April, 2010

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Old Friends

Back in early 2003 I was in the starting stages of my doctoral degree program and still figuring out the areas I could get into, one work I read was on video game addiction. The short paper by a Canadian student struck me – because at that point, the general consensus of video game addiction was pretty all negativism. But the paper instead questioned the basis in which MMOGs were being labeled as addictive substances. I wrote the thesis’ author to see if I could get a copy of her complete dissertation, and in the years subsequent to that, kept in occasional communication with her.

It’s funny then how things turn, because more than 7 years later, we finally get to say ‘hi’ not on email. Florence, now a researcher and also Ph.D student herself at Simon Fraser University, continued to remained in contact but this is really the first time we’re meeting. She’s here in Singapore for our Little Red Dot’s segment of a five-country trip to study play behavior in cultural contexts. She reads our blog, and from the entries here, even when meeting Ling for the first time said it was like she already knew us.:)


The four of us (with Hannah!) went for dinner at Hougang Mall; got ourselves stuffed with cuisine there. Ling took the picture above for us; it was just delightful to see Hannah take to ‘aunt’ Florence like they were old friends like with Daddy!

Early Morning Play

I’m usually up at about 5:15 AM every morning so that I have more time for my morning routine activities before I wake Ling up just after 6 AM. Hannah gets woken up at about 6:25 AM for a diaper change and temperature check, and if things move along speedily enough, we’ll usually get about 5-10 minutes of time to play with her before we all have to head out to our first stop (infant care / nanny’s).

This short window of 5-10 minutes every morning has become very precious for us – because Hannah is at her cutest and most lovely moods! With a new diaper change, and an activity level that’s a perfect balance between her usual boundless energy and that she’s still just a little groggy from having woken up, she’ll coo, look inquisitively at us, or play with new toys with us on the sofa. E.g. she’s taken a fascination with my staff employment card.:)


Her temperament’s quite different from say at about 7 to 8 PM when I’m home: she’d be super-energetic, hyper, and it’s rapidly exhausting just to play with her.:)

A Very Brave Maid

Many of the news regarding home helpers in Singapore these days aren’t flattering. On too many occasions, they’ve been on misdemeanors either on the part of the home helpers, or of their employers abusing their helpers. So, when the below showed up on The Straits Times earlier this week, while on the one hand it’s terrifically sad, it also reminds us that there are real gems in a workforce level that many Singaporeans are starting to take for granted. Formatted to save space, and source here.

Apr 26, 2010
Maid dies saving baby girl

SHE loved them so much that she was even willing to lay her life down for the girls. On Saturday night, Indonesian maid Puji Astutik died proving her love – and saved her boss’ one-year-old.

Ms Puji, 28, was crossing the road with her employer, Mrs Lam’s younger daughter, when an SMRT bus ran into her at the junction of Choa Chu Kang Street 52 and Choa Chu Kang North 6. She flung the baby girl forward but was pinned under the wheels, The New Paper and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao reported.

She was rushed to the National University Hospital, but died later that night from her injuries. The Lams’ daughter suffered minor scratches on her left arm and kept shivering that night. Neighbours remember Ms Puji as a ‘very friendly’ person who would say hi. Mrs Lam said she intended to renew the maid’s contract when it expired in September.

There’s no indication yet of whether the lights at that traffic junction were in the deceased’s favor or not. Not withstanding that, it was still absolutely stunning bravery shown on the part of Ms. Puji, though it also cost her her life.

No World Cup?!

There are two really bizarre incidents covered in the newspapers these days. One of them is the still unfolding Apple vs Gizmodo drama over a misplaced iPhone prototype, and the other is a more localized issue. Thanks to messed-up competitive bidding between the major television companies, those of us here in Singapore might not be able to watch the coming FIFA World Cup 2010.

The latter especially strikes a chord in me. Because just 4 years ago, I’d just returned from Perth after concluding my Ph.D work and was back in Singapore seeking employment, doing marriage preparations and planning for our new home – and for several evenings a week in that month of June in 2006, the two of us would spend our time at McDonalds watching the World Cup.

Oh, we could have watched the matches from home, but there’s just incredible thrill watching the events with other Singaporeans. It’s also one of those few occasion types where I don’t mind noise – there’s a lot of fun cheering, howling, yelling with everyone else in the small restaurant. I think McDonalds themselves welcomed the patrons:  they even sent staff during matches to take orders from the crowd, then return with trays of food.:)

Things are a little different 4 years later now of course, even if by some rare chance Singapore does get coverage of the World Cup. There’s Hannah to think about, but it’d be in the June holiday break, so if the matches in South Africa match our hours here, Singapore still might be able to watch the live coverage.

