i am shrewd, inner-directed and guarded

Inspired by kottke, I had my personality analysed by IBM’s AI platform IBM Watson Personality Insights. It allows me to either enter a body of text or it will analyse my twitter feed.

First, twitter. The analysis says:

You are strict and analytical.

You are organized: you feel a strong need for structure in your life. You are mild-tempered: it takes a lot to get you angry. And you are calm under pressure: you handle unexpected events calmly and effectively.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of organization.

You are relatively unconcerned with both independence and helping others. You welcome when others direct your activities for you. And you think people can handle their own business without interference.

I wasn’t sure how accurate it will be, most of my twitter are automatic IFTTT posts when I post on the website, or occasional RTs. But it turns out to be really accurate, especially with regards to being organised and being unconcerned.

It also says I’m likely to like historical movies, read autobiographical books, and read often. 1 out of 3 here. I’m unlikely to be influenced by social media during product purchases, prefer style when buying clothes, or like rap music. 3 out of 3.

Overall, twitter analysis is pretty accurate.

Now let’s try a block of text. How about the current front page. Total 50 posts between 12-mar-2018 and 31-apr-2018. 12000-ish words. This analysis:

You are shrewd, inner-directed and guarded.

You are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of organization.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and achieving success. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

I’m likely to be sensitive to ownership cost when buying automobiles, have experience playing music, and like historical movies. 1.5 out of 3. I’m unlikely to be influenced by social media during product purchases, prefer style when buying clothes, and be influenced by brand name when making product purchases. 3 out of 3.

I think this is probably more accurate although there are similarities with the twitter analysis.


They present the results in a sunburst visualisation that is really impressive. The science behind the sevice is fascinating. Essentially marketers and psychologists found that how we use language is a reflection of our personality, thinking style, social connections, and emotional states. Based on these studies, IBM developed models that correlate between certain social media behaviour and real life personality. An example from a retail study is people who score high in orderliness, self-discipline, and cautiousness and low in immoderation are 40 percent more likely to respond to coupons than the random population.

The team at IBM claims a correlation in the region of 0.3 with mean average error of 0.12 for English. In terms of research norm in this area, correlations above 0.2 are considered acceptable.

It’s all very interesting, although I find it somewhat creepy. I hate it when the ultimate goal is to target people in terms of what to market to them and predict their buying behaviour.

don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm


There was a mild incident earlier when someone yelled at us for something that wasn’t our fault; and this person wanted to let us know how much better, more knowledgeable, and more worthy they are compared with mere minions like us. It originated, ironically, from us wanting to be accommodating.

Ah well, can’t win them all. It bothered me for a minute, then I decided it wasn’t worth losing brain cells and raising my blood pressure for.

May be it’s my personality, or may be training over the years, I’m helpful but ultimately I don’t really care about things that have nothing to do with me. I’ll give up my seat for someone, but I don’t really care which stop they’re going. I’ll help you tidy up but I don’t care whether you keep that shirt or not. I’ll provide information but it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other what you do with it.

May be I’m being uncaring, or selfish, or unresponsive.

I’ve been trying to get mm to push back more too. She puts too much effort and invests too much of herself into situations and people who, while superficially appreciative, are basically using her. The charity she volunteers at, her lab professor, her family. From where I stand, I see them taking and taking and taking and giving nothing in return. I sent her this image to illustrate my point.

You’re not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

There’s so much self-help literature about this. You do not owe the world your nicemess. 5 signs you’re trying too hard to please everyone. 40 things about life I wish I could travel back in time and tell myself. On the last one, I don’t necessarily agree with all 40, some make sense:

  • #4 never be dismissive of things you don’t understand
  • #6 you only have so many fucks to give, ration them carefully
  • #17 you can’t argue with haters, because they’re not arguing with you
  • #34 not everything is someone’s fault

happiness and people


Went over to meet mm in the afternoon. And we were joined by her mum’s friend P. Didn’t do much, just walked along the seafront near her place to the shopping centre and bought ice cream using my almost-expiring coupons. P has been super supportive of her mum and the family during her mum’s illness. She’s close enough to their family to be able to offer honest and practical advice. But there are still things mm can only tell me, not only because I understand, but I, luckily, have her trust.

P had to go home for dinner and we stayed around the shopping centre, browsing around supermarkets. Walked back and had Japanese set dinner–chirashi for me, grilled mackerel for her. Didn’t do much, but it was necessary social support.

There’s an article in the NYT called Happiness is Other People that seems quite poignant today.

There seems to be a trend that promotes self-awareness, self-discovery and self-everything, the starting point being: the search for contentment is an internal, personal quest that doesn’t involve other people. I totally embrace the concept of finding happiness internally or engaging in activities alone or in a group without interaction (eg running in a race with tens of thousands of people). A fb friend posted a question on what would make a perfect birthday and most people replied along the lines of spending time with loved ones, a nice meal, receiving presents. I remember one year, I took the day off work and told everyone not to contact me on the day. I didn’t think people would appreciate me posting that as a comment so I stayed silent.

There’s some pushback on all the internalising. Pretending to live in a virtual desert island doesn’t work all the time. It may be harmful rather than beneficial. There are studies that say lack of social interaction is as dangerous to health as smoking and obesity. NYT:

Self-reflection, introspection and some degree of solitude are important parts of a psychologically healthy life. But somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten the balance wrong. Because far from confirming our insistence that ‘happiness comes from within,’ a wide body of research tells us almost the exact opposite….if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

I think it comes down, as with many things in life, to balance. Imagine a spectrum that has complete social isolation at one end and constant social interaction on the other, each of us falls somewhere in the middle. Some peole prefer to be surrounded by people all the time, some people want more “me time.” What I think is also of extreme importance, is the quality and worthwhileness of the interactions. It takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to maintain strong social connections; as someone on mefi said:

it’s about the same level of energy (emotional, physical, logistical) required for dating…it’s a constant struggle against a lot of ingrained ideas I have about what counts as a “worthwhile” investment of my time.

