Travel talk

Serendipity is:
It was my first time sticking my toe into anything meetup-ish, which turned out to be about ten adults sitting around a cafe table and talking mostly about travel. A lovely couple who'd recently been to Bandung, Indonesia did a little show-and-tell about their trip, then people just mingled. That same couple has lived in Seoul, so quite naturally we got to talking about Korea, then Vietnam, then Thailand, and finally Singapore.

Interestingly, the couple asked me if I knew of any particularly canonical Singapore fiction and I was stumped. I'm not a fan of Catherine Lim, Philip Jeyaretnam's writing doesn't quite strike me as being canonical and Alfian Sa'at's Corridor, which I like, feels premature nonetheless. In the end, I suggested they stick to theatre instead.

It's nice to be able to gab with new acquaintances for something on the order of two hours without noticing the time.

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Turning 35

Birthday lunch

So it seems like there are two things you can do when you hit a milestone age like 35: throw a huge party and invite everyone you want to see, or hide away under a rock and hope that no one notices. I decided to just go with the flow, and ended up with a weekend of birthday festivities without really planning for it.

On Friday there was the family dinner at Spruce, a new restaurant I'd only learned about the night before on Chubby Hubby. On Saturday my dear old friend kk was in town --- which never happens --- so we hung out for the first time since September 2007 and had a lovely four-hour lunch at Oriole. Then I went shopping with another dear friend, who offered impeccable fashion advice in the form of a) helping me to spend my birthday money on, yes, another pair of shoes, and b) giving me pretty much exactly the kind of watch I had in mind when he asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I said, "A watch."

On Sunday there was Azhang, because it's closing on 26 April. Dammit.

Gift from an old friend

I also got some incredible birthday loot this year. I don't usually set much store by birthday gifts because I don't need more stuff, and it's the birthday and family and friends that matter, not the stuff. But I think this year's stuff tells its own story: a travel pouch for secreting cash and other important things, a lovely modern fountain pen, chocolates galore, a T-shirt, an external hard drive and the abovementioned watch. The traveller, the writer, the geek and the ditz --- I'm all covered.

I'm not sure when I embraced the idea of turning 35, but I know that at some point in the past few weeks, I moved from making jokes about it to just acknowledging it rather matter-of-factly. Don't think so much lah.

Seriously ... ?

I wish my birthday was always on a Saturday.



All shoed out (almost)

In the last month, I've acquired four new pairs of shoes. I'm not sure if, like the dress situation, this is some kind of delayed side effect of last year's backpacking trip.

In my own defence, only the first two pairs were premeditated buys, in anticipation of old shoes that were going to be retired soon. The latter two pairs were emergency acquisitions: on Tuesday and today, the soles of the shoes I was wearing went a-flap-flapping in the middle of the day, and because of my respective dinner plans, I couldn't just make do with a cheap pair of slippers till I got home.

Fortunately, on both days I was in town and within a short walk of a decent shoe shop. But now that I have four gleaming pairs of new shoes, I really need to stop.

Except that since my only pair of tramping-around-the-countryside shoes died in Dalat during the aforementioned backpacking trip, I still need to get a new pair (and break them in) to go tramping around the countryside in Korea next month. I'd really love a pair of Onitsuka Tigers, but I wonder how well that will go down in ex-occupied territory Korea.



Out and about

I went to my first blogger PR event today, Hewlett-Packard's launch of its new dv2 entertainment notebook (don't ask me why "dv2" is in lower case). I didn't really give it a think before I showed up, except to make sure that Joan would be showing up too.

Note to self: next time, bring more business cards.

This is what I learned about the new notebook: It's lighter than my Macbook, thinner too and has a hard disk six times its size (500 GB). Like my Macbook, it comes in moonlight white or espresso black. Recommended retail price: $1,299 --- which, if you think about it, is just a couple hundred dollars more than the cost of a high-end cell phone (without a phone plan). Huh.

No, it's not a netbook, which is what I've been dreaming of since my Korea trip got confirmed, but it's a pretty darned nice machine for that price.

In other news, we've almost finished the endnotes for our book, I'm caught up on Dollhouse and I'm getting a little ovaried out on the music of Ivy and Jonatha Brooke. Also: still thinking about the Battlestar Galactica finale.

