terse & at large

GRRRRR. Arrrgh. And sometimes a travel log.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Sleeping In

One should never underestimate the wonders of being afforded the luxury of sleeping in. Went to bed at about midnight last night and, despite being disturbed by the wife's alarm clock at 7 this morning, woke up only a little past the noon hour. I'd missed 4 SMSes, and 1 phone call in that time and the wife had left instructions for me to do a ton of laundry before tomorrow so that ironing can be done, but I don't think anything would get me down today.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Gainful Employment

It took about two hours, but I've managed to churn out the copy for the college brochure. Hadn't done much copywriting in the seven years since I left advertising (writing copy for the NCC in the school yearbook doesn't count, I don't think) and it brought back memories of working on a laptop in the dead of the night to the tune of ridiculous deadlines.

Felt good.

It felt good also to be working at my own pace. I'm back at the staff room, but seated in a little nook by myself. I have everything that I need to function as a self-contained copy-writing, photo-taking design unit: power points for the PowerBook and chargers for the myriad batteries I now own and a LAN point for loads of fun on the internet.

Add a coffee mug to that and I'll be happy as punch.

Lone Wolf
You'd turn into a Lone Wolf! Like a lone wolf you
can cope perfectly well by yourself and do not
feel the need for the company of others. However, like
a wolf, you were once part of a pack and you can
tolerate and get along okay with people when
you meet them. You are protective and loyal to
the close friends you have but will always be
a true loner at heart

What Animal Would You Turn Into?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thursday, February 26, 2004

A**holes R Us

I guess there really isn't an age limit to being an asshole. Was in the cab line for about fifteen minutes this morning when I finally spotted a City Cab (2203) approaching. Just when I was to commit myself by stepping off the sidewalk onto the first three rather precarious steps leading to the street level, an elderly couple quite blithely potong'ed me. Moved damned fast for their age too.

Bloody hell.

The worst thing? The cabbie who saw me, signalled, then filtered left, when he saw me, and who finally pulled up in front of me, simply shrugged his shoulders when the aforementioned wrinkled rectal units* opened the door and got in.

Yeah, thanks buddy. That's really helpful. But it doesn't affect you one way or another, does it? You still get your fare.

Then there was another one yesterday, when I was at NUS to drop off the latest batch of photos for the Conservatory, who launched into a diatribe against 'bloody university students'. Apparently, the passenger before me (who "got on at a hotel," he remarked rather pointedly -- hyeah, so?) told him that she knew where she was going, but who got lost once they were in Kent Ridge. He then went on to say, "Don't expect me to know my way around the university. I didn't study here. Otherwise I won't be [sic] taxi driver already!"

I'm sorry for your complex, but hey, I didn't graduate from NUS either, so don't complain to me. However, I'm pretty sure my sense of direction is a lot better than yours -- funny, innit? Cabbies who don't know their way around? I knew, for example, that to get to Peninsula Plaza after coming off the CTE at the Merchant Road off-ramp and turning left at Hill Street, one turns right at High Street, at the intersection just in front of MITA, and then do the Parliament Place-Colombo Court loop around The Adelphi and back up Coleman Street. Not take the scenic route past several intersections that have not allowed right turns for all the time I've been driving in Singapore since I returned from Canada (seven years, at least), finally turning right only at Middle Road, then taking me the same distance back to my destination. What's that about? You want to take your little frustrations at not being able to study hard enough (not "well enough" -- I've always believed how far one progresses in education is all about effort, not talent) to go on to university out on someone, take it out on someone else who actually reads at NUS. I'm just a freelance photographer dropping off photos, so keep me out of it.

And people wonder why we seldom have anything nice to say about cabbies.

* I'm quite pleased there isn't an age limit to being an asshole. I plan on being one for as long as I live and for as long as there's an afterlife.

On a slightly related tangent (of labels, stereotypes and other fun categories), I proudly present my Geek code:

Version 3.12
GCC/L/SS/ED/O d- s: a C++ W++ w-- M+ PS+ PE t+ 5+++ X++ R+ tv+ b++ DI++ D+ e++ h--- r+++ y+++

Use the Geek Code Decoder Ring.

I hope I got it right...

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


Just come back from meeting the P and I've a clearer idea of what I'm expected to do at the college. There'll be a meeting this afternoon with the visuals people who'll set the creative direction for the images I will be taking. In the meantime, I'll continue to sub for the teachers who are away.

Short, sporadic bursts.

I'll only be there until the end of term. Which is good enough. Besides, relief teachers need only to give one minute's notice if they're quitting... which suits me just fine.

Now, it's a matter of taking the rest of the morning off before I go and run some errands. Crumpler bag, here I come!


Lessons learnt (or more reasons why I want to leave this place) since the last entry:

1. That, despite having two new taxi companies in Singapore, it is still quite difficult to get a taxi to stop anywhere in town and go where you want it to. There were far too many taxis with the "On Call" sign on and it wasn't even 2330 hours yet. Again I ask, this is a world-class system?

2. That idiot drivers in Singapore would rather speed up and horn loudly than to allow some poor sap (who, granted, did signal late) to filter into their lanes.

3. That it's usually the drivers of marquee cars that do the most horning.

4. That if you're grossly overweight to such an extent that there is enough overhang when you button up your jeans that a colony of fruit bats could nest in its shadow without fear of bright lights, you probably shouldn't be wearing a tube top that exposes your chunky shoulders and midriff (maybe that's unintentional). Yeesh. I'm glad I only had a Caesar's salad for dinner last night.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Last Day

So, here I am, in the staff room on the last day of my subbing stint. I've sent the kids off to do (yuck! That's sad, being at a loss for a better word. "Do," indeed! Yuck.) some research for the debate that will be chaired and adjudicated by Sprite, now that she's back from Stuttgart.

"This house believes that working mothers make better mothers."

Lessons learnt:

1. I'm now more convinced than ever that teaching, even subbing, is something I'd only do in short/ sporadic bursts.

2. I am not a morning person. Nor an afternoon person. Sometimes I'm not a night person too.

3. Coffee is my friend. I should never have left the sacred fraternity of coffee drinkers.

4. Staff room hijinks and conversations are the same everywhere.

5. The PowerBook runs hot. Very hot. I've taken to placing a couple of pencils under the thing a la Wahj so that more air can circulate underneath and cool it down somewhat.


I've been asked my plans now that I'm almost done with this gig. Hard to say, really. That's one of the good things about being free from the clutches of a government job (or any job, for that matter): I can take my time to think about my next step. And until that happens, I'm free to wake up whenever the hell I want, and do everything or nothing, if I so choose.

Not this time, though. There are several plans in the works:

1. I've been asked by the P to help out with something in the college (can't say what it is yet because we haven't worked out all the details of what I'll be responsible for). I'm pretty sure it'll involve photography in one way or other. This won't be too long-term (I hope), seeing that I have no wish to be beholden to the Ministry again.

