31.8.07

Of all the ...

I thought I got a splinter in my foot --- but it was a whisker from my cat!

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29.8.07

Behold the marvel that is Google

1. Go to the Google search page for images.

2. Enter the following search terms: swan lake on ice singapore

3. Click on the third page of results and scroll down to near the bottom ...

4. Where my blog picture appears --- I would assume, because the contents of that page mention "Swan Lake Avenue", "ice cream" and, of course, "Singapore".

Who'd've ever thunk it?

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27.8.07

Eating away

Midnight snack

So I actually am down to the one week before I leave again (no more miscounting!) and it's become a matter not so much of too many things to do, but too many appointments to keep. I'm scheduled up the wazoo and I have to keep reminding myself to eat more Asian food (also to save money).

Which explains, perhaps, why Saturday night's midnight snack was the extremely surprising combination of muruku and Men's Pocky. I assure you that the latter is a real brand that's been around for several years. I remember when kk and I first stumbled across it in some Singapore grocery store and proceeded to giggle for quite some time at the implications. (It's normal-sized Pocky biscuit sticks covered in dark chocolate.) It has now penetrated (ha ha) even my humble neighbourhood provision shop, so it's hardly an expat item anymore.

The muruku came from equally humble origins: a Mustafa shopping trip with the family last weekend. I've got a second pack that I ought to finish before I leave.

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24.8.07

Friday night footnotes

Amoy Street hawker centre has the best wanton mee in Singapore, on account of a $3 portion being served with a heap of char siew, a nice portion of stewed mushrooms and green vegetables, and a bowl of six (six!) wantons. Plus the noodles are mildly oily, just enough to keep the dish smooth, without being annoying so.

Stomach sated, I headed over to BooksActually for the Shikisai: A T-shirt Exhibition launch. Once again, I managed to walk out of there without buying any books --- which is good for me, but nosso much for the bookstore. I will atone the next time (third time lucky!).

I'm enforcing a no-laptop weekend on myself, so I'll see ya all on Monday.

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Things that are not good

Consuming serious amounts of green tea, black coffee and milky teh within five hours at the end of the day.

Thinking about work all the time.

Being unable to keep dates straight. First, I thought I had two weeks in Singapore between trips, when I have three. Then I told everyone I was leaving on the 4th, when I'm leaving the 3rd. At this rate, it'll be a miracle if I don't screw up a third time and miss my flight altogether.

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23.8.07

LotR product placement madness

I rarely read McSweeney's because my brain never got into it, but samueljl points me to: "Scenes From Lord of the Rings That Might Have Been Used as Setups for Bad Commercials Had the Filmmakers Not Respected the Material By".

Excerpt:
ARAGORN: What do your elf eyes see?

LEGOLAS: There ... in the distance ... (Points excitedly) ... two arches of gold.
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Related posts: We hate blogses, Help me, Peter Jackson, you're my only hope, Burp, LotR tidbits

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22.8.07

I have a bad earworm

Blame it on the iCommons party I attended last night, but I woke up with an insipid mash-up of Garbage's "When I Grow Up" with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Enola Gay".

And it won't go away.

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20.8.07

Notes from the National Day Rally 2007

Which I watched while making dinner in front of the TV (a salad and open-face sandwiches are easy that way) and chatting with sarah online.

First of all, WTF was up with the turquoise shirt? (Yes, it merits a "WTF".) Combined with the purple lighting, it was all very getai, all very 881, all very distracting.

When I finally got over that shock to my system (mostly by listening to the speech, rather than watching it), the man was maundering about education. I said to sarah, "It's very sad when a prime minister sounds like he just learned that secondary school students know how to use video cams --- WHEN THIS IS THE AGE OF YOUTUBE." Maybe he needs to watch Teacher Tube more often (via apophenia).

sarah thought it would help if he didn't talk about good teachers in neighbourhood schools as if he'd never met any before. Not to mention the implication that good teachers are those that come up with all the gee-whiz projects --- where's the love for teachers who are plugging away to get the basics right?

Oh wait, he foiled me with the obligatory "let's have the teachers stand up and take a bow" moment. But hey, in that contingent of about 40 teachers, where were all the women? The contingent was heavily male, which is hardly representative of the local teaching population. Or maybe the women were just better at making excuses not to attend the Rally ...

