Every day it gets a little easier…

A couple days ago, I watched the season finale of BoJack Horseman season 2, and the final scene really struck a chord with me. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t really consider this a spoiler. If you haven’t seen BoJack Horseman, it’s a cartoon centred around BoJack, a Hollywood celeb who struggles with issues like insecurity and self-doubt. It’s pretty relatable, except for the fact that he is a horse.

So the season starts off with BoJack going for a run and basically whinging about how awful it feels. In the scene, an old baboon jogs past him almost effortlessly. Throughout the season, we occasionally see the old baboon jog past BoJack’s house. Also, we no longer see BoJack running because he pretty much gave up after the first run.

In the final scene of season 2, we see that BoJack has picked himself up (ish) and is going for a run again, whinging like the first time. On the top of the hill, he collapses on the grass, and we get these 2 lines of beautiful dialogue:

Jogging Baboon: Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day — that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.

BoJack: Okay.

You can watch the short scene here, and if you’re confused as to why a baboon is talking to a horse, maybe watch a trailer or something. But coming back to the topic, the baboon’s words in a way, really encouraged me.

Thus far in 2022, I’ve been struggling with building good habits and breaking old, not-so-good ones. Even the simplest things like sleeping and waking up early. We’re one third into 2022 and I’m literally no better off than I was at the start of the year when it comes to my sleep schedule. Last week on the train, I overheard some people talking about this thing called Reverse Bedtime Procrastination, and that’s exactly what I have been doing! It’s the primary reason why I struggle with sleeping early.

The baboon’s words were simple but effective. It made so much sense and it rang true to me. Committing to a habit every day is hard, but with each passing day, it gets easier. The knowledge that if I commit to it today, it will get slightly easier tomorrow, is just immensely encouraging and heartening to me.

Thank you Jogging Baboon :’)

Not an emo post

If there is an experience that is common to all humankind, I would say it is suffering. I wouldn’t go as far as to say “existence is suffering”, but you don’t have to be an anti-natalist to agree that life can be hard sometimes and everyone goes through difficult times every now and then. So yeah, if you’re a human, suffering is kinda unavoidable. But wait, I promise I didn’t bring this up just to depress you. I’d like to explore how the Stoics and Christians respond to suffering and the similarities between them.

To the Stoics, suffering or obstacles in life provide you with an opportunity to practice your philosophy and Stoic virtues. After all, what is the point of Stoicism if your life is perfect and you’re perpetually happy? If you’re never rattled in life, there’s no need for Stoicism at all! Can you really call yourself a Stoic if you never have to practice your philosophy? Stoicism is easy to read about, but difficult to put into practice. And so, as Marcus Aurelius says, count yourself lucky if things don’t go your way, for you now have the chance to really be a Stoic!

I hear you say “How unlucky that this should happen to me!” Not at all! Say insted, “How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

To the Christians, suffering is also a part and parcel of life, and the appropriate response to suffering is, well, to rejoice. As counterintuitive as it might sound, it’s not asking you to be a masochist, but rather you can rejoice because of the benefit it provides. Like character building for instance. Or in my case, as a student, after each semester of suffering, I emerge stronger and a little bit smarter (hopefully). The apostle Paul puts it very nicely:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope

Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)

I think both the Stoics and Christians will agree that counting yourself lucky or rejoicing in your suffering is more than just a coping mechanism for difficult times. Instead, these responses are deeply rooted in reason if you truly embody your philosophy or faith. But of course, that’s not to say it’s easy to respond in such a manner. It’s definitely a struggle for me, so I guess I’m writing this as a note-to-self more than anything.


And as usual, I’m terrible at concluding my posts but, thanks for reading my first post of 2022!

2021 in review

Well, here we are again at the end of yet another year. As the year draws to a close, I tend to feel more introspective. So my ideal new year’s eve is really to just chill out at home, have a couple of drinks, dwell on my thoughts and see where the reflection takes me. Free-form reflecting will probably get messy real quick, so what I’ll try to do is to kind of carve out different sections of my life and review each one individually.

