Character & Soul, Deborah Tan, Entrepreneurship, Money, Opinions, Self-Improvement

I’m Sorry! But I WANT TO WORK For My Money! – Deborah Tan

Deborah Tan does not agree with ads that promise you a 5-figure salary while working from home selling “nothing”.

Busy as a bee but happy!

Busy as a bee but happy!

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on Facebook. Ads that go, and I quote them verbatim: “Ever thought it is possible you can make money online without selling anything?”; “Learn how a struggling Singaporean employee makes $20k/month from home in his spare time”; and, “Thousands of people are quitting their jobs and joining our popular online work program.”

Were you tempted to find out more? At the very least, I’m sure you went, “What?!? For real?” For me, after the curiosity, I just went, “Sorry. Not for me.”

Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, all the people who have signed up to these programs would look at me and laugh at me for being a cynical fool. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will still be slogging my ass off working as a freelance writer. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will be the poorest person in Singapore … but, I will not regret not signing up for these “courses”, “seminars” and “workshops”.


1. If it sounds too good to be true …
… it probably is.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on one of these Facebook ads just to check out their website to see if I can find more information about these programs. I was brought to a page asking me to enter my email address. No. Just no. You see, if I wanted to sign up for an MBA program, the school’s website will tell me details about the coursework, tell me what I can expect, etc. But this website doesn’t want to tell me anything until I give them my contact detail. Are you selling my email address? Are you just another layer in a massive multilevel marketing scheme in the business of collecting email addresses? WHAT ARE YOU? WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TELL ME MORE UPFRONT?

2. There is no shame in work
What I hate most about these ads is this picture they paint: that you can just do jack-shit, just click on your mouse all day long … and wait for money to roll in. If you set up a hawker stall and sell prawn mee, you know that $5 you earn comes from something tangible. If you set up an ecommerce website selling headphones, you know what exactly is earning you a living. For me, my product is Material World, a content agency and a website. Every piece of writing I put out for my clients, I know how I’m being paid. I am proud of my work and I really don’t agree with this whole “sell nothing, do very little” way of making money.

3. There is an inherent integrity problem
A few days ago, a friend posted up on Facebook how his picture has been used by one of these work-from-home programs for its Facebook ad. The picture of him standing next to a car is a great image of a young Singaporean who has achieved the trappings of success. Hey! But guess what? He didn’t sign up for this program. They had simply pluck his picture from somewhere and used it without his permission! This incident further cemented my belief that there is more than meets the eye here. If people are really becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams with your program, why don’t you just use their photos and stories instead?

I know that in order to be a successful businessperson, I have to find a business model that’ll eventually allow me to make passive income, something that will keep earning me money even if I go on a holiday or when I’m asleep. But I want to be able to grow my business using a product I have built, that will add ACTUAL VALUE to other people’s lives. Just blindly signing up for a program takes away that pride, that ownership that make up the core of entrepreneurship!

If you have no choice but to work from home, if you have no choice but to really consider one of these programs, I urge you to do your homework. It shouldn’t have to demand for an upfront payment of a large sum of money. It shouldn’t demand a percentage of your earnings to be channeled up towards your “supervisor” or “mentor”. You should be able to see if the business allows you to be different and unique from the 678 other people who have also signed up to do it – and we don’t mean just by changing the name of your company.

Like I’ve said before … call me a fool, call me stubborn, call me stupid … but I really rather become rich by working hard, really hard.

I want to get my hands dirty.

I want to get my hands dirty.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She doesn’t respect anyone whose wealth came to them easy. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


Opinions, Vanessa Tai

Do Not Click On Jennifer Lawrence’s Nude Pics – Vanessa Tai

Just because it’s there does not mean we’re entitled to look at them, says Vanessa Tai. 

By now, you’ve probably read the news about how an anonymous Internet user hacked into the Apple iCloud accounts of more than 100 female celebrities and uploaded their nude shots online.

I’ll admit it. When I first read the news, I was immediately curious to see what these pictures looked like. And I’m certain most people — man or woman — thought the same way. Our thought process probably ran along the same vein, “Oh, I’m not a bad person. I just want to see what the fuss is all about. Anyway, the pictures are already out there so the damage is already done. One more person browsing through them quickly isn’t going to hurt.” Or perhaps some of you had thoughts along the lines of, “Anyone stupid enough to take explicit pictures and leave them lying around probably deserves to suffer the ramifications.”

I get it, because those were my first few thoughts as well. But the more I thought about it, it dawned on me just how wrong this line of thinking is. By having thoughts of, “She shouldn’t be taking naked pictures of herself in the first place,” I was guilty of victim blaming. It’s the same attitude that makes people say things like, “She shouldn’t have been wearing that short skirt in the first place.”

However, aren’t we forgetting that everybody (man or woman) are entitled to consensually explore and engage in their sexuality in any way they deem fit? If this includes taking naked photos for their personal enjoyment or for a partner’s, that’s their prerogative. Agreeing to take a naked shot with a partner is not the same as consenting to have the whole world gawk over your naked body.

