Archive for January, 2007

The day before tomorrow

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Shopping week starts tomorrow, which means a new, and final, college semester for me. What a frightening thought. I’ve loved college far too much to want to be done, and at the same time I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what this school and city have to offer.

And speaking of shopping week, when some departments and professors compete for students, I *love* this email that was sent out on the House open-list advertising Spring courses in sociology… it actually makes me want to take a whole bunch of them (warning, lots of Harvard-speak ahead):

Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2007 12:34:25 -0500
From: [Name removed for privacy]
Subject: [Quincy-open] shopping for courses? or a new concentration?
To: Quincy-open

Hey Quincy,

Still looking for an elective? Or a new concentration? Or one of these new-fangled “secondary concentrations”?

The Sociology department has a lot to offer; feel free to contact me or another Soc tutor with questions or stop by at the Course, Career and Advising night on Thursday!

Sociology 10: Introduction To Sociology (Jay Gabler). At last, the answer to the age-old question: What the @#*! is sociology?!?! It happens to be a way to understand all sorts of social phenomena, from Puritan witch hunts to suburban angst to strip-dancing. All this and more (except the last part, unless you tip the teaching staff generously) in WJH 1, Mondays and Wednesdays from 11-12.

Sociology 19: Reinventing Boston (Chris Winship). Boston was once thought to be doomed to a future of blight and decay. How did Boston escape New Haven’s fate? And can we blame Yale? The answer to the second question is obviously yes. The answer to the first question can be found on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 2:30 in WJH 105.

Sociology 24: Introduction to Social Inequality (Jason Beckfield). Bound to be fascinating, even for Quad residents who feel that no introduction is necessary. Takes a comparative perspective, so you can finally find out why sociologists keep moving to Sweden. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 to 1:00 in scenic Sever 214.

Sociology 67: Visualizing Social Problems in Documentary Film and Photography (Tamara Kay). If you were moved and outraged by Aunt Mitzi’s video of Thanksgiving dinner, just wait until you see the social problems WE have to show you! From war and poverty to environmental degradation, all the stars are out on Wednesdays from 1-3 PM in WJH 105.

Sociology 107: The American Family (Martin Whyte). The American family is often thought to be changing in ways unfortunate for children and society–but if you think families in the 50s used to sit around the dinner table and sing Kumbaya, you’ve got another think coming. That think will be arriving in WJH 4, Mondays and Wednesdays at 1 PM.

Sociology 153: Media and the American Mind (Jason Kaufman). Cassandra Wibben-Meyer took this course in spring 2004, and Prof. Kaufman is STILL quoted in her Facebook profile. What else do you need to know? Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 AM in WJH 105.

Sociology 172: Children, Culture, and Media (Jay Gabler). Three good reasons to take this course: (1) Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are assigned reading; (2) lectures are held in the new CGIS, which is the answer to the question, “What does Harvard DO with all that money?”; (3) finally find out the TRUTH about Tinky-Winky and SpongeBob! Tuesdays
and Thursdays from 10-11 AM, CGIS S-010.

[Name removed for privacy]
Harvard University Sociology PhD Candidate
[Contact details removed for privacy]
33 Kirkland St. Cambridge, MA 02138

Writing a thesis means:

(1) For the first time you discover that the 15 million items in the largest academic library system in the world are not quite comprehensive enough for your research needs. Currently, the book at the top of my why-isn’t-it-in-HOLLIS-?!?! wish-list is Les Territoires de l’Opium (2002) by Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy. Anyone out there happen to have a copy they could send my way? ūüôā

(to be continued…)

