Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My dad sent me an message telling me that she had passed away peacefully at 1am last night. She had suffered a bad fall a few weeks back, and I think no one really expected that fall to have been the trigger for a series of unfortunate events. At least, I didn't. So she wasn't as healthy as everyone had thought. She certainly had us fooled -- who would've thought otherwise of her? Impossible.

But my mom told me the scans showed she had two mild strokes previously, so mild that even she herself must've ignored it as a bad headache or just a bad day. Her heart was also weakened, but I'm not sure why.

When I read the message, I had just fallen asleep after returning back from a shoot at 5am. I don't think I quite digested it. I had a dream about it, though, in which I was yelling to someone about the wake arrangements.

It didn't even sink in when I woke up. It was so utterly unexpected that I didn't really know what to do. I was going to go back in March to see her again. My mother had warned me previously, that the doctor had said there was no telling with people her age, but I just shelved that worry aside because, it was her, you know? She had never been ill before this fall, and now this? What the fuck?

I want to write about my last memories of her, because I know I will forget in time to come. My mother and I having tea at Ya Kun in Junction 8. We took some photos with my camera. I want to write about the experience of bringing her to watch 881 in the cinema, and how she kept talking so damn loudly everyone in the front of us kept giggling and laughing. Oh, how she embarrassed us.

But mostly what I feel now is guilt. And anger. I hate guilt, because it is the most self-indulgent of all emotions. But this woman held my hands and told me that she would wait for me, because she wanted the chance to drink wine at my wedding.

I know it was all just rhetoric, just her being naggy and doing her usual get-married-soon routine. It wasn't some kind of serious vow that I should take seriously. But it meant a lot to have heard that, and I haven't forgotten it in the four years since she uttered it, and I haven't forgotten it now. And that's where the anger comes from, that she didn't keep her promise to me. I know she didn't mean it as a promise, but I took it that way.

It's all too late, anyway.


Lau Ma

We all thought she would live to a hundred. Ah well. Anything else I say now will sound contrived and horribly unnecessary.
IMG_8788.jpgIMG_9046.jpg IMG_9148.jpgIMG_9274.jpg

As I go to sleep at 6 am in the morning, admittedly perversely disappointed at the lack of 'action' today, the Awami League is surging ahead with unofficial results declaring them the winner of more than 80% of Parliament seats.

The dudes in the AL office seemed pretty pleased, albeit horribly tired.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

D (Democracy) Day.


The day before democracy?

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Monday, December 15, 2008

Eid-ul-Azha, 2007

Taken a year ago. Yes, it took me a year to get around to editing the others. Jess has nothing to say for herself. Posting this in lieu of this year's event, during which I spent my time cooped up at home engaged in other forms of productivity.

Well, let me just reassure you that when it comes to the sacrificial slaughter of cows -- nothing much has changed in a year.

Eid-ul-Azha, 2007

This was during the time when I still lived in Zigatola. I had asked for permission the day before to take pictures of the sacrifice of this particular bull below. I saw him the night before, and silhouetted by the glow of a single tungsten light bulb, he was absolutely magnificent.

I found out the next day that the sacrifices were pretty much a public event and permission wasn't really required.

Eid-ul-Azha, 2007

The sign on the gate is an announcement for people to come sign up for driving and singing classes.

Eid-ul-Azha, 2007

The photo belies the true size of the animal. If I may be so indulgent to post a photo I had posted a year ago so as to make a proper comparison between the size of its hooves and human hands/feet:


Watching the sacrifice through the lens of my camera, I do believe I was somewhat sheltered from the situation. I told my friends that I would likely cry, but I didn't. I was rather unmoved by the killing itself, and the blood only bothered me because it was everywhere and I couldn't walk back to the house without wading through it. What I remember was being very impressed by the strength of the animal -- the number of men it took to bring the bull down, the number of ropes they had to use to secure it, the fear the men had as they approached it.

Eid-ul-Azha, 2007

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I've often wondered, passingly, how my life would be like if I were still in Singapore. Such thinking is rather unusual for me - I've always hated the "what if" question.

The thing is, I've been exposed to so much (or maybe, too much) drama, experienced emotions more extreme than I'd ever experienced, and I wonder if these things are important in shaping the kind of person I am. Would I have turned out any differently if I hadn't gone through these things? Or would I have found some way to inject drama and extreme emotions anyway?

This is a rhetorical post. Just musing for a bit.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New experiences: Being very, very, nauseatingly productive.
I remember reading a book somewhere, in which the female protaganist, in a bid to control her displayed emotions, stabbed her hand with a fork under the table. Does anyone recall what book this is? Or was this some movie!??
insomniac night ahead! bad idea to sleep at 7pm. now am wide awake.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Addicted to Malcolm X.

I 'stole' his portrait off the stairwell to place in my office.

I spent a long time discussing him, and other much-too-serious-matters with Annica last night, and I may have finally found the right answer to the rickshaw-wallah conundrum.

Meanwhile, am very high on coffee.

How am I going to design a 160-page book in the midst of all this madness?

Deliberately woke up late to miss the slaughter. Not feeling particularly enthusiastic about photographing it this year (unlike last year, when I was practically wading about in blood). Will miss the goat downstairs which was so affectionate it rubbed its head on my hand and rested on my arm as I sat next to it. Am not eating meat today. Will resume carnivorous activities tomorrow.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The most wretched of feelings is that of liaising with the editor of Nat Geo News while looking at my own camera gather dust on the shelf. I am enjoying the organising work for Chobi Mela immensely, but all I can say is this -- I wonder if I would enjoy it more if I were attending it from the other side.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Selective histories

Tonight, hundreds of people are gathering outside a derelict factory to mark the 24th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

I was first acquainted with the incident in 2005, after viewing the WPP winner for 1984. Later, I learnt about a photographer named Raghu Rai, who did plenty of work covering the aftermath of the disaster.

