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, May 27, 2009

The Amazing Bouncing Apple iPod.

This evening, I saw an Apple iPod, bouncing along the ground. It was being dragged by a young Indian man to whom it was attached. The Apple iPod bounced its way in front of a crowd at a bus-stop near a shopping mall - and an entire row of heads duly turned and tracked the bouncing Apple iPod as it passed them. Tellingly, not a one made a single move to tell the Indian owner of the Apple iPod about his strange tail.

The Apple iPod owner was on the phone, completely oblivious to the rattle of his electronic equipment, as it skipped across the surface of the pavement.

Seeing that none of the perhaps fifty witnesses was going to act, I decided to give chase to the man and tell him of his Apple iPod's imminent destruction.

"Excuse me!", I called, from several metres behind him.

He didn't hear me, but yabbered on in some uninterpretable language on the phone.

"Excuse me!", I called again, to his oblivousness.

He didn't notice.

"EXCUSE ME!", I said, rather more loudly, on the verge of a shout, from about two metres behind him.

He didn't hear a word.

This went on for three more cries.

Finally he turned, rather oddly, to the right and all the way around. This was odd because I was standing to his left - and surely he must have heard that. It was clear that he could only coordinate his body in one direction.

"Yes?", he asked, while pressing his phone still firmly to his ear.

"Do you really want to drag your Apple iPod like that?", I asked, pointing to his electronic tail some metre and a half behind him.

"Oh!", he looked quite startled and then, unexpectedly, in this country of no appreciation for kindnesses done, he said, with some enthusiasm: "Thank you! Thank you!"

He picked up his Apple iPod and walked off ahead of me.

A minute or so later, he turned around again and stared up at me.

"Thank you, sir, thank you!"

Apparently, his thanks was of the lasting kind and he felt the need to repeat himself, the first thanks not being enough.

I found the whole incident rather instructive. You see, this young man with the Apple iPod, managed to drag it past an entire crowded bus-stop full of people...and all they did was stare to their own amusement. Not a one did anything to inform the man of his misfortune. The question that bothers me is: why? Why did no-one - out of perhaps fifty people - actually just tell him what was happening? It would have cost them nothing to do so - but would spare him the cost of a smashed Apple iPod.

I feel that Singapore is one of those countries in which people have not yet learnt to care for one another. If everyone looked out for everyone else and if everyone reached out to help when they had the power to do so, Singapore would be so much a better place than it is. Everyone would be happier and everyone would feel more attached to this nation - it is even likely that EMIGRATION would decline. Yet, it is not so. Singapore is a country in which everyone just sits back and watches another's misfortune without anyone even thinking of intervening to help. It is, therefore, a nation in which entirely preventable unhappiness is allowed to unfold without intervention.

I witnessed this particular incident with the Apple iPod, however, I only read of another incident that it reminds me of. There was a report in the newspapers recently of a young girl who was molested in public. She cried out for help...but despite there being many, many people nearby (as there always is, in ever so crowded Singapore) not a single person stepped forward to help: they all just watched, instead. To my mind this means that those who watched and did nothing, were as much molesters as the person who molested her. You see, in not intervening, they were, to my thinking, complicit in the act: they ALLOWED it to happen. They all, individually, had the power to prevent and bring to an end the molestation - or, at the very least, catch her attacker. All they had to do was step forward and act...but none chose to do so.

Now, I find this collective cowardice and indifference very strange. You see, in Singapore, there is no threat of the molester being armed, as there is in some other countries. In Singapore, there really are no weapons around. The attacker, therefore, is almost certain not to have a weapon of any kind - so what, therefore, is the personal risk to those who intervene? There is none. Yet, despite the fact that there is no risk to the onlookers, they chose just to carry on looking, instead of helping the girl.

Perhaps, matters would improve if the law permitted ALL the onlookers to be charged with complicity in the molestation, for not doing anything about it. Perhaps, then, people would act to help others, when someone was under attack or in distress. Given the way Singaporeans are (ie. indifferent to the fate, lives and safety of all others but themselves) this is the only way to ensure that Singaporeans would ever help each other. It should become a crime not to help another if you have the power to help them. That would solve the problem overnight - it would also provoke a sharp decline in the crime that remains in Singapore (for though crime is low, it is present).

I find it odd that Singaporeans don't understand this simple idea: that we are all in this life, together. We all live and die, together. Therefore, we should all look after each other and make this life as good as can be. We should not live our lives as if no-one else matters and ignore the plight of all around. If we ignore others, they will ignore us - and that is bad for everyone. Today, I did something simple to help another. It cost me nothing but two minutes of my time, which I would have spent anyway, since he and I were walking in the same direction. In other words, it cost me no additional time...all that it cost me was the effort of speaking. Yet, it saved him from a broken Apple iPod, for if he had dragged that around much longer assuredly it would have come to harm.

Yet, it should not have been me, who stepped forward to help him. For many, many people must have seen him dragging his Apple iPod behind him, before I did. He walked past a bus-stop, in front of me, as I got off a I was among the LAST to see him, at that time. Yet, I was the only one to act.

If Singapore were as I hope it will one day be, there would be many voices telling such a man of his predicament; there would be many people giving chase to the molester - and some giving aid to the girl. Presently, though, Singapore is a country in which it is almost certain that no-one will come forward to help anyone else, under any circumstances. As one poster once observed to me, on this blog: "They will only help someone if there is money in it for them." In other words, this is presently a nation in which you would have to PAY a bystander to help you.

