Friday, November 24, 2006


"If you believe in love at first sight, you'll never stop looking"

Are we close friends? As with all vague notions, there is no metric with which I can measure the distance between us. I can't say that we're close friends because of reasons A, B, C... and so on. I certainly can't claim we're close friends because we see each other more often than others within our circle (well, outside my circle, there are friends who're indeed closer).

Can I build criteria? I think I've tried:

1. How often do we see each other a week?
2. What is the amount of time we spent exclusively in each other's company?
3. When we need to confide / talk, how often do we think of calling each other?
4. Are we... just friends? Or is there some other underlying attraction?
5. If so, is this what close friends do, or is this because other emotions are at play?
6. Have we fought?
7. How did we make up after that?
8. Do you love me? Does that still make us close friends, or something worse?

Vague notions and vague answers at best - when something as tenuous as a friendship needs to be defined along quantitative measures, what does one make of it?


I have a friend - close enough, but not close enough to touch rub my emotions raw - who is very good at one thing: she is good at asking questions. She asks questions relentlessly, and her style of presentation is to shoot questions at her audience, make them ponder, and rattle off more questions in quick succession. The questions always demand an answer, and the way that it is asked, the answers are proffered in no small measure. The questions are always good, but the answers to them always seem to invite her to probe more, like a hungry unsatiated hippo (eating up those balls... hehe... pardon the slight digression into the 80s).

But although she asks questions well, she doesn't seem to give answers. It is a one-sided relationship: she asks the questions, you give the answers. And there's no point in asking questions of her because she doesn't have answers. Or it might be that the answers she's collected, she's keeping them for herself, unwilling or unable to share them. Perhaps she cannot distill the answers she hoards into something that someone else can understand. So the questions always come flying, but the answers don't. And in such a relationship, the answerer always feel drained, like he's being sucked dry of knowledge without any replenishment in return.

"Ask and it shall be given unto you" but can one ask incessantly? Very unchristianly behaviour to be expecting reciprocity on this account, but one can't help feeling like he isn't getting a fair bargain.


"If you believe in love at first sight... take a closer look"

You must be wondering, do I have a point to all this? Like with all good things, I'm getting to my point - in my fashion.

I think that, with regards to how close a friendship really is, one can only ask vague questions of oneself and invite unwillingly qualitative answers. As with my inquisitive friend, the questions one can ask only invite further questions, until such a point when no answers can be elicited.

A close friendship cannot be one without some measure of attraction (my opinion). At some base level, one has to be attracted to the other - with same-sex friends, it doesn't necessarily mean you're gay. The attraction has to be of a kind where one finds a quality in the other that one desires, whether it be that the other is beautiful, or smart, or in possession of some such attribute.

The thing is, the level of attraction cannot exceed a certain (vague) point - beyond that (vague) point, it tilts towards something more akin to attraction and liking, where one party comes to desire the other. When Desire plays the matchmaker, that friendship isn't close anymore: it is means to an end, that end being one of desire, and at its most debased, lust.

A close friendship does not need frequent contact, nor does it need two people to spend any significant amount of time with each other (again, my opinion). In fact, when two people spend too much time with each other, it's more likely they will end up detesting the other, finding each other's bad habits beyond reproach and letting familiarity breed contempt.

Time apart from each other allows room in which one can grow, and change in ways that only a close friend can appreciate. Being in frequent contact means the subtle changes go unnoticed, and that is always a loss to the unobservant one.

Finally, getting closer doesn't mean one should not fall in love with the other: it just means that such emotions need to be embraced and expressed - with much grace and some acceptance of the fact that the friendship might not be the same thereafter. Never, ever, bottle up your emotions - when one does, the time will come when emotions burst forth in a torrent and there will be no way to pretend one never felt them.

And when it comes to that point, can one remain close?

George Michael sings it thus, and it speaks for me: 'I keep my distance, but you still catch my eye.'


"Those who love at first sight are traitors at every glance"

1. Quotes in italics were taken from taglines for the movie Closer (2004).
2. Hungry Hungry Hippos is one of those meaningless games from the 80s. You take the lever of one of 4 hippos and manoeuvre it to 'eat' as many balls as possible. The player with the most balls eaten wins.

3. The George Michael song? That line's taken from the song 'Last Christmas' by Wham!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Me 11/2006

I reckon this has to be the easiest thing to blog about. What is harder than talking about yourself?

