Unifying threads

June 29, 2011 0 Comments

I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me.

He tried to intuit the presence of a greater spirit in Taj Mahal.

On the peak of Da Nang's Marble Mountains, as clouds wafted by, he felt it. In Riskikesh's valleys, floating on the glacial waters of the Himalayan range, he felt it. In Cambodia's museum documenting the Pol Pot regime, where blackened skulls laid in neat rows, he felt it. On a bicycle drifting downhill, he felt it. In the midst of the emerald forests, as cicadas chimed, he felt it.

So, what was it?

It was this feeling of absolute contentment, this complete unawareness of self, this spiritual commune with a greater presence.

In English lessons a long time ago, he used to write "his amusement/anger/joy was beyond description" for every essay; it was poetic enough and could be used with slight revisions each time. Then, he did not understand what was truly "beyond description". Now, he has a better idea, albeit a sketchy one.

The feelings that were beyond description couldn't be explained with mere words. The emotions, their range, their nuances, they were too great to be encapsulated by alphabets.

It was the feeling of joy, of contentment, of the significance and insignificance of self. He felt beautiful, powerful. It wasn't because he was invulnerable and attractive; he wasn't and he knew this. But he was able to tap into the awareness of a greater spirit and draw strength from it.

It was disappointing to visit the Taj Mahal and be unable to feel an empowering sense of awe.

One of the Seven Wonders of the World. And he couldn't feel any wonder, the irony, the irony.

He didn't visit with the conscious expectation of experiencing the "feeling that were beyond descriptions". He did so with an unconscious expectation.

The marble mausoleum didn't evoke an intense awareness. It was a tomb for dead people, period.

He closed his eyes and sensed for the spiritual connection to a greater something. He struggled, ignoring the cacophonous tourists. (Erm, well, he was a tourist too, just not a noisy one.)

Anyway, the point was: he tried and succeeded. He sensed a murmuring of life beneath the vain facade of Taj Mahal.

Perhaps, there is a spiritual dimension to every object and event.

Arts heighten this awareness by reflecting on the human condition. Novel experiences challenge the tired equilibrium. They perturb and point to the presence of a greater unifying spirit.

If he tried hard enough, he no longer has to seek adventures on foreign lands just to taste that intoxicating cocktail. He could - in theory and practice - taste it here, there and everywhere.


In the shoes of a Postman

June 25, 2011 0 Comments

Was delivering newsletters a few weeks ago with my younger brother. Our aunts wanted advertisement for their childcare centers. What better minions to employ than your kith and kin?

It was humid, unbearably so. Found myself covered in a sheen of perspiration after a while.

As I wandered around the estate, I wondered.

There were stacks of shoe boxes outside one terrace. Retail therapy? Did the lady find joy - no matter how slight or fleeting - in buying footwear? Each pair of slippers, each pair of heels held stories of happiness and pain. If only they could speak.

There were sprawling bungalows, woefully empty on a Friday night. Did the owners chase after material wealth with wild abandonment, neglecting to cherish what they already have?

We sneaked into a condo. The compound was a dream come true - grids of letter boxes waiting to be filled. The earlier I'm done, the earlier I can relax. Unfortunately, the security guards chased us out after we were caught on the cctv. Petty criminals, the two of us. An embarrassing event, but at least we cleared around 50 adverts before the fiasco, lols.

I saw houses of such opulence that I almost forgot to breathe. I saw a lonely housewife fingering a phone as she sat in front of a large TV with her maid. I saw a grandpa with a toddler and overheard their impromptu Japanese lessons.

I saw, I heard, I felt.

Whatever is it that I'm seeking, this is part of it.


Rough Guide to India

June 21, 2011 0 Comments

The frazzle of backpacking drove him nutty.

He would plan each day ahead in a journal, allocating hours to tasks. Efficiency, he was all about efficiency.

It was discomforting to let go, to surrender control. When he first found out that there were no travel itinerary, no reservations for accommodation and no local guides, he fretted.

He was a pessimist with an overactive imagination. What if the hotels were full? What if we are wasting money on boring activities? What if we got ambushed along the trip? A world of what-ifs.

