37 Questions

Stolen off Bee, because I was strangely engrossed in reading her replies and thought this list would make a nice change-of-pace from my usual consumeristic blatherings.

What is the geekiest part of your music collection?
The Robotech soundtrack --- so old in its geekiness that it was released on LP before it was out on CD.

What is your secret guaranteed weeping movie?
Roman Holiday. Well, it's a tearing movie. I don't really weep at any movie (war movies and their ilk don't count because of their usual excesses).

If you could have plastic surgery, what would you have done?
Nothing. I can't bear the thought of something cutting/sucking into me if it isn't surgically necessary to save my life.

Do you have a completely irrational fear?
That our apartment will be broken into. That unhappily manifested itself in a dream that spooked me awake one night --- though I still managed to fall back asleep after that.
When I was a kid, I used to be afraid that the world would be attacked by giants who would stomp into town, snatch us up and take us back to their mountain caves to be imprisoned. No, really.

What is the little physical habit that gives away your insecure moments?
I fall quiet and start peering around, somewhere, anywhere, for something that will make me feel better about myself.

Do you know anyone famous?
That depends on your definition of "famous". At one point, I was two degrees away from Keanu Reeves, if that counts for anything? And last year, I found out I was three degrees away from Peter Jackson. Oh wait, the question is whether I know them?

Who would play you in a movie?
No one looks ordinary enough. Besides, why would they make a movie about me?

What do you carry with you at all times?
Wallet, cellphones, keys.

What do you miss most about being a kid?
Having the time after school to read and read and read, preferably while nibbling on chocolate.

What colour is your bedroom?
Walls and bedsheets: blue and white. Furnishings are of the brown family.

What was the last song you were listening to?
Something off The O.C. soundtrack.

Have you ever been in a play?
Heavens, no. (Those one-act productions we did in junior college English class don't count; I had the fewest possible lines, anyway). I'd be too terrified to utter a word.

Have you ever been in love?
Yes, several times.

Do you like yourself and believe in yourself?
Yeah, pretty much.

Do transient, homeless, or starving people sometimes annoy you?
Um. NO. (I really don't know where this question comes from.)

What is your ideal marriage location?
Some kind of outdoor, garden-y setting. Of course, the fact that we got married in Singapore completely invalidated that possibility. I wouldn't want my guests to be all sweaty and sticky before dinner began (dirty!).

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play?
The violin, or maybe the cello. Hell, any wind instrument. The music they make seems a lot more malleable to the touch that the piano, which I do know how to play.

Favorite fabric?

What's the one language you want to learn?
Japanese, so that we can actually talk to people the next time we travel there. Bonus: I'd be able to watch anime without subtitles and could code-switch further while kibbitzing with KK (though she's way ahead of the game --- she speaks English, Japanese, Singlish, French, Russian and Spanish).

How do you eat an apple?
I bite straight into it. If Terz wants some, then on account of his delicate teeth, I quarter it up.

What do you order at a bar?
Vodka 7-Up (if sugar is needed), vodka tonic (if less taste is desired), vodka Coke Light (if I'm aspiring to fewer calories).

Have you ever pierced your body parts?
Yes, but just my ears. I have two ear holes in my left ear. Yeah, I'm quite the rebel, yeah.

Do you have tattoos?
No. I can't conceive of a single image or quote that I'd want emblazoned on me forever.

Do you drive a stick?
Yes, but I haven't since the mid-'90s.

Favorite trait of the opposite sex?
Carrying on a good conversation, with equal parts frivolity, humour and seriousness. Alcohol optional.

What kind of watch do you wear?
A slender Seiko ladies' watch, very generic. It's served me well since 1998. I've been hankering for something that looks a little snazzier, though.

Most frivolous purchase?
Black jacket from Tangs --- I thought it was a very Buffy jacket, and it's a nice piece in itself, but I've never found worn it outside of the fitting room or my bedroom (when I'm trying to remind myself why I bought it in the first place). I really should take it with me the next time I travel...

What are you best at cooking?
Fried eggs, sunnyside up or over easy.

Would you ever go out dressed like the opposite sex?
It's easy for girls, isn't it? Just throw on a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and some trainers. Or I could just raid Zara's men's department...

What's one car you will never buy?
Anything Malaysian or Korean.

What kind of books do you like to read?
Literary fiction and Bill Bryson.

If you won the lottery, what would you do?
Quit my job, save the world, write a book (roughly in that order). Oh, and eventually set Terz and myself up in a house on the Oregon coast for a year.

Do you cry in front of your friends?
Not if I can help it.

What's one thing you like to do alone?
Blog. Read. Talk to myself. (Yeah, it said one thing, but I couldn't pick just one.)

Are you a giver or a taker?
Both, I hope!

When's the last time you cried?
Last Monday.

How many drinks before you're tipsy sleepy?
Wine: 3
Beer: 2
Spirits: 5
Yeah, it really doesn't add up.


