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Count on Me, Singapore

<img alt="National Day Rally 2016" src="http://tribolum.com/images/2016/08/lhl-national-day-rally-2016.jpg" width="500" height="333" class="img-center" />
We all held our collective breaths when we heard that PM Lee had fainted delivering the National Day Rally speech. There was this odd mix of silence as the future suddenly became so much more uncertain, amidst the cacophony of social media gone crazy as everyone scoured every avenue to find out what happened, and whether he was ok.
We never got to see whether PM Lee fainted, but the video of the moments just before circulated minutes after we received news. The image of PM Lee holding tight to the rostrum – shaking – and then leaning to one side drove Faith and me to tears. How heavy the burden this one man bore.
If Singapore were a family, and former PM Lee Kuan Yew our founding father, PM Lee finds his place as our eldest brother. He was always known to be a little stiff, but in recent years he revealed a much more human side through <a href="https://www.instagram.com/leehsienloong/">his photography on Instagram</a>, always signed off &#8220;Photo by me&#8221;.
That his body fell short of the mammoth task of delivering the National Day Rally speech &mdash; essentially the summary of the past year and the vision for the country&#8217;s future, with segments in 3 languages no less &mdash; felt like an emotional blow we really were&#8217;t ready for. We had only just lost Lee Kuan Yew. I wasn&#8217;t sure we built up the emotional reserves for another.
What happened last night was a necessary reminder for us to remember our individual mortality. Nation-building is a responsibility of every citizen. The song &#8220;Count on me, Singapore&#8221; takes on new meaning. You and I are Singapore, and we need to be committed to build each other up even if we come from different races, different religions, or hold different political views. We build each other up that we may prosper as a nation to leave a legacy for future generations.

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13

We managed to sneak in a quiet dinner, before coming home to what was now THREE sick kids (up from one in the morning).
Happy anniversary, sweetest wife. There's no one I'd rather have on the team. For better, for worse, till death.

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Our Work and Our Worth

Faith's no-pay leave is coming to an end, and there's been some pressure from people close to us to have her go back to her job. It's been a roller-coaster ride of emotions for her as she struggles with what her self-identity is, and how self-worth is affected by what society, close friends and family think.
Many of us harbour a bias that the spouse that works for money is the main contributor to the family. We use words like &#8220;breadwinner&#8221; to bestow some level of honour, while &#8220;homemaker&#8221; is viewed in a humbler, even derogatory light.
I&#8217;ve experienced what Faith&#8217;s work day is like. There are thousands of moving parts, many of which society would classify as &#8220;menial&#8221;. When you consciously unpack each task, you&#8217;ll realise how much they demand of you – to be meticulously detailed (&#8220;Mummy, where&#8217;s the Chinese homework book I left on the table?&#8221;); constantly aware (&#8220;We need to inform the bus driver that Caleb isn&#8217;t takin the bus next Tuesday because&#8230;&#8221;); and most of all, emotionally draining (&#8220;Kids, I need you to focus on the task at hand right now even though you&#8217;re tired from a day at school&#8221;). And how much wisdom it requires to know when to help, and when to let the kids try and possibly fail, which also means building them up through the tears and emotion that come after.
The purpose of a family is in the growth of its members for service unto God and fellow man. We can romanticise the role of the breadwinner all we want, but at the end of the month, we take home our pay to see the basic needs of our family and hopefully afford a few creature comforts. It is in that light I see my job as a means of supporting our central duty of developing each member in our family.
Faith mans the frontline everyday. I&#8217;m privileged to get a slice of the action by her side. We make command decisions together – the best ones are made in united prayer.
So it might mean that I help out with the kids at night whenever I can. It gives Faith a chance to decompress from the gruelling work of carrying the three little munchkins emotionally; and to rest her feet from buzzing back and forth schools, activity centres and home.
There is a beautiful partnership when I choose to serve my wife. I look at her sleeping, tired out, and it gives me great joy to tend to her needs and buy her a little time of her own. She is the jewel of my house, and the work of her hands weaves divine glory in the lives of our children, and its grace reflects unto me.

