Dear Huckleberry Finn

Dear Huckleberry Finn,

I hope you fare well after your series of misadventures. Time and again you decided to listen to you heart and not betray your earnest companion Jim. You were brought up in a difficult childhood. Your father lived day by day, with no aspiration beyond coveting that next bottle of whiskey. From him you learned to look after no one but yourself. Then you had a brief period under Widow Douglass’ tutoring, and she tried to instil in you good conduct. But alas, all these would not prepare you, for the difficult choices you would soon make. It pained me Huck, when you felt that you were doing wrong to listen to your heart. Being some years your senior, I feel compelled to guide you, to console you. We failed you Huck, in not bringing you up well. We failed you Huck, that you felt what you had to do was wrong.

I am you, Huckleberry Finn.

I am now a boy. There is so much fun to be had, if only they would leave me alone. They are boring and uncreative; can they not see the fun I am having? They try to educate me, but really I just want to play. Let them not see this, or I shall get a beating once again. I do not like them, but still I would acquiesce; for who else takes care of me? The scoldings and punishments, they all mean to teach me. That I could tell right from wrong, that I could do always the right. Now, I come to associate some behaviours with praise and some others with shame. Do what brings praise, avoid what brings shame–such a straightforward way to think! But one day I find this insufficient. I must think for myself, and do sometimes what I came to think was wrong.

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李光耀时代对华族语言的影响


有一次我在巴士上,偷听到一对来自中国的母子之间的争执。18岁的儿子因为不满母亲干涉他交友的自由,说了很多很难听的话要刺激母亲。那位母亲忍着泪水,压低声音一字一句地说:“你知道你在说什么吗?你知道你所说的话,每一句都在刺穿我的心,正在把我摔得粉身碎骨吗?” … “我就是不喜欢你过问我的行踪。我爱跟谁来往,你管不着。”儿子咬牙切齿说道,语气跩得很。

下车之后,我脑海里还重复着他们所说的话。假设那是一对英国母子,这段对话会不会像舞台剧? … 那么新加坡母子呢?“你做莫讲酱的话?You know you say this I am very hurt?” … 新加坡母亲会这么说吧,语言应该无法将她内心最深刻的情绪完好地表达出来。“Ask you don’t care oredi, who I go out with, why you care so much?” … 感觉有点像新加坡导演梁智强的电影吧,人物有很多很复杂的情绪,但往往只能通过简单的句子和夸张的表情和动作来表现。
–《成长在李光耀时代》 李慧敏

为什么新加坡华人的中文语言能力那么的差?来自中国的朋友们跟本地华人交往时立即察觉到此差别。经过最少十年学校中的华文语言课的新加坡华人,为什么还没有办法完整地且不依赖英文单词地造句子说话?

其实事情不简单。李慧敏在《成长在李光耀时代》描述了新加坡华族在语言方面从上下两处被攻击。这些是往事,现在所见而是后果。注:无论是非好坏,这些是过去的历史,而我们应该了解此刻情形的来因。

从下:政策排斥方言。当时新加坡华族的语言多色多彩,包括福建语、潮州话、广东话(粤语)、客家话、海南话、上海话等,情况跟马来西亚华族差不多。但是当时政府担心由各方言的区别造成人们之间的分裂。为了让华族的人们都把自己视为同样团结一起的华人,政府就排坼方言。之前用方言的电视节目都配上了华语配音,用方言的电台节目也都没得听了。当时方言是新加坡华族文化重要的一部分,把它割除了,就等于伤害了文化。尽管后来华族之间使用所谓「华语」沟通,但这「新加坡华语」是非自然的、不三不四的。它与文化分离了,而其存在只因为需要沟通,别无它法。因此华族语言失去了基础。

从上:政策重视英文。当时西方国家已随着工业革命的优势大发为强,美国经济强大,而之前的大英帝国已把英文语言散发到世界各处。当时政府推测将来英文会成为世界上重要的语言,所以以英文当官方语言,所有学校都得以英文为教学语言。当然,今天我们知道英文在国际舞台上巨大的重要。但是,在重视英文的环境下,华文哪还有空间成立?英文被视为华文之上,这种观点也在学校里学生们当中存在。有些孩子痛恨学华文,只把它当成另一个可恶的学校科目。其他学生要是英文不好,尽管华文多好也没用,不如专心学英文而别在华文上花废太多时间。当时东南亚华裔辛辛苦苦建立了南洋大学。此家大学以华文为主要教学语言,在中国以外是第一家,后来也未再有其它。在重视英文而轻视华文的环境,南洋大学反而遭遇了各种挫折,最后被关闭。因此华族语言失去了潜能。

Humour Defy Us

Some degree of predictability helps us to navigate in our daily lives. By knowing what to expect, and expecting it, it frees us from the burden of continually re-evaluating every single recurrent event in time.

