Saturday, April 04, 2009

Best kept secret

Sembawang's best kept secret has got to be the block of little shophouses on Jalan Malu-malu that's like a time-capsule dating back some 30 years at least. There is a seafood restaurant on the corner that's jumping with diners (yes, it's an open secret) though the set-up reminds me of the crappy, run-down seafood joints that once occupied Punggol Point. It's dim and dingy, and diners are better-off not looking too closely at the kitchen, but that's how it all used to be.

There is a frozen meat wholesaler on the same row. He's a good option for cheap meats for barbeques, in case you think the internet bbq wholesalers are too expensive and too impersonal.

But our target of exploration tonight was Flamingg Mangos. On the row of shops that Pizza Hut operates a delivery-only service is an amazing little restaurant that serves very robust burgers, pasta and steaks. The decor is romantically simple: dim with a pink-orange glow; a few small, framed pictures on the walls; a bar counter adjacent to a wine rack, all opccupying an old-style shophouse gutted for al fresco dining.

There's an easy-going atmosphere about the place. Nothing is hurried, not even the light jazz on the stereo which seems to direct the tempo of operation there. It offers a decent variety of drinks, but it's mostly family-friendly, and there's a dog-friendly corner too.

We ordered a cream of pumpkin soup to start which came with a basket of home-made garlic bread. June had a half-rack of ribs while I feasted on two hunks of breaded dory and chips. Free-flow of iced water, cold and therefore good. I had my eye on a creme brulee for dessert, but we both were too full by the time we were done with our main course.

Total bill: $45.75. Not bad for a very pleasant dinner for two. Next time we go, my target will be the beef, and to somehow still pack in dessert.

Library calling!

Went on another book delivery run. Before starting off, the organizers were very happy to inform us that the project has had a successful trial and will now be a permanent operation of the National Library Board. There was a simple appreciation ceremony at which they gave us volunteers a cert and a commemorative polo shirt each.

With me were June (first time!) and Mark G. I didn't think to bring a camera for the event, but Mark shoved me his to shoot him collecting the plaque the NLB presented to our college for our service. Hope it turns out ok 'cos the request was so sudden, I didn't have time to compose the shot properly before I took it.

The run itself was quite uneventful. June and I drove out to two locations in Jurong. One of the receipients wasn't home. She'd gone out to take a class in something-or-other, her family member said as he collected the books on her behalf. The other was a wheelchair-bound teen whose selection comprised some difficult-looking science and math books and he requested we bring him something on C++ programing next time.

I really don't mind there being a next time. The job isn't a big hassle -- even non-drivers can volunteer as Comfort sends a fleet of taxis to provide free transport as part of their service learning culture. The transaction is easy: count books, sign here, sign there, and we're gone. And most importantly, everyone's happy.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Official propaganda

I must be getting old. That's probably why reminders of human mortality seem to be drawing my attention these days. But so far (thankfully) it hasn't been Death itself that's been holding my fascination but rather the celebration of the life lived that has.

This MCYS vid is especially fascinating because it portrays one possible interpretation of the paradox posed in 2 Cor 12:9, which declares that God's "power is perfected in weakness" -- something of a head-scratcher if we just look at the verse out of context.

Love's the same. It's the imperfect that needs love most, and love's best function is when it upholds the most imperfect.

I don't often compliment official propaganda, but this one has got it right for once. It doesn't mean I'm about to start a family right away, but I appreciate the message.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Drama Club evolution

Quite happy with how Drama Club is working. I was a bit worried last year when we seemed to be accumulating a small group of ordinary kids; no divas, no drama mamas, no one anyone might suggest they would look interesting on stage. But these kids have made such progress since, in terms of work ethic, organizational abilities, willingness to learn, and drive to produce a good show despite our budgetary and space constraints.

Today, our Drama Night cast and crew list numbers 50 from a core of about 14, and I think Tina is exactly the right coach to lead them, with her no-nonsense style and her overall production vision that will ensure everyone will have something valuable to contribute to the effort. For once, even the publicity team which usually operates independently from the production team has now been fully integrated and it was nice to see all departments represented at our first production meeting yesterday afternoon.

