Day 03/04 Stay Home Holiday – My Good Heart

On the day Trump shocked the world, I was watching the US election on TV while waiting for yet another treadmill test to be conducted in yet another health clinic. My first test a month ago has shown some abnormal ECG pattern. The pattern tells a story. A borderline possibility that insufficient oxygen level is delivered to my heart. Now, that was not a very good news and as you can imagine, it has affected me, emotionally speaking. I will get to that in just a bit.

After a week’s waiting, I saw the doctor who has conducted part of the initial health screening so that he could read out the report to me (with some added flavors). He then referred me to a cardiologist who sent me to another health clinic so as to do another treadmill test. This time with the ultrasound heart scan before and after the test. The health clinic then generated another report on the spot. I hand-delivered that report to my cardiologist on the same day right after my scan so that he could read it to me (with some added flavors). I cannot imagine the amount of money involved with so many parties, so much time.

Before my treadmill test, I swam in the morning. Even as I tried to adjust my swimming style, Garmin swimming app is just not working out at all for me.
Before my treadmill test, I swam in the morning. Even as I tried to adjust my swimming style, Garmin swimming app is just not working out at all for me.
A giant Cinderella has dropped her shoe at Orchard Gateway.
A giant Cinderella has dropped her shoe at Orchard Gateway. I took this photo on the way to the health clinic.

The last time I did the treadmill test I had been fasting for 12 hours. Also, I was pretty unfit. This time round, I came prepared. I was able to complete 5 stages with my heart rate exceeding 100% of my maximum based on my age. My body wanted to give up 2 minutes before the end of stage 5. I think the last 30 seconds was the hardest part of the run. It was mind over body.

In the end, it did not matter. The ECG was still borderline abnormal. But the heart scan before and after the run was fine. Hence, it is case closed: false positive.

To celebrate the false positive, I have decided to have some tea in my favorite cafe called Paul. I love the coffee there. But the service was really terrible. I was mocked by the waiter just because I really couldn't understand his accent.
To celebrate the false positive, I have decided to have some tea in my favorite cafe called Paul. I love the coffee there. But the service was really terrible. I was mocked by the waiter just because I really couldn’t understand his accent.
Knowing my heart is OK, that did not stop me from continue being active. I walked from Orchard back to down town area. This time round, I took a shorter route and the trip lasted 45 minutes instead. 5 minutes quicker than yesterday.
Knowing my heart is OK, that did not stop me from continue being active. I walked from Orchard back to Down Town area. This time round, I took a shorter route and the trip lasted 45 minutes instead. 5 minutes quicker than yesterday.

This experience has taught me a few things.

  • Health is indeed wealth.
  • I can’t imagine what it is like for those who are living with heart diseases. The constant worry that at any time, the heart may fail.
  • While it is impossible to live a stress-free life, try not to stress up people around you. This applies to work and life and anything in between as well.
  • I have become more active. I actually feel good. In fact, I feel much better.
  • Whatever measured get managed. I should have invested on a wearable that comes with a heart rate monitor a long time ago.

The next day, I felt like a new man. All of a sudden, I felt like making some new shirts. So I paid my tailors at CYC Raffle Hotel a visit after dropping my wife at work.

I always get lost when I am inside Raffle Hotel.
I always get lost when I am inside Raffle Hotel.

I could go for the cheaper fabrics like I often do. Or I could go for the latest collection, which could be as much as 40% more expensive. I could also opt for some of the add-ons like solid color collar inlays and brackets to make the shirts looking even more fantastic. At work, some people often add stress to me reminding that I am a director so that I need to do more, much more. Since I am a director, I really ought to buy some better quality shirts so as to at least look like one.

Due to all these irrational rationalizations, I have spent more than S$1,000 for 6 shirts. To continue my spending spree, I met up with my old friend Robert for lunch at Asia Square and have spent more than S$18 on a Mexican fast food meal.

Every time I had that burrito and that Mexican guava drink, I would say to myself: no way I will eat this again, so expensive. But I keep going back for more. That burriot and that Mexican guava drink has become my comfort food.

The Pacific Tourist by Maki Hayashida from Japan displayed outside national library. I am not entirely sure why these pictures have to be hung by a container.
The Pacific Tourist by Maki Hayashida from Japan displayed outside national library. I am not entirely sure why these pictures have to be hung by a container.

Day 02 Stay Home Holiday – Walking and Swimming in the Sun

Last night, while I was blogging, my wife played World of Warcraft. When I was done blogging, she watched a Turkish TV-series called Magnificent Century. It is about a Christian slave girl being sold to the Ottoman Empire and has got the Sultan falling in love with her. The slave girl looks very much like a younger version of Drew Barrymore. In another word, while my wife distracted my blogging with World of Warcraft, she too has distracted my Path of Exile gaming with a very interesting TV-series.

Like she is now distracting my blogging with Magnificent Century.

Magnificent Century - A very interesting Turkish TV-series.
Magnificent Century – A very interesting Turkish TV-series.

09.15

After dropping my wife at her office, I returned home, made myself a cup of coffee wanting to start my study for the project management profession exam. I took a look at the book that is as thick as a phone book. I gave up and have decided to record a video for the game Path of Exile instead.

My fourth video on Path of Exile. This is becoming a habit.
My fourth video on Path of Exile. This is becoming a habit.

10:30

I really ought to study. I have almost completed chapter 3. I got to the last page of the chapter and remembered that I have to memorize 47 or so processes. I closed the book and moved onto my next agenda.

