GAB5 – Too old for goals and aspirations

When I was a young, I wanted to be Miss Universe. I figure any woman with a bejeweled crown as huge as her head would look beautiful. The closest I came to acheiving that was winning Miss World while playing a board game of the same name. I didn’t know my goal then wasn’t SMART.

My goals were dynamic and fluid as I was growing up. I wanted to be a journalist, although I didn’t know being in a Chinese school would be an obstacle, and that would also prevent me from studying law as I was barred from taking GP in A’levels, unless I do what my friend Sharon did, repeat O’levels to join the next batch and be eligible for GP.

Otherwise, I never felt the need for goals. I just drifted with the flow, going to where life took me. I knew I wanted to be married and have children, but it wasn’t a goal.

I really only started making goals when I learned about SMART goal while working in ICI and wanted my sons to learn about goal settings. So on the first day of every year since the early 2000s, we would sit down as a family to make 1-year, 5-year and 10-year goals. We also made a goal each for each other in areas we felt they needed to improve on. My sons were initially unhappy that I stipulated the conditions that their goals should incorporate grades as they were students, but they relented eventually after much debate. The goals we set for each other were SMART – Get straight As (mine to them!), run a marathon in December, lose 5 kg, pass driving, publish a book, etc.

We miss setting goals this year for some reasons. I know what my goals are though – they are now more specific although they might not be realistic, as they involve some skill and talent which might be lacking in me. I hope to publish my manuscripts and is working towards it. In yoga, I hope to be able to do the handstand and a split. Perhaps a reason why I feel these goals are elusive is that I haven’t set a timeline so as not to stress myself up. I also have a not so specific goal to age healthily and happily by getting myself out of comfort zones whenever I can. Age has made that easier as I am less bothered by how people see or judge me. It’s might be embarrassing for my sons when I go on stage at a Kopitiam to sing free karaoke, or spontaneously dance in a concert, but like everything in life, they adapt to the mother they have, however unfair they may feel. (But I think in secret they think their mother is cool.)

A conundrum I face with setting goals is the expectation and the disappointment which comes with it. It’s a bipolar feeling of a high when I set the goals and the lows when I fail to achieve it. Thus there is this reluctance I face about goal settings. Better not set and just go with the flow. Life would be so easy if I just live like many of my friends do, watch Korean dramas in front of the TV and do nothing else except being a contended housewife. I often ponder too – like why do I even need to set goals for yoga? It’s so stupid when you’re just supposed to practice for physical and mental health. But this is precisely the point – there’s no commitment if there’s no goal to work towards too. And so I plod slowly, not unlike a snail, except it glides gracefully which I don’t, and I should really be using a tortoise but I’m using the snail analogy as the snail reminds me of my yoga teacher, Denjz.

To conclude, I think I’m too old for goals and aspirations.



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GAB5 Death and Spirituality

(This is my essay for a Guided Autobiography (GAB) workshop on death and spirituality.)

I must be between four to five year old when I first learnt about death, probably from TV, and knew it affected old people more. I was also influenced by my neighbours at Cuppage Road who were Catholics and taught us to pray. So I would pray nightly to please not let my gong gong die, as he was very old to me. Till this day, some of my aunts are still influenced and attend Novena Church weekly. I used to attend with them in my teens and enjoyed singing the hymns but I stopped attending because it took too much time and effort. Throughout my childhood, I thought I was a Christian because my paternal family members are Christians and Grandma had a Christian funeral, but I’d never been brought to church by my father.

When I was in the university, I met a fellow math student who was baptized a Catholic at birth but chose to become a Buddhist because he felt it made more sense to him. I was in awe when I heard that. I attended a few Christian meetings and like him, I felt the teaching does not resonate with me, and was particularly offended when I was told that I’m a sinner. I would rather be a knowledgeable sinner than an ignorant savior. Thus on I called myself a free-thinker.

I now consider myself an atheist or humanist and follow more the Buddhist’s philosophy of life. My spiritual mentor is Ajahn Brahm, a Cambridge Physicist who was ordained as a forest monk. His public talks are relevant and secular. Buddhists believe in impermanence and that make deaths easier to accept since everything in life is impermanent – including the good and the bad.

My sons were invited to City Harvest Church for Christmas by their cousin and when they returned, they told me they went up on stage. Why? I asked. They said the MC asked those who are ready to accept Christ to go on stage and they did. I was aghast. How could you be ready in just one night? So I plonked an encyclopedia of World Religion on the table and demanded that they do a comparison study between the different religions before they decide. They decided they want to be religion-free instead.

