Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It was a very good year


Nine months into my 46th year (and what a year it's been), and now The Economist tells me that the good stuff really begins now.

Well, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thicker than the phone book


I finally got my hands on the new Jonathan Franzen and can't wait to start on it. But I can't slip it into my work bag and read it on the train ride to the office, not when it's thicker than the Yellow Pages. I thought the whole point of paperbacks is that they are portable.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Not your usual bored games



I did not expect to see Scrabble and Monopoly on the supermarket shelves. What fun, two classic board games in edible form. And Belgian chocolate too! The only problem with this is it's literally game over after just one play.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Not the usual string quartet


Nope, not when they're the T'ang Quartet. They went from Beethoven and the Boys (their last concert earlier in the year, of really old school quartets by Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart), to DJ Aldrin, Zouk's finest. Classical meets house. I loved it. I could have gotten up and danced. As they did.

Not the usual programme too -- you could fold this one up into a one-inch cube. It sort of matches the cubes the musicians were sitting on. Not very comfortable for them, I don't think. No wonder they got up and danced.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't get excited now


Bet you didn't think that hair gel could be X-rated? Wonder why it's only for ladies then.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful that L is home from the hospital. And I am thankful for friends and family who saw us through the scary episode.

I'm not sure if I can go as far as saying that there was a reason for the whole thing. But in a perverse sort of way, if it wasn't for the bleed and the MRI that followed, we wouldn't have known that there was a cyst in the kidney.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Name dropping

Actually, no, for those who asked, the most famous name I ever came across back in the heady student days of stewarding at the Warwick Arts Centre wasn't Simon Rattle. It was when Andre Previn came with the London Symphony Orchestra.

And the stewards who worked front of house (FOH) never really rubbed shoulders with the musirati. It was the back of house (BOH) folks who did. The FOH scum like us merely clipped tickets and then got to watch the concert for free after that.

Anyway, Andre Previn. One of the FOH managers, a dear sweetheart of a man, was having kittens over how to address Andre Previn. "Do I call him Mr Preh-veen? Or is it Mr Prah-vahn?" He worried that the former would seem too uncultured but the latter might be too toffee-nosed.

Why not address him as Maestro, was my suggestion. That way, he skirted the surname altogether.

In the end, it was Masetro Andre Previn himself who solved the problem. He strode into the BOH briefing, stuck out his hand and said: "Hi, I'm Andy."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

THE Berlin Phil


I knew I was under-dressed for the Berlin Philharmonic when even their stagehands were wearing black jackets.

The last time I saw conductor Simon Rattle's back was 20 years ago. He's still bouncing those curls as he conducts, only they're all grey now.

And the last time that I saw the back of that curly head, I didn't have to pay $300 for the privilege. Instead, I was paid 3 pounds for my trouble. I was a student, stewarding at the University of Warwick Arts Centre. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was the orchestra in residence at the Arts Centre then, and Simon Rattle -- he wasn't Sir Simon back then -- was its conductor.

And that's why it's so hard to see him as the man walking in godlike Herbert von Karajan's footsteps at the Berlin Philarmonic. THE Berlin Phil. Not when you remember Simon Rattle tossing his curls at the old dears in the CBSO Chorus, and the way they tittered everytime he so much as spoke a sentence to them. Does "not C sharp but D flat, Muriel dear," qualify as a sentence?

Anyway, back to THE Berlin Phil. It was a faultless performance (Haydn's Symphony No 99; Brahms' Symphony No 2 on the first night. I skipped the second night because it had Mahler and I cannot do Mahler. Besides I couldn't afford to go both nights). I suppose you could say it was faultless because the audience, having forked out so much (my $300 was but a cheap seat in the second balcony. The gallery seats behind the orchestra went for about the same. Front row VIP seats were close to $600.), were determined that it had to be faultless.

But really, they were good. For a behemoth, they had the softest, gentlest pianisimmo, a smooth caress for the quiet bits in the Brahms. Before erupting into an awesome powerful finish.

The Philistine in me confesses that I don't get Alban Berg. I never could get that second Viennese school. Does a wooden mallet brought crashing down really count as a percussion instrument?

I think the nicest bit actually wasn't in the programme. It was during the intermission, before the orchestra came back on for the Brahms symphony. One of the double bassists lingered onstage as the (jacketed) stagehands moved chairs and music stands about. He started playing very quietly to himself Brahms' Lullabye, and then a fellow musician walked over, pulled up a chair, sat down and listened. An extra recital for the $300.

In an interview with the local daily English broadsheet, Simon -- sorry, Sir Simon now -- justified the high ticket prices by saying that a rock group of just a few people could play to a stadium of thousands, so they could price low. While an orchestra of so many people could only play to a few hundred. So that's why it costs more to listen to a bunch of penguin suits. Which was why I almost choked when I was reading the programme notes where Sir Simon was quoted as saying that "music is no mere luxury, but instead a fundamental need". Excuse me kind knight, but $300-$600 for a ticket IS luxury.

