Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Necessary Departure Post

I'm all prepped to go for my PSSM finally, which will be 3 weeks in Guizhou, one of the poorest places in China.

Honestly, the mood's a little jaded. It's been over a week since the exams ended and I've yet to have a breather, having spent most of the time continuing my work on my research and then going for a pre-trip bonding camp that was required of YEP - the organization that is funding us. For the most part, I really can't wait to finally just slack a little and enjoy the holidays.

But at the same time, I'm really keen on meeting the ethnic minorities in Guizhou and finding out about their cultures and ways of life. Culture can teach us so much and better understanding can bridge the stubborn differences between people. Learning about other cultures can teach you how small you are. I'm thirsty for that. It's just the official work to do that's a burden, and when I get back there'll still be final essay write-ups and presentations to complete.

While the pre-trip camp has mostly served to strangle me further in all the rushing I've had to do, I've gotten to know my classmates better. We roughed it out at a kampung house in Pulau Ubin for a night and it's often when you're stripped down to the rural nature of being far away from civilization that people connect on a deeper level. I found out quite a bit about their lives and also engaged in lengthy discussions about all sorts of things. Perhaps, in the first place, talking about deeper stuff is already a social science enthusiast's thing to do (and PSSM obviously does select for a more passionate bunch).

Part of the pre-trip busyness has also been due to my incessant chasing of professors for teaching assistantships in the next academic year and research assistantships over the summer. As I'm hoping for greater work flexibility (and a decent pay out at $8+ an hour) during the holidays, I've decided to fill up my schedule with work from different professors rather than take up a full time job or internship.

Additionally, with the only A+ I ever got in my entire SMU life so far coming from my just-ended evolutionary psychology module, I've finally been guaranteed qualification to embark on the senior thesis programme. I've been trying to secure my renowned evolutionary psychology professor's supervision for my senior thesis. It has been difficult because of his busy schedule but, gratefully for all sorts of (rather lucky) breaks and reasons, I managed to get his agreement and signature just two days ago. It was particularly important to secure the signature now because he was leaving for the States next week until the end of the summer, and the deadline to bid for senior thesis is in the middle of June.

With great relief I've managed to achieve both my ideal working plan (with at least five professors in tow which will hopefully be very useful for academic networking in future) and a reputable supervisor for senior thesis.

With that, I've pretty much settled all I have to settle before leaving although it's been nearly nothing but headache. But that's only resulted in loads of satisfaction for having achieved quite a number of my objectives, and I can't wait to get home to continue with the rest of summer and my plans. I'm missing the gf loads too; once I'm back we can finally do all the things we couldn't do because of all sorts of hindrances prior to our travels. Miss you to bits already girl!

One other major worry is Bangkok. The place has been reported to be in a state of chaos at the moment, and it's not really great news that part of the journey to Guizhou involves transiting at Bangkok. I hope and pray that the journey will be a smooth one.

So, if it all goes well, I'll be back on the 14th of May loaded with all sorts of new experiences and fresh perspectives.

I haven't had the time to write much recently, so I'll leave with a (not exact) quote I heard from, if I'm not wrong, a Nobel Prize nominee who recently came down to Singapore to talk.

"Educate a man and you educate an individual. Educate a woman and you educate a community."

Monday, 19 April 2010

OMFG Nostalgia TTM

Have you played this?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

work like a slave
command like a king
create like a god

Monday, 12 April 2010

Nescafe is aggressively (I think) promoting its white coffee perhaps in a bid to coincide with the opening of a few more Old Towns in Singapore. So I excitedly gave it a try recently but it turned out quite disappointing. It wasn't even that it was a poorer version of what I think white coffee should taste like (granted, my idea is conceived from Old Town's version), but it barely even tasted like coffee at all; the only way I can think of describing it is a creamy beverage of sorts undergoing an identity crisis. Bleah. Super's white coffee is a much better alternative if one desires a quick fix of white coffee at home.

I think this Carl's Junior advertisement should be applauded.

I first spotted it as an Adshel outdoor advertisement at the bus stop just outside Dhoby Ghaut MRT where I await buses that bring me to school. What really hit it for me was the pair of 'real' red boots sticking out from under the giant burger (alright they were probably plastic, but they were really sticking out). It instantly came full circle - it was a very cheeky attack on immediate rival McDonald's - and it was brilliant. When it comes to size and taste, we don't clown around. NICE.

But, disappointingly, a few days later when I returned, the boots were actually removed. While I am not entirely sure why they were removed, an immediate thought came to my mind that there might have been a suit filed against the advertisement, perhaps on some lame grounds of copyright. But I think more possibly what underlies the complaint might have either been insensitivity (from a third party's point of view) or McDonald's own retaliation against what can be very obviously perceived as a personal attack. Definitely not good for business - especially since the Ronald McDonald clown might be an obsolete icon that McDonald's is trying as subtly as possible to phase out from its marketing altogether.

