All posts in 2024
  • Living with Graves

    A year and a half ago, my friends sent me to a local emergency ward in Singapore when I moved in and out of delirium in the middle of dinner. I had been unwell for a long time, but there had been no suitable diagnosis or treatment. I lost nearly 20 kilograms, had the shakes, became insomniac, and most of all, emotionally and mentally unstable. Once diagnosed, it isn't a terribly awful disease; but the number of adjustments one has to make is astounding. Friends and loved ones too, struggle with dealing with the external impact of your disease, and will have to do so for a very long time.

    To say it can have a dramatic effect on your life may not be an understatement. Nearly every Graves' patient I know personally has experienced one or all of the above: unplanned career changes, closure or reorganization of business enterprises and any other financial responsibilities, breakdowns of relationships including marriages, and the list doesn't stop there. Some of your partners or friends will think it is not a big deal and that you are overreacting: after all, it's just that a tiny butterfly-shaped gland near your throat has elected to produce hormones at a different rate, right?

    It could not be more wrong.

    That tiny butterfly-shaped gland near your throat is also inscrutable, and controls many aspects of your life and health that you take for granted. One of the key things it affects is your mood, if untreated or treated inadequately. If you've always been cheerful, optimistic and bubbly, imagine becoming a different person for hours with no warning whatsoever; breaking down crying when your bus doesn't arrive, or when your toast is burnt. If you've always been confident and dominant, imagine becoming daunted by small tasks you do routinely - and being confused as hell about it. If you've always had a superb memory to the point you've never had to write anything down to remember them - imagine forgetting, every single time, the door code to get into your office. Every time you go to the bathroom you get locked out from work because your brain just isn't keeping pace with your body.

    Scariest of all: nothing else seems to matter. The business you've built for years. The career you've devoted your life to. The partner you've made plans for life with. It's so necessary to walk away from all of that, when you aren't yourself. It's tempting to think about leaving everything and everyone because nothing's working anymore and you want no part of it. It's easier to quit. Which is also weird, especially if you've never been a quitter.

    I tried, and still try, to lead a normal life. I take my meds everyday, but am constantly thinking about what more I can do. Should I drink radioactive iodine? Remove my thyroid gland completely? I don't particularly want to do either especially since neither of them have a sure shot or even a good shot at curing me, and may potentially work out even worse. I want to eat my meds daily and eventually come to a point when I don't need them anymore. Most days, a year and a half on, I'm back to being myself - by that meaning a completely different person from when I got diagnosed. A different person from the one that made bad decisions because I did not know the extent of my disease or what it does to me, when I did not know I had the disease at all. Now that I know how it affects my cognitive processes, my emotional lability, my physical body when the symptoms return when in remission - I try not to notice. Most days, I succeed. Yet it never feels like it's enough.

    We still haven't gotten it right. The meds work and then they don't. My body, through no input from me, suddenly decides it loves making my heart jump out of my chest when all I'm doing is sitting in a car. My mind decides it wants to react in entirely unwarranted ways: I'm the life of a party one mind and the next moment I can't even hold a conversation with anyone.

    I'm seeking all the best medical help I can get but it's still an incurable disease that affects everyone differently and in different ways at every stage in your life. I don't know if I'll ever be done: all I can do is manage my expectations, and other people's. I know my limits: if I can't work, socialize or be normal, I have to make sure people know it isn't me, it's just this dumb disease. Sometimes I don't even know who I am or what's happening. I've come close enough to get to a point where my levels are supposed to be normal, normal enough to get off the meds completely to see what happens next. But even before we can try that, I'm relapsing - like a damned yo yo - and I have no idea what will happen next. It's a dumb disease.

    Just some dumb disease I'll have forever.

  • Blazing the Trail

    I got a mention in the Singapore International Foundation's magazine for some of the stuff I do on the side.

  • Why I'm Hosting Culture Kitchen

    This is a project which has been on my mind for some time now. We've been planning it for a while. A part of this is a response to a worrying trend of anti-foreigner sentiment (c.f. the responses to a drive to raise funds for victims of last year's Downtown Line accident: here and here).

    The other part — which I believe to be more important — is the need for us as a nation and as a society to come around to the idea that we are not alone in this. Immigration is a touchy issue everywhere. How we choose to deal with this now will be something which has repercussions in the future. Evidently there are many schools of thought on this.

    Personally, I believe the day people stop wanting to come here to live or work will be the day we should worry. That would only happen when we become verifiably a land with no opportunities whatsoever, which cannot afford our people, and our guests and newcomers, a better life.

    When I was in university, my closest friends were in the Indian/ Nepali/ Pakistani (i.e. desi) contingent. Homesick, they sought out food which reminded them of home. Usman Restaurant at 238 Serangoon Road, near Mustafa/Desker Road, was one such place. It opened late, and most nights we would walk there from school or from the SMU hostel to tuck into comforting, always hot naan, roti, dal fry, haleem and other delicious Pakistani/North Indian dishes.

    Anil, my university buddy from Kathmandu, and I were big fans: pretty soon, we got to that point of patronage where we had our own tab, and the workers and owner of the restaurant were on our speed dial and Facebook. We made friends.

    When I went abroad for about five years, every time I returned I had to come back here. I started bringing other people there: my parents, other family members, family friends. One incident which stood out for me was in how I had brought a younger friend from China to Usman. She had barely eaten Indian food in her life, and now she was in Singapore, about to start at another local university. I saw her go from trepidation (from not knowing anything about the food nor what to order), to familiarity. It turned out that while I was away, she would return religiously with other friends from China, and also from Singapore, and she would order the food that I had ordered for her because she loved it. Eventually she began to have friends from India, too, and this was something that she now had in common with them: she really loved the cheese naan and the chicken kadai there.

    Something struck me, and has stayed there ever since. When I read about Conflict Kitchen, something clicked. I realized we could synthesize — and borrow — some of the food and art as dialogue aspects, and localize it for our own context.

    There were plenty of challenges. What came up often was: how do you know you're not already preaching to the choir? The bleeding heart liberal wing, the English-speaking, the people like us, already believe in migrant rights and all of those things. What good would it do to tell these people again about diversity and inclusivity, when they already believe in them too?

    The second challenge was place. We wanted to do it in a public place, and Little India was top on my list. But this is Singapore, and there are a thousand permits… so that was off the table.

    Eventually we came up with a first Culture Kitchen which is, I think, simple in its objectives and easy to understand. The main premise is, quite simply, come have dinner with our migrant workers. We sold out tickets in two and a half days. We went to Little India last Sunday, and distributed free dinner invitations. (Singaporeans/expats/residents pay $5.)

    Dinner invitations for migrant workers.

    The response was enthusiastic, and we were fully subscribed. I am delighted to announce that we have an pretty balanced mix of Singaporeans/expats/residents and migrant workers.

    What's the objective?

    I'm doing this because I'd like to help facilitate more of those moments. Moments like when a Singaporean-Chinese and a Nepali student like myself and Anil, are able to make great, lasting friendships with people from various parts of Pakistan who have chosen to make this place their home, and with each other. Moments like when the mainland Chinese friend is able to glean a closer understanding of a completely foreign culture, only by way of her time here in Singapore. All of us have just this in common: we live here. Some of us, like me, were born and brought up here. Others come for a short while for study or work. Others will do that and choose to make this place home, when the time comes. I don't think we need to split any hairs over who is a ‘true blue Singaporean' and who isn't: I truly believe that.

    Bangladeshi workers in Little India signing up to Culture Kitchen.

    I may be idealistic in that respect. Some of the undercurrents of Singapore politics disappoints me greatly. I believe that we can be welcoming of foreigners, and I also believe that we should be able to have mature political dialogue over our immigration policies. It doesn't have to be a zero sum game. A few days ago I posted that I disliked the term, "Singapore for Singaporeans". I think that if you were to replace either term with any other race, nationality, religion — it would be unacceptable. It is, to me, fascist, loaded, designed to exclude. This is not the Singapore I want. Immediately I received a torrent of online feedback, wanting to know if I would be happier with being a second class citizen in my own country. Again, this is not a zero sum game.

    What would be detrimental is if we were to continue tolerating the racist and xenophobic sentiments and never call them out for fear of being termed a traitor (or an SPG, as I have been called many times in this context). What is already detrimental is agitations of the vocal minority which wants to see no foreigners here at all, or only the ‘right kinds' of foreigners. What is already detrimental is the unfortunate lack of gumption in the political establishment, which seems too bothered by the vocal minority, in dealing with the push back not by doubling down on better policy, but by apparently taking an iron-fisted approach. Closing the doors every time someone stages a protest is not the way forward.

    What is the way forward? I don't have a specific answer.

    I can, however, build communities and movements. This is one of the things I know I can do well, and I want to lend my technological and organisational skills to building a movement which will stand up for a Singapore which includes. The Singapore we want to see. While I will continue to call out the xenophobes every time they emerge from the hills, I will also spend twice as much time on helping to create a counter movement which is positive in nature. I don't have an ROI, I don't have an end goal, I just want to bring people together.

    The first Culture Kitchen will feature biryani. You will realize from the name itself that the event is titled Biryani/Beriani, for good reason. One dish, many stories, many geographical and cultural interpretations. But still a tasty dish which everybody can get behind. There will be dum biryani from Pakistan, and there will be Malay-style chicken briyani. All of it is halal. There will be peas pulao, for the vegetarians among us. I'm not sure what can happen over biryani, but I think if I don't try, I'll never know.

    So let's rock up on Sunday, keep calm and eat a ton of biryani, and make new friends. Thanks for the overwhelming support.

  • 74 Weeks Later

    1. Once or twice in your life, something, or someone, gets under your skin and stays there. Most of the time it's because you have let them. It does not need to be tragic; it can even be, at times, up-lifting. All of the time it changes your life in some big, unalterable way. Then you learn to deal.

      Seventy four weeks ago (I only know this because Instagram tells me so) I made a decision about how I wanted to live the next twenty years of my life, and I'm learning everyday that breaking up costs more, the older you get.

      ecause at 22, you don't really know what kind of life you want for yourself. The best you can do is learn from what you run away from.

    2. Running away used to be my only currency for dealing. These days I over-compensate. Twelve months ago I was in Helsinki going on San Francisco, running away from life and lost love.

      I met a girl at a bar after a BDSM street party, and she robbed me.

      Only in San Francisco.

