| January 2004 |

Scary Weather

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Any doubts about my ability to attract bad weathers were removed this morning. Last night was one of the few nights I slept with my curtains open, and I was greeted by a blanket of snow outside my window in the morning. With the winds gusting to 70 km/h, the weather outside looked really scary.

My macroeconomics midterm was scheduled at 10am this morning and understandably I was hoping that classes would be cancelled today, especially after I spent the weekend watching Enterprise instead of revising for my test. Alas, all my prayers went unanswered and I began trekking across the snowy landscape to meet my destiny.

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The test was a disaster, which only left me wondering if I should’ve studied harder. It was hard not to feel guilty the first few times; but like everything else, you get used to it with enough practice. I soon found myself in front of my laptop watching yet another episode of Enterprise.

As usual, the administration lived up to its reputation of being slow and inefficient by announcing belatedly that all classes after 5pm today would be cancelled, not that the announcement made much of a difference to most students. Everyone is hoping that classes will be cancelled tomorrow too, and we’ll find out at 7am tomorrow morning.

Bad weathers aren’t all bad news after all.

27 January 2004 · My Life · Comments (0)

Friday Five VIII

This week’s Friday Five:

At this moment, what is your favourite...

  1. ...song?

    I still have yet to get over the loss of my music collection.

  2. ...food?

    Sushi!

  3. ...TV show?

    I'm not a Trekkie, but the new Star Trek series Enterprise really got me hooked.

  4. ...scent?

    Polo Sport is still my favourite after so many years.

  5. ...quote?

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein

23 January 2004 · My Life · Comments (0)

Lori to the Rescue

My grades for last term were released last week, and I was disappointed that I only got 79% for my OB course. I’ve worked hard for this course and missing A- by only 1% just added salt to the wound.

Jay suggested that I ask Lori for an extra 1%, but I reasoned that if she wanted to, she would’ve done it before the grades are released; in fact, Lori later explained to me through email that she was under a great deal of pressure from the administration because her class average was high, and was instructed not to change any grade unless there was a significant arithmetic calculation error.

U of T has a policy of limiting the number of students getting an A in any course to 25%. This is to prevent lecturers from raising their course averages to obtain favourable teaching evaluations, but it nonetheless penalises good students in a smart class. Our final exam papers are never returned to us, making it easier for the administration to manipulate our grades in order to comply with this policy.

It was by chance that I found out the marks for my final exam and realised my raw score for the course was 79.7%, which the administration rounded down instead of up. I decided to ask Lori to recommend somebody in the administration I can talk to; I knew my chances were slim, but I couldn’t sit back and let those slimy bureaucrats rob me of my well-deserved grade.

A day after sending an email to Lori, I received this reply from her:

Ray, you are in luck! I talked them into raising your mark to 80. The form is to go in today, and may take a couple of days to show up. Let me know if there’s a problem.

Indeed, I’m very lucky to have such a great professor.

21 January 2004 · My Life · Comments (1)

Journey to the West II

Journey to the West is the travelogue I’m writing for my recent trip to the West Coast with Wan, which chronicles our adventures on the road. Enjoy!

Capilano Suspension Bridge

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Following Uncle Jimmy’s suggestions, Wan and I took the SeaBus across to North Vancouver for a view of downtown Vancouver skyline; we were quickly bored after snapping some photos since most of the stores were not open until 10 in the morning. Then we recalled seeing Capilano Suspension Bridge in one of the brochures Uncle Jimmy lent us last night, and with a little help from our guidebook realised that it was just a few kilometres away from the ferry terminal. Not wanting to waste our Translink tickets, which were valid on a time-basis, we hopped onto a bus and headed for the bridge.

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I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the admission price: $12.50 to walk on a wobbly bridge? I could hear the staff sharpening their knives, ready to carve every ounce of fat off gullible tourists like myself. Visitors were offer an alternative method of payment though: you can enter for free if you deposit at least 3 canned foods in the charity bin; this would’ve saved us a couple of dollars. Good deeds do pay off.

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It turned out Capilano Suspension Bridge is the oldest tourist attraction in Vancouver; built in 1898, the bridge is 135-metre long and 69-metre above Capilano River. I was quite surprised there was no sign indicating the maximum number of people that can be on the bridge at any one time; perhaps the management doesn’t expect many visitors with such a high admission price.

Kids were bouncing up and down like they always do on suspension bridges, which was quite annoying as I tried to steady my hands for a good shot. The 8-hectare Capilano Park is very kid-friendly, which might explain why there were so many kids running around; panels with interactive displays and fun facts were set up around the park to educate children about the floral and fauna of the West Coast rain forest.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park was next on our itinerary after a sumptuous sushi lunch; it was highly recommended by all my Vancouver friends and I was looking forward to seeing what makes it so great. North America’s third largest urban park didn't disappoint.

