Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No rest for the Wicked...

"...“a book of mine where sound heart and deformed conscience come into collision, and conscience suffers defeat” - Mark Twain on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I don't get it.

Picture this scenario:

A young boy, trying to finish off the last of his assignments. Unable to keep up, tired of work and wanting some sleep, he decides to call it a day and go to bed. The next day he wakes up after a good night's rest, spending the rest of the day finishing off his IA and paperwork rather than stoning on a chair in an air conditioned room.

And in a room not two meters away, his sister is also trying to finish off the last of her assignments, unable to keep up, tired of work and wanting some sleep. Instead she chooses to push herself on, to the wee hours of the night, finishing the portfolio and waking up the next morning coughing and wheezing, eyes barely open from the lack of sleep. And still goes to school.

Who is the good student here?

Why does he feel so much guilt?

Follow your heart they say. In this age Men are engineers of artificial hearts. There comes a point where what is natural is no longer so, and what is created is the "right" thing to do.

Friday, May 22, 2009


The place was bustling, filled with all manner of people from social positions high and low. An old lady, face sagging with age and skin sagging with jewels, trotted her way across to the nearest table, seating herself upon the synthetic mink-fur chair.

A middle-aged man, dressed in a suit of black and white glided slowly up to her, a small pamphlet in his hands. With a wave the lady dismissed the piece of paper, instead signaling for the waiter to come close; those looking closely would notice a small metal card being pressed into the waiter’s hand.

The waiter smiled, flowing back over the rich, neo-silk carpets to pass through the syn-oak double doors at the back. Moments later, he returned, bringing upon a platter a small, silver orb.

“Your order, madam,” he intoned, lowering the dish, “Master Devon has taken great care with his latest masterpiece. Hopefully you will find the balance of sensations tweaked exactly to your liking…”

With a look of almost feral hunger the woman brought the orb slowly to her forehead, where the neuro-interface jack could interface with the data inside.

The world went white-


All around her, the winds were howling. Air currents powerful enough to tear entire tech-homes into scrap metal battered against her body, threatening to toss her to her doom. Thankfully, her power-suit absorbed most of the shock, enough that she could continue surfing along the currents without any serve injuries. Bits of rocks, leaves and the occasional tree flew past, caught in the endless wind-spiral within the tornado. Only she alone remained untouched, guided by the flight regulators in her harness and suit.

Readying her airboard, the Glider shot a brief glance at the monitor’s sensor suite, checking for the predicated paths of all nearby debris.


The scanners on her visor glowed green. With a muffled whoop the Glider released the harness, throwing herself to the mercy of the winds.


The sudden burst of air that caught her nearly caused her to lose control. She grappled with the wind, forcing it down, channeling its fury at being caught into the waiting grooves on her airboard. Almost immediately, the turbulence ceased, as her board shot forward like a bullet into the heart of the storm.

Lightning crackled. A boulder the size of a small dog flew past her, barely missing her head. Still she dived, cutting through the swirling clouds of dust and dirt, going closer…closer…

A flash of brown. Up! UP! In a sudden burst of adrenalin she caught the tip of her airboard, turning its nose towards the sky. Her fall seemed to stretch, slowing as it fell towards the ground, reaching ever so close…


The board soared, rising higher and higher, weaving complex patterns and elaborate routes that always had her barely missing a random piece of debris. Rocks, bricks and metal bars hurled past her head in a single, heart-stopping thrill. Like an arrow she pierced through the swirl of the tornado, streaking through walls of dirt and debris; sticks, stones and tiny leaves battered against her protective suit in a hail of noise, mixed with the screams of the storm in a symphony that brought both terror and wonder to her heart. Layer after layer she passed through, as the sky became brighter, clearer, more colorful-


Behind her, the tornado moved on, continuing its rampage through the artificial turf. Above, the sweet sun sparkled like a diamond in an ocean of blue, the bluest blue she had ever seen, or will ever get to see. She was clear.

