Go with a smile!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

This Will be Our Year?

Less than a third of the matches played so far. But an interesting premier league table.

1. Yes, Liverpool was in pole position last Christmas and threw it away. But they have an 8 point lead, and their proverbial fate is in their proverbial hands.

2. Not much daylight between 2nd, 3rd and 4th, all teams in blue. Man City, Chelsea... and .... Leicester??

3. Just outside the top 4, teams in red: Man U, Arsenal and.... Sheffield United???

4. Where is Tottenham? Burnt out? One Merseyside team might have a great chance of reclaiming their great lost glories from the 80s, but it's not going to be Everton.

Looking forward to an unfamiliar team qualifying for Europe come the end of the season.

Here are some teams which have never won a league title in my lifetime:
1. Tottenham
2. Sheffield Wednesday
3. Sunderland
4. Newcastle
5. Wolverhampton Wanderers
6. Derby County

Here are some teams which have won a league title since I was born, but I don't expect that they will win another title in my lifetime.
1. Blackburn Rovers
2. Leicester City
3. Nottingham Forest
4. Everton
5. Aston Villa
6. Leeds

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Death of Local Football

It's always been a little disturbing to me. During the 1990s, the most popular sports team in Singapore by far was the Singapore Lions. Whoever was representing Singapore in the Malaysian League and the Malaysia Cup. That made sense to me. Our big homegrown hero was Fandi Ahmad. He came of age in the successful Malaysia Cup campaign of 1980, but he never played for Singapore for much of his career until he returned for the “Dream Team” in 1993, and he left before the double winning season of 1994, probably he wasn't going to get into the side with Fandi Ahmad, Abbas Saad and Michael Vana around. (Of course, we now know that Michael Vana wasn't going to make it through that season).

Football was invented by the British. I don't know when that happened, but around the time when it became a spectator sport the branding of the clubs were tied to the grounds where their stadiums were. Unlike American sports, which were called “franchises”, to underline their essentially commercial nature, the tradition in football was that you never moved the club to another town. (It was alright to tear down a stadium and rebuild it, but when a consortium bought Wimbledon FC and moved it to Milton Keynes, there was this big fan revolt, and they've never been the same ever since.)

So the first development was that you were able to sign foreigners. The second development was that you started to have a foreign fan base. The third development was foreign coaches and then foreign ownership.

In a way, the first breach, that you were able to sign foreigners, was difficult to block. Back in the day, England was one of the most advanced countries in the world, and they had a really good rail network. (Oh how times have changed). Anybody could move to anywhere else in the country and make it their home, so why not footballers? Players were free to move to whichever club their choose, as long as they were out of a contract. Even before the Bosman rule, they had some form of mobility.

In some ways, this was something that was to plague the football league. It had the effect of making the playing field less equal between the clubs. The elite clubs could always attract the best players and make themselves even more elite. Even then, those were the days before the rise of Liverpool as a dynasty, when one club dominated the landscape. A lot of clubs were champions in those days: Aston Villa, Blackburn, Sunderland, Everton, Sheffield Wednesday, even the ones we recognise these days, Arsenal, Man U and Liverpool.

The second breach was more interesting: something of a real breach. In the days before TV, you had to watch matches live, and there was no question that the arena was the stadium, which meant that the receipts from people buying tickets were the main source of revenue. Indeed, this was the case until fairly recently. One of the big reasons why Man U dominated English football in the 90s and the 00s was because they had one of the largest stadiums in England. They were blessed in that Old Trafford was on a piece of land that could be expanded into a large stadium, and that large stadium was able to generate a lot of matchday revenue.

It was only recently that revenue from broadcasting rights was going to overpower stadium receipts. But in the meantime, a few elite clubs will be able to command strong enough brand recognition to have worldwide fans. There will always be people who love clubs like Derby County based on a few league titles they won in the 70s, or Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United or Leeds. But in the main it's usually the big six of England – the Manchester Clubs, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and maybe PSG. These clubs command the biggest fan bases at the moment because they have the biggest successes at the moment. And too bad for clubs like the Milan clubs, Ajax, Dortmund, Porto, St Etienne, because past glories aren't going to get you far.

25 years ago, at the dawn of Manchester United's period of dominance, I didn't like the way that people simply latched onto its success. And it coincided with the Singapore lions being asked to leave the Malaysia Cup. Suddenly, homegrown football didn't matter anymore. These twin developments were in hindsight probably crushing to the homegrown football scene, although it was not plain to see at that time. Singapore had always succeeded in everything they did, so you always thought that the S League were going to be successful. In a way, it was, and in other ways, not. I'd argue that it helped Singapore to win 4 regional championships in the Tiger / Suzuki cups. But they couldn't get the people to show up, they couldn't forge the same level of fandom that the Singapore team used to enjoy.

