Saturday, August 08, 2009

Not so jolly buccaneers

PM Lee's ND message comes in two parts: we have tough times ahead, though we have been weathering well so far; and it's been our ability to hang together as one crew that things haven't been as bad as they might have been.

Tough times and rough seas are nothing we can control. They happen and will continue to happen the way weather does. I'm a bit worried about our crew though, because there still exists a mutinous element that think they can handle our ship on their own without realizing that in order to survive our ship is getting bigger, and as such we need a big enough crew to man every post. There simply isn't enough of us to homegrow our own crew, so we have to take on crew from all ports of call, whomever believes in us and our adventures to lend us a hand.

The one thing we have to recognize is that we aren't a British battleship, with crew from scurvy deckswab to pantalooned Admiral all subjects of the Queen of England. We're a just little pirate ship looking to expand, and our crew comes from wherever, and whatever condition they come in.

"We did not start out as one people. Our forefathers were different peoples from different lands, who had come to Singapore to seek better lives for themselves and their children. But our formative years fighting for independence, then striving as a new nation to survive against the odds, brought us closer together. Each time we were challenged, we responded as one, everyone pulling together and working for the common good. And each success further cemented our cohesion, and helped us to meet the next challenge," says Cap'n Ah Loong. But some of our oldest and crustiest sailors on our decks are getting a tad resentful of the newcomers, and that's not really healthy for overall crew morale.

Among other things, they resent that many newcomers speaka no English. Odd that it's exactly the same complaint as that of the homegrown gripers on board the other bigger pirate ships, The US, Canada (well, maybe not so much) and Aussieland. It's even odder that I would say we only need to put in a little more effort to communicate rather than just give up and demand service in English at all cost. A little more patience and consideration from us will go a long way to encourage our newbie crew towards learning our tongue even as we strive to figure our theirs. That's the fun of living in a polyglot world, but many of our people simply don't have that kind of time to waste. Pity.

The other thing that this segment of homegrown crew have against the newbies is that the former feel somehow deprived of certain entitlements having to share the deck with the latter. Look at the comments that go with this Forum letter (trust me, the comments are way more interesting) to see how some people go all frothy at the mouth over this issue. But really, if we don't make the newbies feel welcome, they aren't likely to want to hang out with us for too long. They'll just take their share of the booty and bolt as fast as they can, and our recruitment problems will never abate. We resent them for coming, then we resent them for leaving. We're the unhappiest people on the Seven Seas.

Look. The asteroid has already hit us. The change in our climate is so drastic, so fundamental that our world has changed forever. We adapt and evolve with the times, and be small, nimble and omnivorous as our mammalian ancestors were; or be wiped out like the dinosaurs that couldn't accept the change. Or in local terms, the "true-blue" Singaporean is the one holding his breath until things go back to the way they were.

My birthday wish for my nation: Once and for all put aside our petty differences and prejudices, hoist the Jolly Roger, put the bow straight into the storm, and sally forth towards new adventures with a yo ho ho (and a hefty bottle of rum)!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Baba King rules the Expo

A face from the past reappeared. Seeing Phillip again takes me back to the dark days of the Service where we spent a few months in a mechanics' course on the the repair and maintainence of the AMX-13 armoured fighting vehicle, a WW2 relic even back then. Actually the days on course were the brighter days with more freedom, shorter hours and less responsibility. The remainder of my 2 years in Service were best passed over quickly.

Today Phillip runs Baba King. Don't underestimate the quality of the cuisine from the fast-food sounding name. Arby introduced the place to us as a must-try, hence the drive up to the Expo for a Peranakan lunch.

We had the usual babi pongteh and chix buah keluak, staples of Peranakan fare, cooked very tender and flavourful. The sides were quite intriguing: a traditional otah -- the kind where the fish is still intact rather than mulched up into a paste -- baked brinjal (eggplant) with lots of chilli sauce and a homemade black sauce concoction to take the purple edge off the taste, and where I find the taste of ngoh hiang (I have no translation for this... um, five-spice roll?) too overwhelming, this version is more subtle in flavour which I prefer. For dessert Arby recommended the pulot hitam served with a liberal spoonful of XO in the mix, but my history with alcohol has not been a happy one, so I opted for the gula melaka sago instead. Served with sprig of mint, the sago pudding finished light and refreshing.

Whomever Phillip is keeping in the kitchen has got to be a Nyonya treasure. Baba King is about authentic Peranakan food, and what we get here is quite a match for the food we had in Malacca, a.k.a. Nyonya Central.

Finally managed to squeeze a good lunch with friends out of this week. We picked a great place, and I found an old friend. Now I'm happy. :D

P.S. The silly BFC non-meeting in the morning did wonders for my spirits too. It was painful to watch President Tommy struggle through the food on his plate, but the company was good and I'm grateful for the break.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Projections, not prognostications

Attended a lecture by Peter Schwartz, author of Inevitable Surprises. His Wiki entry calls him a "futurist", and in fact his lecture was about examining today's trends and extrapolating from them how future scenarios might play out.

That was kinda' cool because part of our GP lectures next week will be about evaluating our preparations against future crises. Also because during this morning's heated discussions at our weekly level meeting, quite a number of similar or related themes came up and got debated over. Good to know we are keeping up with the times.

