It's not a good sign when I bump into a friend on the street outside where I work, and her hello segues immediately into, "So I hear you're really busy and not getting any sleep!"

For the record, I am getting sleep. Just not enough.

But nevertheless, I stole an hour out of my day today to finally get my hair cut. As melch will tell you, I have only been talking about getting my hair cut since June.


In times like these, little victories are important.

Now back to work.


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Working on the weekend

On the job

Like that lah.


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Well, obviously, Xmas is coming

And lo, it came to pass, that on the 25th of November, I received our very first Xmas card of the year.

I think this might be something of a record.

The card's from First Aunt and her husband, which is also noteworthy because they are probably the least Christian of the relatives from that generation of that side of the family. Of course, when you get to my generation, it's a toss-up between her son and daughter-in-law, and Terz and I, as to who's more areligious and irreverent.

I think I'm going to send mostly e-cards again this year, so only folks who don't have email addresses (or whose email addresses I don't have) will get snailmail cards. And like everything that doesn't fall into the "work" category in my life right now, this will all be taken care of only after December 7.


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The mirror doesn't lie

I have white hairs!!!


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Don't ask, don't tell

I have a secret and it's a very, very good one. It's the kind that makes you want to scream your elation from the rooftops, grin like a kid with a fistful of candy, wiggle and dance to an unstoppable rhythm. It's the kind you want immediately to tell, because it's almost too good to be true after all the wondering and wandering and wistful thinking. You want to tell even though with every telling, it'll lose a little of its special lustre --- but never mind, because this is just The. Best. Thing.

This is the secret that feels like everything after this point changes, but only because we're somewhat predisposed to think of our lives as a deliberate drama, plotted out with all these foreordained turning points. Things won't change, not really, and a year, two, from now, it'll be a mundane footnote in the passage of life.

But, you see, now, here, everything is possible.

Intuitively, I'm not actually very good at keeping secrets. I don't have a conniving mind and my extremely strict mother so fervently drilled into me the habit of being honest that my first impulse is always to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Even if I have to lie (e.g. to protect a secret), there's more than enough of a reaction time, galvanic skin response or blip of the eyes to give me away. Just skip the lie detector and go straight to the cold, hard stare. That'll do it for me every time.

Fortunately, I don't think I'll have to sit on the lid of this secret for too long. Time'll pass, the statute of limitations will expire and I can permanently erase the mental note not to broach this topic slash feign ignorance ("act blur" in local parlance) if I'm asked point-blank about it.

Which just as well, because, seriously, guys?

I've never had a secret this good before.


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Pas mal, pas mal du tout

I'm feeling mightily accomplished tonight. I just sent my cousin something for her birthday off her Amazon wish list, which may not sound like much to you until I tell you that she failed to mention in her mass email that the entire Amazon site is in French.

Now I took two years of college French and a couple of courses in intermediate French at Alliance Francaise after that, but it's been eight years since then and even though I now work with people from Montreal who chatter away in French half the time, I can't understand anything more complex than "Comment ca va?"

So I'm pretty proud of myself for parsing envies cadeaux ("wish list") within five seconds without having to resort to Babelfish, and guessing sufficiently from the context to punch in all the right credit card information and even opt for an additional EUR2,60 gift tag. I also figured out what addresse de facturation was (though I ran a Babelfish check before clicking on the final Confirmer button, just in case), even though I'm fairly certain facturation was never in any of my textbook vocabulary lists. Yeah, they don't make Amazon-friendly vocabulary lists.

Adventures en francaise aside, I'm also thrilled to have whittled down my stack of unread emails from 20-something to 5. Hurrah!


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Names that matter

I had a slew of spam email this week with the subject line, "hi it's [name]", which I guess is meant to trick me into clicking on the email because I might know someone by that name. The names in question were:
  • Errol
  • Leah
  • Tommy
  • Concetta
  • Mel
  • Hal
  • Tameka
  • Lindsay
Let's face it: most of these names aren't exactly common in Singapore. I know exactly one Leah and two Mels. I don't even know of a Tommy among my social circle. And Tameka?

These spammers need to do more homework.


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Walkabout in a bookstore

Walkabout in Borders bookstore

I took off my shoes while I was in Borders tonight --- partly because my feet were a little uncomfortable after traipsing around on wedges all day, but more because I was in a browsy sort of mood and there is something about padding around on the carpet that makes a bookstore the size of Borders feel that much more, well, browsy.

