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My dearest Faith,
It has been some time since I've written to you here.
It continues to amaze me – how beautiful you are – when I look at you. Where we once beamed with the vitality of youth, there are now faint wrinkles and lines that chart the passing of time; and where I once marveled at how God could craft your face in such a manner that it attracted my heart so much, I now look upon his handiwork through the additional lens of experiences shared. I remember, you and I, such naive youths who had chosen to spend our lives together.
And by the grace of God here we are. We've braved so many sleepless nights together, cleaning soiled bed covers, sponging down fevers, or just being there because of our children's need to snuggle. We often talk about how we await the day when we would have time together, like we once did when we were dating, and how we'd spend that time wishing we had our babies with us.
Time is flitting by so quickly, and the shadow of the inevitable makes us treasure the moments even more. I am so thankful to have known you, loved you and be loved by you. There's this sense of helplessness as time slips out of our hands. I write on this blog to slow its passing, but there is little any of us can do, except to be thankful for the moment.
I thank God so much for you and how your presence in my life speaks of His goodness to me. I'm blessed to have shared this small finite slice of time in the sunshine with you.

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Life in a Flash

It's been a melancholy Christmas. A friend's mother passed away.
The chapters change in our lives, and as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. The chapters of my life that have passed: friends getting married; having children. Now we wait. We wait as time extinguishes the lives of those we love. Our parents who held our hands as we learned to walk, our uncles and aunts who doted on us every Christmas, or whose red packets we looked forward to opening every Chinese New Year's.
As we observe the time of grieving for my dear friend's family, I ask myself, for the umpteenth time, why haven't we gotten better at this? How do we prepare ourselves for the tough decisions: when do we fight an illness in pursuit of more time, and when do we pursue quality of time instead? How do we adjust the cocktail of emotions during our time of loss – less grief for times that could have been, and more celebration of having the privilege to have shared life together?
How did the angels sing "Glory to God in the highest, peace and goodwill to men" when they knew that this newborn baby Jesus would soon suffer the most humiliating and painful death on the cross?
In the magnitude of the moment it is not easy to step back and see God's plan. It is not easy because to be alive is to drink deeply of the present, whether it is the depths of sorrow or the heights of joy; and somehow these moments gathered over time become a tapestry that speaks of the faithfulness of God, His undying love, and offer a taste of the abundant eternal life that takes us beyond – far, far beyond physical death.

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Onward Ho

I turn 38 today.
Moments ago, I rode helmetless through the streets of Cambodia on the back of a motorcycle driven by a stranger who stopped me on the street as I was looking for a tuk-tuk. I just said "airport", and he nodded and gestured me to get on.
Compared to many of my peers, I consider myself among the least travelled. I never felt the need to fly much apart from the necessary: college and work trips to the States, volunteer work in India and Myanmar, baby-sitting while Faith attended a friend's wedding in New Zealand. We had our very brief honeymoon in Bali and a short family trip in Phuket, but I never got the travelling bug for leisure.
It is funny where life takes you sometimes. In the last two weeks, I've travelled to four different countries, all of which I've never ever set foot on. My first helmetless motorcycle ride as year 37 comes to a close, is an apt retrospective summary of the year past.
It was a little over a year ago when I left the public service where I spent my late twenties and early thirties. That period of my life cohered around a single mission of helping my fellow Singaporeans become more kick-ass citizens. Leaving that meant looking for a new mission work-wise.
I'm the catcher in the rye.
<blockquote>&#8220;Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.&#8221; </blockquote>
I'm Salinger's Caufield in all his naive idealism, all his personal flaws and snarkiness; I am older brother to Phoebe. I've come to realise that being the elder brother has shaped me indelibly in who I am and what I do.
At Google I work on keeping people safe online, which when articulated sounds very vague and almost a little vain. Millions upon millions use the internet every minute, and someone's got to got to make sure that they know the basics of online safety. Might as well be me.
Just this afternoon I spoke to a large classroom full of Cambodian youths, and drilled into them the importance of not using the same password for every online login. Maybe it's not as heroic as performing brain surgery, but the connection with the kids (all of whom can't remember their first time using the internet because they were born into it!) was something I could relate to universally.
It's been a year of personal metamorphosis. From thinking as a public Singaporean servant, and shifting to a cyber-uncle extending the wisdom of the older, more benevolent age of the internet to the younger generation; a proud citizen of hot and humid Southeast Asia, learning to appreciate the dusty roads and letting go of the very Singaporean need to have everyone adhere to rules.
Learning to appreciate life, because it comes in so many forms I have never seen; and that in all its diversity, lies the handiwork of God in whom I place my trust as I make my way down this uncharted road.

