Teachers' Day

At some point after dawn, Terz turns to me and goes, "Don't you have to get up for school?" To which I happily (yes, even in my sleepiness) reply, "No, it's Teachers' Day." And then we go right back to sleep again.

At 9:45 am, I got up. A short while later, over blogs and email, we had champagne truffle mooncakes. Absolutely divine, absolutely decadent.

While the mooncakes were not a gift from my students, this is an appropriate moment to point out that the best gifts you can give your teacher are a personalised message --- be it in the form of an SMS, card, handwritten note or email --- and edible goods. Forget the stuffed toys, mugs, doodads and knick-knacks; don't wrack your head over what your teacher would like unless you know his/her taste well (e.g. the class that got me nothing but Buffy and Powerpuff Girls swag a few years ago scored rather highly in that respect). We don't need stuff, but a sincere thank-you is always welcome and, oh, if you insist, a little tasty treat won't be out of place either.

And speaking of tasty treats, I'm now off to lunch, since my grandfather's birthday is also 1 September and there will be some buffet delights in his honour.


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An evening at the airport

One of the charming and unexpected perks of living in the easternmost parts of Singapore is that we're so near to the airport, it seems like a perfectly acceptable suggestion when Little Miss Drinkalot messages to say let's go there to grab some Popeye's Fried Chicken tonight.

If not for this little expedition,we would not have known that parking at the outdoor, tree-lined parking lot at Terminal 1 costs $5 for 2½ hours. That works out to $2 per hour, people, during the airport's dead zone, when most of the departure check-in counters are unattended or passenger-free and half of the airport's cheap food outlets start closing for the night. $2 per hour --- what they charge for parking downtown in the day, when parking lots are hard to come by. Hmph, as Ondine would say (and no doubt did, when their car rang up similar charges).

Cowboy Caleb wanted to know why Popeye's didn't validate our parking so that we wouldn't have to pay for it. Uh, this isn't a wedding dinner in a hotel, boy. And most restaurants in town don't validate parking stubs anymore, either.

On our way out, we also learned that the reason you can't get taxis in Singapore at night is that they're all lined up outside the airport. As of 12:05 am, the line of cabs stretched from Terminal 1, down East Coast Parkway, all the way to the first Pan Island Expressway exit 280 metres away. 280 metres worth of empty cabs, waiting patiently for the line to inch forward so that they could earn a fare that they could multiply 1½ times (12:00-6:00 am surcharge) and tack on a $3 airport surcharge to.

Ladies and gentlemen, your world-class transportation system at work.

Tonight's dinner (supper?) conversation confirmed that Cowboy Caleb is not a dentist, nor am I an anatomy specialist, but LMD really knows her manicures. Four out of five people at the table had sore throats, but all of us were stuffing themselves with fried chicken, fries and biscuits anyway. Popeye's was as good as it's supposed to be. Only in Singapore, I think you will find, do people make the trek halfway across the island --- as in the case of Ondine and Packrat --- for fried chicken. It ain't The Chicken Shack, which was a stone's throw from where I lived one year in Evanston, but it's pretty darned good. Popeye's also has tastier coleslaw than the Kentucky Fried Chicken variety.

Terz is jealous that we did this while he was out of town, so maybe we will do Popeye's redux tomorrow?


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Yet another shameless appeal for information

The theme for the staff dinner on Tuesday night is "Under the Sea".

I do not naturally resemble any species of sea creature.

I do not wish to spend $50-60 on renting a costume.

Any suggestions as to what getup I should go in? Failing which the current suggestion on the table is that I go as The Little Mermaid During Her Human Phase.

PS: Suggestions that I drink two glasses of wine before dinner and say that I'm going as the red crab who sings "Under the Sea" in The Little Mermaid will not be entertained.

Who am I?

I. (Ex-)Teacher

When people who know I'm a teacher find out that I go clubbing or drinking, the immediate question on their minds is, "But aren't you afraid your students will see you?" To which my default response has always been, "Never ran into them before."* The question comes up particularly often when I'm at Zouk, because I guess that's where a lot of kiddies go.

Well, I won't be able to say that anymore. On Friday night, I ran into not one --- not two --- but three ex-students.

On the bright side, I only made eye contact and conversation with one of them.

The first one materialised when we were in the line outside Zouk to get into the Very Xotic party. I ducked for cover immediately, turning to Terz with fierce instructions to warn me if the kid got too close. This wasn't a kid I wanted to make small talk with, mostly because he never did anything in class except space out in his seat.

The second materialised outside Phuture. Again, I avoided eye contact, but I was alone, so there was no husband or friend to hide behind. Although this kid hadn't been the same spaced-out wastrel as the first, I still didn't have anything to say to him and it was too late in the night --- and way past too many vodka drinks --- to attempt small talk. Fortunately, it was dark enough for me to pull off another duck-and-cover move.

Third time's the charm, I guess, especially since he actually came right up to me to ask if my friends and I were in the line at the bar for drinks. I said no, and then I had to pull that awful line, "You don't recognise me, do you?" Cue vaguely awkward moment, made less awkward by loud dance music and generous amounts of alcohol, that mercifully segued to a brief and chatty, "So how are you? What are you doing now? I hear you're good? Yeah, I just had dinner with her last week." And so on, and so forth. I wouldn't've minded chatting with him longer, except that the music was really loud, he was with his friends and I was with mine, and it was all getting a little surreal. So I got my drinks, we said our goodbyes, and I walked away, trying not to feel all weirded out.

Is this going to haunt me forever? To feel like something's off whenever my worlds collide --- teacher/student metamorphosed without my engineering into a situation of fellow imbibers or, worse, lackey/boss? (By the way, in this scenario, I'm the lackey.)

