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 🙂

 

Freeing ebooks in Linux

In this day and age where space is a really a luxury, gone are the days where one can afford huge bookshelves, and tons and tons of books. I still do like the freedom and non-intrusive nature of paper books, but I also like to be able to view books in electronic form (ebooks), and besides they are a huge space saver, I do no longer need physical bookshelves, just virtual ones.

Unfortunately, there are some folks who believe they have the right to decide where you can only view your ebooks as well as what you can use to view them. Suddenly, you find that you don’t just have to pay for the book you read, but you also have to pay for lending it to a friend, or just moving from one place to another.  Sadly, they have become bound with the same disease that has plagued the video and music industry, which is the loss of control of what you have purchased.  And these guys think they are doing a noble deed, after all, they claim it is for the protection of the book’s author and ensuring that they get paid… eventually, they have packaged everything under the grand name of: Digital Rights Management (DRM).  I wonder sometimes, if paper books are subjected to the same humiliation, what would be the general public reaction then…

If you ever bought an ebook before, chances are that they are likely to be in Adobe ePUB format (Otherwise known as ACSM files). These files can only be opened via Adobe Digital Editions, or ADE for short. Of course, there are many other readers out there where you can also peruse to view these files with BUT only with the “many other readers”.  And what could have been more farcical itself is that these other readers use the same technology that I used to remove the DRM from Adobe ePUB so that you can only use their viewer to view the books.

Therefore, the book that you have bought in itself is not free, you do not own the book, the reader does and indirectly, the online seller does. That is because most online ebook sellers often package their “proprietary” ebook reader so that you can read books bought from their store.  For this same reason too, I never liked online music, I prefer to own my music, rather than put ownership in the ‘cloud’ and pretend it is mine just because I own a playlist where in actuality, I do not own my music, the online provider does.

But I digress,  here is how I got my ebooks to be truly mine. The aim is to put the ebooks in a portable format (read: could be opened in any OS/ebook reader)  Hence, there are 2 main steps to it.

  1. Extract the DRM protected ePUB from the ACSM file.
  2. Create a copy of the Adobe ePUB with the DRM removed.

Note that there are actually quite a bit of guides out there on how to remove DRM from ebooks. And beware again, as a disclaimer: That in some countries this may be considered illegal, by doing so I do not claim to be responsible for anything that might happen to you should you run afoul of the law.

Besides not believing that anyone has any right to decide to manage or control over my purchased goods, I am also writing this guide as I feel that some of the most of the guides are in Windows/Mac. I use neither of these, for I only use Linux. So there. Everyone probably has a different version of how they do it. so here goes…

Wine

  • Install Wine
    I installed Wine in a Debian VM because I don’t want 32 bit libs messing my main system and if I screw up, well it is just a vm….
  • Use winetricks to install Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). It is an old version, but it still works well.
    Theoretically, you could also install it with just wine on the default WINEPREFIX and not having to key it in when you need to install additional components later.
  • Log on to it with your Adobe ID and activate the computer.
  • Note the WINEPREFIX for ADE, you will need it later. You can find that out at the program launcher or via winetricks.
  • Export your books from your online book store if you can in .acsm format, import it into ADE. This may vary, I use Kobo and they do have an Export Book function.
  • Now you should see a “My Digital Editions” folder with corresponding .epub files of the acsm files that you have used ADE to open with

Apprentice Alf

Get the DRM removal tool, extract the zip file.

You will probably see this after unzipping the file:

caleb@ravn-debian:~/Downloads/DeDRM$ ls -al
total 40
drwxr-xr-x 7 caleb caleb 4096 Nov 18 22:07 .
drwxr-xr-x 8 caleb caleb 4096 Nov 18 22:07 ..
drwxr-xr-x 2 caleb caleb 4096 Oct 7 09:32 DeDRM_calibre_plugin
drwxr-xr-x 3 caleb caleb 4096 Oct 9 16:06 DeDRM_Macintosh_Application
drwxr-xr-x 3 caleb caleb 4096 Oct 7 09:32 DeDRM_Windows_Application
drwxr-xr-x 2 caleb caleb 4096 Oct 7 09:32 Obok_calibre_plugin
drwxr-xr-x 9 caleb caleb 4096 Oct 7 09:32 Other_Tools
-rw-r--r-- 1 caleb caleb 8464 Aug 10 06:38 ReadMe_First.txt

It is the Other_Tools directory which is of interest. A python script, adobekey.pyw will have to be executed there but before it can be done….

