An educational evening

At Sods 2 tonight, I coaxed Mr and Mrs B out of the year 1999 and they learned how to use predictive text on their respective cellphones. Terz and Mr B tried to teach me a little self-defence, but their valiant efforts were hampered by my puny (lack of) muscles. Dan was not with us, but thanks to the almighty cellphone, got a quick crash course from Mr B on how to make a nice rack of lamb. Who says bar nights aren't educational?


In exchange for pretending to be a typical asshole customer for 5 minutes, I got my credit card company to waive the late fees and interest charges on the exorbitant vacation bill. While scarcely a princely sum, the sum of charges was enough to fund half my weekly allowance. (Yes, I pay myself an allowance, lest I squander all my monthly earnings in the week following payday.)

I'm really not sure who won that one. Okay, I wasn't rude, I grudgingly admitted my mistake in cutting it too close to the deadline with the last payment, and I sighed plaintively about being stuck with the late charges. But there was this self-righteous, outraged devil that crept into my voice as I went for the coup de grace, and despite the victory won, I couldn't help squirming a little at how I'd won it.

It's a good thing video-conferencing hasn't become a norm yet, or the customer service rep would've seen my wide grin as I faked assholery and then the game would've been up.


9:05 am
I arrive at work and take the elevator up with the same two people that I rode down with when I left work yesterday. This, in a building of about 1,500 employees.

9:10 am
My email is flooded with messages, triggered by a 7:54 am message that prompted a whole bunch of people to wail, "Why did I receive this email? I'm not on this mailing list!" Imagine the following from an episode of The West Wing:
MARGARET: You having problems with your e-mail?
TOBY: Yeah.
MARGARET: Technical support says the pipeline's been flooded. Apparently it happened when I forwarded an e-mail to several people, and one of them tried to reply. Everyone's e-mail box is clogged with replies, which are now, automatically and constantly bounding back and forth at subatomic speed... [pause] I passed the where you're interested, haven't I?
TOBY: Yeah.

And you know what? I watched that very episode ("Let Bartlet Be Bartlet") last night. I now feel their pain because I have 28 messages of the "Me, too!" variety in my email and I can't actually open any of my work-related email.

9:30 am
Email seems to be working now. Rats.

Wrong answer, lady

Singapore gets tamer Sex and the City

What's really damning is the following observation by a woman-in-the-street interviewed by the reporter:
Is she upset by the censorship? "No, it's okay. We're used to that," she said.
If you don't insist on better, then you don't have a right to complain on how bad it is. Oh, wait --- she wasn't complaining. Grrrrr. This crystallizes everything that is wrong with this place.

I don't particularly want or need to see Sex and the City, but I'd like to have the choice and not be patronised by an all-knowing government as if I'm a 2-year-old who doesn't know any better.

And I thought waking up with that stupid 'national song' "Home" in my head was bad enough.


Quiet night

No one told me that the downside to having a broadband connection is that everything loads more quickly --- I get through all my usual web-reads in less than half the time, leaving me twiddling my thumbs and wondering what other websites I can peek at. I found the Democratic National Convention blogs, but they're not really engaging me at the moment. I've poked around at some movie websites that I've been keeping an eye on (Zach Braff blogs on the Garden State website!). And friends don't seem to be updating their blogs just yet. It's a bit of a letdown considering I dreamed about our wireless network and woke up wanting to leap online immediately.

Clearly, I have issues.

Time to go snuggle up with the DVD player instead.

Drifting through the afternoon

I thought I was annoyed by the National Day Parade moblog thing, but Re-minisce really has an axe to grind about the whole Parade.
(Link courtesy of Mr Brown.)

A little more web surfing led me to a former teacher's blog --- which through a little more inquisitive investigation I realised is a current colleague's blog --- at which point I promptly closed that browser window lest she espy me from across the office. I've known for a while that she has a blog, but it blows my mind at how quickly I've found it without even trying. Now I wonder if she knows mine?

Well, I just did some basic Googling of myself and it doesn't seem to throw up anything that isn't either work-related or *ick* possibly porn-related, so I think my secret identity is safe --- for now.