So, over the last 24 years, plenty of things have been written about the incident. Plenty of photos have been taken. The activists are still out in full force. Thirst for justice doesn't go away, it seems. But, who talks about Bhopal anymore?

My point is simply this: this was the world's worst industrial accident. And yet, I believe more people know about Chernobyl.

I'm not about to start comparing death tolls and such -- we shouldn't remember things based on the number of people who died. We've never really done things that way anyway. If we did, 9/11 (slightly less than 3,000) would barely register on the radar, and the genocide in East Timor (around 300,000) would be a really big deal. What about the Bangladeshi famines? Four million in 1943, slightly over a million in 1974.

Ah hell, its late and I'm rambling. I'm saying all this because I spent the last hour hunting for photos about the Mumbai attacks for the magazine -- and I just know, not including the people who have been directly affected by it, that all this will fade away from our collective memory in a matter of time, because that's just the way we do things.

Magnum Photos: Raghu Rai

INDIA. Bhopal. 2002. Muhammed AZIZ returns to the cemetery where 4.000 people were buried in the first days of the 1984 disaster.

INDIA. Bhopal. 2002. These women have all lost their husbands in the Bhopal tragedy. They now live in one-room tenements in a seperate widows' colony in the outskirts of the city, built by the state government.

INDIA. Bhopal. 2001. Skulls discarded after research at the Hamida Hospital. Medical experts believe that the toxic gas inhaled by the people of Bhopal may have affected the brain.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

British children wait in a bomb shelter during Hitler's air raids, 1940. (Photo credit: Library of Congress and The History Place)

Jewish children on their way to Palestine after having been released from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The girl on the left is from Poland, the boy in the center from Latvia, and the girl on right from Hungary.(Photo credit: J. E. Myers, June 5, 1945. National Archives)

These photos just took my breath away, for some reason.
My head starting spinning in the middle of class today, and I couldn't quite fathom why -- I had lunch and enough to drink -- and it occurred to me that the double espresso may have been one espresso too many. It kept spinning for the next couple of hours, and I was half hoping to faint just so I'd have that experience under my belt. Well, no such luck. Made it to the Daily Star office in one piece to churn out more pages for December's issue of the Forum.

Got home at midnight. Out of eggs. Fucking hell. Instant noodles by itself. This house needs more food. I haven't had eggs in DAYS. Kirsty, are you reading this? Are you going to buy me a whole crate of eggs before you leave?

Took a peek at my student's mid-term assignments, and I wanted to sing for joy. OH JOY! The detail! The effort! I don't know if they're a particularly talented bunch or if all my bitching paid off. I figure it's somewhere between the two. Joy joy joy.

It's more or less official, I'll be heading the secretariat for the upcoming Chobi Mela V. Of course, its never going to be "official" since there won't be some initiation ceremony or crowning ritual -- I will have a new desk and the load of work will make it official enough.

I missed out on the last two Chobi Melas because of bad timing, so its rather ironic that I'll be thrown right into the midst of this one. I still don't have a clue about how bad its going to get, but everyone else is worried about how I'm not worried -- that should be indication enough.

We're expecting roughly 60 exhibitions, a mixture of digital and print, and I haven't had a good look at the guest list flying in.

What I do know, which is enough to make me piss my pants, if you'll pardon me for being so crude, is that Noam Chomsky and Stuart Hall will be speaking live via internet at the opening ceremony.

I've also somehow managed to take on responsibility for a book -- a beautiful collection of essays. I'm still not quite sure how I'm going to manage it all. I kept muttering to myself as I rushed from office to office today, "I'm fucked. I'm fucked. You're so fucked."

I'm almost resigned to being the sort that takes on too much. Whether or not I manage to deliver -- that's an whole other question unto itself.

Majority World's still on, of course. Progressing slower than I'd like. I guess I'll be in good shape to set up my own photo agency if need be. I'm surrounded with legal text these days as I try to sort out the basic necessities such as licenses, terms & agreements, territorial rights etc etc.

And in case you haven't already guessed, the photography's gone to shit in the midst of all this. I still feel badly about that, although the guilt has gone quite numb because I've felt like this for a while. I suppose when I'm older and wiser, there'll always be time to go back to that.

I finally finished Murakami today. It was a bad idea to rush through it, but I know I wouldn't get anything productive done until I set the book down. I was told this wasn't one of his best, and for that I'm glad. It was a promising book, but it could've been so much better. It seemed as though he was just fucking around with us at the end. I'll gladly read another by him, but I hope the next one has more answers than riddles.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

So the consensus on FB (judging by status updates) is that the world's going to shit. I've got nothing much to say about it, only that I think the world's been going to shit for some time now. It's not getting worse, its in the exact same shitty state as it has always been in.

But our memory of past events fade, so that when new ones occur it seems things are beginning on a brand new slate. But before the Mumbai killings, there was the Marriott blast and the New Delhi bombings. Go back further and there was the London bus bombings and the ones in Madrid and Bali. Before the whole Thai thing, there was the Burmese crackdown on monks. Before bird flu, there was the Nipah virus and, of course, SARS.

And let's not forget the hundreds of shitty things that has been going on under the radar, from the events in Orissa to the wars that are still going on in Sri Lanka, Colombia, Sudan, Congo... well the list is here. Does anyone even remember the Abu Sayyaf anymore?

I suppose the only recent event that's relatively unprecedented would be the market meltdown. I know little about the 1997 Asian economic crisis, and I know it doesn't measures up to the shit that's happening now... but I suppose my point is that -- things were never always good. So why are we so surprised when shitty stuff happens?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bara Khyang

So during my brief trip down to Cox's Bazar, we spent an afternoon visiting a couple of Buddhist temples in the Ramu district, about 15 km inland from the beach itself. Burmese influence in the whole area is palpable, from the traditional handwoven bags being sold on the streets to the children and women walking around with thanaka on their faces.

