Diary of a reformed elitist

*This wasn’t written by me but by the author below. I saw this article and loved the writing and candidness enough to want to share it. If my memory doesn’t fail me, it was a letter written to Today paper*

I AM as Rafflesian/Raffles Girls’ School (RGS)/’elite’ as they come. My father was a Raffles Institution boy; I went through Raffles Girls’ Primary School (RGPS), RGS, then Raffles Junior College, then on to the National University of Singapore, boarding at Raffles Hall. My sisters went through much the same route. My little girls are in RGPS.

I recognise the syndrome Ms Sandra Leong talks about (‘Scoring high in grades but not in values’, last Saturday). I live it, breathe it. Most of my friends are like me, graduates. Most of us live in landed property, condominiums or minimally, executive condos or five-room flats. None of us talks about making ends meet, or how we must turn down medical treatment for our aged parents because we cannot find the money.

But I will add to her essay: that those traits, that aura is not unique to RGS girls. It resonates within a social group, and its aspirants, the well educated or well endowed. I hang out with so many, I have stories by the barrel.

– My doctor friend, non-RGS and one would even say anti-RGS, was shocked when she found out how many As I got in my A levels, since I opted to do an arts degree. In her words, ‘I thought all arts people were dumb, that is why they go to arts’. Her own family boasts only doctors and lawyers – she said they would never contemplate any other profession – and by implication, all other professions are below those two.

– A church-mate who lived in a landed property in District 10 – definitely not an RGS girl, and I venture to guess, not even a graduate – once, in all sincerity and innocence, prayed for all those who had to take public transport and live in HDB flats, for God to give them strength to bear these trials.

– Another friend, also non-RGS and a non-graduate, shudders when she recounts the few months she lived in an HDB flat. And that was a five-room flat. Imagine the culture shock if she had lived in a three-room flat.

I continue to meet people who never visit hawker centres, who wonder why the poor people do not work harder to help themselves, who fret if their children do not get into the Gifted Education Programme (reserved for the top 1 per cent of nine-year-olds).

The pattern repeats itself in the next generation. When my 11-year-old had to go on a ‘race’ around Singapore, using only public transport, the teacher asked for a show of hands on how many had never taken public transport (bus and MRT) before. In a class of 30, five raised their hands. I think if the teacher had asked for those who had taken public transport fewer than 10 times in their young lives, the number would have more than doubled or tripled.

Many of us live in ivory towers. I know I did. I used to think Singapore was pretty much ‘it’ all – a fantastic meritocracy that allowed an ‘HDB child’ from a non-graduate family to make it. I boasted about our efficiency – ‘you can emerge from your plane and be out in 10 minutes’ – and so on.

It was not that I thought little of the rest of the world or other people; it was that I was so ensconced in my cocoon, I just thought little of anything outside my own zone. ‘Snow? Yes, nice.’ ‘Starvation in Ethiopia? Donate $50.’ The wonders of the world we lived in, the sufferings and joys of those who shared this earth were just academic knowledge to me, voraciously devoured for my essays or to hold intelligent conversations at dinner parties.

Then I lived in China for seven years. I looked on in amazement as the skinny tree trunk in front of my yard blossomed and bore pomegranates when spring thawed the ground. And marvelled at the lands that spread east, west, north and south of me as we drove and drove and drove, and never ended. I became friends and fans of colleagues and other Chinese nationals, whom so many Singapore friends had warned me to be wary of.

I realised it was not the world and other people who were limited in their intellect, in their determination, in their resourcefulness; it was me and my world views which were limited. I also know full well that if I had stayed in Singapore, in my cushy job, comfortable in my Bukit Timah home, I would have remained the same – self-sufficient. I had always believed that if I put my mind to it, I could achieve anything. For example, I used to look at sick people and root: ‘Fight with all your willpower, and you will recover.’ And when they did not, I’d think they had failed themselves. I, like Ms Leong, believed ‘mental dexterity equated strength of character and virtue’.

But those years in China taught me terrible lessons on loneliness. I learnt that money (an expatriate pay package) and brains (suitcases of books) did not make me happier than my maid who cycled home to her family every night in minus 20 deg C on icy roads to a dinner of rice and vegetables. The past few years, I have known devastating loss and grief so deep I woke up in the morning and wondered how the sun could still shine and people could go on with their lives.

And so perhaps I have learnt the humility I lacked. Humility about how small I am in the whole schema of things. About how helpless I truly stand, with my intellect in my hands, with my million-dollar roof over my head. To remember, in the darkest valleys of my journey, it was not Ayn Rand or other Booker list authors who lifted me, but the phone calls, the kindness of strangers, that made each day a little less bleak.

And perhaps finally, to really see other people, and understand – not deflect, nor reflect their anger and viewpoints, but see their shyness, pain, struggles, joys. Just because I was ‘fortunate enough’ to have trawled the bottom levels. And perhaps that is the antidote to the oft unwitting elitism so many of us carry with us.

Sim Soek Tien (Ms)

*Its heartbreaking that so many people including some of my relatives and friends who  are still living in this box that the writer described.

91 responses to “Diary of a reformed elitist

  1. Thank you for the very candid & sincere sharing. Yes, indeed many Singaporeans are pampered & sheltered. We are getting more out of touch with reality, humanity & the world.

  2. Thank you for a great article! Very sincere and full of truths.

  3. Hey daniel, all the best to your book launch! Thanks for reading the posts!

  4. Thanks for sharing this post! I think it’s important that in a system where such bubbles can be built really easily, so-called elites have a proper sense of perspective and appreciation of the wider world.

  5. This is a little strange, because I share half of the elitist background mentioned by the author – coming from a good school and good program – yet I honestly have no idea what “District 10” is. It is true however that these limited world views are very much present today, whether consciously or subconsciously; I know someone who went to La Salle after finishing her A Levels and was met with much incredulity. The question is – as our standard of living grows, how do we avoid sheltering our kids too much? I came from by no means a well to do family, yet I find myself sharing some of these limited perceptions – in others words, the elite suaku.

