Archive for January, 2011

Happy fat-land coma!

My mom turned up with barrels, and I mean barrels, of home-made Chinese New Year goodies! BARRELS! Peanut Cookies! Pineapple Tarts! Roasted Cashews! Kuih bulu! Barrels! Barrels! Barrels! I am going into a coma of fatty-ness! Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!

Kuih bulu

Pineapple Tarts

It was like I opened the door to and WHOA! I stumbled upon treasures! Speaking of which, I was tasked with CNY decorations, which is tough with a house like this and a budget like mine – but I bought chocolate gold coins for fun and the effect was pretty cool! Gold ahoy, mateys!

Pirate's treasure


The fourth animal to arrive was the cautious Rabbit…

Well scuppers! but I was sure 2011 was the Year of the Rat. Luckily I checked it online before cutting a rat out of my one and only MeiZhenXiang bakua delivery bag.

Not bad for a 4.30am-er, is it? Quite something, actually, when you consider that I failed art and craft all the time. Spiffing bunch, the zodiac animals. Brings some novelty in our Lunar New Year decorations, keeps things a little fresh for product design and consumerism.

For all the multiple-of-twelve-year-olds : The Rabbit Horoscope.

Rabbits don’t look cool, as a rule, but I found some admirable exceptions.

And then of course who could forget the uncomparably slick Bugs Bunny!

Enjoy Chinese New Year, guys! The holiday, the food, the family, the bunnies, the fun, the money, the gambling, the national-service-t0-come, the ra-ra-ra and bla-bla-bla! GongXiFaCai!

An element’s love letter

Dear Astatine my love,

I am writing to tell you that I can’t marry you. I’m breaking our engagement. I guess that you want to know why, so let me explain. I’ll start at the beginning.

It all started when I was born the daughter of Actinium-227 by alpha emission. I not only grew up unstable, but my psychiatrist recently diagnosed me as a paranoid schizophrenic and said that she had a problem telling my 20 isotopes apart. The sad truth is that 227/88Fr, my longest lived isotope, has a halflife of about 21 minutes, after which I decay into that awful 223/88Ra! And my 221/87Fr isotope has a halflife of only 4.8 minutes! So you see, there’s no use continuing our relationship when I won’t be around for long.

I was a quiet child. When my existence was finally discovered in 1939 by Marguerite Perey at the Curie Institute in Paris, I was thrilled! They named me Francium after the country in which I was discovered. They introduced me to my sisters Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium and Caesium. Soon I learned that, as members of the Alkali Metal family, we had a lot in common. We all had a value of one, we tarnished in air, had low melting points and reacted vigorously with cold water. Not only that, we generally had soft crystals and were commonly found as halides and as aluminosilicates and combined vigorously with other elements.

Father said that the strong similarity between my sisters and me was the arrangements of the electrons in our atoms. Father always had an explanantion for everything. I asked him once why he liked Lithium best. He said that he loved us all equally and that I was only being my unstable self. But I kept bugging him, and finally he admitted that he liked Lithium best because she was used in the treatment of steel parts and was making something of her life. He said I had no meaningful purpose that he could see. Then he looked me up and down and grunted that I should do something about my atomic weight. I ran to my room in tears and looked in the mirror. My atomic weight was around 223, more than anyone else in my alkali metal family.

Astatine, I just can’t bear it! You saw how futile my attempts to diet were.

Sitting in the Earth’s crust the way I do in tiny amounts (never more than one gram), I have a lot of time to think. It isn’t so hard having a melting point of 27 degrees celcius, and my changes of phase add some excitement to my life. But something has been bothering me. Even though I was discovered more than 60 years ago, my sisters still leave me out of everything. The Alkali Metal family has always been famous, but nobody knows the real me! Why I remember that in Inorganic Chemistry, R.T. Sanderson said, “relatively little is known of this element except that a close resemblance to Caesium has been recognised.”

