The musical I co-wrote will be performed this weekend, 1-3 April 2016!

This is just a shout-out to people who would like to see the other side of my work. I wrote the lyrics to My Love is Blind, a musical about a man who goes blind in his twenties, and had my sticky fingers involved in the music and bits of the script as well.

See what The Online Citizen had to say about the showcase last year:

“Let The Blind Lead The Blind”: Local musical confronts stereotypes of the visually impaired

Tan Guan Heng wrote his first novel My Love Is Blind in the early 1990s. It was a painstaking process: he had to first type his manuscript out in Braille, then record himself reading it aloud, before sending the tape to a typist for transcription. The book was published in 1995.

“It’s semi-autobiographical,” he said about the novel, which revolves around a young man learning to carry on with life after losing both his sight and the love of his life. “About 70 per cent of it comes from my own life.”

Twenty years later, his story is close to coming to life on the stage. Stella Kon – a Singaporean playwright who wrote the well-loved Emily of Emerald Hill – had helped him edit his novel all those years ago, and thought of it as a good story for a musical. Through Musical Theatre Live! (MTL) – a non-profit organisation of which Kon is chair – a team was put together to life the story off the page and on to the stage.

Get your tickets here —

Of course, if you want special ticketing arrangements (limited number of guest tickets lah, nod nod wink wink), feel free to contact me.

PS. If you get free tickets, please consider donating to the production company — writers, actors, set designers, sound crew, etc. need to pay their bills.

PPS: Dear friends and family. DON’T SAY BO JIO OK? 😀

The cyclist who knocked down the 3-year-old boy in a park connector is an idiot.


Ouch 😥

If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, a speeding cyclist recently knocked down a 3-year-old boy who was jogging for the first time at a park connector (PCN) with his father. The father estimates that the cyclist was riding at 40 kmh (!) at the time. The accident knocked out one of the boy’s teeth and left him with bruises, a swollen lip and a 1 cm cut on his chin. And here’s the thing that really enrages me:

He (the father) had asked the cyclist why he did not stop.

The latter said his bike had no brakes and his feet were clipped to the pedals.

WHAT?! This is what we save vulgar language for (but I’ll try to restrain myself). He was probably riding a fixie (YouTube video on how to stop), and stopping distance at that speed with no brakes is really, really far (see, for example, this video at 0:32) especially if the cyclist didn’t know what he was doing (likely).

I’m an avid cyclist (~115 km in the last 5 days, woohoo!), and I ride mostly on PCNs. There are peak periods on PCNs — weekends, evenings, and so on — when families are out with little children who aren’t really aware that there are idiotic cyclists sharing the paths with them. Many cyclists are sensible, but some are somewhat lacking in common sense.

So, here are a few tips for cyclists on the PCNs.

(For the rest of you, just be very careful! Hold on to your children! Keep to one side!)

Tips for cyclists

1. Go fast only when the path is completely clear.

I’ll admit that I break the nParks speed limit (15 kmh) pretty often. But I only do it when I am absolutely certain that the path is clear. When there are human beings in front of you, slow down, especially if there’s a chance that they will suddenly swerve into your path.

Watch out especially for:
– toddlers
– teenagers who might playfully push their friend(s) directly into your path
– joggers who might execute U-turns into your path
– cyclists who aren’t paying attention

Even if you’re riding slowly, be very careful.

I was once cycling with my girlfriend, and we saw a toddler playing ahead of us. We slowed way down (jogging speed).  The mother of the toddler was telling him to be careful, and as she did that, the kid swerved right into our paths. It was a narrow miss. Even at that speed, you still have to give allowance for some stopping distance. God help you if your brakes are worn. (I have nice fancy disc brakes! :D)

2. Be aware that your bell can make people panic

When approaching joggers/walkers from behind, be prepared for people to jump into your path as a reflex, especially if your bell is loud or if you ring it too late.

I’ve found that shouting ahead (e.g. “Hello! Can I pass please?”) tends to give better results, since people can register both your position and speed with a little bit more ease. Saying “thank you” will also sometimes get you a cheerful response!

3. Keep your eyes open, all the time

I understand that some of us ride to near-exhaustion, and it gets very tempting to put your head down (i.e. staring at the pedals) at that point. Please, avoid doing that. Squishy humans can come out of nowhere, and you really, really do not want to be surprised by a kid running out from the bushes.

