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Monthly Archives: May 2008


Things do not change; we change.

~Henry David Thoreau

It’s strange looking back.

Tracing back the path.

Where I was 12 months ago.

Where I was 24 months ago.

Trying to chart the changes.

It’d be a complex exercise to list the changes, or to try and explain them.

You wouldn’t understand and I couldn’t do it right. I don’t want to anyway.

Instead I want to focus on one narrow aspect. The human side. The response to change.

In a year where I feel so different in my actions and in my attitude from the beginning of the year, how that change is perceived is something I’m tuning into and paying attention.

Now, many people have no reference, no template to compare against. They didn’t know me well enough last year, or know me well enough this year, or know me well enough at all,  to form an understanding.

Where it’s been interesting is with some long time friends.

Close friends.

With such different reactions.

For X, all people  are defined the moment when X first encountered them. Once those initial formative moments are gone, a person is fixed for ever. X believes that people never change. And since people never change, I can’t change because I’m a person.

Simple inductive logic.

For me, this point of view meant that our friendship deteriorated fast over the last few months. When people change because they want to, failing to notice that change is fatal. Pretending nothing change makes you irritating.

For Y people change, but Y’d prefer it if I didn’t. Most of the time Y doesn’t notice. When he does notice, Y acknowledges the changes, but the unhappiness is manifest.

Things are business as usual for Y. Y notices the big changes, the ones that are visible and different.

Inside Y hopes the revolution will end soon. That things will stabilise. That things will normalise. And maybe Y is right. Y has a gift for reading people.

And finally Z. Z knows me well but I see Z rarely. This gives Z a natural advantage. She sees snapshots of character, where the others see a movie.

Z was direct about it. You’ve changed. This, this, this, this, that. All different. I liked all of them but that. That is a negative change.

That was refreshing. It felt like someone was paying attention. That it was being noticed. And it made a difference, because it had observable effects.

This reaction is important. It’s the reaction of someone who’s okay with change, and the friendship with Z feels more alive and strong as a result.

We’re friends now as who we are now. When that changes, we’ll be friends as who we are then. No questions of regressing into the past. No questions of filtering part of us to not rock the boat too much. Just  things as they truly are.

When people accept change, that becomes a basis for moving on to better and stronger. Fighting change causes friction. Ignoring it, a sense of being stuck in the past.

Alongside this is the realisation that I don’t expect people to notice change. People are busy, and things like this are hard to spot. The changes are often too subtle or are in areas of my personality that doesn’t effect them.

But when they’re aware of it, the reactions have been very interesting to watch.


[This was written in response to a note by my friend Jeff Koh on Facebook. I’ve appended that note to the end of this post. if you wish to understand this piece, start there.]

Welcome to one end of the Journey.

It’s one end because it reveals that the journey itself is flawed.

Flawed by being a purely monist intellectual voyage through a space where a plurality of factors such as culture, society, history and sociology all have a place. Indeed you can argue that these elements have primacy, the foundational blocks from which all philosophy begins to which in the end it must return.

On a more practical level, which is one of the questions you’re asking I feel, seeking education through the academia of the West doesn’t imply its uncritical acceptance or its internal validation.

For example, acknowledging the primacy of Oxford in law, shows your appreciation of its position, but doesn’t accept or imply its superiority in all fields. If you want the best Textiles course in the world, then the world does come to Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

You can approach any person who puts forward a claim of cultural hegemony as a sceptic, or it can be approached through the lens of your own cultural tradition.

You can investigate the choices that it makes, analyse the options that it represents and decide where in the moral balance that falls for you. Whether it is acceptable or unacceptable. Whether it can be modified to become acceptable.

In one sense the journey you’ve gone through, honing and understanding the meandering of western philosophy, is what has given you the skills to make those evaluations.

You understand the questions that are being asked by philosophy. Any philosophy. You appreciate the responses that are being given. Then you appreciate how intuitive and culture specific those answers are. And then you appreciate that there are many valid answers.

Then, at this stage the mould is broken. No one now can uncritically assert the primacy of any ideology, culture or values. You appreciate their inherent subjectivity, and where and when necessary (not every moment like your teacher seemed to suggest) you can deploy that to your benefit and advantage.