    • ‘District 10’ comes from the postal codes that were used prior to the current 6-digit ones. So an address at Bukit Timah may have a postal code of 1026. An Orchard Road address may be 0911 and so on. Districts 9, 10 and 11 addresses are supposedly more expensive.

    • flip the classifieds, all the areas in singapore are divided into districts. District 10 most likely is bukit timah area, ie. 6th avenue.

  6. We cannot fault them (the rich) for behaving what they want to be. Afterall, their fruits they’re enjoying now are also due to their hardwork (working hard to score A’s in exams); hence able to land jobs that pay very well.

    Meanwhile, for those of us who aren’t that rich (me included) can do our bit for the society within our own means.

    • “The fruits they’re enjoying now are also due to………….”

      You mean their forefather’s hardwork allowing them to enjoy enrichment classes/tuitions since young to put them in front of the cohort plus the sliver spoon that they are bought up with?

  7. This article smells of nothing except elitism.
    And what on earth made her think she was “reformed”? 🙂

    • Negativity doesn’t get you anywhere. Perhaps “progress” to some may not be considered as such to other. But there is no doubt that the article has done some good and made others reflect upon the lives they are currently living. Kindly please give it a little bit of encouragement and perhaps lets more towards a more gracious society by paying it forward. Have a good day.

    • Being in China is in no way a way of being reformed. You should consider a trip to the villages in Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam to get a better taste of how much of the world are you not seeing. Coming from a rich family background is no excuse for the narrow mindedness you have. I am glad though that you are learning, but not merely fast enough.

      • Well said. But don’t just stop at seeing. I am supplying crocs shoes to primary school children who goes to school without footwear. Come and join us to take care of this world. One day these kids will grow up and remember the kindness we showed them and hopefully they in turn will multiply kindness. Better geometric progression of kindness than arrogance. Imagine our rice comes from these so called poor countries, electricity from the big red mass, sand from all these ‘poor third world countries’. We need them, not the other way.

    • Totally agree with you. what reformed… and sorry for saying this… th whole article lacks depth. and that is not your fault. It’s the environment. I am a Singporean living outside Spore and I am so much richer for it. I find this article , though well intentioned, I am sure, without a soul. I pity those who have not had a varied experience. there is nothing to envy them. The journey to enjoy everything comes from within. If one had not made that choice, it is his or her fault.
      I hope the writer stops feeling sorry for others and analyse what success means and the benchmarks used.

      • a. krishnan. absolutely no necessity to make this about you. leave a constructive comment. not one that highlights your need to be the centre of attention. whatever you think you have that makes you so much the richer for, it is undermined by such comments. it sadly reveals bitterness in your life whether you care to admit it or not. the writer is not feeling sorry for others. she is empathising. another thing, an article cannot have a soul.

    • Exactly. It’s reverse snobbery. She still thinks she’s superior to her friends because she’s ‘seen more’ and so she’s better and more evolved in her way of thinking than the other frogs in wells.

  8. You wrote somewhat about your experiences in China which I can well identify with. I taught English in a forsaken town in Inner Mongolia that people in big cities like Beijing have never heard of. Fast forward many years and I now live in Sweden, where I’ve been since 2010. Two very different countries for sure. But as much as it is romantic irony to talk about how those with fewer material possessions possess greater joy and richer life experiences, there is much to be said on the other side as well. I talk about the well-educated, first world income Swedes (or for that matter, Scandinavians). You would know that the Nordic countries rank high in all areas of positive indicators like good governance, quality of life, welfare and the like. But what makes them truly first world to me is this: unlike us in Singapore, I know of so many doctors, university professors, white collar elites here so to speak who think nothing of hopping on a bicycle in the dark winter at -10C as part of their daily getting to work routine. And where so called blue-collar construction workers live dignified lives, look you in the eye and say proudly, “I am a builder”, command decent salaries that allow them to provide a decent living for their families, and whose children go to the very same school with the children of doctors and such professionals. Yes, taxes here are high at 30%. But the richness of society here is simply this: the choices people make here are not constrained or dictated by their incomes or social statues. In general, most Swedes can afford a car but I know many who would gladly leave their cars at home and cycle to work, or take the bus because it is more eco-friendly. In the Nordic countries, I feel that human life is valued and dignified and the worth of a person is hardly tied to how much he earns, what job he holds or his family background. The social lines are blurred and everyone, especially the most destitute are well-looked after by the state. My Swedish friends cannot comprehend when I tell them about the sort of elite school branding system in Singapore that you write about. A society is truly progressive and advanced not because of its GDP but when its citizens almost across the board have equal opportunities to choose the sort of life, lifestyles and jobs they really want, where doctors and builders acknowledge equally that society is much in need of both professions, and where people opt to cycle to work, buy second-hand clothes and furniture, or spend summer camping by the lakeside and roasting summer trout, because they really want to. I love Singapore but I’m sad to say that the very experience you write about sends a shiver down my soul. Now that I live in Sweden, that memory is almost forgotten and foreign to me, but yet at the same time makes me feel sad because I know that it is true. Thank you for your sharing.

    • Never been to Sweden but totally agree with your views

    • Thank you for voicing my thoughts. Have lived in Germany for over 20 years now to share the same sentiments as you.

    • During my college years studying in London, I’ve made quite a few Scandinavian friends and have found them to be remarkably accepting people who didn’t judge you on the color of your skin, your nationality, your culture, your status or your background. So although I’ve never lived in Sweden (but would love to), I totally agree with what Daphne Tan said. That respect for human life and dignity is such a way of life for them that even outside their own country they carry it with them.