I hope to see an improvement in this kind of behaviour. People must realize that if they give to another, of their time, their support or their kindness, they are also giving an example to many witnesses of a better way to be. The next time, those witnesses may, in turn, give to others...and so a virtuous circle begins and soon the behaviour of helping others is commonplace.

Try it, the next time you see that someone needs help. Reach out and help them. Usually, it will cost you nothing, but it will mean everything to them.

(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.

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication prohibited. Use Only with Permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:55 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised. Singaporeans have this mindset to "mind their own business" to avoid unnecessary trouble.

In fact, some will even whip up their phone to film (whatever out of the ordinary is happening) and post it online, then lift a finger to help.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

That is a pretty sickening thought: they would rather film, than intervene. Wow.

How would they feel, though, if they were the victim of a situation and no-one did anything? Have they never thought about that?

Thanks for your comment.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous ks said...

A doctor in the Jalan Kayu area is holding simple, cheap first aid classes with the goal of having 'at least one member of every family certified in CPR and first aid'.

Though there were many people in my class, I understood from a few of them that they weren't really sure that they would use their skills once they learned them. (In the sense that they were too timid to go up and help).

Unfortunately, the jokes in the class about responding to a person in need with the phrase 'can help, must pay $50' might be all too true.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, KS, this basic idea, that help is only forthcoming if there is a reward attached, has been told to me, in various forms, by quite a few people. It is worrying that so many people express this opinion: it indicates that there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere. Whatever happened to helping others out of basic humanity and care for Humanity?

Thanks for your example.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Cawley,

You are one Ang Moh who knows Singapore and Singaporean so well.

You are correct in your observation that Singapore society as a recognisable whole (i.e. the majority of Singaporeans) is selfish and indifferent. At certain times and situations, they can be callous.

Now, the phrase "at certain times and situations" is significant. Because the usually selfish, indifferent Singaporeans will, in the quirkiness of a particular set of circumstances, go to the other extreme. Just recall the outpouring of sympathy, gifts of toys and financial donations in the Huang Na incident (the little PRC girl who was murdered in October 2004). Or how generous and responsive Singaporeans were, as donors, to the NKF during T.T. Durai's tenure. Perhaps the Singaporean psyche is quirky enough to warrant a psychological analysis?

But I digress. Back to where I left off at "selfish" and "indifferent". We may add the third characteristic: not wanting to stand out from the herd. I suspect that there are quite a few kind souls out there, but who feel uncomfortable coming out to help, when everyone else is minding his own business. A typical Singaporean simply doesn't want to stand out from the crowd.

As a society, we set great store by conformity. We do not regard individualism kindly. That's the official approach. So how do we engender conformity? Being involved in education here in Singapore, I'm sure you know:

(a) Singaporean children must attend only Singapore schools (and NEVER international schools, which are for expat children and only exceptionally, for Singaporean children of the elite/politically connected).

(b) And 18 year old Singaporean males must serve N.S. regardless of the merits of any personal or extenuating circumstances. (Remember your earlier post on our young pianist Keagan Ng?). And while you're at it, reservist duties for you till you reach 40 years of age.

(c) And we must not forget our esteemed "nation building" press, shall we? God forbid that we have an independent press where Singaporeans would be exposed to (gasp!) opposing views and probing/tough questions, etc.

How's that for thorough, comprehensive action by the government to ensure that Singaporeans are "of one mind"?

As a society and apart from North Koreans, Singaporeans are the most socially engineered people on earth, are we not?

In fact, the then PM Lee Kuan Yew was on record as saying that had he (and his government) not intervened in the personal lives of Singaporeans, "we [i.e. Singapore and Singaporeans] would not be where we are today".

And you know what is being drummed into the heads of Singaporeans since young:

(a) axioms such as "there is no free lunch";

(b) constant messages from parents and society in general to "study hard, get good grades, get a scholarship, get a cushy job", etc.

(c) and not forgetting this little gem from the daughter of a PAP MP: "get out of my elite, uncaring face!"

If ever you find yourself asking: "why do Singaporeans behave in such and such a manner?" - please refer to what is written above.


5:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Clunies-Ross, for your eloquent summary of the Singaporean situation.

There is, however, something to point out. Instead of socially engineering a society of people who stand idly by and refuse to help each other, a society in which all reach out to each other, could so easily have been engendered instead. It seems that the endemic selfishness and self-interest we see at work in Singapore is, in fact, EXACTLY WHAT IS DESIRED BY THE PEOPLE WHO CREATED THIS SOCIETY.

That is very interesting indeed. Maybe they think that only selfish people will, in effect, do their bidding, for reasons which have been inculcated into them. The result is the Singapore we see today.

Thanks for your interesting comment.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Saint Splattergut said...

Maybe Selfishness is what makes people chose to vote the continued upgrading of their flats over sending a real message with a vote of change... That would explain why any one goverment in the world would even go so far as to engineer such an unlikable trait into its people. That is, of course, only a theory...

You know, I witnessed something very much like what you've described here in your post. I was in a certain train station and there was this Caucasian man standing not far from the gate where about-to-be passengers and have-been passengers were streaming out. He looked to be rather old and sort of lost.

I gathered from him that he wanted to get to a certain road, which was not far from the station I was at. I directed him to the map that all stations have of their immediate area and we figured out where he had to go. After some pleasant banter, during which he told me he hadn't set foot in the country for ten years, he set off to explore and I set off to work.

I liked starting the day off by being nice. It felt good. I say this as a very Singaporean Singaporean. One that loves Singlish but knows how to use it at the right time (not while directing tourists or in resumes, duh!) and one that loves prata.

P.S. I don't know how long he had been standing there. Not too long, I hope. :)

12:22 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape