Go with a smile!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

One step closer

I know what it’s like to feel smart, and I know what it is like to feel stupid. People who know me: if you were to ask them which one I am, half will give you one answer and the other half will give you the other.

After Daniel Goleman introduced the concept of EQ to the world in 1995 (that was the year that book came out) the idea of multiple intelligences has truly caught on. But already in the 1980s Howard Gardner has classified intelligences into roughly 7 segments. We now know that the brain is a Swiss Army jackknife, and all the components have differing capabilities relative to the rest of the population. The nerd has got great analytical skills but poor psychomotor skills. The jock, vice versa.

I suppose when I went in to take a standardised test, there were already some good omens. First, the astrological readings said that I had high energy today. That’s good. The second thing is that I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen very much since primary school. He later went on to shingot’s JC and probably was top student there or something. Talking to him, I realised why they gave him a prestigious scholarship – he’s a humble guy, feet on the ground. He was going to do his master’s in public admin. I suppose he’ll stay in the civil service for quite a while – he might become somebody famous, or not.

We talked for a bit. I suppose you can always talk to your old friends. But considering that the last time we interacted meaningfully – I had him over for my 12th birthday party. He gave me a birthday present, a pirated copy of Phantasie. I was to play that game a lot in Pri six, and to date it was the only computer based RPG I played a lot of. From Pri 4 to 6, we always played police and thieves during recess. That was the last year of real childhood, just before they start grabbing you by the collar and tell you right in the face that you’re growing up to be a real man and you better start acting like one. (Or if you can’t act like one, at least be as smart as one.

The bad omen, the extremely bad omen is that the scores may not come in time for certain uni applications. But since I know my score, that may not matter very much.

It was weird going to the building. The testing place was opposite the Science Centre, which I also last visited while in primary school. The process was very meticulous. My friend said that the ante room looked like a police station, where you held all the suspects before taking them in for questioning. You had to sign a declaration saying that you were indeed the person who registered for the test.

When they called your name, you found yourself in some kind of a control centre. There were closed circuit cameras on every test taker of a computer monitor. It was like motherfucking 1984. When you left the room, you had to sign out, and they checked your signature against the one in the passport.

They had a locker for you. You were to empty all your pockets. I was shunted around by a grumpy short Malay woman. (Reminds me a bit of the grumpy short woman I know at work). I asked, you want my coins as well? She said, “which part of ‘everything’ do you not understand?” Then she shunted me over to the computer, and asked me to look at this funny webcam. I looked at it as though it were that machine from Men in Black that makes you forget everything.

I went to the terminal, and I was fairly amused that the picture that they took of me froze me in a kind of a “what the fuck” position.

The test itself went well. I had the first indication that things were going OK when they told me that they weren’t repeating either the verbal or the quantitative section. Instead, they asked me to be a guinea pig and help them test a whole new quantitative section.

I had a pretty decent score. I was glad I didn’t have to take the GRE again. The computer based GRE will repeat one of your sections if you did badly, but that didn’t happen to me. Instead, it said, here’s a new section for you. If you're one of the top 100 scores, you stand to win a $100 dollar prize!!! So I did that section too.

I don't know how I did on the writing but since I do so much practice over here for the benefit of you guys I think I should be OK.

I felt a bit like a man again. There was this time when Dr Old Fogey gave a short academic quiz to everybody, I was the only one who got full marks on it. (But then there were only 3 people, including myself and Dr Old Fogey, who had gone through that material in a graduate-level course). That was quite satisfying because I did feel that Dr Old Fogey had been looking down his fucking nose at me the whole time we were in the same department as each other.

Well sometimes in my current job I don't really feel like a man. And this is where I'll tie it in with the stuff I've written earlier. There were some skills the job required and I realised, to no small panic, that I had to develop them from scratch. And when I saw people who were so much better than me, I felt a certain despair that I hadn't really felt before.

I think that people who never had to deal with their own stupidity are lucky in their own way. Probably the way that I was back at school, when I was just good at learning. I took 5 minutes to learn what some others took 1 hour to learn. I was never allowed to think, "well I'm more hardworking, aren't I?" but I can see why people who have more talent just think that way. Other people around them struggle, and they can put in more effort, but because the results don't come, they're lazy and useless. I've had to deal with that relatively late in my life.

