Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Yes!! The third personal journey to China (possibly my last!) is set at the break of Christmas Day 2008 and this could well be a very personal journey indeed.

But....before that happens, eve of Christmas will be at Prince of Wales 8pm to catch Etc. for another exciting "live" electric gig with ex-Etc. band members joining in! Potentially a wrecking ball of a time! I gotten meself a Santa hat for the occasion right up to getting on the plane to Beijing after that!

This time round, the trip plan very vague, many pieces and pockets of time not filled with anything! Inland flights? No idea, will do it upon arrival at Beijing Capital Airport probably. Only fixed up a Great Wall trek on 27 Dec (Sat), about 10km around Huairou County. The only thing set was the hostel on Nanluoguxiang Street hutong area. A small homely place which I had high hopes that I will enjoy it very very much! Will bicycle around probably (in zero to 3 degrees Celsisus? Nutz!). Will complete the standard touristy places around Central Beijing for a day or a day and a half at most, if possible squeeze in a half-day snowboarding trip in a nearby man-made snow resort, possibly by then no longer man-made but flushed with real falling snow!

Thereafter heading to Xi-an, via train or flight, for the Terracotta Warriors, Mount Huashan (balls-dropping wooden-plank walk! In winter cold too!), the Muslim Quarters, starting point of the Old Silk Route and meet a very special person (in my own assessment) before heading to Chengdu hoping to meet a little baby girl who could yet be my biggest lesson about life and the living. Also will head out to Renshou to visit 2 friends from the March trip earlier this year. The rest of the 2-week journey I will make up as I go because there is no other big ticket items I yearn to see in the Middle Kingdom. Possibly a short trip into Inner Mongolia, weather permitting and also pending availability of tour groups.

Haven't do any packing as yet with just 2 days left to go, then again making things up along the way is the essence of any journey. It still amazes me how things almost always fall into its places......eventually! That I have no doubt.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sonic Asylum.....Sonic Salvation!! Viva la......Etc.

Here are 2 more clips of Etc.'s gig at the Esplanade on 30 Nov 08, both song titles unknown. A throwback to the eighties era of New Order, Jesus And Mary Chain, Echo And The Bunnymen.....

ENJOY! (i.e. bandwidth permitting!)

This song I refer to simply as the "WongKarWai song":
(correction 19Dec08: from Ben/Etc.'s blog http://etcmusic.blogspot.com/ , this song is currently named "Just A Dream" (The WongKarWai one), previously known as "Sleep With Me" --> fantastic poppy lyrics!!)

This one I refer to as "Don't Ever Never":

Ben played a solo accoustic gig at Radioclash on 6 Dec 2008 at the Substation's Guinness Theatre as the opening act. Etc.'s drummer Harvey was not available that day. The gig was to raise funds for the seriously ill grandfather of a member of Force Vomit. Ben played for only 30 mins, below is the "Don't Ever Never" song:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


A colleague forwarded this to my office inbox with the header - Merry X'mas 2008 Present.
It was real good fun and a real good laugh amidst the doom and gloom. Of course this would be the ULTIMATE present, twisted imagination and all the shit - CONTROL A WOMAN??? Yeah, right! Fat hopes!

Double click the image to view its full glory!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Smitten by Nostalgia: Dancing to the Smiths - Etc

The last time I saw a band playing with a lone guitar and a drummer was Zircon Lounge at the Yin and Yang Festival in NUS back in the late eighties/early nineties. Zircon Lounge by then was only left with Chris Ho (now known as X'Ho) and Yeow. They rope in a drummer from another band (I could not remember the name of either) and played that gig in the Velvet Underground theme with Chris in cross-dressing a-la-sixties-psychedelia-Velvet-personna. It was a fabulous gig, minimalistic and yet profound. They covered a couple of VU songs, I vividly remembered Pale Blue Eyes and Femme Fatale - two of my many favourite VU songs. Too bad I neither captured the moments on video or audio, which I regret it even to this day - that was one of the best gig ever by a local band in my humble opinion.

Ben Harrison has been around since his first gig fronting the Deadbeats at the Marine Parade library in the early nineties. He is currently in his own band, Etc which has whitered down from a guitar-bass-drums to just a guitar+drums band (much like Zircon Lounge above). Ben is an amazing guitarist, you wouldn't believe it until you see him live. With just his lone guitar and effects, he created a fantastic wall-of-sound echoing Sonic Youth/U2 etc.

On 30th Nov 2008 Etc played a gig at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre and opened with a new original song titled "Dancing to the Smiths" that John Peel would be proud of and possibly bopping in his grave. The lyrics maybe still a works-in-progress but the music is almost perfect. With a little touch-up on the lyrics and a proper studio, it could well be hit material. Press on, Ben! You deserve a hit!