Financials

2021 is probably the year that I’ve spent the most money. I bought several big-ticket items, many of which I would justify as “essential”, but the fact is I did spend a lot of money. Yes, I have expensive hobbies, like brewing coffee, custom keyboards and climbing, just to name a few. And I think spending money on hobbies and things that make you happy is great but it’s also important to be financially responsible. I am acutely aware of my lifestyle creep over the past year, and that’s definitely something I want to slow down as much as possible.

Expenses aside, 2021 is also the year that I’ve invested the most money into the stock markets. I’m not gonna go too much into that, but I’m generally pleased with my investment strategy thus far and while it’s far from the fastest method of building wealth, I think I’m on the right track and I’m in for the long term.

Physical

Physically, I doubt I’m in a better condition than I was at the start of the year. If anything I probably have zero cardiovascular stamina now. Gymming consistently has been a real struggle with the many disruptions throughout the year, such as crazy busy schedules and the numerous vaccinations.

Although, I have gotten a little better at climbing. I looked back at some of my climbing videos from the start of the year and wow, a full year of climbing has reaped surprisingly fewer improvements than expected. I started the year being pretty comfortable with V3s and was pushing into V4s. And now I would say I’m currently pretty comfortable with V4s, and I’m hoping to push into V5s next year. Grades-wise a little underwhelming, but I can definitely see improvements in my technique and route-reading. Climbing has been a wonderful experience in the past 1.5 years and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon!

Relational

Well, this is still a public blog and I doubt anyone wants to read about my personal relationships with individuals, so there won’t be any of that here. However, I do want to reflect on a bad habit that I think has been left unchecked this year – slow replies. As some of you might know, when it comes to conversations that are not time-critical, I can take a while to reply.

The initial rationale behind this was the concept of “batching”. Think about laundry, and how we do laundry in batches. We don’t wash each article of clothing right after we change out of it, because it’s simply more efficient to do it batch by batch. Similarly, it’s not really efficient, from a productivity standpoint, to reply all texts, even the non-critical ones, immediately upon receiving them. So once every couple of days, I would batch reply my unread texts. As the year went on, for various reasons, texting became more of a chore for me. I would often be too tired or lazy to reply messages and it resulted in me often taking a week or more to reply my texts.

Obviously, this is not doing any favours for my relationships with others. So, I do want to try and be more intentional in my conversations with others, even if it’s over text.

Mental

2021 has revealed a lot about my mental health. I found out that I do struggle with anxiety. There were a few times where I felt extremely overwhelmed by my anxiety when I was under a lot of stress. I don’t think I really know how to cope with the anxiety, but I’ve identified the root cause, which is stress due to having too much on my plate. Somehow or rather I have many opportunities that come my way (which I’m thankful for), and in a bid to better myself and build my portfolio, I feel inclined to say yes to as many things as possible. However, that often results in me stretching myself too thinly and stressing myself out. So one thing I’m trying to get better at is simply saying no to things. Know my limits and manage my workload responsibly, so I don’t put myself under unnecessary stress and anxiety.


2021 you’ve been alright.

Despite this being a pretty long post, it’s actually a pretty concise roundup of some of my reflections. There are a lot more things I have been reflecting on, but alas, I should probably keep them for another post. No promises though. All-in-all, 2021 has been pretty alright. There were a few disappointments along the way, from covid and whatnot, but in retrospect, there were a lot of things for me to be proud of as well.

Moving forward, like it or not, I think covid is here to stay for a while. So I want to move away from the mindset that covid is “taking away” the prime years of my youth. While the covid situation is not within my control, my response to it is. So I’m gonna stop using covid as an excuse for things, and strive to make the best use of my youth. Wish me luck, and here’s to a better 2022!

Dune (2021)

Ah, Dune. I remember the first time watching it in the cinema (yes, I watched it twice). It was literally a jaw-dropping experience, and I remember so many times during the movie where I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and shake my head in disbelief and amazement. I absolutely loved it.

