Making Light of Things

April 2013 Archives

Stand Up for Singapore

People not suffering from acute pain or injustice probably have less reason to voice out and risk being caught in a fray of online flaming.

When the folks behind “Stand Up for Singapore” decided to organise a hanging out at Hong Lim Park on May Day, they received a fair amount of criticism. “It’s a depressing portrait of Gen-Y Singaporeans substituting political action with feel-good frivolity”, wrote one. His followers soon started pelting the effort with virtual vegetables.

Yet it is many of these same individuals who rail on about how Singapore is not enough: culturally, politically, or pretty much in any way possible. Living in an era where everything is accelerated, and speaking on a medium where 3 seconds is much too long for a website to load, we are severely crimping our ability to grow things. 3D printers and other state of the art prototyping tools have made creating things so much more instantaneous than ever before, but some things still need time.

It is a nice gesture that some Singaporeans have come together to organise a picnic at Hong Lim Park, and to tear them down because there’s no overt political direction or cause is needlessly mean-spirited. Bonds are formed through informal gatherings such as these, helped by the fact it concentrates on the people rather than the problems to be solved.

There are many things that need to be addressed and challenges to be surmounted. But on Labour Day - a day of rest for the weary - it is as good a time as any to remember why we labour.


Sunset during reservist training

Having just spent the last few days out in the wilder, less developed corners of Singapore, I am thankful to finally regain access to simple things like a shower and a bed. Oh, and internet access.

Being out there speaks to me in a very primal way. We often talk about defending our land, and it literally comes down to that: a place upon which our family and friends can stand on to watch the passage of time through sunrises and sunsets.

I really missed being with Faith and the kids, but it was nice to spend some time with the guys. I know I’ve said it before, but every time I see how hard these guys work out there in the field, I am encouraged that for the few loud disgruntled ones who find every excuse to avoid work and sleep in the bunk, there are dozens who uphold each other with the sweat of their brow.

In social media we often talk about the silent constructive voices out there against the more boisterous destructive ones, and truth be told it sometimes takes a leap of faith to believe that they exist. I realise now that they are silent not because they are less articulate, or less informed of the issues, or less passionate than the others that dominate the discourse on social media platforms. Their voices are not as strident because they speak with actions and less with words.

The Overlooked Commandment

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” - Exodus 20:17

There was a popular Chinese saying when I was a kid: “人比人气死人“ which literally translates to “comparisons between people frustrates people unto death”. The logical next step, if we believe that axiom to be correct, would be to stop all comparison. But here we are. living in the midst of extreme competition. It is common to blame to the education system for its emphasis on grades, or capitalism and its emphasis on wealth, but our covetousness is more insidious than that.

We surround ourselves with an endless stream of status updates, instagram photos, youtube videos, all representing the most envy-inducing moments of our lives. Hey everyone look, my child can now do this, isn’t that sweet; wow look at what the barista did with my skinny latte; just wanted to show you what a great time I’m having.

I’m guilty of all of the above.

And so we compare our humdrum lives to our social media stream, and somehow it never measures up. We imagine everyone else constantly having a whale of a time somehow compressing all the great moments shared and compositing them into a lifestyle which we think we ought to be living. It is like watching Michael Jordan’s career highlights and believing that he made every shot he took, and all in spectacular fashion, failing to see the fact that Jordan missed more than 50% of the shots he took, and of those he made, the majority were quite routine. Life isn’t made up of an endless string of amazing moments.

A lot of the time God works through the mundane. The stuff that isn’t worth blogging about. “From dust you came, and dust you will return”. What makes the grace of our Lord truly amazing is that He placed His own nature into earthen vessels. And here we are constantly trying to plate ourselves with gold foil.

I want to stop caring what car others drive, or what restaurant they visited, or what what amazing overseas vacations they had. I want to genuinely share in their joy, whether of discovery or of bliss, and not harbour a single covetous thought in my heart.

I want to express the contentment I have in Christ, and the privilege we have to share in His death and partake in His resurrection. Oh, that it may be well with my soul, and I may need no other validation of a life well-lived, because Christ lives in me.


My dearest Caleb,

I grew up with two younger sisters, whom I had to look after, and then there was Anne before you. I can’t say that I knew what it would be like to have a boy, and now 5 years later I realise that it is everything the movies make it out to be and more.

It’s odd that you’re the one I turn to when I want to talk basketball, and that you, at the age of five, know more about the NBA than pretty much anybody else I know. You have familiarised yourself with the names of players, of all the teams, even the playing styles of individuals. I can’t wait for the time we can be on the court together.