I was smitten by nostalgia both by the music and the words. It was a hark back to the days of New Wave in the eighties and the progressive alternative pop/rock of the nineties. John Peel got a mention in the first verse as did Smash Hits, the eighties magazine.

Thank you, BEN for keeping the faith ALIVE!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


What's not to love about this Bibi?
These pics made my day!
I sure wish to meet her in person one day.
These songs still remain on my mp3 playlist and likely to remain for a long long time:

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The SINGAPORE I see in a good ol' spinning top.
A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.- Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt could not have been more right about politics and it probably is the same everywhere, not only in America. Politics is a vice, it screws people's lives. Power is a dangerous drug and add to that, money - and you have a potent combination that makes anyone thinks HE is above everyone else! At the end of the day, what you did will be judged many times over.
Back to the spinning top analogy of Singapore today. What is happening in Singapore is that the TOP is getting too HEAVY and the bottom is bone-bare thin. What do you do then? You keep the country spinning for as long as it can to support the heavy top. However nothing defies gravity and one day the spin will be gone and everything will stop and fall apart. If you look beyond the surface, problems are already brewing over the years ever since the open-door policy to attract so-called foreign talents to our shores and arrest the falling birth rates. Any Tom, Dick or Harry with a basic post secondary education will be able to become a permanent resident in Singapore, that is how desperate our so-called leaders have become all these years, starting with blaming the outflow of talented Singaporeans overseas as being quitters.
Falling birth rates? Funny how not a shred of mention of the "STOP AT TWO" child policy ever got printed on papers or highlighted by any ministers as the start of this falling birth rate problem.
Singapore is just 43 years old and yet somewhere along the way, nation building went down the drain in favour of relentless economic pursuits.
True-blue Singaporeans have become like 2nd-class citizens as citizenships are given out like nobody business that it degrades the pink Identity Card that we hold. Question: WHAT IS THE VALUE OF BEING A SINGAPOREAN?
Can anyone begrudge those who had the opportunity to migrate to other places?
Singapore no longer feels like a country, it has no Soul to call its own.
Take the MRT, walk around your HDB estates and you will know what I mean. The next person you see you don't even know where they are from! Definitely not local born and bred true blue Singaporean.
I wonder if all the ministers should really read THE PLEDGE everyday before they start work, I sure hope they look really deep into their hearts (if they have a Singaporean one to begin with!) and wonder if they had upheld it in the best interests of True-blue Singaporeans (the imported ones do not count!).
Our Pledge
We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity
and progress for our nation.

The Pledge - Guidelines
1. The National Pledge is recited in schools during assemblies, during SAF Day, during the National Day Parade, and at National Day Observance Ceremonies.
2. Individuals reciting the Pledge shall clench their right fists to the left side of their chests as a gesture to symbolise loyalty to the nation.
3. The Pledge shall not be used for any commercial purposes
By the way, I don't see the point in reading this meaningless pledge and singing or hearing the Majulah Singapore ANYMORE! I don't feel Singaporean about it even though I am a Singaporean. Give me a good ol' spin top and I find more meaning and pleasure with it!

Friday, November 21, 2008


When I went to Lhasa in March this year, I stayed at probably the most traditonal and most authentic of places to stay in Lhasa:
Doekyilzur & Beijing Tsongkhang House (多吉苏和北京从康历史文化院落酒店)
(the name itself is already quite a mouthful, both in ENGLISH and in CHINESE! once inside though you will still be in a mouthful - a mouthful of "WOW!!!!")

This hotel sits right smack in the heart of Bakkhor Street in the Old Quarters of Lhasa and just behind Jokhang Temple. The courtyard 3-storey house dates back to the 7th century and was rebuilt in 1850.

THIS IS THE PLACE TO STAY IN LHASA (in my opinion), it feels more like a home than a hotel! The ancient architecture is simply breathtaking and it is the most amazing place I have stayed among the different places and countries I have been - both the house and its immediate vicinity.

I went in the low season and there were only myself and another couple living in the whole place during the 3 days I was in Lhasa. I absolutely loved this place to bits. The bed was by far the most comfy I have slept on in all my life! I got a very good deal and got the signature room in the entire place - directly overlooking Bakkhor Street out in the window and the rooftop was only a short flight of ladder away. The rooftop is amazing too! One can see Potala Palace from there. I suspect due to the age of the building, the roof was terribly under-utilised!! I swore if I had a lazy chair, I could just bask on the rooftop all day long sipping Tibetan butter tea or sweet Tibetan tea during the day and downing beers in the evening! The courtyard could be viewed from the rooftop in its full glory.

