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Making a Poet Out of Man

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, - For the reed which grows nevermore again As a reed with the reeds in the river. - E.B. Browning

Updated: 2014-10-07T09:37:31.753+08:00


My 1st attempt in more than 10yrs


Come, little children, said the witch,
Come see my cottage.
You are weary from life's journey,
And heartsick
From all that you do not know.

Come, little children, said the witch,
Come see my cottage.
See how the pretty candy arches
So cleverly over my door?
Come, little children,
Come look at the sparkly bits
 I scattered all over the rainbow floor.

Come, little children, said the crone,
Let me tell you all that I know.
Come consume my little cottage
As I show you the remains of my twisted soul.

The Great Ethiopian Adventure - My Saturday Pre-Work Blog


It's suddenly more than halfway through my fieldwork, and I'm starting to wish I had at least a month more in Ethiopia. The interviews I've had were fairly interesting, though sometimes also rather predictable. I'm starting to wonder if I'm too confrontational or journalistic in my interviews in that I tend to put forward interpretations of events that I know would not sit well with my interviewees, just to see how they would react. I'm not sure that's an advisable tactic, and to be honest, to call it a tactic is exaggerating the amount of forethought that went into it. When it comes right down to it, when I'm being serious about something I'm pretty confrontational. The archival work has only just started, and I'm only starting to realise how much there is to look through. On Monday when I hit the archives again, I'm bringing my camera. I'm going to have so much stuff to go through, I've no idea whether I have enough time.

It's a Saturday, and I did ponder for hours the merits of travelling out of my room. But I've got work to do, and the sky is grey, and I've been running around the past few days, and it just happens the internet is working for now (sshhh, don't startle it!). Plus I'm a lazy ass traveller. Some of you might know this already.

Anyway, this week I've been spending more time in the considerably more rarefied atmosphere of the UNECA building and the AU compound. Within those little pockets of cosmopolitanism, there's less harrassment, though I still often get the 'Are you Japanese?' But at least it's not shouted at me from across the street as a part-question, part-greeting, part-jeer, part-call for attention. (Incidentally, though I've going on about all these people shouting at me, at times it's rather more benign. Couple of days ago, two girls shouted at me 'Hey China!' and when I turned around to look at them they started giggling and ran away. Annoying, but didn't feel particularly threatening.)

In these compounds I also met people who spoke with an American accent, and at first I thought they might be African Americans, but turns out the rich kids here go to these schools where they pick up an American accent. Figures.

It's also slightly annoying that people here don't usually reply to emails, and you can't get to talk to them unless you actually turn up on their doorstep. Yes, that makes the fieldwork so much easier.

So. Saturday, lots of thoughts about going out, gave in to inertia, and now I need to start working.

A Perfume Excursion


Suddenly, I feel like wearing Agent Provocateur. I didn't wear it much when I was in Singapore because it is one of those perfumes that is just 'too much', especially in the Singaporean heat and humidity. Because I didn't wear it much in Singapore, I never thought of bringing it along with me. Just goes to show that I'll always regret not bringing every single perfume I have everywhere with me.

The Great Ethiopian Adventure - The Skanky Issue


Yes, I just gave money to prostitutes. Anyone interested in finding out the unfortunately not very skanky details (and won't scold me for taking unnecessary risks) can ask me. ;)