11:30

Time to leave home as I have a health specialist appointment at two in the afternoon. My plan was to drop my car at my rental parking lot in town and take a train to Orchard. Lunch at Somerset 313’s food court (a rather uptown shopping mall) was good. My favorite Vietnamese stall is gone, together with HMV downstairs. I found a nice Japanese stall instead, which seems to be run by a Japanese. I had fried Mackerel with rice. It was yummy.

And I took some photos while I was killing time crawling from malls to malls.

Christmas decoration and shopping starts very early here in Singapore.
Christmas decoration and shopping starts very early here in Singapore.
Really ... who invented teddy bears?!
Really … who invented teddy bears?!

14:15

After my appointment, I have a decision to make. I could take the train back to the car. Or I could walk.

Just that, the whole journey would be close to five kilometers under a very warm sun with a pair of shoes that were not fit for walking long distance.

But hey. How could I pass out an opportunity to do some outdoor activities while I am not working?

Walking from Orchard to Marina Bay too me close to an hour!
Walking from Orchard to Marina Bay took me close to an hour!

16:30

I am home! I could study. Or …

… I could swim! I have tried a different way in my swimming approach hoping that my not-so-smart Garmin wearable vivoactivity HR could automatically detect my laps perfectly.

Of course, I could only dream.

Garmin wearable / swimming app continues to be unusable. If my breaststroke could have a peace of 0.51 min/100m, I must have been a mutant or something.
Garmin wearable / swimming app continues to be unusable. If my breaststroke could have a peace of 0.51 min/100m …

17:45

One of my favorite games Marvel Heroes has a special announcement. I have got to work on my next video!

18:00

Tonight’s dinner was stir fry chicken breast slices with green and red peppers, boiled green vegetable, and brown rice. I love cooking. It is therapeutic.

20:30

After dinner, time to continue working on my next video! I like making videos on announcement related topics (one hour or so together with recording). It does not take too long to work out the materials. I really hope that it will be useful for the fans of the game.

My latest video on Marvel Heroes. Wow. Two videos in one day.
My latest video on Marvel Heroes. Wow. Two videos in one day.

23:00

It took me one and half hour to write this blog entry. Time now is 11 pm. And I blame Magnificent Century. Men are really not good at multi-tasking.

 

 

Day 01 Stay Home Holiday – A Super Active Day

In my current line of work, once a year I have got to take a two weeks long holiday. Normally, my wife and I would take a long haul flight to somewhere far as tourists. This year round, Cynthia has changed job, I have a project management professional exam to prepare, and we want to save some money. So I am staying put in Singapore for the first week of my holiday. Next week, my wife will join me.

07.00

I woke up like every other working day. Except, today is day one of my holiday! During my shower, I overheard my wife gasped and groaned loudly from the kitchen. My guess would be that she has once again made a mess while juicing vegetables and fruits. I could imagine juice all over the tabletop dripping onto the floor. Actually, all I wanted was to give her a hug. My wife is not a morning people. Yet she pulls herself out from the bed every other morning to make healthy breakfast for the two of us. As it turns out, there was a bit of a mess. I took over the washing after my shower relieving her for her daily routine.

09:30

After dropping my wife at work, I was back at home. Time to swim! As I am becoming more active these days – all thanks to this Garmin wearable watch that tracks heart rate among other things (which is mostly pretty dumb) – I managed to swim rather intensively for half an hour non-stop. I was looking forward to collecting some good data through my smart watch. Then again, my Garmin wearable watch fails me like before. I reckon if I was a professional swimmer, this watch would have automatically counted my lap time nicely. But I am not. Never will be. I have got to figure out a way on how to swim so that the watch can figure out what I do.

The swimming stats coming from this Garmin wearable watch and Garmin Connect is just disappointing. An undergraduate could easily program something much better by either removing out-liners and/or auto-combine/split lap times.
The swimming stats coming from this Garmin wearable watch and Garmin Connect is just disappointing. An undergraduate could easily program something much better by either removing out-liners and/or auto-combine/split lap times.

11:00

My plan after my swim was to make some French toast. The eggs were beautifully beaten; four slides of bread were trimmed; the coffee machine was ready. Just as I was soaking the bread onto the egg mixture, I saw some green mold on the bread. Now, that was disappointing. Perhaps I should have an early lunch instead.

I could take the car. Or I could walk. It is a 1.6 km walk from my home to the nearest food court. Why not exercise more?

It was drizzling so I brought along an umbrella. The walk to the market was pleasant. Overcast with fresh breeze. The food options were pretty meh though. Mostly unhealthy stuffs. I had black chicken herbal soup with cabbage rice – the healthiest food I could find in the food court. The chicken was prepared with its skin intact. And the cabbage rice was cooked together with thin strips of pork belly (which regretfully, I only discovered the latter as I was halfway through my meal). Not entirely healthy stuff.

By being active means that I would need more food intake. So I bought some banana from the wet market. The shopkeeper asked what sort of bananas I would want. There were so many types of bananas. Different shapes, different colors (one was muddy brown in color!). He asked if I wanted to fry them. I said I just want to eat them raw.

I bought some buns too as I plan to have some tea break with my wife this evening.

On the way back, I took a different route. It was a 2 km walk instead. The sun was up. With the rain, humidity shot up the sky.

A road less traveled (by me).
A road less traveled (by me).

12:30

After yet another shower, it is time to study! I made myself a cup of Nespresso all ready to prepare for my project management professional exam.

I barely survived the first chapter when I needed a nap.

13:00

So, nap I should.

14:00

I felt great! Time was running out though. There were so much to do today. I wanted to continue my study. But the material is really boring. So I checked out my YouTube channel and replied to friends’ comments. Yesterday I have published a video about our 16th wedding anniversary. Oh yes. Time flies.