Let’s get one thing straight – these women had private, intimate images of their bodies STOLEN from them. This is not just another “celebrity sex scandal” or a “sensational scoop” for gossip magazines. These women did not consent to their images being uploaded and circulated online. This is a form of sexual violation and anyone who participates by viewing or sharing is complicit in this crime.

What J Law does in her private life should remain that way – private.

Unfortunately, this obsession with celebrities and their personal lives doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. As long as consumers’ demand for celeb-fuelled content continues, there will always be someone providing the goods, whether or not it’s legal or ethical to do so. But just because it’s there does not mean we need to go along with it or buy into it. Celebrities are not commodities for us to rip apart as we see fit. Yes, they may use their image for work but as consumers, we need to always be conscious of the difference between their public life (such as their shows, concerts, and legitimate interviews) and their personal life.

We Become The Person We Decide To Be

Here’s what I propose. The next time someone sends you a link to the images or asks if you’ve seen the latest leaked images, speak up and explain why we should not engage in this abuse. If it helps, you can send them a link to this article!

Images of naked women — especially those circulated without their consent — are not “harmless fun” for us to joke or gossip over. It is hurtful, humiliating, and most importantly, a crime. Whether or not the women in question are celebrities is irrelevant. The way we share our bodies must always be a personal choice.

So, don’t click on those pictures. Don’t be part of the abuse.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Deborah Tan, Opinions

This Is Way Better Than The Knee Defender – Deborah Tan

News about two warring passengers on United Airlines have brought a nifty gadget into the limelight – The Knee Defender. However, Deborah Tan would like to advocate the use of something else. This, you can use not just on planes, you can also use on buses and trains.

How far back is TOO far back?!?!

How far back is TOO far back?!?!

At the office yesterday, Vanessa (or was it Lili?) shared a news about how a scuffle broke out between two passengers on a United Airlines domestic flight because one of them used a gadget called The Knee Defender to prevent the other from reclining her seat.

My first comment after hearing the news was, “Wow! Where can I buy this gadget?”

Vanessa’s eyes opened wide in shock. “You mean you will stop the person in front of you from reclining his chair?!?”

“Yeah, why not? On budget airlines, the legroom is already so tiny! PLUS, if it’s a short flight, will it kill someone to sit up straight?”

Woah! Back track just a little there. Yes, UA is not a budget airline. Yes, the two passengers in the news had actually paid for seats with more legroom. Yes, articles about the incident seem to suggest that the man (who used the Knee Defender) reclined his own seat even as he prevented the woman from doing so.

But allow me explain myself …

The Uncomfortable Territory Called “自动”
“自动” is Mandarin for “automatic”. It is pronounced “jee-dong” in Cantonese, “tzi-dong” in Hokkien. Colloquially, when someone says, “Be tzi-dong”, he means that you should read the situation and take the initiative to not get yourself or other people in trouble.

It is more than just self-awareness; being “tzi-dong” means taking the self-awareness one step further – you act on it and stay out of the way or do what is needed of you.

Why did I say I need the Knee Defender? Well, it’s precisely because a lot of people are not “tzi-dong”. And this incident on UA highlights the fine line between knowing your rights and being “tzi-dong”.

The Knee Defender

The Knee Defender

Do Unto Others
There’s a saying that goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It means treat people the same way you want to be treated.

In the comments that come after the reports on this incident, many people say, “It’s the woman’s right to recline her seat. If the man wanted more legroom, he should have flown First Class.”

We don’t know just how far back the woman reclined her seat. Nor do we know how tall/annoying/ridiculous the man was.

In the ideal world, if both the passengers were “tzi-dong”, the woman might have reclined her seat back only slightly and the man might graciously removed the Knee Defender when asked.

When I said I wanted to buy the Knee Defender, it’s because my being “tzi-dong” and not reclining my seat in a tiny budget airplane does not serve me well if the passenger seated in front of me is unaware that I’m making an effort to be considerate towards the person seated behind me.

This UA incident also highlights the difference between what is perceived as “I paid for this right” and “Everyone has the right”. As passengers we have paid for the right to recline our seat. But everyone has the right to be comfortable and to be accorded some consideration. When you recline your seat, do you ever stop to think, “Am I being an ass to the person behind me?”

Expecting Others To Be “Tzi-Dong”
Other people have also commented how the man in the incident was being self-righteous. He may or may not have behaved like a schmuck but herein lies the difficulty in expecting others to be “tzi-dong”. Usually, the ones who are hoping that other people would be “tzi-dong” are labelled as “self-righteous”, told to “get off their high horses”.

I think this is why people these days don’t bother being considerate to others anymore. Despite numerous campaigns telling us to “move in”, to “give up your seat to those who need it more”, many people still find it possible to be asses on public transport. They remain where they are as if waiting for someone to tell them to be “tzi-dong” so that they can say, “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

This is perhaps why “shoot and shame” sites like Stomp are so popular. We don’t want to march up to someone to tell them, “Hey! Don’t shit outside the MRT station!” because we don’t want the offender to shout, “Do you think you are better than me!?”

That’s the thing: we don’t think we are better, but we just want people to do what is right so everyone will be happier and more comfortable! And there is nothing wrong with this!

