Archive for the 'Fun times' Category

Coming off a new high

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

It’s been a while since I last posted in June, but I felt compelled to record the last two weeks, which have been the BEST TWO WEEKS EVER.  On multiple fronts, too.

– The Dins wrapped up on their highly successful, super fun and wonderfully lucrative tour stop in Singapore

– I got a wonderful room at MBS on National Day despite the hotel having been booked out for months in advance; view of the fireworks was spectacular

– Wrapped on my project and went on two weeks NS reservist training, which is like a long (although tiring) vacation, kind of like going trekking on vacation

– Achieved a good IPPT result despite spraining my ankle just 4 days before and not having a pacer to run the 2.4km run with; had the batallion’s fastest run timing (mainly a negative reflection on the batallion’s fitness, but I’ll happily take the award)

– Helped out with a 5-hour board of directors’ retreat for one of Singapore’s premier performing arts organisations, very cool, and super interesting people/discussions/issues

– Had four consecutive rock star fantasy nights of fabulous parties, great meals, incredible views, fireworks and loads of fun

– Got the best suite yet at MBS, highest floor of rooms (54), views in both directions, obscene oodles of space

– Attended a great PP sermon at NCC

– Had a long, super lucrative streak at MBS

– Survived almost a month of sleeping just 3-4 hours each night, successfully staved off several near-flu episodes

Did I mention?  BEST TWO WEEKS EVER!!!


And next month I go on vacation to London/Munich/Milan.

Life = more abundantly
Me = thankful and rested

Holiday good, political violence bad

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Got back to Singapore on the red-eye from Seoul early on Tuesday morning this week.  That was a pretty fun trip, totally exceeded my not very high expectations.  Actually, all the elements for which I had higher expectations were disappointing, in particular the much-hyped W hotel, where the standard rooms are small and have horrendous decor (Jen’s reaction was “this looks like a cheap motel room!”). Fortunately I managed to switch to a massive suite which was more than satisfactory (the room-size, view and amenities made up for the still-mediocre interior design), and which turned out to be pretty cool, in line with my expectations of this hipster hotel chain.  And a huge plus is the impeccable service.

The other rather disappointing part of the trip was the DMZ tour, which was a little on the dull side, overall.  Don’t get me wrong – I think it is an absolute must-see, must-go for visitors, and it is very thought-provoking, sobering and surreal experience.  Nevertheless, you have to go with the expectation that visitors actually will not get to really see very much, but rather will get to learn about the history of the Korean war/conflict and be forced to ponder the lot of the 20 million North Korean lives on the other side of the border… not to mention their nuclear weapons aimed at the ultra-modern and prosperous South Korean capital city.  Very disturbing and depressing to think about.

The food was fantastic, for those who like Korean cuisine.  Yum yum!

The shopping was pretty great, both high-end and low-end had lower pricing, greater range (Goyard!  H&M! Cool local streetwear!) and better stocking (Fendi furrrr! Prada runway accessories!) than Singapore.  I ended up with loads of cool stuff, my top two highlights being a Etro/Cavalli-inspired, made-in-Italy pair of swim-shorts I found at H&M as well as a Prada perforated leather hat straight off the runway/arty short film that I have searched unsuccessfully for in the US, Europe and elsewhere in Asia.  And I got to claim back the sales tax too!

If you are looking for other worthy tourist activities, see the Nanta show (fantastic!) and also visit the Korean Folk Village at Suwon (totally fun and also pseudo-cultural-educational!).

And of course, it was lovely to see my sister.  (Veeble veeble!)


The front page of the Straits Times today showed a horrifying photo of the Central World shopping mall in central Bangkok on fire after more violent political clashes.  What a disaster for the country.

Also, I hope the North Korea-allegedy-torpedoed-South-Korean warship incident does not escalate.


My current project is so cool!  🙂

Monday, the week after Phuket

Monday, April 26th, 2010

This has been a good month.

Foremost on the life-is-good list has to be the training trip I took for work to Phuket last week.  Never mind that I had to work all day on Saturday and Sunday on left-over work for my current project, the trip actually managed to exceed my expectations on many fronts.  What a fun time!

