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, April 07, 2010

An unexpected word.

Yesterday I did as I have done, many thousands of times in my life: I held a door open for someone. It was at a petrol station, where I had been buying a newspaper.

Now, I have done this many, many times, in Singapore. This time, however, I was in Malaysia. I was surprised to note that there was a distinct difference in the two experiences. Can you guess what it was? Please have a think about it, before reading on.

Well, have you come to a conclusion? What difference could there be in simply opening a door in Malaysia or Singapore? Well, I was surprised. You see, the Malaysian man - who was Malay, in appearance, and in his fifties, I would say, said: "Thanks".

That is all. He said, "Thanks." Oddly, I found myself startled to hear that word. Now, why, you may ask, would I be startled? Well, because in Singapore I never heard the word at all. I had become accustomed to holding doors open for people - be they men, women or children - who would never, ever say "thanks" for doing so. They would walk through in silence, as if I were some kind of lower life form or personal servant (the same thing, in Singapore). So, here, in Malaysia, when I heard that word, I found myself rather surprised. How sad it is, that I should be surprised to be thanked.

I must say, that I am not always thanked when I hold the door open in Malaysia - however, it does seem more common, here, to hear the expression of thanks, than it was in Singapore. The polished city state to my south, may believe itself to be a higher civilization than Malaysia, but, in terms of the manners of its citizens, it is most certainly not.

Perhaps, in Singapore, manners are not regarded as important. In that CITY state, CIVIL behaviour is not thought of as important. Yet, it makes a difference. I felt suitably appreciated for having had the forethought to hold the door open for that middle aged man, yesterday. In Singapore, however, I would usually be made to feel like an idiot for caring enough to do so. One word makes all the difference between appreciation and a snub - and, personally, I would rather be appreciated. So, Singapore could learn something from that middle aged Malay man: a single word, "thanks" and when to use it.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:49 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Malaysian Chinese, I would say a well-mannered one. I helped others to hold the door open, I helped old Malay woman to cross the street and definitely say "thank you" every time others help me.

I enjoyed reading your blog, but I feel that you have a bad impression on Chinese. I am here to draw a clean line between the attitude and mentality of Singaporean Chinese and Malaysian Chinese. Singaporean Chinese is typically arrogant, "kiasu" and very unfriendly as I encountered this, they tend to look down on others and very rigid in their thinking, whereas the Malaysian Chinese is much more down to earth, flexible, sincere and friendly.

So, I hope you can wipe away the wee bit of prejudice towards Chinese, because Singaporean Chinese and Malaysian Chinese are of different species. =)

Last but not least, thank you for providing us interesting read on your blog.

5:46 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I fear that you have read implications into my words that are not really there. Just because I have noted that the man who thanked me was Malay, does NOT mean that I am saying a Chinese man or woman would not have done the same. All it saying is that this particular experience and instance of politeness was from a middle-aged Malay man: that is all.

Yes. I agree that the Malaysian Chinese seem warmer and more "human" than their Singaporean counterparts - or indeed their Mainland Chinese counterparts. So far, I find people in general to be friendlier in Malaysia, than in Singapore. People have more time for each other, more time to be human. This may be because they are less caught up in the pursuit for material success - or that they have learnt more respect for each other. I cannot say which.

I am glad that you enjoy my blog. I like to write, so it is good to hear that some people like to read it. (So the circle of communication is complete!)

It is refreshing to hear that you, too, are polite. This is not common in Singapore.

Best wishes.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

By the way, I taught Malaysian Chinese students in Singapore, at one time. I remember, in particular, one very nice, intelligent boy. So, I do already have better experiences with Malaysian Chinese.

In Singapore, some of the Chinese LOOK DOWN ON others, of other races. They may not realize it, but their live their lives by a presumed racism. It is very unappealing to watch in action. They would probably even deny it, if it was pointed out, but it is quite clearly there. That was something that I didn't like to see. However, not all were like that - but the some who were, made up for it, in effect and feeling.

Thanks for your comment.

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In Singapore, some of the Chinese LOOK DOWN ON others, of other races. They may not realize it, but their live their lives by a presumed racism. It is very unappealing to watch in action. They would probably even deny it, if it was pointed out, but it is quite clearly there. That was something that I didn't like to see. However, not all were like that - but the some who were, made up for it, in effect and feeling."


May I ask how so?


1:27 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

re. How so?

Your question is too vague to be either understood or answered.

Anyone, of any familiarity with Singapore will have noted how a particular population conducts itself as if it is superior to every other population/race in the world. This is the norm there. If you haven't seen it, you are either in denial, or haven't looked in the mirror lately.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Etch said...