Also important, is having the strength to leave toxic connections. Is it a fear of losing out, or fear of isolation, or resistance to change? Most of us are guilty of keeping toxic connections that are draining and too needy. Almost impossible to leave when it’s family, and here is when those other quality and worthwhile connections that can help negate the negativity. Sometimes the mere availability of those positive connections can carry us through tough times. The thought that I can go to certain friends is enough, I don’t necessarily have to actually reach out to them.

At the moment, mm and I are each other’s social support and we’ve either isolated ourselves or through circumstances found ourselves isolated. All the more important to have more “us time” even if it’s just walking in the park to the shopping centre to get ice cream.


I’ve lived with this view out of my living room (East River, NYC):

On this street (Chicago):

And this (London):

WIthin walking distance to this (Lake Zurich at Tiefenbrunnen):
Swaying Silently
image courtesy flickr user eric andresen because I haven’t scanned my pics

Running distance to this (Belmont Harbor, Chicago):

So why am I now a prisoner in a hovel of a room where two rooms-worth of stuff are piled on top of each other and there is no space to walk more than 3 steps. Pollution so bad I’ve needed antihistammine every day for the past 6 months. Always weary of dark spots in case there are undesirable visitors. No way out.

back to daily drudge

Current -- In Explore 14 Nov 2015
image via flickr user thadz, public domain

Tired. And feeling lost and stuck and hopeless. It’s uncanny how the negative feelings come back so quickly as soon as I woke up and realised I was back at home. There’s even a funny smell around the flat, like someone’s cooking cabbage and it’s way past overcooked.

Have to do through the daily drudge again. I really do not feel like any of it.

things i’ve stopped doing


Things I used to do and feel important that I do them and now I don’t anymore. Some are good and some are less good.

  • keep track of food eaten — I’ve tracked calories on TDP, now livestrong, since around 2008. Seems to be increasingly pointless. So what if I met my calorie goal, or was under, or go over
  • eating healthily — I had 4 timtams at teatime today and yesterday, that’s way too much. I can’t seem to stop if I’ve opened a packet of something
  • running and exercise — it’s marathon season and I’ve mostly avoided reading and posting about them. I know I need to run, but there is zero motivation
  • sleeping well — I either stay up too late then wake up late; or I wake up at 3am and can’t go back to sleep
  • listen to music — not getting much enjoyment out of
  • i stopped reading for about a month, recently started again — quite relieved
  • I average one coke zero or diet coke once every a week or less frequent — there are times when I want fizz or fizz with taste, I drink sparkling water and have discovered a stash of cranberry satchets in the fridge so I don’t even need to buy iced tea when I’m out and about
  • care about…anything

I don’t want to self-diagnose but typical depression symptoms include:

  • difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • overeating or appetite loss
  • feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping


the last day i was happy

I remember 26-Mar-2016 as the last day I was truly happy. We were supposed to have dinner to celebrate my birthday. Papa didn’t come because he wasn’t feeling well, Mum went back to stay with him so Sis and gis and I had dinner.

Everything went to shits after that.

Edit: I accidentally clicked on posts for March-April last year, argh. The actualy date is 23-Mar-2016.

off air


I feel like I’m currently off air. I’m doing the minimum, routine stuff: posting on the website and instagramming food pics. My friend sent me cute cat pics and I haven’t responded. The most active whatsapp groups are on mute. I’m replying to emails that I have to, but ignoring the rest.

I just looked at my PMs and I have to apologise to the friends who sent kind messages when I was feeling down last week. I haven’t replied to a single one and I feel like such an idiot. So rude. All I can say is sorry again and thank you for being such good friends. They made me feel less alone and despondent when I needed it most.

There are things to do, fairly urgent things, before the end of the month. External things and people that do not care that I’m feeling depressed, or lack motivation, or the other three thousand excuses I come up with. And like buses, when they arrive, they arrive all at once.

Just let me get through the next couple of days, the urgency will make me shift gears because I have no choice.

angry, want to escape

Been feeling very angry recently. I really want my life back, when I didn’t have to spend every day planning and cooking all meals, or doing laundry, or cleaning. Or having the type of freedom and privacy a child has at home (ie zero). I need not feel like I’m carrying a 100 ton backpac. I need to not have to listen to stuff I don’t care about the second I step into listening range. I don’t care which plastic bag is used to carry boxes of biscuits. I don’t care that the #7 bus was late. I don’t care what that receipt is that was on the table. I want to be able to watch tv in silence. I just want to go about my day as if I were living on my own.

Even with bugs and heat and a leaking aircon, I was happy in New York because I was accountable to only myself. I chose to meet up with my cousin and his family and it was a wonderful evening. I chose to meet up with my friend JC to do a walking exploration of the city and it was fantastic. Other times, I chose to be on my own and I didn’t need anyone’s permission or interference.

I did not choose this situation I find myself in.

I feel smothered and trapped.

I have no solution.

The only thought that can calm me down is a fantasy. I imagine packing my bag, may be my duffel. I think about the clothes I will bring: not too many, I can do laundry but I need to be prepared for summer, winter, sun and rain. I’ll bring my electronics and running stuff. Documents. I’ll need to go to the bank to withdraw or transfer money. But I’ll leave behind my books and my whiskies and my furniture, can’t be helped.

Then I will disappear. Go into hiding.

My fantasy is predicable, I end up on a flight to the UK, because that’s where I feel most comfortable. No visa issues, no language barrier, I can get a job if necessary.

I look on airbnb for cheap places to stay, at least in the beginning. The search is for the whole UK and under £50 a night. Own space, not a room in someone’s house. I still want wifi and a proper kitchen so I can cook. This discounts lots of places that only have a hotplate or microwave. A lot of entire place listings are actually rooms in one big house so there’s quite a bit of misrepresentation too.