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At 9:45 p.m., Deanna pinged me online: "Supper?" It turned out that neither of us had eaten dinner yet, so about half an hour later, we rendezvoused at the Tanjong Katong outlet of Ponggol Nasi Lemak, where a plethora of fried food and oily greens awaited us.

I was working late because I had taken the afternoon off to hang with the best friend. Her schedule had finally let up enough that she could come by to see my place. Like every other guest I've had, she was equal parts appreciative of the view and puzzled by my landlady's decision not to install any ceiling lights in the bedrooms (I have plenty of table and standing lamps to compensate).

Before I go to bed (even though it's only been two hours since I finished my meal of nasi lemak), I leave you with this: are you a Page Turner, a Slow Worm, a Serial Shelver or a Double Booker? I'm a Page Turner, for sure, as well as a reformed Serial Shelver, but I've never been a Double Booker and I can't imagine being a Slow Worm.

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It's frakkin' over

I stayed up to watch the Battlestar Galactica series finale tonight --- even though I really should be catching up on sleep instead --- because in the three days since it aired, it's been getting ridiculously difficult to avoid spoilerish material online.

Hot damn.

Now it's almost 2 a.m. and I wish there was someone awake who's seen the finale whom I could talk about it with. *growl*

PS: If you're gonna leave a comment on this post, don't leave any spoilers unless you leave plenty of spoiler warnings and spoiler space (this is for the benefit of my BSG-loving friends who haven't gotten around to the finale yet). Thank you!

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The great (fiction) book giveaway

Remember the piles of books I wanted to give away more than a year ago?

I never managed to give away more than a dozen or so; after that, inertia and procrastination set in. So by the time I had to prematurely move out at the end of last year, the piles of books were summarily packed up again --- now with an added layer of cat fur and dust! --- and schlepped to my current place.

Then I discovered BookCross@SG.

If you don't know what BookCrossing is, Wikipedia defines it as "the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise". It doesn't appeal to me, personally, but I found out that the library is collecting book donations for BookCross@SG. Specifically: adult fiction in English in reasonably good condition.

So I've been sorting and bringing some of my books over in small batches --- as much as I can carry in a large Kinokuniya plastic bag, aptly. I'm sure I look like some kind of reformed English literature major, putting out all my Brontes and Eliots to pasture. I would stuff some Chaucer and Shakespeare in there too, if only they hadn't specified that they wanted fiction only.

I've made three trips so far and I think I have another two or three more before I'm done. Then I'll have to puzzle over what to do with the plays, poetry and non-fiction books I'm left with.



Link dump

Because I have too many tabs open.

In no particular order:
Yes, these links are all about writing. Some weeks, it is all I read about.

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The Credit Crisis, Visualized

There are some things my brain is not very good at comprehending or retaining, like principles of physics or Schrodinger's cat or the word "synecdoche". The credit crisis is one of them, so even after I instructed an investment banker friend to explain it to me in layman's terms "in 100 words or less", I still didn't get it (he flubbed the word count, by the way, probably used about 500 words in his attempt).

So I have to give this presentation props for making the credit crisis more comprehensible to those of us who don't live or breathe in the financial world.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized
from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo

(Via an ex-student-turned-friend on Facebook.)


Hitting the notes

I've spent the better part of the last few weeks compiling endnotes for one of the books I co-authored. In other words: my co-author and I have been going back through our notes and earlier drafts, painstakingly hunting down exactly what page it was that Raffles called Singapore his "almost only child" or chided Farquhar for his "Malay connexion" (I love that archaic spelling). That also means much time spent in the library, verifying sometimes lurid accounts of pirate attacks in the mid-19th century or checking when the Japanese banned "imperialist" Western films during their Occupation of Singapore.

If it sounds both fun and, er, not at the same time, you're right. We could've saved ourselves the grief if we'd kept better track of these references while we were writing, but oh well. This is why I need to branch out into writing fiction; then I won't need to footnote every other darned thing.

This book, incidentally, is a popular history of Singapore, tentatively titled Singapore: A Biography. More details to come, but the important thing to remember is that it's not a textbook and not a government glorification piece. It's a story about this funny little island I happen to live on, and it's an island that has seen quite a few stories indeed.

Anyway, for now I hope to be done with all the endnotes after this week. Then I can stop squinting at old books on microfilm and focus on learning how to read hangeul instead.

