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!

It’s been a while…

So the other day, a couple of days after my pal’s wedding, it occurred to me that Christmas was in a week’s time. Christmas hasn’t crept up on me like that in many years. I thought about why this year it did. And I think it was because the pace at work has been unrelenting – I have not had the space of mind to be more than who I am at work; have not had the space of mind to read like I used to; have not had the space of mind to write like this even – and because life has sucked, to use a technical term. And of course, skimming back, the sentence I just wrote appears to be nothing but excuses, even to me. I just got lazy. It happens.

Still, on my best days, I want the me who liked to write and to read back. Today happens to be one of those days, and I’ll start a streak with this first post in a while.

My pal’s wedding was last Saturday. There was a bit at the church, then a second bit at a lunch event at a hotel. The church bit was not far from what I had expected, which is to say that it was self-righteous and patriarchal, and very far from comfortable for a hardened atheist. And as I was sitting there thinking about whether the designers of this church had tried to achieve a stained-glass effect by having the church’s tall, narrow windows fitted with tessellated glass, and listening to the soothing hymns and some utterly sanctimonious preaching (to be fair, it was only from this one chap who should have kept his mouth fully shut), someone close to me who was having trouble buying an HDB flat because of who she loved and surgery she had started an angry SMS exchange with me. All in all, a surreal experience. And endurable, because my pal looked radiant in her wedding dress, and so happy.

The weekend before that, I attended the Tanya Chua concert with said pal and her beau. My conclusions: Tanya does not need bass-heavy accompaniment or light-shows which require epilepsy warnings, both of which were unfortunately present at the concert, to draw crowds; Tanya does a mean cover of Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be”, while Kit Chan – who made a mildly awkward guest appearance – probably has too high a voice to do it the same justice; that the light show was unnecessary does not mean it was crap – there was an effect which somehow created a tunnel to the audience, so that we could see Tanya at the end of said tunnel, and that was quite cool; Tanya can sing – that is all.

Two weekends before that, I attended the Emi Fujita concert. It did not take long for me to realise that, seated where I was, at a booth above and slightly behind the pianist, I could see his song-list. At first, it seemed as though I would not be able to make out the exact words, but it turned out that I did not need to – the length of the words in each song title and the look of the characters in the words told me enough. Every song was at least a minor classic and familiar, and Emi Fujita sang each in her slow, slightly mispronounced way, which unexpectedly got me to focus on the lyrics, many of which then struck me as absolutely brilliant. For example, Dan Fogelberg’s Longer has “Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow, burning lines in the book of our lives; though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow, I’ll be in love with you”; the entirety of Bette Midler’s The Rose; and Judy Garland’s First of May has “When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall, we used to love while others used to play; don’t ask me why, but time has passed us by, someone else moved in from far away”. Around the mid-point of the concert, Emi Fujita left the stage to her guitarist, a chap named Shun Komatsubara, who then played this tune, and opened my eyes to a different type of guitar-playing altogether – both hands close together, finer control than I thought possible. And so the concert went on, until I realised that even the songs for the encore were listed in the pianist’s song-list – which validated one of my long-time assumptions, that any pretense that encores were impromptu was mere stagecraft – and so I could leave early and beat the crowd knowing I wouldn’t be very keen on the last song.

Many months ago now, I dreamt that I swallowed a sparrow. For a long while I tried to cough it out, but it remained lodged, feathery but substantial fluttering buffeting the space between my throat and my chest. Then I woke up. Maybe I ate too much. (Story of my life.)


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.

Miscellany (12 Aug 2013)