    • Dear Daphne,
      I was very touched when I read your commentary. You are spot-on about how we had gone about our lives without stopping to reflect and re-evaluate our options. I’m a culprit of “herd mentality syndromes” when it comes to my sons’ affairs. I’ve shared your piece with my family and friends. Thank you.

  9. Her thoughts resonates exactly with what i am going through now in China. We are indeed the frog living in a well. Not everyone in our sterilized society will understand such humility and accept it.

  10. Singapore ranks #2 globally in income inequality, followed closely by the United States. Cool.

  11. I know that you are re-posting an article written by this Sim Soek Tien.

    I would like to comment on her article. Firstly, she called herself an elite. I do not agree. You may be rich but that does not make you an elite. You may go to a Raffles School, that does not mean you are smart. There are also average Joes and Janes that go to Harvard. Also, it does not mean that one is stupid if one went to another university that is non-Ivy League.

    Also, I would like to point out that her English is not up to scratch. I spotted so many grammatical and syntax errors. Also she does not know the meanings of some words like “condominium”, etc. There is no such word or meaning as “landed property”. Land is land, property is property. The word landed property makes no sense. Private land or private property, YES.

    If she wants or thinks she is an elite, then she must show us her X-Factor. Just reading her article, I get a sense that she is just a book smart person living next door. Simon Cowell would have given her the thumbs down.

    • Ahh but isn’t that the beauty of the singapore education system. Being book smart and living in district 9,10 or 11 immediately makes you an ‘elite’. This is exactly why the elitism is ballooning. It’s not just about ignorance or being humble because you know that you’re ‘better’, but rather they don’t realize how ‘terrible’ they really are.

    • Just a kid laughing at you

      I can’t tell you how ironic it is for you to criticize her language when your sentence structure is barely comprehensible.

      And you obviously completely missed the point she’s trying to make.

    • just want to say that words and meaning are constructed. if a certain country uses a certain phrase, for example, landed property, to refer to something, it thus becomes a new word in Singapore’s context. hence I feel her use was appropriate as long as we understand her meaning.

    • 1) Firstly, she calls herself an elite.
      2) You may be rich, but that does not make you an elite.
      3) Also she does not know the meaning of some words like…
      4) If she wants to be, or thinks she is an elite…

      Just saying.

    • Fuyoooo smack in e face…. Im starting to like u oleli.

    • Elitism is a social construct, and I’m sure most people would agree that a rafflesian born into a wealthy district 10 family would qualify as an ‘elite’. It really doesn’t matter if she is actually smart, hardworking or just plain lucky. And if raffles doesn’t mean anything to you in terms of intelligence, neither should harvard.

      About the whole ‘landed property’ linguistic issue, she’s not writing an academic article, she’s just writing to a forum. In this context, the term ‘landed property’ is perfectly acceptable as part of the vernacular. (And on this note, after your valient attempt at being a grammar nazi, you use the term ‘X-Factor’??)

      I could pick out a few other embarrassing points about your post, but I really can’t be bothered to. So please, just take that bitter head of yours, and shove it up your own ass.

    • Dear Ah Lau,

      You seem to be missing the point of the article.

      Speaking of language, you also seem to be confused as to who you are addressing, constantly switching between “you” and “she”. Make up your miniscule mind.

      The attempted sentence fragments – “You may go to a Raffles School, that does not mean you are smart.” and “If she wants or thinks she is an elite” are rather amusing errors betraying your lack of ability to string together words in a coherent way, not unlike a babbling baboon. They should definitely be revised before you deign to correct another person’s grammar or syntax.

      The word “landed property” may make no sense to you, but i’m pretty sure nobody has any doubt as to what she means when she uses the term. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Landed+property
      You have the internet, even if you may lack a brain. Please use it.

      If someone really wanted to tear your comment apart and show you how it is a pathetic and unsuccessful attempt to elevate yourself above another person, it would be all too easy. I would ordinarily ignore someone like you, but I am extremely bored, and you seem to have had the misfortune of drawing my ire.

      So, to conclude, my main points are:

      1. Read the fucking article.
      2. Read the fucking article.
      3. Don’t be a dipshit.

      Thank you.

    • I agree with your comment. I noticed a few mistakes in her English aswell. I do not want to nitpick but I thought that it is not right of her to brand herself as an “elitist” when there are people with worse backgrounds who have a better command of english.

    • I’m sorry, I had a hard time trudging through all that thick schmuck of that post of yours, ridden with arrogrance and condescension.

      At least she writes beautifully and shares deeply.

    • ah lau. what is wrong with you? you seem to have missed the forest for the trees. calling oneself elite here is self-deprecatory. being elite is not a good thing. you lecturing her on her english is akin to a lizard lecturing someone on bad skin. who the hell is simon cowell anyway?

    • Singapore Landed Property Dweller

      I think you are not a Singaporean because you do not know what is ‘landed property’ and ‘condominium’. These are very common terms used in Singapore, even primary school Singaporeans understand them. So before you comment on some Singaporean’s terms, find out our culture first, and don’t risk being a ‘swaku’!

  12. so how are you still not an elitist? all you did was admit you once were an elitist(and still is). so the common man is something that you can suddenly empathise with? in fact, you completely missed the point on what is a common man in singapore. all you did was rant about how you, already living it up with your riches and plush luxuries, suddenly think family and friends are so important etc. heck, you scarcely(an this is an overstatement) mention what YOU know about being an ordinary citizen. lets be honest, you were born, bred and lived an elite, and lets pretend that you genuinely believed that right now, but i dare say you would not for one second think of living in a hdb, or sending you children to a neighbourhood school. african americans have this pejorative term “acting white”. i am calling you bluff here, to please stop “acting-ordinary man”.

  13. Ah Lau, in your opinion, who are the elitist then? What are their characteristics or, as you call it, the “X Factor”? Grammar crusaders? Individuals with no understanding of terms (e.g. landed property) commonly used by their nation people? Atas?

