Sunday, December 13, 2009

Staying At Home Is Bad

So it's been a week and a half since my tumultuous attempt to enter the Gambia -- for those who don't know, I hopped on a plane to Gambia, got rejected at immigration and hopped on the same plane for the return flight back to London. How tedious, isn't it? To cut the long story short, the natives at Gambia immigration felt that my Singapore High Commission-issued temporary travel document, validated by the Gambian High Commission for right of entry, wasn't good enough for them. Guess that's what happens in developing countries like Gambia -- present something that looks more complicated than a one-plus-one-equals-two formula and they throw their arms into the air (minus the spears) declaring not knowing what to do at the top of their voice.

In any case, I have been utterly free and bored to tears since now I have an empty three-week holiday where I'm restrained within the shores of the great UK 'cos the Home Office still has my real passport. I did, however, make an impromptu trip down to Sheffield to visit Jinn, Robyn, Ikhwan and the rest of the guys. Which was quite useful for my psyche, really. Sometimes, spending a couple days outside London does the trick.

Four days later and I was back in London, and since this week started I've only been out of the house on three out of seven days. Not too bad, some hermits might argue -- but if you consider how terribly busy I was during the period leading up to the Gambia trip and all of a sudden, I can now afford to go to bed every night without having to set an alarm, three out of seven days isn't a lot at all. That means for the four remaining days, I did nothing all day but sit on my bum, watch loads of TV, play lots of Xbox 360 and basically just get fat.

And that started to bug me when I thought of how I bought a 7-day zone 1-3 travelcard on Saturday the 5th (the day I arrived back in London from Sheffield) and I just possibly might not have finished using the £21.10 worth it cost me to get the travelcard. Now, that would obviously suck because I wouldn't have paid for a travelcard only to stay in all day, whether by conscious choice or not. So, in all my glorious free time, I listed down all the trips I took within those seven days to see if I tallied up -- and since I was bored enough to come up with this comprehensive list, I thought I might as well just shared it with all of you.

Saturday 05/12:
Kings X Stn - Golders Green Stn [£2.20]
Golders Green Stn - Montrose Ct [£1.00]

Sunday 06/12:
Montrose Ct - Turnpike Ln Stn [£1.00]
Turnpike Ln Stn - Stoke Newington Stn [£1.00]
Stoke Newington High St - Angel Stn [£1.00]

Angel Stn - Golders Green Stn [£2.20]
Golders Green Stn - Montrose Ct [£1.00]
Montrose Ct - Golders Green Stn [£1.00]
Golders Green Stn - Stroud Gn Rd [£1.00]
Stroud Gn Rd - Golders Green Stn [£1.00]
Golders Green Stn - Montrose Ct [£1.00]


Monday 07/12:
-NIL-

Tuesday 08/12:
-NIL-

Wednesday 09/12:
Montrose Ct - Golders Green Stn [£1.00]
Golders Green Stn - Montrose Ct [£1.00]


Thursday 10/12:
-NIL-

Friday 11/12:
Montrose Ct - Golders Green Stn [£1.00]
Golders Green Stn - Camden Town Stn [£1.10]
Camden Town Stn - Russell Sq Stn [£1.60]

Russell Sq - Oxford St [£1.00]
Leicester Sq Stn - Golders Green Stn [£2.20]
Golders Green Stn - Montrose Ct [£1.00]

Blue, of course, refers to bus journeys and green for tube journeys. So, as you can see, my total PAYG equivalent for my week's travel came up to £23.30 -- close! But at least my (discounted) travelcard did not go to naught. Oh dear, now look what I've become. An obsessive hermit.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The "I-Can't-Believe-It's-Already-Christmas" Post

Wow, so I'm actually back at my blog doing a post. It has been a long while indeed. But definitely not long enough to make me wonder why is it already Christmas. True, it's twenty-five days away, but it might as well just be tomorrow to me.

Ah, yes, tomorrow. I'm heading off to Gambia with my colleagues from the Leadership course, under the Guildhall Professional Development Department. It's my first time to Africa, so you can imagine how bloody excited I am! Still, I had so much to finish up today before leaving tomorrow, it was utterly insane. I've had a couple of those big days where you traverse the entire Greater London throughout the course of one day, but I think today's itinerary has yet to be superseded by any I've experienced.

So, it was (in order):

- Croydon in the morning to get my biometric enrolment done at the UK Border Agency's Public Enquiry Office in Croydon.

- Lunch in Wimbledon -- great sushi at this place called Ta-Maki. And I took the tramlink for the first time from Croydon to Wimbledon. How exciting, right.

- Piano teaching in Fulham.

- High Street Kensington to drop by the Gambian High Commission to get my temporary travel document verified.

- Tottenham Court Road to get my hair cut. It's awfully short now.

