Somewhere in East Asia

•May 10, 2007 • 5 Comments

Hello! Away from home again, just two short weeks after getting back. Once again, with no more exaggerated tortured-soul angst to draw on (hah), I lost all impetus to blog within the happy confines of familiarity and love. But now the family’s finally together again in Kaohsiung for the first time, and there’ll be new stuff to write about once I’m home again.

Jie’s birthday on Saturday will be celebrated on the road as we drive ourselves around Taiwan Island (Friday to Tuesday), then it’s off to Hokkaido with a Taiwanese tour group (next Wednesday to Sunday – that should be interesting), Taipei on our own (Monday to Wednesday) and finally back to Singapore with Jie on the 23rd.

By which time an update will be long overdue. Happy belated birthday Pa!!! Owe you a post as well. Will hopefully start meeting people in earnest once I’m back too, before going back to France sometime in June.

Come visit my parents in Kaohsiung! This is their humongous flat screen, the diametric opposite of my little cathode-ray antique in France.

In another far cry from my hypnotic lolly seat, this is the high-tech toilet, caught here in the act of opening itself . It goes crazy lifting and lowering its lid if you’re moving around the bathroom, tsk. What a difference from quiet, rustic country living. (=

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Everyone’s Waiting

•April 3, 2007 • 11 Comments

I’ve been gorging on Six Feet Under every day for the past many days, and it’s only now that my evenings are empty again that I’ve fully apprehended how close the finals are. Oh no. But what a great way to make time pass! The entire series is thoroughly riveting, intelligent and tastefully done (if very, very uncensored – what an eye-opener that was, right Kit.) Hmm. Can’t never get enough noir comedy, anyway. Everyone with an internet connection and time to kill can watch it (legally, as far as I know) at allUC.org, so wait no longer. The last of the 63 hours will blow you far, far away.. Six feet under in fact. Harhar.

So that’s what I’ve been up to in between bouts of school, project panic and long-drawn-out cook-outs with friends. The real action’s to the east, where youthful legal eagles have descended on Vienna in the friendly spirit of picking each other to bits with detached fury to detail. Congratulations 姐 Jie and team on making it to the next round in the Vis Moot! (= Yay! Not that that was ever in doubt. Bonne chance et bon courage for the rest of the competition! Arbitrate yourselves to arbitration heaven, we know you can. (=

Speaking of pompoms, there was a marathon here on Sunday and the track along the river was lined with people cheering the determined runners on. Alas, I found out about it only when I went for a run, during which the marathon ran into me. I jogged along as unobtrusively as I could, which unhappily was not at all, since I was a slow-moving object covered from head to toe in sombre windbreaking material against a colourful blur of sports singlets and shorts whizzing past. How embarrassing! I was torn between slowing down and stopping altogether when suddenly there wasn’t a decision to be made anymore: the runners had all zoomed off ahead, leaving just me for the people lining the track to cheer on, if so inclined. Heh, such humorous people. It was more than just exertion that turned me red that day, and I was very glad to finally get off the marathon route.

“Everyone’s Waiting” for the end, sure, but if Six Feet Under’s about anything, it’s about not wasting your time while waiting. (That’s the title of the last spine-tingling episode.) I humbly submit to you, Mother, that watching excellent, instructive television online doesn’t count as wasting time. (Please argue in my favour, Jie!) My mother’s promised to start writing a blog “not yet”, but some time in the future. There, it’s in black and white now. =D To 爸妈 Pa+Ma in Taiwan, happy settling in!

Sleep’s becoming more fitful these days, but only 12 more nights till I head home. While that’s practically nothing, can’t wait. =[

Three Strikes

•March 21, 2007 • 5 Comments

I was rushing to school for my 50%-of-the-final-grade presentation when I noticed mounted policemen heading the same way, all boots, helmets and glinting sunglasses – the uniform always gets to me. Well. What else could it be but a demonstration, the kind that chokes up the little street from the Préfecture that serves as a shortcut to school? And so it was that I arrived for class late and dishevelled after fighting my way from the stragglers smoking and drinking at the back of the crowd to the very spirited agitators thrusting banners and banging drums up front. These activists, I tell you..!

