Pause for a Moment to Savour the Beauty

I was struck by the following message on NUS Confessions. This message posted at night on 31 Mar 2013 was simple but poignant, and it resonated with me.  I reproduce it here in full:


“My friend and I stayed overnight at Utown last night, we sat outside Starbucks throughout the night, doing our work slowly and having some laughs at random and trivial things that we said and did. People who knew us asked (with “oh i am really sad for you” eyes) if we were rushing projects. No we were not, we wanted to stay overnight because we wanted things to slow down, time to pass less quickly, we wanted to enjoy the breeze at Starbucks without having to rush for the last train. 


The truth is, I am graduating and I am starting to miss being part of this physical space, I am starting to feel the amount time left for me to be “in the moment” with the surroundings in school is only that little. Just because we are burdened with the fight with the bell curve and there’s a need to excel amidst it, we often unknowingly forgo the experience of being just as who we are and who we want to be in this physical space. 


It was a quiet and slow night, I had a lot of flashbacks of snippets of memories with different NUS friends (who were once just project mates), memories from mundane activities. Many times we think it is the fun and exciting things that we will miss the most, but in fact it is not, but the ordinary activities we do like eating bee hoon from The Deck, sharing a molten chocolate cake from Starbucks, walking along the link ways, meeting people you haven’t seen for semesters and getting encouragements from them. 


There are just way too many simple things that warm your heart (and you may not even realise it until you stop getting all these), but we are too caught up in the race we forget to slow down, to pause for a moment (or a day) to savor the beauty of these things. I know week 11 is coming up and many of us have endless reports and assignments/projects to complete, but trust me, take half day off from the race and just chill in school, you won’t regret.”


In the hustle and bustle of life, we are all too caught up in our own affairs – studies, activities and what have you. (Myself included – I have been told I am a workaholic.) How often do we pause to relax and reflect? Or to simply allow ourselves to experience and enjoy doing nothing?


The next few weeks will be particularly stressful for most of you, but heed this advice – take some time off to chill out in school. And I agree with the author of the above message – you won’t regret it. Best wishes for your examinations!


  1. Spent my last 2 semesters appreciating and exploring the rest of NUS, u-town, crashing at friends’ halls… just reminiscing about it a year later makes it feel as though I woke up from yet another dream.

  2. The ability to do nothing is really a luxury we can rarely afford other than during the holidays. But yet, it’s a luxury that we should enjoy when we can finally afford it.

    Some of the more relaxing times I’ve had in NUS was waking up in Cinnamon College on a rainy morning in the pre-examination study period. While most are slogging like crazy, it’s important sometimes to remember we don’t just live as students – we live as living beings, and enjoying life as it is is important too.

    Much of the time in the holidays and pre-examination periods, I spend with family, and online, reading up on things completely unrelated to my major, commenting on various interesting pages (including the NUS confessions page, as I’m sure many people are aware of – my online persona is Ryuu Shun Hayashi =P), doing my other side jobs (writing music, moderating an online forum)… things that I don’t get to do as well when in the heat of the usual academic period.

    Does it hurt my results? I don’t know. Strangely, it’s been all the subjects I study for that I do badly in, and the ones I don’t study that I do exceptionally well in. But we only do live once, and some of the things I learn – and experience – when doing stuff other than mugging nonstop is well worth trading a bit of CAP for. A friend shared an inspirational TED talk on Facebook, and by making time for that, the experience opened my eyes to do the necessary work to launch my music career today – just an hour or so ago, with a very unusual approach.

    NUS gives us a good framework for education, but there’s more we can do by trying to learn than by people trying to teach us. This society is really overly competitive, but there’s no need to subscribe fully to the spirit of the times. We do a bit here, we do a bit there, we live fully in between.

    Importantly, we should live as though every day is our last, and plan as though we still have many years to go. It’s a balance, and I would rather live well and deal with life as it comes the best I can, rather than suffer through my preparatory years in the hope of a good future which may never come.


        This was the TED talk, which helped me realise a donationware model is on principle workable for music publishing.

        And following up I calculated the risk to its complete failure is equal to only the sum of hosting costs of the music on the hosting site, amounting to S$10,000 over a lifetime of hosting. Relative to most types of investments – as well as the costs that would be incurred should I attempt to publish music the traditional way – this is spare change in comparison. And it would already influence the world even should it end up being a pay-to-host thing forever, ie nobody ever gives back.

        There’s a whole lot of good talks on TED that I would love to listen to if I could find the time, and I need the holiday period to have the time for them.

  3. “In the hustle and bustle of life, we are all too caught up in our own affairs – studies, activities and what have you. (Myself included – I have been told I am a workaholic.) How often do we pause to relax and reflect? Or to simply allow ourselves to experience and enjoy doing nothing?”

    Provost, first think about why are we so caught up in these affairs. Why are we so busy? Why are we spending so much time studying, and so little time playing (or even relaxing with our families)? Why is it that we seldom “allow ourselves to experience and enjoy doing nothing?” Why are we so stressed out?

