Getting a Japanese Driving License – The practice session

You can book driving practice sessions at Futamatagawa test center on weekends and holidays. I took a session yesterday, 19 May. After the session, I knew I will most likely fail a few times. The session which includes car rental and instructor costs 8600 yen, which is pretty worth it in my opinion for the below reasons.

The test is actually not difficult. It is just driving through a fixed course that you don’t have to remember because the examiner will tell you where to turn. So what is difficult?

This is: presenting what the examiner is looking for.

The practice session really helped a lot because it has been 8 years since I took my one and only driving test back in Singapore. Basic things like signalling 3 seconds before making a turn or changing lanes get forgotten easily. I found out that this driving test is not a test of your skill, or your reaction, or how smooth you can accelerate or brake. It tests your ability to execute a set of actions in sequence, and of course that will be a test of your memory and brain to body coordination by vomiting out the actions to your limbs.

Is it easy to make a turn? Who doesn’t know how to turn? Bet you didn’t know you must stick as close to the curb as possible without hitting it while you turn left. Bet you didn’t know the furthest you can position your car is 1mm away from the center line while preparing to make a right turn. I was so paranoid in trying to perfect those that I kept forgetting to signal in preparation for the next turn.

Oh and they fucking put an obstacle (1) just round a curve, and another one (2) just before a left turn into a smaller street. So for (1), you have to make a lane change while negotiating the curve and for (2), you can’t make a smooth transition back to the left lane because you have to turn left. It got me uncomfortable as I wasn’t presented with such situations at the driving school in Singapore.

I thought the cars we were going to use was the Toyota Comfort taxi cab, but it turned out to be a Toyota Vios, maybe two generations later than the one I used 8 years ago (Yeah we used Toyota Vios-es at Comfort Delgro Driving School). After making payment I was asked to sit in the car and wait for the instructor.

On entering the vehicle, I noted that the gear was in reverse and pulled it out, but thought maybe it was supposed to be the starting position so I put it back in. After a while, the instructor came.

After exchanging some greetings with the instructor, he asked me to turned on the engine as the weather was hot. I asked if there are any specific procedures before starting the engine. He said yeah, but first start the engine cuz it’s hot. I cranked the ignition but nothing happened. I tried it once again and got a weird stare from him, and he asked if I know how to start an engine! I was like, yeah this is one of the things I wanted to ask. Do I need to clutch in? He pointed that the gear was in reverse so the engine couldn’t start without clutching in (it has some safety mechanism I guess?). I didn’t try to start it in manual and I believe  that the correct procedure is to clutch in and I shall remember that.

I think we were taught to clutch in at driving school but after getting my license, I started all manual cars in neutral without clutching in, and those vehicles weren’t as high-tech as these nowadays. Okay, so I clutched in and cranked the ignition again.

After adjusting the mirrors and putting on my seatbelt, I was ready to go. I still remembered some test requirements so I put them into practice. Check all mirrors and signal away from the curb side. Release the clutch gradually and get her moving. I never had problems with engaging the clutch, so I just need to release it slowly to feel the biting point distance and thereafter I can engage it immediately.

I was supposed to turn right into a ‘main road’ after exiting the start line, so signal and make a turn after checking traffic. Here, I need to speed up until a bend to the left. I am still not sure if I should go up to gear 3 because the distance seemed short.

I am so freaking tired after full day’s of work today on a bloody Sunday, so let me continue this again another day.

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Getting a Japanese Driving License – The beginning of an endless quest

After more than one and a half years living as a Japanese resident, I have decided to stop procrastinating and attempt the conversion test for a Japanese driving license.

The reason for procrastinating was because I heard horror stories about it and how troublesome each procedure is. In summary, a foreigner should not expect to pass on the first attempt, and maybe not for the next 5 attempts too. Having limited paid leaves, I was reluctant to use them on driving tests. However, from year 2018, my company increased our annual leave to 24 days a year! That was the motivation to go for it; I was prepared to spam my leave just to pass the test.

Why do I have to take leave? The test center only operates on weekdays and there are only two timings for the test: 9am and 1.30pm. How convenient is that?

This part is only about the application process as my test date is set on 16 May.

Before moving on, the first question is why do I need a Japanese driving license when I can use the International Driving Permit issued by Singapore? That’s where the concept is wrong. I could used it only for a year, which applies to most countries, even Singapore. In fact, I still can use it now, provided I don’t get caught; not many police officers and car rental clerks know about this law. Count yourself lucky if you are doing it and not getting caught because it amounts to the same offence as driving without a valid license. The maximum penalty will be 300,000yen fine or up to 1 year imprisonment. As I’m a law-abiding resident, I take the legal way. 

As a foreigner with a valid foreign driving license, you do not have to go for the full driving course; you can just apply for conversion. Depending on whether your home country has some agreement with Japan, you have to take a practical test. People from countries like Taiwan, South Korea and many European countries are exempted from the test. They are able to get the license on the day of application just completing paperwork. I actually think licensing is much stricter in Singapore than any of the exempted countries, but too bad we are not part of the agreement. Therefore, I have to suck thumb and go through the difficult way.

Unlike Singapore, where you can take the test in the driving school, everyone has to take both written and practical tests at specific test centers in one’s own prefecture. In the case of Tokyo, there are three centers. As a Kanagawa prefecture resident, I have to take the test in the prefecture’s only center, which turned out to be the police headquarters located at a place where birds wouldn’t lay eggs. The nearest station is called Futamatagawa, 13 minutes by rapid service from Yokohama.

I got my information from this pdf file.

https://www.police.pref.kanagawa.jp/eng/e_pic/eng83013.pdf

Each prefecture has its own application instructions by essentially they required you to provide the same documents.

  1. Passport
  2. Foreign driving license
  3. License Translation document
  4. Photograph (3.0cm x 2.4cm, blue background)
  5. Residence card
  6. Certificate of residence (住民票) with your nationality printed
  7. Proof that you have stayed in the issuing country for a period of more than 90 days (case-by-case)

1, 2 and 5 are what you already have. You do not actually have to specifically take a 3.0cm by 2.4cm photograph because I found out that they do cut it for you. However, I think it must be a coloured background (apparently blue). For (3), you have to make a trip down to the Japanese Automobile Federation at Hamamatsucho. Pay 3000yen for a paper translation of your license, which could take up to 3 hours (I waited for two hours). I have no complains for this because I took medical leave (had some skin problem) to see a doctor and guess what? I planned it such that my waiting time for the translation was covered by my visit to the doctor. That was all possible because I had heard about this inefficiency. They operate only during office hours, so it’s either you take paid leave/medical leave or get it posted to your address with an additional postage fee. And no, you can’t do bank transfer for this, you have to put in 3000yen + postage fee into an envelope and mail it to them. Sounds like in the 90s? Yes this is Japanese technology.

Forget about Honda ASIMO the robot, Shinkansen and the cool Japanese gadgets commonly shown to the world. Engineering in Japan is great, software is not. Efficiency is even out of the question.

As for (6), you just need to visit your ward’s/city’s office on.. guess what? Yes another weekday to pay 300yen for a piece of paper. Some offices open on alternate Saturdays for the morning so check if yours does.

My greatest worry was (7), because I read lots of stories about how people had a hard time proving that they stayed in their country for more than three months after getting their licenses. Turns out, this largely applies to licenses that need to be renewed, which puts Singapore out of the context. This is because if the issued date is very close to the date you arrived in Japan (whether it is a new or renewed license), they want to ensure that you didn’t come to Japan straight after getting a new license and pose a danger to their roads. So if you just renewed your license, you should have a document that states the first issuance of the license. Thankfully, I got mine 8 years ago and logic convinced the officer who checked my documents that I must have stayed in Singapore for more than three months. And thankfully, Singaporeans do not have to renew our driving licenses. If in doubt, just prepare a document that proves this point. If need be, collect passport stamps from your own country long before you come to Japan and get judged by the immigration officer cuz no one actually stamps in their home country.

I made the trip down to the license center on April 27, Friday. I used an off-in-lieu instead because I worked on a lot of weekends recently. This is another motivation too; as I get off-in-lieus, I can spam test attempts! I planned to arrive slightly earlier than the registration time which starts at 8.30am. When I entered the building, I was shocked to see so many people already sitting down and waiting. A lady in blue blazer directed me to write down my name on a list. I was number 20…

There are two registration times for the day: 8.30am to 9am and 1pm to 1.30pm. For the uninitiated, you would probably think that given 30 minutes, it is possible to register all 20 people. Let me tell you, NO. At that moment I already knew I had to spend the entire day in that building which resembles a canteen of my primary school, but 2 times larger. I could not understand why that can’t process 20 people in 30 minutes, but after spending the entire day there, I can assure you you will know why. Sometimes I think if the Japanese government would hire me, in 5 years time, kids would be able to speak fluent English. What is the link? Japan is slow and resistant to change.

