Going out in (Singapore) style

The livin' is easy when it's Friday night, the breeze is a-blowin', and friends are gathered round humble hawker tables at East Coast Park to partake in a modest end-of-scholarship-bond celebration. There was satay (chicken and mutton and a little babat (tripe) just for G-man), barbecued chicken wings, rojak, carrot cake and beer to wash it all down; however, there was no actual cake. There were new friends and old; funnily enough, only two don't blog. There was a boys' table and a girls' table (except for the two boys who strayed over to our side). There was a friendly cat who turned out to be a camera whore. Some time after midnight, three paramedics and two police officers ambled westwards past the hawker centre, an empty patient transport wheeled alongside. When they returned, they had an old woman in a wheelchair, rolling along at a pace only a heartbeat faster than the typical romantic evening stroll. There were two cabs waiting when we were ready to go home --- one for ampulets and one for us.

Just a slow night at East Coast Park.

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Info, please!

We'll be going to Bali for five days next week for the best friend's wedding. We're putting up at a hotel at Nusa Dua and, other than the wedding day itself, the rest of the time is ours.

This will be our first time in Bali. Even though I cringe at resorting to such a shamelessly lazy request for information, I plead for mercy on account of the fact that we really don't have the time this week to engage in our usually thorough pre-trip research at the Lonely Planet website and other online resources.

So I am shamelessly, lazily appealing for travel tips and suggestions, pretty pretty pretty please. We will probably spend a day or two soaking up the sun on the beach with nothing more intense than the latest Harry Potter novel for company. But other than that, what's fun to do? We don't dive, but we walk/hike/swim and the husband, if you didn't know already, is a photographer.

Ideas that have been tossed our way so far: dinner at Jimbaran, not the sunset dinner cruise, some local crafts village, $15 steaks at Hard Rock Cafe.

Oh, and how much cash should we bring? We're not really big spenders, although we'll probably indulge in a nice seafood dinner or two and perhaps the charm of the whole bargain shopping thing will finally appeal to me. I've been advised that we'll need 100,000 rupiah (S$16-17) for airport departure tax, but other than that, suggestions have ranged from $200 to $1000 per person (hotel is already paid for), and I confess I'm pretty lost.

All suggestions are welcome. Particularly good ideas will be rewarded with a Kuta trinket of your choice or a lovely photograph autographed by the husband.


Seeing red

Note to self: Do not wear favourite red T-shirt to town again until National Day Parade rehearsals and the parade itself are over. Otherwise, be prepared to be mistaken for one of the thousands of parade rehearsal attendees, milling aimlessly about the City Hall area until peremptory parade officials permit you into the parade area.

All this by way of saying how much I can blend in as an anonymous Singaporean without even really trying. Whereas Stellou, in her purple heels, despite her fiery red tank top, didn't look remotely as if the NDP was anywhere on her agenda.


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Little miracles

Since Terz has the angry blog that frequently targets bad cab drivers, I thought I'd even out the karma and praise the driver of Comfort Cab (blue top) number SH 8130, because you are kindness itself.

You see, I have all the presence of mind of a two-year-old, so while I remembered to take my wallet with me, I blithely left my primary cellphone behind in the cab this morning. Exhibiting further acuity, I managed to not register the loss until about twenty minutes after I'd gotten out of the cab. (In my own defense, I'd spent most of those twenty minutes discussing with a student the career prospects for psychologists in Singapore.) And in the most brilliant exercise of my streetwise skills to date, I immediately panicked a colleague to get me the cab company's lost-and-found hotline, instead of calling my cellphone itself to see if someone had picked it up.

I am so not an urban warrior.

Anyway, in the midst of my conversation with the lost-and-found hotline operator, the obvious course of action became apparent to me, and I went on to call my cellphone --- which rang and rang (miracle! the first sign that someone's nicked a forgotten phone is that they've switched it off or chucked the SIM card) --- and which the cab driver then answered and immediately offered to drive back to me.

A blessed miracle, indeed. And of course, I duly compensated the cab driver for his time. Can't let good deeds go unnoticed.


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I have never ...

... EVAR (TM Cowboy Caleb, hand gestures and all) ...

... attended a party by-invitation-only at Velvet, seen Terz with both the male and female ultra-violet club entry stamps on his forearm, drank Heineken out of a SIGG-style bottle, met an English girl who encouraged me to take up the violin from scratch even though I'm well over the age limit for the Suzuki method, seen some girl get a temporary tattoo on her upper buttock in front of everyone else, beheld such a clutter of about twenty Heineken bottles on one table, been blinded by so many camera flashes from pseudo-Lomographers, had a movie moment in a real-life bar, witnessed Cowboy magicking us an empty table and then more chairs in a crowded Wine Bar, been told that one is not allowed to take photos at Wine Bar, had drinks with an ex-student, run into an old neighbour from Normanton Park days in a social setting, played "I have never", been at the same table as someone who's had sex in the office/car/cinema/outdoors/aw hell just about everywhere, gone for a supper of Teochew moi (porridge) after drinks and promptly thrown up that supper within the hour ...

... until Wednesday night.



Rules of engagement

This one's for the kids who asked the questions today --- you know who you are.

How to do well in General Paper
(Or rather, and more importantly: How to become a reasoning, thinking citizen as a result of --- or perhaps in spite of --- the General Paper course.)

1. Be curious. Question everything. And I don't mean question everything in the way that you badger your parents, "Why can't I have an increase in my allowance so that I can buy an iPod?" Question why you need money, where the allowance comes from, how is money organised in our society, what are the broader implications of an increased allowance (not just for you), how else you can (legally) get the money, how you can make those other sources of income work for you, why you need an iPod in the first place, why does an iPod cost so much anyway, how will having an iPod truly improve your standard of living, or will it just make you want more iThings, why do we need stuff anyway, when did having food and water and shelter and safety stop being enough, oh all right will an iPod mini do, why does Apple sell the mini anyway, what happens if you don't get an iPod or a mini, what happens if we all stop buying iPods and minis and stuff, and ...

2. Advance your reading. If you're not reading at all, then read anything --- even the local tabloid The New Paper is better than nothing. When you're done with the local tabloid, move on to the Nation-Builder Press, and from there on to more cerebral publications. If you're done with Harry Potter, why not try a little Philip Pullman, and from there it's a small leap to Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Rushdie's written a lot of other interesting books that'll take you all over. Start with the thin books if the thick ones daunt you, but don't get stuck on 200-page chick lit forever. Time and Newsweek are better than nothing, but have a go at The Economist, which you don't have to read cover to cover, or The Guardian or The New York Times. The web is just full of interesting stuff. Try Salon or Slate or Alternet or my latest find (thanks, BoKo!), Arts & Letters Daily. Best of all, find something good that your teacher hasn't read and impress the hell out of him/her when you cite the source.