Caesium! He compared me with Caesium – my sister who hangs out in a mineral called Pollucite! No one would ever catch a weighable amount of me in that trash! I’m sorry – there I go being unstable again.

Did you hear that people are actually cloning me? It’s true! What they do is bombard Thorium with protons, and they’ve got some instant artificially made Francium! Neat isn’t it? Who knows? Maybe some day, good old atomic number 87 will find her niche in society and I will be accepted for what I am. But until then, I know we could never be right for each other.

Astatine, I’m really sorry. Please try to understand. I will always love you and will never forget our half-lives together.

Love Always,

Francium Alkali

*(From a worksheet in my chemistry file. I bear no responsibility for inaccuracy of information, incorrectness of grammar or any other flaw. Thank you.)

Oh, the wonderful teachers who do anything and everything to promote learning as it should be to us bratty little ingrates. I once had a teacher who rewarded my class with a trip to a Lord of the Rings exhibition. She taught science, but she knew the value of fantasy and imagination. Another chinese teacher of mine encouraged me to read by giving me –giving- me Chinese classics with wonderful illustrations. I still have the books. And another one once said :

“Now that I’m no longer your teacher, I don’t have to act appropriately in front of you! HA!”

To all who still see your teachers daily, do appreciate those relentless, determined, big-hearted imparters of knowledge and creativity, and remember them, whenever you can, in your prayers and thanksgiving.

 While I studied overseas for two years I requested from my ‘would-be’ teachers the materials my would-be classmates recieved, so that I might not suffer from gaps in different curriculums when I returned. My chemistry worksheets came to me in a ring-file, slotted into plastic folders according to date and topic, clipped very nicely together and labelled “for (my name)”. I supposed I was touched by the gesture but, I wasn’t one to dwell in this sort of thing then. I sort of took my good teachers for granted until I schooled at a place where dedicated teachers were the exception… I seem to be stockpiling fragments of memory alot these days, sitting around on the earth, like useless Francium like I do now, currently, approximately all the time – albeit in increasing amounts. 

Wherever these teachers are, I hope they remember all they have done for the students. I hope they know, somehow, that even those who no longer keep in contact do appreciate their efforts in years to come. I hope they never stop trying to do their best for their students. I hope…I suppose I ought to visit them and thank them. I don’t know why I dislike that idea. I only know that recalling the past is painful. To enter a world so vivid that you long endlessly after it, knowing it is forever in the past, is to lose the present moment. Yet one cannot relive the past if the past has not, in its own present, been fully lived.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby


Boat on a river 


Moving… … …

Moving, again.

I’m getting a little bit sick of it.
Someday I will find a place and I will know exactly that I’m going to die there, and I will go through all the countries and houses I have lived through and I will remember, really remember, how intensely heartbreaking it is to live with so undiluted an intensity that I could write a page on each moment and still say not enough.

…sometime it will be dark. I thought, Let them come unhouse me of this flesh, and pry this house apart. It was no shelter now, it only kept me here alone, and I would rather be with them, if only to see them, even if they turned away from me. If I could see my mother, it would not have to be her eyes, her hair. I would not need to touch her sleeve. There was no more the stoop of her high shoulders. The lake had taken that, I knew. It was so very long since the dark had swum her hair, and there was nothing more to dream of, but often she almost slipped through any door I saw from the side of my eye, and it was she, and not changed, and not perished. She was music I no longer heard, that rang in my mind, itself and nothing else, lost to all sense, but not perished, not perished. – Housekeeping, by Marilyn Robinson.

Behind my curtains 

Curtains remain close till evening time. They’re full length, three layers of them – the outermost is dark green, the second layer – my favourite – is a heavy, smooth, utilitarian grey which reflects heat and light. The last is a sheer gauzy wisp I’d like to go around lifting up swathes of secretive cloth just to look at what’s behind, underneath, and on the otherside.

It’s odd what I remember about my curtains.

NewHavenConneticut386ProspectStreetblockD : halflength,dusty,grey,windowblinds,viewofaplayground
SingaporeBlock90HillviewAvenueHillbrooks : halflength,blue,dolphinprint,viewoflandedpropertyandbukitbatokhill
KualaLumpurMalaysia258LorongMaarofTamanBandaraya : halflength,white,mosquitonets,terribleviewsallround…

Through windows go back, away, and up.

And up   
What, exactly, was B-16-1 New Hampshire, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia? 

Site of Lazing

one kuihbulu (on coffeetable)

 If you can’t come to Malaysia, Malaysia will come to you.

Site of Eating

Not that I spent a lot of time here and not that all of here was good. Yet better a few moments that last a lifetime than the untold countless others forgotten before remembering.

You old friend, who has seen me within and without though I know nothing but the general contour of you, dearest constant noiseless companion, keep my secrets in your walls and bind my memories to your shape.

“Farewell, farewell! Till your eyries recieve you at journey’s end.
May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks. ” – The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

Detective fiction – Evil Under the Sun

(Disclaimer : The following is purely my own opinion. No hard feelings intended, and comments always welcome.)

I’ve mentioned before that most would-be-catchy book titles warn me off pretty effectively, but this is largely untrue for Agatha Christie titles. For one, her tried-and-tested ‘old school’ writing style guarantees good language, description and narration – winning half the battle for a good book. For two, (for two?? Is this correct??) Harper Collins (one of my preferred publishers) uses an elegant, quietly confident design for Christie’s books, meaning that even the loudest titles are balanced by subtle colours and fonts. I couldn’t find my edition of Evil Under the Sun online, and in the previous version of this post I used the ‘newer’, standardized Harper Collins edition of Agatha Christie. Then I hit upon the brainwave of bluetooth-ing the image of my book cover to the computer! (I am so tech savvy now!) So here now is the edition of Evil Under the Sun that I have. A pity the old design – apparently the signature edition one – seems to be unavailable now. Good book covers are always worth admiring. I particularly like the embossed “POIROT” on the bottom right corner.  

Evil Under the Sun has been made into a movie, a computer game (Wii??) so far, and it’s often in the “Poirot classics” collection – which says something about it’s positive reviews so far. This Christie involves Poirot investigating the murder of a beautiful actress while he is on a holiday by the beach. Expect the usual set of puzzling clues, the appreciable leisurely character development, the turning of Poirot’s mental cogs and the quivering of his incredible mustachios, and yet another unexpected ending.

However, something about Evil Under the Sun lacks completeness. The story begins with engaging characters and an exploration of some interesting concepts, but once the murder takes place, the book’s focus on clue-finding and suspect-eliminating takes centerstage, cutting short character and concept development. I would have liked more thorough portrayal of evil and predation, which, after all, drives the killer’s actions. To explain it with “it is natural instinct to murder for money” is not only abrupt but disappointing; even if predatory instinct was deemed largely animalistic in Christie’s time, I’d expected a better psychoanalysis on Poirot’s part. Furthermore, while the method of murder itself is ingenius, I find it unbelievable that Poirot was able to unravel the entire sequence of events. For me, the lack of conviction is due in part to Poirot makes one too many “lucky guesses” this time.

As with many Five Little Pigs (can’t generalize with other Christie books), Evil Under the Sun has its characters exploring values like love, loyalty and marriage. In broader terms, Christie’s murders address the conflict of ideals between Victorian society and modern society. It adds suitable societal background to the book without digging up sordid pasts or dwelling on angsty scenes. From Five Little Pigs and Evil Under the Sun, it seems safe to trust Agatha Christie with a tasteful, well written and intelligent mystery. Since the reviews of this book have been largely positive, I would go ahead and recommend it anyway.

Detective fiction – Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect)

Disclaimer : The following is purely my own opinion. No hard feelings, and comments are always welcome.

