Friday, April 30, 2010

Another Supposedly Wonderful Place I'll (almost) Never Visit Again



Until next week that is, when I have to come back.  I do have the weekend in Hong Kong at least, which allows me just enough time to catch up with... as many friends as can be squeezed in... plus I promised the boss to buy some of these.


Macau, though.

I suppose one bad experience doesn't mean the whole place is as putrid as maggots writhing in sinkhole of disgusting garbage, or festering and seething with corruption, or brimming with the bitter soulless bile of human trafficking and basically rotten to the core... And then we moved out of the ferry terminal...

But as the "prosperity" of the place is all based on the healthy and honest sport of gambling, I don't know how I can be so underwhelmed?  There must be something wrong with ME!

Why can't I appreciate the beauty of these quaint little monstrosities, the casinos; however meretricious they may appear, they have their merits.  Well, for one they attract countless member of the new middle-class from mainland China.  (This means that there are fewer baseball-capped crowds following their little flag-bearer into Lan Kwai Fong to take photos of the native wildlife.)

These suave people flock to town sporting  their bespoke suits*, flashing a dapper taste in sock-wear and oozing an ageless sense of style that just screams, "My mother fertilized our vegetable plot with steaming shit fresh from the village toilets."

What's the problem?  Am I being a little bigoted?  Am I being Gordon Brown to their Gilian Duffy?  (Or the other way around: me Duffy, them Brown?  Hang on, who was being bigoted again?)

So these Chinese have some money finally, so what?  And even though barefoot doctor grandfather was aeroplaned out of his hut and beaten to death for having having treasonously whispered that he was starving to death, they are the uncriticizable wunderkinder of the resurgent middle world, and they have been flown and ferried in to sunny little Macau in order to relieve themselves of the corruption in their capitalist money-clips... with a harmless toss of the dice; a deft flip of the cards; a casual spin of the wheel; and a plaintive Russian hooker's tongue right up the arse.**

But that of course is not bad thing for the local economy, particularly vendors of mouthwash.  Money floods in from taxes on the 70% that these dupes drop (all gamblers are dupes according the E@L book of received wisdom), which the Macaunese Government dutifully lavishes upon the grateful populace. What with the provision of these magnificent roads, that world class ferry terminal, outstanding health-care and even more landfill for even more casinos, it's Portuguese tarts for all!


And Russian tarts, and Korean tarts, and Vietnamese tarts, and Mongolian tarts...


And the success of the "integrated resorts" in Singapore?  ~~~  the tinkling of distant laughter echoes down from an enormous hall ~~~


Thailand is the preferred  place for Uncle Expat's distinctive type of sleaze, to be sure, especially now that he hears things are a bit quieter in Patpong again.


* I, for one, am speechless at these pop-out suits.

** Never kiss a Macau hooker on the mouth.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Call Me Jeffrey Bernard

E@L is unwell.

A nibble on a tepid char sui bau, which I complained about, in Legends restaurant at the BigC supermarket (not my choice) in Hanoi and three days (so far) of gastro-intestinal flushing have ensued.

Now I know The Eagles meant by, "Don't look back, you should never look back."

My daily dose of medications has risen to 22.  (Not counting Cialis as that is not daily.)  I'd rattle if it wasn't for what else is in my jejunem, ileum and colon.

We won't even mention what happened in my trousers when I was walking back to my Hanoi hotel from my first coffee in 3 weeks...


Currently in Macau, groaning.  And not from the special pleasure of those special massages you can get here, allegedly.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stupid Is As Stupid Does - Redux

This time it's not me who is stupid.


After a riot in Batam island (where I often play golf) in which buildings and dozens of cars were destroyed, people injured and executives of a boat company beseiged by a mob of 5,000 angry Indonesians workers that required 400 riot police to quell, the local cops are about the charge Indian expatriate who called the Indonesian workers "stupid" and set whole thing off.  He is accused  of  "emnity" towards Indonesia , a charge that that could bring a four seven year jail term. 

What I find interesting is that Police called the Indian executive the "mastermind" of the riot.


He certainly was not the person who organised and controlled the rioters, so who could be called the mastermind?  He may have instigated the riot by with his stupid remark (pun intended) but he was not the one who did the physical damage.

Meanwhile most of the violent rioters look like they are going to get away with destroying the company's property, attacking the other uninvolved execs injuring some of them, and smashing the faith of foreigners thinking of either investing in Indonesia or even playing golf there.

Surely the police have got this arse-about.  A snide remark means jail, but rampaging violence and putting people in fear of their lives and having to escape out the back to some boats that rescued them means "processing" some of them.

Who is being stupid here?   Without risking to go to jail next time I ferry over to play whack-fuck, I think people should reconsider whether the remark about being Indonesians being stupid is valid or not.   


Friday, April 23, 2010

Recommended Reading (Updated)

1. "The Singapore Grip", by J.G. Farrell, 1978. Available in a NYRP edition these days.

