Monday, June 26, 2006

A Day in the Life

So I was passing by the office pantry on my way to the toilet and a sudden abundance of people in the pantry caught my eye. I looked in and there were actually four… count ‘em, four plumbers in the tiny 10 square-foot pantry trying to fix the leaky hot water spout.

One of them was on his hands and knees with a wrench in his hand, poking around like a hedgehog. Two of them were standing on either side of him, leaning in to take occasional peeks at his progress and provide him, I don’t know, moral support, and one of them was leaning casually against the door jamb talking about everything from politics to the weather.

It looked so much like a scene from one of those “How many electricians does it take –” jokes that I had to clap my hand to my mouth to prevent from laughing out loud.

AND after they left, the spout was still leaking.
Such government efficiency and economy, I say!

Later on, I was on the phone with some parents of clients and was speaking to them in Chinese and the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Erm, we need you to come down for this thing”

Random Chinese Speaking Parent: “What?”

Me: “Erm. You know. It’s this thing where we discuss this thing that your son attended.”

RCSP: “What?!”

Me: “Okay. You know, we need to improve this thing. So they want you to tell us about how we can improve this um… thing that your son went for. It’ll really only take an hour. It’s just talking about things.”


Me: (huffily) “I’ll call you back.”

Geraldine was laughing so hard I threw my pen cap at her.

My conversational Chinese is actually pretty good, contrary to what people think! It’s just that I don’t have the technical know-how to say words like “Focus Group Discussion” and “constructive criticism” and “Guidance Programme” (although since that disastrous fiasco, I’ve learnt, okay?). Beside, I’ll bet not many people can say those words in their second languages without learning them either.

It’s not like you pop out of the womb raring to talk policy and programmes!

The last thing that happened today (in no particular order, I might add), was that Geraldine and I were polishing an Anger Management proposal for one of the supervisors. We’ve been working on this… for lack of a better word… thing for over a week now and had finally got down to the finishing line and were just ending a paragraph on the last session of Anger Management which was supposed to be a therapeutic one.

I don’t honestly think all the kids are going to appreciate the things that we suggest, but we thought it was probably a better idea for them to experience something calming and happy as opposed to being preached to all the time. So Ding (because she says that’s her nickname) suggested allowing them to release balloons into the sky to symbolise letting go of resentment and temper, which I thought was a great idea.

Frankly, I was high on coffee and didn’t really care what I was doing so long as I got it out of my hands ASAP, so I typed something like, “And to end the session on a high note (in more ways than one), we will skip happily across the field, singing our happy songs, and let our balloons float away into the sky.”


To our boss.

I was just short of adding “and we will walk into the sunset, warm and fuzzy feelings in our hearts”.

“… on a high note (in more ways than one)”? What was I thinking?!

Oh well. At least you know if you see a group of ten boys and two girls attempting to look happy and irridescent while struggling over a marshy hill, in a place near town, with balloons in their hands, you’ll know our boss approved it.

Was that a completely pointless entry or what?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sudden Solitude

“It’s not that I can’t live without you,
It’s just that I don’t even want to try.”
-- Back to Your Heart

S is far away and life has to go on.

I’m doing okay, despite the fact that I’m keeping score of the days.
Even so, fleeting moments beset me, such as now.
And I would still like to stand very still, close my eyes, drink in the orange-sunset air and think of her.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Them Crafty Beggars

You know you’re a working girl when you finger-comb your messy hair with one hand and spritz on perfume with the other as you run unglamourously through the Basement 4 carpark on heels, all because you’re late in leaving for your big dinner date.

At a COMBAT session for some of the younger probationers, the facilitator struggled to ask for examples of risky habits from 12 rowdy teenage boys. “Bringing a girl home!” one of them suggested.

“And what are some things you can do with the girl when at home alone?” She asked the group with which I was standing.

“Watch TV,” the cheekiest one returned.

“And what,” she tried again, “Are the possible bad consequences of watching TV with her alone?”

He pasted an innocent smile on his face and replied, completely deadpan, “If sit too close, then must wear spectacles lor.”

Later, he turned to me and gestured to my hoop earrings, saying, “Ma’am, ma’am, later on the train if people got no more handles, they can hold your earrings.”

