The roadside routine

There's a certain imperiousness with which I stick out my hand to hail a cab. It's not so much a "You, cab, come here now!" as an expression of my own (misplaced?) sense of purpose: "I've got shit to do, and I need to do it, and I need a cab NOW."

Sometimes the gesture mellows into a wide-winged flap, executed with all the slow desperation of one who knows the empty cab is going to pass me by because, it would seem, he has better things to do than to pick up a live fare. So the unabahsed sweep of my arm is a defiant challenge: "You can't possibly miss seeing this outrageous move, so don't come and act blur" --- which it will do anyway, and drive on by obliviously.

In Singapore, you don't often hear the New York cab-call whistle, or see the swaggering New York hail. The latter is a gesture that's grown magnified with frequent repetition in the movies, almost to the point where it's a heil gesture rather than a mere hail. Most cab-getting motions I've seen here aren't quite so drastic. As for the whistle, I wonder if it's because men who whistle in public seem capable only of hitting the notes that squel "wolf-whistle" and therefore can't fathom using their lip-blowing skillz for anything else.

Of course, none of these gestures --- aye, even the New York heil, I'd wager --- are guaranteed methods of landing a cab in Singapore. After all, what good is a flapping arm against the power of the pre-late-night-surcharge dearth of cabs, or an individual cab driver's insistence that he has to go to Hougang when I want to go to Holland?


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Out of sorts

Baby superpowers

I think my Super Hero cape was on backwards this weekend, because everything conspired to make me feel at the very bottom of my game. Okay, not everything, because the weekend began promisingly enough with a work-related event Saturday morning, at which I shook enough hands and traded enough introductions with folks to make me feel like Work. Got. Done.

But maybe having to do a work thing on the weekend threw me off my game, and watching two tortured love stories on DVD on Saturday afternoon wasn't the best complement to that. Then there was the 满月(first-month birthday) celebration for the twins today, at which many members of the extended family were in attendance.

On the bright side, at least I know I'm not PMSing.


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Let's call this a want ad

I'm looking for:
  • An invite to Pownce.
  • A small office space in town without being in the heart of town (where it would be both annoying and unaffordable).
  • A morning where I can sleep in without having to set my alarm clock.
If you have any of the above available, please leave a comment, email me (toomanythoughts [at] Gmail) or otherwise send some love my way.


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Getting around

So we were at one end of Depot Road and wondering how to get to the other end, so that we could mosey over to Handlebar at Gillman Village for some cold beer. When we got to the bus stop, I scanned the list of bus services and said, "Okay, we can't take 195 and I don't know about 57, but we can definitely take 175." To which my friend said, "How do you know these things?" To which I wanted to quote Stellou's immortal lines from two Christmases ago:
"I am a worm. I can find my way places."
For really, sometimes it seems that I am. Give me a map and I'm good to go. The map at the Braddell MRT station got me to block 970 along Toa Payoh North so that I could drop off my laptop for repair, and Streetdirectory.com got me to DSTA Tower B for a client meeting. Later the bus got us to Alexandra Road and by 6 pm we had frosted mugs of Heineken in our hands.

Now if only every day could end this way ...


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Crabby when hungry

Now that's a warning label I should come with.


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Zen, sun, moon

When feeling stressed about the amount of work accumulating due to laptop intransigence, immediately proceed for relaxing dinner and good conversation over satisfying Japanese food.

Woodwork over sushi

We sat up at the sushi counter because those were the only indoor seats that were available. Fortunately, this was not one of those restaurants that compels its staff to greet all entering guests with a rousing "Irasshaimase!" when they enter. The sushi chefs were busy but discreet, and my sushi was served, oddly enough, by a waitress rather than handed over the counter by one of the chefs.

Dinner and four cups of tea later, I was ready to face the world again. Or rather, my work. Poo.


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I'm going slightly mad

After all, I've spent the last three days staring obsessively at the top right-hand corner of my laptop screen, pondering the mysteries of why the battery/power icon keeps changing whimsically from one to the other --- charging, not charging, charging, not charging --- even though I didn't touch the charger cable. This, even after I gave in and coughed up $144.40 to buy a new charger.