I didn't leave my shoes totally unattended, just in case some overzealous employee whisked them off to lost'n'found or something. But it was very nice to flex my bare feet and squish carpet between my toes as I considered my options in the Fiction R-S and W-Z sections. Yes, I know there's germs and dirt and probably other crap on that carpet, particularly since I was at the store at the end of the day, but it felt nice, okay?

James had a voucher for buy-4-or-more-books-at-40%-off, so despite my avowal in the car to save my money for that great Little Black Dress at Project Shop Blood Bros (especially since I have a heap of unread books at home), I ended up with Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown (finally out in paperback), Todd Gitlin's Media Unlimited (which has been on my to-read list for about two years) and Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You.

Note to self: get cousin in Paris something good to read in English off her Amazon wishlist for her birthday later this week, or else risk being blamed for causing her fit of apoplexy upon reading blog entries like this.


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A commercial break, brought to you by our cat

Ink's version of rolling in the dirt

He gets free run of the bed and the couch, but all he really wants to do is to snuggle up with our (not very clean) shoes and to chew on the shoelaces on Terz's boots.

Cats, I tell ya.


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How I know the Singapore government is not "in touch" with young people

Edited to add (21 Nov): The Ministry of Finance (MOF) informed me today via email that "it was not part of the Organising Committee's publicity plan to post such publicity messages on blogs."

Or with any people at all, for that matter.

So at approximately 10:22 pm tonight, the following comment was anonymously posted on the previous entry on this blog, "Pay and pay, eh?":
Join us at "Building Our Singapore-The Public Service in Action", an exciting and interactive
exhibition jointly brought to you by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and Public Service Division (PSD), to celebrate the constant dedication of the Public Service to serve the people of Singapore and its spirit of innovation

Date: Wed-Sun, 15 to 19 Nov 2006
Venue:Toa Payoh HDB Hub Mall
Time:10:30 am to 9:30 pm daily.

Come see how the Public Service aims to e-delight you through electronic services and strive to serve our citizens and residents better with a heart of service!
While most comments promising to "e-delight" me would automatically prompt me to delete them comments forever, this one gets to sit there as an object lesson in how the current Singapore government is completely out of touch with the young people of the internet generation it's trying desperately to court ("post-'65" Members of Parliament attempting to get wit da blogging and hip-hop dancing, anyone?).

Assuming that the comment was left by a bona fide civil servant (perhaps a poor soul working desperately after hours in order to comply with a boss's instruction that they "reach out" to "post-'65ers" using "the latest web platforms?), there are so many things wrong with this attempted "outreach" that I don't even know where to begin.

Do I begin with the fact that it's an anonymous comment, thus not necessarily inspiring the greatest sense of trust or reliability, even assuming it was posted by the government? Particularly since that same government told mr brown he should "come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly." So the government gets to leave anonymous comments on the internet, but ordinary citizens can't even use pseudonyms?

Or do I begin with the fact that leaving comment spam is so gauche and verboten that entire systems have been set up by Blogger, Wordpress and other blogging software companies to combat the problem?

Or, as a copywriter myself, do I point out that even if one were to forgive the above two cardinal sins of internet etiquette, the comment itself is so thoroughly packed with the corporatese spoken by our government --- I mean, hello, "e-delight"? --- that it's not remotely likely to achieve its desired objective of attracting people to the event in question?

And never mind the fact that the comment was posted on a blog entry that is fairly critical of the government's latest policy announcement ...

For the record, the web link provided in the comment spam above is genuine. Now whether the comment was actually posted by a civil servant is another question, but the fact that it seems to be taken wholesale from some kind of government-composed press release has me pretty much convinced of the fact. Which irritates me because I can studiously ignore the "post-'65" Members of Parliament blog and the imminent hip-hop dancing *shudder* --- but now they want to bring their lame suxXx0rs attempts at "getting in touch with the people" to my blog, my space on the internet?

Dude. Dude.

Last year, in his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:
The Government has to adapt to the digital age. First of all, we need to find leaders who are of that age group, and that’s what we have been doing. That’s why in this election, we fielded a lot of people who are below 40 years old and we call them the P65 generation and they are reaching out to the young generation, understanding the young, being in tune with them, same wavelength, knowing how they react, how to move and motivate this group. [emphasis mine]
Dear government,

Get over it. You're not cool. You're about as hip (which is different from hip-hop, by the way) as Air Supply, pocket protectors and plaid pants combined. The harder you try to swagger around in the hopes of winning a seat at the cool kids' table, the more the cool kids are going to lean back and laugh at your swaggering, and then not still invite you to their parties, even for comic relief.