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Blessed is the one

<blockquote><p>Blessed is the one who does not … sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the way of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers."</p>
</blockquote>
The full verse in <a href="https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+1&version=NIV">Psalm 1</a> actually addresses three groups of people. Blessed is the one who does not:
<ul><li>walk in step with the wicked, or</li>
<li>stand in the way that sinners take, or</li>
<li>sit in the company of mockers</li></ul>
When studying this portion of scripture in my youth, we often paid more attention not to fall into the first two groups. It seemed easier then, to be part of a group of people doing wicked or sinful things, than to be in a group of mockers. We'd imagine how a group of mockers would congregate in the market square, loudly putting down others as they walked past. Others who were different: foreigners, poor people…people who didn't fit into what the mainstream crowd deemed acceptable.
Mass mockery just didn't seem that prevalent back then.
How things have changed.
The democratization of media (a smartypants way of saying everyone can now communicate with everybody else) in the last two decades has made mocking others a global pastime. Social media is rife with "social commentary", all egging us on to agree with them on how stupid or incompetent someone else must be, how unfashionably clothed, or how morally suspect.
These posts – and I'm guilty of having written quite a number of them myself – often start off in earnest as a response to do something to address an ongoing social issue. At best, they are attempts to raise awareness, at worst, they are an exercise in ego-boosting. Look, how smart I am! How eloquent! They fall between these two ends of the spectrum, carrying their respective amounts of mockery.
In the many years I've been involved in blogging, I've always held to the belief that the democratization of media is good. People should be able to express their ideas, and an open exchange of ideas inherently has some self-moderating properties. But now I find myself exhausted from the amount of talk out there. The volume and intensity of discourse in current affairs far outweighs the expertise of the participants. And sadly, real commitment to issues hasn't risen much.
Real commitment. The sort that brings one to spend years trying to cobble a solution. We've all read blogs, tweets and status updates on how the poor are treated, how the disadvantaged in society need help, but we don't see a corresponding rise in people dedicating their lives towards eradicating the problem, or tending to those they profess to be outraged on behalf of.
<blockquote>Blessed is the man who does not sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the way of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.</blockquote>
Don't be the loud cawing online crowd. Don't be the silent majority. Be the silent minority. The ones who meditate day and night on what is right before God. The ones who work ceaselessly behind the scenes, that the work of their hands might prosper those whom they mean to help.

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Smoke

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/25898832365/in/datetaken-public/" title="Marina Bay iLight"><img src="https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1625/25898832365_8ce3f492e3.jpg" width="375" height="500" alt="Marina Bay iLight" class="img-center"></a>I took a walk with Faith down the Marina Bay area a few days ago, and the place was packed with activity as part of the <a href="http://www.ilightmarinabay.sg/">i light Marina Bay</a> festival. All the installations were set up and eager student inventors waited for sunset to show the crowd the fruits of their labour, that the audience may be awed at their creativity and ingenuity. A short distance away, a group of fitness enthusiasts followed the lead of a yoga instructor, contorting their bodies as far as their tendons would allow. Our senses were tantalised by wafts of roast meats that emanated from the young chefs searing expensive wagyu at the temporary <a href="http://pasarbella.com/">Pasarbella</a> setup.
It was hard not to marvel at the smorgasbord laid out in the middle of the business district on a weekday night, but an odd sense of melancholy came over me.
Everything just felt so…cosmopolitan, so dynamic, so vibrant, manufactured, foreign, so…blah. We're often reminded that Singapore needs to adapt to the winds of change, and I appreciate that we've been able to do that better than most, but I miss who we were before all this.
I miss the masak-masak and the visits to Emporium; I miss <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/15090239326/in/album-72157662844523459/">football at the void deck</a>, or how neighbours used to be. Even now my childhood habitat of Rochor Centre is about to be demolished. I feel like I've had my roots erased, and all I have left are vague memories and a bunch of photographs.
Maybe every generation goes through this sense of loss; but can we survive seeing all our memories dissolve into nothingness at such unprecendented speed?

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Sand

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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