I bit my lip tightly and tried hard not to laugh.

I really tried.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dear Sir,

It is with regret that I inform you that regardless of your aspirations, I have decided to lead my life in a vein that is of my own choosing. For a long time now, it has been obvious that you know nothing about me. Worse than that, I believe that you do not care either.

You never really knew what was going on in my life, or my head, or my heart for that matter. Now isn’t the time to jump in. You cannot be a part-time institution in my world as and when you choose it.

This isn’t about respect at all. It’s about not living my whole life in deference to your wishes because really, it’s my life now. The world is changing and shifting beneath your feet and you’re so intent on holding on to shreds of the past that if you don’t catch up, it will leave you choking in its dust.

I am as much a person as you are and I’ve done my time.

How will you ever reconcile yourself with my lifestyle, sir?
Well, that’s your problem. I’ve solved mine.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Because SOMEONE Says I Don't Use Enough Photos!

My dog is a nutcase. Yeah I know that you’ve probably guessed this already seeing how pets are supposed to be like their owners. But I don’t think you have any idea just how nutty he really is. I mean, my nuttiness is limited to, you know, doing my best Julia Roberts laughter imitation in public and hugging a clear plastic thang filled with air at work. Okay, it’s nutty. But it isn’t a seven on the Richter scale.

This dog on the other hand, is mad. And not just mad, but mad and sneaky.

See, he’s actually toilet-trained on newspaper, but sometimes, he’ll mark his territory in a really random way just for fun. That is to say, despite using the paper, he sometimes also leaves little presents in other rooms of the house.

A month ago, he use to poop all over the living room and kitchen floor when nobody was around, to attempt to get our attention (I anthropomorphise, but if you really knew Chip, you’d know it was justified). This obviously wasn’t a good thing because if no one was around to clean it, the odor molecules would diffuse, and you know what that means.

So I thought about it and came up with a brilliant (if I may say so myself!) plan to prevent this. I stopped giving him breakfast and then fed him a double portion at dinner which then meant that he could poop all he wanted at night and I’d be there to clean it up both at night and early next morning. Well, it’s worked so far. I wake up in the morning and clean up his poo which is unpleasant, but better than leaving it there all day.

He recently figured out what I was doing, and has changed his tactics in a way that I don’t understand. Instead of pooping on the floor now, he does use the paper and it’s all neat and clean in a little pile. Well, blow me down!

But. And this is big but.

Of COURSE, he has to compensate with other mischief. So, when I wake up in the morning, I am now greeted by the sight of all the dustbins lying on their sides with trails of rubbish leading to his pillow.

I don’t get it. I know he’s just toying with me because that’s my dog, but I refuse to be beaten at my own game. I would clear the dustbins of all their rubbish at night to forestall this, but I worry about what other fiendish little plan he might use as a succedaneum (please admire the big word that was unceremoniously ganked from my BIG dictionary). In fact, I swear sometimes when he thinks I’m not looking he nods to himself in a surreptitious, self-satisfied way and then laughs at me from behind his little paws.

The only thing that’s stopping me from flaying him within an inch of his life is the fact that I love him so much. That, and he gives me this guilty, big-eared look:

In other news, these are me friends at work, whose antics, warm company and laughter make each day an effortlessly happy event.

Yeah, I know, we have something about heads… at least they’re relatively nice looking heads, okay?

Geraldine and I are partners-in-crime for an Anger Management workshop that we’re supposed to organise for probationers, and just generally go running around the office creating a great deal of disturbance (think: exit door, left open, beeping LOUDLY). Reggie (as we like to bully Regina by calling her) has nifty fashion sense and really cool, cute shirts from Urban Outfitters but this is rather dampened by the fact that she’s actually a thief and will steal jelly from your dessert if your back is turned. Come to think of it, she’ll steal jelly even if your back isn’t turned. And will tell you that she’s stealing it.

Rebecca, Becca, Becky or Reb is, as you can tell, trying to pin me for the crime that I am about to commit. Apart from that and the fact that she says mean things to me every chance she gets, she is actually quite nice. Okay, not that nice. Well… actually… not nice at all.

Aight folks, that’s about as many photos as I can bear to display for one day.