The first few days were downright miserable.

The tourist attractions were repetitive models, the air was thick with dirt, the weather was impossibly dry and the land, parched.

He had no idea where he wanted to go. He only wanted to be away. Away from what? From Singapore, from India? From something, from anything.

Minor discomforts accumulated. On the rickety trains, he slept fitfully, aware that even the locals secured their baggage to the bed frames. On the grimy buses, he stiffened as the vehicle careened on wildly uneven roads.

Somehow, he remembered to let go. Little by little, he did.

He rediscovered a sense of adventure.

His legs dangled outside the train as it chugged onward. He tried to pen a poetic quartet but gave up after a while, deciding to soak in the romantic scenery instead. As the landscape sped past him, he caught glimpses of wild peacocks.

On the communal taxi, his friend donated some money to a needy traveller/father. His daughter was perilously ill; her eyeballs were white until she woke to whimper - only then can the black of her pupils be seen.

It was strange, how memory worked. Even now, he could envision how the events unfolded, in slightly jerky stop motion.

A local thug, sitting next to him, turned to grab a fistful of his t-shirt. The thug - dressed in tight fitting garments - wanted money too. A furore ensued. He grabbed his t-shirt and tried to pull him off the taxi. His friend tried to stop him while his friend tried to pry his hands free from his shirt. Other locals tried to explain the situation to his other friends. The taxi driver drove away as the thug tried to pull one of his passenger (aka him/ aka me) off. (This use of 'him/he' is very confusing, since I'm supposed to be writing from the 3rd person's perspectives. Ahh well. The situation itself was confusing anyway.)

It was surreal, being threatened. He was thankful that other locals resolved the issue. He was thankful that he was the one being picked on, not his fellow travellers. He was passive, they were reactive. Should they be challenged, things might turn ugly. He had simply sat there, playing possum.

As he wrote this entry, he lost track of what he wanted to say.

It was supposed to be about being less prudish, more carefree. It was supposed to be about delighting in entropy, in unplanned surprises.

As he wrote, he found out that there were shades of feelings that words could ill describe.

Breathe in, breathe out. He allowed the avalanche of ambiguous emotions to roll over him, abandoning an attempt to frame the story as a ray of sunshine piercing through overcast clouds.

P.S. He has no idea what he was writing. He just felt the need to write.
P.S. If you're going off to India, borrow the Rough Guide. It's a friend to travellers who don't know what they want.


Prospects in Singapore's Education System

June 18, 2011 0 Comments

An interesting thread on the education system in Singapore:

Anonymous, May 7, 3:56 PM

I have some basis for making a comment on education as I had been a teacher, taught civil servants, worked with adult education and also taught at one of our universities.

I put it this way. The batch of civil servants, permanent secretaries, ceos and government ministers as well as mps came through our education system in the 1950s and 1960s. I don;t think anyon would dispute that they did rather well for Singapore compared with this present lot that has, among its credit, running the present mickey mouse election with all its blunders.

what is the advantage that the 1950s and 1960s cohort has? This is a question that every parent should ask when looking at our present education system. Indeed, one major task of parents because of the defects of our present system is to supplement what is being taught. Sometimes this takes the form of enrichment clases, sometimes of tuition and at other times of attending creative classes. Parents also need to do a lot more to educate their children.

Let me be assertive: even if we said that the PAP is good in everything we would say that the PAP has failed in education.
Anonymous, May 7, 4:24 PM

The 2011 Election will soon be over. For parents the task of nurturing their young carries on.

Why is it dangerous for the Ministry of Education to fail and to make mistakes, hnest or otherwise? For that reason it is very important each parent looks at the child and educates the child not for life but to make his way in life.

Do you all know what happens when an education policy goes wrong? It is equivalent to trying to turn round a supertanker! It takes ONE generation to change and reform an education policy.

Let me share with you something from the 50s and the 60s. At that time the PAP made a conscious decision to devalue Chinese language and culture. The history of the Chinese schools and of Nanyang University is to well know to bear repeating. Many parents send their children to English schools because their children COULD not get jobs should they emerge from Chinese schools.

