28 December 2006

The subsea dragon

We never think about subsea cables
Until we are left with only 1% internet access for 2 days and still counting.

We never think about Skype or phone card alternatives
Until it takes 8 tries to get 1 decent Paris-Shanghai phone call.
(And that is after abandoning Skype.)

We never think about Taiwan
(or Tibet or Myanmar or East Timor for that matter)
Until the subsea dragon lashes out in protest.

23 December 2006

At the turn of the next corner: 上海弄堂



I love Shanghai at the turn of the corner

Most of the time, I like Shanghai.
(On a few occasions, I hate it.)
But some days, I really just fall in love with this city.
Days like this, when I stumble upon an exhibition,
in my favourite building on the Bund.
Art, vibrancy, Absolut Lomo.
Shanghai with a surprise at the turn of the corner -
That's my Shanghai.

19 December 2006

This night of 20th December

This night of 20th December, the gazelle felt a little three-legged.

Returning to her savannah, a "Welcome back home!" greeted her in cheerful melancholy.

She staggered a little, finally able to stagger in the solitude of her own savannah after a whole day of striding. Out in the wild, striding was the only honourable way to walk, even if you are three-legged.

The gazelle staggered a few more steps towards the white haystack. But she forgot what she should have remembered before collapsing into it - the lingering scent of the lion in the haystack. (This gazelle has an incredible memory of smell. Smells for her are like the taste of madeleines for Proust.)

The scent that floated towards her was both comforting and debilitating at the same time. She could not even stagger anymore now. She burrowed her head into the softness of the haystack for a long time.

At long last, the gazelle got up and looked around. The savannah was lingering with the lion's presence. She decided to graze on some fresh grass. The nightingales decided to sang.

It was the lion's Bach in the solitude of the night.

03 December 2006

Five degrees Celsius

Five degrees Celsius
Naked ears cold
Woollen neck warm.

Sunlight streaming through the leaves
Water dripping in the distance
I take each step,

The calf muscle awakes,
Then sets in motion:
Right –
Heel, arch, toes
Left –
Heel, arch, toes.

I stop in front of the cockroach
Shape barely discernible
Now a cold empty shell.
I close my eyes in prayer:
One day
We shall be Buddhas together.

The meditation bell chimes
The cold air reverberates
Three birds flutter through the sky.

One deep breath
Two gentle smiles.

28 November 2006

Response to a taunt from Boris Vian via the mafia

« Le travail est probablement ce qu'il y a sur cette terre de plus bas et de plus ignoble. Il n'est pas possible de regarder un travailleur sans maudire ce qui a fait que cet homme travaille, alors qu'il pourrait nager, dormir dans l'herbe ou simplement lir »

Boris Vian
Mocking at me
Tired little Asian eyes
Too small now to be seen
Not reading L'Écume des Jours
Not hearing Duke Ellington
All because
Tomorrow starts 06:15.

French-cuff shirt fresh off the tailor
Pink on pink cuff links
Gray skirt, matching horsehair heels

They now seem
My sole raison d'etre
For work.

27 November 2006

After fake eggs... now fake alcohol

So I thought fake eggs were already the most incredible thing in China... until I got really sick on Friday night from drinking at - check this out - the reputable Bar Rouge at Bund 18.

It was the first time I got so sick from drinking. I threw up big time on Friday, spent all of Saturday in bed head spinning and nauseous like anything, and basically couldn't think about eating anything till 9 pm. And even then, it was just flat bread and water.

A couple of people tried to diagnose my plight: "Ohh, mixing wine and hard liquor is not good", "maybe it was mixing vodka, bourbon etc together", or "you just drunk too much too fast"... But the point is this was not the first time I have had wine at dinner and cocktails further down the night. But it was definitely the sickest I have ever been from drinking. (And you folks know I hold my liquor quite well, so it can't be that.)

Revelation just now when I met Ms O for dinner (she was equally sick, but had been more sick before) - the alcohol was fake. (Read more »here or try googling for "fake / counterfeit alcohol china".) And no, it doesn't just happen at underground speakeasies in the 1920s. Even if the 80% of bars quoted by some is an exaggeration, the average is still probably about 50-70% - which includes perfectly reputable bars like Bar Rouge.

Welcome to China! (And keep me away from the alcohol for a while...)

Tip: A good remedy to feel better (I was so desperate that I asked my ayi for a folk remedy when she came over on Sat) is to drink vinegar. Sounds terrible, but balsamic vinegar doesn't taste so bad and you can dilute / add sugar to it if you want. It worked for me and looking it up on the internet, it is quite a popular remedy. About 30 - 50 ml of vinegar - spread it out a few times if you can't swallow it.

Tango on a misty bund

Lips tasting velvety gelato
Ears hearing animated Italian
Eyes seeing passionate tango
Heart, undulating.

20 November 2006

What's been keeping me from my blog and yours

(A) Technical reason

So a few of you have been asking me - ehh, don't see you much on your / my blogs anymore. The reason is the Great Chinese Firewall. It has put a real dampener on my blogging since (a) I had to spend a few days googling for good, alternative (read: convoluted) solutions to blog around the firewall, and (b) I now have to implement these convoluted and limiting means every time I blog. Your blogs are also being kept track of through equally convoluted methods, but you won't be seeing any comments from me for a while, because the comment function requires logging into Blogger Beta and Blogger Beta is a denied site. The best thing is that the Blogger customer support is in denial that Blogger Beta can have a problem when classic Blogger is okay. I now feel penalized for having switched over to Beta... Sigh.

(B) Social reason

Okay, I concede - there is also a social reason. Having made a conscious decision recently to meet more people and get into the nightlife of Shanghai, the month of November has been filled up with social and arts events, which I am quite happy about. The only thing is that in between going out, cooking, sleeping and calling my mum, there isn't much time left for blogging...

12 November 2006

The A&J Party

I have been toying with the idea of doing a block party for a while now to get to know the neighbours. It finally materialized yesterday and was a fabulous success. Some party stats:

Opening hour: 8 pm
Closing hour: 3 am
No. of represented households from this building: 12
No. of countries represented: 13 at last count
No. of empty wine bottles: 10++
No. of empty beer cans / bottles: *burp* Sorry, the beer-chuggers lost count ;)
Highest number of people in the room at a single point: Probably 30 (Thankfully, my fear of people having to sit on the toilet bowl / in the bathtub didn't materialize ;) But why was everyone crowded at the door?)
Proportion of neighbours to friends-of-neighbours: 65:35
Status of trash bin on the 14th floor by 3 am: VERY FULL

It had been a busy day being Ms Dalloway, making sure the laksa cooked properly and that there were enough flowers, candles, wine glasses, alcohol, nibbles... But very well worth the effort indeed.

08 November 2006

This is a country without religion for 40 years

A few days ago, I read a NYT article about the adoption system in Guatemala being abused. I emailed the article to Y and asked aloud:

What does one do in a world where trust, charity and goodwill are abused? This is a very prevalent problem in China - you never know what is real and who is honest here - and I am trying very hard to find a robust rule of thumb to live by.

