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Thursday, April 28, 2005

SBS irritation

As if SBS Transit couldn't irritate its passengers any more by including TV Mobile (TV on buses, sometimes with the volume turned deafeningly up), it has raised the level of irritation to a whole new level through advertising.

I was on Service No. 30 two days ago and when I got on the bus, I noticed this display just next to the entrance. It had two plastic domes showing the little Axe Brand Medicated Oil bottles.

Aside: Who, besides old folks, still uses Axe Brand Medicated Oil???

The display was nice and different from the usual posters. No, it wasn't irritating at all. What was irritating was the use of the advertiser's jingle every time the front door opened.

The jingle sounds like a ringtone and lasts for about 10 seconds. It's okay for one or two times, but not every freakin' time the door opens! There is about one bus stop every minute, so on a two-hour bus ride (the average duration of a local bus service), the jingle comes on more than 100 times. I suspect that that's why the bus was moving faster than expected -- the driver wanted to finish his journey just so he could avoid listening to the darn tune!

SBS Transit, would you please spare a thought, if not for your passengers, then for your overworked bus drivers captains? Singapore road conditions are bad enough. They don't need to hear the same jingle over and over and over and over and over and over and over and...

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Some pictures from Timor-Leste

In lieu of my update, here are some pictures from a member of the group (from another church).

Timor Leste: A Nation Recovers

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Blind date #6

As far as I was concerned, this was a non-date to me. It was just a meeting of two people who happened to be thrown together by circumstances.

It was at 2 Door Restaurant, which is a very exquisite, upclass and expensive place that I have zero intention of returning to. I suppose it's a nice place if you're a loaded yuppie, but not me.

She: Indian, slightly on the plumpish side, friendly, sales manager in a university textbook publishing company, drives a company-sponsored car, goes pubbing/clubbing regularly with her girl friends, was a conservative girl when younger but not as much when older.

She arrived about 15 minutes late, but that was fine with me. We talked a bit about our work and families. We also found out more about each other's tastes in movies, music and TV. I talked somewhat about my university education in the U.S. She told me about how she can get impatient on the road.

The thing is, I never got a good "feel" (NOT the physical touch-feel) of her. There was no spark, no connection, no chemistry. Thus it was that she was the first of all of my dates that I didn't ask for her contact information. She didn't ask for mine either, anyway.

We stayed for about an hour, and then we went off on our own.

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Where I lived in the U.S.

Thanks to Google Maps, I can now have a satellite view of the places I called home during my five years in the U.S.
  • 615 West Johnson Street (September 1998 - May 2000)
    (inaccurate - it's the building just to the southwest of Google's marker, not the road itself)
  • 110 South Brooks Street (May 2000 - August 2001)
    (inaccurate - this is Meriter Hospital (I think), the correct building is across the road on the west and slightly to the south of Google's marker)
  • 305 North Frances Street (September 2001 - July 2003)
    (more accurately, it's the building just to the north of Google's marker, not the roadside itself)
Now if only I can remember the exact apartment numbers...

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Back from Timor-Leste

Just to let everyone know that I'm back from my trip. Actually, I had returned on Friday night.

Will update soon, but these will be backdated, so keep an eye out for them.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Timor-Leste day 5

At the airport
The last day of our trip began with me waking up at about 7:15am. I joined the others for breakfast at the hotel's restaurant and ate some bee hoon and other stuff. The TV was on and it was showing the local news by TV Timor-Leste, but I couldn't understand a word because it was in Tetun (I think). But from the pictures, it showed that the *only* story of the day was about the previous day's protests and responses from government leaders, including the president.

A debriefing session started at 8am. Everyone, including those who had gone to the othere villages, gathered in the restaurant to hear from each church group. It was quite interesting to hear the different stories. For those of us who stayed in Dili, we learned about life in the rural villages, i.e. no running water, sleeping in wooden sheds. Ruth told the group about our church's objective on this trip (to recce the area) and said that we now had a better idea of what to present to the church about the country.

The debriefing ended with some words from Bishop Moses. He stressed on a few things. One of them is that we should move away from the word "adoption" and use "partnership" instead, which denotes a more equal pairing between Singaporean churches and Timorese villages. He also wished that the churches would move out of the comfortable Dili to the far-flung villages. And he told us to be watchful of the government's policies, especially with the possible election of a staunch Catholic to be the new president.

After the debrief, my church team held its own debriefing, basically to gather our feedback on our feelings of the trip and what we thought RCC's involvement should be.

At 10am, we returned to our rooms. I packed up my stuff, which fortunately wasn't a lot. It was definitely not a bittersweet parting with the little room. I checked out with the others and paid US$60 for the three nights.

We went to the airport at 11am. On the way, I felt nostalgic. I don't know if/when I'll return, so this was going to be my last look at Dili. I looked at the rundown houses, the undernourished people, the plentiful vegetation, the dusty roads, the dried out rivers. I wanted to remember these images for a long time.

At the airport, as we waited for everyone to arrive, I realised that after the four days together, we didn't even have a group photo of our church team! Church members would see pictures of Timor-Leste but none of the team members. So I suggested a group picture. In the end, we included members from the other teams. After all, after four days together, we were practically one big team.

Checking in at the airport was a relatively smooth process. There's only one area for check-in with three counters. There were no questions asked as we got our boarding passes. Then we went to another counter window to pay our airport tax, US$10 per person. And then we just had to wait for our flight. A few of us got together and talked about how we could collaborate to show our joint experience, e.g. setting up a website.

