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The Daily Tar Heel

Do you know that feeling — the one you get when you’re desperate to get onto the last P2P of the night along with 30 other semi-intoxicated teenagers? You know you’ll just have to push and leave others behind if you want that last seat. So you do it. Everyone does at one point or another.

Well, here in Singapore, there is a “Singlish” term for this feeling. It’s called “kiasu,” or “the fear of losing.” Widely used by Singaporeans, kiasu is their explanation of why Singaporeans are always driven to be number one. It is why people will crowd the entrance to the MRT, the Singaporean subway, to try to get on before those who are alighting are even given the chance to get off. It is why people will stand in line for hours queuing to get a Hello Kitty toy that everyone else seems to have. Kiasu to me seems to be more of an urge to win, rather than the fear of losing, mainly because it is a commonly-accepted misconception in Singapore as well as the United States that if you are not first, you’re last.

This is by no means true. Yet we all believe it. We worry about the future instead of savoring the present. While reading about kiasu on the Internet, I actually came upon a video of a man who shook his car back and forth at the gas station to get more gas in. Which, by the way, makes no sense because you pay for gas by the liter, not by the tank.

Talking to my Singaporean history professor here, our class was told that the Singaporean people are actually known for waiting in line for free products. Does this sound familiar? There is a reason why on Black Friday shops only let in a certain number of people at a time.

Singapore is very different from the United States in many respects. There is greenery incorporated into the most modern of architecture. There are no napkins anywhere. At all. But in the mentality that to make a name for yourself you need to be the best, Singaporeans seem exactly like Americans. We claw our professors’ brains out for those five extra-credit points. We push and shove to get onto a bus, even though there might be another one just 15 minutes away. We generally try to ensure that we are above our peers in anything and everything: grades, income and even brand-name sunglasses and purses.

Tomorrow when you wake up, do not worry about the first thing you have to do. Instead take a deep breath, stretch for a couple of minutes, and think about the first thing that you want to do. Forget about that genius in your chemistry class who always sets the curve. Constant worrying is not going to stop him from studying or cause you to study any better. I know that this is all very easy to say and that our societies are built in such a way as to reward those who practice kiasu, but, nevertheless, try and relax. It will feel better. And then you can go ahead and hit the ground running to fulfill whatever your next goal is.

Katyayani Jharevi is a columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. She is a sophomore journalism and pre-business major from Boca Raton, FL. Contact her at

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