Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Facebook Unfrienders"


I’m sure many of you guys have been subjected to “Facebook Unfriending” where people just remove you off their Facebook friends lists. Isn’t it just annoying/sad/irritating?

I used to find this practice ridiculously stupid. The mere suggestion that these people feel their friendships are so valuable is in my opinion terrible self-flattery desperately needed by the insecure to make themselves feel more superior than they’ll probably ever be in real life. It only takes a couple of clicks to take someone off your Facebook list. Clicks that only punctuate the word “COWARD” on the description of yourself.

After taking some time to think about it, I have come to realise that this act of cowardice should not be condemned so quickly. We are all cowards in one way or another. I have run away from problems and taken the easy way out on several occasions as I’m sure many of us have. As such, I’ve changed the way in which I deal with “Facebook Unfrinders” (thank goodness I’ve only had a few). I now stubbornly add them back on Facebook hoping that I can somehow convey a sense of sincere humility to them, and send them a Facebook message asking them in a joking manner to add me back. Isn’t humour one of God’s great inventions!

I’d just like to end off with a little advice for all the “Facebook Unfrienders” and victims of “Unfriending”…

Dear "Facebook Unfriender",

I understand that we all have our own methods of dealing with conflicts. I don’t pretend to be an expert on conflict management but I do believe that social media is a poor way of expressing frustration as it can only lead to more misunderstanding. It is also kinda out there for the world to see. 
Just saying…

May I suggest talking it out over the phone or something more private and personal? Even if you can’t resolve the conflict, why resort to “unfriending”? It defies the entire purpose of social media… to CONNECT people, not to DISCONNECT them.

And again… just saying…

Dear Victims of Facebook Unfriending,

Rejoice! For you are worth enough time for someone to actually log into Facebook, access your Facebook page and delete you from his list! Someone IS thinking about you! Haha.
Well… the glass is half full… J

Be patient! We have to understand (or at least try to) that people don’t react to situations in the same ways that we do. We are all created and raised differently. It is a frustrating aspect of our human family as it creates so much conflict between us; but at the same time, one of those elements that make us so colourful and dynamic making our human race a truly beautiful one.

Facebook is for Friendship! 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Social Polarization



Very recently, I have come across many articles and posts regarding Singapore. Many of them exaggerate different elements, issues, policies, cultural norms and other factors regarding our little Sunny Island. Many of these issues are very polarizing and I fear can prove destructive to our social cohesion. I would like to talk about these issues from where and how I see it.

But first, let me give you guys a brief introduction to myself. I’m a 22 year old Singaporean Guy. I have been in this country all my life. I live in a landed property not because my parents are rich, but because we got the property cheap and my parents saved every penny to buy it. It was really a struggle for them to come up with the sum.

I’m ethnically Indian which means I make up for about 9.2% of the population of Singapore. Being Malayali, I make up a minority within this minority. I do not speak a word of Tamil as my parents (not Tamil-speakers) made my Second Language Malay. I am able to speak Malay (though not very fluently) but am much more comfortable in English. My surname is neither Indian, nor Malay but Portuguese. I’m a proud Roman Catholic and many of my views and values are formed around the doctrines of this Institution.

So that’s me; an Indian who speaks Malay, with a Western surname and with mostly ethnically Chinese friends.

The Language Policy

Obviously as a minority, I see things very differently from other Singaporeans. In my opinion, the Language policy is one of those policies that have really upset our social cohesion. I will not talk about how it happened but I will say what I have seen. When I was in a Catholic Mission school for both Primary and Secondary levels, I was well sheltered in a good English speaking environment. I rarely encountered situations where I got left out of conversations conducted in Mandarin. I had many people like me in school, English speaking, Non-Malays studying Malay. I was never really left out.

Much of this changed when I went to Junior College. I found myself sitting at a table with Chinese friends and being “stuck” in the middle of a Chinese conversation. At first it was stranger than anything as I had never encountered such insensitivity. After months, it became frustrating. What was I to do? Walk away awkwardly?

Many people would actually pose these solutions to me: “Why not remind them that you are there?” Or “Why not go sit with other people?” Regarding these solutions, I think that it would take a minority to truly understand why they were not practical. I know of out-spoken people who used to adopt the first solution. Well, it does not work for me. I always felt bad about having to make people speak a language that they were uncomfortable with.  It was very frustrating during my first year in Junior College so much so that I almost wrote in to the school administration asking for a change in class.

Things got better when I adopted the second approach. I found people who were more English speaking in the school Choir. That happened in my second year of Junior College where school life started to become much more interesting and open.

National Service

This is a policy that is the scorn of so many male Singaporeans. I do believe that National Service is important whether it means something or not to you. I had a good 2 years as I served as a Personal Assistant to a very kind and understanding Commanding Officer who became more of a friend than anything. I was very lucky. I felt compelled to do my best as I had a relaxing vocation while so many of my peers had to deal with so many other problems with the system which more often than not, seemed terribly unjust. I was really hard-working and used to stay late, only leaving the office at Jurong at 10pm at times, always remembering that so many other people had to stay in. The trip home took 1 hour 30 minutes each way. I saw how people got punished for things that they did not do. I constantly reminded myself how lucky I was.

I don’t think what I did with those 2 years could ever compare with the sacrifices made by my peers who had to serve stay-in vocations under tyrannical commanders and deal with the injustices that came out from the system. I feel a sense of deep gratitude towards these people and understand their hurt when people make insensitive comments regarding National Servicemen.

One line sums up a common sentiment towards National Service pretty well.

"We are the unfortunate, led by the unworthy, to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful" - Graffiti seen on the Tekong Urban Ops area.

