Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Miss America's Tumble: D's International Espionage Theory

Poor Miss America Rachel Smith! Now, I've watched every single Miss Universe show on TV since the 1988 contest held in Singapore (where my primary 6 class was let off to watch the TV programme during school hours. God bless SCGS!) and have NEVER ever seen a tumble as bad as this!

I shriek out in consternation and empathy for the poor girl, and cheer as she picks herself up effortlessly and smile as if nothing had happened.

D jolts me out my pure celluloid moment with his quiet proclamation, "I think the Iranians did it."

This everyone, is my husband.

Monday, May 28, 2007

If I had a hammer...

I am SUPERWOMAN! I manage to build not one but TWO Ikea shelves all by myself!!!!

I even learn to use a hammer! And an allan key! All this, while D is completing his final column for The New Paper. He's decided to take a bit of a break from writing so now will be freer in the weekends. Yay!

I align the panels and piece em together with screws.

Then my favourite part - I get to use a hammer! Woo Hoo! Peter, Paul & Mary ringing in my head as I pound away.

I slot in the shelves.
And voila! I put both shelves side by side and arrange our DVDs and CDs alphabetically.

This is pure catharsis.

ps: The shelves were incredibly cheap - $19 each! Not even the price of ONE DVD! Insane what globalisation can do...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Two weddings and a picnic

Tree-top board walk, Bukit Chendu

What a day! I wake up early to walk to Bukit Chendu, where a couple of friends from work gather to have a picnic. It's a perfect morning - sunny, dry and breezy.

We gather at the junction of Pasir Panjang Road and Pepys Road - a sleepy part of Singapore that thankfully, not many people seem to have discovered. We're a motley crew, having arrived from all corners of Singapore via bicycle, bus, train, and me, on foot!

I love twisty trees - it's amazing how you can find a spot of Tolkien's Fangorn Forest even in this tiny island city!

A marvellous tree-top board walk awaits at the top of the hill - I can't wait till September when Bukit Chendu, and adjacent Kent Ridge Park will be linked to Mt Faber and Telok Blangah Hill by a walkway. Then we'll be able to do a really decent walk!

We end up at the most fantastic lookout with panoramic views of the water. And to top it all off, we play Taboo! I have a bit of deja vu as I recall a walk I did one evening up Telok Blangah Hill when I stumbled upon a group of friends playing Taboo under a pavilion overlooking the citylights (read about it here). Perfect way to spend an evening, I thought. Felt the same thing this morning and was very happy.

Then from restful picnic amongst the treetops of Singapore, I rush frantically back home to get dressed for wedding #1 of the day. Good friend H's sister. It's my first Malay wedding (well, to be more accurate Malay-Arab-Indian-Muslim wedding) and it's lots of fun!

The decorations were unbelievably plush and gorgeous (Dean would be proud), the cupcake tower (above) simply delectable, the company wonderful and the music, intriguing - a blend of Malay top-of-the-pops, to Bhangra-type beats, to Arabic music (choruses of Habibi, Habibi), and the occasional French ballad.

Check out the gorgeous decorations!

At one point, the resident DJ proclaims in English, "this song goes out to all you non-muslims and non-Malays here!" I think there were maybe four of us who belonged in this category. And said DJ proceeded to play Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me!

D & I (and friends) with the regal couple

Then it was off back home to zip into glam evening wear for Wedding #2 of the day. That of my old friend M (we went nightswimming in Sentosa amongst other things, and he and D had a crazy boys' adventure trip to Thailand back in the days!).

M & C exchange their vows

It was so special being able to witness M's union with the lovely C. It was one of the most multi-cultural and national weddings I've been to. And The Lawn at The Raffles Hotel was just the most perfect, magical location.

Plus they had dancing after their 8-course Chinese-vegetarian dinner. Eclectic music to match the eclectic company - we were bopping along to The B52s, The Smiths, then Bhangra music, Banarama and Nick Cave! Wowee, what a day!

The beautiful couple: wishing you both a lifetime of happiness and laughter!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jordin will be American Idol

Blake had x-factor, but Jordin simply out sang him. And it was sooo obvious that Blake hated the winning song that was written specially for the finals! Poor him.

