friends around

I left the office at 3pm already, although no official announcement. No one was around to say otherwise, so I thought, sod it.

Got home and picked up all the stuff I need to get then got a taxi to her place — too many bags. Had the luck to find a driver who thought tailgating was the normal way to drive. Just great.

Anyway we were having friends over at her place, she was feeling really terrible, headache and beginnings of flu. So I did most of the cooking. Made nachos, toasted french bread with mushroom topping, grilled some steak and ordered KFC chicken wings. Made apple crumble and custard too, not too shabby.

Friends brought wine and conversation. These are people we’ve known for more than 10 years now, since college. Everyone’s moved on, changed, gotten married, had kids, achieved different degrees of success. But they’re the same people we knew when we were young, and the history means we’ll always have something in common and be interested in each others’ lives.

Cheered in the New Year. Didn’t make any resolutions. The funniest scene for me was just after midnight, when everyone was standing around in her living room, with their cellphones either calling people, or texting, or sending ringtones to each other. Sign of the times.

a little help

I no longer feel the need to apologise, in fact from this moment on I shall shout out my pride at being a long term Mac user even more loudly than before. Don’t forget, I’m the person who once said, when asked if I have a PC emulator on my Powerbook, “eek I don’t want to dirty my Mac.”

At the end of a thoroughly wretched week of tragedy, when the death rate tonight stands at 87,000 and rising. Go to the homepages of apple and microsoft and see the difference. Apple has no apple products on their main page, just links to the aid agency sites. Contrast microsoft.com, where there is no mention of the earthquake and tsunami disaster, of what they are doing up there in Redmond.

Even amazon has enabled 1-Click for donations to Red Cross. Why am I such an apple geek? Need I say more?

apple.com 301204

microsoft.com 301204

amazon.com 301204

wet and rainy

Nothing overly much to do, just walking around the shopping streets a rather aimlessly, browsing, looking. Had a bowl of delicious noodles, standing up at the streets, cos the stall was only just that, one counter serving one type of noodles, the only choice — large or small bowl.

Nothing much else for lunch, iced milk shavings with green beans and Taiwanese pearl ball tea. It started raining and we didn’t have an umbrella so the consensus was to go someplace that has cover. So we went to this Breeze Center, which is a mall, as modern as they come, with all the modern brand names. We spent the most time at the books section, with books, magazines and comics in 3 languages. And went to the supermarket where I asked and asked and asked if we could buy the Taiwanese sausages.

We didn’t have a lot of cash left, having taking aside the necessary for the bus fare to to the airport I felt like we’re back at the old days of being “poor” students again, having to ration our funds. It’s a bit hilarious if I think about it, that we have only enough for a simple meal, can’t buy anything. But on the other hand we have enough in other currencies and credit cards to do anything we want, yet the fun is to count all the pennies.

We braved the rain back, now we’re in the hotel library, with a cup of tea and hotel internet, we’ll have to leave in about 15 minutes. Another holiday finished, anything great few days away. And it is the company, no matter what people say.

Back to reality tomorrow, should be quiet at work though. Catch up on the news and all. I know there’s a huge disaster that just happened, with tens of thousands of victims and millions homeless. But I’ve deliberately not thought about it, I can’t help knowing about it, it’s all over the news and TV, but selfish or not, I’ve kept it separate from my few days away.

’tis the season

… for out of routine sleeping and waking patterns. Christmas Eve we didn’t go to bed till like 4.30am, playing mahjong all night. Christmas morning woke up at 1pm, had a nice but rushed lunch and I had to go home to pick up the presents to go to my parents’ place for Christmas dinner.

Boxing Day woke up real early, like 6am, to go to the last mass in Clara’s memory. Had breakfast with her family and by the time I got home it was only 10am. Rest of the day spent by myself downloading songs, updating the website and reading a new fic.

Today when I opened my eyes finally it was 1.50pm. Lunch, washing up and chores later and it’s already dark. Half the day’s gone before I know it.

There’s something about the quiet and solitude that makes it quite pleasant. What we’ve been telling each other it’s our own private time. Can get addictive, this private time.

more relaxed

By the time we’d finished breakfast and left the hotel it was nearly 11am. No hurry though.

We took the subway to Peitou, a hot spring area. Walked up the hill, past the park and the increasingly strong sulphur smell. Halfway up we stopped at a small coffee shop and had lunch of tea and rice. Then another 1km walk uphill to the hotel at the top, where they have rooms with their own spa bath. So we had a really nice 1.5 hour soaking in our own spa and then taking a quick nap and then on our way, refreshed.

Had tea of bubble tea, iced coffee and thick toast at a small family upstairs restaurant, sat there for a long while. Even more relaxing.

Took the subway back into town and to the bright shopping area, pedestrianised and neon lit. Had a dinner of eat-all-you-like charcoal grill / seafood hotpot combination. Soft drinks and dessert included. Had some beef, lots of lamb chops and sweetcorn.

More walking around at the shops afterwards. I’m typing this at the hotel, again, when I finish I’ll go back upstairs and shower and bed.

What a nice day.

relaxed

The beauty of the internet and MT proves itself yet again. I’m in Taipei. We decided to come over for a short trip, just 3 days. Woke up early this morning, even before the crack of dawn, at around 5am (couldn’t sleep), checked Common Areas, then got ready.

We’re staying at a boutique hotel, Les Suites Da-An, that’s all French epoque and dark wood and contrmporary settlings. Took a bus from the airport and 5 minutes walk from the stop.

For lunch we went to Ding Tai Fung, we got there a 1pm and was told there’d be a 1.5 hour wait. Yikes. So we went to the streets behind, walked around, and had some snacks. Returned just over an hour later and we were seated within 2 minutes. Fast and efficient, yet not rushed or cramped. Lovely chicken soup and good dumplings.

tp023tamsui

More walking, then took the subway to Dan Sui (sp?), next to I guess a river and loads of small shops and snack places along the waterfront. Quite crowded but not overwhelmingly so. Had smelly tofu, this weird squidgy dumpling thing, winter melon juice, grilled squid, sausages. Yum. We were quite tired and slept on the way in the train.

