life, Singapore, sports, Writing

Killing our will to dream

boots

And so it appears that despite all that talk about inclusiveness and eradicating the emphasis on results, we are, once again, back at square one.

Because what MINDEF’s reply to a certain talented footballer implies is that athletes in team sports will likely never be granted deferment regardless of how talented they are. Because it is simply impossible for one athlete to single-handedly carry his team to a medal-winning performance on the world stage.

Ask Lionel Messi. He knows.

Can a society be truly inclusive if the protocols in place encourage aspiring sportsmen to pick only individual sports that they can excel in despite their love for football or basketball or volleyball or curling or ice hockey?

Can a society be truly serious about doing away with the emphasis on grades if it tells aspiring sportsmen that they are ultimately still judged by their potential to deliver a medal?

Yes, I love football. No, I was never a sportsman. But I don’t need to be a professional athlete to know how the system messes with our lives.

I started playing football when I was around six years old. I liked playing with those 20-cent plastic balls that we’d take turns to buy from the mama shop. The larger leather balls frightened me – they were the size of my head. And getting hit by them hurt.

Back then, we’d determine our teams using the Apple-Orange method. Sometimes we used the Ti-Ti-Ti method. Sometimes the best players were made the captains and they picked their teammates. Nobody wanted to be picked last. It was just damn malu. The older boys supported the Serie A teams and we often divided ourselves into AC Milan and Inter Milan. Sometimes Parma was mentioned. I hadn’t heard of these teams, but I preferred AC Milan, because it shared the same initials as my name. It was only a few years later that I started watching the English Premier League, and that was when I fell in love with Liverpool.

Unlike today where most people play in caged AstroTurf or futsal arenas, we played football wherever there was a surface that was large and flat enough. The location didn’t really matter. We just wanted to play.

Sometimes we played at the void deck. The skinny rectangular pillars were great defenders.  Sometimes it was the basketball court. It was more challenging to score here because the goal was really narrow. Sometimes it was on the slightly undulating field that was filled with weeds. I once made a bad tackle here and fractured my friend’s ankle. I’m not sure he ever forgave me for that.

I was never any good at the sport. But I loved it anyway. Because it transported me to a fantasy realm where I was the star of my own team. For a period of time, I loved pretending to be Steve McManaman. I tried to dribble like him, but rarely succeeded. But I continued trying anyway.

It’s somewhat amazing how I can still remember many of the goals I scored. My best ones were from volleys. I also remember the sliding tackles I’ve made. I once sent my friend flying because of it. But I got the ball. It was fair play. It felt really good.

When I was in secondary school, I was faced with the dilemma of choosing between trying out for the football team or the table tennis squad. Everyone told me to pick the latter because I stood a better chance of making the school team. Because being in the school team meant getting vital ECA points that could help lift my O Level results.

Because studies were more important than everything else.

I did what everyone told me to do. And you know what? I had a good time. I represented the school every year. I beamed with pride whenever I had to leave in the middle of a class for a tournament. I won medals. My teammates and I got praised by the principal in front of the entire school.

But table tennis was never my passion.

Sometimes I wonder if I could’ve become a better paddler if I did not spend most of my training sessions thinking of the football game that would take place after. Some of my teammates and other students would often gather to play football on the netball court after training. On days when we didn’t have enough players to form two teams, I’d head home and call my neighbours to ask if they were playing in evening. There were times when I was so desperate to play I’d simply take free-kicks on the grassy patch downstairs. By myself.

I started thinking about my future when I was 15. The first thing that came to mind wasn’t being a doctor, or a lawyer, or an astronaut, or a banker.

I wanted to be a professional footballer.

But just like before when I had to decide between football and table tennis, I chose pragmatism.

I continued to play football when I was studying in Sydney.  I continued to play football when I returned to Singapore. I continued to play football after moving to Shanghai. I’ve never stopped trying to emulate my favourite players. I’ve never stopped performing sliding tackles.

Those calling for Ben Davis to “just suck it up and complete his two years in NS then carry on with his life” do not seem to fully comprehend the magnitude of the situation.

Yes, the system cannot simply accede to the wishes of every Tom, Dick and Harry who claims he wishes to “chase the dream”. But Ben Davis is no Tom, Dick or Harry.

He is, mind you, the first ever Singaporean to sign a professional contract with an English Premier League club.

Some are concerned that granting him deferment would lead to a “slippery slope” situation. But we can address this. Terrace the slope with terms and conditions. Determine what constitutes a worthy cause.

Yes, Fulham is no Real Madrid or Bayern Munich or Juventus. But it is still a football club that will in the upcoming season play in one of the top leagues in, not just Europe, but the world.

Yes, he might not make the first team and go up against superstars like Mo Salah, Sergio Aguero or Harry Kane, but he would nevertheless have the priceless opportunity to train with bigger, faster and more skillful foreign peers. Ben Davis is only 17. He is at a point in his life where his development is crucial to his sporting future. There is an element of urgency to this matter. He cannot wait two years.

He needs to do this now.

Besides, if PSC scholars can be granted deferment, why is an athlete, one who has clearly demonstrated his talent to play at the highest levels, not allowed to?

Singapore has nothing to lose from letting this young, talented boy pursue his dream. Sure, he could eventually become so darn good that he decides never to return or play for another country. But that would be a PR disaster on his part, not Singapore’s.

This was the chance for the powers that be to show that they truly mean every word they said about inclusiveness, about becoming a sporting nation, and about focusing on the learning journey instead of the result.

This was the chance for them to show that they do indeed care for the dreams and aspirations of their residents, that the people are indeed citizens and not merely employees of Singapore Inc.

Instead, they have gone with the safe option. The utterly pragmatic one. The one that would thwart one boy’s clearest chance of becoming a top footballer.

But what I find to be the most maddening of all is the barely subtle declaration to all Singaporeans that sometimes it is just pointless to pursue certain ambitions in life.

And it is incidents like these that insidiously convince people to shatter their dreams before they can even begin to chase them.

I know. Because I was one such person.

