Kobo and other sparks

A friend jio-ed me for a steamboat dinner a few weeks ago at Thomson Plaza. I reached said Plaza in good time, but I might still be making my rounds of the first floor if not for the fact that, while I was on my second round, said friend whatsapped to remind me that the entrance to the steamboat place we were meeting at was outside of the mall itself. We ordered quite quickly, and the meal included the best sliced pig liver I ever cooked for myself – surprisingly, thinly sliced pig liver turns out quite well when poached in tomato stock.

Sometime during the dinner (to be honest, this could have been later during coffee, or even later when I drove her home – that is how my memory is these days), my friend talked about how she was no longer reading on her Kindle, she was in fact the proud owner of a Kobo, which wonder of wonders connects to the National Library’s catalogue of e-books and allows for convenient borrowing of said e-books.

I decided to get my own Kobo there and then.

I would say, about 4-5 years ago now (very probably longer), reading at least a book per month had been a part of my identity. Since then, it probably hasn’t even been a proper book or two in a year. I have often thought about exactly how that change happened, and reckon that the time I spent reading books was taken over by (a) reading shorter pieces on my computer and phone, liking the relative reduction in effort, devolving into laziness, (b) YouTube and Netflix binges – YouTube in particular does not stop suggesting stuff for you to watch, and I am not disciplined enough to not binge – and (c) listening to podcasts and people-watching during my commute to work, which used to be by MRT and afforded some time to have one’s face buried in a book, but then came to be by Grab (the much higher costs were guilt-inducing for a while, emphasis unfortunately on the “a while”), and therefore even more truncated. I’ve tried to “recover” by buying books now and then – guilting myself to read – but all that did was to add to the to-read pile.

I got my Kobo two days after, and in less than a week finished my first library e-book, a heart-wrenching crime novel with an impetuous, super-brave, foul-mouthed, prickly, vulnerable, defiant, fierce teenage heroine who will make you cry for her and call her stupid and want to hug her hurt away all at the same time, called “We Begin At The End”, written by Chris Whitaker. (Please please please go read it, and let me know you’ve read it, so we can talk about it.) (I would normally say I will go buy it, just so I can refer to it as we talk about it, but I am unlikely to forget that story soon. Though, with my memory the way it is these days…)

Then it was on to Tana French, who was on my list of authors whose books I need to borrow from the library, this particular author because an ex-colleague had recommended her. It’s interesting – I had searched for Tana French in the library’s Overdrive catalogue, and the first book that came up was the Chris Whitaker novel (probably because Tana French was one of those whose praise was quoted on the cover or within the book?), and since it had won some first crime novel of the year award and I am a sucker for such recognition, I had gone for it.

And then came the Tana French books, and I realised that some belonged to a Murder Squad series, so I chose the first of them, “In The Woods”. This also turned out to be such a satisfying read, but also sad, the kind of sad that stays with you for a while. With some distance from the book (am now on to the second in the series), I realise that the writer plays a trick on us, and the trick is actually telegraphed at the start, and the trick is that the protagonist, far from a good detective and therefore smart and together and reliable, is irresponsible and damaged, so damaged he irrevocably wrecks the best relationship he has, so that for the second freaking book in a row I’m lounging on my bed telling an imaginary person how stupid they are. Grr. (Also grr-inducing – ok, more like sigh-inducing – was French’s writing; for example, how in a few quick paragraphs she creates this fast platonic pal-dom between the protagonist and his colleague. Reading it made me realise I have never had and never will have the creativity or granular observation skills to write like that; this also made me a bit sad. Such good writing!)