The backwards entry

Eating the equivalent of a bowlful of Cocoa Krispies after midnight cannot be good for me, even if I try to deceive myself about the amount I'm eating by scooping up slender handfuls at a time. It's all Stellou's fault.

I shouldn't be hungry, because we had a decent-sized dinner at Bumbu's that cost half of what last night's (admittedly larger) spread at PhoChine (warning: the link takes you to a potentially annoying Flash display) set us back for. But maybe I didn't feel as satisfied as I usually do after a Bumbu meal because of the bizarre music-and-dance display going on immediately outside the restaurant's glass walls. I believe the practice is referred to as "line dancing" in some local community centres --- eh, sorry, community clubs now --- but there is much I still don't understand about it. Like why do aunties want to line-dance, or dance at all, to Backstreet Boys music? And why do so many of the female dancers have to wear pink T-shirts? And why does the entire spectacle (there's really no other word for it) take place in the middle of Far East Square, thus discombobulating nearby diners, bystanders, tourists all?

A-ha! A quick Google search for Far East Square turns up the little-known fact that a) there is a Country Line Dance Association (Singapore) (!!), and b) that these "free jam sessions" have been going on for three years but they will start charging for them come February. But that still doesn't answer my questions about aunties or pink T-shirts.

On the flip side, I now understand why people were dancing so weirdly at Zouk the last time I stuck my head in there. They learned those snazzy moves at line dancing class!

Before dinner, we had a nice quiet afternoon at Gallery Hotel for the opening of the second installment of "Glimpses of Light", featuring photography from recent Mercy Relief trips to tsunami-hit areas. Darren Soh's pictures from his trip to Sri Lanka are up for two weeks; Terz will get his run in four weeks' time. I was really struck by some of Darren's portraits, so pop by the hotel if you'd like to take a look. The exhibition is on the second floor of one of the circular buildings outside the hotel (the one that's not Ego's and not Moloko), and will run till 11 February. Watch this blog for info on Terz's exhibition, once details are finalised.

(I just had another two mouthfuls of Cocoa Krispies, ostensibly to fuel the composition of a witty and eloquent blog entry.)

Last night, we were at Wine Bar, even though I was totally not dressed for it, but I would like to thank the following girls for making me feel better about my pedestrian outfit:

  • The one clomping around in knee-high black stiletto-heeled boots;
  • The one in a tight black top that had wings of black fabric hanging over the front, sufficient to disguise a gravid belly;
  • The one in the slinky green-blue dress of metallic shimmer, with her hair bunned up like a schoolmarm; and
  • The one in a skirt more often seen in Sunday School than in the environs of Zouk.
Gosh, I must be channelling Spirit Fingers' Fashion Roadkill of the Day series.

This weekend is all about spending lots of time with Terz's Mercy Relief teammmates and not so much about doing all the marking I brought home with me. (So much for resolution #3, although I've stuck to the spirit of it by not actually declining any social invitations on account of having to mark on the weekend.) I shall probably pay for this enthusiastic procrastination some time in the wee hours of Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Other things to accomplish this week:
  • Stop procrastinating and purchase an iBook and iPod already, dammit! --- I've revised my earlier Mac mini purchase plan, in view of the fact that with an iBook, I can sit on the couch and check email, or blog in bed, or surf the web from the bathroom. No, really.
  • Embrace the inner auntie and make the pilgrimage to Chinatown already, dammit! --- Anybody want to come? I think it will be next Saturday night, so that I have Sunday to recover and make resolutions about never doing it again.


What good is a blog

It's been a quiet week en blog because, well, it's been one of those weeks.

I got frustrated with students, then got frustrated with myself, then mostly got frustrated with them again. Today I graded their work and was positively astounded at what they're capable of (this is not the good kind of astounding). But I can't blog about it.

Terz came home on Monday, with stories that don't bear the telling, though some pictures he can show. I can't blog about it.

What a blog is good for is acknowledging that despite the drawbacks of teaching, it also gives me the flexibility to leave work at 12:45 pm today, so that Terz and I can do lunch, grab groceries and head home to while away the afternoon together. So maybe waking up at 6 am is worth it --- some days. It also helps that I've been trying to be a diligent yoga student and practise ye olde sun salutation every morning. It's better than coffee!

In other school news, a class that I substitute taught last week didn't know my name (my fault --- I didn't bother to introduce myself to them) and so described me to their teacher as "the teacher with the interesting shoes". The other common descriptor is "the teacher with the Powerpuff girl keychain hanging from her waist". I'm surprised they haven't gotten around to this moniker yet: "the one who speaks so fast it's impossible to understand her, and she sometimes talks to herself in the middle of the lesson too".

When you think about it, blogging is really nothing more than talking to yourself but out loud in the middle of the world wide web --- isn't it?



The problem with watching Notting Hill before bedtime is that I wake up with Elvis Costello's "She" going round and round in my head --- and I don't even know the lyrics to the song besides the first six words: "She / may be the one who ... "

New song, please!

Oh, alright ---

--- So maybe I am a bit of a freak, because I ran 6 km in 35 minutes tonight, thus exceeding my target by 1 km.

