Once Upon a Time in China

Three years ago, if you told me I would spend my 21st birthday as part of a 10 day journey to Thailand with awesome people, I would say you were crazy.

Two years ago, if you told me I would spend one week getting inspired in the streets of Dhaka, I would say you were crazy.

One year ago, if you told me I would go to China, I would say you were crazy.

Well I’ve gone there and back! And really thankful to God for a safe adventure. It is during these overseas sojourns when I am often humbled by his power.

Before I left on 19th July, I spent an entire afternoon in SMU discussing the China trip. We ended at 7pm, and we left with a grim smile on our faces – there was alot of travelling to be done!

Well, it turned out to be much more than I expected:

Singapore to Hong Kong – Tiger Airways 2569km
Chep Lak Kok Airport to Nathan Road, Mongkok – Bus & Taxi (we got lost)
Around Hong Kong – MTR (which is way much better than MRT!) and Tram!
In Ocean Park – Cable car
Up Victoria Peak – An even cooler tram 40km
Sha Tin to Tai Po Waterfront Park – Cycling! 35km
Hong Kong to Shenzen – MTR 44km
Shenzen to Guilin – (nice and clean) bus 878km
Around Guilin – Con-man electric rickshaw 10km
Around Guilin – Walking across a river!
Guilin to Yangshuo – Boat, down the Li River 54km
Yangshuo to Yulong Jiang – electric motor bike! 40km
Yangshuo to Guilin – (Normal school) bus 60km
Guilin to Hai An port – (Horror) bus 500km
Hai An port to Hai Kou – Very big boat! 70km
Around Hai Kou – Taxi, Bus and Motorcycle Trishaw!
Hai Kou to San Ya – High speed train 350km
Within San Ya – Bus at the wrong bus stop 40km
San Ya to Hai Kou – High speed train 350km
Hai Kou hostel to Airport – Taxi 40km
Hai Kou to Shenzen – Hainan Airlines (good service!) 250km
Shenzen to Macau – Ferry 86km
Within Macau – WALK
Macau to Singapore (at last!) – Tiger Airlines Flight 2540km
Total: 7596km ~ 8000km

I’m still quite amazed looking at the figure. That’s an insane amount! Plus, I think we took all kinds of transport possible.

I watched sunrise on a boat, and sunset on a plane. (:

Oh, (not in chronological order) and two of us got conned, my flight was booked wrongly so I had to fly elsewhere to get home, we escaped the onslaught of a typhoon, we played monopoly deal, we survived overnight bus rides with noisy china-men, we survived the crowds at Ocean Park and Disneyland, we survived taking a high speed train in China, I met a kenyan working in china for breakfast, we ate at Michelin-rated restauarants, we got temporary tatoos, we saw pandas…………………………

On a side note, even though I have an awesome camera, some of the most exciting moments are captured off film – like trying to find my way to the Shenzen bus station and while riding an e-bike! The best pictures are often snapped in the mind…..

Many many many photos taken, and I’m trying my hand at editing. Will upload the China photos – one day!

It’s not easy, changing the world

I write this post to record my vexation at my infirment.

What happens when you hit a roadblock? You find a way around it. Often, with some creative problem-solving maybe I, find a way around the problem – not over it. The problem is left unsolved

After a period of time, resentment, jadedness and fatigue has set in. I realize that all prior solutions are just stop-gap ones. The festering problem remains. There is also self-doubt – perhaps it is I who is rotten to the core? I know I have many flaws often cruelly exposed to the detriment of others and I am truly sorry for them.

Once, I used to enjoy discussion over dinner – eat good food and spout brilliant ideas. But over stingray last night, I found myself staring at mental barriers. And the answer seemed clear – we need revolution. Incremental attempts at change are measly and minimal. It will take a lifetime for change to occur.

The word “revolution” is exciting and scary. It doesn’t have to involve blood, but sweat and tears surely. Revolution is often tantalising because it suggests the destruction of the present and the chance to shape the future.

Alas, if it were only so easy.

And My Hairs Turn Grey

For 8 weeks now, I wake up early in the morning to rush to work. Mostly, I am almost late (or late) – rush rush rush.

My biggest take away for this internship would be work-life-volunteer-friends-family balance. There is so much management to do for all 5 aspects of life that it I admit, I am getting tired. I’ve had very very little time for myself, and I think my hairs have turned white in protest.

My dad feels we should live life slowly to enjoy it. I was a proponent of the opposite – live life fullest by maximizing it. Maybe something in between is the best.

The lessons of internship, I will type out on another day.

Now I faced with another pressing problem – should I travel to Hong Kong alone? July 19 to 23. It sounds exciting and boring at the same time.

Smoke Monster

Its one thing to go around and preach that the world is depressing and people are evil. It is another thing to see it happen before your eyes, and suffer because of it.

