“Are we Charlie?” — We should react to Terrorism Rationally


by Jakkarin Tiew (14S49)

The gruesome attack in Paris on January 7th, taking the lives of ten staff from the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and two police officers, has led to waves of campaigns around the world to support Charlie Hebdo’s controversial works. Thousands gathered and marched the streets of Paris holding signs of “Je suis Charlie”, which is French for “I am Charlie”, and over 40 world leaders also joined the march to condemn those who are responsible for the atrocity; as the targeted group of this attack, several news outlets, such as Bloomberg NewsThe Huffington Post, and Vox, publicly featured the controversial cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, signalling that they are not threatened by the act of terrorism. Indeed, terrorism, the common threat faced by all societies, should be nullified and eliminated; free speech and press should be promoted and celebrated; however, is the “I am Charlie” campaign the world’s efforts to defeat terrorism, or is it more of a hindrance that worsens the situation?

Besides promoting the freedom of speech, the overwhelming support for Charlie Hebdo also sends a message to whomever responsible for the attack that their efforts to silence the free press are, and will continue to be, nullified. Some other news outlets, prominently The New York TimesNew York Daily News, and CNN, chose to not show the controversial cartoons so as not to offend the Muslim community. They were subsequently denounced by many as “surrendering to terrorism” or “incentivising terrorism by proving its effectiveness”. Although showing the victims’ controversial works is extremely effective in raising awareness for the magazine and rallying support to fight against terrorism, I believe it is in no way effective in solving the problem.

Immediately after the shooting, several Muslim heads of state, public figures, and representatives of institutions, such as those from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, denounced the attack. As the attack was carried out in the name of Islam, further supporting the satirical cartoons depicting Muhammad will inevitably lead to some form of generalisation of the Muslim community and even encourage “Islamophobia”. Not only will this upset many Muslims, the entire Muslim community is punished and discriminated for the few extremists’ actions, as now many will push the government to impose restrictions on Muslim emigrants or even eliminate the Muslim communities within the countries. Thus, the insensitive promotion of freedom of speech by supporting the magazine’s works now contravenes the Muslim community’s belief and reduces their chances for emigration when seeking for asylum, especially with the sustained unrest in Middle East.

Superficially, the purpose of this attack was to defend the Islam and the Prophet, and silence those who show disrespect. However, it is clear that the ultimate goal of the extremist organisation was catching the world’s attention and thus rallying more recruits and donations from those who support the attack. Hence, how will spreading Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons help fighting terrorism? What will we achieve besides upsetting innocent Muslims and even marginalising Muslim community in our society? Marginalisation might also lead to more volunteers being recruited by terrorist organisations due to growing resentment. Without analysing the root cause of terrorism rationally, we might be actually helping the terrorists.

To quote from Glenn Greenwald, the American lawyerjournalist and author, and former columnist for the Guardian US, “Central to free speech activism has always been the distinction between defending the right to disseminate Idea X and agreeing with Idea X…” There is nothing wrong in championing for the freedom of speech, and individualism should indeed be preserved, but we must take up the responsibility to rationally inspect and analyse others’ opinions, not just blindly following the trend. In retrospect, we are not all Charlie.

Whistling from L.A.


“I’ve done a bunch of movies. And it’s a luxury to me that they’re all whatever I’ve wanted them to be.”

“You had these film-makers, John Huston, Luis Buñuel, who more or less died on their sets. And they seemed happy. Now I wouldn’t want to die young on one of my sets. But if I was a 90-year-old director…?”

(Wes Anderson, Director of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, a forerunner of the Best Motion Picture in the upcoming 87th Academy Awards on 2nd Feb 2015)

“He said, ‘It’s too dangerous, and it’s not about me—I don’t want to be the story,’ ”

“I said, ‘Like it or not, you’re going to be the story, so you might as well get your voice in.’ After that point, I became a filmmaker.”

(Laura Poitras, Director of “Citizenfour”, a contender of the Best Documentary in the Academy Awards & also the only documentary so far that has told an authentic and up-close story of Edward Snowden)

“The man was and is still regarded quite rightfully as the forefather of computer science, the forerunner, the inventor of it,”

“To bring him to other people through the film for me is — it’s a huge honor personally and something I feel very strongly about. This man needs recognition.”

(Benedict Cumberbatch, Actor & Oscar nominee for the Best Leading Actor, on his role of Alan Turing in the “Imitation Game”, a biographical story of the code-breaking genius that helped win World War II but was later persecuted for being gay and committed suicide)

“It punishes you. But growing up in Warsaw, you grow up among tombs. There are plaques everywhere: 200 people were executed here, 30 people there. There were bulletholes in the courtyard I grew up in. Just by my home is an entrance to the sewers they used in the Warsaw uprising. I grew up knowing people died down there. Warsaw was once a battleground, then it became a morgue. It’s a city littered with ghosts. And that never left me. When people say the Poles connived with the Nazis – well, some did, some didn’t. Some people, quite a few, behaved atrociously. Others, quite a few, behaved with incredible courage. Most just tried to survive, the whole country was a victim.”

(Paul Pawlikowski, Director of “Ida”, a Polish film that has been nominated for the Best Foreign Picture for the Academy Awards)

Remains


by Chen Yanhua (14A11)

The Islamic State (IS) has released a video online purporting to show the beheading of US journalist James Foley, who went missing in Syria in 2012. — 20th Aug 2014, BBC News

Diane Foley sharply criticised the US government for failing to rescue her son, murdered by Isis militants in August — 12th Sept 2014, The Guardian

________________________________________

Surprised, stupefied, stymied, were

Your father, brother

And that flock of

Twitter followers.

________________________________________

The world as you know it has

Forever changed.

________________________________________

Silence snares

At every corner and every turn

Of the ever emptying house.

While that patriotic nation of yours,

Rages,

Behind the screen.

________________________________________

How privileged are we to entertain

The gentlemen from The Department.

All prompt and polished, they pinched

Out the gravity with such

Enviable grace.

Sir, 

No words of condolence can possibly convey

Our sympathy, our sorrow.

Such profusion of emotion

Only matched

By a weeping father, who fades

Into a nightmare of blades —

My territory.

________________________________________

A dream sweet and discrete, where

You look gorgeous

Even

In that horrible orange jumpsuit.

A drama that replays

The blood-spilling, head-rolling, and

Prayer-chanting.

________________________________________

A haven where no God,

Theirs, yours, mine,

Bothers to touch.

Where a blessed gunshot brings

And un-changes.

Religious fanaticism, who is to be blamed ?


by Nguyen Xuan Bach 14S52

The woe of Charlie Hebdo’s shooting earlier this month is still haunting Europe. Police raids have uncovered several terrorist schemes by Islamists across the Continent, while suspicion of Muslim population puts Europe under high alert and embroiled in great tension. Indeed, religious fanaticism, specifically Islamist fanaticism, is the top risk to the world stability today and needs to be stopped at all cost. However, it is important to understand why fanaticism still exists in the modern world and who are to be blamed for such dangerous risk to mankind.

Very quickly fingers are pointed across religions, blaming each other for triggering one another throughout the history. The controversies that religions inherited from past conflicts have indeed contributed to the current fanaticism significantly, where ‘vengeance in the name of God’ is the most common reason for extremism, as it is supposedly written in many religions’ ‘Holy Scripture’. The concept of ‘vengeance’, however, is highly subject to interpretation and is in fact not accepted by all even within the same religion. For example, fanaticism of Thai and Burmese Buddhist monks is not found in other Buddhism-practicing nations. It is also hard to justify the ‘vengeance’ in the name of a common deity if other followers are against such actions, especially in a globalized world where multiculturalism is prevalent and people tend to tolerate the differences in order to achieve the common goals of economic and social stability.

