Go with a smile!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bolo Santosi

One vocal acting performance that has gathered a lot of attention recently is that of Bolo Santosi in the computer game “Just Cause 2”. There’s this chick talking accurate enough but not completely accurate English in an exaggerated Singlish accent. I don’t know what sort of reactions people have to this Bolo Santosi character. OK, she’s designed to be some parody of a Hollywood parody of an extra in a second rate Miami Vice action series. I don’t know whether to be proud of her for speaking with a Singlish accent or appalled that Singaporeans are portrayed like that.

I suppose, for many Americans, the existence of an English accent which is almost completely unknown to them is quite disturbing. Singaporeans tend to switch to ang moh accents when talking to other English speaking people. But our accent is totally unique. It’s different from American, British, Cockney, Caribbean, Jamaican, Indian, African, or even Honkie or China accents. The most jarring aspect, I suppose, is the mixture of more or less standard English, but spoken in a totally foreign accent.
I’ve never fully appreciated how incomprehensible the Singlish accent is to foreigners, and I used to wonder why the Americans would get glassy eyed when talking to me, often repeating my last sentence in order to make sure they understood what I said. This has happened before: I lapsed into Singaporean English while talking to my sister in front of her landlord, and then she asks me what language that is.

Yes, folks. Singaporean English has been around for around 100 years, maybe more. Yes, guys, it is more or less our native language. Yes, we are actually quite proud of it. You see, I think we want to have it both ways. We want to speak the world’s language and be understood by the rest of the world, yet at the same time we also want to put our unique stamp on it. We don’t want it to be the white man’s language. (Actually to a great extent, it is not the white man’s language since the country with the greatest number of English speakers is probably India). People will get mercilessly pilloried for speaking it in a caucasian accent (unless they’re Caucasian), because they’re sell outs. People will often adapt because it’s good clean fun. Foreigners can try to fit in the lehs and lahs but unless you grew up in a Hokkien speaking environment, it’ll be a little off.

I suppose people with a new accent will try to carve an identity for themselves. The Jah maykan accent is cool because of the popularity of Reggae music. Punk music has helped to make Cockney cool, although when you have hot chicks like Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” you don’t really need to press your case. French accents means you're posh and snobbish. German accents mean that you're an evil genius. Hungarian accents mean that you're a blood sucking vampire. Indian accents are greeted with bemusement, if not completely mocked. Sorry, but there’s only 1 foreign accent in the Simpsons and it’s played for laughs. (To be fair: what aspect of the Simpsons is not played for laughs?) Outkast named one of their albums “Atliens” because they were pioneering a new kind of rap in an Atlanta accent. Nelly, from St Louis also called one of his albums “Country Grammar”

I suppose that the image of the Singaporean accent will need to be backed up with some pretty solid cultural achievements. Otherwise we might end up coming across as the nerd trying to gatecrash the party.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I'd Like To Sell the World a Coke

I saw a poster that was supposed to be inspirational. Robert Goizueta was one of the legendary CEOs behind Coca Cola. During his tenure, he brought Coca Cola to great heights. To be sure, Coca Cola was always supposed to be one of the great blue chip companies. But it was one of those stodgy, “old economy” elephants who was supposed to be more of a staid big, established firm, rather than an all-conquering titan.

When I was on course today, I saw a screen showing that Robert Goizueta changed the strategy of the company. When he arrived, the main strategy was that Coke was supposed to grab as much market share as possible from Pepsi. Goizueta’s great insight was that, “hey, instead of grabbing market share from Pepsi, why don’t we try to expand the market?” Then Coca Cola set about doing that, and Coca Cola henceforth not only became a great American Company, it became one of the great forces exporting American culture to the world.

Commercially, it was a great success, but I also consider it a disaster. One of my great memories of America is how fat everybody is. That’s what’s going to happen when fast food is as common there as hawker food is here. I’m kinda glad that our diet never got taken over by fast food the way that it was in America, but you never know if it’s ever going to happen.

Coincidently, I had a brainwave. I saw this article in the Guardian just this weekend, and one line jumped out at me: Britain’s obesity problem dates back to the 80s, around the same time that Goizueta was “expanding market share” to people. Selling Coca Cola to people, not only as a drink you bought yourself as a treat, but as a substitute for drinking plain water, or coffee or tea.

And you had to consider that Coca Cola was sometimes sold to people in third world countries who couldn’t afford it. God knows how they managed to get their Coke.
And you hear stories in India where farmers are being forced off their land so that other people can plant the sugar cane that goes into coke. (I know that the recipe is a secret but there is no doubt that sugar is one of the main ingredients). Now sugar cane is a crop that drinks a lot of water, which is a scarce commodity in India. You have a lot of irrigation water going into all that sugar cane just so that people can have their coke.

I don’t mind admitting that I like Coke. But I think that Coke should have just minded their own business and sold their stuff to their traditional market base, instead of messing up the world at large.

So, I’m asking myself, why are business leaders praised so much when they screw up so many peoples’ lives? Why did we treat them like gods in the 80s and the 90s? At least in the context of Coke, I don’t think that what Goizueta did was the right thing, no matter how highly praised he was for it. There is a story about how Steve Jobs lured John Sculley away from Pepsi to become the head of Apple. He said, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” That sums up what soda executives do: sell sugared water. And later on Sculley demonstrated the lack of a moral compass you need in order to become a soda executive (*cough* Lee Hsien Yang *cough*) : he fucked up Apple and sacked Steve Jobs.

I don’t mind admitting that this story also has a personal dimension. I bought some canned drinks over Chinese New Year because my place was hosting a lot of relatives. (OK guys I know I haven’t been inviting you to my house and I’ve been telling you that I don’t host people but the truth is that I host relatives but very few others so I wasn’t kidding.) Then there were news reports of medical research that showed that drinking 2 cans of soft drinks PER WEEK doubles your (admittedly low) chances of getting pancreatic cancer. At the same time, you wondered what it did for your chances of getting diabetes.

Well I’m not that ready to give up drinking soda yet. But I admit that around the onset of my 30s a few years ago, I developed the habit of lounging around ice cream parlours with a book (but of course) and getting my 2 scoops (I don’t mean sexually). Of course I could do that when I could just wait for the weekend to come, run 20 km (I was also training for the marathon at that time) and all that fat would disappear. But distance running is no longer an option for me, what with my bunions. I actually find myself in the awkward position of having to both ration what I eat and ration how much I exercise (by running, that is.) If there is any indication that I am growing old, that must be it!



Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ex Girlfriend Project

Wow, just spent an entire afternoon reading this blog – http://exgfproject.blogspot.com. It started out as an exercise to write his memoirs about his love life, but it’s such a well written and intriguing memoir that I won’t be surprised that it becomes a paperback best-seller.

The blog writer expressed surprise that he still got 10000 hits a month after not writing his blog for a few months. He shouldn’t be that surprised – after all it’s one of the most fascinating blogs that I’ve seen in a while. I actually first read it 4-5 years ago, having stumbled upon it by chance.

Perhaps it’s different, perhaps it’s one of those grey areas that’s more private than a published memoir, but more public than somebody sitting next to you and whispering secrets in your ear. Even when you don’t see the guy, even when you don’t know anything about him other than that he comes from the South, you can plainly tell that he’s writing from the heart. There’s a writer who said that everybody has at least 1 good novel in him, and I think that this must be his.

It’s not hard to see why he has a few good friends around him. He seems like a likeable guy and says so matter of factly. He’s telling the story, so he may have been economical about many details, but he’s believable. And he calls himself ex-boyfriend. Well he’s as serial a boyfriend as Hugh Grant. For some people, love is a big part of their lives and it definitely is for his.

I like the way that he narrated his stories with colours. He gave 1 different colour for a different ex-girlfriend. There were also some funny asides about who did or did not qualify for colours, with reasons given. For me his strongest relations were with Kara and Roxanne. I don’t know if it was because those were the ones which took place during his hallowed teenage years, but those were the ones he got the most emotional about, and the ones that he never forgot. It turned out that Kara was the villain of the piece, the one that he just could not stay away from, and who ended up hurting him the most.

Some scenes look like they came right out of a Hollywood movie: a good friend’s younger sister is the one you had the hots for when you were a teenager, but she was too young. Then years later, when you just lost a girlfriend, she turns up at your doorstep and after that you spend the next few hours necking wildly. A commenter called it “movie love” and that everybody deserves 1 night of movie love. I’m not surprised that this guy says that he’s a film maker in real life.

You have to be envious of this guy. I never found myself in a position where I had to fend off female advances (but I also never found myself in a position where I noticed female advances either.) He gets all the hot chicks. No wonder his brain is so scrambled all of the time. It’s a brutal fact of life but the ugly ones are incapable of screwing your brains.

He didn’t get through all of the cast. All the ladies were described as physically attractive. But some of them, you cared for, the others you just wanted to hiss at. Most of the relationships were emotionally compelling. Especially when you were in your early 20s. I did have one relationship which was full of drama in my early 20s, and I always thought that I would have another, but there were reasons why it didn’t happen. (One of them was that I got tired of the drama the first time around.) Tragically, Bobby Robson did tell Paul Gascoigne, after he was knocked out by the Germans in 1990, “you’re still young, you will get another chance.” There was another tournament where Gascoigne inspired England to another semi-finals, where they were knocked out on penalties to Germany (again). But for the most part life after that for him was a tragic decline, and he never played in another World Cup.

So sometimes, you’re young, and you have some mind-blowing experiences. I did think that I would get another when I’m older, but I’m still waiting.

All the same, I’m pretty envious of this guy. At how the hot chicks always want to take their clothes off for him. I know that he’s just 1 right person away from a lifetime of joy and fulfillment. He’s fouled up a few times along the way while trying to look for the perfect love. He gets too emotionally involved and I can see how that scares away the girls. He doesn’t always “get it” that women are emotionally manipulating him. But he’s got great gifts – you just felt that he needs a nudge in the right direction to get him going.



Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Some readers would know that I own a van. It was bought for my mother’s use by my father, and I get to share it with her. I don’t use it very much because I don’t like the idea of creating massive amounts of CO2, but there are some times when I just have to get to places in a hurry, or to go home in the wee hours of the morning.

There are times when I’ve felt quite sleepy when I’ve had to drive. And that’s when I take the precaution of a nap at the back of the van. I take as long as I want, it doesn’t matter if I take longer to reach home because – in any case, I’d have spent that equivalent amount of time at home sleeping.

But strange things have happened to me while I was napping in my van, that now I must consider it a very hazardous activity that I may only partake at my peril.

There was this time, I entered a car park which was half full. I had just sent a friend home and I was smashed. The ride home would take 20 minutes, but I napped. I must have been really tired because I only woke up 1 hour later, and then there was this big ugly pickup parked right next to my van. Before I knew what was happening, the pickup had pulled right out of that lot, and parked right in front of me, obstructing my way out. Before I knew it, the driver was gone.

I followed his movements, and deduced that he had gone into the nearby Mac’s – probably was a supplier. After that, I tooted my horn furiously, then decided to go out and look for him.

He was back within 5 minutes. I shouted at him to move his pickup. Then he grumbled to me that I was an asshole for taking up 2 lots by not parking my van properly – that was true, but I had parked it like that when the parking lot was half full. Now, it looked like I had selfishly taken up the last 2 lots. But I didn’t like that he said, “now you’re tooting your horn as though it was the most wonderful sound in the world.” That implied that he knew that I was trying to get out of my lot, but just took another 5 minutes so that he could “teach me a lesson”. (Truth is, he probably took as much time as he needed to take, and I don’t think that anybody – unless he’s a complete asshole – would park his car in front of another car unless it was for a short while).

But it didn’t feel good to be quarrelling with an old ah beng at 2 in the morning about moral philosophy. I think I would have been better off avoiding the mistake of sloppy parking.

That mistake was a minor one compared to what I did during another time. I was in a multi-storey car park and took a nap in the back. I had locked the door from the inside, so that I would be protected while asleep.

So I woke up, and got out of the van through the back door. Then I closed the back door. Then I found out to my horror that the key was still inside, and all the doors were locked.

I actually spent 5 minutes trying to figure out what to do. First, I took stock of what I did or did not have. My handphone, the key, and very importantly, my shoes were inside. At least I still had my wallet with me, and I could take public transport.

I couldn’t call up some help. I considered finding a locksmith, but I didn’t know where to get one, or to look for one. I thought of smashing in the car window, but I balked at having to pay for repairs. I didn’t think I could walk far because my shoes were still inside the van. Another option was to find a public phone and call my parents. But that would entail walking around in a HDB estate, where the ground was not that clean, in order to find a public phone. I didn’t want that.

In the end the obvious solution was : go home and get the spare key, with or without the shoes. So I walked barefoot for 300m to get to the bus stop, took it to the MRT station, then took it to my place. I always used the steps and avoided the escalators. At least I got onto an empty train. There was this punk sitting opposite me, he was dressed in an outrageous costume, and he was startled to see me in office wear but without my shoes. The journey took forever. This is probably the first time (and hopefully the last time) I've had to walk home from the MRT station to my house without my shoes.

When I got back home, my mother took 10 minutes to find the key. She's as disorganised as usual. Then I used the other car to drive to that carpark, with my father in the passenger seat. He drove it back later.

So guys – moral of the story, a nap in your vehicle can be a very hazardous thing if not managed properly.



Blogger Nat said...

Heh, you know what they say about lessons, can be learnt only from experience... Once you have learnt the important ones, napping in car can be done in relative safety.

There is this strange feeling I get that taking the MRT barefoot was more of a social experiment, in a fix, I would have taken a cab :)

8:57 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Surely you know me well enough to recall how tight fisted I am with cash!

5:50 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Surely you know me well enough to recall how much I love social experiments!

6:01 PM


Saturday, July 17, 2010

World Cup 2

There’s not much I have to talk about the world cup. I stopped at the quarters, and there’s only that much you can say about the last 3 matches (or 4, if you count the most useless game of the tournament).

But I was happy for the last 4. This is one tournament where I would normally have rooted for the last 4. Uruguay, because they are underdogs. They took the semi-final spot that was contended by South Korea, USA and Ghana. Obviously one of these would have reached the semis, and if any one of these reached the semis instead of Uruguay, they would have had the label of “surprise semi-finalist” all the same. But in a sense they are even more of a surprise semi-finallist than Ghana because people were thinking that the host continent

There’s not much I can tell from how Uruguay actually played. They had 2 obvious stars, in Forlan and Suarez, but the rest of the team played solidly. But it was great to see a team that had won 2 world cups and then disappeared from view – appear in the semis for the first time since 1970.