For dinner proper we went to Shilin night market. It was raining somewhat so not so comfortable. We had Taiwanese version of ba kueh teh, with pork rib and lamb. Afterwards I wanted iced dessert but was too full, we settled for juice, she had bitter melon and I had papaya milk. Subway back to hotel, walked a little, and we’re still in the lounge, haven’t gone back to our room yet — she’s checking tomorrow’s plans and I’m obviously blogging.

Nice and relaxing day.

the best christmas

Originally the plan was to go to the beach with sis and her in-laws, but my parents decided not to join cos it’s too far for them to travel, and none of us knew how to get there. So I got a reprieve, that I can sleep till late.

I woke up at 11.45 and reached over and … sniff, sniff, found the other side of the bed empty — she’d started watching her serial drama already! Even before brushing her teeth, oh mm! How obsessed :).

Anyway we had some dumplings as snack cos the steak I took out last night hadn’t defrosted properly yet. By the time I started cooking it was nearly 2pm. Luckily steak takes no time to grill, and I had some salad and asparagus. So it was a really simple but delicious, loving Christmas steak lunch. We even had half a bottle of champagne, hmmmm.

She watched TV, I bummed around the net, sometimes I’d go outside to visit her, sometimes she’d come inside the study to visit me. It’s being together, but having our own space and being very very very happy.

I did go out for dinner with family, and she went home cos she was having a friend over. Got lots of presents, chocolate, a lovely spices box, a windmill for the fishtank, HMV voucher, a scarf. So happy.

So quiet, so peaceful, so together.

The best Christmas in a long time.

one year ago

It occured to me last night just before I fell asleep that I have no idea what I did for Christmas last year, absolutely none. Which means it was very ordinary and boring.

Woe the wonders of the weblog, I could just look up the December 2003 archives, if I wrote anything right?

So, last Christmas Eve, the same as today, went to the yacht club for mulled wine and minced pies and carol singing. Then last year I went over to to play mahjong, but now it’s only 8pm and I’m already home and she’s outside having KFC chicken wings and watching serial drama and I’m here.

Tomorrow we have the whole day, then I’m going for dinner with parents and sis and her in-laws. Last year we had dinner at my parents’, this year we’ll eat out.

The lights in the living room are great, I love them so much, may be I’ll keep them around all year.

choc mousse galore

I took another order for chocolate mousse, my colleague asked me to make one for her party. She’d already ordered food from various sources, but wanted a centrepiece.

Of course, I said.

So tonight I took 8x100g bars of dark toblerone, 8 egg yolks and 1 litre of whipped cream and set about making this monster. The square tray I took home was just right. I wonder how many calories is now sitting in my fridge.

I also advised her on drinks, gave her a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and passed on probably the best kept secret as far as sparkling wine is concerned — henkell trocken, in blind taste tests does just as well (sometimes even better) as Möet, at 1/3th the price, or less if you can get it at discount, like we did, we bought 2 cases 40% off regular price.

Oh, and I made egg white omelette with 8 egg whites and 2 whole eggs. Eeek. I ate a couple of mouthfuls, then decided to leave the rest for breakfast tomorrow, I wonder if it microwaves okay.

faery lights

Mum bought me another string of faery lights, it’s 3 times more expensive than the ones I bought myself but when I opened the box you should see the grin on my face when I discovered it’s at least 3 times longer than the previous ones, so no harm done. Now both sides of my living room is lit, plus there’s an extension that goes into the corridor and over my gallery prints, it puts emphasis on the prints, yay! It goes on further, round the large mirror, behind the wines and over the main door.

I don’t need normal lights, ever. Hmmmm.

I wonder if it’s more expensive than just a regular table lamp, probably, but I don’t care, it’s beautiful.

early

Time is moving slowly tonight. It’s only 8.30 but it feels like 10.30. I didn’t eat dinner properly, cos I’m not hungry, I had some ham and a bag of Walkers, that’s it.

I’ve had my shower, I’ve paid by bills, I made my shopping list, I know I have ironing that I don’t want to do. Plenty of time left.

phones!

Come Christmas, our thoughts inevitably turn to gadgets. We bought our current phone, the Motorola A760 about a year ago, thinking its PDA/camera function will be enough. But we’ve had a lot of problems with the phone, so we’re going back to Nokia.

We’ve already looked at many many shops, but she couldn’t decide. Finally we went to the Nokia shop and she bought the 6670, in silver/white. Contacts, calendar, 1 Megapixel camera, video, viewer for Word/Excel/Powerpoint, and the function that sold it to her over the prettier 7610, full screen picture on caller display. The salesperson was very patient and took his time in explaining and demonstrating the functions. He has a whole lot more patience than me, haha.

Me? I don’t want all these functions. I hardly use the calendar, all I need is to store phone numbers. And camera? I have the ixus for that, and if I’m thinking of getting a ixus 500, why bother about the phone? I wanted to get the white 7260, with its distinctive art deco design, but now I’m thinking of waiting for the 7280, with its narrow body and wheel and unconventional design, it’s even more expensive than hers, but may be worth it for the newness factor. Plus, it made Fortune’s 25 Best Products of 2004.

nokia7280

pumpkin soup facets

I made pumpkin soup tonight, so when she comes over to my place after her lessons, it’ll all be ready for her enjoyment.

I’m supposed to sweat some onions then add the pumpkin and stock. But I didn’t want to trek all the way to the supermarket on the way from work and brave the Friday night crowds at the taxi stand, so I decided to forego the onion. I did put in 2 cloves of garlic though.

Then while the soup was bubbling away I idly surfed around for other recipes and came across one that added a chopped potato. Of course! It’ll give it texture. So I retrieve the one lonely potato sitting at the bottom of the fridge drawer, chopped it up real small and added it.