4. Keep to the left — but not all the time

There are certain PCNs where it makes sense to keep to the right, rather than the left. Exercise your judgement.

5. If you’re going as fast as a car, use the roads


Malaysia’s command of the English language is stronger than Singapore’s?! What can we do about it?

Mr Seah boleh! ;)

Mr Seah boleh! He got the highest grade! 😉

Singapore has lost to Malaysia, in an academic contest! It is time for outrage and panic, remorse and shame! Why? Because Malaysia has attained a whopping rank of #12 — the highest in Asia — according to the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI). Singapore, meanwhile, has come in at #13. I like The Rambler’s take on this: “In a land where appearing on the top of world charts is something devoutly to be wished for, it must come as a blow to us when year after year, we are trounced by a country as incompetent as Malaysia.”

Malaysia has attained a whopping rank of #12. Singapore, meanwhile, has come in at #13.

I found the ranking a tiny bit strange, though. In my experience, even though Malaysians and Singaporeans work as peers in the highest levels of academia and business, at the ‘lower’ levels — the taxi drivers, retail assistants, service staff, and so on — Singaporeans seem to hold the advantage over Malaysians in terms of proficiency with English. Most taxi drivers in Singapore can hold very interesting conversations in English (ask them about the ERP, go ahead, I dare you), but a Malaysian taxi driver who can do the same is rare indeed. (DISCLAIMER: I only have been a tourist in Malaysia, and I understand my perception may not reflect the reality in Malaysia.)

How is it that the EF EPI ranks Malaysia ahead of Singapore? Is it a failure of Singapore’s education system, and a sign of Malaysia’s emerging power in Asia? Perhaps not, because the methodology of the EF EPI (how they rank the countries) leaves plenty of room for improvement. To put it simply, this ranking is biased. The EF people know it. For those who understand methodology, I quote directly from the website’s FAQ:

“We recognize that the test-taking population represented in this index is self-selected and not guaranteed to be representative of the country as a whole. Only those people either wanting to learn English or curious about their English skills will participate in one of these tests. This could skew scores lower or higher than those of the general population. In addition, because the tests are online, people without internet access or unused to online applications are automatically excluded. In countries where internet usage is low, we expect the impact of this exclusion to be the strongest. This sampling bias would tend to pull scores upward by excluding poorer, less educated, and less privileged people.”

To put it simply, this ranking is biased. The EF people know it.

Nevertheless, it stings a little bit, knowing that Malaysia has beaten Singapore, even if the ranking isn’t representative of our general populations. It must be that kiasu element in me rearing its head. What can Singaporeans do to ensure we beat Malaysia next year, and what can Malaysians do to try to maintain their lead over Singapore in the EF EPI? You can do as I did, and take the test yourself, if your command of English is good. I cannot emphasize that enough — if your command of English is bad, and you take the test, you will pull your country’s ship down.

If you are confident of your English abilities, take an hour from your day, sit down with a cup of coffee, and click here to take the test. Come on, Singapore, we can do it! Singapura boleh! (Eh? Wrong country, wrong slogan?)

If you feel like you need English tuition before you take the test, contact me. It’s in the nation’s interest 😉

Why we don’t need to panic over that Temasek Junior College photograph



I understand why a conservative parent would panic if s/he sees notes for students that contain the following statement: “Discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation violates the right for all human beings to be free and equal in dignity and rights.” It is as if schools are “pro-gay” in teaching impressionable young minds.

This was brought up recently in a letter to “All Singapore Stuff” (ASS).

It is unfortunate, but true, that the letter writer has misinterpreted the information found in the photograph. The most sinister part of the picture comes under the “UDHR” field, which may sound like some kind of evil conspiracy if one did not know that it stands for The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The notes do not say that homosexuality should be accepted, they only observe that discrimination (unfair or unequal treatment) on the basis of sexual orientation violates the codes found in the UDHR.

(Background information: The UDHR arose partially as a result of the Allied experience in World War II, where Nazi Germany curtailed certain freedoms. In other words, the UDHR arose as a force to fight against the evils that Adolf Hitler put into play. Read more here.)

Whether this discrimination is acceptable, or not, is up to the student to argue. To put it in simpler terms, whether or not homosexuals should be discriminated against (treated unequally or unfairly) is a decision that we leave to a student to decide for himself or herself.