Installation

You will need to install the following in your Wine profile

  • Note:
    .msi files require you to use “env WINEPREFIX=”blahblah” wine start <name of .msi file>”
    .exe files, you just have to  “env WINEPREFIX=”blahblah” wine <name of .exe file>”
  • And then go into the Other_Tools directory and invoke this command
Other_Tools/DRM_Key_Scripts/Adobe_Digital_Editions$ env WINEPREFIX="/home/caleb/.local/share/wineprefixes/adobe_diged" wine python adobekey.pyw

This will generate a key called adobekey_1.der. This is your Adobe key file, keep it in a safe place 🙂

caleb@ravn-debian:~/Downloads/Other_Tools/DRM_Key_Scripts/Adobe_Digital_Editions$ ls -al
total 36

drwxr-xr-x 2 caleb caleb 4096 Nov 18 20:41 .
drwxr-xr-x 7 caleb caleb 4096 Oct 7 09:32 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 caleb caleb 609 Nov 18 20:41 adobekey_1.der
-rw-r--r-- 1 caleb caleb 22467 Oct 7 09:32 adobekey.pyw
  • On Debian, install Calibre the epub book reader and get the DeDRM Calibre plugin installed as per instructions.
  • Customise the Calibre plugin by
    • Importing your adobekey_1.der file (Click on the Import Existing Keyfiles button)
    • Keying in your WINEPREFIX for ADE in the field on the dialog box.
    • Pictorially, it looks something like this.

dedrm-customise

  • Now try to Add Books to Calibre and select the DRM locked ePUBs previously extracted by ADE under your “My Digital Editions” folder.
  • Voila!! The ePUBS are automatically stripped of their DRMs, you can henceforth export (save to disc) the ePUBs from Calibre out and use your favourite ebook viewer elsewhere to view them, like I finally got them showing in my Chromebook :).

Losing Myself, An Introduction

Lose Yourself by Eminem may be considered antique by now…

But I think it is one of the few meaningful rap songs still out there. It’s also what I am going to base to write up a series of blogs on this theme about losing myself. Since I’ve made this decision to migrate to Norway, to embrace and accept a new culture, I have lost quite a lot, however, I have also gained many new insights and points of view in life that are priceless, and worth much more than what I lost. These blogs will be about these parts of my life lost, and “found“.

While the song, Lose Yourself, was more like a rallying cry to bravery and about the fact that you ought to take the chances that life gives. I would like another alternative take on it. While I believe in seizing the day when you have a chance. I also believe that as long as you are living you will have many chances. The thing is not to stop believing until you are dead. So if you missed that “Carpe Diem” moment, that does not mean your life should now end because it has no more purpose and meaning. No, on the contrary, you should strive to prepare to meet that moment in life, if you ever do. Life is full of surprises, sometimes, what may seem as a good opportunity may turn out not so ideal in some ways in the future. On the other hand, for those that have seized the day, you’ll never know whether you are going to live for the next.

Therefore, there is this conundrum about living for the future versus living for the present (some folks still live for the past :)). My view is that one should live with one eye on the present and another on the future. There will always be regrets. There is never one person that I know that will truly die without any regret for whatever thing they have done while they were alive. When I say, “I can probably die without regrets“, it’s more like I am totally contented with the decisions that I had made in my life. While I may have made mistakes and I might have done some things differently if I go back in time, but I think I lived my life to the best of how I think it should be lived. And I think you could only really say that when you have an open view on how life is supposed to be, how is it going to turn out, how are you going to be challenged against your ideals day by day.

