Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lost in translation

I really wanted to love Les Miserables, the movie, as much as I do the stage production. But despite some spectacular sets which were unreproduceable onstage such as the jaw-dropping manual dry-docking of the hulking warship in the opening sequence and the colossal barricade of the closing; and the palpable reality of the sewer escape sequence, the experience wasn't as emotionally impactful as it was onstage.

Perhaps some genres don't translate well into others. The script being originally written for stage assumes that most of the audience would not get close enough to the characters to empathize with them as individual people. It is the music that carries the emotion and from a distance therein lies the drama of the musical.

On film, it's quite different. On the 70mm screen, the action is literally in your face. Every tear, every frown, every wrinkle is there for all to see so the delivery has to become more realistic. The irony is that using nuances of spoken delivery takes away something of the emotive potential of the music and so the effect gets watered down.

There is also a problem using recognizable faces in the leading roles. At some point I was expecting Jean Valjean to sprout adamantium claws from his fists and eviscerate his tormentors; Fantine to grow pointy ears and a tail and bi*chslap with a bullwhip the sleazebuckets going after her. That they meekly rolled over and resigned themselves to their fate was mildly disappointing. Big names may help box-office receipts, but it's better to cast iconic roles with performers who themselves have not been cast in other iconic roles else the wrong images are likely to stick and confuse.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the movie, but that this experience is unlikely to be as memorable as the stage version, for me anyway. But at least I didn't have to pay an exorbitant sum for crappy seats in the theatre's nosebleed section for it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Get a proper job

Bumped into a graduating student. He said that he was considering teaching as a career. I told him to get a proper job first before thinking of teaching.

He asked if the experience was advantageous to his portfolio. I said it's not that. It's because if he wants to teach, he should know first hand what kind of world he'll be sending his students into, what kind of work environment they can expect to face in their future.

No offence, but if teaching was his first job, all he'd know about life was how to pass exams.

This industry needs more second-career teachers. Lots more.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday fatality

Being on vacation over the last week put us out of touch with the news. At last night's Christmas eve dinner, the family alerted us to this tragic news story about a fellow S'porean tourist whose ascent up the very same volcano we had climbed a couple of days before proved fatal. As I read the report, I realized that it could have occurred to either of us too, unfit and unprepared as we were.

While we were both blessed to make it back in one piece, my sympathies are for our fellow countryman who didn't, and his family. At our age, it's time we did a bit more careful research into the items we want to put on our itinerary. And do the necessary prep if we're determined to follow through with our plans.

Geez. That's a cheery Christmas thought.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bali revisited: Day 6

Our flight home was mildly dramatic. About a quarter into our journey, the captain announced that the plane had developed some fault and we had to turn back to Denpasar where we and our luggage would board a replacement plane. Passenger response was miffed but cooperative. Apart from a few questions regarding the delay causing a few missed connections and other similar concerns, we were generally adopting a 'whatever' attitude. The ground crew was apologetic and tried to explain the situation. They rustled up some mineral water to placate us at the boarding gate to tide us over the hour-plus delay. I was hoping to be compensated with a free night's accommodation in a luxury hotel in Kuta, but it was not to be. Before long, we were winging it back to SIN again... and Christmas eve dinner with the family.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bali revisited: Day 5

Actually, we're not in Seminyak as we thought. Our villa is in Canggu, yet some distance away. But we've had enough of adventure. We're spending the tail-end of our vacation relaxing; soaking in our private pool (above); shopping and eating commercial food.

At the Adyana Villas and Spa, it's all the comforts of home with a comfy living room; some cable channels and a DVD player.

There's even a dining room and kitchen, if you're inclined to cook. All we've used the dining table for, though, is breakfast, served in the villa itself.

So far, we've been impressed with the friendliness and courtesy of the service staff in Bali, hospitality and retail alike. At the Adnyana, it seems to be a family-run operation. We love the set-up here, but because of the distance to the more touristy districts like Kuta, the traveller might prefer to park here and enjoy the peace and quiet. If you must see the town, the resort offers a free shuttle service to Seminyak, the timings can be made at the front desk or with the driver himself, which is what we've been doing. Otherwise, the very private facilities and with some marketing for your own provisions, it's easy to spend a couple of inactive days here in total bliss and contentment.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bali revisited: Day 4

We've moved on to Seminyak. It's not quite what we'd expected: thought we'd find a beach here (yes, that's the depth of research we've done) but instead found a strip of little shops catering to the tourist crowd. Since it seemed to be an extension of Kuta Beach, we decided to walk to Kuta Beach... a whole hour-and-a-half on foot. We had a destination in mind: the Forrest Gump-themed Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. which we share good memories of from the last time we were here. Good food, excellent if a tad over-enthusiastic service.

We both went with pasta options, which on their own were impressive. The shrimp is meaty and fresh; the portions generous. But what really made the dishes sing was not on the usual list of ingredients. We asked for sliced fresh chillies, and we were served a saucerful of pale-looking zingers. Awesome!

There's a promotion going on currently: a free house dessert with each main dish ordered. Strawberry shortcake (above) was a bit doughy for my taste but being served a la mode covered a lot of sins. The key lime pie (below) set the benchmark for my quest for the perfect key lime pie. It was smooth and well-balanced between sweet and sour. This is one dessert you don't need much to reach satisfaction with.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bali revisited: Day 3

A holiday with me isn't complete without a spin on a quad bike. We booked a morning riding tandem on an ATV at Bakas Levi Rafting, which evidently offers more outdoor attractions than rafting. First time using a manual shift but got used to it pretty quickly. Again, prior experience (as in Port Arthur and Chiangmai) didn't make this ride any easier. Though this ride is much shorter, it's more challenging because of the steep gradients and the narrow dirt track bordering a nasty drop into a ravine. The route was simple: one way down, and then back up the way we came. Part of the challenge was to avoid things on the track like butterflies; the odd working elephant; and a gaggle of PRC tourists strolling to their rafting start point. 