* This is also typically followed by the retort, "So what if they see me? It's not like I'm drinking in the classroom."

II. Wife

I only have Burger King once in a blue moon, when I'm craving the taste of a Whopper Junior or when we're at the airport (because until recently, there wasn't any decent non-hawker food at the airport for non-passengers except for Burger King --- if that counts as decent).

However, as we were recently at the airport and there again on Saturday for Terz's flight to Thailand, this means that I've had Burger King twice in a month. Gotta put a stop to that (the excessive BK, not the vacation or overseas assignment).

How this is wifely is that if we need a meal before a flight, we do Burger King. That's just it. Of course, later there's the customary hug-and-kiss-and-remember-to-buy-me-cheap-clothes-if-you-have-time routine at the departure doors.

III. (Ex-)Teacher Redux

After Burger King, I went on to my second lunch (why, yes, now that you ask, I am a hobbit) with another ex-student. Okay, technically, like Agagooga, not a student whom I taught per se, but certainly one whose reputation preceded him into the staff room. A good conversation, except that I can't tell you what we talked about, or I'd have to kill you.

By the way, this new restaurant The Simple Life at Wheelock Place? Nosso good. Local hawker fare served at restaurant prices, which I wouldn't mind if it served fabulous food. But my nasi lemak wasn't lemak (coconut-flavoured) enough, nor the deep-fried chicken and fish (did I mention I was a hobbit?) with the right spicy flavouring to justify their inclusion in the signature Malay dish. However, the barley drinks were quite, quite thick and not too sweet --- precisely that homemade balance that's so hard to find in restaurants or coffeeshops.

IV. Helper-who-tries-not-to-screw-up (as opposed to a teacher, who is professionally qualified as a help-who-tries-not-to-screw-up)

Miyagi needed help. I needed to stop sitting on my butt in a solipsistic meditation on the blogsophere. mr brown needed to take videos to justify his mad skillz, yo. Plenty of organised chaos ensued, though none of us directly caused it. I was mostly trying to sort through the organised chaos in my head: "How do I talk to little kids? How do I talk to little kids with special needs? How come when I say, 'form a choo-choo-train', it doesn't have the same excited, delightful ring as when Miyagi says it?"

I am reminded that I don't have an instinct for children. I am reminded that children have way more energy than adults. I am accused, having fallen a little silent during dinner afterwards, of having "no stamina" again. Cheh!

Anyone else who wants to volunteer, the next session is in 2 weeks' time, i.e. Saturday, September 10. Let Miyagi know if you're able to lend a hand. I'm sure volunteers who can, unlike me, lift a weight greater than a four-year-old child will be appreciated.

V. Colleague

I accompanied a colleague to Book Cafe today. He had the teacher's perennial bane, marking; I had some work to finish.

Of course, that was just an excuse for me to be reading things other than what I was supposed to be reading for work. There was the quintessential I-S, the Ikea catalogue for 2005 (meh, as expected), some expat magazine (which yielded the following useful links for travelling in Tasmania: Bay of Fires Walk, Craclair Tours, Tasmanian Expeditions, Tiger Trails Eco Adventures, Par-Avion Wilderness Tours and Intrepid Travel), the Sunday Times' weekend supplement which grabbed my attention with a cover of pellucid-eyed Elijah Wood for its "Kicking the Hobbit" story and last week's weekly edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. I go to Book Cafe, really, for the free wi-fi and excellent iced lime green tea, but when on days when I'm too lazy to lug the laptop along, free magazines/books and a tasty iced orange tea will do just as well.

VI. Ditz

The dead toenail I've been nursing since June is finally coming off, but I'm loath to pull it off because (a) it would surely hurt, wouldn't it? (b) it would leave an unpainted gap in the sequence of toes. Little Miss Drinkalot assures me that dead toenails don't need extra protection or babying, but this is my first one ever and I'm not ready to take the risk. In fact, I'm thinking about taping a band-aid around it to keep it on.

Oh, be quiet with the mocking laughter already.

VII. Foodie

Restaurants to try with Terz before the end of the year:

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The last week

I suppose it's because I was trying very hard not to be ill, but I didn't notice until two days ago that I was down to my last week of formal teaching for the year. As of next Monday, my students sit for examinations. When those are over, I'll have about two weeks to review their examination work and patch up any other gaps in what they need to know for the subjects I teach, then they'll be left to their own studious devices in the run-up to the final, final examinations.

So how did this last week go?

On Monday, I got to teach an extract from Othello that finally drove home to me what an excellent play it is. Of Shakespeare's four major tragedies, I've always been indifferent to it; in order of preference, I'd rank them King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth and finally poor Othello. My usual bias applies: Othello seems to lack a strong female character, someone I could give a damn about besides the Man With the Tragic Flaw. And studying the play in school and university never seemed to quite illuminate why it was so damn beautiful.

Working through an extract for Monday's class did the trick. By itself, the extract's an amazing scene (from Othello V.ii, beginning with Emilia's brilliant, "You told a lie, an odious, damned lie" and ending with her being stabbed by Iago), but it also works because of everything that's come before it. So I'm going to give the play another chance and move it to the top of my reading list.

On Tuesday, I was reminded that it's always good when you can pull out a quotation from Yoda for teaching purposes. To teach the basics of syntax, the following quotation is extremely handy: "When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not." (My memory didn't get it verbatim, but the point was clear.)

On Wednesday, I taught through a sore throat, drank copious amounts of warm water, and felt very virtuous. But only after sleeping away most of the afternoon to restore my spirits.

On Thursday, I carried many heavy books (20, A4-sized, 110 pages) to class and only one student of all the others I passed offered to help me with it. Kids nowsadays.