Germany were there because they clearly deserved it. Granted, they may have been flattered by matches where they scored 4 goals. Those matches, though, were against opposition where they were able to play to their strengths as a fast counter-attacking team. An Australia who didn’t know how to play, an England that didn’t know how to run, and an Argentina who left yawning spaces in the middle of the park. The 4-0 scoreline against Argentina looked great, but it flattered Germany: if you watched the match, as I did, it was much closer than that.

In comparison, the 1-0 defeat against Spain was a bit of a thrashing.

The famed tiki-taka football style of the Spaniards was heavily influenced by the "total football" of Ajax and Holland. The Spanish has a very strong Dutch influence. Johan Cryuff played at Barcelona during some of his peak years, and later became the legendary coach who led the club to 4 consecutive titles. His replacement, Louis Van Gaal built a youth system that emphasised the "Barcelona style" of playing, and that system produced many of the players in the current Spanish team. It was based on the possession football that was drilled into them since they were kids: pass, move, call. If executed properly, this would create an intricate pattern of passing where it would be almost impossible for the other team to win the ball back.

I think this was what happened in the matches that Spain had played in. You always kept the ball, and sooner or later that, goal would come, and then you kept the ball. Somebody called it "a beautiful form of attrition". The scoreline was only 1-0, but Spain had such a stranglehold on controlling and shaping the match that it couldn't have been anything other than 1-0. It was 1-0 against Paraguay, Portugal and Germany.

The final was between Spain and Holland. I was concerned about Holland, since I knew what terrors Robben and Sneijder were. With all due respect to Germany, Spain had never played another team which had such a potent attacking force. Muller was out for the Spain match, maybe Miroslav Klose was crocked? I don't know.

The Dutch were nicknamed "Clockwork Oranje" during the 70s, when they moved the ball around like clockwork. I think this moniker was appropriate for the way the Dutch played during the final because of the "ultraviolence". The Dutch were given 9 yellow card, and the last one was a second yellow for one of their defenders. Thereafter, Spain scored in extra time, and they became champions. It was an ugly match, but at least the good guys won.

Yes, I rooted for the Dutch because of the way they played before the final. They said the Germans played like the Dutch and the Dutch played like the Germans - fine, but the awesome attack of Sneijder and Robben were great to watch. They scored 2 goals against Brazil, 3 against Uruguay.

But against Spain, I think you had to use spoiling tactics. Germany didn't do that, and so they lost.

Spain 2010 was probably one of the most admired World Cup champions, since Brazil 1970. Holland 1974, Brazil 1982, France 1986, Romania 1994 and Brazil 1998 were other much-admired teams, and a few of these were more admired than Spain 2010, but all failed to win the cup.

I befriended a nice girl while watching the World Cup matches, and she was a staunch Spain supporter. I'm happy for her.

One of the things I noticed was that very few Premiership players made it past the quarter- finals. It could be true that playing in the EPL takes a lot out of you. But it was also that the French and England teams both screwed up badly. Essien didn't play. Ballack didn't play. Drogba got kicked out in the group of death. Cristiano Ronaldo was not in a great Portugese team. Torres was injured. Fabregas was down the pecking order from Xavi and Iniesta.

Possibly Carlos Tevez had an OK tournament. Possibly Kevin-Prince Boateng too - although he got relegated with Portsmouth. That leaves Dirk Kuyt, but he's hardly the star of Holland.

I actually welcome this. Maybe I'm sick and tired of the EPL. It's a shitty little narcissistic scene where people who are greedy for money end up. Yes, they dominated the Champion's League for the few years before and after the 2006 World Cup, but I think that had to do with the concentration of talent in there, due to all that money. I think we need some perspective that I should have had after Spain won Euro 2008: that English football is boring. It's just aggressive and fast.

I think that EPL players are in worse shape after the season. People get injured more. They're tired because of the playing style. A winter break wouldn't do much good because they'll still play the same way with or without the winter break.

Boring boring EPL. There was so much excitement last year when, for the first time since Everton gate-crashed the top 4, there was somebody new there (Tottenham). I think I should do the right thing and give it a miss.

I think, at the end of the day, the EPL will never supplant the World Cup as the greatest soccer tournament. People play in the World Cup for glory, whereas in the EPL, it's all about money. All the genuine-ness has gone out of it. People are too concerned about stability. Don't get relegated. Don't lose your top 4 place. Don't say anything interesting that will get you into trouble with your boss or fellow teammates. Play the same way week in week out.

I noticed that bald people played more than their fair share of influencing the outcome of World Cup final matches.

1998: Baldie Ronaldo got a panic attack during the World Cup, and played badly. Another baldie, Zidane, headed in 2 goals to thrash Brazil and win the World Cup.
2002: Baldie Ronaldo scored the 2 goals which won the World Cup for Brazil.
2006: Baldie Zidane got sent off, and France lost the penalty shootout. Zidane scored a penalty earlier.
2010: Baldie Andres Iniesta scored the winning goal.



Blogger Nat said...

Darn the football, doesn't interest me. However, I might comment on two snippets...
1. Didnt realize the dutch played so violently to be compared to Clockwork orange...
2. When the seeds are planted, you should nurture it to bloom. I have a feeling, years from now you might recount stories on how Spain was a catalyst... I guess for that reason, this world cup was worthwhile ;)

6:47 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Eh eh eh eh eh dun jinx it.

In any case it is way too early to talk about sowing seeds.

11:15 PM


Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I met up with 2 other people who used to go to school together. After a while, they got back to talking about how they were still mad at one of their teachers. Basically that teacher would go to class A and tell them that class B was better, and then go to class B and tell them that class A was better.

Well, we are all Asians, so tell me how many of you have parents who are always doing that?

They were pretty resentful about teachers who always put them in their place, and did not acknowledge that they had improved over time. There were times when a student would put in extra effort to achieve a quantum leap over their usual standards, and they would get remarks like “where did you copy this from?”

I listened to their conversation, and I hadn’t had the heart to tell them that I never got those disparaging remarks because I was one of the better students. I seldom got unfavourable comparisons. I would only understand those things when I went to work and got a lot of remarks that were like that. I got stuff like “he could have been a star student if he really tried.”

There were other things, though. I once had a teacher who told me “you’re not much of a literature student, are you? You’re only good at maths.” This was around the time that I was working on a play that would win a competition and get staged by the school – without her knowledge, of course. I could only imagine the scene afterwards – her in the staff lounge, getting congratulated by her fellow teachers. “Hey, heard that sieteocho won the play writing competition. You must have been a great teacher?” “Eh? Sieteocho? How come I didn’t even know that he’s a playwright?” It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Later on, I would reflect upon it, and decide that my attitude was just about right. I wouldn’t blame my teachers if they did something like that to me. We shouldn’t have hard feelings about that. We should expect that people either have imperfect knowledge about each other, or that they are such rotten scum that their opinions should not be acknowledged, let alone respected. We shouldn’t expect them to be fair. Similarly we shouldn’t expect that life is fair. Life is both fair and unfair. It is unfair because almost everybody, taken one by one is either biased against you, or biased towards you. It is fair because over the long run, all these people will cancel each other out.

So the right attitude is, I don’t depend on your encouragement to do what I was going to do anyway. It shouldn’t matter. I’ll just do what I feel like doing (that isn’t like against the law).

Well one of those guys who was with me was a teacher, and I had half a mind to tell him that you’re on the other side now, and you could be making the very same mistakes without really knowing how.