    Before you go on extolling the value of idleness, think about the people in power who created and maintain this very system which teaches us that we should not be doing nothing, much less “enjoy doing nothing”. Some of these people are telling us to “allow ourselves to experience and enjoy doing nothing”. What irony!

    Talk is cheap.

  4. Do consider implementing a grade-free first-year policy for undergraduates.

    This way, we will have more time to just chill, relax and enjoy doing nothing =D

    1. @Jervin:

      Covering first year grades will not help. Let me share my experience with you:

      I was on SEP in one of the top unis in USA (ranked much higher than NUS) and saw one of my friends applying for an internship. She was a full-time junior student there and had a GPA of 3.8+/4 (equivalent to a high first class here). One of the thing that the company requested was an UNCOVERED transcript where the first year grades are revealed. Its submission is a prerequisite for any follow-up interview.

      This example exemplifies that if you think that having a covered first year grades will allow you to chill, you’d better think again.

  5. We are now ranked as one of the best universities in the world. Is it because our students are so talented, or are we (students and staff) being subjected to sweat shop working conditions, being overworked to “punch above our weight?”
    My suggestion is to stop giving scholarships and tuition grants to international students from asian countries such as China and India, where for most of them, their strengths lie in hard work and personal sacrifice, which is similar to Singaporean students. This will only worsen our already close to non-existant work-life balance. Why not channel the resources to attract full-time international students who are known to be more creative, innovative and playful, such as those from Europe? The goal of international students is to create diversity, so it would be nice if NUS changes its approach in this aspect.
    Also on the confessions page, we learned that NUS employs double standards when admitting Singaporean and PRC students when it comes to English standards. As an undergraduate student, it is in our interests that NUS graduates are of the highest standards. Many of my PRC colleagues have difficulty comprehending English and forming sentences. This will reflect badly on our degree and our country, especially when such graduates work for MNCs and go abroad.

    1. Singaporeans are typically admitted based on their A level results and it is the aggregate of the 3 H2 and 3 H1 (including GP) grades which we look at. Failing GP does not disqualify a Singaporean candidate. Why do you choose to believe what was written there, when the criteria are all conveyed in our admissions site?

  6. I have a better idea: Just reduce the number of students in NUS such that bell-curves can be removed and competition is one that is positively reinforcing.

    The fact is that, there are so many students in NUS that a NUS degree isn’t worth anything in the job market unless it is a first-class. Consider the fact that many banks, and some of the more prestigious stat boards require a minimum of 2nd upper from their applicants. Even so, the majority of their interview candidates are first class honors students.

    In addition, look at how most of the graduates’ starting pay (in real terms) have been stagnant over the past decade. While this is partially due to the economy regressing backwards (see the recent speech by Ngiam), a major factor is the rapid expansion of the number of vacancies (look up the NUS annual report) in the university. The law of the market is simple: wages must fall until demand meets supply.

    In the face of intense competition, who can blame students for pursuing academic excellence at the expense of physical health, mental health and interpersonal relationship? NUS students (me included) are merely responding to competition, and are willing to forgo current welfare in the hopes of a better future.

    Some people (which I believe includes, you, the Provost) have argued that the situation is alleviated by fact that companies are looking at CCAs etc.

    Firstly, I disagree with that statement – experience have told me that academic results still play the most important role in securing an interview.

    Secondly, even if I accept the premise that companies look out for hidden attributes as reflected through CCAs etc, I do not see how will this alleviate stress; students will merely divert their time from studies into CCAs in order to get a better chance at landing a good job. Instead of having 1 CCAs, one may instead do 3, 4 or 5 CCAs to show their ‘competency’ and to signal that they have a ‘wide interest in different areas’.

    Moral of story: just reduce the number of students in NUS.


  7. I was recommending against this very policy actually.

    The problem is that NUS is not in control of the competition situation. If NUS were to reduce its intake, it’s not going to increase the number of first class holders. Employers who look at degree class will do so anyway – with a smaller student pool the number of first class NUS graduates actually reduces, and the number of second upper NUS graduates also reduces. In order for this to mean that people of lower classes must be employed, employers must only have NUS to choose from, of they will simply… hire more first class holders from overseas universities. Ergo, it is not that ‘an NUS degree isn’t worth anything unless it is first class’, but more like ‘a degree isn’t worth anything unless it is first class’.

    The employment competition situation here has nothing to do with NUS, and partially to do with the foreign worker policy. Why do you think there’s so much opposition to it? NUS would simply fade from the employment scene should it reduce its student intake – reducing the number in no way increases the value of the degree because there are so many degrees out there which can be used to work here. The other part is regarding local graduates themselves, and the Prime Minister seems bent on increasing the local competition here actually. I warned that this will lead to worsening the underemployment situation, as disrupting the balance between uni graduates and other graduates (poly diploma holders etc) will mean that we will have uni graduates eventually accepting lower salaries to do jobs that are underspecced for their qualification level. The alternative is no job at all.

    The problem you mention is real but the solution you mention will not solve it. As someone who has already entered the market, you have probably seen firsthand how many of your coworkers in the same industry, if not the same company were never trained in Singapore in the first place.

