Invictus

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Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


1st Jan, 2009

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Here are my resolutions for 2009.
  1. Do things ahead of time. Be it starting on my homework early, turning in my spreadsheets as soon as possible or being punctual for appointments.
  2. Explore the Bible from cover to cover. It had been disorienting being a Christian in the United States during an election year.
  3. Do exceedingly well in school. I only have to keep myself from being complacent.
  4. Work out more often. Run a marathon.
  5. Do something crazy. Something along the lines of mastering Arabic, driving across the continental United States or appearing on the cover of Time magazine.
Apologies for the prolonged hiatus. Here's to a prosperous new year!


Testimony

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Delivered on Easter morning.
Brothers and sisters, this morning I present testimony of God’s grace given unto me.

While I was baptized before you today, I accepted Christ more than 3 years ago; while I accepted Christ more than 3 years ago, I came to know Him 9 years before then. In Jeremiah 18:6, God tells us “Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand”. Looking back on those years, the fingerprints left by the Potter’s hands are evidently clear.

I came to know Christ (and Christianity) through an after-school program run by the 7th Day Adventists. I was introduced to hymns and Bible stories, and beyond that I came to know of a God with whom I can confide. That aside, it is the sincerity and fervor of my pastor’s prayers that I remember most distinctly. On hindsight, it was then that the seeds of my faith were sowed.

The following year, the program, as well as the church that supports it, had to relocate because the government had planned to build a subway through its premise. I was 11 when the church relocated. I did not relocate with the congregation because the new church was too far away. Even though I did not ask, I knew that my parents will be reluctant to drive me to the new church. My parents have yet to come to know Christ and at that time they were not supportive of me going to church.

So I did not attend another church for the next 7 years. But I recall running to God many times during that period, especially during times when I was confused, fearful and when I needed to confide. During that time, the problems in my parent’s marriage became more and more serious and I was depressed by how far they had been drifting apart. I felt especially sorry for my mother, who sacrificed for me again and again while my father was constantly away on business trips. Moreover, schooling in Singapore can be tough, and the education system can be very unforgiving to those who perform badly. Prior to major exams, it is not uncommon to hear stressed-out students applying physics to measure the acceleration and velocity of jumping off a building. During those times, God gave me tremendous comfort and assurance. I was convinced that no other teaching appealed to me more than the sincerity behind Christianity. But it took 9 years for me to accept Christ. Without the support of a church, I was neither convinced nor disciplined enough to act on my convictions. I know the few things that I was certain about and the many things that I have yet to find resolution, but it is tiring and frustrating to have a debate going on constantly at the back of my mind. Out of vanity and exasperation, I lose myself to the everyday, to schoolwork, to the activities in school, to getting along and moving on.

I received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior on 12th December 2004. Retrospectively, it seems like a natural stop on that slow progression. In 11th grade, my classmate brought me to Bedok Methodist Church. I did not attend it regularly but I came to like the people. The Bible study teacher reminded me of many of the good things I remember about the people I had met during the after-school program. Again, the one thing that I remember most vividly from those early days at Bedok Methodist Church was the sincerity and humility with which my Bible study teacher brought her prayers to God. She prays beautifully, but that beauty transpires not from her coherence, but from her sincerity, her humility and from the gentleness of her faith.

After high school, like every male Singaporean, I enlisted with the military. Strangely, my daily walk with God was most consistent while I was in the army. It was most consistent because I was least distracted. Part of it had to do with feeling very forgotten. All my male friends were enduring the same experience in another camp somewhere. All my female friends had gone on to university. The environment was alien to me, I had to march everywhere and ask permission for everything. When every distraction was taken away from me, I found that all that I had is God. From my bed by the window, I prayed to Him every night. Through those prayers I came to appreciate life’s challenges differently; and I came to see pride and ambition, people and relationships in a new light.