What we need is for every child lacing up his boots, or tuning his racket, or putting on his goggles, to head out into the arena believing that he is there for a purpose, that every drop of sweat and blood he sheds is meaningful and part of the arduous but attainable journey to achieving his dream of becoming a top athlete.

Because what is a life without purpose, without dreams, without hope?

 

 

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gaming, Humour, life

How Hearthstone lifted me out of depression

Hearthstone Screenshot 12-11-17 23.55.16
Before I begin, I must proclaim that this is NOT an advertorial for Blizzard.
This is a true life story. This is my story.
Before I moved to Shanghai in 2014, I installed this game called Hearthstone on my laptop. Prior to that, I had never played fantasy card games. But my friend Gene convinced me that this was a lot of fun. I thought I’d just give it a try. After all, it’s free-to-play.
Woah! Free and fun? Surely you can’t really go wrong with that.
In a nutshell, each player in Hearthstone starts with 30 cards of his choosing and 30 HP (Health Points). You place cards with minions on the board to attack your opponent or his cards. Some cards allow you to cast spells too. Reduce the opponent’s HP to zero and you win.
What makes the game amazing is the myriad number of combos you can execute using different cards that synergise with one another. You have to earn most of the cards by purchasing card packets using in-game gold or real cash. Some cards are more powerful than others. But they never guarantee you victory.
The period of my life when I played Hearthstone the most was when I was out of a full-time job in Shanghai.
I was depressed (I reckon even clinically). I knew that I left behind a good career in Singapore to try my luck in a different city. That feeling of failure tormented me for months as I desperately scrambled to earn whatever I could from freelance writing gigs.
I spent time most of my time feeling sorry for myself, binge eating, getting drunk and playing Hearthstone.
Perhaps a part of me was trying really hard to prove to myself that I wasn’t a loser for being in such a state, because for an entire week I was obsessed with trying to attain a Top 10 ranking in the game (Rank 1 is the highest, Rank 23 the lowest).
I got so obsessed that I even started writing down the cards my opponents played so that I could determine how I could best play my other cards.
I won some. I lost some. I never made Top 10.
I still remember the night I almost smashed my laptop. It was 12.30 am. I was home alone. The lights were off. I was on a massive losing streak, be it in Casual or Ranked mode. It felt like a reminder of what a loser I was in life.
I wouldn’t say that I had a bad deck of cards. After all, I had gone on a winning streak with the same deck on previous occasions. But on this night, everything was just against me.
For most of the games, I was getting dealt a really bad start of (big mana) cards. The next few cards I got were equally bad. I never stood a chance.
I was livid after losing the 6th consecutive game. I was screaming at the screen and taunting the opponent. Blinded by rage, I started making mistakes. I lost. Again and again.
I was exhausted by Game 10. I just wanted to go to bed. But I continued to click on the PLAY button simply because I believed that I could not possibly continue losing.
Well, I did. I mean, I wasn’t even thinking straight anymore.
And then there were a few utterly frustrating games when the opponent turned the tides and won even though I was on the cusp of victory.
I can’t remember exactly how many games I lost.
I think it could actually have been 13.
Bleary-eyed and furious, I shut the laptop down, poured myself a whisky, and started to think about what was happening. This was when I realised how Hearthstone is really like life itself.
Sometimes life just deals you a bad hand
My first job in Shanghai was just a bad draw in life, and in that dark moment, all I could do was rage about how unfair life was. To me, the game was over. My life was over. I was trapped in a never-ending cycle of self-pity. I just wanted to blame everything and everyone else.
But you see, shit happens. It happens all the time. To all of us. And there’s nothing we can do to fucking change it. We know this. But yet we refuse to accept it.
The solution? Accept what is happening. Get on with your life. Stop harping on shit you cannot change. 
Sometimes we are so consumed by emotions that our judgement gets clouded
Okay, it’s only natural that we get overly emotional in some instances. I mean, how do you think you’d react if you caught your girlfriend in bed with another man?
For most people, the first reaction would be to beat the shit out of the bastard.
I doubt anyone would calmly say: “Hey darling, cheating on me ain’t cool. Why are you doing this? I think you need to get dressed and we need to talk this out in the living room. Hey Mr. Big Dick, please see yourself out of my home. By the way, nice tattoo. Where did you get that from?”
The same could be said for the situation I was in. I was in a dark phase in my life where I was constantly admonishing myself for being a failure. I knew I had to get back my career back on track but I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much of a failure I had been. I was so focused on the shit I was drowning in I didn’t even see the escape ladder that was just beside me.
The solution? Take a step back. Take a deep breath. Clear your head. Think.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself on the verge of success, only to fail spectacularly
I had a pretty decent life back in Singapore. I managed three magazines. I liked my job and my colleagues. I moved to Shanghai with hopes of expanding my horizons. But I fell flat on my face. I found it incredibly difficult to deal with this. I couldn’t stop wondering how my life would’ve been if I just played it safe and stuck to my previous life.
But then I realised that I could not possibly always succeed at whatever I do. No one does. People have to fail to learn. It’s just the way things are. There is no sure-fire way to winning in life. You just have to find your way around.
The solution? Embrace failure. Treat each mistake as a lesson.
Sometimes life is just fucking random
Most gamers share the same religion. We believe in RNGesus. You know, this entity is kind of like Jesus, but a little different.
Jesus says we’d go to heaven if we believe in him. RNGesus says we might go to heaven, we might go to hell, or we might just end up becoming a frog. It really depends on his mood.
Anyway, RNG means Random Number Generator, which kinda means some of the things you get in the game is down to pure randomness. You could get 200 gold from the chest. You could get a pair of soiled undies. At least in terms of the loot in a chest, nothing is guaranteed.
And, again, that’s life for you. Just like with the creation of a good deck of cards in Hearthstone, we spend so much time in life determining the best combination of things to do to achieve success. Some people combine their talent with hard work to get a promotion. Some people combine working out at the gym and banging the boss to achieve the same goal.
But because life is so fucking random (I mean, how else would you explain getting bird crap on your head?), there’s really no 100% guarantee that we will succeed even if we do have the best cards in hand.
Of course, we can’t just sit back and expect things to be done on their own. We still need to proactively plan for our futures. We still need to try.
As a freelance writer, I don’t get a steady volume of jobs. Some months are packed with assignments. Some months are quiet. It’s pretty darn random.
The solution? Keep the faith. Put in the effort to try. Remind yourself that nothing is impossible, even if you think it is close to impossible.
Sometimes we take life a tad too seriously
I was telling a friend about this losing streak and he said: “Relax man, it’s just a game.”
I think the same could be said for life – we really should learn to relax and slow down from time to time.
I used to be so caught up in the rat race. I wanted to climb the career ladder quickly. I would constantly look for ways to make more money than my full-time job paid me. I saw contentment as a weakness. I believed in being worked to the bone. I saw this as passion. But it was merely greed.
I’ve since come to realise that we don’t always have to be running in overdrive and aiming to reach the top. Life isn’t just about earning lots of money and being successful, just like how Hearthstone isn’t all about winning. We often get so obsessed with getting what we think makes us successful that we forget that there is so much more to life.
The solution? Relax. Remind yourself it’s okay to slow down and smell the roses. Explore pursuing what you truly love doing. 
I’m glad to say I’ve emerged from that dark period a more enlightened individual.
I also play Hearthstone a little differently now – I just aim to have fun, as illustrated in this screenshot.
For those of you who don’t know what this is about, let me briefly explain what’s happening:
1. I’m the player at the bottom of the screen.
2. I have two 30/30 The Ancient One cards on the table. (I used Faceless Manipulator on the first one).
3. You get one of these crazy 30/30 cards when you end your turn with two “9/9 Blood of The Ancient One” cards.
4. It took me four games and some tweaks to my card deck to pull this off.
Yeah I created a deck just to make this happen. You know, just for shits and giggles. Yeah, I won after this turn (the opponent was sporting enough not to concede). But winning or showboating was never the objective.
I just wanted to see if the my deck would allow me to do something like that.
Because I now find more satisfaction from the journey than from the end result.