Will I learn those skills? To be fair, I hadn't learnt some of those skills because I wasn't really interested in them. And it was hard to pick up those skills because I still aren't really interested in them. Was I going to stay in this state for a long time? I thought, shouldn't I just try to run away to another place where those skills were not as crucial as they are in my current place? I always had an intention to do so, just never got around to doing that.

And now - the future? It's hazy. Very hazy. But at least, I think, it will be somewhat different from marching on the spot forever. Another tentative step towards the door, then...

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Saturday, August 21, 2010


OK, I’m wondering what to do.

Something strange has happened in this World Cup. I was looking around for people to watch the world cup with. Then I found myself with this guy. And he asked along a girl who he apparently had not seen since he was in JC. Henceforth the girl will be called Catwoman.

It was probably an auspicious sign that she turned up wearing high boots and a Joy Division T shirt. And funnily enough, instead of sitting herself on the other side of my friend from me, she said on my side, putting me in the middle. We talked, and since we were from the same JC there was quite a bit to talk about. I had the good sense to drive out that night, after we were done at 1-2 in the morning, I sent them both home.

Except that I was wondering why she was walking so close to me as we were walking to my car.

That was the last time the 3 of us went out watching football together. Instead I found myself watching football with Catwoman a few more times.

We hardly ran out of things to talk about during out nights out. There were several reasons for this. I had actually met Catwoman during NS. I had a few friends from JC that I hung out with. I hung out with 2 gangs – the engineer gang and the artsy gang. People who know me know that I have potential in both fields, and that at the same time I am never completely comfortable with people in both gangs.

So we knew friends. In fact she and one of my best friends from back then used to go out together, and naturally we ended up talking about that friend of mine. I used to be a playwright, and she was working as an stage actress. So we could talk about theatre, although theatre is a different kettle of fish from my primary art form (which is music).

Before long, she was telling me a few funny stories about some guys who went after her, but she didn’t really care for, a few of whom were my friends. Including the guy with whom we watched that first World Cup match with.

It took a while (but not very long) to catch on to me that possibly she was interested in me. Or maybe not. At least what I was certain of is that I had “candidature”. Yes, it’s much less glamorous, but it’s more reflective of reality. She’s not crazy enough to be interested in you, but she sees you as a possibility.

There were a few things that people say to each other. Maybe it’s not called flirtation, because it’s not really saucy enough. Maybe it’s not called playing games because playing games has really negative connotations. It’s a practice that actors do on stage, in order to gauge their chemistry, their modes of interaction with each other. They call it workshopping.

Here are some of the things that were workshopped.

1. We talk a bit about star signs, and she says, “Many Capricorns end up with Scorpios in the end.” Truth be told, I really don’t mind going out with Scorpios since they are supposed to be the sexiest signs. Well she’s not a Scorpio, she’s a Gemini, just like codfish, and I’m surprised that codfish hasn’t turned me off Geminis for the rest of my life.

I didn’t want to answer this question proper. If I said “yes, I’ll look for a Scorpio instead”, it’s game over. If I said, “no, I’ll take anybody from any star sign…” it’s an affirmation I wasn’t ready to make. In the end I oped for the cop out: “You’re right, I’m stuck with a Scorpio for the rest of my life. My sister’s a Scorpio”.

2. Another time, she complained about a dead leg because she slept on a tennis ball. I wrote “the moral of the story is that you should not play with your balls shortly before bed time”. And she wrote back, “can I play with someone else’s balls instead?” I was horror struck and did not reply to that.

3. She asked me out to watch a movie. And she added, “bring along some mints, I just ate Korean and I have garlic breath”. I bought some mints for her from a 7-11. All the time wondering if it’s an invitation for me to kiss her.

4. During another outing, she was tired (I could believe that) and when she was in the waiting room at the vet’s, she leaned against me. I wasn’t totally shocked by that but I hadn’t figured out what to do. I did nothing, which was safest. I didn’t push her away, but I didn’t put an arm up either.

5. There were a few times – well she lives near Geylang anyway. I would see a hot chick, and follow her with my eyes. And then she would hit me in annoyance.

Ever since we met, some momentous things have taken place in her life. First, an aunt of hers came down with terminal cancer, and then a heart attack. Probably she will not live to see 2011, because for a lot of the standard treatments for cancer, you need a strong heart. Which is why it was a wonderful thing that my mother got her breast cancer when she was around 50 and not some other godforsaken age, she’s had a clean bill of health ever since.

