You are not alone

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
— Sir Isaac Newton

Whether you identify yourself as a student, a teacher, a young parent, a child, or whatever it is, know this: you are not alone. There have been those who have come before you, who have blazed trails before you, who have left lessons for you — if only you have the eyes to see them.

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Hiring an English Major to Edit Your Book Is Cheating Yourself

tl;dr –> You get way more value for money when you hire an experienced editor. An inexperienced editor may not know what to do with your writing, even if they write well themselves!

Change It Up Editing

I belong to a listserve of freelance editors, and I find the topics of conversation interesting and often thought-provoking. One recent ID-100146866topic that elicited many comments was about pricing the work we do.

The initial post was by an established and well-respected editor who wrote, “I recently was asked about my rates by someone at a local company who was looking for writing and editing help. She balked at my quote . . . Her response: < … we can find English majors for $10 to $15 [per hour] and many of them are quite good. >”

I get it; no one wants to spend more than necessary for anything—goods or services. I mean, if I can buy a knock-off designer widget that looks just like the brand-name widget, isn’t that a better value than buying the real thing just for the brand name? If I can get my next-door neighbor’s…

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6 Life Lessons You Can Learn From Writing – Tan Lili

Wow, USSR. We heard that acronym so often in primary school. I absolutely loved USSR when I was a little boy. No, I’m not in love with Soviet Russia (even though my one Russian friend is cooler than his country’s winter). Read on to find out what I’m rambling about!

Material World


It all started with the daily 30-minute silent reading programme that took place before the morning assembly during my primary-school days (remember USSR, short for Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading?). While some of my classmates would fidget and count down to the end of the reading period, I’d get lost in whatever book I was reading, wholly immersed in the colourful world of fiction. My early interest in reading led to my love of composition writing – it allowed me to dream up my own characters and storylines. Since then, I haven’t stopped.

Not only have I learned a great deal about myself throughout my years of writing, I’ve also discovered some lessons that can teach us a thing or two about life:

You cannot please everyone

When I saw my first thumbs-down on one of my blog posts, I was surprised at how much it hurt. Never mind that it…

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Firebrands: a short tale of success, failure, and rebirth


Yeeeah, that was my band. I’m the guy in the center, and no, I wasn’t the singer, I was just the shortest among the bunch, and it made visual sense to take a photograph like that.

Firebrands was a tiny little band from Singapore that went places. It was a band that managed to get people to pay for them to go to cities near and far — Hanoi, Chennai, Dubai — and yet failed to stay together after a short 5(ish) years together. Firebrands was my band, Firebrands my frehhh-nds (sorry, inside joke).

The WordPress Daily Prompt for today asks: Have you ever played in a band? Tell us all about that experience of making music with friends. I’m not going to answer this question as if it’s an O-level essay question, though I could. The strange thing is, when I joined this band, they weren’t exactly my “friends” — I only knew the drummer from a few years before. In the beginning, these guys were more like co-workers than friends. Going through what we did in those 5 years does create a strong bond, though. I now call these guys my “brothers from other mothers” (heh).

Let’s go past the writing process and zoom straight to the fun bits — touring internationally. There was the Taiwan experiment, the US stint, the Dubai trip, the Chennai madness, but I remember our concert in Hanoi (Dec 2007) with the greatest fondness. There were two, three(ish) thousand raucous Vietnamese rock fans there to watch us, and the design of the stage put us right up to where the crowd was. There was just a tiny little gap between the stage and the crowd. Oh, the noise that greets you when that many people scream for your band? It’s like a physical force that makes you stand a little straighter, a little taller, a little bigger. It’s like a tidal wave that crashes through you, and into you, and leaves you that much stronger for it.

But here’s the truth about making music these days — you reach those heights, and you still may not be able to pay your bills, especially if you’re lacking a little bit of that business savvy or luck. It’s no simple task to balance expenditure/investment against revenue, of daredevil risk-taking versus safety in mediocrity. Some time in the 2008-10 period, we decided to call it quits. In hindsight, we should have continued on, we should have put our differences aside to keep on trying. Unfortunately, that whole bills-to-pay monster at our backs proved to be too much for us.

We should have stayed together as a band. Why should we have stayed together? In addition to the not-so-bad album we released, we were writing pretty decent music with our last gasps as a band.

Do I regret any of it? No way — perhaps only the splitting up part. Doing stupid things (and some things we did were truly stupid, but I only see that in hindsight) with those bunch of guys taught me so much. It taught me perseverance (in hindsight), it taught me that hard work doesn’t always equate to instant results (unlike in university where I was churning out grade-A essay after grade-A essay), it taught me that money can do horrible things to people, it taught me that music is a universal language, and it taught me that language barriers are still a massive hindrance.

Now here’s the fun “rebirth” part of it. It’s amazing, from the outside, what these five guys went on to accomplish. Among the five of us, we have a masters’ degree candidate (who isn’t me!), we have teachers, we have businessmen, we have a father (whose son has a brilliant taste in music), we have two singer-songwriters — and we also have (=D). And it isn’t surprising to me that we have continued to experience successes (and failures) after the split — we are people that are able to do tremendous things, when we put our minds to it.

Have I ever played in a band? Oh yeah, I have. I truly have.

Rainbows (a short story)

The boy looked at the girl and slowly, seriously, and deliberately said, “I wish I could take all your pain, swallow it, and poop rainbows.”

The girl blinked once, and frowned. She blinked two more times, and stared at him. What he had just said started to filter down into the part of the brain that understood his words, and her frown grew deeper. But there was a smile in her frown, and the contortions her face were attempting made her look as if she were a badly programmed robot.

