Breath by Samuel Wright

April 30, 2011 0 Comments

Excerpt of a haunting short story:

In the last few years, I find myself often having this conversation: Someone asks how I am, I reply fine, but with the added nuance of varying tones of voice and expression, we say some things, and they touch some part of me and say, ‘you know where I am.' 

I always think, yes I do, you’re right there.

The dignity of words, the resonating theme.

Wonderful in the bittersweet manner. Akin to the feeling of removing a plaster from a partially healed wound, mildly painful yet somehow satisfying.

Words faded in and out of existence; images stood in where words once were.

Awesome, just wonderful.

Here's one other inspiring essay. And one more.


Political Science

April 27, 2011 0 Comments

Had numerous intelligent conversations with my family and friends on this year's GE. Just wondering about some of the issues raised, hmm.

And this is really all very fascinating, me being a first-time voter and all. Really shouldn't be so ignorant about the political climate of my country.

The GRC system

PM Lee defended the GRC system with three main arguments:

1) This system forces the Opposition to search for and field the most worthy candidates.
2) The division of Singapore into GRCs ensures that the voices of Singaporeans across Singapore can be heard.
3) This system allows newcomers to enter the political system easily so that they can be groomed into future leaders of Singapore.

But can there be any way to improve the system? Enshrining the benefits of having GRCs does not negate its flaws:

1) The 2006 Singapore GE was held on 6 May 2006. PAP won with 66.6% and gained 82 (out of 84) parliamentary seats. If PAP won 66.6% of the votes, doesn't it make sense for them to gain 66.6% (instead of 97.6%) of the parliamentary seats?
2) The election boundaries shift with every GE. Some of my friends have been staying in the same place for the past twenty years but went from being in Hougang GRC to Cheng Sang GRC to Ang Mo Kio GRC. This political tectonic shifts create an uneven contesting ground.
3) Relative newcomers can enter the system readily. True, but is this really an advantage? Dr Chia Shi Lu is probably extremely capable. I heard that he was a President's Scholar and found out that he is a doctor with a long list of abbreviated credentials - MBBS, DFDC (CAW), FRCS (Surg), FRCS (Ortho & Trauma), DIC, PhD - that I don't understand. But the fact that he became an MP without being contested is discomforting. (Wiki is still the easiest way to find information, haha)

The Promises

Most of the Opposition parties have manifestos that are disappointingly unoriginal (what the PAP is already doing or planning to do) or are mimicries (rather similar manifestos, hmm). Invest in R&D to help SMEs; smaller class sizes; minimum wage pension.

Their more original plans are shocking. Reducing the period of National Service to 1 year. Drawing from our foreign reserves, our savings.

Singapore is in the part of the world where there are numerous - sometimes even bloody - conflicts between adjacent nations. We are surrounded by neighbouring countries that can't wait to bully us. Both my uncle and brother, staunch supporters of having alternative voices in the parliament, agree that national defence can't be compromised.

And drawing from our reserves is a silly manner to come up with money. Breaking the piggy bank to build amenities and acquire services should only be done in pressing circumstances.

People's Action Party
Workers' Party
Singapore Democratic Party
Reform Party
National Solidarity Party

A few issues that must be considered by this GE's voters:

Found out that one of the Opposition parties proposes to reduce GST from 7% to 3% and abolish GST for essential food items.

Singaporeans are kiasu. I am kiasu. We want the best for ourselves and this is only natural. We want the best transport, healthcare and education systems. But where would the money for such infrastructure come from?

This rise in the costs of living is not a localised phenomenon. I remember reading that the prices of food in Australis have increased by 10% and the price of my favorite fruit, banana, has doubled. Guess that most Australians won't be buying the edible phallic symbol nowaday. Also, some state in Indonesia was planning to prohibit lavish marriage festivals to curb food wastage, all because of a supply shortage.

Compared to the 7 - 10+++ % inflation that other countries are facing, Singapore is actually faring decently. We are suffering, but less than what others are suffering.

Our savings in the CPF are tied up in investments manage by Temasek Holdings and GIC. Apparently, the two GLCs made a 10 billion loss during the 2009 financial crisis. Is this why we have to be desperately old - 55 years old - before we are allowed to touch our savings. By then, we might not be able to enjoy them anymore.