    3. I was in court today.

      Say what you will about the system and its shortcomings, but nowhere else in the world do you get an efficient, fast-moving court system which settles commercial matters: after office hours. So the GDP won't take a hit, I suppose.

      74 weeks ago, in running away I also ran away from the filing of company papers.

      So I now owe the Singapore government $$$.

    4. Some older, wiser people have this to say:

    • fuck it
    • date widely
    • have as much fun as you can
    • fuck everything, really.

    I'm coming around to the point of view that they are right.

    1. Life is funny and always, always takes me on these amazing, unexpected journeys.
  • Over and Over

    1. Some days ago, a boy I used to date as a wee teenager (yes, a boy!) reached out to me on Facebook. It's funny where we are now: he's now a hotshot international banker, I'm now an international vagrant (I don't really know how else to describe myself), instead of the awkward, school-uniformed boy and girl we once were. I found this episode especially funny because (1) I used to date boys! Which amuses me (2) exactly 14 years have passed since we used to 'go out'; we were 14 when we started going out. These days I am more acutely aware of how much older I am getting, and the fact that Class 95 now plays the songs I grew up with when they play "the classics" doesn't make it any better. In a couple of days we'll probably meet for steak and wine with some mutual friends. He's found some photos of us, circa 1999, and thinks it will be funny to laugh at our younger, hotter selves.
      It will.

    2. Everyone's getting married. Well, not everyone, but lots of people are. In a couple of weeks my best friend D will walk down the aisle with a really lovely boy, and I will try not to burst out of the tiny green dress I am supposed to wear. The one I still haven't bought. Everything changes, but nothing does — she's still more mature, more put together, more likely to worry about her friend who has been all over the place since we met as adolescents. I've read a lot about what 'growing up' is supposed to mean — the only consistent point everyone's made is, the older you get the less of a flying fuck you give, and you just have your key group of friends who stick by you no matter what.
      At the time of writing, D's just texted to slightly threaten emphasize the urgent need for me to do something about my hair so that it isn't in my face in all of her wedding photos, which I actually think was a scenario we must have discussed ten years ago. "YOUR HAIR AH." My hair.
      My hair does get in the way.

    3. I just downloaded one of those time machine apps which scour your social media networks to show you what you were up to a year, two years, three years ago. It tells me I was staring at a giant fake swan in Hungary, with these Hungarian and Czech developers. We were building something in a house by a lake. We may have gotten a slight case of cabin fever. We went swimming, paddling, and we found a giant swan which was also a boat. We christened her Gloria.

    Gloria, Swan

    The exact circumstances which got me to this very moment are meandering, long-winded ones. It began in south India, in an autorickshaw, and then to Kuala Lumpur, Bombay, and then to hospitals in Singapore, then to northern Europe, then to KL, Singapore, and then finally to Zamárdi and to this swan we called Gloria.
    They were fun times. They taught me that never again should I allow myself to be photographed in a half-wet t-shirt, anywhere in the world.

    1. I am acutely aware of just how much change there's been in my life in the past 70+ weeks. I've switched entire cities and countries. I haven't been able to keep myself grounded, in the physical and mental and personal and professional sense. Beyond the appearances of someone who's 'got it figured out', I'm really grappling with the basic questions I never did have to answer before. Where do I want to live? What do I want to achieve? How should I get there?
      For the most part, I am 'home' now. The home that I left was the city I was born and brought up in; the home that I came home to late last year, is the one I prefer. It is also the city I now pay rent in. Last week I went up onstage at FORK4 and gave a little talk about my side projects. I met all these incredible people doing great projects, like Dream Syntax, State of Buildings, Another Beautiful Story, and more. A few days later, I went to Pizza X II, the second instalment of a back alley artisan party, with great food and drinks (Spit roast! Karelian pastries! Artisan rum and new growth wines!) and some of the best people in this island.
      Then there's stuff like this, and this. It matters a great deal to me to be amongst a people that want to do things. Make something better. It keeps me going.
      At times I wonder if I made a mistake when I made the call to stay, but most of the time I am surer than ever that I made the right decision to come home. Because I just haven't been home for a while and I needed to be.

    2. I'm writing. I'm dating. One of those is coming along better than the other. At least writing is free. When it comes to dating, and the occasionally terrible, mostly funny in hindsight moments I've had in that field, I am reminded of how one of the smartest people who ever lived once defined insanity to be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Without going into too much detail: I am done with that.
      I am writing a whole lot more, trying to follow some kind of writerly routine. It is working.
      When I opened, an app I never use, I found the one Reminder I had on it: remember to tell doc about my memory loss problem. I never remembered to. Something about it captured how weird and heartbreaking that entire period of my life was. The fear of not knowing what was happening to my body or to my mind. The inability to control anything about where my life was going. The heartbreak of losing everything I had. Everything at once. The seeming insanity of having chosen to lose those things of my own accord, but nothing really was.
      Life got better, but it will never be the same again. I don't want it to, but I don't want to lose it all again, again. I don't think I will. That would be insane.

  • The One About Having It All

    Also available on Medium.

    If you were to meet me on the streets of Singapore, you probably would not peg me for ‘gay’. Apparently, ‘gay woman’ or ‘lesbian’ has to be one or several of the following: short-haired, oddball, butch-like; a flaming dyke. You would expect me to show up in a flannel shirt and in Birkenstock sandals to business meetings. If I am aggressive in them, that’s because I’m an ‘angry lesbian’ who probably doesn’t get enough, and if I’m not, then it’s just such a terrible ‘waste’.

