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.


Somehow it feels like a normal day, I had to look at the calendar to realise it’s a saturday. Days bleed into each other nowadays.

Mum and I went to central to the electrical appliances shop to look at ovens, fridges and washing machines. They also have air-conditioners. I saw a double door fridge that I like, will need to get someone in to measure the stairs and kitchen space.

Lunch was simple noodle soup. There’s some superstition that says must have noodles on birthday to ensure longevity, probably because noodles represent longevity. Anyway, suited our purposes. Popped back to my flat to check mail.


Met sis and gis for tea buffet at the Conrad. Nice atmosphere, small atrium café with not too many tables, and we got a corner table to boot. Debated whether to get the free flow drinks but decided against it. In terms of food, there was more than enough to satisfy the most hungry: salad, dimsum, noodles (more noodles, I had laksa), satay, cheese, fruit, waffle, pastry, ice cream. When I called round the hotels to book, I asked if they offered anything for birthday and the answers were disappointing. The Marriott and Conrad both said they can bring a cake from the buffet selection and ice “happy birthday” on it. I was like, nope. I did the birthday cake myself, took a piece of chestnut cake–one of my favourite–and sis brought a candle. We did a low key birthday celebration, that was fine.

After tea, they all went home. I met up with mm for an hour for a glass of wine. She couldn’t join tea buffet, and she has a family dinner. The dinner as it happens is in the same area as the Conrad so it was convenient.

I was still very full, so didn’t need dinner. Only afterwards did I see a missed text from sis at around 7.30pm asking me to join her and R for dinner. Hahaha, I was already home by 7.30pm.

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.

#76: make a will


Task #76 of 101.1001 is to make a will. This was a leftover from the 2007 challenge and something I should have done as soon as I bought the flat 20 years ago. It’s even more important now, with Papa gone.

I asked our neighbour, the same lawyer who did Papa’s will. He got it done quickly before I went on the US trip. I guess I could have written it myself, because it’s very simple but ah well. The will is now sitting safely in my filing cabinet. One fewer thing to worry about.

pre-birthday cake & dinner


Pre-birthday dinner with sis and gis. Went over to their place in the afternoon to have cake first. Sis bought ice cream eggs from haagen-dazs that was extremely nice and rich. Not a traditional birthday cake, I like it.

Dinner at the Pawn, where I’ve wanted to visit for a while. I follow chef Tom Aikens on instagram and see him posting pics of them making sausage or bread quite often.

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bday025pawn bday026pawn

We went early and it was surprisingly quiet, only 3 tables occupied. I had the set dinner: ricotta & herbs, tuna tartare, grouper with fennel & orange, crème catalan. They were also nice enough to let us try a little of the Nebbiolo, fortunate because we didn’t like it and opted for a bottle of Pinot Noir instead. The grouper was slightly overcooked for my taste but the rest of the menu was good albeit not stellar. Enjoyed the evening and spending time with sis and gis.



Apparently 23-jan is national handwriting day, which coincides with John Hancock’s birthday. This artificial special day was invented by Moleskine, who wants people to

free yourself from your QWERTY keyboard and write out a social media post by hand

and tag it appropriately, of course. People can go to certain moleskine stores, handwrite a post and get a free notebook.

I made a font from my own handwriting, which I sometimes use for fun. So that’s my #handwritingday post.

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.

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.

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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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.

walking and a burger


The feeling of despair and out-of-sortedness continues. A brief trip to the bank for a short errand turned out to be a long walking trip. Walked to the bank, then took the bus to a far west district called Kennedy Town. Then walked and walked and walked for about 2hrs until I found myself almost home; I was tired, hungry, thirsty and not wanting to go home. Ended up at an Irish pub. Had a couple of their signature ales and their burger of the month. The Denver burger is a regular burger with cheddar cheese, swiss cheese, red & yellow peppers, onions (which I picked out) and a fried egg. Served with fries and a pickle. Ate most of the burger but not the bread. About 5 pieces of french fry. As far as a burger goes, not too bad. Nothing special. Read a book, watched the cricket, didn’t start walking home till late to avoid the crowd outside my flat. Sigh, this is not how to live.

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.

birthday presents


In the past, I’d be asked what I wanted for my birthday and I’d say something like “no need, don’t waste money, I’m too old for presents.” I’d end up getting cute gadgets that are cute but useless, or something else I don’t want, or at best, amazon vouchers. This year, since it’s the first I’ve spent with family (and mm) in person for a while, I reckon they’d want to get me something. So I decided to be specific instead of wishy-washy.

