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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Texas pride

So I'm sitting in my hotel room in Austin, TX typing this while staring at the clear blue sky outside the window. I braved the bone-chilling cold to get to the airport at 6.00 this morning, and just an hour ago, I was in light slacks and a t-shirt walking down the street as people jogged past me in tanks and shorts. What a difference being in the Central Time Zone makes...

Just so we get a little perspective here...


Ann Arbor:

I'm here for a literacy conference, but since it's not really my field (it's for the research project I'm on), I'm actually going to spend most of tomorrow with our friends, Beryl and Yong, who I haven't seen in forever! I'm not sure if we'll have time to tour the UT campus, but it seems like the two of them have my day pretty much planned for me :) I've heard so much about Austin and have really been looking forward to visiting. I just wish it wasn't for work, that I had more time, and that Jude was with me- I think we'd have a ball exploring this "bastion of progressive thought amid Texas conservatism" (nifty quote from here) and checking out the music in particular. One of my favorite bands, Explosions in the Sky is based out of Austin, but they're not playing anywhere in town these two days, which kinda bums me out...

Well, at least there's catching up with old friends, and that's ALWAYS fun! :)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"I'm... so... ronery..."

Just slightly more than three years ago, I posted something about a certain video clip cheering me up despite a very crappy day. Last night, against my better judgment, I sat down and watched parts of Team America with Jude, and finally saw the scene in its entirety, and I love it even more this time round :) I can't imagine how they managed to make it kinda sad and moving, a little offensive, and hysterically funny all at the same time!

And I have to admit that I've been proven wrong- Team America is actually genuinely funny as a parody of American politics (and of mainstream American blockbuster films as a genre actually); the detail that went into the design and construction of the sets and marionettes was also particularly impressive. I'm still staunchly not a South Park convert (although the Guitar Hero episode was pretty hilarious), but if Team America is any indication, someday, I might warm up to Trey Parker and Matt Stone's brand of satirical humor... ;)

[singing] "I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark,
When he made Pearl Harbor.
I miss you more than that movie missed the point,
And that's an awful lot, girl.
And now, now you've gone away, And all I'm trying to say, is:
Pearl Harbor sucked and I miss you.
I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school,
He was terrible in that film.
I need you like Cuba Gooding needed a bigger part,
He's way better than Ben Affleck.
And now, all I can think about is your smile,
And that shitty movie, too!
Pearl Harbor sucked and I miss you.
Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?
I guess Pearl Harbor sucked, just a little bit more than I miss you."
-Gary Johnston, Team America

Singapore Media Development Authority (MDA) video - WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??? **MUST WATCH

This video has been produced as a PR effort to highlight the work that the MDA does - to nurture a local media industry and develop Singapore into the next media hub. All the top dogs of the MDA appear in this video and express their "with-it-ness" by rapping, dancing and chiming words like "y'all".

Very brave of them to do this. However, I have to ask ... WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!!! If any privately-owned company were to employ a PR effort like this, can you imagine the damage to the company's image this video could cause? However, because this is an arm of the government, they might actually get lauded for "thinking outside of the box".

Perhaps this video draws inspiration from a previous effort to show Members of Parliament's "with-it-ness" ... by hip-hop dancing. See below:

One wonders ... are they trying too hard? Hipness and Edginess are qualities that perhaps can't be engineered, unlike the other aspects of society that the government so famously claims that they can.

And as we now all know, the U.S. isn't immune from manufacturing the "cool factor" as well:

MC Rove

So my question: what's with bureaucrats and rapping??

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's like synaesthesia almost...

After spending almost 3 hours in the kitchen, and another 2 hours eating yesterday, I've come to the conclusion that a Thanksgiving meal is one huge multi-sensory experience. The stupendous taste of the food aside, it's also the sight, smells and sounds that I find both so alluring and comforting. First there are the colours- the warm, deep crimson of the cranberries, the burnished gold of the turkey, and inviting saffron of the world's best sweet potato mash; then the sizzling sound of cranberries bursting in the pan, bubbling gravy, even the clinking of wine glasses being set on the table are a lovely prelude to the wondrous meal to come; and the smells... oh the smells... it's the woodsiness of the poultry herbs that hits you first, but then things come to you in layers after that- the sweet fragrance of the red wine in the cranberry sauce, the mingling of candied and fresh ginger, the earthiness of toasted walnuts, and the warm spiciness of hot apple cider just rounds off the perfection that was our Thanksgiving meal.

See, some people become more eloquent the more alcohol they consume; with Serene Koh, put her in the presence of good food and all her senses are heightened and she's suddenly at her expressive best... ;) I hope everyone had just as a delicious Thanksgiving meal as we did!

