Saturday, 27 March 2010


Yes, guys, I used to be a troll. I hope I can say I used to be a troll, because I don’t really know if my trolling days are over yet. Sometimes you just have to do a lot of something in order to learn how pointless it is. Like a lot of people who did a lot of crazy stuff when they were teenagers - vandalism, shoplifting, taking recreational drugs – and then went on to lead perfectly normal adult lives.

Of course trolling had to do with the internet. Flaming was a new phenomenon, since the internet allows you to say stuff to people you wouldn’t necessarily say to their face.

It began during my 4th year at the uni. You guys know by now that I’m a social camel – I can go without human contact for long stretches. But by the 4th year it had begun to grate on me a lot. I had come to the limits of what books could teach me. I hadn’t been disciplined in getting to know people – you do have to stay in the same place for a long time, and establish some kind of a routine. I was bad at that. Or else I felt like I had much to lose from staying in the same place for too long.

The Singapore I knew, and had left 3 years earlier had been a place that was quite closed to itself, and very conservative. People were always afraid of speaking out. There was very little contact with the outside world. I was thoroughly sick and tired of it by the time I left for the US.

What I found online was a great eye-opener. Before I elaborate on this, I should make very brief generalisations about different versions of Singapore that I had encountered. The first version I saw in my school days. The fact that I came from a school which had pretensions to not being elitist partially blinded me to the fact that it, in fact was. I went through school with blinkers on, thinking that just because not everybody lived in a big house, and just because not everybody was chauffeured to school, and not everybody had music lessons, I did know something about the average Singaporean. Well guess again!

The second version was what I saw in NS – some hooligans, not very happy at being slighted all their lives, being generally hostile to what they saw as upper-class people. They had a different ethos – I was actually, for the first time in my life, surrounded by people who didn’t feel that it was necessary to scamper for the best grades. Everybody lived in 3 room flats, everybody was short of money, and there was a general sense of despair.

All the same, in the first 2 versions, everybody was very careful about what they said. Nobody ever was very frank about what they thought about the government. Nobody criticised the government openly. I knew about a few instances of bureaucratic silliness, of course, but nobody was completely unhappy about the Singapore government, nobody expressed it openly.

There were a few online people who were virulently against the policies of the Singapore government. For the first time in my life, I saw a lot of honest debate going back and forth. I thought, great! Finally! The moment I had been waiting for was here, Singapore was a free country! Well, yes and no.

I admit that I was sufficiently fascinated by these chat boards that I spent 3 or 4 weeks at a go spending much of my waking hours looking through them. Partially I was bored and homesick.

Later on, I began writing some pieces of my own. I thought that it was extremely reckless of me to do so, but I wrote a lot of politically incorrect stuff. At first a lot of the stuff came from the essays I was doing in school – I had taken a lot of history / political science courses, and there was a lot of deep thinking going on. But it was also a lot of getting the facts wrong. I hadn’t been involved in this stuff for a long time and I wasn’t too good with the background knowledge.

There were some tactics that people used when trolling. I generally held forth but didn’t go out to upset people if they didn’t upset me. Then again I didn’t bite my tongue when commenting and inevitably somebody would get upset. And when I hit back, I didn’t spare them. There was the potential for things to get ugly quickly.

There were a few factors on my side. I was a rigorous thinker (but not perfectly rigorous – I made mistakes now and then). I knew sarcasm. It helped that you had a sense of humour, because it helps win people over – even, in some cases, when you did not deserve it.

One of the first things I had debated on was an incident that took place in Singapore right after 9/11. At that time there was a struggle to understand the meaning of terrorism, and there was still a lot of sympathy towards America. It was the issue of whether Malay girls were allowed to wear tudungs to school. I argued that it was OK, even though even though the Ministry of Education banned it in the end. You had to allow the Malays their own space, people needed to be equal, everybody had to have their rights, and anyway Sikhs get to wear their turbans. You didn’t want to discriminate against the Malays, because if you did that, they would get pissed off, and at that time, I subscribed to the idea that terrorism took place because Muslims felt they were slighted. More important, I didn’t see why the tudung could be made part of the uniform in a madrassa, and you banned it in mainstream schools.

Most of the people felt that the tudung was a symbol of Islamism, and that it would be best if we didn’t encourage that movement. There was something to that argument, that I didn’t consider at that time. You could cut down on Malays being singled out at school because they dressed funny. You wanted people to practice Islam, but at the same time you wanted them to think of themselves as Singaporeans first and Malays second.

The funny thing now is that I’m not so sure about the situation. I would have been totally indifferent to the issue, and yet at that time I was so passionate about it to take up (verbal) arms with others.

I actually interacted with people much more on that level than in person. I learnt a lot about people that way. There was a bit of nastiness sometimes – when I detected that somebody I didn’t like was getting carried away and possibly getting emotional, I nudged the guy a little towards the edge. It was possible to understand the buttons that would make a guy worked up.

