Go with a smile!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Institutional obsolescence

Recently I stopped being such a bookworm. But I think I stopped at a bad time. It used to be that those books written between 1995 and 2008 said the same thing, and I probably read all the same arguments more than once – we are on the course towards more and more economic success, fuelled by greater openness in the world, greater efficiency gains through the internet, the magic of capitalism spreading towards more and more new markets.

After the great recession of 2008, there has been a lot of changes to the thinking that globalisation / capitalism is a great thing and they are leading us into a glorious brilliant future. Recently I borrowed 2 books from the library. One of them is “Life Inc” by Douglas Rushkoff. It charges that too much of our modern life is controlled by corporations, and because of the dynamics of the system, a lot of dysfunctional behaviour results. Another book is “The enigma of capitalism” by David Harvey, which posits another way of looking at macroeconomics. The way that an economy works is a lot like blood circulating around a body. You wouldn’t think of studying biology by studying how much blood flows into each organ. But for some reason that’s the way that economists do things. It’s crazy and it doesn’t make sense.

If there is something that I will remember about 2011, it’s that there is a big change in the old way of doing things. Many certainties are crumbling before our eyes. Here are some of them:

1. Japan and the West will always be the rich and powerful countries of the world
2. Books and CDs will be the primary means of transmitting words and music.
3. The social / democratic / welfare model is sustainable
4. The neoliberal “everything is a commodity” model is sustainable. Unfettered capitalism will always channel money into the most productive enterprises and it will help ensure that the people who benefit society the most stand to gain the most for themselves.
5. There are more than enough resources for all of us, and everything is getting cheaper
6. Economic growth is always a good thing because the earth will never run out of resources / more industrial activity is not going to change the climate
7. Life is always getting better / everybody is moving towards democracy
8. Democracy will always get the right people into the positions of power in government.
9. The Arab dictatorships will always be in place
10. PAP will always be able to hold on to government power in Singapore
11. Government power in Singapore will be able to achieve anything it wants
12. You will prosper when you put all your money in stocks
13. The most important wars are being fought in physical space instead of cyberspace
14. The internet is a force for democracy and freedom all over the world
15. Universities are the best way of getting educated / certifying the people with the best ability.
16. East Asia will be a peaceful and prosperous place in time to come.
17. The PC will always be on the cutting edge of technology.

All the old systems are failing. All those things that you thought were designed to work – they can’t make the transition when the situation changes. Your old school curriculum that drilled you over and over again to do complicated maths shit – you’d be better off knowing how to write a good computer program. Capitalism – you have to ask yourself why only a few people benefit from it. 2 party democracy in America – it’s all be bought by corporations. Old processes – people were given orders, and then they forgot what all those orders were for, and then they will follow the law to the letter, regardless of whether it still serves its original purpose or not. There’s so much of the sorcerer’s apprentice.

I think Douglas Rushkoff said that the world is being governed by "Legacy systems", which is an IT term for old stuff that is no longer relevant, but impedes progress towares new and better way of doing things, because it is very difficult to get people off that system. I think that is a great metaphor for understanding so much of what is going on in the world today.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Much ado about Curry

I think that this incident defied common sense. A lot of people from the government are actually going to stand up for the principles behind the mediation. They'll tell you the philosophy behind the mediation and all that. But the outcome will lack common sense. So let me state the reasons why.

1. Everybody cooks curry in Singapore. Newcomers just have to adjust. Curry is not a special local food, it is also the national dish in India and Great Britain. Even Japanese people, not known for their love of spices in cooking, love curry. So curry is not only found everywhere in Singapore, but many places outside of Singapore. It is one hell of a thing to impose a temporary ban on it.

2. The howls of indignation are not racist. At least, it is not anymore racist than the original terms of mediation.

3. In the "Good Old days", we suspect, the government would have told everybody, in the name of racial harmony and tolerance, to put up with the smell of curry. The narrative of building a nation in Singapore goes something like this: the Chinese settle in the Southern Seas. They meet strange new people from other lands. Maybe they don't like the smell of curry. Now, we have Hainanese curry rice, curry is a staple in Peranakan cooking, and we have curry yong tao foo.

Curry is lodged in our subconscious, maybe not as a national symbol, but at least a powerful symbol that there is a modus vivendi between the 3 main races. If there is a symbol for Racial Harmony Day, it ought to be a pot of curry. These days, if you want to piss off Singaporeans of all races, just take away their curry.

If you want to take it a little further, it is also a symbol that Singapore has, with no small difficulty, considering that we are a small nation, forged a separate identity for itself. Chinese migrants originally thought they were going back to China. But their descendents made a home here, and attempted to forge a community anew, something slightly different from what their parents envisioned. This something new is the nation of Singapore.

4. There is something wrong with the current mode of mediation. Where we don't attempt to articulate the values of the community to newcomers, where we don't attempt to "preserve our way of life" (SAF's words, not mine) by at least being a little more forceful about putting across the point that something valuable is in danger of being sacrificed. This is not "being neutral". This is "letting things slide". Mediators do not take a point of view.

