Monday, November 26, 2007

17 I Had a Better Dream, Now I'm 33

I guess writing about your own birthday shows that you are really an egotistical prick with nothing better to write about. But then again, I think one of the perks about being in your 30s is that you start to realise that life is too short to worry too much about the rest of the world and to do what makes you happy. I have Vinod Shekhar, Malaysia's 16th richest man according to Forbes and sometimes magician to thank to this reminder. He always said, "The people who never liked you won't like you and those who were your friends all those years ago will still be your friends, as long as you have not changed."

Well, I suppose, now that I have reached the age of 33, I should probably reflect how much I've changed since I was 17. I like to think not that much about me has changed. Yes, I'm a little bit more jadded, or realistic in chasing what I want and don't want in life. Superficially, I've changed alot. When I was a young man, I was very insistant that I could only be involved with older women and that was pretty much true into my mid-twenties. Carra, perhaps my last true love, is six-years older. These days I'm more relaxed about being in the company of younger women - Han Li, the clossest female bit I have around me these days is 7-years younger and I don't worry that I'm developing secret pedophilic tendencies.

On the financial front, I think I've become a little more realistic. When you're 17 and living of Daddy's generosity, its easy to dream of financial figures. Somehow its nice to talk about a million or two as it were like talking about used condomes. Suddenly, when you're dependent on a few insane cases in the market....being able to keep a couple of thousand here and there in cash seems like a major achievement.

You also know you are getting old when the army seems less keen to touch you. I realised this when I ran into an army MO who insisted that I get my high-blood pressure examined. If there's an institution that reflects society, its the army. When you are 17 and you're lazy about doing regular excercise, you tend to get cocky because the army will knock you into shape. When you are in your twenties, getting pissed at 0300 and waking up to book into camp at 0600 is like ...second nature. But suddenly, in your thirties, the body starts to give off warning signs that enough is about to reach the stage of enough and somehow, you got to figure out a way to stay happy. - I'm still stubournely clinging onto the belief that I'll live out my days with not much healthy living, rich food, booze and a couple of floozies all over me....but I think there are times when even I don't get too turned on by this.

I know many would say that I've probably become a better and stronger person from the boy that I was at the age of 17. And it would be pretty sad if I was a carbon copy of who I was when I was that age.

But I like to think there are parts of me that have not changed since I was that kid. I like to think that I still see the best in people, even when they appear awful. Call it naive but I think everyone has a way of benefiting you. Its a case of looking within yourself for answers.

I also like to think that I'm still mentally curious. As long as you don't fall into a routine, you're brain will continue to work.

So, here I am at the age of 33. I had a better dream when I was 17 but I'm now in a better position to be a better dreamer.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Music Lessons

It was a fairly relaxed day to day. No, I lie, I was simply down right lazy. Woke up at about 11, had lunch and by 1230, I was back in the land of snooze for at least another five hours more. Sleep is such a wonderful thing to be in that one might conclude that I'm ready to drop dead and start again.

Anyway, the lazy part was OK. I mean, what else could I say, I was fast asleep and not doing anything. But then the evening did get more productive. Went out to the Ceylon Sports Club for a few moments. A friend's brother-in-law had bought two tables for a function where the Minister of Education was the Guest of Honour. After an hour we managed to sneak out and headed for the Harry's Bar in the Esplenade where there was a wonderful band playing.

Musicians always make good company. They're always relaxed, chilled out and they get their feelings expressed on the stage. Tonight's band was especially good. The lead singer is a long haired Indian fellow who melds with his guitar. Base player and drummer were also very good. I like small bands ..the sessions are always casual and the mood seems to create music and visa-versa. Anyway, I think we need to get more people going to support our local bands. There is plenty of talent in Singapore but I think its often under-appreciated.

Latest news is our beloved Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong has spoken about his worries about how Singapore is becomming more diverse. It's particularly true with the Chinese and Indian communities where our local Chinese and Indians end up rubbing shoulders against authentic Chinese and Indians.