There is a saying about parenthood, and I find it to be truer than the standard Confucian propaganda of parents and teachers being saints that are above reproach. “Parents invariably end up damaging their children, no matter how hard they try not to.” And I say that the same is true for teachers. I would prefer to call it “wear and tear” because it’s more accurate picture than “damage”, and because we all know that wear and tear is inevitable. I don’t see this as being a negative portrait for parents or teachers, and in some ways this is even more admirable because we now know that parenting or teaching is so hard to get right and in spite of that, people still persist.

That being said, there is the opposite trend which is even more disturbing. It is the trend of narcissism. I will only talk a little about it here because I am not that familiar with it, but there’s a quite a bit written about it recently. Basically the idea is that teachers are beginning to reverse the tendencies of the bad old days, and started to increase the self-esteem of the pupils – even when they don’t deserve it.

This, in turn leads to highly undesirable personality traits. And kids start to grow up, believing they can have it all. Well the idea that everybody can have it all is, logically speaking, ridiculous. Even the idea that everybody gets something is highly suspect. And what happens when they don’t get it? Everybody wants a lot of money but nobody wants to work for it. Everybody wants a lot of respect but nobody wants to give it. Everybody wants more than their fair share in a free market. Eventually, something’s got to give. Eventually, people are going to overstep their boundaries, and start messing around with each other because they’ll think they’re just getting what’s theirs.

I already see it in Generation Y. However much I’m appalled at generation X, the potential downside of generation Y is even more appalling. You have a whole generation of youngsters in China (and, let’s be fair, Singapore) who believe that it is more important to attain a US quality of life, than it is to stop the earth from being destroyed. You have them believing that clawing over your brother’s back to get ahead is the just and natural way to live your life. You have their parents turning up at school, indignant that the teachers have the temerity to discipline their children.

You have a panel of judges in American Idol preaching to people these values that I, as a record-listening teenager completely abhorred: image is everything.

Anyway, I’ve been in the US long enough to see what happens when people start to act that way on a large scale. It’s far too simple to say that society is falling apart, even though in some respects it does seem to be the case. But more than half of the people you see are from “broken” homes. Broken homes is the norm. (I put “broken” in quotations because a lot of parents – to their credit continue to raise their children after the divorce, a lot of step-parents do the right thing. But for many of them their biological parents are no longer married.) It is a dynamic and vibrant place, but also a whole lot colder, and I don’t mean just temperature wise.


Saturday, July 10, 2010


I don’t know how many of you out there know that where there used to be a big public square in front of Toa Payoh Library, there used to be a huge fountain. Fountains used to be the rage in Singapore. There used to be one in most hotel lobbies, the National Theatre had one. Sentosa had their “dancing fountains”. McRitchie reservoir had one. I think people did the sensible thing in the end and found out that most outdoor fountains are so difficult to maintain that it wasn’t worth it. They found out that in our tropical climate everything eventually got clogged up with algae.

Anyway, we were living in Toa Payoh around that time, so we went to the Toa Payoh branch library. My first few visits were before anything got computerised. Everything was done by hand. You had 4 library cards, each in the shape of a pocket. There was a pocket in the inside of the book. When you checked out a book, the librarian would take 2 small indexed cards, both stamped with the same number. One would go into the book, and you had to keep it with the book. The other one would go into your library card. There was also another card that came with the book, indicating the title, and it would also go into your library card. Those cards would be stored on a shelf, according to the number of those index cards. In the cover of the book, opposite from the pocket, there would be a sheet of paper where the librarian would stamp the due date. The index card also got stamped.

When you went back to the library to return the book, the librarian would take the index cards, and then go back to rummage for your library cards. If and when they found it, they gave you back the library card. If there was a fine, you paid it.
Needless to say, this system was very slow, and on weekends, it was not uncommon to see the queue snaking halfway to the fountain. The queues were the only way into the library, so the place was a little like a supermarket. I don’t know how they dealt with shoplifters at that point in time. Anyway this is why the library had a wide lobby entering it.

This was a rather quaint system, and I thought that this was the way it had always been since eternity. But the library was only 10 years old at that point in time. And anyway, a new system was around the corner.

The new system was a little faster: it was implemented around 20 years ago. All books had bar codes pasted on the inside, and books were checked out with laser pens. You still had librarians stamping the due dates on the date sheets of paper.

The libraries I frequented (or the ones that my parents drove me to) were Bukit Merah, Queenstown and Toa Payoh. A rather eclectic mix. But for some funny reason these are also the libraries that I frequent as well. Those libraries are the oldest ones in Singapore, and they are in the oldest housing estates. It’s very strange to have a Queenstown library in the middle of such a decaying estate, but it used to be the future of Singapore – it was Singapore’s first satellite town. And anyway, the whole place is surrounded by HDB flats, so it had a hinterland.

I wasn’t much for books in those days. I remember borrowing a lot of books – if they were kiddy books it was possible to read them before the 3 weeks were up. Otherwise it was just difficult. I didn’t have an inclination to sit down and read. Years later I found that I had ADHD and I think this was why I never got into the reading habit as a child.

There were some books that really caught my attention. When I was in primary school, and we had to do a big project, I saw a book called “Polyhedron Models”. I borrowed it, I got it zapped, and then I based my year end project based on the models in that book. It was a hit with the teachers.

Catalogs in those days – we used to have catalog cards, but I was too young to use them. Drawers and drawers and drawers of names of books, arranged in alphabetical order. It must have been a ridiculously arduous task to go locating your books during those days. Especially if you didn’t know the concept of binary search. Later on, they printed the catalogs on microfiche. You had those crazy microfiche readers, like some anachronistic crazy thing on the set of the film “Brazil”.
The libraries were in a state of decay when I went to study overseas. I remember being frustrated, as a teenager, that there were never any good books that you could find in the library. The super book shops had just opened – MPH at Stamford Road, and later on Borders at Wheellock. They had the really interesting books. Libraries were crap.

In those days I indulged myself mostly in music. Music was to be an obsession for me for around 10 years. Then 10 years ago, my obsession with books took over. To be sure, around that time, I started listening to jazz music and started losing touch with contemporary music. I was still a music lover, but in hindsight, that was the last major discovery for me, music wise.

I started thinking that music was an unhealthy obsession. During my 10 year obsession with music I was spending half of my pocket money on music. I saved almost nothing. Anything that wasn’t for my stomach was for music. I spent much of my free time scanning through CD spines in Tower or HMV.

During the next 10 years, though, my obsession was with books. My craze started in college, where I was introduced to a lot of fields of knowledge for the first time. For the first time, I was forced to read great amounts of books, and not just what your teachers photocopied for you in class. Well guys, it was during those days that I REALLY learnt how to read properly. That I REALLY mastered the English language. My GP was the subject that spoilt my perfect A record at the “A” levels. So in a way I was exaggeratedly making up for it.

It was truly unfortunate that I only cultivated a reading habit when I went to the university. If I had gone to university knowing exactly what I wanted to study, I might have made more of it.

Libraries in great universities are like temples. The prestige of the university is in some ways connected to the quality of their libraries. The libraries you found there were incredible. You had volumes upon volumes of the densest prose / academic language you could imagine. It was incredible that there was so much human knowledge lying around (but that most of it was obscure). There were literally millions of books scattered in more than 20 libraries. It seemed that almost every department had a library. (But for some reason the engineering library wasn’t very big – I don’t know why. Maybe engineers don’t really care that much for knowledge.) A physics library, a maths library, a music library, a biology library, a business school library, a law library. There were 2 main libraries. One of them were a few storeys up and a few stories underground. I heard that it was built to be strong enough to withstand a nuclear attack.