 

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Humour, Singapore

Passion Made Possible very confusing leh

pmp

It’s a really cool tagline.

Because I thought it was for a major multinational sporting brand like Nike or Adidas.

In this vein, perhaps Passion Made Passion is indeed a befitting tagline – if you’re trying to paint Singapore as a corporation that prioritises profit over everything else; as the apex of commodification; a place where citizens are merely products like the latest flyknits and NMDs. After all, the country is devoid of natural resources. People are its only asset.

It’s no secret that Singapore is an economic miracle. Small as it may be, it ranks among the richest nations in the region. Some would say that this has inherently got to do with how it is being run – like a corporation. The nation is obsessed with efficiency and productivity. Ministers are paid salaries pegged to the corporate world. Citizens’ Central Provident Fund contributions are used as investments.

The fact that this latest tourism campaign is the lovechild of the Singapore Tourism Board and the Economic Development Board (EDB), seems to validate the notion of Singapore being no different from an enterprise.

On its website, the EDB describes itself as such:

“We are the lead government agency for planning and executing strategies to enhance Singapore’s position as a global business centre. We dream, design and deliver solutions that create value for investors and companies in Singapore. Our mission is to create for Singapore, sustainable economic growth with vibrant business and good job opportunities.”

Yes, tourism is indeed about “selling” the country, but partnering such an entity skews the way the Singapore Story is told. We end up placing more emphasis on earning tourism dollars than showing what the country is really about.

I’ve seen a lot of people rave about the new campaign. I can see why they’re delighted. I have to admit, it’s a feel-good tagline. It seemingly paints us as highly driven individuals who are hustling to forge a better future for ourselves and the country.

The same can be said about the video. Associating local personalities like superstar Stefanie Sun, indoor skydiving extraordinaire Kyra Poh, musician Shigga Shay, footballer Fandi Ahmad and Milo man Nathan Hartono with the theme makes Singaporeans feel good, because these are individuals who have attained success in their respective fields through passion. It also makes Singaporeans feel good because it shows the country has talent.

I just read on Mothership that the video actually features a whole bunch of other notable local personalities like Yugnes Susela, Nabilah Razak, Mark Ong and Tan Wei Tian.

But truth be told, I’ve never heard of them. I’ve been living abroad for the past three years. I guess I’m a little out of touch with the local scene.

I think it’s great that the campaign has placed them in the spotlight. It’s always good to recognise local talent. But if I don’t know who these people are, I doubt someone from Brazil or Finland or Japan would. I suppose the least that could be done is to have subtitles telling the viewer who these personalities are. Even then, why are we trying so hard to show the world we have talented people? I don’t know about you, but knowing that Iceland has a bunch of very talented citizens doesn’t really inspire me to travel to the country.

And I guess therein lies the problem of this campaign – is this aimed at ownself make ownself shiok or is it aimed at showing the world how charming Singapore can be?

From the outside looking in, the tagline Passion Made Possible tells foreigners nothing about Singapore until they see the video which features the usual picturesque places.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the video. I think it’s well-produced. Hell, watching it even gave me goosebumps.

But what you see in the video doesn’t actually complement the creative concept. The words “This is where all that you’re passionate about, all that drives you, is made possible. This is where passion is made possible” is accompanied by shots of people running at the Henderson Wave, people doing yoga atop a building and people on a rooftop braving a storm to take photos of lightning.

I’m not entirely sure what to even make of this. It’s like saying: “Hey! We love working out! We love rooftops! And we love lightning!”

Maybe we do love lightning. 69.9 percent of Singaporeans did during the last General Elections.

What’s odd is that the video does not even attempt to illustrate to foreigners how they could possibly realise their passions if they visit Singapore. But of course it didn’t attempt to do so.

Because you need to show foreigners the tourist attractions.

Besides, not every passion can be realised in Singapore.

You can’t tell someone who is aspiring to be a professional footballer to realise his passion in Singapore. Look at the state of the S League. Look at what happened to Goal 2010.

You can’t tell someone who is aspiring to be a Mandopop singer to realise her passion in Singapore. Look at how Singaporeans are flocking to compete in Sing China. Look at how singer-songwriter Hanjin is based in Hong Kong and not in his home country.

