Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First (things) First!

So much has been said about Singaporean's (lack of) social grace - particularly by Singaporeans themselves. Every now and then, someone writes the national newspapers or tabloid papers about how he or she witnessed this "horrible", "untolerable" and "ugly" Singaporean behavior in the public space (mostly on our pubilc transportation arena). About how we have supposedly come "so far" as a "first world nation", yet are displaying so-called "worse than third world" levels of social grace.

Examples are aplenty - from the refusal to give up (priority) seats in the MRTs, the buses; to the refusal to observe the yellow box designate space at MRT alighting platforms; to the abled-body people (mis)using the lifts at the MRT, which are meant for the old and disabled persons; and the list continues. If I wasn't a Singaporean accustomed to reading these people yak on the papers, I will definitely assume the worse of this little red dot of a country.
"What kind of monsters live and breed on this island???", I'd think.

And everyone (of these writers) has a theory or opinion on how to rectify these bad behaviors.

"Fine them!", screams one writer. *on a side note: I do agree that Singapore IS a "fine" country. In both sense of the word*

"Educate them!", calls another.

"Humiliate them!", exhorts a third.

Will these methods work? Maybe. But if this symptom of "social ugliness" is a disease, then I think finding the cure for it may not be good enough. Not in the long term anyway. Like any other disease, we'd have to study and find out the source of its origins, and nip it at the bud.

An article in TODAY papers today (hmmm..), wrote about some of our country's leaders trying to determine an "economic value" to social graciousness. Specifically, they were refering to how some previous government-led courtesy campaigns have led to better levels of social awareness, leading to higher levels of customer service standards, while eventually translated to increased tourism activity (ie. economic gains).

I find that interesting. Indeed, I believe the source of Singaporean's apparent lack of social grace stem from this constant and incessant push (by our leaders) for Singaporeans to achieve higher levels of productivity, higher sense of urgency, higher degree of specialisation, higher... everything!
You see this pressure exerted on our young in schools - complex concepts and mathematics are being taught to children at a younger and younger age. What used to be a Secondary 1 topic is now being taught in Primary 4. Every school-going kid is told by their parents (and teachers) to study as hard as they possibly can, in order to stay ahead of the competition. Every teacher is trying to outdo their fellow teacher by showing that their students can score better in exams. Every Principal is trying to out-score their counterparts by getting higher levels of passing statistics for their schools.

In the fast-paced working society, this rat race is even more evident.
People pushing hard to climb the corporate ladders - some work longer hours, sacrificing family time, while others resort to backstabbing co-workers in order to get ahead in the race.
Sales people trying all kinds of tactics to reach their sales targets (hence bonuses) - sometimes resulting in a bad fallout, such as the one the financial industry recently experience (where banks' sales staff "pushed" unsuitable investment products to certain groups of investors).

We want to be first. We NEED to be first!

Why? I sometimes ask myself that question. So what if we are not first, and fall behind the pack a little. So what?
Well, like what our leaders are constantly reminding us these days - Singaporeans are facing much stiffer competition from the foreigners these days. These "foreign talents" will take aways our jobs if we dont join the race and run fast. The world is moving along and we'll get dragged into a deep black hole if we dont fend for ourselves and show some battling spirit to WIN.

We took that all in. Afterall, it is crystal clear that in this cold, meritocratic society, if we don't help ourselves, nobody will. 人不为己,天诛地灭

Is it then any surprise that Singaporeans find it hard to relax? Hard to be nice and smiley to one another? Hard NOT to compete when it comes to getting up the bus, the train, for cabs, etc.? Hard NOT to honk at the idiotic driver who hogs the road, thus preventing me from getting to my destination faster and quicker?

Who was it who said, "Nice guys finish last?" =P

Monday, January 25, 2010

I can dream, can't I?

Anyone who has worked for at least a number of years must have pondered on this question at one point or another:

Am I in the right job? Is this the line of work that I should be pursuing for the rest of my career/working life ( which in the current loca Singapore context of enormously large mortgage debts owed to the banks, means a lengthy 35-40 years)?

It really is a difficult question to answer. Speaking from personal experience, after working for 12 years since graduating in '98, I am still asking the same question.