After a good run like that, there's no better way to warm down than to have a brown cat from the neighbourhood nose around as I did my stretches. I stooped, then sat on the ground to scritch it for a good few minutes; in return, it nosed my hand, slinked around my butt (I'd like to think it was the fabric of my shorts, rather than my butt per se, that it was interested in) and eventually nipped at my hand. That's when I swatted it on the head and bid it goodnight.

Our neighbourhood cats aren't usually cosy with people, so I'm not sure if this one's a new arrival. Alternatively, it could be the grown-up version of the kitten on the right below:

Originally uploaded by Tym.

I suspect the only reason I made it to 6 km tonight was that I was artificially buoyed by the zest of wearing a newly purchased shirt. Ah well. Whatever works.

Besides the new shirts, I also bought today some DVDs from HMV. They failed to remove the security tags, so when I exited the store, it triggered the alarm. And again in Levi's, Royal Sporting House and Borders. I will have you know that at no point in any store was I accosted or ordered to cease and desist. A salesgirl at Royal Sporting House eyed me curiously when the alarm went off, but I'd only nipped into the store for less than a minute so it was pretty obvious I couldn't've nicked anything in that time. The rest of the time, I just coolly kept walking and ignored the honking alarm. That seemed to work pretty well as a no-fuss strategy --- which makes me wonder, why the hell do they bother with alarms anyway?

Embracing the inner auntie

I've been in a strange sort of pre-Chinese New Year mood. For one thing, I actually want to buy tacky bright red ching-chong Chinese New Year decorations. Our apartment door looks dismal now that it's been divested of Xmas decor and I'm thinking that maybe a paste-up cherub of a Chinese boy with his hands locked in gongxi posture will do wonders for its spirits. So every time I walk past a store selling Chinese New Year decor --- be it Robinsons or Cold Storage or my neighbourhood provision shop --- I have the strongest urge to bundle up an armful of red paper creations and start dressing our apartment like a crazy Chinese lantern. As an excuse for browsing, I even offered to ship some to Stellou for her Chinese New Year party. (No such luck; she's all stocked up on her side of the world.)

Yesterday, I was cutting across Chinatown on my way to meet the best friend to do wedding stuff, and though the New Year stalls weren't fully open and the streets weren't fully crowded yet, there was an unmistakable buzz in the air. The next thing I knew, I was telling everyone I met that what I really want to do this Chinese New Year is to pop down to Chinatown one of these evenings and re nao, re nao (which roughly translates as to partake of the noise and excitement). So far, my enthusiasm has been greeted with gasps of shock and horror, and Wahj declared today, "Your inner auntie is coming out."

Oh, and no one wants to go with me.

So maybe this is what happens to a person when they're clinging frantically on to the last few months of being thirty: they embrace their inner auntie --- or a hitherto neglected aspect of their cultural heritage --- or a quintessential quality of being Singaporean --- or all of the above --- and they decide that squeezing through Chinatown crowds the weekend before Chinese New Year sounds like a great idea.

I'm sure I'll bitch about it when I get back, but anybody want to go with me? In addition to the attraction of loud noise, extreme bargaining and sweat-fragranced bodies, there's also the unmistakable opportunity to check out the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a huge temporary temple structure that was raised in less than a month on a plot of empty land by South Bridge Road. I knew that our flats were prefab, but who knew that religious buildings came in jigsaw pieces too?


All about Toast

Because Adri asked for it, here are helpful directions to Toast:

Go to the second floor of Ngee Ann City. Do not stop at Zara, do not be lured upstairs by Kino. From Larry Jewelry, walk towards Tiffany's. As On Pedder comes into view, there'll be a sign overhead pointing right to Tower B lift lobby and Toast (yes, Toast actually appears on the sign!). Take a right, pass through the lift lobby and out to the external foyer, where there's usually someone having a smoke. Toast is immediately to the right of the foyer --- follow the glint of the pink tiles.
Here's a map for reference. Toast is in the upper right of the layout, shaded light pink. The map, however, makes the place look larger than it is.

The UOB Plaza (or is it OUB Plaza? I always get them mixed up) outlet is easier to find: It's on the ground floor of the building, and can be accessed from within the building or from Raffles Place. It's decorated just like the Ngee Ann city outlet (pink tiles, dark wood table tops and basic white chairs), but enjoys a higher ceiling thanks to the building design, so I imagine that even when it's busy, it's not as noisy as the Ngee Ann City one can get.

While I'm on the subject, do not be deceived, as Casey and I were last night, by a sign along either Pekin or Nankin Street, down in the Far East Square/China Square area (yes, I know, it all sounds the same, just like it all looks the same) that declares, "Toast" above an arrow to the right. We followed the arrow, only to find a hole-in-the-wall place that's really called, The Toast of the Town. Or A Toast of the Town. Whatever. Doesn't matter. The point is: it's not Toast, and whoever put up the directional signage really shouldn't've abbreviated it as such.

