Friday, December 31, 2004

Un jour de Montréal (A Montreal day)

Today was as good a day in Montreal as it gets in this ridiculous weather. It was a little less frigid than it's been (-10C) and the skies were clear so it was great for walking around, so long as you had your gloves, scarf, hat, boots and wool coat with you... After a lunch of roast chicken and fish and chips at a local supermarket, Loblaws, we took the Metro to Montreal's Museum of Contemporary Art. Smack in the heart of town, the museum is situated within a larger building known as the Place-des-Arts which is essentially the city's premier arts venue. There are a couple of theatres (the Nutcracker was playing at the matinee today), a performing studio, the museum and a wonderful music and books store, Archambault that Jude & I have always liked. As students, we only had to pay $3 for entry into the museum today and it was a nice way to spend the afternoon. They were having an Isaac Julien exhibition which included three of his film installations. They weren't presented in your usual single screen format but split into three adjacent screens, which lent itself to the narrative in a rather provocative way actually. It was interesting I guess, but not really my cup of tea. I guess when it comes to art, I'm still a bit of a purist- if it's not hanging on a wall or displayed on a stand, it takes me a little while to warm to it. I went to a modern German art exhibition once where one of the displays was an open briefcase with a bottle of Maggi seasoning sauce inside. Go figure- I didn't get it then, and I still don't get it now. Give me a Chagall or a Giacometti anyday.

We hung around Archambault for a while after that hoping to find something interesting, which you know we did of course... But we had to keep grabbing stuff off each other, reminding ourselves that on a graduate student budget, over-shopping would be a sin even we couldn't forgive ourselves for (I guess over-shopping is a sin even if we weren't in school...) So as sensible students, we decided to blow the money on something more constructive; we went to watch a movie.

Two blocks east of the Place-des-Arts is Boulevard St. Laurent, a 6 km-long street which starts with Chinatown down south and ends with the Latin Quarter in the north. In between, you can find just about everything- from electronic shops to hip boutiques, the Just For Laughs headquarters to an oxygen bar (yes, they do "serve" pure oxygen- it gives you a real high apparently...). We ended up at the Ex-Centris, a small but very chic movie theatre (read: black marble decor, metallic ornaments, no staff below the age of 25, and a wine bar). We've been dying to watch A Very Long Engagement and where better to watch a French film than in Francophone Canada? The movie was great. Audrey Tatou was luminous as usual (although Jude thinks she only has one expression- that cross between bewilderment and profound adoration) but it was the direction and plot that took my breath away. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is best known for Amelie (which I love) and The City of Lost Children (which I don't; Jude on the other hand loves Delicatessen); but A Very Long Engagement reminds everyone why Jeunet continues to be one of France's beloved directors- he is a great story-teller. He so lovingly weaves the characters and plots together and then uses the cinematography (as well as Angelo Badalamenti's stirring score) to such sumptuous effect that you forget the movie goes on for a good two-half hours. It's like reading a really gripping mystery novel that makes you fall in love with everyone in it. Many say the heart of the film is a love story, but I think it's more accurate to think of it as a tapestry of love stories. In war, love becomes something even more rare, more precious, and so much more in need to be clung on to, whether through vengeance, sacrifice or just sheer hope. Jude and I both think this was very, very well-done and definitely worth a second viewing. Trust us, it's that kind of a movie. Good stuff.

Then what better way to top off a great day than with a good dinner? When one thinks of good food in Montreal, one invariably thinks of smoked meat; and when you think of smoked meat, eveyone knows you go straight to Schwartz's. A Montreal institution for over 70 years, celebrities and dignitaries share seats with the common grocer and policeman in this small Jewish deli. The smoked meat is out-of-this-world delicious and... actually, there isn't an "and"- that's just it, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful smoked meat. People have been known to not just travel all the way to Montreal to eat here, they bring back with them pounds of the conveniently frozen version so they can slowly savor the there's-so-much-fat-in-the-meat-but-who-cares-if-it-clogs-my-arteries goodness of Schwartz's without standing in line in the cold or cramming in with 50 other people in a place made for 30. We once even overheard a guy sitting next to us gloating on his phone to his friend in the States that he was having Schwartz's smoked meat at that moment. Literally gloating. Anyway, Jude and I gratefully wolfed down two portions of smoked meat, a steak, a plate of fries, a bowl of coleslaw and a pickle. And we were happy.

Without a doubt, I thoroughly enjoyed myself today, and I have a satisfied stomach, tired feet and a full heart to show for it. Did all my favorite things, in my favorite city and with my favorite person- what more can a girl ask for? Coffee maybe, and that... well, I'm having it now.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Relief sites on sidebar

Hey all, we've put up a list of sites for those of you who would like to donate to the disaster relief effort. We know how people may have reservations about certain agencies, so we've listed a few and you can choose the one you feel most comfortable with.

Also, although some of you may already be too overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation to want even more information, we've included a few links to news sites that provide particularly good updates on the relief effort, search and recovery information and other related reports. We hope you just do what you can, whether in prayer or in kind.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Please help

The thing about spending a white Christmas in Montreal is that you end up spending alot of time indoors, mostly at home, which is fine for us since our uncle's place is pretty cool and he's got cable (which is always good). But the past couple of days have been a rather unsettling time to be watching TV. The news coming through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been primarily about the disaster in South Asia.

If you can, please help these people in any way you can. We'll be donating some money to the relief fund and we appeal to those of you who can to please help out too. Doctors Without Borders, the International Red Cross and UNICEF are acccepting donations of any amount, and with the profound extent of the devastation only just surfacing, the affected countires need all the help they can get.

What is so sad is that the countries hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami are also those who were the least prepared for it, in more ways than one. Some of them are extremely poor- and now that the waves have also hit Somalia and some Eastern African nations, this can only get worse- and many of them have no idea how this could have been averted in the first place. South and South-east Asia have not been particularly suceptible to natural disasters, except maybe volcanoes in Indonesia; as a result, we've always thought of ourselves as safe from them. Now that whole coastal areas have been wiped out and cores of national industries gutted (e.g. tourist resorts in Phuket and the Maldives), these already beleagured countries have only years more of financial and infrastructural recovery to look forward to, and we haven't even begun talking about investing money and expertise in early warning systems that could have helped saved thousands of lives.

There is also the human drama behind it all- parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, siblings, cousins, relatives, etc. Familes are being displaced physically and emotionally on a scale I can only imagine, but feel the immense grief of nonetheless.

What is even more worrying are the long-term consequences of this disaster- we're talking contaminated water, faltering sanitation and increased incidences of diseases. If you add search and recovery costs, rebuilding homes, medical services, re-establishing vital infrastructure, this eartquake will cripple economies in a way rivalled only by war. As one of the CBC correspondents said, this could be the single most devastating natural disaster in modern history.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

圣诞快乐

A blessed Christmas to everyone! It's a frigid but sparking day in Montreal today, meaning the sun is shining bright, light is bouncing off all the ice on the buildings and the streets, humidity is at 98% (but with temperature at minus 8C, it isn't anything like 98% humidity in Singapore...), and no snow in sight. We spent Christmas in Chinatown today which was really kind of strange, but with the rest of the city shut until noon tomorrow for Boxing Day sales, this little enclave is the only place anyone can go for any semblance of activity. It's like Chinese New Year in Singapore, except almost no where in Singapore is open over Chinese New Year, even Orchard Road.

To make this an even more surreal Christmas, we're having a 10-course Chinese meal for dinner instead of turkey or ham. Apparently, most people in North America don't believe in eating out over the holidays so the restaurants take the opportunity to close for that one day in a year. The only places open are Chinese ones, ever ready are they to capitalize on what others are willing to give up. Well, they then close for a good week over the Lunar New Year, so this makes up for that I guess.

Peking duck or roast turkey, Jude and I are just glad we're spending Christmas with family. Last year, we were in Florida with his aunt who owns a thoroughbred farm in Ocala and this year here with his uncle. As international students, it's rare to be able to spend holidays with family every year unless we go all the way home, which we can't afford of course, so this a wonderful blessing in itself.

We did call home though and it always aches a little to hear them and feel them so close, yet be so far away. Like so many people, holidays are the worst times for me to be away from home, especially Christmas. It's a big event for my family- shopping for all my cousins, Christmas Eve dinner with my parents and sisters, opening presents at midnight (to jazz Christmas carols and Bailey's on the rocks- don't ask me why...), and the traditional Christmas lunch with the entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and all...). We were supposed to go home this Christmas since Jude hasn't been back in almost a year and a half, but the tickets were just too expensive to make a 10-day trip worth the while. Hopefully we'll wise up enough next year and do what every other foreign student does- buy their year-end plane tickets home in April and save US$600 in the process.

