| November 2003 |

Trapped in Elevator

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Although it’s unusual to have a Christmas dinner in November, we had ours at New College yesterday for practical reasons. Exams are just around the corner, and nobody would be in the festive mood to celebrate Christmas a week from now; all campus residents would also be forced to embark on an exodus during winter holidays because the university would be closed.

It was supposed to be a semi-formal event, but Ray couldn’t care less. Technically I didn’t violate the dress code since I wore a shirt with a pair of jeans; I merely interpreted the word semi-formal differently.

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Our former don Jamie left our school after getting his Masters to pursue a PhD in chemistry at York University last summer; so it was a pleasant surprise to have him back as Santa Claus giving out candy canes this year. He can be a little authoritative; but like my platoon sergeant in SISPEC used to say, sometimes you need an Indian chief to get things going. For the past 2 years, the atmosphere in our house was definitely much more fun and cooperative under his watch. The house spirit in Robinson is almost non-existent with our new don Mike, who is extremely quiet; no one shows up for any events and I hardly know this year’s frosh.

We decided to follow Weixiang up to his room on the 7th floor to take a look around the new building after dinner. I suggested taking the stairs to aid digestion but everyone else decided that 14 flights of steps were too strenuous; I’ll have a tought time finding someone among this group of friends to trek up Everest Base Camp with me.

For some reasons the elevator went crazy and started going up and down erratically; everyone thought it was funny and started laughing. Someone pointed out that nobody is going to laugh if we’re still stuck inside after five minutes, and he was right.

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After being stuck for two minutes, there were a few nervous laughs and everyone was hoping it was just some minor technical glitches. Five minutes later, I saw many worried faces and sweaty fingers frantically punching the elevator buttons; someone tried pressing the emergency button to call for help but there was no response. The guy standing in front of me suggested that we jump on the count of three to make the elevator drop to the basement so we could climb out; as crazy as the suggestion sounds, at that moment it actually seemed like a great idea to all of us.

Then suddenly the door miraculously opened on the second floor and everyone was cheering as we rushed out; I’m sure there would’ve been mass hysteria if the door didn’t open for another three minutes. In fact, all I could think of during the last few minutes being trapped was that the air ventilation system is still working; at least we wouldn’t die of suffocation.

Did I mention I’m still taking Accutane?

30 November 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)

Busy Week at School

Ray had a busy week at school but doesn’t wish to bore you with the details, which explains why there aren’t any updates recently. With tons of assignments due in less than a week and final exams approaching soon, things are going to get rougher from now on.

I’m in the process of redesigning SG Watch because I realised the colour combination of white text on blue background makes it hard to read; a photo gallery will also be incorporated into the new design. Hopefully everything will be completed in the near future.

But for now, it’s time to hit the books again.

28 November 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)

Friday Five VI

This week’s Friday Five:

  1. List five things you’d like to accomplish by the end of the year.

    I’ll need to work hard in school to get pull my GPA back up after my ill-fated venture into actuarial science last year. Now that my digital photo archive has more than 2,500 files, it’s probably wise to make a copy on a portable hard drive; I have to get one first though. Staying in touch with old friends has always been one of my top priorities; good friends are hard to come by. One picture is worth a thousand words; hopefully I can find time to incorporate a photo gallery into SG Watch by the end of the year.

    Most importantly, be happy!

  2. List five people you’ve lost contact with that you'd like to hear from again.

    Mr Lim Hock Boon was my tuition teacher was 3 years; we used to discuss for hours about philosophy and religion, which obviously weren’t part of my school curriculum. While my dad remains the most influential person in my life, Mr Lim played an important role in shaping my religious and philosophical perspectives.

    I had a best friend in my kindergarten whom I lost contact with after we entered primary school. I don’t remember his name; the only pieces of evidence I have that proved he wasn’t just another imaginary friend of mine were photos we took together.

    It’s such a coincidence I met my primary school buddies Hongwei and Yuchong at Kinokuniya 4 years ago; I wonder how they managed to recognise me after all these years. We didn’t call one another like we promised after that brief meeting; soon I switched my pager for a cell phone and lost their contact numbers. I found Hongwei’s home address while cleaning my room last summer, and I’m going to send him a card this Christmas. The address is 7 years old; but we all believe in miracles, don’t we?

    Another primary school buddy I hope to hear from again is Yuanquan. Together with Zhaotan (whom I miraculously found on Friendster after losing touch with each other for a decade) and me, we were a trio of jokes and laughter. We used to like 3 girls in our class and codenamed them PAP; but that’s a story for another time.