If I remember the brief history lesson correctly, the area started off with a strong Buddhist influence before Muslim conquerers came and destroyed a lot of the monasteries and temples. With this in mind, I was rather intrigued by the large number of madrasahs we passed en route to the temples.

We wanted to visit Bara Khyang (also known as Lamarpara Khyang), which (according to the outdated Lonely Planet guide we had). The CNG driver took us through narrow village lanes before we stopped in front of a rather nondescript compound.

Bara Khyang

We found it strange that there were no other visitors abount, and were greeted by a rather glum-looking woman (who is quite beautiful when she smiles, evidently) who told me that photography was NOT allowed (at least for the first 5 minutes anyway).

Bara Khyang

My friend, who had visited the place about a decade ago, was certain we were in the wrong place. There was indeed a large bronze statue inside, and even though the room was dark and dank, the size and beauty of the statue had us in silence for quite a bit.

Still, the entire place was so rundown that it didn't feel like a place which could house the celebrated "largest bronze statue of Buddha in Bangladesh". It wasn't until we visited another temple later that we found out, from the head monk there, that we had indeed seen Bara Khyang -- stripped of its former glory and beauty.

Bara Khyang's compound, now depressingly bare, was once crowded with visitors and filled with flowers and manicured lawns. The temple's interior housed not one, but three bronze statues -- two of which had since been stolen or sold off by corrupt monks, and only the largest one remained, probably because it was too large to be carried off. Other relics gradually disappeared over time.

So, the destruction over the last 10 years had rendered the place utterly unrecognisable to my friend. He was understandably rather upset over the whole thing.


Finally got around to editing some photos of the Purnima festival:

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

So all the lanterns had to be "approved" by a monk before it was let off into the sky. Was without a translator. Couldn't quite figure out why.

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

General public cordoned off from the main area where the lanterns were being let off. Too much fire and flammable substances around. Still, when the lanterns floated off into the air, a great number of them dripped burning fuel onto the spectators below. Sounded painful.

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

Different groups of friends got together to make their own lanterns. Constructed from bamboo strips and pieces of rice paper, it was a delicate contraption - one which could take up to several days to complete, depending on the size.

Needless to say, lots of whooping going on when it was their turn to show off their hard work.

Arjun, who had witnessed Purnima from his village in Bandarban, reported a local artist made a huge, detailed lantern in the shape of an elephant -- trunk, tail, ears and all -- which was beautifully balanced and considered the most "awesome" of all the lanterns he had ever seen.

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

Oh, and remember what I said about half-naked dancing men?

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

I know the colours are all over the place, and I'm generally irritated because the colours appear different depending on whether I'm viewing the photos online or offline. What the hell?
Caught myself thinking "Maybe I'll grab some char siew rice for lunch". I guess memory is a habit too?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Culinary Tales

So other than the general malaise, I've been reading quite a bit picking up the random books left in the house. It's a bit of a weird mix, really, the schizophrenic shelves carry Bridget Jones' Diary along with Taslima Nasrin, and then there's Amy Tan next to Khaled Hosseini.

I get a general 'ick' sense from Asian writers, which I know is very obtuse behaviour on my part, but I find their prose to be much too flowery. And for that same reason, I can't stand Paulo Coelho. Picked up Witch of Portobello, got sucked in for half the book, and then halfway through I felt like I had crammed myself full with too much rich tasting food and wanted to throw up.

This just means I avoid most books by Asian writers -- even those that made it to the bestseller list. The rare exception I guess would be Salman Rushdie, but even though I enjoyed his book, it wasn't the effortless magic carpet ride Marquez was.

Surprisingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed The Kitchen God's Wife. Made it through half of The Kite Runner and even less of The Inheritance of Loss. I've lived with these books for months, before finally trying to give it a go -- no go. Badly want to read more Camus or Banville or some depressing Irish thing to balance out the many many lessons in morality I've consumed thus far.

So Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was beautiful change in pace. And it made me very, very hungry.

I'm not a big foodie, and I've never been one of those Singaporeans who would drive from Boon Lay to Geylang just for supper. I suppose Bangladesh isn't exactly the place to be for a Singaporean -- even one who's not a foodie.

I am not a big fan of gulping down my food, but that's the way its done here most of the time. Its hard to savour the spices and curry when I'm cramming my mouth with as much rice it can hold. There's also a habit of pre-mixing everything with the hands, so you essentially get a ball of curry-soaked rice (or rice-soaked curry?) which you shove into your mouth.

And everything is in curry, except the biryani. While I'm a big, big fan of curry -- I wish someone would dunk a whole can of coconut milk into one of those pots and shake things up a little. Or a stick of lemon grass. And don't get me started on the oil. You do realise that chicken fat/skin produces a whole lot of that by itself, don't you?

Oh, and easy on the salt, yeah? Salt is consumed so liberally here you'd think they were shaking black pepper on the dish. My local friends are generally not appreciative if my curries or chilli pastes end up sweet -- which it always does -- and help themselves to insane amounts of salt at every meal to 'balance' out the weird food I make. I made some sambal ikan bilis complete with sugar and lime, and they cringed.

This is the reason why I get upset when I steam fish (traditional Teochew steamed pomfret) and my friends insist on having curry or raw chilli to go along with it. Enjoy the flavour! Smell that damn soup! How are you going to taste anything when your mouth is filled with tumeric and numb from the chilli?

This doesn't mean there's no good food to be had here. God knows I've had my share of fabulous street stall kebabs and roasted chicken, buttery naan and lovely gravy. And the biryani, although a tad bit rich, can be divine. But I can't have this every day of the week. Where's my bak kut teh? Laksa? Mee goreng? Sambal squid? Variety! I need variety!

Did I just write about food and books? Jesus.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Radio Silence

General malaise. Should throw in justification by quoting some Confucian saying about how if the Mountain Is Too High then Maybe You Should Rest Longer Before Attempting To Climb It.

