Monday, February 28, 2005

The Laws of Cat Behaviour

There are a few immutable facts about cats, this being one: if you lay out a pair of dark trousers on the bed as you are dressing for work in the morning, the one light-coloured cat in the house will promptly lie down on it. Although I do not have light-coloured work trousers, I strongly suspect that in that case, the black cat of the house would do the same. The next result is the same: fur everywhere, and five minutes added to your departure time, while the cat blink-blinks at you innocently from the bed.

Monday, as usual, is Monday, and Monday is that day, after all, where stuff traditionally hits the fan here.

  • Long-term goal: survive to the end of the day without incurring fan-hit shit.
  • Medium-term goal: coast through to lunch, and have a happy lunch hour with some moderately mindless shopping to keep the fear at bay.
  • Short-term goal: keep a low profile, and out of the usual morning madness that crawls around this office.

Tuesday is always a far more productive day than Mondays, I find. Tuesdays give me hope. I shall place my hopes on Tuesday.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Cat on the roof

My dinner companions must have thought me mad when I dropped my chopsticks and pointed dramatically mid-dinner and went "Oh my God!!!" at this cat on the roof of the building across the road. It's just that it was such a Discovery Channel moment, you see - this animal silhouetted against the sky, perched dramatically on a precipice. Well, I thought so anyway.

Last night's dinner was tim sum with Ru, with us lucky enough to get parking right next to the place, so she didn't have to walk too far in her crutches.

Tim Sum Sauces

Dinner was followed by poker. Since we played winner deals, and dealer decides the game, we had a pretty wide range of games - 5 card, 7 card, our own take on texas hold'em, etc. I couldn't resist taking this photograph halfway through the game.

quit tomorrow

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Two things to be grateful for: I woke up this morning to the smell of rain (yes, rain does smell: it's a musty, steamy, gravelly smell, of cold rain splashing on hot concrete and gravel) and secondly, I woke up at a reasonable time, which suggests I might have a shot at breaking this horrible early-to-bed-early-to-rise phenomenon of the past few days.

The unbearable slowness of Friday afternoon passed, as all things do, eventually, and yesterday night found K and I at Sunset Grill for dinner (she had to drag me out of bed: I was in mortal danger of sinking into sleep at 8pm), where I discovered that the very thing that I liked about the place - it's ulu-ness and isolation - had been compromised. It's the fate of all good restuarants, I suppose, but I had hoped that the sheer difficulty of getting to the place would be its strongest defence against the hordes looking for the next big culinary experience, but I underestimated the determination of the Singaporean middle-classes to congregate at the latest in-place. The moment K and I pulled into an almost-full parking lot whre the only space left was next to a Mini Cooper, we knew that the days of having the place all to ourselves were gone. The funny thing is that it was never the food that attracted me to the place, but the atmosphere - quiet, isolated, quiet, quiet, and quiet. This island just isn't big enough for all of us, I fear ...

Friday, February 25, 2005

Romance Novels Parodied

More aimless browsing leads me to this: a link to a page that parodies romance novel covers. Here's a sample:

closer
Longmire does romance novels.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy Text Game

I've never played the original game myself, but my wife has fond memories of it, so here's a link to a flash version of the original Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy text-based adventure.

***

Hours of frustration. Whereas game designers today try to write games that are interactive, have multiple pathways, and interpret instructions sensitively, the HHGTTG game is stubbornly literal, dogmatically uninteractive, and doggedly forces you to stick to one path.

For some strange reason, probably due to my own stubborn nature, I'm determined to crack this game ...

earlysomniac

I still can't stop waking up early: this morning it was 4.45am. I do the math, and it tells me that its 1pm in Calgary. This doesn't make sense: am I having a late morning halfway around the world or what? My nose is still hurting after all this time, scraped raw by the sheer dryness of the air there. The next time I go to a place like Calgary, I'll want to walk around with my own portable humidifier or something.

Had to conduct a workshop yesterday, and I was reminded again of how unpleasant some workshop participants can be. Granted that we all know they don't want to be there, and they're not happy about it, but the least they could do is be civil and polite, rather than go out of their way to be rude. I'm only really talking about one fella: most people paid attention, the rest paid lip service at least, but he was neck-wringingly aggravating. And all this in one sentence of speech from him. It's moments like this that you wish there was button that dropped them from their seats into a pool of sharks (with lasers attached to their heads, of course).

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Early Riser

My jet lag did a headstand today: whereas I slept at 5 am the day before, I woke up at 5 am today. For the first time in my life I experienced the lifestyle of the early riser - made breakfast, watched the news, spent time choosing what to wear - as opposed to my usual late-riser routine - skip breakfast, wear whatever happens to be ironed, and put on shoes while trying to call a taxi.