I think in this case, they may have misread that the interests of the community are not served. One of the mediators admitted that she didn't realise that this curry story was going to blow up. Myself, I didn't know that it was going to blow up either, but I knew that people would get upset. If the mediators didn't see this coming, that if and when this story got publicised, does that mean that they're a little tone deaf and are effectively walking through a minefield blindfolded?

Why didn't they look out for the interests of the community? Why didn't they advice and warn the mainlander newcomer about the kind of flak that they were going to receive when they stop people from cooking curry? How did they not see that this would be interpreted as a cowboy newcomer muscling his way through the rights of a minority? Is the mediation narrowly defined as a mediation between 2 parties, or is there a 3rd party, the community / nation, whose input is being conveniently ignored?

The mediator said that nobody could say that the Indian family didn't willingly accept the terms of the negotiation. So ostensibly it's not fair to say that the Indian family was forced into it, and also not fair to say that the Indian family was not forced into it. But when the Indian family said, "we'll just hope that they give curry a try", now that's a hint.

Now let's look at a few specious arguments that some detractors of the cook curry movement have put up.

1. This cook curry movement is xenophobic and anti PRC

As said above, curry is a powerful symbol that assimilation between the 3 races is working. This symbol of assimilation is in contrast to another process of assimilation which is still in process, but whose success is yet to be guaranteed: the assimilation between the new arrivals and Singaporeans.

My reply is that an invitation to cook curry is just that. It could even be a belated attempt to reach out to mainlanders, even though it's an attempt that is done on our terms and not theirs. It is not a sit-in, a protest, a hate mob. It is a nice meal. But there is this subtext too: if you can't stand the curry, consider other options.

And after all, for all the talk about tolerance, there is one thing that you can legitimately be intolerant about: and that is intolerance. Tolerance is simply the intolerance of intolerance.

2. It is embarrassing that a protest has gathered the attention of the newspapers.

I don't think that people in Hong Kong or Taiwan are extremely embarrassed at their inability to handle people from the mainland. You tell me, what is the common factor in all of this? Singapore is just like Hong Kong or Taiwan, there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

3. Singapore has to position itself as a global city in order to attract more immigrants, so that it can further position itself as a global city.

The way in which the Singapore has integrated its races is something that is interesting. It has never been “neutral” about race. This is a melting pot, to be sure, but it is also a melting pot where the 3 main components are still identifiably there. The government, in the past, has always taken a large role in putting together the 3 races. Many of these measures are sometimes contentious, but to me they are experiments that worked. First, the ethnic quotas in HDB flats. Some people might think that this is a “forced” way of reaching out to people, and having to put up with neighbours. But putting them next to each other, side by side, even if the relationships are a little dysfunctional at first, are a great way of getting them to accept each other as a fact of life.

Second, the racial harmony act, which forbids people to stir up shit by making comments about each other’s race that might cause offence. On the face of it, this is also like forced sterilisation, where we are forced to deal with our differences by pretending that they don’t exist. In reality, when a lot of time goes by without major incidents and flashpoints, it becomes a powerful force for accepting of each other’s cultures. People start picking up subtleties and understanding how each others’ systems work. Conversely, if you study how things work in places where ethnic integration has failed, such as Iraq or the former Yugoslavia, or even medieval Spain, you understand that many years of peace and harmony can be torn asunder by one divisive act.

The old methods of integration are disappearing in the name of globalisation. Now, when we have another class of new foreigners, they don’t seem to be living in the same Singapore as the rest of us heartlanders. I once asked an angmoh who claimed to live in Singapore for 5 years, if she knew a place called Toa Payoh that was 3 MRT stops away from Orchard. She didn’t. For that matter, how many angmohs do you see north of Novena, that are not going to the zoo?

Well the fact is that we do have a lot of new migrants, and we’re going to have to learn all over again to live side by side with them. Pinoys. Non-Tamil Indians. Mainlanders. Indonesians. Things are very difficult this time because instead of learning 3 sets of stereotypes, we have a lot of cultures to learn from. In the past, it was still possible to achieve that old balancing act, where we had harmony between the 3 major ethnic groups, and the 3 major ethnic groups still maintained their separate, individual identities. Now we have the foreigner where we can’t figure out where we stand with them. We look at a new guy and can’t really tell if he’s Vietnamese, Burmese, Indonesian or Pinoy until he or she opens his mouth. People speak languages that we can’t identify. It is a strange and bewildering world. The old rules are being swept away.

I don’t think the 3 anchors – Chinese, Malay , Tamil, should go. (Yes, I said Tamil, because I don’t feel I understand the new Indians very well). At least they are like signposts to guide us through this strange new world. But they no longer stand for as much of the new picture as they used to.

Basically, the point of all this: last time, we knew how to integrate the races together. Now, we’re just not very sure. I wish we had done something like, we get a new group in, and then we try to integrate them into our structure. Of course, that means we introduce the foreigners slowly, which is something that we adamantly are not doing right now. Instead, it’s all about economic dictates.