And I got what I wanted.

Mum got me a backpack, since my old one’s falling apart. Parents gave me a red packet of cash, exactly what I need. Sis and family were on holiday, so I asked them to get me a whisky from the duty free. She was creative and got me a oddly named anCnoc as well as a Nikka from the Barrel in its perfume bottle like packaging. A cocktail shaker too. Seriously, I’m not that heavy a drinker!

From mm I got a nice selection of diffusers, I picked the flavours myself. All in all, I’m pleased with my presents.

birthday 2013

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Low key sort of birthday. Had lunch with family at Enoteca, a restaurant that can’t decide if it’s Italian or Spanish. They served pizza, pasta and small dishes. But the small dishes weren’t Venetian cicheti or Spanish tapas. Baked brie with toast, garlic mushrooms, risotto balls. Hmm. The Spanish influence came in the selection of sangria and chorizo pizza. Hmm.

Between us, we had mushroom pasta, lamb salad, fish & chips, the aforementioned baked brie with toast, risotto balls and parma ham pizza. A jug of sangria too. Okay, with the food confusion, it was still pretty good.

Sis brought a chocolate cheesecake which we all shared afterwards. Then she and mum went off to look for material so I took my niece back to her place and we played on my kindle for a while.

Rang mm, she picked me up and we went for a bit of a drive to one of the beaches. Little walk, then to a hotel near her home for a glass of wine. She’s been eating a lot and I was full from lunch so we just ordered a snack of crispy fried prawns. That was it for the day.

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.


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My obligatory once a year day off. Weather was nice, 20°C. Spent the morning skyping with sis and mum, I’m glad we finally got round to fixing everyone’s logins. Mum kept worrying about image quality, but as long as I can see her, I’m not complaining. We even did a 3-way conference call. Talked with mm when she called too, told her about plans for the day and just chatted. It was nice.

Went for a very slow 5-miles around the park, then to the local shops to get some baking ingredients. Last year it was croquembouche, this year I made a flourless swedish apple cake. It was too moist and didn’t hold its shape very well, but tasted perfectly fine.

For dinner I made surf and turf. Ack, I did the same last year, so it’s a tradition now. It’s also supposed to be national beer day so I got a vedett beer from belgium to go with my dinner.

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.

2010 09 chicago summer

august: market days

chimkt103twister chimkt131choccheesecake

flickr set

Went to market days again. The same music, performers, stalls as before. A good day out, in really nice weather. Had beer and our favourite, chocolate covered cheesecake.

august: air & water show, ginza festival


flickr set

This is my second year at the air and water show. Last year I went in the afternoon on the second day at the south end of oak street beach. This year, I went at 10.30am on the first day and decided to go right where the action was, at north avenue beach. I figured, it’d be crowded but it should be feasible to find space for one person. I was right. I got a spot at one of the concrete jetties facing south, it was perfect. It was also extremely hot and though I had sunscreen on, I could feel the UV. I brought a beach towel to sit on, I ended up huddling underneath it for most of the day, to block out the sun.

The show started with skydivers, and then there were military planes, helicopters and aerial gymnastics from at least 3 teams. It was fantastic. The buzz and roar of the planes, the skills of the pilots. I wish I knew more about planes to be able to recognise them.

The highlight was of course the finale, the blue angels flying F/A-18 Hornets. There was a lot of anticipation, about where they’d “sneak” up on us, people were watching the skies all over. Then we saw a huge plume of grey smoke from the lake and there they were! Great end and I didn’t feel like I’d been sitting on concrete under the baking sun for 5 hours.

It was only a 10-15min walk to the ginza festival. I was pretty hungry and thought I’d get dinner there. It turned out to be a very expensive dinner. The entrance of $4 (normally $5 but I had a coupon), plus food and drinks used a ticket system of $1 per ticket. Half a teriyaki chicken was 10 tickets, a beer 5. I had 5 left over so I had a red bean dessert and a serving of edamame. I suppose I could have watched the performance, but it wasn’t interesting. The stalls sold stuff that seemed to come from somewhere between a $10 shop and Sogo. I had to remind myself that I’m not in Asia, and some of these crafts and merchandise are pretty unusual here.

august: k-fest


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Another summer festival, this one the Korean festival. Only a 10-minute drive away, so no excuse. Plus unlike the ginza festival, no entrance fee. They closed 2 blocks of the street, and the stalls varied between food, community groups, a Hyundai dealership and others selling crafts or korean toiletries and other stuff. There was a sand wrestling competition area and inflatable castles for kids.