Okay back to topic, what was happening in that canteen building? One-by-one, names get called and people approached the only one counter, managed by a man in this thirties, wearing a uniform I supposed to be the traffic police’s. He has a head shaped like a potato, and I resisted the urge to let him know he was wearing his tie clip too low; only about one inch above his belt. If I did, I’d have probably kiss goodbye to my application. There, he will check if the required documents are present for 2 to 3 minutes.

A couple of times, the lady in blue blazer came out of a door beside one of the canteen booths to confirm things with the applicants. I guess she must be keying the personal details into a computer behind Mr. Potato.

While waiting, I talked to a Caucasian man who was holding on to a number card that says “2”. He said we will receive this card after getting registered. I asked him what time he came since he got an early number. He said he started queuing up at 7am outside the gate. What…? How can anyone be more kiasu than a Singaporean?? An angmoh just won me in kiasuism? I can’t believe it. Then I went on to talk to an Indonesian couple who was holding on to “1”. Both of them came the day before to apply but the wife forgot to bring her passport, so she was automatically assigned number 1 for this day.

Although the registration time was stated to end at 9am, people continued to get called past 9 and I was called around 9.15am. Oh I thought I had a chance! Unfortunately, the only good news was my documents seemed to be fine and I had to come back in the afternoon as they cannot process so many people in the morning. Alright fine, as expected I thought. I was number 6 for the afternoon round. Not bad, they managed to clear 14 people.

I went back to the station and spent three hours window shopping and having lunch. There was a small mall with Donki Jote, Nitori and Yamada electronics. I went back to the canteen-like place and my wait continued. At around 1.15pm my name was called and this time, after confirming my documents, Mr. Potato took away my passport, residence card and Singapore driving license, most likely for Blue Blazer lady to copy and record them. Mr. Potato then asked me to wait for 1.5 hours, like it’s normal. He was like, please sit and wait for one and a half hours. IT IS NOT FREAKING NORMAL! Sorry I am a damn impatient person. I had no choice. He had the chips.

It was rather uneventful for the next 1.5 hours, besides for a couple of interesting things. People, mostly locals who passed the test in the morning were able to collect their licences. They were told to gather in a yellow box while they were briefed on how to collect their licences, which was basically to queue up in 2 rows, check their name after receiving and approach a machine at the entrance to confirm their identity. I was thinking, why are they being treated like school kids?? Congratulations anyway, for most of them were in smiles after they exchanged a slip of paper for their photo card licenses.

A lady came to sit beside me, holding an envelope. Suddenly, she turned towards me and asked, “Filipino?”. I thought I heard wrong so I said, “Sorry?”. She repeated, “Philippine?”.

“No, Singapore,” I replied, after making sure that she was a Filipino looking for a fellow Filipino in a canteen where birds wouldn’t lay eggs on a sunny Friday afternoon.

“It’s until 1.30?”, she asked. “Yes, I think the registration for today is already over”, I replied. So she was late because she went to get the 3000yen translation in the morning. I asked her to approach the counter to check if she could still register or maybe put her name down for another day, but she waited for around 40 minutes beside me before making the move.

For the afternoon round, besides me there was a Canadian, a Korean, an Indian, an African with a baby (not sure which country), a Cambodian with a companion, a Chinese and a guy with Eurasian looks with a companion, much less than in the morning. I should have came in the afternoon instead, I thought.

Lesson learnt: Want to be kiasu, go all the way, don’t kiasu halfway. If you miss the kiasu window, go YOLO.

At around 2.45pm I was called again. I approached Mr. Potato, who had changed his position to a booth at the far left of the canteen. This time, he had filled up an application form for me, or was it Blue Blazer lady? The thing is, he handed me a filled up form and asked me to insert Furigana above my name written in English, and my address. Like.. WHY CAN’T YOU FILL THOSE UP TOO? OR LET ME WRITE EVERYTHING MYSELF! Did you seriously just spent 1.5 hours writing my name, birthday and some other small information?? That’s not all.. after doing that I was required to go to another building to pay the application fee of 2550yen.

First, why can’t the payment be done at the same place??? Second.. oh my fucking goodness I wonder what era I had entered. The application fee was paid by buying three stamps (2000, 500, 50) from a counter at another building. And I had to fucking stick the stamps on the form like on an envelope! Hello, where are all the automation systems? Alright I just didn’t mention that a new building will be in place from May 7. Maybe the facilities will be much better. Maybe everything shall change from there. Japan, please prove me otherwise.

After doing that 1970s stuff, I submitted the form back to the booth. Not sure how long, but after a short while, Mr. Potato called me and the Cambodian, and ushered us behind the booth through a door located at the far left. I was expecting to see a kitchen but just kidding. There was a machine that looked very much like the ENIAC (first computer, google it to see). It turned out to be the machine for an eye test. Eye tests in Japan are administered this way: Instead of the usual Snellen Eye Chart with alphabets, you are looking at Pacmans without the “V” shape, basically circles with a cut on one of the four directions. You just have to say where the hole is; up down left right. The size of the Pacmans get smaller until they are satisfied with the results. I did similar tests with devices the size of a microscope so this machine is a mammoth, and it is bloody analog. Might have been made 50 years ago. Before checking out eyesight, Mr. Potato gave us a brief on the renewal of licenses and things like you can’t drive manual if you take the automatic exam, as if we already passed the test.

We were then told to wait for another hour to take the written test. At 4pm, 5 of us took the test and I was the first one to leave the room. Not bragging but if you know things like drink don’t drive and to stop at a red light, you should be able to pass the test. If you know things like not stuffing a four-year-old child into an infant car seat and not to park on a box that has diagonal stripes (common sense even though you might not know), you should get full marks. You need 7/10 to pass.

Then, Mr. Potato briefed us about the driving course. There is only one driving course. A major mistake (such as failing to stop at a stop line or mounting the curb) will be considered an immediate failure, so the goal is to drive through the course without getting deducted past 70 points; starts at 100 points. Yes we have to remember the course by heart so I took a picture of the course map. Thereafter, we were taken to the building where I bought the stamps. After another short wait, we were handed our application forms, this time with a small slip of paper which states our practical test date and time. The Indian guy couldn’t understand Japanese so I had to translate the instructions for him. I found out that this was his third attempt at applying, but at least and at last he succeeded! Why? Cuz they are so anal about paperwork.

Everything ended at around 4.30pm so I spent one working day at a canteen where birds don’t lay eggs, idling around. What a good waste of life. But at least, I completed the application!

However, I will change my test date because I want to book a practice session. The test sounds easy right? Just driving through a course. I hope it is easy too, but unfortunately, rumours are that they only pass you when they feel like it. People who don’t check their blindspots deserve to fail because I can’t understand why you don’t check your blindspot? That’s one, but things like “keeping as close to the curb as possible while turning left”, I didn’t think it had to be this strict. This test will be a test on how well you can take a driving test, not so much of how good you can drive. Therefore, I think I will need a practice session with an instructor who can tell me what the examiners are looking for, and of course to familiarize myself with the clutch of a 1990s comfort taxi cab. I am not kidding, the vehicles are these:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Comfort

After some pondering, I think I know why the service was so bad and the system sucks so much. Well, Japan has no benefits for approving more road users, much less foreigners. They don’t have to treat us like customers. They are better off without us on their roads. But I will hold on, I will tolerate this bullshit, for the card.

Update 1 May: I called the center to change my test date.

  1. The number that they gave us was not in service WTF
  2. I googled the right number and called again, and got directed to a guy with fucking bad attitude. I was horrified that this was a customer service hotline, or maybe it was not. First, not using polite language while talking to a stranger is shunned. Guess he probably wasn’t well educated anyway. I called a second time after he brushed me off for not having my application number (I took a picture so I was able to refer to it immediately). He asked for the test validity date which wasn’t on the photo that I took, so I apologized and said I didn’t have it with me. Then he kind of got irritated and told me something along the lines of “but I told you to call again after you have that paper with you, didn’t I?”. Okay my fault, I thought I could get through that. Decided to avoid an argument cuz my license is in their hands. Thinking about this makes my blood boil but let’s not stoop to his level.

 

Next up, practice session. I am actually prepared to fail 10 times.

How to survive a terror attack?