Spend a little less time on the song and dance routines (quite literally, in the case of certain "post-'65" Members of Parliament) and a little more time working on the actual problems that ordinary Singaporeans --- not just young people! --- grapple with every single day. Thank you.

Oh, and PS: stop leaving comment spam. The internet's messy enough as it is, without the government adding to the heap.


Of course, this post is predicated on the assumption that the government was responsible for leaving the comment spam in question. If MOF lets me know that it definitely, most certainly, 100% wasn't a civil servant who did it, I'll be happy to retract this entire blog post.


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Pay and pay, eh?

When I went to university in Chicago in 1993, one of the first things I had to get used to that drove me nuts at first was calculating taxes. State and city taxes in metro Chicago added 7.75% to every bill at the time; in the suburb where my university was, it was fractionally cheaper at 7.5%. Singapore wasn't charging GST then, so even though I knew the concept existed, had dutifully studied it for my 'A' Level Economics exam and paid it out on previous vacations, it took some getting used to, the habit of adding a little extra to everything I bought, whether it was groceries or a new outfit, a Jimmy John's sub or a meal at a restaurant. Plus 7.75%/7.5% aren't the most intuitive numbers to calculate on the fly, which meant that I'd usually add 10% and round down from there to be on the safe side.

It did add to the cost of things. You couldn't just pick up something and forget about taxes if you were living on a budget. Even groceries, as I said, cost approximately 10% more.

By the time I got home to Singapore, GST had firmly ensconced itself here at 3%, which seemed laughably trivial in comparison, particular when state and provincial taxes could add up to 15% or more in countries like Canada. Singapore retailers and service providers took the helpful step of including GST in the prices they displayed on their price tags and restaurant menus, so that customers wouldn't be flustered by having to punch out 3% on tiny calculators whenever they were thinking about buying something. Or so the logic went. Instead, it felt like, yeah, prices had just shifted upwards slightly, but hey, whoever thought we were ever paying taxes when we were just paying the sticker price?

So now the Prime Minister wants to increase the GST from the 5% it's been since 2004 --- after rising to an intermediate 4% in 2003 because that was supposed to make the 5% mark more politically tenable --- to 7%. Why?
Our aim is to help the lower income groups and the elderly, not to increase their burdens. When we implement the GST increase, it's not just the GST increase, it's the package which will fully offset the impact of the GST increase and begin to strengthen the social safety nets and tilt the balance in favour of the low income groups - we will not just raise the GST but we will have a comprehensive offset package.
--- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, November 13, 2006,
as quoted in the Channel NewsAsia report, "GST to be raised to 7%: PM Lee"
(Oddly enough, the Prime Minister's speech hasn't been punctually uploaded to Sprinter yet, even though the government is usually scrupulous with this sort of thing.)

I don't really have any problems with an increase in GST as long as my income tax rates go down. And while there hasn't been any mention of that yet (they're holding back details of the GST increase till the next Parliamentary Budget debate in February 2007), I admit that the news itself of an impending increase doesn't quite get my knickers in a twist. I've long accepted paying a GST as an inevitable corollary of living in a big city, even though it's surreal to think that I'm going to be paying as much in taxes here as I did in Chicago 13 years ago, and even though I know there's nowhere that any GST will go but up.

What does annoy me --- and this may just be my 'A' Level Economics talking, because anything more advanced always made my eyes glaze over --- is that the Prime Minister is explaining away the increase as an effort to help the government raise money to help "the lower income groups and the elderly".

You know what would help the poor and the elderly? Not raising a tax that they cannot avoid paying.

The reason governments, I think, like GSTs is because they get to collect taxes from actual consumption --- the logic being that if you've got the moolah to buy something, whether it's the weekly groceries or a Prada bag --- you ought to pay the government a little something since you obviously earned or otherwise acquired the money somehow to make that purchase. So it helps them to get around (partially) the problem of people who make heaps of money but under-declare their official income through wily legal acrobatics or other accounting shenanigans. Nothing makes governments --- Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, socialist, fascist, totalitarian --- gnash their teeth so much as knowing that people are getting away with not forking out their "rightful" amount in taxes. Maybe totalitarian governments can take it out a little better on people by lopping off their heads, but that's already after they've ground their teeth to bits in frustration.

Having a GST also has the serendipitous side-effect of making everyone pay taxes (not just the rich) and "spreading the tax burden out" among all members of the population. That includes, by the way, the poor and the elderly.

