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YX
25 December 2013 @ 06:44 pm
From 13 to 18 December, I was in Taipei with Roy and other Singaporean runners for the Taipei Fubon Half-Marathon. Once the race was over, we went sightseeing in the surrounding towns.

Because the weather in northern Taiwan was pretty bad - constant rain, cold spells and completely overcast on some days - our mainly nature-based itinerary was a wash-out. But when things go bad, you improvise. And here my handphone camera saved the day, allowing me to remotely back-up photos without getting (too) wet. So here's my visual travelogue from the Keelung coast to the hills overlooking Taipei city (with a little help from my favourite German photo-editing app, EyeEm).

Drinking tea with the rain as my right-hand manCollapse )
 
 
YX
13 December 2013 @ 12:29 am
No time to breathe, working through mobile email, clearing drafts three months in advance, and trying to sell books without a bookstore. So suddenly it's going to be 15th December, and I have a date with the craziest race of the year on the highways of wintry Taipei.

Wish me luck.
 
 
YX
09 December 2013 @ 10:49 am
Public disturbance in Little India
(Photo via Channel News Asia)

I'm a bit saddened that I'm breaking my silence on this blog because of a very destructive episode of public disturbance (some call it a 'riot') that happened last night in a place that I frequent quite often. News reports say a pedestrian was killed by a bus, sparking off this unfortunate event.

It's all over the news now, but seeing pictures of police cars and ambulances burning in Little India is a bit surreal. And since I'm getting called up for reservist in January, it's a sober reminder that me or any of my friends could've been in that car or responding to that chaos (or more likely, helping clean up).

But here's 3 thoughts:

1. Proud of the Home Team officers from Police Alpha Division, SCDF 1st Division (I think), SOC and Singapore Gurkha Contingent for discharging their duties efficiently. We don't have a lot of such public disturbances, but they did their best and took the pain and punishment as part of their duty to protect property and the public.

2. Sad at the senseless destruction of public property in a very historic and beautiful area.

3. Even sadder that there are people on my social media feeds that are debasing and shooting off all sorts of nonsense about colour, race and nationality. So the media pictures show mainly male, South Asian workers participating, but no reason to make sweeping statements with racialised slurs on their identity. Far from being progressive, some Singaporeans are unfortunately are still thinking in black and white.

(As an aside: now that work is relenting, I'll be back on LJ more often)
 
 
YX
28 October 2013 @ 12:21 am
I've been steadfastly abstaining myself from LJ-ing because I simply have too much work to do. But now that things have finished and settled down, I can return to the quiet luxury of maintaining a blog.

1.
About work: the Singapore government has designated one part of the institute that I work for as the country's third school of law. This, in addition to running subsidised full-time undergraduate programmes next year, is keeping me occupied at work. I attended my first press conference on the job, and watched how my bosses spin it to the journalists. It's interesting seeing things from both the back (preparing the media release) and the front (attending to suss out information). Some things I couldn't say outright, but still end up making its way to print because we have a good relationship with the media. I'm glad to say the grand unveiling of the information is over, and now the quieter, tougher work of actually living up to expectation begins.

With all the madness at work, I finally had a chance to see how I fit into the great grand scheme of things. Being someone who's been trained to be always doing something, somewhere, for some purpose, there were moments when I felt not up to far with my colleagues. They're trained media specialists, with years of experience at adeptly handling journalists and broadcast new crews in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia in fields as diverse at national speak english campaigns to viral outbreaks in hospitals. So they glossed over everything with a kind of worker bee functionality. Since I have no formal media degree, I do get shunted around sometimes. Plus my chosen field - social media and online news reporting - isn't taken very seriously by some people in the organisation and the media, so I've come to an understanding that stuff that goes to newspapers and broadcast always comes first. While it can be demeaning to be lower down the priority list or pecking order, it also means that I still deal with media (obliquely) but minus all the running around and phone calls. My straddling two worlds - the very structured media landscape and the unknown animal that is the Internet - is sort of reminiscent of my time at the Youth Olympics as well, a neither-here-nor-there feeling, which I think I'll always experience as long as I'm in the field.


2.
In November, a group of friends and I are going to push-forward with a self-publishing experiment. We've got all the content, gathered contacts and are planning a book launch. Our publicity has been on Facebook, and word of mouth. It may not be the best thing to rush through a first publication, but I can safely say I'm not getting anything out of this. It was an experiment and will always be. But it will be worth the trouble to see how much buzz we can generate, who will give out book a chance and whether or not it's a commercially viable thing to do on the side. (Yes, I'm not a struggling writer, I need to emphasise to people whom I meet).

In the meantime, to coincide with the Singapore Writers Festival, I have an uncharacteristically violent short story forthcoming in an free anthology by local e-book retailer Booktique.