I think it’s great being a free thinker as I can do as I pleased and be morally guided by only my conscience (and not a preacher or a holy book). I have a friend who can’t go do Yoga to cure her bad back because her pastor deems doing Sun Salutation as not Christian. Another can’t visit a Chinese temple in China as part of a tour because she can’t view the sculptures inside. Grandma is studying the bible because my Aunt wants to convert her and she wants to go to heaven when she dies. I don’t agree but have learnt to keep my mouth shut, although I did ask her, where she thinks heaven is. Just as when the visitor asked us last week, that if everyone should end in death, including the good and the bad, where’s the justice. I wanted to educate him about karma.  I also disagreed with him about meeting my spouse again when I die. Oh please, I thought, where’s the fun?

I don’t consider myself spiritual and am impressed by people who consider themselves to be, especially if they have no religion yet are spiritual. I think we should celebrate death in order to celebrate the life of the deceased, like how we celebrate the birth of a baby. My uncle who just passed away recently at 62 had lived a good life, often with a cigarette in one hand and a can of Tiger in another. I’m glad he didn’t allow us to visit him in the months leading to his death as the memory I now have of him is one of a cheerful man who embraced life. I wrote an elegy poem celebrating his life and wished I had the opportunity to have read it at his funeral if I had been around, like how a friend from NZ celebrated his mother’s life at her funeral.

If I should die, I hope my family celebrates my life with a one-day funeral party where I shall lay in my cheerful white coffin painted with folk art roses, and guests be served tea and scones with strawberry jam, and then ends the party with a singalong.

I would like to end this essay with by reading my favourite poem by Christina Rossetti.


When I am dead, my dearest


When I am dead, my dearest,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Nor shady cypress tree:

Be the green grass above me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

And if thou wilt, remember,

And if thou wilt, forget.


I shall not see the shadows,

I shall not feel the rain;

I shall not hear the nightingale

Sing on, as if in pain:

And dreaming through the twilight

That doth not rise nor set,

Haply I may remember,

And haply may forget.







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Six-word Memoirs by Famous & Obscure Writers

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The six-word story is started by Ernest Hemingway in which he wrote: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

I’ve written some 6-word stories myself for contests which I’ve failed to win but I love my 6-word stories. Tell me what you think of them.

Lost: iPhone, your number, our future.

Decoupled yet connected. Are we over?

Mamihlapinatapai moment: please let him initiate.

I share some quotes from this book which particularly resonate:

I know the feelings:

Glass half full; pockets half empty. – Marina Guthrie

Batteries are cheap. Who needs men? – Rebecca Melenna

Verbal hemophilia. Why can’t I clot. – Scott Mebin

Still lost on road less traveled. – Joe Quesada

Why reach always exceed my grasp. – Ray Garrand

I wish:

Moved to SF. Geek not gay. – Ryan King

Found true love. Married someone else. – Bjorn Stromberg

Birth. Childhood. Adolescence. Adolescence. Adolescence. Adolescence. – Jim Gladstone

Forty-five. Never married. Oh Poo. – Sonia Orey

No wife. No kid. No problem. – Rip Riley

Married for money. divorced for love. – Rosie Abraham

Writers would empathize with these:

After eighteen years, sold my book. – Susan Runholt

Perpetual work in progress, need editor.  -Sherry Fuqua-Gilson

Learning to be great at mediocrity. – Christopher Reiger

Pitched. Pitched. Pitched. Wrote. Revised. Revised. – Andrew Adam Newman

Realized childhood dream doesn’t pay bill. – Nicole William

Happiest when ignoring huge financial debt. – Ayanna Bryson


My brother-in-law, Frank,  should quote this:

I think, therefore I’m bald. – Dickie Widjaja

My mother, myself?

Was rebellion teen. Now raising one. – Michelle Ganon

Became my mother. Please shoot me. – Cynthia Kaplan


Arms: Full. Life: not so much. – Renee James

Educated too much, lived too little. – Dan Vance

I have not done it all. – Aaron Knoll

In a Manolo world, I’m Keds. – Colleen Cook

Was big boy, now little man. – Chris Cooper

Oh dear me!

Girlfriend is pregnant, my husband said. – Shonna MacDonald

Ex-wife & contractor now have home. – Drew Peck

Could be me:

Beat death twice, still not religious. – Shan Palmer

Lived like no tomorrow; tomorrow came. – CC Keiser

Born in California. Then nothing happened. – Mark Harris

The road diverged; I took it. – Rachel Harris

If only:

Danced in fields of infinite possibilities – Deepak Chopra






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The Lives of Others – German Movie Review


(Warning: Spoiler alert.)

This is my homework for screenwriting module, although, after last night’s viewing, I realise my lecturer also played the video partially to us before to illustrate the point on dramatic irony: when the reader has more information on what is taking place or what may develop in the story before the character or the characters. 

The movie starts in 1984 in Berlin with a Stasi (State Secret Police) interrogating a man and the recording of the interrogation is then used by Wiesler to teach the group of rookies as to why the man is lying despite being kept awake for forty hours. When a rookie remarked on the cruel method, Wiesler marks him, giving us the impression that he is indeed a cruel man.

A corrupt Minister Hempf is smitten with stage actress Christa but she spurns him, and he wants her playwright lover, Georg Drayman, arrested, although he is deemed clean. Wiesler is tasked to monitor him by planting bugs around the apartment, in order to find an excuse to arrest him. As Wiesler gets more involved with the lives of Drayman and Christa, and witness their love for each other and the loyalty of their artist friends for them, he can’t help but compare to his own pathetic life, friendless and alone, when he can’t even trust the colleagues at Stasi. He finds himself rooting for them in the harsh and cold socialist environment. So when there were many opportunities to arrest Drager, especially after the suicide of his good friend and director, Wieler tweaked the report to favour Drager, until the arrest of Christa for drugs consumption when she betrayed Drager to save her own life and career. Yet Weisler was there to save Darger again. The case against them closes when Christa gets killed in a car accident and Weisler is demoted to the post department for twenty years, for his failure with Drager. However, four years later, the Berlin Wall collapses and he’s free. On a chance meeting with the corrupt minister, Drager is shocked to learn that his house had been on the watched list. He learned who his saviour his. Two years later, his novel,  Weisler buys the book The Sonata for a Good Man by Drager, which is dedicated to him.

Good story aside, the method of telling it is also important:

  1. Exposition – The prisoner is made to repeat his statement for the audience despite the fact that he had already written a statement.
  2. There were many instances of dramatic irony in this story. Drager’s neighbour is warned by the Starsi to keep the secret that his house is bugged, and then Drager seeks her to help with a tie, and ask her, ‘You can keep a secret, right?’ to not let Christa knows he can’t knot a tie, not knowing that the neighbour is keeping a bigger secret from him.
  3. Drager’s friend’s remark: ‘It’s (Drager’s home) the only place in GDR where I can say anything I want.’ The audience knows the house is bugged.
  4. When Weisler buys the book in the last scene and the cashier asks him, ‘Shall I gift wrap it?’ and he answers, ‘No, it’s for me,’ meaning it literally.
  5. There were many suspenseful moments when the audience knows more than the characters – like the house being bugged, the typewriter’s hidden place (although we didn’t know initially that Christa did not reveal this in the first search by the Starsi.)
  6. There were many internal conflicts experienced by the characters – for Christa when she is arrested, for Weisler.
  7. The transformation of Weisler from who we initially thought is a cruel man focused to bring Drager down is dramatically change by the time the film ends.

So this movie is indeed a good story well told, as evident by its win in the 2006 Academy Award for the best foreign film.


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Poop! – A review



Talented playwright Chong Tze Chien who also directed the play.


I bought the book Four Plays by playwright Chong Tze Chien to prepare for a class presentation of one his play, Charged, a few weeks ago. Charged was poignant to read and better to watch, which I did, on a video recording of it at the Esplanade Library. Thus, I was delighted that as part of the Contemporary Classics Season by The Finger Players, a company owned by Chong, Poop! was staged last weekend at the Victoria Theatre.

I didn’t read Poop!, although it was one of the plays included in the book, and mistook it as a comedy. I mean, you can’t blame me right, with a title like that?

This play is a sob drama. My date that night, son Ivan, told me a woman was sobbing throughout.  I didn’t notice, so caught up in the drama that I could have been sobbing myself. Poop! is a clever theatrical play of clever lighting to nudge the audience to the focus on stage – a leaf that is flying, an NTUC plastic bag fluttering in the wind, a face without the body, likewise a hand or legs. To emphasize on this play of light, there is a short performance of Indonesian wayang kulit as the protagonist Emily imagine playing with her father.