Yes, teams like Manchester United offered a superior product. The level of the football was simply better. But do you think it was right that as a result, local leagues around the world suffered? The mid 90s was a time when, internationally, the gap between the richest and the poorest clubs were narrowing. There were upstarts everywhere. Romania, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Colombia and Bulgaria has one or two good tournaments. Pele's prediction that an African team would win the World Cup by 2000 didn't seem totally ridiculous, because Nigeria and Cameroon were coming up with a lot of talented players. However they were eventually doomed by the lack of organisation.

Even on a club level, there were the occasional left field teams. Arsenal football club. Newcastle, Middlesborough and Blackburn's prominence in the 90s should be seen as some kind of a last gasp of the formerly great industrial north. They were bankrolled by local tycoons who wanted to be seen as giving something back to the community. There were teams that either went deep into the Champions league or won it outright, like Leeds, Valencia, Porto, Monaco, Dynamo Kiev, Borussia Dortmund. There were unexpected winners of leagues like Deportivo La Coruna, Kaiserslautern, Wolfsburg, Bremen, Stuttgart, Valencia, Boavista.

Elsewhere, the African leagues in Cameroon and Nigeria could have risen to prominence as they were the ones who provided their national teams with the sterling talents that so captivated the world in 1990 and 1994. But what happened instead was that west Africa turned into a feeding ground for the leagues of Europe, the French leagues especially. And up till the turn of the millennium, you could still see the Argentine and Brazillian leagues as great clubs in their own right – the Cruzeiros, the Palmeiras, the Santos, the Boca Juniors and the River Plates. But nowadays nobody talks about them anymore.

One big reason for this is how the market became distorted. Big money has always distorted the football markets, Alfredo DiStefano used to play for a Colombian club called Millionairos, and Franco was putting his weight behind Real Madrid, the Romanian communist government always put their weight behind Steaua Bucharest and Dynamo Bucharest, and Silvio Berlusconi was the godfather of AC Milan. But when Roman Abramovich bankrolled Chelsea, he took things to another level entirely.

Following the five year ban from European football after 1985 as a result of the Heysel stadium disaster, it took 10 years for an English team to win a champion's league, and even then it felt a little flukey. But as a result of the English Premier League, it was eventually realised that it was a product that could be marketed to the world. English Premier League was not destined to have the greatest clubs, because probably no clubs were bigger than Barcelona and Real Madrid. But they were destined to have the greatest league in the world, after Serie A's dominance in the 80s and the 90s. They could market themselves to the English speaking world. It used to be the case that French clubs could reach out to Francophone Africa better, but Arsene Wenger changed all that by imbuing that club with a French flavour. Blackburn's prominence did not last very long, but they showed that big money could turn a minor club into an exciting challenger to the great Man U side of 1994. Newcastle's prominence did not last very long, but they were briefly the most exciting team in the league, and Liverpool played the part of the fine and dandy team who played attractive looking football but lacking enough steel to win and restore themselves back to the top of the pile.

Whatever it is, the Premier League managed to fashion itself into a fine product that could be marketed to the rest of the world. The Manchester United – Arsenal rivalry managed to pit against each other two sides which played attractive football. Chelsea, and then Arsenal were the first few teams which hired foreign coaches, and brought in skilled foreigners who brought in the exotic element and an air of continental flair.

At the beginning of the premiership, football was the domain of the great northern teams which dominated in the past: Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Leeds, Sunderland, Derby County, Coventry. It was played in the English style, full of long balls and hard running and tackling. By the end of the decade, the face of football were the London teams who offered a cosmopolitan environment for glamour names like Gianfranco Zola, Ruud Gullit, Dennis Bergkamp and Vialli. Arsene Wenger's Arsenal managed to mount a strong challenge for the title, buoyed by flair players bought from big clubs at relatively inexpensive prices because they were misfits. The managers, owing to their cosmopolitan backgrounds, and differing temperaments, ended up being as much part of the draw as the teams themselves. Alex Ferguson the grumpy curmudgeon versus the suave and worldly but nerdy Arsene Wenger, versus the naive but passionate Kevin Keegan. There were stories of the smaller provincial clubs who punched above their weights for a while, like Leicester (this was during the Martin O'Neill era, long before 2016), and then fell back to earth with a thud when they got relegated and went into administration. But even the finances of the clubs became part of the news cycle. Transfer news was part of the news cycle.

