Birthday Boy

•April 19, 2009 • 3 Comments

Nature boy, Taroko Gorge, summer 2007

Most ardent fan of Top Gun and Meet Joe Black, of growing out matinee-idol hair until it curls, of commenting on blogs (yay!), aren’t my sister and I lucky to have such a cool Dad! =D

(And Mom!)

Our Dad never gave up on running behind us until we’d learned how to cycle properly, a good couple of months’ exertion. Also during our rigorous childhood, he swam the 1km, 3km and 5km trials with us – twice. When we were in Beijing and missed food from Singapore, he’d regularly bring home the acrid soya bean milk popular there that we’d all try very hard to like. Hahaha. These days, every time he’s home (being quite the nomad in recent years), our Dad assiduously re-transforms the jungle into a garden. Considering the soil that magically disappears in pockets under a deceptively smooth surface in the front and the forest of pandan that propagates ferociously in the back, it’s quite a feat.

Learning to be cool from the best. Check out the sister’s winsome grin: fail.

Ah, Pa! What would we do without you. All those red-eye mornings when he woke, force-fed and drove us sleepy grumps to school.. I always appreciated it, even if I only communicated that early back then by snarling. And if he and Mowmy weren’t moving themselves, so many of his recent vacations [from the gruelling corporate world that he’s selflessly navigated since 23, my age this year augh] have been spent helping his progeny move. They brought my sister home from the States, me from Singapore to Besançon, from Besançon to Paris, and probably back from Paris too. All the incidental road trips we took as a family along the way became the priceless highlights singing marathons, quarrels and all, soul-food for throughout the ages.

A variation of the photo that lives in my Dad’s wallet : Paternal grandparents, parents, oblivious Little Duck Head and grumpy Big Little Big-Sister (?! Lost in translation.)

My father used to herald his arrival home from work by whistling his signature 15-note composition. Let loose by our mother, we’d run crazily to the gate and he’d scoop us up: “Hello 大小姐! Hello 小丫头!” Somehow, the avian whistling crystallized my notion that I was a waterbird’s little cranium. I think it was a good decade or so before I realised that my Dad was calling me Small Girl (“ya tou”, a homonym). Such enlightenment did wonders for my identity issues indeed.

=] Now that we’re all grown up and temporarily apart, we get treated to hilarious long-distance calls (invaluable advice notwithstanding) and annotated Op-Ed articles that appear in our inboxes – mostly educational, sometimes baffling, always diverting.

Aww. We’d be nothing without you, good ol’ Daddy. Health and happiness to you and Mama always, Papa! Happy birthday! Chioum!

Monkey helps Dad/steals Dad’s drink.

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Bravissimo

•March 12, 2009 • 4 Comments

In Italy, they call me “The Champion”.

The news yesterday was not good. Sigh.. I really, really messed up this time. At least it’ll give me something more to write about, when I have the heart to..

Meanwhile, so many and so much to be grateful for already. THANK YOU, EVERYBODY! Especially:

My rescuers. The kind man who saw me fly, hiked off the ski route and propped up my head while he called for help; the heroic Monte Bondone policeman who plucked me off the ground and snowmobiled me to safety; the ambulance paramedics, who took ages to get up there not because they were slow but because it was so inaccessible –

The fantastic four: Chin Yuan, Gabriele, Jevon and Rebecca, for hurrying to the hospital, keeping me alive and buoying my spirits that whole week. Renzo and Adriana for going miles out of their way to keep the most troublesome guest they must’ve ever hosted comfortable and entertained: il superuomo e la superdonna! –

My Paris team, friends in need, friends indeed – REBECCA, Terence, Jevon, Chin Yuan, Davina, and my wonderful visitors, who’ve kept me from wallowing (too much) –

All my family and friends, whose well-wishes and messages of comfort have shot this passing darkness with lasting silver. You are my heart’s friends –

The doctors, nurses, girl in the waiting room, man on the other mountain, man who sold us the crutches, Claudio, Maurizio, RyanAir, people in the street who stopped to offer sympathy –

And of course, with my deepest regret for causing you such worry: Mowmy, Daddo and Jie, whose love and wise words throughout kept me from spiralling..

