Friday, July 30, 2004

what lies ahead

i know i promised to craft a post on DPPS at the end of the week, and i shall indeed, but look for it over at the LJ, where in the next two days or so i should post something education related. in the meantime, i think i'll post some impressions and 'important takeaways' (as the civil service calls it -which prompted someone to write 'food' on the evaluation) from this week at IPS.

a quick introduction for those of you who don't know: the Developments in Public Policy Seminar is a week-long seminar that is part of the midcourse programme for Public Service Commission scholars (of which i am one). other than allowing us to catch up with old friends from JC, secondary school, and in some cases, primary school, DPPS is intended to give us, at the midpoint or so of our college careers, some idea of what is going on in policy-making circles in Singapore and keep us in touch with our future careers and bosses. to that end, we spend five days cooped up in a room with each other while people from various ministries -Trade and Industry, and Finance, from the economic cluster; Community Development and Sport, and Education, from the social cluster; and Foreign Affairs as well as Defence from the security cluster- came and briefed us on various policy issues.

as far as learning new things about policy-making, i don't think i took away very much. perhaps more questions were posed than answered by the various people in the ministries. but that doesn't mean i didn't learn lots of other things. i sort of miss having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn to get down to NUS on time for the morning sessions, and seeing my friends, and the food. and the not being at work. but most of all, i miss the exchanges both in and out of the seminar room between the scholars. despite the fact that we are all similar in many ways -hence the Commission picking us all those years ago-, the two or three years spent in various colleges in different parts of the world has sufficiently changed and broadened our opinions and attitudes toward different issues in education, national security, and economics enough that a lively debate almost always -if allowed- ensued. that, for me, was the most valuable part of the seminar - learning how my fellow civil servants thought, and what they felt was important, and how things needed to be changed, and as a group, what we were apathetic toward and what we were passionate about. (the role of government in society, for one thing, and the role of the media for another. also, the notion of happiness in society, in case you were interested.) i discovered that for the most part i really like the people that i met and will be working with in the future, and even the ones that i had no reason to like personally i respect for their opinions and their views on what is important in government. they made me look at things in different ways and from different angles, and that really made me reassess my position on various things, raising many new questions that i hadn't thought about before. (we clearly haven't been together long enough for a groupthink to evolve)

of course, there were other important experiences as well: the two learning journeys, far from being a waste of time, worked as real eyeopeners for me. i'd never before this seminar visited a prison or an Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in Singapore, and i was favourably impressed by both of them. the ITE in particular i really enjoyed, because it gave me a good look at the side of the singaporean education system that i don't often see. having come from the gifted education programme, and gone on to some of the finests schools in the country, i haven't been much exposed to the kids who have been streamed into the normal(academic) and normal(technical) tracks. it's heartening to see that the system does provide for their continued education and training, and the ITE seems to be doing its level best to make sure their kids get opportunities not just to get jobs when they graduate with an ITE cert, but also to continue to polytechnics and university afterwards, if they prove capable of it.

the roundup Big Debate this afternoon, conducted shortly before MOS Vivian Balakrishnan appeared to talk to us, provided a good end point for the seminar. we got to talk about the role of government in society and in creating or transmitting social norms, as well as the media and human rights and happiness (and the measurement thereof), as well as the political landscape of the future, and the question of apathy -politically and toward life in general. i felt that (at least my group) we were willing to take on the big questions and look at some fundamentals and some normative questions, despite the discussion time being really sort of waaaaay the hell too short.

so those are my impressions and 'takeaways' from DPPS this week. we'll all see each other again on National Day when we show up for the parade (tickets were issued today), but til then, i think you've heard the last of DPPS news on this blog. (check back, as i said, with the other one for some more content and policy focused posts)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Happy Birthday!

i interrupt your daily dose of random poetry to wish my cousin joanne a very happy 19th birthday!

happy birthday to you
happy birthday to you
happy birthday to jooooooooaaaaaaaaaaanne
happy birthday to yoooouuuuuu....


May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


I am a man of so many homecomings
that form a cluster of betrayals,
and again, I leave on a frightening voyage
in which I travel and never arrive anywhere:
my single journey is a homecoming.

Homecomings, Pablo Neruda

Monday, July 26, 2004

week off from serious content?

as most of you already know, i'm at this summer's Developments in Public Policy Seminar, which started today. today was much better than i thought it would be, despite having a hard time finding the place (ok, so i didn't, because dad knew where it is -it's next to ISEAS- but lots of ppl were late 'cos they couldn't find it) and it being a damn ulu place to begin with. but the overview thingys went well, and i found the various briefings that we had today rather interesting. no doubt by the end of the week i shall craft a post detailing my impressions and expectations of the public service career ahead of me.

also ran into a whole bunch of old old friends i haven't seen in the longest time, some from RJ, some from RGS, and some even from Rosyth. it's been years, and it's good to see them all again, catch up with what's going on in their lives, rediscovering the old friendships are still alive and well despite years of neglect. it'll be a good week, i think - the programme is promising, and discussion has been fierce, and people are open and willing to listen to criticism (which may well be a rare thing), so perhaps we shall have a good time and learn something after all. more on this by week's end.

but for now, a placeholder post - more E. E Cummings:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

Saturday, July 24, 2004

At Home

you know, i really love those cookies/biscuit-things from Marks and Sparks - the Jam Sandwiches that have lovely cookies sandwiching cream and some jam with sugar on top. i could eat a whole packet at one sitting, so it's probably a good thing we don't have them in the house very often.

