Looks Like A Flower But She Stings Like A Bee

Friday night in the Raffles City carpark, on the way to Cityspace. A phone call from Alec at the precise moment M and B spotted an object of desire in a backless top.

Me, in M’s car: Oh, hello dear, I’ve just been judging debates and I’m headed out for drinks with some of the old debating guys.
M and B, going wild in the background: Oh MAN, check out that fucking hot chick! Oh my GOD she’s not wearing anything under that skimpy top! Yeah, baby! (etc.)
Alec: Riiiiiiiigght.
Me: Er, they’re normally very intellectual. Really. They’re just tired.
Alec: Go have some fun, dear. We can talk later.

Friday had range. Evidence seminar in the morning. Meeting with my future boss in the afternoon, in which I was pleasantly reminded of her extreme coolness. Judging secondary school debates at breakneck speed for four hours at night. Reeling out of the debates with fellow judges. Dancing to Milkshake, Baby Boy and Hey Ya (also She Bangs, where the DJ exhorted us all to “Do it like William“) 70 storeys above the Singapore nightscape, and retiring soon after that to Cityspace, where I fell madly in love with the lighting.

All great fun except for the mild frivolous downer that I felt somewhat dowdy in such a gorgeous place with my sober Meeting Future Boss attire and big bag o’ law notes from the morning lectures. Am currently considering whether judging the next round of debates in an orange halter-neck top would detract from my gravitas.

Non-Grouchy Moments

I meant to write about the Friday night before Chinese New Year: the prosperity god in a Suntec City atrium with enormous breasts that turned out to be unfortunately placed oranges, the first yu sheng of the season on the outdoor balcony of NUSS bar, $6 cocktails, filthy conversations which were hopefully not overheard by too many people due to their extreme offensiveness, the astonishing ability of Mundian To Bach Ke to collectively transform Fay, Yen and me from house-music-induced sleepyheads into dancefloor divas in the Boom Boom Room, the astonishing ability of Yish to climb large sculptures in Raffles Place and get dragged on stage by drag queen cabaret comedians, the astonishing discovery by me that I was thoroughly enjoying myself in Singapore.

I meant to write about judging a debating tournament the next day at Serangoon JC, and being told by a particular teacher that he would never forget how, two years ago, I had rebuilt his team’s shattered confidence after their day of losses and harsh criticism.

I meant to write about last Saturday’s excursion to the mindboggling Mitre Hotel on Killiney Road (Directions: Walk down Killiney Road, away from Orchard Road and past all the food joints. You will see “145” spray-painted on a pillar, and a scary-ass pitch dark driveway on your left, which every intuitive bone in your body tells you not to walk up. Walk up it. Round the bend there will appear a quiet, dimly lighted building vaguely reminiscent of the Bates Motel. You’ve arrived.), where we swigged cheap beer, sat gingerly on ancient dusty mismatched furniture, tiptoed up unlighted staircases to gawk at the unbelievable dilapidation of the first storey, and somehow loved it so much we’re adamant on going back and becoming regulars at the bar.

I meant to write about beginning to find some shreds of meaning in my life in Singapore, but I was too busy living it.

Dramafest/Debate Finals/Scholarship Gathering/May

I’m really losing the battle to keep up with writing about everything I want to write about.

Raffles Junior College (I keep wanting to refer to this as RJ the way most of my peers do, but am aware that the world outside Singapore doesn’t converse in acronyms) Dramafest finals last Friday, the now annual pilgrimage (written about last year, and fundamentally the same in terms of group composition and general good feeling) to good food in Ghim Moh hawker centre, bad plays in LT1 and debauched supper in Holland Village. Tragically, the Hainanese chicken rice stall manned by the skinny balding moustachioed man seems to have closed down, but at least there was still Luan Qi Ba Zao (scroll down to NoBlogLove post#2). We suppered in Coffee Club, which was altogether too civilized a place for D’s (names initialized to protect the filthy) very excited shouts about Natalie Portman’s nipples. (Most quotes from the evening are unprintable at best, and potentially libellous at worst.)

Debate finals were on Saturday, where for the second year running I was the youngest and strangest-haired judge on the panel. I don’t think this adversely affected my ability to judge, given that I ended up comfortably in the middle of a majority decision, but it was something I was more than passingly aware of nonetheless. Having to travel to the other side of the island (stop laughing, people from big countries, it’s at least one and a half hours’ journey!) for a scholarship gathering afterwards was a bit of a bitch, but worth the trip in the end – I’m always pleasantly shocked by just how much I actually enjoy the company of these people. Working with them, if it happens, might actually be fun.