And Hongwan, for being there, and here soon.

If things are hard now, they would’ve been impossible without these blessings.

Up in the mountains, you never forget how small you are. This was the last shot I took at the top of the slope..

..and this was the first one after.

Look at that extra glove waving an icy hello from my knee. Haha.

Ah well. Next post: less snow, more Carnevale!

Memories are made of this

•February 18, 2009 • 2 Comments

For the first time this term, our entire class of 50-odd was seated in the most uncomfortable of amphithéâtres yesterday ready for instruction by a particularly pompous professor, who likes to talk a lot without saying much at all. We spent half an hour listening to him explain how to form appropriate tutorial groups – it really could’ve been condensed into a one-second sentence, “Two groups, please” – after which he thanked us, stood, and said jovially, “A deux semaines plus tard, si l’université existe encore !”

WHO welcomes students back just to form tutorial groups and to say that he’ll see them two weeks later, if the university’s still standing?! Franchement, ça devient ridicule. I almost prefer last year’s strikes, when at least we weren’t fooled into expecting an education. Back then, if the crazy student union body wasn’t barricading the doors shut with their crazed bodies, it was because riot police in fully-articulated battle gear were standing guard around the Sorbonne’s entrances. Like ludicrous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles extras, they stopped people from entering, first kindly, shrugging and blowing raspberries in commiseration with the students, then threatening to throw cameras away if people took pictures of them.

Ah, nostalgia. Thinking about what seems like our very own dedicated CRS (Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité, a company in the police force – they were there so often in such great numbers, I felt quite flattered for my school) reminds me fondly of a friend. She was once overcome enough by their masculine presence to forget basic vocabulary. In as conspiratorially friendly a tone as possible, she asked one of them “Vous êtes chaud ?” All rigged out in protective plating as he was, she’d meant to ask if he felt hot, but had ended up asking him if he was horny instead. “Euh… Oui.. ? ” he ventured.

Heehee. Well, well. Even despite the many fruitless trips to and from school, it’s a great time to be here. An oriole just started singing outside because it’s past 6 pm and the sun’s still out! (Wow! …) Really though, on the way in, I spied tendrils of springtime green creeping bashfully across the courtyard pavement. How nice that the worst of winter – also the worst of winters in what, 30 years? – is finally over.

Kind of ironic, then, that once exams ended last semester, I hurriedly hied myself a continent away to the harshest period of an even colder winter. I’m hardly complaining though! Because in addition to spending precious time with people dearly missed (and besides learning what -4 degrees feels like in Fahrenheit – Centigrade’s for wimps!), I also learnt how to skiiii…

The quickest way to learn how to ski is when your alternative is to fall off the slopes and die. It’s also when you desperately want not to embarrass yourself in front of your instructor/slave-driver. With my spectacular (ie horrifying and pouffy) red ski suit and snow-spewing spills, I certainly didn’t succeed in not embarrassing myself. I also contrived to get my long-suffering host knocked over by the ski lift, winding him thoroughly just for good measure. Haha! I’m so sorry! That was Really Embarrassing. =[

To be fair to me though, none of this would’ve happened if he hadn’t duped me onto the ski lift in the first place. “You’re a natural! I want to bring you up to the top – it’s really beautiful. Don’t worry, you’re ready!”

Such a sweet-talker, my friends! I didn’t even understand the extent to which I had been suckered until one of his house-mates almost fell off her chair, learning at dinner that he’d brought me up to the intermediate slopes within our first two hours. He himself had only gone up the beginner slope on his third ski trip..