So, while I won’t be advocating the use of the Knee Defender, just yet, I would like to remind everyone of this good ol’ Chinese term “自动” – to automatically know when to do what is right for the good and happiness of everyone, not just yours alone.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She really hates it when people are “buay tzi-dong”. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Day A Taxi Driver Made Me Cry – Tan Lili

After reading this post, Tan Lili promises you would never forget this significant line: “Today you … tomorrow me.” 

today you tomorrow me

At first I thought I was just staying true to my emo roots, then I chalked it up to PMS. But later on I realised, with abrupt clarity, my outburst was a perfectly normal human reaction.

Allow me to start from the beginning. When you run a business, busy is never a bad thing. But alas, I’m no miracle worker. Some days, you feel as if you were trapped in quicksand – the more you struggle, the faster you sink. Yesterday morning was one of those days. Weighed down by a laundry list of things to do, I decided to take a taxi to work so I could get down to business earlier. I got into a Yellow-Top Fiat Croma JTD taxi with a scowl and muttered my destination without even glancing up from my phone. Immediately, I was greeted by a warm and friendly female driver, probably in her 50s. She exclaimed, in Mandarin, “You’re so pretty!” I’d felt anything but, what with my morning grumpiness and the stress-induced frown on my face. But hearing those words, I felt a rush of gratitude towards the auntie because her compliment worked to instantly turn my frown upside down.

Later on she asked about my usual commute to work. When I told her I’d normally take three different buses, she expressed such concern and empathy that I had to assure her thrice that I really do enjoy the bus ride. Soon after we lapsed into a comfortable silence, then she told me to go ahead and sleep if I wanted to. When we arrived at my destination, the fare was $18.50. I had already prepared $17 in my hand but just as I was about to start digging for coins, she grabbed my hand and took the $17. “No, don’t need to give me the coins. Auntie will give you a discount. Here, $15 will do,” she insisted, handing me my $2 note. Flabbergasted, I tried to return her the $2 note, which resulted in a minute of reverse tug-of-war. The auntie won. Right about then, my lips trembled and my vision blurred. I nearly wanted to hug her but I figured she might not take too well to my outpouring of love and gratitude.

After I got off the cab, I slowly made my way up to my office trying to compose myself. I was – and still am, in fact – overwhelmed by the depth of a stranger’s kindness. The auntie owed me nothing, absolutely nothing, yet she unknowingly gave me everything I never realised I needed at the time: strength. Kindness is one of the three strengths that make up humanity (the other two are love and social intelligence); what I had just experienced felt so powerful, it made whatever stress and worries that plagued me before appear trivial. My only regret now is that I wish I’d taken down her taxi’s licence plate number and her name so I could give her a proper thank-you.

today you tomorrow me 3My experience reminded me of a beautiful anecdote Vanessa recently shared with me. It was about how a Mexican family went all out to help a guy whose car broke down in the middle of the road. When the guy tried several times to pass the family some money as a token of appreciation, the father shook his head and replied in broken English: “Today you … tomorrow me.”

It’s kind of sad when you think about it. We are all so used to being selfish, so wrapped up in our own wants and needs and worries that such random acts of kindness are a shock to our system. So often, we forget that it’s the simplest pleasures in life that pave the way to happiness. It’s always the little things, you know?

I hope these two anecdotes would leave a profound mark on you, as they did on me. Go ahead and make someone else’s day – it certainly doesn’t take a lot to be a little kinder and more compassionate.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.

Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

Why Are We Romanticising Depression? – Tan Lili

There’s been a lot of coverage on the topic of depression lately. While this spike in interest is great in that it helps raise awareness of the mental disorder, there is another rising trend on social media that is both worrying and maddening. Tan Lili explains.


The word depressed has been thrown around rather flippantly in everyday conversation (“Is it Monday already? GAH I’M SO DEPRESSED!”). But even though we know better than to dismiss a person’s unpleasant feelings, there is a need to put it out there that feeling sad is not the same as depression.

First things first, let’s take a quick look at the stats. A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2012 found that more than 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, which is ranked the leading cause of morbidity in developing nations in the next century. According to a 2010 Singapore National Mental Health Survey, 6.3% of Singaporeans will experience at least one episode of clinical depression in their lifetime.

Before we ask ourselves if we’re part of the 6.3%, we’ve got to understand what depression is and what it isn’t.

Defining Depression

Where symptoms of clinical depression last for at least two weeks and will continue for about six months if left untreated, sadness comes with it a comforting hug that says, “This too shall pass.” We all experience fleeting moments of sadness every day; it’s a perfectly normal human emotion. And while some of those moments may last longer that we’d like, they don’t (A) kill the important neurons in our brain; (B) stop you from enjoying activities you’ve always enjoyed; and, most importantly, (C) they shouldn’t trigger suicidal thoughts.