Sometimes it was funny, and once there was even a time when I simulated sex with another person in a public forum. I certainly hope that person is a female. Anyway, there are unconscious differences in the way that men and women talk, and if you want to impersonate a girl, you need to do it the right way. Then there is the fun of taking on another person when you’re online. My persona most of the time here has been the nerdy professor. But at other times I can be the foul mouthed ah beng. There were a lot of people who speculated that the short- lived but popular blog rockson was actually authored by a well educated guy with social status. I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

There was a particularly nasty incident when this person just came up to insult the victims of a natural disaster. I put him down on a website that used to have a lot of traffic. Later on, he transpired to launch a prolonged campaign against me to smear my name (or at least smear my blog, since he didn’t know the identity.) At that time, I had to make a decision. I could just disappear and give up, or I could just keep on showing up and piss him off. I ended up choosing the latter. I thought that it was the most effective way to punish him, to show up every now and then and force him to keep on attacking me. (It’s entirely his choice whether or not to quit. But in another way it’s a trap because I know he hates losing face so much that he will keep on attacking me, even though he’s sick of it.) Then he turns to a life of crime. Well, I quit, eventually, but not before really pissing him off. I only regret that I spent so much time and effort on that myself.

I wasn't sure of his identity, and he came to my old website to make amends. I wasn't going to forgive him easily, so I pretended to play along, until a check on my site counter convinced me that my impersonator was him. (it's quite obvious - he was the only guy visiting my blog who was visiting from Santa Clara). I ended up closing down my blog, and giving an excuse that I had stopped blogging. But in the end, I just ended up setting up this blog. I suppose all announcements of the death of this blog (or the previous blog) are premature.

Of course I had to ask myself, why did I bait people? There were things to learn. I think you just have to pick up skills in defending yourself, in getting along with people. In delivering comebacks. Whether it’s the right sort of skill to learn is something else altogether.

I suppose a lot of it is paradoxical. I’m not crazy about human company. But I still like to debate a lot.

Is a lot of it worth it? I now look back on that part of my life when I was doing this more often (actually I don’t recall flaming anybody for around 2 years) and then I thought, I wouldn’t have been bothered with this if I had been engaged in something more useful. At the beginning it was useful practice. But I guess it’s outlived its use, which is why I don’t do it anymore.

It is a great coincidence that I had written this entry, some of which concerns -ben, around this time. Because just this week, I got news - from Nat, of all people, that -ben is dead. This means that I don't have to worry about him anymore, I don't have to think about getting my back on him anymore. A lot of problems disappear with time. The only reason why I retired the sieteocho name is also dead. And since I much prefer the name of my old blog, I will revert back to it. Also, for the first time, I will acknowledge that the author of these 2 blogs are the same person. So this is the last entry on this blog.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Dinosaur Jr

You know that you are going into a Dinosaur Jr concert when some lady at the door is handing out earplugs to all of you. On stage, we had not 1 but 2 indie legends, J Mascis and Lou Barlow. This was the classic incarnation of Dinosaur Jr who released “Bug” and “You’re Living All Over Me”, 2 albums which established them as indie rock legends. Their style of rock was plenty of guitar (courtesy of J Mascis) done Neil Young style, on top of lazy drawling vocals. It was called slacker rock (in case you’re wondering, “slacker” is a near synonym for “bochap”), because everything was done in a sloppy way. But make no mistake, J Mascis was – and is – one of the best guitar players around still. I think he’s even better with Neil Young. Their enduring influence on music was to combine the DIY style indie music with impressive amounts of guitar. Sonic Youth once had a song which had plenty of guitar on it, with the working title “J Mascis for President”. Eventually it got renamed “Teenage Riot” and became their most famous song.

Lou Barlow, the bassist was more the sensitive, lo-fi indie type. Most of the songs from the band came from J Mascis. Barlow’s songs were simpler and low key, and in a way he was also influential on the indie scene. After he left Dinosaur Jr, he formed Sebadoh, and had various projects.

Dinosaur was formed somewhere in Massachusetts. Because another band had a claim on the name Dinosaur, they changed their name to Dinosaur Jr. After “Bug”, some friction developed between Barlow and J Mascis. If I remember correctly, J Mascis fired the whole band, and then reformed it, minus Lou Barlow. Lou Barlow then formed Sebadoh. With Sebadoh, he wrote “The Freed Pig”, one of the most sarcastic and bitter songs ever directed at a former bandmate (check out the lyrics).

Dinosaur Jr continued, essentially as a J Mascis solo project. His output was consistent, but the formula was very much the same: a mix of very loud rock music with a dash of country, verse chorus verse, and then an extended guitar solo. (J Mascis is one of the best guitar soloists out there.) As I remember, I hardly listened to Dinosaur Jr for more than 30 mins at a time because I would get bored of it. So in a way the concerts can be a bit trying.

The reformation of the band a few years ago came as a surprise to all concerned except maybe J Mascis. He probably needed his old partner to revitalise him. One of the most pleasant surprises of the last few years is that old indie bands retain much of their mojo when they reform 10 years after they break up, and when they perform as middle aged old farts. Like the Pixies and Mission of Burma before them, their recent form is comparable to their peak. And check out their video which is a very strong message that the band have put their differences behind them.