With the local Chinese, we usually end up thumbing our noses at the Mainlanders, who usually come here as labourers and hookers. One of my good friends has a reached a stage where he's turned-off by the mainland Chinese accent.

The Indian community has the reverse problem, when the Indian IT workers come across from India and end up looking upon their Singaporean cousins and poorer relations.

Well, I guess there are certain truths to this. There are plenty of Mainland Chinese working as labourers and prostitutes. The Indian expats who come to Singapore tend to be better educated and better traveled than their Singapore counterparts. Why should it surprise anyone that certain tensions come about?

There is, however a good side to all of this. Local Singaporean Chinese and Indians are suddenly made to realise that they are Singaporeans rather than Chinese or Indians. Supriyo Sircar, Polaris's Regional VP puts the differences down to this - "India is simply not a reference point to Singaporean Indians." So there you have it...we the Chinese and Indians who were born in Singapore simply have no attachment to the "Motherlands," Singapore like it or not is our "Motherland," and the faster our community accepts it...the better it will be for all of us.

Singapore will have issues of "Us" and "Them." But I don't think race and religion will be the main ones. If anything, the most worrying problem for us will be a question of the haves and have nots. Take our growing economy. If you read the statistics, Singapore is back in boom town, something like the good old days of the 1980s where our economic growth rates made everyone else look like they were crawling.

But talk to people on the ground and you get a less pretty picture. Cost are rising and if you talk to enough people, it really hasn't changed all that much from 2001 when the word on everyone elses lips was about "recession." Food hawkers remain in the doulromes. So do cab drivers. Yes, business has definately picked up. I find that I can take cabs more often than I used. But the cost for the cab driver has increased to the point that he (and its usually a he) feels no better off than the days when we had a recession. OK, certain taxes like our GST have gone up. But so have other cost and for most businesses its in the area of rent. Christmas, Hari-Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali have been rolled into one and extended throughout the whole year for owners of commercial property (no prizes for guessing who is the largest landowner in Singapore).

Singapore is undoubtedly a competative place. Back in the old days Singaporeans could waltz into a job in the government or in a multi-national and leave the dirty work to migrants for poorer parts of Asia and the plum job to an expat that couldn't count from New York, Sydney or London. But these days, things are different. Yes, certain government departments that don't have an obligation to be accountable for their finances, can reserve jobs for Singaporeans. But for those in the private sector its a different story. The dirty jobs remain for the poorer cousins from poorer Asia. The plum jobs remain the property of a few barrow boys. But Midddle Management...well now, Singaporeans find themselves competing with people from India and China....people who are often overqualified for the jobs and who are hungrier for the job than your average Singaporean.

In a cruel -that's the free market- world, increased competition is good for Singaporeans. We can no longer rely on our paper qualifications when the competition has supperior qualifications and the willingness to fight harder than you do. Simply put - we the average Singaporean workers have to become smarter and hungrier for our own survival. If the Chinese and Indians can come here and make the system work for them, surely we can do the same and we can do it elsewhere too.

But while I am not against competition from foreigners, I get the feeling that it does not affect everyone in Singapore and that's morally and economically wrong. With the notable exception of SIA, Singapore's largest business enteties have simply gotten away with bullying their way in a small domestic market and the government doesn't seem to think that this is unnatural or damaging to the economy.

OK, to be fair, Singapore's economy is humming along. But isn't it a sign of complacency when market players can proudly proclaim that the market is too small for comeptition and that its necessary for them to have an iron grip on things, inculding the right to screw the consumer? The sooner someone decides that this is an unhealthy situation for the economy and does something about it - the better we shall all be.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hold On!

It's been quite a few days since I wrote anything in this blog. Nay, its been a long while since I actually wrote for the sake of writing. Put it down to a case of wanting to do something different or perhaps its a good sign for the consultancy part of my work that I'm somehow making enough money in there for me not to have the inspiration to write all sorts of articles on all sorts of stupid things.

