What is beauty to me?

I may find the Scotts Monument in Edinburgh beautiful because of the awe it inspires in me, but my friend might find the atmosphere created by this architecture eerie and creepy, making him dislike the entire building. Different people have a different set of criterion that defines beauty, and this is unique in every single one of us, so the “ideal” beauty will be different for every single person as well. Although there is a wide spectrum of ideas, there are three distinct groups – there is the man-made beauty, the beauty in nature, and the beauty of new discoveries. However, in my own personal opinion, I feel that beauty still lies in the third category, where originality and the breaking of new boundaries is the most meaningful.

After Man found the concept behind beauty, which is the discovery that beauty is something that appeals to people, it gave way to new forms of art, in the form of sculptures, paintings, and even buildings. For example, the Fighting Temeraire by J.M.W. Turner was a greater painting, which depicted the ruthless change of technology. The Temeraire was a renowned battleship from Britain, but was forced to retire due to the new forms of technology, like steam power. The painting of the ship is somewhat ghostly, as it is meant to show the “death” of the ship, and Turner mourns the loss of this ship. Similar to this, Guernica, one of Picasso’s greatest works, also depicts the German bombing of Spain, and shows the image of chaos and terror in the eyes of the characters in the mural. The Scotts Monument, with the dark surroundings, strikes fear in visitors. The key characteristic is that these works all evoke some sort of emotion in visitors, because men have come to realize that emotions differentiate Man from other objects and beings, even. Certain art works are well received because they incorporate some form of human emotion, like the experience of hardship and pain. In my personal opinion, I feel that not just the purpose, but the impact of the work is the key to beauty.  Although the art pieces above may be showing some sort of incident that evokes certain emotions, like pity and fear, it does not put a spin to how people view the world at large. If there is no change, then there is no concrete benefit to that particular work, other than it being aesthetically pleasing.

Some people are also astonished that nature can be beautiful, because of the fact that no person interfered with nature’s form. For example, people find the rocks along Australia’s coast beautiful not necessarily because of its physical form, but because it seems natural. There is the impression that everything that is natural is in its purest form, and is thus regarded as “purposefully beautiful”. Singapore has already tried to implement this form of beauty in the country by building the “Gardens by the Bay”, a cluster of man-made structures meant to show the vast canopy of trees. Indeed nature can be beautiful because it is formed through natural processes, and can even spur people to do more for the environment. However, I think that what nature lacks is the purpose. It cannot be confirmed if a cluster of rocks that form a beautiful image was created to be so, or was merely a coincidence.

In contrast to the above two categories, pushing of boundaries of imagination matches my idea of beauty the most. When I think of beauty, what I imagine are influential people like Gandhi, and works like installation art. People like Gandhi may not be representative of physical, external beauty, but beauty lies more importantly in the persons’ morals and his actions. Gandhi is the epitome of peace and courage. He lay down his life to form an independent India, and he managed to call upon many citizens to follow him in his cause for the better. Despite the stereotype at that time that people with dark-skin were less worthy and capable as compared to the white British, he called for a meaningful action, by showing, not through brute force, that they were deserving of independence. This really touched my heart, and his character and entire being is what I consider to be beautiful. There are truly no limits in this world, and it is up to us to test certain boundaries, to correct certain human mistakes. In addition, installation art represents the discovery that there can be many different possibilities, even when creating art. For example, Amy Warhol’s Soup Cans is her way of expressing her art sense – through the creation of certain shapes using soup cans. Not only is this largely meaningful, it encourages people to think out of the box, something that is largely needed. I am largely influenced by this form of art as well, because I have learnt to think of different alternatives when doing things, and asking questions to try to push boundaries. That is when I get to improve the most, because I not only give myself the opportunity to improve, I can also better understand the meaning in whatever I do.

It is truly hard to lay a finger on what my exact idea of beauty is, because this can change over time, but I feel that people, objects or places that seek to draw out questions the most beautiful. Most of the time, this form of beauty is generous, as it provides chances for a huge group of people, not just myself, to improve. 

Singapore's National Day Rally Reflections

PM Lee's speech was one which covered many issues, from discussion of current social trends in the country, to education and housing, and along the way, some solutions we can implement to alleviate our situation. This reflection will cover the issues that I find the most interesting.  

As Singapore develops from the third world to the first world, a point Mr Lee emphasized upon largely in his speech, the demands of the people also increase. People were once fine with just getting along, having just enough to survive. However, nowadays, like developing countries clustered around Asia, Singaporeans want a better life. They want something that they can connect to in their country and many Singaporeans want this through a better education. The government has responded to such concerns by expanding more universities, like UniSIM and SiT, which means that in the future, up to 40% of Singaporeans have the honour of attending university –except tertiary education will no longer remain prestigious. Certain jobs may not require a university degree, so pushing hordes of people towards university may lead to a mismatch in expectations and reality. When Singaporeans fail to get their dream jobs despite having spent years pursuing a univeristy degree, they begin to complain, and this could generate more problems.  

In the case of housing, I totally agree with PM Lee. Singaporeans need to be more understanding of the way Singapore's economy works. In a small nation like ours, the problem is that there is limited space. However, due to the country's good location, the land is still highly sought after. This means that the price of the land will continue to go up, and the citizens cannot expect the government to absorb all the shock. One idea he has tied in to the housing policies is to give priority of flats to families with children – I totally agree that this is a great policy to implement. In the process, families have a real reason to rethink their priorities. One problem I have identified is that there is a strong belief that in today’s fast-paced world, money and your job is everything, thus giving people a reason to prioritise their work over everything else. However, the new policy will give them a real incentive to start a family. Past policies have been too weak – a mere, risky 16 weeks of maternity leave and other small temporary benefits are simply insufficient to change things for the better.  

The end goal is what matters. Singapore, being a small country that focuses on quality over quantity, needs to identify the real issues that we need to tackle today. I believe that Singapore can actually achieve high standards despite its relatively small economy. Thus, the government and the people need to come to a consensus on what is important at the moment, and complete tasks one at a time. Singaporeans here also need to become more open minded towards the international community. Xenophobic sentiments are posing a large threat to Singapore, and Singapore, disadvantaged by its size already, cannot ignore the rest of the world. Thus, not only must we accept that our economy needs to include talented foreigners, we must also consider their comments on other areas in which they comment on, such as issues of human rights. 

This rally has brought about much discussion on the pertinent issues Singaporeans are faced with, and this experience has been much of an eye-opener!

Is Support and Funding from the Government Essential for an Innovation Centre?

To differentiate themselves from other countries, many governments all around the world have wanted to build innovation centres, which contain state-of-the-art buildings, with many famous MNCs setting up shop at their countries, benefitting both themselves and the company.

What are the necessities for a successful innovation hub? First, it requires the innovators, because that is the building block for an innovation hub. When we attract more innovators into the country, a greater quantity and quality of ideas will sprout out. This means that there will be a greater possibility of a feasible, profitable businesses being created. However, the problem here is to attract not just a handful, but a critical mass of both innovators and entrepreneurs. Second, a platform needs to be provided to aid in the innovation process. Once the idea is created, a platform is needed to put that idea into action. Third, the hub needs to be sustainable. To reap the full benefits of having such an innovation centre, the plan must be a long term one. Subsequently, some form of funding is required in order to ensure that the space is well used, and overcomes the opportunity cost. The question is – do we need governments to step in to help?

The characteristic of innovation is in its flexibility, when the innovator does not face as few restrictions and limits as possible. This may not be possible if the governments step in all the time. When the government is the source of sustainability, and is the one in charge, then unspoken boundaries are put in place. Other foreign investors see that there is lesser place for them to invest, and thus the government is virtually the sole controller of the project. As a result, innovators are compelled to follow the interests of the government or their source of funding will be cut. For example, in the area of technology or new media, there is propensity for the government to say that the product that is set up must support the government as a cost for its help. This may end up restricting innovation, which disrupts the entire process, as innovators feel largely restricted. Furthermore, there can be complications in the government at certain points in time, and this unnecessarily complicates matters. On the other hand, it is possible for the innovation centre to be funded all the same – just through private funding from the richer section of society. Many rich people are interested in putting their money into innovation, and more innovators are willing to gather if this happens. A culture of innovation is instilled into the area, and it becomes increasingly well known, causing more innovators to gather there. This culture is what made America’s Silicon Valley so valuable and famous. This creates a comparatively larger pool of ideas that can be put into action, ultimately giving an increased effectiveness. When there exists such private funding that can also help to fund innovators, if not boost them, then there is clearly an alternative to things.

On the other hand, there can be cases in which private funding is not sufficient. The government is needed in certain countries where few successes have been made, so that there can be a better starting point for the country. For example, in Russia, foreign investors are unwilling to invest in Russia, because investments are risky due to few previous successes. Governments, in contrast to private funders, are much more reliable because they are more trustworthy and accountable for their actions. Private investors are seen to be more profit-oriented, out to get more money for themselves, while the government is usually portrayed to be acting for its people. This makes the innovation hub much more sustainable. Also, the government needs to springboard new innovators. Many new innovators that lack a start-off fund are disincentivised to join the centre because they can be start reaping their profits earlier due to the fact that they have the government’s aid in financial areas such as rental and tax breaks. In the case of Russia’s 400 hectare Skolkovo, the government hands out a minimum of 150,000 dollars of start-up funds for new companies and investors, and gives out generous tax breaks to the companies. The government can give such financial help on a larger scale as compared to the private funders because they have lesser processes and more freedom to carry out their policies. This better provides a platform for the innovators to showcase their ideas, and make things really happen. In certain junctures, especially the action stage, where money is obviously required the most to set the ideas in place, the government can provide more help and a better face to the rest of the world.

While we acknowledge the fact that at the beginning stage, a free flowing centre of ideas can provide a better front, and will be good to start off with, we also need to know that the innovation centre cannot do without governmental intervention. The government can provide for many new benefits, such as a real platform to dish out the ideas to make them work, and also to attract more companies and innovators as time goes by. Support and funding from the leaders of the country truly is essential to build a successful and famous innovation centre. 

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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.