Sunday, December 30, 2007

Madoka arrived in the midst of the worst rainstorm I've ever driven through. Visibility was severely down through my windshield while my wipers and lights were operating at max. And we were late. Her plane had already landed ahead of schedule even as we were getting ready to drive off to meet her at the airport. Fortunately, the torrent didn't last and we were able to take her around and introduce her to S'pore's most favourite pastime pretty much as soon as she arrived:

Yup, our eating culture. This is at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, ECP, where we -- me & June, with June's colleagues including Cammy (at right) whom we assigned to escort Madoka on the grounds that he needed to train his conversational Japanese since he is looking for a posting in Japan soon -- demolished three chili crabs (it's been a crabby month for me!), cereal prawns, scallops in yam, and the house not-on-the-menu specialty: some tofu/nametake dish.

We took her downtown after dinner to Suntec City to have a look at the big fountain. We needed to buy time to let the crabs, et al, digest a bit so we could attack dessert!

(R-L) June, Madoka, Jamie, Jamie's hubby, Cammy and yours truly look seriously well-fed after cheesecake, chocolate milk, a brownie and ice-cream. NYDC rox!

Oh, and a small reprieve for us. We're putting Madoka up at M-i-L's instead of our place. She'll certainly be more comfortable in a proper guest room than the meagre lodging we can afford her at our place. Hope she can get along with Mimi ok. We'll see how they pass the night...

Friday, December 28, 2007

There was a lot of repeating, overlapping material during our discussion groups' sharing session as we collectively planned for next year's programme. That's a good thing, because that shows that generally, we are all on the same page on what we need and want to do for the college, the kids and ourselves in 2008.

In retrospect, we've done fairly well in helping our kids absorb knowledge, enough anyway to get through their year-end exams. But knowledge isn't really like random plankton drifting around on currents, and our kids aren't really sponges and anemones willy-nilly ingesting nutrients that unhappily float within tentacle reach. As a species, we've evolved further along than that, so to revert to such a learning pattern will inevitably bore us and our kids to no end.

I think we've begun to view knowledge as a slippery, fast-moving, shape-shifting thing, that to acquire needs to be hunted down, tamed, and manipulated into working for and with us. Or else it just isn't knowledge.

We already know that knowledge shifts with remarkable speed. A day or two ago, Pakistan was heading for a democratic election. Yesterday, Benazir Bhutto's life tragically and brutally ended by some random element that didn't agree with her. Today, Pakistan has to deal with an upcoming democratic election in which bombs and guns make more impact than a person's vote in the elimination of prime ministerial candidates. That knowledge, and its implications therein shows how uncertain the world is. Knowledge may bring hope today, despair tomorrow, but as long as we're not dead, life goes on. Hence, our kids need above all to learn how to live in uncertain times.

First, they'll need to make a habit of sampling from good information sources to constantly be aware of their environment as it changes around them. They need to identify threats and dangers, but also sense opportunities to capitalize on to sustain their existence. They need to learn that we hunt best in a pack, so we have to teach them pack dynamics and strategies so we can work together for our mutual benefit. They need to experience that not all hunts will bring back rich rewards, and so tough it out during lean times. And when times are good, they must learn how to share their bounty with others. That, and a dash of personal and collective confidence in the future too. Not asking too much, are we?

Essentially, nothing's changed since our earliest civilizations, except the nature of our prey. We no longer hunt animal prey, but information and knowledge. The good news is, there's plenty of it to be found everywhere, but it needs to be chased down to be exploited.

Our challenge as I see it: to create an environment that catalyzes the evolution of inert, invertebrate sponges into a tribe of hungry, thinking hunters with a plan for action, and not devolve them back the other way.

Today, we decided where our destination lies. Getting there is half the fun.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

One final fling before the work cycle picks up again. Having failed yet again to procure black pepper crab at Eng Seng -- we were there at 1800 by which time all their crabs had already been sold out(!) -- we contented ourselves with chili crab yet again at the Red House. There was a smaller party this time: me & June, B-lo, HP, Mel, Amy, Linc & Grace, and Wayne.

Our appetites must be shrinking 'cos among the nine of us, two crabs were more than sufficient. Ok, besides the crab we had bbq squid (which was better than I expected), a so-so fried rice, drunken prawns, tofu served with all the broccoli Mel could eat, and two rounds of mantou. That altogether didn't quite add up to our usual capacity. Maybe our Christmas feasting might have had something to do with our lack of ambition tonight.

Dessert at Icekimo: proprietary ice-cream with lots of local flavours to choose from. The place seems to be a hit with the below-8 audience. Guess they were having a final fling before school starts for them too.

Time to punch in tomorrow morning: 0800. Oh, the inertia!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The teeth get a clean bill of health despite my not having seen a dentist for a couple of years already. On June's recommendation I went to L&O who have a plush and comfortable waiting area at Far East Shopping Centre. I really needed somewhere to wait as the dentistry was so backed up today, my appointment got pushed back about two hours.

While waiting I popped into Borders and bought Christopher Moore's "Fluke" to entertain myself with. It's an intriguing and light-hearted read involving the mystery of whalesong and it's got some memorable characters as well.

Back at L&O, all I needed was a clean up job. Some prodding around the spaces between the choppers and I was done. Done enough to take June out to dinner at Tonkichi.

Teeth freshly scraped, tonkatsu for dinner... ouch* what was I thinking?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another Christmas over. Gifts unwrapped, food eaten, remains thoughtfully or creatively disposed of, carols sung, once-a-year relatives met and greeted. Another year past, a new year to look forward to.

A week to spin up to full operational capacity, then it's showtime once again! Omg.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I've been watching "Samantha Who?" over the 'net. So far, only the first three episodes are available to us in this region. It's quite coincidental I started tuning into Sam during this Christmas period because while being an obviously secular TV sit-com, SW is quite an apt parable about the experience of being "saved" in the Christian sense.

Sam wakes up in hospital an amnesiac. As the pieces of her life fall back in place for her with the help of her family and friends, she realizes that the life she lived before her accident was... let's just say disreputable. A terror and a bi*ch, once before, her new tabula rasa personality cannot believe how nastily she had once treated people. Now that her memories have to begin all over again, she's thankful that she has the opportunity to make better choices for her new life, and so put her past behind her.

It isn't like her past has ceased to exist, though. Her coma has only been for a week, so people haven't forgotten her yet. It's like being born fresh and innocent, then realizing that actually she's far from innocent. She still has to deal with the consequences of her misdeeds, and in fact, her past is an important, integral part of her identity which she is trying to re-establish, though with her new perspective of life she's a lot more idealistic and less selfish.

For the forgiven, the world doesn't go away. It's still a part of who we are and where we live. The person is still the same person, save for a new, different way of looking at life. And perhaps, one is less automatic, becoming instead a little more concerned about the consequences of the decisions one makes in one's daily life.

To top it off, SW is very funny. Because she has estranged so many people in the past, Sam has to heal the relationships of even those closest to her. Sam becomes so very earnest in making amends for her past, she sometimes makes quite terrible mistakes, making the situation worse than before. Regardless, she doesn't lose sight of her "second chance" but uses it as the foundation upon which to build a new life for herself.

Actually, just watch "Samantha Who?", and interpret for yourselves. Even if you don't extrapolate as much as I did, it's great for a laugh or lots. No link, 'cos I'm not about to get myself involved in some illegal copyright issue, so I'll just direct you to where you can do a search for Samantha Who. And that's my Christmas pressie to you (hope you have broadband)!

Merry/happy/blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Me as Santa, jolly old elf? I was quite sorry to turn down Mom's request for me to play the role traditionally played every year by 1st uncle. The Christmas Event with my maternal clan is starting in a couple of hours but, really, I don't want to be Santa.

All year long, I've kept kids at arm's length or further. Some people have phobias of spiders. My phobias tend towards the bipedal and noisy. It feels horribly insincere to make a sudden, complete transformation and pretend even for an hour that things have changed. I know it's just a role, and actors play roles all the time, but this is family.

Hope Irwin's up to the task. He's way more paternal than me.
How do we say 'goodbye' to friends who are leaving us, if not necessarily for greener pastures, then for new opportunities elsewhere? Well, Mel got us breakfast circle people and attachments over to meet at Wayne's house for a farewell barbecue for JY and Linc.

For once, there was no messing around with a messy charcoal bbq pit. Wayne cooks with gas! Meat went on the grill, flipped a few times over, and then off for consumption (i.e., to be eaten, not tuberculosis). The biggest worry was overcooking rather than undercooking the spread. The other worry was, as usual, too much food.

We commemorated their departure the same way we celebrate each others' company every day at work: over food. Anyway, since JY still 'blades with us, we'll still be in contact with each other from time to time. And now that NBS has a pair of new pink 'blades, maybe she'd like to join us sometime?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Momo, you are such a bad example! I've been taking your lead over the last couple of days. So much needing to be done, but here I am procrastinating until there are no more days left to push yesterday's work off to. I am so dead.