On this site, you can see a picture of what they looked like in 1988, compared to their post reformation. So it was a little startling to see what J Mascis looked like, post reformation. I always thought of him as a skinny kid with long brunette hair. Now they call him Gandalf.

I suppose it’s always bittersweet when you sit down at a nice place like the Esplanade and listen to the music that you liked as a teenager, reflecting probably that you are now almost twice as old as when you were listening to that music back then. I listened as that angry, noisy, abrasive, joyful noise came out at me. I was sitting at a circle seat, and the band was at just the right amount of loudness for me. It was great. Those guys below, just under the stage, I don’t know how they could take it. J Mascis said that his concerts usually last a little more than an hour, because after that he’s tired. Probably true, for various reasons: 1. He solos on every song. 2. He needs to go before his ears start bleeding and most likely 3. He’s a slacker.

The crowd was oddly passive. There was no moshing below. I suppose maybe the Esplanade is a very well behaved crowd. Equally likely everybody was aping J Mascis who hardly moved (but of course, he’s the guy who has to think of all the solos). Lou Barlow, in contrast, was head banging away all the time. I suppose it’s not really danceable rock, it’s not heavy metal head banging. But very good driving music all the same.

There were a few jokers who invaded the stage. One was chased down by the security guard. The second hugged Lou Barlow before he went off. Shortly after that, the silhouette of a policeman in a peak cap appeared briefly on stage right. Stupid motherfucker, why spoil our fun like that? I suppose Singapore is not Singapore when you take away the anally retentive over-policing. Lou Barlow bitchily asked why we guys are so interested in his socks, and reminded me for a moment that he was after all the author of “The Freed Pig”.

Out of 5 rows on the circle, only one was taken. I suppose everybody else decided to take the seats downstairs because you could get up close with them. No matter, for me it was great to listen to Dinosaur Jr without going deaf. I only wish I brought the binos because I’m too far to see the faces of those three.

Later on comes the dreaded moment when the band makes an obligatory speech about how great Singapore is. I remember that in the Lovano/ Scofield concert they just muttered that it was a “nice place”. Sonic Youth performed at the Harbour Pavillion 14 years ago before it was torn down to make way for Vivo City. Back then, Thurston Moore said, “We’ve always wanted to come to Singapore, so now we’re here”. Well that was inspiring. Lou Barlow said it was an incredible place. Well I suppose for many of them this would be their introduction to the Far East (of course Australia does not count as the “Far East”). I think this is the first time you’re face to face with so many English-speaking Easterners in the same room so just enjoy it, white boy.

There was some hack yelling out for “Show Me The Way”, whereupon J Mascis strummed the first 4 chords and started playing another song, as if to say “I heard you, but I’m not complying”. Good old J Mascis.

Dinosaur Jr is as sloppy with naming their songs as they are with their singing. So I don’t know their song titles very well. Below are some songs I think they performed.

Songs: Lung, Raisans, Just Like Heaven, Get Me, Back To Your Heart.

Edit: I saw the article about them in the todayonline blog. It’s true that there are quite a few youngsters who are curious about them and turn up. But most of the people in there are about my age group, people who enjoyed their music when they were teenagers. Well in a large way, alternative music is for teenagers, no matter how much more sophisticated and “mature” it is compared to mainstream music.

You don’t have to guess the setlist anymore. It’s up there on the blog.

One irony was that a lot of people in front of Lou Barlow were complaining to him that they couldn’t hear the vocals. He replied, that’s because the guitars are coming out of the Marshall stacks on stage and the vocals are coming out of the PA at the back. That means if I were to have been one of those crowding around the stage, I would have missed out on the vocals, whereas sitting where I was at that time, I got probably the best sound. A shame about being so far away from the stage that you can’t see the band.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Football Betting Season 2 Weeks 11

In real life, things have been a little tough. First I was sentenced to RT (that means you have failed your IPPT in reservist and you have to go in for - what 30 hours of training?) That was the first time I had failed my IPPT. In truth, I had asked for it - I was always forgetting to do my push-ups. Does it get harder to keep fit this side of 30? I always felt, after I staggered over the finishing line of that marathon more than a year ago, that that was the true end of my 20s.

Worst thing is that I thought I had passed my IPPT. I just had to do 4 chin-ups. But somehow it got recorded as 3, I don't know why. Maybe they didn't want to let me pass. They didn't post up the scores and so I didn't get to protest. The ICT was conducted at a fast pace.

Then there was another time somebody put up a very long list of CDs for sale. I thought - now here's the opportunity to get a lot of CDs - I hadn't been keeping up with music much for the last 10 years - untypical for a music freak like myself. Then I dithered along, going through samples for the whole list (a big chore since we are talking about 500 CDs) and trying to learn about the great bands. In the end, out of the 20 CDs that I wanted the most, 10 of them are gone. Fantastically stupid.

