Grief is invented by gods, or through survival. The latter is an optimistic view. Grief purges the weak, it offers no surprise to the dying.

Malaysian Q&A for Potential US Liberal Arts College Students

(Notes for USAPPS 2013: Prepared answers for a forum I try to help out with every year.)

Segment 1: Living and Studying in US as a student

1. What do you think made you stand out in your application? Is there any specific factor in determining one's chances to get into college in the US?
My essay was about learning to see cultures anthropologically, as I moved to a small town after living for most of my life before that in the city (KL). I actually think my application was rather shitty.

2. What would you say about living in the US as a student? What kinds of factors that you took into consideration when you applied for college? (Scholars vs. private, how to save?)
I was accepted to only one college with sufficient financial aid - i.e. a practically full scholarship - so that was the obvious choice as I wouldn't have bothered to apply to the states to study unless someone else was paying for it.

3. Describe a lecture or classroom experience (large class or really small group discussion/debate) and how it has helped you in your education?
Small groups of 3-12 students were the norm for classes where detailed discussion of subject matter was required. Of course, for more textbooky subjects like organic chemistry, it was just all in lecture and lab format. I realised after a while that I only benefited from 1-to-1 time with professors, because I often had a fairly unusual depth of questioning, so I'd get bored even in groups of 2-3 other students.

Segment 2: Involvement/Opportunities in the States

4. Give an example of your life outside class experience i.e. the types of clubs that you join, having a host family, becoming a school representative in sports or arts performances, school tradition (especially during freshman year, some sort of rituals when graduating?)
I didn't find the classroom beneficial for much of the stuff I was interested in. a) intellectual history and grand meta-narratives were a culturally unpopular subject in the classroom and b) the analysis of aesthetics was more of a lab subject - but the arts department was generally not approaching it from an analytical/quantitative point of view, and the quant departments were generally just not interested in detailed analyses of low-level sensations. So I spent most my time pursuing studies on my own in the library, reading stuff online, and using access to the inter-library-loan system, a lot.

5. Talk about part-time jobs, volunteering activities, internships that contribute to your education? How about study abroad and exchange programs?
I didn't "study abroad," outside of my four years at Bates. My view in going to Bates was that it was a four-year immersion in the local culture that was a US liberal arts college. I picked up the accent within 1-2 years and worked in many jobs on campus, mostly in information and library services (networking / programming / equipment setup) in order to learn how they talked and thought, about themselves and about things in general.

Segment 3: Career Outlook with US Degrees

6. My parents used to question the credibility of US degrees. They thought that education in the US is overly priced and generally not compatible with the job market in Malaysia especially in law, accounting and medical degrees. For these three mainly sought degrees, can Malaysian students still pursue them in the US? IF so, what are their career prospects in Malaysia then?
The answer to this question is very specific to your target first-job after college, and first-job-that-you-want-to-make-most-of-your-money/living-in-for-the-rest-of-your-life. If you're after money, then staying in the states and aiming for a professional services job paying USD80-90k/year for fresh graduates is probably your best bet (six-figure basics, near seven-figure bonuses in the first year out of college are not unheard of). IB+MC are the traditional favourites for "money" jobs. If you're a good IB-er you should be making USD500k/year by the time you're 30yo.

If you absolutely MUST work in Malaysia following graduation, and you're looking at a field like accounting or law then studying in the US is probably a mistake, unless you want to begin your professional studies after college. However if you're looking to work in any job that requires a non-professional degree, e.g. in general business, sales, operations, banking, consulting, then you probably don't need to worry about your prospects if you're confidant in your ability of to figure out problems and work hard wherever you go.

If you think that "business", "marketing", "HR", "hospitality", "tourism", "IT" are subjects worth majoring in at the university level, I'm afraid that you may not be of the academic calibre to do well without a very specialised degree. I'm saying that because the more capable members of the workforce don't actually need to study those subjects in school, in order to excel in them.

7. In retrospect, now that you're back in malaysia, we're sure that there's a change of perspective. what did you make out of all your experiences in the US? Especially in helping out with your career choices?
When I was 10yo, I figured out that the minimum work I would have to do in order to support my hobbies was to be a waiter and earn RM500/month. To be honest, nothing much has changed. I still consider my hobbies to sit outside the realm of most employment opportunities, so I don't even try to get hired to do what I like doing for fun. On the flip side, a lot of new business owners seem to need help with general analysis and ass-kicking, so it turns out that I've spent most of my time outside of employment at big companies, helping new business owners to set up shop. Right now I'm working with some chaps who want to bring US third-wave coffee shop culture to Malaysia.