The other thing is that her beloved cat, owing to her own carelessness, has developed a gum infection, and is in very bad health. A round of antibiotics and painkillers has made the situation better, but she is still fretting a lot over that cat.

Now, all this is a slight surprise. So I don’t really know what to do. I don’t think she’s unattractive, but I’m not crazy – I know what it’s like to be crazy about somebody, but that hasn’t happened in a long time. But I can say that I don’t really know what it’s like to be crazy about somebody for a reason other than that that person is quite physically attractive.

So what’s wrong?

First, she’s got emotional baggage. She doesn’t really like both of her parents. There was a time when I would consider this an plus, because at least we would have something to talk about. I have since cleared a few things up with my mother. I have used methods that are crude but effective, and sometimes you wonder if you’re overdoing things, but OK, we have fewer problems now.

I never had that much trouble knowing right from wrong. But suppose neither of your parents had your head screwed on properly. It’s like the daughter of a mobster – you don’t think she’s guilty but you wonder how she’s affected.

Second, it’s a bit scary how attached she is to the cat. That’s something I can never understand. I’m a little wary of pet owners, or people who like children but nobody else. It’s sometimes an overcompensation, like you may not be able to cope with the complexity of adults, so you seek solace in something more simple. I don’t doubt her ability to handle adults, mind – you’ve got to be good with people in order to make a living as an actress. But it’s really kooky.

And after stalking somebody who likes cats, I’m a little put off by women who like cats. If there’s an animal I identify with, it’s a lizard. Maybe that has something to do with my animal sign. OK, lizards and cats have things in common, like they don’t really care very much about what people think, they are independent spirits, carnivorous.

Third, one big reason why we had so much to talk about is sometimes I would just ask her something and she would tell it to me straight out. And she is sometimes never less than forthright when volunteering information. Do I really want to deal with loose cannons like that?

Fourth, I’m not that attracted to her. I’m trying to figure out whether or not I’m not that attracted to humanity in general anymore, in which case I might as well grab anybody I can find, or it’s just she’s not one of those I’d be crazy about.

Last, sometimes I see some flashes of anger. It’s a bad sign, like somebody’s trying to disguise a bad temper.

Still, it’s a bit weird. Suffice to say I’ve – through not much apparent effort on my part – managed to get further with her than with anybody else, not counting codfish, which is no basis for comparison because that was an ICQ relationship. So you can understand why I’m unwilling to cut it off like that. And I have to admit, there were times when I say to myself, this could be something. We could be going somewhere. We haven’t run out of things to talk about. That was exciting. Until I found out about the parents.

So sometimes I would just keep her talking by asking her about some of the things she cares about – her aunt, her cat, her job. Then it’s not so bad immediately afterwards because – you know I’m a bit of a monk now, any good female company who is not Edna Mode is welcome. Then after that I look down at my hands and ask myself, “what the fuck are you doing?”

Like she calls me up to have random 2 hour conversations, I’m OK. Then she called me up to help her send her cat to the vet, I’m OK even though it was 5 hours later by the time we said goodbye. Then the voice of reason speaks: are you doing this for a future girlfriend? Or are you so full of the milk of human kindness that you can just dish this out to anybody who asks for it?

Of course, there could be an over-reaction. Maybe what she’s thinking of is something in one of those fuzzy logic “it’s complicated” things. As in, you’re more than just friends, but less than an outright significant other. I’m not going to stand for that, because in these funny arrangements, one of the parties usually ends up as the loser. And you know I deal with IT, which demands rigour and precision. Do you want me to code:

int Function()

or do you want to see this:

maybe int maybe double Function()

Lastly, I want to say that one of the most successful relations I’ve had with a member of the opposite sex is with my sister. And I think that really affects the way you deal with the opposite sex. Like I would make a good brother. Not the kind of brother who shelters and protects because that’s not my traditional strength. But somebody who can help you think through things, who doesn’t judge, who calms you down. Somebody who makes you feel like you’ve got company. I don’t take the credit for this: I used to squabble a lot with my sister, until one day she offered me the olive branch. She took that initiative, not me. But since then, there have been more good times than bad.

This trait of mine also applies elsewhere: I’m good friends with most of my cousins. I recall using this mode of interaction a lot with codfish. But it’s only a very small part of what makes a person a good boyfriend.

Another thing is that I'm an androgynous person. I'm a guy but I also have my feminine side. Women are never as much a mystery to me as they might be to some other guys. This is different from saying that you're a ladies' man. But it means that if they were to confide in me, I can understand a lot.