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We're the Planeteers, You can be one too

When I was working in the Public Service, I replied quite a number of letters from the public on the topic of foreigners in our workforce. I told them that while their concerns were valid, a diverse workforce brought together better ideas, skills and talents. But truth be told, it was all theoretical to me at that time. I had no idea what working in a diverse workforce was like.
In the last twelve months I've had the privilege of working with amazing people who hail from different office around the world. Mountain View, Dublin, Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, Tokyo, Hyderabad and Singapore. This week was the first time we were physically gathered in the same location.
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/21731210701/in/datetaken-public/" title="20150923-20"><img src="https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5700/21731210701_7ebaa72518.jpg" width="500" height="375" alt="20150923-20" class="img-center"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
We had such an amazing time. After so many meetings over late night / early morning video conferences, it felt so good to finally meet everyone in the flesh. There were so many intangibles that surfaced in our time together: we all shared a good sense of humour, and it was so fascinating to learn of each others' cultures, countries and languages.
We learned that the word "banana" was audibly similar in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. We also learned that Argentina, Brazil and Japan all had a saying warning young children that playing with fire would result in them wetting their bed at night:
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/21710320702/in/datetaken-public/" title="20150922-17"><img src="https://farm1.staticflickr.com/751/21710320702_9d734a2382.jpg" width="500" height="281" alt="20150922-17" class="img-center"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
It's still very surreal to me that I've been blessed to work alongside my marvelous teammates with whom I share so much in common despite having such different origins. We were brought together as a team to help users all over the world make the internet a safer, better place.
That such a team exists is part of the magic of working at Google.
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/21705102221/in/datetaken-public/" title="Untitled"><img src="https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5740/21705102221_e7207a9b07.jpg" width="500" height="281" alt="Untitled" class="img-center"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

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12

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Let It Go

&#8220;Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one&#8217;s youth.&#8221; – Psalm 127:4
While the early morning&#8217;s heavy rain had lightened up, the sky was still pealing with thunder and dark clouds. I wanted to take the train with Anne and shelter her with an umbrella because she needed to walk without the cover of shelter from the MRT station to school.
&#8220;It&#8217;s ok, you don&#8217;t have to go with me to school,&#8221; she said. &#8220;I have my umbrella, and it might not be raining when I get there.&#8221;
I was still a little hesitant, in part because I wanted to make sure she would be ok, and also because I didn&#8217;t like the feeling of not having done everything humanly possible.
As we walked towards the train station I looked at her and realised how much she had grown. She had been taking the train to school on her own the last six months, and though today&#8217;s weather added additional inconvenience, it didn&#8217;t dampen her spirits. Ok, she did laugh about how she wished it were Saturday so she could sleep in on a rainy morning. 🙂
Like an archer, this was one arrow I had to learn to let fly. And I didn&#8217;t want to deprive her of the opportunity to find her own strength and build her resilience.
It&#8217;s a lesson I&#8217;m still getting used to. As thunder fills the skies, I&#8217;m continually praying her flight be buoyed by the grace of God.

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Accelerated Learning in Adversity

