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Oct. 4th, 2015 | 10:23 pm

— Thoughts From A Secular Perspective

People who consider ending their lives often point to the imbalance between the pain of existence and the potential, possibly fictitious rewards for good behaviour.

It helps if you have a faith. If you believe that there is a divine being Up There watching you, guiding you, doling out rewards and justice in this life and/or the hereafter, life can be a little easier to endure. After all, you’re answering to someone else. Someone’s keeping score. So just be a good kid and follow the rules, and you should be fine.

For atheists (which definition includes, for the purposes of this note, people who just aren’t sure about the existence of an authority greater than humankind), life can seem like it boils down to existence for the sake of continued existence.

We wake up and shower and eat and commute so that we can go to work. We go to work so that we can earn money. We earn money so that we have an apartment. We need an apartment so that we can rest (i.e. eat, watch a bit of TV, faff around on the Internet). We rest so that we can wake up - and shower and eat and commute to work.

Men buy nice cars and watches so that they may rise in each other’s esteem, and perhaps the esteem of the objects of their sexual attentions. Women buy all manner of creams and shoes and scientifically engineered undergarments, and undergo pain and suffering on their faces and bodies so that they may be more attractive to the objects of their sexual attentions. Rolexes and Ferraris are expensive. So are La Mer cream and Jimmy Choos and Agent Provocateur lingerie and facials and liposuction. Sex has been designed to feel good so that we’ll do it more, but the ultimate purpose of sex is procreation.

Work for money. Money indirectly gets you sex. Sex makes babies.

Every organism is designed to survive. By way of adaptations in morphology, physiology, social structures, and rites and rituals, we change ourselves and the generations to come so that humankind can continue to exist, and that we can exist in a better way and suffer fewer setbacks as we go about our daily lives. People who are deemed ugly are less sexually attractive and therefore less likely to have babies. We don’t want to create ugly humans not because of an innate primeval distaste for asymmetrical faces, but because we know they will be less likely to find mates.

We mate to create, and we mate to create those who will mate.

We exist so that we can continue to exist.

If you identify as an atheist, then you know it doesn’t really matter what you do in this life. The worst possible thing that could happen to you is that you’ll die a slow painful death as you are forced to watch all your loved ones also die slow painful deaths. But once you’re gone, you’re gone. Don’t pass Go, don’t collect $200.

So here’s the thing - you have a choice. You have the power to make the most important decision in your life. You can choose to be alive or not alive. If the pain becomes too much to bear, and you feel that there’s absolutely nothing in your life that makes you want to wake up tomorrow morning, remember that no matter how useless or powerless you may think you are, you have at least that one choice.

If you choose not to be alive, then be responsible and considerate about it. Make arrangements for your organs to be donated to science: just because you don’t want to be alive doesn’t mean that you have to waste perfectly good body parts. Try to do it as cleanly as possible: you don’t have to clean up the mess you leave behind, but other people do. And most importantly, and this should have been the first thing I mentioned: be aware of the effect your death will have on the people around you. At least some people will hurt. They will mourn. They will torture themselves with the idea that they could have done more for you, that they could have spent more time with you, that they could have taken you a bit more seriously when you texted them and said you wanted to kill yourself. Sure, they’ll probably get over it eventually. But I want you to imagine your closest friends and family hurting deeply, heartbroken, for months or even years, and if you’re fine with that, then go ahead. Make your departure as easy as possible for the people who have to stay behind and clean up your mess.

If you choose to be alive, then you have 2 sub-choices. You can choose to be alive and happy, or you can choose to be alive and miserable. Save for those of us who have mental health issues, happiness is very much a choice.

You can wake up in the morning and say, “Shit, another day in the hamster wheel. I have this stupid lunch meeting with a bunch of overpaid monkeys. What a waste of my lunch hour. And none of my friends are free to hang out tonight because they’re all married with kids.” And that’s your choice. It is your choice to start the day already hating it, hating it in advance, suffering in advance. You have pre-judged that the day will suck. You have decided, at 7 in the morning, that you will be miserable. Who knows, maybe the overpaid monkeys will say something in the meeting that makes some sense. Maybe the food at the lunch meeting will be good. Maybe you’ll bump into an old friend on the way back home from work and decide to have a beer and reminisce the good old days. Maybe your day will turn out to contain some components that are enjoyable. No one knows.

