Monday, December 28, 2009

Another day has crept by, and the clarity of the flashbacks have become more and more vague. But here and there, you get the ocassional brush of the shoulder with a stranger or the sight of a police station that opens the floodgates on those memories. That very incident that happened so quickly, but had such deep repurcussions.

I've found a slight fear of the night. The darkness has this devoring power, and like a tsunami wave hot on my heels, I find myself running to avoid it. I love what I'm doing right now. Sitting by the window in the lounge of my hostel, protected by glass from the outside.

This experience made me treasure life more. No doubt about it. If I had really been strangled to death, what would I have to say to my parents? Could I, in the first place? It would have been the most irresponsible thing to do, to have just left without a word. When I re-opened my eyes that fateful evening, lying on the crossroads dotted with curious but selfish on-lookers, the most immediate reaction was panic. My haversack. Everything. Everything was gone. Nothing to return to the States with. Everything around me seemed to be moving at its usual pace, unfazed by this foreign thing spinning round and round to find some kind of footing.

As my circulation and breathing returned to normal, I ran. One road led to two. Then it kept multiplying like a viral bug. To cover every track that the thieves might have gone would necessitate that I break myself into a thousand pieces. It did not help that there were two of them. But only one of me to find them.

My throat was hurting from the strong forearm that had wrung around my neck. My tongue was burning from simply biting it too hard. That instant when I realised that I was getting no air, and flailing my arms helplessly to passers-by and getting nothing in response, was probably the most desperate I have ever felt in my life. I mean, I've always been an independent person, but there was no way, no secret weapon or some other route or strategy I could have used to get away from that strangulation.

There's no lesson harder than when you are punished severely for it. I'm not suggesting that everyone should be robbed once to learn something from it, but it would be something that I will never forget. If mum and dad are reading this, I just want to say that I love you so much, too much to want to make you worry for me. I give thanks again, that I am alive.


Monday, December 14, 2009

I sit before my computer with notes strewn all over the table, bits of cereal stuck in between my keyboard tabs and a cup of coffee to keep that mind running.

2 more days, and this semester does its curtain call. It has been a semester worth shouting out for. There was the beginning of my massive culinary exploration through Western brigade-style kitchens, cooking up a storm amid the cacophony of sizzles and splatters. I enjoyed the adrenaline shots that the pace of the kitchen presented, as well as the precision with which the entire operation was orchestrated.

Then, there was this new housing arrangement that put 12 people under one roof - quite a test of tolerance and accomodation. But what better tool to bring people together? Food! Other than the obsession with bubble tea which costs a neat 4 dollars here, some of us are always nursing this longing for Mcdonalds, which I honestly do not understand but still willingly partake in.

Without crew, this semester was missing a punch though. There was no fighting to win, no struggles to boot and no bragging rights to a victory! I've been forced to go to the gym, for fear that jogging along the streets will freeze my ears, nose and rolls off. I mean, snowboarding sounds fun, but after trying ice-skating in Singapore and getting "paralysed" waist-down, there is no guarantee that my body can take such an "intense" sport. And of course, blizzards. And other kinda irrelevant excuses.

But how does tennis sound? Cool eh. Maybe, next semester.

And yes, less than a week to meeting Wei Ming and UCL people in London. This is MY FIRST TIME in Europe and short of sounding like a frog beneath a rock, I am thrilled. Although the nights are ending earlier and earlier, I'm sure there's alot to do. Then there's Belgium, where I will stuff myself with luscious chocolates and ornate sweets, and Christmas in PARIS! Under the starry night, with Eiffel Tower in the background, Santa with his reindeers on the roads and WeiXuan and Melvin's company, this sounds like a holiday.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bon Appetit!

I must have forgotten the joy of pure silliness, because as I watched Julia Child come to life by the reincarnation that is Meryl Streep, I envied her for her ability to joke about herself, immerse herself in her love for food, cry when she feels like it and laughs when she wants to.

Why am I here, I suddenly asked myself at some point of the movie. Not out there kneading dough and peeling potatoes for a good stock, getting down and dirty in the jello-splash of butter, licking my fingers clean of the results of my latest experiment in the kitchen?