I guess this is a movie review, but don’t worry I’ll keep it spoiler-free.

Before I begin, I think it’s important to note that I did read the book many years back. Some of the details are a little fuzzy to me, but I remember enough about the story to understand the overarching politics of Dune. Furthermore, there is a ton of terminology within the Dune universe which would make no sense to new audiences, such as Lisan al Gaib, Gom jabbar or Bene Gesserit, just to name a few. I too struggled to get through the first half of the book due to the sheer number of new words I had to learn. Therefore, I want to preface that I came into this movie with much more context and understanding than the average movie-goer.

There’s definitely a bit of a steep learning curve at the beginning of the movie, but I think Denis Villeneuve and Hans Zimmer has done an amazing job of breaking it down as much as possible through the storytelling, cinematography and soundtrack.

Firstly, the cinematography in the movie is just beautiful. Nearly every scene is wallpaper material. Apart from the aesthetics, one of the things that struck me immediately during the movie was the scale of things. There were so many scenes that really emphasised the massiveness of the location and spacecraft. As a human, you just feel dwarfed by everything. Though it is a sci-fi movie, minimal attention was spent on what typical sci-fi movies liked to focus on, such as futuristic technology, spacecraft and what not. Instead, the casual nonchalance the movie has towards the insane looking spacecraft and mindboggling technology really makes you believe that you are in the far future. Set in year 10,191, such technology shouldn’t feel like such a big deal, after all, these should be just everyday things by then.

Next, the visual effects were really well done. They were often used to enhance the experience rather than create the experience. The lighting and camera work was believable and realistic. Apparently, they also opted to use “sand screens”, which were sand-coloured screens, instead of green screens. This way, the light reflected onto the characters and objects on the scene was brownish rather than green. They also used a ton, or rather many tons, of real sand in course of filming the movie.

Lastly, the score by Hans Zimmer was nothing short of phenomenal. This man is an actual genius. The score isn’t just immersive. It doesn’t just send chills down your spine. It was actually used as a storytelling tool. The score and sound design enhance the feeling of being in a distant, almost alien, future. Like many movies, each entity or character in the show had a theme. But for some entities, Zimmer opted for sounds without a melody. As without a melody, it became much easier for Zimmer to overlay themes of different entities within a certain scene. I say this is a storytelling tool, as the overlaying of themes in the background provides an unspoken way of conveying influences or deeper meanings behind a scene. This really helps, in a very subtle way, break down and hint at the complex politics of Dune.

To end off, Dune is a masterpiece. It’s a beautiful experience to watch, listen and immerse yourself into. This is sci-fi done right, and I sincerely hope that it becomes the Star Wars of my generation. My only regret? Not watching it in IMAX.


I’m no expert at visual effects or music and sound design, so a lot of the information from this post was from Thomas Flight’s videos on Dune. I highly recommend giving them a watch, after you’ve seen the movie of course.

  1. Why is Dune’s Score Like That?
  2. Why Dune’s Visual Effects Feel So Different

Sanity check

It’s been almost 4 months since my last post, and believe me, this was not by choice. This past semester has been an intense and very trying one. It’s actually not over yet, but things are finally easing up and so I figured why not do a quick sanity check.

I really did not expect the semester to be this busy. I had even made sure not to take up any side-jobs, and I remember thinking this semester should be pretty chill since all I had to do was focus on school. And focus on school I did! So much that for the past months my life revolved excessively around my school work. Writing wasn’t the only hobby that got put on hold. I could barely make time to climb, read or even just hang out with friends.

Of course, this semester was not all bad. There were a few unexpected surprises and achievements along the way. Firstly, I took a module titled Creativity, Culture and Media and it was the most abstract thing ever, but also really interesting and eye-opening in many ways. I went into this module alone, not knowing anyone, and the random partner I was assigned decided to drop the module in week 3. That turned out to be pretty great because I got reassigned to a new group where I made two new wonderful friends!

I also managed to build two different projects as part of another module. The first was Who’s Who?, a guess who icebreaker game inspired by Empires. It was my first time building a real-time game on the web so I definitely learnt a lot from it and I’m glad it turned out pretty well. Next up was NUSAbroad, a companion app for NUS students applying for exchange. This went beyond the scope of just a school project, for my team and I treated it like an actual product which we hoped to see succeed. We built, tested and launched it to the public like how we would launch an actual product. It gained a fair bit of traction, and in fact, we’re now in the midst of discussing future plans with the school!

All things considered, it has been a very fulfilling semester. But if you were to ask if I would do it again, my answer would be no. Not because I regret doing the modules I did, but that I would probably have spaced them out instead of doing them all in the same semester. I’m not afraid of hard work, but I do very much value a work-life balance, and that is something I’ve been made painfully aware of in the past months.

Loki and Leibniz

Having watched the season finale of Loki, I couldn’t help but notice some parallels with Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” theory. Obviously, there are massive spoilers ahead, so turn back now if you’ve yet to catch up on the series. If you have not started, I do recommend giving it a watch. It’s really well produced and has Tom Hiddleston in it. Need I say more?

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was, among other things, a great philosopher who lived during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Leibniz formed his argument on the best of all possible worlds, as a response to the problem of evil. The problem of evil goes something like this: If there exists an all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good God, why do evil and suffering exist in the world?

Leibniz’s answer to this was that the world we currently live in is already the best of all possible worlds that God could have created. He argues that if God is all-knowing and all-powerful, he would have known, out of all possible worlds, which was the best, and if he is perfectly good, he would choose to create the best world. Therefore, the world we live in must be the best of all possible worlds.

Now you might think, well, if I can imagine a world with less evil and suffering in it, wouldn’t that mean this is not the best of all possible worlds? And to that Leibniz would ask, how would you really know that the world you imagined is less evil? For instance, let’s imagine a world where 9/11 didn’t happen. We can’t be certain that there is less evil in that world, because perhaps 9/11 spurred the world to be more vigilant against terrorism, preventing a worse attack in the future. Or we could imagine a world where thirst does not exist. Sure there might be less suffering in such a world, but that world also loses the enjoyment and pleasure of drinking an iced cold bottle of water when one is thirsty on a hot summer day.

Okay, what do all these have to do with Loki? Well in Loki, we had the TVA protecting the one Sacred Timeline. They do this by pruning or resetting people who veered off their supposed paths, therefore turning into “variants”. Dealing with the variants, prevented the Sacred Timeline from branching out into alternate timelines. Who determines the Sacred Timeline or the “manages the proper flow of time”, is Kang, He Who Remains. He claims that if not for the Sacred Timeline, his other less benevolent variants would try to conquer the multiverse and chaos would ensue.

Similarly, it’s not as though the Sacred Timeline was perfect and free of evil and suffering. Both Loki and Sylvie suffered because they were deemed as variants for deviating from their “right” path. But as Kang explained in the finale, that’s the gambit. Do they kill Kang and restore “free will” to the people, or do they help him preserve the Sacred Timeline, and accept that even though there is suffering, it is already the best of all possible worlds?

It’s a really interesting moral dilemma and I’m sure we can all guess which choice Leibniz would pick in this scenario.

Man, I can’t wait for season 2.

Rediscovering boredom

No, I am not poking fun at the Rediscover vouchers, and I ought to use them soon really. Instead, I’m wondering if I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be bored. With the internet in our pockets, being preoccupied has become the new default state of being. Doing “nothing”, now feels uncomfortable and strange, and within moments, we feel the pull and gravitate towards whatever can occupy our time in that instant. Anything but doing nothing.

That’s basically me. I’m always finding something to occupy myself, no matter how mindless it is. When I’m travelling, I’m on my phone, I listen to music or I (very rarely) read a book. In my downtime at home I browse the interwebs, binge YouTube and Netflix, or play games. Sometimes I would rather do these mindless things, than simply have an early night. There rarely are any pockets of time where I’m not actively or passively engaged in something. Does that mean boredom is dead? Has entertainment and leisure triumphed?