The long and the short of it was that the rise of the premiership was an utter disaster for many other leagues worldwide. I don't know how Singapore managed to win a few more championships during the first decade of the century, but I can only imagine that maybe the economic depression that swept through the region in the aftermath of the financial crisis left Singapore relatively unscathed.

In the 90s, it seemed as though Brazil would dominate football indefinitely. They had a team which was by some distance the best of the last 4 of 1994, although Italy would be a tough nut to crack. They had star players like Romario, Bebeto, and young Ronaldo would come through. It was a golden generation which had Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Dunga in 1998. If Ronaldo had been fit in the final of 1998, who knows what would have happened? In 2002, nobody was terribly surprised when Brazil won, even if it was a little suspicious how France, Argentina, Italy, Spain and Portugal exited the tournament early.

But the stars of South America were mainly plying their trade in the European clubs, who paid the best salaries. The Brazilian, Argentinian and maybe even Colombian system had raised a great generation of players and the main beneficiaries were the European clubs. I don't really know what happened to that pipeline. It was really difficult for the players to balance their careers in Europe – which were mentally and physically demanding enough – with the additional requirement of having to fly all the way to the four corners of the globe for matches. The Brazillian talent pool dried up. Ronaldinho had no more than a few years at the peak of his career. Robinho did not live up to his promise. Possibly neither will Neymar.

It's hard to find superstars these days who aren't products of football academies. Messi is hardly an Argentinian, having grown up in Barcelona. Because the South Americans have to give priority to their clubs, it has deprecated the importance of the international game. But it has hit the South Americans especially hard, since they've had to balance their international duties with club careers in Europe. International football suffers from the fact that the team that's put together hardly plays week in week out.

However, there have been some teams that have. Some of the best international teams have been made out of sides that were dominated by a great club side. 1970's Brazil trained together for a year. 1974's Holland consisted of many members of the Ajax team. 1974's West Germany also consisted of many members of Bayern Munich. 2010's Spain was split down the middle between Real Madrid and Barcelona. 2014's Germany was mostly Bayern Munich. So the club system benefitted the Europeans because it was more likely for them to come up with a squad that had more unity, who had many combinations of players who knew each other and could replicate that chemistry on the international arena.

The inequality that took place at the club scene was partly fuelled by foreign money going into the clubs, great aristocratic consortiums that bankroll PSG, Man City and Chelsea. Clubs that are already rich receive a highly disproportionate amount of profit from worldwide audiences, and indirectly starve out the other local leagues around the world. Up until the formation of the Champion's league, the European cup was a knockout system, and it was entirely possible for a relatively minor side to win the big prize. That was when it was possible for sides like Feyenoord, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Porto, Steau Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade to win the prize. However with the champion's league, they made it tougher for the smaller sides to prosper by having a group stage at the beginning that would more efficiently wipe out weaker but luckier sides. In the next 25 years, the only truly left field sides who have won the champion's league would be Borussia Dortmund, Porto and Liverpool. And Liverpool weren't really that weak. And moreover, Dortmund's coach and Porto's coach would go to a bigger side and win another champion's league with that team.

And another thing about football, it's a sport where there is a great amount of variation in the ability of the players. A skillful player is just that much better than somebody who isn't. A stronger and faster player is just that much better than somebody who isn't. A team who has midfielders of great vision are just so much better than midfields who can hardly see in front of him. A player who has “lost a yard of pace” is that much weaker as a result. If you have a team with the best players, and the best tactics and the best intelligence will be almost impossible to beat. They can literally pass circles around you. The best teams not only have the best players, but they have armies of scientists who analyse the game to death and just know how best to game the opponent.

All these factors contribute to how unequal the game has become.

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

How is the Women's World Cup great?

I'm actually not the best person to be writing this, because this is the tail end of my days as a football fan. But there are some things that have forced me to talk about how and why the World Cup is great.

Why the men's World Cup is great.
1. Tradition. When the first World Cup came around, my youngest grandparent (and the one I was the most attached to) wasn't even alive. IT was a bygone era when Argentina and Uruguay ruled the world.

2. Each of the World Cups had a great story. The first World Cup in Uruguay that the English and many of the Europeans refused to participate in. Then the second and third World Cups which were won by Italy, partly because Italy were such a great side, and partly because everybody was worried that Mussolini would have the guys executed for not winning the World Cup. The fourth and first post-war World Cup had the legend of the Maracanaço.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguay_v_Brazil_(1950_FIFA_World_Cup) There was the 1954 Miracle of Berne, in which West Germany unexpectedly triumphed over the hot favourites Hungary to win the tournament. The 1958 final where one of the greatest Sweden sides lost to a Brazil side that featured a teenage Pele. (Also the first and only time a non-European side won a World Cup in Europe). The 1962 World Cup which was controversial because Chile was recovering from an earthquake. The 1966 World Cup which was notable for England actually having a great side and winning, the North Koreans shocking the Italians, and the Italians getting pelted with rotten fruit.

