Saturday, November 29, 2008

Singapore Biennale 2008

A few weekends ago my friend Soon Fen and I went to see the artwork at the Biennale. It's an exhibit of contemporary art held every 2 years. Most of the work is site specific and displayed in unused public buildings. I really enjoyed this show. Soon Fen and I went on both Saturday and Sunday because it was so large (3 venues) and we enjoyed the first day so much. The site-specific element was one reason I liked it. I felt like an eyewitness to the art because it was displayed in the context the artist intended. When I visit an art museum I feel more detached. I also liked being able to walk completely around the art or even through it. Several artists used this to play with perspective. You can see it in the pictures of Blackfield below. From one side all of the flowers are black. It looks very post-catastrophe. As I walked toward the other side the flowers began to change to cartoon color. All of the flowers are angled so that the color seems to flow over the field as I walked closer to the opposite end. Unfortunately, you can't get a sense of the scale of the work in the pictures. It had 10,000 flowers in a field of 100 square meters. All in all, it took up 1/2 of a very large room.



Teratoma II: War of the Worlds

Slipper Forest

Felice Varini Project: Drill Hall

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Time to VOTE

I have my absentee ballot in my bag all ready to be mailed when I go to work tomorrow. At first this election promised to a significant one because it started so early and had an African American and a woman battle for the nomination of a major party. Unforeseen events like the meltdown in the financial markets and almost all other parts of the global economy have only increased its magnitude. One thing that hasn't changed much are the slippery facts that politicians disseminate in order to win. Make sure you haven't fallen victim to the spin. Check non-partisan, non-profit before you vote.

Playing catch-up

I noticed that I put up one post in October. It was an incredibly busy month because it contained most of the the second half of the semester when all of my students started submitting their work. I have been marking a few essays every night to try to keep up. Fortunately, there is only one more week of class left. That's one of the great things about teaching. I'm incredibly busy during term time, but there only two terms and each is only 13 weeks long. I have to remind myself that the level of busyness in my job really isn't all that bad.

Leo and I have also been able to have some fun too. A few weeks ago we went to a dance performance by Nederlands Dans Theater. They are one of the preeminent dance companies in the world, especially in modern dance. Their performance was powerful -- both physically, creatively and emotionally. I especially liked how they combined light displays and multimedia into the performance. I often think avant garde lighting and multimedia detract from the overall dance performance because the audience often ends up paying too much attention to them. In the show we saw though, they were very organic and emphasized the dancers' movements rather than the other way around. This link will take you to the Nederlands Dans Theater website where you can see videos of their performances.

This weekend we saw Burn after Reading, the new Coen Brothers movie. The performances by Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Frances McDermond were hilarious. It was especially fun to see Brad Pitt and George Clooney NOT playing their usual type of characters.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Our new apartment

Our new apartment is finally more or less the way we like it. Our landlady removed her things so we have been able to put up our pictures. I took a few photos so you can see how it turned out.

Living room and view of nature preserve next door
Living room going into kitchen
The small kitchen
Looking down at pool from our apartment

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pictures from Bali

Last July we went to Bali for 1 week to attend my friend Arania's wedding. Here are some photos from our sightseeing.

Leo and I went for a walk through the rice paddies near Ubud. We fortunately ran into Wayan, a local river guide, out for a walk. Without him we would have gotten completely lost.

A local politician and member of the Ubud royal family had died just before we came to Bali. The whole town and all surrounding villages were involved in preparing for the cremation. These men are decorating an enormous pyramid that the dead man's body would be burned in.

These ladies are wearing traditional Balinese clothes and taking offerings to the temple for the cremation ceremony.

We took a cooking class too. This is me pounding herbs, spices and chillies together. When we got back to Singapore, Leo bought a smaller version of these grinding stones. The grinding is a lot of work so when he makes the paste, we have Balinese food for several days.

Leo being a monkey in the shrine in Monkey Forest.

