Chinese New Year weekend recap!

Happy Monday!

For those who celebrate, how was your Chinese New Year weekend? Mine involved lots of pigging out and selfie-taking. So much so that I’ve sparked the comment, “Why do you keep taking selfies? Have you never seen your face before?” from a selfie-hating friend. Oh yeah, he’s a riot.

Anyways, pictures!

Remember those horse decorations at Chinatown? They look even more magnificent at night.

On the eve of Chinese New Year’s eve, we had a visitor at the office. And then some.

Everyone, particularly the non-Chinese, were incredibly amused by the God of Fortune and the lion dance troupe that came knocking in a clamour of gongs and drums.

Later, we had the traditional lou hei, where we tossed the mix of raw vegetables, salmon, honey, peanuts, crackers as high as we could without making a complete mess on the table, while yelling out whatever auspicious phrases we knew and our wishes for the Lunar New Year. Most of the wishes went along the lines of getting a promotion/pay raise/a boyfriend and winning the lottery.

When we were done, one of the guys from the International team asked, “So do you guys eat it or do you just play with it?”

Of course we tuck in! It takes a lot out of you to yell and toss things in the air. (I kid.)

Chinese New Year’s eve was the day of feasting, and we were all too busy stuffing our faces to take any photos of the spread. Ah well.

Per our annual tradition, my dad and I went to catch the fireworks by the bay after dinner. There’s something magical about fireworks. All these explosions of colour and light above you as the ground rumbles and shakes beneath you. You feel heady, dazzled, ready to take on what comes next. Like a star being born. Like you’re shaking off the grime of last year, one explosion in the sky at a time. Boom. Clean slate.

That family behind me couldn’t have been noisier. Don’t you just hate it when people talk during a firework display? It’s like being interrupted when you’re reading. You just need some space to appreciate the display in silence, reflect on the past year, and make wishes for the new year – NOT hear some guy behind you go, “Wah wah wah!” nonstop.

Ah well.

While waiting for the firework display, and after it was over, my dad and I got a little shutter-happy.

The God of Fortune in front of the Singapore Flyer
Light festival!
And more pretty lights!
And more!
What’s better than a horse? A pink horse!

There’s this Chinese custom where children sleep late – or better yet, don’t sleep at all – on Chinese New Year’s eve so that your parents can live to a ripe old age. It’s just as well that Dad and I usually go catch the fireworks at midnight. I get to prolong my dad’s life! Those who know me know that I abide by quite a rigid routine: asleep at 11 pm, awake at 7 am, swim at 8 am and start the day by 10 am. But this annual tradition calls for an exception. Besides, the pool’s closed on Day 1 of Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year Day 1 is when the entire family congregates at my grandparents’ place and – yes, you guessed it – feast. Again. Well, there’s the whole exchange of well-wishes and socialising and photo-taking. But food was a major part of the day too.

Again, we were too busy chomping down on my grandmother’s homemade dishes – vegetable and duck soup, stir-fried broccoli and mushrooms and prawns, braised pork belly and abalone stew with and hard-boiled eggs, roasted meats and ngoh hiang, which is this mix of minced meat and chopped water chestnuts and prawn bits rolled spring roll style in fried beancurd skin. HEAVEN.

Images procured from the Web, for the sake of those unacquainted:

Braised pork belly with hard-boiled eggs
Salted vegetable and duck soup
Ngoh Hiang

Is it any wonder my healthy eating habits go straight out the window during Chinese New Year?

Then we had to take the (pretty much) prerequisite selfies too. It’s not every day everyone is all dolled up and together, after all.

With my aunts and cousins on the left
And my dad

I swear by fit-and-flare dresses. They cinch in your waist and make your legs look slim. Bonus if they come in pretty colours like lilac or Ming vase prints!

On the second day, Dad and I caught I, Frankenstein, which turned out to be surprisingly good! I was pretty wary about it given the unfortunate experience with Hansel and Gretel (even the awesome Jeremy Renner couldn’t save it). Remixed classics tend to get butchered despite the best intentions.

But I, Frankenstein was pretty original, and as far as fantasy stories go, this one was entertaining enough without inane or extraneous dialogues. Frankenstein’s monster, in this movie, has become a modern-day demon-hunter caught in the age-old battle between gargoyles (descendants of heaven) and demons. So crazy it’s good!

