Silly puppy, ang pows are for kids!

Festive fashions

The first three days of the New Year haven't exactly been a whirl of visiting, eating and other New Year festivities. There's been a goodly amount of food, but not as much as Ondine's encountered, mostly because the social situations we've been in haven't come saddled with the obligation to eat ourselves silly.

Also, there's always the excuse of feeling ill, which was an honest enough reason after we experienced three near-death experiences during a 20-minute cab ride yesterday. Ironically (I think), the license plate of the cab was SHA9000. Maybe the driver thinks that the '9' ('九'), which in Mandarin sounds like the character for 'a long time', means that he'll be driving for a long time, no matter how many stupid risks he takes on the road and how hard he tries to wipe himself (and his passengers) out.

Anyway, for tscd's benefit, here's a list of everything I've been eating since New Year's Eve:
  • pineapple tarts
  • love letters
  • kok zai (deep-fried peanut puffs)
  • Mandarin oranges
  • a few mouthfuls of spaghetti bolognaise
  • leftover steamboat soup, chock-full of meat
  • kueh lapis
  • bak kwa
  • chicken curry
  • popiah
  • kong bak (fatty stewed pork) in bao (buns)
  • a mouthful of hamburger off the barbecue grill
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • a handful of potato chips
  • 2 Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies
  • some leftover roast duck and siow bak (fatty pork)
  • Taiwanese pineapple tarts
  • Sarpino's pizza
Pretty pineapple tarts

Of course, not all of it qualifies as traditional Chinese New Year food, although Sarpino's may be gaining ground as such, given its regular appearance at our New Year get-togethers.

On the first day of the New Year, I was sitting by at the various family gatherings, watching my grandparents among the rest of the extended family, and it occurred to me that even though all I had was my crappy cellphone camera, some pictures of the grandparents for my cousins living overseas would be better than none at all.

On the second day of the New Year, we were at Uncle's and I listened to Shea read her book and helped her with the words she had trouble with, and even though I swear to God I was paying close attention to her at the time, I cannot for the life of me now remember the title of the book. All I know is that it was a pop-up book about a ladybird trying to get home and how the other insects --- including a spider, some ants and maybe a grasshopper, or was it a stick insect? --- helped her to get across the various obstacles in the garden.

On the third day of the New Year (i.e. today), I played two hands of mahjong, that was it. And when I say two hands, what I mean is that we didn't even complete one round for one wind --- just one game, a second game, and we were done. Yeah, it doesn't feel right to me too.


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Family obligations

In the (late) morning, the annual visit to the family clan association. I was brought up Christian, so all this was alien to me after we got married and I began accompanying Terz on the annual pilgrimages. It still is, in many ways.

Incense and ash

There's the lunch, which we'll eat afterwards, laid out in clear plastic containers in front of the ancestral tablets. Laying it out takes less than five minutes, but waiting for the ancestors to declare their satisfaction with the meal can take anything from twenty minutes to the better part of an hour, depending on how picky they are that year.

Then there's the burning of joss paper, which I don't know anything about because I spend most of my time each visit sitting in the clan hall as an unobtrusive observer. Then there's the divvying up of food among the relations who've shown up for the annual ritual. Then we go home to eat it, and to shower to get the smell of incense and ash out of our hair.

At night, there's the reunion dinner. As I've been gleefully telling anyone who'll listen to me this year, the mother-in-law declared in December that she was tired of eating the same old reunion dinner menus served at Chinese restaurants, so she thought we would go Western for ours. Hurray! Less one serving of yu sheng* (which we'll eat at least another five times over in the fifteen-day New Year period anyway)

It fell to us to make the reservations, so we made the extremely sensible choice of Gordon Grill at Goodwood Park Hotel.

Dinner, anyone?

Obviously, we elected to get something Off The Trolley for our main courses.

It's not easy to find good steak in Singapore and it's worth springing for the good stuff, which Gordon has in abundance. It begins with who I assumed was the restaurant manager, cheerfully greeting us at the entrance and showing us all the way in to our table. It's followed through with impeccable service, solicitous enough to make the mother-in-law nervous that we weren't giving them enough to do. It culminates in really good food, of course --- steaks done to perfection, smooth soups, crisp salads. Bonus points for dining there on Chinese New Year Eve: an appetizer on the house, and a costumed 財神 (Fortune God) handing out dining vouchers and discount cards.

Oh yes, and then there was dessert.

Dessert I: Irish coffee Dessert II: Crepes suzette

My crappy cameraphone pictures really don't do them justice.

Oh, and they gave me a little gnome-sized chair to put my handbag on. Deeeeelightful.

Tonight's dinner confirmed for me that I really, really like arugula. And somewhere during Terz's Irish coffee and my crepes suzette, something about the scents and feel of the place made me think for an instant that I was in Vancouver. Don't ask me why.

