Marriage Made Simple

Love and Marriage in Modern Times (Image: babyrabz)

MARRIAGE, in modern times, tends to eschew the stodgy, pedantic practices of yore. Tradition is tiresome, and modernity is in. Pre-marital cohabitation, for instance, may be scoffed at by traditionalists, but to a young couple, it is necessary and vital—it gives them the opportunity to really get to know their potential life partner. In our society, marriage may be embracing all things modern and convenient, but certain traditions will forever stay.

Convenience and practicality tend to rule in modern marriages. With the exorbitant costs of wedding banquets, expensive enough to set the pockets of a couple back by a good year’s joint salary, no wonder some couples opt to celebrate their union in a quiet, private, low profile way. The traditional, expensive, face-saving affair for Mom and Dad is all too much of a burden for a  young couple, who have bigger, loftier things to take on as they launch into their new lives together. Why do they have to bother with the little family bickerings that very naturally arise from something as massive as a wedding banquet?

Through the eyes of a young couple, some of the rituals and superstition surrounding traditional marriage can be rather absurd. A couple, for instance, on their wedding morning, is supposed to have to wash themselves in pomelo leave water to ward off evil spirits. Then, there’s the hair-combing ritual to signify the couple being transformed from a boy and girl to a man and a woman. Obviously, such a practice would not be applicable for a couple who’s remarrying, if not laughable. For the sake of filial piety, most young couples play along, and go through with these practices with a stoic grin.

For the braver and more maverick couples who cannot stand to deal with the throngs of relatives, they choose the path of the closed group celebration of just immediate family and the nearest and closest of friends. It’ s akin to the strictly private Hollywood celebrity wedding. Some relatives may feel slighted, some friends may fume, but whose wedding is it? You can’t please everyone seems ultimately to be the modus operandi of young couples.

This scaled-down approach is taking on greater popularity because it gives the couple and their families a more intimate celebration and takes away the fretting and fussing of having to host, and focuses on the enjoyment of company, food, and setting. With fewer guests, couples have greater flexibility to splurge a little more on a fancier wedding destination out by the bay somewhere, or a fancy resort nudging the cliff with a spectacular view of the sunset. Compare this with the more conventional, more mainstream banquet-in-a-ballroom, the sunset somehow feels more alluring, more romantic, and ultimately, more unforgettable.

One cannot imagine couples of such ilk returning from a honeymoon and moving into the home of their parents, either his or hers. The whole concept of extended family has died a long time ago. Rare is the household with the full force of grandparents, parents, children, and soon enough, the new offsprings. Even the government recognizes this departure from traditional marriage arrangements and the business of starting families. Look at the kind of housing we have. Most of the new public housing are snug little outfits great for couples who are just starting their lives together, whose careers have only just started at the bottom of the ladder.

However anachronistic some of the traditional marriage practices are within the modern context of practicality and good sense, some traditions would never die. The business of feasting, of revelry, and the raucous cheers to joy, double happiness and fertility—all this would never fade with time. And even if a couple were to choose to flee from it all, elopement wouldn’t be something too modern in flavor. Elopement, after all, has been around for as long as love existed. 

(650 words)


Zeta Chua, Pre-University One
October 2017

This essay was written in response to the question:
Traditional marriage is an outdated concept. To what extent is this true of your society.

For more essays like this, visit:
GP Essays

The Ways of the Teen

NO K-drama fan worth her salt would watch just a single episode of “Descendants of the Sun” in one sitting. For the love of their actor or actress idol, they would do anything to binge-sit through four, five, even six or more episodes of this romantic TV drama loved by not just Koreans, but fans all over the world.

We teens are masters of such foolishness, blind to the virtues of sleep, and how it can replenish our cells and generate new hormones. Our organs need sleep. Stay up all night and deprive yourself of sleep, your organs would protest, go cranky, and soon enough, you would just fall sick.

This teenage propensity for neglecting sleep happens as well not just in the name of K-drama. They put sleep on the sidelines just to add hours to their day. Want to load up on more revision? Sleep less. Want to meet the assignment deadline? Sleep even lesser. Want to mug it all for that big exam? Load up on caffeine, don’t sleep.  