This was one of 2 places which I had earmarked from the chinese guide book which I picked up in Chengdu a day earlier prior to arriving here. I was glad I took the extra effort to locate this place instead of the crowded International Youth Hostel. From my room on the 3rd floor, you could hear and see pligrims doing the rounds around the Jokhang Temple from as early as 5 a.m. in the morning and as late as midnight. That did not trouble me one bit, in fact I quite like the sounds of the pilgrims stretching their bodies and limbs on the pavement along the Jokhang circling route. Quite possibly you will not get this anywhere else in the world.

A slideshow of the hotel. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

When Innocence is Forever Lost.....Knowing That I'm Losing You

Measuring a summer's day
I only find it slips away to grey
The hours they bring me pain.

Tangerine, Tangerine
Living reflection from a dream
I was her love, she was my queen
And now a thousand years between.

Thinking how it used to be
Does she still remember times like these?
To think of us again?
And I do.

(Tangerine - Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

TV Ad I Like -- It's INDIA!

Sony Bravia "Domino City" from Film Construction on Vimeo

The scenery is captivating and captures a snippet of everyday life in India, the music is by Rob Barbato of LA Indie band, Darker My Love, not sure about the song title though but the words..."right in our own backyard" sort of resonates and bring back memories of my trips to India over the years!

the song snippet goes something like this:

careful not to delay
these things that I've said
I've got a feeling and I've been thinking
we can work hard
right in our own backyard
sailing on
sailing along

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


(Music and lyric: Loreena McKennitt)

The road now leads onward
As far as can be
Winding lanes
And hedgerows in threes

By purple mountains
And round every bend
All roads lead to you
There is no journey’s end.

Here is my heart and I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

Deep in the winter
Amidst falling snow
High in the air
Where the bells they all toll

And now all around me
I feel you still here
Such is the journey
No mystery to fear.

Here is my heart and I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands

The road now leads onward
And I know not where
I feel in my heart
That you will be there

Whenever a storm comes
Whatever our fears
The journey goes on
As your love ever nears

Here is my heart and I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands


I came across this beautiful song by Loreena on her Nights From The Alhambra concert DVD and CD set. It has remained stuck in my mind for the longest time since and very likely will forever reside at the back of my mind.

Life is a Never Ending Road that we set off, not knowing where or when is the end destination. In between, there will be the positives and the negatives, the good and the bad, the merry and the sad, the pinnacles and the despairs.....
The End is a certainty, no one escapes it and we all get the same. It is the journey itself for each to find its own. As the saying goes, it matters not how many breaths you take but in how many times it takes your breath away that truly matters. The main Rule to remember is that everything is relative, you can be rich or you can poor but finding your own feet and dancing to your own beat is the single most important thing.
The following verse by Loreena is deeply etched in my mind:


For me these 2 lines will serve as a constant reminder, whether you are at the heights of a high or at the very depths of despair, just remember everything starts and ends with YOU, and only YOU. There is really no Journey's End, Life remains a NEVER-ENDING ROAD...............until your time is up!

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Got my copy of "We Satellites" signed by David Tan and the incredibly cool Amanda Ling of Singapore's seminal band, ELECTRICO yesterday evening at the Xbox event in Marina Square. Next time I must get a photo taken with the band and better still a photo with just Amanda? That would be way coooool!
Snap some candid shots of Amanda too! Caught shots of her yawning twice too! Tired? Sleepy?
She had a lovely voice too! She should really sing! (To Dave: Eh, can let her sing on one of Electrico song next time can or not? Don't hog the mic leh!)

Wow! What a BABE!

Quiet COOL!

Babe with toys! Dangerously WICKED!

What a sweet smile!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


The word "Crisis" in Chinese (危机) , if you read into the two characters individually, the first character 危 reflects CRISIS while the second character 机 actually reflects OPPORTUNITY!It is amazing how 2 simple characters forming a word phrase could be the opposite sides of the same coin. This is the true beauty of the chinese characters - on its own it can mean one thing but with another it can mean a completely different thing.

Funny how things turn up all at the same time when you are down in the pits. You can blame life and the whole world when it happened but on the other hand it may be a blessing in disguise, you can sort EVERYTHING out all at one GO! Possibly the only thing anyone can do is to let things unfold by itself because nobody knows if it will be more 危 or more 机 at each turn of events.............

Thursday, October 2, 2008


(1) From the Singapore Flyer:

(2) Inside The National Museum:

So retro! Spiral stairs are a rarity these days!

I like the play of words here, both in English as well as in Chinese!

The iconic VESPA scooter

(3) At The Istana:

The Singapore Flyer: One big hyperbole! Wouldn't think of going up for another ride.

The National Museum: I wonder the attraction is in the exhibits or the building itself, I prefer the latter hands down!