So do you now understand the meaning of curry? Curry is a symbol of that old structure. Singlish is also a symbol of that old structure, but for some reason, this other much cherished symbol of racial integration is in danger of the government declaring that outsiders have a problem understanding us. It might be sacrificed in the name of global integration. I feel that there is a danger that the government is getting a little too dumb to realise that it’s dismantling something good. So what do we sign up for? The standard of living in the 3rd world, and our standard of living eventually converging towards each other?

It is a small war between that old nationalist integration between the 3 major races, and a newer integration with the global community. Something where we don't really know if it's going to work.

We are losing our sovereignty. We used to hang Fior Contemplacion when we thought we should, we used to cane Michael Fay whenever we thought we should. Now somebody comes into our HDB flats and asks us to stop cooking curry, and we bend over like meek obedient slaves.

Well, Singlish might be something that puts us in conflict with the rest of the world, even though it shouldn’t. New York, London (cockney), Liverpool and much of Scotland are proud of their local accents, and we have to hide Singlish away like something to be ashamed of? We have bureaucrats insufficiently enlightened to understand how Singlish can be an essential part of our branding.

Curry will not put us in conflict with the rest of the world. In London, during happier days, it was a symbol of integration between Whites, Blacks and Indians (known as Asians).

What we should be aiming for, is that we should rebuild our national identity. Now, we see all these forces tearing up all the old rules. But we should still have a national identity in place. Singapore should still feel like a coherent community. We shouldn’t have ethnic enclaves, disenfranchised foreigners, disenfranchised locals. At least we are helping to make sure that the foreigners are, by and large employed. It would be a total disaster if we didn’t do that. Those global “cities” where there are significant minorities who operate completely independently of mainstream society should not be models for us to emulate. I’m talking about violence in the suburbs of Paris. Marseilles becoming a North African city. Islamist movements in London that led to the subway bombings. These are products of failed integration.

So this is the nub of my complaint: I don’t see Singapore taking concrete steps to avoid going down that road. We are pulling dead bodies out of public parks and we don’t really know how they got there. We are no longer the clean and safe exceptional city in Asia.

And to do that, we should have some notion of who we are, and not allow these new forces to tug us around however they feel like it. Newcomers will bring their traditions, their food, their culture here, and they will be able to influence Singapore, but telling somebody not to cook curry is just plain disruptive.

4. Mediation is unbiased and neutral

I think I had a mediator writing a long essay on what mediation is all about. I suppose it is very easy to say that you’re neutral, and it avoids all kinds of legal complications. But what is absent in this mode of thinking is the voice of the community. There is no definition of what is right and wrong. Effectively it means that the views of a fresh off the boat migrant and somebody who knows Singapore really well are accorded equal status. That’s not right. If all mediated outcomes turn out to be midpoints between the positions of both parties, then there is every incentive for people to take extreme positions, so that he can get what he wants. Or the one who is more forceful in arguing the case will get what they want. There is a disincentive to start with moderate positions, and the centre is squeezed out. Suppose I were in the middle of getting robbed of $20. I would suppose a neutral approach is that I get robbed of $10 instead.

The mediator argued that it is a fallacy that the mediation outcome will always take the middle ground between two opposing stances. But how do you avoid taking the middle ground, when the mediator has promised not to take a stand? If the mediator’s job is to go through and see what is the interests of all parties, then doesn’t this contradict the other aspect of mediation, where they are seldom allowed to give advice and never allowed to give judgement? Because when you are identifying who are the interested parties, and what their interests are, you are basically making a judgement.

In this particular case, I think the mediator missed out on the interest of the community. They didn’t consider what the community thought. They should have warned the mainlander family of the consequences but that mediator told me that she didn’t forsee this happening. Now, if you are a mediator in a community and you don’t really know what that community is thinking, it is very dangerous.

The mediator brought out some very interesting insights on what a mediation means. It is not meant to be enforcible. It is not meant to be legally binding. It is not backed up with force. It is mainly there to defuse the tension. And to be fair, the mediator herself has expressed a lot of dissatisfaction with the process.

But I preferred that the government used to take a moral stand on a few issues. I'm sure that the mediator can include the voice of the government in the mediation. Even the People's Association can be represented, since they are ostensibly the voice of the village. It cannot be just about two parties, as though the two parties live in a vaccuum.

And there are a lot of boilerplate answers, civil service style. Here are the procedures. We followed the procedures. It doesn't matter that the outcome is absurd, our asses are well and fully covered. No, we will not review our procedures, even in the face of reality. (But to be fair to them, it is fucking difficult to change procedures.)


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9:20 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...


3:20 AM


Monday, August 15, 2011

Tips on naming your kid

10 SAF Name Tags that you don’t want your kid to be wearing so think carefully before you name your baby.

1. CB Chow. In fact, CB anything, so think about that Tan Cheng Bok! CC Bai
2. DB anything
3. LJ Wee
4. SA Tan
5. CK Pek
6. LT Tan (Anything that denotes rank, like SG, LT, BG, LG, MG, PC, OC, PM, SM etc)
7. SM Lan
8. KN Nah
9. P Pwee / PJ anything.
10. PC Cheng


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Memories of my workplace part 2

23. Bumping into ppl on weekends.
Sometimes the work would spill over onto the weekends, for various reasons. Too much procrastination during working hours. Or running a simulation on a Friday and checking if it did finish running on a Saturday. The attire would invariably be sloppy. Maybe the same home clothes I went to sleep in. Maybe slippers. Unshaven. Then I would bump into ppl. Sometimes honest face. Sometimes Mr Medan. We would say “what the fuck are you doing here?” and then get on with work.