The thing with e-book borrowing though is the library does not keep a record of the e-books you’ve borrowed, so I don’t know for sure today how long it took me to read those two books, but I know that the last books I’d physically borrowed from the library were travel guides. To Switzerland (went paragliding in Interlaken; they did not tell me that a pre-condition for soaring in the sky for a number of extremely unforgettable minutes was lugging 30kg of the contraption that would serve as your wings up a hill (the only time a walk up a hill was more interminable was in Indonesia, during a route march up some sort of dune, heavy radio set, heavy boots, sands shifting so that each step was so hard, and so futile, thighs burning but needing to double-time it because otherwise there was no getting out of that hell, sliding back was not an option because it would mean having to do the climb all over again), but oh the sky was so welcoming, and the terrain so laughably unrecognisable from all that way up), Taiwan, a different part of Taiwan, and most recently Hokkaido. (Darn you COVID!)

I shall have to stop borrowing after this Tana French novel – my to-read pile awaits!

A year of not reading

Well, it wasn’t really without any leisure reading. For example, one book which I did start on during a work trip to Auckland in early October 2019 – and finished last week – delightfully explores which animals also fart. (Thanks for the gift, Bryce!)

Being a reader used to be part of my identity. Books used to fill the interstices of my life. Now, those are stuffed full by bits and bytes from football websites and articles recommended by social media (I favour Reddit, but don’t participate except to upvote worthy items, such as many from r/NatureIsFuckingLit, pardon me). I still like reading, but I’ve not read a book that made me put off sleep – which used to be a not uncommon occurrence – since I read the Chinese web novel turned hit drama 琅琊榜, the second volume of which I had to finish before I took off my spectacles and turned over, tired from the sadness in the book. But although I did not read many books, there were experiences that still made me want to write about them, and so here they are.

A JJ Lin concert

2019 was a year in which, so impressed by JJ Lin’s performances on variety shows, which I caught on my many YouTube binges, I got my brother to join me for the second night of his concerts in Singapore, even though I was not by any measure a fan, being unfamiliar with probably 80% of his oeuvre, a fact which struck me several times while I was sitting on the very basic plastic chairs on the National Stadium pitch, buffeted from the ground by the deep vibrations of the thunderous sound system, so loud I wondered if the hearing of those in the front rows survived – I am surprised mine seemed to have, and in fact my tinnitus is gone, possibly because I am now deaf to my tinnitus even. Have plonked the set list for this particular night below:

  1. 曹操
  2. 新地球
  3. 圣所

[1st break. Every time I am at a concert, at the first break, I remember something that happened at a Sandy Lam concert I enjoyed. At a break – this was near the end of the concert, rather than at the start – the lead drummer played a little part of a song, like a chord or two, then stopped. It was a very familiar song, one of Sandy Lam’s big hits, a duet with Jonathan Lee, but the audience wasn’t expecting it, and drumming doesn’t necessarily convey the tune of the song easily, so there was no reaction. Then the drummer drummed out a longer part of it, then stopped. And a longer part, waving his hands, and we got the message – he wanted us to sing along. And sing along we did – the indoor stadium crowd gave a joyous, at times jumbled, but wholehearted version of 当爱已成往事, the love theme of Farewell My Concubine, until the drummer bashed out one final flourish to welcome back on stage the only person we would have preferred to be singing at that time, and we lapsed back into listening mode.]

  1. 地球毁灭了以后

[2nd break]

  1. 转动
  2. 无法克制
  3. 关键词
  4. Always online
  5. 那些你很冒险的梦
  6. 明天
  7. 黑暗騎士
  8. 可惜没如果

[3rd break]

  1. 黑夜问白天
  2. 背对背拥抱
  3. 第几个100天
  4. 我们很好
  5. 她说
  6. 只对你说
  7. (with 阿杜)坚持到底
  8. 记得 [I used to think JJ Lin depended too much on the way he arranged his music to make his songs sound good. As proof, I played my pal A Mei’s version of this song, and then JJ Lin’s version of this song, and my pal agreed that, come to think of it, played side by side like that, JJ Lin did emphasise the string instruments a tad. I thought this was enough to make the artifice too showy. At that time.]
  9. 输了你赢了世界又如何 [Then I heard JJ Lin’s version of this song. His own arrangement. His very own, rock-star version of a classic, the original version of which is immaculate but still standard fare placed beside this incandescence.]

