Gong xi fa cai!

aka Happy New Year ... or literally: I wish you happiness and prosperity!

I've restored the commenting option, courtesy of Haloscan.

However, the rest of me is still in vacation mode, and, in particular, in naptime mode because we just had a huge steamboat lunch courtesy of our too-kind Vietnamese hosts --- so I'm heading back to the hotel room.

May the Year of the Monkey bring you little mischief, few bad bananas, and certainly no semblance of simian flu (even as I duck, ha ha, and cover from the local avian flu)!


Little things before I go

So I turn off all my mailing lists, and after ten hours how many new emails do I have? One. And it's from a mailing list I forgot to turn off.

A last sweep through my usual web-reads turns up the 100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English (link via By The Way).

Hanoi caught the bird flu between last night's news broadcast and this morning's news. Nothing like downloading information from the World Health Organization right before you leave, to make you all tingly and excited about your vacation.

Uh ... I'm out of time. See you in February!

A little bit of mystery

The good news: our tour guide emailed back to confirm details.

The unclear news: while we are booked into a hotel, we're not sure which one we're booked into. There are two that go by the name of "Classic Hotel" in Hanoi, both located near the lake and where all the sightseeing is. One is older, three or four storeys high. The other is newer, seven storeys high.

We'll find out by this time tomorrow night.

Miraculously, all bags are packed. However, they're also full. Hope I didn't forget anything bulky, or I'll have to play musical items tomorrow and figure out what I can travel without.

Now to print out crosswords, to amuse us on the flight and while we're in transit for four hours...


To Do

|+| Change money into US dollars.
|+| Borrow travel adaptor from friend.
|+| Keep fingers crossed that Hanoi guide will confirm some arrangements by today, failing which tomorrow night's arrival in Hanoi should be very interesting indeed.
|+| Do laundry.
|+| Iron laundry.
|+| Pack.
|+| Eat remaining strawberries so that they don't populate the fridge with their own offspring while we're away.
|+| Throw out the week-old flowers from my cousin's wedding.
|+| Get gift(s) for nice Vietnamese people who invited us to their home for Tet.
|+| Cut fingernails to a more appropriate length for upcoming travels.
|+| Recommend a Buffy episode to Sprite for teaching young people about, uh, young people.
|+| Call parentals.

I'm sure I've forgotten stuff.

Okay, less with the blogging, more with the doing.

BlogSpeak is down...

So no comments for a while.


I maimed a baby lizard tonight. When I say baby lizard, I mean a gelatinous gray creature whose full length was shorter than my little finger. And when I say maimed, I mean I think I squished his leg off when I stepped on him.


I have nothing against lizards. In fact, I quite like them. They eat other pesky insects, they don't smell and they don't look disgusting. My mother feeds a family of lizards that lives outside her kitchen window, so maybe that's where I get it from --- despite the fact that when I was a child, a lizard leaped onto my hand and left a distinctly cold, clammy footprint (lizardprint?) that gave me the creeps for days afterwards.

In my defense, I didn't see the little lizard tonight. I stepped out of the toilet, was walking across to the living room, and something went squish below my right foot. I flicked on the light, to see the creature miserably trying to limp off. T picked it up with a tissue, gave me a hard look, then went to put down the rubbish chute. I stood around, feeling shitty.

Poor little lizard.



I thought the monsoon had left town when we hit 2004, but there's still been a good storm every few days, to beat back down the resurgence of fiery tropical heat. I've even been sleeping without the airconditioning on (and without T, who has decided to temporarily adopt a nocturnal lifestyle with his PowerBook and ESPN, and is hence on a completely opposite sleep schedule, akin to our friends who live in other timezones).

I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again: If not for the fiercely hot weather, I wouldn' t necessarily be that inclined to move away from Singapore. All I need is for the monsoon to last all year, so that mornings can smell Vancouver-fresh and put a spring in my step, even when I'm plodding to work.

Speaking of Vancouver, we're being tempted towards a year-end vacation there. My only concern is money, though if we've got a group of four people travelling together, that will whittle down the costs of airfare, accommodation and car rental some.

On the other hand, W is trying to lure us to Scandinavia to watch the aurora borealis.

Meanwhile, planning for Hanoi is proceeding apace. Oodles of helpful hints from friends who've been there, and Miffy put us in touch with the guide she used, who's even invited us to his home for Tet! Victor is with Vietnam Explorers, if you're keen (not keen on Tet, just keen on Vietnam in general, though he himself is based in Hanoi).

It hasn't quite sunk in yet that I won't be going back to work or seeing any work email till February 3. But I'm sure that part of my brain will catch up once I don't have to wake up for work tomorrow. Whee!