Anyway, I've been hit by one of those crazy quandary moods and so here I am blogging, trying to inflict my personality on the rest of the world for the sake of...well having nothing better to do or perhaps just losing myself to ...well nothing in particular....but a lost heart, I suppose.

Perhaps we should start with the 11th of November or Armristice Day. This was an event that I used to take quite seriously when I lived in the UK, but have since let dissapear into the realms of insignificance. I'm trying to revive some private meaning for myself on this day but somehow it becomes more difficult as the years go by and I get more and more caught up with the perks of modern living.

It's a shame that I've started to feel that way. Armristice Day marks a day when millions of young men in Europe died in what was the world's most horrible war (WWI). While, World War II saw more casualites in absolute numbers, it has become something of a sanitised legend. We have been drawn into a world of Hollywood Romance about a pretty horrendous occasion. World War I on the other hand reminded ...bloody....messy and pretty much forgotten and in that very fact, I think we forget something very precious ..... the reality of war today is that although we are told that Wars (especially when Americans are involved) have a romantic and heroic significance, the reality remains that war is a messy, senseless act of old men sending young men to their deaths for no particular reason.

What was World War I other than a family fude between Europe's Royals? Cousin George in Britain along with his cousin Nicky in Russia couldn't hack it that Cousin William of Germany needed to march his troops accross a bit of land that they coveted for themselves. Because a couple of inbreed blue bloods couldn't settle a family quarell in a civilised manner -millions of young men spent too many years of their lives shooting at each other in trenches and not advancing at all.

Today, we have something pretty similliar. We are forgetting the fact that its young men like me, my friends and probably the children that we are having (yes, I'm now at the age of mass reproduction) who pay the price of the fantasies of a few wimps....Little Georgie who didn't have the balls to be a solider himself needs to play solider with.....other people's lives.

I believe soliders themselves are nobel people doing a sometimes necessary and always unpleasent job. I just despise politicians who don't have the balls to do the job themselves sending the boys in for the sake of it. Seriously, Iraq is like World War One ...the fantasy of a man with no balls playing with the lives of other people because....well the lives at stake are not his and those of his gang. To be fair to him, we as ordinary people have done precious little to stop the nonsense but then again....hey......its not our lives that are being lost for no good reason.

After Armristice Day on the 11th, the 12th was spent in more mundane fashion. Went and got my client interviewed twice...hip, hip, horray. Then I went home and who should I run into but Dad who was visiting the old ladies.

Actually, it was good I ran into him. For once, I took the initiative to call him and invite him out to dinner. He's looking bloody good for a man who is about to turn 60. Ended-up picking up the tab for dinner, which pissed me off imensely, because I wanted to make a change to take him out. But then again, he had alot of fun telling me to get my life sorted out. But at least this time it was done in a somewhat optimistic atmosphere. He's suddenly discovering he's happy again. Its like he working and he loves his work and that's given him the energy that he had before business went to the piglets the first time round.

My Dad has never been much of a cuddly character. I mean, my mother needs to speak to me every week, while I barely speak to the old man except on special occasions (His birthday, mine and Chinese New Year). The lack of communication seems to suit both of us just fine. And yet, just because we keep our communications to a minimum....I'm actually starting to appreciate the time I get to spend with him. I think certain gaps in life do get filled up when I hear side of the story.

Anyway, I managed to speak to Han Li in Vietnam today. Didn't get a chance to speak to Thui today but God Willing I'll get to speak to her within the month. The idea of doing a Bangkok-Hanoi trip this December actually seems quite nice.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Deepavali: Diwali and the Shinning Lights.

It's in the wee hours of the Deepavali morning and tomorrow is yet another public holiday, here in the land of manufactured harmony and repackaged values. The Indian community will be busy celebrating and the rest of us will join in the fun and games because, well we just need an excuse to celebrate something and actually not go to work, school and the other places where we normally spend most of our days.