And on the third day, there was more feasting. I’m starting to sound like an unapologetic glutton. This time, it was Korean barbeque, just because.

And that was it for the weekend! More gatherings to come, in the vein of Chinese New Year. And I’m actually looking forward to them!

*

Anyway, this is completely random, but I am SO tempted to get some hair chalk. Have you heard of it before? Apparently, it’s like hair dye, but very temporary – so temporary you can wash it off anytime you want –  so this is perfect for someone who gets bored of her looks easily. With hair chalk, I can finally get pink streaks in my hair … like this!

Look how sweet but punkish Rachel McAdams looks!
You can look completely sweet too, but not boring, like January Jones
Ah, Chloe. I swear, she can do no wrong.

Have I mentioned that Chloe Moretz is one of my style icons? Such a fashion risk-taker but always classy and age-appropriate.

Pink streaks and waves, a la Nina Dobrev? Heck yeah!

And the best part about hair chalks? I don’t have to commit to anything. Just wash with water and shampoo!

Ah, hair chalk. Please stop tempting me!

*

So now it’s back to real life, even though Chinese New Year celebrations typically last for 15 days. Back to writing and rewriting and revising and polishing, because damn I am making this year the year my writing dreams come true.

Stephanie Perkins on how to make yourself write even when the going gets tough:

Free-write before you write-write. Eventually, you’ll get so tired of your own whining that you’ll actually go write something.

Ha! Ain’t that the truth. After a while, I realised all my complaining and head-banging (that is, against the desk, not to the music) isn’t leading me anywhere with my work-in-progress. So I decided to push through. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Or, you know, you can also blog.

Steph goes on:

I know from experience. I have tens of thousands of freewriting words telling myself how much both my novels and me suck. That negative energy has to come out somewhere, and freewriting is a safe place to say the things you’re most afraid of — and to wake your brain up in the process.

Free-writing. Hmm. Laini Taylor also advocates this practice. I mean, come on. She wrote an award-winning book of short stories based on these free-writes that obviously took her places. But then again, she’s Laini Taylor. She totally has the writing chops to produce award-winning (National Book Award, no less) books.

Writing a novel — a publishable novel — takes work. Real, actual, hard WORK.

This requires an attitude adjustment from, “Oh, what a fun little hobby” to “I will DO this. Even when it gets hard, even when I don’t like it anymore, even when I want to give up. I will keep working until I reach the end.”

*

And finally, since it’s Monday, here are some mood-lifters to kick start your week!

Misha Collins and his son West cooking – too cute!

For the complete version (and a bag of laughs), watch this:

Westie, stop being so frigging adorable! I can’t take this! 

Plus, can I just say how incredibly patient Misha is? Guys are the sweetest when they’re good with kids. I like how he lets West make the decisions and doesn’t tell him what to do, just guides and facilitates whenever necessary. Giving your kids some level of autonomy can do wonders for their self-esteem when they grow older.

Check out the earlier episodes! They are just as funny and adorable! :0)

Pink owl cookies – too cute to eat!

You pretty, pretty boy.
Hallim Park in Jeju Island
Jeju-do, I WILL be back again. Soon
Santorini. Some day.
Because that’s the best way to get by

Have a great week, everyone!

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Monday moodlifters!

(I’ve decided to name all my posts on Monday “Monday moodlifters” because I’m a lazy ass who doesn’t want to come up with new post titles every week. So if you have issue with the cheesy name, suck it. Kidding!)

So I came across this article on weird things that affect our dreams today. I don’t know if it’s all just a load of horse shit, but they do sound plausible. At least, we all know the stuff we’re exposed to during the day gets processed by our pre-conscious mind and they manifest in completely bizarre ways when we’re asleep.

Speaking of dreams, I had the weirdest dream last Saturday (I’m starting to see a pattern here – is Saturday the day when my circadian rhythm jumps out of whack?), and the emotions I experienced in it were so intense I woke up crying. No shit.

(It’s funny. You may be sobbing your heart out in your dream, so hard that you feel like your chest and face might explode from all that emotion, but you wake up and find that you’re only just tearing up. Like how you’re screaming and shrieking in your dream, and you’re actually just whimpering in waking.)

My dream might have to do with the book I just finished reading:

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

 

It’s about a girl named Portia who was abandoned by her family at a home for girls during the Great Depression era. I generally avoid books set in depressing times because they’re such downers (sorry!), but this one has a circus, a budding romance and is a coming-of-age story about a girl searching for her father.

