My SMU Journey
In about 10 days, on the 24th of April, 2013, my life as a student will end. I started writing this on the 14th of April, and this blog entry will continue to grow as time goes by.
After nearly 20 years of homework that I didn’t do at home, examinations that expect my brain’s storage capacity to double every 2 years in accordance to Moore’s Law, beautiful or cute classmates who commanded my eyeballs during classes more than the poor lecturer or teacher talking ceaselessly to no one in particular, projects where I ended up doing almost everything, projects where I didn’t contribute anything, saying strange and random stuff to strange and random people just because I can, wearing school uniforms, thinking that school uniforms is a bad idea, going to University and having to ensure that I didn’t wear the same top and bottom the same day of the week so as not to give the impression of wearing a uniform, and therefore once again thinking that school uniforms is an really awesome idea for all the trouble it saves, and asking for student discounts to save some hard-begged pocket money, it is now finally time to end things and put a full stop on my life as a student.
This lengthy blog entry is loosely divided into parts. Use the links below for navigation.
The whole idea of writing this isn’t to get emotional about the end of the most enjoyable period of my life. I can’t say that this is the most enjoyable period of my life, because there are only two other periods of my life that didn’t involve school. Instead, both of them involved the ground. The earlier period saw me crawling around on the ground and bumping into furniture, and the later, more recent period saw me crawling around on the ground with a rifle. Both aren’t exactly enjoyable. So you see, I don’t have a frame of reference to say if school is the most enjoyable period of my life.
I digress. I am writing this to document the most pivotal period of my life, so that years later, I can look back and still retain these memories. Being mildly dyslexic and suffering from extremely short term memory (according to my wife-to-be), I will not remember anything of my 4 years in SMU within 2 years after graduation.
The 4 years in SMU are really important to me as it fundamentally changed who I am as a person both physically and mentally. SMU wasn’t lying with the marketing tagline “Discover a Different U”.
And ladies and gentlemen, this change is something that cannot be done with photoshop alone.
Now, trying to look like a real estate agent or an insurance spam man wasn’t the reason why I chose to enroll in SMU. Let’s talk about the real reasons.
In case the “before” photo didn’t make it clear enough for you, I am a geek. So why SMU? Why SIS? Why not go for the less expensive degrees over at NTU and NUS? After all, enrolling in any degree containing the word “computer” would guarantee me finding my natural habitat. I would be a one mega epic geek who can commandeer anything that uses electricity like a slave if I went there.
Well, the success of my pet project, TheWickedQuiz, and the passing of one of my active players showed me one thing: it is not so much about your technical skills, but what you decide to use it for and how you decide to use it that gives what you do meaning, and allow you to touch people’s life.
In other words, how good you are at doing something is secondary compared to what you are doing it for.
From day 1, I was determined to pursue a path that would expose me to useful applications of IT, a path that would transform me into someone more outspoken and confident, an oxymoron of actual geeks. I don’t want to be just the guy at the desk. I want to understand people and businesses better and add value to them.
I still want to work in IT, but I want to rescue myself from the world of Geekdom before it was too late. Computing, Computer Science and Computer Engineering degrees are of not interest to me. After all, you can easily learn IT skills on Google. Why pay $40,000 for it?
I was fortunate to have known Jun Kwang, the dude who was sharing his hosting plans with me during The Wicked days. He enchanted me with the wonders of SIS while hiding the truth about the crazy workload. He had me so hooked on SMU SIS that I decided to apply for SIS and nothing else. Perhaps Jun Kwang should quit his current job at a prestigious financial institute and sell magnetic bracelets indeed. I swear, his power of persuasion would make him a millionaire in less than a year.
I was soon invited for an interview by SIS. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
In every man’s life, there is a period of time where he becomes the most submissive person in world. He spent weeks being conditioned not to talk back to another. He only knows how to follow instructions and could not think for himself. The same period of time when he has the least amount of hair on his head.
I got called to the interview during the Basic Military Training Phase.