It makes a difference, gives thickness without being too stodgy. Just right.

Made garlic bread to go with the soup. Hmmmm.

In other, slightly related, matters, been thinking about how to structure the recipes, having converted most of d&f to MT yesterday. The only remaining large section not converted (either to php or to MT) is the food section, which I’ll take out of d&f altogether.

According to elise, who has a recipe site built using MT, the trick is to use faceted categorisation. There’s a lot of write-ups about it, including the infamous pixelcharmer method, Tim Appnel’s plugin, and others. But the real trick isn’t the technical part, it’s coming up with the facets themselves.

So I was standing in front of the whiteboard in my office this lunchtime trying to figure how to categorise recipes. This is a first pass, helpfully inspired by an article that tells how epicurious does it.

  • Personality: Type of dish – appetiser, soup, meat dish, side dish, pasta, salad, dessert, drink
  • Matter: Main ingredient – beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, shell fish, seafood, green vegetables, root vegetables, citrus fruit, berries, everyday fruit
  • Energy: Preparation method – roasted, grilled, boiled, cooked, stewed, no-cook
  • Space: Where – international, french, italian, chinese, asian, indian, vegetarian
  • Time: When – breakfast, main meal, dessert, teatime, party, snack

May be I don’t need all these facets, but it’s a start.

Looks like the recipe section still has a way to go …

Zurich

Life by the wild stream.

The first week in Zurich I was staying at the Schweizerhof and everything was so unfamiliar, I didn’t even dare go on the tram so I walked. It was the first time I lived someplace where I didn’t know the language. True, everyone in Zurich spoke English but hell, I couldn’t speak German. I couldn’t read the signs or know what other people were talking about.

Even with the language barrier I felt more at home there than in New York, the first thought when I landed at the airport was elation that I was back in Europe. The buildings and roads and the way people behaved, it was European, no question about it. But I can’t exactly put a finger on how European, it was just a very strong feeling. I gradually got used to blocking out what other people around me were saying. And I learnt enough Swiss German to take care of daily stuff.

I only saw 4 apartments and I could easily have chosen 3 of them, they were all nice. Where I finally ended up was even better than I thought, the reason I chose this apartment over the other 2 candidates was because it was within a very short walking distance of a Coop and the tram stop. The others were on bus routes and not as convenient. Little did I know that I’d managed to secure a place in Seefeld, where good apartments were rare as gold dust. Luck, pure luck.

outside viewoutside view

 

It was one of four apartments in that house, nice and cosy on a quiet street. One apartment per floor, plenty of space. And our own basement storage space for boxes, suitcases and booze. And the basement was never dark or creepy, it was always clean. The washing machine was in the basement too.

Now let me stop here for a bit and talk a bit on the rules about living in Switzerland. Most people rent, property is expensive to buy. Leases can generally only be terminated each April and October although dates are becoming more flexible, I started my lease in August and terminated in February with no problems. Depending on how strict the building is (and by extension neighbours) there is a ban on doing laundry, cleaning and any noisy work on Sundays. Some buildings the laundry facilities are only “open” up to around 10pm. The most extreme case I’ve heard of is no flushing of the loo after 10pm for fear of waking the sensitive neighbours who might have already been in bed (!). Seriously.

Garbage must be placed in specially designated, and expensive, garbage bags. This goes along with the principle of “polluter pays” – the more trash you generate the more you expect to pay in disposal services. Makes a strange kind of sense. Garbage must also be sorted properly, items that can be recycled like glass, tins, pet bottles, batteries and the like should be removed and placed in appropriate recycling bins. Every couple of weeks is the newspaper collection, the paper must be stacked neatly and tied with string for easy collection. Once every month or so is the cardboard collection. Failure to comply with these garbage disposal rules will bring on the wrath of the dreaded garbage police and a hefty fine. To be honest, after a while it becomes automatic and it’s all towards a better envrionment anyway.

wildbach floorplan

 

mmmmkitchen

Back to my apartment. Reason I knew immediately it was the place: gas hobs, carpeting, wall panels and wooden ceiling panels. Oh and the fabulous dark wood, fully equipped kitchen with the did-I-mention-them-before gas hobs? Most places have electric and having gas was an absolute godsend. The kitchen opened out to a large dining room and that’s where me and my friends spent most of our time. To have a semi-open kitchen/dining room was so great for dinner parties, once for dessert I made everyone make brownies there and then and it was a blast. I moved to Zurich without possession of a dining table and I was glad my friends forced me to buy one so they can fully utilise it. Hee.

TV wasn’t interesting, and there were limited channels I could understand, so the living room wasn’t used that much. Eventually I gave the blue carpet away because it didn’t fit in the space. It had windows on 2 sides and would get both the morning and afternoon sun. The view out during snow time was pretty good too.

living roomoh how I miss thee my dining tableliving room, other sidebed, chest of drawers, nothing much else

 

many hours spent there

Bedroom was a boring square shaped room. I only had the bed and chest of drawers there so it really wasn’t interesting at all. The study was the bigger room of the two. I had the second closet, desk, bookshelf, my entire X-files collection on the floor and my rug in the centre and there was still plenty of space left. It was the one room in the apartment that didn’t have open views, from the window facing my desk I could see what the neighbours were up to very clearly.

Usual place to shop was either the Coop near work which was open till 8pm, for special foods either Jemoli or Globus. Not much point going to the Coop at home during the week cos it closed at 6pm, it was useful on a Saturday if I need something quick. Oh yes, shops close early in Switzerland and only shops at train stations and airports open on a Sunday, and only to sell certain stuff. Immaculate planning is usually required. Most non-food shopping, like clothes and books and shampoo and even getting a haircut I would do in London. I kid you not. I would fly back to London at least once a month, it was so easy to just book a flight on the net and fly the same day.

