Friday, December 19, 2014

The Batam Deal: A Review

Batam is an interesting place. I don't know when did it happen but together with its sister island Bintan, this two Indonesian islands is becoming more and more of an affordable and easier holiday alternative for Singaporeans. Just open any deal websites like Groupon and Deal.com.sg and you can find deals to either Batam or Bintan plastered over most of the site.

With offers averaging below 100 dollars (some even below 50), it is hard not to be tempted by such deals for those looking for a short getaway and for those with a tight budget. You don't have to spend long time getting stuck on a plane and you don't have to fork out a crazy amount of cash just for holiday. But are these deals worth it though?




I've been to Bintan once, and Batam twice, with my most recent trip ended just today. I got a deal off Deal.com.sg for a 3D2N stay at a 4 star hotel in Batam, costing only 90 SGD, as advertised on the site. The deal does not include a 20 SGD fuel surcharge for the ferry, so at the end of the day I spent around 110 SGD for the entire trip. Quite a worthwhile offer, considering that it includes a return ticket for ferry transport to Batam, as well as a 3D2N stay at Novotel, Batam, inclusive of two days breakfast buffet.

On top of that, the seller also threw in a one day tour around the island, complete with your very own tour guide. They promised air rifle, go kart and massage experience, something that you don't always get for Batam deals. Wanting a hassle free short trip, I bought the vouchers right away, along with le gf and two of my other friends, Victor and Andrea. And voila, before we know it we were already chugging our way to Batam.




The entire booking process was surprisingly easy and quick. So much so that I was worried that I may have just bought into a scam. After checking out almost 400 SGD worth of e-vouchers, all I had to do was to send an email to the seller's email with my preferred travel date and information on all the travelers, and sit back and wait for the confirmation email. The hotel booking, the transport arrangement and all the other administrative process were settled without a fuss by the seller. All we had to do was to show up early on the travel date, collect our ferry tickets and be on our way.

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of everything. Other than the extremely early timing of the ferry on the departure date (8.45 am), practically everything went on smoothly. Each of us were asked to paste a sticker on ourselves so that our tour guide can recognize us once we reach Batam. There were others on the ferry as well with the sticker on their shirt, which was kind of a relief because I liked the idea of us not being the only one for the trip.

Once we reached the Sekupang ferry terminal in Batam, sure enough there were a bunch of people dressed in similar blue and white uniform waiting outside the arrival gate with numerous placards with different names on it. We had to find our name of course, after which we were bundled up together into a van, together with other groups (there was a family with children and a group of older people) that we were going to spend the day with. There was also a tour guide of course, who will be following us for the rest of the day. The tour was organized by a company called Best Batam, which was quite big judging from the fleet that they employed during the day.




While the tour itself sounded great on paper, with go kart sessions and all, the reality was far from authentic. We were brought to different store locations around Batam, namely a chocolate store, a kuih lapis shop, a factory outlet and a batik shop. The stores themselves were made to sound like places where you can get authentic Batam products, but the reality was far from it.

Most of the items were overpriced, with some of them even more expensive than Singapore. A literal tourist trap, if you ask me. We guessed that the tour company had some sort of arrangement with the shops, where they will receive a certain commission from the goods sold in the shop. We did not buy much from most of the shops, with the exception from the one that sold local delicacies such as fried fishballs and sotong, which we later discovered that the exact same thing was sold in malls at a cheaper price.

The other locations that we were brought to was a temple and the go kart arena. The first was okay, the second was kind of a disappointment. The temple looked normal at best with its modern architecture, save for the cute 12 laughing Buddhas with different zodiacs sign at the entrance. They make for a killer photo, if that's what you're looking for.




The go kart track on the other hand, was a bit of a let down. The track was located next to a construction site in a run down area, with nothing much to see except rubble. But I guess we cannot expect much from a cheap deal. And I got to ride go kart for the first time in my life, ant I guess I got that going for me, which was nice. Just don't expect too much from the surroundings.




After the entire experience we were brought to a buffet lunch and the massage session that were both included in the deal. The lunch was so-so (again one could not expect much from a cheap deal thingy) and we had the fork out an additional 30 SGD for the massage session as we wanted a two hour session instead of the given one hour session. A bad choice, in hindsight, since it was terribly awkward situation. I mistaken a disposable underwear for a showercap, and I had to endure freezing temperature in a half naked stage. Totally awkward.

Still it was not too bad, it was the first time that I got to try a body scrub treatment, as well as a bath in the massage parlour. And did I mention that they have a heart shape Jacuzzi in the place?




Totally not awkward when you're with another guy.

Other than the tour, there was not much that we could do in Batam though. The people we asked suggested roughly the same things, which were shopping at the mall, going for massages or singing karaoke. There's a few malls on Batam that you can visit, with the more famous ones being Nagoya, Batam City Square and DC Mall. Since none of us liked singing, we managed to drop by two malls during our short time there.

One thing good about shopping in Batam is the incredibly cheap prices of the item that you can get there. We were talking about going to Batam just to do grocery shopping, you can get like half price for most of the food, and I just bought a travel bag that is normally worth 100+ dollars for only 24 SGD. A total steal.

As per recommendation by our tour guide, we also went to eat seafood at a not so good smelling seaside. For 20 SGD we got a two way transfer to/fro our hotel and a six course dinner, and not to mention a killer sunset view. Also an opportunity to take great photos.




