The place called Home

Coming back to Norway after over 14 days in Singapore is a strange experience. In a way, it was the same the other way around – from the tweets that I tweeted when I arrived Singapore then.

However, it was much more familiarity and comfort, rather than familiarity and discomfort. While it is true that in Singapore, to go out, I could just dress up simply and go. Here, I’ve to think about much more things before I go out, the cold, the outside temperature, whether the ground I walk on is slippery or not etc…

I walked Kohi this morning, and I forgot that I was not in Singapore anymore, so I went out with just hands that I had put hand cream on, without gloves. It was around 1°C and the pain on my hand and fingers that followed was familiar… :). So yes, welcome back to Norway, the cold, the expectation that you have to take care of a lot of things yourself. In a way, it’s a refreshing change, in a way, it takes getting used to again.

The sun. Just a few days ago, it was the thing I hated, detested and wished it gone. Now it is the one that I welcome with open arms, I can also now run at noon, without worrying about the humidity or getting heat stroke.  There is still snow here, although it is much less than when we left. The “rooftop marsipans” are largely gone now, and now we can see the grass again where there used to be ice.  Temperatures now are above zero, although still below 15. The leftover snow on our walk paths showed how much they occupied the path when walking. And talking about walking, yes, I had to get used to walking Kohi again, his gait when he was about to poo – prepares me for the newspaper and poo bag that I have to bring out to clear his poo. And when meeting other dogs, yes, his aggressiveness, dealing with other dog owners insecurities and fears, as well as his own etc..

Folks smile. I forgot how it was like, I smiled back. Yes, it’s been a while, I had always had grouchy, haggard faces greeting me the past few days. It’s spring perhaps, people are comfortable being themselves, their true nature. Of course, there’s also Norwegian spoken here that I have to remind myself to pick up again versus English that is spoken in Singapore.

And yes, a lot of things have to be independently done again. No longer can I just go out and buy ready cooked hot food, no longer can I just visit the nearest shopping centre like it’s a step out of the house when I needed things. Now I had to consider the fact that boutiques no longer open on weekends or have restricted weekend opening hours. And the fact that I need to buy my own groceries, bring and pack them in my own plastic bag, which I had already used for nearly a month. That and dealing with food that expire about 2 weeks, rather than months, making my own meals for my missus, me and my dog is a stark reminder that we make our own lives, we owe no one to make it for us.  Yes, I have to make my own breakfast and dinners, food has to be made not just bought now. There were some hiccups when I forgot some of the sequences that I used to remember for my breakfast earlier. A good thing is that there’s not so much oily foods now, and we could now control what we eat.

Home is also familiarly comforting. I can finally walk around in the nude, sleep in it, go to the toilet if I need to in the middle of the night without worrying that I’ll be caught in “inappropriate attire” by others, without worrying about what others might think. Come out from my shower without a care or anything covering myself. I’m free. So free. And the bed, yes, I missed my bed.

And then there’s the familiar extremes. Switches that mean off in Singapore mean ON here, taps that work the other way, extremes in water temperature – where there’s really HOT water and ICY COLD WATER, unlike in SG where there is just lukewarm (in its coldest tap water setting)

Yeah, it’s good to be back, it’s not perfect, but it is nice to be home.

Familiarity And Change

Life is strange.  On one hand, we look forward to change, and on the other, we find comfort in familiarity. Familiarity breeds contempt, contempt is a catalyst for change, which happens and then we embrace it with open arms, only to struggle because we were too comfortable to embrace change. Sooner or later, when change slows down, we become familiar again and the whole cycle repeats itself.  It basically sums up what I think most people go through in life. And sometimes, I wonder why we do this, or rather why we react to change and familiarity this way.

Had a dream one night where I saw myself  in the estate of Queenstown, Singapore. All the familiar things  came back – the overhead bridges, the Queensway underpass, the church where I used to go and the familiar scent of Singapore food. It overwhelmed me and I woke up feeling a bit nostalgic yet sad at the same time, also feeling depressed. But when reality kicked in, that depression gave way to anger mixed with guilt.

This sense of familiarity is probably what many advertisers use as a psychological bait to entice people to get a product. Why? Because there’s comfort in this, there’s comfort in knowing that all familiar feeling, and with comfort, it brings a smile. In this era where change is happening even faster than ever, we grow weary struggling to keep up, we want to stop everything and just cuddle in that familiar comfort.

The psychological vitamin of familiarity’s comfort is also used in political agendas. Interviews and speeches from the prime minister of Singapore have appealed to the nostalgic nature of things to entice Singaporeans living out of Singapore  to return.  Nostalgia. We seem to be very enamoured by it, we collect old music and reminisce, we remind ourselves of that comfort when we taste, see, and experience familiar things. It just seems … comfortable.

Yet, familiarity breeds contempt eventually. Too much of a good thing is likened to quick sand, where you will eventually sink when you do not move.

