As a meta of fact

An extract from an email I sent to a friend tonight, on the subject of anonymously attending Bloggers.SG:
I was actually thinking of setting up a fake blog so that I could tell people about it, but that's only fun if I can blog on my real blog about the fake one, and then you know lah, Singapore so small, word sure to get around, and then the game is up.

I'm writing about blogging a fake blog --- so that I can attend a bloggers conference --- while concealing my real blog. Someone sign me up for therapy right now.
In other news, I came within two millimeters of spilling water onto my iBook keyboard. Now that would've put me in therapy right away.

Let's play "did you know"

It's marking season, which means it's also howling season. I don't usually blog about the silly things students write in their essays --- after all, they're writing under considerable duress --- but in order to keep my resolution not to be snarky in the margins, I've got to have an outlet somewhere.

So. Did you know that according to students (who are the "leaders of tomorrow", if you believe the propaganda):

  • "With the increase in the prevalence of pornographic websites, there has been a sharp jump in the number of rape cases in America."
  • "The mass media, the information and recreational portal, have evolved to encompass almost everything in the universe."
  • "Imprisonment or rehabilitation would put a greater strain on the country's resources as compared to the death penalty, as more land would have to be cleared to build prisons. Taxpayers' money would also be wasted on prison manpower, which could otherwise be put to more beneficial uses such as improving health care as well as for research and development."

There are plenty of other examples, but these were just the most horrifying ones that made me stop in my tracks and howl at the ceiling.

Oh, and I've cleaned up the grammatical mistakes too.

The sad thing is that because students were writing under examination conditions, they probably didn't have the time to stop and realise exactly what they were saying. (At least, I hope so...) They had just enough time to spit out everything they know onto the page and hope for the best, while I have to sift through the morass to find something worth rewarding.



Lines off a page

We went to a poetry performance tonight, so of course I had to wear my new T-shirt with Ogden Nash's immortal lines:
Is dandy,
But liquor
is quicker.
The poetry performance was Poetic Licence by STAGES at the Singapore Art Museum auditorium. For $12, you get two solid hours of dramatisations of local performances, and it was a really good show. I enjoy poetry anyway, but even for the non-literature fan, I think the selection of poems was universal enough to resonate with the average Singaporean. Not too cheem (profound or deep) lah. And the Hentak Kaki selection made me think a lot harder about all the NS stories I've heard from Terz and my other guy friends, and about the whole institution of National Service.

Poetic Licence is only playing till next Wednesday, so go and see! Quick!


Good morning

I was supposed to start marking at 8 am, but instead we went for breakfast and I had a warm, silky, fluid cup of coffee that was just the best way to start the day. And while it may seem redundant to describe a cup of coffee as "fluid", that is precisely what it was: smooth, flowing liquid goodness.

Damn, I forgot how good good coffee tastes.

It has just dawned on me that there are a number of good places for good breakfasts in my neighbourhood, such as Bakery Depot, Werner's Oven and Sod's at East Coast. The problem is that on weekends, I am rarely awake in time to haul myself down to any of these places to enjoy their breakfasts.

I was supposed to start marking at 8 am, and now it's just crossed 10 am.

Bad teacher! No internet for you!

A bird flew into school one day

To the best friend: You may wish to stop reading here. There are no chickens in this post, but it does feature a live bird.

On Monday, my colleague found an African grey parrot parked under one of the tables outside the staff room. The fella was pretty tame, metal ring around his right foot and all, and readily hopped onto any arm proffered, perch-like, before him. On the other hand, he would also take mildly screeching offence at anyone who tried to pet him.

Fortunately, my colleague used to keep budgies and wasn't as clueless as, say, me. (The last close contact I had with a domesticated bird was probably in the '80s, at one of those Australian nature parks with galahs and cockatoos.) He first watered the parrot, then moved it indoors, away from any possible predators. Although the parrot had somehow flown into school, it showed no inclination to take flight again and we didn't want an excited stray cat to bring its wanderings to a startled and bloody end.

Since we both had exams to invigilate that afternoon, we contemplated moving the bird to one of the restrooms for safekeeping --- mostly because we wanted to post "Bird on the loose" on the men's room door. But in the end, the parrot was calm enough that it spent the afternoon perched on my colleague's chair in his cubicle.

