Monday, April 29, 2013
A few days ago, a former teacher of mine passed away from breast cancer. She was 50.
I don't remember much of her - I was 14 years old and back then my world was much less than human relationships. It was about pick-up games of football, after-school computer games and meals comprising exclusively fried chicken skin. Even so, I had slightly more interest in Ms Yeo than all the other teachers in school. The reason was straightforward: she taught my class English Literature, one of the only two subjects I fancied myself decent in.
I thought I was good at something, and so I wanted approval for it. And that approval would, as a matter of course, have to come from Ms Yeo. She was nothing more to me than that in those years; her function was one of unilateral validation. And so when I received a 15/20 grade from Ms Yeo for one particular Merchant of Venice essay, I did not know to hide my completely unjustified show of bad humour. I did not know, in the folly of youth and pride, that negativity begat only negativity; or that my display of brattish entitlement probably left Ms Yeo with a slightly worse day and an even worse impression of me. In any event she was appropriately muted in her response: "Well, work harder next time. This is all you're getting." And I was thusly shooed off with a tired smile and wave.
On hindsight, this was precisely the wrong response. And, I suspect, Ms Yeo knew it too at the time. She only wanted me out of her hair, and this was speaking my language. But I look back on the episode and I think about how much my life would have changed had Ms Yeo not minced her words at that instant. She should have said:
"Shiyao, please. You and I both know you're reasonably good at this subject. So why are you doing this? 15/20 isn't a bad grade. It's just not stellar. But do you need to be stellar so badly that you think nothing of sacrificing the good opinion of your classmates and your teacher in exchange? No one will think anything of you after that. But more importantly, you would have done something really foolish. You would have given in to the notion that life is about being right, about being excellent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Life is about people. The reason why you want me to think well of your essay is because you want me to think well of you. And why is that? It is because I am another person here on this Earth, existing potentially to validate you. When you think in those terms, everything else falls away, and what is left is only empathy. Everyone else wants the same thing, and the sooner each of this realizes this, the sooner we can have a world genuinely built upon love."
I wonder if I would have truly understood these words back then; or at least, if I would have taken them to heart, over and beyond the completion of both Nod and GDI campaigns, across Arsenal's 2003-04 season, and through the tussle for my future wife with one of my best friends. I doubt I would have.
But last night, playing Taboo with newly-minted friends, I felt the phantom words strike home. The rules had not been clearly explained, and one friend had accidentally mouthed a taboo word. Was it a point deduction or simply a default to the next word? Across the table, I queried my teammate, ten years my junior, with eyes and a whisper. He shifted back in his seat and shrugged. "We didn't make it clear, it's alright." His eyes were kind. I nodded in understanding. And then I understood.
We lost in the end, but it barely mattered (I was to be much more upset later when Bacary Sagna literally passed the ball to van Persie in his own half - seriously, retire already). All I remember now, sitting here typing this, are good feelings from a night of frictionless tomfoolery.
I wish someone had told me all of this sooner, but that would be abdicating responsibility for my own personal development throughout all these years. I suppose it's not too late to make up for lost time, though - although Ms Yeo might have to wait for a bit longer more.
To everyone who has a loved one going through a serious or terminal illness, my thoughts, for what they are worth, are with you. Stay strong, and above all, kind.
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
Not so Happy Birthday
I know next to nothing about Southampton, but I do know that they deserved a win today. Arsenal, uninspired in midfield and uncommunicative in defence, were lucky to come away with a point. My thoughts on individual players:
Szczesny: One of the few who had a decent game. Certainly he looked more comfortable between the sticks than his opposite number.
Sagna: In a word - uninterested. His incompetent intervention in the box led to the Southampton goal (and almost an own goal as well when his knee sent to ball straight at the Arsenal goal from 2 yards). When he did go forward, his passes were either sprayed out-of-bounds or straight back to Southampton.
Vermaelen: Won almost all his headers, many of them crucial, but came forward less than usual.
Koscielny: Did well for most part but was lucky not to give away a penalty in the first half.
Gibbs: Arsenal's obvious weak link did surprisingly well today, and had he shot (instead of attempting to square for Walcott) after he was released into the Southampton box in the last 5 minutes Arsenal might have won it. Still, there were moments of vulnerability when balls were played behind him in defence.
Arteta: Can anyone say "John Barnes"? Apart from a decent volley effort from outside the box, this man is clearly past his prime.
Wilshere: Man-of-the-match for Arsenal. Kicked in the groin and nose (yes there was blood), he soldiered on with punishing runs straight at the Southampton defence. No support from the rest of his team-mates, however; in particular, Santi Cazorla did not appear interested in any off-the-ball running.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Impressed with his tireless running and never-say-die attitude. Needs to gain some vision, though.
Santi Cazorla: Much has been said about this man but tonight he just looked, fat, old and out of ideas. The slowest player on the pitch (narrowly beating out Giroud), his substitution was perhaps half an hour late.
Podolski: After a good start to the match he simply disappeared. Fitness is not an issue for this man - but what else could it be? Rightly substituted, but by the wrong man (see Gervinho).
Walcott: A good free-kick by him led to Arsenal's equalizer just before half-time, but a precious chance to salvage the game at the cusp of regulation time was equally wasted. Overall an under-average performance from the recent hat-trick hero - indeed, he looked tired.
Ramsey: Expectations were extremely low, so - dare I say it? - a better than average performance, subjectively speaking (he lost the ball stupidly only once). Still not good enough to be a regular first-team player though.
Giroud: Tall and slow, big and lazy. Cannot dribble to save his life. Whatever history has for him, he is currently merde.
Gervinho: Words fail me. This man should be cleaning toilets in Saudi Arabia.
Southampton's disallowed goal in the second half was neither offside nor was there any foul leading up to it. In other words, Southampton were robbed of a win they desperately needed in their relegation struggle. Arsenal were simply lucky today. I feel sorry for birthday boy Jack - had his teammates only possessed half his gumption, the result could have been very different indeed.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Tuesdays are bad days for losers like me. Servers are down, teo chew mueh stall is closed and the newspaper is at its thinnest (finish reading before finish business). So I turn to writing, making things worse.
Post-coital silences were always awkward for Azmodan (I am sorry, I have decided that all my fictional characters henceforth will be named after Diablo boss characters). On the one hand, he knew the gender rules: the man would have to remain silent, save for the occasional "yous'ok?"; the woman would be the one talking, in need of affirmation after giving away her flower. On the other hand, Azmodan usually had so much to say. That was great. Was I great? You were great. Life is great. I was great, right? Better than Mephisto anyway. Loser.
But tonight Azmodan was quiet, pensive. Largely because the woman lying in his arms wasn't his wife, but a foreign body.
"Hey, Azzy," Cydaea drawled. It had been all of three days, but she had already found him a suitably embarrassing surname.
"Uh huh?" Azmodan stirred. Guilt could come later. Cydaea needed his best front presented to her.
"Were you playing Diablo before coming to meet me?"
Azmodan considered. "Yeah, I was. But I'm glad I came to meet you."
Cydaea smiled, as pure a smile as a thirty-three year old could muster. "So I win?"
"Yeah, baby. You win. You beat Diablo."
"Yes!" Throwing her arms up in triumph, Cydaea nestled deeper into Azmodan's neck. "I beat that stupid game."
"Not much of a victory if you put it that way."
Realizing that he was talking too much, Azmodan picked up his pack of cigarettes from the side table. Composure after consummation, man. Stay cool.
"No, it is. I know how much you like that dumb game." Cydaea gave a contented purr. "You hungry?"
Azmodan paused. "Actually I am. Want to grab something?" He was halfway to a cigarette, but didn't want to smoke before eating.
"No. I want to stay here, like this, with you." There was a distinct tinge of defiance in Cydaea's indistinct whisper.
Azmodan smiled in spite of himself. "Sure, babe." Now where was that lighter?
"Are you listening, Azzy?" Cydaea's insistent murmuring continued. "Do I beat food too?"
The question was as adorable as its asker. Azmodan merely grinned, nodded and tousled Cydaea's hair.
"Yay," Cydaea said, happy with little. "Yay yay yay. What else can I ask if I beat?"
Azmodan didn't know why he said what he said next; perhaps it was the leftover guilt that he had stowed into an open corner in his mind, or perhaps it was simply his hunger that drove him to indiscretion. "How about my wife?"
Cydaea started, then turned over. The room became heavy with silence.
"Hey baby, what's w-" Azmodan reached out to touch Cydaea, but she shrugged him away. "Don't be angry?"