Our guide, Jerry, was a jolly, easy-going fellow who knew how to pace our jungle ride. He was close on hand over more difficult terrain, and kept a distance when I got more confident so I could feel the illusion of independence. Though with June riding behind me, safety was always first in my mind, regardless. Being quite experienced with the camera, he was also responsible for many couple shots on this trip which our holiday albums are usually devoid of.

In the afternoon, we trekked the Campuhan Ridge trail. June copied the route directions off TripAdvisor which up to a point were quite accurate.

The trail offers some gorgeous views of the rural countryside. More locals than tourists frequent this area, and for some reason there were a number of high school students clustering along various parts of the trail today. School's out, maybe? Or is today a school holiday? At the end of this nicely paved trail is a number of well-hidden art galleries; a couple of spas and guest houses... and our directions got real hazy after that.

We could have gone back the way we came, but we took the other option suggesting that we make a huge loop back to Ubud central. "Huge" was an understatement. The road took us up and down steep slopes with vehicles whizzing past us and no sidewalk for a buffer. The area we were walking in began looking increasingly rural, and we had no idea what lay in front of us at the end of the road. Turns out we were going the right way, but if we wanted to take this walk, we should have started in the morning. In the end, we hitched a ride with an obliging young man in a Honda Jazz who offered to take us back to civilization for IDR20,000. We gave him 50K as we didn't have anything smaller after we tipped Jerry (above).

We had sate campur at Coco Bistro to celebrate our return. I was quite impressed with the quality of the skewered diced pork; chicken and beef. Served with a plate of plain white rice topped with a sprinkling of fried shallots, smooth peanut paste and a salad of chopped cucumbers; onions and tomatoes, this dish really hit the spot.

But this was treasure for our parched throats. It tasted like sparkling toothpaste, but it was cold and so thirst-quenching, we felt quite assured that were were home from the wilderness at last.

Bali revisited: Day 2

This sunrise view wasn't easy to acquire, especially for the likes of yours truly. Mt Batur was a challenging climb, moreso than we initially thought. After all, we survived the climb up Diamond Head, didn't we? Batur was no Diamond Head. No smooth paths; regular steps with handrails. It was wild, the path was narrow; strewn with rocks; and in parts the gradient was so steep, neither looking up nor down was in the least helpful. Besides all through the climb, it was raining, it was dark, the way lighted only by flashlight.

It turned out that we were ill prepared for the weather. We both had to rent waterproof hooded jackets from the trek guides at IDR50,000 each, having no idea who had worn them and sweated in them before us. We were just grateful to have them. We were also ill-prepared physically for the ascent. Before long,we both were huffing and puffing from the walk... and that was even before the terrain got steep and difficult. I was convinced that at some point, one of us would throw in the towel and collapse and die from exhaustion. Outside, the rain was soaking my rented jacket, inside my t-shirt was soaking with sweat. That bad. 

In the end, it was a game of mind over matter. Of concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and quashing all thoughts of how far more we still had to struggle. The journey had to become more important than the destination. To think of reaching the summit, looking up and seeing the distance and steepness of the path ahead of us was very daunting. Thinking of having to climb back down after reaching the top was a total OMG moment. But if we had our minds on our fluffy, comfy bed back at the Kamandalu, that would have killed us for sure. So step by painful step, up we went. We also took frequent breaks and let others pass us along the path. No deadlines, no hurry. Our guide waited patiently with us and kept encouraging us by accounting how far we've come already and ticking down the distance we had left to cover.

The view (top) was spectacular, but brekkie being all of a couple of slices of plain bread, a hard-boiled egg and a banana... well, this fellow (above) and his mates looked like they needed a meal more than we did. I kept the banana for the potassium I needed to stave off cramps in my sore legs.

The altitude and rain combined to make it feel cold up top, but the crater comprised many small holes emitting natural steam that warmed us up sufficiently as long as we stood close to one.

Needless to say, we survived our ordeal. Climbing down the volcano was way easier than climbing up as we didn't have to fight gravity any more. Still, we had to be careful of our footing on the slippery rocks covering the path but other than that, it was a breeze. But having given our brekkie to the local inhabitants and returning to the hotel too late for the morning buffet, we opted to sleep until lunchtime. We followed a recommendation from one of our travelling companions and tried the speciality roast suckling pig dish at Ibu Oka. Above is a mixed dish of roast meat, deep-fried meat, vegetables and on the left, a slab of crackling skin. The flavours were so amazingly rich, we realised we should have shared one order instead of having one each. The crackling skin was the best I've tasted, crispy pork fat at its finest, though the second piece nearly did me in with the sudden onset of the law of diminishing marginal utility.

Back at the Kamandalu, we indulged ourselves with a sore muscles massage and flower bath at the spa. The skilful papmpering from the professional and friendly staff made a great end to a tough but eventually satisfying morning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bali revisited: Day 1

See this? It's a well deserved tall, cold, drink from Cafe Wayan, Ubud, Bali. We very nearly didn't make it here at all. On the way to the airport, we realised that we forgot to pack our hotel bookings. We had to turn our cab around  for home, scramble to find the printed pages... but they were nowhere to be found. By the time we decided to transfer the booking email to my roaming email account, we were pushing late. And because the taxi meter was still running, we were out of $20+ even before we actually left our front door. Fortunately, we arrived last at the flight check-in counter just before it closed.

Our hotel in Ubud is the Kamandalu Resort & Spa. We have a private villa that's roomy and comfortable with both indoor and outdoor bath facilities... but too bad our first night won't be spent here. We're booked on a midnight trek up Mt Batur, an active volcano, to see the sunrise and have brekkie at the crater. But that's another adventure altogether...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Still walking

Picked up "The Walking Dead: The Game" from Telltale Games. I've been following the gripping, gritty series on TV and wanted to know if the PC game version really deserved the Spike VGA Game of the Year 2012 accolade.

TWD:TG is an episodic point-and-click survival-horror-adventure game. Using the mouse, you trawl the screen looking for clickable 'hotspots' that provide information; dialogue; the occasional side snide comment or an interactive element. There are five episodes so far and all are currently available for download as a package.