Everyone in Singapore pays GST --- at some point, somewhere or other (unless you do all your shopping from an establishment that makes less than S$1 million per year). Whether you're earning an income or taking a handout from someone else, whether you're five or fifty, whether you're buying groceries you need to feed your family or a Prada bag you "need" for the year-end Xmas party --- we're all paying GST. No one asks (or cares) at the check-out counter if the customer is, in fact, poor or elderly.

So unless our government is about to issue little cards certifying that the bearer falls into the poor or elderly group and therefore gets GST waived on all their purchases, I don't see how raising the GST is going to help more than hurt the people it's supposed to, well, help.

Besides, if the government wanted merely to raise money to help the poor and elderly, there's lots of things they could do. Reduce the Cabinet minister's salaries, for one. For another, stop prancing about on the world stage like a kid trying to get the judges' attention with the IMF/World Bank meetings or the Singapore Biennale, and spread some of that money out among social welfare programmes. (Note to anyone who works on government committees trying to "enhance" the country's standing through all these song-and-dance efforts: When you're cool, you'll automatically be invited to sit at the cool kids' table. When you're not cool, no amount of whinging and wayanging will make it happen, plus it has the effect of making you look even more uncool while you're at it. That's just the way the world works. Suck. It. Up.)

The Prime Minister's GST announcement was shored up by an immediate avowal to develop a "package which will fully offset the impact of the GST increase and begin to strengthen the social safety nets and tilt the balance in favour of the low income groups --- we will not just raise the GST but we will have a comprehensive offset package" (see quote above).

You know, one wouldn't need a "comprehensive offset package" if one simply didn't raise the GST. And one could still help the poor and elderly by devoting all of one's time and energies to figuring out how to help and finance the help for them, instead of worrying about how to raise the GST and make it politically palatable at the same time.

Plus I gotta really love the part where the Prime Minister declares, "I'm not going to tax 15% on income tax". I hear that Singapore does have some of the lowest taxes in the world for a developed country. I've never actually crunched numbers to verify this, but my friends in the US, Canada and the UK pay a lot more taxes on their income than I do.

So I'm sure anyone in Singapore who makes heaps of money is glad of the Prime Minister's statement, taken for what it's worth. Never mind that the rich (or "higher income" group, as our government loves to euphemise) are precisely the ones who have the cash (and some measure of social responsibility) to help the poor and the elderly. Never mind that to them, a 2% increase in GST --- or in anything, really --- is fairly negligible and unfelt. Never mind that they could still pay taxes on the order of what is levied in the US, Canada or the UK, and still keep a pretty good party going all year round.

Oh no, we have to keep the "higher income" group happy, so we're not going to tax 15% on income tax. Fantastic priorities we've got here.

The thing is, even if GST's here to stay, and whether it's 5% or 7%, I'm thinking there has to be better ways to make sure it doesn't hurt people who are just spending money in order to get by in life --- people who are buying their groceries and school textbooks and shoes and public transport fares. In the UK, there's no tax on books --- I assume, because the philosophy is that it's good to read (even *sigh* reading some book of the crappy Chicken Soup ilk) and there shouldn't be barriers to reading and learning. In Massachusetts and Oregon in the US, there's no tax on clothes, which makes factory outlet shopping all that much sweeter.

Surely there has be to a way, in our teensy-weensy country where we know all the stores there are and the poor aren't exactly shopping at Palais Renaissance or the Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade, to spread the GST out even more evenly so that people aren't taxed when they're buying stuff they need to, y'know, survive. Forego taxes on groceries? Make books and clothes un-taxable? I don't know, but if the government is smart enough to figure out a "comprehensive offset package", it must be smart enough to figure out how to differentiate conspicuous consumption from necessary consumption --- if they were interested in doing so in the first place.

You know what would help above all and regardless of any changes, though? If all the retailers and businesses in Singapore charging GST started indicating it separately from their prices in all their stickers and receipts. Because then we'd know exactly how many dollars we're forking out to the government, and not the retailer, with every purchase we made. Because then businesses couldn't use a GST increase to merrily hike their prices and round them up to the nearest 10 cents, 10 bucks or $1,000, in order to disguise a convenient price increase on top of the GST increase. It would require consumers to think a little differently when they look at a pricetag or menu, but that's a small price to pay for knowing exactly how much The Man is taking away from you, with every little transaction you make.

Raise the GST. Don't raise the GST. Just have the balls to say why and how you're doing it, and stop trying to wave your socialist cred around because, frankly, we all know you ain't got any.