Let me relate a story. STORY

I attended church camp at the end of that year that I enlisted. On the last night of the camp I answered the altar call. It was not that the sermon was particularly inspiring, and unlike all the people around me, my eyes were relatively dry. But I felt that it was right that I have to make an acceptance of having received Christ as my personal savior.

Baptism is in part a command from God. Baptism is also in part a symbol. And that symbolism is as much for me (who got baptized) as it is for you (who witnessed me affirming my faith).

So let there be two things that all of us can bring home from my testimony.

Firstly, the small things that we do for God do matter. When we outreach by doing community service, baking cookies, when we invite friends to cell group, to our church, you are sowing seeds in people’s lives. There is a good chance you will not see the seeds bear fruit but we can all take comfort in the knowledge that you played a role in the expansion of His Kingdom.

The second thing I want to say is that greatness comes in simple trappings. The divine majesty, the fullness of His grace is also manifested in simple, everyday, common, prosaic things. Not all of us will find in our testimonies the Road-To-Damascus Moment. Not all of us will hear a voice calling for us from behind the clouds. But who is to say that the way God found you is anything short of remarkable. There is nothing unremarkable about someone who has yet to know Christ walking into a cell group. There is nothing un-miraculous about a baby born into a God-loving family. If you have grown up in a church all your life, there is nothing un-miraculous about God-loving communities guiding young lives as they grow up. It is an open secret that the church is most crowded on Easter and Christmas. And if this is your first time in this church, this year, there is nothing un-miraculous about that.

On this, the most holiday day in the Christian calendar, just as Christ conquered death and lived again, let up renew that promise that He made in your heart. As Paul says “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things yet to come, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

That is also my conviction, and that is my hope and my prayer. I wish you a happy Easter. Thank you.


Easter

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Certificate of Baptism
This Certifies
That Quek Hon Ming
Born 3/7 1985
was
Baptized
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
on the 23 day of March in the year of our Lord 2008
At Pittsburgh Chinese Church
Rev. James R. Fullmer Pastor.


Friends, Romans...

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I was amused to find myself being anonymously nominated for president of the Singapore Student’s Association (SSA). I am not particularly close to my compatriots and, save for the dinners and shopping trips, I seldom show up for events organized by the SSA. I had the option of declining but I stayed on in the race, partly in the hope of adding another title to my resume (President Jan 2008- Jan 2009) and partly because the political junkie in me needed a good laugh.

My campaign speech was read by a friend of mine because I was on my way to a retreat organized by my fellowship.

My fellow countrymen,

By the time you hear this, I will be outside Pittsburgh on my way to a pre-arranged chalet. It isn’t a change of plans, it has been scheduled since last semester.

After the constitution was amended in 1993 to pave the way for an elected presidency, the ensuing elections was fought between a relatively unknown banker, Chua Kim Yoeh, and the then-deputy Prime Minister, Ong Teng Cheong. The open secret was that Chua had been arm-twisted into contesting the elections. The elected presidency needs an election. It requires a mandate. The elected requires at least the semblance of an election.

So, why am I running?

To prevent a walkover, so that there will be no Marine Parade, no Tanjong Pagar. The elected needs an election and everyone loves a fight. Everyone loves the fireworks of politics. And so I offer myself to give the eventual winner the seal of legitimacy. Indeed, this election is not for me to win, but instead it is for the incumbent Activities Manager to lose.

So, why am I running?

To be very honest, I have never thought about it. When Khoon Kiat told me that I’ve been nominated to be your president, it took me a few days to laugh it off. But apparently, according to Khoon Kiat, the one who nominated me was very serious.

So why should you vote for me? Why should you vote for someone who hardly shows up for SSA events, who didn’t show up for booth until the very last moment?

I really don’t know. I don’t think any of you hate me. After I started using Paypal for my phone-bills, I think even Zhiquan likes me. And I certainly don’t hate any of you.

But I think it is not extremely healthy when Singaporeans become so comfortable in the company of each other that they become uncomfortable in the company of people from other countries. It is unhealthy that we have chosen to move around in group formation. I feel uncomfortable when Team Singapore, when the Majulah Connection becomes some sort of tribal herd instinct. We’ve come to the U.S. just to feel like N.U.S.