On Thursday night, BoKo and I clinked glasses to drink to the next day being the last day of proper teaching.

And today, Friday, I was fiddling with my rings as usual while talking to the class, and the wedding ring slipped clean off my thumb (where it was being played with, not where I usually wear it) and bounced a couple of rows back. Fortunately, it was readily retrieved, but not before I made an obligatory crack about how it was a ring I really shouldn't lose, and received the obligatory mild chuckle from the class. Ah, teaching.

But the real high point of the week came at the end of this morning's class. Class was over, I was gathering up my things and talking to a couple of students, when the entire back row stood up in unison and exited in a neat row out the back door, away from the main staircase. I looked at the remaining students in the front row, who told me that the next class was Maths. "So they came for my GP class, but they're skipping Maths?" They nodded.

And then I beamed.

Because this is a science class, which traditionally is not a fan of GP but would probably be a fan of Maths.

(Okay, so maybe they're so good at Maths that they don't need any extra help before the exams, but they need a little boost for their GP. I don't care. They were there, they picked me over Maths. Seriously, how often does that happen?)


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Getting an education

In a morning's worth of reading, I have learned that Oxford may have to set a minimum age for the students it accepts (thanks to Britain's new Children Act), a new high school in Arizona has abandoned textbooks for iBooks, identifying and analysing bullshit is serious business, academics are working hard to develop the next big search tool, The Apprentice is going to China, in-flight movies are tepid for a reason (though we already knew that), Canadians are spending more time on the internet than TV, Peter Pan is coming back, bigger and badder than before, films based on 19th century novels have heroines that are much prettier than their book counterparts, we shouldn't discriminate against people who don't read (including Posh Spice and Noel Gallagher), even though a quarter of Britons don't read, the great American novel for 2005 has yet to be written, the flood of great Indian writing has dried up (or maybe it's just Indians not living in India writing it?), DC Comics won't let an artist reinterpret Batman and Robin in a homoerotic fashion, artists have recreated modern art in Lego, Chicago contemplates building a corkscrew tower of Babel, and a British reality TV programme allows viewers to vote for Britain's most-hated building --- which will then be demolished.

I don't usually read that much of ArtsJournal's weekly newsletter, but this was a particularly meaty issue (for me, anyway).


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The planets are in alignment

Newsflash this morning: KK and Stellou are going to be in town next week. The last time we three were in the same city at the same time might've been during the Clinton administration. I kid you not.

We three arranged to do lunch next week, only for me to discover that I had a work thing to be at that afternoon, which meant I could only squeeze out time for a 1.5 hour lunch (Stellou, I used "1.5" because you can't type the ½ symbol in email, not because it has anything to do with me working for the government!). Considering how long it's been since we three were in the same room together, 1.5 hours is not enough time to do justice to all the years of accumulated witty anecdotes and lively gossip.

But miracles do happen: I have been informed that the work thing in the afternoon has been cancelled, leaving me spectacularly free to spend all afternoon gabbing with the girls. We shall, as KK says, be ladies who do lunch.


In other news, my throat is still sore, although it doesn't hurt. This may have something to do with the fact that I've been teaching and talking a lot these few days, thanks to anxious students who have their eyes edgily fixed on their examination next Monday, as well as all the no-good-for-the-throat food I've been inadvertently eating: fried swordfish and Ruffles potato chips last night, murtabak tonight.

Oh well. As Little Miss Drinkalot observed, "If you want to kill your throat, you might as well do it spectacularly."


Yoda says:

When two cups of coffee and two cups of Chinese tea you drink, difficulty sleeping at night you will have and oversleep the next morning you will. A fingernail you will break, in your rush to get to work. Also a sniffly nose you will be afflicted with, and a scratchier sore throat, from all the acidity you ingested yesterday.

So a healthy lunch you should eat --- good for throat Chinese soup is! --- and run around the park you should not. Sleep you must; there is no try.

(I haven't medicated myself and I'm already talking like this...)




An entry in the style of Agagooga

This post is dedicated to "old style" Agagooga, i.e. before mr brown convinced him to go one-post-per-topic.

On the VS-may-go-coed ruckus:

"For those who are not Victorian, i trust and hope you have seen this spirit within us, when we cheer, when we fight, when we sing! Will girls in Victoria be able to continue this spirit? because to be crudely honest, and i hope no one takes this the wrong way, but girls will NEVER be able to do what we did, to show what we displayed. Please do not get us wrong. We are not sexist, we are not opposed to change. However, when something like this comes along, and our 129 years of tradition and heritage are threatened, WE WILL NOT SIT BACK AND LET THIS HAPPEN."

--- Xi-Wei, "We are here"

This is akin to saying: "Please don't get us wrong. We are not racist, we are not opposed to change. However, when our hundreds-of-years-of-pre-civil-rights tradition and heritage are threatened, WE WILL NOT SIT BACK AND LET THIS HAPPEN. We should not consider integrating our all-white club because blacks will NEVER be able to do what we did, to show what we displayed."

Meanwhile, in the comments section of the above page, lauises writes: "Its true that girls cannot do some things that we do. Not in terms of the excellence, but in others like the way we speak or the way we can relate to each other. To me at least, Victorians communicate in a very mysterious way. As in, really communicate, not just through speech."

I realise that some people have a major hang-up about the fact that girls cannot pee standing up, break their voices or do away with the menstrual cycle without a hysterectomy. But in "the way [VS boys] speak or the way [they] can relate to each other" --- wth?! Are male Victorians psychic now? It's funny, I've never seen my father or uncle display the slightest bit of extra-sensory perception. Oh wait, maybe it's because I'm a girl and wouldn't be able to "really communicate" with them, "not just through speech".