But hey – during that crucial month I won’t be in Singapore anyway! There should be TVs in the accommodation I’m at – I hope. :)

Update: We’ll be getting to watch the competition – hooray!

“SINGAPORE: After more than six months of nail-biting suspense, sources have confirmed that football fans will be able to watch all 64 matches of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa ‘live’ on television in Singapore.”

[Source here]

MIT, Boston, June – Part 1

I received news earlier this week that a trip I’d been planning is indeed going ahead. The year-long project is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and my institution, and it’s being co-investigated by an MIT researcher and myself.

It’ll be my first time to that part of the world – as in the East Coast of the country – and I really look forward to the trip and experience working there. Boston is one of most historically-rich and culturally significant cities in the United States. Harvard is just nearly next door to where I’ll be situated in MIT, and there are several museums I’m already interested in visiting there in the campus’ ground.

The on-site segment itself will be about a month long (there were some early discussions about the trip possibly being longer and that worried Ling), and I’d likely be traveling around the region too on shorter business-related trips to meet, make contact points, network and the like. It seems unlikely I’d be able to make a post-trip visit to our angmo bud in Missouri though. The June trip occurs during semester time, and the school is going to want me immediately right back. So, Matt’s resolved to see if he can make the trip from the mid-West over to where I’m at instead.:)


My only worry? That Hannah forgets me by the time I return in mid-July! :)

Judge Fancy Pants

While reading up on some legal precedents in defamation suits, I came across a story that’s in equal parts both hilarious and also just plain bizarre.

A family of South-Korean immigrants, the Chungs, were running a Pop-Mom laundry shop ‘Custom Cleaners’ in Washington DC in 2005. From all counts, they were an honest, low-key establishment well-regarded by their group of customers who frequented their services. Like many other service-centric operations there and also around the world, their shop carried advertisements claiming “Same Day Service” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed”.

In May 2005 though, they were served notice for a suit by an administrative law judge in the district – a Roy Pearson. The judge had sent in his pants for cleaning, but the apparel was mistakenly directed to another dry cleaners. The mistake was rectified with the return of the pants delayed by a couple of days. When Pearson got the pants back, he insisted it wasn’t his – despite corroboration of the pants with Custom Cleaners’ records, tags, and Pearson’s own receipt.

The two parties couldn’t come to agreement, so Pearson filed suit. And here’s the wickedest part of it – he wanted $67,000,000 in damages. And that’s in USD. In Singapore dollars, that’d be one hundred million moola… for a pair of pants. His case? He said that the Chungs had not delivered their promises of “Same Day Service”, and “Satisfaction Guaranteed” to him.

Maybe the pair of pants he lost was diamond-studded with 24 carats, or the pants was sent to laundry with two million cans of premium Abalone stuffed somewhere inside it. But the suit was no joke to the Chungs, who were completely bewildered by the awesomeness and audacity of the claim. The public came to their rescue though with donations for them to seek legal aid and for lost business. The Chungs had already offered settlement offers of $3,000, $4,600, and $12,000… all of which were rejected by Pearson. I’m not sure what the good judge was smoking, but $12,000 for a pair of pants sounds like a very good deal to me.


In any case, the suit reached trial and after a bit of ding-doinging was concluded in 2007 – with the D.C. judge ruling in favor of the Chungs, awarding legal costs to them and sanctioning Pearson $12,000 for “creating unnecessary litigation”.

The story doesn’t end there: for the next two years, Pearson filed motions of appeal and reconsideration but was overturned and rejected each time. Along the process, he lost his job as judge on the basis that Pearson lacked the necessary “judicial temperament” for that position.

The case became fodder for bloggers, news commentaries and even international attention, with most persons – not surprisingly – unsympathetic to Pearson. Even Fortune magazine listed this incident as #37 of that year’s dumbest moments in business. Pearson himself ended up being referred to by bloggers as “Judge Fancy Pants”.

[Sources: here, here and here]


blog-amelia-a Amelia (2009) – on rental. There were a couple of female heroines from history books that I read about in picture books and admired as a child. One was Helen Keller, another was Florence Nightingale – and the third was Amelia Earhart.