Last week was a week of sorts. I had resigned from my previous company (let’s call it X), I started on my new job as a systemansvarlig (system administrator) again. It looked like a demotion of sorts, from an engineer to an ‘administrator’, but that’s really just a title. In actual fact, I think I have gotten promoted in the role that I usually play as an engineer to something much, much more.

X was a good place to start, and the past (nearly) 2 years there have been valuable technically speaking. It was a good place that I can take hold of some technologies and just apply them and see what are the possibilities that they can change. A lot of stuff accelerated, a lot of stuff were resolved, or thrown out because it was too unwieldy because a better solution had been found.

But a lot of things still remained unchanged. And soon, it became apparent, that the greatest resistance to technology are fear, uncertainty and doubt.  There is so much that could have been done, but only limited to resources, and often than not, one is so consumed by the operational parts of the equation that we become a slave to it. By the time we awake and are truly aware that the whole process needs an overhaul, we are so mentally tired by it all that we no longer have the energy to evolve things.

And then there’s the social part of the job. I’ve been in an international setup before, there were prejudices and stereotypes, but people generally tried to get along.  And people who work as immigrants in a country that provides them a job, home and security ought not to bite the hand that feeds them.  Even if they don’t feel nationalistic, there is no need to be insular and raise a stink because one thinks themselves as better than the people one has a prejudice against, let alone the people who provide one with income.  There are people who immigrate for the many reasons. There are those that are just here to earn a living, without any intention to remain. And there are those who want to not just earn a living, but to see themselves are part and parcel of building up of a nation economically and socially.   I probably belong more towards the latter, where my (ex) colleagues were more towards the former. It was generally ok working with them, but in the long run I probably know I will never fit into their ideals.

So I got myself this new job. It’s a largely Norwegian company, of course with people from all over, and English is spoken in some communication channels but its heart and soul is Norwegian to the core.  What’s more interesting is the scope of work that I will be doing. It’s basically what I was doing in my last job before I left Singapore. Familiarity. Yes. This job is more inward looking, improve internal operations, maintain internal systems etc.. The last 2 jobs were mainly customer facing. This time, it’s inward facing, with information technology being the engine that is not the final product but a key element in the manufacture of it.  That’s the difference.

So it’s deja vu, and at the same time, I’m glad I went through the last 2 companies in a way. The experience does help, in fact, I already find myself applying some of them within my first 2 weeks of this job and it got some jobs done much quicker than it ought to. It also gives me a chance to build things from scratch where I had always been in a situation where someone more technically experienced had set the groundwork and I’ve to pick up where the person left off. Now, I get to do this all from bottom up. It’s scary, yet at the same time exciting.

And knowing me, I would want things to evolve. People, demands change all the time, and therefore, one needs to evolve accordingly. If one finds too much comfort in familiarity, one will just die standing. And like I mentioned earlier, contempt will quickly come settling in. On the other hand, if one evolves too much, you’ll just be drifting aimlessly like a ship without a rudder or a sail.  I guess the philosophy in working life is to ascertain changes and learn to accept them. Technology is the tool that will make the difference, it’s not the end to itself, but a catalyst for change to happen.  And when that time comes, I hope to have the wisdom to see it in that light.

A New Hope

Yeah, title is a parody of this 😛

Relatert bilde

If 2016 was reluctantly promising, 2017 was when reality hits home. Maybe 2018 will be when I see the future with a new pair of glasses.

Yeah, new job, and I can’t wait really, at the same time, I’m also a bit afraid.  Actually, I should not be, because fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate…to suffering.  There are many resolutions to be made at this time of the year, and of previous years, only to find them broken down at the end of every one. Maybe there are some exceptions, but most of the time they seem to remain resolutions.

I would rather focus on what’s learnt during 2017 to propel me for 2018.   Job wise, I know I made a mistake, career wise with my current employment, but I would like to think that I learn from it. And learn from it I did, quite a bit. Technically, I would say, I’m more aware, more self assured, although collaboratively and socially, I think I have ended up more disillusioned than before.   As one film puts it,

“The greatest teacher, failure is.”
Yoda – Star Wars, The Last Jedi

I will write more in a separate post in the future regarding details of why I really chose a new job (though still as a system administrator). In short, i do hope to have a better environment for being integrated in Norway in this new endeavour.  Technically, it’s also challenging and hopefully, if my interview at this new company promises, I’ll be dealing with something I always hoped to be able to do – hardware and Linux desktop support , rather than just software improvements and customisation.  Basically, I’ll be doing what all my current colleagues is doing (and possibly more). It sounds daunting, but the prospect of working in a pure Unix and Norwegian environment is really the deciding factor. I only hope it is as good as it sounded.