Hahahahaha. I’m only eternally grateful of course. So instructive, his instructions; so encouraging, his encouragement! =] It must’ve been quite a puzzling day; I had to concentrate on figuring out how to remain vertical so much of the time that I hardly said a word. It was great fun though to observe the seasoned skiiers zipping down the slopes almost lazily, or the racers making hairpin turns around markers in their time trials. I spent the first few hours tumbling off ski lifts and eating snow by the catapult-ful while the very young and the very old whizzed by, with my ever-patient instructor waiting ever-patiently. He even managed to somewhat answer his friend’s question about homework before reception gave out (“Actually, I’m skiing, call you back later?” HAHA) while I extracted myself from knee-deep in a snowbank that I’d skiied confidently into.

By the end of the afternoon though, I could adopt a semi-crouch approximating a proper skiing position, push off down a long slope, knuckles white and knees trembling, trying my darndest to concentrate on the figure elegantly gliding his leisurely way down just ahead while the wind whipped the hair in my terrified face. I reached the foot of the last two slopes not having fallen once: a jelly-soft mess, but an exhilarated, contented jelly-soft mess. The quickest way to learn how to ski after all is not to be afraid to try, and he certainly taught me that.

The view from up there – worth every toe, thigh, back and upper-arm muscle ache. It was such a brilliant day too; we got pleasantly sunburnt. Okay this photo doesn’t do it justice at all, but I didn’t dare get any closer to the brow of this black slope. Snow’s slippery!

So that was how I spent my first weekend in Ithaca, going up and tumbling down and around the mountainsides. Actually, getting to and back from Geek Greek Peak was an adventure in itself, but that’s one of the things I’ll save for my other, top-secret diary.

(It doesn’t exist.)

(At least not online.)

Ah well, good times, good times. =] And so beneficial too! I’m off to Venice and the Italian Alps this Saturday, well-prepared for a week’s skiing only by his infinite patience and indulgence.

Dangle, dangle. Muffled by the bountiful snow, everything’s so quiet way up there, you could hear a heart sing..

My Funny Valentine

•February 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I concede the point: c’est toi qui fais de ma Saint-Valentin joyeuse. =]

Alors que te puis-je dire, sinon qu’oui ?

While the iron is hot

•February 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

I’m back from outre-mer! Outer-sea! Overseas!

Another vacation, another sentimental voyage. It was painful to leave – oh my New Yorkers, oh my Ithacan – but stumbling back into my lovely little apartment (with the luggage that REALLY packed a punch), at least I was coming home to Paris. Parting, such sweet sorrow! Finger → throat.

This was by far a trip worth reviving a dead blog for. =D Chinese New Year with cousins dearly missed, leap-frogging Manhattan behind delightful native-New Yorkers, lounging in Yuan’s room transposed from Singapore to Union Square, shuttle flights on propeller planes, SKIING, walking across arctic Ithaca then thawing out beside the fire of desire… (Kidding. The rhyme was too bad to pass up.)

It’ll take me a while to figure out what to leave in about these past two delirious weeks, but with any luck, the university strikes will last longer. And all this with another vacation in another fortnight! Ahhh. I revel in the righteous indignation that my passionate contemporaries feel compelled to demonstrate. =]

Ithaca’s gorges.

Gorge-crossing. The dear old violin’s been going places.

A bientôt, and let’s hope the strikers don’t stop till they get what they want! La solidarité !!

Once upon a country mouse

•November 5, 2008 • 1 Comment

Well this is healthy.. Swaddled sniffling in blankets in bed for late-late-night chatting, abortive blogging and CNN’s Election Night broadcast. Please let Barack Obama win!!! Some 86% of the French would vote for him. France Info explains it (facetiously I hope): “Il est français,” this because Obama’s maternal ancestry descends from Alsace some 6 generations ago. It’s probably the most tenuous of claims any country has yet laid on him… And Alsace might not even have been French then! C’est de l’obamanie, ça. Just please let him win.