By day's end, a phone call to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority had confirmed that they don't keep track of stray pet birds, so the colleague took the bird home for the night. Meantime, we'd also confirmed that it was something of a one-trick parrot. His one trick was: hop onto one's forearm, scuttle up to the elbow, nip at one's clothing to ease his ascent up to the shoulder, where he would steady himself near one's collarbone and, if one wears glasses as my colleague does, proceed to try and pull off said glasses.

Since I don't wear glasses, by the time he got onto my shoulder, all he did was, um, perch. It was still pretty neat, though.

Edited to add (12:06 pm): The parrot has been happily reunited with its owner, from a condominium near school. Apparently, there was much happy clicking and whistling on the parrot's part when it saw its owner, who in turn warmly rewarded my colleague for his trouble. (Apparently, African grey parrots do not come cheap.) My colleague had fun having the bird around for a couple of days, but as he put it, "It has the intelligence of a five-year-old and the emotional dependency of a two-year-old." And I thought dogs were needy.


This June holidays

In the spirit of Fluffy Stuff's "This [month] I am into..." entries,
In a frantic attempt to catch up on the last week's worth of blogworthy activities before the school term starts tomorrow,
And as a tribute to all those primary school English teachers who made us write compositions on "What I did during the school holidays",

I present to you this blog entry:

This June holidays, I worked, rested, read more books in one month than I'd read in the entire five months preceding, in fact read more philosophy-related titles in one month than I'd read my entire life, taught my cellphone how to spell 'epistemology', 'MacRitchie', 'treetop' and 'popiah', cursed and swore at the scorching weather as rivulets of perspiration stained the back of whatever T-shirt I was wearing, didn't wear heels unless social etiquette or vanity compelled me to do so, discovered chocolates from Switzerland and the US at my cubicle at work (thank you, kind colleagues!), discovered the wonder of the Oreo shake (it's a meal unto itself!) at the Cool Station outlet beside the Standard Chartered Bank branch at Marine Parade, watched more Hollywood blockbusters in a month than I usually see the entire year, diligently brought all our household recyclables to the recycling bins at work, checked out Carl's Jr.'s burgers, waxed lyrical about chilli crab and then had some very good crab indeed at Ban Leong Wah Hoe along Casuarina Road, chided a child at East Coast Park for walking his balloon string right into my arm, rode a bike for the first time in at least thirteen years, watched other people spin around on their new almost-thousand-dollar bikes, shopped, didn't shop, laughed, cried, spilled vodka at Wala Wala (though, believe it or not, it wasn't on account of their charging $18.80 for beer out of a bottle), vicariously observed as Hideout was transformed into blogger central, switched my breakfast diet from bread-and-jam to SunSol muesli, tried, and failed, to give blood, acquired two bikinis under Ondine's tutelage, hit the Mango sale but got the Really Great Dress at Project Shop Blood Bros, celebrated Ondine's birthday with much of the aforementioned popiah, Lana cake and high tea, met Molly and Paws and the newest baby in a certain Chong family, ran ran ran, walked through Joo Chiat around midnight, procrastinated on work, was told I have a discoloration on my back which might be a rash, ringworm or scratched-up skin, brought my grandfather to Bumbu, which he then raved about to the relatives (and how often do you see 'grandfather' and 'rave' in the same sentence, especially when that grandfather is eighty-eight years old?), and forgot what time I should set my alarm for so that I can get to school on time tomorrow.

No, really. I can't remember what time I used to wake up last term. I think it was 6:30 am, but that sounds strangely late.

Well, the kids have an exam first thing in the morning, so I suppose I should go in a little earlier anyway.


Where I am in life

Ask me how much ang pow (red packet) to give to a wedding couple --- be it for a Chinese wedding banquet, church wedding, Malay wedding, or any other Singaporean permutation --- and I'd have no trouble quoting you the current "rates", even with factoring in the closeness of your relationship to the couple.

Ask me to suggest a restaurant of any cuisine where you'd like to take your parents/extended family/significant other/old friend --- and again, not a problem. The only cuisine that might stump me is Mexican, because I'm not a big fan of Mexican food myself, but in a pinch I'd say Cha Cha Cha at Holland Village is probably still a safe bet.

But ask me about how much ang pow to give for a baby's first month celebration, and I'm at a total loss. All I know is that it ought to be an even-numbered amount and stuffed into a red packet. Right now, I'm trying to work backwards from the amount of money I would spend on a gift, were we buying a gift, and hoping that it puts us in the right ballpark at least.