There are things that I would not give up upon, views about love and marriage, passion for what I do (some folks have a term for this: It is known as ‘work’), honesty and integrity. There were things that I did say I will not give up on, like religion, music (no, I have not really given up totally), friendship (or the so called “best friends”), but I end up giving up on some of them. The funny thing is that once I gave up on some of these things, I realise that I should have never held onto them in the first place. In a sense, there is some regret but like I said earlier, if I live with one eye on the present and on the future, I shall use these as stepping stones to a better future, even though I may not know whether I will wake up tomorrow to have it.

But hope is dope (pun is on kim karadashian’s remark on the pope dope brouhaha).

Hope can do a lot of wonderful things. There was an anime, Fate/Stay Night: (Unlimited Blade Works) which sort of romanticised this ideology. In it (and this is a blatantly short summary), a supposedly naive guy has an ambition to be a people hero’s even though in reality it is something that is looked upon with a lot of scepticism and disdain. Humans are never trustworthy, why bother to save them? However, what won in the end was not the guy’s naive beliefs, but it was his willingness to hope in spite of all odds.

We are born to hope.
Without hope, there is no life, no future.

It doesn’t matter whether you have both eyes on the present or on the future. Hope is having an eye on each.

That Was Home, Truly (Part 1)

Hi!, or should I say “Hei!” now

It’s been a while since my last blog entry. 2+ years to be exact. So much has happened then. I actually planned on having a full blog post, but then I find that this blog entry was really getting long, so I will publish it in parts.

Yes, I’m still at Norway, the country I chose to base my first career and way of life since moving out of the country of my birth, Singapore. I’m also still at the first company that hired me. The friendly boss that hired me had left, and I’m still working with Linux, hardware and systems.

Contrary to news going around that a lot of foreigners are laid off or forced to return because of the oil crisis, I have been very fortunate to keep my job. I won’t expect anything big on the finance side to be honest, just glad to have an income and a life here in times like this. I’ve never been much of a money chaser, although, I do try to save and if I can invest on some reliable investment, I probably would love to. If you give me enough money to live my life, I am quite contented. No need for cars, expensive travelling, or fanciful houses. I rather spend the money on things that I think are worthwhile, like education, technical skills, outdoor sports, and for the one true person in my life to live comfortably, my missus :).

And yes, I’ve applied for permanent residency.

Hopefully, when it is approved, it’ll be a stronger indication that I wish to make this my future home.

Life has been fulfilling, probably not as lively or interesting when I was in Singapore. I have stopped playing music, going to church, and immersing myself with religious activities (I used to be a devout church going Christian).  But contrary to stereotypical expectations, life has been very fulfilling, not necessary good, excellent, nor convenient but fulfilling it is. I think I’ve never accomplished so much ever, not even in Singapore, where I was born and bred for over 40 years. I also did things that I don’t think I would ever have thought I would do because of my fear, religious beliefs, low self esteem and timidity. That’s why it’s fulfilling, living life against all odds, even if some of the ‘odds’ seem rather ordinary to some folks. To be honest, if I ever had to give my life up now, I don’t think I will regret saying that I have lived a fulfilling one. And that could only have happened coming here.

The perfect place to migrate to, an utopian illusion

People often think that the grass is always greener on the ‘other side’.  There is always a sense of envy and pride for folks that have ‘made it overseas’ (from the local Singaporean context).  And everyone has their idea of the ‘perfect’ place to migrate to. I had my idea of the ‘perfect’ place too then, but I chose a different path eventually.

Choices. Love them or hate them.

A lot of folks from Singapore liked Australia at one point, and there are actually quite a lot of Singaporeans there. Going to Australia would probably seem a reasonable and logical choice, they need talents, and there is enough food and culture from ‘home’ to make it a ‘home’ away from ‘home’. There was also a recent article rant now about how easy it is to migrate there, just by chalking up some points.. But I do not want a home away from home, in fact I don’t want anything that reminds me of it because it has ceased to be one for me, hence the title (That was home, truly). But more on this later. Not now. I want a DIFFERENT home, I want to live differently. Since I had enough of living as a Singaporean, I guess I would have never fitted there.