Then there was knowing that an episode of unrequited love in the past was a little bit more unrequited than I realised.

However some good things make up for it, for example, knowing that the painful lessons I learnt since the middle of last year have been learnt. OK. So Arsenal are playing West Ham, bet on Arsenal, since West Ham are weak. (Case in point, Arsenal still managed to beat West Ham in spite of playing the second half with 10 men.) Real Madrid are playing a team fighting against relegation? Bet on Real Madrid. Chelsea are playing Blackburn? Bet on Chelsea. Barcelona are playing Real Zaragosa? Bet on Barcelona. Don't bother about the rest, no matter how tempting. Get your money back, that's important.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Up in the Air

Yesterday was not feeling very good when I got back from work. I don’t know where all that feeling of sleep deprivation came from. Anyway this morning I woke up and I felt a flu coming on. So I told my boss I’m on leave. He actually asked me what the reason was. That’s the thing – if I get treated like a kid when I’m 25 I grin and bear it, but I’m much older now so I was pretty mad.

Let’s put it this way: it’s Friday. You wake up and feel a flu coming on.

Option 1: you go to work. You boss is happy (actually, more like “happy” because your boss is never happy), you’re not happy, you get sick on Saturday, and spend the weekend feeling miserable.

Option 2: You go to a doctor, and get hard evidence that you shouldn’t go to work. But you feel bad, because you’ve just spent $20+, of which some of it is company’s money. It’s basically like taking a lie detector test. You can only do it so many times before you feel like you’re being treated like a kid.

Option 3: You take leave. At the most your boss will complain about how you took last minute leave. But you’re actually paying this out of your leave entitlement, so why is he going to complain? (And anyway I always have a lot left over by the end of the year, so I’m also doing myself a favour).

Most of the time I would have taken option 2, but today I just hated going to the family doctor, and just paying him money to write me a sicknote. So I just paid with my leave. So technically you have a pretty solid excuse about why you want to take urgent leave. Which makes me wonder why my boss would bother to ask me for a reason to take urgent leave, since I can always tell him that I’m not feeling well.

So at the beginning of my day off, I always thought about the plans that I was going to do. Go to the office and pick up some work and feel less guilty, sit in a café and study, swim. But I was sick and sleep deprived, so in the end I slept until the afternoon, then I went swimming, and after that it was time to meet my friends for a movie.

So I watched “Up in the Air” with Shingo, Nat and Crazy Frog. (OK I know that Crazy Frog is not a nice name but gimme some suggestions and I will rename him.)

This movie in a way reminded me of another movie that I watched, that generated a great amount of acclaim: “About Schmidt”. And I can imagine why: because they lay bare the great amount of loneliness that exists at the heart of American life. Not something that’s universal by any means, but it means quite a lot to an American.

Without giving away too much about the movie, it’s about an executive which clocks up an incredible amount of flyer miles, going from city to city as a consultant. He’s chosen a life up in the air, going from hotel to hotel, clocking up mileage points. He’s good at his job, and it’s a stable career. The meaning of his life is getting as many miles as is possible. He keeps his emotional distance from other people, and goes to a different room all the time.

Well all that suddenly brought back memories of my student life, when I was basically a nomad. Turning up in a different classroom all the time, studying stuff I basically wouldn’t have much to do with. Not really knowing a lot of people. Travelling light. I remember that: the permanent impermanence. Brushing past strangers. I’m wondering where the 4 years went. Actually I know, I had been filling up my head with new ideas and knowledge. Just that – later on you find out that it would have been better if you had built up something more organic - expertise in a few areas, not all – and had some deeper experiences instead of just – like the Chinese saying, qing ting dian shui (skimming the water like a dragonfly).

But what he called this experience is something that I did identify with: self-negation. Like I did want to disappear for 4 years and I did. I even went to a uni that was in the middle of nowhere. (Not my first choice, but I didn’t complain about it being in the middle of nowhere. I thought that being in the middle of nowhere was romantic.) But we’re from Singapore, and that’s like in the middle of everywhere, so it was a great switch for me.

So the movie was good, but not as excellent as the reviews made it out to be. (Agreed with Nat on that one) I’m not a movie fanatic. There was a period of 2-3 years when I went to the movies because I believed that it taught me things about life. In a way they did, but I’ve come to realize that even though you can read a lot of little nuances into situations, even though you can analyse characters in such a way that you get “A”s for your essays, what are you going to do with your life is a different thing. And since then, movies have lost quite a bit of shine for me.

There was this time when Crazy Frog reminded me that the movie did say that the difference between boys and men is that men know what they want in life. Take that sentiment to the extreme, you choose your path in life, and follow it down to the exclusion of everything else, that’s maturity. It’s a viewpoint I have little sympathy with, even though nowadays I would think about it a little, as opposed to when I was younger, I would just very rudely brush it off.

It says a lot of him as a person, I think he’s of the mentality that bearing a great weight on your shoulders makes you a better person. It might be true, although I were to think a great deal about it. Which should explain why, when Nat was going on and on about what he could do with a life with a lot of freedom and no responsibilities, Crazy Frog was pretty quiet.