Madoka, June's friend from Japan, will be arriving for a homestay with us a couple of days after Christmas over the New Year. That's gonna call for a major cleanup of our house, which, I suppose, is long overdue. Notice when I take pix in the house they're always super close-up? Now you know why.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Finally got to celebrate our anniversary, a couple of weeks late. Every year around this time, we'd pick a nice restaurant to pig out at to commemorate another year of our being together.

This year, thanks to a memory jog from Mary, I picked Wild Rocket @ Mt Emily. What I did forget was that the menu is entirely fusion which I disapprove of on principle.

Regardless, we had a solidly satisfying meal. June had a pleasant "giam chye" duck/quail soup, while I had a smooth cream of cauliflower to chase down the complementary foccacia dipped in olive oil.

What June's holding in the pix is our main dish: an Aussie ribeye. Just look at the colour... these people know medium-rare. I ordered the rare, myself. Let's just say ketchup is redundant when the meat can produce such a lovely quality of red on its own. The other things in the dish are sweet potato chunks and rocket, the leafy vegetable that the establishment takes its name from.

We took dessert at NYDC. Sorry, but fusion desserts do not compute for me. Simple, honest-to-goodness cheesecake and ice-cream (so fresh even the nuts are still crunchy).

Better start exercising to burn all these extra calories off!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

We and Jen are back at 1827 for Adrian and Mary's birthday. There are some new items on the menu and it's still cheaper to order a complete 5-dish set at $40 than go a la carte. The portions are a little small, but it makes sense to go with 5 dishes instead of ordering an el cheapo 4-dish option.

I had:
Home-cured salmon
White cod soup (cod a little underdone, but I think it was meant to be because when I got used to the taste, it was beautiful)
Seafood stew in otah paste
Pumpkin custard
Coffee (which, I guess, counts as the 5th dish)

Made plans for Christmas dinner over dinner, while pouring over Adrian's holiday snapshots from a couple of years ago which he only just developed. And we all (except Mary) agreed that the year has passed by so quickly.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The concept of "blood brothers" in "Warlords" is self-contradictory and self-defeating. Loyalty among men, especially fighting men, is paramount on the battlefield. There, survival depends entirely on brothers watching each others' backs. Life-debts get owed and repaid countless times over. There is no other binding force like facing death together, and surviving, of course.

Things get a lot more complicated in peace time. Loyalties are put to the test when it comes to deciding on how to treat unarmed prisoners-of-war. Ethics, morals, honour and justice are fine ideals, but the practicalities of war necessitates that such have to be put aside for the success of the campaign. Among the three sworn brothers, played by Andy Lau, Jet Li and Takeshi Kaneshiro, there's bound to be a difference of opinion in such a life-and-death decision, and an army can only have one commander.

Other conflicts arise over the division of the spoils of war, and the code-of-conduct of soldiers during the sacking of a fallen city. Lau's greatest concern is for the welfare of the men who serve in the regiment, while Li's war doctrine is victory at any cost. Kaneshiro is stupidly caught between the two poles, unimaginative and consequently unhelpful in his sorry attempts to keep the integrity of the brotherhood intact.

Their brotherhood is based on some rigidly inflexible premises. The blood they share comes from each of them slaying an innocent non-combatant captive; their oath prescribes death on any that comes between their brotherhood. Although Li says the oath, he also reveals that he does not believe in it. As a General of the Qing army, he knows that keeping such an oath is impossible. And when Qing Dynasty politics takes an interest in Li's Shan army, the brotherhood is doomed to fall apart.

Of the movies this year, "Warlords" comes closest to depicting war is hell. "300" boasts some lovely fight choreography, but "Warlords" is just brutal hand-to-hand melee combat. Li demonstrates some wushu technique but it is understated compared to the wild swinging of bladed weapons and the thrust of spears of men concerned not so much about winning as they are about just surviving to see another day.

The greatest tragedy is that this war means nothing to the people who are fighting it. Li's Shan army fights on the behalf of a government that cares nothing for it. The soldiers have enlisted only so that they have food to eat, and to send they wages back to their families who are otherwise destitute.

It's a dark movie, and the lack of pretty faces underscores this point. Lau at some angles reminds me of DiNiro, Li is heavy-set and balding, and Kaneshiro and his scraggly beard just looks goofy as he dithers between his two brothers. Even the female lead played by Xu Jinglei (who's she?) while reasonably pleasant-looking, is no mega-babe and we wonder why she is the object of affection for both Lau and Li, as if there's only one woman in all of China. While she isn't exactly a cause of conflict between the two, their triangular relationship does become too much for the dimwit Kaneshiro to process, and his response is legend among village idiots to this day.

Closing thought: The feast Li prepares in Lau's honour looked very much like what B-lo, Mel, NBS and I, and several other people around us were having for lunch today. That so many of us can now eat like how only Generals of the past could is quite a staggering thought. That's not something we should take for granted.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The boy called Liir grows up with more questions than he has answers for. Of his parentage he is uncertain, of his talents he apparently has none, his lot seems to be nothing more than being a target for bullying or otherwise suffering. His purpose in life? Dunno.

When we first encounter him in Maguire's "Son of a Witch", he's in such bad shape he practically has to be scraped off the desert floor with broken bones, a broken face, and bordering on death. His shallow breath and his erratic heartbeat are his only signs of life. How he got there and in this condition is also a question that needs an answer.

"SoW" is the sequel to "Wicked" in which Liir is introduced as a permanent tag-along of Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West. By proximity alone Liir is assumed to be Elphaba's illegitimate son, but there is no evidence of any biological bond between the two in "Wicked".

Apart from Liir's history, "SoW" also explores how this nobody of a character -- plagued with uncertainty, inertia and self-doubt -- attempts to cope with growing up, orhaned and abandoned as he is after the watery demise of his guardian, Elphaba.

But Liir is no hero, as such. Liir's flawed sense of self leads to a tragedy that will haunt him for life, and in atonement he undertakes a series of loosely related tasks that sets him against the new political-military machine that has arisen since the Wizard's departure from Oz.

Liir must live a very frustrating life. From Dorothy (from Kansas) to the Elephant disguised as a human princess, Liir manages to find closures to their quests, and others besides. But for himself, well, let's just say that he doesn't demand much out of life, perhaps just some answers to his questions, and even then he finds that in life there are always more questions than there are answers for. How familiar that sounds.

What's admirable about Liir is that his questions determine his actions. Hence, for the most part, he really is quite a self-directed individual. It's only when he subordinates his questioning mind to the will of others, that's when his greatest regret occurs.

In life, having questions with no answers is better than accepting answers with no questions. Any questions?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The rains of the last few days washed out our cycling plans at Ubin. Plan-B it had to be: ice-skating at Ice Palace. What better way to acknowledge that winter is now upon us? The rink was packed with kids, it being "Students' Day" and they are off on their Christmas break. With such little room to maneuver, I was happy just to weave in and around the throng, round and round like a goldfish in a bowl.

But if I was a goldfish, there were piranha and 'cuda sharing the same bowl with me and the little fry clustering around the edges of the ice. The hockey guys had their throttles on 'high' and they were finding spaces to power through like the Millennium Falcon in an asteroid field. There were the gripes and grumbles about them, like how dangerous their play was and how nervous they made the other skaters feel. But where else could have they gone to practice what they love doing? I was marveling at how despite their tight constraints, they were still able to express themselves in the way they knew how. As far as I could tell, they didn't bump anyone, so hey, y'know, they have more right to be on the ice than the rest of us.

We had a small convoy bound for Seafood Paradise in Defu for dinner. This was to make up for not being able to have seafood under the sunset on Ubin. I doubt we could have had better fare on Ubin, though. Mmm... oatmeal prawns... chili crab... butter crab... apart from the sides shared among our table for eight. Gotta be fast eating with these guys, though. Wonder who made off with my mantou when I wasn't looking?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Welcome to Barrow, Alaska, where for one month every year, it remains night-time until sunrise, 30 days later. In "30 Days of Night", just as the sun begins to set for a month, a dingy icebreaker arrives bearing a crew full of pale-skinned, ill-tempered people with very bad teeth. Unfortunately for them, the local orthodontist has just flown off to spend his hard-earned cash on a sunny vacation in Florida. The strangers unsurprisingly go ballistic and turn the town upside-down.

"30 Days" is yet another movie in the survival horror genre. Only here, the survivors are hopelessly outclassed and outmatched by the visitors. Bullets don't even slow them down, so pretty soon, the town's population takes a drastic reduction with the visitors' onslaught.

In one breathtaking sequence, the camera tracks across town from a directly-overhead perspective, depicting the carnage as it takes place. Silhouetted against the snow, people get pounced on, sliced, diced and chomped on, leaving a brilliant crimson splatter on pristine white. Occasionally, we see flashes of gunshots, but we know it's a foregone conclusion. The view reminds me of an RTS simulation where things have gone badly wrong for your side. >Game over!<

For the handful of survivors to stay alive, there is no confronting the enemy. They stay quiet and hidden, doing nothing to attract any unwanted attention to themselves. That's a little difficult when among the survivors are a cantankerous Alzheimer's sufferer who needs his walkies, and a paranoid "I can't just sit here and die" nervous wreck.