This is the global training trip for third years’ and is generally considered to be a fun, five-day reward trip (as opposed to serious training).  It was great to meet loads of new people from across the global system who are all at the same career and life stage, generally.  I had a great team of 6+trainer.  The fun times were /almost/ comparable to college.  I’m excited to see everyone’s photos.

My favorite group were the Russians.  So cool!

I really want to get to do a transfer somewhere outside the region.

Happy 2010!

Friday, January 1st, 2010

First lesson of the new year – don’t leave bottles of champagne in the freezer.  Whoops, I’m rather embarrassed I didn’t know that.

Other disappointment – I read just 11 books last year…  less than one every month!   There’s a ready-made resolution.

Marina Bay fireworks as seen over the Esplanade from the Padang (1 Jan 2010)

What a wonderful life

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

It’s been a pretty great stretch since Shanghai.  Weeks of intermittent work, an exceptionally fun weekend in Delhi, a really special and luxurious week in Hawaii, several marvellous sunny days in San Francisco… who wouldn’t be happy?

Plus I got to see my cousins, Malcolm and Forrest!  Time really does fly – in no time they’ll be 27 and 24 and I will be reminiscing about the time we went to that fun little media museum in San Francisco together 🙂


On American democracy and Obama

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

After a couple of 18-hour days in a tight circuit between office desk, conference room and hotel room,  today was a revelation.  A 90 minute massage at a tasteful spa during office hours, followed by a lovely Teppanyaki buffet dinner with sake.  Wait, I get paid to do this?  As I told Zhen, we are like infants or people lacking the ability to form long-term memories, no matter how tough the times, a couple of hours of relative release and we are suddenly happy again.  Bizarre, but better for the psyche, I guess.

So instead of watching the two new episodes of Gossip Girl I have waiting in iTunes, I spent a couple of hours (??!) penning my thoughts on American-style democracy and Obama’s election in response to an email I got today.  I thought I’d post it for posterity.

I’ve recently been reading Joseph Stiglitz’s “Making Globalization Work”, and while it is a very good read (of course), one of the things that has irked me is the illogical knee-jerk praise of American-style democracy, often falsely equated with “more democracy”.  Stiglitz frequently reminds us of his views on democracy and his preference for “more of it” in the American style, although when it comes time to back this preference up, the best he can do is say that “economic success is fully consistent with democracy” (p56), while arguing that government interventions are critical for development – the same types of interventions that are have historically been most effective under less democratic forms of government (e.g. technocratic or autocratic systems in China, and Singapore).


In my view, the commonly encountered paranoia and distrust against “undemocratic” forms of government (read, non American-style democracies) often seen in newspaper editorials, political commentary and general punditry stems from a uniquely American and dysfunctional view of government.  So called “paternalistic” or technocratic forms of government inherently require higher levels of trust and specialization of function, and to me it is no coincidence that this description precisely describes the increasing sophistication of higher societies and civilizations.  Make no mistake, in modern society all of us are already fully dependent on all sorts of institutions and third parties to make decisions for us to maintain life as we know it – medical researchers, journalists, financial institutions, legal experts.  Accepting all these other dependencies (call it blind faith) but expressing distrust against the government (the only relevant unit of society beyond the family for Singaporeans) is simply logically inconsistent.  More importantly, in the US it is based on the inevitable sense of betrayal that arises from their many glaring failures of government – the blighted inner-city ghettos, the soaring budget deficit, the embarrassing/lethal foreign wars, the crippled public school system, the social security time-bomb… which only begs the question, why should we adopt their system of government at all given their failure rate at all levels (city, state, nation, international)?  It is clear that many other governments have managed decades of success (by any measure) in other countries – the Scandinavian social democracies, the Asian Tigers, tightly controlled Vietnam and China, even Suharto’s Indonesia… all these demonstrate that a government’s performance does not necessarily have the implied relationship of more democratic = more successful.  