In summary, our biggest problem right now is climate change which we are no longer in a position to avert, we simply have to get used to the fact and adapt as best we can... and try not to make it any worse, while we're at it. And by not making it worse, fossil fuels will be priced out of anybody's reach because if not, global warming will make the planet unsustainable long before we run out of fossil fuels to burn. But current technology will help us keep our beloved cars running thanks to developments in hybrid, fuel-cell and electric drives. Until we find a better substitute, we'll be turning to nuclear energy, but with much smaller-scale reactors. Recent advances in biotechnology will prolong our life expectancy: those under 30 today have a good chance of undergoing anti-ageing treatments and be able to replace worn out body parts with new body parts grown from their own stem-cells, or bio-mechanical parts. They could live for a couple of centuries with this new direction medical technology is taking. Sadly, those of us past 30 today have screwed up our bodies too much already to fix, though we could still live up to 150 or thereabouts. That would mean SM Goh's estimate that we need to keep our workforce going till the retirement age of 75 is a slight underestimate. Because of our recalcitrance in reproducing ourselves and hence the greying population of post-centenarians who refuse to grow up, we have to expect lots of demographical movement as we continue to attract talent to pick up the slack (and here I think the faster we accept that as reality and quit whining over the so-called FT problem, the better it will be for all of us). The control of water will become a major issue and will probably be a flashpoint for major future conflicts. Another source of trouble are places in the world where there are large numbers of young males who for the lack of females to impress tend to violence instead. But I guess if they just focus on beating each other up and leave the rest of the world alone, they'll just be thinning out their numbers to a more manageable level. Come to that, I also suspect that the idea of getting 70 virgins in heaven after you die originally meant "in your dreams, buddy" or in Singlish, "tang ku-ku!", but somehow some people started to take the idea literally. So people will keep blowing themselves up, and that will be a factor in how the future will shape up, though apparently not a very big factor (Schwartz was a bit vague about this point). Meantime, China and India will become the strongest economies on earth, along with some of the other knowledge-based economies this side of the Greenwich Meridian, us included. Where we stay on the edge of the curve against the Chindian giant will be in pushing education and R&D, particularly in much needed areas like green tech, biotech and water purification, as well as serving as a model for effective social order and good governance that others can learn from. Two scenarios could play out in shaping our view of the near future: if the US can recover out of this economic crisis it would continue to be a major player influencing the world, although sharing power with China the way it once did with the Soviet Union. Or, if the US goes into decline because it cannot recover, then world politics will be dominated by China, and going by China's historical record of centralizing power supported by vassal states, that's not looking like too rosy a picture. So power relationships will be organized along the lines of institutions and rule-of-law if the US recovers, or by the Chinese concept of "guanxi" (interest and alliance) should China emerge as the sole superpower of the 21st century. While all this is going on, the people of the developing nations will be starting to get hooked on cheap to free Internet content -- basically free knowledge -- and by the power of Wiki and Google will slowly pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (heck, they'll pull themselves up by their own toenails if they had to) and slowly join the rest of us in the 21st century.

There, I think I got most of the lecture down here. Note that I didn't make a point to memorise all this info -- I didn't bother to write anything down until now, in review mode. But I did my readings before the lecture, I listened intently to the lecturer and matched new info with stuff I already knew (HP patiently bore the brunt of my frequent comments and other random utterances; we all need friends like her). Yeah, we were prepared to be bamboozled by brainy bombast but, to our great relief, we got a great lecture in good-humoured plain-speak instead.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Parenting styles over time

Teaching the kids to make quick comparisons between past and present society, especially for questions in the context of "today's world". Here's a look at how parenting trends have changed over time. Comments at the bottom of the article are interesting as well.

What do I remember of my teenage years? Strict discipline at home, but near complete freedom to go gallivanting outside the house without overt adult supervision. As long as I let the folks know where I was and when I was expecting to return home, I was pretty much on my own. In case you are wondering, I never abused the privilege. Trust was a precious commodity to earn and keep back in the day.

That's kinda' like what the article describes about parenting in the '50s. I'm not that old, of course, but maybe back then it took about 30 years for the parenting manuals of the '50s to get here where my folks could read and apply their wisdom on their beloved firstborn.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Life in the DRVBGA

The stress of deadlines must be getting to me. Here in the Democratic Republic of Very Busy Go Away, little behaviours I would never have noticed before are beginning to irk me. I'm getting sensitive to slights that I would otherwise have just laughed or shrugged off. This is not a good time to be socializing. There're too many tasks on the checklist for that right now. Like a bear with a sore head, I'm not very good company to keep, anyway.

Short live the DRVBGA!

Monday, August 03, 2009

No big loss

Because of the National Day weekend, this week promises to be a short one. But that means regular deadlines have also been shortened as a result, and this term I've found myself with quite a number of deadlines to meet. You do the math.

The sign on my desk on campus says, "Very Busy. Go Away." Doubt anyone will see much of me this week.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Reduced and abridged

How much fun can a dead English bard be? When the Reduced Shakespeare Company comes to town with their show, "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)"...

With that opening title, eyes tend to glaze over as certain memories play back akin to those of post-war trauma victims. That's how it is with most of us and Dead Bard. For some reason, he's compulsory reading on Liberal Arts English undergrad courses, and O horror, horror, horror! The pain! The pain... [wait, no. that was from "Lost in Space"]. We read words, words, words, and still couldn't for the life of us make out the matter from the art.

So why subject ourselves to The Works? Because whether you know Shakespeare or not, you'll split your sides laughing. Good to the Company's promise, we get all of Shakespeare's plays (sort of) AND all his sonnets (er... sort of) in under two hours. Just with all the unnecessary bits cut out.

The comedy isn't merely from the interpretation of the texts, but also from playing with genre, throwing in the occasional local reference, and messing about with fourth-wall stage conventions. That means the audience in the front row seats are often part of the hilarity, though at some point the whole audience gets to play a part in a scene as well.

In the end, it's not a big deal if you didn't like Billy Spears to begin with. If you like theatre, and if you can take two hours of gut-bustin' laughter, there's good enough reason to go catch The Works.