Two Days into the Great Ethiopian Adventure


Addis and I got off on a bad foot. I arrived at the airport, and my first encounter with the people of Addis was when a crowd of taxi drivers tried to grab my luggage and make me get on their cab, no doubt so they could charge me an exorbitant rate. This set the tone for the rest of my first day in Addis when, totally exhausted from the journey, I nevertheless attempted to walk around near the hotel and, later in the day, ventured into the upper echelons in Hilton (not my hotel!) to buy a local SIM card. On hindsight, doing that while I was seconds away from comatose was probably a bad idea. First, the poverty - the area I'm staying in is supposedly the wealthy neighbourhood of Addis. This means that while the sideroads are still dirt, the main roads are paved, hooray! For the first few minutes of my first walkabout in Addis, I was a bit puzzled by the sheer number of youths and young boys sitting on the street with little buckets of dirty water. It wasn't long before my shoes were caked with mud and I realised that (1) it's the rainy season, (2) most of the roads are dirt paths (in the wealthiest neighbourhood in Addis!), and so people get their shoes cleaned by these boys. But being hyper-conscious (see below) of my foreign tourist status, and being absolutely certain I'll get charged some horrendous amount for the same service, I refused to stop to get my shoes cleaned. Yay dirty shoes! Ignoring all the little children asking for money also made me feel like a bitch. At one point I also saw a guy carrying a rifle and having been deluged with images of Africans carrying guns, I silently freaked out for a while before realising that he was standing in front some sort of government building. (Note to self: try not to stare too obviously at guys carrying guns.) To be fair to me, the government building was seriously nondescript and didn't look at all like a government-building-deserving-of-scary-looking-armed-guard. I've since discovered that they have these armed guards in front of all sorts of buildings, even the Ministry of Health and the Radio & Broadcasting Building. Second, the near-panic of coming under intense scrutiny by every single person who sees me. I guess I'm used to more-or-less blending in in a fairly cosmopolitan environment. Here, I stand out because I'm chinese - I keep getting people calling out 'China!' after me, or the equally misinformed who've cast wider nets: 'China, Japan, Korea!' Every single taxi driver I've met has seen fit to tell me that there're now many Chinese in Addis helping to build roads. A particularly wide road was pointed out to me as being of Chinese origin. Not that I've seen more than 3 or 4Chinese (all men). Also, (and this was almost inevitable) today an old guy shouted at me (in perfect English!) 'You chinese are poor people! Why don't you go back to your own country!' This was such a familiar sentiment, it was almost reassuring to finally hear it. I also stand out because despite being in my rattiest shirt and jeans, my clothes still look much MUCH better than the vast majority of the people on the streets. I find myself wishing I had more dirt on my clothes so I don't look so goddamn rich. EVERYBODY stares at me. Today, two particularly obnoxious guys tried to talk to me and when met with a stony wall of silence, asked 'Why are you running? Are you scared of us?' Thus, I learnt that in addition to being foreign and rich, I was also conspicuous because I was walking much faster than everyone else on the street. Later on, after being bombarded with requests for the time by people who were trying to start a conversation/pickpocket me/get the time, I also realised that it might be a bad idea to wear a watch when everyone else's wrist is unadorned. Third, I didn't know my bloody way around, and didn't want to keep consulting my map. I flagged a taxi to bring me back to my hotel after visiting Hilton, but neither the driver nor I knew the way. And so we ended up[...]

London riots


As much of a cliche as it is, I can feel a real sense of pain from the 'nation', or rather, the myriad populations here in the UK. There is great bewilderment at the violence that has seemingly erupted from nowhere and the sheer inability of the state's forces to cope. People are asking why so many youths have suddenly decided to 'turn on their own communities', a phrase that has been used over and over, and how this has happened.

Some point to the structural marginalisation of disaffected youths, with little in terms of a future and job prospects, ignored and condemned by society, suspicious of the authorities who have always been suspicious of them, who have no voice, frustrations to vent and nothing to lose. They say that this violence was only a matter of time. Others call the violence plain hooliganism with immoral, opportunistic looters simply out to get goods for free. They say that these youths have had every opportunity to better themselves but have chosen not to out of pure laziness, and that socio-economic justifications for the violence are pure hogwash. Still others resort to the 'culture' argument, talking about the breakdown in values and the failure of parents to instill the correct values in their kids.

I think that there are structural factors underlying the violence. It is true that these youths feel as if they have been marginalised, and that they have no stake in this society. To a large extent their frustrations are justified. However, the fact that there are structural causes of the violence does not take away the moral responsibility of the perpetrators for what they have done. A cause is not a justification. That they chose to vent their frustrations in this way, that they chose to acquire a voice in this way, that they chose to drown that voice in the clamour of greed and selfishness and thoughtlessness, that they chose to hurt others who were largely innocent of any wrongdoing - these are choices that are not acceptable. Yes, they were dealt a bad hand, but this does not automatically exempt them from making the right choices, and I fully support dealing harshly with them, if the state's resources allow.

The presence of law and order in any state is always an illusion predicated on the acquiescence of its population. When even a significant minority refuses to respect law and order, the illusion breaks down and lawlessness is easily married with impunity - this is, after all, the principle behind civil disobedience. 'Rioting' is cathartic, and when a critical mass of people is reached, it is also strangely easy, especially in a state where the government is unwilling to turn its full capacity for violence on its own people. But sometimes there is no easy path that is also morally justifiable.

When all is said and done, something needs to change about the system. The 'rioting' is an immediate problem that needs to be solved; the 'rioting' is also a symptom of a larger problem. For too long we have looked down our noses at the youths roaming the streets in loud, rowdy gangs, dismissing them as stupid 'street trash' who will never amount to anything, and never looking at the reasons they are this way. We forget that they are also looking at us looking at them, and we forget that they feel our disdain and react in anger. We forget that they are human too. That the riots have called our attention to this does not absolve the rioters of responsibility, for to make that argument would be to once again deny the agency of these youths; it has merely reminded us that we are responsible too. We cannot stand apart from the riots and judge, for we were complicit as well.

