Snippet Of My Life Episode 33 – How Have You Been?

There are so many words I want to write.  So many ideas stuck inside that my head figuratively exploded in my bathroom this evening, while I was showering.  Instead of putting shampoo onto my hair, I used shower gel.  It smelt good, it smelt different.  And then I realized that my ‘shampoo’ shouldn’t smell different.  Smelling different was not good.  Times like this makes me wonder what I was thinking.

Lately, a multitude of events and activities have happened.  Some directly, and some indirectly hinder my usual pace of update in my website.  Before I pour out my words in a random relevance, there is one good news to share.

1. News of An Amiable Scale

Amelia is a beautiful name.  That is the name of my guitarist and my band manager’s 3.3 kg baby girl who arrived yesterday morning at 9.30am.  Three and a half years ago I was the emcee for their wedding.  That memorable day seems so far away.  Reminiscing the key events that happened from then till now can easily make my brain goes kaboom.  For those who have missed our band’s public performance one and a half years ago, that could well be the very last gig of No Eye Candy.  Our drummer falls in love.  Our guitarist and band manager now have a baby.  The only ones who stay relatively stationary are Cynthia – the bassist – and I.

Amelia, our Spanish teacher, is back from Spain.  People are gifted in different ways.  She must be one of the most cheerful person in the world.  With her in our classroom, our spirit lights up 10,000 watt.  Amelia speaks so much faster than our replacement teacher Gloria.  All of a sudden, I find myself standing on the quicksand of audio retardation.

2. What If All These Words Were to … Vanish?

It is not the first time my website is hacked.  The last few times that happened, I changed my blogging engine.  Now that I am using WordPress, I am unsure where else to turn to.  In the last couple of weeks, my website was hacked at least twice.  During the time when the fate of my website was unknown, Cynthia seemed to be more affected than I was.  She asked, “What if …”  It did come across my mind that all my close to 1,500 posts written since 1996 could vanish into a digital black hole.  If that did happen, what else could I do?  So I replied, “Well, I will have to start from the first post again.”  Cynthia was shocked by my calmness.  To be honest, it sucks thinking about it.  Thank God, while this tiny digital space of mine was somewhat violated, it is still alive with its legacy growing one post at a time.

3. Online Gaming and Work, Online Gaming and Life

The barrier of our imagination is often defined by our experience.  It is hard to describe what online gaming is if one has not immersed into one.  Recently, I have new observations in life and work that are revealed due to my experience in online gaming.  I will not write too much about the gaming bits that may be hard to relate.  Instead, I will focus on the life and work bits.

My work is getting busy lately.  I belong to a reasonably sized team.  In theory, workload should be evenly distributed among us.  But in reality, some may be busier than others.  Different people take this situation differently.  Some may make it a point to announce to the world that they are the busiest one.  Some may start to criticize and openly examine what others are doing.  I am the easygoing one.  If I am the only one working while everyone around me is taking a break, I am OK with that.  If I am one of the few who is taking a break while some are burning long hours, I am OK with that too.

When we play an online game, essentially we are playing a team based game.  Almost everyone has a meter to show how each of us is contributing on a real time basis.  Because different people come with different skills and levels of commitment, come from different age groups and genders, I have seen all sorts of patterns displaying in my meter.  At times when everyone is contributing at their maximum, it can be an exhilaration experience.  At times when one or two under-perform, I often do not mind carry them through.  However, it is not uncommon to see these under-performers being openly picked onto and humiliated by the high-performers.  Even being removed from the team.  If you think that this sounds like work, there is little difference between work and non-work.  There are no two hats we are wearing.  It is the same person at work or not.

One morning on our way to work, Cynthia and I chatted about our new online characters.  There will be new old challenges to overcome (the challenges are old to us but are new to our new characters).  Cynthia cringed thinking about it.  I pondered for a moment and said something like this: “It is the constant need to overcome challenges that keep us going.  That sense of thrill – the thrill of potential failure and defeat – is what makes life [or this game] interesting.  Treasure it because once we can comfortably overcome them, life [or this game] becomes another routine, a chore perhaps.”

4. Social Network and I, Social Network and You

Thanks to Google+, in the last three months, I am off the hook from the social networking scene.  It was a reset that got me off Facebook.  And I hardly spend the same amount of time and effort in Google+ like I did in Facebook.  This does bring some imbalance to my life.  It is as though a chunk of my life has been torn away.  I feel less inspired these days because I was used to a high level of online social stimulation and interaction.  I reckon it may take some time before my digital hormone returns to normal.  But it is a good thing, in the long run.

