29 December 2010

If a boy must wonder

TFL poem by Leon Yuchin Lau

It took my breath away when I first read it on the tube.  More so, after seeing the Chinese name.  Cantonese British, I had thought.

I finally hunted it down today, and found out to my very pleasant surprise and pride that Leon Yuchin Lau is a teenager from Singapore.  He is one of the »Foyle Young Poets of the Year in 2009.  More of his works »here.

As I have said from time to time here: it is entirely possible for someone with black hair to write well in English.  Well done, Leon.

22 December 2010

20 December 2010

Patina at Dachau

Patina at Dachau
Dachau was a very difficult place for me. (Which may explain why I have put off sorting out the photos for such a long time.) It is not comfortable to come face to face with mankind's capacity for cruelty. It is equally not comfortable to realise that it is not just "them", but it could very well be us who are complicit in such cruelty.

»This is Dachau

South Kensington station, -2°C

Camera-phone series #21.

03 December 2010

The hood and the flat

Camera-phone series #20.

(Good old Sony Ericsson alongside the BB Bold)

02 December 2010

Frosty Oxford Street

11 am last Saturday. New haircut, scrambled eggs from Flat White, carols on a quiet Oxford Street... Heaven.

(1.30 pm. Heaving. Can't wait to escape.)

Camera-phone series #19.

Earlier than me

7.46 am, 0°C.  Someone was out earlier than me.

Camera-phone series #18.

02 November 2010

Cambodia hospitality

[»slideshow embedded]

When I mentioned that I was going to Siem Reap to attend a conference, an ex-colleague related the story of how he was personally thanked by the Cambodian trade minister as a junior customs officer many years ago. He and his mate had gone to conduct something like a 3-day capacity building course for the Cambodian Customs. Almost at the end of the training, their counterpart came over to whisper to them that their minister would like to meet the both of them to thank them personally. So there they were, in a big ministerial office, face to face with Mr Cham Prasit.

Mr Cham Prasit is of course now the Deputy Prime Minister. But humility, like hospitality, is seldom forgotten.

A motorbike holding the hand of a bicycle

Together we glide.

Khmer woman. Siem Reap

23 September 2010

Girly talk at Boat Quay

Singaporeans I met today

A nurse at the hospital, who proudly told me that her son is studying in London too. "Imperial College," she beams.

A blind man selling tissue, who probably has been standing for hours. He greeted me cheerfully and just before I left, said: "It's raining you know. You have umbrella?"

A Malay taxi driver, who told about his family history as we crawled through a jammed CTE. "My grandfather was Chinese also. Guangdong Province, he was a Muslim from Guangdong Province."

Our lives, our history, our dreams.

Sculpture at Raffles Place

I'm fascinated by veins and sinews.  My favourite ones are »here.

19 September 2010





A deadly observation

The man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.
- Match Point (2005)

07 September 2010

London according to talljoanne

Prompted by Mr T and Ms C.  Here we go:

Walking, eating and doing
  • Borough Market (Thursdays through Saturdays) - Try Monmouth coffee there and you might even have Steven Lim (David in Growing Up series) as your barrista!
  • Camden market - for grunge, tattoos and crazy hair. Oh, and the Aldo outlet.
  • Shoreditch / Old Street - Indie in the very hip east end. Combine with Brick Lane on a Sunday. At Brick Lane, go have a beef baigel at the oldest Jewish bakery. You can also go to Song Que at the edge of Hackney for good Vietnamese pho then walk into the Shoreditch area.  (BTW, the no. 1 pho place - courtesy of Ms  L - is in Canada Water, too much of a trek for tourists.)
  • Of course there's also Portobello market but I find it too institutionalised now.
  • Covent Garden - Be sure to explore not just the main street (Long Acre) and the market area, but also the Seven Dial part for cool indie stores (walk down Neal's Street) . Not everything is affordable (esp now that summer sale is over), but it's what makes London London. 
  • Get away from the cookie-cutter madness called Oxford Street and wander into Marylebone High Street and old Marylebone Lane for fancy indie stores.  Wallace Collection (in the area) is a gorgeous place to get away for some culture and lunch under skylight.  Alternatively, La Fromagerie and Providores.
  • Saville Row - To reignite materialistic desires.  Look at the flagship stores, take a polaroid photo with the hunks at Abercrombie & Fitch.  Go into Burlington Arcade.
  • Soho - A walk is in order.  Get a bite at Princi (I like the savouries) or Flat White (uber rich scrambled eggs and coffee) or Hummingbird Bakery (cupcakes).  I like Berwick Street.
  • Afternoon tea - Bea's of Bloomsbury.  Fun and local.  I like their cupcakes best, and I'm not even a cupcake person.  Must reserve in advance.
  • Theatre tickets: Leicester Square.  TKTS seems to offer the best price for the more expensive seats.  If you don't care about sitting in the circles, try any of the dozen half-price shops nearby whose queues are usually shorter.  War Horse is outstanding and seems to be a London-only performance.  The open-air Shakespeare Globe is a very nice alternative to West End, but it's more of a summer thing: you'd probably be frozen in winter.
  • Pre-theatre dinners: Quo Vadis for the crispy pork thing and O Sheeky Oyster Bar for oysters and nibbles. 
  • Museums: Free entry.  Yes, free entry (save for special exhibitions).  So no need to be greedy.  Just choose a section, spend 2 hours, have a coffee and off you go.  British Museum and Tate Modern are my favourite.  If you go to Tate Modern, get out at St Paul's tube and walk over the Millenium Bridge to arrive in style.  

  • Best thing about London as a city.  Hampstead Heath is by far my favourite (Richmond Park comes a close second), but it is slightly far out for tourists.  On the other side of Hampstead is Highgate Cemetery where you can see Marx's grave.
  • I haven't been to Kew Gardens yet, but it's supposed to be nice.  
  • At the very least, sit in one of the many city gardens or squares and talk about the weather with the chappie beside you.

Tours, guidebooks, addresses
  • Sandesman free walking tour - works on a tips basis
  • Timeout and Londonist for addresses and latest updates.  I prefer Londonist, but Timeout is handy as a directory.
  • Superfuture guide (thanks cousin N!) - Haven't seen it but looks promising
  • Luxe guide - Enough said. 

Day trips
  • Greenwich - go by the public ferry from Westminster. You can use your oyster. There seems to be tourist ferries too but they would be more expensive. Ask, it should only cost around £5 or £6.
  • Bath - by train. www.thetrainline.com is a good train site. If you can, stay overnight and do a day tour of the Cotswolds for a taste of posh English countryside.

I've deliberately left out hyperlinks.  Google is king.  Just type the keywords.

[Version Sep 2010]

04 September 2010

Probably the first tattoo design I'm enamoured by

Let's see if I change my mind five years down the road.  (My problem with getting a tattoo!)

The »Skin exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is very good by the way.  It's not necessarily pretty though, so go with a strong stomach.  It is, as the Collection bills itself, a 'destination for the incurably curious'.  Thanks Ms K!

01 September 2010

Not talking

benches not talking

Hidden Salzburg

After you are done with the heaving poshness of the Salzburg Festival, go seek out these two hidden gems. Don't forget to share tables with locals at the lovely »Zum Fidelen Affen.

A.E.I.O.U. by Walter Smerling

For another layer of meaning to A.E.I.O.U., see »here.  (No prizes for guessing where this installation was found.)

Sunday in Munich

Good old fun. No malls required.

The Kruetzer Quartet

Playing Charles Ives' Piano Trio (1911): Moderato - TSIAJ (This Scherzo is a Joke) - Moderato con moto.

Everyone goes banging mad after a while in the TSIAJ.  I like!

More Wilton's

The »Kruetzer Quartet is the focus of their attention.

Crazy about this music hall

Been there twice this month.
»Wilton’s is the oldest surviving Grand Music Hall in the world. It belongs to the first generation of public house music halls that appeared in London during the 1850s and which, only fifty years later, had all but disappeared. Now owned by the Wilton's Music Hall Trust and run by a very small and dedicated team of people, it is once again becoming a centre for innovation and excellence, both locally and internationally. Originally 5 terraced houses, John Wilton opened Wilton's Music Hall in 1858. Since then it has been home to the missionaries, survived two world wars, been a rag warehouse and unfortunately become derelict.

31 August 2010


Also part of the procession,  Slowly but surely, they got there.

At the Sargent by the Sea exhibition today, Mr C and I saw another moving case of determination.  This old lady had a large-print booklet of the explanations on little plaques beside the paintings. She read the large print with a magnifying glass.  To see the paintings, she put on a pair of special glasses around her neck.  The glasses had two sets of lenses stacked, about 5 cm apart.  She alternated between these two methods of seeing, for each painting.

It occurred to me that she must be almost blind, probably seeing just swatches of colours.

I was heartened by the fact that the the Royal Academy of Arts was thoughtful enough to provide aids and facilities for the less able.   Mr C said that the more heartening bit is her determination, because it takes much more for a person to decide to get out of the house and make use of these aids. 

He is right of course.

Freedom to assemble

This rowdy procession of children passed by my window sometime in early July.  (The guy at the back of the procession - in a highlighter yellow vest - is a policeman.)

In London, they learn about their rights from a young age.  Rightly so, before political apathy sets in.

Greenwich meridian line

01 August 2010

Mr Tiwari

On 26 July 2010, Mr Tiwari passed away.  I want to say 'suddenly', but I suppose there is no such things as 'sudden' when it comes to death.  Regardless, it left me in great shock the rest of that day and lingering sadness for the rest of my Munich-Salzburg trip.

Mr Tiwari was the »Principal Senior State Counsel of Singapore and helmed many of our international negotiations.  He was the king of UNCLOS (UN Convention on Law of the Sea) and the man for bilateral issues with our immediate neighbours.  He was recently a WTO panellist for the US-China intellectual property rights dispute and was re-invited by Pascal Lamy to be a panellist for the US-Mexico tuna dispute. I had the good fortune to work under his tutelage on several investment guarantee agreements in my career.

He was one of those old-school bosses - all for the nation, serious about work, and fatherly outside it.  He was very senior in the government, but did not think himself too senior to commute by MRT or invite us junior staff to his house for Deepavali.  He cut a familiar figure in the ASEAN circuit with his Gandhi-like stature, round glasses and signature black backpack.

When I came back from Shanghai, he organised lunch among a couple of us.  After lunch, he and I walked side by side.  The rest were behind.  He wanted to hear what I thought about China.  As I talked, he listened on humbly and intently, and we exchanged views as equals.  Such rare humility, I remember thinking.  I did not even know at that time that he was the one who drafted the agreement that established our diplomatic relations with China. 

When I later wanted him to write my recommendation letter for London, I went through a boss to ask him as I was worried that he might feel bad about saying no.  When I formally dropped him a note, he replied,

"Dear Joanne

Will work on this. Not sure why you thought about my saying "no". I will surely help as far as I can .


S Tiwari"

When I explained that he had worked with so many officers over the years and might not remember me enough to write a reference letter, he returned a feisty and touching reply:

"Surely the girl in Shanghai must have made an impression for me to organise a welcoming lunch!"

This, is the Mr Tiwari I remember.

Post-script: Ms L wrote a lovely tribute of him - read it »here.

14 July 2010

Where are you from, darling?

"Where are you from, darling?"


"Singapore... Malaya? You know Malaya?"

"Yes of course."

"I was there from '52 to '54. Youngest soldier. I was 16 when I was recruited."

"Oh my, 16."

"Oh, Malaya was a wonderful place. It was very humid, but the people are so friendly. I had a wonderful time, when I was not on duty. There was a General Hospital in Kuala Lumpur. You know Kuala Lumpur? There were many pretty nurses there. My mate had to stay there for a while and he really enjoyed it."

"Lucky him!" Laughter.

"Did you go out with them?" Cheeky look.

A pause.

"No. But I used to go out with this girl from Malaya. She was Chinese, like you. We went out for a long time. Almost the whole two years. And when I had to come back to England, I asked her to come with me. She said no. Her family - her mother, her sister - they were all in Malaya. She didn't come back with me."

"Ohh. Oh dear."

"Many years later, I got married, to a very lovely lady and we moved out here to London. Not far from where we are now, you know. (Inaudible street name) We lived in an apartment building. Not long after I moved in, this young lady stopped me outside my house and said, 'I know you. I have seen you somewhere.' I said, 'I beg your pardon. I don't think we have met before.'"

"Was it one of the nurses?"

"No it wasn't. A couple of weeks later, I was walking my youngest daughter, heading back home, when I bumped into the young lady again. She stopped me, and she said, 'I know you. My mother knows you. You are Patrick.' And then she pulls up this photo of me and her mother together."

"It was the Malayan girl I used to go out with."

"Oh my god. Was her mother in London too?"

"No, she stayed on in Malaya."

"Did she ever visit after? Did you write to her?"

"No, I don't think she ever came to London. Just her daughter came."

"And you know... We are both married. My wife is the most wonderful lady in the world, and we have children. Oh, she is such a darling, my wife."

"No yes, I am sure she is very wonderful."

A pause. I continued:

"It's ironical that she didn't want to come to London, but the daughter came instead."


"But that's life, you know."

"Yes... I was going to say that too. Life's lament."

One smile. And then two.

Life's lament, fond thoughts.

(Singing in the Rain music in the background)

Just so we're absolutely clear, city folks...

WE are the ducklings (from Lake Windemere).

Not sure what goslings look like. We don't go near them as they have an annoying habit of pecking at butts.

Bonjour! Je suis un jeune cygne

cyg·net (sĭg'nĭt)
n. A young swan.
Middle English cignet , from Anglo-Norman, diminutive of Old French cygne , swan , from Latin cygnus , from Greek kuknos.
Air is now cleared for the previous post!  I'd have failed both of those questions had they asked me in science class.

08 July 2010

British summers

Flashy bikes, sunnies and flirty skirts.



A very humble salesgirl salary of the elder sister supports both, and even brings them to London.

This is not a question of economics. It is a question of generosity and love.

04 July 2010


羡煞朋友在郊外找到完整的蒲公英,我最近去 Cotswold 时也抓了一颗来拍拍。

《蒲公英》也是»王安忆早期的创作之一。 我外婆好像和她父亲或舅舅是远亲。

02 July 2010

The infinite violet-rose of the artichoke heart

This cronopio's wild-artichoke clock is a wood artichoke of the larger species, fastened by its stem to a hole in the wall. Its innumerable leaves indicate what hour it is, all the hours in fact, in such a way that the cronopio has only to pluck a leaf to know what time it is. So he continues plucking them from left to right, always the leaf corresponding to that particular hour, and every day, the cronopio begins pulling off a new layer of leaves. When he reaches the centre, time cannot be measured, and in the infinite violet-rose of the artichoke heart, the cronopio finds great contentment. Then he eats it with oil, vinegar and puts another clock in the hole.
- "Cronopios and Famas", Julio Cortázar

Return of the ladybirds


16 June 2010



这回芬妈妈过来伦敦, 特地炸了江鱼仔,还带了菜心、肉松、面筋、橄榄菜。就连麻油、蚝油和安培娜香米也分成小瓶小袋给我带来了。(我是泰国香米的忠实支持者,去到美国中国英国都不变。)



2010:06:16 22:00:35



14 June 2010

Dear Summer

Dear Summer,

We are so happy to have you stay with us in England, but we wish you didn't bring along your friend who thinks revving his Lamborghini* engine around Mecklenburgh Square every midnight is the coolest gig in the world. Please, tell him that Mecklenburgh Square is only 80 metres by 80 metres; it's not impressing any chicks. If you could leave him behind with winter the next time you visit, we would be so delighted - you can stay one more month for free.

Yours truly,

*Unverified. Could be just a Lamborghini-wannabe.

13 June 2010

Frosty the window

A city like this

7.15 pm on a summer Saturday, Bus 55 chugged merrily along. Somewhere near Goodge Street, I stopped daydreaming.

A lady standing on the pavement was earnestly pleading with the bus driver with many variations of 'Please, pleeeease wait, she is coming right now'. Presumably an old folk.

A pause. About twenty pair of eyes waited to see who it was.

But suddenly, the bus started moving. Everyone let out a hugely disapproving 'Ohh!'.

It was so disapproving that the person standing nearest to the bus-driver had to defend him: 'He's just pulling over to wait for her.'

And then a collective 'Ahh'.

Three seconds later, the heroine stepped up onto the bus. The punkish-looking teenage girl nearest to the entrance stood up from her seat.

(I have great respect for punkish-looking folks; they are often the most decent people.)

When I'm 70 and walk like a snail, a city like this is where I'd like to be.

Clarification: London is not the city like this. I'm happy to say I've written several letters over the years (often prompted by my mum) to commend bus drivers in Singapore for their kindness. One particularly stood out. He didn't just stop and wait. He got out of his driver seat, helped the shakey 80-year-old passenger to a seat then got back in to drive on.

06 June 2010

Ridiculously fun

Such a simple idea - buy a parachute sheet, place a 1- to 8-year-old in the middle, get everyone to walk a few circles and PULL!

I wanna be a kid at Goodenough.

05 June 2010

The Tiley and Tolley foot stool

Thank you for everyone's interest. For those not in the know, here's how it looks like. The Tiley and Tolley foot stool is 8" tall and is available for the very reasonable price for £2.  (Original price: £80)