Gongxi facai, one and all!

* On a completely unrelated note, the Flickr tag for yu sheng throws up many, many pictures of a guy whom I assume is Yu Sheng, looking broody and shit. And since we're on this tangent, have you seen Fastr - a Flickr game (link via lifehacker)?


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Five by five

It's very hazardous to catch up on blog-reading, because that's when you learn you've been tagged again.

Name five of life's simple pleasures that you like most, then pick five people to do the same. Try to be original and creative and not use things that someone else has already used.

I dunno about that last part, but here's my crack at it:

1. Lying on a beach on a dazzlingly sunny day (Vancouver or Bali preferred, though other suggestions are welcome). Bonus points if the view includes mountains (see Vancouver).

2. Lying on my couch with a good book.

3. Crunching into a crisp-from-the-fridge KitKat on a hot tropical afternoon.

4. Savouring a beautiful work of art (not necessarily art per se --- music, performance and literature also qualify, so I suppose I should clarify that my second point above refers more to the experience of sinking into our couch to read, as opposed to whatever it is I'm reading).

5. Wandering the streets of a city, any city.

I'll leave you all to tag yourself, since this is short enough as memes go.


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All the Cs you can fit into a blog entry

Instead of work today, everyone at the office was undertaking ye olde grande spring cleaning of the year, more succintly known in Mandarin as 大扫除. Boxes and black trash bags were filled to the brim and beyond, paper was shredded with great glee, and there were occasional hollers from various ends of the office as people unearthed things they didn't know they had and/or didn't need: "Anybody want a _____? If not I throw away!" At the end of the massive cleanup, we toted much stuff down to the street, where I'm sure the local karang guni man (rag-and-bone man, see fuller definition here) had a busy afternoon weeding through it all for whatever was worth something to him.

I've seen several karang guni men and women operating in the area, actually. Most of them are past middle age and one is downright elderly. I see her after lunch, sitting near the upper end of the Duxton Hill car park, typically sifting through various bits of cardboard and such. I smile at her; she smiles back.

After all that not-altogether-ceremonial cleaning, it was time for what is apparently the traditional distribution of oranges from yesterday's loot, along with a festive little ang pow for every employee. The perks of not working for the government anymore! (It's not about the money, of course, it's about the good cheer all round.)

For lunch, I found myself, interestingly enough, at the same dim sum shop where almost a year ago, I grabbed a late-night snack last Chinese New Year. The dim sum's still tasty and none too expensive, and it meets the very important criteria of having fluffy char siew baos. I wish I knew the name of the shop to plug it, but it's in a shophouse along New Bridge Road near Oriental Plaza. Note to self: don't wait till next Chinese New Year to make a repeat visit.

Especially since across the road from lunch was this gem (just look at the bottom poster and imagine it in all its daytime glory).

Taken by ampulets2.

Another clue (besides this faint one) as to my current area of work: I was thrilled to stumble upon Lorem Ipsum - All the facts, and I can totally get behind the campaign to ban comic sans (links via onomatopoeia). Edited to add (February 1, 2006): Why comic sans was designed (link via A Capital Idea).

In other news, photoblogging may be on hold for a bit, as the camera has freaked out and refuses to boot up. I turned it on last night to take a picture during the UnXpected's gig, it took one picture, which dutifully illuminated the display area, then the display area decided it would be more fun to show just noise/static instead and all the buttons were unresponsive.

We popped the battery out of the camera to stop that nonsense, and since then it's refused to boot up. When I turn it on, the red light that typically blinks 3-4 times as it starts up blinks for something like 30 times before giving up, and the camera mechanisms don't start clicking and whirring as they should. I've tried changing batteries and starting it up without the memory card inside, but it just refuses to come alive.


So it might have to make its first visit to the shop next week. If anyone would like to hazard advice, the camera is a Kyocera Contax SL300R T*.

This better not be an omen for the New Year.


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Delivery day

Chinese New Year greetings

The Chinese New Year's three days away now, so there's been a constant stream of gifts coming into the office today: pineapple tarts, heaps of mandarin oranges and even wine. All this made for good snacking between meals. Except for the wine, of course. This place is pretty chilled out and there are (empty) wineglasses in the pantry, but with everyone scrambling to wrap up work before the four-day holiday weekend, today's not the best day to start imbibing on company time.

Chinatown was more crowded at lunch, but no school groups today, thank goodness. A stallholder offered Casey and me some rolled-up chocolate and strawberry wafers to try, and looked mildly amused when my face puckered up after my first (and only) bite because they were exactly as sickly sweet as they sound. No sale, dude.

In other delivery news, my glamorous journalist friend C has finally made it into Singapore. She had to postpone her flight by a day because she lost her passport.

