Archive for the 'Pop Culture' Category

In search of a supermarket

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

The teeming cities of South Asia I think I will now always associate with this acridity of the air, which mercifully today has nonetheless been light and cool.  It might almost be called refreshing, if you somehow ignore the omnipresent and insistent charred notes mixed with something earthier.The resulting light is also strange; you are always straining your eyes to make out hazy shapes in the half darkness of no streetlights and dusty clouds, or else squinting to see through the blinding glare of a single functioning headlamp accompanied by the blare of klaxons and the roar of motorized impatience.  Always straining and squinting, and trying not to breath too deeply or slip off the shallow, pitched seat of the rickety rickshaw.  Must not let anything fall out of one’s grasp, or venture limbs too far off the spatial footprint of the carriage, and even that strategy often seems risky, what with oncoming traffic and swerving mad dashes across highways, racing against trailer trucks and buses.  It’s also strange how the strength of the headlamps can throw certain details into such stark relief, making a surreal dream sequence of hazy silhouettes contrasted against a chiascuro dirt road.


Am thinking about consumerism, after walking about a dusty mile in dress boots in search of a supermarket as malls are plunged into intermittent darkness by brownouts, or fuses being blown or something.  I failed to find one, so have not been able to buy pseudo necessities like tissue and more genuine necessities like breakfast and bottled water.  I suppose I always imagined India to be more like China – masses of destitute juxtaposed against gleaming icons designed by Herzog & de Meuron, ancestral villages displaced to build glittering malls filled with flagship stores for Zara and Banana Republic.  Indeed I did walk by and into malls boasting what I think to be outrageously expensive stores and restaurants–that is in relation to the products (e.g. United Colours of Benetton, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste, Friday’s) mixed with more reasonable yet still definitely “lifestyle” brands (The Body Shop, Nike, Pizza Hut, Subway).  But still, the dismal appearance of the international airport (currently undergoing much-needed renovations) and the general state of affairs tells a very different story.  I have to say that I am both completely spoilt by, and wholeheartedly approve of, the sort of full-spectrum consumer-oriented array of goods you find in Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong.  Of course there should be dozens, if not hundreds of salty snacks available at any corner 7-11–quick game, name 3 types/brands for each country of origin: Japan, Australia, China, US–and at least as many chocolate-involving snacks.

Or at least if I’m going to have to be thrown into a development/environment/social studies mental mode then I shouldn’t have to straddle the divide between business-class travel and NGO-budget housing.

Hanoi Hello!

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

So… I’m currently in a Hanoi hotel, gaping in disbelief at the TV, which I’ve turned on for the first time in three days in the hopes of finding FTV.  Instead, I’ve chanced upon a National Geographic documentary called “Wild S-x” that made me gasp.  Really, my inner prude is thoroughly shocked!  They’ve covered, and very explicitly descibed (along with suggestive background music) the notable practices of about three dozen species, including Bonobo monkeys, snails and sea hares.  The wry narrator has used lines  like “writhing”, “giving new meaning to the phrase ‘swinging in the trees'” and “shocking climax”.  Ugh. 

Yes, so I’m in Vietnam and excitingly it’s my first visit here.  The catch is that I’m working on a case, so I’ve been running about non-stop doing interviews and checking-out price lists.  I’m not complaining though, although everything seems like a health hazard: the second-hand smoke, the hectic motorcycle traffic, the industry I’m investigating…

I want to go see the water-puppet show!  Apparently it’s a must-see, surprising and intriuging.  Maybe tomorrow, after we done the last of our planned interviews and site-visits.

Whew, I need to get some sleep.

I finished Freud’s Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious as well as Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic and Baby this past week, and I’m fairly proud of myself of actually getting some reading in.  Now all I need to do is squeeze in a few more cultural activities and I’ll be a semblance of my old self 🙂  Although honestly who knows what I was thinking when I imagined that I might get to attend the opera or ballet at the Opera (directly opposite the hotel, I can see it from my window)??  Already I’m grateful that we even got to drive past Ho Chi Minh’s masoleum earlier while hurrying from one late-evening interview to another.

The pre-war architecture is beautiful, and I’m finding the city quite romantic and very picturesque, perhaps aided by the unsually chilly weather (I should have brought fluffier winter-wear!), and my admittedly selective vision and strong imagination.  I keep viewing everything through the hazy lens of a cinematographer dreaming about Indochine.  All of which I can easily see as perverse and astheticism of the worst sort (“ah, what charmingly decrepit alleys and crumbling French Colonial villas!”).

I’m thinking I must pick up a few glazed dishes and maybe a silk lantern or two while I’m here.

The food here’s been pretty good.  I’ve only had the pho at the Hilton Opera Hanoi and I like it.  For restaurants I recommend Wild Lotus, Opera Club, Vine and Wild Rice (whose decor I’m in love with).  For bars and clubs I like Ibox (sp?), and Chic Mambo (more a cafe), as well as Funky Monkey.   For hotels definitely stay at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi (the historic Opera wing is fantastic).

I wanted to talk about nostalgia, and how nice its been to chat with people from college (K, S, R, and E), as well as visits by Kevin and Eric etc. etc.  Maybe next time.

I have one fluffy now.  I call it “Puff Puff”…  perhaps I’ll say its name is “Puffin”, as inspired by Louis.  Puff-puff!!  I miss my fluffy pet.

Fashion capitals…

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

One of the more impressive pieces of news I’ve read recently:

Reuters reported on a ranking of the top 25 fashion cities as done by a media group last month, and while the top ten cities include all the usual suspects–New York, Paris, Milan, London, Tokyo–ringing in at 10th place is… Singapore! 


But then again the number two city is Rome (?!), so who knows what statistical quirk helped put us above Berlin, Sydney and Barcelona.


Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

…takes a long time, and a lot of effort.  So many events: fun events, meaningful events, catered events, stand-around-waiting-for-hours events, jostle-with-classmates-for-a-good-spot events, feel-good events, noisy events, grand events, intimate events…  you get the picture.

Tonight was really fun, actually.  There was a party at the athletic fields, followed by Grad Jam.  I sang “Let’s Fall in Love”, which I’ve never sung before, so I partly confused the words and sang a hilariously confused bunch of lyrics at one point, although noone noticed and even on video it looks seamless, thank God.  I had a lot of fun, the singing was so relaxed (usually at the biannual concert we’re all wired up and rush recklessly through all the songs).

And then there was a random party in the Eliot courtyard, which was surreal, and fun and did I mention surreal?  There was very random food (burgers and oreos and Reese’s peanut butter cups) and fairly random drink (champagne and Budweiser and pineapple juice and brandy) and an even more random location (the partially set-up Diploma Cemermony tent for Eliot House with all kinds of random tables and lawn chairs lying sideways and in folded-up piles).

I had a blast.

And here’re the amusing results of an online “gender role” quiz I just took:

Your Score: Androgynous

You scored 53 masculinity and 60 femininity!

You scored high on both masculinity and femininity. You have a strong personality exhibiting characteristics of both traditional sex roles.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

free online dating free online dating
You scored higher than 99% on masculinity
free online dating free online dating
You scored higher than 99% on femininity


Link: The Bem Sex Role Inventory Test written by weirdscience on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test


Singapore, measured

Friday, May 4th, 2007

I realise that these will have been covered in the Singapore media, but hey, I’m pretty diconnected from that media.

Durex Sexual Wellbeing Global Survey 07/08

Walking Speed 

Does everyone have something to hide?

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

In a stroke of high irony, the Dean of Admissions at neighboring MIT has resigned after it turned out that she had lied on her resume.  After 28 years at MIT and about nine years as the Dean of Admissions, an anonymous phone tip-off launched an investigation that eventually forced Marilee Jones to resign, according to the Harvard Cimson and the US News & World Report.

I slept almost all day today, which was sheer bliss.

Last night Andrew, John, Ryan and I went to the first Upper Hall at the newly-built Queen’s Head pub in the basement of Memorial Hall.  The atmosphere was fantastic, the pub looks gorgeous, and the food was lovely – we had buffalo wings and nachos (paid for with Board Plus, woohoo!).  The free-flowing beer and other drinks was an additional perk for us seniors; the specially-brewed 1636 was pretty tasty as well.  I’m glad the four of us went early enough to beat the long lines and find a place to sit.

Afterwards we stopped by the party in the suites next door, and then ended the night with an hour long chat in our own common room where I drank seltzer and ate cookies.  Or more accurately everyone else ended their night – I proceeded to watch various tv shows on my computer until it was clearly time to go to bed.

Swept away

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Still a little breathless (and fatigued) from a very packed weekend which included spending about 12 hours in NYC (and about 10 hours driving back and forth) for the remarkable Singapore Day in Central Park plus the club afterparty.  Plus it was also pre-frosh weekend at Harvard… toughest admissions season to date, so I’ve heard.

Tomorrow (actually in 3 hours) I leave for New Haven by train, but I’ll be back in Boston by 8pm.

So much seems to be happening I can barely keep up.  Maybe I’ll get more of a chance to blog by Thursday…

On the drive back to Boston yesterday I was amused/puzzled by the decision to edit out the words “cherry pop” from the radio version of Christina Aguilera’s latest track, “Candyman”.  Is that really more suggestive/lewd/vulgar/corrupting than the lyrics to, I don’t know, Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous Girl”?  The longer I’ve been here the more bizarre I find American culture.

Response to: “The Great Global Warming Swindle”

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Ok, so here’s my public service post.  A couple weeks back I saw a film that first aired Mar 8, 2007 on Channel 4 in the UK titled “The Great Global Warming Swindle” that (in brief) rejects the idea that climate change (global warming) is significantly prompted/accelerated by greenhouse gases produced by human industry (namely carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels). 