The food was just edible though.

Aside from the shopping and the occasional venturing out, our time was spent mostly cooped up in the hotel, just chilling and watching TV. Getting around was not easy, as you can only rely on cabs, which was why we preferred to spend most time in the hotel. The rates of the taxi from the hotel was fixed, though getting a cab from outside was slightly more difficult, as you can only get them from places like big shopping malls.

The hotel that we stayed in, Novotel, was quite good though. The room service was cheap, and the service was top notch. With the small exception that there were not much to do in the hotel. The pool was small and there was no sports facility except a gym, but the rooms were spacious and comfortable. Definitely don't mind going there again.

All in all Batam is not too bad a place if you're looking for a short trip of sorts, and if you're looking to shop. Not sure how staying in the city compares to staying at the seaside, so I might want to try that next if I have the chance.


Monday, December 15, 2014

At the End of Everything #20

“Would you like to drop by my hotel room tonight? I am feeling a little bit lonely to be honest.”

In my past six months of using the online dating app, I have heard countless stories of guys sleeping with girls using the app, but I had nothing close resembling the experience before. In fact, it was the first time that I have ever had a girl made such a move on me. While some would jump at such an opportunity, I found myself a little bit unused to it. It was something to be happy and excited about, but I found myself staring awkwardly at the message. After all, it has only been weeks since I have known her.

With her it started like everything, with the exception that she was not the type girl that I normally messaged. She stood out from my usual potential matches, her biggest eye catching feature was her blue eyes, fair skin and blonde hair. Her profile said that she was an expat, here for a business trip from the UK. Being a novelty here in Singapore, I expected that she would be getting a ton of attention from the guys here, and the chances of her actually giving any attention to me would be super slim. 

Still, there was no harm in trying my luck.  It would be fun to finally have a Caucasian girl as a friend, I thought. I dropped her a message, said hi, and asked about her life. “So, what’s a pretty Caucasian girl like you doing on the sunny island of Singapore?” I tried to sound smooth. I wondered if she would even give me message a look. I clicked send, and secretly wished that she would send me a reply.

A few days later a reply did came, when I have already forgotten that I sent her a message. “You’re a different guy,” the message simply read. There was no self introduction, no answer to my earlier message.

I was intrigued. “Different how?” I typed out my reply, deciding to keep it simple as well. 

“Most guys just asked me for sex in their first message, or they’re incredibly crude. You’re the first guy here in Singapore who asked me about my life. I like that,” she wrote. A smiley punctuated her message. My heart jumped as I read her message, elated at the thought that the actually thought positively of me. Little did I expect that I would actually impress an English girl.

“My name’s Sharry, by the way,” she introduced herself.

I entertained the thought of having an English girlfriend, and imagined how it would be like if I were to win her heart. I would be the source of envy for every guy around me. People would stare at us whenever we go out. Our babies will be cute and cuddly. Most importantly, I would be a very happy man. A really happy man. Someone who could die with no regrets. Lucas scoffed at my daydreams, saying that given the white culture worship that Singapore has, it would be incredibly difficult for me to gain her attention. I just thought that he was jealous.

Emboldened by my initial success with her, I offered to be her tour guide in Singapore, when she mentioned that there were not many places to visit on the island. ”I’ll prove you wrong,” I told her confidently in my message, hoping that that dash of confidence would spur her to accept my offer. And as luck would have it, she did. “Prove me wrong then,” she said simply. I almost went bananas when I saw that reply. 

*****

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Han no longer Solo



I used to live a very carefree type of life. A selfish one, you may say, were I lived for my own purpose and goals, without caring much about what was expected of me. I did what I wanted, I avoided what I disliked, and pretty much lingered in my own comfort zone. There was not much instances where I pushed myself to be better, and I basically tried for a lot of stuff without persisting. After all, I was only accountable to myself, and there was not a need to really strive to improve. Whatever I did, I only have myself to answer too, and I was never someone with a strict discipline to begin with.

But there comes a time when your life is no longer your own, that the actions that you do now will have a direct impact on someone else's life. That moment when your life begins to intertwine with that of another person. And you begin to realize that you can longer live as reckless and carefree as you used to, because the way you live your life will not affect someone else. You are now accountable to another person, in addition to being responsible of your own actions. I guess this is what settling down means. When you are ready to give a part of your life away for someone else.

The thought scares me.




Went to Marina South Pier today, the new MRT station at the end of the red line, in hopes of getting to one of Singapore's southern islands. I never knew that there were so many ferry terminals in Singapore (aside from Harbourfront there's still Changi and Tanah Merah), let alone their each intended destinations. It was Google that told me that I could take a ferry from this terminal to the southern islands, but the entire place looked pretty much confusing and intimidating to me.

We were not able to travel to Kusu due to the darkening clouds above us, as the last thing that we wanted to get caught in is a thunderstorm at a sort of abandoned island all the way in the south of Singapore. Sad that my plans to visit Kusu was foiled again. 

Despite that, there was an interesting maritime museum that we visited at the ferry terminal, which I must say was quite interesting for a free admission place. With the different ships serving as the backdrop, you can get to walk through the journey of Singapore's maritime history, as well as learning about the importance of sea trade to Singapore. Something that I was not quite aware of as I have always thought that finance played a bigger role in Singapore's economy. Best of all, they had Lego too!