What is this Singapore grip thing exactly? It becomes a bit of a running gag in the novel and you don't find out until near the end, but it's worth the wait.

More about The Singapore Grip

Here is a Great Book of the new old-school, teeming with immense human insight and dark humour. And bloody interesting (certainly to me) information about Singapore in the year leading up to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. Robber rubber barons and communist mata-haris mix it in the tropical humidity. Yet for all its proselytising and the wealth of opinions espoused by the various characters, the style is easy and relaxed, with a classical feel, perhaps because of the clarity of Farrell's descriptive powers. It's one of the few Oriental books where the literally exotic (ex- out of, otic - the east) scenery doesn't seem to get in the way of the essential plot(s). It's something like reading Joseph Conrad at his best, but much more funny and obviously with a slightly more modern tale. If only more books were as 'gripping' (ho ho) as this.

So, you're of the It's Not Set In New York So Fuck It school of literary appreciation, and you don't give a fuck about the street number accurate depiction of pre-war Singapore and its snobby, foolish British elite, or the bungling pig-headedness of the unprepared British and Australian military, or the exact methods of exploiting the Malayan rubber workers? That's OK.

Read it instead for it's universal theme of sexual intrigue. There is the incredibly amusing story of the (perhaps overly) naive, idealistic Matthew Webb who is fresh in town from the collapse of the League of Nations, as he fends off the romantic advances of the pretty white girl, Jean Blackett, the daughter of his deceased father's partner (who wants to lock together the firm of Webb and Blackett for one more generation and for more profit.) Meanwhile Matthew's once best-friend is trying in vain to interest Jean in himself by bowing to her every outrageous whim, which of course only makes her respect him less. Then there is Matthew again, instead learning the Chinese way of Yin-Yang sex. Upstairs, cramped in a dark, smoky, tiny tenement in Chinatown with the half Chinese, half White Russian (maybe) femme fatale (feel my breast) Vera, he puts on his glasses and brings the lamp closer to get a better look at her "pearl in a jade sea"... This is one of the unable-to-stop-smiling-and-chuckling jokes with which this book is teeming!

Read it also for the war-drama of the inexorable approach of the Japanese army down the Malay peninsula, for the terror of the soldiers, both Japanese and Allies in the fog of night-time battle, and for the desperate heroism amongst the tragedy of the fire-fighters battling raging infernoes as bombs fall on the Singapore docks - you can't help but think of the 9/11 fire-fighters at this point.

One of the key themes of the book is how nothing ever really changes in itself, no matter how much it is altered on the outside. Certainly this books raises most of the issues I continually rage about concerning Singapore; exploitation (of maids), nepotism, etc... except maybe for taxi-drivers.

To highlight this, Farrell tells the fable of some King or other (can't find it now, forgot to bookmark it) returning from the Battle of Arles [sic?] approached by a fisherman (or something) who asks, "Did we win?" "What does it matter to you if we won?" replies the King. "You'll still be a fisherman."

Mmm. Singapore is still Singapore.

The book ends as the Japanese march the surrendered westerners to the Changi internment camp. This is where many Singapore war books start.

I loved it, maybe because I haven't read a book with such high drama mixed with such dry irony and wonderful humour for a while. It's one of those big tomes (598 pages) that you can't stop reading once you gather up the gumption to start yet you don't want ever it to end (yada yada).  Big though it is, the style is tight, plot motivates all the action and it's not overloaded with crap unrealistic dialogue or bullshit diversion like many "novels" these days seriously in need of an editor.*

Note: Ayn Rand would not like this book. Which can only be a plus to my (and Matthew's) way of thinking.


J.G Farrell won the Booker Prize in 1973 for his previous book, 'The Siege of Krishanpour', and in his speech of acceptance condemned Booker-Connell for the working conditions in their plantations in the West Indies. Those were the days, when it was not an attack on the very fabric of the universe to stand up for those who lack the opportunity and means to speak for themselves. This sense of aggrievement for the oppressed and foreign is one of the many things I like (being an armchair socialist myself) about The Siege and The Grip (I've read Troubles too, and the naive newcomer character is there, as is the actual Major, but it is not as politically engaged as the others.)

Farrell was swept out to sea while rock fishing in Bantry Bay, Ireland not long after publishing this book. He was only 41. What a great pity. I would have loved to read whatever he was to write next, and you should read what he has already written.


2. "The Boat" by Walter Gibson, originally published in 1963, I think. 2007, from Monsoon Books in Singapore. (Review copy. Thanks Phil!)