My main purpose is for the food, naturally. I had the spicy rice cake (dukbokki) and fish stick in soup. I remember the first time I had the spicy rice cake, on a bitingly cold day in Seoul, I had no idea it was that spicy. Since acquired a taste for it, cos I know what to expect. The fish stick is just like any fishball, just in a flat form. Stayed away from all the fried food. Everything washed down by an OB beer. Just one, cos I’m driving. Didn’t get the jinru either, cos I’m driving.

The food and beer came to $15, which is a better value and more authentic than the $20+ half chicken I had yesterday. The lady at the food stall gave me too much change actually, but I gave the correct amount back to her.

august: tall ships festival

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

flickr set

The 2010 tall ships festival is going on at navy pier. To avoid the crowds I went after work. I got a $1 discount by getting the ticket online in advance, not too bad. There were about 20 tall ships from all over the world. Some of them could be boarded and others offer sailing tickets — which sold out really early. I got the boarding ticket for $5 extra.

I visited quite a few ships — the inland seas, the roald amundsen all the way from the north sea, the friends good will, the madeline and the pride of baltimore. All were extremely interesting, the masts, the array of ropes and knots, the small crew quarters, galleys and how pristine they are all kept.

By far the biggest attraction, and with the longest queue (I think it took me about 45mins) was to board HMS Bounty. This the American replica, built for the 1960 Marlon Brando film. Still, it was authentic enough for the visitors and I, like many, spent a few minutes just sitting on deck enjoying the lake and the day.

Didn’t stay for the fireworks, though I probably should have. At 9pm, it would have been late when I get home. Had a couple of beers (note to self: cheapest beer at navy pier = haagen dazs café, $2.75 for domestic draft) and chinese fast food for dinner.

september: german festival


flickr set

It was raining this morning, and I thought I might have to stay indoors all day. Luckily it cleared out after lunch so I took the bike out. Rode to the totem pole. The path was pretty clear, not many riders. Quite a few runners though, I guess a few of them would be doing their long runs for marathon training.

Went over to the german festival over at lincoln square. Too used to driving, so I initially cycled on the main road. Did not like that one bit, too close to cars. Turned off into smaller streets and was less stressed. The festival was exactly like the maifest last year (didn’t go this year) — beer tents, food tents selling the same bratwurst meal, and even the arcade game stalls were identical. I am not going to make a comment about german consistency and reliability. (Heh, and I just did anyway.)

As it happened I was there for the General von Steuben parade. I had absolutely no idea it was happening, but figured it something was up with the large number of people lining the streets around the festival. Apparently:

the parade celebrates Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who came to this country as a volunteer offering his services to General George Washington. General von Steuben converted the revolutionary army into a disciplined fighting force, instilling in them much needed inspiration, confidence and competence.

There were many floats, people in traditional german clothing, marching bands, local dignitaries, politicians and even the truck of a moving company.


Had a bratwurst, potato salad and sauerkraut meal washed down with a large beer. With perfect timing the sun came out. Walked a little along the square exploring the german deli and a kitchen shop. Cycled back home via Ravenswood, and stopped at george’s for their yippee skippy (ie peanut butter) ice cream.

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.]

london day 6: walking, walking, walking

ldn138jacket ldn145goldhind

Checked out of the hotel and made my way to moga to get my hair cut this morning. Mr Koh is no longer there, so I just asked them for whoever was free as all the stylists are good. It’s official, I am a creature of habit. Even after so many years away, I go back to the places I know.

Had a few things to buy, but mostly I had oodles of time on my hand. Emailed J to ask if she would like to join me for fish’n’chips dinner — she offered last night, but I wouldn’t have had time to get back to Victoria.

So I walked for 4 hours. From Bond Street all the way to Foyles, where I finally bought Potter 7, as well as a couple of City tell-all books. Had an internal debate about where to go for late lunch. If I let my feet direct me, I’d end up at belgo again. The choice finally came down to chinatown or jacket potato at covent garden. The jacket won. I had it with beans and sour cream. it was fantastic. It was only later that I realised I could have gone to Stockpot. Had frozen yogurt at snog, I guess their selling point is their name.

