Hero, and more from the list of stuff I’ve been wanting to blog about

I watched Hero with a friend at the theatre today. My friend had a craving for popcorn, and the movie was as fluffy as the popcorn that the friend got. There was no danger to the protagonist or anyone I cared for, and no danger that the culprit would get away, and so the movie kept my attention because it was like an extra-long episode of a cherished TV series, and I had wanted to spend more time with the characters, who were all so reliably themselves (even though I barely remembered all but the most prominent). And later, at an unremarkable cafe very near my place, my pal and I discussed the difference between Japanese dramas and Korean dramas, which have taken over the place of the former in many TV viewers’ hearts. My pal said that the good Japanese dramas (those shown in Singapore anyway) tend to be episodic, with characters who stay in their roles and do not develop, while Korean dramas – though formulaic in that the people who matter are always inter-related in some often perverse way – tell stories better than Japanese dramas. I wonder what sort of love stories the Japanese make nowadays.

***

I got hooked onto this story/song a while back – a long time ago, back when I was living in Bishan. It’s about a forlorn and steadfast and ultimately fruitless wait. Condensed in these few minutes is much more than the contents of many movies.

***

This song, I got introduced to more recently, indirectly by the pal who took a class in which she was introduced to Joni Mitchell. I had thought “A Case of You” referred to some illness or affliction – like a case of rabies. Recently I realised that Joni Mitchell was comparing “You” to a case of wine. So, addiction then. She has an amazing way of performing the song, strumming that zither-like string instrument in her blithe way, but I think my favourite version is Diana Krall’s.

This is the same Diana Krall of course (I never get tired of telling this story) who had an outdoors concert in Singapore on the weekend of the first F1 race ever held here. The concert was in Fort Canning, on the Friday, when qualifications or test drives took place. On the evening of the concert, the rain had stopped an hour or so earlier, and the field in front of the erected stage was muddy and the collapsible chairs just about in their rows. And that was when I learned that yes, the zooming whines of each and every car at the Padang could be heard all the way at Fort Canning, the aggravation and discordance of each squealing squelch of tyres somehow made worse by the distance. Possibly because of this, Ms Krall was not happy. At one point, she said something along the lines of, I think I just swallowed a bug, and I’m not even kidding. I can’t quite remember what she sang that evening.

***

The coffee in the cafe was quite mediocre – too milky.

***

The latest indication that I’ve been reading via the smartphone too much, in addition to (a) turning to the next page of a magazine made from wood pulp by sliding the edge of the current page and (b) looking at the top of the page to see the current time, is that, reading a Chinese book by this Taiwanese singer/poet strewn with her photographs, when I saw one I wished was larger, the first thing that came to my mind was to double-tap it to enlarge.

***

Had passable beef noodles – well, actually the beef and beef soup were passable and I didn’t really eat the noodles – at LeNu for lunch, but I may have been slightly unfair, since I had just had some superb Mum-cooked Hokkien noodles (thick rings of fresh sotong, succulent shrimp, thin strips/slices of pork belly, yellow noodles and thin rice vermicelli, stir-fried to perfection in some prawn stock and stuff) around 10am. The beef noodles, and the friend’s enthusiastic recommendations about Taipei food, got me sort of keen (that’s the extent of my passion these days) to head to Taiwan soon. I remember Taiwan from several visits in uniform half a life ago, and a more recent trip during which I discovered one of my five favourite places in the world (another is Monterey Bay Aquarium): an eslite bookstore, open till late, woody and welcoming of browsers, a reminder of when I was curiouser and less weighed down by self-imposed loads, altogether younger.

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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.

 

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.

***

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.

***

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.

In Peru, stuffed

I’m going to write about food again. No pictures though.

***

At the end of a tough few days in Lima, my boss (for the trip anyway) brought me to a Japanese restaurant one Wednesday evening. He had enjoyed the maki there tremendously, he said. The restaurant’s name, Magma Sushi Lounge, fitted the premises snugly – sofas and coffee tables made up half, bar stools and high tables the other. Odd for a Japanese place.