Here’s someone’s converted shed at the bottom of the garden in Gant’s Hill. Converted sheds, garages, caravans, even tents are aplenty:

A wee flat in the Orkneys:

What a nice fantasy. Keeping me just this side of sane right now.

be grateful

Saw this on mm’s fb. So so true. I have a certain family member who is never grateful and forever complains about the lack of money, property, car, holiday etc even though none of the complaints hold water (averaging 1-2 long trips and 3-4 short trips a year is not “no holiday”).


The video is, I think, associated with the author who wrote the gratitude diaries who:

spends a year living gratefully and transforms her marriage, family life, work and health

In an adweek article, she writes about how social media can help promote gratitude. Even though most people tend to dwell on negatives, most social media posts fall into the category of looking on the bright side:

if it’s been raining every day on your beach vacation, you take a selfie snuggled inside with a glass of wine and a good book and post something like, “Ahh, grateful for peace and relaxation!”

Perhaps. There are some people who only post miserable stuff, or vague “I’m having a bad day, don’t ask” type of attention seeking posts. In general, Ms Kaplan is probably right. By trying to promote cheerfulness on social media, our perspective changes.

Personally I find I have to consciously tell myself to be positive and grateful. I don’t go round complaining that I don’t have money or success or a perfect body. I don’t need to keep a gratitude diary to konw that I live a comfortable life, am left alone most of the time and the recent health issue is easily addressed. In this way, I may consider myself a better person than my family member, because I have self-awareness. For that, I’m grateful.

two kinds of people

An interesting tumblr with drawings highlighting the difference between different types of people. More or less, extroverts vs introverts, type A vs type B, neat vs messy. Some of them quite true.


People seem to have either zero notifications or unread emails, or 30,000 of them. I’m the one of the right. Notifications on the iphone are limited to line, whatspp and phone. Absolutely no push email notirications. I clear notifications, missed calls immediately. I’m also proudly inbox zero.


Actually I organise my books alphabetically so I’m neither.


When it comes to sandwiches, I’m the one on the left. I don’t mind triangles, and I understand the argument that they are more aesthetically pleasing. I just find rectangular sandwiches less messy.

lookback 14-jan

One of the tasks for the 30 day challenge is to look back on old posts.

one year agolookback

I deliberately chose today because the post on 14-jan-2014 was…a lookback post hahaha. One year ago, the lookback post looked back to 2013 with a delightful video series of Rino the Japanese gourmet toddler. To 2011 with a surfing video, to 2009 with thoughts about BRICs and to 2004 about bonuses.
Yep, meta.


three years agorestaurant: goodman


Three years ago, I was in London. RM and I visited Goodman steakhouse at Canary Wharf. We’d visited Hawksmoor previously and wanted to try the other well-known steakhouse. Similar cuts, but instead of sourced from one farm, the steaks were sourced from around the world. I had a charcoal-grilled 650g (23oz) bone-in sirloin and a side of truffle mac-n-cheese. I was in the middle of Brighton marathon training so that big a meal was okay for me then. I note from the post that I enjoyed the steak, but thought Hawksmoor was better.

I miss London.


five years agoweekend plans

eggpotatoskin02 muffinblueberry02

Five years ago, I was in Chicago. It was a friday and I was making plans for the long weekend. I was quite excited about the Martin Luther King holiday because I never had it (although not getting Boxing Day the December before was horrible). I wanted to do some cooking, and I ending up making tons of stuff including braised turkey legs, roasted brussel sprouts, eggs baked in potato skin, chicken & mashed potato for the rest of the week, and blueberry muffins.


As if that wasn’t enough, I also planned, and managed to go skiing at Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin. Well, it’s more like a hill covered with man-made snow, but I hadn’t skiied for a while, I missed it and it was a nice day out. Turned out, I didn’t get many more opportunities to ski since then.

I miss skiing.


ten years agoback to the gym

Heh, I forgot I used to be a member of the gym near my then office. That was before I started properly running. I went for a few months, mostly at lunch time. No record of my speed or distance from then; I hadn’t started keeping track. Most of the post was about this woman at the elliptical who was impeccably made up, with a fancy watch and loads of jewellery. Apparently she was also wearing tights underneath her shorts, plus socks and the obligatory cute sneakers. Unfotunately, even ten years on, there are people who go to the gym like that.

Sometimes I miss having the facilities of a gym, especially a treadmill with intervals setting. But I’ll make do with going to sis’ place occasionally.


time travel for success


It’s #tbt so I posted a 10 year old pic of the dolphin watch cruise at Port Stephens near Sydney. I’d almost forgotten about that trip! In 2004 I was travelling so much that it seemed like I spent more time at hotels than at home and the trips blurred into a giant foggy semi-memory. That trip to Sydney was part of a massive 3 week trip as part of the service centre set up. I managed to meet up with sherlock, her gf at the time and we drove up to Port Stephens / Nelson Bay for a dolphin watch cruise. It was my first time and it was very interesting.

The reason I can look back is because I have archives so I can see not only what I was doing 10 years ado but my general state of mind. Reading through august 2004 entries and doing a SB&T check:

  • physically I seemed to be suffering from back pain and eating out too much, not exerising
  • mentally I had to continue to be alert because of work, I had a lot of information to gather, analyse and present at the end of the trip
  • emotionally I was in a bad place, even now the loneliness and sadness came through — it was less than a year since mm lost her sis and our relationship was pretty rocky


Lots happened in the past 10 years. What I wouldn’t give to go back 10 years and have a talk with 2004!me. Or pick the brain of 2024!me. This is what the guys at nerd fitness are asking us to consider. Three things:

