Go with a smile!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


It wasn’t easy for me to grow into a teenager. I think it took a few years of struggle. But I’m sure I came into my own when I was 15. That was a great year. That year:

- I discovered a lot of great rock music
- I found my talents in writing and music
- I made a few very good friends
- I started being a proper philosopher. I think that the potential for deep thinking had always existed. I always knew the principle that behind an idea lay another deeper and greater idea, and you had to follow the trail and find them one by one.

I think the next great transition in my life was when I was 22. I became a kidult. That year:

- I developed a faculty in language that helped me become more articulate
- I had a great cyber-relationship. At least it was great while it lasted, because after that it was not great.
- I learnt to make peace with myself. At least for a while, up till then.
- I got interested in a lot of academic learning, especially the humanities. Economics, political science, sexual politics, complexity theory,

And regrettably, I don’t think I’ve moved on from there in a big way. For me to fully become an adult (and there’s not much time left)

- I have to learn how to manage my life (at least much better than I’m doing now)
- I have to learn how to manage my wealth (or at least whatever that word means in my context)
- I have to mingle among adults and do stuff that adults think is cool.
- I have to enjoy at least one expensive hobby. Otherwise running around like a headless chicken trying to grab every dollar you can find will be exposed as a great sham.

Problem is, a lot of those adult things don’t make sense. Enjoying an expensive bag, enjoying expensive clothes – I don’t mind dressing up elegantly but that’s a matter of artistic taste. Buying something expensive – that’s the kind of insanity that Thorsten Veblen had so much contempt for when he wrote his “Theory of the Leisure Class”.

A lot of teenage life made a lot more sense. I enjoy rock music, I enjoy philosophising. I enjoy learning new things. But you could come to

Then again a lot of adulthood makes sense. How to progress from being a keen observer of life to an active participant in it. How to play a game and win. How to raise kids. How to keep on going even when you’re tired.

Who I am today is still the legacy of my college years. The things I learnt or picked up during those years. To be sure, they were turbulent, problematic times. But they were also some of the best years of my life.

1. Knowledge is fun
2. Movies
3. Jazz
4. Travelling
5. Groceries and housework
6. Exercise
7. Psychology
8. Slow and steady
9. CD Trading

Think I better explain # 8. I decided that it was best to live life at a more leisurely pace, but to adopt a slow and steady. I decided not to give myself too much pressure to do things, but to keep on pushing steadily and not to worry as long as things moved forward always.

It was a good idea, but it didn't always work.


Sunday, January 16, 2011


Another year is almost over. This has been an interesting year. I had called 2008 the end of long roads, and 2009 a new beginning. This year? In some ways it’s special, and in other ways it’s ordinary.

Computer Science

I was always going to do grad school. When I graduated, around that time I had a dream. I dreamt that I was starting school again the next year. I supposed that I always saw myself in grad school.

This is a year that’s crucial to my plans. Somewhere in the middle of 2008, I decided that I was going to do grad school. Sometimes I’m wondering why I didn’t do all these things one year ago. I’m guessing that I was giving myself a lot of time to study. Maybe I really needed all that time to study computer science. Or maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. Now that I’ve learnt all the stuff I learnt, I’m wondering if I took too much time. I’m also wondering – spending 1.5 years to do a marathon – if that was too much time.

I'm also thinking about whether I spent too much time on computer science because I think maybe I should have done more coding as well.

The main thing was the computer science subject GRE. That basically asks you a lot of stuff that you may or may not know if you have a computer science bachelor. What I know is maybe 1/3 of that. There was a lot of trotting around with heavy books on weekends, spending 2 hrs going through shit boring stuff. I put up with that for a long time.

Well, going through the marathon was another one of those experiences – you just kept on going, you didn’t know how much was enough. And when you come to the end, you know.

Some people I knew were trying to get back into PhD programs. Some succeeded, some didn’t. I’ll start a master’s first, and if I like it, a PhD will be next. This is what people who have done PhDs (some of whom distinctly underwhelmed by the experience) have told me.

