Monday, December 10, 2012



In the dark reaches of the night
You'll never see
How I slash my sword at the whispers
As they breathe,

In the dark reaches of the night
You'll never dream
How I grasp my cloak against the chill
As they taunt,

In the dark reaches of the night
You'll never know
How I clench my fingers around the rope
As they growl,
"Let go."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Independence & vulnerability

Whenever I have trouble opening bottles or jars I always wish I had a male around.

It is the most sexist thing, yet I like to think of it as being realistic also. Mr TDH says I need to work on my damsel in distress act--I don't have much of one. The fierce independence comes from my dad; Blink has it too. It was embedded into us, both by example and by circumstance. I'd have said nurture, but I think for me independence is more of a defence mechanism and such things don't generally come about as a response to nuture.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be in partnership with someone. To have someone say, "Hey, you washed the dishes, I'll take out the garbage." It's something so simple, isn't it? In my family the division of labour was traditional: mom cooked, cleaned, ironed, made sure the children got to school on time & did homework; dad went to work, brought home the bacon, mowed the lawn, fixed anything broken in the house and ensured the car was in tip-top condition. We were, in this respect, an utterly traditional family.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a housewife, like my mother. Not because I wanted to be like her, but because I agreed with the values espoused in the concept: children are important, they are only young once, it's vital to value the time you have with them, to be around to inculcate values and build bonds with them and nurture them. As I grew older, however, I came to almost despise my mother as someone who is weak, powerless. Her world is narrow, confined to the home and family and to her religious faith. She knows nothing of making it "out there"; instead, she seems almost bewildered by the complexities of modern urban life and can barely comprehend the reality of the daily challenges faced by those of us who are, by necessity, part of the rat race.

Still, in wrestling with a bottle and wishing there were a male around to help open it for me, I experience the seductive lure of longing for someone to lean on. I've always thought mom has been exceedingly lucky to meet dad, the quintessential responsible and reliable Man with a capital M. So in a way I don't blame her for leaning on him, because it is just so freeing not to have to think or worry about many of the day-to-day gritty realities of life. Sometimes I wish I could do that, too. I wish there were someone who could send my car for servicing on my behalf, help me file paperwork for taxes, ensure the garbage was taken out. Maybe what I need is a butler... or a PA.

On the other hand, when you choose to lean on someone, you surrender your independence, even if only temporarily. It requires trust and vulnerability, both very scary propositions. I am caught in this tug-of-war between wishing I had someone to depend on and fearing that whoever it is might not be the pillar of strength of my fantasies. Once you allow yourself to be vulnerable, there's no going back. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever meet someone who will inspire me enough to make me want to attempt that leap of faith.

As for that bottle I was wrestling with? I grabbed a pen-knife and lopped the top off. Fortunately it was made of plastic... that wouldn't have gone over nearly so well with glass.

Friday, September 21, 2012


I hate it when a favourite pair of shoes falls apart. Everything else is replaceable, but shoes... it's so difficult to find a pair of shoes that are the complete package -- a delight to look at and heaven to wear. Blast.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's all in the mind

Sometimes I wonder if those mosquito mat thingies really work or if the effect if just psychological. Like, you know you've put something out to repel ze mozzies, so your brain relaxes and you're able to go to sleep. After all, the brain is a very powerful organ.

I wonder the same about many other things. Like, are those medicines really efficacious or did I just trick my brain into thinking they are, which is why I feel better? How much of what we perceive and experience is real, and how much just imagined?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Godliness with contentment is great gain

The problem with the good ol' days is that they have this seductive, nostalgic allure. But you can't go back, and even if you could, it wouldn't be the same, coz you're not the same person you were then. Neither is anyone else. It was a moment in time that has passed, never to be repeated.

But their sheer elusiveness wraps those days in even greater temptation. We always want what we can't have, hence the 10th commandment intoning, "Do not covet." And we are also always in a seeming state of chronic discontent, incessantly evaluating, weighing, comparing, so that memories of those good ol' days begin to build up in our mind to a state of near-perfection.

Living in the moment is a challenge. Most urban professionals, I suspect, live in the future, gunning for the next promotion, electronic gadget, exotic vacation. Others secretly live in the past, one filled with bitter regrets and impotent "what-ifs". To be fully present in the now is to be aware of it: "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it," the psalmist wrote. Rejoicing -- giving thanks -- breeds contentment. Contentment allows us to sink into the present without constantly looking over our shoulder or straining our necks to peer around the next bend in the road.

It's difficult to be content when the lure of the good ol' days beckons. Sometimes I wonder if I was truly happier then, or if it is merely an illusion, encouraged by the passage of time. It's easy to create a fantasy in the mind that can never be challenged by reality, since you can never go back or recreate those events. But fantasy or not, I'm convinced that if I keep looking back, I'll end up missing the wonder of that which is right under my nose. So I fight to stay in the present, to cultivate contentment, to be thankful. I can't deny that there's much to be thankful for, even if life has not turned out exactly the way I wished it had.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Hmm. Kindle Paperwhite. SO TEMPTING. (Also a lot more cheaper than an iPad... but a lot harder to get hold of. Dammit.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Boys vs men

Seen on Facebook:

    A boy will ask for a naked picture. A man will ask for a picture without makeup.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Singleness rocks, #1

One of the great things about living alone is you can lick the plate and no one will ever know.

...unless you blab it to your blog.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

I need an advertising website too

"Your Happily Ever After is made up of a series of day-in-day-out Happily Here & Nows."
--Robert Goodman

I'm still in the process of reading up on his "Good-man Methodology" to see whether I agree with it, but I definitely agree with the quote above.

His 'quest' for his 'Heroine' took twelve years. TWELVE YEARS! I wanna say I can't wait that long, but I know I'll jolly well have to if that's what God wants. But still -- TWELVE YEARS!

Friday, May 11, 2012


I was intrigued after reading about Alethea Kontis' book, Enchanted, on John Scalzi's blog; so I went over to Amazon to check it out, thinking I might get the ebook for my iPod Touch.

$11.55 for the hardcover version and $10.36 for the digital version?! For some reason I expected the digital version to be maybe about half the price of the physical book because, well, you don't have printing costs, or storage or shipping costs, and don't you want to entice readers to buy it? Pricing it so close to the physical copy makes no sense whatsoever to me. I think I'll see whether Borders or MPH carries the title, and if not, how much it'll cost for them to order it for me. If I'm going to pay that much, I'd rather have the real thing anyway.

Monday, April 30, 2012

It takes all kinds

I don't understand people who read a review of a romance novel and complain that the review contains spoilers. Hello, people? Are you telling me that you did not know the hero and heroine would end up together?!

Talk about being unclear of the concept!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dads say the darndest things

I'm pretty sure no other father has ever told his daughter that partial starvation is preferable to overeating.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Yo, girl: man up, dudette!

I can't stand helpless women. Really! I feel like they're traitors to the entire female race. It makes me want to strangle them.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not a hard-as-nails, dyed-in-the-wool feminist. I like it when guys offer to help me carry heavy stuff or open stubborn jam jars. It's only logical to get their help at such times, since they're biologically wired to be tonnes better at doing these things than I am. And I don't mind being driven around by a guy, although if he's a bad driver, I'd much rather take over the wheel. Same goes if he drives like an uncle: slow drivers are frustrating!

But I digress.

I've tried and tried to figure out why helpless women annoy me so much. It's not just because they give the rest of us a bad rep and reinforce stereotypes that we've been trying forever to shake off. No, I think it's got more to do with the fact that (in my view) they're discarding their God-given brains and abilities and taking the easy way out instead, leaning on others to think for them and act for them. Not only is it a form of manipulation, it's also such a waste. They're pretending to be helpless, and people who aren't real drive me crazy.

Modern love stories seem to abound with helpless women. I'm not quite sure what Mills & Boon is doing, but here is a typical plot:

    Beautiful poor girl bumps into handsome billionaire or millionaire. He is either Italian, Spanish or Greek. Occasionally he is Russian but for some reason he is never French, American or Swedish (to name a few). Said millionaire is a known playboy and the poor girl is well aware that he is bad news: for one thing, she's out of his league, and for another, he will never commit to her. BUT SHE JUST CAN'T HELP HERSELF. Every time she comes within two feet of him, her brain turns to mush, her willpower evaporates and all she can think of is jumping his bones. The millionaire, on the other hand, is cynically used to girls falling all over him, but since he has the hots for her, he happily capitalises on her susceptibility. They end up in bed. She falls in love and agonises over it. Then she accidentally gets pregnant and dares not tell him because he might think she purposely tried to trap him into marriage. She runs away. He realises he can't live without her, and chases after her. Ta-da! They confess their love, and get married.

I've been reading M&B forever. They have been using this plot for what feels like the entire last decade, and it's getting old FAST. I know, I know, why don't I just stop reading, right? Romance is my personal guilty pleasure, for when I want something light and entertaining to read that won't tax my brain too much. But... urgh. I am so DONE with wimpy female lead characters who allow their hormones to lead them around by the nose. They are just as annoying as real-life helpless women!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Adventures of an Amazon ebook buyer

I finally managed to get the Kindle app to cooperate with me. From which I have discovered:
  • I have some sort of obsessive personality (okay, I already knew this) that makes me want to download every single free ebook available.