I had an oxymoronic thought the other day: communist China is probably the most capitalist country of all. Living here, you get the tingling vibes that as a people, as a culture, people are driven by only profit and self-interest. My cousin who has been doing business in China for the past 15 years, put it very pithily to me when he first visited me in Shanghai: "You must remember, this is a country without religion for 40 years. They do not believe in retribution."

That was the first time I have heard it being said that way. It is a simple, but a surprisingly powerful way to explain the phenomena. A more sophisticated, and possibly less controversial manner of saying it might be to put it in the context of game theory: they do not believe in repeated games. The sub-optimal equilibrium of the prisoner's dilemma has reared its ugly head: it is every man to his own.

In the world of no tomorrow, civic-mindedness, ethics and honour do not matter. Who cares if I cut someone's queue or swerves into someone's lane? Self-interest rules. Who cares if I am selling fake DVDs, fake teapots, fake eggs, fake milk powder... I have made all the money and I have no music to face. Who cares if I continuously prey on others' charity by begging on the roads with my baby? Sorry, you said honour meant what again?

The first case needs no rule of thumb; it just requires accustomization, maybe a dash of oblivion for company.

For the second, I have decided that outside of groceries, it is a matter of "pay what you would pay for, never mind real or fake". (For groceries, you just try to shop at the nicer Japanese* supermarkets, and keep your fingers crossed that the Japanese have not lost their native obsession with quality.) It is no use paying too high a price for things in China, unless you are really a conoisseur on "quality". They are so glib, so convincing, that PVC turns into leather and horse hair into cashmere. It is a depressing way to lead life, and a downward spiral - but there is no tomorrow right?

The last case is the one that gets me. I have consistently failed to find a robust response with respect to the phenomenon of begging. For now, I have decided that I will give to whoever I come across.** Partly because begging is not that prevalent in Shanghai (so I'm not innundated), partly because it is just 1 RMB (so my wallet is not dented). I figured that even if I am fleeced half the time, at least the other half of the time, I would have contributed to a warm bun for some hungry soul.

Yes, I know. I can hear the economists whispering in the background now: "But you forget that the world is a dynamic system and iterations come into play; You are feeding the begging phenomenon with your multiple 1 RMBs."

I know. I did not forget. I know my rule of thumb assumes a static system, but I can find no other conscionable way to live in as bipolar a place as Shanghai.

There, my first sobering entry on China. Life is not all glittering, not even in Shanghai.

* I really love the French, but sorry, Carrefour is a mess here in my experience. Even Parkson from Malaysia is a much more pleasant shopping experience.
** Unless they are (a) outrightly healthy and really should not be begging, or (b) plying cars in the middle of the road (this is too much of an emotional blackmail - Shanghai roads are so merciless - and somehow I feel I cannot condone it).

05 November 2006


Day trip out to Tongli, a charming little water town 1.5 hours outside of Shanghai. Gorgeous weather, great company, plenty of laughter... It was worth waking at 8.30 am on a Sunday for.

Am now having only random access to Blogger thanks to what looks like another clamp-down on blogs... Will try to post more pictures once I figure out how to get around it.

31 October 2006

The women are going places

The women are going places.

First there was me the Shanghai mui. Soon after, Ms T went over to Hong Kong, becoming the dim sum mui, and now Ms Y is in Tokyo, making her the temporary sakura-mui (temporary cos she is only there for two months).

Go ahead and say hello to my fellow muis!

P.S. So where are the men? :)

29 October 2006

Bad tech luck

October is the month of bad tech luck.
(It is also the reason why I haven't had much of an online existence recently...)

First, poor Macbook (4 month old) started having the sudden infant death syndrome - it would suddenly flick itself off and would do it repeatedly. To prevent permanent death, I sent it in for maintenance just before I left for Singapore. It is quite timely too since I had been wanting to send it in to change the polycarbonate surface of the Macbook (the earlier batches used a material which discoloured too easily - perils of being an early adopter).

Now, if there is any silver lining to be seen about having to send your laptop in for maintenance, it is that the Mac customer support folks - both in Singapore and in China - are so polite and undefensive. They recognize a problem when it happens and don't just try to talk around the issue or shift blame. I would be hardpressed to name another manufacturer who would be willing to change the plastic surface of a product due to cosmetics reasons.

In any case, the sudden infant death syndrome has since been diagnosed as an immune over-reaction to the heat, so hopefully Macbook will get to come home soon once the replacement component is in stock.

In the meantime, I have been relying on the Dell laptop at work, which is such a clunky industrial piece of machine, but which works. I call it The Farmer (a la The Farmer in the Dell). I like Macbook very much, but have to concede that there are still those few things (China internet banking software and the wonderful Picasa and Mindful Clock programs) which depends on Windows and hence, The Farmer.

To Dell's credit, their newer lines of laptops are less farmerish now, due in part to their Mac-like glossy, elongated screens. The other parts of the hardware, I am not sure. The touchpad buttons were too soft for my liking when I tried Ms Q's, and I sure hope they updated their bluetooth connectivity. I spent an entire Saturday night trying to configure the bluetooth on The Farmer to work with my headset, only to find out after intensive googling that Windows SP2 does not support bluetooth headsets and manufacturers have to provide their own stack update. Dell duly did this by copying from the Toshiba stack, but which specifically didn't provide for the Latitude D610 - the exact model of The Farmer.

In short, I can't skype with a bluetooth headset on The Farmer, which made me miss Macbook even more.

But I thought, never mind, maybe I can still blog with The Farmer. I did manage to set up my wireless again after it was knocked out. But voila, exactly on this Sunday that I brought The Farmer home, the Chinese govt put out their censorship tentacles - the Blogger site was blocked.

Grr grr grr.

Someone tell me where I can buy a good-luck tech charm, will ya?

22 October 2006

Coming a complete circle


BUERJIN – 2 Oct 2006 - 7.20 pm. As our van traversed the unfolding miles of desert, it occurred to me just how similar the colour of two deserts during sunset can be. The shy pink that bleeds into the blue of the twilight sky, the terrain that so resembles the surface of the moon… Give me a photo of »Atacama and another of Xinjiang: I will be unable to differentiate.

KANAS LAKE – 4 Oct 2006 - 2.30 pm. I love the turquoise of Kanas Lake. I had exclaimed in delight when I first saw it. But the resemblance that Kanas bears to Yosemite and Switzerland made me harbour a thought, a fleeting thought as to whether I should have traveled for almost three days to see something resembling what I have already seen…

But such is man. Why do we trek long and far, to seek the known but unexperienced?

I decided that it is because it is there. And man must know*.

So no, certainly no regrets about the journey. Because without having made it, I would never have had the hindsight to think about regretting it.

But I cannot escape the thought that has been lurking in my mind– is this a sign that I have now come one big circle in my pursuits of the world? When the sights of a new place starts reminding you of another, is that a nostalgia for the past, or a foretelling of the future that you will feel more and more places alike and there is no need to clock more miles any longer?

