Saturday, December 30, 2006


This probably comes 3 months too late for Teachers' Day (in Singapore). But I dedicate the last post of 2006 to my ex-teachers. For without them, I won't be in where I am today.

Funny, I don't think I have changed that much since then. I am still learning a lot from my peers.

May the New Year bring forth more challenges and rewards.

Two-Body Problem revisited

loiseaurebelle quotes from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where he has family, colleagues and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood.


In Prague she was dependent on Tomas only when it came to the heart; here she was dependent on him for everything. What would happen to her here if he abandoned her? Would she have to live her whole life in fear of losing him?

lr: This, I think, is the reason why your friends' gfs won't want to move.

tk: My ex's reason, other than her bond, was similar - what do u want me to do in the USA?

Edit (Jan 4): Kevin's case.

Kitchen vs. Lab; Men and Women as friends

From Ms.PhD:

Top ten reasons why I like my kitchen better than my advisor's lab

1. I decide what equipment there is.

2. The equipment is always available.

3. I can go almost any time of the year, with my own money, and get any supplies or additional equipment I want or need.

4. There is a dishwasher.

5. I don't have to repeat experiments. Whether they worked or not. Unless I feel like it. And even then, only when I feel like it, and not because they didn't turn out looking pretty enough.

6. I decide who is there with me.

7. If there is something I want to do that I've never done before, there are probably instructions somewhere on the internet.

8. It is not a competition.

9. If I bring my experiments to other places for people to evaluate, nobody asks, "Whose kitchen did you make this in?" before they decide whether or not they like what I've done.

10. I can cook if I feel like it, and if I don't feel like it, that's okay. We can always eat out.

and Gilbert Koh:

Men and Women Can't Be Friends

Now when I was a kid I watched a movie
called "When Harry met Sally" which I suppose
must be some kind of classic by now.
I think it was Harry who said to Sally, or
maybe it was Sally who said to Harry,
that men and women can't be friends
because sex gets in the way.
It's sad that this is true, because right now
as I sit and talk to you, I'm wondering
what you look like in the nude.
Because you look really sexy today.
My girlfriend would hit me if she knew,
and your boyfriend would hit me if he knew.
You would hit me too if you knew,
or maybe you'd be flattered.
But anyway the point is I can't stop wondering
what you look like in the nude.
I'm not going to kiss you or hug you or
touch your breasts or anything like that.
But I really can't or won't stop wondering
what you look like in the nude.
And maybe this is why men and women
can't ever be friends.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Elia's entry reminded me of this poem I first came across in a glossy Brown University Undergraduate Admisssions booklet almost a decade ago.

By Constantine P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Maybe that is why we still keep up with events back home despite having gotten out. We are the Singaporean Diaspora, and we know the downside of caring too much.

2007's Resolutions

1. Believe in love. It seems to be getting harder as one grows older. Especially in a circle like mine. The sex ratio has improved somewhat in one year, but you don't shit where you eat, do you?

Under the glow of the lamps, i sat beside a very young teenage couple - the girl was in her school uniform, she had bubble tea as well in her hand, an arm around her waist and a nose in her hair. In her bedroom, she probably have a photo of themselves, him looking down at her and she staring back at him, heart shaped objects flitting in the air above her head. Above his might have been question marks and a thought bubble that went 'yea right'. But that's the thing about first crushes, you don't question it at all. You don't second guess it. You don't doubt it. You don't get cynical about it. You don't tell yourself to take it slow. Basically, you don't bring baggage to it. You let it play out just the way you instinctively believe it must be done and live the regrets later. One might have sighed and smiled at that picture of puppy love, i'm sorry but i felt only revulsion and a touch of sadness.

Unfortunately we are no longer 18 (or 16?).

2. Outline the draft of my dissertation. Plenty of work remain undone, but it is good to set the broad direction of how I want my research to go.

3. Pass my Ph.D penultimate year review. I am expecting hell from one of my committee members.

4. Start networking with potential employers proper: company representatives and National Lab Lead Researchers. There are two conferences I will want to attend this coming year, and there is no better place (and time) to showcase my work.

Other news:

This is the season of getting hitched. I have 4 friends getting married this month, and I know of 4 more (so far) for next year. The army regulars seem to be doing well; with 2 of them expecting Major rank next year. Plus several others enrolled in MBA schools scattered around the Northeast.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Je ne veux pas travailler

As I was telling loiseaurebelle yesterday, I spent the weekend listening and humming this song repeatedly. It is an earworm I tell you, despite me not understanding the lyrics. It reminds me of the happy, pre-Depression dance halls of the 1920s.