The extremist perception of fanaticism as a form of protection over religions is hence unjustified. This leads to another popular explanation for the persistent presence of religious fanaticism: political ambition. Throughout the history, religions have been used as political tools, from European crusades in Jerusalem – a geopolitical struggle to re-control trade routes to Asia after the fall of Byzantine empires to Muslim – to the Seven Years’ War between Catholics and Christians that gave rise to modern European political division. Modern Islamist extremism dated back to the Cold War period, where USA and Soviet Union increasing influence and intervention in the Middle East’s affairs had led to fervent religious reaction, prominently from Mujahedeen organization al-Qaeda who see democracy as a Western-Christian product and hence a threat to Islamic tradition. More often than not, fanatics become the most courageous fighters on the battlefield, with their minds fixed on the paradise promised for those who die for their gods, in the dark of the political schemes of the master-hands behind the scene. Buddhist fanatics in Sri Lanka such as those in Bodu Bala Sena do not fight against Christians and Muslims to protect Buddhism as a religion, but rather the political, social and economic status of elite Buddhists. Islamists who died on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq for ISIL have little idea that they are not only fighting for the glory of Allah, but also for the oil fields that will generate millions of dollars for the leaders and help them gain leverage on negotiation table. The romantic notion of defending one’s religion has thus been exploited to serve the political ambitions of those on top.

However, it does not mean that only the perpetrators are to be held responsible. Firstly, intolerance and discrimination of the mass towards smaller religious groups put the religious under pressure, and prompt them to act fanatically. China’s atheist-dominant population often discriminates against Muslim minorities, which has culminated in the Urumqi riots in 2009. After Charlie Hebdo, there had been great solidarity rally against extremism across Europe. Yet, anti-Muslim movements such as Pegida in Germany have gained traction as well and greatly threatened the already shakened social stability. After the 9/11, in countries from the USA to Singapore, the public discrimination against Muslim has only resulted in more tension and increased recruitment of fanatics due to widespread resentment. In fact, social and economic inequalities coupled with discrimination and suspicion between different religious groups often make the oppressed feel marginalized, leading to the adoption of fanaticism as a way to call for their own interests. Secondly, the intervention of USA in almost every conflict around the world – the act that has earned them the much-derided title of “world police” – has undoubtedly incurred hatred towards herself. Whether the USA’s intention is all sincerity or the opposite, countries, especially those in which religions hold powerful sway, prefer their sovereignty to be respected, and active intervention will only result in greater struggle in the form of extremism. Unsurprisingly, the fear from the USA’s drones is even greater than the fear of Taliban in Pakistan, which explains why the war against terrorism there has been so difficult that it is often regarded as “unwinnable”. Thirdly, it is a general consensus that fanatics and extremists constitute only a small part of the religious population, and it is wrong to judge the religion based on a few exceptions. However, mild and moderate religious institutions are also responsible due to their failure in condemning the fanatics. For example, while condemning fanatics’ acts of terrorism, most moderate religious firmly support the view that their religions have to be defended at all cost. It is commonly believed in countries practicing Sharia laws, by both moderate and fanatical Muslim, that perpetrators of actions against Muhammad’s teaching deserve to be singled out and severely punished. This will not be a problem if the effect is intra-national. However, we are living in a globalized world where every action has a far-reaching effect, and the moderate’s tolerance of radical views will only provide a nurturing environment for the fanatics to flourish and pose serious danger to the rest of the world.

All relevant parties should shoulder a share of the responsibility of today’s prevalence of religious fanaticism, be it the extremists who blindly fight for their leaders’ political endeavor, the USA’s indiscriminate intervention that leads to anti-American sentiments, the very social environment that allows for religious discrimination, or the indecisive moderate who fail to suppress fanatics. Unless a radical reform occurs within religions – similar to the one happened to Christianity during the Age of Enlightenment – religious fanaticism will still be a problem to global security. The only way to counter, or at least minimize the effect of religious fanaticism, is to have a more sensitive and tolerant approach on social and political issues that may potentially affect religious groups elsewhere. But whether the approach is right or wrong is another matter. There may be compromise, but giving in to fanatics will only allow them to rise eventually.

The Practicalities of Halloween


Untitled

Halloween.

The season of thrills.

That time of the year that we all associate with the thrills of trick-or-treating, rides of an adrenaline rush, and chilling ghost stories.

The time when those involved in the industry of amusement parks (or, in the case of Singapore, THE amusement park) and box office experience the thrill of a little extra ka-ching in their pockets.

But what is the festival really about? Why do people even celebrate it?

More specifically, why do people in Singapore attempt to celebrate it when it isn’t even part of our native culture?

Some may even venture to say that ‘Halloween’ in Singapore is largely commercialized and devoid of any meaning or warmth. Quick quiz just to prove the point: do any of you reading this actually know of the stories and legends behind Halloween, how it originated, and why people celebrate it in America?

Admit it; you’ve either just concurred with me or turned to your best friend Google for help.

So, back to the question: why do we celebrate (or want to celebrate) something that holds no real meaning for us? And more to my point, what can we gain from celebrating Halloween?

Yes, this article is really a sly way of convincing more people to join in the fun and celebrate Halloween.

 

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1. For the FUN

Not quite a practicality, but hey, all of us need a little thrill to our lives, don’t we? This one’s surely a no-brainer—everybody loves to have fun.

And what could be more fun than screaming away to your worst nightmares come true—all in the safety of your couch or with the company of your loved ones?

Being the one to scare your friends, of course.

And perhaps the real fun doesn’t come from going to the large (overly commercialised) events, but instead from snuggling up on the couch as a family or group of friends and watching a bunch of horror shows together on cable TV (or scaring them at home;).

But of course, the scaring spree should be kept within one’s home and not be brought out onto the streets. There are enough reports of creepy clowns in California, thank you. No need to bring it all the way to our lovely island of Singapore.

 

 

2. For good HEALTH

It’s been scientifically proven that getting an occasional scare—and venting it all out, e.g. by deafening your friends with your screams—is good for you.

Why?

It gives you that adrenaline rush—which, in small doses in the short term, can be good for you. The scare stimulates your nervous system and can ultimately be therapeutic as well.

Furthermore, the after-feeling of this acute fear that one feels from horror movies and getting a scare more than compensates for the stress your body goes through.

This is called the ‘parasympathetic rebound’, which is essentially a state of super-relaxation. Euphoria, heightened sensory awareness and a deep sense of calm are all sensations experienced in this state.

This fear is healthy for us—and screaming also gets us to purge out all the negative pent-up emotions and long-term stress that’s really bad for our bodies.

Hugging—which is perhaps, next to screaming, the most common activity people partake in during horror movies— has also been proven to be good for your heart. One study found that women had lower blood pressure after a brief episode of cuddling with their partner.

Want more proof? A 20-second hug, as well as 10 minutes of hand-holding, also reduces the harmful physical effects of stress, such as its impacts on blood pressure and heart rate. This is because hugging not only increases the amount of oxytocin (a love hormone) released, but also lowers stress hormones such as cortisol.

With the hectic and stress-filled lifestyles that most Singaporeans lead nowadays, this could really be one of the rare opportunities that we get to vent all our frustrations and get all the love we need to maintain our sanity.

