Speedy Recovery

I visited a friend today at hospital. His sister has been hospitalised for about two months now after an accident.

I don’t know how I may help, but pray for her. And I hope you, too, can pray for her and her family.

May she make a speedy and full recovery soon. And may her family hear her laughter and feel her joy in the near future.

Distractions of the Doctor

You might have noticed that I’ve changed the look of the site. Early on in the day, I had to decide between changing to to a Drupal installation or upgrading my old WordPress installation. I decided on the former, but after some unsuccessful attempts at exporting the data, decided to settle on the latest WordPress installation instead.

But still, I’m not quite satisfied, and am probably going to try my hand at creating my own program from scratch, which will give me a lot more flexibility and allow me to get back up to speed with PHP5 and MySQL. But these things are still filed away as “maybe/someday”. A part of me still wants to use Drupal.

Coincidentally, I had actually read a piece of Zen writing this morning that appeared to suggest an answer to my problem on deciding upon whether to use Drupal, WordPress, or coming up with a whole system of my own. It seemed to suggest that I should just do what I do best. I guess the gist of it was: what is it that I can do that will offer the largest payoff?

I’m still thinking about it.

A well-known doctor in the twentieth century was a good amateur potter, and sometimes had parties of his patients at which he showed them his work. Once he invited a Zen master whom he knew slightly. The master arrived as a small bowl as being passed round, and they waited for his opinion. He looked round solemnly and said:

‘If any of you are ill in the future, I advise you not to call in this man. Because he must be a terrible doctor!’

There was dead silence. Then one old man asked: ‘But why, master?’

‘His heart’s not in his medicine, that’s why. Look at this bowl. Oh, it’s well enough, no doubt, but not up to professional standards, so even as a bowl it doesn’t really stand. And this man — he collects patients simply so that he can show them his pots!’

The doctor took it to heart and abandoned the artist’s vanity which had taken such a deep hold and was impairing his study of medicine.

This story motivated me to question my life’s motives. My life has been, thus far, mostly a generality. I haven’t really ever focused on any area of my life. Though I believe that this has aided me tremendously while I was younger, allowing me to experience plenty of possibilities as I sought my true calling, I had better start making concrete decisions, carving out an identity and destiny for myself.

I want to have something that I will be willing to die for, without which I have nothing to live for, either.

Living with Her

“Living together is not easy,” he told me, while he nibbled away at the chicken in front of him.

Zixuan and I were at a KFC outlet at Hougang Point, with he having his post-IPPT dinner, with me as accompaniment. We were, as usual, discussing girlfriends.

“I once had a friend,” he continued, “who lived with his girlfriend, and they quarrelled a lot when they started living together.”

I looked at him, thinking “yes, I’ve heard this a million times before, so you don’t have to tell me.” I have heard this before, though I’ve always never really fully explored this topic. But having been through a rather unpleasant experience only just the previous year with Martin (it’s not at all his fault, it’s just I think we both needed some space), while we were staying in combined hostel rooms, I thought it prudent to at least start exploring this issue a little more.

I had lived with others in shared quarters before, while serving my National Service in the army. I’ve lived in bunks consisting of four to twelve beds without encountering any issues with my bunk-mates, most of whom were very nice people. But I guess in the army the psychology is radically different, with tolerance not only being something “nice to have”, but vital to our survival and sanity.

“So,” I said, “any tips on living with girlfriends?” I was genuinely curious, and was open to any input he might have.

“You are bound to quarrel,” he said, “and it’ll be down to the guys to fix it.” He continued, “whatever you do, always let the girl win.”

I had a look of incredulity on my face, while he had one of a knowing sage.

Taking another bite out of the chicken, he suddenly asked, “is this the thigh? How come I can’t seem to finish eating it?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“If ever you both get upset and either start to quarrel, or are going to start, just let her win. Just keep quiet, and learn to apologise and take it that you’re wrong — even if you’re not.”

I shook my head, thinking this was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever said (and he’s said many ridiculous things), and was about to tell him so when he added, “then after she’s cooled down and things are going well again, tell her why she was wrong the last time in a nice way.”

I couldn’t resist chuckling, and I nodded my head. “That’s good!” I told him.

“And,” he continued, “she won’t know what hit her!”

The Second Guess

There are days where I second-guess this romance.
And ask, “is this true love, or just my imagination?”
Then thinking about my thinking I stop mid-thought, and
Berate myself for this blasphemous contemplation.

But do not fault me for thinking twice about us.
Because when it comes to you, believe me, I am serious.
More than just summer, autumn, winter and spring,
You are, my dear, my everything.

