Singapore's Polish influence

Not many may have heard about Polish architect, Krystyn Olszewski, but reports and feedback from peers indicate to me that he played a huge part in shaping Singapore's built environment in its formative years. Consider these:

  • First came to Singapore in 1968 at the invitation of then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
  • Was a member of a United Nations team of consultants to the State and City Planning Office and was appointed chief designer of Singapore's Comprehensive Long-Term Concept Plan. The plan was officially announced in 1971 and most of its fundamental proposals have since been successfully implemented, leading to Singapore as we know it now.
  • Spent 15 active years of his professional career in Singapore and contributed to the Singapore's early Concept Plan from the comprehensive long-term city plan for the island's development to the local project of the Singapore Science Park and the design details of the first MRT stations. The main features of the plan can be found on the map drawn and signed by Mr Olszewski in 1969.
  • On April 9, 1971, The Straits Times quoted Mr Olszewski as a stern advocate of moving the international airport to Changi, in expectation of rapid development of air traffic and the airport's growth.

So, should the SG50 Committee acknowledge Mr Olszewski as one of our Pioneers? Or as suggested by the Polish Ambassador in the ST article,  "I believe that, for example, a street in the city centre that he helped to reshape - or one of the MRT stations that he designed - could be named after him, even if his Polish surname seems difficult to pronounce."

Article at Straits Times


Dementia in the city

This article at Bloomberg explored the difficulties of an urbanite who had to take care of her mom who is suffering from dementia in Tokyo. As her mom has a strong urge to go out of the house (to the point of resorting to violence if denied), Akiko one day decided to let her mom, Asayo, wander around.

After that first walk, something remarkable happened. As Asayo rediscovered her freedom, her anger disappeared and her mood lightened. She was laughing, flirting with strangers and regaling her daughter’s friends with tales of her youth.

Akiko started off following closely behind her mom but eventually embraced the support of her local urban community; the businesses, restaurants, policemen, who help to look out for Asayo.

It's an interesting story about how the urban community got together to support one of theirs. Also, I start to wonder how the experience of a dementia sufferer and its caregiver in a dense and complex urban environment, would be different from one in a slightly less dense one.

Restoring Balance

Like opening a cupboard to a universe where a lion is a god and a mouse wields a sword, The Fridge Door is the portal through which a magical world exists — one where the laws of decay and flow of time is suspended. Food simply sits there, immobile, enjoying a prolonged right to live. Often bountiful, you may even discover the gift from a distant angel who have bestowed ready-to-consume food on you. There is also a legend that food will magically appear in between the seconds of opening and re-opening the door but that is an experience that still eludes me no matter how many times I try.

However, not everything deserves to live in this Neverland for food. The worthiness of every unconsumed and semi-consumed food sitting on the shelves of that artificially-cooled universe deserves to be questioned and I, am the question. If I was in a covert intelligence group, they would probably call me “The Cleaner” — the man who will hunt down and finish off the food that have overstayed their welcome so that the sanctity and balance of The Fridge is maintained. I am the man they call in to commit fridge genocide.

With the ruling Minister of Kitchen (because we are a democracy), my Mrs, away for most of the month on a research trip, a window of opportunity to do some “cleaning” presented itself. I had time, but everything takes longer than it should be and I wanted to be thorough.

The Fridge Door was opened, the cool wind emanated from the depths of the Fridge and dissolved into the tropical air. The boundary between the two worlds disappeared.

I scanned each compartment, mentally made notes and planned a strategy for my attack. I sensed the trembling of their souls within their motionless self. I took them out of the fridge, one by one, and demanded to see their expiry papers.

“Good. Good. Still good. Oh look at this! You my friend, have expired. *Trash*”, I said almost mechanically without emotion. The sorting has begun.

“You’re fine, move along. You, nope. You right there, hold on.” And at that moment, somewhere on earth, a little cabbage gulped.

“You are good before when? Yesterday?”
*Visual examination*
“You sure you are still ok? What is this brown thing I see over here? Well you’re lucky I’m in a good mood today Sir so I’m going to cook you for lunch today. But you on the other hand…”, as I shifted my attention to the single slice of moldy bread, “Your time is up. I’m here to put you where you belong.”