Just make sure that you wask your hands and keep yourself hygienic before hugging. Though it’s unlikely, you don’t want to risk being a victim—or agent—of Ebola.

 

3. For the LOVE

Want more proof? A 20-second hug, as well as 10 minutes of hand-holding, also reduces the harmful physical effects of stress, such as its impacts on blood pressure and heart rate. This is because hugging not only increases the amount of oxytocin (a love hormone) released, but also lowers stress hormones such as cortisol.

With the hectic and stress-filled lifestyles that most Singaporeans lead nowadays, this could really be one of the rare opportunities that we get to vent all our frustrations and get all the love we need to maintain our sanity.

Just make sure that you wask your hands and keep yourself hygienic before hugging. Though it’s unlikely, you don’t want to risk being a victim—or agent—of Ebola.

 

 

4. It BURNS CALORIES

Watching a 90-minute horror film can burn off as much as 113 calories—which is basically the equivalent of burning one chocolate bar off your tummy.

Want to burn your calories effectively without having to budge from your seat?

Well, try this one—The Shining, a psychological thriller from 1980. This horror film was found to top all other movies in terms of burning calories, with the average viewer burning off about 184 calories. Coming in close behind this on the list was Jaws, with viewers burning about 161 calories, and then The Exorcist, which saw the audience purging about 158 calories.

Then again, be careful not to go overboard on the Halloween snacks and candy, or you may find that you gain more than you lose.

 

 

5. For the ECONOMY

It’s common knowledge that business spikes up during the period of Halloween—not just for amusement parks using the season as an annual attraction, but for stores (mostly online) selling customisable witch costumes, cat ears and the like. It’s also a holiday when horror films are most welcome—just look at Annabelle (2014), All Hallow’s Eve (2013) and the like.

While only amusement parks (*coughs* Universal Studios) appears to be gaining major profits from this holiday, there is much potential for other industries to shine as well. According to the National Confectioners Association, sweet-makers in America reap about 8% of their yearly earnings during Halloween, making it the most profitable holiday for candy providers. Costume providers also get a fairly large portion of the total economic gain, with about 36% of the total estimated expenditure of $6 billion being spent on costumes for Halloween in 2011.

Unfortunately, most of the money that is spent on Halloween in Singapore flows out of the country to foreign investors and enterprises. In fact, even Universal Studios Singapore is owned by the Genting Group, which is a Malaysian conglomerate. Many Singaporeans also choose to purchase costumes and special candy online for the occasion, if they choose to make these purchases at all, due to a lack of readily available and well marketed Halloween products sold locally. Hence, what would further enhance the economic effect of the season would be if more local (and known) online stores popped up. Not only would free shipping and trustworthiness no longer be a problem to consider for local consumers , but local enterprises would also stand to benefit.

 

So now that you know… Start spreading the word, and celebrate Halloween for the good of the world.

 

Written by:

Writers’ Circle

Charmaine Ng (14A15)

 

Sources:

http://www.sacbee.com/entertainment/living/health-fitness/article2581294.html

http://www.pitara.com/non-fiction-for-kids/festivals-for-kids/why-is-halloween-celebrated/

http://dejiki.com/2014/08/guide-halloween-attractions-singapore-2014/

http://www.halloweenhistory.org/more-halloween-history.html

http://www.youbeauty.com/relationships/scary-movies-halloween-love-life

The 3rd Indonesian Presidential Election


Indonesia’s democratic transition in 1998 had been a pleasant one for many and was deemed largely as successful. After the earlier three decades of Suharto dictatorship, Indonesia’s progress in attaining democracy has greatly impressed political analysts. Since the advent of democratic rule in Indonesia, the formerly voted Indonesian Presidents included B. J. Habibie, Abdul Rahman Wahid, Megawati Sukarnoputri as well as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

 

On the 9th July 2014, the 3rd Indonesian Presidential Election was held where the former General Prabowo Subianto was lined against the Governor of Jakarta Joko Widodo for the position of President.

 

Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was not allowed to continue his Presidency for a third term in office despite his popularity amongst the people. This is due to the Indonesian constitution having a two term limit, reasoned by the belief that continued power in the hands of one person may lead to corruption.

 

It was a tight race as both candidates inspired the people of Indonesia and appeared charismatic to different groups of citizens. There were over a total of 190 million voters with 30% being first-time voters. The total number of valid votes amounted to more than 133 million. Across 33 provinces along with overseas voting, Joko Widodo rallied a total of 53.15% of the valid votes, garnering a marginal 8 million more votes than Prabowo Subianto did.

 

Upon his victory, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated Widodo on Twitter. Both PM Lee and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have expressed hope for Indonesia to strengthen relations with their countries. However, Prabowo has requested that the world leaders hold back their congratulatory wishes for Widodo as Prabowo has plans to overturn the election results.

 

Challenges for Jokowi

Though Widodo has succeeded in becoming the President of Indonesia, countless obstacles still face him as elite interests, stemming from the Suharto era, still rule in Parliament. As Indonesia is facing a moribund economy alongside a huge population, some analysts are of the opinion that Indonesia has to develop economically beyond its traditional sector, i.e. commodities such as oil and coal.

 

References:

Indonesian Presidential Election 2014, Wikipedia

List of Presidents of Indonesia, Wikipedia

Indonesia vote: Both Widodo and Subianto claim victory, BBC World News
Widodo Claims Victory in Indonesian Election, Subianto Won’t Concede, Wall Street Journal
Five reasons why Indonesia’s presidential election matters, The Guardian

Written by:

Writers’ Circle

Meredith Tjandra (14S49)

Monisha (14S33)

A Utopian Birth


1

A Utopian Birth

By Jacob Yeo Xian Ping, 14S36 &

Tan Yong Chuan Harry, 14A15

(Dr Francois Westwood introduced the new Utopian reproduction

to reduce the time taken for a Utopian baby to grow and develop – from 9

months to only 1 full day…)

Galaxy 101, Planet Utopia

Date: 1st January 2001

Time: 12:00 AM

(…This new reproduction requires the couple to go to the New

Family Laboratory (NFL) to have their sperms and eggs extracted from

their reproductive systems. A selection test is carried out to choose a

sperm and egg for pregnancy. After that, the chosen sperm and egg are

examined to identify the new Utopian baby’s gender. Then, the sperm

and egg are placed in a test tube containing Time Liquid to allow them to

fuse…)

I felt a spark of life surge through my body, as if 2

ingredients had combined to create an explosion. The next thing

I knew, I was in a wet medium with many tiny numbers

suspended around me…

1 7 12

2

3 6 11

4 5 8

9 10

Suddenly…

These numbers charged at me with astounding energy and

I felt each number make its way into my body. As each

number entered me, I felt an excruciating pain sweep through

me.

2

(…Once a zygote is formed, the particles of the Time Liquid will

travel through the semi-permeable membrane of the zygote to

determine the time it takes to grow into a fully developed Utopian

baby…)

Finally, I saw a combination of letters and numbers stare

back at me.

24 Hours

(…The Time Liquid quickens the development of a Utopian baby

from 9 months to 1 full day…)

Without warning…

I was sucked up into a gigantic syringe-like vacuum

cleaner, which led me into a dark room with a little light

shining from a corner. The next moment, I was shot out of

that room into pitch-black darkness.

Instead of fearing the dark, I was quite used to it. It

seemed like I belonged there once.

Then, the strangest thing happened to me…

I started to

Split…

Split…

Split…

I seemed to multiply automatically for a long time, and I

continued doing so as I absorbed some delicious syrup, but

what was I drinking?

