Sunday, August 31

"You never really leave a place you love. Part of it you take with you, leaving a part of yourself behind."

In about six hours, I'll be leaving London. Chances are, I probably won't be back for a long time.

On the eve of my departure, regardless of the fact that my bags were not packed, I still dragged people out for a three-hour production of Edward II at the Globe. Good thing I have such an obliging friend. Basically, I just wanted to watch something, anything, in that wooden theatre, and I was not let down. The play was fantastic, even though it was by Marlowe and not the Bard, the building really set the mood, despite having to twist my neck to catch the action because of all the wooden beams. Or maybe that just made it seem more like the 16th century and authentic.

Even though my empty luggage and cartons were clogging up the narrow hallway, my dear flatmates pretended not to mind, and we had a nostalgic farewell dinner, followed by a crazy photo session involving five people wielding five cameras. We all promised to stay in touch with the best intentions, but deep down, we all knew that we were all going our seperate ways.

Needless to say, with all that frantic last-minute activity, I barely slept because I didn’t get my packing done till 3 am. But I’m pleased nonetheless, as I almost finished crossing out every inane item on Zann’s pre-departure list.

One hundred days of a million memories -- I can’t believe it’s over.

The tree outside my window.
The leaves will fall soon,
but I won't be around
to catch them...

Saturday, August 30

I've had my fill of Sex and the City and Cosmo. [Both are banned in Singapore in case we are led astray by all that sex.]

Just watched what was my final episode of the show tonight and threw away about nine month's worth of Cosmo. Not sure if the quality of both the show and the mag are going down the drain, or I've simply become more jaded about this love/sex/relationship thing, but they no longer, erm, turn me on, for want of a better phrase.

A guy friend once accused me of having a skewed view of men formed from too much Sex and the City and Cosmo.

Him: You shouldn't believe everything they say.
Me: But how else am I supposed to know what men are thinking?
Him: Just ask!

Now why didn't I do that, instead of wasting time reading trashy mags and re-watching those smuggled DVDs?

Friday, August 29

From What We Bought, by Robert Adams

Never had a meal alone before in my year in London -- until yesterday, when I was so hungry for lunch that I succumbed to sausages and mash.

Solitary meals in restaurants, surrounded by lovey-dovey couples and laughing groups of friends, used to bother me, and I know of people who are too daunted to eat alone or who always manage to have some sort of company. But I've grown to think of it as a mini adventure for one and I'm even rather proud that I'm so good at being alone.

The trick is to carry a book -- and try to look as mysterious as possible.
Just 10 minutes and three Tube stops away from my destination -- Hampstead crepes! -- the whole network was hit by a blackout. My face was dem black, as I was so near yet so far and so hungry, but everyone else behaved like it was an everyday occurence that the entire underground system of a major city had just gone kaput.

I feel so privileged that I was one of 500,000 commuters affected by the blackout. Apparently, the same thing which happened in New York had happened here, albeit on a smaller scale, and the power grid was wiped out. Coincidence?

There wasn't even a bleat of complaint as we were herded in a sheep-like manner from the station. People just made their way to the bus stops and stoically waited and waited and waited in the drizzle. I finally arrived thirty minutes late, after being stepped on and rained on, to partake of those long-awaited crepes.

But of course, after stuffing our faces with five different types of crepes, it was time once again to confront the horrors of London transport. So many Tube lines were closed that I would have had to change trains four or five times to get home. So I decided to brave the bus route instead. Big mistake.

It took me two hours to complete my journey -- I just got back -- which was more than double my usual time. More than 40 minutes was spent freezing at various bus stops, and I had to stand throughout the journey. My slippered feet were so numb that the only feeling I had was when people trampled on them, which was pretty often, because the buses were packed with people all wearing the same beleaguered expression on their faces.

There were sighs of commiseration all around, yet, there wasn't even a murmur of anger. It was all very British stiff upper lippy. A friend who had to wait 40 minutes for the Piccadilly line said people were talking to each other -- an unheard of phenomenon -- and generally being good-natured about it. As he put it: "I was beginning to see how the English survived the Battle of Britain."