The title is quite fitting for what I am experiencing now in school. (Duh, it's the winter break.)


And so I have translated the song... bear in mind that I haven't
really kept in touch with French for a long time, and some of the
nuances of the language probably escaped me. I also translated mostly
for meaning, and paid little attention to style.

I Don't Want to Work
Pink Martini.

My room is in the shape of a cage
The arms of the sun pass through the window
The hunters are at my door
Like little soldiers
Who want to take me away

I don't want to work
I don't want to have lunch
I only want to forget
And so I smoke

I've already smelled the perfume of love
A million roses
Doesn't fill enough
Now there's only one flower
In my circle
And it's making me sick


I don't trust it
The life that wants to kill me
It's magnificent
To be nice to people
But I never knew what it is like


I don't trust it
The life that wants to kill me
It's magnificent
To be nice to people
But I never knew what it is like

As you can see, the song pretty much makes no sense, and juxtaposed with the happy, jaunty melody, it makes even less sense. Not to mention the images in the video... It's quite an accurate reflection of the attitudes of the 1920s, if you ask me: the darker side to the decadence of that era.

I found another translation. While I agree the song as a whole is nonsense, the individual verses are not. Could very well represent the themes of some of my previous blog entries.

On a side note, my favorite work of fiction is Alice. No prizes for guessing why.

A music video which makes no sense.

No iron-rice bowl for scholars; Income Gap and Social Fabric

Two notable news pieces over the weekend. Archived here for future reference. For the first article, Mr Wang said something similar a year ago.

Dec 16, 2006
Don’t knock us, our rice bowls are not iron
Military and civil service high-fliers nearing or past their tenures struggle to keep up in corporate world

By Ho Ai Li & Susan Long

A WELL-KNOWN chief executive of a global company here tells how he receives persistent calls from former scholars who have graduated from Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College.

Some are military officers about to hit 45. Others are from the Government’s elite administrative service, in their 50s and nearing the end of 10-year tenures.

Some are so desperate to ’sell’ themselves that they ask what time he will be in the gym so they can run on the treadmill next to him and make their pitch.

‘It’s very sad,’ observed the CEO, who spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity. ‘In Singapore, above 45, you cannot be looking for a job. The job must be looking for you.’

Things are getting tougher for military or civil service high-fliers nearing or past their shelf life. Previously, most were absorbed by government-linked companies (GLCs) or statutory boards when it was time to leave.

But these days, GLCs - which are becoming more bottom-line-driven and moving from passive asset management to aggressive overseas expansion - prefer to hire those who can hit the ground running from Day One. These would be people with experience in global banking, financial services, mergers and acquisitions, leisure entertainment and customer relations.

Unfortunately, those leaving the military and civil service lack that global perspective and struggle to keep up, say corporate observers and recruiters.

According to human resources consultancy Hewitt Associates country head Na Boon Chong: ‘The challenge has moved from managing a large organisation to helping guide the company through significant industry changes. The latter requires depth of specific industry experience, which retiring civil servants or military officers often lack.’

Finding them a job in the private sector is also a problem. Singapore’s contract manufacturing industry is shrinking and the growth of home-grown companies with pockets deep enough to hire such high-calibre candidates is just not able to keep pace with the conveyor belt of government scholars today. Each year, the public sector gives out about 250 scholarships.

What aggravates matters, said executive headhunter Richard Hoon, is that former military men can be too used to the regimented life.

‘Maybe only one out of 100 can adapt to the corporate world. The rest have to work hard and undergo personal coaching to be ‘demilitarised’,’ he said.

‘They have a certain bravado, talk in a certain way and have a certain mindset that’s not attractive to employers. They used to be officers, always managing others. But stripped of their uniform, they’re just ordinary people with a difficult transition to make.’

Many also lack the soft skills so necessary in the business world.

Outplacement specialist Paul Heng said: ‘Stories are plentiful about ex-civil servants and army officers who behave as if they are still sitting in their ivory towers, giving orders to the troops. Some are downright patronising.

‘They need to inspire confidence in interviewers that, not only can they do the job, but they can also assimilate into the company culture and work well with others.’

The ‘cultural re-adaptation’ process can take months, even years. As such, this group now competes with the droves of other over-40, out-of-work managers looking for work.

Some complain that while the Government exhorts industry to hire older workers, it is not quite walking the talk itself.