The Istana: The plushest grass anywhere on this island (so good you could simply sleep on it and walk barefooted!) but a shame that citizens do not get to enjoy it apart from selected public holidays! It was a hassle getting in too! I do pity the ceremonial guard standing at the gate with visitors posing and snapping away.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Today, the 30th day of September 2008 is indeed a sad day for Singapore. The passing away of the Opposition icon, JBJ marks the end of an era for a man who stood and fought for what he believe in and paid a heavy price for doing so.
He will be forever etched in our history as the 1st Opposition member that broke the stranglehold on the nation by a single political party and proved to the nation that it could be done against seemingly impossible odds created by the powers that be.
I remember JBJ very vividly as I was fortunate enough to be living in the Anson constituency during the 80's when he won the by-election and created history in Singapore, but unfortunately I was not of voting age at that time.
His continued struggle over the years against the ruling party was something which I truly admire and I am sure many Singaporeans do too!
He had just came back from bankruptcy recently and had just started the new Reform Party to continue his legacy but alas time was against him. His spirit will live on forever in Singapore history and I dare say he meant much more to Singapore and Singaporeans than any other politicians, present or past including those in the over-crowded PM Office.
I think he had come full circle for the path which he had took and it is time to go home to the Lord. What injustice he had suffered down here in this tiny red dot which could not be made right, I am sure will be put right up there in due course.
Long live JBJ! You have made a BIG difference to Singapore and all Singaporeans in your lifetime.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TALKINGCOCK.COM is D BEST! Always a Bright Spark in the Cloudiest of Days!

Reproduced in full from http://www.talkingcock.com/html/article.php?sid=2639

Don’t Panic Over Chinese Milk: Civil Servant
Posted on Monday, September 22, 2008Topic: Local News
by K.K. Cheow

A civil servant has come forward to ask all Singaporeans not to panic over tainted Chinese milk.

Said Ministry of Elitism spokesman Mr. Louie Chin Ooh Lui, “Citizens should not be unduly concerned about toxic Chinese milk. There are many healthy alternatives in the market today.”

Mr. Chin, who used to pen a column for TalkingCock.com, was referring to the current scandal over Chinese dairy products found to be contaminated with melamine, an industrial product that can cause kidney problems and even death. This has been found to include not just regular milk, but yogurt, biscuits and even the popular White Rabbit brand of candy.

“But people should relax. The government has this under control,” said Mr. Chin. “Just switch to something safer. You don’t have to drink Chinese milk.”

For example, Mr. Chin said that there are ample supplies of milk from other countries. He dismissed any complaints about the difference in cost.

“So if you can’t afford imported milk, drink local milk,” he advised.

“Like breast milk,” he added, “I still do. Every day.”

As the jaws of the gathered journalists dropped collectively, Mr. Chin smiled and explained. “Oh, of course not from my mummy! I’ve never tasted her milk. I wasn’t allowed to. Her tits are pumped with so much silicone, she’s just as toxic as these Chinese cows. No, my daddy hired a wet nurse for me when I was born, from some kampung in Bedok or wherever.”

A misty look crossed Mr. Chin’s eyes, as he continued. “Dear old Ah Nai! Of course, nowadays, she doesn’t have to carry me up to suckle her breasts anymore. I mean, the wrinkly sacks hang down to her bloody knees now. So she just heaves them up and gives me a squirt in my morning coffee, that’s all.”

Mr. Chin encouraged everyone in the room to try breast milk as an alternative. “Sure, the taste of breast milk takes a little getting used to, but it does come in 100% organic packaging. It’s very eco-friendly.”

Mr. Chin also suggested other alternatives to milk. “You can also try the beverage of choice of many of us in the public service - blood.”

“Mm, blood,” said Mr. Chin licking his incisors. “Freshly sucked from the veins of a citizen. You can’t beat it.”

When a reporter expressed squeamishness at Mr. Chin’s suggestions, he shook his head contemptuously. “What’s your problem? You peasants swallow whatever crap we put out anyway!”

© http://www.TalkingCock.com 2001-2003. All rights reserved.

Harry Potter's Author - J.K. Rowling's Inspiring Harvard Commencement Speech : The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Transcript re-produced from http://harvardmagazine.com/go/jkrowling.html

Text as prepared follows.Copyright of JK Rowling, June 2008:

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.
The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.
Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.
You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.
Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.
I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.
These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.
Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.
I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.
They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.
I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.
I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.
What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.
At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.
I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.
However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.
Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.
You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.
There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.
Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.
I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.
And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.
Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.
Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.
And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.
Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.
I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.
But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.
So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.I wish you all very good lives.Thank you very much.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting Old

Of late I have been getting the strange feeling that I am well past my sell-by date and the expiry date may not be that far away. I may not be that well prepared or equipped for expiry (or Death for want of a more definitive word) yet but many things that have gone before had made me less in fear of death. We may never ever be ready for that day to come but to live each day as if it were your last probably is the best way I know how to make my way through each day.
Why am I having that kind of feeling?
I am starting to recollect things that went before, the places I had been, the people I had met, the things that I had seen, that's why. So I should be listing those things down within this post in the coming weeks, maybe months, maybe years….who knows? But I am sure excited by the prospect of putting those things, which were cast to my memory, in words.