  1. something the current you would tell yourself 10 years ago:
    • don’t wait till you can’t bear to look in the mirror before getting your health in order; exercise, start eating healthier and watch the alcohol
    • work stress is not worth it; do the best you can, but don’t be lazy
    • things with mm will never go back to how it was, communicate positively and build for the future
    • keep a closer eye on your finances, you can be a bit more aggressive in your investments
  2. what your future looks like, being as specific and detailed as possible:
    • congratulations on another marathon PR
    • you won an award for your pics from the antarctic cruise (continent #7)
    • you finally get the recognition you wanted as a published author
    • the microfarm and the attached café restaurant are doing really well, and wow, new cookbook coming out
    • you and mm made some good property investments, and designed your new home
  3. what’s one thing the FUTURE you would come back and tell TODAY you so that you head down the right path? Actually I have two things:
    • learn more about mindfulness, just let things be
    • run. run more. don’t stop running

lookback 14-may

one year ago


Good timing, a year ago I just got back from the norway cruise and posted my trip highlights. Great memories of Copenhagen, Kiel, Geirangerfjord, Flam, Bergen, Oslo and Dubai. How will the glaciers in Alaska compare with the fjords of Norway as I prepare for the cruise next week. I’ve been a bit down and meh about the trip (not related to the destination because…Alaska) and looking back at the highlights of the norway cruise cheered me up a little.

five years ago


For the five year lookback I’m going to cheat a little. On 14-May-2009 the post was about coldplay’s latest album which they were giving away as a free download. Aside from gossip inches about chris martin, I hadn’t noticed a lot of news about coldplay in 5 years.

The post that was important that week 5 years ago was on 16-May-2009, when I signed the lease for my chicago apartment. I had been living out of suitcases in a serviced apartment for 5 months so it was particularly exciting to finally have my own furniture and stuff. I would call that place home for the next 18 months and it’s probably my favourite out of all the places I’d lived in my life.

ten years ago

I did not make a single post during May 2004. Those were the early days of blogging and I was travelling quite a bit. The closest was 26-Apr-2004 when I complained of gaining weight. Nothing new, but it would be a good few years before I finally got round to seriously losing that weight.

the challenge is a fresh challenge

This is the actual post on medium, I figured I should have a copy over here. As of about 20hrs after publication I have 3 views, so there is no danger of my invisibility being compromised.


The Challenge is a Fresh Challenge

I started taking part in fitness challenges back when it wasn’t awkward to hang around the livestrong website. Do x number of crunches, run y miles, track z calories. It was fun and, like most goal-driven tasks, gave me a sense of achievement when I was able to give myself a pat on the back when I completed the challenge. Go me!

The internet caters to many tastes and personalities and “people who like making lists and following them” are particularly well served. Bucket lists, wishlists and a proliferation of challenges abound. We can lose weight, take photographs, read books, design quilts—if you do it, someone will do it with you in the world wide web.

Or so it appears.

Initially the motivation for doing a challenge was for personal improvement and, as mentioned, a sense of achievement. I was happy operating in my cozy personal challenge bubble. Often my immediate family and friends only have a vague idea of what I was doing. Like an alcoholic or someone with a comic book addiction I hid my challenge activities in plain sight around daily routines.

Then came social media.

Nowadays it seems that nothing happens in life without it being broadcast on social media. Unfortunately I too have succumbed. It’s not enough to self-participate in a challenge, it has to be done with my facebook friends and every minute detail tweeted to my twitter followers. I cry silent tears if no one likes my status updates, and there is an unspoken competition with fellow challenge-takers—challengers?, challengemongers?—for the most original, the most fun, the most popular, the most challenging…challenge.

I run. I run alone. I do not like running in groups. So stop obsessing about impressing people who you’ve never met or only see occasionally and go back to basics. Stop labeling it. Give myself a set of goals for my own benefit, because ultimately I am the only one who matters.

my first medium post

The challenge is a fresh challenge

I thought I’d give medium a go. Medium has impressive pedigree, founded by @ev and @biz from twitter. I check out posts there a few times a week, and there seems to be a common theme, at least the articles I enjoyed—tight writing on a variety of popular topics by a tech-savvy group of contributors. The Atlantic summarised it as:

a place to read articles on the Internet. Medium is a blogging platform, like WordPress or Blogger. Medium is the new project from the guys who brought you Twitter. Medium is chaotically, arrhythmically produced by a combination of top-notch editors, paid writers, PR flacks, startup bros, and hacks.

Certainly, it feels somewhat like early blogger (before it was google-ized), or even harking back to the wild, wild days of early livejournal (before it got bought for no good reason by sixapart and is now russian-ized). All packaged in an astoundingly clean and oh-so-easy to use interface.

The design and the way articles are grouped in collections means that writing at medium has a different feel to writing on my own website, on tumblr or on facebook. Here on the website, I write whatever I like, and I indulge in topics that may only be interesting to me. Yes, it means I jump from topic to topic and despite it being in existence for 10 years, it’s virtually unmarketable. I don’t do much on tumblr and facebook/twitter updates are as throwaway as yesterday’s lunch leftovers.

Writing on medium is one step up, I guess. Although its referral system works much like reddit, which means my post will likely languish at or near the bottom, I still have a responsibility to write a coherent post, in case it does get some attention. I don’t want to have a popular or even viral post with typos, for instance.


I’m not at a point where I can write about tech, or food, or travel, or current affairs. So I picked a topic that is on my mind and allows me some room for musing. So, well, here’s the post: The Challenge is a Fresh Challenge, took me about half an hour to write.