This went on for a while with the three clear piles forming: “To Trash”, “To consume in the next few days” and “To continue storing till a future time”. New food discoveries were made and perishables tethering on the edge of their lifespan ended up as food to save them from their misery. Small portions were consumed expeditiously so as to make room for new additions and I could once again see the back of The Fridge.

As I cleared the last bit of the top chiller shelf, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I felt a renewed consciousness for the finite time that every piece of food have and I wanted to ensure they are treated in the best possible way. Then, I looked at the trash and a little bit of guilt surfaced. If only I had consumed them earlier or I haven’t bought them, they wouldn’t be facing this fate. For a moment, it felt like there was a metaphor there somewhere but I can’t seem to figure it out.

With a final glance to the now neatly organized universe of stored food, I shut the door behind me and the lights automatically turned itself off. The balance of The Fridge has been restored. It is time to go grocery shopping.

The Coffeeshop

The light streaming down from the skylight above lends an uplifting spirit to my morning cup of coffee. I am hunched over my device, like the 15 other people around me, everyone looking into their own personal windows to the world. She tapped on the glass surface of her phone and a faint smile breaks on her face. She then perched her glasses on her head to take a closer look at the screen and her smile widens. I reckon she must be looking at photographs of her grandchild who has grown up too fast. It felt like she was only born last week. Meanwhile, a riot is breaking, a story unfolding and the man beside me has a concerned look on his face as he scrolls through the disturbing images. Love and war exists in the same space like parallel universes.

As the queue for morning coffee snakes longer, the kitchen crew seems to be moving a bit faster. Their order calls are getting snappier and sharper. The murmurs from the customers start to get louder. The man with the luminous running shoes is having none of it, shutting it all out with the help of the white earbuds and checking out how many likes he has on his last shared link.

I hear English, Mandarin, its’ hybrids and in various accents. I consider the richness of language I’m hearing at the coffee shop today and ponder future sounds as new words are added to the vocabulary and new forms of communication emerge. I could write a blog post about that. A child cries after getting a smack from her mother and my thoughts are broken.

The smack and the shriek jolts everyone and heads lift with attention returning to the here and the now. I wondered if one of the customers considered taking a photograph of what was unfolding to post online. “Just saw a girl got smacked after throwing tantrum. I would have done exactly the same thing”, said an imaginary tweet from one of these people in the coffeshop. But he didn’t tweet that because that would be insensitive and he could be flamed for that. Normal transmission resumes. But not before the lady in office wear at the corner takes a photo of her breakfast and posts it on Instagram.

My thoughts drift back to where I started before fluttering to a quote by Lewis Mumford who said that “the city is above all else a theater of social action.” Indeed it is like witnessing an unfolding drama with each episode written on the fly. Except that there are multiple sub-plots happening off-camera that is only showing on private screens. I pull my thoughts back to the physicality of the space and realized that all this while, I haven’t noticed that the designer has picked the same shade of brown for the cushion to match the stained wood. Then I wondered if the designer had imagined this drama when he designed the space.

Jac: The cat who just wanted to be loved

It might have spent many months, or perhaps years roaming around aimlessly along the pathway and feeding on scraps, nobody knows. Just slightly frail, this brown tortoiseshell cat was not the kind of animal that you would look at twice. Just another ”longkang” cat, the kind that you would call ”comot” and let it stroll past you to wander around the back of a coffeeshop to look for whatever food the humans would throw out. 

There was a certain loneliness hanging over the feline as it observed me settling into the unit. It watched me from afar and meowed hello which I responded with a human ‘Hello’. I figured that since I was the new one in the neighborhood, I should buy some cat food for it as a friendly gesture. 

I remember going to the provision shop to buy cat food for the first time in life, not knowing what I was buying. I opened the can of cat food (I think it was tuna) and simply placed it at the corridor where it was chilling, only to see the cat gobble it all up in seconds. I still remember making a mental note to myself about how hungry it looked.

Over the next few days, I saw the cat more often, always at the shade in front of the building, laying nonchalantly. But each time I stepped out and walked past it to either go to the shop or to clear the rubbish, she would perk up, meow, and walk with me to wherever I was going. It was like I was its’ friend, and looking back, I suppose the cat adopted me as her master.