“You want to poop rainbows?”
“Yes, rainbows. Rainbows made out of pain and suffering.”
“You’re crazy.”
“Colourful little pieces of joy, out of my ass.”

There was a pause. A quiet pause, where the silence was palpably powerful, like the space between the flash of lightning and the tremendous pulse of thunder. There was a pause. And she started giggling and giggling, the utter absurdity of the boy sitting on the toilet bowl with rainbows splashing solidly into the water forming itself into a myriad of ridiculous tableaux in her mind. The boy, twisted in pain while rainbows splashed out of him. The boy, his face a picture of concentration while he systematically dropped perfect rainbow after perfect rainbow. The boy, cleaning up with toilet paper after he finished. Smudged rainbows, solid rainbows, perfect rainbows, toxic oil sludge rainbows.

She giggled out, finally, “no pooping!”
“Constipation, then?”

She cackled, something her mother had told her never to do, and quickly covered her mouth. But the amusement wouldn’t end, and she cackled some more.

“I can’t… can’t breeea-hee-hee-hee-heeth! Shit rainbows! Shit rainbowss-ss-ss-s-s!”

Just like that, a little bit of her suffering melted away. To know that someone would make a poop joke — a scatological joke, her mind corrected her — just to make her feel a bit better was such a comforting thought.

The boy would make little jokes like these, as the years went by. The girl would giggle some more and come back with jokes of her own. In their tender moments, there was always an undercurrent of laughter. And whenever things got too hectic and heated, one would remind the other — rainbows! — and the storm would pass.

(370 words)

This post is a response to this writing challenge, and as an attempt to write more easily-digestible posts. Hope you enjoyed it!

Short Update

I don’t know why it is, but here’s the truth: I only improve as a guitarist if I try to think like a “lead” guitarist (think Slash, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and gang). It really is parallel to the fact that I try to get my students to reach for beautiful sentences at the level of the masters, and that I try for that myself.

Strange, huh? Reach for the stars, and maybe you’ll get to the top of a tree. But reach for the top of the tree and maybe you’ll crash and burn. (Thanks to my sec 4 Chinese teacher for that saying. Mixed metaphors and whatever, but it works.)

Why I love reading non-fiction (this one simple trick will add years to your life!)

(First off, apologies for the buzzfeed-y sub-title, but ever since I saw VisakanV make a joke out of it on his facebook, I’ve been doing it in my head as well. It’s entertaining, la!)

I recently was reading (listening to) a book that talked about the wisdom of grandparents. If you have people around you that are, say, 70 years old on average, and you have ten of these old people around you, what do you first think of? Do you think oh, all these old people are so troublesome, I have to take care of them and they’re so much hassle, there’s so much farting and oh no no no? Or do you stop to consider that around you is the accumulation of 700 years of life experience and wisdom? Hmm.

That, in a nutshell, encapsulates why I love non-fiction so much. Authors put in years of research and energy into putting these books together, and those of us who read quickly can ingest that information in a few days. In my buzzfeed-y headline I wrote that “this one simple trick will add years to your life”, and sometimes it really feels this way. It feels like I’m living years of other people’s lives from the books that they have written.

When I read Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, the intensity of her prose and emotions made me feel as if I was living through the 2004 boxing day tsunami with her. When I read The Art of Happiness, it felt like I was accessing years of wisdom from the Dalai Lama, and years of research from psychologist Howard Cutler. When I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, I marvelled at how much effort went into turning scholarly research about the historicity of Jesus into a fast-moving, readable narrative mixed in with historical fact and conjecture. Since I know some of that scholarly research, I also understood why Christian scholars were complaining that Aslan presented scholarly debates as resolved to one side or the other, without touching on the complexities of some of the debates.

Living in this modern age, where we can download ebooks almost instantly, is a massive, massive privilege. But it is also a kind of disadvantage since so many things are calling out for our attention. The choice that faces me daily is this: will I let media outlets, websites, the rush of social media, or trite entertainment shape my brain? Or will I direct my attention to things that I judge to be more helpful to me in developing my mind, my maturity, and my overall sense of well-being?

The pleasure of reading non-fiction is a pleasure that can be hard to get into, but I promise you, it is worth the effort. And for all your kids who need to write argumentative essays, listen up. The pleasure of reading non-fiction is one that will help you get that A for your English, General Paper, English Literature, and any subject that requires critical thinking and an ability to write well. So get cracking. Read some non-fiction today! 😀


Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.

For editing and proofreading services, email or call/SMS/whatsapp +65 97700557 for an obligation-free quotation. I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me a message to let me know your requirements.

Let’s get bored

I’ve got a draft in my computer that tries to say the same thing, but this blogger’s perspective does more than what I was/am trying to do with my own (draft, unpublished) post. There’s excellent writing to be found all over WordPress!

Preston's Blog


When I was in China last fall I watched a teenage girl on a Beijing subway say goodbye to a friend getting off at a stop. As soon as they had waved goodbye and the doors closed, the girl pulled out her phone and began thumbing away.

This reminded me that these days, all around the world, it no longer looks “normal” to be doing nothing — even on trains, in elevators, in waiting rooms, standing in lines, or walking down the street.

Since we can now bring our personal entertainment environments with us everywhere in the form of phones, tablets and headgear (like Google Glass), all locations and situations are becoming our personal entertainment environments.

We no longer have to be bored in traditionally boring situations…and are likely never to be bored again.

That’s great, right? Or is it…

The continually advancing capabilities of devices (and the media hype…

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