This story is set just before the lead character, Sheriff Rick Grimes, awakens from his coma at the beginning of the TV series. In the game, you play Lee Everett, an African-American ex-college professor with a history he regrets. The emotional hook comes in the form of Clementine, a little girl, presumably orphaned during the chaos, whom Everett meets and decides to care for.

Apart from the forced choice of adopting Clementine, the game leaves lots of room for the player to make other choices which stick, changing the outcome of the game. Non-player characters (NPCs) remember their dialogues with you and they note your decisions, which determine how they will respond to you in future interactions. Many of these choices are hard: whom do you side in the frequent arguments that flare up due to the stress and pressure -- and self-preservation responses -- that the other characters experience? How do you negotiate with strangers who hold as much menace as promise? Be pragmatic or compassionate? How will your choices affect your relationship with Clementine and the others in your group?

If you've been watching the TV series, you can feel the pain the characters are going through, living day to day as they do. But in the game, it's not so easy when you have to make those decisions in first person and have to live with what you've done because once your choice is made, it's irrevocable. These choices are not what you can ponder long over as there is a timer that will make a choice for you if you don't decide quickly enough, and that sticks too. Some of your choices hold people's lives in the balance and if they die they stay dead... unless they reanimate and try to chew your face off.

Telltale has innovated quite intelligently with the point-and-click adventure genre. Whether it's finding a target area to hit (especially difficult if you don't set your mouse sensitivity properly) or making a split second decision because there's no time to think, yet balancing that with maintaining a consistent character and a healthy relationship with Clementine and the group, you really feel the tension of the situation. And knowing that the story compels you to complete a series of mundane tasks that will trigger some horrific occurrence as your payoff, well, there's good pacing for you.

Glad the game has eschewed photorealism in favour of animating the comic book version of the story. In a way, it's going back to its roots. The voice acting sounds true to character so despite the cartoony graphics, you still feel like you're interacting with real people. And when you lose people for one reason or another, sometimes you do miss the voice you can no longer hear.

Game of the year? Considering that the production values and gameplay mechanics are not as polished as the big-budget offerings, VGA has taken a stand to honour the indie publisher for strength and depth of immersion in an intense story experience over games that involve long-term grinding. These days, I prefer short, satisfying games over games that play out over hours seemingly without end (like the previous game of the year, "Skyrim" which I never completed -- may not even be half-way through!). So, yeah, odd, brave choice, but one that I can support.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Love and the Singaporean

What's up with all these sex scandals surfacing thick and fast in the media this year? Teachers, principals, uni profs, senior civil servants and parliamentarians: respectable people all, yet publicly disgraced because of some indiscretion causing the affair to be outed for the moral majority to tut-tut over.

Can we really be so shocked that people in our midst would jeopardize promising careers and social standing over some illicit hanky-panky? Perhaps these cases are an indication that our puritanical state is starting to show cracks in the facade we've so meticulously maintained until now and we're finally seeing that biology is a much stronger force than we thought we could control.

Romantic love washes the brain over with a cocktail of chemicals that messes up the logical thought process. The feel-good sensations one experiences when one is in love encourages living for the moment; the sense that nothing else matters; and -- most importantly -- reckless, risk-taking behaviour. Hence, people with the most to lose are also likely to be the biggest risk-takers regarding matters of the heart.

Here, I'm confused because on the one hand our population is suffering a baby-dearth while on the other, we're criminalizing behaviour that gives rise to more babies. Could this strange dichotomy be at the heart of our population problem -- that the people we marry are not the ones we are in love with?

Before you overreact, let's think about the common Singaporean courtship ritual. It's planned, organized, structured. The proposal comprises making plans to purchase public housing for the couple; the wedding is a programmed event that follows a generally predictable order of must-dos scheduled to the second; child-bearing brings a new round of planning; while child rearing likewise follows a narrow, set pathway or bust.

If love is reckless and encourages risk, the Singaporean marriage pact is hardly that. Without allowing room for the chaos of romantic love, the Singaporean couple isn't likely to change its plans regardless of whatever "baby bonus" is thrown at it. And if wild, crazy romantic love isn't found in a Singaporean household, is it so surprising that dissatisfied partners may be finding it elsewhere, in more dangerous places, with more disastrous consequences?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Only mad dogs and Englishmen...

Took a stroll around the Marina Bay area simply because the sun was shining. As I soaked in solar rays, I could feel the symptoms of various maladies melt away. Staying indoors in a sedentary job sometimes requires the occasional venture outside to blink at the brightness of the day.

Here's a view of the Bay I've never beheld before. The new boardwalk almost completely encircles the bay and if not for how solar-averse our population is, it would remind me of beautiful Sidney Harbour. Well, that was my impression, anyway. Odd being a tourist in your own country.

In other news, Doc Nair agrees that Maui's bladder health is improving. The silly boy provided his own evidence.So scared he is of the vet that he peed in his carrier... more pee than I've ever seen him produce in a long time. Bath time when I got him home, which necessarily meant a shower for me too, new scratches and a ruined T-shirt to show for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

System upgraded

Cybermind is currently offering a 25% discount on MSI Intel mainboard packages. That's an offer I couldn't refuse -- despite what I said earlier about upgrading Mr L33t. Shelled out just over a grand for an i7-based system, 8 gigs RAM and a GTX660Ti video processor. Nice.

The old parts are going to become my in-house project: upgrading the living room antique Win XP-running PC to be compatible with the first decade of the 21st century at least. I've never put together a whole system from scratch, so wish me luck on this one. I'm sure I kept the manuals around someplace... hmm.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What's my beef?

McD's new BLT quarter-pounder with cheese. Good idea putting fresh veggies in the burger. Too bad about the fake bacon. Hence, special order: LT no B.