24. Part time studies
It was a crazy time, the last few months. Juggling my studies and my work. At first I thought that with a little more effort I would be able to pull it off. But for some reason having to both manage my work and a appallingly heavy course load proved rather too much for my poor overtaxed brain. For 2 days in a week, I would drive off to night classes. Then, while they didn’t have programming assignments or what not, I would have to read papers and figure out what was going on. I didn’t exactly take to it like a fish to water, but it’s true that artificial intelligence is not for the feint of heart.

Like I said, I didn’t like driving because I don’t like pumping carbon into the atmosphere. So I used to drive from my work place to NUS in order to make it to lectures on time, then drive back to my work place after that. Then I would take public transport home, while reading on the bus, leaving my car at the work place, so that I could go for evening lectures on Wednesday the same way.

So there were 1 or 2 occasions when I came back late on Tuesday, came into the office and surprised my boss who was staying back to do his ECAs in the office.

25. Spying on couples
I was notorious for bumping into couples from my workplace. Or maybe I just travelled alone so much. Or maybe everybody else knew how to shut their mouth instead of me. I saw a couple before it was open knowledge that they were dating. I saw ppl with their families (Mr Engineer). I saw Nat and someone he denies dating. I bumped into the CEO and his family at the columbarium.

26. Drinking sessions
The new boss came in, and he was an ex-Army guy. He probably found out quickly that he’s a jock in a department of geeks in an organisation of jocks. (cf Singapore is a Chinese island in a Malay sea in a continent that is dominated by Chinese.) But he was, at least in the beginning, interested enough in his ppl to bring them for drinking sessions at Temasek Club.

27. Interns / card games
There was a time when the guy in charge of looking after the poly interns decided to spice things up a little by getting people to play card games in the office. Thereafter, for a period of 6 months to 1 year, we were playing a lot of card games in the office during lunch time.

28. Studying for GREs
There was a year when I was studying for the computer science GRE subject test. It was my ticket out of my current job (although to what was never very clear). It started out being fun for 2 weeks, and then after that it was a drag, it reminded me why I wanted to study science and arts but not engineering.

I had assumed that hitting the books would be a breeze, just because I liked reading popular science / econs / psychology books so much. I was wrong. It was confusing, it was overly technical, it was very straining on my powers of imagination to keep on having to draw parallels between many new concepts that I had just learnt 1 or 2 hours ago.

For that year, instead of idling and having fun and reading plenty of general knowledge books to feed my head, I had to plough through plenty of dry material. Well I suppose there was a reason why it’s called work.

29. Text books
I have to admit that I was thinking about further studies from the moment I received my Snowy Hill diploma. At first, I thought that I was going to read more books on mathematics. I had read a lot of books where you did very funky things with mathematics. How to use stochastic differential equations. How to compute probabilities for time since last event, time to next event. Functional analysis. Topology. Complex analysis.

Gradually I had to move away from mathematics and go into computer science. Mathematics was too embedded in what Edward De Bono variously called rock logic or black hat thinking. It was too easy to be seduced by Snowy Hill, and believe that anything they taught you would be useful.

I tried to read about economics, but I think I found it too heavy going after a while. I did learn a lot, but I’m just wondering if … well in my early 20s, I thought that I was going to learn everything. Well if I had a hundred good years when my brain was learning things at the rate it was learning, it might have been a sensible task. But academic learning is something that doesn’t scale up. The more you know, the harder it is to learn, because then every new thing must be connected to everything else you know, and your brain has to do the equivalent of running around with a haversack.

30. Cum sessions
OK, they are usually called comm sessions, because they are for the COO to address the people, rally them and boost their morale. For a few years in a row, he was there just to harangue people on 1.) productivity or 2.) safety. It was boring, and not particularly useful. I admit it got better when they revamped it so that it could showcase some initiatives that were being done on the corporate level.

In fact, on my last working day, I took a half day of leave just to avoid that session.

31. Codfish
We broke up but we remained as friends. And we managed to remain as penpals for a few years, during which time I learnt as much about her as I did while we were LDR-ing. But through a combination of unresolved issues, having divergent interests and personality clashes, we drifted apart. That is why it’s so difficult to think back on the LDR part of the relationship – we’re basically strangers now.

32. auctions
There was this time when I was compulsively buying books from warehouse sales. I think the compulsive collection of books went on until a few years ago. Later on it did occur to me: most current affairs non-fiction books are just extremely lengthy magazine articles. I would be much better off surfing the net for good stuff.