The chicken essence battle not too long ago comes to mind, as I recall that Brands launched a corporate complaint against (was it) New Moon when New Moon's advertisement said it doesn't rely on caramel (or was it caffeine?), a (not so) subtle hint at Brands' underhand methods in the preparation process.

I love watching these advertising jibes as, once in a while, the competition spills out into the open and companies find themselves directly engaged. It segments and targets the more aware consumer who will get where the joke is directed at while at the same time testing the nerve of competitors, and I think that's cool.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


Fairy tale ending for our fairy tale issue please.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Fighting The Good Fight

There is a common complaint that people often fall back on - "it's the way things are and we can't change it." It's a complaint that appears to have the power to brush aside the glare of the light that threatens to illuminate one's insecurities and desires in a world he or she finds so difficult to escape. It's a complaint that is pulled out of the bag ever so often by those who'd rather join the rat race than step back to see that something is wrong, because it might mean losing one's status and respect, losing one's job, losing one's friends, or perhaps more generally, losing one's chance at being accepted as part of the system, even if it might mean being mediocre and totally selling out.

I don't really know how to begin describing or defining this world that traps us, but if I had to put something to it, I'd call it a materialistic world that's run by capitalist and realist 'ideals'. It's a world that reduces vices and virtues into costs and benefits, it's a world that defines power and value through money, it's a world that imposes huge costs on those who cannot or do not participate in it, it's a world that takes everything that makes being human a wonderful thing and then sells it all back as commodities, it's a world that alienates and disrupts relationships, it's a world that makes us desire things we never really needed and then makes us unhappy when we cannot have those things we never wanted in the first place, it's a world that gives us far too many unnecessary choices to make, it's a world that thrives on unthinking participation, and it's a world that keeps everyone trapped in a cycle of competition.

I think such a world has the potential to reduce people into beasts, and very often it has done so.

I have a grand vision which I might even consider a dream; a dream that I most probably won't ever see coming true even if I died trying to realize it. The progress of the effort, if successful at all, will be in inches so small the whole venture might seem naive and silly. But an inch is still an inch; that is infinitely greater than nothingness.

The vision begins with modestly making people more discerning and critical by making them ask just one more question about reality and the world they live in. Even if people aren't convinced about the way I feel about the 'system', the moment I can get people to just ask that additional one more question, I would have inched one step closer to the ideal of fighting against what might seem like a hopeless battle.

Because I believe there is a critical tipping point. Once people start asking more questions about this materialistic world, the exploiters - who often get their recruits and establish their base of serving minions from people who were afraid of losing by not participating - will have less people to recruit. Once less people refuse to jump on the bandwagon, those who impose their will on the masses through power and money lose their validation, and the tides might then turn.

How might one encourage more critical thinking? Imparting general knowledge and inculcating a wonder of the world, I might suspect. It is somewhat sad, but those who have come of age will be hardest to reshape and might have to be overlooked; it is the youths that, once fed with knowledge, wonder and desire, will become the bedrock on which a virtuous society that is critical of the ills of capitalism, materialism, exploitation, realism and mediocrity will rest. One might thus realize how growing up surrounded by art, music, literature, history, dance, religion and general science might just do the trick to open the window of the heart and soul to what is beautiful. And subsequently, abhor what might come to contaminate that. The power hungry exploiters at the top of the political and economical hierarchies will have less undiscerning people to join their ranks.

Is it little wonder how difficult it is to change the kiasu attitudes of Singaporeans, when from a very young age most of us are taught to be competitive in school and get good grades or lose out? For the most part, the entire education system (compulsory, no less) is geared towards citizens participating unquestioningly in the machine so that it is well-oiled and efficient and does little to reward us with fulfilling our capacities as human beings.

As for the hardened, older ones, continue to shake their understanding of the world, should you be enlightened enough to do so. Squeeze that one question out, and we've moved closer to the dream.

Indeed, it might be a lot to ask of people who aren't as 'privileged' as I am to be able to see the world this way, or who might have been through difficult childhoods where education and knowledge is scarce and thus might have developed very strongly competitive and realist natures. But I don't think this makes the vision any less right or worthwhile to strive for. In fact, if the world wasn't the way it is right now, (1) the terrible social inequalities that keep families and children stuck in a cycle of poverty might not even exist (or might exist to a much smaller degree), or (2) children won't live in a world that encourages and develops cut-throat behaviour and competitive natures, because it won't be rewarding to seek power to solve the problem of gaining social validation.

