Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking Back and Ahead

It's amazing to realise that I'm now well into my second year of university and 2012 will end in four days. Another amazingly embarassing fact is that I have not blogged ever since summer. I do hope this personal musing would be a start of a few posts before I retreat into my long period of silence as school begins to over occupy my life.
At the risk of causing my readers to roll their eyes, 2012 passed by in a flash. While it is as cliche as it comes, I seriously don't remember most of what happened this year. All I could remember is that I did my second semester of my first year, had my summer holidays with consists of not finding a job but an opportunity to act. My second year started in August and now I'm having my holidays again. That's all I remember really.
The past semester has been really hectic despite the fact that I managed to plan my modules in such a way that I get a four-day work week. But being in an exco of two CCAs and flamenco practice three times a week, rest was certainly not on the cards. For the first time in my academic career, I found myself writing into the wee hours of the morning the night before the deadline. Fortunately, all my assignments were submitted on time by the breadth of one's hair. Fast forward to yesterday, I got my results and it was nothing short of divine intervention - while my CAP (or some of you may know it as GPA) slipped by a wee bit, I did slightly better than expected. As the new semester comes around, it will be a hectic time as well since my responsibilities as an Exco member of both the Literary Society and Philosophy Interest Group have not ended. But as the famous poem goes, this too shall pass.
But if I were to pick a particular highlight of 2012, it would be during Christmas. I found my eventual decision somewhat intriguing because, truth be told, Christmas this year wasn't very 'Christmasy' at all. Perhaps I am just burnt out by the semester that has passed or perhaps the season was fraught with too much tragedy or that the rubbish Christmas lighting at Orchard Road affected the whole mood. Whatever it is, the yuletide cheer was somewhat muted this year. But I realised one thing - I just have too many things. The thought of receiving more gifts that I probably don't need suddenly made me anxious but as I worked through that anxiety, I experienced a drizzle of joy. I wrote the following line on Facebook:
"It's a wonderful feeling that, in the midst of presents and giving, you realise that you simply need nothing at all. That means you are well provided for and you're relatively contented with life's lot."
What a wonderful thought!
Looking ahead, I do hope that the 2013 will be one of creativity. I just got accepted into a playwriting class and I do hope to compose a few more poems that would be accepted in literary journals other than the one I started. The most exciting part of the year would be performing in a flamenco dance show which would be my first time dancing out of a school context. So a happy 2013 everyone!
Next up, I do hope I could expound on my experience as someone who has started writing for real as well as my thoughts of being a flamenco bailaor.
Till now, if you are not sick of reading this post.. I salute you and if you want to read more, why not read this!


Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Princely Education

Whenever there is a show that depicts a royal court (regardless of whether it is one of the dynasties in China or a European court), I am always intrigued by the education of the princes. A commonality between all these shows is that the princes are always groomed to be polymaths. From languages to literature to history to martial arts to horse riding and archery, there is a great amount of pressure on the princes to do it all. While it is debatable as to how truthful these depictions are, one thing is for sure - I want a princely education.

A princely education would be a more accurate manifestation of an 'all-rounded education'. The education that most of us are having now is very academic driven with the whole day being packed with several subjects. Most school children are required to be alert for up to 6 hours as they try to absorb as much information as they can in order to get a good grade. They are not developed physically or artistically save for a couple of hours per week which is, to put it bluntly, utterly pathetic. All these rough estimates do not take into account whatever commitments they might have outside and the preparatory work they have to do before class starts.

While I am glad to be in university which affords some degree of flexibility as compared to the scenario above, it is really not much better as even though I am dealing with fewer subjects, the preparatory and actual work leaves me no time to pursue other interests. Those interests are pursued at the expense of one's personal time with friends and family. The sad part of it is that most information I have learnt throughout the semester would have been lost by the time the next one begins. So why am I spending so much time to cram information that I would not be able to retain just to get the good grade. Most people would say, and rightly so, that it is the process of education that would award you the much needed skills that would prove useful and the information is secondary in some respects. I do agree with that sentiment but there should still be a better balance compared to what it is now.

So if I were the sole planner of my own education without having to fulfill arbitrary requirements of any sort, what would my day look like? Here goes:

With 24 hours a day,

8 hours: Sleep

2 hours : Dance  / Music

4 hours: Study (2 subjects a day)

2 hours: Reading

2 hours: Writing (blogging or creative endeavours)

6 hours: Personal time for eating, bathing and hanging out with friends

While it does not look much, such a typical day would render me more educated than what I am now. This is mainly due to the fact that not only am I constantly training myself in all areas, the fact that I only need to focus for 4 hours when studying. This would definitely be a more productive session than toiling endlessly only to forget everything a couple of months later.

Unfortunately, I am not a prince. And this would only serve as a dream to be locked and kept away.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What's in a (Sur)name?