If you were to ask me - this is not an unhappy development. It tells me that all hope is not lost. Last few times I was rejected, it was "let's be friends" rather than "fuck off creep". This time - well it teaches me that if you do find the right one, change your lifestyle and your manners appropriately, things can happen.

Anyway this door of opportunity will not last too long. I'm certain that I have found myself a friend. What would be really disturbing was my reaction - if you're not interested in women, then it is an even bigger crisis than women are not interested in you. Please please please - let me fall in love again. The first time it was so vivid - but now it's just a fading memory.



Blogger Shingo T said...

Wondering if this is going on in your mind.

Seeing your friends get attached / have babies one after another, you know you aren't getting any younger.

On the other hand, there's no point in rushing yourself to get attached, lest you make any wrong decisions.

Anyway, Catwoman sounds interesting. From my limited experience, woman who tend to be more interested in talking about themselves than finding out more about you are something to be careful off. At least that's what comes to my mind when I read this.

I don't think you have lost interest in woman, since your eyes are still glancing around, haha.

You just have to feel that electrical spark, be it Catwoman or someone else. ^_^

Love the writings!

10:04 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Well I knew I was going to start late. I was looking at the date the other day - oh my god this is the 20th anniversary of my having a crush on a chick!

She is interesting. Maybe I should just hang around for the experience points.

12:11 AM


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sieteocho’s 254th retirement.

I have the same birthday as David Bowie. Like David Bowie, over the years I’ve had my share of false retirements. I had said that I was going to stop blogging – I didn’t. I said that I was going to slow down to 1 post a month – it didn’t last. I even killed this blog until the reason for killing this blog itself died in a car accident. So bear that in mind when I say I’m going to stop blogging (or slow down).

I think that a great impetus for my blogging started when I was in the uni, and discovering a lot of knowledge – well, the bookish kind – when I was studying there. And I was in the middle of what I recognise to be a 10 year love affair with books. And even then I knew that this was a temporary love affair even though I found myself buying many more books than could have been finished in 10 years. Well that’s that, I suppose. I had built a cocoon around myself, but I need to get out.

Something struck me, in my first year in the uni. I said to my Maths professor, rather rashly, “Mathematics doesn’t really teach you anything, does it?” And it was a bit impudent of me because he was famous enough to be mentioned in James Gleick's "Chaos". And the conversation went right ahead because luckily he didn’t really understand me.

But what I meant was that mathematical knowledge is not empirical knowledge. It teaches you how to analyse things, how to properly understand things that you already know. But it doesn’t teach you how to see things.

Well, I don’t know if I’m making a logical leap here. But I do draw boundaries. No matter how much of a brash loudmouth I have appeared to be on these pages, I don’t really blog about my personal life. And talking about bookish knowledge is something that really fits that. But as reality creeps in, I’m beginning to find myself distanced from the world of books that I used to inhabit.

And whereas I thought that I was being quite a “realist” because I read non-fiction and not fiction, I’m beginning to wonder if the difference is specious. I think I read pseudo non-fiction. Recall that non-fiction is a book which is supposedly based on fact, not an invented story. But if you were to read a lot of esoteric knowledge that’s not really related to your life, and if you’re only reading it for general knowledge, or maybe one day you can learn some lessons from it, it’s not really non-fiction, is it? It’s more like historical fiction.

Anyway, I’ve been blogging since 2003. I’ve kept a journal for an even longer time, maybe since 1999. I just feel like I got to engage with the real world a little more. And since I’m not really going to blog about the “real world” here, there’re going to be fewer updates.

It’s been great having you guys around. Or maybe a few of you are no longer around. I’m not going to disguise the fact that I blog mainly for myself, but it’s been great having readers around for so long. I never expect them to stay forever. It’s too easy to get tired of a blog but it’s great to have you guys around.



Blogger Shingo T said...

My Maths professor told me that it helps to develop logical thinking, when I asked him the same question - what's the point of studying all these abstract stuffs.

I came out of his office unconvinced, only to finally understand what he said after I started work.

12:46 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

First I made a mistake - that prof was not mentioned in "A Beautiful Mind" but in "Chaos". I have made that correction.

For me it was the opposite direction. I started off Mathematics fully intending it to develop my logical thinking.

Halfway through uni, I realised that it was not enough, that I also had to develop logical thinking in other fields of knowledge.