It is this perpetual habit of expecting what should happen and what we should do, that leaves us susceptible to the strange and unusual. Humour is the acknowledgement that something is different from what we expect. Humour is a reaction to incongruence.

Billy was displayed there in the zoo in a simulated Earthling habitat. … There were no walls in the dome, no place for Billy to hide. The mint green bathroom fixtures were right out in the open. Billy got off his lounge chair now, went into the bathroom and took a leak. The crowd went wild.
–Chapter Five of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

How preposterous of us to think that we, human beings, are somewhat special and exempt from the fate of being a creature placed in an exhibit with our most private moments open for display?

The Mind of a Hardcore Gamer

At first, it was purely entertainment. In a game, you interacted with some virtual world, and things happened in response. Instead of messing around with your toys, you messed around with the game. It did not matter what the objectives were. Over time, your childhood brain grew to understand the formal concepts of objectives and strategy, and games started to make sense. There were goals to achieve and ways to win.

There was something charming about entering a different world. It was not so much the sensory stimulation of the graphics and sound, but the believable feeling that this other world existed, with its own rules, story, and society. You were experiencing that world. You were a part of it.

Now all of a sudden, your friends in school started to talk about some game that you never before played. Somehow you tried it, and then you joined them. Why did you do that? Maybe you did not want to feel left out. Maybe, being a gamer, you knew you were good at gaming and at last you could show your friends how good you were. You started late, of course, so you were a complete beginner, and lost your initial games. Slowly though, some part of you, so finely attuned to the precise mechanisms of gaming, drove you to analyse the game and improve your skill and tactics. You started delving into theory: Gaming was not just about what you did during the game itself. It was understanding the workings of the game and how different ways of playing it influenced the outcome. You went to the forums, you read strategy guides, you participated in debates on the theory. Still, you played even more, and got even better. What was it? Were you trying to prove yourself?

You were not alone. One day you entered another world, and in it was this entire community of others. They were playing the game–no, they were all around you: having conversations, fighting monsters, doing quests, and even fishing and cooking. Soon enough, you started interacting with these other people. They were strangers, yet they were not quite strangers. There was something oddly welcoming about their cartoon-like characters. You could talk about whatever you wanted: the content did not matter, so long as you knew then that you had made ‘friends’. Everyday you logged in, someone would say ‘Hi!’ to you and you would proceed in conversation about the latest news in the game. Now and then, you would meet up to fight monsters together or just to chat because you were ‘friends’.

Sometimes you preferred to be alone though. There were worlds that were charming precisely because the characters in them were not real people. You met wizards who spoke like wizards, and Jedi knights that had great conviction for their cause. There were also other games that were just too complex to be played simultaneously by multiple people. You were building an ancient Egyptian city along the Nile river, you were managing the burgeoning Roman empire and its legions, you were plotting the succession and dominance of a medieval dynasty. You relished the obscure complexity of those games, because, having played games for more than half your life now, you knew that complexity was necessary for depth in gaming experience.

You wanted your worlds to be as close to your ideal of a ‘good game’ as possible. Yet, game developers were just not good enough. Game development projects were fraught with rushed schedules, deceptive marketing, and mismanagement. All too often games were released with disappointing bugs and poorly designed game mechanics. It did not matter. Gamers rule the gaming world. Gamers came up with ways to modify existing games, and you used those tools to modify and customise your games to fit your ideal conceptions. You would tweak a little, see if it worked, and examine if you liked the results. Little by little, you tweaked. Often, you would spend more time modifying the game than actually playing it. There was something in you that drove you towards perfecting the game. You wanted to play the game perfectly, but you first needed the game to be perfect.

You chose to escape into this world. The girl that you had a crush on for many months rejected you and was seeing someone else. Numb yourself, perform the systematic motions of the game. Enter this other world. You knew you were capable, so capable that you could fully grasp the fundamental mechanics of the game and play it better than others. Who cared about the real world? You just wanted to be away for a while. Was that not what school holidays were for? Your wish was granted, and you became completely absorbed. You made new ‘friends’ again, and you gained respect. After a timeless eternity spent in this world, you would be ready to emerge and live life again.