    I am not angry. Not nearly enough. My hair reaches my shoulders, and a little more. I am as much of a dyke as you’ll ever meet, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. I may not be a princess — I don’t even know how to paint my nails — but I ‘pass’ for straight. Not because I try or want to, not because I have anything to hide, but because I don’t know how else to style my hair, and this is the only way I’ve ever known to look.

    You see, I am a 27 year old lesbian who has always been amused by how much that means to other people, instead of to myself. Classmates and teachers wanted to know, and said so in hushed whispers: “they must be dating.” (I would never assume two large people were dating just because they were both large and walking next to each other, so I do not understand this popular train of thought.)

    Men with inquiring minds want to know, always: have I tried a man? If not, perhaps they could help me make an informed decision? Even the Social Development Unit has stopped sending me letters and brochures urging the benefits of marriage and procreation. I am, as you may say, not in a ‘phase’. (I did have a ‘straight phase’ though, but that fad did not last.) In eight years, I may be able to purchase a HDB flat of my own.

    In about ten years of gay-ness, I’ve had a two serious relationships, the last which came as close to ‘settling down’ and ‘divorce’ as I may ever get. I have no trouble finding interesting lesbian and bisexual women to go out with in this city, or anywhere else I may be; in Singapore, I have rarely — perhaps never — experienced forthright discrimination in the physical way. But more on that later.

    I am out to everybody, and I’d be surprised if anybody really cared (except for the religious). It has never stood in the way of career, money, social standing, power; it is irrelevant to most other parts of my life, but it informs my decisions. I no longer have any religious or conservative friends, for example; I don’t need them in my life. We would fundamentally disagree on everything anyway, from politics to Palestine to Republicans and Democrats and reproductive rights, and my gayness would have nothing to do with their bigotry. My sexual identity is as irrelevant to me as my race (Chinese) and nationality (Singaporean), or the fact that I have a head of rapidly graying hair (hereditary). All of those things are the parts which make up the sum of who I am, but on their own are insignificant — to me.

    But I also know my Singaporean lesbian existence is not representative: I am a 27 year old lesbian with opportunities which have exceeded many of my peers’, straight or gay or otherwise. I have the luxury of travelling most of the time on business and leisure. I have the privilege of living on my own in this city — it’s difficult to lead an active dating life while living at home with your parents, like unmarried Singaporeans like us are supposed to do. I have a great day job, an active social life, no kids, no debt; I don’t even have to answer the regular Chinese New Year questions anymore. I have never worked in a place, or with people who cared about the fact that I am an out gay woman. In short, I can do pretty much whatever the hell I want.

    Whether or not I can have it all is quite a different thing.

    Some people have the rather odd idea that all gay people — men and women — are promiscuous, that we shag like rabbits, that we want nothing more than to get into each other’s pants, and anyone will do.

    The lesbian cliché which comes a lot closer to the truth goes something like this: we meet in bookstores / poetry readings / book clubs. On our second date, we move in; we proceed to have a monogamous relationship for the rest of our lives, sometimes resulting in offspring, all the time resulting in cats (and dogs).

    The reason why there isn’t, and will never be a lesbian Grindr is you’d have to change all the fields to ‘Looking for: long walks on the beach, someone to adopt a cat with. Available tonight in Pasir Ris — I have a toothbrush, let’s talk about our feelings.’

    Singapore is a great city for young lesbians like me. There is a large dating scene, at least three lesbian parties a week, there is even the space to live a ‘normal’ life together, perhaps for a while; perhaps after a dramatic reduction of expectations. Because this is where it stops. Once you’re done with the partying, where do you go here? The only life that is known to me to be possible is a life of co-habitation with two dogs and a cat and perhaps a non-legally binding commitment ceremony with your best friends. If you’re really lucky, your parents might come too.

    For some, that’s more than enough. The journey of finding someone special is difficult enough, not just for gay people, but for everybody with a pulse.

    For others — that never will be enough. We have lost so many of our own, among them our brightest and best, to other cities and countries, and we’ll probably never get them back. When the time came for them to settle down, the idea that the place we call home wants us for nothing more than our pink dollars, perhaps even for our contribution to the fertility rate (with limits), but will not recognize our love, is more than they can bear.

    So what I can have, and continue to have, is my young professional’s yuppie lifestyle with dates in amazing restaurants and bars; I can go to these parties, sometimes meet interesting women; I can continue to function as an economically active member of this society, pay my taxes on time and give money to my parents; I can go to Chinese New Year dinners without having to answer to anyone about my marriage plans (they don’t want to know).

    I can certainly walk from Raffles Place MRT to Tanjong Pagar without anybody stopping to make a value judgment that I must be lesbian, and therefore something else as well.

    What I cannot do, is I cannot walk the same distance with a beautiful woman on my arm, without someone else wanting to know about this terrible waste of a woman, for a woman to be with a woman, and I cannot know for certain that if I were to meet with an accident on this same walk, the beautiful woman who may be my life partner will have any more of a say in my medical and legal future, than any stranger who helps me at the scene or at a hospital.