2. Plus, it appears that the SAF has been rather diligently calling up several of the male tutors in the college for their annual sweat fest (a.k.a., reservist training) and I might be subbing for them instead. Must remember though, short/ sporadic bursts -- I'd hate to end up like an acquaintance who was a full-time 'relief' teacher at another college, which shall remain unnamed (*hack*ACJC*cough*), for five years.

3. I'm in the process of selecting photographs for a portfolio to be submitted to Objectifs for a course I really want to get in to (only ten applicants are chosen every year, so it'll be tough). The portfolio's almost done but, with a 20-photo limit (set by the organisers) for a portfolio that "best represents [my] work", it's hard deciding which ones I really feel the strongest about. I've changed the selection several times in the last week and will probably to do so until I submit my application.

4. And there's always the YST gig. Speaking of which, my first photos have made it to the December issue of the newsletter. So, woohoo!

If nothing else, there's always exercise.

Or beer.

Or travelling.

One thing's certain though: with the money from the last ten days, I'm finally going to be able to get that Crumpler haversack I've been eyeing -- the one that has enough space for all my cameras and accessories as well as the PowerBook.

Ahhhh, sweet freedom.

Sunday, February 22, 2004


... I am sooooo hung-over.

Pretty amazing since it is exactly 14 hours that I've been awake today and my head's still throbbing. That's the last time I'll have two whole bottles of wine (or thereabouts) to myself.

Until the next wedding anyway.

It was definitely one of the most fun weddings I've been to in a while: great company (the table arrangement was excellent - did a ton of networking with the people at the table), good food, plenty of good wine (ouch!) to go around, dancing, a live band, singing and drinking games in the bridal suite which went on till about 3 in the morning.

OK. The brightness of the screen is hurting my head even more. I'll keep this entry short.

Now where's that Panadol?

Friday, February 20, 2004

Quitting and Staying

It's always never good when leading a discussion with a group of GP students about Quitters and Stayers causes one to think about his own reasons for staying or leaving the country of his birth.

It sparked a moment of self-evaluation. What would my reason to stay here be?

The good education system so my kids will grow up smart and well-rounded? Hah! Sorry, that's the conditioned response of an ex-teacher. I don't consider book-smarts anything to crow about, and there are certainly more important things to living than being good at Math or Science; and our policies mean that our kids here are about as well-rounded as a cube.

Safety? We're no safer than being in any other major urban setting. Not any more.

Family and friends? They can always visit. Or email. And we can always make new friends.

Job security? Employment opportunities? Sure, if you're a scholar or sycophant. The Asian bubble has burst and our people don't seem resilient enough or even prepared enough to handle job loss -- I attribute this back to the education system.

Now, I hear Changi Prison will be torn down for a newer, swankier prison to be built on the site. Crime pays after all. People, we are talking about CHANGI PRISON, with all its historical significance; it being where WWII POWs were housed throughout the Japanese Occupation and all. It would probably match the keen disappointment I felt when I realised that the half of Hanoi Hilton (a.k.a. Hoa Lo Prison, or Maison Centrale, where American POWs were held during the Vietnam War) had been torn down in favour of the multi-storey monstrosity known as the Hanoi Towers -- built by a certain Singaporean developer, by the way, unsurprisingly.

There might be time for a rethink for Changi Prison, but the end is nigh for the National Library, whose doors will be closed permanently to the public come April and reopened as one of the campuses of the SMU (Singapore Management University). They are conducting the final tours of the place next weekend. My wife and I are planning to be there. I had many good memories of the place; of the corners where I had buried my head in books I could not yet afford on my allowance as a student.

Will there be anything left from my childhood and youth in, say, five years? Anything at all that holds a special place in my memory and make me want to stay in Singapore?

Yes, yes, yes, we all have to look to the future (party line), but it's the past that determines a people's identity. What's our identity? What's the identity of a people whose cars can only run on the roads for ten years (or less, otherwise we pay taxes to keep them like nobody's business); whose landmarks are either becoming tourists traps (badly planned and run ones at that) or demolished to make way for soulless new buildings of glass and steel, aesthetic nightmares of their once stately predecessors; whose memories of things and places that were good and pleasing to one's pscyhe are cheapened or considered unimportant in favour of the almighty buck? What's that make us? A throwaway society with tacky/cheesy/kitschy landmarks/tourist attractions/"buildings of historical importance" (ooh, the irony) who can't fend for ourselves?

Why am I leaving?

The National Theatre, the Van Cleef Aquarium, Haw Par Villa when it was free, the Red House Bakery at Katong, Tay Ban Guan (and its amusement centre) at Katong, the National Library and its aforementioned corners, Changi Prison, the Cathay Building and the kacang puteh, Siglap Market, Changi Village, Pulau Ubin without the paved roads, Wonderland, Alkaff Mansion, Biddadari Cemetery, Satay Club on the Esplanade, the original Esplanade itself, the Capitol, Beach Road Camp and the SAF NCO's Club where I learnt swimming as a boy, Sentosa without the NE messages, Big Splash, Mitsukoshi Gardens where I had my first sunburn, the Odeon cinema where I watched The Ten Commandments and various war movies, various fields throughout Singapore where I used to play soccer, the little grove of casuarina trees along Nicoll Highway that always looked lushly mysterious but inviting -- now brown and rotting, the trees that used to line Airport Road, the People's Association Building and field, the old (original!) Maxwell Market, the Marine Parade Library, the dozens of old cinemas now converted into churches, the Kallang Gasworks, the kick-ass char kway teow stall along Sims Ave which had to go because of the MRT line, Dawood's at Frankel Avenue, camping at the beaches along Changi Coast Road, Suicide Block along Upper Pickering Road, the Mount Vernon army Camp, the pair of swastika-shaped benches where I did some studying at the former site of Dunman High, the old Collyer Quay where I'd catch the ferry after I'd been awoken at 5 in the morning so that I could accompany my late grandmother on her annual pilgrimage to Kusu Island, and the kampong where I played my childhood away with friends I no longer keep in touch with.

Are these enough?

The Early Edition

So, when I left the flat this morning at 0640 hours, the floors? Still wet.


It's only been my eighth day back at work and I'm already:

1. Suffering the effects of sleep depravation-induced grumpiness.

2. Taking the cab to and from college instead of MRTing it like a good proletariat boy.

And Fridays? Apparently it's casual day for the GP department. Guess who's the only idiot in "smart and appropriate workplace attire"?


Thursday, February 19, 2004

Stop me if you've heard this...

Three engineering students were discussing the possible designers of the human body. One said, "It was a mechanical engineer. Just look at all the joints."

Another said, "No, it was an electrical engineer. The nervous system has many thousands of electrical connections."