Only blip on the radar was the Obama win, which evoked excitement in the morning - and that's really saying something. Made me think of our own elections, when I was parked at some kopitiam taking (unused) pictures of the "heartlanders" reacting to the results. Old men chugging unprofessional beer with me, cheering loudly for the opposition, lots of Hokkien swearing. 'twas fun.

Local elections around the corner. Will now give out directions by asking people to follow posters and banners. I live around the corner from one of the women which is cool in a way, but if the other woman sends bombs then it'll either be cooler or I'll be fucked. Either way, malaise will end.

Anyway, feeling better now after taking Step 1 on that Mighty Mountain today.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


What a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

So apparently hand eczema is severely aggravated when the hand on which the eczema exists comes into contact with detergents, soaps or any other hygiene-inducing products. In fact, frequent immersion in water (especially hot water) should be frowned upon.

This could mean many things, depending on the context:
  • [Conservative marriage arrangement]: Inability to do housework means 1 cow instead of 5.
  • [Singaporean living arrangments]: Continue to live with Mother.
  • [Principles regarding hiring of domestic help]: If you'll do all my ironing too, you're hired.
  • [Hygiene standards]: No more eating food off the floor, unless the piece of food is picked up by using a fork and not bacteria-laden fingers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clearly, I was wrong when I said I had masochistic work tendencies because if I truly had masochistic work tendencies I would be an accountant.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


"I like rice. Rice is great when you're hungry and you want 2,000 of something."
- Mitch Hedberg

Friday, October 17, 2008

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Monty Python could've written this

Best summary of Palin so far, but none other than John Cleese:

What fascinates me though, is how, people watching her on televsion, can they not see that she's basically learned certain speeches? It's like a nice-looking parrot because the parrot speaks beautifully and kind of says, 'aw shucks"'every now and again but doesn't really have any understanding of the meaning of the words that it is producing, even though it is producing them very accurately... and she's running as a partner 72-year-old cancer survivor. I mean, Monty Python could've written this."

Worth watching, if only for the most awesome laugh that Palin's name evokes.

That's Gotta Hurt.

While reading The Economist's obit of JBJ, I was getting increasingly disappointed with each paragraph because it mostly read like an unfeeling, bland report, and I was about to just let it all go with a sigh when I reached the last words:

Certainly Mr Jeyaretnam, most distinguished of that tiny band [of opposition politicians], was never silenced. Lee Kuan Yew may have been infinitely the greater statesman, but some would have judged Mr Jeyaretnam the bigger man.

I'm smiling like an idiot now.

Sky Lights


I could see the specks of light in the sky as the CNG made its way towards the temple, feebly trying to squeeze its way between too-big luxury SUVs, beaten-up cars with broken fenders and motorbikes carrying its female passengers slung across sideways.

Random side note: Why do these women sit like this? I did it once, but only because it I was in a nonnegotiable long skirt, and throughout the journey my center of gravity yelled at me for being utterly stupid, and I'm never doing it again.

Admittedly, I had no idea what the festival was all about, or what it signified. I only knew there were going to be pretty lanterns let off into the sky and that's really all the motivation I needed to get my ass down there. I'd been there a couple of time before, and I like it. Geese and dogs wandering around the place. Its a temple/monastery, after all. Peace and tranquility are to be expected.

Well anyway, I know now its Pravarana Purnima, held on the full moon and marking the end of the Buddhist version of Lent.

The Daily Star reports as such:

THE Holy Pravarana Purnima is one of the greatest Buddhist festivals. The Buddhists of Bangladesh observe the holy day with due solemnity, religious dignity, freedom and fervour ... the festival is observed in the month of Ashwin, and is also known as Ashwini Purnima ... The breaking of the Varshavasa day is called Pravarana Purnima. On that day, the Buddha came down to this world after preaching the Abhidhamma to his mother and other gods in the Tavatimsa Heaven during Varshavasa. The Buddha advised his disciples to propagate the true Dharma on this day.

A whole lotta words. Article gives nice background info on the festival's origins, but fails to mention its highlights -- pretty lanterns in the sky.

And that bit about solemnity and dignity? Dude, have you attended one of these things?

Too late now to edit pics to prove my point more forcefully, but you'll see what I mean soon. There was some serious dancing at the end, dancing involving gyrating, half-naked, sweaty men with abs, grabbing each other and shimmying all over the place. Jessica was not unpleased.

This crowd was (dare I say it) putting on a show more gay than any of the action I've seen in Happy or Taboo. It would've been a lot more pleasant if these guys weren't straight and all that ass-slapping actually meant something (maybe it did, but I'd like to see you try finding one guy to admit as much). The one thing that they do have in common with the crowd in Singapore's awesome gay bars? No one gave a fuck about me.

Half-naked dancing men aside, the main feature of the festival was fabulous. Till now, I have no idea what the lanterns signify. If I had to give a guess -- cleansing, a fresh start, releasing your wishes into the night sky in the hopes that the gods hear you better at a higher altitude?

All religious allow these outlets of hope. Hope that your prayers will be heard, whether or not its by writing your wishes on slips of paper and attaching it to a tree or
writing prayers on floating candles. Hope for absolvement, that the past will be forgotten by all, including yourself, when you step into the confession booth or let that lantern of yours float away, away into the night.

At some point, I teared slightly amidst the cheers as the lanterns went up one after another. Don't really know why. Ridiculous, since I still don't know what the whole thing means. Maybe I kinda wish I could attach some of my own stuff to those lanterns and let it all go.

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

I'll show you what he saw in my next post.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Working from the house never really feels like work, so I still end up feeling un-worked and guilty for slacking even though I'm really sitting here crunching numbers on excel spreadsheets. I guess the guilt comes from the fact that, unlike being in an office, my music's being played at a rather loud level and I have a can of beer to help the numbers go down easier.

I prefer doing work in my house because it's just so that much more enjoyable. Is that so bad?