If on the downside of this, you find yourself staring like all who followed Nietzsche at a desolate plane upon which neither philosophy, history, society or culture can lay any real roots, then you come to the real dilemma of reaching an end of the Journey. It’s one where I find myself stuck as well, so if you manage to spot the exit sign, be sure to share.

Are you being elitist when you’re angered by those who Journey to the Ivy League and the Russell Group without understanding this?

I don’t think you’re being elitist.

A bit hypocritical maybe. After all it was being in those environments that accelerated your own rejection of them. It was the challenge to your identity and values that you understood them to (partially) represent that evokes such a strong reaction.

Why do you think those who go won’t come to the same realisation? And what harm does it cause if they don’t? Not every person wants or needs to make the same journeys.

[Attached below is the original note by my friend Jeff, to which this piece is a response. I have reformatted this piece in the course of importing it into this post. Any errors of readability as a result, are mine rather than Jeff’s.]

LPC, Oxford and Cultural Discrimination


Today at 2:06am

my American drama prof:

an excerpt from his final lecture(giving advice on how to use the lessons learnt in his class in real life):

when you think about arguing with folks who are using terms that have double values, so that they have a significance at the level of a conceptual field that is producing the particulars, even as it is claiming to be one particular among many, call them on it. because it’s a double game, that is working in the service of an unacknowledged power.

it’s a point well-taken. but do I ever, ever want to operate on that level of complexity?


the most insidious way I’ve been subjected to racial discrimination, or more appropriately, cultural discrimination, was on student council back in high school with x and y. we got the same grades, had the same positions on campus, and I had even more (debate and MUN) externally that they didn’t have. . . but somehow they’d think they were better, and they’d take pains to make sure you knew it.

they’d run all these philosophy groups (LPCUWC didn’t run a class on philosophy), and I’d try and go and sit amongst the smoke-filled rooms having not read any of the (rich) dead, old, white men with fancy last names that they’d select to discuss. there was no frame of reference, no well of background reading from which to draw even the most preliminary, basic understanding of these texts.

x would throw around terms like postmodernism, and chuckle at my lack of understanding. . . even though I was fully aware it was hocus-pocus. there was no common frame of reference.

yet today, in class, I can discuss the term fully in terms of its contexts, applications, nuances, ambiguities . . . and limitations. suffice to say, it has taken me two and a half years, since getting to Dartmouth and a stint at Oxford, to fully subsume myself within the boundaries of this discussion. I’m not even sure if it’s a good thing.


it’s a prime example of what Professor Pease was saying, in the above.

it’s the white man, using language in a way that makes himself superior. terms that have truth values, beyond their particulars. and whenever anyone uses language in such a charged, loaded way, it’s important for you to call them out on it. because their linguistic choices can set the terms of the debate and load it up in their favor. through discussing these words (words that are defined by the white man) on a playing field which is owned by the white man, where all the rules are set by the white man, all the substantive material is chosen by the white man, you are fully under their control and power.

there are three approaches to take when you find yourself in this situation, each tangentially related to the other. 1) you can feel helpless and inferior, 2) you can be aloof and refuse to subscribe to this game, conceding all your benefits (and embrace your role as the ‘Other’) and 3) you can learn the terms of the discussion, play constant catchup, and eventually best them in their own game. take back the benefits they’ve appropriated in falsely defining the rules of the game in their favour. an immanent, Alan Leong-style political strategy in order to beat them from within their own system with their way of playing.

I’ve chosen, to have to learn. and now I’ve gotten there.


I remember a conversation Annie and Chrys Hill had with me in the wee hours of the morning, how they told me at sixteen, you learn so eagerly to sit on that table, to score an invite. I think it was vastly inappropriate to parade their knowledge of Edward Said, or of Salman Rushdie, to condition a bare (intellectual) child, a baby, in the ideas of postcolonialism so, so soon. the more I think about it, the more offended I am. it’s wrong, to legitimate oneself through an appropriation of a power you ought not to have, an overstepping of the boundaries of your role as a teacher. it’s wrong, to soapbox your hate against the system upon impressionable young minds. I’m sure they thought they were helping me, which makes it all the more despicable. I’m glad they’re not teaching at LPCUWC any more.

because the problem with that, the problem with exposing those that are so so young, too intellectually young, to the ideas of Derrida’s deconstructionism, or a very virulent, specific and particular understanding of Marx that leads to an opting-out of a system seen as unyieldingly capitalist . . . what results is a nihilism, an anarchism. a debilitating nihilism that isn’t productive towards accomplishing anything. and nothing is left to take its place. nobody loves a cynic, and one can hardly be a cynic with anything good to say, before one has gone out and lived.


it’s why Nietzsche’s rejection of all truth and meaning is funny and all, especially given the absolutely dastardly way he does it, but so many philosophers after him have tried to rescue the idea of truth. because all debate, all constructive moves end when you say “there’s nothing that’s worth anything and nothing that means anything” . . . and you go crazy and stop speaking and live in a cave on your own. civil society ends there, and you become Nietzsche.

in a sense, Professor Swaine’s latest book is on this very subject, how full autonomy isn’t always the best thing. because reason taken to its extreme lengths isn’t conducive to a political construction of civil society. we can’t all live in caves like Nietzsche.

it’s why, on a similar note, earlier, so many philosophers after Hume (Kant, for instance) had tried to rescue the province of philosophy (and correspondingly of existence, and life) valiantly from skepticism.

both endeavors feature philosophers trying to save philosophy and the way in which we understand life and existence, philosophers trying to save life from what they see as emptiness and void, a void devoid of hope.

I’m not sure as to the success of their enterprises . . . because like my constant attacks on Rawls, you can attack anything that has a presupposed system of values for having a presupposed system of values (my attack on Rawls, obviously, being that the ‘cat won’t admit to the fact he’s doing this, under the table, and to building his ostensibly non-normative claims on normative bases)
but I think it’s a stand worth making.


I received my invite to the table when I was accepted to Dartmouth. and I’ve made the most use of it.

but how many people from Hong Kong get invited without knowing what it means (econ majors . . . academic “professionals” who go to Oxford and study something like E&M for the sake of the name of the diploma, and not having a bare figment of an idea of what it means [to subscribe to the white man’s doctrines and paradigms, to tacitly perpetuate his domination upon you through ideas of superiority and stereotypes by attending such an institution. . . Oxford is better, etc.])?

am I being elitist when I’m so angry, so angry at this ignorance?


broken_record I’m broken.

I’d been trying to avoid that conclusion. even when its staring me straight in the face. And I won’t look away now.

Like all good stories I should start at the beginning.

Reacting to people is an emotional response.

A statement of the obvious you say.

Me, I’m still learning it every day.

Since leaving London life has been about people. Meeting people. Liking. Disliking. Loving. Hating. I’ve experienced a wide range. I’ve watched a wide range.

It’s opened an array of emotional reactions to events and people that I’ve never had before. Of course I didn’t have them. I barely had emotional reactions before.

Now I can’t switch them off.

It’s liberating. The rules and limits don’t apply. Dethroning my head has shattered the chains of of reason. Knowing my emotions  allows me to define my experiences, not let my experiences define me. I can hear my intuition, and for the first time trust it.

I’m broken. I’m free.


Books say “She did this because.”

Life says “She did this.”

Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t. I’m not surprised that some people prefer books.

Books make sense.

The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people’s lives, never your own.

– Julian Barnes

Yusuf bhai mentioned this yesterday a couple of times. It’s an awesome bit of cultural fusion. Who knew lawyers could be so talented :p

After the historian Sean Malloy found chilling photographs of Hiroshima bombing victims in the archives of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, he vowed to resolve the mysterious origins of the film roll, which was found in a Japanese cave.

Instead, the new mystery is how academic researchers were duped into believing that grim photographs of the scattered remains of victims of a 1923 earthquake disaster outside Tokyo were scenes of the devastation from the first atomic bomb.

On Tuesday, the French daily Le Monde posted a lengthy correction after publishing two grainy black and white photographs Saturday of a pyramid of cadavers that it billed as: “Hiroshima: What the world never saw.”

The newspaper said the photographs, which were also newly published in the United States and Italy, were “probably not authentic.

Le Monde says disaster pictures weren’t of Hiroshima – International Herald Tribune

This would happen the very day after I  posted them here wouldn’t it.

At least now we know.


The Robert L. Capp collection at the Hoover Institution Archives contains ten never-before-published photographs illustrating the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing.

These photographs, taken by an unknown Japanese photographer, were found in 1945 among rolls of undeveloped film in a cave outside Hiroshima by U.S. serviceman Robert L. Capp, who was attached to the occupation forces.