It's 5:25 pm on a Saturday and I'M AT WORK.

I kiddeth you not.

On the bright side, as of next Monday, I take off on three weeks' leave. So, the silver lining is very sparkly and bright from where I'm sitting right now.

Technically, I could leave already. However, I've been here so long that it's:
a) Too late to go meet Sprite to go shopping;
b) Too late to go hang out with Sterrah before she flits back to NYC tonight (mostly because she sounds a little madcap after stuffing 6,000 Chinese New Year cookies into her luggage, and probably needs the quiet time with her folks);
c) Too late to make it to Muji to buy the toiletries pouch I'm craving, and then over to the parentals' for dinner.

See, I had plans. I have a life. But the work gets in the way, and the next thing you know the system you need to login to, to finish your work before the vacation, has decided not to recognise your password at all, even though the same password was working all day --- and just like that, you can't do your work anymore. Ah, the beauty of technology.

Anyhow, I'll stay here and keep my colleague company for as long as I can, lest she suffer alone. (She's waiting for someone to clear something so that she can send the cleared document to someone else ... oh, never mind.)

Hey, she's done! We're outta here!


Nothing to blog about

Work dulls the mind. At work, there is nothing to blog about. There is only work. Work dulls the mind. At work, there is nothing to blog about. There is only work. Work dulls the mind...

Fyi, a quick Google search for "nothing to blog about" throws up 1,330 hits. And now there are 1,331.


And a good time was had by all

Just back from the wedding dinner. It turned out that my new dress happened to be the exact colours of the wedding party, and I don't know if T dressed to match me or because he figures with a black suit he'd best wear a bright-coloured shirt like a RED one, but the short of it is that we managed to inadvertently look we belonged the wedding party without having consciously dressed to match them.

There were a lot of people in fiery red dresses too: my mom, Sprite, and a couple of other women. Wait till the pictures come out.

For Sterrah's benefit, this was the dinner menu (as I remember it, not the official and posh-sounding descriptions, which I didn't read anyway):
Appetiser: King prawn and crayfish with a little salad on the side. I'm ordinarily not a big fan of shellfish, but the prawn and crayfish tasted nothing like themselves --- i.e. they were well-cooked with whatever seasoning they were cooked in, so as to completely mask the crustaceany tastes --- so it was a good start to the evening.

Soup: Cream of pumpkin. I'm also not a fan of pumpkin usually (one slice of pumpkin pie per Thanksgiving will last me all year, thanks), but this was also quite yummy.

Entree: Cod --- crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside --- with cubed potatoes in some white yum sauce and grilled vegetables on the side. Perfect --- except that I was strangely full after eating about half the fish (and it wasn't a huge serving), so I fobbed some of the potatoes and veggies off to a hungrier, younger cousin at my table.

Dessert: Here's where things did not turn out as expected. It was some orangey/apricot/citrus pudding, with some chocolate cake-like filling, and stewed apricots on the side. In principle, I had nothing against it. In taste, it was too sweet. Hardly anyone finished it (except for the aforementioned hungrier, younger cousin, who ate his share and then the half of mine I couldn't eat anymore, because my teeth and stomach were wailing in saccharine protest).
Family dinners get nicer and nicer, now that we're all old enough to be comfortable with ourselves and with each other. It also helps that there are also more female cousin-in-laws to even out the gender balance.

New Zealanders are so laidback. Must be the magical combination of cleaner, cooler air, a heavily dairy diet and an all-round lack of pretentiousness on account of the fact that New Zealand is, well, New Zealand. Most First World countries have a lot more cultural angst.

Oh, and the toast? I did a quick check with my aunt before the dinner began, and she said they just wanted a simple one-liner, followed by "Cheers!" So that's what I did.

However, I did forget to ask people to rise for the toast. And to ask them to sit down after the toast. And my aunt (i.e. mother of the bride) was in the restroom when we hustled the family forward for the toast, so we had to then stand around and wait for her. So there are certainly areas for improvement (as we like to call them in civil service-speak). But overall it was far less painful than I'd feared.

For all my dear geek friends out there

The King William's College quiz

180 questions.
100 years of trivia.
Average number of right answers: 2

And I thought Singapore schools were sadistic...

Of teh tarik* and toast

In the morning, there was roti prata brunch at Casuarina Curry, which got rave reviews from old Northwestern friends (and new friend! aka sister of old Northwestern friend). Plenty of too-sweet teh tarik was had, and plenty of culinary adventures planned for Singapore and Hong Kong.

In the afternoon, there was panicking over tonight's wedding toast, which I tried to dull by surfing the web for Hanoi travel tips instead. I now have two versions of the toast: the slightly longer one, with vague references to what fine people the bride and groom are, but short on detail because (alas) I don't know them as well as I should; and the short-and-sharp version, i.e. sincere good wishes in thirty words or less.