And don't even think about asking me about buying gold jewellery for brides or babies. I'm definitely not there yet.


Analyse this blog

I spent a few minutes tonight doing the MIT Weblog Survey (off Blogger Buzz). Despite the unfortunate choice of the term "weblogging" (so very last century), it's pretty cool that yet another person is writing his PhD dissertation on the social nature of blogging. Plus, I like doing surveys. (Confession: I actually volunteered to do AC Nielsen's annual Asia-Pacific survey of internet behaviour, and then I volunteered to join their email list so that they could keep reminding me to do their survey every year.)

Anyway, as part of the MIT survey, you punch in your blog URL and it selects at random five links to ask you more detailed questions about. The five lucky winners off my blog were:
  • Stellou
  • Prima Taste (from last week's chilli crab post)
  • umami
  • lisa montgomery
  • The BoKoLog
This includes: two close friends whom I see all the time, a close friend whom I'd see all the time if we hadn't spent the last eight years living in different countries, someone I don't know at all but whose blog I enjoy very much, and, coming completely out of left field, a completely non-blog link.

Which, for a random selection, is also pretty representative of the different types of links on this blog. Whatever algorithm the survey's using, it's pretty neat. (Then again, it is made in MIT.)



My latest cellphone bill informs me that I sent 1,282 SMSes last month.

I am officially a member of the thumb tribe.



I decided this blog needed a picture to break up the monotony, so I'm shamelessly stealing a picture off lisamontgomery:

pet fair
Originally uploaded by elisabeth montgomery.

We passed this little canine panoply at Parkway Parade earlier this week. I like dogs well enough, but it was the most disturbing thing I've ever seen involving faux four-legged critters.

Travellin' light

I'm not much of a girly girl, but one thing that's been bugging me lately is the amount of crap I carry around with me. At any given moment, I'm likely to have the following in my bag:
  • Wallet --- cash, coins, two credit cards, two bank cards, ez-link card, Kinokuniya discount card, and whatever receipts and business cards I haven't emptied out yet.
  • Two cellphones
  • iPod
  • Keys to our flat
  • PDA --- and stuffed in its case are a Frodo ez-link card and a wad of business cards.
  • Tissue paper
  • Wet wipes (absolutely indispensable in this scorching middle-of-the-year tropical weather)
  • Lip balm
  • Lipstick
  • Eyedrops
  • Panadol
  • On weekdays: security access pass for work and keys to my workstation
This isn't much of a problem if I'm carrying one of my messenger bags, but things get a little tight and fiddly when I try to fit everything into one of my smaller purses.

So on Friday and Saturday, when I had to meet people at work for about half an hour each time , I decided to travel light for a change. All I really needed was a little cash (not the full wallet), my keys, a cellphone, the ez-link card for the bus ride, and the iPod to while away the travel time.

As it is, the stuff completely filled my jeans pockets and the iPod had to be toted in my left hand. And it felt a little strange to show up at work with so little on me.

But it was fairly liberating to walk out of the apartment with just that. And then I realised that this is what guys feel like all the time. They've got a wallet --- or maybe just cash and change stuffed into their pockets (and guys' pants always have pockets) --- a cellphone and their keys, and that's probably it. Guys of the iPod- or tissue paper-carrying variety probably have those items stashed down the side of their backpacks/messenger bags; even if they're not carrying a bag, their pants pockets are usually generous enough to accommodate them comfortably.

No wonder Terz doesn't understand why it sometimes takes me ten minutes to shuffle my stuff from one bag to another before we go out.


MAF ISO Chilli Crab

First of all, until a couple of years ago, I wasn't even a fan of chilli crab. I'd spent years happily sitting by at seafood dinners while my parents polished off serving after serving of steaming, succulent chilli crab, and not feeling in the least excluded, because at some point in my childhood, I'd decided that I didn't like crab and that was that. Even as, time after time, my dad sermonised on the art of cracking open crab shells purely by using one's fingers or teeth alone --- no fancy-schmancy tools, please --- and something tingled in me, as if he was passing down some essential element of my heritage, I still declined to partake of the crab, because, well, didn't we establish when I was a kid that I didn't like it?

