Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sharing Nugget #8

#8: Taking the Singapore Pledge and singing the National Anthem at age 24 is deeply different from doing it at age 19.

How the NDP preview touched my heart.

It has been a long time since I have been so deeply moved.

It first struck me when my wife and I walked from Kallang MRT to the National Stadium. I saw a huge contingent of kids practicing a routine in People’s Association field. It hit me that these are kids, and I could feel their genuine excitement. It was so innocent. So pure.

I waddled through a sea of emotions during the queuing, the pre-parade show, and the parade itself. It feels really different sitting up in the stands and absorbing it all, as opposed to being in the organizing committee in 2004. I let myself get carried along the tide of spectacle and rousing music.

I started losing myself in the flood when they played a tribute to the Kallang Stadium on the big screen. There’s so much history. It goes back so far. It kind of unlocked my tear glands. Then there’s no turning back.

When the show segment came on, hundreds of volunteers rushed onto the field with tremendous gusto and passion. The pride were shown in their body language and captured on their faces when shown over the screen. I am so proud of them.

The show was so masterfully choreographed. It took me to a climatic emotional high during the final performances where there was an inapprehensible amount of people moving and singing in unison on the field. The fire-works were the best I have ever seen. Then came the part where we sang a medley of pass National Day songs - which did me further in by bring back flashes of memories where I had sang these songs throughout my life.

By now, I was fighting to keep my tears in my eyes and off my cheeks. It was a hard fight. Then came the pledge taking. I have never felt more Singaporean. 60,000 people taking the pledge together… how to beat that?

The Apaches roared overhead… then more breath-taking fire-works. Then the National Anthem. I looked at the flag, at the horizon outlined by skyscrapers, at fellow Singaporeans. I sang with deep passion. So this is how it feels like to be part of a community, a people, a nation. I yearn to belong. I yearn to play my part in keeping Singapore “one people and one nation”. I yearn to serve this home where I want to belong, defend and help grow.

Of course, voices came into my head that such emotions may be over-played because of the emotional spectacle. But I gave it lots of thoughts during the long journey home. And I still hold the conviction.

I ask myself, why now? Why only in this parade did it cement my conviction to dedicate my life to serving the people of Singapore? Why is it now that I truly understand that no matter what role I play – be it an SAF Officer, a civil servant, an architect, a teacher, a politician, or a community service mover – I will be motivated intrinsically?


Because the time has come.

I realized that the intense journey of reflection and learning this summer as a senior facilitator allowed me to work out what I want to do in my life. This NDP may have unlocked the door that I have searched for. It has answered my questions of what is service, who am I serving, what for, and how.

The NDP spectacle showed what a people, united in one voice, one vision, one conviction, is able to achieve. It showed me the strength in unity, in passion, and in commitment. Seeing and imaging the thousands of people who put the parade and show together filled me with great belief in what we can all achieve together.

I remember my vision as a student in SMU.

I want to show everyone what strength in unity can achieve. I experienced it in Social Science Society, Student Council of Discipline and in SIFE. I showed it in the Circle Experience Camp. And I want to help make it happen in SMU Student Life. That’s why I have geared the SCD towards supporting student collaborative events which can showcase what a united student body can achieve.

Like the NDP show, where the different Armed Services and civilian groups worked as one to show us what it means to be Singaporean, I believe that the different student bodies in SMU can put aside our differences, see the big picture and common goal, and build a proud tradition of strong Student Identity and Learning Culture.

This is my vision and mission for my remaining 2 years in SMU.

The time has come for me to plant conscious and firm footsteps onto the road of dedicated service. I will educate myself as much as possible for the next 2 years, and continue my exploration into what kind of service I am most suited for – something which I have done throughout the summer by doing facilitation for peers and kids, and grassroots community work.

But why do I think my time has come?

I believe that it is because I felt a different kind of pride and conviction when I took the Singapore Pledge and sang the National Anthem tonight. It's different from when I was a teenager, when I was a new soldier who is bearing arms for the nation, when I was commissioned, when I saluted the flag as an officer in the 2004 NDP, or during the last NPD preview in 2005. It is deeper. Because now, I think, I am ready to walk the journey.