    To be honest, I don’t think the title really matters….and it doesn’t bother me if she is/was an “elite”, or which school she attended. What matters is the content, which I reckon is pretty damn good and well written.

    Can you really fault her perspective on things? I can’t, and by the looks of it….many readers can’t either.

    Besides, perspectives are often aligned with our journey in life isn’t it. What you disagree now you may agree later. Who knows? 🙂

  14. I would rather she explained how she came to the realization by her experience, not some jaded worldview she somehow realized through interactions with her fellow “elites” or even an expatriate stint in China.

    But the fact that she is able to write in language most laypersons can understand means she’s at least putting in an effort to “connect” to those who are not privileged as she is.

    Happiness isn’t dictated by what you have or how much of it you have, but the contentedness you have with what you have and what you aspire to have; the knowledge of your own limitations and the aspiring to achieve that which you would without overstretching and then burning out.

  15. And I would venture to say that she isn’t a reformed elitist, but rather someone who is just beginning to empathize with those of us in Singapore (and to an extent the world) who are less privileged than her.

  16. Ms. Sim certainly is not nearly as elitists as the trolls and grammar nazis who have responded snidely (and who will continue to respond so) to the article.

    That said, Ms. Sim’s argument seems a tad over-simplistic in its dismissal of the value of learning in favour of the human connection, which is all too frequently romanticised. One should be both book-smart and street-smart, or at least, that is what they used to say.

    Indeed, as several respondents have pointed out, if obliquely, being book smart does not constitute elitism. There are elitists who cannot even write properly (see the blog, Pls Revert, Tks). In fact, there is a huge difference between being an elite and being an elitist. I bear little affection for those who believe that they are entitled to their wealth because less successful individuals are merely “lazy.” However, not all intellectuals are such jerks either.

  17. Ah Lau:

    Yes, your observations on her post are right, her English is a bit lacking.

    But “elite” here is not used as an objective marker of quality or proficiency – it is a monicker for a certain class of people in Singapore who grow up in the kind of cloistered environment she describes. She *is* part of this elite, judging by the description of her background.

    You are yourself woefully out of touch with other terms in Singaporean parlance. When she says “condominiums” I think all of us know what she’s referring to. When she says “landed property” there is probably not a one of us apart from you who object to this term. We know what it means. It’s a term with a valid and well-known meaning. You would do well to bring yourself up to speed.

  18. ah lau – you are incorrect.
    “landed property” is a valid term.

  19. I think Ms. Sim should be applauded for her refreshing honesty. I do know people who are a little bit similar to the friends she describes, but haven’t met anyone quite that extreme.

    However, speaking as somebody who takes MRT to and from work all the time, her church friend who prays for MRT-going commuters is at least half right! I find myself staying late at the office or leaving early just to avoid the rush hour – on the few occasions when I do have to take the train during rush hour, it’s emotionally and mentally draining. You know those stories of how some chicken farms are said to chop the chickens’ beaks off when they pack them into the coops, because otherwise the chickens would go crazy and peck each other to death? That’s how it is.

    @SG Girl: Some rich people did get to where they are by hard work, yes. Others get good jobs because their parents know the right people, or are the right people. And let’s not forget that it’s a lot easier to concentrate on your studies when:
    (1) you can enjoy peace, quiet and air-conditioning at home rather than having to go out to McDonald’s or Changi Airport (do they still go to the airport these days?) to study,
    (2) you don’t have to take care of younger siblings or help your parents at their job,
    (3) your parents can afford to send you to tuition – or, for that matter, to university.

    PS. I suppose I come from a slightly different ivory tower, namely academia (also went to a branded school). But I stay in an HDB flat and don’t have a maid or own a car, so.

    • @5P, I do agree with you that the rich certainly have better resources to raise their children. But don’t blame them for being rich; blame the system that did not help much for the poorer students; blame the policies makers that did not make good policies that provide job opportunities for our own people.

      Hey, I, too, didn’t come from a rich background. When I was young, I had only one new dress in a year; the toys I played with were picked up and washed clean for me. I was musically inclined and would love to take piano lessons. But my parents told me I couldn’t cos’ it was meant for the rich. When I was in secondary school, some of my peers had leather wallets. Mine was made of plastic; I’ve never feel ashamed. I didn’t go to McDonald’s but to community centre to study. I didn’t get good results for my A levels to enter into Uni cos’ I couldn’t afford tuition lessons (I know I could do better with extra help). That didn’t stop me for pursuing higher education. Once I came out to work, saved a little bit and started my part time studies journey to get my diploma and degree qualification. What I’m trying to say here is the less fortunate people must find a way to survive (but of cos’, if they could get some assistance from others would be helpful).

      One last point: why must Singaporeans go to China in order to comprehend what poverty is? Can’t they look around them (in our homeland) that they are still many many poor and less fortunate people among us? These (our own people) are the ones we must donate and help; not to our rich neighbours.
      P.S. I’m staying in an HDB with my family. Looking at my cpf amount and the prices of HDB now, I really can’t afford one for myself.

      • @SG Girl
        When I read your comment, I couldn’t understand why you said to “blame the system that did not help much for the poorer students; blame the policies makers that did not make good policies that provide job opportunities for our own people”. Firstly, I would like to clarify what is the system, the policies and the policy makers that you are referring to. The system can refer to anything in this context, the Singapore education system, the government, etc. It would help if you are more specific here so that I can understand what you are driving at.