Another interesting Singapore war-time story in a completely different vein, this is a true first person account of how 135 survivors from a boat that was sunk escaping Japanese occupied Malaya (or Borneo? it doesn't matter - I don't have the book with me to check some details) try to survive while clinging to a lifeboat built for 28 adrift in the Malacca Straits for nearly a month without enough water or food, apart from sashimi. Terrible things ensue. Four people survived this amazing ordeal, including the only female, a nurse who was immediately captured by the Japanese as she trudged away looking for food and water and sent to a prison camp. Gibson himself had only just escaped from one of those death marches which are all too popular these days (books about them I mean) before he found himself in this new predicament. The writing is, um, not at Farrell's level, more documentary style, but it is the steeliness of these people's will to survive the horrors of their "ultimate escape" journey that keeps you reading with gruesome fascination. Despite it being a stark, ultimately sad tale, I felt warmed by the strength of its depiction of such stoic, human perseverance. How would I manage under such circumstances? Really enjoyed reading it, as it gave me a lot to think about.

And it is only 100 pages.

More about The Boat


[Addendum: a late inclusion...]

3. The City & The City, China Miéville, 2010. Pan.

A murder mystery, corruption thing set in the weirdest cities you've ever heard of... Besźel and Ul Qoma are cities with different cultures, different architecture, different languages, different rules... but they inhabit the same geographic space. The towns mesh and weave through each other in the strangest most disorienting ways; buildings on the same street, even on the same side can be in the different city. If you cross a path in the wrong place or stoop to chase your wind-tossed hat you might've crossed the border - illegally. You've Breached. You're gone, as in disappeared.  Even to look at the other city or its inhabitants is Breach. There is a border point where, after copious paperwork and baksheesh, you can get to the other city, but while you physically walk the same streets, you no longer are allowed to see the city you just left. You have to "unsee" it, just as you "unsee" that city from the vantage of the other.

Traffic, understandably, is a nightmare as you must avoid the cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians you are not allowed to see. To "unsee" other cars is to automatically filter them from your consciousness while physically getting out of their way as well.

In this sense, it reminds me of the traffic in Vietnam and in India.

More about The City & the City

Another top read.  Will no doubt win some award for something.


* I started some Laurel K Hamilton vampire-hunter novel once (why oh why?) and gave it up when I noticed it had taken over 5 pages for her characters to move from the car to the house as they discuss some hokum irrelevant bullshit and go through five stages of a relationship. Is she paid per word? Padding!

BBC - All The News That Isn't Really News At All

I hate to admit it but I'm having to watch Channel News Asia (Media Corp, a "state" owned business, run by the company run by the incompetent one's wife) to get any idea of what is going on in Bangkok at the moment.  Grenades by Patpong, OMG!  3 dead and 70 injured...


For months now we've been watching the Beeb's news service on TV morphing / degenerating /evolving into yet another Lifestyle and Documentary Channel. And 40% of what's scintillating across the LCD screen are just timeouts and ads for their other lifestyle dross.  It's not scintillating, it's just hopeless. 

Oh no, a documentary on plastic furniture has just started on CNA... Do'h!

Change to BBC - a "news item" about rich Indian people and their high-powered boats ... "The Hub" - what the fuck?  AND it's 50% sport bullshit - currently; which is the world's [Europe's] richest football [soccer] club?  BBC? Elitist? No way!  How much am I paying at home for this crap? 

I just want a channel that, whenever I turn it on, tells me what current disaster (natural or man-made) is destroying in the world... is that so hard, for crying out loud?



Faceless In Hanoi - Clueless in Singapore

Facebook is banned in Vietnam I was told today when time after time in our office I was presented with a "Problem Loading Page" message.

Interesting, because on Monday and Tuesday when I was in HCMC I had no problem harrassing friends with meaningless profile updates and annoying them with innumerable inane gliberties (new word!) in their comments boxes. Here in Hanoi we are closer to the communistic/fascistic heart of the antient Indo-Chine, where digital surveillance and censorship surpasses the more, um, manual kind in HCMC witnessed four years ago by E@L, your ever-trusty correspondent.

Up here, the enbalmed Dr H still runs things from his glass tomb, directing the guards into political action on the internet with a subliminal gesture of his perpetually gray, wispy, Kung-Fu-guru-like goatee.

One of his recent and arbitrary edicts was to stop friends (and friends of friends) from arranging parties and nights out or from having a hub that directs their closest virtual acquaintances to all of the pictures, interesting links and short thoughts, hidden tattoos and personal financial information that they haven't got the time or wanna make the effort to blog about or leave it on a seat in the train. (n.b.: Blogger is obviously not banned.)


Pretty much the way Singapore's increasingly (perhaps) moribund LKY mentors his son on how to do and say (relatively) stupid things in public. Does anyone remember The Son of MM's comments on what would happen if there were more opposition members in Parliament? I personally have forgotten but I know it was outrageously dumb, allegedly.

But the other day I was stunned to read this interview and weep with laughter at the awesome irony fail of the arguably clueless PM!

What do you mean, oh guru of political deconstruction? you ask.

I mean, read this excerpt and then read it again ignoring the red bits to see what, um, I mean...

You seem to be sensitive to the issue of what's called nepotism.

We are very sensitive.

Tell me about this sensitivity.