Everything in this one sentence shows the polarizing effect of this policy on our society. The word “unworthy” is targeted at the many tyrannical commanders that command and demand respect and who treat their subordinates poorly. Many of them can’t really accomplish anything in the outside world where respect is better off being earned than commanded. Being in command of bright young people makes them feel a sense of power and dominance that they probably can’t achieve anywhere else.

I can’t really find much truth in the word “unnecessary”. I do believe many of our liberties that we often take for granted hinge on the security that comes about from National Service. I will not argue the point of reducing National Service significantly as I am not qualified to make any such hypothesis. That being said, it is frequently pointed out that among the countries that do impose mandatory National Service, Singapore stands as follows…

§  Armenia (2 years)
§  Angola (2 years, civilian or non-combatant option available)
§  Myanmar
§  Central African Republic (2 years, selective)
§  Chad (2 years men, 1 year women. Civil service available only for women )
§  Cuba (2 years)
§  Cyprus (24 months)
§   Egypt (2–3 years)
§   Iran (2 years)
§  Israel (36 months for men, 24 months for women)[5]
§  Kazakhstan (2 years)
§  Democratic People's Republic of Korea (3 years minimum, up to 10 years[6])
§   Republic of Korea (21 months Army, 23 months Navy, 24 months Air force)
§   Libya (2 years)
§   Mali (2 years, selective)
§   Mauritania (2 years in the Army. Navy & Air force are voluntary)
§   Mozambique (2 years)
§   Niger (2 years, selective)
§   Senegal (2 years, selective)
§   Singapore (22-24 months, without regard to Full-Time National Service in the Singapore Civil Defence Force or Singapore Police Force, under the Ministry of Home Affairs)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a0/Flag_of_Somalia.svg/22px-Flag_of_Somalia.svg.png Somalia (uncertain)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/53/Flag_of_Syria.svg/22px-Flag_of_Syria.svg.png Syria (30 months Army & Air force, 18 months in the Navy)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/01/Flag_of_Sudan.svg/22px-Flag_of_Sudan.svg.png Sudan (1–2 years, both sexes)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d0/Flag_of_Tajikistan.svg/22px-Flag_of_Tajikistan.svg.png Tajikistan (2 years)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/Flag_of_Thailand.svg/22px-Flag_of_Thailand.svg.png Thailand (2 years)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/68/Flag_of_Togo.svg/22px-Flag_of_Togo.svg.png Togo (2 years, selective)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1b/Flag_of_Turkmenistan.svg/22px-Flag_of_Turkmenistan.svg.png Turkmenistan (2 years)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/21/Flag_of_Vietnam.svg/22px-Flag_of_Vietnam.svg.png Vietnam (18 months in the Army, 2 years in the Navy)
§  Description: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/89/Flag_of_Yemen.svg/22px-Flag_of_Yemen.svg.png Yemen (2 years service minimum obligation)

Singapore stands together with many of the countries familiar with war and conflict. Again, I am not going to go into this.

As for the word “ungrateful”, there seems to be a lot of discord caused by insensitive comments. In my opinion, many of these shallow comments do not deserve my time or attention. I have had personal experiences with insensitive comments from people. These comments coming from friends and people I know are more hurtful than anything as these are people I consider close to me but who appear so distant because of the polarizing nature of this necessary policy. 

The Education System

The main problem with our education system is that “meritocracy” has been replaced with “elitism”. I used to subscribe very readily to our nation’s approach to handling “weaker students”. That was easy simply because; I wasn’t one! I’m a student of the National University of Singapore (NUS). I used to believe that people who studied hard could always keep up with their school work and do what they wanted to do in life. I believed hard work was everything and that anyone who tried hard enough could succeed.

I became aware of the plight of these “weaker students” when I started giving tuition. At first, I taught for free and after some time when I had become more experienced, started to charge a small fee. I’m not that interested in the money and frequently teach hours over time refusing extra pay. I find it necessary to teach overtime as students just don’t seem to know what is going on in class. Some are so left behind that they don’t even know the simplest concepts. I have taught Elementary Mathematics (E Maths) to secondary 4 students who just can’t understand simple proportionality that they should know by secondary 2. It is not that these people are not trying; they have clearly been neglected by a system that has not adjusted sufficiently to accommodate them.  

Perhaps it is their teachers’ fault. I really can’t tell. After all, it is not easy teaching students who are not mathematically inclined mathematics. Or is there another way? Is there a way in which we can better identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses?

Streaming kids at such young ages as we do here in Singapore is just crazy. Some kids get streamed into Normal Academic Stream (NA) or Normal Technical Stream (NT) after their Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) thinking that they are inferior to Express students. I know this because, well, I teach these people. The hardest and most time consuming part about teaching NA and NT students is trying to instill self-belief into them. Some have just given up. Some of them even feel that their teachers have given up on them.

The polarizing effect of the education system in this case is a disparity in the education levels of students that begins as early as Primary 4. My hope for the education system is that it may one day be more inclusive and truly be a system where “No Singaporean gets Left Behind”. 

Immigration Policy

Many Singaporeans seem to complain about “FTs” (Foreign Talent) coming in to “steal their jobs”. As I am not currently in the workforce, I have not witnessed any such “theft of employment”. It is not too hard to imagine how highly-skilled labour from abroad can displace our own local highly-skilled professionals. As I have not experienced this first hand, I am not going to comment on this.