[4th break]

  1. 对的时间点
  2. 进了门,开了灯,一家人
  3. White Christmas
  4. 我继续
  5. Show the world
  6. 因你而在
  7. 丹宁执着
  8. 伟大的渺小

[Encore]

  1. 进阶
  2. 江南
  3. 不为谁而作的歌

A card shop at the corner of Junction 8

Pictures of bears bring back memories…

I saw this composite picture, and immediately remembered a card shop at a corner of Junction 8, where there is now a restaurant, probably a fast food restaurant, and felt so sad about the time that had passed, and the paucity of stuff I buy cards for now, and the stuff I could have done in all that intervening time. Gosh that was a while ago.

Her

I missed her birthday last year, the first time I ever had since I knew her. Then one ordinary Tuesday in October, she made an unexpected appearance in a dream. Even as I sobered up on hearing the alarm the details were sinking back into dream murk, but I remember I had bought three things for her, three, but I couldn’t remember what they were, though one was in an A4-sized box, like a stack of printer paper. The place was an almost deserted Jurong East bus interchange, from school days, sort of near where she used to live. I stopped by to talk to an acquaintance, and then suddenly she walked by; she also knew the acquaintance, and stopped; they were together. I said her name, and when she did not hear me – I was sure with dream certainty that she did not hear me – I said it again, and when she did not hear me again, I handed over what I had gotten for her. Writing this down, I realise that I did not hear her voice; she did not say anything, just looked mildly puzzled, and keen to go about her original business. And I as usual simply left.

Liverpool

I am a Liverpool fan, of the vintage that will always think John Barnes would keep even the currently en fuego Sadio Mane out of the team. Liverpool are as of this very moment doing extremely well. And the comms nut that I am, I cannot get over the clear difference between the highlights which the losing team showed, those which the winning team did.

What the losing team showed
What the winning team showed

Cinema Paradiso, and a poem

By happy accident, Facebook alerted me that my cousin-in-law and erstwhile classmate back in Primary School – fate is weird like that – had played the theme from Cinema Paradiso. I loved how it sounded, and got to searching YouTube for other performances of the theme, and came across this one of the theme’s composer Ennio Morricone conducting a bravura performance, accompanied by probably the most beautiful poem I’ve ever read.

Dreaming Water – Rhina Espaillat

I woke up this damp day

thinking of Venice:

how lapping water

smoothed into grace a garment

of old stones, put on

tangled reflections.

Bridges curved like the small of

the spine arched over

whispering water

that gilded their knees with quick

coins of shifting light.

My bones dreamt water;

and I thought of green-dappled

ceilings glimpsed from our

gondola, the sea

domestic in its stone gloves.

A moving rendition of the theme to Cinema Paradiso

Stef Sun

I think Stefanie Sun has the effect of enhancing any piece of music she lends her voice to. As an example, witness her collaboration with Mayday, courtesy of the magic that is YouTube recommendations:

Revisiting Tuesdays with Morrie

Many years ago, I read Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Before I read it, I had no idea I could sob so hard reading a book. So when I saw that a play based on the book was going to be staged in Singapore – a translated production by Godot Theatre Company from Taiwan was coming to the Esplanade – I asked a few of the regular folks I’d watch plays with if they’d like to watch it too, and when none of them did, I got a ticket for myself.

The play was largely faithful to the original text, which was satisfying, but the translation sapped it of some coherence – for example, the word “love” is more versatile in the English language than its equivalent in Chinese is, and so it was natural in the book that Mitch says to his wise coach Morrie “I love you”, but awkward onstage when he said the same in Chinese.

I enjoyed the chemistry between the two leads, which allowed some of the added humour in the adaptation – judiciously injected, I think, to lighten a weighty subject in a more visceral medium than print – to shine. Morrie has ALS, and accepts that he will one day lose the ability to wipe his own behind, and his mischievous threat to Mitch that he would have to help his old prof do that is played out with great timing and poignancy. In another part of the play, Morrie is having Mitch read out loud the many letters that he has received and dictating replies to them. There is a 21-page letter from a former student who had gone through a lot, and this is played out in a silent scene, with the lights down. Then the words “One hour later” flashed on the screens at the side of the stage, and the two ponder how to start the reply, until Morrie suggests: “Thank you for your long letter.” In the book, the volume of letters is clear from the author’s short summaries of different letters, and this last letter is given a summary lasting an entire paragraph of woe and misery, and it is Morrie’s son who suggests how to start the reply, and Morrie beams at him.

