Go with a smile!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Frigid me

I just had a very strange encounter on a dating website. Somebody came up to me and said that she found my profile funny (who am I to disagree) and she asked if I would be her friend. I replied. The exchange didn’t go particularly well. Maybe I take too long to warm up to people. I don’t really know what she wants. She mentioned something funny to me, like she hadn’t slept with someone in a while but she was really picky. I wrote something back to her and I must have either sounded a little cold or a little snide but after that she abruptly said goodbye, after scolding me for being smug. I’m a little pissed off about that.

I wonder sometimes what it is about women who were blessed with good looks when they were young. It’s like you’re operating under a totally different set of rules and social norms. Then those people who lose their looks, hopefully they adapt to a second set of rules, otherwise the latter portion of their lives is going to be rather sad. In particular, I sense that what happened with that girl was she just blithely assumed that she had to be a little forward and all the guys would just swarm over. Well, not true. I didn’t have the intention to put her in her place, but I was a little irritated at how she seemed to think that once she offered some leg, I was bound to treat her like a queen.

But sometimes I wonder if I’ve been a little cold. I thought a little about the times when – I don’t know if I can say this without sounding too stuck up. First, there was this girl I met in Europe. We chatted, she seemed comfortable with me. Then she smiled and flashed me the tank top she was wearing underneath her coat. I was a little taken aback. It was a little awkward after that. That is something that I rather regret because I sensed that she was a nice girl.

On one of my last dates with codfish, I had just come back home from Snowy Hill. After the white heat of that relationship on ICQ (remember that?) I was meeting her face to face for the first time. We had already split up. She had already accepted a proposal. It passed in a blur. I was dead to the world. Later on, I reflected on her behavior that night and it occurred to me that I could have had my first kiss with her. But who would want a first kiss under such circumstances?

Then there was this time somebody came up to me on the internet, and got to know me. We exchanged phone numbers. Maybe she was lonely. We had a few phone conversations and it veered close to phone sex, even though I really didn’t know how to react either. In the end, she stopped calling and she told me that I was cold. I think that’s quite accurate.

There was this time I attended a digital music course in Snowy Hill. I recorded down my work on MP3 and let my sister listen to it. It was good stuff, but she thought that it was a little cold. That’s one thing I’ve always had to grapple with since Snowy Hill: I know that I’m a winter person. Goat once called me ice man. The name didn’t stick but it was not inaccurate.

Then there was cat woman. Not to be confused with Water Girl, who was also really into cats. She got quite friendly with me, and later on she asked me as a favour to send her cat to the vet for her. By then I had looked her up, read her rantings on Facebook and basically decided that she was carrying way way too much emotional baggage for my liking. So I let her be.

Meanwhile, on the dating site, there were a few women who came up to me. But they didn’t seem suitable, until the one who contacted me not long ago. Well, I think in the end she’s not suitable either. But I would have liked to be able to talk to her for a little while longer than to just have her brush me away just because she thinks she can.

Well I've sent the text to my sister and she hasn't replied yet and I was wondering why until I remembered that she was visiting her boyfriend's family. Yes, she's dating her first Asian American boyfriend after a whole string of white men who didn’t work out for her and for once she's happy. I wouldn't call most of her angmor boyfriends losers, but they were probably not level headed enough for her. And their values are sufficiently different that I sometimes wonder why - she's not a less smart person than I am - why she hasn't figured it out by now.

So while there are mitigating circumstances, such as my choice to pursue a postgraduate degree in a place where I wasn’t really interested in hooking up with anybody, it ought to be a great source of embarrassment that in the last few years, more women have made advances on me than the other way around.

I’ve been given pretty contradictory advice about what to do. On one hand it’s almost a cliché that people tell you to “be yourself”. On the other hand, people do tell me to “not be yourself”. So that’s pretty contradictory. I have to lose a little bit of that gruffness. Capricorns are not known for being tender. There’s always this tension when you’re going out on a date. On one hand you want to show your best side. (Well for me, I’m so rusty at this that I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to want to show your best side.) On the other hand, you want to leave in a few of your flaws because you don’t really want to be correcting them all the time. Unless you have already made your mind up that you’re actually going to eradicate them, which is a process complex enough that it deserves another post of its own.