Each time I walked past it, I would also call out “What’s up Jack?” with ‘Jack’ being a name that could have been as easily be ‘John Doe’ or ‘Kitty’ but the name somehow just rolled off my tongue and soon enough, the name stuck. This was before I realized that ‘Jack’ was a female feline upon which I quickly decided to rename it ‘Jac’ so as to respect the gender and not confuse the poor creature of its name. I imagined the cat going “Who? What? But I thought I’m Jack!” and  figured that keeping the name that sounded like Jack would be an act of kindness to the creature. I also figured that cats can’t spell so it wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between *Jack* and *Jac* or even *Jaq*.

Soon, I was buying canned pet food for Jac once every few days and that changed to buying a big pack of cat food from the pet store so that I could feed her daily. Somehow along the way, I “trained” her to wait at the back door of the unit for her daily feeding and slowly, it started to feel as though I had a responsibility towards this animal.

I always left the window and door to my unit open for ventilation and Jac would always come visit. She would either hang around at the shaded area along the corridor or would climb up onto the window sill to sit and watch me work. And as I worked alone in the unit, Jac was the companion with whom I’ve had countless monologues with. Slowly, as she got comfortable with my presence and me with hers, Jac considered the unit part of her territory - climbing in, sitting under the desk and rubbing herself on me whenever she feels like it, taking naps on the sofa and also patrolling the rooms and kitchen. On some days, she considered the top of my laptop or my lap acceptable surfaces for her to rest and on some days when I’m not looking, would consider the bed hers too.

Each time I got back, she would sense my presence and run across 40-50 meters of pavement or come out from hiding at the carpark to come and greet me. On some days, she would wait at the door, meow and peek curiously till I let her in and she would follow me on short walks. Jac was also there when I was rushing for project submissions and always looked curiously at me when I was all stressed up.

Jac was adorable that way. She was always ready to roll over and ask for a tummy rub and almost always meowing asking for the warmth of a human hand to hold her or stroke her. She was friendly, almost promiscuous, and always preferred rubbing herself against males which led a friend of mine to jokingly call her a ‘slutty cat'. But really, all Jac ever wanted was attention and love. At one point, I noticed that although I’ve been there for a year, I’ve never seen any other tortoiseshell cats in the neighborhood and concluded that she must have either been lost, abandoned or perhaps have lost her family and it was then that I felt like I was her only family.

Before Jac, I’ve never had a pet before but there was a day when I decided that if I was spending so much time feeding, talking and playing with this cat, I should care for it too and treat it like one. I googled and asked my friends how to take care of a cat. I learned how to shower it, trim its nails, attempted to toilet train it, bought toys for it, tried to give it a small corner in the unit for itself and make it a little bit domesticated but Jac was always adventurous at heart. She still preferred the earth in the front yard as her toilet and was always climbing onto the roof to take a walk in the middle of the night rather than be comfortable in the unit. 

Of course, Jac could also be difficult. She would meow relentlessly until she got the attention she wanted at the worst possible time and would decide to climb onto my laptop right when I needed to rush through a project. She didn’t understand why she had to be chased away when there were certain guests around the house. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t come into the house when I was not feeling well. She also didn’t understand why I screamed at her when she vomitted in the kitchen and why I was fuming when I got home one day to discover that she had taken a big dump on my bed (which I later discovered was because she couldn’t climb out the window to get to the front yard that day as a branch had fallen and obstructed her usual route). But while Jac did get on the wrong side of me, it never lasted long. She was always full of love, meowing innocently at you and rubbing herself on you to say hello. 

Eventually, I had to move out from the unit and the place where I was moving to next would never accept a cat. Being the outdoor-loving cat, she would also be best staying at the unit and it meant, I had to leave her behind.  

By this time, Jac was no longer just another stray cat. She was my pet stray cat. When I first moved into this unit, I was a man looking to have a fresh start and rebuild himself after the many recent disappointments in his life and in some strange way, through my time being in this unit, making friends with Jac and learning how to take care of her, I emerged a new man. It was like Jac have taught me how to love again. Perhaps it’s coincidence that the time in that unit coincided with a tremendous phase of growth in my life and where I met the love of my life, or perhaps it is not. Either way, my time in that unit with Jac as company was one of the best in my life. Jac was my best friend.

Since moving out, I’ve always had fond memories of my time at that unit. Every time I feel stressed, I would recall the good vibes of that unit. Every time I see someone with a pet, I remember the times where I was taking care of Jac. And every time I see a stray cat, especially a brown tortoiseshell ”longkang” cat, I feel my heart sending out a mental hello to Jac.