To the contrary, it is easy to argue that goals can be much more efficiently achieved in less democratic situations.  Just try imaging the inevitably nightmarish outcome of India attempting to stage the 2008 Olympics in Delhi or Mumbai (highlights include flagrant corruption, choking pollution, inevitable construction delays, ballooning costs and at least one deadly terrorist attack).  Successful governance and American-style democracy (or even more democracy) are poorly correlated.


All this begs the question of what we are supposed to be measuring when evaluating a government or system of government.  I say government is a means to an end, rather than an ends in and of itself.  To be pedantic, a government’s sole purpose for existence is to perform pre-defined governing functions such as maintaining law and order, representing/defending the country’s interests at the international level, and also raising the standard of living for all within its borders by providing key infrastructure and services as well as overseeing economic development.  To hear many pundits talk, you would think that democracy is an end in itself, and that countries should all be striving to increase “democracy”.  I beg to disagree.  I think the only benefit that can be attributed solely to increasing democracy is the “feel good factor” that is itself a conditioned reflex born out of America’s disillusionment with their government (and to a lesser extent from Europe’s disillusionment with Fascism).  Americans blindly believe more democracy must be a good thing, let’s not fall for that fluff.


Trust is the only thing that matters when thinking about how a government makes people feel – we trust that the government is broadly accountable to the governed, and more importantly that the government, just like any other organization, is working its hardest to satisfy its mandate.  On this point I find it baffling to hear any Singaporean expressing any kind of distrust of the government, and especially bizarre to hear a well-educated (elite, if you like) Singaporean express suspicion or doubt towards the government, even in the abstract.  Everyone knows people in the Civil Service, and among educated people, everyone knows fairly senior people in the government.  In other words, there is no real “us versus them” division between the government and Singaporeans (unlike in the US or France or Russia or even Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan).  I know my ex-colleagues in the government investment corporation, my aunt in the tax bureau, my uncle in the public utilities board and my classmates in the foreign ministry and economic development boards are all trying to do their jobs well, and their jobs are in the end in service of Singaporeans.  In fact, my ultimate charge against those who would claim that there are systems of government “better” than the Singapore model is that I have yet to hear any clearly articulated vision of what the shortcomings are (as opposed to things people do not “like”) and why any other system of government would be “better” by any reasonable evaluation criteria.  Most commonly I hear vague preferences supported by assertions of difference that simply fall apart upon closer examination.  Did the US not have Jim Crow laws and segregation, Japanese-American internment camps, McCarthyism, or Guantanamo?  Yes, Singapore has the Internal Security Act, a history of bankrupted opposition politicians and attempts at media censorship, but I will not accept simple assertions that Americans are in any way more “free” from anything, including fear from the KKK, police brutality, crime and gang violence, and the CIA/Homeland Security/Patriot Act.  (Not to mention crooked governors and insurance commissioners, broken emergency response systems and the clear challenges of trying to raise drug/rape/violence-free children in America, never mind education.)  It is not enough to unsystematically evaluate systems of government based on a few random data points and a warm and fuzzy feeling arising from lack of knowledge.


This brings us to the sad truth about American politics, that it is all about feel-good politics.  Almost by definition, American feel-good politics preclude any kind of defensible logic or demonstrable longer-term benefit.  All style and talk but ultimately very little to show for it other than billions spent on election campaigns.  Consider this quote from a Singaporean celebrating Obama’s election:


For this is the value of democracy: it can banish apathy, it can advance in maturity, it can heal ancient enmities and transcend petty politicking. It can put the country’s interest before any ethnic group’s, it is robust and adaptable, it can peacefully remove a government even after massive failure and abuses of power. It can even systematically ask the world for forgiveness, or at least provide a chance every electoral cycle to ask for forgiveness: and I believed on November 4th 2008 the world was, no matter how momentarily, willing to forgive America. It is the people coming together, with all their pained and beautiful differences, and peacefully making a choice. And yes, it can change the world.”


Where to even begin parsing this?  Obviously Obama’s feel-good quotient is through the roof, and I’ll be the first to say that I feel good about Obama’s election too.  However, is there really any substance behind these vague positive feelings that for me are attributable to Obama’s skin colour and handsome looks combined with Michelle Obama’s stylish wardrobe and Harvard connection? 


