Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Economics for Everyone

I don't have a lot of time to blog today (busy making reading notes for Social Theory!) so I thought I'd give an example of the anti-orthodoxy that is ISS. Here's a funny excerpt from 'Economics for Everyone' by Jim Stanford, a required reading for my Introduction to Economics course.

Useless and Destructive Activities that Also Happen to be Profitable

Activities performed by Profit-Seeking Companies that are Socially Useless:
- Advertising
- Spending to develop copycat products (such as imitation pharmaceuticals) that have no real additional value
- Excess packaging added by producers to attract buyer interest
- Maintaining more capacity than required, in order to "catch" new sales or supplies before a competitor does
- Producing things designed to break down or become obsolescent, forcing customers to buy new ones

Activities performed by Profit-Seeking Companies that are Socially Destructive:
- Selling products that are harmful, unsafe or dangerous
- Tricking customers into thinking they are buying something they're not
- Spending to directly undermine competitors (by spying or sabotage)
- Spending to prevent others from duplicating your work (such as patents or anti-copying protections)
- Limiting production of a useful product in order to boost profits
- Shifting costs (including hidden costs like pollution) to consumers, suppliers, or the public at large
- Advertising that makes people feel inferior or inadequate if they don't purchase a product

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hollandse Nieuwe

Last weekend I got to see the open market, which sells everything from clothes to food, from a selection of countries worthy of a UN summit - Suriname, Morocco, Laos, Turkey...

I also had my first experience with 'authentic' Dutch food - raw herring! This is called Hollandse Nieuw (or Dutch New), and it's herring caught around the end of spring through the start of summer, preserved in some soup of enzymes. It's usually eaten with raw onion. It doesn't taste so bad if I psych myself into thinking it's sashimi.
So what's so special about this herring? Apparently, a lot, according to Wikipedia:
- Fat content must be at least 16%.
- It should be caught between mid May and late June.
- It is salted and matured.
- It is properly filleted i.e. all the bones are removed, leaving the tail.
- It should be sold at maximum 7 degrees to prevent any possible parasites!

Education funding in SSA

My lecture in development theories criticised the neoliberal agenda of the World Bank and IMF by giving an example from Africa in passing, while he was lecturing about industrialisation and statecraft. Basically, this week questions if industrialisation is the only way for countries to eradicate poverty. (This is where Singapore and other Asian Tigers get mentioned a lot, because us 'late industrialising countries' had strong state intervention, with policies like import-substitution industrialisation.) For a state to implement an industrial policy, it also needs to have a social policy in health and education to develop a skilled labour force, which is also exactly what happened here in these Asian Tigers.

I didn't know this, but in many sub-Saharan African states, funding to universities were slashed as part of structural adjustment policies about 2o years ago, because the neoliberal agenda of the WB and IMF considered this sort of education spending to be "pro-elite" and unfriendly to the poor. Instead, they want the spending to be redistributed to poor for basic education. As a result, the university sectors have collapsed and it's ridiculously expensive to go to universities in Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, etc. and not to mention that this invites corruption when parents try to earn extra money to send their children to university. As Ellen puts it, so everyone has basic education, but where do they go now?

Friday, September 24, 2010


I get excited about a lot of things everyday that I want to keep posting statuses on Facebook, until I realise that this is why I have a blog. Haha.

Lectures for Global Politics in the Developing World have started, and two professors are sharing the 6 lectures. First we assume that the developing world is a separate entity and that its politics are different, and there are different ways of approaching these issues.

I met Ellen from Ghana during lunch and we went for a lecture on some new indices of social development developed in Harvard, which turned out to be hopelessly boring, so she invited me to her room for lunch. There are two hostels which are just behind the main building, and living in one of them ensures that you develop enough inertia to not see anything more than the main street in front of ISS!

So I had Ghana cuisine for lunch thanks to her - fried plantain, egg stew and bean stew. Interesting flavours!

I also met up with the one and only other Singaporean here - he's doing some research for ISS. He did his MA here about ten years ago, and we had some very interesting conversations with his colleague from China. However, when the conversation veered towards the productivity of women being naturally low, I made my hasty exit, haha.

Monday, September 20, 2010


My first weekend was smooth and also recreational! Saturday morning I went over to the new house to sign the rental contract. I thought I'd take five minutes and then I could go cycling, but W the landlord had many stories about Indonesia ('My favourite country in the world!') because he was born there, and his colleague is from Suriname, but also lived in Jakarta for a while. Landlord W got us a special rent for the remainder of this month after asking the foundation that owns this apartment building.

In the streets near my CS host's house there was a market (just like a pasar malam, except from 10h - 15h) so we had to go see that first! This was nothing typically Dutch though - no windmills or milkmaids or whatever else my blog name conjures up of Holland :) In fact, what I gather from observing the streets in the past week is that Dutch culture consists of a lot of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to cuisines! More on that later, with pictures to boot. So when I saw a stall selling 'soeto', I had to check, and in this case it was correct.

Then we rented a bike and went cycling near Scheveningen Bos ('forest'), which is about 2 or 3km northeast of where ISS is. We went further than that, since we hit the sand dunes! Seeing hills of sand amidst temperate forest is something special. Silvery poplars are abundant too, since they grow best in sandy soil (artefact information from a course on silviculture I took in Spain 2008).