Meanwhile, Agagooga's penned a critique of the furore.


has updated its menu! Yay to more chicken options that aren't slathered in mayonnaise.


The web is taunting me. I wasn't able to connect to Gmail all morning. Blogspot addresses keep returning initial "Document contains no data" error messages too, although they load fine when I reload the page. *growl*


It's amazing the things one can learn over coffee with Casey. How do you pronounce the words in bold?
  1. Everyone has something to contribute to this project.
  2. I'd like a slice of almond cake, please.
  3. He's a very skilled political operative.
  4. We must educate them better.
  5. What are the economic effects of this change?
  6. It's their problem, not ours.
  7. What's your opinion on this issue?
  8. We're unsure about the cause.
  9. Where's the nearest MRT station?
  10. Do you have any comment on the changes?
  1. kun-TRI-bute, not CON-tribute
  2. AH-mon, not AL-mond
  3. puh-LI-tical, not POR-litical
  4. AIR-dju-cate, not AIR-du-cate
  5. eco-NO-mic, not e-CON-nomic
  6. there, not they're
  7. IS-sue or I-SHUE are both acceptable
  8. UN-shore if you're British, UN-shure if you're American
  9. em-AHR-tee, not em-ARUH-tee
  10. COM-ment, not com-MENT (regardless of whether the word is used as a noun or a verb)

Speaking of language use, here's a recent IM exchange with Agagooga:
Agagooga: "Dudes. /Nice/"
Agagooga: trying to get back into the groove ah
Me: I sometimes feel that slang best expresses the sentiment, when I have no time to sculpt amini-essay.
Agagooga: you're having a mid life crisis
Me: [MSN :P emoticon] See, you made me resort to emoticons
And more recently:
Me: Dude, NICE post on the VS stuff.
Agagooga: Yeah, Dudette!
Agagooga: your mid-life crisis is getting acute ;)
Me: Eh.
Me: I actually used "Dude" a few times in conversation last night. No one batted an eyelid.
Agagooga: I am observant lah
Agagooga: it's a seeming deviation from erstwhile conversational patterns

If you didn't know already, popagandhi is back in business, with a rubber ducky to cheer her on her way. Faster go and read!


So the media is trying to milk all they can out of the NKF saga. What about the fact that 4.5 million Singaporeans didn't get to vote in a presidential election because an election commission --- appointed by the ruling government, not elected by the people --- decided that there were no other suitable candidates than the incumbent?


To the "faceless, mediocre", "angsty, reticent", "recalcitrant" and "slow" former student: Thank you. And you were never faceless, mediocre, angsty, recalcitrant or slow. Reticent, perhaps, but I still have that Buffy calendar.


A conductor boarded the bus I rode home tonight. As it became apparent that she was going to check every passenger's bus ticket or ez-link card to make sure that everyone had paid or scanned the appropriate fares, a woman seated three rows from the front hastily pressed the bell to indicate that she wanted to alight at the next stop. Unfortunately, she didn't exit her seat quickly enough and had to submit her bus ticket to the conductor first. The conductor waved it at her, a gesture suggesting that the ticket wasn't sufficient for the woman's ride, to which the woman responded something along the lines of, "I know, I know," before clopping down the steps as soon as the bus had halted. I guess people do still try to cheat on their bus fares.

Bloody hell. They've got the red-and-white canopy set up outside our coffeeshop downstairs for the 7th Month dong-dong-chang. And I thought that with the coffeeshop under new management --- in fact, Terz thought the boss might be a Christian --- we could avoid the annual round of late-night rowdiness and shouting-into-the-mike.

I thought I'd halted the curse of the pilsener glasses, but the negative energy's merely been diverted: As I set down one glass tonight (without looking where exactly I was aiming it, as usual), it tapped the top of Terz's Coke glass and promptly chipped a whole piece off, while the offending pilsener glass remained intact. Oops.

I was going to finish my pile of marking after completing this post, but I had to spend almost half an hour excising random font tags that Blogger had wilfully inserted to confound my posting attempt. Now I go to bed, blind but all blogged out.


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The vacation

I'm long overdue on a post regarding the vacation proper, but the funny thing about me and vacations is that I find it so damned hard to write about them once I return. I've only ever done it once, for last year's jaunt to the Pacific Northwest; every other vacation has been an unaccounted-for blank in this blog's record.

It doesn't help that people keep telling me to give travel writing a go, since I seem to be halfway decent at writing in general, and it's not as if the travel reports we see in our local newspapers or magazines are that eloquent in the first place. But while I have no trouble accumulating plenty of facts and travel tips about the places we visit, or in maintaining a thoughtful handwritten journal during the trip, it's in getting down to summarise the experience overall that writer's block hits --- big time.

So I say, screw it. Here's my version of the vacation, eloquent or not, and it'll just have to do:

Originally uploaded by Tym.

We zipped down to Bali for my best friend's wedding and all we did, really, was loll around on the beach like torpid teenagers. There was one day when we took ourselves off on a drive around the central part of the island and up into the mountains, but frankly, that was just an excuse so that we could resign ourselves to the beach again the next day. When someone asked me a few nights ago what we did in Bali, I had to shamefully admit, "We mostly just stayed in Nusa Dua." Upon his look of disapproval (it came pretty close to 'scorn', actually), I hastily appended the excuses: "Yah, I know, we'll have to go back again and do Bali properly. But it was a short trip, just zipped in and out for the wedding --- " and so on, and so forth.

