And we're off ---

I was going to blog about Friday being the last day of the school term, but it seemed anticlimactic by the time the day rolled around. The kids had won their trophies, the school had earned its half-days off, and even the weather wasn't so icky anymore. We'd all survived, intact.

Over the weekend, I savoured the freedom of it all. It was the first weekend in slightly over a month that I didn't have to spend grading assignments, or didn't have to be anywhere, anytime, really, except wherever I decided to take myself. Okay, I had to see the mater off at the airport on Saturday morning, but even the fact that she's taking a four-week (!!) vacation in one of my favourite parts of the world while I'll spend the same four weeks plugging away at other work in school didn't put a dent in my easy mood.

Yeah, contrary to conventional wisdom that teachers get massive vacation time, the truth is that I will be spending a lot of time in school during these mid-year holidays. I was back there today, bright and early at 9:15 am. I could bring some of this work home to do, but home is where the bed and the TV and the DVDs and the internet are, and we all know how conducive they can be when real work needs to get done.

No, I've got my to-do list, and my vacation work ethic (which is considerably more resilient than its term-time counterpart), and four weeks to get my shit together. Today started off well, with me devouring Nigel Warburton's Philosophy: The Basics in less than five hours. I don't necessarily remember the finer details of everything I read, but the gist was all I needed. Tomorrow, we'll tackle epistemology. Wish me luck.


Of students


In the ongoing erosion of any credibility I may still have as a teacher, the class that got to play Pictionary on Wednesday did one better and got to do absolutely nothing during today's lesson.

Admittedly, it's a little hard to do anything when only one-third of the class shows up in the first place.

This is the class that was a little obsessed last week with trying to find out what secondary school I'm from. I wouldn't tell them, of course. Previous students managed to unearth the highlights of my secondary school career and find my website (including wedding pictures!) in those days before I kept a real blog, without any help from me. We'll see if the current crop can do just as well.

I will, as always, maintain my policy of neither confirming nor denying any details of my life that aren't explicitly described on my blog.


"Are you Singaporean?"

What a question to get in the middle of class. I was so stunned that I immediately wondered out loud, "Do I sound that awful, like I'm not?"

Okay, so I'd just been asking if the students watch the annual National Day Parade and how it's really fun to mock watch, especially if some poor military sap executes the wrong 21-gun salute (if you believe my guy friends, it happened at one parade circa the turn of this century). And I constantly mock my country and its people, because that's what you do when you love someone, you give them a hard time (it goes all the way back to when a boy punches or picks on you in school and that's how you know he likes you).

But do I actually sound like I'm not Singaporean?

Maybe they get confused because I also give the government a hard time in my classes, and I certainly don't love the government.

Clearly, I need to use more Singlish during lessons, no matter what the Speak Good English Movement says, and also tone down my sense of irony. Then they'll believe I'm local.


In memoriam

I was at the National Stadium today for the national schools 'A' and 'B' Division soccer finals. I'm not remotely interested in soccer, but when a school's reputation is at stake, everybody goes out to support the team.

I'm not going to try to describe the game, partly because we lost in a heartbreaking series of penalty shootouts, but also because I don't possess the vocabulary to do justice to even the most pathetic of games. As it is, I had to verify the term 'penalty shootout' with Terz before typing the previous sentence.

No, I was more preoccupied with the fact that it was probably my last visit to the National Stadium, the grand old lady of local sporting events herself. I hear it's going to be demolished next month, and there are already enough cranes and other construction/demolition equipment rudely parked in her immediate surroundings environs to stir that impending sense of doom.

Within her concrete walls --- they'd seemed so much taller when I was a child attending National Day parades --- the stadium was barer than I'd ever seen her. No more detritus of event posters, soda-stained paper drink cups, crushed plastic food wrappers, empty bags that once held potato chips, peanuts and other half-time snacks. Just functional red plastic signs overhead, looking too glossy-new for the old lady, dictating, "West Entrance", "9A 9B 10A 10B 11A 11B" and "Grandstand".

The story inside the stadium was much the same. I suppose is how she normally looks, when she's not playing host to national events. Even the massive stadium lights, its landmark sentinels, seem shorter, less impressive, and I don't remember when they acquired little glass-like umbrella structures over them. I hoped that they'd be turned on, for one last burst, as the match wore into the twilight hour, but no such luck. They remained mute, as if disdainful of our humble game in comparison to all the glorious hours they'd seen before.

Maybe the place seemed all the more forlorn for its emptiness. The turnout was good for a school sports event, but we barely filled the grandstand. Across the way, school banners flapped lazily whenever the evening breeze deigned to drift by, the banners' irregular shapes adding to the impression that mismatched discards had been left strewn over the various sections. In contrast to the zesty student leaders sprinting across those sections, flying their school flags high, the stadium herself was inert, disinterested. We were the intruders on her own private wake; she just wanted to be left in peace for her last few days.

First, the library; now, the stadium. What will they take next?

