30.4.08

Strike three, but we got lucky

Because I am a freelancer who is --- for all intents and purposes --- surgically attached to her internet connection, Cowboy Caleb calls me on occasion for last-minute restaurant advice and I spend about five minutes helping him pick a place where he can fête a client or boss on his company's tab. The other typical condition is that it has to be a place that he knows how to get to in Singapore, which can be harder than it sounds.

Today he calls at about noon from Hong Kong and needs a place for dinner tonight. He can't expense the meal, but still needs it to be nice enough. Oh, and no Asian food.

We settle on Valentino's, because we've been there before and it's pretty damn good food. He asks me to get a reservation (yes, I am officially his entertainment secretary, didn't you know?) and SMS him when the table's booked. I call. Valentino's, it turns out, is fully booked for the night.

A little SMSing, another phone call. "How about Marmalade Pantry at Palais Renaissance?," I suggest, "because the air-conditioning at the Holland Village one isn't working [as I found out to my dismay on Monday night]."

"Where's Palais Renaissance?"

"Next to Orchard Towers, between Orchard Towers and the Thai embassy."

For reasons that cannot be reported here, Cowboy Caleb declines to go anywhere near Orchard Towers. We settle on Ember at Hotel 1929, another reliable choice that he knows how to get to.

I call and: "We regret to inform you that we will be closed for renovations from 30 April to ..." Cheebye. I hang up without bothering with the rest of the automated message.

"Strike two," I SMS Cowboy.

He calls back. By this point, I'm trawling through The Travelling Hungryboy for ideas. We confer. "Okay, Wild Rocket," he decides.

I call and I cannot believe my ears: "I'm sorry, but we're closed tonight for a private function."

Clearly, the moral of the story at this point is that it is not possible to get a dinner reservation at a decent place on the eve of a public holiday (it's May Day tomorrow), unless you planned your evening a week before and had time to work your way through an entire restaurant directory.

Cowboy cannot believe it; neither can I. James comes to the rescue on MSN: "Cork", he says, "63279169." Does Cowboy know where Capital Towers is? Why yes, he does. After which he SMSes: "I boarding the plane. You decide."

Meanwhile, I'm calling --- and miracle of miracles, they are open, they have tables available and they are pleased as punch to take Cowboy's reservation. I manage to sneak in a last confirmation SMS to Cowboy and the URL for Chubby Hubby's review of the place before he switches off his phone on the plane.

As far as I know, dinner went all right.

It seems Secretaries' Day has just passed us by, so Cowboy owes me a huge bonus next year. He should buy me dinner at a nice place.

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29.4.08

Too hot to handle

Ink&ALL-inked (黑)
Taken by ampulets2

You know the weather is too hot when:
  • Ink has taken to sleeping in the bathroom sink throughout the day.
  • Running two standing fans in the living area doesn't do much good except to channel the warmth around the room more quickly.
  • The tiniest rumble of thunder sends me into rapturous joy (it didn't rain in the end, but it was a little cooler around noon).
I am officially tired of this weather. Rain, please!

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27.4.08

I have become a breakfast person

A good English breakfast

It used to be that I didn't eat breakfast at all, and it was a point of pride for me to declare as much. My mother was a little surprised by this, seeing as she'd faithfully fed me breakfast through most of my growing years, but I'd fallen out of the breakfast habit when I went away to university and didn't quite pick it back up when I moved back to Singapore.

Until now.

I blame it on all the good food easily available around me. Within a 5-10 minute walk from home are an excellent German bakery, a Cedele outlet and, if all that fails, two grocery stores. Within a 10-minute bus ride are a lovely Malay eatery with tip-top epok-epok and shops with various Peranakan kueh options. A 10-minute car ride away is Scruffy Murphy's at East Coast Park, home to the oily English breakfast (the photo above was taken last year; when G-man and I ate there yesterday, the grilled tomato and mash had been replaced by baked beans).

So eating breakfast has become quite a delightful way to start out the day, despite the fact that it's usually eaten while I'm doing work, and now I often find myself wondering, "Hm ... what else can I eat for breakfast tomorrow?"

Clearly, I need to start cooking my own breakfasts, especially on the weekends. I haven't made French toast in months, and after having a passable croque madame for lunch today (disguised on The Caffebar's menu as "ham and cheese sandwich with egg"), I'd like to try making that too. I also need to replicate the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon that James had earlier this week.

Breakfast today consisted of two epok-epok and two slightly overripe bananas. Breakfast tomorrow will be an orange cranberry muffin from Cedele. After that --- who knows?