The computer took over at this point, activating the gliding rockets, lowering her gently towards the soft, green earth. The sun was growing brighter and brighter as she went down, forcing her to squint. The glow consumed her vision, washing everything in white-

The old lady lowered the jack, releasing a deep sigh of satisfaction. Ah…to be young again…

The waiter was still there, smiling expectantly. With a touch of reluctance she returned the program to him, a second card already on its way to his pocket;

“The mix of anticipation and unease, combined with the use of danger in middle contrasted wonderfully with the sense of relief and freedom towards the end,” she breathed, part of her mind still lost in the after-shocks of her trip “a most excellent experience. Do pass my compliments to the programmers.”

The waiter simply nodded, helping the old lady leave the establishment. Above the exit, the large digital tag-board gleamed in the evening sun’s light:

“Vicarious Living.Inc – Building dreams, One dish at a time”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Big brother is watching you!

We just love our freedom of speech, don't we?

Ironic, isn't it?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On Wings like Eagles

...but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

In a moment of self reflection I look towards my future and ask: what do I wish to be?

The future Me answers, without hesitation: A Writer.

And then I ask: Why?

As a teenager I am sure many of us know how malleable our identities are at this age. To have such a strong conviction is rare. Who we are, who we want to be, between the ages of twelve to sixteen, is largely formed by the people around us: our families, friends and teachers.

And it is the third of the three that I wish to write about now.

I look back and wonder: why do I love writing so much? I recall a time in primary school where English was my third weakest subject, the strongest being Maths and Science (Chinese being my one and only bane to a perfect 90+ score) I remember at that time, how much I loved the science textbooks, almost as much as I loved the various Magic School-Bus and Horrible Science books shelved in the family collection.

But as I grew, to secondary school, to Junior College, to now – something changed. I look at Physics and Chemistry, and feel an odd sense of disdain. Where did it come from? Why is it there?

I look at some of my friends: back then in Secondary 1 and 2, where my passion for science burned strong, I was considered an oddball. Many people I knew then had an open hatred for the sciences. Perhaps it was them? But that can’t be right either. Many people then had an open hatred for English as well.

Then, looking at my term reports, my past classes, the people I knew, it dawned upon me: it wasn’t the subject, or the friends I had.

It was the teachers.

Since secondary school I’ve had a series of wonderful English teachers, men and women of character and intellect, whose influence continues with me even today. Grace Lim, my form teacher and English teacher in Year 1, who was the first teacher to give me a leadership position, to encourage me in class, whose mantra: quantity not quality, we may not finish first, but we never give up the race, sticks with me to this day. Mr. Andrew Wong, with his powerful use of language and patient explanations, who showed me how a single passage could possess so much depth within a few mere lines of text. And now Mr Ferdinand Quek, whose quirky behavior, creativity and viewpoints continue to amaze and stretch my imagination to this day.

Compare this to the types of Physics teachers I have had. Without naming names, or pointing fingers, let me just say this: one of whom did not teach, asking questions but confirming no answers, whose unapproachable attitude made him difficult to understand. Another who treated the class like children, and me like a disabled child, who refused to challenge our intellect our spark our interest, whose seeming lack of knowledge lost us all confidence we had in her. And now a teacher who refuses to let us learn from our mistakes, who insists that the subject is mere memory and copying, who thinks that teaching a class of intellectually bright students is an excuse for not putting in effort to teach well. All of them, as far as I recall, have only shown me a lack of interest in the subject, a lack of interest in the student, and a lack of motivation beyond their own paycheck.

Yes I am offering a rather disparate view of the two. But somehow I cannot really put it any other way. True, I have had good Physics teachers. True, some of my English teachers were hardly inspiring. Yet when I look back now and think about my impressions, the overall outcome is as above.

Let us look at the successful men and women of the past. Great writers, famous scientists, geniuses (or is it genii?), whose passion and creativity changed the world. One common element amongst many of them, when recounting tales of their past, was a teacher or parent, a single person, or even a group of people, whose passion and drive inspired them at first.

That’s the world. Inspire.

It’s a moot point that I’m sure everyone agrees with. Today in education, teaching is more than simply imparting knowledge, more than just exams and tests. Today, a teacher must be able to inspire their students, to encourage them to learn, to seek for themselves.

What my English teachers have taught me that the science teachers have not was the importance of self-study. While a certain…Buddha was harping on about how this and that was "unnecessary knowledge", it not being in the rubrics, another was sending me emails regarding writing competitions and groups with suggestions for me to join.