And the beer is making me say this - you do not schedule a fucking meeting at the very very last minute and then make me feel bad about not going. Made worse by the fact that you can't reschedule it because you're not going to be in town. This lies very much under the "not my problem" part of my brain. Just fucking send me an email about the scintillating meeting. If I'm there, all I'm going to do is nod and agree anyway.

Oh fuck it. When the beer wears off I know I'm going anyway.

Personal Heroes

I just love Dan Savage. Always have, always will.

From his blog entry on The Stranger, commenting on the latest case of horrific child abuse by a "normal" heterosexual couple.

"Maybe this girl’s mother and father saw Ohio Republican state representative John Schlichter’s recent campaign flyer—the one in which he warned that “same sex couples [are] adopting our children”—and pushed that dresser in front of the door to prevent gay men from bursting into their bedroom in the middle of the night and adopting their kids. Or maybe they’re just insanely abusive assholes."

And here's Dan extending his friendship to Sarah Palin because, you know, she said she had gay friends, but no one can find them :

Monday, October 06, 2008


Slightly belated post on Eid, no thanks to general procrastination and an exploding laptop power adaptor. Actually, it didn't really explode, but then again there's never any smoke without fire, is there?

I woke up early on Eid to go down to Baitul Mukkarram in Gulistan, which I've been told is the biggest mosque in Bangladesh. Don't ask me what it looked like - I couldn't go in, seeing as how I'm challenged, gender-wise.

I put the photos up on Flickr a couple of days ago, and it's always interesting to see which photos get clicked on the most and the least. This one received the least clicks thus far:

Eid - Baitul Mukkaram

I would like to write about this as bluntly as possible, so forgive any remarks that may come across as callous.

Seeing as how I couldn't really enter the mosque, I spent most of my time at the gates where a sizable number of beggars had formed two orderly rows to "channel" people who were entering the mosque, therefore making it impossible for them not to notice the outstretched hands.

As expected, I was left alone as soon as I had made it clear I was not handing out any money whatsoever. Whoever else who approached me was soon told to go away, not by me, but by the other beggars who had previously tried.

While the atmosphere remained friendly for most of the time, it was hard not to become competitive with all this money at stake. It was Eid, the day of goodwill and general giving, and these boys and men coming to the mosque decked out in their new punjabis were obliged to hand out money. It was a buffet, and the money was yours to lose.

So the fastest got the most cash. The hands that reached out first, the one that looked the most needy. It was not a time for a display of strength. Most were either elderly or handicapped. One young and able-bodied youth who tried asking for money received a tongue-lashing about how he should just go get a job.

Several minor arguments broke out as a result, a little pushing and shoving, but nothing serious. Mostly over the question of territory. They didn't take too kindly to someone else honing in on their space.

I've always shyed away from taking pictures of beggars, mainly because I don't know how they feel about it. I feel like it takes the exploitation to a new, higher level, and I haven't quite figured out how to absolve myself in that way. Mostly, I worry that they would not take too kindly to my actions.

The group I photographed that day didn't seem to mind it at all. They smiled for the camera, they smiled at me, they asked me questions. I found their compliance most liberating.

But back to the least-clicked picture above. Its not uncommon to find beggars carrying around medical documents in plastic folders or bags. I usually can't understand what they're saying, but the point is clear.

The child in the photo couldn't speak for herself. She didn't smile at me. In fact, if anything, her eyes barely registered my presence. She remained silent as the others went on chattering around me. When I started to photograph her, the people who were accompanying her (family members, I assume) beckoned me closer, lifted her up and tried to arrange her in a pose that would expose her even more.

I stopped. I also had to stop myself from asking about the contents of those medical documents, stop myself from asking "What's wrong with her?" because, really, I didn't want to know.

I had thought I would've had good news to post on this blog, but an email came this morning that put that to rest. No good news for now, let's see what happens.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


"I am afraid again I have not received the justice that I had a right to expect."
- JBJ, 2003.

Damn right.

As a nation, we have treated him most shamefully.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I supposed I should get this out of the way before midnight and before Blogger logs this under a different date.

A particularly unspectacular day, which is a rather apt way to mark what has been a particularly unspectacular year.

What did I do today?

I went to work, not knowing that it was a Muslim holiday and I didn't need to show up for work. Did not realise this until an hour before I was due to knock off. I attributed the strangely empty office to the fact that some folks were flying off today and I figured a lot of people must've gone to the airport to send them off.

I went and had dinner at an expensive Chinese restaurant. Sichuan pork and tofu. The dinner was unintentional and prearranged, meaning it was not because of the date. I did not tell the person I had dinner with that today was my one year anniversary in Bangladesh.

My friend brought up the subject of pity, and I told him that I hadn't really resolved or figured out my views on it yet. My weak summary was as such: its hard to pity people who don't pity themselves.

I told him that it was also it would make my life unbearable. The constant contradictions would kill my head. How could I feel sorry for people because they didn't have enough to eat and then sit down to enjoy an expensive dinner? It was not possible.

I feel a strange sense of annoyance when I hear foreigners talk about "horrible living conditions", "abject poverty", houses in "unthinkably dirty surroundings". You can't imagine having to live like that? Things shouldn't be this way? Yeah, no kidding. Why don't you tell them that?

I shoo-ed away a couple of girls that followed us for a long distance. The beggars in Gulshan are a lot more aggressive and, as I said before, it makes me feel less human every time I tell one of them to go away. I had to say that a lot tonight.

Took a CNG back. Traffic was bad, as expected in the mad pre-Eid shopping rush.

Looked out for the cats. Couldn't find them. Maybe they've wandered off for good.

And that makes it, officially, One Year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jess, no one gives a fuck about your dreams ok?

Dream log:

Saw a rather grubby and fat white cat stretching itself and then chatting to another black and white one (also fat) about how it managed to get on the MRT train, and how on earth was it going to find its way back? Cat said it was simple, it was only one stop (Yio Chu Kang) and he had to go pick up another cat, by the name of Wando (surely not), and they would both go back together.