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26.4.08

Maybe I should go back to bed

Last night: Four jugs of Heineken. Three glasses. Conversations about cats and films (but not cats in films).

Today: One small hangover. Dammit.

I wouldn't even be up now, except that G-man hauled me out of bed for brunch. I ate more than I expected (thank you, Scruffy Murphy's), but I think I need some Panadol and to stay out of the sun for the rest of the afternoon.

25.4.08

A little cat crisis

Yin & yang

As I reported jubilantly to a few cat-loving friends last week, Ink and Sisu seem to be finally settling down. There's been much less scuffling and many more instances when I stumble upon them grooming each other. Of course, what usually happens is that mid-grooming, Ink will decide he'd rather nibble upon Sisu's neck instead, or Sisu will be more persistent at licking Ink's ear than he'd like --- and then they're off in a tumble again.

The important thing is that they haven't knocked anything over.

However, today I learned at the vet that Sisu shouldn't be eating Ink's prescription food (Royal Canin's anti-urinary tract infection diet, with the extremely appetising name of Urinary S/O). I thought it was harmless and she really loves it anywaLinky, but no, the vet says it could affect her urine pH balance. My brain does not intuitively comprehend why that's bad but, er, it is.

At the same time, Ink absolutely cannot have regular cat food anymore. So the bottom line is that I have to get Ink and Sisu their own food, and make sure they don't eat out of each other's bowls when I'm not watching.

Which means that if I'm not home, Ink and Sisu don't get fed, unless I put them in separate rooms with their separate food --- but then that entails having a second kitty litter set-up in the separate room too. And in the small flat where I live, the only possible separate room is my bedroom. I really don't want a kitty litter set-up in there, even temporarily.

Okay, that's way too much thinking and agonizing. For today, I've stocked up on their separate types of food (Sisu gets Avoderm, for those of you who care) and fed them only under strict supervision. We'll see how things go over the next few days.

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Radio silence

I haven't had a call or SMS on my phone since 4:15 pm, which in itself isn't unusual. What's unusual is that I didn't notice the dearth of contact until right now, as I'm packing up to hit the sack.

I've barely chatted online with anyone all night too. Maybe I'm not as much of a communications junkie as I thought I was.

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22.4.08

It's a curse

So the friend slash co-author for one of my projects recently lent me his copy of Shakespeare: A Biography, which is the first Peter Ackroyd I've read and very, very good. So good, that while I'm reading it, I've been rendered incapable of writing the book I'm supposed to be working on.

Which turns out to be the same curse that afflicted my friend slash co-author while he was reading the book a couple of months ago.

Which made me think last week that I'd better finish reading the book stat, or I'm not going to finish writing the other one that's due, er, stat.

The effect is not quite the same as your garden variety writer's block. When we're thusly afflicted, we have our research, we have our chapter outlines, we know what we're going to say --- we just can't make the words happen.

So it was with grim determination that I finished reading Shakespeare: A Biography today. Now those writing juices better start flowing again ...

Or maybe I should henceforth refer to this as "the Ackroyd book" instead of by its title.

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19.4.08

Holy crap, that was fast

So migrating to a new server didn't take as long as I thought it would, and I didn't even have to activate my brother (whom I'd put on standby, in case I flubbed something up and needed a rescuer). Even propagating the DNS change took next to no time.

Compare this to a colossal more-than-one-hour struggle this morning with Priceline Singapore to book an air ticket. I kept getting error messages from their server at various points of the search or purchase processes, which exacerbated the usual nervousness I get when I'm about to place an online order for anything that costs more than a DVD box set.

Anyway, I got my air ticket and my website seems to be intact at the new server. Now I still have the rest of the afternoon before me. Whee!

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Server migration imminent

This website is all grown up and ready to move on to its own server space (as opposed to mooching off my friend's server, which is what it's been doing for something like seven years), so I'm going to be doing a little content migration this afternoon.

No action is needed on your part, except to not panic if toomanythoughts.org is unreachable for a few hours. Just be patient till the new DNS changes are propagated internet-wide.

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17.4.08

The Lana virgin

Yesterday, the best friend and I went to visit Ondine and the twins, and my mom was there too to help with the kidlets, so it was clearly an occasion that called for a Lana cake. 1.5 kg of it, in fact, a good hunk of which is still sitting in my fridge (yes, the sacrilege, but I couldn't eat it all in one day).

But that's not what I'm here to tell you about. No, no --- this is the story of the Lana virgin.

It seems that Lana Cakes, along with any number of other good cake stores, were featured in a recent newspaper article about the best cakes in Singapore. That's the only explanation why a woman ahead of me in the queue (who looked about my age, standing there patiently with her mother and her child) asked the counter staff very matter-of-factly, "Excuse me, do you have a brochure?"

A brochure? In my head, I was thinking, "What kind of place do you think this is --- a normal bakery? This is Lana. They don't have brochures. You come in, you get your cake, you go, that's it."

The counter staff was nicer. "No, I'm sorry, we don't have any brochure. We just have a few kinds of cake, or when you call and order, we can tell you."

"Ohhh ..." The woman seemed mystified, but conferred politely with her mother. Meanwhile, the counter staff went to retrieve my dutifully pre-ordered cake. By the time she had shown it to me and done it up in the trademark white box with a purple ribbon and was sliding it into an equally purple plastic bag, the woman had decided she wanted a 1-kg cake and asked for a slip of paper to write down the birthday message she wanted icing'ed on it.

The best friend and I walked out of the shop, shaking our heads. A brochure from Lana? We didn't cluck our tongues like old biddies, but I know I wanted to.

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Related posts: Lana cake for lunch, I am a Hobbit

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15.4.08

Of neo-nomadism and neighbourhoods

It was a year ago that I decided I liked the term "neo-nomad", and now the Economist has a whole special report on it.

The thing I find about living the neo-nomadic/digital-nomadic lifestyle, is that when I read a "special report" like that, I tend to go, "Ho-hum. Tell me something I don't already know."

Or else I tend to assume that these reports are confirming what I hope will happen, like this scenario from the article "The new oases":
... urban nomadism makes districts, like buildings, multifunctional. Parts of town that were monocultures, [William Mitchell, a professor of architecture and computer science at MIT] says, gradually become “fine-grained mixed-use neighbourhoods” more akin in human terms to pre-industrial villages than to modern suburbs.
I count myself lucky to live in a village-like neighbourhood now. The free wifi is dreadfully spotty (why, oh why, can't [email protected] get it right?), but all the other elements --- brick-and-mortar stores delivering basic services, a mixture of chain stores and "local" enterprises, low-rise living and neighbourhood folk who kind of recognise each other after a while --- are well in place, and have been for decades.

Being neo-nomadic Working freelance means I can spend more time here and still get enough work done to pay the rent. I'd like to think, along the lines of Mitchell above, that the broader neo-nomadic trend also means that it will keep this neighbourhood village-like, with the kind of vibe that made me want to live here in the first place.

(I'm still hoping the coming MRT line doesn't muck up the neighbourhood either.)

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14.4.08

Readers' poll #3: Which pic does the trick?

I've decided I would like to make a little photo wall, consisting of pictures taken by me. This lovely layout would be great, but I'm going to go with something a little less ambitious: four portrait-format photos, 5" x 7" each, to be hung in a 2 x 2 arrangement, in black frames on a white wall.

So far, the shortlist consists of exactly one photo:

Eiffel Towers for sale

Hence my reader's poll: Which picture (if any) from my Flickr account do you really, really, really like? Bearing in mind that it'll be displayed in a portrait format.

Edited to add (11:47 pm), because beeker complained that I was doling out homework on my blog: I certainly don't mean for anyone to go through every one of the 903 images on my Flickr account. I just imagined that if any particular image stood out in a reader's memory, now would be the time to say so.

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Related posts: Would you watch this?, My very first readers' poll

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10.4.08

Talk, talk, talk

I write, and I talk too

Thanks to melch, I had the opportunity today to blather on to impressionable younglings about freelance writing. Talk about being out of practice since my teaching days. I forgot how much of an adrenalin rush it is from the minute one is "on", as in: "Here's the stage --- you're on!" One minute I was introducing myself, ten minutes later I realised I had finished the first part of my talk, which was fine, but was panting for breath because I'd been rattling away so fast, which was nosso fine.

The 400 ml of water in my Nalgene bottle? Nowhere near enough to get me through a 40-minute talk plus Q&A plus the five or six kids who wait to ask the speaker questions at the end.

