Friday, September 22, 2006

The Singapore Dream is still pretty much like the American Dream of the '50s. If you work hard enough now, one day you'll have accumulated enough wealth so that you won't ever have to work again. Then you can retire, live out the rest of your days in a big house, drive a big car, ad nauseum.

We've all heard this tale before. This myth is our defining characteristic as Singaporeans, our national identity. We can't tell stories of ourselves without using it as the overarching theme, or the central tenet. "Singapore Dreaming" is no exception.

Like many of its predecessors, Mr and Mrs Goh's tale reminds us that beneath the successful, sparkly-clean, luxuriant veneer that we like to show off to our foreign guests and visitors, there are still people for whom the dream hasn't yet become reality.

But the daily grind is our reality, with its physical and psychological pressures at work and emotional stresses at home, particularly for those of us who face an ever-widening gap between our experience our expectations.

Every character in the movie has a failed dream, a dashed hope. Whether it's wedded bliss, parental approval, or material comfort (even if not wealth), these aspirations remain elusive to them.

Only Pa (Richard Low) makes it in the end, sent off in style at a lavish funeral. In effigy, Pa is swimming in hell money, surrounded by paper models of opulence, all consigned to the flames for him to enjoy in the afterlife. As we watch the paper mansion burn and collapse into a heap of ashes, we have to ask ourselves if that's all there is to look forward to in life. Well, at least Pa died with his Dreams fulfilled. The rest of his family still have the rest of their lives to fulfil theirs.

Though Seng got what he deserved in the end, even he has my sympathy. It isn't easy being the One everyone pins their hopes on to raise the family name a notch up the social ladder. It's the life of the fatted calf -- given the best of everything while the rest of the family skimps and saves on themselves, knowing that at some point he will have to pay everything back twofold or more. Seng isn't seen so much as a person, but rather as a family asset with an unrealistically high return on investment (ROI). Even at the funeral, Seng still has to follow his father's path, unable to break away and chase after his girlfriend, Irene, whom he loves(?) and owes so much to, who is leaving him.

So even here in luxuriant, opulent Singapore, life sucks. But the PRC beer girl (NBS, the role was made for you!) makes an interesting counterpoint. Singaporeans passively wallow in their suffering only seeing the hopelessness of life. We give up our dreams so that we can make money. She, on the other hand is willing to suffer to make money so that she can realise her Dream someday. With that kind of attitude, no wonder China is on the rise while we appear more hopeless and helpless every day.

Although Mr Goh has a regular funny column in the Sunday papers, and a funny web identity talking his cock on Singaporean issues, the movie isn't a comedy. The plot is tight and tense, events winding the characters up towards their breaking points. So, will the family remain intact through it all? Telling would be spoiling. Haha.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My current booklist.

Picked up the Clarkson and the Stossel this evening at Kino. The others, I've only read a chapter or two from each over the past few months. Nothing to be proud of.

Oh well, at least I have something to look forward to doing when the December break rolls around. Posted by Picasa

Is it just me, or has GM food gone a little too far? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Confirmation that for me, crime doesn't pay. Took a chance at not using a parking coupon at dinner thinking we wouldn't be parking for long. Right on cue, just as we we were about to cross the street back to M2 to drive off, the Auntie in the big hat popped up and slipped a ticket under the windscreen wiper.

Dinner: $6. Parking fine: $30. Learning that I'll never be able to get away with it, ever: Priceless. Dammit.

All the more ironic because earlier in the afternoon, Amy had said how fed up she was with people parking illegally in the parking lot where she lives. Guess I should'a taken the hint.

Am beginning to suspect that only 1 law applies to my existence: Murphy's.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Just finished marking this essay question: "Man is at his best in times of crisis. Discuss." If you understood how basic grammar works, you'd know that the focus of the essay is not "crisis," like several candidates had erroneously supposed.

The focus of the essay runs parallel to the SUBJECT of the given statement, and not the PREDICATE. What's the subject? The NOUN, "man," is a big hint. It's about man (in the non-gender neutral form that Cambridge apparently prefers), but what about him? The VERB, "is (at his best)," is the other hint. We're discussing Man being at his best, or, the Best of Man.

But this discussion will fill up volumes of encyclopaedia unless we set a context. In this case, the parameters fall within the scope of the PHRASE, "in times of crisis," which forms the PREDICATE of the given statement.

What follows, therefore, should be a discussion of the kinds of qualities that crisis brings out of us; an evaluation as to whether these qualities do indeed constitute our "best" attributes (best of what, exactly?); and perhaps some thought as to why and how these qualities become most obvious under stress, duress and imminent danger.

We could observe that people respond very differently from each other when facing crisis, and our best qualities don't always come to the fore. Depending on how people respond to crisis, they will be either victims, villains, or heroes. We villify self-serving, personal advantage-taking responses; we glorify and encourage selfless, generous, uniting kinds of responses; and... we light candles for the victims. It is in our memory, in hindsight and in the retelling of these crises as stories that we choose to highlight the best behaviour observed as an example for others to emulate in the face of other crises to come. And also, perhaps to delude ourselves on how noble we are as a species.

To focus the essay on listing the different kinds of responses we might observe from a range of different kinds of crises and suggest that we tend to "do our best" to overcome them just doesn't quite measure up to the full requirements of the question. Can pass, lah; but so-so only.

A tip for those of you taking your GP 'AO' this year: pay attention to your GRAMMAR so you can be certain of your focus of your essay. It'll make a difference to your grades. Trust me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Spent last evening at a bbq with June's colleagues for a change. I'm now convinced that despite English being touted as our language of business, the real lingua franca for the Singaporean office is Mandarin.

All the more I appreciate June for being able to relate so well with my colleagues. Between the 2 of us, I tend to be the less adaptable -- not meaning just language-wise but also simply in meeting new people in a social context.

It wasn't a disaster, though. I didn't embarass either her or myself for one thing; and for another, I did rather enjoy chomping down June's curry chicken, toasting marshmallows on the embers and horrifying people by eating raw champignons-on-a-stick. Great. I sound like the little kid in the corner who has a "problem".