Cydaea's reply was muffled by a pillow, but her words, sharp with sadness, cut Azmodan to the core. "Asshole. You know I won't ever ask that." She got up from the bed and padded over to the toilet.
"Sweetheart, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that." Azmodan heard himself bleating at the tightly shut door. "It was just - it was just weighing on my mind. You know I think you're better than my wife, right? Come on, come out honey. I'll get us something good to eat. KFC, your favourite. Or anything else. I'm good for time."
There was an eternity of silence, the sort of sad, sordid silence that remains in shopping centres after dusk, and then suddenly the door was open, with Cydaea fully dressed, her make-up hastily applied. Her eyes were red and puffed from crying, but her gaze was firm.
"And after that? You go home to your wife, tell her about your fictitious day, and go to sleep without fucking. You lie to her, but can't you see that you need to lie to me too? We're both in this together. Don't tell me that I deserve this hurt, that I knew what I was getting myself into - asshole, do you deserve the hurt that comes from me telling your wife everything? You knew that came with the fucking territory too, right?"
Azmodan, alarmed, found himself on his hands and knees. "Baby, please-"
"Life is short. I'm trying to find whatever happiness I can find, wherever I can find it. I thought you felt the same way. Which is why we're here in this fucking room in the first place, isn't it? I was never going to ask you to leave your wife, or to ask you to badmouth her for my sake - please, save me the patronization. But it looks like you've decided that it's convenient to have a fucking conscience all of a sudden. Well, don't take it out on me. Go 'fess up to wifey, if it's eating away at you so bad. I'm not your fucking priest." Cydaea started for the front door.
"Baby, please - I'm sorry. I take it back. I didn't know what I was doing. You're right, life is short, so maybe we don't have to spend it arguing? I'll bring you some place nice." Azmodan found himself scrambling to find the right words, but nothing seemed to come.
Cydaea stopped, halfway out the door. Her eyes no longer flared, but were instead heavy with sorrow. "Azzy, darling. It's over. You've ruined everything. I loved you with all my heart for three days, but I can quite positively say that I hate you right now." Cydaea smiled, the saddest smile Azmodan had ever seen. "Please go to hell."
"Well ... I had fun today. Thanks for letting me walk you back," Baal said. He never was good with words, unlike his brother Belial - the Lord of Lies. (Casual reader, please ignore that last bit about Belial.)
Andariel smiled, her features fixed against moonlight. "No, I should thank you for walking me back." There was a beat.
Baal looked at her - as a matador looks at a beloved bull before a fight - and mustered up the courage to take her hand in his. "I ... I'm really glad we're in the same faculty," Baal managed. "I like physics ... and I like you too."
Andariel flushed, and looked down at the floor. Baal thought that she was embarrassed for him, for his complete and utter uselessness in confessing how he really felt. He reached over and tilted Andariel's chin up -
- and found her face soaked in tears, her lower lip wobbling uncontrollably. Baal was surprised, but equal to the task. "Andariel? What's wrong? It's okay if you don't like me either. I was always prepared for that eventuality. Hey, don't cry ... here, take a tissue." Hastily, he handed over a few spare serviettes from Starbucks earlier that day.
"I - I - I'm not sure what's wrong with me ... " Andariel trailed. "I - I ..." Baal just gazed at her fondly. She would continue, and he knew it. "I - I'm really terrible at physics," Andariel finally gasped. "I - I have no idea why I'm studying it. I've always wanted to be a physicist but it's been so many years, and I still can't do it ... maybe I'm just too stupid after all ... even our juniors are smarter than me ..."
An ordinary man would have despaired at this juncture - why, after receiving a declaration of love, would a girl start to talk about her incompetence at science? But Baal, for all his woodenness, had been well schooled by Belial.
"A girl will never be direct about anything," Belial had once intoned. "She will ask for a conversation when she wants a fuck, and for a fuck when all she really wants are sweet nothings. Do not be confused by this, dear brother, but rather use it to your advantage."
At the time, Baal had understood nothing. "How?" Belial smirked. "Elementary, Baalloon. For example, a girl will not say 'I love you', even though she wants to. She will instead share some completely irrelevant fact about herself, possibly at your inception even, and strive to build a bond with you over that completely irrelevant fact. This is her way of letting you know that you are now in her inner circle, and that -you- may instead say 'I love you' to her. After which, my dear brother, she will reciprocate with a thousand of that blasted phrase."
Baal had found himself nodding at the time. "Belial, how do you know this?"
"My dear brother, I am the Lord of Lies. I understand women."
So Baal did not despair. He knew that Andariel was sharing a vulnerability, any vulnerability with him so that he could take on a bigger role in her life. "These invitations don't come twice, young one," Belial had said. "If you don't take them, I will."
Andariel was presently surprised to find Baal's lips on hers, but she found herself not resisting. She became increasingly less surprised with herself as Baal's hands began roaming all over her body, his flesh pressed up against hers. "Oh ..." she gasped. "Wha ..."
"Shhh," Baal whispered quietly into her ear. "I'll show you how good you are at physics."
Thursday, April 05, 2012
"All literature is consolation," someone wise once wrote.
But he wrote it down anyway.
The days pass, we follow our desires.
More days pass - our old desires, having been slaked, replace themselves with new ones.
At some point we think we have found wisdom, and we turn to desiring nothing.
When we are done with wisdom - and still have not ended our own lives - we immerse ourselves, once again, in the world of wanting.
Alternating between wanting and abstaining, chasing and being still, we flail through our lives as best as we know how. On our deathbeds, the more reflective amongst us wonder about it all.
It is a privilege to want, for that gives us a reason to feel alive. The man who could care less about achieving is a dead man. The 78 year old man who anticipates his grandson's next carefree smile, for example, is filled with more life than the directionless twentysomething layabout.
It is also a privilege not to want, however, for that allows us to break out of the cycle of endless and pointless desire. This assurance gives us room to appreciate aspects of life - like watching clouds - that are often lost to the din of pursuit.
These two are not incompatible. Harbour your desires and goals, but also bear in mind that we are each of us really only living from unfulfilled want to unfulfilled want. There is no end point, no such thing as "when I achieve XXX, I will be truly happy". People who say these things probably also think that true happiness can exist in a coma, where life is similarly suspended.
Happiness, then, is living in a state of constant wanting and knowing that, precisely because of that, we want for nothing.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I remember now, the cusp of spring in 2003; lying in bed on a quiet Friday afternoon, with nothing for company but soft grass rustling.
A knock at the door: it's Nelson, my Singaporean senior living one floor above.
"Hey, is your internet down?"
I don't know, I say. I look down at the book in my hands: The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke. I've been reading, apparently.
"Wow, still got time to read story book? Not bad, really know how to enjoy ..."
I smile guiltily and offer a suitable rejoinder. Nelson laughs in his good-natured way and goes off, unabated in his search for greener internet.
I return to my room and look at my laptop, shut for the first time in days. I look at the deep impression I've left on my bed; I look at the window, slightly ajar, letting in a refreshing temperate breeze. I am noticing all these things for the first time.
I look at the book in my hand. How long ...?
A quiet warmth builds inside me as I curl up again, resuming from where I'd left off. I still have the rest of the afternoon, the rest of the book, I think happily. The rest of my life.
Monday, June 13, 2011
So last Friday I found myself ensconced in the warm embrace of Singapore's "first members-only club", bobbing to the dull thud of what, on hindsight now, must have been music. It was a queer feeling, to be both an insider and outsider at the same time: I was unsure whether to feel sad about my initial exclusion (really a mean business concept), or happy at my intervening intrusion. This dilemma did not bother me for long, however, for soon I was caught up in the vicissitudes of "being happz".
Because this was the "first members-only club" in Singapore, everyone in the club was just that much more "happz". Never mind that half the people I knew there were not members; never mind that the other half were janitors at my office who had missed the last bus back to JB. It was MEMBERS-ONLY, so the ante had to be upped.
But first: what exactly is "happz"? It is a difficult concept to articulate. Let us give examples, first, of what is not "happz". Farting is not "happz", regardless of gender. A female admitting to bodily functions is not "happz". A bloke PayPalling you for $0.05 is not "happz". Supporting Manchester United when you cannot play football is not "happz". Oh, a good one: blogging about clubbing is not "happz".
Now that we have defined the concept negatively, we can move into firmer territory. For starters, who is "happz"? The answer, unequivocally, has to be Wolverine. Wolverine is "happz". Nobody will ever say otherwise. Can you think of someone who is more "happz" than Wolverine?
Gambit: I am more "happz" than you, wolf-boy.