Some interesting points that came to me extemporaneously:
  • What are important qualities to be a freelancer? "Discipline. Discipline, discipline, discipline. The kind of discipline that gets out of bed and at your desk at 8 am even though you don't have to meet a client. Being comfortable with uncertainty, i.e. not knowing now what I'll be doing in July. Knowing how to sell yourself to clients and potential clients (Asians very shy one). Work hard, do good work."
  • Which writer do you want to be like? "Easy question. [Then I tell a long and pointless story about the book of popular history I'm co-writing.] Answer: Bill Bryson. He's light-hearted but a serious writer. [Naturally, it seemed like most of the audience hadn't heard of him, though melch made a pitch for his books being in the library.] He takes culture, history and all sorts of information about a country --- and puts it in an accessible and entertaining package for the reader, even if you've never been there."
  • Who is your favourite writer? "I have so many favourites. PS: Favourite writer and writer whom I want to be like are two different things. I love Shakespeare, but I could never write like that. PS: I'm reading a biography of Shakespeare right now, that's why I've got Shakespeare on my mind. Okay: [I forgot the first name I mentioned], Jonathan Frantzen, Alice Munro --- hang on, I'm running through my bookshelf --- Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth ... Okay, that's five. You can go and find out more on your own."
The unexpected things I said:
  • "If you do bad work, one day it might come back and bite you in the --- okay, I think I'm not supposed to say that word, but you know what I mean, right?"
  • "I mean, I live alone, so I can work all day, not see anyone except my cats --- oh wait, that makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, right?"
  • "Eh, can you all stop talking? I am the one doing the talking."
The last point was when the audience of fidgety students got too chatterrific. It's kinda scary how teacher mode kicked in instinctively.

Now I just hope I didn't preach the gospel of freelancing too ardently, because it certainly isn't the ideal work situation for everyone.

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8.4.08

When proofreading begins at midnight

Take a shower first, to feel clean and cool and awake.

Make a cup of coffee (hopefully, you don't need a whole pot).

Turn on the Killers as loud as it's possible without waking the neighbours.

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7.4.08

A little off my game

So last week was a bust.

Monday was frightfully productive. Tuesday was a day of meetings and errands, but fortunately was topped off with good news. Thereafter the entire week kinda went outta whack: between meetings and mood swings and my usual procrastinatory impulses, I just didn't get enough work done. Add in the lassitude induced by the stifling hot weather, and you have a recipe for a major deadline disaster.

Which hasn't happened, um, yet.

Yesterday I was at the old flat for what is probably the last time. It looked very, well, empty. Not forlorn, necessarily, but most definitely vacant, vacated. The whole experience, including travelling there and back, was quite surreal. I don't think I've completely processed it yet.

Today has been absolutely productive --- except that given the amount of backlog from last week, it's still not enough.

PS: Key to being productive? Like all the lifehacking sites tell you: stay off instant messaging.

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1.4.08

Nailed it!

Over six months ago, I put in an application to be a writer at a Really Cool Gig. The process involved sending a kick-ass cover email, followed by several rounds of writing samples that needed to be even more impressive. Except for a couple of people whom I asked to read the material I was submitting, I didn't tell many people about my application, mostly because I thought that would jinx it for sure. Even the less-than-ten people who knew about it were under strict instructions not to say anything.

Today, at the end of a long and tiring day, filled with many appointments and much busyness and much traipsing up and down stairs in uncomfortable shoes (my bad, I should've worn something more sneaker-like), I got home to my email, cast my fatigued eyeballs down the unread missives --- and alighted on an email with the simple subject line: "Congratulations!"

(No, it wasn't spam, even though spam is 15 years old now.)

THEY WANT ME!!! I'M IN!!!

I didn't say "I got the job" because it's not a full-time position, it's freelance. I can't even say "I write for So-and-so now", because I haven't written a word for them yet and I don't get to write a word for them till one of their editors decides to give me a contract. But I'm in the pool, which is a nice place to be, and I got here through sheer dint of hard work and hard writing, which feels great, and hopefully a super contract will follow not too long from now.

Most importantly, this comes after a couple of weeks of wrangling with people who don't appreciate the art of writing --- hell, this comes after numerous encounters over the last few years with people who have shown faint, if any, respect for my writing --- so I am sitting pretty with the sweet taste of vindication in my mouth. Not to say that everyone has to love and applaud my writing, but now that the Really Cool Gig has put their initial stamp of approval on it, and I know that the kind of writing they value is the kind I want to do and think I could be good at --- I'm just pleased as punch all around.

I'm not going to say who the Really Cool Gig is, so don't bother asking. I would feel a little pretentious saying it when I haven't done a jot of paid work for them yet. As a freelance writer, I'm only as good as the last three things I've written --- the next big thing doesn't count till it's not only written, but published.

(So those of you that know, don't spill the beans on this blog, eh?)

But yeah, I'm happy. Over the moon, as I've said to a couple of people today. I wanted this so badly it hurt when I was preparing my submission, and now that I've gotten it, it feels incredible. I can't wait till the work starts.

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