New York

Brand New New Yorker.

New York will forever have a place in my heart as the city where I saw in the millenium. New Year’s Eve I was at a stranger’s roof at a stranger’s party, having gone there with people I just met earlier that day. It was a bit surreal. All I can say about living in New York was, it was an interesting experience, it’s a place where one can very easily disappear and become invisible.

It was the first time in my life I rented, but even with the application form filling and not having a credit history it wasn’t as troublesome as it could have been. Saw about a dozen apartments before deciding on this one at 96th Street. I lived in a temporary apartment a few blocks away initially, perhaps familiarity with the immediate area was a factor. Dunno.

the big drum can be seen all the way from 86th

Reason I chose this one was I liked the bright airy feel and the beautiful view over the East River. From the outside the building was imposing and my first thought was of a large drum. There were a lot of apartments per floor however the beauty of the cylindrical design was no one had to look at a neighbour’s apartment. I tried taping a big “X” on the living room window but it was too small to spot from the street. Hee.

It was only a few minutes’ walk from the subway and shops. My weekend routine would be wake up, read the paper and go to the neighbourhood supermarket run by Spanish speaking Koreans. More shops at 86th Street were only a few bus stops away, and since it’s only 10 blocks, on a nice day I sometimes walked down there. Once or twice I even ventured up past 100th Street in the middle of the day, I kept to the busy roads so I wasn’t that scared.

I did a lot of walking in New York. Some Saturdays I’d visit the Union Square market and then walked all the way down to Chinatown. Or I’d take the bus down to South Street Seaport and walk around there. I’ve always been a bus person because I liked looking out at the scenery, the subway had no view.

New York was the place I learnt about food. Hours and hours of watching the Food Network and some of the enthusiasm certainly rubbed off. Food was abundant, cheap and portions huge. I thought nothing of having grilled strip steak once a week. The aforementioned Union Square market with fresh fruit & veg stalls, fresh meat and even a wine stall. Visits to the big name fancy food shops like Dean & Deluca and Zabar’s were a special day for me.

But most of the time I stayed at my little abode. I might order $20 worth of Chinese take-out, gorge and then stick the rest in the freezer. When the Razor rage erupted that year I bought one and was happily speeding from the front door to the living room window, it was a good 30ft run.

monterey floor plan

living roommakeshift study

 

living room view

Did I mention how much I liked the sunlight coming through the whole apartment all day? The view wasn’t bad either, I could see the Triboro Bridge which was a sight during the day and at night.

On a clear day if I looked south from my living room I could see the Empire State Building.

Hong Kong

A view of the pool.

Ambivalence. I don’t like Hong Kong. Too crowded, too polluted, too materialistic, no emotional depth. Yet I find myself there again and again primarily due to personal reasons. So I’ll just have to make my own fun.

Most of the time I’m sitting at my desk looking out to the pool. There’s enough space between the podium and the fence to protect against noise. The windows are mirrored one way – I can see out, but people can’t see in. By day I watch the people swimming or sunbathing and by night I watch the illuminated buildings not so far away.

For Hong Kong standards it’s a decent sized place, the best feature is the big bedroom. There’s not a lot of space to put a dining table, especially since the new bookshelf is now in the space previously occupied by the shoerack.

There’s too much stuff lying around to take decent pictures. I’ll get round to it. Eventually.

rob road floorplan

delicacies

I converted part of what used to be Delicacies & frivolities (the “stuff” section) to MT. This section used to have:

  • habitat – floorplans and places I’ve lived in
  • recipes – duh, recipes
  • musicallity – iPod playlists
  • drive – basically a page of the red golf
  • evidence – strange gallery and packing list

Habitat, drive and evidence now constitutes the new d&f. Musicality too, but that’ll be a harder job cos a) I re-did all my playlists so they’ll have to be listed again and b) I don’t want to have frames or tables.

Recipes and food related, I’m going to open a brand new section just to deal with food.

What I regret losing is the 3×3 grid display format on the main page.

packing list

Suitcase, backpack, spare bag, labels, lock

Shirt, T-shirt, Polo shirt
Jumper, sweatshirt
Jeans, shorts
Coat
Socks, underwear
Swimsuit, goggles, bag
Shoes, slippers

Toothbrush, toothpaste, towel
Brush, nailclippers
Face wash, face cream, eye cream, body lotion
Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, shower cap
Panadol, triludan, ventolin, zantac, band-aid, chapstick
Spare glasses, box, cloth, sunglasses
Hairdryer , washing powder

Pen, paper, filofax
Camera, charger, lenses, tripod/cushion, spare film
iPod, charger, spare headphone sponge
Powerbook, charger, USB cable, modem cable, bag
Adaptor, alarm clock
Book

Teabags, chewing gum, sweets, snacks, water
Gifts

Money, coins, credit cards, watch, keys
Driving licence, insurance card
Phone, charger
Passport, tickets

sharps in check-in luggage


Cancel newspaper
TV off
Set video timer
Computer off
Phone unplugged
Fridge, food
Taps
Windows
Curtains closed
Light timer
Rubbish
Fish tank, plants

visitors

Depending on which site stats I look at, the website had either 100 or 190 visitors on 14 Dec, that’s the most it’s ever had. Now whether or not these visitors include search engines, spiders, links to my public images (eg the nano winner jpg I use as avatar), I don’t know. I’m thinking the 100 figure is for human visitors cos that’s what awstats claim they can do, and the 190 from Webalizer includes bots and non-humans.

A few of those “visitors” is me of course, cos highest on the list of external links in is the MT login, followed by the home page and I think I’m the only person who uses the homepage.

But, yay! I’ve had 60 clicks from Miss Elizabeth’s LJ already (thanks Miss E!). Wow, talk about a being shoved into the spotlight.

Do I want these visitors? I dunno. Time will tell. I just want to reiterate what I’ve said in the faq that no, I don’t want to tell people where I live or whether I’m a teenager or adult or even if I’m a real person at all.