The distance between armchairs at lunch and scenes from Before Midnight

A few days ago I had lunch with a colleague. This was again at the TCC at Central, with the mini armchairs that always make me wish I could settle more deeply into one but that would end up with me too far from the table and the meal and definitely too far for conversation. Come to think of it, this is also the issue in the typical Starbucks store – hm… “store” seems not particularly suitable for a Starbucks place; let’s use “location”, which is antiseptically neutral but accurate enough – this is also the issue in the typical Starbucks location in Singapore, which nowadays feels packed and spacious at the same time and is sprinkled with comfy yet low-maintenance sofas and armchairs and a place to feel like you want to feel comfortable in, but it’s tough because the instinct is to sit opposite each other, which places you too far apart, and sitting next to each other results in the sort of dynamic that also happens when two people watch a movie, which is similarly side-by-side self-directed focused enjoyment of the scenes unfolding before you, which only occasionally merit staccato bursts of mutual sideways looks and exchanges for the purpose of ascertaining that the other person feels the same way about the scene that you do. (There were lots of these when my pal and I watched Before Midnight, whose script I found topnotch and intensely engrossing. There is the opening scene where Jesse sends off his son with entirely and understandably too many promises. And then there is the scene in which Jesse and Celine drive back to their Greek holiday villa and quarrel the way significant others who can plot out the meanders of each other’s lines of argument quarrel, during which Jesse eats a half-eaten green apple which one of his twin daughters have yet to finish and said daughter wakes up and blearily asks for said half-eaten green apple and in so doing keeps the quarrel from boiling over. Then come the scenes of Greek meal preparation in which Celine helps her hosts stuff peppers with stuff that made me hungry, interspersed with scenes of Jesse testing the (pretentious) concepts for his next novel with an old fellow writer and a couple of fans, and then the dinner scene in which various models of love (including the model in which both parties know break-up is certain at some point in time, being young and independent and having no need for the sort of committed companionship and partnership that marriage is) and couplehood (including the model in which the party who dies second continues to think of what the party who dies first would say if he is still around) are discussed and bickered over and there is the continuation of the couple’s quarrel in the car, leading to a sharp rise in temperature then a very welcome drop in same as those around the table deftly conduct some reconciliation and set up the finale (Celine’s and Jesse’s hosts insisting on taking care of the twins while the couple enjoy a night at this hotel). Then there are the long takes where Celine and Jesse just walk and talk and walk and talk as if we are not there (in a way that movies, which by definition presuppose an audience, are usually too self-aware to show), and the scene in which Celine and Jesse check into the hotel and Jesse is asked to autograph some books by a fan and Celine too and Jesse obliges and Celine doesn’t want to until Jesse says out loud that yes Celine would be happy to and she does so in a way that hides her true fury from the fan and sends a clear message to her husband. Then comes the climax-which-felt-like-it-lasted-half-the-movie, in which the quarrel escalates into an emotionally violent argument with its own rhythm and plot about sex and gender roles and one partner’s success and guilt which is absurd yet raw and real, and lastly the scene in which there is some much longed-for time travel. There were points where my pal and I laughed together, and winced and cringed and flinched together, and after it ended, I felt – in no particular order – deeply relieved, tired and satisfied yet determined not to put myself through this movie again, solidly impressed with the chemistry and generosity of the actors in working out the script and then in acting out the script, and oddly optimistic about the future of Celine and Jesse as a couple.)


Crime book dichotomies

And I had thought that we discussed it during the lunch, but now I remember that the colleague and I had discussed books on the way to lunch. She asked what I was doing that long weekend – I said reading and spring cleaning, the latter of which I haven’t done, at all – and she then asked what books I liked to read and mentioned she liked crime books by James Patterson and Jeffrey Deaver and I replied I read crime books too but preferred PD James and Ruth Rendell and stumbled over myself trying to articulate the differences I saw in the crime books she liked and the ones I liked and, after dropping the too easy and slightly inaccurate action vs. procedural dichotomy, arrived at the international/cosmopolitan vs. little town/village dichotomy.  (And after reading Ruth Rendell’s dense and quite brilliant Harm Done, whose commentary on a vulnerable class (battered women, and women in general to a lesser extent) reminded me of Donna Leon’s The Golden Egg (which focused on one horrendously treated child), I find I have to consider also the popcorn plot vs. social commentary dichotomy.)


Love = capable of causing pain

Before Midnight came up again in a discussion with another colleague – we had exchanged books (Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl for me and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go for her) – who, after I mentioned the movie required a lot of emotional investment and was raw and not something I’d want to watch again, said it sounded so sad. I thought about that a bit, and concluded that for me the movie is not sad overall, but certainly the parts where Celine and Jesse show that each knows exactly where the other has poorly healed wounds to messily and thoroughly unscab – those parts are sad in the sense people who love each other so deeply are in the best position to cause that commensurate pain and sometimes fully aware they do just that, harshly jerking away the scabs and precisely salting the exposed parts.