Today, I read a CNN article and it wrote:

Of course, if [the Facebook users] stopped and think about it, they would realized that Facebook is work … The hours Facebook users put into their profiles and lists and updates is the labor that Facebook then sells to the market researchers and advertisers it serves … We’re not the customers. We are the product.

Now that I am outside the social network, I do not deny the wisdom of the writer’s observation.

5. News of An Amiable Scale – A Prologue

Amelia is a beautiful name.  Yesterday inside our car, on the way home, I said to Cynthia, “If our baby does not come out fast, all the beautiful names will be taken.”  She giggled.  I believe that God has plans for us.  We may not understand why certain things do not happen at the time we think they should.  Perhaps the answers we sought after are less important than the contents life has presented to us on a daily basis.  Perhaps answers are to be earned in the form of rewards.

In short, this is how I have been lately.  Now, tell me, how have you been?

Snippet Of My Life Episode 32 – Don’t Let That Dumbbell Falls Onto Your Balls!

“You are much smaller than how I imagine you to be,” said one colleague of mine from India whom I have not met before in real life.  We were having lunch at our office canteen.  It was a bright and sunny day with the glory of the afternoon sun flooded into our dinning hall through the long row of floor to ceiling glass windows.  Caught off guard by his comment, I was unable to response.  You see, from where I work, we have tons of cross border voice conference calls.  Most of the time we recognize people by voice.  Most of the time, we visualize how the person may look purely by our imagination.

I have fallen in love with Adele’s voice.  Her song “Rolling In The Deep” lifts up my spirit whenever I hear it played on the radio.  When I watched her music video on YouTube, she was not how I imagined her to be.  Nevertheless, I adore her music and I love her voice.  I hope I have not disappointed that colleague of mine too much, by not being as physically big as how I may have subconsciously portrayed myself to be through the phone.

The other day, after yet another conference call, an Indian colleague from the same office building commented that I have a commanding voice.  Perhaps I do sound different when I am on the phone, versus when you catch me on the lift.  You see, I don’t think conference call should be long and painful.  Because too many people have spent too much time listening to the topics that are of little interest to them.  Updates and clarifications should be concise, actionable, and to the point.  Get your 10 seconds of fame and pass the mic to the next one quick.

Reward is a peculiar thing.  It motivates you to move forward.  It nullifies the pain of your daily grinds.  Your hope and anticipation builds up as you are closing in.  The moment you get your hands onto your reward, the happiness seems to last for only a split second.  And then you ask, what’s next?  It is as though the reward itself seldom matters.  What matters is the journey of getting there.

I see this in my online game.  I see this in my real life.  Suffice to say, the moment I do not see any reward in sight, I would feel restless and lost.  I have a theory.  If you are bored at work, that would likely to make you a duller person outside your office.  If you are too busy at work, that would make you a workaholic that frankly speaking, I do not know who would love you except your bosses.  Or rather, who you would love besides your work.  Striking a balance is never easy.  Consistently attaining that balance seems almost impossible.  Nonetheless, that is the ideal.

Like it or not, our society pigeonholes us into buckets of similar attributes.  We may end up having a similar set of milestones in life, doing similar things in life, and going through similar set of daily grind.  This is rather unfortunately, in my opinion.  We could be so much more unique.  The point is, there are many things in life that we should be doing them because we want to, rather than because everyone is doing them.  The journey is the same.  But the experience is different.

I enjoy meeting this buddy of mine over at the east for lunch during working days, at the airport.  One fine day after our food, we were browsing magazines at a newsstand.  One particular magazine, or rather booklet, caught his attention and he passed it to me.  It was a guide on how to exercise with the dumbbells.  How appropriate.  I have always want to get a proper guide on how to do weightlifting.  I flipped through the pages seriously considering to spend ten bucks purchasing it.  Then I stopped at one particular routine.  In the picture, a man was lying with his back on the floor and he was using his feet to do the heavy lifting.  The dumbbell was locked in between the arches of his feet as he pushed it up into midair and let it down.  We gasped.  What if the dumbbell or pieces of it, for whatever reason, fell off?

Ouch.