How many of you, when applying for college, decided on an overseas education because you want to experience a new culture?

The thing is, I believe many of you have sold out, and took the easy route by staying within your comfort zones. We sold out those ambitions and dreams to see the world, to be comfortable in different cultures, and to share Singapore.

If I become your president, SSA will not be just a Singaporean support group. It will also be a Singaporean interest group where we welcome both foreign talent and fellow countrymen.

I will run things different. That is the least you can expect from someone who is hardly present at SSA events. There will be no ambitious plans to go to far away places to skydive or to sit on a rollercoaster. This can be done at the individual’s level. I rather save the money to organize meals where food will be subsidized. Sitting down for a meal is my cup-of-tea.

I will not encourage nor discourage Booth. It will be up to the freshman batch, not one person’s decision but everybody’s. I think Booth fractured our community last year, people didn’t dare to see each other for fear of being shot an arrow.

There will still be semester dinners, there will still be trips to Grove City, and there will still be Food Feste. But Chinese New Year dinner will be expanded, and a Singaporean Film Festival will be organized to share our culture with the campus community.

I am very proud of Singapore. On my blog and in my conversations, you will often hear me speak heartily about the government and about national service. This is because I believe there is so much to share.

Vote wisely. If someone tells you that he will upgrade your dorm, don’t believe him.

Vote wisely. Vote to share Singapore culture. Vote for an SSA that is both constructive and inclusive.


Down on Luck

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This can very well be a commentary of my grades this semester. Studied so hard but I've only got average grades to show for it.


If There're Seasons

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One regret of mine from the summer just past is not being able to get tickets to “If There’re Seasons”. Friends who had caught the musical raved about it. Had I had a couple more weeks in Singapore I would definitely have gone to catch the show, even though only the most expensive tickets were left when I checked. “If There’re Seasons” is a musical based on works by Dr. Liang Wern Fu. I came to know about it from an interview with him by the Straits Times some time in early July. Strangely not yet a cultural medallion winner, Dr Liang was once the top student in NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and is now an associate professor at NTU’s Chinese studies department. A pioneer of the 新谣 movement, Dr Liang is the composer of songs such as 《细水长流》, 恋之憩》,《写一首歌给你》,《历史考试前夕》and《陪我看日出》. These songs are some of the most representative of the 新谣 or 新加坡歌谣 movement. For the benefit of the uninitiated, Wikipedia defines 新谣 as a genre of songs that was particularly popular among Chinese school students in Singapore in the 1980s and 1990s. Intensely local and authentic, these songs are usually about life in the island country. 新谣 can be clearly identified by its distinctive style of clean acoustics, with a group of people singing and harmonizing together, usually accompanied by a guitar.

When I started writing blog entries in Chinese, some came to the conclusion that I have become something of a ‘cheenapok’. I’m not too sure what to make of it though. I took Chinese only till Secondary four because I was in the in Higher Chinese program. Looking back, being in the program turned me off learning the language. Even though I can construct model sentences and write essays with the appropriate sprinkling of choice phrases, idioms and proverbs, I was never really fluent. The texts that we had to read were obscure, and I was put off by the amount of memorizing. But it is not that I hate Chinese, in fact, there were a number of good-looking people in my Chinese tuition class. However, Faye Wong, Jay Chou and 新谣 probably taught me more Chinese than the Higher Chinese syllabus. 新谣’s lyrics are particularly 感人, genuine and 本土. Part of its charm lies in its honesty, humility and an earnest sincerity to 唱出心声. The lyrics are without pretense and most of them are beautiful in a poetic kind of way.