This year, 7 Aug came with some warning – in that it was the day before a four-day weekend and therefore had stuck in my mind for other reasons than the usual, which I have more or less forgotten – and perhaps leading up to the day I had thought however fleetingly about what that date used to mean to me, so on the day itself I found myself humming 优客李林’s 输了你,赢了世界又如何, which had come out around the time the date meant the most.


A three-inch diameter ear-stud

Recently I got a seat on the MRT on the way to work. And while listening to my favourite podcast on my ear-buds (which by the way is an activity I seem to have become addicted to; I think the fundamental attraction to me is the ability to choose the world I alone want to experience), I saw this chap – possibly from Anderson Junior College; he looked the right age and had on trousers of the right colour and possibly the appropriate insignia – with what I thought were clear plastic headphones which turned out to be a gigantic hoop ear-stud (I only saw/paid attention to his left ear). Yup, it looked like he had on a ear-stud – which I always thought was some inconspicuous mini-thing to keep one’s earring-hole open – that was essentially a three-inch diameter hoop, I kid you not. It was surreal looking through the ear-hoop and seeing clear through to where his neck connected to his collar. I thought that was quite bizarre, and could his school condone it, but maybe he liked it.


Some much-needed self-bashing

I have become less and less appreciative of my folks, I’m afraid – plain choosy about my dinner, for example, asking Mum to cook me some noodles when she’d already painstakingly prepared rice and perfectly adequate dishes to go along with it. So the other day I came home, and she showed me that she had fried some rice, and I stared at it, reflexively thinking up reasons to reject it in favour of some noodles – I love noodles – including, I remember, complaining in my mind that the egg in the fried rice was too clumpy and not scrambled enough. I went to take a shower without either committing to the rice or saying I’d like some noodles, please, and after some well-deserved self-bashing came out and ate up two bowls of the rice, which was not the best but yummy enough. I need to be more self-bashing in this aspect of my life :)


Airsless people

Few people I know are totally without airs – I’ve met a President’s scholar a few years younger than me who was, and there is this high-ranking civil servant and former boss who is – and the other day I bumped into the latter at a stairs landing in Hong Lim Food Centre after I had bought my breakfast, and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me and spend those next few minutes with me to find out how I was doing, to the extent that, although people using the landing had to go around us, it felt as if he was perfectly focused on talking with me. That was a great start to the day.


Dear cab-driver, I wish you well…

I was going to work on a cab the other day. (Yes, this peasant princeling enjoys such uneconomical luxuries.) At around the same time I was thinking how new the cab was, the driver said that I was his first customer for this cab, and that he’d gotten it only the day before, after which he had driven his wife and two children (I think it’s two) around in the cab. He had only been driving a cab for a few months, and he was previously with TransCab (he was now driving a ComfortDelGro Hyundai Sonata), and his was among the last batch of Sonatas and the next batches would be i40s, he said. He said he did not like driving a cab – it was a lot of pressure, having to deal with different customers and not knowing which kind he was going to get next. A couple of his friends had gotten into trouble because of customer complaints already. He much preferred his previous job as a container truck-driver, which he felt he and other Singaporeans had been pushed out of because of PRC drivers, which he said he perfectly understood because that’s what someone else would do if he was in the boss’s position, and because the job paid by the trip and more and more the PRC drivers were getting the trips because they were cheaper, he could see how the inevitable would happen and had decided to quit, and his friend and fellow container truck-driver had talked it out with the boss but to no avail. He said that was why he asked his daughters (I think) to study hard and to his understated pride it was clear that they were doing well in school. I noted that his boss should be finding it harder to get good container truck-drivers and he said yes in fact his boss had called him to ask him to go back, but he had asked if his friends and former colleagues had been asked to as well and the boss had said no, and therefore he had decided not to go back, even though his friends had told him he should, because – he explained – he was the sort of person who didn’t like others to think that he had made some side arrangement with his former boss. I’m afraid I hounded him on this – perhaps you need not be so focused on what others think or say, I said; this is a job you like, I said; and which pays better etc. etc., I could have said – but he was adamant and appeared totally at peace with his decision and keen to continue on his current path to the best of his ability. Then we arrived at my destination, and I paid him and wished him well, and he wished me well, and said he hoped his other customers would be like me, and I slid over to the curbside and stepped out and closed the door and he drove off.

I hope he is doing well, this cab-driver.


One day, on my way to work…

Outside the MRT gates, I saw a man casually dressed in jeans and a light-coloured shirt at the side of the gates watching someone go up the escalator to the MRT platform. In Chinese, this would be described as 目送, literally “eye send” – as in using one’s eyes to send someone off. He watched and watched, and then finally turned away and, I think, caught me watching him and smiled a little smile.

Stuff I’m happy about (4 Jul 2013)

Today is the birthday of a cousin, who said recently that she rearryrearry likes having more time to hang out with her husband and her family because of her new job. And that’s something I’m happy about :)


Today I met family of the work sort for lunch. These are folks I’ve known since I started work or soon after. I was late for lunch, having gotten caught up at a meeting I was keen on but on second thought had little business getting involved in. When I got to the restaurant, I realised that the folks were sitting next to another set of colleagues, coincidentally at the same restaurant. And it was quite comical how, over the next few minutes, more colleagues came into the restaurant, one set sitting to our other side catching up with not-colleagues-anymore, another two coming in, the chap waving to the lot of us sheepishly.

We talked about what we were now doing at work, about how the department we had known each other at was doing. The girls* have one, two and two-with-third-on-the-way children respectively, and so there was some talk about children and how not-a-toddler-anymore one kid was (she’s 11), and one girl’s helper (who sleeps on her sofa, as caught by her video cameras), and one girl’s dropping off her two children at the same childcare and always having to wait till the younger child finishes crying. We talked about another colleague, who was now in Cambodia volunteering with the World Wide Fund for Nature, and whom one of the girls visited with her husband without the not-a-toddler-anymore and missed the haze. We talked about the eligible bachelor among us who may not be bachelor much longer and his beau.

It is good that we could still talk like that. And that’s something I’m happy about :)

* So, is my vocabulary underdeveloped, or is there no other way to refer to friends of the female variety apart from “girls”? I can’t imagine replacing “girls” with “women” – well technically I can, but it doesn’t sound right at all – and using “ladies” just seems pretentious…


A pile of nine books arrived a few days ago from Amazon. I’m sure no fewer than four of them will rate at least 7/10 on the enjoyment scale, and have high hopes for the others that I haven’t got to. (Have in fact started on two – slightly underwhelming, I’m afraid.)

It is nice to have books to look forward to – that’s something I’m happy about :)


I went phone shopping with my dad after lunch, and we went around Chinatown Point just because there was time left on the parking coupons, and then he drove me around some of the houses near our place and showed me those he thought looked good and I agreed. It was good talking with my dad – that’s something I’m happy about :)


The nap just now was happy-ing too.


The cousin who has a better work-life situation now also talked about her career monster wanting it all and how she sometimes feels conflicted.

In comparison, mine’s probably a career gremlin: malformed, temperamental and destructive.


For some reason, I can never remember who is Smiley in the 2012 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I can see his face, and I know he’s Commissioner Gordon and my brain goes “Alan” something and it just gets held up there and I go through different names – I always think it starts with A and I always think about Colin Firth and how that’s one other person who starred in that movie and then I think Alan Goodman and I would know it’s wrong and so’s Alan Rickman and at this point usually I give up and look it up and realise it’s… Gary freaking Oldman.

It’s weird because I lurved the movie. Movies like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy still get made – that’s something I’m happy about :)


I used to think Singapore had fairly constant weather, or at least non-freaky weather. The haze and hail changed that perception a little bit, and got me thinking about the time I was in Brussels, and a summer day broke through the grey drizzly cold. I now better understand how welcome the light and warmth was, and why the streets filled up with people happy-drunk on sun.

Today in Singapore it was humid to the point of stifling, and the sky was willing only to drizzle.

But the haze is still gone – that’s something I’m happy about :)


I’m happy that this web site makes this podcast :) Every Saturday I get something fun to listen to – the next episode in a dimension-spanning high-fantasy epic starring five friends role-playing well-fitted characters and an accomplished gamemaster.