The last said, "Actually it was a civil engineer. Who else would run a toxic waste pipeline through a recreational area?"

My point?

I'd just come back from dinner with the missus. Yes, again we say the time stamp is correct. She'd only left work at about 2100 hours. Sometimes I wonder if she'll become an alcoholic before I will.

But I digress.

Anyway, the floor of the corridors and stairwells of my block had recently been given a new treatment (think dry plaster wall, but horizontal). They were washed this afternoon.

My gripe?

They're retaining water like a son of a b*tch. And the people who have to live with the mess are forced to track dirty footprints all over the place. If this is an improvement, I want my old floor back. Any civil engineers (sorry, "structural engineers"... why can't we call a spade a spade anymore?) reading this? What's the point of 'improving' something when it causes more distress and inconvenience?

Hmm. Wait a minute. Is it...?

Hey, it is. It's the good ol' Singapore approach: why keep something that works (and well too, might I add) when we can make cosmetic changes to it and cause it to lose half its effectiveness immediately?

Case(s) in point? Haw Par Villa and Sentosa. I mean, seriously, Volcanoland?

Thank you, Mr Civil Engineer. Add this to your impressive resume of car parks with lots too small for modern cars; highways with the on-ramps that join the thoroughfare before the off-ramps, and only fifty metres' difference between them, so drivers coming off the highway will have to jostle for space with drivers coming onto it -- more fun things to do in a limited space; and roads in public housing estates that would confuse any mouse in a maze.

Well done. ISO 9002 for you. World-class stuff.

I'd credit you for EMAS too, but that's not your department.

I could be wrong though. It may not be the engineers employed by the builders-of-public-housing-sold-at-private-home-prices who did this, but architects employed by the Town Council for improvement works. If so, I wonder if it the same architect employed by my previous school who designed the indoor basketball court that's too small even for a volleyball game, the tennis courts that face east-west so some poor sap always gets the sun in his eyes and the library that floods every time there is more than two inches of rain -- I hear there are plans to use it as a white water kayaking venue if the Olympics ever comes to Singapore. And the kids keep wondering when the school will build the swimming pool they had been promised since they were in the primary section and collecting bucketfulls of money for the building fund every year.

And they say management doesn't care.

Another note: People who use the ATM should realise that there is a line behind them and not hog the damn things for more than two transactions.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Wanders with Chickens (Mai Chau)

I really am out of practice. The photos from Mai Chau have been up on my fotolog for a while, but I'm still struggling with the write-up to go along with them.

A chip off the ol' writer's block?

Don't get me wrong -- Mai Chau was fascinating and very enjoyable. I'm just finding it hard to find the words to describe our time there.

First of all, it was a welcome change from Hanoi (not that Hanoi was all that bad). We liked being away from the bustle of the city and the loudspeakers just outside the window to our room that blare loudly at 7 in the morning, extolling the locals, complete with a suitably patriotic soundtrack in the background, to be up and productive (most Vietnamese are up by 6, so street noise begins to build up at about the same time as the loudspeakers). Plus, we were starting to feel drained by the traffic that, while easier to negotiate than we had expected, threatens always to overwhelm. And after eleven days, I was about ready to flip the bird at the next idiot using his/ her horn.

Mai Chau was great for how it's silent everywhere after sunset. Even during the day, all we'd hear is livestock and the occasional motorcycle.

The Lonely Planet guidebook we brought along was right: there was absolutely nothing to do apart from wandering about the padi fields and enjoying the change in weather (by that weekend, we were 7 days into the cold snap that had hit Hanoi starting from the day we left for Ha Long Bay -- write-up here -- and I was starting to wonder if I would ever have feeling in my toes again). Mai Chau is located in a valley, so the principles of inversion came into play completely. The mornings were as brisk as those we had in the city, but the afternoons were gloriously sun-drenched and trekking the hills around the villages helped us work up a healthy sweat.

Speaking of inversion, Mai Chau's a Geography teacher's wet dream come true. Schools looking to cover topics in Physical Geog should consider Mai Chau to send their kids on an overseas field trip to.

I'd volunteer to go along to babysit if I get to go back there.

We saw our fair share of chickens, yes; probably enough to make the father-in-law fret even more than he did in light of the avian flu epidemic, but give us a little credit, it wasn't as if we were frolicking among them. Please. We stayed away from the pens and those wandering about were wary enough of us to scoot whenever we were near. There were also several species of cattle in the area as well; possibly more varieties of bovines that we'd seen anywhere else. We learnt to stay away from the male buffaloes; they were a bit more aggressive than the average cud-chewers, especially if we wander between them and their offspring. I had one approach me in a threatening manner, nostrils flaring and eyes fixed on the tender parts of my body.

Nobody messes with a half-ton beast, especially one with eyes on my 'nads, so a strategic retreat was in order.

To help us pass the time, the guide took us on a 16-kilometre trek through some of the more majestic vistas of the area. That was something, though not a trek I'd want to do in the summer,

For the most part, we were left to our own devices.

What made Mai Chau great for me, apart from the great scenery and general tranquility, was seeing how happy and care-free the kids were in the villages we'd visited. Children in Vietnam have to attend school until Form 6 (at least -- which accounts for their remarkable literacy rate of 88%), and children in Mai Chau aren't exceptions. Most villages don't have schools, so most children, even those as young as 5, would have to walk up to 3 kilometres every day to get to their lessons.

No buses, taxis or trains.

And certainly no parents to drop them off right at the school's car porch in their overpriced continental cars. And people wonder what's going on in the SAF that NSmen are dropping like flies after a bit of exercise. Children, I'm told, come back from school by about lunch, finish their noon meal and then spend the rest of the day doing chores or, if they are older, working in the fields. One kid I met was packing an ancient-looking muzzle-loaded rifle that was one-quarter again his height. He and his two younger friends, both armed with slingshots, were hunting birds for dinner. Wow. That chore I would have done for free.

His age? 10.

There's something to that old adage about sweat and toil and character-building after all.

Note to self: Find a rural place to raise children with simple desires in life and where they won't learn to be brats. Check.

One final thing that must be mentioned: my boots had picked up a rather, ahem, garang layer of dust -- the sort you'd expect to see on the boots of NatGeo photographers following the mujahideen across the desert or something -- from the trekking we had done. I had refused to have them cleaned by the many shoeshine boys in Hanoi and they were still dusty in Bangkok where we had a two-day layover. But, for some unfathomable reason, when I took them out of the plastic bag when we got back home, they were clean. Spotless. Not a single speck of dirt.

Needless to say, it ranked quite high on the Pissed Factor.



I guess I'm done with the Mai Chau write-up.


P.S.: This is a picture of Lien (in the back) and her siblings. We stopped at her family's longhouse for lunch during the trek. I'll be sending them this and the other photographs I took of them.

Soon, I hope.