And whatever you read, refer back to step 1: Question everything. Don't accept something as gospel truth because it's in the Nation-Builder Press or The New York Times or on a sheet of paper that your teacher gave you. Ask yourself: Does the writer make sense? Is the argument convincing? Is the evidence watertight? Is there wiggle room? What's the other side of the story that the writer's not telling you? Can you find another piece of writing that deals thoroughly with that other side? Can you come up with the other side of the story on your own?

3. At the end of the day, formulate your own informed opinion. Where do you stand, and why? Yes, you --- don't avoid eye contact or look down at your shoes as though having an opinion is a dirty thing. You should have a stand, not just to be able to write a satisfactory General Paper essay, but because we're thinking, feeling human beings, and if humankind as a whole is going to make any sort of progress over this century, we're going to need every mind that's capable of intelligent, clear reasoning. Yes, I know it's hard to formulate an opinion because there are so many competing narratives and views shouting for your attention, but if you refuse to think hard and make sense of it, you might as well just check your brain in at the school gate and sign yourself up for some automaton-level task for the rest of your life. Lead, don't be led. Set the agenda, don't let others set it for you.

We don't all gotta be intellectuals or experts at everything. The world is too large, too dense for that. There's too much for any one brain to contain at one time. That's why you have to figure out your own patterns and structures for making sense of this crazy whirlspin of activity.

The more I teach, the more I think that while being blessed natural intelligence is an advantage, having a genuine open-mindedness and curiosity about the grand human experiment --- now that's when the magic really begins to happen.


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How evil is Disney?

It is a little disturbing that after overhearing my colleague say something indistinct in a singsong tone, my brain has automatically shuffled to the tortured dulcet tune of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid.

And now it just won't stop.

I confess that I still have the soundtrack for the movie somewhere in my CD collection. However, I can truthfully say that I haven't listened to it in years and that I will be seeking psychological counselling for this peculiar phenomenon once I get through this particularly busy week of work.


My little brother, in the press

Besides the shoe baton, I also woke up to an SMS from Ondine, telling me that my brother's got a letter published in the Nation-Builder Press today. This was followed throughout the day by five more SMSes from assorted colleagues, ex-colleagues and one student to ask if I was related to the letter-writer.

I guess it's not that hard to figure out when our last name is one-of-a-kind and our full names are almost identical except for two alphabets. One person even asked if it was in fact my letter with a typo in the name. I wish I could take credit for it, but no, no, my little brother did it all on his own, and did a very fine job of it, I might add. At first I thought that the tone was too measured, too precisely what a "typical" forum letter would sound like. But now I think that's how it works its magic: adopt the tone of the Nation-Builder Press, play its game and shoot it down point by point.


(Although I guess this means that my offline alter ego is in danger of being busted.)


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Imelda Marcos I am not

Is there a better way to start one's Sunday than to find out that Little Miss Drinkalot tagged me last night with a shoe meme?

(Okay, my parents would say, yes, I could go to church instead. But.)

Total number of shoes you own:

34 pairs, including, besides your typical assorted sandals and work heels: 3 pairs of flipflops, 4 pairs of pink shoes (though of different hues of pink), 2 pairs of evening heels, 3 pairs of ballet pumps, 1 pair of running shoes, 4 pairs of boots and 5 pairs I'd entirely forgotten about.

Bonus details

Number of empty shoe boxes you cleared out while counting up the tally: 4.
Most expensive pair of shoes: S$110 pair of boots from URS.
Cheapest pair of shoes: US$1 flipflops from Myanmar that's apparently de rigeur footwear among the locals.
Brands of shoes represented in your collection:
Local brands --- X:odus, Substance, URS, Tangerine, Pretty Fit, Elle, Everbest, DMK.
American brands --- Liz Claiborne, Nine West, Payless, Nike and assorted cheap American brands I don't remember.
Other brands --- something unbranded from Myanmar (see "cheapest pair" above) and a pair of walking shoes from Vietnam (remarkably comfortable mid-vacation emergency purchase).

The last shoe you bought:

A pair of beach flipflops for the upcoming Bali trip --- $9 at the recent Mango sale, and it comes with a pretty butterfly.

How many shoes you have under your work desk:

A pair of purple beach slippers --- very important when one works near the beach.

5 people I'm passing this baton to:
  • Ondine --- My frequent shoe-shopping partner-in-crime.
  • Nardac --- I don't see you as a meme girl, but I'm darned curious to find out what shoes you have.
  • ampulets --- Ditto what I said about Nardac.
  • Stellou --- This summer, I've seen you only in shoes of the red-orange family --- what else you got?
  • J. --- Since you're not working yet...
PS: It's a new baton, started only four days ago by Kelly Chan. Don't let it drop!


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A girl stays out too late with the young 'uns.

A girl resorts to SMSing throughout an afternoon training course in order to keep herself awake (40 odd messages sent and received in a three-hour span).

A girl has to report for work at 8 am on a Saturday.

A girl turns down two sparkling invitations to go drinking on a Friday night with extremely fun people. (Hngh!)

A girl says she's going to bed at 10 pm and eventually does at 11:30pm, after tending to her blog.


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Clothes maketh the day

If I had five bucks for every time I went through the following rigmarole today, I'd've collected enough cold hard cash to buy me a nice dinner tonight.
Question: Why aren't you wearing an ethnic costume/dress/outfit today?

Choose from the following options.

A. I forgot we were celebrating Racial Harmony Day today.
B. I don't have any ethnic outfits.
C. It's silly to pretend that wearing ethnic outfits one day out of the year makes us a racially harmonious society.
D. I wanted to wear a T-shirt and jeans --- it's the "ethnic" outfit of the global culture --- but I don't think that'd go down too well.
E. Dude, I am the very poster girl for racial harmony, regardless of what I wear.

Answer: All of the above.
I gave different answers to different people, though I didn't have the guts to mention (C) out loud. All of them hold true except for (B) --- I have one ethnic outfit, but it's long-sleeved, too hot to wear in a non-airconditioned environment, and I'd loaned it to Ondine, who was more game to play dress-up this year.

Perhaps dissatisfied by my glib answers, some of my questioners chose to interpret my sparkly emerald-green embroidered and beaded shoes as an attempt to adhere to the dress code. Uh, no. I wore them because they brightened up an otherwise boring it's-Friday-and-I-don't-give-a-damn outfit.

All you fashion mavens out there might want to note that the most popular ethnic-costume-of-choice today seemed to be Indian or pseudo-South Asian outfits. Saris, punjabi suits, punjabi suit tops or some airy cotton cousin of its ilk seemed to be de rigeur among the younger staff, though mandarin collars and Chinese knot-buttoned tops also put in their usual biannual appearance (their other major outing is at the Chinese New Year celebrations).

My default outfit for Racial Harmony Day used to be a black mandarin-collared sleeveless top over gray pants --- stylish yet suitably funereal, just right to counter everything about the "commemoration" of Racial Harmony Day. The honest truth is that I was planning to wear the top today (the gray pants were retired a couple of years ago), just that in my sleepiness this morning, the whole matter completely slipped my mind until after I was already dressed and didn't have time to change again.