This strike was against educational reforms that will cut teaching posts and increase class sizes starting September this year. It’s nice to see youngsters so supportive of their teachers and passionate about their education I guess, but what’s really, really nice is to see freedom of speech in practice. I mean, I seriously doubt that this strike, replicated in towns across France, will go any further than raise discontent about the current administration. Concrete changes to the reforms are unlikely. There are exceptions, of course, when strike fever sweeps all levels of society for a significant period of time like it did for close to two months last Spring, and the government buckles before more than one promising political figure is cut down in the maelstrom of brutal public opinion. But demonstrations are common and legal reforms not so, the corollary of which is that most strikes do little other than exercise this “inalienable and God-given right”.

Which I wholeheartedly cursed, of course, when I was stuck up in the hills of the hill-top on-campus accommodation last year during transport strikes. All I could do was look out the windows at the grazing cows and wish they would herd me to school. I exaggerate of course; these cows were manifestly not herd-conscious. Heh. It’s just an excuse to insert this joke which I already forwarded to some people : Cowporations, on cows and stereotypes, a happy combination..

Traditional Capitalism

You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

An American Corporation

You have two cows.
You sell one and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
You are surprised when the cow drops dead.

A French Corporation
You have two cows.
You go on strike because you want three cows.

A Japanese Corporation
You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
You then create clever cow cartoon images called ‘Cowkimon’ and market them worldwide.

A German Corporation
You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

A British Corporation

You have two cows.
Both are mad.

An Italian Corporation

You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are.
You break for lunch.

A Swiss Corporation

You have 5,000 cows, none of which belongs to you.
You charge others for storing their cows for them.

A Chinese Corporation
You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim full employment and high bovine productivity.
You have the newsman who reported on the numbers arrested.

An Indian Corporation
You have two cows.
You worship them.

A Malaysian Corporation
You have two cows.
You sign a 40-year contract to supply milk at RM0.06 per litre.
Midway through, you raise the price to RM0.60 and threaten to cut the supply.

When the buyer agrees to the new price, you change your mind again and now want RM1.20.
The buyer decides you can keep your milk and researches and develops milk that comes from recycled cows.

Your two cows retire together with the Prime Minister.

A Singaporean Corporation
You have two cows.
One cow-beh and one cow-bu.

Haha. (=

Back to the strikes though. The first one I saw in France was by firemen setting off smoke bombs in the streets in protest against goodness knows what, hounded all the while by whistle-blowing policemen. This was when I’d just arrived all green and wide-eyed and Singaporean; it was surreal to see different arms of the civil service have an opinion at all, not to mention opposing ones. Plenty of strikes followed during my time away from home, including one by interestingly-attired people in Barcelona.. One grows desensitised after a while, but the most memorable demonstration of all must’ve been in the vicinity of the UN headquarters in New York where the embassies are.

It was held by HIV-positive people to coincide with a UN General Assembly high level meeting on Aids in June last year. That’s a pretend coffin they’re holding, photo courtesy of Jie – rather affecting, on the whole.

In other news, snow’s been falling again. The new flowers that bloomed in the past weeks’ summery temperatures are covered in blankets of white and petrified in their pretty beds. Treacherous, treacherous.

3 weeks, 4 days and counting till I’m reunited with the highly-regulated atmosphere of home, such a sweet and distant memory now. Ah well.. So much for inalienable rights. Freedom, schmeedom.. (!!!) It’s the people whom I miss that count for so much more, anyway.

March 12th, 1986

•March 11, 2007 • 7 Comments

Today Junny, first kiddie from left, turns 21. Happy Birthday darling cousin 俊 , who’s now officially as old as Yuan! (= (Third from left.) Plus ça change..

