Sunday 23 February 2014

No air-con in schools but give them Mentos in the army

It has been called the most important invention of the 20th century.

And I’m not talking about the Internet or Flappy Bird. (For one thing, Flappy Bird was created in the 21st century.)

I’m talking about air-conditioning.

And the person who once called it the most important invention of the last century was former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

He even told the Asian Wall Street Journal in 1999 that he wished someone would invent an “air-conditioned undergarment, enclosed around the neck, wrists and ankles, and battery-operated”.

He said that “before air-con, mental concentration and with it the quality of work deteriorated as the day got hotter and more humid”.

So I’m a bit perplexed that our Ministry of Education (MOE) is so anti-air-con.

Or at least, that was the impression I got from recent news reports. An MOE spokesman told The New Paper last week: “Schools are urged to use air-conditioning prudently and to exercise the option to operate with fans where possible.”

This is supposedly in line with the ministry’s goal to be ecologically sustainable and cost-effective in operating the schools.

I was wrong. MOE isn’t anti-air-con. It’s just anti-air-con in schools.

The ministry’s headquarters at North Buona Vista Drive seems very well air-conditioned. I wonder how ecologically sustainable that is.

I’m surprised that instead of this trendy “save the planet” bromide and the evergreen “save money” rationale, MOE didn’t trot out another dependable argument that has been used in the past.

Air-con in our schools will make our kids soft.

People are already complaining about the Strawberry Generation, named after the fruit because they bruise so easily. (Despite its name, a “strawberry” is not a berry but an aggregate fruit. I looked it up. It’s also not made of straw.)

With more air-conditioning in schools, aren’t we just creating the Strawberry Shortcake Generation? (Named after the dessert because they crumble so easily.)

They’re certainly no Pioneer Generation. They’re more the Samsung Generation.

Served by maids and smartphones, kids today have it too easy. A little heat and humidity will toughen them up.

Especially the boys. The lack of air-conditioning will help them prepare for national service (NS). There is no air-con during the 24km route march.

Speaking of NS, the Singapore Army is so tough that in an article last week about “how the world’s armies get fed”, The Guardian newspaper in the UK described our army ration pack as “sparse” and “paltry”.

To quote:
“The offerings in the Singapore pack were sparse despite its reputation for high-quality cuisine. There were a paltry three dishes, of Szechuan chicken noodles; a mushroom, basil, rice and chicken dish; and soya milk with red-bean dessert.”

But a day later, a footnote was added to the article on The Guardian webpage, clarifying that the “Singapore pack is, in fact, only the main pack”.

The “foodnote” continued:
“In addition, each Singaporean soldier receives an ‘accessory’ pack as part of a 24-hour ration package, which includes canned drinks, energy bars, isotonic drinks powder, tinned food, instant noodles, biscuits, ‘candy’, instant tea and coffee, tissue paper, and heating packs.”

What? No pineapple tarts?

So our army ration pack isn’t so sparse and paltry after all.

I think the poor Guardian journalist must have received a number of angry e-mails from Singaporeans because she posted on The Guardian webpage:
“For those complaining that the Singaporean ration pack is misrepresented, it was given to us by a Singaporean officer working at the headquarters of ISAF (international military mission here). He gave us no reason to suppose that it wasn't representative.”

ISAF stands for International Security Assistance Force, which is led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as Nato.

The next day, the Singapore Army posted on its Facebook page a photo of the complete combat rations with a somewhat sarcastic comment: “All your favorite Singaporean flavours (except fish and chips).”

I assume the “fish and chips” part was a dig at The Guardian. Who knew the Singapore Army had such a wicked sense of humour?

And a sweet tooth. Curiously, the Singapore Army picture of combat rations includes two rolls of Mentos, which must be the “candy” The Guardian footnote was referring to.

The two Mentos flavours look like Lime and Fruit, which is an assortment of lemon, orange and – oh, no – strawberry flavours.

It’s a sign – there’s no escaping the Strawberry Shortcake Generation!

What’s the point of toughening up our kids by withholding air-con from them in school if we’re just going to give them fruit-flavoured Mentos in the army?

We might as well let their maids carry their backpacks for them.

And give them air-conditioned underwear.

I prefer the mint-flavoured Mentos myself.

They help keep me cool. No batteries required.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 February 2014