But that was just as well, because I am Little Miss Racial Harmony, if you get down to the bare bones of it. Us biracial types walk around with "racial harmony" stamped into our features, if you just know how to read it right. Most people I've met don't, which, if you think about it, is the real pity about our supposedly racially harmonious society.

Related post: Race matters, Singapore-style


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The winning pot

I've been on some absolutely fabulous shopping expeditions in my time --- most recently, a Mango sale mini-spree that eventually led me to Project Shop Blood Brothers, where I acquired the perfect dress for next month's beach wedding in Bali.


Until yesterday, I had not ever been on a shopping trip that included purchasing a cast-iron cooking pot for $356 (original price: $455)(I was not the purchaser of this pot). What is more, I have never paid $6 for a $356 pot, thanks to wads and wads of shopping vouchers. It was a moment to behold from the sidelines of the cash register.

The pot, by the way, is not only an excellent cooking pot, but also shows great potential for clobbering unwanted party gatecrashers on the head or, if the spirit moves you, dropping into a sink to see how far the cracks in the kitchen counter will run. Clearly, it is a win.


Question of the day

Assuming you don't know me in real life, does this blog "sound" male or female to you, and why?




So what I didn't tell you last night, Stellou, was that in the middle of our phone conversation, I walked into Terz's new photography studio (which he's set up with four friends) and stopped in my tracks because there was a young woman in the front room who looked more or less exactly like a former student, except that she was wearing business attire more serious-looking than anything I've got in my wardrobe. And you and me were in the middle of talking about Liang Seah Street nasi padang and Ah Chew's Desserts, and my brain was going every which way from our usual shinkansen speed of conversing as well as this sudden spectre from the past --- although the young woman was tan and healthy-looking, nothing actually like a spectre --- so all I could was hold up a hand at her, as if to say, "Halt!", but what I really meant was for me to halt and concentrate on one thing at a time, so then I dropped my bag, flopped into a chair on the patio where I was standing, and proceeded with the rest of our phone conversation as though nothing'd happened --- fooled ya, didn't I? --- while sporadically processing, processing, "Student --- that batch --- I used to read her blog --- yes, that's her name," which did absolutely nothing for me in terms of knowing what to say to her when I was done talking to you.

I started with the polite, "What are you doing now? London? Law? Mmmmm ... " Then the more pressing, "So what are you doing here? Who do you know? [since it obviously wasn't Terz] Nic? How do you know Nic?" And then we ran out of things to say to each other.

Later, as I sat on the floor paging through a pile of student essays, she declaimed, "You're still teaching?" But only because she'd heard I'd moved on to a different job after teaching her batch of students. (It had nothing to do with them; it was my time to move.)

So it turns out that she's best friends with one of Terz's studio partners and knows the others pretty well too. All of which serves as a timely reminder that former students really do pop up when you least expect them to, and that Singapore is just a small town masquerading as a global city.

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The real Sg blog conspiracy

mr brown's birthday: 12 July (as revealed by Cowboy Caleb).
Mr Miyagi's birthday: 21 July (also revealed by Cowboy Caleb).
Cowboy Caleb's birthday: 24 July (as the birthday boy helpfully pointed out 19 days ahead of time).

Ergo, to be a powderful Sg blogger, you must be:
  • Born in the month of July.
  • Have the number '2' in your date of birth (excluding the month and year).
  • Have Cowboy Caleb out your birthday on his blog.
So Singaporean. Be successful blogger, also got secret formula.


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Got fish?

When it's been a long day at work, the best reward is a surprise dinner at Big Fish Seafood Grill. I say surprise because Terz was eating with his mates by the time I finished work and called him, so I thought I was destined for a quiet dinner by myself at our neighbourhood coffeeshop --- but two colleagues had also been working late and we decided to go eat together. The surprise was further sweetened when we decided, impromptu, that instead of eating at boring Coffee Club, we'd try Big Fish Seafood Grill, which Ondine's been raving about for weeks.

There are many good things about Big Fish Seafood Grill: succulent deep-fried prawns and deep-fried brie cubes, slathered in a zingy marinara sauce; baked oysters au gratin, rich juices pooled in each shell; grilled fish on a skewer in meat-like chunks; perfectly pan-fried lemon sole, so smooth it peels sweetly away from the bone, then the entire skeleton lifts seamlessly to expose the other half of the fish.

There are many nice people in Big Fish Seafood Grill: the boss woman in a lime green shirt, who is happy to change the fried prawns in the mixed seafood to fish for my colleague's fish-loving, prawn-hating son; the cheerful young bespectacled waiter, who refills water glasses without needing to be asked; the obliging older man who took our orders and waited patiently while my colleague understandably dithered over so many choices, so many possibilities!; and of course the maestro himself, the uncontested king of the kitchen, who presides over every dish that's served up to the customer, with only two assistants (not sous-chefs) at his side.

You can see the maestro and his assistants all too clearly because the kitchen is separated from the restaurant dining room by a mere glass wall, and the chef never takes a moment to rest. If anything, that's his shortcoming: every dish is tenderly prepared by him, so the food takes a while in coming. We waited a time for the appetizers, then waited a time again for the entrees.

But why complain, when every bite of fish melts smoothly on your tongue?

I'll be back for more.


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An entry in the style of Mr Miyagi

Today what? In Today? Nabeh! Miyagi got quote so long, neber pay copyright fees? What da heow? He think I not listening when the lawyer talking, issit? I know my rights uh! Just because my blog on ingterneck mean can anyhow steal ah? You wait! I whack Miyagi upside down, den he know.

(We now return you to your regular programming.)

(I know, I don't sound very threatening at all. First of all, I certainly cannot claim limpeh status. Secondly, I have the Weakest Arms in the World (TM) so the likelihood of me whacking him upside down is about as high as that of a second blogger con being covered favourably by the mainstream media. I mean, have you seen the guy's arm?)


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'Tis the season

We've lived in the same place for several years now, but tonight was the first time that we were approached by flag proselytizers to display the national flag outside our apartment. They were loitering outside our front door as we returned home from dinner, and looked so delighted to see us that I thought for certain they were there to either recruit us for a neighbourhood church or sell us a burglar alarm system. (Door-to-door salesmen for those two pitches are the cheeriest I've ever seen.)

But no, they just wanted to know if we owned a national flag.

The flag proselytizers --- a man and a woman --- spoke to us in Mandarin, which isn't exactly a language I'm comfortable with for a heartfelt discussion on the whys and wherefores of flying the national flag, so it wound up going something like this:
THEM: Do you own a national flag?
ME: No.
THEM: Would you like to have one? (proffers a flag in a neatly wrapped plastic package; also some gesturing to indicate that it could be displayed from the common corridor in front of our apartment)
ME: You can hang it there if you like. (gestures at the common corridor area)
THEM: Uh ... but wouldn't you want to hang one?
ME: Not really. You can hang it there if you like --- but make sure you come back in September to take it down.
THEM: (after looking at each other and at the common corridor area uncertainly) Wouldn't you want one?
ME: Not really. I go to school, sing the Majulah everyday --- why do I need to fly a flag just for the month of August?
THEM: Ah ...
Actually, it went on for a little longer than that. I think I stumped them by repeating several times that they were really, truly welcome to fly the flag from the area outside our apartment --- far be it from me to get in the way of my apartment block winning the prize for having the most flags displayed on a HDB block --- but they would have to come back in September to take it down. I suppose they hadn't expected anyone to refuse a free flag while also giving them carte blanche to do what they liked in the common area, as long as they cleaned up after themselves.

