... and oh so true

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ho ho holy Christmas

Belated Christmas greetings!

Nativity scene in Cameroonian bible. Image photographed at Catholic Museum in Bagamoyo, Tanzania.

Other photos from our day trip to Bagamoyo town and Kaole ruins ...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Plot 1297 Pieta Lane in Masaki was my home away from home in Dar es Salaam ... though it was really Doreen and Fab's comfortable pad before I appeared (and stuck) like a bad rash for weeks on end. Well ... at least I didn't fester!

The flat was my sanctuary after difficult days at the archives ("Sorry, the files you requested are behind piles of boxes") and welcome shelter from the sweltering afternoon heat.

There were enjoyable conversations every evening over ndizi na samaki, pilipili pizza or tasty chapati. Occasionally there would be a managed disagreement over Coca Cola (the equality of distribution and consumption) but ultimately, peace always prevailed.

Ritz the garden dog was unresponsive to my friendly overtures and energetic patting. For the record, every other canine I've encountered has consistently melted like putty at my hands. This one was a tough nut.

By default I developed a better rapport with Harvey, the well-maintained (and behaved) car.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

You remind me of a babe - What babe? - The babe with the power - What power?

To inject some levity to my overt listlessness, Ahmed, house manager of the flat I'm staying in, gave me a little -too much, I'd say- background on 'magic' as it's practiced on the Islands.

Voodoo isn't a word that's used here, but in any case, there is apparently a closed circle of witch doctors who offer a menu of imaginative spells to suit clients' demands. "Mostly for good," he added ... in an attempt to appear less creepy, "... for example if you want to communicate with the dead." After which he promptly elaborated on a disturbing 'disappearance' (read: kidnapping) ritual that didn't sound goodly at all. Then there were the shark attacks at Coco Beach (in Dar) - apparently completely attributable to a group of vengeful fisherman who had summoned up Jaws-like attacks against those who were pilfering their catch.

I didn't want to get into that discussion. And I didn't quite appreciate the fact that it was an obviously BAD CHOICE of evening conversation material. Clearly I've hammed up my chicken licken bravado just a tad too much.

Pink's position - published and acknowledged

Three thumbs up for Pink's letter to the Editor of London's METRO. It was published today and highlights the institutional apathy (or bias?) in dealing with drug rape. Please read :

Despite the findings of the Association of Chief Police Officers, drug rape is not a 'myth.' The association's report, not yet available to the public, cites a lack of evidence of Rohypnol and GHB in the blood of a sample of women who reported assult under the influence of these drugs. However, nowhere was it noted that the substances leave the system of the victim in a short period - in some cases as quickly as six hours.
Given that it takes up to an hour to take effect and that the amnesia effects can last for several hours, by the time the woman has found her way home, talked with friends and pieced together what has happened during her blackout, it is likely the drug will be out of her system before she has been attended to by the police.
In a country with the lowest conviction rate for rape in Europe, where police are reluctant to bring charges in cases where women have been drinking, to suggest that the behaviour of women is relevant to the criminal nature of these predatory acts shows a problem with our justice system.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Being myself

So what does Madame Pathetique get up to in enigmatic Stone Town? Does she celebrate las frutas (frescas) del mar or go tripping the kingfish fantastic? Nope. Or perhaps lounge indulgently on the beach, in the glowing rays of the setting sun? Nein. Not even an indoor cerebral soak in the onetime-House of Wonders-now-Museum tickles her fitful fancy. And she is too broke for therapeutic retail recourse.

Get this - our self-declared tragic heroine fritters away her after-archive hours in the third floor flat on Hurumzi Street. Above the duka khanga on the ground floor and the family with friendly children ("Karibu! Karibu!"). She plays Snake II on the Nokia 8210. And Solitaire on the zonked-out Toshiba laptop. Overandoveragain. Pining rather pitiably for her partner.

My God, how time changes a person. The Me of Twenty would've scoffed and scorned at this staid and unadventurous person. I miss Routine.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dust to dust in Stone Town

My first afternoon in Stone Town. Feeling extremely drowsy from the pill I took this morning to stave off motion sickness. The ferry ride seemed uneventful enough for a start (most things are at bloody 7am anyway) till we docked at Zanzibar Terminal. A crowd of edgy men eyed our vessel closely as the shiphands cast, then lashed massive sisal ropes to the pontoon.

I caught sight of it, out of the corner of my eye. A rough hewn, pine-coloured coffin was delivered from the upper deck onto the waiting arms and shoulders onshore. The casket rode high and quickly on the human conveyor belt. In no time at all, it had disappeared from sight.

Less fleeting was the inconsolable woman in our midst. Once again, left behind.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Jack Bauer is on in the background in my apartment, and I'm inclined to believe that Alicia does almost as much as him in a day. I swear it hasn't been that long since I last checked out the blog, and the entries seem to have grown in a geometric (rather than arithmetric) progression. And the most impressive element is that each entry is akin to a new chapter, a new development, a new insight. Golly gee, can you just lower yourself to the standards to a mere mortal?