America is a place where a lot of good things comes to those who don’t really need it. I think a lot of people just kept giving gifts to unis because they were the best. But then again, I’m sure that the rest of the world needs to have such excellent libraries where you can go and find anything you want.

The libraries are not locked up like the NUS ones. Anybody who’s willing to get into my university town has access. But who wants to make the long trip there anyway?

It was a good place for studying – something I didn’t realise until 1 year in. The study room was open until 2. I heard from somebody who graduated after me that they opened the room all night just before exams.

It was great fun, sometimes, to just go to a random part of the library and look at the books. There would be books about all kinds of topics. Child psychology, sociology, anthropology of obscure tribes.

I think the crucial difference between youth and older people is how willing they are to learn. When I was there I behaved like a young man in several (but not all) aspects. I didn’t think there was limits. Economics, Government, Sociology – I wanted it all. Like the drunken man in the U2 song, I was trying to throw my arms around the world.

Later on, I think I should have been more careful. Somebody once said that your books are like your friends, and you should choose your friends carefully. There is an incredible amount of useless knowledge in my head, and ultimately you do have to make everything tie in together. I think what I learnt was that knowledge is like building material, and just because you have plenty of building material, it doesn’t mean that you have an architectural masterpiece.

I used to think that older people were not as open to learning as younger people because they thought they knew it all, were arrogant, were unwilling to change their minds. To a small extent this is true. But there are more important reasons for their declining ability to absorb new ideas. Like the loss of grey matter. Or having to contextualise new information in the light of what they already know. Or simply that their brain is crammed to choking point. So you do have to pick and choose, and figure out what it is you really want to know.

Some people wonder what’s the best form of learning: is it learning for practical purposes? Like you gain knowledge because you want to accomplish something? Or should it be something purer? Knowledge for the sake of love of knowledge, which is closer to what I had? When I was young, I thought that it was the latter. But now that I’m older, I’m starting to understand that it is hazardous to have a lot of knowledge about things, but you don’t put a lot of that knowledge in context. It’s like computer science: every piece of data in your memory must be tagged so that you know where it belongs. Once it becomes untagged, or bereft of context, it is literally garbage.

There was never enough time to do reading for leisure when I was there, so it was a hobby I took up with a vengeance when I got back. I was a dilettante about a lot of things at the point where I graduated. I needed to flesh out my knowledge. I had opened my mind to several fields of knowledge and I was curious to know what others felt about the issues that my professors dealt with. It was equally enlightening to have second opinions about a lot of things. Moral of the story: you can trust a lot of professors to open your heads, and give you a map of what the main issues in a field of study are. But you can never trust them to be objective, and neither should you trust them to have the last word.

There was a time when I just bought a lot of books from warehouse sales. I enjoyed the notion of having a lot of leisure time, and just spending it absorbing knowledge. Or maybe I just enjoyed the college lifestyle and I wanted to extend it a little longer.

At the same time, libraries had become better in Singapore. They upgraded the system, and more importantly there was this new policy that put plenty of books in the libraries. There were 2 mega bookstores in Singapore, which put a lot of the latest books in the attention of the public.

It became a habit for me: go to the bookstores and see which books catch your fancy. Photograph them with your handphone. Later on, find them, either through the library, or cheap book sales. There were books that would turn up in a warehouse sale a few years down the road. There was no hurry to get the books.

Obviously I was also buying books at a faster rate than I could read them, and soon enough, my bookshelf was full. Worse still, I tended to prioritise reading library books over my own books. The rationale is that books have a shelf life of around 5 years on a public library shelf. If you don’t read them, they’re gone. Thrown to the library sale. Whereas the books on your shelf will always be there. In the end, the books that I had at home gathering dust would just pile up. New books would come in, and old but unread books would go out through ebay. It was getting idiotic.

Well, very recently I have imposed a ban on myself going to the library and starting on new books. I would be reading books that I already owned. In fact, it was harder breaking out of my habit of reading new books than I had anticipated. It used to be a great way for me to while time away while pretending to do something useful with my life. But it’s starting to interfere with the things I really want to do with my life.

Like I said: I had 10 years of being obsessed about music and another 10 years of being obsessed about books. It’s time for me to get on to the next big craze.



Wednesday, July 07, 2010


When I first set up my first blog in 2003 I had intended to talk quite a bit about my uni days, which at that time was just 1 year in the past, rather than many years. But I still remember them, partly because they made me think a lot, and partially because many things have taken place since then that have cast everything in here in a different light.

One of the more memorable courses I had taken in the uni was a philosophy course which grappled with the question, “is it OK to invade another country and save them if a genocide is taking place?” They looked at 2 incidents, the Rwanda genocide of 1994, and the Kosovo war of 1999, which culminated in the bombing of Belgrade.

Rwanda was not a country I had heard about. It is one of the smallest countries in Africa, and the most densely populated country. This is the story that I had read: there were 2 main castes in Rwanda: the Tutsis and the Hutus. In ancient times, the Tutsis were the elites, and they were the aristocracy. The colonial powers (in this case, Belgium) sided first with the Tutsis, and later on the Hutus. There was a lot of potential for friction in this situation, although there were also times when both of these peoples got along fine.

In 1959, there was an extermination of Tutsis by the Hutus, and the Hutus set up the government, and they have ruled Rwanda since. Many of the Tutsis were in exile all over Africa, and also elsewhere in the world. In 1994, there were Hutu extremists in Rwanda who hatched a propaganda plan to kill all the Tutsis. It was a plan that was planned for very carefully, and executed impeccably. However, it was presented in the newspapers as a spontaneous outbreak of tribal violence: this was, I suppose bias on the part of newspaper reporters who don’t think that Africans can ever get their shit together to pull of something as impressive as this.

In April 1994, a plane carrying the Rwanda president was shot down. He died. This was seemingly the trigger for the genocide to take place. Over the next few months, around 1 million Tutsis got slaughtered by Hutus.

A lot of what was said in the course centred around the inaction of the UN peacekeeping force that was stationed in Rwanda at that time. The commander had been told time and time again not to take action against the Hutu government, even when they had knowledge that weapons were being freely circulated around the country for the genocide to take place. Later on, it turned out that France, who has a permanent seat on the UN security council (this is one of the 5 really powerful positions in UN, the other 4 being UK, US, China and Russia) was solidly behind the Hutu government of Rwanda, because they thought that it was important that France should have more influence in Africa.

Looking back at the term paper I wrote at that time, I condemned the rest of the world for leaving them alone. I had absorbed and synthesised the lessons of the course, and I was parroting the conventional wisdom. To me it seemed that the rich, imperialist nations were just plundering the resources of the poor 3rd world countries, and all the financial risk fell entirely upon the poor countries: changes in commodity price could adversely affect their economies and produce reccessions many times worse than what you saw in the richer countries.

I thought they were evil, but later on I took the more nuanced view that the world does not give a shit about you. Being evil and not giving a shit are different things, and the conclusion is of different degrees of culpability. I forgot to blame the Rwandans themselves for not being able to form a strong government.

A lot of the horrors unleashed by the end of the Cold War were motivations for "armed intervention". There definitely was a sense that the US could have "done something".

