Thoughts From The Universe

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Perhaps it was luck, perhaps it was fate, I chanced upon Mike Dooley's book in University of Sheffield's Honesty Library. The snippets of encouragement within were what I needed.

Mike Dooley was a former accountant turned adventurer. He was drawn into the intricacies of the human mind, the beauty that resonated through our very neurons. He was also frustrated by the limiting beliefs ingrained into the population, so much so that these people stagnate, unwilling - thus unable - to think greater.

Enticed by the prospect of receiving a daily injection of optimism, I signed up for personalised notes from his website, The Universe.

This was the first note I received:

Not having enough money, XY, is never the problem it seems.

First, lack is always temporary.

Second, change is only ever a few thoughts away.

And third, it's not like you haven't performed miracles before.

Honey, honey 
-The Universe

It's such an interesting note.

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MAS Announces New Designs for Singapore Coins

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Image collated from Today website
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has announced that it would be rolling out a new series of coins by the middle of this year.  These coins look modern and sleek with satisfyingly circular shapes.

Singapore's $1 coin bears a suspicious resemblance to England's 2 pounds coin. It has a silver center encircled by a bronze-colored ring. "This similarity does seem coincidental," Josiah Teo, an oil-and-gas trader at the Harbour Front Hub, said. "Are the designers from England? Anyway, the new $1 coin looks cool and I've no quibble with its aesthetics."

The new Singapore $1 coin (left) and
current UK 2 pounds coin (right).
For every country, nation building comes first and Singapore is no exception. Hence, the $1 coin depicts the Merlion, a state-constructed and state-sanctioned icon. "It is so cool that we are using our local legend on this nice, shiny coin," Felicia Tee, a professional housewife, mused. "It looks adorable, like a fishy cat or catty fish."

The economy, as always, is vital. The 50¢ and 20¢ coins reflect Singapore's role as a maritime and aviation hub.
The houses for Singaporeans, meanwhile, become immortalised in the more lowly 10¢ coins. Arts, as embodied as the Esplanade in the 5¢ coins, come last.


"It is clear that they have their priorities right," Mr Teo suggested, "after all, if there is a need, we can easily build more flats. Besides, poetry is a luxury we cannot afford."

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Three Vignettes

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Today, Darren and I attended a workshop by Sheffield Uni WriteSoc. 

For the first vignette, each person was supposed to form a story from four words suggested by another person. For the second part, we chose one word and described an obsession based on that word. For the final section, we linked the two stories together. 

It was an enjoyable and interesting experience. Everyone came up with unique pieces. Thanks, Theo, for organising this.

The below vignettes are my attempts:

Reservoir Dogs - Art History - Fear - Polo

Those reservoir dogs, they wonder. They wonder what it would be like to be warm, to be snug, to be led around by the leash. They wonder, wonder with their doggy minds.

To them, studying is a puzzle, art history is a puzzle. These subjects - try as they might - they can't fit the knowledge together. They fear it's because they're stupid.

They dare not acknowledge this fear.

And so, they wonder and fear, dreaming. Then, that albino retriever saunters past, leading its owner to a polo game. Even human beings like to chase after balls too.

Home

You finger that memory, feeling its rough, brittle surface. That memory contains the faces of your father and your mother, your family, friends. Everyone whom you've stalked on Facebook. Everyone whom you've loved, Liked and disLiked.

It's all about your home, isn't it? But what's a home? To a snail, a home is where-ever its shell is. But, to you, what is a home?

Home is the postcard, 5 inches by 7 inches, that your friend just sent. Home is the rocking chair that creaks. Home is the pastas, the pizzas, the paninis.

You, you left your home. YOU left it.

Your home, it'd be there when you return. Yes, it'd remain. But the home that remained is not the home that you've left.

The Different Homes

I seduce you with my honeyed scent and brilliant yellow clothes. From the corner of your vision, you see me. Me, standing by the pathway, the sunshine lighting up my face.

You bend down, pat my head. "What a beautiful daffodil!" Your eyes sparkle. You love it when your home is tidy, neat and when we, blooming daffodils, salute along the pebble pathway.

