Saturday, May 27, 2006

T Plus 341 Days

In less than a month, I'd have spent a year in the United States. I do not have a happy ending to report. Indeed, I do not have any sort of ending to report - hence, the lack of a natural pause to sum up changes to my life since I've got here.

Instead of a coherent narrative, I can only provide non-sequiter mental impressions. Any attempt at coherency feels like a giant game of connect-the-dots without knowing the sequence by which to draw in the lines.

Bear with me, please.


I've graduated from my LLM a week ago. I did not attend my graduation. I told my professors it was because I planned to go on a trip out of California at the time. I did no such thing. In truth, I was ashamed to admit that I did not want to spend the US$50+ to rent a gown. It felt like a frivolous expense at this stage where I feel the need to make every penny count.

I regret it of course. That may have been the last opportunity I had to see some friends in the LLM program. One will return to China in short order. Another will be heading to New York to take the bar exam there, then head back to Japan. I have no doubts that another will be buried in work, and another is preparing to deliver her first child. And then, there is me.

And thus, this phase of my life ends without ceremony, because I refuse to pay for ceremony.

I guess my feelings of isolation were exacerbated because I had also recently started my bar review course in Boalt Hall, UC Berkeley. Logistically, this represented an extra hour of sleep and not having to fight with the I-880 morning gridlock. Emotionally, I feel like I'm stepping into Berkeley again for the first time - there's almost no one I know at the Bar Review. This, and the fact that I'm getting my a$$ kicked in my practice questions, does not make me a happy camper.


If I had to sum up what the LLM program taught me in a word, it would be "respect". In many ways I've always appreciated that Singapore's legal universe is smaller than many Singapore lawyers would like it to be. However, it's a whole different deal to be confronted by the sheer puniness of Singapore's jurisprudence. 50 states plus a federal government plus a country that actively engaged in shaping (not copying) international law generates a lot of legal thinking.

More so than black letter law, the differences in how people of a certain country approach legal thinking is fantastic of itself. I'm not sure how to describe it, except that in Santa Clara University, I was afforded more freedom to explore than I've ever been afforded. I cannot say it is purely a product of postgraduate education - I've had contact with postgrads in NUS Law that were not nearly afforded the same level of exploratory freedom.


Living in a foreign country reinforces the fact that you are the foreigner, that you are the one who speaks with an exotic accent, eats foreign foods, and imports foreign ideas. I bring this up because of this incident.

I have two things to say about this.

Firstly, regardless of how uncouth the behaviour of natives are, complaining about them on a public forum belies one important fact - you are the guest, not them. You are here by their leave. They are not here by yours. This remains a fact even if the natives behave uncouthly in your own country, because their behaviour in your home country is not the point.

Secondly, I ask Singaporeans anxious to make a distinction between themselves and China nationals - Do you have more in common with a national from China, or an Indian, Malay or Caucasian living in Singapore? Do you have more in common with a university graduate from China than a Chinese-educated manual labourer who grew up in Singapore? I ask these questions to illustrate a simple fact - as Singaporeans, we may have less in common between ourselves than we think. If so, then on what basis do we have to infer generally superior social graces, culture, education, or social standing?


It feels good, however, not to have to travel an hour a day to school on a long dreary highway with nothing to see but sound walls and other cars. Berkeley is a beautiful place to live. Thanks to my schedule last year, I've been unable to take advantage of that. I've resolved to discover more about Berkeley this year.


My job situation is holding up okay. If nothing else I will have something to tide me through my 1-year employment authorization. I'm still looking for an employer willing to sponsor my H1-B, but I recognize that it's not an easy deal.

The dealbreaker, of course, is the Labour Certification. I've spoken about this a while back. Essentially, the Labour Department must make a determination of what your wage is. This determination tends to err on the high side. My problem is this - I'm too "exotic" for most law firms, as I do not carry the traditional JD degree. They are the firms that are most likely to be -able- to sponsor me, but they are not willing to give me the time of day in the first place. The smaller law firms who -want- to sponsor me tend not to be able to sponsor me, because the wage determination tends to be a lot higher than what they are willing to pay.

I'm still working on it. I figure that if I knock on enough doors, someone will eventually take notice.


A lot of my recreation time over the last year has been on World of Warcraft. I play it because there doesn't seem to be anything better out there. I may switch to another MMORPG once I make enough to afford another MMORPG - or not.

I've just joined a raiding guild - which means spending inordinate amounts of time in a large dungeon, hoping for ultra-valueable items to drop. I'm not sure this is exactly what I -want- from my gaming time, because it's starting to feel a lot like work.

So, even my online life is at a crossroads. The irony does not escape me.


One thing that I've noticed over the past year is that I've provided far less Singapore-related commentary than I used to. At risk of sounding lame, it's because I'm not there anymore. At best, what I can read about Singapore is second hand from blogs (and since I don't trust MSM coverage, blog news is about all I get). Speedy and timely commentary seems impossible when someone else has already written what you want to write.

There is also the emotional distance from Singapore. Things that would set me off while I was in Singapore are now mere irritants. I notice the growing gulf between what happens in Singapore and how it affects me. The sad thing is, I'm not sure if I care about this gulf. I know it won't grow to a point where I will not feel anything, so long as my family and friends are still there.