Let’s start with the idea that American democracy should be emulated because it can “advance in maturity”.  Obviously there has been no chronological relationship established by Obama’s election unless one would suggest that Bush Sr was inferior to Clinton was inferior to Bush Jr (or back to Nixon or Kennedy).  And remember that Obama has so far done squat as president so this cannot possibly be any sort of celebration of his actual merits as president.  And if we are referring exclusively to the selection of the Obama-Biden ticket over the McCain-Palin ticket, was that choice more “mature” based on anything other than race?  It’s hard to imagine otherwise.  If so, we are left with saying that America cast a cumulatively meritocratic vote (and do not forget the millions who voted for McCain-Palin).  Why was this more “mature”?  America has never had to choose between an all-white vs quarter-black Presidential ticket before.  And similarly they have never had to choose between an all-male and half-female ticket either.  From this perspective, in both the Democratic primaries and the presidential election Americans picked the all-male teams.  Why not call that a failure of meritocratic ideals?  Just remember that the response to any sort of argument about Obama’s election being a bellwether of the times or any indication that American politics can “do the right thing” is that tens of millions of Americans voted for the painfully unqualified Sarah Palin.  And America’s voting record is spotty – similar tens of millions of Americans voted to re-elect a demonstrably underperforming (and dishonest) Bush in 2004.


Notice also that most of the praise about Obama’s election is ultimately a discussion about meritocratic principles, which are often unrelated to democratic ones.  America supposedly did the “right” thing because they elected Obama despite his race, his family background, and his lack of big business or old money connections.  In other words, Obama’s election was pleasingly meritocratic.  But meritocratic principles are not tightly linked to democratic ones.  The Tang dynasty was unrivalled for its meritocratic approach to government in its age, and in its own way, so was the Chinese communist party in its early days (certainly their perspectives on gender and class was very advanced).  Next, in a similar type of argument, the idea that a country can “peacefully remove” abject failures (that they re-elected, like Bush) is also unrelated to democracy.  This is possible under any style of elected government.  Being able to peacefully remove underperforming leaders has no relevance to any argument for more democracy or more American-style democracy.


To return to the “banish apathy” assertion which came first, there is no relationship between style of government and apathy towards politics or the democratic process or government in general.  Americans have been the most apathetic voters imaginable for many decades.  Villagers in 1970s communist China and Apartheid-era South Africa were deeply passionate and involved in politics.  There is simply no logical way to assert that American-style democracy has any useful claim to be able to “banish apathy”.  And again, as laid out earlier, this is completely unrelated to properly evaluating any form of government.  (If not Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Cultural Revolution China and WWII Japan would all score very high as apathy would not have been possible in those regimes.) 


Another red herring is the “robust and adaptable” claim for America’s form of democracy.  Robust and adaptable in what sense?  Is this only about race, yet again?  For America has certainly elected other literate, talented men (and how many presidential candidates promise change and non-partisanship?  I know McCain did, too.)  I would say Britain’s and Thailand’s constitutional monarchies have been pretty robust and adaptable, as has been the Communist Party in the PRC.  And most importantly, how can anyone claim Singapore’s PAP has not been robust and adaptable (albeit over less than half a century)?  All that needs to be done is to recall Singapore’s history, myriad and evolving challenges and steady moves towards social liberalization.


The final line indicates that America’s democracy is inspiring in that way people come together in the process of “peacefully making a choice”.  Leave aside for now the already repetitive argument that this is no way unique to America’s form of government, nor is “peacefulness” necessarily a useful metric to measure a government (Cuba’s been pretty peaceful for decades, India’s elections are usually bloody, Taiwan’s parliament has broken up in inconceivable fisticuffs several times, and Israel has been often at war).  I would say that democracy in general is more often about the illusion of choice.  Americans had two candidates to pick from, and at least one of them was shockingly unelectable (Palin, for whom there is talk of a future Presidential bid).  Now that Obama has been installed, he will have access to exactly the same range of powers that Bush had before him, and he will probably have to make choices that are increasingly unaligned with his campaign promises (especially if he wants to effectively deal with the economic crisis or the inevitable foreign policy crises ahead).  Just like the presidents before him.  In the end, Americans will have next to no choice whatsoever when it comes to the decisions President Obama makes in deciding to sign the next iteration of Kyoto or to alter the course of troop deployments in the Middle East.  Just like before.  The choice that Americans exercised was really a fairly illusory and shallow one, as they are in most democracies other than direct one.  And this illusion of choice is shared across all democracies, not just America’s.


