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i’m officially a student again.

A part of me greatly anticipates my impending degree programme.

I’ve always wished that I was older and a more mature when I studied for my Diploma in Mass Communication in Ngee Ann Polytechnic a decade ago. Of course there is hindsight bias, but I really should have capitalised the vast array of opportunities that were dished out to me on a silver platter; I had the perfect environment to excel academically and glean the most out of an exceptional education that (the original) Mass Communication course offered. There was a stable of outstanding lecturers, an avant-garde syllabus, an established institution and a plethora of commercial contacts at my disposal, but I was young and foolish enough to be embroiled in unnecessary boy-girl relationships, petty class politics and just poor self-discipline.

God is good nonetheless and despite my less-than-satisfactory performance, I have been able to put to good use in my career the things I learnt in school. In 2000 before the course commenced, I expressed interest in journalism and radio (because I enjoyed writing and talking) during the pre-enrolment suitability interview. But in my final year with Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I ended up specialising in books publishing, photography and journalism, and did just that in my final year with the Singapore Armed Forces. When I worked in Shanghai, I excelled in something I was weak at during my school days – marketing. As a youth minister, I have ample opportunities to apply everything that I have picked up in the last 10 years; indeed, God lets nothing go to waste.

Today, I get to have a go at academia again.

While I reckon the opportunities for my pedagogical development to be lesser and less dynamic than it was a decade ago, I am confident however, that this time, I will milk this learning opportunity dry. Above and beyond aiming for distinctions, I am more keen to sharpen my mind; I’ve never been this hungry to learn in my entire life.

I urge you then, young people, to make the most out of your education – study as hard and make as many friends as you can, and put in your best for every assignment, simply because there’s so much to learn and enjoy in your scholastic years. I hope and pray that when you reach my age, you wouldn’t be writing a reflection like this because you’d have learnt from my experiences and aptly taken my advice. Otherwise, I’d call you a fool – unlike you, I didn’t have me to learn from.

On my way home from school just now, I told HY that I’m confident that my technical competence and professional experience will put me in an advantageous position to excel in my studies. With a more mature head on older shoulders, I can only stick my neck out and ask God to give me the wisdom to apply what I have learnt and know in my latest attempt at tertiary education after being away for seven years. Unlike the past where I never could quite grapple why and what I was studying for, this time I believe in studying for an efficacious God who lets nothing go to waste. I know that the regrets I’ve expressed in this post will be turned around and result in great returns – not for me, or my future with HY, or my subsequent academic or career pursuits, but solely for the glory of God.

That said, while some parts of me can’t wait to start school, the remaining parts of me just can’t wait to start learning. The air is pregnant with excitement and it fuels my adrenaline for my re-education.

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how do you stop swearing?

Growing up in a pretty nasty neighbourhood in Jalan Besar, I picked up all kinds of language from gangsters and pseudo-gangsters. In retrospect, it must have been quite a sight to hear a prepubescent boy spewing endless vulgarities in a high-pitched voice, at people who were probably twice his size. I must have been possessed to have such guts.

Being educated in Anglo-Chinese School only made it worse. If I learnt lewd dialect in the rougher neighbourhood environment, then I certainly balanced it off with an equivalent amount of profane English words in a polished and cultured institution. Swearing became a part of my vocabulary and it was a routine for me as a 14-year-old to curse in hellish language on weekdays and to praise the Lord with hallelujah language on weekends.

I was a hypocrite and a terrible testimony in how I used my tongue for good and for evil.

The use of vulgarity could be habitual; it gets dangerous when this bad habit becomes chronic. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s nothing worth boasting about if you are expending an arsenal of damning words in your daily usage. You could be 13 years old or 30 years old and still there won’t be a good reason to employ the use of abusive words. I’d like to believe that in a professional (or even in a social) setting, it is a massive turn-off if you carelessly and subconsciously allow vulgarities to roll off your lips. The scary thing about swearing is that there no longer seems to be any societal standard anymore. These negative expressions have been infused into our culture and it has become the neutral norm, unfortunately. No one frowns at a cussing teenager anymore.

Personally, I have enforced a no-swearing rule wherever I went, so long as I was allowed to exercise authority – be it with my tank platoon, colleagues or in TeamR-AGE. And just very recently through REAL2010, I also enforced a complete boycott of all lewd words – including DMN, SHT and WHL. I’m proud of my REAL champs for this achievement of the epilation of vulgarities in their communication. I used to toss these three words frivolously, but now, the mere sound of these words make me cringe and become instantly uncomfortable.

But that’s my conviction and I do not wish to shove it down anyone’s throat; I’d be careful not to get too legalistic. This doesn’t make me a better Christian, of course, but I think it makes me a more effective witness for Jesus. I pay special attention to the words that I use not because I am concerned about my personal reputation or because I’m a youth minister. I scrutinise my language because I am more concerned about the reputation of Jesus, whom I’m an ambassador of.

I fondly remember a particular sermon at my first Grace Retreat in 1997, that turned my life around; DF, the founder of R-AGE, preached about “Bullseye Living” and it was at the altar call that I rededicated my wretched, hypocritical and double-headed life back to Jesus. I consciously and willingly (not emotionally) decided to make Christ my bullseye that afternoon and to start to live like a real Christian. The first thing that the Spirit prompted me to change, was to cease swearing immediately.

Honestly, I don’t know how you behave when you’re out there; I don’t know if you’re the same person at home, in school and in church. A lot of you may struggle to quit this destructive and seemingly incurable habit of swearing. I’d like to offer you some advice – and the method which I practised to great effect to help me kick this awful habit.

I simply prayed and asked the Spirit to help me stop swearing. Then I simply decided not to swear anymore. And that was it – an instantaneous decision that resulted in an instantaneous change – cold turkey, if you know what I mean. I returned to school after that June vacation and left all my baggage and bad habits buried at the foot of the cross.

If I, someone with a comprehensive knowledge of destructive vulgarity in all languages, could overcome swearing overnight, then surely you can do it too. Ask the Spirit to help you and by the grace of God you will eradicate all unwholesome talk and commence to use your tongue for His glory alone. I’m praying for you!

top ten favourite songs to perform.

All right, I’ll be honest here if you don’t mind (not that you can stop me anyway). As a performer, I absolutely love the stage and to perform on it; I’m even honest enough to admit that I thrive under the limelight. The stage is my little paradise and the older I get, the more I enjoy (and miss) performing, maybe because I’ve found my niche and forte as an artist. Due to this love for performing, I’ve always regretted that I’ve only been able to be involved in a musical just once in my entire 13 years with Grace Assembly – when I was 14 years old! I hope I will have the opportunity to be involved in another major production one day. (Actually, I told VY that I’ve already set my eyes on only that one role should we actually decide to make a musical out of it.)

On a side note, I believe that there’s a gulf of difference between a singer and a lead singer – and it’s one reason why I’ve always enjoyed being a lead singer more than a worship leader despite the many similarities in both roles. I long for the day that I get to perform regularly with a rock band again – to belt out original compositions, express the emotions of a ballad through convincing performances, and to bring these songs all over the region through gigs, tours and music CDs. I firmly believe that there’s a part of the human soul that only music can reach.

I’m about to go offtrack again; I had actually written two other paragraphs before I decided to save that for another time; this entry would be too long if I were to throw in my band history (which makes for good reading on separate entry anyway). Tonight, I’ll take a stroll down memory lane and recall the first ten songs (that come to my mind) that I’ve enjoyed performing over the decade as a wannabe rock star.

I present this list of my top ten favourite songs to perform (over the years) in no order of preference or chronology:

1. Tears in a Bottle – FhLY. There were two performances which I fondly remember about this signature FhLY song. One was when the song debuted and received DL’s friends’ affirmation of its lyrical ministry. The other at the outdoor Cineleisure gig was more memorable – I had completely forgotten the lyrics to the second verse and being a rather inexperienced performer then, I downright froze on stage and stopped singing altogether; this resulted in a minus one track for 30 seconds until I regained my composure and picked it up again at the chorus.

