Moving House

30 07 2009

Boys and girls (and the occasional alternative-living type),\

I’m moving out of the toilet into a studio. I’ve been working on a new website for a while, and I’ve set up a blog there which has all the old postings from My Ivory Throne. If you’ve bookmarked me, please do let me know where you are so I can kiss you, then change your bookmark to

The main site’s not completely ready yet; I’m experimenting with some new stuff I’ve never done before, but I thought now’s a good a time as any for a revamp in identity. Hopefully this will work out, but if I post up this message on my other blog saying to come back here, you’ll know I probably can’t keep up with the bills.

My old nick of 8 years might also go. haloZero has seen its heyday in the local tech arena early this decade (I was famous once you know, though only a little bit), but it’s growing old. Lucky for me I don’t need a deed poll to change my Net identity, but there’s a lot of admin work I still got to do.

I’ll keep you people posted back at the new site.


Let’s Have a Reunion! (Stony Silence)

29 07 2009

I dread reunions.

Why, oh, why do people even want reunions? My own Chinese New Year reunion dinners are, at best, a page out of a script for the Jerry Springer Show that was rejected and sent to Oprah at a specified lunar movement every year. And these are the people I live with; what of people I haven’t seen in years? What would I say? What would they say?

I’ve been reunited with a select bunch of guys from my high school years, and we’ve been having somewhat regular beer sessions, but to this very day I’m confident in saying we still feel a slight tinge of trepidation whenever one of us calls for a meet-up. The fact is, a lot of years have passed in between, and none of us know enough about what’s happened and what’s changed in each other’s lives to hold a truly meaningful conversation that would last 15 minutes, much less 4 hours (the time it takes for some of us to finish 2 pints).

And then recently, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with some more of my sordid past (some of whom I’ve actually dated, others I tried to date, and then some I didn’t even want to hold hands with). Between them and me stands more than a decade of lost years, during which a large truckload of them got married, had children, carved out high-flying careers (literally) for themselves, moved away to another continent or generally wasted their lives being jackasses who would never amount to much (namely, me).

The past few months of bantering to and fro actually spurred the idea of a reunion that, if all goes according to my reluctance, will be happening in 2 weeks’ time. I’ve come up with all the excuses I could come up with, from “Nine Inch Nails is coming, I can’t go that day” to “I’m going on a church mission to Southern Thailand” (I’m a Buddhist, by the way) to “I got cancer, aw shoot, chemo appointment’s that very night”.

But what am I really afraid of?

There’s them to me; in those lost years, I’ve never really thought of these people. Sure, they’re in my Facebook friends list, but who really talks to every single one of the people you add on your friends list? And the sudden interest in seeing my newly gained weight, hearing about my newly started family, asking about my newly established career, laughing at my newly grown hair… it just wierds me out.

And then there’s me to them; it’s been more than a decade. I don’t know how you’ve been getting along, where your life stands right now, what you’ve gone through to get where you are today. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing I really know about you is your name (and only because it’s on Facebook). If I were to start a conversation, how do I know I’m about to say something offensive (I’ve met people who get offended from even a simple trigger, such as “fat” or “religion” or “Amy Winehouse”)? How do I know you didn’t like me back when we were in school in the first place but never said anything because you’re not confrontational by nature? How do I know I’m not just gonna freeze up, pick a seat on the corner next to a huge plant and silently count the hairs on the back of the hand I use to hold my bourbon coke until it’s time to go?

The fear is further amplified when even before we meet, incidents are already happening (thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Web 2.0, the marvel of the new millennium). Some are shy; no matter how you poke and prod, you never see them comment on anything; it’s almost like you’re being ignored. And then there are those that are not shy; they are so comfortable with their friendships (even though it’s been more than a decade since you’ve seen each other and are now practically strangers) that thoughts and assumptions come flying at you like bullets over No Man’s Land in Afghanistan. Albeit in jest, through separate private conversations with each other, I’ve already been described as a narcissist, a gay perv and a potentially unfit father-in-law (don’t ask where that came from, I’m WTFing it myself) in just over the past 3 days (wow, it really does feel like high school again).