Added 18 Sep 08:

For the past days been listening to the song "Borrowing Time" from Aimee Mann's excellent unpronounceable "@#%&*! Smilers" album with the following verses that echoes the "getting old" feeling that I have been having:

"You ask a question in the mirror, alas no answer could be clearer.................

.............you'll come when your destiny's calling

Who wants the whole weight of the world, when it will drag you down.............

Get up, you're borrowing time."

Aren't we all borrowing time in this existence?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Lucksmiths @ Baybeats 30Aug2008

On 30 Aug 2008 went to Esplanade to catch The Oddfellows (still my favourite local band after all these years!) at Baybeats 2008. Their gigs are rather rare these days with drummer Johnny based in Taiwan and the other three having their own commitments as age catches on but they still remain intact as a band. They were the local indie rock pioneers way back then and although there were no more new records or new songs, they still remain true to their love of simply playing together as a band and that is good enough for a die-hard fan like me. They played twice that day - one an accoustic set at the Observation Deck at 3pm in a meet-the-band session and another set at the new Nokia Arena outdoor stage at 9pm. I was hoping against hope that they will play the Substation-version of "Over Again" but it did not happen, a slight disappointment after all these years. That Substation-version in my own opinion was their best piece of work. Still it was such nostalgia to hear those familiar own tunes again, some of which brought back much memories of years gone by. I wonder if they will ever record as a band again but such one-off get-together is as soon as it gets I suppose.Also at the Observation Deck sessions was a band called The Lucksmiths from Melbourne, Australia and what a pleasant discovery that was! I had never heard of them but the crowd turnout surprised me. Even more surprising was after the set a lady took out a 7-inch record single (YES! good old vinyl record!) for the band to sign! I thought to myself, how long have these guys been around? I guessed most of the people who turned up must have studied or lived in Melbourne at some point in time to be fans of The Lucksmiths.They were simply amazing, reminds me of The Housemartins from UK. I was mesmerised by two songs which they played that day - "A Downside to the Upstairs" & "Great Lengths":

A Downside to the Upstairs - The Lucksmiths @ Baybeats2008

Great Lengths - The Lucksmiths @ Baybeats2008

The Lucksmiths played an outdoor set later that evening at the Nokia Arena and the place was packed to the brim! I had went over to catch Electrico at the Nokia Powerstage and by the time I made it back to the Nokia Arena, it was already impossible to get a decent place to watch them and they had already started their set. Managed to catch a glimpse from the side of the stage and it was the first time I had seen a stand-up drummer that was also the lead singer (Way to go Tali!). If not for Baybeats I might never heard of the Lucksmiths at all and what a great brand they are! Now I'm a fan.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Olympic Glory for Singapore? Which Singapore Ah?

Singapore winning a second Olympic medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after 48 years, quite frankly SO WHAT? I am a SINGAPOREAN and I took more pride in the Silver won by Mr. Tan Howe Liang at the 1960 Rome Olympics than this one won by so-called sports(wo)men imported/bought/enticed from another country's truly first class national table tennis programme.

I did not watch the Li Jiawei vs. Zhang Yining semis but I did watch the bronze contest Li vs. Guo Yue and the gold contest Zhang vs. Wang Nan last night. The sheer class divide was sorely evident. I have nothing against Jiawei as a human being but I just could no longer stand the way the leaders of this nation gloat about this medal with so much self-pride than the one won by Mr. Tan. The government likes to measure everything in dollars and cents and I just wonder how much have we spent "buying" this silver in 2008 against the 1st one in 1960. Alright, times may have changed, inflation and all that but the costs would be staggering. And then there is also the adverse impact of their FT policy on the so-called "heartlanders" of this country so evident at all fronts (not limited to only sports!) throughout this tiny island that they seem to turn a blind eye to. At the end of the day, all things considered, was it worth it and what did the 2nd silver really achieved?

Jiawei had the word "稳" written on her left palm during the bronze medal match. I don't know why the word "steady" was used, possibly as a constant reminder? I think she do not need to use any words on her palm to win a sports match, she just need to look at Zhang Yining for inspiration. I do wonder had Jiawei chosen to stay behind in China would she had also reached the same level as Zhang Yining going through the first class training programme of China instead of opting out of being among the best in your own country and in fact the whole world. I cannot pin down whether is it for the "opportunity" that a foreign country shamelessly sold to her or did she actually gave up being in the best programme of this field that the world has to offer. Did she feel that she could not make it to the top tier in the No. 1 country for this sport despite of the best training programme available?