What I say, though, is that in a way I’m not a person with a lot of commitment. I think my miserliness goes a long way. I tend to do things which give quick gains for not much effort. At the beginning things are great, but as you progress, you do need to do the difficult things too. And I probably have neglected that. Suppose I were to say, I want to build a financial life. I need to do that amount of work and research before it gets done. Suppose I were to say, I want to get a girlfriend, I need to spend time and energy, hunting for food. Whereas some of the time, I would just say, look at all those books. I can just pick them up and learn life’s lessons at not very much expense, all of that time being comfortable and cosy. I suppose that’s how I ended up being a bookworm.

And it does go back to what George Clooney’s character does. When companies don’t see much of a profit, they take the easy way out and fire people. George Clooney himself doesn’t like commitment and being tied down, so he just keeps his distance away from other people. That’s one view. But the other view is that you measure your life in terms of distance. OK, George Clooney takes it to the extreme, and it’s a grotesque parody, he measures his life in miles. But you can measure your life in the number of interesting experiences you have. That is also a valid metric.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Water girl outed

Something very strange happened the other day. I was looking at somebody’s facebook page when I saw a very familiar face among his list of friends. It was Water Girl! It was a one in a thousand event, something that could only have happened by chance. That guy had 400 friends, and out of those 400 friends, why should that particular person come up?

Well, it turned out that she has a very wide network. Not surprising for somebody who’s

Some of the inferences I made about her seem to be confirmed by the blog.

1. She’s very religious and serious about Christianity. Whatever the reasons are that she turned me down, religion is definitely one of them.
2. She’s quite emotional, and has problems keeping a lid on her emotions.
3. She doesn’t get along well with her father. (I inferred this because I have never seen her outside with her father.) I know she’s not happy with her family.
4. Her gang is the poly people. And the church people.
5. This is also inferred from the blog: I could never be her boyfriend, nor she my girlfriend. We would drive each other nuts because our wavelengths are completely different.
6. She’s an aspiring musician. She told me she wanted to be a singer or a DJ. She’s still interested in that.
7. She’s a water sign. A Scorpio, in fact. I have not named her wrongly. Well I should have gathered. Scorpios are usually physically attractive, even though they may be screwed up.
8. She keeps a lot of things to herself. But she can’t hide that she’s not always happy with life.

She only gave me a short version of her name, and I always wondered if it was her real name. Well, at least I know now that it is her real name. So that’s good.

I went to the relevant sections. It was extremely unflattering for me. I now know that she only went out on that date with me in order to tell me not to go after her any more, and that the first date actually went well: she didn’t think I was so bad after all, except that I pressed my case by asking her over SMS if she missed me. That was when she blew her top and decided to make it really plain to me that I shouldn’t be going after her.

She called me a nerd. I got so fed up reading that that it took me 2 hours to get to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I suddenly remembered that I’m not completely ashamed of being a nerd. But I’m still angry because I know she meant it in a bad way. And I wonder if I should give her a really big surprise the next time I see her. Probably not.

I think about all the times I was racking my head to think of something to say to her, when all the answers were out in the open all this time. (Well except I didn’t know where it was.) But I could have read what was written and stopped wasting my time on her.

Well there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t understand in her blog. Her English was good enough, but a lot of … ‘s and references to “brothers”, “sisters” and her church friends. She’s social and all that, but I don’t really know if her friendships are deep. It’s not for me to judge but maybe they are. But she’s a sheep. I don’t like the church, even more than that, I don’t like the mega-church. And if she’s with one, I couldn’t ever understand what’s up with all that being a sheep. Maybe life is very fair, because I probably am going to read her blog and laugh at her for being so dumb and confused about life, the same way she wrote me off as a nerd.

Probably not going to link to her blog. But I can’t resist reading it now that in it are all the questions that I’ve always wanted to know about her. Well that’s what blogs are for, right? You get to know everything about a guy, stuff he might not tell you, without having to approach him and ask him yourself. Isn’t that right, dear readers?

I don’t really know what attracted me to her. No, actually I know what attracted me to her. I was attracted to codfish because she was a chiobu that I actually could talk to. I was attracted to her, because I was back in Singapore for a break, freshly dumped by codfish, and I saw her downstairs. She looked very quiet, spooky. I started to think, maybe here’s a deep thinker, a gloomy, broody character. Maybe this will be my next girlfriend. But it’s nothing deeper than that. I criticise her for being shallow, dismissing me as a nerd without knowing more about me, but I was equally shallow.

After I cool down, I might have thought about what might have happened. I've not thought about this incident for a long time because it took place so long ago, but it's a little unusual that you will ever get the answers to these type of questions. I went on a date with her. The date actually went OK. We talked for quite some time, even though I was starting to feel that we were not completely connecting. From her account, she said that she was sick and tired of lying and dodging me, and she wanted to put things straight with me. But that date went OK, and she just couldn't bear to tell me. It was only on the second day, when I pushed my luck, and asked her whether or not she was missing me, she decided to make it clear to me that it was over.

