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Category: Life

Post-post War

Not to make excuses but the fragmented nature of my posts is a pretty good reflection of my thinking style at the moment: no longer obliged to be coherent, my mind seems to revel in half-thoughts and incomplete expositions. So it was when I finally finished Tony Judt’s mammoth book on European history since the world wars.

The book is as the author admits, a fox instead of a tortoise, and indeed I think it is its chief strength. First, it does justice to what the author knows. For example, when discussing Scandinavian social democracy, he goes to differentiate the models of governance we are so accustomed to thinking of as a bloc. In fact, he does this sort of thing all the time, betraying an extensive familiarity with all of Europe, rather than the England-France-Germany tripartite most people engage with.

So as a general introduction to history, this is a pretty good tome to pick up. But most of all, I like it because it deals with themes of memory, remembrance, guilt and history. It manages to fit the things I know about Europe now (the various countries today and things like the Eurozone crisis) into context. In fact, in his bit about the Maastricht treaty, his observations about the monetary union are remarkably similar to what is being said now. Judt may not be a pathbreaking economic thinker, but he often shows us that what we find novel is a rehashed version of something else in history. Or as Ecclesiastes puts it: “there is nothing new under the sun”.

I had the misfortune of being stuck in camp yesterday defending the nation by standing around for 8 hours while Crystal left to return to New York. And as we both noticed, it’s a strange inversion, is it not? I was the one crazy about the US last year and she about Cambridge and now she’s in Columbia and I’m probably going to Oxford. I guess it all works out in the end.

P.S. After putting it back on the shelf, I suddenly felt a sense of loneliness, the sort of emptiness Carol Ann Duffy was talking about, now that something that has been with me for so long (15 days) and featured so prominently in my life in that period of time will now be gone. What does that say about my prospects for a real relationship with a real person?



I got my letter from Oxford today, admitting me to study PPE in the year 2013 at St. Hilda’s College!


I chose Tony Judt’s Postwar as my new year big book and after a few chapters, I must say it’s really good. Not just because it is really well-written but also because Judt’s conception is tinged with themes of memory, history and continuity. Strangely enough, for an author so good at mustering up a sense of the zeitgeist of the immediate post-war years (the part I’m at now), his writing steers clear of a master narrative, as he himself notes, and this does credit to the complex and haphazard Europe in those days (and style-wise avoids incessant repetition, given the tendency for dominant narrative theorists to see everything as fuel for their fire).

In other news, happy new year everybody! I was initially rather apathetic to the start of what is surely my annus horribilis, but am now in a suitably festive mood. Here’s to a year of reading too much, writing too little and doing little much else!


Do you know how your life seems to get better year on year? Well, me neither. All things considered, 2011 was a pretty shit year and 2012 promises to be even worse. So hurrah everybody! Let’s hope the world doesn’t end before I go to college!

So here are some of the things that made 2011 what it was:

1) Interning

I really loved 9 to 5 at Clarke Quay. Isn’t it terribly grown-up to pick up a coffee before heading to your desk to finish some reports before lunch? Not to mention meeting some good friends there: Mel, Zhan Sheng and getting to know some old ones better.

2) BMT

Read earlier post. ‘Nuff said.

3) Friends leaving for college

Ahh. I used to hear planes fly over Tekong and wish that I was on one of those. I was really heartbroken when Crystal and Joyce left for college, and left me feeling rather listless in this ruin. 1 year and 4 months to go.

4) Reading way too much


5) Discovering that comics store

I realised that there is a really pleasant comic book store in Dhoby Ghaut and one of my chief pleasure this year has been to visit it weekly or fortnightly for my comic book fix.

There’s a lot to like in the comic world in 2011. The new Wonder Woman reboot is really sizzling. Hey it’s the new year! Here’s a picture:

Generation Hope is also pretty promising, especially with this cool new character:

6) Army friends and enemies

Some really cool people like Dutt and Nikhil and Ruihan and others. Some tolerable people (here’s looking at you, Kenneth). And then, the Aravinds and the Marcuses who just seem a little hostile. Here’s to a big hearty shrug.

7) Blogosphere and generally exciting, if depressing year

All eyes on you 2012. 2011 threw quite a tantrum and there’s no lack of loose ends to be picked up in this new year!

Happy New Year everybody!

Work Work

I am existing in this peculiar stage of half-expectation: that is there is something to look forward to in the horizon but it is so far off that it hasn’t registered yet, such that I still feel enveloped by an immobilising miasma. I predict that life would be a lot more rosy after I get my laptop back from the shop and when that blasted letter finally comes.

Till then, I guess it’s just day to day work and reading that occupies me. I am working as a technician for some sort of dino-tank, and it’s one of those things that I like and dislike in equal measure. On one hand, it’s terribly hard work and it gets tiresome and weary. But yet there is a sense of accomplishment when you have dislodged a stubborn brake caliper, connected a tricky cable and changed an inconveniently placed filter. It makes me feel a little grown up wading around in 5 different types of oil without flinching. Pathetic, I know.

Today is one of the better days, when I do not feel generally degenerate sitting around with Dutt and Kenneth all the time. I’m glad to say today I contorted and twisted around in the belly of the beast with the best of them. A little futile in the grand scale of things but at least I managed to feel a little deluded for one more day.


Reading takes up most of my free time now, although I have limply resolved to write more, since reading can be so passive. I have began keeping lists of books I have read: I have catalogued the books I have in my house (over 200 of them!) and am on goodreads (username alvinenator) and I am keeping this notebook which I update every time I finish something.