It’s not clear to me whether the post will be published immediately or whether it needs to go through a review process. I like the discipline. Find a suitable title, write a tagline, write the article. I agree with Slate’s prognosis:

If I didn’t care about getting paid or having a job and just wanted to write something, Medium is the tool I would use.

hokkaido day 3: sapporo, jozankei

Woke up to mm wishing me happy birthday, yay. Breakfast was a the café denmark inside the station shopping complex — egg curry roll, brioche and I had a royal milk tea which was basically normal tea made stronger than their normal weak standards. Checked out of the hotel, not before trying the free massage chair at the lift lobby and also discovering they had a lounge with free coffee. Ah well. Had some difficulty finding the car rental place, we were a little confused with google maps before realising that the office was next to Sapporo subway station and not the JR station. It was actually just a couple of blocks from our hotel on the same side of the street. Ah well.

sap184curbmkt sap191curbcrab

Drove 20mins to curb market and found a parking space around the shops. Unlike the covered nijo market, curb market had seafood shops lining both sides of a stretch of the road. Lots and lots of crab, crab and more crab. We had lunch at an upstairs restaurant, which we remember from last time. Uni & ikura rice, grilled cuttlefish, grilled corn and a bottle of beer to share. Yummy. Dessert was melon slices from one of the shops on the street.

joz011cafe joz014cake

After lunch it was off to leg 2 of our trip, to Jozankei onsen. It’s only about 45mins’ drive from Sapporo, on a regular main road. Small village with several hotels, a couple of shops and some cafés. It was too early for check in so we stopped at a traditional café. Tea, coffee, toast and pound cake. Very quaint and European style, down to the delicate china and wooden tables.

joz022hotel joz046honey

We were staying at two different onsen hotels at Jozankei. The first is the Shogetsu Grand, a more commercial and larger place. Lovely view of the river valley from our tatami room. We unpacked and made our way to the lounge for tea, coffee and to sample their honey bar. They had something like 15-20 different types of honey to try, from flowery ones like lavender and rose to fruity ones like apple and pomegranate to odd ones like sunflower and something woody. Crackers and yogurt were available to go with the honey. So relaxing, just sitting there at the lounge.


joz070spaoutdoor joz072spaoutdoor

Even more relaxing was the onsen itself. A very large spa with 3 indoor pools at different temperatures, an outdoor spa and a steam room. Obviously you’re not supposed to take pictures in an onsen, but we sneaked them while no one was around. Great soak for about an hour until it was time for dinner.

joz083setting joz101papillote
joz115riceeggsoup joz122dessert

Dinner was amazing. It was served in our room, and like all kaseki meals it consisted of neverending courses. Umeshu appetiser with small plates of starters, fish, sashimi, pork meatballs cooked in broth at the table, pumpkin and pork rib en papillote, chawanmushi, flavoured rice, soup and a seasonal sakura pudding with blueberry vinegar. Even though we were full it wasn’t the type of bloaty fullness associated with overeating. Most of the dishes were vegetable or seafood, only a small amount of red meat.

After laying around and allowing the food to digest, we headed down to the onsen for another soak. The relaxation was topped off with 10mins at the massage chair (¥100) and then it was time for bed. What a great day.

look back 21 march

It’s spring. Let’s do another look back in time post.

1 year ago
Video link post about pro scooter riders doing tricks on scooters just like they are skateboards. Awesome. Watch:

I would very much like to have been good at skateboarding, but alas no. I also missed out on the free running / parkour movement. Sigh.

3 years ago
A post about spring, plus the obligatory flower pic. Nice tulip.

5 years ago
Wow, has it already been 5 years? That was the first time I went to a reading. In Chicago. At Women and Children First. I met these awesome people for the first time:


I consider them friends now, some I’ve kept more in touch with than others. I’ve bought every single book this group has published since 2009, and some of the books I read and re-read time and time again. I’ll say it again, an awesome group.

10 years ago
No post on the 21st, but bookended by two strange posts. A random post on the 19th about hair, and I don’t even remember the people I was talking about; and then on the 23rd a depressing, incoherent post about the state of our relationship. Wow, nothing has changed in 10 years.

look back in time

I have 10 years’ worth of posts here, so it may be interesting to look back in time to see what I was posting.

one year ago:
kids on food

Nice post about eating habits around the world, inspired by a couple of Jamie Oliver food programs and a youtube channel Rinozawa of a Japanese toddler who loves to try new food. The one that caught my eye was the one where Rino, the kid, tries pho. Seems like Rino now has a younger brother, Yuuma, but their foodie ways continue. This one is where they try satay. There are also videos of Rino cooking with mum, she made scrambled eggs and chocolate madeleine, so delightful.

The thing is, Rino is an exception. Many parents I know would have baulked at serving satay to a young child — flavour too strong, too unfamiliar etc. And many parents would have taken the meat off the skewer onto a plate instead of letting their child try the food the way it should be eaten, because skewers are difficult and dangerous if the sharp point accidentally pokes through the mouth. Note that Rino is supervised by both her parents, and they aren’t afraid of letting her eat off the skewer.

Jamie Oliver’s food revolution is still ongoing. American kids still do not recognise potatoes unless in the form of fries. Idiot parents bring an 8-month old screaming baby to a 3 michelin star restaurant. The comments from the Alinea kerfuffle are all focused on “if I paid $400+ per head for dinner I want to enjoy it” are of course true, but my opinion is that it isn’t the price tag, it’s the fact that Alinea serves a tasting menu that lasts several hours in the evening and why would the parents think it’s appropriate to bring a baby to an event lasting that long? It’s not appropriate to bring a baby to the theatre for the same reason.

three years ago:
long surf ride

A video post of a 5-mile surf in Alaska. Beautiful scenery, beautiful photography. Quite peaceful to watch.

five years ago:
cheap brics

Investing in the BRIC markets. It was the thing back then to invest in the BRIC markets, and the 5-year performance chart validates the decision to buy in 2009.


Performance since 2011 has been mediocre, and I’ve mostly exited in favour of the more stable European market. My US investments have done pretty well too, over 5 years.

ten years ago:
bonus matters

Back before attention fell on financial services bonuses, even people like us in support functions got a small share of the pie. Interesting to read my reaction to a lower bonus compared with the year before; that is why I’m not in the front office. I think I got that special award because of participation in a global project, whatever it was, it was great to be recognised for contribution.