So, yeah. I really don’t know what to make of the tagline. From a logical point of view, I guess passion can be made possible. In Geylang. Our red light district.

Viscerally, it sounds like the latest tagline for an ad featuring a young Lionel Messi dribbling through the streets of Rosario in his retro Nike shoes, facing rejection and sweating buckets through the years before he makes his debut for Barcelona.

This latest STB-EDB ad is not bad. It’s just more suited for the National Day Parade.

I believe that Singapore needs to brand itself on what it really is: we are a chapalang nation. This is a place where a smorgasbord of cultures has created an epic hawker scene. There’s nothing we’re more patriotic about than our laksa, chicken rice and char kuey teow.

Yes, this approach is not mindblowing. It’s not novel. It’s not exciting.

But this is the very essence of Singapore. You can’t go wrong with the truth.

Come on, Singapore already has a reputation for being a food and shopping paradise. Singaporeans don’t eat to live. We live to eat. Let’s focus on that.

Let’s talk about the origins of hokkien mee, hainanese chicken rice, murtabak, mee siam, satay, babi pongteh, pandan cake, buah keluak, chwee kueh and roti prata….

Wah lan eh, I can go on and on and on lor.

Singlish. There’s no language Singaporeans are more fluent in. It is one of the clearest reflections of our chapalang nature. Let’s not be ashamed of it. Let’s embrace it. Let’s show visitors the beauty of it.

Yes, I know, there’s another video under the same campaign titled Singapore for Foodies – Passion Made Possible. It’s well-produced too. But it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. I felt bombarded by too many images of food.

Yes, the video tells of our amazing food offerings. But I think we should instead be telling the Singapore story through our food.

Whenever I return to Singapore, I would never fail to dine alone at a kopitiam or hawker centre.

I love watching old uncles chat among themselves while sipping their kopi C siu dais. I love how they would prop one leg on the chair and tip the ashes of their cigarettes into an empty Ma Ling luncheon meat can that is caked with grime.

I love how the sweet scent of black carrot cake dances with the fragrance of prawn stock as the piercing smell of freshly cooked sambal belachan interrupts the tango.

I love how the grumpy and slightly rotund drinks stall auntie with a waist pouch full of coins yells “Sio ah! Sio ah!” as she makes her way past people.

Bah. Of course, what do I know?

I’m not a marketing guru.

I’m not an advertising maestro who has won a Cannes Lion.

I’m just a Singaporean. And this is the side of Singapore I will first show my foreign friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Short Stories, Singapore

Chapati Istimewa

nasi padang

Once upon a time there was a famous in-house coffee shop at a multinational company that served an exciting array of cuisines. The food was so good that hardly anyone in the company left the building for their meals.

One day, the owner of the coffee shop decided that he would only serve Malay food for a stipulated period. He claimed that it was part of efforts to highlight the beauty of each cuisine.

The workers lamented about the decision. The well-loved crispy fried chicken stall was going to disappear. But there was nothing they could do. Venturing out to another coffee shop was a waste of time. Besides, the nearest coffee shop did not have air conditioning. It would’ve been too uncomfortable a dining experience.

“Sigh, it’s okay,” they said. “Malay food is pretty awesome, too.”

The owner later reveals one of the new stalls: Chapati Istimewa.

Workers pointed out that chapati was an Indian food, not Malay. The owner shrugged off the protests, saying that many Malays love eating chapati, which in turn meant that chapati is considered part of Malay cuisine.

One Malay worker said: “This doesn’t make sense. So if I like eating Thai Curried Beef, does that mean this dish is also considered part of Malay cuisine?”

Another Malay worker chipped in, saying: “I like bubble tea, too. Will you be serving bubble tea?”

“As part of promotional efforts, I have given each of you extra credits in your stored value card. Thanks for all the support over the years! Be sure to check out Chapati Istimewa!” replied the owner.

“But you’re not answering the question,” said the first worker.

“Look, my management team agrees with me that chapati is a Malay food,” replied the owner.

“But…” said the second worker.

“That is all. Don’t you have to get back to work?”

One of the owner’s former tenants took to social media to criticize the decision. The post was set to private so only his friends could see it. But the owner somehow managed to learn of this online rant and decided to sue his former tenant for defamation.

The lawsuit took up much of the owner’s time. As a result, the coffee shop ended up with just one stall selling chapati. The workers were incensed. There would be no nasi padang, no mee rebus, no nasi lemak, no soup kambing, no sayur lodeh and all the promised Malay delights.

For the first time in years, workers departed the office to have their meals. They realised that while the nearest eatery was not as comfortable as the in-house coffee shop, it was three times bigger and had a much better food selection. Those who dared to venture further found more economical options that were just as good, if not better.

It was not long before workers rushed to redeem the credits in their stored value cards. The owner responded swiftly. He mandated that only those with $50 worth of credit in their cards were eligible for the cash-out. Many people cut up their cards in anger and never returned.

Despite the exodus of customers from the company and having just one stall, the coffee shop survived. The lone shop did after all sell excellent chapati. Many workers from neighboring office buildings came to try the chapati. But only a handful of them were regular customers.

Most people just didn’t fancy having bread for lunch every day.

The owner of the coffee shop ended up winning the lawsuit. He threw a party to celebrate the victory. He gave all customers extra credits. But he also raised the price of the chapati by 30 percent.

He explained that the move was merely a means to raise awareness of the effort it takes to craft a delectable, fluffy piece of chapati. Customers were left fuming. Most of them never returned.

The famous chapati chef from India disagreed with the owner’s actions and quit. The replacement chef came from Europe. His chapatis weren’t very good.

The coffee shop’s revenue soon started to dip and the owner knew he had to shake things up. But instead of introducing new stalls, the owner decided it was more innovative to sell more variations of chapati.

A month later, Chapati Istimewa unveiled a brand new menu. It raised many eyebrows.

Salted egg yolk chapati. Peanut butter and jelly chapati. Kale and avocado chapati. Foraged blueberries chapati.

The coffee shop closed down after six months.

Because no amount of fancy dressing could mask the fact that the chapati was simply horrible.

 

 

 

 

 

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Humour, life, Writing

I was born a gamer. I will die a gamer.

Baud

A moo-dy selfie.

I played my first computer game when I was around five years old.

It was one of those puzzle games that ran off MS DOS.

Grandpa often played the game on the IBM desktop in the study room. He usually did so when Grandma was busy preparing dinner. I suppose that was the only time he had a reprieve from her constant nagging. But as precious as those quiet moments were, he never once refused to let me take over. He’d place me in his lap and teach me the ways of beating the computer.

I have been a gamer ever since.

When I entered primary school a couple of years later, my parents bought an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System to keep my younger brother and I entertained. The console came with a game cartridge containing 40 games. It was awesome.

Battle City, Bomber Man, Ice Climber, Kung Fu and Tag Team Match MUSCLE were among our favourites. We would spend most of the day playing different games during the school holidays, to the point when everything because a little blurry.

After all, that was the only time we were allowed to play the NES.

Mummy later bought us this game called Cobra Triangle where you control a speed boat that could fire big grey pellets. It was a very challenging game and we really enjoyed taking turns to play it. We never got to complete it, though. It just stopped working. I remember how we would say a little prayer before puffing into the bottom of the cartridge. Nothing worked.

The next console we got was a SEGA 16-bit. It was a long-term loan from our uncle. My brother and I always played Bare Knuckle (Japanese version of Streets of Rage) together. Though we were a little older then, and the sibling rivalry had gotten stronger, those two-dimensional streets where pixelated gangsters roamed was the place where we could put our differences aside and work toward a common goal.

“Hey, you’re running out of life. Eat that chicken! I’ll eat the apple instead,” I would tell my brother.

“There are too many bad people! Should I use the special power?” he would ask.

We must have completed the game more than a dozen times. But each play-through felt like a new adventure.

Our gaming exploits were not limited to the SEGA. There was a PC game called Uncharted Waters which we were crazy about. I once accidentally saved over my brother’s game in which he had amassed a fleet of ships armed to the teeth with the best cannons.

Nearly on the verge of tears, he yelled at me and stormed out of the room. He did not talk to me for two days.

When I entered secondary school in 1994, the Playstation became one of our main sources of entertainment. Every one in school loved playing King of Fighters. Mortal Kombat was fun, too. I especially enjoyed Ace Combat.

When my close friends went on a trip to New Zealand during the school holidays, I spent most of my time at the home of another friend playing Resident Evil. We would take turns controlling the character and reading the game guide he purchased. We laughed and screamed and cheered. Fuck, that game was scary. Especially when the lights are switched off.

We became pretty good friends.

Back then, Winning Eleven was a far better game than FIFA, even though the names of the players were in Japanese, which we did not understand. Every Saturday, a whole bunch of friends would come to my place to play virtual and real football. Those were great times.

I hardly played console games during my polytechnic and national service days. During this period, I mostly played PC titles like Warcraft, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Counterstrike and Battlefield with my pals at LAN centers.

As an officer in the army, I was given charge of the e-learning lab in camp. It was probably one of the most embarrassing postings to be given. After all, most people wanted to be able to train or command a platoon of men. But here I was, assisting a captain with his training duties and making sure the computer lab ran smoothly.

It was a great job to have, by the way. The corporals under me knew their stuff so I never had to check on them. The only time I was required to step in was when I caught wind of an imminent inspection.

“Guys, the captain will be coming to check on us this week. Make sure you aren’t playing Winning Eleven or Command and Conquer in the server room. And stash those controllers,” I would tell them.

“Yes Sir! By the way, we just installed Tiberian Sun. You wanna have a go at it later tonight?”

“Fuck yeah. Count me in.”

Many of those who had to stay in camp during the week days tried to get chummy with me in order to get access to the computer lab. I was a friendly dude. I allowed everyone to play whatever they wanted after office hours. Sergeants, lieutenants and captains from other wings all came to join the party.

To me, gaming during these times was all about bonding.

A 13-year love affair
My first year in university marked the start of a love affair with World of Warcraft (WoW). It was probably not the best time to start playing such an addictive game – I spent more time playing the game than studying, and as a result nearly failed one module. While I didn’t make many friends in Sydney where I studied, I made a number through the game.

I was a Tauren Warrior. I thought it was silly to pick a cow but that was the biggest character available. Everything else just seemed scrawny and squishy. I chose to be a warrior because I like charging into a crowd of enemies and smashing their faces in.

The first guild I joined was Absolute Dragons, which was started by a group of Asian American dragon-boaters based in San Francisco. I thought it was pretty cool to have an Asian woman as the guild leader. She played a shaman and seemed really authoritative over Ventrilo. Her sister seemed like a much nicer person. Maybe it was because she was a priest.

There was also a female huntress in the guild that I thought was gorgeous in real life. But every time I tried to chat her up in the game she would just feign death.

What I loved about vanilla WoW was the 40-man raids. That was seriously intense. The learning curve was pretty steep and almost everyone needed to bring their A-game if the raid group was to kill the boss. I remember trawling through the Auction House in search of fire resist gear. Because we need a minimum amount to qualify for the Molten Core raid.

I really enjoyed the teamwork and the boss fights. The one thing I hated was how those Pauldrons of Might never dropped for me. I had saved all those damn DKP points just to buy it, but when it did finally drop, I wasn’t in the raid.

“Wait for five sunders. Don’t pull aggro if you’re not the tank,” the guild leader would always call out before the boss fight. Back during those times, the tank determined the pace. These days, the new kids in WoWjust pull everything and expect the tank to deal with the mess. Self-entitled brats. Fuckin’ millennials.

When damage output was found to be lacking, the raid leader would call out: “More dots, more dots.” I loved that phrase. It made me imagine bosses to be covered in polka dots. It made me chuckle.

It has been 13 years since WoW was released. I’m still a subscriber. I don’t have any friends I play with anymore, but I still enjoy the game. It’s no longer about getting into raids to get the best gear or making new friends. These days, it’s all about discovering the storyline and just decompressing.

Before I got married and was living with my parents, my mother would often come into the room when I was raiding and exclaim: “Aren’t you a little too old to be playing computer games?”

“Would you rather I be out drinking and smoking and doing drugs?”

Yup, always worked.

A few months ago, a Taiwanese friend who was at my apartment saw WoW running on the laptop and said: “Playing games at this age? You’re really quite a zhai nan (宅男) aren’t you?”

I think that terms refers to being a geek. Well, I’m not a geek.

You know, gamers are really misunderstood people. Those who don’t game on a regular basis think that we are:

(a) socially awkward
(b) nerds
(c) losers
(d) immature
(e) all of the above

And that’s really the furthest thing from the truth. I might be a little bit of an (a) at times but I generally love having a few pints while meeting new people.

I’m certainly not (b), while (c) and (d) can be pretty subjective term.

Am I immature? Well, how do you even define maturity? The size of my epeen? The wrinkles on my face? The fact that I play games? It doesn’t even make sense.

One can never be too old to be a gamer. Many people seem to think gaming is something only kids do. They believe that being a certain age means having to do certain things that fulfills the criteria of being that old.

Oh, you’re 28, it’s time to be a husband.

Oh, you’re 30, it’s time to be a father.

Oh, you’re 33, you should be focusing on your career and making lots of money.

Oh, you’re 50, time to think life after retirement.

No. We don’t have to follow these goddamned pre-determined routes in life in order to be happy. If you like gaming, you like gaming.

Gaming is a religion. RNGesus is our God. You don’t need to be a certain age to accept a religion.

My wife doesn’t find joy in playing games. That’s cool. Her psycho-motor skills suck anyway. The only game she was decent in was Candy Crush. When she tried to play WoW all she ever did was spend my gold on new clothes.

She told me that reading is a much more enjoyable hobby. She’s really good a reading. She can blitz through a 500-pager in one day. Me? Sony would’ve released the Playstation 10 by the time I’m done with a book this long.

Reading doesn’t appeal to me that much because I find it hard to get immersed. I always feel like a spectator.

Some people get satisfaction from completing a book. I get satisfaction from that glorious ache in my hands after an intense boss fight.

The beauty of gaming
I also love gaming because I love a good story. I mean, I’m a writer. Or an aspiring one, anyway. Gaming allows me to experience a story differently.

It allows me to be in the story. Sometimes, I am the story.

As such, I can still vividly recall all the scenes that took place in the games I have played.

I remember shaking my head in disbelief at how beautiful the ending to The Last of US was.

I remember sobbing when Mordin Solus sacrificed himself in Mass Effect 3.

I remember gasping in horror when Sephiroth impaled Aerith in Final Fantasy 7.

I remember feeling a mixture of sadness and awe when Thrall killed Garrosh in Warlords of Draenor.

I remember getting a hard-on when Morrigan bedded my Warden in Dragon Age.

More importantly, games have showed me what good storytelling should be – emotional, honest.

A reflection of life
When I was feeling depressed in the months followings my big move to Shanghai, Hearthstone taught me some important lessons about the RNG-ness of life. Like how sometimes you’re just dealt an atrocious starting hand and there’s little you can do about it.

Really? Drawing three 6-mana cards when I only have three 6-mana cards in the deck? Seriously, RNGesus. What the fucking fuck?

On other occasions, the cards you start with allow you to win within four moves, because everything just connects, and because the opponent just so happened to have a really crappy draw.

I once lost 12 ranked games in a row. Nothing I did went right. I could knock someone down to 5 HP only to lose in the next three moves. Shit happens. And that’s the world for you. Everything is uncertain. If RNGesus decides to fuck you up with a bad draw, you just learn to deal with it. When you lose, all you can do is pick yourself up and just go at it again.

 

What we can do, though, is set ourselves up for success; maximise our chances of not fucking up. Build a deck is suited to your ambition, your play style. Determine if this play style is suitable for the context you are in. Anticipate what the opponent might play. Have a contingency plan.

When you’re done building your strategy to life, experiment with it. Win a couple. Lose a couple. Go back to the drawing board. Revise the deck. Improve on it. Go out there again and play.

No, this isn’t what gaming or a fantasy card game is about.

This is what life is about.

My name is Alywin. I turn 35 in October. I am a gamer. And I’m damn proud to be one.

So, why do you game?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Humour, life, Singapore, Writing

Siao ah, leave Shanghai for what?

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Some people say Shanghai is like a dystopia compared to Singapore. But hey, I fuckin’ love it.

So, on the cusp of my 3rd anniversary in Shanghai, I reckoned it was time to do some reflecting.

My opinion of both cities has not changed but my outlook to life certainly has since the moment I set foot in China.

And this was only possible because I forced myself to take a step back to deconstruct everything I once believed in; to reset a life perspective that was molded by my 32 years in Singapore.

Okay, recap. In Singapore, I was an ambitious go-getter, or at least that was what I thought of myself to be. I was eager to be well-known in the tiny industry. I was eager to make lots of money.

I thought that checking emails during holidays meant that I was hardworking. I thought that having to leave a meal to take a fucking con-call was cool. Because busy is good. Because busy means I am constantly striving for progress.

I needed to live life in the fast lane. I looked down on those in the slow lane who were content to stay in their shells. I balked at those who refused to ride the never-ending waves of new trends. I stepped on people’s toes and refused to admit I was wrong.

I chased the Likes on Facebook, the followers on Instagram. Because they buoyed my sense of confidence. Having lots of friends meant having a big network. Having a big network meant more connections.

Connections are very important in life. Because meritocracy is a farce. Knowing famous and influential personalities is a much more efficient and effective way of getting things done. Singaporeans are renowned for our efficiency.

Yes, this modus operandi was correct, I assured myself. It had to be.

But deep down inside, a part of me silently protested this approach. And so I shut it out. Because I needed to be single-minded.

And then somewhere along the way all this toxicity exploded within. Just like how your stomach protests after you consume a whole bunch of stuff that don’t agree with one another, my soul started to lao sai.

