Saturday, December 29, 2012


The labradorite cabochons at the jeweller's looked unremarkable at first sight, like scattered grey pebbles in a tray. Yet they shone with all the colours of the rainbows when the light hit them the right way.

Labradorite is (Ca,Na)(Al,Si)4O8
Starting price by the jeweller called Christopher: Rs 500 per carat. Smallest stone in tray was 15 carats, largest maybe 60 carats or something like that.

Topazes also present, really big ones that grow larger than someone's fist, but their refractive index is barely past the level of silicate glass i.e. the back facets are transparent.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Blogging from Colombo

Tourmaline is usually hewn from a pillar of trigonal crystal, where the stone of different colours are arranged in layers radiating from the middle axis. The most valuable tourmaline comes in bicolour, that is to say, they come from the parts where the different colours meet. Tourmaline from these tumultous regions would feature much inclusions and imperfections, making it a stone of action and immediacy, of creative dynamicism, rather than that of a dull eternity, like what diamond pretends to be (diamond is metastable).
Prices of tourmaline in Colombo: If I remember correctly, 5 cts sell at US$1500 but go down to 300 bucks after haggling over inclusions.
Yesterday, the group visited a family-run topaz lapidary, where uncut topazes litter the place like sand. They were imported from Mozambique and Brazil and some of them were mined locally at Matale. The lapidary handled the cutting and polishing of the stones and some heat treatment, where a gaudy blue is put into the stone but will fade with time. Topazes are cheap and are sold at eight bucks a carat from the place. Aruna the foreman and the family were our guide, and treated us to bananas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Light-Wand

Since the inception of the market at the village, the villagers had been accepting gifts, strange tools or figurines brought home by merchants who came from distant lands. Of such miscellany, the first and quite the most treasured one was the Light-Wand, an instrument so arcane and potent as to make one, for as long as it is held, to become the center of the universe. It was forged in the bygone days in the South and brought here from Sapmi in the west. The merchant who brought it called himself Martyn the Engineer, a word which meant sorcerer, or a wizard. He was a slight man, stooped with age, his hair puffed up into a tenuous cloud around his head, like a halo. The villagers called him Cloudhead in their native tongue.

On the night before the Sapmi caravan set out eastwards, Cloudhead had shown his light-wand to the imploring villagers. He would not have them touch it, nonetheless, lest they hurt themselves if they handled it too carelessly. Brandishing the instrument from the village hall out into the night, with the whole village trailing after him, the Engineer aimed at the pole star and set off the wand. Then at once a fibril of green light, straight as a taut string and so bright that it stung the eyes, could be seen stretched from the Engineer's hand and all the way to the pole star. And for that brief moment all the stars in the heavens danced around the pillar of light and around Cloudhead.

The market crowd gaped in awe. While the Engineer explained the purpose of the wand, most of the villagers were already not in the mood to listen. In the months after Cloudhead headed east, they had found other uses for the wand: Apart from serving as a contact to the heavens, the wand also combusted anything that came in way of the light, provided that it was held there for long enough. A young man looked into the light one day and was blinded. The wand was involved in a murder attempt during a land dispute, and thereafter it was stowed away in a locked cabinet and was forgotten about.

In due time the village received another visitor with the caravan. He called himself Kostia, son of Martyn the Engineer. They believed him, because his wild hair resembled the Engineer's, and named him Stormhead, because he was young and his hair was jet-black. They handed the wand back to him, lamenting its uselessness the troubles that it had brought to the community.

Kostia tried to set off the wand, but failed. He remarked that the wand had lost its magical powers and that he would like to try to restore it, just for fun. Cautious from the memories of the incidents but piqued by curiosity, the village captain agreed. The Engineer's son first asked for a sliver of sincum ("you know, the thing they bring in from the Laurentides") and was promptly handed a sincum plate as large as him palm. Next he asked for a some coal, just a little bit of it, and was given that as well, powdered and served in a canister. What he did with those, no one could recall with absolute clarity, but the next moment all could see that the wand gave a weak glow, as green as it was when Cloudhead first put it to action.

Kostia held his hand to the path of the light, to the horror of the villagers.
"Don't worry," reassured Kostia. "I've only put a little power back into it. To restore it to its fullest power would require much more noble matter than sincum and coal, if you would like me to do so for you!" The villagers demurred, but the captain declined. Take it, take it home with you, said he; we can't handle this stuff, it has brought us nothing but annoyance. The two bade farewell, and, without further comment, the Engineer's son headed west with the caravan, bringing all his magic back along with him.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Zorba the Greek

I have concluded that Army reservist training is the best time for one to engage in leisurely and brain-firing activities that cannot be tackled in usual times because of studies or the internet.
Anyway, I have borrowed a new book:

Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά / Zorba the Greek, by Nikos KAZANTZAKIS (1952), translated from the Greek by Carl Wildman

The Latin course is also going well, although admittedly the book is targeted at kids taking an 'O' level course. Next week we'll be going to the jungle for reals, so maybe not so much reading and whatnot.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Moment of Incredulity

Vivacious and idealistic youths, they fancy themselves to be the vanguard of revolution against old ideas, stale conventions and archaic rules that restrict the freedom of men -- but are powerless before words. Words that stir the heart and speak to inner desires; cheap words made to sound fabulous, or worse; untruths twisted, endowed with the ring of truth! How easy it is to take these all in! How convenient it is to bask unquestioningly in the wisdom of great men who never existed! How blissful it is to be credulous in a world of attention-hungry liars!

Yet we are powerless, because it is words that have made us. In the comfort of home, we plow the world's seas with the words of others, a world with as much variety as there are people. Our thoughts are expanded, our opinions are formed, our worldviews are broadened, yes, but are they based on the truth? How do we trust these very hands that wrote the accounts? What are they getting at? What are we to say no to them?

In his first RCIA session, Father Richards has asked: How do you know that what you have read is true? Were you there when history happened, when they did the experiments, when great ideas are put to practice? How can you say that something is true just because you read it from a book? How do you justify that belief?

It could turn out that our differences of opinion say less about ourselves, but more about what books we happened to have pick up, or what people we exchange rumours with. There is little ground, after all, for a completely rational discernment - any discernment must come from gut feeling.

The Chinese bus drivers had the cheek to hold their strike in Singapore, where they would be breaking the law. Supporters for a harsher punishment to the miscreants quoted that official pathways of complaint are always available; their detractors retort that the pathways are good as f-ckall. Who is in the right? What are we to say? Did we try to manoeuver the system ourselves? Can we be sure that our journalists, bloggers and politicians know what they are saying? No! Everything is hearsay, and every discernment is by instinct. No argument can be backed up with conviction, because it is my instinct against yours. There is no satisfactory way of resolution for arguments like these, save for a rather spectacular duel.

How does one live with this? How does one face a world of lies and see truth?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Chinsagu no Hana

鳳仙花の花は 爪先を染めて
親の意見は 肝に染めよ

我なちぇる親や 我どぅみあてぃぬ覚めて

天に群れる星は 数えられるが
親の真心には かぎりがない 

Just as my fingernails are stained with the pigment from balsam flowers,
My heart is painted with the teachings of my parents.
Just as ships that run in the night are guided to safety by the North star,
I am guided by my parents who gave birth to me and watch over me.
Although the stars in the sky are countable,
The teachings of my parents are not. 

