All posts in 2024
  • Five of Each

    Five Places I Visited and Loved in the Past 12 Months

    1. Helsinki
    2. Copenhagen
    3. San Francisco
    4. New York City
    5. Stockholm

    Five Things I Learned in the Past 3 Months

    1. Diving
    2. Swimming
    3. Git
    4. Ruby
    5. Still looking for the fifth big thing. For now it looks like it's going to be Fightshape

    Note: I could swim, but badly. I took up Shaw Method swim lessons to dramatically improve my technique and confidence.

    Five Things I Bought Recently

    1. A 27" Korean IPS monitor (A Yamakasi Catleap Multi)
    2. Steelcase Leap
    3. A Sony NEX-5 with 16mm lens
    4. Xbox 360 with Kinect and many amazing games (Assassin's Creed! Borderlands 2! Dishonored! Wow)
    5. Das Keyboard

    Five Challenges I Will Soon Tackle

    1. Advanced diving course with many specialties
    2. A job
    3. A hopeful transformation into a real programmer
    4. A massive overhaul/redesign/ renovation of my room in Singapore. It needs to look less like a place that 12 year old me once lived in.
    5. Another tattoo

    And at some point, a haircut, too. And a piece of fiction.

    Oh shit.

  • Left & Leaving

    in hindsight

    Some songs I cannot hear again. Some songs make me think of you. Not of you in the general sense one does of missing one another. Not even in the way one thinks of losing a loved one or saying goodbye.

    Worse? Far worse? The songs of dread. The songs of the silence between us gnawing ever more loudly until we could no longer ignore it. The songs that dig deep into your soul and gives it a little twist with every word and chord.

    Did you not hear it die? It fell with a little thud.

    In your car. In the rain. In the house. In the routine. Your impatience. Leaping out at me from behind the telephone.

    Everybody is a different person with different people. It would be a lie to say otherwise.

    With you I was young and hot-headed. A boat without a plan. I was perfectly happy to let you captain it. But we never knew where or how to dock.

    Sweet Disposition.

    I was a person without a home in those lost days. A wanderer without a country. From bus to plane to taxi to your car. To a home which was never ours. And an us I'm growing increasingly unclear of. Is this a dream? Or is this reality?

    Seven Wells.

    1825 days. Half of them spent on planes. Half of them ten thousand miles apart. If not literally, then as some impenetrable chasm I never learned to cross.

    I hate those songs.

    You wanted to know how it came so easily to me. How I moved on. I did not. Did you know of all those nights I drank myself to imbecilic stupor to write poetry in languages I don't speak? It looks like I walked away from our life with scarcely a moment's thought. But it was a burden I could not bear.

    The thought of loving forever a woman who did not want to marry me. The idea that I had to banish all hope for a family. That, when I left you, tethering on the edge of madness, you loved me tremendously but not enough, seemed to be what you were saying. My hopes. My dreams. It was all you. It was madness that made me circumnavigate the globe to win your heart. And it was madness that made me travel the world to lose it. We never wanted to be the people who stayed together from not having a good reason to leave. Better now than at 35, or something like it. In the end I could not bear the thought of not being enough.

    I can never go back to that city and not feel quite desperately breathless again. Not for a long time at least. Waiters who want to know why I've disappeared. Friends who I haven't and won't see. That city, at the start, was all you and all us and all our secret nooks and our very own places and special people and our house and our dog. That city then grew into a nightmare that was all broken dreams as they fell apart and things that could never be and places I could not find and things I could never be. I tried to hide it and blamed your taxi drivers and horrible traffic and the pollution and the inbred circles and the wanky artists but in the end it was all us, falling to pieces and me doing the only thing I knew how to which was run very far away from responsibilities and rent because like I said I was a different person then.

    The good thing about falling to pieces and putting yourself back again is you do it so many times you get faster at it, if you remember how. I ran as far away from that city as I could and hurried to build a new life for myself, it was selfish of me to. I ran and I ran and I buried myself in a dozen women's pillows and I walked home from their darkened kitchens like a zombie every morning mortified that my life as I knew it had ceased to exist and that I had swung a fairly giant axe in its direction.

    I never want to have to run again from the woman I love. I never want to turn the other way in silence biting my tongue letting an argument fester until we no longer speak. I never want to hide who I love or have to be hidden.

    The seventh well can't be found.

    I'm sorry you loved me I'm sorry you wasted five years I'm sorry you gave up so much I'm sorry I hate KL I'm sorry I'm not a private person at all I'm sorry I moved on so quickly I'm sorry I loved you too damn much I'm sorry my disease made me an emotional basket case I'm sorry I never learned to stop crying I'm sorry you hate crying I'm sorry I wanted my girlfriend to also want me as much as I wanted her I'm sorry I don't know how to be older and better I'm sorry I wish I'd done a little better

  • 63Random

    63 random things from the past 3 months (inspired by Michael Ruby's "Fleeting Memories")

    1. Arriving in Budapest knowing absolutely nothing about Hungary
    2. Drinking palinka for the first time, feeling the flush
    3. The Hungarian energy drinks I drank while wearing funny hats
    4. Walking with team Photogotchi along the Halászbástya, feeling a little like Ezio Auditore da Firenze
    5. The boys who were carrying giant swans and crocodile paddle boats onto Lake Balaton
    6. Sitting in the yard of old times
    7. Leaving Hungary thinking fröccs is the best idea in the world
    8. Arriving in frosty Helsinki once again
    9. The cute studio in Apila
    10. That Finnish rapper in a Tiki bar
    11. Being miserable, cold and desperately wanting you
    12. More palinka, Timo's flat, tiny spaces and uncrossable chasms
    13. Red-heads in the rain
    14. Remembering that karaoke in northern Europe is pretty damn weird
    15. Mushroom-picking, mushroom-cooking
    16. Cycling on a Jopo through the rain
    17. Beautiful Finnish brunches on Sunday mornings
    18. A lot of fish
    19. Tactical Nuclear Penguin
    20. American Airlines, truly a terrible way to fly
    21. Arriving in America for the first time
    22. Pacific Heights. Not having change for the bus to Market Street.
    23. Speaking badly in Cantonese.
    24. Father of my future children showing me a iBaby monitor in the Apple Store
    25. Brilliant people all over San Francisco.
    26. Being chased up a flight of stairs by a bouncer in the Castro for not having an ID.
    27. Losing my ID. And my credit cards. And my iPhone. In a bar. In the Tenderloin.
    28. Being stupid.
    29. Being on a work call with Sydney while sitting next to a painting called The Chronological Wall of Dicks and Cunts. Ah, San Francisco.
    30. Staff at the Singapore consulate giving me cup noodles and soya bean milk from their personal stashes.
    31. Buying a bright yellow Fuji Finest on my second day in San Francisco.
    32. Toning my ass, cycling uphill everywhere
    33. Excellent vegetarian Japanese food in Valencia followed by a free meditation class down the road.
    34. Folsom Street Fair. Many things cannot be unseen, once seen.
    35. Ethiopian with Jiten and Family.
    36. Family of four sitting in a hipster coffeeshop in San Jose, each with a parrot on their heads.
    37. Watching The Nationals vs the Phillies at the Nats Stadium.
    38. You never forget your first Shake Shack.
    39. America is so great because you can order beer and hot dogs online, and expect to have them arrive at your seat in a baseball stadium in three minutes.
    40. One day I will understand more of this great nation, the same one that invented SPAM and Chicken in a Biskit. These inventions speak more about a national character than any other great invention.
    41. Rolling my eyes at groupies of ‘famous tech people'.
    42. Walking to the Lincoln Memorial, wishing I had seen it earlier because all I see now in that statue is Abraham Lincoln (Vampire Killer)
    43. Eating fish tacos with Jason Scott Jones, who knows more about Brooklyn than anybody else
    44. Having the cashier ask me why I want to pay US$12 for a can of tuna. Not having a good answer other than ‘it's very good tuna. Spanish.'
    45. My crazy/beautiful Crown Heights pad.
    46. Being in love with New York, like they all said I would.
    47. Talking to my aunt at JFK for longer than we have ever spoken to each other, all our lives.
    48. My 27th birthday party in Crown Heights.
    49. The Met Museum with Michael Ruby and Dave Gurien.
    50. Leaving New York, loving New York.
    51. New York to Budapest via London, Budapest to Singapore via Doha, 12 hours apart
    52. Those miserable long layovers in Doha.
    53. Wanton mee
    54. Having everything fall into place the moment I got home
    55. The first day Cookie got home
    56. Cooking a delicious spare ribs pasta
    57. IKEA, burgers, Thai supermarkets and Mustafa
    58. Finally getting my diving license
    59. Doing the Gangnam Style at 10m underwater
    60. The corner store in Tioman
    61. Thinking that learning to dive in the middle of the monsoon was probably not too clever
    62. Floating upwards uncontrollably before learning to trust my own buoyancy
    63. I am finally ready, maybe.
  • A Public Service

    Recently, a friend from Bangalore messaged me on Facebook and asked me for some help. Her family friend, who was not very educated, had paid a lot of money to an agent in Bangalore to get work in Singapore. He had his work permit issued, and was told to leave for Singapore as soon as possible. There was a gap of a week: he had to leave immediately, they told him. She found this a little dubious, and asked me to help verify if the work permit was real, if he was being taken for a ride.

