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 +

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Singapore Kindness Movement.

Singapore has a "kindness movement"...but does it need one?

Coincidentally, I had a conversation with a group of Koreans living in Singapore, recently. They spontaneously observed...all of them...that Singaporeans are "not kind". This is, of course, from a Korean perspective, which is, rather like the Japanese, in being quite a gentle, polite society. However, what they had to say was instructive. I shall retell one story from the conversation.

One of the Koreans, who speaks English, Korean and Chinese Mandarin quite well was buying food at a hawker stall. She decided to speak English, rather than Chinese, so as to practise her English (her Chinese being a stronger language, for her).

The two Chinese ladies at the hawker stall also replied in English...bad English, but English nevertheless and set about getting her food. However, what they did next was unexpected. They started criticizing the Korean girl's facial appearance and clothing choices, in front of her, in Chinese. The criticisms were quite harsh and the Korean girl found herself being most wounded by their remarks. She said nothing, however, but just listened.

The Korean girl came away from the experience with the impression that Singaporeans are rather unkind about their fellow humans. She had only been in Singapore a few weeks and this was an influential moment.

There are many examples I could give, from their conversation with me, alone...but that one should suffice. The Chinese stallholders felt safe to be unkind about her, because they thought she would not understand. However, I think that they should not have been unkind, even if she could not understand. She would have picked up on the non-verbal language even if she had not understood a single word of their Chinese (all of which she did understand).

April has been designated as Kindness Month. It will be good to see if the Singapore Kindness Movement can actually have an effect on the type of behaviour I am sure we are all familiar with: that which mars someone else's day, for no other reason than a lack of care for one's fellow man.

(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 @ 1:16 PM 


Anonymous me :) said...

Yeah, some pple can be really nasty... Maybe that's why Singapore needs a "Kindnes Movement"! :D

I was thinking maybe, your Korean friend spoke in English, that's why those 'hawker ladies' were nasty to her...

There was a case in 'Newpaper' last year whereby a man spoke in English to a hawker when ordering, and the hawker was offended as he thought the man was being 'arrogant' and was mocking his less-than-perfect english... :PP

Misunderstanding perphaps? :P
But i don't deny there are unkind Singaporeans... but generally, I believe Singaporeans are friendly... :)

6:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Interesting idea. However, in this case, I don't think the use of English was a provocation...I just think it made them think she was a foreigner and so they felt safe to insult her in front of her face. The sad fact is, of course, that they actually felt the motivation to discuss another person in such a way, particularly with them standing mere feet away. No doubt they spend a lot of time talking about people behind their backs, too...

Some Singaporeans have been pleasant and helpful to me...but then I have encountered the other type, too...the ones who don't know what "kind" means. So, it is very much a mix of types, here. It is, therefore, a good idea to give encouragement to better behaviours. A civil society is better for everyone.

Thanks for your comment.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes "bashing" is a form of social bonding. I suppose the stall assistants needed some interesting subjects to bitch about in their mundane lives, and found that in the Korean girl.

It may sound really weird, but I think it happens a lot more often then it seems, at all levels. In the office, employees engage in gossiping and idle talk to make their days more interesting. Bashing relieves stress and allows people to bond together (against ppl they dislike for whatever reason - big or small, justified or just plain stupid).

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep yep... we need a more gracious Singapore.

But i think that will take another decade or so. Hopefully sooner rather than later though.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Bashing.

An insightful view...

If it is so that people "bash" to bond, then it is a force that will create bonds in one area, while reinforcing tensions in another. So, it will have both bonding and distancing functions. Thus, it is not really a bonding force...more of a clique creating force.

The prevalence of bashing would lead to a society that feels less friendly for many, of course, even as it feels cosier for those doing the bashing. Thus, society becomes more polarized. It is a force that will create extremes of comfort and discomfort.

Thanks for your observation.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Etch said...

The only time I have encountered such behavior was in mainland China.

I was in a shop selling jeans of a reputable brand (the brand name starts with the letter 'L') when for the fun of it, I decided to pretend that I did not understand Mandarin and spoke to the sales assistants in English instead. After trying on various designs, I found one that I liked but unfortunately, they did not carry my size. I eventually did not make a purchase and after apologizing (in English) I turned to walk out of the store. The instant my back was turned, I heard a few choice swear words in Mandarin from the sales assistant, cursing her luck (and me as well).

My point is that, I doubt that a true blue Singaporean would treat a foreigner with such 'in-your-face' disrespect. Arguably, that cannot be said of service personnel from mainland China. Given that there has been a large influx of such workers in our service sector, I would believe your Korean friend met with such a character.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Etch, for your similar tale, though of different origin.

Indeed, I cannot know whether the hawker personnel were mainlanders or not. I only know that they spoke Mandarin. However, my friend thought them to be Singaporean.

Kind regards

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Jan said...

My family has been in Singapore for upwards 12 years now, I'm 19 which means I've been here since I was 7, a good majority of it as an expat's son(I've only recently got a PR status).

I've seen how Singapore has gone from welcoming and accomodating to to an unfriendly, sometimes hostile attitude towards expats; and I wonder why.

I feel that they are putting the blame for the increasing rising cost of living and competitiveness on us most of the time, without realising that this implication are upon us as well and aren't exclusive for them.

Pay is on the decline(granted, not just for us), rent is on the rise(gone are the days when we could rent condos or excecutive flats for less than 2k), and even the education system has been unkind to non-Singaporean kids(I studied here in the past at a rate only slightly higher than what a Singaporean child pays, my brother now studies at rates that could send him to top-tier schools in most neighbouring countries, on top of a compulsory government "donation" that needs to be made that amounts to no less than 1k).

Yes, circumstances are driving us away. The question is, how much are locally-fuelled circumstances that have risen from contempt on the local's side? Has it gone to the point where the government is adopting policies that would chase foreign talent away? It sure seems like it.

Locals should realise that Singapore is and has been positioning itself to be a global city, and every global city needs the expertise of foreign talent to survive, especially in the higher-ended jobs. I agree with the writer when he says that Singaporeans aren't being educated in the way that would enable them to think the way a foreigner would; with the constraints of a 'colour within the lines' mindset. Of course my statement sweeps, yes there are exceptions, but that is generally the case (I've been a student here for almost all my life -I should know).

What locals fail to understand is that we expats choose to stay here more than just the money, but because it's what we've grown to know as home. There are so many cheaper living alternatives out there that potentially pay more, but we choose to stay here simply because we have, against all its shortcomings and hostility, grown to love it (locals who resent us included).

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Jan said...

ok, I just realised I posted my comment on the wrong entry. Haha. I re-posted it on the expat exodus one. Sorry bout that!

1:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Jan, for sharing your experience. I would agree that Singapore seems to be growing more xenophobic over time (at least, on the ground).

In my view, there is no future for a small country like Singapore if it begins to chase the world away. It needs that world and its people, to be stronger than it otherwise would.

Best of luck on living here.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous SKM Webmaster said...

Hi, sorry to dig up an old thread.

Agreed that there are Singaporeans who usually underestimate people, yet think about themselves highly.

Singapore Kindness Movement is here to remind Singaporeans that we are blessed and every individual deserves mutual respect and understanding.

I would like to invite you to join us in the cause and post your views.

Please spread the message? Hope to see you there! Thank you! :)

11:17 AM  

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