Comp. Okinawan folk song

Monday, December 03, 2012

Father Makarios

"Do you still wrestle with the devil, Father Makarios?" I asked him.
"Not any longer, my child. I have grown old now, and he has grown old with me. He doesn't have the strength... I wrestle with God."
"With God!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "And you hope to win?"
"I hope to lose, my child. My bones remain with me still, and they continue to resist."
"Yours is a hard life, Father. I too want to be saved. Is there no other way?"
"More agreeable?" asked the ascetic, smiling compassionately.
"More human, Father."
"One, only one."
"What is it?"
"Ascent. To climb a series of steps. From the full stomach to hunger, from the slaked throat to thirst, from joy to suffering. God sits at the summit of hunger, thirst, and suffering; the devil sits at the summit of the comfortable life. Choose."

Nikos KAZANTZAKIS, Report to Greco, pp. 222-223
Earlier excerpt c.f. Catholic News (Archdiocese of Singapore)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Likelihood of Waterspouts in the Straits of Singapore

You have heard of how, by measuring the time gap between the lightning flash and the thunder clap, you can estimate the distance of the lightning bolt, even while supposing that the light traveling time is instantaneous (which is wrong but works) and the speed of sound in air is around 300 m/s (which is close enough)

Notice how the thunderclap does not happen in a point in time, but lasts for a length of time. This afternoon, most of the thunderclaps were long-drawn rumbles instead of one instantaneous clap. This is explained by modelling the lightning bolt as a number of explosions strewn across its path. As such, sound originates from all points on the lightning bolt instead of just at its point of contact with the ground (Figure 1). We can assume also, for the moment, that the lightning goes straight up (Figure 2). This is justified by the fact that many of the thunder rumbles generally appear to the listener to travel upwards from the horizon.

Figure 1. The sound comes from the entire length of the lightning bolt.

 Figure 2. Straight-bolt lightning model

By this set up and by nailing down the start and end time of a thunder rumble, it would be possible to determine the height of the thunderbolt as well as its point of contact with the ground. Given knowledge of the bearings and a map, it would be possible to pinpoint where exactly the thunderbolt has touched ground. And given a good grasp of trigonometric tables, it would be possible to determine, with a quick mental calculation, the maximum ascent of the thunderbolt. (Figure 3)

Figure 3. Measuring the ascent of the straight bolt using rumble time; sound amplitude-time graph included for reference

Now, as we all know, the same clouds that produce thunderstorms, the cumulonimbi, also produces tornadoes. Tornadoes on land are unheard-of in Singapore, but we have had one or two waterspouts (tornadoes on water) off the south coast in my lifetime. Now suppose there is a correlation between cumulonimbus size (measured by height) and the likelihood of tornadoes produced from its bottom face, and then suppose also that the maximum ascent of a thunderbolt is correlated to the height of the cumulonimbus. (Figure 4) Then, by listening to the rumbles originating from the azimuthal angles covering Singapore's southern waters and mapping the data according to their geographical positions (see point 3), a listener would be able to produce a three-dimensional image of a cumulonimbus complex hovering over the Straits of Singapore during a thunderstorm (Figure 5).

 Figure 4. Correlation of cloud height to maximum ascent of thunderbolt
 Figure 5. Thunderbolt mapping procedures

Then, by knowing the correlation between tornado likelihood and cloud height and also whatever qualitative details we might have gathered, we can set up an automated waterspout forecast service by using light sensors for lightning, two sound sensors (a sound interferometer) for recording and pinpointing the location of the thunderclap, and a running software analysing and mapping every thunderclap, feeding every one of the recordings into a metric so that, when it exceeds a value, the system can alert all the waterspout junkies in the country and lure them to the seasides for a probable feast for the eyes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


An alternative spelling for the Irish language making way for phonological clarity in writing.
Characteristics: One letter per sound. Consonant mutations and broad/narrow consonant distinction marked by diacritics. Inflections change the appearance of a word minimally. Words are written with less letters than in standard Irish spelling.
The name Shelta is stolen from the name of the language spoken among Irish Tinkers (nomadic people), to suggest its nature as something akin to but not exactly Irish-y. Sorry, tinker people.

I. Consonant mutations

Table 1. Basic consonant rewriting rules

II. Broadness
A broad consonant is adjacent to one, or flanked between two broad vowels: a, o or u
A narrow consonant is adjacent to or flanked between two narrow vowels: i or e.
At times a flanking vowel is written not to be pronounced, but to indicate whether the consonant is pronounced in its broad (velarised) or narrow (palatalised) form. Since in Shelta narrow consonants are indicated with a dot below, these flanking vowels are no longer necessary and are not written.

Figure 1. Eliminating silent flanking vowels

To determine whether a vowel is pronounced, it would be necessary to use an audio guide or to have a native speaker read out a passage (which is why all my experiment passages are song lyrics).

The vowel "ao", which is pronounced something like a vague "eh", is rewritten as "y" in Shelta. It is a broad vowel.

Figure 1a. The vowel ao

III. The letter F
The letter F in Irish is only occasionally pronounced. It is usually absorbed into a preceding consonant in the middle of a word. When this happens, the preceding consonant is written with a circumflex and the f is dropped. An exception is with the cluster "bhF", which is an eclipsed F (see Table 1).

Figure 2. Dropping the silent f

IV. Diphthongs
There are places where a lenited consonant (bh, dh, gh, or mh) serve as an approximant or only to lengthen a vowel. Consequently, they lose their consonant status in Shelta spelling and is absorbed into the vowel as a diacritic indicating the identity of the absorbed consonant:

Figure 3. Contracting diphthongs

a. The Lord's Prayer in Shelta Irish 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mud Bricks and Straw

Long before the folks put glass in plastic to make fibreglass, before we reinforced concrete with steel bars... we were baking mud bricks with straw, centuries and centuries into the past, ceaselessly chanting the slogan by Aristotle: The Whole Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts! Incan masons hew ashlar that stack perfectly on top of each other, while others make cement instead to improve adhesion between the bricks. Elsewhere on earth in Kalevala, the blacksmith Ilmarinen is forging a wife out of gold, but will find her cold and unfeeling. On his way northwards to battle, the war advisor Zhuge Liang bickers with his swordmaker, who asked for water to be fetched from a specific river, many miles away, to have his swords quenched in. In the new world at the age of discovery, the Spainards are pitting steel against Aztec obsidian, and naturally the brittle volcanic glass is no match to stainless steel, thanks to its cavities, strongly unidirectional bonds and extremely large Burgers vectors. For the year and a half preceding, we have been unearthing an ancient science and breathed into it new life. We have flogged a dead horse up and kicking. We have awakened the ancients, who are bursting out in song and storytelling; millenia of folklore are being freed from their strata and are engulfing the libraries in a fine mist.

Tiocfaidh an Samhradh

Left: Original lyrics in Irish
Right: Rewritten in Shelta spelling

Translation (FYI): 
Summer will come and the grass will spring
And the trees will bring forth their foliage green
My true love will come at the dawn of day
And in sorrow I'll play for her a mournful lay

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

La pluie vient et la pluie s'en va comme toujours ce Novembre

Une bonne nouvelle y est arrivé: il s'agit d'une réponse de ma prière que j'ai priée tas de semaines. Des journées et des soirées se passent encore; la pluie vient et la pluie s'en va comme toujours ce Novembre, mais cet annoncement a tout rafraichi, en faisant perdu tous inquiètudes. Rassemblons-nous mes amis, les forgerons et les potiers. Je voudrais vous joindre ces trois semaines prochaines ! Et puis ensemble, nous ferons la magique parmi les livres si poussiéreux

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Notes on Opacity

Silica xerogel from the exploding gel lab
(disclaimer: this is not the sample that was blown up)

Before school started, a friend asked me what makes a material transparent. And despite me being from Materials, the question got me stumped. To understand why, here's a summary of what stories people have come up with to explain it.

