Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Blast from the Past...

I went to a superb exhibition at the newly re-opened National Museum of Singapore on Sunday ,called "Families & Friends: A Singapore Album". It profiled the archival pictorial histories of several Singaporeans - some prominent, others regular people like you and I - and made me think about what I'd put in my own album.

Which leads me to this picture.

I wrote this article twelve years ago for The New Paper - 24 February 1995 specifically. It was my first full-time job, I was a fresh-faced intern asked to cover a recent global phenomenon that only just entered Singapore. The Internet.

I still remember my sister had recently returned from Harvard and she'd been using something called "email" in the States to communicate with her friends. She told my family how useful and convenient it was to keep in touch that way. We were sold and became one of the first 50 customers in Singapore to sign up to Singtel's dial-up internet service.

I recall there was no graphic interface, and I could spend hours reading and posting on rec.arts.music.rem - a forum about the band REM. We would argue endlessly with U2 fans on which was the better band. We also formed a global support group for those stymied by Michael Stipe's garbled delivery of lyrics.

We also used to play "Chaos" an internet trivia game where you formed teams with people from all around the world and within a one minute timeframe, type out as many answers as possible to totally random categories like "Legumes" or "Songs by Phish".

I can't quite remember when the Internet started looking like how it does today. But from around 1995, it became a part of every day life for me. It's funny how I used to ring my good friend C almost everynight in JC and we'd talk for at least an hour. I can't even remember what would sustain us like that, but then when C went way to the UK to study, we very easily morphed to hour-long emails every day.

Of course, now that we're (sob...) older, and with all sorts of work and family commitments, we don't keep in touch as much, it's still kinda funny to know that when we do get in touch, it's always email that comes first.

So anyway, thanks to my archival-guru dad for surfacing this clipping from over a decade ago. I still can't quite believe just how the Internet has changed all our lives. I mean, how many new verbs has it added to the English language?

On this note, I'll log off and will blog another time :)

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Watchmen - A Review Written While Watching the Oscars

Source of image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Watchmencovers.png

If you haven't read The Watchmen, put down whatever you're reading right now, and start.

One of TIME MAGAZINE's 100 Best English-Language Novels since 1923, The Watchmen is the epic work of Alan Moore, who also penned V for Vendetta and Swamp Thing.

Before this, my only foray into the graphic novel/comic genre was Neil Gaiman's incomparable, and for me, life-changing, opus, The Sandman. Having read everything I could get my hands on about The Sandman, I knew that it had been influenced by Moore's The Watchmen.

From the very first panel, The Watchmen is a spectacular study of some of the most compelling characters to inhabit fiction. The story around the stories of a few individuals - call them super heroes if you will - exploring their motivations, their pasts, their demons. The heroes don't have any special powers - save for one - and grapple with a changing, increasingly paranoid world. The crimes and villains they fight evolve from your typical 2-dimensional comic book baddies to the intangible, permeating presence of an impending cold war.

The themes that Moore weaves through the story resonate especially in today's socio-political climate. Escalating crime resulting in vigilantism, the power of PR and the importance of harnessing the media, the omniscience of technology, the resulting loss of personal freedom, all against the backdrop of an imminent nuclear war. Oh, and there's a pretty creepy-cool secondary story line involving a half-crazed sailor trying to escape being marooned on an island.

Oh and I haven't even gone on about the visuals yet. I hear that they're making a movie out of this. I don't know how they're going to do it justice. But then again, they managed with V for Vendetta and Sin City.

On this note though, I'm really looking forward (ok, in a sadistic sorta way) for the movie adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I'm watching the Oscars as I type this, and watching Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman walk out arm in arm, I think it's just so right that they were cast in the title roles.

So back to The Watchmen, for those not sure about the genre, this one is going to surprise you. It's better than many of the fiction novels I've read this year. Certainly better than the shocking winner of the Man Booker last year, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. The Watchmen at least benefited from a better editor!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Treebeard and the Bonsai: An Organic Parable

So it was that two trees grew in the garden. Treebeard was tall and majestic, with thick buttress roots that reached deep into the ground, drawing moisture from the rain that fell around him. Bonsai was petite and lived within four walls, his plumage trimmed by a dutiful caretaker who also watered him daily.

On sunny days, Treebeard would lull himself into a reverie, listening to the hum of picnickers seeking shelter in his gentle arms. On special occasions, he would shimmy in the breeze, scattering his leaves like a bird shedding feathers, delighting his friends below.

And so it was that one day, a leaf found its way to Bonsai's manicured lawn. Bonsai, sniffing his nose in alarm, wondered what on earth could produce such a cumbersome thing.