Ultimately, there are two things that can be said about Obama’s presidency – the first is that President Obama may do a wonderful job and go down in history as the President who turned around the economy, drew the world closer together and successfully tackled the awful budget/social security messes he inherited.  That would be an unqualified success, but would be unrelated to the form that democracy takes in America.  The second thing to say is that Obama, the young, former one-term senator from Illinois, currently inspires the hope that he will be exactly such an outstanding president, and that hope is exactly the feel good factor that defines American politics.


Waiting for… what?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Do you remember how much easier and more resiliently promising everything seemed to be once upon a time, years ago?  Sometimes it feels like you take a whole bunch of steps forwards, towards some vision of what an “adult life” might look like, with the requisite loosely-framed beliefs and inevitable responsibilities, hazy plans and daily effort, small triumphs and minor compromises.  I filed taxes in Singapore for the first time yesterday (thank God for the ultra-user-friendly e-filing).  Last week a group of us discussed the dynamics of arranged marriages in Indian culture and its more universal applicability. 

Then other times I feel almost perverse in my instinct to push away as alienated the norms of normalcy, growingly aware of the mismatch between the state of my mind and state of affairs, either imagined or otherwise.  Yet I occassionally experience in powerful flashes the strong suspicion that this isn’t it, can’t be it… hopefully.

I’m still in Delhi, give or take a couple 6 hour flights back and forth.  I’ve actually fared very well with the pseudo four-day-workweeks, between fly-backs and a birthday holiday for Lord Rama.  We’ve switched accomodations, to someplace lots nicer, and with copious amounts of quite thoughtfully curated art everywhere–no insipid watercolors–in the public spaces.  I appreciate.

Came across an article about Adorno…  and now I really want to read me some Adorno.  It’s fun to recall the mind-boggling fun we had those days, trying to speed-read through the excerpted convolutions of Horkheimer, Heidegger and Weber in translation.  The titles of those books and articles alone signalled the mental gymnastics to come – Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, anyone?  Good times.

Today I told a funny story about an economics professor XW took a class with…  and then it occurred to me later that the professor in question had a Nobel prize, and several bestselling books, and worldwide name-recognition.  And there wasn’t anyone around to share in my contentment with this memory.  A small pity.

Puff puff is now big enough to wear his diaper 🙂  Yay!!

Happy Chinese New Year

Saturday, February 9th, 2008


The picture above of Puff-puff running after Jenevieve was taken the morning of CNY, just after the obligatory family portrait.  It’s nice to get to experience the occassion again after four years of missing it while away at college.

I’ve started reading again, which is heartening.  In the space of two weeks I finally finished Freud’s Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious (an assigned book I never read while in college), then raced through Shopaholic and Baby, Freakonomics and The Tipping Point.  Those last two books have left me a little wistful about academia…  but that’s a topic for some other day, or year.

Oh, and that’s twenty-six, today.  Hard to recall, or imagine, or grasp properly.

Hanoi Hello!

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

So… I’m currently in a Hanoi hotel, gaping in disbelief at the TV, which I’ve turned on for the first time in three days in the hopes of finding FTV.  Instead, I’ve chanced upon a National Geographic documentary called “Wild S-x” that made me gasp.  Really, my inner prude is thoroughly shocked!  They’ve covered, and very explicitly descibed (along with suggestive background music) the notable practices of about three dozen species, including Bonobo monkeys, snails and sea hares.  The wry narrator has used lines  like “writhing”, “giving new meaning to the phrase ‘swinging in the trees'” and “shocking climax”.  Ugh. 