Phone hacking!


Phone hacking: Hunt worried Murdoch 'was not told'
Jeremy Hunt has said News Corporation still has questions to answer about why Rupert Murdoch and other executives did not know about the extent of phone hacking at the News of the World.

There're quite a number of people who don't believe the Murdochs' 'ignorant & betrayed' defence. I don't know really, I think it's not as clear-cut as that. I thnk in a big organisation, responsibility & judgement becomes diffused almost. It's too easy to 'choose to know as little as possible', or see dubious practices as 'the way things are done', or to decide to 'let someone else think about it because I've got more urgent things on my plate'. All those little sins of negligence that culminate in a significant wrong. I'm not surprised that something like this could happen, and I think that while the specific crime might not be the same, malpractices, large or small, are probably present in any big organisation. When in a large enough group, the crime of many becomes the crime of none.

My Bucket List


1. Create a collection of perfume that I really love
2. Visit Scotland as many times as I like
3. Read about the history of Scotland
4. Never feel trapped
5. Have a month-long (real) holiday somewhere I don’t usually live
6. Write a non-academic book
7. Share a good bottle of wine with a good friend at least once a month
8. Travel somewhere at least twice a year
9. Visit Italy again
10. Read at least 1 ‘fun’ book every month
11. Have at least 1 splurge meal every month
12. Always look out for new music to listen to
13. Go for a concert or play at least once a year

I need to learn how to play the flute!


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Poor whale :(


The Loneliest Mystery of the Deep

For the last 12 years, a single solitary whale whose vocalizations match no known living species has been tracked across the Northeast Pacific. Its wanderings match no known migratory patterns of any living whale species. Its vocalizations have also subtly deepened over the years, indicating that the whale is maturing and ageing. And, during the entire 12 year span that it has been tracked, it has been calling out for contact from others of its own kind.

It has received no answer. Nor will it ever.

Sleepy shopping


I often go grocery shopping when I'm sleepy and have lots of work to do, on the assumption that I'll have no time to cook, and will need to food to keep me awake. Unfortunately, this means I often go shopping while half asleep and preoccupied with thoughts other than 'Do I need milk?'

Anyhoos, that's what happened today, and I wasn't really thinking about what I was taking off the shelves until I checked out:

1. 1 small tub of chocolate swirl ice-cream
2. 1 bottle of Coke
3. 1 bottle of Diet Coke
4. 2 cans of Red Bull
5. Tiramisu

Comfort food + Caffeine. I have my priorities straight.


Woohoo new blog design! I was a bit sick of the old bimbotic pink one, and wanted something a bit more sober, calmer, quieter... you know, to reflect my all grown up personality now. Also, my eyes ached from looking at the old design. Ah, the perils of growing old...

Billie Holiday, Audrey Tatou and Chanel No. 5


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To be honest, I like the song more than the commercial.

The Animals


A friend introduced me to The Animals, and I'm sold!

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Return to Aberystwyth


The train ride to Aberystwyth has the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. Everytime I take the train, the scenery's a little different. The last time I took the train, it was early morning, and the fields and valleys were mist-shrouded in the semi-darkness. When I came back to Aberystwyth after the summer, it was a fiery sunset bursting through grey-blue clouds. This time, the trees were still bare from the cold, but the fields were covered with grass, and the glaring January sun had to shine through dusty train windows.

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I couldn't manage to upload the video directly to blogger *shakes fist*, so I had to upload it on youtube first. And of course, I managed to capture the most boring bit of scenery. There were also quaint little cottages and flocks of sheep running away, startled by the train, and a whole - flock isn't even the word now - horde of ducks in the marshes, and horses, and sun-drenched valleys, and shadows of clouds on the hills. And then when the train nears Aberystwyth, the land flattens out into wide plains, and meandering rivers, surrounded by a wide berth of hills. When I finally stepped into my room, I was greeted by a rainbow of colours thrown by the crystals I'd hung at my window.



I love looking at other people's homes, especially when they're as lovely and creative as this one.

However, what really got me was this - "The stabby thing is a frog spear from Erie Basin that I gave to Robin as an anniversary gift".

If anybody gives me a frog spear for any reason, whatever the occasion is (well, unless it's a frog-spearing occasion. But. Unlikely.), I will use it to stab the gifter and consider it an appropriate use of the amphibian-murdering weapon.