As bedtime nears

Cannot ... bear ... to tear myself away ... from broadband connection ... must ... switch off ... computer ...

Broadband mysteries

So how is it that broadband works beautifully for all websites except for my broadband provider's?

Blognews, 26 July 2004

Microsoft tries using bona fide employee blogs to salvage its reputation

I wonder if the local teaching profession would benefit from some of this. Obviously, there are already teachers out there who blog --- and  I fully intend to continue doing so next year when I hit the classroom again --- but would officially sanctioned, no-holds-barred, honest-to-the-extreme blogs work? 

As opposed to, y'know, this or this. (Although I can understand the pressure on these bloggers to say the right things.)

WWW with impunity

Well, ladies and gentlemen, our household has finally made its leap into the twenty-first century proper. We. Are. Wireless.

Actually, it's more the addition of broadband that's got me excited. No more 56k dialup! (Yes, I know, how 1995 of me.)

When I gleefully announced this to a colleague this afternoon, after Terz had reported all systems go with the installation at home, the colleague's immediate response was: "Now you can log on while you're in the toilet and send email to Minister while you're shitting." That's not a direct quote, but it's pretty much there.

Fyi, Terz (the one with the laptop) hasn't tested the wireless coverage in our bathrooms yet. Friends reading this who have laptops are welcome to bring their gadgets along and try.

This day

Work --- done.
Lunch --- eaten.
Former students --- sufficiently envied, even if at least four of them did sign on for the teaching gig.
Daily 2 litres of water --- drunk.
Corresponding visits to the bathroom --- taken (not that you really needed to know that).
Glee at Sprite getting a plug from Mr Brown --- absolute.

It's been a good afternoon.

Jinxing myself

Nothing like a post about the non-eventfulness of work, to trigger a deluge of new work immediately on Monday morning. Naturally, this is also happening on the very day that I've arranged to meet former students for lunch.

It's kinda fun, though, to finally have stuff to deal with instead of, er, surfing the web ad nauseam. And I'm not (yet) so busy that I can't blog about it. Ha!


An entry in the style of Astella

What makes a good lunch when university buddies get together? Start with homemade Chinese fried rice adorned with healthy-sized shrimp, accompanied by meaty yong tau foo, lightly soy sauced fried chicken wings and spicy chilli paste. Cleanse the palate with boiled green bean soup,  flavoured with slices of water chestnut, served in daintily chilled bowls. Segue to a thin sponge cake packed with smooth mango ice cream. Round off with a rich Bailey's-and-milk mix that takes the breath away, and have green tea available for those who need to diffuse the Bailey's.

Who needed dinner after? Terz had three pints of his favoured poison at Sod's 2 (162 East Coast Road, tell Pat Terence and Yu Mei sent you). I had a fistful of longans while watching Gilmore Girls. If only every day were like this...


To work is human; to overwork, divine

It is a mark of our monstrous amped-up, overhyped culture of glorified workoholism, that I've been burdened by guilt each time this week that I was one of the first people to leave the office. It's not that I'm sneaking off early or missing deadlines, though I did nip out for a quick coffee with Miffy yesterday; it's that I genuinely can leave work at the appointed hour without screwing up any of my work and responsibilities.

In the moments when I've staved off the guilt, it also blows my mind that --- for this short-term period, at least --- I actually seem able to complete my work within the designated work hours. This is what, as a kid, I thought work would be: a predictable, manageable 9-5 routine, my little automaton self merging seamlessly with the rest of the comforting masses that constitute the "workforce". It wasn't a nightmarish scenario, as a kid, to be doing what everyone else was doing. As an adult, stumbling into the vicious, unforgiving pace of the modern-day office environment, it's an unholy grail that, when finally found (or earned?), can cast a pall of guilt everlasting over one's too-quiet cubicle.

Of course, it's worthwhile to ponder if the same misguided culture of excessive effort coloured my formative years. All those conversations in the school canteen over who had started studying for next week's test, where the point was to pull off the nonchalant guise of not even knowing what would be on the test, while simultaneously sharing the dirt on which chow-mugger (loose translation: over-studying uber-nerd) had already memorised the ten-year-series. All the bemoaning after the test that one hadn't studied enough, the falsified dread at receiving the graded test paper, only to bashfully fold it over to conceal the 'lucky' A. But I suspect that was just my school, where each class of overachievers faked underachieving for four years --- then mostly went on to even better schools and even higher grades.