Wolverine: I have adamantium erection. You have exploding penis.
Gambit: OK I lose.
I cannot. And so Wolverine sets the standard for "happz" - at least for the men. (I will talk about female "happz" later, or tomorrow, because I am so busy.) Now, what are the characteristics of Wolverine that lend him so well to being "happz"? I shall outline a few:
1. Wolverine kills people.
2. Wolverine cannot die.
3. Wolverine is attractive to women.
4. Wolverine is laconic.
5. Wolverine has a scarred past.
6. Wolverine can shoot out adamantium claws from his knuckles.
7. Wolverine smokes.
8. Wolverine is called Wolverine (and not, say, "Lupine-Man" or "Lupus").
1 is out of reach of most normal people. However, you can project the idea that you kill people. This is why guys wear tight t-shirts that barely cover their rippling muscles. Or you could carry an unsheathed knife all over the place with a crazed look in your eyes.
I sense objection. Someone is shouting: "A crazed man carrying a knife is not 'happz', he is just crazy!" This is a misguided counterpoint. A crazed man is the essence of "happz". Someone who does not change himself to suit the world is "happz". Of course, if subsequently the crazed man breaks down and sobs an apology into tissue along the lines of "My mama abandoned me I just want attention with my knifey boohoohoo", he becomes extremely "unhappz". Wolverine would never do this. Wolverine would say to anybody who asks, "Go fuck yourself."
2 is similar to 1, except that projecting it is slightly harder. You have to do stupid things, like drink 23746872 shots or bungee jump. And there is the risk that you might die. Therefore in general, it is cooler to be 2 than 1, if you can only manage one. But if you can only manage one, you are probably never going to be "happz", so you might as well give up and go back to supporting Manchester United.
3 is actually the end result of everything in the list.
4 speaks for itself (haha). The less you say, the more other people can talk and trip themselves up. In Wolverine's case, I suspect slight dyslexia and mental retardation but hey, if it works it works. Allow others to project themselves onto you; it makes them like you because you remind them of them.
5 is crucial. If you have no scarred past, nobody will be drawn to your hidden magnetic allure. Because of their shallow natures and inability to accept reality, people like to think that things have depth. Make a torrid past up if you have none; every scar can be turned into a story. To date my cleft lip has bestowed upon me all manner of heroics: bank robbery, skateboarding accident, "you should see the other guy" broken-bottle fight etc etc. If you have no physical scars, emotional scars work too, but be careful; don't whine. State matter-of-factly ("yeah my father castrated himself, then killed my mother"), steel your jaw and then down the shot you have in front of you.
6 - let's not waste time here, bub.
7 is fun. Don't think that Wolverine only smokes cigars; he smokes cigarettes off and on too. The key is appropriateness. When in the gutter, cigarettes; when photographed, cigars; when in a Victorian building, pipes. Let the smell hang on your clothes so the women you make love to can feel the difference between you (dirty scruffy badass cur) and them (pure silken fragrant tofu). If you don't actually like putting things in your mouth, you can find a nicotine scent to put on you. It does the job of hiding affairs just as well.
8 appears unimportant, but really it is very, very important. A man with a lousy name is worse off than a man with no name. Ergo, if you have a lousy name, just abandon it. Tell people you have no name, and see what happens. It will always pan out more "happz" than not. Consider:
A: What's your name?
A: What's your name?
B: I have no name.
A: How come?
B: Guess my parents forgot.
A: Oh dear.
B: Don't worry, they're dead now.
A: Oh dear.
B: Yeah I killed them. For forgetting to give me a name.
If this approach is too extreme, you can always give yourself a name. But here is the difficult part. You cannot give yourself a name that is obviously self-given. This is because it is extremely "unhappz" to do anything for yourself. Take, for example, photos that are put up on Facebook. People always try to make it look like other people are always taking photos of them and putting them up. "... Dude when was this taken? don't remember it ... musta been totally wasted ha ..." writes Wannabe X. Oh really? You don't remember? I took it after you failed to pay me back for dinner, farted and declared that you supported Manchester United. Remember now? Wanker.
So very sad but true, the very behaviour I condemn is the one that most closely approximates "happz" behaviour. Ideally, of course, you will already have a cool name, but if you don't, remember not to go overboard choosing. Classic English names are all the rage now: see that you adhere, Andrew. Go away, LeBron.
Now that we know what "happz" is, we can go back into Singapore's "first members-only club", where I am standing in a corner drinking ginger ale and being very "unhappz". I am watching people, watching for clues on how to behave. My eyes fixate on a singular man, who appears to be doing his best to be "happz", but I think he has only managed to "blend in". Have you ever stared very hard at computer-generated audiences in sports games like Virtua Tennis or Winning Eleven? OK, you haven't, but I have. Basically the illusion of a crowd falls away, and you are left thinking: it is really, really sad to be a piece of background looped animation.
That is what happens as I stare at this man (let's call him Bobby). Bobby is bouncing on his feet, looking here and there, a glass of alcohol permanently riveted to his left palm. He has the shoes, the shirt, the look; but he has no idea what he is doing. He is trying so hard to be "happz" it is clear that he is no longer enjoying himself. His conversations with his companions are meaningless ejaculations of less than 5 syllables; his drink does not so much hydrate him as it is supposed to validate him; he does not know the lyrics to any of the songs, but he moves his lips nonetheless (maybe he is deaf! alamak I am so cruel, but it is too late now). Actually, what would a deaf man be doing in a club? No, it cannot be possible. I do not feel bad anymore.
I am starting to enjoy isolating people and watching them. I find that the club becomes less intimidating when I do this. Nobody knows what they are doing. Everyone is pretending. Even Extreme Chiobu With Light Sticks has moments where she is standing there, staring into space, questioning her choice of activity on a Friday night. It is comforting, knowing that I am not alone; knowing that members and non-members alike do not find belonging in a club that has, from the get-go, been created to divide.
3 AM, the lights come up; one man is drunk beyond sentience. He sits alone at a sofa, abandoned by his friends (including Extreme Chiobu With Light Sticks). The security men are prodding him none too gently; no matter, he is dead to the world. Takeaway #1: alcohol is not a magic bullet that makes you "happz". You have to be "happz" first before you can rely on alcohol to enhance your "happz"ness.
A couple are still kissing (they came to the club together and pretty much made out the whole time). I gawk openly, but my thoughts are intellectual and deep. Why do couples come to clubs together? Are they so insecure that they must kiss in public? Why not set up a website and charge $14.99 for monthly subscription? Takeaway #2: a lot of your love life can be monetized.
I am sad at having to leave Singapore's "first members-only club"; given my status as non-member, I am unsure if I will ever be able to return to its hallowed premises. But my friends are impatient ("eh let's go wait outside the toilet for chiobu to come out!"), so I linger for only a little while longer before skulking outside.
One of my friends is impatient to leave. "Eh let's go lah," he says. I ask, Why? Did we not want to ogle chiobus coming out from the toilet? "No lah, let's go let's go." Had we not been ogling chiobus inside the club? "Yes but now is outside. Let's go let's go." Why is it that ogling can only take place inside the club but not outside the club? "Cos I say cannot OK?" OK.
As we part ways outside the club (I wave to the janitors from my office), I look over to the taxi queue. People still have their walls up; I can hear the pointless conversations that are being had, the posturing, the complete inability of every individual tumbling out of the "first members-only club" to simply be himself or herself. I want to go up to the girl who is giggling in her affected manner and tell her: "When you lie to others, you are only lying to yourself, fool! Now are those fake?" But I stop myself, because (a) I have no balls and (b) I hear another voice telling me - "This is how different people have fun, don't be so judgmental." (Actually this is the voice of Xiuhui, who likes to take the side of morons (for the challenge).)
And so I leave these people to be "happz"; I think I will be happy instead.
Monday, January 03, 2011
Jack: "Xiaoming, why don't you like Tjugito?"
Xiaoming: "Dunno leh. Dun like his face."
Jack: "So if his face was different, you'd like him then?"
Xiaoming: "No la, of cos not la. He is damn irritating can. Even you look like Brad Pitt, if you are a lousy person, nobody will like you wan."
Jack: "But just now you said you didn't like his face - "
Xiaoming: "Is just a PHRASE, ok? Wah lan eh dun like means dun like lah!"
Jack: "Well, I am not disputing that."
Xiaoming: "... huh?"
Jack: "'Don't like' means 'don't like', I am not disagreeing with that."
Xiaoming: "Cheebye that is another phrase can."
Jack: "Actually cheebye is not really a phra - "
Xiaoming: "You wan me to tell you why I dun like you?"