If you've ever attended a toastmasters' meeting, this will be the first thing that you have to do. Talk about yourself for 3 minutes (I think... I can't really remember now). Back in NUS 1997, I attended one session with the toastmasters there, had a panic attack and never returned. I wished I'd stayed: perhaps I could have gone on to become a better public speaker. It must have been the law students scaring me away with their vocabulary.

Anyhow, if you want to compare the me now and the me in 2005, I really can't see much in my psyche that has changed: I think I am still me essentially.

But... let's start anyhow.


The Me in November has been a student for 11 months. I am currently an INSEAD participant (they don't like to call us students, the adminstration). Unfortunately, this status isn't lasting for much longer, probably warranting another update soon in 2007. See, I'm going to be graduating soon - next month - and then I can truly call myself an alumni and MBA.

Being an MBA hasn't done me much good financially: I've gone into debt and my finances are strained beyond what they can bear. The MBA also hasn't given me any better an idea what I want to become: the kiddy dreams of becoming the CEO of some MNC remains that - a kiddy dream.

But hey, I can still dream, and dream big.


Come to think of it, the MBA gave me the dreams in the first place. And the MBA taught me many things which I would never have learnt in a less formal context: there just isn't the kind of room to learn the things you learn in an MBA while on the job. So a one year break to learn, to recharge, to rethink, and to find myself: priceless.


The Me in November is also in a rut relationship-wise. There is nobody. Zilch. Not any romance in sight. Having concluded a relationship during summer, the me now just cannot muster enough resources to mount another 'offensive', i.e. search for a new girlfriend. Partly because life is still in a state of flux, and partly because I'm just not motivated enough to. Another reason was also because any romantic interests I harbour didn't get past the 'reality-check' stage.

That stage goes like this: OK, now I know I like this girl. What next? Shall I tell her? No, not yet. Only when I am sure we can have something that will last - like your last one, you don't want to make the same mistake right? Ok, but it won't last, and you know it won't. Am I sure? I don't know. But what if she doesn't like you back? Hell, then I can't tell her can I? Don't want to risk getting all hurt and such. Ok, hold back on those emotions and just be all rational: it won't last, she won't like you, and what's the whole point of it all?

Right. So the reality check was a huge jumbly mass of thoughts that did not materialise into concrete action. The fact was that I did do something about it in the end, but I did the minimal. All that thought of 'risk' just screws one up.

Oh, where was I? Yes, I'm in a relationship-rut, but then, that kind of suits my mood nowadays. It lets me simmer in dismay and brew in mild discontent at the (perceived) unfortunate circumstance. It allows me the room to play out fantasies, and not risk getting disappointed with real-life. It lets me withdraw into my own space, like a turtle in his shell, away from disappointment and hurt - why go through all that shit again, right?


The Me in November has one grandparent less than the Me in 2005. On my dad's side of the family, this meant that there were no more old people... The mantle of old people has passed from my grandparents to... gasp... my parents.

My dad hit 60 in October, sometime after the death of my grandmother. I now think a lot more about getting old and living out the twilight years. I think more about how I want to live when I get there. The more I think about such nonsense as the future, the more I worry that my father never lived the dreams he had when he was a 30-year-old lad.

My father certainly didn't foresee himself failing in business at that age. I don't think he saw himself as getting too old either. I don't know if he ever was disappointed: with his career, his life, his children, his marriage. I don't know if he ever felt elated with the age he has lived up to. He always found solace in religion, and it has been that way since he was a teenager.

I admire that about my father: the ability to have that much faith. Perhaps I ask too much of my faith. Perhaps I ask too much of God and what he should or should not have done to this world (and me in the process, but I feel so small).

Nevertheless, my father is still the person I look up to. (I've got to speak for my mum too... but that's another long story for another time).


The Me in November just realised how jaded I have become. Reading the post of me back in June 2005, I seemed more carefree, more at ease with myself in the world. Now, I think I am more uptight and frustrated. More bogged down by the mundane and meaninglessness of existence. More questioning of my self worth and what my station in this world is.

The Me in November can't look beyond November and regain the optimism that the Me in 2005 had. There was more hope then, and more clarity on my purpose in life. What I have now is a little less desire, a little less hunger for success. Hitting 30 must do this to you, I posit. Hitting 30 must give you that sense of dread that life just isn't the same anymore, and downhill is the only way to go.



The Me in November wants to walk out of December 2006 into a new year with his head held high and his future straightened out. Granted that I am not the most happy person to be with now, I do hope to be happy, and I do seek happiness.

That's why I don't like the risks that I have to take sometimes, but that's part and parcel of life.

Living it a day at a time...

