Saturday, 27 August 2016

Remembering S R Nathan: A Final Farewell

S R Nathan - 1924 - 2016







'Few answered nation's call so often, and served so well', says PM Lee
PM Lee pays tribute to ex-president's 'abiding sense of duty' at state funeral to honour his life of service
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2016

Singaporeans bade a final farewell to the nation's sixth and longest-serving president yesterday.

Thousands braved the haze to line the streets from Parliament House to Kent Ridge, as Mr S R Nathan's cortege passed by landmarks that were milestones in his illustrious career of five decades in public service.

Others stopped work to tune in to the broadcast of a state funeral service for the man many had, since his death on Monday at age 92, hailed as a people's president.

At the University Cultural Centre, seven eulogists paid tribute to the man whose life's work made a difference to their lives and many others.

They shared memories of how as a social worker, workers' advocate, intelligence chief, newspaper company executive chairman, diplomat and from 1999 to 2011, Singapore's President, he shaped the history of this young nation and its institutions.

Even after he stepped down, he stayed active in engaging young Singaporeans, encouraging them to build on the pioneer generation's work and take Singapore forward.

"He always did his best for Singapore, even at personal risk and sacrifice," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who delivered the opening eulogy during the two- hour funeral service.

"Few have answered the nation's calls so faithfully and so often, and served Singapore so well."

Mr Lee noted Mr Nathan served two terms as head of state with dignity and distinction, winning the respect and affection of Singaporeans of all races and from all walks of life.

"He firmly believed in and was the epitome of multiracialism, attending events of all communities, making time for everyone, no matter who they were," he said.



Mr Nathan's family members, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Mrs Tan, MPs, diplomats and invited Singaporeans from all walks of life were among the 1,900 at the service. There were civil servants, social workers, religious leaders and students, many of whom he generously shared his life experiences and wisdom with.

Mr Nathan's hope was that they would learn "not to give up", Mr Lee said, noting that the ex-president "overcame extremely trying circumstances in his childhood and rose in the public service through grit, determination and ability, guided by a deep and abiding sense of duty".

Mr Lee added: "Time and again, he placed nation before self. Quietly and without fuss, he gave his best years and more, to Singapore."

Many among the more than 20,000 people who paid their respects at Mr Nathan's lying in state in Parliament House on Thursday had met him - or been moved by his life story and lifetime of duty.

Yesterday, six former colleagues and friends who knew him well, some for a half-century, joined Mr Lee in paying tribute to his steely resolve, strength of character, and generosity of spirit.

Foreign service veteran Tommy Koh called Mr Nathan "our super ambassador to the world" - a demanding boss who taught officers to be courageous, and put his own life on the line in the 1974 Laju hijack crisis.



As President, Mr Nathan's social work training and prodigious memory for names and faces endeared him to many. And he converted a huge global network of friends into friends of Singapore.

Former senior minister of state and community leader Zainul Abidin Rasheed, a former journalist, spoke of how Mr Nathan's network helped The Straits Times make inroads in its reporting on the region when he was executive chairman of The Straits Times Press.

His concerns transcended race and religion, Mr Zainul said, citing his abiding interest in Malay affairs as well as projects like the Indian Muslim Heritage Centre.

Community Chest adviser Jennie Chua shared stories of his deep commitment to charity and the social service sector, and heartfelt letters he wrote by hand to thank friends, volunteers and social workers.



Mr Nathan's willingness to help others never ceased even when he was in hospital, said his friend Ramaswamy Athappan.

For labour chief Chan Chun Sing, helping Mr Nathan start the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies - today's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies - imparted an important lesson: "Only the lack of imagination can set us back."

Mr Nathan's life encapsulates the Singapore Story many in his generation never imagined was possible.

It was thus apt that the service opened with the music of Thanja-vooru Manneduthu, a Tamil song that diplomat Gopinath Pillai said resonated with Mr Nathan as "he heard in it a tale of Singapore - how from many, we became one".

"We bid farewell to a remarkable man whose life was an unusual journey," said Mr Pillai, who spoke last.

"We were all fortunate to have been in some measure a part of this unexpected odyssey."