Beauty World (and Thanks)

I’ve just returned from a company-sponsored dinner and musical (Beauty World). Beauty World‘s a local musical, and though I wasn’t expecting much from it, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This was the first time I attended a musical in ages, and the first one I’ve watched at the Esplanade. Though I wouldn’t be able to justify spending $102 on it, if you have the opportunity to go for it cheaply (or even free), do not miss the chance to. It’s catered strongly toward a Singaporean audience, with generous amounts of Chinese dialect and local humour thrown in; with that it mind, it’s also notable that there were plenty of caucasians in the audience as well, many of whom appeared to have enjoyed it.


But what I want to write about here isn’t about the musical, but rather how halfway through the show I felt a strong sense of gratitude. It was during a scene where the actors lined up in a row, one behind the other, before running out in separate directions. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen it done and I have, in fact, seen it done plenty of times.

But the thing that stood out this time? the realisation that they were lined up directly in front of me; in other words, I was seated facing the absolute centre of the stage. And it was right there and then, that I realised I had arguably the best seat in the house.

I started thinking about the events leading up to where I was, not just where I was physically at that time (i.e. the Beauty World musical), but also where I was along in life. I started to think about how fortunate I was in so many areas of my life.

  • How fortunate I am to have got a job in HVB (HypoVereinsBank). It pays extremely well (more than I could have hoped for), great benefits (including this musical!), very challenging work (I think my proficiency in MS Excel went from “OK” to “Advanced”!), wonderful colleagues (the very ones who urged me to attend this musical, without which I most certainly wouldn’t have gone), and the fact that I actually look forward to work each day.
  • How fortunate I am to be studying in Australia, and doing, by my standards, very well academically. Studying in Australia has also enabled to meet a girl whom I feel so comfortable with, with whom I don’t feel like I have to impress (but would love so much to), and whom manages (so far!) to tolerate my sometimes extreme habits of thrift and PMS-like mood-swings!
  • And I’ve always felt lucky to have some of the running genes from my dad, who was himself an avid runner in his younger days. Without much training at all, I have managed to be “above-average” in my running; with a little training, I have managed to participate in several competitions (just making up the numbers, no doubt, but still darn exciting). (Of course, his running genes came intertwined with the genes for his thinning hair!)
  • I can’t think about my dad’s running genes without thinking about the brainy genes that my mom passed on to me. Though most of the family’s smarts went to my sis and bro, enough of it made its way to mine, I’ve received more than my fair share!

There’s probably plenty of other things for me to be grateful for. But the point is that it just all came to me in the middle of the musical, like an epiphany one gets while meditating.

I pray I am able to receive such feelings of gratitude everyday.

Older and Wiser

“I’m old enough to know if what they’re doing is right,” she tells me, as she looks away as if that was that; the argument was ended; that she was right and I was wrong.

We were talking politics, and though I did not disagree with what she had said (and indeed would have taken her stand on another day) her fierce opposition and to the government’s latest policy change and stubborn refusal to hear any stand made for them made me feel like I had to play the devil’s advocate.

This was not the first time that I have heard people use experience (and/or age) as a way of supporting their arguments and philosophies. But how much value does experience add to one’s perspectives on life’s issues?

I do admit that experience can help in gaining a more mature perspective on many things. But as with almost any human endeavour, the value that you gain depends solely on the individual experiencing it, and experience alone cannot guarantee that a person will be right.

For example, there are some people who seem to be “naturally gifted” in a certain skill, performing far above average levels without having done so before, while others with lots of experience do not seem able to achieve similar levels of performance even having done it a hundred times.

This can probably best be seen in the area of sporting achievements, where the high achievers are not necessarily who has been doing what the longest, but rather who is the best in what they do, without regards to age or experience.

By using experience as proof to the correctness and credibility of what one is saying, is to assume not only a correlation between experience and ability (whether sporting excellence or the ability to see tell if something is “right”), but also that experience provides this ability, i.e. a cause-and-effect relationship.

Different Originating Experiences, Different Future Perceptions

Some people think that so long as they have experienced an event before, and sufficient years have passed, they quality as knowing all about it.

Take for example a 40-year-old man who, in 1994, experiences the event of the introduction of Singapore’s GST (goods and services tax). He, being uneducated in financial and economic matters, does not see how GST can benefit him or the country. He believes that the government has introduced this tax solely as a way to rob honest men of their money to benefit high-ranking government officials. Whether or not this is true does not affect our discussion.

Another 40-year-old man experienced this exact same event: the introduction of GST by the Singapore government. However, having read up on fiscal policy in his earlier years, and having family working in the government sector, he believes that though this goods and services tax may affect him by reducing his spending power, it helps him and the country in the long run by giving the government additional sources of revenue, apart from direct taxes, to ensure sufficient public funding in the future.

14 years have passed, and it is now 2008. Let us take it that both these men have not learnt anything new since their initial originating experiences (that of the 1994 introduction of GST). After 14 years, would they have in any way, changed their thinking? Would their perceptions on this government policy have changed?

The answer, of course, is “no”. Both men, if they had learnt nothing new, would have any new information available with which to base their past experiences on. Past experiences that are based on old information will produce the same perceptions. Just like A + B = C, if A and B do not change, it will produce the same amount of C.