水的话

我是小溪 源自山中
潺潺流过
郁郁青葱

吐向大海 鱼鸟与共
晨光一催
漊漊升空

浮云一片 飘南北西东
谁也不知
我的行踪

轻轻化作 烟雨朦胧
丝丝落在
你的心中

词曲:梁文福


Summer School

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I had weighted the cost of spending my summer taking classes in CMU vis-à-vis attending summer school somewhere else. Though it dawned on me that it is cheaper taking classes in CMU (since the lease to my apartment starts at the beginning of summer), it was finding out that the particular her will be staying behind for research that eventually finalized my plans. Unfortunately, “Summer lovin’” remained a distant daydream.

But spending summer in Pittsburgh had not been too terrible. Actually, I had enough fun to give coming back to Singapore a tinge of sadness. I bought a bicycle, explored Pittsburgh, made new friends, got to know friends from the Asian Christians Fellowship better, led a group at Vacation Bible School, and learnt to cook. Online recipes helped make the latter surprisingly smooth-sailing save for one incident where the bee hoon became so dry that that the entire slab of noodles laid like a spongy rubber tire on my wok. In contrast to that initial misadventure, my other experiments in the kitchen turned out to be relatively successful. Thus far, I have also attempted Kung pao beef, stir-fried calamari, mango with glutinous rice and goreng-pisang (given a fusion twist by wrapping the banana in wanton skin instead of dipping it in flour).

I took one class over the summer and it turned out to be pretty easy, despite it being taught by a very anal grad student who pronounces ‘soft drinks’ as ‘softer drinks’, ‘strategy’ as ‘stra-tage’ and ‘competition’ as ‘compeeteeshin’. The class involved plenty of group work and it helped that I had very effective people in my group, which meant that we often managed to leave our assignments till the last minute and finish them satisfactorily. It also helped that there were plenty of bonus points and that we were not up against very strong competition. All in all, there was plenty of time for long dinners, potlucks, movie screenings, and cycling trips to the supermarket.


Kitchen essentials


卖膏药 —— A Public Announcement

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Confluence is an annual global students' symposium, ministerial dialogue session and corporate networking fair held here in Singapore. Students from universities all over the world gather at this one-day event to discuss insights with executives from various industries.

The highlight includes a dialogue session with a government minister, an opportunity for the student audience and one of Singapore’s leaders to exchange questions and share perspectives. Throughout the day students will also be able to interact and network with representatives from some 18 employer organizations.

The theme for this year's Confluence is Globalization - Can Singapore Endure? It reflects Singapore’s status as a prominent player in the global arena, as well as the concerns and prospects that many Singaporeans may have in face of worldwide competition. A wide spectrum of ideas awaits to be addressed, ranging from corporate and industrial directions, to local and overseas employment, to anything that you feel significant for discussion.

Confluence 2007 presents three interactive forum seminars featuring speakers from finance, maritime, and technology industries. The keynote speaker for the ministerial dialogue session will be Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Defence.

The success of this event hinges on the enthusiastic and constructive participation by our guests. As such, we invite students and recent graduates to come air your views, or listen and analyse the opinions of fellow peers and panel members on topics that affect our future and that of Singapore, our home.

Admission is free and by invitation only. Please register online to receive your guest pass via post. Spaces are limited, so do register early!


Tienanmen

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Remarks by Zhao Ziyang, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, at Tienanmen Square on May 19. 1989:

同学们,我们来得太晚了。对不起同学们了。你们说我们、批评我们,都是应该的。我这次来不是请你们原谅。我想说的是,现在同学们身体已经非常虚弱,绝食已 经到了第七天,不能再这样下去了。绝食时间长了,对身体会造成难以弥补的损害,这是有生命危险的。现在最重要的是,希望尽快结束这次绝食。我知道,你们绝 食是希望党和政府对你们所提出的问题给以最满意的答覆。我觉得,我们的对话渠道是畅通的,有些问题需要一个过程才能解决。比如你们提到的性质、责任问题, 我觉得这些问题终究可以得到解决,终究可以取得一致的看法。但是,你们也应该知道,情况是很复杂的,需要有一个过程。你们不能在绝食已进入第七天的情况 下,还坚持一定要得到满意答覆才停止绝食。