My birthday was a workday, so I was at work. Two colleagues I’ve known for a long while wished me happy birthday, and that was good. One of them did so in front of some other colleagues, who quickly went to get a cake and did a classic surprise! celebration, which I felt awkward at. (I’d rather I knew for sure that people wanted to celebrate my birthday.) Then I had a good dinner with my pal at the Royal Mail where the lobster was sweet, the mushrooms were only okay, the blue swimmer crabmeat went well with the salad sprinkled with trout caviar and the conversation was deeply enjoyable. And when I got back home it was either the last dregs of my birthday or just the day after, and my sis stayed up to wish me happy birthday :)


Christmas is 174 days away, not so long – and that’s something I’m happy about :)

Thoughts on a trip to San Diego

San Diego this time of year is typically colder, the driver says. The driver drives a van that bears me toward the airport, where I’ll take a flight to Los Angeles, then Tokyo, then home. A few turns into what he promises would be a short drive, he notices someone on the pavement – a flustered woman lugging along a check-in bag and a carry-on – and exchanges some short quick gestures with her. Having determined something from this wordless back and forth, he stops the van – he knows her, he says by way of explanation – and leaves his seat to help her with her bags. I do my bit, sliding open the door. She gets on and settles beside me, grateful to the driver, but not overly so – his does not seem to have been a totally unexpected act of kindness. I learn that she had headed out to the airport via public transport, but her train had been delayed, and she had missed a bus, and was looking for a cab when we pulled up.

A couple of hours later, in LA, I have some time to daydream, and I come to wonder if a driver with the same job in Singapore – sending a hotel guest to the airport – would stop to pick up someone like this, as a kindness. My instinct tells me no, because the traffic in Singapore is too dense and hectic, and everyone wishes to get to some place quick, and there isn’t the space for you to safely stop and not obstruct the traffic behind you. Or at least that is what you would tell yourself, in Singapore, I think.

And I come to think, as I have thought a few times on and off since I’ve had the opportunity to travel to other cities around the world over the last couple of years, that space is an essential part of what makes a city liveable.

The tremendously agreeable weather – a blue sky; smears of cloud like white from a minimalist painter’s palette; a crisp coolness that makes sunshine a tangible, almost benedictory thing – that San Diego has had for the past week would help too.


A couple of days before my trip to the San Diego airport, I am in Phoenix visiting a friend. We get along well, but are not close, so the visit is slightly awkward the way something not altogether laid down in the bounds of social norms can sometimes be for me. I bring gifts for her, one from a mutual friend, so that lubricates things. She is touched by the mutual friend’s gift: a piece of wood which is shaped not unlike a snow-globe with an elongated base and which opens up to reveal carvings of the buddha.

We talk a lot. She talks about her research into spirituality and materialism and how the two intertwine. She is doing her PhD. For a while, I had thought about academia as a career too, and now I feel a pang of jealousy, but it is distant, buried deep under current comforts and indolence and inertia; I know too much now about my disinclination to withstand discomfort and homesickness to be genuinely envious. I think.

She warns me about the leeching dryness of the desert, tells me that drinking water is important, and that if I have a headache, it is probably caused by dehydration. An image of my brain squelching to a stop from lack of water makes me laugh.

We talk about companionship for the long term. She had recently parted ways with a long-time boyfriend. I mention how I am lazy to do things that I like when I am on vacation because there is no one to share the joy with – as my tongue rolled to form the words, I am a bit surprised; I had not known I thought this – and she says she understands.


She says that this process towards a doctorate, including the research into the intertwining of spiritualism and materialism, is part of her self actualisation.

My self actualisation mainly takes the form of satisfying my appetites for food and goods, I say as a glib half-joke, then as a realisation. Compared to my haphazard and aimless daily meanderings, her introspective and purposeful search for who she is, in itself a process of self definition, is a worthy pursuit.

What is self actualisation to you, she asks.

I think about it. How do I actualise me, maximise me, bring out the potential in me, express the desires in me to be… a me I am happy with.



She brings me around to places she frequents, to supermarkets and food places, to where she works. I meet her advisor, the professor for whom she decided to come to Arizona and who now supervises her work towards a doctorate. I shake the professor’s hand; she holds a chihuahua in her other hand, maternally cradling the dog to her chest with her arm.


Days before I go to Phoenix, I am at work meetings and staying in a La Jolla resort alongside a beautiful bay scooped into the side of California, with the calm Pacific waters lapping and mildly frothing at its edge.

The road leading to the resort is lined with palm trees, ridiculously tall and straight, and understandably so, given the abundance of sunshine. Ducks and geese roam the resort, and one of the sights of the trip was a small flock of ducks silently and suddenly bursting into the air, then turning left, becoming a different entity as the rays of light catch their feathers in a different slant, heading off to another part of the resort to enjoy the afternoon.