For me, Deepavali or Diwali is a wonderful time. My biggest clients outside the Saudi community are Indian and so its up to the usual sending out of greetings. This being an Indian festival, there a variety of dates. South Indians celebrate Deepavali, North Indians celebrate Diwali a day later and the Nepaleese celebrate the same festival another day later. However, its the same festival - the Festival of Lights and like Christmas in the land of the retailer and advertiser, Diwali has lost it's religious overtones and become a festival that everyone celebrates.

So, I suppose I should comment on this? Not really, I'm not as theological as I was back in my youth and for a trained anthropologist, I have remarkably low interest in symbolism other than the signs before numbers on my bank statements. Somehow, as you get older, your mind becomes more focused on basic things.

I guess, I like Diwali because there's alot of talk about light and having light in ones life. We're all interested in having light rather than dark. Thanks to the invention of electronic lights, barn owls like me are able to get things done at night and substitute our sleep paterns during the day when the normal go about their business.

Light is one of those wonderful things if it cuts through the darkness of the usual bullshit that pollutes the life we live. Take a look at the financial markets. Right now you have loads and loads of clever people comming up with all sorts of theories as to why the market is moving this way or that. Very clever people like the former CEO's of Meril Lynch and Citigroup were so clever that they managed to lose an announced US$20 billion between them by lending money to people who could not pay it back and to show how clever they really are ....they both managed to negotiate themselves a servence pay ranging in the hundreds of millions to each of them. Clearly this is clever, because you manage to get rewarded when you fail as well as when you succeed.

Of course, the ordinary people will be clouded by loads of arguments made up by the clever people. But I suppose that must be ok, since ordinary people merely put up the money for the schemes of the clever people. Really, it does not take a genious to figure out the major problems with the world economy. American's are up to their eye-balls in bad debts and have no savings. Chinese on the other hand save alot and place all the money they make in American T-Bonds - which means, Chinese savings are in actual fact subsidising American spending. Now, it looks like that cycle is not about to last and the world is definately in for some interesting economic times - no matter what the clever people out there tell you.

Its a wonderful thing to have light. It allows you to see things more clearly and when you can see more clearly, you act more clearly. Now isn't that something you should go for!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Blockage Clearing Slowly

Nose is starting to get unblocked, which is nice and the incidents of smokers cough are slowly but surely subsiding. This is, I believe partly as a result of drinking lots of hot tea during the day and subsidising it with a bit of wine and beer in the evening. Nothing like a bit of alcohol to kill the booze.

Anyway, the last two-days have been about family efficiency. Spent the better part of two-days around Tara, helping her to sort out some doccuments that she needed to sort out with the powers that be and showing her the fastest way to look for cheap goodies. My sister, the perpetual Tomboy spared me hours of painful shopping trips but did take a bit of time to look for some "cool" trinkets. She now heads off to Perth for cousin Luke's wedding - this will be the first wedding in the family in quite a while - mine, as my mother has delightfuly reminded me does not count (well, to a certain extent, I guess that's true - I avoided telling people I was married).

Managed to settle a major part of the phone bill and treated myself to a Pizza at Pete's Place in the Hyatt. I think Pete's is wonderful Italian resturant. I remember the place as a kid and now that I've aged to the unkidly age of 32, I still enjoy oven baked pizzas and the fresh bread.

Having lived in Asia (if you can call Singapore Asia), I'm generally spoilt for food choices. Somehow, we on this rather diverse continent, have managed to make the most trivial of things seem tasty. As a Chinese, I take pride in the fact that we managed to uncover the gastronomic delicacies of things like chicken feet and spare parts. When it comes to food taste, I'm all for my own kind. I actually despise Chinese who move to the West and brag about how they don't eat spare parts as a sign of how they have become developed - rather like I find Muslims and Indians who don't use their hands when they eat briyani to be distasteful. For some perverse reason, I see this is a sign of low self-esteem in Asians who are so desparte to try and ape cultures that have not discovered half the wonders on offer in their own culture.