It was a disturbing film to watch, to say the least.  Anyhow, I was disturbed enough to ask some questions and do some research on my own, so here’re the results.  In summary: “Swindle” is a big swindle.

Read my more detailed comments below (originally posted to the campus discussion list where I first heard of “Swindle”):

To C and everyone else,

I’m glad the Channel 4 “polemic” (their label, not mine, but note this is NOT an objective “documentary”) has come up on this list again so I can post about it. I can say that when I first saw it I thought it seemed pretty persuasively put together, and being a complete non-expert in the very specific fields covered (oceanography, atmospheric dynamics etc.) I wasn’t prepared to come to any conclusions. As background, I am a senior in ESPP, so it’s not as if I haven’t had a substantial amount of exposure to these fields or their experts; I’m just not an expert myself, as I imagine to be generally the case in society.

So I went to the head of ESPP, Professor James McCarthy, who’s worked on the IPCC report (co-author and/or co-chair for parts of the two most recent Reports). (Unrelated: He’s also Master of Pforzheimer House.) Anyway, I sent him a copy of the video and asked for his response. After he saw it, he rejected the arguments presented as being generally without merit (which is putting it mildly). Which of course skeptics and cynics might find unsurprising. However, here’re some revealing facts that emerge, which you can verify from various online sources.

To summarize:

(1) The main scientific counter-theory (or theories, if you like) to a significant human contribution to climate change via greenhouse gases has been roundly refuted a number of times already by a slew of other papers in Science and Nature, and mostly before 2005! (For example, the clips of Professor John Christy talking about discrepancies in troposphere/surface warming are outdated since Professor Christy has already authored a paper admitting that his earlier findings were wrong.) For more details on all this, here’s an easy-to-read summary:,,2032572,00.html

(2) The journalistic integrity of the filmmaker, Martin Durkin, is very questionable, which you can easily verify for yourselves. See the complaints of intentional and complete misrepresentation levelled by one of the scientists who appeared:

Carl Wunsch, the MIT oceanography professor in the film, has posted his official response to the “The Great Global Warming Swindle” program on his MIT website. In it, Professor Wunsch says that he was completely misrepresented, and is very unhappy about that, to say the least. He opens his response with: “I believe that climate change is real, a major threat, and almost surely has a major human-induced component.”

And specifically on the way his comments were edited into the film: “By [my comments’] placement in the film, it appears that I am saying that since carbon dioxide exists in the ocean in such large quantities, human influence must not be very important—diametrically opposite to the point I was making—which is that global warming is both real and threatening.”

On the film “An Inconvenient Truth” (heavily attacked by “Swindle”): “I am often asked about Al Gore and his film. […] Some of the details in the film make me cringe, but I think the overall thrust is appropriate.” (emphasis mine) In other words, one of the few credible scientists in the film (and the only credible one according to Professor McCarthy) in fact believes the exact opposite of what the filmmaker(s) portrayed him as saying/believing!

Read Professor Wunsch’s response in full (and see links to other revealing news articles and websites about the science and filmmaker behind “Swindle”) online here:

I appreciate the attention of those people who’ve read this far. I think debate is important, including in the natural sciences (and of course in the policies that lean on that science). At the same time I think the definitive conclusion to draw about Durkin’s film is NOT to take anything in “Swindle” very seriously without careful consideration.

Jason Yeo

PS: Please feel free to forward this to other lists where you’ve seen “Swindle” discussed or mentioned. I think it’s important that people have an opportunity to conclude for themselves whether the film has any actual merit.

PPS: Kindly refrain from making overly broad assumptions about the details of my personal (non-expert) opinions about climate change or how individuals and societies should respond to the issue.

I wish I’d been there

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

This article made me cry a little. 

Because the devaluation of beauty should always cause us to weep.

Forgiven; forgotten?

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

The most arresting article I’ve read anywhere recently is this feature on Imelda Marcos from this month’s W magazine. 

Imelda was of course the first lady of the Philippines for quite a while (1965-1986) while her husband, Ferdinand, was President.  Outside of the Philippines she’s famous mainly for her staggering shoe collection, the cost of which is probably some small fraction of the huge sums of money the Marcos’ are accused of embezzling from the national coffers (allegedly around five billion dollars).  But the article is fascinating mainly for the richness of Imelda’s story, the people she knew (Saddam, Doris Duke and the Pope all make cameos) and the vividness of her personality. 

Much more interesting than anything that could be written about Anna Nicole.  Go read and see for yourself.

I dreamt last night of my time in the Army, for the first time within memory.  It was a little unexpected, and nice in a way to see those familiar faces again.  I wonder what everyone is up to?  Maybe this dream was triggered by my fast-approaching return to my lieu de naissance 🙂