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Archive for August, 2005

Oh where, oh where has my levity gone?

Monday, August 29th, 2005

In Bangkok, less than 500 baht (20 SGD, 12.50 USD) will get you two hours at a five-storey mega salon with up to five stylists fawning over your ‘do.  Nice.  I brought a series of lookbook pictures from one of my favourite F/W ’05 runway shows and I think I got exactly what I asked for.

As expected, one of my sisters finds my new mop hilarious at best, while the other has surprisingly decided it has its merits.  Pictures to come.  S, I’d expect you to disapprove 🙂

I read all of 30 pages of Rawls during the trip.  Embarrassing.

Only in Bangkok…

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

Ah, bliss 🙂

Day 1
Lunch:  Chicken tomyam kuay teow (flat rice noodles) at BKK airport; cost: 100THB (4 SGD, 2.50 USD)
Dinner: Japanese ‘Sakira’ steak set and sauteed clams with vegetables; cost: 250THB (10 SGD, 6.25 USD)

Day 2
Lunch: Thai style fried chicken, roast pork slices, whole fried fish, green mango salad, sticky rice and Thai milk tea; cost: 150 THB (6 SGD, 3.75 USD)
Dinner: Family style Thai-Chinese dinner with eight dishes including roast duck, fried grouper, minced pork with basil, seafood tomyam soup etc.; cost: 140THB (5.75 SGD, 3.20 USD)

The immense benefit of travelling with someone who’s lived in Bangkok for nearly two years is the consistently high quality and authenticity of the places we eat at.

And I am still hopeful of returning from Thailand wonderfully detoxed and closer to my formerly svelte-ness.

As usual, my favorite Thai, Mr Pinky, was quite merciless:

“The way you stand makes your thighs look bigger.  There’s nothing I can do about that.  And your behind sticks out a lot more than most people.”

*mortification*  (In fact, this section may well dissappear at a later date when I’m feeling more self-conscious.)

I have been informed that Thais have a very commonly-used word that refers to the other people that an already-attached person is dating.  The word is “gig”. 

Example:  “Tonight I’m not going out with my boyfriend, I’m going out with my gig.” or “I’m meeting Gig One at 10pm and then Gig Two at midnight.”

Of course, this being Thailand, the term is gender-neutral, and can be used in a pinch even for people who don’t have an official significant other.

The new pair of aviator-style sunglasses I bought at MBK (160THB, 6.40 SGD, 4 USD) came in very handy on my high-speed motorbike ride to the restaurant tonight to shield my eyes from the smoggy wind.

I’m building up my armour for the coming Fall.  I have high hopes and quite some excitement quietly growing.

Packing begins

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

Number of kilograms of baggage allowance:  about 30
Kilograms of candy/confectionery/miscellaneous consumables to pack: about 8

The arithmetic is really not in my favour.

I leave for Bangkok tomorrow and I’ll be back on Monday.  See you there or see you then.

Oh, and my tablet pc is being looked at, so all those pictures I painstakingly edited are going to have to wait.

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

My annual wardrobe maintenance is now underway.  A year’s worth of fallen buttons, ripped seams and stained fabrics are being attended to, while another season’s worth of purchases await their turn to be altered, reconstructed or even made up from scratch to fit perfectly.  Meanwhile, I’m having to edit the contents of my luggage more and more mercilessly if I even hope to fit on the non-stop flight to Newark in less than a month’s time.

This is almost my favorite time of year.

I’ve been pretty lazy with editing and cataloging my pictures.  I just downloaded the hundreds of pictures on my digicam that cover Kew, the various London museums and so on.  Expect to see a couple of selected shots eventually.

In other news, I’ve decided not to go to Tokyo as planned.  It just seemed like too much trouble, and in the end I simply couldn’t think of very much I wanted to see or do in that city.  I’m essentially shopped-out and travelled-out for the summer.  Never thought you’d hear me say that, did you?  🙂

Edit: I know it can feel claustrophobic to some, but when you’re only back in town for a couple of weeks a year it’s wonderful to be able to bump into people everywhere you go.  While out to see Crash with Terence today at Marina (such an intense, well-edited, incredibly-scripted/acted film – go see it!), we were spotted by none other than Cyndi at Rice Table at Suntec City (Rijsttafel, mmmmn), and later Terence spotted Cailin in the Swissotel lobby on our way out.  It was really lovely to get to see each of these two (three if you include Terence) former classmates, and made for quite an eventful night.

Singapore mobile

Sunday, August 14th, 2005

I feel as if I’ve made enough public appearances in the last couple of days, which is satisfying.  Anyone else whom I’ve neglected to contact so far or have missed seeing, feel free to call me at my new Singapore mobile number (yes, I finally got one): (+65) 8147 3615  In all likelihood I’ve simply lost your mobile number (Kwong, for instance, if you see this – call me).

Today, goodness knows why, I accompanied my mother to one of the endless activities she attends at the sports club.  This time it was a Japanese cooking demonstration, which managed to make everything look very easy to prepare, as long as you have all the correct (Japanese) ingredients and implements.  It was pretty cool to watch an enormous 4kg salmon go from fresh off the plane from Norway (head, tail, fins and all) to bountiful plates of creamy sashimi.  I certainly ate enough of that to cover the registration fee for the course 🙂  And who knew chawan mushi was so simple to make (minus all the unheard of dashi ingredients like bonito)?

The overall atmosphere was a very curious cross between Desperate Housewives and Under One Roof, which I suppose I should have anticipated.  Fairly amusing, and a good exercise in being very still.

After that I headed straight for the gym to try and run off some of the breakfast-latebreakfast-lunch-secondlunch that had almost inadvertently happened.  Of course I was distracted by the magazine rack (hey, I miss my on-campus subscriptions!), but I did manage a twenty-minute run, which wasn’t much, but better than nothing.

Oh, and it nearly slipped my mind, but I finally got my Singapore driver’s license!!  Muahaha.  I converted my Massachusetts license, which really is a joke, if you remember how easily (and sketchily) I qualified for that.  I’m surprised that my parents have actually been quite proactive about getting me into the driver’s seat, with lots of supervision, of course.  Nothing unfortunate to report yet, thank God.

Happy 40th Brithday, Singapore!

Monday, August 8th, 2005

Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 was a shockingly bad experience.  Who would have guessed that an international terminal at the main London airport could be so decrepit and ill-designed?  It was cramped, noisy and unpleasant to navigate.  Everything looked old and unwashed.  The staff were mostly understandably surly.  *shudder*  I’m starting to appreciate the (smoky) Frankfurt airport a lot more now.

I am at least thankful for the fact that I managed to get on the plane with my over 70kg of luggage without a) collapsing, b) paying excess baggage charges.  Actually it was closer to 80kg, I think.  (That’s some 200 pounds for the non-metric-minded.)  Yes, that *is* considerably heavier than I weigh, and three to four times more than what’s allowed.

And now I am back in time for National Day, as I had hoped 🙂  The extended family went for an early morning walk along the boardwalk at Changi, which was nice, and much needed-exercise.  Following that we all hit the Changi Village hawker centre, noted for excellent mee siam, mee rubus, longtong, nasi lemak etc. etc.  Yum.

As a result of having slept six hours on Friday night, zero hours on Saturday night, one hour in the departure lounge at Heathrow, one hour on the 14-hour flight, one hour at home and eight hours last night, I am not jet-lagged.  I am, however, very panda-eyed and constantly ready for a nap.

Maybe I’ll take one now.

Countdown to departure

Saturday, August 6th, 2005

It’s actually kind of scary how much remains to be done before I leave.  Almost least of my worries is the ton of packing I have to do.  More worrying is all the cleaning and tidying I intend to complete before I leave the house.

Today was lovely – I spent most of the day at Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, finally.  Ted was pleasant company too, and I finished up my final day in London with a final hour at the National Gallery (not enough at all, yet again) followed by a quick trip to Selfridges to process my VAT refund (which amounted to just over a substantial 125GBP).

Ok, no more time to spare.  Back to packing.  See you in Singapore.

Last day at the office

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

Wow.  It’s been ten weeks since I started my internship.  Tomorrow is the last day I’ll have to go to the office at Rivington Street.  Just like that, another chapter draws to a close.

There’re quite a few things I would have liked to have written about since my last entry, namely my visit to the National Gallery (for which I have nothing but praise) on Wednesday evening, viewing A Very Long Engagement (for which I also have nothing but praise) twice on Tuesday night, and attending the season’s opening performance of Turandot by the Kirov Opera (for which I have quite limited praise) at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden tonight.  I guess that’s all going to have to wait, or never get done.

So much Chanel tonight.  Europeans definitely dress better to attend the opera. 

There were a bunch of American tourists sitting behind me who made me flinch and/or cringe any number of times in just one act.  It’s always the American tourists, isn’t it?  Not Americans, per se, just the tourists – I certainly didn’t observe any Americans who thought it was acceptable to talk during the performance of Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera, and certainly not during Nessun dorma*!!  (The one person who dared to hum at the Met was shushed in no uncertain terms within the opening bars of the aria.)

*The initially quiet but eventually climactic aria for the lead tenor that is almost certainly the most famous music in Turandot.

Anyway, I’m making myself get to bed now, even though there’s just so much more I want to stay up and do.  That’s probably going to be characteristic of the rest of my time in London, as I try to make up for lost sight-seeing** and house-cleaning time.  And that’s not to forget packing my bags before Sunday.

**On my list (which is too long): Kew Gardens, The Natural History Museum, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, also the National Gallery again and maybe the London History Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum.  Ten weeks in this city, and I only started visiting museums in the final nine days.  Shameful.

By semi-popular demand…

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

Since quite a number of people have found this page searching for “a perfect day in Amsterdam”, I thought it would be a public service if I posted some information on what I did on my perfect day in Amsterdam.  Click here if you’re interested to see my suggested itinerary based on my own experience (and advice from several travel guide writers).

The next-to-last weekend (A Tale of Two Tates)

Monday, August 1st, 2005

While I did not make it to Fabric this weekend (I’ll try and work up more enthusiasm for next Friday), nor did my planned visit to Kew pan out (for the upteenth, rained-out time), I did however visit get in some museum-visiting and dvd-watching.

Favourite lines from Italian For Beginners (which had many truly sublime moments amidst the generally tedious pacing, but was overall rather hampered by being visibly low-budget – it looked and occasionally felt painfully like a melodrama or soap opera a la Days of Our Lives):

Olympia (to her older sister) : What would you like for Christmas?
Karen: To own this salon, then I’d be my own boss. [Olympia gives her a helpless look; Karen laughs]. But I’d be happy with a scarf. What would you like for Christmas?
Olympia: To have a husband, and a home, and never have to work again. [She doesn’t allow herself more than a moment to remember her neuromuscular disability, the result (unknown to her) of foetal alcohol syndrome.] But I’d be happy with those long earrings we saw at the mall.

NB: Translated (probably quite loosely) from the German dialogue.

Such an achingly beautiful, yet unsentimental, unvarnished look at ordinariness, hopes, dreams, desire, compromise and acceptance, with such powerful commentary about existence, materialism and psychological resilience.

I went to both the Tate museums in London this weekend – the Tate Britain on Saturday and the Tate Modern on Sunday. In my opinion, the Tate Modern is by far the better museum in terms of visitor experience.

Bearing in mind, of course, that many people do not actually like or even respect modern and contemporary art (at the Tate Modern I overheard multiple comments along the lines of, “That’s not art, is it?” “No, I don’t think so – I could have made that. And imagine how much they paid for that!”), the Tate Modern is just more well-thought-out, thought provoking and accessible (in more ways than one).

To begin with, finding the Tate Modern from the nearest underground station (Southwark) is a lot easier than finding the Tate Britain (at Pimlico). Clearly labelled orange lampposts vibrantly mark the route to the Tate Modern, whereas finding the Tate Britain involves looking out for the occasional small street sign.

And then there’re the buildings. The Tate Modern is rather ugly on the outside (it was formally a massive power plant in the bad part of town), but the interior has loads of character that keeps the visiting experience constantly interesting and fresh (courtesy of the celebrity architecture team of Herzog and de Meuron). The Tate Britain, in contrast, while having a marginally more attractive classical fa�ade, is both insipid and rather confusing to navigate on the inside. It didn’t help that the Tate Modern was far more lively when I visited on Sunday afternoon – the café was packed, the large bookstore was bustling and the cavernous gallery spaces were animated with a constant stream of lively visitors. My visit to the Tate Britain on Saturday afternoon, however, was considerably more sombre and solitary.

Now, turning to the actual content of the two museums – the collections and the curating. The Tate Britain, with it’s rather narrow focus on British artists (who are frankly just not very interesting prior to the 20th century with a few exceptions like Constable, Turner, Sargent and the PRB), seems slightly lacklustre. This is especially because they only seem to have a handful of works from each artist on display (with the exception of the large Turner collection). The Tate Modern, on the other hand, has the advantage of being able to fill its galleries with only notable works by influential artists, many of whom are also very famous, which of course enhances the “wow” factor. Add to that the fact that a lot of the art is actually very, very cleaver, and quite beyond the abilities of the average person, and you start to see why the Tate Modern’s collection is so fascinating. There’s a delicately precise mobile by Calder, the massive Matisse collage The Snail, the striking, paranoia-filled (in the original sense) canvases by Dali – and I still personally do not like surrealism – and the definition-defying optical and kinetic pieces like my favourite, Pol Bury’s 3069 Points blancs sur un fond oval. But of course a collection is nothing without brilliant curating to pull it all together, to make the pieces speak to each other and to the visitor, to put everything in context, in opposition, in relation to other times, places, people, movements and ideas. In this respect, the Tate Modern also did a more compelling job, I felt, with considerably harder material (so many different mediums, ideas, movements), whereas the Tate Britain’s inevitable chronological lock-step with British history failed to inject excitement or urgency into the art, which ultimately seemed dead and almost irrelevant.

Then there are little things, like the seemingly more frequent, excellent free guided tours, the larger museum bookstore selection plus the more seamless floor-plan, that all add up to make the Tate Modern just so much more visitor-friendly than the Tate Britain.

In short, the Tate Britain is ok, but the Tate Modern is cool 🙂