In 1998, the career span of military officers was reduced from 27 to 23 years, meaning that those who joined after 1998 would retire at about 42, instead of about 45 previously.

Since 2000, the Administrative Service has ruled that those appointed to Public Service Leadership jobs will have only 10 years’ tenure for each position, such as permanent secretaries, deputy secretaries or chief executives of major statutory boards.

The rationale is to maintain a steady turnover, help the organisation avoid becoming too settled in its ways, and encourage young and capable officers to remain in service and strive for top posts.

What that means, a fast-rising administrative officer said, is that you have to actively work towards your next tenure during your current one.

‘If you get promoted to permanent secretary too early, or something goes wrong, you miss a step and can’t get to the next level. The conveyor belt of scholars relentlessly moves on and pushes you out. And there you are - yet another out-of-job older worker,’ said the officer, who is in his 30s.

His own exit plan? He is banking on regional demand for senior civil servants with deep policy expertise and operational experience.

At 37, another government scholar who is now doing well sometimes worries whether he will be able to survive on the outside in his mid-40s.

‘Honestly, a lot of us have no idea what we can do outside,’ he said. ‘Our rice bowl is not iron or as glamorous as people think it is.

‘I know people think we have it made and are so well-trained that we can easily be absorbed into industry. But it’s a misperception that needs to be corrected because there’s obviously a mismatch between what the public sees and what our potential employers see.’

With the clock ticking away, he has begun finding out how he can get into financial advisory work. He is also managing his expectations downwards and keeping his commitments spare, by not upgrading from his Housing Board flat.

Also cautious is a former government scholarship holder and Cambridge graduate now working as a researcher.

At 45, and having seen the corporate carnage that claimed some of his 40-something peers, he is considering starting a cafe or getting trained to be a masseur.

‘In your 40s and 50s, more than at any other time, you need financial stability. Yet, it’s the age when you’re the most vulnerable,’ he said. ‘There’s a heartless bottom-line economic calculation going on and companies are quite happy to cut you loose.

‘The slippery slope to unemployment can start suddenly. It can be one year, one bad move down the road. The tragedy for scholars is that they have always been on an ascending path. The thought of levelling off or falling down is scary.’

But there are stories of courageous and successful transitions too, like that of lieutenant-colonel-turned-entrepreneur Nicholas Koh, 46.

The former deputy head of naval logistics (platform systems) and navy scholar had the option of staying on till 47, but chose to ‘bite the bullet early’.

In 2002, at 42, he took a smaller gratuity package and left to join ST Engineering as vice-president of defence business.

‘I wanted to get out early and start gaining valuable corporate experience to build my future while I still had energy,’ said the father of two teenagers. ‘I didn’t want to get too used to a comfortable life.’

In 2003, he quit the job that paid around $150,000 a year, took a painful pay cut and set up Victory Knights Management Consultancy.

‘It was my baptism of fire. I decided to fight for it out there. No point looking for short-term havens,’ he said.

His firm administers a marine technology master’s programme offered by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Last year, it also ventured into Oman, where it helps to incubate environmental technology and property development companies.

‘Out there in the commercial world, it’s war. Generals and colonels who are able to fight a war should be able to fight for themselves. If they can’t, they don’t deserve their former rank and status,’ he declared.

‘Public funds have been used to groom them in the past, so they should come out into society and create new ways to contribute back to Singapore’s economy.’


Monday December 18, 3:04 PM Reuters
Income gap tears at Singapore social fabric
By Geert De Clercq

SINGAPORE, Dec 18 (Reuters) - When Wee Shu Min, the teenage daughter of a Singapore member of parliament stumbled across the blog of a Singaporean who wrote that he was worried about losing his job, she thought she'd give him a piece of her mind.

She called him "one of many wretched, undermotivated, overassuming leeches in our country" on her own blog and signed off with "please, get out of my elite uncaring face".

Wee was flamed by hundreds of fellow bloggers, but when her father Wee Siew Kim -- an MP in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's constituency -- told a Singapore newspaper that "her basic point is reasonable", the row moved well beyond the blogosphere.

The episode highlighted a deep rift in Singapore society and was an embarrassment for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and prime minister Lee, who has made the reduction of the income gap one of the priorities of his new government.

"Coming from an MP in the prime minister's constituency, these comments really were political dynamite," political commentator Seah Chiang Nee told Reuters.

"If the political arrogance and elitism get any worse, the PAP will lose more electoral ground," he added.

Singapore is Asia's second-richest country after Japan with a gross domestic product per capita of about $27,000, ranking between EU member Italy and Spain. But in terms of income disparity, Singapore is in altogether different company.