Speaking of failures, I  just hoped I can pass my Norwegian exam too which I took a month ago.  This was the first time I took an exam in full. The last time I did was a bad mistake when I forgotten my oral test schedule and after that, I was so affected by that logistical cock up that I didn’t want to take any more exams for the next 1-2 years. Yes, that’s my shame taking hold of me, using guilt to hold me in ransom. This year, I told myself that I had to take the exam, if I wanted to excel in Norwegian as my current company is not an ideal and suitable environment to integrate into Norwegian society. It was just too ‘internationalised’ to be of any assistance.   So I wised up, read through the logistics for the exam proper, and made sure I got everything correct. Now it’s only me, my efforts and some luck that will see me through when I get my results in January. I’m trying to keep my fingers crossed, but even if I did not make it, I know the next time round, I will be more prepared for it, and maybe I could even attempt to try the Bergen’s test.

Life wise, it could have been better, my health really took a turn for the worse when I had a major gout attack on March 2017. That, coincided with the fact that it also affected my running targets, and I think the self training made things worse that it could have been.  I hope 2018 would be a better year though health wise. It really sucks that I can’t enjoy a proper holiday without worrying whether I’m taking too much food with uric acid content, or an occasional social drink or two. Looking forward,  I’m glad that I’m now actively taking medication for gout treatment and watching my diet sensibly. Sadly, no more beer. Wine and liquor are ok though 😀

Yeah, I’m hoping that my health would be better so that I can gain back the confidence to do a lot of things, to try out new things, and not to be fearful of what ifs, but rather seize the chance to make a difference in my life here.   In my new job, I will switch to a more routine timetable, no more scheduled weekend sacrifices, no more working with people who clearly are only looking for a scapegoat without an inch of desire to excel in their job. In other words, I’ll have my weekends back, I don’t miss the off days, no, not one bit.  And then, from all these, I could finally start plan and work my life around something predictable rather than a time period which is ever changing.

Relationship wise, with Marianne, I think we have progressed much.  I’ve never felt more closer than we have ever been (and it’s not just physical, it’s more than that). There’s still a lot of room to grow of course, and I look forward to it.  I think I would say that our relationship is mature, although there is still so much to learn and to make it better.

I think this was the year that Marianne and I really took time to ski together. And one of my projects was to teach her to ski confidently. This was quite successful when we went to Hemsedal for a short winter vacation, despite some initial hiccups. Seeing her overcome her initial fears on skiing, really made me smile with happiness. I think it was a good thing that we went to Hemsedal, instead of continually trying out around Holmenkollen or at Råholt, in our own backyard. The trails at these places, while interestingly challenging, can be a put off to people who just want to learn to ski, to enjoy success in small things. Hemsedal (at least the beginner slopes) is really tame compared to the terrain on the last 2 places, and is a wonderful ground where one can learn to ski without being fearful of the unexpected.

And skiing is just one of the few things we see success in, there are many other things in this relationship we have, which I shall be keeping private. But all in all, it has been a really progressive year, despite the insane schedule and job woes that we both sometimes experience.

From spousal relationships to family ones. And that, has someone remained stagnant. By stagnant, that meant that nothing much has changed since 2016 ended. Which is kind of sad, actually. With my sis, communication has improved much. And I like the fact that I can now talk to my nieces more than just talking to a child, but to teenagers now.    Parents wise, sadly still the same, frustrations still abound, they still think I’m a lost cause and are trying to ‘save’ me via Christianity using all the tiresome, but familiar baiting techniques.

I guess this sums up 2017.  A lot of it had to do with work and health really. Part of the motivation to make myself better in Norwegian integration stems from the fact that I want to get a job in a Norwegian company. Ironically, I got the job even before I sat for the exam. Still, passing the exam was not a prerequisite for the new job, but it was rather a gauge of where I stand, language and culturally wise. Despite the fact that Norway now has a right based political slant and many migrants do fear for their future, I actually think it is a good thing that things are tightening up. I relish the challenge and I will want to face it head on, instead of worrying about my future because of my incompetencies in this area.   That sums up how I will want to face 2018, address my weakness, face them with courage, and progress further with making myself more a respectable migrant of this land. And hopefully, in the near future, being a citizen would be something that is capable and natural progression of the course of living here.

I look towards 2018 with hope, a new hope, that I can progress more as a person than 2017 which had been a disappointment in some ways, though a learning one in many others.

Is religion still relevant in today’s society?

Religion is put in a rather bad light nowadays, it is being blamed for terror attacks, human rights violations as well as perpetuating sexual inequality.  

Translated from an article : “All muslims are not terrorists, but most of the terrorists are ‘muslims'”

It seems that religion is no longer being used just to improve one’s moral lifestyle, but it is now used for political, selfish, corrupt agenda. It is supposed to help people, but because of it, its believers are now marginalised, persecuted and abused. Take Islam for example, because most terror suspects are “muslims”, Muslims all around the world feel the discrimination. And on the other part of the spectrum, the Rohingya people are being constantly persecuted and their rights given to the Buddhists. And of course we heard of the many homosexual people who are badly treated, abused in the so-called traditional Christianity based countries.