It was a sign I needed to get the fuck out of Singapore. You know, detox a little.

I started this blog to track my self. I was intrigued with what living abroad could do to change perceptions of life.

My first year was horrid. You can read more about it in the other blog posts. I was essentially still in Singapore-mode. I was still chasing the same things in life.

But I got to learn one incredibly valuable lesson – that failing is okay, that we needed to just get up, move on and not mull over it. Because life’s too fucking short to be spent wallowing in self-pity.

Year 2 outside of Singapore was when the self started to change noticeably. It was no longer willing to just be a silent bystander. It wanted to be heard. It wanted to denounce those that was not like it.

I developed this desire to stir the pot and as a result learned that people don’t like to lose. I learned that in the midst of an argument, when emotions run amok, your ability to make sense of things gets compromised. I learned that you lose all objectivity when you go Hulk-mode. I learned that you end up trying to assassinate the other person’s character instead of clearly articulating your point of view.

I don’t apologise for my view that athletes are obliged to talk to the media. I still believe they are. But I guess I could’ve been more articulate and clear that it was MY stance, not the IOC’s.

I do apologise for being condescending to those who didn’t agree.

I know I only managed to learn all these things because I was not busy chasing fame and fortune.

Year 3 started with a life-changing trip to the Tibetan plateau. It showed me that we don’t actually need much to live, that simplicity was the key to happiness.

You know, it was actually bloody ironic – it took a luxury camping trip for me to realise I don’t need luxury.

I sought to declutter my life after that holiday. I began to see things for what they really are. I started to view us humans as a bowl of boring noodles that’s desperate to be filled with ingredients so that we look and taste better. Pork lard. Chives. Meatballs. Mushrooms. Lettuce. Fishcake. Vinegar. Chili.

Ok, yes, I’m describing bak chor me.

Anyway, I learned that there’s nothing wrong with plain noodles. What’s the point of having all these tasty ingredients if the noodles taste like rubber?

I learned to ignore so-called added value. A bag is just a storage tool. Clothing is just a means to cover up your body. A $20 bag from the pasar malam does the same job as a $20,000 one designed by some fashion icon. A $20 pair of denims from a Chinese retailer on Taobao covers your legs the same way a $400 pair does.

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Sometimes simple is just more charming.

We willingly pay so much more for well-known brands because we associate it self-worth and identity. Okay, fine, sometimes we spend more because of aesthetics. But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re really not that discerning.

I also learned that social media is not an extension of the self, but a projection of what we think we want others to think of us. I once asked a friend, “So, why did you like this particular post. Do you think she did a great job with the project? She sure got a lot of likes.”

The friend replied, “Actually, I don’t know what the project is about. I just liked it.”

Yes, that’s how many of us operate. We sometimes click on “Like” or “Heart” or “LMAO face” not because we actually appreciate the content. We do so because we like the person. Because we admire the person. Because we aspire to be like them. Because deep within the darkest recesses of the mind we secretly wanna fuck some of them.

So, yes, meritocracy is a farce. But I no longer attempt to convince myself that this is the way to approach things.

I only have 679 friends on Facebook. I can’t be bothered to add more. I’m more interested in surrounding myself with like-minded people and growing the way I wanna grow.

I JUST WANNA BE MEE POK.

The people I met on the Tibet Plateau also showed me that everything in life is relative. The American dude who gets paid a paltry stipend every month loves being there even though he can make a shitload of money back home – he’s an MIT graduate.

There is a Chinese phrase that goes 不同人,不同命, which literally means “different person, different life.” The way I comprehend this is that everything is relative and there is no point constantly comparing ourselves to others.

I once met a Yunnan farmer who on a good year earns $2,000. Some new graduates in Singapore earn that in a month. Top footballers earn £200,000 in a week.

Does the farmer deserve to earn more because he has to work in harsh conditions? Or does a footballer deserve that pay because he’s so good with balls? How to compare? You can’t.

Yup, what the fuck. 不同人,不同命. Just move on.

China has been an amazing learning experience. Apart from whatever I have mentioned, it has taught me that everyone behaves the way they do because of their culture, their society, the things that surround them.

China has a bad rep for copying. But copying is not entirely frowned upon here. I learned that those who copied, improved the original product and succeeded were revered. That’s just how it works. There’s a particular Chinese brand that many people like to say is an Apple copycat. Well look how well they’re doing.

Chinese people love to treat their VIPs to massive dinners. Yes, this results in crazy food wastage, but this to them is the definition of good hospitality. I suppose in light of the state of the planet we should be encouraging them to cut down on wastage. But we should in no certain terms chide them for their way of life.

Because I believe there’s no right and wrong. Because like a friend recently said, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

I suppose one of the most important things I have learned since being in China is that we need to strip away all the layers of bias when dealing with others. Just because the person is mainland Chinese doesn’t mean he is uncouth. Oh come on, we Singaporeans aren’t exactly angels. Look at what we’ve done to damn Ofo bikes.

We need to view people for who they are – as humans. Not as gays or lesbians or Chinese or Malay or hipsters or believers of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m all for equality, which is why the decision to barricade Hong Lim Park during Pink Dot upset me.

Seriously, after all that talk about making Singapore a more inclusive and empathetic place we go ahead and do this? It’s like wearing a condom over a condom. Kanina, no feeling liao lah.

So, no. I can’t to return Singapore yet. Because I know the vacuum will mold me and turn me into that person I don’t want to be. But why can’t I maintain this state of mind and be in Singapore?

I guess I’m just not ready.

By the way, I just extended my contract by another year.

 

Pen to paper,
the deal is done.
I might be a pauper,
but damn, I’m having fun.

 

 

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sports, Writing

The wild dreamer turned hurdles king

 

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Omar McLeod loves being in the spotlight, and he’s not shy to admit it.

“Ever since I was a kid I knew I wanted to be famous,” he laughed.

“I wanted to be a TV personality. I wanted to be an Olympian. I wanted to be a gold medallist. I used to be a wild dreamer.”

Like most Jamaican kids, he was a student of the country’s national sporting: running. Like everyone else, he was inspired by the exploits of Usain Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medallist who has been immortalized as the greatest sprinter mankind has ever known.

