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IV. the ultimate engagement ring.

I started reading up on diamonds and began consulting married men like Victor and Joel on prices and procedures. Eventually, I went with Lionel’s jeweler instead. And like a best friend would, he accompanied me for the first time to where he got his engagement ring and wedding bands done, and informed me of how much I should roughly be coughing out for my ring.

I spent a good number of nights asking Mr Google for unique designs. And I also shamelessly brought Huiyi into the Lee Hwa’s and Love & Co’s not just to get her finger size but also to get a glimpse of the kind of design she fancied. I was convinced that she was neither pining for a big rock nor a hefty price tag, but a design that would be unique and evergreen. I eventually picked a diamond that wasn’t so big until it looked vulgar or too small until it looked cheapskate. To me, it was the perfect rock on the perfect setting that resulted in a perfect ring.

My research was complete. I knew my budget; I adapted concepts I got off the Internet and designed my engagement ring; I chose my rock and type of gold. And this ring-making process began way back in October. I made a several trips to the jeweler to ensure that the ring turned out the way I had envisioned it to be. By January, on my fourth trip there, I paid for and collected what would be the most beautiful engagement ring I have ever seen – so lovely I wore it a few times on my finger to imagine how it would look on her finger! I remember rehearsing that “Will You Marry Me?” scene with myself – using my right hand to put the ring on my left hand. I couldn’t wait to do it for real!

And at the back of the ring, I decided to engrave “Phil 2:1-11 ILYTTE”. It’s the passage of scripture that we’d like our wedding exhorter to preach from. We are inspired by God’s Word – how the Apostle Paul used the supremacy of Christ as an example for us to serve each other and consider each other better than ourselves. He instructed us not to think less of ourselves but to think of ourselves less.

In summary, these are the few things I’ve learnt about making the ultimate engagement ring, which I’d like to share with you:

  • Steer clear of the mainstream brands and save yourself some money.
  • Ensure that you have a buffer of around $100 along with your budget.
  • Stick to your budget and do not be embarrassed by what you can afford.
  • The ring is not about you. It’s about her; what’s pretty to you might be plain to her.
  • Consult your peers, do your research well and do not be afraid to ask questions.
  • You must know what you value more in a diamond – cut, clarity, carat or colour?
  • Choose your setting well – the right design and type of gold accentuates the diamond.
  • A lasting design trumps a contemporary one; do you want to get sick of looking at it?
  • Don’t be ashamed to bargain with the jeweler; you don’t get to do it very often.
  • Make your engagement ring way in advance – you never know when you need it!

The adage goes, “The most dangerous place is the safest place”. So I kept the engagement ring in an old cookie glass jar just below my television console. Every other week, I’d take it out to admire that wonderful work of art. I was extremely pleased with it and I badly wanted to share this excitement with my family. But I resisted the temptation of showing it to my sister and mother because I wanted Huiyi to be the first person (other than the jeweler and I) to see it .

The ring rested quietly in the cookie jar for four long months. And each time I neared it, I felt my heart palpitating.

Next chapter: the fire idea – Perth.

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an insight into why youths in Singapore should live overseas for an extended period.

By July 2003, the longest duration I’ve spent out of Singapore was 20 days on a post-graduation/pre-enlistment back-packing trip in Australia together with Daniel Heng; it remains one of my fondest holiday to date – not just because of the company but because of the new experiences, like how I saw and felt snow for the first time at Mount Hotham.

By July 2009, I had just returned from a 19-month work stint in Shanghai. It was by far the longest time I had ever been away from home. And as some might know, the first couple of months were miserable, but the rest of it was nothing short of momentous. It completely changed my perspective towards living overseas for an extended period.

A couple of days ago, I read an account of Victor Yen’s conversation with Shawn Lee and asked for his permission to share it wholesale on my blog (though I added some paragraphing for easier reading). It encapsulates my wholehearted endorsement to any young person who might ask me if it’s a good idea to have an overseas adventure, but on the conditions that they:

  • have saved up for it and/or their family can afford it
  • have a wise and mature head on their shoulders
  • are at peace with God on their decision
  • have responsibly taken care of their commitments
  • remember to return home

The bottom-line for my recommendation – open your eyes, get out of this bubble and discover what you’re missing. Either way, I hope you enjoy the following as much as I have… And if you do get the chance to go for an overseas exchange, employment or extended holiday, GO! (:

On “Swiss Standard of Living”
by Victor Yen

Had a fantastic night – dinner and chitchat – with my “youth” Shawn. I still think of him as my “youth”, having mentored him in a Christian cell setting when he was 15. He’s now 21 and just finished 2.5 months of backpacking Europe after National Service, couch-surfing his way throughout. The amazing thing? He claimed he did not spend a single cent on accommodation. Awesome stuff.

Among a whole lot of countries he visited, he just gave me a glowing account of Switzerland and her famous Swiss Standard of Living. I have never been to Switzerland and asked him many questions. And this is coming from a guy who did not do the tour-package thing. He lived with people, ate what they ate, castrated their pigs (yes, he helped out in farms) and got himself immersed in their lives.

This is what he shared:

Work / Life Balance

  1. They work 42 hours/week or 8 hours a day. This is a matter of law. If extra time is clocked, they are entitled to overtime pay or off-in-lieu. Lunch takes at least 2 hours.
  2. The minimum guaranteed leave they have is 3 weeks per year. But most companies give 4 weeks.
  3. Most people there have hobbies. I mean, real hobbies. They are passionate and spend time on them. For starters, according to Shawn, he hasn’t met anyone who has never skied. They are into archery and stuff. In Singapore, I dare say that if you grab a man on the street and ask him what his hobby is, you get a stammering answer at best on probably these 3 possibilities: “shopping” or “eating” or “sleeping”.

Education

  1. There are 2 tracks after elementary and high school education: academic or vocational. If academic, you go on to university. If vocational, you go straight to work. It’s called apprenticeship. 4 days/week you are at a car mechanic workshop / kitchen etc, in the thick of real action, with real paying customers. The remaining 1 day, you go for your theory lessons. The entire post-secondary education takes typically 3 years. What happens to these chaps upon graduation? Your guess is as good as mine. They become highly-skilled specialists.
  2. Shawn was staying with a family who has a 6 or 7-year-old boy. Wednesdays are rest days from school. What does the family do on Wednesdays? They bake a cake together.

Community

  1. Everyone is greeting everyone on their way to work, school or to the supermarket. He has not heard a single car horn in the month he was there. Pedestrians cross roads as they please, and cars will stop for them. Everyone waves and smiles at each other.
  2. According to Shawn, Switzerland is crazy safe. When he asked a local if there was any recent crime, the reply he got was, “I think we have a stabbing 2 years ago…”

Standard of Living

  1. An average clerk makes a respectable $5-6K francs a month. This pay may square off as average/middle-income in their countries but when they travel, the world is their playground. Oh, by the way, if you flip burgers full-time, your pay check’s probably $3-4K francs.
  2. If you don’t have a job, you can stand in a queue and get a cheque to feed your children. You don’t have to contemplate suicide during job transitions.
  3. He couch-surfed in a farm, where the owner got, wait-for-it, 34 hectares of land for $600K francs. On the land, there is a house and a barn. The rest of it? Forest. Man runs a b&b and guests get to take a walk in his private forest. Shawn said, “It’s pretty epic. I walked with him and he said, ‘This is my forest.'”
  4. Haagen Daz ice-cream costs $3.50 francs a tub. Enough said.

Hold on a second. This cannot be true, right?

  1. The thing is, the Swiss are not paying an incredible amount of tax. About 17%.
  2. The Swiss are not lazy people. They are incredibly productive and I think I’ve read that somewhere. I believe it boils down to passion and skill. They are very interested in what they do and they are very good at what they do.
  3. Ok, dining in a restaurant will cost you, so most people end up cooking their own meals. A Macdonald’s meal costs $19 but hey, it’s junk anyway. The beautiful thing is: necessities are cheap. A litre of milk is 60 cents. 500 grams of pasta is 35 cents. You can eat well even if you are on welfare.
  4. One interesting observation is people are independent. They jack up their cars to rotate tyres and change engine oil. This guy he stayed with is a one-man renovation team. He learns everything from DIY books, then heads to a giant DIY store and gets all the supplies. Before you know it, man’s drilling, cementing and sawing stuff.