I sincerely hope that our CPF system wouldn't grow to resemble American retirement plans, what some analysts have termed as a nationwide Ponzi scheme. Our younger workers will put money into the system while our older citizens withdraw from it. If there are more withdrawls than inputs, the system will collapse. If the pooled reserves are diminished by ill-judged investments, the situation worsens.

MBT is doing a bad job, no doubt. Spiralling costs for flats are simply not sustainable.
Flats being investments (with appreciating value) or flats being homes. HDB, please place your priorities well. The two intentions, essentially, are exclusive. If a Singaporean sells his flat at a high price, he would have to buy another at an equally high price. Charging newly built flats at exorbitant prices will only deplete one's CPF reserves.

But this problem can't solely be attributed to poor management alone.

An uncle always repeat himself: Singaporeans are kiasu. I am kiasu. We want a roof over our heads and we want the most attractive units - highest, closest to the city, in mature estates, next to MRT stations, near parks and premier schools. Essentially, we want our homes to be appreciating assets as well. There are cheaper available units in Punggol and Sengkang, perhaps it is time to consider them.

Promoting from within

Sons of this and that past MPs. Wife of a permanent secretary. People unquestioningly loyal to the party. It would appear as though the ruling party is recognising its supporters for their endeavors and promoting from within. But someone whom I respect greatly called this "nepotism".

Lee dynasty, PAP Inc.

Is it really that bad? I'm really uncertain, not sure if the elected MPs would really be "unquestioningly loyal" or if this qualifies as "nepotism". More research into the past pariliamentary debates must be done, I suppose.

Who to vote for?

I had intended to vote for PAP. They did a good job and recognition must be given when it is due. While other countries are still suffering from the 2009 economic crisis, Singapore had recovered quickly. The Workfare scheme is ingenious; our government had provided subsidies for training and suggested that companies reduce the number of working days per employer instead of outright retrenchment. Besides, I really have no bones to pick with the healthcare, education, defence and transport systems.

My vote - one miserly slip of paper - probably wouldn't make a great difference. None of the Opposition parties - except for the Workers' Party - have credible plans anyway.

That was before realising that I will be voting in the Aljunied GRC. And that the Workers' Party is fielding their most credible team there.

Mr Low is a shrewd politician; by going all out, by eschewing a SMC for a GRC, he is leaving the voters with no choice but to vote for his 5 membered party or risk having no alternative voices in our parliament. Politics, without doubt, isn't a game. But it sure feels like one.

"Should they fail, there may be no check-and-balance in our parliament at all, do I want that?" My aunt asked.


Ideas for stimulating poetry

April 25, 2011 0 Comments

1) Describe an artwork to a blind person.

2) Write in perspectives of person in an artwork.

3) Imagine the sculpture as a murder weapon.

4) Portray a character obsessed with a painting.

5) What about a dialogue between two paintings?

6) Artwork as an archaelogical find, 5000 years later.

7) Artwork as a metaphor. (Of love, loneliness, hope etc)

8) As a prop in a play.

9) View out of a prison window.

- Suggestions offered by established local poet Felix Cheong (By the way, he's super nice. Edited one of my writing. His close reading and incisive suggestions reminded me that I've much to learn about literature and life.)

The key is to transmute experience into words so that readers may enter this experience at will.


On Singlish

April 21, 2011 0 Comments

Attended a seminar on writing recently. The speaker - local poet Felix Cheong - shared his amusement at the way our generation speaks.

It was quite flattering, really. It had been a long time since any one lumped me together with the 15 to 19 years-old. Always a pleasure to be considered as a youngster. (One sign of aging, I'd suppose. To find pleasure in such inanities.)

"I'm like and he's like and I'm like" (as substitutes for "said" i.e. "I said and he responded and I said".)

"You know right... you know right"

"I'm so totally going to slap you." ("Totally" is totally not needed.)

"This man needs no introduction" (which would invariably be followed with a lengthy 5 minutes introduction) aka "But I'm going to introduce him anyway."

"Repeat again"

"Let me double reconfirm." This is a simple case of arithmetic (confirm: check twice; reconfirm: check four times; double reconfirm: check eight times!)

"First and foremost" (but this is my favourite phrase!)

"Without further ado" (by speaking this phrase, isn't there already "further ado"?)

