Making Light of Things

January 2012 Archives

It's All There

It was either Oscar Wilde or Mclandburgh Wilson who wrote,

“Between optimist and pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist the hole!”

There’s that, and the old cliché of half-filled or half-emptied glasses. The whole idea revolves around the power of changing one’s perspective.

Friends who’ve been following the photos of my commute to and from work have always commented that I live a pretty amazing life. In typical Singaporean fashion I’m quick to discount how wonderful it is, but I realise my mistake: rather than showing them how similarly empty my glass is when compared to theirs, I ought to be pointing out to the jug of water on the table, and how we have the power to fill those darn glasses.

Leaving home for work an hour earlier means I get the chance to put in a little bit of a detour from the daily commute. Sometimes I’d get off the train a couple of stations early and walk the rest of the way; other days I’d hop on my bike and ride in to work. And to be really frank, these moments see me through some of the tougher days.

Discovering an entire field of morning glory really helped me during a low patch.

Morning Glory

And making up my mind to leave work on time, and riding home the long way round after a downpour:


Cloud City

I guess I’ve never really been consciously thankful for the many folks who’ve worked hard on providing such beautiful surroundings, slogging away at the Ministry of National Development, Urban Redevelopment Authority, or National Parks. It’s taken many years of planning and execution to get to this point.

I’ve placed all the photos I’ve taken while going to and from work under a Creative Commons license, which essentially means anyone can use it for non-commercial purposes so long they leave proper attribution. That’s my small contribution to helping all of you out there realise what we have here. It’s the very least I could do.

Wife of My Youth

Sometimes as I sift through the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years, a sort of hazy third person perspective comes over me, like an out of body experience as I look at the visual evidence of what seems like someone else’s life.

There’s a chronology of sorts: the photos of the carefree student at the turn of the millennium; the portfolio work of a starting professional photographer; photos of our new home, then unfurnished and unrenovated; the births of our two children; and the many, many weddings of friends over the years.

Youth doesn’t seem that long ago, but my Sunday School students remind me that time has flown silently past. They joke about how old I am. They’ve grown up in a world that always had mobile phones, while I reminisce about pagers and the alpha-numeric acrobatics we had to perform to send messages. 07734…stuff like that.

During my carefree student days when I first got serious about photography, I chased after every storm because I was madly in love with the dramatic contrast they provided. Tucson skies were mostly clear and cloudless, so storm clouds added much needed texture to the wide open sky.


Now more than a decade removed, I found myself sitting in my study this afternoon, finally getting some alone time after having spent the earlier part of the day taking care of the kids. The thunderstorm outside was just subsiding and the evening sun shone bright - perfect conditions for a rainbow.

Sure enough, my Facebook feed started filling up with rainbow sightings (quite a number of double rainbow photos too). The photographer in me stirred, so I did my duty and looked outside the various windows in the house and realised our house was facing the wrong direction. So I headed back to my study to chill. I left those days of chasing storms and sunsets behind me.

I feel old.

Faith comes into the study all excited about the possibility of seeing the same rainbow, and to be honest, her suggestion that I go downstairs to take a photo of it felt a lot like an extra chore, but I grabbed my camera and put on my sandals. Then I held her hand and we stepped outside.

It felt like an adventure.

When we ran to the bend in the road and spotted the rainbow we literally squealed with delight. She whipped out her phone, but I kept running to the vantage point I knew I’d get more sky. And as I ran, those steps felt so familiar, and a decade melted away. The golden setting sun, the dark clouds, the slight drizzle, and the beautiful arc of a rainbow that hung so gloriously in the sky.

Rainbow, Singapore, 21st January 2012

I stood there, young and carefree again.

The rainbow eventually lost its glow and faded, and I crossed the street back to my wife who was waiting for me. As I crossed the street the years came back: the whole stream of photographs of all the memories we’ve collected along the way. I held her hand, so very thankful that she shook me out of lethargy for a trip back in time.