Yes, I have a mentality towards reunions that compares with much accuracy to that kid who says he sees dead people (for the first hour-and-a-half of the movie anyway). I also acknowledge that because of this exact same mentality, I have no friends (according to my mother). I can hear you saying now, “Get off your fucking high horse, you gay, narcissistic excuse of a father-in-law, step out of your cocoon and get a life.” And you’re right. Something needs to change. The principles guiding my life which I have upheld and guarded in the last 10 years are fundamentally flawed. I’ve written all of 830 words so far in dedication to my ire of reunions, blocking my own path with assumptions that ultimately remove any sign of redemption through the use of one simple philosophy: try.

I’m going to a reunion.

Monk + Money = Monkey Business?

23 07 2009

The coverage of Reverend Shi Ming Yi’s trial led to a small balcony discussion between me and my wife, and subsequently, a number of lengthy comments between me and a skeptic (with good reason) in – of all people and in all places – local celebrity Ken Tay’s Facebook profile.

For those not in the know, following the very messy and sensationalised NKF scandal comes a new high-tension drama series – “Ren Ci Hospital“, starring the Vulnerable Reverend Shi Ming Yi (I’ll explain the use of the term “vulnerable” later).

The synopsis: said Reverend was arrested in the middle of last year and put on trial a day later after a five-month probe into the hospital’s alleged misappropriation of funds, found in undeclared interest-free loans to individuals and businesses working with the organisation. Digging deeper into the dirt, the prosecution found additional discrepancies, not only of the Reverend’s very fat bank account, but also of his history in property investments here in Singapore and in Perth, Australia, his chauffeur and various cars of significant worth (we’re talking Beemers and Volvos; I drive a Nissan Sunny, and it isn’t even mine), not to mention his allegedly “doctored” philosphy PhD from a questionable educational institution.

Now, we’re talking about a big-time charity figure who’s been earning millions for the organisation(s) he represents, and is known throughout high society (middle and low as well, for that matter) as the foremost Buddhism advocate in Singapore, Johor (and some say Batam). My first real interest in this matter was piqued while I was in the midst of moping about my own finances, when I read a headline mentioning the Reverend’s bank account; my first thought (which I subsequently posted on Twitter because it was less than 140 characters long) was, “You know your life is truly crap when you find out on a newspaper that a monk has more money than you.”

I mulled over that statement with my wife, who had a different opinion of this whole debacle. Here we have the third-largest charitable organisation after the NKF and the Singapore Endowment Fund; the amount of money changing hands on the basis of Singaporean kindness makes charity work overwhelmingly profitable as an induistry. And, as some of us may have learnt from the NKF debacle, it is quite necessary (although not altogether the smartest thing to do) to have it run very much like a corporation, complete with administrative staff, personal assistants, auditors, a board of directors, and the most dangerous job of all, the CEO.

So the monk fucked up. So what? In the face of so much money coming at you like Spanish tomatoes during La Tomatina, the temptation is truly irresistible, regardless of whether you’re a monk, a yogi or the Pope. To be fair, the Hospital itself has flourished and its charges taken care of with the fullest utilisation of the benefits the organisation has earned. Lending a quote from The Straits Times, “The monk admitted that he was ‘easy with money’ but denied he was similarly so with Ren Ci’s money.” With this in mind, we need to ask ourselves, how many people have we helped, the way the Reverend has helped his patients, to be able to fuck up this big-time?

I’ve personally seen as many monks sharing a bouncy red 20-year-old Datsun hatchback as there are monks driving and being driven in Mercedes Benzes and BMWs (I won’t even talk about the airport encounters I’ve had with monks in first-class). Do they deserve to live their lives this way, whether it be in a hatchback or a luxury 2.4-litre German monster? Neither you nor I can say, for we know nothing of their backgrounds and the circumstances behind their gains (even the Datsun boys; at least the thing moves). This is where the benefit of the doubt comes in handy.

Let’s talk about the “loans”. If a truly venerable monk with $5 in his cloth bag were approached by a man who makes his case as a penniless chap in need of $5 to tapow 2 packets of chicken rice back for himself, his wife and 37 children, do you think the monk would say no? Similarly, if the Reverend, hapless as he is about the financial policies set forth by his own organisation as well as the legal boundaries of the Charities Act, were to be asked by the people under his employ, colleagues, or business partners to “help a brother out” after being presented with a convincing case, what do you think he would do? (Even though it is surplus revenue from after his organisation’s beneficiaries had been beneficiarised, a scheming mind might say, “Go ahead”, whereas a naive mind might ask, “Why not?” The outcome may be the same, but the intentions are vastly different.)