Alternatively, you can wake up in the morning and say, “I feel good today. I’m going to have a productive day at work, enjoy my free lunch, and then I’ll have an early night and a good rest.” Yes, maybe the lunch meeting will be horrible and they’ll make you eat dry sandwiches and drink diluted fruit cordial beverages. Maybe at 5.50pm someone will ask if you’ll “quickly” help them out with a super urgent task that just simply has to be done today. You don’t know. But at least you’ll step out of the house with a smile, or at least an open mind.

Yes, being alive sometimes sucks. But if you care about your friends and loved ones, and if there’s one thing in the world that makes you want to wake up tomorrow morning, then choose to live, and choose to enjoy it.

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Sep. 16th, 2015 | 05:42 pm

Sticky concrete, stilettos squeak
Lean lithe limbs, small of her back
Hair to shoulders, she's actually older
A compact rack.
Lego girls are easy to stack.

Hazel locks and mutton chops
Green-eyed and full of pints
Leaking through his pores and pits
Large hairy hands struggle with a money clip

Me Tarzan, you Jane.
She kacang, he putih.

Girl from Toa Payoh, suddenly Soho
3 years uni in Kent, now got accent.
Another cocktail
Rounds her vowels as his hand cups her bum.
My office is at City Whore
Bitch Road.

Tennis football tea and toast
Sunday roast
Same creature, different zoo
From Newcastle to Tiong Bahru

She dreams of
Christmas in Paris
Kids with sharp noses
Dogs and primroses
A nobody in Clapham
Can be a winner on Club Street
Pallor gains an allure
Fat stomach promising a fat cheque.

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Sep. 16th, 2015 | 05:41 pm

Fragrant rich and thick
He stirs the soup base with a stick
Older than his eldest child
Darkness all around
Early morning, the only sounds
Are of chopping and his wooden clogs.
It is too early even for the dogs.

Fifty two years
Up at four and ready by eight
Never fought his fate.
The last man, tired and old
When everyone else has sold
Left defending his land.

First it was the medicine hall
An offer came, a kingly price
They took it, no surprise
Moved to Penang, bought a villa
And an old Proton Saga
For less than their pigeonhole in Bukit Merah.

One by one the old men passed
Or took the money and died elsewhere
With sons who couldn't care
Less about wantan mee and chee cheong fun
Or buying pork from the right Uncle Tan
Blood on their singlets and sweat on their brow
No one wants these jobs now

No one wants the old hawker men
But their homes and shops we want for show
So quaint, so 70s, art nouveau
Strip them down and hollow them out
Take the aesthetic without the clout
Of fifty two years of blood and sweat
Only the image counts.

And what if we combined fishball mee
With foie gras, kale, and tzatziki
If we took the Teochew porridge broth
And made it into artisanal soup
With truffle shavings and reindeer poop
And what if we had scrambled eggs
But hand-picked and curated by Pan-Asian chicks
With civet cats and teacup pigs.

I wonder what we'll do
When prices drive us further out
Far from work and school
And the only ones who can live in town
Are the fat cats licking their bank accounts
Moving between big houses

Leaving boxes behind for the prawn mee man
His children in Canada and Japan
Eighty years old and in his second career
The building blocks of his home after here.

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Sep. 16th, 2015 | 05:40 pm


Li Jen will be the first to agree that I was once all concept and no execution. I would seize on an idea and develop it to a reasonably interesting extent, embark on it fierily, and then halfway lose steam, resulting in a series of almost-good artworks. Although he never expressed it, I am sure that he felt that I never pushed myself to the limits of my abilities.

Hard work, to us then, was clocking hours into the night and squeezing progress into three- (or two-) dimensional space, as blood from a stone. Perhaps that was an introduction to the dark side of working life, where working overtime created a presumption that one was overworked and/or passionate and/or very diligent. I know now that I can achieve as much in two hours in the zone as I can in six hours chatting and grumbling.

When I applied to scholarships, Li Jen wrote me a glowing testimonial describing the leadership abilities I (allegedly) displayed in my involvement in the Art Club. I am certain that this article of his faith was one of the deciding factors in me being offered that scholarship. (For reasons best left unsaid, I was unable to accept the offer.)