    As we suspected, the entire thing was a scam. He did not leave for Singapore, and narrowly avoided what I can only imagine was a low paying, illegal job for a shady employer. I doubt he will ever get his money back, but I still think that is a better fate than coming here without even fewer rights than a legit foreign worker.

    In the process, I learned a bit about how one can verify the authenticity of a work permit. I hope this can be translated into different languages, especially in Indian languages. Feel free to post this in as many places as you like. As long as it helps somebody.

    How to Verify Authenticity of Work Permit

    1. Visit the Ministry of Manpower's Work Permit for Foreign Workers page

    2. Scroll down to: Work Permit Validity Check Via Work Permit Online. Click it. Note: This service is only available Monday to Saturdays from 8am to 10pm, and unavailable at other times and on Sundays and public holidays.

    3. If it's within the time frame that the WPOL service is online, this is the screen you will see: a lot of legalese. Click Agree.

    4. In the main WPOL screen (which looks like this), click the third item on the left which says "Work Permit Validity/Application Status".

    You'll be prompted to enter your details. If you are a foreigner or currently not residing in Singapore, check Passport and enter your passport number.

    You'll see many boxes. Go to Option 3 and key in: "Worker's Work Permit" and "Date of Application of Work Permit". Both details will be on your IPA letter.

    If it is an invalid or forged work permit, you'll see: Error.

    Follow up by calling the Ministry of Manpower at +65 64385122 during working hours in Singapore.

    Hope this helps someone.

  • Boomerang

    National Day came and went. I haven't written any of those essays I promised to. Sheepish. I will write them, I just need a little bit more time.

    I did, however, contribute a piece to the Straits Times after PM Lee's National Day Rally speech, which I streamed from a house by the lake in… Hungary. I know, I'm still waiting for my life this year to get less random. I don't think that's going to happen.

    If you're interested, you can read it here: link (opens a jpg image).

    Speaking of random, and Hungary, I am currently hiding out in a secret location there.

    What am I doing?

    Huddling in a house with a team of talented designers and developers, and we are building an ambitious app in a little over two and a half weeks. It's called Photogotchi and it will be available in mid-September. Yet another example of how the little dots connect for me over and over again, one of the contestants on the autorickshaw rally that I went on a few years ago runs this amazing program where he sends a group of people from all over the world to go to a location in Hungary and live, work and eat together for three weeks, and basically live and breathe tech for that period. You learn a lot: how to work in a group, how to work non-stop fuelled by Hungarian energy drinks (burn, baby, burn..!), how to play hard and even cook for your team and do your laundry like your life depended on it (my current dilemma every couple of days). Most importantly you get to be a part of a motivated team that breathes code, design and ships product — every aspect of it. I'm getting a lot out of this, and if you're interested you should definitely apply next year to the App Campus program. It helps that Hungary is as amazing as I thought it would be.

    When I'm done here, I move on to Finland. Yep, Finland yet again, even if it was only six months ago that I was there. I'm in love with that country, its people, and I've made so many wonderful friends that I just had to go again just because I was going to be on the same continent! Finnair, my new favourite airline, takes me there for an affordable price.

    When I'm finished with Finland (if I ever do), I'll move on to San Francisco, where I'll get to see new friends and old, visit companies I deeply admire, and learn as much as I can from the best brains in my industry. Then I'll head to Washington DC to see a very dear friend who currently works at the embassy there. Then it'll be my birthday, and it'll happen in New York City. This sounds cheesy but I feel like I have been waiting my whole life to finally make it there (just like the song), and I have an incredible schedule lined up already, mostly comprising of meeting people who have inspired me, having a superb 27th birthday party surrounded by some dear friends, going to classes, and doing new things.

    If it isn't already obvious, I am on a mission. I have to sort out myself, reconfigure my life and priorities, and two weeks into my travels and challenges I am already halfway there: I'm closing off bits of a past best left behind, bravely — some say foolhardily — navigating new, unseen waters. I'm in a different headspace from the one I was in six months, a year ago.

    Even though it looks like, and God knows it felt like, I was wading in a cloud of randomness for the past six months, my method to this madness has been simple: figure shit out, get stuff done. Fix what wasn't working, improve my skills.

    What I did (God help me if I sound like a pop self-help type now) was easy enough for anybody to do. The main tenets: Ask. Do. Give.

    It amazes me how far one can get just by asking. It opens doors you previously didn't know existed. When I made some of the very big decisions I had to make, on business, love and others, I was temporarily frozen by the fear — what happens next? I didn't know. The fear was crippling. But eventually I came to see that if I didn't let fear cripple me in so many other aspects of my life, I certainly wasn't going to let it win in the most important areas, the ones that affected me directly. I made decisions, some of which I'm not particularly proud or happy to have made, but that were necessary — to me — with less collateral damage now than if I make them years from now. I didn't know what was going to happen, in terms of work, money, life. But I've come to think that maybe I really am one of the luckiest people ever — everything fell into place, and got going, pretty much with a life of its own in which I was a mere spectator who occasionally hit a ‘yes' or ‘no' or ‘let's move on' button. None of that would have happened if I hadn't developed the shameless ability to ask. The right people at the right places. What's the worst that could happen? A no? So I did, and I'm all the better for it.

    I actively identified a few key areas in my life that needed to be fixed, and tried to find inspiration on how to go about fixing them.

    I knew that I had boundless energy when it came to starting things up, but not when it came to completing things — to running the race through to the end. The tedium and minutiae of everyday life bored the hell out of me. So I learned to delegate, and I learned to separate the important from the less so.

    I knew that I had no trouble making a lot of money, but plenty of trouble understanding the flow of money, so I went to a handful of trusted older acquaintances and friends and basically said to them: here I am, this is where I am at, this is the situation, this is where I want to be in 5 years, 10 years — in your shoes. Teach me what to do with money in beneficial ways, and not only to myself. One day I'll write a ridiculous self-help finance book on this process.

    I knew that I had no shortage of ideas, all of which excited me and made me jump out of bed — but I needed to make them show for something. That tied in with how I previously and historically always ran out of steam and had no ability to see things through to their full potential. I threw a couple of things at it to try to fix it — mostly through consistency and coffee-fuelled attempts at hard work — but seen through the perspective of what I need to achieve within the next year, there are always creative ways to fix any problems, and in the next few months I will be able to hold actual things in my hands and say: I made this, and I finished it.

    Doing stuff has never been difficult for me. I'm the crazy friend who gets sent these emails saying "I have this great idea. What should I do?" And my only answer is: do it. Or if I can afford to, let me help you. This quarter, whatever stars are aligned (if you believe in that hufflepuff), they're certainly all pointing at how I'm learning to pick my battles and to keep doing stuff, but only the stuff that really matters in the end. Steve Jobs' famous line to Sculley rings true in my mind at every milestone: do I want to sell sugared water? Or do the important stuff? In some truly funny ways I think I'd let my grip on reality cripple my ability to see the big picture. Being bogged down by the small stuff, the details — I stopped being able to dream. Of course the dreamer in me now at 27 versus the one at 17 is a very different one: I already know the small stuff and I won't sweat it. But I don't ignore them or wish them away. So now, I do, with the tempered mania of a recovering hyperthyroid patient on metaphoric and literal energy drinks (but properly medicated, don't worry, mum) — banging away at my keyboard, and the world, and all these things I am going to do in it.

    This is the point where I say with an Austrian bodybuilder's accent, I think — I am back. Bitches.

    A theme that has persisted in my mind recently is that of how I need to give back. To my community. To the people who made me. My family, my country, my adopted country (India). I have launched or am launching initiatives in all of these. These are battles that are worth it. One project is Culture Kitchen, a food and art project that aims to connect Singapore to the rest of the world through delicious food and intriguing, sometimes edible art. Is Singapore becoming more xenophobic? Maybe. Is there any justification for it? Never. It becomes xenophobia when it stops being about the policies, and when it starts being about the people — anybody. The guy in the train speaking in a foreign language you don't understand. The waitress who doesn't speak the correct language. But how can we undo this? I don't know. What I do know is that I think saying "you are xenophobic", even when truly well-deserved, already splits the people in camps. In its own ironic way, that also puts people into defensive modes — us versus them, all over again. We must always, always call out xenophobia and never tolerate it. But we must also stem its growth with a light touch. Just as how I will always call out homophobia when I see it, whether it is directed at me or not, on a personal level when I meet somebody from a background that hasn't given him or her any opportunities to meet real gay people, I would rather give him a chance and be the living example of the gay person he could never hate, than flat out deny him the ability to re-evaluate his opinion. I also have the kumbayah belief — hope? pipe dream? — that Singaporeans, and our electorate, are by and large rational beings who are averse to extremism on either side of the spectrum. Yes, there is some danger that we are following the global trend of slipping towards unfounded nationalism based on birth and race. But I think we can avoid that by starting to have open, honest conversations. Do I think Culture Kitchen will be able to fix anything? I wouldn't dare be so self-important. I think my job is done not when I change the mind of somebody who is already anti-immigration and/or xenophobic (is there a difference?), but it is when it inspires other citizen-led projects, and when it plants the seed in the mind of just one person — hey, I never knew that about this country. We actually have these things in common. Let me find out more.

