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

Friendship is Priceless

IT’S hard to think of anything else as precious as friends. Money can buy friends, some may say, but chances are, such friends may not be true.

Friends, you could say, are the opposite of loneliness. Without friends, your world would be quiet, devoid of fun. I can’t imagine my life without friends, particularly my best friend, Adielle, pronounced just like the famous singer, Adele.

Adielle and I have known each other since we were babies, so our parents tell us. I recall those long ago days when we used to play catching on the church grounds. We must have been four or five. The kind of joy you find playing with a friend is priceless, as is the kind of connection you get from sharing a special moment.

On a mission trip to Nias in Indonesia to help the poor, we seemed to have had a strange falling spell. We fell into a drain, we slipped on the wet floor, we tripped over the threshold of one of the houses we visited. Falling is no fun, but the fact that I didn’t fall alone, made it feel less horrible, less painful.

Mischief can somehow feel more thrilling too in the company of a friend. Not that I’ve committed a heinous crime, but once, I played truant at a church camp. Because we were playing with light sticks, cutting them up to let all the glowing liquid flow on our bed, we turned in only at two in the morning, Naturally, we couldn’t wake up early. The plan was to skip devotion at 8.30AM and sleep in. We rose only at ten, but managed to slip into the breakfast room to steal some croissants, ham and cheese, and orange juice before slipping back to our rooms to enjoy our breakfast haul. 

Alone, I wouldn’t have done such a crazy thing. I wouldn’t have had the courage. That’s the other beauty of friendship. The power of two beats the power of one. In this silly venture of ours, we felt brave together. Imagine if we were together for something nobler, something more meaningful. We could forge something really special. That something hasn’t come to us yet, but if and when it does, I’d really be looking forward to it. That collaboration would be priceless.

(383 words)

Glenda Chong, Secondary Four
August 2017

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2014 exam, Question #4:
“The best things in life are free.” Write about some of the occasions when you have found this to be true.

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

Tuning In to Ambition

On the road to becoming a chef (Image: Pixar)

AMBITION is a large word. It encapsulates career, social status, starting a family, building assets, growing wealth, and ultimately growing old gracefully with a bundle of grandchildren, or possibly even great-grandchildren, squealing about in the home over festive seasons.

As a teen, though, my vision of ambition doesn’t take into account that far-out silver-haired future. In fact, it doesn’t even accommodate any space for family. I can’t imagine myself being a wife or a mother. In my present world, the word ambition is not singular, but plural. Here’s where I’m the greedy girl: I want to do many things and be many things—a pilot, an officer in the Air Force, and a chef.

The first is an impossibility. I don’t have perfect vision, and sadly—I am not thrilled to admit this—I’m not a guy. The second is out of the question too. Just because the job sounds incredibly cool doesn’t mean that I can handle it. Besides, I’m not a genius at math, and wires and circuitry aren’t really my thing.

Now that I have struck off two ambitions from my bucket list, I’m glad I’ve overcome one of my greatest challenges—that of focus. Which leaves me now to tackle just one thing: becoming a chef.

Even here, I must bring all my focus to bear because like ambition, chef too is a large word that branches into a million other things. What type of chef, for instance? Culinary or pastry, savory or sweet? Then, there’s the cuisine style? Classical French, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, fusion (so last season!). Then, there’s the question of money. Can I not be a chef, but a chef/owner?

These are big questions, questions that should rightly be addressed before I find my way to a culinary institution. But these questions aren’t going to test me physically the way it would if I were standing hours on end prepping, washing, carting and fetching stuff, receiving supplies, and cleaning, always cleaning.

I am acquainted with that kind of exhaustion, having clocked many hours and days in an international cuisine restaurant in Myanmar whenever I return to my other home over the year-end vacation. The queasy, achy ankles, the sore lower back, the burns from the hot, splattering oil, the boiling water, and the oven singes at the stove. Oh, and the cuts too!

Hardship can be cool.

Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain, all these culinary celebrities have never had it easy. And why should I? If I want to be a chef, I need to be friends with hard work. In the meantime, while I’m slogging away at my present academic pursuits, I spend my weekends playing around in the kitchen.

It’s steak one week, Tom Kha Gai another, pasta the next. I have a schedule going, sometimes I keep repeating a dish to get it right. When I slip into a lazy mood and don’t want to fuss in the kitchen, I’ll go food hunting and café-hopping.

Pizza, sushi, Wagyu beef, Korean fried chicken, kimchi soup, Korean barbecue, fancy cakes, pancakes, soufflés, and sexy tarts. No, I’m not gorging, I’m just training my palate.

(528 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 #3:
What are your ambitions for the future? Explain how you plan to achieve them, including any possible difficulties.

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

My Mother, My Inspiration

Image: Mucho

PERFECTIONISM is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is something I aspire to. My mother has it, I don’t. Perfectionism is what makes my home spick and span. The moment we enter the house, we need to put our footwear right into the shoe rack, while our socks will go straight into the laundry bin out at the backyard. This creates a sort of auto-pilot discipline in our family, which I’m particularly proud of. My kid sister finds it tedious, but she has to play by the rules, which is always a good thing.

The same kind of discipline applies to many other places in our home. At the dining table, every chair has to be pushed up against the dining table as soon as we vacate our seats. Where we are seated for our meals, we have five photo frames gazing at us from an adjacent buffet table—each of them carefully arranged in a slight diagonal, three on the left, and two on the right, facing inward. Then, there’s the fridge. Every item has a dedicated spot. No apple will ever find itself in the company of an orange. Apples will always hang out with apples, likewise for oranges, or any other fruit. 

My mother may sound like an anal freak, but that quality of neatness, precision, and attention to details are admirable. They are everything I wish I had. What I also long to have is my mother’s skill at cooking. She can do steak very well. Well done for herself, medium rare for my father and my sister, and medium for me. Almost always, she’s spot on with the doneness.

For all her gifts and qualities, there is one other that I hold dear. It’s her devotion to the family, her “family first” spirit. When I get a pimple breakout, she’d come home with an entire range of skincare: tea tree oil for antibacterial properties, soap-free facial wash with the right kind of pH value—stuff she took time to research and certainly cost her quite some money.

Then there was that one week six years ago when a mysterious fever gripped me. It was my mother who nursed me back to health. She gave me a cold towel change on the forehead almost every hour. The week zipped by in a blur, save for my mother, whose face was always there before me, and her gentle ways.

Can I ever be like my mother when I become a mother myself? I’m not sure. I’m nowhere as neat as her, as meticulous, as thoughtful, or even gentle. All I can do right now is try.

(443 words)

Germaine Chong, Secondary Four
July 2017

For more essays by Germaine, visit Germaine Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2014 exam, Question #3:
Which person has the greatest influence on your life at the present time, and why?

You may also like:
The Man Who Was Born Round
. The Man I Want To Be

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