  3. List five things you’d like to learn how to do.

    I’ve already missed my opportunity to learn diving several times; I always had something more important going on when there were spots available for the diving trips. Out of all the outdoor sports I’ve tried, rock-climbing is one sport I can never truly master; perhaps I should give it a shot again. I want to learn sailing so that I can embark on a sailing voyage around the world if ever I have the opportunity. I’ll consider learning skydiving; if I can overcome my fear of height. Practising yoga will probably help my body become more flexible and less prone to injury.

  4. List five things you’d do if you won the lottery (no limit).

    I would choose a downtown loft apartment over a sprawling mansion with acres of rolling greens; despite my love for nature, I’ve always been a city boy at heart. While waiting for the renovations at my new place to be completed, I would bring my parents on a tour around the world. We’ll certainly be flying first-class and staying in presidential suites; they deserve nothing less.

    I always dream of entering the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, a gruelling test of endurance that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon run (26.2 miles). I would have to focus all my time and energy into training if I wish to complete the race, and being rich allows me to train full-time. I probably take a shot at completing the adventurer’s grand slam while I’m in such good physical condition, climbing the highest peaks in all 7 continents and reaching both poles.

    And of course, keep a low profile.

  5. List five things you do that help you relax.

    There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent. Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought. You don’t stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing. To achieve the impossible dream, try going to sleep.

21 November 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)

Shopping Trip to Eaton Centre

It’s a clear indication that Ray leads a boring life when a trip to Eaton Centre, the largest shopping mall in downtown Toronto, was the most exciting activity I did this week. Both Brent and Jay wanted to get new shoes before winter arrives, and I tagged along to do some shopping myself.

Our first stop was Dragon City in Chinatown. Hui’s Pharmacy is probably the only store in downtown Toronto that sells Sebamed body wash, and Sebamed is probably the only body wash that’s suitable for my sensitive skin. Although its price is much higher than other brands (about $50 per litre), one litre can usually last about 18 months for everyday use. I would definitely recommend anyone with sensitive skin to use Sebamed.

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After visiting 12 stores and trying out nearly as many pairs, Brent decided on a pair from Sketchers while Jay bought a pair from Diesel. It’s interesting how both of them started out with an $80 budget, but ended up buying shoes that cost over $120; and these shoes, which are supposed to protect them from Toronto’s harsh winter, look more like club wear that wouldn’t survive a misstep into three inches of snow. Apparently style is more important than money or functionality.

It was a happy day for all: I managed to check all the items off my shopping list; while Brent and Jay were sure that fellow clubbers would be impressed with their new shoes, under those dim lighting conditions where you can hardly make out faces of people.

The reality is harsh; I am getting old.

20 November 2003 · My Life · Comments (0)

Training Safety in the SAF

The Straits Times editorial about training safety in the SAF was excellent; there is indeed a need to review the training safety system following the death of 2SG Hu Enhuai, which resulted after he had his head forced under water four times by his commando instructors.

Some would argue that it’s important to simulate real combat situations in training courses to nurture good soldiers, and accidents do happen sometimes when things go wrong. But the fact is parents are sending their sons, who are not even old enough to vote, to serve in the SAF and help defend the nation; the least the SAF can do is to ensure our soldiers get the best possible training and care, and that include training safety.

The HBOI found that 2SG Hu’s death from asphyxia and near drowning followed from non-compliance with the approved lesson plans during the conduct of the water treatment phase of the CST course. Those who have served NS would agree that safety regulations can be rigid, and instructors do sometimes bend the rules a little. After all, the more you sweat during training, the less you bleed in the battlefield.

However, instructors generally wouldn’t act in violation of safety regulations which might result in serious consequences; even mundane activities such as water parades are conducted religiously to minimise the risk of heat stroke and exhaustion. Instructors probably adhere to the regulations to avoid any liabilities if accidents were to happen, rather than for the well-being of their trainees; it’s not worth violating safety regulations and risk being charged, jeopardising one’s military career. Hence it’s important to have an effective training safety system which ensures courses are implemented in accordance to approved lesson plans and rogue instructors are duly punished.

This leads to several important questions raised in the editorial:

It is fair to ask two questions, as they go to the heart of systems review. The first is, how high up the commandos’ chain of command was the unsafe water treatment known? Even if it was kept to the level of instructors, as implied from remarks made at the media briefing, how could higher-ups not have known? This was a training plan, of which observation, audits and reporting to superior officers are part of the process. Apparently, a succession of course instructors had learnt the water technique from observing previous instructors - and none of them had referred to the manual. The practice got perpetuated. This was the fatal flaw. This dovetail into the second question: How did the 2001 review of the lesson plan fail to spot the wide divergence from the book? Were the safety violations even recognised as such? MINDEF will have to satisfy itself that the review had been conducted according to laid-down procedures.