While the exchange appears to be a farcical one, it discloses several truths. One, there are many reasons for liking and disliking people. Two, people are frequently unable to articulate their reasons for liking and disliking people, for whatever reasons (probably strategic, but also encouraged by Facebook's low-requirement, incoherence-engendering "Like" button). Three, the superficial aspect ("his face") is inevitably our first port of call - subconscious or otherwise - whenever we get down to the exercise of judging people (for that's what this is, let us be under no illusions).
Mindful of these facts, I have laboured to construct a system for deciding exactly why some people are disliked by all, some by some, and some by only me. In designing this system I was conscious that it ought to explain as much about the judger as the judged: social life, after all, is nothing if not reciprocal. To a large extent I think I have succeeded in my endeavour.
I call my system the "Five Epsilon System", but the easier to pronounce "We Can No Longer Agree to Disagree About People System", or "WCNLADAPS" for short, appeared to command greater popularity (in beta). In any case the system countenances 5 distinct attributes observable in human beings: Ability (B), Awareness (A), Superficiality (S), Intelligence (I) and Consideration (C). Each individual attribute is measurable along a sliding scale ranging from -100 to +100, to be agglomerated with the following formula:
Like/Dislike Rating = B + A + 2S + 0.5I + 0.75C
The formula above is applicable only to present-day Singapore; it reflects Xiaoming's (and our) superficial bent. Here are some formulae from other places and times:
Like/Dislike Rating in the Old Wild West = 5B + 0.5A + 0.5S + 0.1I + C
Like/Dislike Rating in Outer Space = 100B +50A +0S + 75I + C
Like/Dislike Rating in Prison, circa 1892 = 100B + 100A + 0S + 0.2I + (-|2C|)
The Like/Dislike Rating, or LDR for short, reflects how much you like or dislike someone. If it is positive it signifies liking; if negative, disliking. It is best thought of as not being measured "upon" anything (even though that is theoretically possible), but rather exists as a handy relative gauge for inhabitants of a particular society at a particular time. An illustration:
Jack: "Xiaoming, why don't you like Tjugito?"
Xioaming: "I can't identify with his lack of A and I. He watches MTV with his mouth open all day long."
Jack: "Oh. I am guessing those attributes pulled him down to a low positive?"
Xioaming: "No man, his lack of S brought him to -48!"
Jack: "Oh dear. I never knew you were an S man."
Separately: It was suggested that the convenient acronym "BASIC" be employed instead, but as the passive voice suggested it, the suggestion was canned.
Without further ado, here are the five relevant attributes, each with a short description and accompanying examples.
(NB. This entry could have been "Articulating Like", except that for some reason "like" is not a noun. Also, I am generally a mean, cynical and negative person, so I dislike this title less.)
Competence, talent, leadership - someone who possesses a lot of ability usually leaves you gaping in awe, rather than seething with envy. Usually it is associated with tangible, obviously measurable traits (piano-playing chops, dribbling skills, savoir faire - rather than insincerity - at networking events and other complex social interactions).
+100 examples: Michael Jackson's dancing, Jason Kidd's dribbling, Barack Obama's oration, Jay Chou's everything
-100 examples: Someone who has played Bejeweled for 10 months but still cannot get beyond 100,000 points, people who take up tennis late in life and slice every ball back with a char kway teow stroke, girl who cannot cook, boy who cannot kill cockroach
Arguably the most difficult of the five to define, this attribute is also the most commonly flouted. Fortunately, however, our society at present does not set much store by it. Awareness refers to the ability of an individual to keep up with the non-intellectual nuances of everything. Conversation and EQ, in particular; but also observing things, remembering times, recalling important nouns, making the relevant connections between disparate pieces of information.
+100 examples: People who define acronyms before they use them in the presence of those unfamiliar with them, a good stand-up comedian, men who notice, women who don't mention it when men fail to notice
-100 examples: Person who repeats the same anecdotes/jokes and extends the punchline with unnecessary paraphrasing, individual who is transparent in his self-augmenting motives during conversation (e.g. men who put other men down by saying "actually so-and-so is actually quite short"), women who dress twenty years too young
Without a doubt the most important attribute of - or should that be for? - our gilded generation, superficiality measures everything that can be perceived with the senses - how one looks, how one smells, how one moves. Hygiene, grooming, sartorial style - all of these fall under this umbrella category.
+100 examples: Jude Law with hair, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Lin Chiling, Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark
-100 examples: Sea cucumber, man wearing singlet constantly scratching himself in Chinatown, corpse, Murloc
A no-brainer - intelligence measures one's capacity for abstract discussion and logic, as well as one's thirst for knowledge and general curiosity. Mathematical prowess is a great indicator, as is fluency with any non-waffly subject (polygots qualify). Previously I was of the impression that the arts in general were just repositories for morons, until I read Ian McEwan and realized that you can turn poetry, music, wonder - you can turn all of this into math, and beautifully so.
+100 examples: The apocryphal rocket scientist, erudites (not name-droppers), people who use the word "quark" on a daily basis, Einstein
-100 examples: People who don't read, uninteresting people ("my hobby is slping n eating"), people who use the word "quack" on a daily basis, Frankenstein
Kindness, other-regarding values, genuine empathy, heartfelt sympathy - all of these make up the final spectrum that is consideration. There is some overlap between this characteristic and awareness, but while the latter focuses on social awkwardness (superogatory and subrogatory acts), consideration is concerned with ascribing ownership to fault.
+100 examples: The one who pays for everything first and is very embarrassed to collect money from people subsequently, the one who is on time, the one who volunteers for non-self-augmenting purposes (e.g. bringing 7-Up to the picnic), the one who finds out the details
-100 examples: The non-driver who takes lifts as a matter of entitlement, the non-payer, the borrower (see also: the non-returner), the favour-asker ("eh you are going there ah can you help me buy ..."), the presumptuous, the eat-more-than-his-share, the unapologetic transgressor
With this five-way attribute system, we can now solve complex problems that have plagued us since the dawn of time: Why are some people interesting but difficult to be friends with? (High I Low C) Why are we friends with so many boring but "nice" people? (Low I Low A High C) Why do so many women put up with being beaten by their NFL/EPL/NBA husbands? (High B High S Low C Low I) And why do we love and hate Megan Fox? (High S Low ... Everything Else)
Of course, there will be overlaps between the categories. For example, the woman who dresses twenty years too young displays both low A and, consequently, low S. Separately, there will inevitably be apparent internal inconsistencies for each attribute, which makes scaling for that particular attribute that much more difficult: a classic instance would be the genius artist who is unable to file his income tax returns on time (High B? Low B?). Where the genius is truly genuine, however, people will still be fond of the individual. The administrative shortalls serve to make him human and more accessible, so overwhelming is his B. Other inconsistencies for other attributes, by and large, may be resolved in a similar fashion.
Additionally, as has already been mentioned, the system yields value in another fashion: the individual LDR for each appraiser tells us what is important to him or her, and therefore how we should or should not behave around that particular person. This is not sycophancy; it is simply Treating People The Way They Want To Be Treated (and nobody likes to feel like you are treating them in a certain way so that you can get what you want - that is a completely different matter altogether, mind). Without question, the Five Epsilon System can only lead humanity to greater harmony in the new year and beyond. I hear "Nobel".
Now that we are done with the BASICs, let us resolve to dislike more accurately in 2011!
Saturday, November 06, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Specifically, Transformers: War for Cybertron.
Lesson #1: If you suck at something you think you might enjoy or find worthwhile, don't make excuses. Just do it
I was always terrible at shooters. Back in the days of DE_DUST, I was always the liability, the deadweight, the "free frag". I was so bad that eventually the better players resolved only to knife me to death, out of sheer pity. Their charity backfired, however; shortly thereafter I became known as "free steak".
Which is not to say I didn't enjoy DE_DUST and DE_OFFICE and DE_AZTEC and all their other equally pixelated brethren. I did, I really did; which 16 year old boy doesn't like to shoot stuff up, virtually or otherwise? But I knew I was no good, and as the years passed and the invitations petered out (no one wants a cripple on their running team), I did not fight to keep shooters in my life. I'd watch a few videos on YouTube now and then ("Modern Warfare 2: Whiteboy7thsts Epic Throwing Knife Kill"), my brother playing Battlefield 2142, and partake in the odd nostalgic conversation ("Desert Eagle was the best man, cheap and good and reload animation damn stylo"), but I never played another game of FPS. I was like a tennis player who'd bought all the gear and read all the magazines, but never stepped onto court. (Hi Paradorn! Have a good retirement.)