Now that I am a teacher myself, I seek to emulate two of the main lessons I've learnt from the legendary Mr Tang.

First, let your students discover their own ability. I may never have made it to university if Li Jen had forced me to crank out classical still life drawings - I was too impatient and easily bored. Instead he allowed me to play around with different interests - exploring mixed media and textures, a clunky installation piece covered in semi-coagulated glue from a glue gun (which I later submitted as my graduation project), eco-friendly methods of sourcing materials from our natural environment (tugging at my heart strings the last time I went for a beach clean-up)... He seemed to know that if he painted me into a corner I would rebel and run away. So he let me grow organically into myself.

Second, his dedication and loyalty is unparalleled. He has been with the school for more than 15 years. Prior to the arrival of his twin daughters he could be spotted at all hours of the day or night, usually even on weekends, helping students with their projects, setting up exhibitions, working on the syllabus, and improving the art studio. Even when outside of school he thinks of and is reminded of his students. I try very hard to learn from his example in that respect - I find myself reminded of certain students when I read textbooks or articles on yoga therapy, making notes to introduce certain techniques to students according to their limitations.

On this Teacher's Day, 12 years after my graduation from the 2003 motley crew of Art misanthropes, I thank Li Jen for his patience and faith and for being an inspiration.



Hui Hua made me a critical thinker. It is a fact. The way she taught History was consistent with the way she spoke outside of class. When faced with a textual source we were encouraged not to take it at face value but to question the creator of the source, the circumstances surrounding its creation, and any possible motivation behind the way it was worded and how it could have been differently worded. This was extremely useful in my legal career as well as in my personal life.

I take that a little further now - there is a need to evaluate the credibility and intentions behind what is said or written, but sometimes in more intimately social situations we also need to let go.

I believe she always knew what we little monkeys of A53 were up to. She's been there and done that and questioned the logo on the t-shirt. However, she too knew when to let go. We always thought she was the coolest civics tutor ever, because she never nagged. She only told us bluntly and clearly what needed to be changed and then let us find our way to completion. Hui Hua knew that unnecessary repetition only led to closed minds.

As a teacher I believe I try to work toward the same. You can only teach those who are willing to learn. And, if something you've said resonates with the student, you won't have to say it twice.

She is probably the only teacher I have met who is equally at ease in large meetings, at Gelare after school on Tuesdays, and in front of the whiteboard talking about the Bay of Pigs. Unlike most of us, she is so genuine that she doesn't have to put on or take off any hats - she's only got the one hat and it works perfectly fine anytime and anywhere. What you see is what you get, and what you get is often pure honesty.

So, I am thinking of Hui Hua in the run-up to this Teacher's Day, feeling grateful for being doused in her truth bombs and for being part of her journey of frankness and realness.

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Sep. 16th, 2015 | 05:40 pm

A dog is tied to a tree outside a fenceless house.

[This is obviously not set in Singapore, because (a) you have to be a millionaire to own landed property, and (b) if you own landed property, you’ll put up the best fence money can buy. Funny, that. The rich have more to lose so they get paranoid about losing it so they build fences and install security systems. The rich have bigger houses and they fill it up with more things and so they hire live-in helpers to clean the houses and the things, but then they get paranoid about their things being stolen so they install security cameras to keep their eyes on the helpers. Won’t someone help the rich? (On the other hand, poor people don’t have anything to lose so they can save money on fences and security cameras – not that they could afford it.)]

The dog feels the collar around his neck. He knows that there is only so far he can wander before he starts tugging on the rope and hurts his neck. Sooner or later the dog stops breaching the limits of the rope. He stops just before the limit, as if he is contented with his little circle of territory around the tree, as if he doesn’t need to go anywhere else. One day you could remove his collar and he would still stay within his circle.


Instructions For Being A Normal Person in Singapore (Female Version)

1. Meet a boy in university. NUS or NTU. Nowadays you can also go to SMU if you are cool or young enough.

2. He will propose a few years after graduation after he saves up 2 months of his salary on a 0.5 or 0.75 carat ring from Poh Heng. Go on honeymoon to Phuket or the Maldives or, if he’s rich, somewhere in Europe.