I'm so glad to be going home to good ol' SMRT and SBS soon. Can't wait to buy my very first EZ Link card.

[In case you're wondering why I keep going on and on about being cold and wet, well, just so you know, the temperature is a chilly 14 deg C. The Great British Summer has fizzled out after that brief sizzle, and the not-so-great London drizzle is back. And I had over-optimistically packed all my warm jackets and shipped them off, so the next few days are gonna be cold ones. Despite constantly getting played out by the fickle weather, I never learn my lesson.]

Thursday, August 28

Hirst's Shark Tank, by The Little Artists, £595

Besides Lego Land, I also had half a mind to go see Tracy Emin's unmade bed and Damien Hirst's sharks at the Saatchi Gallery. Am in full swing tourist mode now -- even ventured into Harrods to buy useless tins in the shape of the building for my numerous aunties -- but not enough time for everything on my list.

Regretfully, I'll have to sacrifice the mummies at British Museum and, even more regretfully, the yummy Four Seasons roast duck. And will just make do with online viewing of this quirky Lego version of Hirst and his infamous shark.

Tuesday, August 26

How homesick am I?

I seem to give the impression that I am desperately longing for home, but to be honest, that is just the easiest emotion to express. The other feelings I have over my impending departure are too mixed up to be sorted out and put into words other than "I dunno".

What I do know is that, despite missing my family, friends and food, I’m not utterly and totally homesick yet because I haven’t even watched the VCD of Eating Air I packed along with my packets of BeeBee to stave off any potential pangs.

[For those not in the know, Eating Air is a “motorcycle kungfu love story”. It is my ultimate favourite local movie, because it is so unabashedly Singaporean. That I used to party with the director, and may or may not have kissed one of the actors have absolutely nothing to do with it.]

There is, of course, the longing for all the familiar physical things -- cabs whenever you need them after a night out, hawker food at any hour, shops that open till 10 pm -- but there is also something more intangible. Something in Milan Kundera’s Ignorance springs to mind: “Nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing. You are far away, and I don’t know what has become of you.”

When I first read that earlier this year, I thought I was hard-hearted and emotionally crippled, because it didn’t touch me at all. But as time went by, I realise that the pain of ignorance is the hardest to bear. Of not knowing what is going on. Of being in the dark about my friends’ lives. Or simply of not knowing which hawker centre my family went to for dinner the night before.

There have been times when I wondered if I’m frittering away my life here, while friends back home are buying property [some for the second time], getting married [some for the second time], having babies [some for the second time], and generally ticking off items on the Milestones Of Life checklist. In the meantime, what have I been doing? Taking a break from “real life” and tearing up that list.

I remember interviewing an actress who spent a year studying in London and had such a memorable time that, before she left, she got a dragonfly tattoo on the back of her hip [what is that part of the body called anyway?] so that she would never forget. My time here may not been that tattoo-worthy [is anything ever worthy of permanent decoration of the body?] but I doubt I’d ever forget it.

Sorry this has been one long rambling post, expressing run-of-the-mill thoughts that anyone who has spent some time away must have had at one point or another. But indulge me, this may be one of my last posts. I haven’t quite decided whether to continue when I get back. But in any case, I started this as a hundred days of countdown, and there are only six more days to go.

Photographing the photographer while waiting for the parade to start at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Why do people keep walking into my pix?

Groin grinding...Now that is something you wouldn't see at the Chingay parade.

Finally, a semi-decent photo. By that I mean one with no heads blocking the shot.

I thought my photography skills were improving, but I was mistaken. None of these fully capture the carnival mood, the colourful feathers, the thumping Carribean music, the jerk chicken smoking on the grill, the garbage piling on the sides of the road, the people meandering around aimlessly. It was supposedly the biggest such parade after the one in Rio, so how come I didn't feel it?

Sunday, August 24


I want to be Lady Penelope. She's smart and stylish, lives in an English manor with a butler and is a jet-setting undercover agent with cool gadgets. And she has the perfect outfit for every occasion. What more can a girl want?

I only recently discovered her on daytime telly on this cult '60s show called Thunderbirds, which was filmed using model airplanes, doll house furniture and puppets on string. Every episode, these five brothers, their father, Lady Penelope and her butler rescue some hapless idiots in peril with high-tech planes and other equipment which I'm sure are of great interest to the boys.

