After much preparation, the young self-proclaimed Emperor of The Han Dynastory is now serving a full-time mission to the UK with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He will return in 2014.


Welcome to the Han Dynastory!

As I am now serving a full-time mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have left this blog under the stewardship of a family member, who may post updates on how I'm doing as he/she sees fit.

Enjoy your stay!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

There and Back Again

[written on a piece of paper starting from 5.27pm]

I did not intend to spend my Sunday like this.

Tired, grouchy, pissed and sweaty, standing in the chaotic flux of people, buses, smoke and noise that is the Larkin bus terminal in Johor, Malaysia.

Earlier this morning Ray came back to Singapore from a trip to Malaysia with bad news - his luggage was "lost in transit".

Dad had apparently sent Ray back on a bus as usual, except that this time he had to change buses in Johor, the Malaysian state abutting Singapore. This anomaly caused him to leave his bag in the first bus by mistake. Hence, the responsibility to accompany Ray to head to Johor to attempt to retrieve his luggage became a hot potato between Mom, Shuan and me. As the proceeding events of the day would suggest, I really suck at playing hot potato.

I've never liked Larkin bus terminal, and that's putting it mildly. Hence, I brought along anaesthetic in the form of a novel and lots of Bossa Nova in my phone to ease the pain. It worked, right up to the point when I actually reached Larkin.

Touts, smoke and noise. As I stepped out of the bus, all three greeted me like old enemies who thought we were best of friends. Our first challenge (besides overcoming my utter disgust) was to find the right counter. Thankfully, within minutes I was rapidly switching between English, Mandarin and Malay, making various enquiries and calls to trace Ray's luggage. The task was complicated by Ray's inability to remember his bus number, but eventually, with commendable effort to remain polite, the navy blue duffel bag that ruined my day was found in Bandar Tasik Selatan back in KL, awaiting Dad's picking up. Objective complete. Time to head home.

My day should have gotten worse when a kind old lady helpfully pointed out that the long, sinuous queue almost capable of putting Universal Studios Singapore to shame in front of me was for the bus Ray and I had to take. Interestingly, it didn't.

In fact, it actually got better.

Perhaps I've studied too much human geography and economics. Perhaps I've just been standing too long in the queue. Regardless of the reason, I suddenly found myself looking at the touts, wondering what it would be like if I spent a few days immersing myself in the terminal, shadowing the touts to find out more about their work and lifestyle. I even thought of some questions I would ask them in a survey - how many hours do they work a day? What is their daily/monthly/annual income? Is it enough? do they have other jobs? Are they supporting a family? Why did they choose this job? What do they do for entertainment and how much time do they have for leisure? Are they happy with their current life?

Soon, my geeky interest in gathering information overrode my angst and I actually started to have fun. So here I am, writing everything down (having a Moleskine moment, I suppose). First in the queue to the bus from Larkin, then on the bus to the checkpoint, then in the queue to customs... After all the times I have entertained myself by reading while queuing or travelling, writing is proving to be an amusingly refreshing twist.

And so, I would like to focus my attention back on that last question of the imaginary survey.

Whenever I gripe about the people and environment I face when I'm back in Malaysia (particularly places like Larkin) it rarely occurs to me that these people may actually be comfortable with the way things are. To them, that is life as it is. On the other hand someone coming from a completely different background like me would think it impossible to live such a life. It is the classic case of the town mouse and the country mouse (except that I've been more of a grumpy weasel).

The recent civil and political uprisings may suggest that Malaysians want change (hopefully the kind that brings real progress), but this may not necessarily apply to all levels and individuals of our society. If the government really does come round and makes real progress towards our Vision 2020 (to establish Malaysia as a developed nation), how many people such as these touts will actually embrace the winds of change?

The government recently transformed Puduraya (Larkin's equally evil twin in KL) into something ostensibly comparable to the renowned KLIA. I wonder what happened to the livelihoods of the Puduraya touts? That's a whole other survey waiting to be imagined......

I did not intend to spend my Sunday like this, but wow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Response to the Outcome of the Bersih Rally

I definitely agree that protesters shouting "reformasi" (reformation in Malay) was an extremely bad move on the part of the Bersih movement. A protest against unfair elections and an anti-government protest are very, very different things. Misguided chants of reformasi only serve to weaken the credibility of the Bersih movement. Worse still, it may lay the foundation for further trouble with the elections.