    In addition to Culture Kitchen I will also have a host of other small mini-projects at, which is currently not ready but the basics are there: small island, big heart. Quirky projects celebrating the Singapore spirit.. As a young Singaporean who has chosen a somewhat different path, I am always asked by even younger Singaporeans, "how did you do this?" Since I know so many other kindred spirits who are doing likewise, in their own fields, across a spectrum of various industries and activities, I thought I would collect them all in one place and have them answer such questions in a publicly accessible database. It is my hope that with these, others will see that it's actually not that scary, not that hard, to follow their dreams, to do stuff, to start first by figuring out what matters to them. God knows I could have done with something like that myself when I was younger and clueless.

    So. Giving back. There are tons of other initiatives that we've dreamed up, and that we're laying the groundwork on, but for now there's all of this. And then some. I wish I started an active giving process much earlier, but here we are.

    In between all these projects, shuttling back and forth between various countries, and other things, I haven't had very much time to sort out the homefront. My dog is now in Singapore, and will be out of quarantine soon. When she does get out and come home to live with me in my family home, I think it will be my first real shot at real life this year.

    It's been a crazy year but at least you can't call it uninteresting in the slightest way.

    Just yesterday I tweeted as a monster, designed a game, went to float on a crocodile boat in lake Balaton, and came back to the house to help set up an NGO.

    Perhaps the biggest discovery this year may be that I possibly and probably have an attention deficit disorder too?

    Thank you, mad world, for giving me all the shots I have. I am having a ball of a time. And I have to go away to figure out where I'm going to live. I said that to a friend, two decades older, and she simply laughed and said "that's so Millennial of you." I'm glad I'm a Millennial (even ChannelNewsAsia thinks so) — it's damn confusing, but it's a damn awesome time to be doing all these things with the world as your oyster, baked, fried or freshly shucked.

  • #downtownlinetragedy Donation Drive to Close Tonight

    The donation drive for last week's #downtownlinetragedy victims will close tonight, Friday, 27 July, at 2359hrs.

    If donations marked “Bugis MRT accident” arrive by cheque after the deadline and includes contact information, TWC2 will email the donor to ask whether he/she would like a refund or if the donation should be put towards the organization’s general fund. Refunds, should you select that option, will be made promptly.

    If however the donation is received after the deadline marked “Bugis MRT accident” but without any contact information, the donation will be accepted into the organization’s general fund.

    Thank you so much, kind souls in Singapore, for showing all of us that Singapore still has plenty of compassion, empathy and dignity.

  • This Morning's Downtown Line Tragedy

    Closure of donation drive: TWC2 will stop collecting donations for the victims of the #downtownlinetragedy tonight (Friday 27 July 2012, 2359hrs). For more information please read this link

    Edit: The Paypal link we previously posted isn't working. To donate via Paypal, please to go the donate page on TWC's website, and click the Paypal icon there.

    Clarification: Questions have been raised in various comments about the commission we mention here. Just to be clear, the commissions are charged by the various online payment platforms. We do not receive a single cent or even come close to looking at it. It's all run through a registered non-profit.

    It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. This morning, we awoke to tragic news that two workers had died while building the Downtown Line in Bugis. They were buried alive by cement while pouring wet concrete into a mould. The scaffolding collapsed. They were stuck in the cement and the rescuers had some difficulty prying their bodies out. Investigations are now saying that the wet concrete was almost as heavy as a swimming pool. (link) Whatever the outcome, and whatever its impact on our labour practices will be, there is simply no other way to put this: these guys came here to build our nation, often at great risk to their lives.

    Singapore is what it is today because of the migrant workers that have built our structures, poured our wet cement while we were sleeping, dug and laid our roads. It was true when it was Samsui women doing that, and it is even more true now that we have migrant workers from China, Mongolia, India, Bangladesh and other countries coming here in droves in search of a better life, offering their services to us at minimal cost and maximum risk.

    As Miyagi said, these guys are doing our national service.

    A bunch of us spent all of this afternoon trying to figure out how we can do our part to help. We spoke with various government ministries, who are doing what they can on their part, and to organizations. The organization Transient Workers Count Too, which promotes equitable treatment for migrant workers in Singapore, stepped in. They've offered to take in donations for the victims. I must stress that as a non-profit registered under the Societies Act with experience in managing and disbursing donations, they have the structures and practices in place that Miyagi, mrbrown and I do not have. If you have queries about the accounting practices and methods of fund disbursement, feel free to reach out.

    In the meantime, what we would like to do is to create an avenue for those of you who want to help to do so. The money goes towards the families of the two deceased workers, as well as to the injured workers who are unable to work while they recover.

    This is how you can donate:


    Make a crossed cheque payable to: ‘Tran­sient Work­ers Count Too’, write your name and “Bugis MRT Acci­dent” at the back of the cheque and mail it to: 5001 Beach Road, #06–27 Golden Mile Com­plex, Sin­ga­pore 199588.

    Send an email to with your name, cheque no., amount and “Bugis MRT Acci­dent”, so that the dona­tion can be prop­erly recorded and a receipt sent to you.


    You can donate using your credit card here. A small com­mis­sion is charged by this dona­tion col­lec­tion agency. Under the “Spe­cial Occa­sion / Per­son” field, type “Bugis MRT Accident”.


    You can use your Pay­pal account or credit card to donate here (scroll down and click the Paypal button). How­ever, a com­mis­sion of 4% or so is charged on every dona­tion. There is no field for you to input the pur­pose of dona­tion, so it is advis­able to drop twc2 an email after you’ve donated by this method.

    Whatever small amount you can offer goes a long way.

  • Past Forward: A Heritage Blogging and Social Media Workshop

    My friend Yu-Mei is putting together a blogging and social media workshop as part of HeritageFest, a NHB event.

    I'll be speaking with Rosenah Omar at 3pm, on a panel moderated by Notabilia, although I do wish I could split myself and attend the panel on 1960s music at the same time! Here's the schedule for the day, and here's the Facebook event page. Hope to see you there!


    2:00 p.m.

    Going Past Forward: The art of blogging or writing online about Singapore heritage

    1. Lam Chun See

    2. Ivan Chew, Singapore Memory Project

    3. Dan Koh, POSKOD.SG

    2:45 p.m.

    Tea break

    3:00 p.m.

    Blog What You Know: The Heritage of Everyday Life

    1. Adrianna Tan

    2. Rosenah Omar


    3:00 p.m.

    Not Just Nostalgia: Music of the 1960s

    1. Andy Lim

    2. Georgiana Glass (and at Mod-ified music)

    3:45 p.m.

    A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

    1. Char Lee

    2. Zakaria Zainal


    3:45 p.m.

    Balik Kampung: Blogging about Your Neighbourhood

    1. Victor Yue

    2. Kwek Li Yong

    4:30 p.m.


    4:45 p.m.

    Special tour (optional): Victor Yue's Chinatown or Kwek Li Yong's Queenstown

  • Five Questions on the MOE's revised SEd programme

    Singapore's Ministry of Education recently revealed its new sexuality education programme, now called SEd. (Read more about it on: Today Online, MOE's press release, MOE's SEd minisite)

    The abstinence-first message was not surprising. The continued insistence on couching the abstinence-first message in majority/minority, mainstream/fringe terms was, especially after 15 000 people showed up in Hong Lim Park this past weekend to express support for ‘the freedom to love'. Even after removing Pink Dot from the fray, it's a little hard to continue accepting the Ministry's insistence that the only ‘majority' that counts is the one that they view through their policymakers' prisms, with no consultation, data, any form of scientific inquiry or poll.

    Little else seemed new, but for the introduction of ‘new' elements such as the dangers of social networking. The rest of it may be summed up as such: say no to sex until marriage. No surprises there.

    Otherwise, the SEd component that raised the most eyebrows was the rather odd new declaration that "only specially selected teachers whose values align with the ministry's values on sexuality education may teach the Growing Years programme" (link). This was quickly interpreted by the hordes of trolling ‘netizens' (and I say troll in the most endearing way possible) to be: only virgins may teach sexuality education, if unmarried. If married, only those who practised abstinence until marriage can be selected to teach the programme.

    If this was already true and in practice prior to news of the revision, which I suspect it well may be (given the Ministry's dogged pursuit of ‘mainstream values'), the fact that they saw it necessary to spell this out unequivocally points at a worrying sign: the Ministry is moving to align itself on what it is not, rather than what it is. In other words: it never, ever wants to find itself in the unenviable position that it was caught in at AWARE-gate in 2009 (chronology, Economist article).

    That isn't surprising either.

    I'm afraid all this means for our nation is we now have a Ministry of Education that is cowering in fear from (1) unknown, invisible conservative forces who make their demands for mainstream, abstinence-only sexuality education through some unseen magic, but who are definitively in the majority (2) unknown, invisible liberal forces whose demands for comprehensive sexuality education must be quelled, as they are in the minority.

    How much longer before the cookie crumbles?

    The Ministry has limited options. One, continue to sweep everything under the carpet and stick its metaphorical fingers into its metaphorical ears, and tell itself it'll all be okay. Two, take a side. No matter which side it is, it will be ugly. Three, have the moral gumption to look beyond the limited prism of its Guidance Branch and talk to its own teachers in the field about what's going on out there. Word on the street is the teachers (especially the younger teachers) have their hands tied: every so often, a young gay kid (usually depressed) comes to them seeking help, and there is nothing they can do to help them in a professional capacity because they're not in the right department, qualified to speak on the matter, or allowed to step over the line where they can acknowledge their gayness and tell them it'll be okay. It's not like these teachers don't know how to handle the matter — they have gay friends, or are gay themselves, not that they'd ever say so, because they can't.