        If the system and the policy makers you are referring to is the government in general, I would just like to comment that the government does try to help the poorer students in Singapore, although how much effort they put into helping the students can be debated. For example, from what I know, those who score well in PSLE are given Edusave scholarships and such(please correct me if I am wrong). Also, the government can only do so much to help the poorer students. If the students do not want to work hard, there is little that the government can do to help them. After all, the number of students that the government can provide aid to are limited, so naturally the government would have to prioritize and give the aid to students who are more deserving of the aid. The limitation of the government in terms of the amount of aid and the number of poor students they can reach out to is a huge factor in deciding how much help they can give(sadly) to the poorer students.

        Also, how does the policies that the policy makers(the government in this case) influence the job opportunities of the people? I understand that with better job opportunities, our people would be able to secure better jobs and thus, provide more for their children. However, compared to the policies made by the government, I would think that our own credentials would be a bigger factor in helping us secure a better job. We can help ourselves in this area by upgrading ourselves and I think this would be a more effective way to help us secure better jobs. As you said in your previous comment, “We cannot fault them (the rich) for behaving what they want to be. Afterall, their fruits they’re enjoying now are also due to their hardwork (working hard to score A’s in exams); hence able to land jobs that pay very well.” While I don’t totally agree that the the rich are enjoying their place now as the rich due to the hard work they put in which amounted to them being who they are now, I think that if hard work is put into studies for students and upgrading themselves skill-wise for working adults, more people could have been landed with better jobs and hence provide more for their children. Hence, I do not agree with you that the “system” or the policy makers and the policies they make should be wholly blamed for not being able to provide for the poorer students.

  20. Sorry but I do not feel any humility in your article at all. Rather, it sounded like you have landed on earth from your ivory towers and learnt some ‘life lessons’ from the poor commoners. Your article is tainted with self righteousness and superiority, like you finally could sympatheize with the poor. Unlike your rich, educated peers who still cannot.

    And calling yourself an elite just because you’re from RGS and your parents and family members are from top schools is so
    immature and laughable. C’mon, I know loads of friends who are from well known schools and living in private properties but they’re merely white collared workers earning $6k a month. U call that elite? Unless you’re someone of certain power or status in the country, you should really stop yourself from using the word elite so loosely.

    • I object. She sounded quite sincere to me. Realistically, there was no reason for her to dress her article up in a contrite tone; it primarily addressed a sociological issue although it was written from a personal perspective.
      Never attempt to unmask someone else’s intentions in fervor, lest your own hidden intentions be unmasked.

  21. Ah Lau….She’s using the general definition of the word ‘elite’, not yours.


    It’s great to see the author growing on both ends.

    As the so called ‘elite’, the label given by the jealous to justify their incompetence.

    She knows the importance of independence and hard work.

    Then, as the common person, a humble human. She has learnt to appreciate humanity for what it is, warts and all. Empathy.

  22. i am a mum of a P2 girl, i am so touched to read this post. your parent must done well on grooming you. i shall congratulate them as well. i hope more young bright singaporean think the same as you are. keep it up.

  23. Innocent passer-by

    Hello Ah Lau, just happened to read your reply above. I googled “landed property”, and unfortunately this term exists. Here’s the wiki website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landed_property

    Have fun! 😀
    p.s. sorry this comment is totally unrelated to the article though. haha

  24. Check the dictionary for the meaning of “landed”, please. By the way, “landed property” is not a word. It is a phrase.

    I find more problems with your critique than with her entry.


  25. I came from Balestier Hill West Primary School because that is the nearest school I could walk to without spending transport money. Went to Whitley Sec School, one of the non-branded school. And out school was in the middle of RGS, ACS, NJC and Hwa Chong. Come on, my father was a salesman and mother not educated and worked as a onion and garlic skin peeler before they are sent to the markets. How on earth can I compete with those who get to school chauffered in quick time and have a beevies of tution teachers to help them. My school days was more like self help and we were not regarded well and could see the disdane on the faces of our more illustrious secondary and JC neighbours. Please excuse me if my English is also not up to scratch. At least I could speak Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew,
    Hakka , Pasar Malay, Singlish in addition to English and Chinese.
    However turning out as a non-elite, I managed to receive
    a Govt bursary
    and completed my University education. My classmates and schoolmates may not be smart alecks but I cherish time with them as they are warm human beings, not Singaporean discards. That is why Jesus came as a carpenter. To give us hope from the self declared elites, spending time in their private properties built by non-elites, rubbish thrown for them by unworthy humans, security provided by lowly security guards. And then they complain plumbers are expensive when they can’t flush their toilets.
    My NS men are also brave lowly educated men who will carry arms and protect the country instead of fleeing because they have no means of escaping the haven the landed property elites own. And my best soldier from our Medical Company is actually a lowly gangster Lance Corporal who will do anything I ask him to do as he sees me as a brother because I treat him as one. You top 20% elites. Give us a chance. Every human has a face, a heart and capable of love and be loved. When circumstances change, see who can survive hardship and who will have more to lose. When we finally meet our Creator, only your humility and servanthood will have value.
    Dr. Yong

  26. Enjoying the fruits they have are mostly fruits stolen from the poor. It is the system of our society; invest with stolen money,make the poor underachievers work like hell,( like Singapore maids) and pay them as little as possible( they should be grateful), make sure that they buy and eat everything the investments money produced,and pay tax as little as possible.Oh come on! how do you think these people get rich?These people get rich because the our society support support. Sometime they tend to forget that! How do they get rich if there are no poor people?

  27. Sorry correction .These people get rich because our society support this system

  28. Ah Lau’s mistaken comment on “landed property” shows how blinded we can be when we are cocksure.

  29. @Ah Lau

    It is not up to you to judge if Ms Sim is an “elite” or not. The fact is, she is more fortunate than a good percentage of people in Singapore, and unlike most of the so-called “elite”, has the clarity of vision and the honesty to recognize it. The piece shows that she has a great deal of empathy.