Well, not quite. To no one’s surprise really, boredom is still a thing.

Today when we talk about boredom, the conversation is usually something along the lines of “Yeah Instagam is so boring”, “There’s nothing to watch on Netflix” or my personal favourite, “I’m bored but I don’t wanna do _____”. So it turns out that these things which we have been using to combat the boringness of doing nothing, is more often than not, just as boring. Who would’ve thought?

But why are trying to so hard to combat boredom anyway? Is boredom really such a bad thing? I would assume too much of it is not a good sign, but perhaps the little pockets of boredom littered throughout the day are not as bad as we make them out to be.

So, here’s what I propose, for myself at least. The next time I’m bored, I’m going to… do nothing. Okay not exactly do nothing. I can do many things. Get lost in thought. Be present in the moment and take in my surroundings. Look up at the sky and stars, you can actually see them sometimes! Sure at times, my mind wanders to a place of anxiety and worry, but I don’t think distraction is a good cure. I’ve found that what worked for me, was dwelling a little longer in my thoughts and walking myself through these thoughts rationally. But I digress.

As a start, I’m going to stop listening to music while travelling, because I guess that is still passively entertaining me in a way. Instead, I will focus wholeheartedly on my noble pursuit of doing nothing. Wish me luck.

“I do not dream of labour”

There has been a new trend on YouTube recently (and yes, I clearly spend too much time on YouTube). More and more YouTubers are posting videos titled along the lines of “I do not dream of labour” or “I do not have a dream job”, and it has certainly piqued my interest. I took a peek at a couple, and most seem to have a similar narrative. As a very very generalised summary, here’s how the videos usually go:

These YouTubers, mostly women, have taken a rather “traditional” path in their lives. They’ve done well in school, made it to a university, did well in university, and got a good job at a reputable firm. To many, it would seem like they have made it, they got a great start to their adult life and are living the dream. But after hustling at their 9-5 job for a while, they realised this dream life was not what they had thought it would be. To put it bluntly, they didn’t get much joy or meaning out of the work that they were doing, and they started to question the concept of labour. Why do we have to work? Do we live to work or work to live? Who is our work really benefitting?

Questions like these led them to one answer: Capitalism. The notion of a dream job or dream career, where one is encouraged to get a good job and then hustle and climb the ranks, is not one that has the individual’s interests at heart. Instead, it can be seen as one that is really good at producing hardworking and productive workers, and ultimately benefiting the company.

At this point, they start painting capitalism out to be the enemy, pointing out its flaws and explaining how it’s an oppressive or exploitative system. Some offer tips on how to, in a sense, resist capitalism. Others try to offer solutions, very Tim Ferriss-esque solutions, like starting an online business or be your own boss, which I personally don’t think is relevant to most.

I completely understand their sentiments on capitalism and they’re not wrong about its flaws. Believe me, I wrote a 3000-word essay last semester on reification in modern capitalist societies, covering topics like the commodification and reification of labour. So yes, I know that capitalism has its flaws and that labour under a capitalistic system can alienate one from their work.

But I guess this is where our views diverge because I’m kinda on the fence about capitalism. I think it’s undeniable that modern capitalism has brought about significant progress in fields of science, technology and healthcare, just to name a few. A lot of the privileges that we have today, were made possible by capitalism. Furthermore, as someone who puts their money in the stock market, an instrument of the capitalist system, I find it kinda ironic, and slightly hypocritical if I were to denounce capitalism.

Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that more and more people are growing dissatisfied with the system and are starting to see the cracks. I think these videos are great as they get people to think critically and question the system and the norms we’ve been raised to accept. While we may not have a better system in mind, as always, questioning is the first step in the right direction.

On Interracial Marriage

I chanced upon this video by Alice Cappelle earlier today on the politics of interracial relationships in Pocahontas, which was an excellent well-researched video as her videos usually are. Her video really got me thinking a little more on the topic, especially with the recent racist incident involving an interracial couple in Singapore, which I’m sure most of us are aware of by now.