Depression is a sickness, a disease, a mental disorder that makes the person feel as if a thousand tiny glass shards were being driven into his body, leaving him to bleed while he is awake and aware of  it all – a product of his warped imagination, but a disease all the same. The reason: Depression is neurotoxic; it changes the way your brain prioritises things. The scan of a healthy brain is different from that of a person suffering from clinical depression. As Dr Stephen Ilardi, a US-based clinical research specialising in the treatment of depression, puts in in Psychology Today, “depression is shorthand for a debilitating syndrome – major depressive disorder – that robs people of their energy, their concentration, their memory, their restorative sleep … their ability to love and work and play. The disorder actually lights up the brain’s pain circuitry, inducing a state of suffering far exceeding that of any physical discomfort.”

All that means depression is no more a choice than is being diagnosed with cancer, and which also means telling a friend suffering from depression to “snap out of it” is no more helpful than telling a cancer patient the same. “When those suffering from depression confide their diagnosis to friends and family, they’re often met with relative indifference, born of the assumption that the patient is afflicted with mere sadness – a condition from which they can quickly and easily recover,” says Dr Ilardi.

However, the good news is, as with any medical condition, depression can be managed. Using a combination of strategies – medication, counselling, etc. – the treatment is effective for up to 80% of those suffering from depression, according to WHO.

If you think you or a loved one could be suffering from depression, visit this page for a list of mental health support services in Singapore.

The Problem With Calling A Tragedy “Beautiful”

depression 2

On social media, we see the word depression being used very loosely. Dr Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry expert, told The Atlantic that in today’s digital age, “there is a lack of critical understanding … You see kids self-identifying as having that depression, but they don’t have a depression. They’re upset, or they’re demoralised, or they’re distressed by something.” The strange thing is, this romanticising of depression doesn’t just affect impressionable teens; take a look at Tumblr and Instagram, and you’ll notice many adults glorifying the “beauty” of suffering. Even I – EmoGal84 – do it sometimes, I’m not going to lie.

The problems with romanticising depression are that (A) many are led into believing they are depressed when they aren’t, and (B) it unfairly downplays the gravity of those truly suffering from depression.

The bottom line: Depression is not the same as everyday sadness, nor is it a Like-bait. Let’s stop romanticising depression, please?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

Denise Li, Opinions

9 Problems You’ll Face If Your Partner Is An Insomniac – Denise Li

Denise Li needs and gets her beauty sleep on most nights. Her partner … not so much.

I love sleeping, and bedtime is my favourite time of the day. For Alain, “going to bed” means spending a few more hours watching YouTube videos, and going to bed “early” is anything before 2am. Now, I’m the kind of person who can fall asleep with the lights on and TV blaring, and I will probably sleep through most natural disasters as well, so my partner’s nighttime activities and constant tossing and turning doesn’t bother me so much. That doesn’t mean I don’t have problems to deal with though. If you, too, have a partner who has problems falling asleep, you can probably identify with a few of these …

1. You’re always the first one to go to bed.


2. You feel guilty that your partner has so much trouble doing something what you find to be second nature. Even though you know it’s irrational to feel that way.


3. Every time you have use the bathroom, you have to be a ninja about it so as not to wake your light sleeper of a partner (that is, if he’s already asleep).


4. You pee in the dark cos turning on the bathroom light might wake your partner.


5. You’re afraid to wake your partner if you roll over for a cuddle … he might have just finally fallen asleep after four hours.


6. You’re afraid to ask the question “So how did you sleep last night?” (You’ll probably won’t get a positive response)

really7. If you’re a morning person, you find yourself having to reign in your enthusiasm about waking up.


8. If you guys have to get up early for whatever reason, you’re always the annoying one who has to wake your partner up.

wakeup9. You’re not sure how to answer whenever your partner asks you how you sleep so well. (Natural talent, baby)


Do you and your partner have completely different sleeping habits and patterns? What are the difficulties you face because of that?

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys training in MMA, and doing conditioning workouts. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets and Instagram @smackeral83.

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Opinions, Vanessa Tai

Stefanie Sun Doesn’t Owe Us Anything – Vanessa Tai

Singapore’s favourite Mandopop star Stefanie Sun was recently photographed at a local fast food joint dressed in casual garb. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t even be news. However, because certain people have taken it upon themselves to write how Sun has an “obligation” to dress up in public, Vanessa Tai now feels obliged to speak up. 

To be honest, I had no idea there was even a brouhaha over Stef Sun’s fashion choices until Debs showed me this newspaper article. In it, the writer criticises the singer’s choice of outfit, saying that Sun “has an obligation to put some effort into how she looks in public” as she needs to “set a good example for her fans, especially the younger ones.”

Let’s get one thing straight, shall we? Stefanie Sun is an entertainer. The only “obligation” she has — if we really have to use that word — is to entertain, and that is only if we have forked out money to attend her concert. Other than that, it’s really her prerogative to do whatever she pleases. Why?

Her choice of outfit has zero relevance to “setting a good example”

Since when did someone’s dressing become a reflection of their values or principles? Look, she wasn’t going onstage nor was she hitting the red carpet. She was grabbing FAST FOOD, for crying out loud. Ask any (level-headed) Singaporean and they’ll tell you what she wore was completely appropriate. If anything, I reckon her lack of self-consciousness and down-to-earth approach— especially after 14 years of being in showbiz — is admirable. In fact, after the photo of her popped up online, Sun posted a tongue-in-cheek response on her Twitter account. She posted a modified version of the same photo, with the words “So Beautiful OK” scrawled across the photo.