I look at religion as a form of group thinking based on unity in thought and morals with an assumption that everyone shares the same mindset. And once you have this, there will be always be territorial struggles, prejudices, conflict because religion is generally greedy and self serving by nature. I think it is possible to have a belief system without subscribing to religion’s restrictions. For example, I can still be a good person while having pork or beef (even on Fridays). I can still be a morally nice person while I have attractions towards the same sex. It is called humanity, we are diverse in beliefs, but we are one united front in preserving the human race. And that is what religion is sorely missing nowadays. Embracing diversity in the face of its traditional beliefs.

Twitter – Aesthetics and Social Psychology

Aesthetics

Twitter changed its UI recently.

And it caused a big hoo haa on the web.  Lots of folks were dismayed that they now have to spend more money and time just to resize those icons onto those round containers. Square icon lovers were aghast against the new direction in which rounded icons took. People who had round faces that had Twitter’s square icons cover up much for them suddenly found themselves exposed, thus faced  avatars were quickly replaced by pictures of pizza, Sauron’s evil eye and other round objects resulting in even more pseudo identities. No one wants to be identified after Twitter’s UI upgrade that amplified everything that is to hate about being round.

Yeah, I jest and exaggerate a bit.  But you know what the worse thing is? It is that the users do not have a choice to go back to the old behaviour. Yeah, there are choices where you can install plug ins or add ons above twitter’s official clients to get back the old behaviour, but these are more like hacks than something that should have been officially supported.

That brings me to the philosophy of Twitter nowadays. I speak for myself and this is my own opinion but I think quite a few do share with my sentiments that twitter is no longer the small and friendly social platform that we hoped it should have been.  I have never used the official Twitter client, but it wasn’t as if I had not tried.  I just gave up because it was really hard to use and it’s not natural to me. What’s worse was that I don’t have the capability to adjust things on Twitter’s interface to make it suit my preference.

Thus, I have always used 3rd party clients. And when they start restricting choices/stopped evolving to meet Twitter’s ever growing list of restricted features, I had to switch.  Currently, I’m using TwitPane. It’s pretty bare bones, but it’s flexible.  And I’ve been a Twitpane/twicca plugin user for a long time. Plugins are fun. They sometimes automate things and do stuff unlike that belief that you have to “write an API” just to tweet a tweet you tweet often.

I have penned some of my thoughts here.

And it’s not just Twitter, sadly that is doing this. Google (infamous for their read-only policy for their API) and Facebook (tie ins, we control what you view, we want to be big brother approach) are also in the “corporatization” of social media.

I don’t know, but they have really taken the social out of social media, and replaced it with what they think and label it “social”.

how sad.

If this continues, we might really need to revert back to the IRC days.  IRC was cool, just that probably its user experience was quite archaic which can be counter intuitive and occasionally gets in the way of being naturally social.  If current social media giants take a step back and see what was social they had lost after all that interference as compared to IRC, perhaps they would get a grip and make social platforms social again.

To the social corporations, I have this to say:

You can’t own something that is social,  you facilitate the platform, but please do not facilitate until the platform loses its social functions altogether because of facilitation overload.

Social Psychology

Talking about social, and away from user experience, here’s a different part of the user experience that cannot be resolved by css or other web UI tweaks.

This is about the social psychology of Twitter’s influence.

Social psychology is defined on Wikipedia as the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.

On Twitter, this is the part where it is probably the science of why there are interest cliques, the phenomena of social influence on product marketing, and the wonder of people reactions to things.

Emotions like rage, pity, empathy, encouragement, sadness, cheerfulness etc..  are collectively expressed over an event based on a tweet. It is therefore interesting to observe the collective influence of just a few choice words. And then there’s the influence of “influenzers” and “social justice” (SJW) or keyboard warriors and why they play an important role in this social ecosystem.

Like I’ve said, there are people who are influencers,  and then there are those that also get influenced easily.  So it is natural on Twitter to collectively feel/react for certain things.  Like the “covfefe” fiasco, regardless whether it was deliberate or accidental, it sure bought a lot of laughs and scorn at the same time collectively for many Twitter folk. It also bought a lot of creativity and speculation. But it is a good example of people reacting collectively.

There were also instances where sensitivities of a country is being misunderstood and unwittingly “insulted”.  Especially stuff like food and its disputable origins in the Singaporean context. And also when SJWs start reacting vehemently whenever there is any excuse of anything that can be made racist or culturally inappropriate. RAGE seems to be the fad nowadays on Twitter, like if you are not raging, you probably are strange or a social media misfit. It’s like it’s the next in thing tantamount to a rage room where you go and smash things.

To be honest, if it was an occasional rage against the machines, I guess we could live with it.  But when it happens on a regular basis, you wonder what’s happening to the world we live in. Do we just live for rage? Or is the world making us so angry all the time that we do not know how to smile and laugh any more. It does seem like everyone aspires to be an SJW of sorts. And this is an interesting article about them here which I agree somewhat, although the focus of this blog entry is not to dwell on this.

And then there is the unending echo chamber twitterers.  It has been said by quite a bit of folk that to them,  Twitter is basically an echo chamber – where you just tweet your own thoughts for your own benefit, for your own pleasure.

