Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Alligator pear, a.k.a. the avocado

So I made my own guacamole today. I know, it's one of those things that's so available ready-made that you think why would someone want to make it on their own? But really, it's so easy to make, I wonder why more people don't make it on their own.

I've come to love guacamole. Really. I never was an avocado person, maybe because dishes with avocado are few and far between in Singapore (except for maybe the occasional California roll or that Indonesian dessert with pureed avocado and gula melaka (brown palm sugar). But ever since moving here, I love guacamole on everything- in a BLT (Zingerman's), on a salad (Q'doba), in a burrito (Big Ten Burrito), and of course, on its own (Whole Foods has an awesome guacamole). There's something about the creamy butteriness of the avocado with the slightly tart zest of the lemon/ lime, and the crunch of the onions that just goes perfectly together. And I tell myself, even though it's higher in calories and fat than most other produce, it's still a vegetable! Besides you've got to admit that there's something kinda oddly sexy about an avocado- that deep, evocative green, and its gorgeously textured surface hiding this incredibly luscious, velvety fruit.

The recipe I used today is from Ina Garten (whose show I've come to adore even more than Giada's). It's literally a 15-minute recipe and with the exception of the avocados, we had all the other ingredients right in the kitchen. This version doesn't have cilantro- which I'm not a fan of anyway- but I'm sure you can add some of your own if you'd like. The hot sauce adds a great zing to the whole thing so make sure you don't leave it out.

The Barefoot Contessa's Guacamole

4 ripe Haas avocados
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)
8 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium tomato, seeded, and small-diced

Cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Immediately add the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.


It's great immediately after you've mixed everything together, but it gets even better when you leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours to let the flavors really mingle and come together.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Observatory Wonderkind Sessions 2006



Hah, see what a little YouTube sleuthing can so. I managed to not only find out that The Observatory have a new album coming out, but they've also uploaded a video of their recording sessions. Thought I'd share some of the new sounds that Leslie, Vivian, Evan, Victor and Dharma are conjuring for their upcoming album, A Far Cry From Here. Given the track in the video, I can't wait to hear what the rest of the new album sounds like.

Also, FYI, Leslie and gang are getting quite a bit of mySpace action. Check out their mySpace site and the heavy hitters that are on their Friends list. I've always wondered about the Friends list on mySpace sites. Even the most obscure bands and individuals have pretty famous people cited as friends on the Friends list. I know there's quite a bit of musician camaraderie going on, but how well do these people really know each other? I don't mean to put down mySpace users, but if I have Nels Cline listed as my friend, and I don't ever communicate with him, what does that mean? Looking at The Observatory's mySpace site, I can say that a number of the other bands cited as friends share a similar sensibility or aesthetic. However, can this be same for other mySpace users? If I were a no-name-no-one-has-ever-heard-of-you band, does having Mark Eitzel listed as my friend improve my reputation/stature? Oh the mySpace questions that confound me ...

Home improvement

Guess who got to play with power tools today? Hee hee... :) We finally got round to assembling the futon we got from Ikea last week, and also cleaning up the study that's been suffering from much lack of attention in the tidying department (see Before photos here and here). It was a little intimidating initially with the many, many screws and bolts and the huge frame, but we took it slow and things finally came together really well.

So yes, everything's done now, and the study is finally somewhat decent. That room was really too small to have three shelves and two writing desks. We moved one of the desks to the bedroom which had too much dead space anyway, so now the study's a lot more spacious and conducive to do work. The only thing is that both our work tables are now next to beds, which is of course never a good thing, and even worse in wintertime when all you want to do is snuggle under the covers until spring arrives!...

So anyways, ladies and gentlemen, our new and improved study room, complete with comfy futon!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Like a virgin...


Our virgin sledding experience!
Originally uploaded by jyew.
Hah! I bet you must thought this was going to be some salaciously exciting post didn't you? Tsk tsk... get your minds out of the gutter people! Nothing salacious about what we did today unless winter, snow and hurtling on a sled somehow rings your secret bell... ;) Yup, Jude and I went sledding today- our first winter sport of any kind! (erm... does sledding count as a sport??) Thanks to Eric and Amy for inviting us, and their wonderful company together with the Cooneys, we had a blast of a time!

And the weather was just perfect too- not unbearably cold, and just as we were making our way to the little park behind the Cook's, it started to snow, and not slushy, eeky snow; pretty, fluffy snow. According to Dan, the best kind of snow to sled (this is the correct verb right?) in is freshly powdered snow; that way, as you're hurtling downhill, you get the full blast of the snow in your face, your hair, your nostrils, even your teeth!