I communicate very well with foreigners. I have many friends from mainland China who are kind, gentle and respectful. Interestingly, I seem to find qualities among mainland Chinese that we Singaporeans can learn from. We tend to over-generalize and think of “undesirable” Chinese immigrants when we speak of mainland Chinese citizens. The Mainland Chinese I know applaud my meek efforts at conversing with them in their native language. They try very hard to speak in English to each other when they are around me. Perhaps it is because they are aware of their status of “minority” in this foreign land that makes them more sensitive.
Although I may not agree with the Immigration Policies of our country, I do believe that we need to be open to these foreigners.  Do not blame these people for being here; if you must blame someone for the competitiveness in our society and the other problems that have come about because of an explosion in immigration, blame the government for its loose immigration standards. These loose standards have to some extent devaluated our citizenship making our citizenship very “cheap”.

Whether or not this phenomenon is an inevitable result of globalization, the Immigration Policies have caused much social tension between “locals” and “foreigners”. The lines that separate these 2 groups of people have become more defined.

Conclusion

Why do I believe people despise National Service more? To be very honest, I think it has got a lot to do with a lack of belonging to the country among our younger generation. There are times when I feel unwelcomed in my own country by my own people. It offends me quite a lot when local people ask me this very annoying question: “are you Singaporean” thinking that I am a foreigner from India, Malaysia or the United States (for who knows what reason). I guess it started getting offensive because of the frequency with which this question has been asked.

The Singapore today is very different from the Singapore 30 or 40 years ago. In some ways, it is better. However in terms of social-cohesion, I believe Singapore was a more tolerant and cohesive society decades ago. Our bilingual policy has set us back removing beautiful Chinese dialects and defining us as Chinese, Indian, and Malay. Our education systems too has created division and brought about an elitist culture. Our immigration policies have exposed our low-levels of tolerance for people from different backgrounds.  

To conclude, I do believe that many of our policies and views have to be reviewed. Both the Government and the people are responsible for opening their hearts to change. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

US Trip

Wednesday

Arrived with Mum, Dad and Deb at Changi Airport at around 9 50. Was pretty excited as this was the first time I was going to travel with only Deebs. Usually it was always with Mum and Dad or with a school. This was really cool. We made a couple of last minute purchases, bid farewell to Mum & Dad (who we were going to see in about 1 and a half weeks since they were to meet us in San Antonio) and entered the Departure Hall at around 10 30.

We made our way through Terminal 3 to get to the holding room. I have always loved Terminal 3. It is so huge and makes the airport looks so modern and grand. Beautiful carpeting, skytrains to get between departure gates, etc. I made some calls using the FREE phone (which has become like tradition for me). Hehe. The dude I always call first is Stefanus. It has got to do with some Cheapo routine that we used to play in secondary school that still has not died down. Too bad the guy was watching a movie and could not answer the FREE call.

The flight left at around 12am. I slept quite a lot of the 14 hours from Singapore to Frankfurt. I was just so tired! I did manage to watch quite a lot of movies like Cowboys and Aliens and Captain America which are both pretty lame if you ask me.
We arrived at Frankfurt at around 1 30 Singapore time and waited for around 2 hours. Deebs and I took some lame photos using my Webcam (as we did not have a Camera) and posted them up on Facebook to let Mum know that we were fine. We left Frankfurt at round 7 50am local time. The Sun was out and we had a really good look at the German city from the plane. Window seats are just awesome!

I was awake most of the time on the 9 hour ride from Frankfurt to New York. The food was great. I kinda like SIA’s inflight meals. It’s always so GOOD! Haha. I watched a couple of nicer movies and shows such as The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds, Family guy, etc. We reached New York at around 12 pm local time and cleared customs really quickly, in like about 10 mins. However, we had to wait for Shankie for a really long time mainly because when he arrived on Qatar, he took like 2 hours to clear customs! OUCH! I have a really bad opinion of JFK International Airport now. The place is so small and the arrival boards are so poorly updated. The list of shortcomings just goes on.

Anyway, Deebs and I had some iced-coffee and a Chocolate Muffin. That kept us happy. When Shankie finally came out at around 4 30 pm, we got on our way. The sun was already setting and it was completely gone by around 5pm. We took a Taxi to our Hotel, The Morningside Inn on Manhattan Island. Very nice place with nice people.

We went to the supermarket just around the corner to pick up some groceries and headed back. We all slept pretty early that night as we were all just so tired!

Friday

Woke up refreshed and ready to go. We decided to get the New York Pass for US$155. I’d recommend the pass to anyone heading there. It’s really worth it. We went to Times Square, took a couple of photos and collected the passes from the NBC studio. Our first stop was the “Top of the Rock”, on top of the Rockafella Centre. The view was amazing. We took a lot of photos (one of which is currently my facebook profile picture). It’s not as high up as the Empire State, but you can still have a really good view of the New York Skyline.

On the way out, we had a look at the Traditional Rockafella Christmas tree (which has a very interesting history). Apparently the Tree is taken from different parts of the country every year. The practice has been around since the 1930s. For those interested, go ask Dr Google. Hehe.

I had a hot-dog or chilli dog from one of the vendors on the street while Shankie and Deebs went to get something from Macs. After we were done with lunch, we went to pick up some shoes for Deebs as she was finding it hard to walk with heels. I, COLIN PEERIS picked Deebs shoes! I make such a good fashion consultant. Oh yeah! But the main reason why I was desperate to get them was because I just wanted to get out of there! Shoe shopping is really a pain! Goodness! Haha.

We walked to the waterfront and took the water taxi (again for free because of the NY pass) to South Ferry. We intended to take the Ferry from South Ferry to the Statue of Liberty but we had already missed the last ferry so we had to come back the next day. We bought tickets for the Ferry to liberty island and went for a walk around the area.