We went into the passenger area at about 12pm and waited... and waited... and waited... And then we learned that the plane from Bali had been delayed. Since this is the same plane that would take us to Bali, that meant our return flight had also been delayed. To complicate matters, we would miss our next flight from Bali to Singapore. The team leaders quickly got together to inform Garuda Airlines about our delay.

Meanwhile, the rest of us just hung out. It was lunchtime and we were hungry. Biscuits appeared on the scene, including my untouched Oreo biscuits. We also learned from our team leaders that they had successfully arranged for the Garuda plane to wait at Bali for us.

Finally, at around 2pm, we saw the Merpati airplane arrive. An hour later, we were aboard and soon on our way back to Bali. At Bali Airport, we were rushed through transit by a Garuda staffer. He helped us get our boarding passes in double-quick time. While he did his thing behind the scenes, all we could do is go up one level and wait for him at the departure area. A few folks bought ice-cream to bide the time.

About half an hour after we had arrived in Bali, we were in line for the Garuda plane. This too went smoothly since we were the last of the passengers to board. I didn't notice any sour faces from the other passengers, though, so *whew*!

And then it was home sweet home.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Timor-Leste day 4

Beach boys
Today was going to be another eventful day of visits. It started in the morning at 9am, when we met in the hotel lobby. From there, we went to a kindergarten-cum-adult school, which was near the airport, or at least I thought it was, judging by the direction that we travelled.

When we arrived, with our cameras in full swing, the kids immediately ran to us and started performing. We recorded and photographed them, as they posed and laughed and pointed and showed off their artwork. I think there must have been 30 of them and were around five years old. Later, their teacher organised them in class to sing a welcome song in Tetun.

After being entertained by them (or was it the other way around?), we talked to the teachers, who were Portuguese missionaries, and found out more about their needs. Some of their computers -- which incidentally came from DBS Bank (I don't know if they were purposely donated) -- weren't working and one of the group said that it could be due to software corruption.

Aside: when Windows isn't working, it's always a software problem, with only one remedy: full-scale reinstallation of the operating system.

The school didn't have the installation discs on hand, so there was very little that could be done. I suggested copying all of the files from one working computer. We did it for about half an hour, then the group member decided to pull the plug on the process because "it was taking too long".

I didn't want to argue, and went to explore the rest of the school. Besides the classrooms, there was a playroom (complete with a "Finding Nemo" poster), a kitchen, and some other classrooms for adult education. I found another missionary teaching a group of about 10 adults some simple English.

At 11:30am, we went to Oportunidade Timor Larosa'e (OTL), which is part of the NGO, Opportunity International. This organisation provides business loans to fund small local businesses, like provision stores or farming needs. It works on a loan-and-repayment-with-interest scheme so that the lenders don't think that it's a handout.

Apparently, there had been a mix-up about our arrival, because OTL had arranged a village visit for us, but that had to be scrapped due to our schedule. We listened to a presentation by the OTL staffers about their work in Timor-Leste to understand better how we can work with them to benefit the Timorese.

After that, it was time for a buffet lunch at a Chinese restaurant. As seems to be the custom when dining at a Chinese restaurant, a few pastors chatted with the owner and befriended her, thus possibly smoothing our way into Timor-Leste, or at least Dili. Over lunch, I chatted with a few others about church and youth matters. For instance, I learned that at one church, teenagers are discouraged from going on one-to-one dates. If any of them flout that rule, they are counselled, possibly scolded, and worse comes to worst, forced to break up. Quite bizarre, in my book.

There was nothing planned for the afternoon, so I and a few others (Kevin, Li Shan, Eu Lee, and Ernie) went to attend the demonstration by the seaside. As soon as we arrived at the scene, some organisers approached us, as if to prevent us from proceeding further. Fortunately, we had two things in our favour:
  1. Eu Lee, who could speak Bahasa Melayu, and
  2. we were foreigners, and therefore had no ties to the government.
We were escorted from one end of the road to the other, about five minutes away. As we walked, bystanders gazed at us. It was both intimidating and fascinating, and quite the experience of a lifetime to be at the edge of suspicion.

At the other end of the road, we found some tables with statues of the Virgin Mary, and two banners hanging overhead. There was also a police guard, looking all serious and threatening. As I was taking photos, a local approached me and started talking. He introduced himself as Benjito, and had just returned home after working in India for a while. He explained that the demonstration was primarily to demand for religious education in the school's curriculum. Each of the Virgin Mary statues represented a province in Timor Leste. He also translated the banners roughly: "There is money but the people don't get it. Who is responsible? The government." and "We don't want dictator Alkatiri" (the prime minister).

Some time later, we learned that a group from the province of Bacau had just arrived and would be demonstrating down the street. There were about a hundred of them, with a single nun in front who led the chants and songs. I don't know what she was saying, because she spoke in Tetun, but as in any demonstration, her words were accepted and repeated by the people.

We stayed for about an hour, taking photos and recording more video. Li Shan had made contact with a local journalist, who told us the same thing that Benjito had told me. This journalist then led us out of the area to the nearby beach. As we walked down the sandy shore, we saw a group of young boys swimming and playing in the open water amidst a run-down jetty and some wooden boats. When they saw us with our cameras, they started performing, like waving their arms and making exaggerated dives into the water.

Most of all, what I remember is that they were naked. Not a shred of clothing. Imagine finding that in Singapore!

We stayed for a short while, then made our way back to the hotel. Along the way, we passed the Xanana Reading Room, which is also a museum for the president. We found photos and journals recording the country's fight for independence, and the man who inspired them. There were also awards and medals from countries like Indonesia, South Korea, some European countries, etc. Interestingly, I couldn't find any medal or trinket from Singapore.