And because work has been stressful and planning for all the above has been even more mad, I've been pouring my soul into - seriously - Neon Genesis Evangelion fanfiction. Why? Because I watched the Rebuild series and thought, hey there's a plot hole there! So after a long discussion over tea with a secondary school friend who hosts a local anime blog (Animenauts), and I'm churning out short pieces. To make it sound even weirder, after I wrote 3 pieces with cool-sounding titles - Athletics, Phantom Pain and Cosmonaut - I looked at them and thought: wah seh, if I just changed the names, I could submit these to journals and magazines. Does this prove anything? No. But it shows that, when in doubt, fanfics sometimes help me to think straight writing-wise.

My switch from original fiction to fanfiction has coincided with a sudden preference for all things EDM. So now Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Avicii, Popeska and a friendly Russian producer called Archie V have been annoying my colleagues who now think my cubicle sounds like a club on Saturday night.


3.
December's trip to Taiwan is confirmed. Plane tickets, hotel, itinerary. Roy and I will be doing the Taipei Fubon Marathon - but just the half-marathon route. If all goes well, I'll be visiting Wulai, Juifen, Shifen and Yangmingshan. It's not that I deserve a break or want new photos on my wall, but rather I'm not getting any younger, and as an adult, I can be less ashamed of saying to people who depend on me, I'm taking a break and going to a place where I can think of you in retrospect. And later return with more energy to be depended upon.
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YX
06 October 2013 @ 11:43 pm
LSCC

1.
Last weekend I was at Bintan. It's this small island in Indonesia that takes just 45 minutes by ferry from Singapore. My company sent me there for a corporate retreat, so having 250+ people from work in a small resort isn't really the best kind of holiday. Also, it was structured as the term 'corporate retreat' sounds: mandatory teambuilding, followed by department group games. The good thing about it was full board, paid by the company. So I won't complain. I think my company is generous enough.

Two cool things happened. On Saturday morning I woke up earlier to run the beach. The resort I stayed in owns a small stretch of land on the northern tip, but they never demarcated where their property ended on the beach. So I ran from headland to headland, a good 3 kilometres and back, along a deserted beach strewn with debris and bordered by wild (or maybe just untended) rainforest. Monkeys plucked shellfish from the sand and sea eagles swirled overhead. From the far end, the resort and its jetty sizzled in the early morning mist.

Second cool thing: my colleagues and I paid $90 and rented a car to take us to Tanjung Pinang, the capital of the Riau archipelago of islands, which includes Bintan, Batam and Karimun. I don't have pictures because there wasn't much to see. But suffice to say, Tanjung Pinang is a rough place. In my limited travels around Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia), I think that Tanjung Pinang is the most chaotic of them all. It's probably like Johor Baru - 40 years ago - a boomtown with one single shopping centre (typical Singaporean observation) and huge mosque on a hill overlooking the bay. The entire city is built on slopes by the shore, so it looks like its slipping into the water. It's the first place I've been to where I didn't see a single tourist. Usually western backpackers or Chinese tour groups are a good guide on the value of touristy-ness, but none of that in Tanjung Pinang. So to any of my American and European friends reading this: if you want to go backpacking around Southeast Asia and want to go to a place 99% of backpackers have never been to before, try Tanjung Pinang - a city of hills, keropok and salted fish.


2.
I've officially relinquished my role in YF, and so now my Saturdays are free. There wasn't any back and forth. When the time came I just smiled and shook some people's hands. And so, I now have nothing to do with Bethesda Serangoon Church - the church I grew up in, where I found my faith - the church I brought Anthony, Su Mei, Terence and Nartz to - where I got baptised. Yep. Perhaps it's better that way.

I've been preparing for the inevitable death of my social life as a result. A lot of my Saturday night movie outings or Friday dinners involved going out with YF people, a core group of older-than-me single Christian (and some couples) young people who I've been able to chill out with. So far I'm coping well, but I do feel that suddenly my social circle has shrunk and it'll get harder to meet new people through these outings. I've learnt not to be too reliant on friends from groups like these, but here's to hoping we'll still keep in touch.


3.
Every first Sunday of the month, my current church has a combined language service. This means we sing our songs and have a sermon in both Mandarin and translated English. It makes more sense to prioritise Mandarin because I attend a small English service in an otherwise Chinese church. Since leaving BSC formally, I've been going to Mandarin services at most public holidays, and now this.