To last 30 days in a frost enshrouded wreck of a town surrounded by a boatload of bloodthirsty predators, supplies are going to be a problem, and I don't remember there being much discussion on how the toilet facilities were going to work. Sneaking around, trying to stay quiet, hiding, all make for tense storytelling. Doors that don't lock very well, windows that expose too much, walls made of flimsy wood instead of reassuring concrete, the survivors' hiding spaces provide very little sense of security, and we feel it too.

Was it the scare-fest that I was expecting? Well, there were shocks a-plenty; some gory, disquieting scenes; and the atmosphere was taut throughout. Not a bad mix for a thriller, but I doubt that it will make a lasting impression on me. My mind's already too far scarred for that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The mandatory vehicle inspection that I had to put M2 through was pretty thorough, and I got to watch the mechs put him through his paces. All the tests are in the open and there are signboards explaining what each station checks for.

The tests include an identity check to make sure the car you say is yours is yours, and no illegal mods. There is the brake test, and what appears to be an anal probe checking that exhaust levels are within tolerable limits. They check for engine noise at max rpm to ensure a happy car and happy neighbours.

Result: flunked the wheel alignment test and the headlight focus test. While I might have thought M2 was the picture of perfect health, guess I didn't realise he was actually myopic and limping around.

Had to make an appointment to have Mazda take fix up M2 before going for a retest. I do so hate the "F" grade.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

It's Aunt L's 80th birthday! The clan got together to celebrate at Ah Yat Seafood Restaurant. For some reason we seem to like that place a lot.

Our 3 tables comprised 3 generations of family plus extended family we've not met before from Sabah, but who are now settled here. My table had a lot of engineering talk with notes being compared between the construction, shipbuilding and manufacturing industries. The topic of industrial accidents came up a lot, keeping us well entertained throughout our dinner.

The delectable confection in the pix (i.e., on the table, not behind the table) is a meringue cake from Canelé Pâtisserie Chocolaterie. It's light and sweet, and overgrown with lots of fruity surprises. Even the Shou figurine is made of sugar, though I doubt anyone would want to eat that.

More pix here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Working breakfast at Cafe Les Amis, Botanic Gardens. Great ambiance for a relaxing brainstorming session 'cos there's good food, big tables and we can do the road warrior thing there as well, HP discovered. Thankfully, the weather was kind. It was cool but no precipitation for the duration of our meeting. And there's the added advantage of taking Q-tip for a stroll on the grounds after.

It was on our stroll that we encountered this guy, by the edge of the big pond where the bandstand is. The pic is a little hard to make out, but it's a squirrel looking like it's doing some exotic foraging. At least, that's what I thought when I snapped this shot. Cute, right?

Idiot! The squirrel was actually in serious trouble, but I only realized it's situation when it lost its toehold and slipped into the pond.

As it splashed around in the water, I lay on my stomach to reach it, but I couldn't get a proper grip on it. Between my flailing fingers it sank like a stone. I could only watch in anguish as fewer and fewer bubbles broke the water's surface. Then they stopped altogether.

I lay there for a long time, hoping for it to resurface by some miracle, but there were no miracles today.

If only I pegged onto what was happening sooner. If only I wasn't such a photojournalist, so anxious to grab a shot of a cute animal. The precious seconds I wasted cost the little guy its life, and this dumb photo can now only serve as its obituary.

I'm going to be beating myself up over this incident for a long time to come. I'm upset, sad, and so very guilty.

Sorry, l'il fella...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

There is Project Work that is such a drag for everyone when it is a compulsory subject, then there is the real deal in which 16-17 year old students spend their holidays working on treating diseases like tuberculosis and bone disorders. The prize is a US$100k college scholarship, so there's something of an incentive, but I believe the money is more a bonus to these kids than the prime factor.

Yes, these are especially outstanding kids to be working at such a mature level, but I'm just amazed that there can be such a gap between them and our regular teenager, since they are the exact same age, after all.

What's it going to take to close the gap even just a little? From what I can see, these kids aren't just textbook smart. They are audacious enough to attempt working on things most adults have no grasp of. There's confidence in their own abilities, yet humility as well in learning from every opportunity. They believe in what they're doing, and know that it's worthwhile as people who are suffering may in time benefit from their study.

Now, that's studying with a purpose. Fox News interviews the grand prize winners of the Seimens Science Competition. Click here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

To have friends among the people you work with is a major factor in 1) making the job worthwhile, and 2) though the job isn't always fun, at least it doesn't feel like work. I say I'm not a "people person", but keeping the company of a small group of trusted individuals is nevertheless important to me. The time-outs we share while off-duty make up much of my sense of well-being, and I hope they feel the same way.

The last couple of days had me running around like crazy. Tuesday Amy, HP and I dropped in on Vays at Mount A to see how she and the new addition to her family were doing. We arrived at feeding time so hubby, TW, showed us his digital pix of "Doudou" while we waited. When we got to meet the kid in person, she looked peacefully contented, and Vays herself was upbeat as she recounted her delivery experience to us. After our visit, it was off home again to freshen up for the Prom (previous post).

Today, due to some mis-organization on my part, I spent the morning gift shopping with B-lo. The purchase was relatively painless, although we were getting a little worried when the first few stores we inquired at didn't have what we wanted in stock. But we did eventually find it in time for a nice set lunch at the Greenhouse. For what we usually pay at Friends, the set here includes a generous portion of sides apart from the entree. There was quite a variety of veggie-things, while the sirloin went down easily despite being slightly more done than I prefer. And B-lo had her own hunk of meat to drool over.

After lunch, we ran to meet Mel and Wayne for "Enchanted". What a piece of fluff. It had some gloriously funny moments, in particular the big number in Central Park, but while it tried to splice together elements from different popluar fairy tales, I felt they weren't as skilfully woven in as say, Shrek, or Neil Gaiman's intricate storytelling. Perhaps I'm asking too much. "Enchanted" was sweet but predictable.

Then I ran off again to collect June for dinner. It was the core of our usual breakfast company that reconvened at the Ellenborough Market Cafe to feast on the Peranakan buffet. Specifically, we were there for the durian puree that was cold, smooth and creamy, and without the seeds and spikes to get in the way of durian bliss. The other dishes were nice too.

Back to work in the morning, but I'm ready.
The Prom was a little tamer this year. Possibly because of the sit-down 10-course Chinese dinner and the presence of more senior staff that's why things felt a little more formal.

Not that the kids weren't having fun, they were playing along with the table games and being very competitive about it, but the cheering, clapping and general noisemaking for one another didn't exactly feel like it involved everybody. Perhaps they were saving their energy for the post-prom party later in the evening?

Or maybe I'm a bit jaded, having sat through the same MC's schtik for the third time already. I know his jokes, his routines, and despite minor variations here and there, it's usually funniest just the first time.

I promised to get some pix for NYconneX so I was also busy with my cam. Above with me are Que and Taily in one of the very few personal shots I took last night.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I have never played Hitman, but I went to watch the movie anyway. The Hitman in question is a nattily dressed bald guy with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head. How that makes him inconspicuous in a crowd, I wouldn't know.

His backstory gives him a reason for being as emotional as a hypothermic doorstop. He, and many others like him, have been raised from childhood as smart, efficient killing machines by the nameless Organization. Its clientèle are none less than political heads of state who order clandestine hits for reasons Joe Voter will never understand. The Hitmen are that good, and that expensive. No doubt the Organization itself has an agenda to run in its own interest.

In this movie, Number 47 takes the job of assassinating the Russian president, but realizes very quickly that his client has set him up. His client's agenda is so sensitive that even the Hitman himself has to be eliminated as a potential witness. 47 then has to survive hits from his own colleagues and the Russian secret police, and dodge a persistent Interpol officer hot on the trail of a phantom killer. Meanwhile, out of the goodness of his heart, he protects another witness: a woman who keeps taking her clothes off for him only to be rejected and rebuffed every time. No distractions on the job, or while trying to stay alive, 47 is such a pragmatist.

In whatever situation 47 is in, he firmly remains in control. On the job, his preparations are extensive, every detail thought through, ensuring a clean hit and getaway. His fighting skills get him out of unexpected situations, and at no time do we feel 47 is in any danger. For him, everything that happens is part of his plan, and he does have a lot of foresight.

Perhaps that's why we can't really get into the story much. Our sympathies are more for the bad guys as we wonder what 47 has in store for them, rather than for 47 himself. With the protagonist this strong and invincible, we just coast through the narrative. Though we may revel in the carnage of gunplay and thrill to the swordfighting sequence, the experience is like playing on God-mode. You get to finish the story, but there's little sense of accomplishment at the end.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Terrorism is a pretty sensitive subject for a movie, especially one that tries to reflect our present reality as closely as possible. In "The Kingdom", terrorists create a bloodbath at a family picnic for expatriates in Riyadh. The attack is coordinated with cold, calculated precision to maximize the body count of civillian men, women and children, as well as security personnel and emergency response crew.