- East Finchley for a quick rehearsal at Tyler's place for a recording he wanted to do with me.

- Muswell Hill for the recording session itself.

Amazing, huh! Now that's a real milking of my Oyster travelcard. Well, tomorrow it's hopping on the first 460 bus at 5:29am to Cricklewood to catch the train to Gatwick. Ho hum. Combined with the 2, 3-hours of sleep on average that I have been having every night since Thursday night, I think I am going to have a very interesting time in Gambia. Uh-huh.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Summer Shenanigans

Yes indeed, it has been a while since I've updated anything here. A very long while indeed! Summer is indeed well and truly over here now in London, with the weather dipping to 15 deg C for most of the day. Not that I'm complaining -- the severe heatwave over the summer was a stark reminder as to how invaluable air conditioning can be!

Anyhow, summer saw Sezenyum in Southeast Asia over five weeks for an amazing residency at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore as well as workshop projects around KL and finally some intensive Balinese gamelan training in Flower Mountain, Payangan. It's been a wonderful experience so far, to say the least -- going back to Singapore has also made me realize how much I actually do miss home, and how I actually do want to end up there, eventually. The workshops in KL were a great success, and the participants of every single workshop were far more responsive and creative than we could have hoped for.

Having said that, I've stitched together a short video showcasing what we experienced, with scenes mostly from our one-week stay in Bali. Indeed, this particular trip to Bali has been nothing like my previous trips. Watching Pak Sumandi do his amazing wayang kulit show, visiting Meili's temple for it's anniversary ceremonies and celebrations, being part of the cremation ceremony in Kedawatan, having lunch on the rim of Gunung Batur overlooking the volcano, watching a gambu performance staged for our private viewing pleasure -- I could go on and on. It's been unforgettable, to say the least!

Monday, July 13, 2009

What Home Office?

Here's a copy of a complaint email which I sent to the Home Office recently, regarding the most abhorrant experience we've experience in trying to apply a student visa for her to remain in the UK. I'm sure many fellow visa-applying members will find this helpful and relevant -- feel free to use it as a reference.

Dear Sir/Madam,

My name is Jonathan and I am writing to you on behalf of my partner who is currently applying for leave to remain in the UK under the Points Based Tier 4 scheme.

She sent in her visa application as far back as 10 weeks ago, and completed her submission of biometric information on 3rd June 2009 at the biometric centre in Croyden, England. On that specific day when she turned up promptly for her assigned appointment, she was made to wait more than three hours despite having adhered to the given time. During those three hours where she and others were made to wait, no staff from the centre appeared in person to explain the cause of the delay, nor to apologize for any inconvenience caused.

There was, however, an announcement running on the PA which kept repeating a message which accounted the (blatantly obvious) delay which was ongoing. This in itself seems to be quite a rather poor and lackluster approach in managing the centre -- I would think the Home Office would like to approach and resolve such matters with the public using a member of staff, instead of hiding behind a cold, pre-recorded message which plays from the ceiling without offering any explanation for the delay whatsoever.

Having said that, I would like to enquire as to why her visa application is taking such a long time to be processed. Her biometric information was submitted nearly six weeks ago -- surely doesn't that warrant some sort of correspondence on the Home Office's behalf to update her of the situation? With such poor service notwithstanding, she has had to cancel or reschedule several travel plans which were made before the visa application due to inaccessibility of her own passport. This has proved to be costly and extremely inconvenient, as all these changes and cancellations would obviously require money.

While I understand that the Home Office are evidently oblivious to personal problems as such, it would help effect a more positive image to the visa-applying public if they were more responsible and accountable for the multitude of applications (and passports) they receive on a daily basis. As a registered UK taxpayer, I am concerned that my contributions do not see any improvement whatsoever towards the customer service standards as well as attitudes of the Home Office. The main contact line, listed as 0870 606 7766, is almost always inaccessible and provides the caller with no option of waiting in line to be spoken to. With such strained and poorly-managed resources, I wonder why the Home Office even bothers publishing that number on its website at all.

I also observed that you have left out correspondent details such as phone numbers and email addresses out of official letterheads in documents sent by the Home Office. This makes me question why the Home Office operates on such an averse level of unwillingness in terms of being accountable and contactable. On the Home Office website, the UK Border Agency customer charter (which isn't easy to find, might I add) states that 75% of applications under the Points based Tier 4 system should receive a response within 4 weeks. I shudder to think how much longer the other 25% will have to wait. Additionally, on the Home Office's contact page, it states that enquiries should only be made 14 weeks after providing biometric information.

Firstly, I would like to know why it might take up to 14 weeks (or more) to process an application when 75% of your applications are purportedly processed within 4 weeks. I can only imagine that 14 weeks would be the timeframe where the Home Office finally admits that they might have actually misplaced an applicant's information and documents -- something which people I personally know have had happen to them.