The Paris Menswear FW 07/08 shows are winding down… and I haven’t really had a chance to scrutinize the collections carefully, although overall they seem less interestingthan the Milan collections from a style viewpoint. Some of the same stories from Milan are being extended in Paris – oversized sweaters and trailing knit sleeves, tailoring, futurism, experiments in volume… here are my assorted, preliminary reactions to what I’ve seen of the shows:
– It’s a little shocking that this season Hermes showed all of one bag out of over 40 looks.
– The menswear designer for the house of Lanvin seems to have fixated on a particular shade of violet last seen on Stefano Pilati’s Spring 2007 womenswear runway for Yves Saint Laurent (literally planted with hundreds of violets).
– For grooming, Gaultier showed the most amazing hair, inspired by the 1975 film Shampoo.
– Louis Vuitton, one big yawn.
– John Galliano presented a completely over-the-top menswear show featuring models dressed as post-apocalyptic-road-warrior-samurai-tribesmen, giant metal headdresses and all — but at least there were actual, somewhat wearable clothes shown. At its best moments it reminded me of the most desireable clothes in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, while the low points recalled the worst wardrobe of Waterworld and Planet of the Apes.
Actually, John Galliano is having an especially strong year as a designer/artist. His sculptural creations for Christian Dior–inspired by origami and Madame Butterfly–which showed last week at the Paris haute couture FW07/08 shows were simply breathtaking. I was especially inspired by the towering combination clog-wedges and the clog-stillettos. Amazing.

Back to work… here at HUCE ūüôā

The Big Apple (Tree) and so on…

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

I’d somewhat forgotten how fun New York can feel. I’m still fairly jaded with the city in general, and can’t properly ignore the grime on the streets and the soot in the air. But the people look a touch healthier (and more stylish) than I recall, and it’s also nice to feel like you have favorite spots in the city, reliable sights to see and things to do – shades of being home, essentially. It’s funny how the same actually applies a little less to Singapore, my actual hometown, where almost overnight entire neighborhoods can be transformed; nothing really seems to age there amidst the constant revamping, upgrading and rezoning.

Anyway, back to NYC. Over two nights I’ve seen two different musicals, both recommended by my voice teacher, who seems to see almost everything that goes on in Broadway. Last night I went to The Apple Tree with Ricardo, Ari and Sam, then tonight I saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with Evan, whom I serendipitously met at the TKTS line. Perhaps when I get back to campus I’ll write an proper review of each of the shows. In the meantime, as I type on a iBook borrowed from Leroy in Ari’s dining room, I shall confine myself to brief comments. Kristen Chenoweth’s brilliant starring performance makes the otherwise problematic The Apple Tree worth seeing (for half price), if you go in thinking of it as the Kristen Chenoweth skit-show. Spelling Bee is entertaining and well-performed (it did win a Tony award for Best Ensemble), if not especially fresh in content or eye-popping in production.

And I haven’t had much of a chance to go shopping, although I plan to try again tomorrow after singing with the Dins (and Evan) at a morning wedding reception. I did however make it to my favorite button/trim store (M&J Trimming) and fabric store (B&J Fabrics) today. It was fun to recognize staff and also things I’d bought previously, like the antique-gold cord-and-velvet trim that peskily ran out last year, and the lovely imported heavy-cotton shirting that I had made up over the summer. I found a couple of things that I like; I’ll have to make another trip to buy everything soon, perhaps when my plans for the summer and next year are more settled.

In 24 hours I’ll be back to work at school. That will actually be a bit of a relief, considering what remains to be done in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, it’s nice to be around Dins and to sing with them too.

Food coma… complete.

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

I’m fairly annoyed by having been knocked out by dinner for the last couple of hours. But what can you do when you haven’t really eaten a real meal in days* (and dropped two pounds as a result), and then the dining hall insists on serving utterly irresistible offerings like spinach with fresh garlic, grilled salmon with lemon butter, meatballs and best of all, chicken and sausage jambalaya? I *heart* jambalaya. And I was starving too. Ugh, ate way too much.

* The lack of real food recently is mostly due to a combination of bad habits – sleeping through meals, being too lazy to walk the three minutes to a neighboring dining hall (ours is closed for the week), and working through mealtimes.

I’m heading to NYC tomorrow, which will be very fun, and probably very foolish. What am I doing leaving my thesis work??

And today my academic advisor gave me some good news, and some great news. The great news is that something else I was concerned about is not relevant any more. The good news is I now have a bunch of leads for ways to make my thesis more rigorous… it seems to involve reading and referencing highly theoretical and empirical work, the kind where authors use common words in completely unfamiliar new ways. Like “vector”, and “policy image”, “surface” and “punctuated equilibrium”. In a way this makes me feel like I’m starting from scratch with reading, since all these papers are much less mass-audience-economist-time-magazine-like than the current pitch of my (few) thesis pages.

“Could you spell ‘Boserup‘?” – ‘click’

Back to work.

Night at the Museum

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Nope, this is not another movie review. Instead, I’m currently in Harvard’s Geological Museum building (part of the Harvard Museum of Natural History and Peabody Museum of Archaelogy and Ethnology complex). I’m here after hours, as I sometimes like to be, working at the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE). That’s where my concentration offices are based, so it’s my academic “home” on campus. Taking the efficient, friendly staff as a given, I really like HUCE – it’s a posh, comfortable new space with all the amenities a student looking for a workspace could hope for, including an almost-always-empty computer lab which outranks most of the computer labs I’ve ever used with it’s pitch-perfect mix of aesthetics and functionality. I really should bring my camera with me sometime – I especially like the view of the chemistry labs in the next-door buildings from the meeting room at the Center – very graphic and colorful, plus it’s fun to watch all the grad students in there running experiments late into the night. I’m sure my grad-student friends will relate to this, minus the “fun” part, perhaps.

So I’m here working on my senior thesis, which is becoming increasingly and delinquently behind schedule. This Intercession period between semesters is really one of the final opportunities to devote substantial, uninterrupted time to the project. Hopefully I’ll make enough progress to ensure that firstly, I don’t become one of the 1-in-6 students who never completes their attempted thesis, and secondly, that I have a good shot for honors.

Although to be honest, graduating with honors somehow no longer seems to matter much to me, despite the fact that I am still hoping for, and working hard towards Latin honors. In truth, while I’ve always somewhat wished that I could be better motivated by extrinsic honors and motivations, somehow the goal of showing a perfect score or having nice things to put on a resume never seemed sufficient to drive me enough to actually memorize multiplication tables, or to give up extracurriculars in order to concentrate on inorganic chemistry. At least that’s what I’m saying now – this could all just be cognitive dissonance trying to rationalize away the foolish recklessness and laziness of years past. Nonetheless, as I’ve reasoned before, in the end I’ve had pretty much everything I’ve ever truly wanted, in essence if not in its originally conceived form. I’m very much thankful for God’s grace in all that, of course. But focusing on what that potentially means about my internal, probably subconscious, mental calculus, perhaps the key thing is to figure out what I really want and why.

It’s probably true that I already tend to perform far too much meta-analysis – what is experience worth; what does this choice mean; how does this development fit into the bigger picture? These questions can be tiring to ponder, especially when few people want to listen to you explore them – of course they have better things to do, and analysis takes time, time which could be spent, easily and profitably (ostensibly) on other scheduled tasks and amusements. Never mind that, for me, much of such analysis leads to a “everything-is-meaningless” or “everything-is-equally-meaningful” (potentially) conclusion that is mainly distinguished from existentialism or nihilism by cheerful optimism and, more importantly, faith in God’s benevolent, omnipotent and active existence.