Unlike most photos of the Hiroshima bombing, these dramatically convey the human as well as material destruction unleashed by the atomic bomb.

Pictures from Hiroshima

A contrast with my flippancy a while back.

The photos are disturbing .

There isn’t a better reminder of the horrors of nuclear weapons. Or the horror of war.

Go take a look.


 From here

FidelCastro The first legalised home computers have gone on sale in Cuba, but a ban remains on internet access.

This is the latest in a series of restrictions on daily life which President Raul Castro has lifted in recent weeks.


The desktop computers cost almost $800 (£400), in a country where the average wage is under $20 (£10) a month.

BBC NEWS | Americas | Cuba lifts ban on home computers

With its iconic revolutionary leader gone from power, well everyday power, its interesting to see how Raul Castro, the brother of the famous Fidel, is guiding the country.

The new tone is apparent in some respects. A gradual liberalisation, a trickle of freedoms. Most are consumer and consumption orientated, such as permitting the use of mobile phones and allowing Cubans to stay at the previously foreigner only resorts in Cuba.

One stands out for being more long term. This is allowing farmers to use fallow state land for crops, and to sell those crops on the market.

Since it seems unique, I wonder if food reform is a concession to the stratospheric world food prices rather than an experiment in the value of the Capitalist system.

I’m watching Cuba with interest because when Communist states liberalise the results tend to be interesting.

There was the dramatic near collapse of civil society in post USSR Russia due to rapid liberalisation. Energy prices prevented the threatened collapse of both the state and the market. Putin’s strong government helped as well.

In contrast there is the gradual transition combining authoritarian rule with market structures in China and Vietnam. Free markets feeding into developing middle classes, that seem on the whole politically inactive.

The other end of the scale, the short lived and quickly aborted free market dabbling that North Korea engaged in for a little while. Failed, probably because it was done at the wrong time, and without a coherent plan.

I suspect a strong tourist industry and remittances from expatriate Cubans will see Cuba a long way through any transition. They’re not as weak or isolated to anything like the degree that North Korea was when it began its ‘reforms’.

Also if things get to the stage where the US lifts sanctions, then Cuba is likely to get a real boost that should see it through the transition. That depends on the sanity and ability of the US administration, something that can’t be presumed nowadays.

chat A name zips out from the bottom, and appears prominently along the task bar of the browser.

As if that wasn’t dramatic enough, a little red bubble pops up next to the name, insistently telegraphing its need for attention.

This is Facebook Chat, which unless you’ve been living under ground for the last few weeks, you know about.

I used it for the first time yesterday to have a normal conversation like you would have on MSN or GTalk. Before that it was all short exchanges.

Facebook Chat is the 100M sprinter of IM. Its useless at going the distance.

As browser based chat, like using gchat from inside gmail, its vulnerable to user stupidity. Specifically, my stupidity. I’m in a browser instead of a chat window, and liable to surf away. Facebook chat which is more unobtrusive than gtalk is more prone to this.

Which leaves people talking to me in the lurch. People don’t like being left in the lurch. I don’t like leaving people in the lurch. Tis not polite.

Secondly, Facebook Chat is function light. Through integration with gmail, gchat lets you send messages that the person can read later as an email. MSN has something similar.

If you surf away from Facebook though and a person sends you a message, you don’t get it unless you return to Facebook quickly. Facebook chat doesn’t give you that margin of appreciation.

Finally there’s no way to archive a conversation. Gchat does this as part of your Gmail inbox, which is a smart integrated solution. MSN keeps local copies.  Facebook hasn’t gotten to that stage.

Not that these can’t happen, just that it hasn’t happened yet.

As a result given that the above are all features that every desktop client of worth has,  there needs to be a desktop client for Facebook chat.

This I concluded all by myself last night.

I’d like to think that I had some role, telepathically, in making that vision a reality, because when I ambled on to Techcrunch today morning, I was greeted with the desired result.

Apparently, an IM client that I’ve never heard of called Digsby has managed to integrate Facebook chat into its list of supported protocols.

I say apparently because Digsby is downloading at an utter snail’s pace. When it finishes, I’ll fire it up and see how it goes. As it truly is multiprotocol, I may even be able to get rid of all the other IM clients I now use, and simplify simplify simplify into one.

Watch this space.