World's first driverless taxi trial kicks off in Singapore

The start-up nuTonomy, by MIT researchers here, beat Uber's trial slated for end of month
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

Singapore yesterday became the first country in the world to have on-demand driverless taxis - a new technology that is touted to disrupt the transport industry.

The service was part of an ongoing trial by nuTonomy, which was founded by two Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers now based in Singapore.



With that, the start-up won bragging rights as offering the first public road tests of driverless taxis, beating out giants such as Uber which will trial a fleet of driverless cars in Pittsburgh in the United States by the end of this month.

nuTonomy chief operations officer Doug Parker told The Straits Times that it chose to try out the service in Singapore because of the high consumer demand for taxis here, well-maintained roads and clear government regulations for its tests. "Singapore is the best place in the world for self-driving cars," said Mr Parker.

For now, the service is limited to an invited group of about 10 people.

They can use a smartphone app to summon nuTonomy's self-driving vehicle for free rides to one of 12 locations in one-north. These include the Mediacorp Campus and the Genome building, which lie along the 6km stretch of road where nuTonomy has been testing its vehicles since April. Due to safety concerns, the service will not be available during peak hours.

nuTonomy hopes to eventually open the trial to a "few dozen" more people in Singapore before making the service commercially available here in 2018.

Outdoor cooling system on trial at Singapore Zoo

Singapore-designed outdoor cooling system now on trial uses 80% less energy than air-con
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

If a visit to the Singapore Zoo has been a hot and humid affair for you, here's some good news: There are plans to install a new outdoor cooling system in some areas of the park, which could cool air to 24 deg C.

The Airbitat Smart Cooler, developed by Innosparks, an ST Engineering subsidiary, was unveiled at the zoo yesterday at a media briefing.


Each unit, about the size of a refrigerator, blows out cool air to about 5m to 10m, and can cool an area of about 55 sq m, slightly smaller than a three-room HDB flat.

The cooler is eco-friendly, uses 80 per cent less energy than an average air-conditioning unit and does not produce heat, unlike air-conditioning.

Four units have been placed in the zoo's ticketing area since Tuesday for a six-month trial. If successful, 80 to 100 units will be installed in "cool zones" in all four of Mandai Park Holdings' wildlife parks: the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park.

Bangsa Johor: Johor Sultan hits out at Mahathir

He raps ex-PM for criticising royal family's Bangsa Johor concept that aims to unite races
The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2016

JOHOR BARU • The Sultan of Johor has strongly rebuked Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the former prime minister's disapproval of Bangsa Johor - the term the royal family uses to refer to its people regardless of their racial background.

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar expressed his displeasure over the remarks made by Dr Mahathir that the concept could disunite the people.

"Tun Mahathir's uncalled-for remarks reflect his complete ignorance of Johor's history.

"My great-grandfather, Sultan Sir Ibrahim, in 1920 made the clarion call (for) Bangsa Johor to unite the various races in Johor under one flag for greater cooperation, harmony and peaceful existence. No race or individual was marginalised. He has been proven correct.

"The Bangsa Johor concept was initiated even before Tun Mahathir was born. He has no idea of what he is talking about," the Sultan said on Wednesday.

Dr Mahathir made the remarks earlier on Wednesday during a dialogue on "Federal-States Relations" at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Kuala Lumpur.

When asked for his opinion about the Bangsa Johor concept, he said that unity among Malaysians could wane if the people practised too much parochialism.

While Johor has the right to promote the idea of Bangsa Johor, Dr Mahathir said what should be pushed, instead, is for the people to embrace the fact that they are all Malaysians, instead of identifying themselves from the state they come from.

"Only when we are united can the nation prosper," he said, adding that "after all, we are all citizens of Malaysia, irrespective of our colour, religion, ethnicity or even position".

Sultan Ibrahim said Dr Mahathir was not qualified to talk about unity. "He is going around dividing the people, including the Malays, while I am uniting Malaysians of all races, including the Malays," he said.

Sultan Ibrahim said Dr Mahathir should understand all states enjoy their own unique pride but that does not mean they are leaving the Federation.

"It is a figment of Dr Mahathir's imagination. He is stirring the hornet's nest and my advice to him is to keep his mouth shut."