Having said all of that, I find many Western things wonderful and nowhere is this more true than in many Western cuisines. The French have set the standard for Western cooking and the Italians are another group of magicians when it comes to food. I remember one of the best memories of my last summer holidays in Europe was a family trip to Florence. Personally, I found the weather too hot to make old buildings and cathedrals interesting. But what I took home from that trip was the joy of how the Italians managed to make magic with a few herbs, red wine and cheese. There's such an incredible smell of freshness in the early morning of the Italian countryside.

Pizza dough and cheese is one of the most amazing wonders of the Italian kitchen and somehow, for $22, I was able to find alot of happy feelings over a single pizza. I think food is like sex - its best enjoyed with the tounge and the mouth. Somehow when four cheeses are put onto a bit of dough - the flavours create a magical sensation that brings the whole body to a new level of joy - the Finns will of course argue that a run in the snow after a sauna produces similar feelings.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Stuffed nose, smoker's cough and lots of green stuff

I've come down with the most horendous bug that has kept me pretty much bed ridden for the past 3-days. Somehow, I can't help but cough-up horrible green things violently and my nose has been blocked all the way up to the brain and unlike a certain law professor, I can't even tell if this is what gay sex aka buggeration by another bloke feels like.

Yes, this is the begining of something pretty crappy at a time when I think I could do with a few moments of feeling good. Managed to collect my final payment from GRID for the GE job, which means I have finally come close to reviving the savings account to the levels that it was at last year, and I can concentrate on a few other things that will, God Willing put more money in the cash bucket. Of course, the temptation to go out on a spree of booze, hookers and dubious business ventures calls out quite seductively but I thanks to this cold I don't seem to have the will or capacity to be bad as a I want to be - which is just as well - since I think the sub-prime crisis is about to get worse and having cash in hard times is an absolute must in this day and age.

Being sick is no fun. I'm stuck with having to breath through my mouth on a few occasions and I just want to get as much sleep as I can. The best form of entertainment that seems to come my way these days is observing the colour and texture of the stuff that I cough up or breath out of my nose. I think I must be pretty bugged up because I've taken quite a few dosages of flue medication and that does not seem to be kicking in. Of course, looking at your green stuff is actually pretty repulsive but facinating in a quck-doctor kind of way - I think in Chinese medical terminology, you can tell if your body is "Heaty" by the green icky stuff that comes out and my body must be near furnace point - even if I am not actually feverish.

Having said that, I've had a bit of quiet time to get things done. Been updating my facebook profile. OK, networking sites are not for everyone. I mean, I think most of the people I meet on these sites are people I already know and do business with. I've never actually meet a new contact off the net and had a successful business transaction. Same goes with getting laid. Have not meet anyone who wanted to get laid with me just because they found my profile sexy.

However, Facebook is different in an interesting way. Have managed to meet all sorts of old friends and reconnected with them. In particular its good to meet with the guys from the Old Churcharian's Club. It's been years since I left school and I think I'm in danger of sounding like one of those sad public school boys who has nothing better to do but reminice about the old days. Well....not really, these are guys who formed an important part of my life and its good to have a contact of sorts with them. One of them, I think is in Singapore and it would be worth getting in contact. - Not sure if the bugger remembers me though.

Tara comes into town later today (by which I mean 3 November). Will be good to catch-up with her. I think if last year was the year of the baby girl, this should be the year of the siblings. First Max and now Tara dropping by. It's strange to think that I'm so much older than the rest of them, but somehow that has not stopped me being or wanting to be close to them. Tara in particular, is the sibling closest to me in age and the only one that did any growing-up with me. I think she's probably the one sibling of mine who can laugh at the same people that I laugh at most of the time. OK, Gina was a bit of an exception - Christopher did most of the laughing (At age 11, he was so tickled to meet a grown-up he was taller than) - Tara was merely a frosty sister-in-law - ah the joys of soap-opera marriages.