This ability to laugh at herself and shrug off detractors sets a far better example than any carefully-curated outfit choice will.

Image credit:

Image credit:

Her choice of outfit has zero relevance to her work 

In her 14-year career, Sun has bagged numerous industry awards and has legions of fans across Asia. Talent aside, I daresay the main reason for her success is plenty of determination and hard work. It certainly is not because of her sartorial choices. And anyway, what is up with this fixation on a woman’s appearance? No matter how capable or successful a woman is, she will still be judged on how she looks. Just look at how certain news outlets dedicate columns of print just to tear apart the outfit choices of women like Hilary Clinton or Angela Merkel. Here are two people with brilliant minds looking to make a positive contribution to society and all we can think about is how they chose to wear a pantsuit … really?!

If we are ever going to make positive strides in workplace equality, we need to stop obsessing about people’s appearance and focus on what can they bring to the table instead. In this case, Stefanie Sun’s talent and success as an entertainer is the only thing that matters. Everything else is irrelevant.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

Deborah Tan, Opinions

I’m Defending, Not Defensive. – Deborah Tan

The one thing that Deborah Tan hates most whenever she finds herself arguing or debating with a man is when he says this line to her. What is it?

“There’s no need to get defensive,” said the man sitting across of me at a lunch during a recent press trip. We had been arguing about parenthood and I had decided to defend my stance that many parents in Singapore end up fighting a losing battle against the stressful education system, and eventually sign their kids up for enrichment classes even though they had said they would never want their child to become a drone that never gets to play. He, on the other, said parents sign their kids up for enrichment simply because they want to show off how much they are doing for their kids.

Our debate went on for about 15 minutes. During this time, the atmosphere at our table of six got increasingly tense. But … I wasn’t about to let go until he got that I was offended that he had made an unfair statement about parents. As we defended our views, I noticed that my voice was getting louder and I was sounding more and more agitated. Despite these, I reminded myself to make sure I did not lose sight of my argument. Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back. My opponent said, “Look, I’m just sharing my observations on human behavior. I’m not attacking you. Don’t get so defensive.”

I flipped.

“I’m not being defensive,” I snapped back, making sure my words had a hard edge to them. “I just think we should never doubt the love parents have for their kids. As parents, it’s only natural to want to make sure your kids are not being shortchanged. Giving them what they need to keep up with their peers is NOT the same as SHOWING OFF.”

Without dwelling deeper into this incident, I just want to say today that there is an epidemic concerning the way men treat women whenever both find themselves in an argument.

Yes … men have no problems, no issues, no baggage…

The Fear Of Angry Women
If you are a woman reading this, you are probably familiar with these statements:

“Don’t get so emotional”

“You’re overreacting”

“You’re just being too sensitive!”

“Don’t get so defensive, it’s not always about you”

Men say they say these things because they need us to calm down and focus on the matter at hand in a level-headed manner.

I say men say these things to us because they can’t deal when we show our frustration, unhappiness, sadness, disappointment and anger. And I’m not alone in thinking this. Men think they are in control of their emotions and of the situation when they tell us to calm down. I have always found that a man who says these things in the midst of an argument is only trying to instil in the woman the idea that she is overreacting and therefore incapable of engaging in a debate logically.

It’s Not Us. It’s YOU 
“Gaslighting” is a term used to describe manipulative behavior employed to confuse someone into thinking she is overreacting and crazy. Gaslighting in emotionally abusive relationships would see one partner constantly feeding thoughts like, “You’re so stupid, only I would love you” into the other person’s mind.

In the same article I mentioned above, one of the consequences of gaslighting is that it turns some people emotionally mute. And it’s true. For many years, I was told I am overly emotional. At school and at work, whenever I tried to defend my stance on certain issues, I was told I’m someone who lets her emotions get the better of her.

To counter such “observations”, I decided to not be so vocal. Instead, if I wanted to get my points across, I would write letters and emails and sent them to whoever I had to “talk” to. Getting my points down in writing allowed me to read through them and “make sure” they were really “valid”. I even had to assume a fake identity of a “guy” on my hall of residence’s forum board so people would “see” the reason behind my arguments! The sad thing was, it worked. When I posted my opinions as a “guy”, people reacted more positively to my views.

But now, on hindsight, I realize I was just reacting to the gaslighting I had been subjected to for many years. My arguments are valid. I debate just as logically and just as reasonably as anyone – man or woman. The unfortunate thing of this all is that even today, if I really wanted to get my points about something across, I would send an email. If I wanted my husband to understand why it’s important to take the trash out every night, I would see better results emailing him than telling him.

It has to stop.

The Message Vs The Method
“Whatever it takes to get the message across, right?” you may say. The thing is, writing served me just fine until that lunchtime conversation happened. What if, one day, at a dinner party or over a casual gathering, someone engages you in an intense debate over a topic you feel strongly about? You can’t possibly go, “Let me mull over this and I’ll write you when I have my points sorted out.” More importantly, what if you meet someone who refuses to let you off the hook and wants to “settle” the argument there and then?