It was nice to know that Faith brings out the original person in me. The person I was when we first got together two decades ago. The writer, the photographer, the dreamer.

My best partner, my friend and my love. I could ask for no better companion. I could not have asked for a better journey thus far.

Take me to your leader

My daughter Anne asked her mother, “How did you know that Daddy was the man you wanted to marry?”

My wife, caught off-guard, gave what I thought was a decent answer. “Daddy is a good man who loves God very much. He’s a good leader of the family.”

Anne: “…but I thought you were the leader of the family.”



I often wonder if my role as a parent lies not so much in the education of my children, but in protecting them from the process of “growing up” which seems to rob them of the many wonderful attributes they already intrinsically possess.

When Anne used our bathroom two nights ago, she used the last scrap of toilet paper on a used roll, when the rest of us adults had already moved on to a brand new roll. When she was done, she picked up the toilet roll core and laughed aloud with glee — she now had another to add to her huge collection of handmade toys.

Her table is strewn with them: used toilet rolls fashioned into binoculars and telescopes; old Yakult bottles carefully painted over and decorated, each holding a different prize she placed in them; used pieces of cardboard formed into a treasure chest, complete with sticky tape hinges and a rounded cover. She lives in this bohemian paradise created by her own two hands, a pair of scissors and her unlimited imagination.

This very moment of reflection has me a little embarrassed to find myself struggling with a depleted sense of self-worth. I find myself wanting things I don’t need, whether it is a condominium so the kids can go swimming whenever they like, or a car that’ll open up new places and adventures for us. The fact that I can’t quite afford these things gets to me a little, and I sometimes wonder if all this “serving the people” kool-aid that I’ve been feeding myself to a life spent in public service will eventually leave me bitter.

It is also in these moments God speaks to me through my children, reminding me that joy is not found in possessing things, but in creating things. Creating things that make others happy, creating things that communicate beauty and goodness. Creating things, whether words or music, photographs or living memories that fill the moment with such abundance brings true happiness. Coming back to where it all begins — to the Creator — and being thankful not just for the things we have, but for the things we can share.

Head to Head, or Hand in Hand with the System

It’s Anne’s fourth day in Primary school, and she cried before bed last night. It was a culmination of small reasons, and it was a little heartbreaking to see my little girl have to deal with so much change. Faith and I understand that it is a necessary part of growing up, but it is also shocking how quickly one can turn from teacher advocate (“parents, please give the teachers space to do their job!”) to demanding parent (“of course I know my child better than her teacher!”).

To see her tears flow down her cheeks as she sobbed, recounting in mortal fear how the Primary One level manager told the kids that they had to learn the National Anthem at home or they wouldn’t be allowed to join in the flag lowering ceremony at the end of the school day, or how the same manager threatened the children with detention after school if they didn’t keep quiet, opened old wounds for me.

Like many of my very closest peers, the Singapore education system was a bad fit for me. I spent years — a whole decade, now when I come to think of it — dreading school. There were only a half a handful of teachers who understood that I never did homework not because I was lazy, but because handwriting was painful and extremely tedious for me. The production of homework into written form seriously impeded the speed of my learning.

Anne, at the young age of 6, has had to face so many new mental constructs the past few days. Where at home Faith and I try our best to ensure she is given real reasons behind our decisions, it is unlikely she’ll have that luxury in an education system designed for mass-production of compliant students. For example, at a very young age, Anne was given a lollipop. She came to us asking for permission to eat it. We gave her our permission but told her that lollipops weren’t very good for the body. Much as she wanted it, she walked over to the trash-bin and threw it away.

Now in school, she will be told to do many things, without reasons explicitly communicated because it is not expedient to do so when catering to hundreds at a time. She will be told to obey, “because it is the way it is”, or “because I said so”, and I secretly hope she won’t until she gets a good reason. We will need to teach her how to derive good reasons through observation, and not expect it to always be spoon-fed to her. There is so much we will need to teach her as parents, but we also need to keep an eye on the school system and what it teaches, and whether those things build her up, or tear her down.

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