2. Put Your Arms Around Me – All Star United. DH and I began performing this anthem when we were in secondary school and it followed us through our polytechnic days. Practising and performing this song as Castor & Pollux brings back an influx of fantastic memories. I believe this to be one of the songs that really demonstrate the musical and performance chemistry I have with DH. The one at the Salvation Army auditorium really stood out as our first performance outside the school compounds.

3. Safe and Sound – Castor & Pollux. I’ve said it to DH a million times – that this composition remains my favourite of the hundreds of songs he’s written (no exaggeration). It debuted at the Singapore Street Festival gig at Heeren and has remained a crowd favourite as well as a mainstay in every single Castor & Pollux gig ever since. I’ve always told DH that if I were to ever audition for any talent show, I’d most certainly use this soulful and stirring piece as my song choice because of how it coincidentally brings out my vocal (and emotive) range rather perfectly.

4. What a Difference a Day Made – Jamie Callum. JT and I made our debut as a duo at the R-AGE 10th Anniversary gala dinner. I can’t remember if we had volunteered for it or if the organisers asked us, but I was glad we performed it anyway! It was the first time I attempted a slow jazz number with a piano and I absolutely enjoyed singing with a non-rock voice. I’d like to believe that it was a pretty classy and classic performance. Allow me to indulge – if there was a word to describe how I felt after that performance, it’d be “charming”.

5. I Love to See You Smile – Homer Simpson & Marge Simpson. I think this song made its debut at one either my 18th or 21st birthday party and it received such a positive response that DH and I kept resurrecting it gig after gig. It remains one of the best songs to open a set because of how cute and innocent it is.

6. Hands Down – Dashboard Confessional. As Castor & Pollux, this was the first and only time we’ve performed Hands Down, and we didn’t even plan to. We had planted a couple of encore items at the Ben & Jerry’s gig but Hands Down wasn’t in our original lyrics set. At a time when Hands Down was at the tip of the mouth of every emotionally-charged young male, it was performed by popular demand; besides, we had already jammed it so many times and had the lyrics engraved into our hearts, we just spontaneously pulled it off. And it absolutely rocked the house!

7. Coastline – Rust. It never fails to amaze me how a simple four-chord song has stood the test of time and emerges to be the all-time favourite song of all the (other more accomplished) songs that DH has ever written. I remember struggling to sing this song when my falsetto was a lot weaker as a raw vocalist. Without a doubt, I’ve enjoyed performing this song most at X&C’s wedding dinner.

8. The Day – FhLY. Every performer simply has to have a melodramatic moment and it couldn’t come as dramatic as this one. Written to describe the scene and emotion of saying goodbye to a person at the airport, I performed this song at the Cineleisure gig, at the time when it was drizzling heavily. The relentless beating rain pounding against the beating heart of a man with reeling emotions… I remember AC tearing as I performed it because she felt the full force of my emotions!

9. I Liked You – Castor & Pollux. While the original remains one of my favourite compositions so far as well as one of Castor & Pollux flagship songs, I was cheeky enough to tweak the lyrics and I performed the spoofed version at the Blackmarket gig. I think the audience enjoyed the mischief in the updated lyrics and JT even felt it was my way of getting back at the girl whom I wrote this song for. Well, I haven’t quite confirmed it to this day and I don’t intend to. Read between the lines!

10. Roller Coaster – No One Else Band. There was no way I’d leave out this high-energy song. Due to some miscommunication, RL and I only submitted one song from our days together in FhLY. Should a sequel album be produced, we will definitely submit more songs. As for its performance, I will never forget the moment I walked out from the backstage of the G2 Sanctuary to centre stage during the No One Else album launch concert. To date, it’s the closest I’ve ever felt as a rock star.

I reckon the ones who would enjoy this entry most are those whom I’ve mentioned. As for me, I’ve enjoyed every single moment of my journey as a performer! Have you found your niche in life? Have you discovered your forte? When you do, you’ll be able to come up with your own top ten list and I’d love to read it.

A gentle reminder for the bible-giveaway competition. The response so far has been OH-SO-ENCOURAGING. -_- Do remember that the competition ends in 10 days on 14th May. I really want to hear from you! So go on, write to me and win a brand new bible!

are you competitive or comparitive?

Singapore has world-class education system – that I do not deny. My scholastic abilities have been tuned by my learning environment (observe the careful choice of words) and I’d like to think a big part of my confidence and street-smartness (or some would say arrogance) comes from a decade spent in ACS. However, if I had a choice, I’d rather not raise my children in a local school and if I had the resources, I’d rather home-school my kids; I do not want to subject them to the unnecessary and poisonous culture of the education system here – where students somehow feel that they are never quite good enough.

Our academia has changed considerably – some would consider it progress, some see it as regress and for a few others, digress; I belong to the third group. I think that we’re missing the point of education, really. We should teach people how to think not what to think. Today’s students are subjected to a lot more pressure and stress – that doesn’t come from themselves but primarily from their parents and secondarily from their peers. The desire to improve themselves is shrouded by external motivations instead being influenced by internal drives.

I’ve always opined that pride is not about wanting to be the best – there’s nothing wrong with that – but pride is about wanting to be better than someone else. There’s an element of covetousness in pride, where the desire to better oneself sprouts from the obsession to outdo others. We’ve heard it time and again – a student could far outperform himself and score a 60% in a test (and achieve his all-time highest score) but this joy is somewhat short-lived; his initial delight soon plummets into despair when he begins to compare his results with a classmate that scored 70%. The process is transferred to the next dimension and (if you pardon the direct translation of the old Chinese adage) there always seems to be a higher mountain that is insurmountable. Where does it stop? Before you know it, these students return home to mourn about their oh-so-terrible score when they should instead rejoice over their progress made. There’s no end to this vicious cycle of self and societal inflicted torment. No wonder suicide cases related to academic pressures have risen sharply over the years.

Achievements and successes are all relative – hence it is imperative that we manage our expectations and chart our progress on a realistic rate. Today, you should ask yourself if you are competitive or comparitive. There’s nothing wrong with benchmarking yourself against the best to gauge and improve your own abilities and thresholds. But once you begin to compare and slide into the venomous glance-over-your-shoulder behaviour, you inevitably welcome self-destruction and a never-ending pursuit of nothingness. We are all different – get used to the idea. To those who have more, more is expected of them. Learn to be comfortable with yourself and realise that if you want to be someone else, who’s going to be you?

When I stroll down memory lane, I don’t seem to ever recall a time that I wanted to be better than someone else because I realised that I’m constantly waging war with my own insanely high standards (again, this is a relative statement). To an extent, I seem to allow no one to determine how good or how bad I can and will be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m an ambitious person and I effort to bring out the best of my gifts and talents by being excellent in all that I undertake, but in the event that my desired outcomes do not materialise, I have learnt to trust God for the lessons learnt in temporal failure and postponed success. I realised that I’ve always secretly (but confidently) trusted God for the results, for God was the origin of my desires and ambitions. Either way it turns out, I already know that God, being efficacious, has a lesson in store for me to learn; I believe that He has pre-prepared different packages of lessons for every single different outcome.

I urge you to be wary of the poisonous standards of this world, where it tells you that being contented with your lot is apparently mediocrity. A subscription to these worldly values often results in worldly remorse and regret – that’s not biblical or victorious living at all! Know that with Jesus, we fight from victory and not for victory. Be comfortable with who God has created you to be for your strengths complements someone else’s weaknesses and vice-versa – that’s how the body of Christ works. Everyone plays a different role and is a different jigsaw in the puzzle of life – never let this world determine how you should live and what should make you happy. May your spirit be acutely tuned to the dangers that inescapable and obligatory academic excellence brings.

So what if you finally become the best and better than everyone else? What’s next? At the end of the day, it’s all meaningless. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else, really. The antidote then, to competition and comparison, is contentment.

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