P.P.S.: This morning, the P where I'm subbing has asked me for a third time if I missed teaching enough to become a permanent member of the teaching staff at her college.


I think, for now, I'll just stick to providing the photography for their recruitment drive and college yearbook. Still too much residue from the last 5 years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

No More Quizzes

Not for the rest of today anyway.

You are


"I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."

What "Buffy" Character Are You?

No gifts for Sprite today, so all is well in my universe again. I'm also running out of space at her workstation to put everything.

Oh, and I got this URL in my email last night from he-who-shall-remain-unnamed (until he gives the go-ahead). Good stuff, but you need to be a big Buffy and LOTR fan to appreciate it.

One final thing, before I rush off to mark something that should have been marked this morning, I just felt the heat from my PowerBook through the underside of the desk. So it's either bad manufacturing, or I should install more air con units for the silver heater.

Monday, February 16, 2004


So here I am, fourth day into my subbing gig, and, for the last three working days in a row, Sprite has received three presents from her students.

Can anyone (not you, troll) say, wow?

It was just Saturday morning that et (or emu, or travestyno42*, or whatever he wants to call himself) commented that school wasn't a popularity contest. A sentiment which I agree wholeheartedly with, by the way. To be fair, it was Friendship Day on Friday and the chocolates were probably for that; the photograph on Thursday could be as innocuous as an extra print from the owner of the camera; and today's 'gift' was a 'thank you' note for the loan of a textbook.

Still, it must be nice to come in the morning to find something at your workstation that is not an offence report or a memo telling you that you have twenty things to be done before recess.

Who had the time to be popular? OK, maybe there were a few: the old-timers counting the days to their retirement and pension; the young 'uns whose sole preoccupation is still the good opinions of pubescent hormone factories; and those biding their time, waiting for the recovery of the economy before saying, "toodles!" to the service and landing themselves a better-paying job that ends when the workday ends.

I didn't have the luxury of popularity. Nor was it meant for someone with the appointment I had.

Not that I gave a[n] airborne fornication about popularity anyway. It's just as well for the state of education in Singapore that there are still teachers more concerned about doing a good job than being popular.

And no, that wasn't Envy speaking. I think I'm secure to know that my own worth is not measured in the opinion of others. Especially of others that don't matter.

This, then, is the big difference between the teacher and the sub. The sub comes in, babysits a class -- maybe teach a lesson or two -- then goes home. She doesn't deal with the administration, the orders from the powers-that-be, the parents, the kids or the CCAs. The sub doesn't suddenly realise, after five years of teaching, that she is working 69 hours a week (preparation, lessons, marking, admin work, meetings) and feeling very little enjoyment at being categorised and packed away into a role that she didn't relish in the first place.

A pity I did not realise this before I signed on the dotted line. I might have stayed in advertising if I hadn't remembered the warm, glowy feeling I had when I was relief teaching just after I'd returned from Canada and before I got the ad agency job.

No regrets, though, for what I'd done with the time in teaching. Made me appreciate my teachers for putting up with me all those years ago.

* A pretty good read in its own right, if you can forgive the usual teenage quirks. I'm quite impressed with his maturity of writing and taste in movies/ television programmes.

Addendum (Wed Feb 18, 14:23:00 PM): I'd just realised: there might have been a fourth gift. A rainbow coloured lollipop left on the table on my first day (exactly one week ago). 4-for-4.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Lazy Weekends and Such

Didn't do a lot yesterday, though I should get my act together and make an appearance at NCC training back at the ex-school seeing that the NCC is still my reservist posting.

Speaking of getting my act together, I've finally downloaded Firmware 2.0.1 from the Canon website and updated the software of my camera. Didn't bother to look at what changes were wrought with this upgrade, but I should.


Friday, February 13, 2004

More Time Than I Care to Spend Doing Nothing...

Still in the staff room.

Now waiting for the next class to start (at 1410 hours) and that will take me to 1640 hours.

Thank goodness for online quizzes:

I am truly passionate.

Find your soul type
at kelly.moranweb.com.

And the write up:

You're excited about life and in touch with yourself and nature. Tell me, do I have this straight?

Virtues: You appreciate humor like none other. Puns might even spark laughter in you (TEHY R FUNNI). You seek adventure and connection with your surroundings. You seek friends who will not only share laughs with you but actually form a deep bond of trust and empathy beneath the surface. You look for adventure and courage in people, and variation is necessary to keep you under control. You see yourself as multi-faceted, so you need people who can see you in your many lights. You're constantly trying to figure yourself out while analyzing the people around you. Silly, silly people.

Aspirations: You can't decide what you want to be yet, but you know you want it to be adventurous and interesting, with constant changes. You don't know what love will do for you yet, but it's competing with adventure for a place in your heart. An internal conflict has begun: can you be a successful worker, lover, and parent all at once?

Quirks: Noise of any sort is irritating when you're in the mood. Smacking gum, loud chewing, humming- it's about as pleasing as bodily noises. You dislike emaciated people because of jealousy and just plain disgust. You're a procrastinator but a hard worker, too.

Factors: You need constant attention and support. You're high-maintenance, but a great, reliable friend. Nature needs you and you need nature; it's helped thus far, so keep in touch with the outside world.

Future: Who knows! You absolutely need constant change, so vacationing is surely in the cards. Will you settle down or not? Love will find you eventually, as it does to everyone. Will you choose the sweet home life or the rewarding busy-bee life?

Again, hmm.

Of Cats and Dogs...

So here I am, blogging from the staff room, after having established that there is nothing wrong with the modem and ethernet cable that came with it. My PowerBook is no longer powerless. I have web access.

Yay me.

Very good on a day that I'll have to stay until 1640 hours (4:40 pm for those not versed in military parlance), at least.

Other things I've found out so far today:

1. Now that I'm in school again, I cannot do without my morning coffee; I think having typed "www.booger.com", and wondering what the hell was wrong with the website when it refused to load properly, brought that point across.

2. Some teachers have talent: one came to the podium at assembly today and belted out 2 minutes' worth of Teochew wayang. For that, he earned a cool $100 for the charity.

And now someone is singing in the staff room.

I'm beginning to think there's no need to teach at all today.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Halong Bay (or the Weekend We Froze Our Butts Off)

It was supposed to be the best way to see Halong (Descending Dragon) Bay, especially the parts where the junks and other motorised floating entities have no access. The weather was encouraging as well; for the first two days in Hanoi, we were treated to 18°C temperatures and cloudless, sunny skies.

Perfect kayaking weather.

Or so we thought.

After we’d paid Handspan [too many numbers] in USD, we were told to meet the bus in front of the Tamarind Café (where they have great grog) at 8 in the morning.

Hyeah, 8 in the morning on the day it turned freakin’ cold.

6°C. Before wind chill.