Obviously I have gone past the stage of fresh (from school) innocence of looking for that "perfect" job. Simply - there isn't such a thing. Ok... well, to be brutally honest, there IS such a thing, but only if you happen to be born with a silver (or golden/platinum/whatever!) spoon in your mouth. Ie. You have super-rich parents who'd not even blink when you ask them for obscenely large sums of money to set up a business (where you are the boss, of course) in an area of your personal passion or interest.

In my personal scenario, it would be like that this:

Me: "Pa, can I have 3 million dollars?"

Pa: "Ok. Let me get the cheque ready for you."

Me: " Aren't you going to ask me what for?"

Pa: " Nah.. I trust your judgement. (plus, it's not really a large sum of money)" *Didnt I mention "SUPER-rich"?

Me: "I'll tell you anyway. I intend to set up a guitar shop for classical guitar afficionados in Singapore to meet and gather. There, I'll also sell instruments and guitar CDs, plus there'll be a small lounge area (can sell drinks/coffee ) for ppl to sit, talk and listen to guitar music. So I need 1 mil to rent over that shop space (at so-and-so road) and to cover operating costs for a year. Another 1 mil to renovate and furnish up the place decently. The last million to purchase some good concert instruments, and CDs, etc."

Pa: "Sounds good.... anyway, here's the cheque."

~~~ The End ~~~

You see, the "perfect" job does exist - if only in my dreams (or in an alternate reality).

But seriously, I do know of friends who seem pretty happy about their line of work. Take Wolf for example, he's a self-employed fund manager who's passionate about meeting people (added incentive if they are pretty gals, of course) who are also his prospective investors. He loves going out, enjoys good food and is pretty much a wine-lover as well. In his own words, he "enjoys his working life" - as he doesn't need to stay in an office from nine-to-five, doesnt have to report to a any boss, and he pretty much sets his own target of how much to make (depends on how hard he works). Needless to say, he enjoys growing his wealth too.

Another acquitance of mine started a business in rock climbing. He is an avid climber himself, and he rented this shop house, and converted it into a inhouse climbing gym, where people can sign up as members and use the climbing facilities. He also offers climbing consultancy ( I think he brings groups of interested climbers to popular climbing locations overseas).

It occurs to me that both examples above are self-employed. Does it mean that one can only have a "perfect" job if one is self-employed? Perhaps it is not so surprising after all, if you think about it. After all, most self-employed people go into business in an area which they are interested in (or at the minimum, knowledgeable about). For instance, a meat-lover like me would NEVER open a vegetarian restaurant! hahah

Yet, for all their passion and joy of running their respective businesses, these 2 guys have also confessed to me that they are sometimes weighed down by financial concerns. At the end of the day, what joy can there be in running a business where you are worried about the bankers knocking on your door asking for repayment of your loans? Hmm... so their jobs aren't that "perfect" after all, huh?
Again, we are back to square one - IS there such thing as a perfect job?

Yes! When you can be a business owner (tao kay) in an area of your interest and yet have no need to worry about the business not making money to stay afloat - possible when you have SUPER-rich parents whose wealth can "feed" the family for generations and generations. Maybe someone with a net worth of >100 million bucks? =P (looking at some shops I see around Singapore, I dare say many of these must belong to these lucky sons/daughters of the super wealthy families, since there's seemingly NO WAY these shops could've survived for such a long time.. )

Or perhaps more realistically, you run a business (that you love) and that business can self-sustain itself. e.g. In my "dream scenario" above, maybe I can sell one or two concert guitars a month, as well as a couple of CDs, plus the profit made from the drinks sold at the lounge area. Enough to cover operating costs and rental, plus a little something more for me to feed myself (and family) and enjoy my life.

Hahaha...dream dream dream. How I love dreaming....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

World Cup

I am a football fan. Or as EP calls it - "soccer" fan. I find the term "soccer" too American-ise (if there's such a thing!). Afterall, "football" should rightly refer to a sport where the players primarily use their feet to play. As compared to the American football, which is a totally different animal altogether - there the players use their hands to catch and throw the ball, much more often than kicking it with their feet.