Emily’s father leaped to his death when she was five. Her grandmother tries to dispel the gloom in the family by being cheerful and making up stories to explain the father’s disappearance and to make up for the mother’s anguish. The family’s ordeal is made worse by Emily getting cancer, but Emily herself is unaffected and remains her cheerful self. She sees ghosts around, especially her late father when she’s sitting on the toilet bowl trying to poop. The father-daughter pair continues their relationship as she grows up fighting the cancer, then finally succumbs to it.

Kudos to the wonderful actors, the same original cast from 2009 production – Jean Ng as a very believable young Emily, Neo Swee Lin as Granny, Julius Foo as Daddy and Janice Koh as Mummy.

I can’t wait to watch more of Chong’s play.


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An Evening of Xinyao – 新谣之夜 Review


I’m a fan of Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), having attended their concerts a few times, after first being introduced to them when I won a pair of concert tickets a few years ago. They’re innovative in their selection of repertoire as well as the arrangement of pieces, and Chinese orchestra music no longer is dated or just associated with Chinese funerals and street wayang. In fact, they are quite hip with the inclusion of western instruments like bass, piano, and drums, like last night, when xinyao (local Singapore compositions) was accompanied by SCO. But I must concede, I only went last night because I wanted to hear my favourite singing doctor Dr Alex Su and perhaps take a selfie with him. No such luck, although he did sing my favourite song, 故乡的老酒, disappointing though as he sang only one song whilst the rest went on for quite a few songs. I guess being a busy doctor meant he had no time to practise.

I was seated in the front row, the cheapest ticket which gave me such a close view of the singers I felt almost uncomfortable. I could see the beads of perspiration on conductor Yeh Tsung’s forehead as he swung his baton and tapped his feet. I love the selection of songs, a good representation of original xinyao hits, although the arrangement of the combination of the first few songs sounded a little weird and disjointed. I would have preferred the songs to be sung in their entirety. Pan Ying did my husband a favour by singing his favourite hit by her, 说时依旧. Jimmy Ye came out and caught my eye as we waved to each other. In a swanky long overcoat and a neck broach, he sang Tashi Delek. It was amusing watching Roy Li trying to rein in his mischief in the somber environment of a serious orchestra, and he finally uttered a dejected ‘let me go learn er hu first‘ when the second encore failed to get the conductor to return for another round, something he clearly yearned. The concert was just too short for him and for the xinyao fans present.

There’s a reason why the front row seats are cheap, as I discovered. I couldn’t see the back row of the orchestra, and I can’t hear exactly what instruments were playing, And because the speakers were directly overhead of us, the sound system was more analog than steareo.

Still, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night and I regret not getting more of my friends to attend. They would have enjoyed themselves too.

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The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki- Movie review


Thank you, Suomi Finland 100, for the tickets to watch my first Finnish film. Finland celebrates its 100th years’ independence on 6 December and this film festival is part of the celebration in Singapore. This film, released in August 2016, is set in August 1962, just before the home match which boxer Olli Maki is up against American world champion.

Olli Maki is set to compete in the lightweight category, and he has to get his weight to below 57kg. Two weeks to the match and he weighs 60+kg. He has just fallen in love, but his coach wants him to focus on the match instead of having ‘a chick hanging on him’, which does not look good to the public and to his sponsors.

Ollie wants to train in peace but is made to go through all the publicity promotion for the match, touted to be the biggest match in Finland, and the coach Elis, has spent all his money banking on Ollie to win. With such high expectation, Ollie loses confidence and his girl Raija whom he neglects.

He tries hard to lose weight, to the extent of almost fainting when fully clothed in the sauna and trying the bulimic method of induced self-vomit. We share his anxiety. How could he win if he is starving himself trying to lose weight?

The match on 17 August 1962 is meant to be the happiest day in his life. Would it be? Which kind of make me ponder about expectations and happiness.

This movie has all the Finnish ingredients – lakes, cigarettes, sauna and full male frontal nudity. I know because I’ve been to Finland and yes, I actually saw a naked Finnish man as he helpfully exited his sauna to point us to the right direction to the swimming pool, in all his naked glory, except the one who was self-conscious is the fully-clothed me. But I digress.

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