Not everyone in Singapore is cursed with this crazy Asian work ethic. I know someone who refuses to do a jot of work after 6.30pm --- but he's made it clear that he's not interested in career advancement, either. (Am I interested in career advancement? Not really, but more money is always good, and that always seems to be partnered with 'advancement'.) And there are always people shopping downtown, even on weekday afternoons; they clearly aren't killing themselves with work.

But in my experience, these people seem to be few and far between. Most people I know work overtime as a matter of course (and aren't compensated for it). No one really wants to, but it's expected or 'necessary' because they wouldn't otherwise get all their work done on time and would then incur the wrath of their bosses, which might in turn undermine their job stability or promotion prospects. And unlike in (my) school, where the social norm was to pretend not to be doing any work while plugging doggedly away at it behind the scenes, working adults all talk about how much work they're doing:

"Oh, I stayed till only 9 pm last night."
"Yeah, I have to go back to work after dinner."
"I'm not having lunch today, too much work."

There was also the bank employee who felt obliged to go back to work, at 9 pm or so, after watching Spiderman 2 with her department as some sort of corporate bonding exercise. Yes, the entire department went to watch the movie, then all felt they had to go back to work right away.

Again, unlike school, I'm pretty sure this isn't inverse braggadocio, taking pride in how much work one does. These are plain statements of fact, plaints in search of commiseration, numbed resignation to what is rather than what should be. I don't want to sound too precious and self-indulgent about it, but surely I'm not alone in feeling that there is something wrong with a social norm that people should spend 90% of their waking hours at work (regardless of how much one loves the job) rather than on the rest of their life that really matters?

In university, I had a roommate who epitomised the chow-mugger (note: she wasn't Singaporean). She was always studying, always said she was going to be studying and always said she had studied for the test. I lived with her for 6 months and she only went out once, to a movie. I'm hardly a party animal, but next to her I looked like the social chair at West Beverly High. I wouldn't say she was the saddest person I've ever known, but there was a flatness to her sense of self that really creeped me out. The world of work? Sometimes seems like it wants me to be her.


Me, watching last night's The O.C.

(The episode otherwise known as, "The Best Chrismukkah Ever".)

1st quarter report: Marissa shoplifts --- the horror.

Halftime report: Marissa cops a 375ml bottle of Absolut and stuffs it into her otherwise empty evening purse. No wonder the parties I go to aren't as fun as O.C. parties --- my purses actually hold practical items like keys, money and lipstick.

3rd quarter report: Summer definitely takes a lead in the Wonder Woman get-up. I mean, Seth's male and a teenager --- looking at linoleum makes him want to have sex. Oh, and Marissa is a drunk.

Final score: Ryan --- a million, for not babysitting Marissa; Seth --- nil, for stringing the girls along only to be a coward about it; the writers --- negative 200, for introducing another guy to the Marissa merry-go-round when we just got rid of Luke. Pah!



Wired News offers its take on bloggers credentialled to cover the Democratic National Convention. Over in South Korea, a veritable army of citizen reporters power 80% of OhMyNews's daily bulletin (note: not a blog). And...

[Ed's note: I tried to get a third news article about blogging to round off the power of three in this list, but I completely failed. Even Google News didn't throw up anything linkworthy. So the two above will just have to do.]

Another foodie post

In contrast to the vulgar excessiveness portrayed in Super Size Me, let readers take heart that Swensen's in Singapore serves teriyaki chicken burgers that are roughly the size of a Mos Burger burger. While it's encouraging that not all fast food/American food chains are forcefeeding their customers, this still begs the question why Swensen's charges $10.90, when Mos Burger charges only about $6 for the equivalent (fries included). The MOS burger version is tastier too.

I know, I know --- my fault for eating dinner at a place that started out as an ice cream joint. In my own defence, dining choices were rather slim at the airport last night.

For the record, I'm still on the great hunt for Good American Burgers in Singapore. While most Singaporeans can offer authoritative suggestions on where to get good char kway teow, olua, wan ton mee or nasi lemak, I have yet to track down a Good American Burger. My research thus far stands at:
  • Blooie's --- Meat patties are too thin and, the last time I tried them, just a litle overdone.
  • Brewerkz --- Tasty, certainly, but not tasty enough. Also, the portion's a little too large.
  • Charlie's Corner --- Juicy meat patties, but the burger's a little spartan in terms of veggie accessories. I also never seem to be able to finish the last few mouthfuls, even though it doesn't look that large.
  • Seah Street Deli --- Edible, but not tasty, and with a strong tendency to fall apart in one's hands before the entire burger can be consumed. In sum: mediocre, like the rest of their menu.
I suspect that my search will come to naught, not because there are no Good American Burgers to be had in Singapore, but because nothing will ever come close to the compact yet tasty freshly grilled burgers that Julian and I ate so many of, ensconced in a cosy, unpretentious booth at Yesterday's every other Sunday night or so in university. Yesterday's isn't even there anymore, so I can't even count on that when I next make a pilgrimage back to my alma mater.

So much for the hunt for a Good American Burger. Maybe I'll get Sprite to post the results of her great reconnaissance of the local iced lemon tea landscape next.



Why working at home may not be all it's cut up to be.

The Nokia ad described in the article reminds me of local broadband ads showing a guy in a shirt and tie video-conferencing from his computer at home, when all he's got on below computer level is his boxers. But if all a person wanted was to not have to dress up for work, we'd just need to fix work-related dress codes, rather than turn ourselves into telecommuters (or teleworkers, as the British term it).

The idea of working at home and/or working freelance still appeals to me, though. It's kinda like how I had to try out this 9-5 gig, in order to be sure that the corporate-ish world wasn't for me. Next year, I'll resume the 7.30 am-whenever schedule that will likely mutilate my social life and no longer leave my weekends free for blogging. Ironically, I might have more time then to blog while at work.

Interestingly, the President gave out the Singapore Family Friendly Employer Award yesterday. My employer isn't on the list --- is yours?


Tidying up the odds 'n ends

The apartment is clean for the first time since we got back from vacation. I can't take the credit for most of the work, but Terz and I did our share of picking crap off the floor and putting it away in cupboards.  I also did the last of the laundry from the trip --- nothing smelly, just a fleece jacket that I'd put off washing out of a primitive fear that it would get damaged in our machine (it's survived, intact).
I also settled on my Gmail username. It's not tym, natch, since Gmail has a six-letter requirement for usernames, but my LiveJournal username which, miraculously, had not yet been snapped up. Gmail seems to respond a lot more quickly on my dialup connection, so I'm going to have a go at it for now.
It's too hot to blog anymore. What happened to all that lovely unseasonal rain we were having?


What we eat

Via Rosmar, here's a link to Tomato Nation's latest update, The Go-Carb Diet.

Having a) recently seen Super Size Me, b) learnt about the true horrors of Extreme Makeover off Dan's blog, and c) before all that, observed a startling number of obese people in North America, next to billboard advertisements for low-carb meals, next to innumerable fast food joints flanking every major road and highway we drove down --- I can only exhale a quiet 'Amen' to Tomato Nation's rant and give thanks by going for a truly tasty, probably balanced and none too excessive dinner at the delightful Bumbu tonight.


Blogging it like it is

The National Day Parade organising committee has decided that it would be a swell idea to have bloggers at the parade publish their experience of the parade as they see it. This is, ostensibly, so that all the rest of us poor sods that couldn't or wouldn't get tickets for the national jingofest can enjoy the parade vicariously through their eyes. (They don't mention if this is because last year's live webcast was a big letdown.)

My first question is how the bloggers' viewpoint will differ from the regular voice-over commentary that people watching the live TV broadcast will hear. Those already tell you how many people have packed into the stadium, what marching contingents are on the field, and which local celebrity is wearing what garish costume and orating which 'national' song.