Eric Clapton plays here in February. His most expensive ticket is $300, which is THE Berlin Phil's cheap seat. Both ways, I'm paying the same. The way I see it, Haydn pretty much sounds like Haydn, whether it's done by THE Berlin Phil, the CBSO, or even the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (cheap seats $12). But only Clapton can do Layla like Clapton. I think my money's on Slowhand.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Two tales



I don't normally read historical fiction, but that was what I've been reading lately. Back to back too. The Ohter Bolelyn Girl was given to me by a friend clearing his shelves. He didn't want it any more and I never turn down a free read. I bought Wolf Hall months ago and still hadn't gotten round to reading because of its daunting two-inch thickness. I bought it solely on the review in The Economist, and it only helped that it went on to win the Booker Prize. One of those it'll be good reading books ... if only you got round to it.

And that was why I accepted the novella. I thought it would set me in the mood for the bigger book. Same historical era, same cast, just a different approach. It's more casual, more contemporary, and written in a breezy style. It took me just about three days to get through it.

The other one took me three weeks. But then that was also because I only read it at home, at bed time. At two-inch thick, it's not the sort of book you can slip into your bag to take with you to read on the train to work. It's beautifully written, with a masterly turn of phrase. So yes, it was good reading ... once I got round to it. Not to diss the other book, but it's quite obvious which one won the Booker Prize.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dance weekend



I had been so out of the loop from the events of the last few weeks that I'd quite forgotten that my Bollywood dance teacher's students from his various classes were staging a charity show on Saturday. Got myself a last-minute ticket and got down to it. It was a lovely evening of various forms of Indian dance -- Bollywood, fusion, kuchipudi, bharatanatyam, bellydancing and also a yoga display. And all amateur too. I also thought it was rather ironical that the kuchipudi troupe was all Chinese, and from Hong Kong too. If these weekend dancers could master kuchipudi then I have hope for tackling Bollywood fusion.

Sunday was the night of the professional. I went to Sree Katha, a bharatanatyam dance performance which depicted three heroines from the Ramayana. Indo-American Mythili Prakash's one-woman show gave me a whole new feminist perspective of the epic, and basically validated me for always having thought that Sita was a bit of a doormat. She also gave a new insight to Shurpanakha, the demoness who was mutilated for daring to make a pass at Rama. Prakash's point was that Shurpanakha was a woman who knew what she wanted and made an attempt to obtain what she wanted, and not bow to societal norms of beauty. So basically, it's better to be a fugly demoness who knows her mind than a longsuffering wife. I hear you, sister. Interestingly, from the post-performance dialogue with the artist, the people who disagreed with her weren't the elderly gentlemen in the predominantly Indian audience, but the elderly ladies.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Out of the woods

And out of ICU.

Still a long journey ahead, and babysteps too.

Grateful for the love and care every step along the way.

Monday, November 01, 2010

I'm doing OK, and I thank everyone -- people, dogs and angels -- for their love and support. I was just telling my friend, I come from Cantonese peasant ancestry, the sort of women who would have babies and then go back to the fields. I can see how strong my grandma was, how strong my mum was when I walked her through hospital corridors when it was my dad that was in hospital, and now I realise, gosh, I'm one of them.

He's still in ICU and it's been a week today. I would feel more relieved if he were out critical care. But baby steps.
I should add to yesterday's list:
The cleaner who noticed me hanging about the ICU corridor and motioned for me to take the chair at the empty nurse's station.

It wasn't so long ago that I was walking my mother past ICU corridors as she worried about my father. I didn't think that I would now be the one loitering around hospital corridors worrying about my husband.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Acts of kindness

The ambulance crew leader who came out of the ER room to look for me in the waiting area to tell me that L was getting taken care of, and told me to take care.

The nurse who fetched me a cup of hot Milo unasked after she settled L when he was moved from ER to the ward.

The nurse who walked me from the ward to the ICU the next day when L took a turn for the worse, who insisted on taking my bag and L's belongings. The pat on the arm when she left me with the new team.

The doctor who kindly shooed me home because I had not slept for 48 hours.

The brother-in-law who drove me.

The well wishes of the taxi driver who picked me up at the hospital cab stand and in conversation found out that my husband was there in critical care.

Another pat on the arm from another doctor who updated me.

The friends -- here and overseas -- who call and email their love and prayers.

The friends at work who came by the house after work to simply sit up with me and chat because they knew I couldn't sleep.

The colleague who offered to walk the dogs.

The two dogs who, instead of spreading out over the empty space in the bed, take up guarding bookend positions on either side of me.

Queeni who, despite her hatred of bathrooms because wet things take place in there, went in to lie on the floor by the tub when I was in it.

Rupert who stuck his snount over the edge of the tub to check on me (the next bath, the next day).

So much love.

L is not out of the woods but heading in the right direction. Those were the doc's words. It's going to be a long walk. I am grateful to you all for walking with me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Natural yogi

In yoga's triangle asana, you need to make three triangles between your arms and legs, and with your whole stance when you hold the pose.