I also believe that I'm privileged enough to be in a sort of position that might potentially allow me to carry out what seems to me a responsibility, such as if I do end up in academic circles in future and am granted an audience.

It is definitely an uphill struggle, because there are huge costs for defecting from the system. Some are obvious, such as being ostracized or being judged as 'inadequate' for not being rich in terms of the currency of the system, some are drastic, such as getting kicked out of the university you teach in because your idealisms are getting in the way of the practical objectives of the institution, while some are more insiduous, such as losing friends in the process.

It is a difficult battle, but I believe it is a battle worth fighting for regardless of the outcome.

"It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and apologized to no one. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An inch. It is small and it is fragile and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must NEVER let them take it from us."

- Valerie, V for Vendetta

Lights And Sounds

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Appreciate How Impossible The Moment Is And How Fortunate We Are To Be Part Of It

"To show how real astronomical wonder can be presented to children, I'll borrow from a book called "Earthsearch" by John Cassidy, which I brought back from America to show my daughter Juliet.

Find a large open space and take a soccer ball to represent the sun. Put the ball down and walk ten paces in a straight line. Stick a pin in the ground. The head of the pin stands for the planet Mercury. Take another 9 paces beyond Mercury and put down a peppercorn to represent Venus.

Seven paces on, drop another peppercorn for Earth. One inch away from earth, another pinhead represents the Moon, the furthest place, remember, that we've so far reached.

Fourteen more paces to little Mars, then ninety-five paces to giant Jupiter, a ping-pong ball. One hundred and twelve paces further, Saturn is a marble.

No time to deal with the outer planets except to say that the distances are much larger. But, how far would you have to walk to reach the nearest star, Proxima Centauri? Pick up another soccer ball to represent it, and set off for a walk of 4200 miles.

As for the nearest other galaxy, Andromeda, don't even think about it!"


"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been standing in my place but who will never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara - more, the atoms in the universe. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Donne, greater scientists than Newton, greater composers than Beethoven.

We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people.

In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why."

- Richard Dawkins

Monday, 5 April 2010

This Panic! At The Disco song is brilliant in so many ways. Not only with the imagery but with the subtle wordplay and hints of irony. And then the play on "Favourite Things". Just perfect.

It's these substandard motels on the (lalalalala) corner of 4th and Fremont Street.
Appealing only because they are just that un-appealing
Any practiced catholic would cross themselves upon entering.
The rooms have a hint of asbestos and maybe just a dash of formaldehyde,
And the habit of decomposing right before your very (lalalala) eyes.

Along with the people inside
What a wonderful caricature of intimacy
Inside, what a wonderful caricature of intimacy

Tonight tenants range from: a lawyer and a virgin
Accessorizing with a rosary tucked inside her lingerie
She's getting a job at the firm come Monday.
The Mrs. will stay with the cheating attorney
moonlighting aside, she really needs his money.
Oh, wonderful caricature of intimacy.

Yeah (Yeah)

And not to mention, the constable, and his proposition, for that "virgin"
Yes, the one the lawyer met with on "strictly business"
as he said to the Mrs. Well, only hours before,
after he had left, she was fixing her face in a compact.
There was a terrible crash (There was a terrible crash)
Between her and the badge
She spilled her purse and her bag, and held a "purse" of a different kind.

Along with the people inside
What a wonderful caricature of intimacy
Inside, what a wonderful caricature of intimacy

There are no raindrops on roses and girls in white dresses.
It's sleeping with roaches and taking best guesses
At the shade of the sheets and before all the stains
And a few more of your least favorite things.

Raindrops on roses and girls in white dresses
It's sleeping with roaches and taking best guesses
At the shade of the sheets and before all the stains
And a few more of your least favorite things.

Inside, what a wonderful caricature of intimacy
Inside, what a wonderful caricature of intimacy

Raindrops on roses and girls in white dresses
It's sleeping with roaches and taking best guesses
At the shade of the sheets and before all the stains
And a few more of your least favorite things.

Raindrops on roses and the girls in white dresses
And the sleeping with the roaches and the taking best guesses
At the shade of the sheets and before all the stains
And a few more of your least favorite things.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Heaven And Hell

While I can say with relative confidence that I'm an ontologist (believes in objective truths, objective rationality, objective reality and forms that stem ultimately from a source, creator or God) with an interest in pushing theology, the typical idea of heaven and hell that exemplifies the conditions of the afterlife doesn't quite cut it for me. In fact, it is more likely that I subscribe to another less popular set of ideas about what heaven and hell truly means (for which I will be accused of not endorsing the idea of heaven or hell at all, but let's see).

