Knowledge and Awareness

May 31, 2010 0 Comments

A few tips gleaned from books:

1) Investing is not a zero-sum game. People tend to think that money is sloshing around the market - when one buys, another sells. Therefore, it seems as though the net amount of money in the system is a constant. But at every transaction, money is bleed off as taxes and brokerage fees. The system, in chemistry terms, is open, not closed. Money is lost every time one invests - but who's money will it be?

2) Whenever one buys shares, one is proactively supporting the company, with a belief in its future endeavours. So it is contradictory to buy with an intention to sell quickly - flipping/ trading - as one assumes that the company shares will rise then drop i.e. no confidence in the company's prospects, why buy in the first place?

3) Research - by who? - had shown that long-term investing beats short-term speculation hands-down. The former will always yield greater returns. (Debatable, source not known, unexaminable)

4) Buying funds may not be the wisest recourse. Since all fund managers have access to the same pool of information, the likelihood is that they'll behave similarly under the influence of common factors. i.e. don't trust them too much. Besides, they, like you and I, are only human beings.

5) Every investment is risky. Do the small-time investors have the wherewithal to go against Wall Street Princeton/Harvard/Yale/Cambridge/Oxford graduates working in reputable banks like JPMorgan, Citibank etc? Can they defeat super computers which can buy and sell in mere seconds to gain max profits?

6) Investment psychology, micro- and macro-economics greatly affects the stock markets. Technical analysis is merely part of the story. It isn't the story in and by itself.

7) The amount of stuff that I'm woefully unaware of can fill libraries worth of books.


Mansion or Mausoleum?

May 29, 2010 , 0 Comments

Sauntered around the neighbourhood and basked in the gentle moonlight.

The night breezes caressed lovingly, invitingly. Time stretched. The serene joy felt as though it would last forever.

Took off my slippers and began walking barefooted once again. Not wearing footwear is becoming a little symbol of rebellion against conformity, against fitting into the image that people cast on me. It felt liberating, to throw caution into the wind, tossing all woes and worries away, even for just a while.

Was floating along calmly, luxuriating within a peaceful inner harmony.

Suddenly, was struck by a thought that the neighbourhood felt eerily silent and unnaturally dark. Come to think of it, the neighbourhood did not change; I had. My perspectives had changed.

The darkness had never brought a clearer vision; the silence never seemed more poignant.

Could sense the dreadful loneliness emanating from those terraces, those semi-detached, those bungalows, those mansions. It felt awful, the gloomy air that shrouded these glamourous estates. So large, so opulent, so imposing and... so painfully empty.

The night air stilled and felt incredibly thick, suffocating even.

Have we forgotten what that is truly important as we pursue what we think is important?


Bumbling around

May 28, 2010 , 0 Comments

Intrigued, he decided to read up on bumblebees’ flight.

Kiyosaki had written that bumblebees, against all known laws of physics, manage to fly. They carry their awkward bodies gracelessly through the air, buzzing around. According to the equations of motions, bumblebees – with their non-streamlined body shapes, relative heaviness and short wingspans – shouldn’t be able to fly. Aerodynamically, they just can’t.

Yet, they fly. They had been flying and would be flying. They were flying long before human beings dreamt of flight, long before the first plane was invented. They fly for they don’t know they can’t.
It’s just miraculous.

A thin silver of faith sparked.

Everywhere, through every possible means, people are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. They succeed for they, like the humble bumblebees, believe they can. They trust. Therefore, they are.

Is it really that simple? Believe in oneself, have confidence and success will naturally follow?
Intrigued, he Googled. Turned out that the thoracic cavity of bumblebees are able to pump air such that an uplift is created. That biomechanically, bumblebees can fly. That the psychics used to account for the aerodynamics did not factor in the biomechanics. That, ultimately, bumblebees obey the laws of Nature.
He felt cheated, disappointed. It had been so magical to believe that bumblebees, those awkward buzzers, can surmount against all odds.
Disillusioned. He really shouldn’t have tried to find out more.

I think that I should trust too.


An imagined gathering

May 27, 2010 0 Comments

‘Where’re you working now?’
‘I work in the Banking and Finance sector.’
‘Oh, law? Law’s kind of boring after a while.’
‘You can always visit me when you’re sick next time. I’m Dr Tang, after all. No worries.’