* Where know = experience.

16 October 2006


Ms W 很爱老公,老公也很爱她。
在迷人的喀纳斯湖边,Ms W 请老公给她营造几许落叶的浪漫:

树命诚可贵,爱情价更高哩! :D

12 October 2006



11 October 2006

The blue of Kanas

Greetings to all after a long while :)
This is the most beautiful of Xinjiang for me - the blue of the Kanas Lake.

This has been a great trip - with great folks - 七剑!

Will be back with more posts of Xinjiang...

25 September 2006




心情也就这样晴朗起来了 :)


24 September 2006

Men are like cabs

Yesterday, Ms T came up with an absolutely brilliant analogy:
Men are like cabs.

Hoards of them when you don't need, but never there when you are trying to look for one!

22 September 2006

Basking in my red red room

So I took the plunge on Thursday - I painted my room scarlet!

Now I no longer feel like I have to buy my own apartment anymore. (Convincing my landlord was much easier than I thought too.)

Plus... Klimt looks simply, simply gorgeous on red.

18 September 2006


刚才看了一篇文章,才发现百度(中国第一号搜索网站) 的名字原来这么有典故。




12 September 2006

Assassins in Shanghai

A rainy day often provides fodder for imagination.

It has been raining for almost 3 days in Shanghai now, so you can imagine there is a lot of fodder floating about in my brain.

My latest idea is about drivers in Shanghai and it goes like this: their true identity is not really driver; they are really assassins on a killing mission, armed with a black list of targets. Going undercover as a driver in Shanghai is very appropriate since the social incentives are perfectly aligned for drivers to kill rather than hurt - apparently it cost less to compensate the victim's family if the victim died rather than if he were seriously injured. In fact, the difference is significant enough to one errant driver that he decided to roll over *a few times* someone he had accidentally knocked into but didn't die.

But back to the asssasins. Over the past 3 days, I realized, without the shadow of a doubt, that I must be one of their targets, perhaps even quite near to the top of the black list. How else to explain why cars speed towards me rather than slow down even though (a) it is raining; (b) it is a raining night; and (c) I am a lady in heels and a dress walking home on raining night? And what about the fact that there are so many cars on a rainy night accelerating from 0 to 60 kmh in 3 seconds AND collectively beating the red light? Surely surely surely, they must be hoping their brakes would lock and skid once I step off the kerb. Need more convincing? Here is the last straw: they would accelerate from 0 to 60 kmh in 3 seconds even when reversing - into me.

Something positive has come out from all these near-death encounters - I am feeling terribly important. I must be, since only important people get assassinated right? If I survive all this rain and attempts on my life, I shall endeavour to discover what propelled me to such fame...

Happy Think-Positive Day. (Kudos to »Ms M.)

01 September 2006



__ _______





你的古铜色 ---

29 August 2006

This globe can fit 8 motorcycles - Our lives are so boring

It takes an intrepid trio to check out something that has a high chance of turning out kitschy or eyebrow-raisingly boring, but good old Mr L and Ms Y were game enough to go to the Shanghai Circus with me after I told them that my new Estonian friend Ms T had raved about it. All I knew from Ms T was that it was like more like a musical than a circus (a la Cirque de Soleil), and that there would be a fantastic performance at the end involving 8 motorcycles in a globe cage.

Now, "fantastic" in my mind connotates just excited happiness - the way my France trip was fantastic or the night out was fantastic. But to really describe the Shanghai circus performance, you have to add in a liberal dose of "crazy", so that it becomes either crazily fantastic or fantastically crazy.

You will see what I mean when you look at the picture. Those whirls of lights are not just lights; they are the headlights of 5 motorcycles (at least) circling and criss-crossing inside the globe at goodness knows what km/h. Oh, and two of these crazy daredevil performers are girls - very pretty girls beneath the terracotta costume.


By the end of the show, we were left in a daze, gaping and shaking our head.

Mr L, who had to end his vacation in Shanghai in less than 24 hours, was the first to speak: "Our lives are so boring man."

Ms Y quipped, "Yah, I knew it was a mistake to give up my childhood dream of becoming a trapeze perfomer."

And so throughout the journey home, we kept thinking how boring our work was... Darn, why do we have to go back to work the next morning?

To be fair, the show was not all adrenaline-rushing. But it was very well-done in that the momentum crescendo-ed well and the acts had a touch of unusualness about them. The usual plate twirlers and urn balancers you expect of Chinese circuses were still there, but they were only space-fillers while the centrepieces got ready. There were also all these little touches that make you go 'Oh!'. Like having tiny contortionists burrow out of the big urn meant for the balancing act... Or casting the balancing acts behind a screen and playing with big and small shadows. I particularly liked the trapeze love story - it reminded me of a scene in the Chouinard performance I saw earlier, only better, more lyrical, and more challenging. The couple was flying 15-30 meters in the air, holding on to only a foot or an arm... It is hard not to fall dizzyingly in love.

More pictures » here, in the event my power of persuasion is inadequate to convince you that this is a to-do for Shanghai...

27 August 2006


Layout courtesy of the fantastic Pages, which is a Mac software of course :)


14 August 2006

Finding some humour in this hot, uncertain world

Tisha Presley, bound for Fort Bragg, North Carolina, hurriedly sipped from her bottled water before going through security at the Atlanta airport.

"I assume before too long we'll be naked on the plane -- and that's fine with me," she said.

Boyd sees the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's ban as a knee-jerk reaction that leaves Americans no safer than they were before the 9/11 attacks.

"Remember Richard Reid, the guy who tried to light up his shoe on the airplane? After that we had to take off our shoes. Imagine what would have happened if he had hid that bomb in his pants," Boyd said.

You know, this may not be such a bad idea in this 38 degrees heat of Shanghai... I started perspiring this morning within the two minutes I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom.

Just trying to find some humour in this hot, uncertain world...

08 August 2006


So, the Shanghai mui finally met her first rude people two days ago - which is a miracle here apparently. You are supposed to meet them within two hours of arrival. Actually, they are not rude rude per se; just "hello??", or as Singaporeans would say - "Duh"...

Incident 1
"I'm looking for facial cotton balls. Could you tell me whether you have it here in Carrefour?"
"This is the cosmetics department."
(Poker face. Period. End of converation.)

Excuse me? Is that a yes or a no huh?

Incident 2
At the Carrefour checkout counter, a bag of books which I bought from the bookstore across the road beeps at the security gantry.
"What do you have in there?"
"Books. I bought it from the bookstore across the road. You don't sell such books here."
"Next time don't bring here."
(Poker face. Period. End of converation.)

Hello? Means I can't shop for anything before I come here? Carrefour has an exclusive monopoly on the things I buy in any given day I plan to go to Carrefour?

Humbug. Thankfully, most days are better. Tomorrow I will go to the Sim Lim of Shanghai - possibly more stories!

05 August 2006

Twilight bund

Weekend number 3 in Shanghai, I finally got to see the Bund thanks to the timely arrival of Mr and Mrs C. (Pretended to play host but was secretly glad I had a good excuse not to be doing a gazillion other required, but less interesting errands.)