What are the consequence?

1. The standard of Chinese plummetted.

2. A whole generation of Chinese educated graduates and students had to migrate or become businessmen.

3. A great divide grew up between English and Chinese. ask yourself if you are Chinese how did your son/daughter grew up disliking Chinese?

4. A whole generation of Singaporeans grew up unversed in Chinese.

5. A whole generation of Singaporeans gre up unable to access Chinese culture or language.

TODAY the government seeks to emphasize bi-lingualism or mother tongue education. We are seriously disadvantaged with regards to foriegn talent from Malaysia for instance that an speak andconverse in English, Chinese, Malay and dialects. Oh we pride ourselves on the standard of our education but this defect is what the government has created. In ten years the mainland Chinese will be able to speak and write English better than us. They will also speak and write better Chinese than us.

So, if you look at education do think seriously for yourself. I have waited until today to write aboue this because I do not want this to be part of the 2011 election issues.

Nonetheless DO NOT BELIEVE everything you read and are told about education in Singapore.
Anonymous, May 7, 5:57 PM

Mr Wang,

Your child's primary school teacher needs to assume your child (or weaker students) have tuition.

Teaching in an MOE school today has evolved such that 80% of a teacher's time after school is spent on CCA, staff meetings, department meetings, committee meetings, Action Research (writing of educational research paper), organizing school events, rehearsals for Speech Day or Performing Arts concert.

Vast majority of teachers have little time after school to tutor small groups of weak students, mark homework and prepare quality lessons.

Teachers either use their colleagues' teaching resources, photocopy materials wholesale from assessment books or simply rely on their own past years resources to prepare the next day's lesson.

As a teacher, I am disgusted at the way our education system has been shaped under Teo Chee Hean and Ng Eng Hen.

There is no point talking about decreasing classroom size and hiring more teachers, if the turnover rate continues to be high and if most teachers are so distracted from their core duty of teaching, nurturing, guiding and preparing quality lessons for their students.

To get students to think, teachers need time, lots of time to design such lessons, especially if each teacher teaches 4-5 different classes across different levels.

Since most teachers are heavily overworked and have no time to prepare quality lessons, sometimes, the easiest way is just to fall back on rote-memory type of lessons, which usually requires a lot less effort in lesson preparation.

The only exception is of course, when the principal and HOD decides to make a formal visit for a lesson observation.

Which is why I voted against PAP. If not, teaching in an MOE school will continue to suck, both for students and for teachers alike.
I have a vested interest in Singapore's education system. Genuinely believe that learning widely and applying the knowledge wisely is the solution to personal and global problems.

Too bad that concerns about education were overshadowed by worries over inflation, transport, housing and electoral systems during the recent GE. It would be inspiring, maybe even insightful, to have the nation debate education policies, a longer term commitment compared to recent woes but equally significant.

Is there a way to learn while enjoying? To recreate this experience for many people in consecutive years and yet remain unfettered by office politics? To nurture growth without passing critical judgments?

Teachers, by their nature and circumstances, tend to be rather conservative. They won't and can't air their opinions readily. Is there a way to solicit honest feedback from the people who are actually involved in teaching for the greater good of Singapore's future? Seems a bit difficult, hmm.

But just because it's difficult doesn't mean that it is impossible.
Anyway, the three O lvl students I'm tutoring are giving me major headaches.

We're at the tipping point where I can no longer go through new topics - the course materials are covered fully - and the kids must take initiatives to expose themselves to a diversity of questions.

I'm pushing them with the expectation that they want to and will work for distinctions.

A series of dichotomies over here:

Assumption 1: They want to score distinctions.
They actually prefer to get good grades but it's no big deal if they don't do that well.

Assumption 2: They will work towards getting into a course of their desires.
They don't really know what they want, how can they work towards it then?

Assumption 3: They are proactive.
Once I stop pushing them, they cease to move.