I do want to go back and do Bali 'properly'. It would involve the black beaches in the north, more time in the mountains and villages, and zero time at Kuta. G-man might've thought that Terz and I were more Kuta/Legian kind of people, but I think we've outgrown that phase of life. While Nusa Dua and its attendant luxuries --- they turn down your bed while you're out to dinner! they bring you $8 Bintang beers on the beach! the bridal couple's villa has its own pool and indoor/outdoor shower area! --- were fun and precisely the sort of mindless indulgence that we were craving this time around, those were just trappings of the touristic Bali. They could've been replicated just about anywhere in the world that there's tropical weather and a good beach.

As for the wedding, needless to say, it was beautiful.

Originally uploaded by Terz.

My part in it was deceptively simple: make the best friend's speech. Ha! One of my test lines for it went something like this: "When I got married, [the best friend] was my bridesmaid and she got the easy job, you know: drawing up a to-do list, sorting out flowers, and so on. She decides to get married, and what does she ask me to do? Make a speech. (droll laughter)"

I didn't use that line, because it's a very bad line indeed, but I did feel increasingly panicked as time wore on and the speech that I'd sat down to draft in late June just wouldn't materialise. After many drafts (including last-minute scribbles on hotel stationery at the dinner table, a scant hour before I was due to speak) and one-woman rehearsals (including practising on the porch of our hotel room on the day itself), it all fortuitously came together in a reasonably seamless expatiation of less than five minutes in which I did not embarrass the best friend (a high priority, when you've been friends eighteen years), did not "try too hard" (I think) and did not accidentally say a bad line from an earlier draft that would make me sound like a complete doofus (e.g. see previous paragraph).

As you can tell from the list of don'ts, I was aiming to not screw up rather than to excel with flair.

I'm going to have to watch the video of the wedding dinner some time, to see if the speech actually came off as harmlessly as I remember it. Without a doubt, it was overshadowed by the boisterous antics of the groom's best friend immediately after. But the best friend laughed at the right moments during my yammerings, which is all that really matters in the end.

So those were the two big moments in Bali: the beach and the wedding speech. Everything else is burnt out by the tropical glare: the brief reunion with an old schoolmate who now lives Down Under, the brief encounters with the groom's energetic friends, the brief moments of kindness from the couple's family (I say 'brief' because there was so much going on, not because they were stingy with their kindnesses), the brief two hours spent luxuriating at Ku De Ta.

Thank you to everyone who made lovely suggestions. We couldn't take up every single one of them, but will certainly file away useful bits for the next trip.


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Exhibit A
In Exile @ Alliance Francaise
Gilles Massot & Tay Kay Chin

(Damn, Abigael beat me to blogging about it.)

Our first photography exhibition opening in months turned out to be one big reunion. As expected, there were the usual suspects from the photographers-and-auxiliary-people crowd that we hang out with: Abigael, Beeker, Randy, norwegianwood, Kiv, and others who don't blog and therefore shall go unnamed here.

But it was the unexpected encounters that gave things a little extra kick. Count them:

Former Student Number One, whom I'd run into at other exhibition openings this year, but I certainly didn't expect to find him playing the designated wine bottle-opener at Thursday's shindig. Through the typical Singapore-is-a-small-island all-you-need-is-two-degrees-of-separation connections, it turned out that he'd gone on a photographic expedition with Kay Chin and hence also knew ---

Former Student Number Two aka panaphobic, who showed up just as I was about to take off. Woman, you are alarmingly skinny. Don't make me march over to your dorm room and feed you. All these workholics, I tell you ...

And the most delightful encounter yet: A longtime, longlost friend from school/camp/cousinly associations. She moved back to Singapore some time last year, but we haven't seen each other in --- well, possibly not since last century, if I can be dramatic about it. The friend she was with asked how we knew each other and we kind of exchanged a long look that said, "This could go any number of ways, not to mention take any number of hours to recount how exactly it is that we are friends," and settled for: "Uh ... friends from school. Yeah, school. A long time ago."

Funnily enough, I only ran into the latter two people because, as Abigael notes, our posse (ha ha) took about a half-hour to say our goodbyes to all the different people we knew at the exhibition. We'd say, "Okay, let's go now!" --- then find that Randy'd vanished into the exhibition, then another friend's friend had just arrived so she needed to show her around, then Abigael spotted someone she'd forgotten to say goodbye to, then I met someone, then ---

Meanwhile, Terz and norwegianwood waited in the drizzle outside for us. (Don't worry; they had cigarettes so they were well-occupied.)

Eventually, there was bak chor mee at Bedok (Stellou, where were you? This was on our list!!), where Terz and beeker took advantage of the fact that the first five minutes of a videoconferencing call on their 3G phones is free and waved their phones around the table of friends until we were all laughed out. Boys, I tell you.

Exhibit B
While You Were Sleeping @ The Esplanade Tunnel
Darren Soh

I got there a little late, thanks to a little medical non-emergency, so I missed Darren's speech (sorry, dude!). Besides admiring the photographs, I also learned that with my vacation tan, one glass of wine is more than enough to flush my complexion and have people staring at me like I'm sort of shameless lush who crashes parties for the free wine. (Er ... ) Damn this healthy circulation system of mine.

Snatches of conversation over dinner at Lau Pa Sat afterwards:

"I'm really happy tonight. No, I'm not gay."
"It was our first date, and he asked if he could hold my hand. So I broke up with him."
"I mean, who takes the bus at 8:30 in the morning? Um, okay ... I got up at noon, and I didn't realise till about 2 what had happened, when people kept calling to ask if I was alright."
"You will never feel any worse than this."
"You can experiment with her all you want."
"He's a bit psycho and you let her go off with him?!"
"Feel this paper, man ... "

And the million-dollar Mac line of the night (some knowledge of Tiger OS may be required):
"Men are like widgets. Women are like Spotlight." (TM Nic)

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Comment verification has been enabled for this blog. Have fun typing in the gibberish words.