Singapore's Gini index -- which measures inequality of income distribution among households -- of 42.5 puts it between Burundi and Kenya, the UN Human Development Report 2006 shows.

"Yes, the gini coefficient is very high. Through housing, health care and education, we have tried to narrow the income gap, but not through wages," National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told Reuters in an interview last month.


Singapore pays no employment benefits, no pensions and has no legal minimum wage, but education is cheap and excellent, health care is subsidised and the government gives subsidies to first-time buyers of government-built flats.

Last month, Singapore's first parliament session since the May 6 poll was dominated by the inequality theme.

PM Lee ruled out the introduction of old-age pensions, a minimum wage or European-style welfare.

"We have treated welfare as a dirty word. The opposition, I think the Workers' Party, has called for a 'permanent unconditional needs-based welfare system'. I think that is an even dirtier five words," he said in a speech on Nov. 13.

But he acknowledged that since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the income gap had widened, and said that his government plans to "tilt the balance in favour of the lower-income groups".

While Lee's ruling PAP is in no danger of losing its stranglehold on parliament -- where it has 82 out of 84 elected seats -- the growing income disparity has hurt its credibility.

In the May 6 poll, the Workers' Party scored its best result in years, with chairwoman Sylvia Lim winning 44 percent of the votes in a multi-seat ward. Lee lost 34 percent in his ward to a group of unknown candidates in their early thirties.

"They (the PAP) are concerned about the fallout if they don't do anything about the income gap," Lim, who entered parliament as a non-voting MP under a best-loser provision, told Reuters.

In parliament, Lee said he plans to improve healthcare and boost housing subsidies for low-income families. He added that he wants more "workfare" schemes, under which the state tops up low-income workers' pay.

On May 1 -- five days before the election -- the government paid out S$150 million to about 330,000 low-income workers, and Lee promised a similar package for next year. Details would be released in the 2007 budget on February 15.


Critics say that much of the outrage about the teenage blogger's comments is due to a perception that Singapore is ruled by a privileged elite that's out of touch with the people.

The road to a top job in the Singapore government or civil service leads through elite junior colleges and prestigious government scholarships for university studies abroad.

While access to these schools and scholarships is open to all and based on academic grades, critics say the children of the elite are well represented. Wee Shu Min attends a top school, Raffles Junior College, as did her father, an MP and a top executive at state-owned arms maker ST Engineering.

In a report about "elite envy", the Straits Times daily quoted official data showing that in the last five years, one in three students on government scholarships came from families with incomes of more than $$10,000 ($6,500) a month, while such families make up just 13 per cent of all Singapore households.

Students from households on incomes of less than $2,000 made up only 7 per cent of scholarship winners, the paper added.

Colin Goh, founder of satirical website, said that while the first generation of post-independence PAP leaders was seen as close to the people, this is no longer the case.

"The source for much invective in the Wee Shu Min case is that there is a real sense the PAP is composed of people in ivory towers; that they are a bunch of Marie Antoinettes," he said.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In the army, we'll love them white horse kings...

Don't we all love to hear more white horse stories? Especially when the horse is 'super-white'.

Found this on a blog, written several months ago. I can't vouch for its authenticity, obviously. And the date's wrong if he was referring to this year, for 7th July fell on a Friday. The vocation (Signals) was right though.

On the 7th of July, a thursday, we, sergeants-to-be and future commanders in the SAF, did saikang. We shifted huge steel lockers, tables, cleaned windows and bed frames, arranged chairs in the "entertainment room", swept the floors and took out the trash. All this on the Officer-Cadet-Trainee(OCT) floor. And not just for the OCTs, who are of the same age as us by the way, but for a particular OCT who was going over to Signals the next day. An OCT with a...particularly powerful father. I don't think i need to mention his name, do i?

It wasn't just the sergeants-to-be who had to do all this work. Every operator had to do their part, and there were warrant officers, people who've spent over 20 years as commanders in the Army, shifting beds around and going around unscrewing our locker door handles 'cos the OCTs did not have enough of them. Unscrewing door handles. An officer doing construction-worker-style stuff for no bonus pay. We even had to make sure the OCT's lockers had enough hooks to place their precious jockey-caps and berets...when almost all the beds in OUR own bunks have no hooks at all. (Not to mention the fact that our big mirror has been taken well as our own bloody toilet door!!!)