    Abstinence has not worked anywhere. What makes the Ministry think it can make it work here?

    Through this announcement, the Ministry hopes to avoid fire from all sides, but instead barrels itself further into an unenviable position. By hardly making a stand, it will never be conservative enough for our conservatives, and never progressive enough for those of us who would like to see change.

    Until the Ministry can elucidate further on the following points, this project is doomed: what is the long list of mainstream values? It keeps referring to mainstream values, but keeps us guessing. It's clear what sort of stand the Ministry of Education wants to take on this matter. Why won't they come out and say so? That their long list of mainstream values revolve around heterosexuality and abstinence? By being vague about the very thing that is meant to be the cornerstone of their programme, they're not doing themselves any favours. What are these mainstream values and by what measure are the specially selected teachers… selected for these values?

    I will watch this story unfold with much anxiety, with just five questions:

    1. What exactly are the mainstream values that the Ministry requires its teachers to have, and on what basis and characteristics are these teachers selected? Who makes the final decision to select them in every school?

    2. How are the (at least ten) ‘specially-selected and MOE-trained teachers' selected and trained? Parents in particular will appreciate having the contents of the special training curriculum shared with them, such that they may be kept aware of the latest developments in their students' knowledge of sexuality education.

    3. Who are the 12 external vendors which have been approved for this year, and in what way will they provide supplementary programmes? Parents ought to be kept aware of the types of activities that are available, and be clearly informed if and when these vendors have any direct or indirect religious affiliations.

    4. How are ‘fringe cases' handled? As with any other form of education, certain students may require special attention and education. Are these specially-trained teachers equipped to provide access to a further set of comprehensive sexuality education information and materials on demand, or provide access to educators who can?

    5. How will the specially-trained teachers in each school be assessed? Who will they report to, at school and at the Ministry? What are the KPIs?

  • Departing Thoughts

    1. I must watch too many scifi movies. I'd rarely been convinced of the malleability of time, but these days I measure out everything in two-week units. Time seems to race ahead of me. It always has, now more than before.

    2. When I say these days, I don't mean it facetiously. Yes, I turn just 27 in a couple of months, but I feel old, cranky and grumpy most of the time, especially around younger people. This must be what growing old feels like at first, not with a bang but with a grumpy whimper.

    3. I must tell my endocrinologist about my worsening memory loss problems. If only I didn't keep forgetting. I will set it as a Reminder in my iPhone, and tell it to alert me when I enter the hospital. I must also set another one to remind me of the same thing as I'm leaving the hospital, because… I really worry that I'm losing my mind.

    4. Walking away is hard. One would think you'd get used to it, after having done it so many times, but it doesn't get any easier. It sounds base, but it's when you pack up an apartment with all your physical possessions into many, many boxes and bags, and load them into the back of a car at 5am, that seems to be when reality bores into your thick, numb skull. I'll remember next time.

    5. Life has taken on an interesting turn. I've had to scale back on life and ambition in some ways, because I literally cannot remember things, and physically cannot do some of those things. I've undoubtedly become a new convert to the "quality of life" school of thought when it comes to work. That part I'm scaling up on.
      Some new favourite lifehacks: putting my phone on Airplane mode and not turning it on until I get to work, not checking email until I get to work, bringing a book to read in the bus so I spend more time reading books than email, reading and buying more physical books than ebooks, doing things differently (like buying an orange notebook instead of a black one), making it a point to take the women of my family out to lunch every Monday, among other things. All of it sounds trivial now that I write it down, but I'm also at that point in my life where I favour incremental, trivial changes over the huge coming-at-you-with-a-mack-truck changes I used to favour (mostly of the "I'm leaving the country for an indefinite period!" variety)…

    6. I've started making some tentative steps back into the world of meeting and dating interesting people. There have been many interesting people. But. c.f. point #2: I'm just older and grumpier these days, so you can imagine how that's going.
      Also, I have transformed into a crazy dog lady whose primary concern in life for the next 110 days is to spend as much time with her quarantined dog as she possibly can. I feel about as attractive as anybody who smells of dog kennels most of the time can be.

    7. Singapore has been really good to me since I came home. In some ways it feels like I never really left. I'm surrounded by incredible people in my industry who inspire me and others; I'm around people who really do walk the talk. It may or may not be naive optimism inspired by my homecoming, but I am so excited by what I see around me now in Singapore. My calendar of projects and events has filled up at a good pace. At this point, I have a just nice amount on my plate. It helps.

    8. The hardest part about breaking up with anybody is walking away from the memories of what you once wanted to accomplish together. I may feel like I'm losing my mind and my memory, but this isn't one of those that I've lost.

    If only it were.

  • The Places We'll Go

    Five years ago, I said: "Ask me again a year, three, or five from now and all I will remember is driving up, around, up, around, up, around, in the swirling clouds as the rain lashed at my windows and I feared for my life, balanced so daintily in this tin can navigating itself on the hairpin road."

    Plenty has changed, these five years, but at least this part remains familiar: "Ask me again a year, three, or five from now and I will still tell you the same thing: I’m not sure why I do the things that I do." Then, I was referring to the heady, exciting days of a student who had the chance to criss-cross across the hill tribes of northeast India and investigate the ailments of rural Bangladeshis suffering from leprosy, TB and lymphatic filiarisis. I got to go on the amazing adventure of my life, never really expecting it to end. It hasn't.

    Much has changed, but adventure has never left me.

    The last five months have been tumultuous. It was the sort of chaos that was ultimately a blip in the universe (though still a large one), and not, thankfully, the sort that led to destruction and the end of the world as I knew it.

    In a few days I will make that trip to Kuala Lumpur for the last time. It will be awkward. On it, I will return to the apartment I've had for two years, but haven't lived in for the last five months, and I will assemble everything that I own in that city and that country, and pack it into several boxes. I last packed all the things I owned in the universe into several boxes under far happier circumstances. This time I pack a dog into the car, too.

    I don't regret a moment. Life has dealt me a pretty good lot, and I have milked it for what it's worth. So from Singapore to Dubai and the Middle East to London to Kuala Lumpur I now find myself surprisingly, but not that much, in Singapore. I left a Singapore I didn't like very much, and returned to a Singapore I absolutely love (there's an essay in that somewhere). You can't come home again, but you can definitely make it home again, for the first time.

    The single life is interesting, but difficult, in equal parts. I haven't dated in such a long time, I really don't have it in me anymore.

    The life with hyperthyroid is worse.

    I can't remember shit. I quite literally feel like I've lost a major chunk of my former cognitive abilities. It sucks.

    How am I dealing with all of this? I'm… dealing. If you know me in real life, you probably can't tell. I've worked very hard to keep it invisible. My heart rate still goes nuts. I drop a ton of weight or I put it back and I drop it again. I am manic and then I am exhausted. I am utterly intolerant to heat, even in an air-conditioned room I am hot. I don't need any medical diagnosis here (I am actively under the care of the medical professionals here, no worries). I just wish I could get my memory back. I've gone from one of those people with super memories to one of those who has to scribble down everything. I don't remember people I've just met (this has never happened before), I don't remember even meeting them, most of the time. It's amazing I can even work at all.

    The last five months have felt like a massive blur. I feel like time and space has compressed for me. Or that I'm living in a time warp, splitting myself between two universes. One: pre-illness, pre-breakup, pre-everything. When life was, I thought, sorted. For the time being. The second one, the one I inhabit right now: plagued by a disease that doesn't threaten but bothers me, learning to find my feet again without the woman I love and the life and businesses we had. Breaking up gets more and more expensive as you get older.

    I'm okay, I'm good, I'm pretty happy (seriously) — I was just telling someone that I thrive in change in ways that many people don't understand, but I do. Change works for me.

    I should be more careful what I wish for, you know? Now there's so much of it I am still finding my feet, but I'm not sure how. That suits me fine for now.

    It's just that I hate packing.

  • The Road Less Ridden

    In my mother tongue we have a brilliant turn of phrase. Geh kiang. Separately, they mean fake clever. Together, it means some approximation of 'smart alec', but that's not quite good enough. It's hardly translatable at all. 'Smart alec' does not embody the degree of stupidity we are usually referring to when we say 'geh kiang'.

    My mother will tell you I embody geh kiang, every bit of me.

    I was especially geh kiang when I packed up my bags and bicycle, mostly under stressful circumstances, in order to take them somewhere.

    Why did I bring a bicycle to northern Europe? I found myself wondering that all throughout my Nordic escapade. I wondered the loudest and grumbled the most when it was time to pack up my bags and my bicycle all over again. Five times. I know, I counted.

    I packed up my bags and my bicycle when I had to move, when I had to get in a plane, when I had to jump into a train, when I had to do all of that entirely by public transport (cabs are totally out of the question in Europe!) and onto train platforms and then into trains.

    It was difficult, to say the least. Lucky for me — and my sanity — my love for cycling, and the relative benefits of having one's own bicycle in a foreign place, far outshone the logistical barriers. I will probably do it again.