Happily, you sashay out, leaving the place you call home.

A pack of reservoir dogs come past. Like you, they are drawn to my beauty. (Well... everyone is drawn to my beauty but that's another story.)

One of them raise its left hind leg above me and a stream of hot canine pee cascade on my upturned face.

I bob with pleasure, soaking in all the nutrients, all the goodness.

You return, to this cottage you call home. You bend down, look at me, smell me and you wonder why my scent is different.

The home that remained and the home you left are different.

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Soaring with the Gulls

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Those gulls - soaring, calling - they seem happy. They flap their wings, dancing on currents, enjoying the scalding winds that brush across their faces. I wish I can be one of them, soaring and calling too.

Against tides of crimson, they play. The clouds drift by as the sun spills brilliance above the sea, across the waters. Joyfully, they play.

How do we describe those powerful voices, those voices that sing of freedom? Are they 'caws', 'cries', 'chirps','squawks' or 'squeals'? I wish that there is a word that can encapsulate the voices of the soaring seagulls. Their voices resonate with the power of the sea.

I imagine myself turning into a gull - flesh melting into feathers, mouth sharpening into a beak, wings soaring, flying with a wild abandonment. A gull, crying with pleasure.

How wonderful it must be, to soar, to soar in a sky without limits! How inspiring, how uplifting!

Then, thoughts of gulls fighting over food and shitting all over the streets came into my mind. The magic of the moment was abruptly lost.

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First Chinese New Year Without My Family

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It feels strange, spending this Chinese New Year without my family.

Two weeks ago, armed with a bag of traditional goodies, I landed in Leeds, England. This place was as foreign to me as Antartica or Africa. It was a place that I've chanced upon, a place that had been represented by pixels on a computer screen. It seemed fictitious, a place that I could discover only through books, Yahoo and Google.

But it has become a real place with people and parks and snow - a place no longer constructed from my imagination. It is cold - much colder than Singapore - and the winds are bone-biting. I no longer scoff at descriptions of gusts that blow people about.

Snow drifts with melodic rhythms. They dance in a spirals, on air currents made visible. Flakes of whiteness, flaking, swirling, they are free. And I feel like them. Free. Free from a tangle of social expectations, free in a foreign land. Free from a mind that keeps constructing, free from the must-bes, the could-bes, the ought-to-bes.

Unlike others, I don't miss my friends or my favourite haunts or the food in Singapore. I don't miss my schoolmates or the satay beehoon. They'd be there when I'm back - different perhaps, but still there.

Then, Chinese New Year rolled about and I realised that I'm supposed to miss my family.

How do I go about missing people? Is there a step-by-step guide? Isn't missing people supposed to be more ... instinctive?

Then, my father sent me photos of the family feasting, He left a message on Facebook, reminding me to wear more clothes when sleeping. I have the habit of kicking off my blanket while asleep and he often picks up the blanket to cover me again. He can't do it now, given that we're on different continents.

My cousin tagged me in a video of the entire family - almost fifty people - holidaying in Malaysia. They were setting off fireworks and laughing.

Perhaps it's easier to miss people, easier that I've imagined. Perhaps, I was missing the idea of missing.

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The Population White Paper: Singapore - a Home for Money

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The Singapore government has always been saying that we need foreign workers to do jobs that Singaporeans don't want to do. But what about jobs that Singaporeans want to do?

At a recent Social Policies Forum 2013: Income Inequality (organised by the NUS Political Association and Tembusu College), an experienced doctor asked Mr Vikram Nair, Member of Parliament, Sembawang GRC about this. This doctor has advised his students to be really filial to their parents because it's unlikely that they'd be able to afford their housing any time soon. In his time, housing was affordable. But now, doctors can be imported from neighbouring countries and this has led to a wage suppression. Housing is no longer that affordable. Importing foreign doctors is the easiest and quickest route to meet the needs of a burgeoning population. But what about those bright, ambitious Singaporeans who want to practise medicine?