The park near the dock had squirrels, which could get pretty close to you without running away. Squirrels remind me of KE Hall. There are quite a few squirrels there. We walked around, picked up gloves for me (I had lost one of the gloves Aunty Linda had given me), and had a look at the Building replacing the World Trade Centre. It is still under construction but it seems really nice and really tall. We went to look for Wall Street. Had a little problem finding it but eventually did. Got a photo of the Bull. By the time we were done with that, the Sun was already down. We went souvenir shopping and then headed back to the South Ferry Terminal. We got there at around 6 30pm but had to take the Subway back as we had missed the last ferry.

We had a nice long train ride and got off at Columbia University. We bought 3 Kebebs for $4 each and walked back to the hotel. We had the Kebab in the Hotel. They were… HOT! Deebs and shankie were struggling and I was like crying by the time I was done. But it was SO GOOD! I would recommend the Kebabs to anyone any day, but please ask for LESS HOT SAUCE. That stuff is hotter that Indian stuff!

We went to bed pretty early, again, really tired.

Saturday

Woke up after another LONG sleep. We had to rush over for the NBC studio tour at around 9 15. Although we got there at 9 15am, the show had already started. So we missed the first part of the tour, but didn’t really miss much. We joined the group and went all around NBC studio. Pretty fascinating. We saw the studios of Dr Oz, Sat Night Live, the make-up people, etc. We had very interesting tour guides (Ranchit and Bradley).

Their 2 best jokes:
Ranchit: You’re not allowed to bring any weapons around. So anything the airport considers dangerous, we consider dangerous. So knives, guns, sharp stuff, Justin Beiber CDs, all… dangerous! Haha.
Bradley: The studios here are deceptively big. Many artists get deceived by it and bring all kinds of stuff for their performances. Kanye West was one of them. He brought 40 choir boys, a huge band, dancers, some other stuff, and his BIG EGO with him. HAHA. They still managed to fit that all in.

After the tour, we headed down to Mdm Tussades wax museum. Very interesting and cool! We saw all kinds of celebrities such as Justin Beiber, Morgan Freeman, The Rock, etc. I got fooled by some dude taking a photo of someone. I thought he was really someone taking a photo and waited for about half a minute before I realised that it was a wax figure. Haha.
We had Brunch at Subway… a really heavy one. I had a foot-long Chicken Bacon Ranch. SO AWESOME!

We headed to South Ferry to take the ferry to Liberty Island after brunch. The ride to liberty island was pretty cold and windy. Good thing I brought Uncle Victors jacket along. That one’s super power! IT got him through -15 degrees in Hokkaido! So we called the jacket “The Hokkaido”. The statue was cool. The island was better in my opinion. Haha. The view was really great!

We took the last ferry back to Manhattan Island. It stopped at Ellis island on the way so we took a couple of photos from the ferry.

We headed to Grand Central Station after Liberty Island. It was really big, but nothing that fantastic in my opinion. We took photos and headed to the Empire state Building, it was a 10 minute walk.

The weather was pretty cold so there were not many people there. Before heading to the Observatory on the 86th floor, we went for this NY skyride, virtual thingy. It’s worth $44 but we got it for free because of the NY pass. It was really rubbish! Deebs calls it “The Lamest Thing in the World”.

After that, we lined up to take the elevator to the top. There were not many people there so we cleared everything and were on the 86th floor in around 30 minutes. The view was breath-taking. Very cold, but nothing gets past Hokkaido! I took many photos from all angles before heading down. Empire State’s a pretty cool building.

We walked past Madison Square Garden on the way to the subway. We picked up a Burrito form Chipotle (Mexican Grill) near our hotel and headed back. The burrito was really good. Ate happily and went to bed early.

Sunday

Woke up early for Mass. I was pretty concerned that it would be hard to find a Catholic Church, so I went down and asked the receptionist. He pointed right over his shoulder and said, “Nearest Catholic Church? Right next door.” I was pretty surprised so I went to check it out. Sure enough, there is was!

Mass was pretty interesting. Not an empty parish… there were people. Not a lot, but it was nice to see some young people pretty active down there. The cantor was awesome and the music great. The priest was pretty old and tried to be as entertaining as possible. Deebs and I were picked to be gift bearers! YEAH!

We went to Times Square again. Had brunch at some Italian place. I had a chicken Stromboli. It’s really awesome! We wasted some time walking around. Checked out the Hershey’s shop at the Square and bought some chocolates at really good prices. They even let us sample so… It was HEAVEN!

I picked up some Levi Jeans for $34. It’s really cool and I’m so proud of them. Deebs said that we had a really, really good deal on them as they cost like $100 in Singapore. After wasting some time at Macs over a large cup of Hot Chocolate, we went on the Mob Tour at around 2pm.

The Mob Tour was really COOL! Again, like so many other things, free because of the NY Pass. The guide told us so many stories. Shankie still suspects that the guy has some tie-ins with the Mafia (and I wouldn’t be surprised).
Apparently, the Mafia is still very much alive. The Godfather is not a completely fabricated characted. It is based on true stories. He told us Mafia stories spanning the century, even recent ones. There have been people being jailed as recently as 2 years ago. He told us how Mafia bosses 95% of the time die on the street, or die in Jails.

He told us about Mobsters like Lucky Luciano and other notorious people. He told us about the many killings and how so many legitimate businesses even today are owned by the Mafia families. It is so sad to see how so many people died because of money and drugs that come with the Mafia organisation. Anyway, I’m definitely more interested in reading a little more about that.

We reached time square at around 5pm. It was already dark. Time square at night is really awesome! SO MANY LIGHTS! We headed back early again, picked up some Kebabs and some rice thingy and had dinner in our hotel. I just love Kebabs!