Yes, she --- a foreigner working in the US, who might, y'know, need a passport from her native land to prove her identity and/or the legality of her presence in the US --- managed to lose her passport while moving house.

Lost. Without a trace. (Also the titles of two rather excellent TV shows, I know.) She only had an expired one to prove that at some point, she had Singapore citizenship. Yeah, it seems the people at the embassy took their time laughing at chastising her too.

I used to have this one classic story to tell about C, and now I have two. This even beats my brother's customs snafu from a few years ago.

My mother is delivering Chinese New Year snacks and crisp dollar bills for me to use in Chinese New Year ang pows. The handoff is happening tonight at Holland Village. I'm not sure if I should be disturbed that my mother knows exactly where Wala Wala is. On the other hand:
Mom: I was thinking of coming by at 9-something, but maybe you'll have gone home already to sleep.
ME: We usually stay till about midnight.
Mom (pause): Ah ...
Actually, we usually stay beyond midnight but I didn't want to give her an opening to replay her lecture on how responsible adults should get sufficient rest lest they fall sick, particularly since I've been sickish this past week.


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Oyayubizoku!, redux

The world's first fastest SMSer (read: text-messaging freak) has been dethroned by another Singaporean. The new record is 43.24 seconds for punching in the following text without spelling aids or predictive text:
The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.
I took about 90 seconds on my first try ever, and I should point out that this was the first time I'd ever tried to key in such a long message without using the T9 dictionary and that my Nokia N70 doesn't have the most ergonomic buttons for entering text in the first place.

My theory is that as long as the test doesn't change, all it takes is a good phone for SMSing --- i.e. one of the older, chunkier Nokia models that had generously sized and truly touch-sensitive buttons --- and some diligent practice to be able to break the 60-second barrier. After that, it's just a matter of giving into one's inner oyayubizoku obsession and practising practising practising ...


Related posts: Oyayubizoku, Thumb culture

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Just a thought

Dear well-intentioned educators who failed to think the idea through to its fullest ramifications,

With Chinese New Year just five days away, now is not the time to bring massive hordes of disinterested istudents on a putative educational fieldtrip to the heart of Chinatown. Even during the day, Chinatown is quite well-jammed with people who actually live and work in the neighbourhood, not to mention all those who took the day off to complete their holiday shopping. Witness the line of at least fifty people waiting in line for Lim Chee Guan bak kwa (pork or beef jerky) at approximately 2:30 pm today, winding far down the sidewalk and around the corner of other stalls.

And those are people who are actually going to spend lots and lots of money (given the current "festive" prices) at these shops. Your students, on the other hand, are just happy to have the afternoon off school, eager to run willy-nilly through the crowds and makeshift stalls --- as evinced by the number of times I saw teachers and chaperones yell after an errant student in school uniform or yank them back towards the group. Your students will ooh and aah over the many multicoloured muah chee/mochi flavours, but does anyone of them wield the spending power of an impatient woman who has to stock up to feed up to one hundred guests over the New Year? I think not. And the students are getting in the way of the people with the money, while they're at it, which can't make the stallholders very happy.

Zhangde Primary, Canberra Secondary and a special school (I couldn't identify the uniform)--- I am delighted that you think your students ought to see what the real world is like. I think there's plenty to show and teach our children in Chinatown. I would respectfully suggest, however, that a fieldtrip during the current Chinese New Year madness merely teaches our children that one must worship at the altar of the consumer god in order to appreciate one's heritage.

Come back after the commercial insanity's packed up for the year. Show them what the streets are like the rest of the year, and why that still makes it Chinatown, despite every street corner not being garlanded in red and gold anymore. Peel back the layers of monetary gratification for them and show them what history and real heritage lies there. Before May, take them on a quiet afternoon through the rabbit warren of People's Park Centre (slated to be "upgraded" this year, so all the old stallholders have to move out by May --- and we know what usually happens then) and don't let their kneejerk reactions about it being dirty put you off.

Just do it all after the Chinese New Year. Thank you.


PS: Gongxi facai!

PPS: What's with maids accompanying primary school student groups on fieldtrips these days?


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Got a light?

A ritual gone in a puff of smoke, claims The Washington Post (link via Arts & Letters Daily).

Here in Singapore, they've been trying to stamp out smoking with all the fervour of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the US stamping an 'O' for Offensive on Brokeback Mountain. Have they succeeded? (The Singapore government, that is.)

Old school coffee break

The Chinese characters say "Please pay attention" above the no-smoking symbol --- but the small print delineating exactly where the law prohibits smoking is doubly obscured by the, duh, small print and the masking tape used to put up this sign. A for novelty, F for communication.

Well, so much for that.

