I recently attended a talk by a top secondary school about the Direct School Admission (DSA) program, as well as its Integrated Program.
I was bored to death, because the speaker was just intent on telling parents how much they intended to fill every waking second of a student’s time with endless enrichment programs, team-building exercises and more homework.
We want every child to be a leader! Said the speaker. Such enthusiasm and hope, yet I had such cynicism simmering inside of me.
Erm, where is their time to play, hang out and meet people of the opposite sex? I thought, and later whispered to my wife.
When I was in Basic Military Training (BMT) in 1995, I saw a sight that burned into my mind till today. It happened during the weekend when parents could come visit their poor, suffering boys after the first two weeks of BMT training.
I was waiting for my mum to turn up when I saw this scene – one of the recruits was sitting upright on a bench, closing his eyes and looking very pleased. His mother was sitting next to him, and was carefully using a cotton bud to dig his left ear for him. There must have been a lot of ear wax to excavate, because both of them did not pay attention to the rest of the world.
Another year flies by and I thought I had better pen some thoughts down before I forget them.
1. Photography is now in the pocket
In the mid 2000s, I used to conduct a few photography workshops in partnerships with Canon. Back then, my mantra to the audience was to use as high a resolution a digital camera as you could afford, because you’d never know how big you need to print them or what kind of HD displays you would be using them in the future as photo frames. I scoffed at phone cameras because they were just so primitive then (they were horrid).
Today, that mantra has gone out of the window as the old adage of “having a camera with you at all times” is more important than the actual megapixel count. Smartphones can now do spot exposure, HDR processing to overcome high contrast scenes and have really good color reproduction. And the most amazing thing is that you can share them instantly on social media, rather than wait a few days to get 4R prints and then another few weeks to show them to your friends.
If I go out with the kids and forget to bring my Olympus Pen along (the full frame Canon 5D sees very little action today due to its enormous bulk), it’s still ok because a modern smartphone has a really really good image sensor. And I don’t print photos anymore, photos are now shared by default on Facebook and Instagram, and this blog no longer hosts photos like it used to.
Instagram has been a great tool that I have grown to appreciate. While some pros may decry the use of vintage filters, I love it because the same effects are much more difficult to achieve in Photoshop, and if you choose to take photos first and Instagram it later, you still retain the original image. And I’ve always been a fan of square 1:1 ratio images. In the past we used to fantasize about owning medium format cameras just to get that square look…today who cares?
I predict that compact cameras will become obsolete within the next five years, and dSLRs will once again become the domain of pros instead of consumers.
2. Xbox Rawks
For the past year, I’ve been the business lead for the Xbox 360 in Singapore, the fifth guy in the job since the product was launched in Singapore during the early 2000s. While I have been driving the marcoms for Xbox and our other Microsoft retail products in the past five years, it’s a whole different ball game to be actually doing product management for such a complex product line.
And till today, I still have to tell people I don’t spend all my time playing games. It’s a continuously challenging business to manage, and while I can’t write much about all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, what we did publicly was truly fun and groundbreaking this year.
Dance Central Championships came about because we’ve always wanted to bring Xbox to the masses in a big non-traditional way. It blew our minds when over 1000 people signed up and the finale was simply electrifying as contestants did the most amazing moves on the stage. The finale coincided with the launch of Kinect Star Wars and it was a pleasure to work with the 501st Legion of Star Wars enthusiasts. Trust me, you don’t see such passion very often – these guys live and breathe the Force.
The Halo 4 launch was something of a full circle thingy. When I joined Microsoft in 2007, my second day of work was the Halo 3 launch at Suntec. While we had to scale this one down due to budget constraints, we organized a Royal Rumble-style Ultimate Deathmatch as our first tournament in many years and it was truly gratifying to see fans line up to see who would be the last one standing.
In my previous job as a journalist, I wrote many stories, but I could have never imagined writing a story like my past five years in Microsoft and being part of the amazing Xbox journey.
3. The Goblins
Isaac will be ten years old soon, and Isabel will be eight. Feels like yesterday that Goy and I were still pak-tor-ing (going out on dates). Sometimes I get a bit disoriented and forget that I’m a father to two kids. With them yakking and cracking jokes and arguing all the time, sometimes I feel more like their older brother. Especially since I don’t feel so grown up myself.
It’s really not easy to inculcate solid values and be a good role model to the kids, and often I fall short. But I’m glad the kids make it a fun journey…most of the time. And they are the main reason that I…
3. Fought the education system
It started one day when Goy showed me this ACS Primary sample mathematics exam paper that was so ridiculously tough I lost my cool. I said, “That’s it, I’m writing a letter to the papers.”