In the attack, we the audience see the confusion and feel the panic of the crowd. We watch in horror as a man is gunned down while attempting to reach his stricken child. We are helpless as a security guard lures people to him with promises of safety, then detonates himself in the crowd. When the gunmen's vehicle gets rammed by a genuine police vehicle and they crawl out of the wreckage bleeding, there is a sense of relief that the carnage has been stopped, and when they get shot because they refuse to surrender, justice has been served. But that little prepares us for the next attack that follows, just when we think that everything's over.

"The Kingdom" puts the camera firmly in the perspective of the "good guys". The maverick FBI team that takes an officially unauthorized trip to Riyadh face innumerable political, linguistic, procedural and cultural obstacles as they investigate the attack with one of their own numbering among the dead. The team's liaison (aka babysitter), a dedicated, competent and resourceful Saudi police officer is likewise hampered by his own superior officer who is little more than an idiot and a brute. When they come under attack by the same terrorists, outnumbered and outgunned, we celebrate each time another terrorist gets taken out and the team comes closer to rescuing their kidnapped team member, and uncovering the mastermind of the operation.

The team has our sympathies as well because we get a glimpse of their families and feel their comradeship with one another while they are off duty. As for the terrorists, they are mostly anonymous; just another psycho raghead popping up to be cannon fodder or punching bag who deserves what he gets.

By skewing the view, the movie goes beyond the simple narrative and pushes us into an emotional response and shows us the motivation behind this cycle of violence. It isn't political, religious or poverty-related. It simply is the desire for revenge. One side can never view the situation from the other perspective. On "our" side, we see fathers getting killed, children murdered, innocents blown up. But in the climactic battle scene, a grandfather is killed, a brother shot, and we realize why a little boy's eyes glint with such malice in the aftermath. It never ends as long as the solution appears as a zero-sum game.

The movie wasn't as political as I had initially expected. The pacing is quick and exciting, with lots of gunplay and explosions to pass off as an action movie. At times, it almost feels like Counter-strike. Because of the pacing, the resolution becomes too convenient; they get the guy they're looking for, case-closed. Things are seldom so simple in reality.
Surfing wirelessly at the airport while waiting to collect the Wongs from their BKK trip. Flight had been seriously delayed, hence this post's ungodly hour.

Must thank NBS and B-lo for their company earlier this evening. They called me out and we had dinner at this steam-boat place on Liang Seah Street, then browsed Bugis Village to shop for girl things. Bugis Village has undergone quite a transformation. It's cleaner and has wider walkways along the main thoroughfares, and entirely air-conditioned. It looks more organized than I remember. Doesn't seem like I might find anything I want in there, but it's worth a closer inspection when I have the time.

The steam-boat came with two soups in a split boiler. On one side we had a seafood soup (strong prawn flavour) and on the other a chicken soup (strong herbal flavour). I suggest boiling the kidney and liver a little longer than what appears necessary. After I took the girls home, I was very grateful to go home myself to take care of my stomach that started doing flip-flops while I was driving.

Ah, the Wongs should be making their appearance any time now...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The bear stretches and yawns, dragging his mangy carcass outside his cave to breathe fresh morning air and blink in the sunlight once again. He'd been hibernating along with his "Heroes Season 1" box set, which is a great companion through the long dreary winter.

He's kicking himself a bit 'cos if he had picked it up at Gramophone instead of Blue Max, he'd have got it cheaper by $15! Doh! Oh, well, caveat emptor.

Heroes is the X-men tale of the '00s. All flawed human beings (losers, dark-siders, freaks) gifted with a superhuman ability. There are consequences, of course, in how they fit into 'regular' society, but to be honest, even regular human beings often find it difficult to fit in with each other as it is.

It's the tension in wanting to be part of a larger society versus the desire to stand out from anonymity and homogeneity that makes Heroes so appealing. That, plus the drive to find some meaning in our special circumstances -- but nothing less than "sav[ing] the world" will give us that meaning.

That's a nice ideal, but the danger is that we sometimes feel that we need a superpower before we can save the world. Instead of developing and using what abilities we have, we sit around and wish we we had more while the world goes to heck around us.

So if Ando, the amazing no-power man (his only skill is that he can speak English), can get caught up in the adventure, why not us, whomever we are? All right... slowly... put your hands in the air... step away from that cave... and go up, up, and awaaaaaayyy!!!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gorgeous women's dates tend to be guys who look like crap, observes Julia Allison. She's right! Take a look at the horrendous monstrosity June ended up marrying:

A pudgy, unglam, balding (hence pathetically attempting to cover up by wearing a fish on his head), drooling troll of a human being whose very visage would scare a vampire if they met face-to-face in a dark alley at midnight.

June has her own pet theory why gorgeous babes hang out with mirror smashers, and she'll say that Allison has got it backwards. The uglier the guy, the less likely other women are likely to come sniffing around him and try to take him away. Pragmatic, and makes sense.

Whoever's right, for the guys, the obvious lesson is this: as soon as you get picked up by a gorgeous woman, get ugly real fast and you can hang on to her for life!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

While the Wongs are away in BKK, I'm dogsitting Mimi, the canine Wong. Mimi's not the type that likes to be left alone, in fact, she's a bit of a Screamin' Mimi when everyone leaves the house without her. So because I was thinking of entertaining myself this evening outdoors, I took her and Q-tip to the Botanic Gardens for a long afternoon walk to tire them out. The idea was that while they were asleep at home, I could sneak out and look for a good dinner at some dog-unfriendly establishment.

Phase One of the plan worked. The dogs and I kept exploring path after path in the Gardens, Q-tip huffing and puffing like a steam engine almost immediately we began walking. I rewarded them with a plastic cup of iced-water close to the end of our walk. They drank like I've never seen them drink before. Dogs dog-tired -- check!

Phase Two, unfortunately was an abject failure. We came home and the dogs fell asleep where they stood. But guess who else also fell unconscious alongside them and didn't wake up until past dinner time? Cup noodles for dinner again. :P
Drama Club got a first look at Steph, the new instructor. On Mel's invite, I dropped in to see how things would be getting along between Steph and the kids. I must say, they warmed up to each other pretty well. Steph got them to play with lots of simple improvisations to see what kind of a script they'd like to devise for Drama Night 08.

Drama this year has the most forward, ready-to-go, dare-to-bare kids I've ever encountered in its history. They devise scenarios quickly among themselves, play, rehearse and perform at the drop of a hat. No cajoling, no threats, no freezing on stage like a deer in headlights, they just do whatever their imaginations lead. I thought they'd be best suited for all-out comedy, but given the right combination of cast, I think serious drama won't be beyond them either.

They have the desire to perform, performance discipline, and they can make the rules work for them. And I think Steph is the right person who can get them working. One of the exercises the kids did was to speak a line that someone had hurt them before with. If what the kids delivered was real, there's a lot of pain they carry inside them. I'd sure hate to be the recipient of some of those things they said. Then they had to speak a line that someone made them feel happy with. Oddly enough, it was these lines that made me feel more like crying. Guess I'm a sucker for happy endings.

Looks like Drama Night 08 is going to be very interesting...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Beowulf", who gave me nightmares in 1st year uni because of its convoluted narration in ye Olde Englyshhe, is now finally a CGI animated action movie, a medium I can understand. Isn't it just typical that one of the oldest stories in the English language would be a hack 'n slash, swords 'n socery epic?

Zemekis' movie was all just a main-points synopsis of the major action in the 3000+ line standard literary text. Scriptwriters Gaiman and Avery bundle the unweildly tale into a neat package -- Gaiman has a knack for writing in smooth scene transitions -- and it all makes sense now!

At the heart of it, there isn't much of a story, despite the liberties the movie takes in the relationships of the main players. Our hero kills a monster, takes on said monster's mom, then goes dragon-slaying in his old age. Maybe it's time to pick up the text again and have another read, if only to experience the richness of the telling from the first time around.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Invigilation duty is officially over. It's a good thing they give us a little extra moolah for this service. I'll need it to pay for that traffic violation of last week. Yup, this criminal genius got slapped with a $120 fine plus 3 demerits for that little misadventure. Guess it could'a been worse.

Nope. Not a good week at all...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The ban on "Mass Effect" is over and cooler heads have prevailed. We're starting to realize, perhaps, that we don't need to have our decisions made for us by some self-appointed central authority; and that we can muster enough will and advocacy to negotiate a more equitable and satisfactory outcome for ourselves.

The grounds for the original ban were interesting, to say the least. Associated Press reports, "Players can engage their avatars in a variety of sexual encounters during the game, though none between men or between men and male aliens, according to reports on several blogs. The human-alien [lesbian] duo are depicted kissing and caressing each other in a sex scene that The Straits Times English-language newspaper in Singapore reported ends with the alien saying, "By the gods, that was incredible, commander."

Considering that most video games involve creative ways in which characters slice, dice, eviscerate and detonate other characters as the main component of gameplay, it's amazing that a short cutscene like the one described above could have been construed as unwholesome enough to ban the game. How often do we have video games promoting positive character interactions with each other? If we disregard their "gender", the two are actually engaged in a cooperative, non-violent, mutually beneficial activity of a social (instead of an anti-social) nature.