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Sometimes I wear a dress

This week, I wore dresses twice.

I've been on a dress-buying kick for the last month or so. I'm not sure if it was wardrobe fatigue from the five (or so) sets of T-shirts-and-comfy-pants I was stuck with for seven weeks in Vietnam or just a sporadic onset of girliness, but dresses have never looked so attractive.

And by dresses, I mean dresses that would look as apropos for weekend brunch, as they would for a weekday client meeting or dinner at Marmalade Pantry. I don't want dresses that I could wear only to a wedding, or at night, or to the beach. I'm still trying not to gratuitously accumulate stuff, and the only reason I let myself buy clothes again is because I cleared out a whole heap after moving house (and I'm not trying to replace the entire heap either).

Last week I bought a dress, with ampulets' advice and assistance. Yesterday I wore it because I was going to a chi-chi exhibition opening at the National Museum in the evening (as the Great Recession gets underway, there's no better escapism than gawking at Christian Lacroix's suitably over-the-top stage costumes).

Today I wore a dress again because I thought I'd better look presentable at a client event just in case. "Just in case" turned out to be a good rule of thumb: At the event I met into an ex-student (now a teacher), as well as the boss of the organisation hosting the event. And in town afterwards, I ran into a guy friend whom, shall we say, I'm interested in looking good in front of.

(Yes, I'm aware of the garbled grammar in the last sentence. But I'm leaving it.)

I don't think I'll be wearing dresses this weekend because I plan on lying on the couch a lot, even though I have to do work. We'll see what occasions next week brings.


Too darn wet

It's been unseasonally rainy, the kind of rain we're supposed to get in January (but this year we had just a lot of wind instead). It's odd having to deal with monsoon-style rain at this time of the year --- it just doesn't feel like March. But I don't really mind the wet. Gadding about in flip-flops brings me right back to last year's Vietnam trip, especially when I'm wearing the pair of black slippers I had to buy in Hue because my Tevas were giving me blisters. And I'm grateful for any cool weather that Singapore gets.

Nonetheless, I hope it's not going to be so wet in South Korea, which is where I'm headed next. It'll be spring and there's supposed to be "light rain"; I'm going to hit Beach Road market to pick up another $3 army poncho before I leave, but I hope I won't have to use it much.

What have been too wet lately are my pasta sauces. I failed to drain the diced tomatoes before chucking them in last week's bolognaise, resulting in a soupy sauce, and I messed up the proportion of chicken stock to sour cream on tonight's stroganoff, making for another liquidy concoction. Taste-wise both were fine, but these little screw-ups are the reason I never trust myself to cook a full meal for family or friends.

Cool things I found on the web today:

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Spotted at the library

I spent most of my childhood and adolescence being the shortest kid in class. It wasn't till my late teens that it seemed like everyone (Asian) wasn't that much taller anymore.

So imagine how I felt yesterday at the library, when I got into the lift with a Caucasian man whose waist was as high as my shoulders. Think about that: his waist is at the same height as my shoulders. Fortunately, my brain only processed that after he had stepped out of the lift, or else I'd've been gawping at him all the way.

These few days I've been working in the reference library, which gets busier than you think with people taking advantage of the free air-conditioning and wifi --- including a teenager playing some kind of first-person shooter game on his laptop. Even so, it's not everyday that I find myself sitting at a table across from a man who's close to my parents' age, typing avidly away at his laptop --- beside which sits a mercury thermometer.

As in, an old-school mounted-on-a-narrow-wood-panel mercury thermometer. Placed immediately to the left of his elevated laptop --- to measure the amount of heat it's generating when he's working on it? I don't know ...

Today's random sighting was of a man around my age who was dressed in a batik long-sleeved shirt and a sarong. Both pieces of clothing were modern in style and print, so he kinda had a whole contemporary kampung look going. He was consulting big books (I couldn't see the titles) and had a nifty little netbook for taking notes.

Very, very random.

I wonder what I'll see during tomorrow's library visit.



It just goes to show you

On Sunday, the friend I met for brunch was someone I hadn't seen in over two years, so in the middle of catching up, I mentioned that I'd split up with my ex, to which he said, "Yes, I know. It's not exactly a secret." We have some mutual friends so his statement wasn't exactly a surprise either, but I still said, "Well, I'm not going to take for granted that everyone knows."