After leaving uni, I realised that logical thinking itself was not enough, and that I had to develop practical thinking - something I missed out on when I left the College of Engineering for the College of Arts and Sciences.

1:35 PM


Wednesday, August 04, 2010


A friend of mine complained that “Inception” didn’t make you feel a lot of emotions. That is true, and it is a complaint that I’ve had of Christopher Nolan films in general.

I’m not at all surprised to find that he wrote the whole thing himself. It is a great exercise of the imagination – well a part of the imagination. But he had to lay down so many rules, that I felt that the first half of the movie was a video game demo, and the second half, the video game itself. To some people it could have been confusing, but I understood most of it. In the grand tradition of “Seven Samurai” and “Ocean’s 11” this is a film about a commando unit made up of a few specialists.

I liked the actors in this movie. Maybe not so much DiCaprio himself, but Gordon-Levitt did a great job in “500 days of Summer”. Here he is the security specialist, and his permanently worried look of a man on a dangerous mission suits him fine. Marion Cotillard, I was a fan of hers ever since “Love Me if You Dare”. (I don’t know if the choice of “Non, je ne regrette rien” as the wake up song is a nod to her previous turn in an Edith Piaf biopic). Her English is improving (watch “Big Fish” to see why she doesn’t have a lot of lines). Her bazongas are as lovely as they always were. Her role is limited, though because she’s basically a computer virus. Ken Watanabe is likeable enough. Ellen Page, as usual is her smart and offbeat self.

There is a lot of strange physics in the movie, like zero gravity, buildings appearing from nowhere, strange loops, MC Escher stuff. But not very much we haven’t already seen in “Labyrinth”.

In a way I would criticise the film for being too distracted. It’s as though every great idea from his feverish imagination had to make at least one appearance. The movie – if you follow it carefully, is not confusing. In fact it is possible to call it not confusing enough. For a movie about a series of dreams, everything is too rigorously logical. As AO Scott says in the New York Times: “But though there is a lot to see in “Inception,” there is nothing that counts as genuine vision. Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness — the risk of real confusion, of delirium, of ineffable ambiguity — that this subject requires.”

Yeh. Because when you put this movie alongside a Bergman, a Hitchcock, a Kubrick, or maybe even the recent “Vanilla Sky”, the psychological impact of the imagery is pretty tame. People wander through dreamscapes in a waking state – that’s not really dreaming at all. In a way it’s a good old fashioned action movie, where most of the actions take place in a dreamscape, rather than reality. Does Nolan dream of video games?

The problem is with the love story that forms the emotional core of the film. It is a distraction in more ways than one. Within the plot, Cotillard is more or less a computer virus which screws up his dreamscape and endangers the safety of the mission. The fact is that love scenes and action movies sit very uneasily side by side, unless they are both integrated into the same scenes. The main example I can think of is “Casino Royale” (the recent one) where even as James Bond and Vesper Lynd are partners in the action, there’s a parallel sexual tension going on between them. Or a bit further back, when you have Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious”, the sexual undercurrent spices up the murder mystery. Whereas Leo is pining for somebody who’s off-screen. It is about as fun as watching somebody get the lube and start jerking off. A lot of things happen in action movies, and if you have to take screen time away from that to develop the DiCaprio-Cotillard angle, it takes away from the action.

The big problem about this movie is that what was supposed to be the emotional centre of the movie – the former lover haunting as a ghost – is over here relegated to a technical problem that needs to be solved. You don’t see that in Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”, you don’t see that in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”, or even “Basic Instinct”. The obsession is usually front and centre, just like the male appendage.

Nolan’s focus has always been on the cleverness of the puzzles and the plot twists, rather than the emotional impact. This was always true of “Prestige”, “Batman Begins”, and “Insomnia”. Well I honestly can’t say very much of “Batman Begins” because I can’t remember anything about it. “Memento”, though, remains his greatest film becaue

And at the same time, it doesn’t make any economic sense, when you’ve sunk in so much moolah into CGI and special effects, to not put the action right in the middle. That is the conundrum of all the post “Jaws” movies, whatever movie you have that has a big budget. And it reminds me why I greatly admire Pixar: because it still somehow has the organisational discipline to put the story first, in spite of everything.

That said, it’s still a pretty good movie, because it surpasses most of the excuses for movies today in terms of richness of imagination. But that’s not saying much. It comes highly recommended but given the incredible things that people have been saying about this movie, it falls somewhat short of greatness.