It wasn't just yesterday. Word of the young prince's imminent arrival had spread over a month ago, and renovation work had begun since then. The particular floor was given a new coat of paint, mosquito nets were installed in the OCTs' bunks and new rust-free fans were installed. 10 fans to a room. In contrast, the sergeants and operators have 4 fans to a room, all rusty. And no way to block out insects that often fly in.

What makes me so pissed is that this normally wouldn't have been done for officers-to-be at all. Only for THIS particular batch for you-know-what-reason. As a senior officer whispered to us, normally there wouldn't any renovation at all, and no effort to wipe out the rat population before the OCTs arrived. Our OC apologised to us, as making sergeants-to-be do saikang wasn't his directive (although his sergeant probably couldn't refuse the officer who had sent him off to find man-power). "You know how it is", our OC told us. After all, what if that OCT had complained to his dad during dinner that the bunk conditions were horrible? Yes, what if?

Everybody i've talked to don't like what's happening, don't like this obvious show of favouritism and pulling strings, but most of them, including senior officers, also believe that there isn't really much choice. "Bo bian mah, he's his father's son after all." This's what disgusts me the most. WHY should it be "bo bian"?? Why should it be obvious to people that he should receive better treatment than the rest of us? Why are there so many people just craning their necks and taking all this crap simply because he obviously cannot be touched, that the world is unfair and "we have no choice"??

Is this something like our own Singaporean facination with our former colonial masters?? Is this favouritism for the supposedly more noble so inbred in our bones that we do it without thinking and even acknowledge it as a normal frame of mind?

It's really sad that you can be treated like a king simply for having the right parents. It's something like people getting treated better for HAVING lots of money, although they don't spend any more than the next guy. This particular OCT doesn't give SAF head honchos ANYTHING; he's just a normal 18 year old with normal grades like the rest of us (i don't know if he even plans to go into politics), but he still gets to have an easier life in BMT, OCS, and gets to go to an easy course in Signals and succeed in the army while doing less and having less hardships than everyone else. Simply because he has a father who MIGHT give the head honchos SOMETHING, however unlikely. It's not gonna help, you the future he'd have a really myopic view on the hardships of NS life, which wouldn't be good for Singapore if he DID go into politics.

Other people have to sweat blood to get their officer rank. But he doesn't. And in the future, everyone except for those who were there when he was in NS would think he had gone through one of the toughest courses in NS. Whatever job he applies for, he'd be able to show off that rank to a lot of "Wow, he's such a talented person!" People will think that he had experienced hardship during his NS life. When he hadn't, actually. And that's really unfair.

I don't bear too much of a grudge to this particular OCT though, he probably doesn't have much of a choice except to accept the good treatment. His dad too; there's a good chance he doesn't even know what's going on. I definitely don't blame the poor warrant officers who had to make us do saikang as well. Rather, the blame lies with someone higher up, who just loves to lick other people's boots and get promoted.

But what can i say? As my friend says, the world is dark after all, and i'm just a corporal.

*Title of this post taken from oikono's comment to my earlier post.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

College education Grad School is expensive

I just checked my student invoice statement. Tuition and fees I incurred since my first year of the PhD program is ~US$100,000, and still counting rising.

That is more than twice the cost of my undergraduate education.

(Figures exclude miscellaneous expenses such as housing rent and food - the two most important out-of-lab costs for grad students.)

On the other hand, a sizable number of alumni (fresh PhD graduates) from this department made that amount with one year's of work in industry.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Tomorrow marks the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Earlier this year, I was lucky to be able to see close up two of the three Japanese carrier aircraft types that took to the skies above Hawaii to destroy the US Pacific Fleet.

九七式艦上攻撃機 (This is a rebuilt prototype; The front part of the plane, i.e the engine and the cowling, was not the original from Nakajima. No complete example survived the war intact.)

零式艦上戦闘機 (The famous "Zero" fighter. This is probably an earlier model - Model 21. Note one of the two 20mm cannon gun barrels protruding from the left wing.)

For some reason, the third member of the IJNAF's unholy trinity was not available for display.

ニイタカヤマノボレ一二○八 (攀登新高山一二○八)

Technorati: Pearl Harbor, Zero, Kate

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What American accent do you have?; How to be a teacher

Some of these online quizzes are so silly (and a complete waste of one's time). But still, the sucker in me couldn't help but click. I quite like the answer it gave me. Heh Heh.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The South

The Inland North

The West

North Central


The Northeast


What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes


Swiss Miss take on the teaching profession. They should have the university professors (not from the School of Education) understand these too. Because frankly, many can't teach well.