Earlier today, I found out  that Jac was found dead in the bushes of the old unit. She was doing well over the past months and my neighbor thinks that one of the new residents in the neighborhood, whom many of the other neighbors suspect have been abusing cats, might have something to do with Jac’s death. If this is true, I hope karma bites him/her hard.

Today, I feel a painful loss that is often not reserved for stray cats. I’ve had to hold myself together under the surface throughout the day but in this dark cloak of the night, I write these words to remember Jac, the awesomest cat I know. Today, I remember the cat who only wanted to love and be loved. And Jac, I hope you left knowing that you were loved. 

Nature. Universe

Generations of geniuses. Designers. Scientists. Poets. Wordsmiths. 

Nature draws them in and they draw inspiration from it. The perfect balance gives them a place to aspire towards, the rich subtleties brings discovery, the complexities defy comprehension and send mere mortals to physical and intellectual journeys to decipher it all and the beauty of the natural world pleases. There is always something about nature that we haven't quite figured out. They say it works in mysterious ways but maybe its just that we are not and will never be smart enough to understand it all.

The Universe is infinitely vast, a reminder of how small we are and how magnificent it is. It tells us that we are insignificant and significant at the same time. It teaches us that we are a part of the system and the system itself. That we are all really carbon, made from a cosmic explosion billions of years ago which means that humans equals stardust. That we are governed by scientific rules of gravity and astronomical rules of the constellations.  

Nature. The Universe. 

When in harmony with it, we flow. When we are respectful, it respects us. It gives us what we deserve, nothing more, nothing less. It is inspiring without even trying. It tells us that everything is perfect even in imperfection. It is complete. It is what we remind ourselves when we work each day.

Better with friends

Deep down inside, we all crave to be connected to humans - our families, our friends and ourselves. It is such a simple and basic need that a whole wave of tech startups valued at billions of dollars have been created around the idea of sharing everything with friends. 

And then there's food, the glue that makes it all happen. Look at Instagram and what do you see? Yup. Food. Where we do not have the opportunity to cook or dine with friends, we use it as a medium to reach out to others. A simple picture of food says so much: "I wish you could taste how good this is", "I wish you were here with me", "I think you are going to like this too" and more. Through the visuals of food, we communicate our sense of taste and a sense of love to our friends and by proxy, enjoy a dish with our friends. 

So when birthdays come knocking and it is time for us to celebrate the life of our friends, we make sure that food is present. On birthdays, the person in celebration reconnects with herself and indulges in a little bit extra as a deserving reward for making it this far. Not only does she reconnects with herself, it is an opportunity to reconnect with others, gathering those that are closest and those who mean the most to enjoy food and often, the most luxurious of all food, cake. And of course, we have to take a photo of it and share it on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook because food is always better with friends.

Notes about life for my sister on her 19th birthday

To my sister,
Chill. You’re only 19.

You are at that odd age where you feel too old to be a teenager and too young to be an adult. Trust me when I say that the confusion worsens when you turn 21, 24 and 28. So, I hope you just enjoy being your age and don’t rush to become a real adult because once you’re an adult, all you’ll be thinking is, “Man. I wish I was a kid again.” Anyway, as Chilli Davis puts it, “Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional”.

Anyway, no one told me anything when I was at the awkward age of 19, so on this birthday of yours, I want to share with you 10 things that I hope you will remember as you set forth for new adventures.


  • 1- LIFE SUCKS SO DEAL WITH IT. In fact, it can suck pretty badly and it’s probably only going to get worse from this day onwards. People can be assholes, life can be a bitch but you just have to find your own way to deal with it. How you deal with everything in life defines you as a person.


  • 2- DON’T BE AN ASS. Don’t be the person who interrupts others. Don’t be the one who spreads gossips or talks bad about others. Don’t give other people a reason to hate you (unless if you are too awesome for them).Besides, karma has a way of going around to kick you in the butt for the last time you were being a complete ass. Everytime you feel like being an ass, stop. And be awesome instead.


  • 3- WORK HARD. This life doesn’t owe you anything. No one owes you anything. You have to work hard and earn every single thing that you want. Earn the money for the things you want to buy. Create your own opportunities. Earn the respect of others. If it’s not in your hands yet, then you haven’t finished with your work. Of course sometimes, it may seem that it’s not working out and all the effort that you’ve put in will seem futile but I want you to keep believing. Believe that there are larger plans in this universe that our puny brains cannot comprehend. Believe that we always get what we deserve and need at each point in our life and we will only understand it much, much later. Nonetheless, keep believing.


