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Meesa gonna kill you!

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Thursday, November 07, 2002

Word of the day: "parastatal."

Been working late the past few weeks. Not entirely sure how long more can continue on with the 9am - 10+pm routine without cracking, although I am assured that people working in global investment banking firms have it far worse. Possibly - an old classmate of mine residing in Hong Kong in Credit Suisse First Boston tells me war stories of averaging up to 110 hours a week (that's about 15 hours a day - including weekends). But then again, the bastard is *paid* commensurately; this year his take-home pay including bonus was approximately 140K SGD. I get paid about.. well... let's just say it's an order of magnitude less.

As my colleague puts it, "We do First World work for Third World wages."

There has actually been a fairly rich panoply of events to blog about recently though, and a lot of it non-work-related. However, my few scrounged hours of leisure at the office are, inevitably, spent surfing news sites and keeping up with mail. The impetus to record my daily events for posterity has waned considerably; this entry is being made solely because I got to work remarkably early today thanks to a combination of 4 hours sleep the night before (I tend to wake up earlier when I sleep less, but I end up suffering more during the day), and light traffic (because of Ramadan; all the Malays are "buka puasa"-ing themselves for the day ahead.). Actually, fasting time tempts me to conversion - they get to go home earlier, and spend lunchtime slacking (obviously they don't have to go through the whole "quest for food" thing).

I just came back from a brief trip down to Singapore last weekend. That sojourn was made at terribly short notice - due to irritating bureaucratic legalities prohibiting Singaporean PRs from driving Malaysian cars, my aunt requisitioned me and my cousin to drive her car down to move stuff from her apartment. Not that I particularly minded - it *was* the long Deepavali weekend, and I expected to reap a pay-off in the form of food) Such expectations were gratified - on Saturday night, my aunt and uncle (who flew down to Singapore separately), took us to a herbal Chinese food restaurant opposite Raffles Hotel, which, I am told, Ong Teng Cheong was fond of frequenting. Probably for stress relief purposes - dealing with the PAP party machinery in a hostile government situation is enough to give anyone an infarction. The meal was superb; I particularly enjoyed the cod in herbal sauce and the braised scallops with whipped egg-white. And of course, my uncle brought out some choice selections from his cellar; a '96 Jasper Hills Shiraz; and a '94 Chateau LaGrange St-Julien. (Too bad he wasn't sufficiently induced to lay on the Sauternes for us:).

Later that night, went out to Crazy Elephant over at Clarke Quay to meet a few Melbourne friends; one now in SMM, and the other serving out his SAFOS bond at Tengah base (Air Force engineer logistics course). They all seem a tad burned out now - I suppose working life tends to dull one's sensitivities a bit. A lot of the boisterous clamouring one would have seen in days of yore was replaced by a sullen, stare-at-beer-mugs kind of awkward silence. Occasionally, a flash of the old humour would come through, in a brief remembrance of things past (the damn book still sits heavily on my shelf half-finished), and a few lighter moments when one of us using the bar's pool table as practice for his camp's upcoming tournament romped past several competitors in straight frames. Other than that, it was just the four of us, tired, prematurely burned-out, and just generally sian, and having little to fill in the conversation void once the first hour of general catching up was over.

How do people do it? How do people tolerate years of wage slavery - and often in far more appalling conditions than what we go through? Or is it simply that me and my generation (Read: "peer group") are (sic) "spoiled bastards?".

How do the adults of the previous generation endure up to 30+ years of such brutal living? Granted, my father has admitted that in his time, he was able to leave the office by 5 pm most days, but that obviously has changed in recent years, as employers realise to their joy that people are willing to be squeezed in this day and age.

Digression: The other day, while walking past Petaling Street, I noted the air mata kuching (longan drink) stall at the corner which has been there for about 40 years (current proprietor is second-generation). A rough estimate of his cashflow based on a 1000 customers a day, on average, puts his disposable income at about 50K SGD a *month* after rent (read: protection money), labour (he hires a couple of Indonesian maids to serve while he watches on benignly - they probably get paid in food and water and lodging), and materials (after all, the overheads on a bowl of air mata kuching are minimal. How much can longans cost, wholesale? Sugar? Ice?). He even reputedly owns a good number of the fake-watches and fake-sunglasses stalls in the immediate periphery. My point is - while he's certainly raking in the cash now, he must have spent at least 10 years of his life slogging it from 6am to 9pm *seven* days a week serving out bowls of sweetened longan crap to the incessant flow passers-by. Am I prepared to take that kind of sacrifice and hardship needed to spend my middle-later life just lounging around a cornershop watching the money flow in? Is it worth it? Tough question.

Sunday afternoon, I spent shopping. Yes, even I have to occasionally succumb to the lure of crass commercialism. Was down at Suntec, enjoying the lighting and architecture, especially the Stargate-like fountain terrace. Stark reminders of past times when I had occasion to tour the whole sprawling complex while it was under construction, and Suntec's fledgling years when most of it was empty, sprawling corridors as shoppers thought it was a difficult place to access. Managed to purchase a new pair of Fifth Avenue office slip-ons as was terribly sian of tying shoelaces in the morning (actually, tired of constantly replacing shoelaces as I tend to yank them too hard). This represents my first shoe purchase in almost 4 years. Now I officially own 4 pairs! (I face great sianness buying footwear due to my abnormally small size 5(British) / 37.5 (European) feet). Although the shoes are a little too big and they chafe my heels; I will have to find a cobbler to get some padding.

Was also irked to discover at DFS Galleria that overland (ie. non-plane) travellers are not eligible. Looks like Langkawi remains my only source for cheap liquor for now.

Sunday evening was spent glazing out in front of my uncle's plasma flat-screen TV with my cousins watching hackneyed DVDs (Rules of Engagement, Gladiator, Ben Hur). Dinner was leftover chicken rice. However, in a pleasant surprise, uncle called to take us out for 'supper' - which culminated in us ending up at Jeremy's Restaurant in the Carlton Hotel (run by the owner of Vis-a-vis (the restaurant, not the mailing list) in Bukit Timah as a more upscale (vis-a-vis Vis-a-vis(!)) version). Again, had more exquisite food - foie gras (been YEARS), escargot, mussels, and, of course, the usual assortment of grand cru Bourdeaux wines (none of which I recognized, except for the Lafite Rothschild).

Someone pointed out that my evident pleasure at such fine dining reflects the aristocratic bastardism of my 'spoiled brat' upbringing. Probably. But I like to think that my appreciation is heightened due to having spent years in Australia living off Coke, scrambled eggs, and instant noodles. Seriously though, I prefer to think of it as a preview / inspiration for the level of material comfort I should achieve - the stage where you don't have to squint at every item in a restaurant bill / menu, do service tax calculations in your head, and decide to go for the salad instead. But one thing I *do* realise is that I have a distorted perception of economic welfare - mainly because I seem to know of people my age who own Jaguars, hold 20,000SGD house parties in Nassim Hill, spend thousands of pounds on their mother's credit card WITHOUT THE MOTHER NOTICING BECAUSE SHE THOUGHT IT WAS PART OF HER OWN PURCHASES, take holidays in the Swiss Alps as regular constitutionals, and actually have a university education (note, a lot of people I know with those first few qualities miss out on the latter). You readers think everyone has a university education? Living your life assuming a university education is the *norm* instead of the minority privilege it actually is seriously distorts your thinking, as it did mine, I confess. One learns the hard way that out in the working world, "Where did you study?" is NOT always a good conversational starter, particularly if you have a senior executives who worked their way up from being clerks.

Back at the apartment, I rang Gabriel on the phone to help me carry out some eBay transactions for me as the only Net access in the house came from a terminal wired into the plasma screen TV, and my uncle and cousins were watching some interminable Korean VCD series. Due to some communication issues (re: continually being unable to log on), it took a while before I could leave the toilet in which I had sequestered myself to talk in privacy. Upon coming out, the cheese platter that my aunt had lovingly laid out for us was half-empty, and most of the icewine had been finished. Feel my rage. *deadpan tones*

Anyhoo, spent Sunday just catching up with some old associates and acquaintances, and nothing much happened. No one seems to have changed appreciably; nor were the conversations sufficiently fascinating to blog here (although it *was* good to catch up with a lot of you guys. Really. I mean it:) It does strike me that I almost never have friends in the same age group - it's always older or younger. Maybe I enjoy bridging mental gulfs?

On the long drive back to KL, it was spent listening to my uncle go on and on about his newfound love for wuxia novels and Korean series. He even waxed lyrical on the Korean cultural renaissance and how Korean series now placed an emphasis on romantic love, compared to the more seamy Taiwanese and Hong Kong series currently on the market. It's bizarre how this workaholic uncle of mine, after 30 years acquiring wealth through shrewd and ruthless deal-making to the point where he doesn't need to work anymore, now chooses to spend his nights watching Return of the Condor Heroes or Summer / Autumn / Spring VCDs until 3 am. Me - I simply passed the time tuning him out, chilling to Teresa Teng tunes and stared at the headlights trawling past.

Certainly there is a yawning chasm of perception between myself and my younger contemporaries; particularly those still mired in education. I mean, the sheer.. difference between the concerns I had 9 months ago and the concerns I have now are massive. Of course, being part of the productive economy as opposed to being a resource-devouring minor (or, to be more charitable, human capital investment) is the primary reason. That's why it's increasingly difficult to empathize with people who are, however justifiably, worried about their examinations or their university options.