Another engineer came back to NUS to study a Masters degree. She loves being an engineer and would want to work as an engineer. But the competition from foreign engineers is fierce. Why would her company give her a wage increase if it could hire 3 more foreign engineers who're willing to settle for less?

This lady engineer made another interesting point: there're probably Singaporeans who'd love to work in the service industry - an industry often cited by the government that Singaporeans avoid. But they can't afford to work in that industry because they can't survive on the salaries it offer.

Foreigners have been brought in and, yes, sometimes they work at jobs that Singaporeans are disinclined to. But it's also true that they compete with Singaporeans for jobs that they want to.

Discussion thread available at: The Kent Ridge Common
*
Dr Petunia Lee paints a frightening - and all too plausible - future for an overcrowded Singapore.

Our transport, mail and education systems increasingly pivot about making more profits. These public systems are no longer about serving the public; they're about making more money from the public.

Our best youths will go abroad because they're wanted there and the quality of life is better. For example, 4 terrace houses in Sheffield, England cost as much as one - only one - terrace house in Singapore. The food prices are surprisingly more affordable.

Older folks would not want to retire in Singapore. Why would they? They can have a higher quality of life elsewhere on a lower budget. They can sustain longer on their limited resources.

Foreign workers would want to come to Singapore. Our country treats them really nicely (as it should). The problems develop when Singapore doesn't treat her own people as nicely.

Would Singapore merely be a place like all other global cities? Will it welcome transient people with transient affections with open arms, while stacking the cards against her own citizens?
*
The scenario that Dr Lee paints is all the more frightening because there're people around me already planning for a future that does not involve Singapore. Young friends seeking greener pastures. Older uncles seeking serene meadows.

My uncle, for example. He intends to retire in Thailand. Rent out his home in Singapore, collect monthly rentals and live out a life of comfort with his wife and adopted Thai daughter.  

Like other friends, I'm increasingly tempted by the allures of living overseas. Although it has only been a week in England, I feel peace, a kind of peace that I've not felt for a good long time in Singapore. 

Our country moves at a relentless tempo. I couldn't slow down to observe the bougainvilleas without feeling guilty, without feeling that I ought to be spending my time more productively. Slowing down seems like a luxury.

Our country has been increasingly constructed to be a cathedral to businesses, to GDP, to money and economy. It pivots about dollars, not people.

Make no mistake, I'm thankful for the opportunities that Singapore has offered. I love Singapore, but I'm no longer sure if Singapore loves me.
Chilled by the latest White Paper on Population
by the Sg government.

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JMW Turner in Millenium Gallery, Sheffield

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Joseph Mallord William Turner is a landscape artist. He paints stunning images of Nature, with broad, evocative strokes. He has been frequently described as "the painter of light".

As I stood before his painting in a Sheffield museum, a tsunami of joy crashed over me.

Colours. Serene sweeps of colours. Crimson and beige and sapphire. Tangerine and brown. Beautiful colours. They dance across the canvas.

Tears - I'm not kidding - tears actually shimmered above my eyes, threatening to spill over. I was gripped by the painting, by standing afore a moment of history.

This joy was absolute, encompassing. Nature, beautiful, dramatic Nature.

Then, from the corner of my eyes, I spied movement. My friend unexpectedly stood beside me. He grinned and lifted his eyebrows. What's this abstract work about? His brows wiggled.

That moment of sheer joy evaporated.

JMW Turner, Landscape with Water
Source credit: Culture 24
Photography isn't allowed in the Millenium Gallery.
This photo, which I found online, simply
doesn't do the painting justice.

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A Thank You Card in the Mail

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I received a very special card from my ex-student last November. It came when I was feeling worthless from months of futile scientific research. Chemicals bubbled, then fizzled. Experiments came and went. Failures lined up to greet me. Reprimands saturated the lab.

This card, it came right when I needed it.

It was a simple card, with checkered hues of grey, white and silver. It was a simple card expressing an expansive and overwhelming warmth.



"Lastly, I feel a very unusual sensation. If it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude."

I will remember this phrase for life. Thanks, Nelson, for being a great student.

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