That all changed, however, when High Moon Studios released War for Cybertron. I'd played a few Transformers game before, but they were mostly rubbish. But here was a game, finally, that actually put the transformation mechanic into good use. For the first time ever, transformation in a Transformers game was actually functional. As a Scientist, you transform into a jet to escape; as a Soldier, you transform into a tank for good burst damage; as a Leader, you transform into a truck to mow other robots down. It was too good to be true, and despite telling myself "I'll just buy it for the lore and the single-player campaign", I soon found myself playing non-stop rounds of Team Deathmatch in multiplayer.
Needless to say, I was still shit. War for Cybertron might be a well-realized licence, but first and foremost it is fundamentally a shooter. Within a month of playing the game I'd racked up 400-odd kills - and well over 700 deaths. With this horrific kill-death ratio seared into my eyeballs, I put the game away quietly, pretending that "oh I need time to research new talent builds for Cataclysm". Only my wife knew of my shame, and of course she didn't think much of it. "I think the computer game thing on your men-must-be-able-to-do list is the least important," she said. "Can parallel park can already."
It really is funny how much we lie to ourselves. When we do poorly at something we say we were "never really interested in it anyway"; when we cannot muster up the effort to do something well (or at all) we tell ourselves "I could've done it properly if I'd wanted to". So the enthusiast who abandons golf after a month of gear-acquisition; and so the examination candidate who tars the efforts of her top-placed compatriots in a paper that apparently is "not important". "I didn't want to put in the effort," she says. Yes darling, we think. If you had put in the effort it would have made all the difference, now.
Qualifier: this only applies for things that we are really interested in. I do not feel a compulsion to be excellent in cross-stitching because it ... really never has occurred to me. But I do enjoy shooting games. How do we know when is which? Honest truth-seeking, hours of talking to the mirror (or to me, come come), and an earnest self-appraisal. If you watch Manchester United on TV, you want to play soccer well. If you like reading, you want to write well. If you enjoy the blues, you want to play (at least pentatonic) guitar. Yes, these are exaggerated examples; a lot of it depends on your available time and other competing priorities. But you must at least be able to say, with an air of apologetic acknowledgement: "I wish I could do such-and-such." If you find yourself saying "I like to watch soccer but I hate playing it", you are being disingenuous. You like to watch soccer but you SUCK playing it.
Back to the story. About a month after I'd shelved the game, guilt bit into me. I was having fun re-skinning my Dragon Age characters and forcing Morrigan to have sex with Alastair, but deep down inside I knew: I was running away from something I wanted to do. I was giving myself excuses, lying to myself and everyone around me (except for Dom and Zhenhao, who both have the game and can see my kill-death ratio on Teletran). I told my wife about my disgrace regarding War for Cybertron: she carried right on cooking.
So it was up to me. Heavily, I took the game back down from my wife's bookshelf (I'd told her that the game was taking up too much of my time, and that I needed to be physically away from it so as not to be tempted), plonked the disc into my computer and started playing. But this time, I'd made up my mind: I was going to go from 400-700 to a positive ratio. I wouldn't stop playing until I did.
And I have. Just two days ago, after two weeks of play, I arrived at a kill-death ratio of 1300-1172:
This means that in those two weeks, my kill-death ratio was approximately 900-472! For the record, I've never had a positive kill-death ratio in a single shooter. In my life.
I'm glad I bit the bullet. People always say computer games are pointless and a waste of time et cetera but, to me, they allow a very productive outlet for otherwise unpleasant competitiveness (much like sport). Personally, I find competitiveness very ugly in the real world; who feels good filling up their staff appraisals with things that are intrinsically meant to show how much better you are than the next person? In the arena of a game or a sport, free rein may be given to these competitive urges (within the bounds of sporting behaviour): no one is harmed in the process, and everyone can have a laugh about it afterward. Pace the real world: "Hahaha, I really topped you for that round of promotions, didn't I? LOL!" I didn't think so.
In any case, the lessons one learns from playing computer games are applicable to the real world as well, as we shall soon see.
Lesson #2: Pick one thing and stick with it
Initially, during my 400-700 era, I played every single class: Scout, Leader, Scientist, Solider. Needless to say, I got good at none of them. Over time, however, I realized that I played somewhat less bad with the Scout (sniping, stealth and surgical strikes). I went all in. Here's my most recent game:
Life is pretty much the same. You'll never be indispensable to people unless you offer a comparative advantage in (pretty much just) one thing. Find it, do it, keep it. You'll find that it keeps you.
Lesson #3: Don't panic, whatever the situation
So three Soldiers are bearing down on you and you've just come out of Cloak. You can either:
(a) Panic and start to spam your Melee
(b) Jet backwards and try to headshot at least two of them with your Energon Battle Pistol before dying (you will die lah, let's be realistic)
This used to happen to me all the time, because I would never stick with my team (see Lesson #4). I would panic, and then go down in a sordid, flailing mass. As I got better, the frequency of these situations decreased, but when they did come up I would tell myself to stay calm. So they have 6 bars of armor; so they have Whirlwind; so they have greater numbers; so they have the X-12 Scrapmaker. So what? If you stay calm and always know what you have to do (answer (b) above), that's half the battle won.
Lesson #4: Be a team player
Unless your username is Cybertron97 (10,000 kills, 1,000 deaths) or DemanSupreme (regularly gets 20 killstreaks), stick with your team. Economies of scale, more targets, more support, whatever you want to call it. People who go alone ... die alone.
Lesson #5: Improvise
OMG Null Ray equipped no time to switch to Scatter Blaster enemy incoming how how? Fuck it, blast them at melee range. If they are close enough the spread won't matter. And follow up with a quick Melee to confirm the kill. Likewise, out of ammunition but the bastard still isn't dropping? Transform. Don't forget you still have bullets in vehicle form!
Bottom line: don't be tied to any one way of thinking. The world is surely more open-ended than a computer game; you'll find that most things can be overcome, if you apply yourself properly. Mix it up.
Lesson #6: Know when to hold and when to fold
When to escape: When you have no idea who is shooting you and from where - transform and get the hell out of there
When not to escape: When you know exactly where your enemy is - this means he probably has line of sight wherever you go. Stay and fight
The worst feeling in the world - a half-hearted attempt at escape, concluded with a well placed bullet from an enemy rifle. If you have a good idea of the obstacle you are facing, you might as well deal with it then and there. If you have no idea at all, chances are you need to take evasive manoeuvres to investigate and re-group.
I've also noticed that hiding in the shadows, lurking and waiting for a chance to snipe is probably the most un-fun and un-productive way to play War for Cybertron. You don't learn, and withdraw more and more into your cowardly self. The best players move about, shifting vantage points frequently, and get up close even when utilizing fragile classes like the Scout and the Scientist. Play like you have something to lose, and you lose. Play like you want to win, and you've already won.
Lesson #7: Do not be intimidated by ostensibly better players
I've mentioned Cybertron97. He is, like, the most awesome player on Teletran, with a special animated icon next to his name to show that he has maxed out all four classes and has reset all his stats just for the heck of it. But just the other day, after I headshotted him 4 times in one game, he added me as a friend on Teletran. Cybertron97, adding me! (You have to see this guy play to understand why I am gushing. It doesn't help that he might've been born in 1997, I know.)
Don't be intimidated by people just because they have "SC" or "PhD" after their names. They're just people, after all, driven by the same wants and needs: comfort, recognition, respect, love. Even PLC No. 1 also has worries about mortgage and toilet paper. In the same way that you shouldn't treat perceived inferiors worse, you also shouldn't treat perceived superiors better. Let no one affect your dignity of person.
Lesson #8: Even when you lose, you can win; integrity is all
I have more losses on record than wins for Team Deathmatch, but more kills than deaths. This can only be because even in games where I lose, I maintain a positive kill-death ratio. Even where your teammates are weak, you shouldn't look to blame them for an eventual defeat. Don't be a pre-emptive apologist; you're not there to make up the numbers, you are there to win. If your teammates are turning out to be liabilities, find ways to use them. Employ them as decoys, or teach them good play by example. Show them new locations and lead them to power-ups. Cybertron97 has racked up 25-0 for games where his team loses 40-25. In games as in life, there's no such thing as luck.
Lesson #9: Don't regret anything you have done by choice
Sure I've spent a lot of time on War for Cybertron, or computer games for that matter (Level 80 Druid and Death Knight tks). But choosing to play these games were decisions that were correct to me at the time I undertook them. To say now that "I can't believe how much time I wasted manipulating pixels for no clear material purchase!" would be, to my mind, really sad. Now that you're all big and important and professional, you pooh-pooh what your heart told you to do when you were full of youth and happiness? That's just bullying.