With the recent spade of attacks, we came to understand that the world is no longer safe. An attack can happen anywhere at anytime. It is not a matter of will it happen, but when it will happen. As human beings, at the very least we could do is to ensure our own survival for the sake of our loved ones, if not for ourselves. Singapore, although safe, is not invulnerable to attacks. We have vigilant authorities and efficient policing, but there is a reason why the Singapore government did not send combat troops to the middle east. We probably would not want to get ourselves involved in the conflict. We abide by this “If you have nothing better to do, don’t find trouble” rule and thus able to avoid many conflicts. Regardless, Singapore’s stand is still against terrorism and this probably increases our danger.

Note that I’m writing this from the point of view of a Singaporean boy.

Nevertheless, be it Singapore or elsewhere, be it going home from work or travelling in Europe, if there is an attack, do something to survive. There is always this excuse that when one is under shock, he freezes like a kangaroo in a spotlight. So apparently, this is a good enough excuse so that the victim of a gun attack or a pedestrian car accident can be spared the blame. Or rather, it is an excuse for lazy people not to equip themselves with survival skills. You know what? When you panic and you don’t know what to do, you die. When you stop there in your tracks like a kangaroo in spotlight, you die. Worse, because of you, others could die. Period. Excuses? Do they mean anything when you feel your last breath fading out?

So, if you would like to at least increase your chances of survival, listen. Now, I am assuming you are not in direct fire or bomb blast. If that happens, you probably won’t have the chance to execute any action. My advice would just be to reflect on your life in the few seconds you leave this world.

1. Take cover

I remembered my platoon commander in command school telling us this: “The Singaporean lady who was killed in the Mumbai attacks could have survived if she had undergone military training and knew this thing called ‘take cover’.” As we don’t know the exact sequence of events for that case, we can’t judge. However, in the army, the first thing we trained for a fire movement as a recruit was to take cover. Well, actually that’s the second thing to be specific. The first action we were trained to do was to prone once contacted. Thereafter, move to the nearest cover swiftly. This is called a reaction. It is actually a human instinct to cower when you sense something dangerous coming towards you. So put that instinct into action and go down, instead of standing there and becoming a target board. Of course, depending on the situation, finding the nearest cover instead of dropping down is the best option. By cover I meant something that can stop bullets at the minimum. A small flower pot is not a cover. A curtain is not a cover. Get behind a concrete wall or a door thick enough. A wooden door is probably not going to stop bullets, much less a partitioned wall. If no solid cover is available, your next best option is to conceal. Although a bullet will tear through a curtain, if the assailant doesn’t spot a target, he probably will not fire. So your next best option would be to keep out of sight and pray that you don’t get hit by a stray bullet, and that the assailant doesn’t have x-ray eyes. While you are hiding, keep still. The human eye is very sensitive to movement, even towards shadows. This is part of the principle of cover and concealment which I used to teach.

At your hiding or cover, take in new information as much as you can. Every single piece of information is useful. The direction of fire, the number of assailants, what kind of weapons are they using, the number of dead bodies, the nearest exit…and before I move on to escaping, what if an assailant comes your way?

Skip to part 3 if you can’t fight, don’t have to fight, or fighting will not be an option for you. However, let me just say that you must make fighting an option in the worst case scenario to preserve your life.

2. Attack

If you sense the assailant approaching, you have two choices. One, stunned like a vegetable and get killed. Two, take him off guard by attacking first and if you’re capable or lucky, grab a kill. If not, the worst is to be killed (Which you will end up with choice one anyway). So the obvious course of action would be to attack that fucker.

If you are visual with the assailant, take note of his attire and position. Look out for any other weapons besides the rifle that he would probably be holding. Look around you for any object you can use as a weapon. A chair, a book, a pen, whatever. The moment he approaches your location, strike him with whatever you have on the head several times (assuming he is not wearing a helmet of course). He will be disorientated for a few seconds, and this few seconds determine your odds of survival. Position yourself at his 10 or 2 o’clock position to avoid being in the line of fire.

DISARM HIM! While striking, remove his hand from the trigger with your free hand. If his weapon is slung, your goal now for the next 5 seconds is to prevent the discharge of the weapon. Using the other hand, grab the barrel or the body of the gun, smash the butt of the rifle into his head to continue his disorientation, all the time controlling where the barrel is pointing at. If you are trained in firearms, and fast enough, locate the magazine release button and drop the magazine. You will probably not have time to eject the chambered round, so if possible, just discharge the last round away. If the weapon is not slung, grab the barrel with one hand (pointing it away from you) and the back body/butt with the other, and rotate the butt upwards to pull it away from his grip, at the same time hitting his mouth if possible. This method is a certain way to wrestle a weapon out of the assailant’s grip. You can add a kick to the groin while you do that. If it is a pistol, it should be much easier. Grab the slide, slide it backwards and hold it there to prevent discharge while pulling the gun away and striking him multiple times with your other limbs. For more methods, watch YouTube videos on defending yourself against guns. And remember, whatever you do, your goal is to control the weapon and get away from the line of fire.

If you are unable to disarm the weapon, which is most likely the case (because you have no idea what the parts of a firearm are), hit him with whatever you have got. Aim for the groin, the throat and the eyes. Remember to control the direction of the weapon. It is okay to stick your fingers into his eyes because you would want him dead anyway. It would be a bit gross, but at least you don’t die. If you notice any dagger or pistol at any part of his body, aim for that weapon after disorientating him. It is also worth to note that he would probably be attempting to withdraw that weapon too.

Now, this may all sound complicated and you only have that few seconds to execute. Especially for the untrained ones, how is this possible? Just remember that the only way to win a gunman is to go close to him (There is a reason why ranged characters in games usually have lesser hit points you know), get out of the line of fire, and subdue him. Or you die. Yes, we are civilized people living in a civilized society, but terrorists don’t talk civility with you. They don’t negotiate with you. So, get that “Killing is wrong” mindset out of your mind and make them die for their cause, which they gladly would. Can any average Joe do it? The trained terrorists could probably incapacitate an average Joe in a few seconds, but we are not talking about a fair fight here. Use your intelligence, leverage on objects, be vicious, take him by surprise and survive.

You will not get charged for murder for killing an armed terrorist who is on a killing spree. If you do, the authorities are fucked up.

If you succeed in incapacitating or killing the assailant, your next step is to establish an escape plan.

3. Get the hell out

After taking cover and you realise you are able to escape without confrontation, plan your escape route. The general rule is to get away from the source as far as possible. If the terrorists are concentrated in one location, without saying, go in the opposite direction. It is likely that the terrorists will come in from all available exits that leave you unable to get out without facing them. It really depends on the location you are at. So the best way to do this is to already know the layout of the location before the attack actually happens. This is one of the basic survival skills that you ought to learn if you want to survive. Really, nothing is worse than staying alive but knowing you are going to die soon because you don’t know the way out. For example, at a shopping mall, there are bound to be emergency exits especially where the sign points to the toilets. Basement carparks are exit points for you too. The main goal while you are moving to the exit point is not to get detected. Leopard crawl if you have to, jump over obstacles if you have to. Similarly, grab something that you can use as a weapon in case you are met with a confrontation. Go back to 2 if that happens.

If you are able to subdue an assailant, grab his weapon for self-defence. However, if you do not know how to operate a firearm, forget it. It is not as simple as pulling the trigger.

While escaping, throw out any unnecessary burdens like your bag and take off high heels if you are wearing one. Getting cut on the feet is much safer than making noise with the heels and getting shot after that. You have to be quiet and fast, in other words, stealth. A nickname I used to be called in secondary school because I can disappear and return without anyone noticing. Once you are out of the danger zone, get to the nearest law enforcement officer and discard any weapon you are holding in case they see you as a threat.

Recap

Once alerted, get down and get to the nearest cover available. Fight back if you have to, and escape intelligently.

Playing dead?

This would be a risk you have to take. A smart terrorist who aims to take as many lives as he can will put another bullet into your head if he suspects you may be alive. Now you are really dead. Well, if the injuries you sustained are such that you are better off playing dead than escaping, then you will probably make a convincing corpse and be spared that last round. It is also a good idea to cover yourself underneath a pile of bodies provided you are able to breath. Remember to smear some blood on yourself too.

What I have just written is not a 100% survivor guide, it is just to help increase your chances of survival. I am not a survivor of an attack, neither do I claim to be a pro at such events. I am not Liam Neeson. Let me just say that I have a strong will to survive, and I will eliminate any threat that stands in my way to do so. Do you feel me too? If you do, start doing things that increase your chances of survival like being more aware of your surroundings. Play such situations out in your head, prepare yourself mentally so you know what to do when it actually happens.

At the end of the day, you have tried your best to survive. The rest, leave it to God.

Message on the NUS orientation saga

Warning: Offensive material, especially to persons I am targeting

NUS is in the spotlight again, after receiving media coverage about indecent acts during orientation camps. With regard to this, netizens are fueling the fire by spreading rumours be it true or untrue and taking this opportunity to slam NUS. As a graduate from the school, I think I should say some words of fairness.

To the netizens who attribute every indecent act that occurred in an orientation of a “tertiary institution” to NUS, you are no different from the people who cry terrorist at every Muslim they see. Get your facts right, find out the exact school of that particular photo or video. If you are wrong, you look dumb.

To the netizens who say things like,

“NUS students study so much but no brains.”

“So NUS students are like that.”

“NUS is a disgrace.”

“Thank God I did not enter university.” (Yes, thank God because we wouldn’t have to deal with idiots like you)

If you have no constructive comments, you just made yourself look stupid and uneducated by saying such things. How about stop generalizing? How about saying things like, “Thankfully the main bulk of our students are sane enough.” Sure, there are bound to be troublemakers and jokers everywhere. That doesn’t mean all of us behave like that. Sorry to burst your bubble but it seems like you guys have an inferiority complex. You don’t have to say things like, “To think it is Asia’s top university.” If you are better than us NUS students, you give constructive comments, period. Please do not slam the whole school to make yourself look superior but in fact you appear inferior to us.

To the organizers/seniors who are responsible for this nonsense. Seriously, I have no other word except, stupid. There isn’t a need to even debate about what activities constitute as decent or not. This is common sense. If you think the activity plays at the borderline, then stop it. Freaking dunking freshies into the pool of water isn’t okay. Asking whose semen you would like to drink isn’t okay. Much less the simulated rape-scene. THIS IS FREAKING COMMON SENSE ISN’T IT? I was talking with my friend and wondering why my faculty did not have such problems. Business School doesn’t have such nonsense because we use common sense. I was shocked that the incident blew so much out of proportion that even O-week had to be cancelled, just because of the few of you jokers who spoiled the fun for the incoming freshies.

*When I was a councilor for my faculty camp, we had this girl who refused to hold hands with her “secret pal” (we didn’t have sitting on laps by the way). And so be it, although it was awkward for her partner. We didn’t force her, we didn’t ostracize her. And then we had this perverted guy who on the other hand, loved holding his partner’s hand so much he began to caress her hand. We separated them for the rest of the “SP” activities and allocated them to seniors who became their new “SP”. Well the female senior had to sacrifice herself slightly. This is what you seniors are supposed to do; to protect the freshies and as much as possible, keep things discrete.

To you seniors who are responsible, I have to say the netizens’ words are not unfounded. “Study so much but no brains,”this is for you. You didn’t think of the consequences before you act. This will be your downfall sooner or later, if you still do not realise your errors.

To the kids who complain. University is a place for young adults to grow up. At the age of 19-21, if you can’t even think for yourself, please go back to secondary school. Why give consensus when you feel uncomfortable about it? Afraid of being ostracized? Is being ostracized worse that getting your modesty outraged? No senior is going to grab you by your neck and force you to get dunked. If there is, he or she is going to get into deep trouble. They know that and they won’t force you. You know girls always use the same excuse to avoid going into water, be it true or untrue — my period is here.

Okay say, you are really really afraid of being left out. Then, weigh the severity of the activities. Things like simulated rape scene are out of the question obviously. I don’t understand how you can even give consensus to do it, unless of course you don’t mind doing it. IT BLEW MY MIND. Things like pole-dancing forfeits, not that bad right? How did pole-dancing forfeits become sexualized? I am not against complaining. In fact I think we should raise nonsense activities to the school. Indecent activities got to stop, but what constitute indecent activities? Think before you complain.

Did I experience uncomfortable moments? Yes I did. When I was a freshie, the seniors followed this tradition of waking us up in the middle of the night and conduct the initiation, which was smearing everyone with condiments, creams and food products as we went through an “obstacle course” with our eyes blind-folded. It stopped after my year though. Yes it was uncomfortable, but at the end of the day (or rather at sunrise), no one was hurt (I don’t think anyone was hurt), people who wanted out opted out, all was well. This activity could be considered a form of ragging I guess, but hey, life doesn’t always give you what you want. Yes this is university, where you will learn that life doesn’t adhere to your wishes. If you are able to take part in decent activities that make you uncomfortable, then congratulations, you have made it out of your comfort zone.

To parents who say stuff like, “I am considering twice about sending my child to NUS (because of such acts).” Erm, I don’t know to laugh at you or to cry for your child. As a parent of the previous generation, you should have more wisdom than me and therefore, I shouldn’t even have to explain myself. These acts probably happened only in a couple of faculty camps and you want to deprive your child the rest of the wonders the school can offer? In light of this incident, by the time your child enters NUS, he or she will probably be surrounded by bodyguards. So rest assured, in safe hands. Gosh.

What if your child was the perpetrator? Will you defend him/her or call the police on him/her? Think before you criticize the children of others please. Fancy saying such stuff like, “Oh start paying for your school fees if you are old enough.” Where is the link. If you think we are not old enough, blame the parents! Since the parents are the one “paying for tuition fees”, blame the parents for not bringing up their kids well! And of course, indirectly you are blaming yourself as a failed parent.

To the media. I believe your reporters and journalists are well-versed in writing. If you can censor the race of a rapist in your news to maintain racial harmony, why can’t you make this saga a little milder? You have something against NUS or what? Don’t say shit like giving truthful accounts or whatsoever. The Singapore media is already infamous for heavy censorship. Boosting readership by sacrificing your own national university’s reputation isn’t a very wise thing to do. Looks like you don’t feel for your fellow countrymen. So sad.

Lastly to everyone. NUS is a university. We do not have form teachers or discipline masters to maintain the discipline and order of the undergraduates. Stop asking the school to babysit the students because it doesn’t solve the problem. What can the school do? As young adults, undergraduates are supposed to be responsible for their actions and learn to plan activities appropriately. Tell me, how can the school strike a balance on this? It can’t! It heavily relies on the maturity of the seniors to make camps appropriate for freshmen. Otherwise, we get what happened today; cancellation of the entire orientation. So who is responsible? Every single one of the undergraduates involved. Seniors are responsible, so are the freshmen, for their own safety. Tell the senior they are going overboard. Tell your fellow OGL to stop his rubbish ideas. Nobody will ask you to fuck off. The university staff is not free to babysit us for 24 hours.

We were not there, we don’t know what actually happened, and we don’t know whether the claims were exaggerated. To those who make noise but have know idea what went on, sorry but SHUT THE FUCK UP. You have no business poking your nose into this matter and adding more fuel to the fire. You can tell the undergraduates, “Study so much but cannot think.” How about I tell you, “Only know how to make noise but talk without thinking.” So chill people, let the school decide the next course of action, and please stop condemning NUS.

What do Singaporeans speak? (Part 1)

Recently, I came across this Taiwanese talk show about English spoken by people from different countries. There was a Singapore representative who claimed to understand Singlish… well because I guess he is a Singaporean? But the moment he spoke, I could tell that he probably lived in Taiwan for many years because he lost his supposedly Singlish accent. He spoke with a little Taiwanese accent. I was wondering whether he was aware of that.

People from all over the world do not understand the Singaporean culture. Singapore is a multi-racial country, with each race having their own so-called mother-tongue as defined by the government (Read the next paragraph). You have heard about Singlish, that it is a form of distorted English, but do you think that we only speak Singlish? So I thought about writing, from my point of view, what we Singaporeans use on a daily basis.

As a Chinese Singaporean, 3rd generation, let me tell you that I don’t even know what my native language is. My English is definitely stronger than my Mandarin, although I grew up speaking Mandarin even before formal education. My parents are Chinese-educated, I speak Mandarin to my family, relatives and Mandarin speaking friends. Does that make my native language Mandarin? Then again, my parents grew up speaking Hokkien, so technically, my mother-tongue is Hokkien, isn’t it? Speaking of which, besides able to have a simple conversation with Hokkien-speaking people, I am quite handicap in this mother-tongue. Why? Blame the government for banning the usage of Chinese varieties in media and discouraging families to do so. The government declared that as the Chinese race, our default mother-tongue is Mandarin, which I called BS (Although I do understand the reasons for this policy). I learnt English since kindergarten, or as far as my memory could take me back, and have been using it ever since because English is the medium of instruction in our schools. Does that make my native language English? I came to a conclusion that I have no native language. Just fluent English and fluent Mandarin, and some conversational Hokkien and Cantonese. Also, I do not claim to be 100% proficient in the languages because even native speakers make grammar mistakes.