Saturday, December 08, 2012


I'm peeved and slightly demoralized at this moment. Nearly all the pix I've uploaded here have been wiped out by the closure of Webshots, my once-faithful host. Only the ones on Google+ are still accessible, though I only started using G+ recently so not many. Who knows what it's gonna take to replace those old shots, or even if I really want to do that? What a pain!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

(Not quite) Jack of all trades

Jack Neo can make light family drama; social satire and even some verbal comedy, but please do not let him make a war movie. Ever. The opening sequences of "Ah Boys to Men" depicted our beloved home city under attack by enemy forces. Neo went whole hog with the digital explosions and debris-littered ruins of once familiar local landmarks. I suppose our armed forces saw this movie as an opportunity to show off some of the latest military hardware in action. But the on-screen violence was a gratuitous pastiche of bangs, blood and... bad gags. There's too much showing off of the studio's spfx capabilities, but not much focus on what's holding the shots together. Yes, it's a case of trying too hard to wear too many hats that the narrative credibility just falls apart.

Besides, the unidentified OPFOR has no apparent objective. The logistics it brings to bear suggest a conventional invasion, but the tactics and doctrine are that of terrorists on a suicide mission. Taking out civilian targets and civilians themselves on the ground first, while leaving military response bases able to mobilize against the threat practically guarantees a short campaign. Yet, the sequence ends with no clear resolution. The invasion is still in progress, both sides are losing combat-capable troops then, abruptly, a new story begins. Even as propaganda, the pointless introduction fails. While it does set the tone for what turns out to be an emo "Army Daze" remake, the initial emotional impact is dulled by out-of-place humour and a poorly executed montage of people randomly trading shots with each other with various types of ordnance, collateral damage notwithstanding.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie -- which actually involves family drama; social satire and light verbal comedy -- plays to Neo's strengths. Apart from tracing the lead character's journey from Ah Boy to Man through his misadventures in Basic Training, the movie was also a nostalgic comparison of training philosophies past and present. Back then, it was a civilian ARMY; whereas now it is a CIVILIAN army. These sequences I can believe because we've all been there and they're part of our collective consciousness.

Neo again goes for the moralistic approach in the debate that follows: Priority to self, or priority to nation, the answer being pretty obvious. While exploring the humour that goes with various methods employed by malingering conscripts to escape training, ultimately selfish choices lead to nasty consequences that have an impact on wider society. That story of a boy's learning to take responsibility for his actions, though melodramatic, is clear. Though what he does with this new found responsibility is a lot less clear because of the sudden...


Monday, December 03, 2012

Crowning achievement

It's been like a month of playing a chess game where the pawn finally makes it to the other side of the board and gets crowned. The crown isn't what I expected, however. Instead of a ceramic facsimile that blends seamlessly with my other choppers, I got a gun-metal grey armour-plate that's clearly alien to my dental infrastructure. If I didn't look avuncular already, I certainly do now.

I also got some of my other teeth ground down flatter, so where there used to be edges and ridges, now there are plateaus. I know the procedure is supposed to help even out my bite, but I miss the character each tooth used to have. It feels like I've suddenly become herbivorous but that is, of course, just perception. Give me a couple of days to recover and I'll be back hunting for a mammoth steak, served so juicy rare that ketchup is optional.

In the fridge is a 2 litre canister of milk which, I believe, through copious consumption will speed up recovery and get me my edge back.

Next appointment: six months' time. Great! I've had enough of the dentist's chair for a long while.

Sunday, December 02, 2012


Goodness! What is the repair shop doing with my S3? I sent it in a week ago due to charging problems. The battery would drain quickly, but take forever to charge. Intolerably long, anyway. They said three to five working days. At the close of today, it's been seven and counting.

How difficult a job could it be? Test battery and charger. Replace defective component. Return rectified unit to mobile addict. Everybody happy. But, no... still waiting. Grrr.

In the meantime, I've revived my primitive F480 for basic daily use. No Android, no iOSx, no mobile connection to the 'net. No instant photo upload to Google+, so no daily photos to inspire random, pointless blog entries.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dog eat dog

Public reaction to the new policy of not publishing the names of the top students in the PSLE is understandably divided. But the change is only cosmetic, considering the deeper issues underlying the problem.

If we genuinely celebrated the success of our best and brightest, then there would be a reason to publish their names for everyone to see. Unfortunately, the greater majority of us is more likely to see those names as not belonging to us and are therefore an indictment of our own failure. Yes, even though we passed and got to where we needed to go, because our names aren't spelled out in neon lights we feel like what we have accomplished is hardly good enough.

But now when we choose not to reveal those names, the problem doesn't get solved so much as it is now driven underground. Without transparency, nobody is going to know what the highest scores are and everybody is going to feel like a failure as we are more likely to rue our own inadequacies rather than celebrate our own achievements.

This very narrow band that we perceive as 'success' is probably the root of S'porean discontent. We're told that life is a competition and only the most deserving 'win', while the rest... well, actually no one has ever said what happens to the rest other than eternal suffering and damnation. So, because most of us fall in the category of The Rest, we're living the life we deserve. Self-fulfilling prophecy, S'pore style.

Indeed, life is a competition. The fit, the strong survive; the weak are prey. I will not dispute that axiom. Our mistake is taking on the competition as a solo player. We view everybody as a competitor for the same prize. Whether it's 'foreign talent', the kids that hail from the elite schools, or even our own classmates, everyone who is not us we see as capable of putting a knife into our exposed back.

That's how we've been playing this education game -- and its expansion pack: 'Life of the Working Adult'. Our biggest dream is to discover the key that activates GOD mode, and our biggest frustration is discovering that there is none. In this game, the solo player is screwed.

The true key to winning this game is to play in co-op mode. The trick is to identify friends from enemies, and more importantly to realize that under a common threat, even enemies can be friends.

If we trace our current societal problems back through the school circuit, this is where our schools have let us down badly. Above the passing of exams which we are very good at teaching, this is the one lesson we never passed on to our kids. We let our kids grow up thinking everybody is an enemy, or at least a scheming competitor. Not exactly the foundations of a rock-solid cohesive society, is it?