If you need further proof, I only have to point to a science subject in which my passion, indeed, my entire class’s passion, interest and confidence has not died. Certainly, in teaching this subject our teacher constantly emphasizes the importance of the rubrics, the requirements, the learning outcomes. But equally important, he emphasizes the need for understanding, for creativity, for independent thinking The questions he gives us have no answer that can be copied from within the book - their secret lies in the careful application of previously learned concepts, after which understanding only requires a single, creative step. Each time he does this, he reminds us not to take it too seriously, that it is not relevant to the exams. And yet he continues to give them to us, so that we can (as quoted) "appreciate the subject better", "appreciate the mechanisms involved", so that even as I memorize three pages of complex chemical formula, I can see the beauty and relevance within every single one of them.

He prints notes for us. Constantly asks if we need more time, if he should slow down. All his knowledge, his experience, his time goes into teaching. His standards are so high that the guidebook he wrote for our level, that masterpiece of teaching, became one of the most sought-after study books that students across Singapore are fighting to photocopy and use.

How can one see such passion and not feel inspired to learn?

The issue here is that many teachers simply see teaching as that: simply imparting the knowledge, the skills, and then marking the exam papers. Perhaps I am being an immature child for thinking that teachers own it to the students to teach well. Perhaps I’m not. But that is not the point.

Teaching, learning, it goes both ways. What teachers have to teach now, what students have to learn, is not the mere knowledge of a subject. What all of us have to understand, is that education today is not just about imparting facts and doing quizzes.

It is about teaching students to teach themselves.

And that is what I learnt today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Writer's Smile

The Child looks round for toys and light,
But sees only darkness within her sight;
Fearful cries echo through the night,
While the Guardian comes, to set things right.

The Child knows well, that all things Dark
are not mere shadows that leave no mark,
that joys and beauty are but a lark-
sheltered dogs, no bite save bark.

Yet the Guardian and Child do agree
that the Child must live, happily;
thus the Dark, lock and key
for Life to flourish, pure and free.

But as they say, the Truth shall out;
no matter the way, no matter the route.
Thus with this pen I fight my bout
with the World to whom my words do shout.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Filial Piety

Darkness…just darkness. Yet something was changing, tiny cracks appeared in the ai-

PAIN! Burning…agonizing...PAIN! Searing, flashing, crawling through her nerves, tearing at her soul! A thousand knives, a hundred bee stings, nothing could compare to this. Every fiber of her body was aflame, every sense in turmoil, every thought consumed in chaos. Her memories swirled, like broken wrecks in the storm, occasionally flashing out at her, dragging her into their midst…


“Happy birthday to you…happy birthday to you…”

The song stopped, as the gathered people erupted into cheers. There upon the marble table was an enormous chocolate cake, crowned with candles, cream and strawberries spilling over the sides. A little girl sat behind the massive wall of confectionary, her face partially obscured by the sheer size of the cake.

“Smile dear!”



The pain was back, stabbing through the fog in her mind. It wasn’t as intense, thankfully, but her entire body still felt like it had went through a very blunt blending machine. She could feel her limbs now, and judging from the dull aches she was receiving most of her body was still intact. Yet she couldn’t move. Her muscles wouldn’t respond. Neither would her eyes, or her face. Her whole body was numb, numb from the pain.

Yet this meant one thing: she was alive. She couldn’t move, but she was still alive. She could wait. She could think. Yet…yet the question remained;

Who was she?


The same little girl again, except that her soft young face seemed somewhat older and paler, while beads of sweat encrusted her brow. The girl’s eyes fluttered open at the sounds of her approach, accompanied by a barely audible groan.

“Still sick?”


“Poor dear. Here, have some chicken soup,” a hand…her hand(?) reached out with the bowl. In the memory, she was speaking:

“Keeps the body healthy and strong”


“Feeling better?”

“Mmm…*slurp*” a tiny nod and a smile.

“That’s good. Still have the lucky bracelet I gave you?”

