30 December 2011

Yearly goals

For each year, I would review the goals for that year and set my goals at around the last 2 days of the year. For my goals, I would normally classify them under: professional life, family and personal (including spiritual).

As I looked at this year's goals, I heaved out a sigh as I missed the mark in many of the categories. Was I over ambitious at the start of the year? I don't think so as my goals seemed so tepid and unexciting. It's a mere incremental change over the previous year's goals and a continuation from goals missed last year.

I hoped for  more exciting goals. Something worthy, something greater that I can happily die for without regrets.  When there's no worthy goals, the soul shrivels and goes for worthless things to fill up the excess time. Oh, for a worthy cause to die for!!

While I await and seek out the worthy goals, I really need to constantly remind myself and strive harder to fulfill these goals that I wrote down. I realised that I am one who is easily beaten . Not beaten by other, but by myself. Hence I need to regularly re-examine my life, my thoughts and menta models. And work on it!

Remember - Goals are to be worked at and achieved. Not looked at and forgotten. 

26 December 2011

The return of the Relatives.

Once a year, my sister in law's family will either return to Singapore or our few families will travel up to Perth for our reunion. This year it was their turn to travel over on route to US for more holidaying before meeting up for the Chinese New Year and then back to Perth.

The kids love to meet up. Whenever they are back or there, they will meet up almost 24/7 yakking the night away. The adults will also make extra efforts to be together and will go out of the way to buy things or dine or be with each other. It was a time for all of them to look forward to. A highlight of the year.

For me, strangely, and embarrassingly, it was like - huh again? I am not close to them and am glad that our efforts at emigration did not work out. I guess that there are some people you just cannot click with - and you will never know why too.

When they are back, I will drag my feet to the venues and try not to look bored or else my wife will have a lot to say after that. For the last few years, though they asked us to go over repeatedly, we have not been there, only sending our kids over once. It was a big sum of money for the airfare. But I think in truth, the issue is not with the airfares.

Well this saga is going to continue for sure. How can I make it more palatable for me and for all?

There is just something inside me that makes me detest the company. So "sinful" but yet so unavoidable. Sigh. Lord help me be more Christlike and forgiving. It will put a smile on all if that happens.

Book Reflections - Finding Our Way Again by Brian McLaren

Got this free book from Book Sneeze on the condition that I write a review of it after reading and posting it on my blog. I saw it on the bookshelf at SKS today and it was selling for $20.40. Not a bad deal as I save S$20 and all I need was to write a review which I will do anyway to summarize my lessons learnt from this book.

In the foreword, Phyllis Tickle promises this book to be a "no-holds-barred" overview of both the grandeur and the odium of living fully Christian in a post-Christendom society. After a few chapters into the book, I was a bit disappointed at the grandeur but realized most of the odium. It was also supposed to "unsettle every one of us, accusing us each and every one of being less then we must be, and inspiring us with the hope that still there is time" to strive toward fuller citizenship. My own opinion is that it has no done so and is fair at best in its attempt. My analysis stems from the observation that the author's views are one dimensional and covers only the western practices from the early churches, not the Asian or eastern practices which may be more fully alive and filled with the Spirit.

Some lessons and reminders for myself include  that Spiritual practices help us to be more alive, awake and be someone  weighty (worthy of a name and reputation). Here I think the writings of Jack Deere is much more powerful and describes a closer encounter with the God who is alive than this author. 

Another interesting lesson is that of "normalcy interruption". God interrupts our normal daily life to teach us valuable lessons which cannot be learnt during normal living. Hence when we fast, go on a pilgrimage, or enter into extended period of seeking God, He will speak to us in a fresh way that we do not know before. Here I am encouraged to practise more interruption of my own normalcy to find God in fresh ways as I believe it works.

This book on the whole is a good intermediate guide to ancient practices, but mainly from the Western perspectives. To really grow in finding our way again, just following the ancient practices, may not be adequate, but to look into dealing with our inner life issues may be more appropriate. 

A Thomas Nelson book, 2010. Religion. Christian Life. Spiritual Growth.

25 December 2011

A Christian in a Buddhist Columbarium

It was my first visit to a columbarium with my in-laws, a Buddhist one too, on the Memorial day to remember the dead. After being married for 16 years, it was quite an eye-opener to accompany them to see how they offer food to the dead and how they practice their remembrance for the loved ones. I am quite fortunate as all my loved ones are still around and though I have deceased grand parents, I was not asked to  visit them nor did I bother to visit till now.