The version I use (if any) depends on how other people react to my drafts, and also whether I in fact need to lead the toast or can let the father of the bride do it. (Oh please, let the father be doing it...)

The sad thing is that I can write speeches for a living and scribble out a speech decent enough to please the masses in half a day, but I've pondered this wedding toast for several days now, and even at this eleventh hour, my creativity fails me.

Oh, right --- that's because this wedding toast actually matters. Ha!

* See December 24, 2002 post if you need a definition.


Notes in a gendered age

There are two kinds of people in the modern world: those who can watch DVDs quite comfortably with the subtitles turned on, and those who hate having the subtitles turned on because their eyes are naturally drawn to read the subtitles before the actors have spoken the words.

Until today, I thought that the former were guys and the latter were girls. But today one of the guys that plays D&D with T said he fell into the latter group. So either this is not a gender thing, or like the sex question, it's not quite a perfect acid test for gender.

The sex question is: Would you rather have bad sex for the rest of your life, or no sex at all? Depending on how you answer, you're wired either XY or XX.


Dreaming of tomorrow

Like most people, I suspect I spent most of 2 January typing '2003', then backspacing over it and replacing it with '2004'. Or, for that matter, typing '2004' when I really mean '2003'.

After investing the last 1½ hours checking out Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forums for travel advice to Hanoi and its environs, I've learned that one should avoid Prince Hotel at all costs and try Salute Hotel because unlike most budget accommodations, it doesn't have a tour agency parked in its lobby. Hiking in the Sapa highlands also sounds like it'll be a blast, especially since we're travelling during winter rather than in the fierce heat of summer.

Er... just read a contrary viewpoint of Sapa, describing it as too touristy and overdeveloped. Hrm. However, Handspan cruises on Halong Bay sound like a lovely indulgence...

I suspect this trip is going to cost me a lot more than I'd planned.


New year, first working day

Today's the first day of the new school year, and I oveslept by an hour. Fortunately, I'm not teaching this year, or it'd be a little embarrasing to slink in to school, late on the first day.

Back when I was teaching, I never overslept on the first day. I'd spend the entire night before too wired with possibilities to sleep: how I would set the tone with a new class; or, if I was teaching the same classes as the year before, how I'd cope with all the new topics and literature texts I'd have to teach; or how things might change in school this year with a new Principal/Vice-Principal; or whether I actually knew what the hell I was doing each time I walked into a classroom.

T, on the other hand, would have no trouble sleeping through the night, totally nonchalant (or, in later years, disgruntled) about the new school year to be bothered about it.

Today, T gets to sleep in and I get to go to work. Welcome to the year of living on a single income!

Sweets to the sweet

The guy who came up with Chupa Chups has died.
I know the news is three days late, but let's take a moment anyway. Chupa Chups were an essential component of my childhood, after all.

The year 2003, in books

Inspired by my friend Cameron, I told myself to keep a list of books I read in 2003 so that I could look back and feel like, wow, I've read me some books. I mean, I love books, right? So I should pay a little more attention to what I read. Also, if I ever wondered whether I'd read such-and-such a book, I could look at at least one list and know for a fact what I had and had not read.

2003 has come and gone, and here's my list of books. Most of them were read while standing/sitting on the MRT train travelling to and from work. Our couch at home is not very conducive for reading because it casts its own irresistible Spell of Excessive Slumber; also, it's parked right in front of the TV, which is usually on when we're at home, so that nixes any likelihood of uninterrupted reading pleasure. (We really need to get a CD player of some sort, so our white noise can be music rather than TV.)

There are only 24 books on the list. I'm pretty bummed, although by about October I knew I wasn't going to hit 30. However, since I'm going to be 30 next year, maybe I should try and read 30 books in 2004, hey? Like one for every year you're born. The first few should fly by if I allow books of the Dr. Seuss and Peter and Jane variety...

Anyway, without further ado, here are the books I read this year (* indicates that they were rereads):

1. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (Jan)
Wow. So excellent. So depressing. I actually bought it and started reading in end-2001, but I couldn't make myself go on after about one-third of it because it was so depressing. I don't know how Franzen's earlier books read, but damn, this one is good. Nothing like the dissection of human nature in a too-too-dysfunctional family to make you weep for the human race.