“Mhm…*slurp*” a small silver chain flashed in the fading evening’s light. The string of letters gleamed: To Kim, <3 from Mom

“Then you’d be fine. Sleep well dear,” she made to close the door…



“D’ya think that some day, if you’re ill I could *cough* look after you too?”

Miranda smiled. Kids these days…

“Heh, why not? But you still need to get well first. Goodnight sweetie.”




Miranda. She remembered her name now. Miranda. And her daughter…

Kim…it was her birthday three days ago. Just three days ago. The bracelet was a gift…or had it been more than three days? How long had she been out?

Explosions. Screams. A blinding light…

The panic rose in her, like an ugly tide threatening to overrun the shore, yet she had no way of showing it. Her body was still paralyzed, unmoving, and unresponsive to her mental commands to scream, to shake, to simply break down and cry. The shelter had been ready but they had been too slow…

She could feel now though. Her sense of touch had returned, bringing with it full awareness of the pain and aches that wracked her body, and the occasional hallucination: the feeling of another person’s soft touch, a sense of contact that she barely felt, somewhere at the edge of consciousness, the feeling of someone holding her up…



The Air Sirens blared, though their screams arrived too late. Miranda was the first to react, grabbing the nearest two boxes of provisions and running into the basement shelter where they would be protected, surrounded by its blast-proof walls.

“KIM!” she screamed, throwing the last of the water into the corner, “forget the rest of the food! Get into the shelter NOW!”

There was a series of loud thunks as her daughter dropped what she was carrying and hurdled down the stairs. The pattering of her feet echoed off the wooden steps, only to be drowned out by the sudden hum of airplanes overhead...

“KIM!” she cried, her voice masked by the soft whistling sound in the background, growing louder…louder…

Miranda screamed, as the world exploded in a flurry of noise and light.



Pain. Too much pain. Before, she had been like a disconnected server, detached and removed. Now it was like someone had reconnected a cable, sending a flood of information through her senses, overloading her fragile mind.

The explosion. Bricks flying apart. Fire, smoke and light. Brilliant, blazing light. Cries. Destruction. Light, then darkness. And her daughter, still halfway down the stairway, still trying to make it to safety...fading away…

She felt herself being lifted, felt a cool hand sooth her back, holding her tight. Her screaming stopped as her lungs ran out of air. Almost immediately a warm bowl was pressed against her lips before Miranda could gather air for another round. Her emotions raged against the interruption, roaring to get free.

Gradually, her breathing slowed. The bowl still remained, held steady by an unseen hand.

Miranda relaxed.

The bowl shifted slightly, causing a thick, hot liquid to seep through her teeth. Only then was Miranda made aware of how hungry she was. Swallowing was painful, but somehow, she managed it. One gulp. Two gulps. She could feel the warmth spreading through her limbs, breathing life into their cells.

It was soup. Chicken soup in fact. Half-cooked with lumps of preservatives still floating in the broth, but soup nonetheless. Miranda felt her being slowly laid down onto what seemed to be a mattress of sorts, as she gradually drifted back to sleep…



No one was sure about how the war had started. Some say it was the economy, having finally fallen apart after years of patches and billion-dollar injection funds. Others say it was the terrorists, or North Korea, or even Armageddon. Either way, the outcome was the same. Biotechnology, nuclear power…forces once used for production and protection, turned into weapons of mass destruction.

The sirens had come too late. By the time the two of them had reached the base the bombers were already overhead. She had been deep inside, shielded by the stacks of food and water, wrapped in a bio-hazard blanket. But her daughter…

Her mind retreated, pulling away from the memory like a frightened dog, instinctively trying to avoid the pain and sorrow she felt. Instead, Miranda distracted herself with the outside world, focusing on the texture of the mattress, the coolness of the air, the warmth of someone’s body…

Someone was next to her. Someone small. Dimly she knew that this was the same someone who had been feeding her. The same someone who had been watching over her all this while.

Someone was shaking. Crying. Whispering words she could not hear.

Something hot ran down her waist and onto the cold, hard floor.

Miranda didn’t need to think. Her body simply reacted. Despite the pain, despite the effort it took to lift just one little finger, Miranda slowly lifted her arm, bringing it over Someone’s back, her fingers brushing against it, soothingly, lovingly…

The shaking stopped. The whisperings ceased, to be replaced by a soft, shallow breathing. Hair, said her fingers. No, too long for hair. Almost like fur…

Comforted and comforting, Miranda let herself go, drifting slowly back to sleep...


