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!