Monday, January 30, 2006

Don't play play ah, Singaporean leh!

This is the first year I celebrated chinese new year without my family. I really expected it to be just another quiet humdum weekend where I wake up at noon and bum around trying to do my laundry. Turned out to be quite the opposite. Friday night was spent at an asian party in Denim. Saturday afternoon was spent shopping for ingredients to make assam curry in reading terminal and chinatown. Saturday evening was spent trying to make assam curry. There were a couple of hit and miss moments. One of them including choking on our own curry because it tasted so bad. But we managed to save it. I guess we underestimated the packet. It's very Singaporean to think.."Aiyah this assam curry paste must be made for ang moh, so must be not spicy la. Come add two stalks of fresh chili, 2 onions and alot of chili flakes!" Yeah that's what Jam and I thought until we choked, spluttered and got chili powder into our noses. Saturday night was spent at Potluck dinner with the Singaporean freshman. Jam and I managed to get pineapple tarts, love letters, rabbit sweet etc. Very happy.

Sunday morning spent with Jam at Chinese Student Association dim sum lunch. Except everyone there was American. Heard firecrackers for the first time. Thought the world was going to end. Had tau hui. Very happy. Sunday night was at Singaporean/Hong Kong dinner in Ocean Habour Restaurant. Bumped into Mike there and ended the night with bubble tea, yu and three chinese americans.

Chinese new year always made me muse about my identity as a chinese and a singaporean. And now especially so in a foreign country, where I'm not just one but three degrees separated from China. Chinese new year with singaporeans is the time to see your very friends who never spoke a word of chinese, listen to matchbox twenty, read shakespeare and drank starbucks fraps before kopitiam coffee suddenly scold you for wearing black on CNY, insist that we must eat fish and tell me not to sweep the floor on the first day. Suddenly the same people who you use to fool around with in chinese class find the need to greet you in four letter mandarin proverbs, drink fanta orange and get anal about why we must give two oranges and not three.

Put a paper bag over a singaporean's and american's head and watch them live for a week. Can you tell the difference? Starbucks, Macdonalds, Dan Brown, Hollywood movies and the occasional ethnic food. How many Harry Potter books have we read compared to chinese classics? How many Sex and the City episodes have we watched compared to Empress Dowager? Do we start our day with cornflakes or century egg porridge? Suddenly our singaporean-chinese identity becomes little snippets of what we remember from our past. The little blue packets of Vitasoy we drink as a kid. Playing with those tubes of sticky stuff that you can blow into a bubble that doesn't burst. Flag raising ceremony. Eating Big White Rabbit sweet and peeling off the rice paper.

I think I feel most Singaporean when I step into a chinese grocery stall in a western country. It's like my memories were all stacked into shelves and are readily sold back to me for double the price I would pay in singapore. Wang Wang salted biscuits, little bottles of Yakult, yellow hicks sweets, yeo's chrysanthemum drink, Khong Guan biscuits, Holicks, Ovaltine etc. They each inspire a story which you readily want to share with your non-singaporean friends. I love walking along the aisles of the chinese supermarkets, watching people tell their white american girlfriends "Oh back in Singapore I use to drink this as a kid!"

The Hi-chew sweets merge with sea coconut chinese medicine, merge with vegemite, merge with meat pies, and bakwa, and pork floss and cheerios and pokka green tea and planta and kaya and philly cheese steaks and mac 'n' cheese and sushi and the list goes on.I'm glad that this new year, I had the opportunity to celebrate it singlish-style with fellow singaporeans and american-chinese who can't speak mandarin. It stretches the tension within myself, as a Singaporean, who studies in Australia, who is studying abroad in America and who is dating a Malaysian. I am still every bit Singaporean. I still feel the overwhelming need to pile my plate during a buffet because I can. I'm still shameless rude in subways and I can't litter even if I'm standing in a cesspit full of rubbish. I still have to buy chewing gum when I cross over to JB although I don't eat it out of habit. I don't know how to bribe a policeman. I still lower my volume into a hush when I'm saying anything about the government, whether good or bad. Yes, that happens even when I'm overseas. I still watch the National Day Parade and I'm still moved when they say the pledge. I still believe in the pledge, I still try to defend my country from criticisms, I'm still proud of my passport and I still have high hopes for Singapore.

So if I were the Singapore government in charge of reinforcing the Singaporean identity, here's a new strategy. Post students overseas, and make them eat one month of french fries and lagsana. And then open a chinese supermarket next to where they live and charge them three times the price for a packet of hello panda chocolate biscuit. There is no better way to build patriotism than through food.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A humdum day in a humdum life in my humdum world

Today has been a very introspective mellow day. It started off with schmoozing at the career fair and finding out that most companies won't hire international student. One company made a link between sponsoring an international student and terrorism. That was interesting. It progressed on to free lunch and more moments of trying to make intelligent conversation. It went on to a job interview downtown. Met a wonderfully interesting lady who was a refreshing change from Upenn. I like Upenn and most people there...but it's just nice to talk to someone who isn't from the bubble. The hour-long job interview progressed into talking about child adoption and the air quality in China. Got the job. Will think about it. Came out. Walked along Rittenhouse Square, the Orchard Rd/Bourke St of Philly. You know you have been in a place too long when everytime you are downtown, you visit the same shops in the same sequence. Gap, Diesel, Blue Mercury, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Khiels. Popped into La Siegal, a french crepe cafe ran by a Russian lady who I think I offended.

Me: Ooh where are you from?
Lady: Russia.
Me: Ooh they speak french in russia?
Lady: I wasn't speaking french.

Yes...i can't tell the difference between french and russian despite having studied french for a year. I'm an idiot.

Had organic earl grey green tea and, ham and cheese crepe with asparagus. Evaluated my life and wrote my stream of consciousness down on the back of a pamplet. The best moments to self-evaluate is when you are too far to go home.

Decided to walk home because the weather was great (2 deg C) and I was wearing comfortable shoes (pointy toe working shoes). Regretted the decision after walking 15 blocks. But since I have already walked 15 blocks, it would not make sense to spend $1.60 on a bus ride. Walked rest of the way home. It's one of the moments where you shrug your shoulders and go...why not?

Now sitting at home waiting for mike to call so we can go hang out at yet another asian party. Life is as awesome as it gets.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Teacher I don't know the answer...

Legal Studies 210: Corporate Responsibility and Ethics
Essay Hmwk #1 : Given that you want to serve your own interests, what do you want your interests to be? Describe the interests that you believe you should possess (using Hartman's notion of interest). Consider whether or not the behaviours needed to pursue those interests make you happy and how will your career afford you the opportunity to pursue such interests.

Reflect on the assumptions about what makes me happy. Ponder on the mistaken beliefs about the benefits of what I want.

Aristotle believes that happiness requires desires that are consistent with one another and with one's values, and actions that are consistent with one's desires.

Value = Desire = Interest = Action = Value

I am floored. It's no longer enough to say what my hobbies are. Or what I want to be when I grow up. But it is essentially, what am I so that I know what I will be? Because my core, my character is interlinked with my virtues. My virtues will determine my interests. So its no longer I do community work to develop empathy or to feel good about myself, or to feel less guilty that I bought a new sweater while that kid is starving on the road. Manners are about doing the right thing. Character is about the right desire, or the right feeling when faced with a situation, and then doing the right thing. You are socially responsible for doing the right actions, but you are also morally responsible for feeling the right thing, which are not typically voluntary. But what if I am only morally obligated to feel the right thing or have the right desires. Then all I have is second-order desires, a desire to have a desire.

So, without the right values, I can’t have the right desire to have the right interests to do the right action.

So, I need to determine what values I need to have before I determine what interests I want to have. Do I really want to be an honest person? A sympathetic person? A selfless person? A patient person? A loving person? Or do I just want to have those values because I am religiously, socially and morally obligated to have them? And if I do determine that I want my values to be selfless giving and love, then the only way I can be happy is if my actions are coherent with those values. What if I only do those actions or have those interests but not those values? Is it still possible to be happy?

Teacher...where's my ten-year-series assessment book?

Me: Why do I have a late fee of $43.80?
Bill person: Because you didn't pay your bill on time.
Me: I know I have paid every single bill on time.
Bill Person: You didn't pay your december bill.
Me: When was that sent?
Bill person: Dec 21-Jan 6
Me: You mean when everyone was on break, and not in their dorms and therefore cannot recieve their bill? And if we don't even recieve our bill till when we return, how do we pay it on time?
Bill person: (Silence)

Seriously, for a university, this is an all new low. I have dealt with people miscalculating my bill, adding extra zeros to my bill and charging me for four IH jumpers. But come on, for a university that charges its students $30 000 a year, this "sending bills to international student when they are not in and charging them a late fee for not paying" is pathetic.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hairy Man talks about life

Right at this moment, I know more about two people's lives than I know about all my friends combined.

