Lessons learned this Chinese New Year

Ikea is open throughout the holidays, so that those who don't celebrate the New Year have somewhere to go shop, and those who do have somewhere to go spend all their newly-acquired ang pow (red packet) money.

I went because I realised that I had invited seven friends over but only owned five drinking glasses. Also, I needed a lamp. And a throw for the couch. And one more wastepaper bin for the study.

Giant supermarket is open on the second day of the New Year, but not much else is at Parkway Parade. Which was good enough for me to get some strawberries and apples to create my Chinese New Year-coloured fruit platter.

Chinese New Year treats

Hosting four guests (the other three couldn't make it) is just nice at my place because everyone can sit around the dining table. I'll have to experiment with seating arrangements if I have more than four people show up.

It really isn't that far for me to walk to Parkway Parade (I've been taking the bus), with a few friends for company.



Money no enough

This year's ang pows

When my mother asked me a couple of weeks ago how many new notes of each denomination I would need for this New Year's ang pows (red packets), my head was full of moving house and I just gave her some rough numbers over the phone.

It was only when I sat down to pack ang pows this morning --- less than an hour before I'm due at Fifth Aunt's, I might add --- that I realised I'd grossly miscalculated and didn't have enough money. As a result, my first SMS of the New Year was hardly an auspicious one. I sent the following to my mom:
Can you bring me an extra $[amount redacted] in $2 bills?
Her answer was yes, of course, because my mother is nothing if not hyper-efficient. Unlike, say, me.

Happy new year, everyone!

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A chilled-out Chinese New Year's Eve

A chilled-out Chinese New Year

After heaps of food (thank you, Fifth Uncle and Aunt!), it's nice to come home to peace and quiet, wine and candles, The Dark Knight and having to, er, clean the kitty litter twice in a matter of hours.

I hope that last task doesn't mean I just swept up all my good luck for the new year.


Not here, not there

I don't really know where the week went, but it did. I did a small spot of travel writing to tide me over with some income for the week, caught up with friends for coffee/lunch/dinner/a movie, watched the US presidential inauguration, and did plenty of Chinese New Year shopping.

English only

The interesting thing about waiting in line at Bee Cheng Hiang was realising that all the signs for bak kwa were in English. The staff spoke Mandarin (and probably other Chinese dialects) just fine, but I'm pretty sure they used to have Chinese labels too for their products.

Last night I was at Mustafa and they were playing bona fide Chinese New Year dong-dong-chang music. Go, multiculturalism!

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Of hope and virtue

First I watched the Inauguration episode of The West Wing, then I watched the Inauguration with Ondine for company (via IM). I wish I'd had the foresight to organise an Inauguration-viewing party, but oh well ...

The bit of the inauguration speech I liked best (from the Dallas Morning News' transcript):
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.


Gee, thanks

China has chosen 28 March as Serfs' Emancipation Day for Tibet, to commemorate the day when it "freed" Tibetans from serfdom and slavery.

That also happens to be my birthday.





It wasn't intentional, but I'm sort of taking half the week off to:
  • Hang out with Packrat, Ondine and their twins.
  • Catch up on movies (so far: Zack and Miri Make A Porno and Mean Girls).
  • Sleep in.
  • Drink red wine.
  • Organise my workspace (not quite a writer's room yet but gettin' there ...).
  • Not panic about how the economy is probably gonna go into a tailspin after the Chinese New Year and who knows what'll happen to freelance writing opportunities then ...



Why Nciku is awesome

Because when Ondine describes a Chinese character to me via IM thus:
The top is a "ru" as in "ru guo" as in "what if" ... the bottom is a "xing" as in "heart" ...
I may not have a clue what the word is, but I can go to Nciku, handwrite the word in the box provided and it will match the word for me.

The internet is amazing.

Also, I should really brush up on my Mandarin.



Yam seng at the zoo

It's not every day one gets to attend a wedding dinner at the zoo.

Feeding elephants for fun

The setting made a nice change from the usual hotel banquet feel, and the kids loved the elephants. I brought home a small stuffed giraffe.



Settling in

After Wahj graciously drove the cats and I over to the new flat during rush-hour traffic, I spent a little time getting them settled and watching them pace from one room to another. Then I left them to it and headed to my nearest HDB town central.

What I needed were essentials like toilet cleaner and breakfast food. What I ended up getting as well --- because what's the point of pottering around "the heartlands" if you don't make the most of it ---was some Chinese New Year decor and gloriously tacky ang pows to hand out to the kidlets.

Getting into the spirit

I think I'm going back for the red-and-gold hanging lanterns and fu (luck) signs.

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Almost moved

The legendary Marine Parade view

I know it looks kinda murky here, but this is the view I get to work to from Monday.

Translation: I need to learn to use my camera better so that the view doesn't look so crappy. Also, moving went well, so I can move the cats tomorrow and begin living there.

Whether I update my blog after moving will depend on whether I can get the internet up and running. I failed today because, er, I was trying to grab a cable connection from a non-cable TV port and the pins on the cable-connection-cable quite naturally didn't fit.

Yes, I'm embarrassed.