But what is the point of getting into a debate if people are going to dismiss you with, “Don’t be so defensive!”?

I refuse to follow or prescribe tips by public speaking coaches. For one, I don’t want to have to go down a pitch like how Margaret Thatcher was advised to do. I sound like I sound, thank you very much. Second, I WANT people to recognize that it’s OKAY to express emotions when you speak. If I want to sound agitated because I feel your argument is stupid, then yes, I WILL SOUND AGITATED. Third, I think men need to learn to listen even if they are uncomfortable with women defending their arguments passionately.

Yes, sticking to my guns here may not get my message across, but I think it is more important for us to stop working around the gaslighters in our lives. And the only way to get this movement started is to blaze on brightly and fiercely, and let your fire take them down.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She promises to punch the next person who uses the line, “Don’t get so defensive” on her. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Denise Li, Opinions

I’m Probably Really Annoying On Facebook … – Denise Li

… But I’m also probably not going to change, says Denise Li.

When you work with digital and social media as much as we do at Material World, you’re pretty sensitive to articles about the effect that Facebook and Instagram on its users, as well as the articles with headlines such as “The 10 Most Annoying People on Facebook”.

Thanks to the fact that I’ve read tons of these articles, I am now unable to deny awareness of my multiple social media sins, sins such as …

1. Posting my holiday snaps (These can elicit feelings of envy in some of my friends)

2. Posting mushy relationship-related status updates (To my defence, I only do this on occasion and I’m in an LDR after all …)

3. Using a couple pic as my profile pic (see above)

4. Posting status updates about how happy and contented I am with my life (it’s usually a result of fitness-induced euphoria)

To name a few.

I am aware that this is probably what some people think when I post updates on my Facebook.

I am aware that this is probably what some people think when I post updates on my Facebook.

Yesterday, I came across yet another blog/op-ed about the issue (read it here). The author thinks “A Facebook status is annoying if it primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it”. By this, the author probably means that unless I’m sharing links to other interesting articles, I’m really not doing my Facebook friends a service at all.

The Facebook Timeline is a funny thing … on the one hand, it occupies the territory of both personal and public space. Public in that whatever you post is up for consumption by others, but at the same time, I think its “personal-ness” should be acknowledged and respected.

What do I mean by this? Well firstly, I don’t post up pictures of my holiday with the primary intent of eliciting feelings of jealousy. I do it because it is a convenient place to collect photos I’ve taken to remember my memorable trips. I’ve changed a couple of laptops over the years, but I’m happy that I can still browse through pictures of a solo backpacking trip I took in 2007, and the trip where I met Alain in 2010.

I am currently doing the same with an album I started on Facebook a couple of weeks ago titled “Bruges 2014” (to commemorate my trip to Europe), and despite my acute awareness that I may be pissing some people off by doing so, I will continue to upload pictures to the album. Some of you might think I’m guilty of “curating my life” or “trying to show my ‘perfect life’ to everyone”.

But here’s the thing: I am not in control of what other people think or feel, and unless I post up racist or otherwise bigoted remarks on Facebook, I honestly don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.

When a Facebook friend posts a status update proclaiming how happy she is with her life, I am genuinely happy for her. After all, isn’t it frequently said that one of the keys to happiness is showing gratitude? Begrudging someone who shows her contentment on a public sphere is just grinch-y and mean-spirited. If you take issue with it, then I’m sorry to say that you – and not your Facebook  friend – are the problem. If it bothers you so much, there are a few simply solutions: (1) scroll down (2) hide the person’s updates from your Newsfeed, or (3) unfriend the person. But perhaps it might be beneficial for you to do a little soul-searching and start examining why someone else’s happiness annoys you so much.

If you are jealous of something your friend posted on Facebook, you - and not your friend - are the problem.

If you are jealous of something your friend posted on Facebook, you – and not your friend – are the problem.

It’s your prerogative to post what you want on social media (stopping short of it being racist or homophobic of course, because there is such a thing as responsible speech), and while I may not be appreciative or care for every post, I will defend your right to post it.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys training in MMA, and doing conditioning workouts. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets and Instagram @smackeral83.

[For More Op-Eds on Social Media …]

Let’s Make Social Media a Positive Space

I Miss How Facebook Used To Be

5 Social Media Resolutions for 2014

Opinions, Tan Lili

No More Sambal Stingray…? – Tan Lili

If you’re a fan of this local BBQ hawker dish, you might want to brace yourselves for what you’re about to read. Tan Lili explains.

As a subscriber of several pro-conservation email news alerts, and what with Shark Week happening this Sunday (August 10), my inbox has been filled with quite a number of shark-related newsletters. From them, the consensus is that the situation hasn’t gotten any better; many species of sharks are still endangered, and the demand for shark fins is still atrociously high. On the bright side, the anti-shark finning campaign is thankfully gaining worldwide awareness and acceptance – in Singapore, for instance, the list of companies supporting the ban on shark fin trade has been growing year after year.

material world_overfishing

Now, what threw me for a loop was the following piece of news.