15:00

I should study for real. I managed to finish up to chapter two. Very much common sense materials, so far.

15:30

It is music time! I miss playing music. My Filipino neighbors downstairs are super noisy from time to time. They love to sing karaoke. We could vividly hear all the notes and screaming. Well, guess what? I too used to jam. I could be pretty loud too! Except, there ain’t many in this world who have heard of or even like what I play. Because I write my songs. There is a saying in Singapore. If you can’t win them, join them. Good luck consuming my work-in-progress music /grin.

A simple setup of a mic and a guitar through an acoustic amp. It took me a while to set this up as I was out of practice.
A simple setup of a mic and a guitar through an acoustic amp. It took me a while to set this up as I was out of practice.

16:15

I have got to stop whatever I was doing (i.e. jamming) and start preparing for dinner. Tonight was chicken soup cooked with chayote. I have already deboned two chickens over the weekend. This soup was prepared with two chicken carcasses and two chicken thighs and drumsticks. Skinned.

After the dish was all set inside my pressure cooker, I continued jamming till 17:30. I had no idea that playing music can be a good workout to the heart too!

Playing music can be a good workout to the heart!
Playing music can be a good workout to the heart!

17:30

Time to leave my apartment and pick up Cynthia at work.

18:45

Home sweet home and dinner was at seven. The soup was delicious. We expected no less /smile.

20:00

Time to blog. My wife is now playing World of Warcraft with her level 85 Undead Warrior. This is very distracting.

This is my wife's level 85 (or rather 86) Undead Warrior.
This is my wife’s level 85 (or rather 86) Undead Warrior.

 

The Devil In The Flesh by Raymond Radiguet

French title is called Le diable au corps and I have read this several times over very recently. This book is rather thin. That helps. But mainly, because it is a good read. The book and the author has an extraordinary background. The book is an extraordinary read. If I could only bring 10 books into an island of isolation, The Devil in the Flesh would be one in my collection of solace.

Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet

In the line of creativity work, what have I done when I was 16 to 18? I did not even start writing my first song. Raymond Radiguet wrote this book inspired by his affair with a married woman when he was 16. The author died in 1923 of typhoid fever at the age of 20. The Devil in the Flesh is a work of a genius (borrowing my French friend Yvan’s exact words and I agree). I could only ponder upon the what-if.

The main character – a 16 years old boy – is having an affair with Martha Lacombe, a young woman whose husband is fighting the WW I. The emotional journey as well as its details within and the immaturity displayed is so real that I reckon for those who have been in love or have a crush with someone in the younger days should be able to relate. I can relate every bit of it.

The context is important. Back in the era of WW I, affair of such nature I would think could be frown upon. Even being condemned. The opening page sets out how the story would unfold in a lighthearted manner – which dominates the entire novel despite the tragic end.

We lived at F., on the banks of the Marne.

My parent disapproved of friendships between the sexes. But our sensuality, which is born with us, though for a time it remains dormant, was aroused rather than quelled by their disapproval.

I have never been a dreamer. What appears dream to others more credulous than I seems to me to be as real as cheese to cat – in spite of the glass that covers it. Yet the glass does exist.

If the glass breaks, the cat takes advantage, even if it is his master who breaks it and cuts his hand in the process.

One day, Marthe took the narrator for a furniture shopping trip for her future home as her fiance is still at the front line fighting a war. Naturally, Marthe would want to pick what her fiance wants. But influenced by the narrator – out of jealousy no less – Marthe begins to doubt her decisions and instead, sides with the narrator’s rationale, and picks what the narrator wants.

At the end of this exhausting day I could justifiably congratulate myself on my achievements. Item by item, I had succeeded in transforming this marriage of love, or rather of infatuation, into a marriage of reason, and a strange marriage of reason at that, since reason had no part in it, each finding in the other only the advantages provided by a marriage of love.

As she left me that evening, far from seeking to avoid further advice, she had asked me if I would help her during the next few days to choose the rest of her furniture. I said that I would, but only if she swore that she would never tell her fiance, since the only chance of his coming in the end to accept this furniture was for him to think that it was entirely her own choice. Then, if he really loved Marthe, what gave her pleasure would also please him.

Inevitably, a book with such topic, I would want to see how the author explores intimacy.  In this scene, the narrator is with Marthe, inside an apartment with only the two of them. A fireplace is set with a special fragrant from the wood pieces that are sent from Marthe’s fiance’s family. At times I wonder if the book title was born from this scene.

As she slept, her head on my arm, I leaned over to look at her face, which was surrounded with flames. I was playing with fire. One day, as I approached too close, though our faces were not touching, I was suddenly like the needle which, having once moved a fraction of an inch beyond the mark, is in the magnet’s power. Is it the fault of the magnet or the needle? I became aware that my lips were on hers. Her eyes were still closed, but she was quite obviously not asleep. I kissed her, amazed at my boldness, whereas in fact, it was she who had drawn my head towards her mouth. Her hands clung to my neck; they would not have held me so fast in a shipwreck. And I did not understand whether she wanted me to save her or to drown with her.

What I also like about this book is the playfulness of this love affair, which makes the story all the better to relate. No doubt, the author (and the narrator of the story) was mature beyond his age. But time and time again, as the narrator throws tantrums and does things out of sort, all these remind me of their young age. I have been there done that. And I am certain many readers too.

Love wishes to share its happiness. A woman who is cool by nature becomes demonstrative, kisses you in the nape of the neck and invents innumerable tricks to distract you if you happen to be writing a letter. I never wanted to kiss Marthe so much as when her attention was taken up by something else; or to touch her hair and undo it as when she was pinning it up. In the boat I would throw myself upon her and smother her with kisses to make her let go of the oars and let the boat lose its way among the herbs and the white and yellow water-lilies. She saw this as a sign of uncontrollable passion, whereas I was really in the grip of this powerful urge to disturb her. We would then moor the boat behind some tall tufts of grass. The danger of being seen or of capsizing the boat made our sport all the more pleasurable.