So...I was just sitting at Chick-a-fil eating my second dinner (because I only had salad for my first dinner). I was happily making a meal out of my butter soaked buns with thick succulent greasy chicken patty in the middle and salt/oil drenched fries, and since I was alone and bored, decided to prepare my advertising case study for tomorrow. And then I overheard two people talking. No, not just talking. Talking loudly. No not just talking loudly, talking loudly about their...ahem...personal lives. The kind of stuff even my friends don't tell me. Like how many, how big, how fast, how often etc. Who, what, where, why, how. And the statistics they were quoting were pretty......amazing. I felt as if all the snapple bottle caps in the world became x-rated suddenly. I was hearing things I really shouldn't hear and really didn't want to know. And I wasn't even evesdropping. I was trying to tune them out but they were talking ON TOP OF THEIR VOICES.

Guy: A DAY......
Guy: YUP......

You might think...hmmm it sounds like they are talking about doing research. Or helping poor people. Or working part time. But that's just cause' I left out the end of each sentence. You really don't want to know the details. Or if you do, just go hang around Chick filet at 10pm on a weekday night. I am so glad that it's not a family restaurant. And by the way, that guy is damm hairy.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Say that again?

While during my 10 hour long shift today, I finally stumbled upon something interesting.

The Church of Stop Shopping.

They even have those comment page things where you post your confession for shopping.

They say, Blessed are those who avoid the Gap. And the choir sings "Stop Starbucks" and "Stop Disney"

Sooooo.....what do they wear? What do they eat? How do they go to work?

I think I rather be an amish. At least I get to buy the jam my neighbour made.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Very Brokeback Mountain...

In other news besides food, I also got into the Alternate Spring Break Program!! Alternate Spring Break is a week-long site specific community involvement program. I'll be going to the Navajo County in Arizona to work with Native Americans from the Navajo Nation this March. Funky monkey!

Too full to breathe

I know I'm spending way too much on food...but I think a place is as good as its food. Fourth time at White Dog. Despite Bob's "stomach-flu-breakfast-omelet-vomiting-i-now-hate-the-place" fiasco, White Dog is one of my favourite restaurants in Philly. This time I had pan seared scallops with strips of bacon on top and sauteed spinach/potato/garlic mix at the side. Although the first contact with the scallop was too salty, it was the most melt-in-your-mouth scallops I ever had. It's one of those dishes where I wish the aftertaste would stay in mouth forever. Their Peking duck with sweet potato mash and stewed apple is excellent too. That duck was tender, juicy and sweet. Yum yum... although it touts itself as a brunch place, i think White Dog is more worth it for dinner. I mean, being famed the top 5 restaurant in Philly is not gonna make your omelet taste any better than the $5 omelet at your local diner. The decor is eclectic, every table has a different funky lamp. Very Serendipity but like a more matured down-to-earth version of it. The toilets are labelled point, circle, democrat and republican. Take the Republican one although you might not adhere to it, the insides are cooler. And Ed think point is for guys and circle is for girls. Go figure.

Note: White Dog is not the place to go when you are suffering from stomach flu. Also, their gift shop named Black Cat, is cool.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

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Go. Ball. Net.
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The Penn Quaker dance team
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During time out, little kids run out to clean the floor. Talk about child labour.
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Saturday, January 14, 2006

My first basketball game ever. Just amazing. I knew nothing about basketball and once again, the cheerleaders made more sense to me. But by the end of the first game, I figured out the gist of it: Get Ball into net.

Very strange experience though. Everytime the Upenn player is about to shoot, everyone does "spirit fingers" and goes "whoosh" when he scores. There is a Upenn Quaker (the name of our basketball team) dance team that dresses in black spandex and ermm...dances? Ag asked if I would be proud if my daughter was on that dance team. I was lost for words. I mean...there is dancing...and there is humping the floor. One of the cheerleader also fell from the top of the pyramid. And I spotted two sort of anatomically correct "cows" and a guy dressed up as a hotdog. I always wonder, if you are the hot dog guy at the basketball game, don't you feel know...less of a man? Like whao....there are these cool guys dribbling and getting girls...and I'm well...dressed like a phallic looking object in a bun.

There was a snow storm outside when we got out of the game. Ry had to make sure I don't fly off the bridge as we trek back home. Mike, Ed and I managed to drive to Shampoo in the storm. Dodgiest club ever. Clubbing while sober is a whole new experience. The lights just don't make sense. And people look uglier. Especially when they turn on the lights. We were like..."AHHHHHHH!!!! Turn off the lights! We're still sober! My eye my eye!!" Seriously, I think alot of girls would look better if they didn't slap on so much make up. Because at the end of the night, all the girls look like clowns after a malfunctioning face lift.

Worst pick-up line ever:
Guy: Hey, can I check in with you tonight?
Girl: No.
Guy: Come on, its america right?
(I think he took the phrase "land of freedom" too literally.)

Worst English ever:
Girl: Squeeze me! Squeeze me!
Me: I think she was trying to say excuse me.

And then there were the girls who thought that it would be an intelligent educated idea to go clubbing in short skirts and a tube top WITHOUT a coat in a snowstorm at zero degree celsius. I mean, what's the worst that could happen? Pneumonia? Frostbite? Lose three toes? I hope they are still alive. Or at least win the Darwin award. There has to be some form of award for wanting to save two bucks on coat check.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

We were both craving for curry. So we ran to the nearest malaysian restaurant to get it out of our system. It was surprisingly good. Boston.
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Back to Philly. In Upenn.
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At the Bull & Finch Bar, the bar that inspired the sitcom Cheers. Boston.
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Central Park. Overlooking the NYC skyline.
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Brooklyn Tabernacle which houses one of the best gospel choirs in the world. Too bad we didn't get to hear them sing. New York.
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Time Square. New Year Day. New York. Messy with bursting hydrants.
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New Year Eve at Spice Market, New York.
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The life size toy animals at FAO. What would one do with a life size giraffe? New York City.
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Dessert at Serendipity 3. New York City.
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Outside the United Nations. New York City.
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Justin's Cat outside his house. Delaware.
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Rockefeller Centre and the Christmas Tree lights that switched off the minute we snapped this pic. New York City.
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Vienna Boy's Choir at Carnegie Hall. New York City.
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Outside the White House. Washington DC.
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705 hours together

Seriously, I wished this winter break never ended. I know I tend to overstate, but the last month was simply the happiest month in my life. So many moments. Running through new york ten minutes before the vienna boys choir started. Froozen hot chocolate at Serendipity's. Chili burger and fries at Johnny Rockets. Statue of Liberty on a cloudy hailing day. Eating chocolates under the duvet. Being on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Centre and eating facing the top of the Empire State Building. Worshipping at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Having a real American Christmas with the Willis' in Delaware. Tracking down the orginal Cheer's Bull and Finch Bar in Boston. Free clubbing (when we expected to pay $100 cover charge) on new year's eve at Spice Market, an asian-inspired restaurant/bar/club dotted with beautifully dressed people. Long conversations over Oreo chocolate mudslide cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory. Freezing in Boston. Seeing a $30,000 life-size soft toy giraffe at F.A.O Schwarz. Running for broadway tickets, 20 minutes before all the shows started. Not getting any broadway tickets, and settling for chinese dinner at Ollie's instead. Strolling along Central Park. Looking at people playing poker in Atlantic City. Cocktail at St. Regis. Free dinner at TGIF. Forever accidentally bumping into things, like yummy frosted cupcakes at Buttercup and Union Oyster Bar, one of the oldest oyster bars in Boston.

Basically from the gist of the last paragraph, we spent the bulk of our time eating. And the other bulk of our time looking for food to eat.

Every moment was special. Each of the 55 meals, 30 nights, 373 pictures and 705 hours we spent together.

I guess all good things have to come to an end. He left 7:50am today, and as im typing, is still flying across the world back to Australia. After such an intense month of sharing every moment and emotion together, suddenly my life just seems completely empty. I don't remember being alone anymore. I just want to wallow in my little hole made out of tim tams and photos and cry my eyes swollen.

And it doesn't help that almost all my exchange friends are gone and suddenly i wished i was only here for one semester. Lonely, displaced and lovesick once more. Sigh...