Saturday, November 29, 2008

RIP - Ms Lo Hwei Yen

Sometimes I get forcibly reminded what a small place Singapore is.

In spite of the fact that she must be a few years my junior at law school, I don't claim to know Ms Lo well - in fact, the first and only time I spoke to her was at a mutual friend's wedding. That was about a year ago. She struck me as a friendly, intelligent person. I didn't speak to her that much, only enough to make polite conversation.

And now, she is gone, a senseless victim to a horrible, horrible act.

Farewell, Ms Lo. I hope you are in a better place now.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm Sorry

Part of the process of growing up is the ability to look back on your life and say "Gods, what a big a-hole I was back then." It is in this spirit that I write the following apologies. Names will be withheld on the off-chance that the person reads my blog, or knows the person I'm referring to. The instances will be fairly specific though, because that's the nature of the apology.


To A, who I deliberately set out to annoy at Pre-U Sem in 1993. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have deliberately scratched my spoon against the metal serving tray after you told me how much it disturbed you. I still think it's funny that it would annoy you, but I shouldn't deliberately set out to annoy you, especially since you were one of very few people that were kind to me at Pre-U Sem, at a very difficult point in my life. Thank you.

To the V guys, who I used to dress up as vampires with. Yes, I was pretty much a control freak. It took me a while to realise that what you wanted was your own game, and that it was fundamentally incompatible with my vision of what the game was. Instead of ceding that point gracefully, I held on far longer than I should. In short, my apologies for being a jerk. I'd like to add that the fact that I turned out to be right in the long run does not excuse the fact that I acted like a jerk in driving the point home.

To the D Club in University, I'm sorry I bailed out after the first year. I think I could have gone further, and done much more, and grown even more as a person. Instead, I ran away because I couldn't cope with the idea that heavyweights were coming. I should have been the bigger man and brought my game up.

To the D Club in ACJC, I'm sorry to have acted like a jaded cynical jerk. You were young and full of potential and idealism, neither of which I was. Instead of acting as a silent anchor, the pillar of strength that you needed me to be, I used you to fulfil the fantasy of what I couldn't achieve in my time there. Instead of ceding the point gracefully, I stayed longer than I should, used up potential I had no right to. I'm sorry.

To the L class in University, I'm sorry to have acted like a jerk in my first year. I can't even think of a reason why this would be. I'd blame the large number of inaccessible attractive women, but that's my shortcoming, not theirs.

To the T guys in Sec 2 and 3, I'm sorry to have acted like a self-righteous twerp. I want you to know that I wasn't the only one who ratted out you guys, but I think it was fair that you guys took things on me alone, since I was the most self-righteous twerp among them. I have to take responsibility for my own actions, even if they were influenced by peer pressure. Truth is, I think I badly wanted you guys to like me, and my trying to please both the good and bad boys left me nowhere. It's a lesson I carry to heart now, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to have learnt it.

To the kids at CC, I'm sorry I bailed out on you. Truth was, I was there for a gal, one of your teachers. On the way I grew to love you too. I never expected to, and I didn't want someone who didn't believe to guide you. Because that would have been unfair, even more so than my motives for going.

To C, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lead you on when I was so unsure myself. Of all the reasons I've hurt people, yours was the most senseless. You've done me a world of good that I can never repay you without hurting you at the same time. I'm sorry.

To L, I'm sorry to have said all those things to you. I know I've fallen far short of the person you wanted me to be. To be fair, you've fallen far short of the things that you've promised to me, but I now know that promises aren't meant to be kept or broken - they are just promises, statements of best intention, and life changes, even if intentions don't. I wish I could say I still have a place in my heart for you, but I don't. For that, more than anything else, I'm sorry.


I know I can never find forgiveness for these acts. Most of them happened so long ago that I'm probably the only person that remembers them. Yet, perhaps the deeper lesson is that I don't have to. Forgiveness isn't theirs to give anymore. It isn't even what I need.

What I need, I've already obtained - the perspective and courage to say "Gods, I was such an A-hole!"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bandwagon Jumping

This won't be a critique of the IR woes. I think enough has been written about it. Instead, I'll write about another form of bandwagon jumping - stem cell research.