When I tell people about this, they laugh. My grasp of Mandarin is as good as a fox trying to sing a Ylvis song. And yes, I struggle to understand a lot of the complex phrases that are essentially Christian terms in Mandarin. But the strange trade-off is that I'm concentrating harder during sermons, trying to understand what does this or that mean in Chinese. I also think that the visual nature of Chinese script and characters triggers off different ideas or mental images in my head. I mean, we pray clearly according to what we can visualise, and we have to imagine what anf who God is, being an invisible deity. So thinking, praying and listening in Chinese - makes me see things a bit differently. It's like speaking in tongues, but knowing clearly what's being said and the meanings behind them, backed up a dozen metaphors of every kind. 
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YX
17 September 2013 @ 12:03 am
I'm equal parts puzzled and amused by this thing called fanfiction.

If I were to interview the top ten fanfic writers in any given fandom, I'd ask them this: what makes you spend all that time writing, reviewing and perfecting works of fiction that will never receive any publication credibility, authorship or remuneration? I get the sense that most people will say it's out of generosity, to build the fandom or it's a dress rehearsal for a more professional writing career.

Is altruism a defining trait of publishing fanfiction? Or are the FF.net and LJ communities that archive fanfics so actively driven by a creative writing ethos more hardcore than most Masters of Fine Arts programmes? What role does sadism have, especially for those who crave reviews, ship certain couples so hard that they've long crashed into the rocks and who beta away to the point they can become editors themselves?

I've been writing away under a FF.net profile for 12 years now and I don't have any concrete answers. But every two years I have a renaissance, rewriting and publishing new material like I'm under some kind of spell. While the communities on LJ have come and gone, fanfiction for some reason attracts a steady stream of devotees, and some of us, having been around for so long, are like priests: part of the laity, but having an almost divine perseverance.

Fanfiction credits don't count - at least that's the impression I've been given. You can have the most amazing submission-acceptance ratio and can get published by Math Paper Press, but you don't tell anyone that you ship Harry Potter and Cho Chang.

And that strangest thing? Even though I so badly want to break into a respectable journal, it always seems that the fanfiction I write is always three steps ahead of my growing portfolio of short fiction. It's odd and I don't understand why subject matter can prompt productivity and creativity. I wonder if this is a symptom of the writers that come from my generation: we're reusing, reducing and recycling other ideas beautifully, but we struggle when we come to our own.

Still, I admire the community of fanfic writers who stay around FF.net through thick and thin. I've made a lot of friends that way from all walks of life: Iraq War veterans, lawyers, army officers from Budapest and struggling musicians from LA. It's a great way to socialise. Though it seems that fellow Singaporeans would rather admit that they beat their grandparents than admit they write fanfiction.

In the meantime, as work piles up, it's become a great substitute to running. It's the original placebo, the first endorphin-fuelled high, the thing that you do when you're too tired to swim, run or go out with friends who buy you drinks and do nothing but brag about how awesome their jobs are.

(Shit, I think I need a life).
 
 
YX
15 August 2013 @ 12:53 am
Thinking through this: a lot of how I understand group dynamics and relationships within groups comes from how the YF structured its members.

Like any other social organisation, a mass of people will always get subdivided into smaller masses for efficiency - project teams in companies, platoons in the army, cell groups in churches. But we didn’t have cell groups, we had “disciple groups”.

These were the main mediums for teaching and for learning what it meant to be a good Christian. The seniors sort four or five younger YFers with a senior of the same gender, and he/she studies the Bible, monitors and mentors them. It’s an ideal system: it’s more intimate than the traditional cell group, builds strong friendships and because everyone’s the same gender, it eliminates a lot of potential awkwardness and misunderstanding. But it breeds cliques, narrows a young person’s worldview into an exclusive circle of pals, puts great stress on the senior who has to coordinate everything and its organisation reveals the conservative bias of a church stuck in the 1950s.

#

It’s always been assumed that mentors and the people they help grow will always be close. After all, the proximity guarantees that if I don’t look up to my mentor as an older brother figure, then at least I have good peers I grew up with.

Not true. I have a complicated relationship with my original DG, the first group that I was sorted into (sounds like Harry Potter) during my first years in YF. After Ernest dropped out, there were four of us - Amos, Darren, Nat and me. Up until now I find it difficult to understand how I’m supposed to relate to them. Does growing up in a religious youth group and meeting with each other once a week to have a civilised, neat discussion over the right choices we’ve made in our lives qualify us as good friends?

Even though he’s more or less moved to Australia, Amos and I can talk easily because we both played hockey for a while. We’ve moved on now - he cycles, I run. When he returns we have brief but intense 15-minute updates but we find it hard to chat about small things. With Darren, I just say hello and move on. And Nat, with whom I served with many years in YF as a fellow leader, we talk about the small things. We tried to talk about big things, but eventually stopped after a while, as if it didn’t seem conducive to our friendship.

I tried to talk about big things with them. But when a group of guys come together in a setting like this, we seem to say things in third-person; we talk around our problems because we’re defensively guarding our own ground; we talk and share like MPs talking about problems in their constituency. It’s personal. It’s not intimate.