The other angle I missed out upon is the sheer logistics and legality involved in staging an armed intervention. I completely underestimated how difficult it was to commit US troops to a dangerous mission that did not have much to do with US interests (even as it could save many Rwandan lives). I forgot to ask how complicated the political and legal issues are for a Team America to dash in to save the day.

The Iraq War took place after I was out of uni. I saw some of the implications of armed intervention that I didn't forsee. I still think it's a great plus that Saddam Hussein was removed, that Iraq was no longer a pariah state. But I also saw whatever was still functional about Saddam Husseins government fall apart. I saw how the US invasion was partially motivated on good intentions, but I also saw a lot of corrupt intentions.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about the Iraq war. For Rwanda, I came across a book which updates the story of Rwanda - and it is one of the most remarkable stories I've heard. Not long after the genocide, a military movement, the Rwandan People's Front, led by a skinny general called Paul Kagame won a series of military victories that enabled it to take provisional control of much of Rwanda. From there, it fought a lot of civil wars on the soil of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and defeated a lot of its militia enemies. In some ways, the RPF adversely contributed to the 2nd Congo War, which was one of the bloodiest wars in history. Inevitably there were some atrocities commited. But they managed to vanquish their enemies and then carry on with their nation building.

So it was quite shocking to know that as of now, Rwanda has a reputation of being one of Africa's best governed states. Paul Kagame has so far been the sort of benevolent dictator in the mould of Lee Kuan Yew and - great as Lee Kuan Yew's achievements have been, he didn't have to fight any major wars. Like Lee Kuan Yew, he's blessed with driven and hardworking people.

What happened with Rwanda challenged a lot of lessons I thought I had learnt in university. Perhaps the US was not that important to Rwanda anymore. Kagame wants nothing to do with the US or the UN. Understandably - because they seriously let down Rwanda in the past, but also for some other reason that I can't recall at this moment. Instead, they are co-operating with many NGOs to build development projects. Because of the international exposure that Rwanda had from the genocide, it attracts a lot of help from corporations who want to improve their image (looking at you, Starbucks). But a lot of the help comes in the form of co-operative projects and transfer of technology, rather than just monetary aid. An important lesson for the rest of Africa.

I suppose a lot of this is not in my area of expertise, even though it was a minor for me in college. I must admit that I will always be a bit of a dilettante when talking about politics. I can understand underlying principles and posit some theories but will never master the massive amounts of information that comes with being a domain expert.

As a sidenote, this has probably come as a surprise to some of you but I have banned myself from going to the library. I think I'll blog about this later.

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

World Cup

1. Where I have been watching the World Cup:
I will probably catch all the free matches in the comfort of my living room. So semi-finals onwards, no going out.
Robertson Quay
A friend’s place (he installed a pirate receiver)
TCC Circular Road
There was a place in the newly built OrangeTee building, but I balked at them charging $30 cover pp.
I think 1 or 2 coffeeshops were screening them but I didn’t watch any at a coffee shop this time.
I was watching 1 match (Germany Argentina) at a community centre. There is quite an atmosphere when you’re there, but also a lot of assholes who just come up and block your view, and they wait until you tap them on the shoulder and ask them to move aside. But to be fair, there were hundreds of viewers in that place, and I would say that of all the locations, that was the one with the best atmosphere.

2. This has been a dreadful World Cup.
I did a calculation of the group stage. The goals to game ratio was abject: 2.0. In the first game of all the teams, you could place bets on all the games to finish under 2.5 goals, and you would have won the majority of them. I think there were more goals in the knockout matches.

I heard that the World Cups all the way until 1986 were pretty decent. The one in 1994 was quite OK. The rest of them were total crap. I think in 2006 there was still some pretty decent football. There was the Argentina demolition of Serbia. It was nice to see Zidane rolling back the years. This tournament? I shudder at the thought that they will put together a compilation of "best moments" and we won't see anything worth watching.

Brazil became tactical. Holland became tactical. Argentina didn't deliver. Portugal became ultra-defensive. The Brazil Holland quarter final was exciting but ultimately it was decided by which team made the fewest defensive errors.

3. A lot of journalists have had to eat their words
A lot of predictions did not come true. One of them was the prediction that Ivory Coast was one of the favourites. To be fair, they would probably have progressed to the second round if they weren’t bunched in together with Brazil and Portugal.

Another prediction was the desperate hope that England would have a good World Cup, and they listed other examples of countries that had good tournaments in spite of starting slowly: England in 1990, Italy in 1982. It didn't happen. Yet another prediction was that England's group was EASY - England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks. Not for this cohort.

All the South American teams reached the 2nd round. Then there were 4 teams in the quarter-finals. This was hailed as a period of South American dominance. Then after the quarters were over, all the South American sides were massacred, and the only one that got through used desperate measures. I thought that this tournament would have an European winner because the winter conditions favour the Europeans. I had some reason to doubt that in the last few weeks but now it seems like that prediction would come to pass.

After Argentina reached the quarter-finals, there were some people ready to canonise Maradona, attributing the "success" of the team to his crazy man-management skills. There were reports of his team bonding sessions. Of how he often consulted Jose Mourinho. Of how he, like Jose Mourinho, often used his outsized personality to deflect attention away from his players. There was even a report of how he was in a near death state in 2004, and how this amazing turnaround, for him to be - uh - 3 matches away from an amazing World Cup victory and a naked romp through Buenos Aires. Another report that slammed Pele for being a bitter old man for saying that Maradona couldn't coach. (To be fair, that report had some merit: Maradona exceeded some admittedly low expectations in his performance as a coach, while Pele, I think, had proven himself to be a lousy coach.)

Well, Maradona himself did say that South American sides were not at the level of the European sides yet. Maybe somebody should have listened to him. In retrospect, we found that none of their opponents so far - South Korea, Greece, Nigeria or Mexico - were top class opposition. That the qualification campaign was very shaky. That while having talented players relaxed enough to perform was good enough against them, when it came to the Germans, you needed to have the best coaching, the best tactics.

Another prediction that failed to happen was that Brazil would turn out to be world beaters. People forgot that Dunga was a first time coach, and they started to entertain the possibility of him shaping a team in his own image, the tough and committed tackler. They didn't have Elano, Kaka was below his best, and he left out Ronaldinho. That means that Robinho was the only special player. More significantly, the defence didn't do its job: or rather, they made 2 very significant mistakes. In the end, Dunga didn't know how to chase a game.

4. Quality of the coaching left much to be desired.
Many of the coaches, coming into this game, had big reputations. There were the former Real Madrid coaches: Fabio Capello, Vincente Del Bosque, Carlos Quieroz. Sven Goran Eriksson, latterly of England, was managing Ivory Coast. There were former World Cup winners, like Carlos Alberto Perreira and Marcello Lippi.

Then there was Raymond Domenech. More about him later.

The coaching has left much to be desired. Fabio Capello was already reported to be in a bad temper just before the World Cup, justifiably concerned at the poor form of the English. Morale was not good. In many ways he was the opposite of Eriksson, who usually pandered to the whims of his players. He was an alpha male who did not bow to player power, especially when he stripped John Terry of his captaincy. But some players did not like his decisions, and John Terry mouthed off to the pressed about some player dissent. That could not have been good for morale in the camp.

Eriksson looked lost as Ivory Coast was run over by Brazil, a result which cost them qualification to the second round. Carlos Alberto Perreira could not take advantage of the fading French to qualify for the second round either. In truth their campaign was lost when they drew the opening round to Mexico instead of winning. As we now know, Uruguay are quite good.