Monday’s romantic candlelight dinner with May at Chijmes started auspiciously with our agreed meeting point in the Mango store at Raffles City. Practical given that she was parking there, and also for the fact that if either of us was late, the other wouldn’t have to be bored while waiting. Impractical given that we ended up eating about two hours later than we’d originally planned on due to grappling with important shopping decisions, such as whether the unique colour of trousers was an acceptable tradeoff for their ass-ballooning potential.

Debating Nostalgia

On Saturday I felt old and retrospectively stupid.

The semi-final debates were on the motion This House Believes That The IMF and World Bank Have Done More Harm Than Good. If I had had to take this on, when I was 17, with an hour to prepare, I would have curled up in a fetal position in the corner and cried for my mother. The teams I judged took it on bravely and far more competently than I would have done 5 years ago, and while I was able, in judge mode, to make many criticisms of their efforts, that really doesn’t detract from the fact that they’d have kicked my 17-year-old ass to Washington (is that where the IMF and WB headquarters are?) and back.

The seven-generational Raffles Debaters party (affectionately christened the Gangbang by Jolene) afterwards had the magnificent cacophony you would expect from an event where you put a lot of debaters in a room but don’t actually have rules of debating in place to control all of them. Party games included obscene charades where people had to act out stuff like Octopussy and Dr Strangelove (the guy doing this mimed wanking a very big dick, and someone guessed it just from that. Go figure), Polar Bear (too complicated to explain, but I am told all the young people play it these days) and Dance Dance Revolution.

As I said, old and retrospectively stupid. But in a good way.

Being With Debaters

Off the Ayer Rajah Expressway, through Ghim Moh housing estate (slowing down for jaywalking students), round that voluptuous curve in the road and Raffles Junior College peers out at you from behind a rather strangely landscaped and mildly overgrown island thingy in the driveway.

Homecomings thrive on immediate connections, the sort that are still relevant and apparent enough that they don’t have to be explained. So this is never quite a homecoming. It’s an amateur movie of me walking around a place I spent two years of my life, with ghostly commentators drawing arrows and circles on the screen. Here’s where Michelle and her friends would stagger after classes were over for the day. They sat in the tuckshop and drank 30-cent mugs of cool lemon tea, but they called it their “beer garden” for some reason. Sad kids. Here’s where Michelle’s class used to go to pretend to productively use the free period before PE on Fridays, but where they’d inevitably end up giggling helplessly, overcome by what they came to call the Friday madness, until the one-trick-pony librarian would come round and threaten “You can do your talking OUT-SIDE.”

I was there to judge the preliminary rounds of the national debating championships. We counted six “generations” of Rafflesian debaters among the judges alone. There was that wonderfully refreshing feeling that however outspoken or blunt I let myself be, it wasn’t going to intimidate my companions, or discourage them from being equally outspoken and blunt right back. A rare feeling for me in Singapore. My other prime conversational flaw, of assuming I know what someone else is saying before they finish the sentence, and interrupting them because I’m so eager to respond, was equally replicated in most of my companions. And again, the feeling that only here can we do this.

Here, in this smug little circle of articulate, confident, smart arses, we can cautiously lower the self-censorship screens we (or at least I) erect the rest of the time. I forget myself and interrupt you, because I know if I’ve got you wrong, you’ll correct me with the verve and wit that makes these conversations sparkle, not just keep quiet and think dark thoughts about loudmouth Michelle imposing her opinions on the world. We can all talk at each other simultaneously, but we’re all listening too. The faults that everyone else hates in us are the lifeblood of our times together, and it is nice, even if I acknowledge they’re faults to be corrected the rest of the time, to let my guard down every now and then.

Debating And Pop Idol And Coffee Sugar Nazism

The tournament was great. Will won Pop Idol. A good weekend!