This is more about the upcoming "Football" (yeah, I insist!) World Cup, or more commonly known as the FIFA World Cup (FIFA being the global governing body/association for the sport). Football fans around the globe know this competition, even the non-fans are aware that every 4 years, their football-crazed husbands, friends, colleagues, etc.. all become midnight owls (and daytime zombies) over the few weeks when the matches are played and telecast live all over the world. It is one of the biggest sporting events, comparable to the Olympics. And since most of the big football nations are in Europe or South America, the World Cup of the past years have generally been hosted by these countries - which explains why Singaporeans become midnigth owls (and daytime zombies!). The only real exception was the 2002 World Cup, which was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.

Enough of history. Back to the present.

Here in Singapore, we've always assumed that an event as grand and as popular as the FIFA World Cup would be telecast live in our country. Afterall, we've heard so many boasts from our government and the telecommunication companies, about how "wired up" our country is; how technologically advanced our infrastructure is; how open our news/information flow is; generally - how we are supposedly a "First World" country. Apparently, when it comes to many things - sports and the arts included - we are still far far behind that of the so-called "Third World" nations.
With all high-speed wiring, internet penetration rate, highly-educated work-force, advanced infrastructure setup, blah blah blah- our people here may not even be able to watch a single match one of the biggest sporting competition in the world?!? Sounds a little ridiculous, doesn't it? Yet, it is a sad truth. According to our telcos, FIFA is demanding a "ransom" for the rights to telecast these live matches. Something in the region of $100 million.... Assuming that is true, it really makes me wonder how those supposedly poorer countries can afford to pay? Our neighbours Malaysia is apparently getting the matches (on their free-to-air channels no less! if that is to be believed...), how is it they could pay up this kind of money that our successful and rich telcos cant? Or unless they are able to convince FIFA to charge them less (which also points to incompetence on our part)?

Some Singaporeans have written to suggest we boycott this World Cup - as a sign of protest that we will not be held ransom by these greedy FIFA folks. Perhaps.

"No live matches, then watch delayed/highlights lor", some say.

"No World Cup, then no World Cup lor... wont die wat", others say.
Sure. But that's like saying to someone who loves eating steak (for example), to give up meat altogether and become a vegetarian. Or for others, it's like telling them to give up sex (ya, wont die wat! ). Huh!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Only a meteor can do that

The final episode of the 4-part TV series Meteor was aired last night. (As usual, I watched it on the way to work this morning)

In my opinion, it certainly isn't one of those series which you will remember after a while. The premise of its storyline was pretty cliched and predictable - a meteor being deflected off its supposed fligth path and headed straight to Earth (hence the title); people panicking and trying to hang on to their lives and their families'; while others try to "hang each other". =P

I felt that the acting was quite poor, in fact some of the sequences were a little laughable - there was this ruffian-like character who started the show acting like the town's bully, tough guy and all. Yet, after being chided by an elderly policeman over a minor matter, this guy suddenly becomes one of the heroic and self-sacrificing townsfolk, risking his life for the rest. Sounds a little stretched?
How about this father and son gang who charges $25 for a bottle of mineral water (supplies were depleted, and people were desparate); but along comes one of the heroes (protagonist) of the show, gave him a lecture for showing a "bad example" to his son, and miraculously the guy thanked him for the lecture and offered to give him a ride to the nearest town. I think the scenes were funnily bad.. if you know what I mean.

Still, the series did bring out an important and realistic message - that people in extreme adversity tend to show either their BEST or their WORST.
Maybe we can think of it as showing one's "true self" or "true colours", if you like.

In the series, there were many examples of people exploiting the situation (the World was gonna end....) and fellow human beings. People started breaking the law, looting, robbery, raping, etc. became more commonplace. Yet, there were also another group of people trying to keep things calm, maintaining self-control and in the process hoping to restore some civil order to a strained society on the brink of supposed destruction. The rest of the people were just trying to save themselves and their loved ones - something I'm sure many people would be able to identify with.

When I look at what's going on in the real world, the same 'pattern' can be observed. Nations squabbling with one another over trade issues, human rights issues, arms issues, environmental issues, religious issues, and the list goes on. On a higher level, you have the so-called "Developed" countries versus the so-called "Developing" counties; the West versus the East; and on a closer (country) level, you have spats between neighbouring countries over territorial (borders, islands, what-have-yous) disagreements, and fighting within a country due to the use of a (religious) word.
