The Third Object and its Power to Transform the Mundane

As some of you may know, I’m in Arizona now for two consecutive conferences. The Fiancée couldn’t come along with me, so she got me to bring Piglet, and to take interesting photos of Piglet doing things while I’m in Arizona – all for the fun of amusing her while I’m away.

It seems like this is becoming a tradition for us. Last year, I went to China and did the same thing. A few months back, The Fiancée went to Hong Kong and did likewise.

Here are some photos of Piglet travelling to the United States. (I have something very interesting to say after the photos, so stay tuned!)

Piglet is ready to fly! As you can see, Piglet is a Citizen of Singapore!
Piglet reading the safety information card. Safety first!
Piglet fights jet lag with coffee!
Piglet looking out the window, saying: “The sky is so blue and beautiful. But I wished it were pink like me!”
What’s this? Pretzels on the plane? Piglet is pleased!
This little Piglet goes, “Om nom nom,” all the way to Arizona

Isn’t Piglet cute?

Anyway, what’s interesting about these photos is that Piglet functions as a “Third Object,” which mediates the content of the picture to the viewer, either to make things interesting (as in the examples above), or to function as a short-cut (or metaphor) to facilitate explanation without having to digress into a long story. (The first and second objects refer to the subject (viewer) and the object of interest in the photo.)

I could easily take photos of all these things without Piglet, and you’d be left with boring images of a passport, safety information card, remote control, seatbelt, and food. Without Piglet, those objects will be mundane, boring, uninteresting. You may look at it once, but you’ll forget about it. You probably wouldn’t be interested enough to find out what’s going on with the picture.

(Of course, I could stand in there and have photos of myself with those things, but then it would seem like I’m a narcissistic selfie freak. But of course, I’m not as cute or interesting as Piglet, so I’ll blend in with the rest of the mundane boring things, and the pictures will remain boring.)

Piglet’s presence in these images above mediates a certain significance and value to the viewer. Piglet – as the Third Object – effectively makes you want to stop and look at the passport. Sure, it’s a passport, but it’s a Piglet with a passport. You’re curiosity is piqued (pardon the pun). You want to know why Piglet is holding the passport, and why that passport is significant at all. In fact, it probably compelled you to read the captions as you want to make sense of it.  And though the images and captions revolved around my travel, Piglet – as the third object – mediates that and suddenly makes my boring 24 hour flight appear as though it was a fun-filled adventure of a pig in the air.

I have effectively communicated my boring 24-hour journey to you in a way that is exciting.

That’s the power of the Third Object, the power of Piglet.

But this particular soft toy of Piglet has another interesting dimension. As you can see, Piglet has no mouth. Though Piglet has eyebrows, these brows are very subtle. It increases the efficacy of Piglet as the Third Object.


Because characters without any mouth or eyebrows cannot effectively convey any particular emotion. This emptiness allows the viewer to impose his/her own emotions onto such characters, thus adding a richer dimension to the character. Hello Kitty is a famous example as to why it’s so popular. People can relate with Hello Kitty because she has no mouth, no eyebrows. And so it seems that Hello Kitty is always feeling what you are feeling. She can relate to you, sympathise with you, and in many ways, understand what you are going through.

Something similar is happening here with Piglet. The lack of a mouth and the non-obvious eyebrows allow the viewer to impose their own emotions onto Piglet. As the mediating Third Object, the viewer doesn’t just see a passport or a packet of peanuts, but the viewer also perceives the added dimension of emotion. Piglet looks excited, Piglet looks happy, etc. Whatever expressions or feelings you are perceiving Piglet to have – all that is coming from you – and that’s only possible because Piglet has no expression!

It’s very Buddhist, by the way. Because something is empty, it can be filled with everything.

This is why many people have commented that Piglet is so expressive in these photos. Great job Piglet! Great job!

So yes, that’s the power of the Third Object. Why not give it a try? It’ll certainly make your photos look very interesting.

Reflections Along the Singapore-Malaysia Railway Tracks

The railway tracks functions very well as a metaphor for a person’s life.


Sometimes, we have to walk the journey alone. But that’s ok because we’re surrounded by the beautiful blue sky.



But sometimes, the journey of life can be very scary – gloomy, even. At times, we have no choice but to walk through these moments of darkness – alone.



There are times where the darkness of the moment overwhelms us. Sometimes, we can’t help but feel severely burdened by the pain of walking alone.



Some unfortunately lose their soles because of this.



Jean-Paul Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.” But when we suffer from such dark moments of loneliness, we become our own hell. There’s no one to get in our way. There’s no one to annoy us. And yet, we feel so trapped, so imprisoned. It is as if our whole wings have been clipped, and our feet chained to the ground. In moments like these, we begin to crave for freedom like never before.



But what kind of freedom do we really need? Is it the freedom to go off the tracks? Or is it the freedom to touch the sky?



The darkness can be confusing. We know we want freedom, and yet we often don’t understand what it is that we truly need. And so, off we go chasing after a freedom which may not necessarily be the answer to our darkness.



But what does it profit a man to gain the world, but to lose his sole?



The greatest freedom comes when we begin to open our eyes to realise the many people – friends and strangers who are not yet friends – who are and have been walking along-side with us in such moments of darkness.



In such moments, the darkness doesn’t seem so dark anymore. When we begin to accept their friendship and help, the journey becomes more pleasant. The journey will still be rocky, but at the very least, we’re surrounded by fellow companions who are on the same journey. Soon enough, with their help, we find ourselves reaching the end of the tunnel, back out into the light.



Successfully perservering through such moments is like crossing over a bridge. It can be scary, but we can rest assured by the fact that we have friends waiting for us at the other end of the bridge.



At every moment of our lives, there is always at least one friend who accompanies us on our journey – whether we realise it or not.



As we continue walking on this journey of life, we’ll eventually meet the love of our life.



And at that beautiful moment of marriage, two tracks converge into one. But marriage isn’t just a merger of two lives. It brings together many many more! Friends and family from both tracks begin to walk along with us on that single track, chatting with us, annoying us, cheering us, working with us.



I think it’s important for us to always remember that the journey of life is always rocky. The ground is never gentle and smooth.



But no matter what, there’s always a beautiful blue sky covering us, watching over us. It’s a beauty that’s always there, but we rarely notice it. The secret of life is to always take a step back from the mad frenzy of life, look up, and contemplate the sky’s subtle beauty.