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*