Amidst moving

I spent all of yesterday dealing with movers, then unpacking and organising --- and totally failed to take a picture of the amazing view from the new flat. I'll grab one later when I head over to finish unpacking and cat-proofing the place.

If all goes well, I should be living there by tomorrow night and waking up to the whistling wind from this weekend. I've been warned that when there's a thunderstorm, the crashing of the waves is pretty audible, even though I'm on the top floor of a very high block of flats. We shall see.

One thing I'm gonna need is a new (and good) office chair, something that will stand up to 8-10 hours of sitting per day (er ... pardon the pun, or is that a mixed metaphor at this point?). I would love an Embody, but I'd have to land such a huge contract before I allowed myself to splurge on one.

Meantime, it's back to Ikea (from left to right, top to bottom): there's the Allak, Joakim, Patrik and --- my personal favourite --- the Skruvsta.
Ikea office chairs
Images taken from Ikea

The Skruvsta gets pretty good reviews (from decor8 readers, among others) and I totally fell in love with it when I was last at Ikea on a browsing visit, so I'm leaning towards that. Thoughts?

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A weekend of mooching

No horsin' around

Good meals eaten: 3, at Picotin on Friday, La Petite Cuisine this afternoon and Canopy tonight.

Alcohol imbibed: 2 glasses of wine, 1 half-litre of German beer and 1 mediocre vodka 7-up (Night & Day really needs to get better bartenders).

New clothes acquired: 1 skirt --- finally, a denim skirt that I like.

Kilometres cycled: 4-5 today, although it would've helped if the cycling path at Bishan Park were not overrun by joggers and amblers.

Friends caught up with: 13. Whoopee!

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There's Australia, and then there's Tasmania

During the last six weeks of intensive writing, the only film I escaped my hermit-like existence to watch was Australia, which I liked despite its flaws and overreaching (perhaps a little because of the overreaching). You know: Baz Luhrmann, epic film, sweeping Australian landscapes and overweeningly will they-won't they love story.

Today I stumbled across Tasmania the Movie (via Hackpacker):

There's a full campaign. I've wanted to go visit Tasmania for a while now, but I want to see it even more now that I know that their tourism authorities have a fair dinkum sense of humour.



Status update

Deadline --- met.

Brain --- dead (from writing, editing, mapping and Felixing).

Dinner and drinks --- now.


In the middle of the night

I stopped work at 3:40 am and was clearing up when I realised I'd forgotten to wash the French press after making coffee earlier this evening (at 10 pm, to be precise). So it was that in the middle of the doggone night, I'm pouring and scooping used coffee grounds onto the flower bed in the living room balcony. If anyone had seen me, I'm not sure what they would have made of it.

From the living room balcony, I can see the traffic on the newish overpass that connects the port in West Coast with the one in Keppel, and let me tell you, there's a surprising number of trucks hauling containers around at this hour.

Tomorrow I must cut another 1,000 words from my Lonely Planet text --- and then I'm done.

(I think.)

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The Top Gear take on Vietnam

I finished writing the first draft of my Lonely Planet text last night, so it was a good time to watch the Top Gear: Vietnam Special, which turned out to be an excellent episode of travel TV and made me want to hop on the back of a motorcycle in Vietnam again.

Big welcome to Phong Nha

But let me tell you: never mind the show's premise that they weren't travelling fast enough to meet the 8-day deadline to reach the finishing line at Halong Bay. The real reason they took a train from Hue to Hanoi is because there is nothing very interesting between Hue and Hanoi. I should know, I'm writing an entire chapter on that region.

I'm not a huge fan of Top Gear like, say, G-man, but this was a good episode. Also a great PR exercise for Vietnam. I fully imagine that legions of fans are going to show up in Halong Bay looking for Ba Hang Bar and in Hoi An to make zoot suits.

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Do the right thing

As a former teacher, I'm going to say this is the kind of student I would be proud to have: "Posing as a Bidder, Utah Student Disrupts Government Auction of 150,000 Acres of Wilderness for Oil & Gas Drilling" (via GOOD).

While many environmental groups launched campaigns to oppose the sale of the land, one student in Salt Lake City attempted to block the sale by disrupting the auction itself. Twenty-seven-year-old Tim DeChristopher posed as a potential bidder and bid hundreds of thousands of dollars on parcels of the land, driving up prices and winning some 22,000 acres for himself, without any intention of paying for them.

The Bureau of Land Management must now wait over a month before it can auction off these properties, but by then the bureau will no longer be run by the Bush administration.
Nicely done!


Happy new year to you

Happy birthday and a happy new year

When New Year's Eve is also a friend's birthday, and the birthday barbecue has to clear out from the barbecue pit at 11:15 pm (condominium regulations), and the party makes it to another location just ten minutes before midnight ---

Well, what happened was that some of us had birthday cake before 11:15 pm, sans birthday song. Then we all had champagne at midnight (clink!). Then the birthday boy had a birthday song after midnight (when it was no longer actually his birthday) with a birthday cake that was already one quarter gone.

As Stellou would say: something lah.

I hope 2009 goes better than the cutting of my thumb on barbecue tongs presages.