Before I say I think the tournament went pretty damn brilliantly the typical Michellian disclaimer is necessary – ideally, I’d have liked more teams and judges involved, and ideally the first proposition team in the final wouldn’t have turned a motion which had great potential for something interesting (This House Would Shaft The Axis Of Evil) into an incredibly boring debate about removing Oxbridge privileges. But apart from that, everything seemed to run almost disturbingly smoothly, which actually worried me quite a lot – I kept thinking I’d somehow overlooked some huge glaring problem and waiting for the anvil to drop, but it just never did, and I’m reasonably proud that in roughly four years of tournament debating (since ’98) mine was the first tournament I’ve ever been at which ran on time.

So thank you, Mark, for putting up with all my malaise and moodiness, for being lovely in so many ways, and lastly (and very importantly) for booking rooms that actually existed this time. We were both admittedly mightily pissed while exchanging affirmations of love and friendship and each other’s general wonderfulness on Saturday night, but I stand proudly by everything I said, even now in the sobering light of day. Been great working with you, dear.

I raced home from the tournament with a beatific smile on my face, headed straight to the TV room in search of Avril, who’d taped Pop Idol for me, and did a lot of girlie screaming. Realized later that this is the only British pop cultural whirlwind I’ve actually gotten sucked into in my two and a half years here, but this one really did manage to reel me in, hook, line and sinker. I’ve explained to Alec that I came upon it at a vulnerable time; that having not seen him for two weeks due to our respective ski trips and missing him dreadfully I was just there for Will’s taking (oof, perhaps a bad turn of phrase there) that fateful Saturday evening in December when I wandered into the TV room and was transfixed. He remains unconvinced. Oh well. Good luck and best wishes, Will. Your profile is distinctly primatial but from the front you’re lovely, cheesy grin and all.

Much like the Sunday after the last debating tournament I organized, yesterday was a whole lotta wonderful nothing. Woke up at noon. Lunched and coffee’d with Russ, whom I dearly wish hadn’t brought me that belated Christmas present of American Gods, because he inconsiderately went and bought himself the tripod I was going to give him, and now I’m stuck for ideas. Treated the congregation at mass to an unusually muted and reflective version of Shine Jesus Shine (the hymn Fr J disdainfully refers to as likening Jesus to Brasso). Lingered downstairs with soup, John, Tay and bizarre conversation that involved coffee sugar Nazism (Me: “Does it make me some sort of lesser person because I like two sugars in my coffee, goddamit?”) and awful puns about a strange guy called Terry who comes to our hall and makes trouble every now and then. (Tay: “Man, this is scary. I’m terrified, man. I’m developing terranoia…I really don’t like it when he comes over here. I get all territorial.” And so on.)

Happy Snippets

Snippets from the weekend (no more than snippets, though. Tufts in the fur of the woolly mammoth of my current happiness. Some of the reasons I’m happy make me go a bit shy and fluttery, and I don’t feel like writing about them here):

After an extraordinarily taxing day, Thai food, Mercury Rev and charming company made for an extraordinarily pleasant Friday night. Even though I somehow managed to buy a Rev T-shirt that was shocking in its random ugliness (I blame the wine, and Alec for not stopping me), and even though I was the lucky one who got to sit next to Stupor Guy, whose travails on the astral plane manifested themselves in the inexorable downward drift of his upper body towards an increasingly cringing me, the gig still had its moments – nice renditions of The Dark Is Rising, Spiders and Flies, Hercules, Tonight It Shows and Goddess On A Hiway’s always fun. I do wish they’d played Endlessly and A Drop In Time though, and I don’t think they played anything from Boces or Yerself Is Steam, which was a little disappointing.

Their live sound is rougher round the edges than the pristine sound on the last two albums. Their album sound feels as if each component of a song (think Endlessly, for example) occupies a distinct musical space with clearly delineated boundaries, and exists quite happily there without really interacting with other elements of the song, even though they all complement each other very prettily when taken as a whole. Like a consomme. Live, it’s more of a stew, or perhaps a chunky soup, and I’m not sure how much I actually liked hearing the songs that way. For me, Deserter’s Songs and All Is Dream are the sound of late nights studying or reading in bed, just right for the spaces between the sounds of night drizzle and Gower Street white noise. Having said that, I do think gigs are meant to sound different from albums, so all this is more commentary than complaint.

Saturday was the President’s Cup, the only intervarsity tournament for novice debaters in the UK, and something Mark and I had been slaving over (well, kind of) for the past couple of weeks. Relentless perfectionist that I am, I’m still half convinced that every person who kept coming up to me and raving about how fantastic the tournament was, was either piss drunk or just being polite, but there does seem to be considerable consensus that it was a resounding success. Which makes me happy, although it could all have been so much better if not for a plethora of organizational failures that I know I made, and which I feel lucky for getting away with.

