Making Light of Things

February 2015 Archives


Dearest Faith,

Where have the years gone? The last decade has been a blur of diaper changing and washing milk bottles. It is easy to forget that we started out on this adventure together, you and I, and in all the hustle and bustle of activity, that we were called to remember that “in all things, He might have the preeminence” (Col 1:18).

It was so good to hold your hand tonight and recount the years in prayer and thanksgiving as we walked up and across Benjamin Sheares.

Do you know that I’ve had the privilege of being in love with you almost three quarters of my life? Blessed man that I am! There are times when I hold your hand and know there will come a day when one of our hands will be cold and vacated of the person that dwelt within. A wistful pang fills my heart at the thought, but even now I have received far more blessing than I deserve. We need so much to share this abundance with everyone around in the same manner Christ gave Himself for us; that our children might see His handiwork in us and know Him to be true.

I’m blessed to have walked so much of this journey with you by my side. The years are evident in the lines on our faces. Lines etched by countless moments of divine joy.

Every Chinese New Year I am most thankful for how much you love my family and how much they love you. I’ve never brought home any grades worth bragging, but you are the best thing I have ever brought home to my parents. No husband could be prouder.

I love you, wife of my youth. You are a living parable of Christ and His bride to me.


A Better Internet for All

“So, what do you do at Google?”

Not too long ago, there was all this talk about digital immigrants vs digital natives. It was a classic age divide: everyone born before the internet became mainstream was an immigrant; everyone born after, a native. There were also slight discriminatory undertones: natives knew their way around while immigrants were the picture of the old grandmother trying to use a mobile phone for the first time.

But there’s us. People who’ve been around before the internet, saw it blossom, took it in and nurtured it in our own way. We participated in forums and mailing lists, shaping HTML specifications; contributed to Blogger templates (when it was still Pyra); celebrated when the word “Blog” was seen on advertisements the very first time (if you must know, the first very public instance of “Blog” in Singapore advertising was on a huge Nokia billboard along the ECP); made the very best friends through IRC…the list goes on. The internet has been a major part of our lives, and we were there in its infancy.

As millions in Asia come on to the internet for the first time, they face a vastly different landscape from when I first began. Things are simpler to use, yet much more complex in nature. There are many ways to use this amazing medium for good, and there are also many ways to use it for evil.

I was interested in this role at Google because there is a need to help protect internet users from the relentless efforts of bad actors out there to deceive, cheat and scam others. My colleagues work on systems to warn people of unsafe sites and stop deceitful advertising on the web.

Me? I’m here to help users become better at protecting themselves, and ensuring that their experience on the web is a positive one. It is both about knowledge (ensure that your connections are secure before conducting online transactions, for example) and about culture (how do we handle online discussions without descending to name-calling and bullying?).

The internet has played a huge part in my growing up. I have met many amazing people from whom I learned from and shared with a great number of things. It opened up the whole world to me as a young man back in the day, and I hope for it to remain a place that showcases the uplifting, enlightening and inspiring stories in our communities; where young people and newcomers are protected, not exploited; a medium that allows us to create and spread the good we want to leave behind for other digital citizens - immigrant or native.

This is what I do. This is the new chapter of my service.

Empathy for all

Popular local blogger Xiaxue has taken out a protection order against anonymous online entity SMRT Feedback, the latest episode in the whole online diatribe between Xiaxue, Gushcloud and SMRT Feedback.

Xiaxue details the continued harrassment she has suffered, and it is clear that some incidents are more injurious than others, where she plays it up for effect.

As readers of meaningless fodder like this we often do the instinctive thing and take sides.

“Xiaxue had this coming, she’s an online bully herself!”

“SMRT finally met their match. Xiaxue is taking the fight to them!”

Spats like these are also very ripe for memes, “witty” (more smartass than witty, but still good for inane chuckles) remarks and as we take sides, it is easy to forget the things that we all have in common.