I was having second thoughts about kayaking by the time our bus arrived at the tourist pier in Halong City (apparently only tourists are allowed to use this pier when they visit the bay). The track pants and T-shirt combination I was wearing was suddenly becoming very inadequate. The thoughts were reinforced when we boarded our junk, the Dragon’s Pearl. If you can imagine a floating 4-star hotel (albeit a bit cramped, as ships’ cabins are wont to be), this would be it. I thought, when we were left to our own devices for the afternoon (ostensibly to catch the scenery from the upper decks of the junk; but it was still too cold, even for the Scandinavians with us), “This is it. I’m not kayaking. Whatever the price, I’m staying on this ship with the hot water showers and booze.”

Again, it wasn’t to be. The die had been cast.

The next morning, we (and 5 others from the Dragon’s Pearl who had signed up for kayaking as well) boarded a smaller boat to take us to Cat Ba Island to transfer to yet another boat to take us to base camp where, we were told, the good news was that we have showers; but the bad news is that there’s no hot water for the shower. My dragon’s pearls shrivelled at the thought and didn’t reappear until after we’d returned to Hanoi.

There were no regrets though (well, apart from my forgetting to pack a water-proof disposable camera). All the photos I had of Halong Bay (starting with this shot) came from the deck of the Dragon's Pearl (not mine).

The place was beautiful. Halong Bay (a UNESCO World Heritage site) lived up to its reputation. YM commented on how clean the waters were compared to what we’d seen in Thailand near Ko Samui (the Ang Thong Marine National Park). There were a total of five kayaks (the guide and the four double-kayaks manned by the fools who paid to freeze), all in very good condition, so we got most of the undivided attention of our expert guide, Anh.

Kayaking around Halong Bay was also when I learnt that the wife has no arm muscles.



Even when we were in a protected lagoon (cove, more like) of surpassing beauty and calm waters, the kayak refused to budge when she tried paddling by herself.

And I was wondering why we always ended up at the rear of the group.

It made a difference because we had to cross a stretch of open sea towards the end of the expedition. It was also late in the afternoon and the tides were coming back in. The worst two hours of my life. I was probably the only one in our kayak paddling and it was against the current.

Obviously we made it back to base camp safely, where, surprise, surprise, there was hot water after all. Well, lukewarm, but I wasn’t complaining. And some genius had hauled an actual toilet seat and placed it over the usual hole in the ground. Then it was rest before dinner before being lulled to sleep by the pounding of the surf.

All vacations should be like this.

Next post: Roaming With the Chickens (Mai Chau)

Hip (Replacement) Hop

I've been asked by Sprite's CG (civics group) to come to work tomorrow dressed in hip-hop clothes. As they went through the checklist, they began to realise: our wardrobe is not his wardrobe. Theirs apparently involve baggy tops, hipster pants/ bermudas/ three-quarter-lengths and bandannas. Mine's kinda stuck in the late 80s, and has been for the longest time.

Eventually, we settled on a compromise: jeans and a baggy shirt (or, at least I think I have one). There's also some mention of doing something to my hair which involves "spiking" and "spraying it blue". To which the wife says if it accelerates my hair loss, they are paying for the hair replacement treatment.

All this trouble is for Be Yourself Day or Friendship Day (whichever version the speaker prefers) -- students get to wear what they want and they get to make their tutors wear/ do whatever they request. All for a small fee, of course; proceeds from the collection go to a charity. The President's something or other.

The price of my humiliation? $2 per student for the clothes and a sum yet to be decided upon for the damage to the hair.

All very noble.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

She Bang, She Bang...

With that unpleasantness behind me, I can now proceed to talk about my day.

It's been twelve years, so I'd forgotten how painfully amusing JC morning assemblies can be. First, though, the students were given the luxury of sitting down during the announcements because there were too many of them (announcements, not students); something that was never done when I was a student. It's good on their knees, but certainly bad on the seats of their pants/ skirts/ pinafores. Especially those from schools whose forebears thought they'd look good in white/ light-coloured bottoms.

The painfully amusing event was when the announcements were made by the student councillors or house captains for various activities slated to take place during the week. They consisted primarily of short skits by pairs of students advertising various activities in the college.

Cringe-worthy stuff.

The best bit was the oblique tribute to William Hung, the UC Berkeley civil engineering student from Hong Kong who thought he was good enough to be the next American Idol. That caught the attention of the rest of the student population who had been, heretofore, engaged in their own scattered conversations throughout the assembly area.

I'm pretty sure the kid didn't have professional training either, but he was damn good though, right down to the hand gestures and little shakes of his bootie. He got the biggest cheer at the end of his announcement.

I say: well done!

But to get to the point: I'd forgotten that student councillors have to have no shame to do the things they do. I was cringing with embarrassment for them throughout the whole thing. Then again, I'm an old fuddy-duddy who might have been just as asinine when I was younger. Repression is a good thing sometimes.

Once that was done, I was pretty much left to my own devices since Sprite's time-table on Wednesday consisted only of a GP lecture. I finished marking the work that was left for me, met up and chatted with some other ex-students in the canteen, played around with Photoshop on my PowerBook and then clocked out after the prerequisite time of 5.5 hours had been met.

A good day. Tomorrow, I start teaching. Again.


A Plague of Trolls

Ah, nothing like few comments from ex-students to make me glad I'm not a teacher anymore.

Seeing that the blogs of some friends have been sullied by the emergence of several trolls lately, I was wondering when it would be my turn. Did not have to wait long; I'd expected the visit to the school yesterday to have sent the little troll-ets scurrying as quickly as their misformed feet and furry hands can manage to the nearest computer terminal to empty the contents of their minds.

Not the smartest move to use the school's computers. As my experience in the last couple of days has taught me, tracing IP addresses is an easy thing to do. So, JC, CT and the assorted others, well-done. Glad to know that your hands aren't wasted merely on self-debasement. But please remember to reduce the number of times in a day you touch yourself, you don't want bad knees in your dotage.


Well, looks like it's happening to me again. The night before the first day in school and I can't sleep. Funny how it happened when I was attending school, while teaching and now, even when I'm only subbing (for Sprite, who's about a quarter of her way over to Stuttgart).

So, for want of anything better to do, I did the following quiz:

soccer cleats
Soccer Cleats - athletic, determined and strong,
you are probably good at anything you try. You
can be serious but love having a good time
above all. You love sports and when you aren't
on the field you love hanging out and having
fun with your team-mates.

What Kind of Shoe Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


Was also back at the ex-school today returning some things that should have been returned three months ago, but they had been MIA until the belated spring cleaning yesterday. Still, it was gratifying to learn, from my ex-colleagues, that I "look fresher, younger and a lot more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."

There are some perks to being unemployed after all.