Ten years in YF and I realise I don't have any photos of this old DG of mine on hand at all.

#

Then there’s Raymond. For about five years, he was my mentor. He was the go-to guy when I had quadratic equations I couldn’t solve (he’s an engineer) or when I needed to talk about my failed attempts being in a relationship (he seemed to give good advice). Many times when it seemed I was screwing up in my early junior college days, I really wanted to monpolise his second opinion. Because he could listen patiently as I ranted and seemed sympathetic to what probably to him were the growing pains of an antisocial mummy’s boy.

He always had harsh words when they were needed. When an infatuation with an ACJC track girl seemed to interfere with my thoughts, he told me to go cold turkey. When I wanted to write a ‘closure’ letter to someone who had rejected me, he told me to drop the project. He’s always been the straightforward realist to my more poetic idealism. He helped counterbalance the lofty, less focused ideas I used to have.

So I feel hugely disappointed that he doesn’t come to church anymore since he became a dad. It’s probably the ultra-realist in him: children come first, church will always be there anyway. But I do miss the talks we used to have. He was a mentor in all sense of the word: a person to shadow, who was ever-conscious that his own lifestyle choices could influence us and who seemed relieved when we seemed too old to be influenced. To cast judgment on someone who mentored you is, I guess, a gross crime. But I still feel that his wordless departure and slow fading away into the necessary tumble of family life away from the steady friendships of the YF seems like an anticlimax.

People change. Amos lives in Australia, Nat’s getting a masters and Raymond tends to his family. When I think that all these people and me were once in the same DG as me, I get frightened because it seems like I’m standing still.
 
 
YX
08 August 2013 @ 01:34 am
I will be stepping down from all my duties in the YF in August. Because YF was such a huge part of my life for the last decade, I will be doing a series of blog posts reflecting on my time there. For those who know me, I hope this entire August of reflection will be a good time to reminisce on youthful days gone past. For those who don't, I hope these posts will give some insight into why I stayed so long and how YF has shaped my view of the world and how I practice being a Christian.

For everyone's benefit, all the posts will be public.


#

Good things come in pairs. In my early days at the Bethesda Serangoon Church (BSC) Youth Fellowship (YF), the pair was my good friend Ernest Ho and I. We first heard of and made the decision to join our church's youth group (BSYF - its official acronym) back in 1999, after a rather uneventful end-of-the-year camp.

It took me about two whole years to really get used to YF. At the beginning, I had no idea why I should waste a perfectly good Saturday in church, with people who spoke a weird lingo, who were kind and caring to a fault and who seemed to be pretty much obsessed with studying Bible-related stuff. It didn't help that Ernest had long dropped out. Worst, my grades were suffering and I was quite a bit of a loner. The then-YFers treated me with a kind of curious interest that I thought was similar to a scientist studying a new species of lizard. But I stayed, mainly because my parents thought it was a good way to keep me out of trouble on Saturday.

Sometime in 2000, most of my old friend networks broke apart. My best friend back at Barker, Kerwin, transferred to Singapore American School, and we only caught up on weekends. His movements were even more restricted when September 11th happened in 2001. To add to this mess, I had a huge argument with the closest of my Barker classmates which - out of ego and pride - I didn't resolve until my O-levels.

So, yep, perhaps one reason that also made me so keen to attend YF during secondary school was the fact that it gave me a ready-to-assemble social circle. Also, girls.

For someone who spent 10 years in an all-boys school, it was a big deal at 15.

Also, football. The YF guys used to kick a football around after the programme was over. It helped. Because I could tackle (which made them think I was reckless) and could keep goal. It was a precursor to the captain's ball battles to come.

Still I was pretty miserable at YF. I empathise when people say they come to church to please someone, or for someone, or to fulfill an obligation - without any belief in the things that they see, hear or feel. For at least two years, I felt I was going through a whole host of motions without meaning and context. In the background, my parents were relentless in driving me to do something with my life. At school, I felt completely out-of-touch, getting owned by the syllabus and getting into trouble with teachers for spacing out.

So, in truth, just girls and football. The rest was really just negative motivation.

I say this because I don't have the best of reasons to go or stay on. No one becomes a devoted YF leader, committee member, coordinator overnight (although some do). It's fine if you think YF is bullshit and you think there's something better to do on Saturdays. But I've discovered that even if your intentions are crap, a little patience helps. Stay in something long enough and it becomes tolerable. Perhaps one day all that long, roundabout effort will get rewarded.

In my case, there was no girlfriend that came out from those two years; the girl I had a crush on dropped out of YF too :( And then the guys decided not to play football because it was too dangerous and excluded the girls.

So perhaps what best explains why I stayed is that God did speak to me, even if it was in the slightest most oblique way. That happened at the end of 2001.