speaking of being in the house, today's the first day in a while that i've spent a considerable amount of time in the house by myself, and it's been quite quite fun. i've been inordinately tired lately, so it was good to spend most of the afternoon goofing off and sleeping. alex came over and we hung out all afternoon here, which was good, and after he left and my parents took off for a dinner-thing at their friend's place (they're still not back) i was left to my own devices. so i -watched some formula one (yeah Schumi! i knew you could do it. pole position yet again!), dozing off periodically (though i did wake up to watch Schumi's qualifying round and did he set a blistering pace or what!), and then retiring to my airconditioned room to watch Gosford Park for the third time on my iBook. i love that movie, and i picked up the DVD cheap on wednesday so i could watch it again with subtitles (the subtitling was definitely below par on this one).

so whew. some recharging time, always a good thing. though i think i shall be spending a lot of next week 'recharging' - falling asleep - during our Seminar at NUS. ah well. the price you pay and all that.

oh! and yesterday - nic's play -the ACJC play- took first in this year's SYF Finals, ying arrived home safely from NYC, and i tried the famous tau huay at Geylang Lorong 9 for the first time, appropriately enough with a bunch of my friends and ying's family around me. (ten of us squeezed into one bigass SUV, along with ying's luggage and all our assorted crap from work/shopping) 'twas great fun. but oh, yesterday was a long day. i really appreciated waking up late and staying in bed after i woke up this morning. monday is going to be a real bitch.

expect either tres light posting, or posting overload next week, depending on how demanding the seminar is, and whether i have internet access!

Friday, July 23, 2004


reading the Amateur Gourmet i stumbled upon this: BlogShares - Idle Thoughts. apparently my shares are worth approximately thirty dollars. this is so cool - in a geekyweird kind of way. -grin-

also, OGIC posted at Terry Teachout a poem she remembered (though she had to look up punctuation and title). i tried to do the same but got this far:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes
The nerves sit, ceremonious, like tombs


First Chill - then Stupor - then the Letting Go

it seems i am best at remembering lines rather than whole poems/passages - there are bits of MacBeth floating around, and bits of King Lear (though admittedly, weird bits of King Lear, like 'kill kill kill kill kill kill', which i remember because six kills is awkward, while five kills would have flowed off the tongue) and lines from In Memory of W.B Yeats ('the day of his death was a dark cold day') and An Irishman Foresees His Death. lots of Calling of Kindred stuff.

so i went and looked up the Dickinson:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round--
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--

This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons recollect the Snow--
First - Chill - then Stupor - then the letting go--

it's friday!

wow. i've just met Blogger's new WYSIWYG post-composing template for the first time, and i am impressed. heehee. it's like LiveJournal! only without the cuts which would make your reading life So Much Easier. =) anyway, before i get too carried away: this appeared in Today today:
Why not call it Garang-polis?
With such a cool name, S'pore's elite national security agency will strike fear into the hearts of terrorists
Friday • July 23, 2004
Aug 12 is a day that many a Singaporean will be talking about over the next few weeks. It is the day that Singapore will get a new Prime Minister and I am sure that the burning question on all of our lips will be: "Aug 12 got holiday or not?"
I think Singaporeans are so used to a smooth transition of power here that we are not all angst-ridden about our futures and fates whenever we have a change in the leadership. Hence, instead of worrying about any street riots or political fights, we can focus our minds on other things, like whether the handover date will be a national holiday and whether we should buy 4D lottery with that date.
We are somewhat worried about China though. First, some of their officials called off a study trip here. Then some bankers didn't show up. What's next? Will China also recall their female tourists who have been gracing the residential heartlands of Joo Chiat, Katong and Tanjong Katong?That would be a social disaster, because our men will lose the convenience of having, errr, company, at their doorsteps and will have to travel all the way to town.
On other national news, Singapore now has a new agency to deal with transnational terrorism and it will report directly to the Prime Minister. It is called, hold your breath now, the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS).
Come now, we can do better than that! We have agencies named A*Star and Spring Singapore, surely we can give our new elite agency a more kilat (suave or impressive) name than National Security Coordination Secretariat?
Don't you find it difficult to pronounce the acronym (NesCes?). It does not even have a "Polis" at the end of it (Anti-Terrorpolis?). Surely that is against the laws of nature (Law of Nature #153: Cool names must have a Polis at the end of it).
When I think NSCS, a kick-ass anti-terrorism agency does not spring to my mind immediately. I think National Sports Cultivation Secretariat or Nurturing Singapore's Community Services.Let mr brown help you name the new agency. How about Rainbow Six? Too Tom Clancy? Ok, The Merdeka Merlions. Too much like a poorly-performing local football team? Ok, let's settle on Group of Anti-terrorism Rangers and Agency of National Gatekeepers (Garang).
And if we aim to be a hub for anti-terrorism activity, we will be the Garang-Polis.
I suggest that members of this new agency wear black to stand out from the other agencies. They can be the Men-in-Black.Oh wait, that is reserved for those guys responsible for our recent power failures (who will be punished the NEXT TIME they fail, when we make our laws tougher! NEXT TIME, they better watch out because we changed our laws!).Ok, wear dark purple then, it's almost black. Be the Men-in-Dark-Purple. Not as catchy, but still cool.Meet the Men-in-Dark-Purple, the men from Garang (insert cool anti-terrorism rap music here).
We need such a cool agency, of course, because Singaporeans need to be assured that their safety is of top concern (and also foreign investors generally do not like to set up shop in a country where terrorists run willy-nilly). This is all the more important as our nation is recovering from the economic slowdown. We do not want any terrorists to mess up our party. Any one of them thinking of even trying will have to deal with our Garang force (play rap music theme song again).
So, how do you know that our economy is improving? Ah, you do not need an economist to crunch some industry numbers to know that growth is back. Ask any Singaporean how they know we are growing again and they will tell you, "Growth? Of course got growth lah! Everything also grow. Property tax grow, school fees grow, and conservancy fees also grow!"
Fees in Singapore are psychic, as you all know. Even before the next quarter of growth is out, the charges we pay will already go up, in anticipation of the improvement of market sentiment.This is so that Singaporeans need not feel the inconvenience of having any change to their standard of living, like having extra money left in the pocket if they get their next raise.The minute the post-growth salary packet arrives, the bills with the increased charges will already reach the mail box. Such is the co-ordinated timing of our fee increases.
Of course, we will be told that the charges have not been increased for a very long time or that in other countries, they charge much more.Well, we don't live in other countries, do we? And what will we get for our $2.50 extra? Cleaner dustbins? Shorter grass? Better selection of paint colours for repainting our blocks with instead of those awful pastels that look like they were chosen by a colour-blind contractor?
Ok, I should calm down, and stop ranting. Maybe go and play my new anti-terrorism Xbox game, National Security Coordination Secretariat 3: The Revenge of The Hand.I have almost finished playing level 15, where my character is going high places if I complete my mission as Agent Lim, who has to launch a national security course for public officers while promoting public awareness.My joystick is almost broken from the excitement.
i leave you to enjoy in peace. :)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

