Archive for July, 2005

We’re off to see…

Saturday, July 30th, 2005

…John Singer Sargeant’s luscious painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose at the Tate Britain.  I’ve always wanted to see this painting up close, and even more so after reading Deborah Davis’ Strapless (a history of Sargeant’s iconic Madame X that is also a mini-biography of Sargeant and his work) earlier this summer.

I can’t believe this is pretty much my last full weekend in London.  So now I’m making up for weeks of procrastination in visiting London museums.  On Thursday I went to the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square, which was ok, but a bit crowded and a bit rushed, and overall I guess portraits can get a bit tedious to look at after a while, especially photographs.  There were many works I really liked though (like the large, informally-composed royal family portrait of 2000), and reading the information plaques always fascinates me, almost more than the images.

Ok, must leave now if I don’t want to have to hurry through the Tate as well.

The problem with…

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

Since it was so cold this weekend, I stayed in on Saturday morning and wrote a four-page (single spaced) essay on scholarship bond-breakers in Singapore.  The question remains: why have I recently been trying so hard to demonstrate how sad I am on the pages of this blog?

Anyway, go read the essay here and let me know what you think.


Monday, July 25th, 2005

Ok, now this cold stretch is getting ridiculous.  I was shivering in a long-sleeved tee and bermudas so I put on a mohair sweater and a jacket.  In July.  Actually, July ends this week, so it’s practically August.  It should be the height of summer right now.


I’m making myself a hot mug of tea now.



Have I mentioned how I really like chatting, especially with Americans?  In part this is because I enjoy chatting with congenial strangers, and Americans are often nothing but congenial.  Lovely.  In fact, I probably just love chatting in general, a trait I must have inherited from my mother (certainly I wouldn’t claim to have inherited a chatty streak from my father). 


I just spent a very pleasant quarter of an hour and perhaps more chatting on the American Express customer service line.  (Yes, yes, I’m sad.  Deal with it.)  A nice chap named Luke from Omaha, Nebraska.  Luke, if you read this (and the chances of that I guess are essentially nil, except that he has all my personal details), drop me a line and maybe we’ll be friends 🙂

What’s going on?

Monday, July 25th, 2005

First of all, the weather is a bit on the chilly side for summer, don’t you think?  It’s an absurdly low 15degC (59F) right now, and the sun hasn’t even set yet.  I suppose I am thankful that last summer’s fatally powerful European heat wave has yet to be repeated.  Still, how am I ever going to make that trip to Kew Gardens if the weather keeps up like this?  (And the weather forecast predicts more of the same for the next five days.)

Secondly, but more importantly.  Did anyone else just feel awful when the news about the Brazillian electrician broke?  So on Friday a man was shot on a London underground train by plainclothes policemen.  He was shot eight timesSeven shots in the head.  At close range. The police officers had pursued him into the station, tackled him on the train, jumped on top of him and literally fired into the man’s head, right before a terrified carriageful of commuters.  One strand of the immediate public reaction was outcry that the police had the power to simply execute a man in public, with no actual proof of a threat, not to mention an investigation or a trial.  Couldn’t they have simply incapacitated him (as they already had by tackling him)?  At most shoot him in the leg?  These questions were overshadowed by news reports that the man was a suspected suicide bomber.

Then within 48 hours it emerges that the dead man was not, as police had suspected, a suicide bomber, but an innocent Brazilian electrician living and working in London.  Something had clearly gone very wrong, at least for the dead man.

The police were perfectly justified in their actions – that’s the gist of the official message from the police comissioner, the home secretary and others who are defending Scotland Yard’s “shoot to kill” policy as necessary given the grave security situation in London currently.  Of course the relevant authorities are grieved by the mistake, but unconvinced that there was anything amiss in the incident.

Horrifying.  That’s what I think.  It reminds me of martial law, because that’s the only situation that comes to mind where regular civil and criminal law can be ignored.  But of course we are not under martial law.  As far as I can tell, the police officers never warned that they were going to shoot, and I cannot believe that the dead man would have claimed to have been holding a bomb when he was not, in fact, a suicide bomber.  Of course, pending more official details all that I can say is based on news coverage of the incident, but certainly no one has reported hearing police warnings being shouted at the man, nor threats from the Brazilian man.  It seems the police assumed that the deceased might be (or even most likely was) carrying a bomb because he was wearing a bulky padded jacket.  (Official reports claim that this struck the police and witnesses as unusual given the warm weather, but I personally recall Friday being quite a chilly day, actually.)

But essentially, based on the fact that he ran, and based on what he wore, the police were free to shoot the Brazilian man, point blank, in the head (so as not to set off any explosives on his body), multiple times.  With no sign of a warrant, due process, actual visible or verbal treats or anything of the sort.  Shoot to kill.  License to kill, it sounds like to me.

And why did the deceased run if he was innocent?  The evening papers are reporting that his visa has just expired, making him an illegal immigrant or visa overstayer in the UK.  Perhaps that’s why he ran from the police, who knows at this point?

So much for human rights.  (You know, like the incontrovertible right to life and the right to due process, even within martial law?)

Those who might want to claim that Singapore has all kinds of similar policies that at best stretch the definition of civil liberties, due process and human rights are missing the point.  None of that changes the fact that this is a terrible thing to happen, at least on a philosophical level (in the short- or even medium-term tough security measures may indeed be expedient to safeguard the city at large).  I am just as outraged by the inconsistent, anachronistic or simply indefensible features of Singaporean legislation and policy (like our lack of martial-rape laws, the outrageous application – not to mention existence – of our unnatural sex laws, the provisions and application of the Internal Security Act, our racially-biased immigration policies, our position on anti-personnel landmines etc. etc.), but right now I am commenting on the tragic, undeserved and brutal death of Jean Charles de Menezes, aged 27. 