One of those days


When it's a half-day at school,

And the weather outside is frightful (which means it's perfectly in tune with my inner moppet),

And the warm Milo I've had is settling peacefully to the bottom of my stomach,

--- The best thing to do is to channel a little Buffy the Vampire Slayer and let the class talk you into a little game of Pictionary instead of the educationally sound but spiritually inert lesson plan you had in mind. To quote a scene from "Graduation Day, Part 1":
Teacher: Look, I realize that you've all finished your finals and you're ready to move on. But you haven't graduated yet. This is still a class and everyone will participate. Mr. Harris, would you care to begin.
Xander: Ummm... 'E'.
Teacher: No. There's no 'E'. (Camera turns so that we can see that the chalkboard has the garrett of a game of Hangman drawn. The teacher draws in the head.) They always go for the 'E'. Next!
Of course, in order for Pictionary to be an educational exercise, I had them make up their own vocabulary lists of words to do with the topic that I'm currently teaching, which in turn taught me a new term in the course of the game: the Bandung Conference. You learn something new everyday.

I also learned that seventeen-year-olds are capable of Pictionarying 'syphilis', even when they use stick figures that don't have any identifiable anatomical parts. Who says our kids aren't creative?

"The hour is later than you think."

For the first time this school year, I overslept. I woke up thinking that it was awfully bright out for 6ish in the morning, particularly when it'd been raining all night --- only to realise that it was actually, oh, about 7. For the first time ever, I'd failed to hear my cellphone alarm go off.

That's the thing I used to hate about being a teacher. There's a bell that goes at a specific time, and all the students are expected to be in the morning assembly area by that time, so naturally all the teachers ought to be there too. I've been fortunate enough that no boss of mine in the schools I've taught in has been anal-retentive enough to pick on teachers who are occasionally late for school and/or miss assembly. But all those years I spent as a student in less forgiving environments has left me feeling the burden of sin whenever I'm tardy in getting to school.

I suspect it all goes back to the very first time in my life I ever overslept for school, some time in Primary One (first grade). I was attending the most Chinese authoritarian school in Singapore bar none, and when my father brought me into the school compound (obviously, I'd missed the school bus), some witch of a teacher sternly and repeatedly interrogated me: "Why were you late?" To which I could only haplessly, mousily reply, "I overslept." Plus all this was conducted in Mandarin, which my father didn't speak, so he was helpless too, reduced to a smiling explanation in English to try to appease the woman.

I don't remember if or how I was punished, but the lesson remains: Thou shalt not be late for school.

Of course, Terz will tell you that while I'm rarely late for work, in recent months I've tended to be late for, er, everything else. I think my father's tardiness syndrome is hereditary. Pretty soon, I'm going to have to resort to my mother's tactic of saying that things are scheduled half an hour earlier than they really are, so as to compensate for all the usual delays and actually ensure that I turn up on time.

I think I'm going to need a louder alarm.


The logic of running

In an attempt to delay even the faintest possibility of Samwise-Gamgee-fication, I went running today: 5 km in half an hour or so --- yay me!

The success was immediately celebrated with a wild spread of hawker food at the renowned Block 85 Bedok North Road hawker centre. In order not to trigger any apoplectic reactions in my Singaporean readers who are currently overseas and out of reach of good Singaporean food, I will refrain from listing everything we ate. Here's one tantalizing mention: the famous bak chor mee (minced pork noodles), richly flavoured and seductively simmering in the fragrant broth. (Stellou, are we adding this to the eating list?)

Then there was ice cream at Gelare --- followed closely by the resolution to go running again on Thursday. It makes sense. Really.

Here's a gem from tonight's conversation, for Abigael's benefit since I understand she's feeling under the weather:
R the Creative Director: I've always wanted a house where the attic (dramatic pause) is in the floor.
M the Architect: An attic in the floor --- is a basement.
So much for that idea.

I am a Hobbit

I have been eating junk food for almost five days straight. This cannot be good.

On Friday, I was running a photo shoot at work, which meant that all manner of proper and improper meals were consumed throughout the day: breakfast (to minimise the likelihood of any embarrassing fainting spells), second breakfast (to minimise the likelihood of our photographer experiencing a fainting spell), lunch (which we had more than enough time for and thus ate too much of a real meal during), and all manner of sugary drinks in between. Even after the shoot, dinner was makeshift: an appetizer of Doritos and M&Ms, followed by a main course of deep-fried Indochinese snacks at Bar Opiume.

On Saturday, the stomach rested. It knew what it was in for with the LotR marathon coming up the next day.

And then there was Sunday.

Yesterday, there was chocolate cake from Jane's Cake Station, which my friend tried to convince me was better than Lana. I beg to differ. Lana is moister, a tad sweeter, and hence perfect. Jane's is really, really good, but it's no Lana. My favourite local choices of chocolate cake remain: (1) Lana, (2) Awfully Chocolate, (3) the new entrant, Jane's. (PS: Tiramisu tangent, but if you haven't tried Tiramisutra, you're missing out.)