Okay, that’s a terrible summary. I think this blurb from Teen Librarian Toolbox does it more justice:

Portia has always grown up hearing the stories of her family, but when her family disappears there is no one left to care for her except for The Mister. The Mister runs the McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls and it is a place that you would do anything to escape if you could, perhaps even death.  When one of the girls in the home, her friend Caroline, does indeed take her life, the thought that she may be a murderer haunts her.  For a while Portia languishes at the home, biding her time and praying that her father will magically appear and rescue her, but when the circus caravan drives by and a card with all their routes on it falls out a window and glides slowly to the ground, she has a new plan.


Portia jumps on a bright red bicycle and pedals to a new type of freedom, she hopes.  Her she stumbles upon The Wonder Show, a side show of circus freaks who caravan across the country and make a meager living based solely on their various oddities.  Tall men, short men, fat ladies and a woman with no arms who throws knives with deadly precision – they are now the only hope that Portia has of out running The Mister and trying to find the father she knows once loved the circus.  Portia knows it is only a matter of time before The Mister finds her, he is not the type of man to let someone get away. And Portia, more than anyone ever has, has upset The Mister.

 

Abandonment, optimism, flagging hope, It’s right in line with the themes and emotions of Neverland. Plus, the pacing is tight and keeps you turning the pages, the characters are people you want to root for, there is an underlying sense of urgency and danger threaded throughout the story, and you find yourself hoping along with Portia for her father to find her.

Some beautiful quotes from the book:

Sometimes promises are even harder to keep than secrets. Promises are easily made- we toss them like coins bound for a fountain and leave them there, under the water, waiting to be retrieved.

And:

The ones who left (tapped at the edge of her memory), and the ones who were left behind, everyone in motion like startled birds, trying to find a place to land.

And:

There was always someone going and someone left behind. Portia had been both. She had enjoyed neither. But she knew that leaving a place was sometimes necessary, when you wouldn’t breathe there anymore, when you weren’t yourself because of it.

And finally:

Lives only begin once.  Stories are much more complicated.

 

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I love it so much I NEED to own it.

Anyway, yes, the dream.

It involved a girl (let’s call her Iris) being found by Mother, a no-nonsense but kind lady who founded the Academy for Wayward Teenage Girls. There, she got into trouble with the other girls, got framed, got kissed, got blamed for a murder, got expelled, and finally she realised that she had nowhere left to go. That the Academy, for all its failings and imperfections and hateful rules and hierarchy, was the only place she had come to count on. That part where Mother had to let her go was the part where Iris (or, okay, me, since I was Iris in the dream) struggled to hold in her tears and eventually broke down. I woke up to find my pillow soaked, although I wasn’t choking on my tears the way Iris – or I – had been in the dream.

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What, you don’t get weird-ass dreams like that?

On the plus side, that dream made for some really good writing material. I might write something about it when I have the time, maybe a short story, if not a proper novel. I’ve been saving my dreams for ages, recording them in my notebook as detailed as I possibly can, hoping to one day discover them properly and fill up the missing pieces (you know how dreams can be a little hole-y).

Hmm. How shall I develop Iris’s story? I already have a few ideas brewing, but am not sure how to work out the technicalities…

NO, JOYCE, NO. NOT NOW. NOW IS THE TIME FOR NEVERLAND!! DO NOT GET SIDETRACKED.

Okay, that’s enough rambling for the day. Shall leave with a few lovely quotes and pictures, as usual.

John Green offers some very inspiring advice to aspiring writers:

Don’t make stuff because you want to make money — it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous — because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people — and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.Maybe they will notice how hard you worked, and maybe they won’t — and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But, ultimately, that doesn’t change anything — because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for, but to the gift itself.

It’s easy to lose sight of the reason you write. We want to be published so badly, want everything that comes along with being published. Book tours, book signings, brushing shoulders with YA superstars – *ahem* Laini Taylor *ahem* Sarah Dessen… Writing is such a lonely journey we want to see results sooner, if not at least have people to share the process with. To find someone(s) who’s as excited and invested in the story as we are.

Which is why writing a novel requires SO MUCH patience and perseverance. You need stamina to see this shit through. To put yourself through this mental agony day after day until you hit The End.

But I guess I will try to see this journey – or, in fact, every journey, assuming I still have stories I want to write – for what it is. If not a gift, then at least a much-needed lesson in perseverance.