I also enjoyed how the play made me think back. When I first read the book, my bed was in a different place in my room, the headboard against the window. And I remember, in one of my first years of work in my current workplace, I had the opportunity to share my love of the book through giving it to a boss I admired via a Secret Santa gift exchange. We had a small festive celebration at Sentosa, and I remember Andrew playing the guitar. That was altogether a time of bigger possibilities.

Stuff which moved me recently

The MICappella concert in early November may have been the best concert I’ve ever been to. Juni, Kexin, Calin, Peter, Eugene and Mingwei performed with energy and joy – and maybe because they were doing a cappella, there was less between the audience and the group’s unvarnished stage presence. I’ve never been so glad to have been jioed by a friend to something. Their rendition of “One Night in Beijing” had jaded me just wowed and stunned in my seat.

See some YouTube clips of their work below, and go to their next concert!

A cover of JJ Lin’s 可惜没如果

(I enjoy both MICappella’s cover and the original, but I find the original (see here) too “produced”, with its instrumental flourishes almost literally tugging at the heartstrings. I believe the phrase in Chinese would be 匠心太重. I find that I have that feeling about many JJ Lin songs.)

A medley of covers of popular Chinese hits in 2016

A cover of “One Night in Beijing”

***

I reread this profile of Ted Williams’ last game for the Boston Red Sox, and found John Updike’s writing timeless and observant – his use of nameless fellow common people just so well done – and touching.

And I got reminded of another virtuoso piece of writing about a sportsman I have had the pleasure of watching. The writer himself is unfortunately no longer around, but David Foster Wallace’s profile of Roger Federer and his whip of a forehand – done more than 10 years ago and still fresh, a testament to Federer’s staying power and Wallace’s ability to convey a sense of what it must be like to see that talent in the flesh.

***

I resumed reading Charles Duhigg’s Smart Better Faster about a week ago. It was in my pile of books to read and I realised that I never finished it after opening it and finding a bookmark inside. It is a book that tries to break down what makes people productive, and does that well, partly through stories illustrating certain principles. An early one – about a chap who suffered brain damage which removed his motivation and how the chap’s wife helped him to regain it by persistently and patiently asking him question after question to make him make choices and take agency – gave me the chills.

***

I am moved by more things now, getting decidedly more maudlin as I get decisively older. The first book which made me bawl was Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie”, in my first year at work. Now the above books/articles/experiences, which I went through in the last two months, have all done that.

 

Five things I recently and not-so-recently read

We learn 25% from our teacher, 25% from experience, 25% from our friends, and 25% from time #WitchOfPortobello

– Text of a tweet by @paulocoelho, which I read to mean that the quote is from Paulo Coelho’s book The Witch of Portobello. I had come to know about Paulo Coelho through The Alchemist and Veronika Decides to Die. After I typed out the text of the quote, it struck me that saying that we learn 25% from experience and 25% from time was repetitive; but then I thought, was it? Learning from experience could learning from doing something or being affected by some event; learning from time, on the other hand, need not – the passing of time itself may convey some lessons…

In the frosty gloom of Dec. 30, as a hissing wind spun litter through the air, the Maltz company had among its cars a 2011 Mustang convertible, multiple Mercedes-Benzes, two cars that didn’t even run and George Bell’s 2005 Toyota.

– The start of a paragraph from N R Kornfeld’s The Lonely Death of George Bell, published in The New York Times on 17 October 2016. The story is about the leavings of a man who died alone, in New York City. You can hear the wind hiss and see the litter being spun.

China may not yet be a great power but it has already acquired great power autism.