Leo's job interview

Last Saturday, Leo went for a interview with a local company. It is one of two companies that actively coach in schools. For the interview, he had to give a lesson to 6 teenagers while the boss coached another group nearby. Leo impressed the boss with his ability to handle a group and he was offered a position. It's a good opportunity for him because he'll also be able to be part of the Singapore Sports Council Youth program and coach junior level players. You can see more at

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Singapore field trip

Leo and I and some friends went on a food excursion to Joo Chiat Street, which has been known for its great cafes for a long time and recently for its art galleries. Here are some pictures I took that afternoon.

From a shop making gifts for the dead like this house for the dead. They are burned during Hungry Ghost month

One of the art galleries we visited

Weird sign but suits Singapore's food scene

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Uh, not exactly

At the conventions both presidential candidates tried to define themselves and explain how they will change America for the better. Unfortunately, they don't always get the facts straight. Here's a summary from Check out the website for the full analysis

He made some flubs in accepting the nomination.

Factcheck checked the accuracy of McCain’s speech accepting the Republican nomination and noted the following:

  • McCain claimed that Obama’s health care plan would "force small businesses to cut jobs" and would put "a bureaucrat ... between you and your doctor." In fact, the plan exempts small businesses, and those who have insurance now could keep the coverage they have.
  • McCain attacked Obama for voting for "corporate welfare" for oil companies. In fact, the bill Obama voted for raised taxes on oil companies by $300 million over 11 years while providing $5.8 billion in subsidies for renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuels.
  • McCain said oil imports send "$700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much." But the U.S. is on track to import a total of only $536 billion worth of oil at current prices, and close to a third of that comes from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
    He promised to increase use of "wind, tide [and] solar" energy, though his actual energy plan contains no new money for renewable energy. He has said elsewhere that renewable sources won’t produce as much as people think.
  • He called for "reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs," but as in the past failed to cite a single program that he would eliminate or reduce.
    He said Obama would "close" markets to trade. In fact, Obama, though he once said he wanted to "renegotiate" the North American Free Trade Agreement, now says he simply wants to try to strengthen environmental and labor provisions in it.
Palin trips up on her facts

Sarah Palin’s much-awaited speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night may have shown she could play the role of attack dog, but it also showed her to be short on facts when it came to touting her own record and going after Obama’s.

  • Palin may have said “Thanks, but no thanks” on the Bridge to Nowhere, though not until Congress had pretty much killed it already. But that was a sharp turnaround from the position she took during her gubernatorial campaign, and the town where she was mayor received lots of earmarks during her tenure.
  • Palin’s accusation that Obama hasn’t authored “a single major law or even a reform” in the U.S. Senate or the Illinois Senate is simply not a fair assessment. Obama has helped push through major ethics reforms in both bodies.
  • The Alaska governor avoided some of McCain’s false claims about Obama’s tax program – but her attacks still failed to give the whole story.

Obama fared better than either McCain or Palin although Obama was not entirely on the straight and narrow. Factcheck found that "He stuck to the facts, except when he stretched them."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Changes in the new semester

This semester there have been a lot of changes in the courses I teach, especially Academic Writing in Engineering. It has a new textbook, grading scheme and materials. It has been a bit tricky using the new textbook. It has a lot of text in it, which is good because it will easier for the students to use it as a reference. On the other hand, all that text slows down the pace in the class and decreases student interaction. I have been putting more discussion questions related to the readings and the learning objectives into the class to increase the energy and divide the tutorial time into several short Q&A sessions. It's better but not completely successful.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Semester has begun

I checked out my friend Sara's blog. She's starting her MBA study and described her life as running around like a chicken with its head cut off. (Odd simile for vegetarian.) My life is very similar for the same reason. The NUS semester started last week and now I will be involved in a cycle of tutorial prep, marking and conferencing until November. I have more this semester because one of my courses, Academic Writing for Engineers, was extensively revised with quite a lot of input from me. This means that I have to prep all my classes rather than relying on last semester's plans. However, even though I'm 10 times more busy, I'm glad the students are back. I'm looking forward to seeing how if the revisions in the course and materials will be effective and get positive feedback from the students and other lecturers.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More from Seattle

Theses are a few pictures that Leo and I have taken around Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula.
Belly dancers at Fremont's Solstice parade