The <a href="http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/train-services-down-north-south-and-east-west-lines">trains broke down</a> <a href="http://themiddleground.sg/2015/07/07/rail-meltdown/">last night</a>. Thousands upon thousands of Singaporeans were on their way home, only to find themselves stranded. Muslim commuters who had fasted the whole day were now stuck in traffic, and I can only imagine the very keen edge of hunger and thirst they must have felt as the promise of food and family shifted back a few more very long hours.
To add insult to injury, it had only just been reported that <a href="http://business.asiaone.com/news/smrt-ceos-pay-over-2m-beats-predecessors">the CEO of train operator SMRT had his pay doubled in less than three years</a>.
But out of the barrage of anger poured on the internet, there were people who saw the problem and got down to trying to solve it. Some folks brought <a href="http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/kind-gestures-help-ease-tension-stations">food to the overworked SMRT staff</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/tong.yee.79/posts/10153261047292891?pnref=story">offered car rides to people who might need it</a>, and <a href="http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/uber-suspends-surge-pricing-during-disruption">Uber suspended surge pricing</a>, choosing not to profit from the train failure.
We should be setting our minds on coming up with innovative solutions to these issues that affect us on a national scale. Over the years we have started to languish in our own complacency, content to pay a little to outsource these responsibilities to corporate monopolies or even the Government. "We've paid our taxes, now solve my work-life balance"; or "we've paid our train fare, it's your job to ensure that I get to where I need to every single time".
These expectations no longer seem unreasonable because we have become so used to this model of problem-solving. Our heavy dependence on domestic helpers and educational institutions in bringing up our children, or on CPF – a forced government savings scheme – to solve our retirement financials; we have chosen to specialise very narrowly on our responsibilities of our day job, because "we're paid to do it".
But there are many responsibilities that do not come by virtue of a job title or pay. I hope we widen our perspectives to see that we are beholden to our forebears to make our progeny better than ourselves. To leave problem-solving to corporations and governments is sub-optimal and archaic. Nimble, disposable, highly-skilled quick and dirty communities provide a strong layer of national security on top of the established system.
So while many who hope to insert themselves into established institutions of authority jump on these opportunities to demand the <a href="http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2015/07/smrt-fiasco-time-for-heads-to-roll/">rolling</a> <a href="https://www.facebook.com/thereformparty/posts/10154061010301110">of heads</a>, they forget that you can only be a martyr once.
Heads rolling does nothing, serves nothing, and should be used sparingly, such as for incidents that display an individual's lack of integrity or gross negligence. That something failed should not cause us to lose people with precious experience. They should definitely be held responsible, not only to account for, but also to fix the failure. Armchair critics cannot help us here.
We should be seeing more discussions, like whether a Uber-like network of citizen drivers can be activated as a contingency measure when public transportation is crippled; or how we can create greater redundancy in our transportation networks. These discussions solve problems. Kicking out the CEO – not so much.
Ingenuity and social-mindedness, accelerated through times of adversity, are very key traits we'll need for our nation's next 50 years.

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Our Boys, Our Fathers, Our Men

I received my certificate from the Ministry of Defence earlier this year. My duty to the country, as far as having to commit to annual military training, had been fulfilled. The relief and satisfaction came with a bittersweet tinge. As a close military mentor told me, "you'll still be serving the country in other ways", and he's right. I always will be.
But there's something about being in the military fraternity and privy to its many traditions.
Celebrating SAF Day by wearing our military uniform to our workplaces isn't exactly the most established practice, but it's one I <a href="http://tribolum.com/archives/2013/07/heart-on-your-sleeve.php">decided to honour</a> when it started 3 years ago. The following year, a few more brave souls at work <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152589038562722&set=a.480896907721.265040.500367721&type=1&theater">joined in</a>.
I started working at a new place this year, but decided to uphold this young tradition anyway. It was nice to find out that <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152813934937024&set=a.453110562023.242643.545182023&type=1&theater">friends at the old workplace did too</a>.
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/18702492174" title="20150701-1.jpg by Lucian, on Flickr"><img src="https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/354/18702492174_519c66c856_z.jpg" alt="Wearing Army Green at Google Singapore" class="img-center"></a>
In the afternoon I had the privilege of attending the SAF Day Parade. As I took closeups of the contingents that marched past, it occurred to me that I had passed a life stage. When I looked closely at the faces of the soldiers, like here:
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/19138997279" title="20150701-29.jpg by Lucian, on Flickr"><img src="https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/456/19138997279_a677c402d8.jpg" alt="Soldiers marching past at SAF Day 2015 Parade" class="img-center"></a>
I realised how young they were. Faith stood behind me as I processed the digital photos, and we both uttered at the same time, "Our boys". Each one, so full of youth, vitality and promise. Each one, so precious to the loved ones around them. Each life, never to be wasted carelessly in war, but to be carefully nurtured to their fullest potential in useful, faithful, diligent service.
Our boys.
As part of Singapore's (and the SAF's) Golden Jubilee, more than 500 men from SAF's pioneer batch were invited to the parade. Looking at the many faces seated through my lens gave me a mind-meld through time. How these men were once the young, vibrant soldiers that stood on the parade square, and gave the fervour of their youth into safeguarding the country we live in today. Some of them, proudly adorning berets and medals earned over years of service, each one perhaps a father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, friend.
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/18702651104" title="20150701-34.jpg by Lucian, on Flickr"><img src="https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/460/18702651104_ee720ff609.jpg" alt="SAF Pioneers in the audience" class="img-center"></a>
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/19319129662" title="20150701-35.jpg by Lucian, on Flickr"><img src="https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/393/19319129662_82eec178aa.jpg" alt="Pioneers adorned with medals" class="img-center"></a>
Our fathers. You can feel their joy at meeting each other, the same camaraderie we enjoy with our reservist brothers, steadfast after all these years.
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/19137554220" title="20150701-36.jpg by Lucian, on Flickr"><img src="https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/388/19137554220_2f6ccfeeb4.jpg" alt="Pioneers" class="img-center"></a>
These 50 years of soldiering and guarding our nation is a legacy now passed down to every Singaporean. We face very different challenges from our forebears, but their spirit of determination, resilience and adaptability lives on in us.
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/19137453988" title="20150701-9.jpg by Lucian, on Flickr"><img src="https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/507/19137453988_9660843f71.jpg" alt="F15s flypast during the national anthem" class="img-center"></a>