Heh heh. At least I’ll go to bed tonight knowing I made someone happy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


“… Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.”

-- Next, Please. Philip Larkin.

Why can’t everything in life be this simply and beautifully put?

Reverse Logophobia

A couple of days ago we were sorting the books in the office library out when Geraldine found something tucked away behind a dirty photo frame. It was an old edition of the Collins English Dictionary!

I fell in love straightaway.

I mean, this is the kind of dictionary they don’t make anymore… A dusty blue cover boasting 100,000 references, each one complete with first use, linguistic origins and etymology. Pages and pages full of beautiful words that we hardly hear anymore or don’t use because they’re not suited for everyday conversation. Words describing types of birds, animals, insects, countries, geographical features, biblical terms, emotions, verbs, nouns, words of reference, words of measurement, words of description that I never even believed existed.

And just in case this didn’t sell you, the back pages are filled with coloured illustrations of the atlas, the family trees of the Royal family in England, the list of weights and measures for every conceivable medium under the sun, the Roman, Russian, Greek, Hebrew and German alphabet, the elements of the periodic tables and their valencies, and a list of group names in case you ever wondered what a group of apes is called (a shrewdness) or a bunch of peacocks (a muster).

It’s one of the most incredible dictionaries I’ve ever seen and I have to have it.

So, being one of the more moral human beings this side of the equator, I went to ask the officer in charge of the library if I could have it for keeps.

She squinted at me. “What, you mean to borrow?”

“I was kind of hoping I might keep it actually.”

She cocked an eyebrow.“Who does it belong to?”

“I don’t know. It was in the library but no one uses it anymore. I mean, they don’t even look at it at all.”

She took the book from me and studied it carefully before finding a stamp inside the front cover. “Oh! You can’t take this! It belongs to someone from Toa Payoh Girl’s Home.”

Erm, yeah, in 1971, lady.
“I don’t think they want it anymore,” I pressed.

“You can’t just take government property!” She frowned at me disapprovingly. “Besides, it’s a dictionary, why would you want it?”

“Let me buy it from the library,” I begged.

She glared at me as if I were trying to bribe her to do a pole dance for the Minister. “Excuse me, we are not at liberty to sell things.”

“But –”

“I’m sorry. You’d better put it back and try to get the rest of the office to use it.” And then she had the cheek to add, “Hmm, good thing you brought it up! I didn’t even know it was there!”

NnnnOOOooooOOO! NOOO! I didn’t know what to say to her, so I dumbly backed out of her office.

So this it is, all these years of honoring the Justice System have come to nought! M was right… it doesn’t pay to be moral! I should have just filched it silently while I had the chance! Hah! So much for knowing the difference between right and wrong.

The book is still on my desk though, and come fire and brimstone, I am going to own it! So, as of today, I will be formulating the Great Dictionary Stealing Plan© every free chance I get.

Till then, I was thinking maybe I could just bring it home and see how it looks on my shelf.

Damn you, Justice! Damn you!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

O-bla-di O-bla-da

As we were sitting in the car and I was listening to the kicky base stamped across the bottom of a Paul McCartney tune, my mother said suddenly from the back, “What does O-bla-di O-bla-da mean?” (My mother is one of the most curious people in the world, always asking random questions and expecting random people to know the answers. “What’s a juggernaut?” “What’s a googol?” “How are stars made?” “When will you be on the Dean’s List?” “Are you going to clean your room?” But, I digress.)

“I don’t know,” I told her. “Maybe it’s about drugs.”

“Maybe it’s just a nonsense word like in Walrus,” someone else suggested, and a discussion ensued about the possible hidden meanings in the lyrics. The truth is, we really couldn’t be sure, no matter how much we thought we knew or how clear the meaning seemed to us. After all, in something as variable as music or literature, interpretations are open to anyone.

In science, however, it is expected that there are some certainties, some theories or at least some basic laws that everything in the Universe abides by.

Or at least that’s what people think.

There are certain things in the world that are held sacred. Gravity, for example. The fact that the world is round. Or even that the right and left hemispheres of the brain have different general purposes.