However, the pain was excruciating! As I split from a

single cell into many cells, I felt as if I was carrying a heavy

3

burden on my shoulders. The pain was enough to kill me, but I

could not die. I had too much life in me to die in that pitchback

darkness.

(…The zygote is then planted into the female’s womb, a bag

containing a liquid rich in nutrients, where it is suspended in the womb

and starts to undergo cell division. The zygote feeds on the liquid and

develops into a foetus directly through quickened cell division…)

Date: 1st January 2001

Time: 01:30 AM

It had been around 1 and a 1/2 hours since I had that

spark of life surge through me. Since the moment I had been

shot into pitch-black darkness, I had been dividing myself nonstop

and slurping down the delicious juice that hung around

me. I felt myself grow a little bigger and my resistance to

the pain increased gradually as I multiplied.

Out of the darkness…

A beam of light shone throughout the unknown area I

was in. Stunned, I blinked to get used to the change in light

intensity.

Wait!

Did I just blink? I found myself in an enclosed room.

Spotting a fairly shiny surface on the wall of the room, I

tried to move closer to the surface, and found that I had a

little tail to propel myself forward. Staring into the improvised

mirror, I saw that I had 2 beautiful eyes, and not just that…

I started to develop ears, a nose, lips, arms and legs.

I was changing form.

In the corner of the mirror, I saw a tiny organism

moving closer towards me. He had the appearance of a bundle

4

of cut-off string and was producing a luminous light from his

body that brightened the room.

“Hi there, heard that there’s a guest so I decided to

travel down here to pay you a visit!”

“Hi, my name’s… well… I don’t have a name, maybe I

could know yours?” I realised that I didn’t have a name.

“Nerf the nerve cell’s my name, transmitting messages to

Professor Brain’s my game!”

“Nerf… that’s a nice name!”

“Perhaps I could call you ‘kiddo’?”

I agreed.

I held out my hand, which was undeveloped, to shake

his, only to realise that he was only strings and no hands. I

blushed, embarrassed at my mistake to offer a handshake.

Withdrawing my hand, we continued to chat.

“So, you work here?”

“Yup! But please, don’t tell Professor Brain I’m here. He’ll

kill me if he ever finds out I’m slacking at work!”

“Wait, who’s Professor Brain?”

“He’s the control centre of the body you’re visiting. He

gives the orders, and we carry them out. Boy, isn’t he bossy!”

“What do you mean by ‘we’?”

“Oh right, I almost forgot you’re new to this place. Here,

there’re many of us working to run this place. We have

different strengths and weaknesses. Take Reddy the red blood

cell for example. He’s inwardly curvy to carry more oxygen to

keep us alive, but he doesn’t last long. 4 months from birth

and he’ll pass away…”

Nerf looked away for a while, his smile upside down.

“What’s wrong, Nerf?” I asked, curious about his sudden

sadness.

5

“What? Oh, I just remembered my dear Evangeline. She

was a steady worker for a skin cell. Then one day, I heard

from the ears and eyes that she was to be amputated just

because of that cold-blooded skin cancer! She was sacrificed

to save us all…”

After ending the conversation on Evangeline, Nerf told me

stories about the place that I was going to be temporarily. He

told me about Baddy the Bacteria, who tried to harm him and

his other nerve cell partner named “Nick”, but was eaten by

Wafer the white blood cell, who knew Reddy as a close friend

due to the fact that they shared the same blood vessel. He

told me about Mr Bone Marrow who complained that he was

not getting enough iron. He told me that Granny Ear Drum was

hard on hearing, so she got a hearing aid on her birthday. I

just swam around him, listening to all his fascinating stories

and getting used to my new name ‘kiddo’.

Date: 1st January 2001

Time: 05:00 PM

RING!! RING!!

An ear-piercing alarm resounded throughout the room.

Nerf was shocked too.

“What’s wrong, Nick?” Nerf shouted, facing upwards.

“Emergency! Miss Heart’s having a hard time pumping

blood!” another voice resounded throughout the room.

“Coming!”

Turning back to me, Nerf explained, “Kiddo, we’re

encountering a heart attack, which leads to cardiac arrest! We

all die if Miss Heart stops for 5 minutes. Ace the artery got

clogged with too much fat. I need to accompany Nick to tell

Professor Brain!”

“How long does it take before Miss Heart experiences

cardiac arrest?”

6

“Around 6 hours for a Utopian. All we can do is to

provide the Prolonging Antibiotics to loosen the fat. Meanwhile,

focus on multiplying. You need to grow.”

I knew what he meant by “you need to grow”.

He immediately disappeared into some wire-like structures

above me.

For the next few hours I focused on dividing myself. I

remembered what Nerf had told me. I was going to become a

Utopian baby and leave this room known as a womb, and it

belonged to my guardian angel called “Mother”. Perhaps I

could help Mother, if I gained some strength from multiplying.

I grew

Stronger…

Stronger…

Stronger…

Date: 1st January 2001

Time: 11:00 PM

Soon, Nerf hurried back weakly.

“Sorry… kiddo… Miss Heart… stopped…”

I was shocked. Soon, the womb grew darker, and so did

Nerf. The body was dying.

“I… can’t wait… to see… Evangeline…” Nerf panted

heavily.

My Mother was dying, and so was Nerf. If I could make

Miss Heart pump again, I could save everyone, but how?

Then, it happened. The darkness in the womb reminded

me of where I came from. I felt motivated and continued to

multiply. Suddenly, I clenched my fully-developed fist and

banged it on the wall of the womb…

BANG!!

7

I created a vibration that swept throughout the body.

From where I was, I could hear the sound of a heart beating.

Nerf lit up again.

“You saved us, kiddo! Your vibration shocked Miss Heart

into pumping again!”

I could also hear voices outside the body.

“Maria, you’re alive! Quick, the baby’s

coming!”

“I’m so glad to see you, Dexter…”

My parents…

Maria and Dexter.

I heard a voice above me.

“Time to send the signal!” Professor Brain exclaimed.

“Yes, Professor!” Nerf replied. Immediately, he

disappeared into the wire-like structures again.

(…After 23 hours, the foetus knocks on the wall of the womb to

create a vibration, which travels through the body up to the brain,

telling the brain to send out radiation waves, which is detected by the

NFL. The NFL identification machine starts to create a memory space

for the incoming Utopian baby. The couple rushes to the NFL to give

their new, incoming child a first name, which is saved in the memory

space…)

Date: 1st January 2001

Time: 11:59 PM

The womb started to contract and I started to move

downwards. A bright hole opened below me. I was going to

leave. Just then, Nerf arrived with a message.

“Wait! Professor Brain wants to thank you for saving

Miss Heart. I also heard from the ears that your name’s

‘Tommy Johnson.”

“Tommy Johnson… I love it!”

8

Finally, a name to call my own…

“Well, Nice knowing you, Tommy…

“I’ll miss you, Nerf!”

My last words resounded throughout the womb. As I was

pushed downwards, I spotted a teardrop in Nerf’s eye, which

reflected his light. The light from the hole was beautiful as it

bathed me while I was pushed out of the womb…

(…By the 24th hour, the Utopian baby will be transported out of

the female’s womb through a series of wave-like muscular contractions

created by the womb, which will push the baby out through its opening.)

The End

[1,710 words]

Once Upon A Time


she vaguely remembers something along the lines of love.