I drove them to the temple in Bedok, which was quite crowded by the time we reached there at 9.30 am. They packed quite a lot of food for the 3 deceased relatives: rice, "vegetarian" meat, vegetables, bee hoon, sweet dumplings and drinks. All the food had to be vegetarian and no meat was to be served to the dead. And the servings had to be in odd number, i.e. even if you have two dead relatives, you have to provide three sets of food. Apparently it had to do with some Chinese beliefs that it cannot be even numbers as it is not auspicious.

My in laws had three deceased relatives at this site, two of them in the older section and one in the newer wing. I understand that the older section was cheaper, about S$600 per space and the newer ones are in the region of thousand two/three. It will also be good to book now as the prices will increase with demand. Some are position at eye level, while some are very low and the rest can only be accessed via a high ladder. Again, book early for the best spots. This is true for the living and for the dead too.

How do we tell whether the dead have finished their food? I saw my father in law dropped two crescent shaped wooden objects on the floor. If they are both up/down, it means they have finished eating.  I learnt something new again :-) It reminds me of the Biblical urim that the priests used in the temple to discern the will of God.

Before they leave, my mum in law bought some clothes and  hell notes for the dead. It costs about S$19 for three sets of clothing and stacks of hell notes in 3 different currency for ease of change/use. I was quite amused at the thought of this earthly help for their after life - how would they know that it would reach them?

While I do not subscribe to all these practices, I see value in having a day set aside to remember the dead. We do need to remember them to live better here on earth. Only then will we value more of what we have and cherish those who are still living.  

Christmas - a time for shopping and eating only?

The days leading up to Christmas was spent in buying gifts and feasting for us. All the nieces and nephews got their gifts and not forgetting the uncles and aunties too. Gifts ranged from toys, bears, books for the younger ones and books for the older relatives. My in laws cooked the traditional Christmas meal, ham, turkey, beef, lamb and all. We had an additional Todai buffet at MBS too, one of the best spreads so far for S$42 each.
Todai Table mat featuring their restaurant layout

While my wife took up the job of buying for their gifts, I ended up sulking most of the time as I find it burdensome to pay for the gifts from credit and not from what we have. Though there was a 1.75 month bonus, all these was not sufficient for my existing financial commitments and hence the extra financial strain and absence of the joy of giving.

The joy of giving?  - I guessed it applied more for the companies and the children who look forward to receive presents. Still we crossed swords over the purchase of the gifts and I must say that it didn't reflect too well for me. The weight of the financial burden overcame the delight in seeing my relatives receiving with joy in their presents.

As I reflect, I think that I need to share the joy more with others and worry less about the financial burdens.  I also should stress that we need to be less materialistic and have a greater care for the less fortunate in such times. How can I share the message? I tried with my spouse but to no effect. Perhaps its time to share with all verbally.

In all these, Christ was missed - sadly. We did not attend any service on the eve nor the actual day. While many observed the most important day, we behaved more like non believers. Forgive us Lord. 

20 December 2011

Lessons learnt from Nurturing the Student course

Behind every anger is a hurt. Anger is the expression of a hurt, not the primary emotion. And the difficult thing with hurt is that it is usually repressed and not easily observed. The angry students that we see so often in class are mostly hurt and are expressing it in the one way that they know.

14 December 2011

Sponsored a Child

Last week we did something meaningful as a family. At the World Vision counter in Jurong Point, my family chose 1 child to support, from now till she is about 15 years old, when they will do another needs analysis and recommend to us

How much does it costs? The basic necessities for this child amounts to only S$45 for a month. Yes, not a day, nor a week, but one month. This reminded me of how much we have here in Singapore while many are suffering in 3rd world countries.

I hope my 2 daughters will remember and cherish what they have. As we live in our air-conditioned comfort, let us not forget the poor around us.

Temptations of an iPad2

I received an email recently on my contest entry for the LTA Fresh Ideas for a Better Ride contest and was told that my idea, the e-Scroll, was among the top 8 of 667 ideas submitted. I was pleased naturally, but what then caught my eye was that the top 3 ideas can win an iPad2.

Instantly, many ideas start conjuring up in my head. I can enter the voting using my family members' names. I can start to put an entry on FB and blogs and get many people to vote for me. I can also tell all my friends and relatives.....

Until suddenly I paused and realised what I am doing - all for an iPad2. I am being subtly seduced into wanting and lusting after a nice looking object that I lose sight of my principles and what is right and wrong.

Resisting such temptations are hard as they go against your inner nature. Of course I want the iPad2! Besides who will know if I get others to vote? You see my drift?

But at the end of the day, we need to fear God and obey His laws. Disobeying them and living a life based on our wants, only serve to make us no different from animals and other lower life forms.