I am a Singaporean and I often do hold the door open for others.
While it is not common to hear the word "Thanks" being said out loud, it is not uncommon to receive a silent hand gesture or look of appreciation. Perhaps sometimes, you might have missed this? (I have no idea why this appreciation is silent, and while it may not be as good as a spoken word, its better than nothing)

I do agree with you on the point that Singaporeans in general lack a certain level of graciousness, but what I really found uncomfortable was that it seemed like you have never met someone who had actually verbally thanked you for holding the door open for them in Singapore. What I am saying is that.. Is the level of civil behavior in Singapore really that bad?

4:46 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

My surprise, Etch, is its own tale. That I was surprised, shows the level of verbal thanks I had gotten used to in Singapore...none. I didn't pick up on this "non verbal appreciation"...generally what they seemed to project is blank indifference to the fact that someone had paused in their life to help them, a little. They give no reaction at all.

It is true that Singaporeans generally don't know how to conduct themselves politely and with good manners. There is a national lack of care for others, that comes through in daily interactions and behaviours. Perhaps they are too busy competing, to actually stop to be "nice".

I wish you well, Etch, in Singapore. You can change things, by beginning to make liberal use of the word: "thanks"...maybe it will catch on.

Best wishes

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the Malays in Malaysia given more priority than the Chinese?

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went back to Singapore some years after emigrating to NZ. And I was quite amazed that everytime I held a door open or pressed the "door open" button in the lift for people to get out/in, I never got a word of thanks. I was once so upset that I said "Why don't people say thank you ?" to my hubby in the lift at Bukit Timah Plaza, loud enough to embarrass well dressed / well spoken people who were being rude...I don't know why but I reckon it's because people are unhappy or stressed ..not that it's an excuse , but seriously, I think unhappy people make rude people...With regards racism, I used to be in the IT industry and told off staff (and clients) who spoke in Mandarin during meetings when non-Chinese were present. They were either insensitive or ignorant that it was rude to do so...not neccessarily being racist. Having said all this , in my recent visit to Singapore in December, I felt that people were getting more polite, especially in the service sector. Uncles/aunties in hawker centres actually said "thank you" when I paid for my purchases..So I am hopeful that S'poreans learn to be more polite...

7:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for sharing your experience of Singapore.

Regarding lifts, it is common there, for people to force their way onto lifts, before anyone can get out. That is what you call competitiveness. It can be ugly.

I think civil behaviour has long been missing as an ingredient in the Singaporean psyche...but it has a major effect on quality of life: they just don't realize it.

Perhaps your hopeful signs are a pointer to a better future.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Singaporean here.

I agree with you to a certain extent.

Alas I feel that Singapore has a high populated density which as a result, Singaporeans wanting to escape from the need to communicate. We handle and face people everyday. At the end of a heretic day, we would be happy to blend and fade into the background.

Likewise, we are 'trained' not to speak up so as to avoid confrontations if possible. This explains why we have the "silent hand gesture" as mentioned by Etch.

My 2 cents. :)

9:02 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Interesting. So you are saying that people are fleeing from each other, as it were, because there are just too many of them? That may be so...but it does nothing to change the fact that, by not thanking each other for kindnesses, they are, firstly, discouraging kindness and thoughtfulness...punishing it even...and secondly, making people feel not appreciated for caring. It leads to an unpleasant society once people stop being polite and thankful to each is a step towards a more hostile world.

Daily Singaporeans choose "coolness" over warmth. The effects are clear to all who live there...yet all who live there, have created that society. In a way, the collective spirit wants coolness and distance and unfriendliness. I wonder why? (Maybe they just want to be alone.)

9:57 AM  
Blogger Khayshi said...

Out of your topic of discussion here. As a Malaysian, I think people (I know I do) appreciate it when people hold the door open for someone, because Malaysians generally don't do that a lot.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Khayshi, Thanks for your may be so that they thank me for holding doors open, because, to them, it is unexpected, yes.

However, in Singapore, few hold doors open there, too...and they don't thank me when I do so. So it is not the same situation here, in Malaysia - people are more vocal in their appreciation, here.

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe you dun notice this,. ur profile still say you are in singapore. why dun change it? :)

10:06 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right. I didn't notice. I am not even sure how to change my profile. I will have to have a look at it.

Thanks for pointing this out.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

To "How so?" above.

I spent almost a decade in Singapore. The views I have come to are a distillation of that decade's experience. You should spend some time getting to know the life experiences of the minority populations in Singapore and see if they have experience of being treated as a lesser being, in any way, by the majority population. You might be surprised at the experiences they have had. Then again, Singaporeans are brain washed into believing that they are "no.1"...and if you buy into that, it is inevitable that you will end up thinking yourself superior to everyone else, even if the truth is otherwise. So, perhaps, one can't blame individual Singaporeans for the attitudes that have been inculcated in them, for political reasons.

Re. your unposted comment. I have posted many comments, over the years, from people who disagree with me. I then put my side of the issue. That is all.

Have a good day.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

re. priority.

The Malays dominate Malaysia in the same way that the Chinese dominate Singapore.

1:33 PM  

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