Reason #7924 why Singapore will never get its act together like a real society: the prime minister is happy to operate at the level of "Singaporeans like incentives", and toss more incentives at them. So the government thinks non-Malay students will study Malay as a third language if they get two bonus points towards JC admission --- which some of them will, but that's no guarantee that any of them will actually continue using the language after they snag their two bonus points, or that they will be able to effectively use the language as adults. Given all the former Chinese-as-a-first-language students I know who are barely bilingual today despite the "A"s they scored in school, let's just say I'm skeptical about how this new programme will fare.

I'm also wondering if trumpeting a programme like this will make some of the latent racism in Singapore all the more evident if the Chinese majority fails to respond even to prime minister-endorsed incentives and shows no interest in the programme. Sure, there'll be some who say there are more "useful" (e.g. widely-spoken) languages one could study instead of Malay, but there'll also be those for whom the bias against people of another race spills over into a bias against their language. We'll see, I suppose ...

Moving along, I said to sarah, "I find it weird that the PM says 'twenty-one-five' instead of 'twenty-fifteen' [when he's referring to the year 2015]". What is up with that? Everyone says "nineteen-fifteen" and not "nineteen-one-five", right?

And then there was the whole "Just do it" Nike reference --- the prime minister, ladies and gentlemen, telling people to get on with sex to make babies.

You know what? Even less than I want to hear my parents talk about sex, I want to hear any government representative talk about sex. Even as a "joke". Which was not funny. At all.

On the other hand, everyone could just take such "wisecracks" at face value and run out and start having wild bunny sex a) outside of marriage, b) without protection. Let's see how much they'd like that.

(Obligatory PSA time: If you're going to have sex, make sure you are protected. For heaven's sake, don't believe the prime minister and "just do it".)

So the prime minister was talking about his former constituent, an old woman who was worried because she was receiving medical treatment and her CPF money would run out this year. And all he said to her was a smiley "Man man lei" (Cantonese for, "Let's do it slowly"). Let me just say that if my grandmother were still alive and the old Cantonese woman in question --- not to mention any number of other fierce elderly Cantonese women I know --- she would tell him exactly what to do with his "man man lei". I think even my mother would, in Cantonese and in English, because she's effectively bilingual that way (no need for two bonus points for JC admission, either).

An old woman's only source of money is running out and he says "man man lei"?!?!?!

In the same vein, I'm sure the 91-year-old woman he spoke with really loves her menial job working at a hawker centre. Did no one stop to wonder if 91-year-old men and women should be working in the first place?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think we must improve the returns on the CPF.
ME: No shit, Sherlock.
sarah: Eh, he went to Cambridge, okay?

Lee Hsien Loong: It's going to cost the government a lot of money [to improve the returns on the CPF].
ME: Excuse me, the government get money from where? From our TAXES correct?????
sarah: YAH LORRRRRR.

I'm not saying they shouldn't spend the money, I'm saying they shouldn't talk about it like it's the government's hard-earned profits and savings, when in fact, last time I checked, it's the people's. This is what happens when the prime minister's allowed to refer without a trace of irony to "Singapore, Inc." in his speech, and no one calls him on it.

MEGO sections: CPF changes and HDB upgrading. Oddly enough, the HDB section more so than the CPF bit. The only thing I had to say about the HDB plans: "Y'know, if you didn't clear Punggol Point, you wouldn't have to plan to "bring back" al fresco dining to it."

Finally, just before 10 pm, it was over. But only after the prime minister waved his arms like an animatronic puppet.

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19.8.07

Not the coolest thing to do, I'm aware ...

But is anyone going to be watching the National Day Rally at 8 pm so that we can heckle it together online?

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Saturday night spelling bee

Not since I was a pre-teen have I needed to be sure I got the spelling of "hippopotamus" right ... and I almost had to use "hippopotami".

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18.8.07

Did you know ...

... that the first CD ever produced was The Visitors by Abba? So says BBC News, as the "Compact disc hits 25th birthday".

I've never been a real musichead so I don't think I started buying CDs till the early 1990s. When I graduated from university in 1997, CDs were still something you bought in a music store ("CD store", though they didn't sell blank ones), while data storage to the average person meant 3.5" floppy disks or Iomega zip disks with a whopping 100 MB capacity.

I don't remember the first CD I bought (though I remember that the first cassette tape was a 1983 compilation of Grammy Award-winning songs). I do know that I did a double-take after seeing Discmans for sale in Ho Chi Minh City last week (alongside pirated music CDs, no less) and I almost wished I hadn't given my mother permission to sell mine some years ago, otherwise I could add it to my growing Collection of Obsolete Technology.