Carlos Quieroz's credentials have often been questioned. Just like Steve McLaren, he was Alex Ferguson's number 2, and a very good one at that. But on his own? His time in charge of Real Madrid was the start of 3 or 4 barren years without a trophy, in spite of having a galaxy of stars. His Portugal had a bad start to the qualifying campaign. To be fair to him, managing Real Madrid is very difficult because the boss always questions your decisions. And the Portugal is not the same one that reached 1 major tournament final and 2 semi-finals in the last decade. But it still had Cristiano Ronaldo, and hopes were briefly raised when they trashed N Korea 7-0. In the end, though, against Spain, they didn't have a clue about what to do once they got behind. There was no plan B. Portugal was set up to defend, not attack. After they were 1-0 behind Spain, they just kept on defending.

Cristiano Ronaldo was unhappy with his tactics, and his remark, when somebody asked him why Portugal lost, was "go ask Quieroz".

"There was no plan B" was also the problem with Brazil vs Holland. Brazil had never been behind before in the World Cup. When Holland equalised, they started panicking and looking lost. I think that Brazil play the tough-defence and counter attack with flair players. So without 1 of their flair players, and when their defence started looking shaky, that was the beginning of the end.

Argentina didn't have a clue against Germany. The Germans were always closing down on space, but Argentina didn't know how to do that. Considering their quality of players, Argentina deserved to make the semi-finals, and with a tournament where France and Italy went out, who knows? In the end, this was a missed opportunity, especially when you have somebody like Messi in your side.

Marcello Lippi won a lot of praise for winning the World Cup in 2006, but essentially his tactics were very defensive. I wonder what his place in history is, given that his side flopped so badly. Same for Roger Lemerre, who won the 2000 Euros with the best French side in a long time, and then royally screwed up 2002.

Otto Rehhagel was lionised for winning Euro 2004, and while it is one of the greatest managerial achievements of all time, his record after that was mixed, going out in first rounds in 2008 and 2010, and not even qualifying for 2006. Perhaps it was the right time for him to go.

Vincente Del Bosque must have felt some satisfaction at having knocked Quieroz's Portugal out of the World Cup. He was fired from Real Madrid after having won both the Champion's League and La Liga, because the president wanted a more media friendly coach - Quieroz. Del Bosque inherited a very talented squad from Aragones, who was the hero who won Euro 2008. But the loss of a very significant member of that squad - Marcos Senna - unbalanced the team, and as a result, they are slightly weaker than the one which mopped the floor with everybody else in 2008. They came in as favourites to win the World Cup but after shaky performances against Switzerland, Paraguay and Honduras, many are doubtful they can get past the seemingly imperious Germany.

5. Precedents were meant to be overturned
No host nation has ever failed to get past the first round. The US could have been one, but they were a little lucky in getting past Columbia (that was the match that doomed Andres Escobar to get murdered).

Until 2002, no defending champion has ever been kicked out of the first round. But France did it, in one of the most abject defences ever. And then Italy got kicked out of the 2010 tournament. Suddenly it’s looking commonplace.

Spain lost their opening match. Commentators said that no team has ever lost an opening match and yet still gone on to win the finals. But Italy (1994) and Argentina (1990) came close, going on to the finals. And there were a few incidents of countries being beaten once in a group stage, and yet winning the World Cup.

6. Some of the minnows were impressive
Since 2002, there has been a levelling of the playing field. The Asian sides were no longer minnows, there to make up the numbers. The European sides were no longer as powerful as yesteryear, when all the dark horses were European. Remember Belgium (1986)? Denmark (1986)? Croatia (1998)? Romania (1994)? Bulgaria (1994)? Even Sweden (1994)?

Now the dark horses were Senegal (2002), Turkey (2002), South Korea (2002), USA (2002), Ghana (2010), Uruguay(2010).

There are countries like Portugal, England and Holland who are on the periphery of great soccer powers, but are not dark horses either. In part the decline of the Europeans can also be attributed to some countries splintering into smaller ones (USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia). Those 3 countries would have been minor soccer powers, but now they're just minnows.

In this world cup, there were quite a few surprises from the minnows.

- Slovakia emerged top of a group that included the Czechs (The Czechs' golden generation which included Nedved, Koller, Baros and Cech had recently retired). They surprised many by beating Italy.

- Slovenia surprised many by qualifying ahead of euro 08 semifinalists Russia, and later on they made the US crap their pants.

- Algeria drew with England and cost me $10. In fact, many people thought that Egypt should have qualified in their place.

- Greece finally won some points, and beat Nigeria.

- New Zealand was a surprise qualifier (although the team they did beat in the playoff, Bahrain, would also have been a surprise qualifier). They did not make the final round, but they never lost any of their 3 matches either.

- The Swiss didn't qualify, but they gave the Spaniards something to think about. And judging from the imperious form of the Germans so far, who would have thought that a little-fancied side like the Serbians failed to beat them?

- Honduras qualified.

- Chile had a better than expected qualifying campaign and got into the second round.

- USA, Japan and South Korea got into the second round.

That said, minnows don't usually make for exciting football. You couldn't look at the minnows and say that some incredible football talent has been unearthed at the tournament. Nowadays scouting networks are so good that it's very rare for a major talent to exist, but the world doesn't know about it.

7. The quarter finals were dramatic
To be sure, they weren't exciting in the football sense. Everybody expected Brazil to brush off Holland like it was swatting a fly. It was a game that had relatively little flair, considering the pedigree of the 2 sides involved in that match. But as I watched this on the 2nd level of a shophouse with 50 other people, it was exciting to see the Oranje defy expectations, and equally so to see Brazil implode so spectacularly, like they did 4 years ago.

I was especially pleased because I'm superstitious: if the World Cup winning team has won it for the nth time, if n is low, I have a good 4 years. If n is high, I have a lousy 4 years. I had a good 4 years after France won it for the first time, or Argentina won it for the 2nd time. It was not so good for me after Germany won it for the 3rd time. Pretty lousy for me after Italy won it for the 4th time, or after Brazil won it for the 4th and 5th times. So I felt very happy that Brazil would not win it for the 6th time.

I decamped to a McD's and watched the Uruguay Ghana match up until the Sulley Muntari 30 metre special. (I've seen him do that for Portsmouth before) Then I got sleepy and drove home, not expecting the spectacular drama that was to take place in the last moments of extra time.

We know about it because it's been written about so extensively: Ghana shoots, a goalkeeper punches. Ghana shoots again, a defender clears it off the line. Ghana shoots for the third time, and Suarez clears it off the line with his hand. The resulting penalty is missed. Then Ghana loses to Uruguay on penalties.

People can argue about whether this is cheating or not. There are people who say that he was a hero for sacrificing himself to get Uruguay into the semis, something they had not managed since Switzerland 1954. There are those who considered it cheating, since it's no big deal to be playing with 10 men for the last 1 or 2 minutes. The benefit from the handball was not obvious: when Suarez walked off the pitch, he was crying, because the penalty would have put Ghana through anyway. Except that the penalty was missed.

Some people said that it was not cheating, because he did the crime, and he did the time. Some people thought that it went against the spirit of the game, which is to get a fair result. It would have been a goal if he hadn't handled, that's the one thing everybody agrees.