Laini Taylor on writing meaningful dialogue:

I think the trick to enjoying dialogue (which I think is the lifeblood of a book) is: to have characters who want things and are doing things. Then there’s plenty to talk about, and their unique identities emerge more (for me) in the writing of dialogue than anywhere else.

WANTING and DOING. What do my characters WANT and DO?

 

Rose garden love!
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. love!
Reading love!

And finally,

Pretty boy love!

 

Have a great week, everyone! ❤

 

Bring on 2014!

The quote above is from author Margaret Peterson Haddix’s German ski instructor, Horst, when she was learning how to ski. And it seems so simple but true. This shall be my mantra  for 2014. Now I just need to decide where I’m looking.

And how are we on the New Year’s goals front? I’m still working on mine. But the basic gist is smile more, write more, live more and worry less. The specifics I shall flesh out here and now.


GOALS FOR 2014 (this sounds so officious it will be a crime to not achieve these goals!):

1. Get a literary agent already. It’s been too many rejection letters – generic ones and kind ones – and near-misses. 

Despite the daunting odds (approximately 0.2% of aspiring writers actually score a literary agent and/or a publishing contract), it’s time to get someone interested in my stories already. To do so, I would need to


2. Write the best damn novel I have ever written, even if it means hours and days and months of tweaking and tinkering and obsessive perfecting of my manuscript. The process is not fun for someone who prefers jumping on an idea to working out the details. First drafts may be painful, but at least they’re exhilarating. Everything that comes after, i.e. editing, is torturous.

Still, I’m in too deep to pull out now. So with all or nothing, I’m going for all. Be it Blood Promise or Until Morning, I WILL get an agent on board for 2014. No more pining and wishing and envying; more doing and getting and having.


3. Be happy. An entire year has just passed, and more of them are just going to whiz by as quickly. Why mope? Why waste time and effort on being sad or angry with people and things that make us sad or angry?

For someone who cries when someone gets snappish with me, you can see why I’ve been struggling with this goal for ages. I can’t help it. People’s emotions rub off very easily on me (have I mentioned that I’m weird and sensitive?), and any negative mood from others can make my mood plummet faster than my colleagues can attack the packet of Tim Tams in the office.

So what I do now – and plan to keep doing – is think of a happy song, or a pretty face, whenever I feel my spirits start to flag.

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Besides, if you’re happy, people around you are happy. I swear, it works. 

Often, the ones we are closest to bear the brunt of our emotions because we’re so used to having them around and being showered with their love and concern that we take them for granted. So I shall smile more at my family, talk to them more often and always be patient with them so they’ll never doubt how much I love them.

(Okay, getting too maudlin for my liking. Moving on.)


4. Believe in myself more. I realise that sounds very vague, a resolution just begging to to be broken, so to be more specific, my first response to every bit of self-doubt would be 

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And no, this is not being narcissistic or egoistical. This is an attempt at confidence. You fake it to make it, as they say. And I say, hey whatever works. I am so done with putting myself down and worrying about not meeting people’s expectations and letting them down.

That applies to bad hair days, daunting writing tasks and everything else.

5. Set a proper schedule to learn Korean and French proper, instead of just visiting my notes and videos when I feel like it.

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6. Finish No Room in Neverland and write the sequel to Blood Promise OR get started on Indigo Tides. Either way, COMPLETE ANOTHER NOVEL.

(On a side note, I learnt a new term today! Introducing the “newt”, also known as a New Weird Thing, according to Laini Taylor.

That is, a writing project that is usurping the place of another writing project. Also known as a “slutty new idea”. Newts are to be discouraged, despite their unfailing awesomeness.

Here’s hoping newts don’t come attacking in 2014! More COOL THRILLING IDEAS – cooties? Right. So more cooties, fewer newts. Although really, any idea is welcome. I’m not discriminating. Newts have the potential to turn into cooties, after all.*

*Taken out of context, the above paragraph can probably certify my sanity level.)

That’s all I can think of for now. It always seems a little pointless to plan too far ahead since you never know what can happen two months down the road. But for now, this is my road map for the year ahead.

I hope 2014 treats you well! :0)

an update on the party business

I chickened out in the end. I chose the easy way out and retreated into my hermit cave instead of attending the pirate-themed beach party my company threw just for kicks. (Also, I keep mentioning pirate-themed, only because I want to remind myself how ridiculous it sounds to someone who doesn’t like themed parties that involve dressing up.)