“(His PA) told Ming Yi that he needed the money because he had run into some financial difficulties, but did not tell him that it was to pay for the renovations.” [link]

As far as I can see, the misappropriation of funds was borne through a naive sense of doing good coupled with an ignorance of rules and regulations, made possible through the conniving of certain individuals who made their want of money look like a need for personal gain.

What of his property “investments” and bank account then? Supplemental income? Back-up plan for Ren Ci’s rainy days? Part of Mother Theresa’s estate to “all the kind people out there”? In search of the perfect place to meditate in? All my wife and I know is that it is not uncommon for heads of charities to have money on the side for whatever, whenever. Even the hospital’s management committee had this to say during the trial:

“When questioned later by Ming Yi’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Andre Yeap, Mrs Chan said the committee trusted Ming Yi would give himself a reasonable salary, pegged to that of other hospital CEOs and also based on the scope of work undertaken by him for the hospital.” [link]

Think of it this way; if our politicians are paid well over their deserved thresholds in salary so as to combat corruption, shouldn’t there be a need for this one guy who’s supposed to be the deciding factor to where all this public money goes to have a stash of his own to keep him from wandering into the communal pot? It sounds warped, especially since we’re talking about a monk here, but you can’t deny it makes sense; the government sure as hell don’t deny it.

But my biggest qualm in this debacle has nothing to do with Ren Ci, the Reverend, his minions or detractors. It’s the media, and the people who read into the media coverage. The one big thing that the media always stresses to address is the “lowest common denominator”; the base level of understanding that any storyteller, scriptwriter, production house, and whatever other media industry player (big or small) must target at. In news reporting of such a complex nature, I have found it to be near impossible for the true essence of a news story to get through, most of the time.

When a person reads a newspaper, 85% of the newspaper is completely ignored (I like the comics section), headlines are read and siphoned, and most articles, if not all, get all their eyeball glory in no more than their first line; the news lead.

When a high-profile figure in trouble appears on TV in the news, you see his face plastered over your 60-inch plasma walking either in or out of the courthouse with the big bold headline “Ming Yi Trial” scrolling across the bottom of the screen, half of what is actually being said throughout the report is lost in white noise because your eyes are taking away what your brain should be processing.

Radio news fares no better; passive listening may put in subliminal messages in your head over a long period of time, but the BBC for me is a wonderful treatment for insomnia. So what happens when you get a hapless voice speaking over a microphone with no background music? Remember Physics class when you fell asleep most of the hour and ended up almost failing your exam?

And then we have the Internet. The most important tool for any research-based project, the connected student’s bread and butter, the communication innovation for the business of the now, and what do we do with it? Porn.

Reading through all the articles in detail, I was frankly quite surprised at what the local newspeople are reporting about the Ming Yi trial; there actually seems to be a bias toward the Reverend in the content (in particular, the defence’s case makes it quite hard to point the blame at one obvious point). But the people’s interpretation of just the headlines and their lead lines (which look like they were written by a different writer on a different sensationalist agenda) speak very differently, thus twisting views in an altogether more negative direction.

A perfect example of having 3 sides to every story; the prosecution’s side, the defence’s side, and the media’s side. Each vastly different, and all filled with ulterior motive.

Factoids (courtesy of The Court Room @ STOMP:

  • Deputy Public Prosecutor Jaswant Singh said, the money was an unauthorised payment by Ming Yi, taken from Ren Ci’s coffers, for renovations to a Hong Kong flat belonging to Yeung’s friend. To cover up this fraudulent use of funds, he said, instructions were given to Ren Ci staff to prepare a payment voucher that stated the money was a loan. [link]
    (Someone commented that the loan was for purchasing branded goods; this should hopefully set the record straight.)
  • Both the Reverend and his PA are standing trial.
  • The Reverend is facing 10 charges:

    “Four – two counts of giving false information to the Commissioner of Charities, and one each of falsifying accounts and criminal breach of trust – form the basis of the trial. The other six have been stood down for now.” [link]

  • His PA, Raymond Yeung, faces 2 of the above charges as co-defendant.
  • Varying explanations had been given for the use of the aforementioned $50,000:

    “Mr Winston Ngan, an auditor who led a Ministry of Health review of the charity’s finances in 2007, said he had been given varying explanations of where the money went.” [link]

    (Different interpretations of a vague invoice, if you ask me. But I do know a lot of auditors cannot stand that kind of thing.)