I've had assorted friends (and one husband) swear off smoking one or more times over the past few months, only to blatantly indulge in a little nicotine treat within a month of their most recent declaration. To be fair to them, I think it's hard to quit smoking when many of their (our) friends smoke, and it's particularly hard to try and quit during the festive (party) season, with its social engagements galore.

beeker's latest theory was that if one person within the group tried to quit, but then yielded halfway to temptation and proceeded to bum smokes off the others while resisting the urge to buy a pack of his/her own ---

--- That would piss off enough of the smokers that they might, one by one, also choose to "quit" and bum smokes off the others, rather than to continue to buy cigarettes and pay for another's habit in addition to their own ---

--- Which would perpetuate a vicious (virtuous) cycle among the group of friends until one poor sod, aka the last smoker standing, threw in the towel and refused to support his pals' (moochers') habits and quit too. Voilà! Everybody's quit.

I think there's a little game theory workings its mojo in that hypothesis, but I'm not sure that the overall scenario holds together.

Anyway, so The Washington Post seems to have found that in D.C., guys "just don't" light other guys' cigarettes and while people won't talk to you in a bar, they will once you're all outside on the sidewalk smoking. Now I've seen (heterosexual) men light other (hetererosexual) men's cigarettes in Singapore, so that doesn't seem to be verboten, but the truism about smokers' impromptu social groups applies well enough. There've been plenty of times when I park myself in the smoking zone at a party because that's where all the cool kids interesting conversations are. I'm lucky, I suppose, in that I have a pretty high tolerance for being smothered by cigarette smoke. Dating a chain smoker back in college pretty much inured me to any inhalation issues.

Voluntary non-smoking zones haven't quite taken off in a big way in Singapore, but there are two I can plug for people who enjoy a coffee or beer without nicotine on the side:
  • Shamus O'Donnell's at 162 East Coast Road --- Yes, it's possible for an Irish bar to be smoke-free and still be Irish. Ask them for a shot of potcheen's and a pickled onion, why don'tcha?
  • Cafe Cosmo at 47 Amoy Street --- Cool place, cool music, yet surprisingly non-smoking. By the way, they take cash only.
Smoke, or don't smoke. Just don't ask me for cigarette money.


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"We hate blogses."

Because Aussie bloggers enjoy a little LotR humour too: A Socratic debate for the new generation (link via the 2006 Australian Blog Awards).


Related posts: Help me, Peter Jackson, you're my only hope, Burp, LotR tidbits

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Only connect

It's funny how you go through so many different phases in life, only to find that maybe you never wandered very far off from your centre in the first place.

My best friend from university was in town yesterday for the first time in six years and it was the first time we'd seen each other since June 2002. It was also the first time we got to hang out, just the two of us, since I don't remember when, and later, the first time Terz got to meet him and his brother.

We started out as the kind of friends that traded emails several times a day (I went to college in the pre-cellphone era), met for dinner at the dorm cafeteria and spent most of the evening hanging out together --- almost everyday. Then there were the weekends at his parents' place, the New Year's Eve I had to borrow a dress off his sister because he failed to inform me that we were signed up for a dressed-to-the-nines party and generally way too much time spent with the (original) Star Wars trilogy.

And then, y'know, life happened.

Different activities in college.
Campus jobs (in his case, eventually a career).
Different interests.
Different friends.
Different countries.
Getting married.

Suddenly we're in our early thirties, retelling the by now definitive story of how we met --- but we've got new stories too, about rescued toy cats that travel around the world and kids that aren't ours and wedding rings and airports around the world.

I'm not going to be so glib as to say that nothing's changed after all, but maybe the fragments are coming together.



A meme 4 you?, addendum

In response to tinkertailor's lament that we live in a shallow generation:

4 books that changed you
A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
The Emily trilogy, L.M. Montgomery

4 people you met who've changed your life
Mr K

4 philosophical worldviews that you found feasible at one point of your life or another
Secular humanism


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A meme 4 you?

Doh! Tagged again.

4 jobs you've had in your life
Book publishing intern
Telemarketer (for a good cause but, yes, karma, I know)
Data entry clerk

4 movies you could watch over and over
The Lord of the Rings (I'll just count all three as one movie)
Bend It Like Beckham
Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (again, sneakily counting them as one)

4 TV shows you love(d) to watch
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Knight Rider (okay, I was really young then, but KITT was the bomb!)
The West Wing

4 places you've lived
Some place in Virginia that I can't be bothered to call my mom to find out the specific town name
New York

4 places you've been on vacation to
Koh Samui
Ha Long Bay
Kansas City

4 places you would rather be
The Australian outback

4 of your favourite foods
The fruit salad at Brewerkz
Char siew wan ton mee
Soya sauce chicken, the way my mom makes it

4 websites you visit daily
I'm hard pressed to include a fourth because I don't even blog everyday, but my Flickr Contacts page is something I check pretty often.