OK, sister has written back. Her conclusion: I was too curt, and she was looking for somebody who was “curious, admiring, respectful, polite”. Gee being a boyfriend is pretty damn tough, then. She told me that I sounded like a classic INTP. The thing about INTPs is that they don't care enough about what other people think about them. If they want to go after some higher truth, they will be utterly and fearlessly devoted. Like Einstein - Einstein was an INTP. To do likewise for a lover, maybe a little harder.

Update: I was looking at my messages and I found that she changed her picture. It looked like a model - wow if that was her then she was really hot. Unfortunately she also looks like somebody who moves in totally different circles from myself. I checked back 10 minutes later and she had deleted her profile.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No more 9/11 anniversaries

What am I going to post, now that it is the anniversary of 9/11 all over again?

Nothing. Because it doesn't really matter anymore. It was just a terrorist act. It incited a great amount of bad feeling towards Muslims, but it's done a lot of harm to the US. It basically turned the US into the Taliban. They started becoming more fundamentalist. They launched two jihads in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Well we don't call them jihad. We call them crusades.

Today, the Republicans are behaving like the Taliban, arguing for more control against women's sexual freedom. They have protested against the ability of fact checkers to restrict the freedom of the Romney campaign to act as they please.

I think that the commemorations on this anniversary will be more muted because a few things have taken place over the last one or two years. People used to be able to say, "most terrorist attacks are conducted by Muslims". Well not anymore, thanks to Anders Breivik. Recently, there were the Aurora cinema massacres, and the Wisconsin Gurdwara shooting spree.

The dialogue has changed as well. Now instead of merely Iraq and Afghanistan, people are talking about Arab Spring, Iran and Israel when they talk about the Middle East. People are even acquiescing to Iran owning nuclear weapons. They are more worried about the Syrian government killing their own people. Although - yes, Al Qaeda could surface if you overthrow Assad.

We are just beginning to see the stupidity of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. When they were waged, the US had already started to go downhill, even though this was not so apparent. But they made things even worse. They drained the US economy. They diverted the US away from looking forward and extending its amazing technological lead over the rest of the world. They distracted the US from dealing with or engaging with the rise of Asia. They alienated the US from Europe. And they kept the Republicans in power.

Maybe a few things might happen to make extremist Islam terrorism important again. Maybe after the US pulls out of Iraq, it becomes another dangerous power. Maybe the Taliban would take back Afghanistan and turn it into an old medieval kingdom. Maybe the new regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt would become terorrist states owing to the fact that Islamist governments close one eye to their activities. That would be pretty ironic, because one of the arguments for the Iraq war was that when you gave Arabs liberal democracy, they would become better citizens of the world.

But I think that on September the 11th, the US should do absolutely nothing. We've had enough of this bullshit. Let's move on. Let's worry more about more important things, such as whether Barack Obama gets reelected or not.


Monday, September 10, 2012


I had a few friends who went for the PSC interview after we finished JC, and of course I know a few people who are scholars. One question that was commonly asked (and this was the 90s, which was when the rot started but long before it was common to think that Singapore was headed in the wrong direction.) A question was, “why do you think that Singapore is so successful today?”

The answer they wanted, the one that underpinned everything else, was, “because we got rid of corruption”. Getting rid of corruption is something that the PAP prided itself on. It is the reason why PAP wears white uniforms (also possibly a lot of people went to RI and had white uniforms as well).

I had blogged earlier that I had become a little suspicious about what the government was up to in these days. I had written that they were just plucking the low lying fruit, and not being able to deal with the more complex issues.

When you think about how the government has responded to the electoral setbacks, a lot of those things have one thing in common: corruption. Pastor Kong Hee? Corruption. The IT procurement case? Corruption. Professor Tey from the Law Fac? Corruption. Brompton bicycles? Corruption. The Suntec brawl case? I don’t know, but possibly corruption had something to do with it. Everything is corruption.

Now, it may not be true that corruption is responsible for a lot of what’s wrong with Singapore these days, but it’s responsible for a lot. What is one of the worst policies that Singapore has had in the last 20 years? Asset enhancement. Because of asset enhancement, cost of living has skyrocketed, and Singaporeans have to be paid a higher wage just to be able to live comfortably.

Because of preferential admission for children of alumni, the sons and daughters of people who are already wealthy get into the primary school of their choice and get shunted onto the right path from an earlier age.