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Our 1968 Moment

We stood at the sides of the road, waiting for LKY's cortege to pass by, many hoping to catch one last glimpse before his funeral and cremation. The rain started pelting down in full force on the crowd equipped with umbrellas and ponchos. People trying hard to shelter other people, some passing out spare ponchos that they had brought along with them. Vertically-challenged latecomers were welcomed to squeeze to the front of the crowd so everyone could have a view, however small.
It was a moment where the laws of scarcity were temporarily suspended, and generosity and the people's largeness of heart manifested itself.
When we found out that the cortege would be travelling on the other side of the road, some expressed their disappointment, but it became clear that we were witnessing something more significant than the passing of a great man.
As we heard the howitzers start their 21-gun salute, we knew that the cortege was round the corner and would soon be coming up the Esplanade bridge.
"Ok, umbrellas down!" someone shouted. There was no expressed resistance as everyone folded up their umbrellas. We stood in the pouring rain, waiting for that split second to bid a final farewell to the chiefest of our pioneers.
No sign of the cortege. I silently wondered if we put down our umbrellas a tad early.
I looked around. This was what I had come to witness and be part of: man, woman and child, all standing silently in the rain, from all walks of life and ethnicity. And that is the sheer beauty of Singapore! The display of resilience and unity &mdash; a small symbol no doubt &mdash; gives hope that we do have what it takes to march onward together in the years ahead.

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For Friends

Dear Colleagues,
Thank you so much for your show of support.
It has been a very emotional week for me and many other Singaporeans. The passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, was one of those events you knew would eventually happen but nothing ever prepares you for it.
We observed a moment of silence at work today, but I would like to share what this moment in history means to me, and I think it rings true with many of my fellow Singaporeans.
I have never met Mr. Lee, but his presence has always been there in my growing up years. His strident voice was frequently heard in our homes as our parents watched the nightly 9 o&#8217;clock news. It always carried a sense of gravitas, drawing our attention to serious national issues; not seeking consensus, but providing clear direction and the reassurance that we would come out the other end all the stronger.
During my time in the public service, his imprint was unmistakable: the demand for excellence and uncompromising integrity.
In this time of national mourning and recollection, it might seem to the outsider that our collective grieving borders on deification. After all, surely all of Singapore could not possibly have been the work of a single individual &mdash; this one man!
We celebrate his life&#8217;s work not because he single-handedly built the country. He had a most amazing team that laid the foundations upon which Singapore was built, and a steadfast wife who supported him on the long journey before him. We celebrate his life and mourn his passing because he was Singapore's staunchest believer and fiercest defender. In 1965 when Singapore became perhaps the only country to receive independence against her will, it was Lee Kuan Yew who gathered the pieces of his broken dreams for a merger with Malaysia, and devoted his life towards the singular belief that we would not only overcome the odds that were stacked against us, but we would thrive.
The Singapore we see today is a result of that belief and Mr. Lee&#8217;s unrelenting conviction that simply refused to allow our nation to wallow in self-pity, or crumble under racial tension. That his death is mentioned in the halls of New Zealand's Parliament, and allotted a day of mourning in India is testament that our little island nation has exceeded all expectation and come into our own.
Just like many of you, this week has been a time of voracious reading of the many personal accounts of Mr. Lee&#8217;s life, both personal and in public service. I am inspired to take a bit of Lee Kuan Yew with me in work, service and in life: his fearless conviction; his unyielding diligence; his uncanny attention to detail; and his utter devotion to the people of Singapore.
I doubt I'll ever be able to articulate fully what he means to us, but the hundreds and thousands who have waited day and night to bid farewell to him offer a glimpse as to the measure of our nation's gratitude to the one who first believed this was all possible.