Anatomy of a home

Before you begin adapting the structure of a house to your personal needs, you need to know what those needs are.

Sure, you’ve lived 2 or 3 decades, and in that time period you would have cultivated habits and preferences. You would have strong inclinations towards certain areas in your house design, based on that experience. That experience is the sum of all your living spaces, be they temporary (hotels and holidays) or long term, as well as your encounters with other living spaces in brief visits, say to a friend’s house.

If you have the financial ability to restructure a home according to your wants, what would you do? Given some constraints — the biggest of which is that you own public housing, which comes with one long list of don’ts, in the interest of living harmoniously with the hundred or so houses in the same building. And then of course, that financial ability has some limits.

The difficulty lies also in the hypothetical nature of the design process — unlike software, there are high costs involved in iteration. (That’s why I like programming so much.) As the end users of the product, it’s hard to pinpoint what will fit perfectly until we’ve tried it.

And then there is that issue when your preferences do not cover every aspect of design, as they inevitably will. Pros: it means you have leeway to settle for a less expensive option. Cons: when deciding between this kind of hob and that, you have absolutely no idea how that anyhow choice you made will haunt you in the future.

Let’s go to implementation. The foremost difficulty I’ve faced is the word-of-mouth nature of the contractor industry; it seems there is no centralized online place to find contacts and see their reviews. Of course I try my best, googling forums and such for recommendations and complaints, but for the most part the laymen seem to be operating from what their friends tell them, while the contractors form a few select partnerships with sub-contractors and just settle for them to do their work. Which is fine, since it’s teamwork and you want to work with people you’re comfortable with. It does mean that to an outsider everything seems so murky, requiring trust without a pre-given record… Also kinda how cronyism works, eh.

Second, my inexperience with the process means that I don’t think of many considerations that people knee-deep in the work know about. When asked about how I would like to lay pipes and such, I take some time to understand what the problems are (especially given my inadequate grasp of mandarin, which seems to be the de-facto language of operation with the subcons I’ve met with — I’m sorry people of other races), and then hesitantly settle on one of the proposed solutions, without knowing what all my options are. One of my greatest weaknesses is being unable to visualize enough details and foresee pitfalls, and even though I can’t expect to be prepared when I don’t know what the process is like, I feel as though I’m messing things up for some stage in the future with every choice I agree to.

Anyway, after all that vague musing, I guess I owe you guys some pictures so it isn’t totally “I READ THIS WHOLE WAY AND STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT COCK SHE SAYING”, so here they are:

Before: Our master bedroom. Zhi Xin here to scale.
Before: Our master bedroom. Zhi Xin here to scale.
Before: Our living room
Before: Our living room, which looks the same size as other rooms. Bonus LCY with a pineapple.
Before: Our tiny kitchen, soon to become tinier.
Before: Our tiny kitchen, soon to become tinier.
After: We hacked the wall between our master bedroom and the other room, so now it feels much better
After: We hacked the wall between our master bedroom and the other room, so now it feels much better
After: After the kitchen got hacked, our living room looks normal-sized now (at the cost of our poor kitchen)
After: Our living room looks normal-sized now, at the cost of our poor kitchen, which got hacked too
I let the air con guy put a pipe there now I'm like OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE
I let the air con guy put a pipe there now I’m like OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE

Leave the children to the state

It used to be that children were a form of economic security, whether in terms of adding manpower to the family business (farming counted), or acting as retirement insurance. As our economic model evolved, however, children became less of a necessity and more of a passion project, and, as with anything driven by love, only a niche part of the population is really into it. Which isn’t to say that the niche can’t be big; in many cases, though, the niche is clearly too small for societies to be happy with.

Including, and especially, ours. In 2015, our fertility rate was 1.24 births per woman. That falls even lower than Japan’s (about 1.4), which we’ve known to be an ageing society since social studies started as a subject.

Hence, I propose a model for the state to consider. A model which slaughters the sacred cow of the nuclear family, and which falls more in line with the direction that the economy has been moving towards all this while, namely, outsourcing in the name of comparative advantage.