Monday, February 09, 2004

ME-nial Labour

One of the disadvantages of being unemployed (or rather, not gainfully employed on a semi-stable basis) is that the wife assumes that you have all the time in the world while you're at home to "do stuff". Like today, 40% of the living room junk got cleared by moi -- about 7 trash bags worth of 'relics' collected over the last 3 years (which is about the last time we did any major clearing up of our things).

The wife and I are both pack rats (not to be mistaken for packrat) so we tend to have stuff lying around. I found, among other things, the receipt from a dinner when we were in Vancouver last -- June 2001. The missus still has her things from when she was teaching taking up about a quarter of the space on the computer/ book room floor.

But they should get cleared eventually (read: sometime in the next six months). And in time for us to build up a mess again.


Van Mieu (Part 2)
Right off the bat, I’ll make it clear that I know that the literal (heh!) translation of Van Mieu into Temple of Literature is just that: literal. The temple (that’s the part that’s not literal since there are altars to Confucius and his four best – favourite? – disciples) is probably one devoted to learning/ education in general more than to the specific subject of Literature. Still, it’s nice to think that Literature is important enough to warrant a 1000-year old temple.

Van Mieu is, however, definitely about symbolism.

From the moment the visitor steps through the Great Portico, still adorned with an inscription instructing visitors to dismount from their horses, she* finds herself in the Entrance to the Way, a garden with three paths leading deeper into the temple compounds. The middle path (always the most difficult to tread in any philosophy) leading to the Great Middle Gate is the one taken by the king, one who has attained both Thanh Duc (Accomplished Virtue) and Dat Tai (Attained Talent). Lesser beings like the administrative mandarins (I guess the Singapore equivalent would be Civil Servants) and the military mandarins (SAF Scholars) use the side gates, each representing Thanh Duc and Dat Tai – respectively? There’s something strangely comforting about the Confucian belief in the strength of the warrior-poet, one versed in both killing with sword and song.

In the Great Middle Courtyard, the visitor faces the Khue Van Cac (Constellation of Literature Pavilion); only one who has mastered literary expression will be allowed to move on into the Garden of the Stalae, where the remaining 82 plaques (30 have been destroyed over the years) of all the scholars who had received doctorates from Van Mieu between 1442 and 1778 (116 triennial exams in all) are kept in relative good condition.

It was then to the Courtyard of the Sages, where the aforementioned altars to Confucius and his pet students are located in the Dai Thanh (Great Success) Sanctuary. Brown-noses. Heh. The courtyard itself was being meticulously prepared for the annual co nguoi (human chess) tournament. There was something very zen about the way the man just drew straight lines on the ground with an oversized brush. Apparently it’s quite popular during the Tet festivities. And all the participants are from a village in the north (Ha Tay province) who must be young, attractive, single and have had nothing bad happen to them in the previous year.

Throw in ‘educated’, you have Vietnam’s version of the SDU.

It’s also here where I saw an ang-moh photographer paying someone to pose for him. Bloody hell. Spoil market for the rest of us stingy photographers who can only afford to take pictures of people on the sly and from the hip.

Yes, I was still sore about the old men.

The final courtyard, the Quoc Tu Giam (School for the Sons of the Nation – how much more NE is this?), got bombed all the way to heck and back during the Franco-Viet Minh War of 1946 to 1954, so very little of the place is original, apart from the entrance, the Dai Thanh Mon (Gate of the Great Synthesis – ah, ‘synthesis’, the word that seems to make every pencil-pusher in MOE drool and attain physical ecstasy) but there were enough nooks and crannies to be visually appealing. There were also some aspects that seemed Korean or Japanese to us. It was quite quiet too, except when a group of Korean tourists wandered out from the toilets and the silence in the courtyard was shattered for a moment. Said Korean tourists also ignored a performer who was inviting them into one of the halls for a show. We would have gone in, but unfortunately, three does not make critical mass.

Maybe a critical mess. (Ba-da-boom-ch’ng. Thank you, thank you very much. I’ll be here all weekend.)

Next post: Freeze-Dried Nuts (Halong Bay)

* I’m using ‘she’ as gender-neutral. So please, don’t get too much of whatever underwear you wear in a knot trying to establish some sort of gender conflict issue here.

Super Bowl for Dummies

It's taken me a week (brain's still on vacation, I think), but I've suddenly (well, last night, just before dozing off) realised why last week's telecast of the Super Bowl on ESPN irked me so much. It wasn't the commentary team who was duly reciting all the rules of American Football, telling us, the hapless TV viewers, how the game was played, probably at the instruction of the network execs -- though, to be fair, there was a little less of that as the match progressed.

It was the fact that there had been 'live' telecasts of Sunday night games and Monday Night Football throughout the whole of the latest season. Why wouldn't anyone not know the rules by the time the Super Bowl came around? Besides, if anyone would watch the game, it'll be because they already know what the game is about already right? I'm not giving TV viewers (who are not working their TiVo system to death because of the other half-time show) too much credit, am I?

I thought the whole explanation wasted our time, certainly wasted the commentators' time and distracted us all from the game, which I thought was kick-ass, by the way. Not the blow-outs I was used to seeing while in Canada. A very close fight and I know a few friends who'd be disappointed with the Panthers' loss. But there's nothing to be ashamed of, I think.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Getting There Is Half The Fun...

Van Mieu (Part 1)
All right, so we didn’t visit the place until after we’d spent a weekend at Halong Bay but how does one not feel excited about a place devoted to Literature? I love that there’s something like this in Vietnam. You can’t have a temple devoted to any of the arts/ humanities subjects in Singapore without someone giving it a “what’s profitable about this” treatment and turning it into something horrible like what was done to Haw Par Villa.

(Deep breath. Rant mode off.)

OK, focus (or how Madame Ivanna says it in Kevin Smith's ‘Mallrats’, “fuckus”).

The temple was some distance from the Old Quarter where our modest 7-storey hotel was, so it was an interesting walk.

The plan had been to stop by the Army Museum first, but it was closed the whole time we were there (first for Tet, then for maintenance, I guess). I did get a shot of the Hanoi Flag Tower though. That’s supposed to be some sort of Symbol of Hanoi – built between 1805 and1812 and one of few things not destroyed by the French as they fled. Across from it though was a little park dedicated to Lenin. He used to have a huge park named after him (over 50 hectares, according to the LP) to the south, but it had been renamed Liberation Park some time between 1999 and now. So this little nook, formerly known as Chi Lang Park, unofficially, is his now. Poor guy. Shafted again.

Then there were the AK-47-toting embassy guards at every intersection of Embassy District. I would have taken a photo of them if not for the fact that most Vietnamese are a little more touchy about having their photographs taken. These guards didn’t look older than the National Servicemen back home, so their judgement is somewhat suspect. No sense rubbing them the wrong way – I’m pretty sure they carry more than just 5 rounds of ammunition in their magazines.