I'm not sure when things changed. It could've had something to do with getting married, actually: the parentals-in-law would sometimes order chilli crab and, as the newly inducted daughter-in-law, the diplomatic thing for me to do was to try just a little claw or something, enough to keep me busy at the dinner table and diffuse any possibility that I was a difficult or finicky eater. With the eating of little bits of crab, came the grand revelation that the point of chilli crab, really, was not the crab itself but the sauce it was swathed in, best savoured when mopped up with man tou (buns, especially the evil deep-fried variety).

And now I'm hooked. I could sit and eat man tou in chilli crab sauce until my throat gives out.

We had chilli crab just a few weeks ago, at the always delightful Hua Yu Wee restaurant along Upper East Coast Road. The quality of food aside, which has never failed us, the other reason I like it so much is that the restaurant's housed in an original colonial-style bungalow, with a huge courtyard where you can sit and enjoy the quiet view of the lush green trees growing in their backyard, as it were. (It used to be that you could sit and enjoy a quiet view of the beach, but that was in pre-land reclamation days...)

A few nights ago, Ondine tempted us over for dinner by promising pork ribs in chilli crab sauce. Alas, we were let down by the fact that her neighbourhood grocery store had run out of the Prima Taste chilli crab sauce mix. All was not lost: the leftover from their previous sauce mix was very tasty, which merely whetted our appetite for more to come, and we got to meet Molly to boot.

Last night found us on the latest expedition for chilli crab, this time with EH, Casey and The Desert. We should've paid heed to the warning signs, though. We'd wanted to try the Palm Beach restaurant at One Fullerton, but it was fully booked so we ended up with a table at No Signboard restaurant at Esplanade. They'd told me over the phone that the indoor section was fully booked and they could only give us a table outside, but when we got there, they led us to a table inside, which I thought was a bonus --- until we stepped inside and were greeted by the classic Chinese restaurant cacophony: ambient noise loud enough that we had to lean forward and shout at each other (I kid you not) across the table, and every table compensating for the ambient noise they had created by speaking even more loudly.

It wasn't quite what we'd expected but we took it in our stride. Embrace the culture: messy chilli crab along with raucous restaurant environs. We ordered, we got acclimatised, and pretty soon we were feted by some really good food.

Except for the chilli crab.

Because, we suspect, the kitchen wasn't large enough to cater for all the tables that had been set out, food tended to be cooked in batches and served forthwith. So we got our bamboo clams at the same time as all the other tables around us; ditto the crayfish. And then we watched, and waited, as serving after serving of chilli crab went marching by, but none graced our empty little table.

We're pretty nice, non-confrontational folks, and the restaurant was obviously busy, so we waited --- an hour (from the time we'd been served all the other dishes). During that time, we asked three times about the missing crab, including the first request directed to the floor manager. Nada. Zippo. Zilch.

By the end of the hour, we asked them to cancel the order. Apparently, this is what you really need to get attention at No Signboard, because it immediately triggered fluttering attempts by waitresses to alert the manager, who then marched to the kitchen counter and gestured dramatically. I in turn waved my own hand in a sweeping half-circle motion until he got the picture that we didn't want the damn crabs, we just wanted to get the hell out of there.

Now if I were the manager, there would be an apology, followed by a serving of crab on the house, or if we insisted on not having the crab, then maybe a small discount to salve the experience. At the very least: an apology. Instead, he spent the rest of the time avoiding eye contact with our table. Meanwhile, it took another fifteen minutes or so to settle the bill, because they'd initially billed us for the man tou that would've gone with the crab that we didn't have.

At least it gave The Desert some fodder for her work, since one of the things she has to worry about is service standards in the service industry.

We'd intended to let Max Brenner be our refuge once we realised how loud No Signboard was, and its chocolatey salvation seemed all the more critical after the chilli crab debacle. But thanks to our patient waiting for the crab that never came, it was 10 pm when we got to Max Brenner, and since they would close at 10:30 pm, all they were serving were hot drinks. Strike one.

We hiked over to One Fullerton, where Palm Beach was still doing good business, and Casey kidded that we should have ourselves some chilli crab after all. But it was Bakerzin that we were trying --- and because they too were closing soon, they were only entertaining takeaway orders. Strike two.

By this point, clearly we needed something stronger than chilli crab and chocolate combined.