soldier field

for the chicagoans: over at Dan Drezner's blog he's pointed out that the National Park Service recommended that the government withdraw National Historical Landmark status from Soldier Field, based on the fact that lots of the 'historical' building doesn't exist anymore. good on them, i say -going past Solider Field in any kind of moving vehicle along Lake Shore is always torture. it's terribly like a flying saucer from Independence Day exploded inside the stadium, only there's no hope that Will Smith is going to come along and save the day.

so good on you, National Park Service. retribution at last for the horror they've inflicted on the population of Chicagoans who are forced to drive past Soldier Field every day on the way to work.

i'll leave you with a choice quote:

The result? From the outside, it's a butt-ugly effect. Soldier Field now looks like an alien spaceship humping the Parthenon. Blair Kamin, The Tribune's excellent architecture critic, described it as "an architectural close encounter of the worst kind."

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I have no life but this,
To lead it here;
Nor any death, but lest
Dispelled from there;

Nor tie to earths to come,
Nor action new,
Except through this extent,
The realm of you.


Alter? When the hills do.
Falter? When the sun
Questions if his glory
Be the perfect one.
Surfeit? When the daffodil
Doth of the dew:
Even as herself, O friend!
I will of you!

Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

e.e. cummings

Monday, July 19, 2004


it's a disaster, i tell you: i cannot find my books in my room, and they are slowly piling up everywhere and taking up space and chasing me out of my room. perhaps today and tomorrow i should go home early and start culling books out of my library - i am certain to have outgrown a chunk of them by now. and then perhaps i will be able to find the A. S Byatt i am now willing to try reading - where is my Possession? this is really annoying.

but first i have to find a giant box to fill with discarded books, so my maid can call the thrift shop and have them come and take them away. or perhaps i should take them to a secondhand bookstore and sell them to make myself some pocket change...i mean money, but i can't help feeling the thrift store (run by the Officers' Wives Club i do believe) is a more worthy cause. plus it wouldn't involve my carrying books anywhere. although dad is home and could drive me. hmm. i shall ask him what he thinks.

my mother asked me: what do you want to do when we remodel your room next year? and before anything else popped to mind i said i want more shelves for books. we are considering turning the piano room into a library for real. does anyone want a second-hand piano, well-loved, a semitone flat across the keyboard but in perfect relative pitch for cheap? much as i would hate to see it go - it is the best piano i have ever played on, even considering the grands and baby grands i have had the chance to tinker on. but i play so little these days, and my books are so many...

children's books and summer reading

the Times has an op-ed this weekend about summer reading and children's books here. choice bits:

'But what remains most loved, and most useful in helping children "face adversity," is the realm of fantasy, or the realm of the slightly less real world — like Louis Sachar's "Holes," for example. A universe where scary things are blunted — that is, by a blanket of fantasy — is easier to enter; it's helpful too for the main character to have access to a tiny bit of magical power. One need only to remember that Harry Potter, after all, has had to deal with the murder of his parents and an abusive foster family. His magic accompanies him; he is looked out for at every turn. Rather than confronting evil in the form of a violent realistic father, say, it is vastly less stressful for some children to contemplate evil in the form of "he who must not be named."'

i read fantasy and sci-fi a lot as a young child. quite a lot, actually. all i read, really. and i think that it was wonderful in precisely the way this piece highlights: fantasy or sci-fi allows you to deal with real problems through the cushion of unreality, allows you to disengage and think about real issues without having to face them head-on in a character and circumstance identical to yours. there's a layer of comfort that comes from it being another world, or characters with more arms/legs/feet than yours, or knowing that the kids in the stories have some kind of magical protection in the form of parents/inherent magic/fairy godmothers. it's knowing that endings are almost always happy, even if they are bittersweet.