In a separate part of the dream -- me cramming stuff into one of my too-small bags that I left behind in Singapore. And then trying to fit that bag into a shopping bag I had. Went through a pile of bags (some were not mine) in an attempt to find one large enough but still small enough to be considered a handbag. In the meantime, Guiqing and Jill have both given me 7 missed calls asking me WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU HURRY UP.


My mom has a line that she utters with relish whenever she sees me leaving the house with one of those ridiculously small handbags that's only big enough to fit a flat piece of plastic and a handphone (depending on the size of your handphone, of course). I love hearing her say it.

"So big ah? Don't have smaller one?"

To which I would always reply. "Shut up."

"No, no. Really. Its too big. You should use a smaller one."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dream log:

Wandering around with a woman in her golden years along the cobblestoned pavements of a quaint Eastern European town, trying hard not to gawk like a stupid tourist, but seeing amazing da Vinci-like contraptions (including a giant spinning sphere like the rides you see in amusement park but with da Vinci-levels of intricacy and made of green, rusting metal), we stopped at a church and I made my way down the pews and knelt in front of what looked like the sign of the cross laid out at the altar. Only that it wasn't the right way up, and as I knelt there and pretended to pray I leafed through a booklet that was at the altar that gave very specific instructions on the steps of worship. The woman I was with came up to me with a worried look on her face, and I told her I hadn't known, I thought it was just your average church. And she explained and said that it was the sign of the inverted cross they were worshipping, and the lines that made up the cross were broken at one point, leaving a gap, and at the gap was a symbol of the earth -- and she said that this symbolised how humankind and the world in general was preventing goodness, and that was why the cross remained inverted. At least, till that gap was filled.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Midday Rant

For fuck's sake. It's not all about money. It's NOT.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Listening to DJ Mel on This is Music online, I was rather surprised to hear a radio ad asking American citizens to come! Sign up! Join the CIA!

Monday, September 15, 2008


Yesterday, as I walked back to my apartment, I took a shortcut across the lake/recreation area rather than jostle with the crowds on the main roads.

As I stepped out from the shadows of the trees to cross a small bridge across the lake, the light shone so brightly I stopped in amazement and looked up at the moon.

I mused for a bit about how rare it was to see your shadow formed by the light of the moon (or the lack of it, but you know what I mean). This doesn't happen much in Singapore. In Singapore, your shadows come about either by sunlight, lampposts or some florescent tubings.

It was really quite beautiful, and I stood on the bridge for a bit.

Just five minutes ago, I realised from Tym's blog that it was mid-autumn's festival yesterday.


It'd slipped my mind completely but I suppose its nice in a way -- the first time I had appreciated the beauty of a full moon because it was stunning, and not because I was deliberately looking out for it since that's what you're supposed to do on 中秋节.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I'm not entirely sure what to make of it now, since I've hardly had the time to digest it, but if I had a beer in my hand, I would raise a toast to Jo Becker, Peter S. Goodman and Michael Powell.

Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes

"...Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I humiliated a man for breakfast

The guy who collects the payment for newspaper subscriptions has been regularly overcharging for our daily papers. We even have the receipts to prove it. His mistake was inconsistency -- when the rates keeps changing, its kinda a giveaway don't you think?

So when he showed up this morning, asking for a payment which was 100tk over the usual fake amount, I hauled him over next door to my translator/neighbour's and proceeded to humiliate him in lousy Bangla.

His hand shook as he wrote on a piece of paper, trying to calculate exactly how much money he had siphoned off our bills. I asked him repeatedly in Bangla, "Do you think I'm stupid?"

Counting from the time since I moved in (since I've no idea what went on with earlier tenants) we established that he had taken an extra 360tk. He wrote off the bill for this month, and handed me 60tk from his own pocket.

He didn't look sorry -- he looked stunned. He tried speaking to me placatingly as I went back into my own apartment. I told him, "I'm very angry now." I closed the door in his face, not in triumph, but in defeat.

What have I accomplished, really? Yes, we established the fact that I am indeed not stupid, but also that I'm not much of a human being.

In the month of Ramadan, instead of handing our Eid bonuses, I permanently cut off a man's monthly supply of an extra 100tk or so for himself, and took money from him.

I feel rather shitty right now.

"We have come to think of taking offence as a fundamental right.
We value very little more highly than our rage, which gives us,
in our opinion, the moral high ground. From this high ground
we can shoot down at our enemies and inflict heavy fatalities."
- Rushdie

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Why, hello there (Part II)

Finally finished grading papers and tallying up final scores... No one failed! Hooray! Although one guy almost got knocked down a grade because I can't do simple sums. Seven plus nine is what? Thank god for calculators.

I should sleep, but someone sent me links -- and now I'm much too distracted. These photos are yummy, but she looks a bit too much like Becca here and that's an unnerving thought.

The guy that did the azaan yesterday at around half past four in the morning was seriously out of tune.

I felt kinda embarrassed on his behalf. It was karaoke-gone-wrong, and maybe that's why they had him do it in the middle of the morning? Letting him have a practice run during the off-peak session?

Maybe it was his first time, and he was just nervous. It takes guts to sing to an entire neighbourhood from huge ass speakers, I'll give him that. I can't even do it with a tiny microphone in a bar with three friends. Unless, of course, I'm drunk -- but then again list of things I won't do when drunk is painfully short.

I really don't think I should be writing stuff like this during Ramadan.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I don't know how I missed this when it was first released, but I spent the most part of my previous working day reading Slate's special issue on procrastination. It was quite a spread.


Letter to a Young Procrastinator

I, too, am a procrastinator. Always have been. In college, I'd start 10-page papers after midnight on the day they were due. Half my memories of this period involve screaming at my printer to print faster, ripping the pages from its maw, and then sprinting to my professor's office with moments to spare, sweat streaming down my face...

Why did I subject myself to so much stress, instead of starting my work earlier like "normal" people do? Well, you've no doubt heard all manner of theories regarding the root cause of procrastination. Fear of failure. Crippling perfectionism. Abnormally low type-2 phloxiplaxitus levels.