Moreover, Singapore might be a model economy or even a model State, but London and the UK are supposed to represent a model democracy and one of the world leaders in pressing for the global recognition and protection of human rights (something I doubt Singapore would try to claim leadership in).  Which makes this whole situation all the more terrible.  If Singapore does the same (here I’m reminded of Singapore’s mandatory capital punishment for drug trafficking and kidnapping), we might eventually say apathetically, “Hiyar, Singapore government/law/PAP/courts/police are like that one, what – you dunno meh?” or something similar.  But if the UK (and the US, with its Patriot Act and the like) are indeed being forced to take the measures they are taking, what does that say about the feasibility of “Western” democracy and human rights in an insecure world?  Or about the power that terrorists really wield over us (even if it is unintended)?

And in the meantime, another innocent person is dead.

Next time, Jason makes the case against whining scholarship bond-breakers and wanna-breakers.  Stay tuned.


Friday, July 22nd, 2005

And here they come, the best of the lot of over 600 pictures taken.  The truth is that digicams make you lazy and shutter-happy.  Oh well.  The captions are just barely readable if you mouseover the images.  If you really want to read the captions properly go to the “photos” section (link on the left bar).

Taken during my random wandering around the central parts of Paris on Bastille Day.  Many streets were closed so I just went wherever I could.

Place Vendome (14 Jul 2005)



I was just outside the Louvre when I was surprised by the aerial displays for the military parade that was underway.  I’m glad I managed to snap a few shots of this particular fly-past.

Tricolour fly-past over the Louvre (14 Jul 2005)



The Louvre was free-entry that day so I took advantage of the opportunity to wander around the vast museum.  I originally had no intention of jostling with the crowds looking for the Mona Lisa but while I was standing in the entrance hall beneath I.M. Pei’s pyramid a young Panamanian woman came up to me, pointed at the picture of the iconic painting on her brochure and asked, "You know where this is?"  Goodness knows why she asked me, since I was clearly a tourist, camera and all.  In any case, I led her to the room where the canvas hung (with a brief but obligatory photo call at the headless Winged Victory on the landing), where we snapped pictures of each other in the most touristy of Parisien spots.

Mona Lisa and Me (14 Jul 2005)


The next five pictures are a series of portraits taken in the Louvre and the Mus

Make it stop

Thursday, July 21st, 2005

Distressing news, again.

Factually speaking, the “serious incident” that’s currently unfolding on the London underground and bus system is nowhere as horrific and shocking as the “major incident” that took place two weeks to the day. Yet, psychologically this was far more upsetting for me. It’s kind of spooky to walk out of the office at 3.30pm and see loads of slightly disoriented people, many in business suits, wandering around. I saw a woman crying on one of the side streets.  I hope she was caught up in her own personal drama unrelated to the explosions.  Apparently the bus incident happened just around the corner form here, so they’ve closed the main street to traffic. The view of empty sunlit city streets always struck me as both desolate and apocalyptic.

I want to go home now. Except the Northern line which I normally take is currently closed.

One perfect day in Amsterdam

Monday, July 18th, 2005

Edit: Click on this link if you want to know how I spent my One perfect day in Amsterdam to get some ideas of your own.

It’s true – Amsterdam is absolutely a must-go city.  I’ll tell you about it soon enough, or at least put up a few pictures with informative captions.

As I write this, the intense summer-day sunlight is giving way to a softer, bluer late-afternoon glow (it’s about 6pm), flooding the front room of Eric’s spacious apartment on the third floor of a charming canal-house.  Lovely.

I am so tired, mainly from walking, and awkwardly stretching to ride Eric’s bike (he’s considerably taller than I am) which has the disconcertingly different braking mechanism that seems standard here (to brake you backpedal).  I’m truly thankful I managed to get about without incident.

Oh, the walking!  The last five days have been filled with endless walking and standing in museums and chateaux, city centres and quiet neighborhoods.  Thank God for endorphins.

Glorious accomplished tiredness.  I shall go stretch out some of the stiffness in my legs and then perhaps I shall read a little.  Or nap.


La vie en rose

Friday, July 15th, 2005

Paris is beautiful, Versailles is beautiful, life is beautiful.

But then you knew that already, I hope.

I shall put up more of a real update when I’m not relying on internet caf

And off we go

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

In about an hour I will be on the Eurostar bound for Paris and the Bastille Day celebrations tomorrow (more fireworks!).  This time I’ll finally get to do all the things I’ve been meaning to do since my last trip.  Plus brush up on my increasingly dusty French.

And on Saturday I have train tickets to Tours in the Loire valley to visit a couple of the famed chateaux (I hope the weather is nice), particularly Chenonceau, and perhaps Chambord and Cheverny too.  Yes, that’s right, I’m only visiting chateaux starting with ‘C’.  Not intentionally, mind you.

Sunday will find me on a bus bound for Amsterdam where I shall say hello to Eric and do a little city sight-seeing before returning to the office on Tuesday morning.

See you around.

What’s the buzz today?

Monday, July 11th, 2005

People who know me might know that I’m always particularly excited by a piece of good marketing or PR, whether it’s print and video advertising campaigns, window displays, product designs or something else.

The latest brilliant bit of marketing I’ve stumbled across lately is‘s 10th Anniversary “Special Deliveries” (in partnership with UPS), which I think is a particularly compelling idea, although the execution seems a touch lackluster.  Go see it here.