Needless to say, it has been impossible to do any real work. All I do is jiggle the point where the charger connects to the laptop and swear a lot. And yell at the cat when he decides that's the best time to start doing mad dashes under the table. And pray fervently to some unnamed deity when the icon switches to a "charging" symbol that it will stay that way. And swear more when it doesn't.

Fortunately, Wahj is coming to the rescue by loaning me his spare iBook, so that I can still keep up with work when I send this one to the shop. I was hoping to wait till I was on vacation to send it in, but it looks like I'll have to make that trek up to Yio Chu Kang this week. The bloody thing has refused to charge this morning, except for a few tantalizing seconds when it flickers to the "Calculating..." symbol, and now I am down to my last two hours of battery.


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Wordiness: synecdoche

This is one of those words whose meanings I can't keep in my brain. I've looked it up a dozen times and it still eludes me, even though it's an extremely useful word.

Even now, writing this post, I need to go back and look it up again:
synecdoche n. a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special, as in ten sail for ten ships or a Croesus for a rich man. (source: Dictionary.com)
I looked it up a few days ago because it was used on the extremely articulate Darren Barefoot's blog. I never thought I'd see "cereal box" and "synecdoche" in the same sentence, but there you go.

It's a good thing thing I'm not taking General Paper examinations anymore, because I would next have to figure out how to use "synecdoche" in a sentence to illustrate its meaning, and man, I'm still stumped on that one.


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Invisible City --- have you seen it?

Invisible City e-flyer

To begin, I should admit my biases: I'm friends with Pin Pin and I really enjoyed her previous film, Singapore GaGa. Even though I didn't really know anything about Invisible City while she was putting it together, I went to see it with more than just an open mind --- I went with the expectation of being surprised, again, about some overlooked facet of the Singapore story (a phrase that, by the way, desperately needs to be reclaimed from where it's been boldly slapped on a fat red memoir).

Having seen the film, though, I'm not sure what to say about it. I sat down to write a "typical" film review, but I ended up waxing lyrical bloviating about this, that and the other detail in a predictably self-important but meaningless fashion that demanded immediate backspacing.

Perhaps I'll just say this: Invisible City is a very different film from Singapore GaGa. It is a quiet film, a thoughtful film, a film that invites you between the edges of a crumbling memory to see what's left within. It's unflinching at certain moments, maiden-coy at others. And it's a journey worth taking with the filmmaker to find out what we have forgotten (ironic as that sounds).

As the Singapore Heritage Fest gets underway and Singaporeans wring their hands and rend their garments over en bloc property sales and threatened 80-year-old trees, I can easily imagine Invisible City becoming pigeonholed as some kind of call to arms to save our history and heritage before it's completely obliterated. But that would be an insult to the film that it is. Watch it, watch it a little more closely, and you'll see.


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Wordiness: caffree

Leafing through George Windsor Earl's The Eastern Seas (published in 1837), I came across a description of Singapore as home to people of many different races, including "Caffrees". The word made me think of "coffee", which made me think of someone from South America --- very logical, I know. At any rate, it was clearly some anachronistic term for a group stomped upon in the course of colonialism.

Which turned out to be not too far from the truth. The glossary of military terms at a Macquarie University Library website informs me that "caffree" (also "kaffir") refers to an African native brought to Ceylon as a slave or mercenary soldier by the Portuguese, Dutch or British. Not that you ever see any pictorial depictions of Africans in nineteenth-century Singapore (or, indeed, of Singapore today, barring a few players in the local soccer league), but it makes sense that where the empire went, there some slaves also followed.

Now I wonder if any caffrees ever settled in Asia ...


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I had two kiwifruit after lunch and now I can't wash the tang out of my mouth.

Oh wait, a mouthful of fresh black coffee just did the trick.


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Photograph it before it's gone

That's pretty much the spirit behind my friend Kay Chin's ongoing photographic project, Enbloc: Collective Memories. He's setting out to document old, and not-so-old, homes in Singapore which have the en bloc sword of Damocles hanging over them.

(The term "en bloc", for my dear foreign readers, is Singapore shorthand for the recent phenomenon of property developers snapping up entire housing projects, so that they can tear them down and build obscenely profitable new condominiums and the like. Their formula is usually simple: replace the existing units with 3-4 times as many smaller apartment units on the same plot of land. As more of these projects have gotten underway, there's been much national hand-wringing and lamentation about the buildings of historical, cultural or simply idiosyncratic significance at stake.)