Dogs hunt in packs and share the spoils. Single, solitary dogs are the spoiled ones that are hand-fed by their indulgent owners and growl protectively over their meagre possessions. In a dog-eat-dog world, which breed of dog is the more likely to survive? Are you, fellow S'porean, bred to hunt for yourself; or to be fed by whomever you think owns you?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sweet nothing

"Oh, baby, whisper sweet nothings into my ear...!" Ok, some context before you get the wrong idea: there's a thunderstorm going on outside and the two boys have gone into hiding. This here compromising situation is more a game of "sardines" than a surreptitious smooch under the radar. At least, that's what I prefer to think.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ooga booga booga

Not much happening. The dripping has ceased but the boy isn't quite out of the woods yet. He's still straining at the sandbox and tomorrow we'll find out how he copes without medication. Meanwhile, he's still behaving as normal. He eats, he jumps and he sleeps just like the cat he's been. And now, he's just looking goofy for the camera.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Input equals output

M-i-L brewed a chrysanthemum concoction that she swears will allieviate Maui's urinary problems. It's worked on her human 'patients' before, so it's got to work on cats too.

I can't help feeling a little skeptical of the claim. There is a superstitious association in that the colour of the brew happens to be the same colour as pee, hence input is equivalent to output. Secondly, the fact that people are imbibing larger-than-usual amounts of the brew is probably what is causing the increased outflow at the toilet.

That, of course, is my logical brain at work. The emotional part of me is grateful that more people are taking an interest in doing something to help the boy. And save our floor and furniture from the ghastly yellow peril that follows him wherever he goes. Ew.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Some assembly required

dNYel goes on retreat and we get an expensive toy to put together. This is not the Lego I grew up with. The Lego I remember comprised simple blocks of varying shapes and sizes, though nothing approaching this level of complexity. The manual for this Rhino truck equivalent contained 76 pages of plans and looked not a little daunting at first glance.

Amazingly, the steering wheel really controls the front wheels; the doors open and close; and the lights light up at the flip of a switch... or at least they did for a while, until the batteries ran out, or something.

Building something this complex in the time we had was quite a feat of cooperative work. With a personnel strength of nine at the table, and without prior discussion of resource allocation, the group divided itself into an assembly team and a resource-gathering team and worked furiously to complete the task. None of us would have been happy to leave it partially assembled. It was a matter of pride and an internal assurance that it could be done in time that motivated the effort.

Of course, there was a lot more on today's agenda. The year may be over, but there's a staggering amount of prep that we have to get done for next year. With major personnel redeployments; the pressure of rising expectations; and a brand new year to do better what we did the year before, the team's got to pull together and simply get the job done.

I have a sense that collaboration is the name of the game for 2013. Good. It's the same game the kids will be playing too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So ready to come home

The boy is so ready to come home. I wish I could say he's completely cured, but the vet is taking a wait and see approach. It's a delicate balance of medications he's been put on. The anti-inflammatory dosage is up 50% and he has to take a quarter tablet of valium a day. How did my cat end up being prescribed valium before me? It's a muscle relaxant. 'nuff said.

He has one week to get better, or else when we see Kasey next week, we'll be discussing surgery. Worst case scenario. I'm not convinced this is the best option, though. It sounds too drastic and permanent. The websites that I've been researching suggest that a stress-free environment and a change of dry food to canned food (bought nine cans of prescription canned food from the vet) might relieve the problem. Well, let's see...

Monday, November 19, 2012

The pre-coronation

Had my pre-crown appointment. First the temporary filling was filed away, then I had to bite down on two moulds (which tasted like chewing gum) from which my permanent crown will be cast. Some time during the procedure, I felt around the gap with my tongue and felt the cuboid peg that had been installed right in the middle of the tooth. I also had some of the sharp edges of the surrounding teeth filed smooth, presumably so the crown will eventually fit better. The final part of the procedure was to cover the gap with a tooth-shaped plastic cap that probably fitted into the peg like a Lego brick. Only two weeks left to wait until my official coronation.

Dentist offered to straighten out my front teeth. I said I'll think about it.

Not a happy camper

Poor Maui. Confined in a cage; one tube sticking out his butt end; another sticking out his foreleg; and having to wear the Cone of Shame, the boy is not a happy camper. Before I arrived to visit, he wasn't eating. The techs told me he was quite fierce with them, which really is unusual for his temperament. He's such a sweetheart under normal circumstances. I agreed to help feed him.

While he was receptive to my petting, he still wasn't interested in his food. Not immediately, anyway. It took a lot of reassurance and a constant head rub until he finally wolfed down the two dishes that were his noms. Medication immediately followed: 1 ml anti-inflammatory in syrup form.

Compared to the horrifying liquid they drained from him yesterday (Nair showed me the container), his fluids are looking a lot more normal today. A good sign, but he's still going to have to stay hospitalized for at least another day. Hope I'll be up to visiting him again tomorrow.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Prince and the pee

Spoke too soon about Maui's symptoms. Pee droplets appearing all over the floor -- and furniture (and clothes) again! Washing machine and dryer working overtime. Doubt we're going to be entertaining visitors any time soon. Or if we do have visitors, doubt they'll want to be entertained for long.

Immediate Rx: hospitalized him with Dr Kasey over the next few days for treatment and observation. Kasey has fitted him with a catheter and cleared the blocked tubes the x-ray revealed. Feeding, hydration and medication from now will be medically supervised until we can bring him home.

Yes, this is the other side of pet ownership that isn't glam and cute, but it has to be done nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Castles in the air take shape in the sand

It's the post-exam period and the kids are getting a bit of a break from regular classes. This bunch is being groomed as future leaders so they've come to take some practical life lessons at Castle Beach, ECP. The sand sculpture in the foreground is a sample.

Instructor, Alvin, briefs the kids on the programme: Plan, Build, Sell. Personal note: I've never met a motivational speaker I liked. They always rub me the wrong way. This one is no exception. 'nuff said.

Some of the plans that emerged for the sand city the kids were supposed to build were ambitious and elaborate. One of the lessons they learned was to follow through on the vision regardless of difficulty, not settle for second-best which, apparently, they did.