He dared not speak for fear of being mocked. His job was not as prestigious or glamourous or well paying as his friends’. Maybe I should simply quit my job and work as a cleaner in a bank, he thought. That way, I can proudly say that I work in a Bank too.


A Spoiled Headphone... Or is it just Liszt?

May 25, 2010 , , 0 Comments

Was listening to some music when my headphones went bonkers. The scratchy static caused me to shiver unwittingly.

Had immediately drawn my phone from the pocket to check what was wrong, only to find out that I was listening to a Liszt symphony.

It was the first time I had actually mistaken classical music for equipment malfunction. -.- Was rather appalled at that time. What a faux pas! But it was an understandable faux pas.

Liszt's staccato pieces are emotional roller-coasters, capable of dragging its listeners to the very depths of despair. They're pessimistic audio narratives of the human condition.

I have always consciously avoided his symphonies and the gaping emptiness that they leave. The induced melancholy... It's an acquired taste, one that I've yet to acquire.

Here's a sample of his song:

The soporific tunes - calm, peaceful, serene symphonies - of Mozart and Vivaldi is a lovely change from Liszt's dire orchestra. Some of my friends, however, view the tunes by Mozart and Vivaldi as boring, dull and insipid. ('Listening to these composers make me sleep! Why are you listening to them?')

Music is a polarizing field; There can be no agreement on what defines great music. It all boils down to what one prefers - the inane or the insane or any type in between.


Fraudulent advice

May 23, 2010 0 Comments

'May I ask you a question? It's unrelevant to the tuition.'

'Irrelevant,' he corrected, stressing slightly on the first syllable. It was becoming instinctive for him to correct people's speech, probably the teacher in him working overtime. He had better be more careful or he'd come across as a pompous know-it-all. Tentatively - was the kid about to ask a trick question - he added, 'Just ask?'

The kid started describing his dilemma. He was running well - could have received an award for his class in the school's sports competition - when one of his friends stumbled and fell. Instead of overtaking him, he slowed down and paused by his friend. This resulted in him not performing as he might otherwise have.

Was it right for him to stop? The kid asked.

The kid's question brought a thin smile to his lips.

It seemed so long ago that he himself had been plagued by such simple dilemmas. So long since he last grappled with minor issues that seemed so monumental.

Life used to be simple, he suddenly remembered. In the same dining room, a kid would worry excessively about offending one friend by doing - or not doing - a certain action while his dad would fret about how to maintain peace, maximise profits and reduce friction while working.

Black-and-white muddying into uneven fields of grey as one matures, he observed.

Taking a deep breath, he replied, 'it all depends on you. The older you grow, the more dilemmas you'd face. They'd become increasingly complex. Is the prize important to you? Is your friend more important to you? Would it make any difference it you have not stopped? Are you disappointing your classmates by stopping? These questions are intensely personal. You'd have to seek out the solutions yourself. I can't tell you what to think and how to react. It's up to you.'

'By the way, in the greater scheme of Life, this competition is pretty pointless. Forty down the years, you'd probably not remember much about it.'

He was flattered that the kid had asked him for advice. He felt virtuous, a paragon; his advice seemed sound.

Then, he felt like a fraud.


Veronika's comrade

May 21, 2010 0 Comments

If he - like Veronika - decides to die, then many things that had mattered to him would no longer matter so.

He would no longer fritter his time away on people whose opinions he does not value.

He would no longer be nice to everyone. Niceness, he feels, is too boring, too plain, too meaningless.

He would dance and sing and draw and paint and read and not eat. He would do things that he felt like doing without restraint, without fear of retribution or punishment.

Just the other day, he had walked home barefooted. He held his slippers loosely in his right hand, enjoying the novel sensation of the uneven grounds against bare skin. The asphalt road radiated warmth and surprisingly, the cement footpath was comfortably cool. He shuddered when he accidentally stepped on a slimy seed pod.

It was a secluded street and he met few people. And all of these people had eyed him with interest. What is that weirdo doing, they must have thought, did he escape from Woodbridge? But by behaving abnormally, he felt very normal, very sane and very happy.

He wondered if any of his friends would visit a shopping center with him, traversing barefooted without a care in the world. He couldn’t think of one single name.

If he – like Veronika – decides to die, he would do all that he felt like doing.

Unfortunately, unlike Veronika, he chooses to live. He’ll continue to be nice to people who he doesn’t care for, continue to have his meals on time and continue to put on his footwear when in shopping centers.