May I proclaim that I love the Bund?

Bund skyline

Bund the majestic

01 August 2006

A new home in Shanghai

The Shanghai mui got her keys today. Gosh moving into a new place is tiring... I've just been cleaning and ikea-ing after getting my keys this afternoon. Am still sleeping in the hotel tonight and probably tomorrow 'cos the landlord is still bringing in a few more small furniture and so the ayi hasn't come to clean the house yet...

But in any case, a peep at the to-be-further-furnished new home:

My new home

29 July 2006

The economics of tampons in Shanghai

I made my first trip to Carrefour today and much to my dismay, it has been confirmed: OB has a monopoly on the tampons market in China.

There is a whole Carrefour aisle (and you know how big Carrefour aisles are) of about 20 brands of pads, but just one teeny weeny brand of tampons - OB.

(Gentlemen reading this who think this is TMI and feel queasy should probably stop here. But for those macho enough to follow, here's some background - OB is the applicator-less tampon which you either love or hate it. Like probably 80% of tampon users, I happen to hate it.)

The unfortunate Carrefour discovery was quickly followed by a quick SOS to good old Ms T who promises to mail some Tampax right over tomorrow. I should have googled for a list of things to bring earlier. Someone on the Shanghaiexpat forum listed:

Comfort food. For when you are down sometimes.
Tampax. A whole suitcase of tampax.

Righto. That is exactly what I am going to stock on the next time I fly out of Shanghai.

Now that all the follow-up actions have been done, the economist in me got thinking: what exactly happened in the tampons market in Shanghai? Surely this is a case of market failure. A quick google on the internet revealed that Playtex used to be available in Watsons here last year, but I went to probably the most upmarket one in Jing'An last week and there was still nothing except OB :( Which means that Playtex must have pulled out of the market.

Okay, so you say - what's so difficult to figure out about that? Lack of market demand in China, only room for one player, natural monopoly for OB.

But the interesting thing about OB is that it is not exploiting its monopoly position at all. According to my Carrefour market research today, a box of OB costs just slightly more than US$1 here, and even comes with freebies, whereas it cost about US$4-5 in US and Singapore. In fact, it was so cheap that I just had to buy one - I figured an inferior substitute is better than no substitute.

I am thinking that OB is stuck in a difficult place where it cannot exercise its monopoly powers - seasoned tampon users don't want to use it because it is not a like product to other tampons, while pad users are even more worse to win over - you have to make them switch to tampons, then to OB at that. In short, OB's market segment is way too niche.

So maybe that is why OB has to resort to using a price strategy to win customers over... It got me to buy a box of OB after a long time - so perhaps the strategy did work somewhat. But in the initial conversion of the Chinese market, there could be merits in having some competitors so that you can share the cost of advertising and education.

So please, OB competitors, please come to the Shanghai market. 3 million young women for your conversion and many ready-to-buy foreigners!





恒龙广场的南京路很高档 - Gucci, LV, Ferragamo 什么都有,就象新加坡的Paragon一样- 但因为高档,乞丐也相对的多,令人心酸。


上海有一点我是觉得很可爱的 - 这儿的商业广场到了傍晚,都会有很多老人穿着朴素的睡衣来散步。

打着领带的专业人士与朴素的老人共用一个空间 - 这要算是民主还是共产?

25 July 2006

Of flying spit and splinters: Shanghai episode one

Day 4 in Shanghai.

For those who haven't heard, I have just moved to Shanghai a few days ago to work for the next two years. That is also why I have been leaving this blog patch of mine in dilapidation for the past few weeks. (Sorry folks - there was just a gazillion and one thing to move and do before leaving.)

It is now Day 4 in Shanghai and I still like it - despite the crowd, the traffic, the flying spit and splinters. (You've gotta love a multi-tasking cyclist - cycling past me and spitting at the same time. The flying splinter story is less exciting - just some carpenter trying to axe some wood and whooola, a visible chunk of splinter comes flying out onto the walkway in front of me. Anyone considering sending me a helmet for my birthday?)

Shanghai reminds me of Tokyo, which is probably why I take to it very well. Not as civilized and clean as Tokyo, but the old-world-meet-new-world charm is equally alluring. Colonial amidst Chinoise amidst Ikea - that is more than enough to redeem Shanghai from any flying spit and splinters. Did I mention that I really like the sound of Shanghainese too? I wonder where I can learn it.

People-wise, drivers and waitresses have been friendly, and friends have been selflessly helpful. Ms C, a local Shanghainese, has been fully involved in my apartment hunt to ensure I am not fleeced while Mr C came to my rescue yesterday after hearing my bank draft sob story. (Never bring a bank draft to China - it takes 1 WHOLE MONTH to clear.)

My only real lament is the internet here. Now, the access is wonderful - I have free LAN in my hotel room, and the content is excellent - see this amazing 3D map of Shanghai. But, and that is a big but, blogspot, wikipedia and goodness knows what else are banned. It's funny how you take the concept of free internet as an entitlement until one day you realize that it is a privilege elsewhere.

So for those of you whose blogs I read, please email me if you wanna share your joy with me. I can still post, receive your comments, but can't view my own talljoanne.blogspot.com, so pardon me if photo layout etc look haywire. For the next two years, I will be a blind blogger groping in the dark...

More upbeat news about Shanghai soon - my new apartment for one!

05 July 2006

The cabbie blood in me

I think it is the cabbie blood that I inherited from my father - I was really cheered by this story on Japanese cab drivers from the Terrie newsletter I received. Must be the image of them leaping out in the rain to open my taxi door! Of course, you may say that you pay a bomb for the taxi fare, but in this world, you can pay a bomb for many things and still get mediocre service...

Riding in one of Tokyo's ubiquitous cabs the other night, we had an interesting reminder of just how different Japan can be. This particular cab was participating in a product giveaway to salarymen returning home late at night. The product was a new energy health food bar from Otsuka Pharmaceutical. In handing over the bar, the cabbie apologized and said in Japanese, "Here have one of these -- it doesn't taste too good..." ??!!

Now, if you've been in Japan for a while, you'll know that this could either mean, "I'm being forced by the firm to give you this, but my advice is don't eat it," or "This is pretty good, but I'm being polite and am talking the product down. Now you just have to try it to find out for yourself, right?"

Receiving the bar, we did indeed try it out after alighting, and found that it actually wasn't too bad.

Munching away, we started thinking about Japanese taxi culture, especially here in Tokyo. Despite the low wages, long hours, difficult city lay-outs, and drunken, sometimes sex-crazed passengers, Japan's taxi drivers are the salt of the nation, and 99% of them are unfailingly polite. Indeed, one cab company, we forget which, even has its drivers leap across the passenger seat, race you for the door, and open it from the outside for you. This sudden series of movements by the cabbie can be a bit of a surprise when it first happens to you -- and even more so when it is pouring with rain. But it certainly does make you remember the extreme politeness of drivers from that particular firm.