In one particular scene, while Marthe was away from town, the narrator took a young girl Seva into Marthe’s apartment. He gets Seva drunk, wanting her not out of lust, but out of greed. Also, the narrator is fully aware that it is rape that he is about to commit.

Soon, words get to Marthe as the landlord has made a complaint that the house is not a brothel. While our narrator manages to yet again talk himself out of the situation which is not unexpected of, it is the way he internally justifies his act that intrigues me. I would say, the author was well ahead of his age.

Just as a bee plunders in order to enrich the hive, a lover enriches his love with every passing desire that besets him in the street. It is his mistress who benefits from this accumulation. I had not yet discovered this discipline that gives fidelity to unfaithful natures. When a man, lusting after a girl, transfers this ardour to the woman he loves, his desire is the stronger for being unsatisfied, and will lead the woman to believe that no one has ever loved her so much. It is a form of infidelity, though in most people’s opinion morality has triumphed. Such duplicity leads to profligacy. One should not condemn too readily therefore men who are capable of infidelity at the very height of their love; they should not be accused of frivolity. They reject this easy subterfuge and refuse to confuse their happiness with their pleasure.

After reading this book a couple of times, I ponder upon the title. Who is the devil? And why is he or she the devil? Presented with a similar situation, I probably would have done the same. But that was 1923 when the tradition and value may be different from today’s modern standard.

If I go along with the interpretation that to lie is a sin. To seduce and to fornicate with a married woman is a sin (a mortal one no less). To have caused one’s death would also be a sin. And since Diablo is the Father of Lie and more, it would not be wrong to interpret the narrative himself as the devil in the flesh. Harsh though, I must say. Almost like a self-punishment for the narrator’s regret, for perhaps the author’s regret.

On The Eve Of National Day I Spent A Day At Singapore Botanic Gardens, Alone

I have planned this Monday holiday months in advance. Because Tuesday is National Day, a public holiday. I have been wanting to have some time on my own, to reflect upon life and to simply admire nature, to be connected to the ‘bigger picture’. It seems that our souls need nourishment once in awhile especially when day in day out we are stuck in a corporate rat race.

Taken near Orchid Garden
Taken near Orchid Garden. I was told by a Chinese herbs manager that orchid stems make rather expensive Chinese herbs.

In some ways I am happy that my wife needed to work today. When both of us are on leave, we would take our time doing very little, at home mostly. Nothing is wrong with that of course. A different kind of soul nourishment. A mutual nourishment.

After dropping my wife off to work at a quarter to nine in the morning, I drove to the Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO site.

This plan of mine did not get hatched until late last night. Botanic Garden always makes me happy. Be in as in Hong Kong when I was studying or in Singapore. Today felt like a makeup session for a birthday outing that I did not have.

Armed with a camera phone, a book, and a bottle of water, I felt happy even before entering the garden. It took me some time before I could find a parking lot by the street, right at the back of the children’s garden, which is on the far end of the map.

As expected, the day was warm and the air was humid. I got a bottle of water but I forgot to bring some suntan lotion. I got a book but I forgot to bring some insect repellent.

I love my new phone. Finally I could take some photos to commemorate my days, edit and upload along the way with GPS tagging. Six hours my phone’s battery has lasted. I was tired but delightful at the end of the trip.

So where was I? Yes, the parking lot.

I am amazed that so many people hang out in the Botanic Gardens on a working day (though I must say, many must have taken leave today like me). My plan was to have a nice breakfast inside the garden upon arrival. But since I was parking so far away, I took a stroll instead as I headed towards my first destination – a restaurant that serves proper breakfast.

First thing that greeted me besides the toilet at children’s garden was a group of old folks trying to exercise. That scene actually scares me. I am motivated to start doing some exercise asap. I hope my back would bend better than them when I am at their age.

Casa Verde is right in the midsection of the garden. Quite honestly, the food is very so-so. And it is rather pricy. But the decor is rather OK. I managed to find a seat inside the airconditioned section of the restaurant. I could sit outside though. But today was a warm day. Cool air was a welcoming sight.

So I order an overpriced egg benedict that cost S$16. An additional cup of what appeared as an instant coffee that cost an extra S$4. I still enjoyed my breakfast though, because today was a happy day.

Egg Benedict always makes me happy, like I am being smiled upon.
Egg Benedict always makes me happy, like I am being smiled upon.

Over breakfast, I have started reading The Devil in the Flesh by a French author Raymond Radiguet. A book I have borrowed from the library. I don’t know how anyone can read books these days. I was so distracted by my electronic devices.

Talking about electronic devices, what’s wrong with the world today?! Here I was immersing myself into nature, listening to the sound of the insects, of the birds, and of the wind brushing against the tree leaves (of course, the sound of construction nearby can be annoying). I saw waves and waves of people glued to their electronic devices playing Pokemon Go as though they were possessed, living inside a world of augmented reality.

It is very easy to spot Pokemon Go players (more so because I was once an Ingress player).

  1. They are often in group talking to each other while interacting with their electronic devices.
  2. They have a tendency to stop in some random spots again interacting with their phones or tablets.
  3. At times, they look stressed (which is strange because no one should look stressed inside a garden).
  4. They are oblivious to all that is around them. I bet even as Taylor Swift walks by, they would still look for those virtual beings.
  5. Very often, you see them carrying a power pack to charge their phones on the go. Some would actually play with two devices (ah, good old Ingress days of mine).