  • That is, not those copyright-expired free books like the ones you can get from Project Gutenberg, but those that are limited-time free offers before they go back up in price. (eReaderIQ is your friend -- it tracks prices of Kindle books and updates the free list hourly).

  • Therefore, not only am I obsessive, I am also kiasu. Oh well... proof I am Malaysian? :p

  • Even after culling those with bad reviews and ignoring the genres I don't generally read, I still have almost 1,000 books in my library. Eek!

  • Which makes it annoying that I can't search my library by genre. Stanza has spoilt me.

  • I can't even search for books by title keyword or 'recently read'! I forgot the title of the one I was reading and had to scroll through the entire list before finding it again. *grumbles*

  • And then I can't properly delete a book from my library on the Kindle app. I can only "archive" books; to delete them, I've to go to Amazon's homepage and log into my account from there.

  • I'm deleting books? *gasp* But you never give or throw away physical books, Sunflower! Well, I choose my physical books carefully, but I'm allowing myself to experiment with free ebooks. After all, never try, never know, right?

  • Now you see how I ended up with 1,000 titles...

  • Oh, most riveting title I've seen so far: Vanishing Penis Mysteries. *snicker*

  • (I didn't buy it. Really, I didn't! It only had one star!)

  • Yes, I rely heavily on reviews and a good synopsis to influence my purchasing decisions. I don't really care about the cover of the book.

  • For people who are supposedly good with words, many authors are hopeless at providing a sypnosis or interesting product description. See this one, for instance:
      Short... Sharp... Surprising.  :0)
    Yes, very informative, thank you very much.

  • On the other hand, there are the wonderfully complex synopses that make my head spin and cause me to think, "This book sounds WAY too complicated for me!"

  • Then there are the ones with grammatical or spelling errors, which I always take to be a Very Bad Sign and a Portent of Things To Come.

  • I have to say the best and most hilarious sypnosis I've read so far has been this one. If the synopsis is that funny, how much more amazing must be the book be?!?

  • One thing I really don't understand, though: what's all the fixation with stating wordcounts in the product description? Are you writing essays for fifth grade or something?

  • When the product description doesn't help, thank God for reviews: many longish positive reviews give a much more useful and detailed synopsis of the story than the authors themselves.

  • And the one- or two-star reviews are usually illuminating. Any review that says "bad grammar" has me closing the browser page immediately. I already see enough bad grammar from students every day!

  • Even with all the careful choosing, I have to say I've ended up with some doozies, and have discovered that there is a lot of crap in the Kindle store :(

  • But at the end of it all, this is what I really want to know: Who the heck is Fiona?!? (After purchasing an ebook, this is the URL you get:

Thursday, March 29, 2012


A lot of Christians like to believe that God helps those who help themselves, but that's not in the Bible, and definitely not even a biblical concept. The whole point of the Christian faith is that we were not able to help ourselves, which is why God had to make the first move. If we were able to help ourselves, we wouldn't need Him!

Anyway, today I was reading Charles Kingsley's collection (translation?) of Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children (a free ebook from Project Gutenberg). And look what I found on page 139, when Pallas Athené, also known as Athena, the goddess of war, says to Perseus -- you know, that guy who killed Medusa:

    "Perseus, you have played the man, and see, you have your reward. Know now that the Gods are just, and help him who helps himself."

Uh-huh. You read that right. The line is from a Greek MYTH.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


My phone's screen seems to have died once and for all yesterday evening. I say "seems to" because it has threatened to die before, but miraculously resurrected itself after the passing of minutes. But hours -- now, this is new. Looks like it's really dead. Is it really dead? *poke*

So now I am fiddling with the new phone and I had forgotten how much effort it takes to set up a new phone, to make sure all the settings are just exactly the way you want it. By which I mean, just exactly the way they were on the previous phone, of course. What did you think I meant?

And then I realise that, although somehow all the pictures on the memory card are still there, my ringtone isn't -- the MacGyver theme song that I've been using for the past three years. Three years?! My God, Sunflower! It's time for a change! Yes, yes, except I can't think of anything else. It needs to be something DRAMATIC! And DISTINCTIVE! And something that I can hear over and over again for three years without driving me crazy. Because, you know, I'm already crazy enough all by myself. I don't need help with that.

I can't even remember how I found the theme I was using on the previous phone. Which website did I use? Thank goodness for Google: I don't need the exact same website when there are 7,640,000 other options. I really pity the 7,640,000th one on that list because I bet nobody ever visits it, poor neglected thing. Really, what did it ever do to deserve to be ranked 7,640,000th on a Google search for "Nokia themes"? As for what to do when I've finally located a theme I can live with -- I have a vague recollection of having bought an el cheapo bluetooth dongle (probably cost like RM10 or something) and bluetoothed the theme & the MacGyver song over to the phone from my PC three years ago. But I wouldn't swear to it if you asked me. That kind of thing is not worth perjuring one's self for. I also wouldn't swear as to the location of that dongle now. Looks like another visit to Digital Mall is in order. (Mr TDH, are you listening? :p)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A relatively recent reality

In Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, she talks about a cultural change that began to take place at the beginning of the 20th century: the shift from a "Culture of Character" to a "Culture of Personality".

I'm fascinated by this because it shows that our society's obsession with image is a relatively recent thing. According to historian Warren Susman (whom Cain quotes in her book), image only began to achieve a status of great importance after the industrial revolution, when people moved away from their small towns and began converging in cities. Previously, they had lived among communities who had known them all their lives, but now they had to prove themselves to strangers, and that's when the ability to "sell yourself" became important.

    In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honourable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private... But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them... "The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer," Susman famously wrote. "Every American was to become a performing self." (p.21)

No wonder we talk about people wearing masks. The metaphor fits.

Susman's research revealed that self-help books of the 19th century emphasised virtues like duty, morals, manners, integrity, and good works, while by the early 20th century, authors were advising people how to be magnetic, fascinating, stunning, attractive, forceful, and energetic. 1920, popular self-help guides had changed their focus from inner virtue to outer charm -- "to know what to say and how to say it," as one manual put it. "To create a personality is power," advised another. (p.22)

At the same time, Cain says, advertisements moved from "straightforward product announcements" to the kind of ads we see today -- the kind that prey on people's insecurities and promise to give you a better life, make you more successful, bring you more friends, get you the man or woman of your dreams, if you will only use that product.

As someone who chafes against society's ridiculous preoccupation with image, I'm comforted by the thought that we haven't always been like this; but we've gone so far in the other direction now that I don't know if we will ever go back. We are so wired to respond to those who fit The Image that studies have shown a person who speaks out often, speaks well and speaks confidently is usually considered more intelligent, more likeable and even better-looking than someone who is quieter or speaks more slowly! Cain talks about how people tend to look up to, trust and follow leaders who have more charisma, who are able to project the image we want to see. The problem is that these people might not be good leaders. They are simply able to make you BELIEVE that they are. (This is also why democracy isn't working all that well, by the way. Because people are inept at evaluating who would be the best candidate for office.)

I am going to go one step further and say that this might be one of the reasons why the divorce rate is rising in many countries. The preoccupation with image causes both genders to portray an image of themselves which may not be all they truly are. We "sell ourselves" to potential employers, and when it comes to relationships we also think we have to "sell ourselves" to a potential partner.

At work you usually don't apply for jobs you aren't capable of or don't have some aptitude for, so if the employer does decide to hire you, you're able to perform more or less as promised. On the other hand, when both partners "sell themselves" to each other, they each fall for an image which doesn't truly reflect the person inside. Some of it might be truth, some might be exaggeration, some might be omission, and some might be wishful thinking. Marriage is all about intimacy, but how can you become intimate with an illusion? Especially when your own mask prevents true connection with the person you really are?

Monday, March 26, 2012


So yesterday I was in a shopping mall and stopped by a phone store to ask about the issues I've been having with my phone's display screen. "We can repair it in one or two hours for you," the guy said confidently. "That'll be RM100."


He said it is a common problem all slider phones encounter sooner or later -- WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY TELL ME THIS -- something about contact problems, the ribbon getting dislodged over time as you keep sliding the screen section up and down. I told him I've had this phone since May 2009 and he said I was very lucky the screen had lasted that long! Some people, he claimed, run into this problem after a year.

I got distracted by the shiny all around me and started looking at the new phones. I've used Nokia forever because it was the most user-friendly phone way back when, and once I'm comfortable with something I don't switch, unless I've powerful reason to. The iPhone is a pretty powerful reason, but its price is also a pretty powerful deterrent!

Trying out the Nokia 300's touchscreen, I commented it wasn't as sensitive as the iPhone's. "Of course not -- you can't compare an RM400 phone with something that costs five times that!" exclaimed the guy. Point taken.

But what really decided me was when I discovered that you can't set any shortcut to go directly into composing text messages. I text a lot and this is one of the features I use the most on my current phone: Once the keypad is unlocked, all it takes is one press of the left centre button and I'm immediately in compose mode. On the touchscreen phone you need to go to Messages, then Compose, and with the fiddliness of the screen sensitivity, it's just not as convenient. So I got the non-touchscreen Nokia C2-01. Sticking with a dumb phone for now :p

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Having my cake but not eating it... yet

One reason why you should never go shopping when you're feeling down: you might end up with fourteen-dollar cake.