At the other end of the stick, did the enticing country settled for second best or simply scrap for what was made available and hoping against hope that she could be No. 1 in the world donning its colour? If that is the case what could be worse than investing that huge sums of money on your own "heartlanders" instead of opting for the easy way out of importing when ultimately you had settled for second best from the outset?

I recall when France won the FIFA World Cup, the hierarchy here was quick to pounce on the fact that the team composed of people with origins from other countries and tried to parallel that to the rationale behind their FT policy push. Of course they forgot those players not born in France were from ex-French colonies, hence in a way there was a tradition to talk about, whereas our silver-medalled TT team were all enticed from a nation much larger in all aspects than this desperate island state trying to claim itself as a ridiculously-coined so-called "first world" nation or in other words as having arrived at Division One of the world league. And there was even a dreamer among them who hallucinated and threw up the GOAL 2010 dream and tried to sell it to the whole country. How naïve they could be, what was the logic behind that bold dream? Buying 22 ready-made Zinedine Zidanes from overseas? Come on! Who were you kidding? You could not even land a world class coach to begin with and I think they totally missed the plot with this football thing, they simply do not understand the history of this sport to begin with. A footballer wants to be the best and to do that you have to play and train with the best week in week out to prove yourself. Do you think anyone playing in the best leagues in Europe will opt to don Singapore colours with not a ghost of a chance to ever win the World Cup? Try selling that to the best young players around in Europe/Africa/Latin-America? I think most, deep down in their hearts, will prefer to play for their own country of birth rather than for a country so foreign to them and with a joke of a football league looking more like a plate of rojak than anything else. It's an ASS-LEAGUE alright!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Every once in a very long time a song will pop out that goes against the grains of the present state of things. Recall The Who's "My Generation" & Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - these had become definitive classic songs with an ATTITUDE all of its own.

Weezer's latest from their new "Red Album" - "Pork And Beans", in my book, will come to its own and become a definitive classic ATTITUDE song like "My Generation" & "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

It is also a dig at the idiosyncrasy of the music/entertainment industry and how artistes could hold true to their roots. It is a kick-ass song that sort of makes you want to raise your middle finger and tell the rest of the world to buzz off 'cos "No.......I Don't Care".
But in the real world how many could truly do that with absolutely no reservations??

The chorus of "Pork And Beans" ranks among the best I have come across, my interpretation as below:

To do whatever your heart desires with nothing to prove to anyone except yourself.
To be comfortable with the "YOU" inside and not be bothered by what others think.

People try to put us down
Just because we get around
Things they do look awful cold
I hope I die before I get old

Why don't you all fade away
And don't try to dig what we all say
I'm not trying to cause a big sensation
I'm just talkin' 'bout my generation
This is my generation
(..........from "My Generation" - The Who)

And I forget
Just what it takes
And yet I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard
Its hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind
(..........from "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - Nirvana)

I'mma do the things
That I wanna do
I ain't got a thing
To prove to you

I'll eat my candy
With the pork and beans
Excuse my manners
If I make a scene

I ain't gonna wear
The clothes that you like
I'm fine and dandy
With the me inside

One look in the mirror
And I'm tickled pink
I don't give a hoot
About what you think

No, I don't care........I don't care.....
(.......from "Pork And Beans" - Weezer)

Monday, July 28, 2008

IGNITE! Light My Fire!

IGNITE! Music Festival 2008 was organised and held at Republic Polytechnic on 25th and 26 July 2008. Went for the 26 July event as it was a Saturday primarily to catch Electrico "live" again. Never been to Republic Poly before and was quite amazed by its open concept campus where there are no gates or fencing whatsoever. The staging was amazing with 2 stages - one with the full band complements and the side stage for accoustic acts - the shows were switched between the 2 stages allowing each act more than sufficient time to get themselves ready. It was the first time I had seen light displays used as background for a free concert in Singapore. The crowd turnout was much much more than it was last Saturday at the Arts House front lawn. Really happenin', man! Missed out on Plain Sunset's show as I reached there at close to 8pm. Did catch the accoustic duo act Ngak+Clement opening with Dave Matthews' Ants Marching. The band Marchtwelve was largely forgettable while the accoustic group from Republic Poly, couldn't remember their name though, had a very good female singer with an amazing voice! I never heard of Caracal before but it seemed they had quite a big following with their head and hair whirling emo-rock. Sadly, their fans did not behave well and the security personnels were keeping a very close watch anticipating any trouble. A few idiots started to throw uncapped mineral water bottles around the crowd, dunno what they were trying to prove or achieve, nuts really and for what? Only giving such events a bad image.
The accoustic group from Republic Polytechnic
Electrico was the closing act and rightly so too because they were the most forefront and internationally-known Singapore band in recent years. Apart from some glitches in the monitors and some unwanted feedbacks their set went through very well with the same set of songs that they had played last week at the Arts House. This time though, the drums were a little muted and not well-tuned unlike last week. Still, it was a very tight performance and further proof that they are the band most likely to succeed internationally. Getting to like The Slaves and the Digits (a.k.a Gyration III) more and more with each performance, a real get-up-and-move-your-body type of number. Sweet!
In the morning was surprised to run 12:42.45 for the 2.4km! I thought sub-13 mins will be difficult to sustain considering my aging limbs but now I really had no idea what will come next!
Just Do It! as the NIKE slogan goes perhaps?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Little Milestone + A Rocking Good Time with ELECTRICO