And why do we really have so many foreigners? It’s not actually the government’s choice. The government’s plan was to have a population of 5.5 million in 2020. Not right now, actually. How and why did it lose control of the situation? Well, judging by a few cases where immigration officers have been caught fucking PRC women who want to come into Singapore, you can probably guess what is going on “under the covers”. You let me come inside you, I let you come inside my country. I have heard people telling me that a few of the PRC people who get foreigner scholarships are not actually excellent students, but rather the sons and daughters of very well connected officials. (I’m not targeting PRC students here, but rather it was a PRC person who told me this, and therefore I can only speak about a few PRC students.)

Why are the employers so powerful in Singapore? Partially this has to do with Singapore’s economic structure: the MNCs are a very big component. If they pull out, then Singapore will get fucked. The economic ecosystem will get fucked. The SMEs who supply to the MNCs will get fucked. So there is severe downward pressure on wages in Singapore. But maybe they have a little too much influence, and right now, only the government is powerful enough to deal with them.

A lot of people have the mindset that Singapore’s biggest problem is that it is too dictatorial. This is something that is repeated over and over again: by the opposition parties, by the people who do not like the government’s policies and want them to change, but they won’t change. By young people who just hate authority. But I’m not against authority per se. Rebelling for the sake of rebelling is like jerking off. It feels really good, but time passes and nothing is achieved. It’s also like jerking off because teenagers love it. I’m more interested in the question, what is the right thing to do. How can we get back to a state where governance is effective, and things run smoothly?

A government can be dictatorial and not corrupt, like Singapore in the good old days. A government can be corrupt but not dictatorial, probably the citizens will still make do – like USA today. What is not possible is for a government to be corrupt and dictatorial, because when that goes on for long enough, people will rise up, even in the face of threats to safety and livelihood, as the events of 1989, and more recently Arab Spring have demonstrated to us.

Corruption is actually a very big problem that we have in Singapore today. Corruption is a problem in government because it means that the leaders do not have control over a situation. Contrary to what a lot of people think, corruption is not the same as paying a minister high wages. That alone is not corruption. Corruption is what happens when people have incentives to do the wrong thing. Maybe that is the most basic and fundamental thing in government: there is a lack of alignment behind the incentives and doing the right thing. When corruption happens, you favour your inner circle, and you stop being fair to everybody. Then taxes aren’t enough to run the government, because money leaks out through fairly unusual channels.

Unfortunately, there are two kinds of corruption. One kind of corruption is the obvious kind: you give me a kickback, and I as a public official, close one eye and allow you to break the rules a little. That corruption is easy to police. The other kind of corruption is more subtle, and much harder to break. Maybe I will appoint you, a former important civil servant, on my board of directors, and we can look forward to the government making the rules favour us. Maybe I, as a company looking to invest in Singapore, can be given a few tax breaks so that it would make it easier for me to decide to throw my lot in with you. Maybe I can contribute to your political campaign, so that it would be harder for you to turn down a request from me. This other corruption is written about in more detail in this book. And it is important to understand this, and know why a lot of corruption takes place all the time without any laws being broken.

So in my previous blog post, I had asked the question, “what the fuck is our PM doing?” Maybe this is what it’s all about. You purge a lot of people, and after that you can clean house. It won’t be perfect, but you start with a cleaner slate. A lot of our problems had been festering for a long time, and they will take great efforts to solve. Possibly some of them are unsolveable, which means that we might not get back certain things we had in the past.

This does not negate what I said in that other blog post. Yes, the government wants to solve the easiest problems first. But isn’t that the natural thing to do? Maybe solving the easiest problems will give you a handle on the harder problems. This puts a different angle on things now. Maybe that’s the first thing you need to tackle: corruption. Maybe PM Lee is learning from his father, that the first thing you need to do is to squeeze peoples’ balls. A lot of the problems do not originate from the government. Rather, these problems take place because the government hasn’t always been able to solve the problems that other people are creating.

A lot of people won’t like to hear this, but the government is not responsible for all of your problems. Many, but not all. They won’t like to hear this, but Singaporeans are also at fault for a lot of their own problems as well.