To be fair to them, I didn't know that the government'd relaxed the "guidelines" for flying the flag, so that it can be flown all year round now without any penalty. It used to be that you were only allowed to fly it between late July and the end of August (National Day's on August 9), and every September, the newspapers would run the obligatory stories about innocent (ignorant?) citizens who'd forgotten to take down their flags after the stipulated National Day celebration period was over. I didn't want to be one of those statistics, stuck with an errant flag come September, especially if it wasn't my idea to put one up in the first place.

On the principle of it, it didn't quite make sense either. If I have Xmas or Chinese New Year decorations up, no one comes over after the twelve days of Xmas or fifteen days of Chinese New Year to tell me I can't have the decorations up anymore. I take them down when we're done celebrating or when I remember to; why should the national flag be any different?

But even knowing now that the flag can be flown throughout the year, I'm not keen to put one up just for National Day. First of all, the government told me to. Last week's press release states, "Singaporeans can now fly the Flag throughout the year, but they are encouraged to do so especially during National Day celebrations" (emphasis taken from the original). I do a lot of things the government tells me to, mostly because it'd be breaking the law if I didn't, but I'm only human too. The more you hound me to do something, the less likely I'm going to comply.

More importantly, I'm not sure that an enthusiasm for displaying the flag translates into any meaningful expression of love or loyalty to the country. I'm not putting the flag down or suggesting we go stomping on it for fun --- no, no. In fact, I kinda have a soft spot for it. It's a humble little thing, not bold and recognisable like the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack. The combination of red and white's so naff, you can't help feeling a little sorry for it. And if you were ever in school and had to sing "Five Stars Arising" (a "national song", I kid you not) without a trace of irony, you can probably manage a small grin when you see footage of the flag flapping loftily in the tropical breeze.

So the flag gets the job done, when it comes to representing the country at international events and state occasions. But is it my country? Do I love the state it represents? My Singapore's a funny sort of place, where litte kids rumble-tumble in the neighbourhood playground and crow "Happy Birthday" cacophonously for their playmates, grandparents cluck leisurely through stories, and the rest of us scamper helter-skelter to and from work around them. The red-and-white flag, on the other hand, is always associated with the state and the government: its cold, calculated policies, its relentless ordering of society, the many mantras that gradually assume the uncontestable quality of scripture, and worst of all, the labelling of people: citizen, PR, foreign talent, foreign worker, heartlander, cosmopolitan, stayer, quitter, patriot, peanut, mentor, servant, flag-waver --- flag-hater?

I don't hate the flag. I don't hate the government. But the affection I feel for the country I was born into and live in, is not measured in parades and flag displays and national songs. You can mock the parade on TV --- and come on, how can you not, when it takes itself so seriously and, as Nardac observes, is "the oriental version of a smurf-like Third Reich" --- and still love the country. You can leave the country for National Day for a short vacation, as thousands do every year, and still be absolutely certain why you return and what you're returning to.

We live here, all year round. We know what lies beneath the extravaganzas, the hyperbole and the drama. And we love the country despite all that. We don't need a flag to prove it.

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Bloggers.SG cheatsheet

This one's for Ondine, who was quietly reading Harry Potter at the bar instead of paying attention to the actual convention proceedings.

How to find out who's linking to your blog

What's with trackbacks?

  • Trackbacks are a way of linking your blog post to a related one elsewhere in the blogosphere. E.g. I wrote my take on Bloggers.SG and submitted it as a trackback to Tomorrow.sg's page on blogger con reports, so that people who read the Tomorrow page will see that mine is one of the many posts blogged about the same topic. (Again, this depends on the writer of the blog post to manually submit the trackback to the originating URL.)
  • To get to the trackback URL of a particular blog post, just click on the link that's named, self-evidentially, "trackback" and follow the instructions thereafter.
  • Blogger users like us don't get trackback pages and, it is said, tend to use Haloscan's free trackback service.

How do I find blog posts about Bloggers.SG, so that I can find stalk find all the exciting blogs that you've been messaging me about?

There are several ways you can do this:

Thus endeth the lesson.


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Bloggers.SG: the aftermath

Didn't sleep enough on Saturday night because of the blogger con.
Didn't sleep enough on Sunday night because of blogging about the blogger con.

Hence: I overslept today, springing out of bed 45 minutes later than I should have, which necessitated catching a cab to work. Miracle of miracles, there was actually a cab waiting at the line at the MRT station when I got there, even though empty cabs at rush hour are about as common as diamondback turtles in Singapore. An even greater miracle was that although the cab driver was waiting around to pick up an 8 am fare, his 8 am fare was geographically close enough to my workplace that he didn't mind driving me. (Yes, this is Singapore, where the cab drivers have the power, not the fare-paying passengers.)

On days like this, I'm grateful for the little things.

This is the second time this year I've been late --- the first wasn't that long ago, either --- and I confess that I was tempted to say screw it and take a sick day. Except for the part where I need to teach certain classes that I only see on Mondays. And where I have to be at a meeting at 4 pm.

Damn this Asian workholic conscience of mine.


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My very first blogger con

It occurred to me this morning that the oddest thing about being at the blogger con yesterday was probably us being introduced jointly as "Tym and Terz", which could easily have had people who didn't know better assuming that he's the Tim and I'm the Terse.

Not that I introduced myself thusly to anyone. I let other people do the talking, or I used my real name if I had to, without acknowledging ownership of any blog. (I never followed up on that brainchild of setting up a fake blog.)

In fact, the latter formula seemed to be the rule of thumb for the day. Most people whose hands I shook murmured their (ostensible) names, not blog URLs. Or maybe the game was to figure out the rest on your own.

No wonder the mainstream media were baffled. Half an hour before the event was scheduled to begin, I overheard a press photographer remarking querulously to his reporter colleague, "No banner outside, nobody at the door --- all so secretive." During the con, I saw another reporter repeatedly approach different conference organisers, entreating their assistance in unmasking a hitherto unidentified-in-real-life blogger, because she'd decided that was the angle for her story. In this morning's paper, the mainstream English press pronounced the event "one big YAWN".

How could they be expected to make sense of a non-profit event that doesn't need a banner because its main target audience gets the information directly from the organisers via the web, not the mainstream media or a banner hanging outside a community centre? How could they expect to interview, let alone unmask, a popular blogger, when the local blogosphere thrives on goodwill and (largely) mutual tolerance and respect, not just for the views expressed in each other's blogs but also for personal decisions to reveal/conceal personal information, including one's identity? How could they fathom the uncontrollable disorder of the backchannel chat running concurrently with the conference proceedings, the easygoing chitchat that burbled steadily in the background while the panellists spoke? How could it be that all these people with exciting things to say in the written medium, weren't putting up an equally striking song-and-dance for them in person?