    When you commit to having such a piece of equipment by your side of the entire duration of your trip, you're committing to a relationship that will be the primary relationship, one that will be far more important than the by-now boring concept of luggage. You have to look after it. Endure the glances. Fight for it at airport check-in desks. Hold it, dance with it, around the feet of heavily pregnant commuters and swerving around nervous people, trying your best not to jab anybody with your hulk of a piece of equipment.

    So what happened? In a nutshell,

    I broke my bike

    Finnair treated my bike brilliantly. I flew them three times: to Helsinki, to Stockholm, back from Copenhagen. All three times my bicycle more than survived, and the entire experience was very easy. I highly recommend Finnair for their quick, no-nonsense flights to Europe from Singapore. Helsinki Airport is also my new favourite airport.

    I, however, was very stupid. I tried to fix what I thought was a loose nut, myself. Being no bike mechanic, I promptly broke the weirdest little part I could break — the plastic doohickey in the stem of the folding post of my bike. Without it, my bicycle could not stay folded. Foldable bikes like mine haven't taken off in that part of the world at all. Even though the Finns speak amazing English, most people anywhere have never heard of a plastic doohickey. Not unless you are very familiar with foldable bikes of the Dahon make.

    Somehow, I managed to find an excellent bicycle shop where its owner and mechanics were super helpful. Since it's not even a part that my bicycle's manufacturer offers for sale, it seemed pretty dire. Thankfully, a quick-thinking mechanics with extraordinary ability in plastics (he had a degree in plastics engineering) took a look at the broken plastic bits, and he made a brand new doohickey for me. That entire process took a week so I had to go to Tallinn without my bicycle, but I was relieved that I wouldn't be travelling around with an unridable piece of junk for the next 3 weeks. More glad that it got fixed. I got lucky.

    I had to be rescued by Swedish police

    Not something I care to repeat ever again, but.. what an experience.

    I was cycling along the bike lanes from Kungsholmen to Stockholm Central, happily zipping along at 25km/h with an air of familiarity. I was starting to really get where things were in Stockholm, and I'd had some amazing city rides. Seems like Stockholm Central hates me for some inexplicable reason. The last time I was there in 2010, I got locked out of Stockholm Central for many hours while my luggage was locked in.

    This time, I guess I missed the sign that said "IF YOU ARE A BICYCLE, GO LEFT! NOT STRAIGHT!"

    I went straight.

    I realised something was amiss when I started descending down a steep flyover. I saw many heavy vehicles. I saw that I had no way to filter right (they ride on the right) without being in the middle of oncoming, converging traffic from another steep flyover. I jumped out. I saw that I could not go back up, and that there was no way I could walk off that bridge (water, water, everywhere).

    I jumped onto my bike and kept going.

    At some point it dawned upon me in my puny little brain that if I went any further, I would be bus chow in the middle of the underwater tunnel that crossed islands into Södermalm. I got out.

    I don't know what I was thinking — probably nothing — I remember I was extremely calm. I called a Swedish friend, who could not help; I texted the Swedish friend I was riding to meet and told her I'd be late, that I'd explain later when I saw her.

    Mostly I just stood by the side of the road and looked pathetic, I think.

    A Stockholm city police car came within ten minutes, bundled my bicycle and its stupid owner into the back of the car, and drove me to Stockholm Central. I figured motorists might have called in to tell them that an Asian tourist was dangerously obstructing the lives of motorists on the highway by looking pathetic and helpless.

    (They did confirm that they received calls about me, which is why they came; I didn't care to ask what had been reported!)

    Stockholm police's parting words to me: "you should take a photo and show it to your friends."

    Damn malu.

    I had to carry a ton of weight every step of the way

    Let's just say travelling with a bicycle, no matter how light, is not for the faint of heart. I only moved all my bags and the bicycle when I moved to a new city or went to the train station or airport, but when I moved, I moved.

    One of the last minute decisions before leaving for Helsinki was that I would bring a silly little trolley with me. The kind that aunties go to the wet market with: the flimsy, plastic ones that are given out free at computer fairs or promotions. I don't know how I managed without it. Although my Dahon D7HG is quite tiny when folded, and it was also in a soft bag, the overall package including the paddings, foam and bubble wrap made for an uncarry-able package. I also had my large backpack and camera backpack. Why didn't I just pack it in a Samsonite case? I've tried that many times, each time to devastating results. First, dismantling the bike is pretty easy. Getting it to fit isn't. Unlike most other 20″ Dahon bikes, the D7HG Vitesse that I have has a large rear fender. It is close to impossible to remove, and without removing it, the bicycle does not fit into any luggage. It also has a hub gear, which makes it difficult to remove the rear wheel. More importantly, because of the hub gear and the rear fender, I'm not able to confidently put it back. I decided to avoid that nightmare this time. mrbrown and Ryan helped me zhng a makeshift soft bag carry method. It served me well.

    Eventually, I gave up on the lousy trolley and went to a trolley superstore in Stockholm (yes, there is such a thing!) and purchased an amazing, sturdy, well-made Swedish trolley.

    Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely! That was my first time travelling with my bicycle. To be honest, I don't think I was ready for it. I'm lucky in that I didn't get flats, I didn't need to change tubes (though I brought them anyway), that I didn't need to remove my wheels or do any repairs of any sorts on my own (other than the plastic doohickey incident). I'm no bike mechanic. I'm a little stupid about those things, in fact. I will get better at it because I now know what and where are the gaps in my knowledge.

    I had an amazing time on the bike.

    The Nordic countries are light years ahead of us in terms of cycling as part of the urban landscape. It was such a joy to ride there, especially in Copenhagen. Real bike lanes, bike traffic lights, an entire culture and city where cycling was a real, and sometimes the only, way of life. It was liberating.

    Before going, I was quite shaky on the roads. I did not like the idea of riding on the roads in Singapore as I was not confident enough to do it. Because I got so much mileage on the roads of Copenhagen (breezy sweat-free 40km days were typical), I learned many things about what I needed to know from them. I now ride on the roads of Singapore regularly, and don't find it particularly difficult, although there are some challenges to be mindful of (car-dooring, for example).

    Since I got home to Singapore, there's been a lot of talk about how public transport has become absolutely terrible. I agree it has deteriorated substantially, but my own personal way of getting around that problem is to ride more and talk less. I would be quite happy to cycle-commute at least 40% of the time in Singapore. Next time I travel, I am taking the bike with me again. Anywhere. Everywhere.

    Super Geh Kiang Me.

  • This Site, Now On Steroids

    Those of you with elephant memories will remember what this site was 7 years ago. The web was a very different place. This blog was a different blog, I was a different kind of kid (19 years old! Yowch), and the ecosystem was other sites like this with no Facebook, Twitter, not in the ways we now have them anyway. The only external outlet we all plugged out to was Flickr, and we know how that went down. It's hard to believe we once lived in a world when Yahoo! was still important.

    Through all of that, I was running the same Textdrive box. I had one of those legacy accounts with 'lifetime hosting'. There was no cloud (not in the way we know it now).

    The point of all this is: the world has changed, Facebook has IPO-ed, I have changed (in the midst of some pretty huge personal, professional and geographical transitions at the moment), and while I'm still figuring it all out, I figured the easiest thing I could change was the server that this site runs on..

    Isn't it so much faster now?

  • Did you hear the one about the Swedish chocolate cake?

    I'm home now of course, whatever home means, and I've been retelling a couple of stories. The same ones, but many of them, just because I've had such a crazy time in the Nordics.

    This one isn't very much of a story. Just a little tale that, once again, shows you how crazy we Asians are about our food.

    I spent the first three weeks of my big Scandinavian/Finnish vacation on my own, and/or with friends from that region. In the last week, a friend from uni came to meet me in Copenhagen.

    We did stuff, mostly in this order:

    Eat. Drink. Eat. Drink. Eat. Cycle. Eat. Drink. Eat. Bring our bicycles to Sweden.

    To buy chocolate cake. From a supermarket. She'd been on student exchange in Sweden, now lived in Geneva, and missed Swedish supermarket chocolate cake terribly. I'm sure it's nice and all, but damn if I ever go to another country to buy chocolate cake again.

  • Wilderness TV

    I can't say I've been away from my phone or Mac for more than 24 hours, not at any point in the last 10 years. I can't say I have at all. They feel like such natural extensions of my arm, they are almost artificial appendages themselves, not just of my body but also of my brain. I needed to switch off and I needed a drastic way to do it.

    Which is the backstory behind why I found myself living in a hut like the above.

    170 km and 2 hours northwest of Stockholm, lays a little town called Skinnskateberg. Its pronunciation eludes me, and still does; somewhere between a huin and a hun instead of skinn. I'll take whatever you throw me, Sweden, but your compound sounds and accents are something I'll never get (I've just learned how to pronounce Nässjö… Promptly forgot it too).

    When some Stockholm friends wanted to know my weekend plans, I told them I was going to be in Skinnskateberg, only to find most of them had never heard of it. I'm pretty sure it wasn't my pronunciation too, because I showed it to them on the map.

    I was only headed there because of one thing: my need to be one with nature, in a way I knew how.

    Ever since I got sick, I've been struck with the overwhelming need to go be one with nature. I can't explain it, and I can't reject it. After rejecting nature all my life (damn the insects and sweatiness of the tropics), I now want to do it all: camp, start fires, cook in the open, fetch water from natural water sources, and whatever else my city slicker mind romanticised.