3. Together, apply for a HDB flat.

4. Pop out 1 or 2 kids, get the baby bonus (or not, depending on the policy du jour).

5. Have your parents take care of the baby while you’re at work, and then after work have dinner with them before taking the child home. Rinse and repeat, 5 days a week.

6. When your child turns 5, move to a flat within 1 kilometre of a popular primary school so that you can have priority.

7. Encourage your kids to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, and dentists. Pack their weekday evenings and weekends with tuition and enrichment classes. Express grave concern if they show interest in becoming artists or musicians or such other creative types.

8. Discourage your kids from moving out of the family home until they enter university overseas (in which case they must move back home immediately upon graduation), or until they get married, whichever occurs earlier. Express grave concern if they desire to do otherwise.

9. Discuss retirement with your colleagues, showing especial interest in Perth (good weather and only 5 hours flight away in case something happens to your own elderly parents), Penang (basically Thailand except with char kuay teow and oyster omelette), and New Zealand (they have a lot of land so houses must be cheap).

10. Worry about your unmarried children and bug them into replicating Steps 1 thru 9 above. Tell them that you’ll look after their kids and that they may as well have some while they’re still young.


Life in Singapore can be tricky for a 30-year old single woman living alone and who isn’t particular keen on children. People assume you are not local and that your parents didn’t teach you enough (kurang ajar) and that you don’t have ASIAN VALUES.

ASIAN VALUES means you must demonstrate Confucian attributes of filial piety and gratitude, non-confrontation of authority figures, respect for people older than you (even if only by a year) as your elders, reverence for your lineage, and recognition that your duty is to create a nuclear family in order to perpetuate that lineage.

ASIAN VALUES means you always remember that the word for ‘nation’ (guo jia) comprises 2 characters: guo for country, and jia for home. No country no home, and vice versa. Go forth and breed. For make benefit glorious 5,000 year heritage of Chinese people.

(But don’t ever mistake us for China Chinese. We are Singaporean Chinese. It is very different. Thus spake the Diaspora.)

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Aug. 15th, 2015 | 01:59 am

The longer the phone rings, the deeper my heart sinks, the harder it beats.


I am the girl who wanted everything and ended up with nothing.


Stability is a cliff I approach on an unbroken horse, with a childlike wonder and desire, and at the last second I back away. My goal is to get as close to the edge as possible and dare myself to fall, or dare myself to be pushed over.

I resent the chains of security and certainty for preventing me from simply packing up and traipsing off at a moment's notice. At the same time, the chains keep me on the ground because I'm afraid of floating away and disintegrating into space.


Everything -- the sun in my eyes and the wind in my hair, my lungs filled with crisp Nordic air.

Everything -- galloping towards a cliff and one day daring to fall or be pushed over.

Everything -- the freedom to walk away and the security of being rooted.

Everything -- the twilight between wakefulness and sleep, clarity and the dream state.

Everything -- a filament so red hot that you hurt yourself, but yet feels so good.


Nothing. No me, no I, no self, no ego. No matter. No difference. No change, no growth. No point. No way out.

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Jan. 12th, 2015 | 06:44 pm

I had my first clinical psychotherapy session 4 months ago, on 1 September 2014. I believe that I have since re-programmed my brain and am ready to 'graduate' from therapy. This is what I did:-

1. Talked through my fears, anxieties, and feelings with my therapist, identifying the underlying causes (mostly childhood-related).
(a) Initially, I realized that I do not have a 'purpose' - i.e. something that I do that keeps me going: but now I do. See point 4 below.
(b) Most importantly, through a conversation outside of therapy, I realized that since childhood I have not had a constant source of emotional support or strength. I have since sought to (a) strengthen close friendships, (b) seek strength in ashtanga yoga as my form of spirituality (see point 3 below).

2. Addressing the underlying causes by daily/constant reminders (a gratitude/appreciation journal) or event-specific reactions ('arguing' with myself and debunking my concerns using logic and rationality).

3. Through the philosophy of ashtanga yoga, I have learnt (and continue to learn) to be calm, kind, ethical, and loving to/with myself and those around me. Through education in anatomy and physiology, I have learnt (and continue to learn) how to help my body (and others) be healthier, cleaner, and function more optimally. Because I now love myself, I have learnt to be good to myself by quitting smoking, drinking much less alcohol, cleansing and purifying my body, and paying attention to my practice.

