Personal Retreat 2016 Day 6: INSPIRE

There are two types of museums which I really enjoy going. The artsy type that allowed me to peer into the mind of the artist, and the science type that can engage my intellectual mind. To me, the two usually come together quire implicitly. Simplistically speaking, you cannot talk about art without talking about the advancement of technology to produce an art piece, and, you cannot talk about science unless they are delivered in a manner which you can hear it, see it and touch it.

Seldom, they come together explicitly. The “Future World: Where Art Meets Science” and “Journey to Infinity: Escher’s World of Wonder” exhibits at the ArtScience Museum were two exceptional exhibits where science and arts held their hands with each other.

I’m so thankful that my friend, L, called me out to this museum trip. With her membership card, we even got to get in at half the price. This trip left lots of ‘aha’ moments in me which might guide me on my journey.


To Infinity and Beyond~!

I am most impressed with the works of Maurits Cornelis Escher. I am so so so impressed to the point that I put him among the ranks of the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Nikolas Tesla.

His biography describes him as a graphic artist. I think the term ‘polymath’ suited him better. A person who uses the law of Mathematics to break the law of nature. I’ve always thought that his works were some optical illusion puzzles. Now, I knew that they were Escher’s trademark ART x mathematics art pieces.

Where this exhibit really shined was that it took me through the different stages in Esher’s career, from his early works that were largely on architecture that help built the foundation to his artwork, to his unflagging experimentation on tessellation, evolving to his meticulous madness commitment to “metamorphosis” art forms and finally, this piece of work that combined all of what he had learnt about over 30 years. Still not quite his vision from what I understand, but close enough to me.

It was all presented in front of my eyes, how knowledge so disparate can be synergised and infused to a state that they became inseparable. In fact, should I say that arts and mathematics are not disparate at all but are one and the same?

His works were hope to me.A hope that someday I will be able to fuse all that knowledge in my mind to create something useful, something thought provoking for mankind too.

Escher showed me that there was a way to do this.

Personal Retreat 2016 Day 5: BIKE x nature

Day 5’s theme was (supposedly) nature. I got away from the busy city life to a place tuck away in an island in the east. Pulau Ubin, aka Singapore’s last kampung, a Malay word which meant ‘village’, an hour’s car journey and a bumboat ride away.

The original plan was to ride into the Ketam Mountain Bike Trail. In fact, now that I am checking my Facebook records, I didn’t realise that it was 7 years since I have visited Pulau Ubin.

You know that things are not going to go as plan don’t you?


$10 rental bikes for the entire day

Anyway, to summarise all in three points:

  • It was seven years since I’ve ride on a bicycle.
  • The trail was wet from the rainy season.
  • I wasn’t confident to go through the trail at all.

And it reminded me about my motorbike lessons.

I really thought that the ride was going to be easier. I struggled through the uphills and worried about the downhills (because what goes down must come up again!). At one point of time, I could have sworn I tried to choose what I wanted to blame this on.

Wet weather for the past few days?

On the bicycle only after seven years?


Getting old?

Or the fact that I’m not good enough for sports that includes everything from terrible hand-eye coordination, almost no ball sense and the case of butter fingers + tangled feet all in one?

I think I really need to get use to the fact that I’m not going to be good in everything and sports is one of them. And this is all fine! And not being good in sports should not mean that I cannot keep fit and I cannot enjoy sports with friends.

Hey, at least I got through the ride without having to push the bike through all the up slopes. That should qualify as an achievement in itself considered the fact that I wanted to give up too many times I supposed?


Personal Retreat 2016 Day 4: Hack

There are several home automation which I think I would like to do. Something that can open and close the curtains and the windows automatically or perhaps voiced controlled lights that responds to commands spoken in Mandarin. Just trying to buy a bit of convenience for my mum who likes perfection control over the curtains and the windows.

It is not until in the recent few years, with the widespread popularity of Internet of Things and home automation kit, these had become more achievable. The relatively accessibility of microcontrollers such as the Arduino, microcomputer such as the Raspberry Pi and recently, Amazon Echo Dot that has a supreme speech recognition system behind it. Nevertheless, it is still a pretty expensive affair trying to hack an automated curtain opener or closer.


An Arduino set augemented with the TinkerKit Shield that I borrowed from the school

It is in my genes to want to hack something together for quite some time. However, there are three things that will hold me back: a compelling use case, money and time.

Today’s different though. The stars had aligned at last!