One letter led to another, and before I knew it, I had sent and gotten six letters published, and other letter writers contributed their thoughts too. The letters are archived here in their original unedited form (the Today letters have since gone offline, such a pity)
Did the letters help the situation? I think it did, because since the first letter, education has become a bigger talking point in the public space. The Gahmen stopped publishing names of top PSLE scorers this year and while the problem lies more in the sheer unreasonable breadth of the primary school curriculum, at least they’re doing something.
The problem with the education system, I suspect, is that there are too many layers and differing approaches, and no single visionary who can articulate what kind of education system is good for our kids. To solve this problem at the root, we need leaders with actual field experience and I am awaiting the day when an acclaimed educator become the Education Minister.
I’m not saying that the current Minister Heng is doing a lousy job, it’s just that the PAP’s way of appointing ministers needs to take into account that a finance/army/civil service guy may not appreciate the nuances of education like an ex-teacher would. To change the world, we don’t need technocrats and administrators and policymakers. We need people who know what it takes and are willing to risk everything to improve our children’s lives.
I’m done with letter writing for now, because I was starting to sound like a broken record.
4. My Monster.
I first started riding army bikes in 1996, and enrolled in the civilian Class 2B course in 2007. Only in 2012 did I finally realize the long-time dream of owning a Class 2 (400cc and above) bike and after much consideration, I chose the Ducati Monster 1100 Evo and it is an exhilarating ride. I have written about it here.
Seriously, 16 years is a pretty long time to wait, but I guess I was too busy in between.
5. People moving on.
Several colleagues have left Microsoft and I am deeply grateful for all the things they have taught me and gone through with me. Great friends are hard to find in any workplace, and I’ve been blessed with knowing so many talented folks since I started working in 2001. All this sounds very clichéd, but our personality and attitudes to life are often shaped by the meaningful relationships we have and cherish.
And my ex-boss Ben Tan has so many classic lines that I remember by heart. Eg. “Don’t wrestle with pigs!” “Stack them high and watch them fly!” (referencing mass stacking at retail). “How do you get from good to great?”
An old SPH friend, Chee Kin, left us suddenly this year. He was a kind and funny mentor during my journalism internship years, and now I can’t crack anti-Sun Ho/China Wine jokes with him anymore. Quite a few friends have passed away (the first guy during Primary 5) and it is always a grim reminder that our days on earth are numbered and unknown to us. All the more reason to enjoy life for what it is and never regret the things we do. It’s either now or never, people!
6. Passing another violin exam
To many kids, passing the ABRSM music exam is no big deal, since everyone is doing it (usually not by choice). To an adult like me, who has no natural innate gift in music, clearing my Grade 5 exam was a big accomplishment.
This was a frightening exam to go through, because I realized that I still could not get rid of the jitters and shakes whenever I played in front of a teacher or examiner. I concluded that I simply did not have stage performance confidence – an irony because I have no issues giving speeches in front of huge crowds. Goy helped me overcome this (mostly) by constantly practicing with me with the piano and I learnt how to minimize the tonality issues. I just managed to score a merit rating and it felt like a distinction already.
I continue to learn the violin because it’s too late to just stop now, when I’ve worked at this for over 11 years, and because every lesson is such a humbling experience for an arrogant nature like mine. Violin is truly a great antidote for the inertia that threatens to subsume me every day.
As usual, I don’t think too hard about the future and what I want to do in 2013. Everything happens according to God’s plan and all I ask for is to be happy in the things I do and achieve contentment at all times. I feel the edginess and impatience of the mid-life crisis (all the old AC boys are experiencing it) and we have to keep remembering to get together lest one of us disappear from sight without warning.
And 2012 was great because the last of the dragonboat gang – Pok and Naveen – finally got married. Now they’ll understand what we married men have been talking about during our Adam Road suppers 🙂
In May this year, I was so outraged by the steep difficulty in a primary school exam paper that my wife showed me, I wrote my first letter to Today about the unrealistic standards in our education system. It was followed by a flurry of letters by other parents, and by National Day, this had become a national conversation of sorts.
I was glad to know that I was not the only one who thought that the system has become distorted.
This commentary was published in Today on 27th Aug as a parent’s reflection on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2012 National Day Rally the night before. I focused on the topics of education and the birth rate, which readers will know are my two pet topics on this blog and in real life. Contrary to popular belief, the family photo wasn’t a National Day thingy, but Chinese New Year from earlier this year 🙂
As a parent of two primary school children, I paid extra attention to the Prime Minister’s take on education and the birth rate. I was glad to see some glaring gaps finally plugged, or at least touched on.