 

The walls are the colours of roses and peaches and it’s pretty, it’s warm, it’s almost safe, like the inside of a mother’s womb. Soft bookcases the colours of sweet oak tower over her like trees, almost touching the high ceilings, the homely smell of old paper and hardcovers clinging to the air in a thousand tiny specks of dust that scatter across the long corridors and cavernous rooms.

 

A pair of slender, fair hands, nails manicured and pristine and fingertips soft, have gracefully plucked a rosy apple from the golden cornucopias littering the palace mantelpieces, and its flesh is ever soft, ever sweet, just as she’s always imagined it, when she bites into it, inwardly sighing at the way the saccharine delicacy melts in her mouth. She continues to glide down the corridor that never seems to end, framed with bronze candlesticks and portraits of dancing maidens and gentlemen, the spun silk of her pink gown fluttering like butterflies’ wings against her legs and glass slippers traced with ivy swirls of silver and speckled with diamonds sinking into the velvety carpet with every step.

 

She is the princess of this palace- maids scuttle to answer to her beck and call and luxury adorns her beautiful frame. Abundance and decadence runs amok in this glittering haven she calls home. She is powerful, beautiful, loved, and she wonders if it feels as ethereal and wonderful as she dreams it to be.

 

Golden double doors swing open weightlessly at the lightest of her touches- and she steps into another room, as twelve other identical girls float in simultaneously, crystal clear reflections off the many full length mirrors, studded with crystals from the coldest mines and pearls from the deepest oceans. She stares with wonder at the stately beauty before her- gold hair the colour of the sun she’s always dreamt of and blue eyes like the skies in children’s storybooks, complexion like snow and lips like roses, perfect, unblemished skin under sheer lilac sleeves, and she loves it. She loves it so much she wishes she could stare forever, hungrily memorising every detail of this face till she can’t see anything else. But she has places to be- she is a princess, after all, so she turns, head high and hands clasped, for the adjacent room.

 

An even larger set of doors lays just beyond, attended to by a knight in his full suit of armour, who bows gracefully as she draws close. She slows to a halt before him, eyes sweeping over the knight in his diligently shined metal outerwear, the picture of discipline and chivalry, before she gives a slight nod to show her approval, and moves on, sparing him no more thoughts.

 

The door to the royal ballroom is pushed and held open for her, and at once, the light, gentle chatter of ladies and gentlemen float over her head. She approaches the tall, stately woman amongst the crowds of giggling ladies in waiting, their impeccable, light makeup, beautiful chaste dresses the colour of the forests and the seas, and curtsies slightly.

 

“You’re late,” her governess, says, voice firm yet warm, gently reprimanding, as she reaches over with deft fingers to straighten her dress and briskly brush through her hair, fondness for the princess carefully hidden behind the powder on her face and the dark red painting her lips. “The gentleman in room fourteen requires your hospitality.”

 

“I’m sorry, Madam,” she bows once more, grateful and tremulous, as she’s learned to be after countless etiquette lessons, and she hurries away to where the older woman directs her to, drifting to a slow walk amidst the comfortable crowd of men and women, her loyal subjects, who all greet her with reverence and respect. The door she heads for, door fourteen, one of the many that line the walls of the ballroom, standing ajar, catches her attention- she thinks she can hear something beyond, and despite the nervous anticipation bubbling within her, she wraps slender fingers around the side of the door and pushes it aside, listening as the sounds grow clearer, like a mix between a whisper and a beautiful song-…
And oh, it’s another angel, resting peacefully on the floor, come to visit and leave forever once more. A throaty melody leaves its parted lips, floating and swelling to fill the room like a balloon till she’s breathless, eyes completely fixated on it and chest tight.

 

She hasn’t seen an angel in quite some time.

 

The honeyed tones are rising, like a chorus, harmonising and glittering and hypnotising, and the angel starts to move, disjointed movements rippling through its body like millions of chain reactions at all the wrong times, and its mouth grows wider, till its lips are stretched taut and the music that fills the room is deafening. Something grows in the tides of its voice, spreading like a parasite, dissonant and discordant to the point it feels like it’s pushing knives into her ears but she doesn’t move, she can’t, and though she’s holding on it’s almost like-…

 

yes, she vaguely remembers something along the lines of love.

 

She thinks she can feel its pulse, hammering away behind her eyelids, like the aftershocks of an ugly wound; and it grows stronger every time her bare feet hit the grimy stone floors, the impact jarring her scraped knees. When she looks to the sky, she imagines the clouds forming smiling faces and kind eyes, peeking out behind the concrete that tapers towards the sky, blocking the sun and walling her in.

 

They grow taller, taller, taller- and the more she walks, the darker the shadows get. They lurk in corners, waiting to consume her the way she did the apple she’d nicked: with gnashing teeth and an insatiable hunger. She doesn’t even want to recall the way her eyes must have looked when she first bit into its bruised flesh. She’s hard-pressed not to, though; here, the expressions are perfectly mirrored in the faces of every child as grounded into poverty as she is.

 

She is a slave to the world- her survival depends on her master’s whims and fancies and self-worth was the price tag she’d held against her body in the market once she’d been old enough to walk. Hunger and desperation ravages this wretched hellhole she calls home. She is weak, ugly, unloved, and it’s as painful and tangible as she’s always known it to be.

 

The ground ripples when she walks, feet sinking into lazy rainbow swirls of used cooking oil layered on top of ditchwater trapped in the cracks of the pavement, and when she walks, all she sees when she peeks beyond her toes is the murky, undulating reflection of herself and- oh, Madam will be so mad, she thinks. Running along the alley ways has thrown her hair into knots and tangles, that she knows will take too long to brush through. Skulking in fear has frozen her face in an eternal picture of wide-eyed anxiety, skin sun-darkened and covered in countless scabs and bruises from near misses with angry owners and street urchins, which she knows will make the customers recoil in disgust when they’re making their selections.

 

When she comes to the shut gates, the look on Sir’s face tells her as much, but he waves her in after a prolonged look, gaze sharp behind dark shades.

 

“You’re late,” Madam tells her primly, lips lined and painted dark red, like the courtesans lined up behind her, each sporting high spots of pink on their cheekbones, their eyes lined dark. She’s seen them for months, now; their dull eyes have not changed. One day, she will become just like them. “The customer in room fourteen requires assistance.”

 

She bows out of the way. She’s learnt it’s best to keep quiet here, keep your eyes down and head down, so that you don’t attract attention. She’s learnt it’s best to do what’s she’s told and so she does. She pads along the wooden walkways to room fourteen, then stops short when she hears a noise- like a mix between a sob and a pained groan-

 

The sliding door is ajar just the slightest and she knows she’s not supposed to look but there is a weight that tugs at her mind, telling her that something is wrong and it is- oh god, she thinks, it is.

 

This isn’t the first time she’s seen a customer become like this, so high off the crack that they don’t survive the fall. The results are never pleasant.

 

Customer from room fourteen is on the floor, foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling back into his head and his lips are stretched taut; noises, terrible noises pour from between his blood-stained teeth. They sound like cries for help studded with bursts of helpless laughter and she knows she needs to tell Madam but there is something almost hypnotising about the scene. There is something about the way his body contorts as he writhes on the floor, spit trailing past his jaw and onto the floor and he’s speaking to her now saying help me, please please save me-

 

She watches the way he turns on his side, trying to catch breath as it eludes him- watches the way his fingers twitch violently as he chokes on his own vomit. Steadily, his pleads grow louder and louder, his voice grating on her ears. She knows someone will hear soon and come running and she could tell Madam right now, but she knows that there are some people that cannot be saved.