More and more, sleep is also losing the battle against social media. Its 24/7 existence means that you can choose to be bombarded by it in the toilet, or past your bedtime. That compulsive thumb swipe that goes up and down the smartphone or tablet has such an addictive hold on teens. What social media takes away from us is also healthy relationships. People don’t talk to each other anymore. One could characterize modern social connection as simply this: so near, yet so far.

Teens have it tough in this modern world. Sedentary is in because no one can live without being glued to their smartphones—made worse by the fact that school is stressful and mugging is mandatory. Factor in a lopsided curriculum where Physical Education is a mere 100 minutes per week—equivalent to three percent of the entire week’s school hours—teens are not leading healthy lives, certainly not helped by school canteens serving up fried foods and a wide array of sweet drinks.

As teens would have it, anything instant or trendy entices them to the dark side. Think cup noodles and their salty, slurpy goodness. Then there’s bubble tea, KFC, bingsu, Korean fried chicken, rainbow cheese toast, rainbow cake, anything rainbow, Hokkaido cheese tart, the list gets scary.

No wonder Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has decided to go big on the health theme at this year’s National Day Rally speech. One of the biggest rally takeaways is brown rice. It may not sound like the yummiest thing on earth, but then again it’s not a bitter pill. If the Health Promotion Board ever needed a poster girl to run a brown rice campaign, they can find a ready volunteer. I’ve got my hand up.

(466 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #4:
To what extent do you agree with the idea that some teenagers lead an unhealthy lifestyle. Give reasons for your views.

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

Never Walk Away From a Boiling Pot

Boiling, boiling, don’t walk away! (Photo: Gigaom)

GOOD sense tells me that I should check the pockets of my pants or shorts or uniform skirt before throwing them into the wash. Alas, good sense seems to elude me on occasion. Some mornings, when I can’t find my bus card, I’d invariably find it in the pocket of my uniform sitting in the pile of clean laundry. On more disastrous occasions, I realize too late that I have left balls of used tissue in the pocket. And then, I’d end up with an entire load of laundry snowed over with tissue flakes.

These are some of the common mistakes that grace my life. The tissue drama has proven that I have not quite learned from my mistake, even though my mother has advised me to check my pockets. My grandmother too. They are transmitting a hard-won lesson from their very own experience, but it hasn’t worked. Neither have the repeated mistakes that have come biting at me.

I guess the tissue dandruff problem hasn’t had a catastrophic effect on me just yet, or I would long have come face to face with that proverbial new leaf moment. I’ve continued to be sloppy, forgetful, and an utter disappointment. It’s not as if I’m deaf to the wisdom of my mother or grandmother, or even the lessons from my very own mistakes. It’s just that the valuable lessons in life can only be learned if we set our minds to it. Or when somehow, heat and pain are involved.

Once, while alone at home, I chose to iron without a shirt on. Going topless made sense given that it was a hot day, but it immediately didn’t the moment the edge of the iron nicked my belly just right of the belly button. I never go shirtless on ironing days anymore.

My other heat and pain story has to do with boiling liquid—pain not of the scalding physical kind, but one of dread when I realize all too late I have a gunky, boiled-over mess to deal with. Clear, colorless, and non-staining H2O boiling over is never too big a drama, but picture this: soup base for my Korean ramen filled with chili powder and vegetable flakes. Or worse: Japanese curry with chunks of vegetables.

In both instances, they had boiled over in my absence, while I was doodling with something else. The curry was particularly awful given its viscosity. By the time I had realized my folly, the curry had crusted on the side of the pot, flecked with a tiny square of carrot here and a potato there, and the bits at the base of the pot had charred. Not a pretty sight, including the stove.

Surely, I didn’t need my mother, or my grandmother, or all the nagging aunties I have, to tell me that what I did is the height of culinary silliness. They have regaled their own stories of burnt pots and charred stoves. I was listening, though not registering—until the day it all happened to me. 