1. Spiced cider with butterscotch schnapps and rum, 2. Amazing sauteed brussel sprouts, 3. It speaks for itself I think..., 4. My respledently awesome plate :), 5. Rick's meticulously planned schedule, 6. Getting ready, 7. Jude was in charge of making "dessert", 8. All carved up, 9. The beginnings of a wonderful sauce

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

[Image from Darling Designs]

On this snowy Thursday morning, we just want to wish all our friends in the States a Happy Thanksgiving! And may you always have something in your life to be thankful for everyday of the year!

As always, I'm grateful for waking up everyday and doing something I love- that I'm continually challenged and inspired to think harder, do more, and be better than I was the day before; for supportive parents, loving sisters, and friends at home who I only miss more and more every year we're here; friends here for being like family; for good health- something I never want to take for granted; and for the deep happiness that comes with sharing my life with a most wonderful man... For these blessings, I give thanks this year :)

If you'd share, what are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Counting down two days...

For a non-American, I have to say that for some reason, I really look forward to Thanksgiving. It's not like I identify with the historical or cultural significance of the day, nor do I think that you should set aside just one day out of a year to give thanks for the blessings in your life as if the rest of the days of the year don't count... I think it has to do with the time of the year that Thanksgiving comes round- deadlines are always looming, the weather's turning dreary, and you just need a breather to relax and come to terms with the onset of the 5-month long winter. And everyone knows that nothing says decompress or numbs you from the weather better than a four day long starch-induced coma... Or it could be like my friend, Sarah very astutely pointed out, Thanksgiving is just a huge excuse to cook and eat masquerading as a national holiday, which makes it the perfect day for me :)

This year, we'll be at Rick and Emilee's again to recreate the awesomeness that was last year's deep-fried turkey goodness. Our contributions this year to the potluck are going to be green bean casserole, stuffing and dessert, which was kinda intimidating initially- I mean, these are traditional Thanksgiving staples and not to be messed with by any means. The thing is, I don't relish the idea of just throwing a can of condensed soup into processed beans and baking it into a dour, greasy mess, nor did I want to go all overwrought with something like smoked-oyster sticky rice stuffing in lotus leaf. And pumpkin pie after deep-fried turkey, two kinds of potato, brussel sprouts, green-beans, stuffing and gravy? Really? So I did what all helpless grad students do in a time of crisis. Research (or so I called it...)

In the end, this is what we settled on: a more traditional stuffing recipe from Simply Recipes and a slightly reinvented green bean casserole from Cook's Illustrated. And instead of a treacly, heavy dessert that no one's going to have room for, Jude's making a yummy Thanksgiving dessert drink with spiced apple cider and butterscotch schnapps. We had it a couple of weeks ago and my dear husband has been dying to recreate it ever since.

Thursday will be a day off for all of us and we're deciding between staying at Rick and Emilee's after to watch DVDs and play Wii till we collapse in a pile of tryptophan-induced bliss, or do a movie marathon at the theatres since there are so many awesome films out right now. Either way, I'm just looking forward to taking the day off from work. And that's one thing I'm definitely giving thanks for :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

ghetto of our mind- finally why...

In the three years we've kept the blog, I've lost count of the number of times people have asked us why the blog is named the way it is, and it never occurred to me to blog about it. Well, after stumbling across this video yesterday, I figured it's about time I did.

ghetto of our mind is named after the Rickie Lee Jones song, "Ghetto of My Mind" from the album, Flying Cowboys. Rickie Lee was one of the first things Jude and I discovered we had in common way back when, which pleasantly surprised us both since few people we knew then appreciated the sometimes idiosyncratic quality of her vocals. The album became the first of many CDs and books we started swapping and sharing, which is also why Rickie Lee has had a special place in our hearts ever since :)

She was actually here in Ann Arbor earlier this year to promote her latest album but we both had to be in school and couldn't make it. Bummer... :( It's not just her voice and the originality of her compositions that we love so much, but also the creativity and musical richness of the arrangements. And you can see in the video just how much fun she has making music- pure joy- and she's so genuine with her emotions, it's infectious! The last few moments are particularly precious- enjoy!

Ghetto of My Mind
Saving all my money all week long
So I can go out driving with you
Down on Hollywood Boulevard
On friday night, dressed right
I don't take no trouble smoke at the wall
But I still have that leopard-skin hat
That you gave me way back
Before it was cool
And they took it to school

Here in the ghetto
The ghetto of my mind
Y aqui, the ghetto
The ghetto of my mind

Hey we wild it up, wild it up

I like to dance with my rooner
'cause when we dance I feel like
We are who we've meant to be
He puts his arms around me
I put my arms around him
And I feel satisfied and free
One night I tried my bandanna around his wrists
And we started to sway and it felt so good
And he said " looky here mamma, looky here
I think I better just see you
Safely out of the neighborhood"
That is to say

The ghetto
The ghetto of my mind
Y aqui, the ghetto
The ghetto of my mind

Hey we wild it up, wild it up

Outside my window the noise is all I've got
There are no stars in the sky
Just the sirens and queens
Breaking glass down in the parking lot
That's the world where I live
Sometimes I wonder, oh how can I go on ?
But I know that the world you make inside your head
That's the one you see around, that's what I said
And the one you see
Is the one you make

Inside of the ghetto
The ghetto of your mind
Y aqui, the ghetto
The ghetto of my mind

Hey we wild it up, wild it you...

-Rickie Lee Jones

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A good day

The weather is back in the 50s, the sun is out and shining, the fall colors are still crazy gorgeous, and my friend, Christine is sharing her awesome Red Hot Lover's waffle fries with me for lunch...

AND, it's the Project Runway Season 4 Premiere tonight!!

All is good in Serene's world again... :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Suicide by burger?...

Thanks to Boing Boing, anyone contemplating death by junk food can now find their preferred one-way ticket to gastronomical suicide right here.

Jude and I actually haven't eaten fast-food in a while, but not consciously so. It's not like we're a pair of anti-fast food ideologues who go around pontificating the corporate evils of the fast-food industry. There will always be those Saturday mornings when a quick and hearty MacDonald's breakfast just makes more sense than waiting in line for brunch somewhere, or that rogue strawberry milkshake that we always seem to be craving... But we've definitely been eating fast food a lot less than we used to back when we were up to our necks in coursework and just had no time to cook. These days though, with a little more flexibility to our schedules, a growing awareness of how much money we save cooking at home, and the realization that we need to really be taking care of what we put in our bodies, we've taken to eating at home a lot more.

I guess fastfood's OK once in a while- who can deny the comforting greasiness of a pack of french fries or a slice of pizza? It's when it becomes your default meal choice and when you can memorize all the value meals by their numbers that things become troubling. We can spend all day talking about food subsidies and farming lobbies and why fast food makes economic sense to so many people, but the bottomline is (pun fully intended), fast food isn't nutritious- just throwing apples in a plastic bowl of limp salad does not make it healthy, especially when you serve it with syrupy dressing- and it sure isn't nourishing. So the next time you find yourself eating a fried chicken sandwich and onion rings for the fourth day in a row, ask yourself, is this something your mom or dad would make for you at home for four days straight?

Here’s what it comes down to kids. Ronald McDonald doesn’t give a damn about you. Neither does that little minx Wendy or any of the other icons of drivethroughdom. And you know what, they’re not supposed to. They’re businesses doing what businesses do. They don’t love you. They are not going to laugh with you on your birthdays, or hold you when you’re sick and sad. They won’t be with you when you graduate, when your children are born or when you die. You will be with you and your family and friends will be with you. And, if you’re any kind of human being, you will be there for them. And you know what, you and your family and friends are supposed to provide you with nourishment too. That’s right folks, feeding someone is an act of caring. We will always be fed best by those that care, be it ourselves or the aforementioned friends and family.
-Alton Brown

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tried and tired

I have always loved to write. Not so much in the artistic sense of writing a novel (although that crossed my mind several times until I was about twenty, an English major, and realized that all the greatest writers were dead before their work was recognized...), but more in terms of committing my thoughts and ideas into words. It's one of the reasons why I devote so much time to this blog- to feed the narcissistic desire in me to inflict my writing- of great import or otherwise- on the unsuspecting world. But lately, the process has just been getting increasingly difficult. Maybe it's got to do with being completely exhausted from writing my mammoth 60-page prelim paper over summer (that I only just recovered from), or having written so many different iterations of my dissertation proposal that I don't think I can be coherent about it anymore, or perhaps just sheer academic fatigue (I've been in school for 20 years, people!). Thinking of the next two years and how much more writing I have ahead of me used to be an almost thrilling prospect, but right now, the idea of it makes me want to just crawl under the blanket and not wake up till 2009.

It's just been one of those weeks...
Calvin: I used to hate writing assignments, but now I enjoy them. I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog! Want to see my book report?

Hobbes: (Reading Calvin's paper) "The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes."

Calvin: Academia, here I come!

-Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Say it isn't so!

Just two weeks ago, I was in a skirt and a t-shirt.

And this is what we're getting tomorrow:

Oh whoopee... :(

Monday, November 05, 2007

Of tropical drinks and simple pleasures...

As I'm typing this, my dear husband and half of SI are probably lounging in their summer outfits, sipping mojitos and enjoying their buckets of insanely fresh seafood while listening to the rush of the ocean by the beach... That, apparently, is the perk of having a conference on Sanibel Island, FL. I wish I were in Florida with Jude- it'd be a far cry from the increasingly chilly cold here in Ann Arbor- the heat's up, I'm walking around in my woolly socks already, and the forecast says it's going to snow on Tuesday! And what does my husband pack in his luggage? Swimming shorts for the beach! But as crazy envious as I am of him being in FL, I'm also really happy he's getting this little break. He's probably going to be working hard while he's there, but at least he'll be enjoying the nice sunshine and balmy breeze. It's been a tough semester for him, and he deserves these simple pleasures :)

My simple pleasure? Spending the evening grocery-shopping at Trader Joe's. I'll be having an insane week and the idea of cooking just for myself on a week like this week doesn't seem fun or therapeutic at all... And so on the shopping list was a bunch of cooking essentials, old favorites, and what I like to call "emergency meal helpers"- those TJ frozen entrees that are always so interesting and yummy too. Haul for the day:
- vanilla & almond granola
- milk
- several boxes of cake mixes (for those occasions when you just have to bring a cake somewhere...)
- green beans
- garlic oil (a little goes such an awesome long way)
- orange juice
- frozen veggie lasagna
- tilapia citronette (doesn't the name just scream, "Delicious!" It was being offered as a sample and one of the yummiest frozen entrees I've tasted from TJ's)
- zucchini
- pesto
- Havarti cheese
- mushroom risotto
- Thai lime and chile cashews (Jude loves to snack on cashews- these flavored ones are really good)
- trail mix bar (breakfast on the run- always important because I'd rather sleep an extra 10 minutes than wake up to make toast)
- carton of chicken broth (a.k.a. lifesaver of all lifesavers)

And now, I'm going to grab a blanket, curl up on the couch to read, and dream of "tropical drinks melting in (my) hand..."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Why the lack of attention at last night's earthquake in California?

I am finding it curious that the national and international news outlets I subscribe to (BBC news, The New York Times & Channel News Asia) have scant mention about last night's earthquake in California. Given all the accounts that I've managed to gather, the earthquake registered at approximately 5.5 on the richter scale and its epicenter was near Milpitas, south of the city of San Francisco. I think that 5.5 is a pretty large termor. While, there were no deaths and most of the damage reported tended to broken glass etc, the people who experienced the earthquake certainly expressed their fear and concern. We wrote to a couple we know in CA about it and received the following humorous reply:

"We were at home and he told me to told onto our new HDTV so that it wouldn't fall over! I guess I know what his most prized possession is!"

Coming back to my earlier point, I have definitely noticed great discrepancies in the coverage of news across the various newspapers and channels in the US. Unlike in Singapore where there is a monolithic news entity whose main job it seems is to cover every government official's public appearance. However, there has been almost no attention from international and East Coast news outlets about the earthquake. Is it a "local interest only" story? Is it because there is news fatigue from the news coverage of the tragic fires in California last week? Or is there something else that I am missing? Help me out here ...

Rilo Kiley

After hearing one of their tracks on the radio the other day, Jude and I are a little besotted with the band, Rilo Kiley right now. Listen to this song, "Silver Lining", and you'll understand why.

Apparently, the band has gotten quite a bit of critical attention, in no small part thanks to their lead singer, Jenny Lewis. The funny thing is how much adoration she herself is getting from legions of fanboys. See this for a particularly self-aware, but nonetheless insightful description of the phenomenon that is Rilo Kiley. We really like the band's overall aesthetic and the groovy, vintage, twee pop feel of their music. And the bottom line is, they just write good songs.

Apart from their delightfully ironic lyrics, the band also makes downright awesome videos. This is one of my favorites, "It's a Hit." Never have I wanted more to be a sandal-wearing porcupine...

And who knew taxidermy could be even remotely alluring?...

Any idiot can play Greek for a day
and join a sorority or write a tragedy
and articulating all that pain
and maybe you'll get paid.

But it's a sin when success complains,
and your writers block-it don't mean shit.
Just throw it against the wall and see what sticks.
Gotta write a hit
I think this is it.
It's a hit.
- Rilo Kiley, "It's A Hit"