Between the characters, there is mutual acceptance -- appreciation, even -- of each other, despite their differences in species(?). The scene concludes with a genuine statement of gratitude, an acknowledgement to religious values, and a marked breaking down of the walls between different social classes. Aren't these refreshing traits to promote in our society of escalating xenophobia? In real world S'pore, we already draw lines between ourselves simply by the accent we speak with.

Rating the game with an M18 is a step in the right direction. Why deny ourselves a learning opportunity simply because at first glance, things don't look like what we think they should look like? We should know by now that life is never so simple.

Not that the X-box game was ever on my Christmas list, but the ban has certainly put the game on my radar now. I'm looking at the official website, and it looks gorgeous with quite some complexity and depth of gameplay. Wonder if it'll ever be released on PC?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

At another industry-organized symposium, we had experts in the field of Information and Communications Technology (ITC) studies lecture us on knowledge construction with new technologies. In summary, the speakers couldn't have devised a more balanced view on the topic.

Speaker 1, a science/math/aesthetics guru, told us there was "a lot of crap" out there on the Internet. Not that there wasn't a lot of crap in books either, but there's much more crap on the 'net since everybody can publish any nonsense they wanted, and the authority of a site's content depends on its ranking in search-engines which is determined by popularity rather than reasoned discourse.

Speaker 2, linguistics and research expert, said that we need to develop our students with stronger critical thinking and research skills so they can distinguish knowledge from scholarly knowledge. He showed us some examples that looked like fun discussions to have in tutorial -- can't wait to try them out. Hope the kids are feeling cooperative.

Speaker 3, ICT boffin, had lots of prizes to give away to people who responded to his questions about the interactivity of the 'net, and how we could use what's available (& free) on the 'net to make lesson time more practically useful and relevant to our plugged-in, multitasking, broadband, frivolous info sharing community generation. Idea being, if they can already share frivolous info, then why not make them share and interact and play with important info as well?

So: the 'net is full of crap, people need to be able to think through stuff for themselves, the 'net is great! I think I got it.

1 more thing among a number of others to meditate on for a month. Perhaps my not going away on holiday this year is a blessing in disguise after all?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I can do no wrong. That's because if I ever did anything wrong, no matter how relatively insignificant, I will get caught for it. Like today when I decided to finally ditch my "Invigilator" security pass after faithfully wearing it day after day while on duty, this seriously officious-looking official -- who looked like everything he uttered had to be typewritten in triplicate -- actually stepped into my path, stopping me in my tracks, and inquired as to the whereabouts of my aforementioned security pass. Despite my unsatisfactory response he let me proceed, with a smirk that suggested that I won a bet for him. Hope I didn't get Chief into trouble for that.

But that's not all. First, check this out...

Cool right? It's my new seatbelt cover I got as a promotional gift from my weekend purchase. Hurm...

Drove over to June's office to collect some merchandise she's bringing over to the Philippines tomorrow. But where I usually stop on the side of the street to meet her, there was this TP just standing there looking like he couldn't wait to book the next unsuspecting errant driver to pass by.

In my panic, I STOPPED at the side of the road, blinked my hazard lights, and fumbled for my mobile phone in my jeans pocket. Phone was too tightly jammed in, so I unfastened my seatbelt to reach it. I called June to advise her that I couldn't stop where I had stopped (duh!), and arranged to drive around again, and this time June had to be there already waiting for me. Having come to an understanding, I hastily took to the streets again, but in my haste, I forgot to refasten my seatbelt. Upon realizing this oversight, I took my hands off the wheel and continued to drive while my hands were busy with the *)#$% seatbelt, made all the more uncooperative with the new seatbelt cover (which makes a great character reference as a driver, now I think about it). With no hands on the wheel, I wobbled my way past the TP -- who was staring intently at me and my license plate -- and as I passed him (another officious-looking fellow) he was grimly scribbling in his notebook.

OMG. How many traffic violations did I commit in the last paragraph? Did I mention that where I stopped to call June it was a jagged double-yellow line? If anyone remembers to wonder where I've disappeared to in the next 10-20 years, they could probably find me in Changi Prison, maximum security, probably with a security pass permanently stapled to my chest, and being the favourite bi*ch of Dragon Long, or Long Dragon, or whatever he wants to call his thing.

Y'know, if the TP wasn't there in the first place, I wouldn't have done all that crazy sh*t. Wonder if the police cause as much crime as they are supposed to prevent?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Never had such a sudden onset of the flu before. I was feeling fine all weekend then >bam!< bug hits me with the works last night. Just returned from the clinic with an armful of drugs and a temperature reading of 38.8°. That has got to be an achievement. Bleh... feeling sick... :P

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What was going to be a lazy, uneventful Saturday quite unexpectedly became an evening at Mount Vernon's Funeral Parlour 1. June's long-lost uncle whom she's not seen in years (yes, that's what 'long-lost' means...) passed on after a couple of months of health complications. From what I could understand, he finally succumbed to MRSA.

This evening, we attended the wake. It was something of a family reunion for June who hasn't seen many of her relatives for years either. While June was doing her catch-up, I was doing my best to glean whatever I could from several conversations that alternated between Mandarin and Cantonese. Fortunately, no-one tried to speak to me directly or June would have looked like she had married the village idiot with a speech impediment.

One thing I noticed about relatives who haven't seen each other for a while is that their conversations tend to turn towards how much things cost. Property, health-care, elderly care... not that people volunteer the information but because people will ask. People want to know how much things cost. Wonder if that's a typically S'porean concern?
After quite a few aborted attempts (this year), we finally got to meet Vince, Anthony and Des over dessert. Q-tip was with us, so we had to find a dog-friendly location. Happy Daze in Gardens was what we settled on.

It was great to talk nonsense and catch up with gossip again. Not a bad wind-down to a long day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Partied with B-lo at Seoul Garden, Taka. It's quite a relief that she liked her pressie and wanted to use it immediately. So yesterday's shopping expedition ended well after all. Phew!

After dinner, June and I went down the hall to BEST Denki to try out an... appliance that I've had my eye on for a while. Since Sony's having an end-of-year sale, the price has come down quite a bit and since payday's coming, well, you know. The design's sleek and cool, the functions are versatile and idiot-proof (a very important consideration), and I was thinking, why not?

This was the first time ever that the sales guy actually talked me OUT of buying that which I came to buy. He basically told me -- based on previous customer feedback -- that the product had a great design, pretty with lots of bells and whistles, but was short on delivery. It is so idiot-proof it takes control out of the user's hands and makes its own decisions based on what it thinks is right. Too much software, not enough fidelity for me.

On one hand, that was a lot of honesty in a sales pitch. On the other, maybe his strategy was to get me to consider purchasing another more expensive option. Whichever it was, I left without making a purchase, but with a resolve to research a little more, and be a smarter consumer when I return another day.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Jack's Place has opened a franchise at SAFRA Yishun. It's called Eatzi Steakhouse & Bistro and it occupies the space that once housed the food court. Through the glass panels, there's a nice view of the swimming pool. Because of its air-conditioned comfort, this looks like a great place to have a lazy tea slightly later in the afternoon after the lunch crowd has left.

The pix shows the executive set lunch. Everything arrived at the table just minutes after ordering. As you can see, the baked potato is overflowing with a generous dollop of sour cream and a healthy sprinkling of bacon bits. The chef understands the concept of "rare", and there under a layer of brown sauce lies the ribeye on a bed of chopped onions.

One problem: they could have chosen for me a better cut of ribeye. Sad to say, this one was rather stringy with quite a bit of tendon material making it quite a chew-fest. Eventually, I took to cutting small chunks so it could go down easier. I'm not making too big a fuss about this though, because the meat itself was tender, it was the sinewy stuff that I could have done without.

Later, I went to explore the Central, looking for a gift. Central seems tres femme to me with so many stores for cosmetics, women's fashion and accessories. Thought that would be ideal to find the kind of gift I was looking for, but I got overwhelmed by the number of options and possibilities. So I went back to the mall I knew best, Funan Centre. Hence, this matching set of i-pod accessories.

Amy, HP, JY, Mel, Wayne, look what we've pooled our cash on for B-lo! See y'all at dinner tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Lamb" is a wicked retelling of the life of Josh the Nazarene through the perspective of Levi bar Alphaeus who is also called Biff, who has been friends with Josh since they were boys. Read "wicked" as you wish.

Author, Christopher Moore, takes the opportunity to fill in the gaps left behind in the Gospels regarding Josh's growing up period to the beginning of his ministry, then follows Josh behind the scenes to his eventual betrayal and execution on the cross. Biff's version of the Gospel story is, however, a very down-to-earth one focusing on Josh's humanity though not denying his divinity. In fact, the juxtaposition of human divinity is where the fun begins.

Biff is Josh's perfect human foil. Biff is foul-mouthed, violent, carnal, but also imaginative and a great improviser in times of trouble. Hence, he tells his version of the Gospel in like manner. His language we may describe as vernacular vulgaris in its crudest form, because 1) that's how Biff is, and 2) his newly presented "gift of tongues" gives him the ability to speak like a common profanity-spewing New Yorker, all the better to communicate with us in the modern world 2000 years after his death.