The 1970 Mexico World Cup, which was supposed to be one of the greatest yet, with that magical Brazil team, and England players being accused of theft. The 1974 World Cup which introduced the world to total football. The 1978 World Cup, notable at the time for pandering to corrupt dictatorships (something that by the way is true of 2018 and 2022, while 2010 and 2014 were held in corrupt countries). The 1982 football which had a great Brazilian team, but in what was supposed to be a rematch with the Italians after the 1970 final, they got dumped out by Paolo Rossi. That was the time when the debate was basically settled as to which was more important: the system or the individual. The 1986 championships, which featured some fine teams – Brazil, France, Denmark, but the one team, or rather one player who conquered all was Maradona.

The 1990 championships, a competition so infamously boring and based on defensive football that they changed the back pass rule so as to make football great again. But also notable for Camaroon bearing the flag for African football and getting knocked out a little unfairly against England in the quarter finals. 1994 with the romance of left field sides like Sweden, Bulgaria and Romania going deep into the tournament. 1998 with the fenomeno screwing up at the last hurdle, Zidane scoring with his head, and France getting their long belated first win of the tournament. Owen and Bergkamp with wonder goals, and Beckham getting sent off in a crucial match. 2002 with an unprecedented number of favourites falling by the wayside in early stages, paving the way for the dark horses South Korea, Turkey and Senegal to advance far into the tournament. And establishing a precedent for the defending champions to flop at the first hurdle. (But the final is still contested by favourites Brazil and Germany). 2006, with Zidane overcoming a Brazil team featuring Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano, only to lose his rag in the final and get sent off after headbutting Materazzi. 2010 with the vuvuzelas and jabulani ball and one of the greatest Spain teams with their tika taka. 2014 with the unforgettable 7-1 match. And 2018 with England and Croatia going deep into the tournament. And the USA not qualifying.

3. The quality of the football is just better. This is a big plus, because one of the things that sticks out about the women's world cup is the dreadful level of defending, although you could say that defending in the men's world cup wasn't really great until the 1990s. You have the world's greatest thinkers of football playing tactical chess with each other. You don't see the women's world cup being talked about like that. Marta and Lieke Martens would have been elite players if they were guys, but any talk about them being Ronaldinho or Messi or either of the Ronaldos or Rivaldo or Luis Suarez is just off the mark. This is significant, because the level of ability even amongst the elite players is very great. Football is a sport where the very best players are much better than the merely very good ones, and until truly great players emerge from the women's game, it's a little hard to take them seriously.

4. It has a great following, that's for sure. There's been some snide remarks about all the empty seats at the women's World Cup in France. 5. Smaller teams have excelled at the World Cup. Imagine Uruguay or even Argentina winning the world championship at anything other than football. And the great sides which didn't manage to win – the Netherlands and Hungary. Belgium surely had enough talent in their side to go all the way.

Ways in which the men's world cup is falling short.
1. The women are just better looking.

2. There was the issue of “playacting”. That's controversial. First, there are many football fans who argue that playacting was something that's great about men's football, that it's the controversies that add to the drama. About whether England's third goal against Germany in the 1966 final counted (yes) or whether Maradona used his hand to cheat against England (also yes). But if there's too much playacting, then I don't think there's a question that's a bad thing. Second, the way that the Victorian English conceived the game – and they were the ones who made the rules of the game – was that fair play was extremely important. But when football spread to other countries, many of whom have surpassed England in terms of standards, winning became more important, and some level of gamesmanship was assumed to be normal and moreover contributed to the level of entertainment. Thirdly, it was noted that the women engaged less in playacting. But there was also a lot less rough play. The ladies weren't even interested in tackling.

3. Perhaps one downside of the World Cup in the era of Messi and Ronaldo is that neither of them have demonstrated their best for this tournament, as opposed to Maradona, Pele or even more recently, Zidane, Xavi and Iniesta. Whereas the women's world cup is far and away the most important tournament of the game.