Today, I made pearls of syrup with some sodium alginate and calcium chloride from the Food Science lab. A very amiable TA was kind enough to feed my urge to burst into my first foray into molecular gastronomy (big word, huh), and sneaked some of those substances out of the lab for me. Plus a lab squirt bottle.

As I dripped the final potion into calcium chloride, drop by drop, little pearls began forming. I was wearing a magician hat and a chef jacket, a scientist's lab coat and an adventurer's lenses. I made a huge pearl the size of an egg yolk. I doodled noodles into the solution. Then I tried making little tadpoles.

Amy Adams said in the movie, there is a certain comfort in food. For there is some certainty in it. Even if the world outside crumbled, you've had a bad day, you will always get that same familiar kick in chocolate mousse or apple pie, or whatever food that you indulge in when the skies are dull. The hands of aromatic herbs or the wand of pungent spices can lift the veil on many of life's relevations, many of which herds the clouds away.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Please read my latest article on Cornell's Daily!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

It is an awesome Sunday morning. My chives and cilantro are growing well into the golden rays that filter through my half-open windows. I love how the steam from my Nescafe coffee dances up a storm under the soft glow of my new table lamp. My pencil holder, like a commandeering sergeant, whipping its stationery upright from their supine positions and yet like a conical spaghetti container, holding each piece in an artful poise. Never mind the stacks of books, and notes spilling out of files, of potatoes strewn over my A4 papers, of an unmade bed and my unwashed cereal bowl. This is the life, really.

I HAVE FINALLY SETTLED DOWN. Funny, coz I say this because the arrival of internet to my house has filled the void that has been for weeks. Might sound contradictory to the kind of simple, unfettered, technology-free life that I have just described, but inconvenience can sure drive one to rethink ideals.

I HAVE GOTTEN INTO THE CIA, ladies and gentlemen. I can die without regrets now I suppose haha. It's amazing, these few weeks, I've been messing around the kitchen at home, in class and at work. There are just so many unfamiliar things to me. For one, woks are an exception rather than a necessity here. Soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce have given way to hollandaise, roux and funny French-sounding drippings.

I think it is extremely disconcerting that you enter a territory you have so much passion in, only to find out that you didn't know as much as you thought you had known. It dawned on me, however, that the cooking is first about the science, then about the art. Maybe I can console myself to say that I'm a little ahead of myself, that I am building castles in the sky and painting utopias in air, when I first need to find that sky and solidify that air.

Although I feel really tired, finishing at 8pm on 3 out of the 5 school days and feeling like the bed is Eve and I am Adam, the sheets an apple, the bolster my sexuality, I FEEL REALLY HAPPY. I don't think I can ever be happier than I am right now.

Until then.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The beginning of classes have reached its denouement. The end of the drama sees me exhausted, slightly wet from the night drizzle, at the almost empty Hotel School at 9:20pm exploiting the wireless internet, in my pyjamas no less. My new house of 12 Singaporeans still does not have working internet, and half of me wishes that I could stay and sleep in school till next week when my permanent connection to my familial, friend and virtual academic world is restored.

I have never felt so pumped before. I have the most amazing classes this semester. I know it sounds like the most geeky thing to say, but I think I will be enjoying school this year!

1) Culnary Theory and Practice - Basics in culinary and loads of cooking up a storm
2) Introduction to Wines - Time to explore the drink I never really got
3) Contemporary Healthy foods - More cooking, but with a mind for health!
4) Catering and Special Events Management - Heard we are organising a charity auction!
5) Finance - bleah
6) Human Resources - More than just the cuddly-huddly motivation speeches
7) Information Systems - bleah

I think now is the best part of the semester. You get all this hype before the monotony strikes, all the choice in the world to sway your mast the direction you want, and talk to a billion people from all race and ethnicities.

My article on Taipei is going to be in next week's Cornell Daily Sun! Will update again so that you guys can read my muses on that wonderful trip. I'm starting work in the kitchen next week too and before long, I'd be slumped against the same chair I am sitting on right now, exhausted, slightly wet from work perspiration, at the almost empty Hotel School at 9:20pm exploiting the wireless internet - only because I have no time to get back home.

Funny, but I'm liking the sound of it already.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The lady beside me is holding on to a Starbucks Venti cup. She gushes to her partner how clear her IPhone is. She has brown hair, is slightly obese and does an accentuated American accent. And she is just like any other American lady I have seen.

Why do I like travelling to different places? Why did I choose to endure the emotional arduousness of leaving home to study here? Why do I feel proud to be Asian?

The following words fell in place in one of those Don't-Forget-the-Lyrics moment of enlightenment as I was sipping my own coffee this very uninspiring morning: I FEEL AT EASE AT BEING DIFFERENT. Being different makes me feel like I have a place, a sort of market share, and not drowned in the masses.

It must have the recent fever for Asian culinary knowledge, that has contributed to this thought. From Kylie Wong's memoir to Martin Yan's cooking programme, from the study of sushi-making to the analysis of lemongrass, Asian food culture had REALLY REALLY intrigued me for a period lasting more than a month during my summer holidays. With my usually short attention wick, this extended research frenzy is surprisingly burning strong.

This time, I return to Cornell, with a new-found confidence in my identity. I think I bring something different to the table, both literally and figuratively. When we talk gourmet, we almost exclusively think of the French and their "haute"-y counterparts. Where is Asia!

I have this problem when cookbooks call themselves "Asian-inspired". Naming Asian food as such denies the possibility of it gaining ground on that landlord position in our global culinary playground. Just compare how "French cuisine" sounds to the demeaning "French-inspired cuisine". Get what I mean?

I like how Asian food is not pretentiously artistic. I look at pictures of pretty Western plate settings on books and can't help but notice the deliberateness with which photographers and chefs like to position their morsels of food. But with Asian food, we have garnishes, fruit carvings and tangy sauces coming together so seamlessly with the whole artistry of the meal. If French food is a painting in an art gallery, then Asian food is an effortless montage of creativity sitting on a child's easel.

Asian food reminds one of home. Of the times when food is plated on banana leaves. Of times when rice is pickled in sake. You can almost feel the spirit and smiles of the preparer when you tuck in. Maybe that is why Asian food fares so badly in the restaurant scene. The whole decorum of fine dining and mannered eating is a sore misfit with the intense nostalgia that Asian food conjures. There is no structure of starter, main course and dessert. There is no food gone cold sitting at the chef’s window waiting to be served. The roles of maitre d’, busser, chef, host all balled in one – resulting in an immensely raw yet personal cuisine.

Hence, it is not without irony that Chinese and Indian cuisines are considered poor men’s food in the States. Whether this stems from or results in a self-fulfilling prophecy is not important. The thing is that Asians here ARE NOT AT EASE AT BEING DIFFERENT. Walk into any Chinese restaurant and you’d most probably find the same $5.95 or $6.95 choices for lunch specials, one of which must (bizarrely) contain wonton soup. And that 95 odd cent pricing sees no detractors. Indian restaurants remove the guessing involved in their operating model. More likely than not, a buffet is involved, no matter how small the range is. Uncanny isn’t it?

It is time to resist conforming to expectations. And to rise from the ashes!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Today I bought a Subway sandwich. As I took the first bite, the richness of the honey mustard was sensory, olfactory to be exact. It was wheat bread, not white. Cold ham instead of cooked meat. A salad of olives, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.

And a Subway sandwich must go with a diet coke. It all reminds me of the ironic American psyche. 1000 calories from towering burgers - no sweat. But 100 calories from the Coke McCoy is almost taboo, spawning a series of even more sellable lites and zeros. I am a victim of such clever deception too.

The thing is that I don't want Subway.

I have grown used to smelly armpits in my mid-day sweat, never mind that it has given me rashes on that leathery skin. My aunty's high-decibel burp that is as jolting as but more familiar than my Verizon Wireless phone alarm, chilling as but more manageable than the gusty Ithacan winds. Where am I to find my pandan leaves, the lahs and the lehs, the squeaky clean toilets and my silly friends, when I take off from the world's number one airport?

Why is it that it is only when you are close to losing something when you realise that you need it? I wish I could change what is on TV in front of me, honestly. So very coincidentally, Channel 8 is broadcasting an info-documentary on Chong Pang where I spent a good decade of my formative childhood, the times when I still wore a bib and my teeth were pearly white.

