23.1.07

A whimper or a bang

Perhaps someday this will make a good story, but at the moment it's impossible to see how.

Taking some personal time. Thank you for all the SMSes/IMs/emails and a few old-fashioned phone calls. So this is how one weathers an emotional crisis in the age of the internet.

I will be back. I just don't know when.

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20.1.07

Surprises while shopping

I.

If you love/hate television as much as I do, and/or spent a great deal of time growing up on it (specifically, on American TV) like a good child of the '80s, then it will be delightful for you to find, as I did, that the local Kinokuniya has copies of the inimitable Television Without Pity: 752 Things We Love to Hate (and Hate to Love) About TV. I was going to order it off Amazon anyway, but now I have it in all its corn-yellow and crimson-red fury. It's filled with choice entries such as this (also available on the book website):
[David] Hasselhoff is not a master thespian, but he gives 100 percent to whatever role he's in, whether it's muttering urgently into a two-way-radio watch that his car needs to break him out of a small-town jail cell (again) or dashing grimly down the beach to save a drowning swimmer, stomach sucked valiantly in.
... which kept me leafing back and forth through it for far more snarky pop culture commentary than is healthy to absorb in one sitting.

There are at least two more copies still available on the shelves at the Ngee Ann City Kinokuniya's TV section (the elevated area adjacent to Page One's domain).

II.

On our way out, we stopped at Cold Storage to pick up a couple of groceries --- which then vanished without a trace from the checkout counter in the several seconds it took me to pay for them. The likely suspects: the woman in the line before me, who had purchased a bottle of green tea and declined a bag for it (but that suggests she had probably walked straight off without stopping to take anything), or the couple before her, whose credit card payment seemed to have required a little extra fussing and fiddling while they grappled with their plastic bags of groceries.

I don't think anyone swiped my purchase intentionally (hello, $11.50 of ground coffee and no-sugar soy milk isn't terribly attractive booty), but it was surreal to zip up my wallet, look down at the counter and find it completely empty. More surreal was the cashier's response: "Aiya, this always happens." To which Terz astutely noted afterwards, "If it always happens, shouldn't they do something about it?"

Anyway, they replaced my purchased groceries without any further ado (or rather, I walked off to sweep them up for the second time, since that would be faster than waiting for one of the staff to do it). I hope whoever got the bonus coffee and soy milk, er, enjoys it.

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16.1.07

Random thought

And then, some days, the dilemma is: what do I wear that's apropos for meeting a potential new client this afternoon and going to the open-air Muse concert at Fort Canning tonight?

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15.1.07

Not bored, just ...

Last Tuesday, I found out that someone we'd worked quite closely with for a recent project had unexpectedly --- it seemed, inexplicably --- passed away. Add the fact that I got the information through SMS and that adds a whole other layer of surrealism to the occasion.

Last Thursday, I slipped in the rain, fell down and scraped my knees open. My mother would despair of me. The knees are healing slowly --- yes, I must be getting older because the same wounds used to clot and scab within days when I was a kid --- but still look ugly, unsexy and highly tak glam. Well, at least I'm not limping anymore.

Last Sunday, my stomach decided that it would tease me with all the discomfort of diarrhoea, without any of the actual diarrhoea. Ditto today. I don't know whether to be grateful or disgruntled.

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8.1.07

Bored now

Terz was away at a shoot all day today, so it was just me and the cat, hanging out at home. First there was the requisite whining about how bored I was, but Ink didn't seem too impressed by that. Then there were the desperate attempts to lure friends out for coffee or something, but everyone already had plans and couldn't entertain me.

(Wahj, however, deserves a special mention for regaling me for 4 minutes with the story of how Sun Bin, the grandson of Sun Zi, gave his patron good advice at the horse races. I totally thought he was making up the story on the fly, but no, it's a bona fide tale from the Chinese classics.)

So I had no choice but to do the work that I'd been procrastinating on, but not before I attempted to procrastinate further by doing some household chores. I'm no fan of vacuuming or wiping down cupboards, but on a long, empty Sunday afternoon, even that's preferable to tapping at the laptop.

As evening inched upon us, I tried one more round of "Free for dinner?" instant messages, but again, the Force was not strong with me. So the only person that I spoke to and interacted with in person, between noon and bedtime, was the neighbourhood hawker who sold me my mutton murtabak for dinner.

On the bright side, I did get some work done and it's fun having season 1 of Veronica Mars run for white noise while I'm poking around at household chores. I think Ink got tired of me harassing him, though, because he flopped down to sleep a good bit earlier than usual and didn't even stir when I nudged his head.

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5.1.07

The year 2006, in books

I was going to start this post with "Another year, another list --- " --- but I already used that line last year. Damn.

If you haven't read my annual lists before and you're curious why I do it, read the first paragraph of the very first list in for the year 2003.