Basically, it just means that to many, Twitter is just keyboard masturbation.

Well, personally, it is a good thing – having something as a form of diary/echo chamber, where you can verbalise your thoughts freely without inhibitions, but you know what they say (myth, yes) with regards to masturbation – Too much masturbation and you’ll go blind.  And figuratively, yes in this context.

Too much treating of Twitter as an echo chamber will make you blind to the fact that there are people out there who share the same thoughts as you, but have progressed onto other things, who have matured, who have seen the light and maybe do not share such dark thoughts.  Therefore, Twitter should be more than just a place for mental masturbation, it is a place to share, to discuss, to empathise, to have an opinion with without arguing mindlessly. It is social.  If I want to just have a place where I can just pen my thoughts rather than have everyone reacting to intimate facts like (OH I DIDN’T KNOW CALEB HAS NUDIST TENDENCIES), I might as well just setup a private wordpress blog or even make it protected just for family members or close friends where I know everyone agrees with me.  If WordPress is too yesteryear for you, there is also Journey. which has an Android app, Chrome app among a shiny new modern interface with zero effort setup and cloud syncing and all the wonderful works.

This is subjective, but I never advocate (and I think Twitter used to share this viewpoint) Twitter accounts being protected. I mean, i can have a public account and can pseudo-microblog it until it becomes really an alter ego of me, not my real self. Isn’t that almost the same as being protected? Sure, one can agree that by being protected, I can be my truthful self and I can hide myself from assholes and trolls who have nothing to do except to shame and criticise you as a form of sport.  However, how much can you really hide to be honest? Nowadays, people can just screenshot any private account and it becomes public already. What’s worse is that the probability for being misunderstood can be even greater because the probability of taking it out of context is much more.

I personally prefer to block or mute people rather than set my account to private.  And I think that is everyone’s right and prerogative. But I can understand that people have different ways of looking at the situation and also, you need not deal with the negative connotation of being blocked (hence, muting sometimes is a good way to have some temporal respite).

It is thus no wonder that some people eventually want to quit Twitter altogether. Imagine being in a rage room 7 days a week or in a cave full of echo chambers daily.

Therefore, it is understandable that people who post interesting and read worthy tweets eventually commit twitter suicide. If you are not being angered far too often, you will also be “drowned in the echos” and get very lost and disoriented.  I agree and empathise. But I could also offer an alternative. It is the friends you choose to follow and the ones you choose to put aside that would save your sanity and not lose faith in such a wonderful platform as this.

For example, on my Twitter account, I have grouped my followers into groups/list that:

  1. I think I should follow closely
  2. I think I should just read when I’m bored
  3. I should not read unless I’ve nothing else better to do or I want some provocation in my life 🤣

Sure, this takes effort and it’s initially tedious, but it does help keep my sanity in check.  But what if you find yourself hooked on arguments that go on and on and you’re stuck in its tangled web. Note that you have every right to stop when it gets too annoying for you, or just do something else altogether. Technically, there are of course many other ways some folk have done this to prevent Twitter fatigue, as I would have called it.

I mean, it’s really reflective of the world offline isn’t it? Just because the world is full of bad news and terrorists now, does that mean you become emo and depressed like the world ought to be according to their intent? No, definitely not. You go read a book,  exercise, bake,  have sex, do something that you enjoy doing or at least with someone intimate that you know that can have control overall or somewhat.

You can’t avoid the world and it’s rubbish, but that does not mean you have to quit the world.

The world was created for you, it is what you make of it, don’t make it make you.

Similarly, with Twitter. It was created for you (hopefully, it stays that way), it is what you make of it.

Don’t make it make you.

Selfies

So if you had noticed, I’ve been taking selfies.

It may seem strange that I do so considering that I never advocate, or rather abhor those who take selfies in almost all scenarios that present an opportunity to.

My stand is still unchanged, if you have a picture worthwhile photographing, you don’t put yourself as the picture’s centrepiece when obviously the main highlight of the photo is not you. People who do this want to tell everyone that I was here, I ate at this place, I was with this animal, guy, gal, celebrity – real or fake. it’s all me, me, me where I’m more important than the presence of something/someone that should have been.

Fuck this selfish attitude. hated it.

So, I only take selfies where I am the main highlight of the picture.

And if I had to pose with someone / something important I’ll make sure that I’m not photographed in a way that insults their prominence.

And why now? when I’m in my middle age and I am happily married and in no need to fish for an admirer to feed my need for companionship. Perhaps it is that well, I’m ageing and I would like my memories of how I used to look like in pictures. In these times where I’m happy and satisfied for myself.  I know I’m a late bloomer, and probably had always thought of myself as unworthy.  But since moving here, I have begun to accept myself more.

So here is a selfie of me as it’s how I’d like to be taken.

