Systems… They are Everywhere

Systems… They are Everywhere

Dear Boys,

Things don’t happen by default, there is a process, system, flow that we might not understand. There is no such thing as a ‘simple’ thing. Situations, issues and problems are all linked and doesn’t happen in isolation. even when it looks like the last straw that broke the camel’s back, it usually isn’t that one last straw, dig deeper.

For you to better survive and thrive, a keen understanding and appreciation of ‘The System’ is necessary so that you do not break yourself against something seemingly random and abstract. It will also help you work with The System, analyze the root cause and come to a better more holistic understanding of how things work around the world.

A Home

Even at home, your dad runs a system that is unique (and yet not quite) that keeps the house a home. As mentioned in my earlier post on Adulting, even mundane things takes time to build and I have to think of end to end. Even changing a simple light bulb, once it is blown, I have to know the size, cost, brand, and where to get it. How to change it and discarding the blown fluorescent tube. While my part of the deal ends when I thrown it into the bin, the ‘rubbish’ has its own systems that makes it way to where ever it might become. Even before I buy the new tube, there is also a manufacturing system at the backend that make sure the replacement tube reaches me, the consumer, the dad/ electrician at home.

Source: Karla Hernandez-Unsplash

Watch and learn

The challenge for me as a dad is to make you boys see beyond the simple day to day chores. How to ignite that investigative and curious seeking nature that is latent in all of us? Going in depth and asking the questions that matters.

Why? How? What? When? Which? and Who?

Is there a risk of overthinking even for something as simple as a household chore? Quite the contrary, in our world right how, we lack thinkers, no need to overthink the overthinking, it is over worrying that we need to worry about. When we bother to think critically, long and deep, we will find that ‘solutions’ are not really solutions, rather they are compromised outcome. There are still problems in solutions and there are also solutions hiding in the problems. So these solutions might cause minor inconveniences, but it keeps the greater larger systems wheel going.

When we go back to the tube replacement example. You boys flip the switch and the light is turned on, or not. If you do not understand that it is The Dad that changes the tube, you might go whining to the Mom, which is not the right contact point. Or you can understand how The Dad goes about replacing the tube, and do it yourself.

From there, you might trigger a thought:

“Why do we keep replacing the tubes?”

“Can I improve it?”

“Make a tube that don’t need replacement, ever.”

Then you’ll need to work The Systems to see how, if that is possible. Improvements which seems to come in leaps and bounds is often supported by unknown and unseen minor constructions which is done by countless of people who are keeping The System going.

Without getting a clarity for how The System works, it will be difficult for you to make a difference in this world, in fact, you will be blinded, and indifferent to the realities and inconveniences in this world. You will end up whining and complaining about how things are unfair to you and you will make an issue out of every single things that don’t go your way.

The System don’t Care

The world really don’t care about us, our plans and our whiny, puny thoughts. The System won’t respects us, until we respect The System. That said, The System isn’t a big huge machine that we are powerless against, work The System, and find out the pros and cons, and what you can do to make the pros work in your favour while you circumvent the cons. Not everything will go your way, so when things does, appreciate it, don’t gloat, and when things don’t it just means that there’s issues in The System you didn’t learn or understand.

Waking up to a different World

Everyday might seems like a Groundhog Day, the movie is a very good analogy for our cyclical life where, if we are not careful, will fall into a trap that grinds us, and we become de-personalized. The ever talented Bill Murray, trapped in an endless Groundhog Day, finally took his time to learn, appreciate and fully dive into that very one day, only when he can get to the grind of things, he is able to break free from the repetitive wheel and do something different.

But it is never so dramatic, work small and don’t let the larger, seemingly insurmountable big machine of The System makes a mockery out of the ingenuity, authenticity and originality you both are endowed with. If The Systems seems too big, always remember the Navy SEAL saying:

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Wayne’s little insecurity

Wayne’s little insecurity
Wayne trying to cycle
Wayne trying to cycle

Dear Wayne,

Watching you develop as our youngest family member can be very endearing and frustrating at the same time. You have a very light frame, very much like you dad. Small and punch size, you naturally have to fight harder for your fair share of existence.

Of late, I noticed that you have a certain disdain for bicycling. We went for a night supper a couple of weeks back, and we all agreed that, mum and dad will jog, you and your big brother will cycle. You refused to, using all sorts of excuse. Saying that you will be slow and you’ll be left behind. We constantly assured you that we will not, to no avail, you refused to budge from your stand.

I know how you feel, son, you have your smallish kiddy bike, with training wheels on, you don’t look very cool when your big brother’s bike is bigger and he is already riding on 2 wheels. You look inferior compared to him. Riding bike has somehow become your weakness, and you didn’t want the world to know.

Your weakness is not a weakness to us.

You see, son, there is no weakness to show in this family. We are one, your brother loves you and so does your dad and mum. We will not leave you behind no matter what. Your weakness is not a weakness to us.

Wayne on his bike
Wayne on his bike

This will something that you have to deal with when you grow older, handling your insecurity, your weakness. Always bear in mind, you have a family, we are family. We will help you, and even if you are struggling and stubbornly decline help, we will still help you. We will help you even if you don’t ask for our help, because that is what family is all about. You don’t have to fight your insecurities alone.

We tried to teach you to ride on 2 wheels some time back but it was tough, you made it tougher for us to teach you as you constantly self sabotage yourself, by purposely falling, pretending that it is harder than it really is. We didn’t push it, but I think the hardship has been etched already, you associate bicycle as your weakness.

You are a kid that cannot be rushed. you will do it, and you will do it well, when you want to. So I am not pushing you to learn to ride a bicycle on 2 wheels. You take your time, there are people who goes through life not knowing how to ride a bike, which is fine, so I’m not going to rush you.

your bicycles
You and your brother’s bicycles

More importantly, please don’t make your challenges your weakness. I hope by the time you are old enough to read this, you can find enough in you to face your obstacles and overcome them. We are humans, and we are born to overcome challenges. You possesses enough will and tenacity, we have seen it in you, but you’ve choose to use these values as inertia instead of a source of motivation. We need to correct this in time to come.

First published: June 26, 2015

A Pair of Foam Dinosaurs

A Pair of Foam Dinosaurs
Foam Dinosaurs
T-Rex belonged to Ian, and the Diplodocus belonged to Wayne

Dear Boys,

As kids you will be able to make the most in-animated items as fun as any toys. Having siblings helped I guess. When you bounce of the most ridiculous ideas off each other, anything can come alive.

We got you these pair of foam dinosaurs from the Science Centre (www.science.edu.sg), when we went for the Titans of the Past Exhibition. I mean, as your dad, and as an adult, it is simply a foam cut outline of a Dinosaur. Not to the both of you.

Wayne with his Diplodocus

Throughout the journey back from Jurong home, we’d expect Wayne to fall asleep on the train, since you 2 looked beat from the whole day of fun. But no, you boys were playing and playing with your foam Dinos all the way back! There was so much things a T-Rex can tell a Diplodocus! Well, Seeing how friendly T-Rex was to  the Diplodocus was interesting, because in the Dinosaur time, one would be predator and the other, prey.

Working on the colours

This fun and play continued noisily when we boarded the bus home. You 2 took a single seat and was busily playing, there was another boy perhaps a little younger than Ian, looked on at the both of you, pensively. I observed him for a while and shared with your mum, either he was looking with a sense of envy that you boys had foam Dinos, or he was looking at the kind of fun 2 two have. From my observation, he, who appeared to be the only kid (He was with his parents, with no evidence of him having another sibling, but I could be wrong) in the family and it looked like he would like to have the same kind of fun. Having a brother, or sibling to play with certainly helps!

Finding ‘fossils’ in the sand

Anything, and everything comes alive when your 2 boys put your imagination together, otherwise, a foam dinosaur, will remain a foam dinosaur.

First Publish January 12, 2014

Yesterday is always better/worse

Your future and my past is very different

Dear Boys,

In your lifetime, you will certainly hear this from other people, and it usually goes something like:

“Back in those days…” or “In my time, things were a lot tougher! easier! better! worse!” Or “compare to our times…”You youngsters had it easy!”

Well, your dad, will probably pull the same script on you from time to time and I have been told umpteenth times by folks from all walks of life, young and old, the same thing.

Our concerns back in 1993

People will always try to compare things. And when they compare, there will only be 2 outcomes that will influence their decision making;

1- things were better in the past, so if currently things are worse off I’d better do something.

2- if things were worse in the past, and we have it better now, we’d better do something.

We all have to do something, irrespective of how well or bad things were in the past. You job, as the future, is to make things the best you can, with your resources at your given specific time and space. Sure people like to reminiscence things, tell you things of their good ‘ol days, don’t be fooled into thinking that you had it better, you will not. Neither did you had it worse, you didn’t.

Newspaper clipping from 1993

‘In my days’, when I was in national service, I wore helmets dating back to the Vietnam War, Kevlar helmets was considered a luxury, and our instructors used that as a motivation for us to do well in our obstacle course, saying we get to wear ‘Air-con’ helmets, owing to its more cooling design. Nowadays, all helmets in the Armed forces are Kevlar, and the newer ones are even better than the ones I had. I’m telling you boys this, is not to tell you that you are going to have it better. Well that is a given, but the task at hand is still very much a challenging one. It never has been any better.

My School’s Assessment Report

So the point is, don’t envy, if someone had it better in their heydays, don’t gloat if someone’s worse off than you. That was that, this is now. Your future and my past is very different, I will tell you boys stories, my experiences, do some of these ‘in my days things’ but please understand it from your context, not mine. Use my experiences as lessons, understand that problems then were different, solutions to those problems are different too. You will have your own set of problems and requires the solutions that is only appropriate at your time.

Take away one thing though, the spirit, attitude to problem solving is the same, you must apply the same tenacity, dedication and focus to solving them, the problems you have now and the problems you will have in future. And when you tell you children and the newer generation your ‘In my days’ story, please remember, that was in your days, not theirs! So give them a break!

First Publish June 15, 2015

Trying and Doing

Trying and Doing

Dear Wayne,

There is this very famous Star Wars quote by the fictitious character Yoda, a Jedi Master.

Essentially it means that you need to ‘Do’ and not ‘Try’.

Carelessness

We were concerned about your carelessness which is typical with kids ‘these days’. When you prepare for school, and packing your bag for the day, you’ll miss out your iPad, you’ll miss putting your school pin on your uniform, you’ll miss your pencil case. When you are back home, you can forget taking out your water bottle, your lunch, your dirty P.E. tee, you’ll put the socks with the laundry, despite of me telling you for the umpteenth time not to. Well, the list goes on.

Academically, you are missing out concepts, key words, and things you should know and will impede your progress until you can use them skillfully when tested.

We had a talk and you were quite dejected, citing that there is so many things to remember, and when you try to remember this, you forget that, and you are on the verge of giving up.

Dejected, drop shoulder mood

Giving up what?

So we had a talk, and this comes down to this 2 concepts. Try and Do.

So far, I know you have been trying your best, and despite of that, you are still forgetting things left right centre. You seemed to be overwhelmed by the myriad of things you need to get right for school. it’s just too much!

You tried, we can see you really try. Even in your math or science paper, despite of your best trying, you still got careless.

Wayne doing

Trying is outcome based.

You couldn’t understand the difference between trying and doing. Well, let me break it down for you, trying is aimed at a specific outcome. You will try to win, you will try not to lose, you will try to be careful, you will try to finish your meals. More often than not, the outcome turns out to be a downer. It didn’t usually happen then way you wanted it to, despite of your best effort.

Trying gets worse, when you try to beat the other guy to the first place. You try to sabotage your friend so that you can look better, you try to retaliate.

Trying is fixated on a duality event, either or, you get it or you don’t, more often than not, you don’t.

Wayne doing, with positive vibes and energy

Doing is process based.

This means that the ends justifies the means. Which can be scary when you know you are not good enough yet. so just doing could means that you will screw up, it can also mean that you succeed beyond your wildest dream; and you have no idea why.

You might think that doing and trying is pretty much a word play, it is not, think of it as a mindset. We have seen you do great things, when you put your mind to it. especially when you are playing with Lego.


Lego fun!

We all know Lego is no fun ‘trying’, Lego is all about doing, getting your hands into the little plastic bricks and building things. You like that and you never need to ‘try’, you build it in a flash. doing means you have confidence, knowledge and skill. Sometimes you don’t, and you asked for help, sometimes you make mistakes and you’ll have to tear the bricks down and rebuild it, and before you know it, you’ve completed the model!

Doing is taking it one step at a time, trusting your ability to figure things out, and working the problem, and when you encounter an unknown, you can make a decision, and step by step you get to the finish line. You are aware of the outcome, but not fixated by it. You take the road, and sometimes there is a detour, sometimes, you need to cross a river, or something that is on the ground isn’t on your map and you need to work around it, despite of all that, you still reach your summit. This is doing.

Switching from Trying to Doing would means we can get a better gauge about your knowledge gap, when you are trying, it will be difficult because you are overthinking too much, there is too much gears going in your head, so much so you cannot get it right, and you start to panic. This happens precisely because you want to not get it wrong, and that is exactly what will happen, you get it wrong.

Doing helps us reflect after action as to what you know, what you don’t know, there is a balance between working it out, making mistakes, and learning from it. Doing is often followed by reflection. Trying is often followed by an emotional roller coaster, you did well, WOOHOO! You didn’t do well, bummer…

Easier said that done!

It takes a level of maturity to just do, and get the flow, have the courage to make a decision, and accept it as incorrect later on as you might have a knowledge gap, which upon reflection, leads to a closing of the gap through learning. This doing and reflecting is a constant polishing of your learning and it never ceases, and the constantly doing will lead to a more sustained energy, and of course lead to a wiser, not just smarter Wayne.

Adulting 101- the really mundane stuff

Adulting 101- the really mundane stuff

Dear boys,

I casually asked Ian one day that if we leave the entire household to him, will he be able to handle it?

‘No’ came the reply.

Well I am not surprised at all because it will take a lot of effort and time to run a household smoothly, it is not something that is written in a ‘how-to’ book or instructions manual, that’s what parents are for.

Photo by Rony Stephen Chowdhury on Pexels.com

Mopping

Well, this is an entire package, and it comes with vacuuming first. Since it makes more sense to suck up any dust and debris before you actually put the wet work in to clean up any stains and give the floor a good wipe.

That’s just the mop part, we are not talking about filling the pail, putting the cleaning solvents, wringing the mop, mapping the mopped area in the house. So there is some thought to be put into mopping, its not just swinging a wet mop around and call it done.

Photo by Ekaterina Belinskaya on Pexels.com

Laundry

This is another bummer, I know you boys know who does the laundry, but the entire thing is a regular chore. It must be done, unless we are going around naked!

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

It starts from buying the apparels, wearing them, putting them to wash, getting the right amount of detergent in, getting the right machine settings, hanging it up, folding it when it is dry, ironing it, putting them in the right place. Occasionally we will need to wash bags, shoes, and other what-nots.

Our washing machine
Our Laundry

Plumbing

Our new shower head

From time to time you will need to fix, replace, repair, and clean some of the fixtures at home. and recently I replaced our leaking taps in both bathrooms

Our old tap

It is not actually rocket science and if you want to, just pay a Plumber and this can also be done, or you can go to a hardware shop and get it yourself. Most of the sizing and dimensions are the same, so you just have to put some muscle into removing the old one and putting the new one in.

Similarly, cleaning the bathroom means giving these fixtures a good scrub, toilet bowls included.

The Bottom Line

There is a lot of things to do at home, and as boys, men, you need to know these skills. It is a hands-on fixing, repairing and replacing things at home that makes your house a home. No one is going to teach you all these skills and you will have to learn them yourself.

It is not difficult, you just have to do it, and trust yourself that things will turn out okay. If it doesn’t then you can call in the professionals, watch and learn how they do it, and correct yourself from there.