What can I do? Employing an array of techniques and strategies:

1) Stagger the revision of a topic such that it spreads over a 3 week period. Repetition as the key to committing information to memory.

2) Try to set a target grade for them.

3) Comprehensive notes for the entire subject.

4) Share lame Youtube videos as diversions during tuition session.

5) Share links and stories on inspiring characters. Sms random quotes.

6) Get parents and siblings to supervise the student on weekdays.

Seriously, the aforementioned strategies can't really come to fruition without their cooperation.

The three kids are really good people - more able than they think they're. If only they can believe in themselves...

I have a quasi maternal/sibling relationship with them. I want them to excel because I'm putting in a lot of effort and I expect the effort to bear proportionately sweet fruits; I want them to do well because I derive part of my identity from being able to help students who are less academically inclined; I want them to score because I'm paid to deliver; And above all, I want them to excel because we're friends - I think they tell me stuff that they don't tell their family - and, as friends, wishing for their success is natural.

It'll be a grueling four months as we prepare for O levels...


Perhaps the reason for why Singapore is the Tuition Nation

June 15, 2011 0 Comments

Was rather distracted after one tuition session.

XY, XY, you didn't know what you were dealing with. Please analyse this unique situation and solve it at its crux.

Lost in those troubling thoughts, I tripped when crossing the ledge separating the asphalt road from the passageway. The aunty behind me sniggered.

Had always assumed that my student was weak because he was lazy and skilled in pretending that he wasn't. After all, most lazy people won't think they're lazy. Their failures, naturally, could be attributed to others' flaws.

Then, I saw his mid term papers and changed my mind.

The Chemistry exam papers were difficult. It required me to draw on knowledge acquired from tertiary studies to solve. Chemicals - which I was unfamiliar with - were tested. All on the basis of examining deductive skills...

What kind of nonsense is this?! How can the teacher give such a significant weighting to tests of convoluted reasoning techniques?

I'm comfortable with difficult questions that inspire insights. I've no problems with challenging questions which push the frontiers of one's knowledge. What I'm not okay with are labyrinthian questions which have no apparent purpose other than to repulse students from learning.

It doesn't help that there were so many grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors. Yes, I am an old grandpapa-fusspot. But sloppy language when asking and answering Science questions can only lead to poorer linguistics.

Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to query my student about his Chem teacher.

"The whole class doesn't understand what she's saying!"

"She's highly qualified. Think she has a Masters in something."

Criticisms of teachers by students should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Perhaps, even two pinches. Students, like all other homo sapiens, tend to think they're right.

But from observing the student's poor answering techniques, messy school notes and unorthodox exam papers, I couldn't help feeling that his input - while exaggerated - contained a modicum of truth.

I really should be thankful to such teachers. It's because they're screwed up that I got more offers to tutor that I could handle :] Humour aside, I'd rather have my students enjoy their school lessons than to spend 1.5 hr/week trying to entice them into enjoying the art of learning. It is tedious uphill work.

Time to think of ways to aid this student...


Advice and Success

June 12, 2011 0 Comments

It struck me that successful people are really quite willing to respond to noob/newbie/me.
Once, when I was in secondary school, I emailed Chris Crutcher, a multiple award-winning author, out of sheer recklessness. He had just became my favourite writer then, with themes ranging from parental abuse and rascism to suicide and rape.

With wit and words, he painted a heartwarming - though realistic - tapestry of life.

There was this story, one which I still read even now. Staying fat for Sarah Byrnes. It was about a disfigured girl and her chubby childhood friend. The girl's visage was scarred when her step dad pressed her face against a burning stove.

Chris Crutcher was a school counsellor. I can only wonder what stories he had heard, ones that inspired such aching tales.

I wasn't all that surprised when he answered. He told me that he was coming to Singapore to promote his books and hoped to see me then. I was young, ignorant. Thought that the world was without strangers, that everyone responded to smses, emails and phone calls.

It was awesome to receive an email, no matter how mundane, from the same hands which wrote aching tales on teenage experiences.
During a visit to an art exhibition with a friend, I saw the most fascinating art piece.

