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 :)

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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…

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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 :)

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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 :)

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The nap just now was happy-ing too.

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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.

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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 :)

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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 :)

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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.

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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 :)

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

Leftovers from Peru and other miscellany

I had meant to gush about the dessert we had at Punto Azul too. After leaving the risotto plate spotless except for smudges of squid ink and the mixed fried combo plate smeared with some of the excellent salsa (excellent according to my colleagues; I tend not to dip), we ordered tres leche – meaning “three milk” – supposedly the quintessential Peruvian dessert: milk sponge cake, moist and fluffy (the first milk), with a layer of whipped cream on top (the second milk), half sunken in a pool of condensed milk (the third and most yummy leche). And that was a simple and slurp-worthy way to end that meal.

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Most weekday mornings at about 7am, I am on the train I take to work. Lately I’ve been looking out through the windows on the right side of the train. Somewhere between Khatib and Yio Chu Kang – just after Khatib – there is a clearing in the middle of what looks like the beginnings of dense forest, and usually several people would gather there. These few weeks, when I’ve seen them, they’ve been doing yoga – just today they were all on all fours, butts up, heads down, looking very silly and regimented on their yoga mats. And even though I’ve seen this group of people several times over the past few weeks – I have always imagined they are middle-aged or older folk, but really they are too far away to tell, and I am sure I’ve seen both men and women, though more women, their rolled-up mats slung across their backs – it just struck me today that, not so long ago, this same group of people – I imagine they are the same group, since they appear in the same place – were doing taiqi.

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Just the other day, I came across something online about toolboxes, and a vivid memory bobbed up from the depths of my brain, of little me staring at my dad’s toolbox with its one compartmentalised shelf which detached itself from the top of the box when the box was opened, to rest solidly on its articulated hinges, presenting all sorts of nails and screws and drill bits for his assessment and selection and perfect and dangerous use – dangerous because there were sharp points and electricity and heavy and hard metal surfaces involved, dangerous but then all the more of a thrill when my dad asked little me to fetch him a pithily described nail or tool.

I thought my dad was awesome then.

I haven’t felt that way in many years.

I think I miss that feeling.

Death, YouTube meandering and not liking the part of me that looks down on dwarfs

Recently, a local TV star died. He was 60. I’ve stopped watching television for a while now, so I hadn’t seen him in anything recently, but to read that he is still best remembered for a role he played in a 1984 series struck me as sad – to have one’s life in the 30 years since that show reduced to unmentioned irrelevance – and then made me think about how there is no truly adequate way to memorialise any life, and surely no one same way all those who knew him would remember him.

His death was a reminder of mortality, like so many things are nowadays for me. To me, 60 is just about the age one could arguably say people start to die because they are old. As in, you wouldn’t be surprised if someone died, at 60. That was in my mind. And then I remembered that my parents were into their 60s. Of course I had known that before, even made a big do of their 60th birthdays. But the death of this actor – whose defining role was an experience my parents and I shared when I was still limited to a world they curated for me – was a more forceful reminder.

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I went YouTube meandering again last night, and found a Wilson Phillips playlist with four songs that I hadn’t heard in a bit and that I realised I could sing to. The songs are oh, about 24 years old.

And I also saw the ending to the Japanese drama series Overtime, again, and enjoyed revisiting what the show made me feel.

And I came across this gem of a cover of Journey’s Faithfully. A lot of these acoustic covers are so brilliant. Boyce Avenue – worth checking out.

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I started religiously following a podcast a while back – if you like tabletop role-playing, the sort of stuff where a “game-master” creates and manages a world for other players, you should really give Critical Hit a try – and recently I saw one of the folks on the podcast in a video and he appeared to me he might be a dwarf. That disturbed me. My instinct, I think (nice oxymoron sequence there), was a feeling of wrongness – he couldn’t be a dwarf, he’s part of this great podcast I enjoy so much! Then I thought, why can’t a dwarf be part of a great podcast? Anyway, I don’t like this part of me – the part that unthinkingly looks down on dwarfs.

excerpts

One of the reasons I set up this blog was to help me learn – learn to write better and learn through processing experiences.  And so I’ve been thinking about setting up a new blog focusing on lessons and happenings at work.

But till I do, I’ll be blogging about stuff at work here.

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I’ve been blogging irregularly and infrequently.  I’m not certain about the reason; it’s probably related to how busy I am at work.  Or maybe it’s the one-dimensionality of what I can blog about, since most of what I experience and think about is work-related.  (And I don’t want to seem one-dimensional?)  Or maybe it’s the lack of time I’ve have to think about things.  (Or to think about them deeply enough to come up with things worth writing about.)  It’s a curious thing: what motivates my blogging?

I note down things I want to blog about on my E71, and then transfer them to a virtual Post-It note on my desktop (via this application called Stickies).  And since I haven’t blogged for a while, I have some stuff that’s been on that Post-It note for a while.  Time for some culling.

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A while back, I shifted seats from one directly perpendicular to the corridor facing the rooms of some senior colleagues, to one further back, separated from the corridor by one or two work-stations.  I miss the proximity to the corridor traffic, the saying “hi” to more people.

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My work trip to Hanoi in November last year was an eye-opener.  While the views from my hotel – the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, a beautiful hotel/resort overlooking Hanoi’s largest lake – at sunrise and sunset were quite sublime, the most memorable moments came during the trishaw rides we took amid Hanoi’s rush hour.

I can no longer remember the trishaw rides I must have taken in Singapore.  In any case, I’m not sure they would be a comparable experience.  Not when the trishaw-man was manoeuvring haphazardly through steady streams of cars, motorcycles and other trishaws, all the while keeping up a conversation with any fellow trishaw-man within hearing distance; not when part of the route was a roundabout where the traffic lights were observed only through blithe nonchalance and where the streams of cars, motorcycles and trishaws mingled and miraculously sorted themselves out without significant incident; not when, to turn right, an impatient car-driver would go round the trishaw’s left and cut in front of it, all the while without any sort of visual signal whatsoever, leaving the chap manning my trishaw to mutter darkly under his laboured breath; not when the pollutants in the air left tangible evidence in one’s respiratory system; not when the air itself reverberated with the rhythmic pulsing of car horns – yes, instead of bland blasts, car horns here pulsed almost musically, perhaps because instead of acting as alarms (“watch out!”), they served more as a constant reminder of where a vehicle is (“I’’m here, I’m here, I’m here”) – which would make them an innovative adaptation to a situation where near-accident proximity to other vehicles is a given.

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On 7 December 2009, I travelled to work on the MRT, and someone smelled strongly of lemongrass.

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Some time in January this year, I was in a meeting at which we were trying to describe to some overseas guests how tripartism (dialogue, consultations and collaborations among a country’s social partners i.e. employers, unions/workers and the government) works in Singapore.  I explained that it was a framework that Singapore’s social partners worked in.  Another colleague said that tripartism was Singapore’s modus operandi.  And in between us this other colleague said that it was in Singapore’s DNA.  And as I sat there listening to the discussion, it struck me that either “modus operandi” or “DNA” – more the latter – was a better, more easily identified with illustration of the way tripartism works in Singapore than “framework”.

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Recently, I dreamt I was in a nail spa.  Disclaimer: Having never been to a nail spa, I can only guess where I dreamt I was at, but it looked like what I expected a nail spa to look like.  Why I was in a nail spa in my dream, I have no idea.  I do recall that a couple of days before the dream, I had seen a lady with an elaborately manicured set of nails on the MRT.  Maybe I just needed to cut my nails (which were long-ish when I had the dream).  For the record, I didn’t get a manicure in the dream… probably because I didn’t have the imagination to dream it.

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Just last week, or maybe the week before, on the way to work, I saw a lady wearing really beautiful shoes – classic oriental design, like something you’d see on a cheongsam – but with bloody scrapes above her heels.  The shoes were the unforgivingly hard sort, and that might have been her first time wearing them.  I could so empathise with that, and with the realisation that she was stuck with those painful, heel-raking shoes for the rest of the day.

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And just last Wednesday, I ate at Breakthru’ Cafe with my mum and my dad.  I really enjoyed that  :)  And we enjoyed the chilli (with spicy dried shrimp) that came with the glutinous rice.

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Recently I have been thinking about my influence on people I manage.  Someone thanked me for being a “nice and appreciative” boss.  And my instinctual reaction to that, was that I don’t want to be known as nice and appreciative – I’d rather be associated with competence, with intelligence, with industry… and then I thought, would I really, as a boss?

some thoughts and a disappointment

A few days ago a couple of friends and I were talking about “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (I understand the proper title of the song is “Over the Rainbow”) and someone mentioned that her favourite version is Eva Cassidy’s.  I said that I hadn’t heard of her, and this other friend then offered to bring a couple of her CDs.  He did, and in the CD sleeve notes I read that she had died young.  Curious, I searched for more information on Wikipedia, and found that she died at my age of melanoma.  Digesting this while listening to her CDs, I had some thoughts.

She had an amazing voice.  Powerful, expressive, versatile.  Achingly beautiful in spots.  Her version of “Fields of Gold” got my attention.  I prefer Izzy’s version of “Over the Rainbow” though.

My cousin, who was born six days after me, also had cancer.  Hers was a relatively treatable sort of leukaemia, I understand, and she’s back at work now.  We met recently and she seemed like her old self, though she wears a cap now.  We talked about reading and books and relatives and relived childhood incidents and exchanged gifts and had dinner and coffee and talked some more about her illness and what it had wrought – it’s brought her closer with her in-laws, she said, and she now was carried around a bottle of stuff meant to disinfect her hands – and how the Internet has enabled support groups to form comprising people all over the world and how such support groups include a very specific category of people going back to work and how she found those useful.  I’m thrilled she is okay; that evening with her may have made my month :) 

I wonder if I will get cancer some time too.  Probably, right?  That seems to be how most people die.  I remember I dramatically plopped onto my bed reading my cousin’s SMS about her diagnosis – maybe that’s a good rehearsal.

And on that slightly morbid note, I just want to relate that, one, “14 Blades” was a so-so kungfu flick, fun to watch but not engaging emotionally and, two, on the day I watched “14 Blades” I saw Stefanie Sun’s concert at Resorts World and while she was in good form the attendance was disappointing and perhaps because of that there was no encore.  That stunned me.  I have been to a few concerts, and this was the first time there wasn’t one.  Very disappointing.

I wanted to share this story…

I know it’s already two days after Christmas, but I just came across this story and I wanted to share it with everyone who reads this.  It’s about a Christmas gift.

P/S.  To me, it’s interesting how early in their lives people know what they want to do when they grow up.  My earliest ambition, influenced by my aunts who loved their dogs and knew so much about them, was to be a vet.  The other ambition I held with any seriousness was to be a journalist, like my uncle, who has done so much that impresses me.  Today, I realise that I’ve never had the drive to pursue any ambition, but I still remember the sense of purpose that came with having something to aim for.

Geneva – prawn buffets, mushroom cappuccino and other observations

I am in Geneva because of work – day after day, the meetings remain lengthy and tedious; sometimes it feels like the participants are pedantically and often petulantly discussing obscure ways of preparing honey-baked ham or some other matter of similar significance, instead of trying to come up with concrete ways to address major labour issues – but given the food I’ve eaten, I could well be in Geneva on one of those culinary escapades.  I don’t quite keep track of the days via the meals I have anymore, but there have nevertheless been memorable meals. 

Twice last week my colleagues and I girded ourselves for gambas à gogo i.e. prawn buffet.  The star of the show: steamed prawns stir-fried in garlic butter, served on large shallow trays in their juices and bits of garlic, as many prawns as you can peel and eat.  Yours truly is a classic spoiled peasant princeling – back in Singapore my dear mum and brother would peel my prawns for me; I don’t even like to have to pull the tail off prawns that have been otherwise de-shelled – but after an awkward start I was proficient enough to chow down the succulent, garlic-infused pink commas one after another.  And “chow down” are appropriate words – the way we Singaporeans tuck into good prawns is vastly different from the dignified pace the Swiss shell and bite and chew their prawns and daintily mop up the juices with bread.  We are messier, and we eat more, much more.  I think I peeled more prawns at those two sittings than I ever have – admittedly, this would not be that inconceivable or impressive an achievement – and I just wished that I had photographic proof of those decimated trays and heaps of shells to show my folks.  My colleague thinks that every time we come to Geneva for the prawn buffet we severely deplete the local prawn supply and cause a serious price hike, and if you see one of those photos, you may agree.

Oh right, I said we did this twice last week!  The first time, on Monday, we had the gambas à gogo at le Furet.  The first few trays of prawns were good, but there wasn’t much gravy to mop up with the shoestring fries (also free flow).  The second time, Thursday I believe, we went to Le Corail Rose, which I thought had more consistently succulent prawns, more and yummier garlic gravy (which carried the taste of prawn in spades, while le Furet’s was merely salty) and chunkier fries (also free flow).  And, in anticipation of the massacre, Le Corail Rose provides lobster-bibs, decorated with a drawn-on bow, so you look neat and formal while you rip into the doomed crustaceans.*

I like prawns done any number of ways, and I like mushrooms in its many forms and regardless of how it is prepared too.  We were in Annecy, a French town about 75 minutes via bus from Geneva, at a charming restaurant and served by a very capable (and very busy) waitress whose command of English was limited.  We ordered a lunch set that came with mushroom soup, and when she repeated our order she said something very like “cappuccino”.  She got it wrong, we thought, but when we pointed to the text for mushroom soup on the menu to clarify, she nodded curtly, said something very like “cappuccino” again, briskly collected our menus and left.  She came back after a while bearing six cappuccino cups – those glasses that are held up with a metal “ear” so that you don’t burn yourself if the contents are too hot – of vaguely cappuccino-coloured stuff, topped with vaguely cappuccino-like foam.  A colleague sniffed it and said it smelled savoury. 

I know now, after doing a bit of Googling, a bit more about mushroom soup done cappuccino-style.  But at the time, I was new to this unfamiliar way of doing soup.  We were given soup spoons, so I dug past the foam and tried a spoonful, and found that the soup was delicious, thick with mushrooms.  There was a small stick of dough fritter, very light, almost crumbly, studded with toasted sesame seeds on its top side, and that was the next thing I dunked into the mushroom cappuccino, about two inches of it, which I then bit off.  That bite of fritter – sesame seeds, deep-fried flour, the crispness of the fritter, suffused with mushroom soup – tasted like a little piece of the best pie in the world.  Then the soup cooled enough to be drunk like cappuccino, and that capped a very satisfying first course to what turned out to be an otherwise ordinary meal.

Geneva’s not an interesting place in the usual way towns or cities are interesting.  There is a fairly long shopping-dedicated street, and restaurants galore of course, especially if you know where to look, but it’s not an interesting and dynamic place in the fashion of a Shanghai, say, or a San Francisco even.  But it is interesting in other ways.  For example: The Swiss have extremely well-behaved dogs.  They bring these dogs – I’ve seen boxers, pugs, huskies/marlamutes, chihuahuas (one was shivering like mad in the icy wind), various types of spaniels, pekingese, dachshunds – to the shopping centre and up the bus and tie these dogs to something near the supermarket entrance when they go inside for groceries, and I’ve never ever seen one misbehave in the slightest.  Another example: Sirens are an enigmatic staple of the Geneva night.  I have seen maybe one car accident – my memory is hazy on this regard – in my whole time in Geneva, but I hear many sirens every single night.  (They are common in the daytime too.)  Do that many fires break out?  (Haven’t seen any telltale smoke.)  Do that many people get injured on the nearby ski slopes?  (Mmm… possible.  Near those ski resorts, you see many people in casts.)  Do that many cats need to be rescued?  (I have seen maybe one cat all this while – it’s uncanny, the contrast with the number of dogs I’ve seen.)

P/S.  I brought way too many clothes to Geneva, but one of these pieces of apparel was a sweater – I was going to say it was ill-fitting, but because of my sideways expansion it’s become almost well-tailored – given to me by a pal just before I went to San Diego for an exchange programme while I was in university.  (That’s… *counting*… 8 (!) years ago now.)  I’d forgotten about it, I think; I am well-insulated and rarely wear sweaters in Singapore, so I hadn’t worn it in a while.  It felt oddly comforting to wear it.

*Incidentally, you know there’s this dish called “drunken prawns”, yes?  The better-known version of the dish is essentially prawns – fresh as fresh can be – steamed with a strong dash of liquor; I’ve seen whiskey used for this, and shaoxing jiu.  I’ve also seen the not-so-well-known version of “drunken prawns”.  This was at one of those seafood places at East Coast Parkway, where these prawns – once again fresh as fresh can be, indeed still leaping and flopping all over one another – were shaken in a transparent lidded pot with some wine (whiskey I believe) and soy sauce – until they were drunk – and then peeled and eaten while they were still shuddering in one’s fingers.  I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself, folks, and I’ve since seen it more than once – my dear dad and bro are both big fans.  (Another account of someone savouring this dish can be found in this article by an author who had to research Chinese food for his books, about halfway down the page.)

The joy of a moonlit night

So I thought this quote was interesting:

“The true joy of a moonlit night is something we no longer understand. Only the men of old, when there were no lights, could understand the true joy of a moonlit night.” – the guest, “Toward Winter”, Yasunari Kawabata, 1926

My folks got married on 8 Sep thirty years ago, and tomorrow they are going away for a few days all by themselves.

Thirty years ago, like it was this year, 8 Sep was the fifteenth day of the lunar month, and the moon was round and round.