Also, at times, these players (or hunters?) tend to cast me a suspicious look. As though I am there to steal their price.

Look, this is a garden. The only time I would cast a suspicious look to a fellow visitor is when he or she looks like a terrorist.

But then again, who am I to judge? I have lived through those insane time with Ingress (the step-father of Pokemon Go?). I am still spending a lot of time at home playing video games, even at my age. To my defense though, I think what is going on behind closed doors is none of others’ business (duh, my YouTube channel has betrayed me). Roaming in public places like Botanic Gardens in a zombified state, that is weird.

Or perhaps, I am the weird one. Because if I am to count the number of people whom I have come across playing Pokemon Go versus those who were like me enjoying the scenery and the ambient, we the real lifers are definitely outnumbered.

This is called Sundial Garden. I tried to read in one of the huts but the heat and the insects were too overwhelming.
This is called Sundial Garden. I tried to read in one of the huts but the heat and the insects were too overwhelming.

I got lost a few times inside Botanic Gardens. How often when you read a map by the roadside and even though it has “You Are Here” in a font and color that cannot be missed, you just not sure which road leads to where?

If I were to design roadmaps, I would certainly go that extra mile and draw two things right at “You Are Here”. A simple line to denote where the signboard is from a top down view. And a man or an eyeball showing you where you are facing.

One great thing about getting lost is – besides the extra exercise I so need (remember the old folks at the beginning of this entry?) – I came across places that subsciously I wanted to visit but I was not really looking for them.

Like a toilet and a place for food. The gift shop was a bonus.

By the time my late lunch was served, my colleague at work has already called me for help. The good news was that it was not something unexpected. I was mentally prepared. The bad news was that I was at least two kilometers away from my car, not counting the extra miles I would need to partake once I got lost. That is a story for another day.

Or not ever.

Work.

Ugh.

On another positive note though, I really enjoy reading Devil in the Flesh. It is about a young boy in love in great details. It is about a young boy in love with a girl who is with another man. It is about a young boy infatuated with someone older than him. All three, I can relate.

At times I do wonder the what could have been, especially when I am alone.
At times I do wonder the what could have been, especially when I am alone.

Deforestation So Close To Home – The Lentor Forest Soon To Be Vanished

Earlier this month, our government has announced that 30 hectares of forest will be cleared so that more housing estates can be built in Teacher’s Estate. Believe it or not, I am someone who likes nature and I do feel rather sad hearing this news. Had this took place in Hong Kong, I would imagine a series of protest or demonstration may follow. But here is Singapore, no one seems to care enough. Does forest make money? Obviously not. So why do we care?

Singapore is a modern city. Greenery is a treasure we shall behold. Opposite my home, a highway is built. We were used to seeing a vast piece of greenland in front of our condominium. At dawn, we were used to see a beautiful layer of mist rising from the vegetation across the main road in front of us next to a reservoir. Today, this piece of greenland has been removed, made way for the construction of the highway.

This new deforestation announcement does not come as a total surprise. Near to our home, a train station is under construction, ready in 2020. As of today, it makes no sense to have a train station in our quiet estate. There are virtually nothing here except a few condominiums. Hence, I have been anticipating something big is going to happen.

The forest near our home soon to be gone
The forest near our home soon to be gone

According to the URA masterplan, new housing estates will be built. They are likely to be highrises too.

According to master plan, I am expecting highrise.
According to master plan, I am expecting highrises.

What so precious about Lentor Forest? According to a position paper by Nature Society:

URA’s summary of the wildlife records has noted the presence in the forest of the following nationally and globally threatened mammal species:

1) Sunda Pangolin: critically endangered.

2) Banded Leaf Monkey: critically endangered.

3) Sunda/Greater Slow Loris: =assumed extinct, but now regarded as rare by mammal experts.

Birds too.

The Lentor (Tagore) Forest is indeed very rich in forest birdlife. NSS has recorded 71 bird species out of which there are 31 forest species, resident as well as migratory. This comes to 41 % of the total species recorded there. Out of this, 14 are uncommon resident species, and 1 rare (the Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting). Out of these uncommon residents, 10 are listed as nationally threatened while 5 are globally threatened.

Last but not the least, the vegetation.

From the URA biodiversity report, it must be said that the forest, 30-hectares in size and contiguous to the Teachers’ Estate, is rich in biodiversity. This is very well reflected by the fact that, from NParks’ finding, at least 32 species are worth salvaging, among which are 100 specimens of the Elephant Foot’s Fern […] What is very striking from a conservation point of view is that there are 2 critically endangered species, 3 endangered and 6 vulnerable species (inclusive of the Fern mentioned above), as reported by NParks. This is simply amazing for a relatively small secondary forest in Singapore.

In the good old days when my knees were still strong, I was used to jog pass Lentor Forest all the time. I would start the 4.8km route at around 6.50am when the sky was dark and the air was crisp and fresh. As I made my return trip at 7am, the sun rose from the horizon. I would experience that magical moment when plants started the photosynthesis, as though I could hear the plants at work. That imaginary humming sound. Be one with nature. That kept me go on jogging.

I think for those who don’t live around Lentor, it is just another piece of land made available for some modern buildings. For me, it is something special.

Just how big or small is 30 hectares? The entire Singapore Sports Hub is around 35 hectares.

Singapore Sports Hub
Singapore Sports Hub

 

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – A Fascinating Read Filled With Mysteries

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a fascinating read. In fact, this is my third read in the span of a few years. Each pass I am able to spot more linkages between the plots. And more passages highlighted for future reference.