2. The Fires of the Faithful, Naomi Kritzer (Jan)
Eh. Read it because John Scalzi plugged it. It really didn't grab me.

3. Enduring Love, Ian McEwan (Jan)
Yum! Short and sharp.

4. Stiffed, Susan Faludi (Feb)
Excellent, as was Backlash, though I can't help wondering what people on the train thought I was reading, since I was toting a hefty hardcover version with the title in bold lettering over a sepia-toned photo of a construction worker-type man. It's the same one that's on Amazon's current cover, just that the photo took up the whole book cover on my version.

5. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth (Feb)
I am a big fan of Philip Roth, though I started with his American Pastoral/I Married A Communist/The Human Stain trilogy, so this one seemed a little light in comparison. But just a little.

6. White Teeth, Zadie Smith (Mar)
The sad thing is that while I remember it was a good, good book, I don't actually remember much of what was in the book. Dammit! But don't let that stop you if you want to read some modern multicultural British fare.

7. Fury, Salman Rushdie (Mar)
Ah, Rushdie. Ah, middle-aged men having mid-life crises. Ah, Manhattan.

8. Down Under, Bill Bryson (Mar) *
Bill Bryson is the guy I turn to when I need something to read on the train, but I'm not up to something heavy like Fury or The Corrections, because I know I will have a good time rereading his books for the zillionth time, it will make the train ride go by quicker, and most importantly, will get me in the right mood so that I actually make it to and from work without tearing my hair out at work's frustrations.

9. Atonement, Ian McEwan (Apr)
Double yum!

10. The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton (Apr)
This was a birthday present. A little too high-falutin' at some points, but the later essays in the book were more digestible.

11. The Lady and the Monk, Pico Iyer (May) *
Iyer's another old faithful on my bookshelf. The main reason I picked this up again was because we were going to Kyoto, where Iyer met and fell in love with his lover, and I like reading about the places I'm going to travel to.

12. The Number Devil, Hans Magnus Enzensberger(Jul)
How sad is it that I don't remember any of the intricacies of the math in this book? I remember the splendid illustrations, though.

13. The Lovely Bones, Annie Sebold (Jul)
Sterrah's recommendation. I didn't read it in one sitting, like she did, but I did keep right on reading once I was near the end of the book (yes, it's strong enough to overcome the slumbersome allure of our couch).

14. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (Jul)
I bought this book, then an ex-student gifted me with an autographed copy! That's a perk of knowing people who go to Columbia. So I sold my copy to a friend and read the autographed one. I like! I'm all about dystopias and weird science gone wrong, despite the occasional heavy touches.

15. The Dragonbone Chair, Tad Williams (Aug)
16. The Stone of Farewell, Tad Williams (Sep)
They're big books belonging to the same trilogy (see #19 below), so I'm going to remember them together. Solid, traditional high fantasy plotting, that took a little while to build momentum, but once it got moving and the Sithi were actively in the picture, I was sold.

17. The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf (Sep)
The book that I said I would give to all my nearest and dearest for their birthdays. So far, I've given it out twice and, I suspect, assisted in cleaning out the local Borders' supply of it.

18. POTUS Speaks: Finding the Words That Defined the Clinton Presidency, Michael Waldman (Sep)
I heard Waldman speak in 2002 and he had a jaunty way of telling stories that made me want to read his book. I suspect only researchers into presidential speechwriting and fans of The West Wing might be the only other persons checking it out from our local library.

19. Green Angel Tower (Books 1 & 2), Tad Williams (Oct)
See #15 & #16 above. If this counts for 2 books, then technically, I've read 25 this year.

20. The Spell, Alan Hollinghurst (Oct)
A good fiction writer, not just a good gay fiction writer.

21. Notes from a Big Country, Bill Bryson (Nov) *
See #8 above. I believe I mostly read this on the toilet and before bedtime, because it's in such bite-size chapters.

22. The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie (Dec)
I would've finished this book earlier if T hadn't taken it to India with him.

23. Hamlet, William Shakespeare (Dec) *
A rereading inspired by an episode of ER in which the two male eye-candy leads quoted from it. Even though my reading was broken up by the fact that each train ride is only about 35 minutes in all, I still felt pretty drained by the time I hit Act V, and the last scene just flew by.

24. The Autograph Man, Zadie Smith (Dec)
A rather low note for ending the year's list, mostly because I don't know enough about mystic Judaism, Kabbalah and the like, and the book didn't quite inspire me to Google the information and educate myself either. At least I now know who Alex-Li Tandem is and his place in the literary universe, though.

Over at Faulty Vision, Yuhri's reproduced the list of 100 Greatest Books of History, with strikethroughs for the ones she's read. I could never do that. Too depressing, to know how many allegedly great books one hasn't read, and I'd much rather work off the recommendations of friends and reviewers whose tastes I trust.

If I'm going to read 30 books this year, one for every year I've been alive (interpret that how you will), would you have any recommendations?

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