It didn't occur to them that for some of us, we went to the con to hang out and say hi to friends, old and new. For others, it was the opportunity to see the more prominent bloggers in person, snap some pictures and exchange a few words or stories with them. For yet others, it was about learning a little more about the blogging itself. And, oh, what the hell, for still others, it was all about the free drinks.

Yeah, most people were pretty "polite" because, let's face it, if you're a schmuck, you get dealt pretty short shrift in the blogosphere, just like in the real world. And because there were kids running around and responsible parent-types in attendance, not to mention all the hard work the volunteer organisers had put in, everyone was on reasonably good behaviour.

None of which, I guess, makes for what passes as a sexy news story these days. It's a good thing we have blogs, so that other voices can be heard, other perspectives shared.

My story: I shook more hands than I expected to, drank more drinks that I should've (that's what happens when you're dry for several weeks and then try to keep up with a younger man), told and listened to more stories than I thought would've been possible at my virgin meetup, and tumbled into bed much, much later than I'd planned.

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was: "On the bright side, at least I didn't throw up in mr brown's car."

I also learned a couple of various nifty blogging tricks and, like any good student, will put what I've learned into practice immediately. Ergo: (invisible) Technorati tags and trackbacking this post to Tomorrow.sg.

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Just before bedtime

I suppose it's apropos that on the night before Singapore's first blogger con, I'm reading Eric Magnuson's trip down the internet memory lane, and now I finally understand the origins of that ineffable phrase, "All your base are belong to us."

Now the question is: Do I tote the iBook along to blog (and read blogs) from the conference? Or do I do it old school: take copious notes on a paper pad (I can't write fast enough on my PDA) and sort it all out later?

Edited to add (after midnight): My informer has just warned me that there may not be wifi access at the con. I think the iBook is staying home and a paper pad will have to do. Just don't mistake me for a reporter or nothin'.

Further edited to add (on the morning of the con): There is wifi. So bring your laptop if you'd like. Me --- I think I'm going to travel light for today.


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Hey you Harry Potter fans!

Dying to get your hands on a copy of The Half-Blood Prince? Dismayed that you're not one of the lucky sods whose neighbourhood grocery stores put it on sale by accident?

Look no further than to the intrepid Guardian for the Alternative Potter project, now accepting submissions for accounts of the death of Albus Dumbledore in the style of another author.

Among the authors covered: Lemony Snicket, Frank Miller's Sin City, Helen Fielding, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Jane Austen, and my personal favourite (inspired, no doubt, by yesterday's conversation), Enid Blyton.

Read 'em and weep.

(Link via Boing Boing.)


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It's amazing what the nose can do

The really nice thing about Project Shop Cafe is that once you enter in its glass-walled space, it doesn't smell like you're in Singapore anymore. I'm not sure if it's the dark wooden floorboards, the attentive stalks of lemongrass in the vase on each table, the blend of East-West spices wafting over from the kitchen, or a combination of all three --- but it just doesn't smell local.

I can't say what it smells like, either, though my brain tried the darnedest to figure it out during dinner last night. For all I know, it could be the air freshener that they use. That was sufficient recently to trigger my olfactory memory at one of the shopping malls --- my eyes told me I was in Singapore, my brain was convinced I'd been magicked to Woodfield Mall, Illinois.

Even the smell of jet fuel the other night instantly catapulted me elsewhere. As I stepped off the Skytrain at Terminal 2, the signature scent of kerosene stole in between the cracks, and for a splitsecond, I thought I'd just stepped off a plane in North America, at the start of a sparkling new adventure.

(I suppose I could've imagined a sparkling new adventure in any country with an international airport, but most of my flights have been to/from North America, so therein lies the bias.)

Back at Project Shop Cafe last night, my friend EH was also transported elsewhere: she was convinced that the place was the spitting image of a cafe that she'd frequented in Nepal in 1992. Her memories were purely visual: the blackboard scrawled with daily specials, the abnormally tall cake slices waiting patiently under clear glass cake covers, the glass-bottled drinks ranged harmonically on the shelves over the kitchen counter. The likeness was so strong that she spent half the evening reminiscing about all the other cafes she'd visited in Nepal.

Project Shop Cafe does not, in fact, serve Nepalese food, but they have a number of Asian fusiony numbers that are a treat for the tastebuds. We didn't linger for dessert, but that big honking piece of chocolate cake will be mine the next time I'm there.


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A meeting of minds

I feel extremely psychic when, without prior planning, the husband and I SMS each other for the first time today at exactly the same moment.




Growing up with Enid Blyton

My colleague and I got to talking about Harry Potter today, which segued naturally into memories of Enid Blyton. After the usual back-and-forth about whether Malory Towers and The Twins at St. Clare were superior reading to The Famous Five (he said so; I profess a complete lack of interest in any of the boarding school stories), he pointed out the top three things in Enid Blyton books that mystified him as a child:
  • What's lacrosse?
  • What's a scone?
  • What does it feel like to sleep on heather?
I too wondered about the heather, but for me, the really big mystery was: what's ginger beer? And it wasn't so easy to come by in Singapore in the '80s, so despite my mother's best efforts and memories of it from her childhood, it wasn't till I was way past my Enid Blyton-reading years that I finally got to taste it. I think I still drink it mostly out of sentimental fancy than for the actual taste.

However, despite my colleague having studied in England and my having tramped through Lake District country on my own, neither of us have ever slept on heather. That mystery remains.


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What are we going to do now?

Eight years ago, I showed up for my first day at the National Institute of Education (the putative teachers' college in Singapore). Jetlagged, grumpy and filled with a general animus towards towards everyone and everything Singaporean, I spent most of the first six months frantically calculating how much I could save of each month's salary towards paying off the scholarship bond. The answer, given my profligate tendencies and the demands of filial piety (i.e. the distinctly Asian expectation that children give money to their parents after they start working): not much. Eventually, after a lot of adolescent soul-wringing and drama, I tossed out the scheme as completely impracticable.

My mother always says that it wasn't till after I took a trip to the US at the end of that first six months, to see the then-boyfriend and college friends, that I settled down. To me, it wasn't a farewell trip, it wasn't a breakup trip, but maybe what I needed was to see that the people I'd known and loved in college were moving on with their lives, for me to realise that I should do the same. Quit whining, accept the period of indenture, and get on with it. Besides, eight years is a bloody long time to be grumpy.

I made friends, settled down, got married, bought a place to live and a car, worked reasonably hard at my job, got over all the things Singapore doesn't have, appreciated anew the things it does (chief among them: being able to get good food at all hours, especially Teochew moi (porridge) with pigs' intestines and salted eggs), let my accent go and gave up on the government.