There are different schools of thought to all this. One is that I could have played my cards right, and we could have been friends. I could have just decided to take things slow, and we could have been friends. It's possible to overcome the initial impression that I'm a nerd. Being a nerd is but a small price to pay for my being a maths genius, a musical genius and a literary genius. I suspect that every one of my friendships have overcome the initial impression of my being a nerd. The other school of thought was that I had given up and thrown away something that was in any case of no value. I could never change her. A sheep is a sheep, I would have found out that she was a sheep, and I would have lost respect for her. In both these versions, though, the chances of my ever having a relationship with her is close to zero, and since I was primarily interested in a relationship instead of a friendship, there's nothing in it.

I’ve seen a little of what chiobus are like. I think I went after my fair share of them. I learnt a few things about them. First, like people say, there are no such things as ugly women, only lazy ones. It’s a little harsh but mostly true. So they are people who take pains in their appearance. Second, they act with grace. I’m a little graceless. A little known fact about me is that when I was one of the cutest kids around when I was 5. Then a few years later, the cuteness completely disappeared. I sometimes wondered why it happened, but here are my guesses. I’m graceless. I don’t always yearn for people to like me. I don’t care, most of the time. Maybe I was emotionally avoidant. Maybe I’ll never be completely tuned in to people. It was easier to push people away than to draw them to you. This need for human companionship changes your appearance in at least 2 ways. First, you get used to more physically attractive expressions on your face, like smiling. (But models who pout end up making more men want to fuck them.) Second, when you get along with people better, you also tend to smile more, and it lifts your mood. For me, I keep people at an arm’s length (even though, paradoxically I get upset when they get more than 1 arm’s length away from me.) So you can imagine, a lot of the sneering and grimacing has changed the shape of my face. I’m not handsome anymore.

So when you see chiobus, they have a combination of these traits. It’s really not true that beauty is skin deep. It’s that people have this mistaken notion that beautiful people are good hearted. Well needing human companionship and vanity are not the same as being good hearted. So you do have to understand what beauty really means, not what you want it to mean.

Maybe I don’t have many close friends and I’m not really able to tell what I’d want in a friend. I stalled for too long. I’ve fought for my independence. But I’ve become too independent. I rely too much on it, that I don’t really think of myself existing as a part of a gang. It’s made me really bad at understanding what I’m like as a friend.

And at the same time I need a better understanding of what relationships mean, and not just simply reach for some people who are not that suitable, just because they look cute.

On another note, I’m a little sore that teapot called it off with me. (Yeh I know that I still owe you guys teapot part 2 I’ll get it out someday.) Even after I wrote a song for her. Well there’s this cute chick that I saw on a dating website who says that she wants somebody to write songs so that she can write lyrics to them. I’m thinking of giving her teapot’s song. (My song actually, the one I wrote for teapot). Am I evil?

Anyway, what I do think is that since I’m in my less horny 30s I should look around for ladies who are not so attractive. Or at least, find better reasons to like chicks.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Earning Stripes

I took a very unusual route in NS. I was supposed to get trained as an non commissioned officer, and I was doing a trade course, when a very bad accident happened, and I worried for a while that I would never play the piano again. I was supposed to spend 6 months being a clerk, or being sidelined. But I stalled for time, and it was more like 16 months. 16 months of doing not very much, going home at 5. In a way, that was the least stressful time in my life. In another way, that was a time when I felt I could have done much with my life, but didn’t.

I went back into training, became an NCO, and after that, I somehow managed to convince them to continue being a clerk, because I only had 4 months left on my national service balance. They warned me, “you’re going to find it very tough when you’re on reservist training.” Well, reservist training is reservist training, and it was supposed to be easy, isn’t it?

The first few times, it was difficult for me to come to terms with what was happening. And I don’t know if I looked at it in a very immature way, but I did a lot of head scratching and sulking during the first few times. Some sessions were better, others were worse. I spent a lot of time hiding somewhere and reading a book, and somehow I don’t regret that. However, after 1 exercise where I screwed up, an officer pulled me aside and said, “do you want to do this seriously, or do you want me to have you transferred to another company?” I said, OK, I’ll give it a shot.

Later on, I got into a big argument with another corporal who was on that exercise, and I have since suspected that he was the one who badmouthed me to the officers. But he wasn’t around this time.

This ICT, I thought a bit about what it means to earn your stripes. One of the reasons is this: things look a lot like they did during the year that I became an NCO. We also had El Nino, and with that, a drought and a haze. There was a financial crisis going on (but since the 90s this happened all the time). And there was a feeling that possibly in the near future, something would happen that would substantially change my life. There was the waiting at home for the possibility of a recall. There was the world cup. Back then, I was finally becoming an NCO, at a time when people had almost finished serving their national service. Now, I’m finally coming to terms with being an NCO at a time when most of my 10 years of reservist training were going to be over.