Today, I had dinner with another old friend whom I also hadn't really talked to properly in over two years. But I'd invited her over to my flat during the Chinese New Year, so I knew that she knew that I was single. Then towards the end of dinner she tells me that before the Chinese New Year visit, she'd mentioned it to a mutual friend whom I chat with more often, and she'd gushed, "I wonder what's new with her? Do you think she's had a kid?"

To which our mutual friend had said, "Er ... you know she's separated from her husband, right?"

[Insert your own kua kua kua sound effect here.]

I told her tonight that I really thought she'd heard the news from someone before this year. But I guess our informational paths don't cross that often.

As my 35th birthday inches up on me, I find myself thinking about when I was 25 (the year I got married), and that when you're 25 you don't really know what you'll be doing at 35, and that everything around me now --- writing, cats, singlehood, Marine Parade view --- is so remotely not anything I could have imagined when I was 25.

None of it's bad. It's just ... different.

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The wind begins to howl

Sometimes I reread old blog posts, and I wonder why I don't write like that anymore.

I'm rereading those posts because of a related article I'm working on --- or ought to be working on (don't panic, Pin), but all I've got are half-formed thoughts scrawled in ballpoint pen across recycled paper and two old-but-well-written blog posts staring me accusatorily in the face. It's one thing to have an inferiority complex, it's quite something else to have an inferiority complex about one's younger self.

To avoid thinking about the article and other melancholy subjects tonight, I went for my weekly Pilates class, followed by a late dinner at Peperoni Pizzeria. Parma ham, rocket salad and mozzarella on a pizza make a surprisingly good diversion. Good conversation always helps too (thank you, Darren and melch and friend).

There would be a picture of the pizza here, but I ate it all.

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After a mediocre-to-average brunch at 7atenine, I needed to redeem my palate, so I rounded up a few friends for dinner at Azhang.

Waiting for dinner

I know I'm getting old and crotchety because so many new and trendy restaurants disappoint, and I keep crawling back to the ones that I know won't fail me. Fortunately, with friends, there are many old ones who haven't failed me, and also a number of new ones who haven't disappointed.

Via a friend's Facebook status update yesterday, I came across the best quote about Singaporeans and food yet, from Calvin Trillin in the New Yorker last year: "Culinarily, they are among the most homesick people I have ever met."



Let the weekend commence

I took the afternoon off, for:
  • A nice long drive (not my car)
  • Chicken curry and beer at Changi Village
  • A shopping stop at Parkway Parade
  • Walking the long way home via East Coast Park.
Beach detritus I

Beach detritus II

Gloomy much?

It hasn't been a bad week for me at all, and I'm about to kick off my weekend at 2 p.m. on a Friday --- but this article in the Washington Post is the gloomiest thing I've read yet about Singapore and the global recession: "A global retreat as economies dry up".

... as the world enters a period of deglobalization, Singapore is a window into the reversal of the forces that brought unprecedented global mobility to goods, services, investment and labor. ... Singapore is an epicenter of what analysts call a new flow of reverse migration away from hard-hit, globalized economies, including Dubai and Britain, that were once beacons for foreign labor. Economists from Credit Suisse predict an exodus of 200,000 foreigners -- or one in every 15 workers here -- by the end of 2010.
This was one of the five headline stories in the Daily Beast's daily news blast. Which makes me wonder what the rest of the world is thinking about Singapore right now ...



A new month

After the rain

After a long, long week, at 5 p.m. today I submitted the work that was due to the client ---

--- and then I took myself offline and spent a little quality time with the Buffy cast reunion in March last year at the Paley Center for Media. After all the Buffy episodes I've watched and rewatched, listening to the creator, producers and cast again almost felt hanging out with old friends whom you don't have to say anything to, you can just be the fly on the wall.

Then I went out and took myself off, to see an actual friend in the flesh. We had prosecco (my idea) and I finally had the pizza bianca I've been vaguely hankering for for the past few days (remember, I've been busy writing about restaurants), and we talked and talked and talked and talked, like all the words I'd been storing up all week were now tumbling out helter-skelter. I speak fast as it is, but several times tonight I know my tongue, or is that the brain?, was deliberately skipping over words because the ideas wouldn't wait for the words to get there.

I don't know where the first two months of 2009 went, but I have a pretty good idea for the rest of the year. It's time.