Let’s move on to proper, based on my personal opinions. As a Chinese Singaporean, I use English and Mandarin to communicate on a daily basis. These two languages can be further divided into:

  • Standard Singapore English (SSE)
  • Colloquial Singapore  English (Singlish)
  • Standard Singapore Mandarin (SSM)
  • Colloquial Singapore  Mandarin (Singdarin)

When do I use SSE and SSM? When I am speaking to non-Singaporeans, simple. SSE follows British English as we were once their colony. However, we are a mix of people from different cultures, so naturally, we did not inherit the British accent. In fact, in the above four variants, the lack of accent defines what we call the Singaporean accent. I would say that SSE has a neutral intonation and Singlish has a distinct flat intonation. When I say neutral I meant we do have rise and fall in pitches where appropriate but without the distinct British or American accent. When I say flat, it is literally, the same tone throughout. SSM follows Standard Chinese as used in China, in terms of grammar, phonology and vocabulary (although some words might differ due to cultural differences). Singdarin is the Chinese version of Singlish, with a mix of words from other languages and screwed up grammar.

Standard Singapore English

To the layman, SSE does not differ from British English in terms of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. However, I believe linguists can identify subtle differences in the choice of words or way of phrasing sentences. The most obvious difference would be our accent. Like I said, we Singaporeans have a fairly neutral accent. Note that this accent is very different from Singlish. I use SSE in formal situations like presentations and to speak to foreigners who obviously do not understand Singlish. I am using SSE to type this out too, or at least I hope I am.

Colloquial Singapore English (Singlish)

A brief background on the origins of this. Let us take for example Switzerland, another multilingual country with many official languages. If you somehow introduce Mandarin as the working language to Swiss, what would you get? Yes, you will get Germandarin, Frenchadrin or Italianadrin. Then you have like a Swissadrin or something.

Singapore was not an English-speaking country. We have a majority of immigrants from southern China, where Mandarin was not even spoken, at least not during my grandparents’ time. We have immigrants from southern India, where many varieties of the Indian language are spoken. We have our own native inhabitants of this region, the Malay people. When English was introduced to Singapore by the British, do you think everyone gets formal English education? In order to communicate, Singaporeans (wait, was Singaporean even a nationality back then?) learnt on the job. That was how Singlish was born, communicating using broken English and words borrowed from one’s own language. After Singapore gained independence, there was this period of experimentation with the education policy that caused many people, including my parents to sink into a limbo. There were Chinese stream schools and English stream schools. Mandarin was used as a medium of instruction in Chinese stream schools. This further fueled the development of Singlish. It wasn’t until the 1980s or 1990s that English was declared the medium of instruction in schools. By then, Singlish has already matured. I still remember adults in the 1990s pronouncing Milo as “beelo”. This was how screwed up English was in Singapore. As a kid, we follow the adults.

As a Singaporean, I feel comfortable using Singlish in a conversation with a fellow Singaporean. Why? Because there is this notion that using Standard English would appear too formal, which is the context when we do use SSE.

On the technical side, Singlish is mostly spoken in Mandarin grammar, because of the huge Chinese population that contributed to the development of this language.

For example, “Later we go lepak, can?” 

This would mean, “Can we laze around later on?” and it is derived word to word from Mandarin, “等一下(later)我们(we)去(go)休闲(lepak/laze),可以吗(can)?”

Sentences endings are taken from various Chinese varieties and Malay. Some examples below.

Lah(la), leh, lor, from Hokkien, or the Minnan variety.

  • “Just give me lah, talk so much!”
    • “Lah” used as a command, “Just give it to me! And spare the unnecessary words.”
  • “No la, I only want to scare him.”, “Okay la, we go lor.”, “Can one lah, don’t worry.”
    • “Lah” used as a softener and an assurance.
    • “Lor” used as a submission.
  • “Sorry la, talk to me leh. Don’t like that diam diam.”
    • “Leh” as a request, “I am sorry, please talk to me. Don’t stay silent this way.”

Meh, from Cantonese. Interrogative.

  • “Eh, raw leh. You like that eat ah? Can meh?”
    • This means, “Is it alright for you to eat it raw?” 

Sia, from Malay “sial”.

  • “Wah the girl so chio sia!”
    • Envy and emphasis, “Wow, that girl is so pretty.” (Over here, the=that and vice versa. In Singlish, English grammar is not important as long as the message gets across)

This post is not meant to teach Singlish, so these few examples would suffice. I could post Singlish lessons though.

Please, do not try to use them without actually knowing how to use them. Singlish has its own beauty in that the context must be understood to comprehend the sentence ending.

Lastly, Singlish shares its roots with Manglish, or Colloquial Malaysia English. They are very similar but both Malaysians and Singaporeans will be able to tell them apart.

  • A difference could be the more frequent addition of Malay words and
  • Another difference could be the choice of words, such as pon (Singlish) and ponteng (Manglish) which means to play truant.

And yes, we do understand each other even though the choice of words may be different.

This post is getting long, so I will have part 2 talking about SSM and Singdarin.

There you go, Singapore English is not as screwed up as you think. Singlish is used among Singaporeans and we do code-switch between Standard English and Singlish. There will be Singaporeans who may be unaware that they are using Singlish or using a very flat intonation. Let them know politely and they will switch to Standard English, at least for the younger generation who are more educated (sorry old folks, this is a fact).

Regardless of outside opinions, I am somehow proud that we have this form of identity, that we Singaporeans feel more connected using Singlish especially outside the country.

 

Wisdom teeth extraction

Today is the fifth day post-surgery and I am feeling fine. I will document everything I can remember from the first day I decide to remove them.

I went for a regular dental check-up and asked (again) about the complications of wisdom teeth. As mentioned in my previous post, the dentist told me I could keep them if there are not causing me and problems. On the contrary, my right lower wisdom tooth was causing me problems, from 3 years back. 3 years ago, the same dentist told me that I could wait and see. After waiting and seeing for 3 years, I decided that enough was enough, food getting stuck there was just so irking. He referred me to Dr. Sylvia Tay in Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital.

As someone who never had any major dental stuff done before, besides baby tooth extraction, I was naturally afraid of this. I went to Google Dr. Tay and found out that she has many good reviews from patients whom she had done the surgery on. Then I found out that you could opt for general anaesthesia (GA), so you wouldn’t have to experience the surgery itself. Funnily, what I find interesting about GA wasn’t the escape from the surgery experience, but the feeling of getting knocked out. I always wondered what is it like to faint. In order to go for GA, one should be removing all four wisdom teeth, to justify for the time, money and risks.

Basically for GA, as drugs are used to induce unconsciousness, there will be risks of other complications including death, however rare. You are not allowed to eat 8 hours prior to the administration of GA, to prevent complications (maybe nausea?).

I went for a check-up with Dr. Tay to assess my condition before making a surgery appointment. Dr. Tay was very professional and she said that my surgery would not be a difficult one. I opted for GA when I saw her registering me for LA (local anaesthesia). It was much more expensive, but I did not look at the price difference. As I chose GA, I had to remove all four at once. I made my appointment, 2 August 2016.

Fast forward one month later, I was already regretting my decision. I cannot not eat for 8 hours prior to the surgery! My surgery was scheduled at 11.15am, so I am not supposed to eat after 3am?? That will kill me. I was still thinking of how to ask the hospital when they called me to inform me that my appointment time was push back a little. So, I made use of the opportunity to ask for a new quote for LA. The price of GA amounts to $2,785 and not fully payable by medisave. LA on the other hand, amounts to $830 per side. That was about $1k cheaper! Of course then, I switched to LA, thinking that the surgery wouldn’t take too long anyway. My appointment dates were set at 4 July and 21 July.

Day 1 – Surgery

My surgery was set at 2pm and I arrived at about 1:50pm. Procedures were fine except that I had to wait a couple of times and the nurses repeatedly confirmed my name and identity number.

At around 2:15pm, I was led to the surgery room. In the middle of the room lay the typical dental chair, but with more apparatus and it looked more hi-tech. I was asked to take off my glasses and slippers, and lay down on the chair as the nurse lowered it. A nurse confirm my identity again before Dr. Tay came to me, armed with anaesthetic. Dr. Tay was very professional in the sense that she told me every single action that she would be conducting and what I would be feeling. Above that, she did not attempt to calm me down because I was sure my anxiety was quite obvious. Two nurses were assisting her.

Dr. Tay applied a numbing gel to my inner cheeks and gums and allowed it to settle for a couple of minutes before injecting the anaesthetic. While she was preparing the jab, I was busy thinking whether I should swallow my saliva or not (I did swallow a lot) because the gel was in my mouth. Not expecting multiple injections, I cringed at every point the needle made contact with my gums. Gradually, I felt nothing. She confirmed the anaesthetic worked by doing something to me and asking if I felt anything. I continued to struggle with my saliva, even worse now that I can’t feel my mouth.