4 tagged

As a reward for reading this list all the way through, here's a bonus link for you: Iraqi Invasion: A Text Misadventure (link via rosmar) --- although if you didn't ever dabble in text-based online roleplaying games, you may not altogether get it.

Edited to add: Addendum


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What you shouldn't write in your professional bio

I had to write a short professional bio for myself today and Ondine was whining about how she couldn't go running because it was raining, so I distracted her by making her help me.

Some help she turned out to be. We were trying to rephrase the idea that I "take challenges in [my] stride":
Ondine: [Tym] is very good at taking curveballs that are thrown at her?
ME: Ha ha
ME: Yes yes v good
Ondine: Just the hand-eye coordination cannot make it.
ME: Yah
ME: strictly metaphorical
ME: in actual ball games, she sucks
Ondine: And occasionally trips over herself and falls down.
ME: Argh
ME: You are evil
Needless to say, none of this made it into the final version of my bio.


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The power of suggestion

At lunch today, I cleared my throat, prompting my colleague to ask, "You have a cough?"


Only to alternately clear my throat and cough through the rest of lunch, and most of the afternoon as well.




Sweetness and light

Just because I wax lyrical about working in Chinatown doesn't mean I don't appreciate having a genteel lunch in airconditioned comfort once in a while.

My pal Casey took me to Chez Le Mamy, a charming French-inspired bistro on Ann Siang Hill where I got to lounge in a decadent armchair and savour a surprisingly light three-course meal. It was the kind of place where they don't have to post a "no cellphones allowed" sign; customers naturally switch their phones to silent mode and take their calls, if any, outside the restaurant. The owner and, it would seem, chef made sporadic appearances, emerging from the basement kitchen to swirl "Bonjour!" at random tables.

Lunch was the set lunch: the smoothest, clearest vegetable soup I've ever had, then some supple seabass fillet with fresh aglio olio pasta on the side, and finally a neat dollop of creme caramel. They also have some fancy tenderloins on the menu that I'll have to bring Terz to try some time.

Casey bought me lunch today, so I'll have to return the favour in the next couple of weeks. Any recommendations on a good place for lunch in the Chinatown/Tanjong Pagar area?


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On writing

I can stare blankly at my laptop screen for half an hour


I can head out to meet a friend for lunch and, in the ten minutes it takes me to walk there, come up with everything I needed to write, punch it into my cellphone so that I don't forget the exact words and transfer it all to an email to my colleague as soon as I'm back from lunch.

Damn this writing process.


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In the neighbourhood

The nice thing about working in Chinatown is that for the first time in my life, I spend most of my day in a historic part of town, surrounded by buildings are as old as, if not older than, my grandparents, just like every other person living around here. Most of the streets run preternaturally narrow and one way, flanked by shophouses spruced up by pastel paint --- but walk down the right back alley and you can still stumble upon the monochrome grime and sweat of everyday life.

Old school coffee break

I often feel that there's so little of old Singapore left, whatever there is, I'll snatch up and hold close, regardless of how much it's been "restored" and reformed. Beggars can't be chosers, you know. At least in Chinatown, the streets still live and breathe, even when it's not Chinese New Year, and the shophouses haven't been mutilated beyond recognition (with the possible exception of the Chinatown Heritage Centre). Walking around the neighbourhood at lunchtime, I don't feel that modernity is relentlessly looming over me, even though it's lurking just around the corner in the form of, ironically, tall shoeboxed buildings housing the Ministry of National Development and Urban Redevelopment Authority. Closing my eyes for a moment, on the upper floors of a shophouse where I work, I can for an instant imagine how cramped and colourful it must have been in its youth, when three or four times the number of people lived there, as do work there in airconditioned comfort today. I think about the shophouses my parents lived in as children in other parts of town, long demolished before I was born.

So I take the long way around when we're out to lunch, skirting down streets whose names I'll forget in a minute but whose clan associations and shops and food I'll use to navigate my way back. I prolong my lunch breaks, dawdling over coffee --- by which I mean the thick black teeth-staining variety, no cafelatteswithlowfatskimmilkandashotofraspberrysyrup available here. I think, I'd keep this job just to be in the neighbourhood.


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Over lunch

Things you don't hear everyday:
I can do it in five minutes. Some more can kern swee-swee* for you.
swee-swee - local slang meaning nicely, beautifully.


Should've spent more time roleplaying

i am a total geek

What are you? Take the Geek Test (which admittedly needs some updating as it doesn't make reference to Star Wars Episode III or Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).


(Link via By The Way.)



I know some people are rich but ---

--- Who the hell goes into Watson's (a local drugstore) and tries to use a $1,000 bill to pay at the cashier?!