交通硕士

我们需要下几天来走的办法。再精确地说:我们需要对于我们舒服宿舍与市镇中心之间的来走办法。他就此到来,就是为了驾那辆让我们开开心心地通勤的公车。也许在我们想像中他因此只是这所谓的公车司机。

但是他说:“我不只是一位公车司机,我是交通硕士。” 过后他骄傲地宣告他在家乡是如此抱有这一种名称,并且取得了证书。有些人可能以为他只为了让自我介绍增加兴趣度而开一下玩笑。但是,他为职业所骄傲使我感动。我敬慕他。

在新加坡这一个城市,也在多数的其它商业中心,我们习惯了认同职业层级。我们认为高级经理、律师、医生、和其它薪水高的职业是有得敬佩的。越低级与报酬低的工作,就越不优秀、越不可敬佩。在这种社会之内,一种像公车司机简简单单的职业是不可能令人注意的。

但是我厌恨与反抗这种理念。一个人的职业的价值是必定要根据它的经济潜能、它的权威、或它所需要的教育资格吗?

这位交通硕士在欧洲的许多国家开过车,他对付了各种文化的人和地方,他在多年中收取了安全与高效开车、路线优化、对付交通拥堵、认识合适的停车地点这些多种有利经验。他愿利用这些知识技巧让我们通勤得一帆风顺。他就此愿意,也不要求股票期权、一等机票、丰富酒店套房等。并且,他骄傲地提供服务。

原本英文写作: Original Post in English

Plato’s Just Medicine

When a carpenter is ill he asks the physician for a rough and ready cure; an emetic or a purge or a cautery or the knife,–these are his remedies. And if someone prescribes for him a course of dietetics, and tells him that he must swathe and swaddle his head, and all that sort of thing, he replies at once that he has no time to be ill, and he sees no good in a life which is spent nursing his disease to the neglect of his customary employment; and therefore bidding good-bye to this sort of physician, he resumes his ordinary habits, and either gets well and lives and does his business, or, if his constitution fails, he dies and has no more trouble.
–Book III of The Republic by Plato (English Translation by Benjamin Jowett)

Plato’s concept of justice resides in an isomorphism between the state and the individual. A just state is a well-ordered state in which each individual is just in so far as he performs a suitable role. A suitable role is one that befits the individual in a way that leverages upon his personal attributes. Through the dutiful and earnest performance of such a role the individual assumes a proper place in the state.

Life is beautiful. Our senses pleasure us to behold fair sights. Our social tendencies draw us towards society and civilization. Our innate curiosity urges us to nurture learning yearnings. Our industrious spirit wills us to create magnificent constructs. In death all dissolves.

When the possibility of death arises, the desire not to lose all that we have compels us to take all possible measures necessary to avoid it. Yet, ought we to fear death so much as to erect protective barriers between us and our station in life? One who fears death may go at length to preserve his subsistence, even if in doing so he loses spirit and forsakes the very things that comprise his existence. One who excessively fears death incapacitates himself, and constrains his industrial and intellectual leanings! In place of biological death resides the dreary state of spiritual death. Do not fear death. We do what we can to be healthy and strong, but where death may strike even so we push on in courage.

For death to succeed life is a certainty, for death to supersede life is a pity.

‘Ne pleure pas, Alfred ! J’ai besoin de tout mon courage pour mourir à vingt ans !’
–Évariste Galois

The Closed Door

‘Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you.’

Knock, I did.

I was knocking, and I was ringing the doorbell incessantly. But the door did not open.

They told me so. They said it was dangerous. What was I thinking, travelling alone and renting a room from someone I had only barely acquainted with online?

He seemed nice enough when I met him earlier. So nice that I felt completely comfortable with leaving my luggage, knapsack, and laptop in the apartment while I left for a quick dinner and beer. He did of course pass me the key. Either the key was not the right one, or there must have been an additional bolt on the inner side of the door, because the door would not open despite turning the key in the keyhole.

I had nothing on me except my wallet, phone, and passport. I did not have a German phone line. Did I mention I also had my comb and earphones? As if those would help. The sensor-activated stairway light turned itself off, leaving me in darkness. Day turns to night quickly. I could still catch a fading glimmer of light on the way back from dinner, but now it was dark.

I was confused. I was in disbelief. I had never experienced such danger in my sheltered life, and I could not imagine it happening to myself. An ounce of hope remained, that perhaps it was merely a mistake. On the other hand, fear started to creep in. Yet, along with it came a sense of excitement. I had an inexplicable tiny desire to be in danger. To be one day left alone on the streets in a foreign place, with nothing to aid me but this personality that defines me and my free will. As inane as it sounds, I almost wanted it to be true.

It was amidst this mix of separate sets of emotions, directed at two distinct possibilities of uncertain probability, that I realised I might still have had a lifeline. I reached for my phone, hoping that I had recharged the battery for long enough the previous night.