Monday

Woke up early to leave for Minneapolis. We headed down to Central Park (about a 5 minute walk away) before leaving the Hotel. It is a really nice place with lots of trees and… stuff. The Sun was out and there were people there walking. It wasn’t really crowded at all so we had a nice leisurely walk around. The air in Central Park just seems so fresh!

We had to rush back slightly to the hotel to catch the Taxi to the airport. We had already booked the Taxi for 8 30 am and he was on time. We went past the Manhattan Bridge and also the USTA Billy Jean King Stadium! SO COOL! The place where the Man, Roger Federer won 5 straight titles! Really awesome!

We got to the airport, cleared security (very tight) pretty quickly and were on our way to Minneapolis. The flight by Sun Country was fine. We arrived at Minneapolis at 1pm local time. It seemed to have snowed either in the morning or the previous day, as there was still snow on the ground. The weather was really awesome, the air fresh. Very small town kinda feel.

A shuttle service from the hotel took us to the Ramada Hotel. Really awesome hotel with wi-fi in every room. The rooms were awesome. I guess that is what you can expect from small town hotels. The Mall of America, a huge Mall, is like right next to the Hotel and there is an hourly shuttle service to the mall. We spent the first day just enjoying the hotel room and heading down for lunch at the Mall. Deebs and I had an awesome American Burger with Bacon and Beef inside. SO GOOD! We walked around, bought a game for Ben. The game shop people were really friendly. They played the Jungle speed game (the one Ben wanted), and also introduced us to new ones. The atmosphere in Minneapolis is really a lot more relaxed and enjoyable. We picked up the new games and walked around a little more.

There was an old people’s band performing at the concourse of the Mall. It is so nice to see Old People so active. I had some Ice Cream. It costs like $4 for 4 scoops! SO HUGE! And the ice-cream was delicious! SERIOUSLY!

We headed back at around 7pm, taking the shuttle service back to the Hotel.

Tuesday

We got up pretty early, as usual, to pack up and get ready to go. We were packed and ready to go by around 10 pm. We checked out and stored all the luggage with the Hotel receptionist. We took the shuttle down to the Mall again for brunch and a bit of shopping. I had a Pita for lunch and picked up a flees jacket for $8.

We left the Mall at around 3pm picked up all our stuff from the hotel, and took the 3 30pm shuttle to the airport to take the bus to Ames. The bus from the airport came at around 5pm and took us to Minneapolis City centre. The city was pretty busy with a couple of tall buildings and well… Big city stuff. Good thing we stayed way outside the city centre during our 2 days in Minneapolis. That was so relaxing.

The bus ride to Ames was long but a very pleasant one. The driver was nice and I slept most of the way. It was raining in Ames when we got there. Ben picked us up from the bus stop. His hair is SO LONG!

We walked to the Hostel, got settled down and went to hang out with some of his overseas exchange friends who are all pretty friendly.

Wednesday

I woke up pretty early to run with Ben. I thought he would be awake really early so I got up at around 8 am and got ready. When I headed over the Ben’s room, he was still asleep and ended up waking him up. Woops. Hehe.

We only ran at around 10 30am. We explored the university area and the park nearby. There were dears! So COOL! We saw them running away into the forest. Iowa State University is pretty cool. There’s even a Nuclear Engineering Lab! Haha.

We headed back to the hostel and got ready to go for brunch. We met Ben’s Finnish friend, Terro, and his Malaysian friend, Val at the Cafeteria. It was really big and there was SO MUCH FOOD! SERIOUSLY! I don’t think I had so much to eat in a really long time. There was all kinds of food there. I started with Italian food, went on to Greek and then had a chocolate cake, cookie and an ice cream. The chocolate milk was also really good. Iowa State University! Haha.

After lunch, Deebs, Shankie and I followed Terro to Walmart. We picked up Milk, something for Shena and a Spanish Translator which was pretty cool. We headed back to the hotel room and pretty much did nothing else.

Thursday

Ben had his last presentation. We woke up at different times and headed for lunch with Laurenn at around 1. Ben joined at around 2 after his presentation. After anther MASSIVE lunch, we explored the University grounds. We spent the afternoon walking around the area. It was pretty cold when the sun went down.

Friday

We rented a car! YEAH!

We had our normal MASSIVE lunch at the cafeteria. Shankie, Deebs and I went to Wal-mart after lunch. We spent the afternoon around the area.

We headed back to the Hostel at around 6 pm for a MASSIVE Dinner as Laurenn still had a lot of extra meals to clear. I could hardly eat!

We headed back to the Hostel after dinner. We played games at Terro’s room with the other exchange students. They were all having fun enjoying their last night together.

We went to bed pretty late.

Saturday

We woke up early to check out of Ben’s hostel. We cleaned up the area and packed up all our stuff. We left the Hostel area at around 11am and were on our way to Tanger Outlet (2 hours away)to do some shopping. We dropped Laurenn off at Des Moines airport (1 hour away) and then continued on to Tanger. We stopped by at Burger King for Lunch on the way.

Tanger Outlet was HUGE! There were like factory outlet shops surrounding a huge parking lot. Deebs went crazy. She picked up 2 Coach Bags, one for her and one for Auntina. I picked up a couple of books and a pair of shoes.

We had dinner at Arby’s. The weather was really cold!

We headed back to Ames at around 7pm after Dinner. We checked into a Motel, EconoLodge in Ames. Very nice place… and CHEAP! I watched some TV and went to bed pretty late.

Sunday

I woke up at around 10 am today. We had to really rush to get to 10 30 am Mass at the Church of St Thomas Aquinas. We arrived about 5 minutes late and sat at the balcony. From there, one can really see everything. The layout of the Church is pretty interesting. The Altar is like right in the middle of everything and the congregation, the priest, the choir surround it. Very unique and nice. There was an infant baptism, so the Mass went on a little over an hour.