If the UK wants to project itself as a hospitable country that welcomes diversity in the form of visitors, students and workers from foreign countries, then may I strongly suggest that the best place to start would be the Home Office. With the very apt and overdue departure of your Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, I was looking forward to numerous changes and improvements to the way the Home Office handles matters, most notably in the areas of visa applications. This has, obviously, not been the case, and I must say that I, along with many members of the visa-applying public, am most disheartened and disenchanted.

Should you require more detailed information, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing a response soon.

Best regards,
Jon

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Twelfth Month

And so the summer term has finally come to a close, and with it my first year at Guildhall is over. Unbelievably quickly, might I add. IPEs for both first and second years are all over, and they've all been a great success. The first year's IPEs were especially satisfying, and I've had a great time workshopping each piece including my own. Hopefully I can get a recording of it up sometime soon!

So, lots of people have been wondering (or at least silently questioning) what my Leadership course is really all about. Recently, Guildhall CONNECT just finished a massive concert featuring all its different ensembles under its wing. I was, of course, a part of the concert -- it was really inspiring to work with every single participant and ensemble. Chigusa Fukato, a writer for the Piano Teachers' National Association of Japan, covered this project starting from ensemble workshops and rehearsals all the way to the big concert, and came up with a few brilliant online articles which can be found here and here.

Here are a couple videos that would perhaps explain better. Enjoy!

Interview with Paul and Sigrun Griffiths



Urban Sounds In Action



I'll be headed over to Singapore on 2 Aug, arriving on the 3rd. Guildhall is sending the first years to Southeast Asia for projects throughout the entire month of August, so I'll be in Singapore for two weeks, KL for one and than Bali for the last week. I'm hoping to squeeze in another week back in Singapore before heading back to London, just in time for Min-joo's birthday!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Ghost Date

Here's an article spotted on thelondonpaper's Love column about a month ago which I particularly enjoyed, written by Andy Jones.

Boys, look out for that spooky feeling

There is an enemy out there to all men. It is called the "ghost date". If you're a man or woman who doesn't think you've been on one, you are lying to yourself.

The ghost date occurs because of ignorance of one basic fact. In a man's mind, "drinks" with any woman never just means consuming alcohol. It's an innuendo-laden proposal which simply states: "I'm working out if you fancy me, and if you do, we're getting smashed until you agree to come back to mine."

Because women don't always understand this, ghost dates occur. That is, one of you thinks it's a date, but it's not. As a guy, you'll know you've been on a ghost date because at the end, you'll get a dry kiss on the cheek and spend your journey home dumbly staring at your phone wondering whether or not to send a text.

We foolish men can even go on several of these ghost dates with the same person. Drinking, chatting, saying good night, not even kissing, yet never being any the wiser as to whether the girl even likes you.

My mate Alessio has been "dating" the same girl every week for the last three weeks. His "date" probably thinks she has the best new mate in the world -- he takes her to bars, gigs and listens to all her problems. All she has to do is look pretty. But does she know he is taking her out only to get her in the sack?

Honestly, girls, tell us. Because you don't help the situation. Plenty of my girl mates meet guys "just for a drink". I pity their dates -- I bet the poor bloke spent ages getting ready only to be sat opposite them scarcely able to get a word in, wondering when me might turn the conversation to something more flirtatious.

Any girl who thinks she has suddenly got a new platonic man friend, you haven't. You've just got a guy dangling on a line, who is hoping at some point you'll lean in and snog his face off. Truly, we don't care about your crappy work problems, your ex-boyfriends or your dodgy femme plumbing. Just show us your pants!

If you're a man going on constant "ghost dates" with no return, I recommend the following -- after you've just bought your sixth round of the night, sit there and say: "Your round, love." If she's interested, she'll buy. If she looks horrified, you know you're being played. It's hard on your heart, but easier on your wallet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Last Quarter

Ah, the joys of self-resourced home entertainment! Movie-watching is a pretty indispensible part of my life, as you can tell -- whether it be in a cinema theatre or from the comforts of my own home. That's just about all the movies I've watched in the past three months, not including a couple more unremarkable ones which I didn't care to include. Star Trek was exceptionally good, it's a must-watch for anyone who dares to utter the phrase "I like sci-fi."

The big Lambergo + Guildhall Folk Ensemble gig is tomorrow, and it looks set to be foot-tappingly and hip-swayingly good and enjoyable! For those who don't mind a spot of Friday night fun, come to down to the Basement at Guildhall's Sundial Court at 7:30pm! Memories of last Wednesday's recording at Abbey Road Studios with the Folk Ensemble are still echoing in my head -- I can't believe how lucky and priveliged I am to have been given an opportunity this golden. Checking out Studio 2 was such an exhilirating experience! Photos of the recording session can be found on my Facebook album here.