There was a lot of thinking about what college really means. Thinking about what an IT career really means. What a research career really means. Some talking to people. Some reading about other peoples’ experiences of postgrad life. Some reading up on the subject matter of the intended field of study. Maybe not enough reading up on real papers? A lot of twisting your hands and wondering if people are going to write letters. Wondering whether exams are going to turn out alright.

As of now, I’ve been accepted into 1 school. The applications for 4 other schools are already ready to submit. I’m 90% there. By March I will know about the results.


Things came to a head this year. I’m sorry to say that I should have been more attentive to her. All those afternoons that I spent studying / reading instead of being there for her – I could have spent some of that time trying to get her fit. Not one of my prouder moments.

She was in and out of the hospital a few times. If she had been keeping herself fit, this would most likely not have happened. As it were, she’s rotting away. This is not entirely my fault, because I’m only her grandson, and there is another generation between her and me.

It was very depressing at one point. Only 6 years ago, she was still doing housework. Only 3 years ago, she was reasonably OK, just a little unsteady on her feet. This year, it was scary to watch her eat, knowing that some of it would inevitably be thrown back up. There was the constant pain and discomfort. But thankfully things are much better this year.

It’s very ugly when people criticise their parents. I see people slag off their parents on Facebook, even when they’re living under the same roof as them. It’s not pretty. But I’m sure that their parents deserve it. Well at least I believe that most of the time there is truth to the complaints.

Still, one good thing this year is that I’m winding down the war I’ve had with my mother for way too long. What originally started with my intention to kick her in the ass so that she can wake up her idea has tragically spun out of control. Now we are moving towards normalcy.

I started this year thinking that maybe I would play in a band as a hobby. Turns out that the outlay in time would be tremendous. At one point, I was thinking, I have a schedule for my computer science stuff, but not for my music. I couldn’t let the music sidetrack my computer science stuff.

On the other hand, I went back to cash converters. I bought bagfuls of CDs. I hadn’t bought CDs for such a long time. There was so much to discover, that I had missed out on. There was a remarkable variety to be had for less than $10 a piece. Very often, 2nd hand CDs are cheaper than legal downloads. And better, unless you don’t want to have extra clutter around the house. Can you believe – I must have bought hundreds of CDs this year.

Then there were some that I intended to just rip and sell off. I probably sold about 50? I’ll set a deadline, and if by then I haven’t gotten rid of those, I’ll just sell then back to the 2nd hand dealers.

Ever since graduation, reading has been a great hobby of mine. I had to do a great amount of reading in school. It was work for me. I didn’t get used to it. I liked knowledge. I liked thinking, but I didn’t like reading, at first. Something like you like having a sexy body but you don’t like going to a gym.

But this “I like reading whatever book comes into my hand” is far too indulgent and I managed to cut down on it.

There were 3 diversions. I suppose they led to nowhere, but interesting nevertheless. Cat Woman, Remedial training and the World Cup. Well, a 1st time winner has won the world cup, and that has traditionally been a good omen for me.

I have taken my eye off the ball a few times. Bummer about that one.

Not an excellent year, not a terrible year either. What it amounts to is that I have come to the age where – if you’re not going forward, you’re just going backwards. I said before that in 1990 and 2000 I was given a taste of what the future would be like. Now – things are busier, a little less care free. I feel a little more tired.



Friday, January 07, 2011

McDonald's and US Interstates

When I was in JC, they closed down one of the coffee shops in the block near the MRT. They replaced it with a McDonald’s.

I think that was one of the earlier McDonald’s that wasn’t in a town centre. I was like, “What? They’re raiding the coffee shops as well!”

It was 10 years later that I actually went into that McD’s for the first time. One of my earliest sojourns inside, it was my one date with Water Girl where she contrived to make me wait for more than 30 mins. But I started noticing that it’s quite a homely place.