Norway introduces compulsory military service for women, bunking them in mixed dorms with men

The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2016

SETERMOEN MILITARY BASE, NORWAY (AFP) - They sweat together, they sleep together: In the name of gender equality, Norway has introduced compulsory military service for women, even bunking them in mixed dorms with their brothers-in-arms.

The military's gender balance is not entirely equal yet, but almost a third of the Norwegian army conscripts born in 1997 were women this summer.



At the Setermoen army base just above the Arctic Circle, new recruits in an armoured battalion are learning to handle assault rifles for use on combat missions. Here and there, long ponytails stick out behind the recruits' caps.

"It gives me a bigger recruitment pool to choose from," the battalion's chief, Lieutenant Colonel Pal Berglund, says of the new gender equal draft.

"I'm still looking for the same competence I always have. And for me it's obvious that this competence is also present within a large part of the female population of Norway."

Norwegian women have been able to volunteer for military service for almost 40 years now, helping to gradually feminise the armed forces. The military welcomed its first female helicopter pilot, female jet fighter pilot and female submarine commander already in the early 1990s.

But in 2013, at a time when the prime minister was none other than current Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, a virtually unanimous parliament passed a law applying military conscription to both sexes.

The Scandinavian country - where four of the last five defence ministers have been women - has thus become the first Nato member and European country to draft both men and women, joining a tiny group of countries around the world, including Israel.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Elderly health costs to rise tenfold by 2030: Report

Each senior in Singapore will need average of $51k a year, the highest figure in Asia-Pacific
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2016

Elderly healthcare costs in Singapore are projected to rise tenfold over the next 15 years to more than US$49 billion ($66 billion) annually, according to a report.

This means an average of US$37,427 will be spent on healthcare for each elderly person by 2030. This is the highest in the Asia-Pacific region, just ahead of Australia.

The report was released yesterday at the launch of Marsh & McLennan Companies' new Asia-Pacific Risk Centre, which is supported by the Economic Development Board. The firm provides professional services such as risk management.

The US$49 billion figure was derived by taking into consideration demographic changes, long-term care costs and medical cost inflation. It includes public expenditure, private insurance and out-of-pocket spending.

The report estimated that US$5 billion was spent on healthcare for the elderly last year as a senior citizen's healthcare expenditure is estimated to be four times that of an average person's. By 2030, the healthcare expenditure for each senior is estimated to rise from US$8,196 in 2015 to US$37,427.

"It's a conservative estimate given that the numbers do not take into account indirect costs, such as transport, and opportunity costs from caregivers' time," said Dr Jeremy Lim, a partner in Oliver Wyman global health practice.

"It also assumes that we have the same ready access to cheap foreign labour which may not be the case in the future."

Singapore can be a better friend to China if it builds web of friendships with other nations

In his National Day Rally speech, PM Lee explained why Singapore must remain committed to its foreign policy principle of not taking sides, being friends with all and acting based on its own interests despite external pressure, including that from the South China Sea issue
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 25 Aug 2016

BEIJING • The phrase "South China Sea" received a total of three mentions in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's annual National Day Rally last year and in 2014.

But last Sunday, it appeared about 15 times in his speech - Singapore's version of the State of the Union address in the United States - reflecting the increased importance of the South China Sea issue to the Republic.

Similarly, Mr Stanley Loh, Singapore's Ambassador to China, spoke about the issue - as a potential challenge to regional stability and what's at stake for the Republic - at National Day celebratory events in Beijing this month. It was the first time the envoy had broached the topic at such events in his four years here.

The increased attention given to the South China Sea issue is telling, given that Singapore is not a claimant in the territorial spats between China, four ASEAN nations and Taiwan. So what gives?

It might be that Singapore sees a need to respond to remarks from Chinese officials that appear to be veiled criticisms of the city-state's stand over the disputes. Singapore is the current country-coordinator of ASEAN-China dialogue relations at the ASEAN grouping.

At the end of a senior officials' meeting between China and ASEAN on Aug 16, China's vice-foreign minister Liu Zhenmin urged Singapore to proactively play its role as coordinator in advancing ASEAN-China relations - on the condition of non-interference in the dispute.

On Aug 5, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman urged Singapore to respect China's position on the South China Sea issue and to maintain an objective and fair position "so as to advance Sino-Singapore relations and promote healthy and stable China-ASEAN ties".