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My company is big on these bonding events, and really it’s not so bad. There’s pizza, booze, games, goody bags, prizes – the usual shebang you’d expect at a company party. But I’m not a party person in general. My idea of a good Friday night is curling up on the couch with a book, or being productive and churning out pages of my novel.

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It might be the cynic in me speaking, but I don’t want to get close to anyone when I’m likely not going to see these people again. I don’t want to get attached when I intend to leave as soon as something else comes along.

But I do understand that in order to have something worth writing, I need to go out and live. Experience things, see things, meet and talk to people, even if they’re only going to be acquaintances. I know I need to break out of my routine and my cloistered life for the sake of my sanity, my social life and cultivate a less boring personality.

But I’m terrified – deathly terrified – that it would turn out really awkward and, well, un-fun. And that I’d have wasted my time being a socially-retarded loser. I think that’s the reason why I’m always hesitant to attend social events. That I’d be reminded of the fact that I either stick out like a sore thumb or have to behave in a socially acceptable way – requisite small talk, bright smile to constantly hold up, chirpy voice – in order to fit in.

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Of course, staying in my comfort zone makes me even more of a socially-retarded loser.

I want to get out more. I do. But sometimes, going out is such a hassle and meeting new people is daunting. Terrifying. It gets even more terrifying the more I retreat into my shell. Because the truth is, despite how much I convince myself I don’t care what people think of me, it is ALL I can think about when I meet them.

Does she think I’m weird? 

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Am I boring him? 

Is she wishing she’s anywhere else but here with me? 

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What will he say to his friends about me? 

Do I have something in between my teeth? 

Oh god, did I just snort in laughter?

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Well, in any case, it’s raining now. A part of me is relieved. Now I won’t have to feel so bad about not going. A moment later, another part of me chides that relieved part for being so selfish. Urgh. If only I weren’t such a weirdo. How do you become normal? What is normal? Taking part in social drinking and party games? What if I don’t want to be that kind of “normal”? Does that make me abnormal?

Next time. Next time I promise I’ll go.

Excuse me, what just happened?

So I woke up to a bunch of text messages asking me if I’d lived through the riot that broke out in my area last night.

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Apparently, a bus driver had run down a Bangladeshi worker around 9.23 p.m. last night and killed him. Then a mob of 400-odd people went batshit crazy and started flipping over police cars and burning an ambulance and slugging it out with the policemen who arrived at the scene. Ghurka soldiers had to be deployed to break up the riot. It was nuts.

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Get the full story here and here.

I went home around 10 p.m. last night, after meeting up with the gang, and didn’t notice anything amiss except that there seemed to be more people in my area, which is near to where the furore broke out. I just scowled at everyone on my way home, as I usually do, in case they try anything funny. It’s just something you cultivate after twenty years of living in an area swarmed with male labourer workers.

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That’s some scary shit right there – the riot, not my death stare (or Diana Agron’s).

Honestly, though, after hearing what my dad told me about these foreign labourers and their partying ways, a part of me isn’t surprised something like this happened. It was some time around Deepavali, and the place gets really rowdy on public holidays – the roads are deadlocked with foreign workers partying and shit. My dad was sending his female colleague home and had to drive through the Little India stretch. This bunch of drunk foreign workers just leaped in front of his car and started doing this lewd dance.

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My dad locked the car doors and barrelled through. Good thing they had the bird sense to get out of the way.

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Let me just state that I am not against foreign workers in general, and their nationality isn’t the point of contention here. It’s their behaviour that pisses me off.

Maybe it’s all the pent-up rage against us, the locals, or the government and their rules, or their shitty lives in general that made them act out like that. And I know there are honest, non-trouble making foreign workers out there who helped to clean up the place after the riot and that I shouldn’t condemn the entire forest because of a few trees blah blah blah. But come on, they went nuts in a country that hasn’t gone nuts since the 1960s. They set stuff on fire and killed someone (a man was crushed under the bus) and injured our local police. Call me small-town, but this kind of violence just isn’t the norm in Singapore.

I’m not going to let up on my death stare, though. And I really hope no one was hurt too badly, especially the policemen, firefighters and innocent civilians. The press must be having a field day with this, as are the various ministry departments. I guess we know what’s going to come up as a bone of contention at the next election.