We are all beside ourselves

“There is no reason a book of ideas can’t also be deeply moving, gorgeously written, and inhabited by people who take rooms in your heart and never move out.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

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What I should have said,

Yesterday, I was tasked to present my thoughts after a group discussion on the role of universities in Singapore, in front of my Permanent Secretary and deputies, and all my directors, as well as the entire Higher Education Group.

After this shock of the week, captured by random mumbles and a hasty retreat, I’ve since had an hour to think a little more deeply of what it is we should hold our universities accountable to as a Government who provides generous funding.

This is what I should have said.

I should have said that there is no easy public policy response to the complex issue of what a higher education is worth to society. Western liberal arts education would suggest that the notion of personal autonomy should have supreme value; “Know thyself” – as it is. Moreover, in a regime of private markets, these notions of autonomy are set against the duties of culture, history and tradition. According to this model, the mutual consent of individuals becomes the ultimate source of authority, rather than God, religion, history or specially designated virtues.

I should have said that if we were to follow Western liberal democracy, of which our universities do take reference from, it is the role of government to protect the personal autonomy of all citizens, to decide which risks should not be left to private bargains / institutions, and to correct the undesirable impacts of an economic system left primarily to the forces of private property and markets.

It is also the role of government, as significant sponsor of higher education, to satisfy higher hurdles than private individuals and organisations because its actions implicate all citizens.

I should have ended with the caveat that one of our great responsibilities in the 21st century is to consider the social repercussions of our rapidly accumulating new knowledge and the appropriate response of public policy. That the quality of our society will be determined by the moral norms that science and technology in the univieresities aspire to reflect.

And then I would have acknowledged that the social role and form of the university and its programmes exist in a state of transition that will depend in part on the shape our society takes. And as government, public policies and priorities have an impact of universities.

I take my leave from the land of Regrets.

Fears and tigers

My Tiger and Faith

I like to keep my tiger in a cage.

It’s not tame, you know, / only contained.

I like to keep my tiger all tied up

Then close the door / and walk away.

I’d like to keep that tiger far away/ But when it gets fresh meat –

A new fear or worry to gnaw –

It begins to roar and pace.

I like to keep my tiger in that cage

But sometimes it escapes

Fills my mind and heart with fear

And forces me to live by faith.

Barbara Juliani

Gallery walk

Rushing off from work to look at Impressionist paintings at the National Gallery with a friend is not a bad way to spend the Friday evening. Especially when Violet Oon’s National Kitchen whips up lovely banana-caramel desserts and opens up a last-minute table in a restaurant fully booked.

The exhibition featured works of Monet, Cezanne and Renoir from the collection of the Musee d’Orsay.

But it was Berthe Morisot’s The Cradle (Le Berceau, 1872) that caught my attention, not least because Morisot is one of the few women of the impressionist movement. The Cradle shows a mother and her sleeping child, but not in typical Madonna-like bliss. The mother gazes at her child, and the veil around the latter creates that sense of intimacy and protective love. However, what I fail to see is what art critics describe as an ‘endearing and tender’ expression in the mother.

Instead, I see ennui, a sort of brewing impatience, and read a sense of boredom in the posture of the hand supporting her face. The child is not complicit in this reading – she is blissfully asleep, but I can’t see that bliss shared by the mother, who as the subject, commands the piece.

(Edit: this is troubling me – perhaps I am projecting my apprehension of childbirth onto the painting?)

Recently, I have been given to feel a sense of over-extension, yet under-achievement. Being involved in a few performances and public speaking events have concretised in my heart what I believe in and why I choose to do the things that I do. Yet, there is the daily tiredness in the process of it – a sense of stagnancy, of going through the motions.

So today’s passage on running the race well so that I gain crowns to offer at Jesus’s feet resonated with me, particularly Paul’s warning to the Corinthians:

“I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

(1 Cor 9)

I do increasingly feel disqualified, especially as I struggle with frustrations and impatience against people who don’t work at the speed I am trained to work in (a break-neck, irresponsible and overly focused one, perhaps).

I wish instead to be able to say, as David did: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.”

But at this moment, I am vacillating haphazardly from impatience, the fear of moving forward, to inertia.

Perfect

I think today bordered on being quite perfect.

A colleague coming over with cinammon bread, and stranger with a pram asking me in a heavy mandarin accent if I teach the violin, and entering another parallel universe at the violin workshop, where I finally donated the old guy to a child from Taman Jurong.

And of course, badminton courts that were booked and ready for a match with colleagues next Thursday.

Lookin’ up 🙆🏻‍♀️

Monday,

Sometimes I can’t help but feel that the interior designers of P.S. cafe should be celebrated for bringing such beautiful shop fronts to the cookie-cutter malls. Easily frozen in time, an oasis.

Some people like “scandinavian”, some like “balinese”. Me, I’m all for colonial forest 🌳

Counting

Thank God its Friday- a perfect time for me to count and cherish in my heart the amazing work culture and colleagues, from Mdm Poh Hong’s handmade dumplings for breakfast, to my colleague’s surprise gin and tonic, and finally, my new colleague fulfilling my ice-cream dream.

Pork and prawn dumplings 🥟- what’s there not to love about surprises?

🙌🏼

Shinji

So with Shinji, I’ve finally completed the Triumvirate of Japanese omakase in Singapore.

Staring at the head chef keep his work station tidy (yes, with ice cubes gently melting) while enjoying classic Edo-style sushi 🍣 was a wonderful Birthday treat.

The fish standard was high, although I have been more impressed with the culinary flair at Hashida. Nonetheless, was singularly charmed by the bamboo ceilings, which seemed to halt time. The patient chef explaining each piece in both languages, and a fine friend’s tall tales of the world he’s travelled.