4. By reason of my decision to pursue yoga therapy and ashtanga yoga teacher training, I have found my 'purpose' - to reduce suffering and illness by non-chemical remedies (such as kriyas and breathing techniques) and the intelligent practice of asanas.

I feel proud to say that the fears and anxieties that plagued me months ago have almost entirely disappeared. I feel happy to report that I have emerged from the wreckage, reborn and ready to serve.

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Jan. 12th, 2015 | 10:31 am

over the weekend, i attended my teacher training course and spoke with my teacher about - amongst others - hot yoga.

our conclusion was that frequent practice of hot yoga is good for people who are extremely stiff, but not necessarily for people who have a more or less normal range of flexibility. the science is as follows.

1. the practice of hot yoga takes place in a hot room, usually heated up to/around 38-42 deg C. the heat "cooks" the tendons, ligaments, and muscles, making them softer and more elastic.

2. for people with a normal range of flexibility, i.e. the tendons/ligaments/muscles are somewhat elastic, frequent and repeated 'cooking' of these body parts (e.g. every other day) will make them extremely elastic. this means that the tensile strength of the fibres in these body parts is reduced, and in the event of a fall, these parts may snap. a weekly practice, however, is unlikely to contribute to this risk.

3. for people who are excessively inflexible, i.e. the tendons/ligaments/muscles are extremely inelastic (e.g. in a seated forward bend, the person can only touch his/her knees), frequent and repeated 'cooking' will make these body parts somewhat more elastic, but with a much reduced risk of snapping.

4. however, regardless of one's level of flexibility, the key to reaping the most benefit from a hot yoga practice is to ease the transition from the hot room into room temperature.
- heat causes expansion, and a sudden reduction in heat causes contraction.
- exiting the hot room into air-conditioned environment, or taking a cold shower immediately after class, will cause a dramatic and rapid contraction of the newly elasticized tendons/ligaments/muscles, which is likely to cause these body parts contract even more than their pre-practice state.
- therefore, after class, try to spend some time in the sun or at least outdoors, followed by a shower in room-temperature or warm water. this will help your body - and your newly softened and elasticized muscles - adjust and self-regulate.

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Dec. 30th, 2014 | 08:31 pm

When children have become victims of the violence brought on them by parents, they suffer, and they don’t know what to do. That violence within them becomes a poison that continues to kill them. If these young people try to kill themselves, it’s mostly because they want to retaliate against their parents. By killing themselves, they want to send a message to their parents: “You know, I am killing myself because of you. You have made me suffer so much, and this is the fruit of your behavior, your way of dealing with me.” So when a young man or young woman commits suicide, there is always that kind of message directed to parents or society or someone else, because the violence in him or her has no way to be transformed.
Thich Nhat Hanh, 'Suffering Can Teach Us' (http://plumvillage.org/transcriptions/suffering-can-teach-us/)

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Dec. 30th, 2014 | 08:27 pm

A wrong perception can be the cause of a lot of suffering, and all of us are subjected to our wrong perceptions every day. That is what the Buddha said. We live with wrong perceptions every day. That is what the Buddha said. That is why we have to practice meditation and look deeply into the nature of our perceptions. Whenever we perceive anything, we have to ask the question, “Are you sure your perception is right?” To be safe, you have to ask, “Are you sure of your perceptions?”

When we stand there with friends, and look at the beautiful sunset, we enjoy the beautiful sunset, and we may be sure that the sun is setting, or has not set. But a scientist may tell us that the sun has already set eight minutes ago. The image of the sun we are touching is only the image of the sun eight minutes ago. He is telling the truth. Because it takes eight minutes for the image of the sun to come to us—that is the speed of light. We are very sure that we are seeing the sun in the present moment. That is one of the wrong perceptions. We are subjected to thousands of wrong perceptions like that in our daily life. It may be that the other person did not have the intention to hurt you, yet you believe that she has done that in order to punish you, to make you suffer, to destroy you. You carry with you a wrong perception like that, day and night, and you suffer terribly. Maybe you keep your perception until you die, with a lot of hatred toward a person who may be innocent. That is why meditating on perception is a very important practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh, 'Suffering Can Teach Us' (http://plumvillage.org/transcriptions/suffering-can-teach-us/)

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