Oh, well. At least they had fun.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Digging in

Root canal #2 went in really deep. Hurts more the second time around. The scraping I got used to from the first time, but in this instalment Doc Chan had to jam filling material right inside the tooth raising the pain bar a bit higher. Right now I can feel something like a screw or reinforcing strut in there and I don't know if I will ever be able to ignore the irritation.

The good news is that the new temporary crown has been sculpted to look and feel like the original tooth, and the surface texture feels smoother than the old one. I'm not done yet, however. Am looking forward to my pre-coronation next week. In the meantime, I hope I can graduate from porridge and mashed bananas to more substantial food real soon.

Monday, November 12, 2012


The irrepressible Maui is quite the Houdini. Confinement is really not his thing. Locked up, he cries so loudly we worry that the neighbours will call an investigation into possible animal abuse. Regardless, he's figured out how to escape his prison. Either he's strong enough to pull the heavy glass shower door open by himself, or his shadowy protector (background) has been breaking him out from the outside. Never mind. His symptoms are subsiding so he's entitled to his freedom once again.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Prisoner of circumstance

Poor Maui is confined to the spare shower stall, along with his food and water dishes, a floor mat and his own personal sandbox. His Guantanamo Bay experience is hopefully temporary, that is until he can overcome his incontinence problem. Vet Nair guesses that Maui has been under stress and isn't drinking enough water, thus contracting a urinary tract infection.

His problem explains the little droplets of moisture we found all over the living room floor since yesterday. But it was only when I carried him for a playful noogie that I realized how damp my hand had become all of a sudden. Ew.

Nair shot him up with two weeks' worth of antibiotics, but he still has to take a daily syrup by syringe. To encourage him to drink more water, we're starting him off by filling his dish with pet milk, which he likes and will drink. Overnight, we'll change the milk for water and see if that works.

There is only one suspect as to who has been stressing out Maui: Pebbles. The two boys really do not get along well at all. Pebbles has since been banished, sent back to the tender loving hands of M-i-L who now has to look after him when May is away. Pebbles is now felinae non grata in our house. Sorry, May. :'(

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Not the whole tooth

After a day to calm down from the initial shock, a more objective assessment of the damage is that it isn't as bad as I had imagined. Although I gave up the old molar for lost, it actually is still mostly there... except for about a quarter that's been temporarily filled in with spackle or whatever they're using. That would explain why when the dentist tried to show me the fragment that she'd extracted -- fell out, more like -- I was all like, "where's the rest?" to which all I got in reply was a mystified look.

The temporary crown has the consistency of sandpaper, though, and because it's the most unusual thing in my mouth, my tongue is rubbing itself raw on its surface. :p

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Unexpected procedure

This really is an update on today's post, but it deserves a spot of its own. Funny how things turn out. First you comment that instinct is telling you to save a grand, later fate tells you you're gonna have to spend two.

Perhaps I should have taken the bosses up on their lunch offer, but I decided to eat alone. Halfway through lunch, there was a loud 'crack' inside my head. I thought I'd crunched a bone shard, but my tongue found a sharp edge where I once would have felt a molar. That wasn't good. The finger probe went in next and drew out blood. That really wasn't very good. Broken tooth, no doubt.

Did a Google search on my S3 and found a few dentistries in my immediate area. The first was closed for lunch. Fortunately, though the second was also closed for lunch, the duty dentist was still on hand to look at my emergency.

I had big plans when I woke up this morning. But in the afternoon, my mouth was numb and drooly and I was having an unexpected root canal treatment to save what was left.

I'd heard about root canal, and it usually isn't described as a pretty picture. Here, there were charts pinned to the wall explaining everything. The consent form they had me sign listed some possible horror scenarios that could occur though the dentistry absolves itself from liability for any such eventuality. Tools breaking off inside the tooth requiring further surgery, for example, or infections setting in if the patient was negligent in following after-care procedures. None of this information is helping me settle my mind that I'M HAVING ROOT CANAL!!! But I know I will regret not seeking treatment more, so I sign consent.

Anesthesia numbs, yet there's still feeling where you don't want it. But the procedure went tolerably well and I didn't die of pain or other complications like I thought I would. In the gap, now there's a temporary crown that feels more like a blob of hard, dried putty where there once was smooth enamel. I bought a couple of painkillers for when the anesthesia wears off, but it's worn off and I don't feel the need to take them. There is a mild, throbbing sensation at the moment, but no real pain. Perhaps my brain is still hopped up on oxytocin and assorted endorphins, naturally produced through positive emotional stimulus, such as through scrolling pix of lolcats, etc.

Dinner was a sad affair of soft foods: a triumvirate of medium-sized whipped potato from KFC, washed down with a delectable corn soup from MOS Burger. Looks cheap, but altogether costs more than a regular meal at either one of those places.

Today's treatment set me back over $400, while the entire series was quoted at two grand, barring complications. Hopefully, June's corporate insurance can help me recover some of the cost, but certainly not all of it. Poor Mr L33t will so have to wait another year for upgrades.

If it ain't broke (but I am)

I really wanted to fork out a grand on a complete overhaul of Mr L33t's system. This after a year of procrastination. I had already researched what I figured was the best motherboard-cpu-RAM and video card package for what I was willing to pay... and didn't go through with it.

The same reason for holding back is exactly the same reason from last year: there's nothing wrong with him. He's decently fast; gets all my work done without breaking a sweat; and for the record I've defeated Diablo 3 on Inferno mode (the hardest before Hardcore where death is permanent) with my Monk character -- on a four-year-old PC. He's even up to handling my D3 Inferno farming runs at Monster Power [level] 2, though I simply have no patience to increase MP levels any further.

I may yet go through with the upgrade sooner or later. It's a consumer inevitability. But not today, not while a cooler head rules and the wallet is tight.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Spot this!

GP 2012 was a bag of mixed nuts. Let's see what questions I can recall (in no particular order):

  • Something about the functionality and beauty of math.
  • Something about the value of preserving the world's minority languages.
  • The protection of animal rights in your society.
  • Can violence be justified?
  • Should technology be used for financial gain?
  • Is the economy the criteria for good governance?
  • Can humour be serious?
  • Something about the donation of "suitable" organs after we die... though I can't imagine why I would want to donate UNsuitable organs at any time.