A few years ago I decided to sell away a good portion of my books. At first it was just listing a lot of stuff on yahoo auctions. When that died, it was ebay.com.sg, which was free and had a turbo lister. When I left snowy hill, I think my feedback rating was around 350 or something. Now it’s 650. Which is great.

Recently I had taken to buying a lot of CDs from cash converters. It is actually possible to find a lot of great CDs there at a low price. But now I have a backlog of more than 200 CDs to sell, and the process of buying and selling CDs has taken up so much of my time that I’ve just decided to stop buying.

33. Being late
I’m always late for work. I was punctual for my first 2 months, and then after that, almost never. I don’t know if I could have pulled off being on time for a month in a row. But I know that if my work ethic was good enough to do that, it would also be good enough that I would have had a great career here.

34. New transport infrastructure
The Northeast Line opened 1 year into my work life. It’s a pretty old system by now, and I got to get used to it. Later on, there was the circle line, and then I’ve found an alternate route to get back. In fact, one of my favourite hobbies was to find novel ways of getting back home from my office.

Getting to office in the morning was something that required a compromise of a few factors: walking distance, travelling comfort and time taken. The one that I always use is the fastest, but it also requires a lot of walking.

And considering that I worked in the same place for 9 years, it’s funny that I found good way of going to work 1 year before I would leave. It allowed me to sleep on a bus for at least 20 minutes, and didn’t take much more than 1 hour. Of course I never woke up early enough to use it.

35. Taking leave
There would be great days when I would take leave. I don’t know why my bosses always insisted that I gave them a lot of notice. If there were days when I didn’t have anything to do or I didn’t feel like working, it was just as well I took leave. I don’t know why they insisted – probably some archaic idea that equated the ability to take leave way in advance to executive competency.

I liked taking leave. I had the freedom to wander around. I often treated it like a weekend. I could be watching a movie. I could be reading a book, going around in a bus. When you stepped out of the office after lunchtime, the feeling could be magical. There were only 2 or 3 occasions when I did not work, and did not go to the office for more than 4 days in a row, and the sensation of returning to that building after not being there for a long time will be exceedingly strange.

36. Fancy eateries at Bukit Timah
I suppose the soaring land prices made a lot of people very rich. I am old enough to remember a time when $600K could buy you a semi-detached house in a prime location in Bukit Timah. These days, anything less than a few million is wishful thinking.

There was the Island Creamery at Serene Centre. I think I should go there more often since I don’t know when it’s going to close. There were a few places at Cluny Close. A few bars with overpriced beer. (Amusingly enough, one of them is near the Mormon church.)

37. American consultants / wrestling with the program.
I was asked to collaborate with some American consultants on a project. They were going to build what we’ll call an optimiser. I was put in charge of preparing the simulator for them to use.

There was some fairly quixotic behaviour on our part. We were supposed to send them the simulator to use. I was supposed to only give them a compiled version of the simulator. I had to encode certain parts of the simulator so that it didn’t show up when you passed the simulator through a text editor. I had to do other weird stuff to make sure that the black box I was passing them was really really black. And my department was not 100% interested in seeing them succeed with the optimiser, so they asked me to liaise with them, knowing that I’m a little tardy.

I think this was also an exciting time for me. There is a time in your career when you finally feel that you are getting the hang of things, that you’re finally being trusted to do some things. I found all kinds of weird stuff in the simulator when I was asked to run it. It was my nature to go out and keep on squashing bugs. But at the same time, I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to admit to those guys that the simulator was wonky.

Funnily enough, after all the effort that we spent in trying to make the simulator work, it’s now in danger of not being able to continue, now that most of the principals involved are out of the department. I’m passing the simulator to a youngster, but I’m not 100% sure that she can make it work. If she can do it, it will be a heroic thing.

38. Inflatable friends
One of the fruits of the friendships that were forged in this department was an inflatable toy, a “bop buddy” that was purchased when one of our guys went over to the US for a simulation conference, and he bought an inflatable punching bag, something that probably paralleled the lowly status of our department within the organisation.

That friendship didn’t last for long for reasons I won’t elaborate upon here. But after both of them left this department, the inflatable friend was passed to ghost. After a few years, ghost left and it was passed to shingot. Then after a few months, shingot left and it got handed over to me. I didn’t know if I was up to being the curator, so I passed it to honest face. Instead it ended up at Nat’s cubicle, which probably sounded like a good decision. It was, for a while the bride’s bouquet, and whoever caught it would be the next one to find a job outside of our department.

39. Songwriting
There was this one year when I found out how to work a pirated software that I bought somewhere, and finally I could flush out from my memory some songs I had been holding in my head until then. Then later that year, quite a few songs came pouring out, and a lot of it was pleasantly surprising. I felt that I did have a viable career option as a songwriter, even though learning many other aspects of the music business would require fair amounts of hard work.

40. Up all Saturday night
During my 30th year, I just decided to go and take things easy for a while. I would just stay up late and bring a lot of books to a 24 hour joint, and order a coke, and drink and drink and read and read. It was a strange time in my life. I felt that I was in a shuttle that was moving very fast over great distances, but at the same time I wasn’t really doing anything in particular. It could be the story of my life, that I was constantly being disconnected from reality.