In fact, nothing in the photograph condones or promotes homosexuality. It simply observes facts. At the top of the photograph we find this statement: “Removal of laws that discriminate LGBT community as state recognition is fundamental to the acceptance and integration of the LGBT community.” Ignoring the fact that the sentence structure is a little bit awkward, this statement observes the fact that if a society desired to accept the LGBT community fully (“acceptance and integration”), then the laws that work against that community have to be abolished. The notes even go on to observe that this is a “fairly complicated” thing. There is nothing here that promotes homosexuality, it only states facts.

It is also a fact that some religions (especially the “Abrahamic religions” referenced to in the notes) see homosexuality as a sin, and this fact is presented to students. Again, this is not the promotion of religion but a statement of fact.

Since I do not have the notes in front of me, I do not have the whole picture (pun intended). It is extremely unlikely, but possible, that the notes say “everyone should be homosexual”. In that case, we should be very concerned, because the teacher who makes such a statement may have some underlying mental health issues that we need to deal with in order to protect our students from any harmful behaviour. However, teachers in Singapore, by and large, understand the sensitive nature of these topics, and teach our students so that they can satisfy the requirements of the syllabus:

The syllabus aims to enable candidates to achieve the following outcomes:
2.1 Understand better the world in which they live by fostering a critical awareness of
continuity and change in the human experience
2.2 Appreciate the interrelationship of ideas across disciplines
2.3 Broaden their global outlook while enabling them to remain mindful of shared historical,
social and cultural experiences both within Singapore and regionally
2.4 Develop maturity of thought and apply critical reading and creative thinking skills
2.5 Develop the skills of clear, accurate and effective communication
2.6 Develop the skills of evaluation of arguments and opinions
2.7 Promote extensive and independent reading and research.

When I teach GP, I expect students to think for themselves. The attempt to parrot the teacher’s views often results in disaster, anyway. To do well in GP, a student needs to know about the world s/he lives in (see statement 2.1 above). This includes knowledge about the UDHR, the struggles that the LGBT community faces, and the religious response to the issue.

There is no excuse for ignorance, especially if you are a student. In the academic arena, ignorance means failure. Parents, if you see notes that make you worried, ask your child about them. S/he should be able to explain them to you. If s/he cannot, it may indeed be time to panic.

Teachers do not have an interest in “corrupting” their students. We are more interested in shaping them into individuals who understand the world they live in, and who can think critically to form mature responses.

It means better results, anyway!


Edit: “Critical thinking” is not code for “must accept homosexuality”. If a student believes that to be homosexual is a sin, I do not try to change that view. In fact, I encourage the student to speak to his/her pastor or youth leader if s/he does not know why homosexuality can be considered to be a sin. What is more important is that the student understands how to write a proper GP essay. This includes thinking about theocracies, democracies, and the separation (or not) of the church and state.

How to choose a tuition centre for your child (and how NOT to run a tuition centre)

When all tuition centres claim to have “committed” teachers, how is a parent to know who is really telling the truth? Thankfully, there’s a way to get under all the fancy marketing and advertising: win a teacher’s trust, and ask if they are happy working at the centre.

I have heard too many horror stories of tutors in tuition centres being paid peanuts, and contracts with draconian measures built into them. For example, I heard about a particular centre in Singapore that pays its full-time employees a monthly pay just slightly above a part-time employee’s salary — and this is a centre with massively impressive marketing and advertising.

The problem for tutors is obvious — if you are worrying about money too much, you will not be able to put your whole being into your teaching. If you are unhappy with your employer, it makes your job harder.

If you have a motivated employee who is taken care of well, that employee will always tend to be more productive than an unhappy, underpaid and overworked employee. In a tuition centre, this doesn’t just affect the bottom line, it affects students as well.

Of course, parents, you have to be careful how you ask tutors about their pay and working conditions, because these can be sensitive things to talk about. But you can try to win a tutor’s trust by asking a few questions about the way they teach, and if you’re impressed with the answer, you can try saying, “Ah, you really know your stuff, you must be getting paid a lot!”

Watch for the answer. If your child has an unhappy, underpaid, and overworked tutor, chances are that your money is just going towards paying for somebody else’s two-month long holiday.

The Problem With Singlish and Singaporean Education

A fellow tutor-blogger has just written a piece about code-switching and the mastery of languages that anyone intending to master a language should read (that’s all of you, young ones). It jogged a few thoughts about a typical Singaporean student’s experience, and how badly disadvantaged they (we) are.