Last semester, however, I had one class in which we were free to question any of this. I could have stood up and argued that the earth was flat and the professor would have said, “All right, let’s look at it that way then.” On the first day of class, we were thrown questions with seemingly impossible answers.

What made the first thing in the Universe?
How do you know there is such a thing as the Past?
How do you know that the world really exists outside of your experience?

We were free to answer them anyway we wanted, from the religious point of view, from a scientific stance, dipping into our philosophical beliefs. The only catch was that for every answer given, anyone was free to rebutt, to question or to posit an alternative explanation. I left that class feeling frustrated, my head in a whirl. Suddenly nothing seemed certain anymore and I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do with this information.

I walked around in a daze the whole week trying to figure out what anyone could assume as reality. The world was round, I knew, or at least, I used to know. But had I actually seen it with my own eyes? Was there anything in my immediate visual vicinity to tell me that it curved ever so slightly? If I thought I knew it was round, I didn’t have the mathematical know-how to make the calculations. And even if I did, what made me so sure that the calculations that the formulas were founded on were foolproof in the first place?

I had a similar discussion with Hanwei later on. Evolution, I told him, was a theory. What makes people so sure that it worked? Gravity was a theory too, he countered. You couldn’t see it, but it still moves things. Why then, would you accept some things as fact and question others?

Later in this class, the answers began to grow clearer. We weren’t meant to go in circles questioning ourselves and our worlds, driving ourselves into philosophical corners as I had originally thought. Instead, we were to look at things that had been proved beyond reasonable doubt. Not absolute certainty, you understand, but reasonable doubt.

The importance of this lesson, I finally understood, was this. There are two types of science in the world. Ready-made science, and science-in-the-making. Ready-made science included the things that could be proved beyond a substantial amount of doubt. That the world was round. That DNA had a helical structure. That conditioning could induce a level of indexical association in animals without symbolic thought.

Sure, these things were open to question, but if you went round your whole life questioning them, we realised, science would never get anywhere. These were things you just to assume and work on until someone came along and proved them wrong. There has to be some kind of foundation to work on. The basic principles of mathematics. Or the proclaimed universal laws.

Taking the DNA’s double-helical structure as fact has allowed for many viable advances in the field of medicine and molecular biology. The thing is, that this foundation has worked so far, whether or not it is the truth.

Science-in-the-making then, are things that are still being researched. We believe for example, that some kinds of schizophrenia are produced by recessive alleles and the lack of dopamine in some parts of the brain, but excess dopamine in others. Is this an absolute certainty? No. Has it been proved in some groups of people? Yes. The only way to know whether this is a certainty is to continue to research it, and continue to question it. Every iota of information has to be continuously probed until some answers can be yielded.

The trick, then, is to know the difference between the two sciences. To know which ones to question and which ones to assume.
Standpatism isn’t the best outlook to have, I suppose. Rather it’s having the gumption to question things that can be looked into and can be changed rather than re-opening black boxes that have worked thus far.

Still, nothing in the physical world is absolutely certain. Science accepts this.

We know that something is only as certain as it can be proved, in the field of scientific endeavour anyway. So what happens if one day a foundation is proven wrong?

Well, you just get up and start again.


A science that tries to study how people think? Barking mad, what! As if we can ever know people’s ideas for sure or how the human mind works. How the hell are we supposed to read minds?

The lecturer smiled wryly. “Well,” he said, pointing at a random student in the front row. “Tell me something. What is she thinking right now? You tell me.”

“What are you thinking?” The guy sitting next to her asked.

“I’m thinking about this class,” she replied, or something along those lines.

“She’s thinking about this class.”

“And how,” the lecturer demanded, “could you possibly know that?”

Replied said guy, “Because she told me, sir.”

“Because she told you. Exactly. You don’t have to read minds. You’re not supposed to read minds. If everyone could do that, the world would be a perfect place.

“But you can try to figure it out. And if she continues to tell you, in all honesty, you can know. Not everyone will be honest with you. Not every thought will bring an intuitive answer. And not everyone will divulge their thoughts. But it cannot be denied that this is one way that has worked before. This is one step we can take towards the answer. Because she told you.”


And it’s not all about what people tell you either. There are MRI scans, tests that bring out involuntary reflexes. Glucose levels. Chemical reactions.