Thursday, 25 August 2016

PM Lee is right - this US Congress must pass the TPP

By Steven Okun and Deborah Elms, Published The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an agreement that helps keep the US front and centre in the Asia-Pacific and we share Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's hope that the United States Congress will ratify it.

On his recent official visit to the US, Mr Lee said: "Singapore fervently hopes that the US will stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role in the Asia-Pacific. In particular, we hope, and I'm sure the President shares this hope, that Congress will ratify the TPP soon."

We agree completely. The TPP is not just a Singaporean interest. It is not only about bringing economic benefits to the United States and other members either. This agreement also helps keep the US front and centre as an "indispensable" nation in the Asia-Pacific.

It hasn't even begun, yet the TPP already has been influential in the region. TPP countries - and even some that are hoping to join in the future - are changing or considering changes to their laws to meet TPP standards and rules.

President Barack Obama has now given notice to Congress that he will be sending a Bill to implement the TPP before this current administration ends. This Bill will die if the Congress does not pass the TPP before the new president and a new Congress are inaugurated on Jan 20 next year.

Given statements by both US presidential candidates, those in the region believe that if the TPP does not pass under this Congress and is signed by Mr Obama, it will be years before the US will be prepared to engage with credibility on crafting an amended trade agreement. Not approving the TPP will necessarily turn partners like Japan, Australia and Vietnam - which have faced often considerable domestic political heat over certain standards in the agreement during the nearly five years of negotiations - to those who can negotiate, sign and close a deal. And other countries, now on the outside of the TPP and looking in, will move forward without the US to engage through other initiatives with the rest of the TPP members.

The damage to US interests would be much greater than simply the loss of years of work putting together a complex agreement with a network of committed partners spanning the Pacific that is widely recognised as bringing the US economic benefits. The US will lose its pre-eminence in designing future trade and economic arrangements if it fails to join the TPP. The TPP requires that the US and Japan, plus at least four other countries, sign the deal for it to go into force. If Congress does not vote in favour of implementing the legislation needed to enact the TPP, the TPP cannot go forward - even if Singapore and the other 10 countries are ready and willing. If this happens, the TPP agreement will unravel.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Singapore's 6th president S R Nathan dies, age 92

Remembering S R Nathan  (3 July 1924 - 22 August 2016)

State Funeral Service






State funeral for S R Nathan on Friday
PM Lee says ex-president, who died last night, had 'deep sense of duty to nation'
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

Singapore's longest-serving president, Mr SR Nathan, died peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital at 9.48pm yesterday, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

He was 92.

"The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr SR Nathan and would like to convey their condolences to his family," the PMO statement said.

Mr Nathan will lie in state on Thursday at Parliament House, where people can go and pay their last respects. A state funeral service will be held on Friday.

Mr Nathan, who turned 92 last month, had suffered a stroke on July 31, and had been in intensive care since then.

Before becoming Singapore's sixth head of state from 1999 to 2011, he had a distinguished 40-year career in public service that spanned the worlds of trade unions, security and diplomacy.

When he was with NTUC's Labour Research Unit in the 1960s, he handled negotiations between trade unions and employers at a time when labour unrest was widespread and pro-communist elements had infiltrated many unions.

As director of the Security and Intelligence Division from 1971 to 1979, he played a leading role in dealing with a terrorist attack. He secured the release of hostages from the hijacked ferryboat Laju by accompanying the hijackers on a flight to Kuwait to guarantee their safe passage.



As ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1996, he went on talk show Larry King Live to speak up for Singapore when American media attacked Singapore for caning Michael Fay, who had vandalised a series of expensive cars.

But it was as Singapore's President that he became a familiar face to all, endearing himself to many as he recalled their names during his morning walks in the East Coast.

His introduction of the President's Challenge to raise money for the poor most reflected his care and concern for the needy.



Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his tribute last night: "He was a warm and approachable President who endeared himself to Singaporeans."

Noting that his life "is an inspiration to us all", Mr Lee said: "His was a story of how a young boy strove to triumph over his circumstances and make a contribution to society."

Mr Nathan held many public service posts, and occupied the highest office in the land, Mr Lee said, adding: "He impressed visitors with his knowledge of world affairs, and served with dignity and distinction."