I went for the SMU SIS admissions interview with the mental attitude of the lowest-ranked soldier in SAF. When the ushers guided me to my interview room, I almost shouted, “Yes Sir” and I had to squeeze my lips to prevent those words from escaping me and making a fool of myself.
Eventually, I got myself seated on some nice comfortable office chairs and was commanded to read an article. I was supposed to share my opinion on the article during the interview. WHAT OPINIONS!? I wondered, I was trained not to have an opinion of my own.
It just wasn’t my day. Chatting with fellow interviewees who were in the same interview group as me in my broken English, I realized that three of them are sergeants in SAF and all of them had experience having attended the same interview last year. “This time die liao,” was the thought that filled my mind as I stepped uncertainly into the interview room.
The interview process was a blur. I was asked to estimate the number of soccer balls that can fit into the oddly shaped interview room. I couldn’t finish my calculations on time, and when one of the interviewers asked me for my answer, I snapped back, “I haven’t FINISH!!”
At the end of the interview, we were asked to come up with a question to ask Steve Miller, the Dean of SIS. I couldn’t have came up with a better question, “In what way is SIS different? If I take a business and computer science double degree in NUS and then compare to SIS?”
Imagine your expression if you woke up one day and found Megan Fox naked in your bed. That was the same expression Steve gave me when I asked that question. “How about you tell me? You must know this since you are applying for SMU SIS,” he fired back. Well, I tried to answer him to the best of my ability, much like how a chicken would try to fly to the best of its ability.
With all that had transpired during the interview, it was a miracle that got the place eventually. Perhaps hiding a newspaper article featuring yourself among the admissions documents helped.
It was weeks later before I received this fateful letter.
Once I accepted the offer, like any other SMU undergraduates, I started by attending camps.
I was an introvert and if there’s one thing that introverts hate, it is school camps. I hated being around others all the time. Why should I attend camps and walk around doing weird activities with camp mates and screaming like a lunatic? I’ll rather stay at home all day watching anime or programming the next Facebook.
Thanks to SMU, I had to go for not one, but 3 camps. “Red Cross Project I Can” so that I can clock my 80 hours of CSP, the “Freshmen Team Building Camp” for the school to cook all the fresh-meat under the sun, and “MetamorphoSIS” to give SIS students a taste of sleeping over in school to prepare them for their four great years ahead. I thought I would hate all three camps. I was wrong.
Red Cross Project I.Can
This was the most memorable and eventful school camp in my life. It was also meaningful. We went to Bishan, one of the more affluent neighborhood in Singapore to beg for can food (many of them expired) and redistribute them to really poor old folks staying together at studio apartments in a place I didn’t even know existed.
I really put my sweat and blood into this camp. Yes, literally blood.
I fell while piggybacking Linda during one of the games. Any ordinary person would break their fall by extending their hands and bracing themselves. But I was so worried that Linda who was on my back would fall sideway and hit the ground that instead of reaching forward to break my own fall, I reached backward to hold Linda in position so that she would fall on me.
With my layers of bodily fat, I managed to break her fall but without free hands, I hit the ground chin-first and knocked myself unconscious.
The resulting wound on the chin kept bleeding and I had to be treated at the clinic. The doctor gave me two options – stitch or use glue to hold the wound together. Being the wimp I was, I chose the glue. It was a bad choice. For the rest of the camp, my wound would open start bleeding whenever I laugh too hard.
I laughed often during the camp. The games were creative and fun. When I say creative, I really meant it. One of the games had us all trying to squeeze into a disabled toilet.
Instead of asking prospective students how many soccer balls can fit into a room during interviews, SMU should change the question to “how many incoming students can fit into a disabled toilet. At least, the latter is verifiable.
From this camp, I realized that staying and having fun with friends really allow you to discover and make new and lasting friends. Cheryl, Kolja, Kah Haw, Jie Ying and Linda are lasting friends made during this camp. We even took many of the same modules together throughout our entire SMU Journey. This is one camp I will never regret attending.
Freshmen Team Building Camp
Freshmen Team Building Camp wasn’t exactly memorable or interesting to me. I can understand why so many decided to skip the camp. A word of advice to incoming students – you can skip the camp without any penalties. If you are a prospective student, just laugh and hang up the phone when your camp leaders call and threaten you to attend the camp. Please don’t tell anyone I said that.
Nevertheless, here are some photo highlights of the camp.
I went to the camp with a big pamper on my face. This was due to the fall I had while carrying Linda during Red Cross Camp.
This camp also taught you the art of escaping giant spider-webs, for the one day you might find yourself caught in one. A valuable life skill that everyone should have.
If you ever escape the gigantic spider-web, you should also know how to make a raft to escape the island.
I think the problem with FTB was that it took place after many freshmen have already made new friends in other camps. Because of that, they were less willing to form lasting friendships with new people because they were still trying to cope with the torrent of new friends they made prior to FTB. Guys also hated FTB because it reminded them about army.
MetamorphoSIS was a orientation camp organized for incoming SIS students. It was also the wildest camp I’ve participated in.
This was also the camp where I got acquainted with Zi Xin, who used to play The Wicked. He’s now the CTO of one of the most promising SMU startup and I’m honored to share the same office space as him.
When he becomes a millionaire, I am going to use this photo to blackmail him:
This camp was about “metamorphosis”. To fully explore the theme, I was volunteered by the rest of the group to take part in a game known as “T-Factor”. Apparently, this game is a SIS tradition during SIS orientation camps. With a few props and in just 30 minutes, the group metamorphosized me into a charming young lady with blonde hair, mustache, G-cup boobs and muscular, sexy and hairy legs. I was a sight to behold.
In a later part of the camp, Daniel (who eventually became my Software Engineering teammate) and I had a showdown to claim the title of the world’s largest boobs.
To conclude, I felt that MetamorphoSIS camp was extremely rewarding. Afterall, we won an iPod Shuffle each. JEALOUS?
Jokes aside, I felt that School Camps are indeed one of the most rewarding experience in University life. You make lasting friendships, you were given the excuse to do all kinds of things which you otherwise would not have done, and you had lots of fun before the harsh reality of school work set in.
With the conclusion of MetamorphoSIS, the only thing that stood between me and my first semester as a University student was Convocation.
SMU had gotten it reversed. If you were enrolled in NUS or NTU, you attend Commencement when you were admitted, and you attend Convocation when you graduate. In SMU, we have Convocation first, followed by Commencement. Someone in the SMU Administration Building had a faulty watch.
Most of us who attended Convocation had no idea about the meaning or purpose in having such an event. We just used it as an excuse to take strange photos at Suntec City.
And then suddenly, school started.
Coming soon… Chapter 5: Year 1 Sem 1
Taxi Drivers and the meaning of life.
I think if we are seeking the meaning of life, the best person to ask are taxi drivers. They are able to draw from their wisdom from their life as well as the combined wisdom and experiences of all their passengers.
Today, the first driver I encountered managed to put 3 daughters through uni and had a young son who married due to shotgun at 21. He talk about how the path to adulthood for each of his children and and about how they eventually found meaning in life. He now lives in the same flat as his second daughter, and treasures every dinner they have as a family. While driving, his wife called and they were arranging where to meet for lunch. He said, money couldn’t buy this warmth, this happiness. Money diverts your attention from that. We carried on chatting on his cab even after he stopped his meter and I paid him. When I alight, we shook hands.
The second driver lives in a humble 3-room flat in jurong west. He taught me about contentment He gave me general advice on how some of his relatives build their careers. He also taught me that nothing makes him happier than returning home and being with his family.
Together they guided me with what I had been struggling with. As I turn 25 today and am about to graduate in 3 months, I couldn’t figure what my pursue should be. What kind of life should I lead?
Should I try to increase my personal wealth? Should I carefully plan my career progression across different industries? Should I risk it all and carry on with my startup and impose a financial strain on everyone around me? Should I just find work that pays decently, be contended with what I have, get married quickly and start a family?