The whole of our system is founded on a basic concept of meritocracy. You are where you are because you are the best man for the job, and not because of your connections or your parents or your relatives.

And if anybody doubts that I as Prime Minister am here not because I'm the best man for the job but because my father fixed it, or that my wife runs Temasek because I put her there and not because she's the best woman for the job, then my entire credibility and moral authority is [sic] destroyed because I'm not fit to be where I am. (Interview for sale at

Exactly. What we are reading is not all that far from the N-word!


See how easily I get subversive arrested distracted when I talk about censorship?


p.s. this post will be linked to on my completely anonymous (HA!) Facebook page, and even though I can't get to Facebook myself, I know the MDA can.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Unedited Vietnam

(From iPhone Notes)

Tri Than Trang Bong. Vietnam road sign.

Rice paper wraps enormous heaps of herbs they keep coming.

Getting comfortable in car? Cannot.

Why are we driving at 35km/hr on country road? Ah... Everywhere along the road for 100km are villages conjoined into one long strip of impoverished, restful (hammocks) and yet suicidal motorcycle riding humanity. 

Mattress on back of motorcycle, no time to take photo.

Graves in middle of rice paddies. (more in the North than in the South)

Girls, old women in horrible colours pant-suits,  pyjama style

Rows and rows maybe 50yds of large soft toys.  In Tay Ninh provence = mid-nowhere. WTF?

"Tough white noodle soup."

"Laydy's Fashion"

Furniture street in Hanoi, shop-ladies sitting silent, still, disconsolate on their glossy chairs, staring at nothing, waiting for customers that come only so often and not today.

Traffic chaos, insane density of motorcycles interweaving but not crashing, makes you believe in selfish altruism.

Sushi two nights in a row. WTF?


Would Naomi Klein Approve?

No logo is better than this logo.

(I'll leave the ambiguity there for your innocent amusement and eternal delight.)


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spam Spam Spam Spam

Spam comments are getting through the word verification! WTF? 

The last three comments have been spam...  Anyone have any ideas?

If some spam bastard generator answers this comment I'm gonna scream.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Down, One Up

The continual recycling of residential buildings here is amazing.  The building boom is  showing no signs of abating,  and that is not doing the Lee family any damage thanks to their interests in the concrete suppliers.  Smaller low-rise condos that went "en bloc" in 2007 and early 2008 were demolished and most of these addresses (certainly not all) have sprouted giant towers on concrete and glass.  Even though en bloc sales are now not so popular the cycle of de-construction, re-construction goes on.  

 One building comes down.

 One building goes up.

It started a while ago, but gone it has gone insane recently.  

 But are these apartments worth living in?  Even when I was looking for accommodation in 2004, I was taken to see many of these "modern" places.  Without fail, I am sure any expat new to town, who is used to the space of housing in their own country would, as I did, consider the rooms cramped, the apartments awkwardly laid out and if not claustrophobic then vertiginous.  And where are the people (ecpats presumably) who are going to live in these places?  Does the words "over-supply" and "speculation" mean anything to these developers?  Not when the bubble is still growing! 

Again, like in the lead-up to the crashes of 1998-2000 and 2008 they are expecting the bubble to never burst.  Or to burst just after they off-load their place for a huge profit.  It is no surprise therefore that, as reported in the Strait-Jacket Times this morning we see  "Developers snapping up their own units."  (page B18)

THE sizzling property market is prompting even the developers themselves to snap up units in their new projects, especially high-end properties. Singapore Exchange filings show that a..." - (for further on-line reading registration/payment is needed. Fuck that.)

Many of these units purchases were at slightly higher (2%) than usual discount rates to family and "interested parties" (directors, CEOs, high percentage shareholders, etc).  Most these developers are of course (Malaysian) tycoons and multi-millionaires.  But even without discounts, the family and friends get first pickings at the best apartments.

Lee Kwan Yu once said he didn't want Singapore to turn into Hong Kong where sky-scraper apartment blocks cluster in the heart of the city, especially in the places like the instant towns of T ai Koo Shing and of Tseun Kwan O where dozens of 40 story  apartment blocks appeared almost overnight.  Even the old areas of HK are jam-packed with 20+ storey apartments.  

 Western district, Hong Kong

Well that "vision" is becoming out of date fast.  Construction of these small-roomed condominiums is in blastosis (a biological term for hyper-fast replication of cells) everywhere you look in Singapore. But the developers are in general building places that I would not want to live in (not counting those $18.8m penthouses and other multi-million dollar rooms the entire family is "snapping up".)

When I was looking around for a place, I could not find one of these recently built apartments where the master bedroom would take my king-size sleigh bed (in my price-range at least, not penthouses for certain!).  Fortunately I found an older place that had a giant master bedroom, where I could also place my desk and some of my bookshelves.   It is my apartment in one of the older places makes Singapore livable for me.  Lucky for me, it did not go "en bloc" in 2007 because there is 5-story height limit on my street. None of the big developers wanted  a place without a view of the adjacent high-rise apartments.