I probably will receive some snide remarks and so on, people are always going to get angry about anything possible to get angry with.  But I’m already halfway through my life. Goodness knows how long I have more to live. I mean, if I’m a withered old man and I take selfies, I probably be wary because I may scare off a lot of people with them. Hopefully, people will see me for what I am rather than what I look like, thus by then, scary or not, it’s just me, man. I may get old, withered, scaly skin. My eyes may have wrinkles and I probably may not have any teeth left, I may not be able to cut the haircut that I have and may have to be bald? I don’t know. Will I be able to accept myself then, if I can’t even accept my image now? Questions, questions.

So yeah, selfies are self portraits. not the “I’m greater than the pic that you see and everyone’s that is in it.” type.
They should and would probably journal my journey as I age. That and nothing else.

Losing Myself – The Demons Within (Part 1/2)

If you don’t deal with your demons, they will deal with you, and it’s gonna hurt.

Nikki Sixx

One of the things I have to be prepared as I write online is the nakedness of vulnerability I put myself in. And this blog is one of them that will do so. If you are offended by writings that depict a fall from the echelons of religion, read no further, if you are not, read on, this is my personal testimony.

It is quite a difficult entry to write, and maybe unfortunately to some readers, it’ll be a long one and more ‘frank’ with regards to the colour of the language used. I have split the blog into parts so that it does not appear like a endless wall of text, hopefully that might help.

Each of us have weaknesses,  no matter how strong we profess ourselves to be.  However, it becomes a real problem when they haunt and torment you incessantly.  Such, are problems with mine.  I introduce my inner demons, Fear and Guilt.

A bit of history

I was brought up as an Adventist. Maybe a bit too strictly as one, my parents controlled almost all areas of my life, who I mixed with, who I chose to hang out with. The country I was in controlled my destiny, I was supposedly on a standard, normal track of education. PSLE, O’Levels, A’Levels and then army for 2 years, and to the University to study Engineering. And all this while, socialising with normal friends was pretty difficult because of my religious background, it is just not convenient when you are so ‘special’ even though I was supposed to be the standard mould of the Singaporean society. Still, I wasn’t taught how to think out of the box, I was taught how to think how to make the grade. I was never taught how to pursue my dreams, I was only taught how to make other people’s dreams of me a reality.  When I nearly flunked my Mandarin language at the O levels (just barely made it to JC), it was as if I had disgraced my mum, who used to be a really excellent Mandarin teacher. (I guess I was unlucky not to have her genes).  I tried my best, but it was just not good enough. At the A levels, I was given another chance, and when I finally did pass, by a whisker, my then hard nosed Mandarin teacher actually broke down and cried (in relief, probably).

And then there’s love.

Yes, the girl that I fell in love as my first love didn’t quite work out.

That was then quite a blow to me – I attempted suicide. Fortunately, I had a pastor that talked me out of it. Wryly, I still remember their names, and in a way, now as I typed this, I am embarrassed at my immaturity then.

And then there’s art.

I wrote plays, one about the devil and his fiends and it was slammed by my then church for being too ‘realistic’.  At this point, I don’t know what to do anymore, it seems that everything I did was not right, I didn’t even let my parents know of my suicide attempt until much, much later. I sort of just blindly held on to my faith then because it was the only security blanket that gave me some sense of security.  Or so it seems.

Of course, there’s technology.

Strangely, I recall that I really hated computers. I think they enslave humans (yet ironically, they are a part of my existence now).  The first foray I had with computers was with this Japanese American neighbour that I had who got a Commodore. Yeah, my first hello world was written in BASIC. Still, I did not quite like it. The Japanese-American was a snotty guy, I wasn’t allowed a long time to play with the computer and had hardly time (and money) to explore much.

It was only in my University days that things start to change. I was supposed to be studying engineering.  Yet, I got more interested in forums and so on, and yes, computers.  I had an Atari 1040STE and a 9600 modem. I used that to dial in to my university. I also found that you could actually bypass the university quota on computer time by a simple hack. That ability to control things like this seemed amazing. Unfortunately, at that time, I was more interested in getting games and “graphic binary files” from ftp sites than studying. I flunked my engineering course. And yes, the break up and suicide attempt happened during that time too.  Hurt, tone deaf to all pointing fingers, I decided I shall try to go with what I want to do rather than the standard route of become that sad fuck of a model trophy that people can parade. So I entered in to the Japan Singapore Institute of Software Technology, Singapore Polytechnic (It’s no longer there any more).

And yes, I finally saved to get a computer, I got interested in its hardware.  For once, in this make believe world, I was in control. Total control. I can fuck up, I can start again. No one is going to scold me, no one is going to reprimand me, I don’t need to live anyone’s dream, I can make my own. I got my own computer. I tore it apart after a few months and taught myself how to fix a better one on just very little pocket money. Soon, I got my own line. And soon I was operating a BBS. But the best thing I learned was,  how much of a comfort zone computing could bring me in. I can totally immerse in coding and reading about hacking, security until I forgot it was morning, until I forgot that hurt, that self pity, low self esteem and depression. Computing was my drug, it was my heroin.