As you can tell, I have absolutely nothing interesting to blog about. This is procrastination project number two this evening. The previous one was sorting out my 'new' mobile phone (and changing the basic language from Chinese to English), finding out that it doesn't have a standard ring tone (what's the deal with that), and surfing the Internet for potential ring tones (why are things just so hard to find out there). All in the span of a 'well-spent' four hours. The epitomy of efficiency!

Hope everyone is cool out there in cyberspace. It's unfortunately time to refocus back on the homework for tomorrow... or as I call it procrastination projection number three in the meantime.

Monday, October 30, 2006

PhD Submission

Hot off the press - Ste submitted his tome to Senate House this afternoon and can now start a new chapter of life as A Normal Person. Well done, Darling :) Now we just have me to worry about.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Nitaenda safari

I started this blog nearly a year ago, with a single, externally-motivated mandate - to practice writing. In one of our first university seminars on writing style, it was suggested that we keep writing throughout the 3-4 years of the PhD programme, be it in personal journals, for publication or leisure. That would purportedly hone our writing skills and keep the momentum going (hopefully) till the final year, for the decisive writing-up phase.

At that time my writing style was in obvious distress, in dire want of more polish and less patchiness. It's not immediately clear how far the situation has progressed since then, but at the very least, blogging has been an enjoyable way of keeping friends and family clued in on my neuroses ... the unexpected (and mostly unwanted) freebies with the doctoral package (buy 1 get 10 free - for life!).

This time tomorrow, my flight will just have landed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I'll be there for six weeks or so, till mid-December, for fieldwork in Dar, Zanzibar ... and possibly the capital city, Dodoma. I'm more excited than anxious about the trip now (it was the reverse until a couple of days ago), so if anything at least we know the Larium's kicking in.

The London chapter of our lives is still very much open while the drafts for Zurich and Dar are concurrently being scribbled in the margins. When I'm next back in Zurich it'll be just in time for Christmas, then New Year's ... and all-too-quickly, January. I am in pre-emptive shock.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The new academic year has started

Photos from the recent LSE-Cambridge PhD workshop at Sidney Sussex College ...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Faster than a paddling swan

No, I haven't left London - we're only releasing our flat on 19th October. Yes, I'm in Zurich right now, arrived a week ago. No, I'm not really based here ... yet. Yes, I'm continuing my PhD programme at the LSE. No, my field research will actually be in Tanzania. Yes, I'll be back in Switzerland ... in time for Christmas. No, I'm definitely keeping my Singaporean passport. Yes, there'll be more fieldwork in 2007, possibly in China as well. Nein, Ich spreche kein Deutch even though my partner is Swiss-German. But yes, I speak some Mandarin and am hobbling along with 1 to 10 in Swahili.

The trouble with me is that I take questions too seriously. My response to a friendly and innocuous, "How are you?" is the stampeding moral compulsion to brimmeth over with gory -albeit bone-janglingly precise- details. Judging from the perplexed looks I've been getting this past week, I should either opt for a more sedentary existence or cultivate a modicum of diplomatic self-restraint.

As I'm left to sort out that grand dilemma, here are photos from our first week in Zurich ... from cousin Matthias and Ursina's wedding, moving into Minervastrasse 27, assembling furniture, to welcoming our very first houseguests, Erina and Takahiro, who made their way over from Munich!

Undoubtedly Dotty

Ladies, PLEASE check out The Dotted Line when you get the chance - Dorothy (Puiming) has some of the prettiest designs in town! International orders taken (mine have been logged in) and for those based in Singapore, free alterations for the next month!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some photos from the Nanjing programme, July 2006

Those salad days

I used to love visiting friends' homes when I was a kid. It allowed for some juvenile investigative behavior on my part. From my general survey it appeared that many of my contemporaries were stellar athletes, academic brainiacs or bemedalled uniformed group members. Their living room display cabinets were more often than not crammed with sports trophies, book awards, embroidered badges, shiny pins, a veritable fest of everything gilded and ribboned.

In my thirty-one years as a sentient and partially productive being, I have only ever won 1 trophy. And what an almighty one it was, all of two-feet tall with a bulging thorax of plasticky gold (the strikingly same shade as the foil on chocolate coins), obligatory school crest, ribbons on each ear (in green, black and white), all perched on a laminate wood pedestal.

The inscription at the base of the trophy proudly declared,

Lower Secondary Salad Making Competition
Illustrious as that might sound, my leaf-tossing partner and I hadn't actually taken the competition all that seriously. Our end-product was some unfortunate mass of chicken mayo laid to rest on a bed of leafy greens. It was quite possibly Puiming's aesthetic touch which saved the day ... and the vinagrette.
Not entirely convinced by our own stab at the culinary rankings, we christianed the project 'Chicken Hoohah' - a half-dare with Fate so that if by some fluke (or sensory disability on the judges' part) we should win, then the MC would be pressed to announce the nonsensical name. Such is the arcane impenetrability of teenage humour.
As it turned out, Hoohah did us proud. But there is no chance for a replay of those salad days now I'm afraid, unless it's with mock chicken.

Rah rah

There cannot possibly be a more inauspiciously titled book than this, but heck, it's a surefire winner as far as I'm concerned. Please put your hands together for the launch of The History of Financial Disasters 1763-1995, Volume I edited by the inimitable Stefan Altorfer, no less.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I'll have whatever she ordered, please ..."

I alighted at South Kensington tube station on the Picadilly Line and mindlessly followed the shoal of drifting bodies up the stairs, towards the long escalator going up to street level. There was a pretty girl some steps in front of me. I noticed her because she was striking, glowing with a natural, un-airbrushed, un-photo shopped presence.

She turned back, fixed her gaze on something behind me, and smiled extravagantly. I looked where she looked. There was a busker on the platform, strumming wildly on his guitar. How funny that I barely even heard his gnashing chords when I strode past him. This time I listened hard ... not an earth-shaking tune, but endorsed by a Beautiful Being, so my mind was more open to it. More open to making excuses for it.

"Must be a new strain of rock that only trendy people are clued in to," I rationalised irrationally to myself.

At the top of the escalator, I craned my neck to see where she would go ... secretly wishing that she would whirl into a cafe, confirming its pedigree (I would then appear all-knowing when recommending it to friends as the 'in' place).

I'm totally unlike her, not blond, tall, nor a fan of chang-chang music. But celebrity endorsement sure as hell works and a stunning stranger has shown me what I didn't know I really wanted.

An extra order of rojak, hor

It was a commemorative dinner of sorts because we're due to leave London very soon. Clearly there was no better way to converge than over a hearty and flavourful local meal in Notting Hill. Ah, overseas Singaporeans in an overseas Singaporean restaurant - truly Singaporean indeed!

Kai Khiun and Kelly suggested Nonya, which does mouthwatering otak otak and laksa, albeit in aggravatingly meagre, un-hawker centre-like portions. The waitress (attractive in a healthy, bai bai pang pang kind of way) immediately struck me as being NON-local because of the obvious absence of essential twangs and lilts in her speech.

The topic of language and accents resurfaced a little later in the evening. According to KK, aside from the Caribbean states, Singapore is the most frequently cited case study in the Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. Now why he even knows that is a separate discussion altogether, but I took particular interest in the 'island' connection because I have been asked a number of times -in different places, by different people- if my ... unusual ... accent is West Indian. Mm hmm.

Most recently yesterday afternoon, by a (fellow?) West Indian ... and before that, at an interview in Singapore, by a Singaporean lecturer. She asked where I 'got' my exotic accent (realising of course that nothing else about me seemed 'exotic', least of all my D7 grade for Chinese), which sounded to her somewhat Caribbean. Which is all well and good if one relishes the novelty of speaking like you're from a beautiful place that you've never set foot in, I guess.

Sigh. So no more tooting my trumpet about how local I am ... I'm merely embarrasingly earnest, not authentic.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Commemorating utter humiliation at the hands of ... papier mache

One year ago this week, crafty fingers were up to some dodgy business. Don't think I don't know who the malevolently imaginative culprits are!!!

... and yes, That is exactly what you think it is.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Saying thank you

Some people send flowers to show their appreciation. Others might drop an effusive Hallmark card in the mail. But not Ste. The energy I spent editing his thesis was duly rewarded with ... a hefty pat on the head. A truly loyal, literate pooch, I is.

Goddess of the Air06

It's a bird ... it's a plane ... wah lau eh ... is that who I think it is?

That's right, boys and girls, when Michelle hits town with those monster basketball shoes (customised with a provocative red 'Teo' at the heel, no less), lesser basketball beings flee for their sorry little lives.

Now don't be messing with this woman's vertical leap, she can knee you in painful places.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

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Monday, September 11, 2006

A pleasant post-it

Two individuals remembered the first anniversary of our Bern wedding today (Sunday): my delightfully thoughtful husband Stefan Same-Name, who is currently in Zurich all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at his new job, and dear Geraldine Ang. THANKS GERRY for the cheerful text from Aceh and your very kind thoughts (don't think I've gotten over the disdainful tone of your earlier sms re: my antiquated 'disco' vocab though ... grrr ...) and Ste, it's so good that you remembered because one of us should've!

I of course plainly forgot that today was the 10th of September. Well, why should I? Without the regular ebb and flow of work that would correspond to a 'normal week', I don't actually have to assign numbers to my days. So ... I don't. One less thing to remember, one less thing to mess up.

However, in a not-too-belated and still exceedingly elated celebration of the second of our three wedding anniversaries (the full list: 10th August, 10th September and 1st October), I would like to share some schmalzy photographs that were taken at the glorious Taj Mahal in August. We indulged in every tourist photo fancy ... and lapped up the guide's every suggestion for funky poses on the mausoleum grounds.

We're a good team.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Dinner, Party and Wedding

Ludhiana - Day of the Wedding

We arrived at the bride's family home around midday on the day of the wedding. Meenakshi had been up since 7am to perform a charitable act, bringing food to a community of lepers.

The priest's sombre blessings and prayers were chanted amidst merry singing and peals of laughter from the women.

I was very pleased to have come in quite useful at one point (straying from my regular ornamental persona of disoriented tourist) and participated in the blessing over the bridal bangles.

The event closed with the full set of bangles slipped onto the bride's arms ... and then, sweets!