Anyway, to everyone out there, have a wonderful rest of the year! We have 5 days left to be naughty before we start making ultimately futile New Year resolutions to be good and sensible with our bodies, minds and money; so indulge in those guilty pleasures while you can- double servings of carbohydrates in one meal, a Farrelly brothers movie marathon, pedicure+manicure+ facial in one appointment, and blowing that credit card limit. Go knock yourselves out!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Bonjour!

So here we are sitting at Second Cup, Montreal's own Starbucks on the corner of Rue Guy and Boulevard de Maisonneuve. It's pouring freezing rain outside and there's slush galore- we love Montreal! No seriously though, most of Canada is expecting snow storms over Christmas weekend and there's supposed to be at least 30cm of snow on the way... thank god for the city's subway system and underground shopping.

We just had a Lebanese sandwich and a mug of soy latte for lunch, testimony to the multi-culturalism of this place. The second largest French-speaking city after Paris but also decidedly North American, Montreal is both European and cosmopolitan at the same time, which is one of the biggest reasons why Jude & I enjoy it so much. You see Cambodian merchants in Chinatown speaking English and Chinese students from McGill University- some believe to be the Harvard of Canada- ordering a Belgian confection in French at our favorite boulangerie, Premiere Moisson.

So anyways, we'll update again when we can- for now, we're off to do some Christmas shopping for our uncle. Slush and all...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The land of maple syrup, poutine and smoked meat

Alright guys, Jude & I are off to Canada! We're gonna make a pit stop in Toronto today just to break the journey up and see the city a little, and after that, it'll be 10 glorious days in Montreal! After the craziness of the past 2 months, we can't wait for this break, -19C or not... Jude's uncle has lived in Montreal for the past 20 years and this is Jude's fourth trip there, my third and our second this year alone (go figure that out!). We've been to every nook and cranny- from Chinatown, to the many, many churches (which are apparently more frequented by tourists than worshippers), to galleries, to the historic district, to the ingenious underground city these Quebecois have built so they can shop in comfort in their frigid winter.

We're thinking of going skiing too but we'll see- somehow the prospect of spending our vacation recovering from a sore hamstring and a potential twisted ankle isn't very alluring... Anyways, we'll check in when we can- for its wonderful offerings, the one thing we find frustrating about Montreal is the lack of wireless cafes. Oh well, you win some, you lose some- the things you give up for a good break.

So to everyone- have a HAPPY HOLIDAY- we sure will!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The dirty dozen and one frenchman

We watched Ocean's 12 last night and it was disappointing. I really loved the first one (I haven't watched the original with the Rat Pack but heard it wasn't great...)- thought it was very smart, very funny and very, very entertaining. The sequel just kind of felt a little contrived, like it was trying to hard to be clever but not really succeeding. Even George Clooney and Brad Pitt who had such great chemistry in the first one seem to be posing more than they were acting. There was such a natural ease about their trickery in Ocean's 11, like they were born for those roles; in Ocean 12, they just seemed kind of... I don't know, bored? The plot was an especial let-down. A backpack? C'mon! I have to say though, this was probably the only movie in which I wasn't annoyed by Catherine Zeta-"I-stole-the Oscar-from-Julianne Moore"-Jones. She was surpringly watchable- she owes her hair & fashion stylist so much.

The saving grace of the movie though for me, 2 words: Vincent Cassel. Very delicious- very, especially in that feat of balletic larceny. In his other films, he's always either drugged-out, messed-up, or both. Check out La Haine and Irréversible. One of the bad boys of French cinema, it was refreshing to see him as a debonair multi-millionaire. And can you imagine how gorgeous his kid with Monica Bellucci must be? *Sigh*... there're beautiful people, and then there're beautiful people...

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Of gravy, gods and genuflection

I've finished my last Masters assignment!! As of 10 minutes ago, with my final Educational Policy paper, I've technically "graduated" with a Masters degree in Education from the University of Michigan. Euphoric? Not really, a little relieved maybe. It's been a great ride and honestly, I don't think I've enjoyed studying as much as I have this one-half years (and this is the closet geek in me talking no less...). Sunday would have been the day of my graduation ceremony but I won't be attending, not as a graduand anyway. Here, they call it Commencement, the day from which you commence the rest of your life with the degree you now hold. It hadn't occured to me that I could have "graduated" on Sunday (kind of) until someone asked me about it a couple of days ago. I guess having another four more years to go dampens the buoyant joy one is supposed to feel at the conferral of a Masters degree. The day I successfully defend my Doctoral dissertation, now that will be an occasion...

Nonetheless, some of our friends will be partaking of that great Michigan tradition known as "walking", i.e. the whole robe-and-mortar-board fanfare. Got me thinking of my students who graduated this year from junior college; these are the students I'd left behind when we came here last year. They were great kids and I would have loved to have been at their graduation in October. If you're reading guys, take a look at a commencement ceremony speech Salman Rushdie gave at Bard College a while back. Be inspired by what he has to say about never looking down, never giving in, and never compromising what you believe is rightfully yours. The education you've earned is the first few things in your life you can legitimately call your own, and you have the power to make that count. Go make it count. Go weave your tapestries and steal the fire.

And to Jason & Stan, happy graduation!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

iJude



Ok, so the thing I put off saying in yesterday's blog was about my surprise for Jude. And you probably guessed it, it's the only thing apart from getting his PhD and winning the lottery that my husband really wants- an iPod. The reason why I wanted to bring it up when I was talking about passive/aggressive behavior was that getting this Christmas present for him truly tested my personal threshold of being "nice". In fact, I wasn't at all. Seriously people, don't try and get between me and Christmas shopping (especially when it's Christmas shopping for my husband)- it's not pretty... To make a long story short, what started out as just using a $100 Amazon.com voucher to offset the price of the 20GB iPod turned into an odyssey of missing packages, rants and raves over the phone, an admittedly unreasonable but miraculously fulfilled request (ok, demand...), and an unexpected holiday bonus. All things said and done, for US$179.99, we now have a 40GB AND a 20GB Apple iPod! I kid you not...

Ok, Jude wants to say something:
I love it, I love it, I love it, and I love my wife!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

McIntyre Drive

I love being at home. Especially when it's billowing snow outside and the temperature's a frigid 13F (for those of you who speak Celsius, a.k.a. the rest of the world, that's -10C). Taking a break from my final statistics project which considering my number-phobic, Math-hating days, is turning out to be miraculously quite fun. But that's another story... Anyways, Jude and I fought hard to get this place; not in the literal sense of swords and clubs, of course but we're talking placards and protests. If you were in Ann Arbor in the summer, you'd have know the huge housing fracas that besieged us. I don't want to belabor the issue but you can read about it here.

That was when I attended my first protest rally (like what grad school exprerience in America is complete without going to some sort of protest right?) and it was awesome. Mums & dads with their kids in strollers, people wearing t-shirts and carrying signs. it was hardly the rabid angry marches we're used to thinking of. I was really quite proud actually. I'd always thought of myself as slightly passive- people always say I'm too "nice" to do anything radical or aggressive, which is just a euphemism for saying I'm boringly placid...(Ok, so there's something I want to say right about here but I can only do that after tomorrow... you'll find out soon enough why...) Anyways, the protest was an extremely liberating experience and something I'll always remember doing I guess. No more boringly placid there...

So now we have a townhouse- more room than two people need actually but it's great coz Jude & I can study without getting into each other's way like we did in the little dinghy we used to call home. What I like most about it apart from the space is that we now have a huge sliding door that opens to a field behind. It gets a little noisy during the Spring to Fall months because of children playing, but in Winter (which of course in this blinking place is 5 months out of the year), it's really nice just watching the snow blanket the whole place. You get the occasional kid and parent sledding down the slope but it's snowing so hard half the time and the wind's blowing so loudly the other that you can't even hear them...

Speaking of winter, holiday movie recommendation: Love Actually. It's not that great a movie, but it has its moments. Two favorite scenes (without spoiling it for anyone): one involving eels, and another where no one is actually talking. Jude doesn't like it very much but I remember watching it in the summer and wishing it was Christmas there and then. It's one of those movies you watch kind of smiling wistfully to yourself and then go, "Yeah right, like that would happen." and then promptly watch it a second time. Good fun.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Return of the killer ex-students

For those of you who actually follow the comments left on our tag-board, you'd realize that lately, we've been getting greetings from people with some very strange names... It seems we've been tracked down by our ex-students who through some conniving genius (which we hope was put to constructive use when they were in school...) have found this blog.

Jude & I were teachers in-charge of the school drama club back home and we had some great times with those kids. That's the one thing I love most about teaching- the students. I couldn't be happier now to be free of the administrative shenanigans and school politics but I miss my students a whole lot. I had the great fortune of only having gotten wonderful teenagers to teach, self-inflicted existential angst or otherwise; and even those who really could have reigned in their hormones alot more than they even tried were at the end of the day sweet kids stuck in a wannabe grown-up shell. Jude would beg to differ with me on many of those counts, but then again, he's got a whole ton of baggage about teaching- I don't even want to go there...

So to all our students, Drama or not, we miss you guys. Take care of yourselves and remember what Mr. Yew always says, "It's like planting a seed." (stifled guffaw...)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Here's looking at you kid



I've been meaning to do this for a while: everyone, meet Amelia. This sweetie-pie of a girl is our niece and I think she just turned six months old a couple of weeks ago. Our brother and sister-in-law Joe and Carol are her proud parents and I think it's only right that the world be introduced to such a cutie. She looks like daddy but has mummy's pretty eyes. Yup, and imagine, Jude & I can actually stake some legitimate relational claim to a baby as gorgeous as this!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Drumroll please...

I lost. We more or less unanimously decided that our friend Sarah deserved to win the desert island movie bet. The girl clearly had too much time in her undergrad years to watch all these cool films, and she came up with the most compelling and thoroughly unassailable arguments about why her list was the best. How do you argue with "My husband proposed at Shallow Hal."?... Oh well, she was also nice enough to just ask for a burrito for lunch so no big damage done there.

But they did buy yours truly a bubble tea though for recommending Tombstone of the Fireflies. They were so taken with the picture I posted that they rented the video over Thanksgiving and watched it together. I have to apologize for what became their most depressing Thanksgiving Friday in history. One friend cried into her sweet potato mash...

They thought it was phenomenal (see, told you...) and agreed I deserve some kind of reward. By then, I'd already met my coffee quota for the day (and mind you, it was only three in the afternoon) so I thought bubble tea would be more prudent. Of course in return for the lack of caffeine, my body had to put up with the astronomical sugar content, and the fact that each tapioca pearl is seven calories... Oh well, que sera sera.

So now, on top of the tons of books I want to read, the many movies opening that I need to watch (yes, it's a "need"...), I have to catch up on all the great movies I've missed. Someone tell me again why I'm in grad school?...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Nkosi Johnson



I didn't know yesterday was World Aids Day until I saw the red ribbon on the Google site (you always know what significant day it is from the Google site...) and then listening to NPR last night where Michele Norris was talking about Nkosi Jacobson. He's the little African boy who at the time of his death, was the longest surviving child with AIDS. He was somewhat of a crusader who not only rallied support to fight the epidemic but also fought for greater understanding of the disease and its victims. It was a sobering and profoundly moving hour, listeing not only to Jim Wooten talk about his book, We Are All the Same but more importanly, about the little boy who's at the center of it. You can hear audio clips of him speaking on the NPR site and his small voice speaks so much louder than all the celebrities and AIDS crusaders put together. Speaking to the 2000 International AIDS Conference, he said, “You can't get AIDS by hugging, kissing, holding hands. We are normal. We are human beings. We can walk, we can talk.... We have needs just like everyone else. We are all the same.” This is a dying 12 year-old African boy. I cried.

Ironically, in a world where we pride ourselves for having knowledge and information at the snap of our fingertips, one of the biggest things that stands in the way of battling AIDS is ignorance. Not just ignorance on the part of people who could be at risk, but Ignorance in general. We associate the disease with immorality, crime and lasviciousness, but does that somehow make the victims lesser beings? And what of victims like Nkosi, or the millions of people like him who contract the disease by no fault of their own?

I have no answer to how to battle AIDS, and I can't even say I know what to do to help. But the least we can all do is open our minds and hearts a little to understanding the reality of the epidemic, acknowledge that it is killing thousands of people everyday, and that no, it is not something that is happening in a place far away from you; it's everywhere. Please think of all the Nkosi Johnsons of the world today.

Monday, November 29, 2004

A tip for home-away-from-home shoppers

Everyone closest and dearest to me know I love to shop. Shoes and bags are my especial weaknesses- just ask Jude. Whether I can afford to shop is another question, but having the will is never a problem. We're talking marathon, 6-hour straight, need-a-herbal-foot-bath-at-the-end-of-the-day kind of shopping here... So when faced with a relatively relaxed Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas just a month away, and family exactly 9399 miles (or 15124 km) away, what does a girl do? Online shopping of course...

Now everyone thinks of Amazon.com when they think shopping online which is natural since they're probably incomparable when it comes to books, CDs, DVDs, etc. But the thing that kills me is the shipping- we're talking an almost 20% hitch in price because of the delivery charge. They make up for it with huge discounts, but only on books that are popular. For those of us overseas who want to send books home, I recommend Acma Books. A group of English graduates from the National University of Singapore set up Singapore's first online book store about 4 years ago and I've been using them ever since. You may not find the great discounts that Amazon gives you but you save a ton on shipping. And the website's pretty cool too.

Oh, and I was way over the moon to discover that my favorite cake shop in Singapore not only has a website, they do local deliveries as well! The Patissier makes beautiful and absolutely drool-worthy cakes. My all-time favorite is their passion fruit meringue- just thinking of it gives me a sugar rush... They charge a S$10 delivery fee but that's negligible considering how difficult it is to order things like cakes and hampers and get them delivered from way out here. Trust us- it's a lifesaver.

As for our friends right here who fortunately don't have to worry about international shipping, I don't have to tell you about the tons of wonderful sites out there on which to spend those Christmas dollars. Jude & I just ordered stuff from Ann Arbor's own Zingerman's, a veritable institution in this town. They've got great food items (we recommend the sour cream coffe cake and lemon poppy seed cake) so if you've got foodie friends or family, trust us, this is THE place.

On a more altruistic note, check out this website from Robib, Cambodia. Buy their hand woven silk scarves and the proceeds don't only pay the weavers, but the profits also go to the local assistance programs. And they're really nice scarves too! Since we're on the topic of clothing, I have to give a shout out to my friend Sheryl who runs two clothing websites with gorgeous clothes and accessories. Bohemian Closet and Bohemeluxe specialize in vintage clothing and jewelry so go visit her- she's got really pretty stuff!

For those less coutre-inclined, check this store out- isn't everything so cute??!! Ok, so their pricing policy is clearly not realistic by any grad students standards, but... isn't everything so cute??!! Also, I know people out there tearing their hair out for that special someone- c'mon... admit it! If I were a girl waiting for a gift from a would-be beau, this would be nice. She's got pretty designs and they're all hand-made to boot. They might not be the most affordable things around, but you pay for the uniqueness of it I guess. If your girl prefers something edgier, our friend Shing has her own design studio. She thinks of herself more as an artist actually. She did our wedding rings (she calls them union rings) but I don't think she ships overseas though. And ladies, don't fret, Flax and MOMA should solve your problems for that man in your life. Even if he doesn't do the chores, he still deserves that one gift a year...

Most importantly, I finally found a site that puts together all the neat things we can get for kids. Oliebollen has everything from books to clothes to things for their rooms. Their tagline, "essentials for perfectly childish living" says it all. If I were a mum or an aunt with a healthy bank account...

So there, no one said shopping was for the faint-hearted. Just for the holiday season, I'll put all these sites up on the sidebar so people can access them easily. Happy shopping and watch that credit limit!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Our Thanksgiving wish...

On this snowy Thanksgiving, we want to give thanks for our family whose love for us transcends the four oceans and expensive phonecalls; our friends in all their quirky, faithful and wonderful glory; for good health (or whatever it is our feeble attempts at staying healthy have afforded us); for the opportunity to be here doing what many people only dream about (and save up all their lives for...), and most importantly, for the blessing of having each other along this crazy journey we've discovered people call Life.

Also, in this season of not just gratitude, but also of giving and generosity, we offer a wish to be that someone or do something that others can be thankful for.

"How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me."
- W. H. Auden, "The More Loving One"

Happy Thanksgiving :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Desert island movies

Ok, this is war! A bunch of classmates and I had a heated but not unpleasant conversation a couple of days ago about desert island movies- not GREAT movies, but our FAVORITE movies. These are movies you'd watch over and over again and therefore deserve to be carted along to a far-flung island in the event of that happening. In other words, even though I think Silence of the Lambs is a great film, I don't think I can stomach (pun fully intended) the prospect of being stuck on an island with the spectre of Hannibal Lecter looming over me... So anyway, the challenge is to come up with the best list of 30 and winner gets her meal of choice. We haven't figured out what the booby-prize for the worst list should be, but I'm thinking a marathon viewing of Steven Seagal flicks... I've tried to be really honest and only thought of films I've watched so I wish I could take Being John Malkovich with me, but alas, I never got round to watching the whole thing.

The thing is, there're just more good movies out there than I have the luxury of watching, like more P. T. Anderson stuff, Woody Allen's early films and a whole bunch of older movies like One Flies Over the Cuckoo's Nest. There're also more movies I love that just couldn't fit in this list- The Ice Storm, Raise the Red Lantern, etc. I guess my criteria for the films I did choose is that they have to be movies which I respond to not just intellectually, but aesthetically and emotionally as well. I mean, if I'm going to be stuck on a desert island, the last thing I want to be doing is dissecting the metaphors of Trois Coleurs. Now Four Weddings and a Funeral on the other hand...

So girls, here goes and remember, I like Japanese food...

1) Amelie (Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain)
2) American Beauty
3) The Big Lebowski- This isn't exactly my favorite Coen brothers movie, but for reasons that continue to elude me, my desert island person loves this and I guess I need to bring a movie we can watch together...
4) Dead Poet's Society- The only reason I started reading Walt Whitman.
5) Edward Scissorhands
6) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
7) Fargo
8) Fight Club
9) Four Weddings and a Funeral- Hugh Grant at his floppiest and most delicious. Note to significant other- I want the Auden poem read at my funeral... Also, best ever declaration of love.
10) The Hours- I love this movie. LOVE.
11) The Hudsucker Proxy
12) I Heart Huckabees
13) Jerry Maguire
14) Léon a.k.a. The Professional
15) LOTR: The Two Towers- But only if you made me choose. If not, I'll get the LOTR: Extended Version and cart the whole darn thing with me.
16) The Matrix
17) Mighty Aphrodite
18) Monsters, Inc.- Between my two favorite Pixar films so far, this won out in the end. As much as I think the studio has truly outdone itself in terms of animation and storyline with The Incredibles, I watched Monsters, Inc. with my little sister and that was great.
19) My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro)- This is the kind of world I wish for my children- no bad guys, no fighting between the two kids and no scary monsters. Just scurrying dustballs. As Roger Ebert says, "This is a world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap."
20) Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
21) The Piano
22) The Postman (Il Postino)- What's even better than the movie is the breathtaking soundtrack- a recital of Pablo Neruda's poems by some very famous people. The Material Girl is surprisingly good and Sting- well, this is a public site so I shan't say more... Listen to the snippets.
23) Requiem for a Dream- Ok, so I can't really watch this over and over again without my stomach squirming and wretching my guts out. But if you ever need a movie to remind you how blessed you are by showing you how low the human spirit can descend, this would do. Painful stuff.
24) The Shawshank Redemption
25) Some Kind of Wonderful- In my view, best '80s movie, at least of its genre.
26) The Sweet Hereafter- I finally understood what the Pied Piper of Hamelin means.
27) Tombstone of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka)- If there's anything I ask of you, it will be to please watch this film. Nothing you've ever seen before or after Pixar will prepare you for how powerful animation can be.



28) Untamed Heart- Every line in this movie is calculated to make you cry, and I fall for it every single time. We're talking buckets here...
29) Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)
30) You've Got Mail

So there you go- after three days of hair-tearing agony, one plaintive international cry for help, hours of surfing the web, a smirk of disapproval from my husband, and one trip to Blockbuster's, this list has got to win me at least dessert if not the full meal...

Friday, November 19, 2004

Feeling Blue?

Need some relief from post-election blues? I found this off Apophenia, Danah Boyd's blog. And it's a light-hearted jab at all you depressed people out there :)

[Click the image]


jude

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Do you hear what I hear?

I've never really liked this song. I love what it stands for though. It was a big deal in 1984- celebrities then didn't ubiquitously adopt "world causes" like they do today- save the rain forests, anti-landmine campaigns, stop industrial waste pollution, dolphin-free tuna, etc. There wasn't a need to wear a social conscience on your sleeve as part of the "I'm-a-famous-person-now-so-I-need-to-represent-something" package. And so when some of the biggest names in the music industry came together to record a song for charity, people actually sat up, listened and bought. "Do They Know it's Christmas" went on to become a U.K., U.S. and international hit, and together with Live Aid- a series of concerts all over the world, it raised more than US$70 million for Africa.



The thing is, these days, it's eveywhere! You hear it incessantly for 2 whole months- from every radio station, every corner of the mall; you even half expect to hear it when you open your presents on Christmas morning. We get it! You guys were great! You saved all these starving children in Ethiopia! But spare us that song!!

So it was interesting that when I heard that some of today's biggest stars have recorded a remake, I was actually a little outraged at their audacity. The song's a Christmas institution- ok, so it's really annoying- but it's an institution no less. It's like trying to re-upholster an embarassingly ugly couch which you've kind of gotten used to over the years... I love most of the people on the new version- Chris Martin/ Coldplay and Travis are great of course- but I'm not sure how it will go down with the generation of listeners so devoted to George Michael, Bananarama et al. The next thing you know, they'll be remaking "We Are The World" with Justin Timberlake in place of Lionel Ritchie.

I wanted to download the new version on the sly just to listen, but my enlightened husband reminded me, it's a charity single, pay for it. And so for those of you who are 1) too lazy to go to the stores to buy the single; or 2) lucky enough to own an IPod (or any mp3 player I guess), here's the official link. People are starving out there as we stuff oursevles over Thanksgiving and Christmas- do a little something.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

My favouritest place in the whole wide world!

Oh my God! Serene's last post brought it all back- people who know me well know that one day I would like to own a house by the coast of South West Australia. And I know just exactly where- it's a magical little place called Meelup beach between Dunsborough and Cape Naturaliste. I brought my mom there once and she literally jumped into the water fully clothed. The closest I can come to describing the place to those who have not been there is that it is very much like the last scene in Contact where Jodie Foster meets the Alien in a dreamlike beach.

SouthWest Australia has just about everything- great surfing beaches at the famous Margeret River, good food and wineries, karri forests and best of all, Cape Leeuwin, the exact point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean!



Half a world away and one dreams of being between the capes again. (A shout out to my old friends Bill Dunstone and James Koh- wherever you guys are- thank you for telling me about the wonders of the South while I was in Perth.)

Jude

30 things I wish for...

It's never too early to make a wish-list for Christmas although I doubt Santa (in any incarnation) will take this on. But still, a girl can hope can't she?
1) The 20GB I-Pod for Jude. The U2 special edition with 400 U2 songs pre-loaded would be even better...
2) That my best friends and I will as close in 2043 as we were in 1993.
3) Play jazz piano.
4) Run a marathon.
5) Good health and perpetual happiness for everyone I love (ok, I guess I wish that for people I don't really like too...)
6) Cable TV.
7) Time to watch cable TV.
8) That the 51% of America who voted for Bush will at some point in the next 4 years realize what a massive mistake they've made.
9) Change a busted tyre by myself.
10) Read all of Shakespeare's works, histories included.
11) Own a house on any beach along South-west Australia.
12) Make the people I love as happy as they make me.
13) Nice hair.
14) Grow old gracefully.
15) That in my lifetime, Singapore will enjoy a greater degree of real democracy, constructive freedom of expression and critical awareness.
16) A vintage wardrobe for regular days.
17) A J.Crew wardrobe for extraordinary days.
18) Read all the books I own.
19) Come to terms with the size of my waist and the width of my hips.
20) That my parents and sisters know I love them dearly even though I can't tell them that everyday.
21) See Italy.
22) That Jude will recover from his crush on Renee Zellweger and realize how deluded he's been.
23) That Jude will acknowledge my crush on Ed Harris as legitimate and harmless.
24) Own a bookshop like this some day.
25) Raise children who are healthy, funny & wise.
26) Self-control.
27) That governments will care about people, not ideologies.
28) Watch U2 live.
29) A personal library of good children's literature.
30) To be as happy at 75 as I am today.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Go blue!

Today, Jude and I finally participated in one of the most sacred traditions of this fine university, the rite of passage all U-M students are fabled to have experienced at least once during their sojourn here; apparently no U-M education is complete without attending this ritual of sorts, where strangers become brothers (or sisters...), where kinship is no longer defined by blood, and where the humble dollar-hotdog can only be gotten at the royal price of $6!... Yup, we went to a U-M football game today.

It wasn't intentional really. My wonderful advisor had a couple of extra tickets and offered them to me on Thursday; since Jude and I have never been to a football game and this was going to be U-M's last home game, we were more then happy to take the tickets. The thing is, I had no idea what this game involves, so I do what all good graduate students do when they encounter something they don't know (or so the professors here believe)- research. I did a Google and ta-dah! a website professes to be able to tell me all I need to know about this quintessentially American sport. Sadly, it lost me even before starting on the rules- I couldn't even understand how the field is set-up...

But still, it was a good experience all round I guess- spent half the time clicking away and the other half pretending to understand the game by cheering when everyone else cheered, and gesticulating wildly even though I didn't have a clue what or why I was gesticulating wildly. You get a hang of what's going on after a while- it doesn't take a nuclear physicist to realize that the point of basically ANY ball game is to get the ball from one end of the field to the other. What Jude and I found annoying is that American football is so choppy. I mean, why have these time-outs when all they do is convene and figure out how to run the next few yards? (Which is another one of my pet peeves about America- like hello?? The rest of the world speaks in metric- what's with the yards, feet, stone, pint? And they're not even proportionately related to each other...)

Anyway, like I was saying, it's difficult to engage in a game that keeps stopping every few minutes. What was more fun about being at the stadium was the atmosphere of being with 111,346 other people in one compound. It was quite exhilarating actually, and you pretty much get caught up in the spirit of everything- it is very infectious. And so I find out that the whole marching band-cheerleading-mascot deal really exists (and not just a figment of my John Hughes-inspired notion of what an American education experience is all about), that food costs more before than after a game, that 45-year olds can shout (and curse) as well as any 18-year old, and that I do not own a piece of clothing that is vaguely maize or blue to represent the college colors. Oh yes, I also discovered that looking for friends amidst 111,346 people is like playing a very cruel version of "Where's Wally?", except without the striped sweater...

So yes, the deed is done and I don't have to worry about fulfilling any obligation to watch a football game again for the next 4 years. We're probably not going back to another game; it's not that we don't like it, but to have from a country that practically revers soccer, and for someone like Jude who used to play rugby, football kinda seems awfully... slow. Besides, $6 for a hotdog is just plain wrong...


Saturday, November 06, 2004

Picking up/ at the pieces...

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
-Janis Joplin

One of the remarkable things about being in a university like this is the great clout it has to attract visitors and speakers from all over to this little town somewhat removed from the cultural centers of this country. Arthur Miller was here last year, Kofi Annan came in 1999, the Brown sisters (from Brown vs. Board of Education) were guests at our Martin Luther King Symposium, etc. So it wasn't a great surprise to me when Noam Chomsky came to U-M last week to speak at the Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom. This lecture series was established 14 years ago to commemorate three U-M professors who were suspended in 1954 for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the McCarthy era. Chomsky's lecture didn't address intellectual freedom per se, but more the whole notion of freedom in general, particularly the ability to use this freedom justly, honestly, and humanely. I thought it was rather uncanny that I watched the video today as America- at least 49% of America- are still grappling with the reality that they will continue to be led by a man who believes in America's freedom to exercise the right to pre-emptive action in the name of self defense, while maintaining that this right is not universalizable, but the sole perogative of this "enlightened state".

I think that Chomsky's over-arching argument was that the U.S. is probably one of the only placest in the world where freedom is a real and exercisable right, and yet it's in this same world that people so often squander/ exploit/ abuse this rare gift. In Singapore, people think of freedom as standing on a box in the middle of a park spouting whatever it is that seems anti-government and provocative; spraying graffiti is freedom; drinking your own pee as an expression of art is freedom. But it can and should be so much more.

Someone in the audience asked Chomsky how it is that information on the U.S.'s many "legitimate but illegal" acts were not made public even though that could have been easily done through institutions of higher education and/ or the media; Chomsky's answer was that the issue is not one of opportunity but of will. The large proportion of America truly believe that just by her sheer position as a nuclear powerhouse-cum-sole superpower, this country deserves to be exempt from international law.

This is more distressing under today's circumstances. The U.S. is led by a man who believes that through faith in the divine, or whatever moral values it is that won him this elections, he has access to the Truth, that all he does is legitimate because this Truth has guided his actions. Believing that you have an insight to some ultimate Answer is wilful and myopic- whether this Answer was bestowed to you through religion, patriotism, nationalism, etc.- any kind of ideology. It is comforting in a profoundly dangerous way because it puts all the complex little pieces of this world into neat categories, and purports to be THE world as it ought to be. It oversimplifies. Karl Marx said that "Religion is the opiate of the masses." No, ANY kind of ideology is a drug, communism not exempt. It paints the world in black and white, Truth and the Un-truth, In and Out. It is unforgiving, selfish and it offends.

I believe I'm religious- not evangelically so- but yes. But I also believe that people can separate their religious and spiritual commitments from social and political reality. I'm Christian, and I believe that stem-cell research can be useful; I would like to think that I have strong family values, and I believe that homosexuals have a right to marry and raise children too; I think of myself as moral, and I also think that abortion may be necessary under certain circumstances. But in the world of 51% of America, my beliefs make me dissolute, un-Christian and fundamentally immoral. And here I thought I was just human.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

The rabbit hole

So America has a president. This is our first elections in the U.S. and it was quite a heady experience to get caught up in the the whirlwind of it all. We stayed up much of last night following the results and it was excruciating... Shuffling between watching TV, looking at different news web-sites and refreshing the pages all the time waiting for states to turn blue- I felt almost half-American. I think the thing about being in America during this period is that it brought home a very simple truth to me. Regardless of how the election has turned out, Americans have a choice, and they know, with some amount of certainty that their vote will count and that they do have a say in who leads them. Jude & I could conceivably go through our lives never having voted once (I think my parents have only ever voted once...) and even if we did, everyone knows who gets which slice of the pie right from the start, and that having an election would merely be an elaborate song-and-dance routine for some semblance of legitimacy.

I don't particularly think Bush has a great mandate actually. Sure he's got the majority or the electoral and popular vote, but he's the incumbent; if America has truly spoken, as he claims she has in his victory speech this afternoon, he should have won more convincingly. America did speak, through their votes; and what their votes say is that this is now a profoundly divided country. If Bush only considers the 51% of the population who voted for him as America, then what is the other 49%? By fighting such a divisive campaign, rallying the "who's in" against the "who's not", Bush (and one suspects Kerry would have had too) has effectively alienated half the people he now has to lead for the next 4 years. And that, as they say in Texas, "ain't gonna be easy, mister. He's fortunate that Kerry was gracious in defeat. I suspect if the reverse had been true, Bush would have sent his lawyers straight to the Supreme Court at the expense of this country's need to get on with its life.

I think everyone in Ann Arbor was a little moody today. Class seemed a little more subdued than usual, professors were a little restrained, even the weather's colder and drearier today than it's been for a while. As for Jude & I, I won't say we're depressed, but yes, a vague sinking feeling in the pit of your gut. Just kind of blue all day I guess (pun fully intended). I know it may not affect me in a deep personal way, but I know how much a change in leadership means to my friends here, and to America's future as a whole. This country cannot be led by a man who believes that issues of personal faith can and should inform governmental policy. One may admire him for his religious conviction, but as Kerry said in one of the debates, you cannot legislate something based on an article of faith. Not in a country which prides itself to be a melting-pot at home and a global leader abroad.

Listening to NPR all day was good. There was a whole ton of great shows that featured guest commentators, writers, columnists from all over the country and it was engaging because people were very sensible and rational in their analysis of the results- none of that exploitative muckraking or accusatory arguments that tend to follow election controversies. Many of them were disappointed, and it was actually moving to hear them speak, to be in a country where people feel so strongly about politics that you could almost hear the grief in their voices. A woman from Tennessee called in and confessed how petrified she now is for the next 4 years, that she doesn't know if she wants to remain in a country whose president opposes therapeutic stem-cell research on the one hand, but is at the same time willing to heedlessly sacrifice thousands of American lives to fight a baseless war.

Despite what many people think, I don't believe Bush is stupid; perhaps simple, or of average intelligence. But what is distressing is that he masks stubborness and obstinancy behind a rhetoric of conviction. That he responds to and governs from his gut first before his brain. That's fine if you're the owner of a baseball club and needed to only make decision about which player to recruit; but if you're the leader of the only superpower left in the world with an entire artillery of nuclear weapons at your disposal, that is very very dangerous indeed.

On a lighter note, Jude once half-jokingly said that we'll have to move to Canada if Bush wins, and now that he has, that half-joke doesn't seem so funny anymore. We both interviewed at Mcgill University in Montreal 2 years ago and we would have gone in a flash if not for Jude's green card needing us to be here. It's my absolute favorite North American city and the prospect of spending Christmas there this year makes me very happy. And Jude said something really quite funny last night considering the circumstances: looking at the distribution of the electoral votes, it seems that the only sane places to be in America right now are states which either 1) have access to the ocean (e.g. California, New York) or 2) have fresh seafood (e.g. Boston, Washington) or 3) border Canada (e.g. Michigan, Wisconsin). And of course, there's always Hawaii...

"You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." - Morpheus, "The Matrix"

Monday, November 01, 2004

Boo and Birthday

I love kids. I honestly do. They're adorable, they smell nice (most of the time at least...), they gurgle, giggle & gasp at all the right moments, and they pretty much love you unconditionally. But when they come into contact with candy- or the prospect of candy- they turn into maniacs! I swear, it's like a Pavlovian reaction to sugar of any form and they descend upon you like locusts- cute, fluffy locusts- but locusts nonethless. For a half-hour, I was like the greatest, favoritest lady on the block with every conceivable kid (and that odd adult) grabbing at me for Tootsie Rolls, Hershey Kisses, M&Ms and White Rabbit sweets (Can you believe they have that here?! Jude found them at the Chinese grocery store. Some of the kids from China were really quite thrilled.) I think there're going to be some very sick kids today. Parents too.

But this Halloween was fun- it's the first time we had trick-or-treaters come by our house. There weren't that many kids living around our old apartment so it was quiet last year. Check out the costumes these parents prepared for their children- they either had a whole ton of time, money or imagination. But there was one poor boy whose mum I suspect really couldn't care less- he came in a piece of white cloth with two holes cut out for eyes, which is fine until you realized it made him look like a Klan man. Wait... maybe that was the point- now THAT's scary... Jude & I were really quite amazed at what a big deal Halloween is here, especially with the kids. In Singapore, Halloween is just that night when clubs hold huge vampire-fest parties where grown men & women go to in various states of gothic undress; while over here, adults like Jude & I spend $20 on candy only to see it run right out in less than an hour...

On another note, we went to a Malaysian retaurant yesterday to celebrate my birthday. Jude had already brought me out for Italian on Tuesday so last night was more just to hang out with the gang. It's called Penang and it was a pretty nice place. None of that tropical-palm-tree-coconut-bowls decor. There were some pieces of wayang kulit and ikat here and there although their choice in music left much to be desired. There was the token "exotic" music of Anya and Enigma (how they are South-east Asian deludes me...) but also Moby and Sarah MacLachlan which prompted someone to comment,"I didn't know Moby was Singaporean." Then it occurred to me, I don't remember ever yearning to hear "Dayung Sampan" and "Rasa Sayang" so desperately.

Anyways, Jude & I were "this" close to tears when we opened up the menu, for two different reasons actually: seeing words in Malay again after so long was very very comforting, even if it was just things like "roti" and "goreng". Then those tears turned into sheer disbelief when we looked at the prices. Get this: ONE Roti Prata for $3.50, Murtabak for $5, ONE piece of Keropok for $1, four sticks of satay for $7, and this takes the cake- ice-kacang for $5! And I'm talking US dollars people... And you thought paying S$10 for prawn-mee was exhorbitant. But on the whole, it was nice- I think our friends enjoyed the "oriental" experience and we satiated out craving for SEAsian food. In the spirit of true Singaporeanism, we would have smuggled their sambal belachan out if only we had the right container...


wayang kulit

Saturday, October 30, 2004

You rock rock.

I've never sat through an entire movie with a smile on my face and you know what? Today I did. It was everything I imagined it to be and then some. You know how people sometimes hype themselves up for something which then turns out to be completely overrated? Think the Matrix Reloaded, carb-free chocolate, fizzy water, the 21st century... Thankfully, this wasn't one of them.

People who didn't like it take it too seriously- you're not supposed to go "Hmm... yes everything in my life is connected and I'm as metaphysically related to the Eiffel Tower as my cell-phone is to Chile." OR "Suffering is inevitable, life is meaningless and I will never find a job after grad school because even if I do, what difference can I make? The trees are still dying!" The movie can't be enjoyed as if it had a message; enjoy it because it is a pure pleasure to watch. It's chaotic, energetic, dizzying, goofy, absurd, but also clever, happy, sincere and comforting. It is joy at its most sublime.

And the acting! I'm not a great fan of Jude Law or Jason Schwartzman; but Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman and Mark Wahlberg (I can't believe he was ever Marky Mark...) were simply inspired. To round things off, Jon Brion's score is the sweetest icing that could top this delightful confection. Whimsical and quirky without being cloying or intentional, it makes me wonder again why soundtracks are such under-rated music experiences. Those who diss soundtracks are the same sad people who will never know the amazing sounds of The Sweet Hereafter, Magnolia, The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation- I can go on...

I Heart Huckabees has made me fall in love with movies all over again.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

A lonely little man

Someone very delightfully told me that whenever he needs a little-perk up, he'll turn to this blog and view the "I Heart Huckabees" trailer which always puts a smile on everyone's face, and a loud chuckle and guffaw thrown in for good measure. Last night, I found something else that might come close, although it may border on the offensive for some... No, actually, I take that back- I can't think of anyone who would think of something so funny, and sweet in a perverse way, as offensive... This comes from Team America, a movie I've resisted watching primarily because I find South Park uncomfortable to watch on too many levels. But this might just make me change my mind. Scroll down the page and click on "Lonely" under Film Clip (you might have to wait through the ads). Trust me- you could have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, failed your mid-terms, gotten served a lukewarm soy latte (which is just so wrong of course...), forgotten to bring your brolly out on a rainy day, come home to a house with leaking pipes, your dog could have died, and you would STILL find this funny... Enjoy.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

You can't deal with my infinite nature, can you?

For the growing fan-club of a movie that has stubbornly yet to open in Ann Arbor, this is a guaranteed 2-hour (or more) time-suck. Knock yourself out!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Evian is naive spelled backward

No, for those of you who know the movie back to front, this isn't going to be about Reality Bites- sorry... Ok, so you know that state of coffee-induced wakefulness we find ourselves at 1.30 in the morning, where your body is convinced it's asleep but your synapses tell you you're awake? That was me last night, except it was probably closer to 2.30am. Anyway, I thought to surprise Jude with an IPod, considering I only gave him an Alice in Wonderland pop-up book for his birthday- which by the way, I highly recommend (see Random Fodder sidebar for Flash version- imagine that!). So I go into one of those free IPod websites (I'm not providing the link- if you want to get scammed, you can do it without my help...) that say all you had to do is to refer 5 friends and sign up for one on-line offer in order to get the new 20GB IPod shipped free to your doorstep.

That sounds harmless enough- between Jude & myself, we have 6 email addresses so the referrals were easily filled in without incurring the wrath of any of our friends who might not talk to us again if we SPAM their mail boxes. I chose an on-line offer for the Sunday edition of the NY Times, which is great considering 1) the ironic dearth of good journalism here in Ann Arbor; and 2) although we get NY Times online everyday, it takes alot, especially on a Sunday to sit in front of the PC going through more than 5 pounds worth of articles. And the Sunday Edition comes with the NY Times Magazine too...*yum*

Anyway, back to my original story... I process everything and then the system tells me I haven't completed all the steps necessary for the free product. They claim I haven't signed-up for an online offer, which I did. I also find out, in the infinitesmal fine print, that I only get the IPod if all 5 of my referrals sign up for offers too! Great! Now I have to go through all our email boxes and respond with 5 fake addresses and credit-card numbers? Thanks, but no thanks. I'll save up for the IPod.

To makes things worse, I come across this article from Wired.com. While it doesn't go as far as to say that the whole thing is a scam, it clearly isn't the most reliable service in the world. And so I go back to the website and try cancelling everything, and they haven't gotten back to me except with an automated customer service reply to tell me to be patient... I kid you not, it actually says, "You have to be really patient." Who's their business consultant? Grandpa Bob?

In the end, I know I really don't have anyone to blame but myself, and here's where the Reality Bites quote comes in. So now, I don't forsee a free IPod anytime soon, and I tried cancelling the NY Times subscription, but figure that even if I can't, at least I come out from this with 12 weeks worth of good journalism. Imagine the people who signed up for a trial of Ancestry.com...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Only the lonely can play



I'd never heard of them till a month ago, I'd never seen them till 17 hours ago; but last night, Wilco became a band that rocked my world. For two-half hours, it seemed as if the world outside became inconsequential as Jude and I, together with the Hill Auditorium full of people, were swept up in one band's, or I would like to think one man's journey through purgatory, recovery and absolution.

What I know of Wilco's history I know from Jude, and now some things I found out from various websites. Lead singer Jeff Tweedy only recently recovered from a substance abuse problem and had been in rehab for a while. Having experienced record contract controversies, band members leaving him, a nervous breakdown and drug rehab, this man is no stranger to pain, and it shows. While clearly a gifted songwriter, much of last night's performance was engulfed by the Strum und Drang of the guitars and drums. The 12-minute long "Spiders (Kidsmoke)", though a showcase for drummer Glenn Kotche's virtuosity (and awesome stamina), was also I felt, the method behind Tweedy's madness. Through the seemingly chaotic track, one line stands out: "It's good to be alone"; and in "Handshake Drugs", he sings over and over, "I felt like a clown; I looked like someone I used to know...Exactly what do you want me to be?" This is not a man who rants and raves from hollow angst- it's a questioning of where and how he was where he was, and the uncertainty of this place at which he has arrived.

The difference between watching the band live and listening to them is the visual impact of them on stage. This is clearly a band that has seriously gotten a tight act together. They were technically skillful and all of them obviously enjoy perfoming which added to the already electrifying mood. It was one of the best concerts I've ever been to; in fact, critics are calling them one of the best bands in the world right now. I haven't heard the previous albums which Tweedy released with a different set of band members, but according to Jude, this present crew has been able to recreate the studio sound of earlier tracks to a T. And yet Tweedy seemed somehow apart from them, detached almost. Oh he was engaged in the performance, there's not doubt about that; but there was also the sense that he was having a private experience of his own. Through the songs and the singing, there were ghosts to exorcize and demons to vanquish. Last night, lyrics weren't just words for Tweedy- they were a secular prayer to some external god, seeking catharsis, redemption and hopefully peace. There could have been hundreds of people in the auditorium, but for Jeff Tweedy, it was a road to recovery he was walking alone.

"Be not so nervous
Be not so frail
Be not so nervous
Be not so frail
Be not so sorry
For what you have done"

- Wilco, "Be Not So Fearful"


WILCO::Jeff Tweedy (lead singer-guitarist)::John Stirratt (bass)::Glenn Kotche (drums)::Mikael Jorgensen (keyboards)::Pat Sansone (keyboards and guitar)::Nels Cline (guitar)

Friday, October 08, 2004

I'm having a Cocteau Twins moment!!!!

It has been some time since I last thought about music or even my extensive, now non-existent, vinyl collection (which I SOLD for a seriously paltry sum when I came over here...). However, I must admit to having an extended moment when I came across the Cocteau Twins website. I literally spent hours perusing through the files and reliving the days when their brand of atmospheric, dreamy pop (dare I say ambient?) reigned for the self declared indie types. Perhaps some people may still remember tracks like Ice blink Luck or Blue Bell knoll. I can still put on the Heaven or Las Vegas Album and it doesn't seem a day old to me.

What amazes me is that there is still a community of fans that gather every year at an event called CocteauFest. Let the '80s reign!

/jude/


Thursday, October 07, 2004

For Jill

Ok, so according to my cousin Jill, I don't spend enough time on this blog describing what I do during the course of the day. I was genuinely touched- no one has expressed such an explicit desire to want to know what goes on in my life. So to show my appreciation Jill, I AM going to tell you what I did today...

9:32- Woke up and called Singapore. Spoke to Dad, Mum, Sam & Sher. Talked to Dad about his reluctance to visit Swatow, our family's village in China. Wants to see Beijing & Shanghai first. Realized my father's really quite funny.
9:35- Alarm clock rung.
9:40- Alarm clock rung again.
9:45- Alarm clock rung again.
9:50- Jude woke up.
9:55- Cursed the dastardly weather but decided to have cereal/ milk for breakfast anyway because too lazy to boil water for anything warm.
10:16- A domestic moment as Jude & I had breakfast while watching the morning news about last night's vice-presidential debates. Edwards did good apparently.
10:28- Checked email. Deleted 2 SPAM messages. Wrote to 5 people. Made mental note to write to professor about research project in the afternoon.
10:52- Made coffee.
10:54- Started writing reflection paper on W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk for History of American Education class. Book inspired a whole generation of African-American writers including Ralph Ellison who wrote the stunning Invisible Man.
11:46- Writing interrupted by surfing for Invisible Man stuff. Read it for American Lit course in undergrad. It was an amazing book. Forgot about writing paper.
12:25- Remembered having to write paper.
12:26- Decided to have lunch first. Had leftovers from dinner. Chicken stew.
12:45- Continued writing paper.
13:35- Finished writing paper.
13:45- Went to school for group meeting.
14:03- At group meeting. Discussed classmate's Qualifying Exam question for PhD candidacy. Next 4 years flashed before me and had momentary panic attack. Recovered in time to provide constructive and what I hope were useful comments. She seemed to buy it.
15:45- Got home. Made coffee.
15:50- Checked email. Wrote to professor about research project.
15:57- Started working on research project assignment. Surfed for more Invisible Man stuff. Didn't forget about project. Opened several Windows to multi-task.
17:55- Research interrupted by UPS guy. My new cell phone is here! Sony Ericsson T610.
17:58- Fiddled with new phone. Learned how to activate it. Called Jude from it to gloat. Forgot about research assignment.
18:08- Jude hungry. Decided to buy dinner and have it at his office. Went to Wendy's. Brought new phone and manual with me.
18:30- At Jude's office. Ate double-cheeseburger with chili & Diet Pepsi. Felt immense guilt.
18:47- Fiddled with phone some more. Took picture of Jude with camera function.
19:25- Remembered research assignment but also remembered readings for tomorrow's Ed Policy class. Regretted fiddling with phone so much. Started on readings.
21:00- Made coffee with fancy espresso machine in the pantry. Made mental note: Buy fancy espresso machine when make enough money.
21:37- Fiddled wtih phone again. Realized there's something wrong. Phone doesn't ring. Made irate call to Sony Ericsson.
21:40- Nothing they could do. Made even more irate call to Amazon.com. Their cell phone department closed for the day.
21:45- Was convinced there's conspiracy to prevent me from owning cell phone. Decided to return phone and demanded Amazon for replacement ASAP.
21:56- Went back to readings.
21:57- Asked Jude what time we were going home.
21:57- Went back to readings.
22:30- Increasingly annoyed by first-year Chinese student going on about future aspirations. Become convinced that he has been infected with what Jude calls "Pico-Iyer" syndrome: anyone plagued with misplaced aspirations to be intellectual savant.
23:11- Mr "Pico-Iyer" shut up.
23:56- Decided to go home. Not done with readings.
00:10- Got home.
00:15- Checked email. Nothing.
00:17- Went back to readings. Waited for Jude to be done with bathroom.
00:38- Showered.
00:52- Watched Hilary Duff do cartwheels on Conan O' Brien.
00:55- Shared a peach with Jude. Decided still hungry; ate handful of Wheat Thins with cream cheese.
00:58- Went back to readings.
01:15- Finished readings. Enlightened about ghettoization of America's inner cities. Thought of Invisible Man again.
01:18- Proof-read Jude's Masters Thesis proposal and Lit Review on Collaborative Narratives. Reminded myself what an intelligent man I married. Patted self on back for good judgement.
01:40- Chatted with Jude about thesis. Told him I think he's on to a good thing.
01:57- Blogged.

And now, she sleeps.

Good night Jill.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

NorthWoodstock

We've finally put together the photos of our housewarming party last week. I think it went fairly well considering the incomprehensibly cold weather and the fact that there was at one point at least 35 people crammed in the house. We're sorry if the weather wasn't more conducive for playing ball as we'd planned, but there were those amongst you who felt that yes, playing volleyball and soccer in the dark, and at 40 degree temperature was fine so there you go.

We hope there was enough food for everyone- there sure were enough drinks. We have a full carton of Coors Light, a mega can of Heineken, 4 bottles of soda and a huge container of juice hibernating in our fridge, and that's AFTER people had kindly volunteered to bring home their preferred beverage, a.k.a. their favorite beer. Does anyone realize that if we pool all these leftover drinks from all the parties we have, we could conceivably never have to buy anymore for this semester? Not to mention all the chips, pretzels, peanuts and candy...

On the whole NorthWoodstock was a veritable success I guess, although apparently there were some amongst you who were reportedly visibly uncomfortable when all the girls congregated upstairs to look at our wedding photos. I shan't say who in fear of stirring up a domestic catastrophe but suffice to say that images of nooses, balls and chains were being envisioned, or so I hear. To those of you who know what I mean, don't worry, I don't think I did much permanent damage.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

There's coffee, and then there's kopi luwak.

I love coffee, but I draw the line at this. And there's even real research behind it too...

Monday, September 27, 2004

A homage to the works of Wong Kar Wai

Hey folks, this is my very first post on this blog and I decided to write about something that I am quite passionate about- the films of Wong Kar Wai. This desire to write on the subject was brought up by a rather well-written article I found in the New York Times today. One of the great things about this article is that it cites the photographer, William Gedney as one of Wong's influences. This is the photographer that has been described by John Cage as portraying subjects who "seem to be doing happy things sadly, or maybe they're doing sad things happily." This says a lot about the aesthetic of Wong's films and the characters that he portrays. His films tend to leave a bittersweet aftertaste. Wong's films have been so influential that the Scottish band Texas even produced a music video that blatantly draws influences from his film, Chung King Express.




Wong's films work for me on many levels and stylistically he has been a strong influence on how I think visually. One of the strongest elements in his films is the sense of time and how it affects his characters. This is most explicitly done in his latest work 2046. The premise of the film is set by the title, which is actually the date when China's promise to allow Hong Kong autonomous rule ends. The film also sees Tony Leung reprise the role of Chow Mo-Wan from 2000's In the Mood for Love.

Adrain Tomine 


For those of you not famliar with Wong's work, you should definitely start with Chung King Express and its follow up Fallen Angels. I have been hankering to watch Happy Together but have not been able to do so, courtesy of the Board of Film Censors in Singapore.

/jude/

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Nice to meet you too

I know it doesn't seem to make much sense in introducing the blog after five posts, but in a universe where life makes sense all the time, I wouldn't be blogging at all but spending my every waking moment dilligently ploughing through educational policies and their impact on student achievement. In that universe, Bambi's mom would also not have to die and everyone would acknowledge that Buffy is and always will be one of the greatest things to ever happen to TV.

Anyways, as I've said to some people already, this blog is still very much finding itself- we're not sure where it's going yet. So far, I've been spending more time updating the sidebar than posting journals actually. So that's the altruistic component of this blog. It's reviews of books we're reading, have read, or are looking forward to reading. No, they do not simply redirect you to Amazon.com as some people have assumed, but are reviews from magazines or journals that we think are worth a good read. The links to the movies are, unfortunately to their official website. But the thing is, many movie sites these days are a lot more than just a description of cast & crew- the Eternal Sunshine one is an excellent example. It's thoroughly interactive and infinitely entertaining. If you've watched the movie, you'd really appreciate the website. We haven't seen all the movies listed but they're here either because of good previews or purely as reminders to ourselves to go watch them when we actually find the time to.

The music section owes a great deal to Jude- he's the music guru in this household. He introduces me to these new sounds, and it's my great task to share his exquisite music taste with you. Of course a lot of it has been filtered through my less-esoteric sensibilities- I don't know how many people would really appreciate techno punk... Anyways, some of these sites allow you to listen to entire albums, others just snippets. There are also a couple of sites which are either online radio-stations or archived music programs. I highly recommend those and if you have one of those lust-worthy media players that allow you to stream your music wirelessly at home, you literally never have to turn on to a regular radio station again.

My favorite section of the sidebar is the random fodder one. These are truly random sites that have caught our fancy for one reason or another and will probably be the ones that wil be most often updated, although some are more enduring than others (the kate spade site will be there for a while- a reminder to self about what to buy when I get my first REAL paycheck...)We've chosen sites that promise a great deal of fun and/ or information and we hope you'll enjoy them as much as we do.

As for the more self-centered section of this blog, a.k.a. the posts themselves, they'll be updated whenever something worth talking about pops up. We have neither the time nor the inclination to share with the world our daily shenanigans (nor dare to assume that the world would want any information about us...). It'll be more likely to revolve around topics which have either tickled, frustrated, gratified, confused, surprised, comforted or intrigued us- sometimes maybe all of the above. The Comments option is open to everyone so feel free to jump into a conversation if you feel strongly about what we've posted. Even if you're one of those people who don't feel very much for anything anyway but just want to say "hi", go ahead. We don't discriminate- we're equal-opportunity comment recipients.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

You eat the rice, I'll take the grilled fish.

I'm waiting for Jude to come home so we can go run. It's a painful but ultimately rewarding ritual (the rewarding bit comes later; for the most part, it's just painful). The thing about being in this part of America is that you only get to run that many months out of a year- of course there are people who trudge out in their fancy thermal gear in February but I don't talk to motivated people like that... So anyway, my point is, as long as the sun is out and it isn't too cold or dry, we run as often as we can, which hasn't been a whole lot since school has started, but we try. We are, after all, products of the Singapore education system- performance under pressure I say.

Running's not so much about losing weight although that was in the picture when I just came home from Singapore and needed to lose 10 lbs worth of South-east Asian indulgence; it's more the pump you feel after. Ironically, you feel refreshed after the run and that lasts long enough for you to believe you can get through tomorrow with just a celery stick and juice. Of course tomorrow comes, commonsense promptly takes over and you have a burrito with extra cheese for lunch. Then you run some more from the guilt and the circle of life continues...

Speaking of food, the South Beach Diet was good for a while. We stayed off sugars and carbs for 2 weeks, felt infinitely lighter and have pretty much kept the weight off since. Breakfast was tough though. Think about it, what can you eat for breakfast but carbs? No cereal, toast, even fruit. It was cheese, sausages and eggs for two whole weeks. Sounds like your typical all-American breakfast? Try that for 14-days straight. Ouch. If you had given me a slice of toast in that first two weeks, I would have named our first child after you.

Anyway, we're kind of off that now- Jude believes otherwise though: there's always that immense Catholic guilt when we have too much carbs for dinner. But we're still only eating good carbs like brown rice and multi-grain bread although there's finally room for sushi and that occasional dessert. And you know what the clincher is? I'm back to more than two cups of caffeinated drinks a day! I knew I wouldn't stay long on a diet that made me count coffee...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

"What's your favorite...?"

So this subject might be interesting to many people- dating. A couple of friends were having a conversation today about what determines the direction after a first date- how do you know you want to have another drink with this person, or if a quick getaway preceded by a mumbled excuse of an incurable and highly infectious disease is more in order? Apparently the litmus test for one of the above-mentioned friends is the answer to "What kind of music do you like?" Depending on the response, the probability (and success) of a second date would be quite simply ascertained- Q.E.D.

We all have different ways of deciding if that mystical alchemical entity called "chemistry" has sparked between oneself and an object of interest, that is if this entity can be said to exist at all. For some people, it's the definitive date movie; for others, it's the way one looks, behaves, eats, speaks, dresses, smells... and there are of course others for whom just the slightest display of interest is the sign that we're good to go.

So what is it that brings two people together? An incredibly funny book I would recommend for those who are curious is High Fidelity- and please, the book, not the movie even though I thought John Cusack was spot-on, and Jack Black stole the show. It doesn't really describe the meeting of souls so much as what tears them apart (which kinda tells you something about what went wrong with them coming together in the first place.) Basically, the book shadows Rob as he revisits all his ex-girlfriends to find out why they broke up with him. Needless to say, it is a painful journey of ego-shredding proportions as each conversation reduces any kind of self-respect and self-confidence by a notch. So basically, what does he find out? Apart from the fact that he was a bad kisser at age ten? That it's all about the timing.

The whole concept of chemistry is just about being at the right place at the right time with the right person. That's it. The eternal question answered. The meaning of human existence and the key to the posterity of civilization encapsulated in that one idea. Now all you have to do is to close your eyes and wish for the perfect person to materialize right before your eyes at the exact moment and exact place you want them to. Then you can buy them a second beer, and you'll live happily ever after. Good job!

Right, and Jude and I drove away from our wedding in a pumpkin driven by four men who used to be mice.

I'm not an authority on dating but I honestly believe that there's got to be more to this than whether the first Coldplay album was better than the second, or if you can recite the first eight stanzas of Paradise Lost by heart. Almost all cultures believe you can easily decide if a person is to be THE ONE- the Chinese believe in birthdates and times, Native Americans hold dear to their love dreamcatchers, and for others, it depends on which planet has moved into the house of which star. Erm... whatever turns your wheel I say...

For me, you just know. It's not chemistry, it's not always about sparks flying (although those do come in the picture... trust me.)- you just do. It's almost elemental- you feel it in your blood & guts. Literally. Something slides in place, and you go, "OH-MY-GOD!" That's it. I'm sorry if this is disappointing for those of you who actually expected this blog to give you an earth-shattering answer- for that, you actually have to pay me.

No, but seriously, that moment will arrive when you suddenly (or not) realize that this person is making you crawl out of bed an hour earlier than your usual 5.45 am just to check if he sent you an email between the last time you text-messaged "Good Night" and the moment you opened your eyes in the morning- you'll know you've got it bad. Those were good times...

So to Mr. "Peanut-butter-and 2%-milk", hang in there- you'll know if she's worth that second beer.


Saturday, September 18, 2004

The divine brew

It's now 1.29 in the afternoon, and I've already downed two medium sized coffees- one black and a soy latte. And I'm contemplating a third... If there were a Coffeeholic's Anonymous, I would be the founding member- seriously. Jude would call it my "desert-island" food. That and maybe sushi. Who cares if it ultimately all goes to your butt, dehydrates your system and stains your teeth in a way only tobacco rivals... It delivers a cardiac punch nothing else can.

Sadly, the one coffee drink I love most is the one we can't get here in the whole of blinking North America: a butter- (or Planta, I suspect) roasted kopi-O. My sister sent me a pack of it just after I went home to visit and it's now all gone... The closest I think we get to a good dark roast like that here is Vietnamese coffee, which isn't even that great without the condensed milk. Italian coffee is a close second but not enough cafes here in Ann Arbor brew those- it's a college town remember? The kids here like their coffee sippable and slurpable through a straw...

American black coffee does not even come near the vicinity of being good coffee. Someone please tell these Americans that the sorry excuse of a coffee they serve at diners/ restaurants are an embarassment to coffee beans all over the world. The best coffee tastes great black- no sugar, no cream. None of that caramel-macchiato-extra-whipped-cream-and-syrup-thank-you concoctions. And no, decaf is not coffee.

Soy latte, now that's a drink that could take me off black coffee if I let it. The soy milk gives the drink a little nutty taste that's rich, without being overtly overwhelming. It's for those ocassions when you feel you just need something milky but a bubble tea would just be too cruel to your waistline. It doesn't replace a good black coffee (yet...), but a comforting alternative in these increasingly colder climes here in the Midwest.

So until I go home again, the Jamaican coffee in our freezer would just have to do. That or there's always Starbucks...