Not that I've eaten it, mind you. It's sitting in my fridge. But not for long!

I've been well and truly affected by the "city mentality", as I like to call it. My mother would be horrified at the thought of paying seven dollars for a single slice of cake, the same way she's horrified at the thought of paying ten dollars for cup of coffee. When I first came here as a student, I thought the same thing. Who needs Starbucks?

Of course a non-coffee drinker would find it easy to turn up her nose at the mad coffee worshippers who fall down at the feet of the corporate giant with the green-and-white logo. But my sweet tooth sits up and takes notice at the mere mention of the four-letter word starting with C. CAKE? Where??!? Gimme!

Expensive is relative. The first time you hear of it, yes, you shudder at the expense. The second time, you go, "Hmmm." The third time, you agree to give it a try "just to see". After you taste it, you think, "Perhaps it's worth it." The next time, you think, "Oh well, once in a while, it's a treat." And there begins the slippery slope downwards...

When we come down to it, RM7 isn't that expensive in the scheme of things -- or so we tell ourselves. It's about the price of a hawker meal + soft drink. It's less than a movie ticket. It's... "almost nothing".

I've never forgot what a financially-savvy friend told me once: these kinds of expenses are called the "latte factor". They're the seemingly small but recurring expenses that leech you of money unnecessarily. If you buy one Starbucks latte a day, she said, just imagine if you had saved that money -- at the end of the month you'd have RM220 (assuming you only buy it on weekdays, because that's when you most need the morning pick-me-up). By the end of the year you'd have RM11,440. In five years you'd have saved RM57,200. Do the figures make you feel a little ill? Because they do me.

Ever since that illuminating conversation, I've been slightly more mindful about my purchases. But somehow I can't cut out the little treats... right now there's a bottle of Lay's barbecue-flavoured potato chips sitting in front of me, at the table. It had served as munchies while typing my thesis the other day. There's still about half a bottle left, I believe.

Anyway, back to the cake... pecan butterscotch and Oreo cheese. I believe either would qualify for the perfect Saturday morning breakfast. Mmm-hmmmm. *slurp*

Monday, March 19, 2012

Consider this an ode to ankles

I twisted my ankle last week, slipping on the stairs. Missed the last step and... well, you know the rest. Being a doctor's kid, I decided it probably wasn't fractured because it didn't hurt that much, and since I was on my way out of the house, I continued on to the seminar I was attending.

Fast-forward two days later and I hobbled to work leaning on a walking stick and looking for all the world like a grandma, thinking, I can do this. But even though I tried not to stand or walk around too much, the ankle was getting more painful. My colleague scolded me for not getting it looked at by a doctor: "What if it's fractured?" That, coupled with the pain, drove me to the hospital next door.

The good news was it wasn't fractured; the other good news was that I got a week off work, with orders to stay off my feet!

The rest has done wonders, and taught me more about faith. You don't realise how much faith you put in all your body parts until they fail you. Now every time I take a step, I am wondering, Is this okay? Will the ankle hold up? Am I over-straining it? I really have never considered before whether my ankle would or would not take my weight. It simply did.

We talk about taking things for granted like that is a bad thing. When I was growing up, I heard a lot of sermons cautioning us against taking God for granted, and we're also often warned not to take our parents for granted. The funny thing is that when we are growing up, aren't we encouraged to take things for granted? You want your child to feel secure. You don't keep telling him how lucky he is that you decided to keep him, and that he has food to eat and a roof over his head, and clothes to wear. You don't tell him that he should be grateful he is loved. So when we're young it's okay to take things for granted, but when we're older we shouldn't? Hmmm.

I'm all for an attitude of thanksgiving, but I think taking things for granted is not necessarily bad. All these years I have taken my ankles for granted because they have been working the way they're supposed to. When you can't take something for granted, like now, it's a bad sign! Why are we made to feel guilty when we take things for granted?

So yes, I am very happy that I've had ankles which work well (not to mention other body parts), and I am amazed that I've never before given a thought to the importance of ankles, and I'm sorry for people who don't have ankles that work well, but I don't think it's terrible that I've never before thought to write an ode to ankles.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dumb phone or smart phone?

My cellphone is dying -- or at least the display is. I'm trying to decide if I should stick with a non-smartphone Nokia or go over to the Dark Side. Here's the dilemma:
  1. I'm pretty sure I don't need to have 24/7 access to the Internet. I don't want to spend extra on a monthly data plan. But having a smartphone without a data plan sounds a bit dumb too, like putting yourself under a handicap. In Mr TDH's words: "It's like buying a car without wheels!"

  2. If I were going to get a smartphone, I'd get the iPhone because I believe it's the best on the market right now. But it's HELLA EXPENSIVE. And I'm sure I don't really need all those features...

  3. ...which are nevertheless cool to have, and useful even -- some of them, at least. I like how you can easily back up data on the iPhone by syncing with iTunes, and how it organises SMSes so you can quickly find a past SMS you've received or sent, and I really like the quality of the iPhone camera, dammit.

I guess if I were to win the lottery tomorrow I wouldn't think twice -- I'd just get the iPhone. Of course, to win the lottery you actually have to BUY tickets...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let's not add to the damage, eh

I think I know why the Ph.D is popularly known as "permanent head damage". Because if you spend THAT much time doing research and writing your thesis, you are bound to end up with head damage! Research and writing are generally solitary pursuits. You're going to end up living in your head! And as we all know, that ain't exactly healthy...

I love what Sir Ken Robinson says about education: that the more we have of it, the more it seems to focus mainly on what we have in our heads, and if you do things right, if you rise up to the pinnacle, you end up becoming an academic -- a university professor.

"There's something curious about professors -- in my experience, not all of them, but typically -- they live in their heads. They live up there, and slightly to one side. They're disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. It's a way of getting their head to meetings." I love his humour.

So, yes. Working on my Master's thesis I already feel like I am getting head damage. I don't exactly want to make it permanent!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Education and passion

I was listening to a TED talk two nights ago when I heard a very interesting story about a lady called Gillian Lynne (the story starts at 15:15 in the video). The story goes that there was once an eight-year-old girl who was, in the storyteller's words, "hopeless" at school; teachers complained she had difficulty concentrating and couldn't sit still. They suspected that she had a learning disorder. So her parents took her to see a specialist, who, after listening to Gillian and her mother, told Gillian that he had to speak to her mother privately. The two adults withdrew from the room, but before doing so, the doctor turned the radio on.

They stood outside the room and watched as Gillian began dancing to the music. The doctor turned to the mother and said, "Mrs Lynne, Gillian isn't sick -- she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school."

And her mother did.

"We walked in this room, and it was full of people like me: people who couldn't sit still, people who had to move to think," Gillian recalled.

In the end she became a soloist with the Royal Ballet Company, eventually founding her own dance company and going on to choreograph and direct shows on film, television and stage -- including Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats and Phantom of the Opera. (Here's her list of achievements, if you're interested.)

What fascinates me about this story is that it could so easily have gone the other way. If her parents and teachers and the doctor had tried to push her into the conventional "student" mould, none of this might have happened. As the storyteller (Sir Ken Robinson) noted, "Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down."

Sometimes I wonder how many of our students we are doing a disservice to by expecting them to fit into our "assembly line" system of education. How many of them would be outstanding or do great and wonderful things if they weren't trying so hard to fit into the accepted mould.

And sometimes I wonder how different I might be if my parents had been able to see outside that conventional academic mould and encouraged my interest or aptitude in writing. "We didn't stop you from doing it," my dad said recently, when I mentioned that I would have appreciated more support. Well, yes, but you never seemed particularly interested in it either!

Anyway, that's pointless speculation. I was watching another TED talk last night and decided to google the speaker, psychologist Dr Dan Gilbert, to find out more about him. (By the way, you should absolutely listen to the talk -- it might change the way you make certain decisions!). I was fascinated to learn that Dr Gilbert had been a high school dropout -- I wish I knew why, I'm so curious.

The story goes that he wanted to write science fiction, so he decided to take a writing course at the local community college. But when he arrived at the college, the writing course was full and the only course still available was psychology. In his own words: "I thought, That's got something to do with crazy people; maybe I'll write a story about a crazy person some day. I told them to sign me up." Long story short, he got hooked on psychology and is now a professor at Harvard, winning awards for his research, and has written a book. Not science fiction, though!

To me, the most wonderful thing about both Gillian Lynne and Dan Gilbert is that they both got to pursue their passion. The scary thing is that the conventional route was just rubbish at getting them there, and they could so easily have missed it. Yes, Dr Gilbert ended up in academia, which is not exactly unconventional, but he's only there because he wants to be there. It was a choice he made. None of those "ten-year plans" kinda stuff, where you plot to climb up the career ladder simply because it's there and that's what others expect of you.

Among my circle of friends I am one of the most unusual ones, having studied law, worked in journalism, then admin, then moved into teaching. I was determined to find my passion, and refused to settle for "a job". But I suspect that many people settle, not least because it's scary to go out into the unknown and deal with the uncertainty of being able to earn a living doing something new, but also because many of them simply do not know where their passion lies. I mean if you take Dr Gilbert for example, he certainly didn't have any inkling that he was going to discover the spark that would drive him for the rest of his life when he signed up for that psychology course!