Surprise, surprise, that it was also today when my Grandmother called me from her home. Knowing how tight a knot she ties on her purse strings, I was utterly surprised that she said that she wanted me home if any opportunity presented itself in the next few years. She was the one who raised me when my parents were busy slogging to feed me. Boy, am I the most blessed man on earth.

My link with Singapore is like a ship anchored to the seabed. You don't see the ropes in action on a fine day, but when a storm starts to brew like right now, you will see how unyieldingly strong this anchor is rooted to the ground. My mind is spinning its own whirlpools. The clock is ticking.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Chiang Mai is a city which I will never forget. I don't think the word for it is quaint (there's still the dusty air and over-volumarised traffic that blemishes our idea of its beauty), nor is it spectacular (Bangkok takes the hat in being home to the most magnificent palaces and temples).

What Chiang Mai has is character. It is lazy, yielding and indifferent all at the same time, without losing the pulse a city should possess. This is where you can be riding elephants one day, rafting down a river another, or simply be holding on the edge of your seat in a tuk tuk navigated by a reckless, speed-thirsty driver. Its charm is really quite hard to put down in words. Rarely does a place become so touristy and yet remain so enticing in the eyes of the frequent traveller or city dweller.

It is hard not to notice the abundance of ang mohs on the streets. Whether it is one of those rich, old men splurging their pension away in rejection of Manhattan-style retirement (smelly, cramped, crowded), or another of those rich, old men living their sexual fantasies here where sex is cheap, there is little wonder why even prices are tiered to milk the purchasing power of foreigners. Foreigners, especially non-Asians, are called farangs. Farangs pay more for attractions when locals enter free and sign an inflated dinner bill for they are not Thais. Of course this is a major source of controversy in Chiang Mai.

Travelling in Chiang Mai opened up a new insight for me. I used to curse touristy things, because they show nothing authentically local. But am I also right to say that especially for a place like Chiang Mai, playing the touristy card helps to expose its culture to the world in ways that the authenticity card would not have?

Ok, what I'm trying to say is that people will not hike into the jungles of Chiang Mai to learn about mountaineous tribes like the long neck tribes, because the routes are too arduous and difficult. But with tourism, such inroads are opened up. We can blame tourism so much for the commercialisation of everyday life, the destruction of habitats, the exploitation of animals etc., but no one looks at the slew of benefits that befall the protesters who ironically are appealing for an end to this all.

But more importantly, what does being a tourist entail? Who REALLY cares if the version of the long neck tribe portrayed to tourists is NOT what is REALLY the case in the depths of the mountains? Does it matter - this issue of authenticity?

I think at the end of the day, tourists seek an experience outside their everyday lives. There is something alluring about checking into a hotel, hopping onto a plane, wearing a camera around the neck and donning a tropical hat. In other words, there is something alluring about touristy things. These things make you FEEL differently, whether it is that of being spoilt by pampering service or that of simply being happy after watching an animal show. Being there at the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China gives you this FEELING of having been there, done that. And tourists LOVE feeling this feeling. Of accomplishment. Of superiority.

Now, do we still need authenticity? Hmmm.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A heaviness hangs on me like a load has been slapped on me uninvited.

It's the first semblance of Monday Blues, a term, when conjured, reinforces the sense of feeling encumbered rather than suppresses it. Really it was hard getting to the office today.

Was at the Hokkaido fair at Tampines Mall yesterday, and was treated to a spread of exotic nibbles. I say nibbles because most of what I ate, came from the generous samplings that the stallholders offered. Seaweed, squid, cheesecake, soup, crackers, chips. I say nibbles because at the price the food was going at, you can't really afford a decent meal there, well at least not to get full on it.

Maybe that's why the Japanese are so darn healthy. Excessive portioning is reined in by food prices. Come on, admit it. Getting fat is not about eating unhealthy food, it's more of eating too much food.

