, I am left unsatisfied with Singapore's efforts.

It is time for Singapore to have a media that matches its stature as a developed nation that is officially the tenth most expensive place to live on Earth. Singapore can start by trying to write a paper as good as the Bangkok Post. However, it might take them some time to catch up...

(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 @ 7:09 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think most of us are resigned that local media- both the print and tv are well... sub-standard.

That's why we have cable tv!! Haha! And many of my lecturers and profs listen to BBC(on the radio) and read news from online sources like CNN- of course, in addition to ST.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There is something missing from a nation's media when intelligent people have to look at overseas sources to get what they seek.

Thanks for your comment.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Valentine

Many of the articles in ST are from AFP, Reuters, NYT and even pink colored broadsheet from ur hometown.

If they are world class, so is ST!!!

(PS: I am just kidding)

Seriously though, if u were a journo with any self respect and love for your profession, how do write articles that
1. would not get u fired\arrested by your editors (from ISD <- ask Mrs Valentine), and yet
2. dumb enough so that average Singaporean could still understand and
3. not get lambasted by the same not very intelligent average anti-gahmen reader?

Besides the average singaporean would struggle to name the Malaysian PM. Actually, I would struggle to name half the ministers in Singapore :-p

Having said that, if you could pick up Chinese, our world-class Chinese tabloids are more than a match for Sun ... minus the Page 3 (Asian values u know)


2:38 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi No Name,

I did mention the articles taken from elsewhere as exceptions to my comments.

You are probably right that it is difficult to be a Singaporean journalist with so many different parties to simply just can't write and not worry about the reception in certain areas.

I will accept your view of the Chinese tabloids...though it is unlikely I will ever find the time to learn Mandarin, at this stage!

Perhaps if the intellectual environment were freer, (ie no penalty for the "wrong" thoughts), then the newspapers would come alive.

Kind regards

8:49 AM  
Blogger Miao said...

Hi, I disagree with NoName that our Chinese papers are of world-class standards. I've seen really preposterous mistakes made by the Chinese journalists here - e.g. “深造” (hanyu pinyin: 'shen zao'; translation: 'to further one's education') was written as “深草” (hanyu pinyin: 'shen cao'; translation: literally it is 'deep grass', but really it doesn't make sense at all), among many other mistakes; and English idioms are often artlessly translated into Chinese in a very literal manner. I once showed Lianhe Zaobao to my friend from China, and he laughed really hard when he saw phrases like “最后一根稻草” ('the last straw'). While it makes sense in English, it is really just laughable in Chinese. It is just like translating, say, “对牛弹琴” (meaning: to share something with someone who doesn't know how to appreciate it) into "playing music for a cow". It is ridiculous.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Miao, for your correction. Your observations are ones I could not have made myself...being closed out to the Chinese language.

It is a bad sign indeed if your native Chinese friend actually laughs at the newspaper.

Kind regards

8:36 AM  

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