  • Raymond Yeung is a Singapore Permanent Resident with a previous Australian citizenship. He did not hold a work permit while working for the Reverend, but was instead paid “by proxy” from Ren Ci through the Reverend. [link]
  • Based on his May 2001 salary, the Rev takes home $16,000 a month (makes me want to be a monk). According to his management, he stopped drawing salary sometime in 2005. In his bank account lies $570,000. If we do the sums based on this info, his total income (less CPF) to date would have been 736,800, which means he spent $166,800 of his own money in the past 8 years, or $1737.50 a month. I spend more than that the first 3 days of receiving my paycheck (which explains why I’m always broke).
  • The Reverend loaned $610,000 to the Ren Ci Hospital since its inception in 1994. Here we are today haggling over a $50,000 cheque.
  • Mandala, the shop mired in the $50,000 scandal (the illegal funds were extracted from the shop’s books), is operated under the Reverend’s name. Although there is an understanding between the Reverend and the Hospital that all proceeds will go to the charity, no documentation exists to support the agreement, so isn’t the shop technically a free agent?
  • Trial Day 5: The PA ‘fessed up that the $50,000 was indeed used for renovations in a friend’s flat in Hong Kong, and the Reverend took pains to cover said PA’s backside, as well as not to sully the name of the hospital.
  • Supplementary cards were given out to three people under the Reverend’s employ, including Raymond Yeung, who used it to buy “branded goods”. (I remember when my dad first gave me a sup card; he took it back the following month.) Today I have a company sup card, so I can understand why this was done. So anyone who says these two had a “special” relationship, please think about it for a moment before jumping the gun.

The rest of the trial is being covered closely in The Court Room, so anything else arising from there is open for discussion in comments.

Such a Fascinating Creature, This Bird

18 06 2009

I’ve been stuck on Twitter the last couple of days. Though I did register yonks before, and have a rudimentary understanding of how it came to be one of the hottest (and most inane) cultural phenomenons of this digital age, it didn’t hit me how useful it really could be until I decided to run It to find out when the iPhone OS update would be rolled out.

Yes, I have an Apple product. No, I am not a fanboy (I still very much love my Asus behemoth laptop running 64-bit Windows 7). let’s move on.

Forgive my lateness in entering the world of instant 140-character, to-the-second news updates. The biggest reason why I avoided using Twitter so long was only because of 2 main reasons; firstly, that I have a tendency to write long passages of pseudo-witty soliloquoys to no one in particular (as may be attested from the bulk of my blog entries), and secondly, I could not fathom an afternoon of updating myself with what some of my friends might consider activities that would interest the Internet world (tweeting “I’m at work” only serves to inform your employer that you are indeed worth your month’s salary, but if you’re a copywriter, it only gives the company more incentive to hand you the pink slip, doesn’t it?)

But in the interests of tracking when the hell Apple will allow me to start using MMS and type with my fingers more fluidly via a landscape keyboard on my severely overpriced, over-hyped, wonderfully intuitive communication device, I decided to run Twitter to see whether anyone else was wondering the same thing and if anyone knew any better.

As it turns out, tens of thousands of people were wondering the same thing (tweets ranged from querying, “Is it out yet?” to pleading, “Please, Apple, please…” to swearing “Why isn’t it f&$@ing out yet?!” to relenting, “Ah f&$@ it, I’m going to bed.”)

In the course of all this ruckus, the keywords iPhone, OS 3, and Singapore hit the top 10 trending topics on Twitter (Singapore having made the list because some twit posted a link on the iPhone OS release date from the singapore website, which caused a big hooha because everyone thought the US side pushed back the release date based on what they saw; cue a few hundred people who knew better furiously tweeting “No, that’s the Singapore site. It’s Singapore… no, Singapore, … Singapore lah!”).

I found the whole discourse utterly amusing, and in the span of 24 hours, I’ve managed to tweet more updates than I have posts on this blog, not to mention add follows to 25 people, 21 of whom I’ve never met, and get followed by another 20 or so people, 8 or 9 of whom keep wanting to show me their naked photos.

