Saturday, July 22, 2017

At 'The Other Crystal Jade'

The girlfriends and I were bitching about some other matter amidst suggestions of dinner venues. Stared at the texts coming in for a decision on where to eat, and started chuckling. Did she really type that?! The mildest-tempered girlfriend admitted to a 'quarrel' with the staff at a certain Crystal Jade outlet?! What is this?!

She refused to elaborate on what happened over the phone. We coaxed it out of her later on at dinner. No it's got nothing to do with the restaurant charging S$0.70 for a glass of water. It's one of those incidents whereby the restaurant's ideal policies don't square with their on-the-ground implementation. And it doesn't help when miscommunication happens when the staff refuse to budge from black and white rules because they don't know how, or they haven't been given clear enough directions.

Anyway we went to the "other crystal jade". It was a crowded evening, but we had a corner table, so it was rather comfortable. Somehow I also prefer the food at this Crystal Jade. They've always been pretty nice to us. Kept our orders conservative again. Hurhurhur. None of us were in the mood for much carbs. So the three of us shared a bowl of congee. The spinach in superior stock was deliciously dependable. There was more than enough food to fill our tummies, and plenty of good conversation and laughter to nourish the soul.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thucydides and Hegemony

All day at work and while leisurely reading online and catching up on news, Thucydides keeps turning up. Poor chap. He's suddenly become superbly relevant and highly quotable in the 21st century, like 2350 years after his death.

There's Qatar's diplomatic crisis with the blockade led by the Saudi-coalition. This White House keeps raising the points of 'Thucydides Trap', and our side of the world keeps using it as a stern warning, or to highlight risks over the delicate issues of South China Sea. We also have our own largely academic debate on foreign policy ignited over the past month, no thanks to our thought leaders' war of words.

Well, we are not Sparta. We also can't live in our own happy bubble. At this rate we're going, we'll probably let (have to, rather) the political ruling elites lead the way, instead of getting populist opinions or movements across. Sometimes, I'm not sure which is better, or even if there's a right or wrong to either position. As a citizen of a tiny nation-state, all I want is for our political leaders not to lead us into any sort of war or allow hubris in any form to ignite a tiff with a neighbor.

Some people have suggested that Singapore lay low and “suffer what we must” as a small state. 
On the contrary, it is precisely because we are a small state that we have to stand up and be counted when we need to do so. 
There is no contradiction between a realistic appreciation of realpolitik and doing whatever it takes to protect our sovereignty, maintain and expand our relevance, and to create political and economic space for ourselves. 
~ said Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Singapore, in a speech at a MFA Townhall on 17 July 2017.

I lost it at a work meeting when a work associate likened our positions to said Trap. Let me clarify, I didn't lose my temper; I simply laughed out loud. Like couldn't stop giggling. I refused to let the meeting turn into a book review, critique or debate. Said work associate brought out eminent Harvard scholar Professor Graham Allison's explanation in 'In Destined for War' (2017) on why 'Thucydides Trap' is the best scenario to understanding current foreign policies. The Harvard scholar is also the one who popularized the concept of 'Thucydides Trap' in 2014 and 2015 till world leaders and academics alike are all talking about it.

Since we're on this subject of history, philosophy and political science, let's also not forget the Melian Dialogue and the ensuing siege of Melos in 416 BC. There are the theories on a hegemonic war, which will characterize a potential World War III, if the hegemonic stability status is upset. I'm going to lean towards the optimistic view of finding a balance between neoliberalism to help to balance out the hegemon, and not have that as a synecdoche against liberalism or the center left. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

'Grace and Frankie'

If you don't already know my preferences for sci-fi, fantasy, B-grade horror flicks, politics, crime and such for films and books, you'd know by my aversion to certain book titles and television sitcoms and all. I try to avoid saying 'I don't like ABCDEF-whatever'. I swop it out with 'I don't watch it', or 'it's not for me'. I find myself saying 'I don't like...' rather often, and if I find it grating, others would too. Sometimes, I choose not to mention something at all or participate in a topic of discussion to indicate zero enthusiasm.