The State? Fiction? or Practical reality?

From a note on Facebook.

"The State? Fiction? or Practical reality?"

July 4, 2013 at 3:49pm
(Note to self: migrate to blog later.)

So what I'm going to do is try and prepare the whole thing before hand, and just rattle it off verbatim (if the audience is passive) / hold a discussion (if the audience is reactive).
  • Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/350755121693485/
  • Assigned topic of discussion: Does not seem to be a clear delineation of subjects across speakers, so some content is bound to overlap with the other speakers/discussions. Apologies in advance.
  • Assigned duration of discussion: 8-10 minutes - not a whole lot we can do, so I'll just yell out some points, and you can yell back your reactions.
First off, if this is mostly too dry and boring, you can always try appealing to a more common subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_as_a_model_for_the_state

Here's a classic passage from Thomas Hobbes's book Leviathan (1651):

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

He finally gets around to arguing that we cooperate simply to avoid the situation of war. He thinks most people are nasty by nature.

Some fun characters to pit against Hobbes's point of view are Locke and Rousseau: who argue that selfish uncooperative individuals who live near to states (which are cooperative individuals) are at a natural disadvantage. So according to these guys, if you're too much of an iconoclast, the herd will just grab and regress you towards the social mean... (or something like that ;) )

Rousseau in particular wrote variously about how people have already internalised the value of cooperation and have thereby become: nice by nature. In short, by this view, nasty people are literally retards.

So, back to the full topic that was requested for discussion: what are "fiction," "reality," and "practical reality?" Is it just a theoretical distinction? How do we define the differences?
Some (contemporary, and past) plays on the subject (framed as bunches of people marooned on islands - with the forces of nature):
  • Lost
  • Lord of the Flies
  • And in case you were wondering about the "Quake bots achieve world-peace," story - sorry folks, it's a hoax. 
Some contemporary issues of the state, versus individual freedoms. Freedom of information is a hot topic, so:

Caricature of Love

Chick: "U write so much better in this state"
So how. I write better when I'm alone. Then chicks who like emo writing dig it. Then I end up with emo chick. And I stop writing. And emo chick stops digging me. Circle of life. HOW?! #4everAlone


6.6 months into my decade of monetisation. Staring at an empty month. Wondering when I'll regress, from discussing love, to pickup mode. -_-
Projects beget commitment,
commitment begets waiting,
waiting begets boredom,
boredom begets loneliness,
loneliness begets lust,
lust begets...


The phone never lights up any more. Their names never appear. No tones. No texts. No thoughts. I think of them often. Those women. Farewell.

Trimming the Sails

Nothing to look forward to. The living death. The worse kind of work. Maybe.

Internal emptiness first. Sorting other people out... only when they start yelling. Soon, I expect a reversion to my historical mean.

Turning off my feelings, and raising exteroception. Primary mode configuration Fi -> Se. ‪#‎mbti‬

Slack spent so far: 2 months on #Haskell, 1 on sprudge, 2 catching up with myself. Headspace for new projects soon. Whee!



Culture, dress, food, sport, work, speech; if you learn hers, and she won't touch yours... best efforts have been made. But I'm never sure.


When love is remembered as hate, and closeness as distance, memory turns life into a lie. I don't like being there. Such a waste of time.

"Over Here" #junehlwong

I skimmed through this article, which a friend had shared, while stuck in traffic at Taman Connaught's pasar malam of death, and my first reaction was "how presumptuous," but I figured I'd write a longer thought once I got home.
Dear June,

Are you kidding? No, I mean, you've kidded, and the daughters are an obvious result. But what of your daughters' opinions?

Do they want marriage? Do they even want to have romantic and/or sexual relationships which they'd be willing to discuss with you? Have you checked, do they even like men? These are just the first things that pop into my head.

Let me assume that corporate rank is an admirable accomplishment. So about your friend, this nice top manager. When was dating ever uncomplicated? The economics may be somewhat different these days, women and men both are more likely to have ample resources for the support of relationships with multiple intimate partners, in series or in parallel, but relationships being what they are... are probably supposed to be complicated. I suppose if you don't really take relationships seriously, then they are fairly simple affairs.