So unless America is DEAF, Jordin will win!

Monday, May 21, 2007

You say potato, and I say po-tah-to

Most people who know me, also know that I have the tendency to always get my song lyrics mixed up, or worse still, colossally wrong.

Case in point. Today, after having a dinner of ramen followed by a slice of Cedele's Chocolate Almond cake (my financial adviser got very worried when I told her I actually have a monthly budget for cake), I was happily humming a tune while waiting for the train home.

Actually to be more exact, I was happily chiming away Crowded House's Weather With You.

Me (melodiously): "There's a small boat man in China, he's going nowhere on the mantelpiece..."
D: "Omigod, it's 'there's a small boat made of China...' bwahahahahaha!"
Me: "Erk!"

Other famous Colossal Camel Gross Mis-interpretation of Song Lyrics:

1. Whitney Houston's One Moment in Time - Instead of "Give me one moment in time, when I'm racing with destiny", yours truly belted out one time in secondary school, "Give me one moment in time, when I'm shaking with desperate need!"

2. The Cranberries' Ode to My Father - Instead of "Unhappiness, was when I was young and we didn't give a damn" became "Unhappiness, was when I was young and we did it again and again!"

All this must mean something. Whatever it is, it's rather worrying. Maybe all that cake is doing something to me...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Under the Crescent Moon, I Tear

Today, I'm bowled over by the very impressive and thoughtfully curated exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore, Living Under the Crescent Moon: Domestic Cultures in the Arab World. It closes on Monday so for those of you who have the time and inclination, GO SEE IT!

Walking through the various exhibits was like stepping two years back in my life, almost to the day, when D and I spent six weeks travelling through the Middle East. One display in particular, stopped me in my tracks, and I was thrown back in time by the images in front of me and the Arabic music playing in the background. It was a glimpse into traditional Nubian housing, much like the houses we walked past when we were in Elephantine Island, near Aswan.

Nubian house, Elephantine Island, Aswan, Egypt (June 2005)

Coupled with the new scent I was wearing, Hermes' Un Jardin Sur Le Nil (see my previous post), it was like I was back on the banks of the Nile, wandering through the ancient paths, surrounded by the improbable whiff of green mangoes in the middle of the desert.

The exhibition even featured a full-sized Bedouin desert tent, with traditional silverware and woven mats. Which now gives me an excuse to post D's very arty (and I think one of his best) shot taken at Petra.

Bedouin silverware against The Monastery, Petra, Jordan (May 2005)

The exhibition is part of a larger festival, Under the Crescent Moon, which aims to bring to light the "cultural vitality" of a region that tends to receive international media attention for its unrest and turmoil.

I'm struck by a quote from featured Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, whose name is synonymous with Egypt's modernist architecture movement. He says of Arab architecture:

The exterior must reflect the power of the interior. Islamic architecture is an architecture of space, not of walls.

The words resonate with me; for that was my experience of the Middles East - where walls may be built to ward off the heat, but doors are always open and welcoming; and where despite social barriers of language, protocol, and differing cultural norms, we mostly experienced genuine warmth and kindness from the people we met.

Then tonight, we watch Bridge to Terabithia. The movie is based on the 1977 children's novel by Katherine Paterson, and honestly, I haven't cried this much in a movie since Brokeback Mountain (which by the way, was probably in my top three movies of 2006). The book was to D what I am David was to me, and at the end of the movie, we were both a bit zombied cos the movie was just so heart wrenching.

I go to Page One Bookstore immediately after the movie to try to get a copy, and predictably, they're all sold out! This, after two failed attempts to find it at the library. I'm still waiting for my reserved copy to come through.

Anyway, the film is probably the most genuine, sincere depiction of childhood I've seen - there are NO irritating child actors (like hideous bespectacled kid from Jerry Maguire), or preachy themes about dreaming big or whatever, it's a tribute to the power of friendship, of imagination and ultimately, loss.

I also love the fact that the film didn't present moral absolutes; there is no one evil bully, or cruel teacher, or prudish parent. Just flawed, but basically good people, who make up the fabric of a someone's life.

So now, I'm writing this feeling just slightly wrung out, but in a good way. Good to have a good cry now and then :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Walk this way

Welcome to the Jungle

I did it! Tonight, I walked back home from work - it took me 57 minutes.

I started in the city, trusty ipod in hand, to the tunes of Guns n Roses Greatest Hits. Here's a journey in pictures, and the songs that were playing as I made my epic journey home.

Sweet Child O' Mine and Patience: I walk through the quaint shophouses of Craig Road and Neil Road.

Paradise City takes me to the start of Kg Bahru. Pick up my pace from here.

Knockin on Heaven's Door: I glimpse a gorgeous sunset through the trees.

Civil War and You Could Be Mine: Jln Bukit Merah is l-o-n-g... but at last I see Lower Delta Road.

Don't Cry: I feel the evening breeze on my face as the cars rush madly below me.

November Rain: Henderson Road, finally. The air is cool and moist. It's a quiet night, hardly any traffic around.

Live and Let Die: Home! At last! To our fantastic new speakers and amp (bought just last night by D, as a much-deserved treat after paying off his whopper of a student loan. Congratulations D!!)

American Idol was good tonight. I loved Blake's rendition of When I get you alone. Such a cool song. Anyway, feel really good after my long walk - think I'm going to do this regularly. Feeling all sleepy now, and it's only 915pm!!

Till later, D has just put on Fellowship of the Ring and it sounds so darned good on our speakers. Yay to the comforts of home :)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Burning Brightly, Tintin

Just finished reading Tracy Chevalier's latest offering Burning Bright, a rather predictable tale written in her trademark historical fiction style, with her usual great eye for detail.

Set in London in 1792, Chevalier weaves a tale around two children on the cusp of adolescence, and offers her take on what inspired William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. The title is from one of Blake's most well known poems, The Tyger:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Burning Bright captures the colour and squalor of Georgian London, and offers some interesting insight into the life of Blake. But that's about where the good stuff ends. Chevalier's previous offerings Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn used the same plot device - essentially, a detailed account of the events that inspired a major artistic work - but to much better effect.

Maybe it's because her previous books painted pictures of more obscure cultures - Flemish and Flanders respectively - but 16th century London is rather, I don't know, done. Plus anyone who has read or studied the poems will know exactly how the plot will unravel, hence the predictability element for me.

So for those who don't have much time on their hand, I wouldn't recommend Burning Bright, unless you have a Blake obsession.

This month, I also read my first ever Tintin comic, Cigars of the Pharoah. I've always been an Asterix & Obelix girl myself so my foray into the cult of Tintin sent me into a rather bemused spin.

One word to describe my Tintin experience - caper. Yep, Tintin is one caper after the other. Strange characters who aren't what they seem, exotic locations, a super cool job (he's a journalist! S and Z would be proud) and the world's best dog.

Now I'm trying to get my hands on The Blue Lotus which I think is partially set in Vietnam. There were posters of it everywhere in Hanoi. OK so a bit random to compare Tracy Chevalier and Herge in the same post, but hey, when all else fails, just label it postmodernism and it suddenly becomes chic.

ps: for some fun, check out Literature Map. You type in your favourite author and it lists others that you may like, all based on a sort of collective conscience of all users on the Internet. Random but fun. I found the link in the May issue of Time Out Singapore, which is fast becoming my favourite local mag. Why? cos it doesn't compromise and dumb down its content. Kudos to independent media I say!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Singapore living is ok

Rather over-priced afternoon tea at the lovely Paisely & Cream

I officially got over my wanderlust (see previous post) this weekend with two very Singaporean activities, shopping and eating.

D and I went to Central, one of Singapore's newest malls by Clarke Quay, and ironically, where my office will be relocating to come end of year. Tried out a lovely but rather over-priced cafe called Paisley and Cream - five stars for creative menu that played on literary and musical references. My favourite, a brunch dish with eggs I think named after Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (coincidentally my favourite of his works). But it's the sort of place that charges $3.80 for very normal green tea and doesn't give you a glass of water automatically. Ah well.

But the real highlight was when I found a fantastic store in Central called Grand Parfums which stocks all kinds of scents at greatly discounted prices. I found my one true scent - I first stumbled on it at Duty Free on the way to Hanoi but didn't get it as the whopping price of S$160 for a tiny bottle was beyond me. It's Un Jardin Sur Le Nil by Hermes, a scent that celebrates the River Nile, and describes itself on the box as:

A perfume of life and light, sparkling and generous, where the scents of green mango, lotus flowers and aromatic rushes mingle with incense and sycamore.

Erk! How not to fall in love with it? Anyway, once I sprayed it on my skin, it was just a perfect fit y'know? And I immediately knew I'd found the one true scent for me. So very happy. Anyway, I managed to get the scent for almost half the price at Grand Parfums - HIGHLY recommend the store. And the staff know their stuff too.

Then D and I rounded off our very Singapore day with a picnic dinner by the Singapore River - a happy mix of fish and chips, calamari, and caesar salad. We then rushed home to watch The Godfather (D has been pressuring me for years to watch this and I finally did last night and it is FANTASTIC!).

But I think the most precious nugget of insight was gained this morning at our regular walk at the Botanical Gardens. This time, S (who managed to rouse herself before noon, bless her soul!), F and her kids joined us.

As we walked around and then off to Orchard Rd after that, I realised we were getting a few curious looks. It didn't quite hit me until we all walked into a jewellery store. The smiley salesman looked at our eclectic group and asked without batting an eyelid, "Are you all here together? Family ah?"
F and kids, with "Uncle Dolphin" D.

And we all replied spontaneously, "Yah, family!" No connotations to The Godfather here, but I realised then that I could be happy here in Singapore, and for that matter, anywhere in the world, as long as I have such a wonderful group of friends, who are family.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Incurable Wanderlust

Sunset on the Nile, Aswan, Egypt, 2005

I felt it again today - that all familiar "please God, let me be anywhere but here" feeling. At precisely 6:48pm as I was walking to catch the bus home in the dim evening heat.

After 31 years, I can recognise the pattern. Every few months or so, I tend to get this incredible urge to go someplace else, or to borrow from my old friend J, be elsewhere. Living in New Zealand, it was pretty easy. Get into the car, drive to the coast or to the hills and go for a long walk. Invariably followed by chocolate. Urge satiated. Just like that.

Wadi Rum, Jordan, 2005

But what do you do when you live in an island the size of a theme park? Granted the flights outta here are frequent and plentiful. But what if you just want a spontaneous short burst away from the regular scene?

I could try to be a tourist in my own country. You know, like what G. K. Chesterton said about setting foot on one's own country as a foreign land.

that's just not quite enough for me. Sorry to get all quotey again but I used to have this Robert Louis Stevenson quote written in my diary in secondary school.

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.

I can't help it - I just love getting into a car, plane, boat, train, sampan, cyclo, tuk tuk, anything really, and getting to the scary unknown beyond.

Maybe it's the fact that tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of our return to Singapore. And I just miss good ol space. Or maybe it's the fact that I'm just tired from a hard week at work and wish I could reclaim those carefree days in between jobs (and countries) where we traipsed all around Jordan with one of my favourite people J (gawd, look how young we look back then! gulp).

J, D, and I at The Treasury, Petra, Jordan, 2005

Thirsty traveller J being served by resident bartender D in Petra.

I don't know what's gotten into me, but I do know wise adages aren't wise for nothing, and that this too, shall pass. So to quell my wanderlust this mid-week night in a tiny, steamy island, I turn to memory, and the knowledge that I have walked some incredible paths with great people, and the road ahead is wide, open and free.

Dana Valley, Jordan, 2005

Saturday, May 05, 2007

To change a life with a stroke of a pen

One night this week, I re-discovered the wonders of the neighbourhood library.

It was a cool, post-rain Thursday night, D had gone for a run and I made my way to the Bukit Merah Community Library near our place. My mission was to borrow a couple of light-hearted Dilbert and Get Fuzzy comic books. I ended up walking away (apart from the comics which are great) with a copy of I am David, a book I read when I was about 11, that kinda changed my life.

OK at risk of sounding dramatic, there were a few books like that in my childhood, which left an incredible imprint in my mind, shaped my thinking, or opened my eyes to wider possibilities. So when I am David popped back into memory this week, it was like re-connecting with an old friend. I read it over two nights, and was blown away (again!) by the imagery in the book, the themes it touched on, and its unwavering portrayal of a truly original character.

In a nutshell, I am David tells the story of a young boy who is given the opportunity to escape from a concentration camp in Eastern Europe sometime in the 1950s. His entire life has been lived in the confines of the grey, grim camp, and the book charts his journey from unnamed Eastern bloc country to Denmark (where he is told to go). Along the way, he experiences for the first time beauty, colour, humour, happiness, conscience and a host of other things that we take forgranted as part of the childhood experience.

It's amazing. Anyway, started thinking about the books I read growing up that shaped well, me! So here goes (not in any particular order):

  1. I am David by Ann Holm- for reasons stated above
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Introduced the concept of social justice to me, plus, I had a crush on Jem. Actually, think I sorta ended up marrying an incarnation of him in the end :)
  3. Danny the Champion on the World by Roald Dahl - I just found his relationship with his dad so cool. Plus I cried at the end.
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Made me want to study Lit, plus, I had a crush on Mr Darcy. Actually, think I sorta ended up marrying an incarnation of him in the end! Ok, now this is getting scary!
  5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis - First encounter with allegory and semi-religious writing. I think I grasped early on that Aslan was meant to be God/Jesus, and the knowledge of this deeper layer to the story really thrilled me at the time.
I'm sure there are more, but my pizza (da-baoed from Gastranomia after lovely lunch followed by Devonshire tea at Fosters with D, D and F below) is ready. Gotta run!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A happy May Day filled with random surprises

View of the city from the Istana, Singapore

It's May Day in Singapore, and amidst the background hum of union speeches and political announcements, D and I had a fabulous day off.

We caught up with friends over brunch - we all met up at the Botanical Gardens, but that was completely frantic, and ended up in the end at the reliable Beviamo at Tanglin Mall. Family friendly (L & G, recent parents to the gorgeous Baby I, revelled in the fact that they have a dedicated baby changing room there), quiet and best food, what a way to start the day. Oh, and the fact that it's so inspiring to see my friends bringing their kids out to brunches, and making the transition to parenthood. You go people!

Proud dad L holding Baby I, scarcely a month-old and a real cutie, posing for the paparrazi aunties

After a stroll down to Orchard (honestly, I go to Orchard like maybe once in two or three months and it's so crowded, can die!), S and I settle down to a comfort-food afternoon tea of assorted fried things from the ngoh hiang stall. Meantime, in a reversal of roles, D spends 45 mins on his own shopping. He needed a new pair of running shoes as he's starting to train for the year-end Standard Chartered Marathon! After doing the half marathon two year's running, he's signing up for the full marathon this year. I'm excited 'cos it means we'll book a room at the Swissotel Stamford the night before and I get to have a bubble bath while poor D is running his 42km in tropical heat. Oh but this year, I'll be support crew which means popping up at well-timed slots to hand him his carbo gels and drink. Well, will get the bubble bath done somehow!

I re-create my Sound of Music moment, and channel Sister Maria in the Swiss Alps

As D and I are making our way back home through the crowds, we suddenly see that the Istana (that's where the President of Singapore resides during his term in office) and because it's May Day, the grounds are open to the public. D and I decide on the spur of the moment to go in.

I've lived in Singpore all my life (ok minus 5+ years in NZ), and I've never been to the Istana. It reminded me of a conversation I had with this lovely Austrian couple we met on our recent Halong Bay cruise. They live in Vienna and have hardly done any of the touristic sites that lure people from all over the world. We agreed that's what happens when you live in a city - you tend to only see the sights when you have friends visiting or on special occasions.
D journeys on, his new running shoes in hand

Anyway, so D & I walk the surprisingly lengthy distance (well, for me at least) through the grounds of the Istana. Truly lovely, and the best thing? The cool perspective of the city you'd only get from that vantage point. I didn't even realise there was a golf course right in there!

So all in all, lovely day. For all you employees out there, power to the workers. Happy Labour Day.