Your Father’s 39th Birthday

Your Father’s 39th Birthday

Dear Boys,

This 39th birthday I truly understand the meaning of family. It is simply because I felt a sense of abandonment from my mom and brother. I heard from my mother’s sister, my aunt, that my mother and elder brother has moved, she invited her sister to her house for some kind of house warming but she didn’t inform me. Given the kind of relationship I have with my brother, I can understand why she didn’t invite me, at the very least, tell me where they’ve moved to.

That is quite a psychological reality check for me, I guess I should have seen it coming, things hadn’t been the warmest between me and my brother and mother, but I still would think of them as family. The signs are there when I visited them one Chinese New Year and me at the gate, roused my brother from his slumber, only to hear him said, ‘Brother? I don’t have a brother.’ That was when I greeted him and asked him where is mum, and I’m his brother!

So now they’ve move, and without an address the cut is complete, and absolute. Perhaps is better this way, boys, I don’t know, things are always happening in future tense that leave us with little preparation in the present. The reality is that, I felt the loneliness in a deep and profound way.

So this birthday, it was a very small family affair, just your mum, and the 2 of you, there’s really no one else left who will remember my birthday, not to mention the mere celebrating the day. When I die, if anytime sooner, my wife will have her parents and little brother to remember her birth and celebrate with her, she has the both of you, that kind of birthday song, would sound a little louder.

For me, this 39th birthday for me, looking at the 3 of you, singing the song, made me really, really wish, and I want to hold true to that wish, ‘I wish that the 3 of you, sitting before me, will be by my side for as long as I live

Posted February 23, 2015

Stop at Success

Stop at Success

Dear Sons,

Your mum baked butter cakes yesterday. Twice.

For the first round, the 2 of you tried to help in the process, In measurements and cutting of the butter, it was good to have involved the 2 of you, even though you boys monkeyed around more than being helpful.

The cake wasn’t very well made, it rise in the beginning but the cake collapsed towards the later part of its time in the oven. Of course your mum, was dejected, it was a failure. The texture of the cake was too light, and it felled apart when we cut it and when we ate it, even thought it tasted good, but it wasn’t a ‘cake’.

I saw the opportunity and told her “Let’s bake another one!” I wanted to drive this point home, Do not stop at failure, stop only when you are successful. Later that afternoon, I went out and bought another bunch of ingredients and we tried at it again, and this time the cake turned out alright.

You see, boys, the difference is that if we stop at the first bake, what would have locked into our minds? The end process of it was ‘failure’. And if we do not correct that immediately, the feeling, the mood and the psyche of having failed at baking, would have sunken in, gotten locked into our sub consciousness, and the next time we bake, may be next week, next month, we will go to our sub conscious file and access the last time we tried, which was locked in ‘failure’. What a way to starting making something as beautiful and delicious as a cake! Will our next attempt fail again? I don’t know, but I’d rather start a new endeavor , with a past history and memory of success rather than having a last records of failure.

We also did something different the second time we bake, we wrote down every bit of the process, step by step. For the second time around, you boys were playing in the living room and had no part in the baking process, maybe the absence of you 2 monkeys would help in your mum’s concentration as well?

We wrote down every writable details of the baking, so that if we fail, again, we will know, more than less, how we can adjust our process.

The second time was a success!

And what a difference it made for your mum! From dejected, deflated talk of failure in baking the first round, she is now beaming with joy knowing that the second bake was a success. This is what I want to have locked into her psyche, that she can bake and baking is a process of success. And with the formula on hand, now she can bake and repeat the same success.

So boys, when you do fail in future, quickly dust yourself off and try again. Do not stop, never stop until you have successfully achieve your given tasks. Failure and success is nothing more than a state of mind, be careful at which state of mind you decide to take a rest, for it will affect you and your next course of action. so when you fail, do not stop, keep going, stop only when you are successful.

Posted August 12, 2013

How we spent our Deepavali-Istana Visit

How we spent our Deepavali-Istana Visit

Dear Boys,

I decided to give your mum a ‘me time’ for the hardwork she put in helping you, Ian with your exams. So I took you boys out so that your mum can go for her nail message, compliments of Auntie Chai Ping.