Quick-a-side: This jolted my memory when I was backpacking US a few years back. This guy, who’s an estates’ maintenance man hired by an outdoors camp, saw a puddle of water on the ground. He told me, “Well, that puddle hasn’t subsided after 2 weeks.” The next thing I know, he’s on a John Deere tractor digging up the ground. Lo and behold, there’s a burst water pipe underneath all that dirt. He got into the ditch and fixed it, saving a chunk of the utilities’ bill.

This is the same guy who built an entire flying-fox structure. The camp director told him to explore building “a fun thing “over the water. The man read up and started ordering timber. Amazing. How many Singaporeans truly know how to do things? Most of us can’t even cook to feed ourselves.

There is also a huge gulf between a blue-collared worker here and a white-collared one. I can imagine that they would have problems communicating with each other. One is lowly paid, drinks beer in hawker centres and speaks Hokkein mostly. The other earns more, drinks beer at One-Fullerton and speaks fake American English.

The truth is blue-collared workers in Europe/US are able to communicate and work with anyone comfortably. They are on the internet and read books on landscaping. Can our blue-collared workers do that? Is there anything wrong with our education system?

The evening ended with Shawn sharing one last point:

When he asked the Swiss “How’s life?”, he got mostly a matter-of-fact “Yes, I think we have a good life.” How many Singaporeans are saying that?

*An Erdinger is 85 cents by the way…*

i’m running for King Jesus. you?

The last and only time I ran a full marathon was way back in 2006, together with AT. I remember how we encouraged one another to keep the limbs moving, slapped Deep Heat on our legs, consumed those horribly-tasting power fluids, drowned ourselves with 100plus, grunted like a man at every restart and more memorably, how we told each other that we would start and end the marathon together. At the final kilometre, as we caught sight of the end point, we miraculously found strength from I-don’t-know-where and sprinted to the finish line. When we crossed it, our legs never felt that jelly before. It was a defining moment, for sure. Marathons are brotherhood-inducing activities.

Fast-foward four years, I signed myself up for the Standard Chartered Marathon that will take place on 5th Dec 2010. Registration opened today and I took advantage of the early bird price. (Thanks VY, for posting the link on Facebook – can’t wait to train together!) Yes, another gruelling 42.195km worth of sweat and pain. I look forward to the actual run as much as I look forward to the months of progressively intensive training; I remember how AT and I met at Bishan on a weekday at 7pm, ran to Sembawang and back and covered 27km, did our cool-down at 1130pm, looked at each other and wondered how we we were going to make it to work the next day. It was pure insanity, but it was good.

I was so proud of my achievement I kept my finisher’s medal and certificate, as well as my front and back runner’s tag. I also found a picture of myself online running the marathon!

I stayed over at AT’s place the night before and I remember designing the back tag. Adidas ran a campaign on your Reason for Running that year and I took a long time to ponder my message before I wrote that on my tag. Honestly, I didn’t know who or what else to run for except for the glory of God. If I was going to have six hours with thousands of other runners, then I might as well do something with it – so I told myself that I was going to run for Jesus, my King. This gesture to please God turned out to be an interesting experience for me. I had Christians of all ages and gender coming up to me to encourage and to affirm me. It was really quite an experience! I’d encourage everyone to consider taking part in a marathon at least once in their lives; I always tell myself it’d be a tale I’d be able to regale to my grandchildren.

It’s not about how well we start, or how well we run, but about us finishing it as well. Some people say life is short – but how short is it, really, if it’s all we have as mortal beings? Life on earth is actually pretty long – just about the longest duration of any event that we’ll ever experience! To me, life is a marathon – and I am determined to end it well to receive my medal, certificate, memory as well as a good pat on the back and a voice that will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” This year, as with every subsequent year from this point forth, I’m going to run for Jesus again. What about 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!

the therapy of shouting.

First and foremost, I must say that VY and I had a pretty bromantic evening watching Man Utd beat Spurs and return to the top of the summit where they rightfully belong. I’ve always enjoyed his fellowship, not just because he’s frank and spontaneous, but also because I enjoy pondering over his radical perspectives on certain issues. We are both dreamers and visionaries – I think that’s where we click. Above and beyond the VictorY we enjoyed (pun unintended), it was the brotherhood and conversation that I will remember more.