Coming back to the thesis-writing, this aforementioned general inability to ignore the possible larger implications is hampering my ability to write, among other issues. As I was telling Lorraine today, it’s difficult to think of this as “three longer final papers” or some other more manageable and less intimidating framework. I can’t avoid the sense that what I’m writing about is important, and the end product should actually represent the best possible analysis and recommendations I can produce. It’s easier to be flippant about opinion pieces on ancient history or literary analysis, or even term papers on morality and public policy; in those cases it almost doesn’t matter what you think since the effect on the world will be close to nil, one way or another. But that’s not the case when it’s a piece of work that has a chance (albeit small) of being taken seriously and affecting the world, and shaping your future research and career (considerably larger chance), and will ultimately be a sort of calling card for your beliefs and analytical abilities. Throw in the predictive component of what I think I will write (and everyone knows the pitfalls of trying to soothsay the future), and maybe my apprehension will appear less immediately irrational.

On a happier note, I think I made some good progress today, although I didn’t write anything substantial. And now I shall go read some more.

Earlier when I went to the bathroom, which is just past the slick “climate change” exhibit , the motion sensor lights didn’t detect me, so I proceeded in near-darkness. You can see how familiar I am with this space. Anyhow, I was especially impressed that both the motion-sensor flush and the motion sensor taps came on, even in the dark, with no special effort on my part. How’d they do that?? Anyone who understands the technology, feel free to enlighten me.

The problem with having short hair, which I’d completely forgotten about, is that after a mere four weeks it looks straggly and ready for some professional maintenance.

I refuse. No thank you. I told myself I’d wait till after June. Ok, maybe I’ll see about fixing it for graduation. Maybe.

First Snow of 2007 (23 Jan 2007)

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

First Snow of 2007 (23 Jan 2007)

At least the first snow to actually stick around for more than 15 minutes.  Taken by Andrew from our common room window.

Another day closes.

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Yawn.¬† Lured by the free pizza, I put on my American flag sweater and went to the Quincy¬†JCR (junior common room)¬†an hour ago to see¬†President Bush’s State of the Union Address.¬† I’m amazed at how quickly that 50 minutes went by – it felt more like a slightly draggy 25 minutes.¬† He’s certainly gotten a lot better at making speeches, or he was having a really good day, because that was almost certainly the least painful¬†public speaking I’ve seen¬†of the current American president.

While I was listening, in a room full of Quincy residents, it¬†seemed to me that the lame duck President syndrome was already starting to set in.¬†¬†On the one hand, it was almost surprising to hear the rhetoric about international cooperation and the (albeit passing) mention of climate change as a problem (and plug-in hybrid cars¬†as a part of the solution).¬† Altogether it sounded as if he had either gained the wisdom¬†to realise¬†his past errors, or perhaps was being forced by reality (or opinon polls) to change his tune, or was now freed up by his limited remaining time in office to highlight (instead of downplaying) the big problems that his successor (and the Democrat-majority Congress and Senate) will have to deal with.¬† On the other hand, if you listened carefully, there was very little attempt to take credit for the good things America has now (a growing economy) while the longer list of problems to be dealt with (social security, education, foreign policy, military commitments,¬†energy policy, federal deficit) seemed to signal the key shortcomings–to put it mildly–of two presidential terms almost-over.¬† And I didn’t really get the sense that any of those things were going to be substantially remedied by 2008 – does anyone else?

In the end, the focus seemed to be firmly on the future, rather than on dwelling on the past.¬† I don’t know what I think about that, given my general dislike of the sort of ahistoric,¬†amnesiac logic I’ve sometimes observed amongst the Republicans I’m most friendly with.¬† I don’t like the increasingly casual, and still equally meaningless references to the faceless “enemy” that America is at war with, as well as the suspiciously simplistic descriptions of cause and effect, as well as the¬†cartoon beliefs and goals attributed to the “enemy”.¬† Of course this is all in the context of a compressed speech tailored for general consumption and soundbites, and President Bush is probably not “wrong” in a general sense.¬† I may think it’s all a little inaccurate, and somewhat jingoistic, and potentially counterproductive, but maybe the only thing left to do is wait another year or two.¬† As the title of that John Mayer song aptly puts it, we’re “Waiting On the World to Change”.