Despite all these expensive new buildings with their full completement of facilities,  when I walk to the nearest supermarket to get my fruit and veggies (no wet-market nearby) I see evidence  contradicting of the affluence of Singapore.

 On most of the streets  of  suburban Singapore  there are 3-5 ft deep storm water drains that are open to the elements.  Not only that, they are directly up against the footpaths (if there are indeed footpaths).  There are no barriers, no warnings, no protection for children or drunks wandering home from Montero's Pub in Goldhill.  How third world is this? 

 Footpath and drain in the Novena area

But being open and usually well maintained, at least the Singapore drains (usually) don’t have the typical noisome "Asian aroma" of stagnant, foul  water  you get whenever you step over a metal venting grid for the underground drains in so many big cities round here. 

Sigh. Singapore is a place of contradictions.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wrong In So Many Ways

Original (scarcely better) is here,  unembeddable thank Christ.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Dutch (Courts) Are Stupid!

Please check out Ben Goldacre's latest blog entry about one Lucia de Berk, a nurse in Holland who was convicted of multiple murders because 6 patients died in her ward over a 3 year period. The fact that 7 patients died in the 3 years BEFORE she came to that ward didn't seem to point to the unlikelihood of her being a serial killer. Now, after serving 6 years of a life sentence, she out awaiting the final repeal of the judgement against her; she is penniless, unable to claim welfare and is hemiplegic after a stroke at age 44 when a previous appeal was denied...

The manipulation of statistics plays heavily in the case against her.  (50% of people surveyed by E@L claim to be easily fooled by statistics. That'd be me and my mum; not saying which is who.)

While the state prosecution in Holland now agrees she has no case to answer for "the murders", the deaths are now magically not unnatural after all, she has still been pinged for stealing two library books (both by Stephen King).

When you're down, that's when they lay the boots in, eh?


There's a lot of meat in the comments as well.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Singapore Drivers / Donut / Tempest

click to enlarge, baby
You may have to click on the picture again.

I haven't been complaining about Singapore for a while, but someone sent me this scan of a page from the local magazine, expatLIVING, something I wouldn't ordinarily buy. (Internet killing reading? There are MILLIONS of magazines for sale all over the place!) The writer/complier (Deborah Goldman) no doubt plagiarized these jokes from a variety of sources, so hopefully I won't be sued. I've heard most of them before, received wisdom sort of clichés - a bit like the 'You Know You've Been In Hong Kong Too Long' jokes in Nury Vitachi's old column in the SCMP (who can remember that?)

The bit about the cupcake (no.5) remains very true. Singaporeans (and Hongkies) will cue forever to get whatever is the vogue food item, free or not. (Remember the Hello Kitty queues in HK in 2001 or so - was that the McDonalds fracas?) Here in Singapore, two years ago, the mass hysteria was for donuts.

Donuts? Donuts.

As I would walk though Vivocity Mall at lunchtime I'd always see a queue going back around the block at the new donut shop there. OK they're nice soft, very fresh donuts. But they're not THAT good! It's just that if someone else has something (like a choc-coated, nut-encrusted ring of carbo-foam) they have to have it too. They don't want to miss out on what is apparently an orgasmicly good gustatory experience! It IS the kiasu thing. (Look it up.) I've never seen a group of more fad infected fools.

Cut to today... The staff at the donut shop stand forlorn and unloved, their once essential product now forgotten by those fickle Singaporeans.

And you know what that means?

That means I don't have to queue for my donuts.


Neither do I have to queue for tickets to Sam Mendez's Bridge Project production of "The Tempest." Heaps of seats, obviously not a fad.

I missed Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf) in "King Lear" and Ethan Hawke (Ethan Hawke) in "The Winter's Tale" in the previous tours of The Bridge Project through Singapore and I am not going to miss this one... Seat AA46 (circle, front-row, slightly to the right - perfect seat!), matinee performance...

To the theatre!


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Well, That Shut Everybody Up

The universal confusion that has dumbfounded and shocked readers of this blog seems have arisen in awed response to the stream-of-consciousness prattle in the middle of E@L's previous post.

Don't panic, gentle reader. If you don't understand a word of it, join the club.

What the fuck was E@L thinking, inflicting that upon you? One of the exercises from the current favorite on-line and paperback writers workshop is to start writing/typing and not to stop until... you stop. And that, though not intended to be part of anything, was just an exercise. I promise, if I ever write a novel, that will not be the style.

Obviously (hah! to E@L anyway) the unreadable melange in this case was a mixture of Joyce, Flann O'Brien, Beckett and, um, more Beckett, reflecting my envy of respect for these Oirish blokes' genius. E@L was in an Irish mode thanks to those videos of The Waterboys and in unreliable narrator mode, Beckett's forte, thanks to reading a lot of Christopher Priest recently as well.

Influence. How to shake it?