Just before we rounded the corner to the main entrance of Van Mieu, there were calligraphers in shops across the road or at street stalls propped up against the walls that ring the temple. Quite appropriate, I thought.

There were more touts, streets vendors and souvenir sellers loitering outside Van Mieu than we’d seen the whole time we were in Hanoi. I had to fend off a rather persistent postcard seller who eventually saw me off at the entrance to the temple while trying to extract a promise from me to buy something from him “later”.

Yumei says it’s how I would actually look at the wares that gives them hope. Interest is a bad thing. Apparently, hope is too. I suppose I ask for it sometimes because I feel guilty about it and all. But this was after I had met two very enterprising old men just outside the temple grounds. I have the feeling they’d done this before a million times, judging by how quickly they went into action. I swear, not even the SOF commandos moved as quickly during the demonstration when we were at their camp for a National Education visit just before we graduated from teacher training.

We’d walked right into a group of French tourists at that time. We didn’t feel like pushing past them so we’d ambled along in their midst. To our right were two barbershop chairs set up along the road, and their owners were standing by them watching our approach with some interest.

“You want photo?” one asked, when we got within earshot. “Photo?”

Sure, why the hell not?

Immediately, Old Man #1 grabs a pair of scissors and a comb and gets into position. Old Man #2 hops into one of the chairs and throws the sheet over himself. It took them less than two seconds to do that. Snip snip. Snap snap.

“That’s 2 dollar please.”


“U. S. 2 dollar.”

Man. That’s a first. Most expensive photograph I’ve taken so far. I present that to you here. At least I wasn’t the only one who fell for it.


Next post: Inside Van Mieu (Part 2)

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Razor Edged Paths

Was at The Drama Box this afternoon to choose three of the shots I'd taken on New Year's Eve (otherwise known as my last day at work) for the Eye é City photo project. Was mightily torn between choosing the photos I really liked and those I thought would get selected for the book and exhibition in May/ June.

Finally decided on the middle path: I chose two that I’d like and one that I thought had the best chance of making it to the public’s eye.

Ah, the sell-out that I am.

Will post the photos from that shoot at a later date.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Bye Rudy

Damn it! Just watched the episode of Survivor: All-Stars in which Rudy Beosch, 75-year old ex-Navy SEAL, gets voted off.

Rudy's cool.

Not so cool though, was his 'Final Words' blurb at the closing credits. That's not worthy of you, dude.

At least he wasn't threatening to slit throats like some other Survivor we know.

terse & at large – The Travel Log

It looks like I’ve finally decided on the direction this blog will take.

Interspersed with rants, raves and general silliness about living in Singapore, I’m going to use this to supplement my fotolog and as a record of the thoughts I had while travelling. Since I always have a journal when I’m out of the country, I don’t expect it to be too much of a problem transferring everything into this format.

So, without any more fanfare, here goes:

Hoan Kiem Lake
The Lake of the Returned Sword. There’s a local legend about how a sword was used by a hero to defeat his enemies and how, at the end of the hostilities, he’d returned it to the turtle who’d given it to him in the first place. Very Arthur and Excalibur-esque (except that in the Asian story, the hero returned the sword, and not hoard it for the rest of his life). What I was more interested in was how Hokkien the Vietnamese words looked. I know phonetically it wouldn’t be pronounced the same way but it was interesting nonetheless. To me anyway. For the rest of the trip I was making guesses at what the words meant in the Vietnamese. I know, very Rain Man of me, but it helped pass the time when travelling from point to point.

We liked this lake. One of the first photos I took of Hanoi was at this lake. In fact, by the end of the our trip, we’d visited or walked by the lake 9 out of the 12 days we were in the city. It helped that there was a café in the southwestern corner of the lake where we could rest from walking, which we had done a lot of too.

It’s also quite popular with the locals. We’ve seen families strolling along its banks, kids playing badminton in the mornings and generally people just enjoying the scenery – which is, come to think of it, hard to come by in the middle of a dusty, urban setting. What I liked? People. Enjoying. The. Scenery. No one stops in the middle of their workday to do something like that any more. What I also liked was teenagers coming down to the lake and spending time there. In Singapore, most kids would be seated in front of their computers by now, playing games and surfing for porn before their parents come home from work. The sunset there wasn't half-bad too. The only time we weren’t keen on the place was when the weather turned an unseasonal cold (forcing me to buy myself a USD10 Timberland parka) and there was a south-westerly wind blowing across the lake. The café turned into a not very fun place to be.

Within moments of arriving, YM exclaimed, “There’s kayaking on this lake?” It turns out that it was only a parks employee whose job it was to remove all the trash from the lake. Still it was enough to make me think about kayaking. Which we all did, but that’s another day’s entry.

In the middle of the lake, there’s also the Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) or the Tortoise Pagoda. Quite cool. No one has access to it (unless you have a boat) and it lit up most nights. I found it amazing that there would be something like that in the middle of its own island in the middle of a lake in the middle of a city.

I knew from the moment I saw the lake and the people around it that I was going to enjoy being in Hanoi.

Next entry: Van Mieu (the Temple of Literature)

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Service for the Masses

A couple of posts back, I had a go at the service industry in Singapore. But after some thought and after what happened tonight, I'm beginning to think that the service we Singaporeans get is precisely what we deserve.

I was at dinner with the missus tonight. We'd done with our mains but she was still feeling a bit peckish so she ordered a side of garlic bread. When it came out, the server brought it to the wrong table, one occupied by a middle-aged man in a long-sleeved button-down shirt (ie, an executive-looking sort, usually the ones who would have the sort of reaction I'm about to write about) and his female companion.

The bread got left on the table. They didn't say anything. In fact, they kept quiet until the server walked away and the woman asked, "Did we order this?"

The man replied, "No, nevermind, we'll take it."

Excuse me?

They'd taken a couple of slices of the bread from the basket before the server came back realising his mistake. I could see the disappointment on the man's when he realised that he would now have to pay for the side he didn't order, that if he had been honest right from the start, wouldn't have had to pay for.

Servers you right, dude.

Anyway, the wife had to wait a while longer for the replacement bread to arrive, which was good since I'd have to digest the food a bit more before we left the place (more about that later).

What I said earlier about locals in other countries going out of their way to make sure that visitors have a good impression of them and their country could also not apply to the people who are the customers in Singapore. How often have we walked away from a wrongly tabulated bill in our favour, or when we've gotten back more change than we deserve? Or when we'd go to a store or restaurant demanding the world of the service staff and threatening to complain whenever we don't get what we want, when we want it? Chill already. The world is not fair. Not make it more unfair by blaming others or loading them with problems they probably don't need.

It's a sore point with me because, up until 31 December 2003 (oh happy day!), I had to deal with the same crap, albeit in a school setting. I'm talking about students and their equally annoying parents who would come to school expecting to be able to make unreasonable demands of teachers and the administration. I remember one incident when a parent was upset because her son was being dealt with by the Pupil Management Committee (ie, Discipline) for some offence or another and the words she used were along the lines of "I don't care if you do that (ie, meting out of punishment) to other students, but I don't want you to do it to my son."