It's going to take awhile before the final product is ready, but I'll be sure to post the tracks up when I get the chance! Meanwhile, the Bath International Music Festival is up next -- a few of us from Guildhall and RCA will be heading down in the first week of June to showcase our works as a culmination of the MAP/making project. Can't wait (for it to be all over)!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Pictorial Easter

And here we have it -- my travel photos from the two trips I made over Easter break! First stop was good old Amsterdam which I revisited, this time with Dong Young. To put it short, it was a fantastic, fruitful and fun-filled four-day (lot's of 'f's there) trip filled with adventure. It was really nice to have Dong Young along too, considering this would be the last amounts of "quality time" we would get to spend together before he returned to Korea.

My second trip was to Prague, and my god was it beautiful! Prague really exceeded all my expectations -- stunning architecture, breathtaking city views, pulsating nightlife, rich culture, Prague has it all! I accompanied Jinn & Robyn on this trip, and it was really wonderful to travel with them. Robyn is the best navigator I've seen in awhile, for sure! Jinn? He's just the same old talk-cock buddy I got know 11 years ago. Lovely.

Anyway, here are my photos which I've linked from Facebook -- one album for Amsterdam and two for Prague. Jinn brought his kick-ass Nikon D80 with him, of which I hijacked for quite a considerable amount of time to fulfill my photo-taking craze. The Prague pictures are really beautiful, you can see what an amazing city it really is.

I AMsterdam
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Photos from my four-day break to Amsterdam with Dong
Young during Spring '09. From museums to coffeeshops
and churches to brothels, Amsterdam is certainly
always a fantastic place to just visit, chill out and
have plenty of fun!


Zátiší do Praha
Prague, Czech Republic

Amazing photos detailing the breathtaking sights in
Prague, the city of a hundred spires. Just grab a bench
(or grassy patch), sit yourself down and watch life go
by in this quaint little Central European city beloved
of highbrow cultural tourists!


Praha chtivý turista
Prague, Czech Republic

Watch as Jinn, Robyn & myself traverse this
beguiling, beautiful-looking city in plenty of style as
we push the curtain back on the intoxicating maze
of winding cobblestone alleyways and soak up the beer
and absinthe!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Intervallo

Time for a contact update: my new number is now +44 (0)7882 716 733. As bad luck (or a cruel twist of fate) would have it, I have been desperately harvesting for contacts, no thanks to a careless course of action where I misplaced my beloved old N6300.

Anyway, the past week have been taken up with me trying to figure out the mind-boggling array of functions on my new E71, shootin' up more Manjini in RE5 as well as jetting over to Amsterdam for a short trip to fill up my Easter break. (Photos here!)

The search for sunrise never ends.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lovestruck?

Tonight, I did something completely unprecedented. I sent in an entry to thelondonpaper's Lovestruck column. Yep, I did it. I actually did it. Half of me hopes it gets published tomorrow, and another half of that half hopes I get a response from her. Okay, scratch that -- in my perfect world, it would get published, she'll respond and we'll be meeting up for drinks before the weekend arrives.

Okay, just not to further confuse those who don't have the (mis)fortune to read thelondonpaper every day on the way home, Lovestruck is column where you can send in a short paragraph telling the entire city of London you saw some cute or attractive guy or girl, but didn't stop to do anything about it. So it could be anywhere: on the Tube, in a Starbucks outlet or whilst crossing the road. Then you pray hard and hope the other party reads that, call the paper and identify themselves and hope she (or he) looks better face to face than she does when she's 3 arms' length away in a packed Tube carriage. Anyway, check this out and you'll know what I mean.

So, yes indeed. I shall be sure to pick a copy up of thelondonpaper tomorrow and hope my fate takes a turn for the better. Oh my god, what am I doing??

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spider-Plant Man

So, Comic Relief fever has recently just swept through UK, and I got caught along with it. Yes indeed, I contributed money to a fund to get my Director of Music's legs shaved. Or was it his hair? Well, in any case, in light of all these Comic Relief-related ongoings, here's a hilarious parody of Spider-Man that was made back in 2005 (for that year's Comic Relief). It features Rowan Atkinson as Peter Piper/Spider-Plant Man (yes, you get the idea now) and the oh-so-hot-now-but-wasn't-too-hot-back-in-S-Club-7 Rachel Stevens.

Oh, you gotta love London. Poor Jade Goody, it's almost unbearable to read about her in the news now -- everyone's all waiting for the inevitable.

Part 1



Part 2



"Two men high above London in lewd costumes. It can only mean one thing -- another Fathers 4 Justice demonstration." Oh god, that really cracked me up so much!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Popcorn Talk Pt. II

My extremely slothy weekend has extended onto Monday (my Mondays are usually free), and that means more movies to catch up on! It's getting to be quite addictive, really. And with the problems that I'm having with my Xbox Live account at the moment, I've been ditching my X360 as of late in favor of movie marathons that seem to never end. Also, I've been catching up on the latest season of LOST. However, the first two episodes of the fifth season that I've watched so far have left me puzzled more than anything else -- I think the break between seasons has been too long and I've pretty much forgot everything that took place in the previous season!

On the other hand, I've been going for a blast from the past movie selection, with the Akira Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. I almost can't believe I've finally watched the latter after so long, especially after hearing so much about it when I was young.

Seven Samurai was really quite the enjoyable classic; so, did you know that this film "was among the first films to use the now-common plot element of the recruiting and gathering of heroes into a team to accomplish a specific goal, a device used in later films such as Ocean's Eleven, The Dirty Dozen, and the western remake The Magnificent Seven". Who'd have thought! Also, "plot devices such as the reluctant hero, romance between a local girl and the youngest hero, and the nervousness of the common citizenry had appeared in other films before this but were combined together in this film". It is no wonder that this film is considered to be one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. Additionally, I can't remember when was the last time I watched a black & white film!

2001 doesn't let down either, and is a groundbreaking film "notable for its scientific realism, pioneering special effects, ambiguous and often surreal imagery, sound in place of traditional narrative techniques, and minimal use of dialogue". Considering that this film was made all the way back in 1968, that's quite a feat. Incidentally, This is the last movie ever made about mankind landing on the moon before mankind landed on the moon. Talk about visualisation! Australia was better than I thought it would be (after reading all those negative reviews), and I think Nicole Kidman still looks as hauntingly beautiful as she did when I first saw her in Eyes Wide Shut in 1999! Yes, I still vaguely remember the thrill of watching an R-rated film at an age where you first enter secondary school.

Well, as my lazy start to the week comes to an end, I better prepare myself for a killer 9am - 9pm day tomorrow! A short concert in the morning, followed by a MAP/making session till 1pm, then a tutorial, then a rehearsal in the evening for my 7 March gig! Oh, speaking of that, I'll be doing a gig at the Barbican on the night of 7 March, Saturday, as part of a four-piece band which will be showcasing Brazilian originals. I'm really looking forward to that one! Jinn, Robyn and Jie Han will be coming down for the weekend, so that should be good company as well.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Popcorn Talk Pt. I

Well, apparently the Merlion back home in Singapore has been struck by lightning. Just imagine that! I'm sure you've heard someone say at one point of time or another that it's harder to get struck by lightning than to strike jackpot. Damn, the Merlion must be one lucky fella! I've only read a couple of articles of this story online, but I've yet to hear any responses that Singaporeans might have written to the press -- I don't know what the general sentiment will be like, but for me, I've always found the Merlion to be somewhat of an eyesore so I'm definitely not shedding any tears over this incident! Here's a paragraph of the online article as reported on 938LIVE:

"Nature sure knows how to throw a tantrum.

In its fit of anger, Singapore's longstanding original icon - the Merlion, was damaged by lightning flashes."

Gee, I wonder what would make Mother Nature so angry. Guess that will be pretty much left up to open interpretation! So, anyway, last night and tonight have been enjoyable movie marathons which I've organized in my room (for myself, mostly) as part of the ongoing celebrations to commemorate my internet independancy. My laptop has been downloading and streaming at full speed for most of the time since I got it working again, and believe me that translates into quite a considerable number of movies now sitting pretty in my hard drive!

Last night started off with catching up two missed episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Thank goodness they went on a short hiatus in mid-season from December 16 last year to February 13, otherwise there would be an insane amount of catching up to do. Following that was a re-screening of The Matrix Reloaded -- I still remember watching this in theatres six years ago and enjoying it immensely. How time flies. (Yes, I seem to have to say this phrase in every single blog entry.) Ikhwan, who came to London from Sheffield for the weekend, then joined me for Quarantine, something which I've been wanting to watch for a long time now. Quarantine is a bloody (literally) brilliant movie, absolutely terrifying and best watched with the lights out.

Tonight I managed to watch the second half of Red Cliff, and was quite relieved because when I watched the first half I knew I wouldn't be around in Singapore to catch the second half. You know how annoying it is when you're watching a movie on a plane and they shut the entertainment system off when you're midway through? Yeah, it felt like that when I knew Red Cliff II was released in Singapore and I wasn't around to finish watching it. Well, thank goodness for torrents, I suppose!

And to round it off I managed to find the Sydney special for the Japanese drama Attention Please. Aya Ueto's character seems to be alot more brash and noisier than I last remembered, but nonetheless it was enjoyable to watch. This dorama really makes me think back on the good old days where we would all gather in the TV room back in MDC and watch Japanese dramas all day long. So, there you have it -- self-concocted entertainment that doesn't cost a single pence for the entire night. That's if you don't count the multitude of crisps, Dr Pepper and snacks that I've stocked up!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Big Apple Revisited

So, I've finally got my internet back up at running -- after 3 months, no less. My laptop has been out of service for as long as it has been working; I only bought it in September last year! Nonetheless, the feeling of having online independancy is nothing short of liberating. No more hunching over a school computer or peering into the minuscule screen of my iPod touch! What's lamentable though was the fact that I solved the problem easily by reinstalling Windows Vista -- something which I would've done long ago if I didn't know that I didn't need the startup CD to do that as HP laptops come with a partitioned hard drive that has all the necessary installation files in one partition!

Ah well, enough of that. I'm glad to say life has been picking up considerably now that I've moved, to Golders Green no less. The neighbourhood is brilliant and I'm loving every bit of it. Last weekend I decided to flee to NYC for a getaway trip as well, so that was great! Meeting up with Jon, Marcus, Fion and the rest of the MDC gang was fabulous -- I even bumped into Leslie as well! Haven't seen him for ages. It feels like yesterday when we said bye and he left for NYC to undertake his masters, and now he's graduating this summer. How time flies! Ah dammit, I said that again.

The first night in NYC was an absolutely smashing (and smashed) night, with us plying the streets of K-town again! We started off with a Korean BBQ dinner where we gorged ourselves silly like no tomorrow, then went to this quaint place for makkoli before bar-hopping to somewhere else for somak (which is a lethal combination of soju and beer). These glorious Korean drinks are destined to leave you well and truly inebriated by the end of the night, I tell you! Needless to say, we were all thoroughly hungover the next morning and slept in with wild abandon.

Throughout the weekend we ate like kings (that's the nice way of saying we ate like pigs), from Chinatown to Midtown to wherever there was a restaurant with good food. I felt very much like a Zagat reviewer after that entire culinary adventure -- covering everything from wine & tapas to nyonya cuisine to Bubba Gump shrimp! Of course, I managed to squeeze a couple touristy deed or two, like tramping through Central Park (which I missed the last time round) and spending a good half a day at the Guggenheim. Sunday proved to be a real treat as well as Jon took me to watch the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert, which saw eight really talented and young finalists from across the US compete for a chance a four prize winning spots. Of the four winners, one was soprano Nadine Sierra, who at the very young age of 20 is still studying at the Mannes College of Music. Talk about young talents! Some photos from my weekend trip:

Kids, this is what "sumptuous" means when you describe a meal.

Getting sloshed on Korean alcohol.

Laura, me, and those shockingly small eyes.

A very captivated JCT at the Met store.

Read, Marcus, read. The Bubba Gump menu, that is!

NYC skyline from Central Park.

Taking in Picasso's "Woman Ironing".

This is the second time I'm here -- the first was in GTA IV.

Well, so there you have it. The remainder of the photos can be found on my Facebook album here. And with that I've just about exhausted all my funds on the trip, so now it's back to my glorious life of instant noodles and microwaveable dinners. Not like it was much different than before, but this time I'm typing this at my own laptop on my (new) cozy bed. Hallelujah! Now, to finish my Composition assignment for tomorrow before I get lazy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Arrival of the Ox

I can't say it has been the best start to 2009 -- the economy is going bust (I'm sure that's affecting a lot more other people other than myself), I'm still looking for a proper job, London is cold, dreary and just plain lonely. With my laptop still out of commission, my Xbox 360 games left behind in Singapore and my stock of instant noodles running low, the outlook isn't very good at all. In fact, I've reached a point of desperation where I've resorted to playing Xbox Live Arcade games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 just to keep myself entertained. Talk about blast from the past! Well, on a positive note, I managed to finish the game -- something I couldn't do when I first played it on the Sega Saturn 15 years ago. Other than that, I keep finding myself hoping that school will get busier than it already is, only so that I can watch the day fly by in the midst of classes and workshops.

Speaking of school, it has been busy alright -- but plenty interesting, nonetheless. Our Globetown placements, specifically Bangabandhu School for Preetha and me, have been going well. Working with kids is always an exhaustive affair, but it's nice going out there to primary schools here in the UK and checking out how the school system here works. It's now the third week of the Globetown project -- my how time flies! This will run for two more weeks before the final performances. I'm really looking forward to those!