Becky told me that psychology isn’t absolute on many counts, but that we’re taking baby steps in the right direction with every study and I agree. Because even if you don’t know what it is, you at least know now what it isn’t.

Newton’s laws dictated the ways of the world for eons, until quantum physics came along. Who’s to say that one day quantum physics won’t be found faulty on some level? And it’s not that Newtonian physics has been discarded for the dogs. Rather, we have two kinds of physics now and we understand the way the world works in just one more way, one step closer to gaining a complete picture.

I don’t think it’s fair to believe that science should have all the answers.

I don’t think it’s fair to assume that science thinks it knows everything either. Not everything that is said by other scientists is taken as fact. It’s a long, deep road to discovery and the magic of treading it is that should we discover that we’re wrong some day, we’ll just keep on trucking on in a different direction.

Many people tell me everyday that I’m studying what people call a “pseudo-science” and that all it will ever be good for is fleecing people of their money when they cry to me over their problems.

Worse, there are people in the world who call themselves psychologists or qualified counsellors who create a false image of what psychology is supposed to be or what good psychology is.

Sure. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs.

Frankly, I don’t give a flying fuck anymore. In a completely personal opinion, I don’t feel like we’re living some opiate dream.

Theories and dogmas aren’t always plucked from thin air despite the fact that false psychologists will make it appear this way.

There are some things that can be proved and some things that can’t. There are some things that are theory-based and some things that are not. Some things work and some things need tweaking. And theory is not always right in practise, that’s why it’s theory.

Just like any other field of study, science doesn’t accept absolutes except under the most rigorous circumstances. That’s precisely what working on the cutting edge is about. The closer you get to any given edge, the more cliffs and valleys will be discovered. But bridges can be built and at least there is room for mistakes and a chance to refute previous claims.

Carl Sagan once said that every science has an enemy and that psychology’s biggest enemy was the advent of pseudo-science and its false practitioners. Thank you, Mr. Sagan. Not everyone is in this for the money and glory.

And it gives me some comfort to know that at least we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, of people before us who have been arrested, taken hemlock and been exiled for the sake of discovery. People who haven’t been afraid to get things wrong.

There has to be some acceptance of the fact that humans are not perfect and that they cannot know everything.

There also has to be some admiration of the fact that despite being born into ignorance, they’re willing to go through hell and highwater to find out.

Some people will be wrong, some people will be right, and psychology will never be absolutely certain. But in this world, the spirit of not giving up is the best thing that we can hope for.

Give psychology a chance. That’s the least it deserves.

And no amount of O-bla-di-bla-da will ever change that.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


My favourite punctuation mark is the comma.

No, seriously.

And I don’t mean favourite like, oh-it’s-an-interesting-and-useful-thing-to-use-now-and-again favourite. I mean favourite like I-am-so-obsessed-with-them-I-must-use-them-in-as-many-sentences-as-I-can-as-many-times-as-I-can favourite. (Actually with that previous sentence, it just might be the hyphen. But, no.)

I don’t know what I like about commas so much. It’s not that they look cute, although they are kind of appealing in a tadpole-curled-up-in-a-foetal-position kind of way. It might be that they’re so useful in the way that they split sentences up, or that I like to write like long sentences so I use more of them, or that I use lots of adjectives and commas make the adjectives distinctive. I like adjectives. And long sentences. And even when I’m not writing, I like to use commas to add pauses for effect. I mean consider commonly used the epithet, “Yeah right.”

Now, add a comma in and repeat, “Yeah, right.” How much more cynical does that sound? The fullstop isn’t sufficiently… erm… pausy to make short phrases punchy, only the comma will do. And! And! It even represents the intonations in your voice on paper!
For example, the sarcastic phrase, “Erm hello?”

Throw in la comma and you get, “Erm, hello?” Now, just squint your eyes and think about it… erm… squintily, and you can just hear the upswing on the end of the “erm” before it comes crashing down sardonically on the “hello”. See?

And just in case you think I’m making unfounded claims about my comma love, I once got an essay sent back to me with the words scribbled furiously in red, “This is unacceptable! You have gone comma crazy! Please learn how to use to the comma properly!” Honestly. In university.