你们还年轻,来日方长,你们应该健康地活着,看到我们中国实现四化的那一天。你们不像我们,我们已经老了,无所谓了。国家和你们的父母培养你们上大学不容 易呀!现在十几、二十几岁,就这样把生命牺牲掉哇!同学们能不能稍微理智地想一想。现在的情况已经非常严重,你们都知道,党和国家非常着急,整个社会都忧 心如焚。另外,北京是首都,各方面情况一天天严重,这种情况不能再继续下去了,同学们都是好意,爲了我们国家好,但是这种情况发展下去,失去控制,会造成 各方面的严重影响。

总之,我就是这麽一个心意。如果你们停止绝食,政府不会因此把对话的门关起来,绝不会!你们所提的问题,我们可以继续讨论。慢是慢了一些,但一些问题的认 识正在逐步接近。我今天主要是看望一下同学们,同时说一说我们的心情,希望同学们冷静地想一想这个问题。这件事情在不理智的情况下,是很难想清楚的。大家 都这麽一股劲,年轻人嚒,我们都是从年轻人过来的,我们也游过行,卧过轨,当时根本不想以后怎麽样。最后,我再次恳请同学们冷静地想一想今后的事。有很多 事情总是可以解决的。希望你们早些结束绝食,谢谢同学们。

English translation taken from Wikipedia:

"Students, we came too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary. The reason that I came here is not to ask you to forgive us. All I want to say is that students are getting very weak, it is the 7th day since you went on hunger strike, you can't continue like this. As the time goes on, it will damage your body in an unrepairable way, it could be very dangerous to your life. Now the most important thing is to end this strike. I know, your hunger strike is to hope that the Party and the government will give you a satisfying answer. I feel that our communication is open. Some of the problem can only be solved by certain procedures. For example, you have mentioned about the nature of the incident, the question of responsibility, I feel that those problems can be resolved eventually, we can reach a mutual agreement in the end. However, you should also know that the situation is very complicated, it is going to be a long process. You can't continue the hunger strike for the 7th day, and still insist for a satisfying answer before ending the hunger strike.

You are still young, there are still many days yet to come, you must live healthy, and see the day when China accomplishes the four modernizations. You are not like us, we are already old, it doesn't matter to us any more. It is not easy that this nation and your parents support you to study in colleges. Now you are all about early 20's, and want to sacrifice lives so easily, students, can't you think logically? Now the situation is very serious, you all know, the Party and the nation is very antsy, the whole society is very worried. Besides, Beijing is the capital, the situation is getting worse and worse from everywhere, this can not be continued. Students all have good will, and are for the good of our nation, but if this situation continues, loses control, it will cause serious consequences at many places.

In conclusion, I have only one wish. If you stop hunger strike, the government won't close the door for dialogue, never! The questions that you have raised, we can continue to discuss. Although it is a little slow, but we are reaching some agreement on some problems. Today I just want to see the students, and express our feelings. Hopefully students will think about this question calmly. This thing can not be sorted out clearly under illogical situations. You all have that strength, you are young after all. We were also young before, we protested, lied our bodies on the rail tracks, we never thought about what will happen in the future at that time. Finally, I beg the students once again, think about the future calmly. There are many things that can be solved. I hope that you will all end the hunger strike soon, thank you."


You Get What I Mean?

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In my previous entry, I had ended off with a request for prayers that God will grant opportunities to convict my heart and that of the particular her. The prayers had been effective, the opportunities presented themselves, and therefore I only have myself to blame for how terribly I messed up each and every one of them.

So it happened that the particular her and I were on a retreat after my microeconomics finals. The word ‘retreat’ is admittedly very odd, but I am using it so as not to give too much away. In any case, when I told my friends about the trip, those in the know beamed and said things to the effect of “great opportunity!”, “aren’t you excited?”, “why are you still having low morale?”. Frankly, I really had no idea what to make of it. On hindsight, it was perhaps not the best opportunity given the fact that there were so many people on the trip; but the expectation was definitely there, on both her part and mine, to thaw some of the ice that had formed since the rejection.