Each President's Young Artist contender was given a space to present their works. Felicia Low's installation on education excited me. It combined art with education, my two raison d'etres.

It was when my latent stalker tendencies expressed themselves. Chanced upon Ms Low's number in some explanatory notes and decided to message her. Told her how delightful her works were and asked to meet her.

(Sounds creepy? Yeah, it sounded spooky to me on hindsight. Wouldn't be doing such a thing again.)

In all fairness, I was just complimenting her, didn't intend anything by it. Always thought that the world would be a greater place, more beautiful, if everyone just expressed their sincerest praises.

Besides, I really wanted to know if art teachers can survive well in the local bureaucracy. (I was considering that as a career, being an art teacher). And I was still ignorant then, thought the whole world was very generous with giving praises and all. If she was spooked, she hid her surprise really well.

She agreed and we met in her art space. Had a great discussion on art, Singapore's education system and life.

People who live life passionately, they make great conversationalists.
And Mr Lin replied to my queries on equities, forex, education and integrity. Quite a wonderful personality, this man.

Told me that I'd succeed in life as long as I live it with honesty. Quite surreal since he's someone from the finance industry and not, say, the church or a hospital ward.

To live with honesty, it sounded so wonderfully simple. But simplicity in concept does not equate simplicity in execution.

The talk was a real gem:

Mr Lin was from USP and managed a 4.0++ GPA all the time. Nope, he wasn't a first class honours student. He worked, he saved, he invested. He studied extra modules, out of sheer interest.

He was from a well-to-do family till his dad failed in one of his business endeavours -

Wait, I'm not really comfortable sharing his background. It felt vaguely like a betrayal.

Suffice to say, he has a magnetic presence. No wonder he managed to ascend the corporate ladder with such dexterity.
My awesome successful aunt also manages to chat with me once in a while. Though I'm not sure if it's simply because I'm related to her, haha.

She always has interesting observations about the local politics, education and business. Always a delight to ask her about her life, yup.
And so, I realised that the genuinely successful people always have time to help others along.

They aren't wrapped in a bubble of self-absorption. They are willing to share the richness of their lives and in doing so, spread an appreciation for living.


In A Conversation with Mr Lin, Shaun

June 09, 2011 , 0 Comments

Attended a Sharing on Private Wealth Management by Mr Lin, an USP alumnus.

The USP synopsis explains Mr Lin's background far better than I could:

"There is huge money in Private Wealth Management. You schmooze with society’s elite, you dine at exclusive restaurants, you cruise in luxury vehicles, you may even have personal relationships with the stars... but is there a darker side to it all?

Join us as one of our USP Alumni shares his story of challenges and dilemmas in “making it” in the tough world of Wealth Management and what he feels it means to be truly successful both at work and in life! An exciting and honest exploration, this session will be excellent for students interested to find out if Wealth Management is indeed a career for them.

Shaun Lin has been with Standard Chartered Bank since 2004, during his 7 years with SCB, he has gone from being a Personal Financial Consultant to a Priority Banking Relationship Manager and Branch Manager before moving to The Standard Chartered Private Bank as Senior Associate Director, Business Management and Special Projects, SEA. Most recently Shaun was posted to Shanghai as Head Of Business Planning and Development, and has spent the last 14 months managing the China Private Banking business. Shaun’s experience spans frontline sales & management, operational risk, business development and general management.

He is a regular speaker at both NUS and SMU since 2008 and has been invited to sit on several independent think tanks and feedback units since 2008. During his free time, Shaun is a car enthusiast and enjoys racing performance cars in Singapore and Malaysia. He currently owns two performance cars that he proudly declares are street legal! Shaun also enjoys distance running and takes part in the SCB Singapore Marathon annually. He also works with a number of volunteer organisations on a regular basis."
Unlike students from China, India and/or NUS Business School, I did not pose any questions or networked. I simply stood in a corner, quiet as a mickey mouse.

If I were to exercise my rudimentary psych understanding on myself, I'd say that I was feeling inferior and out-of-place. A Science student, attending a business talk? Such audacity! In my mind, I could imagine myself being judged and found wanting.