Help me Lord to walk the correct path.

9 December 2011

Taxi Fare Increase

Lately ComfortDelgro Taxi announced the price revision to its fare prices - upwards of course, which will take effect next Monday. Read more in this link: http://www.todayonline.com/Singapore/EDC111206-0000076/Comfort-raises-basic-cab-fares

Netizens and Citizens are not happy. FB and forums, online and newspapers are all ablaze with fury. But really, they can only voiced out their unhappiness and the fares will still go up. The other taxi companies are watching and waiting for the right moment to join in the bandwagon. 

What can and should we do? As citizens, we can do our part to question and suggest alternatives to the authorities. We should also work out our travel alternatives to ease out the increased financial costs. Take more public transport, car pool, make friends with those with vehicles :-)

Is there anything spiritual in all these? Yes, we can pray to the Lord who holds the kings plans in His palm. We should ask God to give us strength and wisdom to live in the new economy. We should continue to live simply and not lose track of Him and the things that we planned to do for Him. 

Live on. In the words of Habbakuk, chapter 3

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
   and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
   and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
   and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
   I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
   he enables me to tread on the heights.

Trust in the Lord. He knows. 

8 December 2011

Millionaire Teacher Book - a short review

Read this book recently, Millionaire Teacher: The 9 rules of Wealth you should have learned in school by Andrew Hallam. Bought it at Harris for $25+

I have not bought a book for a long while, all the time preferring to borrow it from the library. This book proved to be illusive and is not easily found in my few attempts at the neighbourhood libraries, forcing me to part with my cash.

So, was it worth my money and time? In a way yes, though the 9 rules are repetitive and can be compressed into lesser rules. His main thesis seemed to be: don't buy Unit trusts, but ETFs, and he would give his reasons over and over again.  I like his Singapore practical examples of which ETFs to buy, the percentages for the basket of funds and where to get them from.

The other insights that I gathered from his book are summarised in my back of envelop recording, listed here:
1) Check out www.vanguard.com, a non-profit world biggest provider of index funds
2) Bond allocation: buy at a percentage of your age minus 10
3) Recommend to buy S&P 500 Exchange Traded Index Fund from DBS Vickers
4) His recommendation for Singaporeans: buy S'pore Bond Index, S'pore Stock Mkt Index, World Stock Mkt Index.
5) His recommendation for books to read: 4 Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein; A Random walkdown Wall Street by Burton Malkiel; Common Sense on Mutual Funds by John Bogle.

In summary, I think it may be worthwhile to borrow it from the library to read this book.

Tending the fields

A football field is only good if it is regularly maintained. After the wear and tear of intensive games, it needs scheduled maintenance to prevent further erosion and disrepair.

If this football field is an analogy of our life, what are the areas that we need periodic repair? Would it be in our physical fitness, our relationships with family and God, or our own emotional life?

What will help us in this maintenance? Questions for self assessment? Or a time out with a trusted friend?

Whichever form it works for you, do it. We really do need regular maintenance in all aspects of our lives. I trust we will do it before we see the breakdown sign.

7 December 2011

Slippery path of sin

How easy it is to lapse back into sin! All it takes is some boredom, some lack of purpose or a little seed of thought and you are re-hook by the evil one again.

Will strong resolve not to sin help? Yes, to a certain extent. It will help you to fend off sin for a while. Remember in the fight with sin and the evil one, we cannot just use human weapons, but the weapons that God gave and reminded in us Eph 6. Know that we are fighting not against flesh and blood but the principalities of this world. It is indeed very hard to fight against it - take the internet evils for one.

Also, unless the strongholds of sin within us are defeated, it will continue to be a snare to us hindering our victory over temptations and sin.

Can we ever be fully victorious? I believe so, if not there will not be 1 Cor.10:13. We have to live by faith and keep short accounts with sin.

Fight on. Believing.

5 December 2011

Online gaming and our kids

My children are in the midst of their almost 2 months school holidays, and my stay home wife is getting the brunt of it.

What do the kids do at home? Watch tv and play games. Watch tv and play more games.

For tv, they are hooked into Korean and HK dramas through starhub paid services. They claimed that it is helping them practise their mandarin when they listened to the dialogues and read the sub titles. Current title - Korean production, My Bittersweet Life.

For gaming, they are into Temple Run on the iPhone and the Tetris game (now with a new name where you can challenge online friends). Facebook games are also part of their daily staple and takes up a large part of their waking hours.