I'm here to tell you that it was none of these things. The root cause of my procrastination, in technical terms, is this: I'm lazy. Extremely lazy.

Don't judge, pal—you're lazy, too. It's why you procrastinate. When there's a difficult, disagreeable, or tedious chore that needs to get done, guess what? You don't want to do it. So you don't. Until you have to.

It's just that simple, my slothful friend. And guess what else? The trick to overcoming procrastination is even simpler. Ready? Here it is:

Get off your fat badonk and stop procrastinating. Right now. No, not after the Gilmore Girls rerun ends. Now now.

Will you do this? No. You will not. You will dabble at the crossword for a while. Later, you might get a yogurt. Eventually, you'll start reading pointless crap on the Internet. You see, you're doing it as we speak! Because: You are lazy.

He knows me better than I know myself.
Brian said his goodbyes today at the last staff meeting. It should have been an emotional and teary thing, but true to my form, I kept up the defences and just kept smiling. "I'll see you again soon, when you get back!"

I wonder if it would have been more appropriate of me to have shown a little sadness. The truth is, I am. Having a boss who actually knows what the hell he's doing is something I've come to appreciate. The insane amount of faith he has in me is rather frightening. I may have been here for almost a year (anniversary's just around the corner), but I still think any moment now, they're going to realise they've hired a moron.

But I will see him again, so that's that.

Tonight, I am thinking of Choosin's classic "leave a light on for me" moment -- which I hope I'll never forget.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I want to be God.

I kinda really want this.

I spent hours failing at the Sims and SimCity -- this might be easier, I just have to try not to die.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

SMS Conversation between me and my strangely unsympathetic father

-- How to make belacan ah

-- We dont make but use it to blend with chili paste and abit of lime

-- But there is no belacan here so i have to make

-- U dont seem to understand it is made in factory from fermented shrimp and fish so u cannot make it ok

-- :(

Friday, August 29, 2008

Took photos at the recent Krishna Janmashtami-- birthday of Krishna.

Hindu Temple

One of the most tangible skills I will be taking home with me is the ability to wirelessly reconfigure a router. Did you know that a router has to be configured? Me neither.

I take insane pride in my mystical technical skills. I relish telling and re-telling the same fucking tale of working in an office of men and being the only female and the only one who could get the printer working. It was a high point of my life, and I will not relinquish it.

I had an impromptu lunch with an Australian who was the vice-principal of a primary school here. We happened to be having our lunches alone at the same restaurant and, being the shameless whore I am, I struck up some conversation.

He's only been here a month, although he has made several visits since his first ten years ago. That was when he was doing the 21-years-old-and-backpacking-across-the-world stint.
He confessed he was still in the "honeymoon" period. He was in love with the villages. He couldn't see himself going back to Sydney, where people didn't talk to each other on the street and nobody tried to mind his business.

It's always good to talk to people like that, because I do like being reminded of all the good amidst the bad.

I've come to accept that there are days when all I want to do is to tell every Bangladeshi just how fucked up this country is, and then there are days when all I want to do is to give them a hug and tell them they are really such wonderful people and I'm so sorry for all the bad feelings I've ever had about them. I believe such contradictory behaviour is called "being normal".

I stepped out of the newspaper office at 10pm in Karwan Bazar, and the sound of a jaunty percussion had me tapping my feet as I chatted to the security guards. A crowd had gathered nearby, and I walked over to see a man with an instrument that looks like a banjo (only that its not, but I don't know what the name is), entertaining everyone.

The speed at which friendship and camaraderie is formed here is unbelievable. The only thing you need to be admitted into a group is to simply stand within it. The crowd of strangers, all laughing and singing along and cajoling him to do funny bits -- some gave me a look, but they soon returned their attention to the singer.

These are the workers of Karwan Bazar. The labourers who make their living using their muscles, sleeping in the same huge baskets they use to carry goods from the trucks into the stalls. I looked at their laughing faces -- it just felt so good to be standing there.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fantasy Kingdom

Fantasy Kingdom

I made my way down to Fantasy Kingdom (thanks to Trond, for the tip), expecting to be overwhelmed in the land where kitsch went to die. Strangely enough, it wasn't that bad - I think Sentosa (and just Singapore, in general) had primed me well.

It wasn't as crowded as I had expected, and the space wasn't that large at all. Many rides were closed, evident from the weeds and grasses that had grown over the control booths and steel beams. Still, a fair number remained opened for business. I was tempted to give the solo roller-coaster a try, but I guess I just wasn't in a risk-taking mood that day.

Fantasy Kingdom

I planned to return to the long stretch of highway built on an embankment cutting across Ashulia lake. It seemed absolutely beautiful when I had passed it on the way to the Kingdom. Empty chairs and food stalls dotted the side of the road facing north - it looked promisingly peaceful.


I was wrong, though. The crowds emerged along with the impending sunset, and I soon felt as if I was back in Dhaka, squeezing my way through streets that were never wide enough. With every lewd stare and catcall, things just got worse and worse. I couldn't speak, couldn't say anything. Anything I uttered was deemed hilarious and just turned me into more of a circus act. I felt utterly exposed. Twice, I shoved men who pointed their camera phones into my face. One laughed, the other got scared and mumbled something about how he was actually not aiming the thing at me.

The only brief respite I had was when I climbed down the embankment to watch some boys swimming and performing various acrobatic feats. I turned my back to the main road, where there was already a sizable group just standing around watching me, and tried to pretend I was alone.


I felt relief when the sun finally set, thinking that the darkness would make me less noticeable. It didn't occur to me that others would think the same way.

The first hand reached out and barely grazed the side of my pants when I was walking past an exceptionally narrow stretch of road. If it hadn't been for my bulky camera bag limiting access, the hand would've gotten a lot more than a handful of cloth.

I was startled, and was walking far too fast to have broken my momentum in time to know for sure who did it. I didn't slow down, didn't look back, but mentally prepared myself to not let it happen again.