On the last day of the meetings, I am told that “La Jolla” means “the jewel”. Quite right.

Later in the trip, the flight to Phoenix brings me out over the waters off La Jolla. At that height, the deep blue is stippled by waves and the glint of sunlight, and looks like a luxuriant swathe of leather.

Happiness and other musings

I was quite early at a colleague’s wedding last month, and picked a good spot, directly looking at the live band.  And so I got to see the live band play, and it was a good band, versatile, could sing in a few languages (appropriate since my Malay colleague was marrying a Chinese), enjoyable to watch. 

About two thirds into the night, the band began to ask for guests to join them on stage to sing.  One guest did, performed ok for an amateur; and then another went on stage, and really just stole the show.  It was clear that this middle-aged chap was used to performing with a band, and this band all strangers were just another group to jive and make music with.  And so he did, improvising a jazzy up-tempo version of some song I’ll remember later, and he did it so joyously, he was so into it, that the band, bland and professional earlier in the night, began to flex and stretch themselves too, and put their energy into it, so that, when the second and last song ended with a flourish and the chap departed the stage to rapturous applause from the band and an audience roused from its postprandial doze, I couldn’t help but think that, if the bride and groom find the sort of happiness this mat rocker did making music with his newfound friends, they would be together for a long time indeed.


I was in Solo, Indonesia last November for work.  And was disproportionately joyous when I saw bolsters on my hotel bed.


My pal got me a CD of instrumental renditions of some of 梁文福’s most memorable songs and I love it to bits.  My pal got the same CD from her pal, and found that she didn’t like it much.  Darned.

Important things

About 10 days ago, I was having a very enjoyable meal at Sushi Tei (try the ikura (salmon roe) chawanmushi) with a long-legged friend and we were talking about ambition and priorities.  And she had me do this interesting exercise.  She tore up the folded piece of paper that the wooden chopsticks came in into eight bits and told me to write down the eight things most important to me, one on each bit of paper.

I wrote:

  • Comfort
  • Family
  • Doing well at work
  • Being knowledgeable
  • Writing well
  • My bolster
  • Reading good books
  • Food

And then she asked me, if you had to take away two of these important things, which would they be?  Not too difficult.  I took away my bolster and reading good books.  So six were left.

  • Comfort
  • Family
  • Doing well at work
  • Writing well
  • Being knowledgeable
  • Food

And then she told me, take away two more.  And I took away food and writing well.  (This is as best as I remember it.  I could have removed comfort… but anyway, here’s what I think I took away.)  And so, four were left.

  • Comfort
  • Family
  • Doing well at work
  • Being knowledgeable

And then my long-legged friend told me to remove two more.  And I took away comfort and being knowledgeable.  And two were left.

  • Family
  • Doing well at work

And so it seemed, to me, the most important things in the world are my family and doing well at work.  And then my friend asked, are you spending enough time on the most important thing in the world to you?  And my answer had to be that I was, at work, and I was not sure I was, with my family.

And I thought, it was good to be made to think in this way.  I shall do this exercise again, but seriously, and by seriously I mean in a state of mind that would not involve my bolster – significant part of my life though it is – as one of the eight most important things in my life :)

P/S.  Today at about 3.45pm I was on a high after doing a presentation to an important person who was very enthused about her work.  Then at 4.00pm I reminded someone to do a very important thing.  And at about 5.55pm I thought I saw someone dab at tears on his/her face, because of a very important thing, of course, for otherwise why would he/she shed tears?


When a colleague first introduced me to Oomphatico’s a couple of months back, she called it “Oomphalicious”.  I dined there for the first time with my pal last Wednesday, and I think “oomphalicious” wouldn’t be an unsuitable way to describe some of the food we had :)

We started with pan-fried chilli garlic calamari with lemon mayo and rocket salad.  The calamari came in four broad, lightly scored rolls – two of them with a tinge of orange-pink, two of them a pleasing white – with a small bunch of rocket salad on the side.  Drizzled with lemon juice, the orange-pink calamari (cuttlefish?) turned out to be a tiny tiny bit chewy, with an understated squid taste set off nicely with the lemon and the peppery salad dressing; the rolls of white calamari were just ultra-yummy, tender and tasty with a slight sear of pan-fry.