4. The high stakes of the game. When the USA womens' team beat Thailand by 13 goals to nil, some people were outraged, and one of the reasons, in hindsight is that it would never have happened in the men's game. Everybody knows, the way the men's game is now, it is an unfortunate fact that playing for your country – in the men's game at least – is inextricably linked to defending your national honor. Because the men's game at the international level has become one where the result has mattered as much as how it was achieved, you've had a lot of gamesmanship. Extra time has always been controversial, because it's resulted in both teams defending so tightly because nobody wants to concede goals, and would rather prefer the lottery of the penalty shootout to losing in extra time. Many times you'd get matches which are played ultra-defensively. The World Cup finals of 2010 and 2014 were pretty dreadful, especially the former, since Holland basically set out to kick the crap out of the Spaniards. Fortunately in both occasions the better team won. Perhaps the relatively open game in 2018 was a result of Croatia reaching the finals, and knowing that they had already exceeded expectations, and they hoped to play an open game. Another way of saying all this is that the women's world cup is still in a period of relative innocence, where all the gamesmanship and dirty play hadn't crept into the game.

5. Megan Rapinoe in a way is a symbol of diversity. She was an openly gay player who had won the world cup. LGBT is one of the last taboos of the men's game. No male footballer playing in a major league has come out. Yet I'm in some strange way not that moved by her anti-Trump stance. Perhaps because attacking Trump is just way too easy. (I'll never defend him, obviously). It's more in line with what people are doing in the NBA, the NFL, so it's an American thing, not a football thing. This is not Maradona's payback for the Falklands War, which with both the hand of god and the goal of the century, actually amounts to the more compelling story. So in a way the women's game is more diverse than the men's game. In another way, the women's game is actually more racist, and this is because the men's game has spent a longer time battling racism. The USA women's team suffers from the same problem as the men's team. They aren't getting enough latinos. Everybody has to come through a system that costs money for the players, so there's a whole swarth of underclass people who might have been part of a great feeder system - much like the ones who produced 3 out of the four semi-finallists in England, Belgium and France. The ghetto to elite footballer pipeline doesn't exist in football teams of both sexes in the US, and that is holding back the development of the game.

What I have to understand is that if and when soccer catches fire in the US, there's no reason that it should, but if it does, then things will be done their way. They might have their own terminology. Major League Soccer is played using rules that are different from the European leagues. And it might be a place where the women's game - at least on an international level has equal standing with men.

It's funny that of all the women's games, football is the one that's caught on in a large way, considering that it's a gladiatorial sport. Perhaps this has to do with how football is the most popular game in the world. It's a whole new arena, considering that the other gladiatorial games - cricket, basketball, rugby - don't have the women's version having such a high profile. It's funny that the places where the women are succeeding are the ones where women have a tradition of playing sports. China has reached the final, while it's men's team struggles to even qualify for the tournament. Japan has won the world cup, while in the men's game the furthest a man's side has reached is semi-finals (and something stank about the way they did that, even though it was by all accounts a pretty good team). Unlike the men's game where Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina account for almost half of the world cups won, I don't think South American teams are going to take the women's world cup by storm. The women's game is going to develop in its own way, if it moves even more forward.

I am happy that the women's world cup has raised its profile in America. It has given the Americans a reason to care about football, and for a while disregard the tragic state of their men's game. It has given football fans around the world a reason to care about the women's game. But the standards fall so far below those of the men's game that it makes me wonder - cos I'm not a tennis fan - how badly Serena Williams will get thrashed if she were to square up to say Federer.

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Sunday, July 07, 2019

Weeds

If I had to choose a birth flower or whatever I'd choose the humble weed. I feel like I have some form of hardiness. As for having an aim in life and getting myself together to achieve something real, that's another matter entirely.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Khiam Pak

A few days ago I went down to my storage locker, and for some reason I wanted to see if my collection of the Sopranos was still intact. Unfortunately it was missing. It was getting late, and I didn't manage to find it, and I thought that somehow I left a box out in the alley or something and it was taken away.

Earlier tonight, I decided to go down to the locker to find it. Well, I found it. But on my way back through the transit center – which is one of the most seedy areas that I spend a lot of time in, I met a gang of a few teenagers. The girl came up to me and called me an Asian dog eater. Then, feeling a little grumpy, I traded insults with them, and at the same time, I walked towards a place that had more people. Eventually, they got frustrated with trying to make me apologise, and then they tried to make me angry or fearful. I refused to do that too and proceeded with the name calling. Then they started trying to spit at me. And when they still failed to get a reaction from me, one of them punched me in the face. And I still insulted them, and they ended up having to run away.

There was a crowd of onlookers gathering, and one of them called the police. She was a housewife in an SUV. God bless her, because she gave me a stack of paper towels when blood was pouring out of my nose and mouth. She asked me if I wanted to talk to the police. There were people who identified the teenagers. Maybe they could have been caught and sent to jail. But I wasn't really wishing that on them. I was, after all, intent on turning the screws on them in some way. I faced four hostile people, and I walked away, injured, but otherwise no loss of property or life. Unfortunately I wasn't in a mood to talk with the police. Who knows, they could have a charge or two slapped on me, and I'd have to fuck off from the US and never go back.