Lunar New Year this year has been a significantly quieter affair. This is actually the second year in a row where I'm not celebrating it with my family, and I must say I really miss it now. Last year I was away on a holiday in Hokkaido, and this year I'm stuck in London. And seeing how I don't foresee myself going back to Singapore for Lunar New Year next year either, I think I'm going to sorely miss all those ang pows. Come to think of it though, it does feel like yesterday when I was last with my family during Lunar New Year, celebrating at my grandma's place and going on those visitation house-calls on all my mom's friends. How time flies! (Dammit, I should stop saying that.) I still vividly remember a 2007 Lunar New Year where I was so obsessed with going to the gym that I actually did that on the first day of the New Year. Talk about a no-lifer!

Anyway, this year I "celebrated" Lunar New Year in a very different fashion -- I had absolutely no plans lined up on the eve, so Preetha invited me over to her place and she cooked for me! So instead of the usual abalone and king prawns, we tucked into potato soup, pita bread, hummus, salad and tea. Talk about Middle Eastern flavor! After that we took the hookah out and chilled over even more tea. (Oh did I say Middle Eastern already?) Thanks Preetha for always accommodating me -- you're a star!

It's so funny how time seems to fly, yet everyday can be such a bore. It really puzzles me so. A day could seem to stretch on forever, especially after the sun goes down. Yet every Sunday I look back at the week and wonder where it really went. In the meantime, I shall consent my life to a never-ending diet of instant coffee, ready dinners and plenty of Beatles music. Now I do know where all the lonely people come from.

"Ah look at all the lonely people, where do they all come from."

- Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christmas Journal

The big post to kick off 2009 is finally here. I've got so much to put down I honestly don't even know where to begin. Well, one thing's for sure -- I'm finally back in London. And mind you, I'm not saying it in terrible glee. The only thing I'm looking forward to the coming months is probably simply school. The Globetown Project kicks off this term and I'm really looking forward to that. And Folk Ensemble, of course. Other than that, there's just about nowhere I'd rather not be other than here.

Needless to say, I'm still trying to get settled in after spending just about the best Christmas and New Year in my life. Three weeks of pure fun and joy in the States is really not good for the system when one is trying to get back to the pace of school and mundane life in London. Seems like I'll be need plenty of nights out (with drinks, of course) with Dong Young just to get settled.

The first two weeks in December '08 was a whirlwind trip back to Singapore, where I had a great time catching up with old faces. The company of Joanne, Foi, Albert, Rey, Vanessa, Pin-Ji and Ruth all made me realize again why Singapore is indeed home after all. It was over all to soon, however, and on the 21st I hopped on a plane to Houston to visit Annie dearest and my favouritest siblings -- Vic and Albert! Life in Katy is mind-blowingly relaxing (yes, I don't know how that works but it does!), and I love it to bits. We went to watch the Houston Ballet's performance of The Nutcracker on the 23rd with Mio and her family, and boy was I duly impressed! Combine that with a couple Rock Band nights and you've got just about the perfect homestay holiday.

The faux guitarist and the faux.. electronic musician.

With the Ong and White family at The Nutcracker.

On Christmas Eve, we headed over to Richard and Kathy's place for a scrump-dilly-umptious traditional Christmas dinner loaded with plenty of turkey, ham and champagne. And dessert. And gifts! Everyone had a great time unwrapping presents, unloading stockings and taking pictures by the tree. The next morning, Christmas Day, saw us zip to the airport for an early morning flight to Albuquerque, NM with Kitty & Holly followed by a road trip to Taos Ski Valley, where we stayed for the next three days for some hardcore skiing. Well, hardcore meaning aching feet, muscles and joints, not impressive skiing stunts or black diamond trails.

It was my first time on skis and boy was it quite an experience! We were hit by a huge blizzard up on the mountains on our first day; not very conducive for a newbie like myself. Still, after lots of perseverance and even more unglamorous slips onto by bum, I was able to tackle a couple blue trails by the third and last day. Kitty joined us on the second day where the girls headed out for some snowboarding. For our last day in Taos, we headed down into town for some quaint breakfast, shopping and a visit to Kitty's ranch. And when I say ranch, I really mean huge, expansive land with a grand house complete with a barn filled with goats and llamas.

Kitty frolicking with Addy-bo at a pit stop; en route to Taos.

With the girls and their boards.

Falling oh so gracefully.

Albert and me, at Kitty's ranch.

Getting better at this.

The next day we embarked on the long drive back to Albuquerque, stopping by in Santa Fe for lunch. It was then off to Las Vegas, NV for some glitz and glamor all in time for the countdown to the New Year. We arrived on the evening of the 30th, where we caught Lance Burton's magic show at the Monte Carlo, where we were staying. I could go on forever about how amazed I was by all his tricks and teleportation acts, but I'll just keep it short and say it was fantastic. I feel that being good at stage magic is quite a feat -- you've gotta be creative with your tricks, and be an entertaining host at the same time. Lance Burton was definitely both!