The reading rooms were filled with story books and magazines from all around the world. There was also a souvenir shop, where I picked up a CD, "Ita Nian Rasik" ("Our Own") by Teodozio Batista Ximenes. Li Shan had been talking to the volunteer at the front desk, Marcopolo Albino. We learned that he's a Christian and therefore discriminated against in this Catholic land. But he lived with it and managed to get by.

On the way back, we browsed in a music and video store (US$2.50 per pirated DVD) and a grocery store, Cold Storage.

I rested in the hotel and prepared for the night. At OTL, the staffers mentioned that they would be giving a presentation at a village that night, and invited a few of us to attend. I was one of the five who was picked (the rest went to a prayer meeting at WorldVision). First, it was dinner at the hotel's restaurant: fried vermicelli, kway teow, and an omelette.

The five of us departed for the village at 7pm. It was about an hour or so drive out of Dili, following the road to Liquisa, and halfway up a mountain. There was a moment when a cow was standing in the middle of the road, and we had to wait for it to cross to the other side.

We arrived at the headman's house in Mausoei at 8pm. The presentation was already underway. We talked with two OTL staffers, Litu and Felisarda, and learned a few things about the village and OTL's involvement there, such as:
  • there were about 200 families
  • there were about 25 clients with loans starting at US$50
  • businesses include a bakery, coconut sweet shop, broom shop
  • coffee is grown on the hills
  • there is no electricity after dark
The presentation consisted of a video detailing OTL's services, and a case study in Ghana. Almost everyone sat on the dirt ground, with some sitting nearby on the hill. We were ushered to plastic seats and given tea and cubed banana with bitter beans or seeds embedded inside. The latter was yucky, but the tea was nice. However, I was partly afraid to finish it for fear of getting an upset stomach.

After the presentation, a movie was shown, apparently to draw villagers. This time, the movie was "Mercy Streets", an independent action drama hailing from the U.S. of A. We were amused when the audience gasped as the male and female leads kissed. And they were enthralled by the climactic fight scene. I don't know if they understood the movie since it was in English, though it had Bahasa Indonesian subtitles.

At 10pm, after the movie ended, we returned to the hotel. I met a few people at the restaurant, who were having a late supper. We talked about a bunch of stuff, but it ended with us bad-mouthing a fellow church member. Ah, that was evil.

I returned to my room at 11pm and, after bathing, watched the tail end of "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story", then went to sleep.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Timor-Leste day 3

Village family
I woke up at 6:45am and proceeded to wash up. Breakfast was at 7:10am, consisting of fried noodles and assorted foodstuffs. Today was going to be our trip to a village to assess its needs. After packing my cameras (video and still) and ensuring that I had enough tapes and batteries, I met the rest of the group at the hotel lobby.

We stopped by Alola Foundation at 8am to pick up a local volunteer. Then it was an hour's drive to Liquisa. The drive took us through the city, then along the coast next to a hill, and finally an inland journey with grassland on both sides. We also overtook a group of goats. We were excited by the sight, which made us look like country bumpkins!

We arrived early at the headman's house, and the villagers were in the midst of preparing lunch. Seated on the dirt ground, they cut carrots and other vegetables. Further in, in a bamboo hut with a zinc roof, they cooked the dishes over open fires. This was really a throwback to a simpler life. On one hand, it was unhygienic. On the other, it was totally retro.

Since the villagers weren't ready, the WorldVision volunteer suggested visiting another village, but after driving for half an hour and realising that it was at least another hour away, we turned back. Instead, we went to a community centre for women and children. It was a simple one-storey building built together with South Korean assistance. Inside, there were various rooms for study and play. In the playroom, we saw plastic tables and chairs decorated with Mickey Mouse and Teletubbies. There were also board games and stuffed toys.

Outside, we found a few young children just hanging around. A few of us got to talking with them and learned that they were below 10 years old and waiting for school to begin in the afternoon. In the meantime, they just played by themselves. I should probably mention that the place seemed quite desolate, as if civilisation had totally forgotten about this area. And perhaps it had; one small boy had a parang for a toy.

At 10:30am, we returned to the headman's house to meet the villagers, consisting mostly of widows and children, though there were a few men, the survivors of the massacres of yesteryears, as well. After a Catholic prayer, we listened to them one-by-one as they related their needs. Most of the requests were the same: money for education, money for homes, money for businesses. But they also mentioned that this wasn't the first time they had made such requests, and they hadn't received any aid then, so they were understandably more wary of us.

Lunch was at 12:30pm. On the menu was white rice, bittergourd stew, stir-fried beef, fried chicken, bean soup and bananas. After lunch, my church group and two others followed a 19-year-old girl, Zeila, to visit her house. It was a bamboo and concrete building with four main rooms, and an external kitchen/bathroom. She lived there with her sister, niece (daughter of sister), and grandniece (daughter of niece, granddaughter of sister), a cow, a pig and a few chickens. We looked around at their living conditions, which were decent but not what a Singaporean would be used to, and asked her about her life. She'd already graduated from high school, but needed a job. When asked about what she hopes for her future, she gave us a blank look.

At 1:30pm, we visited a high school. One church, which had been there previously, donated two laptop computers and several old CD-ROMs of encyclopedias. After talking with the principal for a while, we adjourned outside, where he called all of the students (about 100) for assembly. He introduced us to them, and the kids hushed when the bishop in our group was mentioned.

While the principal conferred with a few group members later, the rest of us wandered around the school, which consisted of three one-storey buildings, with three rooms per building. Ruth from my church took up the challenge of teaching to one class of about 20 students. Using an English-to-Bahasa Indonesia book, she taught them the English words for certain body parts. The rest of us supported her with "eye power".

At 2:30pm, it was time to leave and we returned to the community centre area to survey two buildings. LoveSingapore plans to build a hostel for about 200 children in that area, and now we were going to look at two potential sites: a former magistrate court and a former family planning clinic. Both of them were totally destroyed due to the riots and massacre in 1999. All that remained were the floors and walls. Even the roofs were gone!

At 3pm, we left Liquisa and returned to Dili. We went to Delicious Cafe and Bakery to discuss what we had learned that day from our discussions with the villagers. I had a mango iced bubble drink for US$1.50. Later, while some others went to the statue of Jesus, I and a few others stayed behind to relax. We talked for a while with the bakery owner, who was a Chinese Indonesian but has since settled in Dili. He talked about fleeing Timor Leste during the massacre and returning after independence. One of his helpers (or son, I'm not sure) also told us about the hard life as a Protestant, e.g. not being able to worship openly, being shunned when applying for jobs, etc.

I had an evening snooze at 6:15pm at the hotel. At 8pm, we went back to Golden Star Restaurant for dinner. I had lamb stew (US$5) with rice (US$0.50) and a bottle of water (US$0.50). This time, it was just a chance for us to socialise with one another. After dinner, I sat with Pastor Dong, who talked about "luring" single men to his church instead of letting his single women go out to others. Ha.

At 10pm, it was back to the hotel for the night. I bathed, this time facing inwards, then while waiting for my hair to dry, I watched a badly cut "xXx".

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Timor-Leste day 2

Welcome to Timor Leste!
Our first day in Timor-Leste began with breakfast at Bali Rani Hotel at 6:30am. There was a mix of eastern and western food, including sausages, pancakes, eggs, fried noodles, juices, coffee, tea, etc. We left for the airport at 7:45am. We would fly into Dili via Merpati Airlines (a sister company of Garuda Airlines) MZ 8480.

We arrived in Dili at 11:45am. The first thing we had to do was purchase our tourist visa from a container-booth a few metres from the runway. It took nearly an hour to get that done. By then, visitors who were leaving Dili had already boarded the plane that brought us here, and it had flown back to Bali! Fortunately, clearing customs and immigration was a quick and painless affair. I overheard a senior officer tell the men who were attending to us that they could close up after us. Apparently, the airport shuts down after the Merpati flights!

By the time we emerged from the airport, the rest of the group had collected the Toyota Pajero landrovers. We headed straight for Hotel Audian. The drive was an eye-opening one: there are no road markings or traffic lights! Yet the vehicles just move smoothly. We saw a lot of children and teenagers selling foodstuffs on the roadside. This would prove to be a very common sight. As we drove along the coast, we passed the embassies of Brazil, U.S.A., Japan, Korea and others, which were done up very differently (richly) from neighbouring buildings.

We arrived at the hotel at 1.45pm. After filling out the paper registration forms, we went to our rooms. The hotel had apparently messed up their reservations, so we had single rooms instead of doubles, which was fine by me. The room consisted of a bed, dresser, cupboard, and attached bathroom. After putting down our things, we decided to explore our surroundings. We crossed the road, into an alley, and found a group of small children huddled near their home. When Kevin approached them to take photos, they ran away. But an adult nearby knew we were harmless and coaxed them out. In the end, Kevin managed to get some good pictures of them.

We then had lunch at the hotel's resutaurant, which was really just like a cafeteria, albeit with waitresses in non-uniform T-shirts and bermudas. We had Hong Kong noodles, which were saltier and darker than expected. Over lunch, we chatted with Pastors Al and Tim, who are from America and attached to a Singaporean church for a while.

While some people headed for meetings at WorldVision (a Christian NGO that provides development aid) and Alola Foundation (a women and children's charity founded by the First Lady), Kevin, Alex and I joined Al and Tim to visit the Christa Rae, or Statue of Jesus, at Cape Fatucama. This is the second largest such statue in the world, after the one in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro. According to Tim, it was built as a gift by Garuda Airlines to the Timorese for Pope John Paul II's visit.

Unfortunately, the place has fallen into neglect and disrepair. Weeds and overgrowth have taken over the land. Stair railings threatened to fall off at the slightest touch. There were hundreds of steps to climb to the top, but it took only about 20 minutes. On the other hand, I felt nauseous due to the anti-malarial pills that I had just taken. Along the way, we saw bronze plaques that depict the 12 moments leading to Jesus' crucifixion. There are also two open spaces, the larger of which was used to hold the hundreds of people who had turned up for mass which the Pope conducted.

It was hot and dry that day, but there were some welcome respites. Given the altitude and proximity to the coast, there were cool breezes almost at all times. And great views.

The statue itself is probably three storeys tall. But like I said, it had fallen into disrepair, and parts of the globe at the base of the statue threatened to drop off. We took photos, admired the view, and prayed for the country and people. And after that moment, we made our way back down to the dirt car park.

Tim wanted to visit the Santa Cruz Cemetery, which was the site of a fatal riot in the late 1990s. According to him, a young boy was being buried, but somehow it led to a bloody showdown between the Timorese and the Indonesian military, which were the occupational force at that time.

The cemetery is almost right smack in the middle of Dili, but it still took us a while to find it. Even passersby weren't too sure. Along the way, we stopped by the roadside market, where women and children were selling fresh produce. We didn't buy anything, though. We took pictures, gave a girl a chocolate bar, then went on our way.

We finally arrived at our destination at about 5:30pm. There are a lot of graves, mostly of young children who barely made it past a few years. While we were there, a family was conducting a funeral or wake. They were dressed in black and the women wore black bandanas.

We returned to the hotel at 6pm. At 6:30pm, we met in the hotel lobby. The teenage daughter of the owner, who is Singaporean, was there and the few of us chatted with her in Mandarin. Apparently, she's lived in Dili for quite a while and visits Singapore occasionally. But she still knows the main places in the Lion City.

Dinner was at Golden Star Restaurant, just across from the hotel. Like most restaurants, this one is Chinese-owned, though they also served pseudo-western food. Three visitors from WorldVision joined us. The set dinner consisted of Portugese sausage, fried squid, steamed fish fillet, black pepper beef, beef rendang, fried prawns, mixed sauteed vegetables, ice-cream and coffee or tea.

Over dinner, we talked about WorldVision's involvement in Timor Leste. The NGO works with villages in development programmes, like building wells. All projects are done together so that the villages have a sense of ownership. A wise move too, otherwise the Timorese might just take things for granted.

We returned to the hotel after dinner. My church group met in Kevin's room for a short meeting, where we talked about what we were going to do tomorrow at the village visit. We agreed to get a detailed story from a specific villager to use as a case study of life in Timor Leste.

I returned to my room at about 10:15pm. While bathing, I made the mistake of standing with my back to the door, so that the shower sprayed at it. But the gap at the base of the sliding door allowed the water to flow out to my room. Luckily, there wasn't much, but I still had to watch where I stepped. (It didn't dry until late the next day.)

While waiting for my hair to dry, I watched the beginning of "Alex and Emma". Then fatigue overcame me and I went to sleep.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Timor-Leste day 1

Actually, this day shouldn't count. But due to the schedule of the flights, our group had no choice but to leave today. We flew via Garuda Airlines GA 814 to Bali, scheduled at 6:30pm, but the only flight into Dili from Bali is in the morning. Thus the need to spend a night in Bali.

My mum and I took two buses to the airport and arrived at about 4:40pm, 10 minutes later than my church group had planned. By the time we arrived, everyone had checked in already. Since I had planned to carry my bag on the plane, I had nothing to check in and just needed to collect my boarding pass.

To pass the time, we went to the food court in basement one of Terminal 1. A lot of church youths had turned up because two of the five from my church are involved in youth activities. While the other group members ate chicken rice and char kway teow, I just chatted with a few people. This was admittedly my first time interacting so closely with the youth, mostly because they had joined the church while I was in the U.S.

At 5pm, we made our way to the departure area. Our pastor and a few visitors prayed for us, and then we were on our way. After we had cleared immigration, we saw a few people still watching and waving at us. So we did a Mexican wave for them, haha!

As mentioned, the flight was at 6:30pm. I listeneed to music most of the way. The crew didn't give us headphones, but fortunately, I had brought my own earphones. Always plan ahead! I heard later that the toilet was broken, but I wouldn't know because I didn't have to use it. I try to control my bladder by not drinking too much before flights. Always plan ahead x2! Dinner consisted of chicken curry with rice. The movie "After the Sunset" was shown, but I didn't watch it. They also played an episode of "Frasier"... all the way till the plane docked at the airport! I'd never seen that happen before!

We arrived in Bali at about 9:10pm, but it took us a while to disembark because the stairs in front didn't work, so the ground crew had to rig the stairs to the rear door. Clearing customs was a breeze. Then we waited for our (chartered?) taxis to the Bali Rani Hotel. While waiting, we chatted with a few other people in the trip, including Pastor Dong and Li Shan. The hotel itself was four-star standard, i.e. comfortable beds, air-conditioned rooms, usual amenities, wake-up service, etc. We were also served mango juice on arriving, yum!

A few people were heading out for supper, so we joined them at Made's Warung, which was about 15 minutes walk from the hotel. Someone had mentioned that its the best place to get supper in the vicinity, which prompted my question (which may have made me sound pompous): "Have you been to other restaurants? Otherwise, what's your basis of comparison?" But that issue was brushed aside quickly. The dishes ordered included pancakes and milkshakes.

Over supper, the conversation inevitably turned to the recent announcement by the government to build a casino. Pastor Lawrence Chua raised an interesting point: As a secular government, it cannot allow itself to be swayed by the concerns of the various religious groups. It can listen to them and take their views into account, but ultimately, it has to decide what is in the best interests of the country from a secular point of view, e.g. economically.

To clarify his point, he asked us to imagine that the government had decided not to have the casino because of Christian opposition. But if a Muslim government came to power, then Christianity (and other religions) may be marginalised. Could we, as Christians, allow that? Therefore, it made more sense, as Christians, to support the secular decisions of the government. Our solution would be to convert the entire population to Christianity, then there would be no gamblers (theoretically).

We returned to the hotel at 11:15pm. I bathed, watched an episode of "Friends", then went to sleep.

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Gone to Timor-Leste

See you in a week!

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Star Wars 3 and Transformers: The Movie

I downloaded a bunch of desktop wallpapers from Star Wars, which promote "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith". One of them has a picture of Darth Vader, with the words:

"Rise, Lord Vader."

And I expect the next line to be:

"Optimus!"

It's weird, but it's happening to me nonetheless. In "Transformers: The Movie", as Hot Rod opens the Matrix (the source of power for the good guys, the Autobots), the voice of Optimus Prime, the fallen Autobot leader, says in the background, "Arise, Rodimus Prime!" in his low, husky (?) voice. Hot Rod, who transforms into the leader Rodimus Prime, utters his mentor's name in response.

In "Star Wars 3", after Anakin Skywalker has been retrofitted into his cybernetic body, the Emperor, in the background, tells him to rise. And Darth Vader responds, "Yes, master." Again, the disciple calls out to the mentor.