The Model

…is simple. The state needs to replenish its population, but individuals do not have the incentive to produce the requisite babies. Hence, babies should now be considered a public good.

I propose a shift in thinking: babies do not belong to their parents, for those who do not desire to bring them up. Those who do may go ahead and rear them the good old-fashioned way. For those who don’t, these babies can be given to the state.

The state will run childcare centres that will bring these children up. In a sense, these are orphanages, but with official adequate funding, and without the accompanying stigma, because we are dismantling the definition of a family. Meaning, it will be perfectly normal for children to call the state their parents. Because children are considered a public good, the money required to run these childcare centres will come from taxes. The benefits of replenishing the population and fueling the economy with its much needed human resources will justify the investment.

There will be no penalty for giving a baby to the state. The state will consider it a neutral act, or even an act worthy of reward, which would already manifest itself in the form of maternity benefits. The state can also pay for whatever requisite operations and checkups in the process of pregnancy. In order to prevent people from gaming the system, there will probably be a need for a maximum number of babies the state can receive from one individual. Beyond that, should the individual bear another child, the state will still accept the baby, but will consider the individual to be taking no-pay leave, and no longer bear any cost associated with the process.

Every state-run centre will assign every certain number of children to a group of caregivers, who will be responsible for taking care of the children’s miscellaneous needs, and making sure that the children are not being mistreated, much as parents would. When these children reach school age, they can be sent to other centres, such as kindergardens, which will take care of their educational needs. Children will have allowances and money for other necessary expenses, and at a certain age (21?) they will be independent. In short, they will have the lives that children have now, with the only difference being that they are under the state’s care.

I believe is this is already most children’s experience, since many households are dual-income: parents send children to childcare centres, and only see them in the morning or at night when they are home from work. Most of childcare is already outsourced. We can outsource the entire process altogether, instead of this half-hearted compromise that results in an inadequate replenishing of the population.

An additional benefit is a truer meritocracy: the large number of children brought up by the state will start on more or less equal footing, with similar opportunities offered to all.

Of course, this is currently too simplistic a model to be implemented, and probably sounds too uncomfortably similar to a socialist model. More thought needs to be given to issues like, how does the state bear the greater cost of a mentally or physically disabled child? What do “similar opportunities” mean? If a child desires to go overseas to pursue a more expensive education, how can the child do it (perhaps only with a scholarship?)? Does the state have too much power over these children, since, unlike actual parents, children can’t run away from the state if they are unhappy?

But I believe the essence of the model, which is separating the idea of child-rearing from individuals, should be seriously considered.

I am more comfortable with english, and I don’t belong

Having grown up in an education environment so wholly English-speaking, I feel awkward, almost handicapped, in most of the social contexts that I’ve found myself in since I left NUS.

In the States I found myself craving Singaporean company, people who would understand my rapid-fire off-tangent rambling without there needing to be a point. On the occasions that I found that during CMU Singapore Students Association meet-ups, it was easy to forget that most of Singapore didn’t communicate on that wavelength, and associate the place with that sense of belonging, simply because we thought that was the biggest thing we had in common.

Now that I’m back, it might prove surprising for some that I find myself even more alienated than when I was overseas.

My office environment consists of almost wholly Chinese, with a capital C — Chinese in both race and nationality. I have one other colleague who isn’t Chinese. He’s not Singaporean either — he’s Indian.

Because there are so many Chinese, there really isn’t any impetus to speak in English, whether during work discussions or lunches. Of course meetings are still held in English, for the benefit of Shan, my Indian colleague. Outside of that, no one gives two fucks about being inclusive. Not that I blame them — by utilitarian reasoning, it’s really more reasonable for one person to bear with a conversation in a language he doesn’t understand, than to make 15 other people painfully construct their thoughts in English for small talk.

What about me? Even though my mandarin is seriously half-baked, making some of them speak in English contributes less to my understanding than otherwise, so I try my best to translate chinese technical terms. As for social conversation, there are a lot of lingo and jokes that require not just competence in chinese, but an immersion into their internet and pop culture. It’s easy to drift out and not engage socially.

On more serious implications, it is clear that a programmer who doesn’t understand mandarin is missing out on a lot of talk that, while not directly relevant to their work scope, very likely impacts how much contribution they can make. Discussions about the larger picture which you can chip in with your perspective; answers to technical questions which you’ve had experience with; trust that comes with the sense that you are all working on the same thing, which gets built up the more you participate in problem-solving together.

I’m okay — I have lcy and my close friends who will nourish whatever social needs I have, and I understand enough mandarin to function sufficiently. Sometimes though, I miss the feeling of belonging, and the lively self that had the chance to pop its head out more all those years ago.

Do you even know how smart I am in Spanish? Gloria asks, in an episode of Modern Family. I want to modify it, in my case, to Do you even know how interesting I can be?, but I’ve been feeling so rusty in social groups that I don’t have confidence to ask that now.

“But how commercially viable is your product?”


A couple of weeks back, I made a game, indelible, centered around the experience of periods. Specifically, you are a girl who has the misfortune of having your period come early, staining yourself as a result. Now you have to make your way to the toilet without getting your stain seen, pop that tampon in, and wash that damn stain.

When I googled to see if there were similar games, the only result that came out was a game purportedly about de-stigmatizing menstruation by having you shoot tampons as bullets.

Since then, I’ve had quite a few people play my game, and observed their reactions. What surprised me was the sheer variety of reactions I’ve seen. On one end, there was fear, discomfort, and extreme embarrassment – my teammate, for example, felt so afraid of pushing that tampon into someone that he refused to touch the computer for at least five minutes while we were falling over ourselves laughing, and a faculty member literally jumped away to the next computer when he saw the tampon scene. On the other, there was relief, delight, even comedy – “Now you know what we go through!” some female spectators gleefully exclaim when watching their male friends attempt it. Male players have completed the game with a happy dazed look, as if glad to have an insight into the female experience. Both male and female players have excitedly grabbed their friends to make them try my game. In common was a certain amazement that this game was made, which frankly I marvelled at.

Today, we had a visitor from Disney who played my game, and asked me the question in my title. “I come from a business standpoint,” he said. “Why would anyone want to pay for a game that makes them uncomfortable?”

Some context – I am doing a project, Emotionshop, where each of us makes a game every week centered around a common emotion. The aim is to explore what game mechanics are more effective in evoking what emotions. It’s a research project, and it’s an experimental one. The sheer volume of our games is so that we can test a wide variety of techniques out in the shortest possible time, and see what works and what doesn’t.

Is there value in, at least currently, non-commercially viable products? From a business standpoint, no. “We want to find the lowest common denominator,” he explained. “We want to hit the widest audience possible.”

I guess from the time I chose English Literature in my secondary school education I was already marked out, doomed even, to hold on to an artist’s belief that there is value in art, regardless of its commercial viability. I go for story rather than special effects. I go for originality rather than templates. Which is why I get so mad at watching yet another Hollywood movie with the same old fucking template – Big Hero 6, Avengers: Age of Ultron, you name it. I had a free ticket for Marvel Universe Live, and I fell asleep there – it was that boring. I don’t fall for people trying to use flame and fire to hide a lack of actual story. I will only be impressed by a sincere exploration of character, emotion, human nature – all the things that make us us.

“Why would anyone want to play a game that makes them uncomfortable?” Because they are seeking new experiences. Because what makes them uncomfortable is a natural part of life, and people are inquisitive. Because experiencing discomfort is a way to grow and understand more perspectives.

On commercial viability – I think there is space for non blockbuster offerings. They might not reap the billions of Disney, but there are niche audiences for them nevertheless. I am part of that audience.