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A tale of two weddings

I'm not sure if the moon was in alignment with Venus on Saturday or if the date could be conjugated into some amazingly auspicious number, but everyone I know who decided to get married this month decided that January 7 was the day of choice.

There was:
  • My cousin --- wedding ceremony, lunch and tea ceremony for the family (11 am - 2 pm).
  • Cowboy Caleb --- wedding ceremony at 10 am, tea ceremony before and after it, dinner at 7:30 pm. Oh yeah, and all the festivities were in Malaysia.
  • My current boss - wedding ceremony at 11 am, dinner later.
So it was that Saturday morning found me hurrying downtown to help with the cousin's wedding, before hurrying up north to Malaysia after lunch to celebrate with Mr and Mrs Cowboy. The boss had invited me last, of the three, so his invitation I declined on account of not being able to create a Doppelganger of myself.

I've been to so many weddings that up to a certain point, they all start to blur into a great white chiffony swirl of lacy well wishes. But this isn't to imply that each wedding doesn't have its own moments of --- well, let's see.

The cousin's wedding had the first flower girl I've ever seen who twirled her way down the aisle. On the other hand, Cowboy's wedding dinner had a flower girl who tried to bolt for safety the moment the dry ice machines were turned on and flooded her path with smoke. As a kid, I used to regret that I never had the opportunity to play flower girl; on hindsight, recalling what a frightfully shy girl I was, I doubt I could've done any better than these girls --- although perhaps I would have outdone at least Ondine's flower girl, who was a precious but terrified two-year-old at the time and eventually had to be toted down the aisle by a parent.

At the cousin's wedding, her best friend threw all the guests for a loop by declaring with absolute certainty in her speech that she thought my cousin would make a great wife and, in the same breath, a wonderful mother --- which immediately had us all wondering if the best friend knew something the rest of us didn't know (you had to be there to catch the context). I was also wondering if my ninetysomething-year-old grandfather had comprehended the remark, although he's pretty nonchalant about things these days.

At the lunch table, I casually inquired of my cousin's kid if he was in primary one (first grade) yet, to which he scowled at me indignantly and spat, "[Primary] TWO!" Whoops. He was always a small (but fierce) kid.

Even though I've had wine around the family before, there was no end to cousins, uncles and aunts coming up to enquire if I had been out in the sun or if I had in fact had too much to drink at lunch to be helping with the tea ceremony. This, from the side of the family that gave me the gene that makes me flush so easily after just one drink.

At Cowboy's wedding dinner, he seated us with some of his non-blogging, non-Singaporean friends, so we got to that inevitable moment in the conversation when they asked us, "So how do you know [Cowboy]? Colleagues? School?" We smiled, we hemmed and hawed. "Ah --- must be bloggers!"

The male (Cowboy) Barflies really know how to drag out a yam seng (the traditional Chinese drinking toast). Or rather, a yaaah-aaah-aaah-aaah-aaah-yumyumyumyum-yaaahm-aaah-aaah-aaah-aaahm (repeat for about five minutes) SENG!

Among the Barflies' many other skills are the ability to concoct foul-tasting drinks by mixing all available types of alcohol together and the vigilance to launch into applause the instant brown attempted to sneak in (fashionably, fashionably late).

It occurs to me that I still owe the boss an ang pow.




My very first readers' poll

A discussion I've been having over at Little Miss Drinkalot has got me wondering about the attitudes and mores of my readers. So here's a random poll:

1) Can men fuck around?

2) Can women fuck around?

3) Can women fuck around as much as men do?

By "fuck around", I'm referring to sex in general. This is not a poll on whether people should be cheating on their significant others.

Additional thoughts and insights are welcome.



All worship the Whedon

The thing about the Serenity DVD finally arriving in the mail is that I have to sit down immediately and watch the entire movie. Then all the extras. Then the entire movie again with Josh Whedon's commentary.

All in one night, by the way.

There is the slight possibility that I may be late for work tomorrow, but I worked overtime today, so I think I'm entitled to go in, er, half an hour late.

To quote Princess Ann from Roman Holiday: So happy.


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Third day

Today it rained, then it stopped raining in time for lunch, then it picked up again, stranding me at the lunch place till we condescended to purchase an umbrella, then the sun came out an hour after lunch, then it really rained again, straight sheets of it, and now it's sunny and raining. Welcome to monsoonal Singapore.

I'm not complaining, by the way; I love the monsoon. I only chastise myself for forgetting an umbrella this morning.

It's nice working at a job where I get only about 30 emails a day --- as opposed to getting 30 emails every 30 minutes, as at one of my previous jobs.

The best word I found in the (online) dictionary today: commove tr.v. 1. To cause to move with force or violence; agitate; disturb. 2. To rouse strong feelings in; excite.