Prof Li, NUS Materials: A material is transparent if it is amorphous. For example, in glass, the molecules form a network structure, allowing light to pass through the holes.

Prof Moriarty, Nottingham Physics: No, no, that's rubbish! A material is transparent if it is a semiconductor, with a bandgap energy well higher than the range of visible light.

Prof He, NUS Materials: A polymeric material is opaque because of the electron density differences between crystalline and amorphous regions. (At this point I wished my Finland bosses were around so that they could feel my excitement)

Prof Kasap, Univ. of Saskatchewan: Attenuation of light in a dielectric medium is explained through the complex permittivity of the dielectric material.

The Perfect Isolating Language - Part 2

E. Grammatical Moods
Moods are indicated by the order of words in the sentence as well as markers.
The indicative mood is the default, narative mood that we have been dealing with. The word order in use is subject-verb-object (SVO) or subject-object-verb (SOV).
An hir a kom do i baile - They will come to town

The conditional mood, similar in role with the English "if", uses the word order VSO:
Kom an hir do i baile - if they come to town
Het an tu do i baile, an tu a kan ir hi - If you go in to town, you will see him

The imperative mood uses the word order VOS, emphasising the addressee at the end.
Het do i ta baile, an tu! - Go (in)to the town! (Addressing one person)
Het do i ta baile, an uri! - Let's go to the town!
Het do i ta baile, an u! - I shall go to the town!
Ni het do i ta baile an uri. - Let's not go to town.

In the subjunctive mood, the particle go is used at the beginning of the phrase in indicative. The subjunctive mood is also used for subordinate clauses:
Go an ta hun het - (I hope that) the dog goes away.
An hi ana u i so, go an hi a kom - He told me that he will come.

The interrogative mood uses the particle kad at the beginning of the sentence, indicating that a question is being asked.
Kad an thju? - Who is eating? (Question on subject)
Kad ir an tu thju? - What are you eating? (Question on object)
Kad ana an tu thju? - Where/when are you eating? (Question on locative nouns)
Kad vit ir hi thju? - How do you eat it? (lit. What-with is it eaten? Question on instructive noun)
Kad son ir hi kan? - How does it look? (lit. What-like is it seen? Question on essive noun)
Kad go an tu thju? - Are you eating? (Questioning validity of a subordinate clause)

F. Basic verbs
fin - to be, to be at a place or state of
kan - to see
het - to go, to walk: An tur i het - You went
kom - to come: An hir kom - They are coming
thju - to eat
buair - to drink
slaf - to sleep
singje - to awake, to become sober
so - to say
soad - to ask
soan - to answer, to reply
nai - to bear (child)
macka - to make, to do

The Perfect Isolating Language - Part 1

Objective: To visualise a language which is grammatically perfect, i.e. has no exceptions to the rule, no redundancy, and needs nothing to be implied.

Constraint: The stylistic constraint in this project is that it is an isolating language (no affixes or barreling of words), with all cases and tenses indicated by markers rather than built into the word. Uniquely for this project, my language will have a marker for the nominative and accusative cases as well as the locative and other cases.

Method: The project will start from the use of nominative and accusative markers. Thence additional rules will be introduced to express things already expressible in English. Vocabulary will be conjured out of thin air or with reference to some existing language, so that the reader is not confused by broken English.

A. The Nominative and Accusative Markers
The particle an accompanies a subject i.e. a noun in the nominative case:
An hun - dog
The particle ir accompanies an object i.e. a noun in the accusative case:
Ir pesk - fish
For a simple sentence that says: A dog is eating a fish, we can say:
An hun thju ir pesk.

The beauty of this rule is that it eliminates the need for a passive voice, like the Finnish language infamously possesses. So if you want to say that a fish is being eaten, you can say
Ir pesk thju.

B. The Definite Marker
A noun is indefinite by default. For a definite noun, the particle ta is inserted, similar in role as "the" for English.
An ta hun - the dog
Ir ta pesk - the fish
An ta hun thju ir ta pesk - the dog is eating the fish
Ir ta pesk thju - the fish is being eaten

C. Verb Conjugation and Pronouns
In order to make the language extremely isolating, no verbs are conjugated. However, there are markers for tense. Using the word fin to mean "to be":
An ta pesk fin - the fish is
An ta pesk i fin - the fish was (past tense)
An ta pesk a fin - the fish will be (future tense)

The personal pronouns are listed thus:
U / Uri - 1st person (singular/plural)
Tu / Tur - 2nd person (singular/plural)
Hi / Hir - 3rd person (singular/plural)

Relative pronouns are simply the case marker of the noun of reference:
An foda na uri, an fin in heofon - Our Father, who art in heaven

D. The Other Case Markers and Negation
The particle na indicates possession and attribution, accompanying a noun in the genitive case:
An hun na u - My dog
An foda na uri - Our Father
An na tu, an na hir - Yours, theirs

The particle in accompanies a noun in the inessive case.
The particle ana accompanies a noun in the adessive case.
The particle fra, placed before in or ana, changes that particle into an elative or ablative marker.
The particle do, placed before in or ana, changes that particle into an illative or allative marker.
An hun na uri i het do in talo - Our dog went into a house
An hun na uri fin in ta talo - Our dog is in the house
An foda na u het do ana hi - My father is going to him (lit. going to-at him)
An foda na u fin ana hun na hi - My father is with (lit. at) his dog
An hir a kom fra in ta talo - They will come out of (lit. from-in) the house

The particle vit accompanies a noun in the commitative or instructive case, seen in English as "with".
An hi i thju ir pesk vit hand na hi - He ate the fish with his hand (instructive)
An hi a kom vit ta hun - He will come with the dog (commitative)

The particle son accompanies a noun in the essive case, like the word "like" or "as" in English.
An tu a kom son kung na uri - You will come as our king
An hi i fin son kung - He was like a king

The particle ni before the case marker negates the case, and also a verb
ni in ta talo - not in the house
An hi ni kom - He is not coming.

a1. The Lord's Prayer
An foda na uri, an fin in heofon
Helje ir nimi na tu, an land na tu kom, ir vil na tu macka, ana jurt son fin in heofon
[To be continued]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Les réfugiés des mafiosi chope-sièges

En échappant la tempête, les marins se débarquèrent à la bibliothèque centrale, où il n'y avait plus aucun de mafiosi chope-sièges d'Uville. -Il rétourne- exclamèrent-ils -notre repos; nous bûcherons sans souci !- Et puis aussitôt quelqu'un déterra un gisement de riz vietnamien, si doucement cuisiné et si forcement délicieux. Ils y resteraient quatre semaines.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to Travel with a Salmon

The Finnish national bookstore (Suomalainen Kirjakauppa) sold copies of Umberto Eco's 2010 novel The Prague Cemetery, despite him having told his interviewers that Queen Loana was to be his last one. Yesterday in central library I found the version in English. I put the book down after a couple of chapters. His novels were such fun to read! but by now the atheism has become pretty grating. I borrowed home a compilation of his short essays.