It’s ironic that the CST instructors expect trainees not to leak military intelligence under torture as instructed, when they can’t follow simple safety regulations themselves. Furthermore, the idea behind torturing POWs is to extract important intelligence from them, rather than kill them; the instructors were supposed to teach trainees about combat survival, not cause their deaths during peacetime. They deserve to be suspended for their incompetence as CST instructors, if not for violating safety regulations.

It’s time to douse the macho culture in the SAF with some cold water.

18 November 2003 · Military · Comments (0)

Friday Five V

This week’s Friday Five:

  1. Using one adjective, describe your current living space.

    My room is very dusty. For reasons unknown to me, dust gathers much faster in Toronto than Singapore.

  2. Using two adjectives, describe your current employer.

    My professors are cranky and overpaid; and they’re more interested in their research than giving the students a good education.

  3. Using three adjectives, describe your favourite hobby/pastime.

    Daydreaming is free, fun and creative.

  4. Using four adjectives, describe your typical day.

    My typical day is short and uneventful; and a typical winter day in Toronto is cold and bitter.

  5. Using five adjectives, describe your ideal life.

    Start a happy family with the beautiful woman I love and have wonderful kids together; have a dynamic career that earns lots of money; and most of all, lead a meaningful life.

14 November 2003 · My Life · Comments (2)

Site Redesign

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Redesigning SG Watch took longer than I expected; I stared at my computer screen for hours last weekend trying to get the layout and colour scheme right, and this was no easy feat for a guy with colour-blindness. Now I have to deal with severe myopia in addition to red-green colour vision deficiency.

Much of the redesign effort isn’t visible on the website; a lot of time was spent cleaning up my HTML code which was full of useless tags, as well as restructuring my CSS code into a more sensible hierarchy.

The new design should look like this. If you see black text on a white background, it’s probably caused by the style switcher I used in my previous design. Delete the cookies from your web browser and you should be able to see SG Watch in its fully glory.

12 November 2003 · Site · Comments (0)

Matrix Overloaded

It’s not impossible for the Wachowski brothers to make bad sequels; and it’s inevitable that executives at Warner Bros tried to cash in on the Matrix hype by turning a fantastic movie into a senseless trilogy.

I was very disappointed with how the Matrix trilogy was concluded; fortunately, I found this pseudo-Matrix philosophy about the dancing banana which really made my day:

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Do not try and peel the banana; that is impossible. Instead, only try to realise the truth. Then you will see it is not the banana dancing, it is only yourself.

07 November 2003 · Fun · Comments (0)

A Million-Dollar Question

OCBC senior vice-president Anne Tay, a wealth management specialist, explained why Singaporeans will have a tough time retiring on a $1 million savings. There’s nothing wrong with your eyesight; it’s $1,000,000. I can imagine Miss Tay smiling sinisterly with her little pinkie next to her lips like Dr Evil in Austin Powers, demanding $1 million from us poor folks.

This estimate is worrisome. Assuming Singaporeans, in addition to their CPF contributions, save an equal amount in their bank accounts for retirement or rainy days. Even so, less than 2% of Singaporeans would have $1 million in savings when they retire. This large population of aged and poor will put severe strains on our social structure and economy in the future.

However, the problems of an aging population in Singapore aren’t as serious as other industrialised countries. We should examine whether the astronomical $1 million figure is a realistic estimate.

According to Miss Tay, a retired couple would have slightly more than $4,000 to spend monthly. But 60% of households in Singapore earn less than $4,000 a month, and 80% of households spend less than $4,000 a month. Do we really spend more after we retire, when our mortgages are paid and our children no longer dependent on us?

It’s reasonable to assume at the time of retirement, most Singaporeans would either have paid their mortgages or downgrade to smaller homes, which will free up lots of cash. Furthermore, their children would have grown up and the need to finance their education is gone.

Most retirees should then be able to reduce their monthly expenditure by about 25% since 21.6% of household expenditure is spent on housing and another 3.3% on education. It appears Miss Tay has miscalculated the costs of living for retirees in Singapore.

However, the financial rule of thumb that we need 70% of our last drawn salaries to enjoy a pre-retirement standard of living. Since the average monthly household income is about $5,200, she probably did her calculations in accordance to industry standards.

Also, my simple calculations didn’t take into account the higher medical expenses for retirees. It would be a safer bet to set aside some money in case of emergency since nearly one in three deaths here arises from heart disease or kidney failure.

Assuming there’s no inflation and my investments earn an annual return of 8%, I’ll need to save $1,200 every month for the next 25 years to have $1 million when I retire.

I think I’m going to die poor and lonely.

04 November 2003 · Money · Comments (0)

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