Saturday, December 31, 2005

Being the Singaporean Dude

I hate playing tour guide. More specifically, I hate being the local guy, the supposed-to-know-it-all. I hate being asked where Singaporeans hang out. I hate negotiations with hawkers at a food centre to make sure we're not being fleeced. I hate being quizzed on where to pick up cute chicks with non-too-serious commitment issues. I hate racking my brains over which are the hot nightspots to be checking out. I hate showing people how to eat crab like a Singaporean should (you JUST eat it lah!).

Well, its not like I had much of a choice. Having decided to do a post-grad course at a predominantly foreign institution, there is no choice but to hang out with all these foreigners (and I don't mean ang mohs only) and play the local guy. The local guy has to make recommendations: where to go, what to eat, what to look at (Look! Sir Stamford Raffles looking like he's trying to hide a hard on!). Thankfully though, there were 2 other Singaporean gals in the class and that helped (I would never know where to book a table for seafood and chilli crab!)

Okay, to put things in perspective, what happened last week was that I got to attend a pre-MBA course to get myself acquainted (and re-acquainted in some cases) with basic accounting, finance and quantitative stuff like statistics. Being the world-class institution that my school is, there were other students from overseas as well - in total, we made up 12 folks: 3 Singaporeans, 3 French, 1 half-Jap half-Italian, a Hongkie (Hongkonger just sounds funny!), a Brazillian who's spent most of his life in Switzerland, an English, and 2 Indians. The 4 days spent in classes, discussion and partying with these folks was the most fun I had the latter part of this year.

Kenji (the Jap-Italiano) was the most interesting of the lot, especially since we managed to talk about stuff, and this guy has a whole lot of opinions. He quizzed me on nightclubs and girls in Singapore to no end, having had little luck picking up a local for a semi-serious, non-commital, somewhat-friendly time in town. I thought that it wasn't a problem if you looked somewhat like Keanu Reeves (on a bad day). Maybe he just had to be a little less direct in his propositions (hehe).

On another note, the faculties teaching the course were right though: we had a headstart, and a taste of what's to come. Furthermore, there is already a cliche of people we now know even before school actually started. Somehow, we all felt like the money paid for this pre-MBA course was well spent, considering what we learnt, and what we gained out of it.

In any case, if anyone out there wants to bring out their hidden SPG natures, do let me know: I think you'll be far better in showing these fellas a fun time come next year - and there'll be more of them when the actual school term starts. Playing Local Guy is really too tiring when I'm not too into good food and the nightlife to begin with, so help me out yah?

A Command Prompt and an Active Imagination

Like most boys, I grew up playing computer games. Never got too obsessed with them though, but the immersiveness of it all did creep into my life sometimes. There were so many times I've gotten myself so deep into a game that neither sleep nor food matters. And games these days follow a somewhat staid formula: you do a whole bunch of shit, mostly repetitively, and with some variation in storyline; at the end of all that shit which you had to do (some shit are more interesting than others), you get a 3D video clip as a reward to nicely tie up the story. After that, credits roll (doesn't it make you wonder why games have to be end like movies?)

Well, back when I was a kid, games were much simpler - technology hadn't introduced us to 3D animation as of yet, and games relied a lot more on your active sense of imagination. Like now, games were immersive - you can seriously get yourself lost in one. But they had less whiz-bang graphics and tinny sound effects (I remember the first time I heard sound coming out of a soundblaster and thought that it was the coolest thing on Earth to hear bloodcurling screams of a banshee getting hacked to death in a D&D game).

The really stripped down game was the text adventure, a very early form of the RPG on a PC. In the text games, the player is typically an avatar, and things are seen through the eyes of the avatar. However, the scene around you is described in text form - it is very much like reading a book of fiction. The difference though is that the avatar tends to go over the same ground while walking around, and repetition does set in when you keep reading descriptions of the same scene.

The interface is really simple - all you're presented with is a command prompt:


That's it! How simpler can a game be? The learning curve isn't that steep: all you have to do is type in commands such as "Go north", "Examine door", and "Talk to Edmund". What's more, the commands can usually be shortened, so gameplay is a whole lot easier. And like any RPG, its easy to get stuck: it's really bad to get stuck in a text-based game not knowing what to do, as there's no visual cue, and hardly any option other than to refer to a walkthrough.

It may not sound like much to people these days, but some notable text-based games that I remember playing were The Hobbit (of Lord of the Rings fame) and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (I got stuck walking around a spaceship with Marvin the paranoid android).

Oh, on a side note, the text based adventure later took on a more interactive element as MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) in the Internet, but are now long forgotten due to the likes of whiz-bang online games like WoW. Most MUDs played like a D&D game, but with a computer describing the scene for you rather than a dungeon master. Dice rolls were truly randomly generated by the system as well.

Over time though, this kind of games lost its allure. It's not hard to see why: the demand was for more graphic intensive adventures, with sound effects to add to the realism of it. Technology kept up and the result is the plethora of games we get nowadays deluged with moving images and mindblowing sound effects. Hardly anything is left to the imagination anymore: the world of computer games took the same route that movies did, by moving beyond imagination and text to visualising directly for the consumer.

