Thursday, June 26, 2008

don't wake me i plan on sleeping in

"last week I had the strangest deam, where everything was exactly how it seemed. where there was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy. it was just a man with something to prove, slightly bored and severely confused. he steadied his rifle with his target in the centre and became famous on that day in November"

Soon, very soon, this will all be just a memory. And part of me doesn't want to wake up.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I'd been meaning to get down to watching Sharkwater for a bit and finally did last week. While the underwater visuals were everything I'd expected though, I have to say I'm pretty disappointed with the message it tried to put across. In a nutshell the film is trying to call attention to the practice of shark finning (slicing off shark fins and chucking the bodies back into the ocean) driven by the shark fin industry. Considering the amoung of attention the film has already received, I'd say it's done that admirably. Its portrayal of the shark fin industry however is highly questionable.

In the first place, the main source of opinion on the issue was Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - an organisation whose raison d'etre is the persecution of crimes against marine life. Or at least what they deem to be crimes. These are the same people who created a huge ruckus when the people of a small native American tribe - the Makah - announced that they were, with government approval, to revive their traditional practice of whaling as a means of maintaining and reinforcing their ethnic identity. The plan allowed for them to catch up to 5 grey whales annually over a 5 year period. While the grey whale used to be endangered, it isn't now and wasn't in 1999 when the Makah resumed the hunt. Furthermore, they have since taken just 1 whale. The response from Sea Shepherd however seemed to indicate otherwise. Sea Shepherd vessels harrassed the Makah whaling crew and hurled missiles and racist insults at them. Paul Watson himself shouted at them over the loudspeaker "Just because you were born stupid doesn't mean you have to be stupid!" the uproar caused made the Makah the subject of death threats and all sorts of racist abuse. Bumper stickers read 'Save a Whale, Kill an Indian' and poems containing lines such as 'I'll beat up my wife, leave my kiddies bereft. This is Makah training, and tradition must not be left!' were circulated widely over the internet. All this, for a society legally taking small numbers of an unendangered animal in order to maintain a tradition of their forefathers and a foundation of their ethnic identity. Nor is this the only instance of Sea Shepherd's pursuit of a rather questionable cause. They have also done it with the conduct of traditional pilot whale hunts on the Faroe Islands as well.

I also disagree with some of the things Paul Watson says. Referring to the traditional consumption of shark's fin in Asia, he mentions in Sharkwater that he has no respect for cultures that deprive future generations of something. Yet while sharks, whales and wildlife in all its variety, are certainly worthy of maintenance and safeguarding, are traditions any less important? How much respect would future generations have for us when they realise that we've denied them much of their heritage and tradition - particularly those that form the very basis of a cultural or ethnic identity? All things considered, Paul Watson and his crew are, in my opinion, a rather dubious source from which to be garnering opinion.

The questionable practices and ideology of Sea Shepherd aside, the film also delivers very little insight into the subject at hand. While it maintains throughout that the practice must be stopped, it does little to shed light on who is perpertrating these crimes and how to stop it, making unclear references instead to 'Taiwan' and 'the shark fin mafia'. Consumers of shark's fins are lumped together as Asia, as if the largest continent in the world is a homogenous entity of ravenous shark's fin eaters. Shark's fin is after all a luxury item, and while it may be commonplace among Chinese families in relatively affluent places like Singapore and Hong Kong, just how proliferated is it in other Asian countries without quite as much economic clout? Also, considering the appeal and traditional roots of shark's fin soup, is there any sustainable way of acquiring the main ingredient without decimating the world's shark populations? Could aquaculture possibly provide a solution? Finally, the film also makes no mention of how many sharks are killed as a result of finning for the shark fin industry, and how many are killed as bycatch by the various fishing industries of the world? Instead of addressing these questions, Sharkwater simply goes on and on about not just the plight of sharks, but the plight of the filmmaker himself in the obstruction of his desire to keep on swimming with sharks.

Wow ok I've certainly gone on. Leong you did ask me to blog haha. Personally I feel a need for urgent action if we are to save the world's shark populations from extinction. We might even be saving ourselves from extinction considering the integral part that sharks play in the marine ecosystem, a vital source of food for both ourselves and the other organisms we share this earth with. However, one cannot simply demand that millions people give up what is for them - particularly the Chinese - an ages old tradition with tremendous symbolism. Furthermore we cannot simply point the finger at China and the rest of Asia as the proverbial Judas. I come from a typical middle class family in Singapore and I rarely have shark's fin soup more than three times a year. even then in tiny portions mostly inundated with soup stock, crab meat and egg white. If this is the case in affluent Singapore, then just how available and affordable is the dish in a developing country like China? Particularly at the astronomical prices that Sharkwater claims the fins go for? If we're going to do something to save the sharks we need to stop hurling the blame around and start looking for a compromise. And we need to do it fast.