Most people just want to be themselves and enjoy the internet experience in the privacy of their home or school or office, but there’re too many unscrupulous sorts out there who spoil everyone’s fun. I remember when I first set up my other websites on wordpress, I got hit by the stupid poker guy comment spam almost immediately and had to quickly learn how to do preventative measures. It was a good learning experience but I’m bitter that the reason I had to learn wasn’t because I wanted to, it’s because some jerk paid money to another jerk to waste people’s time and energy.

Anyway to those of you new here, which means everyone reading except the one person who reads this weblog regularly, welcome. This is my small private garden, but if you are able to find a little enjoyment here, then I’m glad.

Remember though, this is a quiet space for quiet thoughts only. 🙂

warm fingers

I don’t feel the cold that much, I hate the summer heat but I’m okay with winter. I have scarves but I hardly wear them, I have woolly hats but I usually only wear them skiing. I can usually get away with wearing T-shirts and shorts at home much later than a lot of other people. I do have this Beneton blue checked shirt I only wear at home, in winter, when T-shirts are a bit too ambitious.

But my fingers get really cold and I can’t type or use the mouse. So my ritual every winter is, get the blue shirt out and hang it on the back of the chair in my study and get my black fingerless knitted gloves out and put them on my desk.

I’m ready for the cold.

nice sunny day

Woke up late as well, but today was such a nice sunny day.

Had lunch at home then took a bus to the beach, only 15 mins ride away, may be the driver was trying to be Schumacher, may be it really is that near.

But so nice. Walking along the sandy beach, watching the waves, other people flying kites, walking through the village and to the big houses. So pleasant. Atmosphere, surroundings and company of course.

Came back out to town, did some shopping and met her Mum for Thai dinner. 3 of us had a set dinner for 4! Satay, prawn cake, steamed fish, stir fried veg, curry crab, taro rice, dessert. The rice and curry sauce we doggie-bagged.

I bought 2 long strips of Christmas lights, cheap, non-flashing, plain. They’re now in the living room and I don’t need any lights. It seems like a little magic has decided to visit my place and leave something nice.

Nice is an overused word. But sometimes it describes feelings and days so aptly.

Nice.

back and forth

Didn’t wake up till nearly noon, still with a headache, hayfever day as well, so not such a great start.

Met for a late lunch, then went to look at mobile phones. We bought our current one impulsively, and quickly discovered Motorolas are not for us, not evn this top end A760. So it’s back to Nokia. I like the new 7610, she has her eye on the O2 XDAII mini (well, it’s not a Nokia, but …). Just looking, didn’t buy it yet.

Met her friend and her friend’s friend to see another in the French film festival films, this one called Garçon. It’s okay, so-so. Light-hearted. Afterwards the 4 of us went to dinner. Her friend’s nice, her friend’s friend was a little weird, may be she was just shy.

We walked around after dinner, first together, then separately. Mucho crowded with Christmas shoppers. Had a late night dessert then bus back to her place.

Christmas dinner

It was our dept’s Christmas dinner today, which I organised. As in, I found the restaurant, decided on the menu, got all the grab bag presents, bought all the lucky draw presents, worked with the restaurant people. bought the wine, paid for the place, basically evetything.

People seemed to have enjoyed it. Afterwards some of us went for a drink and I’m extremely drunk now. Waiting for the hot water to boil so I can have a shower a bed.

Not thinking so clearing, typing very badly. Leave it till later lah.

When is an iPod …

… not a computer.

Or, stupid Service Centre enquiry of the day.

Our Australia office allows people to “salary package” certain items, it’s pretty common in Australia apparently. The staff produce receipts for certain allowable items and that amount is subject to preferential tax rates.

Most companies have defined items that can be packaged, usually car park, car leasing, superannuation contribution, laptop computers. But with computers it’s very well defined, so they can claim the computer itself but not peripherals like wires, printers and stuff.

This staff asked if it’s possible to package an iPod. I mean, duh. Which part of an iPod is a laptop computer?

Christmas shopping

We visited a Christmas shopping fair after work, stalls run by individuals mostly jewellry, clothing, small things. There’s usually a proliferation of them around this time of year.

She has a friend with a jewelry stall so we spent a lot of time there, picked out some rings, necklaces, cufflinks, scarves. Presents. I had to get away at a point and look at other stalls and buy other stuff, we were there till closing time, luckily I got all the other shopping done, I can’t believe how long we can spend at just one place.

cinq fois deux

Went to a french film festival. There was a bit of drama because the theatre the film was supposed to be showing had a fire and it had to be rescheduled to another cinema an hour later, so we didn’t start till 10pm.

The theme and name of the film, 5×2, isn’t obvious until the end, is 5 scenes about 2 people’s lives, told in reverse chronological order.

We start off in a lawyer’s office, where a couple’s divorce is being finalised. It’s drab, dull and drone, probably intentionally so. The divorce is surprisingly amicable — wife to get house and son, visitation rights defined, share assets, no alimony. It’s the next part that throws us, is it before or after the divorce? Because next we see the same 2 people walking down an ugly hotel corridor and entering an equally ugly room. They undress awkwardly and lie naked in bed next to each other.

Didn’t they just get divorced? Even the man says, they’re not married. So what are they doing? He makes advances at her and at first she’s ok but then she tries to stop him. He doesn’t relent and forces himself on her. Is it rape? She went to the room with him willingly. But then she says stop, and stop is stop. So yes, it’s rape.

He tries to talk to her and even asks if they should try again. She walks out without answering, to hammer home the message of how bad the relationship is.

Act 2 throws us off in the beginning, because they’re at home together and it’s a dinner party. It’s sometime in the past. The guests are his brother and his brother’s young lover. They talk about infidelity and the young guy says he doesn’t believe in it and the brother supports him because he always come back.