My boss immediately ordered passion-fruit juice – he had loved it the last time he had it here, and had even got the owner of the place to write it down in Spanish for him so he could order it again. It took a while to come – I joked that they were still watering the passion-fruit plant – and when it did, pale yellow liquid in two tall glasses with straws and the rest in a small jug – in Lima juices are often served in jugs – he slurped up a good portion and then sighed, exactly like he enjoyed it a lot. I thought I’d drink it more culturedly, but the first inhale through the straw was amazing – I was hit with the sensation of sweetness and freshness and just-squeezedness, and the sweetness was passion-fruit sweetness but dialed down to a level that was not cloying and could be enjoyed in greater amounts. Before I knew it, the Peruvian server was topping up my glass.

We also had maki and salmon sashimi (fresh enough), but the yummiest dish of the night was something called the special ika roll – grilled squid stuffed with crab meat and shrimp, cut into rings, drizzled with a savoury rich mushroom gravy, just a teeny tiny bit gingery. It was so good – the gravy was magic: it should have been too rich, but it wasn’t – that we ordered and finished (ok, with some difficulty) another set.

***

The next day two colleagues and I went to Punto Azul. One of them had talked about this restaurant in glowing terms – very good, yet affordable. It turned out that there was a queue there – apparently it only opens 11am-4pm, and there is always a queue. After waiting for about half an hour and then ordering some food and then eating the cancha (crunchy toasted ears of corn, a little salted) and teasing one of the colleagues about the earrings he bought for his girlfriend and the other colleague then cajoling him into showing us the earrings (the other colleague saying he’d role-play as the girlfriend) and then seeing the earrings – I remember they were pretty and Peruvian but cannot for the heck of me remember what exactly they looked like; I think there were stars involved somehow – and complimenting him for his taste and pointing out other customers’ mixed fried combos in hushed tones, the food arrived. The mixed fried combo was calamari and fish and shrimp, with a light onion garnish on top that somehow took away all the oiliness so that there was just the batter and the freshness of the seafood to chomp into. The squid-ink risotto was black – they were generous with the ink, I said, and then we got to talk about how the chefs got the ink (I personally think there are ready packets of ink they can buy) and one colleague described the squid-ink seafood curry (curry!) his grandma makes – and was the star of the show. There was a surprising tang to the rice – think cherry tomatos, just ripe – and that actually made the risotto, usually so heavy, heartily appetising. The ample portions of shrimp, scallops, fish and octopus proved to be worthy accompaniment.

***

I got super-lucky when I checked in online for my flight back – there was an offer to upgrade to business class for about S$500 for the 12-hour-plus first leg, and I jumped on it after wondering if it was a trick.

In Lima, wreathed with mists

Before I left for Lima, a colleague informed us that those returning from Peru needed to be immunised for Yellow Fever. It was a busy period – which period isn’t? – and I put off taking the shot until the day on which I was to fly to Lima. (Also, I had heard that the injection would be done with a damned big needle.)

And so I found myself in the doctor’s office at lunchtime, 12 or so hours before my flight, a little apprehensive and put-upon. The doctor – a professional-mannered woman – started by asking why I was taking the shot, and when I told her it was for a work trip, she looked through some documents to confirm that yes, the Singapore customs does require people returning from Peru to take the shot. She then explained that she wanted to confirm that I needed to take the shot, because the vaccine was “live” and I had a (cheery) 1-in-200,000 chance of suffering serious side-effects – essentially contracting Yellow Fever.

Up to that point, I had not thought that my mortality might be affected by the injection, and I got more than a teensy bit worried. It must be showing, I thought, sitting beside the doctor’s desk – but the doctor’s expression remained bland as she pulled the content of the vaccine bottle into the syringe. (The needle did not look overly big, but I haven’t had an injection in a while.) She said I had folded back my sleeve enough, and asked if it would be my first time in Peru or something like that and then pushed the needle and then the vaccine into the flesh of my left upper arm and then put a plaster over the mark after she pulled out the needle.

The injection did not hurt.

***

I had planned to listen to podcasts on the flight to Lima – 12-plus hours to Amsterdam, 5-plus hours of layover, 12 hours to Lima, one way – but browsed at a bookstore on the long way to the gate and got tempted by a Donna Leon book. This was a heftily satisfying read.

The book was about the death of someone whom the protagonist’s wife had seen in the neighbourhood for many years, and there were descriptions in the book about how those in the neighbourhood had seen the person grow up and age.

I’ve lived in my neighbourhood for about 18 years, and most of the shops around our little estate have changed many times. Maybe some of the neighbours would know what I looked like 18 years ago, but even those would be few.

Donna Leon writes about Venice. I wonder if people live differently in Venice, if I would also be part of the neighbourhood scene if I live there – familiar and remembered.

***

One of the podcasts I listened to eventually, in my hotel room (small and functional, with pillows that make my neck ache), was episode 230 of Books on the Nightstand (a book-lover’s joy). This episode featured two author talks from Booktopia Vermont. The first talk was about a topic I know so little about that I was surprised at how interested I was in the talk; the second talk moved me, especially this part:

What was different for me and what proved to be the bigger challenge was separating the act of creation, creating fiction, something make-believe, from the thing that had inspired it, which was the loss of a friend in the September 11 attacks. And she was a young mother, a new mother, she was on the first plane that hit the twin towers, and it was her first business trip following her maternity leave. And she wasn’t my closest friend, she was the wife of my husband’s best friend, and I knew her moderately well, but not intensely well. But because I was a journalist her husband asked me if I would field the media phone-calls for him, so he wouldn’t have to explain over and over again who she had been, how they had been college sweethearts, and now how he was going to be the single father of a six-month-old daughter. And I spent about a week answering these phone-calls and creating the sound-bites that would go into these newspapers and magazines about my friend. And every time I said something, which was always with the blessing of the family, I couldn’t help but be the devil on my own shoulder yelling at me for reducing her life in that way, distilling someone down to sound-bites, which was a very unnerving thing. And then when I read her obituary, which I helped to work on, it occurred to me how little of a life actually appears in an obituary, cos it’s a compilation of what we are to other people and the things that we’ve accomplished, but it doesn’t have anything inside the words and the lines of what we ever hoped to accomplish, and what we tried to accomplish but didn’t, and all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that we have, and those were the thoughts that haunted me for about five years.

A couple of things about London

I was in London in June, transiting on the way to Geneva and then spending a few days there on vacation on the way back to Singapore. One conclusion: The Chinese food in London is not bad.

And since June I’ve been meaning to write about a couple of things. (Been lazy, yes.)

The first thing, and to be honest I’m not sure if this should be first or second, as I can’t remember now whether it was during the transit leg or the return leg – I think now it had to have been the transit leg, so it’s correct that this is the first thing – but anyway, the landing – on a Singapore Airlines Airbus 380 – was butter-smooth. So smooth in fact that I had thought the landing was the plane bouncing on a large air pocket.

The second thing happened on my way back to Singapore. I was at a Starbucks with as eclectic a collection of seating as I’ve ever seen outside of Ikea (maybe even including Ikea): plastic chairs like those at a tentage affair around generic oblong collapsible tables, bar stools around high counters, living room sofas and couches with small square coffee tables, armchairs. I had a good double latte, and while I savoured that, I finished Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel. Good read.

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.

Hm…

***

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.

Since Bali

So, I haven’t blogged since that last past about Bali.  That’s a gap of more than eight months.

I’ve wondered why.  Simple laziness is the tempting and probably substantially correct answer, but I feel there’s more.  Maybe part of that is busy-ness, though goodness knows I haven’t been too busy to eat a lot and sleep a lot and read a bit and cruise the Web in near-obsessive, increasingly desperate hunts for pointless utterly pointless sports news.  Maybe part of it is the sort of busy-ness that squeezes mental stamina out of you, the sort of mental stamina that then has to be replenished by idly allowing your face to be tanned by the light from your desktop LCD screen over the weekend.  Maybe part of it is just lack of inspiration, or the self-perceived version of same (but when is something not self-perceived anyway?).  And maybe part of it was the (self-perceived) meaningless-ness of whatever I would have written.  Or maybe, the question is the wrong one: I wondered why I haven’t blogged; maybe it’s more apt to ask why I should have.

Hmm.  Well.  I should have, because I thought I liked to blog.  I think I like to blog.  It’s troubling that there was that long period of time during which I apparently did not want to blog.  *thinking thinking thinking* Blogging is writing, yes?  So, maybe I wasn’t writing well at work.  Or was writing too much.

(Heh, funny how I came to “work” as a reason for not blogging.  But maybe it’s not so funny – “funny” as in “strange” – maybe it’s not so funny, since we work for so much of our lives.  If there is a reason I haven’t blogged, it’s probably linked to my work, just based on the universe of reasons in my life it can possibly be linked to.)*

###

Anyway, while I have not been blogging, I’ve collected some thoughts to blog about.  A lot of these surfaced during my various work trips.  I was in Brussels earlier this year, and when I came back home and cleared out my suitcase, I found a red-tipped matchstick, nestled amongst my clothes.  I don’t smoke, the hotel room I was in was a non-smoking one, there was no sign that anyone had tampered with my suitcase, so it was a complete mystery how a red-tipped matchstick ended up in my suitcase.  But maybe what happened was, the lady who cleaned out my room smoked and carried around loose matchsticks and inadvertently dropped one in my open suitcase.  Something innocuous and non-esoteric like that.  Maybe.

###

I think it was during the second-leg flight to Santiago.  I ran through the in-flight entertainment system’s various contents, and there were two Jason Mraz albums, a studio album and a one with songs he performed “live”.  Both had the song “I’m Yours”.  I’d of course heard the song several times over the radio by this time, but listening to the “live” version in a artificially closed personal space – with the crowd going wild after the first two notes of guitar twang and Jason Mraz’s free-wheeling slightly raw style – was a more moving, more buoying experience, and something I credit for keeping me sane during that flight.  (I then listened to it on repeat nearly the entire way back to Singapore.)

I saw a few sides of Chile.  Santiago looked a little unmaintained, but walk-able and open, with wide wide streets.  Wine tasting at the Concha y Toro vineyard was an… experience, with the sommelier brandishing his classic sommelier’s nose and the likeably pretentious sommelier’s jargon, and truly in my view enriching our enjoyment of the bottles of red and white on show.  Valparaiso looked in many ways like a modern European seaside town, with posh developments all around.  We had lunch at a restaurant along the Valparaiso coast, and the appetiser of lightly blanched white fish, clams, crab meat, prawns and squid, fresh from the sea and drizzled with lemon juice, hit the spot!

###

Long-haul flights offer one time alone, to be introspective.  I think that’s the only enjoyable bit about them.**

###

I spent many hours with my bosses during these work trips.  One of them, retiring soon, is a generous, opinionated man who’s been doing his job for longer than I’ve known about Transformers.  Recently, back in Singapore, he was in a meeting, at which several briefings had been scheduled for very important and busy people who’d just joined the ministry.  The briefings were overrunning, as they do, and near the end of the day, even though it wasn’t his turn, my boss gave his briefing.  What he did not know was, there were some colleagues from another department outside the meeting room, who had been waiting and waiting for their turn to brief, and that in fact they had been scheduled ahead of my boss.  When it turned out that my boss’s briefing would be the last one these very important and busy personages would be around for that day, the colleagues from this other department were understandably quite upset.

This department is located on the same floor as ours, and, once he’d settled some matters in his office, my boss walked over to this other department to apologise to each and every colleague who had waited for their turn which never came partly because my boss took up some time to do his own briefing.  His was the good-natured sort of apology, “sorry about it”, with a smile, unreserved, un-phony.

I gave my boss a hard time about skipping the other department’s turn (well, as hard a time as I could – I know my station in life) – how could you!, I said to him.  When I heard about his apology afterwards, I really had to shake my head, in admiration.  Will miss him.

###

The influence I wield over the lives of colleagues that I supervise/manage/lead is unexpectedly heavy.  This struck home when a conscientious new (well, sort of new) colleague called me on the phone to tell me, in between choking sobs, that her dad had been diagnosed with cancer and the doctor had given him only six months to live.  As I held the phone to my ear and listened to her crying, I could only cast about for something to say, something comforting and decent and supportive and helpful and which did not betray the fact that one of my first thoughts in the mess of things, as I remember it, right alongside “what must she be feeling now?”, was “how about her work?”.

###

A couple of things I have enjoyed these months, that I’d like to share:

1. Theme song from “Cheers” – Over the years, I think I’ve enjoyed other sitcoms more.  But not other theme songs.  Poignant and meaningful and true.

2. 戒不了 – I enjoy this Malaysian writer’s little pieces of whimsy and philosophy.  (They are in Chinese, which in my opinion can carry boundless nuance in a small space in a way that makes one marvel at the human capacity for creating meaning.)  Try these two: http://kitcheah.blogspot.com/2011/09/blog-post.html (title loosely translated as “Only for a little heartbeat”, about why one writes) and http://kitcheah.blogspot.com/2008/05/blog-post.html (“Reason for being happy”, about how one is no longer another’s reason for being happy)

*There have been some changes at work – five new colleagues since March.  And more changes to come.  Big, scary monster-type ones.

**On one of these flights, I saw a flight attendant who behaved in the same way I’m sure a colleague would have if this colleague had been one.  (It’s times like this when I think there may well just be a finite number of types of people in the world.)

Letter to next occupant of Villa No. 10, Villa Bali Asri

Hi there.

You probably don’t know me, and that’s okay. I just want to tell you a little bit about the time I spent at this villa – I’ve just come back to Singapore after a week-long stay here with my family.

Things to know:

1. The villa’s amenities include wireless broadband. The password can be found in the brown information binder you’ll probably find on the dining table or coffee table at the sofa.

2. Prepare for surprise visits by critters. We saw leeches – my brother pried a fat one off his foot, and there were a couple of rather more slender ones looping around – as well as a titanic gecko that, amazingly, moved along the walls as agilely as its smaller brethren. It looked as if it should plod rather than skitter. There were crabs scuttling all over the place – some like to play dead, and then once you seem to have lost interest they would skedaddle away – and many frogs and toads “serenaded” us every night.

3. Prepare for mosquitoes. I don’t quite know how – I just treated mosquito bites and itches as a matter of course – but maybe a malaria jab may be useful?

4. The locals were friendly and helpful. I never once felt in danger from them as I walked along the streets and paths at night. If anything, the condition of the streets and paths and the fact they were typically poorly lit were more dangerous – so bring a torch.

Things to try:

1. The villa’s very own barbecue dinner is worth it at around 60 USD for our family of five. Try the seafood one (there’s also a just-palatable beef option which my non-seafood-eating sis had) which for us came with king prawns, red snapper and squid (oh the squid!! *drool*), as well as steamed rice, stir-fried veggies and sauteed potatoes. Worth trying just for the squid, which was grilled to mouthwatering just-rightness :)

2. There is an Italian restaurant called Ultimo’s that opens at 5pm. It’s about a 30-minute slow walk from the villa, along Laksmana. Try it. The spaghetti vongolle (with other seafood – when I was there, it turned out they didn’t have vongolle and substituted with squid *grin*) came in a generous portion with many whole (small, but whole ;p) scallops and freshwater shrimp and diced capsicum, and was very yummy. The almond parfait was perfect the first time we were there, but was a bit soft when we next went, likely because it was a busy night and the fridge the parfait was kept in was opened too frequently :p

3. Tanah Lot is worth visiting. Great views. Pity about the tourists and their littering.

4. And one thing to not try. The babi guling (roast pig) at Ubud is overrated, and not worth the aggravation of queuing for and the poor service, in my humble opinion :)

That’s about it I guess. All the best for your stay :)

P/S. I would likely not have written this if my sister had not written an actual letter to the next occupant of the villa and left it in the bedside drawer of her room.

 

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.