Jude and I are now hooked! I think we're going to get our own sled tomorrow (are the verb and the noun the same spelling?), or better still, our own sleds- one for the each of us. We've yet to completely understand the physics behind this whole sledding thing, but ergonomics, aerodynamics, and trajectory appear to be key factors. Also sledding on your back and sledding on your tummy are apparently two very different experiences.

Man... I can't wait to find out!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Helvetica: The documentary


You have to admit that the title above got your attention didn't it? Who would have thought that an entire documentary could be filmed on the subject of a font type. And as a tribute to this movie, this post is published in ... what else ... Helvetica :)

The Helvetica font has long been associated in my mind with cool, crisp & clean modernity. It stands out from the background and conveys its message clearly and efficiently. Celebrating its 50th birthday, the Helvetica type was developed by Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann in 1957 for the Haas Type Foundry in M√ľnchenstein, Switzerland. The name Helvetica itself is Latin for Switzerland.

I've long been fascinated with this font type since I was a teenager grasping my grubby hands on my first New Order album.


Peter Saville created a consistent image across all the bands managed by the then Manchester-based Factory Records.

The ubiquity of Helvetica in contemporary visual culture is further perpetuated by the inclusion of the font in the Apple Macintosh in 1984. Today, as the documentary will assert, the use of this type face surrounds us and affects us a variety of ways.

Check out the clip from the Helvetica movie below; it depicts scenes from Berlin and has a nice interview with Erik Spiekermann, the man famous for his design of informational displays on the Berlin Transit.



And I particularly like this clip from the movie where the psychological impact and communication that is conveyed through the use of Helvetica type faces is discussed.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tastespotting update

Instead of spending the day more fruitfully, a.k.a watching less Top Chef, tweaking my prelim paper more, and not taking that afternoon nap, what do I do? Submit more of our food porn onto Tastespotting. And believe it or not, four of them made it in (including the one of the monks on the cream puff)!

This is so cool. Our camera is so cool... :)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tastespotting

So we get an email from Billie yesterday suggesting that we look at a website, Tastespotting in light of our food pornography tendencies. I go there and am sucked in for a good hour admiring all these delectable shots of food and food-related things people contribute to this online picturebook, or so it's conceived.

An offshoot of notcot.com, a design site, Tastespotting allows it's readers to submit pictures of their food finds, all of which are subject to the approval of their editorial team. As you can see, they are a little snooty about the kinds of photos they accept, and it does seem that many of them are taken professionally. I went through our Food Pornography set on Flickr, and believe it or not, out of 158 photos, only found two which I might potentially submit onto Tastespotting. I guess this means our pornographic proclivities are unabashedly of the more consumptive, rather than visual variety... ;)

[Update: I submitted one of the photos I mentioned in this post on edible items being used as photographic landscapes, and Tastespotting put it up! We didn't take the photo of course, but I'm enjoying the whole user-contribution vibe... :)]

Monday, January 22, 2007

Home shopping

Emilee's sister, Beth, is visiting from Oregon for the weekend so we all decided to take a little trip to Ikea because... well, do you really need a reason to hang out in Ikea?? ;) Just as it is in Singapore, you walk in not intending on buying anything, but leave with an inflated sense of the interior designer in you, a mental picture of your fabulously coordinated and stylish future house entirely planned out, which then slowly transforms into the dull painful awareness that, oh right, we're grad students...

Well, Jude and I were actually looking for something specific- we decided that as much as our couch is a really comfy place to crash, the number of friends and family who visit us justifies buying at least a sofa bed/ futon so they can be more comfortable. And putting it in our study will also give our guests a little more privacy than sleeping in our living room.

We weren't intending on spending too much, but so we finally settled on the Lycksele in a deep scarlet red, with the Lovas mattress. It's a little more expensive than we were willing to pay, but for the design and how well it's made, we figured it's actually quite a good price. My cousin Jean will be visiting us next week from Hong Kong, so she'll be the first to break the sofa bed in :)

So yes people, knock on our doors all you want- we're ready for you!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Misfortune cookie

For everyone who's ever gotten an incomprehensible fortune cookie, you've never gotten it this bad. Fortune cookie wisdom from the world's cruelest Chinese restaurants:

Someone will find great prosperity and happiness by stealing your identity.

I'm from the free market and I'm here to help you

You are a person with grave misgivings. Trust these feelings. Lucky numbers: none

If you still think it's funny to add "...in bed" to the end of a fortune, you'll have plenty of time alone.

You will embark on a long journey that will become tragically short.

Yesterday was the luckiest day of your life.

Keeping fortunes in your wallet does not make them come true.

You should not have hit "reply to all"

Someday this will all seem funny. Oh, not to you. Did you think we meant to you?

DNA testing holds surprises for you

Great things are coming your way. Unfortunately, one of them arrives while you are crossing the street.

You have great insights about matters of little consequence.

[From Salon.com]

What's your most memorable fortune?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ouch...

How is it that at 30, I'm still discovering muscles I never thought I had? Namely in the neck, arms and thighs. I'm sitting down right now and my legs are quivering... Yup, I had my first yoga class today. It's been something I've been meaning to do for a long time, and since I'm finally done with coursework (yay!!) and have a little more time this semester, I figured this is about as good a time as any. Besides I know of people who attribute their success getting into grad school entirely on the focus and concentration yoga afforded them. I'm taking both my precandidacy exams this semester- I'm going to need as much of that mojo as I can get.

So anyway, back to the yoga. It's a form of yoga called Ashtanga Yoga, probably one of the oldest forms of yoga although it's enjoying recent popularity because celebrities like Madonna and Janet Jackson swear by it. It's very much focused on deep breathing, balance and posture. The breathing part I can do (although I think many of us ended up sounding a little like Darth Vader...); the balance and posture part... ok, not so much. The instructor hardly needed to tell me that yoga is all about concentration and focus- there really isn't very much else you can think about when you're trying your darndest to balance while holding one leg 90 degrees straight in front of you while bending to touch that raised foot (Don't ask me if I could do it, I'm not answering you!... )

I do have to say though that there is something perversely relaxing about that hour, in spite of the ridiculous amount of effort it took to contort myself into these fantastical postures. The focus helps, the stretching is amazing, and even though your entire sphere of movement is confined to only that 24 in x 68 in area of the mat, your body is getting some intensely cathartic workout.

The last time I did any yoga was about four years ago when Jude and I attended a class together. After that, we couldn't bend our legs for days, and my shoulders were so sore I couldn't carry anything on my back. Right now, there're aches and sores here and there, but I think I'll only start feeling any real pain tomorrow. The good thing is that the workout really helps generate heat throughout your body (I was perspiring so much from just standing still), which is a great thing in winter.

I'm not sure yet about the whole enhancing my clarity of thought thing- I'll let you know in April. For now, my body's beginning to feel the ache and I think the lingering jetlag isn't helping. Thank god this it's only once a week- any more than that and I don't think I'll be able to even crawl out of bed in the morning...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pretty...


Sparkling tree with sunset
Originally uploaded by jyew.
Days like these make winter all worth it. Truly, Ann Arbor was breathtakingly beautiful today. I stood outside my office literally awestruck for several moments. The sunlight bouncing off all the ice-encrusted trees and buildings made you feel like you were in some fairytale universe, except with characters in clumsy jackets and hoodies instead of fur coats and crystal carriages.

Of course, it takes very specific conditions for days like today to happen. You need an overnight ice-storm (complete with loss of power and shattered windscreens, I'm sorry to say...), snow the next day so that the snow sticks on the ice that had formed the night before, and insanely bright sunlight the day after that to bounce resplendently off all the preciously accumulated ice and snow.

The only thing is that it's also blisteringly cold today and I couldn't stay out as long as I wanted to to enjoy the scenery. I could only sit in our living room and stare dazedly out the window... :) For more gorgeous pics, definitely check out Amy and Matt's photos!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hiroshi Ishii talk @ NUS 01/10/07



Update on my previous post on the Hiroshi Ishii talk. Kevin has finally gotten the video of the talk up on Google video and it's embedded on this post for your viewing pleasure. There's much in this talk to think and talk about. Feel free to post a comment or start a discussion here :)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Home?

We've been home just over 24 hours and things are back to normal, I think (with the exception of maybe our sleep schedule and the living room). We've been in school since 10am this morning so yes, thrust right into the thick of things. It's good I guess- takes my mind off missing home a little and it gives my system less of a chance to succumb to the lure of sleeping some more.

Waiting for the bus today was an odd experience- I was literally the only person outdoors- only, single, alone. In the entire month in Singapore, except when I was at my parents' by myself in my room, I don't thinking I can remember ever being the only person anywhere. There were always people walking purposefully about, milling in the malls, scurrying here and there, packed up together in the trains... So yes, I definitely appreciated the stillness and silence of the cool morning today. It was nice.