  1. Compelling Use Case: Need to look for a replacement for that unstable cloudBits™ that I have been using in the Internet of Things class.
  2. Money: Lend a unit out from the school.
  3. Time: I think I need six hours but I have the entire day. In other words, plentiful.

The requirements for today’s hack is as follows:

  • Configure the Arduino so that it can connect through WiFi.
  • Control the actuators mounted on the Arduino via the Internet.
  • Read the sensors mounted on the Arduino via the Internet.
  • Use a Java programme to control the actuators and read the sensors mounted on the Internet.

And all the requirements are met in 3 hours, half the time I thought I would need!

One hard thing I learnt about myself is that I always seems to be underestimating the amount of time I need to hack new technologies together. This occured too many times, tracing back to school days, often over estimating the amount of time I need by two-fold. Yet, I couldn’t help but build that buffer zone for myself, in case things gone wrong.

And what’s wrong with that you are asking?

Time is one of the factor that will hold me back to do something. If I deemed that I am going to need 6 hours to accomplish this hack, I’m not going to feel motivated to begin on the project unless I have about 6 hours to begin with.

Looks like aside from hacking geeky stuff together, I better learn how to hack into my mind to just do it.

Personal Retreat 2016 Day 3: PLAY

A full day of proper board gaming at last, after many “Let’s postpone it till Jan sessions”, not unexpected for a busy holiday season.

The biggest difference this time was that we will be playing my creation, the very first board game that I’ve ever designed. Nothing too complicated, just pulled together a few game elements which I like, an economy-driven score track that players can control and conflict of objectives for some bit of chaos where gaining something means losing something. An abstract game where the “weather” theme doesn’t matter but more for a bit of entertainment and cohesiveness to guide the thinking process.


Play testing a game that I have designed

And it sounded interesting!

And it failed the play test quite miserably!

“But hey, you succeeded in your objectives! I do feel quite conflicted!”

“And there’s definitely a lot of chaos”

“And maybe there’s a very difficult strategy to play this game that we have not discovered yet”

The other three of my board game brothers took their turns to have a spike at the game with a tongue in their cheeks.

I didn’t know failing can be that fun! I guess I’m really walking into this without much expectation. More of a wait and see about how the game unfolds. It was quite funny seeing how the game degenerated into this vicious cycle where one player was trying to shift the score track up and the next will just destroy the score track.

Board game creation is a lot of fun for me because it made use of a wide variety of skills. Firstly, out of the box thinking is required to pull the entire game together in a coherent manner, modifying a bunch of classic game mechanics at your disposal or otherwise it will become another Monopoly. Creativity to put some theme into the game, tell a story about the game. Logical thinking to put the rules together and see if certain actions make sense at all. Empathy to understand what is the “fun factor” for different types of players. Art and crafting to build the prototype.

It is pretty much like how I used to write music. Plenty of gut feel and emotion feeling stuff to start the process and using a wide variety of technical skills to put everything together.

I wonder if it sounded to you that I belong to a bunch of versatile generalists. For one thing, that is how my boss describes me. He said that I would need to specialise in order to move upwards. However, I got to know that this seems to be a problem with the INTJ profile, a rare 2% breed of people in the world. Apparently, two of my buddies are INTJs too (How coincidental considered there’s only 2 of us in every 100 people). They faced very similar problems as I do. And it always feels a bit more comforting to know that they are in this with me.

Whatever the case, I’m terribly sure of my strengths and my skills. My greatest skill is to synergise different skills together to make new ones.

Don’t call me an Engineer as I’m not just an Engineer.

Don’t call me an Artist or a Musician as that’s a narrow view of what I do.

I’m an Artigineer. And I happen to be an educator too.

Personal Retreat 2016 Day 2: Family

Day 2’s is about the family, or rather, in particular, Mum deserves a holiday every now and then so I straight away knew that this should be part of the itinerary.

It’s always shopping mall hopping and attempting to get the cheapest deals, and it’s always me persuading my mum to go for a somewhat slightly more expensive coffee and food. Partly because I do not like the hassle of queuing for seats in the local food court, and I really think it is alright to splurge slightly once in a while.


Enjoying coffee at ToastBox.

I’m not really the shopping for clothes sort of person either. I keep myself entertained for a while looking at suits and shirts but every time I look at the price tag of a piece of clothing that interest me, they easily cost $239 for a blazer or $89.90 for a shirt! Talking about expensive taste.