I would like to thank everyone who made the NDP preview possible. I would like to thank Hyen Ying, for giving me the tickets - which she went out her way to deliver to me on her birthday. It turns out to be such a gift. I would like to thank my wife. I uncharacteristically left the SS camp early because I wanted so much to make her happy by bringing her to see the preview. Look who’s bringing who in the end? Finally, goodbye Kallang Stadium, for the memories. And what a fitting farewell.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sharing Nugget #7

#7: In War, both sides lose.

pic from

Imagine this is a pic of the streets of Singapore.
Imagine your brother or father or boyfriend going to war.

Imagine they might never come back again.
Imagine your mum going to the supermarket and get killed by a rocket.
Imagine the pain of the father whose daughter is killed in a suicide bombing while on her way to pick up her prom dress.

How does all these make sense?

In the coverage of the current conflict, we can hear stories of pain, sufffering and hatred. Israelis die by random rocket fire, hundreds of Lebanonese civilians killed in "precision strikes". Who's actually winning?

I pray for that we in modern Singapore never have to go through a war. But we are always very close to it. There are terrorist around us who wants to create mayhem. We have our equivalent of Hizballah - the JI. We are a nation stuck in between Muslim States - just like Israel. Only difference is that religious tolerance prevails and dominates here. If JI is allowed to function like Hizballah, peace will be an illusive term.

I am thankful for peace.

Because in war, both sides lose.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Sharing Nugget #6

#6: Life’s a Bitch. But “what cannot kill you, will make you tougher”.

This is the story of my grandma.

She had a tough life. But she came through.

As a young girl during WWII, her life changed forever when the invading Japanese Army marched into her village in Malaya. She found a hiding spot under a tree where the depression under the roots was enough to hide her small frame. From there, she witnessed soldiers sacking her village. She watched in horror as her neighbor, an elderly man, was stabbed to death in his house.

She hid, trembling throughout, in the hole till the next morning when the soldiers cleared. When she found her family, (who were hiding in the jungle), they started an epic march into the mountains. They were frightened, cold, hungry and weak. But they marched on. After a gruesome week march where their shoes worn out and they had to walk with their raw feet, they found tribesmen living deep in the mountains who gave them shelter and food. They hid there for months.

Then came news of the Japanese surrender over the radio. But they did not believe. (The Japs used fake messages to lure people out of their hiding places). It took a lone British soldier who traveled all the way up to their mountain village in his jeep before they decided to head for home – or whatever is left of it.

I do not know much of her life from then till her marriage to my late grandpa. But I know that life was equally harsh on her as she starts her own family.

She gave birth to 2 daughters, before deciding to adopt my father as the only son. When my dad was 3 years old, Grandpa passed away from lung cancer. Since then, she fed the family by selling the fruits they planted in their farm land in Malaya. I understand that they sold mostly durians. They barely scrapped by.

Grandma now has 10 grandchildren and more than 10 more great grand children. (More coming from our side) At 80 years old, she can still walk herself to the market, and speaks all Chinese dialects and Malay fluently. She can even converse in Tamil with our neighbors.

As a girl who lived through colonial governance, she came to view the Officers with awe. That’s why she dropped tears for me when she saw me being commissioned as an SAF Officer. She told me afterwards that she is grateful to have lived long enough to see me made good (been commissioned), (and subsequently, me getting married). Because of this, she have no regrets in life.

As I start my own family, I will share grandma’s stories with my kids. Her what-else-can-you-throw-at-me attitude will live on in me. Thank you Grandma for making “Zheng” a family name I will be proud of. Thank you for raising me up when I was a child. Please forgive me for being rude and shouting at you when I was a misguided teenager. And I will never forget your lesson of: Life’s a Bitch - but what cannot kill me, will make me tougher.

Sharing Nugget #5

#5: Constantly remind oneself not to take life for granted.