Things are so different now, 10 years later. So many scandals, the whole industry dragged down the entire world economy. Huge income inequality and bankers are now regarded as vile. True, the bonuses were outlandish and mostly ill-gotten, but what most lay people don’t realise is that these huge bonuses only apply to the people at the top. When the pie is smaller, these people don’t get smaller bonuses, they get larger share of the pie at the expense of junior people and support staff. Don’t laugh at everybody who lost their jobs when the likes of Lehman collapsed, the top people got their golden parachutes but how about the desk assistants and account clerks and IT staff?

Am I sorry I ended up in the financial services industry as opposed to, say, pharmaceuticals or engineering? I worked long hours and saw a lot of ugliness, but I also got sent all over the world and managed to save up enough to be semi-retired. All in all, not too bad.

look back summary

Hey, this was fun, looking back over past posts. May do it again some other time.

all i want for christmas is to spend it alone


Two years ago, I had one of the best christmas day ever. I started cooking early in the morning, put the guinea fowl, duck & pheasant ballotine from m&s in the oven together with my vegs. Dessert was stollen from Prague with sparkling cranberries and a dollop of marmalade. Aside from skyping with the family and a visit to my downstairs neighbour for tea, I had no other human contact for the entire long weekend.


Whenever I’m on assignment people always say to me, “don’t spend Christmas on your own” before proceeding to invite me to their christmas do (like my downstairs neighbour). Sometimes it’s great, sometimes I want nothing more than to be able to plan the day, make the food, enjoy the day, all on my own. It’s a quiet time of year, and I want to make full use of that quietude.

I’m also aware that not everyone share my sentiment. It is important not to forget family, friends, neighbours and strangers at this time of year, and it can be particularly hard on people who are lonely, away from home, sad or need the positivity that the spirit of Christmas brings.

I’m just comparing that London Christmas to the Christmas this year with family. No one seemed to be able to make a coherent decision and I’m not even sure our parents want us to have the gathering at their place. Some people live in delusion about the Christmas card picture of a family gathering in front of a fireplace with a huge tree and mountains of presents; others don’t offer any opinion, still others want something to happen but only if everyone else do the work and organisation. I guess it’ll be a pleasant gathering on boxing day. I’m hoping people can tone down their sense of entitlement or constant moaning. Boy, do I sound like the Grinch today.



I was watching a program about a celebrity chef touring around southeast Asia. Every destination, there was a big banquet with lots of famous people and people who paid big money to sample the chef’s food. He was in Malaysia, stressing out over food preparation, presentation. And then the guest of honour was late, over an hour late. Apparently “traffic” was the cause of the lateness. Poor chef, fine dining food will start to lose their flavour if they aren’t served at the time they are ready, he was a picture of frustration over the lateness.

His next stop was the Fullerton in Singapore. Guess what, the dinner started bang on time. No surprise to anyone involved in the organisation or even us watching the program on TV.

Why. How did it get to be okay for people to be habitually late. Most people will forgive the unexpected — traffic, medical reason, legitimately running late. If someone is always on time, but is late for just the one time, it’s mostly acceptable. It’s people who are late all the time, and the people who never apologise for being late, these are the people I will unfriend. A couple of comments stand out on this article:

we all have the same number of minutes in our day


early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable

one year ago


What a difference one year makes. One year ago today, I spent an absolutely awesome day at Olympic Park watching the Paralympics. How could I have forgotten how it felt like? The pride and respect for the paralympians, I must never ever forget.

Wheelchair tennis, wheelchair rugby (murderball), 5-a-side football and goalball. All that, for just £10. It was one of the best days of my life.

mind body separation


It’s almost one year since I left London. I haven’t done a whole lot in a year, mostly sit around at home feeling sorry for myself. Not because I have nothing to do, but…I can’t quite put a finger on why I’ve been out of sorts.

It’s not financial. I’m still living comfortably on savings and if need be, my financial adviser and I have a plan to generate regular income. Financial worries are the biggest source of stress for a lot of people, and I’m blessed that I’ve not had that worry.

Definitely not because I’m not working. I’ve never liked going to work. I think most people don’t like it, so I’m no different in that respect. I have been lucky in work, that I’ve had significant achievements and assignments all over the world. I’ve been sort of looking, and there are a couple of opportunities that are gradually warming up. Not sure if I really want to go back to work though.

It’s not family. I get to spend time with them, and it’s the highlight of my day/week/month. I stay over at my parents’ and I don’t want to leave. I live a short bus ride from my sis and i find excuses to go over there all the time.

It’s a little bit relationship, but the relationship with mm has always been odd since we’ve had to deal with our circumstances and the choices we made. We are not the same two people 21 years ago, although I wish we could go back to that closeness. I have to remind myself that I was the one who went globetrotting, and she never had to wait. So I’m grateful that even though she has a lot on her plate she finds time to spend with me.

What mm did, when we talked last night, was accurately came up with why I’m so negative and uncertain recently:

you moved physically, but you didn’t moved mentally

Which hit the nail right on the head. I miss London. I miss Chicago too. I reference moving last September as leaving London and not moving to here. I can barely acknowledge where I am. Whenever I think about here, it’s all negative thoughts: I hate this place; the pollution, the weather, the overcrowding, the awful people. I can’t stand the sight of disgusting mainland tourists, let alone having to listen to them or come near them. I don’t watch local tv or follow local news. I don’t like my flat, it doesn’t feel like home even though I have my furniture with me and I’ve always said home is where my furniture is. I don’t feel comfortable living in the only property I own—perhaps that’s the reason, that I feel like I don’t have a choice but live here.

I can’t sleep. I haven’t been running. I haven’t been cooking at home. The solution, according to mm, is a mindset shift from reluctantly tolerating to accepting. It sounds simple, but I cannot find one good thing about HK that I want to accept. What to do, what to do.

which class


I shouldn’t have been surprised at the polarising reaction to Lady Thatcher’s passing. From sadness to street parties, from tributes to glee, and even lack of recognition from the younger generation. I didn’t expect such strong emotions, so openly expressed on social media. She was the first PM I remembered, and I was the right age to be considered one of Thatcher’s children. Miner’s strike, Falklands, Big Bang, yuppies, poll tax—I lived through them all. I thought she did what she believed was right for Britain at that time; some of it worked and some of it didn’t.