 

She cannot be saved.

 

Her fate was sealed the moment she accepted the Man’s hand, and followed the Man into this darkness. Followed the Man for a dance he said, just for a while.

 

The Man had told her of the beautiful things he would show her: the golden cornucopias and the large double doors leading into great rooms, the full length mirrors, studded with crystals from the coldest mines and pearls from the deepest oceans-

 

The Man had told her of the wondrous people she’d meet, where they were going. Ladies- with impeccable, light makeup and beautiful chaste dresses the colour of the forests and the seas; knights with shined armour and chiseled jaws for her to look upon-

 

He told her she would be loved, even more than she was before.

 

Then the Man had led her here.

 

She steps aside numbly as Madam comes hurrying by, spitting in disgust at the sight before her (in another world, her governess sighs at the angel and its silence) and calling sharply for the bouncers outside to remove the filth (and requests that the knights send it on its way back to heaven), and lets herself be dragged down the corridor (and she’s guided by the lightest touches back home) before she’s pushed into a room and left there.

 

Just like the Man had left her here to die.

 

(so maybe she’ll go for a dance)

Written by:
Writers’ Circle
Alexis Ong (14S36)
Elizabeth Yee (14S62)

China’s “Dynamic Crony Capitalism” –past successes and future fate


China’s rapid economic resurgence over the last three decades is one of the most remarkable events in world economic history. Since the emergence of first waves of private businesses in China in the 1980s, China’s economic boom has produced numerous successful private enterprises, many even with billionaire founders and ambitious overseas expansion plans.

However, in spite of the tremendous amount of output and wealth generated by the private sector, one cannot help but notice that China’s economic institutions remain largely underdeveloped and business environment in many aspects hostile to entrepreneurs. Such a reality is reflected in preferential access to bank credit by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), persistent barriers to entry in certain sectors, and weak private property rights protection.

According to the World Bank’s Ease-of-Doing-Business Indicator, a widely used measure of the friendliness of the institutional environment toward private business, China ranks below the global median level in the overall ease of doing business, and near bottom when it comes to starting a business, barely above countries like Ethiopia and Iraq. 

With its weak economic institutions compounded by lack of respect for basic property rights and frequent governmental interference in many industries of the private sector, China can hardly be seen as a hotbed for capitalism and entrepreneurship. Yet, private business does thrive in China. Hundreds of thousands of private firms have sprouted since the mid-1990s, despite all kinds of entry barriers and lack of property rights. Many private firms have even grown to become industrial giants and engage in fierce competition with SOEs. Such contrast begs the obvious question that if economic institutions in China are indeed hostile to capitalism, what explains the thriving private enterprises that we have seen in China in the last twenty years?

I believe that the economic system that underpins China’s private sector development is a kind of crony capitalism with special “Chinese characteristics” which I will term “dynamic crony capitalism”. China’s crony capitalist system is in ways similar to other crony capitalist systems present in India, Russia, ex-Communist Eastern European countries and South America. In such a system with weak and unsupportive formal institutions, often the only way for entrepreneurs to succeed is to form special relationship (“guan xi”) with political leader, which allows them to either break certain cumbersome rules or obtain preferential access to resources such as land and credit. In return, these officials receive personal benefits such as bonuses, bribes, equity stakes in private business held by their family members or, in China’s peculiar case, even tuition payments for their children at expensive overseas universities. As a result, the system has bred rampant corruption and built up alarming social tensions.

However, crony capitalism in many other countries is often plagued by weak dynamic efficiency and slow economic growth. What makes China’s version of it dynamic and capable of delivering stellar growth? The answer lies in China’s numerous and powerful local governments, each fully incentivized to make its region (and the officials themselves) rich.

Chinese local governments often have enormous power based on their ownership of vast economic resources (all urban Chinese land constitutionally belongs to the Chinese government), solid administrative capacity and large influence on the state-owned banking sector. As the unwavering long-term commitment to economic growth from the top party leadership has made evaluation of local officials mostly based on GDP growth rates, local governments are always keen on using their vast resources to support local champion firms, thereby boosting growth and employment rates. Under the system of crony capitalism, these firms are often owned by cronies of local political leaders, who provide rich personal benefits for their patrons. In return, these private enterprises protected and supported by local governments often are provided with extremely conducive business environments even to the extent of tailored infrastructure development by the government and sanctioned tax evasion. Consequently, tens of thousands of such firms supported by local leaders, enter, survive and even excel in their respective markets without major institutional improvement. Thus, the Chinese government and the Communist Party’s tolerance towards officials getting private benefits from such successful firms has unintentionally strengthened private property rights protection. Leaders would refrain from expropriating their cronies even if they have the power of doing so.

However, the most important feature that makes Chinese crony capitalism “dynamic” is the large number of local governments endorsing the same practice and competing with each other. China has a political system in which powers are decentralized to thousands of prefecture and county level governments. Although each of them is incentivized to protect its cronies by mobilizing local resources, it cannot stop other local governments from supporting their own firms that may come up with better products. In other words, dynamic efficiency and creative destruction in China’s private sector mainly come from competition among firms supported by local governments. The large number of local governments, therefore, tends to ameliorate the negative dynamic consequence of crony capitalism. This can best be illustrated by the evolution of China’s automobile industry, where the monopoly power of a handful SOEs has gradually been eroded by the entry of new automobile manufacturers backed by local governments.

Although “dynamic crony capitalism” does not significantly stymie competition and impede dynamic efficiency, it does lower allocative efficiency and bring welfare loss to ordinary Chinese households. It also creates a bias in the provision of public goods towards local champion firms instead of households. This is evident in the large disparity in prices between commercial and residential land in China as well as the dominance of business-oriented infrastructure investment. The resultant high income inequality and polarization of the rich and the poor have become a significant source of social instability in China.

As the Chinese economy slows from its past trend of double-digit growth, popular anger at the rampant corruption under such a “dynamic crony capitalist” system has become increasingly manifest. Against such a backdrop, it is perhaps not surprising that the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping has focused on tackling official corruption early in his reign in order to sooth social tensions. However, if Xi’s anti-corruption drive is truly successful, it will lower the level of support local government officials are willing to give their cronies, which will ironically hurt the Chinese economy in the short term. Therefore, in order to offset such negative effects, the Chinese government needs to embark on a process of gradually strengthening economic institutions and fostering a more friendly business environment. The ultimate goal should be making it possible for businesses to succeed without having to seek favors from their local governments.

With the shifting of China’s growth emphasis from traditional rent-heavy industries such as real estates and resources towards more technology-focused, innovation-driven sectors, I believe that the “dynamic crony capitalism” which has propelled China’s economic growth may be already past its zenith. Like the American Gilded Age in the late 19th century, the 30-year economic boom in China that created a new class of tycoons has also created its nemesis, an urban and educated middle class that is pushing for change. For example, China is now deliberating on setting up an independent anti-corruption body based on the model of Hong Kong’s highly successful Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to crack down on unscrupulous officials. Proposals have also been made to raise the exceptionally low nominal salaries of civil servants to comparable private-sector levels. In the future, China’s economic system may be shifting toward the type present in Singapore or South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Both countries’ industrialization efforts in that period were characterized by leadership of a soft-authoritarian government with an efficient and relatively corruption-free civil service, improving formal economic institutions and growth of both private enterprises and large state-linked corporations. China’s unique “dynamic crony capitalism” may continue to exist in the future but will certainly decline in its relative importance.

by Jiang Han 13S49

Race Robber


The reporter sat on the edge, one eye on the sky, one eye on the ground, looking out for people she could do her interview on. Behind her-

Cameras locked, scan for possible interview targets… 

Mmhmm, busy street, familiar sea of colours on the ground—for the rest of the crew, they were looking out for the ones.