And I think this is something that I picked up while in uni. I just felt like I wanted to have some place to park my ass and take in 2-3 hours of reading. I think I got that good feeling about doing that because it used to mean that I would be making progress on my books instead of waiting nervously for deadlines to come and eat me up. It satisfied my ideal of having an ever-expanding brain.

I discovered the McD’s at off-peak hours are excellent for this kind of activity.

I used to really enjoy this mode of activity, and I would indulge in it every weekend. I could tell myself that I was doing things I wanted to do in life and was good for me (up to a point, it was not wrong, but I’ve reached that point quite some time ago).

When McD’s became a 24 hour joint, it was even better. I would pop down there at 2 in the morning, have either half or the whole place to myself, and polish off maybe another 50 pages. I remember doing that every week at one point. Driving to a different 24 hour place and parking your ass there for 2-3 hours.

I remember that there used to be problems with vagrants. You would have a few old and haggard people just sitting in that place. I’m guessing it’s not often that they enjoy an air-conditioned, clean and green place. Some crazy old woman would just look around for unused napkins left behind by diners, and collect as many as she could. Another would just snore there for hours. There was this drunk guy who was sweet talking a middle aged woman with very low self-esteem. Eventually they were tired of calling the police so often, and instead they would close the Al Fresco section right before midnight. That way they would eject any trouble-maker from the inside and he couldn’t continue to hang out at the outdoors section.

There were some older McD’s, and they harked back to a time when McD’s was considered “high class” food (not anymore) and their restaurants were either very spacious, or comfortable. I think during the 80s it was actually fashionable to dress up like a punk and hang out there. They renovated quite a few McD’s restaurants and changed the dominant colour to orange so that it looks like a warmer place.

There were a few McD’s which were not changed. One of those was in the Toa Payoh Cinema. Another in Clementi central. A third in Bukit Merah central. All 3 have since closed down for various reasons. But the Bukit Merah central one was my favourite for a long time because it was so damn spacious.

They did a good job of making McD’s into a homely environment – that is, during the hours that it wasn’t positively crawling with people. It wasn’t such a bad thing that McD’s were replacing a few kopitiams. They couldn’t replace all the kopitiams, for one, and even many of the kopitiams and hawker centres, with the easy-to-clean formica tops and heavy plastic chairs were beginning to resemble the McD’s a little more. McD’s has infiltrated the HDB landscape because it managed to fit in so well.

It used to be a favourite activity for me: a café, an ice cream parlour, a McD’s or a bus. Sit down and read. Few hours (and I partially kidded myself those were productive hours) pass. Even a kopi-tiam, when an EPL match is going on. On my 30th birthday, I went to the Coffee Bean in front of Borders, ordered an all-day breakfast, and read there for an hour. That was my idea of fun. It was what fun was in my 20s.

It’s just as well that the Coffee Bean is gone. (Now replaced by a Coffee Club). When things are gone, it just means to me that a big mode of living is gone as well.

Even during that trans-continent road trip with my sis 2 years back – I would be staying in Motel 6s across the country because they were one of the cheapest and yet reliable places. Those places were rest stops on the great highway. There would sometimes be a 24 hour eatery nearby so that you could go and clog up your arteries at any given time of the day. Sometimes in the middle of the night I would sneak out and go read a book there for an hour. Not surprisingly this was during the high tide of my café era. It’s usually a bad decision to stay up because driving the next day would be a little more woozy and dangerous, so I only did that twice. But it does occur to me that those places are rest stops on the great highway of life.

And sometimes I wonder – when you’re travelling, 75% of the time you’re seeing the road. There’s nothing really beautiful or meaningful about roads. You just go through them to get from point A to point B. The boredom and tedium gradually breaks your spirit. At the end of the day, when you asked yourself, “did you enjoy the ride?” the answer is usually “ho hum”. Creature comforts only make the unbearable less so.

So when I think back upon that year of the end of 4 roads, I wonder, am I treating life as though it were some long road, some meaningless midpoint between point A (birth) and point B (death)?