Harmless games? Maybe. But when they seduce you into spending many hours on it to level up and dress your hero/heroines - think again. I've recently attended a talk by Touch Community on Online gaming and it really opened my eyes into this online world of MMORG, role playing games, etc.

Our kids at home are at risk - boys and also girls. It is subtle. It sucks you in through role playing, letting you be who you can never be in real life - like a princess or superhero. There are many friends online and they don't bully you or put you down. You can easily level up and achieve significance that this world don't easily gives you.

In a word - dangerous. As parents we need to know what they are doing and educate ourselves on it and warn them of such dangers.

As Christian parents, we need to pray for them as they are fighting an oft losing battle as online games are now the mainstream and they will be seen as weirdos if they are not into it too.

Be warned.

Got a free Mitch & Marc watch

Collected my "free" Mitch & Marc watch recently after taking up a bank balance transfer and sticking to it for 6 months, dutifully paying the interests costs and the one time admin fee. The watch was purportedly worth about $500.

I doubt so.

When I went to the gift redemption centre at Peninsula Plaza, I can see that it was a small little company that specialises in gift redemption, not just for Maybank, but for many other companies who uses such gimmicks to lure unsuspecting customers. I am sure they got it at huge discounted outlet prices and that my fees easily paid for it with excess to cover their advertising costs.

Sure it was a nice looking branded watch with leather strap that was a bit big. But don't go for this deal just for this watch. You could have easily got a much better watch at some of the online sites.

Go for it only if you need a balance transfer to tide over your mounting credit card bills. And be sure to pay as soon as your incomes come in.

Like they say, there is no free lunch.

Buying School Textbooks

It was that time of the year again - time to buy school text books and uniforms for my children.

They have been asking me to buy their textbooks but I have been putting it aside till later to ease my financial pains. The bill for one comes up to almost $200, not including time to change a few sets of school uniforms, shoes, socks, and even school bag!

Why am I so reluctant and tend to procrastinate? Wished I had more emotional buffer to absorb these blows that hit me at year end. Not to mention that the insurances are also due soon. No wonder December is a time for bonuses, so that you have some money left over to pay your bills :-)

Well, what needs to be paid has to be paid. Whether you smile to pay or pull a long face and irritate the whole family in the process of paying, it still needs to be paid.

So can I for once pay with a smile, and trust God that it will all still be ok?

2 December 2011

The God who speaks

I have been out of touch with God for a long while. It has indeed been a long time since I open up the Word or hear an audio sermon. Even in the service, what the pastor speaks do not really strike me as useful or personal. 

Yet in the midst of my indifference, God spoke out in a still small inner voice through Jer. 2:13 as I was crossing the road. 

“My people have committed two sins: 
They have forsaken me, 
   the spring of living water, 
and have dug their own cisterns, 
   broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (NIV)

I instantly recognised it as from God as it speaks directly at where I am now in life and at my foolishness. I have forsaken Him and strive for my own salvation at useless things, things that hold no water.

Let me come back to you this day Lord and drink deeply from you. 

Thinking of Earning some extra cash

Lately I was thinking about earning some extra cash. My household bills have risen while pay is not increasing fast enough. Sounds familiar right?

After googling many sites, I have compiled a list of possible ways to make some extra dollars. Taking into consideration of my level of skills, interests and handicaps, my list is as follows:
1. Invest in the stock market - intra day trades, ETFs, CFDs
2. Sell things on the web - eBay
3. Sell services on the web - counsel
4. Earn some advert $ - affiliate schemes
5. Win contests
6. Do paid surveys at globaltestmarket.com
7. Contribute to Staff Suggestion schemes
8. Cook and sell
9. Repair PC for others
10. Run errands for payment
11. Virtual assistant
12. Mystery shoppers
13. Teach at the CC, night classes
14. Grade papers for fee
15. Design and maintain websites
16. Write for blogs
17. Usertesting - test out websites
18. Pay to click sites
19. Read emails and be paid at inboxdollars.com
20. Answer questions at Justanswer.com
21. Suggest domain names at pickydomains.com
22. Give tuition
23. Pet sit, home sit, baby sit
24. Rent out - shares, room, car, pc

While I look into earning money, there is also a need to look into lowering costs. Pay off existing credit card bills and long term loans as quickly as possible is worth more that making that extra one or two dollars.

My early ventures into some of the above routes hit a blank wall. Things like mystery shoppers, paid surveys and advert schemes are super slow in earning money. I have an inkling that they are cashing in on my information data instead.

All these remind me that while I think about them, I must not lose sight of the daily provision of the heavenly Father who is much more sincere in giving and have our real interests at heart.

Hmm.. I was just writing about broken cisterns in my posts...

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