What didn't change: I kept my eyes fixed on the date in 2005 when the scholarship bond would expire and talked about plans for life thereafter. Every now and then, someone would ask me how much longer I had to go, and the precise answer (okay, rounded to the nearest month) was never difficult to give. Once I hit my late twenties, I knew the countdown more readily than I knew my age. Year by year, it ticked off --- slowly, but surely. Meanwhile, I laughed in the face of people who asked me why I wasn't applying for a government postgraduate scholarship. Sign another five years of my life away to another scholarship bond? As if eight years hasn't been enough.

I can't say I didn't get anything out of it. If nothing else, it paid for four years in the US, not a moment of which I regret in the least. (Okay, there were the weird boyfriends sophomore year, but I blame that on my own ineptitude. And I'm embarrassed, but not regretful.) And no one held a gun to my head and made me sign away these eight years on the dotted line. For the money and the opportunities, I'm grateful. And I've paid in kind for every damn cent of it.

Hardly anyone ever asks me why I took the scholarship in the first place. Perhaps, to most Singaporeans, the rationale is self-evident: prestige, glorious career, secure employment, serving the nation.

Yadda yadda.


No one asks whether nineteen-year-olds are in the right state of mind to make a legally binding decision about the next twelve years of their lives. No one tells you about the opportunities that wait just around the corner, or that are even right there before you, if you'd only open your eyes and see, open your heart and let yourself find what you really want to do with your life.

For the few that ask, I tell them that taking the scholarship and its concomitant bond "seemed like a good idea at the time." I'm not being glib; it was a good idea at the time. It paid for school, teaching was something I thought I could do, way better than an office job anyway. Who'd've thought so much would change in four years?

Of course, things have changed in these eight years too. When I looked ahead to this day, I used to imagine the triumphant flourish of a resignation letter, the packing up for graduate school, the exit into sunshiney liberation. Today, it turns out to be a day like any other: I woke up, got to work on time, did some work, went to class, and will meet friends for dinner tonight. I'm not resigning. Grad school seems an increasing impossibility given my inability to find anything that interests me enough to justify putting down huge wads of cash for it.

But hey, the sun is out.

It's been such a long day in coming, that a person can't help but get a little choked up over it. And it's oddly invigorating to know that from today, I can quit my job, just like any other salaried employee. I may not choose to exercise that right for months or even years to come, but the possibility is there --- just as other possibilities for work, dreams, passion, life are suddenly a lot more within reach than they were yesterday.

My mother's a funny lady. She asked me last week if the scholarship board would give me a letter or something, to certify that I had completed my bond. I chuckled and said I didn't think so; from what I'd heard, the bond lapses without fanfare and they don't care how long you "stay in service", as long as you don't owe them anything when you decide to quit.

So I guess this is me certifying myself bond-free. From here on out, it's all up to me.

This last bit is just for those Buffy fans that read my blog. I don't usually quote the villains, but this one from Season Three seems particularly apt:
"Sunnydale owes you a debt. It will be repaid. Yessir, we'll mark that invoice paid in full."
--- The Mayor, "Graduation Day Part 1", Buffy the Vampire Slayer


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The eating list

Stellou is back in town, which means it's time to activate the list of places she wanted to eat at, which we compiled over at her blog, oh, some time way back in March.

For ease of reference, here's the list (in the order in which the various requests popped up on her blog and in subsequent blog exchanges):
  • roti prata at Casuarina Curry Substituted with prata at Upper Bukit Timah Road --- eaten on 17 July
  • Geylang/Chinatown frog porridge
  • mangosteens
  • nasi padang --- the original plan was River Valley but now I'm thinking Liang Seah Street for variety
  • carrot cake and soy bean milk --- eaten on 21 July
  • Bumbu
  • Godzillas at Upper Bukit Timah Road --- drunk on 17 July
  • hor fun wet style (eeyur!) at Ah Teng's Cafe at Raffles Hotel
  • beef kway teow soup at East Coast Park Lagoon hawker centre
  • bak chor mee at Block 85 Bedok North Road hawker centre
She's been in town since Thursday and we've only done Toast so far, which is in fact not on the list. We have only until the end of the month to make this happen. Will we succeed?


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My fridge is 80% chocolate

Things have definitely swung towards a sugar majority since I last took stock of what was in our fridge.

Last Sunday, we acquired 40+ Oh Henry! chocolate peanut butter bars, airflown from Canada by my earnest mother. On top of that, she also slipped us a Cadbury's peanut butter chocolate bar, which she'd picked up as a standby consolation prize in case she couldn't find the Oh Henry! bars.

The second significant addition was from an ex-colleague who now lives in Brisbane: a few days ago, she presented me with a pack of Droste bittersweet chocolate pastilles, which are in fact made in Holland.

And today, the lovely bowb brought me a box of Anthon Berg chocolate-covered marizpan, airflown not from Denmark but from Sydney, and also a new treat for the tastebuds, Haigh's dark chocolate-covered marzipan bars, which are indeed made-in-Australia. I just had one of the Haigh's bars and oh my, they've got the sugar balance just right because I ate the entire thing lickety-split without so much as needing a sip of water in between bites.

All this, in addition to the chocolate truffles, chocolate raisins and half of the Cadbury's fruit-and-nut bar mentioned in my earlier blog post.

I'm not sure why the Aussies seem to have the best selection of European chocolate delights in their stores, but I'm grateful for their availability and my friends' largesse.

Chocolate overload party, anyone?



Fortress Raffles City

We all knew that with the International Olympic Committee in town, Raffles City and its environs would turn into a high-security zone with the power to snarl traffic in the entire downtown area and confound regular folks' plans to hang out at its classy food and drink establishments. What I didn't know was that I would voluntarily put myself right in the middle of that high-security area not once, but several times during the little security fiesta. Just call me once, twice, three times a doofus, I guess.

I suppose the vague upside to this is that I've had the opportunity to see the area metamorphose from a typical shopping district into a fortress on par with the American embassy. As of Friday night a week ago, things were still pretty humdrum and I could crack jokes about finding a loophole in the security net as Ondine and I waltzed through the hotels to use the restrooms. (Yeah, we're shameless that way.) By Tuesday night, everything was full steam ahead. Conspicuously anonymous concrete blocks had mushroomed at the four traffic light corners, neatly impeding pedestrians approaching the complex from any direction, but I suppose more importantly, impeding any vehicles that might decide to take the sidewalk route into the buildings. Later, to get into the hotel proper, my ex-colleagues and I had to walk through an X-ray scanner and send our bags through a separate scanner, just like at the airport. By last night, the Gurkhas and policemen patrolling in and outside the shopping centre had multiplied at least threefold to the casual observer's eye, and a Gurkha watched me darkly as I fumbled with my bag while entering the ATM lobby.

(Maybe I should stop carrying my shapeless black satchel until the IOC's left town. It looks a helluva lot more suspicious than the bright orange backpack featured in the MRT's "report any suspicious objects" advertisement.)

Meanwhile, the roads in the area were even messier than they'd been earlier in the week. Part of it was Friday nigh traffic, but the fact that the police had cordoned off an extra lane ouside each possible hotel vehicle entrance or dropoff point didn't help, either. I guess somewhere in the security equation, it worked out that having that extra one lane's distance from the building was an appropriate tightening of security measures after what happened in London.