We shouted many times during this match and we screamed three times over two converted penalties and a delightful little lob – it was a natural expression of a dichotomy of emotions experienced throughout the course of a 90-minute match. This got me thinking about how football is synonymous with yelling – it has to come together. Perhaps that’s why the mid-week middle-of-the-night matches are a little more excruciating to watch because we don’t want to wake the other people who are already sleeping soundly in the house; the best we could do is to shout into a cushion, muffle our voices or simply shout without opening our mouths. If I had to watch a game of football in absolute silence, I’d rather not watch it.

Men turn into part-time football talk show hosts at every live soccer game. We discuss tactics and question managers’ intelligence, reminisce history (and when and how we started supporting our teams), speculate the final score and scorers, laugh at players, joke about Liverpool (sorry, couldn’t resist), applaud great moves, raise our hands and shout “Mine!” at every throw-in or bury our faces in our hands and let out a string of substitute expletives at the miss of an open goal. We do all that because it enhances the experience of watching football with someone; and yes, it’s always better to watch a live game with a buddy.

Aren’t these the reasons why we even watch football? Why do we sit behind a TV screen cheering for teams and players that have absolutely no effect on our quality of life? Why we would spend prime time on a weekend evening just to watch the Premier League or risk coming to work groggy and being screamed at by intolerant bosses on a Wednesday or Thursday morning just to watch the Champions League? For crying out loud, most of us aren’t even able to execute 10 percent of the moves that we see on the screen yet we criticise the players as if we were the ones who trained them. I think it’s because we love the game – the game is lovely; we need to express ourselves and we do it best when we shout. For men, it’s almost primal and barbaric, but hugely gratifying.

That’s precisely why I’ve decided to install MioTV in my room, instead of in the living room. Next season, I want my buddies and I to scream without reservations or fear of disturbing my family members. I want to shout with freedom and I want to express myself; I want to be therapeutised. There you go, I’ve justified the transfer.

So gentlemen, go ahead – scream at the top of your lungs, give (manly) high-fives, exchange (manly) hugs and get decked in your favourite colours. Do whatever it takes to bring yourself a little nearer to the football in England, even though you have absolutely no bearing on the eventual result. Do it – you’ve had a hard week and you owe it to yourself. Keep watching, keep shouting. For one day they may just be able to hear you. Really.

the youth ministry you dream about.

During the prayer time before youth service, God directed me to 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 and downloaded an entire sermon into my head. But its contents are gonna be really tough to deliver so I think it’ll remain brewing in my head before it gets served.

VY and I had a good conversation over lunch today. I think having similar mentalities and visions towards ministry do help people to bond quickly. I enjoyed hearing him share and I also enjoyed sharing with him. I do hope there’s more to come from this fusion of hearts.

I crashed YX’s cell today (much to her reluctance and her sad face x 10) and I’d like to think it turned out better than I thought. I also joined the entire cell for dinner at Lot 1 and hung out at the top floor of the compound after we ate. It was there that I asked them to dream about the kind of youth ministry that they wanted to see. Here’s how a group of 14-18-year-olds responded:

“More growth.”

“More enthusiastic.”

“Everyone is discipled.”

“Hang out more, bond more.”

“Every youth knowing one another like one big family.”

Well, these are all great things to have. And I believe that if we all play our part, these dreams would become reality. The above-mentioned does resonate with what’s in my heart. I believe that for R-AGE to head to another level, we need to come to realise that this is OUR ministry and that we have to take ownership of it.

One thing that I really enjoyed about the SOAR youths was that they knew that they would exit the ministry (and Shanghai) once they turn 18 (and leave the country for college). And so a good number of them endeavour to leave behind a legacy. They knew that they were the ones who had to make it work. They knew that if they didn’t own the ministry, no one else would. I pray that this attitude would also be birthed R-AGE. I know a number of youths who already feel that way and I believe that I am strategically positioned to enable and empower more young people to catch this vision. Imagine its life-changing, Bukit Batok-shaking, ministry-revolutionising consequences!

I believe with all my heart that there is nothing more satisfying than witnessing youths leading youths. And what a great privilege it would be for me to help play a part in making vision that come true. I believe that R-AGE is on the threshold of a new dawn. Let’s put our hands into the plough. Everyone has a part to play. The youth ministry in G2 is about to explode. I believe that by faith and I believe that with all my heart. May that be in line with God’s will.

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