Like many of Murakami novels, Colorless is filled with mysteries. The main character – a 36 years old Tsukuru Tazaki – recounted one moment in his college life, that he had contemplated to commit suicide. It all started with a group of five back in school. Every one with a name associated to a color except Tsukuru.

Soon, the other four friends began to use nicknames: the boys were called Aka (red) and Ao (blue); and the girls were Shiro (white) and Kuro (black). But he just remained Tsukuru. How great it would be, he often thought, if I had a color in my name too. Then everything would be perfect.

Out of nowhere, all four friends of Tsukuru have refused to talk to and to meet with him. The shock was so intense that he had lost the will to live.

“That was the first time in my life that anyone has rejected me so completely,” Tsukuru said. “And the ones who did it were the people I trusted the most, my four best friends in the world. I was so close to them that they had been like an extension of my own body. Searching for a reason, or correcting a misunderstanding, was beyond me. I was simply, and utterly, in shock. So much so that I thought I might never recover. It felt like something inside me had snapped.”

Tsukuru recounted his story because his new girlfriend Sara wanted to know more about this emotional burden that has been hindering the relationship. More so, Sara wants Tsukuru to face his past. As Sara has once said:

You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.

This sets off the direction of Colorless with the ultimate rewards of Sara becoming Tsukuru’s serious girlfriend and Tsukuru getting to know exactly what went on with his four best friends abandoning him at the same time.

The good news is that this book is an entertaining read from beginning to end. The not so good news is that at the end of book, you still would not know the answers to the two ultimate questions. But here lies the brilliance of this book. We could imagine what the outcomes would be. But we may never grasp what is real. Like our main character Tsukuru once experienced. There are going to be plenty open questions.

And he couldn’t grasp the boundary between dream and imagination, between what was imaginary and what was real.

What I love most about Colorless is how well planned the plot is. Sara does not appear often in this book. But she drives the entire story. She uncovers the issues and she wants a resolution. Even as Tsukuru (and the readers too) has no clue on what to do next, Sara drops hints at the crucial moment on what is to come. She is like the prophet, always one step ahead. While many including I would debate on what Sara would do with Tsukuru when all is resolved, I am leaning towards a happy ending because Sara comes across to me as someone who knows exactly what she wants. Her moves are reliability predictable. I doubt she has any agenda except to remove this emotional burden of Tsukuru so that their relationship can move forward.

Now, the story between Sara and Tsukuru is easy to summarize. How the mystery unfolds is not. Because the subplots are subtly linked through different time lines and storyline. And how the dreams affect the imagination which in turn distort the reality adds another layer of abstract to the story.

Putting all that aside, there are consistent references to having to make hard decisions, though seemingly unrelated during my first read. Let’s think of body and heart.

In this dream, though, he burned with desire for a woman. It wasn’t clear who she was. She was just there. And she had a special ability to separate her body and her heart. I will give you one of them, she told Tsukuru. My body or my heart. But you can’t have both. You need to choose one or the other, right now. I will give the other part to someone else, she said.

(This would make a good conversation. In real life though, which would you choose and why?)

In the context of corporate ‘brainwashing’ though executive training:

I have some good news for you, and some bad news. The bad news first. We’re going to have to rip off either your fingernails or your toenails with pliers. I’m sorry, but it’s already decided. It can’t be changed. Here’s the good news. You have the freedom to choose which it’s going to be – your fingernails, or your toenails. So, which will it be?

(That pretty much sums up what real world can be like at work.)

And finally, the resolution.

“And in order to do that, I had to cut you off. It was impossible to protect you and protect her at the same time. I had to accept one of you completely, and reject the other one entirely.”

To go back to my leaning towards a happy ending, let’s go back to the final conversation between Eri (Kuro) and Tsukuru.

“But it’s strange, isn’t it?” Eri said.

“What is?”

“That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.”

Tsukuru nodded silently. He thought he should say something, but no words came.

What was it that he wanted to say as he was pondering upon whether or not Sara would accept him in the very end of the book?

Not everything was lost in the flow of time. That’s what Tsukuru should have said to Eri when he said goodbye […]

What then survives the flow of time? I believe that it is hope.

We truly believed in something back then, and we knew we were the kind of people capable of believing in something – with all our hearts. And that kind of hope will never simply vanish.

While I am happy to be able to extract that much from the book, one side-plot still eludes me is on Haida (Grey).

Haida became Tsukuru’s best friend after Tsukuru has decided that dying was not the best option moving forward. Besides, to will his heart to stop was as he found out later an impossible task. Here are what I have gathered from the story of Haida.

  • Grey is a mix of black and white. The two colors that symbolize Shiro and Kuro – the two girls in the original group of five. It seems to me that Haida is a male replacement of the two.
  • The sexually insinuated dreams between Tsukuru, Shiro, and Kuro has been once replaced by a dream involving Tsukuru and Haida, also sexual in nature.
  • To me, the original group of five reminds me of a hand with five fingers. It was natural. Haida has come across as the sixth finger.
  • Haida once recounted a story of his father (also called Haida) to Tsukuru. At one point, Tsukuru thought the story came from Haida himself.
  • Haida (the father) has met a jazz pianist called Midorikawa (Green) who in possession of (1) a mysterious small bag, (2) a special ability to see aura, and (3) a deadly burden that temporarily granted him the special ability but would cost him his life unless he could pass this deadly burden to a willing party.
  • Haida (the father) did not accept. Midorikawa has then disappeared.
  • Haida (Tsukuru’s friend) all of a sudden disappeared from Tsukuru’s life.
  • The story of his father may have been the story of Haida himself.
  • One of Tsukuru’s side mission is to find out what happened to Haida in order to fully remove his emotional burden. The book does not seem to have a resolution on this side-story.
  • Years later, a formaldehyde jar containing two severed sixth fingers are found in one of Tsukuru’s train stations.
  • This jar, I presume, belongs to Midorikawa – the mysterious small bag. So the story is real. Could this be the resolution?