I look at everything that was sold there and wonder about the disparity between their value and their cost. Granted some foods need imported ingredients like seafood ($12.80 for a small King Crab pastry...), but Hokkaido icecream? Red bean pastry? At a time when our globalised foodscapes converge so loosely, the widespread availability of tacos in China and dumplings in America should translate even better in our meltpot of a culture called Singapore. The price tag is justified little by the cost, but rather, by another tag called "the other". "The other" refers to the momentary sensation of being un-native, of being transported without physical displacement to a place of exoticism and cultural fascination.

I left with one of the cheaper alternatives - a snow crab bun that came at a whooping discount. As I walked out of the mall, the heat of the Singaporean sun hit me. Suddenly, my bun looked just like any other kom ba pau I could get from a nearby, grimy kopitiam.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I was back at Fullerton last night.

Might have been the towering pillars and high roof that made the place exude this familiar sense of grandeur, silencing me into admiration. Might have been the cascading flow of memories that had choked me, making me unable to speak. As guests with their roller bags passed by, I could not help but feel an urge to offer a helping hand, to tilt my head, to smile (like a fool) and offer a greeting in name of service. It is a feeling I miss.

What can I find to substitute the cliche "It only seems like yesterday"? But it really did seem like it was only yesterday when I walked into that interview room. Slipping into a suit everyday in the unbelievably musty locker room, sulking at the bad food at the cafeteria, feeling on top of the world when a compliment letter comes in from a guest who had had a great stay.

When people ask, "So how are things?", doesn't anybody feel like it's such a hard question to answer? I mean, where do I even start? Fragments flash before my eyes, episodically more than semantically. And a different set of fragments each time. I'm never a great talker to begin with, and when the mind hits a block arising from overflowing rather than uncertain information, I just don't know what to say.

Kena stun, they call it. That's when silence befalls me again. Mouth open, but unable to speak.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Allow me to be ... what's the word? .... ulu, maybe?

Just when I thought ruffling through the pages of a book to obtain information is slowly becoming outdated, the world has already moved beyond Web 2.0. You'd think being in the States and in the center of the world's buzz would kind of elevate me to a greater level of cosmopolitan worldliness, but my sophistication in technological knowledge remains, well, unsophisticated.

The new media has become the old media, at a time when I shouldn't already be learning how to use Facebook applications, but rather, fishing for where schools of other fish are congregating in newly-established mass orgies of communication. And really, whoever has the keenest eye for new media, whoever can sow the seeds for tomorrow's next big thing, whoever dares flout the rules of convention, is in for the big catch.

Someone once said, "You do not ask Vera Wang to fit you, YOU have to fit into Vera Wang", alluding to the well-known, allegedly classy bridal outfit designer. ISN'T THAT WHAT OUR MEDIA WORLD IS TODAY? Consumers out there have become Vera Wangs, and profit-seeking suckers out there are bowing down and feeding our knightly kings and divine divas exactly what they want. Gone are the days when I tell you McDonald's tastes good. Consumers tell ME through their blogs, their virtual trumpets and their online ammunition, deflecting the very arrows that used to paralyse their own decision-making ability and choice.

And I'm just thinking, if everyone used the new media to woo consumers, then everyone becomes equally attractive compared to each other. Like a zero-sum game. So it becomes natural tendency to go faster, and the business world becomes more like a race to keep abreast.

Well, maybe, only maybe, in the future, the winner is the one who forgot to race. The one who becomes an accidental counter-culture, the one whom people so very much learn to appreciate.

A mobile phone is a mobile phone to me. Even up till today. You either call or sms. Now, I doubt the gadget that people have in their hands would be called a mobile phone for much longer, because soon we'd be able to activate short-range missiles with it. Then North Korea would move on - beyond missiles. Then, we end up catching up. And some unimaginable conception rises from the ashes.

I suppose we all can't help it. A mummy never returns to its tomb. A child, never back to its womb.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Why do people see Singapore as boring? Why is it that the only two things people know about Singapore is chewing gum and its governance?

I kind of found some semblance of an answer from that office cubicle of mine.

I think tourism is a creative industry. (Cue: Singapore does NOT do well in that department. Look at our empty theatres and censored films.) To manage creativity with the clockwork efficiency and precision that we are so famous for is like catching a fish with a mousetrap. I'm not saying Singaporeans miss the point in trying to promote our arts, our country and our love for all things Singaporean. I'm saying we are afraid of, unable to face the consequences of the act of


I love to bring up the example of the BEST JOB IN THE WORLD campaign in Australia. I vaguely remember it as a global call for someone to live the high life on a tropical beach. His or her job is just to comment on it. Something to that extent.

Well, it was kind of sensational. But it worked. People noticed.

How many times is Singapore going to pull the same tricks? The same bulbs light up Orchard Road every year during Christmas, but I doubt anyone feels differently from the previous, despite the thought and effort (I noticed during my internship) that goes into planning the light-up. WE ARE SO STUDIOUS, UNYIELDING and DILIGENT, pursuing a goal (cue: Tourism 2015 Plan) with fervour (cue: Key Performance Indicators), but whether that translates into people feeling differently about our nation is not something we can measure in definite terms.

What about our tourism product? For a country to feature the Zoo prominently (and repeatedly)in its suggested itineries, for me, is evidence of desperation. I don't think we have a lack of things to offer, but I think people do not search deep enough to find out what makes Singapore tick. People are afraid to admit that we are kiasu, kiasi, colourful and friendly in our own, special ways. It hits me as an irony that our campaign, Uniquely Singapore is about everything un-UNIQUE about us - an over-painted Clarke Quay, duck tour boats that more than half of Singaporeans have never stepped foot on and of course the world's tallest Observation Wheel (a monstrosity that rises out of a misdirected ambition).

Last week, I strolled the streets of Little India. The smell of the spices, the garland, the oils, the prata man flipping his prata in his tattered, tight, belly-revealing singlet, the flow of silk cascading down shopfronts... It set me thinking, THIS IS REALLY US. Sometimes, the understated becomes the real deal. It's so sad that organised trips to the heartlands, eating at a kopitiam and line dancing at community centres are considered OFF THE BEATEN TRACK - when honestly, these are the primary essence of our identity, waiting to be explored and for us to feel proud of.

We'll talk again when such "OFF THE BEATEN TRACK" tours become too touristy, but until we steer our boats in a different direction, we will never hit the dock. We'd be floating around, spinning in circles, as the rest of the world moves on.

What do you think?

Monday, June 01, 2009

The hardest thing about unplugging from a lifestyle of leisure and re-connecting into the socket of work life is probably staying awake. Becoz afternoon naps dissolve into your many cups of coffee, and couch-potatoing evaporate into the scented air.

Day Number 1 was a quick preview of cubicle life. My bad habit of leg shaking has to re-emerge, to get rid of that feeling of immobility. One feels hungry more easily. People converge at elevators, toilets and water-coolers, but quickly return to their compartmentalised sanctuary filled only with the sound of typing at the computer as well as stacked with piles of paperwork enough to kill acres of forests.

The life of a lowly intern. I've learnt to lower expectations. To learn to peel potatoes before plunging into the gourmet. Today, I expressed my opinion of Christmas lighting along Orchard Road in a meeting graced by designers, managers, executives and industry representatives. It must have been the longest silence in the history of my life after I presented my take - from the very back of the room. People were thinking, but I did not know what of. People were sceptical, coz eyes looking to the floor, fingers at the chin, pursed lips MUST mean doubt and apprehension. That was one of those moments where I thought, I need to vanish RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT. But couldn't.

The silence was broken by an awkward laugh by an executive, followed by a skilful re-direction of attention to someone else's earlier comment. My sigh of relief came in spurts.

Ok, I must have said something really stupid to get zero comments from the floor. Come to think of it, I MUST HAVE THROWN people off their thoughts, becoz my idea was just kind of random and on hindsight, irrelevant. Like a beautiful opera gone off-key.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

As the plane slowed its sprint along the runway, the airport's signature yellow neon lights seemingly flickering in the distance, this long overdue return has finally materialised.

I came back expecting a whole different Singapore, but as I laid eyes on every building on the taxi home, on the billboards, on the road signs, on the highway traffic, it feels like nothing has changed, and like I've merely been on a longer-than-usual holiday.

The weather sucks in this microwave city. But other than that, what else can I ask more for?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Today was the day I broke the news to my coach that I will not be rowing again next semester.

It was harder than I had thought. It was a decision that I had arrived at, being tugged and pulled in all directions before it became final. How anyone can let go of the cumulation of the ridiculous amount of hard work that goes into a sport is beyond me, and but I guess I proved myself wrong today. At least 2 hours a day, 6 times a week. When frat parties are in full swing, I was dutifully in bed ensuring that I had enough sleep. When the sun busies himself preparing to reveal its head in the horizon, I was on a boat biting my tongue in the cold.

I had hated the pain. Rowers arrive at "the wall", three-quarters into a race, where one has to summon the deepest stores of remaining energy, if any. In a sardonic way, it is the most enjoyable part of a race to me. That's when the boat beside you starts to make a move, and you hang in there to maintain the lead. Every splash of the water, accompanied by perfectly-timed oar connections and catches, edges you that much closer to the finish.

I could not even bring myself to say that I was quitting, oddly enough. It almost felt disgraceful, unethical. To push aside the hand that had fed you. To simply give up. It's probably one of those adult things, where you have to stay super duper rational, straight-faced, look at all the cards you have laid on the table, and come to a bold, definitive verdict.

Every opened book has to come to a close. Now, in my treasure chest of experiences, I have a new addition. Next semester, the meter's set to zero. I have a fresh canvass to paint - the pursuit of the new, the unknown and the unfamiliar as its primary colors.

Ain't that what life is all about?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

All I knew was that I was in a Boston Medical Center in the middle of Chinatown. The ambulance had brought me there, with many a jerky turn that made me want to puke more than I already was. I had called the YMCA Front Desk Agent, whom I asked for medical attention, who in a moment of kan-chiong fit, called an ambulance. The medical personnel had asked me on the way to the medical center, "If it was you, would you have called an ambulance?" I replied, "Probably not." But I knew that in my heart, I WOULD DEFINITELY have, because the 8-hour old bloat in my stomach at that time has caused me so much pain and vomitting that there was no way I would have trekked on foot to a medical facility nearby.

The night was a cold and merciless one. The nurse really couldn't be bothered. I came into ER without a busted head or a broken leg, and probably was treated with less seriousness. I hated her nonchalance, her presenting me a small plastic container for me to puke in, something which I actually had to hold on to, like a small bowl of milk cereal. She didn't empty it frequently enough, so imagine holding on to a bowl filled with puke, when trying to lie down and rest, which of course couldn't be materialised because of the nagging pain.

She forced me to down this white liquid, apparently to allow a later scan to track the movement of the fluid down my small intestine. Preliminary scans have revealed an obstruction at the first quater of my small intestine. Suddenly, more attention poured in. The nurse started to ask if I was alright, doctors from various departments began flooded into my ward, bothering me with details and fishing for details which I had to repeat again and again like an unfixable broken record. Packets of IV were changed more frequently. More eyes peeked into my ward.

"Hi, I am Dr. Austin from the GI department!" (still don't know what GI is)
"Hi, I'm a student intern here, can I do a survey with you?"
"Can you tell me what happened since you first vomitted?"

For a moment, I thought I was at the wrong place - a police station or something. I was interrogated by so many people, interviewed like a patient with a disease unheard of in history. Not far from the truth, one of the doctors diagnosed my situation as "an extremely rare case of unknown cause, especially for a young adult" like me.

THE WORST was when they had to shaft these tubes into my nose and down my oesophagus. The same nurse pushed the tube so hard into my nose, but couldn't get it all the way into my gut. She tried my other nostril and when I actually hit her arm in protest of the ridiculous force she was exerting, she stopped. She changed the tube to one with a smaller diameter. For a moment, I hated her. Really. Finally it went down. What followed was the most painful, awful 4 hours of my life.

Everytime I swallowed saliva, roughly 6 times a minute, 360 times an hour, I would feel that straw of a tube behind my throat. Super duper uncomfortable. Let's not even mention the procedure of shafting liquids up my anus, poking me for blood, asking me to urinate into the smallest of containers etc. It was a nightmare.

Finally after 4 hours of being connected to tubes, I said enough was enough. I was actually waiting for the next available specialist who "had the expertise" to put a scope/camera down my gut to check what the obstruction was. As if 4 hours wasn't enough long of a wait, the nurse could not tell me when this specialist would arrive. "Could be this afternoon, maybe early next morning..." NO WAY WAS I GOING TO HAVE THIS network of tubes down my throat waiting for the elusive doctor. I said, "I AM LEAVING." They had no choice but to let me.

On hindsight, what was this discomfort compared to the more serious life-and-death situations that this ER department oversees? We watch drama serials that tells the story of the lone patient who survives only because of of his strong will to live. I would not have been this person. I was beaten by discomfort. I gave up treatment.

A fellow patient in my ward was in an intense argument with her husband as to whether to take on the next procedure. She echoed my sentiments exactly. "Honey, I AM ALREADY in so much pain, and the doctors want to put me in a procedure that subjects me to more pain. NO I AM NOT going through this!" Amid cries, shouts and comforting exchanges of words, she finally gave in and stayed for her next procedure.

For me, this familiar voice of a "honey" was not around. I was alone in this unfamiliar city - location unknown, kin afar, and voice of rationality unmoved. This has been an experience. Very much so.

BMA - Bite My Ass. Slogan for the Cornell Big Red. We are the 2009 CHAMPIONS of the Ivy League. Bite My Ass.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The glass panels are a blank canvass, the table a foundation, the chairs a frame. Two by two, coffee aficionados, or simply academics in need of conversation, ease themselves into the picture. The cherry blossoms smoothly floats to the fore.
The bitter-sweet aftertaste of that fresh brew bounces off that well-rested tongue. At some appropriate pause or at some moment of impulse, his hands reach out to the cup. There’s steam wheedling from the brim, and with each sip, every verbal expression and outpouring is fuelled. Conversations open up. Laughs –hearty ones – permeate the spaces between the flowers.

That cup sits in the middle, observing the exchanges punctuated by nods, gestures, smiles and blinks. The occasional glance at the sidewalk outside hastily returns to the center of the conversation. Only an earthquake could shake up quite a distraction. His fingers embrace the cup’s body, like it was a substitute, a tool of comfort or merely a source of composure.

The lady stands up and leaves.

He opens up his laptop, head turning around, looking quite like the lost deer I saw on the road three days ago. His phone rings and he picks it up, fumbling for his hand-set. He suddenly becomes sensitive to the noise around, a pen drop or a shuffle of exam notes, catches his unnecessary attention. He plugs his headphones into his ears and like one of those head-bobbers in the café, becomes immersed in his individual world, unfazed and unaffected, or decidedly so.

The image loses its symmetry, the cup loses its steam, the library returns to the silence it was meant to provide. Where is that perfect moment? It stands tall like a cup of latte, hoping to get your attention. You only just let it slip by.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Whenever I reach the Facebook main page, my mind throws itself back to the time when primitives still saw leaves as clothes, smoke as signals and rice as luxury. People of the past just long to be fed, to have a roof over their heads, and put simply, to maintain the status quo. I think that's why we LOVE facebook because it gives us the exact opposite.

Because change has become the cornerstone of our lives today, the faster the more definitive, Facebook has seen unprecendented success in dumping truckload after truckload of information on us, and quite frankly, not showing much restraint. We are the hands that feed this trend. Even the wonder-thing of yore - emails - does not come close enough to represent our fetish for change. I compare our constant refreshing of the Facebook news feed page with that of our email page. The former always promises updates.

What's more interesting is that this change is actually kind of hollow because nothing has really altered. Our lives have remain the way they have been, just that we have chosen to subject them to greater transparency, scrutiny and controversy. We take these "Which seven dwarf am I" tests, or RSVP to some bogus event, to give our intangible characteristics some body, some physicality and form.

Of course Facebook users are known to "stalk" others, not that I am not guilty of it sometimes. But what can you learn about someone through 2-D pictures that capture a moment in time, a gazillionth of the days, months and years you need to REALLY get a feel of someone? Even then, you could be wrong. Maybe the pleasure lies in the anonymity of knowing. In our show of openness on Facebook, manifested in the seen-by-all profiles that connect strangers across networks, we simultaneously hide ourselves behind an opaque drape, peeking at others' private (or maybe already public) lives. Are we forming more and more arbitrary connections with others, when the purpose of interaction is to galvanize these relationships?