Not there yet

I've had various conversations this week about why I live in Singapore, will I live here for good, will I become some kind of peregrinating writer, or will I decamp for other shores? Quite naturally, these conversations therefore turn to the good and bad of living in Singapore: what makes it home, what makes it aggravating, what makes it tolerable, what makes it fantastic, what makes it not. I hem and haw my way through these interlocutions, metaphorically sitting on the fence and dangling my feet sometimes on the Singapore side, sometimes on the other side.

And then this morning, in the middle of an email to a friend in London about Objectified screenings, I put my finger on the thing.

The thing is, even though Singapore has come a long way in the last ten years, in terms of offering a certain comfortable lifestyle, perhaps even one with certain hip and happening options that make it feel like there's a lot going on here (Formula 1! Shakespeare with Ian McKellen or Ethan Hawke! Restaurants and casinos with ultra! fine! dining! Charcuteries and fromageries and patisseries where birthday cakes cost well over $100!) ---

The thing is, there is this new film called Objectified, which is a documentary about industrial design, which was made by Gary Hustwit whose previous documentary Helvetica was about, you know, a font, and I'm not saying that Helvetica is going to change the world, but it said something about the modern sensibility in its exploration of the intersection between graphic design and daily life, and it's part of a wider, modern conversation about how we live, and Objectified, I'm sure, is a continuation of that conversation, that thinking about the state of things, and not just making things, making more things ---

And Objectified had its world premiere in March this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival. It's rolling out in screenings across the US and Europe. And I know it's been only three months since the film's premiere and it's not like it's slated in any other Asian cities yet ---

But what I'm saying is, Singapore is, you know, hips and haps, and there is no confirmed screening of Objectified here. Indianapolis, of all places, has had a screening already, and we have not.

So: Singapore. International? Yes. Offering the finer, or funkier, things in life? Sometimes, maybe. Really there, on the map, as a world city? I don't think so, nochyet.

Edited to add (July 11): It's just been announced that Seoul will host the Asian premiere of Objectified on July 23.



Let the Slayer show you how it's done

Because moody, self-absorbed stalker-boys should not be allowed to get away with harassing and misleading teenage girls. "Buffy vs Edward (Twilight Remixed)" shows how everyone's favourite Slayer would put the dreadful Edward in his place.

(Via Dave and Dio on Facebook.)

Edited to add (July 9): Creator of the video mash-up Jonathan McIntosh discusses how and why he made the mash-up in "What Would Buffy Do? Notes on Dusting Edward Cullen".

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So, about Vietnam ...

Hot off the press

While I was triaging 7 weeks of snailmail on Thursday, I found a chunky package wrapped in white paper (rather than an envelope) with my name and address scribbled on it. I ripped it open as if it were a gift, and it practically was, because the package turned out to be the new 10th edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook to Vietnam.

Of which I wrote three destination chapters: North-Central Vietnam, Central Vietnam and Central Highlands. If you're interested in glorious landscapes, history, the American War in Vietnam, minority groups and cool weather, those are the chapters you'll wanna read first.

On Friday night:
Suzie: how chuffed are you!
ME: very chuffed
ME: i kinda pull it out in a pai sei way to show people
ME: but then they are chuffed, so i am more chuffed
The book doesn't hit stores till July, so if you were planning to pick up a guidebook to Vietnam in the next couple of weeks, hold your horses till you see this one. The new edition has a cover photo with conical hats (predictable, I know) and basket boats on a river. Or buy it here at LP.com.

Meanwhile, I'm toting my first copy around in a protective Ziploc bag, to show to all and sundry.

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Not sick of Korean food at all

Watching the Seoul episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern makes me hungry for some doenjang jjigae (soybean stew). The mee pok ta I had for lunch didn't quite do the trick.

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Amusing ourselves inflight

Every airport needs one of these

Apropos of my recent journey home via Incheon International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport, I have to say that even though Darren Barefoot points out the many ways we can stay amused during flights, thanks to technology, I don't think we're at the point where we can say "we'll never be bored again." Because when my Shanghai layover got delayed by two hours, not even all the unread entries on my FAIL Blog RSS feed could keep me from wishing I was just on the plane and on the way home already. I had millions of RSS'd posts to catch up on (even if Google Reader claimed it was 1,000+, as usual) and another 200 pages of Revolutionary Road to finish --- but all I wanted to do was put my head down (preferably on a soft pillow), pass out and wake up in Singapore.

When I was in Korea, I took bus and train rides that lasted two to four hours, and none of them were as painful as these flights of equal duration. Part of it was that we were literally on the road, so there was always a definite sense of progressing somewhere, as opposed to an inchoate maundering through cloud and sky with no real landmarks. But a more important part of it, I think, was that we had comfortable, wide seats, with plenty of legroom (and headroom, come to think of it). And they didn't even try to serve any reprocessed mulch and pretend it was real food.

I know, I know, the economics of air travel are different. But one can't help wishing things were different.

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Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Spiky ceiling

Back in Singapore, where the air is still, the sky is a surprisingly glorious blue and the cats are wondrously indolent. Other than dealing with an allergic reaction I picked up in Seoul, things are peachy keen. I'm all unpacked and about to start triaging snailmail.

What you missed of my trip home, as told via Facebook status updates:
9:09 a.m., Seoul
... is off to spend the day at Incheon Airport.

2:40 p.m., Incheon International Airport
... thinks every airport should have a place like the Naver-sponsored internet lounge at Incheon Airport --- super-fast wi-fi and power points built into every seat.

6:57 p.m., Shanghai Pudong International Airport
... is in Shanghai Pudong Airport on a 6-hour layover, where there is decent free wi-fi but no power points.