Personally, I think that the whole biotech industry in Singapore is extremely ill-conceived. Yes, we can pour potentially unlimited amounts of money into the infrastructure and education system to attract R&D in Singapore. However, Singapore is never going to be a major biotech center for as long as they do nothing to home-grow the sector.

Home-growing the sector, however, will require a deep shift in Singapore's policies. In short, there is no love for learning, no thinking outside the box, all because Singapore's education and economic system does not support breadth of endeavour, but is instead geared towards a cog in the machine.

In short, we suck at R&D because we've never learnt the joys of learning. We think too small, too rigidly and are too afraid of failure.

Singapore has been moderately successful in stem cell research thus far in part because of the Bush Administration's moritorium on stem cell research. That will change soon. President-Elect Obama is poised to reverse this moritorium.

My prediction? I think this will send a flood of R&D investments back to the US. Singapore will then pay the price of not home-growing talent, and wonder where it all fell apart, and slash its wrists to give more tax incentives, more funding to get these companies to stay. Those that do will probably pay lip service and outsource the least intellectually rigourous parts of the R&D to Singapore, benefiting for the tax rebates while doing most of the heavy-lifting in the US.

As a result, Singapore doesn't benefit one bit from technology trickle-down. Sure, it will make some hue and cry by saying it remains competitive, and earn some tax dollars, but it won't get the ACTUAL benefits of technology and skills transfer.

So there we are again. We're stuck, having sunk 500 million on overpriced facilities that we will be underutilising. Will we ever learn?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Yes We Can

I will remember the day Barack Obama was elected POTUS. I was in Redwood City, California, at a restaurant, having dinner with my new colleagues at the last company in Sillicon Valley still hiring new employees. I saw his acceptance speech later that night at the bar of the hotel I was staying in.

He was magnificent.


Many detractors of Obama had told me earlier this year that change, by itself, means nothing. Change can mean the dawn of a new golden age. Change can also be getting run down by a truck.

I now have an answer for them.

You are right. Change -is- a neutral concept, neither good nor bad. However, that is only half an answer. To answer the question this way ignores what has come before and what is going to happen ahead. It ignores the 8 years we have watched the worlds only superpower flush itself down a toilet.

Simply put, no one calls for change when things are going right.

So yes, change is neutral, but a call for change is always positive. It means the first step in solving a problem: it acknowledges that we have a problem in the first place. It is this way and ONLY this that we can grow.

This call has been answered at last.


I originally went to America in search of a better life, to find a place that I could call my own. It was only when I returned that I realised I already had such a place - Singapore.

The lessons I learnt during my stay in America are, frankly, Hallmark Card moments. Love your parents. Value your friends. Do right by others. There's nothing profound about these lessons, except that I had to travel 8000 miles to learn them.

I was expecting to be choked up with seeing the part of America that I loved so much and missed so badly. Instead I felt...nothing. No tears, no change, no choking up. When I went back to my old stomping grounds, I actually felt a little disappointed. Was this what I worked so hard to return to?

That's when I realised that, over the last two years, I had outgrown California. That is and has always been a symbol of freedom, hope and love for me. Like all symbols, they were not valueable in and of itself, but for the messages they conveyed. Once you grok the message, well, there isn't that much left.

I didn't need California anymore. But I still appreciate it, like an old friend with whom you finally come to terms with, warts and all.

So here it is. My final lesson. Never lose hope. Money lost can be earnt back. Opportunities will come again. Failures will stop stinging. Love can be found again.

Take it from me. All that shit doesn't matter. I was penniless, jobless and torn up over all the opportunites I missed because I needed to nurse my emotional wounds. Today, I have a great job in a company I love. I have friends that I love, and family I learnt to see with new eyes.

Tomorrow they may all be gone, but it won't matter.

Only hope matters. Hope is what will keep you going, because nothing can keep you down forever, so long as you have hope. Hope makes the bad times liveable, and the good times magical. Hope is all. With hope we can do anything, live through anything, achieve anything.

Yes we can.