Coming back to the real Toast, we got there at 3:45 pm yesterday and a sign said that they would be closed 4:15 - 5:00 pm for a private function. (What kind of private function can be over and done with within 45 minutes, is what I want to know.) Since we had to wait for another friend to show up, we ended up having Nutella muffins and drinks anyway, and neither muffin nor my iced lemon tea endeavoured to disappoint.

In closing, I should acknowledge my debt to Stellou, for showing me where Toast was in the first place, way back in August --- and she doesn't even live here anymore! --- and to umami, whose positive review in September egged me on to try the place out.

You all don't all go on the same day, okay?

February 27, 2005 --- Edited to add:
So apparently my directions above are more confusing than anything, and I should simply say: To find Toast, go where the smokers go outside the back of Ngee Ann City. (Needless to say, it's one of my nicotine-addicted friends who critiqued my directions. It's not my fault if I don't know the cool places to smoke!)

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

My website's been down, due to a GoDaddy glitch, but I didn't really have the time to blog these last few days, anyway. In between doing work, I've been fretting about the fact that I seem to have forgotten how to teach. I keep saying the wrong thing, asking questions that don't lead anywhere, allowing myself to snap at students. I flip through resource files listlessly, wondering why lesson ideas came so easily to me three year ago, while now I struggle to come up with something, anything that will pass the time for thirty-five minutes. I relish every moment of being in school --- except the five minutes before I have to go to class, and even then I tend to dawdle (check email just one more time, return a missed phone call, take a quick potty break) so that I wind up being at least five minutes late for every class.

I'm doomed.

Perhaps it's just as well I've taken up hatha yoga. A friend freaked me out the day before the first class by saying something about how it's always aunties who take these classes and then they fart a lot after class, what with all the yoga relaxation techniques. Fortunately, my class was neither auntie- nor fart-clogged. In fact, the instructor's son had come along to assist and my, he was a nice-looking young man.

This week, I have been called a "physical junkie" (thanks, James), "fitness freak" (thanks, Mel) and "fanatic, like a born-again Christian" (thanks, Kay) about exercise. Just because I take some classes and run every few evenings. Admittedly, this is a far cry from when I decided I should start running and got excited over buying running shoes. That was after not having exercised one jot since I left junior college (the equivalent of high school). But once you factor in the fact that my so-called evenings runs can always be superseded by social plans or, these days, by an unexpected gift of a downpour from the lingering monsoon, you'll realise I'm hardly a freak about it at all.

However, I did wake up this morning pondering if I had time for a run before making a pre-arranged long-distance call to KK. When a glance out the window confirmed that it was too hot in the day already, I mentally postponed the run to tomorrow. When plans for tomorrow got confirmed, reducing the likelihood of a run to well nigh zero, I mentally postponed the run to Sunday but was unsettled at so many days elapsing since my last good run on Wednesday. So maybe I am a little fanatical about this.

What I admit to currently being fanatical about is Toast. There was a highly successful tea with the mother and aunts a couple of months ago, and it later provided the perfect moment of respite from last-minute Xmas Eve shopping with Casey. Last week I discovered the Raffles Place outlet, which was quiet enough mid-afternoon that I could rapidly grade a few essay outlines while Terz got his shots. If all goes as planned tomorrow, I'll be Toast-bound again, because I've been putting off that Nutella muffin for too damn long. It shall be mine.

I had tea with the mater and the aunts again this week, but this time it was hosted at home by Fifth Aunt, who made walnut-carrot-pineapple muffins and banana cake with walnuts and raisins. You know it's going to be a stirring afternoon when First Aunt holds out her cup to be refilled, saying, "I need more coffee. I need to be alert when I'm talking with my sisters." In the middle of Third Aunt telling a story, my mother, who's heard the story before, decides that's the best time to move around the table, profferring lou por bang (which translates as wife biscuit, but beware: the linked page plays music) and clothes which one aunt can't wear anymore that another aunt (or I) might want. I went home with a purple top; my mom got the rest since she's the smallest of the sisters. Despite all the racket, my grandfather managed to snatch a snooze on the couch.

So the funny thing about being a girl is that when people start asking if you've lost weight, you start wondering if there's any truth in it. Then you ask a friend who hasn't seen you for a while and of course the answer you get instead is: "Nope, you've put on a bit of weight though." Then you kick yourself for asking the question in the first place, since all your clothes still fit, and the running feels good, and the desserts (like the lovely single portion of Jivara I had tonight, not to mention yesterday's waffles and apple pie and ice cream, and Fifth Aunt's baking) all taste really good.

God, I missed blogging.


Friday night

Friday night at Union, I was sitting in a corner with EH, Casey and two former colleagues --- four girls, one guy in all. As we were wrapping up drinks, a group, with four guys and one girl, took over the adjacent couches. Two minutes later, the girl --- very tall, a little drunk --- was by our side, pondering the possibilities of merging our groups, given our symmetrical gender balance. (She didn't use any big words like that, though. It was more like, "There are four girls and one guy over on your side, and we've got four guys and one girl over here ... ")

We declined, politely --- although I was the only married person in my group, so I'm not sure why that was. The guys were kinda cute.

My friends asked me why I was so quiet that night. I was like, dude, your day did not start at 6 am.

Outside, across the road in Chinatown proper, stallholders worked past midnight to set up their wares for Chinese New Year sales, which included not just the usual selection of waxed duck, lap cheong (Chinese sausage), almond cookies and pineapple tarts, but also German sausages, home-made ice cream, cute plastic insects on a stick and Zippo lighters with half-naked faux nubile women on them. Only in Singapore...

The hard part(s) about teaching

  • Waking up before the crack of dawn every morning.
  • Fighting off the sleepies between 3 and 5 pm, when the urge to go home and nap is overpowering, despite all the work I have to do.
  • Fighting off the urge to fight off the sleepies by munching on tasty snacks that have been thoughtfully provided in the staff lounge.
  • Not interacting on a regular basis with anyone who isn't a student or fellow staff member.
  • Diligently going to bed at 11 pm. Okay, midnight. And no partying, either.
  • Not being able to vent about the teaching per se, in case students stumble acros this blog (a not entirely unlikely prospect, given that this blog occasionally gets browned) and, you know, they're young, impressionable, wouldn't want them to feel hurt or anything.
Dammit, it's hard being a teacher. And I've only been at it for two weeks.

Wielding a red pen once more

I finished grading one class of essays today, so I've done enough to take an internet break. It's all the more impressive when you consider that a) I haven't graded any essays in over three years, b) I was grading them to the soundtrack of a Malay kompang band entertaining the wedding party on the ground floor/void deck of our apartment block.

People who actually read this blog regularly may wonder, did she stick to that resolution about not making any more snarky comments in the margins? Dear reader, I will have you know that I stuck very closely to the spirit of the resolution, and allowed myself only one teensy lapse. After all, when a student, comparing young people's lives with that of their contemporaries "in the past", proceed to write that in the past, young people in Singapore had to "toil in the fields", no self-respecting teacher can allow that to slip by without scribbling a hasty, "What fields?!" in the margins. I mean, seriously, people. Singapore? Never known for any agricultural endeavour, even "in the yesteryears" (another pet phrase of students, it seems). Those waxy romanticised images of bamboo-hatted farmers stooping to work in puddled rice padi fields? Are not of our country. Yet for some reason two students felt compelled to note this point.

For the record, the essays in general did not tempt me greatly to snarkiness, so keeping the resolution hasn't been too difficult. The kids write decently --- and I suspect I'm also mellowing with age.

On Friday, at a random coffee/tea break encounter in the canteen, the boss asked us all what we were doing on the weekend, since schools now operate on a five-day week. I can't believe I forgot to tell her that I'd be marking.


The prosaic, in prose

This morning, I lay in bed after waking up, thinking about all the little things that I needed to do.

Then I got up and did them.

  • Took down Xmas decor: this involved putting tinsel and little holly clusters away, setting the wreath out to dry in the sun, and handwashing the Xmas runner.
  • Speaking of handwashing, I finally washed this other shirt that's been lying on the room floor for over a week, waiting to be handwashed. Why do I keep buying clothes that require delicate care, when it's so leh cheh (troublesome)?
  • Replaced the Xmas runner with the usual table runner we bought in Mai Chau, Vietnam.
  • Folded and kept the laundry.
  • Made lunch, including spending about five minutes hunting down the new mayo and worrying that Terz took it with him to Indonesia, since we bought it at the same time as some other supplies for his trip. It turned out to be in the fridge.
  • Painted my fingernails.
  • Didn't do anything work-related. Yay!

Now off to dinner with the parentals, followed by a friend's birthday party, at which I probably won't know a soul.

If I had categories for my blog, I'd filed this one under "The Prosaic and the Pendantic".


Keeping cool

My cubicle, at the new workplace, is in the coldest section of the entire office: Due to building wiring issues, two split-unit airconditioners are located side-by-side right above my cubicle; together, they sweep a relentless wave of cold air at me. Due to air circulation issues, if I raise the desired airconditioned temperature to anything more than 18ºC, my colleagues sitting a few cubicles down will feel as if the airconditioners aren't on at all.

I don't actually mind the cold, since my logic has always been aligned with what a fellow Northwestern alumnus told me: "You can bundle up with as many layers as you need when it's freezing, but when it's really hot (e.g. in Singapore), you can't peel off your skin." But the office temperature extremes are pretty crazy: I don a fleece jacket the moment I sit down at my desk (and even then my fingers are freezing as I type this) but I shrug it off immediately when I pop about the rest of the office, since everywhere else the temperature is comfortable enough that skinny female teachers can work comfortably in sleeveless tops.

I received a plant as a welcome gift when I moved into my cubicle. Bad enough that plants usually wither and die while in my care; I hope it's sturdy enough to survive these Arctic climes as well.


Mac lust v2.0

I want this. And this. Thank goodness Adri stayed up to get (and blog) the good news, so that I could exult first thing this morning, before the Straits Times even had it on their website (they've reprinted the AP report, which made the grievous error of calling it the Mini Mac instead of the Mac Mini, --- or maybe they're trying to imply that Dr Evil had something to do with this?).

I'm so glad I decided to wait and preen over having a healthy savings balance, instead of immediately splurging last year's bonus on the originally planned combo of iBook + iPod. Mac Mini + iPod is going to do me so much better.

I'm already dreaming up names for them ...



In the first quarter of my sophomore year at college, my cluster of friends discovered that we all had classes at University Hall, Kresge or Harris at either 9 or 10 am, which meant that at 9:50 am, we had time for a great 10-minute rendezous/smoking break/pow-wow (except that none of us actually smoked) before dragging our feet indoors for the next class. Friends would bring friends, and before long we had a regular conference of about ten people who loosely knew each other, huddled at a bench opposite the Rock. As the weather got grayer and jackets got heavier, we still met every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a quick exhalation of conversation, twitching from toe to toe to keep the blood circulating, before the gradual retreat of bundled bodies into the buildings around us signalled that our time was up.

Time was short, then; it seems even shorter, now.


On a wet Wednesday morning

I really didn't want to get out of bed.

It was easier to get a cab to work than it was on Monday and Tuesday when it wasn't raining.

Some poor teachers had to go out into the downpour to direct traffic and help clear up the snarl in the school carpark.

For the second time in as many days, a lesson that I had painstakingly prepared for was truncated due to other school activities I didn't know about. (I don't mind having a truncated lesson; I mind that the fact that I'm out of practice enough to have to angst over lesson preparation.)

I find out that my taking a moment is making the rounds on email. If you're going to circulate it, the least you could do is stick a web link on it, you know?

But seeing baby is like having the sun come out.



I don't usually do New Year's resolutions, because in my experience they've never been anything more than an abject failure, but there's no better term for the stray thoughts that've been crowding my mind as I stand on the cusp of a new school year. So here they are: my New Year's resolutions with respect to being a teacher again.

1. Do not write snarky or cutting remarks in the margins, not even for the most insipid or ill-thought out of essays.

I used to really let myself go, ranging from a simple "DUH" (sometimes underlined as well) to an archly inquiring, "Of course the solution to world poverty that's simple. That's why no one's thought of it before" to entire essay-length responses that took up every last available space on the student's paper. Apparently, such comments can be too overpowering for some students' sense of self-esteem. Personally, I think it builds character. At any rate, in the spirit of peace-on-earth-goodwill-to-men, I'll confine myself to a boring tick-tick-cross routine from now onwards.

2. Speak more slowly, so that the students actually understand what I'm saying.

I speak like a runaway locomotive most of the time, especially when I get excited or upset about something. I don't mind repeating myself if the kids don't catch it the first time, but the thing is, I should speak moderately enough that the kids can catch it the first time.

3. Do more work in school and bring marking home less often.

I know all the teachers reading this are scoffing already, but I really don't want to decline social invitations on the weekend --- or even on weekdays --- because "I have to mark". It's almost as bad as, in the previous job, having to cancel plans because "something urgent just came up".

4. Keep my cubicle neat and the piles of paper manageable.

It's my mother who would scoff if she read this, because she is wise and knows me well. Nevertheless, I will try. I did passingly well after swopping cubicles at the previous job. The key, I think, is to file diligently and abhor all isolated sheets of paper.

5. Don't sit on the teacher's table when wearing a skirt, even a long one.

There are teenage boys around, you know.

The year 2004, in books

I did this last year and it seems as good a way to sum up the year as any. An asterisk indicates books that I'd read before. I read more books this year, but a lot more were rereads, so overall I read fewer new books. (Hm. That's not good.)

1. Tropical Classical, Pico Iyer (Jan)*
A collection of essays from all over the place --- both literally (based on his global travels) and metaphorically (based on his thoughts about random subjects, ranging from punctuation to silence to frequent flyer miles.) I used to reprint a couple for students to read because he's got a lyrical yet immensely readable style (assuming the reader is halfway literate) and I think he writes much better when he's not pontificating about world affairs. (Does he still write for Time? I haven't touched a copy of the red-margined rag in years.)

2. The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood (Jan)
Eh. If it hadn't been the only English-language book, besides the Lonely Planet, that we had with us in Vietnam, I can't say that I would've finished reading it. I love me my Atwood, but this was angsty Atwood and quite hard to stomach after I enjoyed Oryx and Crake so much last year.

3. Belgarath the Sorcerer, David Eddings (Feb) *
4. Pawn of Prophecy, David Eddings (Feb) *
I picked up Eddings when I was in my mid-teens and never quite put it down, even though it's formulaic and utterly predictable and extremely awfully written in certain points. (Mixing up the name of the Arendish god Chaldan with the name of one of the prominent villains Asharak towards the end of the Malloreon series was just the least of Eddings's sins.) It makes for good bedtime reading, though --- it doesn't tax the brain, I already know the plot and plot 'twists', and I can put it down at any time when the sleepies finally hit.

5. Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
The start of my Harry Potter phase. It helped that Ondine had all the books, so I didn't have to buy any of them. I'd put off reading them for years because of the hype, then caved in and decided I had to see what the fuss was all about. (I think the catalyst was when a Salon article referenced "Muggles" and I didn't understand it.) Five books later, I was pretty pleased with Rowling's results, although the increasing length of each installment is starting to wear on me. Learn some discipline, woman! I admit, though, that I don't love Happy Rotter enough to start buying the books, even when hardback versions of The Goblet of Fire were $6.99 on clearance at Borders. I'll continue mooching off Ondine for the next book ...

6. Queen of Sorcery, David Eddings (Feb)
See 4 above.

7. Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
8. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
9. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (Feb)
See 5 above.

10. Magician's Gambit, David Eddings (Feb) *
See 4 above.

11. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (Mar)
See 5 above.

12. Babyville, Jane Green (Mar)
My first encounter with chick lit. I wasn't repulsed, but I can't say this was a shining example of the genre's potential. Plus acquaintances kept giving me knowing looks when they saw me reading a book with the word "baby" in the title.

13. Down Under, Bill Bryson (Mar) *
Last year's comments (no. 8 in the list) still hold true. I think it's required reading at this point, to ensure that I make it through the year with my sanity and sense of humour intact.

14. Man and Boy, Tony Parsons (Mar)
My first encounter with guy lit. Readable, bonus points for Star Wars references, and lighthearted books by Brit authors are rarely a total letdown for me. (I'm easy, I know.)

15. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (Mar)
(Fuck, it wasn't till March that I hit my first substantive new read? I gotta do better this year.) Gaiman is, well, god and Neverwhere is more beautiful than any fallen angel.

16. Lost in Translation, Nicole Mones (Mar)
This has nothing to do with that Bill Murray movie set in Japan, though it's also set in modern Asia (China). The writer's American, but she seems to have been in China long enough to strike a genuine lyrical note whenever she's translating Chinese phrases or behaviour. I approve.

17. One For My Baby, Tony Parsons (Apr)
I can't remember what this one's about. I think I only remembered (dimly) Man and Boy because I'd tried more than once to read it. Sorry, Tony.

18. Obasan, Joy Kogawa (Apr) *
This was the closest I came to any Vancouver-related literature before our trip to the Pacific Northwest. Another elegaic writer; a quiet, proud book. Ah, obasan.

19. Castle of Wizardry, David Eddings (Apr) *
You know the drill.

20. Promiscuities, Naomi Wolf (Apr)
Finally got a copy of it. Not as tight as some of her other writing, I thought, but perhaps talking about sex is always that much more personal and hence more uneven. (Since we're on the subject, here's a link, for those of you that haven't read it yet, to Tomato Nation's "A Four-Letter Word", an abbreviated take on some of the same issues.)

21. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (Apr)
I like! Long, but in a good way. Bildungsroman, but also in a good way. The protagonist really engaged me, and that's really all I ask for in a good story.

22. Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (May)
Finally read this, three years after buying it. It's funny how some things about boys still haven't changed.

23. Enchanter's End Game, David Eddings (May) *
Because once you get started on Eddings, you gotta keep going till the bitter end.

24. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (May)
Why didn't I read this book before? It's only been lying on our bookshelves for five years now. Absolutely captivating, the characters and spirit of the book.

25. Misconceptions, Naomi Wolf (June)
I'd been eyeing this for a while and finally picked it up at Powell's in Seattle. By turns terrifying and heartbreaking, it inspired me to take notes so that I know what questions I should ask my gynae and which of his/her answers should send me fleeing for the hills. (Horror stories can happen in Singapore too. A friend's gynae just suggested inducing their baby's birth because he's got vacation plans!)

26. Step Across This Line, Salman Rushdie (June)
Fiction, non-fiction --- this man can write.

27. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (Jul) *
Fluff, to while away the mornings on the train.

28. War of the Flowers, Tad Williams (Jul)
Finally, a stand-alone fantasy novel that showed us how it was done --- and that was just in the first few chapters that are very much set in our reality. Good storytelling in the genre is possible without resorting to Wheel of Time proportions.

29. A Defining Moment: How Singapore Beat Sars, Chua Mui Hoong (Aug)
I read it because it was lying around the office. Also, I now know what I can and cannot talk about, as far as the government's Sars work was involved. All that aside, the book was really badly written: flatter than a tamale, with less flavour than unpolished rice and about as much originality as sliced white bread. Secondary school history textbooks have more character.

30. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson(Aug)
I think I learned more about science from this book than from ten years of general education. The factoid that remains ingrained in me to this day? When humans as a species went completely bipedal, that had two immediate and fateful consequences: childbirth would become more painful and dangerous for females, and females wouldn't be able to gestate their offspring for long, so humans were going to have to get very good at rearing children. So all the subsequent sociological consequences --- the significance attached to choosing an epidural during labour, the amount of time and energy we expend doting on children (frequently the mother's job, let's not forget) --- are all because we walk around on two legs. Four legs good, two legs better? Perhaps the jury's still out on that.

31. Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis(Aug)
The book that triggered my mini-Scrabble craze, followed by Kay's. Yes, a book about Scrabble fanatics, including some of their powerfully anti-social habits, was much more fascinating than the official tome about Singapore beating Sars, despite my personal involvement in the latter and ny absolute dread of Scrabble prior to reading the former.

32. True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey (Sep)
It's adjectivally good, I tell ya. What's this I hear about making it into a movie with Orlando Bloom, though?!

33. Autobiography of A One-year-old, Rohan Candappa (Sep)
I wished I'd written this book, not because it's particularly good, but because it wouldn't've been terribly hard to write (assuming one had more than a passing acquaintance with one-year-old children) and I could've made all the money Candappa made off the gimmicky thing.

34. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon (Sep)
Wahj and G-man strongly recommended it --- how could I say no? A deceptively simple read, a delightfully enthralling peek into the mind of a person with autism, and a good story at its heart.

35. The Business of Books, Andre Schiffrin (Sep)
Another North American purchase, this time from the discount stack at UBC's university bookstore. An interesting eyewitness view to the changes in the publishing industry from the immediate post-World War 2 period to the present. I always wanted to work in publishing, still want to, and reading about it from a publisher's point of view is like peeking through a window to the unattainable promised land.

36. Singapore Beat: The Insider's Guide to News Media, Ravi Veloo (Sep)
Something else I read for work, mostly to see if it could tell me anything new after I'd had almost three years of working with the media. It had some interesting anecdotes, but not as many as I'd've liked.

37. My Hero, Tom Holt (Sep)
Smart and funny. I'd've read more Holt this year, but I got the feeling that this is the sort of humour one can only take in measured doses.

38. In the Shadow of No Towers, Art Spiegelman (Sep)
The creator of Maus takes on 9/11 and its aftermath. Brilliant, but if only it had been longer! After reading Maus-length material, it's odd that this book is only a fraction as long. (It's also the only book that won't fit into our bookshelves, whether I try to stand it tall or on its side.)

39. Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery (Oct) *
My favourite series from childhood --- I've always found it much more imaginative and intoxicating than the Anne of Green Gables series by the same author. Another case of me choosing to reread the familiar rather than poke around for a new book.

40. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain (Oct)
Love love love Anthony Bourdain in A Cook's Tour on the Discovery Travel channel, so when I heard he wrote a book about his career and exploits, naturally I had to get it. Among other lessons learnt: don't order hollandaise sauce unless you see it freshly made in front of you, never order the specials, and invest in a set of good Global knives.

41. Emily Climbs, L.M. Montgomery (Nov) *
Part 2 of the Emily series. My favourite of the three, I think.

42. Dancing Barefoot, Wil Wheaton (Nov)
Terz ordered this from Amazon near the beginning of the year, but it wasn't till November that I sat down and read it right and proper. An honest, warm book that's whetted my appetite for Just A Geek (which we haven't received yet).

43. Franny & Zooey, J.D. Salinger (Nov) *
I felt rather Franny-like when I read it, but it's Zooey's character I've always enjoyed more.

44. American Gods, Neil Gaiman (Nov)
My ignorance of many mythologies caused me to miss all the clues about how the plot was going to play out, but maybe it was more fun that way.

For 2005, I shall try and read more books for the first time, including J.M. Coetzee, whom everyone I respect keeps waxing lyrical about and I just haven't gotten round to reading just yet.

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First things first

The first things I did after waking up on New Year's Day were: clean the two-week-old nail polish off my fingernails, cut and file my fingernails, whip Xmas leftovers into a late sandwich lunch, watch the second disc of director's/writers' commentary on the extended edition of The Return of the King and take a nap.

If that sounds intolerably tame, then remember that we abandoned our New Year's Eve tradition of doing nothing, and kissed 2004 farewell with two parties and an impromptu karaoke session in Chinatown. The parties were extremely civilised, even with the game of Twister that mysteriously materialised at X's shortly after midnight. Karaoke at Cha Xuan was in its own universe, however. For all that it purports to be a "family karaoke" place, it was filled with mostly Chinese men whose gaze I didn't want to meet as we filtered through the main singing area to the upstairs private booth where our friends were. They sang, I took a nap, and when the place closed at 4 am, it smelled a lot worse than when we first came in. Outside, there were no cabs, natch. A tribe of young men in white shirts and black pants clustered protectively around one of their own, who retched and heaved every two minutes or so. The poor grass.

I was going to blog before Xmas about how the monsoon season, having arrived early, had correspondingly fled before the new year. However, while we had a deceptively dry Xmas, with only one brief cloudburst around lunchtime, it's been raining energetically for two ---no, three days now. I should go run before it starts up again.