Nevertheless, the shadow of Singapore still affects how I define my problems. I still plan in terms of material growth, career, children and what not. That I've got to execute my plan here and not in Singapore is by-the-by. There's still no divine revelation, no inspiration, no grand narrative that has made itself apparent to me, save one - the nagging doubt that perhaps, for me, the journey -is- the narrative.

So much for the Singapore Dream.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Geek Before Chic

I was reading LawyerWriter's entry on Nerd vs Geek. Sure brings back some memories.

Like LawyerWriter, I've pretty much been a hard-core geek almost all my life. I wonder where girls like LawyerWriter have been all my life. They certainly didn't appear in my teenage years. It would have made my gawky teenage years much easier.

In the spirit of my discovery that girls like LawyerWriter actually existed, I set out my own geek credentials.

My Top 7 Geek Credentials

1. I not only own some of the old Dungeons and Dragons game books, I owned books from every edition ever published except the very first edition published in 1977, where you were able to play a young balrog. I know the current version 3.5 is a misnomer - there were boxed sets published way before the version 1.0 was published.

What's my favourite class? Depends. I often joke to my gaming buddies that I play whatever gives me the most plusses.

That's just for Dungeons and Dragons. I have more game books from other genres than I care to admit. Chances are, if it was ever published, I'd probably have played it at one point in time or other.

2. I wasn't addicted to a computer game. I was addicted to entire gaming platforms. My first gaming platform was the Commodore C64. Then a Nintendo, Nintendo 16 bit, Sega Genesis, Neo-Geo, PS 2, XBox and PC games. I've beaten someone on Street Fighter 2 one-handed and looking away from the screen. I've beaten every Rockman released except a recent 3D spin-off.

I'm already seriously addicted to World of Warcraft, but my long-time readers already knew that.

3. I've watched more anime than I care to admit. Apart from old standbies like Robotech, Captain Harlock and Voltron, I've watched Crying Freeman, Fist of the North Star and Legend of the Overfiend at the tender age of 14, not to mention the "core" watchings like Akira and Ghost In The Shell.

4. I wasn't just picked last for games - I well and truly suck at them despite my best efforts. I still can't catch keys thrown at me.

5. Steady bullying during my youth - check. At least 2 different stages of life - check. "Popular" bullies - double check. With life experiences like that, you stop taking things like social acceptance seriously.

6. I had, and still have, an unhealthy interest for theoratical science. I look forward to the day I can control my computer through an implant (for plebians, the first bit of culture that referenced this was NOT "The Matrix"), taking Soma, meeting a Selenite, or leaving the Silent Planet, or discovering Great Mambo Chickens, or building a Dyson Sphere (or Ringworld).

7. Three words. Han. Shot. First!!!!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Strike Toto

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Elections Commentary

I have been working on this post since before the polls started. It seems that a lot of what I had wanted to write has now become irrelevant. There were a number of things that I had hoped to see, but I take comfort in the fact that a message -has- been sent to the incumbent, albeit not as strong as what I wanted to see. On the other hand, I realise that the opposition has no choice but to attempt a long-term play.

Since I have a number of US-based readers, I will attempt to summarize the Singapore political system here.

Since Singapore's independence some 40+ years ago, Singapore has been dominated in one party - the (P)eople's (A)ction (P)arty. In US terms, this would be the equivalent of having a super-majority in both the House and the Senate. When I say super-majority, I mean having enough legislative seats to amend the Singapore Consitution at will. Also, since the Executive Branch is essentially nominated from the legislative (different from the US, I know), the head of the Executive Branch, the Prime Minister, is also a member of the PAP. So are all the ministers (about equivalent to the various Secretaries and the Vice Presidents).

There is a lot more I can say about the incumbent, but I won't. Do a little research on "Lee Kwan Yew", "Lee Hsien Loong", "Lee Hsien Yang" and "Ho Ching". The connections should be fairly obvious.

What I will instead focus on is the role of opposition parties in Singapore.

Given the overwhelming strength of the PAP, Opposition parties have very little legal power in Singapore. Indeed, many mothers (including my own) worry about their sons and daughters running for Opposition Parties - which tends to turn into a career death sentence in many ways.

However, what they increasingly have is symbolic power. They are the Little Engines That Could. The Parties that Just Won't Quit. They represent the underdogs forgotten by an over-sanitised system that has no place for old men, unemployed graduates, and retrenched middle-managers. There is a significant and growing minority of voters that have had it with the Singapore System, and want alternatives.

There are a few indications that I have seen these elections that lead me to believe that there is a growing dissatisfaction with the incumbent's methods of government.

(1) This is the first set of elections that our current Prime Minister has had to undergo. The PAP under his leadership captured 66% of the nation's votes. This is 6% higher than the absolute -worst- performance of his predecessor (which I note, wasn't during his inaugural election).

(2) The Prime Minister of Singapore, faced against 6 aged 30-something complete political unknowns, fared a little worse than the national average of 66.6% votes cast FOR the PAP.

(3) In spite of thinly veiled threats against long-time opposition consituencies, these constituencies still voted opposition. In some other consituencies, the loss against the incumbent was very close.

I suspect that the PAP has two possible strategies ahead. It can either (i) crack down more on opposition politicians or (ii) find a method of coopting or engaging the disenfranchised, which I note, are either the youngest segment of voters, or the oldest. The former risks turning these politicians into political martyrs, the latter undermines their own symbolic strength by implicitly admitting "weakness".

Either way, the Opposition can only grow in strength.