While I would’ve preferred to walk, the only way we could cover a 400-hectare park in 2 hours and still get close to nature was by cycling. The bike shops were undercutting one another and we thought $3.50 an hour was a good deal; only after we returned our bikes did we realise there was a Korean guy renting out bikes for $2 an hour just around the corner.

This reminded me of a scene in Taxi, when it showed a Korean switching places with another Korean who was sleeping in the trunk so they could drive the taxi 24 hours a day using a single license. While the scene was probably an exaggeration, it shows how hardworking Koreans are and the kind of competition they pose to the existing market players. Hence it should come as no surprise that South Korea was able to turn its economy around within a short time even though it was one of the hardest hit countries during the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

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The scenery at Stanley Park was beautiful and I really enjoyed its tranquility. Stanley Park is said to be teeming with wildlife, but we didn’t see many animals around since we followed the bike route along the Stanley Park Seawall and didn’t venture into the rainforest. We witnessed a beautiful sunset over the horizon near the Lions Gate Bridge and had a good view of West Vancouver where the rich people dwell, which is connected to downtown Vancouver by the bridge.

The houses at West Vancouver didn’t look very spectacular from afar; perhaps wealthy folks don’t mind staying in ordinary houses, as long as they live near one another and can easily congregate together to compare the performances of their stocks over high tea.

16 January 2004 · Travel · Comments (2)

The Wrath of the Computer God

We must’ve done something which displeased the computer god, since many of us suffered his wrath last week. Brent’s internet connection went down because he unknowingly installed a massive numbers of spy wares; Jay’s computer kept restarting due to faulty RAM modules; Steve’s laptop battery died under mysterious conditions; and I accidentally deleted my entire music and video collections while attempting to reformat my hard disk.

I didn’t know whether to pound my laptop in anger or breathe a sigh of relief when I realised all the important files, which include my treasured photo archive, stayed intact. It must be a sign telling me to quit slacking and start doing some real work, I’ll take the sign seriously for the next few weeks; before I rebuild my entertainment archives and revert back to the ultimate slacker I truly am.

There are some technical glitches that need to be fixed whenever I reinstall Windows XP on my ancient Toshiba laptop, as it was originally designed for Windows 2000 and Windows ME; and I had to reformat my hard disk 5 times to get my laptop to work, mainly because I forgot how I fixed those pesky glitches when I upgraded my OS to Windows XP 8 months ago. Despite having to endure the 3 days of frustration that comes with every reinstallation, my experience with Windows XP is much better than with Windows ME, which was preinstalled on my laptop.

At least I don’t get the infamous Blue Screen of Death anymore.

14 January 2004 · Technology · Comments (0)

Friday Five VII

This week’s Friday Five:

What one thing are you most looking forward to …

  1. … today?

    I usually skip my corporate finance tutorial on Fridays unless there’s an assignment due the week after; that’s when the TA gives away useful tips for the assignment. And since today’s temperature will drop to -32°C, I’m looking forward to turning the thermostat to its highest setting and hiding below my blanket for the rest of the day.

  2. … over the next week?

    Stop procrastinating and get my cavity filled so I can start using both sides of my mouth to eat again.

  3. … this year?

    I miss home so much and can’t wait for summer holidays to arrive.

  4. … over the next five years?

    Being financially independent; I’ve been sponging off my parents long enough.

  5. … for the rest of your life?

    Be happy!

09 January 2004 · My Life · Comments (0)

Education Subsidies in Singapore

Brain drain is becoming a familiar term as globalisation continues at a neck-breaking pace, and its impact on a country’s development isn’t as simple as local companies losing a talented employee who can potentially reap them great profits. We’re looking at a person who can contribute to the country in more ways than one: one who can share his expertise with his colleagues through daily interactions and collaboration in the workplace, hence increasing the country’s human capital, which is fast becoming one of the most important economic resources in today’s new economy; one who spends and consumes, creating jobs for others as diverse as the construction worker who builds his house to the waitress who serves him at his favourite restaurant; and one who pays taxes which can then be used to further develop the country. The impact of brain drain on a country can be substantial.

It may be tempting to justify emigration after getting a heavily subsidised education in Singapore by arguing that since taxes are dutifully paid, we don’t actually receive any extra benefits from the government. However, statistics tells a very different story. Assuming both parents are in the workforce and each earns about $3,000 every month, which is the average monthly income in 2000, they would’ve paid around $74,000 in income taxes over 16 years, the length of time it takes for a child to enter the education system in Primary 1 to completion of a four-year undergraduate program at a local university; this is only about a third of the $188,000 invested in this child’s education by the government.

Here we’re only talking about the amount of education subsidies each child in the household receives. What if the parents have two or more kids? You do the math.