8:34 p.m.
Found the power points.

10:32 p.m.
... finally finished uploading all her Korea pictures to Flickr (thank you, free wi-fi at Incheon and Pudong).

12:12 a.m.
My connecting flight from Shanghai's been delayed ...
In the end the delay lasted two hours --- the plane was coming in from Beijing, which was enduring apocalyptic thunderstorms. I whittled away the extra time Skyping my cousin in Paris, whining on Facebook and reading Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road.

Since I touched down, I've had roti prata, teh tarik, Peranakan food at Big D's, and chicken rice and Hainanese food at Chin Chin Chicken Rice. I'm not sick of Korean food at all, but I don't think it'll taste the same if I eat any in Singapore this month.

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A social whirlwind

I thought I would have more time to blog and catch up on uploading pictures when I got to Seoul last Friday, but instead it's been a steady stream of friends and friends-of-friends and new-friends-just-met inviting me out. Which is great, don't get me wrong, but the days are just whipping by and I go home in three days and it all just seems too soon yet not soon enough at the same time.

My travel karma's been particularly strong in Seoul. A very dear old friend from college was in town for a business trip --- his first business trip here in several years, so what are the chances, eh? We met in the very first quarter (term) of our freshman year, making it almost 16 years that we've known each other. No, we didn't drink to that. We had a late lunch at the Park Hyatt, followed by more dawdling around COEX Mall, copious drinking of Korean bottled iced teas (more him than me) and lounging in his hotel room eating grapes (more me than him). Note to self: find more writing assignments that throw in five-star hotel rooms.

Yesterday I met again with the trio of ultra-fit 60-year-old men whom I met on my second day in Korea. As promised, they took me for a bona fide Korean hiking experience, i.e. bring on the steep slopes and makgeolli (rice wine). I think I acquitted myself pretty well, considering that they hike three times a week (and one of them cycles 50-60 km daily). Over lunch later at a restaurant they knew well, the ajumma owner reminisced about a young man from Singapore many years ago whom she might just have had a thing for, showed off 1970s Singapore currency in almost perfectly crisp condition, bought some current Singapore currency off me (she insisted on paying me) and gave me three little bottles of Korean liquor to bring home. I can start my own Korean minibar now.

In between all that, there's been, er, shopping and wrapping up the last of my research work and watching indie films and also Terminator Salvation (meh for the latter, and going to a cinema in Seoul is pretty much the same experience as going to one in Singapore) and, er, more shopping. Today I'm off to peruse the DMZ. We'll see how the tour compares to viewing North Korea from afar at Goseong and Cheorwon.

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The pink shoes in question

Hello, new shoes

Previously mentioned here and here. Yeah, I suppose they don't look like real hiking shoes ...

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Some days are like this

I took a bus (from Seoul to Taean), where I waited for another bus (to Cheollipo), to visit the Cheollipo Arboretum for less time than it took me to get there. Then I took another bus (to Taean), to catch another bus (to Seosan), to catch another bus (to Haemi), to see an old fortress that really wasn't very impressive and merited less than half an hour of my time.

Then I took a bus (to Seosan) and finally one last bus for the day (back to Seoul).

Thank goodness I fell into the company of a fellow foreign traveller for the day, plus he knew his plants, which was helpful for the arboretum visit. Now I know what red hot pokers are.

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Going solo

In a week's time, I'll be in Seoul, with only a couple of sightseeing items left on my Lonely Planet to-do list. In two weeks' time, I'll be trying to stuff all my things into my backpack for the flight home.

The thing about long trips like this that aren't vacations per se, is that at the start they feel as if they're gonna go on forever, in both good and bad senses of the word. I flew into Seoul in late April and skidded into May, which passed in a blur of hiking, cave visits, bus rides and banchan (the side dishes served with a Korean meal). Now I'm in June and I don't know where the time has gone. If next year someone asks me, what were you doing in May 2009, all I'll be able to muster is, "I was in ... Korea?"

This is also the first time I've travelled solo for such a long stretch, which is remarkable because I've never been very good at doing anything solo. BoKo once remarked that he was surprised I'd decided to become a freelancer because I'd always struck him as the kind of person who liked being around other people. I think that's still true, but since I split up with Terz, I've also had to learn to be more comfortable with being by myself.

And I mean that in a very deliberate way, like choosing to go watch a movie by myself, without asking anyone else along, or having dinner on my own at a Thai Express outlet. These are not extraordinary things, but as someone whose first impulse is always to call friends and see who's free to hang out, it takes a little pep-talking to myself, to stop worrying about what other people will think, to get myself out there.

So in a way, this whole trip has been about getting myself out there, even though it was a professional decision to come to Korea, not a personal one. I guess I was ready for the personal challenge, though, because even though I'd established early on that unlike Vietnam, probably no one would be travelling with me this time, I was surprisingly not freaked out by it. Yes, surprisingly, because I've found in the last two years that far less demanding situations can be disproportionately upsetting.

And now I finally get why Adri was always so thrilled about packing a bag and just going, solo, wherever, whenever. Sure, I've got a job to do here, I can't ditch a town just because it's boring (Chungju, I'm looking at you), but there's still some room for day-to-day whim and fancy. I've even gotten used to the stares and questions. Solo travellers are a rarity in Korea, where the culture is very group-oriented, especially when it comes to eating. I think there's the added mystery of the fact that I'm a solo traveller and Asian and (if I get to the point of mentioning these details) 35 years old and not married.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've taken this trip in my stride better than I thought I would, despite some bumps and hiccups along the way, and in no small part it's due to family and friends who have been my personal cheering squad along the way (not just for this trip, either). I don't think I could have made this journey at any earlier point in my life, but for now, everything seems to be in place.

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