A couple of reflections

1. On going back to Singapore after my semester ends

Being in a master’s course where about everyone intends to remain in the States/Canada and work here after the course ends, I get responses of sympathy sometimes when I tell them I have to go back to serve my scholarship bond. Sometimes I nod along and agree that it’s a waste, as though if I had a choice I would stay in the States.

Inwardly I am absolutely glad that I don’t have a choice, because I long so much to be back in a place where the food I love is everywhere. It’s funny, the discovery that food matters so much to me. I want to be out at night, eating hawker food – all my South East Asian goodies that I never realized were rare in other countries. I love my hawker centres and my coffee shops and, in a very Singaporean way, my shopping centres. My shopping centres might have the almost the same shops everywhere, but they are so close to me wherever I am and so rightfully full of people at night. I love the bright busy nights and the convenience.

2. On choosing NUS

Back when I had freshly graduated from JC, I longed to study overseas in the most prestigious of schools. That was the general spirit shared by many of my junior college mates, and there would end up being a significant proportion doing just that, if they weren’t studying law or medicine. It felt as though without the badge of being accepted by an overseas college, doing any other degree would seem almost inferior, limiting.

Nevertheless, I did not, for a mix of reasons, some more trivial than others. The most trivial would probably be laziness. I found that I did not have a desire to study in the States, for some reason, and the high application fees put me off. I applied to the UK, but for psychology, sociology, and politics, which didn’t feel right in the end. The least trivial would be financial means. That’s the gist of how I ended up in NUS doing computing.

Now that I’m at this point in my academic career, I can safely say that I am glad that I went to NUS. I cannot imagine bearing a debt of more than $200k usd. To put things into perspective, I can buy a freaking hdb (that’s a flat, for non-singaporeans) with that amount. Maybe back then I would have tried to be idealistic, rationalize how I would pay it off in future, but now I’m just glad that I am graduating debt-free, on a four year bond instead of six year, with savings from my scholarship allowance.

Of course, there is the argument that the quality of education might possibly have been better. Maybe, but I was taught by some pretty amazing professors in NUS (and some shitty ones, of course). I think of the law of diminishing marginal returns – the exponential increase in cost is just, in my perspective, not worth it for that slight increase in quality. I speak from a middle-class background, so that has coloured my perceptions. I’ve never had to worry about eating or housing – I have my parents to thank for that – so I’m luckier than many others, and I feel it. It would probably be different if I had parents who thought of that sum as a trivial amount, but since I don’t, I am 100% certain that choosing NUS was correct.

Plus, my best mods include the one that gave me the love for coding, and you can never be too grateful for lessons of love.

When I met you in the summer

I would embed Calvin Harris and make him play automatically, but summer just ended so I guess I need to hunt for an autumn song instead.

I’m back in Pittsburgh. While on the plane and planning what to do when I land, I had in mind the following thoughts:

  • Dollar General for eggs and the like
  • Giant Eagle for other groceries
  • omg Carnegie library before all of that

Carnegie library! The best library I have the honour of borrowing from! All the books I tried fruitlessly to find time and time again in the Bugis library were found right on my first visit after the hiatus! The best thing about Pittsburgh! (Sorry ETC)

One of the books was this:

Ha ha as you can see from the small text on the bottom it has BDSM inside. No, I have not read 50 shades. I have also not watched it. Let’s just say I was interested in this topic from a better-written standpoint. Although I wasn’t prepared for a downright erotica which is this book LOL

Maybe that’s why I couldn’t find it in NLB.

But then again, I found Tropic of Cancer in NLB and that’s the dirtiest book I’ve read, so dirtiness of content is obviously not the reason. Perhaps it’s cos the book kills off any appetite for sex? Weren’t they supposed to promote a higher birth rate?

Anyway if you’re interested I went to Dollar General first for eggs. Carnegie Library was second. Finally I went to Giant Eagle so I could buy $4 ben and jerry again.