Then, a blanket was placed over my body and a similar one with a hole big enough for the mouth was covered over my face. Let the extraction begin.

Dr. Tay said, “Now you will be feeling some tugging and pulling.”

Me: Mmmm

Within 10 seconds, she told me, “The top tooth is out.”

Ahh, great. I knew it would be easy as it was straight.

Then came the nightmare. I wasn’t really bothered about the pain; I couldn’t even feel anything. After about 2 minutes cutting my lower gums (I was sure she was doing that), she told me that I will feel some vibration. That was when the nightmare began. She used a friggin mini chainsaw on my tooth!! A minute in, suddenly I felt a sharp pain, not the kind of pain like the jab, but a kind of pain that goes into your bone. As if needles are inside your bones. I endured for another few seconds before giving up. I made some noises and she was like, “Do you feel pain?”

Me was like, “Urgghh…”

She stopped for a while and I guessed she injected more anaesthetic? Not sure, but I couldn’t feel it again. After what seemed like another 5 minutes, she told me it was out. Dr. Tay applied something to the wound and made me bite a piece of gauze. That was it. I was expecting stitches but no. The apparatuses were stripped off me as fast as they were put on. I sat up, put on my glasses and my teeth were brought in front of me in a transparent ziplock used for tablet medicine. I looked at my watch. 2:35pm.

I was led to a waiting room, bleeding profusely and swallowing my blood. After a few minutes, a nurse brought me to a smaller room to watch a short video on how to care for the wound. She changed my gauze after the video and told me to wait outside where the counter was. My name was called and I was given the prescription, which I had to go down to the pharmacy to pick them up myself. Another appointment for a review was also arranged.

I waited for about 30 minutes at the pharmacy because I don’t know why they were so inefficient. After receiving my medication, I took a pain killer immediately so that I would not have to feel the pain when the anaesthesia wears off. Mother took a cab home with me.

The rest of the day was just me struggling with the bleeding, and swallowing more blood. The anaesthesia affects my outer cheeks and even until the corner of my right eye. I couldn’t feel much until about 8pm at night. As the anaesthetic wears off, I felt what Dr. Tay told me: numbing of lips and chin. Apparently the surgery damages a nerve that allows your lips and chin to feel. I could already feel where the anaesthetic originally affects, but not my right side lip and chin. This lasted till the next morning.

The first thing I ate was a banana, at about 5pm, mashed into bits. It was actually quite good. As I had the gauze still on, I couldn’t chew, so the easiest way was to swallow. I was also craving something sweet then. My dinner was porridge, obviously and I took 1 hour to swallow it all. I delivered the food carefully to the opening of my throat or to the left side so that it would not touch the gauze. Took antibiotics and one corticosteroid (only two) given to me.

When it was bed time, I had to brush my teeth. That was the first time I saw my wound. I brushed my teeth as usual and got extremely careful when I reached my wound. By that time, the bleeding had slowed to like 1 drop per 2 minutes kind of rate? There was still blood when I rinsed my mouth, but it was fine to the point I wouldn’t need the gauze anymore. In total, I used 5 gauze. You can change less frequently as the bleeding slows down. The last change I made was a 1 hour gap. I propped myself up to sleep in case I wake up with a bloody pillow.

 

Day 2

I woke up with no more numbing on my lips. The painkiller was working well, for I did not feel pain at all. Further, my cheek did not even swell, so I consider myself lucky. Brushing teeth in the morning as usual, carefully. I had soft-boiled eggs and Japanese natto for breakfast. Rinsed my mouth after every meal with the mouth wash provided. Took my antibiotics and the second corticosteroid to prevent swelling and inflammation.

Continued with porridge for lunch. Went out for a movie with my friends and even had popcorn (kind of used my saliva to soften them)! I guess it wasn’t that bad after all.

Dinner was back to normal meal.

I stopped taking pain killers after the first one as it wasn’t pain.

All was well…

Day 3

Selamat Hari Raya!

Ate natto and soft-boiled eggs for breakfast again. Today with a cereal bar to test my biting strength.

Continued with my medications, minus the pain killers.

Day 4

I felt well enough to go for my part-time work. Had noodles for lunch.

Dinner with friends was Japanese abura soba.

It happened before dinner. Either the pain killer effect ran out (of course it must have run out after the second day) or it is just the process of healing, but my lower right gum starts to hurt. Not super pain, but a throbbing ache. An ache that can make you feel gloomy. That was how I felt even though I tried to interact with my friends. I endured until I reached home and quickly popped a pain killer. The effect took about 20 minutes and I was well again. I looked at the pain killer packaging and saw… $21 for that pack of 7 tablets. That makes it $3 per tablet! No wonder it was so effective.

Day 5

Today, I was able to eat normally, with some occasional bouts of throbbing ache.

That’s all, will update again.

Should you extract your wisdom teeth?

Yes I finally got one side out, after contemplating for three years.

Before I forget this traumatic experience, I should probably document it down first. But even before that, let me share some personal thoughts about wisdom teeth.

So just a quick background of my wisdom teeth. The eruption of the teeth were in the order as follows:

  1. Right lower
  2. Right upper
  3. Left upper
  4. Left lower

The time period between the eruption of the first to the last one was about 3 years. I am turning 25 in December. Both my bottom teeth were impacted. The below x-ray was taken in mid-2013.

wongchun kiat-opg.jpg

Left is right and vice versa.

And this was taken in mid-2016.

20160509_230351.jpg

As can be seen from the x-rays, my upper teeth were growing down straight and I wouldn’t want to have them removed. In fact, I was so afraid of teeth extraction that I would not have wanted to extract any. On the other hand, it would be kind of a pity to remove my otherwise straight top teeth.

In 2013, my dentist advised me as such. If I were able to take good care of my wisdom teeth and brush them properly, it shouldn’t affect me much. Unless they really bother me, it would be fine to leave them there. Really, the debate on whether removing wisdom teeth would be beneficial, is still on going. The current consensus is, it is better to remove it early before it gives rise to further complications in the future.

Now, the question is, what complications could arise? Please do not put all your trust in the so-called dental experts and pay money just to suffer. You have a brain, take in knowledge and think for yourself. After all it is your mouth, your teeth. I can’t believe there are still people out there blindly believing that all wisdom teeth do is to create trouble for you, and removing them is like the smartest solution you could ever think of. NO.

Read this two short articles here talking about unnecessary extractions:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/blogs/lookout/rogue-dentist-30-crusade-against-wisdom-teeth-removal-105243007.html?ref=gs

http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/skip-that-surgery-most-wisdom-tooth-extractions-unnecessary/

I cannot tell you the statistics, but I believe most wisdom teeth extractions are unnecessary.

I am not strongly against cha-ching ($$) for dentists, but a good dentist wouldn’t advise you to remove them in order to cha-ching ($$) their accounts. Like I said, my dentist told me the choice is mine, and if they weren’t affecting me in any way, it was fine to keep them there. So why spend the money unnecessarily and trade for a few days of pain?

Complications?

The only risk that comes with wisdom teeth is the risk of decay due to food getting stuck and either it is too difficult to clean or the person is just too lazy to clean properly. This decay would probably affect the molar next to the tooth. So the questions we ought to ask ourselves, like in the second article, would be.

  1. Is my wisdom tooth infected or painful in anyway? 
  2. Were they causing me any sort of problems whatsoever?
  3. What is the self-assessed risk of decay in the future?

If your answer is no, no and none, then just leave them as they are.

Personally, my answer for my right side wisdom teeth was no, a little, and medium. Hence, I made the decision to remove. How did I assess my own risk? Take a look at the x-ray again. The right bottom tooth (aka the left side of the x-ray), was already half protruding out, and through these three and a half years it was out, food gets stuck after every meal. I knew the risk of decay, so I took extra care to floss and brush properly. It was still healthy after 3 years! However, sometimes tiny particles of food may continue to get stuck there even after brushing and I could taste the rotting smell. It was bad. There was an obvious risk of decay.

The right upper tooth also caused me some problems when it first grew out. I kept biting my own cheek, but as time passed, it stopped. Straight as my top tooth may be, I still went ahead to remove it with the bottom one because although skeptical, I trust the dental surgeon’s experience that without an opposing tooth, the top one could hurt my gums.

There you go, I removed my right side wisdom teeth.

Am I gonna remove my left side wisdom teeth too? I had of course scheduled another appointment to remove, but right now, I will be cancelling that appointment. I am going to keep my left side wisdom teeth because my answers to the questions above are: no, no and none.