There are apparently about 380,000 taxi drivers in Japan, most of whom seem to be servicing Shibuya-Roppongi and the other 5 major centers on the Yamanote line, after 23:00. They belong to 8,048 different companies, about 100 of which operate in Tokyo -- so competition is alive and well. Actually, the competition really took off after the government removed both price and licence-limiting controls in 2002, thus causing a surge of newcomers into the market.

There are cab companies of all types, including those with pet taxis, for taking your poodle or chihuahua to the vet -- or out on a date. One such company is Taikoh Taxi, which is located in Aichi, and charges JPY2,500 for the first 10km then JPY200/km after that. Although the initial cost is high, riding with your pet for any distance beyond 10km is actually about 2/3 cheaper than a regular cab. In addition to transporting pets, Taikoh also provides pet-sitting, pet-trimming, and pet-feeding services. www.taikoh-taxi.co.jp. Not yet in Tokyo, unfortunately.

Among the other types of services are bridal taxis, which have special cars with high roofs and wide doors to accomodate the bride in her full traditional wedding gown. If you've ever seen a bride with her oval headpiece, the tsuno-kakushi, you'll know what a pain it must be to get into a regular cab. See http://tinyurl.com/gc4ct for an image of the headgear. Other services include non-smoking cabs and welfare cabs -- i.e., those fitted out for disabled people.

Probably the best thing about Japanese cabbies is their integrity. Despite drivers traditionally saying, "please don't leave anything behind," we have personally forgotten bags, notebook PCs, company files, and books, realizing only later that we'd done so. In EVERY case, we've been able to call the cab company and the driver has either directly come back or has passed the package on to another driver to hand-deliver to our address. In other instances, and this happens regularly, if a cab driver picks the wrong route and as a result we get stuck in a traffic jam, he will refund some of the fare from his own pocket, all the while apologizing for not having known any better.

But this is not to say that every cab driver strives for excellence. With the economic setbacks of the 1990's and the traditional winter migration of workers from the frozen north, there is an increasing number of drivers who simply don't know where they are going -- or they are drunk. The Nikkei recently reported a new cell phone accessory by Tanita, which is an alcohol detector that attaches to any of DoCoMo's 3G FOMA handsets. Apparently the cab companies plan to make their drivers breathe into the thing at random intervals, and since the FOMA handsets have a camera, the dispatcher can see the person actually doing the breathing.

Although off-season country drivers who don't know Tokyo present no major challenge to those of us who have lived here for any period of time, it is disconcerting for foreign businesspeople who are new to the city. One way to cope with a lost (or drunk) cabbie this is to be forearmed. We suggest newcomers consider a rental phone from Go Mobile. For a very reasonable JPY150/minute, Go Mobile's Concierge service provides you with a help desk that will translate cabbie directions and complaints -- to/from English and Japanese. http://www.gomobile.co.jp/index_e.html.

28 June 2006

1st post from my new Macbook

This is going to be short since it is way past the bedtime of a flu victim, but talljoanne is now the proud owner of a Macbook!

This being my 1st post from a Macbook, of course I took advantage of a Dashboard widget which allows me to blog straight from an F12 key - with no browser required. This could turn out to be a very important function when I do get to Shanghai (fingers crossed very hard - by next month) because I have just found out that China bans blogspot websites. Although I read that they do not ban blogger.com per se, it still means I can't preview my site to iron out template problems. I guess if Beethoven can compose without hearing, then I'll just have to blog without previewing.

Coming back to my Macbook, so far so good - I am still feeling my way around, esp. the keyboard and its shortcuts. But I love the aesthetics and the clean architecture of the OS. Can you imagine - there is no such thing as uninstall of programs in Mac? Just drag it to trash or a simple command-delete! But I must admit that I am also sorely feeling the loss of Picasa and an office suite (OpenOffice which I just installed had a glitch but it's too late to troubleshoot). Maybe Mac lover Mr T will come to my rescue when he comes back from his work trip.

Incidentally, I must commend the Safari browser for rendering Chinese fonts so beautifully. And the idea of a progress meter in the address bar is very neat indeed. Unfortunately, Firefox's tabs is the single largest killer app for me, so until Safari has tabs, I will be sticking to Firefox...

Time for both woman and the machine to rest. Zzz.

21 June 2006



我一向对韩国有所抗拒,从没想过有一天会这么追看韩剧。但大长今的确是一部令人感慨万千的故事。剧中有两大幕是让我难忘的:第一幕便是之前一幅篇章所记录的»cut losses 感想 -- 即长今被遗弃在封锁的村庄,而闵政浩奋不顾身、义无反顾(女人所要的,不也就是这样么?)地闯进疫区救她。被遗弃的凄凉,被救回的感动…感情可以说是这样磨练出来的吧。虽然说欢笑难得,但一段养尊处优的感情和一段历尽沧桑的相比,坚固程度应该是不一样的吧。Perhaps delayed gratification does make for sweeter victory and more outstanding outcomes.


让我铭心的第二幕,便是皇上对长今的爱慕。长今闵政浩对彼此的肯定固然可嘉(尤其是射箭比赛那幕,闵政浩有骨气,皇上输了他竟不想让 ---- 也对,感情怎么可以想让呢?),但皇上对长今的爱慕也很凄美。普通的君主想必都会希望自己心爱的人陪自己到临终,但这个在万人之上的皇上卧在病榻上还想到成全长今和闵政浩让他们脱险,也算是慷慨大方,有情有意了。他当初留长今在自己身边的那段话,凄美得让我顿时愣住:


后来在病榻的他又含泪感叹:“刚刚才见过长今,可是现在不知怎么的,又想见她…”长今这时捧着药又进了殿伺候皇上。皇上眼中闪着感激爱慕的泪光,凝望着长今认真的眼神、清秀的脸蛋、白皙的耳坠、樱桃似的小嘴… 这么可爱的女人,怎不让男人败在她裙下?

我常在想:长今对闵政浩的感情虽依然不变,但日积月累,她心中的某一角是否也渐渐地爱慕了皇上?更笼统地说, 一个人的心是否能够同时容纳超过一个人?




* 用“空虚”来形容听起来似乎夸张,但5月13日的晚上看完《大长今》DVD集的时候 (我连它的制作花絮和综艺节目都看了),真的有这样的感觉。可能一样东西追逐久了,总会沉溺…

19 June 2006

Chouinard's bODY_rEMIX

I meant to write this entry before Ms T came back from Hong Kong, but my temperamental computer (what the hell am I supposed to do about "IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL"?), late-night retro champagne and their after-effects got the better of me this weekend. Sorry Ms T.

Courtesy of her Artsfest ticket, I spent this past Friday night at a surprisingly full-house Victoria Theatre featuring Marie Chouinard's bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS.

Chouinard's Body Remix

After I got comfortable in my seat, I realized that it was probably the first time I was watching a ballet. Whoa, almost 26 years old and first time watching a ballet. What happened over the years man?