Life is too short to keep accounting in a self-aggrandizing manner. You have other priorities today, fine; but the you of today has nothing on the you of yesteryear. Because while you're bleating mindlessly that "youth is wasted on the young", at one and the same time there's your younger self looking at you through the glass, thinking: look what I've become, look what I've become.
Lesson #10: Know when to stop; it's a big world out there
"Be careful what you set your heart upon - for it will surely be yours." So said James Baldwin. Whoever he was, he was right.
And so - I am done, for now. It's time to do other things. Since I am not entitled to have an opinion on almost anything until I know more than just nothing about it, it behooves me to go find out more about everything. But in the meantime, please go buy the game. It might well change your life.
Monday, October 11, 2010
A lover's vows are no sooner soft made
Than truths from universes unravel;
In eternal clay half a seedling laid
Drawing above and below, and level.
Heaven it drinks up destiny
In soil a buried uprising;
The sun it sinews to'ards calumny
Whilst winters it wears unweeping.
So Time's fell hand defaces ev'ry ban
In ev'ry voice that indulges whisper;
Across the years and lips of ev'ry man
Dances a quiet existence without Her.
A lover's vows are so made and broken
Would that we had left ours but unspoken.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Every office has them, hooray!
#1 The "I'm Too Good For This"
Mr X is not an employee like the rest of us. No: Mr X dictates to his boss what he feels he should be doing at work.
Mr X: Sir, this project, I think enough people are on it already?
Boss: I want you on it as well. It's a small project but I want to make sure there are no mistakes.
Mr X: But sir, surely the main tender bid needs more help? I understand this year there is quite fierce competition.
Boss: ... you want to join in with the main tender bid for the development at Ridout?
Mr X: Yes sir, I think my experience would be beneficial for the bid.
Boss: You have an English Literature degree. What are you going to do, make sure that the tender document got no spelling errors?
Mr X: And that the engineers don't make any inappropriate references to Desdemona. It might detract from our overall position.
Mr X: Sir, I want to be important important important noticed important. This one you assign me, not important enough
Boss: But I said so
Mr X: No not important enough the other one more important can I do the other one
Boss: You want to do the other one ...?
Mr X: Yes I think I can one just let me try give me chance I want to be important
Boss: You will be useless there leh, I think
Mr X: No I won't be let me do it let me do it please I need to be important
Boss: OK then I will blurly allow you to do the other important one and make all your colleagues unhappy and mark myself out as a lousy boss ... enjoy dude will promote you asap because you are so noticeable
Mr X: Thanks boss
Solution: Bosses need to wake up!
#2 The Lazy Liability
I advocate laziness as much as anyone, but when your laziness results in more work for other people, you are a lazy fucker.
Boss: Can you go and do more research on this point. You cannot just say elephants are blue without any substantiation. Even my mother can do a better job than you.
Mr X: OK boss.
[two hours later]
Mr X: Here boss.
Boss: This is a picture of an elephant, coloured blue by you.
Mr X: Yes boss. Blue elephant boss.
Boss: And you didn't even colour inside the lines.
Mr X: Boss I masturbate too much I cannot hold my pencil properly.
Boss: Get lost.
Mr X: Boss you want pink colour I also can.
Solution: Ask your mother better
#3 The Nice-to-Superior but Shit-to-Others
These are all over the place. It's easy to spot them: they are the ones who have transformed the most since you last saw them at school. Having taken on their boss' soporific interests, they are suddenly now incapable of performing menial tasks themselves.
Mr X: Hey, boss! The Brut d'Orsay '72 is really good!
Boss: Heh, haha, issit? I never try before.
Mr X: (grandiloquent gesture of disbelief) How can that be, boss! I am sure you have. You just have so many good years in your cellar you must have lost track! Ha Ha Ha! (sycophantic laughter continues for 10 seconds)
Boss: Er, no, really. I ... don't have a cellar.
Mr X: You don't?
Boss: No. (changing topic) Anyway that report I asked for yesterday, have you gotten it done already?
Mr X: Oh, my secretary is typing it out now. It should be ready soon. (starts to fiddle with fountain pen with special super-duper ink that must be bought in bottles with quill motifs on them one)
Boss: Your secretary is typing it out? What did you do, dictate to her on tape?
Mr X: Uh, haha, yah I did! Easier that way, my thoughts flow more naturally also ... like this Cyan-Magenta Mont Blanc Meisterstuck Solitaire!
Boss: Sure whatever but I need the report quick. How much longer?
Mr X: She said should be about half an hour more, but I will rush her. She got to work late lah, said got traffic jam from Punggol ... I guess HDB property, you get what you pay for ...!
Boss: I stay HDB.
Mr X: ... oh??? Hahahaha!!! (sycophantic laughter continues forever)
Boss: That's why I don't have a cellar.
Solution: Every employee must clean toilet one day per week. This gives them a proper outlet to brown-nose
#4 The Coveter
Not so much different from #1, but this one gets mistaken for having "initiative". Examples: the subordinate who claims back weekends for a junket; the female co-worker who assumes ownership of the corner office, under cover of night and ostensible authority; the colleague who uses others' milk in the pantry fridge.
Why are these behaviours contemptible? Because they are not other-regarding. These persons only consider themselves, and they universalize their standards onto everyone else. They do not wonder why it is that they are compelled to do all their furtive acts secretly - they do not see the hinted paradox there. Instead they think: "It's a dog-eat-dog world. I must do what I can. Others will do the same." No, dipshit. Others are too busy being considerate and countenancing more humane value systems to indulge you and your Hobbesian foreplay.
The main variations here are the Credit Whore (consolidates work of peers into one email, bearing only Credit Whore's name), the Favour Player (a stranger in the office for most part, but oozing honey in their time of need) and that old standby, "O$ but never P$". We've heard too much about those already, though.
Solution: Just stay away. Chances are these secretive and self-augmenting "professional" types will also delete their Facebook accounts before long, so interactions can well and truly be kept to a minimum. (Just be sure to occasionally ask them about their salary and bonuses.)
#5 The Proud Incompetent
"Yes, yes, I know, I know, I thought of it already, yes, I know." And two days later you still get the same piece of crap handed up to you.
It is one thing to be proud. It is another to be incompetent. But if you are proud and incompetent, you are nothing but a waste of space. Is advice really that difficult to take? Is doing a task properly really that difficult? Do you know how many fives make thirty-five? Do you know that Pluto is no longer a planet? Do you know that you are an idiot? Oh you didn't know that one, did you. Well, here's my advice -
Solution: Get them involved in a task that is simple to do, but with a massive downside upon failure (e.g. goalkeeper).
But the bottom line is that people are too concerned about their own bottom lines to give a shit. They say to themselves: "This doesn't affect me that much, it's no big deal, I'll just find some other avenue. My job is too important to jeopardize for some nebulous notion of social justice." And so an entire cabal - no, society - of assholes is propped up, because we're all practicing the fucking virtue of forbearance. How great are we? Oh, sorry - my language offends you? I see.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
“A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.” - Robert Frost
A jigsaw piece cannot think. As such, the meaning of a jigsaw piece's existence can only be assessed externally. For most of us, such a meaning is largely found in its part in the completion of a jigsaw puzzle.
A squirrel can think, to a certain extent. However, it does not think beyond foraging for the next winter. This leads many of us to conclude that a squirrel's existence only carries as much meaning as its survival past the next famine. Certainly the squirrel has not yet posed (nor will it ever be able to) itself the question, "What is the meaning of my existence?" As such it cannot offer any more attractive an answer to the questions of being and meaning.
A human being can think for himself. He is a veritable sandbox - with the capacity to entertain multiple possibilities for self-determination, the human being is infinite in meaning. Everything he wills to mean, will mean; everything he dismisses, wanes. An external effort to impose meaning on something or someone essentially self-directed would be as futile as my childhood attempts to make my neighbour's dog meow.
The usual question, then, becomes somewhat incongruous. What is the meaning of life, we ask, hoping for analogies to specimens of little or no mental capacity. We'd probably be better off asking about the meaning of Starcraft.
Is there any value to labeling things "good" or "bad", then, when logically we define our own purposes, values and meaning? Outside of antisocial suicidal tribes, it is probably good to value life and to treat people well. But most else is borderland. This barren waste, devoid of presumption and free of the weight of yesterdays, would best be navigated with calm exposition. As we describe our worlds to one another, listening as patiently as we might speak, we could perhaps grow to rediscover the idyll of a Pangaea once lost.