    You seem to know much about what it means to be “elite” and have taken it upon yourself to mark out the boundaries so as to exclude Ms Sim. Pray tell, what is that elusive “X-factor”? A lot of people are simply born into privilege. Just look at Wee Shu Min of the elitism debacle some years ago. You also don’t seem to understand that the term “elite” carries with it heavily negative connotations in our local context.

    Every Singaporean knows what “landed property” means. It makes sense in our local context. For all your nit-picking on her language skills, yours aren’t that impressive. You sound/write like a person who watches too much trashy TV. If you spend more time observing society instead, you might make a little more sense.

  30. If you are a child of the founder of any 5000-employee companies in any part of the world, you are bound to life experiences that non of both hierachies i.e. elite and middle class can hardly get exposed to. 5000-employee is the middle range. You deal with multifaceted activities in life, unlike professions or working groups. I may be very very random to say things like above bla bla bla, it is because I agree as well to the rationale that professions should not call themselves elite. Well I sounded like a Singaporean, just like you all in your comments if I continue the above thingy.

    Elite should be restricted to people with restrained public appearances. And it sounds more arrogant with the sense of “reformity”.

    [In her words, ‘I thought all arts people were dumb, that is why they go to arts’. Her own family boasts only doctors and lawyers – she said they would never contemplate any other profession – and by implication, all other professions are below those two.]
    Who but only the dumbest closed mind may have only thought of this? Who made and INVENT the drugs that doctors prescribe in clinics? Who made and INVENT the jetliners that lawyers and doctors board on to travel? She doesn’t even understand the flow of wealth, the importance of a broad varied variety of specialisation, and the interconnectness in the 21st Century.

    I would also like to shoot Ah Lau for his deviated reasoning on bringing down the sense of Elite, based on his simplistic judgement. You know, “Elite” could be a lazy person as well, and learnt badly in language.

    • You are missing the entire point of the article. I believe the point Ms Sim is trying to make is that she’d led a sheltered life and felt fortunate to have encountered that experience in China. That is what she meant by being a ‘reformed elitist’ – she no longer thinks she is superior to others because of her privileged background.

      And I don’t appreciate how you are bashing both Ms Sim and Ah Lau for what you think is bad English because from your poorly-crafted response, I reckon you do not have the right to do so. This is actually a perfect example of what Ms Sim attempts to illustrate in her writing: “the oft unwitting elitism so many of us carry with us.” You, with your supposed superior intellect, are an elitist. So get off your high horse and gain a better command of English.

      But, I want to thank you for providing me with quite a laugh – your third paragraph, especially so. My turn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THNPmhBl-8I. As you can see, people with the “dumbest closed minds” exist on the other end of the world as well. My advice: deal with it.

      • Reformed + Elite, these two words should be off the context. English words should be very carefully chosen up, but the structure of English should not at all be judged, which only closed-minded people would waste time to shoot based on the level of English presented. It is purely naive to criticise people’s English, a mere means of communication and expression.

        @Elly, my whole comment point is on the inappropriate calling of Elite and Reformed. They sounds arrogant, as what others would mention too in their comments, and in normality they mean other things in strictest sense. They are just not meant for those connotations as the author ascribed. Have I deviated in my original proposition from my para 1 & 2?

        I understood I poorly crafted my response. I would not bash both of their English for this reason (see my next comment). BTW, thanks for the hilarious video clip.

        @ah lau, please don’t judge people’s english anymore. If this whole bunch of commenters were Singaporeans, then I would start a concept that Singaporeans like to not only nit pick but implicate people’s minute flaws in English to unnecessary reasonings. That’s just like judging a book by its cover.

  31. LOL @ Ah Lau



  33. Pingback: Diary of a reformed elitist - www.hardwarezone.com.sg

  34. Great Article TK! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  35. quite an insightful read, but i would like to think that it isnt emptiness that one feels with materials but rather fascination that someone can be contented and happy with nothing but love.

  36. Ms Sim seems to define elitist as people coming from ‘elite’ school and living in ‘district 10 properties’. This is true only to some extent.

    Rather than focusing solely on the top 10% schools, we should begin to examine other forms of ‘elitism’ in Singapore. Polytechnics (or Polys) often try to differentiate themselves from ITE’s through the constant emphasis that it provides a diploma whilst ITE only provides the NITEC. Whilst interacting with poly student’s it is unsurprising to hear poly student’s comparing their GPA’s amongst each other, a supposed elite pastime.

    Moreover, why is it that the express classes in an ordinary secondary school often are ‘dao’ (which means arrogant) towards their normal (academic/technical) peers? To exacerbate matters, there seems to be even strong lines of division between N(A) and N(T) people, with N(A) people of course believing they are superior to their academically weaker peers. Hence, it just seems ludicrous to generalize that elitist are people from top schools! Even a cleaning supervisor thinks his better than a junior cleaner!

    Instead of using JC students as the scapegoats and labeling them as ‘elitist’ freaks. Perhaps it is time for Singaporeans to do some soul searching. Why can’t we accept the fact that there are people smarter than us? Why can’t we just look forward to what we can achieve with hard work? Aren’t we all elitist after all?

    If we are going to condemn JC kids as elitist, what society is doing is robbing these kids of the praise they deserve for their effort they place in their academics. In fact such overgeneralizations reeks of green-eyed monsters. It is as ridiculous as saying “Usain Bolt is elitist because he runs faster than others”.

    What Ms. Sim and many others fail to see is the fact that elitism is not only confined to the top 10% of the society but rather a sad reality that plaques all social strata in Singapore. ~

  37. Pingback: Crème de la crème « The Springs of Life

  38. Just Another Anon

    @ some of the other comments: I wonder how long you guys are going to beat that dead horse (Ah Lau). Perhaps it would be good to take some time to skim all the comments before replying?

    With regards to the article: She’s still on her high horse, traded one based off educational/financial/social status for a moral(?)/spiritual(?) one. There’s still that vestige of better-than-you lingering even though she has supposedly learned ‘humility’.