The view at the place was also not bad, as you're able to enjoy the sea breeze while overlooking the numerous ships that are anchored in the distance. Only that there were not much to do at the place except to just sit and chill. Hopefully the next time we will be able to hop on the boat to Kusu Island.


Friday, December 12, 2014

[GD: Half Life 2, Episode 1] Back in City 17

So I decided to give the Half Life 2 expansion/sequel a try, with all the talk on the internet about Half Life 3. It's been months since I finished Half Life 2, and with no other games catching my eye, I decided to visit a post apocalyptic earth again.

After getting awakened by the mysterious G-Man and being put through a hell on Earth, all in the effort to liberate humanity from the Combine Empire, I once found myself standing in City 17. Just when I thought everything would end with the explosion of the reactor, several Vortigaunts decided to stop G-Man from putting me back into stasis, for reasons I yet to know. 

What I do know is that the event of Half Life 2 did not just end with the seemingly defeat of the combine, and now once again I have to assume the role as humanity's savior as Dr Freeman. While waiting for the eventual release of Half Life 3, like the rest of the internet. Perhaps. Of course, Alyx was by my side, being the original awesome video game companion. Also a virtual crush.


that's our family, with a pet dog


Other than expanding on the storyline, City 17 was no different from the last time I visited though. Lots of bad Combine forces to fight, puzzles to solve and a hell lot of zombies too. So much so until it makes you wonder if you're actually in Left 4 Dead.


killing zombies, all in a day's job


While Alyx looks admiringly at me, I am just shooting away most of the time, playing it cool like how I usually am. The entire game feels no different than the events in Half Life 2, only that the atmosphere now seemed to be filled with much more hope, mixed with a dash of comedy. Especially when you have Dr Kleiner in the overhead speakers asking everyone to "reproduce", now that the "procreating" suppression was off. Oh, if only I could do it with Alyx.

Still with it being an "old" game, the gameplay feels classic with not much of the COD style animation, but I'm playing just for a retro feel, to get the sense of how difficult games used to be back in those days. All those puzzle solving? Tedious. 

I have not yet escaped from City 17 though, with my current mission now having to lead survivors to the train, while fighting off Combine forces. With my trusty crowbar, of course.




Maybe by the time I finish both Episode 1 and Episode 2, Valve would have announced Half Life 3 in progress. Maybe. One can hope, right?


Thursday, December 11, 2014

At the End of Everything #19

After Jenny, I threw myself back into my work. It gave me something to concentrate on, where I could see my efforts making a difference. I started thinking about how I could make my classroom more enjoyable, instead of just finding a girlfriend all the time. Occasionally, I would still go back to the dating website, just to try out my luck. I would check out girls whom I have never chatted with before, reading up their profile, imagining how different things would turn out to this time. But it usually never differs.

The process was always the same; drop a girl a message and pretending to be interested in her life. We would talk about tons of routine stuff, like what are we doing, our previous relationships and what we were looking for. Small talk, mostly. We would go through the entire courtship ritual needlessly, which includes dinner, movies and trips, in the hope of getting the girl eventually. It all suddenly more like a game, a dating simulation, rather than a human relationship. I felt bored, jaded, and there were several times where I thought about giving up this entire relationship searching. Perhaps just be a monk and be done with it.

But try as I might, the loneliness will always come gnawing back. There seemed to be this curse that gets stuck to the young working adult’s life. Where you get this feeling that you’re alone in life. Everyday after work, you will find yourself sitting in front of a screen, food in front of you, with only the moving pictures on the screen to accompany you. Your social circle is not as big as it used to be, shrunk so considerably that the people you keep in a regular contact can be counted with two hands.

I guessed that is how most of us get tricked into this idea of marriage. We are so afraid of spending the rest of our lives alone that we desperately try to find someone. Marriage, it seems, was a creation to stop us from going insane by pairing us up with someone. What if this entire charade was nothing more than a byproduct of evolution, to trick us into procreating? After all,  the loneliness creeps back in, we would do anything to chase it away. Like ending up with someone just for the sake of it. I guess that was why I kept to the dating website, fueled my yearning for a connection. For someone to talk to. So I would not feel alone. 

But it was not before long that I realized the actual futility of this effort. While online dating website gives one the ability to connect to as many people at once, it actually makes us more picky and less focused. Rather than spending my time focused on only one girl, I was constantly talking anywhere from three to five girls, trying my luck with all of them at the same time. 

A part of me felt disgusted for being so desperate, another part of me was afraid that if I pour all my effort into one girl, any failure would be totally heartbreaking. I was afraid to risk that, especially not a girl that I first met online. Not when they have tons of guys hitting on them too. I wondered if anything was right.

One thing that was consistent though, was how often I found myself missing Elaine again during. Lucas called them my loneliness bouts and he hated them. Whenever I found myself alone, my mind would inevitably think about Elaine, about the times we were together, and all of the things we did. It was hard not to remember the experiences of a eight year relationship. The traces of it were everywhere. In the food that I eat, the clothes that I wear. Something somewhere would always remind me of Elaine again.

With Elaine, never once with her did I ever felt unwanted, unloved. And more often than not, I would find myself drawn to her Facebook profile, trying to see what she was up to, tempted to drop her a message again. I would look through all our old photos and messages, rekindling the emotions that I once felt. It became sort like a drug for me, the feel good emotion of remembering a beautiful past. I wanted desperately to rekindle our old relationship.

“You gotta stop thinking about Elaine, she has moved on, and should you,” Lucas would try to advise me again and again, whenever he finds me staring at her profile. His words would usually fall on deaf ears. It was difficult to stop a lonely heart from overthinking, and from missing all the good memories of the past. There was not a moment in which I would regret my actions, and if given the choice, I would have gone back in time a thousand times over to right my mistakes.

But Lucas was right in one thing though. No matter how much I missed her, no matter how much my heart yearned, reality would still remain the same. She still has her boyfriend, a good one in fact, and much better than who I was in the past. In one of her latest photos, she was wearing a swimsuit in the Maldives, sitting on a lawn chair that overlooked the sea. 

“Trip courtesy of my dearest!” the caption wrote. I seemed to have forgotten how pretty she looked. And her boyfriend actually brought her to the Maldives. I could not help myself but to feel a pang of jealousy. The most that I have brought her last time on a trip was a trip that I got off from a deal website to Batam, an island which pales in comparison to the Maldives. How ever could I compare with guys like this, I thought.

Six months after I started my online dating journey, I  was ironically  back at square one again, still thinking of Elaine. Sitting in my room, with the smiling photos of Elaine staring back at me, I found myself terribly missing her. I went to Youtube, put on the song “Let Her Go” by Passenger, and let it play in the background.

The guitar strummed the soothing intro, before a soft voice sang out the first verse of the song. 

“You only need the light when it's burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go.”

Only know I love her when I let her go. How true. I buried my face in my arms, and gently wept.

*****

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Monday, December 8, 2014

At the End of Everything #18

“I am avoidantly attached.”

I stared at the message, unsure of what to reply. It sat idly on the screen, as I tried to figure out what it meant.

It has been several weeks now since I first met Jenny, and things have been going great so far. Or at least I thought it was at first. We met up for two more dinners after the hiking trip, and she even asked me to join her friends to watch a concert together next month. I should feel happy, but somehow I don’t.

While Jenny gave off the impression that she was bubbly and cheerful in real life, I cannot help but feel that it was just an outward appearance rather than what was really inside. Or perhaps it was a result of time, where the feelings have cooled after the initial phase. She seemed different now, giving the impression that she has gone cold. But no matter what the reasons, the feelings that I got from messaging with her seemed to have changed considerably. She was taking longer to reply, and her replies were shorted, more curt. Our messages have lost the magic and excitement that they once had.

Sometimes some of my messages were also left hanging, with no replies for days unless I chose to send her another message. She was rejecting me more often too, often saying no to my attempts to ask her out for dinner or outings. Busy, was often her short reply.

It all seemed to confusing at first. Why suddenly something that was so good initially became like a pathetic attempt for me to gain attention. I felt that I was the one who was putting in more effort than her. Seemed like I was the only one clapping my hands. It was unfair to me, seeing how I was wasting my time..

Lucas told me to talk to her about how I felt, instead of just assuming anything. I did, rather reluctantly. I asked Jenny if there was anything wrong with our relationship currently, and shared that I felt we did not chat as we used to. Which was how I ended up with that one liner message from her, talking about her attachment.

“What do you mean by you’re avoidantly attached?” I finally sent a reply back to her.

What came next was like a human personality lesson of sort, where she attempted to explain this ‘avoidant personality’ of hers. Humans have different attachment styles she explained, which affects how we relate to people differently. There are those who are close and intimate, and there are those who are insecure and clingy. Avoidantly attached, in this case, meant that she hated getting close to people. Cool and distant, she was the passive kind of people, that mostly kept to herself.

“My exes used to complain all the time about me not always being for them too,” she explained. It sounded that she was indirectly hinting at me, saying that if her exes were able to survive it, so should I. And it was no big deal. But it was a big deal to me. Her aloofness made me felt that I was unwanted. That I did not deserve her attention.

“What should I do?” I asked Lucas, unsure of how to respond. Or what to feel. His reply was just a simple, “Just take it as it comes. Don’t expect too much or hope for too much.” And he said that in a nonchalant attitude too. Easy for him to say, but how does one not have any form of expectation when it comes to things like this? How can one not feel disappointed when the effort you put in bears no fruit? I was beginning to doubt Lucas’s advice. Whether he knows best for me.

Still, I followed his suggestion. I took everyday as it came, trying not to pin my hopes too high up. I continued to message Jenny, though at a much slower and lesser rate. Our conversations revolved more around uninteresting topics now, like going around a circle. How was our day, what we had done  and what was the latest updates. Those sort of things. We no longer talked about the world anymore, about our beliefs, thoughts, and about our future. The things that matter. It almost felt like we were talking for the sake of talking. Amidst all this, I went back to the dating website, and started chatting with new girls again.

As for the concert, I did go with her in the end, a sort of triple date that she originally suggested. Two of her friends brought their boyfriends, and I was supposed to be her date for the night. I would have been happy a few weeks ago, as this seemed as if she was seriously considering me as a boyfriend, and was not afraid to let her friends know. It was supposed to be a huge improvement compared to the hiking day, but I was far from excited.

Maybe it was because I already knew the ending to this relationship, or maybe it could be that she did not seemed excited about it too at all. But by the time I went for the concert, I no longer cared about anything.

It was a acapella concert, performed by her favorite group, the Pentatonix. They were touring Singapore at that time. She bought the tickets with her friends very early on, and she told me that her friends wanted to meet me, a guy whom she met online. I was some sort of exhibit, it seemed.

Jenny told me that she needed someone to accompany her initially, so that she would not feel awkward with her two friends. However by the time time I saw her at the MRT station and as we walked down to the concert hall lobby, a certain awkwardness has developed between us. It felt strange, the entire night. Like the Jenny that went with me to the concert was a completely different Jenny that followed me to Bukit Timah several weeks ago. With her friends she was still the same though. Bubbly, chatty and expressive. But talking to her just does not feel natural anymore.

“Hi…” I smiled and waved my hands when she introduced me to her friends. They said hi and waved their hands back at me too, before going back to their own conversation, leaving me standing uncomfortably alone. It seemed that all of them had met previously before, as they were discussing about a friend whom they have not met for a long time. I kept taking out my phone and staring at it, hoping that something interesting would pop out on my screen. Something to distract me. Perhaps a message that would give me an excuse to leave early.

That uncomfortable feeling bugged me the entire evening, and I was not able to really concentrate on the entire performance. I was in fact more concerned with what she was talking with her friends about, and making conversation with her than watching the show itself.

“OMG the show was so awesome,” she squealed when we first exited the theater. She was still her normal self alright, just that I may have read her intentions wrongly when we were both alone as compared to when we were in a group of people.

Her friends asked the both of us for supper, in which we agreed. It was no different from what happened earlier, with her talking mostly with her friends about topics that I was not familiar with. I felt oddly left out. Like a sore thumb.  A part of me told me that I should make an attempt to at least join in the conversation, but I had no idea of what to say or even how to act. I just kept a straight face throughout the entire supper, smiling here and there, but I could feel my anxiety showing on my face. In the end, I gave up trying anymore, fiddling with my phone while appearing busy.

When the supper ended, I offered to walk her to the bus stop where she would take the bus home, but she insisted that it was fine for her to walk alone. She gave reasons like not wanting to trouble me and that she could take care of herself, and that I should just let her go.

“But I want to spend a little more time with you,” I finally blurted out in frustration. She was not understanding, I felt.

She shot me an annoyed look. “It’s okay, I can go myself,” she said, her voice raised. And then she stormed off without even looking back.

That was the last time I saw her, and we never contacted each other again. I did not bother about messaging her, and neither did she. Like Phoebe, the relationship died off in just a whim. No ceremony, nothing. Lucas only offered his polite condolences

*****

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P/s: Anyone still reading this?


Thursday, December 4, 2014

At the End of Everything #17

A long row of single storey shophouses greeted us as we made a turn next to a busy freeway. Nestled on a small slope beside the road, the shophouses were separated from the main by a huge drain just right in front of them. They were all painted in yellow, with an interesting archway perched on top of their tiled roofs. The different names of the shops were pasted on the archways. Watsons, Cold Storage and the name of several cafes can be found.

“Come,” Jenny waved her hands at me, as I followed her across a small bridge. Underneath us, water flowed lazily along the drain. She brought me to a small cafe near the end of the row of shops. Different kinds of breads laid in the display counter, while an assortment of coffee with names that I had no idea how to pronounce were written clearly on a big chalkboard. 

“The cakes here are nice,” Jenny said we stood near the counter. “Especially the cheesecake.” A whiff of freshly baked bread drifted to my nose. I just wanted something to quench my thirst, and scanned the menu that was located on the countertop. The cashier smiled politely at us, while we stood there pondering about what we want.

Jenny eventually ordered a cup of iced lemon tea, along with a small piece of fruit tart. I settled my mind on the root beer, feeling that it was the best thirst quencher out of the selection of drinks available. Afraid that one might not be enough, I ordered an extra bottle along with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. What’s a root beer without ice cream to go with it, anyway?

“Wow, you certainly know how to enjoy life,” was Jenny’s comment when she saw my order. 

I smiled in response. “Yeah, of course.” 

We chose our seat outside of the shop, because sitting in an air-conditioned place in our sweat soaked condition did not seem like a good idea. Jenny mentioned something about wanting to enjoy the natural breeze. We made our way outside, and planted ourselves at one of the small round tables. It had a marble surface to it, with a wooden support underneath. The chairs we were sitting on were made from rattan, but had a cushion to accompany it.  

Not far from where we sat, an old railway bridge stood overlooking the busy road, hanging between two slopes. It looked like it came out of an old European movie, as my mind pictured a coal train running along the tracks.

“Trains used to pass by there,” Jenny chipped in, when she saw that I was staring at the bridge. She followed my gaze towards the bridge, as we just sat there in silence, lost in our own thoughts. I tried to imagine how different the place would have look like years ago. The train would chug busily past, perhaps carrying different people and cargo from Malaysia, while workers would have sat at our place, perhaps in a busy coffee stall. Maybe a train station was once part of this place.