That's one thing off I can scratch off my Blogger wishlist. If you're a Blogger user, have you submitted the user survey yet?

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But ... but ... but ...

Overheard in the staff room yesterday:
"Teachers are people who talk to themselves for a living.

Lunatics are people who talk to themselves for fun.

And then there are days when it's hard to tell the difference."
But ... but ... but ... I like talking to myself for fun! And I've always done it, since before I was a teacher!


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I made $100 today

--- thanks to my colleague who paced me around the track and got me across the finishing line, after 2.4km, at a time of 12 minutes 30 seconds.

I should add that my colleague is in his mid-twenties, runs at this pace as a matter of course, and is quite cute and adorable, if any of you ladies are looking to date a fighting-fit male teacher. (He seems to be single.) He was going to do the run "for fun", having clocked in his official time earlier this week, but when he heard the time that I was loosely aiming for (13 minutes, in order to secure the $100 incentive reward from this Healthy Lifestyle programme), he decided, "I'll pace you." And did. And nearly killed me in the process, but after the pain and the huffing-puffing and the twisting protests from stomach muscles that aren't used to being tautened in this way --- he got me there.

Now to think of a suitable thank-you gift to get for him.


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Kids nowsadays

I don't read very many online comics. Bite Me is the only one that's sustained my interest over the years, though I have a soft spot for Sluggy Freelance.

Neways (TM Stellou), that's just preamble for this fun link of the morning: The Schools' Journal 1 by En & Hou (thanks, Agagooga).

It will probably resonate more with Singapore teachers and students than anyone else, but I'd like to think this is the budding start of the artists' future in news and political caricatures.


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Keeping in touch

It's the summer in the northern hemisphere, which means that educational institutions in North America are on vacation, and friends and former students are trickling into town on their annual pilgrimage home. This translates into this being the most expensive time of the year for me after Xmas and Chinese New Year, what with all the we-only-see-each-other-once-a-year festivities and you're-not-working-so-I'll-buy-you-dinner gestures and but-you-have-to-try-this-place-there's-nothing-like-it endeavours.

(The conventional wisdom about Chinese people is that we quibble over who gets to pick up the tab because people allegedly want to be seen as magnanimous, even though they would rather not pay the bill. My own experience, albeit among friends, suggests the reverse: people genuinely want to pay because they feel empowered by affluence and, perhaps more importantly, don't want to be seen as mooching off others. All of which yields some very lively attempts to snatch up the bill or play Quick Draw McGraw with the credit card.)

The thing about entertaining all these out-of-towners is that after we've arranged when to meet, the where part of the conversation goes something like this:
Them: So what shall we eat?
Me: I dunno. Why don't you decide, since you're only in town for a few days/weeks?
Them: Nah, I don't know where the good places are anymore. You decide.
Me: Uh, ok, but what kind of food do you want to eat?
Them: Oh, anything local is fine.
Me: You want prata, curry, any particular ...
Them: Anything lah.
As you can imagine, this can go on for quite some time, especially if we don't have an eating list to guide us. And because these out-of-towners are so modest about their preferences, we usually end up eating at a place I already know (and often know well).

Last night, then, it was a pleasant surprise to be introduced by a former student to Akashi, a Japanese restaurant so neatly tucked into the basement of Tanglin Shopping Centre, it perfectly mimicks the compact intimacy of restaurants in Japan. Every guest who enters through slitted curtains is greeted with a rousing "Irasshaimase!" that echoes all the more fervently due to the restaurant's low ceiling, and regulars jostle to get courtside seats at the heart of the action: the sushi counter. Our humble twosome opted for less conspicuous seating among the restaurant tables and proceeded to have a very nice meal indeed.

But of course, it wasn't just the food. It was the talk of Singapore, London, Ithaca, Kathmandu, Vietnam. It was the way the term "NGO" rolled off our tongues so matter-of-factly, as did words like "liberal", "help", "politics", "frustration" and "do something". It was the sweet tang of youthful hope, tempered with an honest dose of calculated compromise.

At one point during the conversation, I declared, "If I ever get to vote in Singapore, I will throw a party, buy 4-D, announce it to everyone. But you know, that'll probably never happen." Then we both hunched over our cups of green tea.

Meeting former students is always an unsettling business. On the one hand, they've moved on, as well they should, beyond the time and limits of when I knew them. On the other hand, there's the temptation always to rein them in, to warn them about the potholes that lurk around the corner, the same ones that tripped me up when I was their age. Their questions and quandaries impel a revisiting of my own demons and doubts. I want to nudge them down the other path --- the path I overlooked, forgot, avoided.

But sometimes --- surprise! --- I don't have to. And it's just lovely to be able to sit there and hear their plans and know that for this kid, it's working out all right.

I try to be a cynical bastard, but really, I'm all about the warm fuzzies.

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Intake: 3 glasses of white wine (2 Chardonnay, 1 Riesling), consumed between 10 pm and midnight.
Immediate outcome: The sleepies hit so hard that I dozed off at 12:30 am in Little Miss Drinkalot's car and didn't stir until she dropped us off at home. What a bad guest I am!
Eventual outcome (the next morning): Very, very sleepy. Plans for a much-needed afternoon nap were derailed by a last-minute call for a 3 pm meeting. But by the time I got home at 4:30 pm, I didn't need the nap after all.

Intake: 1 regular-sized cup of Coffee Bean coffee, consumed between 9:30 and 11:00 pm.
Immediate outcome: I went to bed at 12:30 am, more because I felt I ought to, rather than because the sleepies were calling me. No trouble falling asleep, but I half-woke up what felt like every hour or so and my mind was very much awake and active during the time I was ostensibly asleep.
Eventual outcome (the next morning): Not sleepy at all! I had no trouble getting up earlier than usual (because I had to be at work earlier than usual). Part of me feels I ought to go home this afternoon and take a nap, but I nevertheless packed my running gear in the event that I feel like staying on for the originally-planned evening run instead. We'll see what happens when/if the putative coffee buzz wears off.