Just then, the sun-browned gardener, stopped in front of his abode and, with a low tsk-tsk and a quick flick of the fingers, removed the alien leaf.

"Ah, all my years of hard work and you've kept your shape, my little one. Were it not for me, who knows what sort of giant you'd have grown up to be?" the caretaker said.

Bonsai looked up in awe as the realisation dawned on him. Just then, a group of admiring visitors arrived, and Bonsai steadied himself to look calm for the flashing bulbs. He realised he was happy in his little world with his beloved caretaker. "I may not be the largest tree in the garden, and though sometimes it does get just the tiniest bit squeezy within these walls, it's not too bad. The food is good, and it does get rather entertaining with all these visitors."

At the south end of the garden, Treebeard nodded and looked on, presiding over the garden and the frantic city beyond it.



OK, so don't ask me what that was all about. All I know is I went to the Botanic Gardens this morning for a walk with my friend Dean saw the new bonsai garden and started squealing, and knew that I wanted to write something about erm, diminutive trees.

Simulataneously, husband D was on a big run around our estate with his friend also named Dean (how weird is that!)

So walking trip with Dean1 comprised lots of stops to take photos of various plant life with a brunch at Beviamo after. While D's running trip with Dean2 involved calf stretches and carbo gels. Hmmm...

Besides bonsai and giant trees, we also saw a gazebo that would have fit right into an "Age of Innocence" type tableau with ladies, parasols and short gloves. There's Dean thinking wistfully about his Dangerous Liaisons aspirations. Oh to have been birthed in a time of wigs and powder and not t-shirts and Birkenstocks!

We also went beyond the waterfall, and like a page from "The Far Horizons" we glimpsed our own Shangri-La... (err, for those of you living in Singapore, you'll know what I mean...)

But what a great start to the weekend, an early morning walk with a friend, talking about nothing and everything, and ending off with Beviamo's always-reliable ciabatta with tuna and roast zucchini.

Oh and not forgetting a discourse about the history of the Middle East, leading up to the present-day. A sombre note to end off on, but one befitting the current mode of the day, when in-between American Idol, I can switch channels to find out about the latest toll in Iraq from starting-to-sound-identical bomb blasts, then just as easily, switch back after the 3-minute ad break to people chasing the American dream.

Maybe some problems of the world would be solved if we each of us could find our own bonsai to tend to.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why oh why do people still sing Celine?

I've had it with these American Idol hopefuls who, season after season, persist in warbling over-sung, over-dramatic tunes.

Idol 101 tells you:
1. Never, EVER, attempt a song that's too big for you. That means, no Celine, Mariah, Whitney, Christina or Aretha, unless you've been singing gospel in choir robes since you were three.

2. Never sing a ballad in the semi-finals. And if you do, pick one that's never been done. Like Beatbox boy singing Keane's "Somewhere only we know".

3. For goodness sake, learn from the previous seasons and don't sing the same songs as previous contestants! Unless you can make it unique!

4. It is never okay to sing Richard Marx in any way, shape or form.

5. Do not embarass yourself by not knowing the original artist of the song you pick. For example:

ACCEPTABLE = "Tonight, I'm going to sing Moondance by Van Morrison."
NOT ACCEPTABLE = "Tonight, I'm going to sing Moondance by Michael Buble."

It is generally agreed upon that Michael Buble is to jazz what Il Divo is to classical opera. So, if I hear one more person say, "I'm going to sing Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Michael Buble", I shall beat my chest, rend my clothes and will forever only play The Greatest Hits of Queen on my ipod.

Omigod, deja vu. For those of you who have read "Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, you'll know what I mean!

Right. Now that I've got that off my chest, I've got an idea for my next poll.

What's the worst remake ever?

Top of my list is probably a tie between All Saints' desecration of the Red Hot Chili Peppers classic "Under the Bridge" and Atomic Kitten soft-porning their way through The Bangles' "Eternal Flame". Oh wait, then there's Phil Collins' "Groovy Kind of Love" and some weirdo singing Extreme's "More Than Words"!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Muezzin's Call on a Little Street in Singapore

I love the street I work on - it's right in the heart of the city, and has a real magical charm to it. There's Singapore's oldest Taoist temple, and just a few doors away, a quiet mosque with calm interiors, and a lush park where the brave venture out into the still heat with their packed lunches.

I love how on a day like today, everything is tinged with a white-washed blinding gleam, and shadows get shorter with every step. I think about getting an ice cream but I'm suddenly transported by the muezzin's call - once again, I get that strange "I've been here before" feeling as I walk slightly bemused. I round the corner expecting to see men playing backgammon at a shisha cafe, sipping sweet tea just brewed.

But the moment is lost and before I know it, my lunch hour is over, and my colleague L and I traipse reluctantly back to work. Then it occurs to me that the places you've travelled to never really leave you, and it's entirely possible to relive those little defining moments.

So with a much happier heart, I return to a rather complicated report I'm writing, my memories of Alexandria (just look at that incredible sunset from our hotel room window, overlooking the Mediterranean) settling down comfortably against the soundscape of arguing mynahs, street traffic and office chatter.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life - Picasso

This is a portrait of my husband D taken by my brother-in-law L. L is a professional photographer.

The photo was taken while we were all on the Taeri Gorge Railway ride in Dunedin, New Zealand. It was taken in a pitch-black tunnel. It was also taken a few days after D and I got married (ha, those of you into symbolism...)

I love this photo for several reasons:

1. It captures a quiet moment and turns it into art.

2. It defies meaning - is the subject contemplating the darkenss of the human soul? Or merely scrutinising the external for some glimpse of light? Or dear god... is he spacing out?

3. D just looks kinda hunky in it - BAH to those out there who manage to look half decent in spontaneous shots. Notice how you don't see shots of me on this site?!

What's it Gonna Be?

Right, now that the pressure of the first post is away and done with, I'm sitting here wondering what's next? What do I want this site to be about?

I started thinking around themes. Like maybe a blog about finding beauty in the mundane (rejected: too conceptual), or one about walking trails in Singapore/and other places I happen to be living or travelling in (rejected: foresee won't keep up the walking and blog will fall to wayside), then had the idea of doing one about work-life balance (rejected: too contrived and a bit preachy really).

So then I thought, hell, why not just combine everything together and write one about my attempts to find beauty in the environment around me (very necessary when living in Singapore), while trying to carve a happy life in a manic society and not become the proverbial hamster in the wheel. So I guess that's what The Camel Diaries is about... my journeys (personal, physical, emotional, spiritual) in this lifetime, with a few rants and opinions thrown in!

Which brings me to the pic - my husband D and I spent the second day of Chinese New Year in the Southern Islands of Singapore. We loved Kusu Island especially. There were maybe 20 other people in the whole island (ok, so the island ain't big, but for Singapore standards, it was DESERTED) and we had a whole stretch of beach to ourselves. The water was clear, with schools of tiny grey-silver fish sharing the lagoon with us. I flopped on my back in the water and lay there buoyant, watching the blue sky. Had a strange feeling of deja-vu, and felt like I was back in the Dead Sea, bobbing up and down, doing water ballet with D & J all those months ago.

OK, hearkening back to my Eng Lit days now, but its like what T.S. Eliot calls objective correlative, where a situation, or a series of objects combine to evoke a very distinct emotion/feeling. I've been experiencing this a lot lately - Monday's Dead Sea experience being case in point.

Then there was the time when I was in the loo at work (of all places) and I heard the sound of a fan mounted on the wall, trilling from side to side, and I had the strangest almost out-of-body experience. Had the most vivid memory of playing in the lounge of my grandmother's (mama in Teochew) tiny flat, putting a home-made mask on my only Barbie's face (mix equal parts talcum powder and water to form paste). I swear I could even smell the unmistakable fried scent of mama's "gao he" (Teochew for garoupa I think). Only a moment, and it wafted away... but it really lifted my mood.

So back to Kusu Island. We left our place at 8:10 am, got to the Marina South Ferry Terminal and were on the island by 9:05am! We're talking white sand beaches, green, litter-free picnic spots, and best of all, we were far, far away from the shopping throngs in the malls!

St John's Island was a major disappointment though - wouldn't recommend it. It's very much a work-in-progress right now, bags of cement, iron gratings half-exposed, and views of... more construction.

But all in all, what a wondrous way to start the new year!

First Blog Better Not be Boaring

OK, so I promised myself that I would start a blog this year. Then the new year came, and like many other resolutions (like eat more raw fruit and vege, cut out deep fried foods, stop gossiping, fix my broken guitar, and stop picking at my toe nails), the blogging never quite happened.

Then several things occurred:

1. My newly-retired dad picked up blogging and in the space of two months has become Singapore's senior citizen blogger extraordinaire. Never mind that he types with two fingers, and before this, thought cookies were only for eating and threads for mending, he's an inspiration.

2. A few of my friends started their own excellent blogs (I will create links to them once I figure out how) and, feeling kinda in awe, and a bit left-behind, I thought, let's just do it and see how it goes.

3. I got a second chance when the year of the Boar came round. So before the motivation passes, here goes!