If you live in a residential development that's going under the en bloc hammer (or maybe 'wrecking ball" is the better metaphor), let Kay Chin take a picture of it and perhaps use it in a future exhibition or book, and in return you get a signed photograph of your favourite spot in your home.

I'm lucky in that all the places I've ever lived in Singapore are still extant, as are the schools that I attended (though the buildings might be put to other uses today). I'm pretty much a minority though --- most people have a story that begins with "My school was closed down ... " or "We used to live there but it was demolished to build ... "

Things have a short shelf life in Singapore. Even honking big buildings.


Related posts: Singapore, vividly yours

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So much for the pesto

When my dinner plans for tonight got postponed, I decided I would come home and make some pasta with the pesto sauce I bought last week. I didn't know what I would put in the pesto sauce (bear in mind that cooking doesn't come intuitively to me), but I would figure out something. If nothing else, there was always Google to help me along.

Except that I never got round to Googling a pesto recipe before I got to the grocery store after work. Then I thought I would heed wurh's advice and get some veggies that I could fry up to toss i the pesto.

Except that after I picked up a prepacked salad, my brain leap straight ahead to, "I wonder what meant I should buy?" and my feet obligingly whizzed me over to the meat fridge as if the rest of the vegetable section didn't exist. There, I got sidetracked into choosing between chicken (which is all I cooked the last few times) and minced beef (which therefore won the coin toss), and never looked back.

It was not till I'd paid for my groceries and was walking out the store that I remembered that the original plan was pesto. Pesto.

Don't worry, I didn't try to "experiment" with minced beef and pesto. The minced beef went safely into a tomato sauce (satisfying enough, though I added too much rosemary) and the pesto remains untouched. Maybe next week.

Meanwhile, in a stirring re-enactment of one of the grocery-shopping gaffes Terz and I once made, I picked up a packet of Gruyere cheese that I thought was $5-something but turned out to be $9. It wasn't the store's fault; I hadn't looked closely enough at the label on the cheese. Now I'm going to eat every last bite of it, dammit.


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Officially a workaholic

You wouldn't know it from the (in)frequency of blog postings here, but I'm actually faffing about on a lighter work schedule right now. After the breakneck pace of the last few months, I decided, annual business targets be damned, I needed to cut myself a little slack before I completely lost my mind.

And so I've been coasting along working what approximates normal hours, i.e. an average of 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week (rather than 10-12 hours a day everyday). Now I remember what the concept of "free time" is about.

Which also makes it the perfect time to consider this timeless question from Workaholics Anonymous: Twenty Questions: How Do I Know If I'm A Workaholic?

(Via Cowboy Caleb. Of course.)

Workaholics Anonymous prefaces the list of questions with: If you answer "yes" to three or more of these questions you may be a workaholic. Something tells me three "yes" answers are going to be something of an understatement in my case.

1. Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?

No, but I get pretty damn excited about my work in general.

2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't?

Yep. Times when I can: when non-negotiable deadlines are coming right up, particularly if the money is good. Times when I can't: when I'm feeling burned out or creatively spent, or on the weekends when everyone is out having fun and I'm alone at home in front of the laptop.

3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?

To bed: yes. But only when I know it doesn't matter if I'm also simultaneously catching up on friends' blogs or chatting online.

On weekends: Yes. Hence the chronicling of the "Day of rest" series.

On vacation: Okay, that's an absolute no-no. I try not to even have my cell phone on when I'm on vacation. Except that I've got a two-week vacation coming up in September and I'm thinking of bringing my laptop just so that I can check in on stuff ... and already I can hear the chorus of friends screaming "NOOO!!!!!" down at me.

4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?

See, this is where it gets tricky. My work involves writing and editing, which I love doing, and part of me really wants this to be the last job I'll ever have. That means even when I'm not writing for work, I'm writing for fun which also feeds back --- sometimes indirectly, sometimes directly --- into work. And writing is certainly one of the things I live to do best.

On the other hand, do I talk most about work? Heavens, no. In fact, I get tired of giving the same answers when people ask me what I'm working on at the moment.

5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week?

Yes. I'm almost unapologetic about it.

6. Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?

Well, I've always like to write and now I write for a living. I've occasionally been paid to blog, but I wouldn't say those experiences merited the term "money-making ventures".

7. Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?


8. Have your family or friends given up expecting you on time?

I hope not! Although I'm late more often than I'd like because "I was just finishing up something."

9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?

Sometimes --- but usually only if my reputation and/or the quality of the overall project is at stake.

10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?

Sheesh, just about all the time. Mostly, I think, because I typically work at home and then I get distracted by bits and bobs of things around the apartment. I'm much more productive working in a cafe or office environment; I'm most productive if there isn't an Internet connection available.

11. Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?

(Kill me now.)

12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?

No way! People get to make their own choices.

But if someone commits to completing a certain join within a certain timeframe, and then fails to do so because they felt like going shopping, and then the entire project is thrown into jeopardy --- well, let's just say I'll be more than impatient in such a situation.

13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?

Yes. *meep*

14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?

Yes. *double-meep*

15. Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?

I most certainly do not play competitively. In fact, I slack on most things that aren't "work"; hence I'm fairly domestically challenged, never really did well (or made money) from any of my hobbies, and never saw the point of conversations about who found the best bargain/has the swankiest apartment or car/had the coolest vacation/has the latest designer outfit/etc.

16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?

Sigh. Sometimes. I need to let go, I know.

17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?

I think so. I believe this merits a *triple-meep*

18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?

I don't drive at the moment, but when I used to, I used to be mostly swearing at other drivers.

I've sometimes made the mistake of thinking about work as I was trying to fall asleep --- only to be up another half hour because that my mind spun up into high gear and wouldn't let me rest. Now I think about the colour black ("colour" is a misnomer, I know).

When others are talking? Sometimes. But only if a) I'm stressed about work, b) they're being at that moment truly, 110%, I've-given-them-as-many-chances-as-our-relationship-will-allow boring.

19. Do you work or read during meals?

Yes. But not all the time. (Reading during meals was a bad habit I picked up as a kid, despite my mother's best efforts.)

20. Do you believe that more money will solve the other problems in your life?

Of course not!


On that note, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my non-working Sunday.


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Things I meant to blog in the week that passed


Some days all I do is plot to leave this country.

Other days, I've got my goreng pisang (fresh from the wok) in one hand, a cup of sugar cane juice in the other, as I'm traipsing from Telok Ayer across a corner of Chinatown to Peck Seah Street --- and it feels just like home.


On MSN with James:
James: So how has it been so far?
ME: moving the shelves into the living room
ME: then reorganising all the books again
James: So butch!
James: I think you were a lesbian in your past life

At Raffles City, I literally almost ran into a friend I hadn't spoken to in several months. But all I had time for was, "Sorry, sorry, I'm late, I'm late!" and keep on running.

Not five steps later, I ran into another friend, and yammered the same staccato response while still in motion.

Dammit, I need to stop being late for everything.

Including updating this blog.


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In search of fresh pho and French food

In a month, I'll be in Ho Chi Minh City (or is it more kosher to refer to it as Saigon?). I have four days, I have Travelfish's downloadable e-guide, and I have no travel objectives other than to consume as much fresh street food and inexpensive good French food as I can.

I'll be scouring noodlepie, Nibble & Scribble and The Travelling Hungryboy for tips, and Woof!'s already passed along his recommendations, but if anyone has any other advice to offer for my little jaunt, I'd be glad to hear it. Given how busy work has been lately, this is my least planned-in-advance trip ever (despite having booked air tickets more than three months ago).


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Changing the world (or not)

It is very strange to see the word "reformed" used in the BBC News report on LiveEarth to refer to bands that have formed again, e.g. "reformed group Genesis, featuring Phil Collins" and "reformed New Zealand group Crowded House". I keep wondering: Did they behave really badly and have to go to a reformatory school? Since this was a LiveEarth event, are they reformed in the sense that they're going to cut their carbon footprint and preach the green message (as opposed to say, the profit-motive message) anymore?

But it seems nobody is being that radical.

Of course, the BBC could've just stuck a hyphen in it to say "re-formed", and it wouldn't have gotten my hopes up ...


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Pictures from the past

Yahoo! Photos is closing, which doesn't surprise me that much since Flickr's been in the Yahoo! stable of companies for a while now. What did surprise me was that I got an email alert about it through my Yahoo! account, because I didn't think I had any photos there.