Imagine the outcome of 2 possible scenarios expressed below:

1. The Bersih Movement sticks strictly to their original call for CLEAN ELECTIONS ONLY.
If the government heeds their call and promises and makes provisions for fair elections, the government may still win the election, but if the integrity of the election is proven, the population will have to accept the results.

2. The Bersih Movement mutates into an ANTI-GOVERNMENT protest.
Even if the government heeded the original call for clean and fair elections, citizens confused by the calls for reformasi will think that the whole purpose of the Bersih Movement was to topple the government. This would result in a refusal to accept a possible win in the election by the incumbent party, Barisan Nasional, even if the election was proven clean. Further protests (and likely more violent ones) may ensue, plunging the country further into chaos.

Unfortunately, it seems that yesterday saw the prelude to the second scenario, where reformasi calls sprouted during the protests. It may not have been the intention of the organisers, but they should have ensured that all who took part in the rally were sufficiently disciplined and clear about their goals.

What I provided is a worst-case scenario, a lose-lose situation for both the government and the populace. How the situation actually plays out will depend on how Najib handles the situation. Unfortunately, he remarked that "the incident... will serve as a lesson for everyone that street demonstration not only brings hardship to the people, it could also lead to possessions being destroyed." Such a statement may only serve to stoke vengeful anger against the government, and Najib ought to have been more careful with his choice of words. Nevertheless, credit should still be given to his other statement, 'if there are other issues, the rally organisers can discuss with the Election Commission and the Government. But illegal rallies and street demonstrations are out of the question.'

If Najib truly means what he said, then I hope that the opposition accepts the diplomatic gesture. If there is at least one lesson to learn from the Bersih protest, it is that their intentions must be firmly established and adhered to. Such rallies are not an excuse for frustrated citizens to vent their anti-government anger, eliciting inevitable countermeasures by the police. To stray from the original plan would only prove the government right. Both the government and the Bersih supporters may have made mistakes yesterday, but it is up to the people to show their noble intentions. Let the government see that Malaysians are rational people who will make their stand peacefully. Let the government see that above all they only want to see their beloved country change for the better.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Opposition Politics: The Inherent Advantages

Amidst the frenzy of Singapore's elections, I wish to discuss an issue that surfaced in my mind ever since I began observing American politics. Does the opposition party possess advantages in gaining the support of electors over the incumbent party?

I am not discrediting opposition parties around the world. Indeed, checks and balances as well as alternatives must be present in any system which claims to practise democracy. However, I wish for those with the power to vote to think rationally, and to remember that politics and governance can be completely different matters altogether. Politics is, among many other things, the relationships and intrigue involved in gaining influence or power. Governance, on the other hand, is the administration and directing of the affairs of the state. A great politician may not necessarily be a great governor, vice versa. Those who stand before the people to be elected, be they of the ruling party or the opposition, ought to be judged based on their ability to govern the nation, nothing else. The abilities to inspire and to gain support are important, but they are not the key purpose of a government. Thus, in presenting the inherent advantages of the opposition, my aim is to remind those with the power to elect their leaders not to be swayed by the opposition for the wrong reasons.

The following are the inherent advantages I consider to be present in the opposition's ability to garner support of the people:

1. The Blame Game
All the current perceived troubles of the state may easily be attributed to the incumbent party. After all, they are the ones currently governing the state. On the other hand, bad policies and poor responses to state troubles will never be the fault of opposition parties. Knowing this, opposition politicians may easily sow dissatisfaction among electors towards the incumbents. This makes the opposition appear to be a much more appealing choice, especially when the aforementioned tactic is combined with the Power of Promise, the next tactic discussed. Of course, there is no doubt that governments with truly bad policies should be replaced. However, electors should not allow themselves to be swayed by the Blame Game. After all, the opposition is yet to prove itself as well.