After Mass, we headed down to pick up Shing from the University, and Shankie from the Motel. We walked from the Motel to a Mexican Restaurant nearby and had lunch there. The food was pretty good.

After lunch, we headed to Des Moines which is like an hour away from Ames. We dropped Shing off at a friend’s house. The neighbourhood in which she lived is really cool. The houses are big (not too large) and so peaceful. It really looked like one of those places in the suburbs you see in movies. How nice it’d be to live in one of those!

The original plan was to go skating, but we were too lazy. So we just decided to walk around. We headed to the Capital Building, which is so cool as it has a Golden Dome at the top. A rather pretty building. The park surrounding it was really pleasant.

We left Des Moines at around 4pm and headed back to Ames. The Sun was already setting when we approached Ames.


We spent the night finishing up Ben’s university coupons for cheap/free food. We had ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, Pizza at Dominos and a Pitta. After packing all our stuff and putting everything in the boot of the car, we called it a day and went to bed.

Monday

I woke up at around 4am. Apparently Ben and Shankie had overslept slightly so we had to rush to check out of the hotel, return the rental car, and call the cab. Were rushed around a bit but managed to catch the cab at around 4 45am.

The Cab Company of Ames is really small. Apparently they only had like 2 night-shift drivers. That’s how small Ames is! Tiny little Town with a large University.

We got to the airport at Des Moines before 6 am and checked in the luggage and were ready to fly out. We were in the air a total of 5 hours with a stopover at Denver. We reached San Antonia at around noon. Mum and Dad were there! YEAH!

We took a shuttle to the car rental shop where we had already reserved a space wagon. The Space wagon was HUGE! Really awesome car. It could fit all of us and had space for all the luggage. We cruised around San Antonio and got to the hotel where Dad and Mum had already spent the night in. The Red Roof Inn is a nice place with good rooms and friendly people. We checked in and went for Lunch at a Mexican establishment. The food was good and the servings were huge.

After lunch, we went down to see the Alamo! YEAH! Ben was really looking forward to that one. We toured the inside of the Alamo where a century ago, Col William Travis, David Crockett and other great heroes had died defending the fortress from the Mexican General Santa Ana. The story is a fascinating one with the song “The Ballad of the Alamo” being written to tell it.

After the Alamo, we went to check out the San Antonio river (which is pretty small actually). We had dinner at Macs and headed back to our hotel. Mum and Dad slept really early and the rest of us went to bed after playing Anomia.

Tuesday

We woke up to have breakfast in the dining area of the hotel. After breakfast, we packed up all our stuff and checked out.

We drove to the San Jose Mission (a Franciscan Friary) and spent some time exploring the area. In the area, there was also a church called the Concepcion, which is the oldest unrestored Church in all of North America.

We ate at a restaurant near the mission. Yet again, we had Mexican food.

We took the road South to see the old Western towns. First we went to Castroville. There we saw small houses and buildings with French architecture. After that, we headed to, Hondo and Uvalde. We were on our way to Bracketville to see the Alamo village, the place where they filmed the Alamo. However, we turned back and drove down towards Del Rio as we found out that the place closed early.

We arrived at Del Rio, a small town at the Mexican border. We checked into a motel and had Pizza at a restaurant across the street.

We had an early night after Dinner and some games.

Wednesday

We woke up really early and had breakfast. We left early at around 9am and were on our way. We had a lot to do today. The first stop was Amistad Dam. Amistad Dam runs across the Rio Grande (the River bordering Mexico) and links The United States to Mexico. From where we stood, we could see Mexico on one side, and The US on the other. The view was amazing and there was no one around the area. It was really pleasant and nice. We took a couple of photos and were on our way.

Our next stop was the Pecos Canyon. The river running through it, the Pecos River, leads into the Rio Grande. We got off to have a walk around. Although there was no one in the area, there was so much poop on the ground. Perhaps from wild animals.

We drove Westward towards a small town called Marathon where we had lunch. When I say small, I mean SMALL! There was only like one eating place there, a grocery store (where we bought water) and like around 10 people. It was one of those towns straight from an old cowboy movie. All the buildings were wooden.

After lunch, we took the 385 South towards the Big Bend (a huge National Park). There, we went towards the lost mine trail. We intended to take the trail up to the peak of a mountain. When we got there however, we were deterred by a Bear warning and a Lion warning which gave contrasting advice on how to respond should you encounter a bear/lion. The Bear warning instructed us to walk away slowly and not approach or react to the bear. The lion warning on the other hand instructed us to stand together, appear large, and shout aggressively. Ben brought forward the scenario of the Bear and the Lion appearing together! Haha. However, the main deterrent for us was the advisory against early evening hiking.

Anyway, back onto the road (still in the Big Ben National Park) and towards Chisos mountains. We went by the Ross Maxwell scenic drive and were captivated by beautiful scenery. We stopped a couple of times to explore and take photos. We drove down quickly towards the Santa Elena canyon to beat the sunset, but lost. There was just enough light for us to see the part of the Rio Grande river passing through the canyon. It was a really small and shallow part of the river. The Canyon borders Mexico which was just across the river a mere 10 meters away.  So cool!

After the Santa Elena Canyon, we headed back towards civilisation. The Sun was already down so Shankie had to drive in the dark. There was practically no one around. The night was really clear so we decided to stop the car, turn of the lights and look at the stars. When we did so, there was absolutely no light around and we could see SO MANY stars in the sky. It was really beautiful!

We took nearly 2 hours to reach the exit of the National Park. We were now our way to El Paso. However, the drive was a really long on; about 5 hours long. We had only one stopover at MacDonalds in the city of Alpine.