Perhaps for many of us, what we know about Pocahontas mainly comes from the 1995 Disney animated movie. Well, at least that was the case for me. Little did I know that the movie was based on a true story about the life of a Native American woman, Pocahontas. In the movie, Pocahontas married John Smith, and in reality, Pocahontas married John Rolfe. While their names are different, both Johns were white colonisers. So their marriage might just be America’s very first interracial marriage between a Native American and a white American.

In her video, Alice explained that there were probably more factors apart from just love, which led to their marriage. One of these factors was diplomacy. Pocahontas was aware of the growing tensions between both parties and she understood that this marriage could be a means to ease tensions and create a space for more communication and compromise between both parties. Other than that, of course, she was also initially kidnapped by the colonisers, so Stockholm syndrome possibly? Well, if you ask me, I’d like to believe it was true love.

Pocahontas aside, Alice also mentioned that in the 19th century, while Thomas Jefferson was president, one of the strategies he envisioned to deal with the “Indian Problem” was forced assimilation through marriage. So, interracial marriages back then probably wasn’t too motivated by love either.

Circling back to interracial marriage in the modern-day, I think we’ve come a long way. I think we’re fortunate enough to live in a society where interracial marriages are not driven by external factors such as diplomacy or forced assimilation. And in most societies, it’s almost not taboo anymore. Which is great! I think it’s a big deal that interracial marriages today can be, first and foremost, based on love.

On Authenticity

As mentioned in my previous post, I took a philosophy module last semester, Introduction to Continental Philosophy. Sure it was tough trying to wrap my head around some of their concepts, but it was also really interesting to explore the different perspectives that these philosophers had. Since I’ve spent a fair bit of effort and brainpower on them, I figured I might as well pen down some of the more interesting concepts before I completely forget everything.

Among the five philosophers we were introduced to, there were two who had their own notions on authenticity, namely Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. But first, a humble disclaimer: I definitely do not fully understand Heidegger and Sartre’s works, so this is really just my take on them, which is hopefully not too far off the mark.


For Heidegger, before we can talk about authenticity, we first need to understand what he calls Dasein, which refers to us actually. Simply put, Dasein is an entity that is able to recognise its own being. Unlike other entities, like a rock, a chair, or even other animals, we are able to ponder upon and pose the question of our existence. According to Heidegger, Dasein does not initially distinguish itself from the rest of the world, which he refers to as “being-in-the-world”.

This is where his concept of authenticity comes in. The inauthentic Dasein is unable to distinguish himself from the rest of the world and so bases his identity on the words and opinions of others. On the other hand, the authentic Dasein, who has distinguished himself from the world, understands that his existence belongs to no one other than himself, and likewise his identity. I guess in a way, Heidegger is saying that to really be yourself, you must understand that your existence is yours alone, and no matter what others think or say of you, they are not you and so it doesn’t define you.

Moving on to Sartre, let us first take a look at his concept of bad faith. We fall into bad faith when chose to believe something that we know is not exactly true. For example, when we convince ourselves that we have no other options. According to Sartre, this is never really the case. Deep down we know that we are free and we have other options, but yet we choose to not acknowledge the fact because acknowledging it would lead to one of two outcomes. We either go ahead and explore the other options or stick with our current situation and acknowledge that we’re doing nothing about it. So this denial is kind of like a coping mechanism of sorts.

What does this have to do with authenticity? Well, authenticity can be seen as the opposite of bad faith. The authentic individual chooses not to deceive themselves, acknowledging that they are not bound by their circumstance and that perhaps they are freer than they have might let themselves believe initially.


I brought up their concepts of authenticity, as I’ve found them really helpful in providing more food for thought when it comes to answering the big questions like purpose and meaning. Also, don’t you find these concepts kind of Stoic as well? Anyway, let us end off with a quote from Sartre himself, which hopefully piques your curiosity a little.

Existence precedes essence.

Jean-Paul Sartre