In terms of sheer quantity, this list beats last year's shabby tally of 19, but it's nowhere near 2004's record of 44. (How the hell did I do that? Oh yeah, by rereading a whole bunch of stuff.) This year's count would've been better if not for the total dearth of completing any books between August and November: consider that I finished 19 books by August and then nothing till the 4 I squeezed in before year's end.

In my own defence, August was also the start of my goodbusy period, during which commuting time that I used to spend reading was instead diverted to checking email on the go (correspondingly, my 3G cell phone bill went up). For instance, I definitely started on Spoken Here (#21 on the list) in August, but only finished it a couple of weeks ago.

But enough with the excuses. On to the list.

1. The Jesus Mysteries, Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy (January)

A university alumni pal recommended this after one of our lunch conversations wandered into the realm of "Do you believe in God?" The next time we met, I proudly told him, "You know that book you recommended? I read it and now I really don't believe in God anymore." His response: "Oh dear, I think I'm going to hell for that one."

As I was quick to reassure him, it's not so much that this book entirely transformed my religious worldview, as that it sharpened some of the doubts I already had about Christianity. And I'll admit it was somewhat unsettling as I worked my way through the book and towards the conclusion that God doesn't exist. It doesn't come easily, for someone like me who grew up going to church, to decide that there really is no God. It's a pretty hardcore decision, not merely like being disillusioned with the church while still tossing out the occasional desperate God-can-you-fix-this-please-please-pretty-pretty-please petition.

Anyway, so I don't believe there is a God/god and this book helped me to figure out why. Which may or may not make other people want to read it.

2. 50 Facts That Should Change The World, Jessica Williams (January)

One of those books that I probably wouldn't have bought if I wasn't trying to make up a combo for Borders' 3-for-the-price-of-2 deals. Well done, marketing strategists! Anyhow, it was a good read and elicited about as much middle-class liberal guilt as it was intended to, after which I, er, put it back on my bookshelf. I should pass the copy on to some General Paper student before its information becomes completely outdated.

3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (January)

Ah, Murakami --- always so strange, yet so satisfying.

4. The Lemon Table, Julian Barnes (January)

I don't usually buy hardcovers , but this one was available for a few bucks at some warehouse clearance book sale. I liked the heft it lent to a light (okay, I always refer to short story collections as "light", even though that doesn't do justice to them) and good read. I can only remember one short story offhand, but it was one of the more poignant ones so maybe that's the kind that sticks in my head.

5. Invitation To Treat, Eleanor Wong (January)

I've only seen the staging of the last play in this trilogy, so it was great to pick up the full set and see how the characters got there from the start (even though each play can be appreciated as a stand-alone piece). I can't think of a better way to say it, than to say that Wong writes with great craft yet humanity. To paraphrase what I said about Alan Hollinghurst a few years ago, she's a good writer of drama, not just a good writer of gay drama.

6. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (February) *
7. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman (February)
8. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman (February)

After years of procrastination (I read The Golden Compass when it was first released in 1995), I finally hijacked the National Library's copies of His Dark Materials trilogy and gave them the attention they deserved. And yes, now I'm fully aware of what I've been missing all these years. Cameron, as usual, writes about it much better than I could, so let me redirect you to her post (spoiler warning), which starts off assessing the audiobooks but also gets to the heart of the philosophical worldview Pullman's created.

9. Talking It Over, Julian Barnes (February)

Familiar characters, dancing a new dance (or maybe just a variation of the old one). The characters are older and bitter-er --- I like!

10. The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited, Francis Seow (March)

One of the first books I pulled off the shelf at work when I started work on the National Museum project --- but for leisure reading, of course. Francis Seow provides a not-too-pedantic survey of the Singapore press vs. the Singapore government from the post-World War 2 period, amidst the earliest stirrings of national independence. The book's replete with delicious quotations from Lee Kuan Yew, as uttered at different points of his political career (and of Singapore's relative press freedoms). It should be absolutely required reading for anyone who still thinks the current Singapore media isn't a mouthpiece of the Singapore government. The recounting of the 1971 Singapore Herald saga is reason enough to pick this up.

Now if only we could get an updated edition that assesses the impact (or lack thereof) of the 2000/2001 "opening up" of the local media with new TV stations (the uninspiringly named and short-lived TVWorks) and newspapers respectively, as well as the September 2004 merger of media companies that returned Singapore to, more or less, the status quo.

11. Life Is Not Complete Without Shopping, Chua Beng Huat (April)

Another one snuck off the office shelf. I have to say that the book's title is sexier than its contents. Yeah, it's fun to read about shopping and consumerism, but this isn't the most riveting account of why Singaporeans are absolutely obsessed with both. Nice bits about the elevation of ah beng/ah lian (sub)culture and local food, though.

12. Marry Me, John Updike (April)

In case you didn't know already, marriage is a very strange institution and good fiction writers have spun many an entertaining tale of it. A compact and compelling story of two couples. To say any more would spoil it all.