We only reached El Paso at around 2am. Kudos to Shankie for driving all the way!

Thursday

I woke up at around 9am, had a shower and headed down for breakfast. We were all packed and ready to go by around 10 30.

Our first stop was the Franklin Mountains. Ben drove us to the top. We got off for a while to admire the scenery and were then on our way down towards downtown El Paso.

We walked around Downtown El Paso in search of a place to eat. We ended up walking quite a lot. We eventually settled for a small establishment with really nice people and great Mexican food. I had a couple of Quesadillas.

After lunch, we were on our way to New Mexico. We stopped by at La Cruces to check out a statue of a Road-runner made out of rubbish… Yes folks, you heard me right. RUBBISH!

We took a long ride to through New Mexico to get to White Sands (yet another National Park). We passed by the beautiful Organ Mountains. When we finally reached White Sands, we were pretty disappointed to find out that it had closed for the Day. Apparently it closes at Sun set.

We drove towards Sierra Vista. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the way. We reached Sierra Vista at around 1 am. The office had already closed but they left our keys in a locker by the side of the office. The rooms were pretty cool, with a large pull out bed in each room. I slept with Mum and Dad, and the other 3 stayed together in the other room.

Friday

I woke up at around 9am. The forecast warned of snow, but the weather was sunny… but cold. We had breakfast and left for Tombstone at around 11am.

We arrived in Tombstone by around 12 plus. The weather was pretty cold. We went on a Carriage Ride drawn by real live ponies! I ran Shotgun! Hehe. When we had just about started on our ride, it began to snow. Little white flakes started pouring towards the carriage. It was pretty cool!

After the ride, we went to view some exhibits of the people from Old Tombstone. Stuff like saddles, guns, carriages etc. We watched a short video on the history of Tombstone and the Gun Fight at the OK Corral.
After that, we went to watch a live re-enactment of the Gun Fight. That was really awesome! The performers were really entertaining and at times, engaged the audience. The weather was really cold and everyone was shivering but the performance was worth it!

After the show, we left Tombstone. We set off for the Catalina Mountains (in Tuscon). The special thing about these mountains is that every few thousand feet you go up, the landscape changes. It started off with a Dessert landscape, and then to a climate with Evergreen trees, and then to… SNOW! Haha.

We went to the top of the mountains. It was really cold outside. The view was simply awesome. We played with the snow and rushed to the car when we could not feel our fingers. Then we headed back down when the Sun was nearly down.

We had dinner at downtown Tuscon. We had Wendy’s. I had a “Baconater”! Really cool but very unhealthy. After dinner, and a short trip to K-mart, we headed to Flagstaff. It was about 1am when we reached the Motel.

Saturday

It’s Christmas Eve! Yeah! We woke up really early at around 6am intending to catch the Sunrise at The Grand Canyon. However we were really late leaving. It took us 2hours to get here-way longer than we expected. The snow played a part in that, forcing Shankie to driver slowly.

The view from The Grand Canyon (it costs $25 per car to enter the area) was amazing! It is REALLY BIG! We drove to different viewing points along the Canyon stopping to take pictures and enjoy the view.
After the Grand Canyon, we headed towards Las Vegas, Nevada. We had lunch at Subway. On the way to Nevada, we stopped by the Hoover Dam. The view from the dam was pretty good and there were so many people there. One interesting thing about Hoover Dam is that one half of it is in the State of Arizona, and the other is in Nevada. So effectively, it connects two states!

We spent about half an hour there before heading off. It was already dark when we reached Las Vegas. We checked into our hotel, The Terrible Hotel… yes… I’m serious…”Terrible Hotel”. It’s a pretty cool hotel actually. The rooms were awesome.

We had dinner at the Hotel. The servings of food were really large but the stuff was not that incredible. So…
We met up with Dad’s friend Debbie and her Mum at the Casino in the Hotel. They took us to Downtown Las Vegas to walk around. We watched a short show on the Largest Screen in the world.

We returned back to the Hotel after the outing with Debbie.

Sunday

Christmas day! We woke up late and got ready to go for Christmas Day Mass. We attended the 12 30 Mass at the Shrine of the Redeemer after lunch at Panda Express. There were so many people there! The church was packed.

After Mass, we walked around Las Vegas and visited a number of locations. We went to MGM to see the Lions, New York-New York, the Bellagio Fountains, and other interesting places around Vegas.

After a couple of hours, we headed back to the Hotel. Mum and Dad went to Boulder City with Debbie and her Mother, I stayed in the Hotel (was very tired) and the other went to walk around a little more.

I went to bed pretty early.

Monday

We had to wake up at around 4am to head down to Los Angeles. We were packed and ready to go at around 5am. I slept most of the way to LA.

We reached LA at around 10 30am. Ben left to return the Car and to spend the next 2 days with his Iowa State University Exchange friends who were also in LA.

The Hotel was located in a really awesome area. It was in Hollywood and very near Down Town Los Angeles. As we could only check in at 3pm, we went to walk around Hollywood for a while. We had lunch at a Mexican fast food restaurant. We saw the famous “Hollywood Stars” and the Kodak Studio as well as the place that is used for the Oscars.

We returned to the Hotel at around 3pm to check in. Shankie and Deebs went out and Mum, Dad and I headed down to Down Town LA. We got really lost and were forced to walk around aimlessly for some time. When we finally got to Downtown LA, it was pretty lame. There was not much activity and the shops were all closed.

We decided to head back to the Hotel and grab something to eat on the way back. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant that served really awesome Thai food. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and watched some TV for a while before calling it a night.