Earhart was an American pilot who lived in the 1930s, and was famed for accomplishing many activities that were not only at the forefront of technology and testing limits of the human endurance, but were also primarily in the domain of men then. She undertook great aviation feats after fellow American Charles Lindbergh, but unlike the latter who got dogged with accusations of Nazism sympathies, Earhart was arguably more charismatic, winning the hearts and imaginations of many women of her generation. After setting many flying records, her life was tragically lost alongside navigator Fred Noonan in 1937 when their plane on a feat to fly around the world went missing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Her remains and the aircraft were never found though, which led many over the subsequent decades to speculate on the circumstances that led to her mysterious disappearance.

Strangely, there hasn’t been many motion pictures chronicling Amelia Earhart’s life, though her character shows up in a number of other productions as a fantasy character. For instance, Amelia Earhart has shown up in episodes of Star Trek: Voyager as a character, and also very recently in Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, with the always super-cute Amy ‘Enchanted‘ Adams playing the role.


Amelia – the film – doesn’t quite focus its attention on exploring the controversial circumstances of the historical person’s disappearance or attempt to chronicle her entire life. The film places its attention squarely on her last ten years, starting from her transatlantic flight where she rode as a passenger to her ill-fated flight around the world. The film stars Hilary Swank – an actress whose performances in The Core and Million Dollar Baby I really enjoyed – in the title role, with Richard Gere (Gaaaahhhh) starring as George Putnam, Earhart’s publicist and eventual husband. Bit roles also go to Ewan ‘Obi-Wan’ McGregor as Gene Vidal, a pioneering aviator, and Christopher Eccleston who starred as the villain in the same year’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra but plays Noonan in this film.

The film’s production values are impeccable: the recreation of 1930s-depression America is attractive, and there are lots of little details in the costumes, mannerisms and background scenery and objects that will thrill persons interested in the era. There are also absolutely stunning scenes of the flights overland, including an extended scene that’s included in the DVD but not in the actual film itself. Amelia is also supported by a lovely soundtrack by Gabriel Yared, and there are several music cues that are reminiscent of Yared’s incredible and award-winning work for The English Patient.

The faults with the film lie elsewhere though. For starters, while Swank looks like a splitting image of the real person, her performance this time seems strangely… disinterested. The historical character was a daredevil and thrill seeker. I’m guessing that Swank tries to project this in her performance but it all seems lethargic. There’s also the lack of chemistry between Gere and Swank. The key events are all factually there: her reluctance to marry, her elicitation of a very tough promise from her new husband at the marriage altar, and her alleged flirtation with Vidal, but you don’t sense any real emotion between the two leads despite the amount of shared screen time they both have.


The lackluster performance and absence of real chemistry prove deadly to the film too. By the time Earhart climbs into the cockpit for her fatal and last flight despite Putnam’s misforgivings, you don’t feel anything. No empathy, no sense of coming tragedy, and when Putnam looks out into the ocean apparently lost in his thoughts when there are no more radio calls from Earhart’s lost flight, it’s almost hilarious instead of tragic. That the dialog in the film is just dull doesn’t help too.

What’s strange also is the way the film juxtaposes scenes of the present – in 1937 – and flashbacks. The film starts with Earhart and Noonan desperately lost over the Pacific and trying to find a key marker island for their plane to refuel, and in the next two hours flashes back and forth between the significant events of her life to the film’s 1937 present. I’m not sure what the scriptwriters were thinking, but the wild movement within the timeline added nothing to the film for me.

So, a mixed bag and leaning on the poor side of the thing. You do get very pretty visuals and a great motion picture soundtrack. But on the overall, still a semi-dismal…

Organic Food

This is a brief sharing of my thoughts and experiences on using organic food for Hannah.

As a newbie, I have done my bit in including organic food in our baby’s diet. Just surf the Internet on introducing solid foods to babies and one can’t avoid reading the rationale and advantages of using organic produce. For me, the main persuasion for using organic produce is to avoid feeding our baby pesticides, additives and hormones. The concern about consuming such chemicals is that if they are insoluble in water, they could not be flushed out in the urine and would accumulate in our body tissues over time. You know, the effects of such chemicals may only show up many years later and some are carcinogenic. Then again, how can one be so sure after so many years right? And what is true today might be erroneous tomorrow.

I’ll just use logic and common sense. Personally, I think it is better to feed Hannah pesticide-free foods as her little body is still undergoing the critical phase of development (e.g. her nervous system). When her body becomes stronger and mature, I would ease up along the way.