Coincidence?

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MRT armed security

So the Singaporean subway system is to get armed security guards to step up security, you know, against terrorists. But you and I know the real reason:

To stop people from jumping onto the tracks to commit suicide or retrieve personal items.

"That guy's not standing behind the yellow warning line! Shoot him before he causes another train delay!"

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On the casino

Here's my $0.02 on Singapore's Great Casino Debate:

As far as I am concerned, the government has only two concerns about any issue and/or policy:
  1. profit
  2. law and order
As long as these two concerns can be addressed positively, i.e. high profit and high security, then it'll get the go-ahead. Don't get it started on social concerns, because this is one pragmatic government.

So it is with the casino. There is money to be made. And with the issue of law and order, it'll do what it's always done: if you're not working with it, you're against it (kinda like Dubya's post-911 ultimatum), and there'll be fire and brimstone on you if you choose the latter.

Social issues? *pfft* Irrelevant and negligible.

Having said that, I'm 99% sure the government will give the green light to the casino. My personal stand? Personally, I don't mind a casino. It's the "add-ons", e.g. sex (prostitutes) and drugs (mafia), that bother me.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Rich get free medical coverage

Citibank, that venerable financial institution, announced that its platinum credit card holders (translation: rich people) will get free coverage for critical illnesses and hospitalisation.

And that, my friends, is how the rich get richer.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Mark your movie calendar!

In the middle of this year, it'll be a good time to be a fanboy.

May 19 - "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith"
May 26 - "Sin City"
June 16 - "Batman Begins"
July 7 - "Fantastic Four"

*drool*

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Say hello to Mac OS X "Tiger"

I skipped the previous version of Mac OS X, "Panther", and waited patiently for two years for this:

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger

Now for the thousand-dollar question: do I buy a new computer to go along with it or should I just upgrade the operating system? My PowerBook is five years old and while it still chugs along, well, a little extra power is always welcome.

Anyway, I have 16 days to decide. And there might be new iMacs coming out at the end of this month, so I shall wait and see.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Getting to the airport

How do I get to the airport? Let me count the ways.

What I'm bringing (estimated):
  • cabin bag
  • camera bag
  • myself
My options:

1. Bus-Train-Train
Since the MRT station just outside my house won't be ready for another five years (barring unforeseen tunnel collapses or other disasters), I have to take a bus to the train station. I take a bus to Queenstown, then go all the way to Tanah Merah, after which I change to the Changi Airport Line, which takes me to Changi Airport. I haven't travelled to the airport's train station, but I assume that it's located in the airport itself, so there'll be less walking.
Cost: $0.83 (bus) + $1.54 (train total) - $0.25 (rebate) = $2.62
Estimated travel time: 0.5 hours (bus) + 1.25 hours (train) = 1.75 hours
2. Bus-bus
The bus stop at the airport is located directly under the terminal building, so the walk to the check-in counter is as short as the walk from the car park.

I have two options here:

a. Service 51, then 27
With this option, I can sleep on the first bus, because I only have to change buses at Hougang Interchange. After that, I can sleep on the second bus all the way to the airport.
Cost: $1.53 (51) + $1.43 (27) - $0.25 (rebate) = $2.71
Estimated travel time: 1.5 hours (51) + 0.5 hours (27, I think) = 2 hours, +/- 0.5 hours
b. Service 143, then 36
This option takes me through town. In the afternoon, I assume that traffic will be light, so the journey should be smooth.

With this option, I also have two choices: walk between bus stops, or almost no walk.
i. Walk
The opportunity cost of saving a few cents on fare and travel time is the five-minute walk between bus stops on opposite sides of Singapore's shopping strip that is Orchard Road.
Cost: $1.13 (143) + $1.53 (36) - $0.25 (rebate) = $2.41
Estimated travel time: 0.75 hours (143) + 0.75 hours (36, I think) = 1.5 hours
ii. No walk
I alight from 143 anywhere along Orchard Boulevard, then take 36, which will go on to The Regent hotel, then loop back the same way it came to the airport.
Cost: $1.13 (143) + $1.53 (36) - $0.25 (rebate) = $2.41
Estimated travel time: 0.75 hours (143) + 1 hour (36, I think) = 1.75 hours
Obviously, my choice for 2(a) is (ii) since the cost is the same and the difference in travel time is marginal. And after evaluating all of my options, the cheapest and least hassling option is 2(a)(ii).

And that settles that... unless I procrastinate, in which case the only available option will be by taxi. *shudder*

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Update: It turns out that I missed another possible Bus-Bus option:
2c. Service 30, then 24
This option has the advantage that I'll already be heading eastwards on the first leg, so there's no detour necessary to get to my final destination (the airport, not death). To save about 10 cents, I will need to remember to get off at a particular bus stop.
Cost: $1.33 (30) + $1.13 (24) - $0.25 (rebate) = $2.21
Estimated travel time: 1.5 hours (30) + 0.5 hours (24, I think) = 2 hours
And there you have the cheapest option: 2(c).

I think I'll just see what bus comes first at the bus stop at my home.

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Discerning folks who don't know where I live should be able to figure out the locality of my house after reading this entry. This DOES NOT give you a reason nor the right to knock on my door in the middle of the night or perform any similar stalker-type or paparazzi-like activities.

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Steamboat dinner and dessert

My family went to this famous steamboat and chicken rice at Purvis Street. Apparently, I had been there before as a small boy, but I honestly don't remember ever setting foot in it. The food was usual steamboat fare: pork, beef, prawns, fish, squid, liver, cockles (we didn't eat that), egg (which we packed home).