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

You Saw The Whole Of The School Concert


The Waterboys | MySpace Music Videos

I was hoping to
find a decent video for The Stolen Child for some reason, ah to show you all, and I stumbled upon Mike Scott's Waterboys website and saw this video there. It looks like it is done for a bunch of schoolchildren and their parents. Great stuff.


Which started me on this... A piece of fiction.


Of course I knew the above song from the radio, but I had never bought the album or listened to any more of their stuff, I don't know why. So much I don't know, things I remember only vaguely. There was a time when my wife and I had been separated for a while and she was living with some nurse friends in Verner St and was just about to head to England to live. There was this farewell party and I was invited, which was OK by me as some of the other nurses were pretty cute, but of course I didn't expect anything, being her husband still and a good ten years older (as was she), but I think that I am joking about that because I didn't shag around. One of her "friends" (I think she was in love with me) confided in me that *she* had done so, but I am pretty sure I never completely believed her. In this house, in Verner St, some time or other, I heard "Fisherman's Blues" playing. I didn't know it was "Fisherman's Blues" at the time of course. It was their latest, at that time. Was it that time? Or another? It was some story similar to this anyway. I was at this nurse's place, where she lived. She was there, I was there. Party? I don't know now. What is this music, I said to break the tension. It was awkward. I really did like the songs. I was in another Irish/Celtic phase at that time - re-reading Shame's Voice, Lemual Bucket, Yates' Visionals, listeneing to The Pagues, yet more Vin Mornington (once her fave), that other band that Enronya used to sing for occasionally, ah Gonnad - (we saw them live once, with my wife sitting on my right and another girl who was in love with me on my left. Now that was awkward. It was a case, strangely enough, of "We Will Not Be Lovers" with the girl who was in, etc... I told you I didn't shag around. Particularly with girls who were in love with me. Still don't. My problem is, was I mean, that my wife didn't love me.) She tossed me the sleeve, or was I already looking on the dark wood shelf for it, and I felt clumsy trying to catch it, not because I can't catch 12 inch slivers of cardboard, but because I felt this unwelcome vibe, this what the fuck are doing here vibe, this you don't belong vibe, and it had me off balance. Where could I step, where could I go, where could I sit? I sat on a cloth couch with a dark blanket over it, and some cushions. I was holding a cushion, tossing it and fluffing it up nervously, that's why I was clumsy, why I couldn't take a clean catch. Did this vibe come from her or from her other housemates, or both - no, that's right, she had invited me. Still, I was an intruder into their female domain. A wary fox in their happy hippy hen-house. Perhaps for some it was their first time living out of home, or of the nurse's quarters. There were happy to be free of men. She told me the music was "The Waterboys" and it didn't ring a bell, until she said you know, from a few years ago, "The Whole Of The Moon". We were sitting on the couch, no, like I said, I was sitting, she was moving around packing her stuff into boxes, lighting candles, I have no recollection, or rather I have too many, of what she doing. I said, yes. Of course, la la, Brigadoon. Brilliant. I myself felt trapped in that time-cursed rain-dirty valley. I asked a question. She wasn't going to come home, she didn't think, she said carefully, like I was an idiot. She was going to England next day (that night?). I mean to Australia, when? Ah. Maybe never, she said looking down to me, until I get to be myself, you know? Yes. Yes, I knew, that was the hardest part. To know. I saw the flashes. Things were looking up for her. I wasn't myself. Ah, that's right, eventually one night, yes, there was a party, her farewell. I recall a party, and I remember the consequences. We all got drunker than we intended, maybe all that port and dope came up behind us and pushed. Was there dope - I don't smoke? I don't fuck girls who love me, I don't smoke dope, what sort of a dick was I, am I? Was there even port? Or just chardonnay and champagne. After the party died, upstairs, we fell in a too small bed (or was that in France? Was this a big bed with lacy white pillows?) and we made love one last time. It will always be the last time now. Next morning she said she wished that *that* hadn't happened. It was in a time capsule, one day in a hundred years, I ought to know 'cause I was there. Secretly I thought she had hated me for months, years, before this time, well she seemed to have been repulsed by me. Maybe it was guilt, on either of our parts, that made it happen. Ridiculous. Maybe she let me make love with her out of pity, out of sympathy, or sorrow, one for the road old chum. Maybe she did like me still, just a bit. Or didn't hate me a lot. It's not like I'd done anything. Or like I had not done something I should have, which is different. Isn't it? Maybe she just wanted to make love, and I was the only guy who had stayed back, and I was a known quantity. Zero. Or maybe she was a bit drunk too. The song that grabbed me most that day, that night, that next morning, was "The Stolen Child." (Was her car broken down again, had I come to jump start it?) I listened to it. She went away. I listened to it. I drew pictures, pasted the lyrics into the pictures. Over and over, I listened to it. That other girl who was in love with me, not the friend, the other, a small not quite perfect girl, something of a changeling, she wept, sweet Jesus she wept. Then she went away also, solemn eyed, with no peace in her breast. There was no peace for any of us, only unquiet dreams.