Snippet Of My Life Episode 31 – Round And Round In Circle

When I told other men1 that I drive an extra 34 km2 a day through the rush hour traffic and tolls to drop off and pick up Cynthia in town every working day, a common reaction would be: Why don’t you drop her at a train station near your home and she can make her way to work from there?  To be frank, it does not come across to me as an option at all.  So day in, day out, we have earned at least an hour – depending on traffic condition – of quality time, of us-time inside our car.  We crack jokes, talk about the music scene, talk about our investments, our nieces and nephew, sometimes talk about more intelligent topics like the stuffs we read from the Internet or the books, or something geek-ish like the gaming mechanism of World of Warcraft.  I could spend the entire journey talking about Formula One; and her on make-up.  Or she could spend the initial part of the journey trying to tell me the fairy tale of Princess and the Pea, of which upon hearing her version, I retold the story in a more cohesive manner during the remaining part of the journey.  I often think that between the two of us, I am the better storyteller.  And she is not buying into my suggestion that she needs to start blogging in order to improve her storytelling technique.

Picking up Cynthia in the evening at times involves I going round and round in circle.  Because it is quite impossible to find a temporary parking space in town, legally speaking.  And because I hate to illegally park my car and inconvenienced other people.  I am neutral towards this method of pick-up and I am always happy – unless I am really hungry – to see Cynthia appears from nowhere.  I often joke with her that she is – like in the game World of Warcraft – a rare spawn, or a mineral node that I would go round and round to wait for a respawn.  To those who can relate, I am unsure if playing that online game makes me a more patience person.  Or because I am a patience man, I have no qualm going round and round in circle mining and herbing.  I think it is a bit of both.

But surely, you may say, that is not a good way to spend my time, going round and round in circle.  If you stop and think about it, most of us do the same thing at work: going round and round in circle waiting for that tiny and most of the time, insignificant breakthrough.  In my organization and in any large organization I have worked with, heroism is bad.  To be perceived as indispensable is quite possible the fastest way to be dispensed.  How so?  Teamwork, it has always been valued more than heroism.  There are systems, processes, and culture in place to ensure just that.  When I was young, my dad often came home and said how he acted dump at work.  At that age, I could not comprehend why one would want to do that.  Now that I have more grey hairs, I think I do.  I do not act dump at work.  Rather, I prefer to stay low, put my head down, and do my work.  I have learned to stay within my role and to respect the roles of others.  Is lack of ambition necessarily bad?

Politics, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.  Recently, Cynthia and I had breakfast with our good old buddy who is running for the opposition party in Singapore.  Tipping point was one of the topics I have initiated.  Wouldn’t I be concerned as a Singaporean if the opposition takes over the government today, he asked?  Or should it be a more graduate approach for the politicians coming not from the ruling party today to first learn the rope?  He, I think, prefers a more gentle approach, a safer approach.  I am not into politics.  I do not know what works, what does not.  In my mind, leaders can also be created by the opportunity that calls for at the most unexpected hour.  Not every leader is to be groomed from young.  A safer approach, no doubt, but by no means the only way.  Towards the end of our breakfast session, I made a casual remark that perhaps all we need is someone charismatic to take the social network by storm.  True enough, weeks later, we have our youngest politician, a 24 years old running for opposition party contesting one of the strongholds of the ruling party.  In the morning when the news was out, her Facebook page has only 500 like’s.  In the span of merely a few days, her page has hit close to 20,000 like’s.  I agree with my buddy that Obama did not win the election by means of the social network.  But I argued that coupling the online channel with substance translates to rapid dissemination of ideals directly to the people on the ground, with little or no censorship.  I still have no idea which party to vote for this coming general election.  I do not watch local TV, or read the local papers.  My news feed comes mostly from the online channel3.  At present, I have received more messages from the opposition than from the ruling party.  And there is this highway issue that makes me start to question certain beliefs I have with our government.

Tonight, I am delighted to learn that Lauren Froderman has won season 7’s So You Think You Can Dance4.  I am so rooted for that 19 years old dancer who was the last woman standing against a season dominated by male dancers.  The same level of delight when I learned that Whitney Miller has won the MasterChef.  It is good to see talented people get to perform at their peak, with no holding back.  In some situations, heroism pays off.

Footnote 1: Women seem to have no problem understand the need to be picked up everyday. Footnote 2: Singapore is tiny so 34 km is relatively long. Footnote 3: The online version of our local newspaper only gives out truncated news bites with the message that the remaining can be found in the printed version. Footnote 4: Yes, we are very slow in broadcasting overseas TV programs.

Snippet Of My Life Episode 30 – Love, Yusheng, Snail, and Bicycle

How did you spend your Valentine Day?  It was on a Monday, not an ideal day to celebrate.  So we celebrated ours on Sunday instead.  In case if you are curious on what we did on Monday, the picture below says it all.  Something is very wrong about this picture in so many dimensions, I know.  But it is what it is.

This Valentine, one of the gifts I bought for Cynthia got her jumping up and down in pure happiness.  It was a pleasant surprise, because I have not seen her so happily surprised at that euphoric magnitude.  It was something simple, did not take me long to find.  What took me a long time though was to think of what to get for her.  Perhaps it is true that it is the thought that counts.

