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Friday, April 28, 2006
This week in my universe... -vvv vvw vwv

A short while ago, I wanted to post an entry about something I no longer remember now but never got it because my ideas are often vague floating concepts, never really taking any form substantial enough to crystalize into a single entry. So instead, I shall put all the unrelated stuff into one rojak entry.

First, I'll write about my recent dreams. Actually, I'm mostly gonna write about dreams since reality is so much more mundane. A few days ago, I had this dream that I was taking an exam. It sure was stressful man, which is strange because I never had exam anxieties. I love exams, they make me euphoric, except in dreams. I dreamt I was taking a mythology paper. Time was running out and I had only completed two thirds of the questions. What was particularly frustating was that I was stuck at this particular question about Odin, which I knew I knew the answer but could not recall.

Just when the time was up, I suddenly realized this was a three-hour exam, not two. So I had one more hour. And at this moment of relief, I miraculously recalled that the answer to the question was the Well of Mimir. And then I woke up. This was a particularly interesting dream as I was so conscious yet I did not realize I was dreaming. I did not find it strange that I was taking an exam in a subject that I had never studied in or that I was taking an exam even though I had already graduated two years ago. It's funny how some parts of your brain can be totally shut off while others are wide awake. I mean, I can actually recall that Odin lost his eye at the Well of Mimir but not remember I didn't even take this course!

This morning, I had another dream. In this one, I was in an indoor children playground which features a labyrinth section for toddlers lined with rainbow coloured carpets. I decided to run through the multi storey maze just to check it out. As I entered that section, I sensed that there was a kid just behind me catching up with me. I can't possibly let a kid overtake me right? So I took to the stairs where I can easily lose him (cuz I'm pretty good at running up stairs in real life). This kid is really fast, he's always just that step behind me no matter how fast I run. After sprinting up 5 or 6 floors, I noticed that this playground is weird in the sense that it is so incredibly huge. How many more floors must I go before I find the exit?! Panic was starting to creep in when I woke up, feeling quite tired physically, as if I really climbed all those stairs. Damn! Sleep wasn't supposed to make me tired! And I am now 100% sure I can see colour in dreams. I can still remember the individual strips of reds, yellows and blues on the steps of the carpet covered stairs.

I was surfing through blogs when I came to a site dedicated to codes and cryptography. This stuff is really interesting man. I think I shall place cryptography in my ambitious big list of things-I-want-to-be-good-at-before-I-die, along with number theory, wushu, animation, etc. But like most things in the list, I'll probably not do anything about it. Life is just too short to be a master of all trades, especially when some of those trades are absolutely useless in Singapore. I'm talking about astronomy here.

Astronomy and cosmology. These subjects are definitely among my favourites if not the favourite. However, they provide no immediate economic benefit to Singapore and therefore do not have a place here. A world class astronomer would starve to death in Singapore. That's why I can empathise with the archaeology enthusiasts I read about in the papers regarding the reburied fort. I like archaeology because most of what we know about the mythology of ancient cultures comes from archaeology. It's quite sad to learn that Singapore government does not hire a single archaeologist. We are gradually becoming a country with no cultural heritage. Singapore's overly practical attitude can be quite distasteful. Read the article I've attached at the end of this post to see what I mean.

Talking about the government, I just heard loudspeakers outside my windows repeating the words "vote for PAP". I don't like to comment on politics and I also don't usually write mathematics-related things in this blog. But if you are one of those politics fanatics who has unwavering faith in democracy, the will of the people and the voting process, I suggest you read about Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Skip to the "Interpretations of the theorem" part if you are not mathematically inclined. If you are a mathematics fanatic like me, there are links to proofs at the bottom. The proofs are quite simple and elegant. I only have 'A' levels math and I find them pretty clear cut.

I'm surprised this entry turned out so long. Oh well, here's the end anyway.

Our Cultural Artefacts “Going Global” by Ng Kong Ling (2002-11-03)

Recent media reports of an excellent local collection of bonsai plants finding a home in Shanghai have sparked a series of reactions. Many have expressed a sense of regret and disappointment. But what has been lost cannot be recovered and the discussion has gradually died down.

Over the years, failure to appreciate the value of cultural artefacts which others embrace with open arms has occurred time and again. So it is unlikely that this latest episode will be the last.

This tiny island-state seems to have no place for precious collections. When will it again turn its back on artists or collectors who are potential donors and who have no choice but to look elsewhere? No one knows.

Yes, our cultural artefacts are increasingly “going global” - we may one day end up having to scour all over the world for local relics or artistic works.

Two years ago, more than 50,000 books and some original scripts and letters which belonged to prominent figures in the cultural and media circles here found a home across the Causeway in a library in Johor Baru.

Sharing the same fate is another large volume of works, among them books penned by Singaporeans and Malaysians, titles on Chinese literature, publications by clan associations here, and collections of calligraphy and paintings. They have also settled down in Johor Baru as there was no place here to keep them.

In 1997, valuable screenplays left behind by Singapore writer Chua Boon Hean, who wrote under the pen name Liu Beian, were donated to the Hong Kong movie museum and became one of its important collections.

A few years back, local collector Low Chuck Tiew wanted to donate some priceless paintings to the National Museum, but when they could not reach an agreement, he decided to give the artworks to the Hong Kong Museum of Art which went on to build a gallery to house them.

It is an irony that the official opening of the Esplanade-Theatres On The Bay and the giving of the bonsai plants to the Shanghai Botanical Gardens were reported in the press on the same day. This also offers much food for thought.

On the one hand, we have pumped millions of dollars to attract world-class and grand-scale art performances, yet on the other hand, we have no qualms about letting go of some half-a-century old precious plants of an artist. Singapore has been dubbed as a venue which keeps importing foreign cultural events. But it seems we are doing rather well too in “exporting” our own cultural artefacts!

The pictures of workers pulling up the bonsai plants by the roots while transporting them are in a sense quite shocking. Bonsai is art in a living form, manifesting itself in a dynamic way the culture of rootedness. Yet they can just be uprooted and replanted overseas. One can’t help but lament if we are destined to remain a cultural desert that has no place even for some bonsai plants.

Of course, one can look on the bright side (to console oneself) and even hail the loss of the bonsai as a gesture to “promote culture”, “encourage exchange”and“share resources beyond national boundaries”.

What else can we do other than finding excuses to explain things away?

After all, it is none of our business. The National Arts Council is responsible for promoting the arts; acquisition of artefacts is the task of the National Heritage Board; and exhibition of artistic works comes under the purview of Esplanade-Theatres On The Bay or the various museums.

Bonsai, which one can place somewhere between art, cultural artefacts and plants, can perhaps be referred only to the Chinese Gardens. The wishes of the donor and the resources and competence of a private organisation are not important factors for consideration.

Many old buildings with historic significance have had to make way for our overriding goal to achieve economic growth and rapid urbanisation in the past decades. Now that we’ve realised the importance of keeping the old world charm of some areas which Singaporeans identify strongly with emotionally and an organisation is prepared to do the job, what we should have treasured and preserved have long vanished.

What we have now is perhaps just a “cosmopolitan” city with little feelings for the past and cultural foundation.

The writer is Citta Bella’s Lifestyle Editor. Translated by Yap Gee Poh

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