I’ve always thought that we should do the best we can. Achieve. Accomplish something. Make an impact on this world. Revolutionalize the world even. But recently, I’ve been pondering: Would it really make me happy? Would I be happy putting in that amount of hard work for the sake of some accomplishment later? If I try to achieve, when would enough ever be enough?
The thing with most people with wealth, is that there’s never enough. Should I allow myself to degrade into such a person? Yes, with more money I can buy better things. But think about it, how much additional utility would I reallyderive if I buy a Prada wallet over a Braun Buffel one? I think that the opportunity cost of trying to earn enough to afford a luxurious lifestyle is too high. I think that I would be happier working with less stress and spending time outside work with my loved ones, or doing things I love, such as listening to music, playing R/C, etc.
I want to break free of this endless pursue. I think I have got the foundation of my academic creditation dialed right. I’ve opened up endless possibilities for myself for what remains of my brief time on Earth. Should I continue to defer my happiness by trying to constantly achieve more and more, or should i just live in the moment, live happily, live contended, and exit the world knowing that I’ve smiled for a huge duration of time?
To my peers, please know that I think slavery still exists in society. If money dictates your career choice, if it dictates what you are going to do from when you are 26 to 60, then you are a slave, and money is your master. This is the prime of your life. Don’t waste it working for money.
Without knowing it, I’ve spent 25 years of my life trying to achieve. From a young child with learning disabilities to a university graduate with all kinds of career door open.
Now, to not have stress in my mind. To enjoy every moment in my life. To enjoy what companionship with my parents and sibling and future wife has to offer.
That’s the best life.
Where are we heading?
Where are we heading?
Seriously. Where are we heading?
It wasn’t too long ago, when I remember the reason why I told myself to work hard. In studies. In what I believed in.
It wasn’t too long ago, when if you are a fresh graduate, you would probably live a good life. You will be able to afford to cheap car. You will be able to afford a 5 room HDB or even a condo without taking out loans that span double digit years.
My dad was the sole breadwinner. We could afford a modest 3-room flat and later on moved to a 4-room flat. Eventually he was able to afford a car. One that has a red colored license plate and is small and cute. A Hyundai Getz.
I really appreciate what my parents have done for me. They were not “educated”. Only my dad ever made it to secondary 4 and that was that. But they brought me up. They brought me here.
I want to repay them.
So. Aim to be a graduate. Afford a car. Sponsor parents for trips. Give them a good life. That was my dream.
That was 15 years ago.
I worked my way up. I wasn’t a bright student. I was a very slow learner who couldn’t even pick up what all the 26 letters in the alphabets are until Primary 1. Now I am in a University. I am pursuing a degree. I am graduating in less than 3 months.
Just now I met up with some of my peers for a gathering. We did some calculation.
In the 1970s, a graduate who was the sole breadwinner in the family was earning a starting pay of around S$1,000 monthly and three-, four- and five-room flats in Marine Parade, for example, were going for S$17,000, S$20,000 and S$35,000 respectively. (http://www.propertyguru.com.sg/blog/tag/prices-still-too-high-even-with-50-year-loan)
In 1980s, it was $80,000. In 1990s, it was $170,000. Then, it was $230,000 in 2007s. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_housing_in_Singapore#Pricing)
2008, 4-room flat was sold for a record of $495,000 (http://www.asiaone.com/Business/My%2BMoney/Property/Story/A1Story20081214-107602.html)
In 2009, the record was $653,000. (http://www.stproperty.sg/articles-property/singapore-property-news/record-653000-for-4-room-flat/a/5161)
What is the average graduate salary in 2011? $2678. (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1216596/1/.html)
Look at where we are.
A premium 4-room HDB flat was equal to 20 months pay of a graduate in the 1970s. Now a graduate would have to work for 244 months to be able pay for a 4-room flat in Singapore in premium places. Without spending a single cents on anything else.
There is a number of reasons why this happened. I didn’t write this to point fingers. So many things have gone wrong. But lets’ look at what is the most real problem we are facing now.
When I have my children, I will have to tell them. I will have to tell them the exact SAME things my parents who only had secondary education said to me, many years ago.
“Look at us. We can survive, but barely. I hope you can work hard. Be somebody. Then you will have a good life in future, for yourself and for your children.”
And then they will have to say the same thing to their children.
Where are we heading?
My life in SMU so far…
My last ever semester as a student starts in a few days. Looking back, I think I have made full use of the opportunities provided to me as a student. I’ve done community service projects, organized by own events, served as teaching assistant for multiple modules, done an internship, went on an overseas exchange, served in student bodies, and even started my own company! While being involved with all these exciting stuff, I’ve also tried to put some effort into studies as and when I can. I’ve received so much help from valuable project teammates during my 3.5 years (so far) in Singapore Management University, and many of them became some of my most awesome friends. Teammates, you have my heartfelt thanks for helping me survive SMU so far.
My two remaining goals now as a student are clear.
The first would probably not be too useful for my future, but I was thinking, since I am already so close… why not? I shall try my best to graduate with Summa Cum Laude, the highest level of academic distinction available. In this day and age where post-graduate academic qualifications are flooding the market, at least academic distinction follows the curve and would allow me to discover where I really stand and give me the confident I really need to face the working world. I really hope I do get it.
To many, my second goal is a direct contravention of the first. I want my first startup, Oompr! Pte Ltd, to have a successful exceed within 2 years. Trying to achieve this while still aiming for Summa Cum Laude is foolish, I know. Not many, if any, have done this before. The odds are not in my favor. But I shall go for it.
#MOMChats Townhall Session
Passion is all you need.
Having attended #MOMchats Townhall Session held on 11th October 2012 at Singapore Management University, one of the key topic that I found most memorable was the discussion on passion. In particular, the question posted by the audience was, “Can we survive on passion today?”
“Can we survive on passion today?” Minister Tan was filled with his conviction as he took on this question. He described his personal experience about how his passion had led him to where he is today. His passion for public service was deepened when he served National Service (NS), which was why he enjoyed his stint there tremendously. This propelled him to the public service sector and eventually becoming the current Acting Minister. Still, for most people, it is about finding the right balance between passion and survivability. Minister Tan gave the advice that, ultimately, we will have to decide what is most important to us, at different stages of our live. There are times when we have responsibilities we can’t fulfill should we just follow our passion. What really matters would be to find meaning in what we do.
I do not share Minister Tan’s passion for NS to such a large extent, and this placed in a slightly unique position of not being able to pursue my passion during the two years while I was in army. However, I agree with Minister Tan that it was simply a matter of knowing what is most important at different stages of our lives. While I may not be able to pursue my passion during the two years in army, what was most important to me during the time was character molding, and the two years in army certainly helped me be a more mature and resilient individual.
In order to answer the question on whether we can survive on passion today, I think we have to first define what “survive” really meant. Is “survival” defined as a) earning barely enough to put food the table but living each day with meaning or b) defined as commanding high pay so that one could live comfortably? I am inclined to go with the first definition.
I feel that as long as I am able to put food on the table, I am surviving. The beauty of thinking this way is that I don’t have to spend all my time thinking about what I should do to make more money. I would then be free to pursue my passion even if it could just barely put food on my table.
By pursuing my passion, every day will be meaningful, exciting and full of happiness.
At the end of life’s journey, I know for sure I will be smiling.
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Protected: Willy Wonkas
More points of suspicion regarding Alvin’s appeal into NUS
While Alvin finally bothered to rectify some of the misleading facts regarding his admission into NUS on his appeal site, many netizens began to raise suspicion over the “Hungry Hippo” final year project created by Alvin.
Firstly, he claimed that Microsoft Surface was “poorly documented” at that time. This might not be true as Microsoft seldom release any “poorly documented” SDK to developers.
Next, let’s look at a video of one of the first game that some Microsoft engineers threw together as part of a demonstration of the technology.
View the video
Finally, we look at the design of Alvin’s page, and the uncanny resemblance it has with this page, an appeal website by a 19 year old in Slovakia.
Untruths Behind Alvin’s Appeal Revealed
In my earlier article, I raised questions regarding a site created by one particular Alvin regarding his appeal to get into NUS. Looks like my suspicion is confirmed.