What is your surname? On the surface, it seems like an easy answer since most of us are born into patrilineal or matrilineal societies and we choose the appropriate surname accordingly. Yet, if we were to really think about the function and purpose of surnames, we run into several problems. Aside from tradition and customs, why should we be made to choose?

Let us suppose there's someone named John and his father's surname is Lim while his mother's surname is Ang (This is just an example. Any similarity is purely coincidental). Is he less of an Ang just because he comes from a patrilineal society? More importantly, what defines someone with a particular surname? We often hear about people clinging on to their surnames and boasting of a particular characteristic that comes with the surname. While such a declaration is more about establishing a sense of identity and belonging, there is really nothing that a surname does besides distinguishing our John from the rest of the other Johns that we might know.

Having established that, the main function of surnames is a utilitarian one, why are people so caught up with their family names and establishing this "Us vs Them" mentality? Worse of all, why are married couples so engrossed in differentiating between "my side of the family vs yours"? One may concede that the first case is due to the need to protect one's family and to ensure that all its members are bonded. But how does this explain the second case? It seems that getting so hung up about one's surname actually creates a divide in families as well.

Such a mentality can be attributed to culture to a certain extent. I will only be talking about the Chinese culture here in Singapore since I am most familiar with it. There is a common Chinese saying that a daughter is like water thrown out of the house once she is married. This is due to the fact that Chinese societies are largely patriarchal and the wife adopts the husband's surname. As such, she is no longer considered part of the family as she will be expected to serve her in laws. It is with this well entrenched mindset that we now see some women lashing out and refusing to adopt her husband's surname come what may. This backlash has sent families from one extreme to another as there are wives that do not want to be associated with the husband's family which perpetuates or even exacerbates the divide.

Another cause of such a mentality could possibly be the romantic idea that you are only marrying the other person for that person and the family does not matter. While I am a sentimental sod myself, we have to realise that this is certainly not the case. What we are essentially asking of our partners is to disregard their family. And this would seem rather ironic should we decide to have children as we would hope that our partners are family orientated and would spend quality time with us and the children. In this light, should we enter into a marriage with such a mentality, we would implicitly start our married lives with a divide in the family that would be the root of many problems to come. As much as we hate to admit it, when we marry someone, we marry the family too. 

But if we are to resign ourselves to marrying the family, are we to subject ourselves to a lifetime of misery when we think about the weird distant relatives that our partners may have? Well, what I am advocating here is to take into consideration of how well one can get along with the immediate in laws. In the unfortunate event that one might run into problems, then one has to reflect on whether both parties are willing to work it out. I am in no way encouraging people to turn down proposals just because the parents of the prospective partner are difficult. As for the weird uncles and aunts, I guess we should be gracious enough to bear their presence since by the virtue of them being distant, it would mean that we will only meet them a couple of times a year. 

So what should we make of the issue of surnames? We should call a spade a spade. We should recognise that surnames are just identity markers and since identity is about how people see themselves and how they want others to see them, let them choose which surname they would want to adopt. But we should not be so hung up about whatever implications there may be about surnames which are largely imposed by societies and mindsets that we may have.

"Hello nice to meet you. My name is Isaac, what's yours?.. Oh, I'm Isaac Tan. What's your surname?"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sent With Insincerity

I have an irrational pet peeve. I dislike receiving emails that ends with "Sent from my iPad/iPhone." I'm not against people using whatever mobile devices that they may own. How could I? The majority of my emails are sent using an iPad. In fact, I'm composing this post with an iPad as well. I'm just against the notion that people left the default line in.

The notion of someone just glancing through my email and thumping a flat screen while being on their way to do something more important irks me. It is as if I'm really not important at all. And leaving that cursed line in is akin to publicly declaring the recipient's insignificance.

Sent from my iPad = you've given me something relatively unimportant to handle but I've to do it anyway to avoid further inconvenience. I'm typing this thing while doing a million other things; I'm so busy even to get rid of the default line.

So why is the default line so inappropriate? Many would feel that a business email is excusable as one needs to be quick in replying to clinch business deals. However, did you ever stop and think how the line may be informal? It's like putting in brackets in the body of the message and adding your own asides. It's as good as saying: by the way, I'm writing to you via my iPad just so you know. So in the grand scheme of things, how does that line fit into anything?

What about personal correspondence? It's already bad enough that we are sending hurried lines to each other rather than a thoughtful handwritten letter. But those few words are even more affronting. One can't even be bothered to change the default email signature because he has no time for anything, not even for you. As mentioned earlier, that line emphasises the mobility and hurried manner one is writing.

That line is merely a cheap advertising tool for product manufacturers to somehow remind us what their products can do. Since it serves no other purpose, let us change the default email signature shall we? If not for preserving relationships we have, then do it for my sanity. (if you're frowning at this post, I've told you my grouses are irrational)

Dear Apple/Nokia and mobile phones or tablets makers of the world,

We already know what your products can do. And you guys are famous enough. So save us the trouble and remove that wretched line please?