I also had the habit of going to a gourmet coffee joint, curled up with a book, and hanging out there for upwards of 2-3 hours, just reading. It felt great at first, and I almost came to think of Starbucks as the modern version of the opium den. Eventually I got bored of all that, but it took me a long time to get bored.

41. In camp training
It’s actually a novel experience for me to be going through in camp training. When I finished my full time service, I had only finished the courses. I hadn’t had any operational experience. For me now, I would have thought of it as a great experience. I would have gotten some insight into what operational matters were all about. I didn’t get that in the uni because I studiously avoided engineering courses. I got found out in the first few years at work and it almost destroyed my career.

Funnily enough, I was in a position of some authority at my unit, since I was the second last in the pecking order. I actually had to be a commander of an armoured vehicle. It was a bit nerve wrecking at first, and all my men enjoyed laughing at me. Till now, I don’t really know if I have what it takes to command them. But it doesn’t really matter. ICT was one big party, compared to active service. I did learn a lot, I did work at being better, but I knew that I could never be a commander. No matter now, since I’ve only 2 more cycles to go.

I just felt that it was a funny thing, we were all obsessed with national service when we were school kids. When I was in my uniformed group, we were always told, we had to do this or else we wouldn’t be ready for service. And now I’m at the point where none of this would ever matter. It really felt that national service was one big anticlimax.

42. Remedial training
Most of the time I didn’t have to go out on my own to do my IPPT test. I would have at least 1 in camp training and the IPPT would be conducted then. Suddenly there was one full window where there was no training. And I forgot to take my IPPT test! It was horrifying. I was charged, I was fined, I had to go down to CMPB (taking leave, of course) and answer charges. Dress up in an army uniform. I was in this room, and the officer read the charges out to me. Then he said, “Are there any reason why din you do IPPT?” I said no. He was probably a little startled that I wasn’t going to come up with any bullshit. SAF officers are probably trained to think that you are being cheeky every time you open your mouth.

I got fined $50. But the next time, I was told, I would be thrown into detention barracks. So I got to be extra careful with my IPPTs now.

The funny thing is, I had an in camp training scheduled. And I would pass it if I passed my IPPT. I fucking failed my chin ups by 1. And in the end, I was subjected to the indignities of remedial training.

My 9 years were OK. They weren’t excellent, but they weren’t horrifying either. Except for my first few years at work, which were full of existential angst. They were, truthfully, quite underwhelming. And it did feel like I was just muddling along, and pushing all the big and important stuff to a time that was later in my life. In fact the first big event of my life that would come up would be my studies. Another big one, if I could manage it, would be to find a partner. A third one, would be to have a musical career of a larger or smaller sort.


Blogger Shingo T said...

Sweet memories, bro.

Just wanted to say I read both parts of your memories, just so you know you aren't writing to the wall.

Keep us updated of your new adventures. I have your blog on my Google Reader, so will catch ya whenever you do updates.

12:59 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Thanks it feels great to be read.

Although - it does feel a little weird to be blogging when you're over 30 and downright strange when you're over 35.

5:09 PM


Memories of my workplace part 1

After months of not really accepting the inevitable, I have decided to leave. After all that’s been said and done, it’s just nuts that I’m not going to follow through. Do I know exactly what I’m doing? No. For some time I had been vain enough to wonder how I’d be remembered when I leave this place. After all, I spent 9 years here.

Then it occurred to me, when I was making that change in my life, that I would be looking forward, not looking back. Until one day. For some reason, I thought that I would report sick. Now I never get an MC without being sick, but it was a soft MC. Just a bit of flu. Just feeling a little tired. It was something I hadn’t done in a while, maybe did it once or twice a year. Then I decided to go to my company’s clubhouse to rent a few VCDs. (I always made copies of them and returned them the next day.)

If I had something to compare it to, it would be like the time I left secondary school. First few years at secondary school were painful for me. The rest of the time was fairly relaxing. Sure, there were times of underwhelming achievement. Sure, I didn’t think I 100% belonged to that place. But I would be lying if I said I learnt nothing, achieved nothing, made no friends, didn’t stretch myself a little here and there, that the whole experience was hellish. It wasn’t a time of intense achievement. It was a time when there was some hard work, some slacking going on. It would not be a heroic time in my life, but there were good memories.

There was a time, when I was thinking back on my secondary school days. My biggest regret from those times was my not being a member of my school’s maths team. (Coincidently I’ve just met up with one of the guys who was keeping me out of the team.) But I suddenly asked myself another question: were you happy during those days? Yes, I was. Was I happy during my 9 years on my job? Not really extremely happy, but more happy than not.

Why am I leaving my job? I would be “more happy than not” for the rest of my life. But more than likely I was starting to get tired of what I was doing. Even if the career progression was not fantastic, I could always dream up of a few more new things to do, new ways to do things. But in the end, I needed a change of environment badly. Or I could see myself rotting in my current position.