Body Remix is one of those difficult-to-read books that you must read nonetheless. You may never read it again because it takes a lot of work to read it, but you must read it at least once. I found myself leaning forward and furrowing my brow at various points, but the sense of eureka that followed made it worthwhile. I have one major complaint though - what is with glossy nipple stickers?? If they are meant to conceal, then I'm sorry - they only serve to ACCENTUATE instead. All I see under the spotlights are shiny nipples. Please please please make them matt next time and save us some crossing and uncrossing of legs... As if concentrating on the dance wasn't hard enough.

Now, on a more serious note...

In bODY_rEMIX, Chouinard underook a recombination of the dancers' bodies through the use of various supports - crutches, canes, points, harness etc. Because of the frank and matter-of-fact way in which the dancers resembled paralegics and spastics, the first 10 minutes were rather discomforting - I couldn't figure whether it was supposed to be a tribute or a parody of the less abled. But as the dance progressed, you realize that it is neither. It is merely depiction of a reality, with no intention to glorify or horrify. As for the discomfort, you never fully it shake off, but you gain the nerves and interest to watch on.

I should say something about the music too, since it seems to constitute Ms T's greatest regret about not being able to attend. I must say that I didn't take to the music very much at all. Glenn Gloud's voice sounded terribly ghostly and the remix of Goldberg variations didn't sound Bach at all. Modern, atonal? I don't quite know how to describe it. Ms T might have liked it though - erm, some parts were quite soporific ;)

The dance portion of it I liked much better. I particularly enjoyed the different discourses the dance engaged through the use of crutches and harnesses as support: Does a cane support or restrain? Can the grace of ballet and the awkwardness of paralegics co-exist at the same instant? How does Eros live among the disabled?

(On this last point, I couldn't help but feel that Eros had cloned herself in a million pieces and was floating all around the Victoria Theatre, mostly surrounding me. All these rods that were stuck to the men's head, chest and hips look terribly phallic. And those ballerina pointe shoes that the dancers were wearing on each of their right hand (yes, they affixed one to their hand as well), they should look like cranes being strutted around the stage, but again they looked very phallic to me.* I swear it is the shiny nipple stickers that is causing all this.)

Puppets pairing, angels flying, Siamese twins... I never realized that harnesses and points could be so versatile. The harness there - is it a sinister noose or a freedom swing? One instant, it is a noose holding a lifeless body of a woman, being held at the hand by her husband, and walked as if she were alive in a park. It is the most tragic scene I have seen. At the next, it transforms into a swing. As the swing swings from side to side, the couple presses close at the pelvis, backs arched back in pleasure. Sex on the swing - oooo, the most liberating feeling in the world.

I thought the curtains should have fallen here, on a high note. But it ends a while later, on a note of installation art instead.

A slight lament there, but overall, a memorable first time.

*But ahh, I have just found out a few minutes ago while writing this that it is entirely natural to think of the ballerina shoe as phallic - cf historian Susan Foster's "The ballerina's phallic pointe". Pat pat on my back.

13 June 2006

Dalai Lama's foot

I saw this wonderful painting in a NYT article yesterday:

Dalai Lama's footA foot in a blue flip-flop on a mandala, with a hint of the floating burgundy robe. This was one artist's potrait of the Dalai Lama, among 88 who were asked to consider the Dalai Lama for an exhibition in L.A. The artist, Losang Gyatso said, "His Holiness is very casual and is often seen wearing sandals and flip-flops." Once when standing in line for an audience with His Holiness in Dharamsala, India, he realized that because most Tibetans in similar circumstances bend their heads in reverence, they see only his foot.

What a wonderful perspective for a portrait!

09 June 2006

No room for sentimentality: Part 2

(Part 1 is here.)
8 June 2006 - Saw an interesting NYT article today, articulating why people accumulate clutter:

Closet organization certainly seems to offer relief to all those — and there are millions — who are beset by the tendency to accumulate clutter, and who are the most obvious market for the (closet) industry. Cindy Glovinsky, a psychotherapist and personal organizer in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the author of "Making Peace With the Things in Your Life" and "One Thing at a Time: 100 Simple Ways to Live Clutter-Free Every Day," said that these people may be substituting things for relationships. There are many reasons for such attachments, she said, noting, for example, that some female clients in their 30's and 40's who complain of difficulties in organizing lost their mothers prematurely and often say they felt neglected by their mothers.
Mr. Lupo and Jesse Garza, the founders of Visual Therapy, are familiar with that sort of timidity (associated with organizing one's closets), and have little sympathy for it. Most people need permission to let go of their things, they argue, and they grant that permission with a form of tough love that they practice in their consultations.
Putting aside sentimentality (they allow that a few sentimental objects may be kept, as long as they are out of sight), they ask clients some practical questions about every single item when evaluating what to keep and what to toss. (Do I love it? Is it flattering? Does it represent me, and is this the image I want to portray?) They also advise against keeping any possession simply because it was a gift or cost a lot.
--> Yup yup yup.

To be fair and balance out the viewpoint, I am looking out for articles psycho-analyzing people with an obsession to to eliminate clutter.

P.S. Of course I am a sucker for fancy closet organization solutions. How could you have wondered otherwise?

04 June 2006

Macarony weekend

I finally got round to trying the macarons at Canelé. I have known for a while that Canelé makes macarons, but having been spoilt by the heavenly ones at Ladurée in Paris, I have always maintained a certain prissiness about macarons.

That prissiness gave way on Friday night when Ms T and I passed by Robertson Walk on our way to dinner. We were talking about our French trip last September and of course, it is impossible to reminisce about France without a nostalgia for Laudurée’s macarons:
Laduree macarons“Ohh, actually there is a café just right here which makes macarons. Let me show you so that you can come the next time to try if you want.”

It was almost 10 pm and much to our surprise, Canelé was still open. Even more surprisingly, there were still macarons. Not many left, but among them, the irresistible sea salt caramel ones.

Ms T and I got one each.

You know, a macaron is really just two shells of puff with filling in between. But what delightful puffs they are.

Delicately airy and quintessentially French, the first nibble of a macaron always elicits three full seconds of closed eyes and a contented “Hmmmm…” More nibbles often have the effect of producing a sustained euphoric satisfaction with life.

(To both Ms T’s and my absolute horror, a few people gobbled up in one single mouthful - like swallowing a bitter pill - the Ladurée macarons that we painstakingly brought back to S’pore the other time. Help.)

Ms T and I have both empirically proven today that the satisfaction lasts for approximately 36 hours. By this afternoon, I was at Canelé’s door again after cello class, ordering a pistachio macaron. As I settled down to partake in my tea and second macaron treat of the weekend, Ms T started messaging me about how she needed macaron therapy to get over the loss of her current favourite earrings… (I believe she eventually got her macaron two hours later – I hope, Ms T?)

My final verdict - the Canelé macarons are pretty good, but they are not as airy and delicate as Ladurée’s. Apparently one should also try those at Pierre Hermés and Hévin (in Paris) too.

Till I get my third trip to Paris, Canelé will have to do. Unless anyone knows another macaron place in S’pore?