At the zebra crossing from the Swissotel Stamford towards the Civilian War Memorial, I had to wait docilely instead of authoritatively charging across as usual, because the policemen were directing traffic waiting to cross the funky vehicle-barrier devices positioned just beside the crossing. The device's default position seems to be a raised somewhat spiked metal barrier, which I assume is strong enough to halt or at least seriously shred the undercarriage of any vehicle charging at it, and the barrier can be lowered so that one vehicle at a time can be checked and pass over it safely. It doesn't exactly look threatening, more bulky and self-important, the kind to waggle its proverbial finger at aspiring terrorists, as if to say, "You ain't making it past me, mister."

A large tour bus had just pulled up, and it crossed my mind to wait and see how the policemen were gonna scan the undercarriage of something that honking huge. But that's when the nice young policeman on my side of the zebra crossing waved me on, so I thought I'd better not linger suspiciously. I did say "thank you" to both him and his counterpart on the other side of the zebra crossing. I figured they were having a rough enough week, without us local busybodies making things more ma fan (troublesome).

The IOC went home yesterday, putting paid to the entire navel-gazing circus. And that was just for the party where they decide where to host the Olympics. Can you imagine the security kerfuffle for the Games themselves? (Lucky Paris. New Yorkers didn't want it either.)




That wily world wide web

We're seeing Sin City tonight. Yeah, it's finally opening in Singapore, almost 3½ months after it opened in the US. Our censors took that long to figure out that they could rate it R21 without any cuts, without posing a danger to the fabric of our society.

To get even more psyched for the film, I thought I'd take another look at the movie trailer. Google threw up the movie's IMDB webpage as the first link, so I skimmed down to click on the second link, the apparently aptly-named sincity dot com, and clicked on it ---

--- Without it ever crossing my mind that sincity dot com could be something else, y'know, like, oh, a pornography website.

Bad internet! Lulling me into clicking on the most obvious link! Though I'm sure I'm not the first bewildered web wanderer to stumble onto that site by accident.

Anyway, the correct link is at the Apple website here.




My ex-boyfriend is now a turtle farmer

Nothing like having that piece of news greet you via email, first thing in the morning, to make you go, "Whuh ... ?"

No, really, he is a turtle farmer. And not any old turtles, certanly not the timid little terrapins I used to keep as a kid (do kids still do that anymore?), but diamondback turtles. Apparently, you can make a decent living off that where he is.

Originally uploaded by Tym; taken by Adam.

I suppose in a country as big as the US, anything is possible. And his aunt and uncle were buffalo farmers (again, not kidding, I have pictures to prove it), so it's possible husbandry runs in the genes.

If anyone wants diamondback turtles from the US, let me know.



A verbal chameleon

I was brought to another forceful realisation yesterday about how much my accent is capable of changing. I met a Singaporean who was back from the US, with an almost flawless American accent, and suddenly I felt like a hopelessly shabby speaker in comparison. I used to "Oh, really?" and "Awesome!" and "Cool!" with the best of them. Now I'm like, "Wah lau eh..."

But the environmental adaptation swings both ways. When I hang out with people who speak a slightly different brand of Singlish from what I grew up with, their linguistic idiosyncrasies start creeping into my conversations. Before this year, I'm pretty sure I never used sial, not even when I had a student six years ago who liberally punctuated his casual exclamation with that word (ampulets, remember him?). Thanks to Stellou (woman, call me already or at least email me your local cell number once you have it), I now flick off the cheh with panache and punch through with repeated, "And then?"s as well. (Stellou, nobody gets that reference except you and me. Bloody hell, now I'm tainted by your proclivity for parenthetical comments again.) I firmly blame Terz for the fact that I use "right" so often to express assent. And I say "no worries" all the time, even though it's apparently a distinctly Aussie turn of phrase and I haven't been Down Under since 1989.

Even in SMS I find that I gradually adopt the syntax, register and habits of the people I correspond with. If people use more Singlish, I respond in kind. Casey rarely punctuates his messages to me, so I'm a little lax with the punctuation when I SMS him --- even though the grammar cop in me gets really annoyed when that happens. Another friend tends towards punctuating his sentences with "ha ha" and I find myself reciprocating, using the phrase in lieu of the upper case U, umlaut (Ü) that's otherwise my default smiley symbol in SMS. Even the fact that I spell everything in full and construct grammatically sound sentences in SMS can be attributed to G-man, who inducted me into SMSing when I got my first cellphone. G-man and I can compose entire novellas through SMS, if we have to.

So much for the written/touch-typed word. Where does my accent lie? When I was in the US, people thought I sounded British. In the UK, they thought I was American. I've never had any trouble passing as local in Singapore, as opposed to the friend who encountered a cab driver who insisted, "You're not local!" because he had a not-very-Singlish (while still Singaporean) accent.

And then there's the voice in my head --- you know, the voice you think in. That one's Singlish-free, prone to Americanisms like "like", frightfully grammatical, except when it doesn't complete its sentences, but also completely accent-free. It doesn't drawl, it doesn't slouch, it articulates each word one by one. I may not say it like I think it, depending on the environment in which I'm saying it, but the original thought lingers, in the hum of its pure neutrality.

Weird, huh?


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Where not to eat in Singapore: Cafe Cartel

I realise that many of the Singaporean blogs I read wax lyrical about food, as do I from time to time, so I thought it was time for a new series on where not to eat: places with bad food, unforgivable prices, exercrable service, hopeless ambience, or a combination of all these.

Then I procrastinated.

Congratulations, Cafe Cartel. You made my dinner experience last night so wretched that it jolted me out of my limbo and into writing this inaugural entry in the series.

* * *

I should begin by declaiming that I used to like the food at Cafe Cartel when they first opened. Terz and I were regular patrons of the Siglap outlet in its early days. It was 1998 and the great mushrooming of cafes all over Singapore was just beginning. The menu wasn't as varied as it is today, but what it served, it served well and we ate it contentedly.

I don't recall exactly when things changed, but at some point a few years after, we had a truly awful experience at that same outlet. His pasta came with a soupy substance masquerading as a cream sauce and we swore thereafter not to eat there.

I've broken that promise five times. Sometimes it wasn't my choice where to eat. Other times, I wasn't eating, warned the people who were, and listened to their complaints pile up as the meal wore on. Once, just once, they served up a massive sundae that was everything a massive sundae should be. So that's at least one thing they can do right.

Last night, at the Raffles City outlet, I crossed the rubicon.

Oh, all right, I suppose last night was my fault. I didn't protest when my friends wanted to eat there, mostly because I used to work with them and now I see them less often and I didn't want to make a fuss. I didn't heed last week's warning, when Ondine waited fifteen minutes for them to pack up her leftover cake and eventually had to stand right there at the counter beside her neglected cake before someone scared up a box for her.