I've said my piece; now's the turn for yours. As best as we can, let us try to finish the puzzle. I'm sure we'll all fit.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
What is professionalism?
Is it the self-acquitting ignoring of peers as a higher-salaried person speaks? Is it the unhesitating cancellation of prior plans upon the casual invitation of a perceived superior? Is it the setting aside of one's personality - and even humanity - in pursuit of an allegedly valuable supplication?
Like any other office, my workplace is largely Hobbesian. There are limited opportunities for one to "score points", so every chance that presents itself is handled with care. Going upstairs to see upper management? Tie and jacket, please. A chance to carbon-copy those that matter? Better put them in the main addressee list. Going to be absent from a particular lunch meeting? "Please help me reflect my absence fairly - I am unable to make lunch because I will be doing [namedrop event here] for [namedrop personage here]." And, later on, proceed to e-mail the person reflected to directly anyway.
It used to be that good work ethic simply meant a certain level of industriousness. Not anymore. These days, being professional means being able to dissemble at will. The hard work can come later, if at all - first you have to show that you have absolutely no personality whatsoever. People hold their cards to their chests, citing "privacy" and "professional conduct" as totems against inquiry. "I don't believe in letting my personal life affect the quality of my work," they say, persistent in their automatism. "No matter how boring, predictable or meaningless my telegraphed existence, I will be professional to the last."
It is possible that "professionalism" has outgrown - rather unhealthily - its humble moorings. To be professional, surely, means no more than to possess a healthy attitude towards an assigned task. Such an individual would not require gymnastics in the face of ill-reason, or capitulation in the absence of the same. Professionalism would not dictate a de facto preference for everything that comes from above, nor a proclivity towards an as-of-right disdain of the familiarity that comes from below. Certainly, a professional would not have to be in possession of a 20 page long CV, or a marbled mouth full of yes. He would simply be himself, plus a certain degree of task-oriented discipline.
A friend today was bemoaning the loss of his free life upon the advent of a mandate for his professionalism. "I'm not much freer than the non-professional, those people who live with little opportunity cost," he reflected. "Given how I have to conduct myself these days, it seems like I've merely traded in possibility for security." He wasn't sure if his balance had been properly struck, or if the correct variables had been taken into consideration in the first place.
When we rearrange our faces for our superiors, we aren't just altering our demeanours. We are denuding our very souls, twisting necessary difference into ostensible agreement. In the process, each and everyone of us turns into something less than human; we become pieces of software, interacting to maximize, keeping our counsel so well that we fail to disclose, even to ourselves, that we are alone. And so life goes on, with no one any the wiser.
Why is this a pity? My primary objection is and always has been that professionalism is a lie. It is the first step towards a promised wonderland - maintain the persona, get the promotion, enjoy the variegated luxuries. But there are only people here on Earth, with the few desultory objects interspersing them. Professionalism focuses us on these objects, while at one and the same time severing us from the people that matter. "I won't comment, because that might keep me from my objects," says the professional. "I prefer to sacrifice genuine intimacy with my fellows instead." One gets used to this aspect of the professional, and before long one realizes - that really is all there is to the professional.
I reject this paradigm. I would like to be able to spend as much of this life being interesting and interested, talked to and talked about. None of us really knows for sure why we are here, but we can certainly spend our time finding out; or at the very least, finding out about the other sentients who have been placed here with us. A lifetime of illusory accumulation and one-upmanship? Without any pejorativeness, that is not for me. Perhaps you would like to ask the gentleman seated at the chessboard by the window? He's been at that game all through thirty summers.
Friday, July 23, 2010
After my shower I go down to see the hotel concierge, uncertain about transportation in this strange new city. "How do I get from here to the river front?" I ask the deeply tanned Khmer man standing behind the bell. He is trussed up in a western waistcoat and has his hair slicked back, quite unlike any of his countrymen from the airport. But when he speaks he is one hundred percent Cambodian. "Sir, go river front, tuk-tuk sir," he says. "Four dollar."
I am later to learn that "four dollar" to the river front, from my hotel, is robbery by Cambodian standards. But who can really keep count in a country as poor as this? As my tuk-tuk driver muscles me towards the river front, I take the opportunity to absorb everything around me. There are no buildings. There are no old people. There are no sharp suits, no ostensible tertiary industries. People loiter at every street corner, talking, waiting, playing games on Nokia 8250s. Motorcyclists stop to chat at traffic lights, before driving off in separate directions. I observe that nearly ninety percent of the population is in flip-flops; the other ten percent, barefoot. Every single topless male has a six-pack and a waistline to shame Gisele Bundchen. Every other female - each, on average, no more than sixteen years of age - appears to have a baby (or three) in tow.
So this is what nation rebuilding - as opposed to nation building - looks like. Phnom Penh's streets are free of stress, and the air is only slightly tinged with tension from the presence of men in uniform (many with rifles). The populace know what happened during the genocide, and they know what labours are required of them for complete restoration. They will start from nothing, and they will expect nothing, not for at least two generations. No matter - a chicken is on the boil, and the boys are waiting to start their chatek match. If we don't finish building this world, our children's children surely will. We just have to make sure everyone has enough for dinner.
Signs of an unsophisticated, hard-scrabble existence abound. My American note is rejected because there is a slight discoloration at its top corner; the shopping centre where this rejection takes place has two entire floors devoted to pirated intellectual property. The only other fully air-conditioned shopping centre in Phnom Penh is not much different, except for a particularly putrid stench. Construction workers off Street 63 carry on working well into darkness - without lights to illuminate their environment, workers shout to each other to gauge when to stop lowering each girder. People in the adjacent street have stopped to watch a drinks stall dispute in progress - a young woman is arguing with an even younger girl, ostensibly over payment. There is foot-stamping and much phonecall posturing, but nobody actually does anything. In the meantime, everyone is oblivious to the construction men, five storeys high in blackness without harnesses.
It is a hard life, but the Khmer don't show it. The waitress at the hotel stops me from bringing my muesli bowl into the conference room, saying: "My boss will complain me." I start to look worried, but she interrupts with a smile: "No worry. Is no problem. I take for you." She lifts the bowl out of my hands with the lightest of touches and places it on a magically materializing serving plate. Similarly at the food court at shopping centre #2, my chicken rice is smudged with some sauce near the rim of the plate. I am happy to accept it (all food gets messy anyway) in that condition but the stall girl pulls the plate back from me, draws out a new sheet of tissue and begins to wipe furiously. The plate is returned to me pristine: I smile at her and she smiles back, her teeth as bright as she is dark.
There is community in this country. People have not yet started selling their mothers to get ahead; the closest indicators are the tuk-tuk drivers who yell at your back at every conceivable opportunity: "Boom-boom?" But even they are, outside the presence of fresh meat, entirely sociable and principled. Outside shopping centre #1 my companion and I are angling for a lower rate back to the hotel. Driver One points to his tuk-tuk and says, "Three dollar." We laugh and turn to Driver Two, fancying a sure bet: "Can you be cheaper than three dollars?" Driver Two shakes his head. "Three dollar, correct," he intones. "You take three dollar."
Back on the river front, my tuk-tuk has deposited me outside a bar. There are friendly waitresses inside, and the ang moh I start a game of pool with does not seem to mind their company. They are polite with me, however. Observing my reticence, they ask whether I like girls. "Yes," I reply, smiling. At this, one of the waitresses sighs theatrically, and the others in the group begin to giggle uncontrollably. Curious, I ask what just happened. The sighing waitress makes a clucking noise. "Because I ladyboy. You no like boy, you only like girl."
I am gobsmacked - she certainly is no worse a looker than all the other girls. Tactfully, I ask if she has had the operation done. She laughs, a big hearty laugh. "I no money," she says after calming down. "How I do? Next life I come back do."
The very essence of the country, crystallized in the inadvertent mouth of a transvestite from the boondocks (literally). Bereft of resources, cheated of guidance and devoid of means, it will nonetheless take more than just death to do Cambodia in. They've been there and done that - now long may its people reign.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
Singaporean girls like to use the phrase "cannot make it" to describe Singaporean men. They wrinkle their noses and act all surprised when you suggest, ever so gently, that perhaps Singaporean Male X might be a suitable mate. "Huh?? Cannot make it lah, he." A few years later they marry Singaporean Male Y, who looks and sounds exactly the same as Singaporean Male X.