I'm saddened by the fact that our schools and our education systems do not do much to celebrate the individual or help children develop as individuals. We don't help them to discover and nurture the unique talents that might help them become successful in the future. One reason for this is that our definition of "success" is so narrow. As Sir Robinson says, "Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there's a reason: the whole system... came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is rooted on two ideas: Number one, that the most useful subjects for work are at the top... the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because... the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not beause the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued or was actually stigmatised."

We tend to view white-collar professionals as more "successful"; this is mostly based on the size of their paycheques and the material things that they own. But I've often wondered: if that is the ultimate most desirable goal for everyone, who will help me fix my car when it breaks down? You never hear anyone say, "I want to be a mechanic"; people say, "I want to be an engineer." And if a kid were to say to his teacher that he wanted to be a mechanic, she might very well tell him he was aiming too low, or that he could do better for himself. But if no one wanted to take on blue-collar jobs, I think the world as we know it would collapse. Whereas if there weren't any white-collar workers, I daresay the world would still trundle on happily without too much interruption.

Monday, March 12, 2012


My cousin paid me a huge compliment last night - she commented that something I'd written reminded her of Neil Gaiman's work :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I read the funnies every day.

When I was a kid, my dad had the daily newspaper delivered to his office, and he would bring it back with him (the newspaper, not the office!) when he came home from work. I would pounce on it and immediately flip to the back of the features pullout. The comics were always on the second and third pages from the back; I'd read every single strip, even the ones that were boring and not very funny. In fact, I'd start with those first, and move up to the ones I loved the most. There are only two situations where I like to save the best for last: when I read comics, and when I eat.

Sunday comics were an especial treat, not just because the Sunday strips were longer and came in full colour, but also because dad would buy two different newspapers on Sunday, which meant -- yay -- extra comics! We used to pull out the comics and pass them around. Dad read them too. I don't think Mom did.

These days the comic strips in The Sunday Star and The Sunday Times are pretty dismal. There are fewer strips, for one thing. Even The Star's daily strips are disappointing... but thank God there's the INTERNET!

I'm really sad that Bill Waterson isn't doing Calvin & Hobbes any more. Regardless, it's still one of my everyday MUST READS, including these:
I used to read Dilbert every day too, but even though it's witty, satirical and sarcastic, after awhile the cynicism got to me. It's... kind of depressing, really. Comics, like everything else that I read for entertainment and/or relaxation, have got to be feel-good -- that's why I don't like Garfield either. It's not even funny! -_-"

The great thing about comics is, they remind me not to take life (and myself!) too seriously. And you know, if you're too grown-up and serious and sensible to read comics, then... um... well. I think it's a SIGN.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Goals for the year

I know it's already March, but better late than never...

  1. Finish the #%&@£¥! thesis (otherwise #3 to #6 below can't happen!)

  2. Complete all Elijah House modules (a prayer counselling course for Christians)

  3. Unpack everything & get the house organised (note to self: GIVE AWAY MORE BOOKS)

  4. Spruce up the design of my official, professional website (obviously not this one) & get it launched

  5. Go away alone for two or three days' holiday (preferably somewhere with a beach)

  6. Publish something for Kindle, on Smashwords, or both (I'm thinking a collection of short stories)

I think that's more than enough to go on with, don't you? It's all doable, though. #1 is on track, which makes me very happy, and I've started on #2. The rest will have to be accomplished in the third & fourth quarter of the year, but that's okay :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'll get help elsewhere, thank you

A friend is paring down her book collection, so I went over to her place to grab some of the good stuff. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it!) our tastes differ widely -- I like romance for light reading, whereas she recoils in horror at the very thought; she has a fondness for self-help books, whilst I turn up my nose at them in disdain.

I always avoid the "self-improvement" section in bookstores. I think part of it stems from the fact that I feel reading is not the way to go if you really want to solve a problem or rectify a situation. Reading is so... cerebral. It's all about theory. And from experience, I know that having all that theory, that knowledge, can be a sort of security blanket. You try to find out as much as possible about a situation in order to feel that you have some sort of handle on it, but in reality, you're not doing anything about it. Understanding is good, up to a point, but too much of that and it becomes hiding instead.

There's another thing about self-help books: they get my back up. You know that feeling when you're at a social gathering and someone says, "I know just the thing that will help you"? The inner recoil you have when someone walks up to you and gives you totally unsocilited advice, when they don't know the first thing about what you're going through? Well, I sort of feel that way with self-improvement books. Who do you think you are, and what makes you think you are qualified to tell me what to do? I know, it's a bit silly, but I have never liked benevolent "I just wanted to help" types. I suppose I could still read and discard whatever I didn't like or didn't agree with, which brings me to my next point...

I'm terribly skeptical about most self-help books. They're often either filled with generalisations, or advice that worked for the author in the author's particular circumstances. I'm skeptical because the author is trying to say, "My way is the best way" and I don't necessarily believe that there is always one best way for everyone -- I don't believe that his best way will be my best way. The more popular the book, the more skeptical I become. Some people would say that the book's popularity proves there must be something to it, or the masses would not be rushing to buy it. But I've seen fads come and go, watched the mob mentality at work, and found that people jump on the bandwagon all too easily. All it takes, for example, is a celebrity endorsement, and consumers will be out in droves to get the book. No, just because a book is popular, that doesn't mean it's good.

The funny thing is that I'm starting to realise a lot of Christian books are really self-help books. They covertly masquerade under the cover of religiosity or spirituality, but they are always telling you how you should live out your faith, how to know God better or pray more effectively or live a more holy life or whatever. This might explain why I haven't bought a Christian book in years and haven't read one in at least as long. Not that I don't need any help, but the kind of help I need, I don't think books can give me: I have the Bible, I know the right things to do -- it's the doing that's hard!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Inspiration: Story starters

The website Creative Writing Now ran a contest in August last year, asking for "irresistible story openers". The contest ran on Twitter with the hashtag #storyhooks. Some of the entries are so intriguing that I want to write the story to find out what happened! Maybe it'll be the same for you:

From @maryannestahl:
  • It looked dead, but I began to back away just in case. [This was the winning entry!]

  • Light rushed across the floor of the barn as I opened the doors, ready at last to face the truth.

  • Clive had made a lot of promises in his short life, but the one he made the most was the one he could never keep.

From @drzolla:
  • She bit with astounding force. Lost, she barely heard her master. Stop! Not him you fool! Her eyes opened in terror.

  • She gripped the small gun hidden in her wedding dress.The truth could not come out before she was legally married.

From @UWishUWereMe666:
  • My first time. That I remember? There isn't one. My real first time? Around eight, when mom started going out.

  • The food makes me tell Her everything. She sits and watches me, asks questions, I can't speak. I wish for death.

  • Love. All I wanted. A kind word or compassion. But now I've made up my mind. They'll see what it's like to be cold.

  • The red runs down the drain.I wonder how long it will last, to go back to normal. Why did I die my hair scarlet?

  • The screams filled my ears. The beauty was magical. The sight entrancing. How I love the smell of blood in the morn.

  • She cupped a fragile bud. One twist and it would be torn from all life. Just like humans, Death seldom makes sense

  • He smells, paint thinner, human filth. "Your money!" Look him in the eyes, bring my hand, tap the nozzle. "Do it."

  • "Perhaps I should have run," I say with a feral smile. "But he was so delicious, John. And he suffered beautifully."

  • She smiles at me. "I have no intention to punish you or break you." My hands spasm. "I plan to remake you entirely."

From @staceyface80:
  • Incredibly, it was a gypsy standing on the side of the road that finally broke up their marriage.

  • The strangest thing she had ever found while cleaning hotel rooms had been a baby. It was a story she loved to tell.

  • She had read that the creation of a thousand origami cranes granted the creator one wish. It was time for her to wish

  • Joni knew the circus had come back to town when she arrived home and all of her sister's creamic birds were shattered

  • That summer she found her mom smoking weed, and the Miracle Worker came to town to lay his hands on the lucky few

From @catpriestess:
  • This is it-the the end of it all, she thought.Of course, it wasn’t entirely true-The Nameless would always be around.

  • She knew he was dead. She wanted so much to just let go and go with him. But she knew she couldn’t, not just yet.

  • The psychic shockwave of intense pain hit her like a freight train. She knew SOMETHING was wrong, but not the cause.

  • Heretic. Murderer. Every day, Izra heard them whispering it as she passed.

  • It was the last thing she ever said to me. And it will haunt me 'til the day I die.

  • Everyone had worried about nuclear war-but it was conventional weapons that did us in.

From @MarliciaF:
  • Treat everyone with respect, or one day you may wake to find you are what you despised. I know; it happened to me.

  • Pale morning light burned her soul like a laser but left her body whole, her memory clear; that was the final irony.

  • The box on the table was an ordinary box, wrapped in common brown paper and addressed to me; it filled me with fear.

  • The pocket watch tick-tocked in time with the church steeple clock; unfortunately neither one told the correct time.