There are a thousand and one things I wanted to tell her but not a single word would come from my mouth. Indeed, it is an established theorem that there is a cruel inequality in John Nash’s mysterious equation (ref: previous entry): some guys can simply open their mouths and sweep damsels off their feet. They can charm the damsels and make them blush with sweet nothings while sincere words don’t receive a decent hearing. I can’t help but find the humiliating irony inherent in all of this: I was a debater in school (was Best Speaker on a couple of occasions), I was House captain, I had given presentations in front of the entire school, made speeches at model United Nations, but in front of her I was goofy, incoherent, awkward and pathetic. I was, actually, pathetic. Sometimes I rehearse in my head how I would tell her that I intend to earn her confidence, that she is so special and that our differences will only make a relationship more enduring; inevitably, I end up sounding like I’m giving a Nobel lecture or asking people to vote for me.

Again, this really is not an entry about my rejection; there is not enough angst or dejection for this to be thought of as such. Seeing how effective prayer had been, let this instead be another request for prayers that God will guide me to make her feel confidently secure and that it is part of His will to grant an enduring relationship.

I’ll be in Pittsburgh for classes and I won’t be back in Singapore till late June. Sadly, I can’t wait for classes to start because it seems like it is going to be an extremely boring and lonely summer.



Mark is a Computer Science, Discrete Mathematics and Logic major on a scholarship from A*STAR (for the non-Singaporean reader, A*STAR is a governmental institute that focuses on science, technology and research). Mark also has a reputation for being not quite normal. Feeling hungry prior to his midterm, Mark saved his meal block and ate the cover page of his test-paper. He calls himself a laptop and keeps a tree branch next to his bed for protection. During international freshmen’s orientation, Mark and I were in a conversation about Singlish and our national service experience with two friends we had just made; and then, he started giving a lecture on the lexicon and syntax of Singlish. I later apologized on behalf of my fellow countryman. Therefore, it was with great astonishment and more than a rude shock that the Facebook world came to learn that his status had been changed to: In a Relationship with Allyson Zhang.

In light of what happened at Virginia Tech, we should take every care to be more understanding and sensitive to those among us who are strange in certain ways. But beyond that, I have a genuine admiration for Mark committing to a relationship and for finding someone so suitable for him, just as overly geeky and just as weird. They are the perfect match, the Θ that gives his cosine value, the two curves of a hyperbola, the two bars of an equal sign. Maybe, Mark really had it all figured out. After all, John Nash did say “It’s only in the mysterious equations of love that any logical reason can be found”.

So, in many ways, Mark has my newfound respect. While he can inspire commitment, all I have done was to arouse insecurities in that particular her. I should have been more self-conscious and more sensitive. Pace the way things were going to give her more time, earn her confidence, be more humble and more down-to-earth. Frankly, and pathetically, I don’t have a good idea how it all came apart. But the pain of rejection made me so certain that she had been so special and that I really like her even though she deserves better.

I have always found it disconcerting how people can whine about breakups on their blogs or write for their cyber audience existentialist entries about their relationship woes. I follow these blogs with sadistic voyeurism and find humor in their melodrama. As far as possible, I try not to keep this blog too personal. Therefore, so that this entry will not be thought of as about me mopping over my rejection (this really isn’t), let this instead be a random post about that mysterious equation as well as a request for prayers that God will grant opportunities to convict our hearts.


Peanuts

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From Animal Farm by George Orwell
"Comrades!" he cried. "You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades," cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, "surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?"


DiaSpura

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I’m back in Pittsburgh. Took a drive with some friends over the weekend to attend DiaSpura, a speaker series and musical organized by the Singapore club at the University of Pennsylvania. Was quite surprised at the number of Singaporeans studying at Upenn; the number of full time students is not a lot, just about as many as Singaporean students here in CMU, but there is a very big number of exchange students from NUS and SMU. In many ways, it was touching to see so many Singaporeans coming together to reflect on the Singaporean identity and to think about Singaporean art/film. There’s so much local artistic talent that we just don't hear about in the Straits Times and in the local media.