Eco's stories are long and soaked through in the pages with entertaining medieval miscellany, though the endings are let-downs. To understand why, here's a spoiler list (WARNING) of every Eco novel ever except for Prague Cemetery:

The Name of the Rose (1980): The abbey burns down.
Foucault's Pendulum (1988): The secret templar code which everyone was trying so hard to crack turns out to be a laundry list.
The Island of the Day Before (1994): Roberto della Griva never gets to the island. Instead, he drowns himself.
Baudolino (2000): Everything in Baudolino's story turns out to be made-up. Niketas declines to put it down to writing.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2005): Giambattista Bodoni dies after spending the whole book in a coma.

Eco's books sit on a shelf near the stairwell, in the same space as Dante and just neighbouring Borges and Neruda, writers from Argentina and Chile whose works I have heard good things of but never read until yesterday. They are just one shelf away from the French authors. ~10 shelves down in the study room direction would be the Russian novels, where Lukyanenko's series are placed side by side with Dostoyevsky and Pushkin and what have you. The German novels are at the far end, some untranslated. I have tried to read some of them, but LAG1201 does not equip you enough for doing that. Laxness' works are in closed stacks, except for this one:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Warmth of Rainy Days

On the rainy Thursday afternoon, I picked up someone's wallet. On Friday my identity was exposed and I got thanked half to death by the fella who had dropped it. Let me be thick-skinned for awhile and say that this warmed my cold rainy day as much as it warmed his: for once, after all the cactus-thieves I dodged, all the bullies that I did not stand up to, and all the times I could have showed some kindness but did not, I know for sure I have done something right! I made someone's day better, and he made sure that I knew. O Gratitude, how profusely you melt the hearts of people.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Sense of Humour

The article circulating around the Singaporean Facebook today reads: Are too many Singaporeans expecting an easy life?

I'm linking this to humanity's celebrated capacity for humourous thought and banter. To make the link clearer, then we should ask: What is a Sense of Humour? A capacity to make jokes? Also, why do we joke?

My guess:
The sense of humour comes hand in hand with a hard life
To have a sense of humour is to be prepared for every eventuality.
To have a sense of humour is to be conscious of the fact that things can suddenly go very absurdly wrong.
To have a sense of humour is to probe the uncomfortable realities of pain and death.
To have a sense of humour is to stay strong and optimistic in the face of great odds.

My unorganised sources:
- Jamie & co. from the MythBusters has confirmed that, by swearing loudly while immersing one's hand into ice water, the pain is lessened. (Swearing is arguably a truncated stunted form of humour)
- Daniel Wong writes in the abovementioned article that by rejecting challenges, Singaporeans do themselves little favour by rejecting the opportunities that come with it.
- People from Finland are famously stereotypically taciturn and no-nonsense people, but nurture a discreet level of eccentricity which keeps the stress under control. I don't know about you; I think Finnish people and Singaporeans are very similar, except only that Singaporeans tend to release stress through ostentatious displays of negativity.
- Fr Alex of CSS speaks in his homily that the same thing that brings great joy to us also brings great sorrow. (which sounds contradictory, and so do many of the things we joke about)
- Fr Joe of Opus Dei reflects on Saturday: let us meditate today on the reality of death, heaven, hell and purgatory.
- In the army days, the darkest toughest hours (when the most random things were happening) were when that strange sense of humour grew on us and we actually began to enjoy, or at least accept, what we were doing.
- There's this thing called dark humour and it totally works.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Short Route to the Faculty of Science

For people coming in from Engineering, Arts, or Nussuland and going to Faculty of Science in NUS.

1. The bridge links Engineering and the libraries. Go to the east (libraries') end. There you will find LT4. LT4 has a back door. Go to the right of the back door. You find a place called CDTL, the Centre for Development for Teaching and Learning, but as far as I have asked no one really knows what the hell the place is supposed to be for. Upper Kent Ridge road starts here.

2. Pass by the Acoustic Labs and the Centre for Protective Studies, namely the place where they explode all the things. Pass the Y-junction.

3. To the left and right, there are steps that lead down, paved by bricks. Take the left one to S1. At the time of writing, much of S1/S2/S3 are under renovation. Turn right into S2. Pass by the Biological Sciences offices, some of which are staying in the building.

4. Pass by the Chemistry tutors' offices. Enter the Pharmacy labs. Today I could see some of the undergrads at work and minding their own business. I felt a bit strange because I have always enjoyed doing my own labs undisturbed by outsiders (E3A is very isolated corridors-wise). From time to time one of them would look up at me with a puzzled expression. I left that place quickly.

5. Take the stairs 1 floor down to Science Library entrance.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

On Opus Dei and other things

1. Opus Dei is hidden in plain sight along Heng Kui Meng Terrace. Business School students and people along West Coast / Pasir Panjang Road pass by that place every day without ever knowing that one of these buildings would be housing a chapel so infused with fragrant oil smells and portraits of St. Josemaría Escrivá. The meditation sessions on Saturday housed ~20 attendees, from students to postgrads and professors of Physics. It stretched 2 hours from when service started and when dinner was finished. Opus Dei is gender-segregated, so this session had only guys attendees, and there is always enough beer for everyone.

2. A few weeks ago, while I explored the Faculty of Science, I realised that, against all reason and common modesty, the Department of Biological Sciences has been moved to S14, right by the road with the purer sciences.

3. The flowers at my house at the first floor are feeding ground for hummingbirds, and egrets and kingfishers and those fellas I call the bananabirds roam the sapling nursery nearby. I am reminded of Andreas, my groupmate in Aalto, who loves watching birds; surely, he will find his heaven on earth here! Even among the mynahs, some of the common variety (Acridotheres tristis) can now be found among the dominant Javan variety (A. javanicus), bringing up the invasive species diversity by 1.

4. Apparently Nordea has a branch in Singapore. I don't have to go back to Helsinki to close my account after all! Yayy! But noooooo

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Goat Paths

If there would only be another race on this wide earth, another tribe, another person even, who would share in my joy of the underrated things: of the music of peasants, of the ecstacy of labour, of a pristine world seen from the goat paths...

What I revel in, the world will never deign to tread.
Sometimes in the midst of my joy I would feel loneliness, but not enough. And the world watches this idiot dancing and singing to himself on the sidewalk, as if he is in the village dance hall, with all his friends and family at his side

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Horse and the Crane

"Och över denna
vida sanka mark
flög Tranan
med avmätta vingslag.
Och marken var fast som en hed
och dundrade.
Och Tranans ben
tunna som förkolnade halmstrån.
Och Häst'n:
stor och svart
och stingslig och oskyldig
som bara Månlidhästen."
"And over this
wide watery land
flew the Crane
with measured wing-strokes
And the ground was solid as a moor
and thundered.
And the Crane’s legs
thin as charred straw
And the Horse
big and black
and tetchy and innocent
like no-one but the Horse of Månliden."

Monday, October 15, 2012

For the Helpless and the Pariahs

In the previous two posts I wrote about the worst and best feelings in the world. This third installment is about giving help for those who cannot help themselves and those who have become ostracised by the people around them. The link may seem unclear, but it will become obvious later.

The helpless

1 In my earliest days with the Army I had a buddy. We were all fresh out of school and were being introduced to the tough guy's ways, but buddy did not submit to those values and suffered for it. Eventually we just found it strange when he wept over confinement weekends or extra push-ups or other trivial distractions of the same streak. He talked to me about his feelings often. Perhaps he came to me because I was the only one around who seemed fit for talking as the others shunned him. I often thought of abandoning buddy also, because I found his concerns trivial and felt that he was holding me back. I struggled with this thought for seven months, until finally he got himself transferred to a happier place. These days I see him around in school occasionally.