Anyway for anyone who'd like to check up on the stuff I've written here, refer to Coastal Cultures: An Anthropology of Fishin and Whaling Traditions by Rob van Ginkel, chps 2 & 3.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Au Maroc

Its hard to try and decribe Morocco and not render the place a complete injustice. The sights, sounds, tastes, and not to mention the deluge of konichiwas and hoi jackie chans doesn't so much take your breath away as knock it clean out of you with a kick to the guts.

The taxi driver who took me down to la place Djemma el Fna from the Marrakech airport had a few words for me, "Go straight until you see the fountain, turn right and you'll find the hostel. Do NOT let anyone guide you no matter what!"; words that I fully intended to heed to the last detail. Unfortunately, it turned out that my understanding of la fontagne (read ornate water spewing fixture occassionally shaped like a ludicrous half-lion half-fish) was wholly different from the Moroccan one (read rather drab cast iron faucet in the wall) and i of course ended up spectacularly lost. I did eventually find the hostel but at the expense of 2 euros to see off the self appointed guide who'd jumped on me the second he'd caught the bewildered expression on my face.

The days that followed were a whirlwind of immensely beautiful landscapes, the sights sounds and (not always pleasant) smells of medinas, a smorgasbord of food, and of course more konichiwas and derisory remarks than you can shake a stick at. Djemma el Fna was everything that the guide books said it would be...and more! Tajines, salted aubergines, brochettes, snail soup, orange juice and even sheep heads all for one's culinary delight. Traditional dancers beating drums all night and dragging reluctant tourists to join in their revelry; snake charmers pretty much chucking their snakes every which way on the ground and scaring the hell out of some people (including a certain Singaporean :p); and story tellers drawing huge crowds of locals and leaving the rest of us wishing we knew what they were saying. Then there are the hamams, the public baths where for 50 dirhams you get a bath and a massage. For me that was basically a bucket of hot water dumped on my head and a funny smelling brown paste rubbed all over my body before a gnarly old Arab man came and scrubbed the living daylights out of me. And then just as I was feeling nicely cleansed and ready to go, another Arab guy comes up and says its time for the massage. Definitely worth trying, if not for the faint of heart

But the best part of Marrakech was the people. A great big shoutout to Youssef and Zak at Equity Point! Without a doubt the best, most beautiful hostel I have ever stayed in! We also met Tariq, a Moroccan who took it upon himself to show us the absolute best of Arab hospitality and proceeded to bring us around the city for the next few days. When Jh was due to fly back to Barca he insisted on going all the way to the airport to see him off, and when he missed his flight, offered us the services of his internet cafe free of charge to book another flight. When he realised we weren't going to let him pay for his meal, he excused himself to go to the loo, settled the bill, and came back to the table with a wide smile on his face. Say what you will about the way this world is going but there are still some people out there who make it that much brighter. Salam alaykum Tariq. And thank you very very much.

Fes and Sahara soon!

Friday, February 22, 2008


You know its one of your guy friends' birthdays when he suddenly drag his normally lazy arse to the gym and track and babbles incessantly about acronyms such as IPPT and RT.

Amsterdam is awesome :)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

handbags and gladrags

Over the past week here in Amsterdam I've learnt that one of the smartest things the Singapore government could have done was to issue 2-dollar notes. And the EU really ought to think about adopting it too. If I collect any more 2 euro coins my coin pouch will be in danger of ripping through the floor of the container I call home.

This has been an amazing week so far and finally I'm properly settling in. Went down to Ikea on Monday for some much needed supplies. Like Slo for example! :))))

See he's waving hello! Wave back! :p

If you think the Ikeas in Alexandra and Tampines (honestly what kind of street name is that?) are big wait'll you see the one here. The self service warehouse can probably house an A380 and a herd of African elephants at the same time. Bedspreads, cooking utensils, shelves, meatballs, cookies and friendly marine animals were the order of the day. I'm still not sure how on earth I managed to get all that crap back on my shoulders. The Slovakian guy who came with us was dying....and he works out!! You'll notice I don't have many pictures...that's cos I only managed to get servicable batteries for my camera like 2 days ago.