    So off to Skinnskateberg I went. Why there, of all places, instead of the far north? My metrics for selecting this place were simple: I didn't want to freeze my bits off, didn't want to have to pack snow shoes, knew I couldn't pack a winter-ready tent or sleeping bag (can't justify the cost of one), and I needed to be close enough to the middle to travel south to Malmö afterwards.

    Which left just one place: Kolarbyn, near Skinnskateberg.

    I wanted to go to Kolarbyn because it promised no electricity, no running water, and a series of huts that resembled hobbit holes, to my untrained eye.

    Of course they were just replicas of the huts that the charcoal-burners of the region once lived in, hundreds of years ago, first built to educate the modern crowd about the area's history after the industry died, then turned into the eco-lodge it now is.

    Kolarbyn proudly advertises itself as "Sweden's most primitive hotel", and they'd be right.

    I booked myself on a two night stay there. Though I freaked out a little when I was told I would be alone all throughout the three days, things quickly worked out when I found Roxanne, an ex-classmate now working in Stockholm, would join me on my unconventional Easter break.

    I was enamoured by the romance of the whole set up, but I worried about the details: how would I do with starting fires? What would I eat? How would I chop wood? What water would I drink? How would I even get there? I wrote emails to Andreas, the owner of Kolarbyn, pleading Asian virginity in the Scandinavian outdoors, and asked him to please show me how to do everything once. His Swedish efficiency of language and character was a simple, reassuring "don't worry about anything."

    As it turned out, Andreas himself is ex-Swedish military, almost like a more realistic Bear Grylls (arguably better looking too). I mean, the man teaches courses teaching people how to start fires without anything, how to forage, and survive in the cold wilderness — I could not ask for a better teacher. He had me starting fires successfully in something like 5 seconds. Which just does not happen with me, usually. With non-digital skills I usually have the mental and psychomotor facilities of a five year old child, possibly worse.

    He showed me the stream, from which I would fetch water, in which I would wash my cooking utensils; at which I could optionally clean myself, an option I would decline as I did not want to go home in a freezer (not to be morbid, but I'm just learning to deal with the cold and I really need more time when it comes to being in a frigid and cold body of water).

    The communal fireplace was where all the cooking would take place. Though I was alone on the first night (Roxanne was to join me the second morning), I was lucky that I had a Swedish couple for company. I could not have asked for a more Swedish experience: we shared cans of Sofiero, they fed me grilled choco-bananas, and one of them even worked with Roxette. I cooked a simple pasta with mushrooms and asparagus, and dinner I made myself has never tasted as wonderful. The wilderness helps you redefine everything, including food — slow food with slow sources of fuel is indefinitely slow, slower, slowest.

    My little hobbit hole, all mine for the first night, was called Botvik. All the huts have old names — such as Olof. Mine, Botvik, sounded less of a hulk than Viking-sounding Olof, and more of a bumbling little Viking version of Baldrick, which suited me fine. The Swedish couple complained that the huts were smaller than they looked online. Since I was expecting, and hoping for, a hobbit hole, Botvik was my idea of a dream come true.

    Sheepskin was laid out on each side, on which a warm, winter-ready sleeping bag would go. The fireplace was a small, but sturdy little box that would be my best friend for the next two nights. A large stone apparatus enveloped the fireplace, and I came to think of it as a convection oven for my warmth.

    I was worried I would be cold, but I was far from cold. The fires I started, and nurtured in Botvik were enough to keep me plenty warm at night and to keep me returning to all through the day. I was especially happy to return to the warmth of my hut after a morning hike to the compost toilet, and after the temperatures sank at nightfall.

    Can it be that we have a genetic disposition to watching fires, and to wanting to make them bigger? Asked another fellow camper the next night. We had no answer, Roxanne and I, for we were busy learning about snus and stuffing our faces with soup and pork, but I certainly think he has a point.

    Having never come close to a fire, or a fireplace before — I mean I do come from that breed of urbanites for whom sparkles are not good sounds, and who feared fire — fire became my best friend. Not necessarily in a pyromaniac sort of way. Fire draws you, in an elusive but unforgiving way. You can't not look at it. You need it. Everyone can have it, but not everyone can build the right kind of fire. It sounds base and primal, but it made me think about what little our primitive ancestors had and how they made use of what they did have; fire really does change everything. Not having my phone or Mac around was totally okay, then; we joked that every time we go out camping we sit around fires watching wilderness tv.

    It's a channel I'm starting to get used to, I think.

  • Chocolate, Nudity, Helsinki

    I have seen some places in my short travelling life, but rarely a place that offers me chocolate and naked women within two hours of arriving.

    Helsinki turned out to be such a place.

    Unknown to me, mostly since I knew so little about Finland other than Nokia, Angry Birds and the cold, when I pinged some local friends on what I should do while waiting for them to be done with work, they almost universally said: have lunch and chocolates at Karl Fazer Cafe, and then go to the pool and sauna at Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall — it was a women-only day the day I got to Helsinki.

    What should I wear to Yrjönkatu, I asked? I came prepared: I brought a bikini, even though bringing a bikini to a place that was going to be 0 degrees Celsius seemed a little silly.

    Erm.. you wear nothing. That is the idea, my Finnish friends said, so it might not be for everybody._

    I stuffed myself silly with soup and chocolates at Fazer (sidenote: starting to be quite a fan of Fazer chocolates, they ARE tasty), then cycled around downtown Helsinki for a bit. I thought I would worry about the sauna only if I saw it — I wasn't about to go out and look for a place just because of pfft naked women — but of course I found it within minutes.

    When travelling, especially when travelling alone, one has the tendency to do as the Romans (or Finns) do, and plunge right into the deep end, so to speak. Not knowing any Finnish at all, I timidly found my way around the inner workings of a place dedicated to the dark arts of naked bathing and steaming.

    Like tattoos, dating twins, and other much-talked-about concepts, this is something I would do just once; the downsides are far worse than the supposed benefits. But maybe I'm just unimaginative: I don't really feel like I can breathe in a sauna, and I get toe cramps the moment I hit cold water naked. Travel expands your horizons, makes you learn things about yourself: I learned I would rather be warm and fully clothed, around other fully clothed women.


    After such a colourful start to my Nordic adventures, things only got better from there. I have met some great people, eaten some nice food, and done quite a number of things. If you have Instagram, you can follow me at my regular online handle; if you don't, you can use this instead. I update Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in real time while I'm here. I'm just taking it slow and chilling out — a lot — a lot for me anyway.

  • Four Hours Light

    Tallinn, Estonia 028 - Catedral Alexander Nevsky/ Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

    "Tallinn, Estonia 028 - Catedral Alexander Nevsky/ Alexander Nevsky Cathedral by Claudio.Ar, on Flickr"

    Somewhere between lying in a hospital bed, travelling, and coming back to a hospital again, I decided: man, I really need to go away. I knew that my default go-to place was India. Until it wasn't.

    Don't get me wrong, I still love India very much and it still holds a special place in my heart, as the one country that has given me much, but in 8 years of intensive India travel it is no longer "a destination I know nothing about" type of experience. India is a home I go back to, in grief and in celebration, and always will; I just needed to flirt briefly with other countries and climes, and so I will.

    Tomorrow, I depart for Helsinki. After that, Tallinn, Stockholm, Skinnskatteberg, Malmö, Copenhagen. I know I said in my previous post that I needed to slow down, and learn to live again — this is exactly my idea of slowing down. It sounds mad, but I have a plan.

    Ever since the hospital, I've stopped smoking and drinking, even casually. Even if not life-threatening, the episode convinced me that I wanted to do more with my life, where lifestyle was concerned — it also convinced me that I wanted to see more of the outdoors. I've been cycling, running, and cycling even more. I will bring my bicycle with me to the Nordic states (yes, I know I can rent bicycles there… but. I want my bicycle! Not somebody's else's!), and I will get to enjoy the onset of spring in some of the best cities in the world for bicycle commuting.

    I don't know what to expect: I know so little about that part of the world. The only thing I know for certain is I will be cold. I've prepared for it, but I've never been in that type of cold until now, so I'm just going to have to make it up as I go. I'll be completely shut off from work for a while, which will be the first time in some years. I will be completely shut off from the world, and the world wide web, for a couple of days, too, which will be the first time… since I discovered the world wide web. Work-wise, I'm excited about that part of the world as it's the land of Spotify, Angry Birds, Minecraft — some of my favourite things in the world — along with awesome salmon and mesost, which I also love. I spent 3 all too brief days in Stockholm in 2010, and now I'm going to be back there, in the company of friends this time with the possibility of a superb dinner.

    I can't wait.

  • The Years of Living at High Velocity

    Or how I am not dealing with hyperthyroidism

    Ever since I had a vague inkling of ambition, it's been go, go and go.

    Occasionally go even further, at top speed. Once I learned to catch the wind, I wanted to fly. I was the weird kid who climbed and used my stroller as a skateboard, even before I could walk.

    I don't really know how to live any differently.

    In school, I had to run every single track and field event, jump, debate, represent my institution and country at whatever they wanted me to, learn to be house captain, juggle many loves, do more A level papers than I needed, work in a few jobs, travel the world. I was unstoppable, not from the overwhelming middle class Singaporean need for accomplishment, but from not knowing any better.