This past week was marked by non-vacation for us sad sacks while the rest of France went on jolly Toussaint break. So off we went for a weekend in Normandy, courtesy of the cutest, most exotic couple in the recent history of the Chinese diaspora..

Meet the backs of Davina and Thiam Min. She’s Mauritian, he’s Tahitian, both are Hakka, live and breathe French and worked in Singapore for a while. It’s a long story (and unlike some, well worth telling), but the upshot is that they’re engaged and living in Paris. Every so often they pop by to Cabourg, a rich seaside second-home town, to tend the huge (but enormous!) garden/farm at his overseas brother’s country estate.

Paris is beautiful, but the country is literally a breath of fresh air. Everything was so crisp and uncontaminated, it was like a mini-pilgrimage to a better place. We arrived late on Friday night and after a tremendously reinvigorating cold shower because the heater hadn’t warmed up yet, tumbled into bed to watch (of all things) Spirited Away, probably the most pastoral movie I have.

Fluffy Crocs enhanced the cosy alternate-universe atmosphere.

The next day was a riot of domestic activity: when we weren’t eating, we were cooking our meals; when we weren’t doing that, we were picking produce and transforming it into delectable, garden-fresh fare. Heehee.

A garden patch.

Picking them was such fun. Actually, it was more like shaking the tree and dodging big, red raindrops by clumping around as quickly as our heavy boots allowed in the rich earth. These are the crunchiest, tangiest.. apple-est things I’ve ever sunk my teeth into.

La raclette : a divine combination of molten cheese and cured meats, the comfort of a long winter’s night.

And when we tired of that, we went for a walk :

She sells seashells.

Such bliss, to be surrounded by the wide expanse of sand and the calm English Channel with three of the dearest people I know here.

There’s a boy in the carriage that the first horse is pulling. Very noble treads.

Sunday morning we all slept in, except for the intrepid Thiam Min who woke up at dawn to see if the alleged rabbits hopped around the garden as the friendly gardener claimed they did. This local chap, quite a talker, also hunts ducks from a WW II bunker near the beach with his buddies, makes a mean apple cider and churns out preserves from various fruits I didn’t even know existed. No bunnies that morning.

Morning jog!

Davina’s Pot au Feu.

Lots of peeling, slicing, dicing, stirring and pounding later, Rebecca’s Tarte Tatin and Thiam Min’s Compôte de Pommes.. Yummm.

The weekend over, we piled into the car for the ride back. Just before we left, the setting sun lit up the bush at the bottom of the garden to show the fine filigree embrace of perfect gossamer webs.

Whizzing back to Paris as bucolic France poured past the windows and the three others lolled comfortably asleep in their seats, I reflected on what a journey it’s been these 3 years or so. I know it smacks of the maudlin and the mawkish but if there’s anything I’m proud of of my sojourn in this wintrier clime so far, it’s the relationships with all the people that I’ve gotten to know better over these years. (That means with you, too.) The time with these particular three was a blessed one, and the best thing is that it felt like a prelude of more to come.

[Yes they can! .. What a speech, what a campaign. The world looks set to be a better place. (=]

Danish delight

•October 22, 2008 • 5 Comments

I finally overcame my inertia to visit a small part of Scandinavia, all thanks to my ultra-hospitable relatives in Copenhagen. This short trip wildly surpassed even the anticipation built up from three years here lusting after Scandinavia. The beauty, the rarefied air of refinement and above all the glorious incongruity of a cosy, kind-to-a-fault Singaporean family plopped comfortably in the middle of downtown Copenhagen – it couldn’t have come at a better time. My grand-aunt, grand-uncle and their progeny brought me around, (over)fed, cosseted and all but adopted me.. I’m still bathed in the afterglow hahaha.

So the trip began with a whole adventure of its own because the RER B to CDG was down, yet again. This is the train that I attempt to take to school every day. Going to school is such a calculated gamble – train, metro or bus: which is the least likely to have broken down or be on strike? I love the variety that public transportation in Paris adds to my days! Not. But anyway, the plane to Copenhagen was delayed, merci Air France, so I was safe.

Except that I had to run to the exit at Kastrup because I knew my grand-aunt was waiting (she’d arrived there early too just in case, augh), and it’s such a nice, shiny, HUGE airport! =/ Once there and de-flustered though, Copenhagen was brilliant.

The Little Mermaid has been decapitated twice and has lost her arm once to sick vandals. She’s actually in the middle of cold, windy nowhere in Copenhagen, so it’s not as surprising as it sounds. HC Andersen’s plot is also quite chilling, as children’s stories go..

Nyhavn is a gorgeous waterfront canal wine-and-dine area. Canals in Singapore mean such different things than in Europe.

When I arrived, my grand-aunt asked me what I knew about Denmark. Food being one of my primary interests, I mentioned smørrebrød, literally butter and bread, actually towering open-face sandwiches. The next morning, I woke up to four. Meatballs, beef steak, salmon and egg on dense rye bread: they were very delicious and very very filling. I relearnt the value of understatement that morning.

Denmark, indeed Scandinavia, is synonymous with design. My cousin-aunt speaks of hygge, the Danish culture of “cosiness” that values all that is pleasing, soothing and .. nice, I guess. Nice is not overrated, contrary to certain assertions.

Looks like art. It all looks like art.. The apartments I saw into from the streets were straight out of interior design magazines. The high-class kind.

The epitome of being easy on the eyes, the cones in this lamp follow the Fibonnaci sequence.

The Kuutio (Finnish for cube) futon is a thick cotton mattress that can be folded up and zipped along only one line to produce a bench, a stool, a bag, a storage cube, an easy chair.. It works on the Eulerian path principle.

Heaven in an urban home. How pleasant! I’m thinking of you, Sister.

If you were to bump into somebody while wearing this jacket, he’d stick with you. Literally – it’s lined with Velcro. Dear reader, I was sorely tempted.

Pumpkin season at Tivoli Gardens.

The waist-high straw maze that this tree is planted in the middle of actually only had one entry. There were a lot of frustrated kids that night, too short to see anything and accompanied by their equally bemused parents.

No expenses spared.

Meet Jack Straw. His head may be full of mush, but he’s bright all right.

It was Kulturnatten too so there were exhibits in the streets of Copenhagen that whole night. This was on agriculture; that huge red machine is a potato harvester. I had no idea that so many varieties of Danish potatoes existed.

The next day brought a day trip to Helsingør, or Elsinore.

A fairytale comes true.

The outer moat..

.. And the inner.

If the name rang a bell, this is probably why. Shakespeare set Hamlet in Elsinore, where a modern-day theatre now stands in hommage. The whole place is steeped in history and culture – quite amazing.

On the other end of the spectrum, Christiania.

Freetown Christiania is a self-governing area in Copenhagen set up by squatters in disused military barracks. Cameras aren’t allowed inside and for good reason, since cannabis is sold openly. I wandered around in there as sore a thumb as possible and tried not to gawk at the flourishing hippie lifestyle, or be gawked at myself.

The last night in Copenhagen was memorably spent first stumbling upon that Danish institution, Lego.

Miniature skyscrapers.

Our own paltry attempt, quickly abandoned in ignominious defeat.

We then moved on to a jazz concert, and then to China. It was really just a karaoke restaurant, but it might as well have been a portal to another dimension. The difference could not have been greater between a subdued, working crowd enjoying a jazz sextet in a genteel club, and the lusty, collective renditions of Chinese pop standards by young drunk Chinese students in an otherwise pitch-dark restaurant lit up by a spinning disco ball.

We also dropped by Sweden..

Reindeer!

Live music in the street.

Ah well. Nothing like a getaway to get the creative juices flowing, and this was the best I could have hoped for – I’d gladly zig-zag the globe for familial warmth. Only one and a half years late. (= Thanks for coming back, I’ve missed this!