Then there was this black teenager girl who came up to me and said, “you did the right thing”, she was being inspirational and all that, but the way that she talked was a little disturbing – talked about being in Julliard and having danced since she was two and being in this or that company. Her parents were from the Carribean and she was here since she was 3. I was a little afraid for her, because being black and being an artist was no joke. I don't know if I came across as too rude.

Then I phoned my sister. I asked her for advice and she said just go see a doctor, emergency if possible. She said wash off all the blood. Well she couldn't help me much, and by the way she was at our cousin's place.

My housemate was there to help me. She gave me an icepack and aspirin, and she tried to be helpful, but sometimes I would rather not have her hover around when I try to eat a burrito through a broken mouth.

I actually tried to hunt down the place where they had discounted sushi on Monday nights, but I couldn't find it. So I walked to the burrito shop instead. When I was there, there was a couple kissing each other in front of the shop. I walked past them with blood pouring out of my mouth and nose. I don't know if they were talking about me, but I heard the words, “gangster” and “that guy simply doesn't care”. And in a way that's true, I don't care.

So I went back, and my housemate who was very helpful, was nevertheless making me uncomfortable – having a meal with your face smashed in is pretty uncomfortable already and having her watch me... I know that when there are times of crisis, sometimes people will just come out and show up because suddenly there's a new meaning to their lives. The lady in the SUV who gave me towels and called the police, the teenager who tried to counsel me (ah the arrogance of youth), my housemate who suddenly got called in to clean up blood and did so enthusiastically.

In a way I got off lightly. These may not have been professional thugs, they were just wayward teenagers, dressed up for a night out at the bar. It was probably the equivalent of a bar brawl, except not at a bar. I probably didn't consider how I was going to get out of that situation. Virtually all of the bystanders thought of me as the victim and them as the bad guys.

I don't know how much they were drinking, or if they were underaged drinkers. I found my Sopranos DVDs, and ironically it was because I found the DVDs that I happened to be in the transit center at that particular time, getting off that particular trolley, to be face to face with those gangsters.

Should I have called the police? I declined to speak to the police, because maybe I was thinking about my role in that affair. I'm certain that without the goading I would not have been punched in the face. But then again I wasn't going to take that shit lying down. Maybe this is the last time I will take such risks. I recognised that I lacked the appetite for a fight. I was growing old. And yet at the same time I know that if I raised a hand on them, I could have been beaten to a pulp, that it was a combination of that and the fact that I was in a crowd, that I wasn't. I don't know if they'd have been caught, and I don't know about migrants reporting to the police. Once you have criminal charges, it's easier to get you out of the country.

The next morning was probably less heroic. Maybe I woke up too late to go to my family doctor, and I didn't have an appointment, so I had to wait around for a free time slot. The receptionist was nice to me, and told me that there was a chance to see the doctor instead of going to urgent care and spending a few thousand dollars. He operated on me even past his closing hour at 5, and we left the surgical room at half past 7. This kind of doctor, who gives you half an hour every visit instead of 10 mins, seems like a find. But also he's a Chinese guy who speaks Mandarin and Hokkien, and in this place you get the impression that Asian Americans feel obliged to help each other out a little more.

Since a few people advised me to report it to the police, I reported it to the police a few days later. There was security camera footage and a few reports already filed on the incident.

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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Early Adolescence

I sometimes think about the good and bad times during my earlier years. It's funny but there are always parts of my life that I'd say were good years and others I'd say were not great years, although what I've noticed is that even during times of crisis, there was some kind of learning that accompanied it, as though I were preparing for some time in the future when my life got better.

My early adolescence wasn't easy. I had been an academic high achiever in primary 4 and 5, and I went downhill in primary 6, then struggled to keep up in early secondary. Those were depressing years. I didn't want to go back and face some of the people I knew from earlier. I gave up my membership to the academic clubs, didn't want to represent my school in mathematics or whatever. Maybe I gave up too easily, maybe what happened to me earlier came about without too much effort, and now I had to stump in the effort to get it back.

Those were depressing years that I couldn't find very much to redeem. The next years more than made up for it, but sometimes I wonder if I could have just been moderately happy for all my four years in secondary school.

I was a very musical person and a lot of music went through my life. Coincidently or not, those were the first years that I paid attention to music and the pop charts. IT was also one of the first years when SoundScan changed the music industry, and the music charts actually reflected what was being sold by the stores. Suddenly a lot of left field people went up the charts: there was PM Dawn, there was NWA.