The things I worry about these days seem to be more - real, for lack of a better word. Of course, since I went into university, the pressure to excel academically was totally expurgated, but I still had exams to pass. I still had all-night, pressure-learn-panic sessions for those subjects which I attended only two or three lectures the whole semester. But now, the nature of worry changes, as well as the object of worry. Before, it was a sharp, adolescent kind of fear, kinaesthetically akin to splashes of acid on parts of your skin. Now, it's more of a dull, incessant haze - like the throb of bruises all over that just won't heal. Before, I panicked to cram factoids into my head and complete assignments in time. Now - I worry daily that systems will fail or that information goes incorrectly checked. Interestingly enough, the... pressure applied at work is more subtle. Being late for a policy paper at work can be hedged, fudged, or called-off entirely, unless you have the misfortune to have THAT kind of boss, whereas being late for a university essay (although there are notable exceptions) results in an instant blow to your bottom-line, markswise.

But some things don't change. I still stare glumly at my phone bills each month, and I still can't afford all the books I would like. Nonetheless, even the gaps feel better in my highly cyclical financial state (overspending the first week after payday; scrimping dollars the week before). It's good to at least know that money is coming, and it's not coming after a painful confrontation with your parents as to why you spent all that money on comic books. It's good to be able to tell your parents that it's my damned money, and if I want to buy a new Furby, I don't have to answer for it. And perhaps I'm conservative, but it's good to be able to at least give a part of your pay back to your family every month, even if it means you have to eat one less meal at Deutsche Bierhaus, or spend less time making IDD calls.

It's NOT good to have credit cards though. Have resigned to simply clearing out my bills by next year, and starting 2003 with more stringent financial planning.

There's also the odd feeling that you're doing something - if not exactly socially relevant . .something that *matters* in the real world. Passing my philosophy paper or finishing an Oracle assignment in university was simply me getting my family's money's worth out of overseas education and hopefully opening the way to a job. Working in a real firm - well, I'm under no illusions about the morality of my work, which basically entails safeguarding corporate interests and widening the wealth gap. But nevertheless, I'm doing *something*. A paper I write directly affects how the bank I work for values a billion-dollar investment portfolio (not nearly as grandiose as it sounds, but I don't think anyone wants a long discourse on risk management at this point:). A system I helped plan makes work a little easier and our job a little more efficient. A bit of research I contribute helps affect a policy decision. Things like that. Material contributions to the real world - although "material" makes little sense in the nebulous world of capital markets, where *value* often exists as a digital exchange between computer systems in different banks, or, more metaphysically, as a notional pipe dream representative of investor expectations.

I don't worry so much anymore about the usual meaningless yet charmingly adolescent subjects of depressive introspection - relationships, personal popularity (or lack thereof), high-flung existentialism, low-brow nihilism, etc. Instead, my worries seem to have sharpened at both conceptual extremes; from the extremely trivial - stuff like finding a cobbler for my shoes which don't fit properly, wondering what to eat for lunch, dithering over what colour tie to wear, getting irritated at leaves falling all over car - and stuff at the other brutally practical and concrete extreme - career future, personal future, financial difficulties, further studies, workplace politics, and workplace problems (Like my boss' irritating tendency to pick at this horrible huge wart on his neck, while insisting on about 8 or 9 rewrites of a paper in successive drafts. All of the rewrites involving spending HOURS, I swear, HOURS trying to decipher his fucking horrible handwriting and shorthand notation, which all involves sentence restructuring and virtually NO value-adding amendment).

But I guess the only adolescent hangover is that I still suffer from the one things which all humans share according to the Cherokee Indians: loneliness. The nature of what I have to deal with may have changed, but my capacity to deal with it remains fixed in the childish mindset I've been carrying around for years, it seems. So much for "maturity."

In related but practical matters, I have yet another dilemma to contend with. Currently am on tap for a job at GIC. Given that the vast majority of the readers on this blog are probably from the cultured ("cultured" in the Yakult bacteria sense of the word), Ecole Nationale d'Administration-type scholarship caste, I probably won't have to explain what the GIC is or does.

"On tap" basically means that I get to go for the interview, next week, with a strong implied chance of getting the job assuming I dress up, comb my hair, dance the dance, talk the talk, and don't vomit all over the interviewer. This is not as much of an achievement as it sounds, for a variety of reasons, some of which I'll share here.

The primary reason is that I'm just *not* sure what kind of job I'm interviewing for. Is it some lame admin or HR position? But then again, as someone once pragmatically pointed out - in your CV, people tend to see the "Goldman-Sachs" or the "Morgan Stanley", and ignore the bit that says, "Clerk" or "CEO's coffee-pourer".