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No.  Despite the common belief that Yusheng or Lo Hei comes from Hong Kong, this dish is as uniquely Singapore as it can be.  I came from Hong Kong.  I have not eaten something like this before.  Certainly my family would flip if they see me standing, tossing food in mid air, inside a Chinese restaurant, during Chinese New Year.

Lo Hei is a cold dish with mixed vegetables.  I had my first encounter this year inside a posh Indian restaurant with a majority of Indian colleagues and business associates.  In view of the cultural difference, our Chinese hosts took the time to explain the steps in consuming this dish the Singapore way.  I do not remember all the steps in details.  All I remember was a full jar of oil emptied into the dish.  One of the Indian balked.  Me too.  I think the oil signifies a smooth and easy life.  Wow.  That was a lot of oil.

Lo Hei is an auspicious dish.  Tossing the dish with the ingredients high up in the air is part of the ritual.  The higher, the better.  In a business setting, I would presume that we do this in wish for a better career?  As I was happily tossing the dish, I suddenly recalled that my boss’ boss  and I were sharing the same dish, with a few others.  I was unsure if it was OK to toss higher than my boss.  So I quickly readjusted my enthusiasm and observed how high my boss’ boss tossed.  Am I going crazy?  Would you toss much higher than your bosses?

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Ever since I shared this observation with Cynthia, she has stopped eating prawns.  You may skip this section if you are a prawn lover.

To me, prawns are underwater worms with a shell.  Once the shell is removed – raw or cooked – the naked prawn looks like a worm.  It is a lump of protein, which fortunately tastes pretty good – cooked or not.  I am fine with this imagination.  Cynthia is not.

Sea slugs are in essence snails without a shell.  But no one eats marine slugs or freshwater slugs inside a restaurant.  What we do have though is a land snail dish called escargot.  I love this French dish.

We eat land snails (selected species of course) but we don’t eat sea slugs.  We eat prawns but we don’t eat worms (except in some exotic cultures).  I conclude that we prefer eating things that come with a shell.

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My friend R never stops trying to rally my emotion and call for my return to my ‘glorious day’ of being a cyclist.  My response to him is always the same.  I do not trust the drivers in Singapore.  I do not even feel safe hiding inside an encrusted metal when I am driving here.  What makes you think that I am willing to risk my life and share the road with fellow drivers, on a bicycle?  One of our mutual friends accidentally entered into a highway and got himself into an incident.  Another one got his shoulder dislocated on a hit-and-run incident.  Really.  Need I say more?  Fortunate for me, although I have only got to learn cycling when I was in my twenties, I have had the most smashing experience cycling across UK doing at times 120km a day.  After which, all I can say is that I can be happily ‘retired’, as far as cycling goes.

One day, I met R for lunch.  He showed me a badly cracked smartphone and asked, “Guess what happened?”  No idea.  You dropped the phone, I responded.

A few days ago, R was cycling in the middle of the leftmost lane.  Should cyclists stay on the far side of the road or should they occupy the entire road wide enough for buses and trucks?  I do not know which is less dangerous.  One car made a hard left turn from the  middle lane, cut into R’s lane, and they collided.  My friend seemed OK.  And he is claiming S$5,000 from the driver.  Because he has an expensive bicycle; he bicycle has some expensive gadgets; and he was carrying an expensive smartphone.

I do not know what level of damage his bicycle has endured.  But I learn to stay away from expensive bicycles after hearing R’s story.  This evening, at one junction, I saw a horde of expensive bicycles crawling towards me.  I patiently gave way.  If one was to cause a domino effect on them – however remote this could be – that would be one expensive bill to pay.  Not only for the bicycles, but also the attached speedometers.  Maybe GPS devices.  Not to forget to mention the smartphones that cyclists carry when they cycle.

Snippet Of My Life Episode 29 – Pigs And Sheep Estate, With A Marketplace

This is a story of Dooku, of which the prequel you may have already read.  Dooku was a farmer, a chef, but not any more.  At least for now.   While the story may be inspired by the people at work, all the characters are works of fiction.  If you feel that I am writing a story about you, you should buy me a drink.  Because you are about to get famous.

Kidding.

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One day, Dooku has entered a city.  Not the biggest city on earth.   But one that is sophisticated enough to have people working on a desk that comes with a chair.  An office, as the city dwellers may call it.   Dooku chuckles whenever he hears the word “office”.   An office or a farm – in Dooku’s simplistic mind – mean the same.   In a farm, you wake up early, plow the soil, add some cow dung if need to, do more plowing, and when the time comes, you harvest your produce; the cycle continues.   In an office – as Dooku observes – people wake up early, push some paperwork around, create more work for others if need to, push more work to each other, and when the time comes, collect their paychecks; the cycle continues.