Special mention must be made of:

  • Mark, tournament convenor AKA My Bitch, who ran himself ragged during the day, supplied alcohol at night, and has generally been absolutely lovely to work with because of his ability to find hilarity in drudgery and give wonderful hugs when I’m not in the mood for hilarity.
  • Russ, who sacrified his Saturday to perform the extremely boring functions of a tournament drudge, because I really needed the help, and because he’s sweet like that. (Oops, he hates being called sweet. Oh well.)

After Saturday, Sunday was a day for nothingness. Woke up at noon. Practised the organ for evening mass. Spent the rest of the afternoon in bed with Seamus Heaney and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, falling in love all over again with the Olivia Tremor Control’s Dusk At Cubist Castle, munching Kettle Chips, breathing in chrysanthemum tea. Had fun at evening mass playing my calypso version of How Great Thou Art. Chocolate pancakes a la Mark for dinner. Subjected Alec to The Lost Children (stomach-turning song on the new Michael Jackson album, to be excoriated here in the very near future). Camp dancing extravaganza with Mark to New York City Boy (Pet Shop Boys), which might possibly have been quite inconsiderate to Stefan downstairs due to my very creaky floorboards. In retrospect, I suppose you could say it wasn’t actually a day of nothingness, except in the sense that it involved nothing that detracted from happy, happy, happy me.

(Are you tired of this yet?)


Most of this afternoon was spent at ACJC (Anglo-Chinese Junior College) watching JC1 debaters find their feet and catching up with other old hacks. Our 2001 team to the World Schools Debating Championships is getting a national excellence award for coming in 3rd, roundly beating everyone else in speaker points, and having the top, fourth and sixth best speakers in the world. The success of previous national teams was apparently taken into account as well in the award, which means, I suppose, that I can think of a tiny bit of that award as mine. Which is nice.

Other than that, things are very much the same – the cab to ACJC still costs $9.70 (give or take 20 cents), there are a couple of really likeable J1 kids who I can see going far in the debating circuit because they’re smart, well-adjusted and in it with the right attitude, and then there are a few disgusting little squirts who might as well tattoo I Want To Be On The National Team on their arrogant little foreheads. It’s the same every year.

Whatever it is, I’m glad the debating bug nibbled today. I was beginning to miss it.

Commonwealth Day / Director of Debates

It’s been a reasonably eventful day. Made it downstairs for breakfast (a remarkable event in itself). Went to the Foreign Office and did the Commonwealth debate. Went to Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth Day Observance Ceremony. Saw the Queen. She was in green (hat, suit, bag). Saw Tony and Cherie. He really does look like a car salesman. She really does look like a walking set of teeth.

Went to my debating Annual General Meeting. Got elected Director of Debates. Yay. :)

Man, I’m exhausted. I think I need to go home and cook. Or do anything else which involves slapping around raw meat. It’s incredibly therapeutic.

Commonwealth Cognitive Dissonance

Of all the worst ways I’ve ever spent a Saturday night, I can safely say that reading about the Commonwealth, as I spent most of last night trying to do, probably features quite high on the list. On Monday (Commonwealth Day, woo hoo) I have to go to the Foreign Office and pretend, by supporting the motion This House Believes That The Commonwealth Matters, that I both know and care about this organisation in front of its Secretary-General and, of course, the huge Internet audience of schoolchildren that will be forced to watch.

I am now a fount of knowledge about this wondrous organisation. If I am ever on holiday in Lahore and another military coup erupts, I will walk through its turbulent and strife-ridden streets, past Uzi-toting gunmen at military blockades, and demand an audience with whichever General is in charge. I will tell him that this is a blow at the heart of democracy which the Commonwealth will not stand for, and apprise him of the numerous mechanisms through which it will make its displeasure felt. The latter task will take all of five seconds. He will listen attentively, only occasionally twiddling the ends of his moustache. He will then have me summarily executed.

Perhaps this is overdoing it a bit, but I really don’t enjoy doing debates where at the very moment my mouth is saying “Truly, the Commonwealth is a unique and valuable organisation which has much to contribute in bettering the lives of its peoples”, my brain is saying “MY ARSE”.