A cameramen pointed forward, fingers aimed at a peculiar person sitting on the edge of a fountain. “How about that person?” He was looking at a street performer, in his hands an acoustic guitar (but not playing it). The crew didn’t care about his occupation—from his skin tone, they could tell he wasn’t an ordinary Japanese person, but rather, someone else—Brazilian maybe? South American? A darker shade of North American?

“Okay then.” The reporter nodded. They usually interviewed other people.

“Hi there!” The crew approached the person sitting on the fountain. Immediately, he tensed up, eyeballs bulged like a squid’s, sweat glands active, but soon calmed down after half a second. The reporter found him quite handsome, but something in her mind told her that he wasn’t nervous because of the camera.

“We’re conducting an interview to see how people from other countries find Japan. Would you mind talking to us?”

“Yeah, sure, it’s my pleasure.” The person responded in fluent Japanese. Surprising.

“I’m an exchange student from Brazil, and I uh, I’ve been interested in Japanese culture for a very long time. I think the culture here has been very, well, eye-opening. I enjoy playing shogi, appreciating the sakura in spring, you know, that kind of stuff. I think everyone here is generally hardworking…

And the people, I think they’re well, hmm, really pretty.” He lets out a slightly cold laugh. “It’s true. I have a crush on a Japanese girl. For the rest uh…

And let’s not forget the food! My favourite food is…”

“Oh, you were going to say something about the people?” The reporter eagerly asked.

There was a tap on her back, asking her to stop. The rest of her crew were satisfied with the template response.

“Thank you!” Then they went off. The interviewee cooled his heart down. He looked left and right with shift eyes, then looked down. Luckily, these weren’t the shrewdest reporters, for then they would have noticed the strange protruding bulge in his guitar case. There was something else in it, something that was quite obviously not a guitar, but rather, a gun—a Howa type 89 Rifle, commonly known as the “Buddy” of the soldiers and personnel serving the J.S.G.D.F, fresh obtained a few days ago by less than legal means. This gun would soon be used against the state.

This person, the Brazilian, was, in fact (if you couldn’t tell already), not an exchange student, but a robber—the professional kind, the one which tried to hide his face at all costs, but somehow, would have his face featured the next day on NHK’s new program.

He would have liked to be an exchange student, actually.

A pin on his shoulder started vibrating. “That was actually really close, you know, you could’ve handled that one better but it works. I have a feeling that we’ll see her again.” A deep British voice spoke in English from the radio. 

“Sure, mate, sure. Like you could’ve done better.” The Brazilian replied in perfect American accent. 

“Now let’s get to work, quickly. From the corners of his eyes, he saw three men approach him, sliding past the wave of locals to get to the intersection of the roads, the fountain where he was at. All of them were carrying guitar cases strapped over their waists. 

This was his crew. Four-man—One Chinese, one Indian, one Malay, one Japanese. Together, they practiced heinous deeds, murdered many people (most of them police officers) all across the globe, united by their common value of greed. All different colours, but converging on one—green, the kinds of which were present in the Bank of Japan right behind them. 

All of them gave a slight nod as they walked past him, and the last one, the Japanese, gave him a slight tap on the shoulder, and then he stood up with his case. 

“Y’all ready?” The Chinese person whispered.

“Green light.” The operator blew into the radio.

Looking towards the bank, the four-man crew simultaneously reached into their cases, and pulled out their—

Guitars. (The guns are saved for later.) The Australian pulled out a microphone.

“Mmhmm.” The robbers looked at each other–One, two, three, go–and started playing, (the Australian singing) forming their own rendition of the popular song “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea. Surely, it had to have been quite good—all the locals stopped and stared, and some pulled out their phones to video record! 

On hindsight, that wasn’t such a good idea.

 “…From L.A. to Tokyo…” 

Ah, right on time. At the exact moment when that line was said, the doors of the Bank of Japan swung wide open, and numerous suit-wearing workers, officials, stakeholders started streaming out for the sole purpose of a good company lunch. (Yes, this was in the middle of the day.) Leading the movement was the CEO, recognizable by the crew half a world away. 

“Aha.” Suddenly, the Chinese pulled out an electric guitar; the Brazilian, the Malay and the Japanese dropped their guitars, abruptly stopping their song, for now they began to perform the song “PERMANENT REVOLUTION” by the hit Japanese group WORLD ORDER. (I’m serious, go check it out right now, you won’t regret it—it’s not your ordinary Japanese song, whatever an “ordinary Japanese song” would mean to you.) 

“Perform”, and not “play”, because this song mandated three members of the group to perform elaborate robo-nerd dance movements (and travel to another country) to—

ironically, share the message of world peace, to put aside our difference as beings of the same race, to be united in the wonderful maxim of “We Are All O—“

—But I digress. 

As expected, the CEO had come this way to the fountain, and beside him was the crew’s inside person, the Secretary, a man keen on sharing the spoils of his company who, hand outstretched, guided him (and the rest of the line) to the performance. Then, faking the act of receiving a phone call, made a hard left, diverted from the group, and never appeared at the bank ever again.

“Going smoothly.” The British radio operator said once again.

The CEO seemed quite amused at the robbers’ performance, particularly at the multiculturalism of it all: at the perfectly synchronized robotic dance moves of the Brazilian, Malay and Japanese, and the seemingly perfect pronounciation of katakana and kanji by the singing Australian.

“Permanent…” The Australian sang. Second chorus, second line.

“Heh, hey, they’re pretty good, you know,” He flipped rightwards to speak to his Secretary, then he realised he was gone. Where had he gone? What a curious occurrence. 

“Revolu—“ 

The Australian flung his microphone in the air. The gang dropped their guitars, pulled out their assault rifles from the cases and each fired a 3-round burst from their assault rifles into the air. 

“Down on the ground! Down on the bloody ground!” Every member of the crew yelled (either that or a variant of the phrase) in perfect Japanese, as the previously unsuspicious crowd dispersed and screamed loudly in sudden fright. Those behind took the chance to run the hell away and then call the police, while those unlucky enough to be caught in the robber’s field of vision had no choice but to get on their knees.

Their targets, the personnel from the bank, immediately dropped on their ankles. Go ahead and shout– no shouting would have saved them. The CEO, in a moment of bewilderment, screamed something inaudible but was quickly incapacitated by a gun-butt from the Australian. No hesitation, the crew leapt forth to tie their hands.

“Cable ties! I need cable ties!” The Brazilian yelled out, this time in English, as he was busy rounding up civilians to top off the bank personnel, in case law enforcement decided to be daring. The Malay promptly shouted, “Here!” and threw him a bag.

“Everyone! Back in the bank! Now!” The Japanese shouted. Australian at the front, Brazilian at the back, just as they practiced. Within a minute, the crew herded around a dozen hostages back into the bank, and held out.

The British operator phoned in. “Okay guys! Good job! First stage is done. Law enforcement knows we’re here. I just called them, and I’m negotiating right now–$15 million, just as we planned. I’ve hacked in to their radio systems, be alert of theirs orders. We don’t have much time, eyes on the prize people, grab the thermal drill from the paper copier, fix it to the vault. Thirty minutes max, hold out till then. As usual, eyes out for snipers, insider says he secured the backdoor this morning but you can’t trust him yet. Beware of hostage rescue. Keep an eye on the hostages, any one of them tries to be daring, give them a good solid whack. 