About the transitional years from boy to man that's missing from the Gospels, Biff picks up the story and relates their quest to find the wise men who visited Josh in the stable where he was born. From each wise man they study philosophy and discipline themselves in the skills they need for Josh's later ministry. To divine his Father's will, Josh focuses on developing his spirituality, while Biff studies poisons, explosives, the tantric arts and kung fu.

It's wonderful how Moore's imagination weaves together Josh and Biff's experiences on their travels to bring Josh to his particular insight into the nature of God, and the point of his ministry. Part of it is through coincidences in the texts of other holy scriptures, part is through life experiences Josh later recalls in his parables, and part is by making horrible puns. For example, because Josh absolutely refuses to hurt anyone, Gaspar's Himalayan monks have to develop a whole new martial arts style for him to practice. It's a style that uses the energy of an attack against itself. They call it, "Ju-do", meaning, "The way of the Jew". Arrrrggghhh! But when Josh is eventually tested and questioned by the Pharisees later in his life, the way he replies to them is a form of intellectual, rhetorical judo, isn't it so?

While all this mental juggling might sound pretty dry, Lamb is hilariously funny. Moore takes liberties with scriptural references, taking them out of context and using them in highly unlikely situations. He fleshes out the Apostles by assigning them each a fatal human flaw which they often tease each other about, and portrays them as extremely dense in the way that they don't get Josh's parables, and in their hopeless attempt to rescue Josh from his impending execution.

Despite all the profanity flung liberally around the pages, it's used as linguistic humour with no intention to insult the faith. Josh may be portrayed as quite human, but his character is respected. Biff himself, is almost always the butt of the jokes, and since he's never mentioned in any of the Gospels, Biff's the perfect straw-man to build the humour around.

Lamb is not going to be well-accepted by everybody, unfortunately. Because it plays on the sensitive issue of religious faith, it will highly offend those who feel that to take such liberties with sacred texts is sacrilegious. But those of us who can stomach it, Lamb's a terrific read.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It's hard to catch a falling star, but it helps if you have a magical binding chain and if the star could walk behind you on her own two legs wherever you wanted her to go. In "Stardust", everyone has a reason for desiring a piece of the star, Yvaine, who though minding her own business, gets accidentally knocked out of the sky in a contest for succession of the throne of the magical kingdom of Stormhold. And that's a simplified version of the movie plot.

To avoid overcomplication, the movie version of Stardust wisely keeps the focus on a single theme: no one is who they appear to be. Some, like the seven princes, have yet to achieve their potential and will kill and be killed trying. Others have their true identities taken away from them by enslavement or enchantment. Captain Shakespeare keeps his secret identity behind a mask of "reputation". Tristan's adventures are partially a discovery of his true heritage and partly a quest for his heart's desire.

Everyone experiences a transformational change, and though they don't necessarily welcome change, they simply accept it and cope with it as a matter of fact. The only ones that don't accept change are Lamia and her sisters (and probably Sisterhood as well). They are driven by their mania to freeze themselves in time, at the point when they were at their most beautiful, by hunting and consuming the warm, glowing heart of a fallen star. In their 400 years of existence, they have no other passion than lying to themselves that time can be cheated; and that's probably why they've ended up such bitter, malicious old biddies -- they never get what they desire.

And Yvaine herself, fallen star, is the only one who has no problems with her self-identity. She knows who she is and isn't shy to make full use of her self-knowledge. She becomes the movie's hottest quest item because of her extremely rare magical qualities, but her real value is in her power to be herself, true to herself at all times. Though that might sound boring, she's also sarcastic, short-tempered and entirely human, which rounds her out, and makes her quite a lovable character.

The plot may be complex, but Gaiman is quite a coherent storyteller. With gorgeous landscapes as a backdrop, and the occasional visual effects surprises (I was quite taken by the drowning-in-air sequence), Stardust is a thrill to watch. It's star shines especially bright as one of the few movies in 2007 that is not a sequel, and is not written to spin-off one either. It's a movie that practices what it preaches -- write it, shoot it, can it, and move on.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The recent gay debate has been very lively. Sparks flew from both camps with some very heated exchanges from people out to make a name for themselves adding spice to the contention.

For the rest of the population, frankly, we don't care. Perhaps today we are more aware of homosexual activity within our society, we are aware of the religious sensitivities of the more conservative segments of our society, we are aware of the tension that exists between the two poles. But as a people, we walk the deadest of the neutral line.

We don't have a problem with the issue. If no one says anything, we're fine. Everything's cool. It's all good. What we do have a problem with is when we feel we are being forced to take sides, to stand on one pole or another -- in critical thinking terms, we call that a "false dilemma". If it ever comes to that, we know what our stand will be: dropkick the extremist, and carry on pax status quo Rex, pardon my Latin.

Despite the vocal energy of both camps, I doubt that our society might be fracturing along the line drawn by Section 377A, like some people think. We're too apathetic for that to happen. Thank goodness.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The little monsters are beginning to twitch. Chief was livid this morning with the number of complaints she received about us. Did we ever get an earful. Most of the complaints were generally about how the kids got distracted with the things we were doing. Well, excuse us for breathing.

Someone (no, not me) got complained against for walking along the aisles, so today all he could do was to stand in the back of the venue and glower throughout his duty.

Kids, a word of advice: focus past your distractions and on your exam. Don't look at us as an excuse if your results don't turn out like you want. You have your job to do, so let us do ours.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

'bladed ECP in an attempt to jumpstart a long-neglected fitness regimen. Suddenly owning pairs of trousers and jeans that have become uncomfortably tight at the waist is motivation enough.

Completed only a part of my planned route before I turned back. I wasn't tired, just bone-weary. Now I know the difference.

Bone-weary is when you get emotionally afflicted with the idea that no matter what you do, no matter who you're with, you'll ultimately end up heavy-hearted, saggy-shouldered and all alone (kind'a like in this pix, only less pleasant).

Could have been a delayed response to Dee's question at brekkie this morning: do I feel my age in my body (though why she should be asking about my body is beyond me)?

Things felt stranger after I'd got my 'blades off and my trainers back on again. My legs, now gotten used to balancing on wheels, kept pushing me forward -- faster, faster -- but I was too out of breath to go with the impulse. The flesh being willing but the spirit is weak, I suppose.

Stopped for lunch, and felt much better for it. Lack of nutrition -- that'll do it to you everytime.
Despite all the warnings and dire predictions from various quarters, even en masse the kids I'm invigilating aren't the little monsters they've been made out to be. Maybe we're still new to each other?

Anyway, it was a day of feasting to celebrate the end of GP. A portion of our breakkie regulars started the pig-out at Friends. Friends offered a new dish on the set menu: an open ravioli with cream mushroom filling. What it turned out to be was two flat ravioli skins sandwiching something akin to the wild mushroom soup, only thicker and creamier. Fortunately, I didn't order the wild mushroom soup as my starter or I would have died from the overdose.

With roughly three hours in between to digest our substantial lunch, we rejoined the main body at the Red House, ECP, for a grand round of chilli crabs, drunken prawns and sides. Crab eating is never a pretty sight. Hands and the entire lower jaw area dripping with gravy as we're shoving large chunks of crab between molars and canines for a decent shell-cracking bite, mouths contorting to accommodate the welcome intrusion. No, no one got killed by my flying shrapnel this time. Pity.

Though B-lo abandoned us for better company -- she was looking to crash a happenin' Halloween party -- and Wayne abandoned us for soccer, the rest of us adjourned to Gelare in nearby Siglap. 2 Fantastic Fives, 9 spoons. Decadent orgy party of the night involving whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate sauce. B-lo and Wayne will never know what they missed...

Oh yeah, Happy Halloween, folks!

Late post as Mr L33t went inexplicably off-line last night.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An easy start to my exam duties. A 90 minute Japanese paper, 7 candidates only.

Though common wisdom says to treat these kids with caution (apparently, the kids of this particular college snap and turn nasty easily), my first impression of them has been quite different. True, they are well-groomed and look studious and intelligent like they should be, but they were respectful of Celine and me, and they did as they were instructed without rolling their eyeballs at us. I couldn't fault them for being obliviously ostentatious either despite what we've been told of them -- nothing they owned looked especially fabulous. Even their shoes were nothing out of the ordinary and looked like they'd been worn for quite a while already. I've seen kids wearing more expensive footwear on my own campus.

They are different from the kids we're used to in one way, though: they will ask questions to clear their doubts, and they assume nothing. In that alone, they make it clear that they are not sheep to be herded, bleating from one pen to the next. They are quietly and resolutely focused on the job they have to do and don't distract themselves with idle chitchat until they are formally dismissed.

Today I saw only 7 of them. Tomorrow, I'll probably see a lot more of them. Let's see if my initial impression of them still holds.

Tomorrow is also going to be historic. It'll be the first time ever we'll be offering the KI paper after years, yes, years, of preparation. NBS and I hope our 6 can deliver the goods (no pressure, KIds!), but tomorrow our blinkers will finally come off, and then we'll know for sure what a 'live' exam paper really looks like. Regardless, at this point, it's isn't how much you know any more, but rather how well you use what you do know to answer the question.