    I find the article rather tasteless.The author is reminiscent of those rich folks who for whatever reason, decide to embark on a journey to experience the lives of the less fortunate, living for a few month in cramped quarters. But essentially it’s nothing more than a peculiar holiday for the well-to-do. Most if not all will go back to their original lifestyle eventually; I can tell she did.

    I’m glad she has realised that there are things in life which are as important as money and social status. In this article though, I feel that she’s missing the point; why was she compelled to demean what makes others happy?

    Also why did she have to mention “brains” in the same sentence as her maid? It is simply uncalled for and only serves to highlight that she still has an elitest mindset.

    PS. I see nothing wrong with calling public transport an “ordeal”. I take it daily, am a supporter of public transport but all the same I feel it’s pretty draining. I’m sure many will agree (esp. with the recent breakdown fiasco). Author needs to pick more poignant points.

  39. As an American who has never been to China but has many Chinese ex-pates for friends, I appreciate a window to observe the different sides of the cultural blessings and struggles of the Chinese people I see in this article and the various comments. I’m sure this is a small glimpse of the larger picture.

    I have been involved with cross-cultural issues for 30 years with a variety of people from different continents. I have been careful to learn something about what is important; and often times taken for granted; by these beautiful people. There has been something good to be gleaned from them all.

    But, if I may be so courageous and bold to show my ignorance, may I point out what I see about the Chinese that Americans should learn. The Chinese community that I am involved with is very inter-dependent and care for each other. OY! Could the American people learn the good that is needed from such an attitude? Unquestionably, yes!

    Please don’t put your confidence in material things. Put your confidence in a heart that is big enough and free enough to care for and love others. Make it part of the journey you are on and you will find it very satisfying.

  40. Pingback: Elite Facepalm - www.hardwarezone.com.sg

  41. It’s about time people realized what the rich are becoming- especially themselves.

    As a reader I salute the sincerity by which you wrote this post. I do not know what experiences you have gathered in China for those seven years, but given your relative over-abundance (and the minuteness of your ‘tragedy’ in loneliness; relatively speaking, devastation comes in many worse packages) I hardly feel that you have ‘trawled the bottom’ as you claimed. The message rings true, however. We all need a wake up call.

    Now to translate thoughts into action.

  42. The key to success and happiness is also to be of service to others, especially those in need; and not just be stuck & live in our tiny little self centered world/ box. Hope we will all remember this as we and the our society as a whole progress.

  43. Pingback: Elitism and the respect for human life. « my philosophical wonderland

  44. waitingfortheworldtoend

    I have a strong feeling “life” is one of those disgruntled students from a “top” JC/Uni course and is displeased that he/she and his/her friends have had their character and weaknesses blatantly pointed out in public.

    I don’t think you have the correct definition of “elitist”. Elitism basically refers to being proud and arrogant just because you are from what you deem as a “better” school and in general, standing than others. All JCs offer the same core subjects to be taken and sat for in the ‘A’ Levels. Yet why is it that students from RJC, HCJC and NJC, among others, are labelled elitist? It is because they see those from other educational institutes in a “dimmer” light. You are not hitting the nail on the head here. The point is not about whether students compare grades, which is a normal thing to do. The point is about looking down on those who did worse than you. Feeling that they are not fit to share the same bus seat and air with you. That and being completely oblivious to it, of course.

    • Wow, thanks for the gross generalization once again in your first paragraph. Its interesting how you can infer so much of me from 300 words.

      Whilst it is true that schools like ‘RJC, HCJC or NJC’ maybe elitist (which is of course debatable), you are missing the point of my comment. After all people from SP NYP TP also think of their ITE counterparts as inferior? Otherwise why would they slog so hard to get into a poly? Why would they constantly emphasize that they are not in the nursing course and often crack jokes about the SP nursing students?

      What I’m just trying to say is elitism is a byproduct our competitive environment coupled our lack of contentment in society. And worst still it pervades all levels of society.

  45. It is so inspiring to see so much passion in the discussion on the issue of elitism. My humble opinion it is purely one’s own perception, just like beauty as the saying goes ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’. When we talk of the elite forces, SEALS, SAS, COMMANDOS, we immediately associate them with exclusive, fit, well trained, highly effective behind enemy lines and so on. As far as students from RJC, HJC, NJC etc and now, Schools with Integrated Programmes may be deemed elitist because they are selective and produce students who are potentially CEOs of corporations, successful entrepreneurs and so on. Of course there are some successful ones who are not from such ‘elite’ schools. Anyhow, in response to a.krishnan suggestion that the author ‘analyse what success means and benchmarks used, I would like to quote from the book The Happy Student – 5 Steps to Academic Success and Fulfillment. “No matter what you associate with success, you need to recognize that success isn’t a destination you reach when you finally get into a good school, attain a certain class rank, or even positively influence a certain number of lives. It’s a journey of constantly growing and contributing , of coming closer to realizing the vision of who you want to be, not just what you want to do. After all, if success is primarily about achievements, at what level of achievement will you be satisfied? There are always more accolades to chase after and more awards to amass, so unless you’re driven by a deep sense of purpose, you’ll never be contented’. So again, while in general the world views success as having more material wealth, celebrity lifestyle and titles, YOU define success for your own life. No need to let the world define you. My humble view is that the author of the article woke up one day and realized that she has more purpose in life and each day, she becomes more successful by moving closer to this purpose, thereby becoming more SUCCESSFUL!

  46. once an ACsian, always an Acsian
    same goes..

  47. I think ‘graciousness’ needs one to understand that people who are suffering are everywhere. You don’t need to go to Bhutan or Inner Mongolia to understand that there are people struggling financially (and socially and psychologically, among other things) even in Singapore.