Mr Lee said he had known Mr Nathan for 40 years, "since I was a young officer in SAF".

"I remember him as a man guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation... He was a true son of Singapore," he added.



President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Mr Nathan served with "dedication and distinction" in his long years in public service.

"I had the privilege of working with Mr Nathan from 1996 to 1999 when I was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence," said Dr Tan, adding that Mr Nathan helped set up the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, now called the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

It is ranked among the top think-tanks in the region, he added.

He also said the President's Challenge gained much support and raised over $100 million for more than 500 beneficiaries.

Tributes also poured in from organisations like the Hindu Endowments Board, Hindu Advisory Board as well as people from all walks of life, and religions and races who had benefited from his generosity in time, money and effort.

As Singapore's top leaders and MPs hailed his life, one striking feature stood out: He was a generous mentor.

Calling Mr Nathan "a giant of our times", Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said: "I've benefited personally from his advice and guidance on many occasions."

Mr Teo also referred to the Laju hijack and said: "His courage, fortitude and dignity in dealing with difficult issues is an inspiration to all of us."

Labour chief Chan Chun Sing, addressing Mr Nathan directly in his tribute, said: "When I joined the labour movement, you took time to share with me your perspectives and experiences."

Mr Chan, who is also Minister in the PMO, added: "Your wisdom and selfless contributions will always inspire us to do more for Singaporeans and Singapore."

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim remembered that despite getting on in years, Mr Nathan's concern for the Malay/Muslim community's progress was "sharp and strong".

When, in the 1980s, he was executive chairman of The Straits Times Press - the predecessor of Singapore Press Holdings - he introduced weekend seminars and overseas study programmes for promising journalists and editors to improve the standards of journalism, he recalled.

"He also held the strong belief that our newspapers must reach out to people from every community and background. Serving the news to a multiracial and multilingual population was key," Dr Yaacob said.



Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in a moving tribute, said: "I have met few people who lived and breathed Singapore the way he did. His fondness for friends of every race and from all walks of life. His complete absence of airs. His love of food. And his remarkable memory of events in our history, small and big, and of everyone he had met along the way."

Mr Nathan leaves his wife Urmila, son Osith and daughter Juthika, and three grandchildren.

Monday, 22 August 2016

National Day Rally 2016







Anxiety, then relief, as PM Lee Hsien Loong completes rally after taking ill
He falters and is helped off stage but returns smiling and looking well
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong drew a standing ovation from a relieved audience when he resumed his National Day Rally speech last night, after he was suddenly taken ill while addressing the nation on live television.

At about 9.20pm, 2½ hours into the rally, he paused, faltered and appeared unable to continue. Three ministers and several security officers rushed up on stage as the audience in the auditorium at ITE College Central - as well as those watching on TV - looked on anxiously.

He was helped off the stage but waved as he left.

Some in the audience went outside to the reception area, while others stayed in their seats. The mood was sombre. About 10 minutes later, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said that a medical team attending to him had assessed that his condition was not serious. The mood became perceptibly lighter.

Twenty minutes after that, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced that Mr Lee would resume his speech. The PMO also said that Mr Lee had felt "unsteady because of prolonged standing, heat and dehydration". It added: "His heart is fine and he did not have a stroke."

At 10.40pm, he returned to speak for another 15 minutes. He looked well and thanked the audience for waiting for him.



Smiling, he said: "I've never had so many doctors look at me all at once. They think I'm all right but anyway I'm going to have a full check-up after this. But before that I'd like to finish my speech."

After the rally, he went to the Singapore General Hospital for a check-up.

The rally is where Mr Lee traditionally spends the better part of three hours mapping out the Government's plans for Singapore, speaking first in Malay, then Mandarin and English.

Yesterday, in marked contrast to last year's celebratory rally during Singapore's 50th year of independence, he sketched out threats and challenges facing a Singapore at 51.

But he painted an upbeat portrait of the future, saying that although the nation will be tested from time to time, he was confident it would succeed as long as Singaporeans held fast to their foundational tenet of staying one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.

"We are a people building on the work of each generation, looking to the future with confidence," he said.