This goes on everyday, it seems. Well, at least if we are to trust the news that we read, that is :P

Yet, whenever a terrible natural disaster strikes a nation - be it first, second, third, fourth, etc. world - all other nations can (at least temporarily) put aside their quarrels and unite to show compassion and empathy towards fellow human beings suffering under the natural-caused calamity. Look at the recent earthquake in Haiti. All at once you have countries across the globe offering aid, both financially and logistically.

It seems like people cannot bear to see other fellow human beings suffer at the hands of a common "enemy" (in this case, Mother Nature); yet they are willing to kill and destroy one another fighting over an something as abstract as a belief or a word. How strange we are indeed.

This recent earthquake also highlighted the BEST and WORST in us. The "best" in the sense of how people all around the world has come together to aid the poor and disaster-strickened Haitian people, most of who you've never even met and will likely never meet for the rest of our lives. The "worst" of people is highlighted for those terrible acts of plunder and murder commited on the lawless streets in the same desparate nation, as many of its people now live on without adequate food, water, and hope.
See the similarities between reality and the TV show now?

Hmm.. maybe Meteor isn't such a bad show afterall.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lunch talk

Had lunch with wolf today. We talked about a lot of things (usual for us... what do you expect from 2 guys who've known each other for almost 2 decades? and share many common interest? 英雄所见略同... or maybe some would say 臭味相投. hahaha!). Our dear buddy, Pete should be coming back these couple of days - or perhaps he is already back? - as he is hosting a 1st year birthday celebration for his daughter Sarah coming Saturday at the Ritz.

I was just thinking how sad it is for a parent to miss out so much of your child's first year in his/her life. After all, it's during this phase of their lives that they change the most dramatically - in terms of how they look, how they behave, etc.. everything!
Even Wolf, the self-declared married-but-available(for going out, drinking, socialising, etc... dunno what else??!@? ) guy felt it was "not so good" for a father to be abroad all these time, while his wife and (so far only) child is in Singapore.

Still, who are we to know what goes on in another's family. As they say - 家家有本难念的经. Who knows, perhaps it's a case of "absence makes the heart fonder"? hmm...

Anyway, I'm just glad that he's coming back (even if it's just for a week or two, then he's back to Canada to continue his studies). Really looking forward to catching up with this group of my old buddies. It would be a guy's nights out!

Guitaresque lunch in Jan 2010

It's been quite a while since the guys hanged out for a proper lunch/dinner as a quartet. In fact, I cant even recall when was the last time we did so....

Ever since I'd moved out of our dear home at The Dew (almost a year ago now....), and our practice venue's moved to LS's place, it's been a little more troublesome for us to have lunch together after our usual Sunday rehearsals. We'd finish with our session normally around 1pm, by which time I'd have to rush off home (as EP would waiting for me to have lunch together), and OG would also need to go off to perform his usual "ta-pao lunch routine" for S. Which leaves Barber and LS - and the latter having to attend his next rehearsal session (with his other orchestra, in which he is a flute player) at 2pm.

While our practices are still very enjoyable (filled with lots of funny moments, and loads of laughters), and we are definitely making progress as a quartet and as individual guitar players, I find it a little sad that we couldnt even find time to sit down and have a nice meal in all these months.

Again, the fact is - we COULD have, only if we'd wanted to. It's just that nobody took the initiative and effort to make it a point to do so. Maybe it was a common understanding (or thought) that since we are already meeting up weekly for our rehearsals, what's the point of having a lunch (or dinner) together anyway? I dont think it is the same though.
Just like how we used to tell the kiddos back in Genus, (ok, I sound "old", but these days when i look at these folks in Genus it really makes me realise how large the age gap really is between the undergrads and the alumni - like us =P) : Go for dinner together after your Sectionals and your Ensemble sessions, cos that's the only way you are going to know the other people better and bond together as a team.