In the meanwhile, Mum would be at the ladies department. And ever so often, I would stroll over to the ladies department to see that she was still there, just to check out what she is getting. Something that I’ve been doing ever since I’m a child. She usually restrained herself from buying much; well… money has been getting harder to come by these days.

Dinner is often a reminiscence about her younger days, days where the family is really really poor and she and Dad were full time hawkers, selling food to the masses earning a living. We turned into food critiques, discussing about whether the restaurant had been using the freshest ingredients or what that could be done to make things tastier. Sometimes I wondered if the waiters are going to be annoyed by us.

One last thing that I would always do is to really observe my mum’s faced. If you have never observed your loved ones faces in details, I think you should do it as soon as you can.

Looking at the smoothness of her face and the contrasting deepening wrinkles.

Looking at the disappearing scar on her forehead from the recent serious fall she had.

Looking at myself in her genes.

No longer quite the superwoman I used to know as well.

After all that, I’ve come to a realisation.

These ordinary times together are really the ones to be treasured. More so than the special times together.

Personal Retreat 2016 Day 1: WORK

Personal Retreat 2016 begins! Day 1’s theme is WORK.

I suited up, grabbed my suitcase and off I went! Announced to the entire world that I’m going on this retreat through Facebook.

Many of my friends scolded me for working on my official leave and I’m really doing this in a big way! As how one of my friends puts it, “You wear a tie and shirt when you’re on leave?!”.

But hey! I always wanted to work in the Central Business District. The thought of working among the professionals excites me. I could really see myself dressing up for work everyday, grabbing the suitcase and trotting along the streets where the pulse of Singapore economy beats.

As an 18-year-old young man, I had my one and only 7-day experience as a dispatch boy with the Moscow Narodyn Bank. The 10-floor building no longer exists today, in its place a luxurious suite, that tall thin building on the left in the picture below.


Lau Pat Sat at the Central Business District. Brought back some memories of working here as a young man…

I’m very glad I came over to do this!

For one thing, I didn’t realise how productive I could be in a cafe with two cups of coffee. I set myself three groups of tasks to complete and I completed 95% of them. I wonder why can’t I be that productive in office. Truth being said, I guess it was the pressure of spending long hours in the cafe under the scrutiny of the waiters on duty, I got obliged to buy a second cup of Long Black after the Flat White for myself. Nevertheless, it has been a long time since I proved myself I can accomplish a task that I’ve assigned myself. Very small you may think, very important to me.

I am also thankful for the many friends who message me and said that they wanted to meet me. Of course, there is the preplanned lunch with my buddy, R, despite his busy schedule still squeeze a good 30 minutes to have a Mac with me. There’s also J who tried to arrange to meet me but time did not permit in the end. A fellow toastmaster, L, who we are planning a trip in the later stages of my retreat (stay-tuned). YW who tried to catch me for lunch and later coffee but alas, I was too engrossed with work. And there’s KX who met me for dinner.

Finally, the sheer coincidence that fate has given me to spend hours catching up with many other friends while waiting for dinner after work whom I just met coincidentally on the way. Just to let you understand how coincidental this was:

  • I was ready to leave for my 7.30pm dinner appointment at 5.30pm when I bump into G, another toastmaster friend who said that he had time to spent till 6.30pm. We walked and chatted about his research into Table Topics and human behaviour at great length.
  • So he left at 6.30pm and I hopped on the train, meeting my ex-colleague YC who was travelling in the same direction.It was a short catch up but a good one. He is one of those friends who you are not quite sure when will you be meeting again.
  • I dropped off the MRT station with close to 45 minutes to spare before my 7.30pm appointment, lo and behold, my student who was on internship was waiting for his friends as well and their dinner appointment was also at 7.30pm!

Really, what sort of coincidence is that?


The Annual Personal Retreat: Prelude

There are reasons why I don’t go overseas for a vacation often. I found myself over-planning, including segments of time where I plan not to plan. Budget is also another factor.

In less than 48 hours, I will be on my longest official leave ever since I’ve started teaching about four years ago. And it coincides with the time of the year where I make short retreats to do goal-setting.

I know these 8 days which includes the Christmas holidays will fly by. I know I definitely will still need to spend sometime working from home. However, I’m determine to make this 8 days worthwhile, with ample of fun and rest in the midst of work.

Perhaps I should pepper it with cheap thrills along the way!

Edit (2016-12-30):

Below is the complete set of journal articles I wrote regarding Personal Retreat 2016: