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the simple life

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Books / Haruki Murakami Interview

Just finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I didn't understand it fully, but all that weirdness makes me feel alive and delirious.

It is quite astonishing.

Found here, his interview on Salon.com.

An excerpt:

Q: You say that imagination is very important in your works. Sometimes your novels are very realistic, and then sometimes they get very ... metaphysical.

A: I write weird stories. I don't know why I like weirdness so much. Myself, I'm a very realistic person. I don't trust anything New Age -- or reincarnation, dreams, Tarot, horoscopes. I don't trust anything like that at all. I wake up at 6 in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. I'm very realistic. But when I write, I write weird. That's very strange. When I'm getting more and more serious, I'm getting more and more weird. When I want to write about the reality of society and the world, it gets weird. Many people ask me why, and I can't answer that. But I recognized when I was interviewing those 63 ordinary people -- they were very straightforward, very simple, very ordinary, but their stories were sometimes very weird. That was interesting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Beethoven Experience

Cinnamon Akasaka, my favourite character in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, listens to classical music.

"One week he would listen to nothing but Rossini's sacred music, and another week Vivaldi's concertos for wind instruments, repeating them so often that I ended up memorizing the melodies."

They don't have Rossini and Vivaldi but the BBC is serving up The Beethoven Experience. For 7 days only, Symphony no.6 & Symphony no.7 are available for download. I already missed out 1-5 so don't delay.

(Updated, first july: no.8 and no.9 available)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Street Names / History

Restore street names to preserve history

Street & Building Names Board should hold shows to educate young

Monday • June 27, 2005

In the Bedok area there is Koh Sek Lim Road, and almost parallel to it is Xilin Avenue.

Even the descendants of Koh Sek Lim are not aware that both names refer to their grandfather.

It would be more meaningful if the Street & Building Names Board (SBNB) would consider changing Xilin Avenue to Koh Sek Lim Avenue.

As this highway is devoid of residences, such a move would not cause any inconvenience by way of people having to change their addresses.

A similar confusion over names arises with Nee Soon and Yishun, both of which refer to Mr Lim Nee Soon.

People also perhaps do not realise that the Nee Soon Central Community Centre in Yishun Street 72 are both named after the same person.

There are numerous picturesque old names which have disappeared from the scene and are waiting to be resurrected — Telok Mata Ikan, Beting Kusa, Padang Terbakar, Ayer Manis, Wayang Satu, Rumah Miskin, Sepoy Lines and Keat Hong — names with historical memories that bind a people.

Sepoy Lines was where the sepoys (Indian soldiers) lived in their Lines (barracks) on the grounds of the Outram Road General Hospital.

In 1995, Mr Lim Chee Onn, as chairman of the National Heritage Board (NHB), suggested that in order "to accelerate the moulding of our national identity", the NHB could include, "as its additional objective, the preservation and restoration of historical names".

The Czech author, Milan Kundera, also said: "The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its people ... Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was."

For instance, if we had kept on calling the market Zhujiao, people would have forgotten about Tekka and what it meant to us — as has happened to Hock Lam Street where Funan Centre now stands.

To educate the young, the SBNB could hold photographic street exhibitions: For example, outside Zouk as to who Tan Jiak Kim was; in Amber Road, for them to discover that it was named after a member of the Elias family, one of whose mansions is still standing there; and in Emerald Hill Road, where originally William Cuppage had his nutmeg plantation in 1837.

Lee Kip Lee

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Explore / Dream / Discover

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
- Mark Twain

Death / Evolve

From The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)

"If people lived for ever - if they never got any older - if they could just go on living in this world, never dying, always healthy - do you think they'd bother to think hard about things, the way we're doing now? I mean, we think about just about everything, more or less - philosophy, psychology, logic. Religion. Literature. I think, if there were no such thing as death, that complicated thoughts and ideas like that would never come into the world...so we need death to make us evolve. Thats what I think. Death is this huge, bright thing, and the bigger and brighter it is, the more we have to drive ourselves thinking about things."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Myth of Tomorrow

I'm glad some of you were inspired by Steve Job's speech at Stanford.

Let me quote him: "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life."

A day after reading this, I was in Queenstown Library and spent an afternoon with "The Myth of Tomorrow."

Like Jobs, Buffone argues about the importance of thinking about death. As a psychologist, he works with hundreds of people who came close to death but survived. In the face of such "urgent experiences", death becomes the ultimate wake-up call. Changes occur almost overnight for these death-survivors including:

1) A rearrangement of life's priorities
2) an enhanced sense of living in the present
3) deeper communication with loved ones
4) a greater appreciation for the fragility and preciousness of life
5) fewer interpersonal fears and a greater willingness to take risks

Basically, Buffone is saying that if we confront the idea of dying and realise its imminence, we will be inspired not to take things for granted, take hold of today and do the things that really matter, instead of waiting for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a myth.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Neil Gaiman in Singapore

Neil Gaiman in Singapore

Date: 4 to 6 July 2005
Time: Please refer to the schedule

Organiser: British Council

Venue: Please refer to the schedule

British council contact: lena.stgeorge@britishcouncil.org.sg

The British Council will be bringing out UK writer Neil Gaiman 'famed for his Sandman comics - in the DC comics stable - and critically acclaimed novels like Coraline'. We tried bringing him out two years ago, but our plans were thwarted as he was busy turning his novel into a movie called MirrorMask, together with frequent collaborator/illustrator, Dave McKean.

He is currently adapting Coraline, a children's book, into a movie. He is also directing Death, a movie based on his comic creation of the same name, and writing a script to Beowulf - the earliest surviving epic poem in English about an Iron Age hero - for Hollywood director Robert Zemeckis.

According to Sherwin Loh of The Straits Times, 'It seems food is the one thing Gaiman is looking forward to here. As he puts it on his website: "I bet there are interesting things to eat in Singapore"'


Press Conference (for press only)
Date: Monday 4 July
Time: 10 a.m.
Venue: British Council
Please confirm your attendance with Lay Hong on 64707167

Talk, Screening of 15 minutes of an extended trailer and a complete scene from MirrorMask and Book Signing
Date: Monday 4 July
Time: 4.30 p.m and 7.30 p.m
Venue: Orchard Cineleisure (6th level)
Tickets: $8 per session available from 17 June from Comics Mart Pte Ltd (at any one of their outlets):
- 10 Jalan Serene, #02-05 Serene Centre, Tel: 6466 4213
- 8 Grange Road, #03-02 Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, Tel: 6836 9069
- 252 North Bridge Road,#03-11 Raffles City Shopping Centre, Tel:6883

Admission to all the events below is free.

As the space at library@orchard at 7.15 pm on Tuesday 5 July is limited, please register with the British Council at ker.layhong@britishcouncil.org.sg if you would like to attend this session.

We have decided not to take registration for the book-signings (which will be on a first-come-first served basis) at Kinokuniya and Borders.

Book Signing
Date: Tuesday 5 July
Time: 4.00 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.
Venue: Kinokuniya Book Store at Ngee Ann City

Chaired by Mr Peter Schoppert, Chairman, Singapore Writers Festival supported by the National Library Board
Date: Tuesday 5 July 2005
Time: 7.15 p.m.
Venue: library@orchard

Talk and Book Signing
Date: Wednesday 6 July 2005
Time: 6 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.
Venue: Borders

NB: As we are expecting a big crowd at all these sessions, we will need to restrict everyone to 3 books/items for Neil's autograph.

Movie Quotes

The top 10 most memorable quotes, according to the American Film Institute:

1. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" - Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse" - The Godfather (1972)
3. "You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." - On the Waterfront (1954)
4. "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." - The Wizard of Oz (1939)
5. "Here's looking at you, kid." - Casablanca (1942)
6. "Go ahead, make my day." - Sudden Impact (1983)
7. "All right, Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." - Sunset Boulevard (1950)
8. "May the Force be with You." - Star Wars (1977)
9. "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." - All About Eve (1950)
10. You Talking to Me?" - Taxi Driver (1976)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Monty Hall

Days after reading about the Monty Hall problem in the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, I saw it appear again in Numb3rs Season 1 Episode 13.

Here's a link.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Stanford Report, June 14, 2005

'You've got to find what you love,' Jobs says

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky – I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation - the Macintosh - a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I retuned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Friday, June 17, 2005

2 Words

2 Words

Batman Begins.

Watch it.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Red Meat

I post this with certain hesitation.

Some of you know that I'm semi-vegetarian (I don't eat meat except fish/seafood). I make an exception when I travel (in the US, I had half a burger and in Japan recently, I had a tiny piece of yakitori).

I'm not posting this with an holier-than-thou attitude. Neither am I going to say I-told-you-so. Cancer is a humbling thing. You can eat right and still can get cancer. But if eating less meat means decreasing the risks, some of you might want to consider.

For those of you who are interested, it's not as difficult as it sounds. I'm not known for my tremendous will-power but one day I decided to stop and since then, it's been smooth sailing.

If you decide not to go all the way, even cutting down on meat is very wise.

Take time to read this:

"International scientists yesterday delivered a long-awaited verdict on red meat, concluding in a definitive study of the eating habits of half a million people that beef, lamb, pork, veal and their processed varieties such as ham and bacon, increase the risk of bowel cancer.