    What I can’t have, therefore, is immaterial. It’s not about the HDB flats I can or cannot buy. It’s that as a lesbian woman in this society, I have to automatically assume that all of the following are bonuses, not expectations: having my love recognized for the purposes of property, tax and inheritance; attending a partner’s family functions without unnecessary outcry and suspicion; knowing that if I were to be in a medical emergency, my life partner would be legally allowed to make decisions on my behalf. In other words, to even hope for my future life partner to be perceived as anything other than a complete stranger, is going to have to be taken on other people’s good faith. As outsiders, that’s all we have to go on: the goodwill of other people. The readiness of other people to stop thinking of us as criminals, sexual deviants and perverts. If I hold hands with a woman I love, I am rubbing it in conservative Singapore’s face and being too declarative about my sexual orientation; if I walk side by side with one, the man who catcalls and makes lewd comments at us bordering on sexual harassment, is just, after all, being a man and entitled to his opinions about my body and hers.

    For someone who generally feels like there is nothing in the world I cannot do, all I can do is to keep on doing what I do best — live my life as best as I know how, be kind to old people and animals, donate to charity sometimes, avoid premature death — and dream about the day I hope to see in my lifetime: when our lovers will be as our equals, and our love as deserving.

  • Love, Singapore

    I wrote a small piece for Elle Singapore (Sept 2013) about what it's like to be lesbian in Singapore. Available on the newsstands now, page 147.

    Mention to someone in passing that you're lesbian and one or all of the following are bound to happen: intrigue ("tell me more"), surprise ("You don't look it!"), curiosity ("how exactly does it work?"); very often too, the burning question — how do I meet women who are, and they always fumble here, "similarly inclined"?

    I always want to say — the same way you meet your boy- and girlfriends, husbands and wives. "We" meet in school, at work, at business events, we sometimes also experiment with online dating (like everyone else), or meet through friends and relations. We meet when we play sports. We meet at religious institutions, support groups, at school camps, we meet at dinner parties or we are introduced by well-meaning friends. Other times, coincidence intervenes: you see each other for the first time, somewhere, and you just know.

    All of the above answers are true, and this causes great frustration to those who were hoping to hear about lesbian dating rituals from an alternate universe, far removed from their own. They also can't seem to fathom that you can, quite simply, "just know" (or make a very educated guess). The only secret here is there are many of us.

    For gay women, the stereotype of promiscuity and endless partying is as far from lesbian dating realities as it gets.

    Sure, I go to the lesbian parties once in a while (there are at least two per week), mostly just for a night out without needing to come up against potential male harassment. When I tell people about lesbian parties they also seem to expect hot women having orgies in the door way. Like everyone else's parties, some parties are fun, others are not. Some people are hot, others are not. There are no orgies. There are just people dancing with each other, chatting up each other, people spectacularly failing at all of the above.

    Women seeking out the great loves of their lives across the dance-floor. Never quite finding it. Not too different from any party, really.

    What really happens is this: lesbians are the first to want to nest, and be with each other forever and ever. That's why you almost never meet eligible lesbians at a lesbian party — before you can even put on your party clothes, they've already found partners and are at home with their girlfriends, throwing dinner parties, decorating their dog's socks, watching Grey's Anatomy together for the third time and still weeping hopelessly.

    Being a single twenty-something of any orientation is hard enough —everyone's getting married, the good ones have been taken, what the hell are you going to do?

    Being a single lesbian in your mid-20s in Singapore adds another layer of complexity. Do you move out? Tell your family before or after you've "found someone"? Where will you live, if not in Holland Village or Tiong Bahru, now that rent is so crazy? When will I meet someone who loves Battlestar Galactica? Or get to date someone in this country who hasn't already dated someone else I know (proximity, not promiscuity)?

    So many questions, too little time. I am a busy world-travelling young professional who spends most of my time up in the air, and finding someone has been quite low on my list of things to do (other things on it: attain world domination or cult leader status. Buy dog food). So you can imagine how well my dating life is going.

    Just the other day I met the first woman to pique my interest in a long time, the traditional way — through a friend. It wasn't expected, it just happened, and like every other kind of date that exists in the universe, straight, gay or otherwise — I don't know yet, I don't want to rush it, I have all these burning questions, I don't know if she likes me, I don't know anything at all.

    But if I am really a lesbian cliché after all, by the time you read this she would have moved in, adopted my dog, and I would have faded away from public memory, never to be seen again on Thursdays or Saturdays, for something resembling a century and a half.

  • Before & After The Fire


    Rain falling on zinc roofs. Neighbours having sex

    Hoping they won't be suay again. They have no money.

    The news coming from the sole television set. Children peeping for a glimpse of world affairs. Condensed milk cans

    filled with coffee. Ah Ba will have to go to the office.

    The office is also a shed. He carries sacks to and fro sheds

    All day. Sometimes all night too. Last week someone tried to chop him in the head. He doesn't care. A bowl of porridge a day makes Ah Ba strong. Insulates him from the world. Protects him from things such as emotions. And cleavers.

    If there had been rain yesterday, everything could have been saved. There was no rain. Now there is no television set. No neighbours. No sex. No house. Ah Ma ran everywhere with his two youngest children. They were at the provision shop looking at candy they could not afford. When it happened they ran into temple. Stayed there. Crouched in a corner. Waiting. Shaking. It did not rain. The firemen worked all day. Ah Ba ran from the office shed but he could not find them. He almost cried, but, porridge.

    He found them in the temple. Waiting. Shaking. Crouching. Ah Ba held his children tight. But he never found the words.

  • Sitrep

    1. I got a Battlestar Galactica tattoo
    2. I'm pretty pleased about that
    3. It's one half of the pair of wings and Caprica constellation that Starbuck gets when she marries Anders
    4. Within a couple of hours of getting it, a random stranger proposed to me — saying she would get the other side
    5. Which would be romantic, but that would also mean (a) she's a Cylon (b) we'd have a tumultuous relationship (c) she'd better be damn good at Pyramids
    6. It's unbelievable that 10 years has passed since I first started to watch this show
    7. I don't generally fan-girl anything, but this was special
    8. I identify with Starbuck in far too many ways, if you know what I mean
    9. It's potentially far more meaningful than anything else I could have gotten
    10. After getting this done I do kinda feel like nothing can frak with my qi

    I love BSG.

  • A Weekend Getaway

    As many of you will know by now, I have spent a substantial part of the past decade travelling through India. I still feel like I'm barely done with scratching the surface. There's just so much to see in that vast, amazing country that I call my second home.

    For some time now I've wanted to go to Coorg.

    Coorg, also known as Kodagu, is a hill area in the state of Karnataka, in the Western Ghats. Its people are known as Kodavas (not Coorgis!) and all I knew about the place was that it had coffee, beautiful people, and pork curry. All that was sufficient to inspire me to plan a trip there.

    From Chennai, I took a quick overnight train to Mysore Junction (book early, book ahead — this route is headed towards Bangalore, and therefore sells out early), but you can also take a bus. At Mysore Junction, I arranged for a car to pick me up for breakfast and to my resort of choice.

    An acquaintance from Mysore highly recommended Travelparkz, and he was right: they were a very reliable car and driver service, and it was good value. I hired them for a pickup from Mysore Junction railway station to the resort in Coorg that I was headed to; and for a drop-off from the resort to Bangalore city a couple of days later. I highly recommend these guys, though it's best to reach them via phone. They speak English.

    I had heard about The Tamara from friends in Bangalore, so I decided I would give it a shot. It's a very new place and it gets most things right. My only complaint is it didn't have as much pork as I would have liked.

    You can wander about the grounds of The Tamara on your own, or sign up for one of their daily walks with their on-site naturalist. I did none of the above as I was too busy resting after a long week at work in India!

    Highly recommended. I will be returning to Coorg shortly, although I may want to check out Victory Home next, since I've just met these guys in Bangalore.

    Damn I love this country.

    Tamara - Path

    The path to my cottage

    Tamara - Shoes

    Happy feet


    All rights reserved, The Tamara Coorg

  • The Belated Bangkok Diaries

    In several status updates

    Admittedly I have posted very little on the everyday occurrences in my travel. Here are some snippets, culled from Facebook.

    Day 1: Two sleep-deprived people board a plane full of evangelical missionaries offering ‘free healing' in the plane (true story), dinner in the streets and accidental romantic date at a blacksmith-themed cocktail bar with a toilet that was so awesomely creepy it freaked out the one half of us that actually writes horror fiction as a profession. Shai halip in Little Arabia, 24-hour tacos and the latest episode of Scandal.

    Street vendors selling holographic pictures of puppies, kittens, Jesus and Mary, naked women and ferocious tigers, across from a fake Viagra/Cialis/ made-in-China sex toy shops.

    Bangkok is my happy place. Tomorrow: at least two massages.

    Day 2: In no particular order: grilled chicken hearts, the breakfast of champions; flashing at passengers on the Khlong San Saeb river taxi each time (not me, btw), having random thai men cat-calling us coz Sam is in a very sessy dress (they called us ‘black and white girls'. Um. Brown and yellow is more accurate); beef boat noodle carnage, talking security guards into letting us trespass private property so we can take a shortcut, Gibson-esque massive overhead bridges, stalker pandas and mushrooms, great crackling massages, pork cracklings;

    Pork satay, dogs and teddy bears and dogs in frilly clothes; hanging out with exes, discussing whether one's Portuguese ancestry is to blame for epic marine vessel conquering flag-planting fantasies (no: it's just Sam); ominous Elliott Smith songs in hotel toilets, streetside mobile bars. Pork tacos in the fridge.

    A swim is on the menu tomorrow. Pandas are everywhere.

    Off my rockers/tits high on chilli padi. It was a beautiful yum poo dong – raw blue swimmer crab salad smothered in beautiful chilli – the cold raw crab tastes like crab ice cream. But so off my rockers chilli high coz I am so clever I ordered it extra extra spicy. I love chilli padi highs. So beautiful, this world

    Day 3: Looking for soi Polo chicken and seeing random chickens and people wearing I ♥ Chicken T-shirts everywhere (surreal), having a crab-gasm over the raw blue swimmer crab in a yum poo dong, coffee in random little sheds in Lumpini, more great massages, Phra Athit jazz and beer and evil plotting, a knock-out pad thai.

    Home tomorrow!

    Sam and I are at a girlie bar on Nana, showing bar girls pictures of fried crickets. We are looking for the Nana Cricket & Grasshopper street vendor. I don't know how to say "where are the edible crickets" in Thai. Yet.

    Apparently I accidentally cock-blocked an Italian dude at a bar in Bangkok. All I did was drink whisky and talk about apps and their project timelines. A thai MILF then decided to tell me she thinks I must be gay, and proceeded to tell me she used to be butch with many girlfriends until a guy drugged and raped her and she got pregnant. (all this happened in thai)

    The Italian dude left, very sadly.

    Must. Stop. Accidentally. Fang dian-ing at people. Even sideways in my peripheral vision while eating potato chips and drinking whisky.

    Note: 'fang dian' = a Mandarin term made up by some friends, meaning ‘to put electricity'. It refers to my track record of accidentally attracting unwanted attention through what they suspect is the sheer Cyclops-like, err, traits in my… eyes.

    Day 4: jok moo! Pork porridge with salted egg, century egg, innards! Flip-flops and Hello Kitty (don't ask) and cable shopping! Skyfall! Prawn bisque! Accidentally fang-dian-ing: me at people, Sam at buildings! Giant sea creatures! Girlie bars! Mobile bars! No crickets!

    New Bangkok Notes

    • I still love Bangkok as much now, as I did when I first started frequenting it… circa 2004?
    • Oh gawd I feel old these days.
    • That's directly related to how all I want to do these day is have massages. My back creaks; my body creaks along with it. My new go-to place for a massage is at Ruen Nad massage studio on 42 Convent Road, off Silom. It really is one of the best massages you can have for that little money (1 hour goes for 350 THB). It's a little pricier than the less fancy places but the masseuses are uniformly great, and the ambience — in a restored old house in a fancy part of Bangkok — is really unbeatable. Also, Convent Road has some of the best street food in that city.
    • The row of street stalls next to Sala Daeng BTS station still has a curious mix of gay p0rn and pirated DVDs. The latter tend to be arthouse (non-p0rnographic) movies, including a great many films which are simply just not available online… or in your local video store. The range of movies is quite breathtaking. I love Silom.
    • If you are ever in Bangkok, do yourself a favour and eat a meal — go for the degustation — at Bo.lan. Chefs Bo and Dylan create exquisite food — slow food — and are rather experimental whilst strongly grounded in the traditions. Every meal I have had there, which is still too few, has been revelatory.
    • I like the northern neighbourhoods. Victory Monument is home not just to impoverished foreigners/English-teachers, it's also home to Boat Noodle Alley, a massive Gibson-esque skywalk/pedestrian bridge, as well as to Saxophone jazz bar, which is a reliable spot to kick back with a beer and listen to some great music. I also like the neighbourhood of Ari, which has too many pleasures to name.
    • If you like jazz with some fairy dust, Iron Fairies is a Dickensian blacksmith workshop restaurant and pub (seriously). It's beautiful. Think Steampunk meets Dickens meets jazz meets industrial chic. There's great live jazz featuring local musicians, some nights. We were there on a Monday and it was going strong. The Thonglor neighbourhood that it's in is also chock-a-block full of great little spots. They tend to tend to lean quite heavily towards ‘hiso' (the Thai equiv of the Singaporean ‘atas', with regards to class).
    • Hiso/atas is totally fine by me. I like my upper-middle class hipsterism in strong doses. I also need a bit more down low to counteract too much hipsterism, though, and Thonglor does dish out the down low in appropriate amounts too. soi 38 on the other side of the station is packed with great street food, but one of my favourite meals on this trip was at Jok Moo. Like the name suggests it specializes in pork congee. It was quite a battle ordering two bowls of pork congee in the specific configurations we wanted (salted egg and century eggs, one with innards and one without)… in my limited Thai, but my hunger prevailed and we succeeded. The porridge held its own against some of the best Chinese congees in Singapore/Malaysia. They also seem to have solved the age-old problem of never having hot-enough fritters: they have these little packets of fried fritters resembling you tiao but not really, and they're always cripsy. There is nothing more disgusting than soggy you tiao in your congee, and nothing more wonderful than having congee with fresh, hot fritters as well. It's one of the biggest conundrums I think I face as a Chinese person: would I rather eat soggy fritters or not eat any at all?
    • Jok Moo is at the start of Sukh soi 38. Alight at Thonglor station and head for the even-numbered side. Locate soi 38. Jok Moo is the first corner shop on the right at the start of the soi, after some watch or hardware shops. It only has Thai words written on its signage. There's some seating at the back. Have the lemongrass drink. Basic English is understood here. Pointing helps, if all else fails.
    • The pad thai at Thipsamai on Mahachai Road really is what it's cracked up to be. A tip: don't order the version with the shrimp oil. I love my calories and I love my oily fried noodles in all shapes and sizes, but the shrimp oil really kicked me in the guts… after. They also have a new dish: pad thai without the noodles. If Mos Burger can do burgers with lettuce instead of buns, I guess Thipsamai can do pad thai without the noodles. Although both food concepts totally go against every fibre of my being.
    • The fried chicken at Soi Polo, off Wireless Road near Lumpini. Run, don't walk. Also order the yum poo dong — the cold crab salad that gave me the chilli high described above. Both are beautiful. The Star Trek movie dubbed in Thai, not so much.
    • One day I will find the fabled coconut ice cream at Sam Yan.
    • Did I do anything other than eat in Bangkok? We watched James Bond. Took photos with giant sea creatures. Introduced Sam to grilled chicken heart breakfasts, and to the river boat experience I love (the commuter Klong San Saeb, not the one on the tourist trail).
    • Bangkok is still one of my favourite Asian cities and I don't understand how anybody can ever hate it. Well, I do — it's not for everyone. But if you like hulking, in-your-face Asian metropolises like I do, Bangkok is It.
    • One day I will make a concerted effort to get better at my Thai.
  • Gyanada Foundation Soft Launch

    I've thrown myself headlong into work — real work, and then foundation work.

    India is an important part of my life and I owe everything to her. Over the past couple of months, my friends and I have been busy putting a little NGO together, the Gyanada Foundation.

    Today (Tues, 12 March) between 7 and 9 in the evening, I'll be hosting our soft launch at Artistry, 17 Jalan Pinang.

    Here are the event details! Hope to see you there.

  • From the Fringe

    I've had more thoughts on the anti-white paper protest since the weekend, I'll need to write it down into a slightly longer piece. But here's what I posted on Facebook that got passed around a fair bit.

    Point is, Singapore is at an interesting stage in our politics and civil society and it's going to take a while to smooth out the kinks. Where I stand is, I don't think, extreme in any way — but the values of race and inclusion are very, very important to me, and sometimes that is perceived to be too pro-immigration.

    I was told today that I lacked moral courage for not going to the protest; that I was merely a keyboard warrior. I was also told: 'see? no racist or xenophobic speeches!'

    Hmm, let's see:

    1. I have volunteered for years with the opposition and I have been on the frontline of elections. What have you done for your country except to happily throw it into the dustbin of nativist trope?

    2. The political figures and figures on the political periphery (cannot confuse the two as there were too many political also-rans and wannabes best kept out of Parliament) involved should know what associating with Gilbert Goh means. I am especially heartbroken because some of these figures also purport to be the only party to stand for 'human rights'; the other because it was inaccurately portrayed to be THE xenophobic party due to the unfortunate former membership and candidacy of said event organizer.

    3. There has been a lot of moral relativism around today's protest. There should be none. Someone said Gilbert's stance is a lesser boo boo than the PAP's bigger boo boos. Or something similarly puerile to that effect.
      The only boo boo there is is that there should be any moral relativism at all. The racial profiling of the foreigners among us is vile and must be condemned unequivocally. There is no intellectual or high brow anything to this. It is basic human dignity.
      Associating with someone like Gilbert Goh, a mere demagogue and an opportunistic one at that, merely cheapens the cause you and I both care very much for: how we can find an alternative to the White Paper which we believe will spell disaster for Singapore.

    4. Some of you attended and said you needed to be there to (1) express your disagreement against the White Paper (2) shout down the xenophobes. It is regretful we have an impaired democracy in which a citizen finds he or she cannot sufficiently be heard except by gathering in one sanctioned park. It is even more regretful this democracy is so impaired that bright men and women consider the right to assembly and to be heard more valuable than the demagoguery involved.

    5. My allegiance to The Cause has been questioned because I refuse to toe the ‘us vs them' line of reasoning. I am old enough to remember the extreme political repression of the generation before us, but not old enough or idealistic enough to buy into the 'anything, anyone but the PAP' school of thought. I am a patriot first and an opposition supporter second. I am worried by the perception that not buying into the lock stock and barrel of all anti-PAP rhetoric necessarily means one is a traitor, spy, mole or PAP agent (I have been accused of all of the above).

    Addendum: the more I do this stuff the more I think we need to grow the opposition not because I hate the ruling party. But because when they stop being the best guys for the job (and they're starting to seriously show signs of that), I don't want this country to descend into the mob. It's capacity and the long game we need to build, not the Tan Jee Say REJECT EVERYTHING model. I will now actively seek out an organization which better fits this worldview.

  • It Was All New

    I have a tattoo on my lower back. It was given to me by the grandson of a tribal village chief. I grimaced for hours on the floor as he used the primitive tools and ingredients that had tattooed his Iban people for centuries, on me, a girl from a big city.

    I'd always wanted a tattoo, but didn't know what; this one crept up on me. Like the girl I was there with (we had a crazy idea: we would visit and live with an Iban community in a longhouse and celebrate Hari Gawai with them), I wasn't expecting any of this. The girl, the tattoo, or that I would have such a story to tell many years after the fact. I chose a bunch of tribal motifs from an album and told him to make it up. I got lucky: I like my tattoo very much, even if it is what some people would call a tramp stamp. I'm proud of it. There's a story to tell each time anyone asks about it.

    The girl is no more in my life but the tattoo remains, defiantly representing all of the new beginnings I will embrace in life. Tomorrow, I start a new life and more and more I feel as though the year of grieving and floating, which so profoundly altered my path and direction in life as well as my livelihood and future plans, is finally about to draw to a conclusive close.

    I am finally ready for another tattoo. This time, I know exactly where it should be, what it should say and what it should look like. I would not have known this without the pain of my first tattoo. It will be a beautiful Sanskrit verse from the Bhagavad Gita and I intend to have it inscribed on my upper left shoulder. This time, I will harbour no plans or illusions about the permanence of anything other than that of the Sanskrit verse on my shoulder; this time, I will learn to love without needing to know the world.

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