And on that note, GP and KI candidates taking tomorrow's paper, you've studied hard enough. The time to rest your eyes and brains is now. Go sleep... and all the best for your papers! May you have enjoyable questions to work on!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Officially, we're on vacation. The last day of the JC year was last Friday at which we staff had a round-up of the year seminar. Unofficially, as of today, we're still at work. J1s have their project exams, J2s have gone into full-swing exam mode, some are still looking for some 11th-hour assurances from us. We staff are on exam duty, supervising kids taking their papers. Still busy, busy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I'm surprised Mr Devan would behave like the other PSLE parents when his kid returned a poor grade on his presumably GP essay. The school system is too rigid, he claims, in being dogmatic to the thesis-exposition-conclusion model of essay writing. He gives examples of great essayists whose works don't follow the pattern, Bacon and Orwell he quotes. The thesis-expo-conc model might work for boring old reports on Singapore's economy or a lab report, but doesn't reflect the writings of novelists and journalists, so why can't we be flexible about it [and give young Master Devan an 'A' for his effort, instead of a 'B' or whatever]?

Let's just dump all our illusions and ideals about Education. A GP essay is the most boring thing anyone will ever write. GP isn't creative writing which celebrates a free flow of thoughts and ideas that might eventually meander to some revelation. Or not, which is also ok. GP doesn't like the personal and the story-telling style either, so even if Orwell himself wrote lines like the ones Devan quotes, I would still write in the margins in glaring red: Narrative! Relevance?

We forget that GP, like any other subject, is a training regimen in a particular discipline. And the grades a student gets are merely reflective of the skill demonstrated by the student attained in that discipline. GP is a narrow discipline because it belongs in the realm of Pre-university, i.e., teaching kids to cope in the university environment at which they will be writing boring, stuffy academic reports about the Singapore economy, lab reports and probably worse. They'd better be prepared.

In GP we emphasize not so much clarity of thought, but rather clarity of communicating our thoughts. Socrates was brilliant, but if he didn't have the ability to articulate his most significant idea: "You're all idiots!" to us, his wisdom would have died with him millennia ago.

The thesis-expo-conc model is great for communicating ideas because there's no room for discontinuity, or for random, stray, left-field thoughts entering the argument and confusing the issue or the reader. It makes the essayist more careful in considering his purpose for writing, more aware of the audience's desire to access a simple idea and have some evaluative deliberation over it. It makes the essayist research the background of the issue and be personally responsible for what he says about it.

The essayist is a person of integrity, who has thought hard about the issue being discussed, has learned as much as he can about the issue, and proposes a course of action that is both practical and responsible to deal with it. This is the way leaders communicate with their people, and as potential uni-grads who are likely to hold decision-making positions in society in the near future, they'd better learn to write and speak like leaders or hell, they ain't gonna get no respect. No, sir!

If you don't like GP to be so inflexible and narrow, remember that this is a course in writing that caters to the lowest common denominator, same as every other subject in the formal curriculum. In our hands, we would have shattered the confidence of Bacon and Orwell, sending them in tears from the classroom time and again. They would have had stable jobs in the civil service, but they would never have written another essay as long as they lived, ever again. But if you want your genius kid* to flower, why not try homeschooling? Your kid could have taken the 'O' levels at the age of 9!

*Darn! Link for ST subscribers only!
Rediscovering Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha -- a long-lost treasure -- was June's biggest thrill from yesterday's reef walk. Back when she was working for Compaq, this was THE place to celebrate Department events and special occasions. But when Ya Hua moved from Outram, they fell off the radar... until last night. As the bus took us back to campus, there it appeared, right outside PSA's Tanjong Pagar Gate 1, with a basement parking lot conveniently located right there.

So today, we went to see if it was as good as she remembered. The rou gu cha here is of the peppery variety. It's claim to fame is that with the same soup base, they make complementary (meaning "goes well with", NOT "free, gratis") side dishes of Chinese lettuce, Japanese seaweed (yums!), pork liver (excellent!) which we ordered (left). The different soups take on the flavour of their main ingredients so there's a multiplicity of variations on the basic rou gu cha theme in one meal.

Was it good? Yes. The top pix shows the pre-lunchtime crowd on a Sunday in the business district. Hint: go early if you want to get a table.

Edit 01:
This is the second time Mr George Lim Heng Chye has got my goat with another inane, petty and ridiculous letter to the ST's forum pages:

Man exposed himself to boys
October 28, 2007 Sunday

ON OCT20, I took my young son to the Ang Mo Kio Swimming Complex for his swimming lessons.

After his session, I accompanied him to the shower room. There, I noticed a man standing naked, drying his hair with a towel while displaying his full frontal view towards two young boys, who were in the midst of changing.

What was offensive was that the man was in a state of physical arousal. He was standing close and exposing himself to the boys, who fortunately ignored him.

When my son got out of the shower, I told him to change quickly and we left the room.

That man was still 'drying' his hair with a towel when we left. It did not look like he had any intention to get dressed.

What I saw was a pervert who was looking for an opportunity to satisfy his lust in the men's changing room by preying on young boys. It was a detestable act.

I urge the Singapore Sports Council to send patrols or marshals to stop such perverts from deliberately parading naked in the changing rooms at swimming complexes.

Hellooo... you saw a MAN naked in a MEN's shower room. Newsflash: people shower with their clothes off, most of the time. Ok, the dude was towelling dry his hair, but unless he had brought an extra towel with him (most of us won't bother), what else was he going to cover himself with? His dry BVDs?

Oh, and you thought the man was in "a state of physical arousal"? Men are born with differently sized um... physical equipment. Just because his might have been bigger than [what you're used to seeing] doesn't mean he was particularly excited by what your genetic offspring or you had to offer. Alternatively, he could have just towelled dry his own nether regions, and the stimulation might have inadvertently caused some "arousal". Has it been that long for you?

In fact, by taking note of the man's endowments, you were probably violating his privacy and he could sue you for it. The two young boys he was allegedly "exposing" himself to were probably his own sons who had the sense to ignore their dad going about his business. I think they'll turn out ok, but I worry about yours.

Just curious. Did you ever serve NS, or were you excused bathing for some medical condition or other?

You should stay away from the Women's shower room. With your constitution, you'll risk an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital if you ever saw what goes on in there. Naked women showering. The horror!
Staff field trip to Kusu Island! About 30 of us, some with spouses and/or kids in tow descended upon the tidal pools on the island to view the different lifeforms observable at low tide. Guides from Blue Water Volunteers showed us around, this being the last trip to the island they are organizing for the year.

When a place has generally few human visitors, it's amazing how much life flourishes. Today, however, we arrived; and though we were careful to gingerly step around inhabited patches of the reef, I'm sure some lifeforms came to grief under the soles of our feet. But we really did try to minimize our impact on the ecosystem as far as possible.

As we waded through the salt-water pools, we encountered crabs of the hermit and flower varieties, and one of the other guides put one small, hairy specimen in temporary captivity so that most of us could see it first-hand. What other things did we see? Check out the rest of June's pix here.

Our guides, Dionne and Yvonne, were entertaining and lively, and took our nonsense in their stride. They were informative and encouraged us to get hands-on with some of the creatures. We felt the suction of the carpet anemone's stinging tentacles (our skin is too thick to be affected by the stings) , and had snails and small crabs crawling over our palms just for the experience.

There was time for a quick self-prepared dinner after, while awaiting the ferry's departure. With the budget we gave her, Mel put together a small feast of egg mayo and chix mayo to spread on bread. Various people opened bags of chips, while Linc opened a bottle of cab sauv to share around.

Definitely not the worst way to spend a Saturday afternoon. =)

Friday, October 26, 2007

June got us comps to "The Game Plan" at the very last minute today. There was this huge crowd strung out along a red carpet at GV, Vivocity; and surprise, surprise, Mr Johnson himself strode in to the music of Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock". Corny, but somehow appropriate.

The pix was a quick grab using June's cellphone cam. Mine tends to run out of juice when I need it most.

Honestly, Game Plan wasn't on my list of to-watch movies. I'm quite leery of movies pitting known tough guys against wise-ass pipsqueaks. Arnold's done it, Hulk Hogan's done it, Vin Diesel's done it, and now The Rock? Big guys being put in their place by a tiny costar is usually hilarious in a David and Goliath sense, but the gags come cheap.

But The Rock, to his credit, isn't playing for laughs. There are the expected laugh-out-loud moments, but never once do we feel he's just milking comedy by making a fool of himself. Though his character, Joe Kingman, fumbles around with a new wrinkle in his life -- a daughter he never knew he had -- at a most crucial stage in his pro-football career, and though this unexpected situation causes chaos in his well-ordered existence, he never loses control but instead visibly puts himself on a learning curve to cope with it.

When Kingman gets forced into performing ballet with daughter, Peyton, there's an opportunity for on-screen silliness, but, no. While not entirely balletic, The Rock's on the mark, moving with the ensemble rather than against it. Good choice. In this respect, The Rock makes a transition that few in his industry have been able to, that is to separate the wrestler from the actor, and that's professionalism at the highest level.