And four others that probably left no impression on me.

I do recall my first response being that if the kids prepared themselves by "spotting questions", good luck to them. These questions appreciate a broad, current coverage of material, and can be a lot of fun to write as they present a nice range of thought-provoking assumptions. But then, those who rely more on a cut-and-paste approach would hardly find this exercise fun at all.

For my colleagues who like to identify "patterns" and "trends" in essay question setting, the vibe I'm picking up from today's experience is that the paper is being designed to be less predictable. Guess Cambridge is getting tired of our cookie-cutter essays and is hoping to encourage more originality of composition -- for the sake of their own sanity, if anything.

Over on Paper 2, the discussion was music and its function in society. Even if we don't raise the subject of music much in class, hopefully the kids do listen to some music and can talk about that... though extending from the individual perspective to the social perspective is what they realize they have to do. *keeps fingers firmly crossed

Ah, well, it's over. Whatever the kids did, we hope and we pray that it was enough.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The name's Little, Chicken Little

After "Skyfall" can anybody really justify why 007, James Bond, is still on the British taxpayers' payroll?

Warning: SPOILERS follow

Let's do a run-down of the events that occur in this installment:

  1. Save Agent Ronson's life -- Ronson dies
  2. Retrieve stolen laptop hard disk -- gets hit by friendly fire, target escapes
  3. Goes on unauthorised three-month vacation -- MI6 gets blown up
  4. Reports back for duty -- fails every field agent test in the book
  5. Captures Silva -- Macao contact killed
  6. Holding Silva -- Silva escapes
  7. Protect British public -- subway disaster; Wesminster gets heavily shot up
  8. Protect M -- Bond ancestral home, "Skyfall", blown to smithereens; M doesn't make it
  9. Receive M's legacy -- gets M's favourite paperweight... and new boss is Lord Voldemort himself!

So, did Bond even get one thing right in this story? No wonder they say civil servants live off an iron ricebowl.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Kicking the last chicks out of the nest

Just three more hours and the Class of 2012 will be out of my hair, preferably for good. Their good too, not necessarily mine. This post-prelim exam period has been one of the most strenuous I've ever had with my consultation slots booked nearly solid over the last couple of weeks. Only a couple of cancellations, but empty slots get quickly filled up with other takers on the unofficial waiting list. I don't remember ever being this popular with my previous batches.

The actual paper is due this coming Monday, but I'm drawing the consults to a close here and now. Their success is heavily dependent on their independence so they have a few remaining days to prep themselves. The hard part for me, of course, is letting them go trusting that I've tutored them enough -- which is something I can never reassure myself of. But at this late stage of the game, it'll have to do.

I end with three kids I haven't seen at all through this period. Must remind myself that because they've left it so late, I must reinforce, not contradict; assure, not freak them out. Whatever they have to offer today will have to be enough for Monday.

Monday, October 29, 2012

USS Halloween Horror Nights 2

A little better strategy is in order if we want to enjoy this event at USS more next year.

Time: 2000-0100 hrs is too short to do everything, so despite the temptation to ride the coasters we have to be more focused on the specially themed attractions, even if it means forgoing our favourite rides.

Crowd: the place is swarming with merry-makers who create great atmosphere for the event, but also unfortunately make the lines for the rides and everything else very long. We waited about an hour to get on the Battlestar Galactica (Cylon) and another on The Mummy Returns. And that was all the time we had as upon exit from the Egyptian Necropolis, it was nearly 0000 hrs already.

Lockers: in crowded situations like this one, the time spent waiting and riding will invariably exceed the lockers' grace period and you have to pay the machine in order to get your stuff out of it. It gets difficult when all your belongings including wallet containing cash, NETS and credit card are locked in the locker as you are not permitted to ride with loose items in your pockets. For cash transactions, exact amount only, no change is given -- we found out a bit too late. For both rides, we ended up spending $18 on the lockers alone. Grr.

Food: we purchased the theme dinner at KT's Bar and Grill (on of the restaurants in USS). It was a three-course meal including a choice of baby pork ribs (above) and duck (below). The ribs were succulent and tender, likewise the duck. The theme decorations turned out cuter than the picture in the menu promised, but it was good eating anyway. There seemed to be a bit of a kerfuffle over the question of whether we had purchased the meal vouchers online, but it was only because online orders apparently received a complementary fruit punch, a nice surprise for us...

like so.

But back to strategy: the food was fabulous and reasonably priced ($28+++ per pax) but to start serving at 2000 hrs... well, the one hour we enjoyed eating was also one hour's headstart on the rides for everyone else who had nommed earlier elsewhere.

Parking: the one thing that worked for us was a last minute decision. Because parking was so limited at Vivocity, we detoured to park at the Beach car park on Sentosa. $3 entrance + $2 parking = $5 total. Even though the monorail ended service at midnight, it was a short and pleasant stroll back to the beach from USS to get M2 back.

Conclusion: to really enjoy ourselves, spend more money. Buy a day pass to ride coasters all day long, upgrade to stay for the night's activities and fork out for a universal express pass for faster (than normal) access to the attractions. Carry only a credit card and your smartphone (useful as a camera and for contacting separated party members) in a secured pocket, leave all other miscellaneous barang-barang in the car.

P.S.: To infer that we didn't enjoy the experience is not accurate. The creepy music and sound effects relentlessly permeating the entire theme park added atmosphere to the main street that was divided into sections by theme. From the House of Dolls at the entrance, to the post-apocalyptic urban cityscape, to the Mummy-cursed streets of ancient Egypt populated with ghouls and zombies popping up to scare random passers-by, USS really did take a lot of trouble to get the environment perfect for Halloween. All I'm saying is, next year, we go with a better plan to maximize the time allotted.