Relatedly, listening to the Address reminded me of my speech-writing days back at OCS.  There really is something to be said for the power of an inspiring speech to remind you of your values, your identity and your goals.  Or to insinuate them, at least.

Jason Loves Snow (23 Jan 2007)

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

 Jason Loves Snow (23 Jan 2007)

What can I say?¬† It’s fun to *finally* be able to wear my new long coat, courtesy of Mr Pinky, whose exceptional tailoring services are now available internationally online at

Especially since it’s been nearly 7 months since I bought that cloth at my favorite fabric store in London and then proceeded to lug it through another 20 or so cities over the next two months on World Tour.

What did I do today other than see “Children of Men”?

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Today was supposed to be my first day of productivity.  Whoops.  Maybe I can redeem myself a little tonight.

Don’t worry – no spoilers ahead.

I just saw Children of Men in Boston with Ryan.¬†¬† Overall the film is¬†worth seeing and is quite moving at times, though not necessarily very pleasant to watch.¬† I especially liked seeing London reimagined in this dystopic future on the brink of anarchy.¬† I *heart* London, particularly since my summer there, and not since 28 Days Later have I had the pleasure of seeing the city taken liberties with — London buses girded with protective mesh, electric cars and pedal-carts (a¬†la¬†Bangladesh!) on the street,¬†the Tate Modern as a private residence (or was it a government building?).¬† And there’s a brilliantly executed set of extremely long-running sequences during a violent uprising in a refugee camp – it was difficult not¬†to feel transported to and caught up in the worst¬†sort of¬†urban warfare as seen in¬†Sarajevo, Beirut or Mogadishu at the height of their civil wars.¬† I marvelled at how carefully timed and meticulously executed those scenes were – if you see the film, remember to mentally applaud the cameraman (and¬†perhaps other crew)¬†who had to do all that running with a camera and keep it pointed in the right direction.¬† And what happens to Julianne Moore’s character is cleverly unexpected enough that it sounds an exceptionally jarring and tragic note to reinforce the sense that the world is now a place where there is no real future.

Enough praise – on to the picky bits.¬† The difficulties of translating a book into a screenplay were well in evidence in the inconsistent treatment of the plot which vacillated between being overly pedantic and being excessively oblique.¬† Scattered through the film¬†were¬†explanatory “conversations” where¬†characters¬†had awkward monologues to tell the audience¬†things that everyone in the film sould already know and find patently obvious¬†(the midwife’s rambling about the discovery of the mass infertility, for example).¬† Yet at the same time¬†I got the clear sense that¬†large chunks of information were¬†being¬†brushed aside or skimmed over¬†because¬†they were too unwieldy¬†to delve into properly.¬† And maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I felt as if key explanatory details were lost in the blink-and-you-miss-it introductions to the more peripheral characters and events (and the mumbly accents didn’t help).¬† Overall pacing also suffered from plodding sections where nothing seems to happen, but without any compensatory cinematography, intimacy, mood-setting or revelation of information – the film could have lost about 20 minutes and been better for it, or spent that time developing the story more densely or more clearly.

Like many of the films I¬†am drawn to watch¬†for their premise (think Poseidon, Flightplan and The Stepford Wives), Children of Men¬†is not bad, but doesn’t necessarily deliver it’s full potential in exploring the implications of the central premise.¬† Among the best parts of the¬†movie were those which started to¬†take the set-up through to its logical conclusions¬†– such as the scene in the abandoned school, or the successful evocation of the baby’s significance as a momentous, world-changing¬†miracle.¬† Most of the other parts of the film felt like a (skilful) rehash of scenes from other war or disaster films like The Pianist¬†or Independence Day.

And to answer the question that’s the title of this post, I also bought a pair of sunglasses (to replace the brown aviators I dropped irretriveably into a latrine in Madagascar last Spring Break), and my very own domain name!¬† At $7.20 from, that’s the best impulse buy ever!¬† So now you’ll be able to have the pleasure of reading this blog after being redirected from¬†– congratulations (to me)! ūüôā

PS: I love this video on YouTube – as a very amateur violinist, this video makes me very happy.