When I cleaned house a couple of months ago, I accumulated at least 100 used CDs for recycling. My mother now hangs some of them outside her windows to scare the birds away. How far we've come.

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16.8.07

Because anything can be a song

Everyone needs to go listen right now to the Barenaked Ladies' "Testing 1, 2, 3" (recorded at a concert in Lexington, Kentucky in 2004).

It's nice when Last.fm makes me laugh in the middle of clearing work email.

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Shortchanging myself

I have been madly scrambling to get all sorts of work done because I thought I had only two weeks between returning from Ho Chi Minh City and jetting off again --- but it turns out that I cannot read a calendar properly, because in fact I have three weeks.

Now I can breathe again.

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15.8.07

Playing with Jajah

(Note: Not Jar Jar Binks, whom I still loathe with the vengeful fury of a thousand suns.)

Is anyone else out there successfully using Jajah to bypass their cell phone service provider's rates and has never looked back? There are all these promises of free calls if both phone users are Jajah members; even for calls to non-Jajah numbers, the rates for Singapore-to-Singapore numbers are lower than what my provider (M1) can offer.

If you're one of the people I regularly chat with and you're on Jajah, let me know. Let's see if I can't save more money so I can take more frequent vacations.

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14.8.07

We're not in Ho Chi Minh City anymore, Toto

Red marks the spot where the bomb landed

Therefore:
  1. Don't stroll across a road and expect oncoming traffic to slow down or stop. In fact, no more rampant jaywalking, period.
  2. Don't expect the made-at-home morning coffee to jolt me off my chair. My coffee is as strong as it's always been, but now it's sorta bland-tasting. I suppose my tongue will acclimatise to the missing sharpness eventually.
  3. Don't smile at the waitstaff, even at expensive cafes. They don't smile back.
  4. Stop measuring walking distances in terms of how they compare to the walking route from Kim Hotel in Pham Ngu Lao across the park to Clinton's Pho (i.e. Pho 2000), then down Le Loi to downtown Saigon.
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12.8.07

Give the people beef, said the Communist paté

We had a lot of beef, but we didn't get around to any banh mi with paté, mostly because every time we walked past a banh mi stall, the sight of the hefty baguettes made me think I wouldn't make it beyond two bites before I declared myself full.

But we had pho everyday, from street stalls and airconditioned eateries (Pho 2000's broth and menu is superior to Pho 24's, which must be why Clinton dined at the former back when he was still POTUS) --- with beef slices, beef balls or other cow parts which aren't on the average foreign traveller's diet, and, one time, pho with a baguette on the side. After one mouthful of soup-soaked bread, the only thing either of us could say was: "Now why the hell didn't anyone think of that before?"

Pho, glorious pho

I swear the pho in Vietnam tastes better simply because all the ingredients are locally grown, which means they not only taste fresher but also taste of, well, Vietnam. No Australian beef, no imported leaves and the soup's probably been brewed in the same scraped-up pot they've been cooking in for the last ten years. Don't look too closely at the pot or the dishwashing area --- it might put you off your meal. Just concentrate on the bowl of hot soup in front of you, never mind that the same shop's separate translated menu gave pho tai chin and pho chin vien the same description in English, all the iffiness has been scalded away anyway.

In between overdosing on pho, we traipsed up and down the streets of Saigon (meaning District 1, not some fond pseudo-American affectation): pondering narrow buildings and indecipherable shop signs, waving off offers of motorcycle or cyclo rides, sidestepping the inevitable puddles in the streets or cracked sidewalks (it rained everyday we were there), gawking at expert capteh players or neighbourhood aerobics classes in the park.

View from the room

Ho Chi Minh City was not as crowded, nor as grating, nor as smelly as I'd been led to imagine. People were generally friendly, and most people who tried to sell us something backed off quietly when we declined with a smile and a shake of the head. Shopkeepers tried to get the best price outta us, of course, but we never paid more than we wanted to for anything. It was generally the young guys who were easy to bargain down, not the cheerful but adamant aunties. Flinty they could be, and completed uninclined to coddle our rudimentary bargaining attempts.

When we wanted a break from the street scene, we hunted down some of Travelfish's top 10 Saigon cafes. Creperie & Cafe was the perfect antidote to a waterlogged afternoon in serious propaganda-filled museums. La Fenetre Soleil, though tucked away in a splendid second-floor space, offered plenty of people-watching opportunities.