Or maybe, because the bloggers can only publish updates through their cellphones, their entries will be akin to the gibberish that hogged the lower half of TV screens when they had SMSes running like a news tickertape on American Idol. You know, like:
idollover <Whoa, man, this is really cool!>
iluvSingapore <I was so scared e parachute men wld land in the sea!>
cutelisa83 <They didn't show enough Steph Sun! I want more Steph Sun! Steph Sun rox!>
bengking <The girls in the yellow costume damn jude, man!>
(Wow, my eyes hurt from writing that. By the way, there are no spelling errors that weren't intentional.)

Now the blogs I'd like to see, like any good blogs, would offer idiosyncratic, yet entertaining, no-holds-barred views of the ups and downs, ins and outs, naughty and nice aspects of the show. Tell me which contingent had the first guy fainting while they were waiting for the President. Speculate how many fights will break out between impatient parade-goers. Provide a running commentary on what the parade commander's really thinking while he waits to give the next cue.

Better yet, make up your own parade:
" ... And marching by, we now have the 53rd contingent on the field, the Union of Unemployed Workers. They're wearing their T-shirts and caps back to front, those saucy little rebels. ... As part of the national push to get families to have more babies, we will now watch a half-hour montage of cute, cooing baby pictures. Aw, look at the darling in the red and white onesie --- isn't it great that they've soundtracked Clayderman over the images, so we don't have to hear it wailing? ... Please rise for the National Anthem --- yes, even you folks at home. If you don't, the policeman will come and catch you! ... "
I know Singapore's supposed to be one of the most IT-savvy nations around, and we've also got the world's fastest SMSer (read: text-messaging freak), but there's still something left to be desired about how technology is co-opted for the national agenda. We may be wired, but we just ain't cool.

By the way, the parade theme for this year? "A Progressive Society" --- I think the organisers forgot to look up the meaning and connotations of 'progressive' before passing that one. A 'progressive' society is not the same as a society that has 'made progress'. Progressives everywhere would like to have their word back, please.


Everyone's (not) doing it

It turns out Terz isn't the only one suffering from blogger burnout.

Me? I didn't blog over the weekend because I was too busy doing some non-blog writing. It turns out that my Sony Clie has become the most conducive surface for me to do some real writing, narrowly pipping old-fashioned pen and paper off the top spot on my current list of preferred writing modes. Who'd've thunk it?


The ghosts of students past

I got hit thrice by former students this week, two of them in a work capacity. To think that little ol' me has taught people who are now dabbling in the business of journalism. Perhaps all my classroom diatribes against my social issues of choice were not ranted in vain.

One student's voice I immediately recognised, probably because I ran into him at our mutual alma mater's (and my former employer's) reunion carnival in May. Another student's voice sounded completely unlike how she sounds in person, so I spent the first five minutes of the conversation stammering in disbelief. The third student wisely SMSed me, so there was no doubt to her identity.

While it's always fun to be tracked down and entertained by former students, there comes with it the inevitable recognition that they have so many adventures still ahead of them --- while I'm still here, plodding away at my job, in the same place so they can easily track me down when they have free time.

Just read an email wherein another former student proclaimed that he's off to Spain, thence to Brown University. Wah!

The only solution to that is for me to leave work. Right. Now.


Idle time

I always wondered what would happen one day if Blogspot went down. Now I know the answer: That I would be left with half as many blogs as I usually read, and hence half as many reasons for taking a break from work.


Post-rant addendum

Okay, just so that this evening's maunderings are not entirely self-indulgent, let me put up a public service announcement for The Great EMJEM Clearing Out Sale. People in the market for used books and used CDs/VCDs/DVDs might be keen to click on the link. I've already called dibs on the Peter Carey.

He's my former student, so don't steal his money or nothing. (Actually, he'll probably kick the crap out of you if you do, but anyways...)

Warning: ranty spirit within

I was going to rant about how the Singapore Heritage Fest 2004 --- "being held for the very first time!" --- seems to be more of a nostalgia lovefest that seems to think watching movies on an antique movie projector and watching children trot out in dainty ethnic wedding costumes is somehow genuine Singapore culture.