In this new office, Dooku loves to ask people what their roles are.  That seems to piss people off.   Because most people prefer to keep their roles as fuzzy and vague as possible.  But in Dooku’s defense, he asks because he wants to know what he needs to do.   Back in his farming days, if Dooku knows that no one is going to clean up the excess cow dung left in the farm after the fertilization process, Dooku would clean up the cow dung himself.   All farmers do that.  Why?  Because too much cow dung piled up under the sun attracts flies.  And it especially intrudes Dooku’s olfactory senses.   Dooku is a simple man.  A helpful simple man, who is often misunderstood at work.

One day, an unfinished piece of work is handed over to Dooku.  No matter.  Work is work, unfinished or not.   There is an architectural model large enough to fill up a boardroom that needs some touchups.   Dooku takes a closer look.  First at the signage.  It says: An estate for rapid evolution with the goal of galactic domination! He then stares at the proposed housing units for the pigs, and at the proposed housing units for the sheep.  The marketplace for the pigs, and the marketplace for the sheep to trade their produces with the outside world.  Where are the weapons of mass destruction?   How do the pigs and the sheep envisage the means to dominate the galaxy?   Dooku then takes the liberty to rename the signage to: An estate for the pigs and the sheep with an efficient and hygienic marketplace for trading purposes. Satisfied with what he does, Dooku goes on touching up the aesthetic aspect of the model.  The look-and-feel.  Correcting some obvious design flaws like sheep do not need handrails, unlike the pigs that at times, walk on two feet.   Just like how it is documented in the “Animal Farm”.

Next, Dooku takes another look at the model.   As it is, the estate looks like a DMZ between the pigs and the sheep.  Such obvious demarcation between the two races.  What gives?  The pigs and the sheep suppose to co-exist in one allocated area.  Are they not talking to each other?   (Dooku, a simple man as he is, may not aware that pigs and sheep do not normally talk to each other.)   Again, Dooku takes the liberty to slightly rearrange the housing estate, making it more like pigs and sheep living in harmony.   He then combines the two marketplaces into one by knocking down some walls, clearly labels the “Vegetarian” section for the sheep to sell their vegetables.   And the “Meat Lover” section for the pigs to sell pork chops.   As an icing on the cake, Dooku even illustrates how the outsiders should be led into the marketplace, how money can be exchanged, details that were not available in the previous model.

The peace loving sheep look at the polished model, love it, with no further question.   The war raging pigs look at the same model, hate it, and spit on it.  Because it looks superficially different from what they have seen before.  But surely this is a more polished design, Dooku asks.  Besides, what lie inside the houses and the marketplace remain unchanged.   Unfortunately, the pigs cannot be reasoned with and insist that something major, other that cosmetic, has been modified.   Flabbergasted, Dooku is asked to organize a town hall meeting that involves a large team of people and pigs and sheep to iron out the differences.   In the meeting, Chief Porky goes on and on about not able to verify the interior design of the houses and of the marketplace for the mere fact that the model looks different.  And he has no time or found it too tedious to reconcile the two, unlike his sheep counterpart.  More and more time is poured into this pointless discussion whereby in the good old day, Dooku would have seen his maize grow beautifully, day by day, taking in the sunlight from the sky and the water mixed with the cow dung from the ground, turning into something so yummy in salad and in soup.   As this pointless discussion carries on, in this farm now called office, Dooku wonders what does time and effort turn into.  The pigs talk louder, more and more.   Chief Porky bangs onto table going into all four (instead of the usual civilized standing posture).  Dooku cannot help but daydream.  In his dream, he sees a parallel universe.  In this dream, he is a bird.  An angry bird.  Together with his fellow birdies, they have launched an angry attack against the pigs.  Because enough is enough.   One flying angry bird threatens to pulverize the home of the pigs.  Two flying angry birds threaten to penetrate the pigs’ last defense.  As more and more angry birds rain down from the heaven, the pigs are squashed into oblivion.   Mashed together with the cow dung, this enhanced pig-cow dung serves as a rich fertilizer to the maize nearby.  What was so irritatingly useless in pig form becomes so useful mixed with dung.   Maize grows and grows, getting taller and taller almost touching the heaven and bum!

Dooku wakes up.  It is dinner time.  And he orders a pork chop served with corns feeling a whole lot better already.