  • 4 – PRACTICE GRATITUDE. Be grateful that you are alive today. Be grateful for the air that you breathe. Be grateful for the insane weather that brings life to the crops that eventually become the food you eat. And on days when shit hits the fan, be grateful that you have the opportunity to practice your gratitude and start looking for 3 things that you can be grateful for and everything will be better. That’s what going to take you to the next level.


  • 5- BE NICE TO PEOPLE. ALWAYS. It will be difficult at times and no matter how bad it goes, hold your tongue and be the better person, regardless of how hurt or mad they have made you. You might feel like hitting them or cursing at them but I’m telling you that you will regret it some day and you won’t be able to take it back. Don’t give them the satisfaction of dragging you to their level. Remember that everyone, especially those who are being complete dickheads and bitches are all fighting their own battles that you do not know of. Your random act of kindness have the power to change their world, maybe for just a day, but perhaps it might be enough for them to remember for the rest of their life.


  • 6- LOVE. Don’t just expect it from others but turn yourself into Love. Fill your life and every single thing you do with it. You will also encounter it in many forms and there will  be many who will come and go. You might even fall really deeply in love with some people.
    The truth is, a few of them will break your heart into more pieces than you knew your heart was made up of. Sometimes you will feel like your everything isn’t enough for the other person and the other person isn’t doing enough for you. If you start feeling that way, it probably is true. 
    I’m no expert but this much I know. Just be patient, be honest, be faithful, and always be there. Love unconditionally without expecting returns and take care of your partner’s feelings and emotions but don’t overthink it. The phone works both ways so don’t just wait for him to call you, you call him instead. Being somebodies significant other is a big duty and there is no holiday from being that. When you feel like you’re ready for that responsibility and all the emotional roller-coaster that comes with it, open your heart. But if you’re not, the time will come. But sometimes, even if you’re ready, the other person might not be ready yet. I did say that you have to be patient right?


  • 7- DON’T WORRY. Missing a dateline or going broke might be an inconvenience, just as someone you know getting sick or even dying can be very unfortunate. But Worry is what happens when you take those misfortunes and think you have control over them. You tell yourself that you are responsible in some way for these situations. Or worse, you’ve decided if the outcome isn’t pleasant, there could be even more trouble for yourself and others.
    Worry is a story you tell yourself and nothing more. Sometimes we do it to over-express our care in a matter. Other times we’re looking for sympathy. We’ll even go so far as to tell all about our worries in hopes that someone else will share the responsibility with us. There are plenty of reasons we create for Worry to creep its little head in. But the real fact is, you are responsible for nothing to begin with. You can’t do anything about things you can’t do anything about. If you can do something about it, then do it. If not, then don’t worry.


  • 8- FAIL, FALL, AND GET UP AGAIN. Give life a chance. Don’t live in regret and don’t be afraid to take leaps of faith. Believe in your gut and go wherever life wants you to be. Usually if you put yourself out there and believe in life itself, it all works out well. Not all the time, but sometimes and that little bit of sometimes often tastes sweeter than you can ever imagine. But if you should fall, dust yourself and get up again. Carry your scars proudly and keep on exuding positivity. Nothing pisses the hell more out of your enemies and critics than your success.


  • 9 – I LOVE YOU. No matter who or what you become; gay, straight, transgender, I love you. You can travel the world, be a struggling busker, a teacher, a clerk, simply put, no matter what path you choose or don’t choose, I will always be proud of you. I will never be ashamed of you, even when you are being a complete ass. No matter what kind of trouble you get yourself into, I want you to know that you can call me no matter the time or place that I am at and I will take care of it. Never feel scared to tell me something for I will always accept you, and I will try to always be there when you need somebody to listen. And if we disagree on something, i’ll promise to agree to disagree. And if I don’t do something for you, it’s really for your own good and in your best interests.


  • 10- Last but not least, DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING you hear, see or read.(including this) Your life is yours and their life is theirs, just as mine is mine. Besides, I might be wrong. Find your own voice in everything you do and be your own person. It’s all I ever want from you.


Happy 19th Birthday.

Your brother.