Despite seven hours of solid sleep --- as in, I passed out once my head hit the pillow, just like they say in the Famous Five books after the Five return from yet another exciting adventure, and when I came awake, yes, even before the alarm clock kicked in, it was with that bright-eyed refreshedness that usually comes after sleeping in on the weekend --- despite that, as I sit here in a well-intentioned attempt to be a diligent teacher and grade some assignments, my eyes droop, my brain fades, my hand contrives its own mechanical sequence of ticks and scribbles across the page.

I could blame it on the rainburst we enjoyed this morning, but I suspect it's my own occupational disaffection.


Durian: the aftermath

I guess my body is trying to figure out what to do with the sudden influx of durian into the system. So far, the current methods of coping include: burping durian breath every so often (stellou, this confirms that my diagnosis of the aftermath of your durian consumption last year was way accurate), roiling my digestive system every hour or so, visiting the bathroom more times than is normal in one day, and completely forgetting to go to class at 11 am. When I showed up for the second half of the lesson, having been summoned by a phone call, I still didn't get that I was one period and not just one minute late. The kids had a good laugh about that.

On the bright side, even though I dug greedily into each fruit, my fingers do not reek of durian. Perhaps the soaps they make nowadays are more aggressive than what I had as a kid.



(For those who need a translation.)

You know a girl is nua when even going for yoga class seems like too much effort.

The cure: Attend yoga, but ditch marking and head out to Geylang for durians instead.

Originally uploaded by Tym; taken by Ming.

Now the stomach's obscenely full. Five durians between five people is, in fact, one durian too many, especially since Terz and Ming quit on us early in the game. We would've been sated with three, but the last one was unexpectedly sharp, so we went back in a bid for more sweet ones, only to be teased again by one sweet --- heavenly! --- and one that trailed off into mute bitterness.

How to sleep tonight?


Back in the saddle again

I've been away from school for a week, attending a course. Today I'm back --- to waking at 6 am, not wearing jeans all the livelong day, and being engulfed by uniform-clad teenagers. At 7:30 am, the humidity had already thickened to a skin-crawling miasma and the rest of the day yawned impossibly long.

I murdered my way through two classes of comprehension assignments over the weekend, but this morning realised that there were two other sets of assignments that I'd completely forgotten about. So despite my diligence, I still have five more classes of assignments to grade within the next week or so. This is the part about being a teacher that nobody likes.

If anyone would like to entertain me at Starbucks over the next few evenings, SMS or email me. It's gonna be a long push till next weekend...


The wonders of technology

I. Widow of MoHaa lodges official protest

Almost every week, certain boys men get together and play MoHAA while their wives/significant others, including myself, are left to forage a social life for themselves. This was my official SMS complaint, lodged with one of the cult members players last night (though it was lodged while I was having dinner at East Coast Park lagoon hawker centre, I assure you that completely belies the weight with which the Widows of MoHAA regard this issue):
Wahj: ... The wives seem not to understand the sacred importance of MoHAA.
Me: The wives are all too aware of the power of the IDOLATRY that is MoHaa.
Wahj: Hissss! I banish thee! Begone!
Me: Ye idolaters shall be stoned unto eternal regret come Judgement Day!
Wahj: Don't make me use the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch on you ...
Me: I shall stake you and ye shall be dust.
Wahj: Only now, at the very end, do you realise the power of the Dark Side ... *zap lightning*
Me: You ... shall ... not ... PASS!! *boom*
Wahj: I will break the Wizard ... *sword breaks in two bursts into flames*
[At this point, I conceded defeat because I couldn't think up any more references from The Lord of the Rings, plus I didn't want to get oil from barbecued chicken wings onto my cellphone.]

II. Long-distance foreign language consultation

When puzzled over whether the Japanese characters on a purportedly Nike T-shirt in fact say, "Just do it", the best thing to do is to let Ondine take a picture with her camera phone, have her MMS the image to me, so that I can MMS it to a Japanese friend in a different timezone for a translation. And when that fails, the next best thing is to post the image on my blog:

Originally uploaded by Tym; taken by Ondine.

kk --- Is this image clear enough for a translation? Does it say doko made ikeru ka, ganbare, faito or something else altogether?


I'm not usually one for internet memes, but Nardac inspired this:

811 Hamlin St (Google satellite maps permalink)
Originally uploaded by Tym.

That's where I used to live in Chicago: four girls, a backyard for barbecues (although we ever only threw one), and a porch for introspective evenings (or sometimes, for recovering from hangovers and painful telephone calls).

Good times ...

Find the satellite map for where you used to live (assuming it was in North America).

When a guy's 18

--- It takes 7 shots plus 2 Long Island iced teas plus 2 shots of potcheens (an Irish potato-based liqueur) plus half a lychee martini to get him drunk, plus a final Johnnie Walker Black Label to do him in.

--- It's nice to have older friends pick up the $165 tab for getting drunk --- especially when it was our idea to get him drunk in the first place.

--- He has to enlist for National Service in two days.

Good luck, Jo!


Moments of the day

I had a strange ache in the ball (is that what you call it?) of my left palm that developed yesterday evening, just below where my thumb is. I say it was strange because I haven't been working at a computer these few days (see previous post) and the last time I had this ache, it was easily remedied by sliding one of those squishing wrist support pads below the edge of my keyboard.

Then it dawned on me this morning, as I reached for my cellphone to respond to an early-morning SMS: the ache is from all the recent SMSing. The right hand is well-honed and protests not a whit, but the left hand --- which I've been assiduously trying to train up to the rapid-fire speed of its right counterpart --- hasn't got the stamina for it yet.

So I let my left hand take a break today and the ache's all gone. To think that I've lived to see the day when I had to deliberately consider which hand reaches for the cellphone ...

* * *

It's a nice thing to know that even though I started running regularly only six months ago, I can set a "challenging pace" for a guy five years my junior who used to be a national runner, and that he outruns me only when he decides to give chase to one of the top cross-country runners from my school, who's eighteen years old, tops.

(Hear that, mr brown? Must persevere, okay?)

* * *

We all know that the beef kway teow stall at #01-33 East Coast Park Lagoon hawker centre is wicked good, but I discovered today that they give free refills on soup! Now that's what I call a service enhancement. The old man's popular enough that there's a queue ten persons deep at 8:30 pm on a Tuesday night, but on top of that, he entices you back with free soup.

(Stellou, we'll add it to the list for July. Meantime I'll run more so that we can eat more then.)

* * *

I should've known. Two vodka tonics aren't enough to quell the heartbreak.


My social life has exploded into a frenzy of activity, even with Terz away. No time to check email, reaffix an applique piece that fell off my shoe on Saturday night, fold the clean laundry that's been sitting on the couch since Saturday itself, or watch the TV that I taped on Thursday night.

Will be back with thoughts on the previous entry and the latest citizen heartbreak.


An ethical conundrum for the Internet age

If someone's very public blog carries what appears to be his/her bona fide views that just happen to be racist, immature and twenty other kinds of wrong ---

If said writer is in a position of potential influence over people's lives, where such smallness of mind could undermine the very good that others in that position usually seek to achieve ---

If I'm feeling particular incensed and repulsed at said writer's apparent smallness of mind because we happen to be linked loosely, through a painful twist of fate, to the same social network ---

And if I'm also hamstrung by a certain distaste for tattletaling (I have a very weird conscience) ---

What do you do? What do you do?


Hiao like fishball

I wore glasses to work today for the first time at this (relatively) new workplace, but only because I woke up with a right eye that was red and slightly swollen, and therefore couldn't wear my contact lenses. I suspect I might've rubbed the eye in my sleep. Terz always growls at me when I rub my eyes when I'm awake, which has pretty much cured me of the habit, but perhaps muscle memory twitches my hands to do their own thing when I'm asleep.

Even though I think I look horribly different (and horrible) with glasses on, few people seemed to notice the difference. I think the students I teach did, but I also suspect they're so used to seeing their teachers a certain way that the slightest change --- a new pair of shoes, a fresh haircut, a different jaunt in the walk --- provokes a buzz likewise. (They don't think of us as human beings, you know, more as lecturing, hectoring automatons. It surprises them that we have preferences, lives, loves, whims.)

Some colleagues noticed and one commented that I either looked like I'd been crying my eye out (very agile, these tear ducts of mine, to only cry out of the right eye) or that I'd been beaten up. I really don't think I looked that bad.

Nevertheless, I hope the eye rests well tonight and lets me go back to contact lenses tomorrow. What to do, hiao lah.

--- Which brings me to the derivation of this blog post title. When I was in junior college, one of my classmates used to use the phrase, "hiao like fishball". Hiao means vain in Hokkien, a common enough turn of phrase in Singapore's polyglot vernacular. However, no one ever idiomatically pairs hiao with fishballs, which are processed balls of fish and flour that we eat with our noodles (tasty, honest! --- and having absolutely nothing to do with balls of fish). We make colourful comparisons like "blur like sotong", but there's no precedent for "hiao like fishball". My friend is the only person who's ever used the phrase, and when I parroted it to my mother and others, all I got in return were uncomprehending stares and helpful observations that fishballs were anything but vain.

Nevertheless, the vivid memory of my friend tossing off, "That girl, she hiao like fishball!" --- remains for me the quintessential expression of that scornful sentiment. And me, as far as the wearing of contact lenses are concerned? Definitely hiao like fishball.


Link in lieu of a blog post

Not blogging for real tonight. Too angsty, and in greater need of sleep.

Instead, I leave you with a senior thesis recently submitted at Wesleyan by fiercely intelligent and uncannily witty senior Dylan Meconis: "Bright Eyes: The Plan of Athena in The Odyssey". It's not exactly light bedtime reading, but man, can this girl write.

I've been reading Dylan's blog for several years now and it's never ceased to amaze me at how much one person's writing (and life) can by turns entertain, educate and move. Now she's on the verge of graduation. They grow up so fast...


Too plugged in

It is entirely possible that one's life is too reliant on modern communications when an SMS from Terz in Nias references a comment he left on my blog

--- Requiring me to check my blog for the comment before replying to Terz, since I haven't been online since I posted yesterday's entry

--- And then I caught up on all the new comments and had to SMS the best friend about one of them

--- Only before SMSing her, I had to check my email to verify something in an old email from her several months ago

--- And then I SMSed her, but since I was online, I might as well respond to all the other comments

--- Which required me to fix the misspelling of "a cappella" in the previous entry (thanks, perception!) and also look up a couple of links

--- And now that I've done all that, maybe I can finally eat my breakfast, which has been languishing on its plate for the past twenty minutes.

I'm going to go watch a DVD now, because that's at least offline.

Oh wait, first I have to go post a comment on Little Miss Drinkalot, which was also prompted by an SMS alert from Ondine that LMD's featured in the maiden entry on the Sunday Times's new blog-of-the-week column. I wonder if they realise how often LMD uses "fuck" and writes about delicate matters that wouldn't be acceptable among the pages of the grande dame of local media. Not that I'm saying you shouldn't read LMD --- you should and she's been on my blogroll for months now --- but you should read her despite the fact that the local paper told you so. I mean, the Sunday Times isn't exactly a paragon of taste, and people shouldn't give her a miss because she was tainted by their recommendation ...

Okay, now I'm going to go eat breakfast.


Feeling my age

It's oddly comforting to know that even though my day began at 6 am and I got home at 3 am, I still have energy enough to stay up and blog for a bit.

This is particularly comforting when you consider that:
  • I was at a birthday party where one birthday boy was turning 29 and the other is still in his mid-twenties.
  • Until about five months ago, I didn't know any of these people.
  • At one point during the party, we were all reminiscing about the songs we grew up with, and we realised that the eighteen-year-old pre-National Service-enlistee in our midst (aka the youngest person at the party) had no idea who M.C. Hammer or Vanilla Ice were.
  • When we got around to playing the music, the eighteen-year-old didn't recognise Pet Shop Boys' "Domino Dancing" either. Apparently, they don't play it at Zouk's Mambo Nights very much.
  • Before the party, I was at a school event where the a cappella group's performance took me right back to the choir concert in my final year of junior college and resident a cappella group Punch's lively repertoire, during which a certain tenor made the girls swoon with his solo during Billy Joel's "The Longest Time". Then I realised that the memory was more than ten years old, I had no idea where most of the Punch people are anymore, and these kids singing onstage looked exactly like Punch did back then, which goes to show how much things don't really change after all.
I may have just crossed over to the further side of thirty, but give me enough M&Ms and TiramiSutra cake and I can be up all night with the young 'uns, excessive vodka or no. (The de facto bartender for the evening --- "Screwdriver? Screweddriver? Lychee martini? Can make martinis with ang mo dan [rambutans]? Screweddriver?" --- was so efficient that I had to pass on the green tea vodka he concocted at party's end when all the other typical mixers had run out.)

The next morning --- Edited to add: I just realised that I was probably the oldest person at the party last night. Egads!

Further edited to add: Think of this as the obligatory couple-of-weeks-after-my-birthday age-obsessive post. I don't usually sit around pondering my age vis-à-vis the people around me.


Death to taxes!

Listening to the mr brown show on the walk home from work is even better than listening to it on the way there.

However, all that is powerless in the face of red tape. I already knew that the IRAS website operate only during office hours, but within five minutes of returning home and trying to contact our friendly neighbourhood tax-collector, I learned that its 1800-line is empowered to summarily decide that because "we are experiencing an exceptionally high volume of calls", it shall promptly disconnect you! Just like that! "Please call back later." Fuck. What's to stop the volume of calls from being even more exceptional later, huh?

By the way, I wasn't trying to reach an operator, I was punching in options to try to navigate the abstruse telephone system. It was the 1800-line that decided to refer me to an operator in the first place, only to contemptuously toss me back into the limbo of taxation ignorance in which I dwell.

And I wouldn't have had to call them in the first place if they hadn't assumed, based on the income one earned two financial years ago, to charge Terz a buttload of taxes based on money he hasn't earned since he quit the money-making job more than a year ago. Is this how our government encourages small-time entrepreneurs then? By taxing them for the money they would've earned in the high-paying, risk-free jobs that they left in order to be entrepreneurs?

If the government refuses to take my calls because of "an exceptionally high volume of calls", can I then withhold my taxes from then till they clarify our tax situation? This isn't about anything as lofty as civil disobedience; it's just about a fair trade.

Just wait till Terz gets back and blows his top at them.

TGI mr brown

It's official: if you have to go to work, the best way to start your day is with the mr brown show (RSS feed here). Especially when Mr Miyagi is his guest star. I'm sure everyone who saw me on my way to the bus stop and on the bus and then on my walk to work thought I was either certifiably insane. Yeah, people listen to their iPods, but do they chortle to them? Not often, I'd say.

Thanks to Agagooga's nagging, I now take the word 'podcast' seriously and, y'know, download the files onto my iPod instead of complaining about not having enough time at home to listen to the show on the iBook. After listening to the Cowboy Caleb episode last night, I drifted off to sleep thinking about what I'd talk about if I had my own podcast (the answer, of course, is that I would just talk rubbish).


Life's a funny thing

Juxtaposed with The Talk this past week, I've found myself in the unusual position of being able to give reasonable job-hunting advice to three friends. So while talking my way out of a job, I've simultaneously been able to use what little career and industry knowledge I have to help others talk themselves into one.

Also juxtaposed with all the pre-Talk angst: a job offer. It's with exactly the kind of person I'd want to work with, but in exactly the wrong field, i.e. the field I'm planning to abandon in nine months. Of course I turned the offer down. Then I started looking wildly around for the self-preservation instincts that I clearly lost, somewhere between finishing school and growing up.

In other "I don't wanna grow up, I'm a Toys R Us kid" news, I recently learned that some people my age are undergoing IVF because they're trying all means to have a baby. I always think of IVF as something that much older people opt for, after they've tried for ten years to have a child or something. Meanwhile, I extemporaneously reminded one of the classes I was teaching that reason #531 I don't have a kid is because you never know what you might get and whatever it is, that's what you're stuck with. Some call it the beauty of having children; for me, it's kinda like watching I Know What You Did Last Summer --- it has all sorts of nightmarish potential, even though there'll be funny moments and beautiful people, and I really can't see myself sitting through till the end of it.

Not yet, anyway.

Update from Nias

For those of you that are wondering how Terz is doing in Nias, Indonesia, you may be pleased to know that:
  • They have electricity for four hours a night, which is a step up from the "what electricity?" they were told to prepare for before they left, so the boy is able to use his digital camera after all. (His laptop Powerbook remains safe at home with me.)
  • He is sweating buckets, but no mention of being sunburned so perhaps the sunblock we picked up from Carrefour at the last minute is doing the trick.
  • The locals are grateful for whatever medical assistance they're able to provide, and the team is doing the best it can, the four hours of electricity and other such constraints notwithstanding. Terz is travelling with a medical team this time, so the scope of work is different from the Meulaboh trip.
According to what the Singapore Civil Defence Force folks said upon returning from Nias, he should also be enjoying regular aftershocks on the ground, something like 6-8 a day. What more could a guy ask for?

Edited to add: As at 9:54 pm, electricity has been restored throughout the island. Yay!


Snippets from the week that was

I was going to go home and rest after a long week, but after fortifying myself with a late dinner at Mai and helping to put away the prints from the Glimpses of Light exhibition, everyone was going out and my old friend peer pressure decided to call in a favour. The next thing I knew, we were at Rouge, wading in the dregs of some Singapore Fashion Festival event. As the models made their exit, the men followed and by midnight, we had a clear view all the way to the dance floor. The place was smaller than I thought.

The plan: go running at East Coast Park with Ondine, then reward ourselves with dinner at the Lagoon hawker centre after. The wrench in the works: the park lights along the jogging and cycling paths from Coasta Sands Resort down to the Tennis Centre were out, and cyclists were avidly ringing their bells so that they didn't run into each other in the dark. So we skipped the run and went straight to dinner, although we felt like real wannabe athletes --- all geared up, but with no whiff of perspiration about us. Cheh!

I parked myself at Starbucks for seven hours to grade essays. 'Nuff said.

So it's possible to go from well to hell in half a day or less. I thought the sneezing was just from the Arctic conditions at my workstation, but by late afternoon it was clearly a full-blown cold and Terz made me skip my usual fitness class. Which was just as well since it was confirmed that he was Nias-bound the next day and we had to go shopping for last-minute supplies.

Tea with the mater and the aunts, part trois (parts one and two here). I shamelessly use Fifth Aunt's sojourns in Singapore as an excuse for these confabs (she lives overseas) and I was supposed to orchestrate someplace charming like Toast, but failed completedly due to my complete lack of free time. Nevertheless, coffee/tea and cakes were had, and family gossip (the whole point of these exercises) was exchanged. The good thing about showing up sick was that First Aunt bestowed upon me throat lozenges and Fifth Aunt some fruit, and at the same time, no one harangued me about how devouring half the chunky chocolate brownie would probably worsen my sore throat. (Perhaps First Aunt trusted in the power of her throat lozenges, because my throat cleared right up immediately after just one lozenge. Sore throat sufferers, run to your local Guardian pharmacy now and invest in Dequaline lozenges!)

For the first time at this job, I missed lunch because I really had no time for it. My mother would disapprove. On the other hand, I was going to indulge in Burger King tonight anyway, so I went ahead and had a whole Whopper at 6:15 pm. Mmmmmm ... flame-broiled burger ...


Not an April Fools' joke

It is a strange thing to give a boss what is essentially nine months' notice. As BoKo put it on Wednesday night, while we were deliquescing over drinks at Wine Bar, it's time enough to have a baby --- which, let me reassure Nardac, is not part of the plan because that would have negated the necessity to have The Talk in the first place.

But I digress. Back to the Talk.

It wasn't easy getting a foot in the door, as it were. I missed the first window on Thursday because my meeting ran late and by the time I was done, the boss had another meeting going on. I missed the second window because even though I knew the boss was available, I popped into the restroom for a minute to compose myself, and during the two minutes I was in there, someone else beat me to getting facetime with her.

So when the third window presented itself, even though the boss looked (as usual) busy and frazzled with whatever was on her desk, I steeled myself for the worst fate that could possibly await an errant employee and appropriated the chair in front of her desk before she could demur. And we had The Talk.

It went as well as I could've hoped for. My deepest fear: that she would be stung by my decision and wreak frightful vengeance on me for the remaining nine months. The basis for this fear: nothing to do with the boss's actual personality and leadership style, everything to do with my own sense of guilt and uncertainty about walking away from a job where I have such good prospects. The eventual denouément: a mature, professional exchange of opinions and possibilities, interspersed with faint humour (once she got over the initial shock), an abundance of goodwill and, well, the inevitable mild panic. Don't get me wrong, I'm nowhere near being indispensable to this organisation. But given the rarity with which anyone is actually fired from my line of work, I guess people just aren't much used to dealing with exit scenarios.

When I told Wes that night about The Talk, he asked if I felt lighter, more liberated. I averred that I did. "Then you know you did the right thing."

As opposed to what the parentals are likely to say when they found out. (To the brother and all cousins reading this blog: NO telling to my parents or anyone in their generation till I give the go-ahead.)

I don't mean to turn this into an Oscar Acceptance Speech blog and close every other post with a litany of thank-yous, but thank you to everyone who's said encouraging as well as reality-check things in the last few months. Telling the boss was just the first step. The next nine months will be the hard part: getting my shit in shape, figuring out a little more specifically what I'd like to do next, gearing up for the next big thing --- oh, and not spending too much money until I get to it, either.

"It's just a ride..."

Edited to add: I meant this post to be more timely, but what with heaps of work and Blogger conspiring against me by mysteriously tossing up "unexpected errors" every time I did have time to work on this post, it wasn't till today (April 6) that the post's good to go. Hope the suspense didn't kill ya.