– A sentence from the highlights of a conference organised by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on China. To this layman, the metaphor of “great power autism” – autism being a condition characterised by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people – seems so apt.

Sharon sounded prepared to be bored.

– A line about a tone I could so readily imagine, from Ovidia Yu‘s Aunty Lee’s Deadly Delights, Aunty Lee being a latter-day counterpart to and hybrid of Miss Marple (her well-intentioned social interventions) and Nero Wolfe (her being a gourmand).

“What was truly surprising for me,” Donahue said, “was going into a space that was ancient, and to crawl around the ceiling and look at the walls and realize that they were looking at things acoustically. It wasn’t just about the architecture. They had these big jugs that were put up there to sip certain frequencies out of the air … They built diffusion, a way to break up the sound waves by putting striations in the walls. They were actively trying to tune the space.”

– A quote from Adrienne LaFrance’s Hearing the Lost Sounds of Antiquity, published in The Atlantic on 19 Feb 2016. The article is about researchers trying to understand the acoustics of ancient churches, and the person being quoted is one of the researchers who studied how the physical design of churches affected their acoustics. Another superbly evocative metaphor: jugs, which themselves are vessels of liquid, sipping frequencies out of the air. Wow. (P/S. People actually talk like that! PP/S. Although LaFrance could have interviewed Donahue over email. PPP/S. Still!)

Miscellany

I love Diana Krall’s cover of “Just the way you are”. I find that it shares its sentiment of an abiding reassurance to one’s longtime and maybe somewhat inevitably neglected loved one with a Chinese song – 黄韵玲’s 喜欢你现在的样子 (the song name translates to something like “Like how you are now”).

***

A couple of concepts that struck a chord with me:

1. Cesar Hidalgo’s idea of “personbyte” i.e. the full person’s worth of knowledge, which I came across reading Tim Harford’s post about the importance of harnessing teamwork and collaboration in today’s complex economies.

2. Resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues

***

Bought my pal durian a week or so ago. Made my week when she and her family enjoyed them.

***

I recently saw a pillion-rider scrolling through her smartphone while the motorcycle she was on weaved through some sedate traffic. That is some serious addiction, I thought. Plus my own smartphone is too oily for me to confidently do that. Then another time I passed by Chong Pang in a cab. This was either early morning or late, late in the evening. The shops were closed. Under the dark sky, silhouetted against the fluorescent white of the HDB corridors, was a man lying on his back on a bench. His face was aglow with the light from his smartphone, which he looked up at, rapt.

***

I came across this line in a 陈绮贞 book: 生活习性越来越肖似的恋人. Loosely translated, the line means lovers whose habits become more and more alike. And I got to thinking about my pal and her soon-to-be-husband.

***

Watched Hail, Caesar! and Deadpool within a few days of each other. Both were entertaining, but while Hail, Caesar! had an intriguing mystery and fun set-pieces and some engrossing acting, Deadpool had a heart. An incorrigibly tasteless, good-for-nothing bum-with-a-sex-joke-a-second sort of heart, but a heart nonetheless. I enjoyed Deadpool more.

Flex again, and stuff I want to remember

I have not written or read for myself for a long time, it seems. I think part of it is that I’ve become addicted to the sheer availability of reading material online – plain old books now seem too uncertain a proposition.

I did read Caroline Paul’s Lost Cat recently – it was short enough that after reading the blurb I was confident there would be no unpleasant surprises. It’s supposed to be a true story about what happened after the author got into a plane crash – she helpfully clarifies it was an experimental plane – and I read it in an hour and a bit, not including the time I used to make sure I was not going to the miss the lip of the escalator (I would have, by a couple of feet, if I hadn’t looked up), and the time I tried to prolong the book, after I realised it was ending in a few pages. I found it to be an interesting look into how pet-owners see their pets and how people come to terms with the life of their significant other. I also enjoyed the funny drawings which accompanied the story; I remember that I came to know about the book through Wendy MacNaughton’s blog, and her art was one of the reasons I looked forward to the book. One line early in the book stuck with me; it set a tone I could identify with: Every day I expected Wendy to lean in, whisper that she’d had enough, and walk out the door. And who would have blamed her? We hadn’t been together long enough to justify this kind of burden.