But organic food is not always readily available and almost always expensive! We live in Seng Kang but even with 6 NTUC and 1 Cold Storage supermarkets in the vicinity, it is still a challenge to find a particular vegetable and that it does not cost an arm or leg. So I need to rethink the issue of getting organic food and work around the problem. I discovered that an investigation has been carried out to ascertain the levels of pesticides on commercially grown fruits and vegetables and a list has been drawn up.  From this list, I know which foods have lower levels of pesticides and hence it is quite alright not to get the organic versions. Yay, now I know that peach, apple and capsicum (even after washing and peeling) have very high pesticide load while corn, peas, mango, banana, broccoli and avocado scored low on pesticide loading. Sheesh, do you know that organic broccoli can cost up to 3-4 times more than those non-organic ones?

Now, I have only touched on the plants. Meats and diary products can be laced with the same types of chemicals used on plants too. Think food chain.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my organic purchases as they truly ‘inform’ you that they are organic. How is that so? On one occasion, I bought an organic broccoli infested with thousands of tiny aphids!!! Pesticide-free……………… right.

Okie dokie, I’m going to cook a combi of sweet potato, egg yolk and sweet peas puree for Hannah’s dinner tonight. All non-organic :) Thanks to the list!

Planet 51

blog-planet51a Planet 51 – on rental (2009). Planet 51 – an animated motion picture that’s come out from Ilion Animation Studios, a setup based in Madrid – has one significant thing in its corner: a familiar premise but taken with a twist. There’s been films of aliens landing on Earth before – but how about a film where a human astronaut lands on a planet and he becomes the alien?

For lack of a better descriptor, Planet 51 is ET… in reverse, as lead voice actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson puts it. The setting is a small town Glipforg which is inhabited by green rubber-eared creatures living in an era that looks suspiciously like a 1950s America. Over there, Alienphobia is a cultural way of life, with film and comic book media which paint aliens as laser-blasting grotesque creatures in flying saucers who’d also capable of mind control. Amidst the town’s residents is Lem (Justin Long), a socially-awkward fellow who’s also skeptical about this whole notion that all aliens are hostile, the girl of his dreams, Neera (Jessica Biel), and his best friend Skiff (Seann William Scott in overdrive mode) who believes everything that’s told about aliens and even adds his own unique spin on them.

Their individual perceptions get put to the test when a NASA astronaut, Chuck (‘The Rock’), lands on their planet expecting to find an uninhabited rock. Only that it isn’t, and he’s now the alien with the planet’s military hot on his heels to dissect his brain. And who’s gonna help him? Lem, Neera and Skiff of course.:)


Like the recent Monsters vs Aliens., there are loads galore of nods to sci-fiction films we all know already. You’ll see lines directly from Star Trek (something about Borg resistance), Star Wars (“You are my only hope!”), The Right Stuff (the 1980s film about the race for Space), and The Terminator. Not surprisingly though, few of those references as humor work. In fact, the funniest bits are typically the ones that are original. One particular standout is a hilarious scene where our group of intrepid heroes get surrounded by army goons led by a General Grawl (voiced by Gary Oldman playing it for outright laughs), and Grawl explains who gets to shoot who if their minds get overtaken by ‘these aliens’.

Interestingly, the film got badly panned by online critics for clunky visuals, cliché characters, and too much slapstick humor. Personally, I don’t think it was nearly quite so bad. Granted, the visuals, character design and animation work don’t quite measure up to what you’d normally see from something that comes out from PIxar, but for a studio producing its first full-length animation film, it still looks alright. The design of aliens won’t appeal to some though: there’re anatomical… er, anomalies to start with, and some of the smaller creature designs look as though they were copied directly from other bit-hit sci-fiction films for laughs without considering if they really fit logically into the film to begin with.

The film is squarely targeted at the younger segment demographic, with its bright color palette, spirited and cheerful music soundtrack, and family-safe themes. I enjoyed this one.:)

The Usual Weekend Pictures

Our weekend routines these days are centered around little Hannah. Putting aside that this couple of days is miserable for me – with a double whammy of coughing and gastric flu – it’s still terrifically fun to watch and record Hannah’s growing days.


Ling reading to Hannah just before setting her down to bed.  She seems drawn to the colorful pictures than anything else.


We tried bathing her without using the baby bath tub too from the last couple of days, and she seems to adjust just fine. The humid weather though has necessitated at least 2-3 such showers a day. No fun carrying a baby that smells.:)


And finally with Lentor granddaddy at Sunday brunch just now. She’s got quite a pensive look as it is, but was very well-behaved as usual. That she got a banana snack between breakfast and a later lunch probably helped loads.:)