Tuesday

I woke up pretty late. Deebs  and Shankie left for horse-riding, and Mum, Dad and I headed off to Santa Monica beach at around 12pm. We took the bus down to the beach. It was like a 30 minute journey. We had lunch at McDonalds before heading for the beach.

We walked around Santa Monica beach. The water was cold but the sun was INTENSE! We left Santa Monica before 4pm.

We did some shopping in the area around our hotel before heading back.

Wednesday

We woke up and headed down for breakfast at the Thai restaurant in our hotel. The food was pretty good. After breakfast, we headed back to the room, did some last minute packing and waited for the Taxi.
The taxi arrived at around 10 45 and took us straight to LAX airport.

We had a one hour stopover at the Tokyo International Airport before heading back home to Singapore. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Day after Night Cycling

I must have slept from around 9am all the way to 2pm. Hmmm... only 5hours. Wow. Night cycling was REALLY tiring. I met up with Bosty, Hazel, You Ying and Kar Mun (aka Roomie) at East Coast park the previous night. We cycled all the way from East Coast, to Changi, to the Singapore Expo and back to East Coast. I think we started off at 9pm and ended at around 4 30am. CRAZY!

There were some pretty interesting things to see during the journey. One of the most interesting things we came across was at Changi Village. That was SO COOL! haha. Anyway, it was one cool night. So fun! I reached home at around 8 30 am, had a shower and went to sleep. Pretty much collapsed onto the bed.

Choir Practice went fine today without Kenny and Karen. Good thing Gareth and Shaun were there to help out. It's so hard drilling songs cos it gets very irritating and frustrating for the choir members. We really struggled with the verses for "Be not afraid". But we got through and the choir sounded good.

And... Marriage/Engage encounter strikes again! Yet another wedding couple decided to call it quits after the programme. Which means one less wedding to worry about. I really hope the couple get things worked out though. It must be so scary for couples to start thinking about Sacramental Marriage. The things to consider and the sacrifices that have to be made... Priesthood/Religious Orders sometimes seem like more friendly options.

Oh well...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

LMC Meeting

I woke up at 7 am today to head down to St. Teresa's Church to attend the Liturgical Music Committee (LMC) Meeting to address the changes in the Roman Missal. Karen and I reached there just in time thanks to great directions from Karen. WOW! She really does have a great sense of direction. Good Job Karen! hehe.

The briefing was pretty... Musical, and they were talking about re-introducing Chant back into the Liturgy. Tsk tsk. WHY?!! haha. Just kidding. Chant sounds nice but I guess it'll take some getting used to.

The workshop ended late, at around 1 and we headed down to Serangoon for Lunch. There, we met up with Hazel and had Broaster's Chicken at Nex. Pretty good stuff! We had ice-cream after that and then headed home.

I spent the rest of the late afternoon and evening reading and writing a post on "Morals and Conscience". What a day!

Think I'm gonna sleep early! SO TIRED! :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Medical Check Up (Tuesday)

I went for my NUS medical Check up today. I found out at the counter that I had to pay $30 for an X-ray. WOW! This must have been the first time I paid for a medical service in a long time. Sheesh! Before this, the SAF had been taking good care of me!

Anyway, my eyesight (with glasses on) is 6/6! Awesome rite?! Sadly, blood pressure reading is still slighly high. Good thing everything went smoothly without much delay.

I headed down for an Engineering Science Programme (ESP) talk after that. The programme Director (Prof CM Wang), a very nice guy, spoke to me outside the seminar room before the talk began. He asked me where I was from and about the origins of my Surname. haha. Why do people find that so interesting?

I met some of my course mates and made new friends. I think around 4 people asked me where I was from thinking I was a foreigner. Should have faked my Indian accent and thrown them all off! MUAHAHA!

The talk was really insightful and the programme sounds really interesting. I think this is the right course for me. And to think 2 years ago I had accepted the Industrial Systems Engineering with all the crazy Programming Modules. Thank goodness I had more time to discern which course to take.

Oh well... only time will tell for sure if this is REALLY the best programme for me. So as Rafa Nadal would say... "I'll just do my best and we'll see, no?"

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Musical Issue

Today I met up with Kenny at around 10 pm to discuss something to do with the choir. I'd been upset over a number of things involving the Music Ministry and Music in general. I guess I've just lost the drive to get better as a piano accompanist and have chosen to believe that the choir and myself cannot be pushed to greater heights. Lately, I've just totally lost interest in Music and find practising a mundane activity that I now do at the very last minute. (WOW! I've really lost sight of things. Man!)

Most of this stems from me personally. I refused to believe that I (as the accompanist) had so much influence on the sound of the choir. I'd just been content on doing my own thing and doing the bare minimum, not focusing on how the choir sounded. (Guess I just lost faith in them and myself). Today's discussion with Kenny was pretty intense. He pointed out many things that I lacked in my playing. I've never really been criticized so much when it comes to my playing in a long time so it hurt a little. I guess I got slightly defensive because the criticism came so quickly and so suddenly after much praise and affirmation from members of the congregation.

I think Kenny's points were very valid. I have picked up things really quickly over the past few months... Nothing to do with skill or talent, simply REALLY hard work. I think I really have to look for another level in my playing because it'll be foolish to stop now after I've come so far.

Thank you Kenny for the advice!

He challenged me to:

Get all my scales in order
Major (Done)
and Minor (not yet)

And get familiarised with the chordings for both the Major and Minor Scales.


So I've come up with a daily practice routine...

1) Major Scales
2) Learn up Minor Scales
3) Chordings
4) Sight Reading
5) Songs

I think the most important thing for me right now is to start experimenting with things and introducing new chords and patters. I've just got to get back that PASSION!

Oh well... We'll see no?