***

Some weeks ago, a few days after the first rain in a long spell and the inevitable flight of the large black winged ants, many of which got attracted to the lights in my kitchen, I heard a chorus of frog croaks. And as I think back on it now, it was a muted chorus, just a few frogs, and soft. There was a time when frogs and toads were not an uncommon sight in my garden on wet nights, and it’s a little strange, but I can’t remember if the chorus had been louder then.

***

In Ottawa, again relative yonks ago (August 2013), I saw a garishly lit-up stretch limo which had been converted into a roving casino. Think there was one person in there.

***

On 3 March this year I had my most vivid dream in a while. I was in a neat and pristine army bunk, a modern flat of a bunk, nothing like the poorly ventilated, poorly lit room I had lived in for a good portion of my life while I was doing national service, the sort of room that somehow stayed dirty and grimy no matter how one cleaned it. And an erstwhile bunkmate was there with me, and we were discussing how a big shot was going to inspect the place, and how the new four-to-a-bunk regime made it infinitely easier to prepare for the inspection than the old many-to-a-bunk arrangement. He was quiet, now that I think about it, but smiled more than when I last saw him, or remembered. And slowly with no warning I realised the room was too bright, and I never had a four-to-a-bunk sort of bunk, and he was smiling altogether too much, and I could see him too clearly – and then I woke up, unsure of what time of the day it was, half-remembering that it was evening, that I had just taken my customary weekend late afternoon nap, and then after an effort, and checking the time, I realised it was morning, and I had just awoken from a late night, having dreamt of a fellow Sim who had been dead for more than 17 years, and whom I never really knew that well.

***

Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed the Men in Black movies, told a very funny story in the 1 March 2014 edition of the news game show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!. (I was going to transcribe it all, but it’s already all there at the link – you can listen, or you can read, or you can listen and read.)

***

I was in Salt Lake City not so recently (just checked – it’s amazingly almost half a year ago in November 2013). And while I was there I ordered these earphones. Because I couldn’t be sure they would reach my hotel before I left for Singapore, I paid the shipping fee. The merchant sent me an email with a link that allowed me to track the package on its way to Singapore. So I did. The first stop for the package was to Salt Lake City. Nice coincidence. Then, when I stopped in San Francisco for a couple of days and checked the link again, I found that the package had been sent to San Francisco. And from there of course it followed me to Singapore. Brilliant. What’s more brilliant: I came to learn that the same earphones, but without the mic I did not want, were available for way less on a special offer.

***

It was good to do some personal writing again. I can feel the atrophied muscles start to grudgingly slough off their stiffness as I flex just a little bit.

I Am Pilgrim

The colleague who was my Secret Santa for Christmas 2013 got me I Am Pilgrim, a book that I think I first read about on Guardian. (I really need to track where these recommendations come from, for my reference and future enjoyment.)

I wanted a good thriller, and got 700 pages’ worth – with the 9/11 attack as a very present backdrop, and the promise of a worse eruption of terror, narrated in the first person by a haunted and brilliant protagonist, studded with observant and unsparing detail and surprisingly sympathetic characters. The writing took some getting used to – I thought it was stilted in the beginning – and there was some grandstanding, Hollywood-ish moments (which sort of makes sense since the author is a former screenwriter), but it was a satisfying read, which I finished in one sitting (this afternoon and evening).

Probably the best thing is that the ending – with a master criminal still at large and the protagonist accept his calling in life – all but guarantees that this will be the first in a series :)

P/S. Another colleague got me a really cool bookmark; I used it three times before I finished the book.