Sure enough, barely five minutes later, when I had already reached the other side and was so close to getting a CNG and going home, another hand reached out from right behind me. He didn't just get a handful of cloth.

I swung round. There were two men behind me, and both stared right back at me, expressionless. I grabbed the front of the shirt of the man nearer to me, yanked him closer, and slapped him hard across the face.

He was stunned for a moment, and started babbling angrily. I honestly have no idea what he was saying, but it seemed to me that there was no apology hidden amidst those words (was he trying to protest his innocence?) and as he started to raise his voice again, I slapped him a second time.

I didn't really know what to do, at that point. I couldn't argue with him, I couldn't yell, I couldn't tell the people around me what he did. I didn't know the words. So I turned around and walked to the nearest CNG, got in, and left.

On the way back, it occured to me that this was the first time in my life when I had intentionally slapped a person. I'm sorry to say that it felt good.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Short rant in the midst of sub-editing

Please, oh please, I don't want to have any more facts given to me. If I've to rewrite one more "given the fact that"... Double argh.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why, hello there

Am slightly obsessed now with finding out more about this particular character, which would not have been the case had I paid a bit more attention to news coming out of East Asia in 2005.

I'm a great lover of androgyny (in women only), and I thought Katherine had it nailed down, but then again she had a rather unfair advantage since she's supposed to play up the androgyny in her role as Shane. Not that she has much difficulty in that area, but surely the script helps.

This TIME magazine article does a rather good job giving the background info on Li Yu Chun:

What Li did possess was attitude, originality and a proud androgyny that defied Chinese norms. During the tryouts—in which 150,000 contestants were winnowed to 15—Li wore loose jeans and a black button-down shirt, with no make-up and the haircut (and body) of David Bowie during his Space Oddity phase. She auditioned with In My Heart There's Only You, Never Her, an oldie made famous by Taiwan's Liu Wenzheng—a man. In the main competition she sang other songs written for male performers and called herself "a tomboy." For an audience reared on the bubble-gum, lip-gloss standards of Chinese girl pop, Li's disregard for the rule book produced an unfamiliar knee-weakening.

She stood out in the China's official song for the Olympics, a plain Jane in the midst of numerous heavily made-up women that litter the entire video. Then I watched her MTV, and just kept thing, holy shit -- that's hot.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Joy Juice

Looking back at the posts displayed on the main page, Bryan's right, I've been quite the grouchy bitch. I think he was too kind to call me a chickadee, whatever that means. Isn't that the name of some artificial corn/chicken snack?

I could be confusing that with kickapoo - which to me is the most artificial looking drink on the planet. I know the name hardly rhymes, other than the "a" in the middle, but there's a common chicken element (to be explained very soon).

I vaguely recall first seeing it in primary school, and being rather subconsciously put off by the cartoon chicken endorsing the drink. Of course, I've since realised the very lousy drawing is not actually that of a chicken - I actually have no idea what it is, really. But when I first saw it, I flippantly believed it to be a chicken, and I thought it very odd why anyone would want to drink a toxic-yellow liquid that looked like pee and appeared to have been made of chicken parts.

Last night I dreamt I was pregnant. I've had dreams about my children, but this was a first. Don't ask me who the father was, I've no idea. It was all very festive, I remember feeling particularly happy about it (at first, before it evolved into the nightmare). It seemed like I was four or five months on, and the bulge was showing and some old friends gathered round celebrating with me. I felt complete, fulfilled. And then, erm, it became nosso pleasant and I won't elaborate more about how it turned into a nightmare. Can't remember most of that part, anyway.

It was all very, very odd.

Post-alcohol update: I read my stuff from 2 years ago, and I think I was a lot funnier (even if I was still a grumpy, grouchy bitch) and didn't keep harping on the Same Old Things. I miss ST more than ever.


My successful attempt at (too) spicy black pepper prawns and sambal kangkong is making my stomach rather unhappy, and its all a bit strange right now as I read Monty Python scripts online while 张学友is playing on iTunes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Very Bad Idea

to google recipes on local dishes when hungry. What the hell are candle nuts? Can I not make laksa without it!??!? And stop asking me to use pork. IT IS VERY TROUBLESOME TO GET PORK HERE.

And everyone talks about using belacan. But no one is telling me how to make belacan. You think here can find meh??

Too tired. Cartoons talk for me.

My sentiments, exactly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


It's a sense that no matter what China does, it won't really be accepted as an equal on the world stage, that it will always be left cleaning the toilet at the OECD country club.

Ok no prizes for the pun. But, ah, the rest of it was... heaven. I leaned back in my chair to slowly savour every single word of this piece. It was like someone scratching an itch I couldn't reach. It was bliss.

So are the media just being a little mean to China? It does at times feel akin to if coverage of the Atlanta Olympics were focused on the failings of the U.S. health care system and the plight of the American Indian. One foreign correspondent for a major American newspaper agreed, telling me, "In Athens the traffic jams were presented as the outgrowth of a hip Mediterranean lifestyle. Here they become yet another product of state repression."...

... Right now, China is an awkward place that just wants to be loved—and that makes it particularly easy to kick around.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Staying Awake.


I'm refusing to sleep tonight, for reasons unknown.


Took more pictures today. I am annoyed at how the colours on photoshop and flickr appear totally different. WTF?

Karwan Bazar is a place that I should rightly spend hours in, but barely a couple of minutes in the maze of stalls, and I'm ready to call it quits. A lot of it has to do with fear. I get claustrophobic quickly in there. Everywhere I turn, I can feel the eyes boring into the back of my head. I imagine that I would not escape in time if the crowd mobbed me. The last time I went there, I got lost and very nearly started to panic. Its all irrational and ridiculous, of course.

I'm still feeling shitty, and those who know me well will know why. There's only one thing that can get me down like this. Third time lucky? Fuck that.

I really should get some sleep.