The man reveals that he cheated on her once, but the way he says it, that he participated in a drunken orgy while she watched, seems like she approves. Though he says it’s only once, there’s an undercurrent of disbelief, that he’s strayed other times.

The strain in the marriage is already showing, she can’t stand him touching her, they don’t communicate, he can’t sleep and retreats to their son’s room. It’s these little signs.

Act 3 starts with her walking along a hospital corridor, heavily pregnant. There’s a bit of confusion, is she pregnant after the divorce encounter? Is this in the past? Turns out it’s the birth of their son and she has to have an emergency c-section and he’s born premature. Even though she calls him immediately, he continues working, holds his calls and stops for lunch, he arrives at the hospital 3 hours later. Why? Apart from the fact that he’s a bastard, it’s evident that he loves her so the behaviour is puzzling.

Act 4 is their wedding and it’s the only time that we see them truly happy. But events on their first night together, married, already sow the seed for failure. He falls asleep in the bed before they can get intimate, she goes out for a walk and ends up having semi-rough sex with a stranger. On her wedding night, no wonder she always looks depressed.

Act 5 shows how they meet, in an Italian seaside resort. He is there with his former girlfriend of 4 years and notices this girl he knows vaguely from work, there on her own. Even the ex-girlfriend notices him noticing her, and she knows something is wrong.

We end with the couple on the beach together (while the girlfriend is out hiking) and walking into the sunset.

What a contrasting image. They don’t get the happy ending that walking into the sunset implies, but at that point in time, they don’t know that, though we’re all too aware. Such is the power of hindsight.

It’s a thoughtful film, not fantastic but worth seeing. I’m not sorry I stayed up till nearly midnight for it. The imdb review compares it to other reverse- or mixed up- ordered films like Memento and 21 grams. While Memento has attained cult status by being the one most recognized and revolutionary in its days; and 21 grams’ story packs a bigger punch, 5×2 is just a simple tale of a marriage gone sour, it’s nobody’s fault, there’s no big murder scene, or mystery to solve, it’s complexity is its simplicity.

crowd puller

It’s kinda strange, we go into a shop or restaurant and it’s fairly quiet, then a whole load of people come in after us.

We went to have our hair cut today and called ahead to check the hairdresser was free, we were told yeah come on up. When we got there it was empty. Then mm was having treatment and in the middle of my haircut, something like 4 or 5 customers walked in, and he had to tell them to come back.

department lunch

I’m organising the annual department pot luck lunch, my second year “in charge”. Don’t know why I end up playing this role.

Almost everyone who can come, has said they would come. Majority are bringing food, one kind or other. Those who can cook, or who has family members who can, are bringing something homemade. Others are buying.

I have the 3 top prizes already. More money this year cos we have a new boss and I got money from both old and new bosses.

I’m making pork chops with apple sauce. Marinaded the pork last night, apple sauce is made fresh, from whole apples. I’m also making toblerone chocolate mousse and apple crumble. Probably too much dessert but what the hell.

I master you slave

This from yahoo news.

This year’s most politically incorrec term is master/slave, which some find racially offensive.

Which is true, given the phrase’s historical context and how totally unacceptably slavery was.

So how come it’s returned to semi-mainstream vocabulary. I don’t mean using it in D/s situations because that’s a whole area the mainstream is not ready for and by its nature, politically incorrect anyway.

Apparently some computer idiot coined the term to describe primary and secondary hard drives. Just what sort of insensitive geek would think of this term, the mind boggles, why not use primary and secondary drives?

Other politically incorrect terms mentioned include “non-same sex marriage” to describe heterosexual unions, “waitron” for waiter or waitress and “higher being” for God, which only makes me think of Cordelia Chase, hmmm.

life after

… I return to unfinished writings and half forgotten things to do. I’m on Page 4 of Blink and I don’t feel like doing editing. I wrote 3 paragraphs of Common Areas and I leave it alone.

What happened to getting 5,000 words a day? Nothing like pressure to force a bit of creativity and action, and nothing like no pressure to let things slide.

Showed Mum baby’s website, of all the family members, she’s the one most likely to get the technical aspects but when she asked about how it was made my inner geek laughed. Downloading wp is no problem for her but she might have problems configuring. And css is not easy, I guess she might end up being one of those people who use default templates.

Went to the gym for the first time in almost 2 weeks. It’s a thing.

I know I need to so cleaning and housework but it’s so difficult to find the motivation.

And it’s Friday tomorrow but mm has a function so for the first time in a long while I’m sleeping on my own on a Friday.

It’s a thing.

10 days that changed my life

Or, how I wrote 50,000 words in under 10 days.


In the beginning there was an average person who liked sports (played basketball in school but gave it up once work started), a little music (was forced to learn the piano at a young age), acted in a drama or two (strictly amateur stuff at college) and writing.

It was writing that held the greatest interest, and there are small black notebooks of random scribblings, lyrics and other stuff.

Years passed and projects that were started were abandoned.

Then came fanfic, which was devoured by the truckload. And then writing fingers started to itch. Lo and behold, lots of ideas but not finished. The only finished fanfic had just over 2,300 words written over a long weekend inspired by an imaginary real incident.

Then came the discovery of nanowrimo by accident. It was 21 November 2004.

The mission was to write a minimum 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Start writing on 1 Nov and finish on 30 Nov. From scratch.

Eeep.

It was already the 21st, that left 10 days. Other people had had nearly 3 weeks’ headstart.

So what? Just try. It’s not a competition, word counts are entirely controlled by self discipline, at the end, “winners” get a nice pdf cert, some icons they can use as avatars, and a sense of self satisfaction. But someone can submit the same word 50,000 times and it’ll get through.

Here’s how I did it.


Day 1. Sunday night.

The idea was hers. I told her about the challenge and she immediately came up with the premise. A woman loses her fiancé just before the wedding, goes into deep depression, only sees him in her dreams so she takes to sleeping a lot. Her work suffers, her friends are worried, not sure of the ending, may be eventually she stays in the dreamstate and joins him, ie leaves our reality.