Dear Taxi Driver – I hope you have a conscience and a kind heart, and not fleece me.

Dear Church-owner – I hope you have a conscience and a kind heart, and not fleece me.

Dear Mechanic – I hope you have a conscience and a kind heart, and not fleece me.

Big bad world we live in, and the importance of $$$ has never been more emphasised. I pray to God that I will not become cold-hearted, money-minded and ruthless. But all these monsters I have to battle, are my own creations. Clearly I am my worst enemy. I pray I emerge victorious.

Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You

By PAMELA PAUL, from the New York TImes.

One of the good things about work is that I get to read alot of really thought-provoking articles.

NOBODY calls me anymore — and that’s just fine. With the exception of immediate family members, who mostly phone to discuss medical symptoms and arrange child care, and the Roundabout Theater fund-raising team, which takes a diabolical delight in phoning me every few weeks at precisely the moment I am tucking in my children, people just don’t call.

It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter — my first thought is: “What’s happened? What’s wrong?” My second thought is: “Isn’t it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no e-mailed warning?”

I don’t think it’s just me. Sure, teenagers gave up the phone call eons ago. But I’m a long way away from my teenage years, back when the key rite of passage was getting a phone in your bedroom or (cue Molly Ringwald gasp) a line of your own.

In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.

“I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. “I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there.”

“I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’ ” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ ”

Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward. “Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now,” Judith Martin, a k a Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation. “I’ve been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people.”

Though the beast has been somewhat tamed by voice mail and caller ID, the phone caller still insists, Ms. Martin explained, “that we should drop whatever we’re doing and listen to me.”

Even at work, where people once managed to look busy by wearing a headset or constantly parrying calls back and forth via a harried assistant, the offices are silent. The reasons are multifold. Nobody has assistants anymore to handle telecommunications. And in today’s nearly door-free workplaces, unless everyone is on the phone, calls are disruptive and, in a tight warren of cubicles, distressingly public. Does anyone want to hear me detail to the dentist the havoc six-year molars have wreaked on my daughter?

“When I walk around the office, nobody is on the phone,” said Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at HarperCollins. The nature of the rare business call has also changed. “Phone calls used to be everything: serious, light, heavy, funny,” Mr. Burnham said. “But now they tend to be things that are very focused. And almost everyone e-mails first and asks, ‘Is it O.K. if I call?’ ”

Even in fields where workers of various stripes (publicists, agents, salespeople) traditionally conducted much of their business by phone, hoping to catch a coveted decision-maker off-guard or in a down moment, the phone stays on the hook. When Matthew Ballast, an executive director for publicity at Grand Central Publishing, began working in book publicity 12 years ago, he would go down his list of people to cold call, then follow up two or three times, also by phone. “I remember five years ago, I had a pad with a list of calls I had to return,” he said. Now, he talks by phone two or three times a day.

“You pretty much call people on the phone when you don’t understand their e-mail,” he said.

Phone call appointments have become common in the workplace. Without them, there’s no guarantee your call will be returned. “Only people I’ve ruthlessly hounded call me back,” said Mary Roach, author of “Packing for Mars.” Writers and others who work alone can find the silence isolating. “But if I called my editor and agent every time I wanted to chat, I think they’d say, ‘Oh no, Mary Roach is calling again.’ So I’ve pulled back, just like everyone else.”

Readers’ Comments

“I … am not interested in receiving messages that resemble the lyrics to a Prince song, wt r u doing b4 lunch? Uh, no thanks.”

Lynn in DC, DC

  • Read Full Comment »

Whereas people once received and made calls with friends on a regular basis, we now coordinate such events via e-mail or text. When college roommates used to call (at least two reunions ago), I would welcome their vaguely familiar voices. Now, were one of them to call on a Tuesday evening, my first reaction would be alarm. Phone calls from anyone other than immediate family tend to signal bad news.

Receiving calls on the cellphone can be a particular annoyance. First, there’s the assumption that you’re carrying the thing at all times. For those in homes with stairs, the cellphone siren can send a person scrambling up and down flights of steps in desperate pursuit. Having the cellphone in hand doesn’t necessarily lessen the burden. After all, someone might actually be using the phone: someone who is in the middle of scrolling through a Facebook photo album. Someone who is playing Cut the Rope. Someone who is in the process of painstakingly touch-tapping an important e-mail.

For the most part, assiduous commenting on a friend’s Facebook updates and periodically e-mailing promises to “catch up by phone soon” substitute for actual conversation. With friends who merit face time, arrangements are carried out via electronic transmission. “We do everything by text and e-mail,” said Laurie David, a Hollywood producer and author. “It would be strange at this point to try figuring all that out by phone.”