So what I have here are memories of my time. Not all of these things took place at work, but all of them took place during these 9 years. I'm putting up 42 because it's a nice round number.

1. The basketball / football games
Halfway into my second year, Sniper started organising games in the evening for our department. A lot of people made their appearances there, except for the bosses of course. Even so, water tap was a regular. There were people from other departments joining us sometimes. People who later became deputy factory managers.

Those weren’t entirely happy times for me. I got more than my fair share of sniping. But there are always team mates you like, and others you don’t and they always come in one package. I was no athlete, but I learnt how to play a bit of basketball and soccer, very importantly, before I hit 30. Because after that, you probably will never pick up any more physical skills. Sure, there were quarrels. Sure, I drove a nail into the coffin at the end. But it was good while it lasted. I’ll never regret walking out of it the way I did, but those are fond memories.

2. The lunches in coffee shops and hawker centres of old housing estates
We work in a “factory”. The building that we worked in had been refurbished 6 months before I started work. Most of the time, there were 3 stalls in the cafeteria. The Chinese stall, the Malay stall and the drinks stall. The Chinese stall was making a killing because he provided lunches to all the crane operators. Nearly 10 years later, he’s still there. I detest his stall with a passion.

So we often drove out to eat. Most of the time, it was somebody else’s car. We would end up at a hawker centre or a coffee shop at an old housing estate. The thing about the older housing estates, they are a reminder of what Singapore used to be, a more idealistic, generous period, when people didn’t charge you sky high rentals, or make you pay more for your food just because there was air con, or squeeze you into a ridiculously small place. Sure, these were grimy places but I liked them because they remind me of Singapore’s golden period. It’s too bad, that when the inhabitants in there die, the whole place will also be emptied out.

3. Sipping tea at meetings
We had a messenger who made good pandan tea. He was some kind of a joker as well. I suppose it was here, as well as my time in NS, that I learnt how to drink tea Singapore / Malaysia style. It would be possible to replicate this elsewhere but I cannot imagine why anybody would want to flavour their tea with anything else other than condensed milk.

4. Reading books in ice cream parlours after work. The long rides on the Lornie Road bus
There was this period when I was always taking the same long route back. I would go to a nearby bus terminal, pick up an icy drink at a convenience store, and sip it on the back of a bus, reading my latest book from the warehouse sale. Or I would stop at an ice cream parlour halfway, order 2 scoops, and just while time away. Or maybe it would be a beer. I think it was a very decadent time. I was almost determined to have an easy life around the time when I was 30. I don’t know if I regret that now.

5. Teapot
A few months ago, a colleague that I had once gone after got married. I haven’t talked to her since. There were a few dates, and then it ended like that. I’m not under any illusions that you have to put in the work if you want to go after the girl. For various reasons, and possibly because of other things going on in my life, I didn’t go after her. And even if I did, I don’t think it would have worked out.

6. Borrowing VCDs
The company’s clubhouse had a VCD rental service. It was a boon for me. To be sure, you only got the movies that opened at theatres. You didn’t get art house masterpieces. But there was a good selection, and once the movie was out, it was certainly cheaper than watching it at the cinemas. I copied a lot of movies and I still have a stockpile, from the time when I would just burn loads of movies for the heck of it. Supposing I were to watch a movie every other week, which is actually a lot, I would still take 1 or 2 years to finish the lot.

7. Getting my mobile phone subscription
The other boon from the clubhouse would be corporate mobile phone plans. I pay 50% of what a lot of other mobile phone users pay. However I am not a mobile phone fan, and I don’t have an iPhone or any wi fi / 3G thingy that most ppl have these days. I haven’t taken advantage of the latest plans. But I did remember how exciting it was to get my first handphone, even though it was one of those old dot matrix thingies.

8. Going to video arcades after work
Yes, for 2 or 3 years at the beginning of my working years I used to go play at video arcades. They still had those things during that time. I used to play puzzle games, like bubble bobble, shanghai mahjong. Later on I developed better vices, like reading books.

9. Going to libraries / book stores after work
College turned me into a reading fanatic. I was a general knowledge / history fanatic for many years. It lasted until 1 or 2 years ago, when I got tired of it all. Those days, I would just go to the library, look at all the wonderful colourful books, read the blurbs, which often consist of somebody’s great idea of the world, and then pick 1 or 2 for the weekend.

10. Expeditions to the Lighthouse / Riau Islands / Bangkok
In the earlier years, my colleagues were a fairly close knit bunch. This was before they started snatching each other’s wives. They were quite gracious about it, arranged everything. Barbeques. Funky games. For us it was just the novel experience of being able to laze around in a bungalow for cheap.

11. Naps on the bus during lunch time
I didn’t always get my 6-7 hours of sleep. It would be hell in the morning, but then I would just excuse myself and get myself some shut eye. Sometimes I would just get on a bus and go sleep on the seat. Or I would go to the cafeteria downstairs for a quick meal and grab half an hour of shut eye. The third place I could nap was my van. I would just grab a quick lunch, drive to a multi-storey car park, park it there, and then spend half an hour sleeping.