 

And of course, I never want to go through another traumatizing extraction again. Read about it here.

Creation vs Evolution

By voicing out my inner thoughts on this topic, I know that I am treading on dangerous waters. However, I just can’t figure out the need for a constant debate on this topic: it has to be either creation OR evolution. What’s wrong with integrating the two?

Before I get started on this, let me make it clear that I consider myself a freethinker and I attempt to reconcile the beliefs of different religions. I express my thoughts in a way that no religion is superior to any others.

Now the idea of this Creation vs Evolution thing is particularly exclusive to monotheistic religions I believe, especially Christianity. No hard feelings on that, it’s true. Every single time I read an article or hear a view on creation, it has to be something that debunks the possibility of evolution on accounts of observations that coincide with biblical quotes. Seriously, what’s wrong with you guys?

On the other hand, evolutionist tells you that nature rules, and it does some magic called natural selection which determines what kind of mutant a species becomes. And because of this, God cannot be the creator of human beings because we, like Pokemon, can evolve and we evolved from apes. Apparently, all things evolved from a single organism which somehow managed to come to life just like that.

I understand from the creationist point of view that things are too perfect in this world to just poof, appear. How can the universe be created without an intelligent design? How did the universe come to existence just because something that did not exist decided to explode? Even Stephen Hawking acknowledged this mystery:

“We do not know how DNA molecules first appeared. The chances against a DNA molecule arising by random fluctuations are very small.”

Your argument is valid, with what I observed too. Nature, this convenient word is being used as an excuse to reject the existence of God. But God is nature, nature is God.

I understand from the evolutionist point of view that God creating humans out of thin air is just absurd. Not just man, but other living beings. Traces of evolution is argued to be observable in nature. However, evolution itself is such a long process that might not even be visible through generations after generations. So yes, evidence have shown that evolution is not only possible, but highly likely. Stephen Hawking acknowledged it too:

“The process of biological evolution was very slow at first. It took two and a half billion years, to evolve from the earliest cells to multi-cell animals, and another billion years to evolve through fish and reptiles, to mammals. But then evolution seemed to have speeded up. It only took about a hundred million years, to develop from the early mammals to us. The reason is, fish contain most of the important human organs, and mammals, essentially all of them. All that was required to evolve from early mammals, like lemurs, to humans, was a bit of fine-tuning.”

Does that reject the existence of God and creation? Yes, and no. It rejects the creation by God as depicted in the bible. Humans did not appear from a wave of God’s magic wand. However, can creation still exist in light of the theory of evolution? Absolutely.

Get the bible of out this debate and it makes sense. If biblical quotes are brought in, then the topic is no longer creation vs evolution. It is Christianity vs Atheism. I don’t want to discuss religion matters. If creationists were to support their argument, use common logic and observable facts, as what evolutionists do, like just get on the topic of intelligent design. Stop bringing in the bible when it does nothing to convince evolutionists. It’s like speaking Russian to me when I know nuts about it. Not everyone reads the bible, so stop putting those quotes on them.

The one thing that I don’t understand is why this two views cannot exist in harmony? Pope Francis said, and if I may quote him again here:

“Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Okay, so there are actually people who see what I see, albeit not many probably.

Recently I read this great article explaining the odds of finding life forms in the universe based on statistics. The conclusion was that life is thriving all over the universe, but intelligent life could be extremely rare. The author asks Christians something that goes like: “If life forms were found outside Earth, would it change your religious beliefs? Does it change your beliefs in creation?”

I don’t understand. Does the author thinks that Christians believe God created life only on Earth? What’s wrong with God creating life on other places? Must it be God created life on earth vs evolution in nature? Besides for the fact that the author made some convincing arguments, he doesn’t see past the “God created life on earth” barrier.

Why can’t there be intelligent design that allows for evolution? Why must there be the two extreme views of 1. God and creation, and 2. No God and evolution? How about 3. God, creation and evolution?

Isn’t it simple? Like how you build stuffs in minecraft or simcity. What if the universe is a software created by this guy we call God. Is there a possibility that He inserted codes for what determines the laws of the universe and life? Even AI today are already programmed to beat humans in chess. If God is omnipotent, evolution is not only possible, but part of his “software code”. The reason why most creationists fail to consider this possibility is because of their utmost faith to the bible. The belief that humans are descendants of God, as well as the intimate relationship God has with our world (specifically planet Earth), prevents a wider perspective as I had just illustrated. I am in no position to criticize these beliefs, but if you want to talk about intelligent design as a topic by itself, close your holy book for God’s sake (literally). As a Chinese, I don’t bring in the Pangu creation myth and exclaim that the universe was created by this huge giant who broke out from an egg-like stone. I fully understand that it is a metaphor for creation. There was curiosity about the origin of the universe long ago, and different civilizations penned down their own stories. What makes the bible special (in explaining creation) in any way then? Genesis is not in any way superior than the Greek’s creation myth. We are way more advanced right now, and if we were to investigate intelligent design, we do it without fancy stories.

Also, be clear of what you are talking about. Some disillusioned ones solely believe that God just created earth and humans. Others with a wider mind trusted that God created the universe. It makes a difference to the scope of discussion. The topic on intelligent design agrees with the latter one. If you are talking about the former one, go back to immersing yourself in your fancy story.

What’s more, the universe being “God’s computer program” not only provides explanation to creation (of the universe) as a metaphor by itself, it accounts for the universal laws that we can observe around us. As biological beings, we go through birth and death. It is a law of the universe. Even stars live and die. How about the constants we learnt in math and physics? Planck’s constant? Gravitational constant? The ancient Chinese have already acknowledged the laws that exist in this world, as written by Lao Zi (a philosopher) in Dao De Jing:

“人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然。”

Man obeys the laws of the Earth, the earth obeys the laws of the heavens, the heavens obey the laws of the Way, the Way obeys its own laws. 

And note that although this is a Taoist philosophy, it has nothing to do with religion. It is a fact. Taoism started as a philosophy, not a religion if that helps to explain.

Speaking about creation, stars, planets and life didn’t just poof, appeared. This only happens in Harry Potter’s world. While there may be a creator, creation needs to make sense. You don’t just say “cake” and cake appears right? You make the freaking cake and it takes time.

My beliefs? Putting religion aside, part of my mind do believe in intelligent design. What I mean is God designed the universe, let it off in a Big Bang and leave it there for itself to develop. So there you go, we have God (or Nature if you prefer that), creation, and thereafter the universe is allowed to evolve based on His rules. So yes, I don’t subscribe to the beliefs of God’s Kingdom or the likes of it. As a non-christian, the bible to me is a book of reference to live well as a person and to find your own meaning in life. To take it literally? I have to be mad.

Lastly, actually it doesn’t matter what stand we take. We don’t need to know creation or evolution to live a fruitful life.

 

Entering NUS Business School?

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Yesterday would probably be the last time I help out at an NUS Open day for Business School. Yes, because I will be graduating in less than 2 months!! Recalling this post which was written two years ago (here), I am glad that I am still able to contribute to the decision making of university prospects, with over 7000 views to date. 

And now, with two more years of experience, let me try to dish out more of my honest views as well as provide some guidance to the prospects.

How happy am I?

I recall a parent asking me this question: “How happy are you in this course?”

Honestly, four years in university still constitutes a large portion of my life (1/6 as of now). I can’t be always happy and I definitely was the least happy during my second year. Right now, I am happy not because I like my studies, but because I’m graduating soon 🙂 

That might sound discouraging. Haven’t I once felt enjoyable during these four years? Yes I did. Mainly due to activities outside academic and a handful of modules which I truly enjoyed. However, the majority of school work were really dull and just not for me. Hear hear: NOT FOR ME. I didn’t mean it won’t suit others. On a side note, I am a really chill person; I can probably forget to go for an exam and not blink an eye. I’m just not an academic person especially towards things unrelated to math and science. Which comes to my next point.

Why the heck did I choose NUS Business School? There are definitely a lot of you out there like me; Excelling in math and science but you just hate, you just freaking hate to practice countless of questions in order to secure that A in the exams. Yes, I wanted to try something new, something unrelated to what I know I can do, to challenge myself in another field. Did I regret my decision? No. No I don’t because I never know what will happen if I had accepted NTU Aerospace Engineering with Business minor, if I had accepted NUS ME or NUS MSE. Yes, I changed my choices two times during NS. I don’t regret entering NUS Business School because I wouldn’t have met the people whom I cherish now, the mentors who guided me, the friends who been through shit with me… I don’t regret it because I am a different person now from what I used to be before I entered university. I don’t regret it, because I wouldn’t have gotten my current job offer if I took a different path (I should probably write a separate post on this: How to get a job without internships).