Japan though was one of my top desired destinations. I gave a lot of respect to its culture, its acknowledgement of hard work and the reverence of it. That’s what I felt was missing in Singapore, the amount of respect towards quality in work is appalling, everyone just wants to make as much money as possible, no one wants to sell or have the aptitude to make a product that speaks more quality than finance… And even if there were some promising projects, they were changed to support a profit first mentality in eventuality. To be honest, this was never a problem of Singaporeans, it was more about the environment they were in, the expectations that it put on them.  But sadly, Japan was really difficult to integrate to, not only have you an obligation to observe needless protocols and become an ace in their language before finding a job, there’s always that Oriental stigma of age, sex and political correctness is attached to a person. I don’t have two thirds of these.

And then there’s America. Everyone’s pipe dream. To be honest, yes, I did have at least 3 offers from really big American companies, but this is where things differ. I ask myself why am I migrating? Is it because of work? Well, partly, I don’t see myself growing in the area of work that I had. I had become more of a facilitator than a technical resource. I mean, to most folks, that is probably good as they likely see this as a form of career promotion, but no, not for me. I did find it rather stressful and frustrating when I had to manage people, projects, dreams or fancies. And it’s worse when I had to coordinate folks and make sure incompatible people work compatibly. I do admire people who can do that well though, they do have a talent I can only dream about having.  I would rather work and make incompatible hardware work compatibly with other hardware or software. Hence, the American offers were really enticing, but even so, I do not see myself adapting to the American culture very well.  I’ll be polite and not say more. I have some very nice American friends, but if you want me to adopt their culture, I’ll politely decline, thank you.

The decision

Thus, I chose Norway. People often ask why of all places did I chose Norway. Why not America or the UK? Or some other country where English is probably the de facto language to get by. And after 6 years of learning Japanese, folks look at me as if I am crazy to go learn another language. Furthermore, I AM quite bad at languages, so why am I an idiot, just driving to crash onto the wall again and again? Well, there are reasons, and now that I have lived here, I can attest to the theory that being IN a place where the language is spoken, written and read is the best place to learn a language. Not via a foreign land where you can only learn up to perhaps a novice level. But if you are serious in learning a language of a country, go and live in that country.

Norway was supposedly also one of the best places to live, not (necessary) just work then. And during that time (2011-2012), it was one of the top 3. Although, it has fallen to 8th place in 2015 in that respect, but hey, even if it’s really, theoretically a good place to live, it did not mean that you could just go there and it would be instant. There is a journey to tarry, even as to get to where ‘good place to live’ lives (pun intended). Even now, when I wonder if I ought to have regrets, with all the fear and rumours going around about people losing jobs by the thousands because of the oil crisis. Furthermore, Norway has now become slightly more conservative with regard to immigration because of the politicians running the show (although it seems things can change from this year’s elections) Do I have any reason to fear for my future?

The answer to that question depends on the persona in me. The kiasu Singaporean in me probably says yes, the Norwegian in me, however, says no. While it is true that I need a job to survive, it’s not the end of the world if I do not have one.  And while the job I’m currently having isn’t perfect, it is still better than being someone/thing that you are not supposed to be doing in your job and being artificially recognized as a ‘career advancement’ . That’s worse than resignation to be honest, I’d rather have comparatively lower wages than go to that route. I realize I can never get the perfect job or perfect environment anywhere in the world or any time even if I had limitless amount of it. So what I want to do is to find a place where I can live for the present without much constraints and Singapore is not a place to do that. That said, it was not all  smooth sailing from the word go.

Personal struggles

When I first came here, I worked and stayed alone here for a year. During that time, I was nearly mugged (twice coincidentally, likely by other immigrants), and struggled to live life alone without my other half whom I was married to at least 14 years then. It wasn’t an easy time to just live alone, but in retrospect, that helped me reshape my thinking for the future. It helped me realize that I’ve just been too comfortable with my life, even though it seemed that I was “bold” at that time to just uproot myself from my comfort zone and look for a job at my age.

Life as an immigrant was hard, there was just so much I needed to adapt to, and this was not just coming from a European/American country to another, but from an Oriental to a Non-Oriental, so culturally, it was a bit of a shock to me, even though as Singaporeans, we prided ourselves as modern, cosmopolitan and developed, but really, nothing could really prepare you for this. The language, weather, way of living and seemingly astronomical cost of living were some of the things that took a lot of time to get used to. Although I did earn considerable more than what I earn in Singapore, the tax is also like considerably much higher,  A fast food meal at its cheapest that costed around SGD $20 was shocking then, for that price (then) I could have gotten twice from where I came from.