There was a time when I was in a Maths quiz. I was in sec 2, up against the sec 1s. At the last question, we were 2 points up. It was a snatch question, worth 2 points. I remember thinking about whether I wanted to snatch that question first, since if the first team failed to answer and the other team answered it, the other team would only get 1 point instead of 2. In the end, I didn't, and it got into a draw. Then I lost the tie-breaking question. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

In other words, I think I should have done what Suarez did.

The Argentina Germany match was a spectacular one. Maradona faced Germany twice in 2 world cup finals, in 1986 and 1990. He won one and lost the other. The Germans were the nemesis for Argentina, as much as they were for the English. In the end, the scoreline was sensational. It wasn't a trashing, because those who saw the match (in the cc hall, most of the Singaporeans were rooting for Argentina) would know that Argentina pegged Germany back for long periods in the match. Player for player, Argentina were probably better, but Germany knew how to defend and Argentina didn't.

The last quarterfinal would have been comparably unexciting, except for the 2 missed penalties, and a disputed call that disallowed a Paraguay goal.

Well if this is when the tournament finally comes to life, it's a little too late for that.

8. Jabulani and Vuvuzela
These are the twin villians of the current World Cup. The Jabulani ball received numerous complaints. To be sure, every time the match ball is changed, there are complaints, but none so many as this. There are people who believe that the Jabulani has contributed to the lower quality of play in the matches.

Some have already commented on the vuvuzela before the World Cup began. It's quite irritating, although I can imagine that someday somebody will record My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" with a Vuvuzela orchestra.

9. Handballs
The "Hand of God" in 1986 was a spectacular piece of cheating, because it was the most blatant incident up till then. To be sure, the Argentines had already been infamous for playing rough, as were the Uruguayans. But that was an incident that involved the best player in the world at that time, against a country that had just won the Falklands war against them. Maradona would later cheat again, by taking drugs in 1994 to enhance his physical capabilities.

This campaign has seen 3 instances of handballs change the course of crucial games. First was the infamous Henry handball against Ireland, which was the most controversial incident, because it involved the deception of a referee. Henry was basically in no man's land immediately afterwards. If he had admitted it to a referee, he would have been praised by everybody outside of France, but he could have cost them a place in the World Cup, and he could have been lynched by his own teammates. As it turned out, he kept quiet and now everybody thinks of him as an asshole, even his fellow Frenchmen.

Second was how Luis Fabiano handled the ball in the buildup to a goal against the Ivory Coast. OK, it wasn't the hand, it was the arm. But it was equally serious. And the referee afterwards seemed to say to him, "it was alright, no handball". Stupid referee. Since Brazil beat the Ivory Coast by more than 1 goal, it didn't change the result.

The last incident was Luis Suarez, which I discussed earlier.

10. France and Italy
Even by the very low expectations of France, they did badly. We knew that Domenech was a dickhead as a manager, but surprisingly his players turned out to be even greater dickheads.

Patrice Evra went on strike. He led a few players to strike against what they felt to be unjust treatment of Anelka. They imploded. After a creditable draw with Uruguay, they lost to Mexico and South Africa. Evra said, right after the loss to South Africa, that soon the truth will be known, as though he were in the right. But I don't know whether that's the case. Alex Ferguson is reportedly very angry with him. Lilian Thuram, Evra's predecessor as France's left back said that Evra should never play for France again.

Some people also think that Anelka should not play for France again.

Another rumour exists that, if proven true, should be a source of everlasting discredit to the French team. Apparently everybody hates Yoann Gourcuff, a player who's style of playing is similar to Zidane, and an apparent heir to his position as France's playmaker. The 1998 and 2000 teams had a backbone of children of immigrants. For people who want to criticise Singapore's team for having foreign imports, look at that team. They had parents from Senegal (Vieira), Algeria (Zidane), the Congo (Makalele), and the Guadelope (Henry and Thuram). There was also Bixente Lizarazu, who's Basque. Of course these places are more closely associated with France than Nigeria, Bosnia or Brazil are associated with Singapore. But still...

Well apparently Gourcuff's problem is that he's too French. He's from a privileged background, talks like somebody from the upper class, and is too scholarly and nerdy. Reminds you of Zidane, to be sure, but at least Zidane had street credibility: he was somebody who grew up in a tough slum. I think the players were instructed to put him in the middle of the plays. Well the other players hated him and refused to pass the ball to him.

I think this is reflective of French society as a whole. The French were the inventors of the slogan "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", and to their credit, they embraced the immigrants who won the 1998 World Cup for them. But they're not good at integrating the immigrants into their society. The typical Frenchman will champion values like human rights, democracy and equality in the abstract, but they will stay far away from the immigrants. The society is very divided.

The immigrants, on the other hand, have failed to reach out to the French. A lot of them are Muslims, who came from countries where the government has very little legitimacy because they are dictatorial, or are laughingly ineffective. They are glad to receive government handouts, but many don't want to find jobs or become more French, because they're too happy with their underdog, "wretched of the earth" status.

A case in point: Patrice Evra. I don't know if he is one of those who feels that he is one of the beleaguered underclass, but I once saw an article about him where he was praising one of his "minders" at Man United. The "minder" was somebody who helps foreign players in the EPL get things done in their daily lives: essentially some kind of butler who finds housing for you, fixes things for you, and organises parties for you. In inadvertently he was advertising the fact that he was a spoilt brat. How does he square this the supposed indignation at being a member of the oppressed minority?

And if you thought the coach was stupid, and the players stupider, you should see what the parliament did. They're calling an inquest into the French Football team. FIFA always denounces it when the government interferes with football. There were a few incidents where the Sports Ministers made statements about the national team, which were not welcome. Like how the Togo government told the national team to return home from Angola. Sepp Blatter is reportedly not impressed with the French.

But in a way, this will be interesting, and it will reveal a lot of what French society is really about. I don't know if Sarkozy ran the inquiry in order to boost his flagging popularity with his people. We don't like it when Mah Bow Tan talks about Goal 2010 because it's such a naked way of scoring points. We don't like it when they mix sports with politics because it's always distasteful. But hidden in here are some issues that finally need to be addressed.

What happened to Italy? I don't know. They won the 2006 world cup by being extremely stingy with the defence, and goading Zidane into making that headbutt. Now they don't have younger stars to take over the great generation, and the older ones like Cannavaro - I think he went downhill after that tournament. They'll be missed as badly as Greece 2004 - which is not at all.

11. Nudity
There were a few declarations from people who promised to strip nude and run around if their country won the World Cup. First Maradona promised to run naked through Buenos Aires if Argentina won. Possibly that was a vote of confidence against himself, ie he was sure he wouldn't win.

Then there was Larissa Riquelme, who was amply endowed, complete with a blackberry stuffed down her generous bodice, who said that she would run around naked if Paraguay won. It must have convinced a few to go against Spain in the quarters.

Last but not least, there was Enrique Iglesias who promised to water ski naked of Spain won. There is a significant possibility of this happening.

I listed these possibilities on an internet forum, and got a reply from a female that it couldn't have been hard to choose between the Paraguayan model and Maradona. Here is my reply:

"Actually it was hard for me to choose. Paraguayan model - just another naked model on an internet that has too much porn on it anyway. Diego Maradona - how many times does the greatest athlete / elder statesman of a sport - any sport - run around naked? I mean, when not on a CK ad or a sports illustrated shoot? How often in this day and age do people run around naked without the intention of making you part with your money?

In the end I chose the Paraguay chick so that people wouldn't give me funny looks."

Well 11 points for now for 11 ppl on the pitch. I'm sure there will be a few more talking points in the last 3 matches.