While Anne brings with her a quiet grace, you are the very definition of sunniness. How your huge eyes and big smile - oh those cheeks! - light up the room and cheers our hearts is always something to behold. You have brought so much happiness into our lives, and I feel bad that some times I’m a little hard on you.

I know I need to give you time to grow and find your own way. Looking back at my own life, I sure took my own sweet time, and it is only by God’s unending grace that I am not in a much darker place. May God’s grace shine upon you always, and that your heart may contain His joy.

Sleep tight, my little boy. I’ll work hard on being the example I’d like you to have.


My dearest Anne,

Exactly 8 years ago, Mummy’s water broke and she looked at me standing beside her and asked, “so what do we do now?” It’s been a whirlwind of a ride ever since. You have brought so many firsts into our lives. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I held you in my arms, unsure as to whether we could do this, given the enormity of the task. And yet here we are, and you’re still bringing new experiences into our lives.

You held my hand tonight as you slept, and I know that you dread the morning when you will find me gone to serve my reservist obligations on the other side of Singapore. You told me you wished today would not come because it meant that we’d be apart. I tried to reassure you that it would only be for a few days, but I know in my heart that every day apart is one day too long.

You handed me a short letter and told me to read it only when I was in camp. The front of it said “Bye bye Daddy”, with little hearts around it. My heart breaks, you know? To not be there for your birthday.

But there are so many things we have to be thankful for. All the moments we enjoyed exploring Singapore as a family; the little routines that we have; the evening walks down Stadium Boulevard. The smallest things are always the most important, when it comes down to it. And so tomorrow I’ll put on my army uniform, knowing that together with other husbands, fathers and sons, we’ll be protecting the right to many more of these moments with family and friends.

Happy birthday, my most precious daughter. I know right now, as you’re reading this, you’re rolling your eyes and saying, “I’m your ONLY daughter.” You’ll always be my only Anne.

Love. Always. Daddy.

Don't Stop Believing

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Singaporeans have been labelled a lot of things. Uninspiring. Unhappy. Rich. Poor. Oppressed. It is not that the world labels us as such - most of these labels we chose to stick on ourselves.

Labels, much like their stationery counterparts, have a particularly sticky side to them. What we believe we are is more than just a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is the course we chart for ourselves. It is the course we chart for other Singaporeans, and inevitably, our children.

We have been traditionally hard on our own. For some odd reason, it has always been harder for Singaporeans to gain the approval and respect of fellow Singaporeans, even if the rest of the world readily acknowledges some measure of success. Even brands like Razer, founded by a Singaporean and attained global recognition, markets itself as American to sell to the local market. I confess to being part of the fanboy mob who years ago shook our heads at Sim Wong Hoo when Apple’s iPod took over Creative’s mp3 marketshare. Shook our heads, as if we knew better.

Now with social media accelerating highly-emotive sentiments, we have grown even more eager to criticise and paint the worst possible picture of people around us. “Businesses are out to exploit poor, impoverished workers”, “mainstream media reporters suck at their job”, “public servants just want to line their own pockets and do not care about citizens”, “the vocal minority is all emotion and no logic”…the list goes on.

Even now, I paint a picture of those painting pictures. This passive-aggressive internal war needs to stop if we are ever going to get anywhere or do anything worthwhile.

I want to believe that Singaporeans can be self-starters who are able to find innovative solutions to today’s problems; compassionate people willing to sacrifice a little of their own for those who need it more; able to overcome obstacles and ride the winds of change fearlessly; are a formidable force for good for others in the region and beyond.

Because we can. Because we are. We are.

I head off for my reservist duties next week. It pains me to be missing the birthdays of both Anne and Caleb, but I understand that putting country before self means actually sacrificing small bits every now and then. But what is really amazing about my reservist unit is that my fellow soldiers blow my mind when it comes to committing to the country.

Just last night I sent out a quick message to get some tedious paperwork done prior to my in-camp training next week. These brothers responded almost immediately and set themselves to work. Late at night. On a workday. No questions asked. No ignoring the call for help and pretending someone else will do it. Heck, some others who work overseas actually fly back on their own time and dime to serve in two-week long military exercises. To every young Singaporean male out there who wonders if National Service will be a waste of your time, I tell you this: it is what you want it to be. It restores my faith that there are other Singaporeans out there willing to go that extra mile. It makes me run harder, hold on longer, and march farther.

It is time we held each other to nobler standards and believed in each other a little bit more. I want to believe that I can serve without worrying that a dagger might be plunged into my back. Or that when I make mistakes we can recover from them together, growing from strength to strength. It is time we started building and stopped tearing down.

It’s 7 in the morning and the sky glows pink. It’s a new morning, Singapore. Stand tall. Stand proud. Be strong.

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