    The simple truth: I don't know what to do with myself. If I do one less thing. I freak out. My mind wanders. I fidget, physically, but worse is the emotional fidgeting that comes inevitably when I do fewer things than I can. (Not emotional as in "I should date someone" but as in "OMG WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE". Just to clarify.)

    The moment I was done with university, I pursued all those madcap adventures I'd dreamed of as a child. Without the restraints of geography and formal education, I shined.

    I may not have travelled far, unlike some mileage-racking people I know, but I have returned to the cities I love, repeatedly. I have pushed my body through some extremities. And travelled in ways that I am told are not good for me, in the long run.

    Borneo longhouse and then Barcelona, in 36 hours.

    Beirut and then Istanbul, in two weeks, by land.

    Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry and 3000 kilometres of my beloved South India, in a rickety little tin can.

    Dubai. Istanbul. London. Dubai. Chennai. Kuala Lumpur. Chennai. Dubai. London. Singapore. Dubai. Sana'a. Dubai. Singapore. Bangkok. Singapore. Dubai. Beirut. Damascus. Aleppo. Adana. Antalya. Goreme. Istanbul. Dubai. London. That was six months of my life in 2008-09.

    At 23, you think you're invincible. The world is your oyster. There is nothing you can't do.

    At 27, you're a little older now. Older and slower.

    I was in Bombay two weeks ago, happy as usual to be there. I was going to go to Hong Kong, then go back to India again. I came home instead to Singapore, supposedly to catch my breath for a day before flying off to Kuala Lumpur, then Hong Kong, but found myself in hospital instead.

    I didn't feel so invincible then.

    I slept for six nights next to a dying woman, who expended her last breaths snoring like a champ. I figured if you were at that point, you can do whatever the hell you want. Preachers and Christian relatives came to proselytize by her bedside every evening. She grunted.

    I had no preachers, but lots of balloons. (The person with the least-threatening disease had the most number of balloons. That didn't seem fair.)

    I had lots of love.

    I had everything I needed: food, water, medicine, medical attention, visitors, and potassium chloride, attached to my arm through a drip.

    Life has a funny way of cutting you back down to size: I was diagnosed with hyperthyroid. My body, like my ambitions, was in overdrive, with so much metabolism that I lost 20kg at one point (not a good thing, btw); such that my hands shook, always involuntarily and sometimes violently; such that my heart raced and slowed and sputtered, often audibly.

    No one could tell me what it was until I collapsed at dinner in Singapore, and my face went pale and my body cold, but my head burned at 40 degrees when I got to the hospital. Thereafter, I was force-fed medicine and put through a battery of tests for six days before I was released into the world again with stern orders to medicate and just chill the fuck out.

    That didn't, and still doesn't, sit too well with me. I don't know what to do with myself. I'm frequently stumped by people who say they are bored, because I haven't known boredom in many years. The world is out there for the taking — and imma take it! But it was not meant to be, because my body said so.

    In my hurry to be better and faster, I'd forgotten to stop — I'd forgotten about stopping at all.

    I'd forgotten to spend time on the things that matter most: my health, my family, my friends.

    I'd forgotten my body is a vessel that cannot keep up with all the desires of the mind, that needs to be well-kept and well-lubricated.

    The hormonal imbalance caused by my hyperthyroidism put my life and what I cherished most about it in jeopardy. I swung, and still do, from sad to happy to neutral in a matter of minutes. I thought, and still do, of destroying everything I'd built up in years in fits of what felt like madness. I never thought it possible for a little butterfly shaped gland near my throat to wreak so much chaos in my life, but it has: my clothes don't fit, they literally fall off me; I went well below the weight I was at 10 years ago; I want to throw things one second and then I want to hug a kitten the next; I can be in the middle of a totally normal situation, such as sitting on a chair in my house, and then my heart starts racing, and slowing, when it pleases, almost as it wants to leap out of my body. If you ask me about the hormonal imbalance caused by hyperthyroidism, I'm very certain that it's on a scale of (old school birth control pill hormonal fallout + PMS + remembering all your sad memories) x 1000. On a good day, I potter about in a haze of drugs and sadness, and somehow manage to muster some of the old spunk left in me, and hold on to it like an unskillful amateur magician for however long I can keep it up. On bad days, I am utterly helpless, tiny things set me off, stupid things stress me out with no regard for proportion — I worry about small things now as though the apocalypse was just around the corner, when every rational bit of me that's left knows it's not, but my body and my mind just cannot compute it.

    I miss that the most about pre-hyperthyroidism: my cool. I miss that my superpower of being unfazed by anything seems a world away from me now. I can deal with the months of diarrhea, weight loss, heart palpitations, hand tremors. I can deal with any of those physical things. But not being in full control of my mind is a scary place for me.

    Talking to people who know what it's like helps (Thanks Lucian). Medicating regularly and sleeping more has helped, too. Physical symptoms and hormonal imbalance aside, I do not like that I (1) get loopy from time to time (2) have trouble concentrating (3) am significantly slower in terms of cognitive processes (4) forget things immediately (5) feel helpless about all of this.

    There seems to be awfully little I can do except wait it out and hope for the best. In the grand scheme of things, I know this is one of those things that's going to be just another quirk, in a couple of months. I know I should be thankful it isn't anymore serious or life-threatening. It just gets in the way, you know? Especially when you are a small business owner like me, I need to be 150% there, 100% of the time. It seems to be my body's way of telling me to slow the fuck down and find a pace and time where I can do the things I want without destroying my body in the process. Health is wealth, etc, and all that mumbo jumbo (even if true, it still sounds funny saying it).

    I've decided to chill out. To not let this disease take over my life, or my mind. To do things differently. To sleep before two in the morning, every night. To sleep at least six hours a day. To not subject myself to torturous travel schedules. To be aware of my limitations. This part is the hardest, but I will try.

    I'm going to have to take a break from all of this — Singapore, Malaysia, work, empire-building, community-building, nation-building — so I can come back in a better shape to resume all of this, and more.

    There's a world of opportunities out there, it sucks that I can't have all of them, right now, but I can at least pick my battles and be darn good at it too.

    Goodbye, my crazy high velocity life. Hello, a better, healthier me.

  • Taj Mahal Foxtrot

    A note from New Delhi

    Taj Mahal Foxtrot, namesake of the book by the same name by naresh.fernandes

    Another new year, another bad habit: I'm late, again.

    Just a few days ago, I was sitting at the back of a Toyota Innova, stuffing my face with mithai and chips — not at the same time — thinking what a nice surprise it'd be for my readers, to finally post, and on New Year's Eve, too. I didn't make it. I got busy.

    The landscape outside my window was of rural Rajasthan: familiar. Not as brutal as the Marwar I came up close to, the last time I was here, at the peak of summer. Not too long before that I had arrived in Rajasthan with my young traveller tie-dye pants, led by nothing other than the youthful desire to do something unexpected, terrible and difficult. Things are quite different now: I have a ‘job' to get back to. No doubt it's a business I own and run, but I still can't get away for as long as my college summer breaks allowed me to.

    Everything feels different. Only India feels the same.

    This winter made Rajasthan different from the last. It was much better, with its cool — almost too cool — air, dry spells. Not quite as cold as Delhi.

    Hurtling through traffic, avoiding cows and camels, stopping occasionally for a ‘sulabh' break — BYOTP (Bring your own toilet paper), the Innova, the "metal cow" of the Indian road made its way through all places familiar and strange.

    We made a makeshift cinema on the rooftop of the small bed & breakfast we were staying at, shivering in the cold under bundles of blankets, with a dazzling view of the Umaid Bhawan in the near horizon.

    We drank copious amounts of lassi.

    We ate, drank and made merry — with our hands, of course, for to eat with a fork and a spoon is just like making love through an interpreter.

    We didn't break up at the Taj Mahal.

    I'm in a different place now. A good place.

    Not too long ago I was hopping around some parts of the world on a series of one way tickets, with nothing to hold me down to any place or any one. Just me, my backpack, my cameras, notepads, my lone self in a hostel room for one, on the lonely (but fun) road to self-discovery. That part of my life seems to be a distant past now. The places are the same but the package is different. I could not go away for a year now, not without looking back wistfully at some people, things and creatures.

    The things that bind come when you least expect it.

    They were the crazy thoughts that slip into your head when you meet someone for the first time — at a bar, or at least that's how it was for me. The furious back-and-forth binary exchanges through various electronic sources. A text. An email. A few stamps in your passport and many flight tickets later, and you're settled. Sort of. Settled as far as you can be. You go to a city, rent a house, set up a business, own a dog, and suddenly you're one of those people boring hippies to death about how you love Singapore because you can go jogging at three in the morning and feel safe. Suddenly you're one of those regular people who can go someplace breathtakingly beautiful like the Taj Mahal and feel nothing except annoyance at the incessant crowds, and you're not the sort of girl who goes to the Taj Mahal and breaks up with the person next to you anymore.

    No one ever tells you it's going to get better in your twenties.

    They don't. Okay, so you can drink Yakult everyday before lunch and after lunch, and nobody tells you you've gotta eat a vegetable. That's where it gets tricky. No one tells you anything — you're supposed to know. About everything. About salaries and savings. About weddings and funerals. About businesses and jobs. About children and insemination. About… everything. It's up to you. You can drink as much Yakult as you want, but if you lau sai, you take yourself to hospital and you pay for your own medical bills. You can go through life never eating a single vegetable if you don't feel like it, but when you're constipated… well, never mind.