Intake: Any suggestions?


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My brother, the blogger

Because my brother is that kind of a person, he has started Blog Timeline.SG.
Who started the first Singaporean blog? Which blog had the first mention of "Singapore"? When did the number of Singaporean blogs reach 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000?
Send your contributions to the timeline and you will be added to the authors' list.
No doubt destined, someday, to be fodder for someone's doctoral thesis on the evolution of technology and transparency in the Singapore psyche.

(Link via Tomorrow, which I read, er, more often at work than my brother's blog.)

(Note to self: Enrol for grad school, already.)


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I am not a housewife

At Cold Storage with Ondine and Kay on Friday night, I scoured the vegetables aisles for packs of pre-prepared salad, which my mother had recommended as not-too-expensive, in-fact-on-sale-this-weekend, and good-for-lunch-since-I-always-complain-about-the-school-canteen's-oily-food. When it turned out that the only salad packs left were of the $6/meal variety (ouch!), my friends helpfully pointed out that I could buy a head of lettuce and other assorted vegetables to make my own salads for the week, and it would cost less than even the allegedly on-sale-but-out-of-stock $3.45 variety. To which I glummed in return, "But then I'd have to do all the chopping and washing ... too leh cheh (inconvenient/troublesome)." Fifteen minutes later, I left the store empty-handed, while Ondine had a host of lasagna ingredients and Kay more Prima Taste products than she had cupboard space for.

Later, at Ondine and Packrat's apartment, I mocked them for having strawberry milk that dates back to Chinese New Year. In return, I was put in my place for having fermented Ribena, a feat which apparently wins, hands-down, the blue ribbon for lackadaisacal housekeeping.

For dinner yesterday, I had two slices of wholemeal bread with Vegemite. This is not any newfangled attempt at a diet; I simply wasn't hungry, but figured eating a snack was better than having an empty stomach revolt at 10 pm. Even as snacks go, however, there just isn't that much in our kitchen to eat. Except chocolate, of course.

Some people are desperate housewives. I'm neither desperate nor a housewife. I'm just a chica with a highly underutilised kitchen. For rent, anyone?


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Here, there, everywhere

The thing about marking student assignments is that as the school year wears on, the task becomes correspondingly more wearisome. The quality of the assignments themselves is a moot point; the mere fact of having to go through the exercise is what saps a teacher's spirit.

Why do we do it, then? Because we don't have the luxury of sitting down for an undisturbed hour with each student to go through his/her work and talk through the soundness of the ideas. I mean, we could offer those Oxbridge-style tutorials, but then we wouldn't have time to do anything else all year.

So this weekend, I dutifully betook myself to various locations in an attempt to keep my spirits going. There was Terz's new office space, there was Sod's at East Coast, there was Book Cafe and finally, there was our couch.

Originally uploaded by Tym.

(No prizes for guessing what the above is.)

Now I'm all done. This was the last formal set of essay assignments I'll mark for the year, but sentimental? Not I. There are still other assignments to get through over the next few weeks, then one final lot of examination papers in September. Miles to go before I sleep.



A long, long time ago,

--- in a childhood that drifts further and further away with each day, I was a diehard Star Wars fan.

Given my parents' reluctance to spend money on any toys or merchandising that was remotely faddish, and bearing in mind that I grew up in a pre-internet era, this means that I didn't have the luxury of owning the novelizations, spinoff novels, toys, technical manuals, script books or any number of other canonical or semi-canonical appurtenances of the saga. For that matter, I didn't own videotapes of the original Star Wars trilogy either. My copies were taped off the TV, rewound and watched countless times.

Later, my parents relented and gave me The Jedi Master's Quiz Book, which I read so many times that if I concentrate real hard now, I can still see the page layouts in my head. It was a big day for me when I finally saved up enough of my allowance to purchase, first, from the small Normanton Park bookstore where I'd paged through it a million times, the comic book version of Return of the Jedi --- and later, from the Times the Bookshop outlet at Centrepoint, the three movie novelizations.

Fast-forward ten years or so. By the time I got through university, I was an old hand at Star Wars trilogy marathons, could recite the movies backwards and forwards, plus narrate bloopers throughout. (I still can't help looking for Luke's little water tumbler switcheroo every time I watch A New Hope.) The year I graduated college coincided with the twentieth anniversary of A New Hope and Lucas's re-release of the Special Edition films; I found myself waiting in line on each film's re-opening night, chittering madly about how great this all was.

Those were the golden days, the days before Greedo shot first.

By the time the last movie of the hexilogy swung around this year, I was done. After I'd seen Attack of the Clones, I'd sworn I wouldn't let Lucas have another cent from me and I stuck by it. No Revenge of the Sith for me, despite concerned inquiries and expressions of disbelief from my friends. And judging by what Terz and those same friends said about the movie, I'm glad I saved myself the $10 and gave it a miss.

But I was even gladder yet when tonight, I discovered 91 Reasons to Hate Star Wars: Episode III (link via By The Way). Much, much better than watching Revenge of the Sith, it is. Now I feel like I've seen the movie anyway, without having to actually suffer the experience.

For the record, my favourite line is from #77:
Padme is in perfect health, yet they are losing her anyway. For good reason, this seems to confuse Bail and Obi-Wan, who are surprised that she's dying. "We can't explain it," the medical droid says. "She has lost the will to live." Ah, great. So the mother of Luke and Leia dies of a broken heart. She has lost the will to live and, by this point in the saga, I have lost the will to care.
Amen, brother.