Personally, I benefited from that time so my regard for her is, accordingly, positive. None of my family worked in any of the industries that were union-driven or eventually privatised. I got my first mortgage, like many others under the “home ownership” spell. I still have those BT shares. She even made it okay to study chemistry at uni. I know, I know. There are areas in the country that still haven’t recovered, she never supported equality for anyone, and her ethos of extreme capitalism led to the unregulated greed that caused financial crisis after financial crisis. Like I said, some good, some bad.

Her story, as well as reactions to her policies and her death, is, in part, one of class. And so with impeccable timing, last week the BBC featured an article on the Great British class calculator. Apparently the tradition demarcation of upper, middle and lower class doesn’t work anymore, and there’s now people fit into 7 classes depending on economic, social and cultural capital. Taking the calculator revealed that I’m in the technical middle class:

a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy

Which accurately describes how I take the bus to Waitrose, buy expensive wine then go back home to drink it all by myself. There’s a big section on cultural that asks questions like if you visit museums or listen to hip-hop music. Didn’t do very well there. Seems to me that this calculator tries to define classes less by birth and education factors but by, dare I say, more superficial and “American” values like whether you own a house or have a large number of friends on facebook. Oh, I’m not trying to pick on Americans, but at times she seems to like America much more than Britain. Hmm.

red tape


I already have 4 driver’s licences, so I’m pretty sure that when we go on holiday next weekend and want to rent a car, one of those licences will work. But apparently, it’s better to get an international driver’s licence, so okay. I tried the government website, and found the page that has a online form for the said licence. Happily filled it out, and then…all it did was to complete my details on a pdf which I had to print out and take to the transport department! I could have printed the blank page out and hand filled the boxes quicker. That is not an online form.

So, I asked mm to print the form for me and toddled off to the transport dept office. The queue for the international driver’s licence was the same as for regular licences, so it was pretty long. About half an hour later, I finally got to the window. I handed in my form, 2 photos and payment to the friendly official. The official checked the details, glued one of the photos on the licence (yes, using a Pritt stick), and then…told me to go to another window to wait for my licence. Um, it’s right there in your hands, ma’am.

It turns out, another person at another window had to re-check and then stamp the licence. How did the paperwork get from one window to another? The official at the first window placed it in her in-tray, and every 10 or so minutes, another worker walked around all the windows and hand-delivered the paperwork to the final window. I kid you not. Picked up by hand and delivered to a desk 20 feet away. Of course, the paperwork was sitting on both in-trays for a while, I know because I can see it.

Kind of incredible, how government processes haven’t come out of the 19th century. Although, all the officials were helpful and cheerful, a bit like labourers who are happy in their slowpoke ways.

summer plans


Someone (coughAndicough) was asking about plans for the summer. It’s gonna be very busy for me. Just thinking back to where I’ve been already this year:

  • Islay at Easter, whisky crazy
  • Brighton Marathon 15 April
  • Brussels chip’n’choc walk with A in April
  • Stockholm with Mum in May
  • Brussels again with Mum in May
  • Edinburgh and Orkney with RM and Mum in May

Looking forward:

  • Dublin this weekend with RM
  • Chicago on 10 June, can’t wait to go “home” and see Car and Aunt Nancy
  • GCLS in Minneapolis
  • I have an extra week in the US, I may go to the Bourbon Trail or to New Orleans, or I may just stay home in Chicago
  • 5 musicals booked (bargain tickets) — Les Miz (3rd time), Singin’ in the Rain, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Wicked
  • my niece will come for her UK summer holiday in June/July so we’ll do something
  • Prague with mm in August
  • Provence and Paris with mm in August
  • Olympics — I have womens’ diving final tickets, both 3m and 10m

i’m done for


So, the more facebook friends we have the more developed our brains are in certain regions: memory, emotional responses and social interactions. Hmm. I have almost 900 friends in my “public” account but less than 100 in my real name account. So, fail here.

Another study shows that faster walkers have higher life expectancy. Hmm. I’m not a fast walker, mm always leaves me behind. Fail again.

At least I’m not a total failure: beer contains silicon, which helps prevent osteoporosis. Yet again, it’s all about the beer.

laziness as work ethic


This idea came from Michael Arrington’s rant at being tied up by bureaucracy within his own company when he asked for a phone. It’s an amusing read and for most of us who work in the corporate world, touches a nerve far too closely.

Towards the end, he mentioned something that a mentor told him, “I’m lazy, so I do things right the first time.” Oddly very very true for me. I even made a tacky funny bumper sticker.

lost and found


I don’t do well in taxis, or actually I don’t do well with alcohol which is more accurate. I went out for a colleague’s leaving drinks on Thursday and took a taxi home. Stuff in my backpack fell out and while I was picking them up my wallet fell out of my pocket. I discovered it as soon as I got home but there was nothing I can do. I called the bank to cancel my cards, and hoped for the best, that the taxi driver would at least return the IDs and pictures. The cash was a write off.

Friday morning at work I saw an email. A couple of bankers from BNP picked it up and left it at the Berkeley. I hurried over, with my passport as ID. Everything was intact. They must have seen my business card and got in touch. Wow. I’m so lucky. It’s the first time something like this has happened to me, and I will have to make sure it’s the last.

let’s take tea


My downstairs neighbour, a retired lady, invited me for tea today. To an American, it would have been oh so quaint — best china, leaf tea, buttered walnut loaf. So very English.

I’ve lost my feel for the British, I don’t know if she was being neighbourly or wanting to see what i was like. Probably a bit of both. I think I surprised her that I actually am local and brought up in the area. We had a nice chat and she showed me round her apartment. I don’t know if I should reciprocate. In any event, I can’t until the flat is sorted.