But as y’all know, the ransom from the hostages is secondary, just a little distraction while we get the vault out. Eyes on the prize, $50 million inside that vault. If you need reminders, we plan to leave without the ransom. 

So, I’ll be calling y’all later to grab the hostages. Move them to the front nearer the doors, news choppers already got eyes on us. Start with the non-bank people first. Little harsh, but we need to do it to hold them off for half an hour. 

Give a mean look to the cameras while you do it, will ya? You’re on TV, make it count. We plan on making do with only 3 civilian casualties. It’s more than enough.”

The robbers did as they were told. Different nationalities, but the same language of money. High-powered drill on the vault door. It was loud, but did not mask the sound of the amassing Japanese police cars. For many officers, it was their first serious robbery attempt. Through the large glass windows at the front, the flashing red-and-blue lights of the police sirens shone on the ground. Police and news choppers (as well as the snipers) could see the desperate faces of the hostages near the reception counter through their scopes.

Police had snipers on the roofs of the adjacent buildings, scopes trained on the heads of the robbers. Just as “Take the shot” orders were given to them, a loud shot rang out from the roof of the bank, of which pierced through the skull of one of the trained police snipers. The shot came from the rifle of the Chinese, who had positioned himself so that he could see the glint of light from their scopes. One down, another eight followed, one after the other in quick succession. A chaotic mess of words sung through the police radio, of which included, “We can’t see him!” and “Man down!”

Above, news choppers circled the area, and live from the scene, a familiar female news reporter ignored the danger and proceeded to broadcast the situation to the rest of the nation.

“Wait… what are they doing? One of them’s grabbing a hostage… and bringing them to the window? Is he smiling?” The camera zoomed in on the Brazilian, who was currently grabbing a woman by her hair, and dragging her to the front. “What is he doing? Wait… I don’t think… Oh no, oh no, he has a gun, he’s going to—“

And so, this shot rang out through the recording equipment, through the TVs of everyone watching, and thus through the nation. The blood splatter on the window (as well as the corpse of the woman) would remain in the minds of the nation for a very, very long time.

“Turn it off, turn it off right now!” The reporter yelled.

“So? How was it?” The driver of the police car asked to the person behind him, in English.

“Eh, was pretty cool. Nine kills from a scope, that’s a new record.” The Chinese closed his eyes, and sunk back into his seat. Not out of guilt, or regret, but out of fatigue. Armed robberies are really stressful if you didn’t know. 

“What are you going to use the money for? $50 million divided by, uh… you know? It’s a lot.” The Brazilian replied.

“I’m going to save it.” The Chinese leaned to one side, and forgot that beside him were the perfectly dead bodies of two police officers. He pushed himself away from them. 

Following behind them was another car with the Japanese, Malay and Australian in it. They needed two cars because one trunk couldn’t hold $50 million in yen. 

“That’s what they all say. My god. I want to go back to somewhere warm.”

“You’re in luck then.” The British operator interjected. 

“Come on…” The Brazilian sighed.

“It’s not over yet, boys. Our next target is in Singapore. I think we’d fit pretty well in there, don’t you?”

Written by:
 
Writers’ Circle
Ron Yap (14A11)
Charmaine Ng (14A15)

Childhood/ Memories


 

                He remembered, what seemed like eons ago, a time of freedom. He had not been the most obedient of boys – he tussled in the mud, climbed trees, taunted the local dogs… He loved running off into new ‘adventures’, to the new candy shop, to the wide open field, or even to the old abandoned buildings. Mother and Father scolded him regularly of course, but that only dampened spirits momentarily. The next morning he opened his eyes, his mind would go wandering down the streets, trying to imagine what he would do today, and later, be proved wrong by the myriad of little things that intersected with his life.

                He remembered a time of naivety. He didn’t know, he didn’t want to know. School was a boring place and he left it whenever possible. He didn’t care for his parent’s disapproval or his teacher’s anger, those were momentary – the adventure was forever. When he thought of the far-off future, it was never the same. It could be of beating the world championships of skateboarding or it could be watching a bunch of people creating games that he would like. It was never anything mundane, never a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor… who wanted be those anyway?

                He remembered a time of curiosity. He dived into canals to find out what fish there were. He explored woods to see the rarely seen deer. He peeked through the keyholes to see the forbidden rooms in his house. He was an adventurer, he was the adventurer. He was the one and only that dared break the oh-so-sacred rules, to see thing as they really were and not be content with coloured ink on paper. He tried things, did things and sometimes broke things. Well, it was in the name of discovery, so it was alright, right?

                He remembered a time of peacefulness. No annoying teachers, no important deadlines, no work, all play. There was no stress, no anxiety, no fear. Such was a young mind that was unburdened – it naturally lead to his later inquisitiveness. He did not understand then, what a gift he had received, another of the hundreds of thousands he did not comprehend at that time. Children did not need to know about it. They were happy, free beings. He was happy and free in those peaceful times.

               He remembered a time of rest. After every adventure, he returned home to a soft, comfy bed. He closed his eyes and when he opened them, he was refreshed. Sometimes, in between those two actions, he would have another adventure into the unknown, though this one was often forgotten, lost in the depths of his mind. Nevertheless, he still woke up ready for another adventure, and that was all that mattered. Now once again, he felt sleepy…

                He remembered… he remembered… he remembered… The young man slipped away into the abyss.

                “He’s gone.” Firm solemn words came from the white clad professional.

                “NO! You have to save him doctor!” Frantic words, but ultimately futile. A woman broke down in tears.

                “He died an honourable death. ” A stoic military man murmured.

                “That he did. He is in peace now.” The doctor said.

                “No… no… no…” Sobs, pained but quiet came.

               “He’s in a better place now.” It was a failed attempt at comfort. The woman went hysterical.

              “How in the world do you know? You know nothing…” Tears rained again.

                “He died smiling. That meant that he went happy.” Soft but ultimately useless words.

                “Why are you smiling Henry? You left me behind, you left your daughter and your son…” The woman’s wails echoed throughout the room.

                “Perhaps, he remembered a better time…” the doctor murmured, more to himself than anybody.

                A time unburdened by war, of pain, of suffering.

                A time free of stress, a time of freedom, a time bestowed at least once to all…

                Childhood.

 

Written by

Meryl Lim

13S31

Crushed Fo(u)r


 

It germinated. A sleek strand of root was slid out of its protector and clung to the damp earth desperately. Tiny, lush, green leaves were peeping out of the seed coat. That hue of green gave a lustre of hope, dream, future.

 

Day by day, the sunlight’s warmth struggled through the galaxy to seep into the earth, to reach that delicate sprout buried so deep. First, past the forest canopy. Second, past the confusion of lianas. Then, the stout toadstools. Next, the humus. Finally, the seedling.

 

It grew. What was just a single lock of root hair metamorphosed into a network of veins, as vital as any blood system. And what used to be a microscopic lamina transformed into young but strong leaves, ever-ready to photosynthesis, ever-ready to bloom.

 

But men arrived. With their brutal axes and harsh hammers, they left no remnant of wood behind. With their bulky jackets and heavy boots, they trampled on the seedling. The seedling was first pounded flat, and then it was pulverised by the shifting footsteps.

 

It died. Just like how my young love met its maker and was murdered by her.

 

Written by

 

Lim Jiayee

 

13S43

 

We magnify for the naked eye