    Our problem in employment as a nation is that the nation welcomes workers in from foreign nations but does not actively encourage our own people to be sent out in exchange. Balance is achieved when the flow is bidirectional – as it is, the situation is horribly unbalanced as the flow is one-way. If I had a container, and I let air enter the container at x cm3/sec, and let air exit the container at x/4 cm3/sec, what is the natural result? An explosion.

    The alternative, which most other states are using, is labour protectionism, but it would be inefficient in a nation like ours when trade is our primary economic activity. Rather, for globalisation to work it must go both ways. But since developed nations are mainly protectionistic, in order for our people to get there, we have to negotiate trading their people for ours. They send us their high-level managers, we send their our highly trained entry-level graduates who can demand a lower wage than theirs do at equal qualification, and still end up earning more than they would here. Conversely, if we take cheaper labour from places like China, in exchange we send them highly trained labour.

    I also have a separate idea on sending our people overseas as instructors to create academic institutions, by which we can help educate people from other countries in their countries in exchange for tuition fees – and our position in Southeast Asia and reputation for good education is highly conducive to this. This would be sustainable until the entire SEA region develops – which may be for another ~50-100 years, after which we can look into other frontiers… maybe Africa.

    These two ideas are among some of the proposals I gave to the National Population and Talent Division among others from other universities, and the White Paper they gave in exchange that incorporated none of these ideas was a signal to us that they’re not really listening at all. I don’t have the liberty to talk about what they proposed however, but my ideas belong to me, so I can share this much.

  8. Firstly, I have to clarify that I do NOT oppose the acceptance of foreign students. In fact, I find that bringing in capable students is essential to maintaining upholding the international reputation of NUS. However, I have to emphasize that we need to bring in students who are at least as capable as top local students IF we are to give them a scholarship. I don’t see why we should sponsor foreign students when we have local ones who perform better academically.
    Secondly, I beg to differ that ‘a degree isn’t worth anything unless it is first class’. Obviously, you are not familiar the signaling and job search models which are central to most modern economics analysis.

    From my perspective, the huge influx of students has led to 2 consequences:
    1. Decline in teaching quality
    2. Decline in the overall learning standards of the more capable students

    The first point should be self-explanatory, and hence, I shall not elaborate on it. As for the latter point, I want to highlight the fact that many professors are ‘cutting’ down the syllabus and teaching at a slower pace to cater to the weakest students. This is a loss to the majority of the cohort as they do not receive the quality of education they deserve due to minority of weaker students.
    To exacerbate the problem, some professors even stated that they implemented CAs (such as presentation) so that they can give students full marks and make them pass the class, even if they can’t answer most of the questions in the finals. This makes it not incentive compatible to put in any effort into learning.
    Given all these, it is not a surprise that the quality of learning is so low and the worth of NUS degree has been on the decline!
    Let me contrast it my SEP school in the US, which accepts slightly more than 3000 students a year. Despite attracting the brightest students in the country, the school is not afraid to remove students who do not perform up to standards. In some courses, the attrition rate can be as high as 1/3. One of my professors even commented in class that he is not afraid to fail students as he felt that he has the obligation to “defend the academic integrity of the degree”. Not surprisingly, the school is ranked highly and her students, regardless of their grades, are in great demand.*** Just surviving the years in college is a signal that you are good. Period.

    In any case, I have to say that I do not your idea feasible. I think that you are conveniently ignoring the fact that migration is purely driven by individual demand and governmental negotiations are not going to work. In addition, employment by corporations not based in Singapore is a commercial decision and there is no way Singapore government can force it down a foreign company’s throat.

    ***I just wanted to speak about my experience, which I hope the Provost here will read and consider:

    In addition, given the small class size, there was no bellcurve in place and students got grades based on their absolute cumulative scores in assignments and tests. This provided the perfect environment for learning and development of ideas. Thinking back, the system there provided me with a valuable education which I can never have in NUS: my friends and I worked and learned together in a group by bouncing deep ideas and concepts off each other. We read research papers, not textbooks. We explored untouched topics. I was challenged. I was happy to be challenged. Most of all, I had the assurance that my grades will not be affected even though I shared the ideas I had.

  9. Starbucks has a way to draw people in. Maybe due to the music or coffee. There was a book by Michael Gill: How Starbucks Saved my Life. He worked in Starbucks after he was retrenched. Exams are important but in the working life, especially in the private sector, one usually works until 8pm.

  10. Hi, I would just like to say that I do not think it is true that employers only look at the kind of degree you have. My friend (who is a foreigner) graduated from NUS with a 3rd class degree in Engineering, and managed to get a job at Goldman Sachs. How did he do it? Through networking — at some club he befriended a banker at a second-tier investment bank, managed to get a part time job there, worked his ass off for like 6 months, and through his job managed to meet pple frmo GS nd then he made the jump.

    Moral of this story? Work hard, stop complaining. Life is hard and there is competition everywhere, if you ahven’t already realized.

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