13. The Accidental, Ali Smith (April)

I might have bought this because it had a sticker saying that it'd won the 2005 Whitbread Novel of the Year award. Talk about unreliable narrators and dysfunctional families, and then some. How is it that writers make dysfunction so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time?

14. Oscar & Lucinda, Peter Carey (June)

I attempted to read this a couple of years ago and didn't get more than a quarter of the way through before I gave up, too impatient to wait for the parallel narratives of the eponymous characters to dovetail. This time around, the story engaged me more and the payoff was well worth it. What a peculiar story to weave in a historial setting, though.

15. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides (June)

After reading Middlesex, this seemed like an oddly light concoction: a bunch of boys, after a bunch of sisters, who then killed themselves. On the other hand, a creepy version of the venerable coming-of-age tale, perhaps?

16. Everyman, Philip Roth (June)

More death, reversed into life. Roth is good at writing about the angst of old(er) men, but I'm glad he kept this to a compact 200-plus page novel. It made the point far more effectively than some of his more belaboured treatises.

17. In the Miso Soup, Ryu Murakami (July)

The other Murakami and, based on my reading of this one book, the infinitely weirder one. I can't remember the name of the antagonist offhand, but just thinking about him creeps me out.

18. Memoirs of My Melancholic Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (July)

More memories of old(er) men. As with the Roth, it offers a taste of what the writer's done with his longer novels, here sharpened into focus.

19. Down Under, Bill Bryson (August) *

I read it every year (okay, except that I missed it last year), whenever I need a break from new reading and want to go back to something familiar and friendly. Just call it my Linus's blanket. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? Nothing makes me want to revisit Australia like this book. Oh, and this ad.

20. Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson (November)

This is exactly the kind of pop culture book I hope to be able to write some day --- with a fluffy title that will make my father wonder why he ever bothered to send me to school, yet packed with insightful observations and accessible ways to understand a potentially bothersome topic. Also, for any gamers and TV-series DVD addicts out there who need to justify your respective obsessions to your loved ones, this is the book you should study, then give to them for Xmas.

21. Spoken Here, Mark Abley (December)

Okay, so if I'm not going to write a pop culture book, this is the other kind of thoroughly researched and absolutely engaging general non-fiction that I would like to be able to write. Mark Abley spends what I can only imagine must have been years and years, all told, with people who work to reclaim various endangered languages all around the world (not just the Third World with its "primitive" languages, as one might assume). But this book is more than about individual languages; it's also about how our ideas and our very understanding of the world we live in is shaped by what our language permits us to express. To a fairly monolingual speaker/thinker like myself, it's a startling reminder of how limited English --- or any one language, for that matter --- is, if that one language is all we know.

22. Media Unlimited, Todd Gitlin (December)

I can't remember how this book wound up on by "books to read" list, but I finally picked up a copy at Borders and got it done. It provided an interesting counterpoint Everything Bad Is Good For You, which deals largely with media content, while this book looked at the sheer volume of the media onslaught instead.

23. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris (December)

I kept hearing David Sedaris's name mentioned, and then there were all these glowing blurbs on the front and back cover of this book --- but somehow it didn't quite do it for me. Yeah, it was entertaining, but it wasn't as addictive or wicked as I expected. So it was a bit of a flat note on which to end the year's reading.

And so in 2006, I managed to avoid J.M. Coetzee even though I've vowed to read him for at least two years now. There's something about the author that's intimidates me, though. The closest I've come is to buying one of his books for my cousin off her Amazon wishlist; even when I was at Kinokuniya for the 20% off sale on Tuesday, I sailed right by his shelf.

2007's off to a good start with Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years. Then there's Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown, Julian Barnes's Arthur and George, Zadie Smith's On Beauty, Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close all waiting in the wings (courtesy of recent book sales). Further reading suggestions are, as always, welcome!

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Cranky

A little hungover.

A little irritated by the cat's antics persistence in doing everything he's not supposed to be doing.

A little unproductive.
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4.1.07

Gobsmacked

So it turns out that in this era when the word "Google" has evolved from a search engine to a brand name to a bona fide verb in the dictionary, there are people my age who still use Yahoo to search.
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1.1.07

Happy New Year!

Salads and couscous

I ate so much at X-man's party last night that I failed to take any pictures of all our party-poppers going off at midnight. Blame it on the bountiful salads and yummy couscous cooked up by the guest cook, not to mention X-man's shepherd's pie, which tasted much better than its low-fat ingredients would have one believe.

You know we're getting old(er) 'cause we had the good sense to cover our drinks with tissue paper a few minutes before midnight, to make sure that they wouldn't get tainted by any errant party-popper streamers. Also, I suspect everyone actually ate more than they drank.

And so, abruptly, here we are in 2007.

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