Yours insincerely,
Isaac Tan

Sent from my iPad (because you guys are too insignificant for me to even sit down and email you this letter)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

So You Are A Philosophy Student

Q: What are you doing now?

A: I'm a philosophy undergrad.

Q: Who is your favourite philosopher? What are your views on the death penalty, abortion, stem cell research, gay rights etc etc etc?

I can speak for no one except myself. However, I often find myself in such a situation and I do have mixed feelings about it. But one question often lingers in my mind: what is the purpose of all these questions?

On one hand, I am somewhat flattered that well meaning people assume that I may have unique perspectives since my major involves exploring the world of ideas.

On the other, I cannot help but feel a sense of trepidation. It is as if I am navigating a minefield and it will all blow up in my face if I wasn't careful. It is not that I am afraid I may not know the answer or lose a debate to a non-philosophy graduate. Why should I? I have only taken three modules so far. This sense of apprehension is the kind one feels that one should avoid the other person because he is just looking for a brawl. Yes, I've said it, some people who ask such questions are looking for an intellectual tavern brawl.

These brawlers come in many forms and intensity. There are those that just take pleasure in questioning you in the hopes that you will falter and there are others who just want to beat you in an argument. Do not get me wrong, as a philosophy student, I do appreciate the rigours of questioning one's own beliefs or the process one has constructed in order to adopt these beliefs. What I am against is the intent and perhaps the manner in which one poses the questions. There is certainly a difference between sincere questions and ones that are cloaked daggers used in the form of an interrogation. At this juncture, it is important to think about what is meant by, as I put it, 'sincere questions.'

To my mind, there are two forms of questioning that one employs without malice in daily life. One questions either to consult (as in a student asking a teacher) or to explore possibilities. The former is straightforward enough, one is not in the know and would like to find out new information. The latter happens in two ways: Firstly, you may want to ensure that the other party's point of view is founded on strong reasons (similar to what Socrates does). Secondly, questioning the other party helps to explore all possibilities of a particular matter which will hopefully help strengthen your own views or cause you to reformulate them.

But how is the second form of questioning any different from what the brawlers do? The main difference as mentioned before, lies in the intent. These intellectual brutes are merely looking to win an argument and are not concerned with the furtherance of knowledge or even taking what others say as an opportunity to reflect on the validity of their own views. These people often engage in foot stomping when it comes to difficult issues and how you define the boundaries matter. They will just declare the definitions of the other party invalid and will not accept that there are some issues that cannot be solved for the time being.

Having established all that, how do we proceed from here? I guess the most important thing for the brawlers to do is to sober up from their illusions of grandeur and note that the person you are talking to is a human being and not your punching bag. Basic civilities apply. Also, while we philosophy students adore its rigours, we do need to tune out once in a while. So if you just met us at a social gathering and would like to discuss philosophical issues, do not put us in the witness stand but ease us into it. A couple of drinks (non-alcoholic for me please) would certainly help.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Updates and Bukit Brown

The summer break is finally here! I apologise for not updating my blog throughout the second semester as I was drowning in my readings and other prosaic matters. I am sure I would be able to update this blog more often before the whole drudgery of school starts again.

It is a surreal experience to realise that I have just completed my first year of college. And while I may have given you readers the impression that I dread school completely, I do exaggerate. The workload may be overwhelming at times but I cherish the intellectual challenge. I do hope that my results for the semester that has just passed would not be too bad as I felt that there were a couple of papers that was rather difficult.

So what do I have to look forward to during this break? For starters, I have started flamenco classes; something which I have wanted to learn since I was a kid. The rhythms are slightly more complex that I am used to but it is indeed a welcomed change from my relatively sedentry lifestyle (hopefully I could lose a few pounds from all that dancing too). As to how the interest in this dance form started, I shall reserve it for another post. I am also resuming my Latin lessons; the language that everyone feels that it is dead or that it sounds nice regardless of how sordid the subject matter. Besides acquiring new hobbies and resuming others, I am glad that I getting some income from teaching drama at a secondary school and I hope that the children would be excited to learn new stuff as I am in teaching them. It does look like my summer holiday is filled with a myriad of activities. Here's to wishing that it would be a good and fruitful one!

Before I end this post, I would like to mention that I recently attended a talk on The Material Culture of Bukit Brown and have written about it here. I do hope this article would give you a clearer picture of what we stand to lose if Bukit Brown were to be destroyed. I am grateful for the opportunity in which The Kent Ridge Common (KRC) has given me to write for them. As such, I shall shift the focus of this blog to cover more of my personal issues and musings while the serious writings will be posted onto KRC. Of course, I would put a link to all the articles I have written there on this blog so that you can read those too.

As such, I would like to say a very big thank you to the few of you who actually reads my blog.