We are all entitled to a measure of dignity. Yes, Xiaxue did this, or SMRT did that, and we are quick to judge who is deserving of online vigilante punishment, but let’s take a step back from judging who’s right and wrong. It hurts when you’re insulted - no matter how often it’s been done, many of these remarks get under your skin, and in reality, you don’t ever get used to it. Words hurt. Words matter. Everyone should be accorded a measure of dignity, and while we can respectfully debate merits of actions, we should not descend into a no-holds-barred bare-knuckled fight. It doesn’t matter if the other person “did it first”, for crying out loud, we need to be more mature than four-year-olds.

Parents love their children. It hurts infinitely worse when your child is attacked, and you are helpless to prevent it. Communities should be protecting children, regardless of whose they are. Yes, this relates to the policies we have in supporting families as well. I can understand the dilemma policy-makers have, and I know the complexities run deep, but I believe this fundamental role of society trumps (self)-righteousness.

Focus on actions, not people. This is difficult because people are inherently defined by their actions, and often rightly so. But our realm of discussion should focus more on actions and less on determining the other party’s worth as a human being. I have found it helpful to use the actions of individuals as a lead-in to discuss things from a more macro perspective - where these trends leave us - as a village, as a people. I want to be able to share these things with my children, and in doing so impart skills necessary for discernment, but even more importantly, the humility that we all are flawed, in need of grace from each other and from God, and empowered by Him to make the lives better for people around us.

There is enough love and empathy for all of us. Let’s not create a scarcity that doesn’t exist.

Location Location Location

So former Presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian took a bus and posted a photo of Indian passengers, with the accompanying caption:

It caused quite the furore, with readers berating him for publishing such “racist” remarks.

To seal the deal, dear Mr. Tan poured enriched uranium on the fire, calling these readers “Internet brigade dogs” (online lapdogs of the ruling political party, if you need context)

He subsequently apologised for his initial post of the bus passengers, but qualified that his apology was “extended to “local Indian friends who feel offended”. It is not extended to IB dogs, racists, rude people and foreigners (who think they now own Singapore)”.

And yes, many of us breathed a sigh of relief that this man didn’t come close to office of the President.

But the question remains, was his initial post racist?

The post in and of itself doesn’t offer much. If I stood in Chinatown and exclaimed that I felt like I was in China, it would be a compliment to the authenticity of the recreated experience. A lot is inferred by how readers interpret the tone of Mr. Tan’s post, and whether he meant it in a derogatory manner.

It is true that there are times, especially when taking public transportation, when I feel a sense of being in a foreign land. Oddly enough, this feeling often excites and fills me with a sense of awe.

In our history, even predating that of our independence, Singapore has always been the interchange of many cultures. Starting as a trading post between India and China, Singapore today is a product of those tradewinds that brought different people together. It is by no small measure of God’s grace that we banded and forged this country together. The natural instinct, as shown even in online comments today, is for our patchwork community to shear. As we search for some permanence to anchor whatever newfound collective identity we have, we need to remember that this moment is but a sliver in the annals of time. The cliché that change is the only constant is even more evident here in Singapore.

We are small and nimble. We have survived and thrived by windsurfing on global trends. These are traits that we cannot abandon if we are to remain relevant to the rest of the world. As the world becomes increasingly connected and globalised, national barriers fade and workers made infinitely more mobile, Singapore serendipitously possesses the prize: a successful experiment of how people from all corners of the world, speaking different languages, having different religions, found enough common ground to live in harmony while still celebrating our unique identities.

The essential question for Singaporeans today is whether what we have is scalable. Or whether we want it to be.

It is sad that Mr. Tan Kin Lian seems more eager to pander to our baser instincts to segregate, divide, discriminate and hate. Those feelings, while understandable (just as I can emphatise with my children’s tantrums), are not the qualities to reside in higher office. We need more people to see that anti-foreigner sentiment isn’t about preserving Singapore. Singapore’s defining quality has always been openness. What we need to add to that is a layer of compassion, for what good is a prosperous, global city if it has all the means but not the will to take care of those left behind?

When I take the train or bus and it feels like I’m in a different country, I smile and thank God for the opportunity to experience such a range of cultures right here in Singapore. I know every one is here to make a living, just as in days of old; to carve out a better life for themselves and their families, and all of us, with a bit of nudging could get along and make this work.

We know, because we’ve done it once before.

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