Instead, I ranted at the National Heritage Board for having a grossly unfriendly website. The website's not linked here because I'm not going to deign to give it a link --- it's easily Googled anyway, but don't say I didn't warn you --- and I also forgot to copy-paste the rant-er-feedback here before clicking 'send' (as I did with my successful SMRT rant). At any rate, the first problem was that it has one of those annoying massive 'splash' pages that, as I told them in my not-too-snarky feedback, are so 1999. Secondly, the 'splash' page decided to hijack one of my existing browser windows, even though I was in the middle of a secure transaction. Don't you just love it when websites do that? It's so bloody Singaporean too: "Hello, excuse me, my turn now, not convenient for you? DON'T CARE!"

In other news, Cupid apparently struck ten times during the preparations for the National Day Parade. I don't take issue with the fact that ten couples allegedly found all the sweating and stomping around on the National Stadium grass while wearing red and white togs somehow romantic and stimulating. I do wonder why this merited coverage on the nightly news bulletin that's supposed to be about "issues close to my heart".

Oh, that's right: because what most English-news-watching Singaporeans are really worried about is not the economy or their jobs or whether they'll have to contend with higher electricity rates should the local power companies decide to stick consumers with the fines incurred for last week's blackout --- no, not those paltry issues, but we do worry about why it is that those uncooperative singles won't volunteer for a National Day Parade and get themselves a spouse already, dagnabbit.

Getting grumbly and it's only Monday. Must drink tea and calm down before brain explodes.


Footloose and fancy-free

I'm not dancing like Kevin Bacon, but I am home --- without being sick --- with the entire day stretching before me. I think this is supposed to be the upside to working like a mad woman the first half of the year (that I finally 'claim' some of the extra Saturdays I worked back as bona fide time off work), but it would be nicer if it were part of the normal routine to get Fridays off. I think a four-day workweek would do wonders for worker morale, don't you?

So far today, I've written a long email confessional of sorts to my cousin Sam, recalculated our bills from the recent vacation so that we can all pay each other and have enough money to pay our respective credit cards, and henpecked Terz away from the computer until I'm done with it, buwahahahahaha.

Last night, we had much food and drink at Blooie's, and since Mr B has a phone that with Internet access (I forget the technical term for it), that was of course the perfect setting for an prolonged discussion of Latin language swear words. And while the list has matris futuor, it lacks the equivalent for the more flavorful "brotherjumper".



The downside to overdosing on Aaron Sorkin is that I start to talk the way Sorkin writes. Given my already excessively accelerated speech, this means that the longer I'm in the same conversation, the faster I speak, regardless of intelligibility or, indeed, for want of anything to say.
Ryan: Sometimes I think you talk just to make sounds.
Seth: Sometimes I do.
"The Perfect Couple", The O.C.
I've always wondered if this is an occupational hazard of being a teacher that no teachers' college warns you about.

Of course, it could be environmental too. To wit, this recent conversation with Gerard at Borders bookstore:
G: Have you seen The Quotable Slayer?
Me: No.
G: You haven't seen The Quotable Slayer?
Me: No.
G: But it's The Quotable Slayer!
Me: I haven't seen it.
G: The Quotable Slayer! It has quotes.
ME: Can we quit the Aaron Sorkin already? I still haven't seen it.
On the other hand, I also recently recounted a conversation with a friend to T à la Lorelai Gilmore, which might have freaked him out if he hadn't been drifting off to sleep at that time. And there was the Buffy phase, during which Gerard said I was talking more and more like that show.

Now that Astella's back in town, expect me fully to start talking like this.

On journalism, and then some

Y'know, whatever I say about my job, however much I gripe about it --- at least I haven't yet called it "shoveling coal for Satan" (linked off Rosmar).

That will be required reading for all my idealistic JC1 students next year. They need to know what they're in for, if they decide to start saving the world.

Motherfucker or brotherjumper?

As TBS redubs Sex and the City to suit its viewing audience, it's decided that "brotherjumper" is somehow less offensive than "motherfucker". Clearly, it has concluded that its discerning viewing audience finds the notion of snuggling with a brother more palatable than that of macking on the mom. I'm not convinced; are you?

And I thought Singapore's censors were strange ...