Making Light of Things

Keeping Gambling Out of Our Homes


The building of two integrated resorts in Singapore was a major turning point in our nation’s history. It was the decision made after a long and hard debate that divided many in Parliament, and even drew agonised tears from some members when it was announced that we would go ahead with it. It was a direction that was very reluctantly chosen, and under great pressure given the economic situation at that time.

Yesterday, the Government exempted two organisations from the online gambling ban. There was no significant debate, no tears, and from my layman’s point of view, little reluctance.

One of the questions I get quite often when I run workshops for educators on keeping students safe online is: “What is the greatest threat to our kids?”. There isn’t one single “threat”, I’d explain, but the massive shift from desktop to mobiles has changed the game entirely.

Where once parents would place the family desktop in the living room so that all surfing could be supervised, children now grab mobile devices and take off to their own private corners. It has made supervision that much harder.

That is what happened today with gambling. Yes there are Singapore Pools’ stalls that dot every neighbourhood street corner, but the effort of actually walking there and queuing up was a natural barrier for the less habitual gambler. Now that these barriers are taken away, these stalls have made their way into our homes and our bedrooms.

You won’t find Singaporeans proud of our perpetually long lines for Toto tickets. In fact, many of us sigh under our breaths when our loved ones make the trip to donate the little they have towards this senseless pastime. It is a real battle in many households. So real that the government set up the National Council for Problem Gambling. I’m disappointed to not have heard from the council.

I wrote some years back about the search for Singapore’s semangat. Some principles we hold make us who we are in the world. A staunch stand against vice has historically been Singapore’s calling card. We’ve always acknowledged our frailties and worked hard to keep ourselves free from them. These exemptions, when passed with little or weak justifications, make a mockery of our principles and damage our identity.

So far, the only reasons for the online gambling exemptions that I’ve managed to glean from the news are

  1. it is hard to completely eradicate remote gambling
  2. Banning it drives users underground, making us a target for crime syndicates

We need to weigh those reasons against the social cost. Right now we are emotionally drawn to the social cost because it is borne by families, perhaps our own or belonging to people we know and love. We need more information on how much damage these crime syndicates do to us. 120 people arrested in the past year and a half doesn’t quite tip the scales.

This is also posted on Medium.

Count on Me, Singapore

National Day Rally 2016

We all held our collective breaths when we heard that PM Lee had fainted delivering the National Day Rally speech. There was this odd mix of silence as the future suddenly became so much more uncertain, amidst the cacophony of social media gone crazy as everyone scoured every avenue to find out what happened, and whether he was ok.

We never got to see whether PM Lee fainted, but the video of the moments just before circulated minutes after we received news. The image of PM Lee holding tight to the rostrum - shaking - and then leaning to one side drove Faith and me to tears. How heavy the burden this one man bore.

If Singapore were a family, and former PM Lee Kuan Yew our founding father, PM Lee finds his place as our eldest brother. He was always known to be a little stiff, but in recent years he revealed a much more human side through his photography on Instagram, always signed off “Photo by me”.

That his body fell short of the mammoth task of delivering the National Day Rally speech — essentially the summary of the past year and the vision for the country’s future, with segments in 3 languages no less — felt like an emotional blow we really were’t ready for. We had only just lost Lee Kuan Yew. I wasn’t sure we built up the emotional reserves for another.

What happened last night was a necessary reminder for us to remember our individual mortality. Nation-building is a responsibility of every citizen. The song “Count on me, Singapore” takes on new meaning. You and I are Singapore, and we need to be committed to build each other up even if we come from different races, different religions, or hold different political views. We build each other up that we may prosper as a nation to leave a legacy for future generations.


We managed to sneak in a quiet dinner, before coming home to what was now THREE sick kids (up from one in the morning).

Happy anniversary, sweetest wife. There’s no one I’d rather have on the team. For better, for worse, till death.

Our Work and Our Worth

Faith’s no-pay leave is coming to an end, and there’s been some pressure from people close to us to have her go back to her job. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of emotions for her as she struggles with what her self-identity is, and how self-worth is affected by what society, close friends and family think.

Many of us harbour a bias that the spouse that works for money is the main contributor to the family. We use words like “breadwinner” to bestow some level of honour, while “homemaker” is viewed in a humbler, even derogatory light.

I’ve experienced what Faith’s work day is like. There are thousands of moving parts, many of which society would classify as “menial”. When you consciously unpack each task, you’ll realise how much they demand of you - to be meticulously detailed (“Mummy, where’s the Chinese homework book I left on the table?”); constantly aware (“We need to inform the bus driver that Caleb isn’t takin the bus next Tuesday because…”); and most of all, emotionally draining (“Kids, I need you to focus on the task at hand right now even though you’re tired from a day at school”). And how much wisdom it requires to know when to help, and when to let the kids try and possibly fail, which also means building them up through the tears and emotion that come after.

The purpose of a family is in the growth of its members for service unto God and fellow man. We can romanticise the role of the breadwinner all we want, but at the end of the month, we take home our pay to see the basic needs of our family and hopefully afford a few creature comforts. It is in that light I see my job as a means of supporting our central duty of developing each member in our family.

Faith mans the frontline everyday. I’m privileged to get a slice of the action by her side. We make command decisions together - the best ones are made in united prayer.

So it might mean that I help out with the kids at night whenever I can. It gives Faith a chance to decompress from the gruelling work of carrying the three little munchkins emotionally; and to rest her feet from buzzing back and forth schools, activity centres and home.

There is a beautiful partnership when I choose to serve my wife. I look at her sleeping, tired out, and it gives me great joy to tend to her needs and buy her a little time of her own. She is the jewel of my house, and the work of her hands weaves divine glory in the lives of our children, and its grace reflects unto me.

Blessed is the one

Blessed is the one who does not … sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the way of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.”

The full verse in Psalm 1 actually addresses three groups of people. Blessed is the one who does not:

When studying this portion of scripture in my youth, we often paid more attention not to fall into the first two groups. It seemed easier then, to be part of a group of people doing wicked or sinful things, than to be in a group of mockers. We’d imagine how a group of mockers would congregate in the market square, loudly putting down others as they walked past. Others who were different: foreigners, poor people…people who didn’t fit into what the mainstream crowd deemed acceptable.

Mass mockery just didn’t seem that prevalent back then.

How things have changed.

The democratization of media (a smartypants way of saying everyone can now communicate with everybody else) in the last two decades has made mocking others a global pastime. Social media is rife with “social commentary”, all egging us on to agree with them on how stupid or incompetent someone else must be, how unfashionably clothed, or how morally suspect.

These posts - and I’m guilty of having written quite a number of them myself - often start off in earnest as a response to do something to address an ongoing social issue. At best, they are attempts to raise awareness, at worst, they are an exercise in ego-boosting. Look, how smart I am! How eloquent! They fall between these two ends of the spectrum, carrying their respective amounts of mockery.

In the many years I’ve been involved in blogging, I’ve always held to the belief that the democratization of media is good. People should be able to express their ideas, and an open exchange of ideas inherently has some self-moderating properties. But now I find myself exhausted from the amount of talk out there. The volume and intensity of discourse in current affairs far outweighs the expertise of the participants. And sadly, real commitment to issues hasn’t risen much.

Real commitment. The sort that brings one to spend years trying to cobble a solution. We’ve all read blogs, tweets and status updates on how the poor are treated, how the disadvantaged in society need help, but we don’t see a corresponding rise in people dedicating their lives towards eradicating the problem, or tending to those they profess to be outraged on behalf of.

Blessed is the man who does not sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the way of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.

Don’t be the loud cawing online crowd. Don’t be the silent majority. Be the silent minority. The ones who meditate day and night on what is right before God. The ones who work ceaselessly behind the scenes, that the work of their hands might prosper those whom they mean to help.