  • Lightning zig-zagged across the sky, wind filled the sails and lifted the boat to the sea beyond the ominous clouds.

  • Adele turned the brittle pages; in time all knowledge would amount to nothing; soon, only the present would matter.

  • It’s a dream game variation; you go in first and set the scene; I’ll follow and sow the ideas that will set us free.

  • You think you know someone; that you understand them, then they go and do something unexpected, and ruin everything.

  • Ansel shut his eyes and plugged his ears; all the colors, shapes and NOISE, disappeared; now maybe he could think.

  • Acrobatic white flakes tumbled in the air and coated the ground like snow; except it wasn’t cold and it didn’t melt.

  • Heavy security protected the glittering jewel, alarms, guards, dogs, cameras…not a problem; I had it all figured out.

  • The car bucked and coughed along the remote desert road, spewing steam from the engine before shuddering to a stop.

  • She stood at the window snapping green beans and wondered what it would be like to snap his head from his shoulders.

  • Some people might see the cup as half-empty, others might see it as half-full; I see it as a means to an end.

  • Learning to dance is simple; just hold your partner, but not too tight, listen to the music, and follow his steps.

  • “It’s not difficult to set an effective trap; all you need is the right bait.” Abby grinned. “We have that.”

  • The stairs wound around a central post, just like in her dream; and the winking lights danced upon them, beckoning.

  • If Scot hadn’t opened the letter, made the call or followed those directions he wouldn’t be here; wherever here was.

  • In Maggie’s eyes, Mark could do no wrong. He pulled the switch and hoped she’d understand.

  • Don’t make things so complicated; simple is better and truth is stranger than fiction.

  • Alex measured the passage of time by the water dripping from the ceiling; it wouldn’t be long now.

  • He sauntered through the doorway, a self-satisfied grin on his face. “Remember our little problem? It’s been solved.”

  • “You’re not one of us, are you?”

  • The green man tipped his hat to the lady in white; or did he tip the lady in white to his hat? I’m all befuddled.

  • Like it or not, the day was hot, the snow cold and ominous clouds billowed in the sky; perfect—just perfect.

  • Everything about the offer screamed ‘too good to be true”, but Ian couldn’t resist.

  • Jess knew how to fly without wings, how to crash and burn, and how to rise from the ashes…like the phoenix.

  • It was the day of reckoning, of resurrection, and of death.

  • Life came easy for Erik. If he wanted something he usually got it. For nothing. This time he didn’t. Or did he?

  • It all began with a cracked ceramic cup.

  • His veil of lies distorted everything, like smoke on the water; like a funhouse mirror; or a game of telephone.

  • It all started when I noticed his ears. [This one made me laugh!]

From @DDms428:
  • How does a person go on living after the death of her first born and a husband who is having an affair?

  • Inside each being dwells an iniquitous entity, hungering to emerge, and woefully mine has.

  • Officer and Mrs. Guy Towers had the ideal life until they adopted twin toddlers, daughters of the evil psychopath, J.

  • Rebecca looked tired and desperate as she leaned over the small yet pregnant frame of the young girl.

  • Believe me when I tell you, he was no normal preacher…

  • This is a long journey that I’m dying to share.

  • Last night I went to bed dreaming of my sweet Edward and this morning I woke up to find his lifeless body lying by my side.

  • Upon entering and with only the moon glowing, the park looked deserted and empty, but boy was I wrong.<./li>
  • I know I sound a little bitter, but wouldn’t you if your mother slept with your boyfriend?

  • Struggling to keep the waves from sucking me under I could see him on the boat’s deck, smirking at me.

From @retirementstory:
  • I've waited forty two years to tell you this story.

From @GreatAbakening:
  • We laid under the stars until I saw that scar of hers in the moonlight. She was only nine. My daughter's seen enough.

  • He was looking in his grandfather's attic and found a wicker mask, caked in dust and strewn with spider's webbing.

  • Amidst petty conversation, she turned to me and asked what time it was. That's when I found that I'd lost my phone.

  • Victor Lansing was a specialist at bringing antiques to life with patient restoration and a haunting secret.

  • Having left them all behind me, it was harder for me to accept the accident on my own.

From @KyleeAnnHintz:
  • Dark sounds filling the empty space in my head, agony struck through my temples like an electric lightning bolt.

  • The fear of them finding out, she couldn't take it. Angelina packed her bags and found herself soon staring at Death.

  • The call comes in. People fighting. Officers form a barrier to prevent suspects from escaping the bar on 4th Street.

From @RuthEkblom:
  • Don cowered under the hedge, trembling, ribs heaving as he fought to control his breathing as silently as possible.

From @franciscangypsy:
  • The hunger gnawed at him. Everyone could see that. But what lay behind the hunger no one knew... or really wanted to.

  • "Don't be dramatic." "Calm down." How can I when every time I look at you, I see exactly how you're going to die?

  • It seems apropos for some reason. That if a wild fire were to occur, it would be somewhere like Dismal Swamp.

  • They say Hell burns. I say it's endless winter. It steals your soul, your energy. Numbs you until nothing is left.

  • It was almost small enough that she could imagine that she didn't see it. Or that she imagined it.

  • His hands shook. Constantly. He blamed the Parkinsons or his nerves. Only his victims knew the truth. Now I do too.

  • It's a big question: What if. What if it rained? What if she never came? What if Bill's heart was where it belonged

From @MarilynPullen:
  • Lucy really hated being dead

From @Lizzetu:
  • I turned the key in the lock and opened the door with a pounding heart.

From @Ipodguy88:
  • On his way to bury the bodies, Herbert suddenly remembered he forgot to pick up his mother's birthday cake.

From @ReemaViqar:
  • Moonlight gilds the waves to liquid silver;eerie &desolate is the shore with only stepping stones for wandering souls

From @MCMJ:
  • Every day when she awoke, Lucy peeked into the living room to make sure her father's corpse was still there.

From @MorningAmbassdr:
  • "Go to your window right now, and look carefully at the street below; I'm sure you'll see what I'm talking about."

  • Mentally projected slides of my life hovered ghostly in the air, beckoning entry as I sat in the jukebox diner booth.

  • Elena remembered the turquoise of the lake that afternoon; shaking the start of it all was not an option.

  • Albert, busy gloating over his current strokes of good fortune, did not notice the other entering the hall.

  • Their jeep shrunk until it was as miniscule as they were, so it took them a hot day's trek back to its parking space.
  • "What you tell me now reminds me of a story told by my folk for ages, in which the hero also bears your name, Sam."

  • The remaining particles plummeted while dust drifted down and the wheels of her mind spun, flashing with protocol.

From ‏@lovethejester:
  • Cold and disoriented, she stood up out of the snow, still reeling from the spiral plunge she had taken from the sky.

From ‏@MattjOsborne:
  • I have accidentally deduced, after years of accidentally deducing, that I am quite strange, indeed.

From ‏@mamafeenix:
  • Did I ever tell you about the time my Uncle Troy tried to kill the monkey?

From @dorme99:
  • Anna made up her mind. No matter what happened tomorrow, she knew her answer would be “No.”

From @Lisacwilliams01:
  • The sounds of jazz music & people shouting for beads form a surreal soundtrack as I fight to regain consciousness.

From @animefan61:
  • It had been four days since he had any sleep, but it was necessary to keep moving.

That's it :)  The site doesn't have any other writing contests running at the moment, but you might want to keep an eye on this page just in case.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reminisces: Thank God that's over

I hated school.

All the way from Standard 1 to Form 5, I hated school. It was not a place of learning to me; it was a place where you were stifled, questions were not welcome, you were to give only the expected answers, and teachers only cared about their students getting As. I wanted the As to make my dad happy, but at the same time I disdained them as trophies of intelligence, because it was clear to me that you didn't need to be smart to get an A; you just needed to have a great memory. So I didn't work hard for them, because I didn't think they were worth it. Not that I didn't work at all; I did enough to be consistently placed within the top 20 or so in the form, and in the end passed SPM with 4As out of 10 subjects. Heh.

It wasn't that I was reluctant to attend school; I never played truant and didn't make excuses to skip classes (although I might have if I'd been sure it would work with my parents!). I attended classes faithfully, and did my homework for the most part. But I felt trapped, and the lessons didn't engage me. No doubt I did have some good teachers, but very few of them were inspiring. In fact, I can hardly recall any of their names now.

I never thought to tell my parents that I hated school. Perhaps I didn't think it would accomplish anything, or I accepted school as something you simply had to do: one of those things that are a fact of life, that can't be fought. But the moment I had a chance, I left. I was glad to get out of the system, so relieved to be able to escape to private college after Form 5. I chose a programme with a system that was the complete antithesis of what I had been through: the Canadian Matriculation Programme, 70% coursework with the last 30% riding on the final exam. And I loved it. I loved the projects with practical applications of theory, the more informal class atmosphere, the discussions where we were encouraged to speak up and contribute ideas. It was fantastic.