I wasn't really interested in private fund management. I wasn't that interested in pursuing dollars and cents. I was simply interested in the way some people are interested in watching movies or stalking strangers on Facebook. I was interested because I just was.
At the end of the talk, Mr Lin was surrounded by a knot of fervent listeners.

From the questions posed, I couldn't help feeling that the group missed his heartfelt message - to pay equal attention to both the tangible and intangible aspects of life.
Mr Lin found a mentor in Mr Viswa Sadasivan, a Nominated Member of the Parliament.

Apparently, Mr Viswa made a speech highlighting what was wrong with Singapore and compelled MM Lee to speak for the first time in 2 years during a parliamentary debate. Just reading up on Mr Viswa's background makes me like the man already. Google his name, please.

The main takeaway:

There are five pillars that define success.
1) Material wealth
2) Cordial partnerships with colleagues and subordinates
3) Close relationships with family
4) Sustained friendships
5) Power
These five pillars cannot be built sequentially, but must be done so simultaneously. Miss any of the supporting beams and life becomes a misery.

A very modern interpretation of success. Perhaps I'm not ready to digest it.
An enjoyable and insightful seminar. Mr Lin spoke well, with charisma and humour.

As with delectable dishes, one did not know what are the ingredients; one simply recognised the mastery of it all. The main lessons to be learnt was rather sketchy but that was a feeling that something useful was acquired - but what exactly is that useful something?

A little pensive, a little disturbed.
Lessons for self:
1) speak up before the lecturer has to leave (don't be painfully shy)
2) interact with fellow participants after seminar (don't be so painfully shy x 2)
3) pay equal attention to all aspects of your life
Emailed Mr Lin and he replied. Quite a pleasant surprise :]


Random event

June 07, 2011 0 Comments

I was snared by the UOB consultant. She wanted me to sign up for some monthly savings plan in the name of prudence.

Since I've nothing better to do, I decided to play along. Maybe I'd discover some useful tidbit?

"I'm sure you've never thought of retirement." She smiled and I beamed back. Erm, wrong conversation starter. "Given your age and all, retirement must be very far from your mind." Wrong wrong. I've probably spend more time obsessing over it than you did.

She launched into a very mathematical model of the savings plan. Wasn't impressed.

Started to observe her facial acne. Those powdery stuff that women place on their faces - what is it? - just doesn't cut it at close proximity.

Out of sheer curiosity, I tried using some pretentious business lingo. "May I know if this is capital guaranteed? What exactly is income smoothing?" I wanted to know what those terms mean. Free advisor, might as well ask mah.

Eventually, I left without signing up for the plan.

"Would you like to leave your contact number with me?"

"I'd prefer not to. Thanks," I smiled.

She smiled back but hers felt forced. More of a grimace, more of a conditioned reflex.

She was probably irritated. If I were her, I'd be. LOLS


Singapore Arts Festival 2011: The Conference of the Birds

June 05, 2011 0 Comments

The birds gathered as their world quaked. They couldn't thrive in this age of entropy and disenchantment. Their world was disintegrating and they needed their king - the Sigmorgh - to lead them.

Each bird represents a personality and correspondingly, a human flaw. The parrot was comfortable with imprisonment as long as it was showered with attention and creature comforts. The duck reveled in its little pool of water, seeing no need to change. The partridge gave all its attention to the precious stones while the nightingale sang to the red rose with self-indulgent melancholy. All of them were reluctant to embark on the journey to seek their Sigmorgh.

One bird - the hoopoe - rallied their spirits and thus, their adventure began.

The birds must pass seven valleys as they seek their elusive king: Talab (Yearning), Eshq (Love), Marifat (Gnosis), Istighnah (Detachment), Tawheed (Unity of God), Hayrat (Bewilderment) and, finally, Fuqur and Fane (Selflessness and Oblivion in God). These valleys of tribulations mirror the obstacles a Sufi must traverse to realise the true nature of God.