On Thursday, I went down to Ang Mo Kio RC to help in the meet-the-people session (MPS) by Minster Balaji. That was my 2nd time helping out. For one Thursday every month, youths like us (yes, I am “youth”) will get a chance to help residents in need to write appeal letters which will be signed by the MP.

Its quite an experience meeting Singaporeans who are hanging below the poverty line. We conversed mostly in Hokkien and Mandarin, while most Malays and Indians speak fluent English. Some of their stories are heartbreaking.

An old lady pleaded for HDB to allow them to rent a flat because her unemployed son, who is already 40 years old, has not made good (no job, no savings, no wife and kids, compulsive drinker and gambling addict). She reminded me so much of my grandma who is already in her twilight years. I am deeply thankful that she managed to see me commissioned as an officer – which to her is a great honor. It could be her proudest moment in life. (I will share my grandma’s story next time.)

Of course, in the MPS, there are some who are there for trivial matters or foregone cases. However, our listening ear may be the only outlet for their distress.

Also, after the MPS, we will have supper with Dr Balaji. He never fails to open my mind wider. Its as if I am smarter by a few points every time I hear him speak. I thank him for widening my horizons.

When I got home from the past 2 MPS, I felt happy. Partly because I (might) have made a difference in some people’s lives; and partly because I have seen what other unfortunate Singaporeans are going through - which I will use against myself whenever I get myopic and wanting to whine about stuff.

MPS is a good source of reminder that I should not take life for granted. Whats a little hardship in work or study when compared to what the poor people are going through?

Wake up your idea, Renjie.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sharing Nugget #4

#4: Positivity breeds positivity. And vice versa.

A while ago, a friend told me that he likes me alot (in a buddy way of course). I asked him why? What did I do? He told me that its because I am always very positive about everything.

I gave this conversation a long thought that night. Then I realised the beauty that lies in my friend's feedback:

People likes to be around happy and positive people. Not those who forever whine and complain or take things for granted.

I remember when I was in OCS, going through a hell phase where I struggled. I turned very negative. I complained and whined, pick on small things, said sarcastic remarks about people, and gossip etc. My coursemates grew sick of me. It took a true friend then to wake me up from my slumber to realise that there is a better way to cope with difficulty.

Now, as a senior facilitator (SF), there is a great temptation to just write off people, or dismiss their actions as signs of their weaknesses during the training workshops. Initially, I was harsh (read: negative) to those who did not buy into the program (read: attitude problem).

The turning point came during one of the sessions where the SFs had to discuss which faci cannot make the cut, I was lobbying for a certain guy to be cut. I even mentioned "over my dead body". Then came a debate where a SF (who attended a course with the accused) defended the guy and ask to give him a chance. It made me feel so bad. I felt like a bad guy... Fortunately, later, the SF and I talked about how bad we both felt because of this conflict, and he was understanding towards me.

That day turned my outlook. I remember our trainer, Stephen, told us about the merits of asking "wat can we do to save this?" as opposed to "this cannot work."

From then on, I made an effort to be positive, never to condemn, criticise or complain (thou i do gossip or bitch with my close friends about some stuffs). I started to be able to give people more benefit of the doubt, and was able to inject more humor into my work. Slowly, I was able to balance between task and relationship (where there is a notion that as a SF, our influence may drop if we are not detached enough) as I felt that people are getting more comfortable around me. The merits of being positive peaked during the mock camp where my "buddy" and I took a group. The atmosphere was so relaxed and positive, it was one of the best groups most of us have experienced. It was that night during the mock camp where I heard the feedback.

I thanked that friend for being so honest and generous with his appreciation. It cemented my resolve to stay positive. Friends, do knock my head if ever you catch me being negative. Because positivity breeds positivity. And vice versa.

Sharing Nugget #3

#3: A leader's mission must be to serve the people.
What is there to defend if the people have no health and well-being to begin with?
In SMU, I am heartened that many students have the heart of service. I personally know many who put in hard work and precious time to serve the SMU community or lead community service projects. I thank all who have devoted their energy to run events to welcome the freshmen. Your commitment gave me the conviction to push on. I am physically and mentally tired. But I am spiritually fulfilled. You have my salute. And heartfelt appreciation. Thank you.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sharing Nugget #2

#2: Cherish your loved ones. And never hold back any words of appreciation or encouragement to them.