We shared two mains: the Kurobuta pork belly, slow-roasted and with a vindaloo emulsion on the side, and linguine with fresh clams and mussels in a white wine sauce.  My pal and I agreed that the Kurobuta was over-roasted – or at least the crisped skin was; we couldn’t cut through it with a steak knife – but the pork went very well with the tangy vindaloo.  The linguine was good, not too rich, with generous helpings of clam and mussels.  The white wine complemented the taste of sea in the sauce just right, so one could taste both the wine and the seafood.  My pal finished the sauce’s last dregs.

And then, for dessert, we shared “that expensive chocolate dish”.  (Yup, that’s what it’s called on the menu.)  This was really four miniature desserts: ice-cream stuffed with chocolate chips on a tiny slice of spongy cheesecake; a nutty (too hard) chocolate truffle on a really tasty chocolate chip cookie; chocolate mousse; and lava cake.

The chocolate mousse came in a tall espresso glass, and upon first tasting it my pal exclaimed that they’d put olive oil in it!  Later she remarked that this was an interesting chocolate mousse, which was usually among the most boring of desserts.  The mousse literally engrossed me – I’d scoop some in my mouth, flatten it between my tongue and the roof of my mouth and then lave, lave, lave at the particles of mousse, at the oil, turning the taste over and over in my brain as I circulated it in my mouth, figuring it out.  One of the chefs (the restaurant was a little understaffed, but provided excellent service) later explained that the mousse was topped off with olive oil, limoncello and coffee liqueur, and that a more liquid version of this dessert was used as a churro dip at breakfast in Spain.  It was a really fun dish, not least because while we were trying to figure out the strange taste of the mousse my pal thought she tasted soy sauce and sesame seed oil :p

The lava cake was simply delicious!  It was just on the right side of warm, and the substantial but not too thick layer of cake was just crisped enough on the edge, the chocolate liquid and rich and not too sweet, the sprinkling of flakes of salt an absolutely inspired touch.  My pal thought it made the cake taste like peanut butter :)  I’d scoop some of the cake into my mouth, making sure to get a flake or two of salt, and chew, and when a flake of salt – I think using flakes instead of grains was absolute genius, by the way – was encountered and detonated, flavouring the rest of the gooey cake… that was a little bit of pure yummy-ness right there! :)

We talked throughout dinner and after that, on a bench in the shopping centre, and after realising it was late and finding our way out, on the way to her home.  About how motivated we were at work, about how her mum had just undergone an eye operation and was worried she wouldn’t be able to read words on a computer screen, about how weird the idea of olive oil in chocolate mousse was, about what the future could hold and whether or not to seize an opportunity that had presented itself, about a couple of toxic colleagues, about a new boss, about being a new boss, about how chocolate bars were better than smaller packages of chocolate, about a mutual acquaintance’s wedding, about when we last met, about whether she had her shoulder-length hair when we last met.

As usual, when we parted, I felt a sense of loss – there was so much more to talk about – but also a sort of weary joy.

Till next time, dear pal :)


I’ve talked about how I always enjoy Christmas – it brings back fond memories.  This last Christmas evening was no exception. I found out a dear friend was pregnant; 12 of us got together and ate hor fun, fried rice, fried bee hoon, sushi, ham, sausages, salad, sotong balls, fish fingers and assorted drinks, and we shared a log cake from Awfully Chocolate, which was left in the open in a hotel room i.e. unchilled for a few hours and turned out to be yummy but a tad dry; and we talked and joked and goggled at Open Season, Transformers and part of the hilarious Hot Fuzz – it was amazing how silent we were at some portions of the spectacular Transformers.

Also, earlier in the day, when I picked up the log cake from the Awfully Chocolate branch at Sembawang Hills Estate, I also tried some hei ice-cream, the dark chocolate ice-cream that Awfully Chocolate sells.  It was absolutely delicious – like premium dark chocolate made cloyingly smooth, almost liquid, the rich creaminess of the ice-cream superbly offsetting the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  Sore-throat-inducing, if one over-indulges :p

The lady who served me was incredibly chirpy and polite and full of Christmas cheer, even though she was working alone in the store on Christmas day.  I hope she had as good a Christmas as I did.