Along the way, they saw the princess who had an illicit affair with a handsome beggar (who eventually became crazed with longing). They chanced upon the death and subsequent rebirth of a phoenix. They saw moths that flirted with danger and perished in the candlelights. They were buffeted by the sandstorms and rejected at the gateway of the valleys. They suffered.

The arduous journey was too much for some birds, and they sneaked away in the night.

Eventually, only thirty birds reached the land of the Simorgh. Their king was nowhere to be seen and they despaired. In Persian, "Si" means thirty and "murgh" means birds. Simorgh - the king of the birds - was, essentially, their collective identities.

There in the Simorgh's radiant face they saw
Themselves, the Simorgh of the world - with awe
They gazed, and dared at last to comprehend
They were the Simorgh and the journey's end.
They see the Simorgh - at themselves they stare,
And see a second Simorgh standing there;
They look at both and see the two are one,
That this is that, that this, the goal is won.
They ask (but inwardly; they make no sound)
The meaning of these mysteries that confound
Their puzzled ignorance - how is it true
That 'we' is not distinguished here from 'you'?

The thirty birds seeking the Simorgh realise that the Simorgh is themselves. It is a Sufi doctrine that we need not seek God in external objects or events for God lies within ourselves. As the birds realise the truth, they now reach the station of Baqa (Subsistence) which sits atop the Mountain Qaf.
Farid Uddi Attar wrote this poem on the meaning of life, one titled The Conference of the Birds.

In 2001, the theater luminary William Teo staged this play in a disused warehouse. In 2011, the play was revisited by Jeremiah Choy as part of Singapore Arts Festival.

On the exquisite stage of wooden planks, the performers moved about. The sinuous flow of cloth and shadows as the actors whirled in tune to the accompaniment was enchanting. Time lapsed as we were transported into a world where fowls observed the follies of humans.

After the play, tea eggs were even offered to the audience. It was a thoughtful gesture, unexpected but appreciated. Theater often subjects the performers to observations of their audience, creating a metaphysical distance between the two parties. This communal sharing of food bridged the gap, bringing the performers and their audience closer.

As I peeled off the cracked shell of the tea egg, I wondered about the irony of eating a bird's egg after watching an allegory about birds.

I wondered about the coda of this play too: sometimes, what we so fervently seek may be with us all along.

*Thanks to the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation for sponsoring the tickets to this event


Whitewaters of Rikikesh, India

June 03, 2011 0 Comments

Ripped these photos off from the Internet. These images were found with "whitewater rafting in Rikikesh" as the search term.

The waters were turbulent, considering that it was summer and the Himalayan glaciers were melting all too quickly.
And so, after establishing the context, allow me to reflect on my experience:

I'm not enamoured with sports. So it was with great trepidation when I went along with my friends for a whitewater rafting experience down India's Ganges River.

27 km? What if I die? How do I advance humanity without passing on the genes for enhanced lips and water-sheltering brows?

Drowning in the icy glacial waters from the Himalayan mountain range wasn't how I envisioned my death. I  often thought that I'd die from a series of stabbing cardiac pains while teaching. Perhaps struck by lightning while jaywalking. Just not drown in a freezing river. Nope, drowning didn't cross my mind.

To my great surprise, I survived the trip. And enjoyed it as well.

There are experiences that become beautiful on hindsight and there are experiences that are beautiful even as one experiences it. This adventure was the latter.

I found myself wishing that my close friends and family were with me. Floating along the life-giving river, hemmed in by picturesque mountains on the left and right. Swirling in tornadoes of water. Swallowed by towering waves.

It was sheer craziness. The thrills, the adrenaline rush. Crazy, crazy fun. It reminded me of the time when I cycled freehand down a particularly steep slope. One mistake then would result in a grievous injury. But the fun, the fun!

The more notable rapids even have names. Three Blind Mice describes a series of three somewhat milder confluences. Roller Coaster is a rather unimaginative misnomer for a mighty terror.

I didn't lose my life. And I gained something important:
It is okay to live wildly. It's even okay to jump off a cliff occasionally.
Yes, the creature jumping into the freezing waters (above) is me.