    All this talk about, “If you don’t appreciate ____, go to here” is by itself a rather snobbish statement, if you ask me. In the first place, the whole philosophy of “I need to see the world so I will travel to some obscure part of the world to do volunteer work” is more characteristic of those who are highly educated and come from well-to-do families than those from the mid- to lower-class strata of society. The fact is, it’s difficult to tell the difference between outright discrimination and a patronising “Oh, you poor things” attitude. That is the hardest thing to navigate, and I’m not entirely sure this essay has necessarily achieved that.

    On that note, credit where credit’s due: at least the writer tried to bring people’s attention to something.

  48. Pingback: On elitism… « Adventures in London

  49. This is silly. Since time immemorial, society has always taken on a stratified existence, with each class looking upward in envy.

    Why do people need to apologise for wealth they have been born into, or acquired aboveboard through blood and sweat? Contrary to popular belief, the wealthy do not spend their days making fun of and belittling the working class – far from it, they have their own concerns to attend to, and many other forms of entertainment to occupy their time when not.

    But what is this I hear? The default resounding cry of how wasteful they are with their money; throwing millions on exotic cars and houses – money that could be better spent as charity on the working class.

    Ah, but are you truly the working class? Sitting in your safe and comfortable homes, typing merrily away on your computer, complaining about the inequalities of society.

    No, you are not part of the oft-romaticised and tragically oppressed proletariat. You are the middle class. Another class that chases after material wealth; that next LCD TV, that next car, that next bag, that next necklace, just as much as the upper class chases after that next yacht and super sports car.

    How much do you think about the class below you? When you are in your air conditioned bus to work, what do you think of when you spot a lorry, filled to the brim with migrant workers. Do you revile them? Do you scoff at them? No, chances are that you are simply apathetic, with perhaps a tinge of pity and a dash of relief that your positions were not reversed.

    This is how the upper class views you. And how you view the upper class is how the class beneath you views you.

    Yes, this is what that construction worker from China or Bangladesh thinks of you – with equal contempt for the inequality of his and your social standings. All the while he is crammed shoulder to shoulder with a dozen others, on an area not two meters square, deafened by the roar of the wind, choked by the exhaust of the surrounding vehicles and half blinded by the inevitable grain of dirt. He squirms slightly in his place, taking care to expose a different portion of his flesh to the scalding metal heated by the lorry’s exhaust, to avoid burning himself until he reaches the work site for another long hard day of manual labour.

    Or are you saying that migrant workers, are irrelevant – now that is discrimination and by that very definition, elitism. They too are human beings; flesh and blood, same as everyone else, before, now and henceforth.

    Feeling more pangs of pity and guilt now? Congratulations, your mindset is now close to that of the author of the article above. Namely: superficial. For such shallow feelings of empathy are but a mere a convenient salve for your conscience, not for any good of those less well off.

    Do not worry though, because these selfsame migrant workers are the envy of others.They themselves live above the poverty line. Each day, they have food to eat, and a roof over their heads when they sleep.

    So, surely, they must be considered rather well off in the grand scheme of things. So, a rank below then, to those who live hand to mouth, in the slums in nearby Indonesia, and on and on, spiraling downwards. At the end of which would probably be the starving children in Africa, grinding their teeth down to stumps by eating dirt to pacify their hunger.

    At each turn, each level hates the ones above it, while largely ignoring the even less fortunate below it.

    C’est la vie.

    There is enough hate in the world. So, at the end of the day, be thankful for what you have, instead of hating those who possess what you do not. Be realistic in life, make the best use of whatever cards fate has dealt you. And if you do look up, do so with ambition, not envy and hate.

    And for the pseudo-altruists who want to clamour to the whole world that they “get it” and that they emphasise with the “poor”: get off your high horse and get your hands dirty doing something real and substantial.

  50. And for the pseudo-altruists who want to clamour to the whole world that they “get it” and that they empathise* with the “poor”: get off your high horse and get your hands dirty doing something real and substantial.


  51. just a lot of people trying to convince themselves and others how simple, kind hearted and down to earth they are. and we all know deep down inside that we’re smarter than the other guy/girl but we don’t like to brag because I’m very modest

  52. Pingback: Coming to Terms with being “Elite” « A Raffles Institution Life

  53. The hard part about being an elite is not becoming the elite – but to be an elite and yet be able to appreciate, understand, empathize, or better still, do something about, the difficulties faced by ordinary people in the streets.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think most of our elites are like that.

  54. It’s interesting to see how someone’s story can spark up so many different arguments. It’s even more interesting when all the arguments literally just reflect everything that the author has mentioned.

    Just saying.

  55. Non-elite RGS old girl

    I was formally from RGS, but unlike Ms Sim, I was born into the lowest rung of society. Both my parents were uneducated and did not know English. We used to live in a 1 room HDB flat. All our furniture were picked up from the rubbish dump.  We used to sleep on thin mattresses on concrete floor.
    However, I went into the best class in RGS, my brother went to RI. Both of us were consistently in the top class all the way to sec 4, and we both went to RJC.  I did not even remember that I had to study very hard to get into RGS. It seemed quite easy back then.
    I graduated from NUS and have since traveled all over the world for both work and pleasure for the past 20 years. In fact, I also worked in China in 2010.  Of course, I did not experience the same enlightenment as Ms Sim, since I had experienced worst during my childhood.
    I am definitely not an elite, and I hate elitism.  Even though we can afford private property,  my husband and I chose to live in HDB flats.  I put my kids in a neighbourhood school within walking distance and I often bring them to travel on MRTs and buses.   I do not want them to grow up to become elitists.

  56. Seriously? Raffles and NUS are good schools, no doubt, but how about those Singaporeans who went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College? Roedean? Marlborough? Winchester? Eaton? Then went on to Oxford? Cambridge? The Ivy League?

    Those are the true blue elite Singaporeans. The privileged kids of Singapore.

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