Anyway the highlight of the week was tuan yuan fan!! Went down with Teck Wee to the wet markets (WET MARKETS!!) to get food for dinner. I've got to get a photo of all those stalls selling some of the freshest fish I've ever seen. Gosh they sell whole trouts for 2 euros a piece! And huge fish I've never seen the likes of before. At least not in Singapore! Oh and there was a stall selling electrical appliances for 2 euros! The owner basically just set up a makeshift stall beside his van and kept shouting "2 euro, 2 euro! working or not, I don't know!" I took the 2 euro gamble and got an electric kettle and it works! Well sorta. It turns on, but it won't turn off unless I pull the plug on it so I've gottta be a bit careful with this one. Then again, I got a working kettle for 2 euros! Beat that Harvey Norman!

Chinese New Year was an absolute blast. I think this is the first time I have ever felt any connection whatsoever to being Chinese. There were 8 people there at the table, 4 Singaporeans, 2 Australian Chinese, 1 German Chinese and a girl from Hong Kong. Perhaps it was the realisation that though we all came from different parts of the world and almost completely different cultures (the German Chinese guy speaks German and very little Mandarin), there we were partaking in a ritual and eating food that was familiar to us all. Two pots of boiling soup, 1 clear and 1 full of red hot ma la. Prawns, wantons (which I made!), meatballs, the usual meats and veggies and then a bowl of tang yuan after to usher in the new year. No visiting, no ang pow and no relatives, but this tuan yuan fan probably meant more to me than the other 23 I've had so far.

Well yesterday was a trip down to Media Market for some much needed supplies. My iPod earphones have finally died and buying new earphones has made me realise what pieces of crap those "earbuds" are. A sports mega store was next door so we stopped by and lo and behold they were selling dive equipment at unbelievable prices!!! Fins for 15 euros, wetsuits for 10 and masks for 6!!! OMG! Even better, the Heineken Music Hall was across the street and THE STEREOPHONICS ARE COMING TO TOWN!!! 2 March! Anybody interested??

Ok readings call. Later!

Saturday, February 02, 2008


It is sooooo frikkin cold right now. The weather in Amsterdam is nothing if not miserable. I can barely feel my hands and feet right now even though the heater is at max and even the heater in the bathroom to dry the floor is on maximum power. I've finally seen snow for the first time and frankly it was one of the most terrible experiences I've had so far. Trying to cycle back home in the middle of a snow storm is a no-no. This is where living in a tropical country is absolute crap because anything below 20 degrees is absolute freezing cold.

On the bright side my orientation group is really really awesome and so very very diverse. People from the States, Germany, France, Finland, Spain, Italy and of course Singapore all in one group. Asians seem to be the absolute minority here though. Don't know anyone else from any other Asian country. Well ok India I guess but she studies in Europe so I'm not sure if that counts. Thank God too for great accomodation and stuff. I guess I'm really lucky. My room is really nice and the previous occupant left cutlery and plates and even toilet paper and detergent so I don't have to spend money on that. The Finnish girl who lives just down the hall got a room completely yellowed by cigarette smoke and with cigarette burns all over the floor. She's pretty hot by the way and the Spanish guy is so obviously hitting on her. Turns out university in Finland is free so she's just taking her time to get her degree. She's been in uni for 4 years already and she still has 2 years left. I wish uni was like that in Singapore instead of the bloody ratrace that it is.

I really wonder what school will be like. God they drink so much here I can't believe. I'm almost gone after like 6 beers but these guys can knock back 20 beers and look and behave perfectly sober. Shite I'm in Amsterdam and I'm a lousy drinker. All right I'll stop here. Gotta call Sara now. Baby if you're reading this, I miss you like crazy and I actually wish I was back now. I can't wait for July frankly :)

Monday, January 28, 2008

not political

The past few days I've found myself worrying over a t-shirt.

On a whim I went over to queensway and printed this picture on a t-shirt.

Underneath I added the words "Everybody Loves Harry", a tongue in cheek reference to the sentiments I imagine more than a few of us Singaporeans have towards politics at home. I was planning on wearing that shirt to the airport when I fly off for exchange but I find myself, if not afraid, then extremely worried that I won't make it past immigration should I do so. Or that I'll have immigration waiting for me when I get back.

If you'll remember, sometime back a dialogue session was held between a certain member of the government and a panel of selected journalists. A question was asked regarding the so called "fear" that Singaporeans have of voting for the opposition and was met with laughter and a rather less than complimentary attitude. The journalist was chided for not telling the public that there is nothing to be afraid of. Well this isn't about voting but dammit I am skittish about wearing a t-shirt! I'm worried about this post even. I rewatched the dialogue just to make sure I didn't make sweeping statements. It took me a lot of debate to decide to post the picture even though I found it off the net on some random google search and I honestly don't think I'm being unrealistic in my fretting. The repercussions are nothing if not terrifying.