There were a few rules that you just had to understand. First of all, some of your most important relationships are with your peers. I had hung out with a lot of the corporals at first, because a lot of them were nearer my age. The sergeants were younger. But a lot of them were looking at me funny, like “how come this sergeant is asking me for a lot of stuff?” I decided, go hang out with the sergeants instead. I started to hang out more at the mess than at the canteen. And while they didn’t exactly teach me how to do my job properly, I got some news from them, I saw how they interacted with the corporals, and I learnt a few things from them.

Things became easier when I started acting like a boss, when I asked them for small things that it was well within their power to do. When I asked them how to do stuff that somebody had taught me long ago but I later forgot, most of them would give me a tip or two. Of course, there was the freedom that you had of being a free agent, you didn’t belong to a clique, or a gang. And that is the position I have found myself in for much of my life: never completely a member of any one gang, but somebody who drifts around and tries to be on a first-name basis with people from different backgrounds.

One of the more interesting things took place when we were preparing for the exercises. I was one of the very few sergeants who was not a section commander. They were about to make me a section commander when I told them, no, I was not up to the task yet. But there was an exercise preparation that took place outside of the camp, for the section commanders. And I was left behind to prepare a lot of the vehicles. I had to learn quickly how to do a system check. I decided that this was a chance to learn a lot of stuff. I went walking around a lot, plugging in cables here, answering questions there, walking between section and platoon headquarters, trying to troubleshoot. I was the only guy around with 3 stripes instead of 2, and naturally people assumed I knew everything when I didn’t. In the end, the problems were all solved, and I didn’t have anything to do with the solution, except to help make sure that the people who solved the problem were notified, but I think I did my part.

For the week leading up to the exercise, I was apprehensive about the weather, because of the great drought which made the papers. People were always complaining about the sweltering heat. We all prayed that it would not be too hot, and our prayers were answered. Unfortunately we got the only thing that was worse than sweltering heat: rain.

From the moment that we reached the exercise ground, we could see lightning flashes on the horizons. But there were false alarms before, and we didn’t think that it was going to rain. We reached the ground at midnight. Not long after, there was a drizzle. We went on sleeping in our safari beds, until the drizzle turned heavier. The instructors said that we were going to be tested on this and that, but I think none of us counted on the weather. We set up the system, and ended up sleeping the whole time. This was reservist training, and I think we forgot about the sentry, because I don’t think that people want you to spend 1 hour in the rain with your finger on a rusting machine gun (no bullets of course). We went through the night unmolested because, in trying to get a proper night’s sleep in the rain in an armoured personnel carrier, with the water seeping through the hatches and everything, was tough enough. In the end, I designed one of the best weather shelters, by taking 2 safari beds (which are useless because it’s raining) and leaning them against a monster truck tyre, and I slept in the little space, sitting up against a tyre. Those in the tank were less lucky, it was stuffy, there was even less room than economy class flights, and people got stiff backs. We were lucky: other APCs were practically sitting in puddles, and the option of setting up impromptu tents did not exist. So in the end, there was almost no exercise, except for the occupation of the exercise site. And I didn’t do very much in the actual exercise. But all this experience was enough to make me think a bit about being a section commander for my next in camp training – assuming that we were going to have in camp training again.

I had said before that we had the ultimate SUV. I said before that the prime mover was the king of the road. In many respects, that is true, especially in the Transformers. But the prime mover has nothing on the armoured personnel carrier. We didn’t take to the roads very often, but it was pretty cool when we did. People would gawk at us. Of course, this does not happen in most places, only areas near military bases. There was this incident, we were on an expressway, and we were on the left most lane. Then this taxi chose to drive on the road shoulder just to be next to us. I was wondering at this baffling behaviour for a while before I saw the passenger whip out a handphone and start to take pictures of us. Now, many other people have served in the military before, and they know that in Singapore in peacetime (which is basically all the time) weapons are not loaded when vehicles are on the move. But we were carrying machine guns and M16s and scary things and I wondered why people wanted to go and fuck with us.

Sometimes the route will go through a HDB estate. A few schoolgirls were gawking at the tank. I gave them a Nazi salute. Life's great.

A lot of things in the army happen very slowly because a lot of precautions are taken, in order to minimise risks, and make sure that citizens did not chaff at doing national service. But because doing stuff in the SAF involves a lot of idling and waiting (unless you’re an officer, in which case you’re really busy because everything revolves around you). One of the guys in my section came up with a moniker for the SAF: slow and fucked up.

When you're in the camp, you somehow become more aware of time passing. Considering how late in the game I became familiar with everything, it doesn't feel like I have done more than half of my ICTs, and that I will finish my training cycle in only a few more years. And after that I will most probably never step into an army camp again. I'll think about how I spent 2.5 years (probably all my ICT cycles will add up to another 3 months) preparing myself for a role that I will never fill. When I work in the hangar, drenched with sweat, I will remember how some of my sergeants (some of them are now warrant officers) were briefing me about how which thing went into which part of the APC. I will think about the options available to me at that point in time when I was only 20, and what else I could have done with my life. (Actually frankly, I lack the imagination to think about how my life could be better. And that's why I don't spend my life regretting things.) I will think about other exercises in the past and the other training grounds. About other peers whose batteries I should have joined instead of my current one where I don't know anybody.