Oh wait, I did --- but they weren't photos that I'd taken myself or even, particularly, want to admit to possessing now. In fact, this admission makes me sound like I'm still in Facebook's target demographic: who knew that downloaded pictures of Goran Visnjic and Milo Ventimiglia from the late 1990s still resided on my Yahoo! Photos account?

Ah, those halcyon ER days ... and this is pre-Heroes (i.e. Gilmore Girls-era) Ventimiglia to boot.

Clearly I have (had?) a thing for dark-haired men of European ancestry and with difficult-to-spell-without-Googling-to-check surnames.


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It's a good idea to stock up on new toothbrushes

So that when I accidentally locked the cat in the bathroom at 3.30 pm before going out, and the flatmate only realised he was stuck in there and let him out at 8.30 pm when she got home, I still have a clean toothbrush to use for the night. Because among the destruction he wreaked:
  • My old toothbrush was on the floor and had been subjected to who knows what kind of feline imprecations.
  • One contact lens case was missing and may in fact have gone down the drain ...
  • Since he managed to get the drain cover off as usual, but mercifully did not this time toss the cover down the drain as well.
  • My perfume bottle had been knocked onto the floor but, miraculously, did not break.
  • Ditto my glasses.
  • A good half a toilet roll lay in an artistically messy heap on the floor.
  • My towel and some odd bits of clothing had been pulled off the towel rack onto the floor. (Good thing I washed my alternate towel yesterday.)
Another small mercy: the only item to land in the toilet bowl was something completely unimportant and dispensable.

Note to self: always check on the cat's whereabouts in the apartment before going out.


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What do you call it

For the first time ever, someone in conversation this week said "ex-husband", by which they meant mine. For a moment I felt like I had been unplugged from what was going on around me, then the feeling passed and the conversation maundered on.

I have not said "ex-husband" much myself. Mostly I use his name, as most of the people I talk to recognise it. Otherwise, the default term is still "husband", out of habit. "Ex" sounds too trivial --- one in a string thereof, no different from how one would refer to an adolescent sweetypoohbear or a boyfriend who lasted all of one month. Not that one's age or the duration of a relationship alone mark the seriousness of a relationship, but I think being married to someone for seven-plus years quite clearly falls into a separate category of intimacy and dependency.

Then there's the "we/I", "our/my" conundrums that trip up one's speech. We used to have a car, but I don't have one now. It's our flat but my clothes that are in the cupboard. "The" becomes remarkably handy, filling in for any possessive pronoun that would otherwise draw too much attention.

What it boils down to, ultimately, is that I never thought "ex-husband" was a word that would be admitted to my personal lexicon --- but there it is.


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In with the new, out with the old

Pre-party preparations

I was going to blog about reactions to the iPhone (over in the US) and the closing of the National Stadium (here in Singapore) --- but then there was the weekend with parties and prosecco, and then I forgot that I owed a client some work, so I spent Sunday catching up, albeit at a leisurely pace.

Anyway, when I talk about the iPhone (without being able to get my hands on one in this country), people don't seem to take me seriously when I point out the lack of MMS and a better camera (2 megapixels is so 2005, not to mention that there also seem to be grumbles about the camera quality). Plus ringtones are limited to what Apple packages with the phone --- that's so 2000! I appreciate the functionalities it got right, but even so, maybe I'm not really the market that Apple's targeting at the moment ...

With the National Stadium, what more is there to say, I guess? Except to quote the line from Alfian's play Homesick: "How can we build a national identity if we keep tearing down everything with the word 'national' in it?"


Related posts: In memoriam

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Wordiness: boma

In the course of writing about this beautiful South African getaway (the first time I've actually wanted to whip out up and go visit one of the places I'm paid to write about), I came across "boma". Wikipedia would have me believe a boma is a livestock enclosure of some kind, or a term used in eastern and southern Africa to also metaphorically refer to a government office. But seeing as the press material I was working with described the pleasurable experience of dining in an "open boma", I can only deduce that it's also a term for some kind of casual restaurant or cafe space. A quick Google search for "boma" in conjuunction with "South Africa" throws up any number of restraurant names, after all.

It does have a certain colonial ring to it: "We'll take our aperitifs in the boma, and then adjourn inside for dinner. Coming, Nigel?"


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