'We seem to have lost sight of what children can actually process, and more important, of their own innate capacities. Instead of our children being free to roam and dream and invent on their own timetable, and to read about children doing such things, we increasingly ask our children to be sober and hard-working at every turn, to take detailed notes on their required texts with Talmudic attention, to endure computer-generated tests. And the texts we require them to pore over have become all too often about guarded, world-weary, overburdened children, who are spending their childhoods trying to cope with the mess their parents left them.'

read the whole piece. oh, and the other op-ed too: Harry Potter, Market Wiz on Hogwarts and -gasp- capitalism.

Hamilton wins the British Open!

the Open, which ended at some ungodly hour long after i went to bed in a playoff round between Ernie Els and Todd Hamilton, has gone to Hamilton, who made his mark playing the Asian circuit, and has now taken The Title of the PGA tour. ahh, justice. =) but good job els anyway. it was a tough course.

also, we are to have a new Prime Minister come the 12th of August: our current PM says
'Time for a new chapter' while waiting to tee off at a charity tournament this weekend. our new PM is to be -of course- the current DPM Lee Hsien Loong. but get this. he's also the Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (in other words, the central bank), and our finance minister! i never realised this before. what's the point of having a central bank, one wonders, if it is controlled not only by the man who runs the finance ministry but is also the Deputy Prime Minister, -and- will soon be the PM anyways? ah singapore. money corruption may not run rampant but power corruption...who knows.

it remains to be seen whether we will have a new Chairman of the MAS. i certainly hope so. it would be too too ridiculous to have the PM of Singapore hold that post as well, wouldn't it?

Friday, July 16, 2004

music notes

i will finally have time at home this evening to load up the iPod with some more music treasures, such as a recording of Stravinsky's Firebird in its entirety (rather than the excerpts) which i got for a rather reasonable ten bucks at Gramophone the other day, and songs from my childhood, which i rather think will tend to include Abba and the Carpenters and perhaps not a little Beatles. if i can find them, since my dad has ransacked the house and squirrelled away all the good stuff in his attempt to explode his new mp3 player -a Creative Nomad that is ridiculously hard to use- by attempting to load our entire cd collection into it.

[my mother, on the other hand, is plotting in the background for me to get dad an iPod mini back in the states (where it's cheaper) so she can steal the nomad.]

also, i called cece last night and it transpires that she already had tickets to the very concert -and the same priced tickets, to boot!- that i was going to ask her to come with me to. more people should come. 3rd September, the Esplanade, a night of Tchaikovsky with the SSO and some kid named Gil. -grin-

Red or Blue/ Which are You?

as elections roll closer, run out and take Slate's Red or Blue quiz.

it turns out i am 'just a little blue' - but ah! if i had known what a few more questions were about (or if my memory for names wasn't quite so terrible), who knows what would have happened.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Why Isn't There A Gap In Hyde Park Anyway?

Over at Crescat Sententia among other places, there has been a relatively long-running and little-noticed discussion revolving around the U-of-C culture and -yes, The Gap. basically, it can be summarized thusly: there is no Gap/A&F/B&R/clothing retail chain in Hyde Park (there are book retail chains - a Borders, and a miserable tiny Barnes&Noble, which pretends to be the college bookstore), and the reason for this is, variously, that U of C students don't buy new clothes often enough to produce sufficient demand; or that U of C students don't like people to know that yes, they buy new clothes on occasion, and hence prefer to do it far outside the 'hermetically sealed' bubble that is the HP. Volokh has more here, while Blogo Slovo adds another viewpoint in response.

my answer to the question is compeltely egocentric (of course!) and totally devoid of economic reason. Volokh has provided that, in spades. instead, it's going to focus on why i am happy there is not a Gap in sight on 55th St.

i'm a U of C student, and clearly am as proud of our tradition of intellectual eccentricity and masochism as anyone. i tell people to run away from the U of C when they come through as prospies -wouldn't anyone?- but secretly i am happy as a clam that i go to school there. i like intellectual pain, so shoot me.

i do also, however, like new clothes. yes, even The Gap and BR, i'll admit my little guilty secret now - i don't buy all my clothes from little stores where they are handmade in Guatamala, or all my jewellery from precious little hole-in-the-wall stands in Bohemia. -grin- good ol' chain stores. if there were a target or a walmart nearby, i'd shop there all the time. (if i could get there, and back, carrying all my stuff, without dying, that is.) i also like good food. not just restaurant food, like Cafe Iberico or BaBaReeba (i am craving tapas at the moment, and have no idea where to get them in Singapore. how sad is that?), but also chains like Chipotle and Potbelly Sandwich Works, and oddly enough, Panda Express.

this doesn't mean that i necessarily want my two desires to spatially coexist, however. (this is not to say if Chipotle were to open in hyde park i would boycott the store. on the contrary i would eat there every day until i got too fat to come in the front door.) if there were a shopping strip in the HP to rival Michigan Ave, what reason would i ever have to leave the HP? and when, oh when, would i ever do any work? (not that i do, anyway, but that's not the point.) if i could spend my mornings in class, and then wander up to 55th Street for some Cosi Coffee (preferably Intelligentsia, if they would only open a cafe; they already serve Intelligentsia coffee on campus and it is the best), and lunch in a little french bistro, and then shop aimlessly in a Gap, or a BR, or -gasp- an Urban Outfitters or American Eagle on my way home, who could guarantee i would make it back to my 55th Street apartment before sundown? or midnight, for that matter - if there were, say, a ten-screen Lowes or AMC around. though that would probably heed to occupy the piece of land my apartment is currently standing on, so perhaps not.

less flippantly, i return to the notion of Leaving The HP. yes, it seems to be rather a bigger deal for some U of C denizens than others (you know who you are, people who Leave The HP all the time, on a whim). but i think it is sort of nice to have the City as a distraction from all of this work that goes on on the U of C campus. it's good to know that putting in twenty minutes of effort -taking the bus downtown, standing with real people for a little while- allows me to take a complete break from academic life for a few hours while i browse the shops, watch a movie, grab some (non-thai) dinner. it's a reminder that the rest of the world -and real people- exist, and also a reminder that i have to make time to do things other than study, or mope around in my apartment, or take out twenty books from the Reg, you know, things like that.

so even though i would visit retail chain stores if they managed to fight their way through red tape and political maundering, it doesn't mean that i am unhappy they are not here. or even that i would be -happy-, really, that they were. because i like the HP (mostly) the way it is, even though 55th St is sort of a 'barren wasteland' (i can say that, i live there) and the 'shops' on 53rd St aren't very exciting, and i enjoy the fact that it's a college neighbourhood that isn't, and that our claim to retail fame is to have some of the best bookstores in the country. because i'm a masochistic U-of-C geek, and proud of it too. =)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

a cryptic note

tomorrow, it's

thursday 15 July


city hall mrt.

readers and non-readers

scrolling through Terry Teachout's blogroll at work and clicking on random links brought me to a piece on reading and of course nonreading, and the division of people into readers and nonreaders. (the link in the article is to Harold Bloom's article in the LA Times, and requires registration) and how hard it is to explain why some people are readers, and some people are nonreaders - even education doesn't seem to make a big difference (i suppose in that even education won't make a nonreader a reader rather than making a reader a nonreader; but perhaps education can make a reader a reader, by giving him the literacy required).

it's clear that i am -and pretty much have always been- a reader. even before i could read i was a reader - i made my parents read aloud to me, otherwise i couldn't -wouldn't- go to sleep at night. i memorised stories, and if mom told me The Three Little Pigs any differently than i remembered, i would wake up from my almost-asleep state and correct her. it had to be the same, word for word, identical intonation, night to night. (though there were two versions -the long version and the short version- depending on how tired i looked. those variations i allowed without comment, as long as they were consistent within variation.) i learned to read using Disney books (stunning adults by 'reading' Snow White before i turned four, until my parents explained that i had memorised the book, down to the page turns, and i couldn't actually read) and never looked back. dad used to complain i was spending him out of house and home, and would refuse to take me to the secondhand bookstore until i had read every single book in the last (giant) installment three times. (needless to say, i used to cheat.)

these days i frequently read three books simultaneously, carry books with me to work (though admittedly this is mostly because i read on the train), and always have to read myself to sleep at night. which has the unfortunate side effect of (a) sometimes not falling asleep since the book sucks me in (i try and avoid this by rereading old books where i know what is going to happen); and (b) falling asleep over my work-reading because my brain associates the act of reading (boring/familiar stuff) with sleep. -grin- clever, wot?

so it's hard for me to imagine a type of person who doesn't automatically walk into bookstores when bored and browse, who doesn't love huge Borders and Kinos and Barnes-and-Nobles and the Sem Coop because they have lots of different types of books and sometimes cheap ones too, who doesn't carry books around to read in their free time (ie on the train bus walk waiting time to get to work school dinner). who doesn't READ unless it's absolutely necessary and then no more than necessary. i keep thinking to myself perhaps if their parents had told them bedtime stories every night, and read to them from lots of different books and surrounded them with books they obviously loved, then perhaps they would be readers too.

then again, perhaps not.

morning roundup of the news

Beijing Under Siege - Monsoon Rains Are Finally Here
oddly enough, just two days ago i was reading news reports about the unbearable heat in Shanghai and Beijing, and the possibility of power failures. today i boot up the computer and read that Beijing is under several feet of water, and Shanghai has indeed experienced power failure, but from a storm, not from overuse of airconditioners or something. looks like monsoons are here for real.

SOUTH ASIA: Landslides triggered by heavy rains buried at least 12 people while six people drowned in surging river waters as floods ravaged low-lying parts of South Asia yesterday. More than seven million people are marooned or left homeless across eastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh after monsoon floods inundate large tracts of land.

SOUTH KOREA: Houses were destroyed and roads were closed yesterday as torrential rain hit the country for the third day in a row. However, no casualties were reported. The heavy rains were expected to stop late yesterday.

JAPAN: Heavy rains and flooding in the north-west killed one man and prompted an order to evacuate 12,000 homes. Electricity was cut off for about 1,000 homes. -- AP, Reuters,Korea Herald/Asia News Network "

Also, A Novel Offering For Mobile Phone Users: an entire novel written in 70-character chapters, sent directly to your mobile phone. (this is in chinese, so 70 characters can indeed say quite a lot) whatever will people think of next?

last item for the day: How China Views DPM's Visit To Taiwan.

someone needs to give the Chinese leadership a swift kick in the seat of the pants, i should say. who says that just because someone has been in the 'upper echelons of the Singapore Government' for the last umptyumph years he cannot have a private life with private friends, eh? geez guys. get a life. not everything is about you.

Monday, July 12, 2004

reading the Straits Times really makes my day

One people, one nation, but are we one class? - JULY 12, 2004

"BANKING officer Alex Tan, 25, has a ritual he performs every working day at the end of his drive from his Hougang flat to his Shenton Way office. After parking his Toyota, he pauses to peel the HDB carpark label off his windscreen before putting on his tie. Forgetting, he says with a shudder, would mean betraying his heartlander roots, and he 'can't afford that'."

setting aside the fact that i dislike the use of 'betraying' because i was totally confused for about a minute until i realised Susan Long meant 'betraying' in the sense of 'exposing' and not 'to turn traitor', the article raises issues that are -as pointed out- all too commonly glossed over, brushed aside, and social-engineered away in Singaporean (and really any) society.

my brief comments: the drive to consider oneself 'middle class' in any (democratic) society is a very powerful one. many people who would be considered by others as 'upper-class', or 'rich' often do describe themselves as 'middle class' or 'upper middle class' in surveys and to their peers, regardless of the fact that they have four luxury cars and a big landed property in the Bukit Timah area. -grin- ok perhaps i am exagerrating. but you know what i mean. i see it all the time in the states too - there's something -wrong- about acknowledging your privileges or your wealth or your background; and there's something wrong in talking about it. something to think about, perhaps - is this a universal notion of modesty, or is this something peculiar to -perhaps- democracy or socialism where human equality and merit hold sway?

oh but -- in the same article there is a glossary titled 'High-Level Vocabulary', choice samples being 'ritual', 'theoretically' (thankfully spelled right -grin-), and 'ideologically'. -sighs- oh, Singapore.

the New York Times magazine

"Such labor demands a certain obsessional personality and sometimes results in obsessional storytelling."

though slightly disturbed that the writer failed to mention Neil Gaiman as one of the foremost 'graphic novelists' for Sandman [update: my mistake; they talk about him on page 8 of 10, where he gets a brief para mention for Sandman.], i'm pleased that the Times Magazine did a feature article on the genre last weekend. (and that just made me miss my paper copy even more. damn, i don't even have hard copy now.) go read the whole thing.

"What all graphic novelists aspire to, however -- whether they start with words or with an image or two -- is a sense of motion, of action unfolding in the blank spaces between their stop-action frames. They spend a lot of time thinking about how the panels are arranged and the number of panels it takes (or doesn't) to depict a given amount of narrative. Most of these effects are meant to work on us, the readers, almost subconsciously, but they require a certain effort nonetheless. You have to be able to read and look at the same time, a trick not easily mastered, especially if you're someone who is used to reading fast. Graphic novels, or the good ones anyway, are virtually unskimmable. And until you get the hang of their particular rhythm and way of storytelling, they may require more, not less, concentration than traditional books."

i think that's the thing that makes graphic novels appeal to me (other than the fact that so many of them seem to revolve around darkness, like Batman's Gotham City, and yes, the Endless in Sandman. it's the space between the panels where your mind is free to fill in what happens, unlike in novels where the spaces are not so clearly delineated. Also it seems that the spaces pictorially are easily accepted, and the storyline assumes a continuity in my mind that wouldn't exist if the same spaces had been left in a novel. the suspension of disbelief, of the obssessive need for detail, is much easier with the graphic novel, or the comic (not in the Archie sense, however) than it is with the novel. the spaces are like Emily Dickinson's dashes - they hint at something you have to imagine, to believe. you have to focus on the moments that are shown to you - it is far more obvious that the world you see is a partial, not a complete picture, and you are left free to fill-in-the-blanks between moments (odd moments, precious moments, moments that would otherwise be called 'filler' material or mundane reflections of ordinary life) with anything you choose. it wakes the imagination.

i'm not sure that it's because the collective attention span has gone down - as the writer notes, it's almost impossible to skim the graphic novel and understand it (though frankly it is quite possible to devour it fastfastfast in one sitting, and then read it again to fill-in-the-spaces) and understanding it really requires more focused attention than reading a novel does. novels are easy to skim, to read standing up in the train on the way to work in the morning (elbows tucked into your sides to avoid poking the suit next to you; hanging from the straps that finally you can reach because you're no longer in the land of tall people); i can't imagine taking Sandman in to the office instead of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, because losing myself in stop-action-framed pictures results in fogginess and dreamery all morning, while it is easy to find my way back out from the word-maze.

oh, go read the article. then go read some Sandman, or today's Get Fuzzy, which i shall post as soon as i ever can. more from me later.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

my grandpa turns 80 this year

we had a marvellous dinner party at Spring Court, my grandpa's favourite chinese restaurant, involving ninety people, last night to celebrate my grandpa's 80th birthday. 'twas a big bash, his friends all came, there was tons of food, and to top it all off, we had a special cake comprising 100 puffs variously filled with different creams and toppings built into a towering cone. and the four cousins (as well as our SOs who were present!) sang a hymn in madarin (badly) for my grandpa. i think he was pleased at our attempt. here're a couple of pictures from the dinner:

a reasonable picture of the four of us, plus jon's girlfriend chuling (whom i had just met for the first time) and alex, and of course my grandpa, there in front. i'm in the crazy green dress with the scarf, my cousin jo is in her usual black tshirt and chinos, my brother's in the red shirt, jon is in the blue checked shirt, alex in the blue polo, and jon's chuling in the yellow outfit. don't we look cute?

everyone: grandpa, his four daughters, two sons-in-law, four grandkids and their significant others.

i had a great time at dinner, and was pleased to hear from my grandpa today that his friends envy him his friendly, loyal, and crazy family who are willing to do things like sing in what is essentially a foreign language to make him happy. =) yay.

photoblogging from the iBook

as promised, i figured out how to photoblog from the iBook with a little help from the team at Blogger. -grin- they're great, aren't they?

anyway, here's a picture from the alaskan holiday - my cousin and i resembling orca-food in our wetsuits, waiting to jump into the water and relieve the feeling of strangulation. -grin- enjoy! more to follow, from last night's dinner extravaganza...