Thus, it was interesting for me then to discover that the text-based game isn't dead though. There is a small pool of enthusiasts keeping it alive via a competition. The Annual Interactive Fiction Competition is an annual competition to see who can create the best text-based adventure, with judging entirely done by the public. The best games read like a well-written book, with descriptions that are vivid and characters with distinct personalities (most game characters these days are cardboard cutouts - after all, you can't really delve into their minds like you do in interactive fiction).

Much as these games bring back a sense of nostalgia in me, they aren't likely to ever become mainstream again - the dynamics of the gaming industry have shifted to the ever more visually appealing. Sadly, this means that the text-based game (or interactive fiction) is relegated to the cottage industry that it is, supported only by enthusiasts and individuals with a love for words. Still, I like to think that such games have so much more 'soul' than the whiz-bang stuff I see nowadays. Oh, that and the fact that I can actually play them at work without attracting too much attention - long live the text-based adventure!

New Year's Eve - before the day is over...

There were so many ideas that I wanted to have penned out. I owed Stripey a short note on an interesting site I found (about something which has taken a whole lot of my time). Last week's shenanigans as well - haven't had the energy to pen them down. Plus, the GF returned and left again, leaving me with NYE's alone (only metaphorically, since there're plenty of friends to hang out with). Oh yah, and there was this draft of a post about Losing Winners - that one hasn't seen the light of day. Yet.

The idea was to do each of these in their own short little note, which you should see in the entries above this one. Initially I was lazy: I wanted to dump them all onto this post. But hey, what better way to up my post count huh? :)

Happy New Year! 2006 is happening too soon...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

When Winning Hurts

If you're at the top, there is only one way to go: down.

Winning is not good. When you win, things happen which serve to undermine what you acheived when you won. People are too eager to please, and compliments rain upon you like November showers. And when there are dissenting voices, you tend not to hear (you're a champion after all, what's there to criticize?). Criticism isn't welcome, and genuine advice isn't that forthcoming when you are a winner.

Perhaps one reason why one listens less is because of the ego. The ego boost that comes from being at the top is blinding - the winner is seldom humble after having beaten the competition. The inflated ego only serves to reinforce one's own sense of superiority: what else is there to learn from others, especially the failures? The path carved out by the winner is surely the 'right' path.

Winners are really losers: they do not understand the importance of the lesson that is learnt with a loss. Only when you have lost before can you become a better winner. When you're winning, you may have a formula for why you're always doing that. But unless you learn what the wrong formulas are, you're never going to figure out why when your so-called winning formula doesn't work anymore (and you lose).

The lesson that comes with losing is well learnt, if learnt at all. That is why winners learn the most when they can learn from losers. That is why case studies of the losers tended to be more interesting that those of winners, for, after all, it is the pitfalls to avoid which are more noteworthy, and not the back-thumping self-congratulatory flatteries which add value.

Winners are unhappy unless they win again, and therein lies the problem: they're hard to satisfy. A loser will be really happy to have won, even once. A winner cannot abide by anything other than the champion's podium. Woe is the winner, for he can't see no other way in life. To win all the time is to be blind, obsessed, un-interesting. To win in an endeavour is to lose in most of all other pursuits in life. The winner loses more because of that, while the loser pursues other means of self-satisfaction.

Yes, I know this is turning into one big meaningless rant, but hey, see it from my point of view: I think the initial winners I have seen in my life don't adapt: they think they'll always be champions, and nothing brings them more back to earth when they realised that what they had achieved counted for little in the end. I'd much rather learn, adapt, and become a better person through my failures - not all battles are meant to be won: you need to know when to fight, when to concede, and most importantly, when to walk away.

Life isn't Linear

I've closed a chapter in my life and am opening a new one soon. Working in a consulting firm has been one heck of a rideand the best part about it had always been the people I got to work with. I'm sad to leave; I'm happy to depart. :)

Strangely, I did not feel too weird about moving on: it seemed natural. There are folks who leave with moods of lingering resentment, joyful elation, or seeming indifference. For me, I leave knowing that I'm leaving behind people whose lives I have touched, and whose actions have molded me, whether these actions were positive or not was another matter.

I do not feel like this is the end though - life is not a series of milestones that we set ourselves to achieve. The end of primary school may signal the start of secondary school. The departure from one job may signal the beginning of another (well, in my instance, it meant going back to school). But if we were to live life as breakpoints that we are to hit, then we're missing the point about living.

In any endeavour, the best part about it (as I have said before) is that we are given the opportunity to make friends. The business phrase is 'Networking', but that word does injustice to relationships that we build (it subtly suggest that we stand to gain something from it). The relationships we build do not end when that particular endeavour (a project, school year, NS etc) concludes. Rather, the relationships endure and we seek to build on them. Well, some of us do anyway.


In many ways, we touch those around us, and those around us help shape what we become. It is more than the web of relationships we build - it is what we are.