Where can we go, 3 male members of the Lim family? The Istana was hosting an open house and it is free entry for Singaporeans, so why not? We packed up and headed out, looking forward to spending some time at the official residence of our President. After all, it is free entry and its been a long time since I’ve step foot in the Istana for a visit.

We reached the place and found it to be raining a little, and got heavier as we approached the Main Building. the compound is really a nice place to visit, with the sprawling greenery, and magnificent lawn. Once we passed the tight security, the first sight that draws us towards was the Swan pond.

Swan Pond. Admiring the Swan

The both of you were fascinated with the single white swan there and snapped pictures like it was the last living White Swan on earth. Thankfully the turf on the Istana ground is quite well maintained, despite of the rain, and wet grounds didn’t translate into a muddy quagmire, despite of the heavy trampling by the large crowds.

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As we walked up and towards the slight gradient, the both of you chatted that this was where they saw on television the funeral procession of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and wondered where is the Sri Temasek.

The Sri Temasek

The premises was out of bounds and we can only stop to appreciate the diminutive building, where so much of our country’s history has happened there. While we watch, our minds played the mental image of Mr Lee’s cortege rolled out from the place, in a wet day no different from the day we visited Istana.

The Main Building

We had to seek refuge there along with many ‘un-umbrella’ folks, as the sky decided to open up on us. We learned from a Scout there, that we can actually buy a ticket to go into Istana for a house tour. With nothing better to do, I decided to leave the 2 of you with the Scout and headed out in the downpour to get the tickets. There is no photo taking allowed inside so we have to keep our pictures in our head.

The interior is a grand place, which is of course, as we have to host our nation’s guests there. There is an air of importance as well as decorum, you can’t help but feel the importance of such a place to us ordinary Singaporeans. it is important that we host our country’s guests in the highest pristine so that we get the respect and voice in the global community.

The Gun Terrace

This is certainly the highlight for the both of you as you boys take turns to take pictures of it, walk around it and explore this World War 2 relic.

The Military Guardroom

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We did a few fun shots there with a few ornamental mini cannons, your little brother, as usual, is such a pain when it comes to making him look at the camera and do a decent pose!

Our signature childhood photo

This is the kind of photograph where we can look back, decades from now and relish the memories. I am sure many of us and our parents out there has a photo like that taken with a soldier standing at attention. This will certainly be a journey I hope the 2 of you can cherish and remember fondly.

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Posted November 19, 2015

The “Bastard” Story

The “Bastard” Story

Dear Ian,

You have been acquainted to the word ‘Bastard”. No thanks to some kid in your school.

Well, this might be something we forget years from now, but it is one of those things that we would like to pen down.

You came home yesterday and asked your mum, “What is the meaning of Bastard?” Your mum, shocked to even hear you mention the word, told you in a reactive rebuke, it is of course, a ‘bad’ word. And she asked you if you’ve used it. And you obviously said ‘no’.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

What we learned from you was that someone in school used the ‘B’ word on you during your basketball training, and it was, in your account, perhaps the senior boys, in Primary 4, 5 or 6. who scolded you and added the ‘B’ word.

On top of that, there is this kid who smacked you head with Colin’s from behind. And someone threw a ball at your face. Those rough and tough stuffs you can rough it out, tough it out.

The twist of the story came this morning, when Colin’s mum got a call from school from the teacher to tell her about what happened. Long story short. The teacher mentioned that you used the word ‘bastard’ in school. and Colin also said you did.

Your mum knew now, you used it, but you learned it from someone, and the teacher only caught you using it, but she is not aware that you learned it from someone else in the basketball lesson.

To set the records straight, your mum went to the teacher after class and clarified the matter. Not in your defense but to make sure that the facts are set right. You used the word, which you should aptly be punished. But you didn’t bring the word into the class, someone did, and you were caught using it. That doesn’t make you less ‘wrong’ but it matters that the teacher sees the situation from another angle.

So the point is this, Ian, you have to let us know what is going on in school, even if you are punished for some reason, or you did something wrong, please let us know. Because you could have been contextually right in the wrong content and vice versa.

Had we not set the records straight, you would have been branded the boy who brought the ‘bastard’ to school. We do not want such stereotypes on you, not like this.

Posted January 28, 2014