Le BaiserAside: Le Baiser from Ladurée is not a macaron, but it is too pretty not mention. Just like a geisha!

27 May 2006

I like talking to taxi drivers

I like talking to taxi drivers.

Maybe it's because I am a taxi-driver's daughter, but I find taxi-drivers an interesting bunch, especially on night rides. (When the roads are clearer and they aren't cursing at whoever is cutting into your lane suddenly.) I am usually dead-beat when I get into a cab at night - either from work or from a night out - but I usually enjoy a good dose of conversation.

You can tell alot from cab conversations. Why, you may even be able to construct a cosumer sentiments index from cab conversations!

You learn that times are hard now. People who have worked in places like London and France are now taxi-drivers. I have excitedly exchanged reminiscence about Paris' charm and UK's shepherd pies with them before.

You learn that people are insecure about their jobs. Those working in the weekdays take on night shift driving, some on weekend nights only, but many on weekdays as well. (I am sometimes a bit concerned in such cabs 'cos they might be too tired and fall asleep at the wheel.)

You learn that the folks on the ground have come to their own conclusion that ERP = 'Every Road Pay', NTUC = 'Never Trust Union Compatriots' and NKF = 'Never Keep Funds'.*

You learn the latest upates of the election battles, who is fighting who and where the rallies are. (As a matter of fact, my daily news updates during the elections period came from cab drivers and colleagues around me. I had a big meeting in town that week and had no time to flip through the papers much.)

You learn why there was a shortage of cabs in the week immediately after the Progress Package was given out:

"Aiyah, everyone is shopping mah. Some cab drivers take a break to go shopping, those already shopping come out with big bags and all want cabs. Where got cabs for you?"

My latest one even tells me that he thinks that the latest S'pore Idol contestestants are planted:

"How can this guy possibly pronounce 'Long Long Ago' as 'Nong Nong Ago'? I mean 'L' is not a difficult sound for Chinese or Hokkiens what. Hokkien also got words like 'Ah-Long', how can it be difficult, you tell me? I think sure planted one. Just to add entertainment value.'

I enjoy my cab conversations so much that I am starting to think that it should be made mandatory for politicians to take cabs instead of being chauffeured around. (Assuming politicians are interested in knowing the pulse of society of course; one cannot be presumptuous in such things.) I definitely think cabs will give them a far superior sense of public sentiments than meet-the-people sessions or preccincts walkabouts. Maybe it is Asian mentality or something, but people tend to be very polite in such formalized settings. Worse, if you come by my house unannounced and ask me, "Any problem?", my reflex answer will of course be a polite answer of "no problem". By the time I come up with something I would like to raise to your attention, oops, you have moved on to the next house.

Cabs, on the other hand, are informal and annonymous environments. TPeople are reassured by the fact that their relationship end once they arrive at their destination. This thought sets people at ease and people share their opinions more easily. It is the same reason why Chinese emperors used to travel incognito and sit in teahouses, isn't it? Okay, the emperors might have been using it as an excuse to check out Jiangnan beauties, but certainly one of the reasons must have been to feel the pulse of society.

No individual's words should be taken as gospel truth or even representative, but public sentiments as gathered from cab conversations, is at least a piece of reality whose existence political leaders in tall towers need to know.

*For the benefit of non-S'porean readers, ERP is the Electronic Road Pricing System which charges tolls (some rather high ones!) for certain roads during peak hours. NTUC is the labour union in S'pore, but S'pore has a unique tripartite relationship among the government, union and companies. The term NTUC is hence more synonymous with supermarkets and insurance nowadays. NKF is the National Kidney Foundation, a charity organization for kidney dialysis patients which underwent a spate of scandal recently when its CEO allegedly abused the funds for personal favours and extravagances - such as gold-plated taps.

23 May 2006

No more poof-poof at camera phones

Geeky Jo was made very happy recently when her cousin decided to give her a 3G Sony Ericsson phone. She has been thinking about starting her phone life afresh by switching to non-Nokia phone (*gasp* for the first time), so this was very timely indeed. In cleaning out her old phone, she discovered snippets of her life last year, nicely captured on the spontaneous phone camera:

« Ms T and I passed by a fringe event for Arts Fest 2005. Voyeurism is sanctioned as you get to sit under a glass platform... Ooo.

» My first view of the Istana; I was there to emcee for a cocktail.

« An open-air guzheng concert in a temple. Wonderfully ethereal because the temple was located right in the midst of Mohd Sultan clubs.

» Harpist@Istana: The other instrument I want to learn...

« First time at Ministry of Sound - we waited almost 2 hours!

» The London vs Madrid vs Paris Olympic decision which took place just next to my office tower...

19 May 2006

There is no room for sentimentality in a small house

Over the weekend, I threw out a bunch of stuff to make room for more stuff I was planning on bringing back from the office. Concert ticket stubs. A whole box of saga seeds collected in my childhood. Chan brother travel bags. Figurines, cute nonetheless, but which I have nowhere to display.

I was even tempted to throw out two cushions which belonged to my late grandmother, but which has been sitting in a box, unseen and forgotten.

I came to the conclusion that there is no room for sentimentality in a small house - if one does not aspire to live in a storeroom.

For some time now, I have been using the following rule of thumb to deal with clutter: if Object X has not been recalled or used for the past Y years, it needs to be thrown out. Okay, at most take a picture - a digital one please - of it. (Incidentally, this rule of thumb about Object X and Y years also comes in very handy for cutting down wedding guest list.)

I always feel that one cannot, in the name of sentimentality, hold on to everything. How big a capacity for sentimentality can a person truly have? How many possible 'specials' can there be? In trying to give special meaning to many* objects, many people end up giving meaning to nothing at all. Besides, it is not the physicality of the object itself that is memorable; it is the raison d'etre behind its existence. To me, Object X has already served its purpose by making an impression of that reason for Y years.

For this reason, I am known to be merciless at spring cleaning. The other mistress of my house is the direct opposite. She agonizes over every single object. Half of what I throw out, she takes back in. It's like we are playing conveyor belt sushi.

Come spring-cleaning time, you will see two women at different extremes in the house: one eagerly trying to clean, organize and regain control in her life, and the other eagerly trying to avoid, dart, and procrastinate about dealing with the past.

Perhaps the two polarities stem from different comfort levels about the central assumption in the rule of thumb: this assumption is that of the infallability of memory, and to a certain extent, of technology as well. One woman believes in the infallability (or perhaps, accepts its limits) of memory and technology, while the other is convinced of their unreliability.

From a piece of fabric, to a photograph, to an intangible byte on the computer - I admit it can be a leap of faith.

So I decided to let the cushions be.

*Of course, the word "many" is subjective. This number varies from person to person, but in 99% of the situations, surely it must conform to:
No. of objects in the house > No. of possible special remembrances

11 May 2006

Eureka moment

2 hours ago, I decided that I was still quite alert and wanted to watch a movie. So I went through my DVD collection for films I haven't watched and decided on Love on the Run. It was a suitable pre-bedtime film because it didn't contain violence, was a suitable 90-minute length and was also a Criterion Collection.