Other words that I actually used in work today: leverage (as a verb), position (as a verb), competencies and fundamentals (as a noun). Kill me now.


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First day

To let you know the kind of place this is, observe that I arrived at work just after the stipulated starting time of 9 am, and I was the first one in. In fact, technically I was the second one in, because I didn't have a security pass and so had to wait for someone else to show up and let me in.

The other thing is that this is the kind of place that doesn't specifically proscribe the installation of software on its computers --- which is how I come to be using Thunderbird (instead of the dreaded Outlook) for email, hurrah! Also, immediately after setting me up with an email account, the boss's next question is, "So, do you use MSN?"

At lunch, one of my colleagues pronounced me "gadgety" after admiring my 3G phone. I suppose this comes as a result of him also drooling over my Contax last week and nodding approvingly of my iPod some months ago.

The best word I found in the (online) thesaurus today: boodle n. counterfeit money or bribe.


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For all you Buffy fans out there

Homemade Buffy the Vampire Slayer Mahjong set!!!

Dude. Now that's dedication.

(Link via Boing Boing.)


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The year 2005, in books

Another year, another list --- this one the most dismal yet. My excuse is that my daily schedule switched from having a 45-minute commute to/from work, to a 30-minute walk-bus-walk commute that wasn't as conducive to uninterrupted reading, particularly since I can't read on the bus without becoming violently ill.

Nevertheless, 19 books, down from 44 last year and 24 the year before, and I only completed the first book in May? That's pretty dismal. And I didn't get around to trying Coetzee, like I said I would, either. And a number of books were things I had to read for work, so.

At any rate, here's the rundown. An asterisk indicates a book that I'd read before.

1. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (May)
I've really enjoyed Hollinghurst since I picked up The Swimming Pool Library a few years ago, and this one took the Booker in a really strong Booker year too, so there's no excuse for why I took six months to read it. All I can say is that with the aforementioned change in my daily commuting schedule, it took me a while to settle down and find any regular reading time, and my enjoyment of The Line of Beauty suffered for it. I must've reread the first one-third of the novel at least three times before I worked up the momentum to finish it. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't understand all the political context, but with Hollinghurst, I never feel I have to because it's his characters that carry the story --- every last emotionally raw and compellingly flawed one of them.

2. Philosophy: The Basics, Nigel Warburton (June)
Something I had to read for work, but Warburton is so eminently readable that I finished it in five hours. An excellent introduction to general philosophy. I should get a copy for our home library.

3. Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes (June)
I dimly recall that this book was on the recommended reading list my English teacher gave us on the first day of school in junior college. I've read (and enjoyed) other Barneses and was happy to pick this up for a few bucks at one of those massive book sales they have at the Singapore Expo. Unreliable narrator, ahoy!

4. An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Jonathan Wolff (June)
Another one for work, and another good introductory-type book. Wolff is the first guy who's helped me make sense of how Hobbes, Locke and Mill stand in relation to each other --- though if you asked me now, I'd have to go back and reread those chapters just to be absolutely sure. (Some things refuse to stay in my head, like the number of 'r's in "harassment" and the different broad trends in European thought.)

5. The Theory of Knowledge, Peter Cole (June)
Also for work. A cut-and-dried guide to philosophy for the AS Level in the UK. Blah blah, blah blah.

6. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (June) *
Realising that the movie adaptation would be out within the year, I hastily reread this for the first time since I was a teenager, and was brought up short by how straightforward and short it was. Aslan doesn't really do anything in the book, does he?

7. The Philosophy Gym, Stephen Law (June)
Yeah, yeah, another one for work. Everyday situations and issues to puzzle over from a philosophical perspective. Entertaining, but honestly, I lack the true discipline required to do this, on my own, all the time.

8. Inventing Herself, Elaine Showalter (July)
A survey of feminist figures of the past century or so. Very educational. In addition to art history, I clearly should've dabbled in some women's studies in college.

9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (August)
Don't even get me started on what a weak book this was.

10. Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism, Daniel Harris (August)
Ever wondered why we buy what we buy? A really engaging examination of not only marketing tactics, but also how certain broad social assumptions about cuteness, quaintness, hunger and romance basically screw up our ability to enjoy or appreciate anything. If nothing else, it made me think twice about what toys I ever buy for any children that we might hypothetically have.

11. Kafka by the Shore, Haruki Murakami (August)
The first Murakami I've read, and a really beautiful novel. I'm quite enchanted by the real/surreal, and of course, the cats.

12. Eucalyptus, Murray Bail (September)
A gem of a novel, which Stellou sent me from Sydney. More of the real/surreal, and I never thought I'd be so taken in by a wealth of information about eucalyptus trees.