08 January 2004 · Education, Money · Comments (0)

Journey to the West I

Journey to the West is the travelogue I’m writing for my recent trip to the West Coast with Wan, which chronicles our adventures on the road. Enjoy!

Taxi ride to Pearson Airport

Pearson Airport is very inaccessible from downtown Toronto by public transport; one has to travel all the way to the end of the Bloor-Danforth subway line and transfer to bus 192 at Kipling station, a 90-minute journey excluding waiting time. Hence taxi has always been my preferred mode of transport to the airport despite its hefty $40 price tag, mainly because of the amount of luggage I have when I fly back to Singapore. While Airport Express buses do pick up passengers at various downtown locations, I’ll not save much since I need to take a taxi to the pickup point from New College residence anyway.

So when I hear that the Iceland trio — Howe, Calvin and Weixiang — are flying off on the same day as me, I decided to share a taxi with them even though my flight is 3 hours later than theirs; in fact, I was more than happy to sit by myself in the airport and daydream.

After finding out Howie is from Malaysia, our driver Gure proclaimed that former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad is the greatest man alive in the world. We were already quite surprised that he actually knew Dr Mahathir was Malaysia’s PM, and for him to make that statement about Dr Mahathir was even more shocking to us. Gure’s exaggerated description of the man whom Singaporeans love to hate started to make sense after we learnt through further conversations that he’s a Muslim and he respects Dr Mahathir for standing up against those who look down upon Muslim nations.

Our conversation inadvertently turned to the topic on why we chose to study in foreign universities instead of local ones, and we explained that we wanted to see the world and experience a different culture; this standard explanation usually draws favourable reactions, at the very worst perhaps envious comments on how lucky we’re to be able to afford an overseas education.

However, Gure couldn’t understand why we should choose to leave our home country to live in a foreign land where immigrants are treated as 2nd class citizens. It might have sounded ironic since he himself chose to settle down in Canada, but a glimpse into his background reveals the reasons behind our contrasting views. Gure had no choice but to leave his home country Somalia due to the ongoing civil wars; and while I feel that racism in Canada isn’t as severe as in Australia or the US, it does exist. On the other hand, we’ve chosen to study in Canada voluntarily; and racism is not a huge problem for us since Toronto has a very large Chinese community.

Gure further commented that we should go back Singapore after graduation and contribute to our nation, his reasons being that Singapore has spent much resource to educate us, and Western countries like Canada just want to exploit our skills and talents we acquired back in Singapore to help their own economies grow. Initially this sounded like another conspiracy theory cooked up by an angry Muslim, portraying the West as an evil power trying to take over the world. But is Gure’s comment without truth?

That certainly was food for thought as I sat in the departure lounge, waiting for my flight to Vancouver.

07 January 2004 · Politics, Travel · Comments (1)

Mementos from My Travels

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My backpack is usually filled with plane and bus tickets, free maps, and receipts after every trip, tons of paper scraps I’ve accumulated along the way; these are little mementos reminding me that I was there. Wan takes a more pragmatic perspective, arguing that this useless trash will end up in the recycling bin after some time anyway. He’s probably right; but it usually takes quite a while for such items to lose their sentimental value to me.

This is my first time keeping a travel journal, and it’ll take me some time to decipher my own illegible handwriting and do some editing before I can post the adventures we had during our recent West Coast trip; I’ll also post a series of articles rather than one long essay to facilitate easier reading and quicker turnaround time.

Thank you for your patience!

06 January 2004 · Travel · Comments (0)

A Long Day Awaits

Wan and Ray are known as the Natural Disasters after our Indochina trip because of our insatiable appetite for food; and lately, our nickname seems to have taken its meaning literally. While we didn’t cause hurricanes or earthquakes during our recent trip, our arrival in a new city always signals days of heavy rain or snow to come.

Everyone on the plane was surprised to see Toronto completely snow-free as we landed at Pearson Airport; however, it started snowing the minute I enter downtown Toronto and we’re expecting 10 to 15 centimetres of snow by tomorrow morning. It suddenly occurred to me that I must’ve been responsible for all the bad weathers we encountered during our trip; not a good sign for a guy who dislikes any form of precipitation.

My timetable for the coming semester was totally screwed up since I didn’t realise 2 of my courses have time conflict. While I managed to work it out after some frantic last-minute rescheduling, I’m going to have 7 hours of lectures on Mondays. My experiences with long days are not great; I’ll always doze off in class and end up doing badly in the tests. Since it is common for students to drop courses they find difficult during the first week of school, hopefully I’ll be able to switch to a class that’s scheduled at a more favourable time.

School starts in 8 hours' time and a long day awaits; time to grab some sleep.

05 January 2004 · My Life · Comments (0)

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