Thursday, July 08, 2004


why is it that -when depressed upon having fallen out of love, or having someone fall out of love with you- you turn to Emily Dickinson?

perhaps it is the space between the words she marks out for you with her (disapproving look from grammar schoolmistress) '-'s: you feel like you've fallen into a dash and you can't get out. it's a different space than the one following a :

see? you are waiting for another line. but after a -

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

time for one more --

--last post before a push to finish at least some of the work i have been procrastinating over. have discovered a wealth of ASEAN information in the resource centre i shall devote some time tomorrow to persusing, in preparation for - duncan's thesis paper-writing monster.

but the point of this post was this:

"Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them." -- A Room With A View, E. M Forster.

you know, i had forgotten i'd read this book waiting for the A levels?

The New National Library

so i'm not sure what i think about having a new national library on Victoria Street, in a fancy modern building with lots of glass. (oh! but i love glass.) the problem really is i love the old building.

it's true, i'll give you that the old building wasn't the best layout for a library: the shelves were close together, the reading rooms were claustrophobic and you really never could find any reference materials you needed anyway. (what shall i do when i no longer have access to university libraries, i wonder? the U of C has spoiled me.) the collection was very often dismal in scope and availability. and like all libraries everywhere, misshelved books and weird hard to find call numbers were the bane of your average library user's life.

however, i'm fond of the old place. i grew up with that place - beginning my library adventures in the Toa Payoh branch of the National Library, i soon moved on to the Central Branch because -well, because it was central, and located next to the large MPH flagship store where i always wanted to go (but couldn't afford to buy anything except food, which we ate there because it allowed us to be in the presence of oh-so-many books, though on the cafe floor it was mostly computer -grimace- books). because it was in town, and in town was always where i wanted to be. (even prior to my crazy shoppping-for-clothes-bags-shoes days i was an urban centre girl) and it was convenient for school, once i started at RGS - research done in late afternoons, not very efficiently, with friends sitting around a giant table trying desperately not to make too much noise or worse -hysterical laughter quickly (but unsuccessfully, at least for long) quashed by frantic hushing. saturday mornings and early afternoons spent wandering the shelves (almost called them 'stacks' but this is not the Reg) waiting for the parent who had dropped me off 'on the way to work' to come back and pick me up (i used to make mom drive ten minutes out of her way on saturday morning so i could go -lazy me- to the library and not walk from the train station), laden with as many books as the library would let me remove. (four, then briefly, eight, and then four again.)

it's hard to let go of things you remember from childhood - i was furious when they -the National Library Board- changed anything about the library system, whether it was more efficient or not. (ok perhaps i wasn't furious when they put in the automated checkout system, though i liked talking to the librarians as they stamped my books) i really hated it when they put in the pay-fines-via-cashcard thing, because i didn't have a cashcard. my dad pointed out the logical thing to do would be not to accrue any fines, but since when have i been logical when it comes to memory?

but if the new library has a better collection in a better organised building then i am sure my objections will (eventually) fade. and a whole new generation of kids will grow up thinking that libraries have always existed in funky glassy buildings (think the Library@Orchard, for one; when i was a kid no libraries looked like fishbowl/bookstores; or the Library@Esplanade or whatever they call it, which loans DVDs if you have a premium membership -they have a waterfall piece) with huge escalators and non-glaring florescent lighting. it just seems a pity, to me, that the same government which constantly complains about the rootlessness of its young people should constantly find ways to destroy the physical memories that link them, in however fragile ways, to the places and peoples of this country.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


my first heavy monsoon-ish rain of the season is pouring down outside my (temporary) window. reminds me of last summer, trapped in the Fed after hours because i didn't have an umbrella, and Jay didn't want to leave til the rain eased anyway. reading random bits of stuff online, talking about future plans, wondering if the rain would ever go away. then walking out onto Jackson and having the heavy humidity slam into my lungs like a jackhammer, reminding me of home. how odd, that a year later i should be sitting in a similar office building, staring out the window at the rain cleaning an (un)familiar skyline, and missing chicago?

i am a brat --

-- the computer in my (temporary) workspace is an old IBM machine with a good ol'fashioned CRT screen. bulky, and worse, it flickers like an old movie projector. i'm so used to my nice flat laptop screens, or the lovely flatscreens (computer and television) i'm surrounded by at home/in school. bah. gotta get a filter for this computer before my eyes explode. (though they didn't last summer, come to think of it. and i had the same problem at the office then. perhaps i was more distracted by Jay throwing paperclips over the cubicle wall when he got bored.) in the meantime i have turned both brightness and contrast way down, and will attempt to spend little time staring at it. (yeah, right, like that's going to happen)

re: my comment yesterday on whether i could sustain a political blog focused on Singapore, and on blogs in general - it's been a recurring question really for me. after all, approximately five people total read this blog anyway, so my actual final answer doesn't matter very much now does it? -grin- i've wanted to make this blog something more than a daily/weekly/monthly/occasional rant space about what i am doing (and the post-count goes up exponentially when i am not occupied rushing around doing stuff) but somehow that's not something i am willing to expend the time and energy upkeeping. far easier to just ramble on about my day for a little while, and then stop.