So many ways to interpret the story. Did Haida accept the deadly burden and hence explains his second disappearance? Did he have the special ability all along or only after his first disappearance? Is that why there were those surreal moments between him and Tsukuru? More importantly, how does this story branch relate to the main story, if at all?

Still, Tsukuru felt that Haida’s clear eyes had seen right though him that night, to what lay in his unconscious. Traces of Haida’s gaze still stung, like a mild burn. Haida had, at that time, observed Tsukuru’s secret fantasies and desires, examining and dissecting them one by one […]

One constant theme in this book is about death and disappearance, heartache and reconciliation, reborn and recover. That much I can be certain of.

ISBN 978-4-16-382110-8

The Lifecycle Of Software Objects by Ted Chiang – Tons of Potential, Tons of Missed Opportunities

Lifecycle of Software Object

This novella has tons of potential. Imagine being able to log onto a virtual world – very much like how massively multiplayer online games work these days – and interact with digital organisms (or digients). In addition, you get to train your digients and see how they grow. Like raising a digital baby in a digital world.

Wait a minute. Doesn’t this remind you of The Sim or many of the Facebook games?

Fundamentally, the concept is very similar. The difference is that you can interact with your digients using natural language, very much like how you would interact with another being. Each digient comes with a unique set of genome and different company approaches how the genome is implemented in a different way. We are talking about AI (artificial intelligence), which none of the games today offers.

A number of interesting topics are explored in The Lifecycle Of Software Objects. Are these merely fanciful pets in a game or can they become companions for the human trainers? Can mutual affection be developed? What is the purpose of the grown up digients? As workers such as personal assistants? To possess the right level of artificial intelligence to solve real life problems? As mere entertainers? To push the sexual frontier for those who are interested in non-human sex? What about having these digients to have fun without thinking too much about operating at one’s full potential?

One major breakthrough of this novella is to have these digients ‘logging into’ our world by taking over a robotic body. Instead of human entering the virtual world using an avatar, we have these virtual beings entering our world using a machine, experiencing the real world. The idea is breathtaking. As in, these digients are able to get in and out of our world as we like (note: I would much preferred to be as they like – more on it in the missed opportunity section of this book summary).

Another great concept is that digients could be mature and intelligent enough to form their own corporations and hence, being solely responsible for themselves legally speaking, freeing themselves from their trainers or owners.

While The Lifecycle Of Software Objects has tons of potential, the novella also has tons of missed opportunities.

First and foremost, the story telling is not very interesting. We have Ana Alvarado as the protagonist who passionately trains and protects her digient Jax. The focus is confusing. Had the story revolved around Jax with some quality character development, I would have bought into the idea of digients. That every digient matters. Having Jax out of nowhere giving Marco a blowjob (page 52) due to some bad influence is not quite my kind of character development. It is okay to explore same sex intimacy. Just stay with it throughout. Besides that one single mishap, Jax’s life is not very interesting or lively either.

The story seems to revolve around Ana. But she doesn’t seem to have an interesting life. Her potential love interest Derek Brooks whom also shares the very same interest in raising digients is a wimp. Though he makes a rather grand gesture of sacrifice in the end, nothing materializes from it, very much like everything in this book.

The entire journey is filled with down turns with nothing much that looks up. First comes more superior digients that make our Jax looks dated and not as smart or useful. Then comes the various threats like hackers and exploits that would have been the villains but the issues are resolved all too fast, almost unceremoniously so. Soon, the game or the platform is losing customers (note: business model is basically selling virtual pet food to keep the digients going, which is kind of meh to me). The company closes down and the platform goes open source (sort of). Then more threats from all sorts of uninspiring ideas. Platform merger. And finally, being the only platform that is not ported to the next big thing, poor Jax, he is void of his new friends whom have been migrated to the new platform.

The rest of the story is on how Ana and Derek raise funds to port this old platform, even considering to partner with a company that sells sex toys.

Lastly, it wouldn’t make a good story to keep forwarding time line by months and years. After a while, I have lost in time. Was it 10 years have passed since Jax was born towards the end of the book? I have no idea. I wouldn’t manually add months and years as I read a book. Certainly I wouldn’t read this book again.

Alas. What a wasted opportunity.

If I were the author, I would sell fantasy and futurism rather than shallow realism based on today’s world. A lot of the tech stuffs are neither interesting nor insightful. I would make AI digients a success rather than comparing some of them with children that have Down syndrome. I would make them able to enter our world as and when they like. Learn our strengths and weaknesses first hand. These digients should rewrite their legal status. They should have free will and make us reflect upon our humanity. They could be a threat. Or a peacemaker. Affection between human and digients should be convincing.

I would take more risk with the plot. Definitely a lot tighter with the time line as the story is told. Also, would it not be a real good twist towards the end if Ana was an AI who was trying to create AI only get to know more about her own existence eh? 

ISBN 978-1-59606-317-4

My Marvelous YouTube Journey

A good friend of mine whom I have not met for a long time asked if I am still updating this website. Now, why haven’t my friend and I met for so long, let’s talk about that first.

His priority has always been work, then friends. With new found love, I am bumped into category 3. It may well be lower because since we have not talked for that long, he may have new found passion in life. That’s why.

As in why have I not updated this website for what seems like an eternity, it is a rather long story. But stories are something I always happy to share.