I did a quick calculation, 50,000 in 10 days = at least 5,000 a day. Considering I was in the middle of writing Common Areas and it’s taking me anything from 3 days to a week to write a chapter target of 1,500 words, that is a tall order.

I start thinking about it but I haven’t made a start. I created a separate category in the original writing section though, each part will be an entry.

Day 2. Monday.

It starts of with an examination of what is normal. She is a normal person, with normal ideas, past, ambitions. I want to emphasize the normal-ness of it all. That tragedy can hit anyone anytime.

The beginning of the dream is also normal. The couple wakes up, brush their teeth, have breakfast, go to work. I imagine a suburban house, an average looking office, nothing is supposed to be out of place.

The phone ringing in the dream brings us back to reality, she struggles to get up, and go to work. I have her working in a bookstore, cos it’s the best I can come up with, it’s not that original but nevermind. I introduce a couple of co-workers, nice people who are concerned about her. There’s a small side thread about their effort to buy out the current owners.

She falls asleep and has another dream that starts off in soft colours and hugely romantic. Then suddenly it goes pear shaped and he appears on the bed in what I imagine his state was when he got killed.

The middle of the chapter is padding, I took some wordage on stages of grief and added her thoughts about each step.

Finally it’s a bit of backstory about how the dreams started and what she has been dreaming about so far.

Scene to remember, one that I bring back at the end of the story: they meet for coffee (in the dreamscape) and the first words he says to her are,

“For some reason they don’t have brown sugar, normal white ok?”

Day 3. Tuesday.

The most obvious place to start the next part is her thinking back at the nightmare. This is followed by the friends going to a club and meeting more people. I don’t want so many characters, but there has to be a few other characters apart from the main ones.

By part 2, we already know the name of our MC, who is Katy. The dead fiancé is Brian, the co-workers are Fatima and Rusty. I introduce a few more, Mei Lan (“their circle’s nearest impersonation of Jenny Shimizu”), Daria van der Tak (an attorney introduced by Mei Lan) and Conrad (a pretentious git who pretends he’s a high flying financier). Conrad disappears after one more appearance, but Mei Lan and Daria really evolve as characters, by the end of the novel they have fairly major scenes. So much so that it’s probably possible to base a future novel off these two characters.

I might change their names though. At least Mei Lan’s, which is a blatant attempt to pad the word count, by using a two-worded name. I didn’t make so much use of the van der Tak though.

There’s a second side thread about how Katy is struggling with Brian’s employer about beneficial interests of his insurance, pension, 401(k). That’s why she needs an attorney. I did a whole lot of research on the net about the rights of common law spouses when it comes to cases like this.

For US, it depends on state. There are 11 states (plus Washington DC) that recognise common law marriages to the extent that the parties live together, act as if, and represent to the world-at-large that they are married. The intention to be married (like registering, booking hotels etc) as well as proof of intent such as loan applications, joint accounts, deeds are used when the courts need to determine whether or not a common law marriage exists. A good point is, there isn’t usually a need to determine unless it’s a case of will contest, divorce proceedings or wrongful death claim.

So she has an arguable case. I haven’t presented whether they lived together but the apartment is certainly in their joint names. Plus the wedding’s arranged, they have the license already, the intent is certainly very strong. The way I see it, because there’s no will, there has to be some hoops to jump through before the probate is finalised, but unless there’s strenuous objections from his family (conveniently, his parents have passed away and he has no siblings) or other claims, she has a claim.

Made a start on part 3. This is the part where everything starts off well but then unexpected people keep turning up and unexpected things happen.

They got their financing from the bank manager and have a party to celebrate. Lots of people come, more chance to develop the minor characters. Lots of feel good factors there.

Day 4. Wednesday.

After the good comes the bad.

After the party Fatima’s mother suddenly shows up demanding money and gets dismissed. Needless to say she will be back again to wreak havoc.

Some boys causes small damage when they overturn a jar of marbles. This actually happened that time I was at Forbidden Planet once, these things rolled everywhere and took a while to recover.

When Katy gets home she finds a letter addressed to Mr and Mrs Brian and Katy, which causes a mini-breakdown. Which leads to a dream.

Then comes the first of the Very Important Dreams. No longer normal every day dreams of brushing teeth, this time they are somewhere symbolic, at a railway station, with Brian supposedly leaving, for somewhere. She doesn’t want him to leave and appeals to a nearby angel, who refers her to

“the Woman Upstairs”

Part 4 starts with a visit to the cemetary. It figures that she visits him regularly, perhaps making it a ritual. The touching of the name on the headstone is inspired by Paths by Justskipit, I hope I’m not infringing on any copyright there.

She said to me I have to include some scenes that describe their lives together, I didn’t want to do flashbacks but I did make her do some reflective thinking.

Day 5. Thursday.

I’m bad. I’m surfing the net and writing during the day. At work. Yikes.

I surfed around the nano website and ventured for the first time into the forums. Came across people who were finished, others who were behind. But lots of encouragement.

And Dares. Oh my, dares. Ideas, preposterous situations, challenges, apparently a tradition. Some seem impossible to incorporate but as I read through the thread I copied the ones I thought were promising. I went back to the last 2 parts and incorporated some of the dares. It’s fun.

The third side thread, about Mei Lan’s growing feelings for Daria which gets revealed when she and Katy have lunch together. I find it easy to write Mei Lan, and to a certain extent Daria, much more so than Katy, who seems a bit too depressed for me.

A fourth side thread, where she blurts out that she had a one time affair, which is supposed to set up future scenes of guilt, but not really utilised at the end. Deep down, probably just my inner smut kitten wanting a little attention.

Wrote the first part of part 5 which is the dinner party. Shameless padding where I put in planning the menu, the actual recipes and stuff like that. Katy and Fatima plays matchmaker to Mei Lan and Daria.