According to a recent first-ever global assessment of marine species led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are now facing a very real threat of total wipe-out, with rays at a higher risk. In fact, only 23 percent of both animals are listed under the IUCN Red List’s “least concern” category. (Note: there are many categories under the Red List.) The biggest threat is overfishing, and while most of the catches are unintentional, the developing markets for sharks and rays certainly do not bode well for their future. Not to mention, the relatively slow reproduction of these animals leaves them more vulnerable to overfishing.

And here comes the kicker: “Surprisingly, we have found that the rays, including sawfish, guitarfish, stingrays and wedgefish, are generally worse off than the sharks, with five out of the seven most-threatened families made up of rays,” says Colin Simpfendorfer, co-chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. “While public, media and government attention to the plight of sharks is growing, the widespread depletion of rays is largely unnoticed. Conservation action for rays is lagging far behind, which only heightens our concern for this species group.” Sharks and rays – two of the world’s oldest and most ecologically diverse groups of animals – are known as cartilaginous fish, whose skeleton is made of cartilage instead of bone.


I have been so caught up in the world of sharks, I had no idea rays were facing an even bigger problem. Probably the rays we are most familiar with are stingrays. There are around 70 stingray species, under which 45 are considered threatened. To say I’m mildly disturbed would be an understatement because I LOVE sambal stingray, but I’ll be damned if I choose not to give a shit about this; the far-reaching consequences of the loss of one species on biodiversity are too much to bear.

I hope more studies will be made on rays so we can better understand their plight and amp up conservation efforts, like how we’re currently doing with sharks. In the meantime – even though we can’t know for sure the species of stingray served at BBQ hawker stalls – sambal stingray shall be removed from my list of favourite hawker dishes. Wanna join me?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

Opinions, Self-Improvement

I’m Graduating. Now What? – Matthew Fam

Are you in your early twenties and still deciding what you do with your life? While staying focused on a single ambition early on can give you a headstart among corporate ranks, there’s nothing wrong taking your time to decide which career is right for you. By Matthew Fam.

There is a rumbling in the air: a brand new wave of people is surging forth into the workforce, like an impending tsunami. Alas, the first batch of post-80’s Millennials are done with university; Facebook feeds are being flooded with graduation gown selfies. And the top remark I hear from most of them?

“I don’t know what I want to do.”

Myself? I have a year till graduation, and- with my devotion of time to studies, copywriting, arts administration, and performing on stage for various young theatre groups- I have too many things to do!

Here’s where things get complicated. Friends advise that I should decide on a career path. My university lecturer tells me that I “need to focus”. When this happens, I’m thinking:



(Before triple somersaulting my way out of the NUS AS5 General Office.)

The fact is, graduates and students alike are facing the same pressure: pool your energy and resources into a set career path for maximum mileage. By principle, you would be able to devote your focus on work at hand, and rise up the ranks faster than someone else who takes her time to decide.

A one-track path to success

This early decision to decide on a set career path does reward people.

A fellow intern at a women’s magazine I used to work for- who has established her passion in journalism and the media industry early on- has landed a full-time stint at another publication since. Similarly, friends who have channelled their time into theatre have been awarded prestigious arts scholarships from government boards to study overseas.

At this point, I’m thinking, “Am I missing out on something??” Is it truly better to stick to a single path since it’s a more convenient route to success?

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to follow through with an early decision. But my contention here is that it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone else.

5869903627_e8acd44f69_zI am a closet wanderer!

Right now, I would classify myself a closet wanderer. And despite dabbling with various jobs over the past two years, I haven’t made up my mind on what I want to do.

For example, I’m not 100% certain if I will work in a women’s magazine in five years time because of 1) the rapidly changing nature of print publishing, and 2) the long-term prospects of being a male working up the ranks of said publication type in Singapore.

This uncertainty scares me. It almost feels as though I will never be able to live life to the fullest if I keep up with this indecision.

However, for those who wander- fret not. Heed these three pieces of advice, and you have a shot at being just as successful as those who make early decisions.

junglegymSometimes, wandering can boost your career. 

According to Sarah Robb O’Hagan, President of fitness chain Equinox, “Careers are more like jungle gyms than ladders- sometimes a sideways or backward step can propel you forward.” Likewise, don’t feel limited to stick to a specific career path. Your exploration could reward you with the numerous transferable skills picked up along the way.

Your journey is yours to make, and should not be influenced by another person’s definition of success.

Try being a freelancer first before deciding to go full-time.

Grounding yourself in a desk-bound job straight after graduation can be daunting- especially if you later find out that this isn’t a career you like.

Try freelancing. Take up an internship and (politely!) ask your supervisor if there are opportunities for you to contribute on a part-time basis. Don’t feel as though you need to dive head-first into the corporate jungle. Who knows? You might even enjoy the freedoms afforded by being a full-time freelancer!

Sharpen your skills.

Wandering can be seen to benefit you in more ways than you think. But how can you match up to other people who have been taught skills in their vocation-oriented university course? This is where self-teaching is crucial. You need to do your homework. Be proactive in eating, sleeping, and breathing the very industry you want to try out; talk to people who are already working in them.

That old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’? Your new mantra.


Sure, at some point, a focus on what you want to do would be beneficial (you can’t do 20 things at the same time!), but don’t succumb to the pressure of making that decision right now when you don’t feel ready.