Yes, property prices are way too high but who drove them up in the first place? Who are the speculators? Singaporeans. (NB having a lot of foreigners staying in Singapore does create a larger market for housing, but the home owners are Singaporeans who rent to the foreigners). Yes, we have too many foreigners but many are doing jobs shunned by whom in the first place? Singaporeans. Yes, students have too much pressure at school, but who’s responsible for this undue emphasis on excelling in a very narrow path in life? Singaporeans. It takes two hands to clap. For all the problems that you can attribute to the gahment, Singaporeans also take a share of the blame.

So OK, maybe a few positive steps have been taken. But what follows from here? The road to 2016 is both long (ie still a long way to go to solve problems and make Singapore a better place) and short (ie 4 years is not a terribly long time to turn this ship around.) Getting rid of corruption is something that makes it easier to get the right policies in place. It is not the same thing as getting the right policies in place.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Simple life of a Junkie

I remember reading "Trainspotting" many years ago. It was and still remains a pretty horrifying experience. One passage sticks in my mind. When people were using heroin, it was very simple. You just got yourself smacked out of your mind all the time. Or you just spent all your effort making sure that you got that fix. Life was very simple.

When you stopped using drugs, you had to think about real life and more complicated problems and a lot of people who tried quitting couldn't handle that. So they went back to using.

But sometimes I wonder, there are people out there who do nothing with their lives other than trying to earn more money or climb the corporate ladder. They're just like that smack junkie. Take them out of that situation, and ask them to live their life a different way, and they might never ever come to terms with that. On the other hand, spend your life obsessed about one thing and only one thing, and everything becomes so simple and straightforward.


Monday, September 03, 2012


There is something very eerie. I noticed that all the years that ended in 2 were fairly significant for me. In one of them, I learnt to read and write, and that was also the year that I started remembering things. In another, I decided that my talents were going to be in writing, in mathematics and in music – that’s an assessment that hasn’t changed much. In another one, I had just started work, and would struggle for a few years before I found my footing. Now, I’m out of work, pursuing a degree and deciding on my next step in life.

There was a time in Snowy Hill when I felt that my life had changed. It took place in my 2nd semester. That was a very strange semester. I had very bad grades for that semester, and it probably closed the door to a lot of opportunities for me. However I did tell myself that those grades ceased to matter after, say 3 years into the job. And I was probably right. Paradoxically, my greatest achievement in Snowy Hill took place in that semester – learning to write well. You’d be surprised but for my “A” levels, the only subject that I didn’t get an A or a distinction was my general paper.

I did push myself a little too hard. I signed up for an honours course in physics, computer science and mathematics, as well as my first serious writing class. I was asking to get fucked and I did. I have no doubt that if I were to take those courses again, it would be plain sailing for me, but back then, I was unprepared.

The funny thing was: I took those 3 courses because I was deciding between a physics, computer science and mathematics major. I got the highest grade for the physics class, and enjoyed the computer science course the most, but still stuck to mathematics because I was stubborn. Or maybe at that time I was in love with the idea that mathematics was the most philosophical of the 3 subjects. For that reason alone I did not regret taking that choice, but what a pain in the ass that semester was.

That was also the semester that gave me the most white hairs, the one where I pulled the most all nighters – and a lot of the time I found myself doing stuff that was not relevant – downloading music or playing computer games. It was hellish in its own way. But through all that struggling, something changed in me – from somebody who had just finished his army and felt rather washed up for it, I turned into somebody who embraced learning – if not the pursuit of good grades – wholeheartedly. I think it had a transforming impact on me, because it gave my life something new to focus on.

No, that particular year did not end with a 2. But it did change me. My life certainly had a little more direction from that semester onwards, although that one semester of bad grades was a millstone around my neck that I would much rather not have had for a long time.

Now I’m into my 2nd year of my master’s degree. I don’t know if this will change me. I’ve gotten a little more focus this quarter. I’ve decided what my goals for my master’s degree are. Whether they will be fulfilled is another matter entirely. I have less leeway and freedom now than I did before: back then, I could just say that anything under the sun counted as “general learning”. Now I have to pick up a real trade, without which I could be in real trouble. I think I don’t even really have the freedom to take courses about academic subjects which interest me and are related to computer science but could be too theoretical.

How will this change me as a person, I haven’t much of a clue. Somebody once commented that I’m more a mathematician than a real engineer. I could be transformed into a real engineer after this. But I’m not counting on it.