BTW, there ARE no decent videos for The Stolen Child.

Lyrics by W.B. Yeats (1889), music by Mike Scott and The Waterboys (funnily enough, 1988).


Monday, April 05, 2010

Quotes Of The Day

The Sage of Göttingen

Physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) is not widely remembered outside Germany — which is a great pity, as his notebooks contain some of history’s most trenchant aphorisms:

* If countries were named after the words you first hear when you go there, England would have to be called Damn It.

* What they call “heart” lies much lower than the fourth waistcoat button.

* What a pity it isn’t a sin to drink water, cried an Italian, how good it would taste.

* A book is a mirror: If an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out.

* The often unreflected respect for old laws, old customs, and old religion we have to thank for all mischief in the world.

* It is we who are the measure of what is strange and miraculous: If we sought a universal measure the strange and miraculous would not occur and all things would be equal.

* Just as there are polysyllabic words that say very little, so there are also monosyllabic words of infinite meaning.

* If walking on two legs is not natural to man it is certainly an invention that does him credit.

* It is almost impossible to carry the torch of wisdom through a crowd without singeing someone’s beard.

* Now that education is so easy, men are drilled for greatness, just as dogs are trained to retrieve. In this way we’ve discovered a new sort of genius, those great at being drilled. These are the people who are mainly spoiling the market.

* Can it be that the evil in the world is in general of more use than the good?

* Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all.

The “waste books” were admired by Wittgenstein, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud, and even Tolstoy wondered “why the Germans of the present day neglect this writer so much.” He never got an answer.

(This post entirely lifted from the remarkable Futility Closet).


Love the last one.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Smaller Is Beautifuller

There was great show about the decline of British industry on BBC TV just a minute ago, but on their website they say something else was broadcast. Did I really see it? Did it makes a noise? It certainly did.

The final concept on the show, after all the gloom of walking through the empty shells of extinct (read gone overseas) industries, was 'sustainable capitalism', supposedly based on the lessons of nature!?

It ended with interviews with the managers of several small companies in West Wales (that hub of business innovation) which work towards the optimization of profit and the flexibility that offers, rather than trying to screw everybody tight in order to maximize profits, i.e. to become uber-rich through shares and fantastic bonuses while everyone else becomes unemployed. They say that this latter goal gives big companies no room to move and, it goes without saying (though I'll say it), destroys familiar social standards.

How? One major culprit in this fragmentation, but by no means the only one, is the effects of the global labour pool, of which I too am a participant. Because of this traditional jobs and career paths fall away and the family unit is broken apart when the breadwinners have to move around continually to find work. Not to mention the boom in coolie Asian or East European labour (though I'll mention it).

And then there is the destruction of the environment which is never factored in to these companies' bottom-line equations, and the bringing on of the end of the world as we know it, resulting the bleak choking post-apocalyptic death of our grandchildren (if the No.1 son and GF ever get a move on).

No, it is not communism. It is common sense.

And it's not new. Small IS beautiful.


It seems true to me anyway.

Until our uber-rich bonus-bloated aging CEO of the company that was my first expat posting stood to receive $35m in the deal, enough to fund his retirement home in the penthouse of the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, allowed it to be swallowed by the K-Mart of medical giants Philips, the first small(ish) company that I worked for was brilliant, apart from the traitorous CEO obviously. Everyone knew everybody (except the CEO); it was a casual Seattle-based environment; paperwork was minimal; unhelpful "management trainings" were eschewed; things got done through casual requests to the key people; employees stayed in their chosen roles for as long as they wished and therefore maintained a high level of expertise and then thy moved up if they wanted to, through their skill and experience and (for those who could find him) sucking up to the CEO.

Other companies called it "the farm" because of its laid-back attitude.

Everything in Philips was, by contrast, all glass and blue steel, formal and impersonal: they never knew what my skills actually were - REAL manager in an area I knew nothing about? no fucking way! - and the back-stabbing (including by the CEO) and politics was claustrophobic. The only benefit I gained from Philips was that I met some wonderful people, many of whom are still great friends, despite my move to Singapore.

But my current role in this small(er than Philips) Japanese company is much like I had in the farm. Apart from the games I play on my business card (I managed [ho! I must be a manager after all] to get away with claiming a bullshit "manager" role last time), nothing much happens formally except as one would expect within the structural anachronism of the Japanese company; paperwork is non-existent to minimal; they respect my actual skills and try to leverage them and I hope to have this low-stress job for as long as I want it (and the Yen eventually comes down). If my company goes under, it will be because it over-reaches itself in tough markets like Australia and the US, where Philips reigns due to its median-level pricing and the good technologies (all from one great [French Canadian] engineer, actually] that were inherited from my previous company.

It is in the lunge to get bigger that most smaller business fail.