Yes, so I’m in Vietnam and excitingly it’s my first visit here.  The catch is that I’m working on a case, so I’ve been running about non-stop doing interviews and checking-out price lists.  I’m not complaining though, although everything seems like a health hazard: the second-hand smoke, the hectic motorcycle traffic, the industry I’m investigating…

I want to go see the water-puppet show!  Apparently it’s a must-see, surprising and intriuging.  Maybe tomorrow, after we done the last of our planned interviews and site-visits.

Whew, I need to get some sleep.

I finished Freud’s Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious as well as Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic and Baby this past week, and I’m fairly proud of myself of actually getting some reading in.  Now all I need to do is squeeze in a few more cultural activities and I’ll be a semblance of my old self 🙂  Although honestly who knows what I was thinking when I imagined that I might get to attend the opera or ballet at the Opera (directly opposite the hotel, I can see it from my window)??  Already I’m grateful that we even got to drive past Ho Chi Minh’s masoleum earlier while hurrying from one late-evening interview to another.

The pre-war architecture is beautiful, and I’m finding the city quite romantic and very picturesque, perhaps aided by the unsually chilly weather (I should have brought fluffier winter-wear!), and my admittedly selective vision and strong imagination.  I keep viewing everything through the hazy lens of a cinematographer dreaming about Indochine.  All of which I can easily see as perverse and astheticism of the worst sort (“ah, what charmingly decrepit alleys and crumbling French Colonial villas!”).

I’m thinking I must pick up a few glazed dishes and maybe a silk lantern or two while I’m here.

The food here’s been pretty good.  I’ve only had the pho at the Hilton Opera Hanoi and I like it.  For restaurants I recommend Wild Lotus, Opera Club, Vine and Wild Rice (whose decor I’m in love with).  For bars and clubs I like Ibox (sp?), and Chic Mambo (more a cafe), as well as Funky Monkey.   For hotels definitely stay at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi (the historic Opera wing is fantastic).

I wanted to talk about nostalgia, and how nice its been to chat with people from college (K, S, R, and E), as well as visits by Kevin and Eric etc. etc.  Maybe next time.

I have one fluffy now.  I call it “Puff Puff”…  perhaps I’ll say its name is “Puffin”, as inspired by Louis.  Puff-puff!!  I miss my fluffy pet.

Big weeks

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

It’s been a pretty eventful couple of weeks.

Starting from a month ago, which was my first free weekend in six weeks.  Too bad no one seemed to be free to do anything…  everyone either had prior plans, or work, or whatever, so I went to see Enchanted with my sister.  (Fun movie, go see it if you still can.)

Then everything becomes a bit of a blur, there was a memorable weekend trip to Hong Kong with colleagues, and a series of parties and fun nights out… but the important thing is I now have fluffies again!  Two lovely little white silkie chicks, hatched from the eggs I carried back from the US.  Regardless of the wild rumours that I’ve been hearing, I did not incubate these eggs with my body heat by having them strapped to me for three weeks (??), but instead used a very efficient Brinsea incubator with auto-turner.  Right now, the still-unnamed little puff balls are asleep (it’s about 2pm); they’ve developed a strange, house-pet sleep cycle – they are most active (and loudly demand to be played with) in the morning between 8am and 11am and in the evening after 5pm, which is about when most of us are at home to attend to them.  Which also mean they mostly sleep from noon to 5pm everyday, waking occassionally to water or eat a little.

Of course I’ve only recently discovered this odd schedule because I’m now on holiday break from Christmas through to New Year’s.  Lovely.  Earlier this week my parents took the opportunity to take a little roadtrip up to Malaysia, suring which I did little other than sleep, eat, shop and watch movies on cable TV.  Bliss.

The other main benefit of having a break from work is being able to catch up with old friends whom I haven’t met or communicated with in months.  I’ve made several happy long-distance phone calls and enjoyed a couple of leisurely meals reconnecting, reliving, refreshing…  all very much needed.

Happy holidays, and a happy new year.  May 2008 be filled with unexpected blessings, fulfilled desires and abundant joy.