Salt Lake City and flakes of snow I did not see

In Salt Lake City, I saw no lakes, but I did see a gray day, mist descending upon the streets, and a bright day, with smears of clouds and sun-rays that made the cold crisp and clear, and the colder aftermath of a storm I’d slept through, stained sidewalks and puddles and gusts of condensed breaths, all from the inside of the hotel, the most luxurious I’ve ever stayed at, where my colleagues and I met with other folks and talked and talked.

***

These days I seem to only read proper books during my work trips. I finished two and a half of them this time round. One was Kathleen Jamie’s collection of essays, one of which was about a trip to see auroras and which I thought was a work of beauty, something I literally gasped at, and which was generous, because she described stuff in a way that made me think, she really wants you to see and feel what she does. I want you to read it and take it in in all its context and be happy, but I also want to share a bit of it with you, so here’s a bit of it:

Luminous green, teal green, the aurora borealis glows almost directly overhead. It intensifies against the starry night like breath on a mirror, and it moves. Across the whole sky from east to west, the green lights shift and alter. Now it’s an emerald veil, now with a surge it remakes itself into a swizzle which reach toward some far-away place in the east.

***

Apart from being a stunningly lyrical essayist, Kathleen Jamie is also a poet. And talking about poets, I found one, I can’t remember whom or where from, but I found a good one who writes about commonplace things and is supremely accessible. (This makes a difference to literalist me.) Check out Billy Collins, and his poem The Lanyard. I enjoyed how the poem sort of does a slow little pirouette to end off.

***

And this year, I also discovered Ken Liu and his stories which often mix in some aspect of Chinese typography or myth or history to poignant effect. How wonderful, that some of them are freely available. Like Mono no aware. (Gravity fans (i.e. those who like the movie starring Bullock and Clooney, not those who ensure the feel of weight) should especially enjoy it. I wouldn’t know – I haven’t watched Gravity yet.)

***

A couple of months back, I heard a song on the radio. It was a sad Chinese pop ballad, and at first I could not place the familiar voice. Then it hit a clear high note, and I realised it was 张信哲. When I got over the voice, these lyrics stayed with me.

飞机起飞之后 我的笑容永不再相同 (After the plane lifts off, my smile will no longer be the same)

Somehow, in Chinese, it’s more poetic.

***

This year, I discovered many many things about myself. One of these is that I always ruin my candles. You know, those that fill up jars? I always drop matches in them, or add in potpourri petals and bits to see how they would smell burnt, or the wick would shorten to an untenable length. Then, the candles get neglected and then the neglect becomes abandonment.

***

Also quite recently, I heard the first few piano plonks of Jewel’s Foolish Games, and immediately knew what song it was and remembered that I hadn’t heard it for many yonks, that it had been big when I was in my first year of university and that I had thought the world of its lyrics and her singing. Listening to it this time, Jewel sounded strident and pretentious, instead of raw and heartfelt. I don’t think the song has aged well.

Or maybe it’s my taste that hasn’t.

 

Twenties Girl – commentary

I guess you could say I took the long way to Ottawa (land of much open space): Singapore – Hong Kong – San Francisco – Chicago – Ottawa. The way back was just as bad: Ottawa – Chicago – San Francisco – Incheon – Singapore. But I managed to read Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl, which a colleague lent me a few weeks ago (I passed her Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go), during the San Francisco-Incheon leg, and while I was enjoying it I jotted down some notes.

Page 109 – The main characters, meek, set-adrift-and-buffeted-by-life Lara and the stridently shrieking ghost of her great-grandaunt Sadie, are at their selfish worst. I can’t sympathise with them. But I’m willing to continue reading, I think because I know they will eventually emerge as benevolent and likable. (Is that a difference between a serious novel, which would not offer that certainty. and something lighter, which this book is?)

Page 123 – The point I get really interested in the book: Sadie agrees to help Lara with her dog problem. Before this, the two weren’t a team.

Page 136 – Shock: Lara asks him out! (“Him” being the “American man with the frown” – also, “quite good-looking in that classic preppy way… has a bit of a tan, and dark wrist hair visible inside his immaculate white cuffs [note: weird, describing wrist hair]… his eyes are penetrating…”) Not sure what to make of the fact that, with much effort, Sadie is able to make herself heard by others (Lara can see and hear her normally, and is persuaded to ask him out because Sadie thinks he’s handsome and wants to dance with him), but this is an intriguing development.