About the Author: Matthew Fam is a contributing writer of Material World, and has worked at Cosmopolitan Singapore as an intern and Contributing Beauty Assistant. He writes, teaches, and performs for the stage. Matthew enjoys museum visits, Singaporean Theatre, and spends too much of his undergraduate allowance on magazines. Follow him on Instagram @mattjfam.

If you liked this post, you might like:

1. 20 Things You Will Learn In Your 20s – Deborah Tan

2. 7 Lies You’ll Hear About Millennials – Matthew Fam

3. Myth: Job Hopping Is Career Suicide – Tan Lili

Career, Deborah Tan, Self-Improvement

Your Full-Time Job Is Not More Important Than My Freelance One – Deborah Tan

Recently, Deborah Tan took on an assignment that would only pay her if the publisher uses the materials. She has a (not so) few words to say about that.

I wish there is a nicer way to say this but I’m not known for mincing my words so I’m not even going to try.

About a month ago, I was approached by the editorial manager of a media company to “curate” their beauty section for them. The word “curate” itself raised a red flag in my head because I had known – once I saw it – that it meant “cheap, or free, labor in return for credits in a supposedly glamorous collaboration”. The manager said I would be paid $10 for every item they publish and I was asked to contribute 8 beauty products and services that I think would suit their super-luxury title.

When I sent across my stuff, I explained to aforementioned manager that while I had sourced from credible high-end beauty brands and services, admittedly some items fell short of her “at least $500” requirement. To me, as a beauty person, I felt it was more important to submit good beauty products than to just throw stuff in because they were ridiculously priced. I didn’t hear back from her and it was only after some persistent sms-ing did she finally acknowledge receipt of my work.

A week later, I emailed her asking to whom should I send my invoice. No response. When another email failed to elicit a response, I resorted to sms-ing her again only to be asked to approach her colleague who has taken over all matters relating to that title.

One more email to her and her colleague and this was what ensued:

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

1. It turned out that the manager had left the company. Wow. No goodbye email? No handover?

2. The team had decided not to use the stuff I recommended because they fell short of the new “at least $1,000” requirement that was instituted the day before my deadline and never told to me.

3. No apologies from company, new colleague or ex-manager regarding the shoddy communication and treatment towards a freelancer. In fact, her replacement had asked me to keep contributing so I may eventually get published in their magazine. Wow! THANKS FOR THIS WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY!!!!! I’m so grateful for this graciousness!!!!!

The most I would get out of this “curation” is $80. It is an amount I’m happy to overlook because the “collaboration” involved a topic I am deeply passionate about (beauty). But here’s why this entire experience has further cemented my belief that no freelancer should EVER have to take on a job that pays “only if your work is published”.

Because A Full-Timer Would Be Paid Regardless
A full-timer gets paid for his time. He gets paid for the 8 hours of face-time he gives to his company. It doesn’t matter if he is underperforming, overachieving, committed or lazy, a paycheque is deposited into his bank account at a fixed time each month. A freelancer, on the other, gets paid for services rendered. In short, we sell articles, stories and services. We should get paid because the job has been commissioned and because time and effort were put into doing these jobs. If it ever fell short of your expectations, the first resort should be to ask us to redo it. The worst case scenario would be to negotiate a kill-fee (a percentage of the full fee).


We work hard for many reasons; “nothing” is not one of them.

Because It Forces Companies And Editors To Commission With More Consideration
The practice of paying a freelancer only if his work is used often leads to publications commissioning work without thought. Some editors hang on to the work for an indefinite amount of time, so the freelancer ends up not knowing when he will see the payment. Some editors end up not even using the work, meaning the freelancer has “worked for nothing”. If this practice is abolished, it may mean less work is floating around but it means more work would translate into actual payments.

Because Freelancers Are Not The Serfs Of The Publishing World
Many people write for free, contribute for credits, etc. But such arrangements should always be aboveboard and, if ever a freelancer accepts such collaborations, they should be accorded respect and dignity. If I submitted an article without solicitation, sure, feel free to trash my email. But, if this is work that YOU, the full-timer, have asked for, I think it is only courteous to (a) acknowledge you have received the piece and (b) tell me if you decide not to use it. We freelancers are running a business and every project we take on means another project has been “given up”. There is an opportunity cost involved and you need to recognize that what we are doing is giving you the GIFT of our TIME. Fine if you don’t want to pay for it but at least show some f___ing appreciation.

I realize this article may step on a couple of toes, and may be construed as a declaration that we will not be taking work from certain companies. However, the Material World team is confident that the work we produce is of high quality (ask our clients) and we always make it clear to our clients that they can request for us to redo each piece if they are not happy with our first submission.

I believe all freelancers, especially creative ones (because it can be so hard to ‘quantify’ our work sometimes), should band together and put forth a set of industry rules and regulations that we serve to our clients. This isn’t a cry for revolution. We just want to be treated fairly and with the respect we deserve for spending years honing our craft and for our commitment to producing good work for those who believe in us.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She thanks her lucky stars that all her paying clients so far have been very professional and a joy to work with. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.