USS has dedicated staff. This forlorn ghoul guards the door of the closed gift shop. No one gets in regardless of how badly they want to buy a souvenir.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A celebration of "Decade-nce"

Congrats to Jo and Derek who are celebrating their 10th anniversary with a luncheon at The Wine Company. This rather unflattering pix shows one table of us colleagues all busy stuffing our faces.

The menu was pretty decent, starting with a seafood bisque that was rich in crabby flavour. The pix shows us chowing down on the Caesar salad topped with crabmeat. The main course was a thick slab of fillet mignon which I was looking forward to. I ordered rare but it was served done on the more... conservative interpretation of the word, shall we say? Dessert was a baked Camembert which was nothing I'd expected in generosity -- a whole wheel of Camembert baked over apple slices in a caramel sauce. The whole thing was thick and melty, and so good. But there was no way I could eat another. One serving was quite enough.

It was fortuitous to be at this particular table as we were short of one diner, which meant more food for the rest of us since the number had already been catered for and we didn't want be responsible for any wastage.

The event itself was quite an easy-going affair. Jo renewed her vows in the style of "Green Eggs and Ham" while Derek's was more conventional but culminated in  a surprise presentation of a huge bouquet of flowers. Otherwise, the guests were left to their own devices and entertainment... mostly. The finale involved a lucky draw, prize winners having to dance "Gangnam Style" or shuffle with "Party Rock Anthem" in order to claim their gifts. Fortunately, there weren't too many gifts and our table wasn't particularly lucky. Wait, does that mean we were lucky or unlucky?

Anyway, Mr and Mrs Lee, 10 years under the belt and many more to come!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lazy day

I can (almost) has cheezeburger...

Finally, someone (besides our regular houseguest) is making use of the kitty shelves.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Looks good on paper

Staff bonding exercise bringing today's big meeting to a close. As delicious as the pix look, that's just colour paper made to resemble food. These were the exemplars.

And this is my table's creation. No prizes for guessing what it's supposed to be. An entertaining, mindless table game it turned out to be... despite us having to make fake food while the real food awaited us at the back of the hall.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A tangled mess

We found this poor fellow hobbling around in our void deck. He had got himself tangled up in a length of yellow string which bound both of his feet together. It must have hurt quite bad as he was incapable of escaping June's hands as she picked him up for a closer inspection. The string had cut deep into his feet. If we didn't do something quickly the lack of blood circulation would have rendered his extremities necrotic... and then it would only be a matter of time.

June left me holding the pigeon while she dashed upstairs for scissors. Good thing she went up and not me because I would have brought down the biggest pair I could find, but she cleverly dug out her pedicure scissors with the tiny, pointy blades that were just the thing for the delicate operation we were about to undertake. June slipped the tips of the scissors under the tight knots and gently snipped away. Passers-by were curious, but not enough to bother asking us what was going on.

I suppose we could have been gentler, but we did eventually free the pigeon from his bonds. The pix above is the 'after' and he seems visibly relieved from his ordeal.

My biggest worry now is that he is so relieved that he loses awareness of traffic and becomes immediate roadkill. But so far, that hasn't happened. We're still keeping an eye out for him, June feeding him some bread this morning. He is still quite identifiable due to his pronounced limp. Hopefully, that will heal in time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

School's out, consultation's in!

Now we're neck deep in consultation with the kids, it's time to review some tips for surviving the deluge of kids looking for a little personal attention:

Protect the larynx. Stay hydrated during and between consults. But since prevention is better than cure, opt to listen more and talk less. See next tip.

Avoid unnecessary pre-consult marking. There just isn't time. Make the consultees read their prepared essays or other written work aloud during consult so they learn to catch their own language errors -- and hopefully their own logical fallacies as well. The ear is a much stronger facility for filtering arguments; whereas the eye, being more directly wired to the brain and hence apprehends input without the mediation of language, tends to overlook such details. By training ourselves to listen effectively we can improvise with any question without prior preparation.

Schedule decent breaks. The demands we are putting on our brains is taxing and makes us prone to error over time. Breaks need to be spent with people we can be stupid with, preferably over a beverage and motivational food. We probably do not want to be seen in this state by our consultees, so our choice of recreation venue should minimize the chance of contact with them... but that's a judgement call. Some of us are not so sensitive about this point.

Get sufficient sleep the night before. Falling asleep while in consult can be quite demotivating to the kids. While it's an opportunity to give them a taste of their own medicine, it's best not to exact our revenge so close to the finals. We don't really want them to reappear next year to haunt us again.

Be realistic. Assess the consultee's capabilities at the time of consult. We work with what we judge they are capable of offering. Some kids just need shoring up and some positive reinforcement while others can be stretched a bit further. Regardless, the kids should feel better after the consult, not worse. What we don't want is to make them think that the standards are so high that they might as well give up now.

Enjoy the period of consultation. (1) We are free of the timetable! (2) We always look forward to teaching a class that is attentive, hangs on our every word, is generally responsive with feedback and asks its own questions. We'll never get it any better than when we have them one (or small group)-to-one  Two years they spend in class, but we actually see their learning expand exponentially here in the last few weeks before the finals. While on one hand that's rewarding, on the other it's just not an efficient learning schedule. I'm sure there's got to be a better way to do this.

Finally, 'Academic Consultant' has a classier ring than 'cher! Relish it while it lasts!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Same day, 30 years apart

If the cake appears to be in the process of immolation, it's because the candles represent two separate individuals celebrating their birthdays. The cake was homemade and the menagerie displayed on top suggests the theme for the evening:

Safari Night, guests expected to turn up in animal prints. Spent most of this morning shopping for such, but it appears that the material went out of fashion with Riz Low. Had to make do with a plain t-shirt and declared myself a greyhound. June didn't even bother with the pretense.

The caterer was Neo Garden. Apart from providing the theme set (above), the food was also quite a decent spread. Of note in the Asian menu were the noodles (tasty and very filling) and the special order chicken curry which everyone raved over. The chix and mutton satay went pretty quickly. Everything else was the usual buffet fare. One common complaint: it doesn't take much to make us feel stuffed any more. The hazards of ageing...