Just a note here about a book I have really enjoyed about a theme close to my heart: W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants which is so another brilliant entry in the line of books with unbearably precise and incisive prose and unflinching realism. The parted nature of this book reminded me of the equally brilliant Dubliners by James Joyce (although the fragments are longer). In it, Sebald writes as an unnamed emigre narrator who at points in his life is caught up with the story of four emigrants from Germany or Germanic lands. Every single one of them is brilliant. Particularly, I love the sense of being alien that I think is fundamental to all emigrant experiences. This works both ways: towards the home country where you no longer belong and towards the host country where you can never truly belong.

This I think is the central conflict of being an emigrant: the lingering concept of your nationality that remains to be resolved. There is no pretending that there can ever be a clean cleavage. If so, why do you maintain such an interest in the homeland? Why are you affected by the feeling that the country has changed and no longer fits you? The emigrant experience naturally is one tinged with a little sadness, and I think this is what makes it quite poignant.

Another theme that has been haunting me since the death of Christopher Hitchens is the relationship between essay and essayist. I think Hitchens is a pretty good essayist, not a brilliant one, but one who is consistently good and incisive and astute. But what is the point of so impermanent a form. What is the essayist trying to accomplish? Is it possible to write so many of these short pieces without Ozymandias repeatedly coming to mind?

No Light, No Light

Florence comes up with some rather predictable but still rather enjoyable songs, with this being the latest addition to the stable:

And that refrain! So wonderfully shoutable, and so adequate in times of mild despair, imagined or otherwise. It seems that life is so full of gentle melancholy; in a way, wistful, lilting and very melodious.

I don’t know why it bothers me to distraction. No, that is an exaggeration. But I am bothered by it, and that is enough for Joyce to condemn me and for me to wonder she is right. 491 days to the end of this nonsense in less than an hour.

RIP Hitch

You sometimes wonder whether all this holding of strong opinions and beating down of opponents is the mark of great man, then you get a gem like this:

“If you gave Falwell an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox.” on Jerry Falwell

RIP Hitch.

Popular Music

I have been going through 3 sets of the Top 40 while reading a book, and I can with great authority summarise the major songwriting tropes in modern music:

1) Trampy singer-songwriter

Epitomised by Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz, Olly Murs etc. Their songs are mostly more mellow fare, and offer common expositions about how their love is spurned. Generally popular with the sort of people who imagine themselves fun, sensitive types. Examples include: Grenade by Bruno Mars and Lucky by Jason Mraz. Female variants include Colbie Caillat. I mean, some guy had the nerve to call his song “Please Don’t Let Me Go”. The idea is to disguise that desperation a little, fella.

2) Club cliche

Ooh look at me. I’m into this partying, grinding thing! If I’m male, I might have more animalistic and unsavory views of women. If I’m female, my sluttiness is an expression of the female sexuality! Wooh, I feel so good because I’m partying!

Egregious offenders include Flo Ri Da, David Guetta and Pitbull. And LMFAO. The anthem of this outfit is arguably Party Rock Anthem. Everyday I’m shufflin’!

3) Rapping

Just loads and loads and loads of words mumbled over a drone track. Sometimes mildly psychedelic, other times, boring and incoherent. And all so mundane. No examples spring to mind.

4) Spacey pop hip-hop

Rapper with choruses sung by female vocalists. In all fairness, a fairly enjoyable trope, almost a bit like the 12-bar blues of hip hop. Coming Home by Skylar and Diddy, Stan by Eminem and Dido, (Eminem does a fair few of these, with Rihanna, with Skylar again). Also Empire State of Mind by Jay Z and Alicia Keys. Makes you wonder why Jay-Z needs Alicia Keys when he has Beyonce.

5) Female beatpop

Rambunctious lyrics over a club beat. Hypnotising enough for us, mere mammals. Lady Gaga is a master of the genre. Run the World by Beyonce is a half-decent contender. Less overtly clubby versions spring from Madonna, were developed by Britney et al, and now are dispensed by Katy Perry

6) Female power vocals

Amy Winehouse pioneered this, but now Adele has a distinctly pop-ish take on this. I say Amy Winehouse, because the divas in the past were more generally fabulous and less intimately personal. Or if you prefer, their music was less claustrophobic. Or if you prefer, Adele sings tampon-pop.


A hundred bucks isn’t bad. But.

Here is my essay on immigration. The abstract is below:


In this essay, I argue that the opportunities immigration brings depend on the direction our economy takes in the future. In my opinion, this involves a move to high knowledge-based industries, and in particular, creative industries. To best achieve this, I argue that we need to reduce our dependence on cheap low-skilled foreign labour and instead establish Singapore as a destination for creative and skilled talent. This is not simply a matter of building facilities and offering incentives. It requires a social change. Strong-handed social intervention by the government, and a slapdash national identity due to the patchwork nature of the politics of pragmatism have created an environment hostile towards ideas that challenge the status quo.

I also argue that the main challenges we face are related to the problem of density. One solution is to make each body in Singapore count for more. Another is for Singapore to develop systems with loads of spare capacity (to increase elasticity of supply). However, this comes at the cost of upkeep costs (with which HDB had a particularly bad experience during the Asian financial crisis). Ultimately, it may simply be that more packed streets are simply a price to pay for the benefits immigrants bring.

I conclude with the assertion that the immigration of skilled workers is desirable. First, I address the issues of greater density and argue that Singapore can look at other major cities who are addressing these issues. Second, I advance the position that the most crucial step to encouraging immigration of such workers is fostering a culture of innovation. One possible point of intervention through which we can do this is through universities, where a homogeneity of thought can be broken up, and people can be exposed to different knowledge and skill sets.