Why are Singaporean men all so ostensibly "cannot make it"? I do not know the answer to this question, for I am reasonable. However, I do have suggestions for the men. To become a "can make it" Singaporean male (without having to resort to plastic surgery), one must achieve a certain level of competence at the activities I shall be listing out below. Ours is a small, closed society; the traits that mark one out for worthwhile reproduction are easily and quickly discernible, if one pays proper attention.
1. Must be good at computers and computer games
Strangely, being good at computer games appears to be more impressive to the average Singaporean female. If you are good at computers only, you are taken advantage of for most part. If you are good at computer games, however, you are a badass potential protector. Compare:
You: OK, upgraded to Windows 7 already.
Girl: Thanks so much! (thinks: the software did everything.)
You: You're welcome.
Girl: Can help me install antivirus?
You: ALL RIGHT 25 KILLSTREAK!
You: Nothing. I just kicked your boyfriend's ass.
Girl: Orh. (stands over shoulder and watches very fast paced game and thinks: aiyah why my boyfriend so lousy.) Can help me install Windows?
You: Sorry not interested, I am aiming for 35 killstreak
Girl: (subconsciously registers lack of punctuation as sexy) Oh. Kill kill kill ... so manly.
As a general rule, the hierarchy is such: first-person shooter, versus fighter, real-time strategy, turn-based strategy and then everything else. MMORPGs occupy a value system of their own, but in general their gentle learning curve reduce street cred. Anngry Birds and Bejewelled FTW for now though.
2. Must be good at pool
There is nothing else to do in Singapore. Get good at it, you will be spending a lot of time in these places. Don't just chalk your stick - chalk some victories while you're at it. Ah-lians will be watching.
Must-learns: jump-shot, English, doubles.
3. Must be good at one team sport
So that you will look good next to the other doddering dodos. Football obviously occupies top spot, but basketball and water polo work too. Volleyball is for girls.
Girls find it easier to come down to support team sports, because they can rationalize their conduct diffusely: "I'm here for the TEAM." Let them have this. You know what they're thinking when you're ... scoring.
4. Must be good at one individual sport
While girls find it harder to support these because you are alone and therefore very bo sei for them to come all the way down, the simple fact that you are involved in some sport somewhere is already very "can make it". Walk around with your lacrosse bag slung over your shoulder or your tennis shoes carelessly dangling from your backpack. When they ask about your sport, just make vague references and knowingly use terms of art.
Girl: Where are you going?
You: Oh, practice.
Girl: What practice?
You: Kallang ... today we're doing slice serves.
Girl: *tingle down spine* Ohhh.
Few other people will be able to challenge your authority, since these are individual, recherche pursuits. Exploit the opportunity.
To avoid: ping-pong, badminton (everyone thinks they can play these)
5. Must be musical
GUITAR for individual, DRUMS in a band. Girls are quite dumb one and they like to see action jackson. You bang bang the drum, they happy. You stand around and pluck a few strings, nobody knows what you're doing. Of course, if you are going to do the serenading thing, it will be guitar without question.
Tip: When serenading, pretend to be practising (when you actually practice sui sui at home already). Always choose a current song, so people will bite. If you play More Than Words for the 238645823648243234th time, people confirm lose interest one. And don't look at anybody when singing, otherwise they will feel that you are "invading" them. Don't "invade" anybody. Just let them listen to your ostensibly unassuming music. Confirm plus guarantee plus chop will have results.
6. Must be able to do math
A guy who cannot do maths is like an eunuch. He is not a man. In Singapore especially, even our girls are damn good at maths. So you better be super damn good, so you can explain to her how to divide her parts.
One better: PHYSICS. For some reason, applied stuff is harder for girls. So take physics and ace it. Then later on, toss in puns about how you two have such great chemistry, you want to explore the geography of her biography in a physical way. "Your body is a wonderland," you will coo. "Do you want to read my literature or should we just start making history?" Just don't show her your mother tongue.
7. Must have good sense of direction
A guy who has no sense of direction is a girl. The end.
8. Must drive and must be good driver
DRIVE. And for fuck's sake, practice that parallel parking thing. Girls always tell themselves that they are not lousier drivers, just more careful/cautious/whatever. But despite that ALL OF THEM STILL CANNOT FREAKING PARALLEL PARK. Become tok kong at this, heighten the gender difference, enhance the sexual tension. Ooh yeah baby.
By the way, European marques please. The Singaporean lady does not want to be seen rolling in a Hyundai.
9. Must be laconic and listen to her drivel
Ya. It helps. Srsly.
Singaporean girls think they are really interesting, and maybe they are. Who knows? We aren't really listening. But you don't really have to - just nod every 10 seconds. And then say, "Really ah." I just did this today. It is fricking awesome. You can abidicate responsbility for having a brain.
The bottom line is that by keeping silent, you allow her to project her preferred self-image onto you. She is interesting, so therefore you must be interesting, since you are absorbing her everything. How cool is that? I love lady logic.
10. Must know DIY
"I hammered her and her friend last night, we had a good screw. Talk about nailing two in one night! Of course I bolted the next day, but I will always be ready when their pipes need further unclogging."
Euphemisms aside, you must know DIY because other penises will try to undermine you with their own DIY knowledge. Especially contractors who overcharge. If you are fleeced in any DIY-related matter, you are not a man.
This is also perhaps the origin of the phrase "cannot make it" - a man who "can make it" can make ... things. With hands and tools. He probabaly also knows how to instruct the girl on how to rectify a swollen ball-cock.
11. Must speak dialect
My biggest regret, I cannot speak dialect. In lup-sup KTVs and Warrant Officer messes, I am the lowest of the low. With contractors, I am a freaking pony with "Kan Me" on my forehead. Why is dialect so important for the Singaporean male? Primarily, it establishes street cred. Denizens from below must look up to you before any female will find you worth apprising. Importantly, also, dialect is crass; crassness establishes contrast, and in contrast we find admiration.
12. Must not be below PES B
Or at least finish normal BMT like everyone else. Nobody really knows whether OCS or SISPEC is tougher, so you can elide that easily.
If you had a buay gan army life, try not to talk about it at all. Girls know one. They all have "a friend" who was a commando-officer-parakeet. They will compare you like they compare their Prada bag with the other girl's Miu Miu. Don't become an object!
If you were a star in the army, also don't talk too much about it. Girls just want to know that you were good, and that you were not a jellyfish. The rest is still for you to prove - funny, rich, smart etc. Prove it.
13. Must have "ambition" and "passion"
Most Singaporean girls have a vague notion that their man should be "successful" or aim for success of some sort. For themselves, they have less concrete ambitions. Use this to your advantage. However, only hint (not talk) about your plans. For instance:
Girl: So, what's next for you?
You: I've had several offers ... well, we'll just see where it goes. I have a pretty clear idea of what I want though.
Girl: What's that?
You: Haha, it will bore you. Let's not talk about me. Do you like baby blue or pink?
Once they know you have "plans", they will stick with you, regardless of what those "plans" are. Make sure you always have "an idea" of what you are going to do. When in doubt, obfuscate and pass off a successful person's life as your own.
14. Must say nearly every other girl is "cannot make it"
This is by far the MOST IMPORTANT ITEM on the list. Singaporean girls like a guy who has "standards". Secretly, the standard for every girl is HERSELF. This is not a cardinal scale, there is no relativity. Instead, on this mystery scale there is THE GIRL IN QUESTION, and then EVERY OTHER FEMALE ON EARTH. She will make cursory concessions for Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox (the latter usually grudgingly), of course, but DO NOT BE FOOLED. She just wants you to think that SHE is the prettiest and THAT IS IT!!!
If, however, you are unable to lie barefacedly, you might want to go with a less extreme approach. You must say that girls SHE LIKES AS PEOPLE are pretty. NEVER SAY THAT PRETTY GIRLS ARE PRETTY! Girls are unable to divorce looks from personality. It would be unwise to do so, therefore, in their presence. A good sample discussion would run as follows:
Girl: Do you think Girl X (ugly but liked) is pretty?
You: Yes, she has a certain je ne sais quoi that I find charming.
Girl: (pleased) Really ah? I think so too! Not like that Girl Y (pretty but disliked).
You: Oh, Girl Y. Cannot make it lah. Act cute buay cute.
Girl: (ready to give you blowjob liao) I ALSO SAY!
Have you ever noticed that girls thought pretty by other girls are really not pretty at all? And hot, sexy girls are almost always labelled "sluts", as if that were a bad thing? Important hint: Do not address the girl on these points. She does not want to confront her inner evolutionary demons.
Well, that's the list. A tall order? Yes, but a worthwhile endeavour, if we are not to lose all our women to the cast of The Last Airbender. We can make it one.