Date: 19 July 2008
Day: Saturday

Finally managed to crack the 13 minutes barrier for the 2.4km! I think I have not hit that mark since the turn of the century, so it was almost 8 years!
I started this weekly physical regime on 10 May (14:46:12) and hit a little milestone of sorts on 19 Jul (12:58:80). I am not sure if I could go any faster from here onwards, the most feasible target is to maintain at the 13 minutes-mark (+/- 20 to 30 secs). Felt comfortable at this pace.

Also on Saturday, went to one of Electrico's mini tour to promote their new album "We Satellites" at The Arts House (front lawn). Rain delayed the event for more than an hour.

Lunarin was the first band to perform. First time I had seen or heard them, not really into their type of Evanescence-style of music.
The next was Force Vomit, this was the first time I had seen this band live although I had listened to a couple of their songs before. They were good! You could see them really enjoying themselves playing together.
The main event was Electrico and this was also the first time I had seen them live and boy, was I impressed! They really rock! I think they are possibly local music's best hope yet for the big breakthrough internationally. They nailed down the wall-of-sound effect to the T and really came to their own with an identifiable sound. Will go to their Republic Polytechnic leg next Saturday too!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Highlight No.1 - Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟

This picture is worth more than a thousand words, there is possibly no better way to put across how beautiful and captivating a place Jiuzhaigou is! DREAMY! Absolutely poetry-in-motion, this picture! (photo courtesy of the lovely lady,青青 in the picture, published with permission.)

I agree 100% that once you have seen this much water in its full pristine natural glory, everything else you see elsewhere will forever pale in comparison. The other thing is the fresh, pure, clean, high altitude air here, probably the purest you will ever come across anywhere on Mother Earth!

Highlight No. 2 - Pandas!

Absolutely love them! I have no doubt now!
I remember when I was still in Secondary School, a China circus troupe came to town and a Panda was performing with a huge ball on stage. That was the first time I saw a Panda.
The next I saw two in an air-conditioned enclosure at Hong Kong's Ocean Park about 2 years back. It was morning and both were so tired that they were sleeping and you could only see their backside!
I think the Panda Research Base near Chengdu is doing a wonderful job, giving them an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat which I think no other zoos outside of China could ever provide. I pity, for example those two at Ocean Park, wondering are they suffering under those conditions, even though delicate care is given to them. Likewise for other Pandas at different zoos around the world. At the Chengdu base you could see how playful they are and also how lazy they can be! For their size they are really very tame creatures with no care whatsoever in the world! It reminded me of this article written by saidthegramophone about plants unique to a particular place on earth and whether people also have a particular spot on earth where they will truly blossom (a Place to Be). The Pandas deserve their own little unique spot on this planet!

This picture of Pandas drinking porridge after the Sichuan earthquake left quite an impression on me. During this trip I never understood the virtues of having plain porridge for breakfast, however after the Sichuan Earhquake it finally dawned on me that porridge is like killing two birds with one stone - providing both food as well as fluids all at the same time. There is really no need for tea or coffee for breakfast. Porridge is also easy to swallow and digest. You can say that I fell in love with Porridge as well! Been cooking it for most meals these days, mostly for lunch and dinner.

Highlight No. 3 - Jokhang Temple, Lhasa

Timing is indeed everything! I had the good fortune of touching my forehead on the seat rest of the Holy of holies - the Buddha statue that was brought over by Han princess Wencheng during the Tang Dynasty, possibly the most important of relics left in Tibet. That shrine opens only on limited occasions to visitors and pilgrims and only for a limited number of people at any one time. If I did not stick around long enough I could have missed this great opportunity! It was meant to be I suppose, as I was in desperate need of great blessings and every little helps!
I felt more at home at Jokhang than I was at the iconic Potala Palace and I was lucky enough to be staying just behind this great temple at the most amazing of places I have ever stayed before.