Oh, and there was a Polar curry puff too. Evil. Fortunately, Terz and I managed to dodge the sharks' fin soup at dinner.

Today, thus far, there's been: breakfast (bread + banana), second breakfast (soya bean drink), third breakfast (Cadbury's chocolate bar) and Coke Light. And now my stomach's wailing for a real lunch.

To be a real Hobbit, I'd have to take up smoking pipeweed too --- but then my mother would kill me. I'll have to content myself with being half a halfling.


The other side of Sunday

In the twelve hours we spent watching The Lord of the Rings today, I consumed:

  • One packet of Chinese pork porridge with egg
  • Half a bowl of soya bean curd
  • One glass of white wine
  • Almost one entire bag of Ruffles potato chips
  • 5/7 of an entire bar of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut chocolate
  • One bowl of mee siam
  • 2 glasses of Coke
  • Half a packet of nasi lemak
  • About a pint of Hoegaarden
I should insert a gratuitous burp here, but the sad truth is that I'm hungry. Again. Already.

In between the eating, we came to the following conclusions about the movies (which I should clarify that we love, a lot):

  • Most drinking games we've seen involve drinking heartily whenever Frodo goes, "Oh, Sam" or some similar endearment. Believe it or not, those situations don't come up as often as, say, close-ups of dirty fingernails.
  • By the way, Aragorn has cleanish fingernails only when he's kissing Arwen in Rivendell.
  • Aragorn spends The Two Towers leading Éowyn on, which I justify by saying that he's technically single at that point since he thinks Arwen's left Middle-Earth (which Terz editorializes as, "'We were on a break!'?"). But once Elrond shows up at Dunharrow with the news that Arwen is still in Middle-Earth and, oh, by the way, dying from Mordor's evil, then Aragorn's not technically single anymore. Nice man that he is, he immediately sets things right with Éowyn by breaking her heart --- and as an indication that Terz and I have seen too much Simpsons in our lifetime, we both pointed out that "you can pinpoint the exact moment when Ralph's Éowyn's heart rips in half".
  • It was not tactically sound for the Gondorians to defend Osgiliath against the Orcs coming over the river by waiting for them to actually land first. They should've hit them on the water.
  • Similarly, the Rohirrim would've done well to mass behind the hill and come charging down on Pelennor Fields without warning upon the complacent Orcs, rather than to blast horns and clang swords and give the Orcs time to re-form the line.
  • Faramir was malingering when he stayed behind at Minas Tirith while the rest of our heroes marched to the Black Gate. Guess he really wasn't cut out to be a soldier.
  • At the risk of stating the obvious, Legolas has really nice hair.
Other tidbits we learned, which aren't directly LotR-related:

  • Region 4 DVDs carry a stern copyright warning and Dolby Surround teasers before they let you get to the actual DVD menu.
  • When watching a trilogy of extremely long movies, it's good to have more than one DVD player available, so that when the first overheats in the middle of The Two Towers, you can simply swop players and continue your viewing fiesta uninterrupted. (Next time, we'll bring backup copies of the DVDs too, just in case.)
Post-trilogy viewing, we joined Darren and Abigael for a late-night drink, during which the following exchange ensued, even though they hadn't been at the marathon:
Abigael (describing someone she met recently): So this guy, right? He's short, bald and skinny ---
Darren: So he's Gollum lah!
And now I need to sleep.



For the first time in at least two weeks, if not longer, I woke up when the alarm rang this morning and felt rested. What a novel sensation.

Just in time for:

One sitting.
Three Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings.
Obscene amounts of junk food.

See you on the other side of Sunday.



I was so tired last night ---

--- after I got to the neighbourhood coffeeshop to pick up dinner, I took ten minutes to decide between a mere three possibilities.

--- as I ordered my food, I mistakenly said "noodles" instead of "rice", and had to be corrected by the stallholder, since he didn't actually sell noodles.

--- on my way back up to the flat, I realised I'd forgotten to get something for tomorrow's breakfast, but the thought of taking the elevator back down, walking just next door to the provision store and coming back again was too exhausting to be contemplated.

I was so tired this morning that when I picked up my Nalgene bottle, it slid right out of my hands and bounced off my laptop before my mind even registered the fact that it was no longer in my grasp. (No water damage; the Nalgene's screwtop is more secure than a West Virginia nuclear bunker.)

Cowboy Caleb, I owe you a Musical Baton. As soon as I get some real sleep, you'll have it.

I also owe this blog a post about today being the last of the big-bang Star Wars openings we'll probably have for a while. That'll take a little longer --- too much to say, not enough waking hours right now.

To sleep, perchance to dream --- ay, there's the rub.


Whose God is it anyway?

My mother spent last week trying to emotionally blackmail me into going to church. I don't think it was altogether deliberate --- it never is, with the best moms --- but that's how it felt like to me. Actually, it's been going on for several years now and the latest impetus to her efforts: my brother was showing his video of a recent church recce trip to Timor Leste and also sharing saying a few words about the trip during last Sunday's service.

First Mom asked me over the phone two weeks ago, "just wondering" if my brother had invited me yet. (He hadn't.) Then she asked us at Mother's Day dinner the following weekend. (My brother still hadn't technically invited us yet.) Then, a few days later, this SMS exchange:
The Bro: ... Mum said u can leave early on sun after my presentation
Me: You and Mom are funny.
The Bro: She said don't disappoint us

I haven't been to church properly --- as in, for religious reasons, as opposed to social reasons (weddings, to 'visit' people, as a favour to someone) --- since some time in the mid-'90s. I don't remember the exact moment when I decided to stop going. It probably had something to do with all the usual things that go on in the middle of one's college career: the constant questioning during liberal arts classes of previously unchallenged views and values, a precious search for identity that leaned towards a distrust of institutions and large organisations, the premature sense of independence that comes from living away from the parentals for prolonged periods of time, the growing need to sleep in on Sunday mornings after either excessive homework or excessive partying on Saturday nights. And then there was the boyfriend.

I graduated, I got home, and I still didn't go to church regularly. My mother still has hope. Every Xmas and Easter, she invites me. Every time I'm asked, I decline politely. For this Timor Leste presentation, I'd tentatively agreed, thinking it was just an event held in church, only to find out that it was taking place during the service itself. As I told my brother in a separate SMS, I wasn't keen on sitting through a service in which there'd be many opportunities for me to roll my eyes.

And why would I roll my eyes, I was recently asked. Some of the things are, admittedly, my own pet peeves: the peppering of "Oh Lord"s in prayer like so much packing material; the excessive repetition of the same song during the worship session; the sermons stacked around ingenuous acronyms ("the 4 Ps of marriage", "the ABCs of discipleship", etc.); the gross oversimplification of thousand-year-old church doctrine, with its inherent historical and cultural biases, into nuggets of take-home truisms.

Then there are some of my doctrinal differences, some of which I confess might not be fully thought out and/or ill-conceived and/or born of human conceit. I won't get into those here.

Then there's the plain fact that the moment anything gets institutionalised --- education, social assistance, healthcare, exercise, religion --- it tends to go straight to hell in a handbasket (pun intended). Where personal liberty and rational thought once existed, enter legions of structures and systems, or for the more romantically inclined, rituals and traditions. I love me some traditions --- Xmas carols, for instance, and I'm talking old school church ones, not these modern "All I Want For Christmas Is You" ditties. But those don't get in anybody's way. It's people insisting on the "right" interpretation of a particular Bible verse and certain behaviours becoming canonized that get my hackles up. And let's not forget all those churchgoers who choose to see the Boxing Day tsunami as a sign of God's wrath against those stubborn heathens and idolaters in Asia. I'm not sure if they've figured out yet that Aids isn't a plague on homosexuals.

Outside a church that I pass by sometimes hangs a banner that reads:
The world isn't going to end today.
Not till I say so, anyway.
--- God
I don't believe for a moment that the God of the Christian faith would adopt that sort of smug and arrogant tone in talking to men. I don't believe that if he sent his only begotten son to save the world, that he would also taunt the world into believing in him. I can't believe that churches put up this sort of ill-thought-through drivel and then wonder why they have difficulty convincing people that God is good.

Let me take a moment to breathe, so I don't hyperventilate, and point you meanwhile to John Scalzi, who articulates some of these issues a lot more thoughtfully than I do: My Jesus forgives your Jesus.

Anyway, yesterday was my brother's big moment and when I called the mater about other things the night before, she of course slipped in one last solicitation for our attendance at the service. I declined politely, murmuring about other engagements, and got immediately called on it, as I knew I would be. She tried one last stab of emotional blackmail ("your brother will be so disappointed"), I didn't budge, and we left it at that, as we always do.

She'll try again at Xmas, because she's my mother. And I'll give it due consideration once again, because she's my mother. God is somewhere in the midst of all that.

Digital camera for sale

I'll pause from my usual blatherings for the following commercial break:

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-40, 4.1 megapixels, 3.0 digital zoom --- brand-new, asking price S$349, which is $50 off the official price listed on the local Sony website.

I'm not the seller; I'm putting the word out for a friend. Interested? Drop me an email (toomanythoughts [at] Gmail) or leave a comment. The seller is a fine person whom I've known for the past 14 years, so you can be sure that she will not cheat you your money.


Sunday --- the teacher's version

9:30 am
Settle down at the appointed place of toil with a glass of water and a red pen. The toll for today doesn't look too forbidding: two classes of comprehension assignments, and a little lesson planning. I've got the whole day ahead of me. Easy-peasy, I tell myself (yeah, it's all false bravado).

10:00 am
Hungry. Only 2 assignments done. The mark scheme is a minefield. Clearly, a little breakfast is needed to fuel me on my way.

11:30 am
7 or 8 assignments completed --- that's the rate of 4 an hour, which is the rate at which I usually mark essays, which take a lot more than a mere comprehension assignment ought to, so why am I working so slowly?! At this rate, I'll be marking till sundown --- a prospect that doesn't exactly bring sunshine and flowers into my life.

On the bright side, some of the kids haven't turned in their work, so "two classes" is going to add up to fewer assignments than I'd psyched myself up for.

Lunch break!

12:45 pm
Back from lunch. Armed with Coke. Would've been armed with peanut butter cups too, but three of those add up to 200 calories!! Eat just one peanut butter cup, put the rest away in the fridge, and settle down for furious marking. Target: finish everything (34 assignments remain) by 3 pm.

1:00 pm
If I'm gonna be stuck here marking, I might as well rip some CDs while I'm at it.

1:30 pm
Sync iPod with newly ripped music --- just in time because I was listening to all the Lord of the Ring soundtracks earlier and Annie Lennox has just crooned me to the end of The Return of the King. Now Sense and Sensibility can take over.

1:50 pm
Potter into the other room to see if there's other music of Terz's that I can rip. Return with loot of 10 CDs. Rip away (while marking, of course)!

2:30 pm
Mercifully interrupted by SMS from Ondine. Briefly compare notes on respective marking load, then soldier on.

2:40 pm
Sudden hankering to additionally acquire music featured on the early seasons of The West Wing. Hit Google. Badger Agagooga for Ave Maria and Bach's Cello No. 1 Suite in G Major performed by Yo-Yo Ma. Duly chastised in return for plebian tastes. Virtuously abandon search for other West Wing music to go back to marking.

2:48 pm
SMS update from friend on a pseudo-date. Progress report is positive and necessitates a few more SMSes to ascertain the girl's hotness.

3:30 pm
16 assignments to go. Dammit! Amend target completion time to 4:30 pm. Recall all the blogging I did during the week at work and reckon this is ample payback.

3:45 pm
Attempt to maintain alertness by refilling Coke and eating leftover Quadratinis from yesterday. Toss the Quadratinis back into the kitchen because the new tiramisu flavour, frankly, is yuck.

4:00 pm
Terz SMSes to gripe about SALT. Say encouraging things and ponder post-marking evening plans, in order to motivate self to continue.

5:15 pm
Marking done! iPod sync'd! Now to plan lessons ...

5:30 pm
Terz gets home from photo shoot and waves IRAS notice received in the mail, reminding us to pay our property tax posthaste. Neither of us recall receiving the first notice of taxation, but who are we to argue with the government? Thanks to internet banking, pay property tax immediately. And transfer money owed to various friends. And balance accounts.

5:45 pm
Resume lesson planning. Self-imposed 6 pm deadline looms.

6:30 pm
Lesson sorta planned. The main idea's there, anyway. Need to seize the pre-dinner window for a quick run. More importantly, need to flee the room in which I have been cooped up like a miscreant all day.

8:00 pm
Back from run and shower. Squeeze in 10 minutes of further lesson prep before we have to leave for dinner.

11:20 pm
Back from dinner and post-dinner chillin'. Regret to report that during the latter, I was still sporadically trying to think through the incomplete lesson. However, safely interrupted on each occasion by bouts of Pro Thumb Wrestling among the guys (who knew than Fannwong had the largest thumb of them all?), tales of old-time local photographers, and serious considerations about lightsaber purchases.

11:55 pm
Lesson completed!


"Dented older people are just plain foxier than flawless young folk."

I thought I was going to be all adult and not see Kingdom of Heaven. After all, with Orlando Bloom headlining the cast, it looks and sounds like Troy rehashed, and we all know what I learned from watching that. Not two hours ago, I reminded BoKo: "It's got Orlando Bloom. It can't be good."

Then I read Dylan's take on it.

Er ... BoKo, you still going to see it? Call me!


Get a T-shirt already

It's funny how you can go from knowing zero T-shirt designers a year ago to knowing at least three (and possibly five, if some other friends get their ideas off the ground).

All of which is another way of saying you should go visit ampulets right now, because it's written by one of my oldest and most talented friends (formerly referred to as Miffy on this blog), and she's got cool illustrations up for the world to see. It used to be you could only see them if you were lucky enough to get one for Xmas or your birthday, but now she's hit the blogosphere and we're all the better for it.

Oh, and buy a T-shirt while you're over there. Haven't you girls always wanted your own angel wings?

The other friend that designs T-shirts is over at KnstrcK. I particularly like SpacedOut.


Home alone

I'm spending an evening at home for what feels like the first time in weeks. It's a little strange to be here. When I walked out to buy dinner, it was still light out: A baby nestled in its grandmother's lap at the playground. Teenaged boys from the neighbourhood were just getting their basketball game started at the local community centre. At the coffeeshop where I got dinner, a woman was getting them to put food into her own tingkat (metal food containers) to bring it home for the family.

So far, I've watched four hours of TV taped over the last week, reconciled my bank account records with the actual amounts of money in the bank (thanks for the sentiment, Cowboy Caleb, but no handbag purchases planned for now) and chatted for the last hour with TaLieSin. Yeah, I was supposed to do work, but I really needed to chill out today.

It's funny how in the same day's email, I can get (and none of this is spam) news of a friend's new baby, confirmation of social plans for the Vesak Day three-day weekend, a solicitation for assistance with a troubled teen, and an account of a death row convict's last visit with his mother and close friend. It's a very, very strange world we live in.


Now my bank account can stop hyperventilating.


Girl things

Nothing sends a girl into a rummaging frenzy as much as the abrupt realisation that she's completely out of feminine hygiene products. A survey of the toiletries cupboard yielded nothing, which sent me scurrying to the adjacent cupboard where I keep all my bags --- and believe me, there are many --- to see if a stray feminine hygie --- oh all right, sanitary napkin was lurking in one of their side-pockets.

Three messenger bags, one all-purpose shopping bag and three handbags later (and these were just the bags that I've been using recently), the search came up to nought. I had to make an emergency pilgrimage to my neighbourhood provision shop after all. Fortunately, all this transpired in the evening, well before it closed for the day --- unlike the last time I had one of these emergencies at night, which then necessitated a run down the road to the 24-hour convenience store.

Every time I think about sanitary napkins --- which is not to say that I think about them very often --- I have to tell the story about C, who went to university with me:

Freshman year. One of those obligatory late-night visits to the supermarket that are practically a graduation requirement if you live in a town with a 24-hour grocery store. C and I and a guy friend are wandering the aisles, picking up odds and ends and enjoying the quiet. C realises she needs some feminine hygiene products, picks up a pack of them --- and promptly thrusts them at me. Because at the age of 19, 20, whatever age we were then, she, seasoned world traveller and enticer of men, is ashamed to be seen in an empty grocery store with a pack of sanitary napkins. (It had nothing to do with the guy; he was friend enough that we could be blasé enough about such matters around him.)

I thought I was the shy one, but I just tossed the pack in with the rest of my shopping and blithely proceeded down the aisles. I think I had to carry it for her too, after check-out, even when it was partially hidden in a plastic shopping bag.

Girls. We'll buy lingerie and flaunt little La Senza or Victoria's Secret paper bags, but feminine hygiene products send us dashing for cover.


Down memory lane

I happened to catch a ride on an old CSS bus today. CSS used to stand for something like City Shuttle Service. I don't know at what point the company was absorbed by SBS Transit, Singapore's "leading transport operator", but I suspect it's one of those things that transpired while I was living overseas. One minute I was catching bus numbers 3 or 5 from school to head downtown; the next, there was a "6-0" prefixing all the formerly single-digit route numbers, and the license plate numbers had changed with the new ownership.

The buses are still the right colours, though: orange and beige, faded now to the grungier hues of smashed eggshells. Despite the clean blue ez-link card machines (circa 2002) that flank you as you enter, boarding a CSS bus is like entering a tiny timewarp, welcoming you a wholly different dimension of bus-riding. There are no advertisements crowding overhead and no dreaded TVMobile screens. The seats are spaced further apart, roomy enough to make me feel like a child dangling among seats designed for the real adults. Even the little details differ: the rear door slides to the right, not folding outwards, to open, and the windows that you used to be able to open --- before they installed airconditioning and wedged them shut --- you open them by pushing them up off the sill.

It's mercifully quiet within, partly because there weren't many passengers at the time of day, partly because there was no TVMobile broadcast caterwauling for attention. The blank advertising slots harked back to a simpler time, when not every public space was swathed three times over in commercialistic appeals. Even the bus driver was older: a weathered, leathery fella, no doubt close to retirement. I wondered if he used to drive the bus in the CSS days, then quashed that flicker of sentimentality. Just be grateful the bus is still around.

It was the most peaceful bus ride I've had in years. I was almost sad to have to get off.


Tonight's episode of dinner was brought to you by the letters B, C and D

Me: ... Ok, at Blooie's then. Darren is game for Charlie's, so maybe have pre-dinner drinks at Bl while waiting for D to pick us up for C.
Ming: Good thing we r starting with ABCs. Advancing to do re mi will be easier later...

That's what happens when the toss-up for Sunday night dinner is between Charlie's Corner and Blooie's, and the deciding factor is whether Darren is in the mood to make the long haul to Changi Village. B won in the end, because it's more convenient for all to get to and has better burgers, though C has admittedly superior chicken wings and more types of beer to choose from.

I am ashamed to admit that for the first time since I resumed teaching this year, I brought work along to dinner because I hadn't finished lesson preparations for the next day. So while the boys jabbered about Mother's Day and girls and Tiger and photography, I pecked away diligently at my computer and ignored their jibes about a teacher being out late on a school night.

At least I didn't bring any marking out with me.


Feels like a Sunday

My body's confused. Today's Saturday, but everything else points to it being a Sunday:
  • I had lunch with Terz before he went out for the rest of the afternoon, which usually happens when he has one of his Sunday D&D games. Today it was work that took him out, but the home-alone feeling was the same.
  • I did marking, which I also usually do on Sundays. Most weekends I give myself Saturday off, but no plans materialised for today so I thought I would be a good Asian person and get some work done.
  • I went running with Ondine, another typically Sunday occurrence because that's usually when she's in my kampong (neighbourhood). 6 km in 36 minutes!!
  • We're having dinner with the parentals in a while --- also a rarity for Saturday nights because we usually have other plans with friends then and meet them on Sundays instead.
The downside to this: It's obvious that I didn't make enough social plans for today, hence my body's tricked into thinking it's a social life-less Sunday instead.

The upside: If today "is" Sunday, I'd have to go to work tomorrow --- but I don't, so that means that psychologically, at least, I'm getting a three-day weekend?


Sometimes, all a girl needs is free wine.


My life: a tonsorial narrative

I was talking to the best friend last night about an old schoolmate of ours whom I'd recently seen out and about at Wine Bar, and she asked if the person had recognised me. The answer was no, which prompted a question from EH --- whom I've only known only for the last few years --- about whether I've changed a lot in appearance since I left school.

Well, I should hope the hell so.

Let's start with the hair. As a child, I had short hair for functional reasons: my mother didn't want to have to fuss with a kid with long hair, plus we live in the tropics after all. The short 'do persisted all through my childhood years because the school I attended prohibited students from growing their hair longer than a bob cut. (Hairpins were allowed, but they had to be matte black, the kind that you can buy very cheaply by the 100s and that smells suspiciously oily even when they're brand-new.) (Female students weren't allowed to wear earrings either, as we found out after I got my ears pierced. But that's another story for another time.) (Stellou, this tendency for parenthetical expatiation is totally your fault.)

Then I hit secondary school: liberation --- long hair of any length was permitted. Okay, so it had to be bound up "neatly" with hair accessories that either black or navy blue in colour, which are positively Victorian rules by today's standards, but considering what I'd experienced prior to that, I was grateful for small mercies. So as a teenager, I experimented with long hair for the first time in my life, realised that braiding was a lot tougher than it looked, even under my mother's expert tutelage, and spent a lot of time in the pre-dawn hours (don't forget: school starts at 7:30 am in this workholic country) trying to achieve neat ponytails.

By the time I went on to junior college (translation for non-Singaporean readers: senior high), I was done with long hair. Brutal haircuts and an utter lack of intelligent vanity on my part accelerated my reversion to a hairdo that stopped at the collar, gradually was allowed to become shapeless and overgrown, only to be sheared back to unattractive uniformity again. What a dork I looked.

Colder climes in the university years encouraged me to grow out my hair again, this time without having to bother with funereal hair accessories or, indeed, any hair accessories at all. In the words of some friends: I went all Pocahantas. The thickness of my hair, which can make it a really sweltering mass in tropical Singapore, was for once not a burden, even on staticky winter afternoons, plus lookit all the money I saved from not needing haircuts.

(Guilty confession: between junior college and university, I cut my hair short and permed it. The less said about that time, the better.)

Back in Singapore after graduation, I raged at the weather, the government, my parents --- and steadfastly wore my hair long. Eventually, it was the weather that wore me down. Though I only trimmed my hair once or twice a year, each neatening tamed the edge closer and closer to my shoulders --- till last year I made the fateful decision to chop it all off and settle for chin-length hair for the first time in almost ten years.

It's been good since then. For one thing, I now go to a good hairdresser (thanks for sharing, Ondine!), so I needn't worry that short hair = bad hair. Short hair's easier to manage for running and I think my neck's relishing the fact that it gets to see the sun for a bit. The hair takes less time and fuss to highlight, as and when I decide I want to add a little colour to it, and it doesn't take like three hours after a shower to fully dry.

So the short answer to EH's question is: No, I don't look like I used to in school, at all. There's different hair, there's contacts, and I'd like to think I'm a more interesting person than I used to be.

Conversely, it's funny to think that people who've met me in the last year or so, like my current colleagues or students, have never seen me with long, long hair. I'm not saying they're missing out on anything; it's just that having long hair was a part of who I was for so long, through particularly formative years of my life, and it's odd to think they don't 'see' me in that way.

On the other hand, I'm glad there aren't many people who know me from childhood. There were some really ugly moments back then ...


Little kindnesses

I'd composed a whiny blog post about PMS, but then I decided I should be more mature and remember all the little kindnesses of the week instead.

Like the delightful homemade egg tart that supplemented my breakfast this morning, lovingly baked by a colleague's mother.

And the Chasing Amy poster that another colleague and fellow Kevin Smith fan gave me, just for the hell of it. I would put it up at my cubicle at work, but it has words like "fuck" and "ménage à trois" and this is a school after all, so I'll put it up at home instead.

And the Anthon Berg version of heaven, also a gift.

And everyone who supported my instigation to go to Wine Bar last night. And the bartender who made friendly small talk and really strong drinks. And the waiter who didn't make a fuss when I asked him to shift the bill to my credit card so that we could get cheaper drinks.