I shifted my attention back to the table, and took a sip from my drink. Jenny was staring at me, a smile on her face. “Lets go there later!”

“Yeah, we should!” I responded eagerly, wanting to see the railroad track as well.

We quickly finished our drinks and food, and headed towards the tracks. The gravel road gave way to a beautiful grass patch near the end of the last shop, with a slight incline upwards. We climbed on to to the path, expecting to to find a rusting railway tracks.

To our surprise however, only an empty grass patch and a dirt path greeted us where the track use to lie. There was no brown metal tracks, no endless sea of pebbles which supported them. We were sorely disappointed. Hoping that the we would have better luck with the bridge, I turned my attention towards it. As luck would have it, only the railway track portion of the bridge was left intact, just like how it was so many years ago. The inside of me let out a big sigh of relief.

“Seems like a good place to take a photo eh, the bridge.” I extended both my arms, and made a square shape with my fingers, pretending that it was a frame. The overgrown bushes on top of one of the pillar, as well as the grey marks on it, in the shape of a water droplets, gave the entire scenery a rustic and romantic feeling. This place must be quite a popular spot for wedding shots, I guessed. 

“We should take a picture there before the sun sets, since it’s so pretty now!” Jenny pulled my hands towards the center of the bridge. The evening sky, lit up in different colours by the setting sun, made the entire scenery looked straight out from a postcard. She took out her phone, an iPhone 5 wrapped in a cartoonish cover. Her fingers tapped the camera app, and held it above us.

“Smile!” she said as she clicked away. My nose caught the fragrant smell of her hair. The pictured looked so romantic, with the bridge and railroad track visible clearly below us. It seemed almost that we were a couple in the photo, having a happy time together. I let the thought lingered in my mind, imagining our lives together as a couple. And for that slight moment in time, it felt great, because it seemed as if I had forgotten about Elaine.

I asked Jenny for the photo, which she happily sent me. But it was her next sentence that pulled me back to reality. “But don’t post it online though, I don’t want anyone to know yet.” My heart sank.

We parted ways soon after that, as it was getting dark. I walked her to the nearest bus stop, and waited with her for the bus. Before she boarded her bus, she muttered a thank you to me, for bringing her out today. I told her that it was nothing, and I had a great time too. But her last sentence kept replaying inside of me, feeling a little stab to my heart. She was ashamed of me, I felt. And that bothered me greatly.                                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                       
“She’s quite cute,” Lucas would later say, when I showed him the picture of the two of us.

*****
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P/s: Next update coming Sunday, the Wedensday, then Sunday again, then Wed... you get the drift


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Titans are Attacking! Real Escape Game's Latest Installment in Singapore

The Real Escape Game (REG) series is nothing like the conventional escape rooms. It is far more brutal, mind boggling and challenging. The series of puzzles that the REG dish out will put your thinking ability to the test, but at the same time solving the puzzle is one hell of a satisfying experience, given how very few people (less than 10%) are able to 'escape' from REG Games.




I had the chance to attend one of the classic installments of REG, 'Escape from Werewolf Village' two days ago. It was part of the promotional campaign for the upcoming 'Escape from Walled City' escape game, the latest installment in REG's franchise. Like the previous REG that I attended, Escape from Werewolf Village involves a lot of puzzle solving and head cracking. Piecing together clues from different logic puzzles and given by the organizers, you have to find who the werewolves are, as well as a plan to escape the werewolves.

Not an easy task.




Teams have to work together to solve the different puzzles given to unlock the clues, and then use those clues to figure out the solution to the situation. It's like a logic game within a logic game, where your brain must be quick to identify patterns and hidden meanings.

Of course, part of the feature of REG game is that because it is very puzzle based, you spend most of your time on a table, without much props for you to manipulate or explore.

However, come December 13 and 14, Singaporeans will be treated to an Escape Game unlike any other that we have experienced so far. Set in Yio Chu Kang stadium, with an intended participation of almost 1000 people per session, it is going to be one of the biggest escape games organized yet in Singapore. And as the name suggests, Escape from Walled City is based on one the recent popular anime, Attack on Titan.




The game itself has already made its round Japan, while Singapore will be its first stop in its world tour. It's definitely going to be very exciting looking at the size of the entire event, and one that you should definitely attend if you're a fan of the anime or if you love a good mental aerobics exercise. Do take note though, that only less than 10% of the participants made it out alive in Japan.

Dare you take up the challenge?




Tickets are selling fast though, so do make sure to get your tickets HERE. And do give the REG Facebook page a like too to stay updated with the hosts of escape games that they may have.

There's more REGs coming your way, and I heard that they are having a One Piece based REG too, coming soon. Shh...


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dissecting the Dr Eng Kai Er Issue

Dr Eng Kai Er. Two time scholarship holder. A*Star scientist. Aspiring artist, and recently staged a play called ‘Fish’. Once walked down naked in Holland Village. A name that has dominated Singapore’s online discussion for the past few days, because of the “No Star Arts Grant” that she was disbursing, purportedly from her own pay. Or more specifically, the description that she gave her ‘grant’:

“No Star Arts Grant is a real arts grant. Successful applicants will get real money! The grant maker is only one person, Eng Kai Er, who is an employee of an organisation that cannot be named. She wants to give $1000 a month, out of her salary from her bonded employment, to fund art projects. She wishes to fund projects in all arts genres, including and not limited to fine art, visual art, dance, music, circus, theatre, film and literature.”