Leo in front of Mt Rainier's Nisqually River

Self-portrait at Hurricane Ridge

Self-portrait at Chateau Ste Michelle winery

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day in Seattle

My sister came to Seattle for Father's Day weekend. We've seen a lot in the past two days and Leo has been inducted into Seattle life -- seafood, coffee, nature and microbrews. This is a picture of my Dad, sister and Leo at the beach near Deception Pass. As you can tell, it's warmed up a little but the temperature hasn't gone higher than 65 F.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shivering in Seattle

It's 60 F for my first two days in Seattle. I feel as if I have arrived in winter rather than the beginning of summer. Although I love Seattle, I miss the warmth of Singapore.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Leaving for Vietnam tomorrow

Tomorrow I leave for a week to go to Vietnam on an academic exchange with 11 of my colleagues. We are going to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho to visit 7 Vietnamese universities. Each of us will give a 20 minute presentation on teaching English and the Vietnamese teachers will also give presentations. The idea is to build stronger contacts between our Center and other tertiary English teaching institutions in the area and find out more about Vietnamese students since a lot of Vietnamese come to NUS for post-grad studies.

My presentation is about slightly different way to teach process writing. Process writing is basically teaching people to write in a systematic step-by-step fashion. A lot of students don't do it though because they think it is time-consuming. It is, but then good writing takes time and the process writing approach almost always improves an essay's organization and development while limiting writer's block. My idea is that the students would be more motivated to write and better understand the benefits of process writing if the teacher models it for them by writing her response to the assigned prompts. I tried it out a bit last semester with 200-300 word mini-essays and it seemed to be a more effective way to explain process writing. I haven't finished my research into this but since the presentation is short, I plan to use what I have anyway.

The trip is jam-packed with 3 cities and 7 universities in a week but fortunately almost every evening is free and my work friends and will get a chance to try all the Vietnamese and French food. One of them used to work in Vietnam before so she knows several good places.

Urban hiking

Every Thursday some colleagues from work and I go walking. This Thursday we decided to try a new park connector that opened a week ago. The total length one-way is 9 km but we only did about 7km. Most park connectors seem to be a designated sidewalk with a few trees planted alongside. This one felt like a long narrow nature preserve. The only times we could really see buildings were when we were on top of a hill or crossing a road on an overhead bridge. The overhead bridges even seem natural. On the Henderson Waves bridge we walked on wood planks that were built to mimic gently undulating waves. One of our favorite connectors is Hort Park. It is more cultivated than the rest, but it is designed to show people how they can bring more green into their homes. One feature was a giant putty wall covered with ferns, orchids and other crevice plants. Most people think of Singapore is a very dense urban environment. It is but with park connectors like this I experience more of nature than I did in any other city.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Semester is almost over

I have almost finished my first full academic year at NUS. My final task is marking 45 exams over the next 3 days. 15 exams a day is not terribly demanding so I'll have plenty of time to reflect on the past two semesters. It's been a very busy but rewarding year. Rewarding enough that I'll probably spend most of the time thinking about the next semester. I suppose that's the definition of a rewarding job -- always thinking ahead to the next task and enjoying those thoughts.

I will be taking a break to relax though and probably won't be thinking about work much during it. Leo and I are renting a car and going to Malaysia for 4 days to visit friends, go shopping, close bank accounts and bring more of our stuff back to Singapore. The cat gets to spend the 4 days at the Pet Farm. We'll have to bring him back a nice treat.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The top 100 wedding photos

I have finally finished sorting through the 1300+ photos that the photographer sent and narrowed them down to a top 100. You can see the album by clicking on the slideshow below.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

We're changing the name of the cat

Now that we've had our cat for several months, we've realized that he's been misnamed. The SPCA called him Zorro on account of the furry black mask he has around his eyes. You can see half of it in the picture. However, the Zorro of movies and storybooks was full of daring-do and action. Although our cat catches more than his share of geckos and bugs, he's not full of the more famous Zorro's zip. In fact, he spends most of his day like he is in the picture -- napping. Even when he craves attention, he doesn't murmuringly mew something sweet that would cause a girl to swoon. Instead, he meows insistently and flops at our feet. This is why, we've decided that a much better name for him would be SLEEPY PUDDIN' or PUDDIN' for short.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New position for me in 2009

I learned at work that next year I'll be given a new job in addition to my teaching. In 2009 I'll be the Materials Developer for a pre-matriculation course for Chinese (PRC) students. It's a huge undertaking because the course has 800+ classroom hours over a year and a half. As a comparison, a standard semester course has only 48 classroom hours. Fortunately, the course has been running for a number of years already so I won't have to develop everything from scratch. I'll also have 3 rather than 4 classes to teach. The pre-matriculation course begins January 2009 but I'll no doubt be very busy in November and December so those in the US can expect to see Leo and I this summer.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I can stay in Singapore forever

I love Singapore but I was unsure if Leo and I could stay here after I finish my current contract. When I first arrived last July, rentals had begun to skyrocket. Although my work gives me a housing allowance, it only covers the cost of renting a furnished room. With the help of a real estate agent, I managed to find a nice, furnished and undervalued apartment that is affordable. Unfortunately, the apartment is far from the university so I have a 90 minute commute one-way. It was also sold to developers a few months after I moved in, which means that we would have to find a new apartment by June. I had been lucky to find the first apartment and now Leo and I had to find a new one with the same amount of money and even more expensive rentals.

A few weeks ago, I got a surprise letter from the university which increased my housing allowance by almost 75%. Such a godsend! We'll be able to pick and choose exactly what features we want. I can be near the university and Leo can have a tennis court for his work. The university will give this allowance for 9 years. By that time, we'll be able to save up enough to buy a condo.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year is only 3 days away and everyone is out buying food for the reunion dinner on CNY Eve or preparing to take a bus back to their hometown where someone in their family is out buying food. Leo and I are also in the thick of preparing for our first CNY. Leo is bringing from Malaysia pistachios, pineapple tarts and bak wa, which are thin slices of pork dipped and preserved in a sweet spicy BBQ-like sauce. I spent what felt like hours in line at the shops to buy decorations, almond bread, Chinese cabbage, and keropok, which are deep-fried prawn chips. A friend gave us waxy duck sausage for fried rice. When Leo arrives on Tuesday, we are braving the crowds again to get fish, prawns, lotus root and a box of mandarin oranges.

All of this frenzied activity will be worth it after CNY starts Wednesday evening. CNY itself is full of visiting family, friends and neighbors, eating, wishing everyone a happy new year by saying "Gong Xi Fa Cai!", giving ang pow (money in a red envelope) to kids, more eating and exchanging news and mandarin oranges while eating. Leo and I will be spending CNY Eve with the neighbors. On the first day of CNY we will visit Leo's older relatives in Singapore. On the second day the older relatives will visit the younger. On the third and fourth days we will go visit friends. For all of you who I won't be able to visit this year: May you have a happy and prosperous New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The difference between Seattle and Singapore

Seattle and Singapore are two of my favorite cities in the world. They have several similarities: both are very green and have large Asian populations among other things. This picture illustrates one major difference. And no, your eyes aren't deceiving you. These Birkenstocks have sparkly stones and feathers on them. I can't imagine any Seattle shoe store selling Birks like these.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A seemingly impossible dance performance

This is a moving video from a dance competition in China. The dancers, Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei, perform beautifully and athetically despite the fact that she has only one arm and he only has one leg. My mother sent this link to me. She got it from a friend of hers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Zorro the hunter

These pictures show how Zorro usually looks. He sleeps all day to store up energy for night hunting sessions. Usually these hunting sessions involve carefully watching birds far beyond reach or batting around his toy fish. Last night, however, he got a cockroach out into open, toyed with it for a half hour, pounced on it for the final time and ate it. What an attack cat! I fussed over him for another 30 minutes so he'd know killing cockroaches is a great way to get exercise between naps.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New glasses

My much loved pair of chunky purple glasses broke across the bridge. For my new pair, I thought that I would completely break with the past and get rimless ones. There are almost like not wearing glasses at all. In fact, I'm so used to having the purple around my eyes that I feel like my eyes look naked with the new ones on. Leo likes them though because it is easier to see the color of my eyes.