Since I'm ideologically opposed to early rising, I shall have to do my best to not enjoy the insidious benefits of early rising, and get my body back to a late-to-bed, late-to-rise schedule as soon as possible.

In other news, we would like to officially welcome Tym to the ranks of us Mac users - another person rescued from the Dark Side! I have just spent the past 3 hours at work loading 3 files onto 5 laptops - a process which would have taken minutes had they been Macs, but which took 3 hours because they were running Windows 98. A typical procedure involved:

  • switching on the laptop, and enduring 5 minutes of This Laptop Wasn't Shut Down Properly The Last Time, and waiting for the computer to do the equivalent of groping in the dark to find its balls
  • trying to get the computer to recognise its own external floppy drive
  • trying to read the A: drive. This took 5 minutes - you'd click on it, and after a delay of almost 30 seconds, the window would open. Grrr.
  • copying 3 files to the desktop
  • trying to shut down the computer, and realising that after 5 minutes, it was still stuck in Shutting Down, thus losing patience, and hitting the power button. Which explains step one above to some degree.
To be fair, I was skipping between this and real work throughout, but even had I sat there and dedicated my time to this (which I'm glad I didn't, since it would have involved 4 parts pointless waiting to 1 part screaming at the computer) it would have taken me 15 minutes per computer at least, for a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes of life wasted.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Jet Lag Ambushed Me

Just when I thought I had it licked, jet lag snuck up from behind and bushwhacked me. I ended awake till 5am, playing Command and Conquer and ripping some more CDs onto my iPod. Sigh. Still, I feel perfectly rested today: I just need to discipline myself to stay sleep promptly tonight, and things should get back on track.

Work has been quiet so far, but won't be for long, so 'm snatching a little moment here to blog. Don't expect I'll be able to blog much from work the next few days, the way the pace of things here is going ...

Monday, February 21, 2005

Back again

From minus 14 to 34 degrees celsius. That one measurement sums up the world of difference between Calgary and home. Our little adventure to Calgary has ended, and my nose will eventually stop bleeding in a few days time, I'm sure. Like the archetypal Hero of Campbell's cycle, we have returned to where we began, bearing a boon and a gift to make things better - though I'm not sure if a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts counts as a reality changing boon.

Of course, the real thing we all bring back is memories and experience, which I can really sort through now - I kept an intermittent journal during the trip, and blogged only sporadically, given our tight schedules (and the fact that someone else was always wanting to use our computers for email, research, IM, or typing speeches). My store of photographs is a bit meagre, missing out on several key days and events - I'm hoping we'll eventually do a trade amongst all the digital images, so we can fill in our respective blanks.

The last few days were a strange break - we'd been competing and training and preparing so intensely that there was nothing really to do after - some shopping here and there, DVDs to buy, but basically we'd been so task focused that we found ourselves a bit lost. Closing dinner was a tedious affair with speeches from every Somebody in the entire sponsorship zoo, including a patriotic song written and sung by a local politician (not the best singing in the world, but you had to admire the man: he loves his country, he's proud of his country and he's not afraid to show it), and a 30 minute speech by a motivational speaker who told us he didn't like motivational speakers. I have to agree with him on that one. I fail to see how 30 minutes of how-I-climbed-Everest-twice (twice, he emphasised) helped any of the debaters, especially at the end of the competition. One should never trust a man who comes equipped with his own introductory video segment: as one of the Scots put it so eloquently, there was little point in shafting us for 30 minutes at the end of this event.

The morning we left was the coldest I've ever been on this trip: the cold cut right through everything, gloves and all, you could feel it - it literally cut like a knife right through clothes and into your bones. I gave the van driver a $20 tip just for standing in the cold and loading our multiplicity of suitcases into the back.

The plane journey was mostly harmless, to steal an expression from Douglas Adams. I've given up on the concept of a positive valuation for plane rides: the mitigation of harm is the only thing I expect anymore, and this 3 legged journey was relatively harmless. Calgary to Vancouver was short enough for me to wake up with a start at landing. Vancouver to Tokyo was tedious, but good conversation with the team captain, and some tarot card readings helped to alleviate the boredom. A 3 hour layover at Tokyo Narita meant I could take a shower (these Japanese think of everything), and finish scenario 6 of Command and Conquer: Generals, leaving me nothing to do but grit my teeth and endure the final leg to Singapore, where in between not getting comfortable, not sleeping, and generally not being a happy camper, I finished the final scenario in the game, shifted my body within the 2 by 3 by 4 foot space that the designers of the 747 evidently felt were adequate for a human being, and got home in one piece. The group as a whole brought back 15 boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts - that's 200 doughnuts. Someone at Vancouver airport actually came up to us and took a photo of the pile of boxes because he could not believe someone would buy that many doughnuts. We received comments at every security check along the way, usually a variation of a snide "Are those doughnuts for me?" from the security guards.
(give it a few days, and I'm going to start googling the net for "photos krispy kreme airport vancouver", on the assumption that this fella would have blogged about it somewhere ...)