In a way, blogging is sharing one’s passion in life. That’s how I see it. To share, there are many ways. Ever since I cut ties with Facebook and dived into Google+, I have been more active over in that platform than in here. Because the level of engagement was fantastic. I could write here all nights, attending blogger events all over the island, and promote my website in all sorts of ways, with Google+, I could reach out to a much wider audience globally. If Google+ had a timeline like Facebook – do they still have that? – that could have been my website version 2.

But Google+ doesn’t have it. And to be honest, I don’t think the platform is doing that well lately. So how do I dish out my random thoughts onto innocent audience all over the world?

YouTube.

Why have I not discovered YouTube sooner? It is a great platform because we are into visual stuffs these days. Who reads book when we can watch TV the whole day (OK, I know some do read and believe it or not, I have just finished reading a book)? In fact, my wife Cynthia and I have just finished watching Jessica Jones season one. It is a-m-a-z-i-n-g!

My journey with YouTube started off as an experiment. One day I was playing a video game and I thought, why not record a clip with commentary? Soon, I was putting in effort into creating guides for my favorite online game called Marvel Heroes with only 2 subscribers in YouTube: my wife and my buddy Mark who is also into video games among other things we have in common.

Over time, I create better guides and clips and soon, subscription number picks up. Now, even looking at where I am today, it is far from being a successful or a popular channel. My view count per video is at best in thousands, not in millions. But I am happy. Because quite a few do appreciate my work and actively seek me out in YouTube and in game. I have made friends from all over the world. The latest is from Bulgaria. Granted, people do move on from one game to another. It is a nice feeling nonetheless. I am not that alone in this digital world.

If you were to ask what contributes to where I am today in YouTube, I think it is a combination of luck and good timing. Marvel is a good brand. There are fans out there all over the world. Marvel Heroes the game is not that popular. It is a niche product. But the fans are loyal. That makes my channel a niche channel. And my subscribers also seems loyal. The good news is that this game is likely to last for quite some time. Gazillions the developer has secured a 10 years licence from Marvel.

Do I enjoy what I am doing? I am happy to share. And I love to reach out to make new friends. As someone who is comfortable in front of a microphone and in front of the public – thanks for all the years of training in a band and as a consultant – YouTube is a great creative outlet for me, at least for now.

Click here for my YouTube channel.

Ant-Man, It’s Fun!

I am a fan of all things Marvel. People around me though, have various reaction to my choice of movies. Like one day, inside an office lift, my colleague and I were chatting about the one topic worth chatting in less than a minute, on a Friday – what’s your plan for weekend? I told him Guardians of the Galaxy. He went huh? I skipped Star-Lord (and avoided who?) and replied Rocket Raccoon? He went … a raccoon?! He clearly doesn’t know his stuff and I had an invisible eye rolling moment.

Anyhow, this time round, inside the lift, I replied Ant-Man. My female colleague went, “Huh? It must be a guy thing.” I said solemnly, “Yes, it is a guy thing.”

Ant-Man, a movie.

The fun doesn’t stop here. When I asked my wife out for an Ant-Man movie, her first reaction was, “Will we be able to see the character?” It was her polite way to decline my date invitation. Too bad. Once you are married, any right to say no to a date has been revoked. As before, I have booked the tickets weeks in advance. Due to some technical glitches, only one theater was available for online booking. And the screen was very tiny and I would prefer a large one. When I told that to Dave and Zep – our two Marvel movie buddies – they had a good laugh on that (ants and small screen, yes?). They still do.

Now, onto the movie, I honestly have no idea what or who Ant-Man was had I not played Marvel Heroes the online game. On that note alone, I would think that it could be a pretty tall order for Marvel Studios to pull this off. Let’s first talk about character development, because it is important for a less well known hero.

We have the comedian Paul Rudd as the main character, the soon-to-be Ant-Man. A likeable actor that suits the overall mood of this movie – fun. Then Michael Douglas, whom I presume is the star power behind this movie, as Hank Pym. It is a bit odd to see him on the good side, although in the realm of Marvel Universe, the line between good and evil is often blurred out. Lastly, the charming Evangeline Lilly from Lost who plays Hope, the daughter of Hank Pym. They have done a good job in unfolding the story, just about.

This trio is definitely not your everyday heroes running around on the street of Manhattan saving civilians. Ant-Man is not one of those superhero movies. If the scriptwriters were to stick to the original comic book plot, this movie would have looked something like this as taken from Marvel Heroes the online game website (this also explained one of the ending scenes in the movie).

Though a brilliant electronics expert, Scott Lang had made his share of bad decisions. Having served time in prison for burglary, Scott would return to his life of crime in order to save his terminally ill daughter, Cassie. Stealing the Ant-Man suit from Hank Pym, Scott would use the suit to save Dr. Erica Sondheim, the only doctor capable of saving Cassie from her heart condition. Once he realized that Scott was only trying to do the right thing, Hank Pym not only let Scott keep the suit, but gave him his blessing as the brand new Ant-Man!

So here lies the real challenge with Ant-Man the movie. Stealing a suit to save one’s daughter doesn’t seem as big as a deal comparing to saving the world. How faithful should the script sticks to the original story? Some fans may be even rooting for Hank Pym as the Ant-Man. Fear not. I reckon there will be a Ant-Man Original one day. Another era, another reboot.

Meanwhile, did we enjoy watching Ant-Man? We do. It is fun and entertaining. Just when the scene becomes serious, one actor would crack some jokes and we laughed, in between tears and what not. The visual effect of Ant-Man shrinking and collaborating with his troop of ants is well made. The fight scene that takes place around children toys is hilarious. Just don’t expect Ant-Man as your usual save-the-world kind of superhero movie.