Quite an eyeopener, this seminar :]


Beauty in an economy of words

April 17, 2011 , 0 Comments

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Used.

- by Ernest Hemingway

It was the first time I encountered flash fiction, a writing style of extreme brevity. Take a look at the poem above. A simple string of six words, yet its meanings are far from simplicity.

What happened to the baby? Why weren't the shoes used? What made the owners want to so coolly divorce themselves from this pair of baby shoes?

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Used.

Each letter begins with a capital alphabet. Bold, forceful, discordant. Jarring.

This dignified economy of words belies its complexity. In this microcosm, we see the world.



April 14, 2011 0 Comments

Whoever says that stock prices can't be manipulated?

Well, it can be done. Do you have $150? If you have, then congrats! You have the ability to manipulate the price of Harry's.

Some smart aleck is artificially propping Harry's price up (diagram below). By buying one lot of shares at $150, he - I assumed that the buyer is a wily he-fox - caused the price of Harry's to skyrocket on thin, unsustainable volume.

By playing this game, he's actually making a direct loss of $50++ in transaction fees, a significant 33.3% loss in capital. He probably has more to gain from this sleight-of-hand. Maybe he has more Harry's shares that he's hoping to sell at a higher price?

Normally, I wouldn't give two hoots about this. BUT the lot of shares he brought was from ME. I was the only one who sold one miserly lot at $150 that day. All things factored in, I made a loss of $40++. *%@%$* Because he was playing his greedy game. Brrr

Notice the volume at $0.150 (diagram above and below)! Just one puny lot that's represented by one dot. Argh.

Oh, he's playing his game again today. Note the volume of trade transacted. One lot -.-

"High stock prices not supported by volume."
"On thin volume"
"Volume traded is a significant XXX as everyone rushes for the exit."

The only volume that I know of is the one that can be measured with a pipette/ burette/ volumetric flask.

At the very least, I now know that there are other types of volume.

Oh well, in life, that's a lesson waiting for us at every corner. Here's another.

Update: Caught him doing this a few more times in the past week. (Assuming that the perpetrator is a guy and the same person). Kinda exasperating, reluctant to offload any lots, the penalty of being the smallest fish - every looming shadow is a threat.


Dark Swan

April 09, 2011 0 Comments

From the murky marriage of illusions and reality, the Black Swan arises.

A chilling descend into insanity.


An irreversible, inevitable decline into darkness. A mirror to the quest for artistic perfection.

Self-destructive hopes.

Surrealistic. Intense.

She felt like the black swan, living so carefully, so timidly, with such control.

Unraveling, her mind.

She no longer sees herself in the mirror.

She can never let go.

And there she paddles,

on the edge.

Poster of Black Swan (2010)


A moment's folly

April 05, 2011 0 Comments

Today, I heard a story which affected me deeply. It seems as though I'm always finding out stories about people - their lives and, in particular, their mishaps. The only thing I'm greatly for is that I did not get to meet the unfortunate protagonist.
Sheila was seated by her husband when they drove out from their condominium in Bishan.

Life was comfortable. She was a primary school teacher, drawing a decent paycheck while her husband could easily afford the monthly payments for their snug new home. Sure, they were in debt, but most families begin in debt and she was not overly concerned.

Life, however, had not always been this comfortable. It had taken her years of efforts to reach this current level of comfort. When she first arrived in Singapore, she barely knew English. She had forced herself to remember 20 words each day before she could have breakfast. If she didn't manage to remember, she'd steel herself to focus on her studies despite the growling protests from her stomach. Yes, life was difficult then.

A fly, buzzing about her, jolted her from her reverie. She waved it away, her forehead wrinkling slightly. How did the fly get into the car?

The fly, usually a mild irritant, changed its path and decided to circle around her husband instead. This was the beginning of a life-long regret.

Everything happened too quickly. And before she knew it, she was paralysed from neck down.

Her husband had swatted at the fly. He lost control of the steering wheel. The car crashed into a lamp post and flipped. They were pinned beneath the wreck. Bypassers helped to flip the car over. Her husband escaped with nary a scar.

She was paralysed from neck down.

Had the bypassers - bless them for their kindness - left her alone, she would not have suffered such debilitating spinal damage. Had they waited for the ambulance, she might still be fully functional.

If only her husband had ignored the fly...

If only she had ignored the fly...