Monday, October 22, 2007


Today, at the risk of snubbing my Chinese horoscope reading (Curb your spending: your finances will be unstable!), I did two very decadent things. Not that I haven’t been decadent in the last two weeks travelling Hong Kong and Amsterdam. But today was bordering on irrational, even if I can (and will now proceed to) justify both actions.

The first was to redeem 25,000 Krisflyer miles for a flight to Hongkong this Saturday for the sole purpose of watching David Sylvian in concert at the HITEC Exhibition Hall in Kowloon.

Having never thought that I would be crazy enough a fan to do this, I hesitated for a couple of weeks before confirming the flight. After all, I was only just in Hong Kong two weeks ago, and had pretty much exhausted the shopping and clubbing options. And it really seems ridiculous to travel 4 hours by plane just for a concert… I thought only sign-waving groupies did that.

But even though it was K. who can really lay claim to having discovered Sylvian when we were in JC, I’ve realised that I have over the years become a bigger and bigger fan of his music. I now systematically track down and buy all his output, including his new unfathomable limited edition album with the waves crashing amidst Japanese traditional singing (J.’s reaction upon testing the first few minutes at HMV: “No sound, I thought spoil”) . And where I used to have a largely aesthetic appreciation of tuneless songs packaged in arty arrangements and exquisitely textured paper, many of his songs now genuinely connect now that I’m older.

The news of G.’s death last week also made me think about how short life is. One minute he was cooking soup in the kitchen, the next minute his heart had stopped. The last time I watched Sylvian was 15 years ago in London, and he rarely tours, let alone come out to Asia. Already, he’s cancelled 3 shows after falling ill on the road. Considering either of us might not even be alive 15 years from now, this could be my last chance to catch him in the flesh. So this concert is Limited Edition, I have reasoned to myself, like so many of his heartstoppingly beautiful CDs.

The other hugely decadent thing I did today was buy an Apple iTouch (no need for a picture, surely). I totally don’t need one, of course. Except it is:

- WiFi for “social networking” on the go
- a fairly large-sized screen for porn on the go
- a thing that plays my favorite songs on the go
- unbelievably beautiful
- a much better match than my Nano for those ridiculously-priced Bose earphones.

And my sister says I’m shallow…

Monday, August 06, 2007

Canteen Molecular Gastronomy

This morning's conversation with the noodles auntie at the canteen (with whom I have a special bond):

Auntie: "Mee kiah ah? Ai tow-gay mai?"
Me: "Mai!"
Auntie: "Orh! (in Mandarin) I add some mee siam gravy to your chilli hor..."
(Proceeds to do it before I can say anything)
Me: "Orh!"
Auntie (giggling, in Mandarin): "I added the gravy to my own bowl just now hor and it was damn yummy!"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Suzanne at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Two nights, two divas from America that I love so much but who couldn't have been more different.

Whereas Tori was all sound and fury, Suzanne was exactly how you would expect her to be in a live setting. Smallish intimate auditorium with quiet, civilised fans. She herself is cool, relaxed, chatty and funny - charming the audience with little stories of how she came to write the new songs on her album.

Her set was, unfortunately, a lot more predictable than Tori's. She performed the new songs from "Beauty and Crime", and then stuck with tried and tested classics like "Small Blue Thing" and "Luka" throughout with the same arrangements I had heard for two decades now. Don't get me wrong - stock standard Suzanne Vega is still brilliant. And after all these years, her voice still draws you in with that strange mix of intimacy and detachment, a sort of conspiratory tone really. Still, she managed to pull some surprises. I had never heard someone sing with just a bass guitar accompanying her, and this breathed new life into "Left of Center" and "Blood Makes Noise". And her last encore ("Penitent" and "Rosemary") gave a hint of just how powerful these hidden songs in her back catalogue are that never really get played live.

13 years after I watched these women in 1994, I got a rare chance to see them again in London. Tonight (with news of a death of a colleague and a colleague's grandfather in the same day) I wondered again when my next encounter with either of them will be. And suddenly, I felt the fleetingness of life - how Tori, Suzanne, myself, E., K.L. and all the people dear to me are just here now altogether and we don't have many chances really to get it right and make it work.

Suzanne Vega

Do you remember how you walked with me
down the street into the square?
How the women selling rosemary
pressed the branches to your chest,
promised luck and all the rest,
and put their fingers in your hair?

I had met you just the day before,
like an accident of fate,
in the window there behind your door.
How I wanted to break in
to that room beneath your skin,
but all that would have to wait.

In the Carmen of the Martyrs,
with the statues in the courtyard
whose heads and hands were taken,
in the burden of the sun;
I had come to meet you
with a question in my footsteps.
I was going up the hillside
and the journey just begun.

My sister says she never dreams at night
there are days when I know why;
those possibilities within her sight,
with no way of coming true.
Some things just don't get through
into this world , although they try.

In the Carmen of the Martyrs
with the statues in the courtyard
whose heads and hands were taken,
in the burden of the sun;
I had come to meet you
with a question in my footsteps.
I was going up the hillside
and the journey just begun.

All I know of you
is in my memory
All I ask is you
Remember me.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tori at the Hammersmith Apollo

Ok, before I start, I need to blog about something really freaky. So I'm in London again, and on top of there being a bomb scare within an hour of my landing at Heathrow, HAIL fell from the sky today. At the very height of summer no less. I'm so freaked out I've resolved to help save the planet by raising my aircon temperature by 1 degree Celsius.

Now back to the topic of my post. Which is another music-related one. (Why nearly every single post on this blog is now music-related is the subject of another blog entry another day. It has to do with the fact that too many people have the address. Which when you think about it, IS one of the defining characteristics of success of a blog. Which of course means that my blog isn't being used by me for the right purpose.

Anyway. Back to the subject of this posting - the divine, incomparable Tori Amos.

I just returned from watching her at the Hammersmith Apollo, and she is now only the second artist I have watched live three times (the other is Everything But The Girl). I wasn't expecting much really, since her music has taken a turn in the past few years in a direction I cannot identify with anymore. Maybe she grew up, or I grew up. All I know was that after days of watching resale ticket prices on eBay, I decided to just go with standing tickets right at the back of the auditorium. If I get bored, it would be easier to get a drink from the bar, I thought.

Boy was I wrong. I last watched Tori in 1994, and before that in 1992. Nothing quite prepares you for the beauty of her voice when you hear it live. Even with her irritating tendency to mispronounce words ("because I'm emoting so much I can't even say the words right"), her voice rings out so clear and (yes!) emotes so much you only need to hear the words you know so well in your heart, not clear out loud. And she was clearly in the mood to entertain tonight - pulling out old favourites from her 2nd and 3rd albums mostly, adding clever and cunning variations to the arrangements. Plus she lost weight and she looks absolutely fabulous and insane in her different American Doll Posse outfits ("look I'm Tori, no I'm Isabel! No I'm Clyde!"). How to dislike her when halfway through "Black Dove", she stops singing and declares "I am totally fucking up this band" after forgetting the chords, and then launches into an impromptu made up children's song called "I think I've had a brain fart"?

The thing is, Tori's been one of those artists that has constantly been part of my life. I discovered her when I bought her first single "Me And A Gun" from Steve's Sounds in Leicester Square (it's still there!) and since then, so many of her songs have been the soundtrack to my life. She, of course, has like 500 songs and as she traversed her catalogue to pick out gems, there is that feeling of being transported back and forth through time. As she played her two saddest break-up songs tonight ("Putting The Damage On" and "Hey Jupiter"), I remembered how sorry I felt for her when the album they were on was released, and how sorry I felt for myself when my own break-up happened almost 7 years later.

But you know, things have a way of coming around in waves. And with her new album and tonight's performance, Tori Amos is becoming relevant to me all over again. Her finale for tonight was "Tear In Your Hand", one of her oldest and most familiar songs, which also happens to be E.'s favourite Tori song. E. is the only person I know that really shares my love for Tori and when she played that song, I just wanted so much for him to be there to hear it. Uselessly, I tried to record a snippet on my mobile phone, but I was too far away from the stage, and Tori at the piano was reduced to just a blur of pixelated bright light. I found myself praying that in this world where things can really change very quickly, that I would be able to see her a fourth time, and that E. and I would be there to see her together. For the world these days isn't so much about hearing Tori play the old songs, but having them cast in a different light.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

She's back

Fall in all attendant memories
Crowd the day with unrelated histories
Each year leaves its unresolving fantasies
That hang around each corner
Hang around each street
Thick with ghosts, the wind whips round in circuitries
Carrying words as strangers exchange pleasantries
Do they intrude upon your private reveries?
As they meet you on every corner
Meet you in each street
Watch for daily braveries
Notice new found courtesies
Finger sudden legacies
As they wash down every corner
Clean up every street
Mark the month and all its anniversaries
Put away the drafts of all your eulogies
Clear the way for all your possibilities

"Anniversary" (2007)
Suzanne Vega

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The end of an era

Today, A. handed me her resignation letter. It wasn't unexpected at all, but I had still hoped against all hope that it wouldn't arrive. Being quite stressed about something else that I had to do, I wasn't at all sure how to react, except to ask her where she was going. I knew in my heart that I couldn't persuade her to stay, so I uselessly filled the silence by asking her, over and over again, the questions she already said she wouldn't answer.

I will really miss her. I keep thinking back tonight to the first day she arrived in the office, newly transferred from another newspaper. Of course I knew her, but in a very real sense I didn't either. We had the kind of false familiarity that came with having lots of mutual friends and having our paths cross very fleetingly in university. Still, I remember instinctively wanting very much to connect with her and be her friend. So I told her pretty much everything about myself and what I was thinking about, laying myself open pretty bare.

Over the years, she has been my one confidante and sounding board. As I shakily made the transition to "management", I have never really thought of myself as a proper department or section head. As long as A. was around and I could discuss things with her, it felt very much like being in a high school drama - us the high school seniors navigating tricky turns in the road with a bunch of juniors in tow. And there were never any dead end streets with A., together we would always find a way out. So she remains one of the main reasons why it's still fun to come in to work.

F. said that A's leaving is the end of an era, but she didn't know what of. For me it's pretty clear. It's the end of a working relationship that has influenced and become a large part of office life and my style of leadership. It's the difference between having a partner-in-crime and going it alone. It's the start of what I've been pretty much dreading - real life, growing up, getting serious and making adult decisions.

I'm happy for her because I think the organisation has become incapable of giving her what she wants. And instead of waiting around for something to happen, it's good that she's decided to make a change for herself. Again, as with K., I feel the loss not just because she is my friend, but also because she is one of the few people I've met here that truly has what it takes running through her veins.

We'll all have to move on, but it's clear that life in the office won't be the same again.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Why have I stopped blogging?

N. asked me that today. In the haze of having had too many drinks on a working night, I think the answer is that there is a big reason why this blog exists and that reason doesn't figure so much anymore. It could be that I've re-found happiness and contentment to some extent. Or it could be that I'll need a new reason to continue. Maybe the solution is to start a new blog altogether.