Speaking of home, Jude and I will be at a play tonight- Singapore theatre director Ong Keng Sen is directing a musical/ opera composed by Bright Sheng- The Silver River- and it's playing at the Power Center. For $12, you also get a pizza/ meet-the-director session at the Alumni Center. It'll be an interesting experience in light of our recent excursion through the University Cultural Center back home. Ong Keng Sen is the Artistic Director of TheatreWorks (where Jude was supposed to do his undergrad internship) and is best known for his re-imagination of Shakespeare's tragedies. In particular, his kabuki-inspired King Lear has been performed all over the world. Let's see, between fending off jetlag and mouthfuls of pizza, we'll try to sneak a chat with the man, or better still, take a photo to add to Jude's collection of pictures of himself with random famous people.. ;)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'll be seeing you...

I hate this night. Truly truly... Not this specific night per se, but all the nights just before we return to Ann Arbor again. Because we fly Northwest, our flights out of Singapore are always at 6am in the morning. Jude and I try not to sleep and just spend the night packing. We find the tiredness helps somewhat to numb us from the general dreariness of the NWA food, plane, and sulky service.

I hate this night because this is when I miss home most. I know it sounds strange- I haven't even left yet. But it's in the silence of my old room, amidst bits and pieces of things that used to be mine, now mixed up with Sam's trinkets, and surrounded by my luggages all packed up that I'm stung most acutely by homesickness. You would think that having done this four times, it'll get easier. It doesn't. I don't know what it is about this year- I don't even remember feeling this sad the very first time Jude and I made this 22-hour journey across the world. Maybe it's coz we took things a little slow this year, and there was more time to just relax and enjoy everyone's company without the stress of running about. It just makes you appreciate each individual person's role in your life that little much more.

We'll be leaving for the airport in about an hour. Everyone's asleep right now. I guess I am looking forward a little to returning to Ann Arbor and starting work again- this trip home has been inspiring in a whole lot of different ways and I can't wait to get started on my research. But it's sad too- we'll miss all the friends we caught up with this time round- it was great catching up with you guys and we'll be thinking of you as we return to the frosty Midwest! More importantly, hugs out to our family- for the gifts exchanged, rides home, meals prepared, swims together, breakfasts bought, movies shared, games played, and words mis-pronounced.

We love you all!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The places you will go, the people you will see 2: how I managed to meet Hiroshi Ishii

Me & Hiroshi Ishii

This post will detail how you too can meet Hiroshi Ishii serendipitously.

One: Make contact with the director of the National University's Center for the Arts (who also happens to be your mate's mum)

Two: Casually state your areas of focus to said director.

Three: Said director happens to have a meeting with the director of the Interactive Digital Media Lab (Adrian Cheok) and a Visiting Professor from MIT so she asks for your advice on digital media.

Four: State desire to meet with director of Interactive Digital Media and inquire who said Visiting Professor might be.

Five: Find out that professor is Hiroshi Ishii!

Six: Mention that you are familiar with Ishii's work and suggest some ways of approaching upcoming meeting. Coyly decline sitting in on meeting but nonetheless allow yourself to be persuaded to come along anyway.

Seven: Have a wife who will grudgingly help you edit the University Arts Festival press release thrust upon you by above-mentioned mate's mom so that you can attend said meeting with little knowledge of its agenda.

Eight: Smile alot at first meeting with Hiroshi Ishii, nod knowingly at all he says, and remember to ask someone to take a photo of you together so you can tell yourself at a later date that this serendipitous meeting was not a figment of your hyperactive imagination.

Nine: Accompany Ishii's entourage around the University and before you know it, you'll find yourself in several meetings where deans and faculty members of various departments will wonder what you are doing there ;)

On a more serious note, getting the chance to talk to Ishii has been great. I also attended his talk today, which is the first of a Distinguished Lecture series that the faculty of engineering @ NUS has launched. Ishii's talk was highly inspiring as he detailed his prior work in tangible user interfaces (think I/O brush). But more than that, Ishii's talk was also a call for a more interdisciplinary approach towards technology development. Specifically, Ishii is calling for more high-level vision and concepts rather than reinventing the wheel with technology. During the talk he revealed that Nicholas Negroponte had asked Ishii to abandon his research on augmented tables and to think about new and original ways in which people can interact with technology. This message seemed to not have gone down well with the engineering students as during the question and answer session, they seemed to be overly focussed on the technical details of Ishii's prior work during the Q&A segment of the talk. This seemed to disconcert him somewhat. Kevin has captured the talk on video and when he puts it up on his blog, I will be sure to link it to this post.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hiroshi Ishii talk @ NUS tomorrow

I agreed to advertise this talk tomorrow. I know it's last minute but I think that Ishii is an interesting person for many Singaporean readers of this blog. Details of the talk below:


The Inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series Faculty of Engineering, NUS

The Distinguished Lecture Series, Faculty of Engineering, NUS is an initiative of the Faculty to bring in foreign experts and academics who could help to enhance th learning environment for innovation an entrepreneurship as well as the capabilities to teach and do research in cross-disciplinary areas which are relevant to all engineering disciplines.

Tangible Bits: Beyond Pixels
Prof Hiroshi Ishii
Tangible Media Group
MIT Media Laboratory

10 January 2007- 3.30pm to 4.30pm

Engineering Auditorium
NUS Faculty of Engineering
9 Engineering Drive 1
Singapore 117576

http://www.eng.nus.edu.sg/PACentre/courses/2007/DLSIshii.pdf

Registration is free but pre-registration is required.

To registration, please email your name, organization and email address to: engpac@nus.edu.sg by 8 January 2007.

Due to limited seating capacity, please register early.

Regards
Nurasyikin Mansor
Management Support Officer
Mixed Reality Lab

Monday, January 08, 2007

The places you will go, the people you will see 1

During our trip back, besides catching up with family, friends and local food, I had the good fortune of being able to meet and speak to a great variety of interesting people. As a way to document my discussions with them and to help spread the word about the work that they are involved with, I am going to blog about my meetings with these individuals/groups.




Kevin Lim is a doctoral candidate at SUNY, Buffalo, New York. I first came across his blog and became aware of him as a result of my interest in the dissolution of the School of Information in Buffalo. Kevin's blog has been a wealth of information for me and he is the closest thing to an online personality that I personally know. Kevin is going to be in Singapore teaching undergrads in a course focused on new/social media at SIM. In particular, he is attempting to look at how games can be used to incentivize and structure student contributions with social media. I won't go into what we talked about during our meeting as he has beaten me to it in his most recent "face-to-face" blogpost :)Drop by his blog and keep updated with his latest gadgets and exploits ... and not to mention his teaching.



Himansu Shah and me go back quite a bit of time. Shah runs an outfit called AV8 media that was a pioneer in bringing digital video and nonlinear desktop video editing to Singapore. I approached him several years ago when I was experimenting with digital video as a way to facilitate creative and critical thinking amongst my students. Digital video has since taken off in a big way in Singapore schools in no small part due to Shah's work. AV8 outfits schools with digital video labs/studios and also conducts Adobe certified training for both students and professionals. I remember back in 2001 when he and I were talking about an online means to showcase student video. To a large extent the bulk of what discussed has been realized with the presence of youTube today. I had an interesting dinner and discussion with Shah about user contributed video and how that relates to the recent efforts by the Singapore government in setting up bodies such as IDM and MDA. The both of us ruminated about the present efforts from the government to seed a digital media industry. While laudable and noteworthy, such government funding often comes with expectations not to broach on 'taboo' subjects such as politics. Also, Shah pointed out to me that there is much funding available for HD content production and game development from the MDA. However, the funding comes with strict guidelines and seems to want to push large productions (no funding for productions made with handheld HD cameras). But it was also noteworthy that MDA funding has resulted in a splashy large budget film called, One last dance, featuring Harvey Keitel.



Shah also arranged for me to have lunch with Pete Kellock, who was the former CEO of MUVEE. I have been peripherally aware of MUVEE for a number of years as being a prominent local software company that made it's name on automatic video editing software. However, I was completely taken aback as to how much this company has grown. The company recently moved to its present location and had undertaken a comprehensive survey of its employees as to what they would like for their work environment. The results of this survey is nothing short of impressive and Pete took me on an a thoroughly enjoyable tour of MUVEE's premises. You can check out my Flickr set of my tour of MUVEE's space.

In my interactions with Pete, there were a number of things that stood out for me. Firstly, the company had only recently set up its first usability lab and were new converts to the user evaluation and experience. Pete, being the original developer of MUVEE's software, told me that he was absolutely taken aback by some of the findings produced by their usability evaluation process. It was also heartening for me to hear that they were now seriously considering deploying TechSmith's MORAE, a software that I had worked on as a user experience intern in the summer of 2005.

My conversation with Pete and Shah over lunched revolved around youTube, user experience and how ubiquitous mobile devices were changing the ways in which people were taking digital video. In particular, during the conversation I raised the fact that there was now a lot of attention being paid research on adolescent use of technologies. Take for instance Mimi Ito's work on Japanese Teenagers' use of mobile camera phones. Considering how OBSESSED Singaporeans are with their cellphones, research work like Ito's study would be particularly relevant and important. It would seem that there is a lot of work to be done with regards to user experience and how user make use of technology. This is especially pertinent to software like MUVEE's which has been embedded in devices like cellphones. In fact, Pete himself readily admitted that MUVEE needs to know its users better. Hopefully, I can follow up with him on this.



Meeting the media socialists was especially eye-opening and important for me. This is a group of prominent bloggers who are working in educational technology in the tertiary institutions, in the national library, in advertising/marketing etc. It was especially important for me to be able to put faces to the blogs that I have been following online for a while. In general, the meeting was more of a put a name to the blog meeting. But there were a lot of connections made and information exchanged. I won't go into the details of everything discussed right now. I'll save that for a following blogpost after I have followed up with a couple of individuals from the group :)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Jalan jalan**

I hate to start off the new year with a snarky post but it's been something that's been bothering me for a while since we've been back. The seeds of these thoughts were actually planted way back last year when we watched Tan Pin Pin's wonderfully evocative Moving House, but has come into sharper relief since we've been back this year.

I am simultaneously amazed as well as disturbed by the rapidity with which the landscape of Singapore is continually transforming. There is construction work being done virtually everywhere I look and buildings are sprouting up like mushrooms after a rainy day. And even though we come home almost once a year, I find myself sometimes a little disoriented when landmarks I knew have now made way for something invariably bigger and shinier. I guess this means Singapore has become affluent enough that such change has become part and parcel of her development as a modern city.

But my question is this- honestly, do we need another shopping mall? Tampines- although a fairly large estate- is expecting its third shopping mall, on top of the hyper-mega Courts and Ikea that have just opened in the area. It is not without some resigned incredulity when I think about the fact that a small country like Singapore has two Ikeas (one of which is the largest in the region) while the whole state of Michigan virtually celebrated its socks off when the first and only one opened last year. And Orchard Road, already the shopping mecca of the country will have yet another shopping center opening just across the street from three existing malls. And of course, who can ignore VivoCity, 1.5 million square feet of "iconic retail, lifestyle and entertainment" space. Jude and I have steadfastly resisted the urge by every other person we've encountered to pay our respects to this behemoth of retail excess.

On the other hand, we've visited two beaches and there were chokeful of people- families with kids, families with pets, people in tents, people on bikes- everyone virtually packed like sardines in a place where relaxation and peace of mind are supposed to be key. Oh, and of course, there were rows upon rows of restaurants and retail outlets about. It's as if we walked into just another shopping mall, except that people were sweatier and there was no Bread Talk in sight...

Just as Moving House revealed the pathos associated with one's family's relocation of their ancestors' grave to a columbarium in the name of urban redevelopment, I too am coming to terms with a little tinge of sadness at the rapid (almost rabid) rate of consumption that has overcome my little country. I ask again, do we need another shopping mall? What are we giving up in exchange? How about building more parks and open areas where families can go to escape the busyness that already consumes all the other aspects of their waking lives? Does leisure now have to involve the same jostling and fighting for space as taking public transportation? What about the cultural sites that define us as a people? Our graveyards, markets or historically significant buildings which may not be aesthetically or architecturally pleasing but worth conserving nonetheless?

Looking through old postcards and history textbooks, we have been taught to marvel at how much this little tiny island has transformed into the modern, shining city that it is today- the narrow streets have given way to huge expressways, small shophouses into towering skyscrapers. We have been almost conditioned to view change as a sign of progress. I see the wistfulness in my parents' eyes sometimes when they reminisce about the place where they used to work and first met, or this one restaurant where my dad brought my mum on their first date, or where they bought the dress I was wearing in an old photograph. But these places don't exist anymore.

My little humble prayer is that when we grow old, let there be bits of our memory that can still find a physical anchor. Please, let our children be able to see parts of this country the same way as we do, see a building where Jude and I used to spend time in in the same site as it is today. Hopefully, there will not be in its place a 45-storey cineplex, or a 67-storey all-in-one living-entertainment-educational-retail-medical-hospice facility.

Call this my new year hope.
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em...
-Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

**[In Malay, jalan jalan means "streets". More commonly, it refers to Singaporeans' love for of walking about the city and its shopping areas.]