Ever since her story came out, she has been quite a hot topic of discussion. People are picking on all parts of her story, ranging from whether she was grateful or not, to her reasons of wanting to transfer her bond, to the arts fund itself. Most arguments and comments I have seen so far focuses mainly on one aspect of the story, for example the legitimacy of her arts fund or her supposed ungratefulness with her employer.

I personally have different opinions about different parts of her story, in which I will elaborate more below:


THE NO STAR ARTS GRANT IS NOT WRONG

To be honest, I think the idea of the arts grant is commendable. Taking out your own pay to fund an interest of yours is a great idea to help those who are less fortunate, and to push innovation in the field that you support. This has been done since the Renaissance in Italy, and I think the grant on itself is not useless. 1000 dollars per month until October 2015 is not cheap you know, and personally I would feel that the money could benefit a lot of people. So we should support it.

The only question that I have is only whether she will be committed to paying this money continuously until next year, and not drop out halfway. So far there has been only one recipient of the award, Andrew, so I will have to reserve my judgement on the effectiveness of the award for the time being.


PURSUING YOUR OWN INTEREST IS NOT WRONG, BUT...

A lot of people in support have written about how Dr Eng should be given a chance to pursue what she likes and enjoys (some even praised her for speaking out), and to be honest, I wholeheartedly agree to the notion that we should be given the freedom to choose. 

It's the foundation of our society that we should be given a chance to do what we want to do, which in my opinion was not taken away from Dr Eng. From how she was able to stage a play called Fish through the Director's Lab programme under Substation, I don't think she was barred from pursuing her own interest at all. In fact one could argue that she got all the help that she could for her debut project. 

Which brings me to the next point...


DENYING THE TRANSFER REQUEST IS NOT WRONG, AND...

Basing on the news reports, I think the issue arose when Dr Eng's application for a transfer to the National Arts Council to serve her bond was rejected. In all honesty, I don't think that this move is wrong, because the scholarship awarding body reserves the right to determine where you're bonded. It is their money after all. Some may take issue with this it because they think it makes us a slave, but this is no different from working for a job or a client. 

When you're receiving money from your boss, you are expected to do the work your boss wants you to do. Because it is his money. That's the expectation that comes when you receive something. That you have to give something back. And if you're unhappy with what you are supposed to do, then don't accept the money. Simple as that

Besides, when I'm paying you to be good at A, it doesn't make sense for you to go and focus your attention on B right? To use a different analogy, a company pays to train you to become a graphic designer because they need a designer badly. You said okay to it, and goes for training to become a graphic designer. But by the end of it, you decided to not be a graphic designer instead, and tell the company that you're more suited to become a janitor. It would not be surprising that the company will get pissed off right? Not only the company has wasted time and money to train something that did not give any return at all, the position could have benefited someone else entirely.

I don't understand how some are saying that one does not have to be grateful to the organization that gives you the scholarship because she deserves it. Are you even serious about that comment? It almost seem to imply that we shouldn't say thank you to the people who saw the potential in us, and gave us the opportunity to succeed? So are we supposed to adopt a 'I deserved that' attitude rather than a humble and grateful attitude to those who help us? No wonder our children are getting so self-conceited nowadays, thinking that everyone owes them a living

Scholarships are like an investment. You invest a huge sum of money in someone in hopes that they will be good in one field and come back to share their knowledge and expertise, thus helping society in general. I'm not diminishing the role of arts, but in this case, Dr Eng has been groomed an trained in the field of science for more than five frigging years. That's a lot of time and money. And A*Star is not wrong to see result in the field that they were interested in, as well as the field that they sent her to study for. Besides it was all written in the contract when you signed, so why are you complaining now?


PAINTING YOURSELF AS THE VICTIM IS NOT COOL. LETTING THE WORLD SEE IS MORE UNCOOL

But she's not complaining, some might say. She's not even protesting. But from the way she describes herself, you cannot help but to feel that she is terribly unhappy with the situation that she is in now. She certainly sounded like someone who is oppressed by a bigger force, which in this case happened to A*Star, the institute that granted Dr Eng her scholarship. According to other sites, Eng Kai Er wrote that she "is not interested in science at all, but has to serve her bond or pay, as of 30 September 2014, around $741,657.37 in order to quit her job. Since she understands the pain of having a paid job that is not aligned with her interests, she wishes to change the world by having more instances of paid jobs aligned with people’s interest."

I'm not sure of how she really sees her situation, but from the paragraph above, I would warrant a guess that she views her life as painful, stuck in a job she does not like (correct me if I am wrong to make the deduction). I think the issue that we all have her is the sense of self-entitlement that oozes out from the statement that she made. Granted, a lot of us may be stuck in jobs we dislike and all of us have the rights the complain. The only reason why Dr Eng is taking so much heat is because she is complaining from a much privileged position, while most of us can only dream of having what she has. Akin to a first world problem. 