2. The Power of Promise
It is a result of human nature that electors will tend to favour those who speak that which they, the electors, will like to hear. Whether it be by presenting clear policies or merely by stating objectives, opposition parties will naturally promise to outdo the current government. Electors, in their thirst for something better, will want to believe that there is a better alternative, and if influenced by Electrified Emotions, the next point, they may not be able to discern the feasibility of the opposition's promises. This will merely result in them setting up themselves for disappointment when the opposition comes into power.

3. The Electrified Emotions
Man is an emotional creature by nature. Although there are those who shun emotion in favour of logic and reasoning, a majority of us will still be influenced by our emotions one way or another. In the heat of electoral campaigns, politicians will naturally use words with persuasive power and provide arguments which appeal to emotion. Love aside, the most powerful emotion may perhaps be anger. The USA recently saw the rise of the Angry Voters Syndrome, fuelled by figureheads such as Joe Boehner and Sarah Palin, and movements such as the Tea Party. The flame of dissatisfaction with the Obama administration was stoked into all-out blazing anger, which encouraged American voters to "teach Obama a lesson" in the US mid-term elections, resulting in Obama's Democrat party's defeat. Here we see the effectiveness in manipulating the emotion of anger - find a bit of dissatisfaction with the ruling party and blow it up. Most men are vulnerable to anger, and with a bit of mob psychology, the opposition may easily stir up resentment against the ruling party. However, the latter is unable to harness this emotion - anger is best used against the ruling party by the opposition. After all, it is hardly possible and sensible for the ruling party to incite anger against the opposition. Thus, the opposition is granted an ability which the ruling party does not possess: the manipulation of angry emotions.

4. The Impossibility of Immediate and Identifiable Improvement
In the world of policy-making, results are rarely immediate. Very often, major policies which are implemented will take years to have visible effects. For example, education policies targeted at the younger generation are meant to influence the older generation of a distant future. Results of such policies may not reveal themselves within the relatively short span of 4-5 years, the typical length of a government's term. Moreover, the complexity of today's social structure impedes attempts to form clear causal relationships, meaning that it is difficult to prove that a positive outcome resulted from a good policy, hence proving its effectiveness. Thus, the two elements combine to create a difficult position for any incumbent government: the effectiveness of its policies may not be visible during its term, and even so, it is difficult to prove whether or not those policies were actually effective. Thus, within the span of a government's term, the opposition has free reign to "show" that the incumbent is incapable (see The Blame Game).

I had some other points that I decided not to include - they seemed more to be about weaknesses of democracy rather than advantages of the opposition. I may elaborate more on that some other time, but for now, I want to make my message clear:

Vote for the opposition only if you have carefully considered the feasibility and effectiveness of their proposed policies and objectives. For the good of your country, do not allow yourself to be swayed by political manoeuvring, be it by the ruling party or the opposition. We elect leaders because they are good governors, not because they are good at getting us to vote for them.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Males Bond Through Games, Females Bond Through Shopping

I'm making a broad generalisation here, but I this is my sweeping observation of what I perceive to be deep-rooted social conventions.

Drinking aside, perhaps one of the best ways to break the ice or simply strengthen friendships between males would be through games. By "games", I refer to any sport, video game, board game or activity which promotes fun and often an element of (hopefully friendly) competition between participants. I believe it is not too far-fetched to say that the pattern of male bonding through games is consistent throughout all socio-economic strata. Gaming nights for gamergeeks, business or political deals forged over a game of golf for the high and mighty, a few rounds of soccer involving all the village men and boys, weekly games of tennis for the upper-middle class and above, the list goes on and on.

This may reveal how shallow I might be, but here is a case in point: there was once when someone who is now my good friend just moved in, and was perceived to have intruded upon my social circle at the time. Most of us were unhappy with him, and we maintained a cold, distant acquaintanceship with him at best. Then one fine day, I found myself stuck in a room with him, without any where else to go. He had just set up his PS2, and was geared up to play Time Crisis 2. He tentatively asked me if I would like to take turns with him, and handed me the gun controller. All ice between us immediately shattered the moment my trigger finger got to work. At last, we had found something we could both agree on: Time Crisis 2 is an awesome game.

Till today I still find games an effective means of making friends. Soccer during recess and after school back in my secondary school days in Singapore, trips to the LAN centre after school or work and so on. Even talking about games can result in endless conversations with people whom I hardly see or knew at all.