Those who eat two portions a day - equivalent to a bacon sandwich and a fillet steak - increase their risk of bowel cancer by 35% over those who eat just one portion a week, the study found.

The World Health Organisation's international agency for research on cancer (IARC) called for everybody to eat more fish and less meat. "

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

And then it is simple

I finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage Contemporaries) by Mark Haddon today.

From autistic Christopher, words of wisdom:

"Mrs. Forbes said that hating yellow and brown is just being silly. And Siobhan said that she shouldn't say things like that and everyone has favorite colors. And Siobhan was right. But Mrs. Forbes was a bit right, too. Because it is sort of being silly. But in life you have to take lots of decisions and if you don't take decisions you would never do anything because you would spend all your time choosing between things you could do. So it is good to have a reason why you hate some things and you like others. It is like being in a restaurant like when Father takes me out to a Berni Inn sometimes and you look at the menu and you have to choose what you are going to have. But you don't know if you are going to like something because you haven't tasted it yet, so you have favorite foods and you choose these, and you have foods you don't like and you don't choose these, and then it is simple. "

Monday, June 13, 2005

Bored / Busy

Now that football is having its break, I'm bored.

And what timing too - television is also getting stale.

Num3rs and Lost have breaks before Season 2. Everybody Loves Raymond has ended. CSI just finished its season finale (directed by Quentin Tarantino). There is only Simpsons then (the last one was great - Homer and Bart turned to Catholicism). And I have waited endlessly for Battlestar Galactica.

There's only books then and there's a pile of them.

Just finished The Winter Queen (Erast Fandorin Mysteries) by Boris Akunin (Great, didn't seem translated at all).

Probably 100 pages into Out : A Novel by Natsuo Kirino.

Just got my hands on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage Contemporaries) by Mark Haddon (Glad it's thin, with the amount of books I have) from a friend who borrowed from the library.

Bought 2 books from the last Kinokuniya sale: A Random Walk Down Wall Street: Completely Revised and Updated Eighth Edition by Burton G. Malkiel

and Bull's Eye Investing: Targeting Real Returns in a Smoke and Mirrors Market by John Mauldin (thought I support John since I received his free newsletter every Saturday).

And I just reserved Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro at the library.

Oh yeah, picked up again, from the library - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle : A Novel by Haruki Murakami - S Tan's recommendation.

That's a lot.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

11 Steps to a Better Brain

Note to self: Read this.

You are what you eat, and that includes your brain. So what is the ultimate mastermind diet?

Breakfast: Beans on toast or Wholemeal bread with Marmite

Lunch: Omelette with salad + yougurt dessert

Dinner: Fish + strawberries and blueberries

Lost / Behind the Seen

Lost, the television series, finally comes to Singapore.

Thanks to a little piece of technology called torrents, I have seen every episode of Season 1, including the finale.

And it is good.

No, make it great. The best thing that happened to television since CSI.

In the age of torrents and TiVio, you wonder whether television, with its ads and bad timing, continues to be relevant.

Television must do more.


Saw in the Orchard library today, Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema

Man, there's too much to read but this should be fascinating.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

If I can dream

"Deep in my heart there’s a trembling question"

- Elvis Presley's If I Can Dream

Terrors of Tokyo

Just came back from Tokyo.

It was a good trip, except I was ill. Not to mention, the terrifying old ladies of Tokyo.

After 2 days at the Hotel New Otani, I moved to the Hotel Yaesu-Ryumeikan, an almost perfect location for that price, with its close proximity to Tokyo Station and Ginza.

I paid US$68 a night for a Western style room, without an attached bathroom.

The public bathroom was next to to my room so out I went to check whether it was available. To my horror, as I entered its outer door, a naked old lady holding a piece of towel, in one hand, barely covering her modesty walked out towards me.

I just ran.

Back to my room. Locked the door. Catch my breath.


In the subway, I sat opposite a mad old woman, who was singing, what seemed to me, a rather patriotic song and talking at the top of her voice. I've seen my share of mad people, usually on television, at a place called Old Trafford, but this is something else. Japanese are rather reserved, very private people. So for a woman in Japan to be so loud, no matter how mad, is uncomfortable. It was interesting to see how the others reacted. No one really smiled, save for a teenage girl, who tried hard not to laugh. Most were clearly uncomfortable. That's probably better than indifferent.

At Yoyogi Park, on my way to the Meiji Shrine, I fell. I landed on my side. First thing I saw was a group of old ladies. Judging from the sound of their squeals, me falling was probably one of the most exciting things that happened to them. Anyway, I got up, bowed several times and made a graceful exit.