We may do a hexilogy marathon viewing yet, at the end of the year. This is contingent on us being able to view pre-Special Edition --- i.e. no Greedo shooting first, no Hayden Christensen superimposed over Sebastian Shaw, and certainly no stupid Dewbacks --- versions of the original trilogy, and on the release of the Episode III DVD in time before Xmas. Have no fear --- I will not be giving any money to Lucas. Friends who've already committed to collecting Episode I and II DVDs will complete the trilogy of evil. The only question that remains is, do we watch them in the order in which the story unfolded (i.e. I-II-III-IV-V-VI) or in the order in which they were made (IV-V-VI-I-II-III)?

I vote for the former. It will most closely parallel the doomed feeling of the star systems falling under the shadow of the Empire, yet we can hold out for the redemption offered in the next generation. Plus we can nap through Episode III and the first part of IV so that we're all charged up for V.

Who'd've ever thought there'd come a day when I said a film populated with Ewoks would be seen as the redemption of the saga?


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Upon waking this morning

"I love you."
"I love you."
"I dreamed that you got a tattoo, and a piercing, and then you dumped me."


Methinks the husband has been working too hard on his tattoo project.



I love Singapore

You can own a home or business in Hock Kee House (built in 1966 with a 999-year lease).

The government can decide to build a new MRT line that hubs right around Hock Kee House.

The government's MRT construction works can destablise the foundations of Hock Kee House (aka your home/source of income).

The government can decide to demolish Hock Kee House because it isn't structurally sound enough to withstand the pressures of the government's further MRT construction works.

The government can inform you of the decision on 4 August 11 August and require you to vacate your home/source of income by 12 September.

The government promises you a generous compensation of $10,000 per owner, and possibly up to $100,000 for some owners. (At a 28 July 2004 property auction, a 2,080 square foot apartment in this building had an asking price of $280,000.) (Edited to add: Today reports that they will be paid "the market worth of their units, as well as a further amount of up to $100,000, depending on the floor size.")

The government doesn't mention any of this on its website (as of 10:14 pm one week after you were informed of your impending move).

The evening news gives airtime to the government press conference announcing the fate of your home/source of income. There's no mention of your reaction, or that of your fellow home/business owners.

Happy National Day, Hock Kee House.

I love Singapore.


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The bubble

Maybe it's all the Murakami we've been reading, but it strikes me that a vacation is like a bubble of time: protected, enclosed, but temporary, fragile, and all the more appealing for its gossamer impermanence. The person you are, the things you see when you're on vacation aren't so much in a different dimension from your real life --- as Darren suggested tonight, recounting everything in his life that changed while we were away --- as they are momentarily suspended, segregated, compartmentalised in a different realm of possibility.

The lead-up to a vacation is, after all, packed with realness: With a finite number of days or hours remaining at home, there's laundry to do, clothes to pack, TV programmes to record on the VCR, perishable food to eat or toss out, trash to flush down the rubbish chute, windows to close, and, if the vacation's a long one, electronic appliances to unplug from the wall sockets. At work, there's work to finish, that must be finished, before one can depart with a truly free spirit, without fear that the cellphone will ring, unwelcome, or that one will, upon return, be blamed for things left out of place.

The vacation truly begins when one finally leaves home for the airport. The bags are packed: anything forgotten must be acquired en route. The air tickets are in hand: any changes to the intinerary are at the discretion of the airline or the governments concerned. The posture is straightened, a quiet metamorphosis from the worker bee into the leisure traveller.

Forget work. Forget anything to do with the mundanity of life: family (never mind the startling updates the night before that half the cousins are either pregnant or getting engaged), friends, colleagues, blogs, bills, news, obligations, plans, goals, dreams. All is on hold, all can wait till you get back, till you're ready to take up them up again. For now, there is only an air ticket, a seat on the plane, a journey across time and space.

What happens on the vacation, stays on the vacation. The people you meet, you'll likely never meet again. The things you see, disconnected from their real context for tourists' eyes, you may never fully understand (and certainly not in a matter of the few days in that foreign land). The money you spend, you tell yourself it's from a different budget, your conscience eased perhaps by a translation of the foreign currency into manageable, equivalent amounts. And the person you are, you choose. Nobody knows who you are, back home. You are who you are, right now.

You forget to set the alarm clock.

Then it ends, inevitably. Bags are repacked, the vacation mood folded away with the clothes. The journey home doesn't seem as long as it took to get there; the familiar is just around the corner. Things forgotten begin to nose into one's consciousness: news headlines on the airport TVs, news magazines on the flight, cellphone beeps after touchdown.

The key twists in the lock, the door opens, the week-old air rushes to greet you like a forgotten puppy. The bubble bursts.

And everything's right where you left it.


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A first time for everything

Well, I've never gone on vacation with five pairs of shoes before.

And three of them slippers.





Victim of circumstances

Yesterday, I dropped a jam jar onto the kitchen floor in the morning. It smashed into enough pieces that I had to spend about ten minutes cleaning it up.

Today, I somehow scratched up the big toe of my right foot, enough to leave a bloody scab at the cuticle and a faint bloodstain on the side of my second toe. How I acquired this scratch-up remains a mystery.

What will tomorrow bring?


Come hear some ContraDiction

You need a little poetry to spice up your life. Oh, come on. You know you do.

Originally uploaded by Tym.

--- Which is why you, like me, need to be at ContraDiction this Thursday to hear young poets read their work. The event is part of IndigNation Pride Month 2005.

Come lah. The bunny says so.

(Full disclaimer: The event is organised by a friend of mine. He's very creative, so all the more you should come!)