(Actually I don't have very much nostalgia for the past, especially for my active NS days because, if anything I was a much more gloomy person than I am now, if that is actually possible.)

And when you're in various camps in Singapore, you go to a lot of obscure housing estates that you otherwise would not go to. Like Choa Chu Kang, Yishun, Jurong and Pasir Ris. Singapore is a small country but it is also a large city. When you confine yourself to the CBD and the Orchard area, Singapore seems to be very small. But when you go to the outskirts, and when you find that you can drive around for 1 entire hour, and see nothing but HDB flats interspersed with the occasional industrial zones, it does seem to be very big. There just seems to be the same thing over and over again.

It shouldn’t surprise you that people in the SAF are involved in counter-terrorism operations. But I was a little surprised when they called counter-terrorism measures “unconventional operations” and making war with another country is “conventional operations”. The old 20th century kind of war is getting obsolete. Most wars of the 21st century are guerrilla wars. The former Yugoslavia was a war against militias. One of the biggest blunders of the 2nd Iraq war was that it was a war against Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was really easy to deal with. It’s the guerrillas and the terrorists that the US was finding so difficult to deal with. So I was thinking: the SAF was designed to deal with another country’s military. What did this mean, in a day and age when people changed their nationalities they way they changed underwear? What did this mean when nations rarely fought wars against each other?

The answer that I arrived at after a bit of thinking was this: no matter what, you just had to have a national army. You didn’t want to leave a country undefended, no matter what. You just had to keep the knowledge and the expertise current and updated. Wars between nations are very rare these days because they were extremely costly in terms of lives. (This was also true in the days of WWI and WWII but back then a lot of people didn’t fully grasp this). And it was our job to make sure that this is true.

But all this does nothing to change my impression that our country is spending way too much money on national defence.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Jack Neo

I don’t love or hate his movies. There is a crassness to his movies, but they are targeted at the HDB folk. I’m generally willing to overlook their crassness (after all I’m mostly guilty of the same.)

About his affairs, it was a shock all the same. But a movie director has the great temptation to stray. He’s the alpha male, and he has access to a lot of ass. But we didn’t think of that sort. Then again, it’s like making the same mistake that most people make, that nerds are not human beings.

It's true that he looks a little bit pathetic now, because as opposed to Tiger Woods, who has been up to his neck in deep shit but nevertheless praised as an excellent lover, only one person has admitted to being Jack Neo's mistress. He looks a lot like a loser now. I remember that in college somebody said that if you're a professor hitting on his students, that is one of the most pathetic things because you're using your power over them to get your way with her. Well you could say that about Jack Neo.

Then came the infamous press conference, where he read a very short statement, his wife read a short statement, and then she collapsed, and then Ah Nan screamed at all the journalists to go away.

What was very interesting was the Life report on that press. They were universally condemnatory. One article on life, curiously said "Jack Neo didn't say sorry". Well he admitted that he was wrong, and that's almost the same thing. Another article said that he should have said sorry to the public as well, contravening a more common- sensical notion, expressed on a few forums, that he owes his wife and family the apology, not the public. Brian Miller wrote that he packed the 60 strong press pack into a small room, and further more got his people to occupy the first row.

I suppose the press released was staged managed to some extent. But I believe that Jack Neo already said exactly what he needed to say: I'm sorry. That was all he owed the press. It was very unfortunate that his wife had to be dragged along, and many people said that it was the most distasteful aspect of the press conference. What if it was deliberately distasteful? The only rational purpose for the wife to be there is to say what she said, which was: could the media please leave me alone. That was simple enough. In fact, the whole affair of that press conference seems to have one consistent message: fuck you, media scum. The trooping out the wife to show everybody how much she has suffered. The making her faint in order to make the media look bad.

The psychology of the wife was interesting. I think she probably thought, you just close one eye if he has the occasional affair, so long as the family is not compromised. Hardly ideal, but not a disaster. It's true that what you don't know can't hurt you. But what you know but not everybody knows, can't hurt you very much either. It's totally different if this thing gets publicised, and you suddenly become the talk of the town. It's that much more unbearable.

As for the press, I think they decided to play up Jack Neo's abhorrent behaviour in order to deflect from the main message, which is that they are harrassing Jack Neo at least as badly as how Jack Neo harrassed the young chicks. But do they want to keep on demonising him? Well, they would. Because in the Chinese entertainment scene, nobody fucks with the press. The press maintains its God given ability to make or break stars. Jack wanted to upset the prevailing order, so they had to fix him.

Another rumour going all around is that somebody told the press to deflect attention away from the Silviu Ionescu case. Maybe, but it would be a 180 degree turn from the massive amounts of media coverage that the case has been getting.

I think that he'll take a break from film making for the time being. Any way his shows' quality are going downhill.

Any way, I can cynically say that with this Jack Neo case, I have not been entertained that much in quite a long time.