But I believe that no one goes 14 years without learning anything. So let us assume that the first 40-year-old man, the one who believes the government has robbed him of his hard-earned money, had decided educate himself on financial matters, reading financial books and attending financial seminars. He also decides to take on a government job, and learns more about fiscal policy as a result. Most people after knowing what this man has been through, would think that he would quality as knowing all about it.

The other man, too, takes on a government job. Having great financial aptitude, and a seemingly endless enthusiasm, his rise to a top-ranking government official is quick and smooth. One day, however, he stumbles across a restricted file documenting the details of an exchange of letters between several prominent government officials. Unable to contain his curiosity, he reads the file and realises that these government officials had pushed for the introduced GST to in an attempt, albeit indirect, to increase their income.

Although both these men have had very different experiences, they both have learnt much. We can see the value in their 14 years of experience. These men would probably be able to provide valuable insight into the government’s introduction of GST. Whether or not they have learnt as much in other aspects of their lives cannot be known.

But in so many cases, experience is seen as a panacea or cure-all for knowledge seekers. It is as if experience itself is valuable in providing the right answer, and not just a perspective of what could be the right answer.

Asking the first man now about this perception of the government, he would tell you how he once thought they were like “robbers” in that they took money from the masses for their own coffers, but now knew that they were preparing Singapore for future growth. Knowing how much he had studied in terms of financial matters, and how he was working in the government and thus had an “insider’s” perspective, you would have thought he couldn’t be wrong.

But upon asking the second man about his perception of the government, you would be shocked into how much his perception differed from the first man, and that though the first man had plenty of knowledge, knowing what the second man knew would render the first man’s perception on the government as “wrong”.

Been there, done that

It seems that having been there, and having done that, does not necessarily mean that you know anything about anything at all.

And can this not apply to love as well? With all the advice people have on love, having “been there, done that”, you’d think that there wouldn’t be any marital problems in this world. The problem is, advice often ignores the subtleties of each person’s circumstance.

The best thing a person being advised is to sit and listen, and after the listening has been done, ponder and contemplate what has been said.

If the advice offered is to not do something, make a calculated risk assessment, and if the risks are considered low enough, go out there and do it anyway. Who knows, the advice might be wrong.

And if the advice offered it to do something, again, make calculated risks, and if the risks seem too high, refrain from doing it.

All life is is a series of experiences. And whether or not we do something or not, the doing or not doing it both are experiences. You can experience bungee jumping, and you can experience not bungee jumping. You can experience a promiscuous lifestyle, and you can experience a chaste lifestyle.

Either way, it’s a choice; leading to an experience; leading to a life. And experience doesn’t give you anything, except a perspective that is neither right nor wrong.

There is nothing either good or bad,
but thinking makes it so.
William Shakespear, in Hamlet

Love at a Hundredth Sight

I believed that there was someone “out there” who was “meant for me”, someone divined by the stars to be by my side through this life. I had very strong preconceived notions on what this person would be like, and I was certain that there would be no one else but this person with whom I would fall in love.

When she came into my life, there were no fireworks, not even sparks. After our first conversation, I thought she was an interesting person, but not one with whom I would be close to. She was too different from me, I thought. But over time, we somehow became pretty close friends.

Still, I was adamant that any notion linking us romantically, no matter how remote, was a lie. I even told a close, mutual friend of ours, that the great thing about the friendship between me and her was that “we’re close friends, yet there’s no chance of anything romantic ever happening.”

One day, however, I lingered a little too long on the thought of the possibility of something more between us. Nipping it in the bud before the thought took on a life of its own, I laughed it away, thinking how silly I was.

“There’s no chance in hell,” I told myself.

I wrote in my journal that day:

I think that there’s a 50% chance that she may have feelings for me. And there’s a 50% chance that I may just have feelings for her.

Even writing this down here seems horribly odd. I have a very strong feeling that I’d probably look back at this post one day, and think how weird having feelings for her is, or was.

And so, I thought, that was that.

Then something happened when I knew something had changed within me. For the first time, I felt a longing to be with her, just because. And I realised things were getting serious when I started feeling jealous that somebody else was spending more time with her.

These feelings were very subtle, but their mere existence itself made me worried. I knew from then on that I was in trouble, and the two words that kept on going through my mind were: oh f**k.

Going Too Smoothly?

“Do you think things have been going too smoothly?” I asked her.

“Heh, it’s the honeymoon period, these first three months.”

I just lay there, thinking. I didn’t like the way we had progressed. I felt that we needed to quarrel over something. I don’t know why, but when things go as frictionless as it has, I tend to be a little sceptical. An argument of some sort, no matter how trivial and innocuous, would have been proof that we hadn’t been holding things back, pretending to be someone we were not.

“We’ll just take things one step at a time,” she said.