Many people have warm memories of their school years and the time spent with friends and classmates, even if they did not enjoy the educational aspect of it. But as a child I was very introverted, bookwormish and a little awkward around people. I did have friends, but we didn't interact a lot outside the classroom. No sleepovers or outings and stuff. I don't have memories of doing anything particularly exciting or interesting: most of the time I was escaping into the pages of a book. (I told you, bookwormish!) Which meant that there was not much to redeem the tedium of being stuck in a system I couldn't stand. I was always being caught for surreptitiously reading novels while the teacher was teaching!

I'm now 34, having graduated from university 12 years ago (goodness, has it been that long?!). Strangely, my dad still harps about the fact that I could have done better in school, had I worked harder. What he doesn't understand is that I didn't see the point of working harder. And you know what? I don't regret it. I can't imagine how my life could possibly have been better had I scored 10A1s. I have pursued my dreams and done what I wanted to do. I have a job I enjoy, that gives me enough money to have a comfortable life. I am, to all intents and purposes, probably considered successful by most. Apparently not by my dad, though. All because I did not get straight As 17 years ago.
This post was partly inspired by this article. The article reminded me of my loathing for our education system. Yes, I am the product of a national school... a former mission school, but for all intents and purposes a national school, nonetheless.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What does this say about me?

Current contents of fridge & freezer:
  • 5 varieties of ice-cream

  • 2 varieties of cheese

  • 3 varieties of mustard

  • 4 types of chocolate

  • Mayonnaise, dijonnaise & salad cream

  • Hotdog relish

  • Romaine lettuce

  • Leftovers

  • Lozenges

  • Low-fat milk

  • Butter

  • Oranges

  • Frankfurters/hotdogs

  • Baby carrots

  • Yoghurt

  • Tomato ketchup

  • Prunes

  • Bacon bits

  • Tomatoes

  • TimTam biscuits


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Literally losing sleep over it

Apparently our bodies' natural sleeping pattern is to sleep for four hours, wake for one or two, then sleep again. That's what the BBC reported recently.

I've read something similar before, although I can't remember where. I normally sleep straight through the night, but I'm wondering if I should experiment with this by trying to sleep at nine and setting my alarm to wake me up at, say, 1:00am, then going back to sleep at 2:00am and finally waking for the day at 6:00am. It would be interesting to see if I'd feel more refreshed when I awake, and more alert throughout the day.

On the other hand, I've been severely sleep-deprived this entire week. A few times I've tried sleeping two hours, like from midnight to 2:00am, then getting up and working on my thesis through the night, and going to work once 7:00am rolls by. It's a crazy way to live. I'm absolutely exhausted and couldn't even sleep in this morning because I was attending a whole-day seminar at Elijah House from 9:00am to 6:00pm. On the plus side, my supervisor thinks I should be able to submit my thesis by May! Finally!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It is not a simple sandwich

It has been so long since I've had a tuna sandwich.

I can't eat pre-made tuna sandwiches, the kind you find in bakeries or delicatessens, because their tuna is usually mixed with onions and I HATE onions. HATE. Yes, I know onions are an important ingredient in most Chinese dishes and feature prominently in Italian cuisine. And yes, I partake of both types of foods on a fairly regular basis, especially Chinese, as I happen to be Chinese. But I refuse to eat onions.

"A few of them won't kill you," a friend has been known to comment. Hah! MUCH YOU KNOW.

So now I have my own home with my own kitchen (and running water! -- always a plus) and my own dining table. I still don't have a gas tank, that's on the To-Do list, so I haven't started cooking, but I've been making sandwiches to bring to work with me. There's nothing like munching on your very own yummy sandwich to start the day.

Last week was Ham-and-Cheese sandwich week; this week is Tuna week.

On the first day of the endeavour I realised that although I had finally remembered to buy a knife, I had completely forgotten the accompanying chopping board and so couldn't cut my tomatoes. (Or I could have, with probably a bit more mess.) And when I went to wash the lettuce leaves, I discovered I had forgotten the need for a colander with which to drain the water from my poor drowned lettuce. D'oh.

Knife-buying is not as straightforward a process as you might think it is. You go to the store with but one thought: I need a knife. Then you find the aisle with cutlery and kitchen implements and there are about a billion types of knives: paring knives, utility knives, chef's knives, bread knives, carving knives, slicing knives, and God knows what else. It's just like when you go to Starbucks and you just want a coffee. There is no such thing as "just a coffee". Apparently there's also no such thing as "just a knife", either.

After going through a bout of knife anxiety (I am buying something I'm going to be using in my kitchen for years to come and what if I buy the wrong knife and can't cut the things I need to cut to cook the food I need to cook to eat the food I need to eat? How will I survive?), I finally got my knife. Only to discover, when I reached home, that I had no chopping board. Which necessitated another trip to the store a few days later: yay, more shopping! Fortunately, a chopping board is a chopping board. All I had to decide was whether I wanted it made of wood or plastic; no agonising necessary!

Hence, last night I was finally able to dice some baby carrots to add to my tuna. Tuna + carrots + mayonnaise + NO ONIONS = hella winning combination, if you ask me. With extra leafiness provided by the lettuce, an abundance of fresh crunchy veggie goodness which you can never find in store-bought sandwiches. I love me veggies, even though I am carnivorous. Real sandwiches have veggies.

Mom used to pack food for me to bring to school, but in all my years of working I can barely remember packing anything from home to bring to the office. It's really great that when I'm hungry I can reach out and my sandwich is there, right there, and it's ALL MINE: made by me, with all the ingredients I love the most, and NO ONIONS. What more could a person ask for?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I have WAYS

I wonder how many people who own a domain name know about this thing called a WhoIs search... and how much it can reveal about them.

Sometimes I feel just a wee bit geeky.

I think I'd make a fairly respectable stalker. *shifty eyes*

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This is absolutely taking too long...

Dilbert by Scott Adams, 16 Feb 2012
Dilbert, 16 Feb 2012 ©Scott Adams

Technologically incompatible. I like that.

Once, a few years ago, a friend of my dad's asked if he could introduce a young man to me. I, always game for such things, said sure. What could be the harm?

Since my dad's friend didn't live nearby, he procured my email address and passed it to the young man in question. So in due time I received an email, which I duly replied. And then I waited.

And waited. And waited.

I don't know why, but apparently this young man was only able to write emails about once every month. And I don't know about you, but really? Only once a month?

Technologically incompatible.

It's not like I expect a reply immediately, but within 24-48 hours is not unreasonable, I should think. I'm sorry, but if you take days to reply email, then why don't you suggest another way of keeping in touch?! Email is obviously not your optimum means of communication, d'oh.

Unlike Dilbert, I don't think technological compatibility is a deal-breaker for a potential relationship. What does tech do? It helps us communicate. So as long as there's some form of regular communication, it doesn't matter whether it's by Skype, instant messaging, Facebook, email, texting, phone calls, handwritten notes, letters or whatever. And yes, I know letters take days, if not weeks to arrive. But think of the mode, man, think of the mode! If I send you a text, I also do not expect to only receive a reply after five days! (Yes, I actually have a friend who does this. Woe is me.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sniffing about on Twitter

Over at @The_Millions on Twitter, doggie book puns are abounding. I am horrible at puns (as you can see by the post title), and not particularly fond of dogs, but I know some of you are dog lovers, and these are too good not to share:

@The_Millions: Hey, did you read that new book about dachshunds? ...It's a long story.

@kasmsod: Yeah, but I felt the plot kind of slumped in the middle though.

@HelenMcClory: I read that one on Dalmatians. It was spotty, at best.

@briantedjones: I didn't care for the one about poodles. Mostly fluff.

@shitdaysuckcity: The one on Rhodesian Ridgebacks was spine tingling.

@JoeySavitz: I raced through the one about Greyhounds. Quick read though, to be fair.

@zackauthor: Read a good one about retrievers recently...quite fetching, but also a tad repetitive.

@FridaAbsinthe: The wolfhounds one was never finished, of course, but the idea really had legs

@tidytacos: I dug the one about terriers.

@filt: The one about huskies didn't sit well with me. The one on lap dogs did, though.

@caleb_crain & @peterterzian: I love the one about pugs. There's a really good twist at the end.

@TheKateDebate: What about the one about American Eskimo? It had its moments but it left me cold

@FFnE_Design: read the one about Boxers, knocked me out!

@sevenbil: I expected the one on guard dogs to hold me captive, but it just bites.

@Weintrouble17: I like the one about the dachshund but the main character was such a weiner.

@poetryforsupper: The one about the setter was just my type.

@mackgelber: That one about the rabid dingo had me foaming at the mouth.

@antonio_lanza: No bones about it, I liked the one about the pug but the story had too many wrinkles.

@baynardwoods: the one about mutts was a mixed bag.

@FoxInWolfs: I loved the one about Grey Hounds - just felt like it went by too fast...

@geriellen: the pit bull story had a real bite.

@LiamSeanORourke: I found the research on the latest book about Dalmatians to be rather spotty.

@LiamSeanORourke: I always read the one about the French bulldog when I'm in the mood for a short tale.

@StevenGripp: The one about Great Danes was a real heavy read.

@StevenGripp: but the one about St. Bernards saved my life

@filt: I was apprehensive to the pitbull one but it turned out to have a certain bite to it.

@JoeySavitz: I found the one about St. Bernards intoxicating!