You’re lucky if you have a chummy cousin your age to go through the trials and tribulations of childhood with. But two? Thank you so much, parents and two sets of aunts and uncles. Junny was an indispensable classmate for the first 7 years of my academic career, if you count nursery as academia. It was to him that I crept miserably when my first tooth got pulled by the school dentist. He matter-of-factly told me to rinse the blood out, then extremely kindly offered me a new country-flag eraser. He too first caught me sleeping in class (P4, Higher Chinese lesson in the stifling afternoon heat).

So many Jun memories from the countless hours of school, swimming lessons, family holidays, cruises-courtesy-of-his-parents, etc. The adults used to make us play an instrument for Christmas ‘concerts’ during Jinggy’s birthday celebrations of yore; Junny vowed to play the CD player one year and I’m pretty sure the concerts were abandoned by the next. While we ran crazily amok, Jun also marked a grandparent’s birthday dinner by splitting his knee on the wall partition’s metal floor rail. The flesh was flapping; the carpet was red. OUCH. =/

These days it’s shopping trips, meals, commiserating about life in general and failing driving the first time around in particular. (¡50 points and two immediate failures!) To our one and only brilliant and colourful devastator_of_destruction now zipping around town, happy happy 21st! ((= We await great things from you, all of which you’ll achieve without ruffling a hair!


Carnaval à Besançon last weekend.


Floats, confetti and friendly-harassment-on-stilts were the order of the day.

You have your Chingay and I have mine.. Not really.

Listening to the radio tonight, Jacques Chirac formally announced his retirement in a 12-minute elocution that was tremendously eloquent and slyly seductive. Actually, it sort of boiled down to these words that littered his speech effusively: “Je vous aime”, or “I love you” said the formal way. I’m sure this only happens in France, though I’m hardly familiar with senior statesmen and their farewell speeches. (Then again, where we come from, nobody really retires..) Elysée 2007/ Presidential elections this year! I was a little wide-eyed at the raging emotion that characterised Chirac’s oration, though I suppose emotional is the least you’d expect from two terms spanning 12 years in office capping a 40-year political career. Oh well.. When caution and cynicism go out the window, it’s quite impossible not to say “I love you” repeatedly and mean it with all your heart each time.

April seriously couldn’t come sooner.

To the concerned relative who asked, “grosso modo” means “roughly speaking” in French. Despite all appearances to the contrary, it really isn’t a species of giant Indonesian lizard.. (((=

[Edito March 21st for the birthday boy, second from right and all mafia-like. Photo from ~1994.]

A Little Bohemian Rhapsody

•March 4, 2007 • 7 Comments

Dobrý den! (= That’s hello in Czech, one of the grand total of two phrases I managed to retain. (Hello and Thank You, the best to learn.) Prague was lovely in a Gothic, overcast way, a very romantic combination of the City of a Hundred Spires in typically blah winter weather. Thank goodness it rained only on the last day and the sleet wasn’t too heavy for take-off.

My knowledge of the Czech Republic before going there was limited to being able to name Smetana, Dvorak, Janacek, Kundera and Kafka as nationals; a vague memory of Czech Sudetenland in the Munich Agreement, Prague Spring and Soviet oppression. Seeing as how we skipped all, but all museums and exhibitions, that knowledge remains pitifully limited. Haha. We decided that the money would be better spent on food, a plan that we put into action with a vengeance – I don’t think we stopped eating those three days. Gluttonous philistines, yes, but why the strained finances?? Because I’d forgotten to withdraw my share of the money in the rush to the airport in Paris, me fearing that we’d miss the flight. We were about hmm, half an hour early. Sigh. “Kancheong spider” indeed.

The 1.5-hour flight to Prague was remarkably uneventful as I pretended to be the glamorous, jaded jetsetter I regrettably am not. The cool non-excitement continued until we touched down and Smetana’s Má vlast (My Country) – Vltava started playing: hearing his rousing, nationalist symphonic poem over the crackly airplane intercom suddenly made everything Czech seem violently interesting…

Which would explain my nearly 300 photos of starkly mundane objects, such as the bus seat covers and the interior of the metro in Prague. They were so very uniquely Czech!.. In a way replicated the world over. Haha. Sorting through the photos was a trial of patience this time, but here’re some of the better ones from three days of traipsing through the streets of Prague as a khaki marshmallow in jeans and sneakers.

The hotel was very decent with newly-furnished rooms and a jolly breakfasting area. Breakfast each day was a feast of sausages and eggs, cereal, cakes, bread, et cetera, et cetera. After eating, we’d stumble out into the cold and drag our distended tummies around Prague’s attractions in a haze of over-indulgence. Then we’d find a café or something to sit down for a rest, where we’d end up sampling a little more Czech cuisine. Augh! I blame the favourable exchange rate and the much lower cost of dining out in Prague.

The stunning Charles Bridge (Karlův most) was built in the 14th century and is lined with 30 Baroque statues. That’s my rip-off of artistic bridge shots from one of the many itinerant vendors along its 500+m length. We spent a long time crossing the Vltava river looking at Prague Castle behind us and Old Town ahead; that’s the Old Town Tower that guards the bridge on the right as the river flows. Wandering on it, wondering why the concept of a particular bridge over a river in Prague didn’t seem as new as it should be, I had a flash of useless-information brilliance. Didn’t the crooked-boss bad guy in Mission: Impossible fake his death to Tom Cruise’s character by falling over a bridge – into a river – in Prague? Heh.

This is Old Town (Staré Město), and Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí), which houses the Astronomical Clock (Pražský orloj) and the incredible Gothic Týn Cathedral (Týnský chrám). Imagine the difficulty we had in navigating: all the signs were in Czechy Czech! The only comprehensible exceptions were words like “steaky”, “deserty”, “toasty” and “toalety”.. And who could forget the magnetic “slevy”, or “sale”? It can be quite a cute language, Czech.

We also couldn’t understand how to read the Astronomical Clock, which shows the movements of celestial bodies. It started chiming 13h00 as we rested our not-so-weary feet around the corner. Caught unaware, we ran to see the celebrated apostles that march out every hour, but the tourist horde was in the way and we were too late anyway, so we went back to sit down some more.

[A propos to that, did you see the lunar eclipse last night? Around midnight over here all but a silver sliver of the full moon was dusky red in the perfectly cloudless sky. Pretty awesome. And happy 元宵节! ]

Prague has an extremely vibrant classical music scene (not an oxymoron). We attended one of the few that didn’t offer Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, a dead tourist-trap giveaway. Our choice had nothing to do with the fact that it was also the only show that offered afternoon tea along with the programme, of course. Heh. The violin, cello and piano trio performed four pieces and an encore, all of them of an amazing standard. Pure, abundant talent on such casual display everywhere! Singapore has a looong way to go.

Josefov or the Jewish Quarter is probably the most well-preserved in Nazi Europe, because part of Hitler’s crazed genocide plan was to conserve one of the living areas of the “extinct race”. Saw my first synagogues here.

Prague’s all about the stunning architecture. Façades and more façades: Neo-Classical, Gothic, Renaissance, Art Nouveau. Other than Gothic, I can only vaguely guess at which is which.. The last one, the Municipal House, ought to be Art Nouveau. Spot the second gratuitous Mission: Impossible reference! ( John Woo pigeons.)

Prague Castle / Pražský hrad / the largest ancient castle in Europe was where we spent most of the second day. I mooched off one of the English tours in process and learnt that construction proper began in the 12th century (with renovations still ongoing, it seems). Pretty mind-boggling that it’s been there all this time. That it’s now filled with gaggles of tourists seems slightly undignified, but oh well.

We went up a hill to look at this miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower, not without an overwhelming sense of irony.

Finally, we trekked a long way up to the last “à ne pas manquer” must-see in the Lonely Planet guide: Vyšehrad or “V castle”. The tranquil castle grounds were a nice change from the bustle of Prague’s streets. It was dead quiet, in fact. The view from the top wasn’t too bad either.


One of the many cars that recalled the Czech Republic’s Communist past. Modern Capitalism is everywhere now, of course; we stocked up at Marks and Spencer on our last night in Prague. Haha. No such thing in France!

So I had the point driven home that good company can make or break a trip, which is not to say that the company was bad this time.

Děkuji Praha for an unforgettable visit, J for being part of the experience, and you for reading.

The National Museum (Národní muzeum) at night, seen from Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí), the site of Jan Palach’s self-immolation and the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Quickie

•February 24, 2007 • 8 Comments

Blue skies are here again. I saw a flower blooming yellow against the green grass growing through cracks in the trottoir . Temperatures have been hovering around a very warm 7 degrees lately: the Inconvenient Truth is all around. =S Please buy hybrid cars!

Hope everybody had a very happy Chinese New Year. Thank goodness for internet telephony. Why, I’m even in one of my sister’s CNY pictures (albeit just as a disembodied voice), multi-tasker superhuman that she is. (=

Mid-terms are over! Spent an inordinate amount of time stressing, but Prague beckons now. Armed with a Lonely Planet ‘Citiz’ guide (in French, hélas), we shall attempt very seriously not to get lost on the way from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the airport and everywhere in between for the next few days. This should be the first of many holidays to come in the near future (one of them being scuba diving..?) Now just to get through the remainder of the semester..
Hope I haven’t left anything behind. Be well and thanks again for all the support! (=

Exciting Times

•February 14, 2007 • 13 Comments

FedEx brought a HUGE surprise. Talk about swept away! There’s nothing like a personalised present conceived, created and delivered with exacting care in response to a careless “I wish”. It even came with a pocket-sized miniature! =D The time, money (cringe, much too much) and love poured into it.. Short of freighting himself over, he couldn’t have done more. Why, anybody’d be completely won over.

As if I hadn’t already been completely won over by the person he is!

=D Before what’s left of my darling readers simultaneously lose their appetites forever, not only did opening the package dissolve me into a puddle of goopy goo, it also stirred up a nervous semi-crisis about my own rustic cardy little attempt now making its merry leisurely way to Singapore. There’s simply no comparison to what I got. I wonder if it’s going to be late or veryvery late? =S

And now for a little more barefaced plagiarism edited to suit my purposes, ’cos I can’t never get enough of that:

Dr Iannis to Pelagia, his daughter.

“And another thing. Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No… don’t blush. I am telling you some truths. That is just being ‘in love’, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two. […] Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? Trust me, it is.”

Louis de Bernières in Corelli’s Mandolin

Phenomenal book.

Since we’re on the subject, the pater’s going to Kaohsiung soon for a seriously fancy new position. Yay Pa! Plus what they say about the best man. (= So because they’re one tree and not two, the parents are moving there. It’s well and truly fantastic, even if another piece of the tree’s fruits has to be relocated along with it. Somewhere new to hang out with the family, to be sure, but nowhere beats home.

Ah yes, travel. Went to Paris this weekend for an early Chinese New Year dinner and the company. (Merci infiniment Jevon!) Ate, talked, laughed, coughed, sneezed, coughed some more, and lost my voice. School’s going not-so-swimmingly with mid-terms after the CNY weekend, not that I’d be celebrating otherwise. Surely this week is the worst time of the festive year to be away..

So thank goodness for the special delivery and he who was behind it.

Happy Valentine’s to all, and above all, to the keeper of this imploding heart that misses his with every beat.

You may throw up now, dear readers. Ti amo moltissimo, mio bello.