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!

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.