And my complains about the school? Rest assured, for I will do the same thing be it NTU or SMU. It’s just my view that there is something wrong with the Singapore education system, and that why I learnt more, had more fun and had slacker classes during exchange. 

The Curriculum

I have teenagers coming up to ask, “Can you tell me more about what this course is about?”, “I don’t know much about business..”, “What do you all study?”

In short, we study how an organization run and how to keep it running. Be clear, it is how to make money for an organization, not how to run an organization, and definitely not how to create an organization. You don’t expect to graduate from business school to become a CEO of an MNC. There are generally 3 kinds of students in business schools: 1. Those who want to climb up the corporate ladder. 2. Those who want to be entrepreneurs or businessmen. 3. Those who do not have the slightest idea what they want to do with their life. Which one do you belong to?

There are aspiring entrepreneurs of course, but there is only one core module called “entrepreneurship”, that turns out to have more negative reviews. You see, business school has nothing to do with whether or not you want to be your own boss. You learn the skills that the school teaches you, and you decide for yourself if you are ready or if you are cut out to be your own boss. Please do not expect to enter business school and create a start-up company because you have “marketing skills, people skills, business analytics blah blah..”. A computer science year 1 who is proficient in Java, Python and C++ will own you quite badly. That is precisely my point about why I felt that most of the classes were not value-adding! Or rather, do we even know what we learnt? Can those skills even be applicable? I’m digressing a little here, but yes my point here is that in business school, we learn basic skills that can somehow contribute to the operations of a company when we first enter, and thereafter everything is about experience, be it promotion to the top management or starting your first venture.

Coming back to the curriculum. There have been quite some changes to the NUS curriculum from the time I was a freshmen. Let me do a quick pitch before going into details in case TLDR. As a year 1, you only have to think about 1 elective for each semester because you will be allocated 4 modules each semester and you cannot choose. You have all the time in your university life to figure out what modules to take in year 2 and year 3 and what specialization etc. If TLDR, you can leave now.

Typically, one module in NUS weighs 4 modular credits (MCs) and a semester’s workload is 20MCs or 5 modules. So for a business undergraduate without honours, we should complete 120MCs in order to graduate in 3 years or 6 semesters. 20/120 of these are university-level requirements (ULR), which are considered electives, but they are not free-to-choose electives. Rather, you have a choice from a list of modules. So, there are 5 of these ULRs that you have to take in order to graduate. 88/120 of these are programme requirements aka business modules. 64MCs or 16 mods out of these are core modules, which in short, are modules that you can only reject to take if you come from polytechnic with exemption or you quit the school. The next 24MCs or 6 mods are 6 other business modules (you can choose) which most people use to specialize in one of the four (Finance, Marketing, Management and Supply Chain). Yes, you have to use 6 modules to do one specialization. Lastly, the remaining 12/120MCs are your fun tickets (Unrestricted Electives). Use them to take interesting modules or something that can pull up your CAP. 

How about the honours programme? As you should know by now, one additional year equals an additional 40MCs, or 10 modules. For the honours student, we have to do something called the Field Service Project (FSP) which is like a consulting project to a real company with real problems and you have to try to solve them with real solutions. That is where you would likely apply your wealth of skills. The FSP is worth 8MCs or two modules. Next, the thesis, or we called it Honours Dissertation (HD). The good news is HD is not compulsory! I’m not going to talk about it because I have no idea what it is about besides lots of research. So in order not to do it, we have to do three level-4000 modules (level-1/2/3/4000 are just the module codes.). There you have 20/40MCs now. Good news about being a BBA honours students is that we have 5 more fun tickets to use, bringing it to a total of 8! Hence, some students will use 6 of these to do a second specialization. As for me, I used 7 of these to learn 3 languages. How cool is that right. 😀

Is doing honours worth it? It really depends on the individual. If the job you want to get into looks at honours for starting pay, and you really mind that increment, by all means. Some students do not want to graduate “too early”, while some still have no idea what they want in life to graduate in 3 years. Some students feel that the audit and marketing industry looks more at experience than honours degree. It is important to note that the requirement to enter honours programme is lowered from 3.5 to 3.2, which means more people are able to do it. And this also means that it is less valuable isn’t it? Is CAP 3.2 easy to get? I’m not ashamed to share. I screwed up my first semester (My worst semester) with a couple of B- and a C+. My CAP was 3.3.

Student Exchange Programme

Are there opportunities to go abroad? Some asked. Actually most. This is probably the best faculty for overseas experience. Take a look at FASS and Engineering where the sheer number of students can probably stomp down the whole Mochtar Riady Building. They have limited slots for exchange and it is competitive to get in. NUS Business School? I think the BBA office will probably ask me to tone down my opinion, but I really feel that as long as you are eligible for (CAP 3.0 I think?), and you want, and you can afford to go for exchange, you are guaranteed to go (Condition: you don’t mind going anywhere). Note that this is just my opinion only! Because really, I haven’t met anyone who didn’t go for exchange, not because they were rejected. In most cases for these people, they either do not want to go for exchange or they refuse to open their minds to other countries/schools after failing to get their choices. Having said all these, I am not saying that you are guaranteed the school or country of your choice, like I said as a condition. There are limited slots for every school and you will need to compete with your peers. However, there are just so many schools that you will probably not mind going to Budapest if you can’t make it for Manchester. Let me stress again that in NUS Business School, everyone has a very high chance of going for SEP if you plan it properly. 

Double Degree/Double Major/Minor

I have already answered this in my post two years ago. Major and Minor are course outside of the home faculty, in this case, outside of business. Can you take 2 Majors? 10 Majors? Yes you can if you can afford to. Should you take double degree? My take at this point, no. Unless you can justify yourself why you should. “More options in the future” is not a good enough reason. Let’s say you have a DD in BBA and Law and you enter the legal industry first. You don’t expect to quit 10 years later and try to find a managerial job in Unilever because you have a BBA degree. They’ll probably hire you as their legal advisor or throw you to start from an associate. You should understand by now that a degree gets you your first job and then experience is all that matters.

Incidentally, I took this new module: BSP 4515 Managing Social Networks in Markets and Organizations last semester and yes we learnt from case studies that in most cases, networks get you your first job and career progression. It was one of the modules I found enjoyable. So to current BBA undergraduates, do consider it. I got an A for that, but not because I was good, I think. As a new module, there were only 6 students (no bell curve) and my professor was probably too kind to us.

Yup, if you are still considering between the 3 schools, read my previous post here. Good luck for your applications~ Apologies for spelling or grammar errors because well.. I don’t really care if there are errors.

Lunar New Year 2016

The time has come again, to visit relatives, to eat and experience the festive mood. It is however, not at all to my liking. Things changed ever since my grandparents left. Of course, as we grow older, the fun moments that we had can never come back. Every Lunar New Year beginning from 7 years ago gets boring every year. It seems just like a normal day now. Besides for the fact that the radio plays New Year songs almost every single minute.

The time has come again for me to reemphasize my stand. That the Chinese New Year actually begins on Lichun, this year being 4 Feb 2016, 1748hrs. The reason is simple. A year is 365.25 days long, and the Lunar calendar only finishes the year with about 355 days or 385 days on leap years. Then, the Chinese came up with the ingenious Solar calendar. The Solar calendar follows the Earth’s orbit around the Sun in accurate degrees of reference (e.g. Vernal Equinox: 0 degree, Summer Solstice: 90 degrees). Lichun (Beginning of Spring: 315 degrees), is determined to be the start of a new year thousands of years ago. Yes, Chinese New Year was celebrated on Lichun before 1913, before the then-president of the Republic of China changed it to follow the Lunar calendar.

Hence, yes we are correct to call it the Lunar New Year because it follows the Lunar calendar, but to call it the Chinese New Year.. well I guess in today’s context, since all Chinese celebrate it on this day, it would be right too?

I have previously posted a long explanation about why Lichun is the start of the new year, but it seemed too complicated even to me now. (The original post: https://themysterycross.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/today-is-not-the-year-of-the-horse-not-yet/) So I will do a short summary here.

  1. The Chinese calendar has two parts: Lunar and Solar. Lunar is in accordance to the moon period. Solar is in accordance to Earth’s revolution, commonly left out.
  2. The year follows the Solar calendar (for obvious reasons); a year is defined by one revolution of the Earth around the Sun. Lichun is marked as the first solar term.
  3. Chinese New Year was celebrated on Lichun before year 1913.

Hence, the Year of the Monkey has already begun on 4 Feb 2016.