And so McLeod ran. On anything. Over everything.

He used to set up buckets and trash cans on the road and challenge his friends. Every time he saw a speed bump on the road he just had to vault over it.

“I loved hurdling. It was like I was born to be a hurdler,” he said.

Whenever his mother sent him on an errand to buy groceries, McLeod and his cousins would take up starting positions outside his home before racing to the store, running on dirt tracks, tarred roads and through grassy fields. There were no medals for victory, just sweets.

Just like Bolt’s Olympic career, McLeod was undefeated.

“I ended up winning all the sweets so my aunt told me I had to share with the rest of the kids or I would get lots of cavities,” he chuckled.

McLeod went on to run for Manchester High School and Kingston College before moving to the United States. There, he lit up the collegiate athletics scene with the Arkansas Razorbacks, becoming a four-time NCAA champion in the 60m and 110m hurdles as well as the 4x100m relay.

The man loves his discipline. Each hurdle, he said, reminds him of the struggles he went through in life. The death of his beloved aunt in 2014 is the most significant one of all. She was only 27 years old.

“When she passed away, I was reintroduced to myself. It was one of those redefining moments that got me thinking about what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

“I realised that life is short – I really had to go after what I wanted.”

And go for it he did. The next year, he clocked 12:97 to beat Hansle Parchment, the national record holder of the 110m hurdles, at the 2015 Jamaican Championships. In April 2016, he posted 9.99 seconds in the 100m sprint at the John McDonnell Invitational in Fayetteville, US.

No other living being on this planet has managed to run the 110m hurdles and 100m sprint in under 13 and 10 seconds respectively.

Just like Bolt, McLeod had feats he could truly call his own.

His stock was now rising. But he knew he was far from perfect. Technique is something he knows he has to work on. He knows he could probably learn a thing or two from the Chinese.

“I know China is famous for their technical events. Last year when I was here I got to see how a Chinese athlete warms up. He was just doing a bunch of stretching exercises but his technique was amazing. He made the rest of us look really bad,” he laughed.

“Liu Xiang’s technique is just sublime. He never hits hurdles. He never falters. He always gets the job done. There is no hurdler in the world who does it like Liu Xiang.”

Moments later, McLeod couldn’t resist wresting the spotlight back from the Chinese legend.

“He reminds me of me. We don’t lean into the hurdle as much.”

His Achilles’ heel, ironically, is his explosive pace. He approaches the hurdles faster than he can react. He crashed out of two races before the 2016 Rio Olympics.

But the bruises he suffered were merely superficial. A few months later, on sport’s biggest stage, McLeod made history by becoming the first Jamaican to win the 110m hurdles at the Rio Olympics.

His childhood dream was now fulfilled. He was truly famous. He confessed that he took his time with the victory lap, savouring every bit of adulation that went his way.

“I just didn’t want that moment to pass. I ended up going back to the hotel at two or three in the morning,” he said.

“I spoke to my mum when I got back to the hotel. We started crying as soon as she called me.”

Has this fame gotten to his head? McLeod claims it hasn’t, saying the quotes from the Bible he frequently gets from his family and agents help to tame the beast named Pride. He claims that his child-like personality has a nullifying effect on egotism, too. He admits to playing a lot of video games and watching Pokemon. He also sings regularly in the church choir.

Ambition, however, is his biggest anchor.

“I’m still young, there’s so much more I have to accomplish – that’s also what keeps me grounded,” he said, before citing the Bible verse Luke 12:48.

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

This is turning out to be a good year for McLeod. In February, he broke Jamaica’s indoor 200m record. In April, he became the new record holder of the 110m hurdles at the Drake Relays in Iowa.

His latest 110m hurdles triumph came last Saturday at the Shanghai Diamond League. Again, his pace threatened to derail his race. He sent the second hurdle crashing to the track. But he was unfazed, never once losing the lead in a tight race that saw Spain’s Orlando Ortega breath down his neck every inch of the way. But it was also this power that sealed the win in the final three meters, allowing him to peel away from the Spaniard to finish 0.06 seconds quicker.

Despite declaring that he was the man to beat at Saturday’s meet, he knew better than to be smug about his status as Olympic champion.

“Ortega is one of the best. There was no time for complacency. I didn’t get to control the race the way I wanted to but I felt him and all I wanted to do was maintain my composure,” he said.

“I knew with my speed and technique I would get to the line first.”

If anything, the pressure of being at the top has amplified his hunger. He wants to win the world championships in August. He wants to focus on training for his favourite event, the 200m, next year.

But what about the 100m? McLeod knows he’s got the pace but he isn’t a big fan of the blue ribbon event.

“There are so many technicalities involved in running a 100m that I didn’t know about. I used to think that you just go into the blocks and run. But when I ran it, I ran it like the hurdles. It was so much harder. There is no drive phase, no transition. I told my coach: ‘Man, this is hard!’” he laughed.

“You get some leeway for the 200m. You can back off a little bit and make your move. I love the event. I actually like it more than the hurdles.”

Breaking the world record held by Aries Merritt is also on the cards, but McLeod is in no hurry to do so. In reality, he has all the time to do so. He is only 23.

“I’m still a learner of the sport. I think people forget how young I am. I want to break the world record when I’m ready. If it’s not this year, that’s fine. But that’s a career objective for sure.”

McLeod paused when asked what his secret is. He doesn’t fancy Jamaican yam like Bolt does. He settled for something a little more visceral, saying it was all about “just being myself.”

Then he grinned, his eyes lighting up. It was fried chicken.

“Actually, I think my secret would be Popeyes. Yeah, I love Popeyes.”

The rising star has already been compared to Bolt, the legend he has revered since childhood. Only a few athletes in the world get to enjoy such an honour, but that isn’t quite enough for McLeod. He’s not interested in living in someone else’s shadow.

Because he loves being in the spotlight, and he’s still not shy to admit it.

“I do not want to be Usain Bolt. I want be my own spark to the sport,” he said.

“I want to be Omar McLeod.”

 

 

Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com 

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