Me, I'm too busy ooh-ing and aah-ing over Lady Penelope's pretty pink Rolls Royce, the ingenious props, tiny chairs and tables and even tinier utensils, and Lady Penelope's many hair and costume changes. Did I ever mention that I have this little thing for miniatures?

Friday, August 22

What I have been doing:
-- Sleeping from dawn to noon, then taking guilty afternoon naps
-- Eating junk food all night as a form of stress relief
-- Feebly exercising in room using mineral water bottles
-- Surfing, blogging, emailing, eBaying and generally wasting time online
-- Reading How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, a real-life loser lit by Brit journo in New York who got sacked ignominiously from Vanity Fair
-- Frying chicken, making soup, tossing salad, counting remaining packets of CQYD
-- Playing Solitaire and trying to break my Tetris high score
-- Watching Bargain Hunt, Cash In The Attic, House Invaders, Ready Steady Cook and other crappy daytime telly

What I haven’t been doing:
-- Writing a 5,000 word essay on SARS

Wednesday, August 20

"Why do you want to go to Lego Land? Singapore is just like Lego Land."

I totally agreed with those words of this guy I met from Delhi, even if I was a bit taken aback by how apt the analogy was. Manufactured, sanitised, and creative in a four-colours-allowed-only kind of way. Why haven't I seen the similarities before? Is that why I have this affinity for Lego since young? And what does it mean that I actually won a Lego competition when I was 10?

More importantly, does the fact that I dream of Lego Land like a kid represent a sub-conscious longing for home?

Well, these questions are all moot now, since my plan for a day trip to the theme park in Windsor has been scuppered. The only other person I know who is gets excited about Lego Land -- we were literally hopping as we chanted: "Lego Land Lego Land" -- is too far behind on her final thesis, and so am I.

By the way, this Lego-mad friend is also Singaporean who has been away for too long. It makes such perfect sense now. We just want to go home.

Tuesday, August 19

It's not even my country, so I don't know why it bothers me so much that he's running for a second term. Oh, right, Iraq...that and because he looks moronic.

I've always considered myself to be apathetically apolitical, but apparently, I've moved towards the liberal left, according to the world's smallest political quiz.
Since this oestrogen-fueled blog has a largely female readership, I thought I’d help a lonesome friend by putting the word out that he is actively looking for a wife. That’s the best I can do for him, seeing that he’s in Sydney, I’m in London and, as we like to mock lament, there are “gallons of ocean” between us.

No experience required. Must be willing to learn.  Age not an issue. Preferably educated, and with some career aspirations.  Position to be filled immediately.  All applicants should send a detailed CV including past or other relevant experience for further consideration.  Applications which are accompanied with a photo will have priority for reviewing.

Maybe I should consider putting up an ad too.

Monday, August 18

Judge books by their covers. Judge them by their titles too.

Drawn by the unfamiliar pairing of words, I picked up Amnesia Moon and now my head is swirling with images of the post-apocalyptic road trip of a man named Chaos and a girl covered in brown fur. The way I’ve simplified the plot makes it sound so juvenile, but it is a curiously gritty yet dreamy story about searching for a half-remembered love.

The author, Jonathan Lethem, also wrote Motherless Brooklyn, which is another fantastic title. [The story is about a small-time private eye with Tourette’s Syndrome, in case you are interested. I’m not really into the whole hardboiled detective genre, but the excellent Edward Norton is set to make a movie of it, which was why I hunted down the book in the first place.]

Other equally evocative book titles...The Heart is a Lonely Hunter...Sputnik Sweetheart...Of Love and Other Monsters...One Hundred Years of Solitude [to which this blog vaguely alludes].

I already have the perfect title for the novel I’m never going to write -- Kismet Kittens. Now all I have to do is come up with some semblance of a plot revolving around felines and this thing called fate.

Instead of wasting time writing an imaginary book, I should be spending it on my overdue SARS essay. At the moment, all I have is a working title -- Global Coverage of a Global Outbreak. It’s not brilliant, but it will do for a school paper.