The War Photographs

May 20, 2010 0 Comments

He just heard the radio – Newsradio 93.8 – describing the political riots in Thailand as ‘interesting’. How can anyone find such tragedy interesting, he wondered. Gruesome, tragic, heartwrenching, yes.

But not interesting.

Interesting is such a mild word; It is a filler word that don’t mean anything. Real estate developments are interesting. iPads to be launched in Singapore by July is interesting. Books by up-and-coming authors are interesting. Everything - including bloody riots - is interesting.

This reminded him of a poem - The War Photographer. His teacher would be so pleased that he remembers.

An aching feeling weighted him down. Personal tragedies were turned into entertainment for the masses. The genuine suffering of others have become fodder for conversation over cups of coffee.

Somewhere people are in deep, mortal pain and elsewhere, others are chatting comfortably about them, secretly glad that they aren't the ones suffering.

War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy
In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don't explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger's features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man's wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday's supplement. The reader's eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.



May 19, 2010 0 Comments

A gaping emptiness.

He had been feeling tranquil lately. But is it true tranquility, true peacefulness? Or is it because he’d severed himself from his feelings, merely observing them with cool disdain?

He had sacrificed what that wasn’t needed for survival, not realizing that these very qualities made him human. He could no longer hurt, no longer sense pain.

He could no longer feel jubilant or shattered or wrathful. Not even mildly happy or marginally upset.

But thank goodness, he was no longer in pain.


No longer curious

May 17, 2010 0 Comments

Was looking through my secondary school journals when I realised that I had lost something precious over the years.

The inquisition about science, the curiosity about natural phenomenon, it's gone. No longer wondering...

Does the refractive index of diamond have any link to its macromolecular structure? Do all transparent macromolecules have high refractive indexes?

What is colour? A reflection from a surface? What caused the absorption of certain rays and reflection of yet others? Bubbles are beautifully coloured but how?

Can heat substitute light in a photosynthesis reaction?

Realised that I've stopped asking questions once I entered junior college.

Curiosity. It is one quality that one don't realise when losing. And would already be lost when one realised.


A nostalgic reflection

May 16, 2010 , , 0 Comments


Bask in the golden warmth of the sun,
And hear the child-like joy and fun.
But...too bad the past has gone
and now it's time for the future anon!

Take a deep breath of the rejuvenating air,
Embolden thy hearts despite nightmares.
Let not leaving thy spirits tear-
Farewell is an occasion that you can bear...

Fear not the ramifications of the past,
Heartaches and anxieties disappear fast.
What must happen will come and fade-
the repercussions of past mistakes made.

Brave the biased stares and glares,
Reciprocate it with a knowing glance.
Be the feelings coal or gold,
Time will tell the truth a thousandfold.
Please pause and think about how you feel after reading it.

I cringed when I read this. It was just so... childish.

Long ago, people kept telling me that I smiled for no reason and wrote unrealistically optimistic prose/poem. (Example above). Apparently, I frightened with my effusive friendliness. What that felt perfectly natural to me appeared unnatural to others.

It seems that the older I grow, the more I need reasons for doing something, reasons for doing anything. Studying needs reasons; so does eating. Exercising, making friends, working - they all require reasons.

Is it simply because I'm becoming more aware to the reasons behind actions, reasons that I'm previously unconscious of? Or is it because I now need reasons just to push myself forward? Either way, it feels as though I'm becoming a soldier in the burgeoning army of soulless shoppers/ fleshy automata/ mindless workaholics flooding the world.

Realisation, oft quoted, is the first key to achieving inner harmony. This, I hope, is true.
Extra info: My BMT friends did a Google on my name, found this poem and had a field day teasing me. Over time, the initial embarrassment had mellowed into a pleasant memory. Could feel an unwanted smile spreading across the face now. :]



May 14, 2010 0 Comments

The rain ceased.
Yet, my turbulence
did not ease.
The knowledge:
sights and sounds of rumours,
truth with lies interwoven.
Fear that it might be fiction
and fear that it might not be.

Shall I...
or shall I not?
Must I,
may I not?
Dare I-
No, I dare not.

An innate insecurity shall the whispered tale
find the much needed room
to grow. And grow.
-adapted from a poem written in 2005.

Suddenly thought of this poem written long ago. No idea why though. Just feeling morose, probably.