12. Driving ppl around for the 1st time / driving back from sports day.
Football and basketball sessions were also fun when I had my own vehicle. I would ferry ppl around for late dinners at 9 something. I liked the novelty of starting to drive all by myself. In fact I like driving. I just don’t like the idea of pumping carbon into the atmosphere.

13. Conversations with Water Tap
And before I got the van, it was invariably water tap who gave me a lift home. I can’t say that know him very well. And there are times when he would start nagging me about work, or about finding a girlfriend. But he never allowed awkward silences to take place, and I liked that. He had become a factory manager and recently I had dinner with him. Then we ended up talking about factory work. That was interesting.

14. Joo Chiat
A very strange period in my life, 3 months in all. But no regrets at all, really.

15. Gatherings at ppls’ houses
Many of the times they used to be at Sniper’s house. Then there were gatherings at Totoro’s house, and once at Ghost’s house. Nat was supposed to host 1 time, but he didn’t. I don’t host these things because my home has a bad vibe. Basketball Jones – I went to his house and I remembered that bachelor pads should not be hosting parties. My apartment at Snowy Hill Uni was always in a mess. Sometimes they were fun and other times not. And mostly in the early years. But good experience.

16. Long Distance running training
So many people started running marathons that when one day shingot decided to run a half marathon. I thought, OK. I’ll do it too. In the end, I finished a half marathon one year and the full marathon the next, and then I quit. I hope shingot succeeds earlier because it gets harder when you get older.

I don’t know if there is something about my department which is conducive towards finishing a marathon. Maybe it was the ability to keep on bashing your head against the wall in the face of overwhelming apathy from the rest of the corporation. Maybe it was the introversion that made it humanely possible to spend hours alone. Because long distance training is an overwhelmingly solitary activity, and having a running partner only makes things slightly better.

But the honour roll of people in my department who have finished marathons is fairly long. There is 1 data clerk, 1 programmer analyst (I think), Nat, Leonpix, Blinky, Dr Maths, Garoupa, Colonel, and finally myself. Shingo and Sniper have run half marathons, but probably they didn’t finish marathons because, unlike me, they have a life.

17. Concerts with Nat
This was only in the last few years. There weren’t more than 4 or 5. And most of the time I decided where to go. But the music was never any less than excellent. First there was George Clinton, then Joe Lovano, then Tortoise and Joanna Newsom.

18. Blogging / secret diary of Montgomery burns
In the middle years, it became an open secret that I blogged. There were a few people who got to read my blog. These days I wouldn’t let the youngsters know about it, I wouldn’t let the bosses know about it, and my readership has basically dropped to zero. But that’s OK. Alfian called his blog his secret wank shed, and that’s what it is for me.

There was a boss who everybody got frustrated with, and we even set up a secret blog for him. I got worried, and slapped a password on it – now I don’t even know what it is.

19. “Training sessions”
Our company held training for its staff. They purportedly taught stuff like customer service, creativity training and etiquette. While some of these courses are useful, a lot of them was just making sure that these things were taught to people in case they didn’t already know. There was a lot of fairly solid stuff that could have been taught. Some of the time was just spent in teambuilding games. Some of these were feel good sessions. Generally it was of dubious utility.

When the Colonel came in, he revamped the training and made some courses more relevant to the company. I always thought that was the right thing to do, but it speaks volumes about our company that until he came along, nobody thought to do that.

20. Stalking water girl
There was this time, right after I got dumped by codfish, that I passed by water girl, and I said to myself, this will be my next girlfriend. A few years passed, not much happened. After much nagging from my friends, I decided to go and stalk her. It was a big effort, and lasted for 1 year or so, on and off. Later on, I read her blog and realised that we just weren’t right for each other, and that the effort was more or less entirely wasted.

21. Weddings
The first 3 weddings in my adult life were affairs to forget. The first one, I missed because I was going away to the USA. The second one, I also missed. Codfish was the bride, and for that matter, it ended in divorce. The third one was sniper, and it also ended in divorce. The rest seem to be in good condition so far. (edited: I learnt last weekend that another one ended in divorce. But it was a buffet lunch wedding, I was 10 mins late and I missed the very short solemnisation ceremony)

I remembered that at the first wedding I went to, I often felt very touched when they pulled out all the photos from the archives, and it’s like a fairy tale, ppl live happily ever after. But as you get older, it’s more a matter of been there, done that.

22. Trip to the USA
My sister asked me to accompany her on a trip across the USA. And it happened around the time my bond ended. It was a time for me to think about the future. It’s a curious thing, a lot of the time, up till the trip to the US, I was still able to remember my university life fairly vividly. Thereafter, I seem to have completely cut my ties to the USA. Now that I’m going to Mexico, I seem to have forgotten what Snowy Hill was like.


Blogger Nat said...

And I will miss discovering good bands lost to obscurity...

I guess when it is my time, I will have very little to say apart from who our dear inflatable friend lands up with :)

8:41 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

I dunno about yr time. I got a little sick of the job. But if you dun get sick of the work, it seems like quite an OK place to be.

12:12 AM