When I think about 20 years ago, that was the year that I quit doing two things that I wasn't good at and were probably making my life unhappy: learning Japanese (I had no business learning a 3rd language when I sucked at my second) and the piano. I learnt new things instead: creative writing, which was successful, and pop music, which was also successful. Is it time for me to throw something away that I shouldn't be doing? I've cut down my blogging a lot. I no longer read for leisure, which was the pasttime that I had after graduating from Snowy Hill. I had kept my identity hidden in the past because it was a time when Singapore was less politically open than it is now. It was the other side of the watershed 2011 election. And judging by the things that I wrote in those days, I would probably say that keeping my identity hidden was probably a very good idea. I did not grow up with the internet, but I would recommend anybody who is under the age of 30 to blog anonymously, because you never know - you'd say something you thought was alright, but actually isn't.

My first degree and my second degree appear to be very different. My first semester at Snowy Hill just felt like a continuation of my "A" levels, and the real Bachelor's degree started in my second semester. Similarly, I felt that the real master's degree started on the second quarter. A lot of things are different now. University of Mexico is less prestigious than Snowy Hill, even though it's still pretty good. It's quite similar to NUS: up and coming, science oriented, and more application oriented than Snowy Hill, and good thing - less ulu, better weather. But there were a lot of things I liked about Snowy Hill that I didn't like about University of Mexico. Snowy Hill is also a good arts school. I missed taking the arts classes, although I wonder whether it was wise for me to take so many arts classes. Arts classes are more relaxing: you don't do projects, you just sit back and read (although since I'm such a lousy reader, reading is a very heavy workload for me). Science is tougher: not necessarily more intellectually demanding, but more work. Unlike Snowy Hill, I wasn't seeing all these things for the first time, so the "first love" enthusiasm is gone. My enthusiasm for learning is still there, but it's half gone. It's not longer a matter of grabbing everything you can: it's like consolidating and making all your knowledge gel into hopefully something that's useful. I didn't fall in love with somebody this time. The job market was so much better then. It's a much more uneasy situation now.

I've thought of going into politics. I've probably mentioned on this blog before, that I miss reading about politics. I've blogged a bit about politics before. I won't run for elections, of course, but I'll do some back end work. Get involved in some way. NGO? Party? I don't know. But that will not be my main focus.

I've thought about going into music. If I hadn't gone into postgraduate studies, I might have produced some music by now. My family won't like it, I think, but I've got to do what I've got to do. I was involved briefly a while ago. But I had to pull out in order to get my ass into graduate school.

I've thought about going back to my old job. I know, I've discussed it with Honest Face. He doesn't like the idea. He said I should do a startup. Nat doesn't like it. He just left his job. He started reminding me about why I left that job in the first place. Well the number one reason I left my job was to do graduate studies. I wasn't that keen on leaving my old job because my old job would allow me to have ECAs. But I get his point. The old job is a hentak kaki job. Irony is that I probably played a small factor in inspiring him to leave.  I will probably have 2 or 3 useful years in my old job at the most, and then it will be treacherous waters: a PMET at 40. The thing is, that old job is probably an ace up the sleeve that you don't really want to play unless you have to.

I had a dream a few nights ago: I dreamt that I was a father. I don't dream of girls anymore. I don't know if I'll end up as the kind of guy who would care more about his kids than about his wife. Possible.

I had a talk with a professor, and he asked me if I wanted to do a PhD. I said I'm really too old. He asked me, how old are you going to be in 5 years? I said X+5. Then he asked me, how old are you going to be in 5 years if you don't do your PhD? I said X+5. Then he said, "it doesn't really matter, does it?" But I knew that he had finished his PhD relatively late. I asked him, "how old were you when you finished your PhD?" And he said, X-1. Well I'm still too old to be doing a PhD. Except I don't really see how I'm going to learn my current chosen discipline properly if I don't do a PhD - I feel like I'm going to be a test tube washer! And then he said something that I actually agreed with: "you do a PhD because you want to do a PhD. Similarly you have kids because you want to have kids. That's what it is." So how will I know that I wanna do this certain thing?

Anyway: we all know what the midlife crisis is. In a way my midlife crisis will not be very tough. I still have things to look forward to, unlike some other people I know. But the reason why people have midlife crises is that middle age is the toughest part of your life - unless you're one of those 60 year old janitors out on the streets. No, actually after you turn 75, that is the toughest part. But it wouldn't really matter, would it?