(To be honest now, I think many of the values they put me through in my formation were merely secondary [read: bullshit]. They seemed to suggest the purpose of our training was for pride and our reward is to strut around the square with a red thingimmabob on our heads that tells the whole world how good we are. Counterproposal: the training is its own reward. Take note, my dear guy juniors.)

2 In my earliest days with GENUS I had another buddy. We were in the workshop together and he had difficulty picking up the guitar. He stuck with me often, with what little help and support I had to offer. For the time that he played in the ensemble, we were paired up. When he asked the others for help, they told me to do it. Then after a few months, just as the army buddy did, he faded away from the ensemble. He still buys tickets from me, one lonely ticket every semester.

They were the helpless people who came to me looking for help, and I must have disappointed them often: I who understood only strength, and not weakness.

The pariahs

The pariahs are people who have distanced themselves from a particular social circle and whose behaviour has invited derision.

3 The pariah in my course comes from China, and is a hardworking fellow, taking up two majors and an unreasonable work schedule. Lately the local clique brought it up to me that he wore the same clothes for four days in a row, and people were falling sick when they sat around him. I played with talking behind his back for awhile, until I told a friend about it and he reprimanded me.
Strictly speaking, he reprimanded the local clique's actions, but I was complicit in it and so was reprimanded by extension.

I have made peace with him. At least I hope there has always been peace between us. I am shedding that parasitic tendency to avoid talking to him, like what the other locals are doing. This little incident brings me to the other pariah case.

4 I have known the ensemble pariah from the earliest days there. At that time, we played in the same section. He was one of the better ones on the instrument. He had strange mannerisms and was always very self-absorbed. Later on he joined another group in addition to the ensemble, and he grew distant. And as he grew distant, so the derision started and the folks talked behind his back i.e. without him ever knowing. They have been ruminating delightfully on ensemble pariah rumours to this day. I watched as a few influential members of the group turned the ensemble and my juniors against him. I sat and ate with those people. I laughed with their jokes. I went sick to the core.

I realised I was turned against him against my will. I had become guilty too in excluding him from the group, I who used to know him so well, just to get in my friends' good books. I am ashamed, I really am.

For the weak ones, I was not determined to help them enough. For the rejects of my social circles, I rejected them also, out of cowardice.

I am now really appreciative of the difficulties for one to avoid committing the sin of omission. The things you are called to do that you neglect, they are so easy to miss... the sacrifices that you have to make, they are so real... Here are perhaps the real tests that God throws at me for my university life. I have always thought that the schoolwork was suspiciously enjoyable.

Time to sleep. I hope that next time I don't treat this space like a confession box.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Best Feeling in the World

Last night I wrote about the worst feeling in the world. Today, let me write about the best one.

The best feeling in the world is overwork. The ideal amount of overwork one requires in order to reach ecstasy is an idea which is easily understandable by relating to the ideal amount of alcohol one requires in order to become happily tipsy.

The ecstasy comes when the work absorbs the worker in his entirety, inundates him and dissolves away his worldly worries, his self-awareness and his doubts. It is when every fibre of muscle and every neuron in the body are fired up, are turned on, are gathered in a concerted effort, each one not for itself, but for a purpose greater than itself. It is in this coherent display of power that one feels the most alive; the same exertion that in the same person may be interpreted as suffering.

Pure suffering, pure joy, in the same exertion.

The best feeling in the world is to lose oneself, to forget about the fact that one exists in this world or any other; to lose all concern about oneself, because there is no self.

Cactus Thieves

Two years ago I was at Taman Mas Kuning. There at one of the houses (Taman Mas Kuning is uptown West Coast) the owners reared cactus by the fence. When I walked past there were two workers on leave who were idling around also, and a piece of pear cactus was sticking out through a gap. I heard one of them say to the other that pear cactus were very valuable, and one could start a neat crop from a single stem. So they cut it off and took it away. I watched them as they did it, but when they looked back at me, I shrank away. I was ashamed of myself for days. It was the worst feeling in the world, the feeling one gets to see wrongdoing without doing anything about it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Grammar Experiments

1a. Referring to couples in the singular third person
1b. Referring to close friends and relatives in singular second person

I call this the familial singular. In usage, the desired effect is to give an impression as close as possible to lolcats. In principle, the purpose of the familial singular (third person) is to indicate closeness in the couple, to the extent that they behave as a single person in all settings, and the purpose of the familial singular (second person) is to reinstate the formal-informal second person distinction which we can still see in French and German but has long been considered archaic in English. For example, it has become the usual practice to use the word Dadmom to refer to my parents; we wonder aloud to each other, whenever my siblings and I meet, that Dadmom is going to be home soon. Also when I greet my siblings I say How is you! because informal.

In the French language, the informal second person is used to address God in prayers. In English the equivalent is thou, which in the modern age sounds more snooty than familiar, and too aloof to be fitting for someone with whom your relationship has to be personal. O Lord, You is seated at the right hand of the Father, receives our prayer.
2. Pronouncing words with voiced consonants only

Diz iz juz vor zounding zdupid. I do diz onny wen bored, or wen my zizder veelz lige a lav.
Alternatifely, chanchink all te consonants to harter ones can pe tone put toes not vork so vell.
3. Shortening long vowels for emphasis

Vowels are usually lengthened for emphasis, because louder and longer sounds command more attention. But what if you want to inspire surprise? What if you want the superlative to be less of a long and violent earthquake, but more of a sharp intake of breath, followed by a lingering feeling of being let down?

I call this the dimunitive superlative. For example, the dimunitive superlative for manly is muhn. When I tell someone You're the muhn! I mean to say that he is the manliest, but it sounds more sarcastic.
4. Using French grammar in English

See this article.

5. Discarding the future tense

An American Economics professor, in an uncharacteristic case of sticking his nose into a field he has no business in, has said that using the present tense for the future makes Finns more frugal and forward-looking than, say, people from France, who use a future tense. I would love to stop and wax lyrical about the honest and hardworking Finnish nation whom I have had the pleasure of staying with the whole summer, but now the more important question is What if English uses it?

Tomorrow, I am going for guitar practice at school. Afterwards some of us have dinner at Hwang's at UTown. Next Sunday, our concert takes place at UCC Theater, with tickets selling at $14 a seat. This actually sounds normal. Let's try it again.

Ah! I have forgotten my assignment is due soon! I die! Tomorrow I have four labs in a row and six vivas. I never come back to see my family again! O cruel fate, my grades deprove! Eventually the world comes to an end; it is my only solace.

Time to sleep.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Christopher Walker

Christopher Walker, who composed the Celtic Mass and a bunch of other things, is holding workshops at Saint Mary of the Angels. On Friday I skipped school mass to attend it. He was a stout guy with a propensity towards talking too much nonsense. We sang and we laughed and we cried. Then I sang one for my late grandfather.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Den Förtrollade Barnaföderskan

Det ståndar en lind allt sunnan under by
~ Allt under den linden så grön ~
Där ståndar en jungfru, hon borstar sitt hår
~ I riden så varligt genom lunden med henne ~

Hon trolovade så granner en man
Den unge herr Olof, det hette han

Liten Elin hon spörjer sin svärmoder om råd
"Huru länge skall kvinnan med barnet gå?"

"I fyrtio veckor på åttonde år
så länge ska du med det barnet gå!"

De klädde på Elin en silkessärk
Hon gick uppå loftet med så mycken värk

Herr Olof han spörjer kär systeren sin
"Ack, ville du nu hjälpe allra kärestan min?"

Systeren gångar till brudekiste
Så gör hon två vaxdockor, allt med stor liste

Så sveper hon dem uti vitan lin
Hon bär dem i loftet för moderen sin

"Ack, kära min moder, låte fara eders harm
I tage eders gossebarn uti eders arm!"

"Jag haver förtrollat båd himmel och jord
förutom det ställe där brudkisten stod!"

Så breder de kisten med silketyg blå
där föder liten Elin de sönerna två

Det gjorde herr Olofs moder stor nöd
~ Allt under den linden så grön ~
Så snart blev hon utav den harmen död
~ I riden så varligt genom lunden med henne ~

A third interpretation is done by Ale Möller, Lena Willemark and Per Gudmundsson, but the video is unavailable.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pre-Sunday Manifesto

1. On the economy of words

The first idea is that words are precious, and overuse and misuse of a word diminishes its value and strips it of meaning.
The second idea is to conform a language to the Chinese aesthetic, by which a shorter expression is considered more desirable than a longer one, rather than the other way round.

These and the following ideas are made to be tested. For each judgement and conclusion that I make, I have to change my life to live up to it. This is so that the statements are not made out of idleness and vanity, but to exploited again in the fullness of its meaning.

2. On empathy

The idea of empathy is that by freeing oneself from the prison of their own vantage point, disputes are made to appear trivial, misunderstandings unlikely, and war frivolous.
The idea of empathy is to know that differences between human beings of different cultures, though prominent, are superficial.

3. On living a godly life (c.f. Wednesday cell group)

The first idea of living a godly life is to make the living moment one continuous prayer.
The second idea is to disregard any self-awareness and to dedicate all one's actions to God's volition.

4. On love

The idea of love is that it is not an emotion, but a promise made, remade, and carried out on the run.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Upper Kent Ridge route leading to the Library's back door

This morning I brought Sean and Lin Xi also known as Adrian to Upper Kent Ridge, and shared the joy of discovering a familiar place. Then came eight hours of guitar playing and emotional fatigue. I gave Yujun's mooncake party a miss.

Christina, the most senior member from the choir at church, has fallen ill and is recuperating in Malaysia. In other news, the Vietnamese dude called Jason in the choir has found a job and is staying in Singapore after all. Last Sunday it was his party and I missed it. I seem to be good at doing this sort of thing.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Junior Journal 3.5.R1

1. Housekeeping

So the blog is eight years old, having survived August 18 2012 with that silly French thing I wrote. I do write less now not because there is less time but because I spend my free time doing something else, namely being prisoner to the Internet. This must not continue.

Does anyone read what I write? Maybe, but I have no way to know because I have turned comments off. I have turned comments off because of spammers. I happen to know that spambots visit my page because more people from the United States visit this place than is absolutely plausible.

Am I going to keep writing? Well yes. But you readers will have to bear with lower-quality stuff for the first couple of months. Now excuse me while I try to redirect my smartmouthing habits away from Facebook.

2. Not Housekeeping

The UROP (Undergrad Research) project is finished. The project is about (and I have had in the Real World to explain it many times) Transmission Electron Microscopy. So the idea is:
1. There is a sample of something.
2. You shoot electrons through it though a beam
3. You focus the electron beam on the other side in some way
At this juncture (3), depending on how you focus, you may get:
4a. An image of the thing, magnified
4b. A modern-art pattern
At this juncture (4b), depending on whether you converge the beam, you may get
4bi. Dotsies arranged in a way that reflects the symmetry (if a crystal)
4bii. Bright circles.
At this juncture (4bii) dark lines appear in the circles and we call it HOLZ lines
HOLZ lines do not make any sense, unless the computer happens to know which crystallographic plane it arises from. So I spend time in the Professor's office because his computer is the only one in the whole wide school with the software installed, without managing to touch the actual microscope, which is only for experts.
Well as I have said I have finished the project, and as I type my junior Nengduo has enrolled in UROP also and working under the same Prof. Tearfully I say to you, my junior friend, do us undergrads proud! (Disclaimer: Nengduo probably doesn't read the blog)

The VIP (Vacation Internship) report was also completed recently, but not so recently in a way I can write about it in too much detail. It was about the Density Functional Theory in solids, because electron density is very importen'.

3. Assorted stuff

My UROP prof also teaches Dielectric and Magnetic materials. He is very thorough but wreaks sleepy havoc on the students. Actualnuh, I can not complain because there was another prof to whom I almost turned violent at for not being thorough enough, and for always using fluffy language 90 percent of the time.

The prof teaching Materials Design and Selection (read. Realpolitik for Nerds) actually encourages us to use fluffiness in the same spirit as Business Management students, but at least he is truthful in saying it.

The prof who teaches Ceramics is full of off-colour comparisons and wisdom. Under his inspiration, I am now running at least once a week with friends.
The prof who teaches Corrosion is often too soft to be heard
The prof teaching Metals stutters quite badly

I am supposed to be studying and stuff. I should go home and spend time with my sisters. And then sleep.

Monday, September 17, 2012

J'ai la pulsion d'écrire quelquechose en Romand

C'est une problème de survie. J'partirai en Suisse dans cinq mois, à Lausanne en Romandie, parmi les vaches et pendules à coucou et types avec des lederhosen parlant proprement ni le Français ni l'Allemand. Avec n'importe quel adversaire qu'j'confronterai cette aventure, j'm'trouverai mort si je perds le Français, la langue des légèrement eccentriques au Canada, des rebelles Catholiques en Bretagne, des multitudes de nations au Sahel aux déserts si forcement inhabitables, des lémurs dorants aux plages à Madagascar, et des chous Kerguélenois qui souffrent perpetuellement les vents gelés circonpolaires sans plaindre. Il n'y a pas de récourses à l'Anglais. Mon gars! Tu n'es plus en Finlande.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Geography of Helsinki

1. The Geography of Helsinki
Helsinki is a smallish city on the southern coast of Finland, centered on a peninsula that they used to call Vironniemi. The capital region is roughly the size of Singapore, including also Espoo, Kauniainen and Vantaa which call themselves cities but can not for the lives of them live up to the name. The heart of the city exists as two chambers: Long-distance coaches start and end at the shopping center at Kamppi; long-distance and commuter trains converge at Central Station. The metro links the two chambers and continues on the eastern coast, part of the hellish lineup of inland seas, peninsulae and islands that is southern Uusimaa.

South of the double-chamber heart lies what I now call the Inner City, characterised by a rather idle and European disposition and ridiculous housing prices. North of the heart, the city is bisected by the railway line, which only starts to diverge at Pasila: To the west of the railway at Pasila is familiar territory, including the rugged mess of Töölö, the local businesses at Pitäjänmäki, and the grounded comunities of Haaga where I live. The east side of Pasila are the relatively uncharted traditional strongholds of the working class and the present strongholds of incredibly productive artisans of Arabia. The sad district of Pasila exist in fact in two pieces, east and west of the station, separated by the rail lines and an expansive wasteland used to fix train cabins and goodness knows what else.

Helsinki has an old town, existing now as the district of Vanhakaupunki (which means old town) north of Arabia. I have not been there, but I have been told that nothing is left of the original settlement. Finnish cities, unlike Baltic ones, had the irritating habit of burning down, many thanks to the overabundance of wood in the country. I like to imagine the city's residents collectively throwing up their arms in frustration at one point and bringing in their celebrity architects Aalto, Saarinen, Geselius and co. to build everything once and for all. In concrete.

Further to the north, the city begins to look like any other capital: a city by the coast, with roads radiating out of it. By the coast it would be nature, not man, that dictates the spread of the city. Among the numerous islands surrounding the place that they used to call Vironniemi, one could find many islands that have each been adapted to suit a unique purpose; Lautasaari a maritime suburbia, Suomenlinna a tourist attraction, Korkeasaari a zoo, Seurasaari an open-air museum, and Kuusisaari the place where they put the embassies.

2. To compensate for the wordy description 3 posts ago, here is a map of the commute. Also included is an alternative bike route for a detour to the heart of the city, for various reasons, but mainly to show off and brag about what a daring and outdoors person I am (only works on those with no sense of distance and/or have not done route marches in armytime).

I should sleep.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


The trip to the Baltic countries was originally planned with no higher motive than to bump my country-hit-count up by two. As with most solo travels, the motive of "just hanging around and absorbing the friggin' atmosphere of the place" is not good enough; I tend to get bored within a half-hour of reaching the place. However, a few things have made the trip worthwhile:

1. The Hill of Crosses
2. Kokle music (picture above from this site)

Trip is in four segments of forward-return routes, secured separately:
Helsinki <> Tallinn <> Rīga <> Šiauliai <> Hill of Crosses
Accommodation 2 nights in Riga (Hostel Tiger) and 1 night in Tallinn (Hostel Tallinn)
Thursday 12 July to Sunday 15 July
Expenses around 240 €

Tallinn was not part of the trip, but I think it should be mentioned because the interns went there together the week before.
Navigation pointer: The city focuses at the old town. The old town is next to the harbour. The city plan is very disorganised. The old town has two major axes, the alleyways Pikk and Lai. The center of the old town is the town square. When we were there, it had a medieval market similar to the one in Turku the week before. The medieval market had a medieval dance party, and the dance party is hosted by a medieval DJ.
Tallinn is where Finns flock for cheap liquor. We detoured at the harbour market to buy it, because drink is so important.

Transport segment Tallinn <> Rīga: Lux Express line, 19.80 € each trip
Free internet (works only insofar as coach is in Estonia)
Free flow coffee/tea/cocoa (tastes like cigarette smoke)

Rīga is the capital of Latvia. Now, through the devious influence of this thing called the Latvian Joke, the country has an international reputation of being poor and oppressed by Russians. Latvian Jokes are not strictly jokes, just extremely and improbably sad stories told in broken English. I should be ashamed of having ever laughed at them.

The Latvian countryside is similar to the Estonian countryside, with broadleaf trees, big fields, fluffy clouds, and rolled hay. The city of Rīga is frankly a dump, except for the old town.
Navigation pointer: The river Daugava flows northwestwards. The old town (Vecrīga) is by the river. A moat has been carved from the river around the old town. In the old town there are N Lutheran churches, 1 Catholic church, some museums, lots of restaurants and a rather modern shopping centre. I spend most of the time within the old city parameters, because it feels the safest here.

On Saturday morning in Vecrīga, I listened to kokle music. When the strings are let to ring, they make cool synthesiser sounds. The instrument looks like a kantele.

Transport segment Rīga <> Šiauliai:
Forward trip 5.7 Lats, return trip 40 Litai (nope, no Euro)
By the way, 1 € = 0.69 Lats = 3.45 Litai
Transport segment Šiauliai <> Hill of Crosses 60 Litai by taxi.

Šiauliai is a neat Lithuanian town in the north, and English is hardly spoken here. The town is a focal point for pilgrims on the way to the Hill of Crosses some distance away in the north-east.
The Hill of Crosses can not be called a hill in good conscience. Without the crosses, it is on the scale of a small pile of earth. The small pile of earth is covered in crosses and rosaries, which spilled over from the hill confines onto some of the paths leading up to the place. Historically, this was the site of a battle of will between the Lithuanian Catholics and the Vodka-chugging Soviets, in which the Russians bulldozed the place thrice over and the Lithuanians just kept the crosses coming. The crosses here today come from places other than Lithuania also, and I left my rosary beads there for good measure.

On the trip back, I stayed in Hostel Tallinn in one night. Hostel Tallinn is a dark and dismal place, and I am glad to have gotten out of there. To be fair, the toilet and showers are not too bad, and there are lockers.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


There's a mosquito in my room. Beforehand I have had the misconception that Finland is totally not a tropical country and therefore should not have mosquitoes. Then I remember the assorted {insert intimidating prefix}-flies in Siberia and hearing that in the furthest north of Lapland there are mosquitoes that carried babies off in their sleep. So the one in my room now, which is the size of a small bird, is considered tame. I should sleep

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Anniversary Post

P.S. It's still Jun 11 in Helsinki Time! I did not adjust

The Bike Commute

Part I. Haaga
START: Ida Aalbergin tie 1C
1. Ida Aalbergin tie: scoot down to Näyttelijäntie, turn left
2. Näyttelijäntie: turn left to Aino Acktén tie (short way), reach North Haaga Circus
3. North Haaga Circus: turn right to Eliel Saarisen tie (through which bus 550 passes)
4. Eliel Saarisen tie: pass by Huopalahti train station (quite interesting), reach South Haaga Circus.
5. South Haaga Circus: Take next road on the left -- Vihdintie leading away from Vihti

Part II. Lillhoplax
6. Vihdintie: turn right into neighbourhood at Korppanmäentie
7. Korppanmäentie: follow route, turn right to dust path at the bridge.
8. There is a small stream to the left. It leads into the inlet called Pikku Huopalahti, but Lillhoplax is easier to remember. Stay to the right of the inlet. Reach Paciuksenkatu.
9. Paciuksenkatu is a busy road leading from the city. Cross road and reach Ramsayranta.

Part III. Laajalahti
10. The route through Ramsayranta, Kuusisaari and Lehtisaari is quite straightforward and very pretty. The stretch is populated with embassies. Cross the road as dictated by bike route conditions. Turn right into Otaniementie after crossing the city border.
11. Turn right at Otakaari after the Library and main buildings.
END: Konetalo

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Stupid mistakes

Stupid mistakes I have made while in the country:
1. Left apartment room with keys inside. Draught closed the door, which then locked automatically. Every room locks automatically in the apartment.
2. Went out for sightseeing on Pentecost, a public holiday in Finland. Finns are serious about holidays.
3. Boarded bus 280e thinking it would lead to Espoo central, but ended up in the countryside in Kirkkonummi. Return trip cost €7.20. I was lucky to have a return trip at all.
4. Tried drawing money from debit card when I had disabled drawing money overseas.
5. Walked into Greenbike with not enough cash.
6. Bought skimmed milk, taking it to be normal milk.
7. Poured 3-month overdue milk into coffee.
8. Put four electrons into the same quantum state.
9. Sat next to American tourists on bus.

Monday, June 04, 2012

About the Finns

 A postcard of Finn guy

I do not know how many of the people I see on the streets are Finns, but I tend to assume that if a person in Helsinki wrap themselves up for cold weather, he or she is probably not a Finn. This is because the national stereotype is being tough as nails and cold-resistance is a particularly salient specialty. Now I know that the average Finn at this 8°C summer does not dress up too lightly, probably three or four thin layers like I do, though occasionally outliers appear who come decked out in nothing more than a t-shirt for tops. Such reckless attire earns my nod of approval and respect.

The other stereotype is Finnish humour. Finnish humour is delivered solemnly but unceremoniously. Jokes told within a group of Finns are smart comments that are inserted in a timing as off-coloured as possible. Awkward, fertile spans of silence happen instead of laughter. Awkward silences also occur when one or two of the group are the only ones at the table that have not yet finished their meals. After a precisely-measured time interval after the last bite, everyone stands up in one coordinated move and lines up for tray-return. It is amazing.

Recommending the movie called The Man Without a Past, which is awesome because of Finns.
I should be sleeping

Saturday, June 02, 2012

I have moved into North Haaga

Flerov and Livermore
Two new chemical elements have been named: 114 Flerovium and 116 Livermorium. This warrants a mention before all the boring personal recounts that are to follow.

Size of Singapore for scale comparison
New place: upper red icon. Stadion: lower red icon. School: green
North Haaga
I have moved into the apartment in North Haaga. This is a different place than Stadion.
I am staying here alone. It's a shared apartment. No one is sharing my apartment.
Not much to do here other than blog. Admittedly though the personal space is bigger and certain things are more convenient (like going for a shower).
While mopping the place over, I got locked out of the room once. An hour later the lady came to open the door, but meanwhile I experienced some existential terror of being in a foreign land with no one nearby to help. The opening cost twenty euros.

If I take a world map and coloured in the countries of origin for every person I met during the week I stayed there, it turns out to look like this:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sophomore Journal 2E.2.1


Pentecost mass spent in St. Mary's church with a decidedly international parish. 3 priests are all of different races. The profile of the parish screamed "everyone but the Finns!", though I happen to know that the bishop here is a Finn. Also postcards here are the cheapest in town.

Bunkmates in Stadion connected last night; conversation started at how loudly the guy at bed 4 had snored two nights ago. The guy in bed 4 was not present. There was a Romanian guy looking for menial jobs in Helsinki and a scientist from CERN.

Korean tourist Se-Ung landed fresh from Saint Petersburg. We went out and took 4/5 varieties of public transport with the regional card, and found out all the malls were closed due to public holiday. When I headed back there was this Taiwanese lady I didn't ask the name to, who planned to swat mosquitoes in Rovaniemi or meet Santa Claus, whichever seems more probable.

Project is looking less intimidating each day. Coffee supply has been timely, with courtesy from Mikko.


Värttinä has concert in Lappeenranta on 21 July. Item marked in itinerary.
Annbjørg Lien has concert in Ringbu, Norway on 23 June. Probably not in schedule due to friends visiting Helsinki at that time.
Some trip to the Baltic countries is probably in order.


Exam results were horrible.

Gallen-Kallela Museum did not show most works by Gallen-Kallela

Sophomore Journal 2E.1.6

Today I am writing not out of frustration but out of rejoicing. If I am really frustrated it would be because the internet at the hostel is slow and I am typing from notepad right now, but this is none of your concern. Helsinki has been awesome. Yesterday while going to the groceries I was epicly awed at the low prices that food in the supermarkets are kept at. Salami at 2.79 euros? :DDD Miso soup stock at 2.95? Smoked salmon at 2.65? PLEASE, NO MORE. When rich kid raised in Cold Storage goes across the continent to Alepa, invariably he will bleed at the nose a bit.

The Work
So shortly after concluding my tirade which is the previous post, I went to Otaniemi and Dr. Makkonen introduced me to the group. The next day I am presented with a problem which is a computer simulation of electronic structure, involving FUNCTIONALS and the FUNDAMENTAL HAMILTONIAN and THOMAS-FERMI-DIRAC MODEL and VARIATIONAL MONTE-CARLO and other inscrutably-named stuff I had to look up the whole demoralising afternoon. Two other fellas are in the same room as mine: Elmo (the physics student) has been given readings which is basically 2nd year Material Science in NUS, and Angi stretches wood.

My office is on the ground floor. My table is by the window. Outside the window there is a grass patch. Yesterday afternoon on the grass patch suddenly there was a rabbit. And it sat there munching on flowers and rolling about and just being a distracting little shit all day long.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blogging from Helsinki

Hostel at the Olympic Stadium

I have settled in the hostel at the Olympic Stadium. Jet-lag is still in force, so I woke up at 5am to a room full of burly sleeping men. I questioned my own sanity in having let myself come here with a half-assed command of Finnish and no point of contact other than the prof Dr. Makkonen at Aalto, as well as having chosen a dormitory suite instead of one of the private rooms. Having no other outlet to express my bewilderment, I turn to blogging. You may be thinking I am blogging to boast about being able to have come through half the globe to this strange city. I would have liked to, eventually, but I am still disoriented, so this post is for complaining.

The Language
What I am up against with this LANGUAGE thing:
I reached my current command of French in the time-span of 1 year, and can converse in it comfortably enough. French is an easy language; it is in the same language family (Indo-European) as most other European languages, and shares much of the vocabulary with English.
I am expected to reach a comfortable command of Finnish in ~2 months. Finnish is a Uralic language, related to Hungarian, Estonian, Sami and random languages scattered around Russia,. Basically Hindi is closer to English than Finnish is to English and the language institute here prefers to make up native versions of names rather than borrowing the word itself.

The Surroundings
Two walks around the hostel revealed a bike shop, a supermarket (Alepa) and a Chinese restaurant conveniently positioned, and also a nice inland bay, Töölönlahti. There is a park. In the park there are patches of bare rock which are quite nice to sit on. There is a winter garden I don't know the purpose of.
The Finns seem to be avid bikers. The bicycle tracks are filled with them. I am considering this as a means to commute.

The Commute
Olympic Stadium to Otaniemi is ~7km. North Haaga to Otaniemi is ~9km.
There are direct buses.
I am going to figure out public transport today. Tip: by figuring out the public transport of a place, one mentally conquers it.
I have not yet gone around to get to Otaniemi, where the university is, but I hope I can mentally conquer that too.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I am going to Finland for the summer for an internship.
I will be staying in Haaga District, 9km from Aalto University by bike.
I am taking up 2 new languages: Fortran 90 and Finnish
There is a church near where I'm staying at, with English masses on Saturday evenings

Friday, April 13, 2012

My dad's standards will take quite a while to be overtaken

So having graduated with a Math major in Xiamen, my dad and this friend of his went to the States for postgrads. Despite being enrolled into an engineering course this time, they took math courses for electives (read: for fun) and BEAT THE MATH MAJORS IN THEIR HOME BASE

After some time, one of the professors took notice, and began teaching them some manners. And since then they have been unstoppable.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


arr. Andy Paul Chen / cond. Florentina Widodo
1. Ahu Pelek: comp. Küresh Küsen
2. Atlanduq: ibid.
3. Borulai's Lullaby: trad. Mongolian

Monday, March 19, 2012

What happened during our SEM Lab

The Scanning Electron Microscopy lab this semester was the most awesome, because after making a few hasty demonstrations, the lab assistant ran away and left us for dead for the rest of the day.

The lab report stated: You should NEVER try to operate it by yourself until you have reached a certain standard as judged by your demonstrator.

We LOL'd. We could not believe our luck. Then we proceeded to vent the chamber without turning off the electron beam.