Other than some devious smart-talking in Powerpuff Girls monopoly, five whole days with the Raju gang has left me severely starved of intellectual activity. Luckily for me, I have enough books to restart my mental faculties, while remaining well within the boundaries of my no-working-only-slacking promise to myself.

So my cloggy innards were itching for a good detective fiction. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, or Watson and Holmes? I cleave invariably to the funny little Belgian detective with the large moustache and the “little grey cells”, so Hercule Poirot it was – although I’ll admit to having never really acknowledged the quality of Agatha Christie’s writing until only two days ago. Now that I do, my only defence is that I read Agatha Christie alongside writers like R.L. Stine (Goosebumps series) and Enid Blyton (The Wishing Chair, the Secret Seven the Famous Five, etc). That is to say, I read Agatha Christie’s novels when I was around 7 or 8, long before I was mentally ‘equipped’ to appreciate a good detective novel. Other than my favourite Poirot case, Curtain, which I read (and stupidly misplaced) nearly ten years ago, I recall almost nothing of all the other Agatha Christie novels I’ve read.

I decided on Five Little Pigs this time. The alternative title is Murder in Retrospect, which is rather more appropriate a title, since the book involves Hercule Poirot investigating a murder case which was closed sixteen years ago. Carla Lemarchant, daughter of convicted murderess Caroline Crale, is convinced of her mother’s innocence and recruits Poirot’s remarkable detective prowess to clear her mother’s name. Knowing full well that the crime scene can no longer be accessed, Hercule Poirot is nevertheless confident that “psychology doesn’t change with time. The tangible things are gone – the cigarette-end and the footprints and the bent blades of grass. You can’t look for those anymore. But you can still go over all the facts of the case…and then lie back in your chair and think. And you’ll know what really happened.” Thus armed with his formidable and imaginative brain, Hercule Poirot interviews those who were involved in the crime sixteen years ago and pieces together, from their recollections, the truth that will acquit Caroline Crale of any charge.

“…with the passage of time, the mind retains a hold on essentials and rejects superficial matters.

“We are speaking now from the psychological point of view. I do not want bare facts. I want your own selection of facts. Time and your memory are responsible for that selection.”

I have read that Five Little Pigs is the best of Christie’s Hercule Poirot collection, and while I have no other Christie to compare it to, it was definitely a very enjoyable and stimulating read. The crime is covered from ten different perspectives (friends, police reports, lawyer, etc), allowing Poirot to pick out little details and construct his own version of what really happened. As a mark of excellence, Christie does not allow the repetition to become tiresome, but uses the opportunity to capture each storyteller realistically and distinctively. Aside from developing a solid, convincing cast, Christie lets readers compare personality with testimony and judge each character’ on truthfulness (the characters do lie!). Discerning readers will be able to spot the inconsistencies through the multiple-narrative technique, pick up character traits and biasness, and guess the real murderer before the denouement. Furthermore, Poirot – or Christie – has a superb understanding of human psychology and presents, very comprehensively, the human impulses that are often abstract, vague, and not easily described in words. 

“Do you know the way that things suddenly come back to you – after years, perhaps. I was once staying at a hotel. As I walked along a passage, one of the bedroom doors opened and a woman I knew came out. It was not her bedroom – and she registered the fact plainly on her face when she saw me.

“And I knew then the meaning of the expression I had once seen on Caroline’s face when, at Alderbury, she came out of Philip Blake’s room one night.

“I had no idea at the time, you understand. I knew things…but I didn’t connect them with reality. Caroline coming out of Philip Blake’s bedroom was just Caroline coming out of Philip Blake’s bedroom to me. It might have been Miss William’s room or my room. But what I did notice was the expression on her face – a queer expression that I didn’t know and couldn’t understand. I didn’t understand it until, as I told you, the night in Paris when I saw that same expression on another woman’s face. ” – Angela Warren, to Hercule Poirot