Major tidying

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

I vacuumed the common spaces today, as well as the room Ray vacated when he left for a semester in Paris.¬† The suite is much cleaner now. ūüôā

I’ve also started the long overdue tidying up of this blog, which suffered major messing-up when the blog server I use was migrated from Manila to WordPress.¬† Not being very tech-savvy, I’ve had to do most of the changes by hand like¬†re-posted old posts, adding links and starting to categorize old posts.¬† This will take a while, and perhaps will never be completely finished.

I’ve also added two new essays from last semester – it’s the two final papers I wrote on Salman Rushdie’s very lengthy, but deservedly award-winning¬†Midnight’s Children.¬† These were essays I wrote for extremely different literature classes.¬† One was for a class on the postcolonial narrative, so I wrote about issues of agency and control: “Happy Accidents and Snakes-and-Ladders: Fate, Agency and Repeating History in Salman Rushdie‚Äôs Midnight‚Äôs Children“.¬† The other was for a class on bilingualism and literature, so I focussed on ambiguity, foreigners and gender based on the framework introduced by¬†one of the other course readings: “Salman Rushdie‚Äôs Midnight‚Äôs Children as a Gothic Democratic Narrative“.


More menswear, FW 07/08

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

Milan men’s fashion week has ended, but the late winter fashion frenzy continues – tomorrow the Paris women’s¬†haute couture shows begin,¬†followed immediately¬†after that by the Paris menswear shows.¬† How very exciting.

In the meantime, here’re more emerging style notes:

(1)¬†Designers are experimenting with excess length in sleeves and hems, particularly for knits.¬† At the¬†Burberry Prorsum show, designer Christoper Bailey’s¬†opening look included¬†a slouchy knit version of that house’s iconic trench coat, while several inches worth of sweater sleeves crept out under the coat and blazer sleeves of many of the¬†other models.¬† Over at Prada models were enveloped in mammoth woolly coats and fuzzy sweaters of epic proportions.¬† Even at the usually body-conscious Dolce & Gabbana, loosely-draped sweaters with dropped hems were shown in heavy fabrics and cinched somewhere around the hips with hidden drawstrings.¬†

(2) Worn, faded and distressed denim is completely out.¬† When the key and leading purveyors of destroyed, treated and embellished designer jeans – Dsquared2 and Dolce & Gabbana – present only dark, polished and razor sharp tailored denim¬†on their¬†FW 07/08 runways, you know it’s time to retire the frayed, ripped bootcuts and get a new pair of straightlegs.

(3) Little things I liked from the Milan shows include: the carrying of two unmatched bags seen at Fendi (as women have long known, having two different tote bags¬†is both practical and more¬†interesting style-wise); the silver skinny tie, trainers and gloves as seen at Alessandro Dell’Acqua (and Dolce & Gabbana); the miles of fur seen at Prada (and Burberry), especially the mixing of different pelts and the use of a few feather accents as lapel pins – gorgeous!¬† I¬†now really want (and will¬†almost certainly not get) a pair of yak-hair or goat-hair¬†mukluks, a fur-lined (though shearling will do)¬†vest or coat, and a pair of¬†oversized fur mitts.¬†¬†Of course the ridiculously warm winter we’ve been having here in Boston is discouraging me from seriously considering these purchases.¬† Even with the past three days of below freezing weather,¬†almost the first we’ve had all season.¬†

(4) Little thing I didn’t like from the shows: the prevalence of tights or sweatpants that appeared everywhere, from Marni to Jil Sander to Prada to Fendi.¬† Ugh.

PS: Oh, and on a grooming note, long hair has all but vanished from the runways, leaving a desultory one or two at Alexander MacQueen.  After all, this is the season of the shaved-head Chad White.