“Hey,” the voice was rough, authoritative, “Hey! You still alive?”

Miranda awoke, to a blinding light. The events of the past few…days…weeks (?) flowed through her mind, pieces fitting together like a simple puzzle being put together at last.

Gradually, as the glow faded to tolerable levels, Miranda looked franctically around, trying to figure where she was. Before her were three men in bio-warfare suits, masks and all. Two of them were carrying guns, while the third was unarmed with one hand grasped on her shoulder, trying to shake her awake.

“Wha-” her voice cracked, as she swallowed and tried again. “What happened?”

She was in the shelter, or so it seemed. The entire front wall where the door was had been blasted to pieces. Piles of twisted metal, mortar and blackened stone framed the entrance, blocking it completely, save for a single small hole by the side. What once had been her basement…was now a smoking mixture of steel and rubble.

“Yer town got a double-whammy the other day,” continued the Suit, tapping on its wrist screen, “First a Rubblemaker to clear out the buildings, then sort sorta bio-weapon. Good thing you were in the basement when the first one hit. I reckon the debris protected ya from the second strike. Really nasty stuff that turned people into friggin mutants, would y’believe it? Bloody things caused even more damage…”

Her eyes were drawn to where two other men in bio-hazard suits were standing around a large mass of fur. Looking closely, it seemed vaguely humanoid in shape…

“…found yer half-buried in this house here, funny thing is that it seemed part of the wall’ere had collapsed see, only that that creature over there somehow managed to dig through with only its claws. Tis lucky that we got to you then, no telling what them mutants might have been trying to do, with their…”

Miranda would have continued listening, if the words had mattered, but somehow they didn’t. Nothing seemed to matter at that point. The voice faded. The background faded. The numbness returned, with doubled intensity, all dams now broken, all currents thoroughly released. Some part of her was aware that she was crying now, that the paramedic was trying to console her, but Miranda did not care…

One by one the walls and debris fell away, consumed by darkness, as the scene drew her in, filling her entire view. The world consisted of only two things: Herself…

…and the small silver bracelet on the furred creature’s hand.


Sometimes when I sleep these scenes tear through my mind, like some sort of drug-fueled emotional high, leaving me breathless and numb in the middle of the night.

Was there any point to this? I don't know. I guess I just wanted to share.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Seeding Compassion

The cold air greets me like an arctic gale,
hurriedly I pull on my sweater,
smirking at the cyclists outside
sweltering in the tropical heat.
Community service
is hard work;
To think we spent two whole hours
planting nothing but trees.

As I snuggle into the soft bus chairs,
the small black box flickers
importing scenes from overseas:
a news reports, monotone,
about the hundreds of seeds sown via air
in an attempt reforest the jungles-

Disaster strikes!
Sudden flood claims the lives of two hundred people!

I pull out my labtop, and in a manner of minutes
type out a post on my blog
lamenting their deaths:
Such a horrible thing
isn't it? We'd send aid of course, seeing as
it didn't happen here;
Perhaps we could plant some trees?

Newsflash over, the screen resumes
the constant complaints of a hundred environmentalists:
"For every hundred trees they chop
a thousand seeds are sown
yet less than ten of those survive..."
Yada, yada, never satisfied.

The stop arrives, and in stepping off-
A sudden stench!
I back away
at the smell from the old woman's rags
as she potters along
her shopping bag filled
with half-eaten discards from the nearby bin.
God, doesn't she ever take a bath?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Once Cracked Vase

Beautiful, beautiful
the once cracked vase, the
once-had perfection, its surface
now a dichotomy of patterns against the other;
Ordered flowers against spider-web chaos,
painfully beautiful, painstakingly precise.

I made it once, back
when I was what I was, still unsure,
painting over cracks
in my own flesh and bone. Small wonder
that it broke
its materials being the same, the bad tool
blames the workman.

A net to catch water, a glass to catch light;
So what if function it does not serve?
Shattered into fragments, yet still I shall
piece it together
with a Creator's love.