Terz jokingly suggested Onyx, to which I retorted, "Did you see the girls that were waiting in line?" We ended up at its chill-out space, Lash, in the premises of the former Embargo. No crab, no chocolate, but drinks and bar food to top off our disappointed stomachs. It's very odd to have the waitress present a bar food menu, but to apologetically explain that there's no drinks menu because they're new, but hey, "we have all the usual drinks."

Except Kahlua. So no mudslide for The Desert.

And Malibu rum. So no freakishly sweet rum-pineapple juice concoction for me.

Now I want chilli crab. Dammit.


Back in the saddle again

Or: "Don't they make seats for girls?"

I went cycling yesterday for the first time in something like thirteen years. (I don't remember precisely when it was I last cycled, but I know it wasn't during university days and I definitely did me some cycling as a secondary school student, which leaves only the grayishly suspect junior college days unaccounted for.) I was petrified, not so much that I'd've forgotten how to cycle, but that since the last thing I cycled on was a BMX bike, I wouldn't be able to handle anything else.

Fortunately, cycling on a banged-up mountain bike rented from one of the East Coast Park uncles proved to be quite similar to cycling on a BMX, just that I was slightly higher off the ground (or maybe I've grown since that last time) and that the seat hurt like hell.

Can I just say, what is with the seats? I don't remember having a sore butt when I cycled as a kid, and I used to have my own banged-up BMX that I whizzed around the estate on everyday. But within 20 minutes of easing down East Coast Park, just when we'd gotten beyond the busy McDonald's stretch and had hit a quieter area, I felt the need to shift in my seat. And to shift again, since the second position hadn't been any more comfortable than the first. Then to lean forward, upward, sideways --- all in a vain attempt to come to a more comfortable sitting position.

I know they make bicycle seats for girls, because Terz showed me some in a Scotts catalogue yesterday, but my rented bike definitely didn't have one. And that got me thinking about how all the cyclists in the Tour de France are male and is the reason there aren't any female cyclists because women aren't physically strong enough to compete in the same race as the men --- or is it because bike companies spend thousands of dollars in developing the perfect seat to protect men's little bits, but haven't quite achieved the same level of Zen comfort for the women, hmmm?

(Nardac, as the only person I know with more than a passing interest in the Tour de France, not to mention your timely blog post about Tiger, I hereby appoint thee to answer that puzzling question.)

Seating discomfort notwithstanding, ambling along on a bicycle was a relaxing way to see the easternmost stretches of the park that I don't usually visit. We rode until there wasn't any more bike path in front of us; it ends at the Safra resort along Changi Coast Walk. Oddly enough, that's where we encountered two couples in their wedding regalia, traipsing across grass and sand to have their pictures taken.

Now Terz is badgering me to get a bike of my own. But I am immune to peer pressure. Just because lisamontgomery's bought a bike (the excuse for yesterday's little excursion) and Darren's hankering after one doesn't mean I have to get one. Even if the seat on a rental hurts like hell.



(TM Agagooga)

It's very hard to blog after more than a week away. I'm not talking about a week spent sans internet access or while on vacation in a foreign country. Just away.

For starters, what do I blog about? Do I write about all the things I did (boring! and outdated) or all the blogs I read (er, refer to this blog's sidebar)? Alternatively, I could write about all the things that I haven't done yet, but we all know what a procrastinator I am, so we could still be here by the time July rolls around.

Of course, I could always channel The Straits Times and report on the painfully obvious, e.g. the following highlights from my last couple of weeks:
  • "Orchard Road overwhelmed by GSS shoppers" (GSS = Great Singapore Sale)
  • "Temperature rises to high of 33ºC for the third day in a row"
  • "Teenagers send their friends up to 100 SMSes a day" (which isn't too far off from today's Digital Life story about how teenagers might be getting addicted to instant messaging --- the horror!)
  • "Singaporeans call on Govt for more help"
  • "Govt calls on people for more feedback"
But the real news is that I'm vibrating at a high frequency.
Kirsten: Vibrating at a high frequency?
Summer: Lynn Grabhorn, Excuse Me Your Life Is Waiting. Human beings have an electrochemical currency running through us, which is affected by our emotions. When you are feeling happy or joyful, that current or energy is vibrating at higher frequency than when you are feeling sad or angry at, let's say, Seth Cohen. When you're vibrating at a higher frequency, the more likely you are to attract happy people than when you are vibrating at a low, sad, bitter-at-Cohen frequency. It's the law of attraction in physics.
"The Distance", The O.C.
So now you know that I've been ODing on The O.C. (there oughta be a law against saying that) and that Summer is my favourite character. Are you disturbed yet? I know I am.