So last night, we went inside and as usual, alarm bells went off in my head as soon as I stepped inside. They've deliberately designed the interior of the outlet to pack in as many tables as possible, to the extent that there's only enough space between each chair for someone of an anime heroine's proportions to slip through. I'm a small girl, but the hair's breadth between the backs of each chair made me feel like I was the size of Mr Snuffleupagus.

This, in a cafe where the trademark is self-service: customers scribble their orders down on an order pad, take it up to the cashier to ring it up, and serve themselves water, bread and condiments. And each cup provided for water is about as large as what you get at the dentist's, i.e. it requires refilling after two mouthfuls. If you're going to make me roll over and fetch my own food, the least you could do is give me enough space to walk up to the counter without twitching my butt into other diners' backs.

The food order itself caused a little confusion. I'd ordered a roast chicken sandwich, which the menu states includes egg (but doesn't say 'egg mayo'), and I'd written "no mayo" on my order. My friend who took the order up to the cashier had to flag me over to clarify it because apparently they had run out of egg mayo and would I be all right if they substituted it with just egg? At which point I blinked uncomprehendingly at the cashier and said, "It's egg, right? And I said no mayo?" She assented. I wanted to ask her how that would be any different from what I'd actually ordered, but it was early in the evening yet, so I simply nodded and let her process the order.

But no, they were out of shitake mushrooms as well, which means my friend's mushroom pasta would only have button and canned mushrooms in it. (Who the hell admits on the menu that they're serving canned food anyway?) And was she okay with that? Because she is a much nicer girl than me, she was.

The other two orders were processed and served without incident. When the mushroom pasta showed up, the sauce was on the watery side, but my friend ate it anyway. But it was my sandwich --- a freaking sandwich that doesn't require any cooking beyond toasting the bread --- that proved to be the real challenge.

After a reasonable wait, a manager type pops by to inform me nicely that, doh!, they burned the sandwich, so they were making a new one for me. I squinted, but (again) didn't kick up a fuss.

Many minutes later, by which point my friends were more than halfway through their meals, I got up and pointed out to the first waitstaff I encountered that I'd been waiting a really long time and could she check it please? Of course she couldn't without the receipt, so we had to weave and squeeze our way back to my table (see above on table crammage situation), where my friend had to scrounge the receipt out of her bag. By the time I handed it over to the waitstaff --- who was, to her credit, indefatigably polite throughout all this --- my sandwich had serendipitously appeared in the hands of the manager type and was about to land on my table.

I was hungry. I sat down. I took a bite.

It had mayo in it.

Apparently, the Cafe Cartel SOP for re-making a food item is: Make the food in as much as time as it would take if it were a new order. Ignore the original order slip and any special instructions that it might have. Oh, and be a doll --- try not to screw things up again, or you'll have to start over from the first step.

I thought about making a fuss, especially since the mayo didn't taste exactly fabulous, but hunger won out and I ate it. And it was a good sandwich, not as hearty as Seah Street Deli's, but it would've passed the test --- had it not been excruciatingly late and made so carelessly.

The moral of the story: Only go to Cafe Cartel if you're eating ice cream, which is commercially produced by an external supplier and can't be screwed up. Eat all other prepared foods at your own risk. I will never eat there again --- and this time I mean it.


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I am not a fangirl

At 4 pm, when I scoped out the situation for friends who were coming later, the line had reached the limit inside Borders and had spilled out into the Wheelock Place lobby, circling neatly halfway around the glass atrium to the doors nearest the Orchard/Scotts Road intersection.

At 6:15 pm (the signing began at 6 pm), when I was done with coffee, the line had closed the circle of the glass atrium and shot straight out beside the exterior wall of Borders to the bistro's al fresco area at the back of the building. That's where Wahj joined the line.

At 6:45 pm, Wahj hadn't moved from his original spot in the line --- although by 7 pm, he'd abruptly advanced 5 metres. That's when I left the scene.

Like I told my colleague who asked me excitedly yesterday if I was going to hit the Kinokuniya/library@orchard signings, I love Gaiman's work and I love reading his blog, but I don't really feel the need to have his signature on any of the books I own. In fact, I feel like reading his blog's already given me more of a window into his thinking and creative process than he owes his readers.

And even if I were to meet him, I've only ever read Neverwhere, Coraline and American Gods, which to my mind doesn't quite qualify me to ask him any meaningful questions. And if I don't say anything meaningful to him when I meet him, even if it's for all the 10 seconds that he's scrawling over my book, I'll just spend the rest of the day facepalming at all the things I should've said.

(Now you know why my domain name is toomanythoughts.)

So even when I received the kind offer to cut in line from a friend who'd been waiting since 4 pm, I graciously declined because that wouldn't be right and I just didn't want it that much.

The real perk about hanging out at the Neil Gaiman book signing, though, is that the place itself immediately coalesces a ley line of its own that draws the universe together. To wit: the 4 pm recce turned into an impromptu reunion with former students from four years ago, two of whom were waiting in line and one who just happened to be passing by. At the 6:15 pm drop-in, I ran into the friend who offered to let me cut in. (I don't see the guy for a year, and he's become a father. PS: His kid's named after a Gaiman character) When Wahj showed up later, he was immediately greeted by two former students and later saw another old friend pass by. After we'd been waiting for a while, another mutual acquaintance that we haven't seen in at least five years strolled by, and he'd been out of the country so he didn't even know what the line was for.

So even though I didn't wait to get a single book signed, it felt like everything came together just as it should've. And seeing Mr Gaiman himself in person --- he's rather taller than I expected, but all I've seen of him are his book photos --- and hearing him give meticulous but polite instructions on how the signing would be run, was quite enough to send me home feeling like it was an evening well-spent.

Maybe if I finish a few more books before his next signing, I'll muster up the courage to wait in line and to say something witty-but-not-pretentious the next time he's in town.

Edited to add:
Wahj's version of his wait is much more poetic.


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Too much stuff!

Today is one of those days when I wish I still had a car.

I'm trying to meet a friend this afternoon for coffee. Depending on how his schedule pans out, we might meet in town --- which would put me close enough to Borders that I could pop in for the Neil Gaiman talk and signing --- or it might be somewhere close to work --- which would put me close enough to East Coast Park for my middle-of-the-week run.

None of this uncertainty is my friend's fault. We've been trying to meet for weeks, and he's got a crazy schedule while I have a relatively more flexible one. I'll be happy if we're able to meet at all.

Which means that in addition to all the usual crap I tote around, I'm also carrying:
  • A hardcover copy of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, in the event that I go for the signing;
  • My running gear and shoes, in the event that coffee is cancelled or obtained somewhere near work;
  • Elaine Showalter's Inventing Herself, which I'm currently in the middle of and which I should have time to read, wherever we end up going for coffee.

If we still had a car, I could toss all this into the trunk, no problem. Instead, I've got one large satchel, one paper bag for the Gaiman (so that it doesn't get dented, as it likely would be in the satchel) and one shoe bag for the running shoes.


Updated as at 10:50 am:
Coffee has been confirmed at Wheelock Place, so it looks like the gods want me at the Gaiman signing after all.