Although Game Plan still follows formula ultimately, there are a few twists and surprises to sustain our interest. Peyton arrives at Kingman's apartment under rather suspicious circumstances, and what exactly is her hidden agenda with him?

If there's a point to this movie, it's that despite Kingman's wildly successful celebrity status, with his opulence, fame and his victory trophies, he lives in an empty, lonely world full of nothing but himself. But with the arrival of Peyton, he has to take stock of his situation and ask, what's life without a little chaos? What's success with no one to share it with? Good questions.

Also, a winning team comprises more than just the star quarterback.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm enjoying Portal the most out of all the toys in the Orange Box. It's short -- roughly three hours of gameplay to complete -- it's episodic, so stopping the game to do inconvenient but necessary stuff like potty breaks and meals is relatively painless, and the satisfaction of solving each puzzle is pure instant gratification.

There are 19 puzzle solving levels set in someplace called "Aperture Labs", but it's all training for the last level by which time we discover that all is not as it seems. Apart from the clinically sterile environment in which most of the game takes place, there are occasional glimpses behind the facade that reveal that something sinister is happening in the background.

For one thing, all safety protocols are non-existent. Many puzzles include lethal elements like acid-flooded floors, kawai but trigger-happy little gun turrets, and bouncy energy pellets which need to be manipulated into powering certain devices but are instant death on contact. How suspicious is that?

Every puzzle solved brings us a step closer to the truth. Is the lab computer malfunctioning? Its sing-song voice seems a little off-kilter. It promises cake and a party after the lab testing is complete, but IS the cake a lie?

For supporting NPCs in a game, the lab computer has to be one of the most memorable. We only hear its disembodied voice which accompanies us as we progress. It's functional at first, but there's almost a relationship that builds up between us two. Since there doesn't seem to be any other intelligence to interact with in the game, this relationship is more Stockholm Syndrome, less companionship.

I'm not sure how it's possible, but despite the vocal intonations that sound like they're being rendered through an early-generation SoundBlaster card, there's a discernible personality behind the computer's voice that appears genuinely interested in our progress, though not necessarily in our well-being. The information it provides tends to be a lot of corporate nonsense, pointless advice, disclaimers; but it's also disturbing to be watched and monitored so closely without knowing why.

Puzzle games don't usually have this level of story-telling, much less such personality. The puzzles themselves are readily solvable once we get used to the game physics. Since we have no offensive capability ourselves, most of the game is slow and methodical while we trial-and-error our next move. But the last five minutes of the endgame is quite a change of pace -- our personal survival depends on putting what we've learned to use as quickly as possible or die trying.

And now that I have successfully completed Portal, there are more advanced maps to play with. No story, just pure problem-solving. For what I initially expected of it, Portal has delivered so much more in terms of gaming experience.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Test drove the NEW Mazda 2! I couldn't resist it. While M2 stood shivering with uncertainty over his fate in his parking lot at the showroom, June and I took out a new toxic green coloured 2 for a spin.

Unlike the boxy, functional old design, the new one is sleek and sporty on the outside. The sales reps emphasize how the new look is supposed to have been inspired by the Peugeot 207, but really it could stand by itself. M2 looks rather ungainly in comparison.

Because of the new look, the cockpit is more crammed than I'm used to. There isn't as much clearance between the head and the door frame, so there's a little more caution needed in entering and exiting. Much reduced trunk space from the old, and the seats don't fold up so don't expect to carry too much in the back.

The console is quite space-age, though the displays are still more analogue than digital. Controls give the impression that it's all fly-by-wire, especially with the tiny auto-shift lever mounted on the console panel rather than the floorboard. The stereo system looks like it's been moulded into a bubble; sound is adequate, though nothing to boast about. Standard, the upholstery comes in fabric, though there is an upgrade option to 1 or 2-tone (yuck) sports leather.

The ride is s-w-e-e-t. Quiet engine, highly responsive acceleration with a kick you can feel, and it corners well, without the sway that the old model with its higher CG can't help. If I ever get used to this kind of handling, it'll be a great temptation to just hit the highway to see what this baby can really do.

So am I getting a new car? The new M2 is a yummy treat to drive, but after doing the math (yes, we went that far), we decided we couldn't afford the switch. M2 is currently in excellent working condition, so there's no real reason to make the trade; and besides, there's big travel plans to be made next year which need some serious financing. I'm not about to give that up for a new car I don't need right now.

Pragmatism and a level-head won this day!

*video 'koped' from

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cracked open the Orange Box at last. For $79.90, it packs in 5 games, though 2 are reprises (more on them later). The new games are Half Life 2: Episode 2; the innovative 1st person puzzle game, Portal; and the multiplayer Team Fortress 2 that offers a higher level of complexity in the mix of character classes than ET:QW. TF2 I didn't load, since I'm NOT going online with it.

Ep. 2's strength is in cooperative gameplay partnering the player's character, Gordon Freeman, with a highly competent NPC who isn't just a great shot, but also offers contextualized, scripted "conversation" that moves the plot along, and gives the player a sense of companionship unparalleled in any other FPS. It's great having Alex Alyx watch your back with a sniper rifle as you plough through a radioactive swamp crawling with zombies. Though she never misses, the area is so target rich that the shotgun Gordon's totting doesn't have a chance to be idle.

Apart from the runnin' and gunnin', Ep. 2 is also a bit of a puzzle game involving environmental obstacles as well as figuring out how to get crucial bits of machinery functioning. Tense drama, blazin' guns, head-scratchin' moments, Ep. 2's got a little something for everyone.

Portal's a bit strange as a puzzler. The player carries a portal gun that opens holes in walls, floors and ceilings, but the point of entry into a portal leads to an exit point somewhere else on the map. This miracle of technology allows the player to manoeuvre around obstacles to reach objectives that are otherwise physically inaccessible. Amidst this rather disorienting experience is an adventure game that maintains a consistent narrative, driving the player from one puzzle to the next.

Warning: While beautiful and realistic in rendering graphics, the Source engine powering these games makes me sick to the core after a while. Motion sickness makes me play in bite-sized chunks, or alternatively, blow chunks. I prefer the former.

The older games in this package are HL2 and Ep. 1 all over again, for the benefit of first-time buyers who might want to complete the backstory leading to Ep. 2. And this is my cue to announce that publisher, Valve, having recognized me as a legal purchaser of these previous 2 games, allows me to legally GIVE away 1 copy of each to anyone I choose. I'm not exactly sure how the download process is going to work exactly, but the recipient, I suppose, needs to create an account with Valve first. Sooo... any takers? Email me at; 1st come, 1st served!
There was no intention to be mysterious about my "decision" in the previous entry, although I suppose that might have overdramatized things a little. All I did was to apply for an MA programme, which means I'll be working and studying at the same time, so Taily was right on the money.

However, the chances of my application being successful are slim, given the limited number of places available. I don't like to talk about my "chances" because I have this irrational notion that the more is said, the less likely it's going to happen.

I'll keep y'all posted about it when I know more.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I realized that life for me has become too comfortably stagnant. Like I've got everything I wanted, and there's this blissful contentment that I've been wallowing in for a while already. As ideal as it sounds, it's also made me lazy and complacent, and the world is starting to pass me by. I'm glad that's starting to disturb me, 'cos I'm still too young to ossify, too young to think like a retiree, and I have too many bills to pay.

As I said before, maybe in not so many words, it's better to be slightly hungry than torpid, languid and overfed. I need a new challenge to rise above, and a new milestone to aim my efforts at. So I made a decision this morning that will push me out of my comfort zone, and will probably add a hitherto unknown level of stress on my life, though at the end, it isn't likely to change my life very much other than perhaps grant me a few more bragging rights than I have now.

It's a decision that is more likely not to pan out, so I won't actually say what it is until I hear more positive results, but even if the outcome is negative it won't matter because I'm hungry and on the hunt again.

Pain and hunger. There's no better way to reassure ourselves that we're still alive.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Where D NY EL went was the mystery of the afternoon. The entire department had upped and left to bid Boss Lady goodbye as she leaves for um... more intellectual pastures than hanging around us nutters.

Josh, B-lo and I were at China Square collecting 8 Don's Pies, and a chocolate banana cake at Awfully Chocolate in Republic Plaza to feed the hungry masses.

It was a great afternoon to be out and about. It was bright and sunny -- the kind of lighting that makes the whole world look lined in sharp, clear edges -- warm, with a light breeze, like summer in TO, which I miss.

This was no formal event, just D NY EL meeting over food and teh tarik at someone's house. We haven't done anything like this for a long time. Years, in fact. So I'm glad that we could overcome our usual inertia to do this, even if the occasion had to be a farewell for someone who was most excellent to work with.

She was calm and steady, understanding, patient and gave good advice. She rose up from among us, to lead us and to be responsible for us. In the few years as our boss, she's since become a seasoned veteran of the HOD trenches. We're gonna miss her.

Fortunately, new Boss Lady is also from among us, and she has our confidence and support. We'll be good and try not to give her too much trouble. Promise.