May 14, 2010 0 Comments

Behaved like a complete cuckoo as I tried to purchase my first trench of stocks.

'Excuse me, may I know how to pay for the purchase?'
'So sorry, may I know...'
'Thank you, just one last question...'

The lady answering my call couldn't be more helpful. Felt kind of guilty about boring her with my amateurish questions. (But in terms of investing, I'm a guppy baby in a tank of piranhas. Have to be really careful.)

Was jittery the day before, trapped at work and with no access to Internet. Almost had a cardiac arrest - more popularly known as a heart attack - after realising that the shares plummeted.

How can they drop right after I made my first decision to buy?!

Thank goodness, actually got the shares at a lower price than expected. Sitting on a little profit of - guess how much? - seven dollars.

Anyway, was really fascinated by the complex mechanisms that govern equities trading. It was like O level A maths, only way more difficult.
The profit rose to fifty dollars and my heart soared along with it.
The profit skyrocketed to two hundred dollars and I floated among clouds.

And then, the shares dropped to a more realistic price. Still made a little profit. The joyful feeling became subdued. Anxiety sprouted.
The whole process of stocks trading is an emotional roller coaster. Feelings rise and fall in tune to prices. It adds thrills to an otherwise monotonous life. (Not to mention how it subtly encourage existential greed). Think that's how an addiction begins. Have to watch myself really closely.

Don't know if I would ever risk buying more lots of shares though. Too frail to handle all the stress.


Hues on Fire

May 13, 2010 0 Comments

A meditation on colours and their meanings.


A Love Letter

May 11, 2010 0 Comments

There's a favourite letter of mine from a Nobel Prize winner named George Wald, who is a biologist at Harvard. He wrote it in response to an argument about the starting of a Nobel laureate sperm bank. Some irate feminist wrote into the paper saying, "Sperm banks, they should have an egg bank. Why just sperm?" He says:

You're right, Pauline. It takes an egg as well as a sperm to start a Nobel laureate. Everyone of them has had a mother as well as a father. Say all you want of fathers, their contribution to conception is really rather small.

Nobel laureates aside, there isn't much technically in the way of starting an egg bank. There are some problems but nothing so hard as involved in the other kinds of breeder reactors.

But think of a man so vain as to insist on getting a superior egg from an egg bank. Then he has to fertilize it. And when it's fertilized, where does he go with it, to his wife? "Here, dear," you can hear him saying, "I just got this superior egg from an egg bank and just fertilized it myself. Will you take care of it?" "I've got eggs of my own to worry about," she replies. "You know what you can do with your superior egg. Go rent a womb, and while you're at it, you better rent a room too."

You see, it just won't work. For the truth is that what one really needs is not Nobel laureates but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how. Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It's a consolation prize.

What matters is love. Forget sperm banks and egg banks. Banks and love are incompatible. If you don't know that, you don't know bankers. So just practice loving. Love a Russian. You'd be surprised how easy it is, and how it will brighten up your morning. Love whales, Iranians, Vietnamese, not just here but everywhere. When you've gotten really good you can even try loving some of our politicians.

He said this amazing thing, that even the Nobel Prize is a consolation prize because what human beings most want is to be honored, to be loved, to be recognized. And what the world most compellingly needs is someone who understands how not to get caught in these ancient human patterns of prejudice, fear and anger.

- An except from A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield


Between the Doors

May 11, 2010 0 Comments

The veneers of youth are slowly chipped off. Time wears away what was once thought to be important, revealing what that is truly vital. (Hoping that it’ll reveal a stout, sturdy core.)
‘You know, when I was your age, I used to feel this way too.’
‘That studying is kind of stupid.’
‘Who need A maths or Chinese or – insert any subject that one dislikes – to be happy?’
‘Parents really love but they’re kind of a nag too.’
‘It’s natural. All that will pass.’

In the phase of life where one is able to empathise with both adults and teenagers. On the threshold between these dual phases, with a foot in each, and unable to fully feel for both. A vague recollection of how being a teenager feels and a half-baked idea of what being an adult is all about.

It's really fun tutoring when in this phase, the kids feel that I truly understand them, that I'm not a fuddy-duddy.

Kind of enjoys this dynamic equilibrium. It’s a breath of fresh air, filled with possibilities of fortunes (and misfortunes) yet to come. Changes are afoot.


The Lost and the Ecliptic

May 09, 2010 0 Comments

Just went to Esplanade for a play yesterday night. The play was... incredible.

Incredibly bad.
Couldn't believe that it could be that bad.

A one point, a malayan tapir was dragged across the screen in a projection.

The Indian lady next to me stifled a giggle and attempted to mask it as a polite cough. I swallowed the mirth that was threatening to bubble forth. No one could understand why a tapir was cantering across the screen. It was followed by a penguin and many other moving objects.

One guy, sitting behind, actually snorted.  He tried to strangle that snort. (It sounded as though he was choking.) A loud guffaw was heard when one fruit floated across the screen.

It was Singaporeans' perennial favourite fruit, durian.

The highlight of the show was actually the floating durian. It was so comical that the normally reserved Singaporeans actually laughed out. Probably the only thing that people will remember about the play.

Didn't think that the producers intended it to be humourous though. It was supposed to be philosophical, contemplative... but turned out to be a farce.

Every section was disconnected, chaotic. There were dance, Chinese opera, light projections, animation, film snippets and songs - both Malay and English. Every section seemed to signal the end of the play (the end which I was looking forward to).

If anything positive must be said, the directors of the play could, at the very least, be praised for being experimental. The rojak of techniques is unique although they just don't come together.

The audience was fidgeting in their seats, bored by the play. I found myself thinking about university application matters, equities trading, friendship issues etc. One could easily mistake this as a junior college Maths lecture by a teacher who couldn't teach. It was that mundane.

A loud sigh was heard, reverberating poignantly in the silent theater.

When the play finally ended, everyone clapped loudly.

Ah, finally, it's over.
The lost and the ecliptic.

The audience felt lost. And the play, it has fallen into an eclipse.


Job and Security

May 07, 2010 0 Comments

It’s a period of revelations. Had worked as or am still working as a talk facilitator, a camp facilitator, a retail assistant, a resort ambassador, an admin assistant, part time tutor. Finally understand why adults say that choosing the most apt job is important. (Used to, in all youthful ignorance, think that adults are antiquated dinosaurs; turned out that I'm beginning to empathise with them the older I become.)

Misery – not outright, full blown depression but a subtle rot of dread and discomfort – would set in once the initial euphoria has worn off. The joys of working would diminish rapidly, fading into a tuneless, uninspiring monotony.

A rat race, that is what it is called. Day to day living, without being aware. So busy making a living that one forgets to live. What a waste!

It really is important to choose the job most suited to one’s inclinations and refuse to define one’s life by popular social metrics. And it is difficult, relentlessly tiring too.

'To be nobody -but yourself - in a world which is trying its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and keep fighting.' - e.e.cummings

Could understand why people prefer the cloistered life offered by the army. It is a languorous existence, one that does not demand much and pays reasonably well.

Met up with friends who confessed that they miss the simple sheltered living within the army. There and then, every day unfolds according to plans; the future holds no surprises. These confessions are somewhat secretive, as though tinged with embarrassment.

Doesn’t it feel easier to be swept away by the currents and choices of Time than to swim against its tide? After all, it does not require effort.

But swim against it, we must. Aren’t overcoming challenges what that makes living all the more vibrant? All the more exciting?


Wealth and Health

May 04, 2010 0 Comments

We might be blind to the familiar discomforts - oblivious to them, conditioned to their presence over time. Then, slowly, quietly, we begin to realise that despite fulfilling all our material needs, we're suffering from an inner poverty.

Bids to achieve peacefulness - meditations, reflections, introspections - create only greater awareness of the existing internal turmoil and in that, cause more unsettled feelings. The paradox of pursuing peace is that it often leaves us less peaceful.

How then to transcend such a phase of painful self-awareness to peaceful self-acceptance?

Decided to fulfill this promise to self to be happy. To live and let live be. To abandon illusions of grandeur and splendor, to consciously cease striving for all the glitz and glitter.

It's an easy decision to make but a difficult one to sustain.

All too frequent, I find myself wishing for what others have. Some call it 'status anxiety', some name it 'benchmarking' and others, 'greed'.

And everyone seems to be fighting for the resource that is essentially worthless. Money. There can be no resource more readily available, less costly and yet, more powerfully magical, than happiness.

Yet, few set it as goals to attain. Have you ever heard anyone say that 'I'm going to be happier than all of them'?