The Me in November apologises for the utter lack of references to persons other than himself. This is an ego-piece and, although it does not live up to its promise of describing Me in November, it does serve its purpose of acting as an outlet for venting some frustration. Me in November is a frustrated, sex-deprived, uptight, unhappy, and screwed-up son of a bitch and he admits it readily. It's a wonder that he still has any friends, and they're absolutely gourmet when it comes to being friends. Top notch. He also wants to say that he loves you all.

Monday, November 13, 2006

All Saints Home, Block 1, Room 2, Niche 194

... is the final resting place for my grandmother.

(until the lease runs out at the place sometime within the next 30 years and pending whatever actions the authorities might take)


I have never had a close experience with death before. The passing of my grandmother last month brought it home to me, but even then, I was a few thousand miles away when it happened.

There was already a foreboding that it would happen sometime soon - before I left for France at the end of August, I made sure I saw her again at my uncle's place. She was weak and not able to say much to me. I don't even know if she recognised me. And like the numerous occasions on which I had visited her, I said my greetings and my few words of tepid encouragement, then proceeded to chat with my uncle and aunt from whom I could understand her condition better. After a while, grandma got tired, and the maid wheeled her back to her room to get some sleep.

Sleep. She was always sleeping.

That was the last time I saw her alive. That was the last time I saw her in any physical form (I see her in my sleep sometimes - a younger, more sprightly person - the grandmother who brought me shopping for toys as a little boy). That was the last time I said goodbye, and I did not even say it to her because she had gone to her room to rest.

Then I went to France and about 3 weeks into the French immersion at Fontainebleau, dad hit me with the news that my grandmother's condition has gone bad. She was hospitalised, gone into the ICU, and doctors gave the prognosis that she has less than a month to live.

I remember being stunned speechless and unable to respond, the voice wavering and about to break. I forced back tears while talking to dad, and my housemate driving the car seemed to sense something wrong in my demeanour: I was always acting so tough in front of her. I made sure from that point on to always call my dad - every couple of days or so. He was my only link left to grandma. And he was her favourite son: he will feel the loss THE most.

A couple of weeks later, the bad news hit and she passed away. I remember vividly that night. There was a party at some chateau, one of those themed events in INSEAD, and I didn't feel up to going. I came home from a dinner with a friend, and promptly logged onto the internet, doing the usual job application and surfing around that characterised the period of September and October 2006. Then the sms came and I sighed a sigh of relief and anguish: she has died.

Last saturday and it was time to go see her, yet it felt like there is no point anymore. She has died, with a plaque and fake flowers to mark her final resting place, filed away among other remains like in a library. Little was I to know that, when you visit the dead, it is not just about the one dead person you're going to see. It is about much more and I am glad I went.


So what of visiting the dead?

I learnt about memories we keep as human beings, memories we retain of people we have lost. A lot of emotions get invested in our friends and family when we live, and when one passes, the loss is felt so tangibly by the people around one.

Many people try to retain that memory, and I saw it so much at All Saints Home (in Punggol). Even while this is a place housing urns of ashes, people still managed to build up shrines in memory of their loved ones. Fake flowers adorn every niche; some leave post-it notes behind, cut in the shape of hearts; soft toys for those who died young; little adornments with much love behind them; pictures; tributes - some left behind obituaries pasted up beside the niches. Physical manifestations of their love for the departed, hope perhaps that the dead might see, that the dead might hear their prayers.

There were other things that were visible among the dead: birth dates... and death dates. What is it about the human compulsion to note the two dates, however meaningless to the rest of the world, that bookend our existences?

But I saw patterns... me? I always see the sad ones.

A girl who lived a mere 9 years. The picture showed a young lively person in her school uniform.

A boy, aged 18 when he passed away. The items decorating the niche indicated a girlfriend in his life, and parents who miss him a lot. Him in his army No. 1 uniform. I can't help but think it is an accident while he was serving NS.

A family of 4 occupying an entire bottom row of a column. All died on the same day. Perhaps a suicide pact? Car accident while on holiday? Did the father face financial troubles and decided to end it all? Did it make the news? (a cousin who was with me couldn't help muttering something about it being in the news...)

An old woman, her niche unadorned with fake flowers (the caretakers do not clear away items from the niches and thus discourage real flowers). The plaque is yellow with age and lists simply her birth, death, and the typical "Gone home to be with her Lord". No one has visited it.

Physical retentions... and the pain is very real. But when I depart, what do I want to leave behind?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pics on my Phone - Set 1

There are a bunch of pictures on my phone that I seldom look at or even bother with. Some were taken using my phone (an old battered Nokia 6260), while some were sent by others. All are, alas, low-res pics that will only have some esoteric value to me. In no particular order, here's a set of 5 of them:

I took this picture illegally. Camera phones aren't allowed in camp, but I snuck mine in nonetheless. This is a pic from the top of a watchtower, looking down the chute and ladder from which you climb to access it. It was night, there was nothing to do, and my poor myopic eyes couldn't make out stuff moving in the dark anyway - in other words, I was so bored that I resorted to taking pics of the surroundings (and got this).

This one is from INSEAD, specifically during a time in June when I was on the Fontainebleau campus. My assigned exam number was 44 which, to the Chinese, is about as unlucky a number as you can get. The exam numbers determine where you sit in the amphitheatres during the exams. As you can see, I have a good view of my fellow MBA's exam paper from where I sit (didn't cheat though... no time to).

This is a metro station in Barcelona. In most parts of Europe, their metros (from my perspective) are little more than 'holes-in-the-ground'. There's a hole, you climb down, and - voila! - trains. I like the train stations in Singapore better: at least they can be considered to be buildings, or have the semblance of a station - they're also far easier to locate and find (you tend to miss holes-in-the-ground).

My ex-colleague and his opinion on me using my phone to take his picture. Not the most flattering shot I'm afraid, and if he ever finds out about this blog, he'll be screaming for that pic to be taken down (I doubt he'll sue - he does have a good sense of humour about such things).

A pretty girl, coffee, and a picture taken without my notice. Never leave your phone behind while you go to the washroom: some beautiful lady might decide to leave her pictures on it. (of course it helps if you were dating her...)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Where have you been?

Right here - I'm still thinking stuff and thinking about writing stuff. I still have an insatiable urge to write stuff down and to voice my opinions to the world.

The problem is that I am unable to structure it properly very well these days. It is kind of like my consulting interviews: I show up and they ask me (another) one of those case interview questions where they don't care about the answer, just how well you 'structure' the discussion. So you hatch up some stupid framework and then methodically step through it even though both you, and the interviewer, probably already has some idea where to go.

But that's beside the point: the point is, I can't structure my thoughts well nowadays (explains the dings?).

A commitment is one nonetheless, and having started this blog, I'm not about to kill it due to a lack of commitment. So here is my commitment to you (my loyal readers! All... oh let's say 10 of you!). I am going to write posts on:

1. The familiar theme of the succubus - I think I have succumbed to the charms of one of late and have lost my soul (and countless energy) to one such vampire. I want this post to be a metaphorical allegory (to my own situation wherever applicable), and I want to discuss succubi and the havoc they wreak. Unfortunately though, I've yet to think about the sub-themes I want to explore, and the whole idea (of succubi) is plagiarised from an introductory lit text that I read a long time ago.

2. A useful strategy dictionary - there are so many useful buzzwords taught in the strategy courses at INSEAD that I was thinking about collecting them into a useful compendium for current INSEAD P2s - any who happen to read my site anyhow (I never did). Just the other day, I was in this strat class and one comment I made literally used 8 strategy buzzwords in one sentence: "A first-mover advantage is only useful if a company has achieved critical mass among its installed base, such that it is able to influence the willingness-to-pay of the consumer, deliver a viable value proposition that cannot be eroded through...". You get my drift.

3. P5 Life in INSEAD - which... as it is... there really isn't much to talk about. School is like an afterthought now: the primary drivers are jobs, travel and recreation while studying is that nuisance which happens during certain odd hours of the day. Sad times indeed, P5.

4. An update on myself - Back in June 2005, I wrote a short piece about myself. The intention was to keep it an ongoing project of sorts, to see where my life has led me by doing a similar piece every so often (it was supposed to be every 3 months I think, but the slacker that I am...). It is probably a time for an update: so many things have changed in my life, so many things haven't. I still don't think I can write a decent post about myself without talking about the people around me, but there has been a general trend to be more egoistic of late (I blame the MBA) and I am finding myself to use the first person pronouns - 'I' and 'Me' - a little too often. Discomforting thought...

5. Thinking and Acting - a class I took today showed a video clip of our ex-dean Hawawini talking about the 3rd INSEAD campus in the United States (which was an initiative that he had a lot of passion for, but it won't happen... not for a while). I thought something he said made some sense and its definitely something worth sharing in a little post when I can bear to structure it.

So there, 5 things I promise; 5 things I shall deliver.