I must say, though, Twitter as a growing social networking application certainly deserves a more thorough looking into. As a means to getting a good feel on the biggest topics on the common man’s mind, as a volatile marketing tool, or as a place to get recognized at your workplace as being hard at work without even trying too hard, I’d say there’s a lot more I have to learn about how the world works, and I won’t be surprised if the lessons come in 140-character blurbs.

(By the way, I wrote all this on my post-update iPhone. My thumbs are now ready for competitive texting.)

The Celebrated Master of Baby Kung Fu

4 02 2009

Those who have watched Ip Man, the kung fu action flick starring Donnie Yen, will have either marvelled at the talent this underrated actor has, or if you’re of the feminine persuasion, fallen in lust with his dashing 46-year-old Asian good looks.

We watched Ip Man when Xander was still in my wife’s womb, but we could tell he was watching with us. As with our experience while watching Quantum of Solace, the sound of every gunshot, kick and punch would illicit a kick from our dear boy in my wife’s third trimester.

But where am I going with this? Third trimester is soooooo yesterday. Well, fans of Ip Man may be heartened to know that there will be a sequel…

Xander decided he will not be outdone by some old man with big hands and nice eyes.

Xander decided he will not be outdone by some old man with big hands and nice eyes.

Our kid’s even got a training video! (Click the link if video doesn’t show here)

How’s that for an early start?

Week 4: What a Month Can Do To You

29 01 2009

It’s been a whirlwind month, with no lack of drama (in the interests of self-censorship and sensitivities to our families’ privacy, I can only say hormonal changes and our mothers do not a peaceful confinement month make) and changing habits.

But more importantly, t’s funny how a 1-month-old person can take hold of your life; schedules change, sleep patterns change, daily rituals change, philosophies change, diapers change (Xander’s upgraded from Newborn size to S size)… things have changed so much, I might as well be on Obama’s staff too.

For the first time since I left school 3 1/2 years ago (I was a late bloomer), I found myself waking up at 6.30am today to get ready for work. That has to be the single most significant change I’m going through, since my wife and I are well-known for not being morning people. But of course, because it’s the holiday season, nobody thought to bring the office keys, so I ended up getting into the office at 10.30am anyway.

We’re also trying to catch Xander’s feeding patterns so we can feed him more adequately and be able to rest properly on a more predictable time belt. We saw the paediatrician yesterday, who taught us a formula to calculate how much to feed our kid, which goes something like this:

150ml x Baby’s weight = Amount per feed

No. of feeds over a 24-hour period

At 4.75kg, our kid’s feed works out to be 90ml every 3 hours. At night, we try to stretch it out little so we can cop an extra hour of sleep before his wonderfully lung-squeezing cries wake everyone in a 3-unit radius around our apartment.

But the real reason why we went to the paediatrician last night was because we thought our kid had acne.

Yes, zits. On his face. Like a teenager undergoing hormonal imbalance and wondering why everyone in school is avoiding him.

As it turns out though, he’s got a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation from my father’s side to me, and now, to him. My son has eczema. So now he’s sensitive to perspiration (no necessarily his own), tears (the rashes form quite nicely to show where his stream of tears run down when he’s cried) and possibly the baby formula he’s been so happily sucking up. All this time we thought it was normal and will go away in time (which the paediatrician also said it would), and now our kid looks like a miniature Chinese version of Seal.

Otherwise, things are slowly getting back on track. Despite the economic gloom, I’m hopeful for a good year.

Oh yeah, Xander’s got a corporate logo (or something like that, at least; my father-in-law asked for something he could silkscreen on a pillow case as a gift to Xander). And I got another video coming. And we’re planning GRAPHICS for Xander’s room soon!

Xander Tay - Drool Here

Xander Tay - Drool Here

Week 3: Watch a Good Movie Lately?

20 01 2009

As promised, videos. I only wonder what Xander’s going to say when he sees this once he turns 12.

Note: Do turn the volume all the way up to experience the videos to its fullest potential. You might also want to let the video load up fully first; the annotations on the first vid can be a bit buggy initially.

First up, here’s something we took on the second day at the in-laws. I do so love Youtube’s Annotations function.

This one was taken a couple of days ago. We’ve been trying to capture Xander’s crying for some time now, and so far this footage has yielded the best results for us. Xander’s infamous cry has been described in many different variations and analysed at length within my wife’s family household. Again, watch the annotations; they’re pretty good indications of what we think of his beautiful wails.

Nice change from the 2000-word essays I usually put out, isn’t it?The annotations might not work