Page 150 – Lara pesters Sadie to get Josh (Lara’s ex-beau) to tell the girl he is now with (not Lara) what was wrong with Lara. (Yes, Lara is spying on Josh during his date.) And I realise that Lara and Sadie have this relationship where they just pester each other to do something until the other agrees to. Apart from parents and their children, do people actually have this sort of relationship?

Page 157 – Lara resolves that she will change all that Josh thought was wrong with her. She’s deluded! Are women like that?

Page 191 – The “the quarrelsome twosome understand/appreciate each other” moment.

Page 201 – Hmm. The plot thickens. (Background: Sadie’s apparently still around because she can’t go without her necklace, which has disappeared. In her search for the necklace, Lara finds out that the last person to visit Sadie at the hospice was one Charles Reece, who turns out to be Lara’s uncle Bill.)

Page 209 – Lara meets Bill, after an extravagant pageant of security and functionaries and secretaries.

Page 216 – Sadie, who is invisible (except to Lara) and intangible, finds the necklace in Bill’s house. So Bill did take it. The plot grows several layers.

Page 226 – Lara sneaks around in Bill’s house looking for the necklace, with Sadie as alarm and guide. Pretty kick-ass to have a ghost on this sort of mission.

Page 229 – Lara is going to “trail” (aka stalk) Josh outside his workplace to show him she has changed and try to get back together with him. The “not good idea” quotient of this idea is clearly expressed by Sadie, who says: “This is a very bad idea. A very, very bad idea.”

Page 234 – So they are back together. But only after Sadie mind-bullies vapid Josh into it.

Page 237 – Lara texts all her friends, and the pizza delivery person, about Josh’s and her return to couplehood. Smacks of approval-seeking or some vague gloating, totally unappealing. Hope she does not end up with Josh – just would not be right.

Page 244 – CRISIS. Necklace out of reach, work emergency with no solution in sight.

Page 264 – Lara and Mr American frown aka Ed discuss her partner (at work) a little, during their second “date”. The notion that Lara will end up with Ed with Sadie facilitating pops into my head.

Page 283 – Ed reveals the reason for his frown. I like Ed more and more.

Page 310 – The necklace makes another appearance during a fashion show, and after an exciting chase in which Bill also appears, menacingly, it slips away just before Lara can get her hands on it. Why does Bill also want the necklace?! He’s the owner of a chain competing with Starbucks, for goodness’ sake.

Page 319 – Inevitable: Lara breaks up with Josh.

Page 326 – Also inevitable, as it is that stage of the plot for a crisis between friends: Lara lies to Sadie that she is going out with Josh, so that Sadie will not get to crow over the breakup, and goes out with Ed.

Page 333 – I won’t describe what is so true here, but it’s so true :)

Page 360 – So good to see one of the minor villains of the story get hers!

Between page 361 and page 386 – I realise that I’m missing movies and TV shows during an 11.5-hour SQ flight for this book.

Pages 387-388 – The most surreal moment in this ghost story: After Sadie disappears in an angry huff after seeing Lara and Ed together and Lara searches all over for her and fails to find her, Lara tries to summon her at a pond.

Page 424 – Lara and Ed find out why Bill wants the necklace. Well and a bit too neatly plotted.

Page 432 – Why not just tell Ed that you can see Sadie’s ghost?!?!

Pages 456-457 – Tonya (Lara’s sister and the other minor villain in the book) is *irritating*.

Page 466 – Sadie’s ravishing smile, the last that Lara sees of her = brilliant.

The colleague who lent me the book urged me to finish it: The ending is heartwarming, she said. This was echoed by a reviewer on Goodreads. But I found the lead-up to the ending better than the ending itself, which I thought was rather ordinary, although it did give everyone their just desserts. Sadie got her Alaskan earthquake :)