Highlight No. 4 - Three Gorges Barrage

What are the chances to be stucked at the Three Gorges barrage for more than 24 hours? I think the odds would be quite staggering and yet the cruise ship which I took met those odds! Although as the time dragged on I was worried but on hindsight, it was an EVENT in itself!

Highlight No. 5 - 羊八井温泉(海拔4300m)

Soaking and swimming in a hotspring pool at 4300 metres above sea level? Don't think I will ever get a chance to do this at any altitude higher than this in this lifetime! And at cold climate too! Definitely unforgettable.

Highlight No. 6 - Two Gorges and Shennong Stream (神农溪、神农架)

The amazing sceneries of Qutang, Wu Gorges and Shennong Jia and getting to know first hand the real effects of the Three Gorges Dam Project on lives along the Yangtze River and in particular the minority race of Shennong Jia. Once the Dam Project kicks in and the water level rises, many places along the Yangtze will be forever changed!

Highlight No. 7 - The long distance coach trips

You get to see and experience so much more along the way than just a plane ride. I thoroughly enjoyed the Chengdu-Jiuzhaigou to and return trips.

Finding my way for the long distance bus/coach trips Chengdu to Chongqing and Yichang to Wuhan were both pleasant experiences.

Highlight No. 8 - The FOG!

We don't get these in our country so to be delayed and disrupted by the fog was indeed unforgettable events! Even though the fog delayed the flight from Chengdu to Lhasa, it did not affect the schedule in Lhasa too much. However the one at Yangtze and Yichang did leave me with a little regret of having missed seeing the third gorge and the Dam project site as well as the Yellow Crane Tower at Wuhan. Well! Another time maybe?

Highlight No. 9 - The People & New Friends!

This is perhaps the most rewarding of the whole trip. So many nice people along the way although there were some which did leave some not-so-good impression too! Ah! Life's like that and people are people.

(more coming soon.......)

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Day 14: 17 March 2008
Itinerary: Yichang-Wuhan-Shenzhen

Checked out from the hotel and hopped over to the Bus Terminal opposite to get the ticket for the 1st bus out to Wuhan. The Bus Terminal had a big display with all the bus routes, timings as well as pricing. The first bus departs at 7 am so I had more than enough time.

The check-in gate

I had a sudden attack of gout and had to keep my legs stretch out to ease the pain. The medication needed time to take effect. No finer time to admire my trusty pair of shoes (cost only S$25, it's an Ashaway running shoe) that had travelled to places like Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuzhen, Shanghai, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Lhasa, Three Gorges etc. with me! Also the same pair I am using now for my 2.4km run routine.

It was a foggy day with light rain in Yichang. The heavy fog meant that the highway to Wuhan was closed to traffic. Damn! I was beginning to wonder if I could make it on time to Wuhan to catch the flight to Shenzhen. Nothing I could do other than to keep my fingers crossed but the anxiety was beginning to set in! Luckily by about 10 am a police car came and led the way into the highway. It was still foggy but had cleared slightly. The police car travelled for some distance to ensure that visibility was OK for traffic to proceed safely. The rest of the vehicles followed at a distance behind the police. We were finally on the way to Wuhan but there was not enough time for me to visit the Yellow Crane Tower. I had to find my way to the Airport as soon as the bus reached Wuhan.

The counter staff at the Wuhan Bus Terminal was really helpful and directed me to the correct counter to get the Airport Bus ticket. She even brought me to board a bus that would take me to the place were the Airport Bus was departing from. I was amazed that even though I was the only passenger , the big bus still proceeded to ferry me to the departure area of the Airport Bus about 5 to 10 minutes drive away from the Bus Terminal. Talk about service! I was truly impressed!
I was right on time to catch the departing Airport Bus. Had some time to spare walking around the duty free area of the Wuhan Airport.

The following were photos of Wuhan that I snapped from the Long Distance Bus:

These were taken on the way to the Airport:

This little fellow sat in front of me on the Shenzhen Air flight Wuhan to Shenzhen. Really restless chap! Could not sit still, I made funny faces at him and played a little peek-a-boo with him during the flight.

I had managed to keep to the flight schedule in the end. Reached Shenzhen Airport close to 6 pm, took my dinner at the Shenzhen Airport, did a last minute shopping there as well to deplete the balance RMB before catching the Tiger Airways flight back to Singapore. The flight back to Singapore was not full and I had three seats to myself to stretch out and sleep for most of the flight. Was really tired from nearly a whole day of travelling, really knocked-out! Could not remember anything throughout the 3 hour-plus flight back to Singapore.

There, I finally finished my belated trip journal! Nearly four months after the trip! Guess I will never make it as a writer of any kind.