And what is it with the insinuation that men who are chefs, or mobile phone salesmen, and repairmen, are less-than-men? Or even less-than-capable-of-marriage? This is a strange thought, and possibly even offensive.

I suppose you think that partying and clubbing are probable ways of finding men for marriage? I'm not sure where to begin on this - my mind just sort of jams at the questions I had above about how well you know what your daughters want. I'm not even going to go into the probabilistic outcome of what happens when a young woman goes to a club looking for a marriage - that's probably a fun topic for a dinner party, though. Also perhaps a trigger topic for all sorts of trauma.

I find it terribly insensitive of you to have reinforced a sense of low self-esteem in your daughters between the association of "their," "fatness..." while, ok, I can only agree that being "healthy," is preferable over the alternatives... I HOPE that's why your daughters ultimately ended up in the gym. I hope it wasn't just to try and reduce your whining at them. My parents whined at me a lot, for decades. I recently told them not to expect to see me again - it's not something I would ever wish for you to hear from those daughters of yours. Please just don't be an annoying parent. There's really no reason to keep.. those around.

Maybe most of the guys who love working out are not into girls. Maybe they're not into your girls. I'm not sure what to say about this either. But seriously... I have to keep telling my brain not to cramp up at reading your commentary. It's a nice challenge for a bored guy, in a boring job - I can tell you that much! Thanks for this evening's exercise.

Finally, I suppose, in reaction to your final comments, I must ask again... are you sure that your daughters feel lonely? Have they ever expressed this feeling? Must you project your own loneliness upon them? Why would you ever want to do such a thing, to someone who wasn't lonely? It's just terrifying.

I guess I should stop there.

Meanwhile, it sounds like your family is otherwise quite cohesive and happy, and if so, I hope it stays that way. Good luck!

A little background - I've spent the last three months on a very slow phase of a project, and have been entertaining myself variously with conversations about romance and what that means to different people, mostly people I know in the Klang Valley. I'll presume that June H L Wong, the columnist, isn't really expecting an answer to her seemingly rhetorical questions - suffice to say, I'm writing this up just to entertain myself. Tis the season for hauling online publishers off to the MCMC for sedition, so in advance, I apologise to all demographics who might find any of the content above offensive.


Emotion: Going Full Retard

Postponing breakup grief is an extremely useful maneuver. Even if it hurts more, you may wait till you can afford to give it more thought.
(Someone said they didn't peg me for being this emo...)

Stuck in a traffic jam, so let me go full-retard on this, just because mental conditioning is like a huge area of study for me. :D

So I think about this on several levels.

1) No matter what I feel or don't feel about things, it's always worthwhile to empathise with other people and their experiences. This is a humanistic study, some might call it (part of) anthropology. If someone feels helpless, you can choose to fully empathise and feel helpless also - but that doesn't really often help. So sometimes partial empathy is worthwhile because you get to help people if you do it right.

2) Emotions are systematic reactions in our bodies, which alter muscle control, rate of thought, processes of memory, etc. they of course, have particular triggers, and we often can expect particular outcomes. If not, there would be no such thing as "emotional intelligence," as a completely chaotic mess would leave us nothing to manage, internally to each of ourselves, or externally in the counterparties we have in social life (including family life) and commerce. I personally find it EXTREMELY ANNOYING when folks aren't up for detailed discussion of this stuff. I've had many relationships with folks like this in the past, and to-date have surmised that it's a real waste of time for me to get close to people who don't appreciate emotion at this level of comprehension.

3) I get emo a lot. It's usually not about people though, except when I let people get close and then they hurt me. The stuff I'm most emo about is how ineffient human language is, particularly in the domains where a few simple changes would have (as far as I can tell) exponential improvements in the efficiency of how we use language. (We each expend energy to manipulate images, which convey information, which helps us get other stuff done. Efficiency is referred to in this context. The "stuff," done could be as simple as "experience pleasure.")
What Makes Me Sad
What Pisses Me Off

As to how one postpones an emotion...
You need to identify a higher priority. In my recent situation, work i.e. studies took precedent. I'm a work-first kind of person - I don't mess up ops. :P

At a morning meeting with industry colleagues:
"Before I forget, is the bookworm in love?"
"Er, well, I post a lot of stuff because I have nothing to do... and I haven't really read books in like ten years."
"Yeah, I learnt not to take his posts too literally."
"Sometimes he's just messing with your mind"
I'll say though, I am tired of having been out of a decent relationship for this long. But the cost of trying to stay in one, on someone else's terms is just too scary. So until I get a huge chunk of work done, or find other resource inputs, I guess I'm going to have to draw lots of lines, i.e. stay on my turf, for the time being.