Or maybe, in the interest of destroying the global labour market from within, I should go back home now, give up my low-stress job and my *immense* salary (no shares, no bonuses) and tax benefits so I can be marginally employed, watch the five channels of Australian free-to-air television, wash down my vegemite sandwiches with VB, pick fights in pubs and argue with the neighbours, in the great Aussie social tradition?

At least they speak English there (depending upon my choice of suburb).


Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Marquis De Sade In The Tropics

First as tragedy, then as rubbish. One of the issues to deal with when you're living in a tropical island... molds, mildew and fungi.


Looks like there have been consequences of a spillage from the small ever-humming wine-fridge several months back.

Due to an oversupply, some of my books are resting directly on the floor, a step below the dining area where my wine-fridge sits. I (someone) had accidentally left the door of the fridge ajar and a considerable amount of condensation resulted. I mopped up the fridge but it looks like some water had trickled down over the step that I had missed.

I have preset the air-con to run two hours a day even when I'm not here to cut back on the humidity at bit so that it sits at around 40% or so, however that's not enough to prevent mould growing in a WET book.

A well-thumbed Juliette and well-thumbed Justine have all their pages stuck together (this time without prostaglandins as glue), Shakespeare is looking tragic, Nicola Barker's "Behindlings" is behind me now, Susan Sontag is going to have to write about mildew as a metaphor (not shown in photo), Roald Dahl has come to twisted end, The Great Labor Schism is not looking so great and, ironically, a tome on book-collecting, "Patience & Fortitude", not worth keeping. A terrifically interesting book on the plague has swollen up and died... (the rat > flea vector was only determined 100 years ago, in Hong Kong, by an independent researcher who couldn't get government funding or support.)

And I probably can't get a replacement for the de Sade in Singapore. Is it banned here? I think it is.

Twelve books are beyond saving. What's that? SGD$250- $300 or so.

Shit, damn.

At least this makes room for some other volumes currently sitting doubled on many of my other shelves.

Or no, perhaps I shouldn't stack books directly on the floor. I have no insurance.

Vote: replace the lost books or not?



Yes - Mr Million!

On the old blog. That only took a shade over 6 years and, well, I haven't been using it for nearly 18 months.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Emotional E@L? You Bet!

Maybe you recall that E@L has put down several deposits on investment properties under construction (or not) in Queensland, Australia. One is at prestigious Noosa Heads, the other at suspect Townsville.

Both seem to have been hit by the 2008/2009 crunch. The Townsville one stalled before a sod of turf was broken. Sigh. They are still looking for a big investor to get things rolling. It has been about 18 months. My deposit is allegedly in a trust fund, earning interest, so that if they finally give up, I SHOULD get my money back plus some.

The Noosa Heads property did get going, I've stood in the concrete shell that is supposedly my apartment. It has been ready to roll for a while, and indeed the first guests are going in this week.

Funny, because E@L hasn't paid yet. He has the loan approved, has the top-up cash, is ready make the leap back to being a property owner, something he should done years ago. A large chain (Mirvac) is doing the rental management for the development and will be operating the place as "Quay West Resort and Spa", at a 5-star level using the (conventionally) serviced apartments. Apart from the substantial deposit, E@L has already paid for the $25k furniture package, including two 42" LCD TVs, couches, tables, chairs and a couple of bland art-works.

This settlement date was supposed to be in September last year. Then December. Then late January. Then early March. It is now April and - and this is not a joke - a letter from Deloitte arrived by email this morning.

The developers have gone into receivership.

However Deloitte still want my money...

I am emotional, to say the least. Motherfuckers! I could kill them all!


There was that time in 2004, back when I was in HK that I got burned to the tune US$25k by an utter c**t called Charles Schmidt in Hong Kong. Fortunately I have received about 80% of that back, dribbling in over the years.

Ah shit, this is redickerless... Is it just me or are all investments shit?


Time to go soak my head in something... (If I didn't have this gastritis, it would be a bucket of some alcoholic fluid.)


Emotional E@L? No Way!

Someone asked me if I was upset that Izzy has left. The answer is "Not at all."

For several reasons.

a) She hasn't left *me* as such - we were never emotionally involved. She has left the flat. The only needs she fulfilled for me were that there was security for the flat for all the times that I was away, and that I had someone intelligent, witty and opinionated(!) to talk with at home. It's OK things are underway to find a replacement. I have had five flatmates (and always a live-in maid, until The Mouse left) in my time in Asia. No big deal to get another nice person. Maybe one not so (in)famous this time?.

b) She has an excellent reason for leaving, one that I support 1200% - she has left Singapore! She is in search of more freedom - of thought and expression personally, politically, socially - she is in search of less judgemental people, of a greater opportunity for employment and, finally, to go better parties...

In fact rather than being upset, I am happy to see her take on the world, to increase the width and breadth of her experience amongst new people. People who have never experienced the claustrophobia of living in what is essentially a fascist state, however benign the tyrants.

More power to her! And it was a brave move considering she has zero money!


But if she needs a father figure, she can always Facebook me.


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