And then there’s the language. While it is true that most Norwegians speak and understand English quite fluently, but given a choice, by default, they would prefer to converse in Norwegian and you are expected to know Norwegian to really live life properly here. It is also part of their requirements for continuation of a work permit, permanent residency and citizenship. Thus, it was quite difficult when I don’t understand a word and I have to ask if they speak English and try to reason with them. Because of colloquial differences from how Asians speak English and Europeans do, there were some quite bad misunderstandings. And then there’s the Norwegian “no, I won’t tell you, but I’ll let you discover for yourself” hospitality.

Lastly of course, there is the weather. Coming from a land without any seasons (except maybe for rainy and non-rainy (that includes the haze now)) where the daily temperature is about 30°C on average and then to a land where temperatures can be 25°C in one hour, and 15°C the next. That, can really mess you up mentally. There were a lot of times where I dressed for warmer weather only to be fooled and found myself cold and miserable, so many wrong clothing choices were made then. To be honest, the cold is not so much a problem getting used to as compared to the sudden changes in temperature throughout the day.  And as if to add salt to wound, the Norwegians have a saying that “There is never bad weather, only bad attire”. While, I realise that is true now, it was really something that I struggled to accept then. And then, there’s this amusing yet mildly envious and illogical custom of eating ice cream at temperatures below zero. I can, till today, never understand why.

I will elaborate on more adventures with culture, the outdoors and the cold later but for now, yes, everyone wants to look for the perfect place on Earth to migrate to. The reality is that there is never one, because the world is not perfect. It’s about priorities and how much can you sacrifice something to obtain another and whether it is worth doing it. If the environment is not bad, you have to get used to the cultural nuances. If culturally you find yourself most compatible, then there is the environment, where a lot of it is harsh. Then, every country has its way of immigrant control, it may not seem that a country is hostile to immigrants, but countries that have a strong sense of identity will tend to be harder to assimilate in.

That brings me to my next point…

The immigrant: A guest or a conqueror?

It feels surreal (and greatly ironical), when in Singapore, we get hostile to immigrants. Yet, at this point, now I’m on the other side.

Actually, I feel that immigrants need to realise that they are guests in a foreign land, they should not bring your values and scope of looking at things and expect everyone to see (and do) the same way as they do.  I find this true (and painfully many times) at work, play and many areas of my Norwegian adventure. The thing that probably made many Singaporeans upset about the current foreigner-local situation there (and I’m generalizing as a disclaimer) is that the immigrants in Singapore are allowed to treat this land like an extension of their own, but do not see the need to integrate nor assimilate. There is nothing wrong in having a home away from home if you would put it that way, but the sum of the whole is greater than that of its parts. I personally feel that if you don’t see the need to integrate or assimilate, you are not very different from conquering the guest country. If you are there to immigrate to, to look for a new life, you don’t conquer the country, you integrate into it, you become one with it.

It’s probably why I felt so strong about this that I want to see for myself whether it is possible to actually migrate to a country without setting up a sub-nation with your own culture and making yourself a stench as if you are going there and making it part of (insert where you come from).  And yes, I think it is possible, with the right mindset and mentality, to always try to give respect to the host country’s culture, learning and try to adopt its language, norms and culture humbly. Undeniably, there will be resistance, but I believe, you would end up more acceptable than if you insist on crusading for your own cultural principles in a foreign land.

There were cultural clashes of course, I would be denying if I say that there wasn’t. As a personal example, for starters, I had to throw everything I knew about efficiency, Singapore’s style, out into the wind. This is Norway, they do efficiency “Norwegian” style.  While it seemed important that people here had to have a good work life balance, there were times where the scale tips over to the life part a bit too much. And when you needed things to be done urgently and the other person was like on a month vacation, you wonder, did anyone ever teach them about something called redundancy. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t take vacations and all, but surely not all at the same time. That’s quite bad for business and efficiency actually. But to them, this was not something to be negotiated at times.