What Mei Lan wears, a ruffled Pirate Shirt, I got the idea from Master Will, who was wearing a Poet’s Shirt at that first moonlight party. Didn’t want to be that extravagant, and found a pirate’s shirt at amazon. The wide yoke and the criss crossed laces at the front were so perfect, shows off a bit of cleavage too, hehehe.

Day 6. Friday.

One of the Dares is to include Thanatos, the god of death. I did some research, mainly at wikipedia, on this god and Greek mythology on the whole. Perfect. Thanatos had a twin, Hypnos who was the god of sleep. Even more perfect.

Thanatos and Hypnos will appear in one of her dreams, how fitting is that?

I wanted to explore a bit more about the Woman Upstairs and Take-charge Katy’s demands. So I stick them in a waiting room and make them go through an interview with a panel of “judges” to see if their demands are met. Kinda like St Peter at the Gate.

I have the 2 gods, then I decided to add representatives from other species, like aliens, humans, animals, robots. Couldn’t figure out the animal part, but the robot the obvious choice is the one from Metropolis, the original robot in the original sci fi film by Fritz Lang. I asked my non sci fi focused colleague about aliens and she came up with Superman. Great, cos he can represent humans too.

The interview scene was surreal but very easy to write. The whole idea, and that wasn’t actually done very well, is that the interviewees see whoever they want to see. So the penguins before them could have been interviewed by others, and not this particular bunch. I named the panel the gods and robots goon squad.

I wrote most of this at work. Bad me.

Had to go to a dinner Friday night, missing precious time. I was pretty angsty at that stage, all too aware that I was running out of time. And my temper was bad too.

After dinner when I got to her place I wrote a little about the aftermath but that was it.

Day 7. Saturday.

My first full day for writing. And it did not go well.

I was too distracted by my usual places. Fanfic, fanfic, fanfic. Plus WaTchers and The Chosen had new eps which I’d missed. So I was reading them, or surfing through wikipedia. No good at all.

A whole morning and afternoon and all I managed was writing about going to the con, that’s after reading a whole load of material about Comic Con, tarot stuff and scraping the bottom of my mind for anecdotes.

Luckily at the back of my mind I’d already been planning for the next downturn — of the bookstore being broken into and vandalised. CSI experience became handy. What I didn’t realise was that Fatima’s mother turned out to be the culprit which will lead to Fatima leaving. I know now why people sometimes say characters have a mind of their own, I didn’t expect Fatima to leave.

Again the ending of the story came from my best girl, who suggested that Katy runs into a double of Brian at a Christmas fair and they talk but this new person has different personality to her Brian and things happen that may or may not be good.

So I was desperately calculating. At the end of Saturday I was at 33. I can’t have the Christmas fair until at least 40, preferably 45. I have the Woman Upstairs issue to resolve, at that stage I had no idea who that woman is. That’s towards the end of the story, not till the mid- or late-40s. So I have something like 10,000 words I have to fill and no new scenes.

Day 8. Sunday.

Was a very hard slog that I got through by sheer determination.

I took out a character mentioned early in part 1, her therapist, and wrote in a visit. I wrote in a replacement for Fatima which led to a little sci fi trivial pursuit. The funniest line, when Rusty says to Mei Lan, “I’m sure Daria will go ga-ga for your Lara” when they were talking about costumes. Plus of course the significance of both 42 and 50,000.

Then a Dare of putting a recipe for chocolate cake somewhere in the novel, as an interlude. Did that.

Still not enough words. So I used another tried and tested method. Katy writing a letter to Brian to express her feelings. It was long and rambling but it summed up her feelings.

A further interlude, again thanks to my inner smut kitten, of my version of truth and dare, they took turns describing their first sexual experience. Oh I’m bringing out the clichés now.

Day 8. Monday.

I had my office door closed for most part of the day.

Which brings me to the first of the dream finales. The gods and robots goon squad make an appearance, and she finds Brian. They have a night of perfect sex.

In the shadows of candlelight that shone unabated, they danced the slow dance of long lost lovers, as if it were the first time, or their last. It was not a greeting, nor a farewell. It was simply a finding and also a closing. For they had cast the circle now, and a circle had no beginnings or endings.

Aaaannnd I’m at part 10.

The Christmas market, again backstory and padding.

Then she spotted the guy, the one who looks like her Brian. But it was just a glimpse, under the influence of a fair bit of alcohol.

I’m at 45,863 when I leave the office, just over 4,000 to go.

The second part of the dream finale was easy, it’s all about the carousel in the room that I’ve always dreamt about. They get on, it spins faster and faster and they get to the place where souls are judged. They meet the goon squad again and still there are no answers.

I know now who the Woman Upstairs is, it’s no one, or rather, it’s Katy herself. That in order to get over the grief, to learn to live again, and all that psychobabble stuff, she has to face herself.

The only person who can help her is her

So I write in a bit where she faces off with Thanatos, because ultimately it is his show, this journey is all about facing death. At the end when she is having the argument with him, and the others try to intervene, she says,

This is between Death and me.

and then finally,

“I am the Woman Upstairs, look at me.”
The face in the mirror was her own.

So I got to 48,000+. And I knew there was only the one little ending scene, more of an epilogue. And I was around 1,000 words short. Damn.

Shit.

I took her back to the market to finish her Christmas shopping, I gave her a small flashback about a winter coat, I made her think about the ending of the dream.

Then I told her,

She truly believed she would not dream of Brian again. Though she was saddened by the thought, it was not as devastating as she expected it to be, nor did she feel guilt at that realization. He had gone on ahead, euphemistically, with Thanatos, although she was sure he gone some place upstairs.

Heaven, if you will.

It was time to move on.

The last scene would be better off in an epilogue but it’s only 290 words. She runs into the double guy and the first words he says to her are,

“For some reason they don’t have brown sugar, normal white ok?

And I’m done.