It is now appropriate to share the story of my friend, Lionel Lim, the Commando Officer who passed away on 20/06/2006.

I received a sms from a friend that late afternoon, breaking the news. I was shocked. I had just met up with Lionel the week before, after 2 years. When I rushed down to Changi Hospital, he was lying in a ward, already pronounced dead. His face was grey, and his mouth was still opened as if gasping for breath. A resuscitation tube was still sticking out of his mouth. That sight haunted me the whole night.

The next night, I went to his wake. It hit me hard that I am attending a wake of a friend who is of my age. It was very hard to take. My friends around me were exchanging polite banter, but I could not speak. When I saw Lionel lying in his coffin, dressed in smart No. 1 uniform, I just broke into tears. But at least then, he looked as if he was sleeping. Rest in peace Lionel.

I did not attend his funeral - for 2 reasons. Firstly, I do not think I am strong enough to take his last passing – the moment he is wheeled in to be cremated. I want to remember him lying there peacefully, still sleeping. Not be wheeled in to burn. Secondly, it was the 2nd day of the Faci Workshop 2 I am conducting. I decide to dedicate the service that I am doing for the facilitators-to-be in honor of Lionel. It was hard. I had to appear light-hearted but my heart was really weighing me down. I thank my group for the kind words during the written individual feedback. It gave me energy to walk on.

Lionel’s passing was particularly hard for me to take. I wonder if I hadn’t met him the week before, would it be as tough? It was as if by fate gave the chance to bid him farewell. When we met, I managed to tell him about how I had always thought he has the discipline to maintain his fitness and he has the nicest tan of our batch, things that I wouldn’t have said when we were clubmates back in Singapore Polytechnic.

I take comfort that I managed to say sometime nice to him before the chance is gone forever.

Lionel has taught me a lesson in life although he has passed on. I learned that there is no reason to hold back something nice to say to a person. Any reason is just pettiness. Lionel’s girlfriend is a close friend of mine. Her lost reminds me that I should never stop cherishing my lived ones.

I will go to bed everynight knowing that if I lose somebody dear, I will have grief, but no regrets.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sharing Nugget #1 (Part 3)

More Showcase of Yunnan.

Sharing Nugget #1 (Part 2)

Showcase of Yunnan

They have the same eyes.

Sharing Nugget #1 (Part 1)

#1: Happiness is not a destination. It is the by-product of the journey.

I when to Yunnan for YEP. My biggest take away from the experience is that the while the people there lived in poverty, with barely enough to eat, they are more contented then the average Singaporean.

This really puts me to shame. We complain so much when we already have so much. I realised that the Yunnan people are happier because they reside their happiness in their everyday life - working hard, meeting friends and co-villagers in the market, having enough to eat, and meeting new people like us. They value community and family. The crime rate is virtually zero.

Whereas many of our people work (with money as the only motivation), thinking money can bring happiness. The Yunnan people really helped me destroys my ignorance. If only our society can be half as polite and courteous as theirs. Thank you for showing me how we can all live in harmony and be truly contented.

Judge for yourself through my lenses.

A day in the office for this gentleman. Do you prefer this or a cubicle?

Page 1

A little introduction of myself for my first post.

My wife and I on our ROM day. Peishi, I will always cherish you.
I don't have much photos of myself (cos i always the photographer). But this one captures me in action. Adventure sports have always been a big part in my life.

I am proud of my service to my SMU community. Here, i am captured in my moment of glory.

I was formally trained in Architecture and it remains a deep passion. I still hope to practice one day. My dream is to build the icon of Singapore, like what Sydney Opera House is to Australia.

My 2 hamsters. cuteness level A+.

I am an avid photographer. I love to capture nature and life in foreign lands. Here are 2 examples of the marvels of nature.

A little intro. I will post more pics next time. Chocolate for the eyes i hope!