In slowly empowering the kids to take charge of their own production, I'm encouraged that the right kids are starting to take over the club from off my hands, and I am very interested to see where they're going to take it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carnivorous Rex

The birthday boy got what he wanted, an all-restraints-off meat buffet featuring uncivilized sized hunks of the flesh of several different animals sliced off a skewer onto our own plates. I think it was an act of rebellion against the health and environment conscious campus cafeteria we've been eating at every day for the past... who knows how long already.

There isn't much to describe about the food, really. It's chunky; it's meaty; some of it is juicy and tender while others are a bit of a chew-fest; and the different meats tasted very like the critters they were sliced off. What more do you need to know? We weren't there for subtleties, we were there to tear into helpless herd animals and gorge ourselves with viscera until the world was reminded once again who claims top spot on the food chain.

Carnivore, Vivo, was a Great Choice, birthday boy!

Satiated, the pack found a cool, dark den in which to quietly digest our meal -- a cinema screening "Confessions of a Shopaholic". The movie was a quirky, cute look at a materialist lifestyle lived to the extreme. Being mired in credit card debt isn't funny, but creatively evading a dogged Ah Long (US version) and trying desperately not to ruin a stupendously lucky break at the same time somehow is.

My one takeaway from "Shopaholic": people actually get paid to write a 500-word column in a monthly publication? I must so be in the wrong job.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Night

Gaahhh! Dutifully switched everything off promptly at 2030 hrs to do my bit for Earth Hour. Twiddling my thumbs in the dark didn't appeal to me so I went to take a nap for one hour... and didn't wake up until 0700 this morning. How much energy, including my own, did I save?


We don't take rituals very seriously these days. We see little meaning in fussing over minute details that our traditions prescribe. For us, they're just a throwback to the old days, and we do them just to keep the old people happy. Whether they're to celebrate the new year, or to celebrate a wedding, we skip through the processes as quickly as possible so we can move on to the next thing, getting on with our lives.

It amazes me that a movie can open my eyes to what we've been missing out on: the deeper meaning behind the details of a ceremony when it is carried out with the proper respect and reverence that it deserves.

"Departures" is a look at the living, and how they must deal with the mortal remains of those who have moved on. After all, death isn't a concern for the departed but for the living who must find a way to dispose of the body that's been left behind, and to cope with the loss. These days, we seem to focus on the former, just dumping the body in a hole or incinerating it; then once out of sight, out of mind. Coping with the loss is easy thereafter because we have emotionally detached ourselves from the process. No fuss, no muss.

But with a pace as slow, methodical and calm as its subject, "Departures" takes us through the encoffinment ceremony with such sensitivity that we who generally do not shed a tear at funerals we attend are emotionally moved at each ceremony depicted in the movie.

The work of the "NK agent" (NK stands for something in Japanese meaning "to casket", if we can count "casket"as a verb) is to prepare the deceased for its final journey. This includes the washing and the origami-like wrapping of the body just before it is placed into its coffin. The ceremony is done in full view of the deceased's family, so the body gets treated with the utmost respect. The objective is to restore the corpse back to the way it used to look like so that the loved ones can identify the final image of the deceased as someone they knew in life and remember for the rest of their own lives.

When people die, biological processes render them unrecogniseable. For example, their cheeks hollow out, while oddly enough nails and hair continue to grow. The NK agent performs a ritual that dresses the body in the clothes it is accustomed to wearing, returns facial features to the way they once were and make-up brings living colour back to the pallid face so that its loved ones don't just send a body off to the incinerator, they send the person off to his or her next destination.

What's moving is when the living actually recognise the desceased for who they are, and the grieving kicks in. People express grief in different ways, through tears, fury, and even laughter, but as long as the NK agent has done a good job no one can remain stoic, everybody is part of the grieving process and as a result the memory of the departed lingers that much stronger, that much more real.

But the ceremony is much more than saying a respectful farewell. It actually reminds us how precious being alive is, and how much more we should love those closest to us so that we can let them go with no regrets when the inevitable occurs.

Beautiful cinematography including the motif of migratory geese who, like life, are present for a short time and then fly away. It's really the dead that are moving on; not us who are staying, regardless of how much we try to make life go on. How paradoxical.

What's also paradoxical is the sense that ironically, the NK agent is a dying trade. That's what's truly sad about this movie. Who will help us remember once the profession becomes extinct? Guess that's where we are now.