Of course, immediate family members still phone occasionally. “It’s useful for catching up on parenting issues with your ex-husband,” said Ms. David, who used to be married to Larry David, the star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “Sometimes when you don’t want to type it all, it’s just easier to talk.”

But even sons, husbands and daughters don’t always want to chat. In our text-heavy world, mothers report yearning for the sound of their teenage and adult children’s voices. “I’m sort of missing the phone,” said Lisa Birnbach, author of “True Prep” and mother of three teenagers. “It’s warmer and more honest.”

That said, her landline “has become a kind of vestigial part of my house like the intercom buttons once used in my prewar building to contact the ‘servants quarters.’ ” When the phone rings, 9 times out of 10, it’s her mother.

There are holdouts. Radhika Jones, an assistant managing editor at Time magazine, still has a core group of friends she talks to by phone. “I’ve always been a big phone hound,” she said. “My parents can tell you about the days before call waiting.” Yet even she has slipped into new habits: Voice mails from her husband may not get listened to until end of day. Phone messages are returned by e-mail. “At least you’re responding!”

But heaven forbid you actually have to listen — especially to voice mail. The standard “let the audience know this person is a loser” scene in movies where the forlorn heroine returns from a night of cat-sitting to an answering machine that bleats “you have no messages” would cause confusion with contemporary viewers. Who doesn’t heave a huge sigh of relief to find there’s no voice mail? Is it worth punching in a protracted series of codes and passwords to listen to some three-hour-old voice say, “call me” when you could glance at caller ID and return the call — or better yet, e-mail back instead?

Many people don’t even know how their voice mail works. “I’ve lost that skill,” Ms. Birnbach said.

“I have no idea how to check it,” Ms. David admitted. “I can stay in a hotel for three days with that little red light blinking and never listen. I figure, if someone needs to reach me, they’ll e-mail.”

“I don’t check these messages often,” intoned a discouraging recorded voice, urging callers to try e-mail. And this is the voice-mail recording of Claude S. Fischer, author of a book on the history of the telephone and more recently, “Still Connected: Family and Friends in America Since 1970.”

“When the telephone first appeared, there were all kinds of etiquette issues over whom to call and who should answer and how,” Dr. Fischer, a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told me when finally reached by phone. Among the upper classes, for example, it was thought that the butler should answer calls. For a long time, inviting a person to dinner by telephone was beyond the pale; later, the rules softened and it was O.K. to call to ask someone to lunch.

Telephones were first sold exclusively for business purposes and only later as a kind of practical device for the home. Husbands could phone wives when traveling on business, and wives could order their groceries delivered. Almost immediately, however, people began using the telephone for social interactions. “The phone companies tried to stop that for about 30 years because it was considered improper usage,” Dr. Fischer said.

We may be returning to the phone’s original intentions — and impact. “I can tell you exactly the last time someone picked up the phone when I called,” Mary Roach said. “It was two months ago and I said: ‘Whoa! You answered your phone!’ It was a P.R. person. She said, ‘Yeah, I like to answer the phone.’ ” Both were startled to be voice-to-voice with another unknown, unseen human being.

Final Thoughts on the Election

1) The New PAP

Somewhere within the walls of the PAP HQ in Upper Changi Road, there lies Dummies Guide to Winning An Election

A) The leader must only say good news (Lee Hsien Loong)
B) The appointed deputies will be the canons of the PAP, firing at Opposition (K Shanmugam and Goh Chok Tong)
C) The Bogeyman – Early in the campaign, a senior leader (like Lee Kuan Yew) will evoke a climate of fear within the electorate
D) Smear Tactics – Some where in the campaign, someone will cast aspersion on the character of Opposition candidates (Lim Hwee Hua on Low Thia Kiang and Vivian Balakrishnan on Vincent Wijeysingha)
E) Defend stoutly at all policy errors. Express regret, but never say sorry (unless PM says so!)
F) Stop all strong hand-tactics and appeal for rationality closer to the Polling Day
G) Hammer an Opposition party member (not used this time)

The overaching public relations campaign of the PAP this election has been a “kinder, gentler PAP”.
I think it began with the highly-publicised interview of Mrs George Yeo’s wife. Followed by Lim Boong Heng’s “show of emotion” (over group think) and Lim Swee Say’s tears to George Yeo’s Facebook video (and the whole “In George We Trust” campaign which seems utterly manufactured to me) and it spectacularly ended with Lee Hisen Loong saying “I’m Sorry”.

This new image is meant to “emotionally connect” with the voters, and I think it will be highly successful. However, it runs against some aspects of its Dummies Guide to Campaigning and this makes PAP look incoherent and insincere. How successful this gamble is, we will only know on May 7.

Some may aruge that PAP is indeed changing, while others may feel that it’s all just a ploy.