To begin with, for many thinkers, the idea of the afterlife as represented by the glory and beauty of heaven with its blue skies and white clouds and the torture and despair of hell with its fire and chains in such a humanly-conceived literal sense cannot be sufficient. The suspicion is there that it is possibly too embellished with a human-like idea of what the afterlife might be like, or even what one hopes the afterlife might be like, such that it is palatable and easy to understand for most people.

For me, firstly, I begin from Plato's conception of reality being a derivative of the divine - everything that we see in the world are imperfect forms of an objective source of creation (thus giving rise to all the evils and imperfections in our world). By analogy, there exists a perfect soul in each of us that is linked to the divine, only that it is shackled by the imperfect and material form of our bodies as we exist in the material form of the world.

To cut a long story short, from this idea of the perfect soul and the imperfect body, heaven and hell are states that our soul actually already exists in based on our actions and how we view our actions and ourselves. I am technically existing in living hell if I do bad things, and I know that I'm doing bad things to the extent that I am tormented by my bad actions (and awareness of them). The proximate measure for this is the conscience, through which guilt functions as the indicator of the sins we know we are committing, and through which our sense of responsibility to be good persons (based on the frameworks of morality and principles we establish as we grow) punishes us for if we fail to live up to the standards we set for ourselves and for other people. One's sense of karma also comes from the intricate workings of the conscience, as people with a strong sense of divine justice often see one's present misfortunes connected to a misdeed in the past, even though the two events might not be rationally linked.

Likewise, we are in a state of living heaven if we know we are doing good and living according to what drives us virtuously. This implies a responsibility even to pursue one's dreams, because those are things that drive us from the core of the soul (assuming those passions are virtuous ones and the soul is shaped virtuously). From this, it is clear that such heaven and hell states exclude people who are amoral, oblivious and/or do not have a conscience.

This is why the conscience has an important role. The only way one can feel guilt and understand one's sins is through a conscience (the sole adjudicator that resides in us, and punishes and rewards based on our innate sense of justice), and philosophy and religion often helps to build the conscience. People without a conscience can never be punished for their irresponsible actions because they will never feel a sense of guilt (however, I would strongly believe that the lack of conscience is rare and possibly a consequence of pathology - for instance, the mentally unsound probably do not have a conventional form of conscience and therefore can't be punished for their misdeeds).

Heaven and hell as reward and punishment end-states marketed to the masses attempt to indicate what it must be like to live a rightful or wrongful life, but it only broaches the divine justice system very very briefly and superficially. This is also what appears to be the morality of religion that almost all faiths teach - that you are free of your sin only when you believe. A sweeping tendency to relegate all non-believers to hell is commonplace. To some extent, such a claim serves a purpose of truth, because it is not so much a literal participation in the material form of the practice of Christianity, Catholicism or Islam, just to name a few, but more so that when one knows and responsibly participates in the divine order of the creator and lives a life based on his or her own principles of virtue, that one is free. Religion does serve as a way of reassuring oneself that he or she is still anchored to a set of virtues and faith, and the conscience is thus clear. I do believe that only when one adopts a faith for such reasons, rather than for reasons along the lines of socializing and attaining other forms of validation, does he or she truly establish a genuine relationship with God.

To even extend this further, if it is true that the soul is our perfect form that belongs to the divine, then the idea of a heaven or hell afterlife is possibly close to the idea of the inability to change one's 'positivity' or 'negativity' upon death. In other words, if all throughout my life I have been a bad person, then I am possibly an entity with lots of 'negative energy'. Will I want to die stripped of my body - the instrument, vehicle and means to be able to correct my soul into 'positive energy' - and remain a form of 'negative energy' forever? If the conscience remains with us as part of the soul after death, does this indicate an eternity of being wracked with guilt, personal anguish and torment?

In fact, to tie everything together, even the notions of past, present and future are hypothetical states of time that we conceive of in a bid to better understand reality. This causes most teachers of faith and religion to segment heaven and hell into the afterlife, and one's imperfect body reigning in existence in the present life. However, the past, present and future could very well all be states of time that exist within a continuum. In that case, a living heaven or hell might tie in very much with a holistic sense of what a life led either virtuously or through vice might truly be.

This, at least personally, appears to be more likely what heaven or hell might mean.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

I Drink, Therefore I Am

The greatness of Monty Python comes once more to the fore.

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel
There's nothing Nietzche couldn't teach ya
'Bout the raising of the wrist
Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed
John Stuart Mill, of his own free will
On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill
Plato, they say, could stick it away
Half a crate of whiskey every day
Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle
Hobbes was fond of his dram
And Ren Descartes was a drunken fart
"I drink, therefore I am"
Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed
A lovely little thinker
But a bugger when he's pissed