It was also my first few years in scouts, and I went through one or two tough training camps. That was the beginning of my getting tough about having a fitness regime, and for whatever reason getting ready for national service. The irony was that I probably only did 1 year of combat service – though it was tough enough. The more further reaching impact of that was being able to keep myself fit for a longer time, and getting to the point where I could actually think about running a marathon.

There was a Mt Pinatubo related haze. That year was really hazy. I remember the ash being everywhere, the sky was always kinda white, and for some strange reason it totally reflected in the nebulous state of mind that I had during that time.

So when you did consider what I managed to achieve during those 2-3 years, it was pretty strange that I would consider them the worst years of my life, but it certainly felt that way all the time. Self esteem was low, I became less outgoing. I went from being more extroverted to being more introverted, I was no longer a star pupil, and I think about all the friendships that I could have cultivated during those years but I didn't.

Sometimes I think about all the music that I played to myself during those years. Those were the years when I spent loathing all the music that was on the radio. That was before the alternative music boom. I had to listen to hair metal. Warrant, Poison, Alias, Firehouse, Winger, Skid Row. On and on and on, I got tired of it. Then there were the sentimental tunes – my god those were the worst. Bryan Adams being on top of the pops for an inordinate amount of time with “Everything I do”. Escape Club with dunnowhat “I'll Be There”. It was a dreadful, dreadful time for me, musically. And that is what made what came after that so sweet for me.

And that was also the time when I earned my Grade 8 and that gave me the perfect excuse to quit playing piano, even though for whatever reason I stayed on for another year to retake it (and fail). But it was the perfect transition: I would start to learn music through listening and reacting emotionally to albums, instead of drill drill drill myself on the piano. It was at least as good as playing the piano, to be honest.

Of course, a lot of things are supposed to happen in early adolescence. It's the point where your childhood ends, and you're supposed to learn some independence, you're supposed to learn some thing about real life.

There's no real nice way to say this, but one of the biggest problems in my life during this point was my parents. They didn't react well to my lowered status from being a star to being average. At the first sign of trouble, they started giving me hell, and it was very difficult for them to come to terms with how they actually made the problem worse, making me spiral into depression and not wanting to keep on studying. And even then, when I look back on those traumatic days, I wonder at how bone headed they were. Actually admittedly, I was boneheaded in a way: I managed to convince myself that I was in a downward spiral and maybe I acted accordingly. Maybe if I had given it a shot, things would have been better.

I've wised up and grown up from those terrible days, but some of those effects had never left me. I never regained my place at the top of the academic pyramid, but that's OK, I still managed to study at Snowy Hill. The negative impact on my social life was more serious. Sometimes I wonder what I'd have turned out like if I hadn't had that nasty introduction to teenage life that I did, but at least things got back to normal.

But these days I look back at those years, and when I think about how those years of adversity forced me to dig in and try to grow up a bit more, I'm inclined to think about those times more fondly.

Maybe what I missed most about my teenage years was finding that almost every year I did something different, something better, experienced or did something for the first time. And when are you going to have those new experiences after you turn 40?

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Monday, June 17, 2019

Saving My Weekend 2

Today I made my second, ultimately abortive attempt to go up to the countryside to cycle. Last time I was thwarted by leaving my camera in the office, and by having to wait for a parcel to arrive at my home. This time the bus I thought was going to leave at 9.10 left at 9.03, and I knew that there wasn't enough time... I took my bike and cycled to the train station, but I didn't get there in time. There was enough time for me to board the train without a ticket, but I didn't want to risk it. Then I took a trolley to the main station, and asked about taking the Amtrak instead of the commuter train, and was informed that it would cost me 20 bucks. Well fuck that shit man.

Someone on the trolley was bitching about a homeless person yelling her head off, talking about Tourette's Syndrome. And then she was asking around about whether she had gotten to a certain station yet. Clearly too dumb to read a map. Finally, she said, I'll just get off here. I'm going to join a demonstration. (She looked around 60 years of age). Apparently she's supporting Trump. Of course she's dumb enough to.

Then I saw two veterans, they started talking to each other, but first they had to suss out that both of them were supporters of Trump. As with other veterans down on their luck, they would always talk about their tours of duty, as though that guaranteed them some rights. They'd talk about how they busted their ass for some military, and then they would come home and find nothing. I'm not even going to ask them about what horrible thing the wrecked on some poor guy overseas. And when they talked about Trump, a lot of that was “they are still trying to take him down”.