Now, I’ve learnt how to work around and make sure that I utilise every second of non-vacation time to do anything that is urgent. It shifts the paradigm for planning to a different focus, in a way, it forces you to plan better. Singaporeans may be efficient, but because of that, it can also mean that they depend too much on it so that they don’t plan as carefully as they ought to. Here, one is forced to plan carefully, very carefully.

Make food, not war.

I must admit, though, in many ways, there is still that ‘Singaporean’ thing in me. You can take the Singaporean out of his own country, but never the Singaporean out of him. I guess this can be generalized to every nationality though. Nothing to do with politics or policies or the “preferential” treatment we get from our government in our homeland.

I still talk Singlish with my missus and my family in Singapore, do not eat rice with a knife and fork (we usually eat with a spoon & fork), nor consume sushi/oriental food made here if I can help it. But I’m mindful when I socialize with Norwegians or when I’m walking around. I don’t insist folks bring me a spoon when everyone eats rice with a knife and fork. Nor will I insist that I will not eat when presented with what I think is a faux impression of what Norwegians think what Asian food is. An interesting and amusing example is the chilli sauce, one of the essential holy grail of Singapore cuisine (and probably most Southeast Asian ones). The Scandinavian definition about what consist of chilli sauce, has quite a different interpretation of its spiciness to the extent that it can be a little insulting if you look at it with nationalistic lens. But one has to understand, they are probably trying to adopt it to their own culture, whereas the taste of what chilli sauce is has probably been ingrained in our genome, to put it figuratively.  Asians probably are very prideful about their food culture, as much as Norwegians are proud of their waffles, brown cheese and ostehøvel (The famous Norwegian invention – The Cheese Slicer) as quite evidently shown in this advertisement. Imagine a Norwegian eating brunost (brown cheese) made in Singapore. I don’t think so.

Regardless of food and culture politics, I think it is important to know that as an immigrant, you are always a guest, never a boss. Because you were not born in that country you chose to migrate to, you were not brought up there. You come to the country to work, to get away from an identity that has threatened to become more cannibalistic than your real personality. Therefore, I feel that some humility is in order here. Although one has the right to set their preference or choice based on how they are brought up, one should not, demand that the individual is bigger than the country or culture. Of course, if my host country (like Norway now) asks for my opinion on what I see as misrepresented Asian stuff, I will honestly give the truth and hope they will be open and understanding though I will also accept that they might not necessarily accept it, it is their right.

Recently, my missus baked pandan cake to share for her company’s fortnightly cake session (Norwegians love cake a lot). And it was received rather well. But the pains she took to research and modify the cake (and to find the recipe) is an example of how we tried to introduce our culture to them in a way that would be acceptable. For example, Norwegians often love cake with lots of cream or marzipan. A self respectable cake, to them, should at least have either. But in Singapore, we often eat pandan cake plain, on its own.  Having it with a lot of cream or sugar is a bit repulsive for that dish really, so she had to think what’s the best compromise to be done, such that the taste is maintained as much as possible, yet palatable on Norwegian taste buds. She thus had to modify the cake to include frosting and cream made of .. Gula Melaka. She was fortunate enough to find a recipe that does that and I think that was quite innovative of her. Thus, in the process, by adapting to their cultural culinary perception, not only did she introduced pandan, a very local (Southeast Asian) plant as a food condiment, but had also actually introduced Gula Melaka to them.

Therefore, while culture should be something uniquely tied to where you are brought up, it should never become something of a necessity of survival, it should be something that should be shared and enjoyed. It is also the right of the originating country to impose its own cultural order in its lands.

A pause for a cause

If you are wondering about the title That Was Home, Truly, and what it has got to do with what I have written. It was a play of words on this song, which once meant a lot to me.

Now, it has slowly become a memory of the past.

Migration is a journey, it goes on, it never stops. There are a lot more interesting adventures I would like to share. But I think this is a good place and time for a pause.  And I will be sharing more next time, of how being in Norway has transformed me from a guilt-driven, timid person with low self esteem to someone braver and progressive.

Stay tuned. 🙂