13. Postmodernism : A Very Short Introduction, Christopher Butler (October)
I read this for work, but also because I thought I was at a stage in my life when I ought to have an inkling of what postmodernism is. Interestingly, the author isn't shy about highlighting what he perceives are the limitations of postmodernism, so it reads as both an introduction and a critique.

14. Postmodern Singapore, William S W Lin (November)
I quite naturally went on to read this, after the previous book. A look at how postmodernism is manifested in Singapore's architecture, literature, social attitudes and so on. The more I think about it, the less "real" anything is in Singapore.

15. Aloft, Chang-Rae Lee (December)
Redemption, at last! Lee's first novel, Native Speaker, is one of my favourite books, but I thought his second, A Gesture Life, was a huge melodramatic debacle. With Aloft, he's back in top form. On the other hand, I freely confess that I have a weakness for these paeans to the unreliable narrator/middleaged patriarch in crisis/dysfunctional family with estranged intergenerational ties.

16. Kiss and Tell, Alain de Botton (December)
Another of those unreliable-narrator novels, except that the character the narrator's writing about proves to be more interesting than him. I just wish the publisher hadn't given it a dreadful fuschia cover that, together with the title, made it look more chick lit than literary exploration of the biography. Yeah, yeah, so I'm a book snob...

17. Once While Travelling: The Lonely Planet Story, Tony & Maureen Wheeler (December)
An Xmas gift from G-man, which I read lickety-split in two days. If you can't tell from the book title, it's a recounting of how the Lonely Planet guidebooks and the ensuing media empire came to be. It turned out to be less interesting than I expected --- some chapters pretty much read, " ... and then in December, I travelled to countries A, B and C, finishing up a review of the ABC guidebook, before moving on to countries D, E and F over the following six months, despite a delay due to visa blahblahblah ... ". Nevertheless, the overall narrative was strangely engrossing, as evinced by the fact that I had no trouble finishing the book that quickly.

And it made me think twice about travelling with children: while my parents have always had what seemed to be a sensible philosophy of not taking us kids anywhere fancy travel-wise till we hit our teens, because we wouldn't remember or appreciate anything if we were too young, the Wheelers traipsed all over Southeast Asia with their kids when the latter weren't even old enough for school yet. Maybe it's not so much if you take kids someplace as what you do with them when you get there?

18. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R. Tolkien (December) *
Because watching the movies back-to-back made me want to reread the trilogy. It's only the second time I'm reading this book, and the first time since I've been ODing on the movies, so there were plenty of moments when I was like, "A-ha, another point where the film diverges from the novel."

19. The Plot Against America, Philip Roth (December)
I'm a big fan of Roth, despite the "manliness" of his books, and I could see where he was going with this exploration of alternative history --- what if Charles Lindbergh, with his Nazi sympathies, defeated FDR in a presidential election. But as the novel wore on and the plot began to turn on the fictitious Lindbergh administration's accumulated anti-Semitic measures, I couldn't help but wonder why any author needed to bother imagining this alternative history, when reality offers up the FDR's administration's equally racist and intolerable policies against Japanese-Americans (see John Okada's No-No Boy and Joy Kogawa's Obasan for fictional responses to these events). Unlike the Jewish community described in Roth's novel, Japanese-American and -Canadian communities were in fact completely disenfranchised, forcibly removed from homes and jobs, and haplessly scattered across the country to which they had sworn allegiance and been promised citizen's rights. It seems a little disingenuous for Roth to paint a what-if situation, when the reality for another minority group was much, much worse. It doesn't stop me from enjoying how his characters responded in the world of his imagined history, but I wish he'd written a different book for them in the first place.

So that's the list for 2005. Obviously, I best remember the ones I just read, and even though it was nice to improve my mind with all the books I read for work, I feel pretty meh towards those. Also, I did most of my reading during the long school vacations in June and December.

This year, I will get around to some Coetzee, dammit, and finish all the books I bought in 2005 that I haven't read, before I allow myself to buy any new ones. Nevertheless, suggestions for what to read are always welcome in the comments!


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Hugging in the new year

New Year's Eve: ambience New Year's Eve: colour New Year's Eve: fuel

The thing about spending New Year's Eve at the same place we were last New Year's Eve --- not to mention it being the same place we spent the most recent Xmas Eve --- is that one can't help getting a little introspective about where the year's taken us and what's changed (or not) since last year's party. All this, between grazing on a mound of celery sticks and reminding concerned inquirers that just because I turn beetroot red from one drink doesn't mean I'm drunk.

Some time before midnight, the Porn Watch Committee was formed, potato chips overflowed their bowls and Terz made a run home to pick up Trivia Pursuit. Some time after midnight, the dog threw up, Manchester United beat the Bolton Wanderers 4-1, and it started to rain.

Welcome to 2006

Welcome to 2006, everyone.


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