perhaps that's all this blog needs to be, however. after all, the people who read this blog already (mostly) know what i think about things, and how i speak and who i am. but they're interested in what i've been up to, and what outrageous things i have seen (like the MRT train being so full this morning the doors wouldn't close - and this was at eight am, for heavens' sake - are people so eager to be at work at 8.30? oh for chicago summer hours) and who i have had bizarre conversations with. and i need to use this blog as an excuse to marshall my thoughts on topics like human rights and political accountability and the perennial favourite: how to reconstruct the education system so it still works, only better. :) all old soapboxes, here.

and sometimes, when the blog becomes a two-way conversation via comment boxes, i'm reminded that it's a means of communication after all. so i write it as if i were talking to you, some imagined unknown reader (only i know who you are, oh bored persons!), as if i were trying to convince you of something or telling you about my day or venting my anger before i explode. sometimes all three. i think that's good enough for me. terribly self-indulgent, but there you have it -- i am a brat, after all. -grin-

oh, and don't be fooled by the times on the posting. they are all still set on chicago-time. it's really 1355 and i've just returned from lunch. of course i'm not at work in the middle of the night. i'm a (temporary) civil servant!

and now it's time to get back to work. =)

Monday, July 05, 2004

memories and revelations

i've just had to look up my CV to see how many S papers i took in JC.

two things: i didn't know my director had my CV until he called me into the office for a chat, and surprised me by waving it at me -and then giving it to me at the end; and the As and the Os seem so far away i can barely remember what i took, forget what grades i received. how quickly a huge and once-so-important chunk of your life can recede in the rear-view mirror, until -you round the bend, and your CV, loaded with unwanted Bs, and 'passes' and 'merits' rather than As and 'distinctions', slams you in the face.

ah, work experience.


idle speculation: do political blogs focused on Singapore written by Singaporeans exist? i never thought about it before - too absorbed in american political/art/social life - wondering now if i could sustain such a blog; if i could care that much all the time.

i suspect the answer is no.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

first day of work

so tomorrow i start work at the Ministry of Trade and Industry for my summer attachment. eight weeks, plus one week of DPPS (the mid-course seminar for PSC scholars that most of us missed last summer due to the SARS problem), which means really nine weeks of wearing business attire. -groan- i hate wearing business clothes. they are so constricting.

beyond that, however, i am quite looking forward to my new job. i've still no idea what i'll be doing, or who my boss will be, or who my colleagues will be, etcetcetc, but i do think it will be quite a good experience. the office itself is in a great location, in terms of convenience to get to other places as well as proximity to alex's office (we are literally a block apart; it's the same train station), and from what i've seen of the inside of the building (from various visits two summers ago when i was just bumming around) it looks like a comfy place to work.

so wish me luck, and watch this space for more updates re: The Summer Job!

Friday, July 02, 2004

another quick update update for a week...but it's been a busy week! look at what we've been up to:

showing hanyann singapore, by which i mean picking her up from the airport and almost immediately charging around downtown to eat and shop like typical singaporeans, followed by her first taste of Chilli Crab at Long Beach. (though i was jetlagged and she was tired, so it was a rather lackluster dinner) the next day, we crawled painfully up to go to Jurong Bird Park -i hadn't been in years, and barely knew how to get there. thank god for the Internet, and for efficient public transport. we zoomed around the park looking at caged birds and also walking through the various aviaries -where the tallest manmade waterfall in the world is, for example, or the aviary filled with hummingbirds, beeeaters and sunbirds as well as tanagers. my favourite aviary was, however, the new Lory Loft. the lorries are such impertinent birds. you can buy some nectar in a cup, and the moment you leave the stand, a flock of them descend on you, landing on your arm, your shoulders, zooming past your ear, standing on nearby rails, chattering at you and fighting with each other for some of the treat you are carrying. i have some great pictures of H covered in birds. -grin- i also got bitten by one of the lorries who thought that perhaps my arm was made of nectar. they're such pretty birds, but crazy. (my brother says 'they're australian birds, what do you expect?')

we also wandered down to Bugis Junction/Village, where we ate a simply humongous ice kachang (we couldn't finish it and there were two of us) and walking around the little market thing where people bargain about the price of sundresses (me not very competently), before going to meet my friends for dinner. xiaolongbao and good company are always appreciated!

the next day involved going shopping for tons of staplers and staples for various american friends, as well as a suitcase to replace H's broken one. and showing her the Durian aka the Esplanade, and the Singapore River and Merlion. then the Night Safari, where we got to see lions and tigers, as well as sloths and otters and chevals (they walk like drunk ballerinas, it's so funny). we were so tired though...i tried valiantly to stay awake, but kept dozing off during the tram ride, and then once we got home. H says she was talking to me and i had just completely passed out -grin-

then yesterday after she left i got to hang out with my old friend rae, back from london (hopefully not for good, eh?) -we had conveyer-belt sushi and a Big O at NYDC, just like old times. it seems that every time i come home and see her we have the same thing.

now i'm about to get ready to head out and see alex, who's just come back from three weeks in Europe! yay. :) so. more from me later, perhaps. ciao!