He said disruptions to businesses and workers from technology and globalisation would be a defining challenge. He noted that small and medium-sized enterprises have found it tough to adapt to the relentless changes, and urged them to stick out the rough patch, promising that there would be opportunity in crisis.



As a small state in a region grappling with the threat of terrorism, Singapore also had to contend with geopolitical and security realities, he added, calling on citizens to understand the national interest and support Singapore's position in its relations with other countries.

He noted that a dozen radicalised Singaporeans had been picked up in the past two years, and this multiracial society will come under strain should an attack happen. Whether it survives an attack will boil down to "our collective resolve to stand with each other".

Singapore is in a good place as religious and community leaders have taken a courageous stand by refuting extremist views, and made clear that terrorists do not represent Islam, said Mr Lee.

Religious leaders, in particular Muslim leaders, have made sure their faiths are practised in a way fit for Singapore's multiracial context.

Ultimately, prosperity and security depend on good politics, Mr Lee said. "Our politics must unite the country and uphold our multiracial society."

To this end, changes will be made to the elected presidency to ensure that minorities are elected to the highest office from time to time. The Government has also accepted in principle the recommendations by a Constitutional Commission on a review of the elected presidency. It will release the commission's report soon, issue a White Paper on the changes later, and debate the matter in Parliament.

Still on the topic of good politics, Mr Lee expressed relief that he had managed to reinforce his team in last year's general election and would continue to do so at the next polls. The issue of succession was all the more important, he said, in the light of what happened to him earlier in the night.

 


New fault lines could emerge fast: Shanmugam

By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2016

Singapore is now in a better position to discuss issues like race and religion within a rational framework, but unbridled debates on these topics should still be kept in check as "they can become demons on the loose".

In an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao published yesterday, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said some people can be swayed by powerful emotive arguments on these topics, which may have an impact on the broader Singaporean identity if one group is pitted against another.

"Attacking somebody based on race and religion, or making fun in the name of freedom of speech or allowing open discussions on race and religion which can easily degenerate - you need to allow the discussions but make sure that it doesn't degenerate into just abuse," said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the Government will put a stop to behaviour that crosses into abuse or potentially incites violence.


He said the potential for new fault lines to emerge due to issues like demographics should not be underestimated. This has already started in the United States, Europe and Japan, where younger citizens feel resentful over having to provide for the needs of the old.

"Particularly with the economy that is growing at a much slower rate and with healthcare costs shooting up, and senior citizens requiring more assistance and help, which has to be provided by the younger citizens, those sorts of fault lines can develop very quickly," he said, adding that fault lines are also developing over sexual and lifestyle preferences.

How well these fault lines can be controlled depends on how sensitive and skilful the Government is, and how it works with the community, he said.

While Singapore is now better off compared with the early post-independence days, it faces issues like terrorism, economic challenges, its small size and an ageing society.

On a (charity) mission to get into Harvard

US teens will go as far as Africa to boost college application essays
By Frank Bruni, Published The Sunday Times, 21 Aug 2016

This summer, just like in the last one, Dylan Hernandez, 17, noticed a theme on the social media accounts of fellow students at his private Catholic high school in Flint, Michigan.

"An awfully large percentage of my friends - skewing towards the affluent - are taking 'mission trips' to Central America and Africa," he wrote to me in a recent e-mail.

He knows this from pictures they post on Snapchat and Instagram, typically showing one of them "with some poor brown child aged two to six on their knee," he explained.

The captions tend to say something along the lines of, "This cutie made it so hard to leave". But leave they do, after as little as a week of helping to repair some village's crumbling school or library, to return to their comfortable homes and quite possibly write a college application essay about how transformed they are.

"It rubs me the wrong way," Hernandez told me, explaining that while many of his friends are well-intentioned, some seem not to notice poverty until an exotic trip comes with it.

He himself has done extensive, sustained volunteer work at the Flint YMCA where, he said, the children he tutors and plays with would love it "if these same peers came around and merely talked to them". "No passport or customs line required," he added.

Hernandez reached out to me because he was familiar with the writing I had done about the college admissions process.

What he described is something that has long bothered me and other critics of that process: The persistent vogue among students for so-called service that's sometimes about little more than a faraway adventure and a few lines or paragraphs on their applications to selective colleges.