After dinner, we walked to Liang Seah Street and had dessert at Ah Chew's Desserts, supposedly famous for its Chinese desserts. I stuck to the "safe" honeydew with sago, since the others looked like they wouldn't suit my taste. We wanted to try the new dessert, mango with sago, but it was sold out.

Dunno what else to say about it. Not very creative tonight.

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Timor-Leste -- meeting #2

We had our second meeting today. It was more of a prayer and meditation session, you know, to prepare us spiritually for the trip. We started with 15 minutes of praise and worship, then about half an hour of prayer and sharing, before ending with a brief run-through of the itinerary and budget.

Believe it or not, the trip is slightly more than a week away!

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

No solar eclipse for me!

Apparently, there'll be a solar eclipse tomorrow. It starts somewhere to the east of the Americas and ends just west of New Zealand.

Which means I, in Singapore, won't get to see it. Darn it.

NASA has a page listing the times of the eclipse in various U.S. cities. It seems that the folks in Wisconsin won't get to see it too.

I'm sure some superstitious people will link this event to the death of Pope John Paul II. It'll probably go something like: "God is saddened by the pope's death, and will cast his shadow over the Earth on the day of his funeral."

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Presenting Cheryl Tay, Miss Singapore Universe 2005

Cheryl Tay - the winner
Here's the picture of Cheryl Tay after winning her Miss Singapore Universe 2005 crown (picture from the good folks at Channel NewsAsia). As I said, she looks "safe", i.e. not too pretty, not too sexy, not too... anything. You know, "just right".

And she'll have to contend with the amazons from India and South America and Italy...

What I like about her comments after winning the crown was that she hopes to put her fame to good use in animal welfare. I hope she lives up to that. It's about time a pageant winner had a mission other than "world peace".

Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm going ga-ga over Miss Singapore Universe (in general) and Cheryl Tay (in particular), it's all about taking advantage of the traffic that I've been getting. The hits are already starting to dip.

Maybe I should blog about taxes, since this is the season when IRAS (the local income tax authority) comes calling for money. Or the earthquake in Sumatra. Or the death of Pope John Paul II.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Controversy and/or beauty = hits!

I decided to take a look at some other statistics that Sitemeter compiles (I usually just look at referrals only) and realised that I should monitor these stats more closely in future. It turns out that within the last month, the number of hits I received spiked on two occasions:
  1. after I posted my thoughts about a Singaporean blog
  2. after I posted my ratings of Miss Singapore Universe 2005
With the first one, the hits jumped almost 400% above normal, while it was about 200% for the second.

Unfortunately, I don't know the referrals for the blog-related jump because I checked too late. It would've been reeeeeally interesting to see how these people found my blog. Luckily, I know where a handful of them came from (Technorati, another blog, Google).

As for the MSU-related spike, it seems that a lot of people came to my blog through a Google search for particular contestants. Among the searches were "linderr jasni", "swyn teo", "bliss chin" (my visitors have good taste!), "natasha riard", etc. And after the results were out, almost all of the searches were for the winner, "cheryl tay".

To which I humbly say: Thanks, ladies. *bows humbly*

Wow, it's really true what they say: if you want readers, write about sex or something controversial. (And write with Blogger too.) nilsinelabore can probably back me up on this.

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Miss Singapore Universe 2005 winner

Cheryl Tay
So Cheryl Tay won. She looks, I don't know, safe. Will safe cut it at the international level?

I watched the question-and-answer session for the five finalists finalists (that's two finalists, because the show was the finals of the pageant, which comprised of 18 contestants, and that number was whittled down to five). The question was: "What do you think is the greatest strength and greatest weakness of a woman?" I missed the first contestant, who was Yvonne Lim, so I don't know how she answered. And I caught the tail end of Natasha Riard's answer, so I don't know how she fared either.

Rebecca Lim crashed and burned, with lots of "ums" and "ahs" with no coherent answer. May Ng answered rather intelligently while looking beautiful. And Cheryl Tay thought that the greatest strength and greatest weakness are the one and same thing, when the other contestants gave two answers. Admittedly, the question wording was vague. Unfortunately, she didn't make her answer sound convincing.

Okay, so I'm no prophet. Besides, I based my ratings on the glamour photos released by MediaCorp. The contestants most likely appeared much differently on television.

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Shoe shopping hell

I can't believe it, but I spent almost an hour and a half shopping for shoes... and left empty-handed. I went to Queensway Shopping Centre, which is well known for its range of sports stores. As expected for the weekend, all of the stores were crowded, which was quite a turn-off. But I stuck on anyway since I had planned to buy a pair of sports shoes for the Timor-Leste trip.

I went to a few stores to check out the prices. It's amazing, but almost all of the sports shoes start at $120. Some even cost a whopping $250! I decided that I would budget myself at under $100, which meant that I would buy shoes that were on sale.

Alas, my feet have grown to a size where shoes for them are hard to come by at sale prices. I saw a few shoes that I liked that were under $100, but none of them were available for US size 11. Actually, I did find a pair of running shoes in that size, but they seemed tight, even though I wasn't wearing socks. I may have to go for size 12 instead.

So I wandered from store, picking a shoe I liked, asking for the size, and getting rejected. I finally gave up and left. I'll just have to look elsewhere. Actually, I don't care what brand of shoes I get, since once they're on the feet and in close contact with the ground and are used for their function, good shoes will become worn and dirty shoes, so why care so much about the brand? Nike, Adidas, Reebok, they're all the same. What matters, I think, is that they fit and serve their purpose for an acceptable period of time before they break down.

I need to search at budget or warehouse shops.