A Saturday night gathering

(Not to be confused with a hootenanny or a shindig)

We were at the apartment of one of Terz's photography mentors last night, and I've never been in a place that so closely mirrored the design style of my parents' home --- which is to say, heavily into art and antiques, yet totally chapalang (everything/anything; a mix of all kinds of things) and mismatched. A Philippe Starck armchair ("very stylish, but not very comfortable") cozied up with rosewood furniture. Glam rock gold cushions prettied up both the black leather sink-in couch and a hard wooden bench. A scowling stone tiger guarded the clear glass doors to the balcony, to prevent an unwary guest from walking into the glass (apparently, it happens). Amazingly, coasters were not required for the living room table and our glasses could be placed willy-nilly. Even I nag my friends to use coasters on our living room table and the cheap Ikea table in the game room.

Over pizza later:
B: Which pizza is vegetarian?
The Host: That one. You're vegetarian?
B: I'm a seafood vegetarian.
The Host: Why?
B: I don't remember.
The Host: !!
L: Does this mean you only eat seaweed?
For dessert, what better complements the taste of Pizza Hut than oranges, mangoes and Royce chocolates? (Don't answer that.) The thing about Royce chocolates, though, is that while they're very tasty, you can't really eat more than three or four pieces in one sitting before feeling jelat (an overkill of tasty goodness --- akin to the feeling you have after consuming an entire Sticky Chewy Chocolate sundae at Swensen's).

The good thing about our social life nowadays is how little exposure to the TV we have. At last night's gathering, everyone was so excited to be raiding the mentor's photography book collection that there were actual prolonged stretches of silence. The only ambient sound: the susurrus of pages being delicately flipped over to reveal the next visual gem. Other nights, we're mostly out in places that either don't have TVs or, in the case of neighbourhood coffeeshops, have them tuned to the banalities of Channel 8, which we in turn automatically tune out anyway.

As it is, I didn't even know there was a big security conference going on last night until we saw the flashing lights and police blocks outside the Shangri-La, and one of our party pointed out that the policemen had anti-bioterrorism kits hanging off their utility belts, the kind only the army used to have. How times have changed.


I needed to look up some literature references yesterday for the mid-year examination, which sent me to the poetry and drama corner of our book collection. And that's when I realised, that for all that Terz and I were both English majors, our poetry and drama collections are really quite thin.

They sit together in what is really a corner, between the bed and the window, on two paltry shelves: one low enough for regular paperbacks, the other tall enough to accommodate the likes of Norton anthologies. Only The Riverside Shakespeare resides in another room, since it's too large to fit on these shelves.

Besides the Riverside, we've got a bunch of Shakespeare (most visibly my heavily marked Arden editions from junior college Special Paper days), some Chaucer, a few Jacobean tragedies and a little Ibsen. There's also a collection of Modern Canadian Plays from Terz's university career, though a quick flip-through showed that 'modern' merely meant something written in this century, not necessarily anything later than the 1960s. And that's sadly it for drama.

Poetry's a lot more eclectic, mostly my doing. There's a stack of Robert Lowell, a leftover obsession of mine from (again) junior college days --- among others, my still sturdy 'A' level text, a disintegrating edition of Life Studies I picked up for next-to-nothing in Prague, of all places, and a newish Notebook, its spine still uncrinkled. Beyond the Lowell shrine, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Derek Walcott and William Carlos Williams provide stout ballast, sandwiching relative newcomers like Singaporean writer Alfian Sa'at and American Barbara Edelman.

Every book is a memory in itself: my first poetry class, first quarter in university; another class taught by a Walcott expert; this anthology flipped through madly for a Whitman paper; that edition picked up while browsing at a university bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. If I went through our entire book collection this way, I'd be reminiscing for days on end.

And that's before even paging through the book to reread familiar verses or to encounter new poems for the first time. Those are memories of a different texture:

From Lowell's "For The Union Dead": Mr K playing (being) the Boston brahmin, standing on Boston Common before the monument to the 54th Regiment one cold spring day in 1996, shivering before it on an even colder winter day in 1999, hearing an MP3 off Salon of an old recording of Lowell himself reading the poem.