One hour into Love on the Run, I was happily enjoying the sound of the French language and deciphering the intertwined relationships between the characters when I saw this:

Eureka 1
I thought, "The French must really like Balzac. Balzac was in 400 Blows as well."

Then the next frame came:

Eureka 2
Oh my god. This IS from 400 Blows!

So I paused my film and went on Flikster to check 400 Blows. Voila, it's the same director Francois Truffaut!

I think the moment felt so wow because just 48 hours ago, I was commenting precisely on that Balzac connection in 400 Blows:
Flikster commentAnd it felt all the more Eureka because I didn't expect the connection at all until that very frame. (I have never noticed who directed 400 Blows.)

Very nice Eureka moment there. This is my lucky movie weekend. I shall plan on watching more.

04 May 2006

It really does hurt to wait - the economics of dread

Would you prefer to wait for the chance of good news, or know bad news for certain? For some, including yours truly here, anticipation can be as bad as pain they know is coming.

Click here for the original CNN article.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Anyone who's ever taken a preschooler to the doctor knows they often cry more before the shot than afterward.

Now researchers using brain scans to unravel the biology of dread have an explanation: For some people, anticipating pain is truly as bad as experiencing it.

How bad? Among people who volunteered to receive electric shocks, almost a third opted for a stronger zap if they could just get it over with, instead of having to wait.

More importantly, the research found that how much attention the brain pays to expected pain determines whether someone is an "extreme dreader" -- suggesting that simple diversions could alleviate the misery.

The research, published in the journal Science, is part of a burgeoning new field called neuroeconomics that uses brain imaging to try to understand how people make choices. Until now, most of that work has focused on reward, the things people will do for positive outcomes.

"We were interested in the dark side of the equation," explained Dr. Gregory Berns of Emory University, who led the new study.

"Dread often makes us make bad decisions."

Standard economic theory says that people should postpone bad outcomes for as long as possible, because something might happen in the interim to improve the outlook.

In real life the "just get it over with" reaction is more likely, said Berns, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. He offers a personal example: He usually pays credit card bills as soon as they arrive instead of waiting until they're due, even though "it doesn't make any sense economically."

So Berns designed a study to trace dread inside the brain. He put 32 volunteers into an MRI machine while giving them a series of 96 electric shocks to the foot. The shocks varied in intensity, from barely detectable to the pain of a needle jab.

Participants were told one was coming, how strong it would be, and how long the wait for it would be, from 1 to 27 seconds.

Later, participants were given choices: Would they prefer a medium jolt in 5 seconds or 27 seconds? What about a mild jolt in 20 seconds vs. a sharp one in 3 seconds?

When the voltage was identical, the volunteers almost always chose the shortest wait. But those Berns dubbed "extreme dreaders" picked the worst shock if it meant not having to wait as long.

The MRI scans showed that a brain network that governs how much pain people feel became active even before they were shocked, particularly the parts of this "pain matrix" that are linked to attention -- but not brain regions involving fear and anxiety. The more dread bothered someone, the more attention the pain-sensing parts of the brain were paying to the wait.

In other words, the mere information that you're about to feel pain "seems to be a source of misery," George Lowenstein, a specialist in economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote in an accompanying review of the work.

"These findings support the idea that the decision to delay or expedite an outcome depends critically on how a person feels while waiting," Lowenstein added.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the research. What's the link between dread and drug use? It's indirect, but now that scientists know how healthy people's brains anticipate unpleasant consequences, future studies can compare how drug abusers process such information.

01 May 2006

Poor Mr Merlion

Am I getting patriotic, losing my sense of humour or is this ad just plain rude?

Faithful readers of this blog, time to tell me if I am getting neurotic / old-fashioned - hit the comment button pls...

An honorary archaeology degree for the hermit crab

SIBU ISLAND, MALAYSIA - Who would have thought that a creature as small as this...

small hermit crab
...has the ability to dig so much and create sand patterns as mysterious as these?

sand pattern 3___ sand pattern 2

sand pattern 1 ___ sand pattern 4

May all archaeologists be equally enthusiastic diggers like the hermit crab! :D

The sun, the sea and my sandy feet

An idyllic Labour Day weekend on Sibu Island...

red rock sky

one cloud sky

my sandy feet

26 April 2006

Cut losses

What a rational concept. One that has been imbued in me since my first economics lesson. Darn, I myself have often echoed it. When making a decision, don't consider sunk cost; just cut losses.

But when doing as mundane a thing as watching Korean drama serial with my mum two days ago, I realized for the first time how frightening the concept of cut losses is when applied to human beings. When in an epidemic, cut losses. Forget about the people who are sick. Forget about the few accidentally left behind. Cut losses. Don't create more losses.

How easy it is, for the slogan of cut losses to becomes an excuse for cowardice, for an easy way out.

So what of those who are left behind? Those unfortunate remnants of a very rational economic strategy?

(Un?)fortunately, human beings are not widgets. That is probably why it is so hard for people to cut losses in bad relationships, especially where inertia and hope feed on each other. Cutting losses is all very well when you rebalance your investment portfolio*, but when you can put a face to inanimate decision trees, cut losses just doesn't quite cut it.

Better for people to remain widgets huh?

*Yet, to take this one step deeper, rebalancing a portoflio is not so harmless a decision if you consider that you are cutting off a poor startup of fresh funds, possibly causing the young idealist boss to sink into despair.

Stirring up a storm of wine

______227 Apr 2006 with Ms T at Wine Garage...


13 April 2006

Nightlife.sg at Club Momo

Ms L and Ms M, thank you for a great night in a long time!

The child in Japan

13 Apr 2006 - I have something embarrassing to confess.

I bought an irresistably adorable little soot ball in Japan:

I also have a soft spot for 隣のトットロ but try as I might, I couldn't find the Tottoro scarf hanger that Ms K had.

But while I have a soft spot for some Japanese cartoon creatures, it is still strange to me how much Japan loves its anime, manga and Final Fantasy humanoids. This trip too, I noticed and was baffled by just how often cutesy cartoons feature in the presentation of perfectly serious subjects like hospital ads and investment treaties.

Is this the Japanese society's way of reducing seriousness so as to reach out to the masses? Or is it just a matter of the society condoning the adult who doesn't want to grow up?

Perhaps Japan is just more tolerant about letting the child in adults show through, the way some cultures are more tolerant towards deviants.


When walking around the hip Harajuku on my last day in Japan, I was taken aback by what I saw in one of the shops. Clothes that are normally found in the kids section have now expanded thrice in size to fit the child trapped in an adult body.

The two Japanese attendants, 1.65 metres tall with very blond hair, were decked head to toe in Barbie costumes.

It felt very surreal to be looking at them, as if I was in Barbie Land or something. Yet there are the » maid cafes who specifically dress their waitresses like that to wait on the otakus hand and foot, even to address them as "Master".

Feminist sentiments aside, now that is bordering on strangeness...