@dashdidntdoit: The one about the German Shepherds wasn't something I would sink my teeth into

@Jen_Hand: I found the Saint Bernard's tale beatific...

@heyjcjc:That bit about retrievers kept me coming back, again and again.

@twochiwawa: Chinese Crested's autobiography sniffed out the naked truth.

@buddydean: Did you read the one about the French Bulldog? There were too many fart jokes.

@SteveHimmer: I tried the one about Lundehunds, but it was a puffin piece.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Intelligence is sexy

"College-educated women, once they do marry, are much less likely to divorce. ...And according to calculations by the economist Betsey Stevenson, an educated woman still single at age 40 is much more likely to marry in the next decade than her less educated counterparts."
-- Stephanie Coontz, The New York Times

There's hope yet, it seems.

But I was stunned when the same article told me that in 1956, men had ranked education and intelligence 11th among a list of desirable traits in a mate, whilst in 2008, education and intelligence had moved up to 4th place, "just after mutual attraction, dependable character and emotional stability". At first I thought, "What, only 4th?!" but then I thought, how can you rank these things on a scale? Are you saying I have to imagine whether I'd rather have an intelligent man or a dependable one, and choose accordingly? Ugh... but that's a totally artificial and unhelpful way of looking at things. If I had to choose between the two, I'd just not choose either guy at all!

A somewhat intellectual guy friend once told me I was "too intelligent", and then after marrying the girl of his choice, complained that she wasn't at all interested in debating or discussing the same topics that so deeply captivated his mind. "When I talk to her about it, all she says is, 'That's nice, dear,' he groused. And I thought, rather maliciously, that he deserved what he'd got.

The article above says that while it's true that some men are put off by women who are more highly educated or have professional success than they do, "scaring these types off might be a good thing. The men most likely to feel emotional and physical distress when their wives have a higher status or income tend to be those who are more invested in their identity as breadwinners than as partners and who define success in materialistic ways". See? I was not being all that idealistic and naïve when I said I don't want that kind of man!

On the other hand, the writer points out that women also seem to have a problem marrying men who are less highly educated or earn less than they do. I've never really thought about it (I always assumed I'd marry someone who would be more or less my peer, ie. a white-collar professional) but just a few nights ago a girl friend said, "I want my guy to be more knowledgeable than I am." Do I want that? Hmmm.

I've always looked up to my dad as the ultimate most knowledgeable person I know -- I swear, he's got the memory of an elephant, and can still recall his high-school chemistry and physics principles even now, while I struggle just to remember my multiplication tables. (Carrying a calculator around in my mobile phone has made me brain-lazy.) He is frightfully intelligent. And yes, I look up to my dad, but I don't know... do I want to look up to a husband in quite that way? With a touch of awe? And feeling ever so slightly intimidated?

"The most important predictor of marital happiness for a woman is not how much she looks up to her husband but how sensitive he is to her emotional cues and how willing he is to share the housework and child-care. And those traits are often easier to find in a low-key guy than a powerhouse," the writer says. Powerhouse men also tend to be highly driven and ambitious, and that sort of thing scares me to high heaven because I'm not highly driven and ambitious. I want to work at a job I love, earn enough to be comfortable and have a little extra for luxuries, spend time with people who matter, develop or discover my talents and skills, and pursue hobbies or interests that give me a sense of satisfaction. More money is always nice, but I'm not all that concerned about trying to make more or climbing up the corporate ladder.

But I'm sure there are intelligent guys who aren't either, or at least, aren't interested in making money for money's sake. Plus, being highly-educated doesn't equal being knowledgeable or even intelligent. I know quite a number of people who are highly educated yet neither knowledgeable nor intelligent, and I also know a handful who only finished high school or hold a diploma, yet are a veritable walking encyclopaedia of knowledge. I think it's about having a positive approach to life, an inquisitive nature and a desire to learn new things. I don't see why I wouldn't be able to look up to or respect someone who earns less or has had less formal education than I have, as long as he possesses those three traits.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


By René Gruau

I love this image, which I saw on another blog. I'm not a minimalist type of person but I'm in awe at how much the artist (René Gruau) managed to convey with so little. The brush strokes look so rough, almost careless, but clearly have been carefully controlled and placed exactly so. Even better, the result is so elegant.

It's not the sort of art I'd choose to hang in my home, but it captured my imagination. So many of the messages we receive every day as we walk around and interact with the world are unspoken and unseen, some even unconscious. It reminds me that the mind is a fascinating thing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sleep-deprived ramblings of a postgrad student

Almost 5am and I am labouring on data analysis for my thesis, taking a break by writing this. What on earth made me think I could write a thesis, I wonder. Then I remember that I never thought I could or couldn't. I just registered for my Master's and the thesis was part of the package, a part I never questioned. There wasn't an option for coursework only.

I am seeing my supervisor in 12 hours -- at 5pm. I don't chide students for being last-minute, for the simple reason I have always been the quintessential last-minute student. I don't think I do it because it works for me, although certainly if it didn't work for me I'd probably try something different. Granted, being 1,400 words into Chapter 4 and having barely even started is beyond last-minute, even for me. I am sure I won't be able to complete the whole chapter by 5pm. There's also work to be gotten through, for one thing...

At this point I am certain that anyone who undertakes a postgrad degree needs their head examined, and I'd be the first to volunteer. Why am I doing this to myself?! Oh right, I wanted to teach. Although I am not sure how producing a 30,000-word document qualifies me to teach. What's the connection?

Nelly Furtado's Spanish album "Mi Plan" is playing in the background. I bought it for RM9.90 in Speedy Video earlier this evening. At that price, you can't test the CD, and I'm not familiar with her music although I recognised her name. But I took a gamble. One of my better ones. I've never been up to speed with popular music, so I find myself always trying to catch up. But the good thing about being behind everyone else is you can then pick up CDs for cheap. Others I got tonight at the same price include Maroon 5's "Hands All Over" and Kelly Clarkson's "My December".

All the noise about SOPA and PIPA is annoying me because the companies that are ferociously trying to bring down pirates outside of the US aren't making their products digitally available outside the US. I have the Kindle app on my iPod Touch but can't buy ebooks for it because I live in Malaysia. Yes, I know there are ways around that, but why should I have to try to circumvent the system just because I want to get a legitimate ebook on my device? Isn't that almost the same as pirating (also another way of circumventing the system) except that the writer and publisher still gets their dues?

In December I was frantically searching for the instrumental mp3 of a certain song my cousin had set his heart on for his wedding. And I found it on iTunes, but of course I couldn't purchase it because -- again -- I don't reside in the US. Book, movie, music publishers and producers: I really don't want to hear you moaning about IP and copyrights and lost royalties when I cannot get a product legitimately even when I want to. If you don't make your stuff available to consumers, and the consumers want it, then guess what? They'll take steps to get it in any way possible. Fair means or foul. Kindly solve this problem, THEN go after the pirates. Kthxbai.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When the dream ends

Lately I have been reading personal accounts of people who have lost their jobs due to the current economic crisis in the US. I read this story and thought, That could be me.

One day you have a job and a house and a car and food to eat; the next day you don't. I thought about the state of our economy and what might happen if things crash over here. How prepared are we? I just bought an apartment.

It seems preposterous, doesn't it? I sit in my zippy car, drive past yet another mall in the making, take a seat in a crowded restaurant where people at the next table are texting on their iPhones or fiddling with their iPads, and I wonder, how long will all this last? What if it all vanishes tomorrow? What if we lose it all? No such thing as unemployment benefits here. How will everyone survive?

"In just two years I've gone from being financially stable with a secure retirement to being one step away from being homeless with no hope of ever being able to retire," another lady writes. I think about the government messing around with our retirement funds, using those funds to provide housing loans to people who can't get loans from banks. I have sympathy for such people but the point is that if the government wants to help them, why are they using/risking OUR retirement funds?! Not that these funds will be sufficient for anyone to retire on in 20 years' time, what with the rate of inflation and rising cost of living. But at least they will be something. If the economy tanks, what will happen to EPF?

The middle-class in this country have it good at the moment. Yes, they do. I'm one of them and I know it. Mr TDH told me I'm lucky to be able to afford an apartment of my own at my age, and I agree: I am blessed. But sometimes I think my peers take it all for granted. Wanting more and more and ever more, feeling like we are entitled to stuff, like it's our right. We deserve it, because we work hard, because we're educated, because we're young and energetic and creative. We deserve the recognition, we deserve the pay, we deserve... oh, so many things. Especially the lifestyle. No, we don't. Every day I am amazed that I have a car to drive! Do you know how many people have no choice but to rely on the dismal public transportation system?! If we lose our lifestyle, will we lose ourselves?

I have been trying to imagine it. If I am laid off from my job, if I have to give up my apartment, and my car, and move back in with my parents... if I have to take up a blue-collar job, or a menial job, something that is "beneath" me, that pays much less than I am used to think I'm worth... will I survive? Yes, I will. Will it be embarrassing? Yes, it will. Will I ever get back what I've lost? Maybe I won't. But it is a world so far removed from what I have right now that it's difficult to picture. We all imagine that things will continue the way they are, forever.