3s of me

Been a while since memes did the rounds, I got tagged by Car for this one, and as one of the ones who will complete this. Haha, name and shame.

Three Nicknames

  1. watty
  2. bb
  3. [redacted]


Three Jobs I’ve had in my life

  1. squint (chemist squint, not forensic squint)
  2. private tutor
  3. VP HR


Three Places I have lived

  1. chicago
  2. zurich
  3. hong kong


Three Favourite Drinks

  1. coke zero
  2. tea
  3. red wine


Three TV Shows that I Watch

  1. amazing race
  2. survivor
  3. iron chef


Three Places I have been

  1. zorbed down a hill in New Zealand
  2. getting completely soaked underneath Niagara Falls
  3. went skiing in July in Chile


Three Favorite Foods

  1. sashimi
  2. rocket
  3. chocolate quinoa cake


Three Friends I think will respond

  1. no clue, I don’t usually tag people
  2. [see above]
  3. [see above]


Three Things I am looking forward to

  1. seeing mm more often since I’m only 11 hours away instead of 24
  2. 2011 running season
  3. macbook air


Three Things that are ALWAYS by your side

  1. iphone / blackberry
  2. computer of some kind
  3. water

random london

Random x2:

mm is in London this week, but all we’ve managed were emails and a couple of very brief phone calls. I’m not used to the time difference, she’s jetlagged. By the time I get round to calling her it’s her 10pm and she’s in bed. I’ve woken her up twice now, eeek. Doesn’t matter, we’ll see each other on Saturday.

I was talking with a UK colleague today and I realised I’ve picked up a little bit of an american accent. Subtle pronunciation and the way some vowels got flattened. I had to consciously get back to my londoner accent. It felt strange. Although, to an american I still sound different.

I have too much stuff

zenhabits via bb, 9 questions to identify whether something is junk or not:

  1. does it work? if not, then throw away
  2. would I replace it if it were broken or lost? if not, then I don’t need it
  3. does it seem potentially useful, but has never been used? applies to far too many gadgets bought, especially kitchen gadgets
  4. was I saving it? then use it, otherwise it’ll go bad
  5. does it serve its purpose well? if it isn’t that useful, chuck it
  6. has it been replaced by a better model? do I have that better model? if yes, throw away the old version
  7. is it nicely put away in an out-of-the-way place? where I’ll never find it, get it out and get rid of it, it’s taking up useless space
  8. does this memento actually prompt any memories? most souvenirs only succeed in taking up room
  9. have I ever used this thing? most likely not

If I can focus, I can probably get rid of at least half my possessions and I won’t miss them. I should make myself do that.

naming inanimate objects

Yesterday unplggd had a survey of whether people give their gadgets names. Well, okay then.

People seem to have this urge to name stuff. According to a survey by Swinton insurers, eight out of ten UK drivers name their cars. I know mm and I (mainly mm) did when we had 3 cars between us, but I’ve always been puzzled by this. It’s a car. Why does it need a name? It’s not as if it’s gonna start responding to its name, right?

Filed under I-think-people-are-odd-but-it-could-just-be-me.

sleep the other way


Lately I’ve taken to sleeping upside down, with my head at the foot of the bed and my feet propped up on the foot cushion and my normal pillow. I feel much better, and can sleep better in this position. No idea why. May be psychological.

I either sleep all over the bed, ending up diagonal and occupying the whole bed; or I cocoon myself in a nest of pillows and not move. The only other extended period of sleeping the head-at-foot way round was many years ago when mm and i first got together and she had to go away for a few weeks and I was missing her lots. It made me feel better then too.

[This is an inflatable nappak. Not that it’s relevant, I just thought…well, I just did.]

happy, er, wednesday to me


I woke up at normal time, sigh. Must be getting old—oh wait, I did get older today. Double sigh.

Waited for mm to call all morning. A little unhappy that she didn’t till I emailed her on the bb, she was busy. But I couldn’t stay unhappy for long, could I? Spent the whole morning making croquembouche (see previous post). Why did I want mascarpone yesterday? To make mascarpone cream to use as filling of course. Well, the normal cream worked. I added a little icing sugar so it didn’t just taste of cream.

Lunch was portabello mushroom and vegetarian burger. Went running in the afternoon. Down to the flag at Montrose and back up to the roundabout. Total 11k. It started raining the last 2k, glad I had a cap. It turned into a downpour once I got home, I was lucky.

Did laundry and made dinner of surf and turf — sirloin steak, grilled prawns, vegetables. I opened a bottle of cranberry red I got from truro vineyards at cape cod last year. Started watching a dvd, then gave up cos I needed to deal with the pics.

There was a running joke on my fb status about how I didn’t broadcast my birthday and people weren’t sure whether to acknowledge it or not. I really liked the idea of subtly referring to it but not actually naming it. Kind of “i know you know” game. Fun.

2010 targets

I’m not setting resolutions because I think the phrase “new year resolutions” gets associated too much with well-intentioned failures. Too often, people want to change for the better, but make the changes too drastically or without sufficient planning or set the bar too high. Resolutions also get associated with giving up certain things, usually “unhealthy” stuff like butter or cream cakes. That’s my problem, giving up is so negative, it shouldn’t be giving up full fat milk, but rather gaining a taste for skim milk.

Anyway these are my goals for 2010. Yes, the initial reaction is probably “is that it?” since they are not much different from the monthly goals I set regularly. But that’s the point! Goals and targets, and alright — resolutions — should be practical and achievable.


  • 12 races
  • 1000km (620 miles) total
  • 5k PR
  • 10k PR
  • distance PR
  • finish nrolw

  • more vegetarian weeks
  • eat out more — this may seem odd but I’ve decided that I should live a little more often

  • finish at least one of the three planned manuscripts
  • 3 short stories