Interactions during rehearsals are great - but these are mostly limited to the scope of music discussions. For instance, we'd laugh at one anothers' mistake (you know - the weird, funny notes. Or when a G# is not supposed to be a G#?!? The guys would probably know what I'm talking about. haha ), we'd talk about guitars (e.g. OG's latest prospects, and his "accouting" ledger. Again, an inside joke), we'd talk about the latest Genus gossips, etc..
But these are only 1 aspect of our lives, really... We wouldn't have time during rehearsals (nor is it relevant) to talk about that holiday trip we'd just gone to, interesting things happening at our workplace, for us to fawn over the little (but already not a baby!) JK, etc..

That was why I decided to call for a team lunch last Sunday, after our rehearsal. It's simply been too long.

And it turned out to be as enjoyable and fun as I'd thought it would be! We had lunch at this pizza/pasta cafe near Barber's home. Ok.. the food wasn't that great, to be honest! But so what? We still have a great time chatting and catching up and sharing stories & gossips.

My hope (and dream) is that one day, we can travel abroad as a quartet and take part in an overseas guitar competition or a festival. Those experience and memories will be worth a lifetime...

Friday, January 08, 2010

America's Got Talent 2009

I really enjoy watching the reality show - America's Got Talent. This reality contest showcases the various kinds of performing talents in America - from the singers (most common) to the dancers (2nd most common), to the magicians (probably a close 3rd ) and then there're usually a host of other kinds of talents, some you could'nt even imagine before watching the show.

The recently aired (and concluded) season 4 was one of the best season so far, I have to say. There top 10 final acts were all very good (well, with the exception of Grandma Lee, whom I thought was quite funny at first, but later on, it got a bit stale.... and sometimes I couldnt really catch her joke, as it was possibly more suited to the America audience/listeners).

There were of course the various solo/groups of excellent singers, amongst whom I really enjoyed watching and listening to a lady soprano (Barbara Padilla) and a trio of texas cowboys who called themselves the Texas Tenors. They were really professional sounding and could perform on any stage worldwide and not seem out of place. Besides them, there were also other singers who were very good (I guess they're just a bit too old to join American Idol, otherwise they would surely feature amongst the top few finalists there as well). In fact the eventual winner of this year's competition was Kevin Skinner, a farmer whom when he first appeared for the auditions, was seen as a 'joke' - due to his shabby looks, and unshaven face. However, the judges' (and mine as well) jaw literally dropped when he first opened his mouth to sing... great voice...

But other than the singers, there was also a group which comprised of 5 sisters who were all married with children (they'd once mentioned that together, they had 17 kids! unbelievable....). This incredible group of sisters loved dancing , and have been dancing together for the better part of their lives. And it shows! Even at this not-very-young-anymore (they looked to be in their late thirties ) age, they could still dance with such gusto and coordination. Plus, of course the choreography was first class too. Really excellent to watch!

Another group which stood out for me was Recycled Percussion - a group of 4 guys who utilises recycled materials to form the basis of their instrumental band. They once used an old van, cut it up into half, and banged on the inside, outside , topside, bottomside, etc.. to create their own brand of music! Normally, loud, heavy percussive music isn't really my cup of tea, but these guys made it look so fun!

I can't wait for the next season of America's Got Talent to come!
* sigh... unfortunately, we'd probably not be able to have something similar in Singapore, as our population is just too small! Also, how much creative talent can we uncover in this rigid, controlled state, where academic development and economic returns are the foremost in everyone's mind?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Jurong Bird Park 31 Dec 2009

We brought the little beastie to the Jurong Bird Park on the last day of 2009. So little JK got his first glimpse of the exotic types of "bird bird!" in this world. Compared with the previous trip to the Zoo (earlier this year), I felt he was a little more interested with seeing the birds than with the bulls and bears before. haha... Maybe it's because he's a little more grown up now. =)

(btw - on a separate note: little Jing Kai is now 83 centimetres tall! yay!)

Gathering at Botanical Gardens Dec 27 2009

I organised a year-end get together with some of my close buddies (we knew one another back from Secondary/JC time... so it's been a long time).

It was really good seeing all the kids having a great time running and playing in the grassy expanse of the botanical gardens. The adults were having a good time too, picnicing and catching up with the latest stories and gossips.

I hope this will become a regular thingie for the years to come.. maybe can even expand the group - GT, TP and their families too perhaps? =)