We made it back to the bike rental shop with 7 minutes to spare, and got a quick dinner at Ming Kee chinese restaurant (they must make a lot of money if they're selling rice + 2 meat + 2 veg for 5 euros!) before heading to Korzo5hoog near the Centraal Station.

The performance was ''Readymade Dance/Part of the Deal" by Andre Gingras, for the fabulous student price of 6 euros. The first piece used boxing and its related shuffling, skipping and punches to create a dance. One dancer even got a bloody nose at the end, but the blood was a bit too bright red to be real (I hope, anyways.). The second piece spent some time deconstructing steps from hiphop and breakdance, before breaking out into a frantic dance involving live singing/sounds coming from a wo/man (I really couldn't tell.).

Today is back to school and I also have to start settling into a normal life i.e. laundry, cooking, cleaning.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I finally found a place to live! It's in a neighbourhood that my CS host calls 'expat country', since it looks very posh. 350euros a month, all bills included, and I'm sharing with an Indonesian girl, Febri. I heard from another coursemate that she was looking for a flat too, so yesterday morning I found her, went looking for bikes with her, showed her the flat I was looking at and by 5pm we had decided to rent this apartment together.

Moved in most of my things today, but since F won't be moving in till she cancels her hostel contract, I'll have a huuuuge apartment all to myself for a few days.

I'm looking forward to the mad rush of anti-mainstream readings that is ISS :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


My timetable is still a bit of a surprise each day, since I can't be sure I've checked where I'm supposed to go properly. I do know though that this term I am taking 4 or 5 courses.

Development Histories, Theories and Practices - This is an overview of the major thinkers and themes in development. The professor talked about and critiqued Alan Thomas and Amartya Sen today. Sen speaks of development as freedom; his five basic freedoms are both a cause and a result of development. A memorable moment is when a (Filipino?) student asked,

"But what about Singapore? Some of the freedoms are not present, but it still developed so fast."

I also met girls from Kenya and Ghana. Apparently these two countries had higher GDPs than Singapore about 50 years ago, so their home institutions constantly use Malaysia and Singapore as case studies in trying to find what went wrong in their countries. Did you know Ghana also grows a lot of oil palm? They just haven't been able to industrialise and that commodity the way that Malaysia did.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Sometimes flying can be really crappy (see picture!!), but Emirates is generally a really good airline. My neighbour couldn't get sound on his inflight entertainment system, and 4 different stewards periodically popped by to try new headphones or reset the system.
After arrival, no complaints really! Although I was sneezing the whole flight and probably at risk to many of my fellow passengers, I didn't catch anything. The cool air and these sights made me feel much better. I left my luggage in the lockers at the train station. First, I lugged it halfway up a flight of stairs before a guy offered to help - "You must ask! You're a lady, this is unacceptable!" and then when I didn't have a Dutch ATM card to pay for the locker I did ask a man who was taking out shoes from a smaller locker and changing into them.

Some administrative things are done, but there's still a lot more! Classes started today and it was a full 6hours, with readings to do by tomorrow. Happily, it all feels familiar (to the nerd in me), brainstorming and discussing definitions. The general lecture is like a United Nations assembly, but better, because more countries of the Third World/Global South/developing world (pick the one who feel is most politically correct) are represented.

My potential dorm mate (if I choose to live in one) is from Rwanda. Where would I ever meet anyone from Rwanda otherwise!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


As Nad put it, APEX is one of the greatest things that happened in my life, no? Didn't expect so many APEX members to send me off at the airport :) Thanks to everyone else who did, I appreciate it so. Especially after a brief kental* incident of telling people I was supposed to check in at Terminal 3, haha. Love you guys!

*kental: Malay term referring to a thick texture, but also means silly.

On my last day in Singapore, I packed and I spent time with Mum at AMK Hospital. The afternoon turned out to be quite a party, because her sisters came to visit and we ate mee soto twice. (Actually I've been eating mee soto non-stop since Ramadan ended, but you all don't have to know that.)

For those who don't know, my maternal side makes legendary mee soto. The story goes like this: my grandfather, Haji Yasin @ Eskom/Escomb came from Bekare village in Ponorogo, Indonesia to Singapore. To make a living, he sold mee soto and it was awesome. A short story, but a bowl of mee soto says a thousand words!

Oh boy, here goes at least ten months without mee soto D:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I'm grateful for things good and bad that have led me here, and I am constantly moved by the warm, generous gestures of those around me.Today I got an unexpected donation from someone (you know who you are!). It is only because I took his class that I was able to articulate my interests and aggressively cultivate them. I hope he knows how much he's changed my life and also that of countless other students :)

Last Saturday was my last session at APEX (a group of adults both young and young at heart who mentor and tutor P6 madrasah students), and I got the most wonderful farewell speech, flowers, and gifts. All orchestrated by some of the committee members, and I was trying to not cry (too much) from being cluelessly overwhelmed.

And the nicest part of that Saturday was that my students didn't want to leave at all! We had worked on one act of a skit based on 'The Man Who Sold Words' because I just wanted them to relax since they've been studying so hard. After presenting it twice, they kept sitting around me even though I told them they could leave early, because they knew it was my last day with them. I pray they all do well in their exams and turn out to be bright, well-adjusted, and confident teenagers.

One of them reminds me of myself. He has the potential to go so far, but he doesn't see the need to study so hard. In the words of a professor to me in my freshman year, he's "bright but lazy". Those words stuck, and I am always thinking of them when exams come around. Even now I'm not likely to forget it anytime soon - the weakest have to work the hardest.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...