    You amble through life, finish college, and if you're lucky, acquire some sense of purpose — I like to think I was lucky in that department — and then you try to make yourself a success. Somewhere along the way, one of your friends is going to die in an accident, another one of your friends is going to be diagnosed with a terminal disease, and there's going to be absolutely nothing anyone can do when faced with sudden mortality: something most of us have not had to think about until now.

    I'm not sad or anything like it. Quite the opposite. I love what I do (btw, it's a combination of writing, speaking, and separately of selling and making apps and running a small company that makes apps), I wake up every morning the master of my own time and location — which is something I established a long time ago as a bare minimum for any endeavour. I will be where I want to be, when I want to be. This has meant 800km trips up and down the North-South Highway every other week, crazy meetings packed in rapid succession, and some sort of invisible third arm growth that is my iPhone and high speed internet connection.

    Some mornings, though, I wake up missing the part of me that's long gone. That part of me that used to write furiously, take good photos, chase stories, pursue any trail of human interest in my vicinity. I'm not complacent or anything: I've just lost it. Like not knowing how to play a piano again from neglect, despite banging on it for 10 years: I've just lost it. I've lost my need to go to places, see things, talk to people, take photographs, write stories. I've lost my wide-eyed curiosity and innocence — I've seen it all before, my brain tells me, and there are precious few things in the world that leap out at me the way everything once did. Absolutely none in the developed world, which doesn't interest me anthropologically or culturally in any way, and a dwindling number in the developing world. India. Yemen. Syria. Places like that — full of raw energy, waiting to be unearthed. And in India's case, ever-surprising and ever-ready, no matter how many times I go back there.

    Then there's the writing. Not having had the discipline, time or desire to write as often or as much as I once did, the year or two of utter neglect is leaving me scrambling to pick up the pieces before I lose it forever. It's difficult to keep writing when you've been stuck, as so many writers before you have been, on that one debut novel you've been hacking away at for years. On the bright side, I am at a better place right now to write — and finish — that novel.

    So the point of all this, I guess, is to figure out what's next? Lots.

    There's that book to write. Like an awesome Chinese soup on slow boil, it can't be hurried. I'm just doing what I know best, although I should know better. But that's for me to figure out.

    There's the business, which appears to be growing. I've had the good luck to work with great people, so I'm excited about what it's going to bring in 2012.

    Then there's the travel. I've been lucky to be able to visit all these amazing places and to know a few of them quite intimately. There's plenty of travel scheduled for 2012, some work, some leisure, and I may finally be able to get to a few places I've dreamed of going since I was a little girl. Places that were difficult to get to.

    On the home front, my resolve to spend more time with my family in Singapore appears to be going well. On the home front in KL, we're at a good place although there are some plans (on my part) to move back to Singapore at some point this year.

    I don't know. For someone who hates planning, I've certainly planned too much. Always the big picture, the big goals at the end of the line; never the small details. Maybe it's time to think about the details, too.

    Health-wise I'm in pretty good shape. I'd let myself go — so typical of a long-term relationship — but I think I'm back at a healthy weight, build and BMI. Never again. Although the rapid and massive weight loss means I need to shop for a wardrobe anew, it's a step in the right direction for 2012!

    I won't bother with setting any resolutions since those so often disappoint. Let's just say I have my eyes on the prize… or prizes! Lots to do, lots to work towards — a combination of company work, personal work, and community work — and I can't wait to get started. Though I'm currently nursing a flu from the brutal Delhi winter smog, I can feel it in my bones that 2012 is going to be a year without precedence, one that will blow the last 5 out of the water (and I've had very, very good years recently)!

    Also, I've been going back to India really, really often. That counts for something in the greater scheme of happiness. Happy new year, everybody.

  • I Hate Cabbage Soup

    White cabbage is death. If there is a Creator, it is one of his less glorious moments. The only thing worse than white cabbage is white cabbage soup. I am a soup maniac, but white cabbage soup I do not touch with a ten foot pole. I cannot even sit at the same table when it is being drunk. The sight and smell of it makes me want to throw up. Because of these vile leaves, I am unreasonably opposed to all food that is white in colour but is not a carbohydrate or dairy product.

    White cabbage soup is Chinese New Year is a vile, hateful thing is I hate the both of them.

    For reasons unknown to anyone currently alive, we must drink white cabbage soup at reunion dinner every single Chinese New Year. Without fail. I suppose someone must have liked it once upon a time - perhaps one of my ancestors in China. We have continued this tradition since. And I have started a tradition of setting up another table next to the main table, just so that I can have soup I like. My cousins have joined me. It's the table for young people and for people who don't like cabbage. I have not rested in my crusade against cabbage, and this year I shall continue.

    I didn't use to hate it so much. Now, in the run-up to reunion dinner (I have mine tomorrow, one day early), I am fretting about everything and I am happy about nothing. I do not exaggerate when I say the thought of Chinese New Year fills me with such intense hatred, I can almost smell the bak kwa, and hear the loud, extended family I am somehow related to by blood. I find my mind wandering back to the not-so-good old days of a childhood spent reading ten books in a corner every single day of every single Chinese New Year because I was bored to death.

    Now, at age 26 and counting, I am still trying to find out what we are celebrating.

    Some of you will say, oh, silly person, it's about spending time with your family of course. Sure. When I was living in the Middle East, I looked forward to coming home because I missed my family so much. I love my tiny immediate family. I see them every weekend. It's the extended web of relations, the sort you see only at weddings and funerals, who I don't understand. Why do these strangers give me oranges once a year? Oranges are not the only fruit.

    Other than family, if there is a meaning at all to this celebration, I am not able to divine it. If anything, it reminds me excessively of a culture whose values I do not understand.

    As you know, I identify not as a Chinese person but as a Teochew-speaking yellow M & M - yellow outside, very, very brown inside. I'm a fake desi in the wrong body, someone who was probably an Indian man in many lifetimes past. The only Chinese thing about me is my love of soup and pork. Other than that, nothing. The festive music bothers me. I am still waiting to hear one, just one, Chinese New Year song that is not about money. The values of this festive music bothers me even more. Why is it that I must either sing about how much money I have, how much I'm looking forward to money this year, how money has suddenly appeared in my life, how money's just… you know, rolling in the deep. /rolls eyes

    What about money that you made through sheer hard work? Why won't you sing about it too, bloody dong dong chiang people on the loudspeakers, who have followed me to haunt, tease and kacau me all my life?

    Why about money that you made through smart investments? Why won't you sing about prudent financial behaviour and clever business acumen, you stupid gong xi gong xi gong xi people who will one day gong me until I si?

    What about family? Love? What about adding in the message, "don't be a douchebag!" in your songs about striking it rich? Or about how happiness doesn't lie at the end of a slot machine, mahjong table or lottery queue?

    Then there's the music. And the movies. The Hong Kong or Taiwan or Mainland China variety shows and concerts. It's always the same movies every year. Chinese New Year movies are the worst. Actually if I wasn't such a self-hating Chinese person, I probably wouldn't hate them so much. I don't mind the kungfu. I don't mind the awful, not very clever humour. Somewhere in my brain, multiple negative associations have been made repeatedly ever since I was a little girl: Chinese New Year movies and variety shows are the soundtrack to my many miserable hours sipping ten chrysanthemum tea Tetra-Paks in a row, stuffing my face with too much bak kwa, reading and re-reading every magazine, book and newspaper I have so that I don't have to talk to people, seething in rage that I not only have to be a part of such a superficial culture that judged me first by my grades then by my wallet, but also deigns to tell me I NEED TO GET MARRIED, AND TO A MAN TOO?

    No matter how much I hated it, Chinese New Year always had a silver lining. If there was one thing I loved about it, it was to see my grandfather excited, filled with a sense of purpose - he did not cook at all, but he took pride in making his awesome secret chilli, and he also loved to prepare reunion dinner. Ah gong and ah ma worked together as a duo at their finest, waking up at five in the morning so that they can get the best braised duck and whole chicken, roast meat and fish for the family. Next to going for walks in the park together, reunion dinner preparations were when they were the closest.

    This will be the third Chinese New Year without him around. Every Chinese New Year without him, without his stupid jokes, without him stringing the grandkids along on some ridiculous, elaborate joke, feels like a joke itself. I keep wishing this was one of those times when he stood outside the house, rang the bell ten times then ran away to hide. I keep wishing this was one of those times when he told me he had gone away on a holiday but hadn't. I bought it a few times when I was a little girl, not knowing he didn't believe in vacations. It's been more than 3 years but the banter-less silence from my grandparents' room still freaks me out. I still miss him everyday. My tears still well up uncontrollably when I think of him. When I see his photo. When I see a video and see him there and hear his voice but cannot reach out across the binaries to hold his hand.

    Tomorrow, when I sit down for reunion dinner I will still panic when I don't see him at his usual spot. I know I will wake up on the first day of Chinese New Year and expect to see him in his best set of singlets, shorts and sandals, and be sorely disappointed when I don't.

    I hate cabbage soup but it was one of his favourite foods, and I would drink a thousand bowls of cabbage soup if it meant I could see him for just a minute more.

You can also read by tags.