From Alfian Sa'at's "The Merlion": the first time I read it in One Fierce Hour, encountering it in an examination paper at the school where I used to teach, reading it again in the original collection because it made more sense there, the Merlion today.

None of which is to imply that poetry or literature's only any good when you have a physical connection to the place. If anything, these are just the visceral jolts, the flirtations of memory before you actually get into reading the poem proper. And that's where the really good stuff lies.

I didn't find anything I could use for the exam, but maybe that's just as well. Some things are best left on the shelf, to be savoured in their own time.


The kind of kitchen I keep

--- is one where now that it's the school vacation, there's no actual breakfast food in the house because there's no longer a need for me to nourish myself adequately before I go out in the morning,

where a bottle of Ribena can languish half-used on the kitchen counter for several years until Ondine's conscientiousness prompts a gingerly attempt at opening the cap. *Pop* goes what might have been air from the last millennium. Who knew that blackcurrant syrup could ferment nicely when left on its own?

where Ondine's midnight attack of the munchies that prompted me to scour my cupboards and fridge, turns up the following (in reverse order of age): a half-eaten bag of Ruffles potato chips from Sunday; a Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar gifted to me last week; Chinese pears, red apples and oranges I bought two weeks ago; leftover Daily Scoop ice cream from Wahj's birthday in early May; a pear from my mother at some point before that; chocolate truffles leftover from last Xmas; chocolate raisins gifted to me at least one year ago; Japanese candies leftover from our trip in June 2003; and lou por bang (wife's biscuit) from Hong Kong, gifted by my mother, date indeterminate period.

Ondine wisely elected to eat a Chinese pear. I haven't thrown out anything else yet.

And people ask me why I don't have kids.


Of students (again)

[Vignettes I and II are here.]


I unexpectedly encountered two former students recently: one via email, the other in person. Both were from the very first batch of students I taught --- a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

The first had looked me up in the online teachers' directory, which only teachers have access to --- so yes, she's turned to the Dark Side and joined the teaching profession. Nothing like struggling with stubborn young minds to make you appreciate the people who once struggled with yours. Her email was all, "Sorry our class gave you such a hard time way back when, 'cause now I know what teachers face everyday and dagnabbit, it is a hard time" (though not in precisely those words). No hard feelings, kid. The trick is to let go of however hard the time was once you step out of the classroom, and get on with your life.

(For the record, her class was not that bad. So there was the spell of wanton absenteeism, which pissed me off enough that I painstakingly compiled everyone's abysmal attendance records to flash on a transparency during class, then grilled each student in turn about each and every unaccounted-for absence. And I remember asking them to write down what they would put in a time capsule to be opened in fifty years' time, and one girl, in all seriousness, suggested, "A French manicure set." But that's all I can remember. Really.)

The second student spotted me on the bus. In returning his hello, I got his name wrong. But at least I remembered who he was! --- mostly because he used to defiantly not pay attention during my lessons and frequently reeked of cologne after returning from the restroom, which I suspected, but never proved, was because his restroom breaks were really smoking breaks. Now he's studying at the local university and seems a little restless than he used to be. Yay for him.


It turns out that at least one of the students I currently teach lives a stone's throw from me. She shyly asked about it a few days ago, to which my immediate response was: "Have you seen me around, in my old spectacles and dressed like an auntie, at the coffeeshop or something?" Because I don't care if students know where I live, so much as I care whether they've seen me in my "home clothes" (a Singaporeanism for the ratty old T-shirts and faded shorts that we wear at home, or when we potter round to the corner shops in ugly flipflops).

Fortunately, she said she'd seen me running in the neighbourhood, and also occasionally on the way to school in the morning. Whew! Sartorial embarrassments avoided, for now. There's nothing more discomfiting than to be dressed in the aforementioned disreputable home clothes and meeting your student with his/her parents. Imagine forthwith:
Student: (excited) Mom, Dad, this is Ms So-and-So, my English teacher!
Me: (stuttering, mortified) Uh, hello, Mr and Mrs Parents-who-have-placed-the-fate-of-your-child's-examination-results-in-my-hands.
Parents: (archly) Oh, so this is your teacher ...
And --- scene.

Having said that, the knowledge that a student lives in the vicinity did nothing to stop me from wearing home clothes down to the coffeeshop for dinner tonight. Because I'm vain, shallow and fickle.