In case you thought I did nothing in the summer, that’s… basically right. Except for that website I helped Singapore Contract Bridge Association do to access and edit their tournaments database, I spent some of my unfortunately very limited time playing Gone Home, Shadowrun Returns, Invisible Inc, Don’t Starve Together, Kingdom Rush, and of course my daily favourite League of Legends. You should try them when you also have an unfortunate amount of limited time. I do not regret a single minute. Ok, maybe a few minutes on that last game.

Oh, and I celebrated my birthday!

birthday 2015

I am v pleased with the 24 pictures of me on this 24 sign and the earl grey cake which were proudly presented to me by Zhi Hua and Rita respectively.

I am also the proud owner of a skateboard given by the darling. Too bad it’s lying in Singapore because I felt sure that if I brought it here and tried to skate down this road I would be knocked down by a car.


The queen is baaaack

Before I launch into the things that I’ve been doing, you should check out the app that I have been working on for the past 3 months – it’s in the play store, over here:

splash screen

It’s a game consisting of several very short mini games, each at most 2 to 3 minutes, and you get to learn many cute things about the rainforest that you probably didn’t know about before unless you’ve been watching lots of documentaries. For example, did you know that the acacia tree produces food for the acacia tree ants that have no other known function? That’s how much acacia trees love their ants.

Watch the developers (us) talking about it here:

We also have a mini game that you are sure to love – a game where shrews poop into pitcher plants. ^^

In the short span of time that I’ve been back, LCY and I went to have our eyeballs cut, otherwise called LASIK. One day before the surgery I was asking LCY what they were going to do.

“They will kiap* your eyelids open so that you can’t close your eyes, and then pull your eyeball out slightly to cut the outer layer,” he said.

*in this instance, kiap means holding your eyelids open by force. Kiap can also be used in other instances like kiapping a crab pincer, which means using the nutcracker to break open its shell.

To provide some context, I have never undergone surgery of any sort before, nor have I been a patient at a hospital since the age of 1. As you can see, this is a picture of a zhi xin about to have her eyeballs pulled out:


We were operated by Dr Julian Theng, who was a very reassuring doctor who counted down the time to when the pressure on your eyeballs would stop among other things. LCY has a crush on him because he looks so dashing for his age, which we calculated to be above mid 40s. He was also a national team tennis player in his youth, in addition to presumably being top of his med school class in order to get his cushy eye specialist job. Mad props.

There are two types of LASIK offered by his clinic (Eagle Eye Centre), Epilasik and bladeless lasik. Epilasik is when they exfoliate your eyeball until they can access the stroma, and bladeless lasik is when they create a flap on the “skin” of your cornea to access the stroma before covering the flap back. We chose the latter because it had a faster recovery process and was supposedly less painful. In fact, it was painless during and after the operation! We could immediately see clearly after the operation, and besides having to put eyedrops every 3 hours, could basically resume all our activities. I played a lot of Pokemon after the operation and evolved my combusken. I also managed to catch an abra right before I got called into the operating theatre, which I was very delighted about. All in all, a rather successful day.

after the operation
A beaming zhi xin who is so glad she isn’t blind

LCY made me donate my glasses after the operation, so I don’t even have them to habitually put on anymore. Perfect vision is so cool omgbbq.

Dr Julian Theng also gave us a signed copy of his book for presbyopia so that we’ll go back there when we are old. LCY shows his personalized message proudly to everyone.

presbyopia julian theng


Anyway if you are thinking of doing LASIK I’m here to reassure you that it was a super short and painless process, only 10 minutes per eye, and it’s good to get it done earlier so that you have more years of perfect vision before presbyopia sets in. Since it’s your eye you don’t see it getting pulled out so you just have to stop yourself from imagining it…

Oh I was going to end the post but I thought I’d just put pictures of some of the food I’ve been having. Because IT’S GLORIOUS BEING BACK IN A LAND OF FOOD EVERYWHERE SO MUCH VARIETY 24/7



We also tried the Korean fiery chicken noodles which were super shiok* while in the process of slurping but rather hellish about 30 seconds after swallowing. We finished all the milk left in my house after that.

*Like awesome but better.

This photo post was self indulgent but I HAVE NO REGRETS.