Although Alvin’s site is all about “helping Alvin get into NUS”, Alvin was ALREADY given a place in NUS even before he started the appeal site. This was reported in a Today’s article.
Mr Wang, who was… offered a course in Information Systems at NUS, is hoping to use this website as part of his official appeal… to pursue a degree in Computer Science
In other words, this is NOT about Alvin not being able to get into University, or NUS being lousy in their admission process. This is about a guy not being happy with the course he have gotten, and trying to garner the support of so many people deceptively.
Information Systems and Computer Science in NUS shares many same modules, and they even have the exact same programmes during freshman year.
Yet, Alvin seems adamant about the whole thing, saying that he does not intend to enrol in university should he fail in this appeal and that, “To me, it is not so much about… getting that paper qualification.” Huh? Then what is this about?
Are you one of those misled by his half-truths? Perhaps he is better suited working in a advertising agency.
Finally, let’s take a look at the weird resemblance with a campaign by a 19 year old designer from Slovakia
Help Alvin become a chipmunk
Recently a dude who goes by the name of Alvin created is own site to tell the whole world that he wanted to get into NUS, but couldn’t. Many people supported this by spending 2 seconds of their time to click a “like button”. I thought otherwise.
Before we get overly emotional and applaud him for his perceived courage and stuff, let’s think about this rationally and logically and decide whether this is indeed a cause for support.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against this if it can be proven that his passion in IT is genuine. Right now there are more questions than answers, and I am withholding my support for this until when support is deserved.
I am hungry for your answers.
You make me smell.
The problem with being me, is that I’m mildly dyslexic.
And when my girlfriend dropped me a sweet SMS, I replied:
Dear, your msg makes me smell.
The 3 types of Muggers
I am not a mugger in all sense of the word, but I have lived among them for nearly 10 years. After observing muggers for 4 years in The Chinese High School (now known as Hwa Chong Institution), 2 years in Anderson Junior College (the No.1 mugger JC with NO results to show that fact) and 3 years in Singapore Management University, I realized there are actually only 3 distinct types of muggers. Let’s see.
The Serious Muggers
The Serious Muggers are the most rare breed that you can find. They can be found in huge abundance in The Chinese High School but I don’t really see them in Anderson Junior College. A small number of them can be found in Singapore Management University, but they are the exceptions rather than the norm. Serious Muggers are muggers who meant business. These people spend the bulk of their life studying. They look exactly the same and have the exact same posture whether or not it is 7am in the morning or 11pm at night and you would have sworn they are mannequins if not for the occasional rise and fall of their chest when they decide to input something other than knowledge into their body and output something other than grades.
The Closet Muggers
No, they don’t literally hide in closets, even though if they can find a closet large enough with sufficient lightings, they probably would. These muggers are seriously in need of psychological evaluation, as they often have issues with coming to terms with their own identity. Their favourite phrase to their peers is “Why mug? Don’t need mug lar…” Some may say that this is a smart application of game theory, but we may never know the truth. Some Closet Muggers are also Serious Muggers, and Serious Closet Muggers are the most scary muggers in existence because they give a whole new meaning to the words “zombie”, “no life”, and “bell curve”.
The Social Muggers
Social muggers love to mug in plain sight of their peers and in fact, prefers to mug with their peers, who are also Social Muggers. They are characterised by their loud chatters and abundance of food and beverages during mugging sessions and tend can be randomly encountered in places with lots of good books or cheap food, such as Libraries and McDonald’s. Sadly, like any other pests, they multiply and displaces the natives in any environment they go too. Avid library goers stop going to libraries because of the huge noise population that Social Muggers produced, and McDonald’s customers have to take out as there are no more seats in the restaurant. One may argue that Social Muggers aren’t really muggers at all – they spend more time eating and talking than studying. Social Muggers can never be confused with Closet Muggers, since the lack of good books and cheap food in closets make closets unlikely habitats for Social Muggers.
So this is it, these are my 3 classifications of muggers. Can you think of any more?