London has changed somewhat. The Swiss Centre is no longer there; my favourite second hand book store had moved; Lillywhite’s has gone downmarket. Most of the department stores are still there, and there are at least 3 Uniqlo stores. I bought the snowglobe that Car asked me to. And for some odd reason, a west ham scarf and a chelsea shirt with frank lampard’s name on the back. Looked at getting an england world cup shirt, too expensive at £40.

Ended back at Bond Street, having walked a full circle. Took the tube back to the hotel, picked up my luggage and headed to J&R’s home. We had dinner at the golden hind, which apparently is quite famous. I had haddock, chips and mushy peas. It was byo, so we took a nice bottle of wine.


Flight tomorrow morning is at 8am, so I’d made a reservation at yotel, a japanese capsule style hotel at terminal 4. It’s very interesting. The corridor was like a space ship, and inside it was…purple lighting. Tiny space, every inch of what they call the cabin was functional. A bed inside what looks like a pod, a folding table, folding chair at the back of the door, a narrow glass-walled en-suite shower. Free wi-fi. For my purpose, staying overnight at the airport, or for transit passengers, this is perfect. I dealt with mafia wars stuff, watched election stuff and felt comfortable in the bed. I’d stay here again.

london day 5: demo, belgo, wicked

ldn100greenpark ldn103elephant

I promised the london team I’d do a demo for them, and I did. Took IT a long while to set it up, so I had to talk through a cheat sheet before launching into the demo. Seemed to have been well received.

Back in the hotel room, I ate the whole packet of chicken wings from last night. It’s not the chinese chicken wings that mm and I love, those aren’t available anymore. Still, I ate the whole thing. Heh.

Tube to Victoria to get a ticket for wicked. Bus to Hard Rock Café, and yes there was a new polo shirt for this year. Walked all the way via Green Park and Buck House to belgo, not intentionally, just that i’m all about going to familiar places. At last, after 20 years, I managed to sample the beat-the-clock offer — between 5pm and 6.30pm pay the price shown on the clock for several menu items. I had a bowl of moules traditionale, which cost me £5.50. And a beer. I just made it by about 5-10mins, cos after I ordered, what feels like a whole school of german teenagers trooped in and occupied all but one row of that section. Boy was it noisy.

Back to the apollo victoria for wicked. My seat was in the middle of the stalls. A little spoiled by the tall guy sitting in front of me. Anyway, that’s a separate 101.1001 post.

london day 2: friends, drones, running

The idea was to check into the hotel then go check out new shirts at hard rock café and get tickets for wicked later this week. But lunch with J&R didn’t finish till past 3pm, we were talking so much. I had to hurry to the hotel, there wasn’t enough time to get the tube, had to get a taxi to piccadilly circus by 5pm to catch drones as part of the sci-fi london festival. I know I’m supposed to gush lovingly about the film, but truth is, it was okay and I fell asleep several times. It was shot over 2 weeks in an empty office building and is all about discovering that your best friend and girlfriend are both aliens and eventually there is a “save-the-earth” scenario. I could see how it would attract a cult following, with its deadpan humour and obviously actors, writers and directors who put a lot of care into it. May be one of these days when I’m less tired I’ll give it another chance.

Running back at the hotel on the treadmill. Dinner was salt beef sandwich from the Brick Lane shop. The internet in the room is free but slow (there is high speed, which costs money), good enough for me.

london day 1: camden, friends


Flight was a little early. I got off the plane quickly and by the time I retrieved by suitcase there was still no one at the luggage carousel. Huh. Must have been a planeload of Americans still going through passport control. Heathrow Express and a £6 taxi ride later and I was at the house of my friends J&R. They’d recently moved from Chicago and was still in the “let’s explore” phase of living in a new city.

They also didn’t have a car so we took the bus to Camden to walk around the market. It’s grown since I was there last, with new sections and way more stalls. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, albeit with all the crowds that are there on a sunday.

I took them to chutney mary for dinner. I last went there with mm in 2005 or 2006. It was a great meal. R is a wine expert and ordered a terrific verdelho with the main meal and a riesling for dessert. Bill came to over £200 cos of the wine but thoroughly worth it. On the walk to Fulham Broadway tube we stopped and looked at estate agents windows. Wow, property prices have gone way up.