Mistakes are no fun, but they are beautiful. Thomas Edison would agree. He has glorified every single one of his mistake, all the “ten thousand ways that won’t work.” And in the world of cooking, what I have learned about making pasta is this: never ever put a lid over the pot of semi-boiled water as soon as your pasta goes in. Of course, I did, and once again, I walked away, off to fiddle with my phone, my Instagram, my whatnot.

With my pasta, I was silly two times over and learned two important lessons: one, I should have let the water come to a rolling boil before tossing in my pasta; two, I should never have walked away, not least because I’m just an inexperienced girl in the kitchen, with so many lessons yet to learn, and a million more mistakes to make.

(654 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
July 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #2:
Do you agree that we can learn from the mistakes of others, or do we need to learn from our own experiences? 

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

Strawberry Generation, Strawberry Parents

How “strawberry” are we?

DISCIPLINE has gone awry in schools. Teachers today have to think twice about the way they punish students. Better to punish less than to go all the way. Most students of today, after all, are delicate creatures, offsprings of parents who believe their kids must grow up without being violated by unnecessary slaps on the hand or a slightly raised voice. Such is the way educators must operate in the shadow of overly protective parents.

In my school, for instance, we’ve had a bizarre story of a girl, my classmate, whom we’ll call Shane, who got scolded twice for two things: one, for dozing off in class, and two, for not submitting her homework. Within two weeks of the last reprimand, she quit school. Her mother had pulled her out of the school system, and went the home-schooling route.

Whatever reasons I’ve heard concerning her being depressed just doesn’t quite hold water because she was one of the jolliest and chattiest girls in school. The whole decision to pull out of school just felt too sudden. It was as if the school got a slap in the face from the parents. You could almost hear that resentful mutter, “Better to play safe and get our daughter well clear of that scolding teacher than to continue.”

Then, there’s that story about the PSLE student who didn’t get his hair cut despite repeated warnings only to find himself rendered that service by his own teacher. The mother went livid, and the story went viral. She accused the teacher for ruining her son’s $60 hair cut and lodged a police complaint.

In this she-said-they-said drama, one thing is clear. The son was definitely overprotected. If he weren’t, his mother wouldn’t have kicked up such a fuss. She would have accepted that bad haircut for the punishment she and her son had to put up with for not having heeded simple, basic school rules on appearance and tidiness.

Perhaps it was a little far-fetched for the teacher to take on the role of a barber. The school could have shipped him off to the neighborhood Sri Dewa for ten bucks. But that would still have likely kicked up a storm, given the mother’s temperament and her lofty sense of entitlement.

A similar kind of brouhaha brewed recently, except it was over a handphone and not a haircut. A boy was caught using his handphone in class, and it got confiscated for three months. The father sued the school. Granted, three months does sound ridiculous, but the suing, what’s that about? Is the father trying to make a point that no one should ever mess with his son ever again, even in the name of good old punishment? Overprotected kid? Yes. And whatever happened to decent, sensible parent-teacher diplomacy?

Call us the strawberry generation if you want to, but leave me out of the picture. I’ve been through all kinds of punishment in school—from detention to getting yelled at in class to copying whole essays five, six times. That doesn’t include all the nasties, the grueling drills, the bugs and bites I’ve been subjected to at the National Cadet Corps, all four years of it.

I can quite safely say, I’m not a strawberry. And I think my parents would agree.

(553 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
July 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2013 exam, Question #1:
Parents often believe that it is better to be safe than sorry. Do you consider young people to be too protected?

You may also enjoy:
The Parent Playbook: Better Safe Than Sorry

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

The Singaporean Identity Needs TLC

Photo Credit: Epigram Books

SINGAPORE is sometimes referred to as a nanny state, particularly by the Western media. The epithet is not particularly flattering, but there is some truth to it.

The country’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, was, after all, a man who was tough on corruption and litter, a visionary who steered Singapore from a third world country to a first world oasis. His love for the country and his no-nonsense approach to nation-building can be summed up in that one line he delivered in a speech—if ever anything were to befall Singapore even if he were dead and gone, he would crawl out of his grave to set it right. Continue reading