In fox terriers, three triangles come naturally.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Seek and ye possibly may find


I'm not sure if an online classified ads portal is the best place to look for a "mistress" (and why is it in inverted commas?) but you can't fault the entrepreneurship. Even Craigslist had to start somewhere.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Playground wars

"Eh. No dogs allowed," said the teenaged boy perching at the top of the playground slide. It wasn't so much directed at me as I walked past with Roop, but he was posturing to his mates.

"My conservancy charges paid for this playground. If you don't want me here, I don't want you here either."

I do not like teenaged boys in the first flush of testosterone.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Exploring gravitational fields

Roop curled up on the couch, fell asleep and turned over on his back, all four paws in the air, still fast asleep. It was almost a good hour later when he woke up, then realised that the room wasn't quite the same way as he left it when he fell asleep. He rolled and twisted and struggled and then shot me a desperate "help me" look in his eyes.

So I rolled him gently on his side, pointed out to him which was up and which way was down, and he set his legs down gingerly and slowly eased himself up. And when he realised that gravity was back to normal, bounded round the room, delighted that the world is back the right way up again.

That's my boyo. Loopy Roopy.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Bye, Jacky

Jacky was one of those pet shop stock Schnauzers that shouldn't have been bred, shouldn't have been bought. She was barely 7 and had kidney failure, and her owner wanted to put her down when he found out.

But his friend, who also had a dog, thought Jacky should be given another chance. And that's when our neighbours took Jacky in. With them, she had 9 months of cuddles, sitting on laps, going on long walks with their resident dog, and play dates with our two.

Jacky died last Tuesday when her kidneys finally gave up. We hope though, that she hadn't given up on people. There're those that will give up a sick dog. But there are those that will take a sick dog in. We hope she's had a great 9 months.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The smells of home

Fresh, almost flowery scent of rice steaming slowly on the stove top.

Oily fried fish wafting from downstairs, meaning that the neighbours' dinner will be better than mine.

Pungent earthy smell as a heavy cloud discharges passing showers. Quick flurry of windows being closed in the block opposite. Now I know who's home at this time of the day and who's not.

Doggy smell on my finger tips after I've scritched Roop's chest.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eid feast



The nicest thing about being the only Chinese family in a corridor of Malay households is that we feast better during Eid/Hari Raya Aidilfitri than on Chinese New Year.

Weeks before the festival even, the next-door neighbour started the ball rolling with a jar of home-made cookies. Come back for more, she added, when we've finished this.

It's just that there were other things to occupy us. At lunchtime on Hari Raya, the neighbour across the landing had us over for for a meal of longtong, rendang, tahu in sambal, chicken curry with stringhopper pancakes.

At dinner time, the neighbour down the corridor came bearing a tray of more longtong, tahu sambal and chicken in a spicy tomato sauce. More longtong is inaccurate, a different type of longtong is more like it. The lunchtime version was local, the dinnertime version was Indonesian (the neighbour's Indonesian uncle did the cooking, he runs a restaurant there -- which means the food was restaurant-standard yummy).

At supper time, L went across the landing after the neighbour's last guests had left, bearing a food container and offering to be neighbourly with the leftovers -- he wasn't shy and the neighbour did say that she overestimated the amount of food, they had industrial sized pots sitting on their stove and how could you let anyone live with days of leftovers on end? :)

(And why do pictures of perfectly good curry and rendang always turn out like shots of upchuck?)

Monday, August 30, 2010

And now, we wait


I found a lump on Rupert's paw a fortnight ago, a little angry, weepy sore-like bump under a toe nail that made some interesting red footprints.

Rupert didn't seem bothered by it, it wasn't hurting him at all. Me, I freaked out. We humans have more emotional baggage than dogs. The last time we found a lump on another dog's paw, it turned out to be a mast cell tumour, and that resulted in Queeni losing a toe. This time round, the lump is very different, so we're hoping for a less traumatic outcome.

However, the lump didn't respond to a course of antibiotics. So the vet's Plan A of treating it as an infection didn't work and on Saturday, he resorted to Plan B -- excising the lump and sending it off for a biopsy. We won't know the results till a week's time.

Roop spent one day staggering around the house like a drunken sailor, another day comatose and now, he's right as rain. I'm glad he bounced back because it was really distressing to see his perky tail pointing down instead of up. I hope we have more bouncy, tail-wagging news from the lab soon.

UPDATE:
I should have updated this post much earlier, I didn't realise there were so many people pulling for Roop -- and I'm so grateful for all your kind thoughts.

The lump was benign, caused by "clinical turbulence" -- two toes rubbing against each other. It may occur again later, or on another paw. But nothing major to worry about.

I would have thought that "clinical turbulence" was when Roop farted in the exam room. FWIW, the vet faxed the lab report to me at work. Even a roomful of newspaper sub-editors couldn't understand the English. I got as far as "generally benign lesion" and that was enough to do the happy dance of joy.