But this didn’t really last, I had to live life. It is more than fixing computers, watching anime, reading 2600 etc…It’s about sharing this with someone which is Marianne, my wife and soulmate.

By that time, I had ‘progressed’ from being an Adventist to a Sunday church going Christian. Of course that made me the black sheep of the family again, but I did seem happier. I believed that God had this future all cared for and I don’t have to worry. Just believe. Only believe. I thought I have finally found the freedom to believe.  God has set me free, so I thought. But well, not really. I was in a very bad illusion. I shall elaborate this more in another post, yes, you guessed it, about losing my religion. :).

Fast forward, I left church in 2011-2012 thereabouts. I realise, by then, even though I’m more secure in my mental and emotional state, I have not really addressed my fears, although they have been suppressed and I can talk about them. But I realise I cannot really address new ones, or rather the root of the problem. I can only face to the problem realities, and that, is already a feat in itself.  Probably this was because of what I went through. Even until recently, I really hated my upbringing, I was never taught to be independent. And when life beckons me to be, I cringed, I retreated, I became a wimp. I was confident in life, or so I thought, or so I concluded, only to be let down by moments where I knew I ought to be. Not only has this affected my daily life, it had threatened my marriage as well.  If I had actually continued to stay in Singapore, I guess, it’s just a denial that my life is out of my grasp, these inner demons kept haunting me. And it’s not as if you can catch them, you think you would, I thought I did, only to come to the realisation that it had been dormant, and resurrected in another form, even more sinister.

A visit to Singapore

So it has been more than over a week since I returned back to Norway from Singapore.  I had been in Singapore for around 12 days, not too long, in fact, actually, it was just nice.

For Marianne and myself, this time our itinerary was less packed, we met up with our relatives and some friends that we knew, friends that we’ve not met for a long time, and made some new friends over friends we have never seen before. 🙂  Culture wise it has been a bit of a shock at first, but fortunately (or not so fortunately) we had some “warm up” of what to expect when we flew to Singapore with Singapore Airlines. Thus, by the time we arrived, we had already been acclimatised a bit.

We left Oslo on the evening of 19th of Dec 2016 en route to Singapore via Frankfurt.  Then, I had just finished my weekend standby duties so I had to pop in to my office and hand in the standby phone (and wish everyone merry Christmas etc)… Then comes the hard part that I had to go back to Gardermoen to send Kohi off to a pet hotel to look after him while we were gone.  Yeah, parting was hard, but travelling with us would be even more stressful for him. So, in a way, I try to see this as a holiday for him too, to get to know other dogs, to run around freely.  At the airport, I changed into my “airplane travel wear” which was a jumpsuit with a hoodie (in case it rains/have to disembark outdoors), loose jeans without a belt (yeah, because silly scanners),  flight socks and track shoes. Then, Oslo’s Gardemoen airport was having a big makeover which looks promising, but it also meant that there were detours which were unexpected.

Marianne and myself had dinner at O’Learys, which was quite nice actually in spite of my sweatshirt that smelled a bit because of the not very ideal ventilation there… oh well, I’d know better next time.

And we left for Frankfurt thereafter without much of a fuss. Except when we were just about to land, there was some excitement when the descending Lufthansa plane in Frankfurt suddenly pulled up sharply again after nearly touching the ground! Turned out there was a stray plane that wandered off into the runway! What drama!

And then we arrived to the hot and humid after the cold. On the left was Norway, just before leaving, and on the right, Singapore when we arrived.

The last time when I stepped into Singapore was about 11 months ago, not a long time by anyone standards. However, that time felt more like a working trip and I was travelling to Malaysia quite a bit as well. This time, in Singapore, we stayed at a hotel somewhere in MacPherson, and it was a bit nostalgic as I used to frequent that area often when I was a kid.

But 11 months felt like 11 years… so much had changed.

To be frank, after a long time of mindfully speaking proper English and half-standard Norwegian so as to appear more understood, it was quite a bit of a cultural awakening to revert back into Singapore English mode. It was especially cringe-worthy to hear that spoken on the SIA flight from Frankfurt to Singapore between airline staff, but after resigning to the fact that yes, I was going back to Singapore after all, so what should I expect?

Still, familiarity is a bittersweet pill.  On one hand, you don’t have to go through a proxy before you speak or think. Think of it like you are surfing the internet via a firewall and you just removed all the rules! Or rather after surfing without a firewall for a long time and suddenly, when the firewall is re-activated, hey, this experience feels familiar…. :).

So yes, the familiarity was quite comfortable, I must say. At least I know that I could speak all the Pidgin English without being misunderstood. And yes, I could order things without fucking up my orders because of communication issues. And I could take a break from cooking my own meals. And I did not need to dress like a kuih lapis just to run a small errand unlike in Norway.  After all, it was summertime all year round in Singapore. Christmas? What Christmas? Stores were still open and almost everything still functioned as normal. Shopping was a convenience rather than a inconvenient luxury.

These were familiar, yes, this was the life I used to live.