Sunday, August 17

Cruisin' down the River Thames at midnight and seeing a side of London I'd never seen -- and probably never would again. The twinkling lights on Battersea Bridge, the blue and white arches underneath Tower Bridge almost near enough to touch, the gothic facade of Westminster Abbey bathed in amber lights and reflected in the water. [All I have are mental images, cos the actual photos turned out to be shite. Too dark, too bright, too shaky, too cold, too fat, too tipsy.]

It was possibly the last time my classmates would meet, and it was rather magical, but it was loud noisy fun at the same time, most likely due to the beer and vodka we smuggled aboard. At one point, someone was going to marry someone else for a green card, someone threw an empty Smirnoff bottle overboard for a cheap thrill, and someone offered me a lousy joint that kept falling apart.

Finally, it is hitting me that I only have two more weeks to store up such memories.

Saturday, August 16

"The devil makes work for idle thumbs."

That's the slogan for Virgin Mobile's text messaging service, and it shows mental hospital patients going out of their minds from boredom and getting up to all kinds of mischief, such as stapling the nurse's skirt to the desk.

While twiddling my thumbs about eight hours ago -- Hotmail was down, probably because of the virus taking revenge on Microsoft -- I wandered over to eBay. Being the ultimate bag lady, I had to put in a bid for this vintage clutch. It was just one little click of the mouse, I didn't think I was gonna be the only bidder or actually win the auction.

Now, I have to pay up £4.99 for this impulse buy, even though the more I look at the picture, the more hideous the floral patttern becomes. The devil makes work for idle thumbs indeed.

Friday, August 15

"We miss you. We miss you. We miss you."

At least I think that was what my three lurves were screeching drunkenly down the phone at some party I wished I was at too. My phone made an ominous sharp BEEP and then went dead before I could screech back: "I miss you too, my lurves!"

Thursday, August 14

MIKRO House by Sam Buxton

Four museums in one day. Which, knowing me, means four gift shops in one day too. Good thing most museums are free and I get pretty generous concessions at the others. One of the privileges of being a student again.

Breezed through Tate Modern to see my fave upside-down piano crashing from the ceiling with a discordant DONG for, perhaps, the seventh time. Also couldn't resist browsing through the cavernous gift shop and ended up buying a touching little children's book that can be read in five minutes.

Walked half a mile along the Thames to make a brief stop at Design Museum to check out this intricate "doll house", cut cleverly from one piece of aluminium. Everything about it appealed to me -- miniature, home decor, technology, DIY, useless, accumulates dust -- and I was so tempted to buy it, even though it was only the size of my palm but cost £65. Ended up buying a teeny model Vespa as a substitute.

A hop and a skip away was the newly opened Fashion and Textile Museum, with an exhibition My Favourite Dress. So much promise, but such a disappointment. With 70 big names such as Donna Karan, Donatella Versace, Vera Wang and Vivienne Westwood contributing their favourite designs, you would think there would be plenty of pretty frocks for a vain girl like me to drool over. But it felt like an ego trip for these designers as they went on about how successful that collection was or which celeb wore which dress. Wasted my time, money and energy. And the gift shop was lousy too, with overpriced vintage scarves and the usual crappy postcards, posters and calendars.

Final stop at the National Gallery, cos my friend wanted to buy some Van Gogh stuff for his girlfriend. So it was a targetted sweep through the massive museum, looking for the gallery with Sunflowers in it, then zooming straight to the gift shop again. But the souvenirs were all so revolting, with his paintings printed indiscriminately on jigsaw puzzles, erasers, ugly knapsacks and even umbrellas, that we couldn't find anything worth buying.

Commercialism need not be crass; done tastefully, us consumers can be suckered into buying almost anything. And I'm probably displaying my shallow side here, but my fave museums are those with well-stocked gift shops.

Tuesday, August 12

While sorting through the junk I managed to accumulate since Day 1, I found these botched passport pix, taken on my first day in college. I cannot stress how much I hate having my photo taken, but my retarded actions in the photo booth, captured for posterity on film, does provide some degree of amusement.

Monday, August 11

Aiyoh, it is so comforting to revert to Singlish. We had a post-National Day celebration, and being typical Singaporeans, it revolved around food, even though a barbecue during the hottest day since 1875 wasn't exactly the coolest idea.

We didn't wear red and white or sing Count Money Singapore, though we did consume obscene amounts of seafood and used "lah" very frequently. We all honour our dear motherland in our own little ways.

Sunday, August 10

How can someone so beautiful be made to look so ugly? Just saw Ralph Fiennes on stage, and he is scrawny, scruffy and slightly moth-eaten. But he is brilliant as the tortured priest figure in Ibsen's Brand. I'm strangely moved by his portrayal of the eternal struggle of trying to please God, even though I'm not what you might call a "holy" person -- or even a regular "theatah" goer.

Saturday, August 9

It suddenly occurred to me that our national anthem is not called Mari Kita, on today of all days. How's that for a bit of patriotic spirit?
Word of the day: disestablishmentarianism

No idea what it means. Heck, I have no idea what the media journal it comes from is trying to get across. Fruitless day trying to get some readings done by staring at the page until a significant word leaps out, like this:

Such a stance welcomes the distance created by the disestablishmentarianism of the commercial media, although it remains uneasy at the consequent predisposition to see established institutions become the object of constant media scrutiny and attack.

This method of "reading by osmosis" works -- sometimes. Other times, I study by "reading through physical contact". This involves putting putting my face in close contact with the book and closing my eyes, usually for eight hours or more.
Being quite the instant noodle connoisseur, I couldn’t resist trying this heavily-advertised Brit product called Pot Noodle. It is not unlike those Cup-A-Noodle, except that instead of your usual chicken and prawn flavours, you get something ang moh like bacon. So the soup that tastes like it was made by pouring hot water over crisps from Marks & Sparks. To top off it off, there is a packet of tomato ketchup, which according to the instructions, you add two minutes after the boiling water, so the whole goopy mess turns lurid pink. A bizarre sensory experience, not entirely unpleasant because of my love of MSG, but not one to be repeated.

Feeling very deprived of my usual source of MSG, cos I'm down to my last three precious packets of BeeBee. It is a crisis of enormous proportions and I'm not sure I can survive.

Friday, August 8

A greedy friend from back home, though not as greedy as me, asked what local delights I want to devour first -- and has selflessly offered her services as a makan kaki. So pleased to have company for gluttony.

I am still making my food list, which already covers an entire side of A4, but the Top 10 positions are constantly in a state of flux. At the bottom of the list, though, are udang curry and tahu goreng, as I gently coerced my Korean flatmate to try "traditional" Malay food for dinner [at the most untraditional price of S$36 each], so that is one craving sated.

Felt instantly transported back home from the first taste of the white rice mixed with coconut milk in the curry. It helped that the heat wave was still on, so we were just the right degree of sweaty and sticky. And being served by cute Malay waiters and surrounded by scary wooden masks masquerading as decoration, it didn't feel like London at all.

So near, yet so far away.

[In a rare patriotic mood, hence the colour change. Just for this special National Day weekend only.]

Thursday, August 7

[Weather complaint #5729] Today is the hottest day since 1990. All the news bulletins have that as the top story [more important than Jakarta bombing, so you can tell it is big news], gloating that it is a record-smashing 37 deg C and showing mad English people jumping into the fountain at Trafalgar Square. The only reminder of the wet weather of just a week ago is this persistent sniffle I've been nursing, which has evolved into a phlegmy coughy thingy.

"It's so hot. It's just like my home," exclaims my Thai flatmate, newly arrived in London and still able to be surprised by the fickle weather. To try to cool off, I've made some blackcurrant jelly -- "Less than 10 calories per serving," the package promises me! -- but it refuses to set, so I can't eat it. Boo. But never mind, my Korean flatmate just busted my diet by offering me Snickers ice-cream. Yum.

We have been dressing more and more skimpily every day, and the point of decency is about to be breached if this heatwave continues.

Tuesday, August 5

Not everything is in Technicolor

[Clockwise from top left] Permanently parked car; "Jesus Loves You" proclaims my neighbour down the road; no train in sight; a few doors away from my flat.

Sunday, August 3

"Sunny day, everything's A-OK..."

How does the next line of the Sesame Street song go? Half a day in the sun has put me in a, well, sunny mood, especially after sniffling the past few days.

The flower market at Columbia Road never fails to put a smile on my face and make me wish I can fill my room with arum lilies, hydrangeas, gerberas and gorgeous artichoke blossoms which I never knew existed. I always thought artichokes were just ugly vegetables with icky edible hearts.

Anyone who has watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory won't be able to forget the fantasy sweets shop, with jars upon jars of mint humbugs, caramel toffees and other mouth-watering goodies. I was bugging this Brit friend who lives in the outskirts of London to show me a traditional sweets shop, but he says even the one in his little English village has gone out of business. Well, I came across one today, much to my delight. Hope it doesn't go the way of our friendly neighbourhood mamak stalls. Are there any more around these days?

I love the chaos of Brick Lane, with all the weird junk on sale, such as ice-cube trays in the shape of penises, the dingy curry houses which all have chicken tikka masala on their menus, and the famous 24-hour bagel shop with endless queues. And posters plastered on every available space on the brick walls along the lane.

Ah, happiness is a day out at the Sunday markets with a cheery friend, a most satisfying salt beef bagel, four second-hand books for £10, a packet of yummy smoked organic tofu, and lots of sunshine.

Now I'm gonna spend the rest of the day humming the Sesame Street theme song and trying to dredge up the rest of the lyrics from some repressed corner of my childhood memories.

Saturday, August 2

There I was, cold and miserable from the drizzle, conned once again by the weather forecast, and trudging through the bleak suburban mall that is 10 times worse than Tiong Bahru Plaza.

Knocking fresh bruises onto my shins while lugging my overloaded shopping basket to checkout, I was greeted by an unexpectedly cheery "Hello! How are you?" instead of the usual sullen silence.

Caught by surprise, I managed a weak smile at the black teenager who was, most astoundingly, packing my shopping for me, which, I assure you, has never happened before. Usually, they just let my jars and cans roll and crash while I retardly try to get those darned plastic bags to unstick by rubbing them between my too-smooth palms.

I didn't know what to do with my hands while she thoughtfully packed the meat separately from the fruit -- I don't even do that when I bag my own groceries, I just shove everything in a blind panic into the first plastic bag I manage to open -- and she even carefully wrapped up the spring onions, which were marked down to 49p, because they were so limp. And all the time, she was chatting about how my day went, how her day had been, have a good weekend, and wearing a big huge Darlie smile.

I left Sainsbury's with a big huge Darlie smile too.

Friday, August 1

This is a magazine. It has words and pictures in it.

I'm a sucker for eye candy. Takes ages to load, so don't try this at home, but totally worth it. Trust me, I won't send you to look at a crap site.
Things to look forward to today:
-- Prospect of a few rays of evening sun [Ahhhhh, the small pleasures in life, especially after two sodding miserable weeks of wet weather and damp feet]
-- Major supermarket trip after work [including bags and bags of crisps from Marks & Sparks...more small pleasures]
-- Start of the final season of Sex and the City [though I'm quite gutted that I will only get to watch five episodes before I go back to the land where it is banned]
-- Last day of internship [I swear, no more working for free ever again]

Most people seem strangely impressed when I tell them about my stint at The Independent. I admit, it is a credible newspaper, unafraid to ask hard questions and stand up for its views. I especially like its staunch anti-war position, especially now that the WMDs seem to be largely imaginary. There is a big poster in the office which says: "Truth need not be the first casualty of war". But it is also struggling financially and does not have quite the same intellectual, liberal clout as, say, The Guardian. Add to that a pretty indiscriminate open-door policy, with anyone who applies for work experience getting a slot, and it is really no big potatoes. I am just glorified free labour, that's all.

But in exchange, I did get a new perspective of how a newspaper works in the UK [not that different from back home, in terms of procedures and deadlines, but editorially, it is much more robust], made some useful contacts with journalists, may get a byline for a silly item I wrote, and have a new item to pad up my resume. So despite my endless complaints of boredom on the job, it has been a fruitful two weeks. But boy am I glad it is going to be over in less than five hours.