Thank you, everyone, for thinking of us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Love and all that



B and his partner of years and years went to New Zealand last Christmas where they got civil unionised. He's still such a newly wed, playing with his ring. Such a joy to see. I honestly don't know which part of this gay marriage is a threat to society.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Grrr

It's taken me the long weekend to calm down.

On Friday, I had meant to stop by the pet shop on my way to work to get another bag of dog food. For a confluence of reasons, I didn't. The connecting train to the office arrived just at the same moment as I crossed over to the platform, so instead of taking the escalator to the exit where I would get out of the station and upstairs into the shopping centre where the pet shop was, I stepped into the train. I figured that I would pick up the dog food during dinner hour instead. What I didn't know then was that goD was looking out for me and my dogs.

Because 10 minutes later when I got into the office and checked my e-mail before starting any real work, I found a post on my dog e-list on a dog food recall. My blood ran cold when I realised that the brand that I feed was on the recall list.

P&G had issued a voluntary recall of some brands of pet food because a manufacturing facility had been compromised by salmonella. I googled like crazy but couldn't find anything which told me whether the recall was limited to the US and Canada, or also included exports to Asia.

In mounting panic, I called the pet shop. Yes, they knew what I was talking about. Yes, we are affected. And yes, stop feeding that to your dogs. Right now. They bent over backwards, working out a refund scheme for me, and helping me to select another brand that was close in composition so that an abrupt change of feed wouldn't throw the dogs' digestive system out of kilter. But when I asked why wasn't there any publicity about the recall, they pointed out that if I wanted to take up the issue, I would need to contact the importer/distributor. They were merely the retailer.

I left the office, retraced my steps back to the train station, got to the pet shop, got alternative food. Getting something to feed the dogs was at that time more important than doing work. No offence to my US friends, but this time, I elected not to buy American. I'm fussy about buying made in China foodstuff, but I think I've fallen into a colonial sort of complacency where I had assumed that anything Western-made is A-OK. Well, that's a fallacy these days. A British cat breeder friend had remarked that EU requirements for pet food are much stricter than US standards, so with that thought in mind, I decided to buy British.

Then I returned to work. I could really have used a good stiff drink, now that I was done with the crisis. But there was no possibility of that since I was at the office, so I opted for a cigarette instead. Yes, I am kinder to my dogs' systems than I am to my own.

By then, I had somewhat stopped freaking out. Meanwhile, L at home had thrown out the dog food and cleaned the container in which it was kept, as well as their food and water bowls, and also the kitchen counter top, and after all that, the sink and also sponge which he used to clean up. We're not fooling with salmonella. We're only jolly lucky that we don't have young children and elderly people in the house who could have been easily compromised by handling the dog food.

What really shook me was that there was no news of the recall here. If it wasn't for a heads-up from the US friend on my e-list, I would not have known. And that's when I started getting pissed off with the importer of the pet food, as well as Agri-Veterinary Authority (AVA), which is the regulatory body. The P&G release was dated July 30, a full week ago. In the 7 days since, we had no publicity on the matter.

The local importer has my name and address on its database -- from time to time, they send me brochures on the brand's products and on special offers that they may be carrying. At no time did they contact me regarding the recall -- when they knew full well I must be feeding that brand.

And as for the AVA, which during the last melamine-related recall made so much self-righteous noise about how they regularly test pet food that has been imported and how all imports meet their requirements, well this time they were well and truly caught with their pants down. I shot them an email that night.

I haven't yet heard from the importer or the AVA -- the parties with whom the buck should stop. They could be puking over the toilet bowl now for all I care. As long as it's not my furkids and my family doing that.

I can still do with that drink.

Monday, August 09, 2010

World Cup withdrawal

Didn't realise it was so bad until I resorted to watching the FA Community Shield on Sunday night simply because it was shown live on TV, and because it was some good football. Otherwise, I normally would not have bothered because Manchester United and Chelsea are not clubs that I follow or support.

But pressed to take a side, I clung onto the most remotest of links -- forlorn over Forlan, I decided to root for the club where he once played. Yup, I've sunk that low.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sign of the times



We don't understand what this new sign that appeared downstairs means? Don't walk your dog on a leash? So what the hell, we're just gonna lift a leg on it

Friday, July 30, 2010

Still hooked


4.30am is no time to start reading a book. Unless you finished the previous one at 4.25am.

OK, I learn fast. Halfway through Stieg Larsson Book 2, I went out and got Book 3. I was not going to be left hanging again in that deprivation mode when I finished Book 1 overnight, with hours to go before the bookshop opened to get a serial fix. The reason why I had to go out twice, to two different bookshops in two days, was because the bookshop where I bought Book 2 did not have Book 3. So 24 hours later, I took the train downtown to a bigger bookshop to get Book 3 -- while reading Book 2 on the train there and back. I think I haven't slept properly for the past 72 hours. L thinks it's a good thing that Larsson stopped at 3 books -- if he'd gone on for more, that would be a good week without any sleep.

And this is why I hardly ever start reading trilogies. You know you're starting on a long haul because you're never going to stop with one book. It's like the literary equivalent of opening a bag of potato chips, you're never going to stop at one chip. But sometimes -- like Tolkien, and now Larsson -- they're worth the long-term commitment .

The problem now is that Book 2 isn't the same edition as Books 1 and 3, so I haven't got a matching set. When I bought Book 2, I just grabbed the first edition I came across, like a junkie needing a quick, desperate fix. It didn't matter then that Book 2 didn't match Book 1. And now my copy of Book 3 doesn't match Book 2.

This sort of thing only bothers OCD people. And people who are proud of their matching Terry Prachett Discworld paperbacks. :)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Austen industry


I've just realised that my Jane Austen related books are fast outnumbering the Austen books proper. And these are just what I have, which is a small fraction of what's out there, plus what I've borrowed from the library. I'm not even including trash like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I wonder if Austen ever realised that her name and plots would kickstart a whole new genre?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hooked


L had one piece of advice before I embarked on the reading spree -- leave the Stieg Larsson till when I'm on leave and can afford the time because I wouldn't be able to put it down.

Well, I started the potboiler at a Starbucks, and went home, got into bed that night with it, and stayed up till 7am till I finished it. And that's not the end of the story. I slept for a few hours, then leapt out of bed after one cup of caffeine (normally, it takes me three cups before I can even crawl out of bed) and headed straight out for the mall -- to get Books 2 and 3 from the library, and if not, the bookshop. I hadn't even showered (but at least I brushed my teeth and washed my face!), I was in that much of a hurry to get my hands on the next two books in the series.

L laughed me out of the house. He's going to stop laughing when he realises that he's going to have to wait till I'm done with the sequel before he gets his hands on it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reading material



Home this week, clearing leave days and planning on staying in bed with two dogs and reading. Oh, OK, at the most, I could schlepp to the sofa.

I've already finished the Prachett. The Larsson I've always been meaning to get round to reading, same as Che Guevara. Hilary Mantel I got on the strength of The Economist's review and winning the Man Booker Prize. Look at the heft of that volume, it's definitely bedside reading material and not something you can slip in your bag and fish out at Starbucks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sumer is icumen in



Lhude sing cuccu.

Yeah, I know it's kinda cuckoo to go on about summer when you're living one degree north of the equator, and there's watermelon available year round (don't hate me, R, I remember what you said last summer about watermelon being an indication of the season). But the supermarket signs of summer -- such as imported stone fruit -- is really something worth singing about. Guess I'm not about to count my food miles there.

Oh, the poster is a mailer of a restaurant's seasonal menu. It's too pretty to consign to the recycling bin with the rest of the mailers that I get, so I'm sticking it on my wall for the colours. And the laidback effect that it gives me everytime I look at it.

Murie sing cuccu!
:)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Love, etc

My husband loves me too. He went and got Blutack when I realised that we didn't have any in the house. So that his wife could stick postcards of her crush at her desk.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Feed a fever

I love my friends, and I think they love me. They spammed me with pictures of Diego Forlan when they knew of my World Cup crush. Then one of them turned those pictures into postcards ("you only get eight, any more would be a shrine") when I went into post-World Cup post-Forlan withdrawal (yes, I know Spanish La Liga starts next month, but I'm not likely to follow it -- I'm smitten but I'm not stupid enough to follow a league where I only know one player).



And even the one who then spammed me with pictures of Forlan's model girlfriend, in an attempt to jolt me back to post-World Cup reality. Why do footballers always have to date models? Life is unfair enough as it is.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Saturday night out


... feeding my Forlan crush at the Kopitiam's free screening of the World Cup third and fourth placing.

We knew that they would stop alcohol sales after midnight so we brought along our own liquid picnic.


PS: I have realised that the drawback to watching with one's husband a match featuring one's crush is that every time Forlan got possession, L would elbow me, "Eh, your boyfriend!"

If only.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Yummy

A weak attempt at food blogging -- which is to say, I want to show off what I did for dinner over the weekend. It doesn't look anything as food porn as Chubby Hubby though. But then again, he's a pro.



We usually have a packet of frozen roti prata (Singaporean Indian pancake, usually eaten with curry) as a staple in the freezer, and one day, instead of heating a prata in a non-stick pan on the stove top as I usually do, I stuck one in the oven because I had it going for something else. To my surprise, the flat pancake crisped up and puffed up into layers like flaky pastry.

That sparked off ideas of what to do with prata, mostly along the lines of using it as an easy pastry substitute. It's more restrictive than pastry because you are restricted to working with a circle of frozen dough which you can't roll or manipulate. But it is a lot more convenient, and doesn't involve getting out the rolling pin and pastry board. And I thought pre-made pastry was already convenient. This beat even that.

The easiest thing to make was a sausage roll, I simply rolled a prata round a sausage and popped it in the oven. Last week, prata became the pastry topping for a chicken pot pie. That worked out quite well and it was dead easy because you could just place the circular prata over the pie dish and fold it down over the edge.

Then I got adventurous. Prata became the dough for a pasty. It was an ugly-looking pasty, because unlike malleable dough, I couldn't pinch the pancake neatly into a decorative plait where I sealed the ends, let alone decorate it Martha Stewart-like with pastry appliques on top. But hey, looks doesn't matter because once you cut into it, it will just crumble away into flakes anyway, and it tastes just as good.





Oh, that dish in the corner, it was a vegetable soup.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gone Chopin


It's funny how I hated Chopin when I was a teenager with piano lessons and practice sessions forced upon me. Chopin then was all trills and trouble, more stress than soother. But now, it's the Chopin CDs I automatically put on when I want soothing music.

This year's installation of the annual piano festival had a largely Chopin theme, in line with his bicentennial. I missed most of the week-long concerts though, as I work weeknights, and could only go on the final night, which had little Chopin. But it was OK, that night featured Piotr Anderszewki and he played Bach (English Suite No5) and Beethoven (Piano Sonata No31), my favourite B-boys.

I had the last seat at the end of the row, and on my left, an empty seat separated me from the guy who sat two seats away. It was as if he had bought three seats for himself, he had a nice space of an empty seat on either side of him. In a full house, at that. Halfway through the Bach, I was amused to see him playing air piano along to the music. He got up to leave even before the lights came on for the intermission. And he never came back. Strange guy.

There was also Schumann in the line-up, and it wasn't until I leafed through the programme that I realised Schumann was born in the same year as Chopin. Which means that this year is also Schumann's bicentennial. But he's been completely overshadowed by all the fanfare over Chopin. I knew it right from the start, that guy was trouble.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's all in the brain

I knew there had to something more to straight women getting along with gay men than just shopping for shoes together. We've both got more nimble brains.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Still in the spirit


Succumbed to football fever and got dad a birthday cake in the shape of a pitch. He was delighted. He pointed out though, that the goal posts were missing.

That there are cakes in the shape of a football pitch already says something. Actually, Pizza Hut has a rectangular pizza also decorated with toppings that makes it look like a football pitch. But it would be too much to give dad fast food for a birthday meal. Even though he would probably like it too. :p

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Spirit of the season


I found this book lurking on the library shelf in the economics section. A most serendipitous find, given World Cup season. Or cuppo mondiale, as a friend calls it, because it sounds more grandiose that way. (But then again, he's an English prof so I guess they talk like that -- hi, J!)

The book does explain tribalism and all that hooliganism stuff. What it doesn't explain is why any human with a Y chromosome on this planet is currently obsessed with the World Cup.

At least I'll have a good book to read when L is watching football.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bag boy



I left my bag lying on the floor as I sat at my desk, and was going to start packing it with all the things I needed to take in with me to work. Rupert came into the room and decided that he was going to use it as a cushion to sleep on. I couldn't interfere with his comfort. The bag will probably smell of dog tomorrow, and my colleague sitting next to me may even wrinkle his nose. But I'm letting this sleeping dog lie.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I want more


To have the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (ASMF) play here is already a big deal. To have Joshua Bell perform, an even bigger deal. To have Bell lead ASMF, well that just about caps everything. And two for the price of one, at that.

The first time I heard ASMF in a live recital was more than 20 years ago when I was a teenager (well, maybe a little bit more than 20 years ago then). I don't remember them as a large orchestra. They were a chamber group then. Perhaps there was woodwind but I don't remember a brass section then, and definitely no timpani. Well now, they're more like a symphony orchestra, quite capable of taking on Beethoven -- Symphony No 7 on opening night, and Symphony No 4 on the second night -- "angry music", as L calls Beethoven.

We went on the second night. It was a lovely concert but ended somewhat abruptly -- no encore, no nothing, despite a standing ovation at the end of the evening. A gentleman sitting next to us said that he was there the previous night, and not only was there an encore at the end of the evening, there was also one at the end of the first half of the programme, before the intermission -- which is pretty unusual. L thinks that Bell wanted an early night. Or maybe he thought we were Philistines -- there was scattered applause in between movements in the pieces. At the end of the night, there was a queue for autographs but signing was restricted to just 30 minutes. Yup, the man probably wanted to knock off early. Can't really blame him -- he didn't so much lead the orchestra, but danced to them. I still can't believe that he's my age, he looks like a 20-year-old kid!

We enjoyed the concert very much, but were rather disappointed -- cheated, even -- that there was no encore. When I first heard ASMF all those years ago, it was the encore that stayed with me over the years, whatever else they played has been long forgotten. The encore was Pachelbel's Cannon, and I remember that they dedicated it to someone in the music world who had passed away then. I had heard the piece countless times before then (and I've heard it countless times since, mostly as a wedding processional, and only lately, at a state funeral for a former deputy prime minister -- which will probably do it in for the next person who wants it in a wedding). ASMF was the first time that I heard it live. You know what they say about snapshot moments -- that one vivid moment that will stay in your memory throughout your life. ASMF and Pachelbel was one of those moments for me. It was then that I realised how much a live performance can add to a piece that you only knew as a recording. When you're a teenager still trying to decide whether you prefer Bach or Bon Jovi, that can leave a lasting impression.

I still like both Bach and Bon Jovi, and I even see a Bach structure in Guns n Roses' November Rain, much to the amusement of a professional rock musician I once told that to. But that's another story.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I finally geddit

To stay topical on the World Cup:

Off-side Rule explained for women (courtesy Bill Shepherd)

You're in a shoe shop, second in the queue for the till. Behind the shop assistant on the till is a pair of shoes which you have seen and which you must have. The 'opposing' female shopper in front of you has seen them also and is eyeing them with desire. Both of you have forgotten your purses. It would be totally rude to push in front of the first woman if you had no money to pay for the shoes.The shop assistant remains at the till waiting. Your friend is trying on another pair of shoes at the back of the shop and sees your dilemma. She prepares to throw her purse to you. If she does so, you can catch the purse, then walk round the other shopper and buy the shoes. At a pinch she could throw the purse ahead of the other shopper and, *whilst it is in flight* you could nip around the other shopper, catch the purse and buy the shoes. Always remembering that until the purse had *actually been thrown* it would be plain wrong to be forward of the other shopper.

Monday, June 14, 2010

We win

Dad was going to have one of his mates over to watch the World Cup opening match on Friday night. At the last minute before the guy was coming over, he phoned to ask if his girlfriend could come along. Of course. And could she bring her girlfriends? Sure.

Then dad thought to remind him to tell them that two dogs live in the house, so they could come as long as they were OK with dogs. Then one of the women suggested to dad that he shut the dogs up in another room.

Dad erupted: Why don't you sit in another room? The dogs live here, you don't.


Nobody came. Mexico and South Africa drew. The dogs won.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Everybody's Irish



The food court next to the shopping mall down the road has a somewhat international flavour -- there's Japanese, Korean and Italian food, alongside the local Chinese, Indian and Malay specialities.

But O'Braim Aneka Selera? Would that be Irish Malay food? FWIW, they were offering mee siam (all right, I'll translate for my overseas friends -- hi B and M! -- vermicelli in a tamarind gravy) andtahu goreng (deep fried squares of tofu with a peanut sauce dressing). Those dishes on the display counter are different types of epok epok (deep-fried half-circles of short crust pastry, with different fillings of sardine or curried potato). (Hungry yet?) Not a whiff of Guinness.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Don't drink and drive, navigate instead


I should have a tag on fun items spotted on supermarket shelves.

OK, it makes sense to call a beer with 11.6% alcohol content the Maximator. But Navigator for regular-ish 8.4% beer? Would you trust a navigator who's under the influence? Better than a driver, I suppose.

BTW, their non-alcoholic beer is the Liberator (and it comes in a can half the size of the Navigator and Maximator -- presumably those who watch their alcohol intake are also watching their calories). Although some would question how liberating non-alcoholic beer really is.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Some story


I hope the cock and bull ends at the label and that the wine is really something.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sure, politicians say smart things

In the newsletter published by my constituency's grassroots group that is distributed to residents, the foreword written by the mayor (who is also a constituency MP and junior minister) stuck to the issue's theme of fathering, since it's Father's Day coming up next month. He wrote of his own method of bonding with his child, that he "make(s) it a point to send (his) son to school every morning", ie he drives his son to school. Well, bully for him. This constituency is in HDB heartland, ie 90% of the residents live in public housing. Of this demographic, not every household owns a car. According to 2008 figures, 430,000 Singaporeans (out of a population of 4.8 million) own cars. Most kids who live in an HDB estate take a bus to school, or walk to the neighbourhood school.

Another MP preaching to the choir.

There must be a term for it: not trusting politicians.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Advance booking


I thought I was so damn forward looking, buying a ticket for a concert in November. November! Six months away. I've never been that organised so far in advance, not even for things like vacations, where one has to book plane tickets and hotel rooms way ahead.

The ticket was for the Berliner Philharmoniker. Yes. *A* ticket. Just one. Could not afford two. L will have to stay home with the dogs that November night.

They went on sale over the weekend, and already, all the cheap seats were gone. Although cheap seat is a misnomer in this case. At $250 for the seats behind the stage, they weren't really that cheap. I had to buy a mid-range seat, and that was on the third level balcony, the level from which I couldn't hear Prospero. And that was $140. The distance this time round cost me $240. But I'm pretty sure that I'll hear something this time round.

Comparatively, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in a couple of weeks is a mere $53, and a Chopin recital the following week cost me just $28. Even if the former was under the auspices of the Singapore Arts Festival and the latter a CIMB sponsored annual piano festival, ticket pricing boggles me.

But then again, this is THE Berliner Philharmoniker.

Still, it isn't the Berlin Phil with Herbert von Karajan leading, but with Sir Simon Rattle. And that only kind of twists the knife for me. The last time I saw Simon Rattle, he wasn't a Sir, he was conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), which was the orchestra in residence at the University of Warwick Arts Centre. As a student, I spent some evenings working as a steward at the Arts Centre, not so much for the money (a few paltry pounds per evening) but for the free concerts and plays I got to watch as part of the job. That's why it's hard for me to imagine Rattle taking on von Karajan's god-like mantle, not when my lasting impression of him was reducing the old dears in the CBSO chorus to giggly fits. And not to mention that I saw him for free, and even got a few pounds at the end of the night in the bargain!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend


We might as well have camped out at Hong Lim Park over the weekend. On Saturday, we went to Pink Dot. It was a bigger turnout than last year, and it was really good to see that it wasn't just the usual LGBT crowd but a diverse gathering that included family groups, mums, dads and toddlers in strollers, and a wheelchair-bound little old lady dressed in pink. And quite a few dogs.

Our tshirts (L wore his from last year that says "Straight but not narrow", mine was "Jesus had two fathers") again got thumbs-up, compliments and several photo requests. And someone tied a pink balloon to Rupert, who was so very proud of it. And that made it easier for our friends to find us.


Some camera crew interviewed L and me. I don't even know where they were from. Bloody dumb questions like: did we have gay friends, and was it a problem when we found out they were gay. L's answer: "I was born straight. That should be a problem then, shouldn't it?"

And then the interviewer turned to me: "What sort of message are you sending out through your Tshirt?"
"That families are not necessarily papa bear, mama bear and baby bear. And that they're still happy, functional families."
"..."
I bet back at the farm, we're going to be edited out.



On Sunday, we were back again, this time for the annual candlelight Aids memorial. We were to have brought the dogs, Queeni is quite the veteran of several memorials but not the ones held in the last 2 to 3 years because they were in an indoors location where you couldn't take a dog. But since we're back to an outdoors location, well, her attendance was requested by a couple of the volunteers. Also, they haven't met Rupert, and I was quite keen to show him off. But since there were long drawn thunderstorms from the afternoon into the evening, we decided that the dogs should stay home.

Action for Aids president Roy Chan said in his opening address that we've come quite a long way since we started the annual memorial almost 20 years ago. Back in the 80s and 90s, he lost many friends to Aids. Just as I did. He then pointed out that since we're now into the third generation of anti-retroviral drugs, there really shouldn't be anyone dying from Aids in this day and age. Provided that there is access to medication, of course.

And then guest of honour MP Denise Phua promptly took us all back 20 years by saying in her address that she didn't know very much about Aids until she was invited to grace this event, and then proceeded to deliver a speech she termed as Aids 101, on what she learnt, and that -- glory be -- you couldn't get Aids from social contact, and hugging and kissing a person with Aids (PWA). And then went on to preach to the choir stalls.

I'll concede that at least this MP has the candour to admit that she didn't know anything, and went on to deliver a speech that reflected her ignorance. She was after all addressing a gathering of PWAs, friends and families of Aids patients who died, who are struggling still, and volunteers who work with PWAs everyday. If they weren't insulted, I was. L was livid, he was snorting "And this is our government!", much to the consternation of Ms Phua's group of grassroots leaders, who were seated on my left. Not once did Ms Phua say what she took away from what she learnt, and what she is going to do about it as an MP. No, it was all: keep up the good work, you volunteers. And not a peep on what the government is doing to help PWAs access affordable medication.

It has been 10 years since Paddy died, and the fight still goes on.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Giving voice


The first time I heard Susan Boyle, I didn't know who she was. A colleague sent me the link to the YouTube video of her appearance at Britain's Got Talent. This frumpy woman walked onstage to a dismissive sneer from Simon Cowell. And then she sang. And a thousand jaws had to picked off the floor, including Cowell's and mine. Not surprisingly, a group of us at the office followed the show on the Net (we don't get it on TV here), rooting for her at the final. She didn't win. But again, not surprisingly, we knew there'd be a CD out soon.

When I first heard Wild Horse on YouTube, I knew I would have to get the CD, just on the strength of that. And so I did. I knew she outsang Mick Jagger on that cover. What I didn't expect when I got the CD was that she'd also outsing Madonna and the Monkees on other covers.

The funny thing is that this CD, an album of ballads and covers, isn't the sort of music I usually listen to. There's no thumping backbeat, no snazzy bass hook. But damn good music is damn good music, and should be listened to.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Giving voice

I went to Tempvs Fvgit yesterday. I've heard polyphonic sacred music before, but I've never seen it in a performance. What the group of six men did was to stand in a circle and sing. Which meant that each individual was singing in another person's face. It's sort of interactive, in the sense that you had to listen to your neighbour as well as yourself. And they had their arms draped over their neighbour's back or shoulders, so each person could literally feel the other breathing, and as they went on, you suddenly realised you weren't listening to six men singing but one organic entity with six voices. Lovely.

PS, this link might be better if you want a listen.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Portraits





Some things are still best done the old-fashioned way -- with an old-school Haselblad camera using black and white film.

Pictures with thanks to Thomas Tan.