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"Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" comic adaptation

I was at the comic shop today. A rare occurence, but it happened nonetheless. Nothing exciting to say, except...

I now know the story in "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith".

Yup, the comic adaptation is out already. I won't spoil it for anyone, save for this: Darth Vader appears in his black cybernetic armour in all of his glory for about five minutes of screen time, 10 minutes tops. And when he does appear, it looks FANTASTIC (from the comic point of view).

If the dialogue in the comic is any indication of that in the movie itself, I anticipate that a lot of the local audience will have a hard time following it. You'll really have to pay attention to every word to grasp the hows and whys of the movie's ending.

This time, the story is very political and violent. Episode III looks better than Episode I, which seemed disjointed, and Episode II, which just lacked any depth. The truth will be known in about a month's time.

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Timor-Leste -- meeting #1

We had our first meeting on the upcoming Timor-Leste trip in church. The agenda of the day was to get more information and pray about the trip. We spent the first half hour being briefed by our team leader, Ruth. The remainder of the time was spent on Bible devotion and prayer.

Some information that I learned:
  • Ruth has been in contact with the main organisation, LoveSingapore, to learn more about how we can help.
  • She has also been in contact with the other churches that are sending teams to Timor-Leste.
  • We'll be travelling with teams from at least three other churches. Altogether, there'll be about 30 people travelling at the same time, though not to the same village.
  • The village that we will be focussing on is in the town of Laquica (hope I got the spelling correct).
  • A village comprises about 10-15 clusters, with each cluster's population at about 100 people. Each village has a headman, who is the main point of contact.
  • We will be primarily on an exploratory, "recce" trip to find out what the church can do.
  • Timor-Leste is about 92% Catholic and 5% Protestant. Unfortunately, the Catholics are living in the Dark Ages, i.e. only priests have access to Bibles, and non-Catholics are hated to the point of physical abuse. Catholic villages that associate with Protestants may also be vilified.
  • As a result, we are unlikely to conduct any evangelism. Rather, we will provide humanitarian aid.
  • There are few to no Singaporean missionaries who have any "success stories" to tell, i.e. so far, all of the trips have been exploratory in nature. We are all pioneers, so to speak.
  • The Timorese apparently look up to Singaporeans because we're a small nation that has prospered greatly.
  • Due to the wars, women outnumber men greatly.
  • Due to the low state of health, infant mortality is at about 50 per 1,000, and the average age is 20.
  • The population stands at under one million people in a land area estimated at 20 times the size of Singapore.
  • We fly on Monday (April 18th) evening, spend the night in Bali, then fly into Dili on Tuesday morning. We fly straight home from Dili on Friday.
When asked for our reasons to be in this mission trip, I admitted that I had no real spiritual reason for going. For me, it is mostly to see what is "out there" and experience a way of life that is so far removed from what we have in Singapore. The others joked that I may not have a spiritual reason now, but may have a spiritual result after the trip. We'll just have to wait and see.

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"The Woodsman"

The Woodsman
This is going to be a short review of "The Woodsman", mostly because it's a short (about 80 minutes) and simple story. For those who don't know, which seems to be quite a majority of people based on those I've talked to about it, the show is about an ex-pedophile who's turned over a new leaf, but finds acceptance difficult. He nearly goes back to his old way, but doesn't fortunately.

Kevin Bacon turns in a fine performance as the ex-con who just wants to get on with his life. He's tortured by his inner demons, colleagues and a policeman, and his attitude seems to be "To hell with it all". Benjamin Bratt also acts well as his supportive brother-in-law, the only family member who has any contact with him.

Since this is an independent movie, there are no fanciful special effects, no unexpected plot twists and turns, and hardly any secondary plots. It's all about Kevin Bacon's character's search for redemption and acceptance, and little else.

But the middle was quite slow and I nearly fell asleep, partly because I had drunk a glass of gin tonic just before the show. I had accompanied a colleague to Ice Cold Beer at Emerald Hill and had the drink a half hour before the show. The full effect of the alcohol kicked in at the start of the movie. In the dark and stillness of the cinema hall, I could feel my heart pumping furiously.

Watch it if you want a change from the usual Hollywood fare. Avoid it if you don't like "dark" movies.

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Friday, April 01, 2005

I'm on my way!

As usual, before 9am, I will usually check my personal email. And out of the blue, there was this one email that mentioned something about a business opportunity. I was about to mark it as spam, but noticed that the subject also mentioned my blog, i.e. "Yuhui's World of Wonder". I don't know of any spam email that would specifically state the name of my blog.

Intrigued, I read it. It was from a prominent local investment company and the person had seen my entry about my idea for a search engine. Apparently, they were interested in investing in a such a company in Singapore. A phone number was included in the email, and if I wanted more information, I should call them soon. So I did.

The man at the other end confirmed the email when he heard my request. Apparently, they have been looking for a local search engine that would be able to compete with the likes of Google, Yahoo, A9, etc. on a global scale. And they liked my idea about saving search phrases and linking to other search engines to expand the search. They also had a few ideas of my own, but they wanted my commitment first.

When I asked why he was interested in me and not some other person who may be more qualified, he said that they not only liked my idea but also how and what I wrote in my blog. That triggered alarm bells in my head: these guys might be out to take advantage of me! They knew a fair amount of my personal life, would they use it against me in future? But I was still sufficiently intrigued to listen on to his marketing spiel and slowly got the impression that these guys were top-notch honest folks.

Finally, it came to the moment of truth: the investment amount. I had the impression throughout the conversation that he wanted me to make that first move. When he asked me if I had any questions, the first thing I asked was, "So how much are you thinking of investing in me?"

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