Thursday, November 28, 2013

On writing and the use of language

I don’t quite like my writing abilities. I believe that I am unable to write well because I find the quality of my writing so lackluster compared to the writing s of the materials that I read. Reading such contents sometimes give me the impression that writing well is the innate ability of all human beings. But I do realize that I am never quite able to replicate the fluency of such writings. And I do realize that there are people whom I come into contact with in my life who are not apt when it comes to writing. The most evident of these are some of the people whom I met when I was serving in the army for national service. You do come across people from all walks of life and social backgrounds in the army that you might not come across or have much opportunity to interact throughout your life because of the education path that you take in Singapore. Now, some of these people have such poor grasp of the English language that they are unable to write out a single coherent sentence.

I suppose the gift of expressing oneself in language is a talent that varies in degree from individual to individual. It is partly skill, partly innate, like any other talents or traits in life. However, the ability to use language is so intertwined with how we see our own existence. It is as if we can’t think of ourselves apart from our language that we use to think, or communicate. Yet, as I am observing over here, there is something about language that is quite distinct from one’s self, as much as is a person’s facial or physical features that one finds on oneself.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On machines

Sometimes, I watch videos about how various things in society are manufactured, such as books, or money, or computers. What astounds me are the really complex looking machines that are in place to deal with the entire assembly chain of processes for the manufacture of the product. I wonder how these machines come into being. It certainly takes a feat of industrialization over a period of time for a society to develop these machines. I can roughly guess a certain process needed for industrialization from the start of a rather rudimentary technological society. It’s like, human beings create machines to create more technologically advanced machines, and these in turn create even more advanced machines until what you see today are really complex looking machines that are not readily made by the use of human hands alone, but which are really, in quite an amazing feat of planning, the development of complex machines that stems from the initial use of human hands with simple tools. It probably takes an engineering class of really smart people to make such stuff.

Monday, November 18, 2013

On gifts and talents in life

Sometimes, when I meet up with a friend of mine, we would share about various people that we know and interesting things about them. These includes the likes of those friends we have on facebook who have a flair for art, music, or even cosplaying. I have always wondered though what gifts or talents I have in life. There is the usual rhetoric that is usually passed around in my Christian community that everybody is good at something. So I wonder what is my gift or talent in life.

For one, I really can’t draw for nuts. It has been this way since I was a kid. I remember having an arts teacher in primary school who wasn’t very pleased with me for constantly not handing in arts homework. And I was usually at a loss on what to draw or how to draw it, such that I would ask a more artistically-inclined classmate of mine to let me copy his artwork.

I think I might a little more aptitude where it comes to music. I sang in the choir when I was in junior college. I used to love singing back then, though I can’t say that my voice is of any particular outstanding quality. I joined the preliminary audition round for the Singapore Idol for season 3, which is not televised, and was promptly told that I was not selected soon after. Truth be told, I wonder why I even have the thought of wanting to join Singapore Idol considering that I am adverse towards being in the limelight, and would find it uncomfortable to be on national television where I can only suspect that past acquaintances of mine would be remarking under their breath, “that silly guy”, if they see me on Singapore Idol. I suppose I would be okay if I achieve publicity in the role of being some public intellectual or important figure in society, but I for myself, really don’t think I would sit too comfortably with the idea of being an entertainer or celebrity, which doesn’t fit the bill of what I would like to do in life. It seems like I can play the piano reasonably well, though at the moment, I can only play piano scores, and not by ear. I haven’t been playing the piano for a long time, but I think I might want to try getting back into the touching those piano keys again.

It is recently that I have become more interested in the question of how I can make a living in life, and earn enough to support a family and achieve a desired, satisfactory, lifestyle. I am hoping that I have what it takes to do law. I have also been thinking about whether there are other things that I can do in life for a living. At the moment, I really do like the idea of becoming a lawyer, and excelling in the field.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Saints Day 2013 - Visit to Mandai Columbarium

I visited the Mandai crematorium and columbarium today with my parents on this all saints day to pay respect to my departed paternal grandfather. I was not aware that there was this particular custom in Christian tradition until today. Wikipedia has an informative description of the custom, which is historically catholic, but has derived a protestant significance of honoring the dead based on an understanding of saints as referring to all Christians.

There are shelves of columbarium niches where they are situated, and by going around and looking at individual niche, you do encounter the columbarium of some famous people who occupied vocations of great stature while they were living. One such person is the Honourable Justice Lai Kew Chai, whose niche is situated just opposite to that of my grandfather, Tee Chuan Hock. One similarity that Justice Lai shares with my grandfather is that there originated in the same birthplace of Perak, Malaysia. I doubt they knew each other during their childhood, and each took their respective paths in life. My father joked that the two would have much to talk about given that they are now in the same place.

My grandfather didn’t make a name for himself during his earthly stint. He just led life in a rather unassuming manner, without any yearning or strife for earthly glories whatsoever. From what has been described to me by my father, my grandfather was someone who was not too fond of working, and delegated much of the responsibility for earning the household income to my grandmother. And in the jobs that he did, which were pretty much manual menial labor like being a rubber tapper, or selling fruits and juices on the streets, he had a poor stamina and took leave on many occasions. If there was anything that he would have enjoyed working in though, it would have been to be an entertainer. I heard from my Dad how my grandfather made his way by himself to a distant location in Malaysia to film in a little cameo role in the movie Anna and the King which starred Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, despite the meager stipend that the role brought. My grandfather was also the avid karaoke aficionado, and enjoyed the occasional bout of Chinese/Hokkien song session. Despite not having formal education past primary 3 due to family financial difficulties, he had a large appetite for knowledge of current affairs, and had the literacy that enabled him to read through the Chinese newspapers which he dutifully did so every afternoon. He was also a naturally sociable person, a contrast to my more introverted grandmother, and made friends easily with peers around the neighborhood.

Of qualities, my grandfather has a gentle, congenial disposition, and never once had I seen him kick up a fuss or throw a tantrum. My Dad says that he spoke Hokkien in the manner of a consummate gentlemen, that eschewed all the vulgarities and uncouthness that have come to be associated with the language from the way it is spoken by the underclass Chinese Singaporean population. He had a cool, easy charm to himself, and maintained a clear head under tenuous circumstances. According to my Dad, while they were still living in the village in Malaysia, there was an incident where two rival bidders for a contract feuded with each other, one accusing the other of cheating in the close-bid auction by bribing the auctioneer. My grandfather simply mediated the matter by asking both parties to disclose their bid price, which revealed that the contract went to the party that had bidded the higher sum. Common sense prevailed, and the feud was dissolved.

Of vices he had, there were notably two– gambling, and smoking. I think he manage to give gambling up, but he was a compulsive smoker till the end, which is probably the cause of his stroke and death at the age of 63 in 2001. He was scheduled for a heart-bypass surgery to be made a few week from that date, but the fatal stroke hit him a little too early. I suppose if there is any comfort, it is that he was baptized three days earlier at church.

With that, I end my account of a snapshot of the life of my grandfather. I wish all a meaningful all-saints day.

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