However, familiarity also means, bearing with rude people.  I guess rudeness in Singapore got upgraded since I last witnessed it.

And the noise level OMG….

And yes, the privacy and independence which I took so long for granted in Norway that I had forgotten that in Singapore – We have become so accustomed to having our privacy and our independence to think taken away, that we have looked at this as something not unexpected nor unusual.

Well, before I come across as a potty bitch, there were nice things that I found while in Singapore as well.

I got to meet my ex-colleague and we had a nice time catching up over dinner at Jurong East.

But the best of all was I got to meet some twitter friends purely by chance as I was walking down Orchard Road and they happen to be nearby for lunch. It was quite pleasant. While it is true that since Marianne and I have left church, we do not have much “friends” – as in these friends we knew were just people that were cliched to talk about God and how their entire human existence weighed on only their imagination. But it was good to meet friends that do not have any such agenda and just wanting to chat. 🙂

And guess what, we also met our classmates from our Polytechnic days!! That was TOTALLY by accident when we were around Wisma Atria at our last day in Singapore! They were a couple together and had 2 lovely daughters. I think it was more than 10 years since I had last seen them. Familiarity in this sense was really welcome.

We also paid a visit to the Art-Science museum at Marina Sands as well as the Lee Kong Chian natural history museum at the National University of Singapore.

Yeah, we were really living as tourists in our own homeland  😛

Also managed to do some minor shopping, I got some nice clothes (sizes that I can never really find here), my favourite Japanese toiletries, as well as a zoom lens for my Sony NEX-F3 (which I was longing to buy for a very, very long time) that was on offer at Best Denki for half the price!! :).

Last but not least, food. I think Marianne was really happy because she got to try all the local favourites that she was missing here. By now, I am not really a food person, but yes, there were some that really caught my taste buds and brought back nice memories. So here’s a list of some of the food I ate while in Singapore, including the much anticipated durians 😀

Soon, it was time to leave, and by then, we were already getting jaded with things that did not work as advertised, nor tasted as advertised, or advertised with so much wrong but no one gives a hoot about it.

I guess I was a bit “homesick” so to put it that way.

I mean, Singapore is nice, and familiarity is also nice (and not so nice), but too much of familiarity breeds contempt. I think I don’t mind coming back to savour what I use to like (and what I do not like does come as a package), but it also reminds me of why I chose to leave the life that I once had.

I don’t think I am quite there yet. I admit that there is still a lot of Singapore in me (but of course), though I chose to see it a bit differently in the sense that there is good in the Singaporean ethos, but not all of it. And sadly, it has gotten worse over the years.

But I cannot deny or refute the fact that I was brought up in Singapore, inherited its culture, kiasuism, kiasi-ism or whatever “isms” it has.

I am Singaporean, but that is increasingly being described as my character trait rather than a nationality, and these are in the process of becoming separate elements.

I think the stereotypical Singaporean identity is not something I can run away from, but it is something that I find evolving as I live here longer.
Nationality has no longer a place in my heart seeing what the country has evolved in its values and how it treats its own citizens.

I would like to think I have become more independent, more capable of doing things myself, and so more than just blindly use a service provider for every damn thing like I used to. But there are things that I know that this service provider mindset is still relevant. As in the things that I am good at, the things that I can be good at, the things that I am expected to be competent are subjective. Like I don’t think I can ever change my kitchen cooking hood, or do gardening as good as the professionals would have done. True, there are instructions here in Norway to fix almost anything from sofa beds to cupboards to working chairs. But there are folks who do this as a living and are probably good with it.

Conversely speaking, looking at it the other way around, I am competent at computers, and I do not expect anyone without any proper education/experience on how to operate and maintain computers on a large scale can just sit down and “follow instructions” to make computers “just work”.  They probably need specialists like those in my line with the knowledge and the experience. However, the mindset is to empower and motivate people to eventually do these things themselves. That would be awesome.

Confidence.

Hmm.. I would see myself being more confident now, however, that confidence can be easily misinterpret as arrogance as shown when I was in Singapore. Yeah, I was annoyed with a lot of things, but I am then reminded of why I chose this life that I wanted to live, and suddenly all that anger and irritation gave way to enlightenment.
Perhaps I am getting along with years, and maybe I am not that brash, snobbish, anarchic misfit that society once knew me as.  I have also learnt to say no politely but firmly when I am pressed for other priorities and obligations that I would have otherwise obliged only to regret later.

I guess this is something I never would have done if I had continued my life in the rut.

Perhaps it took living outside of Singapore to bring out this part of me. One can also argue that you could do that too just living in Singapore, but I have tried for over 40 years and nothing seems to move, so I guess this only does. So, probably it is just me. I don’t want to die not experiencing this change of perspective which I am now. Therefore, I look to the future where I see myself more fluidly melding into someone with ideals I will not die regretting for.

So I leave with these tweets and the whole barrage of complaints, kudos and amusements when I was in Singapore from 19-31 Dec 2016.

Enjoy reading 🙂