Another reason is that this interview is with a very specific subset of GIC. Despite their justified notoriety as being one of the tougher scholarships to obtain (I am told), it's not very well-known that GIC is split into three separate companies - GIC RE, GIC SI, and plain old GIC. They have different investment mandates - go to www.gic.com.sg and see for yourself. My interview is with GIC RE - which potentially means a *very* narrow specialization, and (to me, at least), fairly boring investment opportunity sourcing. I mean, how fun is it to do the PV of leasing cashflows for the next 20 years? The most technical thing one ends up doing, even in a front-line position, will probably be haggling over IRRs with truculent developers. On the plus side, they *do* have significant portfolios in REITs and other associate property securizations, which makes it a little more interesting. And now, having successfully bored every single reader worrying about ORD / A levels / O levels / getting laid, I shall move on.

See, I'm of two minds about taking up this job (contingent upon it being formally offered me, as compared to the current verbal handshake offer). Firstly, the logistics issues are frightening. I have to move back *down*; re-apply for a PR, get new credit cards, get new housing, (possibly) apply for a car loan, shift all my crap (ie. books + PC) down south, abandon the creature comforts I have here, and so on and so forth. The administrative difficulties are staggering. Not to mention the brutal work hours - but I'm already used to pretty brutal work hours. In fact, I work much better late at night. Another thing to worry about is that the GIC RE team comprises of either old, highly-experienced lao jiaos, or young, sprightly, over-qualified post-grads from Stanfrod types. It's bad enough being the one-eyed king in the valley of the blind, which I am in my current job, thanks to my ability to format graphs in Excel any way people want; it's even worse to be the vegetarian at the Meat-Packers' Association technical symposium.

But the opportunities are tempting too.

Firstly, I can achieve the "get out of family's house" dream I've been ranting on about at length in earlier posts.

Secondly, as I also mentioned previously - BROADBAND!

Thirdly, by all lights, GIC's still GIC, and even if the specific job scope is narrow, the prestige is still greater, and it would be good to move away from a support-centre job and into an actual business unit. An ancillary benefit of this is that the job means meeting more people, widening scope of contacts, networking, etc.

Fourthly, GIC RE's mandate is in *offshore* investment - which means I won't be sizing up HDB financing (hah!) or wondering if it's cost-effective to chop down another nature reserve for another golf course (at least not a local one. I believe in exporting one's environmental despoliation to other countries for *their* descendants to handle). Travel - now there's a tempting prospect.

Fifthly, I can lose weight! Currently am weighing in a bit too heavy at 65kg (by my semi-anorexic standards); living alone would mean eating a lot less consistently and wholesomely as I'm the person who'd rather drink a lot of milk than walk all the way down to 7-11 for a hot dog. Ergo: weight loss.

Sixthly, I might have more friends around me. But this one is tempered by the realization that these days, everyone's going to be too busy working to meet up or hang out. A sad but true fact of life.

Actually, if anyone knows of a decent place for rent or even purchase (not bloody likely, but if the price is reasonable...), please let me know. Gak. More post-tertiary education issues to contend with; like finding a house, signing a lease agreement, and not pissing off your landlord. Am looking for a plce with these factors, in order of importance

a) MRT-access - 300m or less would be perfect.
b) Reasonable rent. $400-600/month.
c) SCV; if not actual SCV, then at least cabling / port for subscription
d) Enough space for all my books and PC.
d) Freedom to smoke
e) Freedom to get quietly smashed in private (if a room).
f) Laundry would be nice.
g) Cooking would be nice as well. Willing to pay reasonable extra.
h) Freedom to bring 'hos back to my chillin' bachelor digs! (Fantasy world, but who knows? Oceans rise. Cities fall. Hope prevails. Yeah right.)
i) Reasonably near Central is nice, but I don't care if it's in Boon Lay as long as it's NEAR THE MRT.

And that's all I have to say for now, as work calls. Damn, I haven't even gotten in any serious gaming time in over a week. Am losing my edge.

Hopefully Andrew Gan [8/11/02 - edited upon request] has transferred some merchandise he purchased for me over to my sister - for some reason he seems chary of hanging on to it until December. Oh well.

A final anecdote that sums up today's climate - my colleague who just came back from leave related to us how a stentorian Indonesian customs officer took away a yellow plastic gun she had purchased for her four year old son. The good customs officer promptly went through the scientific process of assessing its lethality by simultaneously peering down the barrel and pulling the trigger, whilst my colleague's son was wailing plaintively, "That man took away my gun!". After some altercation, the deadly weapon was allowed into the country, and reportedly the weapon's owner immediately retorted, "Once he gives me back my gun then I shoot him!"

This is a pointed political analogy to the issue of Iraqi regime change, North Korean disarmament; and the general attitude of the Israeli army to the occupied territories:)

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