After the show, Vic and me headed out for a stroll down the strip for a "photo hunt", as she would call it. We stopped by the Harley Davidson Cafe for a drink, before heading over to Paris Las Vegas for a trip up the Eiffel Tower. Stunning views aside, the highlight of the night was definitely witnessing a proposal -- with me being asked to video the entire thing down! The bloke who was proposing just shoved me his camera with the video recording running, and before I could know what exactly was going on he went down on one knee and popped out an engagement ring! She said yes, of course.

New Year's Eve was spent mostly in Chinatown for lunch, then shopping at the relatively new Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino. By 5pm, a good portion of the partygoing crowd and already spilled out onto the streets for some pre-drinks, readily available from the numerous Coors beer trucks dotted along the Strip. 7pm was our LOVE Cirque du Soleil show at The Mirage. This was my first Cirque du Soleil show ever, and ultimately the best live performance I would probably see in years to come. I think the only thing that can beat it would be to watch another Cirque show! The show was essentially a show which combines (re-produced and remixed) music of The Beatles with an interpretive, circus-based performance by the godly and talented artists and dancers from Cirque.

The LOVE theater was indeed a marvel in terms of design, from the rigs to the lifts to the seats. To give you a sense of how lavish everything was, each individual seat is fitted with three speakers, including a pair in the headrest. I found it quite challenging to sing along to half of the songs as well as gasp in amazement at the acts.

At the Lance Burton theater, Monte Carlo.

Interior of the Harley Davidson Cafe.

All set for more winning at the Paris Las Vegas.

View of the Strip atop the Effiel Tower.

Vic & me with the newly-engaged couple.

The musical fountains in front of Bellagio. We could barely stay to
watch as we were rushing to The Mirage for Cirque du Soleil!

Psychedelia to the max! After the LOVE performance.

After a late dinner, Vic and me joined the huge crowd gathered along the strip for the mass countdown and fireworks. Alas, our holding position across from New York New York wasn't as strategic as we thought it would be -- we only barely caught a glimpse of the fireworks. Nonetheless, the electrifying atmosphere and the unbeatable party mood that swept through everyone was quite the experience!

The next morning, we kicked off the new year with a great champagne breakfast at the Monte Carlo itself, before heading over to the shooting range (yep, shooting range) at Albert's behest to literally start the first day of 2009 with a bang! The place we went to was aptly called The Gun Store, where you can take your weapon of choice (be it a H&K MP5 SMG, M249 SAW or a blot action KEL-TEC, they have it all!) and let it rip down the shooting range. Of course, at about $20 per 10 rounds of ammunition, you'll be sure to want to aim properly.

Soon after, it was time to head back to the airport to catch our return flight to Houston. With that, Vegas was over all too soon. Life back in Katy, however, was pleasant enough. Waking up at noon, stuffing my face with Annie's awesome home cooked food, playing Prince of Persia on their 61" LCD TV all day, meeting up with Sabrina and her pals for dinner and drinks, going photo hunting with Gesi and Vic, trawling the mall with Cherie and Ellen, soaking in the pool with Albert, shooting little kids in Laserquest and the list goes on! I extended my stay in the States for one more week and boy, did that week just fly by! On my last day in Katy, Annie organized a huge dinner party and invited everyone over. We had so much food brought over (Singaporean fare, no less!) it was really quite like a food festival.

Photos of the dinner can be found here.

Victoria & me counting down on the Strip!

Revelers enjoying a New Year snog.

On the way back to London, I decided to make a stopover in NYC to visit the Tay twins, Marcus and Fion. It was absolutely freezing the first day I was there -- plenty of snowfall and wind. We didn't do much sightseeing matters, but it was really great to meet up with Jon Tay and the rest of the MDC folk. Most of my time in Manhattan was spent eating, actually. And hanging around K-town along with Laura (who's studying violin in Julliard!). The next day was Sunday, and Fion and me headed to Times Square Church for service -- it was such an amazing experience! Jon Tay joined us after and we headed to Top of the Rock -- the rooftop observation dek of the GE Building at Rockefella Centre.

The rest of the day was spent eating (again!), and we had some really, really good dessert at this place called Kyotofu (at 49th & 9th) before I had to rush back to the airport for my return flight to dreary London.

The customary shot at Times Square.

At M&M's World, Times Square.

Supper at K-town with Laura & JCT.

Inside Times Square Church.

Fion playing model at Top of the Rock.

Yep, those fingers spell 'NY'.

And with that, my action-packed, fun-filled, globetrotting Christmas holiday came to an end. Thank you so much Annie for everything, and to all those that I met, got to know, caught up with and left behind -- I'll be back! Definitely sooner than later, for sure. This weekend it's off to Wales for me for the Mapmaking project with Guildhall. Prepare to freeze!