When I look at the world and then look at Malaysia, and look at our government and their mismanagement, I wonder how long more we can sustain things as they are. I wonder what will happen when the bubble bursts. We are not prepared, no, we aren't. Not at all. For some, it might even come as a great surprise. A rude one. But maybe that will finally break all the "Malay-Chinese-Indian-Other" nonsense that is going on in this country, when our backs are thrown to the wall and we are forced to fight for survival and face what is really important. Perhaps it might not be so bad after all. Perhaps it might save Malaysia.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In the minority

Today, a friend of mine tweeted a link to an article: "How to see when someone unfriends you on Facebook". And I thought, Really? Why would anyone want to know?

I mean, in the first place, if someone unfriends you and you didn't notice, or you can't tell which of your so-called "friends" it was, then obviously they weren't very important to you in the first place. And secondly, knowing who has unfriended you often only leads to drama... which is what I told my friend. Who hasn't said anything to me since, but as we're not Facebook friends, I don't need to worry about getting unfriended.

I know people who unfriend others at the drop of a hat, for nothing more than having a different opinion or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It's the Web 2.0 way of "I don't friend you anymore!" and stalking off. Seriously? Are we still in kindergarten?

This social media thing... meh, I'm not a fan of it. Yes, I was an early adopter of Twitter (April 2007) and Facebook (May 2007)... well, not so early if you consider that Twitter launched in March 2006 and Facebook opened its doors to the public in September of the same year. But still, early enough that they weren't so "in" or "popular" at the time.

But I digress. What I meant to say is, despite being an early adopter, I never liked Twitter -- in fact I found it confusing. As for Facebook, well, I posted some pictures there but mostly used it to play Scrabble using the Scrabulous app (now known as "Lexulous" after the developers got sued by Scrabble).

So the joke now is that I have 97 people following me on Twitter (most of whom don't even tweet anymore) and 895 "friends" on Facebook. I've been active on Twitter in bursts lasting months at a time; the latest burst started in mid-January. Meanwhile, I've been adding people on Facebook but hardly ever posted any updates until recently.

The truth is I know social media is the current Big Thing, but I don't think it enhances my life in any useful way. I use Twitter to get tech news and interesting stories or writing tips, and yes in some ways these are good but then sometimes I also feel inundated with information and I question myself: if I weren't aware of any of these things, if I didn't have any of this extra knowledge, would I be worse off? Probably not. The amount of stuff I read or want to read is overwhelming, so much so that I hardly absorb 50% of it. Most of my retweets consist of things I want to remember.

Facebook, though, is harder to dismiss. It's a sad fact that if I don't read people's status updates, I don't know what's going on and get left out of my friends' lives. No, not all 895 of them are friends friends, if you know what I mean! Some are my students (current or former), others are acquaintances or colleagues I met through my previous jobs, and yet others are people I got to know through mutual acquaintances or blogging. But many of them are people I feel I ought to keep up with for one reason or another. At the same time, it disturbs me more that a lot of so-called communication with so-called "friends" is only via FB status updates now. I treasure friends like Alan who haul me out of my cave every once in awhile for dinner and a two-hour chat :)
If you still want to know who unfriended you on Facebook, I give up; here's the link. That's all you wanted anyway, right? *sticks tongue out*

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On preachy stories

"... reading is an end in itself, and what fiction has to offer isn’t lessons but an experience, a revelation, a sudden expansion of the spirit. Like any art, it can teach or motivate, but it doesn’t have to, and it’s often better when it doesn’t."
--Laura Miller, Stories don't need morals or messages

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Be who you are

I read an article a few days ago that started off talking about how people want to make their dreams come true, and it reminded me of this video (also by Dr Brené Brown, whom I mentioned two posts back). In the video, Dr Brown says she and her husband made two lists: first, they listed down all the things they wanted, things they thought would make their lives more comfortable, would make them happier. Then they made a second list of all the things that have happened to make them happy, the times they were most joyful.

When they compared the two lists, they realised that the evidence pointed to the fact that having the things they wanted would not make them happier. The second list showed that "less work and more time" brought more happiness, whereas the first list suggested that they needed to work more, earn more money, be more successful in order to be happy. They had been living under a fallacy.

In fact I think a lot of us live under similar assumptions. We are seduced into thinking a certain lifestyle is THE way to live, and we fall into it without a second thought. It doesn't occur to us to question if this should be or not; we take it as if it simply is.

Last Monday I posted on Facebook that the incrediby hot and humid weather over the past couple of days was making me wish I had installed air-conditioning in my bedroom. My friends reacted with shock when they found out I don't have air-conditioning in my home! They kept urging me to get a unit installed.

I cannot fully explain my intransigence against having an air-conditioned bedroom, except to say that to me, it is a symbol of how easily we fall into a certain type of lifestyle. I like my creature comforts as much as the next person; I love going to hotels beause of the super-comfy beds and air-conditioning (and the fact that I don't have to do any cleaning!). But deep down I sometimes wonder if we aren't getting too comfortable, and taking too much for granted. Many of my peers cannot imagine living without air-conditioning, without Astro, without a car (okay, I admit this one is tough for me too), without a live-in maid to help babysit, cook and clean.

A friend was talking to me recently about having a 10-year plan: Finish your Masters, he said, take a year's break, then start your PhD; graduate in five years, move up the ladder, write a few papers, become an associate professor by the time you are 44. And you see, it made perfect sense to him because that is what society thinks is good and desirable.

But I do not want to do the accepted just because it is expected. When people hear that I am an English teacher, they often suggest that I could give English tuition to students on the side because it is a lucrative enterprise, or tell me to go to China, since English teachers are in demand over there and I would be able to command a higher salary. Even Christians say these things, as if it is natural that we should want to make more money, and try our best to do so. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that I might not want to make more money. What an alien concept!

That's why I think that identity is such a fundamental issue. It's so important for us to we know who we are. If you don't know who you are, you will end up following the crowd blindly, or listening to anyone who comes along. You will be seduced by society's concept of "success" without realising that true success is being true to yourself and faithfully fulfilling whatever it is God has called you to do. You may never be contented, because right now the world we live in keeps telling us we never have enough, that we deserve more, that bigger is better and newer is nicer.

It's not about having or doing, but about being. Achieving our dreams of having more, doing more or becoming more won't make us happier because we will only be fulfilled when we are the person whom God made us to be. Each of us has been made unique. Instead of trying to be like everyone else -- or better than everyone else -- we should seek Him; seek to be like Him, seek to fulfil His purpose for our lives. And always remember: God is bigger than this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Luckily I gave away the duplicates

Mom (looking at my bookshelf): "What, you have so many Agatha Christie books?!"

Me: "She was a prolific author!"

Dad (to Mom): "She was a prolific author, and this one is a prolific buyer..."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The challenge of vulnerability

Without vulnerability, we can't make authentic connections with others. The problem is that we yearn for authentic connections and deep relationships -- we want to know and be known -- but we are afraid that if people were to know who we really are, they wouldn't want to connect with us. This shame causes us to fear vulnerability and run from it, thus sabotaging our ability to forge the very relationships we most long for. It's a vicious cycle.

This fear that we're not worthy... Dr Brené Brown suggests that everyone has it, and I agree, having struggled with it a great deal myself. She says we need courage and compassion: courage to be imperfect, and compassion to be kind to ourselves first, then others. We have to be willing to let go of who we think we should be, in order to be who we are.

I now understand why when I first started writing about my thoughts, struggles and experiences, people used to tell me I was so brave. I didn't realise at that time that what I was doing was being vulnerable. It came naturally to me; it was nothing special. But I realise now that my writings inadvertently demonstrated a level of vulnerability that many people are afraid of. And by being vulnerable, I gave others the courage to be vulnerable too. They would say, "Hey, I've been through the same thing" or "I'm so glad I'm not alone".

The thing is that there are no guarantees; vulnerability leaves you wide open, and while it invites people to be vulnerable with you, it can also repel others who, feeling threatened, use it as a means to hurt or even discredit you. Over the years it has become, to me, something to fear more than something to celebrate or embrace. That's why I so rarely write public posts like these now.

From the time I was a little girl, I always wanted guarantees because I didn't want my parents, specifically my father, to become upset with me. If there were clear-cut rules, and I were to follow them perfectly, then I would not go wrong, and everything would stay wonderful. The problem with life (and God) is that both are singularly unhelpful in this respect. Life comes with no guarantees, and the only guarantee we get from God is that He is in control, He loves us and is with us through it all. The result of this has been that life itself makes me feel wildly vulnerable at times, and even walking with God makes me confront vulnerability daily because I am naked before Him at all times: "Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely" (Ps 139:4). While He is in control, I am at His mercy, and He usually doesn't tell me His plans!

In the video above, Dr Brown talks more in depth about vulnerability and how we try to escape from it. I resonate with what she says because I know I have often tried to run from the danger of being vulnerable. With God, I don't mind so much, because for the most part I trust in His compassionate lovingkindness. But it has become harder and harder to allow myself to be vulnerable with others. Even such a simple thing as posting a video of myself playing the piano -- I put it up on Facebook, then took it down 10 minutes later for fear of the kind of comments I might get, or what people might be thinking but too polite to say. Part of the fear stems from my own insecurities of my playing, of course. It is going to be a challenge to do what Dr Brown suggests: "Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen."