Thursday, August 30, 2007

Signing on the dotted line

The lounge overlooking Telok Blangah Hill - we've only viewed two flats. This was the second and we fell in love with the view.

If all goes well, this will be our new home. We've just signed all the paperwork today, and it's now up to the Singapore Housing Development Board (HDB) to process our application - a rather loooong agonising two month wait.

The flat is an old five-room HDB flat in Depot Road. In Singapore speak, that = 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, lounge and kitchen. At 114 sq m, it'll be the biggest place we've ever lived in (counting all the flats we've rented in Wellington!).

The hallway - the three bed rooms branch off from here.

Depot Road, unlike its name suggests is a lovely, shady road in Central Western Singapore. It's where one of our favourite hangouts, Villa Bali, is in Singapore, and has a handful of apartment buildings. And a lovely little sleepy enclave called Gillman Village which houses rustic teak furniture shops and restaurants. It's round the corner from where we live now. About a 10-min bus ride away from the CBD.

View from the kitchen

The flat is on the 11th floor and is breezy and light - don't think we'd need air-conditioners. There's a fantastic little covered playground at the foot of the building, and only four apartments per level. It's also near two of Singapore's handful of hills - Telok Blangah Hill and Mount Faber (from which you catch the cable car to Sentosa). By end this year, there'll be a 9-km walk way linking Mt Faber all the way to Kent Ridge Park, called the oddly Kiwi Southern Ridges Walkway. You can read more about the new walkway here.

Suffice to say that we love the place and are keeping all appendages crossed that things will just go like clockwork from here :) To be home-owners with a mortgage at last!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

WOMAD 2007 (This post is for J in Kyoto)

Thanks to J for giving us this ST boingy outy picnic thingy - it's lasted through many a hairy WOMAD moment.

WOMAD this year: awesome awesome awesome.

7:00pm: Opened with an Iranian father and son team called Ensemble Shanbehzadeh. Father played the Iranian version of a bagpipe, son (only 13) played the drums. Nice mellow start.

Mahotella Queens from South Africa show us what active ageing really means.

7:30pm: The Mahotella Queens, three divas - 62, 65 and 67 yrs old - who've been singing together for 40 years. They yell to the crowd about the power of WOMAN, saying that all the men who were in the original group had all died. Err, ok. Crowd went crazy with their exuberant dancing and tight a cappella harmonies. Felt like I was at Paul Simon's Graceland concert.

8:15pm: Sheila Chandra ("one night only" touted the programme) is unable to perform due to her bad throat. The crowd gasps in dismay. Many have obviously come just to see her. But most take her non-appearance rather well, and we're suitably entertained by Cameroonian acoustic guitarist Muntu Valdo. Back to mellow vibes again. D and I wander off and get the most kickass triple brownie chocolate explosion thingy.

Nomadic music from Niger. The acoustic guitarist wears this purple robe that looks like it's made of PVC. How in the world he plays in the heat I don't know.

9:00pm: We start off listening to samba sounds of Sao Paulo band Clube de Balanco. OK only lah - crowd go mad, but for some reason, I find their sound vaguely muzak. D and I wander to catch something more unusual, nomadic band from Niger called Etran Finatawa. Hardly anyone is here, everyone else is dancing salsa to Brazilian beats at the stage below. So nomad musicans and the handful of weirdos like us gather round and it feels like we're back in the desert of Wadi Rum listening to quiet sounds in the dry air. Very transporting this stuff.

Shooglenifty! Sorry J - too busy dancing to take proper photos.

10:00pm: But then10pm comes round and it's Shooglenifty - incredible Scottish band that J introduced us to. Last seen in WOMAD Taranaki NZ 2004. We danced and danced. Everyone was smiling. Shooglenifty plays happy music.

11:00pm: Can't believe the Shooglenifty set is over. We want more! But head down for Asian Dub Foundation. I stupidly bought ADF's best-of CD before watching them live, on the strength of reviews alone. Never again. They're supposed to political, daring, best gig to catch in London etc etc. But found their lyrics a bit wanting. E.g. "We want your oil!" supposed to be provocative song about err, US invasion of Iraq? Sigh. Obviously subtlety not order of the day. We wandered off after midnight. To the sounds of the musicians screaming "we love you SINGAPAAAAW!"

Sigh, just love WOMAD.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Weekday Picnic and Chinese Jazz

Sandwiches and sushi at sunset

I love where we live. Tonight, we left work at 6:15pm and were having a picnic by the harbour round the corner from our place at 6:30pm!

Woo hoo for work-life balance!

We've forgotten just how calming an al fresco meal can be. It was like being in Welly again.

Three jazz musicians in tuxes, jamming with erhu and pipa players. Crazy yet sublime!

On Saturday night, we went to the most marvellous concert - The Singapore Chinese Orchestra teaming up with Chris Brubeck's (legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck's son) jazz trio, Triple Play. I was so inspired by the performance (and reassured about the state of the Arts scene in this country) I wrote in a letter to The Straits Times Forum (never written in before) the next morning. Was rather surprised to find the letter published in today's online edition!

ps: D and I are now slightly addicted to Facebook. Am in touch with people I lost contact with more 13 years ago! Actually, come to think of it, very scary to actually realise that I have lost touch with someone for 13 years actually. God, I'm aging. BLEARGH.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Finale to End Them All

Now, I haven't cried while reading in a long time now. Truth be told, there are maybe five books in the world that made me cry. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the last one (that scene in the graveyard near the end where the spirits of Harry's parents and Voldemort's victims appear just did my head in!).

So it was a bit to my astonishment (though I should have expected it) that I found tears rolling down my cheeks when I was feverishly finishing up the final installment in this most excellent series, on Thursday night.

D had long gone to sleep, and I carried on reading maniacally till past midnight, trying not to turn the pages too loudly.

What can I say? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows lives up to the hype. It is a most original and satisfying end to the epic series, which started out innocently humble, with the 11-year old Harry first finding out he was a wizard and going to Hogwarts. Since the first book, the series has grown gradually darker, with political undertones and rather frightening references to Nazi Germany.

Most of the last book is set outside the confines of Hogwarts, and it's only when Harry and his friends (I'm not giving away any details!) start wandering the wider world (from cities to countryside), does one appreciate how comforting the presence of Hogwarts was. It's as if the school itself was a much-loved character. With our beloved characters in the wild literally, things get a lot more (pardon the pun) hairy!

Indeed, with Harry and gang out to face the elements, the tale takes on a more epic, adult scope, very much channeling the Fellowship's journey in The Lord of the Rings. Like in LOTR, the world of Harry Potter contains absolute evil (Voldemort and Sauron do not display any humanistic attributes like compassion and desire absolute power), and a motley crew of folk who would fight the dark side (anyone thinks the Weasleys could have been Hobbits in previous lives?). There are also those who are struggling with their weaknesses and temptations (Boromir vis a vis Severus Snape, Gollum vs Kreacher).

But it is in the journey that Harry and friends undertake in this final book that is so reminiscent of the trials that the Fellowship have to endure in their bid to destroy the ring. Like Frodo and Sam, Harry and his friends embark on their portentous task, in the same vacuum that the hobbits did, while around them the other groups who resist Voldemort's reign are going about their own ways to rally support. Neither knows how each other is doing - and it is in this unknowing that the tension plays out.

Also, the many mysteries raised from the previous six books are resolved very satisfyingly.

How does it all end? Who or what are the Deathly Hallows? Did Dumbledore really die? Tell us once and for all, is Snape good or evil? Do Harry and Ginny get together? Ron and Hermione? And yes, most importantly, is Voldemort vanquished in the end?

Shan't spoil it for you. Believe the hype. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is worth every penny of the inflated price of the hardcover novel.


PS: Now that I've mentioned it, from hazy memory, these are the books that made me cry:

1. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
2. The Fionavar Tapestry (The Darkest Road) by Guy Gavriel Kay
3. Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
4. Toothpick (this random book I read in my teens about a boy's friendship with a girl suffering from cystic fybrosis, of all things!)
5. Possession by A S Byatt
6. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

OK, so maybe there are more than five. But these are the ones I remember.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Another year, another dessert...

My own creation - move over Nigella! This girl knows a thing or two about raspberry coulis!

This weekend, at Cheeto's birthday high tea at the ever-reliable Equinox, it suddenly hits me that my buffet prowess just isn't what it used to be.

Rewind approximately 10 years and a few of the individuals you see gathered below embarked on a girls' lunch at Crossroads Cafe at The Marriott. Those were the days - on our extremely tight undergrad budgets - where we'd starve the night before, not have breakfast nor morning tea and unleash ourselves on the spread awaiting. We had our various strategies; mine involved the secret passed down through the family: Avoid carbs, rotate savouries with desserts, and make sure you start with the most expensive items on the menu. No processed foods please!

Happy Birthday to the Cheeto!

So now that we all are in our 30s, save for the delightful presence of F's son N (who out of the rather massive spread, chose to have a slice of brown bread and two marshmallows covered in chocolate), it was pretty noticeable how a) our capacity for stuffing our faces has reduced proportionately with our increasing age, b) our collective metabolisms have slowed down, c) we actually heed our brain's warning that we are getting full and it's time to stop. Unbelievable. Who'd have taught we'd turn into respectable, well-behaved adults?

Mmm... cake...

Ah, we also just returned from watching Royston Tan's latest film, 881. All about the getai (or song stages) that pop up during Singapore's Hungry Ghost Festival. Brilliant stuff. Should honestly be a contender for an Oscar for Best Costume. No kidding, for example, there were lasers beaming out from pointy durian-shaped bras. Woo hoo! And the music. Just fantastic - made me want to to learn Hokkien and buy a minus one of getai music!

The film student in me is itching to write a paper about it, and to compare it with another recent film (or more accurately, video), the equally marvellous Invisible Cities by Tan Pin Pin. Both present quirky perspectives of Singapore, without ever turning themselves into "Singapore films", if you get my drift, and hence, avail themselves to international audiences.

Ah well, as it's Sunday and I have major bout of the Sunday blues, I have neither the time nor the energy to write anything insightful at the moment. So just try to catch these films if you have the chance. Promise you it's worth it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Happy Birthday Singapore!

D is Sing-Biz Man!

Tomorrow we celebrate Singapore's 42nd birthday.

In true Singapore style, public servant D is caught up with nationalistic sentiment and takes part in the National Day Best-Dressed competition at his work. He is decked out by his team mates in the red-and-white colours of Singapore. He dons a cape, adorned with the logos and parephenalia of the pioneering companies of Singapore. He is... Sing-Biz Man! The number one Super Hero for Singapore in the 21st century!

Err, D works at the place that regulates businesses in Singapore incidentally.

Err, that brown oblong object is part of a Charles & Keith shoe box by the way.

So Sing-Biz Man wins best dressed! Congratulations to him, and to lovely ol' Singapore for evolving from a tiny speck of tropical swamp into the heady metropolis that it is today. Majulah Singapura!

PS: Singapore's 42nd birthday is significant, as we all know that 42 is the answer to the riddle of life, the universe and everything in between.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

It all hinges on one kiss. Who cares?

Ok, this confirms that for me, Lionel Shriver is a one-book-wonder.

I was utterly blown away by We Need to Talk About Kevin. It made me question the notion of motherhood, of roles thrust upon individuals by society, and of an increasing apathy in youth. Read it if you can. It's harrowing but worthwhile.

I didn't approach The Post-Birthday World hoping for that same intense experience, but I was expecting something disarmingly original.

And instead of original, I felt slightly betrayed by Shriver's use of a gimmick. That old plot device of one decision resulting in two different consequences.

In a nutshell, the story is about one woman, Irina, and the decision she makes one night - whether to kiss a man (a volatile snooker player -of all things!- with an 'ideous Cockney accent) she feels strangely attracted to, or to forego the reckless kiss for a life of stability and happiness with her current partner (an intellectual, rational academic working in a UK think tank). That's about it. The 517-page trade paper back then goes on to delve in the minutiae of her parallel lives had she a) kissed snooker guy, b) not kissed snooker guy.

Erk. I return to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in grateful ecstasy.