It is perhaps unfair to blame Singaporeans for speaking poor English. It is horribly rare to have a mathematics or science teacher who can speak “standard” English. Most of the time, they speak Singlish, or some kind of other patois. I remember my computer teacher in ACS(I), who was an effective teacher save for one little thing: it was almost impossible to understand what he was saying.

Things like that happened pretty frequently:
Teacher: (what sounded like) Click in the terminal.
Student: Uh, where in the terminal?
Teacher: (what sounded like) Not the terminal, the ferminal!
Student: What’s a ferminal?
Teacher: (Points at the file menu)
(Bonus points for those able to guess this teacher’s country of origin. Don’t look down on him, though. He taught Visual Basic well enough for the ACS(I) computers to be swamped with a whole host of prank programs, programmed by us students.)

A more Singlish-fied version of the above scene (with fewer misunderstandings) goes on in almost every classroom, every day. Students spend an hour listening to an English teacher, and five hours listening to Singlish in their other classes. Even as an English teacher, I didn’t realise I was pronouncing certain words in a Singaporean (and inaccurate) manner until I paid attention to my recordings as a singer. (You’d be surprised how difficult it is to get the “L” sound in “golden” to sound right. I kept on singing “gowden”.)

Perhaps teachers need to go for grammar or pronunciation classes, but I know that the problem students have with English and code-switching (whether it’s Singlish, Chinese, Malay, Tamil, or whatever language it is we mix with English) will not go away if we don’t change the situation in schools. It’s a massive task for the MOE, but I believe it has to be done.

So, until all teachers and systems become perfect (haha), remember: students are picking up Singlish like sponges in schools.

And that’s the reason for all that horrible code-switching.

Something, somewhere, went terribly wrong (a short story)

The bloodstains seemed pretty obvious to me. The car was travelling against the flow of traffic. Or whatever traffic there would have been, if it hadn’t been so late. Human beings are 70% water, right? 70ish, anyway. And it was pretty obvious where this waterbag went “poof”, and where the impact came from.

“Sir, the fella lying la.”
“I know la, but.. this guy is rich. Facebook, YouTube kinda rich, you know?”

A shout from 50 metres away: “Sir, wallet! Got IC!… Uh, HDB address!”

— — —

“Come on, this guy’s a nobody. Look, I know his family’s gonna be sad. Let’s say they find 10 million dollars in their bedroom, and they leave me alone, OK? I’ll pass you the cash now, I can wire it to you. All you have to do is to let me disappear. I can have an alibi, easy, and we can all be happy.”

“But uh, sir, got witness la. You see my boys.. they know, la.”

“Well, why not let’s make it 20 million, and we’ll call it even, alright?”

“Uh.. OK, OK. Thank you, sir.. I.. Umm.. You transfer the money now?”

“Yes, I’ll do it right away, not to worry, my man!”

— — —

It was finally classified as an unsolved hit-and-run. We were there. We saw the scene. We saw the man. 8 million for the family, the other 12 million split equally among the three of us who were there.

He believed that we were all less than human.

6 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Writing – Tan Lili

Wow, USSR. We heard that acronym so often in primary school. I absolutely loved USSR when I was a little boy. No, I’m not in love with Soviet Russia (even though my one Russian friend is cooler than his country’s winter). Read on to find out what I’m rambling about!

Material World


It all started with the daily 30-minute silent reading programme that took place before the morning assembly during my primary-school days (remember USSR, short for Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading?). While some of my classmates would fidget and count down to the end of the reading period, I’d get lost in whatever book I was reading, wholly immersed in the colourful world of fiction. My early interest in reading led to my love of composition writing – it allowed me to dream up my own characters and storylines. Since then, I haven’t stopped.

Not only have I learned a great deal about myself throughout my years of writing, I’ve also discovered some lessons that can teach us a thing or two about life:

You cannot please everyone

When I saw my first thumbs-down on one of my blog posts, I was surprised at how much it hurt. Never mind that it…

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Short Update

I don’t know why it is, but here’s the truth: I only improve as a guitarist if I try to think like a “lead” guitarist (think Slash, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and gang). It really is parallel to the fact that I try to get my students to reach for beautiful sentences at the level of the masters, and that I try for that myself.

Strange, huh? Reach for the stars, and maybe you’ll get to the top of a tree. But reach for the top of the tree and maybe you’ll crash and burn. (Thanks to my sec 4 Chinese teacher for that saying. Mixed metaphors and whatever, but it works.)