I'm just not quirky enough.

DIY bungee jumping (aka my stomach turned itself inside out)


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Moodboards for Living


I've been playing with the moodboards on the mydeco boutique. (note: it's actually a competition) Methinks I actually have a certain style that I kind of gravitate towards. Behold:Moodboard 1:Red-Black-BlueTabletop Fountains from Exalted Fountains, $3,625CONTENT BY CONRAN 59TH STREET ARMCHAIR from Conran Shop, $1,425Butler Handpainted Bordeaux Striped Chest from The Dresser & Chest Superstore, $1,247Heritage Collection Black Wood Queen Size Bed from Visiondecor, $574.99Hillsdale Furniture Stratton Swivel Counter Stool (4259-826) from The Bar Stool Superstore, $219Winsome Timer Coffee Table with Drawers and Shelf Coffee Table from The Coffee Table Superstore, $147.99Chinoiserie Pillows from Linenplace, $112Corsica Round Buttoned Cushion Pacific from etoile home, $105MINI QUAD BLACK ALARM CLOCK from Conran Shop, $90Oscar Round Cushion Black from etoile home, $45Oxo Softworks Click Enamel Kettle - Red from Target, $35.29Cow Salt and Pepper Set from Sur La Table, $9.95Tulip - Wall Decals Stickers Appliques Home Decor from Blancho Bedding , $8.89Chocolate Cherry Tomato from Gurneys, $3.99Moodboard 2:Living Room CasualEho Studios Compact Jadea Sectional Sofa Set from One Way Furniture, $1,899Claw Foot Black Coffee Table from Bellacor, $448Cooper Classics Sunburst Gold Mirror from Cymax, $359.99Thomas Paul Feather Tufted Pile Rug from Velocity Art and Design, $270Quoizel Table Lamp in Bronze part of the Mica Naturals Collection from Lighting Catalog, $269.99ilMettinsieme Double Valet Clothes Stand from Colorful Styles, $262.99President Abraham Lincoln: Classic Art Reproduction from Design Toscano, $199Saucer Black/Pink Chair from The Light Shop, $175Alessi Mediterraneo Fruit Holder from Velocity Art and Design, $130Thomas O'Brien Darby Wine Decanter from Сooking, $119.95Winsome Capri Set Of 6 Foldable Fabric Storage Baskets - Black from Sears, $49.49Guinea Pig Money Box from Cath Kidston USA, $26I don't really like styles that are overly minimalistic (e.g. all-white houses) or ornate (e.g. too many chandeliers, gilded furniture, & embroidered cushions). I kinda dig the casual-playful-eclectic styles. Something that's easy to live in.Ah... the nesting instincts.[...]

Sobering thought


I think I'll need to start writing more, not just assignments, but in general. I'm starting to find that writing doesn't come as easily to me as it once did. This is partly because I'm writing denser (& hopefully more sophisticated) arguments, partly because the stakes are higher and I'm therefore more cautious about what I write. But it's also because I don't write as much anymore, on my blog or for assignments. Yes, I write much longer papers now, but I don't write as MANY papers. I need to get into the habit of writing stuff / nonsense again.

I remember you as you were, Pablo Neruda


I remember you as you were in the last autumn.
You were the grey beret and the still heart.
In your eyes the flames of the twilight fought on.
And the leaves fell in the water of your soul.

Clasping my arms like a climbing plant
the leaves garnered your voice, that was slow and at peace.
Bonfire of awe in which my thirst was burning.
Sweet blue hyacinth twisted over my soul.

I feel your eyes traveling, and the autumn is far off:
Grey beret, voice of a bird, heart like a house
Towards which my deep longings migrated
And my kisses fell, happy as embers.

Sky from a ship. Field from the hills:
Your memory is made of light, of smoke, of a still pond!
Beyond your eyes, farther on, the evenings were blazing.
Dry autumn leaves revolved in your soul.

Pablo Neruda

Lost in the Forest, Pablo Neruda


Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood---
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.

Pablo Neruda

Stravinsky, Petrushka


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I was wondering whether Petrushka's good to have swirling around in your head while you're trying to write a bigass paper, but then I realised that I was just getting distracted from work by the thought of the music possibly distracting me from work.

11,000 words to go!

The Last Stand


What does one do when there's only 1 cookie left? Do you wait until the urge to eat it become unbearable, or do you eat it immediately so you can get cookies off your mind?

working late again


Who gets cravings for olives at 6am after staying up all (read: most of the) night?