The first keynote speaker was Prof Chan Heng Chee, our ambassador to the United States, who spoke about the many things we can be proud of about our country. Prof Chan is a noted academic and most people would have heard about her illustrious career in the Foreign Service; so I was more than a little relieved that parking woes and arriving nearly half an hour late for the event did not cause me to miss her speech. But perhaps because of the time constraint, I found that her speech did not quite cut into the issue of exploring the Singaporean identity. All of us would definitely have benefited from a discussion of the challenges that are shaping out government’s social policy. I am of the school that is prepared to accept the idea that given our vulnerabilities, certain freedoms cannot go unrestrained; so I was hoping that she would update our perceptions of the realities that confront Singapore and how these realities affect the social markers that the government draws. The audience was clearly eager for that level of intellectual engagement, so rehashing our country’s achievements did not impress me too much.

Meeting Dr. Francis Seow was definitely the highlight of the event. For the uninitiated to Singapore politics, Dr. Seow was a former Solicitor General, president of the Law Society, opposition candidate and now dissident in exile (definitely in a different league from Dr. Chee Soon Juan). He spoke slowly but in fine and polished English (a little too slow because the non-Singaporeans were nodding off). In fact, he spoke so slowly that he was only left with enough time to take one question. So, I sprung up my hand (was a rather cool moment), and asked him what cause he was fighting for (when he was incarcerated by the government, and when he stood for elections in 1988) and if that cause is still alive when he look at his audience of young Singaporeans. After I’ve finished my question, he boomed "for all of you..." (which drew some applause) and then he went on to relate several eyebrow-raising anecdotes about the workings of the Cabinet and the civil service. I spoke to him again while we were both waiting for the lift, and he was rather surprised I know about him running for elections in Eunos. Actually, a reason I had asked the second portion of my question (which he didn’t quite address) is the fact that I find it a pity most Singaporeans today have never heard about him and are apathetic to the politics of our government. Given a more opportune timing, it would definitely have been worthwhile to hear more about his side of the story.


With Dr. Francis Seow; Colin Goh from Singapore Dreaming is in the background.

Here is a link to excellent photos taken by MingWei while we were in Philadelphia.


Turning 22

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A long overdue post.

Last year, I spent my birthday in a machine-gun box on Jurong Island. When I told the private who was on duty with me that it was my birthday, he told me not to pull his leg. Many people make a big deal out of turning 21, but I passed it with the comfort of the knowledge that true liberation comes with the pink i/c, which was coming in only a couple of months. (For foreign readers, the ‘pink i/c’ refers to our national identity card. For the period of our national service, the identity card is kept with the military. Receiving the card marks the official end of our two years in the military.)

I ushered the first hours of my 22nd birthday studying for my calculus test in the library (sigh, don’t talk about it). I went back there again in the morning and worked on math till around lunch time. Uncustomarily, I went for a swim in the evening. But there were signs of it throughout the day: Ray pulling Stanley aside at the basketball court, then whispering to David at the lift landing, and Alfred peeking into my room.

Was walking back to my dorm after checking out a torrent software in Ray’s room. I opened the door…and out came a plate of shaving cream…

My friends started streaming out from my room after that, which was a more pleasant surprise especially considering the number of them and the size of my room. The workload here in CMU can be quite overwhelming, so it was nice and a little touching to see those friends who had came over from their faraway dorms as well as those friends with a reputation for hibernating in their dorms to do homework. Other than the shaving cream (which I had a taste of thinking it was whipped cream), I am very thankful for the cake that Menglong had skipped econ lecture to buy, the gifts, the greetings from friends back home, the kind words in the cards, and especially the friendships that had made college life so far so meaningful. A heartfelt kum-siak to one and all.


The Andy Warhol Museum

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