So this time I decided that I was going to Mexicotown, near the border. Somebody had ordered a CD, and I was going to deliver it, and at the same time I would go down to the border, which I usually do for 2 reasons: to eat more mexican food and to visit the premium outlet to do my shopping.

I went to this Mexican place that specialised in Birria, and it was packed. Had to wait 10 minutes to get inside, even though it was almost closing time. I ordered a big bowl, and a large taco. They fried the tortillas for you, and doused it in some weirdass oil. I got myself a coffee and hoped to drink it with my condensed milk that I carried around with me in a jar (trying to be more Singaporean). But they gave it to me Mexican style coffee, with milk, sugar and a layer of cinnamon on top.

Then the restaurant captain saw me struggling with a tortilla, and said, “they cooked the tortilla too hard. I'll get you a few new ones. He sat down next to me and asked me where I was from. I said this was my first time in the restaurant but not the first time with birra. I've had menudo, pozole, birria. I told him I was from Singapore and he said he watched the Netflix special and was pretty impressed with Singapore food. But I had to apologise to him and tell him that you had to go to another nearby more cosmopolitan city in order to get any Singapore Malaysia food, and then proceeded to explain that he and his brother (the chef) built this restaurant from scratch more than 10 years ago. Later on, the restaurant waiting staff were celebrating somebody's birthday, and that guy was 19 years old. Then first of all it struck me that a.) that was my ex-girlfriend's birthday and b.) it was 19 years since I tried to chase after women. I was going to clap for him, but after remember that it was also her birthday I said fuck it.

Another small victory to celebrate: I managed to use my transit card 11 times today, and thankfully I never had to wait too long at any one stop.

Things are clearing up somewhat. For the longest time I had been in some kind of a depression. Every time I went back to Singapore, my mood would improve, and then after that, things would slide back. But this time things were sliding in all directions. I was supposed to go for a friend's wedding, and I left all my planning and packing to the last moment. I don't know if my work suffered, maybe it did.

One way of getting out of your depression is to just force yourself to do one small thing, anything. And after the first thing you get the motivation to do something else, and then it just builds up from there. Things get a little easier. The problem is this: I used to be able to wake up in the middle of the night, chill out for 1-2 hours and then go back to bed again. But I can't do that anymore when I'm older. It's just harder to fall asleep when you're older, so your sleep time has to be planned more carefully.

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Saving My Weekends

I had a plan to go visit a park out in the countryside, but it got scuppered. I certainly did not feel like waking up in the morning.

One reason was that the previous night, I received a mail from the post office that a large cache of CDs was delivered. Nothing turned up. I began to suspect my neighbours had taken it. Then also the previous night, I was watching a basketball game, and the Golden State Warriors - which I support because after all it's the Silicon Valley team - lost a crucial basketball game to the Toronto Raptors. And it's funny that I should be upset about that because I'm not normally a basketball fan, and I've also decided that I wasn't going to be a sports fan for much longer. But somehow I wanted Golden State to win this year. Maybe this year they were unlucky and had a lot of guys with injuries, but they were just 1 year removed from being considered as invincible when they added Kevin Durant to their lineup. Perhaps Toronto was the Liverpool like challenger to the Man City like behemoth that Golden State was.

This is a bullshit weekend. Bad things have happened to me, things that don't really matter but still somehow manage to upset me. First, I bought that large cache of CDs from an ebay retailer, and I had spent all day bidding on those CDs and I'd really scream and shout if I lost that package. But then again, it was just 1-200 dollars and not something that I could ill afford. And the Golden State game was not something that I needed to care about. But those things were getting me down. Maybe I ended up staying in bed more than I had to.

Was just moping around all morning feeling miserable and that life treated me badly and whatever and then suddenly the package arrived at my doorstep. It was funny that it was reported that my package arrived on Friday when it actually arrived on Saturday.

But my visit to the countryside was scuppered because of two reasons: I had to stay at home to watch the delivery of the package, and because I stupidly left my camera in the office. I thought, I'll do my plan B today. I'll drive around "Mexico" with my camera and take some pictures. But then again, I went up to my office and found that it was locked. Not locked as in you could get in with your key, but the outer gates were shuttered. I didn't want to go ask the security to open the door for me, even though I had a legitimate reason: you never know what people might be thinking. So my plan B got scuppered.

So I just went about my plan C. Which turned out to involve doing a lot of shopping. So in a way it was a more fruitful than usual weekend. Called my parents. Went cycling. Ate at a few places. Cut my hair. Slept in.

But I have to look at myself and understand what's going on with me. These days I'm just more depression prone, and I just have to watch myself more carefully. How it impacts my work, my life.

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