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They will blow your mind

"Fruity Oaty Bars" is the best cell phone ringtone ever.


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Checking in

Late night in the studio

I worked till 5 am last night. It's quite something to be looking for a cab just when the cab drivers are getting ready to wash up their cars in preparation for the end of their night shift.

I haven't read blogs in over a week (which is a long time, for me). When my alarm goes in the morning, my brain immediately kicks into gear (even if the rest of me takes a little longer), humming with all the things I need to get done before I leave the house, before lunch, before sunset, before the next bedtime. When I'm away from my computer, I check my email compulsively (thank goodness for Gmail, through which I route four email accounts, and the Mobile Gmail app for Symbian cell phones).

I keep talking about wanting to take a vacation, but the talk is starting to take on this mythical quality. (kk, we need to get you-know-who to confirm her vacation plans so that I can book air tickets now.)

But enough with the weird workaholic wanking-off. The really big news today is that after three months, during which I'd given up hope, I found out that I got this freelance writing position that I was really, really keen on. Hurrah! Let the merry dancing begin!

Okay, I need to go fold the laundry now.


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I feel old

I thought I was hearing things, but no, it's true: one of my colleagues just had to explain to another (younger) colleague how to use the auto-reverse function on the cassette tape player in the office.

My Walkman didn't even have an auto-reverse function, man.

However, I am too young (or perhaps my family was just not so technologically in-touch then) to know about 8-tracks.


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Help the Substation!

Ye olde tree

If you were in school in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and just discovering that there was this strange and magical wellspring inspiration, edification and entertainment called "the arts", you might remember going to The Substation to see your first play sans parents or Disney singing, watch your first foreign film that didn't star Gerard Depardieu, or listen to the first musical performance that wasn't mandated by an extra-curricular activity in school.

The Substation's been running for more than 16 years as Singapore's only independent contemporary arts centre. Like all arts centres, there's never enough money to make everything happen the way they dream of things happening.

So some people have pitched together to organise a fundraiser for the Substation tonight: "The Garden Re-lived! Readings for The Substation". For $25 ($18 for students), you get a drink at Timbre (the cafe in The Substation's garden) and to listen to local artists and musicians read and perform their own work. The line-up runs from 7.30 to 9:30 pm, and includes Robert Yeo, Yong Shu Hoong, Koh Tsin Yen, Dr Leong Liew Geok, Paul Tan, Cyril Wong, Teng Qian Xi and Ng Yi-Sheng.

Yes, yes, the last two in that list are my friends and the event is directed by another friend, Jonathan Lim, but that's not (the only reason) why you should go. You should go because Singapore needs arts venues and programming the way a healthy child needs to read books outside of what his school tells him to read, to go run and tumble in a dirty field every so often, and to have time to sit and stare and do nothing and let his mind wander. You should go because an independent arts centre is good to have in any society, but particularly important in Singapore, where strong alternative voices are few and far between.

Hell, you should just go 'cause what's $25 these days anyway? The price of 1.5 CDs, the cost of a mediocre dinner at a conveyor-belt sushi place or cafe serving up prefab meals, the fare on a cab ride to and from downtown during peak hours from anywhere beyond Bedok, Clementi or Ang Mo Kio.

Timbre at The Substation. Tonight, 7:30 - 9:30 pm.

Go lah.


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All I wanted was a Coke

No Coke

I couldn't believe my eyes. I was standing in a well-stocked 24-hour supermarket, and they didn't have a single-serving-sized Coke. They had Vanilla Coke in a can, Coke Lime and Coke Light in small bottles, but no plain ol'-fashioned no-modifier Coke unless I wanted to cough up for a 2-litre bottle or a 6-pack.

I just wanted one Coke.

I settled for Vanilla Coke --- and then I remembered after about a quarter of the can why I actually prefer Vanilla Coke Light to Vanilla Coke.

To console myself, I picked up a packet of Van Houten (very plebian, I know) chocolate-covered raisins to go with the Vanilla Coke. But by the time I got home, panaphobic called and then work beckoned and then I forgot about my chocolates.

I did finish the vile Vanilla Coke, though. Pah!


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My very first cameraphone video

Busy week, hence the "dearth of blog posts", as Little Miss Drinkalot pointed out last night.

In lieu of blathering, enjoy my very first cameraphone video/YouTube upload. There's no fancy music soundtrack or anything, but you get to hear my voice briefly.

Behold: The Ink Attack.


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