Tuesday, May 31, 2005

As the dust settles again

Have been trying to post for the past four days but just haven't been able to muster up the energy to apply my thoughts to words- too labor-intensive. My mind and body is still painfully trying to shake up from the awful jet-lag this time round. The flight itself was surprisingly forgiving- I basically slept my way through Tokyo to Detroit (something I've never accomplished before); but for some cruel reason, adjusting back to the Eastern Time Zone has just not been fun. We're in bed by 11pm (if not 10pm every night), and all up and perky at 6-ish in the morning. Why do you think I'm blogging at 7am in the morning on a gorgeous spring day?

The trip home was great as always, albeit a little stressful this time round. It was a whirlwind just meeting everyone we wanted to meet in 20 days. Am a little sad about not spending as much time with some people as I wanted to though- my parents and sisters, my grandma too, and a couple of my close friends. More karaoke I say! And the food! Let's not even go there. Once I get all the photos uploaded, you'll see the obscene amount of eating that was involved... Suffice to say that am now in the midst of my annual post-Singapore ritual of contrition and restraint, i.e. The Diet.

Ann Arbor is beautiful this time of year. When we left, things were still a little grey, but Spring is here to stay finally- the weather's at that sweet spot where it's just warm enough to be lounging in the sun without being mucky, and breezy enough to be cool without the nippy chill of early April. Best of all, the undergrads are no where in sight, sanity has been restored, and we're reminded once again why Ann Arbor's one of the best places in this country to live, i.e. gorgeous greenery, clean streets, safe neighborhoods, great bookshops, the vibrantly intellectual environment, and basically, really nice people.

*Sigh* then December will come and I'll eat my words as I try valiantly to fit into my winter boots, jostle with obnoxious undergrads at the library, clear the slush from the front of our house, and dream of a sunny tropical island, 98% humidity and all...

Monday, May 23, 2005

A Lost in Translation moment

It was more like four hours actually. No, it did not involve a wig, drunk Japanese people and Bill Murray- and I will not be judged here- but I just had the most awesome time at a karaoke spot tonight. Absolutely awesome! It had to be four of the most outrageously cathartic and abandoningly un-self-conscious hours I will be spending in a while and I love my two best-est, best-est friends for setting it up- I don't think I would have done it with anyone else!! (unless you are deaf, dumb AND blind. Really.)

Several rules apply when you want to even consider stepping into one of these establishments in Singapore:
1) Cast off any pre-conceived notions of who you believe to be the clientele. While there will be your fair number of sleazy businessmen whose idea of recreation involves hot tea, hot towels and not-so-subtle amounts of groping, there are families and friends who are actually there for the singing.
2) You cannot- I repeat, CANNOT- sing karaoke with anyone else except with the people closest and dearest to you. Only they can hear you sing and still love you after. Thank you Ann and Aileen for still hugging me at the end of the night.
3) Leave all semblance of dignity and self-respect at the door. If you really want to enjoy yourself at a karaoke joint, forget any pretense of sophistication. It is neither the time nor place. Do not attempt to sing Coldplay or anything even remotely cool. A few of the "best" tracks we sang tonight were ones we would never admit to liking in civilized company. Think Westlife(!), N'Sync(!!) and Justin Timberlake(!!!).
4) Related to the previous rule, the only songs appropriate for karaoke are songs by boy-bands (because they involve no effort in terms of tone or pitch), Chinese songs (because we seldom hear them and don't know how badly we're mangling the lyrics... Oh, and I discovered that the world of Jay Chou, Sandy Lam and Emil Chow is a beautiful one...) and anything before 1980 (because... well, they just are. Think Barry Manilow, The Carpenters and Neil Sedaka.). There are the guiltly pleasure indulgence exceptions of course: bands/ singers from our teenage years are acceptable (and only if we don't tell anyone we didn't need to look at the lyrics to sing their songs)- Wilson Phillips, Debbie Gibson, Indecent Obsession (I highly doubt that three almost-thirty women breaking out into a rousing rendition of "Fixing a Broken Heart" is the ultimate portrait of poise and dignity).
5) Thou shall not sing U2 at a karaoke joint. An attempt to belt out "With or Without You" was met with the sad realization that women should just stick to lusting after Bono, not try to imitate him...
6) Rap *does not* work. Let's see you do Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is the Love" without missing a word...
7) You have to ignore the sometimes incongruous and often downright ludicrous videos that accompany the songs. Some honorable mentions: the video of Extreme's ballad, "More Than Words" was set in an all-girl head-banging rock concert; Faith Hill's "This Kiss" had a woman in a gaudy swimsuit and tasteless earrings wading very very slowly alone in the waters of Phi Phi island; and this has got to take the cake: Mr. Barry "my-teeth-are-definitely-bleached-white" Manilow's "Copacabana" (which was ignobly spelled "Cupacabana") was played to scenes of retirees driving vintage cars at a car show. I do not kid.

It was really great fun. Oh, and you also uncover the most sublime things about the people you love while you're at it. Like the fact that someone does an awesome cover of J.Lo's "Jenny On The Block" (ok fine, we all did...) and that nothing brings a smile to a certain somebody's face than a certain lead singer from a certain boy-band...

Pay me and I'll keep quiet.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Sunny island set in the sea

My poor hair. I finally get it at a length that's somewhat manageable and cut in a way that gives it some semblance of body and shape (as opposed to plastered and gasping for life), and what happens? I've had it in braids ever since I came home. I can't help it! It is so hot, describing it alone raises my body temperature. And the humidity! Don't go there.... The only thing that makes up for it is being with friends and family again. To sum it up, one word: comforting. The hugs, the welcoming tone at the other end of the line when we call, the extra lengths gone to settle us in, that first sip of a kopi-O- we're home.

Even being sick at home is better. It's no big deal really, just a sore throat and slight fever (probably a rogue bug leftover from graduation weekend), but when people haven't seen you in a year, you getting the flu is equivalent to catching a disease of epidemic proportions. We're talking volunteering to take me to the doctor's and cooking special foods (us people with the flu bug are physically incapacitated and have very specific dietary needs of course...). The attention is, as I said, very comforting.

We're off to Kuala Lumpur for the weekend tomorrow. Jude's first trip with my family. It'll be fun. Loads of eating, shopping and just spending time with my parents and sisters. I've missed them...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Majullah Singapura

In four hours, we'll be on a 22-hour flight back home. That's across 3 continents, about 2 oceans and 12 time-zones. On the plane, that also means 5 bad movies, 5 even worse airline meals (complete with the ubiquitous sponge masquerading as a muffin/ cupcake/ dinner roll and a generic brown/ red sauce that goes over all the entrees) and endless encounters with strange people I would otherwise not speak to if I weren't tens of thousands of feet above ground. I don't like flights. I get claustrophobic, I always want to go to the bathroom, and I'm never able to sleep well. The one thing I am grateful for is that Jude's coming home with me this time round. When I travelled on my own last year, I was stuck next to a 60-year old Scandinavian man who's entire vocabulary of English consisted only of names of bars in Detroit and just enough words to order food... Suffice to say he was not the most scintillating of travelling companions.

Anyways, the next time we write, we'll be sweltering in 90 degree (34C) weather and 98% humidity. God bless my pores...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Makansutra

Things to eat when we're home: (in no particular order)
1) My mum's curry
2) Tiong Bahru porridge
3) Home-made soup
4) BBQ chicken wings
5) Fried Hokkien Mee
6) Chicken Rice
7) Hock Lam Street Beef Noodle
8) Kopi-O from Coffee Museum in Tiong Bahru Market
9) Chilli Crabs from Palm Beach (actually any kind of seafood from Palm Beach man...)
10) Nasi Padang from Liang Seah Street
11) Good sushi
12) Anything at Ah-Hoy (Lee Kwee)
13) Hainanese Pork Chops
14) Prawn Mee from Joo Chiat
15) My mum's prawn rolls (Hae-Cho)
16) Sugarcane juice
17) Nonya food (Ayam Buah Keluak, Sambal Kang Kong, Otak...*slurp*)
18) Fish-head Bee Hoon (and most definitely with shrimp-paste fried chicken)
19) Bah-cho Mee (literally translated as "minced meat noodles")
20) Passionfruit meringue from The Patissier

Oh, be still my yearning tummy...

Monday, May 02, 2005

Of Nectar and Ambroisa

I'm tired. This is actually the first time in 3 days that Jude and I have had any time to ourselves. It's been nothing but a whirlwind of activities since Wednesday night as we saw the marking of several momentous events- a friend turned 30, Jude graduated, and I had my first hangover headache. Graduation weekend is just one long excuse to indulge in everything conceivable you would otherwise not do on any regular basis- spend more than US$70 on a meal, drink any more alcohol than is contained in a light beer or sparkling wine, play poker two days in a row (this of course applies to some people more than others...), and for Jude, putting on a suit (my husband's more a blazer and jeans kinda guy). We also took more photos than we ever have over a 3-day period (115 to be exact- talk about chronicling an event. Our newly-charged camera battery actually gave up on us some time Saturday evening.) So, the festivities:

Wednesday
Had sangria party at our house to mark the end of finals and also to semi-celebrate Yong's birthday. He was not a happy man turning 30 although I hope the copious amounts of dessert (and chips & dip) and Serene's home brew sangria (with 3 oranges and a pound of strawberries thrown in for good measure) managed so salve the aching wound a little. Just a little.

Thursday
In end-of-semester revelry, heedlessly downed a quart of sangria at Dominick's (with Jude, not by myself- thank god...) Note to self: NEVER do that again. Must remember that sangria at Dominick's is actually everclear and grapejuice unsuccessfully masquerading as Spanish red wine beverage. Better off making it at home. Had a warning of a headache when leaving Dominick's but believed that it could be alleviated by a shot of coffee. Bad idea. Ajourned to Good Night Gracie's to celebrate Yong's birthday even more. Shared a peach-flavored champagne with Jude. Felt creeping sense of light-headednesss, and weightlessness... In-house band played Marvin Gaye- inexplicably inspired to ask Jude to dance, but decided against it. Thirsty. Had a Diet Coke. Realized that by this time, my body has had at least two portions of alcohol and caffeine each. My mind giving me happy signals, but my body was dead tired.

Friday
Graduation Day. Woke up with a pounding headache (think two elephants playing soccer with a watermelon between my ears) but couldn't sleep in because had appointment with Aveda for haircut. Decided to get bangs. Jude got a trim too. Definitely not feeling well. Managed to make it through the afternoon with soup for lunch (don't think we could have held anything else down) and lots of water. Dressed up for the ceremony. My husband looked very spiffy in the only suit he owns. I wore a Banana Republic dress I got at 90% off. Was more pleased at the good deal than at how I looked in it. Jude's popping Tylenol and I was drowning myself in H2O. Vividly reminded again how alcohol and caffeine make terrible bedfellows in my system.

The ceremony was ok. Had more fun taking pictures and meeting parents' who travelled from as far as Taiwan and Spain to see their children graduate. Played "Match-the-Parents-to-the-Child". Not too difficult. Some people bear uncanny resemblance to their parents. Now we know who never got lost at the mall...

Stan and Susan visiting from Boston and staying with us. Our favorite couch (actually our only couch) comes to use. And a sleeping bag.

Had dinner reservations at Eve's. For reasons I shall not belabor, got first round of drinks on the house. Everyone got champagne of course. Yummy, but clearly not good for my headache nor Jude's increasing temperature. Nonetheless, had great time. Wow food and drop-dead-wonderful-out-of-this-world-how-did-they-do-that dessert. I am not kidding. Triple Chocolate Pot with Burnt Sugar Whipped Cream. Calories what? Fat? Huh? Decided that we have found our favorite restaurant in this town.

People wanted to party some more but we went home. In bed by midnight. Me nursing headache, Jude profusely sweating his fever off. Serene, do not co-consume bad sangria from Dominick's and caffeine. Remember.

Saturday
Woke up feeling way better. So did Jude. Enough to do some shopping after pleasant lunch at Pacific Rim with his advisor. Thanks Mick. Interesting fusion food. Had crab cakes with lemongrass sauce plus taro chips.

Rushed home to make Mac 'n Cheese for Zahra's party. Please people, none of that Agent Orange Kraft things. We're talking spicy Mac 'n Cheese from scratch thank you very much. The party was a blast- grilled flank steak, portebello mushrooms, great side dishes, wonderful company, and thankfully, got to the watermelon punch before a certain Russian emigre spiked it with more vodka :) These Central Asians and their potato alcohol... Mac n' Cheese reported to be a tad too spicy for the Midwesterners and Californians in attendance, but nonetheless, still a hit thanks to the characteristically Ann Arbor chill this time of year.

More partying at Abbey's place after. Had raspberry beer for the first time. Reminded each other that still trying to purge alcohol from system. Went easy on the beer. Abbey's leaving for NPR in D.C. Neat. Trying to surreptiously plant our friends in various parts of the country so we can save on lodging when we travel. Let's see, so far, got Boston, San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Diego, D.C., Rochester and Austin covered. C'mon guys, get it moving...

Even more partying at Dave and Jen's. Poker. I don't play and Jude just dabbles for fun. I'm there for the cable TV. Got White Castle burgers for everyone. 18 burgers for just slightly less than $10. Grease bombs really but strangely comforting at 11.30pm. Lucid enough to cheer when Jude won $1.50. Next thing I know, they woke me up and it's 3.15 in the morning. Didn't get to bed till 4.30.

Sunday
Up at 10.45 but still sleepy and blurry-eyed. Only perked up with shot of coffee. Second note to self: need to start weaning myself off this thing. Revoke second note to self: who am I kidding? Got ready for SIGN picnic/BBQ. Our contribution: Lemon Honey Mustard Chicken. Had been marinating for at least 30 hours. Should be good. It was, if not somewhat slow to cook. Say like 2 hours. Was too windy to get good fire going. But everyone brought really good stuff so well worth wait. Even had grilled pineapples and plaintains with honey and brown sugar. Mmmm... inspired. Came home, took a warm shower, and breathed normally again.

I think we're going to just not eat till Wednesday, and not drink till our next graduation. My body is still in some kind of post-hangover shock. I'm going to treat it well for the next couple of days before it receives another arrest- 3 weeks of non-stop eating back in Singapore.

And that, well, is another post...