Now, on the other hand, I probably don't need to say much about what shopping together does for females. I will probably make a fool out of myself trying to analyse such social behaviour, but I know one thing for sure: there is a certain light in Felicia's eyes whenever I go window shopping with her, and there's suddenly a lot more that we can talk and laugh about.

And so we arrive at the point I wanted to make: assuming my observations are accurate, if you're out of ideas for creative activities, these are things you can fall back on.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Cultural Exchange

Just a few hours ago I took Mom, Ern and Ray to Chinatown to celebrate Mom's birthday. Our journey to our intended location (Mom chose the place) had a few hiccoughs, and needless to say, we ended up some place else. We still got what we were looking for, at least - Chinese steamboat.

We found ourselves along a row of shophouses, pausing in front of a comparatively clean, yet peculiarly quiet Chinese restaurant. A mainland Chinese man with tilted eyes, a crew cut and a rather endearing smile stood before us, his right hand at an angle away from his hip, inviting us to dine.

Mom was specifically looking for Ma La, literally a numbingly spicy kind of soup used in steam boat, alternatively known as hot pot, especially in Mainland China. In his thick, probably northern Chinese accent, our waiter assured us that they offered Ma La Tang.

We proceeded to enjoy our meal, delighted by another Mainland Chinese style of eating steam boat: mixing our own sauces. During the course of our meal, Ern abruptly put his chopsticks down and announced, in curious panic, that his tongue was going numb. He accused the vegetable he had just chewed on, and in a few moments he apparently started to salivate a little bit more, though his tongue had gone numb. After a bout of puzzlement, Mom concluded, half jokingly, that it must be the Ma of the Ma La, literally the "numb" of the famous Ma La soup. She even pointed out the pepper-like condiment in the soup to be the likely cause of his discomfort.

Before long, I too found the tip of my tongue losing its feeling. It was a most peculiar sensation, I must admit. Laughing, my Mom asked our friendly waiter if Ma La was really supposed to have such an interesting effect. Excitedly, our waiter explained that Ma La indeed had that very effect, a result of the spice Mom had noted, called Ma Jiao, literally translated as "numbing pepper". He shared that he particularly enjoyed that numbing sensation on his tongue, and would inhale deeply through the mouth to get that funny tingly feeling. In that moment of his excitement, sharing about the food he loves, the "accent barrier," as I call it, between him and our family thinned. It was an interesting feeling difficult to put into words, to connect to him not through words but through feelings and ideas. That certainly broke the ice.

Later, their only other customer arrived - a Caucasian tourist. Through a series of gestures and hand signs, she ordered her food, which they served promptly. We soon ended up watching her struggle to cut her meat with a fork and spoon. Amused, we suggested to our waiter to bring her a knife. Half smiling, half chuckling, he shuffled back to the kitchen, his rummaging reverberating throughout the room, only to return, almost triumphantly, with a butter knife in his hand. Just after he handed her the much-appreciated knife, she made another gesture requesting a napkin. Our family found it hilarious, and suggested that he gave her a packet of tissue as a crude substitute. There we were, Mainland and Straits-born Chinese, forgetting our differences in the face of an entirely different culture.

Our other waiter later lamented his inability to converse in basic English. He asked us if we could recommend any disks which he could purchase and learn conversational English, just so he would be able to serve his English-speaking customers better. After reading all that online trashtalk about the stereotypical Mainland Chinese whose rudeness surpasses Singaporean tolerance levels, it was a heartwarming reminder that the likes of our kindly waiter are still out there, merely overshadowed on the net by their uglier counterparts. Of course, we should also bear in mind that the internet has apparently been more useful in dishing out the dirt on others than in praising those whom we do not know personally, but that's another issue to discuss another day...

And there you have it, a three-way cultural exchange in a humble restaurant along the crowded streets of Chinatown. For some reason, the image of our friendly waiter seems stuck in my head. His smile radiated a sense of calm quite unlike the hustle and bustle of Chinatown. After a long day of work and stress, it was a real treat to end it off with that brief acquaintanceship between our family and the waiters. Food for the soul indeed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What I Learnt Today

Always respect the time others should have to themselves. Always.