And Ondine, who tolerated my whining this morning about PMS via SMS and, as any good friend would, heartily encouraged me to ditch work and go spoil myself ("Cake? Shopping? ... Think a spa thing might help?"). (If only I could.)



Of teachers


So it's Sunday, and it's after the book sale at Expo, and we're kibbitzing about all sorts of stupid shit, as one is wont to do on a rainy afternoon when the arms are tired from heaving hardback books around and the stomach is peckish enough to appreciate Burger King fries and the boy --- that would be Randy, who like Terz, has been "quitting" for about three weeks now --- needs a cigarette.

And suddenly Bryan, who's been asking me all sorts of questions about my job, has an epiphany:

"Shit, we're old enough to be hanging out with teachers, man. Remember when you were young, and teachers were like the adults that were a lot older than you --- and now we're hanging out with a teacher. "

Thanks, man.


A variation on this is a line from the pilot episode of Teachers, in which our protagonist Simon slumps against a wall in the teachers' lounge and sighs:

"I fancy Pauline Young's mother. That's how old I am. I've started fancying the kids' mothers."

Kill me if I ever hit that phase.


You know Teachers is distracting when you're watching it and trying to check email, and end up typing in your work username with your personal password. And even after Gmail rejects you, you blink languidly at the screen, trying to figure what was wrong about the login combination.

Because Teachers is that good. We laugh so that we don't cry.


At the first bite, the thin surface layer of dark chocolate fissures haphazardly, yet miraculously holds the soft marzipan and madeira/plum jam filling together. Sweetness oozes coyly over the lip of the chocolate carapace, and the next bite must be taken more tenderly --- the better to savour you with, my dear. The marzipan's a gentle foil to the madeira's more demanding texture, but there's precious little of the latter and in a few more soft bites it's all gone: the last flake of dark chocolate, the final tease of filling, the end.

It's good having an Anthon Berg in the afternoon.

If anyone brings me some from Denmark in the near future, you will have my exquisite thanks and possibly some kind of cash reward that will make it worth your while. Thank you.



"If you care too much about Singapore, first it'll break your spirit, and finally it will break your heart." --- Alfian Sa'at
I'm long overdue in writing about the latest citizen heartbreak (translation: government decision to push ahead with the development of two casinos integrated resorts) --- so overdue that a couple of nights ago, even the husband had to asked what specifically upset me about the announcement, since he didn't have a clue either.

To clarify:

I have no contention with the plans --- recently set in motion, ostensibly theoretical before that --- to build a casino in Singapore. Never did, either. Even if they permitted all and sundry to enter and blackjack their lives away, I don't think it will lead to the disintegration of our society as we know it. And hell, if it does, it just goes to show we weren't much of a society to begin with, in which case good riddance to us.

What roils my constitution here --- and I'm not talking about any lingering effects of durian consumption --- is that the government took this country through a blatant and massive public relations exercise for about six months, only to announce what seems to the layperson in me to have been a foregone conclusion anyway. I've said this to many people before, and I'll put it in writing here: I don't disrespect all the decisions this government makes, but I wish they'd come right out and say what they want to say, instead of leading us on a merry dance of consultation that twirls us right back to the starting position, from which they weren't going to budge in the first place. Be bold, be blatant, be unapologetic. Have some balls about it, for goodness's sake. Don't dick around with the faux courtship --- small talk, plastic corsages --- only to turn alpha male once the dance is up.

In particular, what cuts me to the quick is a profound sense of my own gullibility. There I am, day after day reminding the young people around me that, hey, the government wants to listen to you --- coaxing myself to believe it, even if they don't, because there must be hope springing eternal, lurking round the corner, lighting the end of the tunnel, a stormcloud on the horizon of a forty-year drought. I dared allow myself to hope, and now I feel all the more a fool for it. I thought I'd hit rock-bottom before --- when I first moved back after graduation, maybe, or when working in the system itself began to dull my sensitivities to outrage and inconsistency --- but now I've found a whole new place deep below it.

I'm done. Been drinking for days, and the bitter stab of disappointment still burns. Turn off, tune out, and drop ---


Out of the (blogging) closet

While I was away from work last week, I set my students a guided research assignment on the Singapore blogosphere. Naturally, a cautionary bell thundered in my head as I did so: I'm sending them out to find Singapore blogs --- what if they find mine?"

And so, at least one has.

I've always blogged with the philosophy that you've got to be able to live with what you post on the Internet, so I'm none too bothered by this latest development, although it was very surreal to learn of it while squinting half-blind, sans glasses or contact lenses, at my iBook screen at 2:15 in the morning after a long day of excellent mahjong (and junk food, and DVDs, and paper-wrapped chicken). Talk about not believing one's eyes. I had to scramble for my glasses to verify that I wasn't seeing things.

So first, a colleague; now a student. The next thing you know, my parents will be reading this. Now that's a scary thought.