And Hercule Poirot himself – what a very marvelous character! – marvelous in the way that Arthur Weasley beams and says of muggles and their ‘ekeltricity’, “marvelous!” By any definition of the word Poirot should be ‘intriguing’ and ‘fascinating’, but these words connote a dynamic and compelling protagonist, which does not square with the quaint, foreign, odd little Hercule Poirot. There are many protagonists who are charismatic and forceful, who can herd and gather and direct the thoughts and actions of others. But Poirot is not one of them, and that is why he is so remarkable. Poirot is a hero who does not convince and does not influence – it is not his job to do so. Poirot goes out of his way to be “despised, but patronised”, a “most impossible person – the wrong clothes – button boots! – an incredible moustache! – a foreigner.”

“Hercule Poirot prided himself on knowing how to handle an ‘old school tie’ (a colloquial term for the usually conservative, slightly exclusive upper-class Englishman). It was no moment for trying to seem English. No, one must be a foreigner – frankly a foreigner – and be magnanimously forgiven for the fact. ‘Of course, these foreigners don’t quite know the ropes. Will shake hands at breakfast. Still, a decent fellow really…'”

My only problem was the unrealistic clarity with which a sixteen-years-ago event is recalled. Facial expressions, standing positions, exact words and phrases recalled in such detail…it’s all rather unbelievable, and while Poirot’s genius is obvious, a few of his conclusions are also based on certain small coincidental words said by the witnesses – without which Poirot would have had a harder time coming to his own conclusions. I suppose, in hindsight, that if these testimonials had been questioned, re-questioned and reconfirmed by the court during trial, then they would be more easily remembered. I would have also skipped a the ‘written record’ of each testimonial as that makes a total of fifteen recounts of the same incident. Other than that, Five Little Pigs is a highly recommended read.

Absolute SlackPalace – Powerpuff Girls Monopoly

Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute SlackPalace Absolute

Absolutely slacking, like those overweight human blobs utterly dependent on their soda-dispensing-greasy-fries-serving-all-entertainment-constantly-provided cushion chairs in Wall-E. Abso-feckin’-ly slackin’. Like, I got no other way to describe it.

Chia as Blossom! The Number 1 leader!

Shao as Bubbles! The Joy and the Laughter!

Jeri as Buttercup! The Toughest Fighter!

Sumo as Mojo Jojo! Aaaaaaaannddddd………..

Sra Zei as Professor Oak X Utonium!

I totally owned at Powerpuff Girls Monopoly. Luck was on my side. And I already have the skill.

Jeri (Buttercup): Flowershop! Flowershop! Flowershop! Flowershop! I need to land on Flowershop!
Sra (Professor Utonium): You need to roll a 2 to get Flowershop, which is an even number…you won’t be able to buy it anyway!
Jeri  (Buttercup) : …ARGH!!
Chia (Blossom) : 5…6…7…oh, too late guys. I got the Flowershop!

Shao (Bubbles): Oh damnmit everywhere’s so dangerous…I should just stay in jail, safest place, since I don’t have property anyway! Free food free shelter… (rolls dice three times) nope, no doubles. Guess I’m still in jail then!
Sumo (MojoJojo): (lands on Just Visiting Jail, where Bubbles is jailed) … … oh, the irony! Hello, Bubbles!

Chia (Blossom): I’ll give you Bonsai Gardens if you’ll give me the PetStore and free access to all your green-coded properties.
Sra (Professor U): Don’t be stupid!
(A while later)
Sra (Prof U): Find, I’ll do it. Free access and PetStore for Bonsai Gardens.
(Some time later)
Chia (Blossom): Hello Sra! Nice to see you’ve built a house here!
Sra (Prof U) : = fume =
Chia (Blossom) : Wow, construction coming along very well! Two houses – three houses – Just swinging by!
Sra (Prof U) : = growl =
Shao (Bubbles) : Nooooooo!!! Shit Sra’s Green properties all damn dangerous. $900 on this and $975 on that! AAHHH!!
Chia (Blossom) : Hey, Sra! Just visitin…making loads of money I see!