2) Opposition All Talk?

This election has seen a raft of proposed policies by the Opposition, including audacious ones like reducing national service. However, even if they come to power, I doubt they will be able to push many of the policies as it requires approval of the civil service. Just like what happened in Japan.

3) Why GRCs?

After nomination day, I was amazed to see all the “stars” of the opposition were fielded in GRCs. Winning a GRC seems to be a personal goal for all the opposition parties. But this has also exposed the weakness in many of the GRC teams. Case in point – who is running together with Nicole Seah in Marine Parade? haha. I think the Opposition would have been able to capture more seats if they had focused more efforts on Single-member Constituencies.

4) Student Politics

Everyone may be talking about the beauty contest between Tin Peh Ling and Nicole Seah, but I think the more interesting candidates are Lim Zi Rui and Pritam Singh – both currently studying in local universities. Clearly, the era of the apathetic Singaporean youth is over. But are now looking at another era of student politics? I would join Pritam Singh if he set up an SMU Worker’s Party Youth Wing! hahaha.

4) Just a Vote

After plenty of emotional trauma, every voter must make a decision and vote for a party. However, once the results are out, it’ll just be taken as a statistic. That’s the truth of it. For example, if I like Zaqy but hate Gan Kim Yong and then I vote PAP – it would be read that the voters support Gan Kim Yong. If I voted opposition, then it could be read that voters don’t like Zaqy.

So therefore after much careful deliberation, I think it would be wise for all to keep your voting preference silent! A vote can be and will be misunderstood, manipulated, mistaken and misjudged. We musn’t forget the world will still spin after May 8.

Who to Vote for – The Lesser of Two Evils?

I realize there are plenty of funny oxymoronic arguments on the GE.

1)PAP’s rule has been both good and bad

PAP – Our reign has been successful, so sucessful until we can give you a Grow and Share package worth at least $600 just before you vote. Vote for us and will strive for more success with your support.

Opposition Party – PAP’s rule has only created unhappiness and misery. We are now an IMM (I, Me, Myself) society. Vote for us, vote for change! (quote SDP’s Dr Ang)

2) The Opposition will destroy and help the county.

PAP – Vote for opposition and you will pay for it with a failed state. Look at Hougang – it’s a slum! (quote PAP’s Eric Low)

Opposition – PAP is just evoking a climate of fear, we want pass legislation to cut NS, increase income tax for the rich, reduce the number of foreigners and properly use Town Council money to upgrade the estate (among others). [Taken randomly from the manifesto of opposition parties] We don’t want to destroy the country, we want to make it better.

3) If PAP doesn’t win 87 seats, Parliament will denigrate into first-world madness

PAP – Opposition will create more problems if elected, (quote PAP’s Shanmugam on 29th April) Singapore may turn into the Taiwanese Parliament where lawmakers fight and bite each other, not for the people.

Opposition – We want a “first-world parliament”, where they can be checks and balances at the ruling party. If voted into power, we will ensure Parliament does not turn into a “rubber-stamp” for the PAP. (from the WP’s manfiesto)

4) Only PAP candidates are visible after election

PAP – This shows our commitment to serve the people. We’ve been around.

Opposition – We are not allowed to campaign beyond election – what can we do? HDB rents out void deck spaces cheaply only to PAP and PCF, PAP dominates the PA and there is gerrymadering.

(NOTE: Many PAP activists are grassroot leaders under PA and PA has historically only appointed PAP candidates as their advisor to the grassroots. Thus, PAP candidates are always present at block parties, events and and other grassroot functions as Guest of Honour)

5) Sly Deal

PAP – People are “being made use of” for a larger game (quote George Yeo). The opposition is selfishly manipulating the voters for its agenda. Vote for PAP to prevent yourself from being manipulated.

Opposition (Worker’s Party) – The PAP is manipulating you with this climate of fear. Be selfish – vote for the party that can provide you with a health democracy, vote for WP (quote Low Thia Kiang)

Voter – Huh?!

Clearly, there is no “correct” answer. It all boils down to who and what you believe.

But what if you cannot make up your mind on who is right? – Is it the better of two evils?? How sucky is that.

I have two answers – the optimistic and the pessimistic one.

The optimistic one

Your vote is important, you are the difference. Vote wisely now and you will find your answer to all the questions in the next five years. Vote for the right candidate and you will find the right answers. An election is a battle of ideas in its purest form and may the best idea win.

The pessimistic one

Life sucks. Everyone is evil, selfish and cunning enough to spin words and ideas for their own agenda. Wake up from that dream of yours where unicorns walk in flower gardens. This is the real world, where only big bad wolves exist. Your only option is to be as cunning as the two candidates standing for election and vote who will serve your selfish desires best.

So are you an optimist or a pessimist? hahaha.