It’s not that I don’t know how to use the comma, you bimbo. I just like to use it a little too much, okay? I’ll bet you have your own vices, all right? In fact, you seem a little trigger happy with the exclamation mark to me right there!


Did I mention that I’m drinking office coffee?

Did I mention that it’s making me really hyper? Oh, no? Well, it is.

PS My second favourite punctuation mark is the exclamation mark.

Listening to: Piece of My Heart – Janis Joplin. Damn, she rocks!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Selfless, Cold and Composed

The fact of the matter is that people have tempers. On the continuum between mild-mannered and flaming chilli padi, I fall, admittedly, closer to the right end.

I’ve become better at hiding it, no doubt.

But many things still make me angry within and I froth and boil and bubble in an
unhealthy way while attempting to maintain homeostatic appearance. The main problem, I think, is that so many things make me angry. Some justified, and I suppose, some not. I do have the irrational little flashes when someone irritates me on the train or in public toilets, and then there is a delicious surge of warmth that quickly turns to red heat and shoots from my stomach straight into my chest. All the corners turning themselves inside out and gathering themselves for an explosion.

I recognise that my temper is often misdirected or ungranted.

But sometimes, there are things to be truly angry about. Things that warrant more than just an eruption of temper, things that fuel a long, lasting, hard, cold disgust.

Bad parenting, for example.

To my thinking, there is no excuse for not wanting to give your child a fair chance in life. Not being able to do so is one thing, but it is quite another not to care.

It is not, for example, all right to continue letting your son wander around outside without any money when he has committed several crimes and his friends keep offering him all manner of shady jobs. It is not all right not to try your best to teach him what you can, to try, at least to give him a sense of right and wrong. After all, if you’re going to leave him to his own devices you might as well equip him for things that life might throw his way.

But most of all, it is NOT and I repeat, NOT okay to abandon him when he needs you the most. If you were going to neglect him, you might as well have deserted him from the time of his birth. But if you’re going to keep him, it is not okay to leave him in a home when he needs your guidance and love the most and flee to Switzerland or wherever it is with your rich, new boyfriend and your daughter.

It cannot be morally right in any universe to dump him because you cannot be bothered to deal with his offence and because you have a chance at an unsmudged life elsewhere. It cannot be morally right to tell him that you will return for him, because sometimes, he will actually believe you.

Children aren’t like adults. They don’t try to see through you or to filter out the falsities you might tell them. To some extent, they want to believe you, to believe that their parents are good and just and if not any of those things, that they are at least loved by you. To lie to them is to take advantage of that trust and worse, to destroy it forever.

How is it not possible to understand that what you’re doing can’t be good for him in any way? Why can’t you see that as much as you want a second chance and a new life, your son wants his slate wiped clean too? How will you sleep in your cushy, new Swiss bed when you remember him, in the institution that he will call home, thinking of you and telling his friends more and more tentatively that you will keep your promise.

I’m not a mother.

But I will always be someone’s child. And if my own mother had treated me this way, I know that I would only be filled with unbridled hate.

For this, I am very, very angry. And it is not weak anger that will easily dissipate with time. It is rage on behalf of all the children whose parents have abandoned them, or simply don’t care enough to help them stand on their feet.

Irene saw my face when I was talking to her and she told me that we have to learn to separate our working lives and home lives or we would eventually just lose it. She’s right and so, as of this moment, I will make that seperation and not bring my work out of my office. I will stop letting my emotions dwell on the cases that I see and will prevent all the angst of work from infecting my mood.

I promise that I will stop letting the things that I see and hear at work influence the way I feel and the things I say at the end of the day. I will get a grip on my emotions and remember that there is a life outside of prison and probation. My life. The lives of M, my family and friends. My breath will be calm, cool and indifferent.

But I am still a little human after all, and for that one boy
whose name I do not even know, I cannot stop being angry.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


“I drink a coffee every morning,
Comes from a place that’s far away.
When I’m done, I feel like talking,
Without you here, there is less to say.

Don’t want you thinking I’m unhappy.
What is closer to the truth,
That if I lived till I was a hundred and two,
Just don’t think I’ll ever get over you.”

-- Colin Hay.

You know it’s true, M. I don’t know what I would do without you.