K tells me Singapore has been in the grip of a heatwave for the past week, but I'm finding it refreshingly warm and humid for a change. Work starts again tomorrow, and I just hope I can cope with having to sweat it out in shirtsleeves again...

A few other things. I have managed to lose just about everything that could be lost from my Nikon D70 on this trip: the rubber eyepiece was already missing before I left, lost when sending friends off at the airport; the lens cap was lost somewhere during the Tsunami Relief Auction Night in Calgary; and this morning I realised that the protective plastic cover for the LCD screen was gone as well. Lucky I didn't lose the strap, going at this rate. A replacement for the plastic screen cost $60, blast those money-gouging camera merchants. Thankfully, my optician was far kinder: he replaced the nosepiece from my spectacles (cracked when I did a facepalm in the middle of the Singapore vs England debate - yes it was that nerve-wracking at points) for free.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Shopping

So here we are with time on our hands at last. Tomorrow, England face Australia in the Grand Finals, and though it's slightly mean, I hope England wins, simply because it would take the edge off losing - at least we'd have lost to the world champions. I'm also proud of the team because they fought a good fight - in a round where many proposition teams chose to run unfairly narrow definitions in order to get an edge over the opposition, we ran a hard but fair case, a fought bravely down the line, and lost to a better team. I still maintain that this team was world champion calibre - but then again, so are at least 4 other teams here, and someone has to be knocked out. I just wish it hadn't been us ...
vandalised sign
Vandalised Sign

We went on a long overdue shopping trip today, and took the public train. A relatively efficient system, though the warnings against vandalism are obviously not working ...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Proud

Pow Wow 1
Pow Wow
The warmest welcome we've received so far has been at the Siksika Nation High School yesterday for our debates. A proud nation, squeezed into a reservation 45km by 15km , a nation in name, but surrounded by Canada. It's sad thinking how these people were invaded, displaced, and then "granted" a small piece of land from the vast stretch that was theirs by inheritance and right. Sadder still to think that the Canadians have been fairer by far to the First Nations than their neighbours down south.

Torn Flags
Torn Flags
Outside the school, I noticed that the Canadian flag and Union Jack were both torn: the outer third missing from the Canadian flag, and the edges of the British Flag ripped and shredded. I didn't get a chance to ask someone why the flags were in this state, though I could probably understand the sentiment behind it.

They put on a demonstration pow-wow for us (itself an ironic post-colonisation ceremony that evolved as a means of continuing native culture in a form acceptable to the white man), and I really appreciated seeing a glimpse of their culture and tradition. The drumming and singing were eerie: I thought of their ancestors migrating across the Bering Straits into North America, the long winter nights above the arctic circle where the sun never rises, the darkness filled with wolves and bears and demons, and thought, yes, I would sing and drum like that just to keep the darkness at bay.

In other news, the debaters have made us very proud today: they fought Scotland to a 2-1 split (though we all felt it was a unanimous victory, but judges will sometimes split on you like this) and gave South Africa a run for their money - they lost 1-2 to SA, but they did so well I don't care: what matters is that they are finally living up to their potential, that Chris Erskine said that there was nothing more he could say on how they could improve (and he gave 79 out of 80 to one of them), that they went toe to toe with one of the toughest teams in the tournament and stared them down. Tomorrow is the octo-finals, and they face England in a fight that I am confident they will win, because we're seeing here some of the best debaters ever just reaching their peak form. It's been incredibly stressful watching them debate, and S and I are perpetually one word, phrase, or sentence away from a heart attack, fingernails (metaphorically) chewed to a nub, mentally cheering them on.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Cold Snaps

The weather has got slightly better these past few days: here's what Calgary looked like when we first got here:
Calgary Snow

... and here's what it looked like this afternoon:
Calgary No Snow

All these photos were, of course, taken from the safety and warmth of my hotel room. My sinuses have taken a beating - the dry air has caused bleeding, pain, and I had a headache today from the cold. Forecasts are for a cold snap tomorrow - the word snap bringing to mind this gigantic hand of cold just slamming down our of nowhere. Not fun anymore, the cold ...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Random Scenes from Calgary

Geese
(1) Geese. Flying in the sky. In gigantic vee-formations. Honking. Everyday at 4-5. I think they're beautiful. However, conversation about said geese with a food-centric person:

"hey, I saw geese"

"were their thighs big?"