A little petty squabble with a work associate that day led to her calling GoT 'childish' and me calling her type of shows 'sappy'. Hey, I was provoked. A polite answer was supplied to her question of what I would be doing that night. (Staying in to catch the season premiere of GoT.) Her reaction was to say that we're 'idiots' for dedicating so much time and brain cells to GoT and its details. You don't want to know what I replied to that, or what another associate (who's an ardent GoT fan) yelled out. I'm not proud of it, and a lack of coffee for three consecutive days couldn't really be blamed for snide remarks. Anyway.

I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed 'Grace and Frankie'. There're only 13 episodes in each season. Devoured all three seasons within a week. The scriptwriters weaved in great jokes, and the actors carried them off with panache. For many moments, I forgot the actors' actual names, and only remembered their characters. Such wonderful acting. Every episode left me convulsing in laughter. Can't wait for Season 4 next year.

Created by Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris for Netflix, I love how the lead actors are all of the silver generation. 79 y.o Jane Fonda (as Grace), 77 y.o Lily Tomlin (as Frankie), 76 y.o Martin Sheen (as Robert) and 76 y.o Sam Waterston (as Sol). The comedy traces how the women (who never really liked each other) became unlikely friends and allies and eventual business partners after divorcing their respective husbands who came out as gay. Then the men got together and married each other.

Since it's a sitcom, we can suspend disbelief. The heavy and grave situations are still kept light, in spite of how the divorce and coming out gay and marrying each other (the men) threw two families into emotional upheaval. There's always humor in each issue that plays out in each episode, and each human being always comes around to being magnanimous, and loving.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Baybeats 2017

Esplanade's Baybeats is an indie music festival that ought to be lauded for having persisted for beyond a decade; it's awesome that people are making some good independent original music. The younger generation should set the pace and tone for the next decade, and not let a great start languish.

Mainly shuttled between the Arena (normally known as Outdoor Theatre) and the Powerhouse. Esplanade always organizes the Festival pretty well. This year saw many food stalls set up with tons of choices of snacks, food and drinks. Dinner was sorted out at these stalls. Those tofu fries were delicious. Plenty of non-alcoholic choices for hydration. Coconut soft serve sprinkled with gula melaka was fun.

I didn't know a single band that played on the first night when it rained out half the sets. Came away mildly bemused with not much interest to find out more about the bands. The older I get, the more I feel removed from Baybeats. :P I'm just not very in touch with the scene or that keen to hear new music anymore. I'll still pop by the next Baybeats, but I won't bother to hit all three nights of the Festival anymore from like 6pm to midnight. Tiring sial!

The second night fared better only because there were some bands I wanted to catch. Tides, Amateur Takes Control, Rag n' Bone (Perth, AU), and new songs from Obedient Wives Club. Happy to have heard them. Nice to hang out with the various groups of friends between sets.

The third night was a mixed bag of music genres. Surprisingly enjoyable. The F16s (Chennai, India), sub:shaman, and Generation 69. Plenty of drinks went around while we hung out before and after the sets. A lot of Asahi orbs (three litres of beer in each orb...) were ordered and polished off. Watched Astreal play, and we were saying they'd probably not play live for another 10 years, and we wouldn't be actually joking. Hurhurhur. They played such a wonderful set! Sound was so so good.

Thanks for another cool Festival, Baybeats team. Your efforts are super appreciated. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lunch with a Pint of Guinness

Haven't been drinking very much recently. When the girlfriend sent me a photo of her gorgeous creamy pint of Guinness inhaled in a London pub, I had to go look for a pint here too. It wouldn't be great, but it would be okay.

Sat down for a pint of Guinness late afternoon at The New Harbour Cafe & Bar. S$10 for a pint at this hour! Yayyy. The friends strolled in one by one and all needed food. It's a strange little place. Feels like a neighborhood bar with a temperamental Hainanese kitchen. You wouldn't really expect the menu to include Hainanese fried mah mee, roast pork (sio bak or siew yoke) or yaki udon, but it does, and these dishes are quite delicious. So yeah, pub grub at this place is pretty all right. Not sure I like it at peak hour though. Too noisy and too warm to be comfortable.

The table ordered lamb shank (came with brussels sprouts and mash) and burgers, which turned out fine. Nothing mind-blowing, but nothing disappointing either. Super edible. I stuck to the Hainanese fried mah mee. It has always been dependable. No idea what it really is, but it seems to be another version of stir-fried prawn noodles. Works for me! There's bits of pork in this dish, along with prawns, squid and clams. I'm really only interested in the carbs- the noodles. The sambal belachan served with it was fabulously spicy and tasty.

Monday, July 17, 2017

It's Not About The Bowls

Singapore writer You Jin (real name Tham Yew Chin) is an author whose many works I've read. I was initially forced to read them in order to gain some sort of fluency in Chinese in high school. Then I learnt to pick out the titles preferred and found many gems in her published writings. One of my favorite compilation of short stories of hers is 《我心中有盏灯》(1991) or loosely translated into 'I Have A Light In My Heart'.

It was with a bit of glee when I spotted You Jin's (尤今、真名谭幼今) new book at the bookshop. Haven't read her works in a while. 尤今新出版的《亲爱的碗》(2016)。I suppose you could translate it into 'Dearest Bowls' or 'Precious Bowls'. Categorized under five themes, there're 60 short stories within which have been previously and separately published. I haven't read any. I had no illusions that the stories talk about food per se. These are stories about life experiences and tales. That's a metaphorical bowl.


The only thing, the opening theme of ‘第一辑:种瓜得瓜’ with 11 stories felt like a lecture in parenting and how to ensure your children live up to your expectations. Zzzzzzzzz. The stories are about her children, how proud she is of them, and of the way she raised them, the strong bond between them or her friends' warm relationship with their children. Perhaps it could be an important matter to her to open the book with this theme. I'm not averse to stories like that, but I'm certainly not very interested in reading such thoughts.

The stories in the subsequent themes fared much better with me. Travel tales and little snippets of life that sometimes mention the children but without the accompanying unwanted 'nuggets of wisdom'. The fifth and final theme in this collection kinda looks at nostalgia, ‘第五辑:旧欢如梦’. The first story is eponymously titled 《旧欢如梦》, tells of how dependent writers today are on their computers instead of their pens, to the extent that they've forgotten how to write the more complicated Chinese characters that hold many strokes.

最近,与文化界友人茶叙,谈到历史人物范蠡时,有人问起 “蠡” 字怎么写,大家面面相觑,居然都写不出来;后来,靠着平板电脑解决了问题。接着,更惊人的事发生了- 有人刻意要求这些日日与文字 “肌肤相亲” 的人在纸上写出一些普通的词汇,如 “喷嚏”、“桀骜”、“蠹虫”、“饕餮”、“邋遢” 等等,他们蹙眉而写,出现在纸上的字,不是少了一划,便是缺了一撇,美丽的方块字,全都成了可怜兮兮的瘸子了! 
嘿,这不就是典型的电脑 “后遗症” 吗?以前,大家何曾如此狼狈过啊!一笔在手,万千词汇,呼之便来,每个字从钢笔流出来时,都是 “四肢健全” 的。 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Brownie Boost

It was one of those afternoons whereby lunch, coffee and a space to work in was needed. Hopped in to the dependable PUNCH at 1.30pm. It was still mad crowded, and only counter seats were available. Fine by me. A table would open up later on and I could always move over then.

It's mid-July. Where did time go? We're in the next half of 2017. These two months are shaping up to be all about translation projects. Fun, but it kills a lot of brain cells when I need to code switch between languages. Thinking, writing and speaking in four languages for work purposes are all rather demanding.

So after a giant plate of pasta and two coffees, I was full. At some point, after the lunch crowd melted away, a plate of cookies were placed on the counter, in my direct line of sight. The staff told me that they only bake about six of these a day. Okaaaaay. After staring at it for an hour and liking that dark brown color, I uncharacteristically ordered one. Chocolate brownie cookies with salted caramel and espresso buttercream squished in between.

It was a good one! Rather delicious, and slightly more savory than sweet. Of course there was still a fair volume of sugar in it, but the chocolate came across rich and dark, and the buttercream wasn't as sugary as expected. It was a big palm-sized cookie. I managed half before pushing the plate away. That sufficed to boost the brain cells into overdrive. Finally completed the files that were supposed to be finished yesterday. :P (Luckily these files are to be submitted to the clients next week.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Of the Translator as Neologist

It was one of those afternoons when I was doing work research and got distracted by other topics while assidiously avoiding upsetting news articles, toxic facebook and useless instagram. I've been hiding out on twitter and even begun avoiding reading day-to-day news since those bring even less happiness.

Found and read the first chapter of Alain Damasio's 'La Horde du Contrevent' (2004) in both English and French. The first chapter has been translated into English as 'The Horde of Counterwind' by Alexander Dickow. However, the rest of the book hasn't been translated. Sci-fi. Fantastic plotlines. 23 elite Windwalkers seeking the source of the wind. "pour atteindre le mythique Extrême-Amont, la source de tous les vents." Not sure if I'd download the e-book. In its original French, I'll never be able to thoroughly understand its references.

Then I stumbled upon Alexander Dickow's recent essay in Asymptote about 'Portrait of the Translator as Neologist' (July 12, 2017). Much of what he said reasonated with my feelings about translated versions of books and articles. Such is the bane and angst of deciding which words to use, while knowing that the translation might never capture the nuances of the original. But without the translations, many of us won't even be able to access the wealth of ideas and perspectives from many authors. I'd rather read something that has seen much effort and collaboration put into than not/couldn't have read it at all.

This is the basic principle generally at work when translating neologisms: rather than moving closer and closer—asymptotically, let’s say—to a workable solution, the translator must instead move further and further away from literal solutions. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gd O'Times at Changi Village

We took the last boat back from Pulau Ubin and needed an easy dinner. Stopped by Gd O'Times at Changi Village for Peranakan food. The peak hour crowd had emptied out, and the restaurant was nice and quiet for us. Opted to sit outdoors since we were all stinky from the day's merciless humidity. Three girls with not very big stomachs shouldn't order more than three dishes. And we didn't. We kept to three dishes and an appetizer of achar. Reluctantly skipped the spicy buah papaya titek with prawns.

There was a period when the friends and I avoided the restaurant because the standards dropped. Now, it seems to be okay again. Again, I've never had bad service here, even during the period when its dishes weren't the best. Our iced water came chockfull of ice cubes within five minutes after our orders were taken. That was definitely much appreciated. We sipped it hungrily. It was sweet.

Don't ask me about the authenticity of the dishes. I'm fairly flexible about it. But I'm not sure you guys will like the chap chye because the current version is low on the tau cheong, beancurd sticks and lily bulbs. I don't fancy chap chye all that much either. Heh. The ayam buah keluak hit a spot. We're like...buah keluak monsters. This evening's portion served up thick gravy and the nuts weren't overly stuffed with meat. The 'black gold' was decent. I loved the sotong hitam. The accompanying raw onions were such a great idea. The sambal belachan was gorgeous. Actually, the restaurant's sambal belachan has always been on point.

Gd O'Times
Block 5 Changi Village Road #01-2017 Singapore 500005
Hours: Lunch 11.30am to 2.30pm ; Dinner 5pm to 10pm; closed on Wednesdays
T: +65 6542 2382