La Fenetre Soleil

Other times, it was back to our daily diet of cafe sua da (iced Vietnamese coffee with copious dollops of condensed milk); I probably consumed an entire month's worth of sugar in my four days.

Museums, sightseeing and urban rambles aside, we decided towards the end that what we really liked to do was to park ourselves streetside on the edge of backpacker district Pham Ngu Lao and watch the people stream by. Locals on bikes, of course, but also foreign tourists of both the amiable and the sketchy sort, or child street performers with fire-breathing or shoe-shining talents. Not to mention what seemed to be the nightly ten-minute blackout that would prompt the crowd's cheer (jeer?), as the only light left came from the individually-powered food stalls.

One last bowl of pho, one last T-shirt stuffed into an over-full backpack --- and then we flew home.

Baggage labels

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7.8.07

So long and thanks for all the tea

As reflected by metal

I'm not sure what the deal is with tea and me lately, but the last work-related meeting I had this week was on Monday at Zen Bone Tea Mind. It was budak's suggestion and a very fine one, because the place is a) pretty, b) quiet on weekday afternoons, and c) operates on the assumption that people will order one tea and then sit there for as long as they like while the waitstaff keeps efficiently topping up the hot water. Now if only it had wifi ...

Tonight, I'm sitting here with a mug of most excellent Stash peppermint tea (thank you, sarah and Little Miss Drinkalot!) and trying to remember if I've forgotten anything work-wise before I go on vacation. It's oddly quiet because Ink isn't here (Terz is cat-sitting him while I'm going to be away) and the flatmates aren't home yet.

Okay, let's see: Yahoogroups switched off, vacation email autoresponse set, perishable food consumed or otherwise cleared from the fridge. Now I just need to pack my vacation wallet, phone and camera chargers and a few remaining toiletries, and we're good to go.

PS: I am bringing 3 pairs of footwear for a 4-day trip, which edges out the previous record.

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6.8.07

I'm a weak-minded fool and you're all sly, crafty old rats, encore

Previous posts here and here.

So I spent the morning Facebooking instead of rushing all the work I need to finish before I go on vacation. I blame this firmly on all the invitations I've been getting, as well as the alleged promise of finding old primary school classmates (as kk has done). Not that I can remember the name of very many primary school classmates to begin with ...

In other news, I desperately want to say "vacay" instead of "vacation", but I think it would make me sound totally Valley Girl.

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4.8.07

Friday night tea time

It's not a good sign when I'm standing in a 7-Eleven store complaining about their paltry yet baffling selection of Lipton teas, and the friend I'm with says, "You're going to blog about this later, right?"

Which I wasn't going to --- honest! --- but since it's apparently expected of me, here it is.

I wanted some good ol'-fashioned Lipton Yellow Label tea --- you know, what used to be the default tea option when I was growing up, before I knew what Earl Grey was, and well before Celestial Seasonings and its ilk of infusion confusions came along to clutter up our shelves.

7-Eleven was the only place still open that might have tea for sale. Except that the first 7-Eleven store I walked into had exactly three varieties of Lipton: Red Tea, White Tea and Gold Tea. No humble Yellow Label options in sight, and the descriptions of the Red/White/Gold Tea consisted of sufficiently purple prose that I immediately replaced the boxes on the shelves.

The next 7-Eleven store, mercifully, had many boxes of Yellow Label tea, but also the Red and White varieties. (Neither store had any non-Lipton teas for sale.) Now that the Yellow Label was safely within reach, I took a few moments to peruse the Red and White Tea descriptions a little more closely. Red Tea promised a spicy flavour (I almost fell for it), White Tea hailed from Kenya, which made me think of a rich coffee-like flavour because of the Rift Valley blend coffee I'd had at Starbucks this morning.

Then the friend helpfully pointed out that the Red and White Teas were $4.60 a pack, while the Yellow Label was $2.45.

Half an hour later, I had my Yellow Label tea in a Starbucks mug. It tasted just like it used to.

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2.8.07

Off to a party

--- at which I will be the oldest person there other than the host's parents.

I'm not sure what stage of life this marks, but it has to mark something (other than impending dotage).

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1.8.07

Fast food frustration

Sometimes I eat at MOS Burger, and then I wish I'd taken a few steps more and eaten at Burger King instead.

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