Epic Commonality

The epitome of common is a grating sense of cool. It is self-conscious maturity. It is self-conscious fortune.
I am blessed with lesser pressure from social mores, but amid this I make the furtherance of civilisation a pastime. I must console myself.



After months, maybe years of uncertainty. I'm glad I heard what I heard today. Whee.
Last one from me about the not-ness of us. It's a great relief as I've felt in limbo since *redacted*. I've only ever told you what I do because I've wanted to know what you feel. Thank you for telling me. Now I will change the way I feel. :) *redacted* See you around.
I think about this experience, and am reminded that not everyone can change the way they feel.

Some people strive for a particular emotion, bending mind and body towards its dissolution. I bend my body and its emotions to yield structured ideas.
Everything I did wrong in 2011-2012 resulted from a failure to micro-manage. Indeed, the point of that exercise was to study its outcomes.
The cost of trying to develop trust in various parties has resulted in many shortfalls of resources. I am wondering if I will give up trying for now, and become more self-reliant, or continue to expend my resources until none remain. At a bit of a precipice here. Haha.

I like high-risk, under-diversified portfolios, but as I have increased my concentration, I have failed to increase my resources assigned for management. That, I think, has been the error of the past period. Still alive, but nearly friendless and penniless as well, I am wondering how this will shape future behaviours in the period to come.
In dealing with those insufficiently self-aware, one must actively manage their consciousness, otherwise one suffers from their ignorance.
Moderately eventful day. Painful but not too boring (thank heavens). Trying to stay loving and unintrusive to friends old, and new.

Bored. By little visions, and short memories, and fancy-pants ideals, and the general shortage of really large targets and plans.

I feel like I have made many sacrifices for knowledge, and I remain unsure if these sacrifices will deliver exponential returns to human civilisation in the future.

Grief is a mechanism by which emotions are reconfigured. Enacting grief, enacts a change in feelings. I seem to do this often while waiting.

Get bored. Take risks. Get hurt. Rinse and repeat. Perhaps I shouldn't put so much boredom in my schedule. But it makes me feel more normal.

Bored. Every emotion running the gamut. This. This is why boredom is the enemy. Boredom always wins.

You no longer want to know what I'm feeling. So I'm no longer brave enough to wish you well.

And in reverse chronological order:
Agreed, or disagreed? "Having no close friends, is better than seeking the admiration of fools."

Jump out the window if you are the object of passion. Flee it if you feel it. Passion goes, boredom remains. Coco Chanel

Navigating the plebeian morass. How? Why? Because the alternatives would be mediocrity of effort.

When you love someone whom you could hardly be friends with, when the love is gone, a void. Dangerous games.

Remembering not to make life too hard for myself. Boredom is making this a 3rd bad year. On the bright side: -parents, +studying, +home.

[The next day.]

Feeding stations!!

Good work makes possible the avoidance of intellectual and emotional retards. Good work, when paused, brings me crashing back to the mean.

Awakened to boredom. My subconscious throws a fuss and sends me on an emo trip. Stalled in solitary confinement. This is less destructive.

After a little industry research; mourning the partial loss of a conversation partner, medication at the movies. Whee.

Zombies. Seats smelling like sweat and piss. How humanising. Nothing quite like it for pushing the nervous system into battle mode.


Sensitive, Much?

In politics from romance to nationstates, sensitivity is the enemy. Identify it, isolate it, address it, dispose of it. Lol.

Asbestos in Malaysia

Turns out that this is a bigger, and much more current, problem than I had thought. More care required.

This Attitude Fits Not Everyone

I still think about you always, but I'm glad I found a reason to not-do anything about it. Get better. Be well.


Since paying more attention to the structure of conscious sensations in college, I've had some inkling that this was possible in a kludgy fashion. But apparently there are people who are really, really, really good at this.