Okay, maybe she can complain. Because all of us deserves the right to. But when you take it online, especially in a net savvy society like Singapore, you are bound to be scrutinized and criticized. Like the English saying goes, "Never air your dirty laundry in the public net" 


I QUESTION THY INTENTION

I guess the bottom line is I would question Dr Eng's intention of putting such a strong worded statement online. I'm okay with you wanting to support the arts and wanting to donate your money, but I am not okay with you playing the victim especially when you are in a much more privileged position. Heck I myself am stuck with a bond and debt I need to repay, and yet I know that I have to tough it out because that is what I signed on for. And if you're wondering what grant is that, it's the MOE tuition grant where I need to serve the bond in any Singapore registered company. Going by your logic, should I complain as well for Singapore not letting me serve my bond in in Germany since I have always wanted to live and work there? Because I think you're missing the whole point of scholarships here

Of course, we don't know what are Dr Eng's real thoughts are on this issue, so perhaps I would not go so much on it. I just find it sad how I can am stuck in a daily 9 to 5 job barely making ends meet and how someone can spend 1K every month just to make a statement. I guess life is unfair like that


Monday, December 1, 2014

At the End of Everything #16

Realizing that we have not much options left, I turned back to Jenny, my face grim. I felt bad for getting her into this situation. “I don’t think we have much of a choice than to…” I began to say, but was cut short by the sound of rustling leaves. Branches snapped in accompaniment. Startled, Jenny and I immediately turned to the source of the noise, the fear of getting lost dissipated from my mind. 

The internet warned us about the presence of wild boars in the area, in addition to the monkeys. Avoid them if possible, the site cautioned. The last thing that I wanted was to be involved in a confrontation with boars. My hand reached out for hers.

The sound came not far from the barrier tape, behind some low hanging tree branches. My heart thumped in nervousness as I stared towards the source of the noise, wondering what will pop out. My mind painted a dozen scenarios of unpleasant scenarios, most that involved either running a lot or getting horribly lost.

From the corner of my eye I spotted a shade of red moving amongst the leaves, and instinctively pulled Jenny back. My muscles tensed in anticipation, expecting something to jump straight for us. However, instead of a hungry beast, an old man dressed in a Liverpool jersey emerged from the branches, his greying hair popping out first into the clearing. Both me and Jenny laughed immediately when we saw that, awashed in a sense of relief. The old man gave us a strange stare but said nothing, and continued walking down the path that we had came from.

After the old man left, we walked up to opening where he came out from, and peered through the branches and leaves. There was a small brown dirt path that cut in between the trees, and I guessed that it must lead to an exit. After all someone did emerge from there. We took a quick look at each other, and decided to try our luck follow the dirt path through the undergrowth. 

The path was much more different than the one that we have been walking on previously. The vegetation was much denser, and we had to duck several times to avoid the branches from hitting our heads. We even had to climb over a tree trunk once. Jenny remarked that it felt more like an outdoor adventure now than our initial climb up the hill.

After 10 minutes or so, we found ourselves standing before a tarred road, with different people who running on it. A signboard pointed to the direction where we came from, with the words Bukit Timah printed on it. Both of us laughed again, relieved that we were finally back in civilization. I have never been so happy to see a tarred road before in my life . 

A quick check on my phone with the map this time put us somewhere much better, as our blue dot was now sitting on top of a road, surrounded by other smaller roads. The area that we were on was called then Dairy Farm, a park nearby the Choa Chu Kang area, a residential estate. Up in the sky, the sun was starting to make its descent. I breathed out a sigh of relief, thankful that we got out in time.

The journey down left my shirt covered in sweat and my throat parched. I took out my empty bottle from my bag, and gave it a pointless shook. “Ah, my water’s finished. Gosh I’m thirsty.” I looked around, hoping to find a vending machine. A pointless effort, I quickly realized, as we were in the middle of a park.

“I know a place!” I heard Jenny suddenly exclaimed, her eyes fixed on my bottle. She had this excited look at her face, with a big smile on it. She turned towards me and grabbed my hand. “I know where we can go for a drink! I used to go there last time!” She pulled me forward, my hand wrapped tightly in hers.

Not having any better suggestion, I followed her willingly. After all, I was happy to oblige as long as it made her happy. The place that we were calling was called the Rail Mall, she said. It was located next to a railway track, and consisted of a collection of different shops which were built decades ago. Some of the shops were converted to hipster cafes, for youngsters to sip coffee and enjoy the scenery around them. The one she was bringing me to was no different.

As we approached at the Dairy Farm entrance, she suddenly stopped. She looked towards her right, then her left, before turning back to me. “We might need your phone though.” She pointed at my pocket, and smiled sheepishly. “I don’t really remember how to get there.”

It took us about another 10 minutes to walk there, along a busy road that seemed so different than the path we just came out from. Vehicles bustled around us, some spraying fumes in our direction. Suddenly getting lost in the forest did not seem like a bad idea.We talked a little more along the way, with Jenny sharing that she enjoyed today’s experience a fair bit, because it was not always that she gets a chance to enjoy the outdoor like this.

“The part where we got lost was pretty exciting too,” she added enthusiastically. “Thanks for asking me out.” Her sentence made my heart jumped a little. I slipped my fingers underneath her hands. Her hands did not pull away. We walked the remainder of the journey with our hands together, without saying a word. Perhaps a thousand thoughts ran through our minds. I could not wait to tell Lucas about this.

*****

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P/s: Updates will now be done twice weekly! A chapter on Wednesday and a chapter on Sunday! 


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