Wow. How noble of you.

It's Singaporeans, brought up in a country that got rich too quickly for her own good, like her and so many others I've met that made my life in school (and indeed in this country) miserable. I really don't care if you made your first million by being the first person to do such-and-such, or if your firstborn children happen to be lawyers who can sue the pants off me or something -- I'm there to do a job and you're not helping. The best thing is that it's the 'professionals' (ie, people who've had the most schooling) who are the worst.

Eventually, it got to the stage that I realised that it's a malaise of the entire country, myself included. We want what we want, without regard for others. We'll take advantage of people and situations as long as it's expedient to do so. Enough has been said of 'kiasuism' already so I'm not about to give it more air time.


The SAF Code of Conduct #7: Do what you want but don't get caught. (Officially, there are only 6 items on the SAF CoC. #7 is what is told to us by our instructors usually during Basic Military Training.)

On another note:
I cycled to and from the restaurant today. Quite proud of myself. But my ass is killing me. I'd forgotten how hard the seat was and how long it's been since I'd ridden on it. Now I'm more prepared to cycle to work next week when I sub for Sprite.

Here's to losing that spare tyre.

The Not-Title

Just back from my second paying gig with the YST Conservatory of Music (see previous entry). Something about watching the students go through their paces in the rehearsals just before the noon recital kinda makes me wonder why I gave up music lessons when I was younger.

Oh wait. I remember. I was 8 and cartoons were more important to me than spending too much time on the piano.

Remember what I'd said before about making bad choices?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Quite proud with myself today. Accomplished a number of things since I woke up this morning:

1. Showered twice (or at least, I will once I get this published).

2. Waited for the furniture people from Picket & Rail to deliver our new stuff. More space. Always good.

3. Got my bike fixed. It's been six years since I'd ridden the thing last and I was expecting the worst, especially for the tyres. Nope, no problems at all. Good Canadian manufacturing, I say; all they needed was a bit of air. The gears needed some major tuning up though. Along the way, I bought myself a new headlight, tail-light and a new helmet.

4. Finished touching up the photos from Vietnam. Will be putting them up on fotolog soon. Watch for them.

5. Finished and sent off the work for the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. Some of my previous work with them may be seen starting here.

6. Exercised for the first time in eons. Okay, granted most people won't consider pushing a bicycle to the shop to get it fixed, then washing five years of muck off it at my parents' and cycling home after that exercise, but we all got to start somewhere.

7. I've shaved for the first time in weeks. It was getting a bit out of control. And besides, I'm starting work next week relief teaching. I have to be respectable again.

Now for my shower.

Service in Singapore

So, what is it about the service industry in Singapore that needs to be changed?


I just had a call from a bank, which shall remain unnamed, whose telemarketer began by saying, "I know that you've told my colleague who called you some weeks ago that you didn't want such and such an overdraft option. But... can I interest you in an overdraft option?"

What the...?

Which part of 'no' did you not understand, lady?

Then there's also the other kind. I have been with my internet service provider since 1996. I've been on the same plan for the last 5 years, ever since I got my first ADSL modem (which sucks, by the way. There's apparently a known problem with the modem itself and to remedy it, I have to go all the way to the only service centre in Singapore: International Business Park... somewhere in the boondocks of West Jurong). I find out recently that my plan, for a measly 24 hours of access every month costs more than the current plans they have which offer unlimited access.

Again, what the...?

Hello, throw me a bone here. And to think I was irritated by the telemarketers in Canada, where I was studying, who would call me up everytime there was a different phone plan available. Or when they'd detect I'm using more of a service than another and offer to switch me to a different plan without charge. They'd call in the middle of dinner or something, which is why I get irritated, but now I know, at least they cared. What? I'm supposed to check up on your website every day to see if I'm being shafted?

What's the point of this? I need to get out of here. Wherever I travel, even -- especially? -- to Third World countries, the service is tons better than what we get here. People are more willing to help, even when they have nothing to gain from it. The tour operator in Hanoi told us that it would be cheaper to join another tour where the economies of scale would benefit us. Shock! When's the last time that happened in Singapore? I think part of why I enjoy myself more when I get out of here (apart from the weather) is how everyone else goes the extra distance to make sure I'm satisfied. I'm savvy enough to know that there will be some others out there who are out to make a quick buck off me, but the large majority of the people are genuinely concerned about what you think about them and their country.

We don't get that here, and that's sad.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Comments Are a-Go

Finally. I don't think I understand the code yet, but I'm getting there. Nothing like loads of free time in the afternoons to learn about these things.

Still, the comments function is up, thanks to Haloscan.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Green Things and Salad Rations

I think it was just Saturday that I'd said I wouldn't succumb to peer pressure (the wife started one a while back; then a couple of my friends, Kay and WJ; and finally the wife's cousin and his wife, Dan and Sprite) and start myself a Blog.

How wrong I was.

But I did have a perfectly good reason for this. First, though, some background: I was a teacher. Until 31 December 2003, to be precise. I bought into the whole "mould the future of the nation" bullshit in 1997, after I'd quit advertising (yes, I've made some very bad choices in my life) -- in fact, this Blog would have been named "mouldy", but I decided against it; I'm old enough as it is.

Anyway, I digress.

I'm now freelancing as a photographer, house-husband and general layabout -- the hours are good, but the perks could use some work.

The reason why I've started a Blog has to do with my previous profession. We teachers tend to be an opinionated lot, I tend to be more opinionated than most because I used to teach English. We also tend to be a blinkered lot. Which is why it is with some embarrassment that I type this now: I started the Blog to rant against an application form with its accompanying 20-page instruction 'booklet' from the Ministry of Education. It was to allow me to work as a relief teacher to supplement my bank account. On it, there were some requirements that I thought were bloody ridiculous, like requesting for my birth certificate, 'certified true' photocopies of all my transcripts and certificates (the same ones issued by the Ministry), a photocopy of my graduation scroll (which I had framed, so imagine the stupidity of having to photocopy a picture frame) and so on. The red mist came over me and I was ready to launch into a tirade, especially when the letter requested that I returned the booklet with my application. Did I mention that it was 20 pages?

Then: "For ex-MOE teachers who were in the service in and after 1980, you do not need to complete Part II of the application form as we would have records of your particulars."

Talk about taking the wind of your sails. I didn't need to the submit all that crap. I had nothing else to talk about. The red mist kinda faded to a bright pink.

So, I'm a little shamefaced now. Especially after sending out SMSes of pure vitriol to the wife and some other friends. And I'm in it now.

And I've a Blog.

Other things I have: a fotolog of the same name, for now anyway.