He also worships at the temple of Krispy Kreme, to which some have already been converted.
pilgramage to krispy kreme

(2) Organisers. Of the debate competition. Are not. Organised.

(3) Air Canada. Lost luggage, one of my debaters. Still have not found it. Morons, comma, bloody.

handful of canadian snow
(4) Snow. Slowly melting away. Temperature rising. Thank god it's getting warmer.



Monday, February 07, 2005

Calgary

12,827 km from Singapore to Vancouver. 675 km from Vancouver to Calgary. The first place we get directed to when we ask the hotel reception for a nearby grocer where we can buy food? A Chinese supermarket.

After that, we go out for dinner with one of the kids family friends, and we get taken to ... yep: a Chinese restaurant (the Indian one was closed), where in the midst of our all-you-can-eat buffet, a Muslim wedding dinner is taking place. Blame globalisation, but this is the wierdest, most multicultural moment in this trip.

Calgary is cold. Calgary is covered in snow. Calgary at night looks like a place shut down by layers of ice and muffled by a blanket of cold. Calgary makes me want to stay in my hotel room. Our fellow hotel guests seem unready to receive us: an archetypal grumpy old man next door has already complained about the noise. All I can say is that he doesn't know what he's in for - in 3 days, 35 teams of debaters will swamp this hotel with an unceasing chatter of noise.

The nearest cache to here is Dear Molly Deer, so if I wanted to cache, I'd have to walk about 2km to reach it. Unless the weather breaks soon, I seriously doubt I'm going caching here ...

Friday, February 04, 2005

Seagull, British Columbia


seagull
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
We've finally managed to get internet access, so here's some quick thoughts from Canada. Quick because it's 1.30am, and I've got an early day tomorrow.

1. It's cold, but not as cold as we expected.

2. As of today, we've spent as much time on the road (in the air, on a ferry) as we have stationary, having spent 20 hours on planes, and 6 hours on ferries to and from Vancouver and Victoria.

3. I have decied that Economy Class on a 747 should be called Cattle Class, because that's what it felt like. 777s far more humane. Economy Class in general is like 8 hours in a sardine can with the same sardines, plus you have to share a toilet with said sardines.

I've decided I quite like the ferry to and from Vancouver to Victoria - nice views of the islands and inlets, and seagulls that chase the ferry like dolphins riding the bow-wave. No dolphins though.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Patch Beanbag


Patch Beanbag
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
A few more photos of the cats before I go on my trip to Canada. Patch has claimed our new beanbag as her own: as you can see, she has decided that it is the premier location for lounging in comfort, while gazing out the living room windows at the world below. Unfortunately, which Iffy and Twinkle are now on good terms (will touch noses, sniff bottoms, and chase tails), Patch is still the grumpy-puss with our johnny-come-lately kitten, growling and hissing when she comes near.



Twinkle Desktop 3
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
Twinkle is the loungiest (for want of a better word) cat I have ever seen. She'll run, stop, and suddenly just flop down on her side as if to say Oh my, that was unexpectedly tiring, and just lounge. I've seen her raise her leg as if to groom, then stop with this Why bother? look on her face and just flop right back down to sleep. She is also the boldest - she jumps her way onto the dinner table with unstoppable determination, and will not give in to threats. Her eyes are always fixed on your food, and no amount of shouting or clapping of hands will deter her. Even more amazingly, she can be completely impervious to the spritz - last night, when K and I discovered her eating the chicken from our plates, she ignored all warnings, and when we spritzed her with the water ... just didn't react! It was as if her brain was locked on to the chicken, and simply would not accept input from other sources. For a semi-breed, she's all longkang* when it comes to food

[Longkang = drain. Street cats are often called longkang cats here. Patch and Iffy, both pure-bred longkangs, are so much more polite when it comes to dinner than Twinkle, who's semi-siamese]


Travel Bugs Jesse and Celine
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
K and I have finally put together those two travel bugs that we wanted. Here's a picture of our Before Sunrise-themed travel bugs. The one on the left, as you might expect, is called Travel Bug Jesse, and the one of the right Travel Bug Celine. I'll try and find the time to drop TB Jesse off in Vancouver or Calgary, and K will drop TB Celine off here: their mission will be to get to Vienna, and reunite! (with a possible sequel visit to Paris, who knows)